Ryūken, the Last Quincy
"I don't think he'd appreciate the pest," The guard suggested as his partner grumbled protest. "The drainage pipe is big enough for one to get through."
"Damn you," Yoruichi hissed. She had made it away from the wall but there was plenty of open space between the shrubs the pipe had lead into and the collection of bushes collected around the entrance to her personal garden. The two guards were walking toward where she was hiding, contemplating the distance between her current hiding place and her destination. "Blondie..."
Although intended for the ungrateful boy that she'd saved on the cliff and his attempt to get into her family palace walls it seemed to conjure the small platinum blond boy that served as caretaker to her small personal courtyard garden. "Um, Sumimasen..."
Yoruichi huddled into the smallest black ball of fur she could huddle into as one of the guards crouched down to push away the leaves to see into the bushes she was currently hiding in. At the soft but insistent voice both guards were sufficiently distracted enough for the cat to dart out of her hiding place and behind them to a shrub the guard had already poked through.
"Shihōin-chan wished for a stone to be moved in her garden and I can't manage by myself," The small boy let them know how embarrassed he was at being unable to do his own duties, even at the tender age of ten (however many decades the boy'd already lived in the Soul Society).
The guards only made it worse by mocking the slight boy, and even pushing him roughly out of their way. "Where is this stone?" One of the guards, Keishu brayed.
Yoruichi watched the guards leave, the boy a few respectable steps behind so he could safely glance back and meet her golden eyes where no one should have seen her hiding. Grinning a toothy grin the kitten moved only after the trio had disappeared past the walls of her personal courtyard garden.
Following them was a necessity, given that her chambers only had one door (on the outer wall) and it led to the courtyard with only one gate. There were the two guards posted to the larger eastern gate nearby but none on the small gate into the courtyard, nor the door leading from the courtyard to her outer sitting chambers.
Before she realized she could use her shape-shifting to escape the long ago monotonous scenery of her coddled life, she had studied her pretty cage in her smaller form and knew the numerous hidey holes of it should she not want to bother leaving her grounds. As a small kitten the world was much funner, the increased senses, agility and toughness made her brave enough for her to slip out into the palace proper and its surrounding courtyard.
She'd only been sneaking out into the Rukongai a handful of months, first the woodlands, then the people-choked streets of the city not far from the walls of the Seireitei. She was still getting the hang of her new shape and its superior senses and even the better gasp the smaller shape gave her on her spiritual pressure.
It was easy to sneak past the guards as they were distracted by the huge rock and the thought of moving it. Yoruichi vaguely remembered wistfully wishing aloud that the rock be nearer to the koi pond so she could sit on it and sunbathe.
Leave it to-
"All the way over there? This damn thing is heavy!" The second guard Boyaku, complained.
Yoruichi giggled and it came out as a masculine chuckle as she shunpoed inside to the outer sitting room, she knew once she got to her bedchamber she'd be free to transform back.
Oh, no! Yoruichi darted under the nearest table as her personal guard, a very somber old man she like to call Jiji-san, but in truth was Kentetsu Furui of the Onmitsukidō, appeared from her inner sitting room, walking through her bedchambers toward her and the courtyard. She didn't have to see him to know he'd be in uniform, much like the two guards, all black with the orange haori and family crest, unlike the gate guards Kentetsu had the breadth of experience in his position-and more wrinkles.
Yoruichi knew if she kept still he might overlook her, and if he found her he would most likely just throw her into the moat without further thought. She curled into a furry ball and kept quiet.
"Not again," Kentetsu grumbled, his black tabi-clad feet filling Yoruichi's narrow field of view peering up from underneath the table. "Where are you hiding Shihōin-chan?"
Her breath froze in her tiny body, realizing she should have hidden in the pillows, she was a sitting duck! She could easily fit under this table in her larger human form meaning Kentetsu wouldn't hesitate to look for her here.
Yoruichi's sharp ears caught the furious shouts, even the sounds of flesh meeting flesh violently. Kentetsu turned and swiftly left for the courtyard.
