Dance, Thousand Cherry Blossoms
"Your beauty cascaded on me,
In this white night fantasy…"
Nightwish, Ever Dream
Downy snowflakes whirled down on nighttime Seireitei as the lonely figure of a man, head slightly bowed, stood motionlessly next to a bare sakura tree. The branches, covered with thick layers of snow, formed an intricate white structure against the night sky. The man's light silk scarf and white haori billowed in the cold wind as the kenseikan, silvery in the diffuse light reflected by the snow, restrained his flowing black hair. His almond-shaped anthracite eyes were fixed on the petite silhouette in shinigami attire on the training grounds below, the black of her kimono starkly contrasting with the virgin snow surrounding her. Her face was turned away from him.
For a moment, the man closed his eyes against the sharp wind. Then, as the snow stopped falling and the thick clouds parted slightly, he followed a single beam of moonlight that cast a glow on the woman's slender form, illuminating her raven-black hair.
A look of concentration glistened in Rukia's violet eyes as she slowly unsheathed her sword. Her low, melodious voice, carried by the wind, reached Byakuya in a fragile whisper. "Mae, Sode no Shirayuki."
The following moment, she took a stance and once again, traces of her warm voice filled the cold, nighttime training grounds. "Some no mai, tsukishiro."
The first dance of her shikai, White Moon. A white ribbon formed from the pommel, waving elegantly as the sword turned brilliantly white and a spherical, radiating light illuminated the snowy spot she was standing on.
Byakuya's fixed gaze registered when glistening ice crystals began to rise from the perfect circle and suddenly a pillar of ice shot towards the moon, combining incredible power with deadly precision, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared.
Despite himself, Byakuya couldn't resist nodding in approval and his cold eyes softened ever so slightly. The first time his steps had led him to the snowy training grounds during his nighttime walks had been when he had commenced Rukia's training after their return to Soul Society. He had been following the reiatsu of the woman who called him brother, slightly worried and displeased with her being out of bed at this hour. It disturbed his beloved nighttime walk.
He had found her practicing secretly under the moonlight, in addition to their afternoon sessions. The sight had unexpectedly taken his breath away. At night, a serene joy had replaced the fierce determination she displayed during their afternoon training sessions as she practiced her stances with modest elegance, performing them into perfection.
Byakuya had been rooted to the spot, completely mesmerized by the purity of the crystalline dance's choreography and had remained standing there, watching her. He carefully hid his reiatsu from her, afraid to break the beautiful moment by revealing his presence to her.
From that moment, whenever he sensed the absence of Rukia's reiatsu at home, he returned to the training grounds to silently watch the radiant woman training her skills with the blade, only to disappear again before her dance ended.
He never approached her.
In the training pit below, Rukia took a new stance, quietly saying, "Tsugi no mai, hakuren."
The next dance, White Ripple. From the white sphere around her petite silhouette, thin trails of ice crystals started to rise, forming arches over the petite shinigami as she pointed her zanpakutou at an imaginary target in front of her. An impressive wave of ice suddenly shot from her blade, leaving behind a glistening, frozen path across the training grounds.
Byakuya longed to see her face when Rukia drew back her sword with a serene movement, but she only heaved her face to cast a look on the moon above.
The practice was over. The third dance of her zanpakutou, White Sword, would only appear in dire need.
As Byakuya came back night after night to watch Rukia practicing, something that had been locked away in a far and forbidden part of his heart - but which had been awoken when he took the blow of Ichimaru Gin's sword for her - slowly started to melt the ice inside of his being.
In fear of her physical resemblance to Hisana, he'd always been afraid of getting closer to his adoptive sister, but the petite woman with the characteristic strand of black hair falling over her forehead, wielder of the most beautiful ice and snow zanpakutou in Soul Society, slowly but surely had started to make him realize the differences between the sickly, demure eldest sister and the fierce, determined younger one.
As the confusing feelings gained ground rapidly with each night Byakuya watched Rukia at the training grounds, he struggled in vain to keep his distance to her who surely thought of him only as an older brother - well, a very cold and arrogant older brother - like she was supposed to. But he couldn't help but recognize in the petite shinigami the embodiment of everything he had wanted Hisana to be.
