Light fic, Kisuke and Yoruichi. Set pre-series. Minor spoilers through the Soul Society. Yes, it's on purpose.
- - -
"Well, if you're going to change into an animal for a disguise," he began, matter-of-fact, "why can't I pick something too?"
She looked at him as if he'd suggested fusing children with chipmunks again. "Because you're not one."
- - -
"Look," he reasoned much later, after he'd cleaned the hairballs out of his futon, "you can't hog all the fun toys."
"Why not? You do."
"Name one thing -- " he started to demand, and then stopped dead at the smug expression on her face: that familiar, fickle warning which preluded something nasty in the sheets. "All right -- you're very fun. I admit my greed whenever you're concerned. But it isn't the same. I share you. Okay, so it's more like I can't not share you, since I don't own you, and you do whatever you feel like, but that's beside the point. If you get to play around with being human, then it's only fair that I get to do the same thing. Isn't it?"
She was already gone.
Urahara sighed, and got his revenge by shutting all the windows. The forecast in the morning's tea leaves had predicted rain, but Yoruichi hadn't bothered to finish her cup.
- - -
They began the ruse from both whim and necessity: an old pair of reasons which had been married for ages, and bickering twice as long. Yes, they had escaped together. Yes, they should look out for one another's safety. Yes, it would be foolish not to take preventative measures against Soul Society hunters. No, they should not pretend to be a wedded couple. No, children were out of the question -- even adopted. No, Kisuke. No.
Yoruichi wanted to wander. Urahara built a house.
She made fun of him every day of its construction while he consulted with the architects over the layout. He got his revenge by startling her every chance he got. Back then, the cat's form was still relatively fresh to her control; she slipped out of it whenever spooked, popping back to two legs and two hands and zero balance. She yelled at him for a while, until the novelty wore off. Then they both stopped.
Yoruichi's interest for meddling was rekindled after the house's framework was complete. While Urahara was out shopping for furnishings, she was discovering -- with no small amount of malicious glee -- that a cat's size was perfect for hiding inside every cranny of the house without being found. She used this to her advantage, shredding tatami mats with gleeful abandon, raking claws down paper blinds. Urahara's complaints only encouraged her mischief; she'd beg innocence while her tail flicked back and forth through the air, attached to an invisible fly.
The one time that he walked in on her, she aimed a lazy stare in his direction while continuing to relentlessly knead the sitting cushions.
"Oh, Kisuke," she purred lustily. Her paws flexed. "Feels so good!"
For his own part, Urahara came to realize that Yoruichi was a novice at controlling feline body language. She was charmingly unaware of how to manage her tail, and her ears liked to betray her mood: flattening down while her voice was sugary-sweet, perking up while she professed boredom. They operated independently from her poker face, so that while she was turning wide, liquid eyes up to him and claiming that she had no idea of how the grasshopper got into Urahara's lunch, twitch twitch went her tail across the floor.
He took advantage of this mercilessly, poking holes into her arguments. She, in turn, learned how to hiss.
After a while, Yoruichi managed to stay transformed with limited effort. Urahara found a set of blinds that managed to stay intact. She engaged in a private war with the neighborhood strays -- an affair in which Urahara suspected that she cheated, considering how quiet their streets suddenly became overnight -- and he reestablished his market connections under a different route.
Experiments were a constant in Urahara's life. Urahara loved to tinker, because he could, and the other scientists loved to watch him because they could, provided there were blast doors handy. Yoruichi was an old conspirator, and she knew his limits as well as her own.
They'd get bored of the game eventually, he figured. She'd turn back into a human. He'd become a traveling monk. It was just a matter of time before the next new thing came along.
- - -
Things work differently in the human world.
Time advances. They grow older, though their bodies never age. They grow apart. Urahara picks up an addition to his goods in the form of one muscle-thick individual named Tessai. Yoruichi makes a comment about weight-lifters when she finds out; Urahara laughs, and reassures her that he's not interested in Tessai like that.
He develops other habits. One of them comes in the shape of a hat. He enjoys the cap so much that he wakes up one morning to find that Yoruichi has absconded with it, dragging it merrily through the dirt before leaving it in the gutter outside to serve as a funeral shroud for a vivisected hamster.
She hasn't lost her sense of humor.
