shadows of the future

Shihouin-taichou sits with her chin on her knees and watches her subordinate Urahara Kisuke fight his own zanpakutou.

This isn't a time for affection or friendship. She's already given him as much of that as she dares -- as she can -- by telling him about the possibility, overseeing this private training of his, and being willing to put him forward as a possible captain to Yamamoto-soutaichou.

The rest of it he has to do himself. This isn't any sort of pride on his part; he's never been the sort of fool to reject a favour because a friend offered it, or to turn down an advantage. (She's always liked that about him. He takes every edge that he can and then hones them even finer.) But when it comes down to bankai, and to mastering your own zanpakutou, then there's nobody else who can do it for you or can even help you in doing it. It's you and the blade. That's all.

She can't see Benihime clearly. Kisuke was vague on whether that's because the materialisation device needed more work, or whether it was something to do with the nature of the zanpakutou, "or whether perhaps Shihouin-taichou should consider a pair of glasses." She suspects it's the zanpakutou. It'd fit the zanpakutou's master. She can see scarlet veils that run through every shade of blood, from the arterial to the venous to the heart's own innermost stain, and she can hear a whispering voice like a single finger on a lutestring, but the zanpakutou's face is as much a mystery to her as it has always been.

Benihime and Kisuke move as lightly as ghosts across the cavern floor, red and black, as closely entwined as two links of a necklace. Kisuke is an economical fighter, just as he hates waste in other things (and she sometimes wonders about things that she has heard him say, but she puts that aside for the moment) and besides he has been fighting for two and a half days now. This is the last day, the last chance, the last hope. He won't waste his energy in needless movements. He dogs Benihime's footsteps as if he were her shadow, looking for a weak point and a chance to strike.

Shihouin-taichou knows Kisuke's own weak points, but it's past the stage when she can point them out to him and have it do any good. He's up against the edge of the blade now, and if he's not good enough, then it's just too bad for him, for her, and for the zanpakutou while they're at it.

And yet . . . there's something about this situation that's drawing the best out of him. Here in the high echoing silence of the cavern, with only their movement and breathing to disturb the still air, she's watching Kisuke being pushed all the way to his boundaries and being forced to embrace them and take another step further. There's something about it, about the danger and the speed and the closeness, that makes her wistful, because she knows she'll never try to kill him the way that Benihime's doing now, and that she'll never have that same intimacy with him.

She watches, and regrets, just a little, and prepares herself to lose him, one way or another.