Locus of Control

Chapter 46

Yoruichi's encounter with Retsu was friendly enough. She'd stumbled into the office where the body of imposter Aizen lay cut open meticulously like sliced bread. It was uncanny, really, even though she knew it was not him.

Retsu, as always, caught on quickly. She hadn't barred the door to keep her from coming in, and didn't even move to hide the corpse thing or whatever it was. Calm as ever, even with a woman still considered a traitor to be apprehended on sight in her office, Retsu simply asked a few pointed questions and offered to heal her injuries before shooing her on with a knowing gaze.

It was altogether too easy to slip by the various groups of patrolling officers, not that she was complaining. She wasn't sure she'd be able to show them mercy, if they attempted to capture her, not in her current frame of mind. Not with the scene of Sui-Feng just walking away from her replaying like a broken record in her head.

She thought maybe there'd be something left, something there, but apart from the all too brief kiss she had stolen prematurely - she thought there was some kind of remnant of what they had - except she was anything but sure. The only thing she was certain of was that that hadn't been a good move. As if she could pretend otherwise after Sui-Feng had slapped her... but she couldn't help it, Sui-Feng was always so strong, always so full of conviction and pride and seeing her so broken and knowing it was because of her - Yoruichi knew she'd been consumed by folly in the moment but she didn't know what to do and didn't think and all she wanted was for her to stop crying...

Not entirely certain where to go, but figuring there was probably only one other place she wouldn't be attacked on sight, she veered into the direction of a vast estate she used to call home. Even from a distance, the unforgiving wrought iron gates were distinct, jutting high into the blue sky with impunity and pride.

Minutes later, breathing lightly, she slipped through the gate. It groaned loudly, protesting, and the guards standing on either side straightened, alerted, their weapons shifting in their hands as they pointed their spears at her. They looked young. Probably new. They wouldn't recognize her. She raised her hands, prepared to introduce herself, when suddenly the front door slammed open and an elderly woman came flying through the double doors with the whirling energy of someone much younger.

Yoruichi tensed up, rigid like a board, when the lady - she hadn't even gotten a good look at her face - flung herself upon Yoruichi and wrapped her in a bone crushing hug. Yoruichi slackened when she realized she wasn't being attacked, and inhaling deep, she felt her eyes burn a little as she closed them and wrapped her arms around her mother and hugged her back. "I've missed you, Ma," she said with a tearful little laugh.

"I knew you'd come back someday, Yoruichi," Shizuka exclaimed, pushing her away to hold her at arm's length, her gaze running up and down as she appraised Yoruichi, disheveled and kind of bloody and still bearing all the intricate black crests all over her skin. "I see you've encountered the Commander already," she said, there was a strange emphasis on the title as she pursed her lips.

Yoruichi nodded, flushing red. There was no mistaking the meaning behind her tone. She should have expected her mother would find out, if she hadn't known all along.

"Looks like it didn't go well." Her mother tugged at the jacket, deft hands pushing up her sleeves and tugging at the turtleneck she looked for more marks, as if Yoruichi were an injured small child in dire need of a checkup. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Yoruichi brushed her mother's prying hands away and shook her head. Despite the mortifying invasion of privacy, it was nice to be welcome, for a change. To have someone who was happy to see her back, as opposed to hostility and anger and hate. She hastily tried to change the subject, not wanting to be subject to her mother's continuing scrutinizing gaze. "Where's daddy -?"

"Your father passed away a few years ago, Yoruichi."

Yoruichi felt something stir in her heart, but none of the heaviness of proper sorrow as a proper daughter should. She had never been close to her father. He had always been a stalwart figure of their family, closed and distant and never smiling. When she was little, her mother often told her stories of how he used to let her climb all over his back and in between his stances when he performed his forms. How he used to often pick her up so she could ride on his shoulders as he practiced his shunpo. She supposed they were true. Even if Yoruichi could never remember anything but his disappointment.

"How did you know I was here?"

"What mother wouldn't know?" Shizuka pretended to look affronted. She was much less reserved than Yoruichi remembered her mother being. Shizuka flapped her hands dismissively, as if the next thing that came out of her mouth wasn't a very interesting bit of information. "The Commander sent word a little over an hour ago, after your altercation."