Therefore, he returned to the training grounds every night to watch her practice her skills. The one who had seen the opportunity to lighten up the dark winter of his heart. If only…
Byakuya stepped back, forcing himself to tear his eyes from the beautiful sight of Rukia standing in the snowy field, the white ribbon of Sode no Shirayuki twirling around her slender form. His hooded eyes grew cold as the simple movement harshly broke the spell.
Like always at this moment, he bitterly rejected this attachment to Rukia, afraid of the consequences for his already damaged heart. And he turned to disappear into the night.
Then he heard it.
It was a quiet whisper that called out to him, resembling the sound of a spring breeze rustling through cherry blossom caught in a mysterious, melancholy voice, which seemed inaudible to anyone but its master.
Byakuya put his hand to the hilt of his zanpakutou and bowed his head. He didn't respond but didn't leave either. Please, don't do this.
"…Byakuya-sama, Sode no Shirayuki's dancing… " the voice whispered longingly. "Please, let me dance with her…"
Byakuya closed his eyes. I can't.
"No. You will hurt her," he answered quietly, but Senbonzakura sensed his hesitance.
"Please, Byakuya-sama…" Senbonzakura softly pleaded with him. "Let me melt some of her freezing loneliness…"
At this, Byakuya's eyes shot open to see Rukia raise her zanpakutou and slowly turn around. Finally he could see the serene expression on her face, her eyes closed as she started to create hundreds of little twirling snowflakes around her.
"See? She's calling out to us…" Senbonzakura melodiously whispered into his ears, crumbling the last of his defenses.
For a moment, Byakuya was silent. Senbonzakura respectfully awaited his answer, already knowing that he had won, though the Kuchiki heir was still struggling with what the spirit forced upon him right now: to acknowledge things he was afraid of acknowledging.
When Byakuya finally bowed his head, it was with the weariness of the defeated.
"Please…be careful," he mumbled, barely moving his lips as he slowly unsheathed his zanpakutou.
"Do not worry, Byakuya-sama, I will," the voice whispered reassuringly, though with a hint of excitement, resembling the sound of thousands of cherry blossoms flying up in a whirling wind.
Byakuya then raised his zanpakutou, his solemn gaze veiling the anxiety he tried to suppress.
Immediately after Byakuya's deep voice had spoken, his sword began to disperse into countless petal-like blades glowing pink in the reflection of the moonlight - a deadly cloud of cherry blossoms floating around him, waiting for his command.
Byakuya hesitated for a moment as Rukia made a movement as if sheathing Sode no Shirayuki again.
The ribbon twirled around her as she elegantly let its white silk slide through her slender hand, the snowflakes softly falling from the shining white blade and ribbon. The sight made the last of his last indecisiveness disperse in the cold night.
"Go," he ordered quietly, and Senbonzakura slowly, elegantly drifted toward the training grounds.
Byakuya's fixed gaze followed the string of deadly cherry blossom petals as it carefully approached Sode no Shirayuki and touched the dancing snowflakes, silently asking to be included in the whirling white sphere around Rukia. Subconsciously, his face set when Sode no Shirayuki gracefully welcomed Senbonzakura and let him enter the dance, the glistening ice crystals mixing with the thousands of glowing pink petals.
The silvery white ribbon of Rukia's zanpakutou flowed around her as the young dark-haired woman waved her sword and snowflakes and cherry blossom joined in a whirling dance. They circled around her, climbing and diving, spinning and twirling in the freezing night sky. Streaks of glistening crystal white and glowing pink reflected the cold moonlight, casting an ethereal glow on the woman standing in the middle. Stances were accompanied by swirls of snowflakes and cherry blossom, sometimes curling around the shiny white sword, sometimes cascading on the petite shinigami. Sometimes they formed a radiant orb around her, making her almost invisible to the silent spectator at the edge of the training grounds.
A slight smile had appeared on Rukia's concentrated face the moment the blade petals joined in Sode no Shirayuki's dance and she felt Senbonzakura's presence carefully, tenderly surrounding her.
The blade petals, bringing with them the faint scent of cherry blossom, curled around her and then scattered to match Sode no Shirayuki's movements. They acted freely, but always at their master's will. A deadly force, able to shred an opponent to pieces within moments, now flowing ever so tenderly around the young woman wielding Sode no Shirayuki.
