Locus of Control


Chapter 45

Running by the buildings, the tall white walls and orange bronze tiled roofs with the pure blue sky hanging overhead, Seireitei looked just as it did a hundred years ago. If she closed her eyes and let the sun sink into her skin and the warmth into her body, she could almost pretend she'd never left. Could almost pretend nothing had changed. Her path was instinctive, her feelings were anything but. She wasn't sure what she'd find – wasn't sure she'd put much stock in what Kukaku had said – it wasn't that she didn't believe her. It's only that there was so much anger it was difficult to see much else.

She had spent the past few days scouting, listening, like the shadow she was used to being. Her part was mostly done – she helped Ichigo attain his bankai. He and his friends would go save Rukia and Aizen wouldn't know she knew, and Urahara knew – or that anyone was onto him. As much as it rankled, it was apparent now they had to let it play out right up until the end, in order to stop him for good.

She wondered if Aizen was starting to panic a little. She hoped he was. If the constantly changing dates of Rukia's execution were anything to go by. Perhaps he sensed his window of opportunity was closing.

Well, Urahara predicted as much. He knew Aizen would have realized at some point the Hogyoku couldn't go on consuming ordinary souls, no matter how many. It was a gamble, when he tried to hide his Hogyoku in Rukia's gigai. But it left zero doubt when Rukia was to face execution, that Aizen was behind it all and what he was after. And despite the chaos, despite the mess and the hundred years in between, and not knowing how it was all going to end up. Yoruichi had hope – that things, now that they were all coming to light, that there would now be a change to set it right. At the very least, she wasn't trapped in limbo now – exiled but unable to accept it… Kukaku was right. She had wanted to escape and wasn't really thinking far enough ahead when she did. She thought … something. Naïve. It wasn't the escape she envisioned. She didn't feel free. She simply felt… lost. It wasn't an escape she could embrace. Not when she felt so fragmented.

As she drew closer to the forest, she could faintly make out Sogyoku Hill – and the Sogyoku itself through the white trees. It was always a bit of an otherworldly place, with an aura that induced both dread and awe. Several Captain class reiatsus could be felt even from this distance – it made sense. They were in a state of high alert – witnessing a pending execution – there was no subtlety left. She recognized most of them. Unohana for one. Byakuya-bo. The vast, cold and immense pressure still containing traces of what it felt like when she'd known him as a child. She wondered what he looked like now. If he'd changed much. He must have. They all have.

She could feel old-man Yamamoto's reiatsu fading into the distance, along with Ukitake and Kyoraku's as she drew ever closer to the execution stand. It cleared the air somewhat, to have those three disappear from the hill - the weight of their presences had clouded her senses somewhat - now it was crystal clear who was left. It was unmistakable.

She felt shivers run down her spine, a cold sweat, along with a fluttering unease and desire in the pit of her stomach. She could feel her reiatsu. Remember how it felt in bursts. Untamed. Untrained. Incredibly potent in memory, now that she was here in the present. It burned deep. It wasn't as overwhelming as some of the older Captains, but it was sharp and honed and deadly. She could almost taste the blood and fire on the edge, even though it was subdued. She had a sinking feeling that the feel of her reiatsu was not entirely formed by conscious purpose and training. It harbored residual traces of being shaped by harrowing trials. Yoruichi could hazard a pretty accurate guess at what kinds of trials... especially with what Kukaku had hinted at, but refused to divulge in any meaningful way.

She adjusted her path only slightly as she flash-stepped across the plains - only heard a blur of choking cries, a menacing whisper, and a glimpse of the poor girl being crushed to the ground. Fragments of exclamation burst close to her ears, but she could not make out the words. She did not slow her momentum for fear she would falter. She did not want to give herself even the temptation of avoiding the inevitable confrontation she knew she was hurtling towards. She was good at running away, good at avoiding things - but this time it was different. This time, she would be running to - despite the fear, and the guilt and the regret and a tiny sliver of hope.

Her heart twinged, whimpered, almost caved in on itself when she touched her, even through the layers of fabric, feeling the muscles shift and tense and knot together - her scent - so close and familiar - and up close - the angry burst of spirit energy not unlike some sort of release - Yoruichi knees almost gave way but there was relief when they both tumbled over the edge of the cliff, the wind roaring and fabric crackling like lightning all around them as they spiraled into a free fall.

