Kūkaku had missed the signs yesterday, but in the light of the morning with one of Koganehiko's omelets her reserves were full, powers of observation fully functional. She moved into the large room that had only moments ago been a dining room, now it was a big empty space. This morning she took note of where Ryūken was sitting near the wall what had to have been his third tea of the morning cupped in both hands, noticing just how much he was trying not to stare at Yoruichi and Kisuke. "I don't know where she found that one."
Ryūken looked up from his morning tea, trying his best not to react outwardly to her words, feinting ignorance. "What's that?"
"Ichi-chan...she collects odd people. You are a prime example," Kūkaku sat next to the Quincy where he reclined his eyes flickering over to Yoruichi and Kisuke as they engaged in what they'd titled "Shunpo practice."
The Quincy couldn't think those words without rolling his eyes, because this practice consisted of Yoruichi trying to teach shunpo while in her human form - still too big for her reiatsu level - to Kisuke who didn't even understand the concept.
"Hara-chan too," Kūkaku added, then turned to shout distracting the dirty blond as he tried to understand Yoruichi's explanation. "Just don't touch the ground!"
"Domo!" Kisuke made a silly face at Kūkaku before he gave her a small bow.
Ryūken had only agreed to let Yoruichi try to teach something she'd probably been born able to do because the princess had managed to convince him. Knowing he'd want to focus on reiatsu sensing and control Yoruichi had started out with the argument that their pupil had no problem sensing it. With that small opening in his fledgling training schedule both she and Kisuke jumped at the opportunity, with a promise to only practice as long as it took Ryūken to enjoy his morning tea (then proceeded to force the whole pot down his throat in a bid for more time).
"What are you suggesting?" Kisuke called, missing it when Yoruichi's golden eyes rolled at Kūkaku's advice.
"Take a step, and right before your foot lands..." Kūkaku saw him lean toward her his eyebrows lifting, eyes bright and curious. "Don't let it land."
"Don't listen to her," Ryūken ordered with an exasperated sigh.
"Yes," Yoruichi agreed with the Quincy.
"Ichi-chan can you even shunpo as a human?" Kūkaku guessed.
Ryūken was startled when Yoruichi suddenly turned a glare at him. "What?" He asked about the accusatory look.
A cackle brought everyone's attention back to Kūkaku, "I only guessed! Thanks for confirmation Ichi-chan! You must know your beloved would never betray you even under threat of torture."
Kisuke gave a startled yelp as he suddenly found himself across the room and barreling right into Yoruichi. He made sure not to land on her, but even as he managed to twist around and take the brunt of the fall she ended up in his arms.
"How did you…?" When he looked up Ryūken was already there to help them up. He had been trying to do what Yoruichi had said, focusing on letting his reiatsu-much faster than him-move him instead. Then Kūkaku had called Ryūken that word and he...
"I-I don't know I just...Didn't let my foot land."
Another raucous cackle and Kūkaku scooted close enough to hug Kisuke until he couldn't breath. "Didn't I tell you!" She gave him a kiss on his cheek, which very quickly went scarlet.
"That actually was quite seamless. I could hardly sense a raise in your reiatsu throughout," Ryūken subconsciously comforted Yoruichi, an arm around her.
Both the princess and Kisuke noticed.
Kisuke gave Kūkaku a return squeeze of his arms. "You distracted me from completing my step."
"But not your reiatsu, good focus," Yoruichi put an arm around Ryūken before he noticed his faux pas.
"Maybe a little mediation and focus on your reiatsu would help," Ryūken offered. "Getting it collected and under your control helps with everything else."
"Ryūken and I have a kata to teach you and together we know most of the things new recruits will be asked to do," Yoruichi explained as she finally felt Ryūken's muscles go taut and she wasn't surprised when he stepped away from her.
"Hai," Yoruichi nodded and tried not to notice how close and comfortable Kisuke and Kūkaku seemed the two holding hands to help each other up. "Maybe we should start with that?"
"But the shunpo -"
"You can tire yourself out with too much, just like running Hara-chan," Kūkaku found another reason to hug Kisuke as he pulled her a little too hard to her feet, and after a chuckle she finally stopped hugging but she and Kisuke still stood close enough for their arms to brush. "Instead of boring ol' running why don't we let Hara-chan and Ichi-chan rest and they can watch some sparring."
"And who exactly can they watch spar?" Ryūken moved a hand up to adjust his glasses.
"You and me, obviously."
"But..." Ryūken trailed off before he could finish his objection.
Kisuke, however, didn't do polite. "Kū-chan you've only got one arm!" The boy blurted out.
