dracoqueen22 (dracoqueen22) wrote,
dracoqueen22
dracoqueen22

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Bleach - The Beautiful Lie - Ch 21 - Dissonance

a/n: Time for a new chapter! And this one's a doozy. Yikes.

Links to prior chapters can be found here.

I would highly recommend listening to the song "Earthquake," by the Used at both the beginning and the ending of this chapter as it's highly relevant and served as my inspiration during the writing of this chapter.

Enjoy!

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

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Chapter Twenty-One : Dissonance
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Tense doesn’t begin to describe the atmosphere hanging over the disguised warehouse like a brewing roil of thunderclouds. Kisuke can’t ignore it. Even though he knows that the epicenter lies over Ichigo, who’s stricken by a deeply-burning anger and the sting of betrayal.

Isshin hasn’t left. Won’t leave, in fact. He keeps trying to talk to his son, but Ichigo won’t have any of it. He avoids his father as though the man is carrying a communicable plague with no cure. Kisuke is surprised that Isshin hasn’t given up yet, but then, Isshin has known to be tenacious even beyond the point of annoyance.

Kisuke wanders to their bedroom and nearly stutters at the sight of his lover within. He’s very obviously shoving things into a bag. Ichigo notices him immediately; how can he not when they’ve become so closely intertwined that their reiatsu is recognizable even with careful shielding? But the look he gives the shopkeeper is only a bare flicker of his eyes before he returns to the dresser.

“I’m not sharing a room with you right now,” Ichigo says tightly, face pinched and dark. Troubled. Hand momentarily leaving the drawer to rub at his chest.

Kisuke hates himself for being the cause of that.

The silence between them is uncomfortable, too weighted and thick with the still unspoken. Guilt and regret tumble one over the other in Kisuke’s heart. And he knows he needs and wants to apologize. Wonders if Ichigo will even accept it. He wonders if Ichigo will ever forgive him, and that particular thought strikes a painful chord. A ripping pang that makes a whole bunch of other things suddenly make sense.

Kisuke doesn’t want Ichigo to leave. He can’t think of anything else he doesn’t want to have happen less. There’s something inside of him, perched on an edge. Breathless and worried that the next words out of Ichigo’s mouth are going to be ‘stay away from me, never talk to me again, never so much as look at me.’ And that possibility stabs through him like a physical pain.

He shifts, discomfited. Searching for the things to say and not for the first time, stumbling over them. He is not – and Kisuke reluctantly admits this to himself – the grand artist of words like that traitor Aizen. He can insult slyly if need be, but Kisuke has always been better with science and death. Not connections to other people. And like always, eloquence fails him when he needs it most.

“I never knew you considered yourself a freak,” Kisuke says quietly as the argument from just that morning runs over and over in his mind. One statement in particular standing out.

“I’d have thought it was obvious,” Ichigo replies tightly, voice barely controlled and reiatsu simmering around him like a heat wave. “The only human with fucking Shinigami powers? And every time we turned around, they were morphing into something else? Something twisted and perverse, even for a world filled with Hollows and Shinigami and amalgams of the two.” His lover shakes his head, restrained anger in his movements as he turns to look at Kisuke. “Save me the bullshit by not lying. Just tell me, weren’t there times even you were baffled by my progress?”

Kisuke shifts again uneasily, but he’s already promised himself he’s not going to lie to Ichigo again. Or evade the truth. He owes this man that much.

“I never claimed to be an expert,” Kisuke returns, stomach clenching at the mixture of emotion on Ichigo’s face. He never expected to the cause of that. “Not even after my creation of the Hougyoku. But yes, I’m still surprised by the extent of your abilities. And I still can’t explain them.”

Ichigo nods once. “Exactly,” he confirms and twists his jaw. “So yeah, there were times I hated that I couldn’t define what I was.” He turns away then, shoulders shaking with a mocking chuckle. “In fact, I still can’t. But whatever. Not that it matters. Shinigami. Human. Vizard. Hollow. They’re all the same. A bunch of lying backstabbers.”

Kisuke doesn’t know how to respond to that. To any of it. But he still tries.

“Ichigo--”

“How many times? How many chances?”

Ichigo’s questions cut through his uncertain words like a knife through tissue paper. But he addresses the wall, refusal to look at Kisuke like a physical attack.

“It never once occurred to you to tell me the truth?”

