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.
Interlude Eight: Edge of the Earth
“It’s truly pleasure to see you again, Kurosaki-heika,” Unohana-san says as they finish their meal and sit back to relax.
Ichigo feels his eyebrow twitch. He thought he’d manage it. They’d spent the last hour talking, and she hadn’t brought it up once, but now, she’s gone and ruined it.
“Oh, not you, too,” he all but groans. “It’s Ichigo. Just Ichigo.”
She smiles at him. “If you insist, Ichigo-san.”
He tries not to glare at her. She’s too scary for that anyway. He just frowns.
It’s a familiar expression for him in general. Not to mention even more lately.
Being king sucks. Being stuck between two men sucks. Being all but expected to jump through flaming hoops while juggling knives and performing other miracles sucks.
Being Ichigo sucks.
And even better, his expression gives him away. Unohana-san’s teasing falls away, and she looks at him as she did when she found him that morning and invited – demanded, dragged – him to lunch. Talking to her had made him forget. Had made his problems fall away for a while.
But they’ve all come roaring back now. And they all seem to center on one of two things.
Ichigo, king. Or Ichigo, lover.
Unohana-san sighs and tips her head at him. Ichigo hates to think what he must look like to earn the look she gives then. Almost stern but at the same time wistfully sad.
“You are troubled,” she says, and it isn’t a question. “I’d hoped that I could ease that burden some, but clearly, I’ve failed.”
Ichigo exhales heavily. He feels suddenly and unexpectedly tired, and the day is only half over.
“It’s not your fault,” he replies and dismisses her concerns with a wave. “I’m not mad at you about it either.”
She makes a humming sound. “Perhaps not at me. But at someone else then? Yourself even?”
Ichigo snorts. She tilts her head further at that.
“Not so much me as other people. And I’m not mad. Just… frustrated,” he corrects.
“I’m familiar with such things,” Unohana-san puts in sagely, and she glances out the window at nothing for a moment. “With how frustrating Seireitei and their politics can be.”
There’s something to the way she says it. An edge, an undercurrent that stops Ichigo’s response short.
“You know that my son and his family… were killed,” she inserts softly then.
Ichigo honestly doesn’t follow this complete non sequitur, but he nods slowly. He wants to offer an apology but doesn’t know how so remains silent.
Unohana-san seems grateful for it.
“It was said that he was delving into matters best left alone. That he’d gained Hollow powers and had to be put down. I was skeptical naturally. But I was his mother, and no one believed me.”
Her tone is soft. Little more than a whisper. Little more than heartbreak given a voice.
There’s something at the back of Ichigo’s mind even as he listens. Some thought. Some memory.
“The Onmitsukidoh was the one to do it. To kill my son… and then his wife and children.” Her fingers start to curl, but she visibly stops herself. “The woman who murdered my son is now dead, but she was a captain once, you know. I stood beside her in every meeting for nearly a century.”
She doesn’t have to say it. He knows who she means.
“Soifon,” Ichigo breathes, but it’s so quiet she isn’t even interrupted.
“And the man who murdered my grandchildren and daughter still lives. In this very palace.” She waves to the building around them. “I saw him just today even. Passed him in the hallway on my way to see you.”
Ichigo stares at her, but even as he does, he’s thinking. Quickly and desperately.
Who? Who was it?
Yoruichi-sama… No, Unohana-san said it was a man and that he lives here.
Who else was in the Onmitsukidoh?
Shinji… No. Goat-Face… No way. Ki--
Ichigo sucks in a breath. His eyes widen with understanding. With horror. With the memory of a blond man leaving Ichigo’s side seconds before Unohana-san walks up to him.
“You can’t mean--”
“I mean as I said,” she interrupts, and he knows that he isn’t imagining it when he feels a tremble of reiatsu that’s swiftly stopped dead. “They – my family – were eliminated by the then third and fourth-seats of the second division, shared as they were with the Onmitsukidoh.”
Ichigo feels his brain break and his soul crumble into dust. He can merely stare in complete and utter horror as his mouth works.
“How…? How can you…? Why haven’t you killed him yet?” Ichigo demands, and he can hardly believe his own ears.