"Aw, Hara-chan! I lost this long enough ago to have learned how to get along without it," Kūkaku's grin made the boy blush.
"Be careful then," Yoruichi cautioned, earning a look from Ryūken. "Did you wanna fight me instead?" She asked when she saw his expression.
"Maybe I don't want to fight!" As soon as the shout was out the Quincy clamped a hand over his own mouth and went a deeper red than Kisuke.
Kisuke snickered softly at the pale kid blushing. "We should skip the spectator part and just show me how to fight..." He put his arm behind his back and lifted the other to guard his face, fingers curled into a tight fist. "One-handed fighting first!"
The one-armed girl gave her usual cackle, "If we have time."
Ryūken surprised Kisuke by covering his fist with his hand, their eyes met over their knuckles, "Fists are for barroom brawls...which if you should find yourself in don't..." He gently peeled apart Kisuke's clenched fingers. "Put your thumb under your other fingers."
"How do I hold my hands?"
"Open in case you need to block or grab," Yoruichi held hands up as if to fight, defending her face.
"However you want. Different hakuda - fighting styles - focus on various ways to defend and attack," Ryūken explained. "If you weren't just defending your face you might just keep one up and the other could hang loose and ready at your side, or out to balance your other appendages."
As Ryūken pulled away from Kisuke and turned to gesture toward Yoruichi she lowered down into a crouch, one hand hovering a few inches over the tatami mats palm down fingers splayed, the other pulled back her gently curled fingers guarding her face. She kind of looked like a cat getting ready to pounce. It had its strengths and weaknesses but Kisuke was sure Yoruichi was aware and ready to shore-up each of them.
Sure enough Ryūken went for an obvious one and her hand swung around to catch his wrist. She'd looked like she was resting her weight on both feet but as soon as she captured Ryūken's hand her back leg arched over her back like the striking tail of a scorpion but Ryūken spun into her, sending them both sprawling over the mats. Ryūken kept rolling until he was on his feet but Yoruichi looked like she'd knocked her head too hard, and was still trying to gain her wits back.
"Ichi-chan!" Kūkaku was closer than Kisuke and as she moved to lean over the princess Yoruichi unexpectedly swung an elbow out and up aiming for the girl's face. By the time the blow snapped out Ryūken had already yanked Kūkaku out of harms way.
"She likes to play wounded," Ryūken described. "She's very convincing, reiatsu and everything."
Yoruichi did a graceful flip to her feet, none the worse for wear and moved in making Ryūken turn away to dodge a roundhouse and Kūkaku tried to capitalize on it. The younger girl ended up hip-tossed to the mats and then ignored as Ryūken came back up from dealing with Kūkaku with a palmheel to Yoruichi's face which was dodged.
At this moment Kisuke finally noticed, "You're all going really slow."
Slow for a fight, more like a dance at half-tempo. Yoruichi gave Kisuke a grin that made him blush for some reason. "Ryūken doesn't like to allow any possible swing to hit hard."
"You have to go through slow to learn. The sensei go cadet by cadet until each one knows the kata, then they do drills together," Yoruichi explained, a bright smile on her face. "I know it and so does Ryūken."
"So it'll be weird if I don't already know?"
"No...we'll be the weird ones," Ryūken frowned at that thought. "Speaking of...name yet?"
Yoruichi and Kūkaku went through a complex series of blocks, palmheels, elbows, and swipes before the Shiba's amazing one-armed blocks missed an attack and Yoruichi flicked the tip of her nose with her fingertip sending her into a fit of maniacal cackling. "I thought it might be easier if I were related to one of you." Yoruichi explained her thoughts on name choices. "Only Kentetsu-jiji should know it's me."
"Ishida?" Kisuke suggested since the two lived in the palace together, knew each other better. He watched with a grin as Kūkaku laughed and rolled on the ground, took Yoruichi by surprise with a foot sweep and she went down.
Before Kūkaku could capitalize with a downward kick Ryūken was between them blocking. He caught Kūkaku's foot and she tried to hop backwards out of his grasp but he followed his fingers tight on her ankle. "I'm not using it. You really shouldn't either," Ryūken frowned as he caught sight of the bright curiosity his words ignited in Kisuke's eyes and he focused half his attention on how to distract him from asking the even more disconcertingly personal questions that were clamoring to gain use of his tongue.
"You have to have a surname. They'll just assign you the district a cadet grows up in-oof!," Kūkaku did a painful-looking twist of her torso, throwing herself to the ground catching herself with one arm and giving her free foot momentum to swing upward for Ryūken's ribs.