Hands, strong and unforgiving, like shackles, gripped her wrist and she finally found herself looking into a gaze she'd wondered, missed, ached for - for a century. It was cold, reflective, and hard, boring into her with questions that had more weight than form. But she had not forgotten how to read them. She remembered how open they once were. A long, long time ago. The fingers pressed tightly into her wrist, into her veins, sending a jolt of pain tingling through her arm as they dug into a pressure point in concert with the dawning realization she could see carving its way through the stormy gaze.

Her voice, edged and harsh and without trace of timidity or kindness, still sounded like music to Yoruichi's ears. A sound she'd almost resigned to never hearing again. A sound, still recognizable, but fundamentally changed.

"Let go! Who are you, you bastard?!" Even as they fell, the shout was clipped, commanding, devoid of panic. It pierced through the howling wind and the rippling air swirling around them.

The teasing came to her, unbidden, instinctive. Truth was she wasn't sure how to deal with the woman she held by the throat, recognizable, but not - her own hand cramped and pained and pinned by a grip fueled by more hatred than she'd hoped to see. "My, my. Don't make such a fuss. You're as short-tempered as always."

Sui-Feng felt her stomach clench involuntarily, her heart thudding loudly in her ears at the sound of that voice, the words cutting through her anger, like a steel through flesh. She knew that voice. Would recognize it anywhere. She hadn't wanted to believe the reiatsu she felt. Wasn't sure what to think - questions - why now - why her - why me - shuttered through her brain - but there was no longer any doubt - there hadn't been much in the first place. She was a fool if she didn't admit her gut knew exactly who her attacker was - could feel her drawing close from miles away. She just hadn't wanted to believe it. Not after so long.

"Yoruichi," she finally hissed, the name tasting enduringly bitter on her tongue, as her assailant tugged at the cloth covering her nose. The white scarf flapped away, like a dove, white wings, revealing that mouth - she dragged her eyes to the growing ball of yellow energy crackling in a black gloved palm.

"It's been a long time, Sui-Feng."


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Sui-Feng scrambled to her feet, eyes watering as she covered her mouth with a sleeve, coughing from the large cloud of dust that blotted out the sun. She had blacked out for a moment from the blast that erupted when the misaimed yellow orb of energy had exploded against her conjured barrier just as they hit the ground.

She had tiny scratches all over her left cheek, from where she had scraped her face against the sandy dirt. They itched, as she frowned, stumbling away - out, towards the trees where the air was clean.

She pressed a hand against the bark, inhaling the cool, damp, clean air sheltered by the leaves, ears straining. The birds were oddly silent. Then -

Footsteps shuddering through the wood. A hollow pitter patter. She clambered up into the trees, onto the thick branches, caught a glimpse - the flash of orange and gave chase, heart thundering, her mind and body feeling oddly disconnected.

She followed the running figure to the tip of the trees, where the branches were gnarled and ancient and thick enough for many to stand on. She wondered if Omaeda had the presence of mind to call the Omnitsukido, if he had woken up. He should have. She's seen him take stronger punches from her. They should be on their way. Should be lurking in the vicinity by now. She chalked it up to frazzled nerves that she couldn't really sense them. Perhaps she had trained them better than she expected. Ironic to realize that now.

Yoruichi skidded to a stop, half-turned - saw the blur of white, black and yellow from the corner of her eye. With the a short breath caught in her throat, she launched herself into the air, to meet her protege in a bone-shattering clash of shins. She was glad she had worn the half greaves she did and was impressed she didn't see anything reflected on the stony expression, not even a wince.

As she fell back down, she faced Sui-Feng properly, for the first time in over a century.

Waiting.

"I see," the younger woman said, oblivious to the wind tugging at the unforgiving cut of her jet black hair. Her tone was impossibly smug. Full of bravado. Yoruichi thought she could see the beginnings of cracks. Hear the strain. "Even though you haven't shown yourself for so long, it doesn't look like you've improved your skill much."

Yoruichi bared her teeth in an attempt at a sardonic grin, feeling none of it. She could feel the tension in the air, a dangerous undercurrent of electricity. The banter was just a test. "And yours have become rather dull." She saw a flicker of anger, of indignation - a shadow of the precocious girl she loved.

