Title: The Beautiful Lie
Pairings: Urahara/Ichigo, Aizen/Ichigo, Shinji/Nel
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.
Chapter Thirty : Candor
It's too late. He's too late.
The realization bounces back and forth inside Kisuke's skull as he paces within the confines of the bedroom he shares with Isshin. Despite his shitty luck as of late, it seems someone had granted him a concession because Isshin’s currently absent, probably obsessively training in the basement like everyone else who’s joining the assault on Soul Society. Everyone except Kisuke, of course. His exile is still in effect after all, and he hasn't the time to create something to counter it.
Not that it matters. Whether Kisuke can or cannot go doesn't change anything in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't alter the fate of that which matters most to him. He's already lost Ichigo – that damn scene on the rooftop, one he had played unwilling witness to – has pretty much proved that.
He's a coward of the worst kind, and it's come back to bite him on the ass. He can't even feel sorry for himself since he's the only one to blame. Not even Isshin and his craptacular timing can bear the brunt of this. Kisuke had his chance, and he blew it.
Coward, coward, coward.
It's just like the past. Only a thousand times worse.
No, there’s only a vague similarity between now and the past. Back then, Yoruichi had been only an unrequited love. She'd been a dear friend, a companion who was always welcome to a room, but her feelings hadn't been returned.
Kisuke can't really compare the two situations at all. Only the hurt is similar, the hurt and the knowledge of being left behind all over again.
He wakes with a gasp from a dream he can't remember. There's a subtle tremor running through his body, and a vibration in his reiatsu. Benihime feels rattled, but Kisuke doesn't know why. Frankly, if it makes him wake like this, he doesn't want to know.
He rakes a hand down his face, wipes sweat from his forehead, and throws back the blanket. His body aches and pops and cracks as though the years have been too heavy. But Kisuke knows better. It's the war that makes him feel this old. The war and all the memories associated with it.
There's a subtle chill in the air. Kisuke grabs a robe, wrapping it around his frame, too lanky as of late. He really needs to eat more. He can now that he has the time.
Outside, he can hear the wind and the rain, falling with a steady cadence against the roof. The sky is a hazy grey through the blinds. It matches his mood, and he bites back a yawn and scratches at his stubble. The floor is cold beneath his feet, but he doesn't feel like hunting around for slippers. It's early yet, too early for him to be awake, but Kisuke isn't in the mood to try and go back to sleep.
He steps into the hallway, the silence of his shouten surrounding him. Ururu and Jinta are probably asleep still, though Tessai is up and poking around in the fridge for an idea for breakfast. Which leaves one other occupant in the house.
A small smile curls Kisuke's lips as he pads quietly down the corridor, though it quickly fades. Cats are notorious for sleeping in, but this particular feline has had as much trouble sleeping as Kisuke lately. She’s taken Soifon's death particularly hard, and Kisuke understands why. He can't fault her for that. Just like he can't fault her for the building distance. He understands, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
She won't accept his comfort. That hurts even more. All he can do is be a silent support, give her a room, warm meals, a place to call home.
Kisuke rounds the corner and pauses as surprise filters through him. Yoruichi's door is pushed wide open, a rarity. He approaches it, but the silence of the hallway echoes ominously to him.
There's no answer. Which means nothing. Yoruichi is like a cat, after all. She often disappears for one reason or another. Perhaps she had business to take care of. Or maybe she just wandered off as she sometimes does.
Standing in the doorway, hands folded into the sleeves of his robe, Kisuke peers into the room. Her futon's been carefully folded, another rarity, the blankets arranged with care on top. The room looks oddly clean, the curtains drawn back to reveal the gray morning. The usual disordered piles of clothing and belongings are missing.
There's a piece of paper sitting on the folded futon, and for some nameless reason, his heart gives a thud in his chest. A bad feeling makes something inside of Kisuke ache. He pushes himself to enter, approach the futon, and lean forward. His name is written on the outside of the paper. Not his family name but his given one.
‘How cruel,’ he thinks but reaches out anyway. ‘How typical.’
