Summary: Everything goes back to normal…more or less.
Byakuya strolled into the first divisions cherry orchard still in his wedding tuxedo, an open bottle of chilled champagne in one hand, an empty glass in the other. It truly was a magnificent example of grounds keeping. Centuries of cultivation, pruning, and tender loving care had produced strong trees with dark green leaves that exploded in a riot of pink blossoms every spring. He had often accepted Captain-Commander Yamamoto's invitation to view the cherry trees in bloom, glad for the opportunity to enjoy their fleeting elegance in a somewhat more serene environment than the rest of Seireitai. That time had long passed, but it would come again soon enough. The cool breeze tousled his hair as he calmly strode the shade dappled path through the trees. At last he came to the center of the orchard. Here was the largest cherry tree of all. Yamamoto had planted it with his own hands centuries ago. He looked up and up, following the branches with his eyes, admiring the strength in its boughs. The gnarled old patriarch of this small artificial forest deserved respect. It had endured a great deal over the centuries and indeed, it would no doubt endure for years to come. It certainly was putting up with a lot today.
"You can come down now Captain Soifon." Byakuya called up into the canopy.
"Never!" Soifon's disembodied voice shouted back. "I'm staying up here until I die!"
Byakuya sighed. "All of the guests are gone. The first division has cleared the grounds. There is no reason for you to hide any longer."
"No reason to hide?" She repeated back incredulously. "I can never show my face again! I'm a laughingstock! I've never been so embarrassed in my life!"
"Captain Soifon." Byakuya said sternly. "You are behaving in a manner unbecoming for an officer of the Gotei 13. I expect you to face your problem with courage and resolve. Also, knowing you as I do, I expect better from you."
He heard her groan from somewhere in the leaves.
"All right. I'm coming down."
Some branches creaked and rustled. The leaves parted to reveal a small blob of white that quickly grew larger. Soifon at last became visible. Byakuya was impressed. It couldn't have been easy to conceal herself in that dress. She'd hardly even damaged it considering she had bolted from the makeshift chapel like a scalded cat the second Yoruichi let her go. With a dejected hop, she allowed herself to fall to the ground, landing gracefully on her feet in front of him, her skill and training evident even in her distressed state. Byakuya began to pour the champagne.
"I thought you might want…"
Soifon ignored both his words and the glass. She pulled the bottle from Byakuya's hand, put it in her mouth and upended it. Byakuya blinked for a second, then decided to take it in stride, sipping what little champagne he had managed to pour into the glass as Soifon chugged the expensive wine down. At last, the bottle was completely drained. Soifon looked at the empty vessel dejectedly, then threw it over her shoulder. It arced away into the sky shattering somewhere out of sight, the tinkle of broken glass faintly reaching their ears
"Feel better?" Byakuya asked.
"No, I don't feel better." Soifon snarled "I feel like an utter jackass! What the hell were you thinking Byakuya? I thought we had an understanding. You help me and I help you. But then you just gave up. Why? Why did you let this happen? Why did you let the wedding proceed? Have you lost your mind?"
Byakuya coolly finished the champagne in his glass.
"I was going to get an annulment."
Soifon's jaw dropped. An annulment. Of course. They could have pretended to be married for a couple of months and then found some excuse to have the marriage annulled. There might have been some grumbling from their families, but if they came up with a good enough reason, everyone would have had no choice but to accept it. It was so simple!
Guiltily, she lowered her eyes as she felt her face heat up.
"I'm sorry." She muttered. "I had no idea."
"It's not your fault." He replied. "I wasn't able to get word to you. Our families were both very thorough in enforcing the communication ban. With no other way of letting you know, I was going to whisper it in your ear during the ring exchange. Unfortunately, Shihōin Yoruichi's outburst disrupted my plans."
Soifon grimaced as she pushed her fingertips together.
Um, I'm afraid that's my fault." She confessed. "I sorta panicked a little and asked her to help me out. I had no idea she was going to do that though!"
"It's just as well." Byakuya asserted shaking his head. "It gave me an opportunity I could exploit. As soon as you left, I announced to my clan that the loss of face was too great to be tolerated. Due to the grievous public humiliation I had to endure, I called off the wedding, broke off our engagement and informed my clan that no one is allowed to talk to me about marriage or to mention your name to me ever again. Apparently, I'm quite the bastard."
