The branch under my foot shifts ever so slightly, my weight barely brushing it before I move on. The trees around me are thick, and the leaves are creating a thick, obscuring veil. I have to keep my focus here, and make sure I know my next step, otherwise I'll lose precious time. Behind me, I can feel my pursuer. There isn't a sound being made, or any tangible presence, but I know that my motions are being traced. Sometimes from a long distance, and other times by only a mere moment.

Am I being chased? I suppose you could call it that. That's what the game of tag is all about, isn't it? We've been at it for hours now, without a single break, and I'm barely feeling the fatigue. At the start, things were a bit more playful, where I would slow down intentionally, teasingly pretending that I was only a breath away from capture, before pulling away in a burst of speed. It must have been frustrating, to be toyed with like that, but I couldn't help myself; it was just too much fun. Eventually we fell into a much more steady rhythm, and now I doubt I could slow down, even a little, without getting caught.

Why am I wasting my time with this silly game? Well, that's a stupid question. I love to run; it's as simple as that. There's nothing more exhilarating than feeling the wind whipping around me, feeling my legs stretch to their limit, and to watch the world flash by. And, sometimes, it's much more fun to have someone to run with. The better question to ask is: why does she waste her time with this game?

It's a little strange, really. She never seems to enjoy herself. She'll act annoyed, or flustered, and always frustrated. She'll complain that I'm interrupting her duties, or that there are more important things to do with her time, without ever breaking that obeisant air of hers. But still, without exception, she'll always follow after me, giving chase until she can't keep up anymore. Maybe part of her can't still can't refuse a request from me, now matter how mundane or whimsical.

But, isn't it odd how she plays this game so seriously? Normally, she's always too conscientious about her place; always sure to be at least one step behind me, never beside or ahead. She'll never refer to me without that silly honorific, no matter how much I suggest otherwise. More than anything, she seems insistent on following me.

Except, when we're playing a silly game of tag. Why try so hard at chasing, when she's happy to follow? Why try so hard to win, when she never wants to lead? Why would she ever want to catch up, when she always tries to stay one step behind?

I think maybe, just maybe, when we're playing this game, I see a small glimpse of what she really wants.

My breath starts to catch in my throat now, and I think I'm starting to tire. Our pace has been unrelenting, and I've been pushing my limits for a while now. From time to time I'll catch a fleeting sight of her, several paces ahead, before she vanishes again. Even without seeing her, though, even without feeling her presence, I'm always certain that I'm right behind her. It's become instinctual now; knowing her path, tracing her steps. If I were to close my eyes, and shut out my senses, I think I'd still be able to follow her every move.

Not that I can ever do anything more than that. Even at my best, all I can do is keep up, and hope that I'm not left too far behind. It would be foolish of me to pretend that I could actually win. I'm not sad to admit this, though. Disappointment would have no meaning. It's simply a fact that I've long understood, and that I've accepted. I've grown into the pattern of this game, gone through the motions so many times before, that everything about it has become second nature. From beginning to end, there's a comfortable repetition to it. It's simply a part of the life that I know, like the falling rain.

But, once in awhile, isn't it okay to wish for the rain to stop?

Sometimes, I can feel a faint murmuring in my heart, a subtle desire for something more. There's a whisper that I can hear, telling faint, little lies. Just one more step is all I need. Just a little bit faster is all it will take. And, every so often, I'll give in and allow myself to hope. I'll listen to those false promises, and wish that this time will be different. That maybe, just maybe, something has changed, and I'll be able to catch up to her.

As I step on the next branch, I feel my balance shift, and I'm forced to adjust to keeping my footing. It's only a slight mistake, barely enough to slow me down, but it means that I've tired more than I expected. It would seem that it's time for me to concede.

I stop my movement, dropping to the ground below. Almost immediately, she appears in front of me, perhaps knowing that I would quit before I did.

"Giving up already?" she asks, looking a little disappointed. I suppose she wanted the game to continue.

"My apologies, Yoruichi-sama," I reply. I think I'm a bit disappointed as well. I'm breathing heavier than I should be; I must have pushed myself harder than usual.

"Well, that's a shame," she says with a slight pout. "Oh well, I suppose we can do something else."

"Like what?"

"...tag, you're it!"

She taps me on the head, and vanishes before I can even react. I almost allow myself to yell in indignation, but stifle the urge. There wouldn't be much point in complaining now, since she's already long gone. Sighing, I start to move once more, running in her wake. I guess it wouldn't hurt to continue, just for a little while longer.