"What is the meaning of this gentlemen?" Kentetsu's voice barked and Yoruichi quickly moved to the door to watch the two guards drop the boy and stand at attention.
"Nothing, Furui-sama," They chimed as if they had practiced to sound identical, cadence and everything.
"You should be at the gate correct?"
"Hai," They both chimed at the same time.
Watching them go with a barely contained growl Yoruichi resisted running out to check on her twice-over hero. As she focused on the boy's slight form she was surprised to see him lift his head and catch her gaze through the pale hair tousled into his face.
You did it on purpose! Fool! Yoruichi hissed through her sharp teeth and pulled out of view, turning to escape to her bedroom to get dressed.
Poor kid, Kentetsu sighed as he chased off the eastern gate guards. If they were going to slack off it might be prudent to suggest the placement of a guard or two at the princess's courtyard gate. "Oh, they broke your spectacles," He picked them up and examined the bent wires. "I'll see that they replace them-Ryūken-kun are you all right?"
They boy's eyes were fastened to the princess's door, only a moment before he looked up at Kentetsu. "Don't be foolish," He stood and quicker than the old warrior could see, the boy snatched the glasses from him. With a few quick twists of his small fingers the glasses were as good as new, none of the lenses broken thankfully.
"Have you seen Shihōin-chan?"
"Lost her again have you?" Ryūken taunted, even at his young age there was no mistaking his Quincy pride.
Even if no one knew he existed.
"I saw her sneak out early this morning," Ryūken crossed his arms over his chest, not showing how painful the motion was, hiding how hurt he was. "Toward the courtyard to watch the katas."
"At least you aren't stupid enough to lie," Kentetsu growled as he turned and left after the two guards.
Not bothering to spare his retreating form a glance Ryūken dashed across the garden and into the sitting chambers. "Yoru-chan?'
It was easy to detect her spiritual pressure, especially since she'd turned back into her human form. "Yoru-chan?" He called as he raced through the expansive bedchambers and on into the room (larger than his) that housed his princess's wardrobe.
There could be merely moments before Kentetsu came back this way, knowing he'd been misled and-"Baka!"
Ryūken threw up his hands to cover his eyes as he spun around and tried to stumble back out. "Moushiwake-gozaimasen Yoru-chan!"
"No!" Yoruichi called and something hard hit his bruised back. "You know I don't care!" She whispered furiously as she turned to find a simple maroon silk robe to tie over her, even if she still looked no different in shape than the boy at her age. 'Ladies have modesty,' Ryūken had once growled at her flustered.
It was the only time she remembered him losing his calm.
With a bow of his head he opened his eyes and turned to see a silk slipper had been the missile so well-aimed and thrown impossibly hard while his back was turned. Either that or I'm more hurt than I though!
"What did you tell Keishu and Boyaku to make them beat you?"
At her heated words Ryūken decided not to try to lift his head to meet her eyes. He hadn't seen which robe she'd chosen and found himself curious. "I may have brought the purity of their mothers into question in a condescending manner."
"Condescending?" Yoruichi frowned and moved closer to him, wishing he'd stop bowing his head like that. He had always been the only one not to, he looked into her eyes and still made her feel respected. "Did your dad teach you that one?"
"That's what one of them said," Ryūken described. "I knew it from Sōken yes...but Boyaku called me a, 'little condescending bastard'."
"Boyaku knows, ha!" Yoruichi's eyebrows hitched up in surprise. "And Kentetsu?" She stepped close enough to lift Ryūken's head with a small hand under his chin.
Ryūken stepped back out of her reach as she surprised him by actually touching him, he hadn't though she would act so familiar with him. "I told him you had gone to watch the kata this morning."
"It's almost over," Yoruichi moved out of the room past Ryūken without touching him and he followed a few steps behind. "He won't be gone long."
"You're back early," Ryūken managed to sound casual even if he knew he was in no position to demand information from the only child of the Shihōin noble family. They had been friends since Ryūken had gotten picked up by Kentetsu, at first to work in the palace stable.
