Warnings for boysmut and boykisses and spoilers and language and everything else you've come to expect from me over the years!
Chapter Fifteen: Reciprocation
Wandering around the house in an endless loop has proven to be incredibly boring for Ichigo. Nevertheless, he completes another circuit, staring into each open doorway as if a brand new adventure waits beyond. He’s so incredibly bored that it feels like something is churning inside of him desperate to be loosed. Or maybe that’s just Shirosaki. It’s so damn frustrating.
He supposes he could be taking the time to sit and think about the things that are expected of him. The decision that Kisuke and Aizen want him to make. What he plans to do about Soul Society. His future. Everything hinges on Ichigo, and he hates that. He hates it more than anything. And Ichigo longs for his peaceful – even if a little fake – life of before. He even misses his damn classes.
Biting back a sigh, Ichigo wanders down the hallway. Past Aizen’s closed door and Ichigo’s equally empty bedroom. Past the unoccupied bathroom and a small closet. He pauses mid-step, considering.
Where’s Kisuke? He knows that the ex-captain hasn’t left because he never does so without telling Ichigo just in case. And Kisuke isn’t in the main rooms either.
Frowning, Ichigo focuses on the back door. One that leads out to a small porch and an equally tiny yard. Ichigo’s walked the length of it before, though it’s mostly overgrown and in vast need of care. He’s considered doing so once or twice just to pass the time but wasn’t sure how far Kisuke’s barriers extended. It occurs to Ichigo that he should probably ask.
He steps up to the screen door and peers through the translucent glass. Spying a figure perched on the back steps, his back to the door. Kisuke’s usual hat and haori are missing, leaving him only in his pants and shirt. Brow furrowing, Ichigo lets a tendril of reiatsu slip free as he tries to sense Kisuke without the other man noticing.
It’s not so much that he enjoys being sneaky, but Ichigo knows his teacher very well. Kisuke hoards secrets like someone else hoards money, and he thrives on being mysterious. No doubt he enjoys being the strong and confident one, unwilling to allow Ichigo to see his weaknesses. Even if his former student already knows what they are.
A cutting mix of sorrow and regret wafts out from Kisuke’s direction. Ichigo’s lover is staring off into space, a piece of paper in one hand but dangling loosely. Ichigo can’t see any words on it, but he feels like he recognizes the design. Kisuke’s posture is practically screaming for him to go away, but Ichigo isn’t the sort to leave him sitting out there alone.
Pulling open the door doesn’t garner a reaction. And the blond doesn’t even appear to notice Ichigo’s presence despite the fact that his instincts are usually far more aware than this.
The shopkeeper startles like a kid caught in the act, and the paper flutters from his grip. Ichigo has a brief chance to spot the signature – Yoru-chan – before Kisuke snatches the letter up and folds it properly, shoving it into his pocket.
“Ichigo!” he says, whirling to look back and up. “I didn’t realize you were there.”
One brow arches. “Obviously,” the younger man comments and gestures vaguely to the now hidden letter. “Not bad news, I hope.”
Kisuke shakes his head, looking strangely young and vulnerable. “No, just news from Seireitei.”
“And how is that not bad?” Ichigo counters as he steps closer.
“Good point.” Kisuke smiles, but it’s cracked and far from his usual, confident smirk. “As usual, the Shinigami are less about intelligent and organized behavior and more about pointing the finger. They’ve no clue where you’ve gone. Or me for that matter. In fact, they can’t even agree on whether or not Aizen is still alive.”
Ichigo really wishes he was surprised, but he’s not. He’s never credited the Shinigami – as a group rather than singularly – with having much brainpower. In fact, they’re usually more suited to standing around with their thumbs up their asses rather than doing anything. Like say, preventing one of their own from becoming a homicidal megalomaniac.
“I suppose that’s good luck on our part then,” Ichigo comments. Desperate to keep the conversation going despite the somewhat uneasy atmosphere that lingers between them like a bad smell.
Kisuke hates that his weakness has been spied so easily, but he’s also unwilling to push Ichigo away. And Ichigo’s not so much of a saint that he’ll walk away and let his lover wallow in his own misery. After all, Kisuke’s the one that keeps insisting that Ichigo talk and share about all the things that give him nightmares and haunt his waking dreams. It’s high time that he returns the favor.
“For now,” Kisuke agrees and falls back into a contemplative silence, hand lingering over his pocket protectively.
Ichigo twists his jaw before moving forward and lowering himself next to Kisuke, close enough that their thighs nearly touch. “The barrier extends this far?” he asks, content to let the subject shift.
For the moment.
“You know…” Ichigo gestures vaguely to the house and its surroundings. “The thing that makes this place appear empty to the Shinigami and everyone else.”
