Chapter Fourteen: Domesticity
Kisuke gasps and ducks backwards, barely avoiding a high-flying kick aimed for his face. Sometimes, he regrets teaching Ichigo so well. Or even allowing Yoruichi to teach him so well. Granted Ichigo is skilled in martial arts all on his own – Isshin is good for something, after all. But then, adding second division training to the mix?
It is like asking for trouble. Doubly so when he adds in the fact that Ichigo is beyond fast, even when he isn’t in bankai and still lacks his mask. Truthfully, he’s good enough at shunpo these days to give Yoruichi a run for her money, good enough that he left even Soifon and Byakuya-bo reddened and panting in his wake during the war.
The blond wonders if it is a hint of his Hollow abilities leaking through or if this is just a reflection of his natural proclivities. His bankai is built for speed in point of fact, and for that, it needs some basis in his normal state. And if Kisuke really considers the matter, Isshin’s family is known for their gifts involving shunpo.
Not that Ichigo would know that. And not that the blond is going to tell him any time soon. That is a very delicate matter best left for a time when he has room to explain without Lord High-and-Mighty himself loitering outside their door. He has a feeling that Ichigo won’t take the news well or that he’ll do so quietly. And really, Kisuke still wonders if it is his place to say anything. If he can say anything. Ichigo is his former student turned lover. But Isshin is still his friend and has been for a very long time. Long before Ichigo was born or Isshin left Soul Society for greener pastures.
His introspection is abruptly ended by an open palm flying directly into the junction between his stomach and chest. It hits before Kisuke can even think to block. He lets out a pained grunt but keeps going, twisting around so that Ichigo is now between him and the wall. The space they’re in is confined, their bedroom with all the furniture pushed to the side, but it’s the only place they can blow off some steam since this house doesn’t have an underground training room yet.
Kisuke uses that fact to his advantage as he feints twice and then moves to sweep out Ichigo’s feet. But the Vizard knows him too well and is too fast besides, sliding to the left and grasping his shoulder. Before he can do more than start to shift his weight away, Ichigo is already using his momentum to throw Kisuke to the ground. He follows it up with a move that’d be a killing blow in a real fight if it connects, but he stops short. Letting the blond go with nothing more than a soft tap. A signal that their spar is over and that Ichigo is the definite winner. But he can’t even bring himself to pout too much at that. Not when Ichigo is grinning like that, not when the shadows are gone from his face and there is only a smile. Even if Kisuke’s own pride is smarting just a twinge, which is what he gets for allowing his mind to wander in the first place.
The kisses afterwards, however, are more than worth the bruises. The taste of Ichigo and sweat and desire on his tongue. The way his lover’s fingers are firm but cradling on his hips. How he uses one hand to tilt Kisuke’s chin at just the right angle to keep their noses from bumping. And that when he finally pulls back, it isn’t all the way. Standing there with his arms still around Kisuke’s back and a soft cast to his face.
His only regret is that it doesn’t go farther than that, but they’re both still new at this. Still testing the waters. And if Kisuke is perfectly honest, the anticipation gives his desire an edge. A sweet and sharp tang that makes him want Ichigo that much more.
“Thanks,” Ichigo says a moment later. Face easy if not smiling anymore.
Kisuke doesn’t even need to ask what it is for. He was the one to initiate the distraction in the first place. Just glad that Ichigo is no longer brooding about his lack of response from his family. It is hard for him to be away from his sisters for this long. Even during the war, there were regular letters. Some courtesy of Yoruichi. Some brought to him by Hitsugaya, who still maintains a friendly if surreptitious correspondence with Karin. This is the longest Ichigo has ever gone without hearing from them in some way. Either in person or by letter or phone. Kisuke can forgive him for being worried; he can’t help but feel the same, even if he hides it better.
“They’ll be fine, Ichigo. I promise that they will,” the shopkeeper states with as much conviction as he can muster, a surprising amount.
The question is deceptively light. Deceptively void of emotion.
Kisuke sighs. “They have no way of knowing what he is. The only Shinigami still alive who knows is Kuchiki-san, and I think she’s learned her lesson about telling tales.”
