Chapter 1: What Love Is
Orihime thinks about love.
She may be only fifteen, but she knows what love is.
Or, maybe it is that she knows what love isn’t. Love isn’t keeping everyone safe and protected until the end of time, like they’re under glass where nothing can touch or age them. That’s possession and selfishness and greed.
Love isn’t giving and giving and giving yourself away, into another person while they soak it up and leave nothing for you in return. That’s suicide by inches and miles, meter and measure, dying every day for the sake of someone else.
Love isn’t death for others; it is horribly inconsiderate, she thinks.
Love isn’t living for others; that is another kind of death.
Love is a surrender. A yes, you’ve got me, and the men on the walls stop firing and the gates open and you understand that the other person will always be a part of you. No matter what.
It works best when the surrender is mutual, but she knows that other people have built their walls high and thick and the men on them seem to have a limitless supply of slings and arrows. So she waits, patient, for the day the cease fire is ordered and tentatively, cautiously that gate is opened. Patient for the day he stops thinking about victory against all odds and starts thinking about how that kind of loss holds a greater gain.
How winning and loosing aren’t all that far apart, and that it is the battle against yourself, your true self, that is the hardest.
And she waits. Because love is a thing worth fighting and waiting for.
Chapter 2: Brave World
Aizen and Urahara, how it started.
He could tell you a million things and every one of them would be correct, but you’d never understand what the hell he was talking about because he never gave a straight answer, talking in riddles and double meanings.
He could inform you of many things, all of his advice correct and to the point. Precise and accurate. He speaks plainly and intelligently, so that all who listen to him may understand him.
They are both geniuses.
Urahara has a mind of color and whirling possibilities. Each thought triggers another, until it is like a cascade, a torrent, a flood, rushing all through and around him. He does not control what he thinks, the ideas come to him and he runs, gleeful, playing a never-ending game of catch-up with his own mind. He does not see the pitfalls and dangers of the path he takes, at least not at first. Slowly, he comes to realize that he cannot rely on his mind to keep him safe. His friend, his best friend watches his back more often than not, keeping prying eyes away from his lab. She has become invaluable to him. He wouldn’t know what he would do without her, to keep him from falling too far too fast into his own research. Though there are some things she misses. Some things that she does not warn him about in time, and later those ideas that promised to be so helpful for Soul Society turn out to be his undoing.
Aizen’s mind is like the eye of a storm. Calm amidst any chaos, frequently the chaos he creates, though no one would ever blame the eye of the storm for being there, it cannot help that the storm formed around it. He controls his mind, directing his energies where they are most useful for any given moment, and he can switch gears, reorganizing the pathways of his mind while others are still struggling with the question put to them in the first place. But he cannot do everything directly; he cannot be seen working and plotting. He need allies, he needs followers. People he can feed to the fire if all does not go well. From the stagnant pool that is Soul Society a new order will rise, and he will lead it. He will sweep away the unwanted and unneeded things, making it all new and pristine. Nothing to offend the eye. It really is in everyone’s best interest that he does all that needs doing.
They don’t talk to each other much.
They know of each other. Each has the other’s measure. Urahara is not as lazy or carefree as he appears to be. Aizen is not as calm and confident as he would like to be.
They both have a goal in mind.
To see the other beaten into the ground and know who has beaten him.
They are both, at times, quite petty.
Pettiness and genius do not go well together. Aizen strives to best Urahara any way he can, forcing the other man to take one path and not the other, to choose what might seem like the best option for his career but in truth it is only folly. Urahara, for his part, does not seem to worry that another man, just as powerful and just as brilliant, is out to see him bleed. He twists and turns and takes whatever path his foot happens to set down on. It generally works out for the best.
With every net that Urahara escapes, Aizen grows more determined. There is no place in his world for a man as chaotic as that. Knowledge is not what makes one powerful, it is for the powerful, and Aizen cannot believe that Urahara does not plan, does not have meticulous logs, if only in his own mind, about every tiny detail that could one day give him an advantage. Aizen does. All is noted and logged and stored. Perfectly. The ants who call themselves people are blind to everything he knows, and that is why they are ants, and he will be a god one day. And he notes everything about Urahara Kiske.
Urahara takes simple, almost childish, delight whenever Aizen falls victim to one of his many pranks. If anyone notes that Urahara seems to have Aizen take the fall slightly more than anyone else, they have not mentioned it, writing it off as some random happenstance, one genius sticking to another. Most keep their heads down and hope they don’t get caught in the cross fire.
It is more often, however, that Aizen sidesteps the prank, letting some poor, hapless student take the fall. Urahara does not laugh as much when that happens, knowing what no one else knows and what one other has probably guessed. Aizen is the target of every prank Urahara has pulled since they first met. But how the other man avoids them, near half of the time, Urahara cannot say. It frustrates him, and he experiments with time, location, type, people involved. He finds that Aizen has burrowed deep into the heart of Soul Society, like some crop destroying insect.
