Pre-Note

Interlude meaning that it's more concentrated on a specific scene or event.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. This is for creative purposes. I do own this plot.

There is an Image for this Chapter.

Reminder: Mature-rating. Mystery-themed. Light sexual content. Crucial to remain attentive to detail. This is for Rukia and her relationships.

Other Reminder: The updates follow a planner that I devised hence each chapter is written according to that plan. It is a long story but it follows that path for a reason. It is an arc.

Right now Rukia's relationship with Byakuya is the main focus but it will shift to Renji and Ichigo and so forth as main focuses soon hence why I'm trying to update as quickly as I can since it's already been years and I know we want to get our long-awaited answers which we now will from the past we will explore for the remaining chapters of the Part I: The Interioreum World :)

Thank you for reading!


Interlude — Two-Faced

Past

She only shot him a look of wariness before resuming her steps back to where the Head Commander Okasakes stood.

Though those words struck her, she chose not to clutch onto them as she reminded herself of his uncle's warning about his 'off-ness' or 'peculiarity'.

Dwelling on them any further only meant thinking about this long enough to have it haunt her sleep.

He seemed harmless but at the same time, that man voice he had used suggested something else she wished to never know.

Rather, it encouraged her to seek faith in both of the Head Commander's words granting her freedom, granting her ownership of what she possessed and more importantly, their assurance that she wasn't needed for anything.

And if it ever was, she'd give it up in a heartbeat to resume the life the Rukia who lived the day before yesterday had.

###

As the scene faded into black, the Gotei 13 and their shock-ridden faces were transported back to the time in which they knew. In a place where only a few were familiar.

The present.

Left in the domains of the Okasake room to process what they now knew about Lieutenant Kuchiki Rukia.

The Head Captain was gone.


Present

She was beyond tired. The exhaustion was killing her though Naohira appeared no differently despite her sheatsu.

Of course, she still had more energy on her. That sweat was just a reflection of her hard work. Rukia was starting to slip and fall carelessly. She had another wound on her right arm now.

Finding the energy to breathe was hard. She commended herself and her reiatsu for keeping her alive this long.

Naohira was an extremely talented fighter. Rukia couldn't deny what she'd experienced in what felt like hours. This little cat and mouse chase had taught her one thing and that Naohira was beyond skilled for a right hand.

She could most definitely challenge Jushirmai one day. Rukia was convinced of it. She was a beast—the most perfect way to define her as she leaped again in the air.

The satisfaction was so woven into her eyes, Rukia couldn't deny the panic which arose within her when she saw her cheeks broaden beneath her mask as those elongated claws on her hand whipped past her face.

Another cut sliced through her left cheek. It was shallow but it still stung. Rukia grunted as she slid back. Her limbs were giving up on her.

Flash-step was her only mode of transportation now. Leaping and sliding were no longer options when her thighs throbbed and her lungs begged for a moment to properly breathe.

There was nothing more terrifying than being in front of a woman like Naohira who wanted nothing more but for you to be dead.

Rukia gasped when she did the most interesting arrangement of kicks at a speed which had her eyes shot open. Her entire body tensed to the point where she had no choice but to play dirty and have her finger point to form a deformed pool of ice beneath her.

Unfortunately, Naohira was way too smart to fall for that.

She barely missed her when she flash-stepped to the furthest place which just so happened to be near the large hole in the wall which had showcased the DNA-shaped stairs earlier.

Rukia leaned back on the wall behind her, panting heavily as the sweat glistened on her throat. She didn't have enough energy to call upon her ice, fortunately, Sode No Shirayuki, in the form of her element, twitched near it to cool her down.

She was out of breath. She could barely keep herself steady now. The few seconds her legs had gotten turned them numb. They were brittle—anymore movements and she was convinced they'd crack and leave her on the ground.

From far, Naohira steered and threw a blade.

Rukia barely dipped her head in time but it cost her. She toppled down onto the floor. Her limbs gave up. Her sight lost to fuzz. Her head churned like butter.

She heard the snicker from far.

Every bit of it made her skull pound. There was nothing left within her to signal her blade to come out or even form ice at her fingertips. Just like that, she was left immobile on the ground.

There were sounds of things breaking which was evidently Naohira trying to add onto her pain. More walls, more vases, more tables, the whole hall and ward was on the verge of collapsing.

Rukia internally shook at the thought of what Naohira would do to her. This would perhaps be her most painful death by physical standards. The emotional one she had been through before could never be topped but….the hunger in Naohira's eyes paired with the previous mention of having her dream again worried her.

How long would it take her to come back from death now?

More importantly, using dreams was the equivalent of allowing the darkness within her to stir long enough to let it win.

She could not have that happen now. Anyhow she gave it even an inch of consciousness, she would be unable to speak to Byakuya and her friends would have to see the truth she hid within.

The mere thought had her perch herself up on her elbows and clamber out of her stiff position.

"God," she called, sardonically, "you grow more pathetic by the hour. I've already surpassed you."

Her pride had been beaten down. Rukia couldn't even speak with her weariness. Naohira was right, she had won.

She tittered, "this is what everyone was so proud about? Embarrassing. Truly embarrassing. You've even embarrassed our own Head Commander. There's no doubt about it that if they saw you now, they'd be wondering more than ever why our Head Commander would have a silly fixation over you."

Rukia managed to stand on her feet but she was wobbling.

"Hm," she observed her with disdain, "you're not even worthy of knowing the Soul King let alone protecting it. That clan truly only fell for your looks and that irritable, Rukongai charm of yours as if you were the only one who ever grew up there and endured some hardship."

"Please, you are not only undeserving but useless." She said right after. "If you can crumble like this in front of an acting Head Commander then you are far too below us to even be considered anything but a Rukongai pest. Contrary to everyone, I believe the Gotei 13 was the right place for you. You deserve no position with the higher ups. You are an incapable, spineless, useless being. You only know how to weep and run. How ever was I led to believe that you were so strong?"

"Quit it, Naohira," her voice came out gravelly, "you know that you wouldn't have won if—"

"If?" She repeated with a condescending smile.

"I lasted hours with you…" Rukia reminded her, "hours on reiatsu, speed and skill alone. You have enough sheatsu on you to crush my bones but you didn't—you couldn't. If I can last this long with just that then...what does that make you?"

The smile left.

"Whether you admit it or not, you'll never be on the level to surpass me. Sheatsu or no sheatsu." Rukia taunted, which stirred a dangerous amount of resentment in the air.

It was enough to kill her if Naohira sprung loose again which was exactly what she planned on doing. The smile, the momentarily wedge of her normal face that had returned was all gone.

Rukia watched those light-coloured eyes of her become black. Her tools or rather, weapons had slipped away. She was going to fight on her own again—without them as Rukia had asked.

Wind churned around her. She had signaled it to revive her severely damp hair, her wet body, her soaked shoes and assassin wear. She was preparing herself to hunt for blood, that blood being hers.

Rukia shrieked when she felt and saw that force blast within her. She was outlined mint green. She didn't care for the ceiling above. She let it all rumble and break.

The fear paralyzed her.

Everything around her broke in its wake. The energy from second rank, Sensei-leveled sheatsu was tremendous. Her skin was being pulled back at the pressure. She felt as if it was about to tear off given how much it pinched.

With the whole Soul King Palace crumbling and shuddering at the release, she was sure she would have more visitors soon. Naohira's pressure could destroy all the floors if she wanted it too.

It was obvious that she had lost touch with her loyalty to Jushirmai temporarily if she was shattering all of this.

Rukia swallowed when she jerked her head forward in the air, a menacing intonation came after with those devil-like eyes.

"I. Will….Kill you!" She screamed in frustration. Flickering chandeliers now flared lavender as that lucent green of sheatsu lit the room before she charged at her from far.

Rukia knew she was finished.

It took everything within her to muster a flash-step and she couldn't even do that. In one last plea for life, she tossed herself to the right as Naohira's long hair whipped up to touch her face once she drew the brakes with her foot—enclosing the space which had been between them before Rukia hit the ground again.

When she did, she prepared herself—face down—for the animalistic Naohira to take her, pull her up and do her worst. She prepared herself for the ripping of flesh, the bites from her teeth, her body to be severed so ferociously that it would take years for her to come back.

Years she knew Jushirmai would sit back and wait for but it never came. Rukia was convinced it was a trick at first but the scream which came after wasn't one of dominance or frustration but pain.

Once again, she struggled to twist herself around to look but her weariness was quick to give in as her curiosity grew.

When her eyes met the wall, her brows raised in surprise. Rukia replayed the events in her head as she absorbed the scene.

The close proximity had her thrust forward. She had been going at a speed which made it impossible to properly stop without having support to jump back. In this case, Naohira had pulled her own brakes a bit too late.

Her left eye was now lodged in the handle of the blade she had thrown at Rukia a few moments earlier. The embellished handle with fine details of lavender jade could only be seen a little before it became the blade which remained tightly chucked into the wall.

Rukia watched the blood spill out like tears when Naohira drew herself back from it and screamed. She wailed in agony as she stepped back and had herself face her unknowingly.

She no longer had the eye. It was gone. Crushed right into her socket. There was only blood. Dark blood which encircled the space. It looked like a large, dry cranberry.

She cried again at the pain. Her screams became loud and desperate.

Rukia took it as her only opportunity to leave. She began to crawl or rather, drag herself forward towards the crushed wall next to her which showcased the staircase.

Her interest in the space below it came to mind. Without a doubt, wandering around the remains of the palace would be difficult now that most of it was destroyed.

She needed a map—something which would help her weed out what rooms were critical enough for her to enter. She couldn't afford to waste this much time again. Not in her state—this had been a near death experience.

She couldn't take the chance again. She'd have to be quick.

The dizziness took her again when she attempted to stand up near the edge of the floor. Déjà vu struck her again as she tried to get ahold of the right footing to stand. Less than a second later, she toppled down miles and miles down to the very floor she had been wanting to explore.

Bones cracked.

Her body had crashed onto the floor.

In a place prone to abrupt dangers, Rukia was knocked out cold.


"The map of the Soul King Palace?" The younger Rukia repeated again to make sure she heard right.

Her zanpakutō spirit had stopped abruptly to verbally deliver the request.

"Yes, Rukia-sama is requesting the original map of the Soul King Palace. I think she needs help navigating how many places are truly in there." Sode No Shirayuki said. "I've sent word to her about her brother as well though I'm uncertain if she got it. The connection is quite odd."

"Where would that be located?" Senbonzakura asked her.

"The Okasake Manor is more likely than the Capital." Roger answered before turning to Rukia. "You must find it somewhere there."

"That's suggesting it wasn't burnt down with the rest of the things that got burnt that night." Rukia said more to herself but it piqued the interest of those who had stopped around her.

"What night?" Nanao inquired.

Rukia turned to her left. "Sensei Okasake Hiroshima had a separate hall in the Seireitei. We called it North Center Hall. It was a place for gatherings, nightly events n'what not. There was only one other floor and one door. That was his. Sensei had stuff like personal records and visual stuff about the Soul Society there. He didn't really use his office at the manor 'cause everything was stuffed in there. I'd say it had the most visual records of events which occurred back then. It was where me and—"

She paused. "It's where we found lots of photo albums with Jushirmai's victims. It was more like a personal storage if anything. Sensei loved it there."

Roger continued the story. "One night Sensei went mad. Under his son's influence, he grew angry that the heart was sealed and that his son could never receive it again unless it was brought back from its place in Hell. In anger, he lit the place on fire. That had been the place where a part of the sealing process had occurred which traumatized him. No one dared to interfere back then. With all that anger and considering who he was, the fire wasn't extinguished until he left. By then, everything had been burnt."

"I see." Nanao said. "You should still try to find it though. I'm sure she needs lots of help over there."