“Oh.” Kisuke laughs softly, head ducking as though missing the concealment his hat offers. “Yes, it surrounds the whole perimeter. Makes the backyard look like it’s overgrown by weeds.”
Ichigo blinks. “It is overgrown by weeds,” he points out.
Kisuke lifts his eyes as though seeing the yard for the first time. “Ah, so it is,” he agrees.
Ichigo watches as the wind tugs at loose blond hair, but Kisuke falls into silence again. This close, it’s much easier to sense the distress in his reiatsu. He probably doesn’t even realize that it’s there or that Ichigo is strong enough to sense it. Everyone seems to make a habit of underestimating him, and Kisuke is no exception.
Ichigo shifts to the side, leaning against his lover as if to share his warmth, the edges of their tightly confined reiatsu brushing together. Sadness and regret and indecision and guilt all swim together in disquieting torrents. Ichigo has no idea what is on Kisuke’s mind. But whatever it is, it’s troubling him. No doubt Yoruichi has something to do with it.
The question is pointed but not from him.
Ichigo snorts. “Not quite. I’m too bored to be tired.”
Which is the utter truth. He sleeps because he has nothing better to do, and that boredom causes a lethargy that Ichigo can’t quite shake.
His head rests on Kisuke’s shoulder, and he can smell the subtle scents of the soap they’re all using. Kisuke doesn’t smell much of gunpowder and candy anymore. And it’s strange how this new scent seems to go hand in hand with a Kisuke who’s less the manipulative and mysterious shopkeeper and more the determined, protective man who has become Ichigo’s lover. The same man who spends the rest of his time engaging in childish trades of insult with the other occupant of their house.
“For what?” he demands, straightening and staring at Kisuke. Who’s looking back at him with unreadable eyes. “I’ll kick your ass if you think I blame you for any of this.”
“No, but you must admit that the situation is less than satisfactory.”
“I’ll survive,” Ichigo retorts with a shrug.
Since he was fifteen, that’s what Ichigo’s been good at: surviving. From the moment Rukia stepped through his bedroom and Ichigo grasped onto a strength he didn’t know he had, he’s been a survivor. Which is why he should’ve seen this whole situation coming a long time ago.
Kisuke shakes his head, eyes shifting back to the overgrown yard with its numerous weeds and buzzing insects. “Surviving is not the same thing as living.”
“Surviving is what I’m good at.”
The former captain sighs. “Ichigo--”
“No.” Ichigo’s hand lands on Kisuke’s arm, squeezing it firmly. “Living is for those people not being hunted by their former allies. Living is for people who don’t have a Hollow cackling in their brain. Living is for people who can let go of the past. I’m not one of those people.”
And Ichigo is going to get seriously pissed off if Kisuke keeps trying to shove this bullshit at him. Like it’s that easy to let go and be normal and move on. Ichigo tried, and this is where it got him. It’s like he’s trudging through a swamp and the closer he gets to safe, dry ground, the more the sticky slime covers him. Seeping into his skin until it’s a stain he’ll carry with him wherever he goes.
Kisuke chuckles. But it’s dark with echoes of the past.
“Luckily, neither am I.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
Kisuke looks at him strangely, as though he can’t quite pin down the person that Ichigo is now. He’s just as guilty as Aizen in that regard. Insisting that Ichigo is an adult. That he can make his own decisions. But still seeing the teenager who fought in the war. They still treat him gently, carefully, unwilling to push or allow him to learn all the darker truths. Ichigo knows that the both of them are hiding things for one reason or another.
Fuck that. It’s Ichigo’s turn to push back.
Yeah, he was in a bad place when they first got here. He’d just been betrayed by one of his best friends and locked in a cell. He’d only recently escaped from Soul Society and a terrible fate. And the nightmares had been worse than usual. It’d taken him a while to find solid ground again.
Ichigo leans closer. Until their faces are mere inches apart and Kisuke has no choice but to see nothing but him.
“You know what you’d do if you found me sitting out here looking like this?” Ichigo demands, voice soft but pressing.
A slow, sly grin curves Kisuke’s lips. “I can hazard a guess.”
Ichigo needs no other invitation. He closes the distance between them, lips moving slowly, sensuously. One hand lifts to card through blond hair and cup the back of Kisuke’s head as Ichigo deepens the kiss. His mouth trails a bottom lip gently before a tongue slips out to meet his, warm and insistent. His fingers massage against Kisuke’s scalp as pleasant sensations seep into his being.
It’s not healing. It’s not going to suddenly make things better or alright or completely chase away whatever’s haunting them both. But just like it helps Ichigo to forget, he knows it will help Kisuke. And well, it helps that Ichigo will enjoy it just as much.
He drags his lips over Kisuke’s stubbled chin. Mouthing the blond’s jaw and brings his other hand into play. Settling it on Kisuke’s thigh.
At the confused but intrigued note to Kisuke’s voice, Ichigo can’t help but chuckle softly.