Yoruichi wondered, not for the first time, what had transpired in her absence and just how close Sui-Feng and her mother had become… because her mother seemed to speak fondly of Sui-Feng and clearly Sui-Feng kept her mother in the loop not just out of common courtesy. But any further thoughts were pushed aside as her mother beckoned, and she followed her through the doors and set foot into her home for the first time in a hundred years.

She stopped, only halfway past the threshold, feeling a strange anxiety grip her entire frame. She isn't really sure why it is, only that she just remembered she never really liked walking alone through the labyrinthine halls, her silent entourage of guards following her like shadows on the wall. She remembered always hearing the filtered voices of her parents laughing in other rooms, the low murmur of hushed politics punctuated by the clinking drinks and clatter of chopsticks as the nobility dined and feasted on betrayal and plots, while she studied - or tried to - history and management and tactics and war.

She snapped herself out of it, when she glanced over at her mother, who was looking at her strangely. She swallowed and braced herself and moved through the door like nothing was different and her mother disappeared around the corner.

Yoruichi didn't recognize any of the servants as she walked by the ones lined up against the wall, frozen in their tasks so as to not disturb her path, as they always have done. Well, she could never remember their faces, they were always bowed when she laid eyes on them.

She walked by open door after open door, and all the areas looked untouched and unchanged and just the same as they had when she used to walk by them in her younger years. They finally came upon a room that was only ever reserved for special guests. Yoruichi supposed that is what she has become now. She watches guardedly as her mother perches herself upon a chair, like a bird ready to take flight. She's not quite sure where to sit, so she stays near the door, hovering. She's always felt better on her feet.

It isn't until her mother stops moving that she's able to really study her face. She can see the toll of time etched into the lines around her eyes and mouth, the stress she has always contained in her posture, the weight on her shoulders. She sees her mother smiling, and she isn't sure what to say, she's not sure there are words for what she wants to say.

She worried needlessly, as usual. Her mother never pulled her punches with her. "Why did you leave, Yoruichi?"

Yoruichi stood, rooted awkwardly to the spot. She stared down at her hands, the words and excuses running through her head in circles. She isn't sure she knows which one to run after.

"You must know by now, Mother."

"I want to hear it from you."

Yoruichi found a knot in the wood panel of the wall to stare at instead of looking her mother in the eye.

"He probably would have managed, but Kisuke is my best friend... I recommended him for the position, you know," Yoruichi said quietly, shrugging halfheartedly, feeling like kid terrified to meet her mother's gaze. "The entire Gotei Thirteen was in a mess, and I had dropped the ball with the Omnitsukido. We should have known what was out there. We should have been watching. I felt… I don't know. I felt responsible. It was my fault no one knew what was going on. My fault Kisuke was in the middle of it. He wasn't guilty for what they accused him of. Anyone who knew him knows he couldn't have done such a thing. Of course no one was going to listen. And I was the perfect person to get him out of that sham of a trial in Central 46."

"But you didn't have to, Yoruichi." There was a strange note to her tone, not quite the judgement Yoruichi expected. Nor the rebuke, late as it was, as little good it would do even if given. "You abandoned everything. All your fortune, your reputation, your family -" Shizuka paused, only for a moment, "- the woman you loved and who loved you back - for a friend who could have survived without it anyway… and for what? To what end? What did you expect would happen, what did you expect to get out of it?"

Yoruichi shrugged again, not sure how else to move, her feet felt heavy, leaden as the pleading crept unbidden into her voice. She just wanted someone to understand. Who else could, if not her mother? It wasn't like she could deny who she was now after everything, after all that's happened. "I've wondered all my life what it would be like if I wasn't born who I was. You know I wasn't happy here. You knew that all along, but I couldn't get far enough away."

She chose tactfully not to mention the fiasco of her engagement, among other things. Yoruichi was certain her mother remembered the details just as vividly, there was no point rehashing it. "I couldn't escape so long as I remained in Seireitei... I just wanted out."

"But it's not what you imagined," Shizuka supplied softly.

Yoruichi shook her head, gaze dropping to the floor, feeling her shoulders rise a bit higher, defensively.

There was a long silence.

"What made you decide to come back, Yoruichi?"

Inhaling deeply, she raised her head. This was something she could answer with certainty and finality. "It was time. I have to make things right."

"You have a lot of work ahead of you."

"I know." Yoruichi wrung her hands and began to pace. "How much do you know about - how much does she know - I - I want to - know - what's happened since I was gone?"

Shizuka patted the empty seat beside her.

