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-Four: Enemies
Sake, Kisuke muses, tastes no different in the Royal Palace than it does in either the living world or Seireitei. He almost expects for it to have an otherworld, supernatural flavor. But no, the taste is all the same. Somewhat bitter, a sharp bite to the tongue, and a pleasing warmth that spreads through his belly.
The effects are the same, too. He's somehow both relaxed and taut, dizzy yet focused, giddy and at the same time altogether morose. He had hoped the sake would help him settle, at least somewhere in the middle, somewhere numb. Instead, it's only highlighting the contrasting nature of his emotions, leaving him a muddled mess.
A muddled drunken mess.
His quarters aren't the problem. Far from it. Just for himself, he's got three rooms. A bedroom, an adjoining lab, a bath. They've all been decorated in shades of beige and green, the bed large enough for two and a friend with his personal laboratory stocked to the gills. It's the stuff scientists only dream about, and that's not even mentioning the damn hall of research rooms that are located elsewhere.
Kisuke knows he should be beyond ecstatic. Ichigo's alive, he's king now, and as such, Kisuke's exile has been lifted. He can come and go from Seireitei as he wishes, not that he's interested in going anymore. Ichigo's here, so here is where Kisuke will stay.
In his room, for the most part, since Kisuke can't find his way around the palace without help. Help that is long in coming. Ichigo has no trouble getting around, and that bastard Aizen walks around like he owns the place. Kisuke, however, finds himself lost at any given moment, and the ghostly spirits that haunt the halls aren't keen on helping. Him anyway.
They tend to fall over themselves to assist Aizen, however, which doesn't make a damn bit of sense.
“So I'm trapped,” the blond mutters under his breath, stopping to take a swig straight from the bottle. He doesn't even taste it anymore. “Which is probably how he likes it. Bastard.”
Irritation bubbles up beneath the surface. It's all Aizen's fault, of course. Kisuke can't find a moment's alone time with Ichigo, not with Aizen always there at Ichigo's side. Offering words of advice and management techniques and old laws to nix or new ones to put in place.
Politics have never been Kisuke's strong suit. He better understands the mechanics of an engine or the proper mixing of chemicals than he does the manipulative ways that people think. He can't help Ichigo with this task, this new and sudden responsibility of running a world. He can't do much of anything really, except pace back and forth through his beautiful quarters, drinking his weight in sake.
The last drops of the bottle slither into his mouth. Kisuke tosses it aside, hearing it thump against plush carpet. Couldn't even get a satisfying crash out of it.
“This is all Aizen's fault,” he says and refuses to call it a whine.
“I'm pretty sure he's not the reason you're out of sake.”
Kisuke whirls toward his doorway. But he instantly regrets the action when his head spins and the ground tries to reach up for him.
“Yoruichi!” he exclaims before pain spikes through his eyeballs. “Ow.” He rubs at his temple.
The world is tilting, and he can't read her expression as she stands there, leaning in the entryway. One hand holds another jug of sake.
“You're looking... drunk there, Kisuke. Something I should know about?” she asks with false lightness.
Kisuke snorts. “All the spies in Seireitei and you haven't figured it out yet?”
She arches a brow at him, inviting herself into his room and shutting the door behind her. “Oh, I know all about you and his highness,” Yoruichi replies. “Really screwed that up, didn't you?”
“Yes, thank you, I needed the reminder,” Kisuke retorts. If she's going to be of so little help, then he's not going to regret the nastiness. He looks hopefully at the bottle in her hand, however. “Is that for me?”
Yoruichi rolls her eyes. “I was going to share, but if you're going to take that tone with me...” She holds it away from him. “You don't deserve any. Then again, in your current state, more alcohol is not the best of ideas.”
Kisuke's shoulders slump as he bats his eyes in what he hopes is an alluring manner. “I'm sorry for snapping at you. Will you please deign to share with me?”
“That look doesn't work on me,” Yoruichi says, and her gaze looks him over, more serious than he expects. “Why are you doing this?”
