Normally, a little early morning jostling wouldn't bother Yoruichi, and she would continue to doze in blissful ignorance. Lately, though, she seemed far more prone to being startled awake in the morning. Hence her mild annoyance when her morning slumber was interrupted by someone clambering out of her bed, rushing around in a panic. The words "I'm late" could be heard repeatedly, but she did her best to ignore it, still extremely reluctant to acknowledge that she was cognitive before the sun had fully risen. Her memory was still a little fuzzy from the sleepy stupor, and she couldn't quite remember the name of the girl who was running around in a tizzy. Something to do with a bird. Or maybe it was a fish. It didn't seem very relevant at the moment, either way.
Continuing to play possum, she heard the girl hurriedly gathering her things up, making a surprising amount of commotion, before running off to the front door, hopefully leaving behind some peace and quiet.
"Oh! I'm sorry!" came a startled squeak.
"Whatever...just let me through already," a much more familiar voice said in reply. The gruffness must have been terrifying, because the next few sounds were the very rapid pattering of someone running away.
"Yo, you awake in there!" Sui-Feng called out as the door closed behind her. "You've got some mail."
Groaning, Yoruichi pushed herself off the bed, finally giving up on a lost cause. Grabbing a large shirt from her drawers, she quickly pulled it on to preserve a little modesty.
"Can't a girl get her beauty sleep anymore?" she whined as she stepped out of her room.
"Is that what you're calling it now?" the Chinese girl said sarcastically. She was sifting through a stack of envelopes in one hand, with a pillow resting under her other arm.
"Har, har," the older said in mock laughter, stretching her arms up as she yawned off the cobwebs. The movement probably lifted her shirt dangerously close to exhibitionist zone, but the other girl wasn't even paying attention...and undoubtedly didn't even care. "You know, you don't have to sleep out in the hall every time I've got company."
"Trust me, I do. Besides, the carpet out there isn't actually that bad."
"...I don't want to know what you're using for comparison."
"Best that you don't," Sui-Feng deadpanned. Apparently finding nothing of interest, she handed over the stack of mail. It was mostly just utility bills and junk mail.
"Not really. Would be worried if there was something for me...always a sign of bad things to come," she answered, making Yoruichi smile. She was probably serious, but there was still something humorous about it.
"Well, since I'm up, want some breakfast?"
"Can't, got class," she replied, walking into the living room to get changed for the day, "Oh, right. Won't be back until later tonight, sorry if I interrupt something."
"Oh?" the older girl intoned, with a little intrigue, "Got a hot date tonight?"
A light scoffing was heard from the other room, laced with a hint of disgust. It wasn't too surprising; the girl seemed far too serious to even consider a love life. "Hardly. Just a friend I haven't seen in a while asking for a favour."
"Hmm, funny coincidence, 'cause that's what I've got planned too."
"Well...have fun with that, then," her roommate said, reappearing in the hallway with a fresh set of clothes and her pack for the day.
"I'll try. Have a good day," she said cheerily. The girl just grunted in response and left. With several unexpected hours of free time, Yoruichi figured she should get a start on her own day, and headed to the bathroom to get tidied up.
A quick knock on the door in front of her, and Sui-Feng was already regretting the visit that she'd been half-dreading all day long. It wasn't that she was reluctant to see a friend, just that this particular friend had a knack for making people detest any encounter with him, regardless of relation. She was even considering running from the doorstep, but unfortunately for her, he was much too quick to respond, and the door swung wide almost instantly.
"Well now, look who finally dragged herself over," he greeted in a confident, yet utterly infuriating tone that he had all but mastered.
"Yumichika," she answered gruffly. He'd barely changed since the last time she'd seen him; strangely effeminate, without a mark or hair out of place, yet constantly surrounded in a smug arrogance that clashed with image and enhanced it at the same time. He apparently still kept his hair in the same ridiculous style, cut short down to his chin and adorned with long, gaudy feathers. He probably spent hours in front of the mirror just to make sure that every strand was perfectly straight. Narcissism was his middle name, and he wasn't afraid to flaunt it.
It was odd to think that they would ever get along, and yet that's what happened through all of high school. Yumichika Ayasegawa was a lot rougher than his appearances let on, and it was through some mutual slacking and trouble-making that they'd first become acquainted. Birds of a feather, it seemed.