"It is a long story, Yoruichi. You will want to sit."

The next time she saw Sui-Feng was when Aizen decided to take even the revelation of the long dead truth into his own hands. Robbing them even of satisfaction of finally exposing him for the traitor he was.

They'd both had the same idea when they went for Aizen, both underestimated him. But in that moment where they tried, there was this shared sliver of triumph when they'd almost managed to capture him, a gleeful spike of vengeance when the culmination of wishing and praying that justice would prevail seemed like it would be done. And in those precious few minutes where they'd worked together as seamlessly, as synchronized as they had in the past - not needing words or looks - Yoruichi felt whole again. .

And then when he'd escaped, they were powerless to stop him. Yoruichi didn't even care because Sui-Feng tossed a brief look of gratitude her way for shouting a warning. It gave her hope.

There was a strange feeling in the air when all of it was over. Like all the nostalgia and memories and hope of the future was rolling into one strange, otherworldly state that she could only pass through and exert no control over. It was just another kind of limbo. The end of an era, on the cusp of a new one, and she had no idea if she was going to be able stand where she wanted to, or if there was even a place for her.

Not really thinking, but drawn to her like a moth to a flame even at a distance, she followed Sui-Feng to where Byakuya was being treated, watched as they spoke - watched Sui-Feng touch his hand and hold it tightly, just for a second. A thought crossed her mind, she wondered, but no. They looked to be just close friends. Two talented young people who had looked up to her and maybe found friendship in the shadow of an abandoned pedestal. But it made so much more sense now.

Byakuya's shunpo was just developing when she'd left and frankly, at the time he was quite terrible at it. But if he had trained with Sui-Feng that would even explain some of his moves that she'd seen firsthand when they'd engaged over Ichigo's unconscious form. Shunpo was Shunpo but there were traces of style - familiar techniques she hadn't told anyone but Sui-Feng.

When Sui-Feng glanced over her shoulder, she knew Sui-Feng saw her standing there, watching her. The moment their gazes locked, time seemed to stretch. From Sui-Feng, a challenge, and from Yoruichi, a promise. Yoruichi wanted to tell her, she knew everything now, everything she had left her to, everything she had abandoned and everything Sui-Feng had to suffer. She wanted to say sorry, for the secrets she kept, for leaving without saying goodbye, for not bringing her along when she made a promise - and sorry, that she assumed it would be the better thing to do, the unselfish thing to do, when really it was the most selfish thing of all.

But still she said nothing, and did nothing, when Sui-Feng turned to leave without looking back, daring her to follow in the space she left behind.

Yoruichi almost jumped out of her skin when a heavy hand clapped down upon her shoulder. She turned, armed with a glare, only to find Shunsui's rugged jaw fill her vision as he smiled an apologetic smile down at her.

"Shunsui," she croaked, struggling to recover her voice.

"Yoruichi Shihoin, as I live and breathe," he grinned, tipping his hat at her with his other hand. "Thought I heard you've been flitting about the place."

"You haven't changed one bit, Shunsui. How do you do it?" she mustered a smile as best she could. She always liked Shunsui. He was always far cry from the doom and gloom some of the other Captains wore like a second uniform, even now.

"Sleep. Drink. Women. Flowers. Good friends. Trying my best to live life, without regrets," he grinned, pulling back his hand. "Take your pick. Easier said than done, of course," He suddenly grew serious. She was almost taken aback by the somberness in his expression. It looked strange, upon his face, like it wasn't sure which muscles to use.

She knew what he was going to ask, could see the question building as he gathered the effort to expel it. "Lisa is doing well," she told him quietly. "It's not an easy life out there, but they are all doing well."

Shunsui was silent for the longest moment, uncharacteristically stoic. "I'm glad," he said. And she thought she almost heard a little break in his voice, but he smiled it all away.

"I see Nanao has really grown up," she said, patting his arm in as subtle a gesture she could attempt. "I remember she was a tiny little kid way back when."

He chuckled almost self-deprecatingly. "A lot of people had to do a lot of growing up. Time moves forward. We must follow as best we can."

"Truer words never spoken," Yoruichi nodded as they both gazed off at the bustle around them. There was a certain calm to be found in the storm of the aftermath, in the busy bustle of healers and workers and soldiers scrambling. They stood like statues, unmoving from their vigil, like the remnants of a different era, slightly out of place, but still existing as the world shifted around them.

