dracoqueen22 (dracoqueen22) wrote,
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Bleach - The Beautiful Lie - Ch 27 - Plans

a/n: Plot. Plot. Plot. That's all this chapter is. Well, and a bit of drama and comedy at the end, too. Now, we get to see Ichigo's thoughts on his spur-of-the-moment action.

Enjoy.

Title: The Beautiful Lie
Pairings: Urahara/Ichigo, Aizen/Ichigo, Shinji/Nel
Rating: M
Warning: Spoilers for recent chapters, Character death, Yaoi-ness, Post-war fic, Violence
Description
: Years after the painful end, the echoes of war still prove their influence, and Ichigo discovers a dead man in his kitchen.
 
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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Plans
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What the hell was he thinking?

No, scratch that.

Ichigo knows exactly what he’d been thinking. He’s just wondering when the hell he had decided to act on it. He was angry, at Kisuke, at his dad, at everyone. And there Aizen was. So damn understanding and patient and infuriatingly handsome and Ichigo stopped letting himself think or consider logical possibilities. He'd just gone with a random urge, running brashly headfirst into something yet again.

And he'd liked it.

That’s perhaps the most confusing part of it all.

Ichigo wonders when he'd stopped thinking of Aizen as evil incarnate and started considering him something a little closer to human. Closer to friend.

More than that, he wonders what the hell he's going to do now. Things are going to be awkward, worse than awkward actually. He doesn't know what he wants.

A repeat performance? To pretend that it had never happened?

And by the gods, pray that Isshin never finds out; otherwise, there might very well be a murder in the hideout. He can't even begin to guess what Kisuke might do. Though Ichigo can safely assume that this isn’t going to make his attempts at getting Kisuke and Aizen to be civil with each other any easier.

Ichigo sighs and rubs his fingers over his aching forehead. He sits slumped in his chair and stares dully at the far wall; the persistent tick-tick of the wall clock is an annoying cadence on the edge of his thoughts. He's tired; it's been another sleepless night. One rife with nightmares and visions of the past and things he thought he’d chased away, but obviously, that relief was only temporary.

Logically, he recognizes that Aizen is an attractive man. Logically, Ichigo knows that Aizen is intelligent, patient, and truthful – insofar as Ichigo has seen. Logically, it’d stand to reason that he might be attracted to Aizen.

Except for the tiny, inconvenient little truth that Aizen tried to take over Soul Society years ago, started a war that killed some of Ichigo's friends, and is even now trying to continue his previously-failed plot. This time with Ichigo's help.

Ichigo groans. By the gods, when has his life become so fucking complicated? Even more complicated than before when he was a half-human, half-Shinigami, half-Hollow creature fighting in an invisible spirit war while trying to juggle high school and family life? And is it a bad sign that he misses those days and thinks back on them fondly?

The truth of the matter is that he doesn't see Aizen as the ultimate villain anymore. He knows on a base level that Aizen’s to blame for most of what ails him now. Just as he also knows that Seireitei isn’t making things any better. He understands what Aizen’s trying to accomplish; he gets the man's goals. He doesn't like his methods, granted, but Ichigo understands. Which means he's not as furious with Aizen as Kisuke or the Vizard. The latter of whom pretty much ignore his presence.

Still.

Where did he get off thinking it was a good idea to kiss Aizen fucking Sousuke?

Ichigo is pretty sure that he must have lost all his senses some time ago. That's the only thing that could possibly explain his current situation.

But a sudden knocking on his door forces Ichigo out of his endless cycle of thoughts. He scrubs fingers through his hair and looks up.

“Yeah?”

The door swings open without invitation. To be expected with Shinji lounging in the doorway, one hand still on the knob.

“Are ya comin' ta the meeting you called or what?” he asks, gaze sweeping over Ichigo critically.

Crap. Ichigo had completely forgotten about that.

He rises to his feet and hopes he doesn't look as tired as he feels. “I'm coming,” he says, and works his way across the floor. He doesn't care for changing out of his wrinkled clothes; they'll have to get over it.