"Well, don't just stand there wasting time," he said, "Get in here already."
As grating as always. She stepped into the small flat, immediately noting that the walls and floors were scuffed and dented more than would be expected from such an aesthetic perfectionist. It was, without a doubt, the influence of the house's other resident.
"So where's Ikkaku hiding?" Sui-Feng asked.
"Oh, the usual, running whatever odd jobs he's found. Honestly, why bother having a roommate when he can't even pay his half of the rent?" Yumichika whined idly, which made her smile. Despite his complaints, the two boys had been practically attached at the hip all through school. They were an odd pair, for sure, but were so compatible with each other that she'd often felt like a weird third wheel. Ikkaku Madarame had a lot more in common with her, with the same lack of emphasis on niceties and propriety, except he had an extremely strong aversion to anything related to work.
"And speaking of odd jobs," he said, "I haven't heard a peep from you since graduation. Just what has our little worker bee been up to?"
"I've been busy. School. Work. You know," she stated simply. Technically true, but she'd also been a little ashamed to phone up friends when things were in the dumps.
"Yet not to busy to hand out my number to all those nice men you met – and one woman, I might add," he joked. She chuckled, being reminded of all those people she'd tricked. It had started out as a silly prank they'd pulled back in their junior, but ended up having much more practical uses.
"Yeah, sorry about that."
"Oh, no, it was quite amusing, and a little way of knowing you were still alive out there. Although, next time, it might be nice to find you without chasing along the grapevine."
"Right...how did you track me down, anyway?"
"Quite easily. I asked if anyone had seen a short, violent, Chinese girl. It's amazing how memorable you manage to be."
Sui-Feng sighed a little at that; it wasn't a very flattering reputation, but at least people remembered her. Regardless of how, Yumichika managed to find her, and in the course of their brief reunion, topics quickly wandered to favours she could do for him, as they often tended to do. In spite of his eccentricities, though, his requests were usually simple enough, and it wasn't like she didn't owe him. Either way, that's why she was here right now.
"Here we are, all set up for you," the young man stated jovially, motioning to a plain stool that was sitting in the middle of a rather worn down living room, "Now sit down so I can see what I'm working with."
"No mirror?" she asked, immediately noting that there was no way of seeing the kind of damage he would be inflicting.
"And ruin the surprise of my masterpiece?" he questioned, in a tone that was much more pompous than it was teasing. "I don't have all day, you know. Let's get on with this."
Sighing, the Chinese girl complied, taking a seat. Like an artist testing his canvas, Yumichika immediately took hold of one of her braids, studying them with intense scrutiny.
"Just what have you done to them?" he exclaimed, like he'd just discovered his own murdered children, "Every end is split - and I didn't even know hair could get this dry! Don't you even use a conditioner?"
"I don't even know what you're talking about..." she said. His extreme obsession with aesthetics was always a mystery to her, but she still had a good idea what volunteering to be his guinea pig entailed. Judging from his reactions, her fears were completely justified.
He responded with an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose you always were clueless about such basic necessities. Looks like I have a lot of work to do here..."
Yoruichi was never a fan of fine dining. The waiters always wore this pretentious attitude, the rooms were too dimly lit to see anything except the people across the table, and the food was overly showy, like it was designed to be talked about rather than eaten. Then again, maybe she was a tad biased about it. Most of her experiences with upper class cuisine was as a young girl, getting dolled up in uncomfortable, ostentatious clothing to meet stodgy, old business men. It was difficult to enjoy herself when she'd been scolded for fidgeting, or for forgetting which fork to use, or for calling an investor "funny looking". Nevertheless, in spite of all her hatred for fancy restaurants, here she was again, dressed up in an expensive dress, make-up on, all to look presentable for someone dryer than a desert. To his credit, at least he wasn't old.
"The coming merger does not sit well with many members of the board," the young man in front her said. Most women would probably consider him handsome, with his sharply defined features, long black hair and air of nobility. Up close though, it was hard to find him looking anything except business.