Rukia smiled. "I'll get on with it then."

Hanatarō suddenly jumped in front of her. "L-Let me come with you, Rukia-san! I know I wouldn't be m-much help but I could accompany you so that you're s-safe."

"Yoruichi-san requires your assistance." Tessai reminded him. "Until we find answers on how to heal her effectively, we will need your aid regularly."

Rukia knew he was disappointed but she made sure to promise him that she would take him around the Okasake Manor soon and then came the Kuchiki heir, "I will accompany her. Two of us searching will work better than one."

Rukia saw this as a way of making amends with him over earlier so she agreed.

Taking him to the Okasake Manor would feel weird though it would work better than for her having to explain things from scratch. She was terrible at that as she had shown herself earlier.

That damn Kuchiki heir was really turning her soft.

Without hesitation, they had disappeared into a portal and came out to be met with the Soul Society's chilly frost. They wasted no time walking past the spider lily field in silence and then past the grey walls enclosing the Kuchiki Manor before Rukia suggested they flash-step into the manor the moment she caught sight of those guards.

Guards that she knew.

Their feet would swish and have them moved to enter the general ward of the Okasake home where Byakuya would notice one thing.

Somehow, she had arrived first.

He did not want to point it out just yet but they had left outside together and at the same time. Her having arrived first meant one thing Byakuya did not want to admit.

"How?"

She turned to him, confused. "How what?"

His stare fell to her feet and back up, "you..."

"What?" She asked again. "Why are you acting so weird?"

He nonchalantly stared at her before she moved.

"Never mind." She muttered as she did and traversed into the center of the very warm-lit, mahogany, black cherry and maple wood-comprised room.

His mind fell on the citrine stone and understood why it bled such shades of warmth from every corner. To his left was a stained glass clock of hazel with berries and leaves above a fireplace the colour of molasses.

As he followed her back as she went to some drawer further ahead of that, he then saw the picture.

It was a large one. Enclosed with a satiny gold frame against the far wall in front of him. He was drawn to it immediately as the younger Rukia opened drawers and pulled out papers.

As he got closer, he took it all in. He even leaned in to read the inscription on the gold plaque beneath it. It was titled, 'Community Center Appreciation Day' and beneath it were the names in order of placement in the image.

There were about three lines of children all donned in their assassin uniforms. Rukia was one of them. She was to his right, left in the picture, at the front.

She was second last with those same black gloves on, small smile and head tilt.

Behind her, after the third line of children far back, stood a fourth line which visibly had noble-assassin personnels—some old, some young. What was most striking about the image is that, not too far to the right and at a distance, his father was there.

Coincidentally, his placement almost aligned with Rukia's though he was further right.

His presence here was the most jarring.

By the looks of it, the noble-assassin there were figures belonging to this Community Centre which was perhaps the body which organized the community service assassin trainees had to do in the Seireitei as he had learned. However, seeing his father there was undeniably odd.

What reason could he have to be a part of this photo? His father seemed arbitrarily placed in the line. Turning to Rukia who still had her back to him as she opened more drawers, he thought he would ask.

"Rukia."

She turned to him with a box in her hand, "hmph?"

By then his eyes had resumed back to the picture, specifically to his father. "What is father doing here?"

Rukia took a glance at the photo, specifically at the Lieutenant where he was looking. She shrugged, "I don't know. Maybe he was standing in for Captain."

She lowered the box on the ground and resumed her hunting.

"That would not make sense though. These people at the back are organizers of the mandatory community hours trainees have to complete, correct?"

"I guess so." She lifted a knee and had another box rest on it. While digging through it, she explained further, "we usually take at least one photo of all the kids who are completing their hours each year. I think they just always have a line of nobles at the back because most of the community work kids get is working with nobles."

"So in other words, it is a random arrangement of individuals." He was still fixated on his father's image.

"Guess you could say that I mean, there's always one or two who help assign the whole thing but otherwise, they pretty much include any noble who's influential or had been influential to the assassin world. It's just for a good outlook since the kids who are there obviously are training to become assassins so they represent the future of change." Rukia said while simultaneously leafing through papers.

"I see." Byakuya replied with his gaze locked with his father's. "Though father being here is quite odd. I would have assumed grandfather would not have allowed him to participate in this despite our family being influential in the assassin court. Considering our clan's withdrawal from the assassin community, to have him here or even near these assassins is peculiar, do you not agree?"

Rukia, who had been in the midst of carrying a box, stopped to shrug. "I don't know. The Lieutenant was different. If the law was made for him too he wouldn't be allowed to visit Sensei Okasake or the Okasake Manor for that matter. It would erase all his relations to them. He was banned from certain things from what I got but obviously because of his relation to the Okasakes, it was different for him. Whatever family members you had who knew just had tighter restrictions but they definitely weren't allowed to go into the Capital, I know that."

"I figured that though, this is still odd. The law was created long before I was born. Certainly by the time of this photo, those restrictions were already normalized. I would have thought that our connection with the assassin organization, exempting the Okasakes, would have long been severed." Byakuya said.

"He probably was just stepping in for the Captain." Rukia said before heading to the center of the room to drop the box. She did the same with the rest.

"But would that not go against the restrictions created for him and the others by the law? This photo alone gives him a connection to the assassin community. Certainly this could not go on display just anywhere or it would go against the law." Byakuya explained. "Grandfather would not have wanted him to step in. It is strange that Sensei Okasake even chose to put this photo on display here. Did you not say this room is used frequently?"

"I told you it's different with the Lieutenant. You can't erase the assassin connection your family has from him. Maybe that's why. Having him there in a photo wouldn't be as big of a deal because everyone knew of that connection."

He leaned back. "I suppose that makes sense though, that would imply that on this appreciation day, he was there to participate. What exactly occurred on this day?"

"It's in the name. It's just one day where we're free from our duties and trainees play games, eat and hang out n'stuff. It's like a short, day-time celebration. Not everyone sticks around, it's just to have some sort of release. There's a bunch of kids who go at a time so we take them in like a hundred different three lines."

"You mean, there are numerous photos of this day with different people?"

"Yup, except the fourth line with the nobles. They stay the same. But it all happens in a flash, don't worry." Rukia assured as she moved the last box to the center. "Come on, we need to go through these."

Byakuya found it hard to tear away from the photo but eventually moved to the center where a circular red rug was. He got on his knees and joined Rukia as she went through them in silence.

He then asked, "where is your room? Perhaps there could be other files in there."

Crouched down, Rukia responded in surprise, "mine? It's over there."

She twisted around and pointed to the shōji which came a little before those drawers came.

"Why is it so close to this room?" Byakuya inquired. If this was a general room then that was far too near a place that was regularly used.

There had to be some separation between private and public spaces.

"Probably so I wouldn't escape at night." Rukia giggled as she pushed a few scrolls aside to make space for the one she was about to open.

Almost stunned at her casual delivery, he wondered if she realized the absurdity of this arrangement and was just justifying its placement as it was something she was used to.

"You are being imprisoned." He concluded.

"Can't be any different from living in yours." She muttered under her breath.

Byakuya scowled at that comment.

"Except that is an actual prison." Again, she did the head tilt with a sneer that irked him. Luckily she added onto her insults with useful information. "Anyway, it wouldn't be in there. It's about the Soul King Palace. Sensei didn't like me a lot back then because of Jushirmai's mind games so there's no way he would ever leave it with me. It's either here or it got burnt in that fire. Doubt he would leave it anywhere else."

"I see." He grew silent after that. His quiet browsing swiftly became concerning as she could sense something off about it as they looked.

Even though she tried to avoid it, there was something there which told her he was bothered. When her gaze fell on the large portrait in the room behind her, she figured it was that.

She nudged him. "What is it?"

He didn't look up.

"What's so wrong about the Lieutenant being in that photo?"

He withdrew his hand from one of the banana papers, "Father,"

She waited for him to piece together his words.

"He was aware of the situation with the heir at the time." Information he knew following Rukia's words about him being one of those who worked to warn the other Sensei Okasake of the heir when his grandfather had accused himself of being responsible for the Soul King's heart contamination. He was also aware that he visited his godfather often.

"Yeah, so?" Rukia figured that he wanted to know more about that.

"There were undoubtedly things he was aware of as to why he too participated in trying to persuade Sensei Okasake about the heir. His presence there meant that he was aware of his behaviour." Byakuya said to her as a way to confirm his obvious suspicions.

Rukia nodded her head. "Yeah, of course. It would be sort of hard to separate him from Jushirmai, unfortunately. He...knew about it long before."

He shot her a look. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, just like Sensei Okasake and the Captain, he knew that Jushirmai wasn't a good person. That he was something more than what he showed. He knew what he was." Rukia explained. "He knew long before he was even adopted."

That sentence had him blink in confusion. "What do you mean he knew what the heir was before his adoption? What are you implying?"

She took a deep breath, fluttering her eyes when she met his again. Extending her hand, she gestured to his pocket with her eyes.

"Hand me my book."

He did as she instructed and handed it to her though he did not know why she could not use her own. The older one and hers would not be as different besides the absence of her future onwards.

She leafed through the pages, he watched her arrive at a page and stopped. She then lowered it to her lap.

"There's something that a lot of people don't know." Byakuya did not like how low her voice sounded. "It's not something entirely important since it would've happened either way but, it's something that I think you should know even if it doesn't really matter."

He peeked at the page open on her lap but could not decipher the words scribbled onto it.

"Most people believe that Sensei Okasake fell in love with Jushirmai at first sight, which is obviously through his hypnosis but, fell in love to the point where he didn't ask for anyone's opinion when it came to adopting him." Rukia could sense it. His reiatsu. He was unsettled. "But...that last part isn't entirely true."

She watched him turn into stone. "You see, the Lieutenant was almost like a son to the other Sensei Okasake even though he was Sensei Okasake's god son. When he was looking to adopt and met Jushirmai, even though it's true that he didn't look to anyone else for their thoughts about it, he did..."

She said the next part slowly, "ask the Lieutenant to visit him and provide his opinion."

Byakuya's shoulders tensed.

"When...the Lieutenant met him, he knew something was off about Jushirmai though he didn't tell it to Sensei then. He figured that Sensei, obviously being who he was, wouldn't make such a poor decision when it came to adopting someone to be heir. The Lieutenant discovered soon after that Sensei Okasake Gureta had dreams before, dreams with a man and child who looked just like him. That's when he found out that Jushirmai had been responsible for her death."

Byakuya gulped, rattled by the new information.

"I'm not sure if you already know this but I'll tell you anyway. Sensei Okasake Gureta died by suicide." Rukia waited for a second to let it sink in. "Though it's believed she died because of a liver disease. When Sensei Okasake had her son, he died a little after being born. Sensei Okasake...had been the one to drown him to death under Jūshirmai's influence."

Byakuya's mind immediately ran to the uncomfortably detailed and grotesque drawings he had seen in that book of Okasake Gureta (AN: Rarity Fades Into Nothingness).

So they were true…

He could easily piece together the drawings which indirectly alluded to that conclusion.

Her pregnant stomach bled because she had been the one to kill her own newborn under the heir's influence.

"—Obviously it was Jushirmai's way of getting rid of the clan's heir so he could come in centuries later." Rukia continued. "Her son's death was covered up as a birth deficiency to protect her from scrutiny though, it didn't help that she remembered what she did. She spoke about being responsible for killing him often which had a lot of people read into what she meant. It started rumors, lots of rumors which eventually spread. Some people figured that maybe she had killed him. Those 'rumors' probably still go around today."

Byakuya mentally pieced together more drawings as she spoke. They most definitely made sense now.

The Okasake heir had wanted to remind them of Okasake Gureta's fate.

