dracoqueen22 (dracoqueen22) wrote,
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Bleach - The Beautiful Lie - Ch 36: Between

First and foremost, happy birthday to mandalee1013! I owe you a fic, I do.

a/n: Another chapter that draws us closer to the end. This is also the chapter that will either make or break you, my readers. It is where Ichigo finally makes his decision.

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

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Chapter Thirty-Six: Between
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“Ichigo?”

He pauses midstep and inwardly curses. This is not what he needs right now. But it figures that Kisuke would have the worse timing. Somehow, it just makes senses that things would happen this way.

Ichigo sighs and turns around slowly. He finds Kisuke stepping out of a doorway, one that Ichigo remembers connects to one of the many libraries.

“Hey,” Ichigo greets, deciding to play it casual. “Missed you at dinner.”

Kisuke, of all things, looks embarrassed. “I was... indisposed,” he says and rocks on his heels, a habit he's never had before. Almost like he's nervous. “It's pretty late. I'm surprised you're not sleeping.” His eyes are darting around, looking at Ichigo and then glancing past him. As if he's looking for something – or someone – in particular.

He shoves his hands in his pockets. “Since when have I had a normal sleep schedule?” Ichigo questions, and his voice is a bit too bitter.

The scientist gives a half-smile, which is shades better than the disconsolate expression he's been wearing as of late. He shifts awkwardly though and cranes his neck.

“You have a point.” Kisuke steps completely into the hallway and closes the distance between them. “Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” Ichigo says, or grits out rather because his emotions are a mess and he doesn't want it to show. Doesn't want Kisuke to see all the nasty feelings churning inside of him.

Kisuke winces at the sharpness of his tone. “No, you're not,” he murmurs and exhales audibly. “But I've lost the right to ask, haven't I?”

Something... breaks. Ichigo doesn't know how else to describe it. He snaps. Growls with annoyance. Throws his hands into the air.

“See this?” he says, gesturing between himself and Kisuke as though there were any doubt. “This right here is not helping! You slinking around isn't making things any easier either!”

They sound like the words of a crazy man, hardly connected to their conversation. But Sousuke's face is in the back of his mind, full of betrayal, and right now, Kisuke's expression nearly mirrors it. They both want something from him, and there's only one of Ichigo, not nearly enough to go around.

Kisuke looks confused... and more worried than before. He dares another step closer.

“What do you mean?”

Ichigo turns away, rubbing his forehead where an ache is steadily building. One that pulses and throbs throughout his entire being.

“Nothing. Never mind. You should get some sleep, too,” he replies with every intention of walking away. Desperately needing some peace and quiet and alone time, where he can think and let his brain run in endless circles all on its own.

His former lover, however, is not content to let him slip away.

“Ichigo--”

He stops. “What?”

“I was looking for you yesterday.”

Ichigo sucks in a breath, slow and careful, steadying himself. He doesn’t dare turn around.

“I was busy.”

There's a moment where he expects Kisuke to slink away since it's what he's been good at as of late. Kisuke, however, shifts his weight. His response comes so quietly that Ichigo has to strain to hear it.

“In other words, get out of my life, you've had your chance.”

Which is not exactly what Ichigo meant.

Guilt piles on top of the exasperation, the impatience, the confusion, swirling with the guilt already present. And isn't that grand? Ichigo's doing a fine job of hurting everyone around him lately.

He turns back around, slower this time. Ichigo can spare a minute.

“That's not what I meant.”

“No?” Kisuke straightens his shoulders, looking less like a man defeated but still like he is already expecting to be disappointed. He comes closer and lowers his tone. “I've apologized. I've given you answers. I've stood here and watched while you pair up with Aizen--” His name is spoken with so much loathing “I know I have no right to demand anything of you, but I need to know where I stand. Because right now, all I see is that if I vanished, you'd be happier for it.”

Something clenches inside Ichigo's chest, a stab of tangible pain. His words catch in his throat. He looks at Kisuke and once again sees his face overlain by Sousuke's quiet resignation. So similar and yet not. Full of the same disappointment.