Yoruichi quickly told the tale of her adventures outside the castle with the small blond boy and his larger dark-haired friend. She moved into the outer sitting room so that Ryūken wouldn't get in trouble for being inside. She moved to flop down into the pillows surrounding her previous hiding place, the table was bare, but she usually had her small meals here. She looked across the room to watch Ryūken drop onto the edge of the rug a few feet away from the table.
She usually would have waved him closer, so they could giggle over the more comedic details of her dangerous morning excursion into Rukongai. With Kentetsu probably on his way back to her chambers Yoruichi was sure he wouldn't want to get caught doing something even a bit improper, he might not even stay to talk. "Ryū-kun..."
Their eyes met and a small smile curved his lips. "Yoru-chan?"
"Thank you for moving my rock."
The small smile curled upwards into a full-blow smile, something she hadn't had many opportunities to see on the solemn boy, "Of course, Yoru-chan." Ryūken nodded, his soft pale hair moving down over his glasses. "But it was mostly Keishu."
A soft giggle escaped Yoruichi as she watched the boy tossed his hair back then gently push his finger against the bridge of his glasses so it slid up into place on his face. "Surprising Boyaku would shirk even that much work."
Startled Yoruichi looked up as Ryūken jumped to his feet. She looked around to see if Kentetsu was within sight, only to miss Ryūken as the boy darted out the door, sliding it shut behind him before Yoruichi even heard the door from her inner sitting room to her bedchambers. She stood and moved into her room and Kentetsu came to a stop a few steps inside her room.
"Shihōin-chan, where have you been-?"
"Jiji-san!" She cheered and laughed. "You found me!"
"Where have you been?" Kentetsu continued doggedly, the glower on his face made Yoruichi happy Ryūken had escaped, even if to stay out of his sight a few moments more.
"Watching the exercises in the yard," She moved quickly to him and threw her arms around his middle to hug him. He patted her head, tousling short unbound layer of her long purple hair affectionately. "I was hiding."
Giggling Yoruichi pulled away and moved out of his reach as she detected the irritation in his voice. She had hid from him more often than just this one time; she had been going missing for short stints ever since she had first shape-shifted nearly four years ago. "It's not a good hiding place if everyone knows where it is!"
Kentetsu gave a labored sigh, a good sign that he was at the end of his rope that Yoruichi was familiar with. "Geboku is ready in the sunroom for your calligraphy lesson."
Frowning Yoruichi moved to find her favorite slippers, black silk with a decent gripping sole. She turned in time to watch Kentetsu moving across her room, after Ryūken no doubt. "Jiji-san!" She cheered and ran to him, faster than most could track, she hadn't mastered her spiritual energy well enough in her human shape to shunpo but she got close. "You're going to walk me to my lesson right?"
"Walk you..?" Kentetsu's exasperation was finally coming out in his voice.
Yoruichi was tempted to make an innocent comment about losing her way by herself, even if she knew the large palace like the back of her hand, even better than its builders did. "Do you have somewhere else to be Jiji-san?" She let her bottom lip stick out a little as she frowned and tried to control the level of princess whine in the question.
"Some of the guards roughed up Ryūken-kun earlier, I was just going to see if he was all right," Kentetsu turned and met the sharp golden eyes of his princess.
"Oh Ryū-kun's all right," Yoruichi moved to take Kentetsu's sword-calloused hand, tugging impatiently. "Geboku'll be grumpy and take it out on me the entire lesson if we're too late."
"You've seen Ryūken-kun?"
"Yup, just a moment ago, he was going to take my favorite hakama to the wash," Yoruichi quickly blurted, remembering she actually needed someone to do so, she had taken them off while shifting in her closet and none of the servants searched through her things thoroughly enough to see where she stashed her clothes while she was gone.
She knew Ryūken wouldn't do something as menial as that, especially since he thought her father let her wear far too masculine clothes, hakama included. She didn't particularly care, she just wanted to keep the two apart until Kentetsu cooled off and forgot about the boy.
Unfortunately it seemed the information only helped Kentetsu decided to find the child where Yoruichi claimed he was. He was soon tugging on her arm as he led the way out of her bedchambers and through the inner sitting room. Yoruichi remained silent as he led her toward the sunroom, and the laundry.
