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Bleach - The Beautiful Lie - Ch 7 - Rescue

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The Beautiful Lie
Chapter Seven: Rescue


At first sight of his friend and student, Kisuke feels something inside him give a worried tumble. A faint flutter that he doesn't dare immediately identify. The anger he has been experiencing flares at the sight of the cuffs and the collar, even if rationality dictates that he shouldn't remove them just yet. Though his every instinct wants him to do so.

He forgets about Aizen's presence in that moment and moves quickly to Ichigo's side. For all appearances, he seems asleep, though his rest is troubled. He finds his arms curling around him, pulling Ichigo into an embrace he is unable to stop. Infinitely relieved that his student is no longer in immediate danger.

“Ichigo?”

He cups Ichigo's cheek, hating how cold the other boy – no, Ichigo is very much a man now – feels. It must be due to the reiatsu inhibitors because he hasn't been here that long.

The Vizard stirs, eyes fluttering weakly. “Urahara?” he questions and voice thick and drowsy. Weak.

The anger burns a little brighter.

He opens his mouth to answer, but Ichigo is already slipping back into unconscious. Kisuke needs to get those restraints off of him. And the sooner, the better.

“Is he well?”

Aizen's voice makes him grit his teeth in annoyance, and he doesn't bother to glance back at the traitor. He asks himself again why he's allowed Aizen to tag along. Like before, Kisuke really doesn't have an answer. His concern is for Ichigo alone. He'll deal with Aizen's presence later.

“He'll be fine,” Kisuke answers mostly to forestall any further questioning.

He slips his bag off his shoulder, sliding it onto the bench. He considers logistics and wonders how best to carry both Ichigo and Zangetsu without resorting to Aizen's aid. Kisuke would rather chop off his own fingers than allow Aizen to touch his friend. He knows that he can't stand here too long. Soul Society won't be long in realizing that their “dangerous criminal” has escaped.

Aizen takes a step forward, shoes crunching over the half-dead grass. “We can't linger,” he reminds Kisuke, and there is an inch of condescension in his tone.

“I know,” the blond replies through gritted teeth, reminding himself that he doesn't have time to strangle Aizen and leave him for dead. There are more important matters at hand.

“We'll have to carry him.”

“Thank you, Obvious-taichou,” Kisuke retorts with a glare over his shoulder and punctuates it with an unconscious rise of his reiatsu. “Don't you even think about touching him.”

Aizen lifts one brow. “I suppose I should leave that honor to you then. How nice that Kurosaki-kun has a teacher who would make so many sacrifices for him.”

He is sure there is an insult somewhere in that thinly disguised compliment. And as soon as Kisuke gets a chance, he's going to find it and pay Aizen back tenfold.

“You can carry the supplies,” Kisuke replies instead and gives a teeth-baring grin towards the former overlord. “If you can manage that much.”

Aizen's tone is perfectly bland. “Yes, master,” he retorts, moving around and reaching for the dropped bags. “However I may serve you.”

Kisuke's glare is utterly ineffective, just as much as Aizen's condescension does nothing but make him angry. But there is no time for their power games. Ichigo is growing colder by the minute, and he needs to get him somewhere safe. The longer he stays locked within those manacles, the harder it will be to remove them later.

Drawing together his resolve, and casting aside the chance for more banter, Kisuke focuses on Ichigo. The Vizard looks a little thinner than usual – how has he not noticed this in their visits – and shouldn't be too difficult to carry. Zangetsu is the issue here. It would be much simpler if Ichigo could just seal that massive blade, but it is also useless to lament that fact. Nor can he have Ichigo and his zanpakutou touch. The outpouring of reiatsu that would result from sword and master trying to reach one another would alert every Shinigami on the continent and no doubt send Kurotsuchi’s equipment off the scales.

As much as he hates it, he will require Aizen to carry Zangetsu. Unfortunately, the former overlord can't touch it with his bare hands.

“You are useless,” Kisuke mutters under his breath because it's Aizen's fault that this has become so complicated.

He grabs one of the bags that Aizen hasn't yet and digs through it, producing one of his special cloaks, reiatsu-concealing and all. With that, he affects a sort of sling, wrapping it firmly around Zangetsu. At his touch, the blade gives a faint little hum of recognition, and the blond smiles just a bit. It is nice to be recognized.