Ichigo’s face pulls into a deep scowl, and he tilts his head back to glare at the ceiling. Kuchiki Rukia is a sore spot and will undoubtedly remain so for awhile. It isn’t everyday that a friend stabs him in the back, even if unintentionally. And just from their history alone, from how much Ichigo sacrificed because she asked him, Kisuke cannot blame his lover for being so incredibly hurt by her actions.
“It’ll be alright,” Kisuke cuts into the thoughts unquestionably running rampant through Ichigo’s head. “It’ll all work out. We just need to take our time and plan. Things might not be perfect now… or even for awhile, but we’ll get there.”
“But what if--”
“I promise,” Kisuke repeats, and he is so close now that their noses brush.
Ichigo just nods, silent for a moment. “Thank you,” he murmurs.
“You’re welcome. And you really don’t have to keep thanking me,” he replies, brushing a stray and sweaty lock of hair from Ichigo’s face and allowing his hand to linger. “Feeling better now that you’ve stomped me into the ground?”
“I didn’t stomp you,” Ichigo retorts without heat, almost playful. “You fell.”
“I fell?” the ex-captain repeats incredulously. “You threw me!”
His young lover cocks his head to the side. “You enjoyed it. You like being manhandled.”
“Only when it’s you.” Kisuke bats his eyelashes coyly and wishes for his fan, but it’s in the dresser drawer.
Ichigo snorts. “I’ll keep that in mind later tonight.”
“Oh?” He can admit that his interest is piqued. “Is that a promise?” One hand travels around Ichigo’s side to rest on his back before sliding lower.
“More like a threat.” But the gleam in his eyes gives him away as he leans in to nip at Kisuke’s lips.
“Is that right?” the shopkeeper responds when he pulls back.
“Yeah, it is.” Ichigo chuckles.
And the sound travels straight down the blond’s spine, across his belly, and into his groin. Which rapidly hardens. With a smirk, Kisuke slowly and seductively goes in to capture those ever tempting lips. But Ichigo deftly tilts his head to the side at the last second and then proceeds to take a deep sniff.
“Damn… We both need to take a shower,” Ichigo declares and abruptly steps away.
Kisuke doesn’t miss the twinkle in his eyes as his friend heads for the door, but he can only stare dumbfounded for several heartbeats. Can only look after him poised in the same position as before, seconds away from delivering another kiss.
“You… You tease!” Kisuke calls after him as he recovers. “You ungrateful tease! That was so mean!”
And Ichigo just laughs and keeps heading for the bathroom. Kisuke trails after, but he graciously allows his lover first dibs, biting his tongue on a suggestion that they share. He knows that if he sees Ichigo naked, he's not going to be able to control himself, and Kisuke needs to exhibit some restraint. It will hardly do for him to ravage the boy in the shower. At least, this early in the relationship. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Once he's managed to remove their annoying houseguest. After that, all bets are off. And there are several rooms in this place that still need christening in his special perverted style.
Still, the thought of all that steam and hot water and Ichigo in combination is nearly enough to do him in. Nearly enough to make him open the door and join in, damn the consequences. But before Kisuke can do that, he hears the shower turn off, and Ichigo emerges into the hallway a few minutes later. Sadly, he is fully dressed, but he does grin when he sees Kisuke waiting there. Gifting him with a quick kiss that is far too fleeting for the blond’s taste. Like a little teasing promise of more for later. Or maybe that’s his own wishful thinking.
It is all he can do to go into the bathroom instead of following Ichigo back to their bedroom, and he locks the door behind him if only for his peace of mind. Not that he thinks that Ichigo will come back, but he doesn’t dare do anything less with Aizen on the same continent, much less within the same house.
The water is warm when he steps under it a moment later, hotter than he usually likes it. But it’s still at the setting Ichigo used, and he can’t bring himself to adjust it. He has other problems to deal with first, most noticeably the still hardened and aching part of himself that he’d tried his best to ignore earlier. And Kisuke feels a bit deprived as he deals with the matter himself, wishing that there were another hand and another person helping him along.
He emerges from the bathroom sometime later, both frustrated and satiated, and his nose twitches at the delicious aroma in the air. Kisuke is drawn by the intoxicating scent of dinner and wanders to the kitchen as though called, desperately hoping that Aizen isn't the one standing at the stove. He doesn't want to give that bastard any sort of compliment, even if the food Aizen is occasionally allowed to make is somewhat palatable.