Yoruichi grinned as she stayed where she'd landed watching the two interact in a much quicker fight. "She's right. How'd you know that Kū-chan?"
Ryūken did a short hirenkyaku out of the way leaving the rest of Kūkaku's body to fall to the mats, but she merely rolled and jumped to her feet. "That's how they do it at the academy."
As Kūkaku shunpoed into Ryūken he quickly dodged her tackle and managed to guide her into a painful hip-toss that put her on her back on the mats looking up at the ceiling stunned. Ryūken held a hand out to help her up, "We'll all be Uraharas then."
With a grimace at Ryūken Kūkaku merely rolled into a sitting position next to Yoruichi. When she ignored his attempt to help he crossed his arms over his chest and barely contained the frown, well barely contained it for the single person in the room that didn't know his minute facial ticks.
Blushing Kisuke met the Quincy's gaze, "W-why me?"
"Better than just picking a random Rukongai district," Ryūken said with a shrug.
"Urahara. Heh I like it," Yoruichi nodded.
"I can show you how to write it..." Kisuke suggested.
Kūkaku was now close enough to throw her arm over Kisuke's shoulders, "Honestly how did a brat like you get so smart?"
"Questions obviously," Ryūken moved to grab Kisuke's hand to pull him to his feet. "Who wouldn't be a genius asking so many?"
"Domo arigatō!" Kisuke gave the Quincy half a hug as he got to his feet. "Now what are we doing?"
Very good question - damn it. Ryūken floundered a moment as he watched Kisuke help Kūkaku to her feet. He'd easily noticed Kūkaku's touchy-feely behavior with Kisuke. What he should really be thinking was the answer to why he might have felt the need to separate them as soon as possible? Kūkaku had always set a bad example as far as formality went...and Yoruichi shouldn't observe her behavior thinking it was proper. So he'd wanted them to stay separated because of Yoruichi, but not for obvious emotional reasons.
"Let's see how far you can run!" Kūkaku challenged Kisuke, quickly moving to the door that lead out into the hall. "Ooh!" She stopped so abruptly that Kisuke ploughed right into her, sending them both half-way through the shoji door.
"Gomen!" Kisuke scrambled to his feet and helped Kūkaku to hers. Far from hurt the girl cackled and turned to climb out through the decent-sized hole in the parchment.
"Kūku-chan!" Ryūken called in a scolding tone, his questionable behavior concerning Kūkaku and Kisuke's familiarity forgotten for a moment.
"It's just a door," Kūkaku pushed the door open and grabbed Kisuke's hand. "Hurry up Hara-chan. Oh! Can you climb?"
Ryūken jumped when Yoruichi's fingers firmly snagged his. He met her glowing golden eyes and wondered, "What's that look on your face for?"
Yoruichi answered with a shake of her head, her smile only growing wider before she led him by the hand to follow Kūkaku and Kisuke. She didn't just know secrets because she could hide and eavesdrop as a cat; she was just as observant as either of the blonds. "What else should we do, but be jealous?"
Staring at his pale fingers entwined with her dark ones, Ryūken missed her question. "Hm?"
"What else should we do?" Yoruichi amended, stifling a small chuckle as the Quincy blushed at their close proximity. "Kū-chan's right, we gotta see if he can climb."
"And swim," Ryūken frowned as he realized he wasn't a very good influence on Yoruichi either. "The katas are most important."
"He's smart, he can get them down easily," Yoruichi squeezed Ryūken's fingers as he tried to remove them from her grip. "Wouldn't you agree Ryū-kun?"
"He's reasonably intelligent," Ryūken's gaze darted up to see that odd grin on her face again. "There's that look again."
Yoruichi gave a heavy sigh, "Only because of the look on yours."
"You don't like Kū-chan," Yoruichi slowed them until they were standing still, the others already upstairs in the shōten.
"What? No, I already told you-"
"Sshh!" Yoruichi turned and took the hand she'd captured in both of hers. "You don't! Just like me. You don't like her huggin' on him either."
"W-w…" Ryūken met dancing yellow eyes. "She just met him."
"Exactly!" Yoruichi nodded - as if she had the same hang-ups about honorifics - then turned to lead him up the stairs.
"Tch," Ryūken came to a halt each foot on a different stair, making Yoruichi stop. "I'm not jealous. I-I saw that it hurt your feelings and..."
Yoruichi turned on the stair ahead of him, making her taller, but she only stood there and stared down into his brown eyes.