Following it is a realization that makes Ichigo want to kick himself. He's hurting them both, all while claiming to be hurt himself. This has ended up fair for no one. But maybe all of them deserve it. Kisuke for his lies. Sousuke for his betrayals. And Ichigo for never being strong enough to save anyone. Least of all himself.

Kisuke exhales slowly. “I see.” His eyes cut away.

“No, you don't,” Ichigo argues, stirring into motion, closing the distance between them. “Neither of you do. I feel like a bone between two dogs, and it's driving me crazy. I don't know what I want anymore.”

Kisuke looks guilty again, like he might apologize. After all, it's his fault, isn't it? That's what everyone's saying, even Ichigo himself. Except now he's starting to think he might have overreacted just a tad.

“Ichigo--”

He kisses him. A part of him sighs in relief at the familiar taste and touch. He kisses Kisuke because he doesn't know, doesn't know how to begin figuring it out. He kisses Kisuke because he wants to, because he misses the man who was first his mentor, then his friend, then something a lot more.

Ichigo kisses Kisuke for a lot of reasons. The guilt gnawing at his insides. A half-believed prayer that he might get some answers this way.

To his utter relief, Kisuke doesn't reject him. Doesn't punch him in the face or push him away. He returns the kiss, mouth moving gently against Ichigo's, silently requesting entrance. His reiatsu buzzes with confusion and relief. Ichigo allows it and parts his lips, letting Kisuke in, loving the taste of Kisuke on his tongue. Reminding him that everything is familiar. That he's been missing this. That Kisuke kisses nothing like Sousuke--

Ichigo's throat closes up on him. He gasps, breaking off suddenly. His heart is racing, breath a sharp stutter, and the guilt crashes over him again.

“I have to make a choice,” Ichigo says and forces himself to watch as disappointment replaces the hope building in Kisuke's eyes. “I don't know if I can do that.”

Kisuke looks like's been punched in the stomach. Which is appropriate. Ichigo feels a lot like he'd delivered the blow.

“But--”

Ichigo shakes his head. “I can't right now.”

It's the only answer he can give.

He turns and walks away, eager to put as much distance between them as he can manage. If Kisuke says anything else, Ichigo chooses not to hear it.

Suddenly, the palace with its hundred fold rooms and vast space is far, far too tiny. Ichigo feels trapped here. Like no matter where he goes, he won't be able to find that solitude he desperately needs, and it takes him a split-second to decide to leave the royal palace altogether. There's no gate yet – Kisuke's still working on that particular project – but a moment's thought from Ichigo is all it takes for one to open. It’s not unlike the gates the Shinigami use to travel between Seireitei and the living world.

From there, standing on a rooftop in Soul Society – Ichigo thinks he's somewhere in Rukongai – he tries to choose a destination. But there's no one he'd feel comfortable talking to about this, and the last thing he wants is company. A distraction, yes. But company, no.

Pulling his reiatsu close to his body, refusing to let even a wisp escape, Ichigo heads deeper into Rukongai. He wanders without real direction, watching the oblivious population below him as they go about their daily business. Rukongai has always felt so far removed to Ichigo, but now, he supposes he'll have to pay closer attention. It’s part of his “kingdom” after all.

Kingdom. Yeah.

Ichigo's still not completely at ease with that. For all that he's king now, he doesn't really feel different. Not any more powerful or smarter or suited. He feels out of his element, and this whole issue with Kisuke and Sousuke only proves that he has no clue what he's doing. If his personal life is such a mess, what does that speak of how well he'll do as king?

Ichigo sighs as he cruises through the fifty-fifth district. He watches a gang of kids play in the streets, bouncing a ball between them. In the distance, a Hollow's roar attracts his attention, but he can already sense a Shinigami moving to deal with it. A bit of concentration, and Ichigo can even identify the person – no one he's familiar with personally but this seems to be an added perk of being king.

