Chapter Twelve: Ceasefire
Urahara has an interesting collection of literature, and Sousuke occupies himself with the bookshelves when he doesn't want to get lost in his own repetitive thoughts. The TV set holds no appeal for him, and as much as he wants to leave, he has the feeling that he won't be allowed back in should he choose to do so. No doubt Urahara would react gleefully at the chance to be rid of him for good.
Tired, Sousuke lifts a hand and rubs at his forehead. Only a few days have passed, but the lack of sleep has caught up to him. He avoids mirrors because he doesn't want to see the strained face that surely would reflect in it. It's not that his room is uncomfortable or anything similar, but honestly, how well can he sleep knowing he's housed with two people who have no reason not to kill him.
He knows Urahara would joyfully slit his throat in his sleep and not think twice about it. Kurosaki-kun is a different story as he has more honor than that. And as Aizen hasn't done anything recently to warrant an attack, Kurosaki won't do anything. It is only vague beliefs about the boy's possible disapproval that keep his life out of Urahara's hands. Still, that doesn't mean Sousuke is ready to trust himself to their mercy.
Needless to say, he's been sleeping with one eye open, and the lack of true rest makes for an uneasy agitation attacking his body. It doesn't help that he had to bear an auditory witness to the consummation of a relationship he has long suspected. Either the two of them honestly had forgotten he was in the house or hadn't cared. Sousuke would have much preferred their discretion.
It is only one more reminder that he is in a place he is not welcome and only grudgingly allowed. But Sousuke stays because he has nowhere else to go, and it is the only way to accomplish his goals. He can't turn back now, and he won't abandon his plans.
Suppressing a growl of irritation, Sousuke scans the bookshelves for something to occupy himself. Boredom is an affliction he finds difficult to cure, and he doesn't dare let thoughts of loneliness cross his mind. He has put himself in this position after all, and Sousuke has already determined there would be no regrets. He won’t allow any.
A sound in the doorway distracts him then, and Sousuke hates that he can't tell by reiatsu alone who it is. He thinks he remembers Urahara leaving to acquire some much-needed supplies. Or at least, that is what he claimed, but Sousuke does make a habit out of tuning the annoying shopkeeper out if it’s not deemed important. He glances briefly over his shoulder, a strange mixture of emotions striking him as he spots Kurosaki-kun.
The boy looks tired but remarkably better than the strained appearance he put forth yesterday. Freshly scrubbed and fed, he is better fit for a semi-public appearance. Sousuke wonders how much of that has anything to do with Urahara and their... relationship, if that is what they wish to call it.
On some levels, it amuses him. On others, he is intrigued. Honestly, he should have known that Urahara would stoop so low. It is in his nature after all. Petty and plebian.
“There's probably nothing interesting in here either, is there?” Kurosaki asks, speaking first and surprising Sousuke with the civility in his tone.
Perhaps he is merely making an effort not to worsen a situation already strained. The three of them will have to live together for what could possibly be a long time. Months. Years even. Maybe the boy is trying to make peace, a much more mature approach than his older and fickler counterpart.
Sousuke shakes his head. If Kurosaki is going to try, all the better for him. He needs the former substitute to see him as less of a threat – less of an enemy – if this is going to work.
The boy snorts. “Figures.” And he does this eerie thing where he just sort of looks at Sousuke, as though trying to put together a puzzle with only a few pieces and expecting to make up the rest. “You should let me take a look at that.”
Confused, Sousuke glances at the book in his hand, unsure what else his companion could be talking about. But that must not be what the boy means because he strolls in the room like there's nothing wrong with two onetime enemies sharing space. He actually gets closer, despite Daddy Urahara's warning to stay away from the big, bad Aizen.
“Your nose,” Kurosaki-kun clarifies, eyes scanning Sousuke's face. “It looks like it might be broken.”
Sousuke, for his part, is speechless and uncertain he's willing to trust Kurosaki with a delicate part of his anatomy. Perhaps all this friendliness is just a front in order to get close and inflict some real damage. Paranoid? Yes. But cautious as well. He's suffered enough bodily harm in the past few days that he would’ve never endured if he hadn't lost that damn war. Humiliation doesn’t suit him. That is more Hirako’s bit.