Shinji smirks. “You forgot, didn't ya?”

“I didn't forget,” Ichigo returns defensively as he slides into the hallway, Shinji shutting the door behind them. “It just took the backburner compared to the other shit on my mind.”

The blond arches a brow. “The exact means ya plan ta use ta storm Soul Society aren't as important as... What now? Were ya brooding over Kisuke again?”

What is it with the Vizard and being unable to stay out of someone else's business? Granted, Ichigo hasn't been able to keep much of his drama out of sight, and everyone's had first-hand witness to the bullshit that has attacked him lately. But really, do they have to make a point of forcing him to talk about it?

“If that's your way of helping, it's not working,” Ichigo replies.

He doesn’t particularly want to discuss Kisuke right now. Or Isshin, for that matter. In fact, concentrating on invading Soul Society is looking to be the more appealing topic of discussion.

Shinji shoves his hands into his pockets. His critical eyes rake Ichigo from head to toe.

“Yanno, why don't ya let me give ya some advice?”

“Do I have a choice?”

And yes, it is a bit rude and snappish of him, but honestly, part of Ichigo doesn't care anymore. He's tired; he's sleeping alone in a cold bed because his sort-of lover can't be bothered to tell the truth and his former enemy has suddenly become the honest one.

Shinji nudges him with an elbow. “No, you don't.”

Ichigo can't tell if he's serious or teasing. Either way, Shinji draws to a halt and encourages him to do the same.

“I'm a hell of a lot older than ya, Ichigo. So I think I know what I'm talking about.”

Ichigo arches a brow and crosses his arms over his chest. “What's your advice?”

“Either let Kisuke go or cut him a break. ‘Cause it's not doing either of ya any good ta linger like this,” Shinji says, and of course, he would go there just when Ichigo's trying not to think about these things. “Also, how ‘bout a thumbs up for surprising Sousuke? I don't think I've seen him that speechless in quite some time.”

Ichigo's mouth opens and then clamps immediately shut. He feels a heat steal into his cheeks that he can't fight.

Shinji saw? Well, of course, Shinji saw. The Vizard are into everyone's business, and they're worse ninjas than the Onmitsukidoh. Frankly, Ichigo wouldn't be surprised if Lisa flounced up to him with video footage.

“I don't think either of those statements are any of your business,” Ichigo grumbles, looking away. He tries to sound stubborn and unyielding, but all he manages is an embarrassed mumble.

Shinji's arm slings across his shoulders. “Yer right. It normally wouldn't be. But since the tension between ya, yer suitors, and yer father’s making the atmosphere in my happy home covered by dark rain clouds, it's become my business.”

Suitors? As in plural.

Damn it but Shinji's probably right, since Ichigo had kissed Aizen and hadn't suffered a fist to the face in response. Then again, Aizen could’ve possibly been either too startled or unwilling to anger Ichigo and lose his help.

“What do you want me to do about it?” Ichigo questions. And frankly, if anyone can tell him how to solve all of this with the least amount of collateral damage, he's all ears.

“Fix it,” Shinji replies firmly, and something amused dances in his eyes. “Let Kisuke bow and scrape back into yer graces. Or pursue something with Aizen and completely cut Kisuke off. Hell, fuck 'em both. Maybe even at the same time.” He makes a waving gesture with his hand. “I really don't care. Just fix it.”

Ichigo chokes. He's unsure whether he should respond by cursing Shinji to hell or a more violent physical approach.

“Y--you!” At a loss for words, all Ichigo can do is sputter and wallow somewhere between humiliation and fury. “Whose side are you on anyway?”

Shinji gives him a commiserating pat on the shoulder and shoves his hands into his pockets. Then, he strides down the hall with a whistle on his lips.

“Why does everyone keep askin’ me that?” the blond wonders aloud and tosses a look over his shoulder. “Are ya coming ta this meetin’ or not?”

Ichigo shakes his head, trying to get his thoughts back in order and away from Shinji's idea of advice.

“I'm coming,” he answers and falls into step behind Shinji with something like a scowl.