He knows without having met the woman that she’s a member of the ninth division and the twentieth seat. She's calm and logical but doesn't have the physical breadth of reiatsu to rise any higher. She also lacks ambition. It makes her a good soldier, but Ichigo doesn't anticipate her becoming anything more than her current seat.

Her companions, two men, are also from the ninth division. One brash and confident, the other nervously clutching his nameless sword, obviously the first time he's stepped on the battlefield. Ichigo can feel their zanpakutou, feel their potential. And he knows, if he concentrated a bit more, he could seal their abilities or even make them blossom.

He doesn't know why he knows this. Sometimes, it feels like the minute he took his mother's hand, a lifetime of memories were pressed into him. Like files of kingly duties and abilities that he subconsciously accesses on the spur of the moment.

Too bad that can't help him with his personal issues.

Suddenly, Ichigo doesn't want to be in Soul Society. The past half a year seems all too short. The time spent in college pretending he hadn't spent a good portion of his teen years fighting Hollows is all too long ago. He can't remember the last time he felt human, as weird as that may sound.

Just like before, it takes only an ounce of concentration, and Ichigo opens a gate between Soul Society and the living world. He steps from one plane of existence into the other within a blink of an eye to find himself hovering over Karakura. A pang of nostalgia hits him deep, and Ichigo sucks in a ragged breath.

He'll miss this life, he realizes. And wonders why it hadn't occurred to him before. Before, when Kisuke had asked him if he was sure this was what he wanted. Before, when Sousuke had first presented the opportunity. Ichigo can't go back. Not anymore.

He drops from the sky to the ground. He walks invisible amongst the living populace, taking familiar streets to a familiar side of Karakura. He wonders if his professors noticed his sudden disappearance. He wonders if his friends were even aware of what's going on. Damn, but Ichigo can't even remember the last time he talked to Ishida or Chad or Inoue. He'd probably stun them all if they even knew half of what he'd be doing over the past six months or so.

Kisuke's shouten is empty. He notices as he stops by the building, expanded senses revealing nothing but trace elements of reiatsu. Heading inside through doors left unlocked, he can see that all the rooms have been packed, belongings taken and moved. Left behind are slightly dusty cases that are stocked with abandoned candies.

Tessai and the kids probably returned to Soul Society the moment Kisuke's exile was lifted. Ichigo wonders where they've taken up residence now. It occurs to him that he never bothered to ask.

Ichigo leaves the shop and hits the sidewalk again, shoving his hands in his pockets. The night sky is lit up with stars, and at some point, he'll need to get some sleep. He just doesn't want to return yet.

He heads home. Not to the royal palace but to the first place he ever considered home. Standing on the sidewalk, staring up at the house and attached clinic, he's bothered by how very still and silent it is. The mailbox is stuffed full since no one's been here in at least a month to claim it.

Ichigo doesn't have his house key. Luckily, he doesn't need it. Nice to be able to phase through walls if he puts his mind to it.

The Kurosaki house hasn't been cleared out like the shop, but it's obvious no one's been here in a while. His dad and sisters have all but moved to Seireitei, taking Kon with them. Kisuke's promised to build Kon a body of his own eventually, somewhere in the midst of all the other projects he's been working on.

Isshin's found his place as a member of the re-instituted royal guard. Ichigo can't count the number of times he's found his mother and father staring at each other like a couple of love-sick puppies. He isn't even sure how that works what with Isshin being a Shinigami and Masaki being sorta-dead. But they're happy, so Ichigo doesn't question.

Karin and Toushirou have been attached at the hip, his sister quite loudly stating her intentions to stay. Toushirou knows better than to argue, and Ichigo has learned not to deny her anything. Ichigo strongly suspects to hear wedding bells on their horizon.

Meanwhile, Yuzu has found a home in the fourth division. Unohana-san utterly adores her, and she and Hanatarou have become fast friends. Perhaps more if rumors are to be believed.

Ichigo climbs the stairs and finds himself in his old bedroom, classic shades of blue meeting his eyes. The furniture is unchanged for his absence. It's mostly empty of belongings since his stuff is still at his apartment, but there are still a few things that remind him of home here. His Quincy bedspread – Ishida's idea of a joke – still adorns the bed.

