Summary: 101 years ago, Yoruichi left everything behind. We know what happened after she came back, but what about the years in between?
(Post SWEAT. But still stand-alone.)
Chronicling the years between Yoruichi's departure and subsequent return 101 years later, this is the story of Sui-Feng's evolution into the Commander of the Onmitsukido, Captain of the 2nd Division and Corp Commander of the Executive Militia.
Disclaimer: Obviously I don't own Bleach. If I did, I wouldn't be writing fanfiction. And Sui-Feng and Yoruichi would have a lot more screen time. Because they're awesome.
Note: My... it has been a while. I am now a University student WOOT. Hopefully I haven't lost my touch. I hope you all enjoy this, because I had all but left fanfiction completely, when I was suddenly struck by inspiration the other day while catching up on bleach episodes. I thought it would be interesting to study the 100 years in between the story lines, hopefully you all agree with me. It looks like this will be a long one, people. Let's see if I can see this through to the end. :)
Locus of Control
101 years ago.
Sui-Feng awoke with a start. She sat up quickly, blinking the sleep from her eyes as she scanned her surroundings out of habit. Cherry blossoms. The sleep seemed to linger in the form of a curiously heavy fog in her brain. She felt a momentary pang of panic which effectively drove away the vestiges of slumber from her mind, when she realized she could not find her clothes, but after a second's confusion, she realized she was fully dressed. She peered at her uniform, mildly confused at its dishevelled air on her frame. She could still smell the faint jasmine lingering in the fabric.
Abandoning the mystery for the moment and marginally more aware now, her senses began to tingle, and she felt a knot of unease curl tightly within the pit of her stomach. She rose unsteadily to her feet, her hand instinctively tightening around her wakizashi and she limped to the edge of the cherry grove. It was unusually silent. She frowned slightly.
Where was Yoruichi?
At the thought of her mentor, her mind quickly flashed back to the moments of the night before, and she couldn't help but feel her cheeks redden slightly at what had transpired. Shaking her head angrily, she chastised herself for succumbing to foolish emotions. On full alert now, she reached out with one hand only to discover she was imprisoned in the grove by multi-layered kido barriers of incredible strength. Her mind raced at the implications.
She swallowed the anxiety that was beginning to flutter inside her chest, forcing herself to concentrate on the problem at hand. She couldn't be of any use to anyone if she was trapped inside this cage. She could worry when she got out. So she closed her eyes, concentrating.
When she opened them again, she stared at the now visible barriers that surrounded her, torn between awe and dread at the intricacies of her cage. The first layer was a rectangular prism formed by Bakudo #81 Danku (Splitting Void), which was then encapsulated by Bakudo #73 Tozansho (Inverse Mountain Crystal). The Tozansho was then latticed by orbs of Bakudo #8 Seki (Repulse). And, finally the last layer, which remained invisible, Bakudo #26 Kyokko (Curved Light).
Sui-Feng's eyes narrowed, her mood immediately darkening. None of this boded well. Wherever Yoruichi was, whatever reason she had for leaving, it was clear she spend considerable effort creating this… to protect her? Or to keep her away?
Sighing, she put her hands on the translucent prism walls and began to work.
She needed find out what the hell was going on.
She could hear her footsteps pounding in unison with her frantic heartbeat the silent corridor. The feeling of dread grew inexorably more intense as she drew closer to her master's throne room. It was bordering on nausea now, as she turned the last corner and came within the last hundred meters.
Normally she would have been embarrassed by the racket she was creating, but abandoned stealth in favour of speed. She just wanted to get to the bottom of this – whatever this was. She had already wasted precious time simply trying to escape the cherry grove, the forest of all their sordid secrets. And the longer she was absent from Yoruichi's side, was another second spent not knowing whether she had failed her promise, her duty, her life.
She didn't even bother to stop her momentum, instead using it to heave the sliding doors aside and bursting into the room with urgency unmatched to the one screaming in her brain. She stood, shock still, as she stared uncomprehendingly into the dark, empty room. The doors shuddering still in their frames, she reached out slowly with both hands to steady them, and herself, as she felt her knees weaken with the dawning realization.
Sui-Feng stared at that chair, sitting almost unceremoniously low on the floor, its green back and varnished wood strangely dull with no one to occupy it. The throne was abandoned.
And Yoruichi was gone.
She wasn't sure how long she spent, kneeling on the tatami mat a meter away from her throne. But at this point it didn't really matter. A bodyguard was of no use if the principal has vanished. She hung her head, her hair obscuring her face, and the tears that had dried long ago. The only indication that they had ever been there was the slightly sticky sensation of their salty imprints on her cheeks. But that didn't really matter either. There was no one here to see.