"What do you see, Yoruichi?" Shunsui asked suddenly. She's not sure what to make of his tone.

"What do you mean?" she asked, turning to look at him. He's gazing off into the distance, but his gaze flickers back to her periodically, just long enough to keep her from disengaging.

"A hundred years away, it must give you new perspective?"

"I don't know," she muttered, a bit despondently. "I've come to harbour a lot more doubts than answers."

His gaze lingered, this time, eyes glimmering beneath the shadow of his ridiculous hat. He reminded her a bit of Kisuke. She's not sure she likes that about him. They both had a strange tendency to lapse into bouts of contemplation out of the blue, it was frustrating to keep up with the swing in the mood of the conversation sometimes. "Maybe you can't find the answers because there are none to find."

She let a slight frown take over her features as she stared steadily back at him, waving off a stare from a medic who appeared to recognize her face.

Shunsui turned away, sliding his hands into his sleeves as he tilted his head up at the sky, breathing deeply, before he spoke again. "I think life has curious ways of working itself out. The paths we walk may not always be the ones we see. And maybe you wander off the main road but sometimes we get to our destinations in an indirect way, you know? You just gotta keep walking and stop looking back so you can see where you might be going."

There's a lot more to what he's saying, but she doesn't need him to elaborate. She quirks a small grin, appreciating the message all the same. "Living life without regrets, huh?"

"It's the only thing holding you back. Own up to mistakes you think you've made, but don't dwell… there's always a way forward. Just gotta keep walking, my friend."

It's another few days before she tracks Sui-Feng down again. She's pieced together enough of the hundred years from old colleagues like Shunsui, Omaeda and even Retsu. And filled in even more gaps with subsequent visits with her Mother and Kukaku. She even managed to chat with Byakuya, though he was incredibly cold up until Yoruichi mentioned Hisana, something Kukaku explained to her in great detail - he seemed to open up then. Then ended on as friendly a note as she could have expected, but he left her with a warning without uncertainty on the subject of Sui-Feng.

Shunsui was right, they all did a lot of growing up.

Armed with enough of history to not walk forward blind, Yoruichi staked out the office, and picked up Sui-Feng's trail from her brief appearance at the barracks.

It was how she now found herself running after Sui-Feng through a meticulously kept garden, not even entirely certain where she was going, but not caring so long as she had her in her sights.

Like Shunsui said. Just had to keep walking.

And this time, in the right direction. Not away.

It didn't matter that she still had the hornet's crests all over her body still - Retsu couldn't remove those, even with her skill - didn't matter if it marked her for the traitor everyone thought she was. Yoruichi was determined to follow her anywhere, to talk until she listened, to stand until she realized she wasn't ever going to run again.

She called out Sui-Feng's name loud enough to wake the dead. But there was no sign that Sui-Feng had heard, but Yoruichi knew she did. She would have been deaf, not to. It was then she slowed to a stop, coming to a realization just as she skidded slightly on the flat grey stone tiles beneath her feet. This wasn't a garden.

It was a cemetery.

A hundred meters away, and unable to muster to strength of will to approach any nearer, Yoruichi watched as Sui-Feng knelt before the two rightmost graves. She stood still, just like the majestic stone lion statues that framed the gate she had dashed through without even looking, without realizing.

She watched as Sui-Feng lit some incense for each grave, bowing deeply to each in between. There were six, she knew. The six that looked weathered, by time and the elements. The six she had seen only once before, when she was still the heir - when everything was simple and uncomplicated and she knew where they stood and how to love her and had everything she wanted but didn't realize it -

Her parents.

Parents Yoruichi never thought of meeting. Never thought to get to know. Yoruichi swallowed. She had no idea what they were like. Had no idea if they were close. Had no idea what they knew, if they knew, if Sui-Feng told them things, or what they thought if they did.

She wondered what Sui-Feng was thinking, what she was saying, what confessions were guarded by those who were no longer with them.

Sui-Feng didn't move for the longest time. Yoruichi didn't either.

Yoruichi watched until the sun began to bleed into the horizon, casting a golden hue every surface it touched. Watched until her muscles grew stiff and her feet were aching.

And when finally Sui-Feng stood to leave, she turned, and glanced in her direction. Distance seemed to vanish in that look. Yoruichi felt herself move forward, step closer, hand reaching -

But then she blinked, Sui-Feng was no longer there again.