“You sound confused,” Ichigo says, his fingers kneading and massaging the hard muscles of Kisuke’s thigh as they trek upwards, towards more intimate territory. “What? Can’t recognize a seduction when it’s being aimed at you rather than the other way around?”
There is a sharp intake of breath. “I’m just pleasantly surprised,” Kisuke says, voice rumbling against Ichigo’s lips.
“You shouldn’t be,” Ichigo replies and looses his hold on blond hair. Sliding his hand around to lay flat against Kisuke’s chest where he can feel the warmth of the other man through his thin shirt.
Ichigo gives a slight push, strong enough to force Kisuke off balance but not to harm him. His lover tilts, and Ichigo gives him another nudge, sending the shopkeeper sprawling backwards. Ichigo takes Kisuke’s moment of surprise to his advantage and perches over the older man with devilish intent gleaming in his eyes.
“There. That’s better,” Ichigo says, nudging one knee forward until he presses against Kisuke’s groin. Feeling a half-hard length answering back.
Kisuke looks at him. Eyes darkening with arousal. Pale hair fanned out beneath him and doing little to hide his expression.
“I think I like you like this,” he murmurs, hands settling on Ichigo’s hips only to slide upwards.
“Did you think I would stay passive forever?” Ichigo demands and lowers his head to nip at Kisuke’s ear, enjoying the sound of another sharp intake of breath.
“You pervert.” Ichigo tugs on Kisuke’s ear with his teeth. He lowers down to his left elbow, shifting his weight and freeing his right hand. “You would’ve enjoyed that. Wouldn’t you?”
“Only a little,” Kisuke admits, and a gasp escapes from his lips as Ichigo smoothes a palm over his clothed arousal. “Though I’m enjoying this, too.”
Ichigo’s answer to that is to kiss him again. Their tongues sloppily connecting, the kiss open-mouthed and hungry. A slow burn builds in his belly, loving the feel of Kisuke pinned beneath him, subject to his whims. He digs the heel of his palm against a hard length, and the blond’s hips rise to meet each press of his hand. Kisuke’s hands are no less busy, sliding up under his shirt until they press hotly against Ichigo’s bare skin. Fingernails scrape carefully over his abdomen.
A low hum of pleasure echoing in his throat, Ichigo plucks at the ties to Kisuke’s pants. Loosening them enough that his fingers can dive inside. Unsurprisingly, his lover isn’t wearing underwear, and his hand wraps around hot flesh already so familiar to him.
Kisuke breaks off their kiss with a startled gasp.
“You said no one could see us,” Ichigo reminds him smugly, lowering his lips to mouth a pale throat where he knows the older man to be particular sensitive. His fingers stroke Kisuke’s arousal as he rolls his hips.
His lover hisses and groans both. “Yesssss… But…”
“What?” Ichigo grins, nipping at Kisuke’s stubbled chin. “Are you telling me you’re too reserved to make out with me on the back porch?”
As though just the thought is enough to make Kisuke hot, he shivers. A flush darkens his face.
“I don’t think making out is all you have in mind,” Kisuke retorts, one hand snaking around Ichigo’s back and dragging him closer.
“You know me so well,” Ichigo responds and kisses him again, forcing their mouths to seal.
He looses his hold on the other man and rolls his hips, grinding their groins together. Ichigo tugs at the small tie on Kisuke’s shirt, baring his chest and abdomen to the air. A muscled stomach greets his eyes, and Ichigo teasingly drags fingers down the flat expanse. He watches as Kisuke’s muscles tense in response, and Ichigo lowers his lips, breathing hotly before running his tongue over hard expanse. The blond shivers, and Ichigo grins against his bare skin, desire growing and swelling inside of him. Kisuke really is an attractive man. More than he gives himself credit.
Ichigo hooks a finger in his lover’s pants and tugs them further down. Baring the faint curve of his hips and the sharp jut of his hipbones, which instantly call to Ichigo’s mouth. He runs his tongue over them and feels Kisuke’s hips jerk before falling back into place, obviously restraining himself for Ichigo’s sake. The younger man shifts his weight back to his knees, freeing up his other hand.
Eyes narrowing, Ichigo nips at the hipbone. “You know,” he says so very casually. His fingers tickle up Kisuke’s side before his palm smoothes over pink nipples. “I’m neither shy nor inexperienced. You don’t have to be careful with me.”
He follows up his statement by breathing hotly over Kisuke’s jutting length, rosy with need, and drags his fingers over the rigid shaft. A muffled noise emerges from the blond’s mouth before he clamps his lips shut, eyes bright with need.
“I never took you for a tease,” Kisuke mutters with serious strain in his voice. It’s obvious he’s holding back.
And that more than anything annoys Ichigo.
“Then it’s obvious you have a lot to learn.”
