aoife_hime: ([bleach] shinigami in the sky)
aoife_hime ([personal profile] aoife_hime) wrote on November 12th, 2007 at 11:55 pm
My favoritest crack OTP
Title: The School of Shihouin
Author: [ profile] aoife_hime
Fandom: Bleach
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairing: Yoruichi/Byakuya, Yoruichi & Urahara friendship
Summary: Before they were rogue and captain, they were teacher and student... and something more.
Notes: This was meant to be a quick exorcism of a short fluffy plot bunny. Yeah... that wasn't exactly what happened in the end. Please beware of the giant amount of artistic license I took with these two and their backstory, and watch out for spoilers for Chapter 299 of the manga. Not giant spoilers, but spoilers nevertheless.

The School of Shihouin

There were some days that Yoruichi wished she was just a tad less proud. There weren’t many; normally, she was quite content to live with each and every one of her personality ‘flaws’ and whatever consequences they sprung on her. They were what made this painfully long afterlife existence somewhat bearable, after all. But every so often, a day would come when the sun just couldn’t set fast enough because something she’d said or done (or in most cases, said and done) had come back to bite her so spectacularly in the ass that it probably left marks.

Recently, however, those days had been popping up with an alarming frequency. Once a week, as it happened.

“No, not like that. Do you want to die an extremely premature death?” she drawled with no little hint of snark creeping in at the edges of her tone. Yoruichi rolled her eyes as she watched the little royal whelp extinguish his robes before they became singed beyond repair.

It had been exactly five years ago that week that she had stupidly let herself become trapped by her own pride at her abilities and accomplishments. Though she may have looked and acted as if she was just this side of post-adolescence, she had more than her fair share of years on her and in those years she had learned all sorts of interesting skills and tricks that made most shinigami in the Soul Society green with envy. One moment of resting on her laurels, however, and this was the result: being forced to teach the heirs to the three other noble houses of the Soul Society the ins and outs of the trickier bits of shinigami studies. Five years may have been but a drop in the ocean of one’s lifespan in this miserable excuse for an afterlife, but it translated into a whole hell of a lot of weeks all the same.

“Who’s next?” she asked, letting herself fall backwards from the wooden lintel she’d been perching on for the last hour so that she now hung by her knees. Perhaps the proceedings would be more interesting if she viewed them upside-down?

The middle of the three young men in front of her (boys, actually, though they insisted they were men and after three years of taunting them on the issue Yoruichi had finally grown tired of the whining – or the glaring as the case was for one of them – and conceded the point) stepped up to the dummy she’d set up at the beginning of the session. He was nervous, which wasn’t much of a change from the last two-hundred some-odd lessons he’d taken from the Shihouin princess herself. Yoruichi could see where the whole thing was headed before he even thought about firing up his reiatsu. She briefly considered stopping and correcting him, but decided against it at the last minute. And she wasn’t sorry: the way he’d managed to set his own clothes on fire instead of sending the kidou blast at the dummy really had been much more entertaining when viewed upside-down. Her hands lazily went through the motions of one of the most basic water spells and promptly doused the more stubborn flames the young lord had failed to subdue on his own.


As the last of her three students made his was forward, Yoruichi smirked. Ah yes, the little Kuchiki lord. She watched, arms folded across her chest as he followed the instructions she’d given in the demonstration earlier to the letter, managing to take out the stationary target without even so much as singing a single one of his perfectly combed hairs. There was a subtle straightening to his posture that indicated he knew he had accomplished the task and he was proud of doing so.

That was the truly fun thing about these lessons: baiting Kuchiki Byakuya. He believed that because he’d long ago bound his emotions under tight lock and key that he was therefore rendered unreadable to everyone. But Yoruichi was better than ‘everyone’: she had been able to read his life story, beginning to end and complete with footnotes and appendices, the second he’d set foot in her training room. And while he may have thought he’d set himself up to be no target at all for any sort of jabs and jokes, he really had done the opposite. He was, in fact, the biggest target in Yoruichi’s acquaintance, and that was saying something, as she had many acquaintances (most of whom weren’t considered socially acceptable).

“Technically perfect, but you’ll never last in a real fight if you only play by the book. Shunkou’s more about feeling than thinking.”

