The window doesn't so much fly open as is clawed open, and she-he-it comes tumbling out onto his knees.

He supposes that he should probably be surprised at this, but after he's had Kurosaki and that other ryoka girl dangle (dangle!) from the windowsill, the novelty has somewhat worn off.

"I hear you are returning to the world of the living," he says, but returning doesn't sound quite right, because she's only just returned to this world, but there really isn't any other word that would fit.

The cat looks him squarely in the eyes and nods. He says nothing else, just lets the feline curl up on his shins as he stares out of the window. He doesn't know what to say, where to start, if there is anything at all that he has to say to her, if there was anything at all to say to her.

They were never that close, not by any ordinary standard, at least. People don't get that close in the Great Houses, especially not when they are introduced through them. By their own standard perhaps they had once been close - she had aggravated him, he had amused her, but they had never really connected on any level. They were far too different, in temperament, in power, in surroundings, in life.


To tell the truth, she doesn't really know why she's here. She's taken care of all the things (Rukia), tied up all the loose ends (Soifon), avoided all the well-meaning people (Ukitake), and said all the meaningful goodbyes (Kuukaku).

There's nothing else that she has to do here. Really.

No, really.

Which is why she finds herself curled up on the shins of Kuchiki Byakuya, trying to think of something to say.

They were never really that close, but he had been a rather amusing pupil, somewhat anomalous even, especially for a House like the Kuchiki. Rash, headstrong, easily-aggravated, he was exactly like the bad influence that they had made her out to be.

He had been such a brat, such an annoying, self-righteous, almost overly self-confident brat, but my god had he been talented. (Well, not even a fraction as talented as Kisuke was, or still is, but talent like that with reiatsu was still rare.)

Teaching him had been so. much. fun. More for her, probably, since it was always highly amusing to rile him up and leave him literally in the dust at the end of almost every session, but they had been amusing.

He had been amusing, but not anymore, it seemed.

She almost hadn't recognized that person on the bridge. He was grown up now, taller than she was, a haori on his shoulders, those ridiculous hair adornments in his head. Even his reiatsu felt different, and that sword.

That zanpakuto.

It meant something, not that she had realized then, that she had never seen it, only heard about it, only been warned by Kuukaku that the little brat was a Captain, and that he might actually be powerful now, that he might be different.

And different he was. Faster, for one, faster, but still not nearly as fast as she was, and colder, so much colder. That blade that he had swung up, while there had been no killing intent to it, there had been plenty of intent to cause hurt. (Or maybe he had expected her to dodge, there was no telling with this new person she did not know.)

She had laughed in his face, snubbed his skills, basically put him down in front of an audience.

And still he had not reacted. Whether it was because he had grown and changed so much from that hot-headed youth, or whether it was because he did not want to look impulsive in front of Ukitake, she had no idea.

But he had been different from what she had been expecting.

And now, she sits on his shins, and doesn't know what to say.

Maybe she'd expected him to be different in private, to lapse a little into that easily aggravated phase she knows so well, to turn around again and swear and call her names.

But he doesn't.

No questions come to the tip of her tongue, no witty statements, no quips, just nothing.

She doesn't know how he's changed this much.

She thinks she might almost miss that brat.


They're getting visitors, or so Kisuke says, and he has that ridiculous twinkle in his eye and that annoying wide grin, so she knows it has to be people that they'll both recognize. She's pushed him for answers, but he's very good at not spilling, so she doesn't get to find out what it's about till two hours before they're scheduled to arrive.

Kisuke is practically dancing with glee when he tells her that four Captains (four!) are going to be visiting their little humble abode on their way to Hueco Mundo, to rescue Orihime. Her eyebrows just about shoot through the roof at that one. Four captains, leaving Soul Society, coming to the Urahara Shop, and going to Hueco Mundo?

It seems like a joke that only Kisuke could tell, but it also seems like a reality that only he could pull off, and she's somewhat torn between the two, so she settles for sitting down and licking her fur in front of the main gate.

Sure enough, those doors slide open, and a very familiar silhouette smiles in a motherly fashion at her as she practically glides by. Unohana. That is very, very odd. But it's Unohana, and she's scary, so maybe that sort of works.

Then it's Kurotsuchi and his lieutenant who pass by without even looking at her.

Now she can hear Zaraki cackling, and it's starting to not make any sense at all. What on earth is this, and what in the heavens are they going to be doing in Hueco Mundo?

Zaraki steps out with a bark of laughter, head turned to look condescendingly at the last Captain a few steps behind him.

She has to pick her jaw up from the floor with Byakuya comes sweeping out of the doors just as they close. He ignores Zaraki, and almost overlooks her, but does an almost double take when he finally notices her.

She meows at him.

He studiously ignores her, ignores the way she claws at his feet, and even lets her claw her way onto his lap without so much as a comment.

Kisuke's eyebrows have receded into his hat, and she's sure that Unohana is holding back a snigger behind those half-closed eyes, but the man himself sits still and unmoved.

This is starting to get awkward, and by the gods she never finds things awkward, not even greeting him with her chest that one time in full view of his grandfather. (God, that was awkward.)

She's starting to think that he's now a completely different person from the one she knew before, and is almost ready to give up on trying to peel back the mask that she's sure is a mask and isn't actually his real face.

That's when she hears the mission brief, hears that a certain Kuchiki Rukia is currently in Hueco Mundo, and hears Zaraki make a quip about him volunteering for something that's just going to keep his pretty little ass out of trouble, since he's the one that let her go to Hueco Mundo in the first place.

He sniffs, but does not refute that statement.

She gets up and starts to slink away, trying her best not to laugh out loud. Kurotsuchi and Zaraki would probably have a fit if they knew she was who she was.

It is then that his hand reaches out, and gives her tail a stealthy tug. She whirls around with an angry meow and his eyes come alive.

Go on, Demon Cat. I dare you to say something.

I dare you.

She gives him a meaningful look, and only just restrains herself from transforming back into a naked lady in his lap.

Then while Zaraki and Kurotsuchi are too busy arguing, Unohana too busy trying to figure out any one of the many secrets that Kisuke has held for a century, and Kisuke himself busy deflecting her attentions, Byakuya languidly strokes her from the tip of her ears all the way down to the base of her tail.

Just how he knows that this is how she likes to be petted she has no idea. She purrs almost uncontrollably.

Kisuke raises an eyebrow at that purr, and she gives up.

She's not going to let him win. Never.

Kisuke's fan snaps right open, Kurotsuchi's eyes pop straight out of his head, Zaraki turns at the change in reiatsu and Unohana raises an eyebrow.

Byakuya's shocked expression, however, is exactly how she remembers it.

It appears that some things really don't change.