"So that's it?"Soifon asked. "It's finally over?"
Byakuya nodded. "As far as my family is concerned, yes."
Soifon frowned at the way he spoke. He seemed to be implying something.
"What about my family?" she asked.
Byakuya carefully placed his empty glass on a nearby branch hanging it by the stem where the limb forked.
"That's partly the reason why I'm here. I am to escort you to Captain-Commander Yamamoto's office. Your mother would like to talk to you about…"
He barely managed to seize her around the waist as she tried to run for it.
"Put me down! Put me down!" She screeched. "I'm too young to die!"
"Captain, you are overreacting." He calmly informed her as he avoided her elbow and heel strikes.
"You didn't grow up with her. You don't know her like I do!"
"Be that as it may, it is my duty to bring you back, willingly or otherwise."
She squirmed around to face him baring her teeth.
"What makes you think you can force me?" She growled. "It may be only one of us walks out of this orchard on their own power Kuchiki, and it might not be you!"
"I am willing to take that chance." He replied. "Are you willing to harm me for a temporary escape?"
The anger in her face slowly faded as she considered his words. He could feel her body relax in his arms.
"No." She sullenly admitted. "No. I don't. Very well. I suppose I should face her now."
Slowly, Byakuya removed his arms from around her waist, ready to seize her again if she tried to flee. Soifon didn't try anything of the sort. Instead she squared her shoulders and with head held high started walking towards the first division's office building. With just the faintest hint of a smile, Byakuya joined her by her side.
So this is what it's like, Soifon thought. This is how a prisoner sees the world on the day they are executed. Everything seemed so bright and crisp, every detail standing out as if to form one last impression on her soon-to-be-extinguished mind. Sooner than she would have liked, she was entering the first division's headquarters and walking first up the stairs then down the hallway to Yamamoto's office, Byakuya silently accompanying her.
"Kuchiki-san." She said without looking at him. "I want to apologize to you for getting you involved in this mess."
"It's all right." He replied. "It was my choice to play along."
"Yes, but you didn't have to. It really means a lot to me that you went out of your way to help me especially when I caused you so much trouble."
"You're welcome." He said as they came up to Yamamoto's office. Reaching out, he opened the door and held it open for her. Taking a deep breath, she slowly walked inside. Su-yin was waiting for her, standing in the middle of the room with her arms crossed, her expression stone faced and forbidding.
"You're going to stay with me, right Byakuya?" She whispered.
There was no answer. "Byakuya?"
Looking behind her, she was just in time to see the door close on its well oiled hinges with an ominous click. It was quickly followed by the unmistakable sounds of a key locking her in. She rushed over and yanked on the doorknob.
"Open this door!" She growled. "Open! This! Door! Dammit Kuchiki, how dare you do this to me! You are so going to get it if I get of here alive!"
She drew back her fist and channeled power into her hand. Byakuya would soon learn the consequences of his betrayal. She smashed her fist into the wood ready to leap through the hole and kick him right in his pretty boy face.
She grabbed her hand as a shockwave of pain rode up her arm, her mouth open in a silent scream of agony.
Note to Self: Did you forget the Captain-Commander's office has captain-proof doors? Reminder, the Captain- Commander installed captain-proof doors.
There was no way out. The only way she was going to escape confronting her mother would be to run past her and dive off the balcony. Maybe if she sprinted to Su-yin's left, then zigzagged…?
No. She wasn't going to do that. She was going to handle this like a mature, responsible adult. Shaking the pain from her hand, she straightened her spine and turned around. Her mother hadn't moved, her expression still angry and disapproving.
I'm not going to panic, Soifon thought as she approached her mother. I am a Captain of the Gotei 13. I will face her with the courage and dignity of my office. We will have a frank, rational discussion about this situation and will work things out like two adults. Stopping two paces from Su-yin, she held her mother's gaze, doing her best to project cool professionalism to counter Su-yin's scorn. This is it, she thought. I'm ready now.
"Gomenesai!" She wailed as she flung herself at Su-yin's feet. Placing both hands on the ground, she touched her forehead to the floor over and over.
"I didn't mean for any of this to happen! It was all just a big mistake! You have to believe me!"
"Oh, get up already." Su-yin snapped. "You're going to mess up that dress even more. You don't need to explain, the Lady Yoruichi already told me everything."