The only room in the entire warehouse capable of holding and seating their entire group comfortably is the dining room. Ichigo twitches, remembering what happened the last time everyone gathered for a full meal. He'd learned more than a few things he hadn't cared to know and had been embarrassed beyond belief in the process. Since then, Ichigo had avoided “family” dinners, and he knows he isn't the only one.

Ichigo is the last to arrive, which makes him wonder if Shinji had been sent to fetch him. He takes his seat at the head of the table, across from Shinji at the other end and between Nel and Aizen. Sometimes, Ichigo suspects that Shinji plans the seating arrangements. Especially since he's put himself between Kisuke and Isshin, who are on the opposite end and far, far from Ichigo.

“Nice of you to join us,” Lisa drawls as she leans forward. “We were beginning to think you'd changed your mind.”

Ichigo pointedly does not look at Aizen. Even if it makes him feel like a juvenile for doing so.

“No, I was thinking about other things.”

He also wisely doesn’t look at Kisuke either.

Kisuke. Yes, another person that makes him go “why the hell did I kiss Aizen?” He still doesn't know how to answer Kisuke's questions either. Did they break up? Were they ever together? Ichigo's not ready to toss aside what they shared, but the truth of the matter remains. He wants answers, and if Kisuke won't give them, Ichigo doesn't know if he can keep going. He doesn't know what else Kisuke might conceal from him.

“Well, Ichigo,” Shinji says loudly, distracting everyone from the Menos Grande in the corner of the room that Ichigo refuses to discuss. “Why don't we get his meeting started? It's time ta go ta war.”

“Or something like that,” Ichigo cuts in.

Though he has to admit, Shinji’s right. He is more or less declaring war on Soul Society here, the same thing he had done years ago when he decided he was going to save Rukia no matter who or what got in his way. Except as a teenager, he hadn’t understood the enormity of such an undertaking.

He understands that now.

That of course is when everyone looks at him. As though he's the leader, and Ichigo comes to the startling realization that he actually is. That no one's going to listen to Aizen, and Kisuke has never approved of this course of action anyway, and Shinji's just going to follow whatever Ichigo says. The ball is in his court, and Ichigo's going to have to stand up and decide where it's going next.

He swallows thickly; he has no idea where to start. But then, his eyes settle on Hachi, and Ichigo decides that the logistics are just as important as the invasion.

He shifts uneasily in his seat and asks, “How's that gate coming?”

“I can get us into Soul Society, probably without being detected if Urahara-san gives me a hand,” Hachi replies, cheeks pinking a bit as all the attention swivels toward him. “But I'll need weeks more to figure out how to get past Urahara-san's exile.” He turns apologetic eyes toward the shopkeeper. “I'm sorry.”

Kisuke eyes flick toward Ichigo, but he manages a thin smile. “Completely understandable. I haven't the time or the means to create the necessary equipment either. Not without access to my own lab.”

“So what's the plan?” Hiyori demands, leaning back in her chair and propping her foot on the edge of the table. “How are we going to do this? Who's going?”

To be honest, Ichigo's not put much thought into this. Last time, he hadn't actually planned. He'd just headed straight for Seireitei, thinking he was going to be on his own until his friends showed up at the last minute. He'd had an objective and the will to pursue it, but he hadn't had a plan. They had never been his forte.

“Our goals are to get into Soul Society, get the King's Key, get by the Royal Guard somehow, and take the throne,” Ichigo says slowly, trying to work this out in his mind. “I suppose the first order of business is to get the key.”

His gaze swivels toward Aizen because he's the one who promised that. Something inside Ichigo does a little anxious and embarrassed flip, but nothing in Aizen's expression even hints to what had passed between them just yesterday. If he’s bothered by Ichigo’s actions, Aizen doesn't show it. Ichigo envies him for that composure. Mostly because he can't stop thinking about wanting to kiss Aizen again, and it's driving him crazy.

“You don't just need the key,” Aizen explains, his hands lying flat against the table. “You also need to know the path to the dimension gate.”

“Dimension gate?” Love repeats, face drawn with confusion. “I thought the key could open the gate anywhere.”