Part of him can already guess what it must say. Another part of him is desperately, stupidly hoping that it's a promise.
He unfolds the paper – a letter, he tells himself – and reads the contents so quickly he hardly absorbs them. There's not much, only a few lines, but it says all that Kisuke hasn't wanted to hear.
He reads again, slower this time, the edges crinkling where he's gripping too hard. His heart pounds out of his chest, and his throat is dry and tight.
She's gone back to Soul Society. She's not coming back.
And a wish.
‘Please be happy.’
What kind of bullshit is that? As if he could with her gone. With her abandoning him.
Kisuke folds the paper carefully, following the creases with diligence. Until all he can see is his name once more. Perfectly, personally inked.
How cruel of her to go to the one place she knows he can't follow. Where she can easily ignore any possible messages. Where she can move on and tell him to do the same thing. As though it's just that simple, that easy.
He stirs at the sound of his name and carefully tucks her letter into his pocket.
“Is breakfast ready?” Kisuke asks, surprising himself with the steadiness of his voice as he turns to find Tessai standing in the doorway.
The man’s expression reveals nothing. But he's known the both of them – Yoruichi and Kisuke – too long to not realize the truth of things.
“Yes,” Tessai replies, eyes skirting around the room, noticing all the things that Kisuke had upon first standing in the doorway as well. “I just have to wake Ururu and Jinta.”
Kisuke smiles brightly – fakely – and wishes now more than ever that he had his hat.
“Oh, don't worry. I'll do that,” he says as he moves to pass his lifelong friend. Perhaps the only one who has seen it all, from the beginning to the inevitable end. “There's work to be done after all.”
He steps into the hallway, and for a moment, for the life of him, he can't remember which direction their room is. It feels like his brain has stopped working. There's nothing but a big blank.
“Urahara-san?” Tessai sounds worried.
Kisuke shakes his head. “No, it's nothing,” he puts in with a shaky laugh.
He knows that Tessai doesn't believe him. But he's got to pull himself together. It’s not like he's been dumped or anything. There would have to have been more between them for that to happen.
It's just an inevitability. He was prepared for this, wasn't he? Not that it makes it any easier. He's been left behind, abandoned in the living world, and it's like a knife to the chest, bloodless but equally agonizing.
Kisuke's eyes open, and the memory washes over him with too much clarity. A letter. How lame is that? One day, he wakes up and Yoruichi's run away from him, fled back to Soul Society. So no, the two situations can hardly be compared.
That’s nothing like the situation with Ichigo. This time, the pain is Kisuke's own fault. Only he can fix it. This time, Kisuke's the coward.
His eyes skitter to the two items sitting on the desk, waiting patiently to be handed over. He can't fathom giving them to Ichigo in the morning in full view of everyone with their eyes watching to see what his reaction might be. Kisuke values the Vizard's friendship, but even he knows they’re all a bunch of nosy busybodies. And frankly, Kisuke's tired of all his mistakes being on display.
Sighing, he stops his pacing and moves to the desk. If anything, at least Kisuke can give them to Ichigo in person. It doesn't hurt that he wants to see Ichigo. He might still be straddling the fence when it comes to the things Ichigo expects of him, but the truth of the matter is, Kisuke can't let things lie. Maybe if he explains himself. Maybe...
Maybe it's too late, and he should just cut his losses while he still can.
Tucking the items under his arm, Kisuke closes the door behind him and ponders where Ichigo might be. He closes his eyes, focuses on the feel of reiatsu in the warehouse. If he hadn't spent so much time around Ichigo with their reiatsu intertwined, Kisuke might’ve had a hard time picking him out of the Vizard-soaked walls. But there's a familiar ping on his senses, an ache in his heart, and the blond turns to the left, toward one of the smaller storage rooms.
He doesn't know why Ichigo is there. Hiding, perhaps. It’s one of the few places someone can find some solitude in this place. Right now, that's probably what Ichigo wants most.