Weary, he plants himself down on the mattress, kicks off his shoes, and folds his arms behind his bed. He stares up at a familiar ceiling. Remembering years spent looking at this same ceiling, contemplating the many wonders of the universe. Hating himself for being unable to save his mother. Wishing he was strong enough to protect his sisters. Wondering what the future would hold for him.

If he could talk to his juvenile self today, Ichigo has no clue what he'd say. To try and tell his old self the truth without coming off like a complete lunatic would be enormously complicated. It's unbelievable.

To think that he and Kisuke have gone from master and student, to close friends, to something a bit more in such a short span of time. Ichigo's pretty sure he couldn't have expected that either.

His anger about Kisuke's concealed truths has pretty much vanished itself from his thoughts. Oh, he'd been furious at first. He'd cultivated that anger for many weeks following. Not because Ichigo couldn't trust Kisuke anymore, but because Kisuke hadn't trusted him. Now, Ichigo understands why it's hard to say. Why Kisuke had worried and hesitated and kept things to himself.

After Yoruichi-san split with her usual tactlessness and with his exile still in effect, while Ichigo was wallowing with his own problems, Kisuke had been all but alone. Little contact with others outside of Tessai and the kids. No wonder Ichigo's visits had been so cheerfully anticipated. Kisuke had quickly become Ichigo's closest companion, his last tenuous connection to the Shinigami.

Now they are – were? – something more. Something like lovers, though neither of them had explicitly stated it. Ichigo had reached out for comfort, and Kisuke had given it. Afterward, Ichigo enjoyed Kisuke's attentions. He enjoyed reciprocating for that matter. He genuinely likes Kisuke and suspects that if circumstances hadn't sped up matters they would’ve happened in their own time regardless.

At least, Kisuke understands. He's been there from the beginning. He's seen the broken and pathetic, bloody mess that Byakuya had left Ichigo in. He's watched Ichigo battle his Hollow countless times. He knows why Ichigo struggles to find his place, why he can't settle happily in the living world and why he doesn't much care for Soul Society either.

But…

He's also overprotective for all of those reasons. Sometimes, he forgets that Ichigo's not the ignorant teenager he was all those years ago. Sometimes, Kisuke thinks that Ichigo needs to be coddled, that he needs to be protected. It's as endearing as it is annoying.

So yes, Ichigo’s forgiven him. Yes, Ichigo would like to return to Kisuke's bed. He misses sleeping next to Kisuke, the scent of the man surrounding him, the familiar curl of their reiatsu together. He misses Kisuke's charm and humor, his easygoing personality. He misses Kisuke's quirkiness and his occasional bursts of tactlessness. He misses blond hair brushing against his face and the taste of Kisuke as he laughs into Ichigo’s mouth.

Ichigo misses it all. He wants Kisuke back.

But that would mean abandoning Sousuke. Turning his back on the traitor turned enemy turned – against all odds – friend and now something a little extra. Not quite lovers as they haven't gotten there yet, but still, the potential is there. The potential is burning inside of Ichigo to follow through. Demanding. Begging him to just do something.

The attraction is there; Ichigo can't ignore it. So is the curiosity. He also can't help the guilt. That if he abandons Sousuke now, it'll be all the proof anyone needs that Ichigo was just using him. Which Ichigo hadn't intended, which he doesn't want to do. He wants it to be more, but in order for there to be more, Ichigo would have to turn his back on Kisuke.

Who he misses. Who he’s beginning to suspect he might even love.

Argh.

Anyone looking would think the answer should be simple. Sousuke is the traitorous bastard. The murderous backstabber who tried to take over Soul Society and only lives thanks to Unohana-san's affection. He's supposed to be the epitome of evil, everything that Ichigo should despise.

Except that he doesn't.

He shouldn't trust Sousuke, but a large part of Ichigo does. What can the powerless ex-overlord do now? Ichigo already knows that the world is sentient in part and would reject Sousuke, who’s also smart enough to realize this already. What purpose would Sousuke have in hurting Ichigo?