Aizen inclines his head. “A common misconception. One that Seireitei perpetuates in order to reduce attempts at usurping the throne. There is but one true gate, and it’s hidden.”

Rose looks skeptical. “And you know where it is?”

“I do. I researched,” Aizen replies simply, the fingers of his right hand tapping out a faint rhythm against the tabletop. “Dusty, crumbling books hidden in the library that I doubt even Yamamoto remembered. You'd be surprised what information Soul Society believes it has successfully hidden.” His gaze flickers Kisuke's direction briefly, and Ichigo wonders why.

Does it have to do with the things that Kisuke hasn't told him? Or maybe something related to why Aizen seems to loathe Kisuke so much in return? That last part is what has always confused Ichigo. He understands why Kisuke hates Aizen. But he can't figure out why Aizen seems to hold the same bitter loathing in return. It's not a matter of reciprocal hatred either; there's something there, some truth that Ichigo’s yet to discover.

“So where is it?” Hiyori demands. Her foot wriggles against the table as she levels Aizen with a glare that makes even Ichigo shiver.

Aizen arches a brow, more amused than intimidated. “That is information I'll keep to myself, if you don't mind. It’s all the leverage I have to ensure that I am not left behind.” He pointedly does not look at Kisuke, but Ichigo knows the jab is that way nonetheless.

Luckily, Kisuke doesn’t take the bait. He clenches his jaw and narrows his eyes, but he doesn't start a verbal spar at the table.

Interesting.

“And the key?” Neliel asks, soft voice carrying easily through the room. “How are you getting it? You're not planning to try and create another one, are you?”

Aizen shakes his head. “I have to need to create one since I have a means to acquire the original key.”

“How?” Kisuke asks, somehow managing to not sound belligerent or inflammatory. There's nothing but pure curiosity in his voice. Perhaps he’s learning after all.

A stab of nostalgia seeps into Ichigo's being as he looks at his lover – former lover? He does miss Kisuke; that’s one truth Ichigo can't deny. Before they were lovers, they were friends. And before that, teacher and student. There's a connection Ichigo is unwilling to abandon, one he can't lose so easily.

Aizen meets his gaze evenly. Though the tension simmers between them like a heat mirage, it doesn't emerge verbally.

“Someone is going to give it to me.” His fingers still. “And no, I won't tell you who.”

Hiyori's eyes narrow. She’s perhaps the only person at the table who hates Aizen as much as Kisuke. Ichigo isn’t quite sure why. But then, Hiyori seems to either dislike or hate most people. She’s even threatened Inoue in the past, and Inoue is about as scary and intimidating as melted marshmallows.

“Why not?” Hiyori all but snarls then.

“Because I already owe this person a great debt,” Aizen responds evenly, and Ichigo already has his suspicions just who’s going to help him. “And no one needs to know their name. Just in case.”

Love's forehead wrinkles. “In case of what?”

“In case this whole plan fails, we lose, and everything falls to shit,” Isshin inserts with a snort. He leans forward once he has everyone's attention. “I don't think any of you realize what we're up against. Facing off against the Gotei 13 is one thing. Taking on the entirety of the Royal Guard is a completely different story.”

Ichigo straightens and pins his father with an accusing stare. “And how would you know that?”

But it’s Kisuke who answers.

“Because Isshin used to be one of them.”

There’s a moment of stunned silence where Isshin looks at Kisuke with nothing short of betrayed surprise. Ichigo just stares at his former lover with the same shock echoed in his expression.

What's this? An answer with an element of truth?

Kisuke straightens, something like resolve painted into his features. “If you're not going to tell them, then I will,” he says with greater firmness this time. “They need to know what we face, and it's about time you offered a helping hand for once in your life.”

Ichigo blinks. Last he remembers, Kisuke and Isshin had more or less settled their differences. But apparently, not all of the issues have been laid to rest. Or perhaps this is just Kisuke's way of proving he's not going to hide the answers anymore. Maybe he's just trying to encourage Isshin to do the same. Ichigo doesn't know; he can't even begin to guess Kisuke's motivations anymore. And he hates that. Hates that a part of him doesn't understand the man who had shared his bed for months and was his friend before that for so much longer.