Kisuke passes through several empty hallways, glad that he hasn't run into Shinji or Aizen and finds himself where Ichigo's holed himself up. The door is cracked open enough that Kisuke can see through without seeming sneaky about it, and he pushes it the rest of the way open. At first, all he can see is a gigantic bookshelf spilling contents into the floor, but as he edges around it, he spies Ichigo tucked away in the corner, curled into a chair. He’s staring out the window into the dark, rainy night.
Ichigo looks troubled, brow furrowed, eyes dark. He’s frowning, gaze distant, and as Kisuke watches, one hand lifts to his chest. He's been doing that a lot lately, rubbing at his breastbone as though it troubles him. That worries Kisuke, yet another something that keeps him awake with nightmares.
“It hurts, doesn't it?” he asks quietly.
Either Ichigo sensed him already, or he wasn't as lost in thought as he looked. He barely even stirs at the sound of Kisuke's voice. Instead, he grimaces, fingers rubbing a steady circle over his breastbone.
“It didn't used to. But lately... yeah, it aches.”
Kisuke sets his belongings on a small table that hosts an unlit lamp. He approaches Ichigo, hand outstretched, before he thinks twice about it. He's lost his right to touch without permission, hasn't he?
“... May I?”
Ichigo looks at him for a moment but nods wordlessly. The dark circles under his eyes haunt Kisuke's conscience. He lowers his hand, leaving the blond room to reach forward and gingerly place his palm over Ichigo's chest.
He closes his eyes and tries to concentrate on Ichigo's reiatsu. Physical contact makes it easier, so Kisuke breathes deeply, feeling Ichigo's energy and the dark power that churns beneath it. They are so different it should be easy to tell them apart, but where two things had once pulsed out of sync, they’re now gradually shifting to a perfect rhythm. The edges are blurring as though merging completely.
Kisuke pales. Ichigo really isn't human anymore, is he? He's not Shinigami or Vizard either. He's something else entirely. And Kisuke did that to him.
“What is it?”
His hand lingers despite himself. As though magnetically attracted to Ichigo's heat and the subtle beat of his heart.
“I'm not sure,” he admits with a sigh and forces himself to draw back. “I wish I had time to run tests, but it seems like your reiatsu and its power are... blending.”
“That's a good thing, isn't it?” the younger man questions. “What we intended?”
“I don't know,” Kisuke admits, and he looks at his former lover with insides aching. “Ichigo, you have to let me take it out.”
Predictably, however, Ichigo's jaw sets with stubbornness. “No.”
“But we don't know--”
“I don't care,” Ichigo retorts, looking away. “As long as I have it and no one knows, it's one less war I have to fight.” His fingers start to rub at his sternum again, and something in his face pinches.
Guilt pours over Kisuke like a heavy ooze, dripping icy and cold down his head and across his shoulders. He should have never agreed to this.
“I wish I could.”
Kisuke’s hands are braced on the table as he stares at the object that has given so much pain and misery. Not for the first time does he ever regret creating such a horror. Like so many things borne from good intentions, it has done nothing but ruins the lives everyone around him.
Sitting across from Kisuke, Ichigo looks up from where he's leaned his head on his hand. “Why can't you?”
Kisuke exhales harshly and makes a vague gesture with one hand. “Imagine a force three times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb,” he says, putting it in terms that he knows Ichigo will understand. “Imagine it confined and vaporizing everything within a certain radius. That's why. There's so much potential stored within the Hougyoku that to destroy it would destroy everything around it.”
Ichigo's shoulders slump. He too stares at the hated object, sitting so innocuous on the table.
“Then what can we do?”
“Hide it, I suppose,” Kisuke muses, but he honestly has no clue at this point.
The ex-captain purses his lips. Hiding hadn't worked so well last time. Aizen had found it so quickly. He can't think of any place that would be well guarded, that would be so secret no one could ever think to stumble on it again.
“I'll think of something,” he insists quietly, fingers scratching across the tabletop. “Worst comes to worst, I'll do what’s necessary.”
Ichigo's eyes narrow with a dangerous glint. “What do you mean?”
“I will seal it within myself,” Kisuke answers and leans back, crossing one arm and chewing on the thumbnail of his other. He's grateful for the shading of his hat. “It's the only way to be sure.”