Clearly, Sui-Feng was keeping her at a distance. Almost like a game they used to play when they trained together. Like she was taunting her with the past. Challenging her to try and get close. To dare grasp at another chance, slim as it was... or maybe she was reading the signs wrong. Maybe she wanted nothing to do with her anymore. Yoruichi could respect that, if that's what it came to. Except she had to know for sure.

She was not the Goddess of Flash for nothing.

She could close the distance and find out.

Just have to keep walking.

She camped up on the roof all night, watching the stars, waiting. They sparkled innocuously in the clear night sky, same as they did a hundred years ago, in happier times.

Sui-Feng wasn't sleeping. Yoruichi could hear her tossing and turning, the restlessness seeping through the open window in her room.

Truth was she hadn't quite figured out what to do yet. She'd hoped the answer would come to her if she could just talk to her, if she got a chance to explain - even knowing it wouldn't mean much - she had to explain, even if Sui-Feng didn't want to listen - she couldn't just not talk about it, even though she knew no amount of words could ever make up for the hundred years in between. But it was a starting point.

She would wait until morning though.

When morning finally came, she heard rustling, a slammed door, a couple of thuds - she could picture Sui-Feng kicking a wardrobe in frustration, irritation exacerbated by the lack of sleep.

Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to linger around her room all night - but if Sui-Feng was anything like she was before - she was always angry in the morning. And if Yoruichi really thought about it, she wanted her to be angry like when they fought because really anything would be better than that apathy.

She heard the door slide open, and stood up, legs cramped from the vigil. She dropped to the ground, in front of her, before she could step off the porch. Blocking off any paths of escape.

"Sui-Feng, please -"

"What are you doing here?" The words were still cold and flat. Grey eyes sliced through her resolve like knives. "Shouldn't you be running back to the world of the living? Your part is done here, isn't it?"

"No. It's not."

"Well, you'd better get on it then, shouldn't you?" Sui-Feng made to push past her, Yoruichi, in a moment of weakness, almost let her. But she rallied and reached out to grab her arm.

"Can we talk about -"

"Don't touch me," Sui-Feng hissed, her look scorching enough to burn like acid, but Yoruichi did not falter.

"I just want to -"

"There's nothing for you to say that I care to hear," Sui-Feng said, in a low voice, "Now let go of me before I -"

"Kill me?" Yoruichi retorted bitterly. "Go ahead then. All your marks, they're still here. Take your pick. Release Suzumebachi." She pulled her closer, Sui-Feng resisting, muscles twitching beneath her fingertips, all energy and movement, but unable to shake her grip without more drastic measures. "Go on then. Do it. "

Sui-Feng made to move, drew back a free hand, to hit her again, but Yoruichi saw it coming. She caught the blow, the pain thudding through her forearm. With both fists captured, yanked her closer, close enough their noses were practically touching, close enough that Yoruichi could feel her breath ghost across her own lips. "You can't, can you."

"You don't know what I can or cannot do," Sui-Feng whispered, her grey eyes glinting like steel.

"You're right. I don't," Yoruichi admitted, staring straight back at her. They were close enough she could see a flush creep down Sui-Feng's neck, disappearing into the v of her uniform. Could see her pulse quicken. Could feel her heart beating, quickened by anger and maybe - just maybe - some long awakened desire. "But I used to know you. And you used to love me -"

"That was a long time ago," Sui-Feng sounded faint. Lacked ire.

"- it was. I made a mistake. I should have never left you -"

"-but you did, and I've moved on-"

Yoruichi ploughed on, ignoring the acute pain upon hearing that remark, hoping against hope it wasn't really true, that it was just Sui-Feng's vindictive streak showing its colours. "-I know it means nothing to you now, but just let me say this, please."

Sui-Feng stilled, stopped struggling, stopped fighting back just for a moment. The moment was enough.

It was a torrential outpouring of apologies without excuses. She didn't expect it would do much. Words were only words, in the end. And nothing was easier to break than promises. But she just had to try - to know she said them to her face, that she meant them in her heart, even if Sui-Feng never believed her.

"I'm sorry I fucked up. I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry for leaving you with all the things I hated. I'm sorry for leaving you to deal with my family and everything they tried to do to you. I'm sorry you had to pick up the pieces of the mess I made and that you had to suffer so much. I'm sorry I left without saying anything and that I kept things from you. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you for the past hundred years -"

"What do you want me to do with these apologies?" Sui-Feng muttered, but there was less bite.