"Yūk-kun!" Kūkaku cackled as she threw the tapestry up and ducked her head in underneath it. "You two gonna play kissy faces all day? I thought we were discovering the merits of a warrior in Hara-chan!"
"Kū-chan!" Kisuke called in sing-song.
"If you take long enough I'll have to get directions again," Kūkaku joked as she came down the stairs a little. "C'mon Ichi-chan!"
"Where are you dragging us?" Yoruichi turned to the girl.
"ShibaPalace of course," Kūkaku peered over the princess to see their joined hands. "It's nearer to the Central 46." She gave Yoruichi's arm a tug and when she released one hand from Ryūken's she found herself hauled up the stairs by it, the other wrenched free.
"Kū-chan!" Yoruichi almost dripped at the topmost stair but Ryūken was quick enough to hirenkyaku after and catch her.
By the bright, curious look on Kisuke's face, he'd just been told of the infamous wandering Shiba underground palace.
"Are you going to run with us Kū-chan?" Yoruichi asked, knowing she would have to show off to be able to join the guard.
"How else will you find your way?" Kūkaku rolled her bright eyes. "Lemme stretch first!"
Ryūken nodded in approval and started to stretch a bit too since he hadn't been involved in the "shunpo lessons." He did different stretches and was happy to see that Kisuke was watching, eyes alert as he tried to mimic the Quincy's moves (if he hadn't stretched that muscle earlier with Yoruichi).
Yoruichi watched with a grin. "Kisuke-kun," She held her hand up, palm-down at shoulder height. "Can you kick my hand?"
Since he'd been in the midst of a leg stretch Kisuke had to straighten to see what Yoruichi was talking about. "Maybe," He turned and after a moment to find his balance he managed to nudge Yoruichi's hand with his toe.
"Good start," Ryūken commented and that earned him a surprised look from Kisuke. "Can you do the splits?"
Yoruichi lifted her hand as high as she could, earning a skeptical look from the barefoot boy. "I can kick this high," She revealed.
"That's higher than your head!" Kisuke glanced over and Ryūken surprised him by stepping forward, his foot seemingly independent from his leg. He kicked so high his foot went higher than Yoruichi's hand and so high his knee was pressed into his torso. "Whoa!"
Ryūken lowered his leg and slowly lowered into what Kisuke now knew was an apt description for splits one leg stretched forward the other back. "How…" Yoruichi did the same, except her legs went out to either side. "Can we get to the running part now?" Kisuke asked with a grimace.
"We'll see how far you can go later," Kūkaku cackled and didn't give any warning before she took off running.
Ryūken watched after her with a sigh. "Wait a moment I want to sprint at the beginning."
Yoruichi nodded and lowered into a runner's stance right next to Ryūken, who mirrored her. "When Ryū-kun says 'Go!' Run as fast as you can to Kū-chan."
Kisuke grinned; his blond head nodding as he hurried to stand on Ryūken's other side, adopting their stance. He braced his bare feet on the ground, his eyes riveted to Kūkaku as she disappeared around a corner.
"Oi! Wait!" Yoruichi moved back to the shōten door to deposit her shoes before taking her spot again. "Ready Ryū-kun."
"All right, to Kūku-chan ready?"
"Hai," Yoruichi and Kisuke echoed.
The three of them took off for the corner, neither taking any real lead. Even at the end, when each of them let go of the tiny bit they'd been holding back, none of them could say who had won. Too close.
"You guys coming?" Kūkaku shouted only to be surprised as they caught up to her a few seconds later.
"Lead the way Kū-chan!" Kisuke cheered, hardly winded by the race, or current running.
They kept moving inward, through numerous alleyways, toward the center of the Seireitei. As they got closer they had to slow down for Kūkaku to get her bearings.
Although he'd noticed it in the distance, Kisuke's curiosity for the high central spire hadn't really been any hotter than his curiosity for everything in the Seireitei. Now was a moment to gain a chunk of information on the map he had in his head.
And it was from this angle that he first saw the jutting bit of land near the top. "What's what?" He was able to breathe out slowly.
"Sōkyoku Hill," Kūkaku panted as she stopped at the mouth to another alley. "We can go there later if ya want."
"No we can't," Yoruichi growled suddenly and as they joined Kūkaku she cackled right back.
"I go up there all the time," Kūkaku countered. "Well…not up to the top…that's where the greatest weapon the Sōkyoku is kept, it's used to execute people with high spiritual pressure, shinigami mostly."
"The Onmitsukidō patrol more heavily there than anywhere," Yoruichi explained.