“Why would that work?”
The blond rolls his neck. He fights the urge to pace, brain already swirling with hypothesis and possibilities.
“Theoretically, my reiatsu would act as a shield for its presence, and when I die, it should carry with me, the power dispersing through the reincarnation cycle.” He chews on his bottom lip. “But whether or not it’ll work with a Shinigami's spirit or whether I'll have to resort to a gigai, I'm not sure.”
In effect, he'll basically do to himself what he had intended to happen to Kuchiki Rukia. Though it'll be a lot more complicated in his case because he hasn't already depleted his spiritual power by handing it over to a human. Kisuke doesn't like the idea of eventually becoming so powerless, but he likes the idea of another Aizen Sousuke trying to destroy the world even less.
Ichigo frowns. Kisuke can tell that he’s thinking very hard, but what conclusions he reaches are a mystery until he opens his mouth.
“What about a human?”
Ice trickles into Kisuke's chest as he draws to a halt. “No,” he says firmly.
“A human wouldn't work?” But something in Ichigo’s voice says he can already guess the answer.
“No, because I know what you're thinking, and I'm not going to allow that,” Kisuke retorts, feeling like he has to struggle to catch a breath. Isshin would absolutely murder him. Not to mention a bunch of other people. “You've done enough, Ichigo. I'm not asking you to do anything else.”
Ichigo leans back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. “I'm volunteering.”
“No.” Kisuke shakes his head hard enough to move his hat. “No way.”
“You said it yourself, you don't know if a Shinigami can pull it off,” his student argues back. “Besides, no one will expect it, and I guarantee you I don't want to use it.” He smiles then, but it’s sharp on the edges. Painful to look at and undoubtedly painful to bear.
Kisuke feels a hand tighten into a fist. He swallows.
“My answer is still no. I won't do it.”
His own words ring in the back of his head, but in the end, Kisuke caved. Ichigo had a point after all. A human's lifespan is significantly shorter than a Shinigami's, and with Ichigo putting distance between himself and Soul Society, no one would ever suspect that he had something that had supposedly been destroyed. Not to mention that Ichigo's reiatsu is already obnoxiously strong and unpredictable. A few strange fits and bursts wouldn't have been out of the norm for him.
Whereas Kisuke, as the creator of the Hougyoku, would be the first place anyone looked if they were seeking its power. No matter the rumors of it going missing or being destroyed.
Of course, Kisuke could have never seen this. Never seen that the Hougyoku would bond with Ichigo of all things. Instead of remaining a separate entity buried within the depths of his soul, it is becoming a part of him. Something that will carry with him no matter what life he lives. No, Kisuke couldn't have seen this at all. Though perhaps he should have. Things never go the way he expects when it comes to Ichigo.
“I still think it would be better to do it now before something irreparable happens,” the blond says, knowing that this has the potential to turn into an argument but unable to keep his mouth shut. He's worried, and he hates seeing Ichigo in pain.
But Ichigo just waves him off. “What's done is done. Drop it, Kisuke. I'm fine.”
‘Liar,’ Kisuke wants to say, but that would sort of being the pot calling the kettle, wouldn't it? So he clamps his mouth shut and draws back, hating the tension that now hangs in the atmosphere between them.
“If you insist,” he allows quietly. Almost meekly. And hates himself even more for that.
“I do,” Ichigo retorts, and the anger's back in his eyes. He rises to his feet from the chair, looking as though his broken solitude has made him twitchy. “Were you looking for me?” he redirects after a few seconds.
“Actually, I was,” Kisuke replies and the smile on his lips feels forced.
It's like they’re strangers, or mere acquaintances, and he hates that, too. He turns back to the table and grabs the two items he brought with him.
“I finished the inhibitors I mentioned earlier,” he explains, handing said pieces of equipment over.
Ichigo takes it with a slow but appreciative nod. “And the other?”
“When you open the gate tomorrow, it'll help disguise your location,” Kisuke explains, waving his hand toward the key-shaped object. “That way you don't find yourselves walking into the middle of an ambush or met with an angry mob of captains out for blood.”