She raised her head, her ears perking up as she heard the soft flutter of wings. Her eyes fell on the slowing wings of a hell butterfly, as it lowered itself to perch on her finger. She listened half-heartedly to its message, and sighed as she rose to her feet, reluctant to leave the cocoon of despair and self-pity she had managed to weave around herself.
But Captain-Commander Yamamoto was calling, and she had no authority to refuse.
"Captain-Commander," said Sui-Feng rather hoarsely as she bowed low. A spark of anger ignited in her heart, as she heard the audible weakness in her own voice.
Yamamoto peered down at the tiny figure at the end of the room. "Come closer, child," he said softly, although the power of the command was not lost.
Sui-Feng obeyed promptly, mostly operating on auto-pilot for the mannerisms required by protocol and tradition. They had been drilled into her as a child, and she had never forgotten, having had to practice them rather often, except for when she was alone with Yoruichi. She swallowed hard, her eyes downcast.
Yamamoto could see the girl was avoiding his eyes. No doubt to hide the shame of her tears, although he wasn't sure why she would be so averse to showing a little vulnerability, she was entitled to it. Even he wanted to sob a little at the thought of the events that had so recently devastated their court. But then again, he did not know her well at all.
Judging by what he did know of her, he figured it would probably be best to employ trauma psychology, in this case. He knew it wouldn't heal any of the psychological wounds the girl clearly suffered, but would get immediate answers, and he also suspected she might be more comfortable if the questioning was conducted in a professional manner. It wasn't like he was her grandfather or something anyway.
"Were you aware of the investigations being conducted into the case of Disappearing Souls?"
"How informed were you of the details?" he questioned gently.
"I am the personal bodyguard of… Yoru –" she stumbled as she came to the name, but quickly recovered and powered on with renewed determination. "Commander Yoruichi Shihoin, sir. She has a strong friendship with Captain Urahara Kisuke of the 12th squad, and I have reason to believe that he knew much more than he was telling. But she trusts him implicitly, and by default, so must I."
"Do you know what happened last night?"
She shook her head plainly, but the movement betrayed some of the sadness and anger that was clearly still churning inside her. He sighed. Terrible times, these were. Days like these, he wishes he were dead, or pitifully weak, so he could follow orders and not have to think. But the weight of his responsibility did not leave him, and he didn't think it ever would. He had been doing this for too long to give up.
"I was told to remain at the 2nd Division headquarters when the Emergency meeting was held. I know Yoruichi was told to stand-by for separate orders. She briefly mentioned that the Captains of the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, Vice Captains of the 8th, 9th, 12th and the Kido Corps lieutenant were all missing."
Yamamoto opened one eye at this, mildly impressed at the concise and accurate summation of her knowledge. He had heard she was exceptional, but didn't expect to be fazed. Especially if Yoruichi had only mentioned the information in passing, the girl had an incredible memory.
"What did you do after she gave you this information?" he said evenly, betraying no suspicion.
She raised her head, finally. Staring at him blankly.
He thought he could see the faintest hint of a blush colouring her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Captain-Commander," she said, "I do not understand what you are asking."
He got up from his seat, and began to pace slowly in front of his large oak desk. "I am asking," he began, calmly, careful to keep the reproach from his gravelly tones, "Why when I sent Chojiro Sasakibe by your main office at dawn, there was no one there?"
He saw her eyes darken, and her jaw set as she glanced away quickly before returning her gaze to the spot on the floor. "I only do what I am ordered to, sir. I do not question my superiors."
"Admirable," he said, pausing in his pacing to stare down at her. "But your duty –"
"My duty is to Commander Yoruichi Shihoin," said Sui-Feng, a little more forcibly as she interrupted the Captain-Commander, who could only close his mouth in surprise. "My sole purpose is to protect and serve her until the day I fail or die..." Sui-Feng trembled slightly, but inhaled deeply through her nose to piece back together her composure. "She did not tell me anything further and I was not to question her," she finished, with a hint of steel in her voice.
There was a tense silence as he surveyed her, a rueful smile forming on his mouth, hidden beneath his beard. He liked her spirit. He could see potential in the strong lines of her small frame, feel the fire burning in her dark eyes. The decision was, at that very moment, finalized in his mind. And when the moment suddenly passed, leaving him cold and weary with the stark reality he now faced, he turned, walking back to sit down heavily in his chair. He had to follow procedure still.
"It does not matter now," he said tiredly as he placed his cane in front of him. "We cannot change the past, no matter how much we wish we could." Lacing his fingers around the knotted wood of his cane calmed him, as he began to explain the situation.