Kisuke's towel falls across his shoulders as he drags his fingers through his wet hair, putting it in some semblance of order. Second-division training makes for silent footsteps in the off chance that it is Aizen, and he peers around the corner. Only for a grin to split his face.
Ichigo is cooking. Much, much better.
And Kisuke has to admit he rather likes the sight of him chopping vegetables for some sort of meal. The ex-captain doesn't know what it is, but he'll bet it's good. Ichigo learned from the best, after all. Yuzu has skills that make even trained chefs weep with envy.
There's something immensely attractive about the sight of Ichigo standing at the counter, the bow of his apron hanging low across his back. The stretch of his shoulders, the taper of his body towards his hips. The line of his bare neck just above the head loop of the apron. It's like that bare patch of tanned skin is calling Kisuke, asking him to say hello.
Ichigo smells like body wash and cooking spices, the blond notices as he buries his face in the back of Ichigo's neck, tongue touching the bare skin. His arms slide around the younger man as Kisuke breathes in the enticing aroma of dinner and Ichigo. He rather likes the idea of having one and then the other. Maybe both of them on the table at the same time.
In his arms, Ichigo stills. “I can't chop with you clinging to me like a wet blanket,” he says, the sound of the knife on the cutting board abruptly stopping.
Kisuke nibbles at his neck. “I can't help it. You smell good.” And he follows up with a slow slide of his tongue across all that delightful skin.
Lifting his shoulders, Ichigo tries briefly for some space. Only to submit to the embrace with a sigh that mixes irritation and resignation.
“That's the curry,” he corrects.
“Curry?” Kisuke brightens and peeks over his shoulder at the array of items already chopped or in the process of being so. “I could help,” he suggests, already reaching for a stalk of celery.
Until the flat of the knife smacks him across the top of the wrist and he catches sight of a single brown eye narrowed in warning. “Don't touch anything. You're not cooking.”
Kisuke can't help but chuckle, his other hand sliding down the planes of an apron to rub his palm across Ichigo's groin. “Oh, you're my good little housewife,” he coos, knowing it will only aggravate his lover further. “I just love when you do this. So cute, so domestic.”
True to form, the Vizard calmly directs an elbow back towards Kisuke. Who having anticipated such an attack, deftly twists out of reach.
“Say that again and see what happens,” Ichigo says with a growl, one eye peering at him in warning. His stirring spoon waves menacingly.
Kisuke laughs, holding up his hands as he backs away. “You're holding a spoon, my dear. I just call them as I see them.”
He chuckles again and dodges when that spoon whips through the air, whistling through the place where he’d just been. Kisuke dances out of the strike zone and watches with thinly veiled amusement as Ichigo turns back towards his task. Grumbling under his breath but not terribly irritated.
“It's better than eating that poison that you call food,” Ichigo huffs, lifting the cutting board to scrape the sliced vegetables into a pan for stewing.
Kisuke peers over his shoulder again, pressing close but not yet touching. “Mah, you wound me, Ichigo. And after all the effort I went through to try. I slaved over a hot stove for you, and this is how you repay me? With insults and threats of bodily harm? You’re veins flow with nothing but ice.”
Ichigo rolls his eyes, too used to Kisuke's antics by this point. And the blond thinks for a moment that he doesn't mind things the way they are now – Aizen's presence aside. He could get used to a life like this, as peaceful as it feels. He could get used to this man in the kitchen and in his bed. To waking up wrapped around him and the taste of Ichigo on his lips.
But as with all things, Aizen ruins the moment. And there is a mild creak in the background, and Kisuke freezes as the sensation of being watched creeps up his spine. He turns to see his most hated enemy in the doorway, gaze on the both of them and unreadable as always. Those dark eyes dart between both Kisuke and Ichigo as Aizen regally shakes his head like a king vaguely amused by his court jester.
“So domestic,” Aizen mutters under his breath, seemingly oblivious to the look of utter death that Kisuke gives him.
And then, he's gone. Sneaking down the hallway of the house like some unsightly and unwanted pet, leaving Kisuke and Ichigo to their business. Fucking creepy is what that is, and Kisuke's eyes narrow. He wants nothing more than to be rid of this nuisance, but Ichigo won't allow it. Not yet.