Yoruichi could almost swear Sui-Feng's look softened. She hoped. Maybe she was fooling herself. Just a little. "I don't know. I just need you to hear them." She paused, her eyes flickering down to pursed lips, involuntarily. She refocused her gaze back to Sui-Fengs's, staring back into a cold, cold gaze she hoped was thawing. "I still love you. I've always loved you. I never stopped loving you."

Sui-Feng's mask suddenly cracked, replaced by a haunted look with depths Yoruichi couldn't fathom. "Even if I want to forgive you, I can't forget," she whispered, staring at her wrists, which Yoruichi still held, keeping her from pulling away, from putting distance between them.

"I'm not asking you to," Yoruichi said softly. "I know what I did is… I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it up to you. I want to make it up to you. I know I hurt you more than I can ever imagine. Just please know, it was not my intention."

She released one hand, hesitantly reached up to touch Sui-Feng's face, her heart soaring when the younger woman let her. "You had such a bright future, I didn't want to take that away from you. I thought leaving you behind was the right thing to do because - just because I didn't want my life didn't mean you didn't want yours. I thought it would have been what you wanted. I wanted to protect you. I didn't know how. I don't know how. I just…"

"Are you staying?"

"Yes." Yoruichi said resolutely, then backtracked when Sui-Feng's eyes suddenly narrowed. "I don't want my job back - from what I've seen you've been doing much better at it than I ever could." She meant it. She figured it came through because the glare receded somewhat. Yoruichi exhaled. "I'm staying because I want to… I want to make things right. I want to be with you again. If you...?"

Sui-Feng finally looked away. "If you came back fifty years ago and asked me, I would have said yes in a heartbeat," she murmured softly, a miniscule shrug traversing through her frame. "But now? It's been a hundred years, Yoruichi. I'm not the same person I was - not the same person you left behind."

"I -I know that, Sui-Feng, but-"

"I spent half the century trying to prove your innocence and the other half cursing your name every night before I fell asleep. I've killed more people than I can count. I've betrayed more people than I know. I've saved people just as often as I've sacrificed them, but I don't even remember their faces, let alone their names," she smiled sadly, and there was a weariness that somehow captured more than the weight of a hundred years.

"I've dreamed of seeing you again - of speaking with you again for so long - but now that you're actually here? I can't even remember what I thought I'd feel. What I thought I'd do. Maybe I'd hoped you'd let me back into your life. That we'd just pick up where we left off. I probably would have been satisfied with just an apology and would have followed you like an obedient little servant. But I can't even remember the person I thought you were, because everything I thought I knew shattered when you left. And time broke the rest of the person I used to be," she shrugged, tugging her hand away - and Yoruichi let her go -

- only to turn back and touch Yoruichi's face, fingertips tracing the crests still etched into her skin almost lovingly. "I loved you more than you could ever know. I figured you didn't realize how much if you could just leave like you did." Sui-Feng paused, gaze flickering upwards to meet an unsteady golden one.

Yoruichi could feel her skin tingling, heated and raw where Sui-Feng had touched.

"But the thing is, you're standing in front of me now, and I see you - and you look exactly the same, you feel exactly the same -"

Her fingers trailed down to brush across Yoruichi's lips, sending shivers down Yoruichi's spine.

Sui-Feng's gaze was far.

"All I can think is you're just a memory now. A ghost... And you don't know who I am anymore."

She slips through her grasp like water, and Yoruichi almost let her go - almost let her walk away - because really, Sui-Feng deserved better - deserved more and Yoruichi wasn't even sure what to do or what would change, if anything would. If she was a better person, she'd let her forget. But Yoruichi's already lived a century without her, thinking it was the right thing to do and all she knew was she didn't want to live without Sui-Feng ever again - even if she was different, even if she had changed -

And Sui-Feng's still looking at her even as she turns away, there's a challenge in her lingering gaze - and Yoruichi glances past her shoulder, sees her reflection in the mirror in her room - sees her own unblemished skin, still tingling from the whispers her touch left behind, and it means something that she's taken the marks away - even if she has changed, she was still Sui-Feng and that was all she needed to know.