Ichigo promptly closes his lips around a swollen head, immeasurably satisfied when that results in an aborted shout. A hand tangles in his hair, fingers gripping and tugging but without pain. He can hear Kisuke pant, and the thought of being the cause makes him hot all over. He can feel his own arousal straining within the confines of his pants, dampening the fabric of his boxers.
Ichigo flicks his tongue over the rigid shaft and savors each sound that he manages to wring free. Every pant and barely concealed moan. Kisuke’s hot like this, less restrained, less mysterious. And Ichigo can’t deny that it arouses him more than anything. He’s no longer thinking of this as just comfort. It’s staring to ring of a little something else, something more.
He gives one lingering swipe of his tongue before pulling away and shifting back upwards.
“You’re still holding back,” Ichigo comments, pausing to swipe a tongue over a nipple before continuing his trek towards a bare throat.
A palm settles on his groin, relentlessly kneading him.
“Says who?” Kisuke breathes before his other hand helps to free Ichigo’s straining arousal.
“Says me,” Ichigo counters, sealing his lips over the blond’s mouth and engaging him in a deep, tongue-dueling kiss.
There’s something immensely satisfying in kissing Kisuke. Sometimes, the shopkeeper relents and lets Ichigo take the lead. Sometimes, he dares aggression, and it’s a battle to see who emerges victorious. And sometimes, they kiss slow and languorous. Almost gentle.
This is one of those times.
Pleasure dances down Ichigo’s spine the minute Kisuke’s fingers wrap around him, stroking skillfully. He lets himself indulge in the arousing sensation for several long moments. But he had no intention of allowing Kisuke to think he’s turned the tides in his favor. And his lips wander back to Kisuke’s throat, where he scrapes his teeth against pale skin.
“You think all I need is gentleness, don’t you?” Ichigo questions, fingers sliding down to capture Kisuke’s wrists. He mourns the loss of warm contact, but Ichigo has better things in mind.
“It’s not that simple,” Kisuke sends back as a tongue traces a wet path into the sensitive hollow of his ear.
Ichigo is pretty sure Kisuke’s reluctance has something to do with his unexplained apology. But Ichigo’s an adult now, capable of deciding what he wants. Yes, forming this relationship is probably not the best idea right now.
Are they going to hurt each other?
Is Ichigo going to put an end to it?
No way in hell.
“No, you just like to overcomplicate things,” Ichigo mutters and pins Kisuke’s wrists to the wooden porch with a hold that the shopkeeper would find rather difficult to break.
He’s sexy like this. Hair sprawled beneath him, completely subject to Ichigo’s whims. He cuts off the blond’s likely argument with another deep kiss and shifts until he’s where he wants to be. Hips perfectly aligned with another set. Need is building a steady crescendo within him, and he knows Kisuke must be suffering the same.
Ichigo lowers his hips, grinds down, feeling his length rub against Kisuke’s in a manner that makes him gasp into their kiss. He nibbles at the ex-captain’s lips, feeling Kisuke rise up to meet each careful rock. Their movements become hurried and hungry, less careful rhythm and more desperate desire.
Kisuke’s fingers twitch where his hands are pinned, but he doesn’t try to break free. His body writhes beneath Ichigo’s as fluid slicks their movements, making each rock full of delicious friction. Their kiss is sloppy and wet before Ichigo breaks off to devour Kisuke’s throat and forcing his head back. He can hear the blond gasp, feel his muscles bunching as he plants his feet against the ground to thrust up sharply.
Ichigo groans as Kisuke rubs against him. Sending sensations of lust, want, more through his body. He breathes hotly across a warm throat and knows by the increase in pace that Kisuke’s gotten close. He can feel his lover undulating beneath him, effecting a rhythm of his own. Ichigo grinds down and drives another gasp of pleasure from so-very-tempting lips.
The blond strains against the wooden decking now, back arching as his hips take on a mind of their own, pushing and rubbing. Ichigo feels himself teetering on the edge, but he holds back. Determined to outlast his lover. He thrusts downwards. Body rolling in a manner that makes him think of one day pushing inside Kisuke, his length surrounded by clenching heat. Ichigo’s never been with a man in that manner, but his imagination is enough to fuel his fantasies.
His teeth latch onto Kisuke’s throat, tongue flicking across the marked skin, and feels a groan vibrate against his mouth. The blond arches upwards sharply and shudders, spilling between their bodies. The combined slickness makes Ichigo sizzle with need as he lets go and grinds down as the fire in his belly surges out through his veins. Ichigo comes with a muffled moan, creating more of a mess between them.
Limbs weak, he slumps down. Remembering to tilt himself to the side at the last minute before smothering the other man. He hears Kisuke make a sound of contentment in the back of his throat even as Ichigo surrenders to a lazy warmth.