Since really, that’s exactly what Ichigo would’ve done himself. Had anyone even thought of touching a hair on the head of Karin or Yuzu or even Goat-Face, he would’ve burned mansions and cities and entire worlds. And that would’ve just been the start of it. Seireitei would be little more than ash and dust and even Yama-jii couldn’t have stopped him. He can only imagine what she could do. What thousands of years of knowledge and experience turned to rage could’ve done.
She could’ve killed them all. Every single one of them. And probably a whole bunch of other people besides.
Was Chamber 46 suicidal? Had they a death wish? Did the Onmitsukidoh? Did Soifon and Yoruichi for agreeing? Did Kisuke for going through with it?
And it’s such a horrible thing to ask. To think about Kisuke. To know that they never would’ve met and Ichigo never would’ve kissed him or shared a bed or… anything.
But Unohana-san just offers him a sad, sad smile. It doesn’t reach her eyes, and he doesn’t know what to think about that.
“He wasn’t to blame,” she murmurs. “It wasn’t out of malice. Or spite. It was his job. If he hadn’t, someone else would have. Chamber 46 was to blame, and well…” She makes a sweeping gesture, and her smile has a flicker of satisfaction. “They are beyond my reach now.”
‘Because Sousuke killed them,’ Ichigo thinks and suddenly understands a whole hell of a lot more than he did five minutes ago.
Things that never made sense before do in startling shades of stark black and white. Why exactly Sousuke hated Kisuke so much in the first damn place.
The knowledge is… overwhelming.
Ichigo wonders if Kisuke has even realized it. If this is one of his many secrets. If he even knows the names of all the people he’s killed or how mind fuckingly scary their relatives are.
Ichigo can hardly comprehend it himself. Can’t even begin to comprehend why on earth or any of their dozen heavens she suddenly felt the need to share this with him. As if his life and day didn’t suck enough.
“Why are you telling me this?” he asks and is shocked by how normal he sounds. Like his brain just didn’t run off in revolt.
And if Ichigo didn’t know her better, he’d think it was to make Sousuke look better and Kisuke worse. But Unohana-san isn’t like that. She’s not so cruel.
She straightens then. He hadn’t even realized that she’d leaned forward to capture his hand.
“You deserve the truth,” she says simply. “To know how bad things really were. To know that you aren’t just a king to us.” Her eyes are so blue then, burning. Almost fervent in a way he never thought she could be. “That you’re a source of hope. A sign that the future is bright if only we work at it.”
Ichigo can only swallow at the force of her words. At her conviction. At her sorrow and loss and perseverance.
Abruptly, his own problems don’t seem that bad. He’s the king of the known universe. He controls life and death. He has his friends and family and would-be lovers with him. He has his powers still and his sanity and anything he could ever think to ask for.
What could he possibly have to complain about? Why is he wasting his time whining when he could be out there doing things? Saving people? That’s what he wanted, wasn’t it? What he’s good at.
And certainly, he can turn Seireitei from a cesspool of child murderers to something bordering on a real heaven. He can be the king they all want. That all their dead deserve. Renji and his mom and the ones not fortunate enough to be able to linger.
Ichigo can do this. Can be a Vizard and a king. Can make this place what it should’ve been to begin with.
He swears it.
They sit on Sousuke’s balcony and watch the sunset turn to twilight in quiet companionship. Her cup is full of sake, but Sousuke has always been careful of that vice and drinks tea instead. The breeze tugs at her hair, and Nanao finally decides to let it loose as the sunlight fades away entirely. Sousuke always preferred it that way, and her current paramour does as well. So did Shunsui, and she has a dresser full of clips and barrettes he gave her in the hopes she’d choose style over a stern knot at the nape of her neck.
Nanao has thoughts of growing her hair out just to wear them, and if she’s truly honest, the length right now is more than it’s ever been before. She’s been reluctant to cut it since the war; a lack of time has only been an excuse. Shunsui had always said that her hair was lovely, just as the rest of her, and she shouldn’t hide it.
But now, Nanao doesn’t have to hide much. Not anymore. She doesn’t have to pretend. To be the upright and uptight vice-captain. To be blind to the horrors of Chamber 46 and Seireitei.
Now, she can finally be free. To do and think and say exactly what she wants, when she wants, because she wants.
She can’t say that she’ll let it go to waste.