She reaches out, her fingers circling a slender wrist, and it slips through her mouth before she thinks better of it, but her body is moving with a courage she no longer has. "Then let me get to know you again," she says, but even to her ears, it sounds like a plea - as it should. She's pulling her back, and Sui-Feng's eyes are stormy, inscrutable, but there's a twist in her mouth - like she's forgotten how to smile - and maybe she has - Yoruichi's not holding on tight enough to keep her but she sees Sui-Feng moving closer and her hands reach up, curl around the collar of her jacket and yanks her close - and Yoruichi thinks, that this is it, she is going to kill me or break my neck or something - and she would deserve it for having the nerve to ask for another chance -

- and instead finds lips crashing against her own with a desperation and a yearning that is unmistakable despite the cloudiness of intent - there's enough force behind it that she lets Sui-Feng push her back, into the door, hard enough she can feel her shoulder bruising. She's not sure what this is or what this means exactly - only that maybe this is the first step to forgiveness.

They stumble past the frame - she lets Sui-Feng tear at her clothes - she is still methodical - they're flung aside like unwanted memories. She's not sure where her jacket's gone - and her shirt is torn from the neck to the sleeve. Maybe Sui-Feng just wants to use her, but Yoruichi's not going to say no. They've almost forgotten to close the door before tumbling backwards onto the bed and back in time, arms and legs and nose to nose and they still fit perfectly together like two pieces of the same puzzle even in the midst of chaos.

Yoruichi breaks away for a moment, half-undressed already, gasping, heart thundering, skin on fire - "Even if it takes a hundred years. I don't care," she whispers, not even sure Sui-Feng can hear her - she almost can't hear herself through the buzzing in her ears and the fog clouding up her mind as she closes her eyes tightly shut and sinks into the touch she's yearned for - for decades -

"I'm here. I'll be here -" Yoruichi's breath hitches, she is derailed, shudders, as Sui-Feng's teeth scrapes against her throat, deft hands trailing down her sides, splayed across her rib cage and holding her - or them? - together -

Her left hand is wrapped in Sui-Feng's hair - the other digs into the bedsheets, searching for a grip - kisses marking a wandering path down her body, "-I'm not going away again. I promise -" She almost bites her tongue when Sui-Feng's lips press feather light against her hip - then against her inner thigh -

- she tries her best to swallow a moan - she needs to say it - even if Sui-Feng doesn't believe her, or doesn't want to hear it, even if it might mean next to nothing - "I promise with all my heart, and my soul and -"

- it's all she can do to hold on and just keep breathing, but she's already lost track of time. She's not sure if it's been seconds, days, decades, she can't tell, only that it feels like forever that she's been dreaming of this moment and she can't think of anything else other than the feeling of her kisses and tongue and hands and she is practically chanting, her nails break through skin as she is broken to the pieces she's been holding together for so long -

"All I have left is your to take - I promise you, Sui-Feng - forever- even if it takes a hundred years-"

- blood is roaring in her ears, she is practically writhing, creamy silken sheets sliding beneath her - those fingers - she clenches her teeth, feels them deep inside, stroking - precise and methodical and rhythmic and power - her throat is raw - she sees white -

- and with a choked gasp and muffled cry she is crashing down from wave after wave and Sui-Feng is clutching her close, like an anchor, whispering in her ear and she can't even make out the words in the haze but it feels like she's finally come home and maybe there's still a shadow of what they used to have.

"No more promises, Yoruichi. Show me."






I want to address some things with this chapter. Skip if you wish, but I know there are many points of contention/areas which you may question in terms of characterization.

1) Yoruichi is hung up on feeling guilty, and some of you seem to feel quite vehemently about her going after Sui-Feng and wanting her back. I personally think it's more for the sake of the consequences that resulted from her actions than any actual wrongdoing on her part. Sure, she left in a really shitty way but I really think Yoruichi did the best she could with the situation and made a hard decision choosing between helping out her best friend and the woman she loved and she had to live with what that choice entailed. I don't blame her for doing what she did. It made sense to her given the context, and I think, in many ways, it was the right thing to do. It was just unfortunate that it had such repercussions. She strikes me as someone who, while headstrong and independent and confident, has issues owning up to what she perceives to be personal failures. I don't think she's a bad person and yes she has to make it up to Sui-Feng, but while she is kind of wallowing and going "oh I don't deserve her and etc". As the writer of this fanfic, I think she does. She's going to have to work to get her happy ending, but they both deserve a happy ending which I fully intend on giving them.