"That ryoka child was wearing a Tentouken with a Shihou Seal attached. You gave it to him, didn't you?"

Asking questions she already knew the answer to. Yoruichi played along. "That's right," she said lightly. "If he can't fly, he can't save Rukia." She found herself on the end of a curious stare, the anger fading only momentarily. She wondered if anyone knew how important the girl was. If Sui-Feng knew. She knew something, that was obvious enough, by the hesitation she just witnessed.

"The Shihou Seal of the Tenshi Heisou Ban really has fallen." The statement alone would have been factual enough. But Yoruichi could sense there was a depth to the implication. Events she knew nothing about. Likely the same events Kukaku made reference to. "In fact, if it was found out you were helping a ryoka, every other member of the Four -" The number was said pointedly. Thrown, like a knife, in her direction. "-Great Noble Families would hunt you down." A smirk. Cruel and a bit petty, replaced the stoicism she had been wearing until now. "I can't seem to recall any other disgraces to the honourable families." The accusation was clear. Twisting the knife.

"You're rather talkative today," Yoruichi smiled, wielding a smug, twisted smile of her own. Once upon a time she knew which buttons to push. She never thought she'd have to use them this way. To exploit it. "Is it because you're excited to see your senpai? Whom you admired so much, after so long? Hmm?" she drawled lazily, tilting her head, mustering as much arrogance as she had always been entitled to. "Commander of the Special Forces…."

Sui-Feng felt her shoulders rise, the anger fraying at the ropes of her control. Leave it to Yoruichi to make it sound like a dirty thing. To cheapen the title she had abandoned - that Sui-Feng had bled to earn. Like unsavory coin passing through too many greased hands.

"Was it such a heavy burden for you to be my successor?"

Sui-Feng did all she could to keep her breath from hissing through her teeth, pressurized and boiling like steam. "Don't act so high and mighty," she warned, her voice laced with burning vitriol, "How long do you plan on staying above us? The special forces and police are both under my supervision now. Your era is… long over, Shihouin Yoruichi."

She had been waiting over a century to hear her name spoken by her again. She didn't expect to hear it like this. It was different from the first time just moments ago. Different when uttered in half disbelief, half surprise. The deliberate way it was uttered like a curse. She wanted to recoil from it. Disengage. Avoid.

But she continued to stand. Refused to flinch, even as the sharp tip of the unsheathed sword bit deep into the wood, the tremors shuddering - humming - throughout the ceiling of the forest.

She was impressed by the coordination, despite herself. The synchronization. Felt a strange pride. Missed it, almost, as she remembered she had led them once. But there was no time to reminisce.

"This is the difference, between you and me, now." Her voice lowered another register. Menacing and forceful and almost a satisfied purr but filled with murderous intent. It still sent inappropriate, unintended tremors of anticipation through Yoruichi, still as she tried to hold herself, listening. "You remember, how it is, don't you?" There was a mocking underplay to the words. "The head of Omnitsukido's sword is primarily appointed to secure an area before execution. And the head of the Omnitsukido aims to kill all who oppose us." There was a strange emphasis on the us. Stark lines between unity and discord. A history condensed into a single word, somehow encapsulating all they used to be - and what they've been forced to become.

"Even if it is the previous Commander," Sui-Feng continued. "Even if it is you. You, who chose to abandon the Omnitsukido and the Gotei Thirteen. You, who chose to abandon your family and your honour-" Yoruichi heard the unspoken better than anything else - and me - could not ignore it even if she wanted - "You will have no where to run, Yoruichi."

Yoruichi hadn't planned on running. Not this time.

But she was ready to move.

From the looks of it, the force was still comprised of a majority of men - and they always underestimated her. Something she learned long ago to take full advantage of. She moved like lightning, like she used to train - like time was turned back, just for a moment - there was an inescapable joy - a solace to be found, in the sheer, brutal simplicity of violence.

They hadn't expected the assault, nor the viciously efficient manner in which she engaged, broke down, and dispatched one officer after another faster than the eye could follow. It was to their detriment, that they had forgotten who she was - who she still is - well, she was happy to remind them - and remind Sui-Feng she wasn't here to just lie down and accept judgement - even if she meant to atone.

