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-Five: Lovers
Sousuke tenses for a brief moment before cautiously choosing his words. “Probably sleeping in,” he answers, careful to keep the loathing from his voice. He could very easily tell Ichigo the truth but doubts that will be in his favor.
The fact that Urahara is going to have the hangover of a lifetime is a small comfort.
Ichigo frowns. He props his chin on his palm, elbow on the table.
“That's weird,” he comments and watches as Sousuke finishes the last of his breakfast.
“Perhaps,” the brunet concedes before busying himself with his tea. “It has, however, been a long few months. We could all use a little more rest.”
“Hmm. You have a point.” Ichigo’s lips twitch. “Not that it seems to apply to me. How many meetings do I have today again?”
Despite himself, Sousuke smiles. “Only four.” He folds his napkin away, still utterly surprised at how well nearly intangible beings can craft a decent breakfast.
“Only?” Ichigo snorts, but it’s one of amusement instead of disdain. “You're practically giving me a vacation here, Sousuke.”
“I've even gone to the effort of ensuring you'll enjoy most of them,” Sousuke says in return, laying his chopsticks over his bowl and washing down his last bite with a sip of his water. “Though Isogai-san has returned to express his disapproval.”
Ichigo groans, thunking his head on the table. Sousuke fights a bigger smile at the expression on his face.
“Again?” the Vizard questions with another put-out noise. “I think he complains just to hear himself talk.”
Sousuke can’t help but chuckle. “So it might seem. But I remind you that it was your idea to be open to the complaints of your subjects... your highness.”
“Don't you start that, too.” Ichigo straightens, swiping a hand through his hair and mussing up the orangish strands even further. “I don't need a fancy title.”
“You deserve one.”
Ichigo rolls his eyes, scooting his chair back and rising to his feet. That seems to be a signal for the servants as they immediately solidify and start clearing the table. Luckily, Sousuke himself is already finished, and this isn't an inconvenience to him.
“I didn't do anything,” Ichigo says, tone exasperating. It's a conversation they've had several times before. “You gave me the key. All I did was walk down a set of stairs and have some hallucinations. Like the reward for my psychotic break was a nice rusty kingdom.”
Sousuke stands, moving aside to let the servants do their duty. “I think Gin would take offense to that.”
“Gin does, in fact,” his former subordinate drawls from behind them.
Sousuke turns, catching sight of Gin leaning in the doorway against the frame, arms folded across his chest. He merely gives his former captain a smirk that Sousuke returns.
“I'll have ya know that I'm as real as real gets,” Gin adds.
“That makes absolutely zero sense,” Ichigo replies with a sigh. He rounds the table. “Missed you at breakfast by the way.”
Gin makes a vague gesture. “Had stuff ta take care of. Ya know. Busy times 'round here. Someone's got ta make sure this place stays tip-top.”
“So you've mentioned before,” Sousuke allows with both brows raised. “And since you're terribly busy, don't you have other things to be doing?”
Gin turns out of the door. “Yeah, I hear ya. Alone time with th' king.”
His former subordinate chuckles as he steps completely out of the doorway and takes off to the left, off to oversee the dozen or so functions that have somehow fallen under Gin's command. Sousuke's not sure how that happened. He suspects Ichigo had much to do with it. Still, Sousuke's proud of what Gin has become.
“You know,” Ichigo inserts, stepping up beside Sousuke with a contemplative cant to his head. “It's been a week, and I'm still surprised.”
It's Sousuke's turn to look thoughtful. “By what?”
“Well, he's not exactly the murderous creep that I always thought he would be, for one thing,” the younger man replies with a drawl. “Then again, I once thought the same thing about you.”
“Once?” Like a kid with a crush, Sousuke's internals do a flip of excitement.
Ichigo rolls his eyes, half-turning to lean against the door frame, a position rather similar to the one Gin had just abandoned. “Pretend modesty doesn't suit you,” he points out and then shrugs. “And yes, I've discovered that you're not half the monster I thought you were either. Funny how things change.”
“I wouldn't exactly call it funny. Fortuitous perhaps,” the brunet quips, but it’s more than a little grateful.