2) It may sound like Yoruichi is working through a lot of repetition in her thoughts and what she wants to do. This is intentional. Until she's able to say them to Sui-Feng and vocalize all she feels, she's hashing and rehashing everything she knows she has to say and own up to. She mentions it might not mean anything, and I don't think she expects words to be enough, but she needs to lay it all out on the table before they can both even try to move forward. There's no more room for assumptions. She gets a little push from Shunsui to get over her doubts and just go for it.

3) With regards to pacing - I had a lot of hesitations about posting this chapter. As both Cinis and Vocarin know (bless you both for your aid and advice I don't know if I've action-ed on it properly but do know it did not fall on deaf ears) I found it very difficult to decide how to make it move forward. What could Yoruichi do to win Sui-Feng back? How would their relationship rekindle and move forward in an organic, natural way without forcing them into tropes and breaking their characters? How would they go about it seeing as it's been SO LONG and they're essentially different people now? And Sui-Feng has spent a long time hating Yoruichi, something like that isn't going to disappear in a few days or weeks.

This was originally going to be two chapters, but I felt that if I had left it without the confrontation and just Yoruichi talking to people and trying her best to find out everything - there wasn't much pushing it forward. Sui-Feng keeps walking away and Yoruichi keeps moping and I didn't want to drag it out over two chapters. The middle of which would have really sagged. I was also waiting to tackle the big confrontation, as some of you have been waiting for it too.

4) The turning point: So Yoruichi got all her apologies out and made a lot of new promises in the heat of it all - the turning point I wanted to highlight was where Sui-Feng decides to remove the crests after Yoruichi's said her piece. This is significant. Yoruichi realises it's tantamount to her leaving the door open a crack, Yoruichi just has to dive forward and make the best of this window of opportunity. I think Sui-Feng has always been attracted to Yoruichi's easy confidence and she really just needed to hear it straight up that Yoruichi knows and understands everything that's happened. This in no way means that's enough and Yoruichi's out of the doghouse, but it's a compromise and the first step forward.

5) Sui-Feng gave in so easily! WTH! Them sleeping together is not going to fix this entire 45 chapters of hate and over a century of bitterness - that was never the intention. The intention was that, these are two people who, for decades, have harbored a plethora of incredibly strong and intense feelings that culminate in this... this sort of explosion that kind of mirrors their fight. It was bound to happen. I don't see them containing that amount of feeling after wanting each other and missing each other for long - as confused and as chaotic as it is right now - and having Sui-Feng just walk away again which she's already done a couple of times across the scenes in this chapter.

Sui-Feng is a guarded person. In her fights she always holds back, watches, plays weak, until she's figured out her opponent. I see her tackling Yoruichi in the same way. She was waiting for Yoruichi to show her intentions. While Sui-Feng has admitted to hating her for half a century, she's never stopped loving Yoruichi - that's why she's been so torn this way and that throughout the story... or at least, that was how she was supposed to come across. Obviously, the dynamic between them has changed and ultimately they still fit together and are meant for each other but a little different now.

How? I don't think they know, except when Sui-Feng tells Yoruichi, you don't know me any more, it's not so much that she doesn't believe they'll work, but she's issuing a challenge to Yoruichi and which Yoruichi accepts when she says, then let me get to know you again, both confirming that yes, she is back for good, and she's going to try and who cares if they've changed because they're still at their core, the person that the other has never managed to get over. For the moment, it's enough.

I don't see it as Sui-Feng giving in. I also don't see it as it fixing anything really, only that they're sort of both broken and aren't quite sure how to relate to each other so hey, falling back into old patterns! Because, at the end of the day, that's exactly how they started (if any of you have read Sweat which can be considered a prequel to this fic). Yoruichi initiated the relationship. Yoruichi was always in control. This time she's letting Sui-Feng call the shots, which Sui-Feng does. Sure Yoruichi pulls her back, but Sui Feng is the one in control this time.

So anyway, at the end of the they still have a lot of obstacles ahead of them to make it all work. None of the problems has disappeared. They will be dealt with piece by piece. And I'll be writing up to Chapter 50.

I don't know if any of that made sense. Or if it was all totally obvious. And apologies for random tense changes... I'm working on it.

I look forward to hearing your comments, thoughts, suggestions of upcoming scenes, as always.

Thanks to those who have taken the time to leave really thoughtful reviews. I think I would have stopped writing this a long time ago otherwise.

ALSO OMFG AMAZING FANART by lnBY GO LOOK (insert dots where appropriate)