His eyes light up with gratitude. “That'll be really helpful. Thanks.” He salutes Kisuke with the item.
“You're welcome. I can't go with you, so this is all I can do,” Kisuke replies softly.
Ichigo makes a noncommittal noise in his throat, probably unable to think of something appropriate to say back. Kisuke doesn't dare hope for anything more, and there's a long moment where they look at each other, the unspoken resonating thickly in the air. It’s a tangible tension, but then, Ichigo clears his throat noisily.
“Thanks again.” He rises to his feet. “I have an early day tomorrow, so I guess I should get some rest.”
“Sleep well,” Kisuke replies and watches him go, tongue sitting leaden behind his lips and a growing tightness in his chest.
His back has never seemed so ominous to Kisuke as it does now. He's walking away, and Kisuke can't fight off the feeling that this may be the last time he sees Ichigo. That the battle tomorrow is not exactly a walk in the park, and there's a good chance their entire team could perish. Ichigo has the luck of the gods, but he's only mortal. He's not infallible.
Ichigo could die tomorrow, and Kisuke's just going to let him walk away, is he? Just going to let him leave with this anxiety and tension and brokenness between them?
Shinji’s right. Kisuke is nothing more than a selfish fucking coward.
The Vizard pauses, half-turns, his expression is a mixture of annoyance and exhaustion. As though he's given up expecting anything of his one-time lover. There's something in that look that seals the deal for Kisuke. That makes him take a deep breath, clench and unclench his fists, and open his mouth.
“I was an assassin,” he says, and the words sit bitter on his tongue and make his mouth dry. “I told you I was in the second division, but I never explained my duties. How I was the third-seat and the one in charge of the Maggot's Nest.”
Ichigo twitches. He knows the Maggot's Nest. He has to. They had probably planned to sentence him to an eternity of that dark place. He has to know what it is.
Kisuke's gaze falls. It's easier to talk if he doesn't have to watch the disgust crawl over Ichigo's face.
“I never questioned my orders. Maybe I should have,” he admits. “I never wondered why innocent men were imprisoned because of the possibility of a later offense. I never asked why the people I killed had to die. I just did what I was told.”
He looks at his hands, calloused but not as much as they used to be. They are trembling and dry, scarred a little from spilling chemicals. But these are hardly the hands of a soldier or an assassin anymore. They look clean, but Kisuke knows the truth.
He pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and carefully wipes off his fingers. He'd been sloppy today. Out of haste to get the task finished perhaps, he can’t be sure. Regardless, more blood dotted his shihakushou than he could have expected. He supposes it's a small favor that his uniform is black.
Tucking the cloth back into his pocket, Kisuke surveys the small house. It's a complete wreck. There's no way they can pass this off as a mere disappearance. The mother had fought back too hard. If she just could’ve taken her dues, it would all be so much easier.
“Clean this up,” he orders his subordinates, who are already in the middle of bagging up the bodies and poking nosily into their target's belongings. “And quickly. Shihouin-sama expects us back soon.”
“Yes, sir,” a chorus of voices respond, as used to this as he has become.
Kisuke inclines his head, certain they'll obey, and steps carefully over a pool of blood. Messy. Too messy. This should have gone quick and clean. Yoruichi-san won't be happy if they don't get this tidied up properly.
Chamber 46 won't want the truth getting out either. Kisuke doesn't know why these three had to die. He doesn't know what possible crime a woman and her two children could have committed, but it's not his place to ask. If he dared, he'd probably find himself the next candidate for a bunk in the Maggot's Nest.
He steps out of the hallway and into what appears to be a living room, complete with homey attire, furniture, and a wall adorned with portraits. How quaint. One stands out in particular, and Kisuke gets closer. The whole family is pictured here: mother, father and their two children.
It's the father who grabs his attention; his face is one that Kisuke recognizes. It all falls into place. If the father disappears, the family asks questions. It's policy to cover all the bases. Kisuke's just cleaning up the witnesses. Someone else, Soifon if he remembers, took out the father.