“Yeah, well, I don't have your talent with words.” Ichigo’s shoulder brushes his as he takes a step forward.
Sousuke's lips curve into a smile. “Perhaps not. Your talents lie elsewhere.” He leans in closer, indulging in the intoxicating sensation of just being near Ichigo. “Someone like you hardly needs words.”
Ichigo's gaze flickers to him, the playful edge in them shifting to a darker hue. One that Sousuke has become more intimately familiar with over the past week.
“If that's what you call a pickup line, then maybe I was wrong about your language abilities.”
“I thought it was working,” the brunet retorts, but he’s amused more than anything.
“It wasn't that bad,” his king admits, rolling his shoulders in another shrug. “Could use some work though.”
One hand reaches up, fingers cupping Sousuke's neck, dragging him forward, closing the short distance between them. Their lips meet. Ichigo tastes sweet and tangy, like orange juice, making the slow swirl of heat in Sousuke's belly stir to life. He leans closer, slips an arm around Ichigo’s back, deepening the kiss. His tongue swipes inside Ichigo's mouth, teasing and tangling. His free hand settles on a hip, thumb swiping over the narrow band of flesh between Ichigo's pants and shirt. Skin warm and soft to the touch.
This is hardly the place. Sousuke knows that all too well, but Ichigo started it, and he’s reluctant to deny his king anything.
“Your first meeting starts in ten minutes,” Sousuke reminds him. He noses into the hollow behind Ichigo's ear, a place proven to be most sensitive.
The younger man sighs. He slowly pulls back from the embrace until there's a more professional distance between them.
“Yeah. I know.” He tilts his head to look at Sousuke critically. “And what are you going to do in the meantime?”
“There are projects that I oversee,” Sousuke responds in an even enough tone. “It takes a lot of work to be your secretary.”
To his utmost pleasure, a flush enters Ichigo's cheeks. “Ugh. Please don't ever say that again. You're not my secretary.”
“Executive assistant then.”
“That's not much better.” The Vizard shakes his head, sliding out of the doorway and into the hall. “So what other boring meetings do I have today?”
Sousuke's amusement increases tenfold. “Jyuushiro has some plans regarding the Gotei 13 he wishes to discuss; he's meeting you for lunch by the way. Shihouin-san is putting together the final plans for dissolution of the Maggot's Nest and wants your approval. And the Shiba clan wishes to petition you for reinstatement into the nobility.”
Ichigo nods. “A busy day then.” He turns to the right, where a few hallways down lies the door to the room he's dubbed his meeting hall. He pauses and shifts to look back at Sousuke. “Dinner tonight?”
Another juvenile leap of heat echoes in Sousuke's chest. “Of course. Good luck with Isogai.”
Ichigo sniffs and turns completely, waving a dismissing hand over his shoulder. “I can handle him.”
Sousuke has no doubt of that. The man is no warrior, only a lingering, outdated member of Chamber 46 whom Hirako allowed to keep his position. Why, Sousuke isn't sure; they'd all be better served by Isogai's absence. However, that isn't Sousuke's decision to make, so he simply assumes that his former captain has some grand plan in mind.
He watches Ichigo head down the hall before turning on his heel, going over his own duties in the back of his mind. Sousuke has been assigned nothing officially, but there are many responsibilities he’s taken on himself, if only to ease Ichigo's burden. Despite being the king, Ichigo can't be everywhere at once. He can't see everything. He isn't omniscient.
Sousuke had been the one to put Ichigo in this position. It's only fair that he shoulder some of the responsibility. But first... there is one loathsome duty he must handle first.
He ducks back into the dining room, catching sight of one of the palace's many ghostly servants. Not knowing any of their names makes it difficult to call out to a single person in particular, but for some reason, they always seem to know when he needs something. One of the shifting, faceless servants turns toward Sousuke, head cocked in a manner that shows it’s listening.
“Come with me,” he says, part of him still wondering why he can get the servants to obey while they all but ignore Urahara's existence and just about everyone else. Perhaps they can recognize the better man.