"—She lived with a lot of guilt because of that. Having to remember that drove her insane. It's no wonder why she started to act differently once he passed. Rumors went on about her change in behaviour too. They knew or rather, they suspected something was off." Rukia explained. "The longer she lived in isolation, the more the concern and rumors grew. She lived quite a long time after though, of course, she could never live the same. One day, she harmed herself violently before she hung herself inside her room."

He clenched his jaw, his teeth chattered inside his mouth. And there it was. That was the reason Rukia had drawn, under the heir's influence, of Okasake Gureta hanging herself.

It was real.

It had happened.

That is exactly why his grandfather had lied. He knew.

Rukia's eyes nervously fluttered to the shōji in front of her. Byakuya too felt unsettled considering that they were speaking of her at the Okasake Manor where she had passed.

"That room hasn't been opened ever since. Not even the maids go near it. That ward only gets cleaned once per year, sometimes two. Though, that room always stays closed. No maid has ever cleaned it since her body was removed. Whatever's left in there is probably covered with a bunch of dust." He'd never been one to believe in ghosts however, something unusual crept within him at the thought of that ward.

He didn't like the feeling inside of him. He couldn't tell if she felt it too but something shifted in the room's aura at the mention of her death. It couldn't be just him but Rukia's ability to continue without pause told him otherwise.

"Anyways, by the time of knowing all that, the Lieutenant had already signed the papers."

Meeting his almost frightened eyes, she reiterated it clearly.

"The Lieutenant...signed off on Jushirmai's adoption. It wasn't Sensei who did it, he was the one."

She pulled the white paper beneath the page she had been on and had it lay in front of Byakuya's eyes to see.

"This is the original form. This is the form the Lieutenant had signed off on." She explained as he hovered over the paper. "It's not important but much like me, I'm sure you wouldn't want him to be held responsible for any of this, even though Jushirmai would be adopted into the Okasake clan either way. Even if the Lieutenant hadn't signed off on this, his hypnosis on Sensei would've been enough for him to enter. The only reason I'm telling you this is just so you know. Only a few people know about this. The only reason for that is because the Rukongai likes to talk, so does the Capital and everywhere else."

He traced his father's signature with his fingers. Rukia watched him stare at it in deep thought.

He seemed lost.

She moved a bit to comfort him. She raised her left hand and put it on the edge of shoulder lightly.

"It's not that big of a deal." She said softly. "The Lieutenant isn't responsible for this. We all know that. Everyone does. It's just that...if anyone had seen this form and knew of his feelings about the heir at the time, they would—"

"Accuse him." Byakuya finished.

"...Yeah." She followed his gaze to the spot of the signature too. "Even though it isn't his fault, we do have a lot of people who would try to draw that conclusion. It's the reason I kept this. It doesn't really matter but it also would if anyone else who knew nothing about Jushirmai found it and spread rumors."

"Rumors that would frame him." Byakuya's voice came out heavy.

She found him lost in the paper again.

"Look," she called, "I don't want you to think that this means anything important. I just wanted to tell you."

Byakuya leaned back and twisted to see the large photo with the Lieutenant behind them and then looked to her.

"Did father tell you?"

They were close now.

Rukia nodded her head and puffed out air through her nostrils. "I guess he wanted to get it off his chest. He didn't blame himself, of course but...it was still something to know about."

"Did it upset you?" He asked quickly as if he would miss the chance.

Rukia threw him an inane look. "No, of course not. Man, your memory is really bad. Blaming the Lieutenant makes absolutely no sense at all. Telling me didn't change a thing."

"I'm only telling you now because it's just something you should know." Rukia added before she took the paper and put it back into the older her's book.

She then returned to her reading of the papers laid out as Byakuya remained put beside her.

"I would not want him to be held accountable." He said to her as she searched. "He should not be remembered that way."

"Byakuya, please. It really is the most minor thing ever plus we're talking about the Lieutenant here. Of all things, you think this would be something that would be so important to overshadow all that."

"Who else knows?"

"Most have already passed away. It's just the Captain, Sensei and me who knows now."

She could tell that brought him relief when he relaxed his shoulders.

"He is more intertwined than I wanted." Byakuya muttered. "Given that father was aware, he must've tried very hard to convince Sensei Okasake to remove him as heir."

"Just like all of us." Rukia tried to comfort him but she wasn't sure if it would work. "The support to have him kicked out of the clan and formally exiled or killed was huge. More and more people slowly realized it even without knowing the full extent of what he was."

"And yet that Sensei refused to listen to every single one of you because of his own corruption." Byakuya said. "You mentioned that he started to dislike you under the heir's influence. It was evidently because you disapproved of the heir much like father, grandfather and the other Sensei did."

"It was much more than dislike." Rukia mumbled with her eyes down at the papers. "Sensei thought Jushirmai needed to grow on everybody, including me but obviously that never happened. Eventually, once the heart got sealed up, we all became pretty much nothing to him. He was angry, he hated us, he threatened us, he was no longer the person he used to be."

She heard the appall in his voice before she saw it in his eyes. "He threatened your life."

Rukia bobbed her head as if she had given in. "Yes. It was sad to watch him become someone completely different but by then, he had a new face. Prior to the heart being sealed, we knew Jushirmai's tricks were responsible for all his switches in personality. He'd be happy with us until we mentioned Jushirmai and all would be lost then. After the heart, we lost him completely. That..."

She prepared herself to let it all go at once. "That was one of the reasons I stayed in the Rukongai."

The confession intrigued him. She refused to meet his gaze.

She stared at a random spot on the ground, reflecting on her memories. "He hated us, Byakuya. You could feel his anger, his disdain. If you knew what the former one was like you'd think this was somebody else imaginary. It was dangerous to stay."

He moved closer to her.

"The Rukongai was a safe place." She explained quietly. "It was home. Unlike Captain and Sensei, that Sensei didn't know where I lived other than the district name. I was safe there, I couldn't stay in the Okasake Manor knowing that he could kill me at any moment—snap at me out of nowhere like he did during the day and make me feel unsafe. Naturally, everyone started to avoid him when he switched."

Mimicking her actions to him, he lifted his hand and put it on her shoulder furthest from him.

"That is what you meant when you said the Rukongai was safer than living in the manor." Byakuya confirmed in a more solemn tone.

Her silent confirmation came soon after with a nod.

"He became dangerous to be around. No one could feel comfortable being around him for less than two minutes. It became so easy for him to switch and snap. Unlike with Jushirmai, we watched this other personality develop in front of our eyes. It came in slowly, we saw the changes and then the heart's confinement happened and it manifested into a true and breathing face of his own. Just like that, Jushirmai had given him two. With all of his hatred against me, it was unsafe for me to be there and the others agreed too."

"Were you afraid?" He inquired timidly.

Rukia inhaled. "No and yes if that makes sense. On one hand, I knew I'd be okay but on the other, having Sensei who I knew and liked become so abusive and different was strange."

He watched a bittersweet grin bloom just then. "You know Sensei was just so charismatic. His character, everybody loved him. You'd understand if you met the real him. There's a reason he was so revered in the Soul Society. He just had that little charm which casted a spell. It even worked on me. Suddenly all my hatred was driven away and I saw a happy, old man with the most endearing attitude that had me ready to kiss his feet. It was that bad. He really won me over."

"You could tell just how much love he had in him that he wanted to give." Her voice bled with wistfulness. "You'd understand just then that there's no wonder why he was regarded as pure. Sensei was pure too, of course but he never embodied it as well as the other Sensei did to the others. You could just sense it within a moment that you were around someone with something very rare and special. Complete and absolute purity. That was the perfect example of divinity then. Sensei Okasake Hiroshima."

She forced a brighter smile. "You could only imagine how easily people fell to his feet. Nothing about his actions were ever for show. You could never imagine him truly angry or upset though he appeared very serious at times because of who he was. He was the Head Commander of the Soul Society, the co-father or 'creator' you could say of the Soul King and no one could ever symbolize the purity the Soul King represented as much as him. To see him self-destruct in real-time, watch him slowly lose himself and become whatever toxicity Jushirmai stuffed into him was painful. All his glory lost to a child."

He saw water invade her eyes and had them glint like crystals. She didn't let them fall though.

"He was born pure, he made this land pure, he and Sensei Okasake gave birth to the Soul King who is also pure. To me, I thought that meant that he could come back from his destruction, that, with a little help from us he could find his way back to his original form being wholly and completely pure. We never gave up on trying to reel him back in. We savoured the moments that we knew felt like him even though we also couldn't trust standing next to him for too long. It just seems so ridiculous that even he, of all people, couldn't rid himself of that impurity even though he was naturally born pure."

The water disappeared. "It reminds me a lot of what Captain once said to me back in the Rukongai. He told me there was no such thing as good, only evil and not entirely evil. To be entirely good was unrealistic. The Soul Society just represented the not entirely evil. At the time, I got that but when I met the Sensei Okasakes and learnt about their purity, it made me think that maybe there were entirely good people but they were very sacred and very rare. That's why they became our rulers."

"I thought that the Sensei Okasakes would be an exception because of their natural purity but not even that couldn't save them from corruption. Sensei Okasake Gureta fell in his hole and couldn't get out and Sensei Okasake Hiroshima became corrupted by him and switched sides. The damage he's inflicted is beyond repair. Sensei had to watch his own sister and brother self-destruct. Die painful deaths that he couldn't fix or stop. When I think of that, I think the Captain was right. Even the entirely good can fall victim to evil." She said.

"It's only a matter of time before it happens to me too." She added quietly which immediately had him look at her in discontent.

He jumped to refute that. "What do you mean? The older you may have darkness in her heart though that is nowhere near what occurred with that Sensei. That is different. The older you's darkness only appears bigger than it actually is because it is intermingled with that Sensei's darkness and the Okasake heir's. She is still very pure, she just so happens to be fighting the darkness of three people including herself. That is not evil she will fall victim too."

"No," Rukia dismissed. "There's something more to her than she shows. The older me may still have some purity left but in the Soul King heart, it's nothing more than a spark. There used to be so much more light in that heart. I had a little over half installed in that heart up until fifty-two years ago. Now it's all darkness with a single speck. I have no doubt that my heart, as in my own, is no different. It's probably exactly like the Soul King heart now. Darkness with a little speck."

He reeled into her suspicion for a moment considering that he now knew that the Soul King heart had been near purification until fifty-two years ago.

"So what are you suggesting?"

"I think the older me is becoming just like him." Rukia confessed. "Like him, I think she's battling something similar. With the heart all messed up, we already know she's fighting an uneven amount of darkness but she's also being influenced by an uneven amount of darkness just like Sensei was. Except, she hasn't given in. At least not yet."

"You believe she is becoming two-faced?"

"It's true. I know it's true. With the heart like this, I know it's already started." Rukia muttered. "With Sensei, it was so much more than having him submit to or even create more darkness. It was different. He thrived on the fact that Sensei hated us. He did it all so slowly to make us watch Sensei self-destruct."

"When the heart got sealed up, he succumbed to the dominant side. After that, his two faces became real and by real, I mean permanent. Some would say he died then and I can tell you this, it was true. Sensei died a long time ago. His body just became a living shell for Jushirmai to use against us until it died." She retold.

"Though how can you confirm that the older you is going through such events? She has appeared normal to us ever since coming here. Despite the negative influences within her, as you said, she is still a pure being. She has not shown any sign of succumbing to the darkness' request. The most she has felt is likely negative emotions which influence her mood but nothing drastic enough to assume that she is developing or has developed another face." Byakuya said.

"I know she is, Byakuya." Rukia mumbled as she flipped through a few papers. "The process has already started."

"She told you that?"

Rukia shook her head. "Captain. He told me something like that. He wanted me to know beforehand so it wouldn't come to a surprise to me if the older me said odd things or seemed off in the near future."