The blond draws in a slow, steady breath. “I’ve known Isshin for a very long time,” he explains carefully, despite knowing that this is nothing more than an excuse. “He asked me to keep his secret, and I obliged. A decision that I very much regret.”

“Why? Because it backfired?” Something is pulled out of the dresser and shoved into the bag in Ichigo’s other hand.

Flinching, Kisuke chews his bottom lip. “No. Because Isshin’s not the one who deserves my loyalty.”

Ichigo snorts. “Obviously. He doesn’t deserve much of anyone’s loyalty,” he mutters bitterly.

And there’s hurt in his voice. Much more than there was before. It’s deeper, too. Familial. Pain caused by a father to his son. Caused by Isshin. And Kisuke wishes more than anything that he could fix it.

“I wanted to tell you,” the ex-captain continues and shakes his head. “I don’t know how many times I argued with myself over what I should to do. I know that’s not an excuse--”

“No, it’s not,” Ichigo interrupts sharply and slams the drawer closed, finally turning to face him. The darkness buried in Ichigo’s eyes makes his heart clench. “If you were so damn loyal to Isshin, then you never should’ve crawled into my bed in the first place. After you crossed that line, your first thoughts shouldn’t have been about that coward.”

Kisuke can’t hide his flinch this time. Not when he knows that Ichigo is right. And he wonders if maybe, it really is just an excuse. If he hides behind his promise to Isshin in order to conceal more painful truths about himself. Since once Kisuke starts admitting one secret, then all the others will start tumbling out of him, too. And there’s a large part of Kisuke that fears what Ichigo will think of him in the end. That fears once Ichigo learns all the nasty bits of his past that his lover will do the smart thing and turn away.

“You’re right,” the blond admits, and Ichigo’s eyes widen in surprise. “It was an error in judgment on my part. I’m sure Isshin has his reasons as well, but I’ve never--”

“Don’t,” Ichigo interrupts coldly. “Don’t try to stick up for him. Quit protecting him. He doesn’t need it, and he doesn’t deserve it either.”

And once again, Kisuke’s friendship with Isshin clashes with his relationship with Ichigo. He feels caught between them, and he keeps wavering on the fence. Leaning backwards and forwards and sideways until he’s dizzy.

“He’s still my friend,” the shopkeeper finally says, impossibly tired and still contrite. “It comes with the territory.”

Ichigo pauses, bag clutched in his hand. “Still your friend?” he repeats. “Of course he is.”

Kisuke sighs. Long and hard and deep. He doesn’t at all like Ichigo’s tone. Angry but resigned more than anything. And tired. As if he’s stopped caring.

“Yes, he is,” Kisuke insists, daring to take a step forward. “And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry that I thought a promise to him was still important. I’m sorry for ev--”

“Stop apologizing when you don’t really mean it.”

Ichigo doesn’t shout that. Actually says it calmly. But anger turns into a rippling force around his body, lashing out but never quite touching Kisuke. Somehow, the blond thinks it would be kinder if Ichigo actually did.

“If not an apology, then what?” Kisuke asks, feeling frustrated himself, and hurt, too. “What is it you want from me?”

“I want you to look at me, dammit,” Ichigo demands then, breathing sharp and pained. One hand slaps at his chest, probably harsher than he intended. “Me! Not the pitiful son of your best friend. Not the hero who has nightmares from a war he never should’ve fought. Not just a replacement for Shihouin Yoruichi! But me! Ichigo! Just look at me. For once in your life, look at me.”

Kisuke swallows. The tension in the room swirls around him. Tangling with Ichigo’s reiatsu to a suffocating level.

“It’s not that simple.”

Ichigo growls, a sound of pure aggravation as he throws his bag over his shoulder. “What? Is that the fucking standard answer for you guys? ‘It’s not that simple.’” At his sides, his hands clench into fists.

He doesn’t wait for Kisuke’s answer. Instead giving him a hard, lingering look.

“Forget it,” he all but hisses. “I’m done here.”

Ichigo stalks from the room. And for the life of him, Kisuke can’t make his feet move to chase after. Not when he knows such a thing will only anger Ichigo further. He doesn’t know the words to say. How to apologize. He doesn’t know how to make things right.