The servant – a male, he thinks – nods. Satisfied, Sousuke leaves the dining room, certain that he's being trailed by a shifting apparition. It's early yet, so the hallways are noticeably empty of visitors, well-wishers, and complainers. This will change by noon, he's certain, but for now, Sousuke relishes in the peace.
He heads toward the living quarters, and the hall that houses his, Ichigo's and Urahara's rooms. He passes at the door to the latter, listening intently for signs of movement within. All he can hear, however, is the raucous sound of snoring.
Unlocked doors make it easier to get inside. Drawn curtains shed morning's light over the main room so that Sousuke doesn't trip on anything. He peers in cautiously, but Urahara is still asleep, sprawled across his bed and making an annoying racket. He's even drooling. A fact that Sousuke notes and promptly tells himself to forget. He'd have preferred not knowing.
Well, Urahara isn’t dead. A pity. He managed to survive his night of inebriated shenanigans, and judging by the smell of sake emanating from the man’s direction, Urahara won't rise anytime before noon. A small favor.
Sousuke sighs and turns back toward the servant. “When he wakes, bring him a bland breakfast. I doubt he'll be in any state to fetch it for himself.”
The ghostly head nods – or Sousuke supposes that’s what the wispy motion is – before the apparition dissolves into thin air. There, task accomplished.
Would he call it a kindness?
Sousuke didn't do this for Urahara's sake after all. For the scientist to wake up in some forgotten hallway, a drunken, sotted mess wouldn’t upset Sousuke at all. Ichigo, on the other hand, would probably blame himself for it with that charming but pesky guilt. Right now, Ichigo doesn’t need that added stress.
Another loud snore rolls up behind Sousuke, and he quickly makes his escape, closing the door tightly behind him. Now, to attend his other, more substantial duties. Except, Gin has apparently been waiting for him, standing in the corridor with a very amused look on his face.
“Well, that was nice of ya.”
Sousuke feels himself twitch, despite his best efforts to control it. “You could call it that.”
“I call it like I see it,” Gin says with a wide grin, falling into step beside Sousuke with hands folded into his sleeves. “Or mebbe that was ya bein' yer sneaky self and gettin' rid of the competition.”
“With your propensity to appear from the shadows, one would think you'd carefully choose who you accuse of sneaking,” Sousuke replies mildly.
Gin chuckles. “Ah, but I learn from th' best. Ya have only yerself ta blame.” He tilts his head to the side, gaze sharply flicking over Sousuke from top to bottom. “And yer not goin' ta distract me that easily either. Have yer eyes on becoming consort, do ya?”
“Do they even have such a thing anymore?” Sousuke asks and lets incredulity hide the truth of his reaction.
“I dunno. That's up to Ichigo really.” Gin rolls his shoulders in a shrug. “But that's not what I asked, Aizen-taichou.”
Sousuke inclines my head. “It's a question I can't answer since the decision is not mine to make.”
“Yeah, yer skill with words hasn't changed,” Gin put in glibly. “And I wasn't askin' what Ichigo wants. I'm askin' what ya want.”
Working his jaw, Sousuke chooses his words carefully. Lest future events prove to be a disappointment only.
“I would not say no,” he murmurs. “But I also understand that I'm standing on shaky ground at best.”
Gin makes a noise in his throat. “Ya think Urahara’s still got a chance?”
Sousuke doesn't think it; he knows. Before there was a mess of a relationship, there was friendship, battle camaraderie, a master and student bond. And that sort of thing isn't easily tossed aside. Besides, Sousuke's neither blind nor stupid. Urahara's in love with Ichigo, and there's a strong possibility that the feelings are reciprocated.
Urahara's lies by omission are not unforgivable transgressions. And Ichigo is the sort who doesn't let the past define someone. He can look beyond Urahara's less than stellar origins in the same manner that he's managed to see Sousuke's failed attempt at godhood.
“Yes, I do,” Sousuke says and exhales softly. “That, however, isn’t important right now. I assume you had another reason for seeking me out?”
“Work, work, work,” Gin huffs. “That's all ya ever wanna do.” He rolls his eyes. “And yeah, I had somethin' to tell ya.” One hand appears from his sleeve, holding a rolled up parchment. “Here's a list of the damaged sectors of Seireitei.”