Aizen sees himself as a god-to-be. A possessor of knowledge and order. He will remake the world itself, he will right every wrong and when there has been enough blood to pay for the sins of the past he will see the birth of a new world. He will see stars as they are born, as they live, and as they die. People will be perfect, ordered, safe in their little lives, scurrying about their unimportant business, while he ensures the turning of the heavens. And no one will get hurt, ever again, in his brave new world.
Urahara knows he is a genius, but sees himself as a man. A dead man, yes, but a man all the same. It is not that he is humble, but that he does not seek power for power’s sake. He wants simply, oh so simply, to be free. To not be controlled by anyone or anything other than his own mind and desires. To see the world for what it is, to discover it down to its very essence and create something fantastic and new. The world would never bow to order and discipline. It will be, as it always has been, a thing of chaos and change, this brave world.
Chapter 3: Crazy Bitch
At least she's not his crazy bitch.
“Oi, Rukia.” He barged in, not caring that the girls currently eating lunch were trying to have an important conversation about who liked who, though he timed it well enough to when Chizuru made her daily leap for Inoue’s breasts and the ensuing distraction it provided.
“Ah, yes Renji?” she asked in that too sweet voice. Grated on his nerves, but he knew she got a kick out playing Good Little School Girl. The freak.
“You.” He jabbed a finger at her face. “Me.” He jabbed a thumb at his chest. “Movie. Tonight.” He held out two tickets for Army of Darkness, midnight showing at the cheap theater.
“Well?” he prompted impatiently as she only sat there staring at those damn tickets.
She looked confused and taken aback for a moment, and then she became aware that they were attracting a crowd. Whispers of “so romantic!” and “ugh, she could do better than that tattooed freak” floated behind her. He was the only one who saw her eyebrow twitch. He knew he was going to pay for this later.
“Of course Renji-kun! I’d love to!” she squealed, school girl act coming out in full force. She snagged one of the tickets out of his hand and smiled brightly up at him.
“Feh. Good. I’ll pick you up at nine.” He stalked off, muttering, “Crazy bitch,” under his breath. He meant it, but she might just be his crazy bitch.
“Ichigo, you aren’t looking.”
Ichigo slid down further, hiding behind his school reading. She stepped up onto his bed, and stood there imperiously, hands on her hips and with an expression on her face that reminded him of her brother.
“Hey,” she said. He raised the book up higher. She kicked his knee. “You are not helping!” She kicked his other knee. Hard.
“Ah! Stupid bitch!” He threw the book down and tried to kick her back, but his sweep was too slow. She jumped down to the floor, landing lightly on the balls of her feet. “And I don’t know why I should have to help you. Ask Yuzu, why don’t you?”
“She isn’t old enough to understand.”
“What about Inoue? She’s old enough and, you know, a girl.”
Her eyes went flat and her face became a mask. “Just. Tell. Me. If. I. Am. Dressed. Appropriately.”
He resisted the temptation to roll his eyes, but then she’d be in here longer demanding more answers and he wanted her out the door fast and get some peace tonight. “That dress is fine for the movies. Geeze, Rukia, what’s it matter?”
Looking down at her simple one-piece dress with a critical eye; she said nothing and twitched a bit of the fabric. She raised her eyes to meet his. “I do not want to attract undue attention.”
“Heh. No worries. With Renji’s freakish hair, I’m sure no one’ll notice you.” He picked up his book and tried to find the place he left off.
She nodded. “Good.”
“Alright. Now get out of here, will you? I’ve got to get this done.” He settled back down to read, but her voice interrupted him again.
“Ichigo...” She looked serious as she was about to leave the room, hand on the knob of the open door.
“You do well at being, what did Inoue call it, ah, a girlfriend.” She threw him one nasty smirk as she fled, slamming the door behind her.
He threw the book after her anyway. “Crazy bitch,” he muttered. At least she was someone else’s crazy bitch.
Chapter 4: Amityville Toaster
Crack, that is all.
“Matsumoto, I can’t stand that girl’s cooking. It’s terrible,” he groused.
“Oh, you just haven’t given it a good enough try, Captain. And you’re hurting her feelings.”
“Huhn. The feelings of a fifteen year-old girl are the least of my worries. All I want is a descent breakfast in the mornings while we must be in this damn place.”
Matsumoto lounged on the roof, not noticing the gathering crowd of boys below trying to cobble together a telescope to better see up her skirt. “And what would Captain like to eat for breakfast? He’s still a growing boy, after all, and should have the very best nutrition!”
“Matsumoto...” he growled in warning.
“I know, I know.” She waved off his warning. “Well?” she prompted.
He sighed and relaxed a margin. “Toast.”
“It’s not too much to ask, I think.”
“No, no, it isn’t. Orihime-chan and I will go shopping and get a toaster for Captain!” She struck a pose, her skirt flapping up just enough to give the boys a new insight into their new idol. She seemed to like butterflies.