Kisuke sighs, lifting his gaze to stare around the room he and Ichigo shared for such a short time. Both of them are already evident in every pile of disarray. In the reiatsu that soaks the walls and furniture. In the lingering scent, a mixture of their soaps and Ichigo’s natural musk. An intoxicating, sweetly-spicy scent.

Footsteps appear in the doorway behind Kisuke him then, and he’s not so foolish as to think they belong to Ichigo. No, Ichigo has made it quite clear that he’s furious and has no interest in talking things out. At least, not right now. And Kisuke can’t say that he blames him.

He never should have made that stupid promise to Isshin. No, more than that. Kisuke never should have fucking kept it. What does he owe Isshin? Nothing compared to what he owes Ichigo. At the very least his life. His sanity. His soul.

“So… when were you going to tell me that you’re fucking my son?”

Kisuke sighs, twitching. Just what he needs. Another confrontation.

“Your son is a full grown man, Isshin. In case you missed that part. He hardly needs daddy to tell him who he can and can’t sleep with.” Kisuke turns slowly to regard Isshin, who’s standing in the doorway with a look of barely restrained violence. “And please, spare me any drivel regarding age or status. You know good and well that in Ichigo’s case, a mere human is no option. They’d never be able to understand him. Much less empathize with his past.”

Isshin’s mouth forms a thin, hard line. “Fine, then I won’t. But I do know you, and I know what you’ve done. Ichigo deserves someone better.”

More remorse ripples through Kisuke, but he bats it away with a firm hand and an even firmer swat. He owes his regret to the son, not the father. And since the father is the cause of this whole mess, Kisuke doesn’t owe Isshin a damn thing.

“Isshin, I’m almost insulted.”

The brunet all but snarls at him. “Dammit, Kisuke. This isn’t a game. This is my son we’re talking about here!”

Kisuke tilts his head, grateful for the shading his hat gives him. “I’m well aware of that. But I can’t change the past. And if you think you can, feel free to name someone who you believe would be better suited.” His eyes narrow of their own accord. “Even better, why don’t you form a list? Just make sure I’m there when you give it to Ichigo so I can see the look on his face.”

The idea of such is laughable; Kisuke can see that going over so well. Ichigo might not be happy with his lover right now, but he won’t take too kindly to Isshin trying to police his romantic decisions either. And that sort of behavior would only push Ichigo further away.

Isshin snorts, power rising around him. Flickering around his body with violent intent. But not as strong and stifling as Kisuke remembers.

“Don’t pretend that you’re offended,” Isshin retorts. “Ichigo’s not mad at you because of me. I’m not the only liar here.”

Kisuke feels himself bristle because he knows it’s the damn truth. He’s not mad at Isshin so much as he’s furious with himself. For not telling Ichigo sooner. For keeping Isshin’s secret when the man didn’t deserve that courtesy.

He sucks in a breath. “Don’t go there.” Tone low and dangerous. If there’s one thing he’s not going to do, it’s let Isshin pretend that he’s not at fault. “I promised I’d allow you to tell him because that’s what you wanted.” Kisuke chuckles, but it’s dark and mocking. “How could I have known that you’d be too much of a coward to ever say anything.”

Isshin’s reiatsu ripples. “Cowardice? That’s rich. Coming from you.”

Fingers curling around Benihime’s hilt, her outrage is that much more clearer. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Kisuke demands.

And he reminds himself that attacking Isshin is not going to make his lover any happier. Despite Ichigo’s own displeasure with his father.

Isshin steps further into the room. Trying for the big and intimidating approach Kisuke assumes. And yes, it burns that Isshin is larger than him. But size isn’t everything, and Kisuke was once a in the second division. And for good reason. Even Isshin knows that. Former royal guard or not.

“How much does Ichigo know about you?” Isshin demands with obvious aggression. “How much does he really know? Does he know about the second division? About the Maggot’s Nest? Does he know all the dirty little things you used to do for the Shihouin? Better yet, does he know about Yoruichi?”

Kisuke stiffens. Years of subtle rejection and even better proof of it in the form of a letter doesn’t mean he’s completely forgotten about her. Even if she’s been mostly replaced by another figure. Kisuke spends a lot less time thinking about Yoruichi and lot more time thinking about how to apologize and be believed because he’s so full of honest regret.

“What about her?” the blond knows he sounds defensive, but he can’t help it. Isshin’s jabbing at an open wound; it’s distinctly unfair of him to do so.

