Epilogue: As Time Goes By
"Are you okay? You're fidgeting."
It took Soi a moment, glancing down at the hands nervously intertwining and disengaging around her coffee cup that Kisuke was right. She looked over to the young man, nodding as he stroked the stubble on his chin in an air of rather feigned dignity.
"Yeah, I'm fine," the Chinese woman assured him with a slight grin. "Just... a little nervous." To be honest, she'd forgotten this feeling, this growing apprehension that had been so familiar a lifetime ago-- her body was just readjusting to it. Urahara seemed to accept her declaration, as he leaned back in his seat as far as he could (not much considering the rigidness of airport seats) and lowered that damned striped hat over his brow, an indicator that he was done trying to stay awake for now. Waiting here for over an hour could do that even to him, Soi considered with a chuckle, taking another drink as she glanced around the terminal.
Soi wondered if they hadn't somehow ended up in a mall, considering the array of fast-food stands and stores-- actual clothing and music stores, for God's sake. Part of her actually wanted to get up and wander around, but what if the plane arrived and she wasn't ready? Soi was just about to take another sip of her coffee, the scent of french-vanilla creamer wafting up to her nose, when the P.A. spoke, nearly making her spill the hot drink.
"Attention-- Flight 215 from Sydney will be touching down at Gate 12-B. Please prepare your luggage and boarding passes and wait until all passengers have departed before..."
Soi didn't hear the rest as Kisuke stirred beside her; instead the girl glanced around until she found a reflection, patting down her hair where it seemed to stick up. She stared at herself for a moment, absently running her fingers through the tress of dark hair that now rested freely on her shoulders. She wasn't sure what had made her break such a long-standing habit-- the braids that she'd worn since she was nine-- but the feeling that this look was strange had worn off a bit. Maybe at the time...she'd just felt like it was time to change.
At the moment, though, Soi just hoped that she'd still recognize her.
Soi bit her lip as she stared at the crowd slowly coming through the walkway from the airliner, grimacing as she searched vainly for that familiar black hair, held up in a long ponytail.
"See her?" Urahara pondered aloud, as confused as she. He frowned a little more as his companion shook her head.
"I don't get it... She said Flight 215, right?"
"Then why hasn't she...?" The two nearly jumped as a familiar voice came from behind them.
"Long time no see, you two."
In an instant Soi turned about, her eyes bugging slightly as she felt her heart stop, the same rush of weightlessness hitting her just as strongly as it had before. It took her a moment to recognize the tall, dark-skinned woman, her hair short and cropped now, though in her heart she instantly knew who it was.
"...Hi, Soi," Yoruichi grinned at her as she set her bag down, promptly giving the still-speechless girl a friendly hug, which Soi awkwardly returned. She'd forgotten just how strong those arms were, the texture of the muscles on her back concealed by clothing and an orange windbreaker. She'd just gotten used to the feeling of warmth washing over her all over again when Yoruichi pulled away, turning to her old friend and wrestling him into a headlock he feebly protested.
"OW! N-nice to see you too, Yoru-cha--OWW!"
"Oh, don't act like you didn't expect this, Kisuke," Yoruichi grinned as she roughly ground her knuckles into his mop of blonde hair, unaware of the people casting disapproving looks in their direction. "How have you been? Dropped out yet?"
"Actually--OWW! I...I'm graduating next year," Urahara managed once Yoruichi let him go, now casting an approving glance at her friend.
"Wow... in only five years? That's pretty impressive."
"Well, trust me," Kisuke said knowingly as he picked up his fallen hat, "...You do NOT want to do three years of advanced Med classes."
"Well see, Kisuke? I knew you could do it." Yoruichi smiled at him as she picked up her bag again, following behind him to the parking lot, a pensive Soi bringing up the rear.
Even sitting in the car, with herself in the back and Yoruichi catching up with Kisuke up front, Soi wasn't sure what she should have expected when Yoruichi returned. Not necessarily a big, movie-style embrace, running toward her in the middle of a crowd, Yoruichi fawning over her and telling her how glad she was to see her again... she hadn't really anticipated any of that, but for Yoruichi to almost brush her off... she felt a little hurt to say the least. While Yoruichi HAD been true to her word and had written her practically every day, over time their correspondence had dwindled to a postcard or two both ways. Soi still had all the letters she'd been sent, carefully wrapped and placed in a shoe box beneath her bed-- more valuable than treasure-- but somehow just reading her handwriting didn't feel like enough.
She'd heard that long-distance relationships didn't work out very often, and maybe it had happened to them already without her knowledge. But before she could think about it anymore she stopped herself. She had to trust Yoruichi, trust that she still loved her after all this time and distance. And even if it had all just faded away, she could still be there for Yoruichi-- no matter what.
"So," Yoruichi said suddenly, turning around and flashing that Cheshire-Cat smile of hers at the freshly graduated Soi, "...How are you now, Soi?"