Yoruichi was pleased to see her words elicited an almost-frown out of the little lord (though from her perspective it looked like an almost-smile, which as a hell of a lot weirder as she was positive by now that he’d lost the ability to smile entirely a few decades ago). He didn’t say anything, however, which was disappointing. She supposed it was to be expected, though: after the shunpo incident a few years back when he’d actually risen to her bait and had attempted to catch her with his amateur attempts at flash stepping, he’d never been nearly so quick to react to her provocations. Because in the end, all Kuchiki Byakuya had for his troubles out of that chase was a dirtied robe and an elevated heart rate, and he was minus one sandal on top of that – Yoruichi had been particularly proud then, dangling the footwear in front of the young lord’s nose after he’d finally given up and refusing to return it even when the day’s lessons had ended.

The Kuchiki lordling took his seat at the end of the short row formed by his two classmates. All three remained quiet, stone-faced, staring ahead as if waiting for some sort of final blow to fall. Yoruichi waited a few moments longer, letting the atmosphere saturate to its fullest potential with tension before easily, gracefully dropping to the ground.

“Next week we’ll try this again,” she announced, and watched as two of the three young men relaxed almost imperceptibly in relief. Kuchiki Byakuya never broke posture though. Yoruichi had long suspected a flock of birds could land on him and he still wouldn’t move if he wasn’t told to do so. Unfortunately, finding such an accommodating flock of birds was nigh on impossible, and thus her theory went untested. She had Urahara Kisuke on the problem, however, and if anyone could produce results for her strange whims, it was him. “You’re all excused. Go home and relax.”

As the three stood and turned to go, Yoruichi was taking bets with herself just which fraction of them would actually ‘relax’ when they got home. At the moment, her money was on two-thirds.

“Shihouin-sensei.” Yoruichi cringed outwardly and felt something twinge internally. She hated being called that – it made her feel old and arthritic and confined, as if someone had suddenly drawn a box around her and forbid her from walking outside its delineation for the rest of her days. And he knew it too, that damn Kuchiki brat. He absolutely refused to refer to her as ‘Yoruichi’, as she’d asked (more like demanded, really, but Yoruichi had always been more subtle than that) her “class” to do first thing of their first session, and had been referring to her as such for two-hundred sixty lessons now. Yoruichi kept hoping that one day she’d get used to the epithet, but as of yet it still made her want to scream every time he used it.

“Yes?” she replied sweetly. Behind her back, she’d wound the end of her sash so tightly around her fist that the creased fabric would undoubtedly leave marks. It was either that or clench her teeth, and doing that would ruin her act.

“My family feels that I will never benefit fully from your teachings if I am made to attend with these other…” Byakuya said without preamble, and paused. His monotone had dropped off and he appeared to be considering his next choice of words. Yoruichi’s eyebrows rose, her expression purposely oblivious. This might be the closest she would ever get to hearing the young Kuchiki lord do anything remotely resembling ‘venting’, and she was worried he might abort the process early if she didn’t provide the proper (albeit subtle) encouragement. “With the others present.” Damn. Not entirely what she’d been hoping for, but the nearly non-existent blink-and-you’d-miss-it emphasis he’d put on ‘others’ was almost as good as hearing him openly criticize his peers. Almost.

Yoruichi tucked her arms under her breasts and narrowed her eyes, an unaccustomed though not entirely alien gravity settling in on her expression. “And what does your family propose?”

“While they were understandably unwilling to associate with the heiress of the Shihouin clan any more than their present arrangement entails,” he intoned in that flat, emotionless voice that nonetheless implied an awful lot (Yoruichi got the distinct impression that deep down in that emotionally repressed soul he was smirking), “they instructed me to propose an additional lesson, once a week with only myself as the student and you as the teacher.”

There had been a part of her that was certain this was exactly where he’d been heading with his previous statements, but to actually hear Kuchiki Byakuya say that it was in his best interest that he spend extra time with Shihouin Yoruichi, the blackest of the black sheep of the Soul Society’s elite families, was something that made Yoruichi take pause. Were they crazy? Was there some sort of hidden agenda playing out here that she hadn’t realized existed?

Was she really that good?

She could feel her pride creeping up, swelling inside her chest like some sort of stupid balloon even as the rational part of her mind told her to ignore the innate complement in the Kuchiki clan’s proposal. Byakuya was insufferable, remember? Lessons once a week were already tantamount to any form of torture ever thought up in the history of the Soul Society. But there was still that treacherous little voice whispering annoyingly that really, it was those other two incompetent lordlings that made the lessons drag on seemingly forever. If it was just Kuchiki Byakuya with whom she had to deal, not only could she start going into more fun techniques (she had a few experimental ones he’d make an excellent guinea pig for), but she’d still have her old walking target if ever she found herself bored or frustrated or both. And really, what more could she ask for?