“Don’t play your mind games with me, Kisuke,” his friend snarls. “Everyone in Soul Society knows your feelings for her. If you’re just playing with my son--”

Kisuke laughs. Which effectively cuts into Isshin’s diatribe.

“Please. Don’t pull that sanctimonious father bullshit with me,” he inserts with another chuckle. “It didn’t fool Ichigo, and it’s not going to fool me. He’s got more than enough defenders ready to rip off my balls and feed them to me. He doesn’t need your belated protection.”

“He’s still my son, and you’re even more of a fool than I thought if you believe I’m just going to let this slide without saying anything.” Isshin shakes his head, rubbing fingers across his forehead. “How the hell did you convince him? Ichigo likes girls. Women. Not perverted shopkeepers who’ve had more than enough influence on him.”

Kisuke, rather than be pissed, finds himself laughing again. Isshin is so oblivious; he knows nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“You call yourself his father?” he questions, incredulous. “When everyone and their brother knows about Ichigo’s little fling with Ukitake?”

Isshin’s eyes widen to an almost comical level. “Ukitake Jyuushiro?” he repeats, sounding strangled. “As in the very same man old enough to be grandfather?”

“Slipped your notice, did it?” Kisuke puts in smugly.

But that’s before his tone shifts to ice because unlike Isshin, he remembers. He was there when Ukitake turned his back on Ichigo. When Ukitake valued more what Ichigo could do for him and Soul Society at large than what they could’ve been together.

“And you were too wrapped up in yourself that you couldn’t even be there when Ukitake made the worst mistake of his life.”

Isshin freezes, hand falling to the hilt of his zanpakutou automatically. “What did he do?” he demands. Tone low and furious. Hinting of threat.

Waving a hand, Kisuke tries to head off Isshin’s jump to conclusions before it results in an idiotic attack on Seireitei. “Nothing as violent as what you’re thinking, but that doesn’t mean it hurt any less.” And his tone softens, thinking more of Ichigo before he even concerns himself with Isshin’s reaction. “He walked away. Walked away and didn’t come back. Didn’t dare come back.”

Quiet accompanies Kisuke’s words before Isshin’s brow furrows. “It was just a fling,” he scoffs, as though it’s that easy to dismiss Ichigo and Ukitake’s relationship and all the depths that it held. “You said so yourself! What did you expect? Rings and wedding bells?”

“There probably would've been if Shunsui'd had his way.”

Isshin visibly halts. “What?”

And his voice is soft. Gentle like he can't believe what he's just heard. Like he can't believe his son was that serious about someone – about another man – and he missed it. Too busy covering up his own lies to see the truth smacking him in the face. Kisuke can only wonder if he would've missed the wedding too had they actually managed to get that far.

“But you wouldn't know about that, would you?” It’s a rhetorical question, and Kisuke doesn’t wait for the answer. “You don't know anything about him at all. That his so-called fling with Ukitake lasted over a year.”

“He's my son,” Isshin defends with a lift of his chin. “Of course, I know him.”

“Do you? Do you really?” Only this time, it’s less rhetorical. “Can you name the friends he's lost? The people he's killed? What keeps him up at night and why?” And Kisuke can't help the absolute derision in his tone. “Gods above and below, Isshin. Everyone had a hand in raising him, in seeing him through the war but you. Shunsui was a better father to him, and Ichigo knew him for all of three years. Shinji's been a better father to him. Kuchiki Byakuya's been there more. The guy who tried to execute his own sister!” He throws his hands out for emphasis before bringing one back to rub at his temple. “There aren't words for how utterly fucked up that is.”

“Like I need you to lecture me about fatherhood.” Isshin jabs out a finger. “About responsibility in general! This coming from the man who stuffed an innocent girl full of the Hougyoku. And need I remind you, that you also sent four human teenagers to retrieve it for you without even telling them why. Without telling them that they'd have not only the entire Gotei 13 out for their heads but also a sociopath bent on world domination. Tell me, Kisuke, who the responsible one is here.”

“Th-that has nothing to do with right now.” The blond shakes his head. “Nothing at all. And can you even hear yourself?”

Isshin snorts, fingers now forming into fists as he stares at Kisuke as though he’s never seen him before. “I know what I’m saying. And I’m wondering when the hell your need to fuck my son outweighed our friendship.”