He should have known having Inoue and Matsumoto procure him a toaster was a bad idea. He just desperately wanted normal food, and a few hours of peace and quiet.
It was too much to ask.
“That... is odd.” Hitsugaya stood before the toaster, a slice of wheat toast in his hand.
“Oh no!” Orihime started. “We bought a defective toaster! It--!”
“It toasts fine!” Hitsugaya exclaimed to cut off Orihime before she started babbling. “I did not put in wheat bread, and yet it gave me wheat toast.”
“What kind of bread did you put in, Captain?”
“White.” Hitsugaya frowned and eyed the toaster with suspicion. “Inoue. Do you have any wheat bread?”
“Yes! I do Hitsugaya-kun.” She dragged out a full loaf of bread and handed him a slice.
He took it from her and placed it in the toaster, pulling the lever down. Seconds ticked by. Toast that was decidedly not of the wheat kind popped up. “The hell...?”
“Ah, it’s pumpernickel! So amazing!” Orihime’s eyes lit up. “Matsumoto we bought a cursed toaster! That’s even better!”
Hitsugaya’s eyebrow twitched.
He continued his experiment later that day, after procuring various kinds of bread and bread products to test this toaster out. Maybe he would hit upon the way to get white toast out of that thing.
Pumpernickel went in and he got a blueberry muffin back. After a few more tries, it turned out that if he put a bagel in he would get pork chops back. Orihime had already taken those to use for dinner.
Finally it came down to the waffle. The waffle had to give him white toast. He put it in and pulled the lever down.
The dial ticked along.
And up popped a toasted human hand.
“AH!” he screamed, flailing back in surprise.
“Captain, what’s wrong?” Matsumoto rushed into the room to see the human hand sticking up from the toaster and her Captain looking a bit green. “.... Oh.”
“Yes, oh.” He contemplated the cursed toaster. “Matsumoto, I have decided that I do not want toast anymore. I will eat Inoue’s cooking.”
Chapter 5: Cheap Love
Kon <3s Matsumoto. Facts.
Oh, his love was sold so cheaply, he knew, but how could he resist a woman such as her? It pained him to know that Nee-san could never love him the way he loved her, so he had to move on! He had to be a man!
And leap into the most expansive bosom he could find.
“Matsumoto-san!” he called out in a sing-song voice, rushing forward, arms outstretched.
“Ah~?” She turned to the direction of the voice that had called her name. And got a little stuffed lion happily squishing itself between her breasts. She looked down at it, blinking and unsure about how to handle this. Most men who showed interest in this way were beaten soundly, but this was a stuffed animal, albeit an animate one.
And it was so cute. “Oh!” she cried and hugged the stuffed animal to her, the picture of girlish glee.
Chapter 6: Male Pride
Renji back in his Division 10 days.
He was fighting for male pride here, and he’d be damned if he lost. And where the fuck is she keeping all the booze? In her tits? No, not enough room even in there. Another one down, and oh, so many shot glasses all in a pyramid.
“Had enough, Renji-kun? You’ve lasted longer than the rest!”
He growled and slammed back another shot.
Then the world went wobbly and wiggly.
The next thing he remembered was waking up in an alley, stripped naked and with a collar around his neck.
So much for male pride where Matsumoto Rangiku was concerned.
What he didn’t count on was Captain Zaraki finding him in that state. Or the Captain’s sick sense of humor.
“Oh,” the Captain growled, his face split by his shark’s grin. “Have a run in Renji? Don’t tell me you let some pussy beat you.”
“Uh....” Renji’s brain tried to figure out how Matsumoto-san wasn’t exactly a pussy, in spite of the fact that she had one. He tugged at the collar around his neck.
Zaraki bent down to read the tag on it.
Then the smile got wider.
Renji’s alcohol fogged brain was able to react with remarkable speed, recognizing the inherent danger of that grin.
Sadly, his body was not up to the task of running-the-fuck-away.
Renji had found a new cure for hangovers. Inarticulate rage. There he was, tied up on the step of the Kuchiki manor, with a note pinned to him in Captain Zaraki’s scrawl. He was gonna kill... or try to kill... or not die while trying to scratch his old Captain.
His only hope a nice servant girl would find him first and untie him. And give him clothes.
He was not so lucky.
“...Good morning, Renji,” Captain Kuchiki said, looking down blandly at his bound Vice-Captain.
“Like fucking hell it’s a good morning, sir!”
“It’s not funny, Rukia! It was freaking humiliating!”
“I still wish I could have seen Zaraki Kenpachi dragging you through the Rungonkai up to Honorable Brother’s door.” She spoke around peals of laughter, hardly able to stand up anymore.
“Not. Fucking. Funny.”
She laughed more, but eventually gained control of herself. “I just want to know one thing.”
“What?” he bit out.
“Why did he bring you to the Kuchiki manor?”
Renji growled, but answered her. “He figured it would be the best place to find you, I guess. He isn’t that bright.”
“Renji, why would he bring you to me?”
