'They are parts of a circle.' Yoruichi, Urahara, Kaien, Kuukaku and Byakuya are friends. Even though they might not see each other much any more.
Despite what the people might believe, the nobles of the Four Great Noble Houses, Kuchiki, Shihouin, Urahara and Shiba, do still have feelings and emotions and relationships.
Byakuya considered the day he met Kaien, Kuukaku, Yoruichi and Kisuke one of the best and one of the worst days of his life.
It was his first official social visit, an occasion usually made simply for other nobles to gawk and coo over him, treating almost like a pet rather than a thinking, feeling person. It was usually an occasion for nobles to pat his head and comment on how he had grown before going off to curry favour with his parents.
But this was different.
Byakuya was to be officially acknowledged as the heir of the Kuchiki clan during the social visit, something that marked him as 'grown' even though his face was still childishly round. He expected to be treated like an adult, and expected to be acknowledged as his own person rather than his parents' child.
It was one of the best and one of the worst days of his life because, during that day, his expectations were crushed under the sandaled feet of the wolves dressed as nobles. He was still seen as a child and insignificant. On the other hand... on the other hand, it was the first time he knew that there was more to life than being a noble and the heir of the Kuchiki clan.
It was the first time he was treated as a /person/.
When Byakuya had, by accident, walked into the room where the four of them was busy getting drunk and playing their own version of shogi, he had almost walked out again. Kaien couldn't blame him.
Honestly, who wouldn't try to walk out when he sees a half-naked Yoruichi (always an exhibitionist, always will be) playing shogi against an equally naked Urahara while cackling away like a mad woman? Not to mention Kuukaku was cheering them on while waving a sake dish around and spraying alcohol everywhere. He was run with his tail between his legs if not for the fact that he was half-naked himself.
But, at that moment, Kuukaku had gotten up and dragged him inside, proclaiming Byakuya as her next improvised-shogi partner because 'honestly, aniki, you suck at this.'
When Byakuya, in a futile ploy to escape, protested that he didn't know how to play, Kuukaku had laughed and sat him down and dragged Kaien over, telling him to 'teach that kid to play so I won't have to play against your lousy ass'.
The next morning, when the house was in an uproar because all the five heirs of the Four Great Noble Houses were missing, Kaien, Kuukaku, Urahara and Yoruichi woke up naked with hangovers, staring at the smirking and proud Kuchiki Byakuya.
It was only three years later that Byakuya told Kaien that he had an exceptional talent for shogi ever since he was born.
When Urahara was made Captain of the Twelve at the same time Yoruichi was made the Commander of the Secret Mobile Corps, Kuukaku had decided to make a personalized firework show in celebration. It was her first.
Even though Urahara and Yoruichi ended up with morbid fears of fireworks ever since, Kuukaku would always swear that it was her best performance.
As the two youngest boys in the group, Kaien and Byakuya were insanely competitive with each other. (However, while Kaien took it as a game, it was life-or-death situation for Byakuya)
When Kaien graduated the Shinigami Academy after only a year and was immediately drafted into the Thirteenth Division, Byakuya swore to exceed him.
Two years later, Byakuya entered Division Six without even stepping through the doors of the Academy.
Kaien had to concede defeat. (Of course, that was only after he pretended to sulk for three days.)
In one of her rare reflective moments, Kuukaku had realized that she had always known that, in a way, she was the odd one out in their group, even though Byakuya was the youngest.
Kisuke and Yoruichi had always been together even before Kuukaku met them, inseparable in their own way. In a way, they acted as the mentors and advisors in the group, almost-but-not-quite parents to replace their distant, cold ones.
Kaien and Byakuya, competitive they might be, were best friends in the loosest term of the word. It was her brother who made Byakuya laugh most, and it was Kaien who could always convince Byakuya to drop the aristocrat mask and to simply be their friend.
It was a complete circle, two parts joining together through the separate third. Kuukaku was the one who held them together, to keep the two separate pairs from drifting away from each other.
It wasn't such a bad job to have, really.
Three days later, Urahara and Yoruichi left.
The remaining three were never told the reason why they had left, for while Urahara might endure a great punishment for inventing the untraceable gigai, nobody had ever thought he would be executed.
All they were left with was the question 'why'.