Her fists and feet drilled through muscle and pummeled bones. There were snaps, and cracks and cries of pain and surprise, like a morbid symphony of suffering. They couldn't guard against her onslaught, despite heavily outnumbering her. They were all good officers, she did not doubt it. Talented and hard-working. But she was a prodigy.

Sui-Feng tried to control her expression, tried not to express her surprise, but felt her jaw growing slightly slack, as her cloak ruffled in the warm breeze, even as chills crept across her skin. Chills engendered by the display of prowess, of transcendence - stirring memories and emotion long ago and forcefully forgotten. She almost fell in love again, in that instant - almost forgot the hundred years in between...

Yoruichi's feet touched down upon the branch again, her head cocked arrogantly to the side as her long hair, tossed back as she grinned. Teasing. Mischievous. Momentarily regaining an old masquerade. "I was underestimated, wasn't I? I may have abandoned all my other titles, but I don't remember abandoning my other name."

"Goddess of flash," Sui-Feng hissed in a breath filled in equal parts reverence and venom. Her fallen officers all but forgotten. They would live.

Yoruichi's smile seemed to vanish - swept up by the breeze, like the leaves swirling in the aftermath. There was no more amusement, no more teasing. The moment was upon them. They could both feel it.

"I see," murmured Sui-Feng, reaching for the yellow sash tied tightly around her waist, fingers slow and deliberate, as if with reluctance. She could feel Yoruichi's gaze roaming over her, watching her movements - burning and hungry. She released it from between her fingers, let it arc away like a solar flare as she dug her nails into the seams of her haori. "Then there's no helping it." There was a tear, the sound sharp and rough in the deadly silence that seemed to have fallen where they stood. She tossed away the sleeves, her gaze never leaving the golden ones boring right back at her. "With my own hands," she could see Yoruichi shiver at the words, spoken with the conviction of a sacred vow, "I will tear that other name away from you."

The haori slipped off her shoulders with a deliberate shrug - the tiny movement, somehow still mesmerizing, somehow still graceful, despite the anger blurring her actions with speed.

Yoruichi swallowed. Her mouth dry. Her eyes feasting but her heart aching. She felt her entire body go numb for a second - a fleeting second. "That's… a nostalgic outfit," she said, hating how soft her voice sounded - how it contained all the repressed memories - the ghosts of another era -

"Does it make you remember the past?" The question floated, idle, softer, still threatening.

"A little." Yoruichi admitted.

"Don't hold back," Sui-Feng whispered to her, her voice carried by the stillness. "Remember well."

As if she could forget. As if either of them could forget.

"And carefully compare which of the two of us… is the better warrior."

Yoruichi watched the younger woman drop into a steady crouch, the lines of her posture almost primal, but pristine in technique - saw her fingers caress the bark - remembered their touch - she stepped back, mind still conflicted - not quite ready for what she knew was coming -

Yoruichi raised a hand, blocked the kick to her head. The sheer force of the blow jolted painfully through her bones. She retaliated with her other hand, only to have it blocked swiftly as she expected - Sui-Feng was economical in her movements. Clinical. Efficient. Attack morphed into defense and back to counterattack with a swiftness that made Yoruichi's head spin. Almost panic. The hits came faster, harder, more precise than before - but this was a dance her body remembered.

Suddenly disengaging, she fell back to her spot, half crouched. She tasted the blood in her mouth. Metallic and warm and thick. She can't even remember getting hit. Looking over at her opponent - a bruise, red and fresh, on a bare shoulder. She can see the other woman glance down, almost puzzled, at the injury.

"One-to-one we split the pain, Yoruichi!" Sui-Feng called out. Keeping the tremor from her voice. It's been a long time since anyone had managed to lay hands on her. She can't quite feel the pain.

Yoruichi keeps one hand pressed against the bark. The engagement was dizzying. She tried to assess the damage, watching Sui-Feng warily. Her tongue probed at the cut inside her mouth, wiping off the blood from her teeth. "That's right," she said finally. "Got some tricks up your sleeve now, have you? I couldn't read your movements."

One delicate eyebrow rose, angled. "Is that what you think?" Sui-Feng seemed torn between incredulity and feeling insulted.

Before Yoruichi could taunt her further - Sui-Feng disappeared in a flash.