Birds chirping and the faint echoes of a shout – some parent calling for their kid – reminds Ichigo that they are in fact outside and nowhere near a bed. He stirs as Kisuke twitches and draws back, feeling the sticky mess between them.
“I think a shower is in order,” he murmurs, raking his eyes over Kisuke’s flushed and half-dazed expression.
“I’m not sure I want to move.”
Ichigo chuckles, nuzzling into his throat where red marks are just beginning to show. He loosens his hold on Kisuke’s wrists, letting the older man finally lower his arms.
“Weren’t you the one initially opposed to the exhibitionism?”
“Is it exhibition if no one can see you?” Kisuke asks rhetorically.
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
The blond grins and turns his head, nipping at Ichigo’s ear.
“Thank you,” he murmurs.
The Vizard squirms. “For what?” he demands as a warm wind wafts over the both of them, bringing with it the smell of overgrown plants in full sunlight.
“For being you,” Kisuke responds.
Then, he abruptly sits up, forcing Ichigo to scramble for balance. Which only makes his lover laugh and smile at him. Eyes bright and a warm grey.
“Now about that shower…”
That night, Ichigo dreams about his mother. Or what he thinks is his mother. There’s only a faint impression of location and face. He sees long flowing hair in an auburn shade. He swears he can hear her voice. He smells something fresh, like tropical flowers. He hears the soft spill of flowing water.
She’s smiling at him, Ichigo thinks through the dream haze. And she’s holding out a hand, but he’s standing too far away. On a platform distant from her. She stands under a corona of light, hand outstretched. And Ichigo hesitates. He’s almost afraid. He’s uncertain why. Or of what.
She calls him, and Ichigo still hesitates. He has only a few more platforms, round, solid pieces of stone. Something splashes above the clear water. There’s a weight in the air, the tingle of reiatsu.
Old. Timeless. Wise.
And he wakes up. Staring into an early morning with a warm weight draped across his left side. He can feel Kisuke’s breathing against his neck, steady and even. Ichigo blinks and gazes at the ceiling where sunrise has cast slatted beams of light through the blinds. He drags his free hand over his face, trying to make sense of the hazy images still lingering in the forefront of his mind.
Usually, when he dreams of her, it’s to blood and screams and rain and sorrow. It’s normally a nightmare. But this… this was different. The air tasted of expectation, like someone holding their breath in anticipation. Ichigo wasn’t struck with real fear or anger but indecision.
He’s been dreaming of her a lot lately. Ever since his rescue from Seireitei and the Shinigami. No, before then, too. Just a few scattered ones though. Over the months and years since the war. Flashes of her smile. The fall of her hair as she laughs. Her eyes as she looks at him with love and warmth. No one else has ever looked at him like that before. Not even his sisters. Looked at him like Ichigo is the only thing she sees. The center of her universe. She gazed at all of them like that – he and Karin and Yuzu. But somehow, she always made them feel individually special.
And in some ways, his dreams are worse than the nightmares. Promises of what can never be again. Even if he cherishes each one. Carefully and slowly replacing the memories of death and blood with her voice and light shining on her face.
Pressing the heel of his palm briefly against his eye sockets, he shifts to roll over. With every intention of rising from the bed and its warm prison. Except that Kisuke’s hand tightens where it lies innocuously on his hip, and he hears Kisuke’s breathing change.
“It’s barely morning,” Kisuke murmurs against the back of his neck sleepily. “I never took you for an early riser.”
Ichigo settles back against him with a snort. “That’s because you’re the sort that would spend all day lazing in bed.”
“How well you know me.”
And sometimes, not at all, Ichigo retorts smartly. But it’s only in his own head, and he doesn’t understand what’s put him in this mood. He feels twitchy. On edge. Wanting to lash out at anyone and anything. Maybe Shirosaki’s restlessness is rubbing off on him. Or maybe he’s just sick of bullshit.
“Didn’t you have to rise early on account of being a captain?” Ichigo inquires
After all, when better to bombard his lover with questions he might not want to answer than early in the morning? And no, it’s not sneaky of him at all.
Kisuke subtly stiffens but doesn’t pull away. “One perk of power and position, Ichigo, is that one can make his own schedule.”
“Do you miss it?” the younger man asks. And just to prove that he’s not being purposefully malicious he covers the hand on his hip with one of his own, fingers stroking the skin within range.
“On occasion,” Kisuke answers in a murmur. “It was a very different life, and it’s difficult to compare.” He pauses, yawning against the back of Ichigo’s neck. “But there are also things that I’ve gained that wouldn’t have been possibly had I remained in Soul Society.”
Ichigo closes his eyes. Even an idiot would be able to read the implication in those words. He can’t deny that they strike warmly through him.
“Would you go back?”
But Ichigo considers asking himself the same question. Would he return to school if there was a way to turn back time? Or would he go even further back? Back to before he met Rukia and ever learned the truth?
