A Heart Grown Cold

Chapter Two:

I was quickly aware that my nightly routine would do little to calm my nerves, however, I welcomed a solitary reprieve from my duties as both a captain and as a noble.

As I stepped through the shoji screen and into my expansive gardens, I became, simply, Byakuya. I was no more and no less than a simple man. I allowed my sandaled feet to lead me where they would as I gazed at the stars above me, almost beseeching them for some form of comfort. As I looked at the vast expanse above me, I was reminded of a children's tale. I vaguely remember a rough, aged voice explaining to me that stars are simply loved ones of days long past, keeping silent vigil over us lest we stray from our true paths. I remember the woman's gnarled hand as she pointed to a gleaming, red star in the nether of the night sky. I know not how I came to know of such a childish legend. Perhaps a nursemaid told me the story, however, the hand in my memory was far too old to belong to that of a nursemaid. Perhaps, and much more likely, my grandmother had departed the tidbit of anecdotal wisdom to me after my mother's passing. I have no memory of my mother, and possibly only the singular memory of my grandmother.

As silly as I knew it was, I had chosen a star for Hisana on the night of her passing. I had searched the night sky for hours, searching for the perfect star to remind me of my beloved. Eventually I chose one of the smallest specks of stardust, laying just on the edge of the eastern sky. The star shone brightly, but not obnoxiously so, and like my wife, disappeared just after the first blossoms of spring.

Now that it was once again winter, the star clung desperately to the precipice of the night sky. It would linger for a couple of months yet, only to begin the cycle again with its reappearance in late fall. I was glad for its presence this night. For once I felt the need for my ancestors and for my wife's guiding hand.

The dew soaked through the thin fabric of my tabi sock and alerted me that I had stepped from the garden path and into the damp grass. Reluctantly, I turned my gaze from my wife's star to see exactly where I had trodden. I should have known I would instinctively return to the section of the garden that my wife had tended herself in her better days. Surrounded by pink and white sazanka blooms, I felt once more the remnants of a deeper connection with my wife.

I wondered if she would be pleased with me now. She had known that I would be required to take another wife after her passing. She had expressed her acceptance of such a fact and had urged me to be happy with whoever was chosen for me. "Have sons and daughters with your beautiful hair and your smile," she had almost begged me upon the realization that she would not have time to bear these children herself. "Your smile is a most precious gift, Byakuya-sama. Give it to your children that you too might share in its simple beauty."

Hisana had loved my smile the most of all my qualities. It seemed she had taken that gift with her, for I rarely felt the desire to smile now. When I rarely did, it always felt strained, and somehow lacking.

It seemed now that only Rukia could make me smile with any ease, although sometimes her addle-brained friends brought a similar smirk to my face.

I nearly hated myself with the thought of Rukia. I should have fought the elders for her right to stay in my household. I cursed myself for having spoken so quickly. I had failed my wife's sister more times that I dared to dredge from my memories. Perhaps now I had condemned her to an entire lifetime of enduring unease. Rukia had grown quickly accustomed to nobility. She could handle herself well with nobles of all ranks, as her sister before her could not. Her future husband and his household would not intimidate the brave little Rukia, but I highly doubted that a future under another family's roof would bring her any true joy.

Thankfully, my wits had returned to me in only just enough time for me to make concessions for my sister. Still, it brought only a little comfort to me that the final choice would rest with her. As sister to the head of the house, adopted though she may be, Rukia had some significant standing of her own. I could only hope that Rukia would employee that standing to ensure her happiness if need be. Unfortunately, I knew also that Rukia had also grown much like me during her years in my mansion. For once, a realization that usually sparked a sense of pride in me, now only gnawed at my soul. I knew Rukia all too well. She would never fail to rise to her duty, once it presented itself to her. For once, I wished my Rukia was not as dutiful as I.

Author's Note: I would have uploaded this earlier today, but I've been quite industrious in trying to find a job and have only just now had the time to write. I apologize for the delay. I know little action takes place in this chapter, but I hope you enjoy it nevertheless. Let me know if anything needs to be corrected, or if there are any memories/scenes you'd like to see. I appreciate all of your reviews, as always.

Yours, Kyraillion.

To my reviewers:

Smile-san: I assure you Byakuya's POV does NOT come effortlessly. I could not create a more difficult character if I tried. Still, I find him more than worth it. I can only hope to capture his inner conflicts in the chapters to come.

Bookman87: I'm not sure how well I managed to do that, but you've helped me see the importance of showing all facets of his character. Thank you.

Grace Tung: Thank you for the review. I am glad to see you impassioned. I might have Byakuya address this matter himself.

Soulflower70: You're sure to see more of the messed up elders if you stick around.