Kisuke chokes on his next breath, and it takes every ounce of his control not to strike Isshin then and there. For him to cheapen Kisuke’s feelings like that is unforgivable as well as hypocritical. If that’s all he believes of Kisuke, then obviously their friendship has little value.

Ichigo is and has always been more than just a convenient bed partner. He doesn’t feel the need to spell this out to Isshin because it’s none of the man’s business. But it’s the goddamned truth.

Instead of striking out, as Kisuke so dearly wants to, he forces his grip away from Benihime. He draws in a long, tight breath.

“Why did you come here, Isshin?” he asks quietly because if doesn’t shift the conversation to the real problem, he’ll hurt this man.

“Because he’s my son.”

Kisuke rolls his eyes. “He’s always been your son. That excuse would’ve worked years ago. Or even months ago when I showed up at your house with Aizen in tow. Why are you really here?”

Isshin shifts in discomfort before he heaves out a huge exhale and rakes a hand through his dark hair. “The Shinigami appeared at our house. But luckily, they sent the brat who’d sooner stab himself than let Karin get hurt.” Isshin can’t quite hide the scowl that follows, obviously not happy about that particular relationship. “Still, it opened my eyes. They’re not going to let him go this time. They want my son dead.”

“Not ‘they’. It’s not everyone,” Kisuke corrects quietly. “Ichigo has plenty of allies on his side. But until we figure out exactly what we’re going to do, they can’t act.”

“Yeah? And how many of those allies are going to stay that way when they realize just who’s following Ichigo around like a stray dog?” Isshin demands. “Forgive me if I don’t have faith in your contacts or your century-old infatuation.”

Kisuke fights back a sigh. “Why must you persist in bringing up the past, Isshin? It’s not helping things at all.” He moves further into the bedroom and lowers himself into a chair; it’s piled with dirty clothes that are a mixture of Ichigo’s and his own. “Getting angry with me is neither going to absolve your guilt or encourage Ichigo to forgive you.”

“But it’s a damn good start.”

Another sigh attempts to escape from Kisuke’s lips. Isshin is so damn stubborn, and it’s all the shopkeeper can do not to storm from the room and turn his back on the man. Kisuke keeps clinging to what he hopes is the truth. That Isshin is his friend and hasn’t forgotten that fact. Kisuke’s already ruined one relationship today; he doesn’t want to ruin another. But he also won’t give Ichigo up either. He can’t.

He shakes his head and lifts his gaze to meet Isshin’s directly.

“I’m not letting him go,” Kisuke says firmly, allowing to Isshin see the determination there. The resolve and the challenge. “And it’s not your decision to make anyway. It’s Ichigo’s.”

“He doesn’t know you like I do,” Isshin snaps.

And there’s a dangerous edge to his voice. One that speaks of sharper, more painful truths. Of things that Isshin does know and Ichigo doesn’t. The sort of things that could ruin Kisuke if they come from a mouth other than his own. Things he still needs to admit to his lover.

“You’ll just fuck him and leave,” the brunet accuses then. “Like you always did.”

Kisuke jerks to his feet, chair nearly tipping over. It takes him a few seconds to regain control. And when he does, his voice is little more than a hiss.

“Isshin, I’m your friend,” he interrupts as his insides grow cold. “And for the sake of that friendship, do not finish that thought.”

Isshin’s expression is thunderous. “But--”

“Don’t!”

And mercifully, his mouth clamps shut as Kisuke’s demand rips through the room. The tension is so thick now that not even a zanpakutou could cut through. The blond drags in several ragged breaths, staring at the man who’s supposed among his dearest friends but who’s apparently lost all faith in him along the way. And Kisuke’s the foolish idiot who actually protected his secret to the detriment of his own lover!

They stare at each other for what feels like an hour. But it’s more like a few agonizing minutes in time. Kisuke struggling to keep his anger and hurt in check. Isshin fighting the words that want to spill from his mouth. The words that will end their friendship without a snowflake’s chance in hell of reconciliation.

But then, heaven sends a messenger. One wrapped in the guise of an idiot or a devil. Perhaps both.

“Well, isn’t this cozy?” he drawls from the doorway.

Both Isshin and Kisuke startle in surprise. The brunet turns to look, and Kisuke has to lean around his bulk to see Shinji standing there. Irritation has already darkened his eyes, though his tone borders on playful.