Maybe he's lying like everyone seems to believe. Maybe his intentions have never been pure. Maybe he despises his powerlessness and seeks to get revenge on Ichigo by smothering him in his sleep, but honestly, Ichigo doesn't believe that.

He trusts Sousuke not to stab him in the back. He doesn't trust Sousuke with other things, not just yet, but his safety? Yes, Ichigo can trust him that far.

He'll admit to himself that he likes Sousuke. The former traitor doesn't treat Ichigo with kiddie gloves, and he has a great deal of insight about the human psyche and politics, both of which Ichigo fails dismally at. Somehow, Ichigo has managed to wrangle a near-army of friends and supporters, but he doesn't know how he did it or if he could replicate it. Sousuke undoubtedly could though.

Sousuke's also calm and patient, and when relaxed, he has his own sense of humor. He's charming when he wants to be, unfailingly polite, and Yuzu adores him. Which is pretty much a defining factor in Ichigo's book. Karin even seems to tolerate him, amazing since her boyfriend has been plotting homicide for years by this point.

Ichigo's sure there's more to discover as well. More beneath the defensive layers that Sousuke has built around himself. Necessary layers to be fair, but still, Ichigo wants to see beneath them. Ichigo wants to know Sousuke; he's intrigued by him.

But if he lets himself be drawn to Sousuke, he can't in good conscience remain with Kisuke. Ichigo fears that if he leans one way, he'll always be drawn to the opposite direction.

Yet, the fact remains that a choice must be made.

o0o0o


Morning comes, and after a long restless night of half-sleep, Ichigo resigns himself to returning. He's king, and he can't in good conscience abandon that role for much longer than a day. Especially not for his own personal problems.

Still, he wanders around Seireitei for a bit before his path takes him back to the beginning. Maybe not the entire beginning but at least the point where his reign over Soul Society began.

He arrives at the first division, successfully slips around any nearby members, and makes his way to the near-hidden fountain. Its location is still a relative secret until some kind of protection measures can be installed. Which is a good thing since it means privacy for Ichigo.

It's still covered in dust and dead leaves, the same feeling of forgotten abandonment permeating the air. It seems like much longer than a couple of weeks since Ichigo had stood here, watching Sousuke use the key and open the doorway to the underground cavern. It feels like lifetimes ago since he first let Rukia introduce him to the Shinigami and their world.

Ichigo strides over to what's left of the fountain. Since taking up residence in the palace, the opening has sealed itself over, making the whole structure look unstable and broken. He sits on the lip of it. The sun is warm and pleasant, soaking into his skin, making him feel a bit less strung out.

He closes his eyes, leans forward on his knees, and lets his thoughts wander. Settling on nothing in particular, resigned to the fact there's no solution to his present situation. At least, no solution that won't end up hurting someone.

“Everyone's looking for you, you know,” a voice cuts into Ichigo's thoughts. “All of Seireitei’s in a panic.”

He looks up, squinting in the sunlight, and recognizes Lisa as she approaches. Her new haori flutters in the breeze.

How had she found him?

Ichigo snorts, sitting back and stretching his legs out in front of him. “I've been gone a day.”

“Yeah, well, you're the king. You can't just vanish and assume no one will give a damn.” She's grinning as she sits next to him, sweeping her hair over her shoulder. “Where did ya go?”

“Nowhere.” He shrugs, toe idly scraping at the cracked and brittle paving. “I just wanted to be alone.”

Lisa nods companionably. “Ah, without the influence of your two suitors I take it.”

Ichigo feels no need to respond to that. His personal troubles are already common knowledge it seems. How embarrassingly fantastic.

“Man trouble. I can relate,” Lisa continues all on her own.

Ichigo looks at her, one eyebrow raised. Experience had shown him that monogamy and fidelity are not high on Lisa's priority list. Or even on it at all. She may be like Shunsui, but that’s one thing where they really differ.

“Don't look at me like that,” she says, but she doesn't sound offended. “I might be... free with my affections, but I know a thing or two about relationships.”