Like hell he was gonna tell her what the tag said.
Chapter 7: Raise Your Head, Little Boy
Izuru/Gin, slash, domination, rough sex play (though not explicitly described), backwards pairing order, and mind-fuckery.
“I... I... don’t think that would be appropriate Captain Ichimaru.” Izuru looks away, shame filling him, leaving a tell tale blush on his cheeks.
“Nee, nee, you can call me Gin, Ki~ra~kun~” Gin slides, slithers, saunters up to the younger man, his raw boned fingers touching the heated cheek hidden by the fall of blond hair. Really, the boy was so shy, unfitting considering how his zanpaktou works. “After all, you have to live up to Wabisuke. You can’t fight one way when your sword wants to fight another way.”
Izuru freezes, uncomfortable with the implications of his sword’s name and what it does. He draws his arms about himself, trying to make himself smaller, to disappear. To make his Captain forget about him for only a moment, but his traitorous heart didn’t let him go, make a break for it. No, his Captain was his Captain and he couldn’t leave.
He sighs and shudders.
“That’s it, Kira-kun.” Gin stands before him fully dressed, fox’s smile fixed, but Izuru knows that he’s watching him with those red, red eyes, waiting and wanting. Normally those eyes are demanding, urgent, hungry, but the difference makes Izuru bold. Less timid.
Izuru reaches out, hand smoothing over the silky fabric of his Captain’s haori, and Gin laughs. “Oh, so shy. Wabisuke is more forceful than this, or don’t you remember?”
The laugh burns in his ears and he feels slow, unworthy. And he knows he’s doing this wrong. No, he must do this right. He must become better, for his Captain. And he grabs a fistful of the fabric and tears. The sound of the rip sets his heart to beating faster. He destroyed the garment, but it felt good to be the one who made it tear away. And he wants to keep going.
He doesn’t look at Gin as he tears the rest of his Captain’s clothes off, ripping them to shreds, not caring that it could have been more efficient to simply untie the ties and let the clothes fall to the ground. No, he wanted to show his Captain he was good enough to follow through with what he’s started. And deep in his mind a nasty voice tells him that he liked watching each piece of flesh appear with startled violence as black and white cloth suffers before him.
In bare tatters, Gin still smiles, and the smile taunts and Izuru hesitates again. His Captain reaches forward, testing the bounds of his subordinate's will to dominate, and is pleased when the younger man grabs his wrist and pushes him down to the floor.
Izuru does not waste time with kisses or readying either of them or other shows of softness, but pushes into his Captain, and he is disappointed that Captain Ichimaru doesn’t make a sound as he thrusts again and again and again.
When he is spent, Izuru draws away from Gin, clutching his own intact clothes around himself like he was the victim, and Gin lays there bloody and bruised, naked and without any protection like he got just what he wanted.
Gin stands, not bothering to gather the remnants of his clothing, and leaves. On the way out he pats Izuru on the head, fingers twining almost painfully in the blond hair. “You performed better than expected, Vice-Captain Izuru.”
Alone, Izuru goes to bathe and scrubs himself until he is red and raw, wanting to forget what he just did to his Captain.
Wanting to do it again.
Chapter 8: A Noble Endeavor
Urahara and deathgod!Isshin play a prank.
No one wanted to room with either of them.
This had become abundantly clear to the administration at the Academy, so because the people who ran the Academy were more bureaucrats that actual people the obvious solution was to put the two of them in a room together. What they failed to realize that putting two brilliant, manic men with slight sadomasochistic tendencies in close quarters was a bad idea.
For everybody else.
“Oi! Kisuke!” Isshin said, kicking the door open.
“Ye~s?” The blond boy flopped his upper body off his lofted bed, his legs hooked around the backboard for support.
“I’ve got us a new target.”
Urahara snorted with disbelief. “You don’t pick out the targets, remember? Last time you did, we nearly died.”
“Che.” Isshin kicks the door closed behind him and moves across the room, avoiding all manner of abandoned projects of Urahara’s, most of them squishy but at least they didn’t move after long. “That was cause she’s faster than the both of us. Trust me, I got a good one this time. Real stick up his ass.”
“Ooo~h?” And the blond oozes the rest of the way off his bed, landing nicely on his bare feet. “You know how I can’t resist the uptight ones.”
“And the best part?”
“He’s a noble.”
They grin at each other, the kind of grin seen only in bad science fiction movies where the evil guy twirls his moustache before tying the young virgin to a sled to be tossed into a volcano on the planet Mars. And while in those movies the grin is ridiculous, these two manage to make the grin one of the scariest things known to man. Because they’ve got the actual balls to back it up.
Urahara rubbed his hands together. “Perfect.”
They watched him for days, learning his routines and habits, not wanting to overlook anything that would be a clue as to his personality and how they could hit him just right for maximum affect.
They were bored.