Urahara frowns as he picks his hat up, peeling the canvas away from the clotted mass of flesh. A clump of fur hugs the brim. He plucks it off, and it sticks mockingly to his hand.
"Where did you find one of those creatures?" he asks aloud, knowing that she's lingering nearby to savor his reaction. "Did you raid some poor kid's bedroom?"
"Pet store," Yoruichi retorts prudishly as she leaps down to the sidewalk, her back arching as she minces closer to his legs before she can stop herself. Thwarted by her own body language, she flops down abruptly and begins to groom one paw. "Do you take me for the type of person to steal from a child?"
Amused that she hadn't mastered her unconscious reactions completely, Urahara lets the jibe slide. Instead, he picks what looks like a tiny pink toe out of his hat and flicks it into the street.
She paces around him, bored already with his lack of disgust. "Are you still thinking about calling it the 'Urahara Here-I-Am Store'?" He didn't think that feline mouths could sigh so disapprovingly, but she demonstrates otherwise. "After all these years, Kisuke, don't you think you could be less obvious?"
"I offered to change into a dog," he points out bitterly.
"You offered," she parrots, wrapping the two words up with a scoff.
"It wouldn't have looked good on you," is her final defense, and her final words as she vanishes into the nearest alleyway out of Urahara's life.
- - -
Three months go by before cat paws visit the newly opened Uruhara Shop. After that, the delay is six. Yoruichi's visits become less and less common; Urahara asks her teasingly each time she returns if she's become a stowaway on some pirate vessel somewhere, and she always looks bored when she tells him the latest fad is aeroplanes.
At ten months, Urahara opens his eyes from a dream of white sakura petals and anesthetics and sandpaper. Yoruichi is hunkered down upon his chest. Her eyes are half-lidded in satisfaction while her tongue scrapes his nose raw.
He inhales, and wishes he didn't. Her breath reeks as badly as Tessai's unwashed shorts.
"Twenty hells have mercy, Yoruichi. What did you eat?"
She has the audacity to sound prim when he shoves her off. "If you must insist, I didn't stop to ask its name."
He huffs to clear his sinuses. "Why can't you be a good feline and stick to milk?"
Yoruichi splays both front paws on his futon, digging in her claws for traction while she performs a long, full-spinal stretch. Then she oozes over to his pillow. "Milk gives me indigestion."
"You drink it anyway." Pausing to yawn, Urahara blinks down at the furry lump which is trying to nestle down in the still-warm imprint of his body. "Are you simply fond of things that make you ill?"
"I come back to visit you," she points out unerringly.
"Whatever the case, my nose is not an acceptable substitute." Reaching up, Urahara checks gingerly to make sure both nostrils are still there. There had been horror stories involving a dog and someone's face in the marketplace the other week -- Urahara had eavesdropped quizzically before determining that passing out next to a jilted lover had been a poor career decision on the man's part. "I never realized the external naris was so sensitive. Did you? Of course you must have."
But she's gone, suddenly bouncing off to some corner of the shop without even so much as a farewell. Urahara looks for her at breakfast, at lunch, and part of dinner, squinting at all the corners for a little black blob of kitty.
When Tessai asks what's wrong, Urahara only shakes his head.
- - -
It's over four years before anyone sees Yoruichi again.
Four years is the longest delay between trips that the woman's ever been, and even Urahara catches himself worrying. He sits up too fast whenever there's a stray meow; even dogs catch his attention as he wonders what they're barking at. Restlessness sours his bones.
Tessai takes it upon himself to perform vigil for the cat, leaving windows cracked in the middle of winter and carefully setting bowls out on the back stoop. They befriend an army of rats like this, along with generations of cockroaches before Urahara finally tells the man to stop.
"What if there was an accident? With a motor vehicle," Tessai tacks on helpfully. "We should put up papers in case anyone's seen Mr. Yoruichi. A local alert might work!"
Urahara opens his mouth to fire off a witty reply, and finds himself struck mute by the irony.
After the fourth year, Urahara starts to count the days, morbidly curious if the next time will be forever, even though he knows better than to assume. Cats are independent. They hold claim to no single owner save themselves.
Even the human world knows that.
He's halfway through his tallies of the Shop's ledgers when Yoruichi squeezes through the door and limps over to his worktable. She's favoring one paw, but not badly; whatever trial she must have passed hasn't dimmed her pride.