Kisuke squirms and takes several steps back. “Why does anyone drink?” He rakes a hand through his hair. Like this, he can't hide his expressions very well. Best not to let her see them in the first place.
“Oh, I don't know. To forget. To remember. Because they are angry and have no one to blame but themselves...” Yoruichi trails off, but her point is made.
“Maybe it's all three,” he mutters.
“Maybe it is,” Yoruichi agrees, and he can hear her move, catching her out of the corner of his eye as she selects what is arguably the most comfortable chair here. “So why don't you tell me all about it, Kisuke? It's been years. I feel like I'm missing something.”
Kisuke’s unable to hide the bitterness. “Years, yes,” he agrees snidely. “Years since you vanished in the middle of the night, leaving me a note.”
The sake jug makes a thunking noise as Yoruichi sets it on the floor at her feet, beyond his reach. “That was a necessary move on my part.”
“I can think of a half-dozen ways you could have made your point better,” Kisuke shoots back, fingers twitching. They're empty. He needs something else, another jug of sake, preferably the one that Yoruichi is holding away from him.
“Would it have made a difference?”
Yes. No. Maybe. Probably not.
Kisuke's shoulders sag. “You left,” he bites out, and a small part of him celebrates that mentioning her absence no longer tears him to pieces as it once did. “You told me to be happy.” He throws his arms out. “See how far that sentiment has gotten me?”
“From what I hear, you were happy,” Yoruichi returns quietly. “Kisuke... what exactly happened with Ichigo?”
He glances away. “I screwed up. I lied. No.” Kisuke pauses to correct himself, “I withheld the truth, which is as much as a lie. Ichigo says he's forgiven me, but...” He shakes his head. “The damage has been done. I've already broken us.”
She’s silent for a moment. Waiting. Weighing.
“Did Ichigo say that?”
Kisuke presses his lips together. “It doesn't matter,” he says in a low tone. “Because Aizen's already slithered his way to Ichigo's side with his damned perfection, and I'm just the extra baggage that keeps tagging along.”
Yoruichi's unimpressed whistle echoes around his quarters. “Wow, Kisuke, I don't think I've ever seen you filled with that much self-loathing. He really gets to you, doesn't he?”
He turns his head toward her sharply, nostrils flaring. “Am I supposed to welcome him with open arms?” Kisuke demands. “I don't remember you pulling him into a hug either.”
“I didn't say you had to like him,” Yoruichi comments mildly as she relaxes into the chair, crossing one leg over the other. “But hate him as you will, it doesn't change the fact he's going to be sticking around. You are going to need to deal with that.”
His shoulders sag. “You fail at uplifting, encouraging discussions,” he retorts and holds out a hand, tone flat. “Give me the sake.”
“It's not going to help,” she replies, nudging it out of sight with her bare toes.
Kisuke throws his hands into the air. “Great. You've officially proven that I’m on my own in this.”
“You're annoyed because I don't want to support your one man pity party?” This time, she sounds fully amused. One leg bounces lightly where it's crossed over the other. “Go on, Kisuke, tell me why your life is so terrible.”
His eyes narrow. “You're humoring me.”
“Maybe.” Yoruichi tilts her head, lips curved. “Before anything and everything, we were friends, weren't we?” she questions. Her tone is light, but something’s hidden in her words, something a lot like regret. “Can't we go back to that?”
Her question hangs in the air, dangling on strings of tension. Kisuke exhales softly and slides back. He sits on the edge of his bed, elbows balanced on his knees.
“I am not angry with you,” Kisuke admits and manages something of a smile, though it quickly flutters away. “I never could be.”
“We all have our reasons for the actions we choose,” Yoruichi replies and leans back into the chair again. “Tell me why you're trying to drink yourself sick.”
Kisuke gives her a long look. “Would be succeeding if you'd hand me that bottle.”