Sousuke takes the document, unrolling it and briefly scanning the contents. “Thank you.” He's impressed. It's very detailed and will save him hours of walking. “This will help.”
“Cause I'm that helpful of a guy,” Gin says with his usual sly humor, tossing Sousuke a sloppy salute. “And now, I'm off ta my stewardly duties. Gotta track down Ichigo, too.”
Sousuke nods musingly. “Yes, you do that.”
His response is spoken to empty air though. Sousuke doesn't know if Gin's ability to appear and disappear at will is due to his strange placement as guardian, but he somewhat envies his former subordinate for it. Such an ability would certainly save Sousuke time on walking, a loathsome task without shunpo to speed things along.
Sousuke shakes his head, amused despite himself. He has his own matters to attend now.
Urahara is noticeable in his absence during dinner. Whether he doesn't want to show his face out of a sense of shame or is otherwise occupied, Sousuke doesn't care to know. Ichigo, however, notices his loss with the same attention he paid to it this morning.
“He's probably busy working on that gate,” Sousuke answers, wincing when he realizes it sounds like he's defending Urahara of all things.
Ichigo inclines his head, making a noncommittal noise in his throat. “Maybe.”
He pushes his dinner around the plate, looking more like he's playing with it and less like he's actually eating it. The ex-captain restrains the frown trying to pull his lips.
“How was your lunch with Jyuushiro-san?” he asks with the hopes of changing the subject.
“Fine.” Ichigo rolls his shoulders. “He's filled every open slot in the Gotei 13 except for one. Apparently, it isn't easy finding someone who's both trustworthy and with bankai.”
“To be expected,” Sousuke muses aloud. Even with all the research he's accumulated, he has yet to find someone capable of taking the post either. Perhaps that opening will remain for some time.
Ichigo pushes his plate away with most of his food still on it. He looks tired, almost halfhearted.
“Yeah, I guess,” he says and waves away the first servant who appears at his side. “No, thank you. I'm done now.” There's an edge of impatience in his voice.
He truly looks weary then. It's been a long week, true. But things have calmed down some. Or is he not sleeping again?
“You're not hungry?” Sousuke questions instead.
“I had a big lunch,” Ichigo replies, but he shifts in his chair, which doesn't give his words much credit.
Sousuke finishes the last of his meal and sets his plate aside. “Is dessert out of the question then?”
“Depends on what you mean by dessert.” A small smile curves Ichigo lips.
He doesn't think he'll ever get tired of Ichigo flirting with him. “I believe I saw them preparing something like strawberry shortcake.” The brunet lifts his brows pointedly.
Ichigo groans, shoving back his chair. “I didn't think you would resort to that overused joke.”
“I couldn't resist,” Sousuke teases and wipes at his mouth with a napkin. “If cake doesn't suit, perhaps you have something better in mind?”
Rolling his eyes, Ichigo rises from the table. “How about we leave the dining room first?”
“Your place or mine?”
A something like a chuckle mixed with a growl spills from Ichigo's lips. It makes Sousuke’s heart jolt. Along with other body parts noticeably lower.
He hastily stands.
“Yours,” his king says as Sousuke rounds the table to arrive at his side. “For a change of pace.”
“You'll see no argument from me.”
Ichigo shakes his head, and Sousuke trails after him out of the dining room, following familiar routes back to their quarters a short distance away. Of them all, Ichigo seems to be the one having the least trouble finding his way around. And he hadn't needed Gin to give him a map. Perhaps it is instinctive to him.
In the hallway, they fall into a companionable silence. Ichigo appears to have nothing more to say, and Sousuke briefly mulls over his completed tasks for the day, mentally listing what would need to be done tomorrow.
By the time they pass Ichigo's room – and Urahara's across the hall from it – Sousuke doesn't spare the scientist's door a second glance. If Urahara hadn't seen fit to show his face for dinner, all the better.
But it is something about Ichigo's odd quiet that bothers Sousuke. He doesn't miss the lingering glance Ichigo shoots at Urahara's door or the way his face briefly flutters with concern and something else. Something Sousuke can't even begin to name.