Lips fall against the back of Ichigo’s neck. And Kisuke’s fingers press against Ichigo’s hip.
“Are you asking whether or not I am amenable to the idea of you breaking into Soul Society with the intention of becoming the next king? Or seeing that you do?”
Ichigo rolls over, forcing himself to face Kisuke and the unreadable look in grey eyes. “Okay, say I’m asking that. What’s your answer?”
“I thought you were tired of fighting?”
“That’s neither here nor there.” He feels his eyes narrow. “If I decided in favor of Aizen, what would you do?”
Kisuke’s gaze shifts away. However, he’s unable to hide the flash of annoyance and anger.
“Do you honestly think I’d abandon you?”
“Would it kill you to actually answer the fucking question?” Ichigo retorts hotly, hating the uncertainty that strikes through him like a burst of lightning.
What does Kisuke think he’s protecting him from? Ichigo doesn’t need or want it!
To his credit, Kisuke doesn’t flinch at the sharp words.
“No matter what you decide, I’ll support you,” he says evenly, finally dragging his eyes back to Ichigo. “Though I wonder what I’ve done to make you think you even had to ask.”
The hurt in his tone is unexpected, and Ichigo is forced to fight down rising feelings of guilt.
“I just had to be sure,” the Vizard says warily.
And interested in ending the conversation, he cards his fingers through blond hair and drags Kisuke closer for a lazy kiss, morning breath or not. It’s no substitution for proper conversation, but it’ll do for now. Ichigo has more than enough to think about and plenty of time to mull things over in his mind.
Minutes later, he extracts himself from the bed with surprising ease. Kisuke all too willing to drop back into sleep. Ichigo hunts around for clean clothes and slips into a silent hallway within an equally silent house. If Aizen’s anywhere around, Ichigo doesn’t immediately see him.
He showers quickly, running shampoo through his hair before stepping out into a room that’s barely touched with steam. The mirror is miraculously unclouded, and Ichigo examines his appearance. A touch of stubble has graced his chin and cheeks, so he whisks out a razor and attacks both with skill and precision. The last thing he needs is to be confused with Kisuke. As amusing as that might be.
Ichigo pulls on a pair of jeans and boxers, letting the former sag lowly on his hips. It’s too hot in the bathroom for a shirt, so he foregoes one for now. Not to mention he hadn’t brought one in with him. He roughly towels his hair before letting the towel drape around his neck to catch those annoying dribbles of water.
A grumble in his belly reminds him that he hasn’t eaten in the past twelve hours or so. Scraping a hand over his damp hair, Ichigo turns towards the kitchen. The silence of the house is as unsettling as always, and he feels he should be used to it by now. But Ichigo grew up in a home filled with noise. He’s come to expect it.
Aizen’s in the kitchen surprisingly. He usually haunts his bedroom or the living room. Ichigo finds him sitting at the table, reading a book and drinking tea that is still hot enough to have curls of steam. Eyebrows lift as Aizen takes in Ichigo’s half-dressed state.
“Feeling comfortable, are we?”
Ichigo shrugs, part of him impressed by the fact Aizen’s gotten more at ease in his presence. He doesn’t restrain himself as tightly as he had in the beginning, which is a good thing. It makes things easier for Ichigo to read his true intentions.
“Laziness,” Ichigo corrects.
He digs through the cupboards for something he can pop quickly into the microwave. He doesn’t feel like cooking, and he doesn’t trust any of the leftovers from Kisuke’s latest culinary attempt. His eyes flicker to Aizen then, tilting his head to see the title of the book. It’s not in Japanese but some other language that Ichigo doesn’t recognize. Similar to English but only superficially. Latin perhaps?
Aizen turns a page and shifts his grip to give his spoon a quick turn through his tea. “De Re Militari,” he answers as Ichigo finally locates some kind of microwavable something. “It is a treatise of Roman warfare.”
Ichigo resists the urge to roll his eyes. He should have known.
“I would’ve expected you to be reading The Art of War.”
Marking his place with this thumb, Aizen closes the book. “That was required at the Academy. Dry but interesting. I think I’m one of the few who actually read it.”
“And put what you read to use, I imagine,” Ichigo comments, pulling a carton of orange juice out of the fridge and taking it with him to the table. He sits across from Aizen, shaking the carton pointedly. It is mostly empty, so Ichigo feels no need to acquire a glass. He is going to drink the rest.
A smile curves Aizen’s lips. “Some of it perhaps,” he concedes and gestures towards Ichigo with this book. “Though I find this one to be far more useful. You might even recognize some of it.”
“Oh?” Ichigo arches one brow. “How so?”
Sitting back in his chair, Aizen meets Ichigo’s stare evenly, answering in a tone that is clearly recitation. “It is better to beat the enemy through want, surprise, and care for difficult places than by battle in the open field.”