Turning, Kisuke gestures towards Aizen with the blade. “Take it,” he orders and holds the wrapped handle in his direction. “I've no choice but to let you carry Zangetsu.”

“Why don't you just stamp it as delicate and call it a day?” Aizen returns, taking the heavy zanpakutou with great care, ensuring that he didn't actually touch the blade with any part of his body.

Kisuke glares at him, the urge to just kill the man and get it over with striking him again. Really, he has never thought of himself as homicidal before, but somehow, Aizen brings that out in him.

Twisting his jaw, Kisuke turns away and moves back towards Ichigo. He decides it will be easier to carry the Vizard on his back, and with some great maneuvering on his part, he manages to get Ichigo off the bench. In the process, he knocks his hat from his head, and it drops to the wet grass, rolling a foot or so away.

Kisuke curses under his breath, shifting Ichigo's weight. He drapes the man’s arms over his shoulder and grasps Ichigo's thighs firmly, ensuring that they are situated properly. He is heavy but not enough that Kisuke can't bear it. He is more worried by the faint trembles that wrack Ichigo's body.

And his hat is still lying on the ground. He stares at the striped fabric, willing it to return to its proper placement. There is no way he can kneel and pick the damn thing back up.

There is a crunch of feet over grass before he sees Aizen reach down, his glasses gleaming in the half-light of morning. He picks the hat up with a faint twirl over his fingers and places it back on Kisuke's head somewhat crookedly.

“Kurosaki-kun might not recognize you without it,” he comments, and there is a snide edge to his voice. His eyes are completely unreadable, light reflecting off his glasses completely hiding them.

It is against Kisuke's principle to thank Aizen for anything. So he doesn't.

“Grab the other bag,” he mutters as he moves by the former overlord, shifting Ichigo's weight against his back until he is settled evenly. “It's time to get out of here.”

Aizen doesn't respond, but his smile doesn't fade either. He simply does as Kisuke asks, slinging one strap over his shoulder and curling his fingers around the handles of the other bag. Zangetsu is balanced against a free shoulder like a soldier in some marching parade.

Kisuke tries not to think about how much of a bad idea this really is. He probably should abandon Aizen, take Ichigo and disappear. He could always come back for the rest. And he wonders why he doesn't just do so. He balks at leaving Zangetsu behind. And the logical part of him doesn't want Aizen running around on his own. Who knows that the man is capable of, with or without his powers?

The following trip is made in silence, short and awkward. There is an evident tension between them, and it makes Kisuke feel on alert. As if he expects any moment to get a knife in his back. Aizen's assessing gaze is discomfiting, and had he not had Ichigo to worry for, Kisuke would have done something about it. He merely squares his jaw, counts every warm breath against his ear, and catalogues every twitch of Ichigo's body.

The safehouse has never seemed so far away.

In all rationality, it is not so far from the park. He doesn't know how their unidentified benefactors seemed to pick the perfect location coincidentally, but he is glad they did. While it is only a hop, skip, and a shunpo away from Karakura, there is no better place to hide. Soul Society will expect him to leave Karakura. Hell, probably even Japan. They won't expect him to stay right under their noses.

The neighborhood is pleasant, full of houses that were just waking for the morning. Kids getting ready for school; some parents rushing out with briefcases and coffee in hand. A bus passes by with only a few passengers. It is still too early for anyone to pay much attention to them, despite their strange appearances. Kisuke hunching over for no apparent reason, Aizen holding some invisible wrapped object.

They make it to the safehouse – little more than a bungalow with a few main rooms, two bedrooms and a private bath – without incident. There is a shiver of some spiritual power as Kisuke crosses the threshold, but it is not unfamiliar to him. Tessai erected the invisible shield a long time before, blanketing everything within the boundaries and making it invisible to Seireitei's scopes. Thanks to him, all Soul Society will ever see is an empty house.

Stepping inside, Kisuke makes a beeline for the bedrooms on the end of the large hall. Aizen walks in behind him, struggling a bit with the bags, but Kisuke barely spares him a second of attention. Once inside, he shoves the door shut with the back of his foot, deterring Aizen from entering. Though he doubts the former lord will. He knows just as well as Kisuke does the consequences of removing reiatsu limiters.

