Kurohyou Keikan

Kentetsu's Best Offer

Yoruichi heard the footsteps easily through the door as she approached it from the other side; she had only just shifted to cat form and started to leave her chambers. She was getting so good with her kitty senses that she could tell the soft pattern was Geboku.

Hopefully not to retrieve her or the alarm that she was gone would sound early. She wanted to give that blond brat a good beating as she was able with her rudimentary fighting skills.

The few she'd gleaned from watching katas-which she actually did occasionally-and the small amount Ryūken had taught her. He was good with a staff, but she found he excelled at archery...so why learn close quarters when you could pick them off before they're able to close the distance.

Otousan forbid her to learn to fight since he was cowardly enough to worry she'd get hurt. Kentetsu and most of his comrades secretly agreed with Yoruichi-though they'd never tell the child (too bad she'd been curled up under one of their tables)-considering she was the only true heir of the Shihōin noble family.

"But Shihōin-sama will never understand simply because he isn't Shihōin by blood," Ryūken had muttered the fierceness of his conviction didn't fool Yoruichi, even at her age. How well he must empathize with the princess, also being the last of her kind, a warrior race that longed to fight to be free. Even now.

The excitement of yesterday's encounter with the fifth seat and subsequent chase through Rukongai had been the true reason she'd shifted earlier in the day than usual. Yoruichi curled into the smallest ball she could as she hid under the piles of pillows neatly piled on her bed.

Geboku walked over toward the closet and disappeared inside a moment before reemerging and leaving the room without even looking for the princess. By now Yoruichi was pretty sure the lady didn't want to be the one to tell otousan or Kentetsu that she was missing.

As soon as she was gone Yoruichi shot out of the room focusing on her kitty agility instead of her spiritual energy. She was about to shunpo through the garden when small but strong arms trapped her.

After knowing him so many years her kitty nose recognized Ryūken's scent. Yoruichi was glad she'd taken her form seriously, learned its strengths and weaknesses,-in short taught herself how to truly be a cat-otherwise Ryūken might have gotten friendly with her claws.

"Furui-san is on his way to give the guards on this side of the grounds some company," Ryūken whispered as he carried her toward the garden exit.

Yoruichi craned her neck around the slim boy to see the two normal day guards at the nearby gate. "Do you think he'll put someone on my personal courtyard gate?" She whispered in her rumbling voice.

The corners of Ryūken's mouth tilted upward a bit at Yoruichi's masculine voice. "Not yet, but I know he's going to ask Shihōin-sama for permission."

"No!"

Ryūken glanced around semi-alarmed that the cat's loud exclamation would carry. "He's bringing two more for the gate right now, and I'm pretty sure he'll try to stay all morning."

"Where are you taking me?" Yoruichi had calmed enough to whisper and relax in the boy's gentle hold.

"I just wanted..." Ryūken cleared his throat. "Wanted to tell you about the guards. Were you leaving?"

"Just about to."

"Furui-san said..." Ryūken mumbled unintelligibly and stopped walking to glance back toward the gate.

Yoruichi stretched and was able to catch Kentetsu's voice and numerous footsteps getting louder. "Ryū-kun let me go!"

"What do you want me to tell him?" Ryūken loosened his arms to allow the kitten to jump to the ground.

"The truth! I mysteriously escaped and am out running around out in Rukongai," The cat moved out of sight into the bushes and Ryūken found himself stepping after her hesitantly, he hated when she left, would rather not know she had left than watch her walk away and do nothing. "And that I'll be back!"

Ryūken's keen eyes lost the feline as she disappeared through a drainage pipe. He stared a few moments as he tried not to chase after. "Kentetsu said you thought of me as your only friend."

The boy had overheard the scathing tirade Kentetsu had delivered to Geboku and the other servants close to the princess-at least half a dozen. As his harsh voice spoke the Quincy had felt his heart fill with shame but by the end figured out that the soldier was upset because the princess was so closely tied to the gardener.

He'd only heard the word thrown around a few times in a vicarious manor. She had told Kentetsu to leave him alone because he was her only friend.

Kentetsu caught sight of the pale boy only a few feet out of the bushes. He waved the boy toward him as he left the two new guards to keep company with the two old guards.

The warm smile on the old man's face threw Ryūken for a loop as they moved into the garden. "Ryū-kun I have good news."

With an inward cringe Ryūken wondered what the guardian would do to "protect" the princess. He moved to the stone he'd gotten the guards to move, wishing Yoruichi was there to sit with him.

"Shihōin-dono wants you to join the royal guard," Kentetsu announced after making sure there was only Ryūken to hear.

Surprised Ryūken felt a quiver of fear, "Why?"