Ichigo shakes his head. “What? Did you snag your entire battle plan from books?”
“There is much to be gained from literature, Kurosaki-kun,” Aizen says with a smile. “Though as a Shakespeare aficionado, I’m sure you already knew that.”
The microwave dings, announcing the completion of Ichigo’s meal. He rises to retrieve it as the scent of cooked noodles and vegetables fills the kitchen. He grabs a pack of chopsticks and stirs the once-frozen dinner.
He decides now, more or less, is the perfect time to see what kind of answers he can get from Aizen. Especially since Kisuke is asleep and less likely to interfere by baiting his nemesis into some kind of altercation. Yet again.
“So,” Ichigo begins, dropping his meal onto the table and plopping down into his seat “Tell me again what made you decide on that particular course of action.”
Aizen blinks. “And you are referring to…?”
Waving one hand in the air, Ichigo prods at his noodles. “Well, rather than working to take a position of influence, you decided to try and become god on your own. Was that your first and only plan?” he questions and selects a steaming piece of onion. “Or didn’t you think it was possible for you to try another method? Like maybe aiming for the old geezer’s position?” He pops the bulb into his mouth and stares.
Aizen, for his part, gazes back in shock. “That’s… a surprisingly insightful question, Kurosaki-kun.”
In other words, he hadn’t realized Ichigo could think on that level. Yet again, another example of how much Aizen and Urahara underestimate him. Not to mention just about everybody else. Gods be damned, he’s not a complete idiot! He graduated from high school and college reasonably close to the top of his class for both. Not bad considering how much he missed fighting in the war. And that doesn’t even mention the fact that he got into medical school and was near to the top in that, too. Obviously, he has something going on upstairs, but nobody ever seems to consider that.
Shrugging since its better than banging his head on the table, Ichigo pretends to focus on his meal. “Yeah, and that wasn’t an answer.” He squares his shoulders after a minute. “Well?”
Aizen sighs and puts down his book for good but not before placing a napkin between the pages to hold his place. He studies Ichigo for a long moment. Eyes brown but fathomless behind his glasses.
“Yamamoto, as you well know, would die before surrendering his post,” he begins. “And it is not so easy to become a member of Chamber 46.”
Ichigo shakes his head a second time in so many minutes. “And you’re telling me you didn’t once consider just getting rid of him?” he questions as casually as he possibly can, though the idea of planned assassination makes his gut churn.
Again, he is treated to one of those disbelieving stares.
“I mean, your zanpakutou was tricky shit,” Ichigo continues around a mouthful of noodles. Fuck manners; he doesn’t care what Aizen thinks of him. “And obviously your kidoh was nothing to sneeze at. You couldn’t have made it look like an accident? Or old age? The guy was practically a dinosaur.”
A hint of a smile curves Aizen’s lips, bemusement making his eyes gleam. “Perhaps. But Yamamoto was in charge for over two millennia. As I was, I don’t believe I had the capabilities to defeat or incapacitate him. At least, not quietly. And not without someone catching on. His fukutaichou. Another taichou. Someone from the fourth division. And I certainly couldn’t have made the loss of so many appear incidental.”
He snorts at Aizen’s delicate manner of speaking. Guy has no problem skewering his own subordinates, but he talks about assassination like it’s a simple career change for those involved.
“And Chamber 46?” Ichigo prompts a few seconds later.
“As I said,” Aizen repeats, “it is an organization not too easily joined.”
Evasive. As always. Ichigo doesn’t know why he bothers. He can’t hide his frown and takes a large swig of orange juice to conceal his annoyance.
“So you just decided to go to war?”
“It wasn’t so simple,” Aizen replies slowly, amusement replaced by thoughtfulness. “I weighed my options, Kurosaki-kun.”
Ichigo tilts his head to the side. “And the end justifies the means, ne?” he poses, stirring his noodles a bit more. “Though I doubt Renji or Soifon would agree with your statement.”
To his credit, Aizen doesn’t flinch. Maybe because the names Ichigo threw in his face are more painful to him than they are Aizen. Maybe if Ichigo says someone like Ichimaru or Ulquiorra or even Shunsui, he’ll be able to get a rise. But he’s not that sadistic. He wants his answers, but he hasn’t reached the point of trying almost anything to get them.
“I admit… miscalculations were made,” Aizen says carefully, face tilting to hide his eyes behind his glasses. “That is why I hope for things to proceed better this time.”
Ichigo lays his chopsticks down on the empty plastic carton. He just looks at the man across from him for a heartbeat.
“How?” He leans forward, folding his arms across the table and ignoring the chill that shoots down his spine. “Just how do you think you’re going to get into Soul Society and attempt to place someone on this so-called empty throne?”
“Very, very carefully,” Aizen answers.