“I’m so glad ta see ya gettin’ along,” Shinji continues as he strides into the room with reiatsu vibrating around him in a tangible buzz. “Since ya did such a great job of blindsidin’ poor Ichigo and all.”

Kisuke is pained. Incredibly so. Starting in his head and shooting straight to his heart. Intersecting everything in between.

“It wasn’t like that,” he tries to explain.

But at the same time, Isshin seems perfectly willing to point the blame all in his direction. A meaty finger thrusts toward him.

“He’s the one fucking my son, Hirako,” Isshin bites out. “So don’t start that shit with me.”

It happens so quickly, and Kisuke is reeling from the blow before he knows enough to block. Benihime keens in hurt and rattles in her cane sheath. Isshin staggers, far out of practice and far out of strength. Too weak to be in this fight should things truly turn nasty.

But thankfully, it doesn’t. Not yet. All that happens is another whip of Shinji’s reiatsu through the room. One that again smacks both Isshin and Kisuke with enough force to knock them senseless for a few precious seconds. Rage and annoyance and disgust all swirl together, fueling the Vizard’s obvious displeasure. All trace of humor is gone from his face. Leaving nothing but a narrow-eyed glare that focuses on his companions as though they’re nothing more than a pair of misbehaving five-year-olds fighting over the last cookie.

“Both of ya are gonna shut up and pay attention,” Shinji announces, his reiatsu still swirling around him. As though in preparation to strike out again at an instance’s notice. “Damn it, kids. I’m not supposed ta feel like the adult here. I’m not Ichigo’s dad. But fuck! Somebody’s got to look out fer his best interest, and it sure as hell isn’t the two of you.”

Mercifully, Isshin refrains from making a phenomenally stupid comment. And Kisuke, for his part, doesn’t even know where to begin. He knows he fucked up. A mistake of Ukitake Jyuushiro proportions. He doesn’t need another reminder.

Shinji draws in a deep breath and rubs his fingers over his forehead. Stressed and strained both.

“Now,” he says slowly, beginning a careful pace in the middle of the room between the two original combatants. “I’ve got a pissed off Vizard fumin’ in my bedroom because his father and lover can’t get their acts together. It’s not that I mind Ichigo’s presence. But right now, he’s not exactly a bundle of joy, and that kid’s suffered too much recently ta have ta deal with yer issues on top of everything else.”

He whirls and focuses his glare on Kisuke. For his part, the young blond tries not to fidget like a teenager caught smoking in the bathroom at school. He fails spectacularly.

“You.” And he points a finger at Kisuke as though there were any doubt to the subject of his fury at the present moment. “Either tell Ichigo the whole truth or don’t bother talking ta him. He won’t settle for anything less, and neither will I. We’ve had enough of yer shit ta last a lifetime.”

Kisuke opens his mouth. Since he’s not about to let Shinji tell him what to do.
At least, not entirely. Besides, he doesn’t know the whole story.

“And yes, it is my fucking business,” Shinji interjects before Kisuke can so much as get the first word out. “Ya made it my business when ya stopped acting like a grown-ass man and started pretending your secrets were more important than Ichigo. Gods, Kisuke. At the very least, he’s supposed ta be your friend. Quite possibly your best friend. And ya treat him like ya don’t even care.”

Kisuke’s mouth clamps shut as guilt replaces the indignation, and he jerks his head in an approximation of a nod. Thoroughly chastised. He knows Shinji’s right. Kisuke just hates that he’s receiving a dressing down and in front of Isshin to boot. The only way this could possibly be worse is if Aizen was eavesdropping out in the hallway. Which Kisuke wouldn’t put past the evil bastard.

Shinji looks at him again, eyes searching and hopefully finding something of worth. “Am I clear?”

“Crystal.”

Kisuke has to force the word out.

Seemingly satisfied by this, Shinji turns and focuses on then Isshin. Who’s trying and failing to not look smug. But Kisuke knows the Vizard leader, and Shinji’s not going to let Isshin go without a tongue-lashing.

“And you.”

Shinji stalks toward Isshin until he stands less than a foot away. Intimidating the other man with his presence the same way Isshin had attempted to intimidate Kisuke earlier.

“Ya can stop pretending you’re not at fault. ‘Cause from where I’m standing, you’re the chief suspect, Isshin,” Shinji reprimands. “Are ya trying to cause chaos? Is that your goal wherever ya go, or is it just an unwelcome accident?”