Kuchiki Byakuya did the same damn thing every damn day. Get up at an ungodly hour (they had actually stayed up late rather than wake up early to observe this fact), exercise, clean off, eat a modest and slightly filling breakfast daintily, go to class and not fall asleep (further proof to Urahara that this kid wasn’t real), do his homework, eat dinner daintily, write poetry (it wasn’t that bad, Isshin noted after swiping a few for study, but awfully sappy), and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. On days off, he would not go back to his family’s manor, but stay at the Academy and practice. Alone.
Urahara was quickly coming to the opinion that the current target was not a real person at all, but a new kind of thing that was animated and given a semblance of a soul somehow. No one could be that... bland.
Isshin just knew they could come up with something, anything to get this kid to break, just for a second.
It had become a mission for both of them.
Really, they were gonna do the kid a favor.
They started small, because it wouldn’t work to start out big. A slow build was deemed necessary.
On the first day all breakfast foods had been replaced with things of an unhealthy nature. Not that it really mattered here, but the feeling of all that grease and sugar saturated the air of the cafeteria. Bacon with grease still dripping off it slogged around in pans, and the powdered sugar got all over everything, getting into fabric and leaving patches on everyone’s clothes.
Kuchiki took one look at the scene and... did nothing. He merely walked out, with little more expression than before.
“Damn,” Isshin said around a mouthful of bacon.
“You know,” Urahara said, licking sugar off his fingers. “We might have to escalate sooner than we thought. He didn’t even emote.”
“Yeah. But after breakfast.” Isshin took some toast. “This is really good.”
“Thank you♥. I try.”
That afternoon the practice yard where the young noble normally spent his time was covered in nearly undetectable patches of ooze. Sticky, disgusting ooze. It was messy and took ages to come out of clothing, hair and off skin.
Kuchiki strode into the yard, every inch of him perfectly arranged.
His two would be prankers lounged on the roof in rather nice deck chairs stolen from the staff room patio, sake in hand ready to watch the ensuing and terrible mess.
When the prankee’s right foot sunk into the ooze they both sat forward expectantly. Kuchiki tugged his leg back, looking completely disinterested in the fact that his right foot was stuck in an unidentifiable substance. He kneeled down, and right into more ooze. On the roof two figures started to snigger.
Then no more ado, Kuchiki dissolved the ooze with a fancy bit of demon arts.
Isshin slapped a hand over his eyes and groaned with frustration. “Fucking hell. Of course the little bastard woulda thought of that.”
Urahara only watched, with eyes narrowed, as Kuchiki left the practice yard. This was becoming personal.
Over the next two months they tried everything.
Frogs in the underwear drawer. Reworking his room’s plumbing to pipe in sake not water. Stealing his fancy scarf and hair curlers, leaving a bare bread crumb trail of clues to find them. Bra bombs set to go off in the middle of the night in his room. Repainting his room the most violent combinations of colors possible. Embedding tacks in all the practice sword hilts. Sending call girls up to his room. Sending call boys up to his room.
Urahara would stay up nights, coming up with equations, plans, plots, devices. Anything that would get the bastard to make some kind of expression. And frequently Isshin heard, “Its all your fucking fault. If you hadn’t picked the target I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!”
“Hey, you don’t have to be so damn obsessed about this! I just thought it’d be fun. Guy ain’t right, just let it go.”
“...” Urahara turned back to his work. “I refuse to quit now.”
Then one night Urahara roughly shook Isshin awake. “I figured it out! It was so obvious I can’t believe I overlooked it, but I know what we’re missing.”
“Muuh-wuzzah-huh? What’re we missing? Did one of your girlfriends take your stuff again?”
“No! What we’re missing in all the pranks we pull on Kuchiki.”
And the maniac grin lights on both their faces, and the underclassmen all shiver in their sleep.
The next morning all was ready.
All the good little students filed into the room and went to their assigned seats. Kuchiki was no exception. From the back of the lecture hall, Isshin and Urahara watched him, with his stiff perfection and composure.
When the lecture was half over, Urahara reached down and pushed a button.
The chair the noble boy sat in launched him directly up, but before he hit the ceiling and he could recover from his surprise, a specially modified prototype mod-soul tackled him midair, his face pressed into her extravagantly large breasts. They landed right in the front of the classroom at the teacher’s feet, her legs wrapped around his waist and his rear end sticking up in the air.
For a moment all was quiet as the whole class was stunned. Then a snicker started somewhere in the back. When Kuchiki was having difficulty getting away from the well endowed mod-soul with his bony ass still sticking up, the laughter rolled over the entire room in a rising crescendo.
Eventually it died down and the boy extricated himself from the mod-soul, who was already traipsing off back to her box. His expression was what Urahara had been waiting for these past two months. Seething rage and indignity.
The teacher coughed politely. “Now, if we can continue. Lord Kuchiki, you may take another seat.” Another snicker rolled through the crowed and the boy fairly stomped to his new chair.
Urahara leaned back, stretching, satisfied. “Oh yes, that is the expression I’ve been waiting to see for months now.”