“Not going to happen.” She snaps her fingers, the noise startling him out of his melancholic haze. “Talk to me, Kisuke. I might be able to help.”
He snorts, lets himself fall back and stares up at the white, boring ceiling. “Are you going to assassinate Aizen in his sleep?”
“You know better than that.” She’s still amused, but there’s an edge now.
“Then I don't think you can help.”
Her irritation is a tangible buzz of reiatsu that washes against his skin. “Kisuke.”
He rolls his eyes. “All right. Fine. I didn't mean it.” The blond slings his arm over his eyes, blocking out sight of the ceiling. “Mostly.”
“Don't let Ichigo hear you talking like that.”
Kisuke sniffs. “Ichigo already knows my stance on his new best friend,” he mutters, unable to hide his resentment. “Which is just another point in my disfavor. It doesn't help that Aizen acts like he's so damned perfect.”
“Perfect. Really?” Yoruichi actually laughs. “That's a new one. Care to explain?”
Kisuke grinds his teeth. “If you'll recall Aizen before his betrayal and war, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. He's polite. He's knowledgeable. He's befriended anyone who is close to Ichigo and in the meantime makes a nuisance of himself.”
The chair creaks as Yoruichi moves. “Go on.”
Feeling like a whiny teenager, Kisuke still can't stop himself when the words come pouring out.
“Everyone seems to be forgetting that he's the reason for the damn whole war,” he complains. “That he's the reason some of our friends died and we're still struggling to rebuild a quarter of Seireitei.”
Kisuke sits up, tension making him fidgety. And he fits the urge to pace again.
“Somehow, he's befriended all of the servants in the palace. Unohana fawns over him like he's her long lost son. He's charmed Ichigo's mother, which I've still yet to decide whether that's a bad thing or a point in favor of my personal safety.”
Yoruichi's chuckle spills into the room. “Now that one you're going to have to explain.”
“You've met Masaki,” Kisuke replies with both of brows raised. “Her temper can be worse than Isshin's, and frankly, I'm not sure how she'd react to know about our relationship. Or past one, at any rate.”
Bitterness seeps into his tone despite his best efforts. By the gods, he really has turned into something pathetic and useless, hasn't he?
Kisuke hauls himself to his feet, restlessness forcing them into movement. “He's charmed Ichigo's sisters as well. Though how he managed to convince Karin he wasn't evil incarnate, I have no idea. Especially with her love-toy shooting daggers at him every time their eyes meet. But even Hitsugaya hasn’t murdered him in his sleep yet! And he should’ve been the first one!”
He makes a sound of absolute aggravation.
“Aizen has always been gifted with words. Which I'm sorry to say, Kisuke, has never been your strong suit,” Yoruichi comments mildly. “But you have an appeal all your own.”
Approaching his desk, Kisuke whirls to pace the other direction. “I'm assuming that's a compliment.”
“My, aren't you defensive. I'm here to help.” She pauses and amends that. “Without handing over this bottle of sake. I'm convinced you've had enough.”
Because he's been reduced to pacing his bedroom and whining about Aizen? Maybe she has a point. That doesn't make Kisuke desire the bottle any less.
He sighs, turns on his heel, and paces across the floor again. “I'm not drunk enough for this.”
“For... everything!” His hands wave through the air. “For dealing with Aizen. For being useless. For trying to talk to Ichigo and Aizen getting in my way every fucking time. And if it's not Aizen, it's something related to him. You'd think the bastard planned it that way!”
He’s breathing hard now, but he isn’t quite sure why. He feels like he’s run a marathon. As though these last few months have been nothing but a gauntlet of ghosts and bad memories and loss. She just looks at him, even as he feels his hands clench into fists, and Kisuke really feels like throwing something or drinking himself into oblivion or jumping out of the nearest window and finding something to kill.
“This isn't like you,” Yoruichi says then and before he can decide which of those options he prefers.