“Is something wrong?” the former traitor asks as he pushes open his door, gesturing for Ichigo to precede him.
“Hmm?” His gaze shifts to Sousuke as though suddenly realizing that they're walking into the room, waking up from wherever he'd been lost in thought. “No. Just thinking.”
That's never a good sign. Sousuke eyes Ichigo.
“I seem to remember agreeing that kingly duties stop after dinner.”
Ichigo's lips twitch in a half-smile. Yes, he's definitely distracted by something.
“Yeah, I know,” he says and drops down into the couch with a lazy sprawl that somehow manages not to look ridiculous. “Sorry.”
Shaking his head, Sousuke slides into the couch on Ichigo's left side, shifting so that he faces him. “All is forgiven.” He pauses; Ichigo's distraction makes him uneasy. “You seem tired. Maybe--”
Sousuke's mouth clamps shut, his brows crawling toward his hairline. That response was a little more urgent than the situation warranted.
Ichigo's face flushes. “I mean,” he says, turning toward Sousuke and leaning closer, “I'm not that tired.” He carefully plucks the glasses from Sousuke’s face and sets them on a nearby table.
Previous experience had taught them that they tended to get in the way, which made Sousuke strongly think about contacts once again.
“I see,” Sousuke murmurs and closes the distance between them for a kiss that tastes and tingles with power.
For all his distraction, Ichigo returns the kiss eagerly, pressing closer, a knee working between Sousuke's legs. He finds himself pressed between the arm of the sofa and Ichigo, and the brunet has no intention of fighting his way free. Instead, he shifts around, pressing against the back of the sofa to make room for Ichigo to settle over him. He curls his fingers in Ichigo's hair and deepens the kiss, tongue sliding wetly against Ichigo's, nibbling at his lips. The warmth of Ichigo's body blankets him, and his second hand presses beside Sousuke for balance. His knee is a light, wonderful pressure on Sousuke's groin.
He groans, sliding one arm around Ichigo. His palm splays against the king's back, fingers lightly pressing on his shirt. Ichigo leans in completely, aligning their bodies in a slow and sinuous motion that ignites a fire in Sousuke's belly. Lips mouth a path over Ichigo's jaw before Sousuke returns to the kiss. He can feel the Vizard’s stuttered breaths, the light dance of power and reiatsu against his skin. Sousuke can't decide which is more intoxicating.
Ichigo shifts his weight, clinging tighter to the back of the couch. His other hand lifts, landing on Sousuke's abdomen, lightly scratching over the thin fabric of his shirt. A sound works its way into the brunet’s throat as he lets his own hand slide from Ichigo's back to his front, dipping under his shirt to touch heated skin.
Ichigo shivers, gasps, breaking off the kiss to attack Sousuke's throat. His hips rock down, grinding over Sousuke's and making him moan, the coil of heat in his belly flaring hotter and brighter. He has no idea where this is going, but as far as Sousuke is concerned, he's fine with letting his king lead the way.
He arches beneath Ichigo, desperate to have their bodies press together. Fingers scratch against Ichigo's abdomen and creep upward, stroking over rippled muscles and heated skin. Ichigo's hand, in turn, slides downward, toys with the edge of Sousuke's slacks. His breath stutters, length pulsing and eager for Ichigo's touch.
Ichigo's mouth drags back to his, lips crashing over Sousuke's, tongues tangling wetly. Hungrily. Sousuke's hand ghosts from Ichigo's hair to cupping the back of his neck, thumb stroking the curve of his jaw. He sucks in a sharp breath as Ichigo rocks down against him, and desire lances through him when Ichigo's palm lands on his clothed groin.
Sousuke groans, hips bucking into the touch, pulse beating wildly. His own hand slides downward, reaching for Ichigo's groin, intending to return the favor. His fingers brush over the fabric of Ichigo's pants.
Ichigo suddenly breaks away and slides back, putting a noticeable distance between them. Mere inches, but it's like being doused in freezing water. Especially when his hand removes itself from Sousuke's pants as though he's touched a hot burner. His gaze shifts to the side like he can't bear to meet Sousuke's eyes.