"She did?" Soifon asked puzzled.
"Yes, she did," Su-yin affirmed. "So get off the floor and come sit with me so we can talk about this like civilized people."
Rising from the floor, Soifon did as she was told and followed her mother to the balcony where a table with two chairs had been set. Tea had already been poured and she could see steam rising from the cup in front of her when she sat down.
"So Yoruichi already explained everything to you?" she asked.
Su-yin nodded and took a sip of her tea. "Yes, after all the hubbub died down, she had me meet her here with Lord Byakuya and she explained the whole thing. That basically, you were playing for time until you could find some way to weasel out of getting married. Unfortunately for you the clock ran out."
Soifon flinched at her tone. "I'm sorry mother. Believe me, it didn't start out that way."
"I know." Su-yin replied. "Like I said, Lady Yoruichi explained everything. She told me this all just a big misunderstanding that got out of hand and that you never intended to marry Lord Byakuya. She said the only reason you were at his mansion when that picture was taken was because you finally worked up the courage to break off your torrid love affair with him. Lord Byakuya himself said it was painful, but you made him understand that you two were getting too close and that anything more than a casual relationship could never work between two people in such a dangerous line of work. He told me you were so sorry and upset you drank until you passed out and had to stay the night. I have to say, he was being a very good sport to follow along with your cockamamie plan considering you just broke his heart."
"Yes, he's quite a guy." Soifon muttered as she silently thanked Yoruichi and Byakuya for covering for her. "But I tried to tell you all this in the first place. You wouldn't listen to me."
"A mother has to follow her instincts." Su-yin insisted. "Besides, I wasn't wholly wrong, was I?"
"So you'll listen to Yoruichi-sama before you believe your own daughter?"
"Of course I'll listen to her, she's the scion of the house of Shihōin!" Su-yin said with her nostrils flaring. "We've been serving her family for millennia. If she said the moon was a giant daifuku I'd have to send somebody to check first before doubting her."
"Oh yeah, good point." Soifon agreed.
Su-yin put down her cup and sighed. "Still, I'm disappointed. Having a relationship with that man broke with our traditions."
"Times change mother." Soifon replied. "Sometimes the old ways don't fit. I didn't mean to hurt you, but living my life and keeping within tradition is hard."
"All the more reason to follow them!" Su-yin answered. "Keeping our traditions defines who we are. It's what keeps us together and links us to our heritage. To forget tradition is to fall apart and then the clan would be no more!"
Soifon bowed her head, her face heating up with shame. She had heard this speech hundreds of times growing up. She agreed for the most part and she wanted to fit in like the rest of her family, but her life simply hadn't worked out that way. She could never make her mother see that.
"On the other hand." Su-yin continued more quietly. "Lady Yoruichi reminded me that there are always exceptions to the rule. That there are special circumstances, special people that fall outside of the norm."
She took another sip of her tea and looked out over the balcony where the evening sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, bathing all of Seireitai in a golden glow. When she spoke again, it was so quietly Soifon had to strain to hear her.
"You're the only one in our clan to ever make captain. Did you know that? No one in our entire history has ever risen as high as you. I don't think any one of use even thought we could."
Soifon didn't quite understand. What was she trying to say?
Su-yin abruptly stood up. "I have made a decision. As you are an officer in the Gotei 13, I release you from clan law. You are in a special circumstance that we have not encountered before. There should be new laws to address this situation. We will probably need a great deal of time to hammer them out. I can see have a lot of work ahead of me."
Soifon rose to her feet as well.
"You really mean that Mother? You would do this for me?"
"Of course." Su-yin replied. "I know we don't always get along and I don't always approve of the things you do. But I always wanted you to be happy."
Soifon was touched. It was so unusual seeing her mother open up like this. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it." Su-yin said as she let go. "Just be sure to tell me if you change your mind about grandchildren."
She walked over to the door and gave it three hard raps.
"Open up. We're done in here."
The door was unlocked and swung open.
"I'll be seeing you later daughter." Su-yin said. "I have to hurry. I have a date with that nice Kyubei-san from the Kuchiki clan. Who knows? If he plays his cards right, he might get lucky."
Soifon's mouth dropped. "Mother!"
"Hey, don't look at me like that!" Su-yin barked. "I'm an old widow woman. Nobody cares what I do."