Yoruichi didn't move, even as she felt a warm breath on the nape of her neck and arms creep around her shoulders, hovering a few centimeters off - not touching - and yet even then, the space between them electric with promise - she felt a cool blade press into her neck, like a kiss, deliberate and tender and filled with intent. She could feel fire erupt inside her, rush through her limbs like molten lava as she felt those lips press against the shell of her ear, "Jinteki Shakusetu."

The blade almost burned her skin as it changed, Yoruichi blinked and in its place, saw the golden gauntlet - staring down the sharp point. She knew all too well the extent of the damage it could do, and how quickly it could do it.

Throat constricting, time seemed to slow as Yoruichi made her move and deftly slipped out of the deadly embrace. She leapt off the branch, high into the air, Sui-Feng triumphantly claiming there was no escape - barely had time to turn when Suzumebachi slashed across the chest, tearing through the thick canvas of her jacket. The metal itself, cold like ice, but the trail it left burned like wildfire. If she had not moved - had not been turning or in the air - she had no doubt it would have carved deeper. There had been no hesitation. She was not holding back.

She landed in an unsteady crouch, hand pressed tightly against her chest, her breathing shallow from the pain as she stared. Sui-feng landed lightly ahead of her, looking down at her. "Why don't you think that I am better?" she questioned softly, stepping menacingly forward. Yoruichi could see her blood dripping from her hand. The crimson-flecked gold. "Did you think that someone like me could not fight against you all out?"

Sui-Feng was disappointed from the lack of response. As if she did not even deserve one. This was not the same woman she fell in love with. None of the merits. All the faults. She was a shell. A fraud. A traitor. "I said not to be cocky," she snarled. "I am already stronger than you. Know the price for retreating from the front for a hundred years as you die, Yoruichi!"

Yoruichi withdrew her hand, saw the black crest blossom across her chest as she straightened slowly, praying for strength.

"Do you remember, Yoruichi, what my Suzumebachi's abilities are?"

Yoruichi warily watched her approach, slow and deliberate, like a predator cornering her prey.

"I've perfected it over the past hundred years. Run around as best you can so you don't take a second hit... Even you will die."

She saw Sui-Feng's weight shift, the movement ever so subtle, so minuscule, completely invisible to an untrained eye. She may have been out of practice, but she was not a novice. She jumped away, half turning again, to show her another side, but not far enough to avoid the cut. She could feel her blood pouring from the deep gash, feel the burning as another crest blossomed as she catapulted to another tree. Her hands touched the wood, stabilizing, before she picked up momentum and did what she did best. Sui-Feng was forcing her to run. To run away.

"If you're trying to buy time, they won't disappear!" she hears the taunt float behind her, chasing her, like Sui-Feng.

They used to train like this.

Used to play like this.

"Are you such a coward now, that you would show your back to the enemy, Yoruichi?" She uttered her name like an attack every time, intending to wound. It worked.

Every misstep earned her another cut, another injury. She was bleeding from more cuts than she could count. Sui-Feng wanted to make this last. She was toying with her. She felt the strength in her limbs seeping away along with the blood she was losing, wondered how much longer she could last - her muscles were screaming - she'd kept active enough in the world of the living - but the stakes were never this high.

She had to be careful. No more mistakes. There were too many crests for Sui-Feng to miss her next blow if she intended on finishing it. Yoruichi didn't want to die. She didn't come back just to die.

Sui-Feng's eyes narrowed, head cocked as Yoruichi touched the bark with both palms, her foot whipping backwards - the glint of silver and the whistle as they flew at her - only to ricochet harmlessly of her raised hand. A pointless move - what was she -

She saw the shadow in her peripheral vision. On instinct, the kick glances off a raised forearm. She can see the axe kick backed with gravity bearing down upon her like a guillotine. She circles the ankle, brings another hand to swing herself up, stretching out - using the ball of her foot to block the incoming heel. Tremors shake through her form at the force of the impact, but before Yoruichi can recover, Sui-Feng's managed to trap her long enough to switch her hands, long enough to go for the killing blow, she can see Yoruichi's pupils dilate - they are this close -

Yoruichi reacted just in time to let Suzumebachi carve into her arms, instead of her heart, where there was already a crest. She's not sure there's any part of her Sui-Feng hasn't yet marked.

They both fall to the ground. Yoruichi a bit more heavily. Her feet digging into the soft dirt, half-kneeling. She feels warm. Light-headed. She can feel beads of sweat - or is it blood? - trickling down her brow, over her eyes, down the side of her face and into another cut.