There is a short struggle as Kisuke lowers Ichigo to the bed without causing him injury. The man groans quietly, his head tipping to the side as he stirs. Kisuke carefully moves him into the center of the bed where he will be more comfortable. Slipping off his geta and setting his hat to the side, he ponders the manacles. They will be the first to go, he tells himself, and sets about picking the lock. An easy enough task considering his prior experience as a jailer.

The manacles hit the floor with a dull thud and rattle, and Kisuke all too happily kicks them away from his feet, pushing them towards the door. He doesn't want Ichigo to ever have to see them again. There is a small flutter of reiatsu after he takes off the cuffs, but it will be nothing like what will happen when he removes the collar.

Taking a breath, the blond reaches for the deceptively fragile band, his fingers easily undoing the clasps that hold it in place. It's a simple matter of knowing how, and Kisuke recalls all too easily from his years in the second division. There is a click as the last latch falls open, and Ichigo twitches, a groan escaping his lips.

There's a feeling of power in the air, swelling and growing, gathering with increasing speed. Kisuke feels the sweat gather on his brow, and he doesn't realize he's holding his breath until his lungs protest mightily. He tells himself that his hands aren't shaking as he slides the collar from around Ichigo's neck, tossing it to the floor behind him.

For a moment, absolutely nothing happens. The world hangs flat, the air so still that it’s difficult to breathe. Ichigo's body twitches again, moves like a fish under the surface of the water. And then, his eyes flare open. They are nothing but pure silver, almost gleaming.

That faint sense of power from before becomes a maelstrom, and it’s all coming from Ichigo. He sucks in a terrible, gasping breath, and Ichigo's entire body heaves as though he's in great pain. Kisuke knows that he must be. The force of his whole being descending back onto him again, Zangetsu and Shirosaki returning in full power.

Biting his own lip, Kisuke grabs Ichigo's arms and presses him back to the bed, feeling familiar reiatsu lashing at his own skin. Kisuke grabs the tendrils of his own power, wraps it around him like a cloak as protection against the violent strands, and tries to blanket another layer over his student's body. Ichigo is gasping for breath, his own arms rising up and grabbing onto those above him. His fingers clench so tightly that they are digging into Kisuke's muscles, but he doesn't dare let go.

Eyes, usually a soft brown, shift in color frantically. Gold to silver to black to brown to gold again. Over and over, his reiatsu a visible maelstrom of black and red and blue around him. So many colors that they burn against Kisuke's eyes.

“Ichigo,” he grits out because it's just a bit painful, and it burns that he can't handle this. He should be stronger than his own damn student. “Dammit, Ichigo. Get it under control!”

“Can't!” Ichigo gasps out, and there is a growl deep in his chest, full of so much agony that Kisuke feels the urge to take Benihime and storm into Soul Society, to slash down every last one of those who did this to him.

He hopes that Aizen – who must be waiting just outside the door – feels the full force of this backlash and it makes him sick. Makes him so goddamn ill that he can't even breathe. It's as much his fault as it is Soul Society. And Kisuke hates the truth that a part of this, even in some small way, might be his fault as well. He is the one who gave Ichigo these powers, who brought the Hollow within him out. And Kisuke hates it.

His fingers are digging into Ichigo's shoulders with as much strength as Ichigo's hold on him now, and he knows they'll share bruises later. The both of them are too strong not to. Kisuke grits his teeth so hard that they screech and desperately tries to focus. He needs to sharpen his own reiatsu, to layer it over Ichigo's and help him take control.

Kisuke leans closer to Ichigo, trying to catch the boy's flickering gaze. To find the determination and resolve he knows is beneath.

“You can,” he returns fiercely, finally capturing a glimmer of that beautiful brown. “Do it!”

“Auugh!” Ichigo's scream is a terrible rending of sound, and his reiatsu careens into the room. Sending every picture on the walls crashing to the floor and bursting every breakable object within, what few there are. Glass and ceramic shatter.

Kisuke thanks kami that he shielded this building. If he hadn't, that eruption of reiatsu would have alerted anyone within a hundred mile radius of their location.