Ichigo snorts again and leans back on his hands, closing his eyes to the sun warmth bathing his face. “And I'm sure you know all about what's going on in my lovelife.”

“Who doesn't?” Lisa snickers, and there's the sound of rustling as though she's making herself comfortable. “We've even got a bet on who it's gonna be.”

“A bet?” he asks skeptically.

“Yeah. Though I'm not going to tell you who started it or who's winning.” Lisa sounds smug. “So what exactly is it that's got you out here, all frowny face and hiding?”

Ichigo makes a face. When she says it like that, everything sounds juvenile to him. Like Ichigo's a child for making a big deal out of this or something.

“You wouldn't understand.” He sighs and opens his eyes, watching a cloud creep across the blue sky.

“Try me.”

He lowers his head, rolls his shoulders, tries to gather his thoughts together. “You already know what happened, right?”

“What? About you breaking beds with Ki-chan?” She says it with such a straight face, too.

Ichigo winces. “If you have to put it that way--”

“And now you're boinking Aizen, too,” Lisa continues, overriding his comment with her usual lack of tact. “Then, yes, I know.”

“Too wouldn't exactly be accurate,” Ichigo counters with a huff.

Lisa waves a hand through the air. “Semantics. What's your point?”

“What's my...?” Ichigo’s brow furrows with confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Your point?” Lisa replies and twirls a finger through the air, as though Ichigo's a particularly dumb kid who just doesn't get why two plus two equals four. “You just admitted to having sexual relations with two very attractive, very skilled men – I should know after all. I'm failing to see the problem here.”

Ichigo's mouth works soundlessly. He's not sure how he's supposed to respond to that.

“The problem should be obvious!”

Lisa looks at him boredly, balancing her chin on her knuckles as her elbow rests on her knee. “Yeah? Cause it isn't. Sounds to me like you're just complaining about your good fortune in snagging two of Seireitei's most desired.”

Ichigo splutters. “That is the problem,” he declares, hands waving wildly before bringing two fingers up. “Two! There's two of them!”

She just looks at him. Like she honestly doesn’t get it.

“And?”

“I have to choose,” Ichigo all but shouts. He feels his face turning red as the words pour out of him. “Choose between them. On the one hand, I've got Kisuke who I've known for years. On the other, I've got Sousuke who used to be my mortal enemy but now... isn't.”

He slumps, exhaustion winning out, reminded of the difficulty of his current situation. And here he had stupidly believed Lisa might be able to help. He should’ve known she wouldn't be able to understand. She’s… Lisa. Like Shunsui. Only without any sort of filter between brain and mouth and no sense of decorum at all. Not to mention her tendency to blurt out embarrassing things at any moment because she feels like it and delights in mortifying everyone around her.

Monogamy or anything remotely similar isn’t something she’ll get.

“Who says you have to choose?” she says then and actually sounds serious. Like she’s treating this as a real problem with a real solution that he hasn’t considered.

Ichigo’s instantly taken aback. “... What?”

She shrugs, rising to her feet and stretching her arms above her head. “Date both of them.” She pauses to strip out of her captain's haori and put it on the dusty fountain. You don't have to promise exclusivity, and it's not like you've already proposed marriage, right? So just date them both.”

Ichigo stares at her. Actually stares. Like she’s suddenly spouted another head, wings, and maybe some horns.

“I can't do that,” he replies blankly.

“Why not?” Rolling her neck in a series of stretches, Lisa looks perfectly composed.

“Because things don't work that way!” Ichigo splutters, hands waving wildly. “You can't just be with two people at the same time!”

“Who says?” Lisa snorts and flicks hair out of her eyes.

Ichigo's brow furrowed. “It's not normal,” he argues. “That kind of thing doesn't work.”

“I repeat myself: who says?” Her hands plant on her hips as she stares at him. “The same people who claim it's impossible to love two people at the same time? The kind of people who hold onto outdated beliefs about their sexuality?”

Ichigo stares right back at her. “It...” He pauses and shakes his head. “It's not a viable option.”