Isshin, for his part, colors with something that could be equally shame as it is anger. His visible hand clenches into a fist, jaw firming, but he nods stiffly. His eyes are locked on Kisuke, but as he speaks, they gradually shift to his son.

“Yes, I was a member of the Royal Guard,” he explains, tone oddly soft and not at all like the gruff accusations or the goofy idiocy that Ichigo has come to expect of his father. “And for those of you who don't know, the Royal Guard is composed almost entirely of former captains. At least two dozen by my last count, though there could be more or less since I left.”

Former captains. Meaning at least two dozen men and women with bankai who excel in kidoh and other Shinigami skills. It’ll be like taking on every captain and every one of the Espada all at once. And throw in a Vasto Lorde or two just for good measure, just because life loves to make things difficult for Ichigo. It always has.

He takes in a slow breath, fingers clenching around the arm of his chair. Aizen had mentioned nothing of the difficulties they’d face, and Ichigo is wondering why he hasn't questioned it before. Why he hasn't realized how damn impossible it sounds.

“Have you considered the possibility that the Royal Guard is no longer an issue?” Aizen inserts mildly. He seems undisturbed by the reality of the situation. As though it doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

Utter silence meets his declaration.

Aizen takes it upon himself to clarify, “Kurosaki-san, how long ago was it that you left Soul Society?”

A broad hand sweeps over Isshin's head, mouth twisting as he considers. “A century or so, give or take a decade,” he answers, and his brow furrows.

That also is another question for which Ichigo hasn't received an answer. Why did his dad leave Soul Society? What other secrets is Isshin hiding?

“What does that have to do with anything?” Lisa inserts, sitting back in her chair and toying with some item Ichigo can't identify. “And how’d you know if the Royal Guard is active or not?”

“Consider this,” Aizen states, leaning forward and clasping his hands together in front of him. “Despite knowing that my aims were to take the King's Key and usurp the royal family, not a single member of the guard assisted Seireitei in standing against me.”

Hachi shakes his head. “That doesn't prove anything. Perhaps they considered themselves a last line of defense. From the moment they surrendered the daily operations to Chamber 46, the royal family and the guard have been removed from Seireitei. It's the way things have to be.”

Ichigo, for his part, is utterly lost. This is all stuff about Soul Society that he didn't know. How could he? He's not been a fully-fledged Shinigami, only ever considered a substitute. And after the war, he'd distanced himself from Seireitei. No one had ever taken the time to explain the political workings to him.

He holds up a hand. “Wait a minute. Has anyone even seen the king before?”

Another moment of tense silence sweeps through the room. Even Isshin shifts uncomfortably, shaking his head.

“No,” he puts in slowly and chews on his bottom lip. “He must exist because the balance is still being maintained, but not even I've seen him. Only one person in the Royal Guard has, and that was the captain.”

“Was?” Rose repeats.

Isshin shrugs. “It's been decades.” His eyes flicker to Aizen with barely disguised contempt. “Aizen might be right. For all I know, the Royal Guard’s no longer an issue.”

“We can't rely on that though,” Shinji insists thoughtfully, the first he's had to say since this meeting began. He chews on his thumbnail. “We have ta be prepared.”

“Prepared?” Hiyori nearly chokes on the word. “For half a dozen of us to take on captain-level opponents and a bunch of unknowns. That's suicide!”

“We could just back out.” Love leans back, head tilted. “We could just sit here, hide in our warehouse, and believe that maybe in a couple more centuries, Soul Society will pull its head out of its proverbial ass and decide that Vizard aren't all that bad. It could happen.”

But his words belie the bitterness in his voice.

It occurs to Ichigo in that moment that he hasn't asked why the Vizard had agreed to help him in this cockamamie scheme. Then again, he hasn't actually requested that they do so nor have they volunteered. He had just assumed, and because Shinji seems to agree with him, the others followed.