There's something familiar in the man's face though, in his blue eyes. Kisuke feels he should recognize him for another reason, and he crinkles his brow, trying to remember the so-called traitor's name. What was it? Kyou-something? He shifts, changes the angle of the light and catches his own reflection in the nearby glass.
Huh. There's a speck of blood on his cheek. He reaches up to scrub at it.
Kisuke turns. “Yes?”
One of his subordinates stands in the doorway, a small woman who’s almost as dainty as the mother she just bagged up.
“We're almost finished,” she says, brown eyes completely devoid of sympathy or compassion. The perfect blend for the Onmitsukidoh.
“Good work.” He turns away, portrait already forgotten. “Now, let's get out of here.”
It's strange that of all the deaths Kisuke has caused, it’s that one in particular that stands out to him. They weren't the first family he'd been ordered to dispose of. Not the first woman. Not the first child. But something about that day has always stayed fresh in his mind. He never did find out the name of the man. That much is probably for the best.
“There's a lot of blood on these hands,” he murmurs. “Innocent blood I'm no longer proud of. And some of it I even dared say was in the name of science.”
“What do you mean?” Ichigo's voice is steady, betrays nothing of his reaction, but he has to be feeling disgusted.
Kisuke doesn't dare look at him. His resolve will crack if he does.
“The prisoners in the Maggot's Nest were considered criminals,” Kisuke answers, feeling the shame spreading through him like a sickness. “No one really cared what happened to them, and there were times that I needed human subjects...”
He hopes that the implications are enough. He doesn't think he'll make it through more explicit explanations.
He holds up the syringe and carefully squeezes out the excess liquid, making certain that there are no air bubbles. He doesn't want to kill his subject, after all. That would make this exercise pointless.
“Have you buckled him down?” Kisuke asks once he's satisfied with the level of anesthetic in the syringe.
“Yes, sir,” one of his assistants replies, voice muffled by the face mask. “Though if he's unconscious, I don't see why it's necessary.”
“I'm uncertain how long this drug will last with his metabolism and reiatsu,” Kisuke answers, stepping toward the gurney where his subject has been carefully sedated. “It's better to be safe than have to put a mad dog down.”
His assistant nods in understanding and then steps back, leaving Kisuke room to move forward. He looks down at his subject: Kuramoto Goh. A rather large man with a violent temper who had put more than one of his fellow students in the fourth division during training exercises. Soul Society expects him to turn homicidal at any moment, and he spends most of his time wearing reiatsu constrictors.
Kuramoto also spends his days in a half-daze, courtesy of the unstimulating surroundings and the preventative medication that he's been stuffed with. But one can never be too careful, and Kisuke's not the sort to risk the life of his assistants. Should Kuramoto go on one of his rampages, Kisuke can handle himself. His delicate assistants and equipment? Not so much. And both of those are far harder to replace than the unconscious man in front of him.
Kisuke reaches for Kuramoto's left wrist and tilts it toward himself. “Start recording.”
His assistant turns on the machinery, which is Kisuke's cue to start talking.
“This is Urahara Kisuke, day two of testing. Subject Kuramoto Goh. Applying first wave of anesthesia now.”
He doesn't flinch when the needle breaches the man’s skin, but he notices that Kuramoto does, the corners of his eyes noticeably tightening. Clinically, Kisuke categorizes that fact, and the rest of him distances himself as he watches the clear liquid empty itself out of the vial. It's all in the name of science after all. What purer reason could there be?
“I've done a lot of things that probably match Aizen for evilness,” Kisuke adds, even softer than before. “But it wasn't until I met you that I realized I had something to regret.”
He doesn't know if Ichigo will understand what he means. Kisuke has only ever looked at his deeds as something that he had to do. As his job, his orders. But then Soul Society blamed him for Aizen's deeds, and he was exiled. He learned that Soul Society doesn't always know best. But he could live with it, deal with it, despite his doubts. Despite the voice whispering in the back of his head.
Then, they turned on Ichigo, and Kisuke's eyes opened fully. The thought of Ichigo being confined to that horrible place, never to see the sun, for nothing more than an imagined threat. It made his stomach churn. It made him realize that he'd been subjecting people to that for decades, centuries even. It made him realize that if things had been different, Kisuke might have been the one sent to dispose of Ichigo.
