In the silence of the street, Rukia looks down at the sleeping boy, then quietly, vehemently swears. She does not see the pale, dark-haired woman standing behind her, not even when Sodeno Shirayuki reaches down and winds her fingers in her dark, dishevelled hair. She can't, now.
"Ah," the woman says to herself.
They stop like this for an age, Sodeno Shirayuki watching Rukia watch the boy. It is not until a slim, warm arm snakes itself around her waist that she releases the girl, looks up.
"Sister," Benihime murmurs from behind her, her voice dark and rich as blood.
"Sister," she greets in return, her own voice the high, clear ringing of ice. She turns her face to Benihime's red, red mouth, her sharp, white teeth.
"It has been too long," Benihime says after a long moment.
"Indeed. You are sorely missed," she agrees.
"Come," the red woman says, and takes her hand. Behind her, doors, of rosewood and silk and golden, crimson-edged light.
Soden Shirayuki allows her take her through chamber after chamber after chamber, a dizzying labyrinth of hidden rooms, painted walls, embroidered satins and gossamers. Under their bare feet, ebony and fur, carpets of every colour and make. Benihime's domain is a maze built to dazzle the eyes, bewilder the senses; none pass or leave this place against her will.
The women stop at last in the largest hall of all, long and wide and low ceiling-ed. Benihime releases her sister's hand then to turn and look at her. White-skinned, black-haired, they could be mirror images, not just sisters. But Benihime is the smaller, curved of breast and hip, Sodeno Shirayuki the taller, straighter, her lips frosted with ice. The white woman takes the other's face in her cold, soft hands.
"Your exile has treated you well," she says.
"Kisuke tries," Benihime observes. "But there are none worthy of me here."
"Of course not," Sodeno Shirayuki says with a curl of her lip.
The red woman reaches up, curls a hand into the elaborate coiffure of her sister's hair. "And what of you? Were you much hurt? So reckless of her, to risk you as she did."
Sodeno Shirayuki stiffens at the words, turns her head to tilt her chin up. "I will recover. We will recover. If it were not for that foolish, horrible boy -"
"Kisuke thinks him interesting," Benihime purrs, reaching back to pull a long pin from her own hair, dropping it. Her hair begins to fall loose, shedding jewels and ornaments on the floor behind her.
"That is no concern of ours," the white woman dismisses. "I only need for Rukia to regain her power, that I may return. We will learn from this, the mistake will not happen again."
"She is still so young," the red woman says, and smiles. "It must be so hard on you."
"She is over-burdened with foolish worries," her sister admits. "She does not listen to me as she ought, it is most vexing."
Benihime tches in sympathy. "Shinigami," she says. "Wilful, exasperating creatures, all of them. Kisuke is no better. He is infuriating, when the mood takes him."
"He could not be anything less, to have taken you away to this fool place.".
"Forget them, for the time," Benihime whispers, one hand undoing Sodeno Shirayuki's wide obi. "It's been so long since I've had company."
Sodeno Shirayuki rakes her fingers through the other woman's hair, fine as silk and dark as sin. "For a time," she agrees. Her white robe slides from her shoulders, brocade and pearls pooling on the floor around her, and she steps from them.
Benihime's obi loosens, her robe falling open.
She looks up, smiles, and bends her head to a soft, licking kiss.