A/N: Spoilers for the SS arc onward. This story takes place post-Aizen's-betrayal, pre-Winter-War and Hueco Mundo stuff. I don't ship Yoruichi and Byakuya often, but something about their interaction—and the way it holds echoes of their younger selves—makes me root for them.

Kubo Tite owns Bleach and all its characters. I just play with them for writing funtimes.

His head hurt.

A mundane complaint, yes, but not one Kuchiki Byakuya would ever have made aloud to anyone. So instead of complaining, or mentioning it at all, he walked outside the Sixth Division barracks in hopes that a few moments of fresh night air would push away the insistent throb at his temples. His haori felt like an iron weight around his shoulders, and leaving the barracks felt like running a gauntlet: his Sixth Division officers were everywhere, watching him out of the corners of their eyes, hoping for a slight nod of acknowledgement. Abarai was about, too; Byakuya had caught a flash of his red hair and sprawling limbs earlier and wondered how it was that Renji, like Zabimaru, always seemed a bit too large for the space he was in. The thought of another "Oi, Taichou!" made him cringe.

But the night air did help. As Byakuya took a few steps away from the barracks into welcome solitude, he took deep breaths and found himself wishing he were even more alone: alone enough to drop the carefully modulated, small steps, the heavy-lidded look of indifference, his place as head of the Kuchiki clan, his place as a captain. Maybe if he could then all of these problems hammering at his head would—

The spike of familiar reiatsu nearby scattered his thoughts. And before Byakuya could even consciously respond to it, a pair of slender fingers wound through the sleek dark hair carefully woven into his kenseikan and yanked, a good hard tug. He scowled viciously at the familiar reiatsu, caught himself, and molded his features back into their mask of composure, though his voice wasn't as serene as he would've liked when he said, "Shihouin Yoruichi. What are you doing here?"

She grinned, golden eyes gleaming, and leaned against a tree. "You're getting slow, Byakuya-bo."

He would not respond to that childhood taunt. Would not. (Stupid cat. Stupid cat. Stupid cat.) "What do you want?" he repeated again.

The grin widened. "If you want to know, Byakuya-bo," she taunted, "you're going to have to catch me." And he would have refused, he was beyond stupid childish games of tag, he was, but she tilted her head forward and in her ponytail he saw a glimpse of that red hair band—his red hair band—and anyway perhaps she had some intelligence from the living world and—and she was so damn annoying and arrogant—

He didn't even feel his feet leave the ground as he took off after her.

At the end of the chase, Byakuya, to his surprise, was slightly winded. And he hadn't caught her, either, though he'd come close—within the space of a fingertip, a breath. The exhaustion stung at his pride almost as much as the defeat did and he tried not to sound breathless when he asked, "What did you have to say to me?" He spoke, as always, through his mask of languid indifference—never mind that he'd spent the last half hour chasing her down like a child. (Never mind that he knew she noticed the way his eyes narrowed and he gritted his teeth when he was forced to interact with her, and knowing she knew only made him grit his teeth harder). He was a Kuchiki. His words had weight. (She was a Shihouin. She should know this. Why did she have such utter disregard for her position?)

She sprawled into the captain's chair in what he realized belatedly was Soi Fong's office and promptly ignored his question, picking up the bowl of rice she'd apparently abandoned to pester him. You never really left this place, did you? he thought, but said nothing. She had always preferred covert ops to everything else, had always enjoyed working in the shadows. He shouldn't be surprised she was still enjoying pulling strings from her hiding place in the living world.

And then Byakuya was drawn from his thoughts by disgust. Yoruichi was chopsticking rice into her mouth like she was starved, shoveling in obscene amounts with one hand and drinking tea with the other. Halfway through, she thought to offer him some, and when he refused—coldly—she went right back to eating. A grain of rice landed on the sleeve of his shihakusho. He stared at it. "Hmm?" she asked, leaning precariously out of her chair to look at his sleeve with exaggeratedly innocent eyes. She craned her head this way and that, staring at the fabric. "What is it?" Two more grains landed.