The way Kuchiki Byakuya’s eyebrows rose ever so slightly towards his hairline in surprise made accepting the deal just that much more worth it.


“And you accepted? Without a fight?” Urahara Kisuke paused, hands halfway through attaching his zanpakutou to his uniform. “Have you been sneaking substances out of my labs again, Yoruichi?”

“No, and that was one time,” she groaned into the wall she had, until that moment, been banging her head against in frustration.

“More than once, if I recall correctly.”

If she hadn’t been about ready to tear out each and every one of the hairs on her head, Yoruichi would have grinned at the memories – those really had been quite amusing times. “Fine, twice, but that’s not the point.”

“And what is the point, dear friend?” Kisuke asked patiently, eliciting a glare from the woman across the room.

“Okay, now you’re taunting me – stop it. The point is that, when I agreed to this little arrangement, I was not fully aware of just how much Kuchiki Byakuya was capable of getting on my nerves.”

“Not nearly as capable as you are of getting on his, I’m sure.” And this time Yoruichi really did smile. It was true: she gave at least ten times better than she got. In the five weeks since the start of their little private lessons arrangement, Yoruichi had made the emotionless little lord break twice already. On that last time, she was almost positive he would have genuinely yelled at her if his emotional restraints hadn’t snapped back into place at the last moment. But the fact still remained that Yoruichi wasn’t used to getting in the first place.

“I want to call this all off,” she groaned, letting her head fall backward onto the wall. A sharp pain shot through the back of her skull at the motion, making her wince.

“As much as I know you enjoy flaunting your disregard for the other noble houses, I think you’ll find that trying to call off this arrangement will result in trouble you probably shouldn’t be stirring up.”

Yoruichi stood up straighter, her eyes meeting her friend’s. Kisuke had used his serious voice, a rare event that could only mean that he knew more about this whole situation than Yoruichi realized. But no amount of badgering could get him to spill the beans and in the end she walked away from their conversation even more frustrated than she’d been beforehand.

Men. Sometimes there just was no dealing with them.


The lessons seemed to become more bearable as the weeks blended into months. Or maybe it was just that some part of her soul had gone into catatonic shock and she just couldn’t tell that they had actually gotten worse. Either way, Yoruichi had slowly but surely overcome the hair-tearing frustration that had plagued the earliest one-on-one tutorial sessions with the young Kuchiki heir. That wasn’t to say Byakuya was any less of an arrogant, self-centered, I-have-the-moral-high-ground-because-I-haven’t-been-disowned-by-the-rest-of-the-nobles prick; if anything, with each passing week he seemed to fit more and more comfortably into that mold cast centuries ago by the founders of the Soul Society’s noble clans. But the thing about Kuchiki Byakuya that made him tolerable to the likes of Yoruichi was that he was talented. Gifted. Intelligent. She could demonstrate a technique and by the end of the lesson he would be able to perform it, usually not perfectly, but at least satisfactorily. Even her own experimental techniques she hadn’t shown to anyone, not even Kisuke, were little trouble for the young lord.

And if there was one thing Shihouin Yoruichi enjoyed more than anything, it was playing with someone at her own level. The only person who’d ever reached that point was Kisuke, though when he’d been elevated to the rank of captain, the paperwork attendant to the post put a slight damper (‘slight’ being the understatement of the afterlife) on Yoruichi’s fun.

“Stab me!” she instructed, a wide smile on her face. Her blunt command made the Kuchiki lord hesitate slightly; Yoruichi grinned even wider as she saw his grip on his zanpakutou falter for just a second. “What are you waiting for? Use that sword you’re always carrying around for no reason. I know you want to do it!” He really did, Yoruichi knew; he’d had his hakama in a twist ever since she’d started knocking his kenseikan slightly askew during their games of flash tag, and that had been two weeks ago now.

In the end, it took a surprisingly small amount of additional goading to get Kuchiki Byakuya to unsheathe his sword and drive it up through her stomach – or rather, the air where her stomach had been seconds previously. As she landed stealthily on the grass behind him, Yoruichi wondered if she should be offended that he seemed to want her maimed that badly, or proud that she had gotten under his skin that much. She decided to go with ‘proud’; she was more accustomed to dealing with the implications of ‘proud’ at any rate.