He's bitten his lip bloody, and Ichigo's body is curling into itself, shaking roughly. Kisuke doesn't lose his grip, putting as much calm and focus into his reiatsu as he possibly can. He uses his familiarity with Ichigo as a lifeline; his knowledge of the boy he trained as a possible means of clarity.

Their foreheads touch briefly as Ichigo's body gives one last frantic flail. And then, as abruptly as it began, the vortex of power swirls inwards. Like being pulled into a black hole of nonexistence. The lashing tendrils of reiatsu draw back towards Ichigo's body, agonizingly slow, binding back into the confines of his own form. Ichigo flinches, but his eyes settle from their frightening gold and back into a honey-brown. And Kisuke thinks that the worst is over finally.

His entire body is covered in sweat, heart pounding a thousand miles a minute. Kisuke realizes a bit late that he is shaking, and there is a stark sense of fear inside of him. Not for himself but for Ichigo.

The Vizard is already slipping into unconsciousness, his deathlike gripping easing as he collapses back onto the bed, pale and damp with sweat. Kisuke draws in a heavy, tremulous breath and looses the vise his fingers have become. It almost hurts to do so, and he gently releases Ichigo, laying his forehead against the man’s shoulder for just a moment. An immense feeling of relief sweeps through him, even as his body feels entirely drained. This would have been a lot easier if he'd had a little help to contain the release.

As his heart begins to slow to a more normal rhythm, Kisuke finally pulls back and forces his weary body against the bed. Ichigo looks dead to the world, collapsed against the pale of the sheets. His clothes are sweat-soaked and surely uncomfortable, and fearing that his student will get sick, Kisuke set to the arduous task of making him more comfortable.

Eyes politely averted to the best of his ability, Kisuke efficiently strips Ichigo of his dirtied clothes and redresses him in a plain yukata. Ichigo doesn't even stir, barely makes a noise, his reiatsu simmering quietly beneath the surface. Still, it won't be enough. He needs to get something to wipe off the sweat. It’s likely that Ichigo won't wake for a few days, and it will be discomfiting to rest in sticky skin.

Gathering up the soiled clothes, Kisuke steps out of the room and closes the door quietly behind him, wanting nothing more than to collapse in a bed. He hates that there's only one other in this small apartment, having not anticipated Aizen's presence, and he's sure as shit not going to let Aizen share with Ichigo. No telling what the man might do to Ichigo in his sleep.

“How is he doing?”

To Kisuke's credit, he doesn't jump three feet in the air at the abrupt invasion of his thoughts. He turns and glares at the former captain, who is walking down the hallway towards him, likely having heard the door open. Kisuke feels rather smug when he sees that Aizen didn't weather that outburst very well. He's pale and just a bit shaken, though he hides it behind his usual composure.

Letting out a slow and steady breath, Kisuke drags a hand over his hair, fingers catching on tangled and sweaty strands. “Are you asking because you care or because your ticket to Soul Society might be a little rumpled?” he demands. Now that Ichigo is on the path to recovery, Kisuke can return all the snide comments he kept himself from making earlier.

Aizen doesn't miss a beat, returning his gaze evenly. Which is rather unnerving with the strange gleam his glasses tend to reflect.

“Are you his father or his lover?”

The shopkeeper blinks, the question both unexpected and unrelated to his previous accusation. Before he can even think of a proper response, Aizen continues, a small smile sliding onto his lips.

“Or maybe it's that you've turned into the former but would prefer to be the latter?”

A low growl develops in Kisuke's throat at the accusation, but he fights it down. “Yes, Ichigo will be fine. Thank you for caring,” he retorts snidely and turns down the hall towards the one bathroom.

The light is flicked on with his elbow, and he dumps the dirty laundry into a basket, hearing the sounds of Aizen's footsteps behind him. As Kisuke digs for a washcloth and a small bowl, he continues.

“And Ichigo is my student and my friend,” he adds, successfully procuring both and setting about at filling the bowl with warm water. “There is nothing more to it.”

The small room echoes with the sound of the tap.

Aizen makes a derisive snort behind him. “Ah, but I am not blind, Urahara. You're more than friends in some way.”