Somehow, her hands are on his shoulders, but he didn’t even see her get up. Once upon a time, he would have turned a cartwheel to have her this close to him. Now, he’s just tired. Just wishes that someone else could be there instead.
“This isn’t like you,” she repeats and gives him a little shake. “Moping. Tiptoeing around. You said that you don't want to push him, and I'm telling you, that's what you need to do.”
Kisuke scoffs and tries to pull away but is held fast. “Yes, because that's sure to land me back on top of the favorite list. As if anything could dislodge Aizen.”
“You like letting him win, then?” Yoruichi retorts, arching one eyebrow upward. “Because that's what you're doing. Calmly disappearing into the shadows and letting your guilt speak for itself. You’re letting Aizen take what you want and aren’t doing a damn thing to stop him.”
A spark of anger flickers in Kisuke's chest. “And what is it you propose I do? Challenge him to a duel? Carry Ichigo off like some helpless princess?”
Yoruichi rolls her eyes. “Stop acting so damn dramatic. Not to mention passive for one thing. If you stand around waiting, nothing's going to happen. Either push Ichigo or give up.”
“You sound like Shinji,” Kisuke says sourly.
“I'll take that as a compliment.” Yoruichi smirks and then suddenly whirls him around, giving a push to his upper back. “Go.”
He stumbles, head spinning. “What? Now?”
“The sake will give you courage,” she says with another push that makes him stagger toward the door, catching his hands on frame.
“Does that mean you're going to give me the bottle?”
Yoruichi reaches by him, turning the knob and pushing the door open. “It will be waiting for you when you get back. Go.”
He steps into the hallway, teetering on his decision. “But--”
“Kisuke,” Yoruichi interrupts tightly, and he turns to look at her and catches the firm set of her chin. But her voice softens. “I know you love him. Now, he needs to know it, too.”
His jaw drops, leaving him gaping like a landed fish, and Yoruichi chooses that opportunity to close the door. There's the distinct snick of a lock as well, and Kisuke realizes that Yoruichi has locked him out of his own damn rooms.
Oh, she'll be gone later. Much later. Once, she's convinced he's gone and spoken with Ichigo like she suggested. But no matter how much he begs, Kisuke is quite certain she has no intention of letting him back in right now.
Rubbing fingers across his forehead, Kisuke turns away from his door, staring at the one across from him. It’s Ichigo’s. He doesn't spare a glance at the door just down the hall either – Aizen's room.
Yoruichi had given him little choice in this matter. But honestly, the only thing stopping him is his own cowardice.
Inhaling slowly, Kisuke steps toward Ichigo's door and raps his knuckles across the wood. He waits for a response but doesn't receive one. It's not late enough that Ichigo would be asleep. He knocks again, wincing to himself, wondering if he's being too pushy.
There's no answer yet again. Ichigo's not in his room. Which isn't actually all that unusual, come to think of it.
Kisuke sighs, turning away. Nothing to do but find him then.
The corridors are still and silent. It's late, but that doesn't stop the various faceless servants from flitting around, doing whatever it is they do. They don't speak to Kisuke, hardly acknowledge his presence, which is another knife to the gut. Another reminder that he shouldn't be here, where he doesn't belong.
Kisuke swallows that errant thought down and continues his search. Down one hallway and then another. He wonders where Ichigo is. A cursory query with reiatsu doesn't give him an answer. It's like the walls are soaked in Ichigo's reiatsu, so that he feels surrounded by the new king. A nice feeling but altogether unhelpful in pinning down Ichigo's location.
He finds the war room purely by luck, but Ichigo isn't there. Nor is he in the kitchens or the massive sun room, looking out on a night-swept garden. Kisuke stands there for a minute, admiring the flowers in full bloom, hearing the soft trickle of some small stream. It's peaceful, but Ichigo isn't here.
Kisuke moves on.
One corridor leads into the next, dimly lit as though to mimic the fact that it is now nighttime, carpet plush beneath his feet. Kisuke somehow stumbles upon one of the palace's many libraries, pushing open the massive door and peering inside.