"I'm not doing anything wrong! I'm a noble, I live in the Seireitei," Kūkaku turned away from the cliff to lead them down a smaller alley. "And everyone knows Onmitsukidō protects Shihōin palace."
"They don't patrol it any more than any other section," Yoruichi argued.
"Two of the gundanchō spend more time there teaching than in the barracks."
The entrance was small, nondescript as if its objective was to be very uninteresting. Unlike the bright shōten front, this had no markings and the room inside small and bare but for a part of the wall that opened like a shoji door at the touch of Kūkaku's hand.
Kisuke was momentarily distracted by that bit of trickery. "How'd you do that?"
"Hm, gotta ask Otousan about that, he's the architect."
"The people that decide what buildings look like, although to call Shiba-sama an architect seems a bit of an understatement, ne?" Ryūken asked as they started down a set of wide stairs very similar to the shōten's.
"He likes people to call him 'Kenchikuka,' more than 'Shiba-sama'," Kūkaku said in a conspiratory whisper. "And I'm sure he wouldn't mind Architect-sama."
The hall at the bottom of the stairs was considerably larger than the shōten's and it kept going. Kisuke stared, his mouth open with too many questions tying his tongue to get any out.
Kūkaku only laughed and led them down the hall as it turned right and went on for a few more doors before ending in another staircase down.
She had explained to Kisuke before setting off that her parents' lifestyles necessitated moving the palace all over Seireitei. According to Kūkaku her mother also really liked things that way, especially since neither of her parents were really the social type (at least in noble circles).
For Kisuke it had seemed almost impossible (knowing the size of the Shihōin palace) for the girl's words to be true. Now that he was descending a second staircase the blond was doubly (triply!) sure Kūkaku had to be lying about the whole thing…
"You're frowning awfully hard there Kisuke," Yoruichi whispered as Ryūken was ambushed by what looked like a small brown boar with the brightest pink bow in existence.
Kūkaku tried not to laugh, shouting her brother's name a split second before she was ambushed from behind from the child. Ganju then jumped to his feet and sang a triumphant song about getting the drop on his sister.
"You to-otally cheated!" Kūkaku swatted him in the head. "That doesn't count!"
"Otousan!" Ganju wailed and ran down the hallway with the boar and Kūkaku chasing after.
Yoruichi moved to help Ryūken to his feet as Kisuke retrieved his glasses from where they'd landed. "You all right?"
Ryūken only nodded, dusting off his clothes as Kisuke gently pushed his glasses back on his face.
"Only your dignity right?" Yoruichi chuckled as the Quincy nodded with a small blush. By mutual silent agreement the three moved to follow Kūkaku.
"How can the palace move like Kū-chan says?" Kisuke found himself murmuring as they turned down the right fork in a junction of hallways, following the sound of shouting and name calling.
"Shameless," Ryūken sighed with a shake of his head as Kūkaku went off into a song, one in which she loudly claimed to have written for her little brother, who was in truth adopted from wild pigs.
"You should ask Kenchikuka, they just moved so he should still be unpacking," Yoruichi suggested. "I could try and explain but Kū-chan had to dumb it down for me to grasp the concept," She glanced at Ryūken who blushed deeper and found a reason to turn away from her face only to catch sight of Kisuke's whose grin somehow mirrored Yoruichi's at her most mischievous. Plus curiosity bright and burning.
"And you brought guests!" A deep voice boomed and both Ganju and the boar high-tailed it through a set of nearby shoji doors. They passed the three and vanished around a corner.
The frown on Kūkaku's face was the first Kisuke had seen on the girl, and without thinking he hugged her. Sometimes he wondered if all the social formalities Ryūken harped about really meant anything.
Besides to the Quincy obviously.
"Don't you encourage her boy!" The deep voice called and a small screen just inside the door slid aside to show the lit room beyond.
The man behind the screen - Kenchikuka? – had once had black hair but now there was only it's hint in a deep grey, dark eyes and lots of wrinkles, but only around his eyes (as if he read small print often) the rest was unblemished. "Shiba-sama?" Kisuke pulled away from Kūkaku with a bow of his head.
"I don't like that look on her face either," He hid his mouth with his hand as he leaned in and said in sotto voce. "She looks like my wife."
"Otousan!" Kūkaku quickly introduced the visitors including a random fact for each of them. There was Kisuke "as curious as a cat", Yoruichi "who also has feline traits" and Ryūken "whose face always looks like that, sorry."
"I'm so glad you decided to play with Kū maybe she won't spend so much time at the shōten trying to grow up," Kenchikuka waved them forward into the room.