A feeling much like dread crashes over Sousuke. Worry churns in his belly.
“I'm sorry,” he whispers, backing away further now, retreating and putting more distance between them. “I can't do this.”
Sousuke's mouth opens, but he honestly can't think of a response. He scoots back, sitting up and planting his back against the arm of the couch, adding more distance. The heat in his body turns ice cold, chasing away the arousal and replacing it with something a lot like... hurt.
Ichigo sighs, leaning forward placing his forehead on his palms. Like he’s hiding his face.
“It's not your fault. It's mine. Completely mine.”
Somehow, that does not make Sousuke feel any better.
“Shall I take a guess?” he questions, unable to completely keep the bitterness from his voice.
“Do you need one?” Ichigo's fingers flex, and he turns his head to watch Sousuke miserably. “I like you. I honestly do. But... it's not that simple anymore. I can't forget about Kisuke that easily. And it's my fault that I don't know what to do about that.”
No. No, it's entirely Sousuke's fault for letting himself believe that things could be this easy. He'd known that whatever lay between Ichigo and Urahara wasn’t so easily broken, but he'd stepped into that vacancy anyway. Like a love-struck fool.
Urahara would laugh if he knew know readily Sousuke had deceived himself. Just like he’d fooled everyone else for centuries. Just like he’d always wrapped lies in truths until they were indistinguishable from one another.
He closes his eyes, takes a deep, calming breath and tries to project a sense of composure. He can’t be sure it works.
“What, exactly, does this mean?” Sousuke asks then because that’s another place where his rationality fails him.
He had asked Ichigo if things were over with Urahara. The response he'd received hadn't been definite. That had been the first sign. There were others. Sousuke had ignored them.
Sousuke could blame Ichigo for this if he were so vindictive. But honestly, the fault lies with himself. It would be pointless to get angry with Ichigo when Sousuke should’ve known better.
“I don't know,” Ichigo says, and one hand scrapes through his hair while the other arm falls to dangle over his knee. “I need... time, I guess. Space. I have to figure this out. ‘Cause right now, I'm not being very fair. To anyone.”
“I see,” Sousuke replies.
Since really, what else can he say? Their relationship is too new for him to ask for anything. And Ichigo can't give him a promise.
The distance between them suddenly seems much wider than a half-length of couch cushion. His arousal has withered away to nonexistence, and his heart beats in his chest like a wounded bird that can’t fly any longer, but his face is passive and blank.
Ichigo sighs again. Reiatsu buzzes around him in disconsolate tremors.
“I didn't mean to do this, you know,” he murmurs.
Sousuke fights not to show his reaction. “Yes.”
Because Sousuke honestly believes him. Ichigo would’ve never set out to hurt anyone. Sometimes, it just happens. It's Sousuke's own fault for leaving himself open to it.
Brown eyes look at him again. They’re dark with confusion and pain and regret and numerous other things that Sousuke can't name.
The words are painful. Sousuke wishes he'd just go, while another part of him thinks to do something as irrational as grabbing Ichigo and refusing to let him leave. He wonders offhand if this is anything like what Urahara must have felt when he realized he'd broken the only good thing in his life.
Ichigo must have heard his unspoken plea because he rises awkwardly to his feet.
“I should go.”
Sousuke doesn't know what to say that. Yes or please stay. His reactions are split right down the middle, so he takes the logical route. He says nothing and just dips his head.
Ichigo half-turns to him, looking like he might say something more. Instead, he whirls on his heel and slips around the couch, making a beeline toward the door. His pace isn’t quite a run but close enough.
He doesn't say anything else when he leaves, just the quiet click of the door behind him. Sousuke is left in the silence of his quarters, releasing a breath he hadn't realized he'd held. He unclenches his fingers and stares at his unadorned wall, one he hadn't gotten around to decorating yet.
A part of him had always suspected something like this would happen. Part of him had always been aware of the possibility.
But knowing this was long in coming doesn't make Sousuke feel any less used.
a/n: Things are reaching a head and are about to get uglier. Finally, this little love triangle issue is going to get solved. Even if I did leave you on a bit of a cliffhanger. My bad.
Feedback is welcome and appreciated.
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