From her second favorite pastime as a kitten - snooping - Yoruichi knew that the only people aware of her first favorite pastime, escaping were: Ryūken her only real friend, Kentetsu her personal guard, and Geboku her personal servant (who was only partially aware her princess went places without her in tow).
The only person aware that her hobby took her outside the palace walls was Ryūken and Yoruichi was sure nobody knew-even the boy himself-that he was such an important person in her life. She had met the lanky boy five years ago when he had been responsible for the vilest of chores in the stable. She didn't know how he had managed the feat but only a few weeks after their chance encounter she had found herself with a self-appointed gardener and her first true friend.
She had never been able to wrestle the information out of the boy, and was afraid to mention it to any adult, least he lose a position not officially assigned to him. She had even debased herself with pleading in a whiny voice-so childish-but he never told her how he'd gotten the job.
Probably because he did it well. He had made her flowers flourish after a few months of his tending. Maybe he'd made the mare extra productive while caring for the stalls and earned himself the right to request where to use his gift.
Snooping told her he had been born outside the Seireitei. It seemed he wasn't forthcoming with where his family might reside, even if none of the palace guard were interested in pushing him when he was probably just an orphan.
The boy had spoken a few times about his father Sōken but only in private conversation with Yoruichi, which were truly few and far between. Although time and time again Yoruichi reminded Ryūken of his more important capacity as her only friend, he kept distance between them.
Ryūken called it a "respectable" distance but his insistence on keeping it wasn't why she felt he still treated her like a princess. She felt that respect even when they were close, and it had the added warmth of companionship.
Before Ryūken she'd been alone. A shape-changing oddity-although she let nobody know, she still felt it-not to mention a princess, only heir to the Shihōin noble family. Kids were ordered to play with her and once she had discovered that truth she had been unable to fake it.
Yoruichi had found it easy to confess that secret to the boy the night he'd shown up raking the sand in her courtyard. He had immediately huddled close to her as they sat watching the fish and told her the story of his people, the Quincy. Mostly he muttered about pride and how he was among the last, along with his father.
Sōken and Ryūken's mother-whose name was another secret he kept for himself-had made it to the Soul Society. These days the shinigami didn't keep it a secret that they'd rather keep the "troublesome" souls of Quincy from the Cycle of Rebirth altogether but even the well-educated princess hadn't been allowed to hear of the people, and she'd seen neither hide nor hair of them in Rukongai. Yoruichi could only remember Ryūken talking of his mother that once and never again. The princess suspected they were the only two Quincy that had made it through the veil.
It had made her feel even more close to the boy after hearing he had only a father, like her. She hadn't gotten a lot of information about Sōken - Ryūken kept his family pretty close to his chest - but she found herself making unconfirmed parallels between her family and the Quincy's. She had never known her mother, she had died during childbirth and Yoruichi had always wondered if Ryūken suffered from such a guilt, being responsible for the death of one's own mother.
Yoruichi's small fingers clamped as hard as they could around Kentetsu's large wide hand as he began to slip it from her grasp. "Jiji-san?"
"You can make it this far can't you?" Kentetsu teased, and indeed they were at a junction of three hallways and the sunroom was at the end of the right fork.
The laundry room was a floor down, the stairs at the end of the left fork.
"I-I..." Yoruichi tried to keep her face from scrunching up in worry as she tried her best to think of something, something other than the truth. She wouldn't let anyone else know her secret. "If I tell you where I was hiding while I was watching the katas would you leave Ryū-kun alone?"
Startled Kentetsu's dark eyes widened and he gave an involuntary quick intake of breath before glancing around the empty hallway. "Shihōin-chan-"
"Two of my hiding places?" She could give away all of them and still have the best way to hide from everyone. "Ryū-kun was beat by those brutes Keishu and Boyaku, do you think he needs to be harmed more today?"
Their eyes met over the height difference and the respectable foot or two of distance their joined hands allowed. "I won't hurt him, Shihōin-chan, if that is your wish."
"It is. He's my only friend."