“Med student, remember? I can do it,” Kurosaki-kun reminds him, as though there's some magical code of ethics that renders him unable to wreak havoc on those already injured and Sousuke should be satisfied with that.
Except that he's not. However, if he's going to do this, he has to start trusting somewhere, and the boy doesn't strike him as vindictive as Urahara. Yet.
He gestures vaguely. “Then, by all means...” Sousuke leaves the rest hanging, though a thought occurs to him as Kurosaki points him to one of the chairs. “I don't think reiatsu is a good idea, however,” he suggests warily, well remembering the blistering feel of Urahara's against his skin. The lingering nausea is more than he wishes to relive.
And once again, Sousuke curses his apparent lack of power. His former glory lifts up to mock him. He slaps it back down.
Kurosaki-kun shakes his head, getting closer in an unsettling manner and just looking at him. Sousuke attributes it to the fact he's supposed to be fixing the possibly broken nose, but does he have to be so close?
“Don't worry, I'm not,” Kurosaki reassures, brown eyes impossibly dark and concerned. Totally focused on the task at hand and not something painful such as a fist to the gut. Small favors. “Never really learned. Thought about it, but teachers are a bit in short supply.”
Sousuke supposes he would be right. What few there are too teach him must have been too busy dealing with the aftermath of the war. And he doubts the boy would trust Urahara to teach him such a delicate skill, not to mention all the effort he's gone through to avoid contact with Soul Society. Not that Sousuke blames him.
Conversation, he decides, is the quickest way to friendliness. So he asks.
“Why did you want to be a doctor?”
The question definitely startles Kurosaki, who is probably anticipating more attempts on Sousuke's part to sway him to his cause. Well, that will come later. Now is trust-building time. He’s always been particularly good at this.
Sousuke prods for more, surprised to find himself honestly interested. He knows fighting medics – the entire fourth division, for example – but he wonders how someone like Kurosaki-kun can go from battle to healing with a snap of his fingers. It seems like an unnecessarily opposite choice, as though the ex-substitute is trying to push himself as far away from chaos and confrontation as possible.
“You didn't want to be anything else?”
The boy shrugs, lifting a hand and holding it towards Sousuke's face. He waits until Sousuke seems to be accepting of the touch before gently prodding the pads of his fingers across the bridge. It doesn't hurt. Much. There is still some soreness, and Sousuke knows there's a nice and undoubtedly dark bruise all over his face.
“I don't know,” Kurosaki-kun answers, brow furrowed in concentration. “I guess I just... fell into it. I mean, my dad's a doctor, and I never thought about doing anything else.” He frowns and pulls back, obviously contemplating a means to fix the current problem. “I like helping people, so I guess it all works out fine.”
He doesn't sound sure of himself. And Sousuke would bet ten-to-one that if Kurosaki sat down and thought about it, he would have chosen something else. Even more, that he had already wanted a different career path but chose a medical profession for another reason entirely. Sousuke finds himself curious, and that in itself surprises him. Yet, it’s clear the topic isn't really one Kurosaki-kun is comfortable with, so he wisely alters the course of the conversation.
“I'm surprised they didn't offer you a division or similar,” he comments, watching as the boy wanders away to rummage through the shelves of the main room. Looking for what, Sousuke doesn't know.
“They did.” Kurosaki-kun smirks, tossing it over his shoulder at Sousuke with a familiar gleam of boyish recklessness in his eyes. “They offered me yours.”
Sousuke isn't surprised, and he supposes there's an irony in that. Still, he wonders why Kurosaki didn't take what had to be a generous offer. It is obvious that the Gotei 13 would have needed him. Did his life as a human have something to do with it? Or is there a deeper reason?
“Why didn't you take it?” he questions with actual intrigue coloring his tone.
His question is a simple one, but it doesn't take a return of Sousuke's reiatsu to detect the change in atmosphere. It is a question that Kurosaki isn't really interested in answering, and a sense of awkwardness descends into the room. The boy shifts uncomfortably and finally produces whatever it is he has been looking for. A bottle of low-grade aspirin. Pity, Sousuke has been hoping for something a little stronger.
He returns to standing in front of his patient, and the boy shakes bottle in silent command for Sousuke to take a few.
“It wasn't for me,” he explains after a second. “Take a few of these. It'll help with the swelling.”