Seeing his deeds through Ichigo's eyes makes Kisuke hate himself.
Ichigo's voice is quiet. Yet, it still manages to cut through the ex-captain’s thoughts.
“Is that why Isshin is against this?”
Kisuke feels himself pale. “In part. Not that he has any room to talk.”
“Oh?” There's more hostile curiosity in that one-word question than in this entire conversation so far.
“I'm sorry, Ichigo. That's his story to tell.” Kisuke shakes his head. Now is the time for his confessions, not Isshin's. “All of us have secrets like that. Even Shinji.” He sighs. “I should’ve told you about Isshin being a Shinigami, but--”
Kisuke's gaze snaps up. “What?”
Ichigo runs a hand through his hair, sighing with his own resignation. “I'm not mad about that anymore. I understand why you couldn't. Isshin backed you into that corner, trapping you between your loyalty to him and what you owe to me. I can't fault you for that.” He looks at Kisuke then, and his heart flips at the lack of anger in Ichigo's eyes. “I want your secrets. What it is you're so afraid of me knowing.”
Hope mixes with fear and turns into a nauseating churn in his belly. Kisuke works his jaw.
“I've known your father for a long time. Unfortunately, he's seen me at my worst more than my best,” Kisuke admits, that unsettling making him cold all over. He chews on his lower lip, words spilling out of him as unskillfully as always. “He knew I was in love with Yoruichi. And he knew I was sleeping my way through the Gotei 13 to distract myself.”
“Higashi-senpai is serious about you.”
Isshin's footsteps are a steady cadence behind him, just as quick, just as annoyed. He's not giving up, no matter how much Kisuke tries to ignore him. He can't stand that self-righteous tone though.
“I don't see why,” the blond replies, fingers deftly retying his obi and tightening it up. “I never made any promises.” He knows better than to do such a selfish thing. He might not make any commitments, but at least he doesn't lie to anyone.
Isshin snorts. “Like that matters. You imply them when you let anything go further than a one night stand, and you know that. You let her think there could be more when you know good and well you don't even see her.”
Kisuke cuts his eyes at Isshin, whirling toward the other man as he halts mid-stride. “It's not my fault if she misunderstands.”
“You need to make things clearer,” Isshin says stubbornly, looking down on Kisuke as he always does, like he's big and intimidating and always knows best. “Heavens only knows why, but Higashi-senpai actually likes you. End it. Otherwise, you're just being cruel.”
“There's nothing to end.” Kisuke folds his arms over his chest and looks away.
Isshin makes a disgusted sound and pushes past him, their shoulders brushing roughly. “Fine. Have it your way. But someday, this is going to come back and bite you on the ass, and I'll be there to say I told you so.”
He's gone before Kisuke can form a protest. Isshin will never understand. He doesn't know what it's like to look from afar.
Kisuke sighs and gazes at the floor. Even so, Isshin might be right. If Higashi is thinking there's more, then Kisuke needs to leave. Now. Before things get too worse.
“It didn't matter if I liked them or they liked me,” Kisuke admits, wondering how much lower he can sink. “If they were there for the night and I didn't have to sleep in a cold bed, that was all I needed. I thought that eventually Yoruichi would realize what she was missing, that she would open her eyes, and I clung to that thin hope for decades.”
Kisuke's lips tilt into a bitter smile. “You know that part, don't you? She left after the war, headed back to Soul Society, and we barely talk anymore. I get letters every once in a while, but it's pretty clear I've been abandoned.”
At least Ichigo doesn't sound hostile, just thoughtful. Kisuke keeps waiting for the disgust, for Ichigo to walk out of the room so he doesn't have to hear anymore, but it hasn't happened yet.
Silence sweeps into the room. Ichigo is the first one to speak.
“Why did you tell me all that?” His tone is soft. Quiet.
“Because you deserved to know,” Kisuke replies and even surprises himself with his response. It emerges so easily, and he didn't even have to think about it.