For the second that the illusion she’d left in place of her real body hung in the air, she noticed something odd: Kuchiki Byakuya had gone strangely stiff. His normally calm reiatsu for just that short time flared up wildly, like the fast flowing waters of a powerful river suddenly encountering a fallen log and consequently splashing chaotically over and around they until it could continue on their peaceful way. Worry. More than ‘worry’, actually. In that moment when he lost control, she realized he was truly horrified at the thought that he had just killed her. And for just that second, Shihouin Yoruichi felt something she hadn’t felt in a very long time: guilt.

She was almost relieved when he spun around, undoubtedly sensing the flash of reiatsu she deliberately let off, and his face was as emotionless as ever, though she wasn’t entirely certain why she felt so.

“That was the Way of the Onmitsu, the third of the Shihou. I call it utsusemi. Think you’re up to it?”

All Kuchiki Byakuya had done in response was nod. He’d set about learning utsusemi and by the end of the day had gotten the basics fairly well down pat. There’d been a surprising amount of tension in the air, however, so much so that Yoruichi felt almost distracted by it. It was uncomfortable. It was downright stifling. It made her feel like someone slowly but surely squeezing all the air out of her lungs. And all of this detracted for the normal enjoyment of the lesson. She’d pulled out her favorite old bottle of sake that night, and that had at least helped her get to sleep, though in the morning she was still left with an unfamiliar, tight nagging feeling that had nothing to do with the hangover she was nursing.

The next lesson after that one was no better. Neither was the one after that, nor the next one. During each lesson, the little Kuchiki lord made greater and greater progress at mastering utsusemi, though never after that first lesson did Yoruichi ask him to stab her. They worked on the technical issues: the special type of flash step involved, the appropriate kidou to cast the necessary illusion in front of eyes of the attacker, how to properly execute each step in the proper order. Sometimes Yoruichi would get frustrated that the little Kuchiki wasn’t learning fast enough, and in return Byakuya would become impatient with not only his teacher’s shortness but also his own failure to learn quickly. It was a vicious cycle, and Yoruichi soon found that the only way to blow off steam afterwards was with increasingly long and complicated games of flash tag. The feel of kidou and cold air rushing over her skin was so invigorating that it was almost enough to wash away any feelings of annoyance from earlier.

Despite all those spats, or maybe because of them, the tension that had first appeared during that first demonstration never left. In fact, by the end of three months’ worth of lessons on utsusemi, Yoruichi felt sure that if things got any more tense between the two of them, Kuchiki Byakuya would be leaving one of his next lessons a whole hell of a lot less pretty. She was this close to scratching out those flat yet incredibly profound grey eyes…

“I’m it this time,” Yoruichi announced at the end of the lesson. She’d felt remarkably like a caged animal throughout the entire thing, and even watching little Byakuya all but master the technique she’d invented hadn’t been enough to shake the nearly overwhelming tension that refused to leave. Maybe a game of flash tag would make things better? One could only hope the solution was that easy, and Yoruichi resolutely ignored the little voice in her brain that informed her that flash tag, while it had alleviated the symptoms, hadn’t actually solved the problem any of the other dozen or so times. “I’m in a generous mood today, so I’ll give you a head start.”

Byakuya had learned quickly to take advantage of any bone Yoruichi threw in his direction, and promptly took off with a burst of reiatsu. Yoruichi closed her eyes and counted to ten (well, eight, but that was close enough) before taking off after him.

The path he took was familiar; Kuchiki Byakuya was a creature of habit, after all. Yoruichi sped over rooftops, carp ponds, and hillsides, all the while inching closer and closer to the little lord’s pulsing reiatsu. Even if she hadn’t recognized the route he was taking (he probably thought she’d forgotten, really, since he hadn’t come this way since their very first game of tag all those years ago, but Yoruichi very rarely forgot anything), she would have been able to predict his route in her sleep. Though he’d improved since that first game, his way of stepping was still incredibly easy to predict and follow; he still insisted on using logic and his external senses to guide him over the landscape of the Soul Society. And since Yoruichi had known exactly what made Kuchiki Byakuya tick from the moment of their introduction, his logic was more than easy to unravel.

By the time she caught up to him, Yoruichi was practically giddy from the heady combination of spirit energy and adrenaline coursing swiftly through her body. The thrill of finishing the chase added another layer to the already-potent mix, and as such, she reflected later, she really couldn’t be blamed for what she did when she cornered the little Kuchiki lordling on a particularly sturdy branch of a tree just at the edges of the Shihouin estate. There was only so long a woman could reasonably be expected to avoid her problems, after all, before she had to tackle them head on.