“And that's no business of yours,” Kisuke counters snarkily, cutting off the water and squeezing excess out of the cloth. He grabs both – bowl and cloth – and heads out of the bathroom, sidestepping Aizen.

It's back into the bedroom for him as Aizen trails along behind like some sort of dog sniffing out an interesting trail to follow. It isn't enough that he's caused this entire debacle. Now, he has to make circumstances difficult by insinuating things that just aren't true. It's irksome, just like his personality.

Kisuke grits his teeth.

“Attempting to shift my focus is not an effective means of dissuading my interest.”

“And satisfying your curiosity is the last thing on my mind right now,” the blonde retorts, quieting his voice as he moves into the room. He doesn't want to wake his sleeping pupil.

It is no small relief that Aizen pauses in the doorway, as if to recognize he would not be allowed any further. Within, Ichigo hasn't moved, still collapsed tiredly against the bed. Kisuke isn't sure if that is a good thing or not. Sometimes with Ichigo, it is so hard to know what is acceptable and what isn't with his strange composition.

He sets the bowl on the floor and sits on the edge of the futon, dipping the cloth into the water. It is a gentle touch – one he often used with Ururu – that carefully swipes over Ichigo's face and neck, removing the sticky layer of sweat. His chest is next. Then his arms. And the silence in the room is almost stifling, filled only with the soft sound of breathing and the drip of water.

“Why didn't you leave me behind?” Aizen suddenly asks, startling Kisuke out of his thoughtful reverie. “You had every capability to do so.”

Funny how he has asked himself the same thing.

Kisuke gingerly rubs the washcloth over Ichigo one final time before deciding it is enough. “It would have been inconvenient to be tracked down again,” he explains as he tosses the cloth back into the water and rises to his feet with a small squeak of the floor.

“Or maybe you hate Soul Society as much as I do,” Aizen states, lifting one hand to flick it through his loose hair. “You need me to reach my goals.”

Kisuke glares as he grabs the bowl and heads to the door, moving by Aizen. He glances at Aizen's face, smirking to himself.

“You might want to get some ice for your face, Sou-kun,” he replies snidely. “You're looking a little swollen there.”

He steps into the hall, turning back towards the bathroom. Aizen follows him, his steps quiet wisps of sock over polished wood.

“Does he know about your little crush?”

For a moment, Kisuke feels something inside him skip a beat. He doesn't show his reaction, however, and ignores the accusation. He is above childish banter. If Aizen chooses to misinterpret his care for Ichigo, than that is Aizen's problem. Not his own.

“I don't suppose you would tell him,” Aizen continues, perhaps sensing he had stumbled upon a weakness. “It is a safer bet to deny and run, is it not?”

Again, Kisuke is sure that there is an implication there. Only, he's not certain just what Aizen is attempting to hint. Ichigo is precious to him… yes, that is true. And he feels a certain measure of responsibility for the boy. Ichigo is both his student and a dear friend but nothing more.

There is a splash as he dumps the water into the sink and sets it to the side. The cloth is tossed into the hamper, falling with a wet thud. Kisuke makes a mental note that groceries and other essentials will eventually have to be obtained. But later. Right now, he is too tired for it.

Aizen is still standing there, watching him, forming his own conclusions in his head. He looks nothing like the man who begged for his help not but a few hours before. And Kisuke can't help but savor that particular image, wishing he could witness it again. The great overlord on his knees in supplication. It is only a small dab of salve to his shattered existence, dealt the initial blow by Aizen's manipulations.

He pauses in the doorway of the bathroom, one hand on the light switch in preparation to flick it off. “Do you speak just to hear yourself talk? I’d have thought your defeat would have dampened some of that arrogance.”

The skin around Aizen's eyes tightens as his lips thin, displeased at being reminded of the results of his bid for godhood. “Your petty insults will not drive me away, Urahara. I am not so easily beaten.”

“Could have fooled me.” He lets the smirk slide off his face as he steps into the hallway, his bare feet less impressive than the solid and familiar clack of his geta. It puts him at a slight height disadvantage to Aizen, too. “I won't let you manipulate him. He is not a toy for your amusement. This is not happening again.”