"A-Alright," the teen managed after tearing her eyes away from Yoruichi's golden ones slightly. "...Dad's doing okay. I still go there every weekend to have dinner with him."
"...Must be weird living all alone. And are you STILL 'undeclared?'"
"I just... I decided that I couldn't be a burden on Dad like that anymore. And besides... I don't need to hear that from YOU."
"Hmph. Touche," Yoruichi admitted with a chuckle as she turned back around in her seat.
"Well, now that you're back in town we need to celebrate," Kisuke declared out of nowhere. "How about I get everyone together for dinner tonight? I think Shunsui and Jyuushiro are open..."
"Are you kidding? I've STILL got jet lag. Let's go tomorrow. I just need to relax," the dark-skinned woman said with a yawn as she stretched out as far as her seat would allow. "Hey Soi-- think you can put me up for the night?"
Soi blinked, surprised by the sudden request, and even more so that she instantly nodded despite her lousy apartment's considerable lack of room. She'd forgotten just what that smile could do to her.
"Wow... it's really..." Yoruichi mumbled, drifting off as she glanced around Soi's cramped domicile, from the tiny 'living room' and kitchen to the single bedroom and bath nearby.
"...I was gonna say 'cozy,'" Yoruichi said with a cocked eyebrow, amused by Soi's quip despite her attempt to appear otherwise.
"Hey, don't be like that," Kisuke chimed in as he set Yoruichi's bag down beside the door. "I helped decorate the place, you know." Yoruichi resisted the urge to say that she could tell. "Well, if neither of you girls need anything else I'll get going. I'll call everyone about dinner tomorrow. Oh, and Yoruichi?"
The young woman looked at him as he smiled at her, stepping onto the other side of the door as he did so.
"...It's great to have you back."
Soi waved goodbye while Yoruichi gave him a small hug, then turned to the window to watch Kisuke's car pull out of the parking lot.
"Well, I don't have much to eat, but help yourself to what's in the fridge," Soi began as she continued to stare out the window. "...Or I guess if you're too tired you could just shower and go to sleep. Now I guess I could let you have the bed today, but we're gonna have to take t--"
She stopped short as dark hands slowly wrapped around her waist, tightening as the body they were connected to wordlessly pulled her back into a warm embrace. It took her a moment to get her body to move again, and when she succeeded all Soi could do was turn her head back to find a pair of topaz orbs glittering down at her, completely unlike those she'd seen just a few hours earlier. It was then that she noticed Yoruichi trembling slightly, her bottom lip quavering as if, like her, she had a million things to say but no words that captured them.
She felt Yoruichi's grip tighten as her head lowered to hers, lips meeting as patiently as either could muster. It had been so long but all of a sudden Soi felt like not a single second had passed between them, like these four years had just been a passing dream. Soi felt her hand slide up to the back of Yoruichi's head of its own accord, gently forcing her beloved's kiss to deepen, which Yoruichi made no objection to; in fact she almost seemed to sigh into Soi's mouth, making the girl shudder. Yoruichi's hand was teasing the belly button just under the hem of Soi's shirt when a sudden beeping sounded from Soi's pocket. Soi blinked, then reluctantly reached for her cell phone.
"H-hold on a sec-- I should see who it i--"
The Chinese girl froze instantly at Yoruichi's whispered response; it was an order, a request and a plea all at once, and before Soi could think of an excuse Yoruichi nibbled at her ear, leaving a row of warm kisses as she traveled along pale skin to her collarbone. She'd waited an eternity for this, for this sense of wholeness, for Soi again, so much so that her fatigue had left her the second she'd seen her waiting in the terminal, had taken every ounce of self-control she didn't know she had just to avoid ravishing her on the spot. She'd be damned if anyone interrupted them now.
Soi wasn't resisting, but the cell phone was still ringing in her hand, as if she reluctant to let it go. With a single movement Yoruichi grabbed the clamorous device and tossed it onto the floor, never breaking the ravenous kiss she'd initiated with Soi. She deepened it even more when she felt Soi melt into her, the want and longing and love in those silver eyes making it clear that once again, they were on the same page.
"...You kept it."
"Hmm?" Soi mumbled groggily as she shifted in Yoruichi's embrace, slightly resenting the way the sheets clung to her skin due to her lack of a properly working air conditioner. Today, though, with the body of the only one she could ever truly love beside her again, it didn't seem to matter terribly. Without opening her eyes she could feel fingertips tickling the skin below her throat, playing idly with the ruby and silver necklace that rested there. "...Of course I did. It was from you."