And the shopkeeper despises that there's nothing he can do about it. He hates that he's almost forgotten that Aizen is in the house with them. The former overlord has taken to skulking about, hiding in his room whenever possible, until Kisuke returns from his trips out to find him ingratiating himself to Ichigo. That pisses the blond off even more, though he'd like to think he hides it well.
Kisuke doesn't like the amount of time that Ichigo spends with that traitor, but he also knows there's nothing he can do or say about it. Their last conversation pretty much confirmed it. Otherwise, he would just be angering Ichigo, and Kisuke doesn't want to alienate him.
He knows good and well that in his absence, Ichigo has no one else to talk to but Aizen. And that Ichigo is struggling to come to some sort of decision, which pretty much requires talking to the man. Still, Kisuke can't help but worry. He knows how sly Aizen's tongue can be, how manipulative. He just doesn't want Ichigo to fall under that bastard's spell like so many others before him.
Kisuke blinks out of his thoughts and realizes that he's been glaring in the direction of the open doorway like a fool. “With what, my dear?” he asks with fake brightness, directing his attention back to Ichigo.
It seems his lover missed Aizen's muttered comment.
Busy preparing the meal, it takes a moment for Ichigo to answer. “Hearing from Tessai-san? From my family?”
Shaking his head, Kisuke turns to poke his head into the fridge, looking for something to drink. And a trickle of water works its way from his hair, reminding him that he hasn't dried properly.
“I'll check again today,” he says, frowning at the empty shelves as a blast of cold air strikes him full in the face. “After I hit the grocery store,” he concedes at the sheer nothingness inside their fridge.
He keeps forgetting how much three adults can eat. Even if Aizen doesn’t really seem to consume all that much. Partially due to the menu choice and partially an artifact of his loss of power, something that still makes Kisuke grin with ill-hidden glee. Aizen’s been reduced to the level of a Rukongai resident, needing only enough to keep his gigai going and nothing more. A powerless wretch. Not even enough reiatsu to light a candle or the torches outside each division building. Completely and utterly helpless. Useless.
Not that Kisuke has ever had much use for him before. Even when he was a captain and Aizen still a lieutenant. Always hovering in Shinji’s shadow. Forever following him and Shunsui around. At all of their gatherings but never a part of them. Forever sitting in the corner reading while the other captains and vice-captains drank and swapped stories. Even Ukitake and Unohana, the pictures of abstinence, imbibed more than Aizen. Even Rose, new to the group and so very quiet at first, fit in better.
Aizen was always the odd one out. There but never really invited. Not wanted by anyone other than Shunsui and Ukitake. Kisuke supposes that he shouldn’t be surprised that Aizen lingers now. It’s always been his modus operandi. Lurking at the edge of their group and refusing to leave. The unwanted houseguest who just can’t take a hint.
It’s only by Ichigo’s grace that he’s even still here. That Kisuke hasn’t left him dead in a back alley somewhere or had him hauled back to Seireitei. Hasn’t poisoned him or drowned him in the bath or smothered him in his sleep or used the hundred other ways he knows how to kill a man without leaving a trace or stray mark.
Only Ichigo keeps that from happening, and Kisuke’s pretty sure that he can wear him down. That he can convince his lover to give Aizen the heave-ho and allow them to get back to their peaceful existence, to just get the house to themselves. They’ve still got plenty of rooms to christen in any case, plenty of flat surfaces that will look wonderful with Ichigo spread across them.
And that happy thought is still in his mind as he steps away from the fridge and allows the door to close. Still there as he once more comes up behind Ichigo and puts a head on his shoulder and wraps arms around his front. But Ichigo doesn’t chase him away this time. The Vizard just gives the curry one final stir before putting the lid on the pot and turning the heat down to a simmer. He leans back into Kisuke’s embrace with an easy sigh and settles his hands on top of the blond’s own, both sets resting on his waist.
Kisuke isn’t certain how long they stand there like that. Pressed together with no need for words, with utter harmony and understanding. He doesn’t know how long it lasts. But it is only when the timer rings and the grumbles of his stomach become deafening that he reluctantly lets go.