Sousuke complies because the discomfort Kurosaki-kun radiates is uncomfortable, even for him. Still, he wants to know anyway. This child is... fascinating, for lack of a better word. He has always been perplexed by this part-human, part-Hollow, part-Shinigami amalgam who always managed to mangle his plans. That his entire life contradicts itself makes him an intriguing character to study, and the scientist within Aizen Sousuke – though only a small part of him – practically squeals in scholarly interest.
“Besides, who would've been my lieutenant?” Kurosaki-kun continues, as though it's just an offhanded statement and not an attempt to distance himself from the underlying truth. “Yumichika-san? Hanatarou?”
“Kusajishi?” Sousuke suggests, his own attempt at humor.
It's enough to drag a light chuckle out of the boy – who really isn't a boy anymore. Still, Sousuke has at least a good century or two on Kurosaki-kun and will consider him a boy for quite some time.
“Not on your life,” Kurosaki assures him and sets to prodding at Sousuke's nose, pushing it this way and that, pinching the bridge.
Slight discomfort threads through Sousuke, but he endures. He doesn't think it's broken, and by the look of things, neither does Kurosaki-kun. Why he's still looking, the former lord doesn't know. Perhaps he's checking for other injuries; the medical student in him, he supposes.
“And what about you?”
The question completely catches him off guard. Not that he shows it.
“Pardon?” Sousuke returns easily.
Kurosaki draws back, eyes surreptitiously scanning his patient from a farther distance that admittedly allows Sousuke to breathe a little easier. “These past few years you've been hiding in the living world, right? What’ve you been doing?”
In other words, what mischief has he been causing? What diabolical plan should Kurosaki be on the lookout for? Just who has he been manipulating?
There's a hint of the fact that they are enemies – if not enemies with a mutual enemy at the moment – and Kurosaki-kun still doesn't quite trust him. Well, one step at a time. Sousuke isn't a god, and now, it looks like he won't ever be. He can't make things happen with a snap of his finger.
Oh, how Sousuke laments that particular loss.
He knows that Kurosaki isn't going to have expected his truthful answer, and he laughs lightly.
“Would you believe me if I said I was a teacher?”
There's a moment of startled surprise that echoes in Kurosaki-kun's expression – regret is it? How interesting. And, then it shifts into skepticism.
He snorts. “What the hell could you have taught?”
“Middle school.” When Kurosaki raises a brow, still not entirely believing him, Sousuke just shrugs elegantly. “It's not unlike leading a division,” he adds, amused by his companion’s reactions to this.
“So you're saying the Shinigami are just a bunch of children?” It is more of a question than a statement.
Well, that would be the gist of it. In multiple ways, despite their many years of living, they very much are.
“In a way.”
Kurosaki-kun chuckles. “I sorta got that myself,” he comments and shakes his head. “I'm getting the feeling you were probably good at it.”
If that is a compliment, Sousuke is wondering why Kurosaki gives it. Have they suddenly become friends without him knowing it? He doesn't think the student is as manipulative as his teacher, but then, what does he really know about the boy? Nothing, as this encounter is proving to him. Nothing at all.
“I never had any complaints as far as I know.”
In fact, Sousuke is pretty well-accepted among his peers and students alike. It helps that he is so very good at putting on a meek and polite persona, radiating confidence and harmlessness. He supposes that he has the Shinigami to thank for that practice, but really, they were damn easy to fool.
“All the little girls probably loved you,” Kurosaki-kun adds almost offhandedly, prompting a peculiar look from Sousuke.
One that Kurosaki seems to realize means his comment could have been misconstrued. “Err... not like that. You know what I mean.” He rakes a hand through his hair, turning away. “So how did you manage that? Don't they have requirements to teach?”
“The same way I received this gigai,” Sousuke answers but purposefully keeps the truth mysterious. He won't reveal the name of his savior because he can't return her kindness with that kind of dishonor. “Someone helped me.”
Kurosaki heads toward the doorway. Sousuke follows because it is better to keep the conversation going than to lose his chance to present himself.
“Someone?” Kurosaki-kun prods when he notices the man behind him, making a quick path to the bathroom.
Sousuke leans in the doorway as the boy runs the water, washing his hands and searching the cabinet above the sink. Bottles of medicine rattle loudly in the small space.