Isshin grinned at his friend. “I told you you’d like this one.”
Chapter 9: On Good Taste
Ichigo attempts to eat Orihime's cooking.
It wasn’t the nicest apartment, but it was theirs. And the best part, no more wake up calls by way of Isshin’s foot. Every day was a good day in his book as long as that crazy old man wasn’t the one making him start it.
Still, today had him worried. It was Christmas and Orihime wanted to cook. For just the two of them. Because was their first holiday together and that meant they had to do something. She had said something about “romance” and somehow “Santa” and from there it got a little weird because they didn’t have a chimney, but he suspected a window or two would be left open tonight. With traps underneath them. Anyway, it all came down to the fact that he couldn’t make a tactical retreat to take out or drag her to the old house for Yuzu’s cooking. Today he’d have to face his fears and eat Orihime’s cooking.
There were worse ways to die, he reasoned.
Bracing for the worst, he left their bedroom and went into the kitchen/dining room area. She was already up preparing food, not a single cookbook in sight. At that point he decided to Not Look at whatever ingredients she had assembled and looked only at her face.
“Morning,” he said, like he did every morning. Not chipper but not horribly upset that the earth had decided to offend him by continuing to rotate and cause the sun to illuminate the surface of the Earth once again. Some things he would never grow out of.
“Oh! Good morning!” she exclaimed like she did every morning. And like every morning it made him smile a little, her enthusiasm for every single damn day. It was good waking up to that. His eyebrows twitched out of their permanent scowl in response. They’d been doing that more often of that, not that he’d notice, nor would for a long while, when it was too late to keep the scowl.
Keeping his back strategically to the area of food preparation, he made himself a cup of coffee; this one thing allowed to him because damn it, a man should be able to brew the nastiest cup of coffee on the planet if he wanted to. She drank tea, anyway. While it was brewing, he snaked an arm about her waist and pulled her away from the counter.
“Ah! You thought you could get me, did you?!” A spork was leveled at his face. He smiled.
“I should have known better.”
The spork went down. It was now only pointed at his chest. He could survive a sporking to the chest. “Yes,” she said, kissing his cheek. “You should have. Now I have a vital task to complete and I need to fully concentrate to do it. If my mental powers are off by even a micro-fraction all is lost.” And she wriggled out of his grasp and went back to working on food.
Later, when they sat down to eat, he had no idea exactly what was being put in front of him, but she smiled and was so proud of what she’d accomplished it would be like kicking a puppy to refuse now. And he would get his ass kicked by a lot of people if he messed this up. A lot of scary people.
Some of the foods jiggled, others had odd bits of color that he wasn’t sure should be there. (Pink food can’t be real, he was sure.) But she was smiling at him, happy. He could do this; he’d faced unimaginable horrors and lived. This was just food.
He took a bite.
He chewed, slowly letting the taste and texture of it fill his mouth.
She watched him expectantly, half afraid that he would spit it out. She had worked so hard to make a good dinner for their first holiday together.
He swallowed and washed it down with some water.
He looked down at his plate, confused. Then at her and then back to the plate. And in a voice that spoke of wonder and shock he said, “It’s good.”
“Really?” she asked. She wiggled excitedly.
“Really.” He took another bite. A larger one.
“I’m so glad!” She launched herself at him, knocking him backwards, and sprawled on top of him.
“Nyyyygh.” He choked the bit of food down and gasped for breath. “Orihime...”
“Yes?” She looked down at him, smiling.
He kissed her. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Ichigo.”
Chapter 10: Small Gifts Are the Most Deceptive
Urahara likes Christmas.
“Christmas~♪ Christmas~♪ Christmas~♪” Urahara sang as he hopped around, on one foot and then the next, all over his store and home.
“Hey! Owner! What the hell is this Christmas crap all about!?” Jinta demanded.
“Oooooh? You don’t kno~w?” Urahara nanced up to the boy and tapped him lightly on the head with his fan. “It’s a happy time! And,” he leaned down to stare Jinta in the eyes, “Ururu will have a happy day, today,” he said in his most serious voice, and his eyes were in deep shadow under his hat.
“Gaaah,” Jinta scrambled backwards.
“And remember only the good girls and boys get prese~nts!” He hopped off, fan waving, into his rooms.
“Oh, Yoruichi~♪ You should wake up now.” He poked her in the ribs with his fan. “It’s Christmas!”
“Eh? Why? I’m sleeping, Urahara, go away.” She yawned wide and curled up on her side.
“Yoruichi’s so mean,” he whined. “But I suppose it can’t be helped,” he said, his voice dropping into a normal tone. As he left the room, he looked over his shoulder and grinned. Nastily. “And you were going to get a present too.”
He stood outside the door, counting softly. “Three... two...” And he felt a rush of air behind him.
“Fine, but if you got me something cat related, I will hurt you,” she groused.
She grinned and sank her fingers into his shoulders. “Promise,” she purred into his ear.