Byakuya swallowed, leaning back in disbelief though he didn't show it. "What do you mean?"

The volume of his voice perhaps gave it away because she looked up at him amid her paper shuffling.

"It's happening, it's real. He also warned me about showing her this—" she reached out into her open quotebook and slipped out a spider lily clip, "this is an Okasake heirloom. It's part of a collection with other ones that I wear in my time for big events. Captain warned me to never show the older me this. It brings out the second face according to him. It's dangerous."

Byakuya reached out and touched the clip. "But why? How and when was this face born?"

"Just like Sensei Okasake's. Something happened and allowed the darkness to take dominant control. That's what lived and carved a face. With the older me, I think the second face got made when I left Sensei Okasake and became a shinigami. Whatever happened there was the key moment where a dominant position was chosen. My soul did it and I created another face. The difference is that I'm still a pure being, it hasn't entirely won yet. I'm still me now but with a problem."

"But by the looks of it, she still has control—Sensei didn't. Whatever this clip means to me obviously shifts depending on which face I use." Rukia added to her explanation.

Byakuya exhaled, staring at some space on the ground. "And what does it mean to you?"

Having removed his hand on her shoulder, he raised the clip and met her eyes. "What does it mean?"

Rukia glanced at the clip and then back to him.

"Byakuya, it won't happen with me. That face of mine was made when that thing happened with Sensei fifty-two years ago and made me leave. It doesn't just happen out of a little sadness. The event has to be huge—something that would spark a real change in me, something that would bring out true and unconditional hatred. The heart being sealed was huge for Sensei. He was already weird and obsessed with Jushirmai before it even happened. Sealing the heart, his own creation which was meant to go to Jushirmai's body, was a pretty huge final straw for that to happen."

Rukia turned to him fully. "It's like with the process of hollowfication. The concept of merging shinigami and hollow abilities is dangerous because of the fight between two souls. If the hollow takes over, all essence of the shinigami soul is lost and destroyed. A little thing can make the change happen so quick that all it takes is one incident to lose your control over the two and kill yourself. What happened with Sensei and what's happening to me now is no different except, the event has to be something huge, something to completely get rid of that purity."

"I still would like you to answer the question."

Rukia's shoulders jumped, "huh?"

"Perhaps we can figure out the source of your other face's hatred, starting with this clip. Your feelings are probably the opposite when that face arrives. Much like Sensei Okasake's event, this clip must bear a strong connection to the event which made the older you leave in the first place. His is the heart and yours is this."

"It's pretty."

Byakuya, a bit surprised by the simple response, then watched the happiness leak.

"Actually, it's really pretty. I like the way it shines." He found her comment ridiculous and far from the point but he let her continue. "I found it kinda weird that of all things Sensei had a chrysantellum lily clip a part of his heirlooms but I went with it anyways,"

Byakuya forgot that she called that flower such a thing.

"He probably just added a new one because I mean, there's only seven stones so having seven clips made more sense than eight but I went with it and treated it like it was just as ancient as the other heirlooms. I liked it a lot, obviously. Think you already know that chrysantellum lilies are my favourite flower so of course, I really loved it. I guess it symbolizes whatever nobility they stuffed into me as a peasant from the Rukongai but also all the stuff they gave to me that I didn't feel like I deserved for a very long time. I think it's especially important when I think of the responsibilities they gave me. Sensei sneakily creating this and adding it to this heirloom list was just another way of confirming all that. Maybe that's why it means so much to me."

Glimmers came to her eyes. "And it sparkles, which is pretty. It reminds me of the water lilies back home near the river."

Byakuya, obviously perplexed, had to ask "home as in?"

"Home as in the Rukongai, of course." Rukia answered with a little laugh. "This reminds me of them a lot. Especially during sundown when the river gets all sparkly too."

"I see." He observed the clip. "It seems that your other face must have disdain for that life, the Okasake clan and your birthright responsibility."

Rukia frowned. "I highly doubt it's that."

"You simply don't know that."

"You're trying to convince me that the other face I have feels disdain for what the Okasake clan gave me. These are things I cherish, Byakuya. What could've possibly happened fifty-two years ago for me to feel that much hatred towards them?" Rukia asked. "I know it's probably definite that the other face the older me has hates nobility like I do now but I can't imagine her hating Sensei Okasake—not him."

"Considering that grandfather warned you about this clip and based on your thoughts now, it seems that it is likely that the other face the older you owns holds that sort of resentment for the Okasake clan whether you would like to accept it or not." Byakuya concluded. "When we consider that, it also seems that they may have had something to do with the reason you left."

"But that wouldn't make sense. Older me told me that she had to explain everything to Sensei Okasake when she met him again. He didn't know the reason I joined your clan or became a shinigami either. He was the last Okasake member left at the time too."

"That does not matter." Byakuya said. "It may have been something in regards to them indirectly. Perhaps the reason they wanted to adopt you or perhaps you found an inten—"

"Byakuya." Rukia reprimanded. "I already told you, they had no re—"

"You are gifted." The sentence made her pause.

It was a compliment.

Odd coming from him and that's what pulled her into a state of a surprise as he continued.

"There is no doubt that you are an unusual being. With what you know and what you can do, it is obvious that there is use for you. Perhaps you found out that there was an intention all along—that the Okasake clan wanted to have you under their wing for a specific reason being the heir's birthright. That would easily be enough to have you believe that the life you had lived with them was a lie. It would also erase all those moments of chance and free will and choice you believed you had. The older you has constantly mentioned how much she wishes to be free."

She understood what he meant though she had long discarded those feelings after getting to know them. She was skeptical of course, had been for a very long time but...everything she did and everything she came to be was of her own choice and free will.

Even with Jushirmai tugging his puppet strings and that sovereign watching her from afar, she knew that her decisions when it came to the Okasake clan and the Soul King spirit had come from her.

"I know that, Byakuya but I already did that sort of stuff." Rukia explained. "When I was in the Rukongai and we met I totally doubted them. I found all of it deliberate and asked what it was they needed or wanted with me for awhile. Knowing how much I resisted then just makes me find it hard to believe that I would find out that all they told me is fake. Sensei wouldn't do that to me. I know it sounds like I'm blindly giving in but not Sensei...not him. It doesn't explain why the older me was so afraid to see him. She had leverage then—she had a reason."

She then reached out to hold onto the clip he held up. "Whatever hatred the older me has towards this clip is something I'm tempted to see but only to prove Sensei's innocence. It can't be anything having to do with him."

"It is dangerous."

"I know." Rukia's shoulders slumped. "Captain warned me so I won't do it, obviously but at the same time, I feel like my answers are all in this—in this clip. However the older me reacts to it would tell me who did me wrong to have me like this."

"I will hold onto it and keep it safe." He announced before putting it in the pocket of his hakama. "It is best I keep it away just in case. You should give me the one you have in your possession just in case the older you ever skims through your version of the book."

She dug her hand into her pocket and handed it to him.

"It can't be him..." Rukia muttered. "It has to be nobility."

"What kind of disdain would you have for nobility considering you are one of us? Your Rukongai connection does not matter. You were raised with noble influences and you are a noble now."

Rukia shook her head. "I'm not. I don't even like nobles or nobility. Even in the Rukongai, I hated nobles, I hated shinigamis and I hated the assassins. All of them, all of you," she corrected, "were evil to me. Privileged people with powers to make a change but wouldn't because it didn't concern you or your people."

Rukia sighed, looking away to the scattered papers on the floor. "Look, I know you don't understand or can't imagine what life in the Rukongai was like bu—"

"I know enough to know that you are right." He cut her off. Rukia glanced back at him. "I have not mentioned it but I have read what your early life in the Rukongai was like through your book. It is true that I cannot imagine what those experiences were like for you but reading them has illustrated your hardships well. Your experiences were beyond harsh. Any feelings you have are justified."

"And that's exactly why I think the older me's other face has that sort of animosity towards nobles. It isn't just about Sensei Okasake, it's about all of you. I've never forgotten the life I lived after meeting them. I tried to fix it, change it. Using my own hypocrisy, I did and still am, in our time, trying to do my best to fix it all so that no one has to live that way." Rukia said. "All I've been trying to do is fix it under them."

"You used your privilege." Byakuya clarified before Rukia nodded her head.

"That clip represents that, especially. That's why I think that the other face would despise nobility because it symbolizes why I even had to choose some responsibilities like fixing the Rukongai."

He studied her for a second, Rukia felt like her explanation had struck him into deep thought as looked to his left to examine the mess of papers on the ground.

"You have put yourself through a lot of stress." He mumbled quietly while he gazed at the papers beside him.

Rukia looked up.

"You are very ambitious but you are also only one person." He added, which was said even quieter, "it is no wonder the older you was on the verge of self-destruction."

She shuffled the papers on her lap again.

"Someone has to do it, Byakuya." She mumbled as she opened a folder. "Tell me who has the opportunity to make a change like this who could even remotely understand why the Rukongai is no different than Hell. It's a stupid class system that we've been condemned too."

He listened attentively as she browsed through the folder. "I made these decisions so that the Rukongai finally had a voice."

She handed him the few she found to look through. "That's exactly why I hate the thought of being a part of your clan. I have relationships with nobles, yes but at every moment in time I've always remained who I am. Becoming a Kuchiki and a seated officer under that family name goes against all of those values I carried as an informal member of the Okasake clan. It's more than just the fact that I'm a shinigami or that I entered the Captain's clan of all places or the fact that I'm known here as your little sister. Those things matter of course, even being called the Lieutenant is insane, but the most underlying thing is that it isn't who I am."

Rukia continued shuffling papers.

"I was never supposed to become a shinigami, Byakuya." She spoke lower this time. "As an informal member, I was allowed to pick and choose. I was comfortable there because I had control of all that. Here, with you, I've been living as an actual noble. There's no room for me to deny things or clutch onto anything that was remotely me."

He didn't say anything in response.

"There's no doubt that my hatred only grew in fifty years. Whatever these last two years have been hasn't changed a thing." Rukia said.

"The Okasakes must've been aware of this hatred. Grandfather too."

"Of course." Rukia immediately replied. "They knew how much I hated it all. Why'd you think Captain so easily complied to have me stay in the Rukongai? Besides all the other reasons there were, even before Sensei Okasake tried to kill me, he knew how I felt about living there better than anybody."

"He respected your wishes." Byakuya reiterated as he pushed more papers aside. They continued browsing.

"Exactly."

He emptied the last folder, finding irrelevant papers soon after to report, "there is nothing in here."

Rukia took the folders piled in his hands soon after and stood up to return them back to the drawers where she had found them. Byakuya surveyed the few papers left and found nothing.

"Are there more?" He asked while arranging them neatly.

"Yeah, here." She bent and dropped some more wrapped in lavender parchment paper. When he took them, she walked across the room to the royal cherry cabinet and pulled the twin doors open and brought out some more wrapped in yellow.

Byakuya carefully removed the paper. "Are you quite sure there would be no other room which could have the map? There are plenty in this manor. The chances of this being the only possible room with it are slim."

"I'm positive." Rukia assured as she planted herself beside him again with stacks of paper, each with mint parchment paper. "You see,"

She criss-crossed her legs and sat down, "a lot of these rooms in the manor are empty or inactive. There isn't much to actually have here since everything is stored back at the Capital which makes sense, obviously."

Her fingers gingerly removed the cover, "it used to be so spaced out. Library here, dining hall there, weapon hall somewhere but they had it all moved to one ward so it would be easy to find. I think there's still a lot of rooms I'm yet to check out."

"Mine is probably like that now too." He muttered. "There must not be many rooms active now as there is no use for them."