It may be too late for their relationship as lovers, but perhaps this is enough to salvage what’s left of their friendship. For Ichigo's sake, if no one else’s.
“And because you are hoping for a little forgiveness?” His voice his harder now. Sharp but brittle.
“I would be lying if I said that wasn't the truth,” the blond replies, and he looks at Ichigo, fully in the eyes this time. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I… I was afraid of what your reaction might be.”
Ichigo rakes a hand through his hair in something like frustration. “I can't believe you actually thought I'd hate you for something that happened in the past. Before I was even born. That's what pissed me off, Kisuke. Not the fact that you didn't tell me, but that you didn't trust me enough.” Brown eyes darken with disappointment. “I thought we knew each other better. I thought…” He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter what I thought.”
Shame adds to the guilt.
“I'm sorry,” Kisuke murmurs. “I’m so sorry.”
Kisuke takes in a ragged breath, feeling like he's standing on the precipice. He wants to ask, but he’s so afraid. Somehow, he does it anyway.
“So where does that leave us?”
Ichigo won’t look at him for a moment, but when he does, it isn’t hate or sadness or even anger Kisuke sees. Just tiredness.
“I don't know.”
Closing his eyes, Kisuke tries to fight off the disappointment. “I understand.”
He falls silent then, chews on the inside of his cheek. He honestly doesn't know what to say, not anymore. He's given the truth, he's been forgiven, but it doesn't feel like enough.
“I just...” Ichigo makes an aggravated noise. “Things are complicated. I can't say that everything's peachy-keen now and nothing's been broken. I still don't know if there was something to break. I don't know what to say, Kisuke. I just don't.”
“Say you forgive me,” the blond replies, and the yearning in his voice startles even himself. “Say that I've not completely ruined our friendship.”
Ichigo swallows thickly. “I forgive you,” he says, but it’s soft. “But I'm not crawling back into your bed.”
Kisuke works his jaw, bitter words on the tip of his tongue. He remembers what he had unintentionally witnessed. He remembers the kiss he saw, and he can't help thinking it's the reason why. That he really is too late, and Aizen, snake that he is, has slithered his way into the unoccupied place at Ichigo's side in Kisuke's absence.
“Don't make that face,” Ichigo puts in with an exhausted sigh. “You're accusing Aizen, and I know you are. This has nothing to do with him.”
Just what sort of face had he been making? Ichigo is right, but that doesn't mean Kisuke has to like it. Aizen has everything to do with it.
“How can you say that? Everything that's happened is because of him,” Kisuke demands, too aware of their proximity. How their bodies are so close, but Ichigo still feels so far away.
The Vizard arches a brow. “And if he'd never shown up, who’s to say we would’ve ever ended up in bed together? Did you ever think about that?”
Kisuke feels sick at the thought of attributing any portion of his happiness to Aizen's unlucky appearance. And even worse at the knowledge that he very well could’ve never had Ichigo at all.
“Since I'm worse than where I started, I fail to see how his arrival is a good thing,” Kisuke finally mutters, and it’s so bitter.
“That's not his fault either,” Ichigo shots back and gives another sound. “Look, Kisuke, I don't want to turn this into something about Aizen. All I'm saying is that you give me what you asked me for. Some time.”
Kisuke takes in a deep breath. “I understand. Just... be careful. Tomorrow. I don't want to lose my best friend.”
And so much more, but now isn't the time to say such things. He could’ve said them earlier. Before Isshin. But now’s too late. Or hopefully too early.
“And you don't want to make Yuzu cry either,” he says instead.
Ichigo actually gives something of a smile at that one.
“No, I don’t,” he muses and glances up as though he could see her face right there. Then, Ichigo turns to the door once more. “Later. I’ll see you when we get back.”
Ichigo’s gone before Kisuke can say anything else, and he watches after with a prayer building in his heart. He doesn't believe in gods or anything like that, but if there was one out there, he prays that they're listening. That for once, they'll answer Kisuke's prayer.
Let Ichigo live. Let him come back.
a/n: At last, some answers are given. And a prelude to action! Huzzah!
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