And Ichigo can’t tell if he’s joking or serious. All he knows is that the answer frustrates him.
His eyes narrow. “What do you want from me then?”
It’s not like he can tell anymore. It’s obvious that Aizen wants his help, but Ichigo thinks it’s more than that. Aizen’s hiding things that could probably help his case, but he won’t speak of them. Why? Because they might change the way Ichigo looks at him? Because he doesn’t want anyone to think of him as less than perfect? As weak or somehow not in control?
“It’s more than just my help, isn’t it?” Ichigo insists, watching him closely.
Emotions flutter across Aizen’s usually careful mask as he debates between one answer and another. Fingers tap his book cover almost nervously. It takes several frustrating moments before his gaze meets Ichigo’s completely, refusing to so much as glance away.
“I want you to look at me,” he says finally.
Softly. Carefully. As though each word has been specifically chosen.
Ichigo blinks, brow furrowing. Since that makes exactly zero sense. Like Renji and Ikkaku after an all night bender with Matsumoto in tow and those horrible songs they tried to sing. A string of words with no logic to them.
“I am looking at you,” Ichigo informs since he obviously can’t figure that one out on his own.
Shaking his head, Aizen rises to his feet with a soft sigh. “Yes, Kurosaki-kun, you are. But do you actually see me?” he asks, and tipping his head Ichigo’s direction, he turns to leave the room.
He passes Kisuke on the way out, and the two trade glares before Aizen is gone. Leaving Ichigo to stare after him in confusion.
Kisuke wanders in, half-dazed and fighting off a yawn. He spies Ichigo immediately. And seemingly not noticing the irritated vibes wafting off the Vizard, he plops down in the chair on Ichigo’s left side. The older man slumps against him, a warm and pliant presence.
“What did I miss?”
“Nothing important,” Ichigo grumbles and lifts his shoulder pointedly. “If you’re going back to sleep, go back to the room.”
Blond hair tickles the underside of Ichigo’s chin. “But you’re much more comfortable,” Kisuke murmurs, fingers walking up Ichigo’s thigh before squeezing his knee. “And warmer, I might add.”
Ichigo snorts. “You’re just annoyed that I was talking to Aizen.”
“I prefer the term wary.”
“Why? It’s not like he’s a danger. The worst he can do to me is give me a paper cut. A stern talking to. In case you’d forgotten.”
Kisuke straightens and meets Ichigo’s gaze without a trace of his former sleepiness. “Not physically, no. But you and I both know his manipulations weren’t destroyed with Kyouka Suigetsu. He’s every bit as dangerous now as he was then.”
“And you seem to think that I’m stupid enough to fall for it,” Ichigo mutters.
He slides out from beside the shopkeeper and snagging his empty cartons. But a hand whips out, fingers wrapping loosely around his wrist.
“That’s not what I meant, my dear,” Kisuke says softly, and a finger strokes across Ichigo’s skin. “I simply don’t think we should trust him so easily. Or at all. With anything. Much less with you or me.”
Ichigo slips out of the grip easily. Annoyance makes his motions sharp as he dumps his trash into the bin.
“Nothing about this has been easy,” Ichigo retorts, leaning against the sink and staring out through the curtained window with narrowed eyes. “You act like I’m just going to forget the past and trot happily into the future with him. Like I don’t remember what he did. Or like I don’t care about it at all.”
There’s a pause then.
“Can’t I be worried?” Kisuke finally asks him.
“Can’t you have a little faith in me?” Ichigo counters.
He hears Kisuke sigh before rising to his feet. “Faith in you has never been a problem, Ichigo. Sometimes, I wondered if perhaps I have too much faith in you.”
Ichigo scowls and turns to face him. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He can’t quite interpret the guarded look in the ex-captain’s eyes. Regret? Ichigo isn’t sure.
Kisuke shakes his head, running a hand through his hair. “Nothing but the mutterings of a foolish old man.” He offers Ichigo a half-hearted smile.
“You’re hardly old,” Ichigo scoffs but is unable to shake the feeling he’s missing something important here. Missing more secrets.
Why is he surprised? Sneaky should’ve been Kisuke’s middle name. Much less Aizen’s.
“Older than you,” Kisuke shoots back. But there’s a playful edge to his tone, a pleading look to his eyes.
“Drop the subject,” they seem to say.
However, Ichigo’s too pissed off to ignore that request. He doesn’t really want to discuss it anymore anyway. He’ll try to corner Kisuke again later, but for now, he’ll let it go.
Just for now.
a/n: We're getting ready to shift into the third stage of this book now. There's... what, five stages I think? I'm estimating about thirty chapters in all, give or take two or so. It depends on what ideas I get struck with as I'm writing.
Well, I hope you enjoyed! See you next time with Aizen's POV and the arrival of a new-old friend.