"The only two offices here are Sensei's, who wouldn't have the map and the other Sensei's inactive one." Rukia explained. "This room and his office at North Center Hall are the only two places I'm sure he would have it. None of us ever heard a peep about the Soul King Palace, he wouldn't leave it in any other room so carelessly. Especially not that office here."

"He moved a lot of things from here once he got distant from us." She added. "Though this room is different. Over there, there's a room with a bunch of photo albums and things. He liked it a lot here. There's still a few valuables he treasures here like that hand-painted clock."

"I see, though perhaps we must think deeper into what he values to find the location of this map." Byakuya suggested.

He stopped scourging. She followed too, "the only answer is Jushirmai."

"That is under his corruption however, if he still valued this room past that, it means that perhaps he could have stored it with something he had valued long before the Okasake heir got ahold of him within here. We have already found one valuable being here, now what else is there?" Byakuya then turned to her. "Can you think of anything else that Sensei could have valued within this room that could lead us to that map?"

Rukia uncrossed her legs and rose to crouch as she thought about it. "Well maybe not in this room but I can think of something."

"What is it?"

"The only thing or person, I should say, that I know Sensei valued more than anything before Jushirmai stepped in was the former Lieutenant." Rukia said.

"Father." Byakuya figured immediately as she bobbed her head once. "Though—"

They paused. Both of their eyes locked as the realization struck through them, their former expressions melted off. Their heads, simultaneously and slowly, turned around to stare at the large picture frame.

"No way." Rukia remarked in disbelief.

They both stood up immediately.

"Try opening it from the right." Rukia instructed as he approached the frame. That was where he stood to them in the picture.

He folded his fingers over the frame and pulled, having the frame move like a gate which Rukia took and pulled further until they could completely see.

The map.

"It's so tiny." Rukia observed. "There's got to be a bigger one than this. The Soul King Palace is huge. Who could possibly read that tiny font?"

"I agree. There are too many lines. It is rather complicated." Byakuya said beside her.

The finely detailed map was outlined with a thick hardwood frame. It was authentic. What was so jaw-dropping for Rukia was that amongst all the fine details with hundreds of rooms, she saw the scribble and felt a bit of longing.

Sensei Okasake's signature left a print on her heart which she couldn't explain. When she remembered him for who he was, she thought that no one but him would be more eager to purify the heart and redeem the Soul Society for good.

In his honor, she'd do it for him.

For the one she remembered and for the one everyone loved before he became two-faced.

###

Ichigo had remained stern, completely unreadable, after the shock had worn off in the testing hall. By then, each event he had witnessed moving forward passed by with silent observations.

He couldn't speak.

The shock he endured in that testing hall had rendered him speechless. He felt no need to talk even when the others weighed in their words of concern, suspicion and surprise at the outcome.

Somehow he got cold.

Distant enough to have even Kon shut his mouth around him in fear. The most he could do was stare at the ground when he thought. He would repeat the events he saw, draw conclusions and repeat.

The last event being Rukia's 'first' meeting with Okasake Jushirmai. By now, he was like stone.

Everything about that interaction had irked him. Young her had been convinced that she was free after that assassin named Kit promised her that freedom. Sensei Okasake had given her that promise as well and yet, the heir...refused to let her go. The hell had started there.

Ichigo already knew that from that day forward, Rukia had become enclosed by walls. The heir was only waiting for her rarity to be discovered to start as he had confirmed.

He only started to tune in on the conversation between the younger Byakuya and Rukia in front of him when Byakuya's father's involvement in the heir's adoption woke him up from his thoughts.

How could Byakuya's father still sign off on the adoption?

He knew Byakuya's reiatsu leaped when he heard of what role his father had played with the adoption too. It only made matters worse when he thought of how the present Rukia knew all this and didn't say a word while living in that house.

But still...she had protected him—the family—from having any association with the likes of the Okasake adoption with that form. That had to mean something to him even if he was upset with her.

He knew he had the Gotei 13 eyeing him regularly in concern but also precaution as the conversation went on. His reiatsu was giving off everything he needed too.

The more information he gathered from the exchange, the more dangerous that reiatsu bubbling inside him grew.

The fate of Okasake Gureta was agitating it. He heard their quiet remarks beside him in sorrow. Orihime, to his left, became stone too. Okasake Gureta had killed herself because of that fucking heir.

He also now knew her reason for remaining in the Rukongai. That Sensei had been out to kill her because of his own damn heart. The frustration burgeoned when he learnt of the younger her's suspicion that the current her was becoming two-faced and then, there it was, all it took for Ichigo to have that reiatsu rumble so loudly it waved past the Gotei 13 in an instant.

That clip.

The spider lily clip.

That was her trigger.

That was the only time ever since that testing hall that he had looked to Byakuya who met his contact immediately.

The younger her's suspicion was true. It was real and it was happening. Ichigo could only remain wordless as he had been while the others inserted their thoughts.

Once the Soul King Palace's map was found beneath that picture frame of Byakuya's father, Ichigo finally turned around to face the Gotei 13.

His expression was still hard. He even heard Orihime gasp when he had turned.

Rangiku took the initiative to speak. "Do you think she is?"

Ichigo still found it hard to say a word. He drilled an imaginary hole with his eyes into the ground.

"How could such a thing happen?" Captain Ukitake questioned in despair. The information they had learnt struck him harder when he thought of Sensei Okasake's fate. Both of them. Having reflected on his memories with Sensei Okasake Gureta, especially, he knew she had carried a troubled heart because of the infant's death but he could've never imagined this.

His right hand shot to Byakuya's shoulder, beside him.

"Byakuya-kun…."

He didn't know what to say. How could Sojun have signed off on the heir?

To make matters worse, his own Lieutenant was potentially re-tracing the exact same steps of the former Senseis. His heart only shook further when Ichigo confirmed his Lieutenant's double face as true.

"Rukia is becoming two-faced." Ichigo's low confirmation had them all stuck in their places. The confession had been the glue.

He never looked up to see any of them but he knew they were all silenced by the thought.

"That spider lily clip and what it does is true." He added before retelling the story Byakuya had shared about the night of Captain Ukitake's birthday party and then about her love for the flower itself and then, something else he remembered that was rather new.

"She told her, right there, in front of me about how they were living the same life as someone they knew (AN: Rarity Fades Into Nothingness). That guy, a part of Jushirmai's entourage, who I met way back in the Seireitei near those mountains mentioned it too (AN: The First Interaction). He said she was living the same life as someone very close to her." Ichigo explained. "This must've been what they were referring to. There's a second face and it's growing. What happened with Byakuya is just another sign. That clip is dangerous. She probably tried her best to keep it in then but that doesn't mean that it isn't at or has been in an unstoppable condition before."

"Knowing that this occurred with Byakuya-kun just means that she tried her hardest to keep it in." Captain Ukitake affirmed. He was exhausted. "It could be much worse than what we're thinking if Ginrei-dono warned the younger her about the clip."

"She had avoided the manor and me following her apology for seventeen days." Byakuya recounted, speaking for the first time in a while which caught their attention instantly. "It was only after those days did she begin to walk along the field again."

"She was perhaps trying to avoid lashing out on you." Captain Ukitake said. "Knowing what her behaviour was like at the time, she most likely wanted to avoid you so that she would not end up releasing more than she could handle. That attitude would have also been unacceptable to you."

Ichigo took the opportunity to ask, "did you ask Renji about any of this?"

"He was aiding her during the time in which she was avoiding the manor and speaking with me. I did not question him directly. She had also removed her gloves. She did not wear them at that time either." Byakuya informed them.

Shuhei stepped up, "you think this ties in with the 'hating nobility' stuff the younger her was just talking about and has been talking about?"

"Could be…" Uryū sounded uncertain. "Though I'm not sure why she would only avoid speaking to Captain Kuchiki. Captain Ukitake is a noble, she didn't avoid speaking with him."

("I found another one! It's behind it." Child Rukia told Byakuya in the background.)

"We also had a Lieutenant's meeting a week after Captain Ukitake's birthday and she was fine when she talked to Nanao. There was nothing strained about her speaking there." Rangiku said.

"I'm afraid we don't know much of this second face's ability or disdain. Perhaps it is more targeted at Kuchiki because of the Kuchiki clan. The Soul King's heart still has an abundance of darkness from the Okasake side which both have unconditional disdain for the Kuchiki clan." Tōshirō said. "It is likely that she still manages the other face well, enough to hold back her own hatred for nobility."

Uryū took Tōshirō's assumption as true. "Which would explain why she was able to act normally with Lieutenant Ise and Captain Ukitake or whomever she communicated with at the time of noble origin."

"I think the younger her's assumption about her despising nobility, considering her close ties with the Okasake clan and later, the Kuchiki clan makes them stronger targets. It explains why the other Captain Kuchiki warned her to meet with Sensei Okasake before 'she' shows up (AN: Fruits Are the Evil Eye) which was obviously alluding to the second face's personality." Uryū added.

"The Soul King's heart darkness is a part of hers too." Kensei reminded them. "That other face, whatever it is, is probably feeding off of that shit too besides the whole nobility thing."

"She could make us the enemy." Lieutenant Kira warned. "Just like that darkness and Okasake heir made Sensei Okasake's enemy those other people that were involved too."

"But," Lieutenant Hinamori started, "doesn't it sound kind of weird that Lieutenant Kuchiki would be targeted as well?"

"Uh….which one you speakin' about, Hinamori? We got two on our plate now." Captain Hirako said.

That damn Kuchiki family been multiplying by the hour, Kensei grumbled in his head.

"O-Oh sorry, I meant, the former one." Lieutenant Hinamori clarified. "Though he may have tried to change Sensei Okasake's mind, he still was very precious to him and had been before the Okasake heir got adopted. Could the Okasake heir's hypnosis really work to erase that? By the looks of it, he still left the Soul King map here with reference to him."

"Hmm, I think you may be onto something Momo but the thing is, the former Lieutenant Kuchiki wasn't the only one at the right of that photo, the one we know is also there too and she was also precious to him too." Rangiku said softly.

"You could very well assume that his original face still had some shred of consciousness to remember his feelings." Mayuri said. "Perhaps it wasn't entirely corrupt."

"This whole switchin' thing is gettin' way too fucking complicated." Kensei said. "We still don't know where Lieutenant Kuchiki stands in all of this. That other face could be fucked up enough to go against us and we can't take that risk considering what she has."

"Nee-san can still control her face. We haven't seen anything like that since we got here." Kon argued. "That other Sensei could easily switch like that but Nee-san can't! It's different."

"Kinda reminds me of hollowifying. We got control till shit gets complicated, right, Ichigo?" Captain Hirako said with head tilt and smirk.

Orihime gasped, "will she turn into something like that, Kurosaki-kun?"

She had rushed up to him in worry but Uryū behind her was quick to dismiss it. "No, I think this face change is entirely internal, Inoue-san. Just like that younger, child version of him we saw just now, it's all a trick with personality. Kuchiki-san's other face is a personality which aligns with her own and the heart's darkness and as the younger Kuchiki-san explained, it bores from an event which was big enough to let the darkness take over majority of the heart which she wielded as almost entirely pure."

"You know it's kinda serious when you think about how much light she managed to stuff into that ol'heart up there, only to have it fucked up by something we still don't know about." Captain Hirako said.

"The heart had been kept greatly purified by Lieutenant Kuchiki when we lost Sensei Okasake to the darkness. Considering the scale of it all, she worked tremendously hard to have that much return in there." Captain Unohana explained. "If she could install that much then, she could do it now too."

"But Captain," Isane called, "how would that ever be possible again considering whatever event made her contaminate the heart? Certainly her anger or sadness was great enough to consume the whole thing and have it ready to serve the Okasake heir."

"We still have Ichigo and her." Shuhei said, which caught Ichigo by surprise.