Where have you been tries to wrestle its way out of his throat, but Urahara only sets down his pen and asks, "Was it good?"
He tries again, more gently this time. "You've been out a while. Aren't you hungry?"
"I... might be a while next time too," Yoruichi says eventually. Her back is to him; flip-flip goes the tip of her tail, exposing the strained nonchalance of her words. "I... got distracted. With something."
Urahara's gaze walks the coiled length of her spine before he decides how to respond.
"You didn't answer my first question," he murmurs, sliding onto the floor and rolling his head over so that he can meet her eyes without the distinction of human height between them. His smile feels like a stranger. "Did you have fun?"
If she looks grateful at all, it passes quickly, and for once the rest of her body doesn't tell.
- - -
By the time Yoruichi shows back up again, Urahara's filled his store with two more additions in her absence. Ururu and Jinta like watching the television cranked up too loud, and when they're not yelling at each other, Tessai's bellowing at them. The trio generate a constant, low-level hum of chaos in the store; Urahara finds he's more comfortable that way, surrounded by the clash of energies going awry.
It's like being back in the Soul Society again.
The year that they install the television is the same year that Ururu presents him with an ornament for his desk. "Perpetuating motion," the girl reads aloud clearly as he unwraps the gift, setting the wooden block carefully down as metal spheres sway wildly. "It's supposed to go on forever."
He recognizes the flaws immediately -- force and inertia and energy lost -- but pats Ururu on the head by way of thanks.
When she's gone, he studies the ornament. Five metal balls dangle between two rods, lining up in a row and waiting to be swung.
The principle of transmitted energy is theoretically sound, but when Urahara pulls back one sphere and lets it fall, the orbs only bounce back and forth three times before irregularities start to show. One of the strings hasn't been tied tight enough; another of the weights is out of line. Imperfections show once the experiment is in motion. Each dissimilarity -- no matter how minute -- contributes to the whole, until eventually all theballs are jangling in different directions.
He pulls back the spheres again and watches them bounce out of synch.
Yoruichi slides through the cracks in his home and is in his lap before he registers her presence. He blinks down with a surprised grunt. Years ago she'd be making some kind of lewd comment while curling up against his groin like that, but when she opens her mouth, all she says is a weary, "What's that noise coming down the hall?"
"Ururu and Jinta's extra-special television hour!" Pushing away the desk ornament and reaching for a stack of order confirmations, Urahara decides to ignore the bundle of warmth pressing against his nether regions. "They're cheap to feed and Tessai keeps them in line. Aren't you going to say hello to them, Mr. Yoruichi?"
She delivers a poisonous glare over the fluff of one haunch.
Urahara laughs. "Being anti-social is bad for your digestion, kitty kitty."
"Having Tessai try and coddle me was bad enough." Rearranging her feet beneath her belly, Yoruichi rests her chin gingerly on his arm. The weight is as tentative as a butterfly landing. "Didn't we agree on no children?"
"Ehhhh..." Another order form puzzles itself out beneath his pen. "You'll like them. Ururu's really a sweet little thing, and Jinta will only try to pull your fur a little. You're allowed to bite him," he continues against her grumble of protest, "but you'll want to rinse your mouth out afterwards. I don't doubt you've eaten worse, but -- Yoruichi?"
Her narrow face is shoved into the crook of his elbow. When he touches the puddle of her fur, she stretches some inner muscle and manages to shrug without actually changing position. A faint purr drums her skin. Feline contentment ebbs out like a tide, and Urahara holds himself perfectly frozen, keenly aware of how a single stray motion will break the spell.
Studying her, all Urahara can think is how small she is. She's been small for decades, hiding her true face behind a mask of delicate bones and black fur -- but when he tries to recall how tall she is in human form, he fails. She's been a cat so long that even his memory is retaining her that way. There have been moments in the last decade when she's shifted back to a woman, but they're fewer and fewer, and the feline superimposes itself with ease.
Or maybe the disguise was her true self all along.
"Are you staying this time?" Yoruichi's ear flicks against the tickle of his breath, but the rhythm of her purring doesn't hitch. "Am I the one who'll be leaving, or will we find something new to play next?"
There's no answer.
Urahara sits there for the rest of the afternoon, and lets her sleep.