Kisuke snorts, his own bitterness for once not directed at Aizen. “And maybe, if we're lucky, they'll stop all the other corruption. Perhaps if we ask nicely, they’ll even do it faster.”

His statements earns a wave of mutters.

“We're not doing this alone,” Shinji cuts in through the murmuring discontent. “We have allies in the Gotei 13. All Ichigo has to do is say the word, and they'll be there.”

“Oh?” Aizen poses then. “Who?”

Shinji smiles, a slow slide of his lips that hints of challenge. “Well, that's just information I'll have ta keep ta myself fer now. For their own safety.”

Well played.

Aizen tips his head, but his mouth almost curls into a smile of his own.

Ichigo clears his throat. “So… We've established that this is tantamount to suicide. Anyone want to back out?”

No one speaks. He doesn't expect them to. The Vizard are many things, but they aren’t cowards. And the chance at a free life, one without cowering in the shadows and one that allows them to return to the place they consider home, isn’t to be abandoned.

“Well, now, that's decided,” Shinji says. “When do we go?”

Ichigo leans forward, arms braced on the table. “Within the week,” he answers. “Whenever Soul Society is most vulnerable.”

“Then you'll want the dawn shift change,” Kisuke replies, gaze lowered as if in deep thought. “Night shift is the least likely staffed. The Gotei are just waking, and the late shifters are stumbling into bed. It's the most chaotic.”

“An attack at dawn,” Nel muses aloud, a small curve to her lips. “There's almost something poetic about it.”

It sounds so simple except for the enormity of the task. Part of Ichigo is having a hard time believing that they’re actually going to do this. Another part of him is relieved that something is finally being done, that he won't have to stay trapped in this warehouse – or hiding in general – any longer. It's fantastic to be doing something again. Even if that something is damn near suicidal.

Shinji rises to his feet then. “So now that business it out of the way, mind if I make an announcement?”

There is a collective groan from the table. Even Ichigo is a bit wary of whatever Shinji might have to say.

Love grimaces. “If you feel you must.”

“Good. ‘Cause I was gonna say it anyway,” Shinji retorts cheekily and gestures to Neliel sitting quietly at the other end of the table.

She stands then to walk to his side and clasp his hand. There’s a definite grin on her face, and the look Shinji gives her is telling, even if Ichigo can’t decide what it says. He just watches the blond give Nel’s hand a squeeze.

“We’re gettin’ married,” Shinji announces then. “And as soon as this whole plan succeeds. Yer all invited naturally. Just thought we'd share the happy news.”

Not for the first time that afternoon does a silence sweep through the room. Ichigo, for his part, is stunned. He knows that the surprised look on his face is echoed by the others.

Lisa has to pick her mouth up from the floor. “How in the hell are you managing that?” she demands, voice thick with amusement as much as shock. “She can't even stay adult long enough for you to get it on!”

Shinji doesn't look the least bit embarrassed, which is alright because Ichigo is embarrassed enough for him. He knows that heat is staining his cheeks, and he suppresses a groan. This... this right here is the reason he stridently avoids full gatherings of the Vizard. They have no shame, and they always speak their minds, Lisa especially.

Shinji shakes a finger at her, his grin stretching to epic proportions. “That’s not a problem anymore,” he says and leers openly at his girlfriend, fiancée, whatever they're calling each other.

Ichigo chokes on his next breath. He honestly didn't want to know, and judging by some of the other expressions around the table, he's not the only one.

A gaze settles warmly on Ichigo, and it’s nearly dazzling.

“We’d like for you to be our best man,” Neliel adds, a hopeful tilt to her lips that Ichigo knows he can't disappoint.

“Sure,” he says, and really, he's too damned stunned to think about how random this is in the first place. A touch of cheer to go with what is likely to be a dismal future, perhaps?

Shinji's announcement, however, is what is needed to call the meeting to an end without Ichigo having to make some lame statement of his own. The Vizard are rising to their feet in scattered bursts, while Aizen has already made for a hasty exit. Kisuke lingers like he wants to try and talk, but Ichigo avoids his eyes. He doesn’t know what he wants to say to him.