It's gotten colder, winter attacking with a ferocity Kisuke would not have expected. Autumn has just barely ended, and already, Kisuke can smell snow on the air. He burrows deeper into his thick coat, moving his groceries from one hip to the other. He has one more stop to make before he returns to the house, never willing to be gone for long since he doesn't trust Aizen any further than Yoruichi in cat form can throw him.
The door jingles as Kisuke steps into the post office, and he nods briefly at the girl behind the counter before heading for the box that he's always held in case of emergencies. He owns different boxes in various areas of the country and the world, all under different assumed names. One never knows when he might have to flee and hide. A part of Kisuke wishes he had never learned to be so cautious.
Most are known to Shinji’s gang and have been used by them at one time or another for various reasons. Some to keep them off the radar during the last century or so. Some to conceal items best not found by the Shinigami or anyone else. Others just because Lisa, Love, and Mashiro like pretending to be spies.
Keys rattling, Kisuke stoops to open the box and sighs when a tumble of letters immediately falls to the floor, scattering at least six or seven envelopes. For days, he's opened the box to absolutely nothing, so of course, it would all arrive at once and be all but stuffed inside to explode outwards when unlocked.
But he can’t help his smile when he bends down and his eyes catch sight of several familiar names – Kurosaki being the most prominent. Most importantly, however, is the one he spies from Tessai. And fortunately, a familiar and messy scrawl that denotes Shinji's correspondence.
What a lucky day.
Scooping up the letters and dumping them into the top of his grocery bag, Kisuke locks the box again and rises to his feet. Time to head home – or whatever he's calling their hidden abode for the time being. He has to admit that the prospect of making it a home keeps rising to the back of his mind. Of making it his and Ichigo’s permanent refuge. Of spending the next years and decades there with nothing but each other.
They’re close enough to Karakura to sneak in a few visitors when things have finally calmed down, for Ichigo’s sisters to visit or for him to meet them somewhere else in disguise. And since they’re still in Japan, it will be fairly easy to obtain Ichigo’s records and alter them enough to allow him to attend a different university. He could go back to med school if he wants, though he’ll undoubtedly have to repeat the years he’s already taken. And it’d be simple for him to eventually set up his own clinic like his father or get a job at one of Ishida senior’s nearby hospitals. It would also be easy for Kisuke himself to start up another shop, but something different this time. Perhaps a bookstore or a coffee shop.
They could make a life here. Hidden in plain sight. Far enough from his friends and family to not be suspected but near enough to have contact. They can have a life here. Together.
If only Kisuke can be rid of the nuisance that is Aizen.
The blond juggles his grocery bag with his concentration as he sifts out the letter from Shinji, not wishing for Ichigo to see it just yet. His lover hasn't made his decision after all, and Kisuke doesn't want to push him into it. Whether Ichigo decides to abandon Aizen or join the former overlord's lofty ambitions, Kisuke will be ready for it. Though he stringently hopes for the former choice. For the option to stay in their sleepy and quiet neighborhood and simply live in peace.
Shinji's letter begins with an overly energetic greeting before asking Kisuke if his last message was a joke. He’s not surprised, considering that he'd informed Shinji of the most recent events – namely Aizen's return and Ichigo's imprisonment and subsequent escape. Also, their unique living situation. Only Shinji could possibly understand the level of the blond’s loathing for Aizen. Only Shinji could possibly hate him more.
Shaking his head, the former captain scans the rest of the letter, smiling to himself. Of course, Shinji is willing to help Ichigo! And of course, he's ready to meet Aizen face-to-face once more. Kisuke can't help but detect an evil lilt in his friend’s words, one that doesn't promise a happy reunion for Aizen. It makes the blond smirk to himself in anticipation. How he loves to see Aizen humbled and humiliated.
He folds the paper and shoves it back into the envelope for further perusal later. The small, two-bedroom house is already coming into sight, looking normal for all that it hides their reiatsu. Well, Kisuke's and Ichigo's anyway, considering Aizen has none to speak of. And yes, there's a smug part of him that enjoys that little fact.
Climbing the two steps to the small porch, Kisuke digs out his keys and pushes them into the lock, opening the front door with an impressive juggle of groceries. Stepping inside, he slips out of his shoes and closes it behind him, listening for the sound of the other occupants. He doesn't search long, immediately spotting both Ichigo and Aizen in the main room, perched around a low table.