With that, Su-yin confidently sauntered out the door. Soifon felt her legs going numb forcing her to sit back down. Her mother and a Kuchiki noble! Her mind could barely wrap around the concept. It actively rejected the idea of Su-yin "getting lucky". She actually felt a little faint.
A purple haired head popped out from behind the door.
"Soifon? Is it OK if I come in?" Yoruichi asked.
"Sure Yoruichi-sama." She dazedly replied. "Come right in." Nothing else that happened to her today was going to be any more shocking that what just happened.
Yoruichi strolled over to the empty chair, plopped herself down, then leaned closer to give Soifon a concerned look.
"You're looking kinda pale there. Are you all right?"
"Of course I'm not all right." Soifon said burying her face in her hands. "I'll probably be stripped of my rank, drummed out of the Gotei 13 and have to hide my face for the rest of my life."
She didn't even want to mention the bombshell her mother just dropped.
"Oh, don't be silly." Yoruichi admonished her. "None of that's going to happen. I explained everything."
Soifon raised her head, an icicle of dread stabbing her heart. "You did? How?"
"By using the best kind of lie." Yoruichi declared "One that's mostly true. After you ran out the door, I told everyone you were freaking out with a bad case of cold feet and you begged me to get you out of the wedding. My little stunt was the best thing I could come up with on short notice. You know that crazy Yoruichi, she'll do anything. Oh, and I'm sorry about kissing you like that. I thought I had to make it look convincing."
Soifon turned away so Yoruichi couldn't see her blushing. "That's OK, Yoruichi-sama. I understand. I…forgive you"
Grinning wildly, Yoruichi leaned over and punched her on the arm. "Thata girl! I knew there would be no hard feelings. Speaking of which, you should have heard Byakuya-bo when I finished. He comes up to me and says 'Your behavior is inexcusable no matter what the circumstances Shihōin Yoruichi.' He is such a good actor. I swear, it was like he was really pissed at me! And then he announces he's so insulted, he's breaking things off with you forever! You should have heard everyone gasp! It's all so tragic. Two young lovers, torn apart by one woman's foolish actions, a nobles wounded pride denying them any chance of future happiness. Oh the tragedy, oh the sadness! They'll be talking about this for years to come, for centuries even!"
Looking over at Soifon's face, she could see she wasn't making things any better.
"Did I say centuries? No, probably not that long. Decades. Decades at the most."
Soifon groaned and put her head back in her hands. "Isn't there anything I can do to make this go away? Can't I have my old life back?"
Yoruichi left her seat to kneel besides her and put her arm around her shoulders.
"That's just how things work sweetie. This will all blow over before you know it. Some other crisis will come up or some other juicy scandal will break and you'll be old news. It's just going to take time."
"In the meantime, everyone is going to look at me like I'm a total idiot." Soifon complained.
"Maybe so." Yoruichi said. "But can you say they're wrong? You did kinda bring this all on yourself."
Soifon looked up at her mentor's face. "I guess you got a point." She reluctantly agreed.
Yoruichi gave her an encouraging shake. "Don't take it so hard. Everybody falls on their face once in a while. Even me! Tell you what. You let me know if I can do anything to make this better, anything at all and I'll do it."
Soifon had a hard time coming up with anything. It had been such a trying day. Something that could make things better? Like what? The idea that suddenly popped into her head was the first good thing to happen to her since this madness began. A wicked grin spread across her face.
"Yoruichi-sama," She slyly asked. "Do you know Hisagi Shūhei?"
It was a surprise when Soifon ran into Byakuya again. She had just turned in her reports to the first division and was making her way to the stairs. Turning the hallway corner, she almost ran right into Byakuya delivering his reports.
"Oh, sorry." She apologized as she stepped out of his way. Unfortunately, Byakuya had stepped with her so they were still face to face.
"Sorry." Byakuya murmured as he stepped aside, matching Soifon who had done the same. The atmosphere was intensely awkward. Suddenly, Byakuya took a step backward. He bowed low with the hand holding his reports in front as he swept the other back indicating that she should pass.
"Wife." He said.
Soifon snorted and put her hand in front of her mouth. Was this a joke? Playing along, she bobbed in a short curtsey.
"Husband." She replied. She walked around him as he held his pose. As she passed, she looked closely at his face. Sure enough, it was there. That slight upturn at the corner of his mouth.
"You're funny." She said.