In the main area of the house a large Christmas tree stood, decked out to the nines. Tessai had Ururu on his shoulders, putting the star at the top. The normally sad-faced little girl looked almost happy.
“Ah! Ururu! Tessai! You both did a splendid job!” Urahara bounded over and examined the tree from every angle, eliciting a shy “thank you,” from Ururu.
“Now! For the gifts!” And he was gone.
Jinta eyed Yoruichi, clearly wanting to ask her what the hell was wrong with Owner, but not quite brave enough to ask. Yoruichi, for her part, stood at ease and after a few long moments passed, started to stretch. It wasn’t long after that before Urahara came back laden with brightly wrapped gifts. He carefully set them under the tree, arranging them just so.
“Ta-da!” He posed triumphantly.
Jinta descended on the pile, Yoruichi following lazily in the boy’s wake. Jinta discovered his gift was a soccer ball that could kick back. He loved it, and proceeded to destroy structures that had up till now known peace.
Yoruichi had only a note saying “Later♥ We don’t want to scar the children, do we?” She was less impressed with her gift and her look spoke volumes about how exactly she was going to thank him for it. He couldn't wait.
Tessai nudged Ururu forward, and she hesitantly pulled out a small packaged wrapped in bright pink paper. She looked up at Urahara questioningly.
“Go ahead.” He looked almost indulgent.
Carefully, Ururu unwrapped the gift, not tearing the paper at all. Inside was a box, no bigger than two inches square and only a half inch deep. She opened it. Inside the box was a small pin in the shape of a horse nestled on a bunch of cotton padding.
“Set it down,” he said. She did. “Back away.” Everybody made for the nearest exit. Slowly, he bent down, one leg kicked out behind him for balance, one arm reached out with fan in hand. The tip of the fan touched the middle of the pin.
And where the pin had been was a pony, with a button on the side of its head labeled: Return to Miniature.
“Ah, it worked.” Urahara picked up the little girl and sat her on the little black and white, with a pink saddle and bridle. “The best part is you don’t have to feed it or pick up after it. Ride her all you like, but treat her well and put her away when you’re done.” He patted her on the head. “Off with you now.”
“Of course! It’s Christmas!” He giggled behind his fan.
Chapter 11: On the Nice List Despite His Best Efforts to be a Punk
Kurosaki family + Kon at Christmas. Fluff.
“Merry Christmas, Ichigo!!!!!” Isshin rocketed into Ichigo’s room, both feet aimed at his son’s sleeping head.
Far too used to his father’s unique greetings, Ichigo caught Isshin’s feet and sent him flying back into the closet doors. Head first. When he got up, not even a trickle of blood evident, Ichigo wished he’d thrown harder.
“You can’t sleep in today! It’s Christmas!” Isshin bounded toward his son, only to be stopped by a foot in the face and bodily forced out the door, and the sounds of locks being thrown behind him.
“Oi, Yuzu, good cookies.” Ichigo had a decapitated gingerbread man in one hand, while pilfering a few more from the plate.
“Thank you!” Yuzu said brightly, looking up from her recipe book; the book their mother had used. “Oh! Could you help Karin with the decorations? Dad won’t leave her alone and nothing’s getting done.”
Ichigo’s eyebrows twitched, but otherwise the scowl remained. “Eh, sure.” Hunched down and hands in his pockets he went off to brave their father and Karin, both in a holiday fervor. The things he did for his family.
The phone in his pocket went off. He gripped it and ran up to his room, Karin calling after him, “What the hell are you doing, Ichigo?! Don’t leave me alone with Dad!”
“Karin! Now your father will show you how much he loves you!”
“AAAAAAHHH!—I’ll get you for this, Ichigo!” But he ignored the sounds of the annual Karin-Dad Holiday War and frowned at the phone.
Hollows. Lots of ’em.
Figures. This is probably the best time of year for the bastards. Oh well, he had a job to do.
He found Kon huddled against a picture of Rukia in his closet. He picked up the stuffed lion by the foot and gave Kon a look of disgust. “Where’d you get that picture?”
“Ah~ Nee-san had school pictures taken while she was here and I took one.” If there was a way for a stuffed animal to look guilty of lusting, Kon managed to do it. Ichigo reflected that his life got more disturbing every day.
“Well, I got a call, so you need to be good. It’s Christmas and you better behave yourself while I’m gone. Got it?”
“Of course, Ichigo! You can count on me!” Upside down, Kon mock-saluted and put on his most serious face.
“Alright.” And quicker than a flash, Kon was in Ichigo’s body and Ichigo was out the window, off to take care of Hollows.
Kon was excited. He’d never had a Christmas before.
“Dinner’s ready!” Yuzu called from the kitchen, drawing Karin, Isshin and Kon-in-Ichigo’s body from their failed attempts at decorating in the living room. Kon thought that it’d been a great time, and thought that even Karin liked it, no matter how much she professed hatred of the activity.