Isshin’s eyes narrow, and his jaw clenches noticeably. “I came for Ichigo. Not to hear one of your lectures. You may be able to get away with that with him.” And he jerks his head at Kisuke. “But you forget. I’m older than you, boy. A lot older,” he declares and draws himself up to his full height. Which is quite a bit more than Shinji.

Isshin is a far braver man than Kisuke. Stupider, too. Obviously, Shinji’s reiatsu slap hadn’t been strong enough. Definitely not since it hadn’t managed to knock some sense into him.

Shinji though just squares his shoulders and tilts his head up. “Ya really sure that I’m the boy here? Sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. And if ya don’t listen to me, then ya can just march back home, wrap yourself in your secrets, and continue ta pretend that the Shinigami and Soul Society have nothing to do with ya.” He smiles, and it’s razor sharp. “Oh. Right. You’re pretty good at that already. Aren’t ya, Isshin?”

His face reddens. Kisuke can’t be sure if it’s from anger or humiliation. He simply watches as Isshin’s fingers clench and unclench, body still as stone.

“Don't talk that way about me or my son. You don't have the right.”

Shinji gives him a disbelieving snort. “I can talk however the hell I want. Yer not my dad. And half the damn time, yer not really Ichigo's either. Tell me, how long did it even take ya ta notice that he’d been hauled away by the Shinigami? A few hours? Days? A week?”

Fury ripples outward from Isshin. Visible like a heat mirage. But it’s so weak compared to his former strength. To the power strong enough to rival Shunsui or Ukitake or perhaps even Unohana-san.

“He’s my son,” Isshin growls, sounding as though he’s about ten seconds away from launching himself at Shinji. “I’m tired of everyone telling me they know how to handle him better.” More reiatsu gathers around him like a sky forming storm clouds. “And I’m really fucking sick of--”

A wave of reiatsu keeps him from responding further. And it's enough to force him to his knees. Enough to keep him in place and potentially make him listen. At least, that's what Kisuke hopes Shinji is trying to do. Since none of the alternatives are at all pretty.

His reiatsu is hard. Harsh even. But Shinji's voice when he speaks is soft. Almost gentle.

“Look, Isshin... I know he's yer kid. And I know that half the time you really have no idea what ta do with him,” Shinji says, and some of the tension is gone from his posture, leaving worry in its place. “That the girls are easier for ya and that ya can at least talk ta them. But Ichigo... he really needed ya. During the war. He needed somebody, and--”

“He needs me now,” Isshin manages to spit out.

“No... Not in the way ya think. He's not a boy anymore, Isshin. He's not the little kid who clutched at Masaki's skirts. Or the baby who threw up on Hiyori.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Kisuke can't help but snort at the memory of that one. Isshin was so damn excited after Ichigo’s birth, all but rushing off to proudly display his new son to his old friends. Kisuke was the first to meet the oddly quiet, orange-headed infant. He remembers looking at Ichigo and thanking every god known to man that the kid looked nothing like Isshin.

Of course, Shinji ruined it later by saying Ichigo was every ounce the Shiba blood in him. And maybe even a smidgeon of all that Kuchiki, too. Kisuke recalls Hiyori being fascinated by a person so tiny. He remembers the others crowding around Isshin’s little bundle of joy, their faces a mixture of wonder, surprise, envy.

But more than that, Kisuke remembers Isshin as he was then. A proud father. So damn happy that rainbows practically sparkled in his eyes and a cheerful soundtrack followed him wherever he went. Kisuke remembers being a bit jealous himself, wondering what it’d be like to love something so fiercely, to have a family be that precious. And perhaps those emotions were what drove him to create Jinta and Ururu.

Shinji’s voice drags Kisuke out of his recollections and thoughtful muses on the past. Along with pangs of nostalgia for times long gone.

“He's an adult, Isshin,” Shinji comments pointedly. “Has been for years. He can make his own choices. Even if they're bad ones.” His eyes flicker momentarily to Kisuke before straying away. A warning perhaps. “And he really doesn't need this right now. So yeah. Fine. Be mad at each other. But keep it quiet. And keep it where he can't see. Act like the fucking adults you're both supposed ta be.”