"I suggested it, you're old enough and I've seen you with a bow," Kentetsu complimented and Ryūken tried his best not to grin at the approving chime to the father figure's words. "You're capable of more than tending a garden. Most of the new recruits get their foot in the door using their family names, but I've decided to speak for you."

Quietly Ryūken shook his head as he thought about what the kind words hid and as he looked up he saw what was behind the mask of kindness and was very glad he refused. It was only too easy to recall the real face that belonged to this man, one that had shouted about a princess sinking to the level of a boy that cleaned horse stalls and dug in the dirt.

"Why are you shaking your head?" Kentetsu's voice rumbled. "Do you think you have a choice? Your choices are reflected on me from now on."

"The only reason they would is if I decided to join the guard," Ryūken countered. "I'm sure the only reason Shihōin-sama even cares is because you brought it up," He shook his head softly again. "I have a duty to the princess."

"Of course you do!" The voice didn't match the face yet but it was getting there. "To protect the princess...Which you can't do."

Kentetsu noticed the pride that puffed the small boy's chest out, his posture getting much stricter. He knew the child had an ego of a warrior in his prime, knew the right words to get him to accept this suggestion. "Your guards can't do the job?"

Fury rose inside Kentetsu but he kept it reined in, a harsh bark of laughter the only evidence of it. "I thought you had the ability...The drive to be a warrior but-"

"I was born a warrior," Ryūken hissed, his voice coming out filled with the pride billowing inside him as the man that had just been praising him was questioning those very words. The boy had to bite his lip to keep himself from continuing, the words that so freely fell from his lips when he defended his honor as a Quincy.

"Show me."

Ryūken stood and gave a polite bow of his blond head, "Sumimasen, Furui-san." He moved to pass the man but cried out as fingers dug into his shoulder and nearly broke something with the force he turned the boy to face him with.

With a gasp of pain and realization Ryūken glared defiantly up at the old man. He wanted Ryūken away from Yoruichi and he was using any means necessary. This tactic was probably the best he was going to offer, the support of a veteran already in the royal guard. It was just a scam that he was going to learn how to fight so that he could protect the princess, Ryūken was positive that as soon as he said yes he would never see his princess again.

Kentetsu wouldn't stop, and he had the authority and sway with the head of the Shihōin family to make Ryūken miserable. He had relied on people overlooking him to get where he was today. Nobody had appointed him the caretaker of the princess's garden, he had "gone missing" long enough for the stable master to think he had run away from his job, then he had shown up to assist the harried palace gardener Atsuryoku.

Trapped Ryūken's mind went over appropriate responses. As a young child just being sure of himself had gotten him the duty of taking care of the small courtyard so the palace gardener had just one less job to fill his demanding day. "I'll..." He paused as his voice wavered as he was almost overwhelmed by Kentetsu's assertive demeanor. "I'll make you proud, like a son..."

"Of course-"

"If!" Ryūken interrupted and the old man merely smiled indulgently, he smelled victory. "You let the princess learn to fight too."

"No."

There wasn't even enough silence for Kentetsu to have thought about it even a second before answering. "Sumimasen," He murmured before slipping his shoulder out of the man's loosened fingers, his movement away from the soldier so fast it would have made Yoruichi proud. It would have made Sōken proud.

Part of him really wanted to change his mind, he hadn't learned enough from his father before they had been separated. He worked as often as he could on the rudimentary skills alone and with the princess but he knew the Shihōin family guard not only taught boys and girls of the lesser noble houses like Fon and Tsukabishi but also the guardians of Soul Society the Onmitsukidō and old students of the house taught hakuda, at the Shinō Academy.

The only person that could teach him to be a better warrior would be his father, because the part of him that spoke now-the Quincy-knew that not even the best archer in the guard could hold a candle to Sōken.

"Shihōin-dono doesn't want the princess to harm herself in such endeavors," Kentetsu objected, and Ryūken could hear that the old man's irritation had been redirected at the stubbornness of his noble.

Ryūken stopped as he neared the exit, set on getting away from the guard before he could remember he was trying to separate the boy from his charge. "The bigger crime isn't my missing out on training because of my lack of a household to speak for me but Shihōin-chan missing out on training she was destined to learn and teach others."

"Ryūken-kun!" Kentetsu growled and Ryūken almost ran for it as the man's eyes practically glowed with fury. "You overstep-"

"I mean no disrespect to Shihōin-sama but he is not a warrior," Ryūken murmured getting ready to flee as he chose his words carefully. "Only sensei can pass down the style of the Shihōin house, when only Shihōin-hime should have such an honor. My princess should be the one that leads the kata, but she has to hide in the bushes and watch in secret."

The words weren't what Kentetsu wanted to hear but Ryūken could tell by his reaction to them that he had thought those words numerous times. "Shihōin-dono will not allow it."

Ryūken met the old man's gaze over the garden and repeated softly, "Sumimasen, Furui-san."

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