Byakuya leaned on the railing of the Koi pond, something out of character for a man of his strictness, pondering what he had seen earlier that day. "Kurosaki Ichigo… Always, your words find a way to cut through my defenses…" He admitted in a soft tone.
"What kind of brother says that he'll kill his own sister! Even a monster shouldn't say that!"
As a way of understanding and preparing for the future, the captains had been shown tapes made out of Ichigo Kurosaki's own memories – And for simplicity's sake, they had begun watching from the point where Ichigo Met Rukia, continuing onwards to see the very beginning of the substitute's career. He had cared little himself, but watching these tapes was mandatory for the captains, so he sat through Ichigo's first days as a shinigami in quiet boredom, watching him first obtain shinigami powers from Rukia(grudgingly impressed at how far he would go to save his own family) and gaining the resolve necessary to do the work of a shinigami.
It wasn't until the 4th tape began that the reason for Kuchiki Byakuya's disquiet began. He watched as Ichigo fought against what seemed an unremarkable hollow initially, before realizing that it was a new hollow, stalking it's former sister. He began to feel emotionally invested, watching the tape, knowing the orange-haired girl would live through it, but feeling nervous nonetheless, attributing it to the feelings he felt for Rukia, and how he would – and had – reacted if her life had been threatened. Indeed, he'd initially scoffed at her brother's weakness for giving into his instincts and attempting to kill someone so important to him. It wasn't until that moment, that sentence, that he'd realized just how deep his hypocrisy had grown.
"What kind of brother says that he'll kill his own sister? Even a monster shouldn't say that!"
"Kurosaki Ichigo, I will kill you, and then, I will execute Rukia with my own hand."
He was a hypocritical fool. An arrogant, hypocritical fool. His arrogance was further shown as he continued watching, as the hollow overcame it's instincts at the last, doing all in its power to stop itself from hurting its sister.
He had had so many more obstacles in his path that stopped him from doing his one simple duty – doing all he could to prevent harm to his sister. So many more than Byakuya had had, and yet he'd also done far more than Byakuya had done in the same position. He'd looked at this simple fact from every angle, and still could see it as no more than truth. The fact kept gnawing at his insides, depriving him of sleep, peace, and sanity, and Byakuya saw this as no more than just, given the sins he had committed. The only thing positive about thinking about this was that it at least kept him from thinking about dashing himself on the rocks of the pond below, or turning his zanpakuto towards himself.
"Nii-sama? I brought tea." Byakuya heard a soft and chipper voice call out from behind him.
"Rukia… Thank you." Byakuya said finally, in a somber tone. Noticing the small tray she'd brought with her, he asked "How fares the 13th?" Byakuya asked, sitting down by the pond, as was the custom for their afternoons together.
"The workload's been heavier, since Ukitake is on sick leave once more, but it's been pleasant otherwise. We managed to obtain a new 5th seat today, a transfer from 2nd division. Seems he was excellent at Kido but terrible with stealth." Rukia told him finally. "And yours?"
"Lieutenant Abarai managed to offend 11th division's third seat. They're currently working on repairs to the administrative building." Byakuya answered softly, in a sombre tone.
"…Nii-sama, what's troubling you? You don't sound well." Rukia asked, with an expression of curiosity. "I'm certain Renji didn't mean to-"
"It's not that." Byakuya interrupted, in a manner entirely breaking from his cool demeanour.
"…Nii-sama?" Rukia asked nervously.
Byakuya simply stayed silent for a few moments, as though choosing his words carefully, before asking "Rukia… Why have you forgiven me? After all I have done… Why do you still give me the respect of allowing me to call you my younger sister?" Byakuya asked her. "After all I have done to you."
Rukia's eyes widened at the question, a shocked expression on her face, before calming. A smile slowly crept onto her face. Rather than speak immediately, she looked out past the pond they sat near, the sombre feelings Byakuya saw in those violet eyes making him think that perhaps she was able to see past the sky itself, and look back into the past as through a window.
"I… Wanted to die, back then, was my reason. After … Kaien…" Rukia shivered as she said his name "I felt as though I deserved to die. I'd killed my lieutenant, whom I'd sworn to protect, and was unable to save him from the hollow within. I hadn't done my duty as a shinigami of the thirteen court guard squads, or as Kaien-dono's nakama. That's how I thought of it, back then. I felt glad that you were making me atone for my crimes, making sure I followed the law. It was what I felt I deserved, back then." Rukia stopped for a moment, her smile growing broader before she continued.
"And then, if you remember, he showed up." Byakuya certainly needed no prompting to remember Ichigo's arrival that day. "He just kept pushing forward, regardless of what anyone thought or did – even me – in his stubborn insistence that he was going to save me. Looking back, it truly was touching, but at that time, I just thought he was touched in the head." Rukia smirked at that last comment. "I mean, saving a prisoner is one thing, but fighting an entire military organization to save a single prisoner who repeatedly tells you to go away –
But, it got me thinking, at least." Rukia continued, the smirk fading. "Because I realized that my bonds with him were no less great, and that, in his position, I would have tried to do the same. I did do the same, for Inoue, when we went to Hueco Mundo." Rukia continued. "and it was there I fought Aaroniero, Kaien's killer. That made me feel a little better – I'd done what I could to avenge Kaien, and it got me to look at what had happened with less bias. I certainly did not make every correct decision possible, in that situation, but I had made mistakes – like everyone does in their life. But Kaien had resisted that hollow, and done everything he could, to protect his comrades, and that includes me, and I realized that my death could only bring him sadness. I had too many Nakama counting on me to die there.
Heck, did you know that, the first time I met up with the group after that fight, and we had a free moment, Uryu actually came up to me and gave me a hug. From a closed-off guy like that, that's practically akin to a marriage proposal." Rukia joked. "But that is how one's family and friends feel when one of their number is hurt, so I decided from then on not to blame myself for anything I viewed as a mistake, but to continue on living for theirs." Rukia continued.
"Well, I don't know if anything I can say will be able to help Nii-sama with this problem – I have little wisdom compared to Nii-sama's knowledge and honor – but I hope so nonetheless. After all, I always wish to help those precious to me, and Nii-sama is as precious to me as anyone can be." Rukia told him, before standing up. "Well, I still have paperwork to do, so I'm afraid I cannot tarry. Be well, Nii-sama." Rukia finished, before standing up and running back to her work.
Byakuya sat there, seemingly motionless for several minutes, as he mulled over what he'd just heard. "You really are Hisana's sister, Rukia." He reflected. "She also knew exactly how to render me speechless." Byakuya stood up, smiling. "And you're the only other person who's been able to make me smile since."