"And I suppose the Kuchiki family is one of them," she said, sighing as she shifted the food around her plate. Byakuya Kuchiki was an old acquaintance of hers, the son and heir of a major investor in her father's former company. They'd been introduced several years ago, almost with the explicit intent of having them bred off like cattle. She'd obviously been opposed to the idea, and Byakuya, at the very least, had the decency of feeling likewise. They'd never gotten along well enough to be friends, but at the very least, he was astute enough to be tolerable.
"I hope you didn't invite me all the way here just to tell me that. You, of all people, should know that I don't have a say in the company's decisions," she said, taking a bite of her overly decadent meal, "Or maybe you had alternative motives, inviting a beautiful young woman from your past to a candlelit dinner."
"Need I remind you that I am married," he said, not rising to her bait. It wasn't surprising, since he hadn't even touched his own plate. The dinner invitation was clearly just a formality for him.
"You're such a spoilsport."
"You still retained a sizable number of shares in your departure. Enough to tip the balance in the coming vote."
That little detail had been Kisuke's idea; sell enough of her daddy's stock to lose company control, but keep just enough to pull some favours should the need arise. It was a plan that had mostly backfired, with more than a few shareholders trying to curry her favour for support in tight voting situations. Case in point...
"I doubt that would sit well with your colleagues, Byakuya," Yoruichi said wryly, "I can already imagine the outrage when the fallen princess interferes with business she doesn't belong in."
"Then perhaps it is time for you to become reacquainted with your inheritance," he said. She had to give him a second look over, to see if he was actually trying to make a joke. As usual, though, his face looked completely serious. "Many of us still remember the company under the Shihion name...and think such familiarity would inspire confidence again."
"And I suppose the Kuchiki family is one of them?" she said, echoing her earlier statements. He didn't reply. "Well, you'll have to find some other distant relative to drag into this mess. All things considered, I'm far too much of a black sheep to reassure any of you bigwigs."
"I am well aware of your public image. Just as I am aware that, in spite of all your posturing, you have done a remarkable job of avoiding controversy that would connect your name to your past," Byakuya stated, "Your aptitude for subtlety has not gone completely unnoticed, Yoruichi Shihoin."
"Well, it seems you've been keeping tabs on me," she said indignantly, "I didn't know you were so enamoured with me."
"I am merely capable of reading between the lines. Your separation from your legacy did not stop you from being a liability, and accounts have been kept in regards to your actions. I suspect you knew this as well, which is why you have gone through such lengths to appear so unambitious and vain."
"You certainly think you have me figured out, don't you?" she said, bristling. For once, she actually understood the subdued lighting in the restaurant – it made confrontations much more private. "I think you've been hanging around your business partners too long, Byakuya, not everyone hides behind a mask. I've already gotten free of the corporate politics once, and I have no intention of living the rest of my life in that shadow."
"Then, my apologies for offending you, and for wasting your time," he said, gracefully stepping back.
"That's it?" she said, surprised that the conversation had ended so abruptly. Not that she didn't appreciate it, but she'd expected a much lengthier attempt to sway her.
"As I said, Yoruichi Shihoin, I am capable of reading between the lines. Nor do I personally have a vested interested in your future endeavours. I made an agreement to speak with you, not to convince you."
She chuckled a little at that, her mood settling down again - he was still as sharp as she'd remembered. "As forthright as always, Byakuya. Well then, what exactly is the opinion of the Kuchiki heir?"
"Whatever you choose makes no difference to me. The Shihoin name barely retains importance beyond the shares you still hold, and will matter even less once the merger has been signed."
"And in no time at all, I'd just fade away..."
"Perhaps," Byakuya answered. He pushed his chair away from the table, and rose to his feet gracefully. "I have already paid the bill. Please enjoy the rest of your meal."
"Leaving so soon?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Not very polite to walk out on a dinner date."
"There is nothing left to discuss," he said. "And it seems prudent to leave a wrong impression. I am, after all, a married man meeting with a beautiful woman from my past."
"Hmm? Is that a hint of sarcasm I'm hearing from our Kuchiki heir?" she noted playfully, "It seems Hisana's been a good influence on you. Give her my best."
He gave a slight nod, and walked away, leaving her with plenty to think over.