“Why not?”

Damn, but Lisa can be tenacious when she thinks she's right.

Ichigo sighs, frustrated. “Well, for one thing, they hate each other. They'd never agree to it.”

“But if they did?”

“If they did, it still wouldn't matter,” he retorts, throwing up his hands and rising to his feet. He can feel Lisa's eyes on him as she watches him pace. “It wouldn't be fair to them.”

Lisa sniffs and lets her hands fall from her hips. “It's not fair now,” she points out, sounding so damn logical. “No matter who you choose, you'll always feel guilty for not picking the other one, and whoever is left out will be hurt by it.”

Yes, Ichigo is well aware of that fact. Thus the reason he is having such a hard time with this. Thus the reason he's been hiding in the first division, thoughts turning around in continuous circles without end.

“Then what would I tell everyone?” Ichigo demands. If she's got this all figured out, let her explain that one.

Shrugging, Lisa flippantly waves him off. “You don't owe anyone an explanation for your personal life. That's your choice to make. It's up to you who you want to tell.” She smirks, humor dancing in her eyes. “And by now, anyone who matters has probably already figured it out.”

“It'll make us a laughing stock,” Ichigo mutters.

“Then again,” Lisa says slowly, holding a hand to her chin as her eyes darken with thought. “You could always choose neither of them and hurt everyone. I suppose that would be fair.”

Ichigo freeze mid-pace, something wrenching painfully inside of him. He sucks in a breath, puts a hand to his chest, and forces himself to breathe evenly. The thought of doing this alone, of abandoning Kisuke and Sousuke completely... that's even less appealing than trying to make some kind of... what? Trinity? Triad? Threesome?

Whatever the hell it is. It can’t work. It's impossible. No one can split their attention like that. It just doesn't work. It's nowhere near easy, only more complications. Which means he needs to choose, but he can't do that. Is it really less painful to try to have both?

“You're forgetting another part of this equation.”

Ichigo half-turns, eying Lisa warily. “What?”

“Their opinions, of course.” She taps her chin with her pointer finger. “It involves them as much as it involves you, doesn't it?”

His shoulders slump. “You have a point.”

“Of course I do,” Lisa replies with the air of someone who feels she’s never wrong. “I always--”

She cuts off as one of Seireitei's messengers suddenly appears in the courtyard, kneeling before her. “Yadomaru-taichou.”

Lisa rolls her eyes. “Yes, yes, I know. Big meeting. Tell the old man I'll be there shortly.” She waves her hand in dismissal.

“Yes, ma’am.” The masked messenger is gone in another flash.

Ichigo arches his brow. “Old man?”

“He's probably gonna organize a search party or something.” Lisa smirks. “Should I just tell him you're hiding about a hundred feet out his back door?”

“No.” Ichigo feels his cheeks heat. “I'll go back.”

“Good.” Lisa nods to herself, smugness radiating from her pores. “You do that. I'm going to attend this meeting. And remember what I said.”

“I don't think I could forget.”

Lisa's laugh is swept up on the wind as she snatches up her haori and leaps onto the nearest roof, heading for the large meeting hall. And apparently, a meeting amongst the captains who have gotten themselves in a tizzy over Ichigo's absence.

Shaking his head, Ichigo closes his eyes and sucks in a slow, steady breath. He does have to go back. He can't just run away from the problem. He has to choose. Or he can believe Lisa and actually give dating both of them a try.

Ichigo snorts.

It sounds crazy to him, but there's an element of truth in Lisa's suggestions. This does concern both of them. He can't decide, so that really only leaves him with two choices: either he ends it with both of them, or he lets them decide if a more liberal approach might work.

All Ichigo can do is present the opportunity. He'll leave it to Sousuke and Kisuke to decide.

What the hell, right? It's not like he can make things any worse.

*****

a/n:.... I await your feedback. :)
This entry was originally posted at http://dracoqueen22.dreamwidth.org/141819.html. Feel free to comment wherever you find most convenient.
Tags: bleach, the beautiful lie
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