"This is the end."

She almost stops breathing when she feels the energy rolling off Sui-Feng in waves. Her chest seized tightly as the kido crackled and picked up, picking up speed. Her skin crawled, when the kido begins to howl.

"I created this," Sui-Feng told her, her shoulders strong and back straight. The white light contoured the lithe lines of her figure, as she stepped closer - always moving closer - not sure if of her own volition. "Be proud. It doesn't even have a name yet."

The dust began to swirl. The maelstrom picked up leaves and twigs and blood-stained regrets alike.

Sui-Feng faltered as Yoruichi straightened, not looking her in the eyes. Her head is bowed, as if in defeat, the shadows swallowing up the crests decorating the side of her face. She feels a chill sink through her veins, rooting her to the ground.

"No, it has a name." There is no more arrogance. No more teasing. No more pretense. Just weariness.

"What did you say?" The cracks are growing larger. The kido slowed, just for a moment, before returning in even more force.

"It's called Shunkou," Yoruichi murmured, closing her eyes. She doesn't want to watch the betrayal take over Sui-Feng's expression. Doesn't want to see what she so conveniently missed before. She may have not been guilty of the crimes for which she was charged, but she was a traitor all the same in the end. "Do you know why your uniform doesn't have a back or sleeves?" She ploughed on, not waiting for a response. "It is meaningless for them to be there. When this technique is perfected, and you let that tension explode - that Kido fights it way through your limbs." Just as it jolted through her own, reinforcing her stance as she clenched her fist. "No material can withstand that kind of energy - that kind of power."

Finally raising her gaze, careful to hide weakness as her hair whips back from the wind, she really looks at Sui-Feng - looks into her eyes. And even through the white gale, she sees the small, broken, young girl she left behind.

"I never wanted to fight you with this," she murmured. "Be careful, Sui-Feng."

I cannot hurt you.


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She was blinded and deafened. The world turned white. Her fingers felt like they were going to disconnect from her knuckles as she dug them deep into the ground, skidding backwards - not sure which way was up or down or left or right - she only knew she had to hold on as everything she'd thought she had left was blown away in the blast.

When the explosion finally cleared, the white light evaporating into the blue sky, Sui-Feng could feel the heat of the fires, smell the charred forest or what was left - lining the long deep gouges - canyons really - framing a path from her, straight to Yoruichi.

Eyes stinging from the smoke, she raises an arm, only to cough into it, tasting bile and ash. "Impossible," she whispered to herself, her head spinning more than when they fell from the cliff of Sogyoku hill, more than when she had -

Yoruichi raised her arm. Sui-Feng watched the electricity travel down, wrap around her fist and she moved, flash-stepping to evade the blast of Shunkou as it exploded in the spot where she had just been, on the defensive for the first time. A scream tore from her throat, involuntarily, she's not even really thinking, as a tornado of whirling white energy engulfs her and she charges head on, intending to fulfil her promise - bare hands - she was ready to tear her apart - ready to kill - it was unforgivable - she would never forgive -

"Stop."

A quiet command. A spark. And Sui-Feng was frozen. She stared. The walls were crumbling. Yoruichi hand, her fingers, trail across her palm, grasps her wrist - the touch more shattering than the burst of kido she'd just released. She leaned in close. Sui-Feng can taste her breath. Her despair. Or was it her own?

"It's too dangerous. Too soon, for you to learn this technique," she said quietly.

You swing a sword… like this.

Sui-Feng erupted from the momentary standstill, whirling, cries wrenching from her gut unbidden as she lunged, her movements no longer controlled, no longer graceful.

"Why?! I am stronger than you!"

Yoruichi sidestepped, untouched. Sui-Feng is whirling, vicious, manic.

"I was supposed to have -" Her foot meets thing air, despite the revolutions, despite the power and momentum as Yoruichi slid away once again. "-surpassed you! The hundred years of isolation was supposed to make you weak and bring me strength!"

She dashed forward again, all defense forgotten, wielding nothing but broken pride. "So why?! Why are you still standing in front of me? Why are you here? Are you going to continue controlling me? Answer me, Yoruichi!"

A hundred years poured into her name. She felt the weight of it fall upon her shoulders. Fell in force.