Her hands were twisted up in his robes before he probably even realized the reason he couldn’t breath properly was because she was kissing him senseless, and when he did realize it Yoruichi assumed he was too far gone to bother pulling away or even attempting to put up some sort of resistance. But what really caught her off guard was the fact that moments later (though it could have been seconds, or it could have been hours – her sense of time pretty much had gone screwy the second she’d started chasing him), he started kissing her in return. The reciprocation, however unexpected, was nevertheless enjoyable.

Quite enjoyable.

That particular lesson lasted far longer than any lesson Yoruichi had ever taught before (even counting that disastrous first lesson with the exploding rooftop incident). And for once, she wasn’t upset by that fact.


“Kisuke, where’s your sake?”

Urahara Kisuke had felt his friend’s turbulent reiatsu approaching his private quarters and guessed he would have been able to do so even if he was drugged senseless. Yoruichi was particularly disturbed this evening, though he could only guess what the cause of her perturbation was. He hadn’t quite expected her to fling his door open so violently that it almost came off its hinges, however, and as such he was barely able to stifle an astoundingly girlish shriek of surprise when his friend barged into his room.

“What happened to yours?” he asked once his nerves had calmed enough to let his brain process her question.

“Drank it all last night. Didn’t help.” Obviously, Yoruichi was in no mood to dance around the subject, as she was currently tearing through his belongings looking for those blessed giant jugs of the potent liquor.

“What makes you think mine will have a different effect?” She took the time to glare at him, her eyes just a tad bloodshot at the corners, before resuming her search. Kisuke leaned back in the chair he’d been sitting in, regarding his friend closely. It had been ages since he’d seen her quite so upset…

“Because you have more than I did. Plus, I think I might still be a little drunk.”

“Yoruichi, what’s wrong?”

“I…” she trailed off, immediately losing her nerve. Her search for his elusive sake bottles also ceased as her hands started running themselves through her already disheveled hair. Kisuke watched as she took a deep breath, looked as if she was about to speak, then thought better and ran her hands through her hair once more. Her nervous eyes, looking everywhere except for at her friend, finally spotted one of his bottles of sake and she veritably pounced on it, taking a mighty swig from it as soon as she had the top off. “Imighthavesortofkissedhim,” she finally blurted out with the strength of his sake to bolster her. Apparently what she’d had already wasn’t quite enough to sustain her, though, as her mouth kept returning to the lip of the jug. Swig. Swig. “Well? What am I supposed to do?!”

“If I knew what you did in the first place, I might be able to help you,” Kisuke said patiently. “It sounded like you said you kissed him.” Yoruichi would never admit that hearing her friend say those words aloud made her blush. The reddish cast to her cheeks was the product of too much sake, too fast – she’d hold to that belief until the day she died. “But that’s not possible, because the only ‘him’ I can think of that you could possibly spend enough time with to kiss would be Kuchiki Byakuya, and that would never…” He paused, taking in the fact that Yoruichi was now nearly half through his best bottle of sake and didn’t look to be stopping any time soon. “Oh, you didn’t.”

“Oh, I did. And so did he!”

“You’re not saying… are you? Oh dear…” Kisuke trailed off. There were a number of issues that jumped to the front of his mind mostly brought on by the gossip he’d been catching snatches of in the halls after captains meetings. And while that was worrisome enough to undoubtedly keep him up the rest of the night thinking about the implications it would have for his friend, there was another more pressing question he needed answered first.

“Was it really so bad, Yoruichi, that you have go through all of my best sake?”

“Go to hell.”

“That good, huh? Wow. I’m impressed. Didn’t think the boy had it in him.”

Kisuke’s reflexes were the only thing that saved him from catching the heavy sake jug with his head.


Yoruichi wasn’t surprised that Kuchiki Byakuya made captain. On the contrary: she’d been expecting the promotion since the moment she laid eyes on him. It was one of those things she’d read about in his open-book life story at the start of that first lesson all those years ago. He pretty much had ‘CAPTAIN MATERIAL’ written all over him in bright red script.

She just hadn’t expected it to happen quite so soon.

Initially, she expected everything to be a repeat of what had happened when Kisuke made captain: long hours training the division, even longer hours working through all the paperwork, and then, maybe, a little bit of time off in the wee hours of the night for sleep. Certainly, there was no time to visit former instructors who were now saddled with attempting to teach two thoroughly untalented and dimwitted noble brats how to flash step properly, regardless of how well or how poorly she had kissed you on that one (two… okay, three and that was as much as she was willing to admit to of her own free will) occasion.