"Those missing were discovered in the 12th division headquarters. They were the subject of especially crippling Hollowfication experiments. There is overwhelming evidence pointing to Urahara Kisuke as the orchestrator of this heinous crime, and he was aided by Tessai Tsukabishi. He was apprehended early in the morning and sentenced to exile by Central 46. Yoruichi Shihoin broke into the compound and aided them in escaping. We do not know of their whereabouts, but the Gotei 13 has been crippled, and until we can reform and replace the power that has been lost, we will not be able to continue investigations."
Sui-Feng was stunned. She had never really liked Urahara, he always seemed like one of those lazy, brilliant, but arrogant jerks who just had it all, and yes, she had been jealous of him too, but she had grown to tolerate his eccentricities, grown to respect him. Despite all his faults, she knew he was inherently kind and good and incapable of truly hurting anyone without good reason… and to think that he was accused of… to believe that he was actually responsible for…
"Captain-Commander, they must have been framed!" she said, her voice cracking slightly.
He was not unduly surprised by her sudden outburst. "The evidence is incontrovertible."
Sui-Feng shook her head, all complacency and sadness gone, in its place was a determined refusal to believe. "It's circumstantial, it must be! He must have been trying to help them," she said, a righteous anger creeping into her tones, "He would be the only one who can."
He stared at her, his expression was inscrutable. He didn't want to believe it either, but it was what it was. He wondered if her protests were just born out of intense loyalty and good instincts, or if she had just slipped and showed him that she knew more than she was letting on. He had heard whispers of Urahara's protests at his sentencing, his wild lies. The facts were unsettling, he knew, and he could feel the unease whittling away at his conscience.
"We need to find them – there must be an explanation for this."
"They are gone, child!" he said loudly, impatience creeping into his voice. It was not directed at her, no, if anything, it was at himself, and the persistent nagging doubts in his brain. "They are all gone."
"But he wouldn't…"
"He did," Yamamoto said grimly. "Believe it. They have betrayed us. Now we must move on."
Sui-Feng shook her head, as if she could rid herself of hearing the facts, horrible in their truths. It was just unbelievable. Yoruichi could never have befriended someone so morally corrupt and she would have never saved someone truly guilty of crippling their fellow officers with something as evil as Hollowfication. But why, why did no one else see that? They escaped, she told herself, they escaped so they're okay but why did they leave, they could have trumpeted the real truths from the top of the highest tower and revealed the real culprit… why did they leave if they were innocent? She cried out in and punched the floor in frustration when she realized that no matter how hard she tried she could not reconcile the facts with her beliefs.
Yamamoto watched the new deluge of tears fall from her eyes, all the emotion lying naked, unadulterated on her young face.
"Yoruichi wouldn't…" she whispered, brokenly.
There was a heavy silence, only broken by the sound of her softly crying. When she finally dried her eyes, apologizing brusquely for her unprofessionalism, he nodded, feeling safe to proceed into the last item on his agenda.
"I understand that you have not yet achieved your Bankai," he said gently, as if he were afraid to trigger another outpour of emotion.
Sui-Feng nodded mutely. Not trusting herself to speak.
"It is curious because I have read Yoruichi's most recent report. She actually recommended you for a promotion to Captain. She also noted that she would, without a second thought, entrust you with commanding the Executive Militia and Omnitsukido, should anything ever happen to her."
Sui-Feng did not react overtly to this.
He continued, "To achieve such a recommendation without even having discovered your Bankai is no small feat. It is very high praise, child. You should be proud of your performance."
Sui-Feng nodded once again, sensing that Yamamoto was expecting an answer.
"Given our current lack of candidates, and your exceptional skill, I believe you are the perfect person to be replacing Yoruichi Shihoin. I am hereby promoting you to the Captain of the 2nd Division, Commander of the Omnitsukido, and Corps Commander of the Executive Militia."
Sui-Feng bowed her head, accepting the promotion. She would have been elated, but these were not the circumstances under which she had hoped to finally be recognized. She also knew, with a pang of sadness, that having been bestowed those titles… meant that Yoruichi had been stripped everything – her honour, her reputation, and her life.
Sui-Feng rose, moving forward somewhat robotically as she accepted the white haori and commander's uniform. How many times had she touched this clothing and the person wrapped within it, she thought, feeling the fabrics thick and strong beneath her fingers, the crisp smell of cotton sharp. She felt her eyes blur with treacherous tears once more.
With a final bow to the Captain Commander, she exited the room, and broke into a run. She could feel the questioning eyes follow her progress, could hear the hushed murmurs of awe and confusion trailing in her wake, but she paid no heed.
When she finally made it to her modest quarters, unable to glance at the door leading to Yoruichi's room, she fell to her knees in the pile of clothes left in a heap in the corner and buried her face into an orange jacket that still carried her smell. She sobbed into it, her eyes burning and her chest heaving, as she thought about what she had been given and everything that was stolen, but already some of the sadness had left because in the end, they didn't just betray the Gotei 13…
They also left her behind.
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