“I won't betray them.”
Kurosaki-kun turns to offer out one of those ice packs that requires an excessive amount of force and immediate shaking to activate. “I already have an idea. I don't need any names.”
Sousuke takes the pack, examining the contents. It seems simple enough. Break and shake. His fingers prod at the plastic, looking for the small bag inside that requires popping. He finds it easily enough.
Kurosaki’s hip rests against the counter as he crosses his arms over his chest, watching Sousuke grapple with the ice pack. And grapple he does because it seems the more he applies pressure to the damn thing, the less it wants to work. He pauses to check the instructions again – perhaps he's doing it wrong – but no, they haven't changed at all. His companion's answer drags him from his contemplation of the ice pack.
“How do you think I escaped?”
He looks up, having expected as much. Only a few people would know to reference Kouichi to him, so it could’ve only been her. But he doesn't say her name aloud, and Kurosaki-kun doesn't either. Just a mutual understanding of a common friend – or friends, as it were. He knows that Unohana-san couldn't have saved Kurosaki on her own. Just as she hadn't been the one to create all his paperwork for his living world identity.
An exasperated sigh splits the quiet, and then, Sousuke finds the much-mangled ice pack plucked from his hands. He watches as Kurosaki-kun flicks his wrist, twists the bag, and the sound of a pop echoes in the bathroom. He hands it back, giving it a demonstrative shake.
Sousuke, for his part, wishes he could say thank you, but the awkward embarrassment speaks for itself. He just shakes the damn thing and prays he never has to use one again.
Kurosaki's eyes, however, never leave him, as though searching for something in his expression. They harden a bit, the playfulness and general friendliness in their odd conversation finding residence elsewhere. Like he's just now getting to business and the rest was a prelude, a way to invoke Sousuke's trust. It is very sly of him. Very Urahara-like.
“She told me a lot about you,” the boy says as Sousuke applies the ice pack, wincing at the abrupt chill. “Things I hadn't known before.”
Sousuke blinks, well aware of how much of his past the fourth division captain knows, and wonders how much she would have revealed. Not too much he hopes. Some things are best kept dead and forgotten.
“I get the feeling,” Kurosaki continues, “she wished things could have turned out different.”
Something clenches in Sousuke's chest, but he refuses to call it guilt. “She would not be the only one.”
Kurosaki pushes by him, back down the hall and towards the main room. Sousuke follows because there's no way he can't, not with this sort of topic.
“You say that, but I wonder what you think you should have done differently.” Kurosaki-kun's stare is harder now, more demanding. A glimpse of the hostility he harbored at their initial meeting what seems like so long ago but was really only a few days.
Sousuke considers the question. What would he have differently, knowing the things he knows now? Certainly, he would have paid more attention to Kurosaki-kun's existence as he was very much a crux during the war. Would he have killed him? Tried to win the boy to his side? Sousuke doesn't know. But he's certain he would not have dismissed Kurosaki-kun originally. That had been a gross miscalculation on his part.
He could have tried harder to convince Unohana to come with him. He could have reached Shunsui, encouraging his uncle of the truth of things. Perhaps then, an unnecessary death would have been spared.
He would have trained Gin harder, pushing him to his limits, making him stronger. That way Sousuke wouldn't have had to watch him fall to that arrogant bastard Byakuya.
And Sousuke would have definitely been more circumspect in that revelatory turn of events more than a hundred years prior. His arrogance betrayed him, bearing a ruthless vengeance in the form of a group of surviving Shinigami-turned-Vizard and a vindictive shopkeeper from the living world. He should have just killed Shinji and the others when he had the chance. He should have killed Urahara and Tsukabishi as well, rather than taunting the lot of them for their ignorance.
He wonders if those mistakes had cost him the war. So yes, Sousuke thinks there are several things he would definitely change. But he also knows what Kurosaki-kun is really asking.
“There might have been a few things,” he admits, though he suspects it’s far from the answer that Kurosaki wants to hear. He drops into a chair, the boy occupying one not far from him.
Kurosaki’s expression is stormy now. And where that hasn't been tension before, it's making a nuisance of itself now.
“Like not doing it in the first place?”
Sousuke lowers the ice pack, ignoring the chill that creeps into his fingers. “Can you honestly fault me for trying?”