"What?"

"The light got revived by Dr Oswald but you, Ichigo, made it spark. Maybe there's hope." Shuhei said. "It isn't as simple, I'm sure, but it's something."

"We still have the pure light to think about and whatever method her and the former Captain Kuchiki are avoiding." Iba reminded them.

"That is true however, I truly do not think they will ever think of that as an option. Considering that we know that both Kuchikis have been trying to find a method in these past two years means that they have more information than ever and are still unable too. And yet, that first option seems to be one that they won't risk." Tōshirō said. "I have a suspicion that maybe even Urahara has no clue about what it is."

"Lieutenant Kuchiki does have a good chance at redeeming the heart on her own like Captain Unohana and Hisagi mentioned but the problem is that with this second face born and the fact that she hasn't moved on from whatever happened fifty-two years ago means that it will be rather difficult." Uryū said. "I think there's only so much light Kurosaki can enter into her to purify the heart but it won't be enough to purify it in entirety."

"Her condition alone is dangerous to herself too." Rangiku said. "When the heart was all dark, she was fine but with this light in the way and that barrier, it's only putting it at risk of losing our only light for good."

"There's much to think about here, Matsumoto." Tōshirō said.

"Yes," Mayuri was intrigued, "there's still that divine sheatsu within her that can very much be what sustains her eternal life and the fact that her connection to the heart is still very strong despite that two-faced Head Commander hating her guts."

"You just said that the Sensei's original face wasn't entirely fucked up, what's the problem?" Ikkaku asked.

"Well," he grinned, "the problem is that his hatred was much stronger than that. It was essentially almost his entire face when the two were put together. Minuscule things like this with that other Lieutenant Kuchiki would make sense. It was a shard of goodness which had him remember what he valued most to hide something of great value. This Lieutenant Kuchiki is much different. She was the center of his hatred for knowing the heart's location. It seemed that he had been after her more times than he welcomed her into his arms."

Once again, they all glanced at each other except Captain Sui-Feng and Captain Unohana.

"But wouldn't that just mean that Kuchiki-san's value on the remaining original side was just very strong?" Uryū said.

"Perhaps," Mayuri said. "Or," he was getting way too giddy, "there's something more we're yet to know about our little Lieutenant friend. She is one spectacular being!"

"I'm not switching my Lieutenant." Captain Ukitake repeated again for what felt like the billionth time.

"Oh, please! What reason does she have to stay with you? Or even here for that matter?" Mayuri asked which Captain Ukitake didn't know how to respond to.

Ichigo brought them back on track, "the younger one...do you think she still has it? We never saw her glow up."

"The current one didn't either." Lieutenant Hinamori pointed out.

"But didn't the younger Kuchiki-san come back fine despite the cleaner showing up?" Orihime asked. "I didn't see anyone give her sheatsu when she left."

"There's still the pure light she had." Kensei mentioned.

"Yeah, but the older one has the pure light on her too and she's always left with someone givin' her sheatsu. Either from the Roger guy or the former Captain Kuchiki." Captain Hirako pointed out.

"He's right, the younger one never took anyone's sheatsu which means she's pretty good at concealing it on her own." Captain Kyōraku said. "Which shouldn't come to a surprise to any of you considering what she has. We know she'd have to master it sooner or later."

Someone then gasped which caught their attention. They turned to the source.

###

With her arms now stretched out and touching each side of the parted door, Rukia gasped at the first sight of her room which had Byakuya turn to her in immediate concern.

"What is it?"

The smile came to her face.

Her hands, now intertwined, were near the left side of her chest with a nice pinkish red hue coming to her cheeks as she stared at the wall ahead of her.

It was completely covered with lines of open fan-blades, each with different and sparkling designs of purple, white or were of a translucent design.

"Wow….so pretty." Rukia remarked as Byakuya came beside her to look. By now, she had stepped into the room in awe.

He was immediately displeased, "this is an obsession."

Rukia groaned, "obsession? It's a collection! They're all so pretty don't you think?"

"You have about a hundred lined up in this room." He stated as he observed the room for himself.

"So?" She chirped. "It's a collection, duh. I can't believe I own so much now."

"You probably had to pay for these all yourself." He pointed out as his eyes shot right and saw drawings hunched up near the walls and an art stand. He then saw more drawings which looked like the ones she would draw under the heir's compulsion.

"We've been over this a billion times, I'm pretty sure you have short term memory loss." Rukia said, which instantly hit a nerve. "The fact that I could even afford all this means well."

By then, he walked past her and bent to observe the drawings. Rukia walked further into her room which was now a lot more decorated and personalized. She made a sharp right turn into the doorless entryway and entered the other room to the right which had her lavender closet, weaponry and other things.

When she came out, the Kuchiki heir was observing the ground.

"What's wrong?"

"It's small." He remarked which hit her nerve.

She jerked back, "this is small for you?"

"Of course. It is like they put you in a shack."

Rukia gasped, "Byakuya!"

She then turned to her fan-blade wall, "oh, never mind you. You think the older me would be alright with me trying some of these? That bleeding heart flower one looks so pretty."

Gosh, she couldn't wait to try them. The edges were all sharp and ready for the taking but—"you still have three you took from her that you are yet to try. Do not be so eager."

She shot him a look, "wrong. I tried both of these," with the flick of her hand she had two fan-blades out. The one on her left was the navy blue-purple one with petal patterns and the one on the right was the slightly greenish one to reflect the green moonstone, "when I took out those shard puppets. I used them interchangeably."

"Shard puppets?" Tōshirō repeated in the background. "Do you think she means—"

"Those puppets for the Gotei 13 he came in with? Sure." Captain Kyōraku responded behind him.

"If they're all gone then that means new opponents will be coming soon, right?" Rangiku asked to particularly no one.

"New is wrong, I think real is right." Shuhei said beside her as the conversation in front of them continued.

"You should not disregard your zanpakutō's connected fan blade so carelessly. It is you." Byakuya reprimanded her in a rare occurrence which had her feeling apologetic on her end.

"I got that, I just...don't know how to use it yet. All my blades do the same thing she does but in different ways and forms. Having a blade like this," she flicked out the fan blade of silver with artwork of white with deep cream flowers at the arch, "without much instruction is gonna take some time getting used to. In the meanwhile, I should try one of these."

"And the older you?"

"She won't mind. She is me, plus! She's gonna need these back soon anyways." Rukia reasoned before hopping on her tippy toes and down. "Ooh! They are all so pretty, I don't know which one I want to choose. This left one I have on here was really clean when it came to gouging at the guts."

Byakuya tried to hide his grimace when he discovered a handle near her feet. He bent to pull it, "what is this?"

"That? Oh, that's nothing. Just the secret room I hide in if Sensei is here. As in, the other Sensei, of course, when I slept here." Rukia casually informed him before shifting her glittery eyes to the wall.

He closed it. "I see."

Rukia didn't pay attention to him as she had sprung up to take one fan blade down and one other one that would give her two. She was trying to compose herself but boy, were they pretty.

It was only after her decision-making did she notice that the Kuchiki heir was standing straight to one side of the parted shōji being the left. He seemed lost again.

She approached him from behind and took a peek at what he was looking at.

His father.

The Lieutenant.

Rukia figured that perhaps her mentioning the other Sensei Okasake's hatred had him thinking of those adoption papers again. His gaze hadn't left the picture now diagonal to them.

Rukia leaned against the opposite end of the door, "Byakuya….it wasn't the Lieutenant's fault. Why are you dwelling on it so much? It really isn't a big deal."

She didn't know how to comfort him again. This time was different. He wouldn't even allow her to see the right side of his face.

"He just did what anyone would do. Trust Sensei. That's what everybody did back then. Who would've thought he'd become corrupted?" Rukia asked him. "Jushirmai would find his way in either way. That form means nothing."

"I cannot expect you to understand this." He said, with most of his back to her. "Or perhaps you can, it depends on where you stand with your identity in relation to this clan's name."

Rukia watched the corner of his right eye spare her a glimpse before looking back.

"The Kuchiki clan is the oldest clan in the Soul Society. Our contributions to this world are enormous. They are not accomplishments which can be overlooked when you think of the origin of the Gotei 13 and as I have now learned, the assassins. Our clan is severely linked with the operations which maintain this world. For that, we are a noble clan." Byakuya explained. "We are very much key figures in this world's development. It is why we remain so prestigious and revered by others. It is our ancestors who gave us such a history which each generation is expected to uphold and honour."

Rukia listened carefully as he went on, "we are viewed as one of the few figures who uphold this society. For that, we are also its protectors. What we do as a clan is to protect those laws, structures and operations we aided in building centuries ago. That responsibility falls on every Head as it does every member. What we do is for the greater good for the members of the Soul Society."

And though Rukia disagreed with that last part, she let him go onto his point. "The decision of any member falls on the rest of the family. It is one of the reasons you will find that no member of that household has a single flaw. We act on decisions that will ensure that our family name remains unscathed and our ancestors remain honoured for their hard work. It is a unified effort to protect our honour and pride though it is one that can easily be tampered with by the actions of one member. It is why we are so critical and wary of those who enter our clan and bear our name. It is much more than entering a family, you are carrying a legacy on your back even after death."

Hearing that last sentence made her feel bad. She couldn't imagine having that sort of immense pressure on her own.

"Father, having signed and authorized that adoption, may not have intended for that to happen; however, if this information were to slip, our family name would be binded to his actions in the process. Considering the dangers this heir is and has been posing will affect the reputation of the Kuchiki clan if this information is exposed in the slightest. Furthermore, father would become the center of the heir's acceptance given that he was someone that Sensei confided in and asked for an honest opinion. Certainly despite our knowledge that the heir would do anything to have entered that house, the fault and flaw would fall on father and the Kuchiki clan. It is dangerous information to have."

Rukia took this into consideration to better understand his feelings. Each member was essentially a representative of their clan's name no matter where they went. She understood that. She had kept this because she was sure that many would misinterpret the form and blame the Lieutenant as well though, she never considered the backlash the clan would face as a whole.

She crossed her arms, "I'll admit I wasn't thinking of your clan as a whole too. I did only think of the Lieutenant being held responsible but not the rest of you too. When I look at it in that way, I understand why it's a bit hard to move on from this, especially since more than anything people are questioning why he even was allowed to be adopted."

She slightly turned to have her body face him properly. "But I need you to believe me when I say that the Lieutenant did his absolute best in Jushirmai's case. After the adoption, you don't think he just left it in Sensei Okasake's arms, do you?"

Byakuya only moved a little to see her when she asked.

"Of course not, Byakuya. He did what he could to stop Sensei even before the heart and what not got involved. He always did his best." Rukia said before saying the next part quietly, "even with his condition."

She could properly see his face now. He was even, surprisingly, leaning against his side of the door.

"The Lieutenant has only ever done more right than he's done wrong. He hasn't even done anything wrong to me. Why do you think Kla jumped to accuse you of being 'that evil man's son'?" Rukia laughed. "The Lieutenant was a nuisance to them, being Kla and Jushirmai, 'cause he posed more of a threat than ever to him. He kept the light on in Sensei's heart. You could even say his efforts kept Sensei going for as long as he could before his complete corruption. But even then, he never stopped trying."

"Think it's kinda crazy you have to think this much," her eyes averted elsewhere, "I understand that to some extent but that's only because I was given a responsibility from this clan to protect the Soul King."

It was Byakuya's turn to listen. "But there's a key difference and that is the thing I've always talked about. Blood. Let's say we lived in an alternative universe where the heart being destroyed wouldn't have as big of an effect as it has now. If I failed, I would be shunned even after death but my entire, nonexistent bloodline wouldn't have to suffer that same fate. The Okasakes wouldn't be held that accountable or have to live with a long burden of shame 'cause of my actions because we're not related."