They ate, shouting as a matter of course along with dinner, but it seemed more... jovial to Kon. Karin’s comments lacked their normal bite and Isshin actually kind of controlled himself. Yuzu looked sunnier, if that was possible. Ichigo was missing out, Kon thought, but that was okay because it meant he got to have a family for a night.
After dinner the dishes were washed, which Kon volunteered to help with, earning him a few weird looks, but they all thought it must have been the holiday season finally getting to Ichigo after prolonged exposure.
Then came the time to open gifts. Ichigo got all sorts of things, but there was one gift from Isshin that Kon somehow knew was for him, buried under some socks. He caught Isshin’s eye after he saw the needle and thread, and the man smiled a knowing smile.
Though the moment was quickly interrupted by Yuzu’s exclamation of, “It’s snowing,” and her promptly dragging them all outside.
Kon had never seen snow, so he was surprised when he stepped outside and felt something cold and wet land on his forehead. He looked up and saw a million-billion small white flakes falling from the sky. So, this is snow, Kon thought.
Just before a snowball got him right in the ear. Karin looked at him with fiendish glee, traces of snow on her hand. Kon smiled evilly. He ducked for cover and began assembling his own supply of snowballs and began launching them at various members of the Kurosaki family.
A little ways into the fight and Kon saw that Ichigo was back. As he was about to go upstairs so they could switch back, Ichigo shook his head. “You might as well keep playing. You look like you like it more than I do.” Ichigo’s face smiled back up at him, grateful.
And Isshin got another potshot in, but he missed. The snowball passed through where Ichigo’s soul stood. Ichigo only rolled his eyes and settled down to watch the fight.
Kon turned back around and joined forces with Karin and Yuzu against Isshin, and eventually defeated him, though it was a near thing.
Just before bed they switched back. Ichigo wandered down the hallway to the bathroom to brush his teeth, but stopped when he sensed Isshin behind him.
“Hey, you did a good thing today, Ichigo. A good thing.” And the old man smiled at him, like he knew something.
Ichigo narrowed his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Good night, son.”
“Good night, dad.”
Chapter 12: You Can Leave Your Hat On
Urahara loses a bet to Yourichi.
Really, he should have known by now drinking with Yoruichi was a bad idea.
“Dare you,” Yoruichi slurred.
“Nuh-uh, not gonna do it,” Urahara declared.
“Ah! You afraid?”
“Yes!” His voice went up a few registers in response.
“Heeeee, Captain of the 12th Division afraid of doing a little dance?”
“A naked dance!”
“Since when have you cared about modesty, Urahara? You’d run through the Seireitai naked if you could get away with it!”
He smirked and covered his mouth with his sleeve. “Oh, Yoruichi would like that, wouldn’t she?”
“Well, now that you mention it—” She slammed the bottle of sake down on the table. “Don’t change the subject! If you’re so afraid of the naked part... you can leave your hat on.” Yoruichi grinned like the cat that caught the canary.
“Your hat.” And the grin got wider.
There was a captain’s meeting the next morning. They had stayed up, making sure he was the right amount of drunk. And agreeing on the terms of the dare.
So, early in the morning, in front of the assembled Captains of the Thirteen Divisions, Urahara Kisuke did a strip tease. With a bottle of sake still in hand. His only concession to modesty was his hat over his crotch.
Yoruichi rolled her eyes and threw the money at his feet, before she left in a flash.
Blinking, Urahara looked down at the money. “Yoruichi! Don’t leave me in front of Yama-jii naked!” He scooped up the money in his hat and ran after her.
Captain Yamamoto let out a small chuckle. “Now, what is really next on the agenda?”
Kuchiki Byakuya stared blankly after the two other Captains, feeling a tension headache coming on.
Chapter 13: Mother
Zangetsu thinks about his mommy.
He felt restless for the first time in his short memory. Nothing had ever brought on this feeling before, not battling with the nameless sword, not even Senbonzakura had managed to make him even a little bit worried. He trusted the bond he shared with Ichigo to see them through any fight.
But this was not a fight.
This was worse. Or better. He could not decide. Another thing that irritated him.
Their wielders had gone to sleep, and they appeared. They met in the hall, not wanting to alert anyone to their meeting. It seemed prudent. She looked him up and down with an inscrutable gaze, her white face almost indistinguishable from her white robes. “You have grown,” she said, in a precisely cold voice.
“Growth happens, no matter how much some try to avoid it,” he returned. If he could have drawn his inky cloak about him tighter, he would have. It seemed important to have this one’s approval, for reasons he could not quite understand.
She let a wry smile dance across her face, but it was soon gone, like a spring flower buried underneath a late snow. “You have done well, Zangetsu.”
He bowed, bending fully half. Then he felt the touch of cold, cold in the form of a hand on his head then trailed down his face to lift his face up to see her. “You have done me proud, Zangetsu.”
And she was gone a moment after that, but not long enough to keep him from seeing the look of pride on her face. He righted himself. Ah, he thought, so that is what it feels like.