Yoruichi said nothing, but somehow Soi could feel the warmth of her gaze radiate through her-- completely unlike the stifling humidity surrounding them. She smiled herself as that single hand slid up to her face, gently tracing bumps and dips with an almost...adoring caress. Soi let her fingers idle through Yoruichi's short locks, unsure if she could get entirely used to how different it felt, the weight and flow of them altered from her memories. But then, she thought with a smile, at least I'll never get used to her. Not that she could ever see herself tiring of Yoruichi.
"You look different," Yoruichi said almost sadly.
"...So do you." Soi was quiet before she spoke again, this time opening her eyes to find Yoruichi's locked onto her, as if she was the only person in the world that mattered. "Do you think it's...a bad different?"
Yoruichi didn't directly answer; instead she curled around Soi, huddling close like she was trying to fuse with the teen, to maintain this serenity that only existed with her forever. Burying her face into Soi's long, unbound hair, she breathed its comforting scent in gratefully as she whispered so quietly that only Soi could, or would, ever hear her.
"...I missed you."
But even after she'd said it, the words didn't seem like enough. She couldn't say that she'd stopped writing Soi because it made her ache to return to her side, cross the Atlantic and be with Soi for the rest of her life, come what may. But she had wanted, also to be strong, to show Soi that they could be apart long enough to stand it, that they weren't helpless on their own. Right now, all that just seemed like empty words. Soi was hers and she was Soi's, but the thought somehow didn't frighten her like it would have.
No freedom had ever been worth this, and even when Soi pecked her on the forehead and slid out of bed she still felt lighter than she had in her whole life.
"Hey, Dad called," Soi said as she peeked back into the bedroom, her nudity concealed by the door. "He says that he wants us all to come for dinner."
"Mnnph...I don't feel like going out..."
"Oh come on--this is my DAD we're talking about. And I'm sure you could use some pizza."
"All right," Yoruichi relented with a chuckle. "...Just give me a minute to get dressed." Soi nodded as she headed into her room, Yoruichi passing her to get her bag, stealing a kiss as she went, grinning as Soi rewarded her with the slightest of blushes.
Yoruichi pondered, slipping on a pair of slacks as she glanced at the door, how being with someone could feel so right, so calming, could bring her into the closest thing she'd ever had to a real family. Rifling through the folded clothes she paused as her hand came across a small jewelry box, the square of leather smooth against her hand. Making sure she wasn't being watched, she looked over her shoulder before opening the case, a slender silver band held firmly inside.
She wondered if now was the time to give it to Soi, if she could even ask so soon. But the feeling that had been with her when she'd bought it-- that there wasn't a single person in the world she'd rather give this to-- hadn't faded in the slightest. Yoruichi was still looking at the ring when she heard the door shut behind her.
"Ready to go?"
"Uhh," Yoruichi fumbled as she stuffed the box back into the bottom of her bag, "...Yeah, let's go." She turned to Soi, unable to hide the smile that found its way to her lips at Soi's gentle gaze.
No, Yoruichi decided as she opened the door, beckoning Soi through with an exaggerated display of manners, making the younger woman stifle a laugh. Soi would never begrudge her the time she needed to think this out, to wait, and would probably advise patience until they were both ready and certain.
With Soi, she had all the time in the world-- and that, more than anything else, comforted Yoruichi as she shut the door behind them.
Acknowledgements and Final Thoughts
Wow... it's really over.
It's hard to believe that it's really been over a year since the first chapter of "The Cat and the Bee" debuted to moderate popularity. Now, however, it's grown to a respectable fanbase, and has become the single most popular piece I've ever written. All I can say, quite frankly, is that I'm deeply flattered and more than a little suprised by how it's been embraced by so many people-- especially since it's one of the (sadly) few multichapter yuri fics of the Bleach fandom, which we all know is mainly dominated by het and yaoi (not a criticism, just a statement of fact).
A few people have told me that I changed Yoruichi and Soi's characters quite a bit in this series, and I'll be the first to acknowledge that it's true. But as one of the major aspects of C&B is growth and change, I think it's a legitimate alteration. Yes, they're not entirely true to Kubo Tite's Yoruichi and Soi Fong, but since these two are in a "real" world, having them remain with static personalities they have in the manga/anime doesn't really work as a character piece.
As I'm just a simple fanfic writer I cannot claim that this is perfect by any means, but I only hope that everyone who's read "C&B" has enjoyed it and been entertained by it, and maybe even gotten something from it. And, of course, that I've done this woefully underappreciated and dismissed pairing a bit of justice.
And now onto special thanks:
Thanks to the LJ YoruSoi community, the members of which have supported this fic from conception to completion,
To Kiyuu, Senesti, leavetheforces, lickingbeads, Adverage, Sutzina Zion, Dark S3cret and everyone who consistently reviewed this story (or even just once-- all greatly appreciated),
To Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Corrine Bailey Rae, Alicia Keys and everyone who wrote the music that helped me get over those pesky bouts of writer's block,
And of course, to Kubo Tite for creating a great pair of female characters to work with.
Peace and Love,