There was something oddly intriguing about ceilings. It was an odd observation to make, but it was the only solid conclusion that Yoruichi had managed to come up with in the hour she'd spent lying on her couch. She was still wearing her gaudy dress, not bothering to change out of it when she got back from the restaurant, being a little too distracted. Byakuya had certainly opened up a number of possibilities, and none of them were simple matters to think about. The most intriguing option was, of course, to sever all ties with her father's old company. She'd be lying to say that the finality of the decision didn't intrigue her, and there was something appealing about her own name having more weight than her family's.
Of course, that was the immature side of her voicing its opinion. The "spoiled princess", as a certain someone worded it, wanting to flip off a few ancient geezers one last time. Not exactly the best business plan, by any means.
"Argh!" she exclaimed in exasperation. She didn't even like thinking about corporate politics in the first place. In the past, she'd just asked Kisuke for advice on being as disruptive as possible, and Kuukaku on how to piss off as many people as she could. Neither seemed very relevant at the moment.
As her mind started to wander around the track yet again, she heard the door to the apartment unlock, and sat up, welcoming the diversion.
"Dammit, these things keep getting in the way," Sui-Feng could be heard angrily muttering in the doorway. It might as well have been her way of saying hello. "Trust the twit to turn it into a modern art show..."
"Welcome back," Yoruichi called out, amusedly wondering what her roommate was ranting about this time.
"Hey," the Chinese girl said simply, walking into the room, pausing for a moment with a confused expression. "...what's with the dress?"
The older girl laughed, realizing how odd it probably looked for her to be lazing about in an outfit that was likely worth more than the girl's paycheck. "I figured I should get some more mileage out of it. You like?"
"Wouldn't fit me," she answered sarcastically as she walked past, heading for the bathroom, her hands fiddling with something over her shoulder.
"I meant on me, you dope."
"Care even less about that."
Yoruichi wasn't expect a compliment; it would be almost unheard of. It was still fun to try and tease one out of the grump, though. Looking over to try and see what was bugging the girl this time, she noticed something that her eyes had glossed over the first time.
"Whoa there, hold up," she said suddenly. Sui-Feng turned around, questioning what the matter was. "Looks like you got a hair cut."
"If that's what you call this," the younger girl said, sneering. She apparently didn't like the change very much.
"Aw, c'mon, how bad can it be. Let me take a look."
"Don't see what the big deal is..."
"It's a girl thing. Now get over here," Yoruichi demanded cheerfully. Rolling her eyes, her roommate complied nonetheless, taking a few steps back to the couch...which didn't exactly make her hair any more viewable. "Gonna have to get closer than that. No need to be shy."
Sui-Feng finally plopped herself down on the armrest with a deep sigh, her back turned, almost like she was sulking – which would be completely, totally impossible. Now that her hair was in plain site, it had clearly been trimmed down, the majority of it resting barely above her chin, as opposed to the wildly long strands that they'd been before. However, several locks hadn't been cut at all, preserving the twin braids that fell down below her waist. They'd been tidied up and decorated, though, now wrapped in thin ribbons of white cloth, with shiny gold rings tied at the end of each. All-in-all, it was definitely an imaginative look.
"I think it looks cute," the older girl said, lifting up one of the braids for closer inspection.
"More like a massive pain. You think I have time to do this every day? And it'll be worse if I don't...that ass probably planned it that way."
"If you really hate it so much, you could always get him to fix it."
"No chance in hell of that. He'll probably say I'm 'desecrating the beauty' of it, or some crap like that. Probably go ballistic if I get someone else to change it, too..."
Yoruichi couldn't help being amused at the situation. Personally, she liked the hair style, but what was even more interesting was hearing the other girl complain about it. It was probably the closest thing to normal teenage whining she'd heard from Sui-Feng – and she didn't even need to pull out a kitty cat to get it.
"Well, think of all the fun it could be then. I could do your hair up every morning – it'll be just like playing dress up!" she said in a sickeningly-sweet tone. The Chinese girl made an appropriate gagging noise, and stood up abruptly, heading to the bathroom once again, now that her head had been thoroughly examined.
"Okay then, try thinking about the opportunity then," the older girl suggested, "A brand new look can give you a brand new start!"
"Is that some symbolic bullshit? It's just a damn haircut. Not like anything else has changed," Sui-Feng replied petulantly, closing the door behind her.
"...yeah. Guess it hasn't," Yoruichi murmured whimsically to herself.