Rukia stretched out a small hand, allowing some of the cherry petals to elegantly curl around her slender fingers. They never actually touched her but for an occasional brush of her skin in a whisper of a caress, ever careful not to hurt her.
The petite shinigami bowed her head and softly smiled, gracefully moving her fingers in a loving game with the petals that curled around her hand.
Byakuya's lips parted slightly and he drew in a shallow breath, unexpectedly touched by the sight. Subconsciously, he took a step forward and raised his hand.
The small ribbon of petals slowly left Rukia's hand, swirling around her to reach for her face. His hand mimicked the movement he craved to make for real.
Rukia lowered her zanpakutou and went completely quiet, allowing the blade petals to tenderly caress the skin of her face. And as the snowflakes slowly disappeared, only the cloud of glowing cherry petals remained, floating around her protectively. She closed her eyes, a light blush gracing her cheeks as she slightly leaned into the smooth caress of the razor sharp blades, completely trusting Byakuya's control over Senbonzakura.
When Rukia noticed the cherry petals leaving her, she slowly opened her eyes and gasped softly. Her gaze was caught by intense anthracite eyes, separated only by inches from hers. They were staring at her piercingly and she saw the raw feelings, left unsaid for so long, storming behind the cool gaze. Motionlessly, she waited for him to act as she felt herself drown in those normally so aloof eyes.
For a moment Byakuya only looked at that lovely face, her violet eyes shining brilliantly in the moonlight.
Then his hand slowly, hesitantly, reached up and finally Byakuya allowed himself to let his fingers trail Rukia's cheek where Senbonzakura had just left. Her skin felt like it had been made of silk.
"Rukia," he only managed to say, struggling not to lose himself in those big eyes staring at him in wonder. He leaned in, paused for a split second, then his mind went blank and, with a pained frown, he captured her lips in a passionate kiss. A kiss that displayed all of his emotions and love for her.
At first Rukia froze, but then she sighed softly against his mouth and placed her hand behind his head, pulling him down to her.
An involuntary sound escaped the usually so self-controlled Kuchiki heir and he took her into a tight embrace. When her lips slowly parted against his, a wave of gratitude washed over him. And as Rukia's fingers tangled themselves in his long hair, he deepened the kiss he'd been longing to give her for so long.
It was only with great reluctance that he let her go when she withdrew.
"You finally came to me," she whispered, the first to break the silence. She looked up at him with shining eyes. "Every night I hoped you would."
She lifted her small hand and wiped some snow off his kenseikan, slightly brushing his cheek as her hand fell to her side again. A slight expression of surprise appeared on his reserved features, prompted by her words as he slightly widened his eyes.
"You saw me," he established, his cold voice laced with a new tenderness.
But Rukia shook her head, her eyes never wavering from his steel grey eyes. "No," she whispered, "not once."
He raised his hand to caress her cheek once more, his features softening as her lips curled up in a faint smile. Then he pulled her closer and gently rested his head on her silky hair, taking in her subtle scent of ice and snowdrops.
It took some time before the whispered words sank in, before he realized that the voice didn't belong to Senbonzakura. Rukia had dropped the form of address indicating him as her brother.
His embrace tightened. "Yes?" he mumbled in his deep voice.
Rukia buried her head in his chest, smoothly wrapping her arms around him as well. She faintly recognized the fragrance of cherry blossom which he always seemed to carry with him and which she'd grown to secretly love.
"Thank you for releasing Senbonzakura," she whispered quietly.
Byakuya smiled in her silky, black hair, finally at peace as he held Rukia in his arms. "Thank you for the dance."
A/N: My other ByaRuki story 'For Hisana' received such positive reviews that I wanted to write another one. And honestly, I love the couple. Since reviewers pointed out the bittersweet taste of For Hisana, I decided to create a story in which they actually end up together and that resulted in Dance, Thousand Cherry Blossoms.
The story takes place when everyone has returned from Hueco Mundo, in the calm before the storm during the Winter War.
In this story it's suggested that it was Byakuya who taught Rukia the techniques with which she defeated the Espada.
Since Rukia is Byakuya's adoptive sister as well as his sister-in-law, they are not blood related.
I would like to thank my beta Crimson Eyed Sakura for her valuable comments.