“Ichigo?” he calls out, far more time-saving than searching each of the dozen rows of shelves that are clearly visible.
Movement at the corner of his eye makes Kisuke shift. Only to spy Aizen stepping out from between two shelves, book in hand.
“He's not here,” the former overlord says curtly and starts to turn away.
Kisuke's lips thin. Asking Aizen where Ichigo is would be like admitting exactly what position Aizen has taken in Ichigo's life. Kisuke's pride won't allow that. But then again, his pride is not exactly served by wandering around the palace in a half-drunken daze either.
“I see that now,” Kisuke replies, equally snappish, and steps back with the intention to make a graceful exit.
His inebriated senses, however, care little for his pride and seem to have abandoned grace a few cupfuls of sake ago. He sways, trips on the door frame, and nearly tumbles to the floor. His arms flail around, catching the door and saving himself from a humiliating fall. Though the trip itself is no less embarrassing.
The world also chooses that moment to spin. And Aizen's sigh seems to echo around him.
“How much have you drank?”
Kisuke whips his head around, glaring. “Who says I've been drinking?” he snaps. But he regrets the quick motion in an instant, pain lancing behind his eyes, stomach roiling unpleasantly. He swallows down a rising tide of nausea.
Aizen sets the book aside, approaching Kisuke as his brow quirks. “I can smell the sake from here,” he says mildly. “If I were you, I would return to my quarters before I collapsed.”
“Then it's a good thing I'm not you.” Kisuke shoves off the door despite his dizziness and staggers into the hallway. He pauses to get his bearings, trying to remember which way to go, trying to decide where he should go.
To find Ichigo like he originally set out to do? Or maybe with the odd spinning, pulsing bit his brain is putting out, he ought to return to his quarters.
Which are... where?
“You are not the only one who finds that thought distasteful,” Aizen puts in with that same bland tone. He follows Kisuke into the corridor, gaze flicking over him critically. “Though I have to say, a small part of me is impressed you made it here in that state. You are stubborn if nothing else.”
Kisuke frowns. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“Merely an observation.” Aizen shifts, but something about the way he holds himself is defensive and anxious. “Your room is that way, in case you've forgotten,” he says and gestures with a tilt of his head to Kisuke's left.
“I knew that!”
He tilts his head, tone thick with mockery. “Forgive me then. Turning in confused circles must be how you start all your journeys.”
Kisuke grits his teeth, a snappy retort failing him. He turns away from Aizen with the intention of heading back to his quarters. There, at least, he can be assured of not accidentally running into his most hated enemy. He'll have to try and find Ichigo tomorrow, hopefully when the new king isn't being trailed by Aizen like a master with his dog.
However, his sense of independence falters when the hallway abruptly ends, branching into two opposite directions. Kisuke pauses, looking down one and then the other. They are identical in appearance, giving him no clue as to which is the correct route to take. He's strongly starting to suspect that the corridors are changing. Are moving at someone’s – perhaps Ichigo – whim.
An aggravated sigh echoes behind him, and then, a hand firmly grasps his elbow.
“This way,” Aizen says tightly and tugs Kisuke to the left.
He stumbles, trying to jerk his arm free from Aizen's hold. “I don't need your help,” Kisuke hisses, but Aizen's quick stride forces him to focus more on maintaining his feet than obtaining his freedom. His skin is crawling, Aizen's lack of reiatsu more unnerving than anything else.
“It's quite obvious that you do,” Aizen retorts, his grip firm but not painful. “You should be grateful that I'm even willing to offer it.”
Kisuke works his jaw. “I hate you.”
He stops resisting, however. As much as it pains him to admit it, he won't find his room anytime this century. And he's quite loathe to fall into a sodden heap on the floor in the middle of a random hallway.
He'll consent to Aizen's help. Just this once.
Brown eyes flick toward him before glancing away again. He steers Kisuke down an adjoining corridor effortlessly.