And by this, he means the debacle with Soul Society. If Ichigo had just talked to him, if Kisuke had just known, he would have killed Aizen himself. He would have spared them all this drama and trouble and saved Ichigo the suffering at the hands of Seireitei's finest. Or what is left of them if he wants to be more accurate.

Aizen's lips pull into a slow, sliding smile. “Are you worried that your position at his side might be taken before your eyes?”

“Hardly,” Kisuke snorts. As if he has a designated position at Ichigo's side anyway. He is mentor, and he is friend. Occasional supplier of Shinigami-related merchandise. He has no special place at the Vizard's side other than the obvious.

He wonders why the thought depresses him.

“Kurosaki-kun is not an idiot,” Aizen continues as Kisuke pokes his head into the kitchen, noting that the bags have been deposited there along with Zangetsu, faintly resembling an incredibly large kitchen knife as it lays on the table. “If he does not want to do something, he won't. I cannot lead him into anything.”

Once, Kisuke might have believed that. There are many he would have thought were incapable of being misguided. Until he learned of Aizen and his treachery. He doesn't trust Aizen for a single, solitary instant.

“And you didn't need your powers to trick everyone,” he counters, bitterness from a century prior still proving its strength. “Your whole existence is an illusion, a lie, every word masking your real intentions.”

He moves to the table, carefully unraveling the cloth from around Zangetsu, the blade thrumming again as he brushes his fingers across the silver and black. Ichigo will want his zanpakutou when he wakes. And it will probably ease his sleep to have something so familiar beside him.

“What? Still angry that you couldn't see through me, even back then?” Aizen goads, tapping his fingers against the door. “Should it be my fault your skills were not up to the task?”

Gray-green eyes flash with anger, and Kisuke curses himself for letting that emotion slip. His self-imposed guilt for that incident is still fresh on his heart, even after a century. His inability to save them. His order that sent Hiyori to her doom. His failure in recognizing Aizen's double face. Kisuke will never forgive himself.

“Of course not,” the blonde returns bitingly, a scathing glance thrown over one shoulder. “Treacherous snakes are too skilled at hiding their true colors. But don't worry; I'll be sure to let Ichigo know. Shinji happens to be close to him.”

The smile he gives is full of malice. What he wouldn't give to enact a little vengeance. Not just for himself but also for those exiled, those whose lives were ruined by Aizen's plot. Those same Vizard who are still suffering even now, though the truth of the matter had long been resolved. After all, they were not Shinigami. They were still monsters.

His fingers curled around Zangetsu's hilt, Kisuke grasps the zanpakutou and lifts it off the table. He steps passed Aizen, taking great pains not to touch the man in the close confines of the doorway.

Behind him, Aizen hums thoughtfully. “Ah, yes... my former captain. It doesn't surprise me that he would take to the boy. He does so love his pet projects. Loves taking in strays. Muguruma. Aizawa. That little girl. What was her name?”

Condescension fills his tone, and it boils in Kisuke's blood. He pauses in the corridor, fingers white-knuckled around Zangetsu's hilt.

“You damn well know her name,” he hisses sharply. “And do not think for a minute that Hiyori won't gut you herself.” Despite her less than inviting personality, Hiyori really is fond of Ichigo, too. She also holds a great grudge against Aizen.

It is a win-win situation for Kisuke. Really, it is.

“Undoubtedly,” the traitor returns, voice as coolly calm as always. “She can and will certainly try. Though I do not believe she will be successful. Kurosaki-kun wouldn't allow it.”

Like hell Aizen knows Ichigo well enough to guess his reaction to anything. He's not once bled beside the boy. Not once patched him back together. Hasn't faced his determination to become stronger despite the risks. Hasn't seen the grief and pain in his eyes. Aizen could never claim the same familiarity, and it bothers him that Aizen is attempting to at all.

“You'd be surprised what he'll allow,” Kisuke retorts, his quiet but clipped steps taking him back towards the bedroom. Zangetsu thrums louder the closer he gets to Ichigo's resting form.

“Oh? And will that be on your recommendation? We all know just how much he trusts you. And how that trust is misplaced.”