But that didn’t appear to be the case with Kuchiki Byakuya. If Yoruichi hadn’t been quite so secretly thrilled to find him frequently with a little extra time during the day (or night, Yoruichi wasn’t picky at all), she would have undoubtedly been irritated at just how damn efficient the man was. It was downright inhuman to do that much work in so short a space of time. Even when she was released from her tutoring job (finally) and took up the mantel of leader of the Special Forces, there still seemed to be time in the day somehow to fit in a quick visit to a certain captain, and not the one who insisted on creating increasingly more dangerous things in his lab.

That wasn’t to say they didn’t fight. On the contrary, Yoruichi had never quite outgrown the habit of baiting the poor young lord and was also probably the only person in the whole of the Soul Society who knew what each and every one of his buttons were and just which combinations to push to get the desired results. He was far less adept at finding hers, though there were some occasions that he couldn’t have pushed a more irksome combination. Yoruichi tried hard not to break things on those occasions, but in her defense, he really shouldn’t have left that vase sitting there just within reach when he knew she didn’t respond well to jokes, however cleverly disguised by disaffected monotones, about drinking the last of her precious stash of plum wine.

As dysfunctional as things got at times, however, they were still, on the whole, very much functional. Until Urahara had to go and get himself booted from the Soul Society, that is.

That Yoruichi would drop everything for Kisuke was never in question, and this time it was even more imperative that she do so; she could see that immediately. There was more at work here than mere politics, as much as Kisuke tried to pretend otherwise. A part of her had been preparing for this eventuality for a long time, however unconsciously. Soifon was more than able at this point to take over command of the Special Forces, and she was home so little these days that most of her duties incumbent with her position as head of the Shihouin clan had been divided up amongst her relatives years ago. There was only one thing she had been careless about, and that was the one thing that would, in the end, cost her the most. The traditional senses of duty and reputation meant little to her, and had for over a century. But the opinion of Kuchiki Byakuya was something that meant a surprising amount to her, and she was upset to find that her decision to leave – to do the right thing – wavered more than a little when she realized what her actions would mean to him.

He’d probably hate her. She knew he already did, at least a little: that part of him that was so bound by rules and regulations that it couldn’t help but despise the way she never seemed to do anything by the book (unless it was the book she herself had written) was one thing that hadn’t changed over the years of their acquaintance. But this would be more than that. This would be an all-out, gut-wrenching hate that would burn like an actual, physical wound. That was alright, though, if only because hate was, after all, easier to deal with than a broken heart. The cut was cleaner with hate, and there was less moping involved. Fewer pieces to pick up afterwards and all that.

Everyone would say she was shirking her duty, and he would undoubtedly agree with them. Hell, knowing Kuchiki Byakuya he’d probably be the president of that club. Yoruichi was fine letting them think that though. They wouldn’t believe her if she told them that what she was doing might one day save them all, anyways.


“I’d say I’m sorry, but you didn’t have to come, you know,” he said solemnly as they walked. The night air around her felt heavier than she was used to, though maybe that was just because she was weighed down the limitations of the world of the living.

“I know.” Their footsteps echoed eerily off the walls of the empty alleyway. Somewhere, a stray dog barked. “But it was the right thing to do.”

Kisuke kept his head down as he walked. He’d found a ridiculous striped hat left on a park bench when they’d first arrived and he wore it now. Yoruichi figured it was probably to hide the fact that he couldn’t quite bring himself to look her in the eye. “You don’ t know that,” he mumbled.

“True, only time will tell. But I think time will prove me right.”

They walked in silence for a time after that. Yoruichi wasn’t sure of their destination, but she was pretty sure she’d know it when they got there. Finally, they arrived at an empty lot littered by dry patches of grass and old rusty cans. Kisuke stopped, and nodded as if approving something.

“You could have been his wife.”

If she had been walking, she probably would have tripped. Thankfully, however, she was standing still. “Yeah. Probably.”

“It’s not too late to go back,” he whispered, almost as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to say the words, but felt he must, regardless. Maybe he was afraid that if she realized the truth in his words, she’d leave. And for once in her long afterlifetime, that was a distinct possibility. But there was work to be done here, with him. Work that was bigger than her or any of her silly little feelings.

Yoruichi turned, and looked her friend in the eye. “I stopped looking back decades ago.”
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