Isshin’s glare of indignation lasts for all a moment before it withers under the calm, intelligent gaze that Shinji gives him in return. And then, Isshin nods sharply. Smart to bow down before a man more powerful than both he and Kisuke. Sometimes, he even thinks Shinji might be wiser, too.

The Vizard stops his pacing and eyes both of them equally. As though daring them to argue. Daring them to contradict his valid and truthful statements. Several long seconds pass before Shinji seems satisfied.

“And that's all I have ta say about that,” he declares and turns to leave, brushing past and getting all the way to the door before another thought strikes him.

Shinji pauses. Shifts back toward Isshin with words obviously for him alone.

“Ichigo’s a pretty cool guy,” Shinji informs him. “I think that if ya ever got your head outta your ass and actually talked to him like an equal, ya'd realize that, Isshin.”

Then, he walks out the door. They can only stare after him.

And suddenly, Kisuke is tired. He’s beginning to understand what Ichigo meant. All this stress and tension, it’s tiring. All Kisuke wants to do is crawl into bed and hopefully wake up tomorrow to a better, less confusing world. It’s a childish dream to believe, but sometimes, he thinks all of them are due that sort of wishful thinking.

“Che.”

Isshin sniffs and tosses an annoyed look the blond’s direction before whirling on his heel. “It’s not worth the effort anyway,” he mutters as though it was his decision all along and Shinji’s chastisement has nothing to do with it.

Isshin leaves the room, taking his swirl of reiatsu with him. Kisuke is left to his own devices and thoughts once again. The chair is still behind him, and he drops back down into it with all the grace of a rockslide. He rubs a hand over his forehead, though it does nothing to quell the ache inside of his skull. Kisuke knows that Shinji’s right. He either tells Ichigo everything, or he doesn’t fight for Ichigo at all. And Kisuke can’t stomach the thought of the latter. Not anymore. Just considering it makes something inside of him twist with agony. As strong as a zanpakutou through the gut.

Thinking of Yoruichi has never hurt this much. Never made him feel like his heart would beat out of his chest. Like he wants nothing more than to lie down and die.

And it hits Kisuke then. In a matter not unlike the force of a Vasto Lorde’s cero. He feels bulldozed and steamrolled all at once as the truth crashes over him like a tidal wave. Pouring through his body, spreading to all his extremities, settling with a final validity inside his heart. Nesting. Filling in all the niches. Shocking the hell out of him even as it drips into his belly and fills him with warmth.

He’s in love with Ichigo.

He doesn’t know when it happened. Or why he hasn’t noticed sooner. Or why it has taken a lot of bullshit, angst, and Hirako Shinji to make him realize. But realize it he has. And the epiphany is startling. But warming as well. Like the cozy heat of a fireplace in winter or the gentle embrace of a lover’s arms.

Kisuke stares into nothing as the understanding blazes through him like the harsh staccato of some instrumental song. Other things make sense now. Other little pieces of a puzzle that’s now been put together and on display for all the world to see. Little hints. Things he’s done that didn’t make sense at the time. Things others have said and the peculiar gleam to their eyes.

He’s in love with Ichigo.

Kisuke’s both giddy and full of despair. Higher than the mountaintops and nearly dizzy with the lack of air. Lighter than he has been in ages. In decades. Centuries even. Since he was a captain and had the insane idea to start a science division.

But he’s also impossibly heavy. Grinded into the dirt. Has drug a deep hole and taken a flying leap over the edge.

Why couldn’t he have realized this yesterday? Yesterday… when he still had a chance to explain before Isshin dropped the bomb on all of them? Even last night when he and Ichigo were going to sleep? When they curled together in contented silence? When they just lay there looking at each other for what seemed like hours? When he had so many chances over the last two months and the years before that?

And now, all those chances are gone. And so is Ichigo.

Like with all things he’s ever had, Kisuke can’t keep him. Can’t keep anything. Can’t have anything. Not if he truly values it. Not if it’s of worth. He loses everything in the end. Just like he always has.

Yoruichi. Captaincy. His shop. Now Ichigo, too.

But somehow, this loss hurts worse than all the others.

* * * *

a/n: Yikes. A bit painful, that one there. Hits ya right in the gut, doesn't it? There's more chapters to come. Up next is an interlude and after that another chapter.

As always, feedback is appreciated.
Tags: bleach, the beautiful lie
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