In the beginning, there was only an end. The end.
In the post-advent of war and death, when the last word had been uttered and the last deed done, Kuchiki Rukia and Aizen Sōsuke were the only two left.
He began his approach from across the field; a white figure emerging beyond the graves of friends and foes, rising above the invocations and façades of old religions like some ephemeral, newly risen deity.
He drew nearer, through a morass of dying hopes and relinquished truths—perhaps truth never existed at all—not once sparing a glance for the rotting corpses strewn and rooted across a once proud, now shattered 'utopia'.
Rukia, in rigid opposition—spine unnaturally straight and on edge—was unable to pry her eyes, too-wet and too-wide, from the man by her knees.
Holding her breath, she took note of his pallor, ashen and marble-esque. The aristocratic features chiselled whole and perfect, even in death. Like some long-lost idol, soaring high and unafraid, over and beyond the senseless world and its residual vestiges of honour and morality. So Kuchiki Byakuya lay, waiting for Heaven to claim him.
Only Heaven was no more.
Drawing a shaky breath, Rukia curled her fingers around those of her brother. Squeezing tight until she heard the brittle little bones go crack and saw the skin come apart in a flurry of morbid white. It was all too telling, fatalistic, and she felt like crying—again—watching on as the atrophy took over and a band of dust ascended over her head, higher.
A shadow fell over her, blocking the muted light.
Empty now, her fingers dug into the greying earth instead, grounding her. Slowly, she glanced up into her old enemy's eyes, dark orbs gleaming and cunning. The memory of Sōkyoku Hill languished and lingered on the edges of her mind, long cemented to the distant past. Like then, like now, she found herself drowning in the depths of his bottomless gaze. Suffocating under the weight of his unholy reiatsu, as if trampled upon and devoured whole.
And yet, Rukia realised she could not find the stab of hate and fear—those well-known sentiments she's supposed to feel. Now that she had nothing left. Nothing to fight for and protect.
Aizen considered her carefully before throwing a cursory glance at the scene, and the world, around them. It's not horror or dismay that played across his near-stoic features, never anything so telling and pessimistic, but there was a shred of something. In the harsh set of his jaw and in the very slight, near non-existent, crease of his brow. Displeasure, she thought. For all he once did, every sin and crime—the heretical and antithetical—Aizen Sōsuke never wanted or planned for this.
No one planned for this.
Turning towards the torn, unravelled heavens, he finally broke their unspoken impasse. "It seems," he drawled with faint interest and placated amusement, "God would see you live yet, Kuchiki Rukia."
She opened her mouth, daring to demand just which accursed God he was referring to, but could not speak. Empty, her voice failed like the rest of her being.
Silence permeated and Aizen took his leave, immaculate robes—even now—brushing past her with deliberate, glowing indifference. Continuing, unremitting, he made no sign that he ever intended to look back.
Lowering her gaze, Rukia trembled at the sight of her brother's porcelain cheek shattering and caving in on itself. The hairline cracks continued their caustic course, marring the angelic visage rapidly dispersing into nothing. Leaving her alone.
Forsaken, the dead stayed dead.
In a shower of ashes, in despair and disrepair, Rukia broke. Rukia screamed. Threw poisoned curses into the wind. In an instant, Sode no Shirayuki lay ready in her palm.
The blade cried as it was brought down, aimed straight for her heart.
. . .
Days. Months. Perhaps even centuries fluttered by beyond her vantage point, above the hard-beaten grounds and decayed ruins.
With tired eyes, Rukia studied all that remained: nothing.
A pallid existence stretched endlessly forward in all directions, barren and monochrome, destined to fade as all things eventually did. As they already had, for there was a void, slinking forward. Pandemic and acid-laced. Eating away at any vestiges of life till they proved themselves frangible, ever elusive and beyond reach: a trickle of water, an odd shade of green, cool winds and warm sunlit rays.
In a dystopia built on death, life was a lie. An illusion. There was no cure to forestall the inevitable, no salvation to be found when everything stood ready to dissipate in an apocalyptic tangle. In a mishmash of Heaven and Hell, of Earth and everything else in between.
Exhaling a heavy breath, her gaze travelled skyward, taking in the endless wash of blinding grey where once there was only azure and a promise of warmth. Like some empty canvas for her to paint valleys of tortured thoughts upon, she continued to stare as if in a daze, blank eyes like a china doll, and recalled a different time….
A scowling boy with ridiculous orange hair.
A closely adored circle of friends.
A brother—family—to call her own.
Rukia reminisced. Opened the floodgates, fortified her walls, and prepared herself for the sudden onslaught. Countless images surged forth in a dizzying frenzy—the joyful and equally dreadful, every laugh shared and every tear shed—imploring and enthralling with unapologetic precision. Memories were her only remaining keepsake of what once was. Her only remaining treasure, and her greatest tragedy.
Tracing them over in her mind with melancholic longing, she forlornly welcomed the old yet familiar sting that followed. Allowed the pain to run its course and she could almost forgive herself the dead ache settling deep in her chest. It had been a long time since she last allowed herself to truly remember.
"Tell me a story," she asked, voice soft yet unyielding. Regal and firm.
Some traits never died.
The man beside her did not shift, made no indication of having heard her at all. His form remained erect, still, legs crossed in a meditative pose and eyes shut in deep concentration. It was a picture of perfect tranquillity in a world that beckoned none. His poise a simple act of defiance against the threat of endless perdition. Like a taunt in the face of fate; a promise that he would not break or kneel under the weight of their untimely tragedy.
Rukia could not help but admire his tenacity.
The moments continued to pass in a moratorium neither stifling nor heavy—she thought of frozen winter lakes and a full ivory moon, all too serene and still. So the quietude shifted, became welcoming, wholly contrary to the desolate planes before them. Lost to its embrace she waited, the passing minutes paid little heed and instantly forgot. Patience, after all, was a lesson quickly learned in a world where even time held little meaning anymore. She was eventually rewarded—feeling a tell-tale quiver, a thrill, down her spine—when a voice, smooth and deep, began to resonate and caress against her being with near rapturous intent.
Ready to enchant with tales of what was, is, and—one day—will be.
"In the beginning…."
With a soft sigh, Rukia closed her eyes, appeased and content, for the moment. Inside her soul, the desire to seek another universe, to relive the past of this one still, burned with every one of his words as the tale unfurled.
So Rukia listened, heart alert—split in two—and wondered how it would end.