“Honey, I'm home!” Kisuke calls out with fake cheer as has become his habit. To annoy Aizen and to watch that cute flush spread across Ichigo's cheeks. It's a win-win situation.
Irritation, however, perks inside of him as he moves closer, wondering what in the hell they are doing so near to one another. His eyes fall on the table, and the game board set between them. Not just any either. But Kisuke's Go board. One he has been planning to drag out of hiding and use to teach Ichigo himself.
There is an irrational surge of emotion cresting within the shopkeeper then. But he fights it down, clinging to composure.
“Keeping yourself occupied, I see,” he comments lightly, bags now heavy in one hand. “I didn't know you played, Ichigo.”
And he swears to whichever deities are listening that there's a smug gleam in Aizen's eyes. Aizen who happens to be sitting on the white side of the board with Ichigo at the black. How very appropriate.
“I don't,” Ichigo answers with a faint shrug, contemplating the game intently. “Aizen's been teaching me.”
“Has he now?” Kisuke curses himself for being unable to hide the disappointed note in his voice. And he knows he hasn't because Ichigo looks up at him, and Aizen seems far too smug.
Ichigo places a single black chip on the board and rises to his feet. “Yeah,” he says and presses a kiss to the corner of Kisuke’s mouth before peering into one of the bags. “Please tell me you have something other than pasta in here.”
Kisuke grins and steals his own kiss. This one longer and with a subtle swipe of tongue before pulling back. He purposefully refuses to look at Aizen.
“Even better.” He shifts the weight of the bag, reaching in and withdrawing two envelopes. “These are for you.”
Kisuke admits if only to himself that the sight of Ichigo's brightening expression, a smile breaking through the cloudy depression, is enough to make his heart skip several beats. He watches as Ichigo tears into the first letter, shoulders sagging in obvious relief when he recognizes the delicate print as belonging to his younger sisters. He sinks to the couch behind him as he reads, and the blond can hardly contain his grin as he watches Ichigo’s fingers spasm and then tighten around the pages. He’s still reading when Kisuke comes back from depositing his burden in the kitchen.
But Aizen is nowhere to be found. Having disappeared like mist hit by sunlight. Undoubtedly gone back to skulk in his bedroom now that Kisuke has returned and Ichigo is otherwise occupied. More interested in his letter than the game still set out on the table.
Small favors, Kisuke supposes. At least, he won’t have to bodily throw Aizen out this way.
The ex-captain contents himself with settling on the sofa next to Ichigo and watching him begin to read the letter anew. And it is only after he has gone through it twice more that his lover speaks again.
“Karin says that they’re fine. Really fine. That the Shinigami came to look through the house while dad was out making a house call but that Toushirou was with them.” Ichigo sets the pages in his lap, gazing down at the purple ink. “He kept them from doing anything more than that when it was obvious that I wasn’t there. Yuzu was at the store and hadn’t even known they came by until later.”
He takes a deep breath and glances up at the ceiling. His eyes are wide and very bright with moisture, the closest he’ll get to the edge and the most he’ll allow himself at any rate. Kisuke watches as his hands clench into fists before relaxing slightly, but he merely brings his arm around Ichigo’s shoulder and pulls him closer. Knowing that anything else is liable to break Ichigo’s control. And as much as he would like his lover to turn to him, the blond knows that it would only embarrass him later. This is different than nightmares and waking up in the dark with both screams and tears. Ichigo is still a man; he still has his pride. Bruised though it might be at times.
The only thing Kisuke can do is give his silent support as the moment stretches out. And finally, sometime indeterminable amount of time later, Ichigo exhales loudly and looks at him with a small smile.
Kisuke impulsively leans forward to kiss him before he can even think the action through, but Ichigo returns the gesture fully. Following up with one of his own. He lingers for a few seconds before pulling back after a parting nip. Ichigo is still smiling when the blond produces several more letters from his pocket, where he’d stuck them when he was putting away the groceries. The only way to insure that they’ll stay out of Aizen’s greedy reach.
Ichigo scans through the names on the top three. “Inoue and Tatsuki. Ishida. Chad. How on earth did you manage this? Aren’t they being watched right now?” There is a flicker of concern to his face that is chased away by his usual scowl.