“I know. I dare say the feeling is mutual,” Aizen comments like he’s talking about nothing more personal than the weather. “But Ichigo would be less than impressed if I let you drown in your own vomit.”
Kisuke's brow crinkles, confusion warring with utter disgust. “You know, that doesn't make any sense,” he says.
But if Aizen's going to be helpful, maybe he'll be chatty, too. Maybe he’ll finally answer some questions Kisuke's been harboring for quite some time.
“Why do you hate me so much?” the blond demands then. “I've never done anything to you.”
Aizen, on the other hand, has given Kisuke numerous reasons to openly despise the ex-overlord. Kisuke can't remember a single occasion of ever once giving Aizen reason to abhor him. They'd barely had any contact prior to the day Aizen forced his experiments on the Vizard and contributed to Kisuke's exile.
There’s silence for a moment, but Aizen actually deigns to answer.
“You took something from me,” he replies, voice low and body stiff. His entire expression has closed down and reveals nothing.
They turn down another corridor where things begin to look familiar. Not that everything doesn’t look similar anyway.
Kisuke scoffs. “I never knew you as anything beyond Shinji's lieutenant. What could I have possibly taken?”
Aizen's fingers flex around Kisuke's elbow. But they aren’t enough to cause any pain.
“If you think on it hard enough, you'll figure it out,” he continues without a hint of the roiling emotions that have to be beneath the surface.
Kisuke frowns. “You always speak in riddles, like you're trying to prove how smart you are,” he mutters.
Down another hallway and Kisuke's shoulders sag with relief. He's familiar with the area now. Ichigo's room is there on the left, Aizen's next door, and across the hall is Kisuke's with an empty room beside his.
“You want something clearer?” Aizen marches him to his door, opening it with ease.
Hadn’t Yoruichi locked it though?
Either way, Aizen still half-drags Kisuke into his own living quarters, steps more hurried than before.
“That was the whole point of me asking,” Kisuke snaps, and this time, he manages to jerk his arm free of Aizen's grasp. Though he suspects it's more a result of Aizen choosing to let him go.
Aizen, however, is not yet finished. A solid push makes Kisuke tumble backward, falling heavily onto his bed with an undignified squawk. One that is quickly suppressed when Aizen looms over him, eyes dark and betraying whatever emotion broils behind them. It’s Kisuke’s first keen look at what lies behind Aizen's mask. Something inside of him quails, but a certain stubborn pride keeps his chin lifted. He'll never allow himself to be intimidated by Aizen fucking Sousuke.
“You call me a murderer and a traitor, but you've done things just as bad if not worse,” Aizen says, words clipped and careful. “There are some lines even I've never crossed.”
Kisuke's eyes narrow. “Yes, because forcefully turning Shinji and his friends into Vizard and slaughtering Chamber 46 are perfectly acceptable deeds.”
“At least I openly accept that my actions are my own,” the brunet deflects. “I don't hide behind the guise of following orders.”
Kisuke twitches. “You don't even have the decency to regret your war. Why should it matter what you think of me?”
Aizen draws back, stiff and gaze unyielding. “You're the one who asked,” he retorts and whirls on his heel, striding quickly from the room. “Go to sleep, Urahara. You stink of sake, and Ichigo would be less than impressed to see you right now.”
“Oh, is that concern for me? How touching.” Kisuke sneers.
The former overlord doesn't deign to respond, closing the door with a quiet click and leaving Kisuke in uncomfortable silence. Trust Aizen to have the last word, even if he'd spoken nothing aloud.
Flopping back onto his bed, Kisuke throws an arm over his eyes. He allows himself to sigh loudly for the first time. It isn’t quite the bitter, near-violent verbal altercations of the past few months, but it leaves him feeling defeated all the same.
a/n: Next week brings an interlude that fills in some background. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated!This entry was originally posted at http://dracoqueen22.dreamwidth.org/137120.html. Feel free to comment wherever you find most convenient.