"I was disappointed in you!" Her voice is ragged, edgewise, no sound able to contain the depths of what she wanted, "I hate you, and even cursed you!"

Yoruichi feels her screams tearing at the seams of her false composure - she dared not speak, dared not interrupt - she deserved this - deserved to hear this - this was a million times worse than anything Kukaku could throw at her - and Kukaku knew this. She knew this. She would let Sui-Feng hit her, if she weren't afraid of dying.

"I swore I'd become better than you, more powerful than you. I swore to capture you with my own hands."

They are whirling, circling each other like eagles, strikes lash out, hit nothing. Like a dance. Just like a dance. Both their bodies remember the connection their minds fail to retrieve. But the words strike their target every time.

"I cannot forgive you, Yoruichi! I can never forgive you, who betrayed my respect and trust! I..."

Yoruichi can hear something different in that last breath. She knows what's going to happen before it does. Sui-Feng launches forward, pouring everything into a last attack, all the hatred, all the anger, all the bitterness and the despair - every little thing that ate away at her over the hundred years, she gave it gladly - she wanted out -

The force of their collision creates another explosion that swallows them both whole. The ground shuddered as if it was having trouble holding itself together.

When the fog clears, Sui-Feng finds herself held back by more kido, a fist millimeters from her face, she is untouched - but even then, the threat - the loss, crystal clear.

Yoruichi's braced herself for balance. Her feet have dug inches into the ground. She is glad. She's not sure she can keep herself up much longer. She slowly pulls her arm back, completely spent. Hears the whisper.

"Why is it?"

She doesn't know what to say.

She doesn't know if there's anything she can say.

Yoruichi has never seen Sui-Feng cry before.

"Why didn't you take me with you?"


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She is practically groveling. She hates it. Hates herself. But she has no more strength. No more fight left. The ground feels nice. Unforgiving. Smells like nothing. Not like her. Not like memories. She can hear footsteps. Is she walking away? Am I just going to let her? After all this? After everything?

It's tempting. To just give up. To just let go.

The ground shifts, beneath her cheek. She feels a touch, a gentle touch, trace across her spine. To her shoulder. She lets herself be lifted, let's that hand - that traitorous hand - cup her chin and tilt her face up and she loses herself in those golden eyes, not seeing the black crests like dark tattoos, not seeing the streaks of dirt and the scabbing and the bruises. She lets herself forget everything, just for a second -

And then those lips, soft and wet and gentle and just like she remembered, press tightly against her own. Her heart is thumping against her rib cage, feels likes it trying to get out - she opens her mouth, gasping for air at the same time Yoruichi exhales - and Sui-Feng doesn't know who she is anymore - hands are roaming, searching, slipping beneath her uniform, pressed hot against sweat-slicked skin and they're breaking all her defenses and and her kisses taste like blood and tears - she's letting her do this - she's letting her - her -

Sui-Feng tumbles backwards, her hand throbbing dully, planting behind her as she lands ungracefully, all tangled limbs and gasping for breath.

There is confusion in Yoruichi's hazy gaze as she almost follows Sui-Feng down. But her ears are ringing, and her cheek is smarting and starting to bleed again..

Her voice is still rough from her anger and from her crying. "I am not yours anymore, Yoruichi." Her eyes flutter closed of their own volition when Yoruichi reaches out, fingertips feather soft, brushing across a damp cheekbone. She turns into the touch, before snapping out of it, pushing her hand away.

"I regretted it every day, Sui-Feng. I missed you. I couldn't stop thinking about you. I would have brought you with me. I wanted to. I -" She reaches out again, this time for her hand. thumb circling over her knuckles, over the gauntlet.

Sui-Feng hears the words, the promises, wash over her like a balm. It would have been nice, if she'd come back sooner.

"- Sui-Feng you have to believe me. It was Aizen - it was Aizen all along. His alibi is false. He's got control of Central 46 - he..."

"I believe you." Her voice is flat. Betrays nothing.

But they both know there's a hundred years and lines in the sand and scars too deep to forget.

"- what?" Yoruichi watches her stand. Watches her brush her uniform off. There are a few bruises. But she's completely unscathed. Physically.

"I believe you, but it doesn't change anything."

Yoruichi doesn't move. Can't bring herself to.

And Sui-Feng just walks away.