The blond affects a shrug and casually leans in closer. “They were in the post office box when I checked. It wouldn’t be hard for Tessai-san to slip them the address. The Shinigami would think little of writing. It’s a fairly common thing. And see?” He questions as he slips Ishida-san’s letter from the envelope, noting that it is written with blue ink and is on printer paper. “None of these are on stationary, which meant that the three of them probably pretended to be doing something else at the time. Like taking notes for a class.”
Ichigo nods, and there is silence for a moment as they go through the pile. Shinji’s is noticeable in its absence, but Ichigo doesn’t know that yet. Kisuke just contents himself with pulling free a letter written on familiar yellow and orange stationary, a cat paw on the top corner of each page.
“Who’s that one from?” the Vizard questions as he turns over the envelope with Tessai’s handwriting on the front.
“From Yoruichi,” Kisuke tells him as he glances through, only to abruptly pause and reread. “Apparently, Chamber 46 hauled her in for questioning about your disappearance. The rest of the Shihouin are up in arms over their treatment of her. The Kuchiki don’t seem to be far behind them, though I suppose that is mostly Kuchiki-taichou’s doing.”
Ichigo gives something that is half-sigh and half-snort. “Yeah, that’d be Byakuya for you. Never doing anything outright. But helping behind the scenes.” His tone is exasperated but also vaguely fond.
He and Kuchiki Byakuya are not bosom buddies or the best of friends or even as close as Ichigo and Abarai-san were, but they have a distinct understanding. A mutual respect and comprehension that only older brothers with much beloved younger sisters can share. Something beyond allies who have fought and bled together but not quite friends. The word nakama comes to mind, but Kisuke wouldn’t dare say that aloud to either of them. Byakuya-bo is too prideful for it, and that word has great significance to Ichigo. Outside of his inner circle, there are only three living people Ichigo calls that now, and the blond doesn’t recall him referring to Ukitake by anything other than his name in the last few weeks. That only leaves Kisuke himself, who has held that title since the battle where Abarai fell and he thought Ichigo would soon follow, and Hitsugaya Toushirou. And Kisuke suspects – and Isshin has all but confirmed it – that if Hitsugaya and Karin have their way, Ichigo will be calling the youngest captain something else entirely in the future.
“What else does she say?” Ichigo asks then, abruptly drawing the shopkeeper’s attention back to the here and now.
He scans through a bit further. “Just that there are several people questioning your abrupt sentencing and disappearance.” His eyes scan over the names listed. “Kasumioji-sama and her advisors. Both Hitsugaya and Zaraki along with a good portion of the tenth and eleventh divisions.” And well they should since Ichigo had personally fought alongside both groups. “A few of the lieutenants. Kira and Hisagi and Iba. Even Komamura and Unohana-taichou seem conflicted.”
There is a subtle tightening of Ichigo’s eyes at the last name listed. And Kisuke once more wonders who exactly freed Ichigo from his cell. He hasn’t asked, waiting for his lover to disclose the information first. But perhaps it is safer for all parties involved if he doesn’t.
It gives them more room to maneuver should the unthinkable happen. But Kisuke doesn’t even want to contemplate that eventuality. The thought that he and Ichigo might be separated. That Soul Society, policed and peopled by those who couldn’t even find their own asses with both hands and a tracking kidoh, could discover them. Soifon might have been able to do it, and Yoruichi surely could. But the first is dead and the second would see herself as such before she ever betrayed them.
That still doesn’t discount the possibility, however small it may be.
Kisuke and Ichigo need to keep their options open for such an eventuality. And what he doesn’t know, he can’t betray. Even if unintentionally. The only way he would ever do that to the man beside him.
After all, he willingly went into exile for Shinji and the others. For people who were his friends and fellow captains and vice-captains but nothing besides that. Ichigo is worth so much more to him. More than worth this second exile and separation from his rebuilt life.
Ichigo would kill for him. Would die for him. He nearly has before. How can Kisuke do anything less but return the favor?
a/n: And so the plot trudges along, this chapter more transition than anything else. I promise, the next chapter will bring some progression and a bit of a surprise at the end. *grins*
Thanks for reading!