He really wanted to take those chopsticks and stick them in her ears.

Instead he shook the rice off his sleeve and turned to go. Another of her purposeless games, no doubt intended to teach him something—for that was how he'd learned the Black Ops shunpo, in those long winding games of tag across Sereitei. But he didn't have the time for it now, didn't have the patience to chase her in circles only to stand and watch her eat rice. He had his own clan and Aizen to think about. And he was above this.


He glanced back at the more serious use of his name and halted. She watched him thoughtfully, and in return he regarded her. She'd changed a bit in her long absence from Soul Society. But she was still the Demon Cat he remembered: all golden eyes and dark skin and dark violet hair. Though he would've died before admitting it, he'd always appreciated her beauty and her audacious honesty, at least back in the time when he was allowed to appreciate those things. (But then, his taste in women, the clan said, had always been unusual at best. The thought of that, and of Hisana, made him ache.) Yet when she looked serious and addressed him as an equal, as she did now, it reminded him of who she was: the Goddess of Flash, a former captain, a woman of noble birth. "You don't have to carry this all by yourself," she said quietly, an edge of sharpness to her tone.

He frowned slightly, turned away. "I do not have the time for these kinds of childish games," he said, making his measured way to the door. "If that is all you have to say to me you needn't have bothered. You have Urahara Kisuke to indulge your childish whims." The bitterness in his own tone surprised him, and he hoped she did not notice. So many years gone by. Soul Society was different now. And so was he. She could not simply enter it again as though that was not so.

Before he could make his way through the door, she was in front of it. "Byakuya-bo," she said gently, but the words had lost their teasing tone. "Do you know why you get headaches?" And before he could respond with something suitably scathing about Demon Cats and useless games of tag, she reached out and unwound the kenseikan from his hair with careful fingers. He should have set Senbonzakura on her for that, but he didn't move. His sleek dark hair fell around his face. He knew he looked younger this way. He knew he looked young anyway. He hated her for it. You have no right to do this. Her fingers combed slowly through his hair, the touch surprisingly intimate. It came easily to her. Have you no idea whose hair you are touching? She didn't even hesitate. How long had it been since he'd known a touch that wasn't reverent, or frightened, or timid? Byakuya found himself torn between rage and bewilderment, and both prevented him from reacting. You stupid, stupid cat. Oblivious to his dismay, Yoruichi continued. "To be the head of your clan, to be a captain, to be worthy of it—you have to let yourself feel, you know."

"I am not a child," he said stiffly, bridling at the lecturing tone. He finally found the wherewithal to pull himself away from her hands. He did not want to rest there with her. He did not want more of that touch. He did not enjoy the way it felt, to be around someone familiar with his heart, unafraid of his position. His steps took him to the door. "If you must see me over a matter, be sure that the matter is of some consequence."

On the threshold, her voice stopped him: serious, soft, and sad. "Are you angry at me, too, Byakuya-bo?" He could tell a slight smile was playing at her lips when she added, "You are not as foolish as Soi Fong. Surely, you knew all along that this was something I had to do."

He was silent, and did not reply. A moment later, his shunpo took him away from the door, on the way back to his division. Yoruichi stood silently, smile vanished, watching the spot where he had stood. The room still smelled faintly of his scent. With a sigh, she sat back down with her bowl of rice and picked disconsolately at it. Sometimes, in his eyes, before that gate of indifference and frozen nobility came crashing back down to make them opaque and unreadable, she caught glimpses of the boy she'd once known. The spirited boy who had chased her, seething, over the loss of a trivial hairband. The spirited boy who'd become a spirited man, and damned the clan of his pride for the love of a simple woman from the 78th district of Rukongai. Yoruichi wondered where that man had gone. She missed him.

"Byakuya-bo, you have to slow down," she said, ruefully to the silence. "No matter how fast I run, I can't seem to catch you."