So that’s it. Within the week, they’ll be storming Soul Society and risking their lives for the smallest chance at victory.

Ichigo grimaces, rubbing at his chest, where the ache is starting to build. He doesn't know which is more unbelievable. That he tried to take on the entire might of Seireitei as a teenager. Or that he’s trying to take on all of Soul Society plus the Royal Guard as an adult.

Frankly, he isn't sure that he's going to live to see the next month.

“Ichigo.”

Isshin's voice, for once neither commanding nor reproachful, makes him pause in his tracks. The Vizard are filing out of the dining room – some congratulating Shinji and others wondering why he'd decided now was the best time to inform everyone. Kisuke tosses them both a worried look, but Ichigo dismisses him, focusing intently on his father.

“What do you want?” he asks coolly because a half-sentence of answers is not enough to make up for years of lies. “If you want to yell or demand, just let me walk away now. Otherwise, hurry up.”

“I'm sorry.”

Ichigo turns completely because there's actual contrition in his father's voice. He’s glad that everyone's filed out by now, leaving them alone and without witness to more of Ichigo's drama.

“For what?”

And if Goat-Face’s apology isn't sincere, Ichigo won't hesitate to whip out Zangetsu and prove to his old man all the things Isshin hasn't cared to know.

Isshin works his jaw, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. It takes him a moment to meet Ichigo’s gaze.

“I should have told you,” he says then. “I can't even give you a good reason why, save for cowardice.”

Ichigo fights to keep from sneering. “Yeah, well. I already knew that much. Was that all?”

He can't keep the bitterness out of his voice or the icy curl of betrayal and hurt that still lingers in his belly. His own hand forms a fist, but Ichigo doesn't even know if striking Isshin will help. It didn't earlier.

“I want to come with you. Into Soul Society.”

Isshin’s eyes are dark with something. Regret perhaps. Ichigo doesn't know. He hasn't seen his father this serious since that one time they were standing at Masaki's grave, right after Ichigo fought against Grand Fisher for the first time.

Ichigo's palm sits on his chest, fingers an idle massage over his collar. “Why now?”

“Because I should have done it years ago. Because I sat back while you almost died.” Isshin pauses, taking a steady breath. “Because I owe it to you.”

He stares at his father with nothing short of disbelief.

“That and more,” Ichigo states, but it's a tired sort of response, one that echoes how weary he is of fighting and how he would just like for all the stress and tension to go away. “And my answers.”

“You'll get them,” Isshin replies with a hint of promise. “Just ask the questions.”

Ichigo nods, half-turning away. The promise of answers is all he wants. His mind is spinning too much right now to even begin considering the questions. There are too many swirling around in his brain, and there are other things to focus on. Things like storming Soul Society and why he kissed Aizen and why he wants to do it again and why he can't stop thinking about that hurt look in Kisuke's eyes and why he misses the lying bastard so damn much.

“And Kisuke?”

He sees Isshin twitch from the corner of his eye. “If he’s what you want, then I won't say anything. I'm not sure I have that right anymore.”

“You're right. You don't.” Ichigo somehow manages to keep his voice from sounding spiteful. He goes toward the door, feeling like some of the massive boulders sitting on his shoulders have crumbled to dust. “You can come with us.”

If Isshin has anything to add, Ichigo doesn't hear it because he leaves the room and lets the door swing shut behind him. Only then, does he allow himself to breathe.

He rubs his forehead, where an ache is starting to build. He just wants to lie down and sleep, possibly until next year. Unfortunately, circumstances make that an impossibility. He has less than a week before they invade Soul Society, and Ichigo hasn't exactly spent the last few years training. He has too much to do to embrace the luxury of rest and relaxation.

Shaking his head, Ichigo heads for the underground training area. It's time for a conference with Zangetsu and Shirosaki.

*****

a/n: More fic to come. And also, the promised Fanmix! It's been completed and I'll be posting that in the next week or so.

Tomorrow's Friday, as in Flash Fic Friday, so don't forget!
Tags: bleach, the beautiful lie
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