It was after that day that Byakuya started distancing himself from his only friends.
When Rukia entered the Gotei Thirteen, Byakuya made sure that she entered the Thirteenth Division, for while he was the Captain of the Sixth, he knew she would never fit into his Division.
He knew that Kaien was the only one able to treat her the way she wanted to be treated.
After Kaien died at Rukia's hands, Kuukaku refused to listen to Byakuya's explanations that it weren't his sister's fault. All she wanted, she said, in a cold, soft voice that Byakuya had never heard of, was to leave Sereitei with Ganjyu. They would manage just fine in Rukongai.
Byakuya knew she would survive, for she was strong and had people loyal to her.
It didn't stop him from being very, very angry at her and all of his friends, however, for they had left him behind, rushing to places where Byakuya could never follow, leaving him behind to chase after their shadows.
He never went to visit Kuukaku, although he always knew where she had moved. He always quietly chuckled at the designs of the houses she built, and watched her love for fireworks blossom in Rukongai the way it wasn't allowed to in Seireitei. He made sure, in his own quiet way, that she would be able to survive even when there was little business.
Kuukaku herself knew where the too-simple high-paying jobs came from when there was a slack in business, but she never called Byakuya onto it. She believed that he would admit to it when he wanted to.
And, besides, he never visits any more. If he did, he would have seen Yoruichi at least once.
Kuukaku supposed that that was enough punishment for him.
It hurt more than anything to see Yoruichi again on the bridge, loud and bold as always, almost unchanged by time. Byakuya was tempted, so tempted, to run forward and shake her, asking her where had she been and why was she gone but then he remembered that she was Criminal Number 59832, and not the Shihouin Yoruichi he once knew. He challenged her, forcing anger and fire into his eyes and voice even when he fought half-heartedly, not truly wanting to hurt his mentor.
He felt a strange sort of relief when she escaped.
Yoruichi had never regretted leaving Soul Society, but what she did regret was not telling those she cared for that she was leaving.
She saw Byakuya, fake-fire burning in his eyes and false anger in his voice, and wondered just what happened to the boy she knew to change him into the man that was now standing before her. The Byakuya she knew would never allow his sister to be executed, nor would he simply stand by and let a criminal escape.
She resolved to find out.
When she saw Ichimaru's sword nearly pierce Byakuya's heart, Kuukaku doubled the number of the spell she used. She figured that anyone who hurt a friend (family?), no matter how estranged, really, really pisses her off.
Then she got the news that Byakuya had hurt Ganjyu, and started planning Revenge.
Byakuya never expected to actually meet them while he was visiting the living world to get a report from Renji on the Arrankar situation. Although the rumours did reach him, he never thought he would meet them again, for he thought he had put that (human) part of the past behind him. But here he was, facing the two he hadn't seen in over a century and whom he had never expected to see again, seemingly unchanged from the last time he had seen them.
He knew Renji and Rukia was staring, knew that the tension in the air was heightened but he couldn't bring himself to speak. He couldn't bring himself to do anything as they stared at each other across the street. He reminded himself that they could never go back to what they were before.
The thought hurt more than he thought it would.
Byakuya turned, closing his eyes (he didn't want to see them, he didn't want to hope), ready to excuse himself, to leave before the memories he had shut away overwhelm him again. Before he could walk away, however, he felt a warm hand on his arm and a too-familiar presence and saw a too familiar mischievous smile before Urahara spoke.
"Why don't you come in, Byakuya?"
He could not refuse.
They were seated facing each other, Byakuya in his formal Shinigami robes and Urahara in his gigai and casual clothes and Yoruichi in her cat-form. Silence reigned between them, nobody knowing where to begin to pick up the pieces from over a century ago.
There was a Kaien-shaped hole in their words, and a Kuukaku-shaped gap in their interaction.
Of everything Yoruichi had imagined of a reunion, meeting on the street from Kisuke's shop and stony silence was never included.
After a while, when Kisuke took out the shogi board and started laying out the pieces, the silence became more comfortable, though still slightly stilted. Although all of them knew that it would be impossible to replace Kaien, Byakuya made a mental note to ask Kuukaku to come with him the next time he visits the living world.
They were the heirs of the Four Great Noble Houses, after all, and it wouldn't do for one to be missing.