"In many ways, I feel kinda sorry for you, even though you're used to it and understand your responsibilities. It's a lot to take on, especially since even a little thing like this can jeopardize so much." She spoke tenderly, the softest she had ever spoken to him. "Though, the Lieutenant is far from something you need to worry about when it comes to your clan. His legacy is one that will never be scratched by something like this."

She let him think that through for a moment as she contemplated whether to say what she wanted to say next.

"And for what it's worth, you were born into a clan that expects nothing but perfection from you which I understand. And though I know we're already in the future and it's pointless to say, I hope you still got to live as a kid at least once in a while."

His head shot up to look at her just then. She smiled. "No matter the reason, there's still no such thing as a perfect kid. The older mentioned to me that the older you is perfect but I hope to get there you didn't have lose so much of your childhood."

Leaning back into the room, she glanced at her wall of fan blades, "I'm gonna do some more deciding. I think I want another blade."

She was about to move but two words stopped her. "Thank you."

She met his gaze, repressing a full blown smile, she nodded her head. "I'll only do this once but you're welcome."

With her chest feeling all fluttery, she didn't want to stick around him to see his reaction so she turned but again, she was stopped.

"Show me Okasake Gureta's ward." He had already moved to the center of the room where they had been.

Rukia gasped, "why?"

"I would like to see it." He simply answered.

"But why?" Rukia asked him. "We're not allowed to go in, I told you—"

"I am aware. I merely want to see it from a distance." He responded before his eyes caught a hold of a cerulean vase perched on a high black table of wood.

That's odd.

He hadn't noticed a single vase such as this in the room when he had come in.

It was a novelty vase of marble which was visibly handcrafted.

He found himself drawn to it.

"That's weird." Rukia remarked behind him. "What does seeing it from a distance do?"

He didn't answer as he was more intrigued by the vase.

"Why is this here?" He asked as he bent closer to it. A fresh lemon scent indicated that it had been recently cleaned.

"It's just a present that Sensei Okasake got from Sensei Okasake Gureta some time ago before she passed. Though," she raised her brow, "it's usually up there."

He glanced up and tried to spot the location. It was next to a portrait.

"I...see." He straightened his back.

Rukia detected something odd coming from him. It was brief and barely detectable but she most definitely knew what it was, even if it appeared only for a second.

Rukia leaned in near his shoulder with her hands behind her back to ask, "are you spooked?"

Again, his body moved to indicate the slightest flinch before he straightened his posture, "no. What do you mean by that word?"

"Spooked?" She leaned back. "It's just a word that means 'shaken up' or 'scared'."

"That is far from appropriate." Again, she noticed he was forcing in the heavy tone. "I was observing it."

"And then got spooked when I mentioned Sensei Okasake." Rukia concluded. "It's fine if you're spooked. You seemed a little shaken up earlier when I mentioned it."

"I was not." He refuted with that irritating cocky expression on him. "It was because of father's involvement with the Okasake heir's adoption."

"Sure." She sarcastically remarked. "Anyways, we're not going. There's nothing to see or nothing to show."

"I would like to see it." He commanded her when she turned.

"—Byakuya—"

"It is merely for the experience. I would just like to see the space."

"No." Rukia denied, mid-way through the doors of her room. "There's really nothing to see but a disconnected part of the manor. The only thing you could probably see is the windows 'cause the outside lights are always on."

"Then there should be no problem with letting me see it."

"Why does it even matter?" She stopped in between the doors. "Sensei Okasake Gureta is at peace. She was purified when she left this world. Though her stuff remains untouched, there's nothing there that could remotely connect to this. The maids clean some of the space, sure but it's only once per year and really, the only thing they do is open all the doors and have it air out during the winter. It's forbidden to go there."

"I am only asking to view it from outside." Byakuya said, which in disguise of its calm delivery to reason with her was a final plea.

Rukia shoulders sunk, how she hated being this weak.

###

With her back turned to him, she secured the lock on the shōji with the thick, folded white paper beneath her armpit, before leading the Kuchiki heir to the left of her.

She couldn't believe she was doing this.

They were only going to stare from a distance but still. The whole request was weird. She was starting to think that he was only doing this to indirectly prove he wasn't spooked when she already knew he was.

The tough guy image of his wasn't needed.

Rukia almost rolled her eyes when she noticed he was taking the lead even though he had no idea where he was going. It wasn't far down. One turn and you'd be able to see it; however, what irked her was the need for him to walk two steps in front of her.

"Why are you leading?"

"That is obvious." Rukia already knew she wasn't going to like what he said next. "I am older and I am the Head."

He was really treating her like his little sister now if he was being this attentive to something so trivial.

"Why do you keep treating me like your little sister?" Rukia asked. "It's so weird. Make it stop."

"It is our future." He responded immediately. "We cannot dwell on our past when we know the outcome."

Bossy brat. You're only happy because everything you wanted to be, happened.

"Uh, we're changing that outcome, remember? We had this whole plan to set each other free from each other. There's no use in getting into a routine plus I don't like this." Rukia said.

"It is the rules." She internally scowled. "You are supposed to be walking further back but I will allow it considering that you are you."

He rendered her almost speechless. "I. Don't. Follow. Your. Rules."

"I am aware." He shot her a look from that one right eye. "Though it is your fate."

"Byakuya." She warned. "Don't get me started on this again, please. I already told you I want out and that this was never supposed to be my fate. Why do you want to get into an argument again?"

"You are the one inciting it."

"Because you have this tendency to be so bossy with me." Rukia then scoffed with her arms crossed. "Got me all the way out here just 'cause you wanna prove that you weren't spooked."

He halted his steps, "I was not 'spooked'."

"You most definitely were." Rukia laughed right after. "It's okay if you were. I understand. Dunno why you're being so sensitive about it."

"I am doing none of the above. I simply wanted to see the location." Byakuya said with his eyes closed.

He then resumed walking, Rukia followed. "Liar, you were spooked."

"I was not."

"Byakuya," she called, "being or feeling a bit of discomfort because of the whole thing is completely normal. I saw it in your eyes back then, you were spooked."

"I was not 'spooked'." He repeated again. "I am not superstitious. Despite the abnormalities I have seen during my time here, they are not enough to convince me of supernatural entities such as ghosts which can exist after death."

"So you were scared about her being a ghost." Rukia concluded, feeling accomplished that she guessed it right.

"It seems like your comprehension is low."

"It's not. I'm just right and I keep telling you, it's absolutely fine that you feel that way." Rukia said. "You really don't have to do this to prove anything to me."

"It is mere curiosity."

"Well, your destination is here then." They stopped at the corner. "To satisfy your 'mere curiosity'."

Rukia pointed out to a separate house, diagonal to them—almost isolated with a white fog from the weather which maundered carelessly around it to give it that eerie demeanor.

It was evidently abandoned. Byakuya could not detect any essence of life attached to it.

The snow refused to even touch it minus the sections atop the thatched roof. The outside was clear of any.

There were lights shaped like glass hellebores which lit the empty veranda with a honeycomb flare. Perhaps that was the only thing which saved the near dead outlook of the place by adding a cozy touch but Byakuya thought it added onto its sinister quality as it shed light on its abandonment quite uncomfortably.

There were three separate built-in windows the shape of a small rectangle on the side they faced. Two were located down further left and one was near the last shōji closest to the right before it became just a wall that would join with another to form the corner.

It was also the only window in which they could peer into from afar. Not that there was much to see but black. Considering the size of them, there would not be much to see even if the lights inside were on.

The Okasake Gureta touch could be found in the gables which were bell-shaped and had a toned-down version of turquoise. It was most likely an indication of this being her section of the manor.

Vines of green with what Byakuya assumed were glass flowers of pink and clear poured out of a latticed window near the two rectangular ones further left. Another indication, he assumed.

Having come to look at it, he observed it in silence—walking a bit further past the corner to see it with Rukia behind him.

Having observed it in the backdrop of night with wind which shook those vines to make sounds, the swish of the air made staring seem much more forbidden. As if the longer he did it, the more agitated it was starting to become.

"Are you done now?" He heard Rukia ask behind him but did not feel inclined to respond.

His eyes drew to that window. The one nearest to the right. It showed nothing, of course, but he peered into it anyway.

He was not ready to leave just yet.

Rukia called him again, "Byakuya,"

She was closer now. "Are you do—"

"When exactly is this section of the house typically cleaned out again?" He asked her. It seemed that he had struck her into a state of appall as she did not reply right after he had asked.

Rukia thought back, "first day of winter? Sometime around then. I heard she really liked the snow which is obvious 'cause you know...she's the guardian of the moonstone and the moonstone's element is snow and ice and souls and what not. Why?"

"A question out of curiosity." He answered which Rukia immediately doubted.

She found that he was transfixed with the window. She didn't know what exactly he was trying to look for in there but the entire ordeal was pointless. She reached out and shook him.

"Byakuya." She called with her hands to his shoulders. "Let's go, alright? You've looked at it enough."

He didn't move.

"Hellloooo?" Nothing.

What exactly was he so fixated on about that house? There was nothing to see. She removed her arms, "okay, fine, I get it, you weren't spooked, can we go now?"

Could he even hear her?

Her hand sprang up and slapped his arm, "Byakuya."

Impatience surged within her, "Byakuya!"

She reached out again and joggled his shoulders. She tried to end whatever hypnotic spell the house had casted on him but he refused to break free. She matched his stare and saw that it hadn't changed from the window.

The longer she tried to see what he was, the more discomfort she felt. The house had never scared her before but that didn't mean that staring at it when nobody was here, in the middle of the night, wasn't going to incite that sort of feeling.

Byakuya acting so allured by it and refusing to answer her wasn't helping either. She was starting to think she had lost him the moment his eyes fell on that window.

The wind which gusted past the house gave her another excuse for them to leave. It was still cold. Verycold. Too cold for him to be fine in just a shinigami uniform and his clan's gloves without any additional protection added onto his sleeves.

He'd probably never admit it but it was better they got back inside instead of having him freeze.

She stomped her foot. "Byakuya."

She grabbed his wrist, "let's go. You're gonna freeze the longer you stay out."

Rukia moved to drag him but his body grew stiff. The skin beneath his glove was beyond cold. It was ice. Her concern intensified when she faced him again and saw a gulp run down his throat.

Something was very wrong with him. His stone expression was unlike any idle look he had given her before.

"Bya—"

She turned around to see the window again—a gasp hurtled out of her mouth at the contact of a tight grasp near her shoulder just then. She jolted at the touch. Looking back, she met the source.

He had stopped her before she could.

"Something is there." It took those three words to impale her. She stared up at him for answers but his step back only told her that he felt fear.

"Byakuya," she called again. She didn't know whether she was trying to settle his or her nerves but to believe there was anything there felt unreal. "Quit it, alright? I'm not scared."

He finally met her eyes.

"This place doesn't have any visitors. I told you it's never used. None of the maids would ever go in there without permission. All the doors are locked from the inside and Sensei always has a sheatsu lock on each door outside." Rukia said.

###

"Inoue-san, are you alright?" Uryū questioned beside her.

Something had swept through her. Her eyes were just as fixed on the rectangular window as the younger Captain Kuchiki was. She held her arms beneath the cloak of white Mayuri had brought with him and 'lent' to her for the price of assisting him in coercing Lieutenant Kuchiki to join him.

She looked distant.

"Orihime, what's wrong?" Rangiku inquired behind her.

"Kuchiki looks distant too…" Tōshirō quietly observed in reference to the younger Captain Kuchiki a few steps ahead of him.

Orihime gasped and pulled herself back which drew their attention on her too as the younger Captain Kuchiki in front of them grasped the younger Rukia's arm.