That right there is a subtle jab at the guilt that Kisuke already knows he must bear. The blame that he has already told himself to accept. He doesn't need Aizen pointing it out for him. He owes Ichigo a large debt, one he isn't sure he could ever repay.

“Believe what you will. That doesn't make it any truer.” Kisuke halts in the doorway, unwilling to raise his voice inside the room where it could possibly wake Ichigo. “I'm just going to get through this night. Have Ichigo recover--”

“And then what, Urahara?” Aizen is uncomfortably near to him, accusations and insinuations stronger and heavier. “A life on the run for your precious boy? Giving up your shop, what few friends you have, to spend the rest of your days with him. Forever looking over your shoulder.”

This Kisuke has an answer for. This he can answer without any hesitation, without a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

“If I have to do so, then yes,” he replies, meeting Aizen's gaze evenly. “Ichigo is worth it. He would do the same for me.” In a heartbeat, there is no doubt in Kisuke's mind.

“I am certain he would.”

It isn't capitulation, and Kisuke would hardly call it agreement.

He watches Aizen for a moment more before he steps into the room, daring Aizen to move beyond the threshold. The former overlord maintains his position outside the door, watching as Kisuke carefully leans Zangetsu against the wall near the futon but within instant reach if Ichigo desires it.

Kisuke sighs, casting his gaze around the room, his irritation having reached new heights. He is reminded of the things that Ichigo's frantic reiatsu has broken and sets to cleaning them up, carefully dumping broken glass and ceramic into the wastebasket. It is very domestic of him, he realizes, but it is also all he can do.

He dare not admit how lost he actually is. That he really isn't all too fond of losing everything he has carefully built once more. He will do it for Ichigo without hesitation. But that doesn't mean it is painless. And he especially hates that the underlying cause is once again Aizen Sousuke. The man he loathes with every fiber of his being.

Kisuke passes by the doorway after one such trip to the trashbin, and it is because of it that he catches the disgusted noise Aizen makes. Something akin to a snort but far more derisive.

“All of this for a part-human mongrel. For an anomaly nature never intended,” Aizen mutters, barely loud enough for the shopkeeper to hear.

But he still does. And his body freezes, eyes widening fractionally.

There is the barest of seconds where the words echo in Kisuke's ears. And then he snaps – there's no other word to describe it. A low growl settles in his chest as he whirls, finding his hands fisted in the front of Aizen's shirt and propelling him backwards against the wall. Aizen strikes with enough force to rock a nearby framed picture, which swings noisily against the wall.

He wants nothing more than to commit violence in this hallway. To add another bruise to the ones already forming on Aizen's face.

“Don't you ever speak about him like that,” Kisuke snarls, unable to help the hot anger that surges through his blood like molten fire.

Aizen looks at him, his expression betraying nothing. There is, however, a sense of victory hidden in his eyes.

“He is that precious to you?” He doesn't even flinch at the sudden attack, makes no effort to remove Kisuke's hands from his person.

“Far more than you are,” the blond retorts, and he feel his fingers tighten, twisting in their grip. Aizen's collar draws tighter around his throat, more than a bit threatening. He almost thinks to keep squeezing. Aizen won't be missed. Kami, no one makes him as homicidal as this man.

Aizen's head tips to the side, lips pulling into a snide smirk. “Ah, how elegantly you avoid my questions, Urahara. Just like the coward you are.”

A growl echoes low in his throat once more, and Kisuke wonders just when he has been reduced to this territorial beast. “It would be a simple matter to kill you, Aizen,” he reminds the former captain, Benihime agreeing wholeheartedly in the back of his mind. “And I wouldn't regret it. Not for an instant.”

“Then why don't you?”

It is, plainly put, a challenge. Aizen knows he won't, which is the very reason he asks. He can't help but wonder where Aizen's earlier remorse has disappeared to.

Kisuke, however, is not so easily baited. “Too messy,” he replies flippantly, fingers shaking from the force of his grip. “And in answer to your question, yes, he is that precious. But not just to me. Ichigo has more friends than even he knows.”

“I suppose that should mean something to me.”

His bored frivolity is more than pissing Kisuke off. It's infuriating him.

“In other words, if I weighted your life against his, there would be no comparison. Ichigo, I'll save.”

