Characters/Pairings: Isshin, Yoruichi, Urahara
Word Count: 1,153
Summary: It's been a long time since they last saw each other.
Notes: For exiled_love's April Fool's contest; prompt was "by the morning light." Strongly inspired by Placebo's song "In the Cold Light of Morning"
It is a bleak, bleak morning. The rain pounds against the roof, slants across the window panes like a personal attack. It certainly feels that way, this oddly cold July morning, and Isshin considers closing the clinic just for today. Just once -- but that would be selfish, to cut off his services to the needy. He will not be selfish, he thinks, and pulls on his coat to brave the chill and wind.
"It's been a long time," says a voice from off to the side (and oh, he recognises it immediately, but he jerks his head anyway) and Isshin stops in his tracks. She languishes on the sofa, sprawled comfortably and lazily over its entire length. "Hasn't it, Kurosaki?"
He tries not to show his surprise, but it's too hard -- too hard, because it feels like he hasn't seen her in over three centuries. "What brings you here, Yoruichi?" That joke of a father is gone -- that clown who interferes in the Kurosaki's everyday life is a mere facade to keep up spirits in the household, to give them something to be embarrassed about, to distract his children from the pains and woes of real life -- and in the jester's place is a knight, battle-weary and calm.
She lifts one shoulder in an elegant half-shrug. "Make me some tea," she orders him (it's so natural, to give these orders to someone she's always viewed as half-colleague, half-subordinate).
"Kisuke says you have a son, now. And daughters." She sips her tea in a surprisingly dainty fashion. He never expected that from her, that noble-woman who thrives upon rebellion. "I suppose you couldn't fight forever."
He's seated across from her; she's still got the couch (as the guest) and he, good old Isshin, sits in his mother-in-law's old, rickety rocking chair. It strains beneath his weight, and he holds his breath to keep it from falling apart. "You're still in touch with him?"
Her teeth flash white against dark, smooth skin. "As of several days ago," she responds. "Your son is really something, Kurosaki, you know that?"
"I know." His chest swells in something like pride, and a little something like pain. There's a sadness in his eyes, and it isn't just because of his wife's death. Yoruichi sees it, and sets her teacup on the table.
"You don't want him to become a shinigami," Yoruichi notes insightfully, finally sitting up on the couch, crossing her legs. She seems more attentive now, more easy to talk to. Isshin remembers their late night talks back at the academy, back when they wore their captains' insignia with the deepest sense of pride. But those are nothing but memories now, faded at the edges and losing their colour like bleeding polaroids. Her smile mocks him. "You don't want him to become one of the honoured few spirits, huh? The purest of the pure?"
Isshin snorts. Yoruichi's grin widens and transforms into something infinitely more genuine. "Don't blame you, really. Things are getting more segregated between the poor souls and us -- that's part of the reason I left, after all."
Isshin, perhaps, never anticipated those words to come out of her mouth, but -- well, he seemed to feel that when he saw her on his couch. "So you left."
"Before they could find a reason to get rid of me, yeah. Anyway," She laughs, and her eyes narrow into amused slits of amber-gold. "Anyway, I don't like authority. I don't like being cooped up." She pauses, taking another sip from her cup, and her eyes suddenly connect with his. Her gaze is piercing; Isshin finds it difficult to return her stare.
"Kisuke seems to have big plans for your boy, Kurosaki." She turns away (to Isshin's relief) to stare out the window, as though it has the answers to everything she's ever wanted to know. "Thinks he can tip the balance, or something. Maybe he can do something that we can't. Maybe he can change things. Maybe he can do what we couldn't do."
There is a strong undertone of regret in her words, and Isshin more than understands it; he feels it within his bones, that constant refrain of if only, if only, if only I'd... and suddenly, he finds it hard to concentrate.
"He's a lot like you, you know," she says, with a laugh, and Isshin's broken from his trance, and he manages a grin. He will be the clown, now, and he will joke, because of Yoruichi is strong enough to do so, then Isshin -- the one who has quite a bit to lose, quite a bit in the form of his own flesh and blood (oh, and he can't lose anyone else, he can't) -- can match her strength and make it double.
"Handsome, strong, and debonair?" he inquires with what he considers a winning smile.
Yoruichi's lip curls upwards. "Powerful and dense," she tells him (but her expression is soft, sad, and teasing all in one), "and too kind for his own good." She rises in one fluid motion and heads to the door. "I'll see you around, maybe," she says, with gently hooded eyes. "Depends on how much guidance your idiot of a son needs. But it seems he might not come home for a few months. He's got a rescue mission, after all."
"Take care of him," Isshin says, as stern as he can possibly be. "Don't let that idiot scientist experiment on him."
"Of course," she says, and her hand twists the doorknob. The rain is still pounding a pattern on the roof, and she lifts her hood over her head to protect her from the water. "And next time, make sure to have scones ready. Tea seems so incomplete without good food to enjoy it with."
She's gone, in a torrential downpour (leaving the door wide open, perhaps, out of spite) and despite himself, Isshin smiles.
"You never were the kind to ask for permission," Yoruichi notes in her feline form, rubbing against Urahara's ankles. "What's so different about now?"
Urahara pulls his hat lower over his eyes, hiding everything but an enigmatic smile from her view. In the distance, Ichigo dodges Ururu's lethal punches with a blundering lack of grace and only medicore speed. "I owed him that much," he says, and Yoruichi does not ask why.
"When do we leave?" is her only question, and Urahara's smile only grows larger.
"Tomorrow. Prepare yourself, Yoruichi, because it won't be easy. I can promise you that." His hand rests on her fur, heavily oppressive and comforting at the same time.
Yoruichi licks her paw and says nothing.
Tomorrow comes, cloudy, humid, bleary. The kettle whistles like an alarm, and in its shrillness, Isshin hears its message.
Ichigo will not be back for quite some time, he knows. Yoruichi may never come again.
He plasters a smile on his face to hide his gut-wrenching worries and pours the water and its message down the drain to swish away the un-drunk dregs of yesterday.