The look on Kurosaki-kun's face is clear, as though the answer should be obvious. Like he wants to shout “yes” to the world and remind Sousuke just how much of an evil bastard he really is. The words seem to dance on the tip of his tongue, but then, the former substitute appears to reconsider with a pointed look to his surroundings. His hand subconsciously rubs at one of his wrists, where faint impressions of the manacles still linger.
Whatever the boy planned to say is lost when the door to the house suddenly opens, prompting the both of them to whirl towards it in startled preparation. Sousuke can't sense a damn thing, and thanks to Urahara's shielding, neither can Kurosaki-kun apparently. They don't know if it's friend or foe.
Until Urahara steps through the door. Keys jingling and brown bag of groceries being jostled from one arm to the other.
“Honey, I'm home,” he calls out a bit too cheerfully for any normal person’s liking. His eyes sweep the room, setting first on Kurosaki-kun and then Sousuke, promptly losing their sparkle. “Oh, it's you.”
The door shuts, and he flicks the bolt. His eyes flicker between the two of them, suspicion plain as day on his face. No doubt he wonders what Aizen the Terrible is doing so close to his precious Kurosaki-kun. He remembers the shopkeeper's warning to stay away from Kurosaki, and well, Sousuke never really gave it a second thought. Urahara can demand all he wants, but he has his own agenda and doesn't fear the former shopkeeper. The truce between them is strained at best.
“I trust your trip went well,” Sousuke comments snarkily as Urahara tosses the keys onto a small table and makes a beeline for him.
He – without any ceremony whatsoever – dumps the bag of groceries directly into Sousuke's lap with a snide smile. “The weather is really perfect. Too bad you can't enjoy it.”
Oh, the games they play.
Kurosaki rises to his feet, the curiosity of a hungry boy in his eyes as he peers into the depths of the bag. He arches one brow, reaching in and pulling out the topmost item.
“Uhhh... Ura--” Sousuke watches as he visible catches himself at a pointed look from the blond. Kurosaki-kun quickly amends himself. “Umm... Kisuke? Plums?”
He holds said fruit up, showing a plastic bag with at least a dozen ripe plums gleaming within it.
“They were having a sale,” Urahara chirps merrily with an askance look at the third member of their household, daring him to say otherwise, “so I bought a whole bag.”
Sousuke's eyes narrow. He very much doubts there was a sale. Or that Urahara even likes plums since the shopkeeper knows how much Sousuke loathes them himself. Not just the fruit but the Shinigami who shares their name as well.
“I guess we could make... jam?” Kurosaki-kun suggests, making it more of a question and completely oblivious of the double-meaning.
“They're not for you,” Urahara smugly clarifies, practically radiating a pride over himself for a mockery that only the two of them understand. “I know that Sou-kun just loves them.”
Unfortunately for Urahara, Kurosaki is not an idiot, and he can tell that there's some underlying purpose behind the plums. But he doesn't ask. Just tosses the blond a disbelieving look and goes back to rooting around in the bag, which remains sitting in Sousuke's lap.
Urahara shakes his head. “No. But don't be discouraged. It's only been a few days; Tessai probably hasn't had time to settle yet.”
“Hmm.” Kurosaki-kun digs deeper, the act rather disconcerting to Sousuke who would prefer the boy take the bag himself. “Strawberries. Cabbage. Rice. Well, at least that one makes sense. Tomato sauce. Pasta.” He pauses, mid-dig. “And just who's going to cook all this because it's not going to be you,” he asks with a pointed glance at the blond.
And Sousuke himself is mildly perturbed. It rather feels as if the both of them are looming over him, Urahara occasionally tossing hostile glares. He can just feel the resentment broiling off the man, as well as the fury for being close to precious Kurosaki Ichigo. He wonders how the boy stands it under that suffocating protectiveness. Gin would have long ago squirmed away or at the very least made some form of teasing comment.
Urahara huffs playfully as the two of them are lost in their own little amused world. “I'll have you know that I made the meal you ate the other day.”
“It's kind of hard to screw up soup,” Kurosaki-kun retorts.
And Sousuke's had enough. He rises to his feet, prompting both men to take several steps back and Kurosaki to remove his hand from the bag. The action gives him the space he wants, though it is ruined when Urahara grins at him.