Aizen meets his stare evenly, tipping his head downwards and making his eyes visible. There is mockery hiding in those dark depths, a touch of cruelty that in the past has been masked with a gentle smile and kind words. The very sight of it makes Kisuke's stomach roil. Let Ichigo be swayed by this man? He would rather die.

“You?” Kisuke continues, and his voice is a low hiss. A promise of personal retribution. “You can rot in Hell for all I care.” His reiatsu is rising and curling around him, a blood red wave of fury.

“Do you think your subtle threat frightens me?”

“Not at all,” he returns, and it’s full of fake cheer, though his reiatsu is lashing at Aizen's skin.

Surely, it must burn; he hopes its more than discomfiting. He hopes that Aizen can barely stand the pain. But the other man barely winces, though the discomfort is clear in the sweat gathering on his forehead.

“I am just letting you know where this stands.”

His reiatsu crawls over Aizen's skin, Kisuke still hoping that it burns painfully. With a final shove, the blond abruptly releases his captive and steps back from him. His breath wants to be ragged and out of control, but Kisuke forces it into a steady rhythm. He reminds himself that if he loses himself around Aizen, the other man will have won. He can't afford such a loss.

“Stay away from him” is Kisuke's final warning, and he steps into the bedroom, closing the door in Aizen's face. He controls himself and manages not to slam it.

His entire body is shaking, he belatedly realizes. Heart pounding in his chest from adrenaline, and anger burning a hot color across his cheeks. He really loathes Aizen in that moment. Though that is too little a word for the white-hot fury that pours through his veins.

Kisuke takes several deep breaths, trying to calm his rising ire. Ichigo's reiatsu is still unstable. He doesn't need to add to the man’s difficulty.

Gradually, Kisuke gets himself under control and goes towards the bed. Ichigo has moved faintly, and his mouth has drawn into a deepening frown. His sleep has become restless, obviously troubled by some dark dream. Kisuke has a pretty good idea of what it entails, having witnessed the same war.

He shucks off his outer layer and running a hand through his hair briefly, lowers himself down beside Ichigo. It is his every intention to keep an eye the sleeping figure. The futon is small, and he has to press close to the other man, not that it is a sacrifice to do so. They’ve shared a bed before. During the war. When the shouten was so full of misplaced and dying Shinigami that there was no room to spare. Kisuke willingly opened up his room, his private sanctum, to the only one of the lot he truly trusted. He’s never even done that with Yoruichi, not once during the hundred years she lived with him or afterwards.

In the quiet, he can hear Ichigo's breathing, steady and even despite his faint shivering. His reiatsu is calm, a steady stream beneath the surface, though Kisuke is again glad for the shielding. In his sleep, Ichigo is letting it all but leak from his pores. Not that he can really help it. But Kisuke actually finds it rather soothing. For all that Ichigo’s reiatsu is powerful, fierce and untamed, it is usually gentle. Not soft but easy and flowing.

Still, the blond can't help but wonder what they are supposed to do now. His plans only involved rescuing Ichigo and escaping. He hasn't thought any farther. Ichigo can't return home; Kisuke knows better than to try. There's no future in running from Soul Society for the rest of their existence. And as he's said before, Ichigo has others that care for them.

He realizes though that in the end it's Ichigo's decision. He can only hope that Aizen doesn't somehow influence it. The last thing they need is to listen to a man who's taking a second stab at becoming god. Kisuke won't let Ichigo be hurt because of that man.

Even as he is thinking over their options, fatigue quickly catches up to him. Although he wants to watch over Ichigo, it pulls him into its tight embrace. He fights it for a short moment but swiftly succumbs. The bed is soft and Ichigo warm. Reiatsu sliding over his skin like a familiar and well-loved blanket.

And Kisuke falls asleep to the sound of Ichigo's breathing.

************


a/n: I'm not entirely happy with this chapter. It seems a bit... awkward, though there are some parts that I like. Oh well. I do hope you enjoyed it at least. The animosity between Urahara and Aizen is so fun to write since I've always carried a different relationship for them in my other stories. Thanks for reading! And I look forward to your comments!

On to interlude one and then chapter eight!
Tags: bleach, the beautiful lie
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