"What's wrong, Inoue-san?" Uryū asked her, gently. He raised his left hand to touch her shoulder but decided against it as her body rattled. She looked frightened as her finger pointed out to the window.

"S-Something...was there." She said, nervously. "I saw it. Something was definitely there."

"Like what, Inoue?" Ichigo asked.

She shook her head.

Rangiku got closer to her, "what do you think it was?"

"The younger Kuchiki looks shaken up too." Tōshirō pointed out. "If something is in there, who or what could it be?"

###

"We must go." He seemed certain that something was going to happen. Though it came out normal, she could detect the rush he was in.

Rukia leaned back. "There's nothing th—"

"Now." He ordered again before leading her back in a quick haste back to the general room they had been in. Like a guard, he gripped her shoulder tight and observed their surroundings as they went down the veranda again and she unlocked the door.

She would've assumed they were going back into the red-rocked dimension below but he hurried her in, closed the door and reached up to secure a lock on the shōji.

"—Byakuya!" She spun with him as he then opened her room and then went to secure the lock on the other shōji which would grant entrance to the same veranda they came from.

Though she didn't see him do it, she heard it. When she entered her room, he was already headed into the side room. His feet were quick. While she heard him move things in the other room, she looked back at the door they had come from.

What did you see?

###

He was no longer locking doors and entrances with that unreadable look he had on his face earlier. Instead, he knelt down into a cushion in the middle of the room yet again. His hair was down, having abandoned the red string which had held his hair in a high ponytail once they entered the room.

Rukia, without much to work with, decided to not ask and have him settle down. She pushed the wall where the large portrait was hung, having Byakuya learn that there was more space to the room behind it. The wall was nothing more but a thin block to give the illusion that there was nothing beyond there.

She pushed the wall to the side and he watched it transform into a shōji as a disguise.

He locked that door too when she left into an interconnected room on the right and made tea. A glimpse of the vase had been enough to trigger an uprise of precaution within him.

He moved immediately.

When she came out with two cups, he was back on that cushion—studying the floor or rather, thinking.

She spoke for the first time when she planted the tea in front of him, "I'm assuming you don't drink sugar with your tea."

"Of course." She was surprised he answered so quickly with that familiar proud, lordly tone. "It is the only acceptable form of consumption."

Rukia was happy to hear that—not his opinion—but that the know-it-all character was back.

She sat down in front of him, "so, tell me what you saw."

He closed his eyes when he drank his tea. Rukia waited for them to open.

"I have already said it. Something was there."

"Okay, like what?" Rukia inquired. "And why are we locked in here? Shouldn't we go back? I still have to give the older me this map. What's going on?"

"It is best we remain locked here until we are certain that we will not be followed." He explained.

Followed?

Did he really think he saw a ghost?

"Followed?" Her tone made it sound like he was being ridiculous but she also knew by now that he was not the kind to pull pranks or jokes.

"We are alone in this manor."

She nodded her head, "I think. All the maids should be home by now. I know Sensei wouldn't have them working in this. I'm not sure about Benjee but I'm going to assume he's gone for the night."

"Who?"

"Our chef…." Rukia answered.

He was ready to scold her, she could tell by the appalled look, "you know the names of the—"

He stopped himself, closed his eyes, and gave in, "continue."

"Uh, by the looks of it, Chancellor Fujii is gone. I can't sense his sheatsu and Minister Asa isn't here, which is good, other than that, I can't think of anybody else who would be here that is here regularly." She finished.

"There is no gardener or other personnel who manages sections of this house such as the library?" Byakuya asked to confirm.

"There are but they're all probably back at the Copper Residence up ahead. It's an extension of this manor which houses the maids and workers there." Rukia said. "They wouldn't come here without reason."

"I see." He said. "We will have to make do with what we have here for now. You will not unlock any door."

"Can you tell me what you think is gonna follow us?" Was it a ghost? Did he really think he saw a ghost of all things? Coming from the Kuchiki heir, it sounded ridiculous.

He opened his eyes again, "I will not take the chance of transferring something malicious to where my body and the Gotei 13's bodies—"

She caught him looking over her left shoulder, he stilled. Almost as if he was frozen in place, he stared and stood up.

"I did not lock that door." He announced.

Rukia turned to see what he meant but he had already opened her room doors again for her to see what he was alluding to.

The side entrance to the other room.

There was no door.

He came back.

Rukia looked up at him from the ground. It only struck her then, when he stood tall in front of her with that earnest face did she actually, momentarily, feel like she was speaking to her older brother. For once. "There's no door for that room. It's a part of my room."

"Are there any other doors within that section?"

"Erm...five actually but they're never used."

"Show them to me."

###

"Hmm, it seems that Byakuya-kun is really disturbed by this." Captain Ukitake observed out loud. "That is why it is more than important for you," he turned to Orihime on the ground, "to share with us, Inoue-san, of what you saw."

"Was it really that bad?" Rangiku, who knelt beside her, asked.

"Inoue-san is a bit different than others. When that whole situation with Muramasa happened, Inoue-san developed a feature to recognize feelings more prominently than others when expressed." Uryū explained to the group. "She'd be able to embody the feelings as if they were her own temporarily if the emotions were not properly suppressed. At times, it can come out stronger than she expects hence….."

His silence alluded to her condition.

"Whatever she saw had some sort of feeling or emotion that was strong enough to hit her that way." Ichigo summarized.

"Like a soul shadow, Ichigo?" Kon asked on his shoulder.

"There is a possibility." Uryū said. "Soul shadows become what they are due to an emotion which passes through them after death here. Enough to have their reishi become impossible to purify and thus leave to become something which can exist after death. Right, Captain Kurotsuchi?"

"Precisely, though by the looks of it, the younger Captain Kuchiki was going off about a ghost." He passed it off as nothing. Unimpressed by such a boring conclusion after all that excitement of something new he was yet to learn.

"We should not take this lightly." Captain Ukitake warned.

"He's right."

"Now you're all gettin' nerved by some fucking ghost." Kenpachi scoffed. "Can we all get onto something more fucking exciting? Like me fighting," he turned to Byakuya, "your fucking sister after this. How about that?!"

"Take it easy, Kenpachi." Ichigo said. He had his knee down in front of Orihime. "We're not in the Soul Society anymore. Whatever the hell this place is now is capable of pullin' any type of shit."

Orihime's head shot up at him—feeling warm at the gesture. He didn't meet her eyes but she felt the sincerity in his words and defense hence, she straightened her back.

Ready to tell.

"Byakuya-kun is just trying to protect her." Captain Ukitake said to them in reference to the younger one. "He wouldn't want to frighten her with such information."

"Not that it isn't nice n'all but uh….." Lieutenant Hisagi put his hand behind his back, "...I don't think Lieutenant Kuchiki can get scared."

"Yeah, she's something." Lieutenant Kira agreed.

"A whole force on her own." Kensei grumbled.

"We've got to give her credit for being that friendly." Rose said.

Yachiru cheered with a giggle. "Ken-chan's gonna have lots of fun!"

"Why ever would she hide such a thing?" Yumichika questioned.

"I've got a bone to pick with her." Ikkaku grinned, "Whadaya think, Yumchika?"

"I'm starting to think that neither one of you values your bones." Sui-Feng commented in distaste.

"She sure does got a lot." Captain Hirako said before looking down at Orihime who seemed ready to speak.

Momo crouched down a bit. "Can you tell us something?"

###

"You have an obsession." He said as they walked out of her room.

"I do not." She clenched her fist. "It's a collection." She said with an elegant tone.

"It does not matter your tone, it does not deflect from the fact that you are hoarding hundreds of weaponry because you are fond of the design." He said to her back as she locked her room door.

"Exactly. I find them pretty so I buy to collect, duhhh." She said as they walked back into the center again.

"That Sensei has overindulged you."

"He has not."

"Those rooms say otherwise."

"I already told you I bought them with my own money."

"You most certainly got gifts."

Rukia tittered, "okay fine, you got me, but those are considered earned gifts, of course!"

"Earned for what?"

"Fan blade training, of course!" She answered with verve.

"You can only achieve so much in that field of training."

"Man o'man, aren't you annoying."

"You are starting to sound like the quincy."

"Raiden?" She stopped. "Hmm," she nodded her head, "I guess that sounds like something he would say. I agree."

"That is not a good thing. Your vocabulary is fine until you morph into the quincy's apprentice."

"It's just typical Rukongai language, lighten up." Rukia said before turning to face him, "besides—"

He hurried into another one of those blank, ominous gazes he had given her earlier just then. She was attacked by the same feeling of the unknown. He almost had her still in fear with that expression.

"We must move to your room, now." Another command.

"Wha—I just locked the door. What's wrong with y—" he grabbed onto her arm and led her back in the same rush.

She set her arm free when he moved to unlock the door, "Byakuya! What's going on?"

He slid open the door and turned, "we are not alone in this room."

###

"What the hell's going on?" Ichigo asked. "Byakuya, can't you reach out into the younger you's brain to figure out why he's so jumpy? He's freaking everybody out."

"I don't see anything here." Tōshirō said.

"What could he have felt to be in such a rush?" Rangiku questioned right after.

"I don't think he knows about her sheatsu ability yet." Uryū pointed out.

"That is why he is being very protective of her right now." Captain Ukitake said. "I would have hoped that she would have told him by now. I do not want to imagine what will occur between them when he finds out of her capability."

"Think positively. I believe they are mature enough to handle any challenge they face moving forward appropriately." Captain Unohana said. "They seem very happily acquainted with each other now despite their differences."

"I would hope, Captain Unohana but by the looks of it, there's still more that she is hiding from him even if she did open up about Sojun's involvement with the heir's adoption which I'm sure Ginrei-dono wouldn't have wanted him to find out." He responded.

"He said there was something here." Captain Komamura stepped forward. "Iba, what do you see?"

"The same thing as you Captain, everything looks fine to me." He reported.

Ōmaeda peered down at Sui-Feng. "C-Captain, do you know what the younger C-Captain Kuchiki i-is talking about?"

"Are you scared?" Sui-Feng asked in revolt.

"M-Me? Uh—"

"How the hell you'd ended up bein' the Lieutenant of the 2nd Division? I wanna know." Ikkaku asked.

"It's gotta be one of the most unsolved mysteries of our world." Izuru said.

"Inoue-san, please tell us." Captain Ukitake urged. "What did you see?"

Ichigo finally met her eyes, "Inoue…."

"It was a face…." she described quietly, "and then there were just eyes."

"Who's eyes?" Ichigo inquired.

She didn't answer.

"It happened so quick but I know I was staring at something. I was staring at those eyes in the dark. I made contact with them for sure. Their face...I couldn't really see but I know it was there." Orihime explained. "I tried to convince myself that it was just a colour I found in the darkness that was probably something painted on the walls but then….."

She took a deep breath. "It moved so quickly. It ran to the side as if it was going to run out from a side door and chase after us. But it disappeared within that room and I know, I just know that it was there."

"Is there anything else you noticed?" Uryū said.

She shook her head. "I could barely see much of anything except those eyes…"

"A-At first I thought they were green, then blue but when I stared into them for those last few seconds before they moved, I knew…." her eyes averted somewhere up and they all followed the gaze, freeing the way for everyone to look at what she was staring at, "those eyes…."

They met the vase and then, a portrait at the side.

"Belonged to Sensei Okasake Gureta."


End Note

Younger/Child (Present) Rukia moodboard.

Note: I've also incorrectly described the assassin uniform and thus I will be making those edits shortly. When I find better images I will link them. The hanfu, though similar, is not a hundred percent accurate.

The latest update will be on Thursday however, it is already partly written so the next update could be sooner than that. I'm indecisive about the title so I can't spoil it.

byaruki / tumblr.