“Carry that to the kitchen, won't you?”
Sousuke grits his teeth because he and Kurosaki have made so much progress, and he's going to be the more mature one here. At least for now.
“My pleasure.” If he had fangs, they would be bared right now.
Sousuke makes a hasty exit from the room. But not before catching them in the beginnings of another conversation, this one more serious than the banter about Urahara's lack of cooking skills.
“When do you think Tessai-san will be able to contact you?” Worry is thick in Kurosaki-kun's voice, no doubt for his family more than anything.
“I can't say, Ichigo,” Urahara answers, tone shifting to seriousness.
There's a creak, someone shifting their weight Sousuke assumes.
“But don't worry. I'm sure your family is fine,” Urahara continues. “Soul Society's policy is not to harm regular humans.”
‘That we know about,’ Sousuke can't help but comment to himself. He would not put it past the powers-that-be to ignore their policy should circumstances change. They’ve done it many times before.
Intrigued by the conversation, he doesn't head immediately to the kitchen. He pauses in the hallway, leans against the wall, and subtly eavesdrops. There is one advantage to having no reiatsu, he supposes. It makes for easier sneaking.
“Karin and Yuzu can see spirits,” the boy protests, and he has a point.
Would they still be considered regular humans with that sort of ability? And then, it is plainly obvious that he doesn't know of his father's identity. Isshin is far from a regular human.
“They don't know that,” Urahara reassures softly, and Sousuke can just imagine the love-sick expression that must be on his face. “And the few who do won't tell.”
Kurosaki doesn't sound so certain, and there's a squeak of furniture, one of the two of them dropping into the available couch. “Rukia--”
“I think Kuchiki-san will be smart enough to keep it to herself,” Urahara inserts, and it’s followed by a distracted sigh. “Unfortunately, until I can get into contact with Tessai, I won't be able to get you a gigai or a disguise.”
The ex-substitute emits a sound of disappointment, probably feeling as trapped and bored as Sousuke himself. “You're joking.”
“I wish I were.”
Sousuke somehow doubts that. The better to keep Kurosaki to himself and where he can easily be watched.
“I'm going crazy here,” the boy admits, a low growl echoing in his throat. “I can't do anything, and that bastard's getting restless.”
That bastard? Sousuke ponders. Perhaps he is talking about his Hollow since logically, he can't be speaking of anything else. He knows that Kurosaki-kun has had some trouble reconciling his halves and maintaining control over his Hollow side.
He misses whatever Urahara says in response, and their voices drop. It is likely a reassurance that he won't have to wait much longer. Convinced that no more interesting information is to be gained, Sousuke wanders to the kitchen. The bag is placed on the counter, and in the interest of not losing valuable food resources, he puts away the groceries. There is a brief moment of puerile glaring at the offending plums, but he stashes those in the fridge anyway.
Sousuke engages in a brief debate with himself over what to do next. He contemplates returning to his room and leaving the lovebirds to their conversation. But he doesn't know what Urahara might be saying to his student, what implications he might be weaving. And Sousuke can't defend himself without being there.
He heads back to the main room, not bothering to announce his return before striding through the entryway. He half wishes he had a moment later because they are separating hastily, and Urahara is the one who looks far too smug for Sousuke's liking. Kurosaki-kun's cheeks are flushed, and though Sousuke doesn't know what they were up to, he can hazard a guess. And he highly suspects Urahara was the one to initiate, pervert that he is.
Sousuke doesn't ask because frankly, he doesn't want to know. He hates that he doesn't know how to handle these two. It is not that he's particularly against homosexuality or the fact that they have cultivated some sort of sexual relationship. Just that Urahara does his best to subtly flaunt it whenever possible, as though laying his claim would make Sousuke seek Kurosaki-kun's aid any less.
He sighs to himself and looks away. This is not going to be easy. But then, he knew from the moment he first sought out Kurosaki Ichigo he was in for a struggle.
a/n: One feels just a bit... sorry for Aizen here. Just a tiny bit. Okay, granted he's still kinda evil incarnate. But he's getting... better? Not much happens in this chapter, I'll admit, but I'm laying lots of groundwork here. Promise! This story isn't even half done.
On to chapter thirteen!