Already, she’s told Hirako Shinji that he’s a blond-headed buffoon and has beaten him with her book to the applause to every person around them, his fiancée included. And that was just his first day on the job. If he doesn’t get his act together soon, she’ll have to make a repeat performance. She’ll be sure to bring Sousuke next time; he’ll enjoy it.
Beside her, he smiles as if reading her mind. She wonders sometimes if he really can.
However, he just reaches to refill her cup as they sit together, and his smile turns to something even softer. Almost beatific.
She watches him from the corner of her eye, but he doesn’t look away from her. Simply watches her with curiosity. As if he’s been turning a problem over in his head for a while and is still wondering at the solution.
“Why did you say no?”
The question comes out of nowhere. But at the same time, it doesn’t.
They haven’t been lovers for two decades now, but she knows him. Not just his body or the feel of his reiatsu. She knows him. The man who would-be a monster. The conqueror and would-have-been king.
She knows that this question has been burning at the back on his mind since the day she packed up her things and moved back to the vice-captain quarters at the eighth.
Nanao isn’t the least bit surprised.
She turns to face him fully. Twilight suits him. His eyes are almost black now, so dark that they eat light and give none back. His hair is nearly that color, too. But somehow, it softens his face to something almost approachable.
He’d always liked her hair down, but she’d loved his more. Loved running her fingers through it as he lay with his head in her lap. Loved the way it brushed her nose as they kissed and he nibbled on her bottom lip. Loved tugging on the strands as he pleasured her and they slid together slick with sweat.
Admittedly, the thing that first brought her to her current paramour was his own lovely hair. Not that she’ll ever tell him that. Don’t get her wrong, the rest of the packaging is nice, too. Not to mention the mind wrapped inside. And what he could do with it.
…But that was a thought for another time. Perhaps when she was in the bath and not with her former beau and remembering how it felt to make love to him with a crazed passion that left them breathless and half-asleep the next morning.
Yes, Nanao will definitely revisit that thought later. Much later.
She takes a sip of her sake. “I would’ve held you back,” she tells him then. “You would’ve worried about me, about your wife, when you should’ve been worrying about the world.”
He looks at her like he isn’t the least bit surprised that she’d deduced what he was doing back then. Nanao has always been his equal in intelligence; it’s what attracted him to her. And she’d long been a casual ally in his cause. But she’d kept mostly in the background. Where plausible deniability and truth were so hard to discern. Where Shunsui would still have someone to lean on should the unthinkable happen and Sousuke get caught.
Yes, he would’ve had Ukitake-san, but he’d have lost a son and a daughter-in-law and something like a grandson all at the same time. It would’ve been an injury to the soul she doesn’t think he could’ve survived. And even if Shunsui had, it would’ve remade him into something else. Someone else. Not the man he should be.
Sousuke’s smart enough to realize that. To understand without her having to explain.
He gives a nod. “Just so,” he acknowledges and drinks more tea.
Nanao fights a smile. Such a typical response from him. Simple on the outside. Complex and layered within.
Even more than his hair, she’d always loved that.
Nanao looks at his dark eyes and sees the first man she ever took to her bed. The first she ever loved. The second to ever see that she was more than a bookish little girl, though admittedly Shunsui had always been good at seeing potential when people couldn’t even notice it in themselves.
Some part of her will always love this man, Sousuke. Will always wake up and wonder why he isn’t there. Just as her beau will always think of his first wife, she will always imagine how things could’ve been different. How beautiful their children would’ve been and if they would’ve called Gin-chan their brother.
But Nanao isn’t one for regrets. She isn’t one for wishing things were different. She’ll wonder, but she’ll be happy with how her life is now. She’ll love her husband when he finally finds the nerve to ask her, and she’ll adore the children they’ll have and new sister she’ll gain. She’ll even make it a point to name her son Shunsui or perhaps a derivative.
She can just imagine her future husband’s face when he learns that. It’ll be priceless she’s sure.
Nanao is still smiling over that when Sousuke finally speaks again some indeterminable time later. When the stars are out and the air carries a chill. When time threatens to pass them by.
“I did love you,” Sousuke says then, and his face is as open as it ever gets. “Don’t doubt that.”
She shakes her head as another smile creeps to her mouth. “I never did.”
As always, the lovely azardarkstar wrote the interludes and she deserves all the praise. This entry was originally posted at http://dracoqueen22.dreamwidth.org/138820.html. Feel free to comment wherever you find most convenient.