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stay with me (until the sun rises)

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“I know you’re there.”

Ichigo determinedly doesn’t look behind him. He does not look at the window, he does not look at the windowsill, and definitely not at the bed behind him.

He doesn't know why it's a bad idea- but he knows it is one.

There’s a soft sigh, and a rustle, something light settling down behind him. Feathered, perhaps, or wearing layers of clothes. Something that leaves a whispering trail of rustling behind it.

Indeed, it is me.

Ichigo already knew that it would be him, of course. No one else visits him like this.

The ghosts all like to be seen by someone alive, they like attention. They'd never hide away - in fact, getting them away and out of his sight is usually the hard part.

And yokai and inhuman spirits are drama queens, each and every one of them. When Shiro or Zangetsu deign to visit, he knows it immediately. By Shiro screaming right in his face the moment he appears.

How was your day?” the thing behind him whispers. Still on the windowsill, probably.

Not daring to come in, not yet.

Same question as always on this one day of the year.

“Same as always. Dad took us to the grave. The twins talked a lot. No evil spirits this year though, and no hunters trying to put them down. Just the usual quiet affair.”

The thing hums quietly.

"Remember, Kurosaki-san - you are not responsible for what happened."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. It wasn't my responsibility to protect her."

It had taken the thing a lot of time to convince Ichigo of that.

There’s a soft, mournful sigh, a cold gust of air that smells of dust and smoke that ruffles Ichigo’s hair, an exhale that threatens to turn into a mourning keen.

“Stop doing that. We’ve been over this. It’s not your fault, either. If I can't blame myself, you don't get to either.”

The building wail settles into silence, the next sigh a mere sound instead of a prelude.

"I had owed a debt, to your mother, for failing to stop her from stumbling into Aizen’s path. And I failed in my repayment. My territory is mine to defend."

Well, that's not a brick wall he wants to argue with today.

Ichigo glances at his watch, then at the teapot and two cups on the table next to him. Should be about time.

Ichigo pours tea into both cups, adds a tablespoon of sugar to one, stirs it in, then slides it backwards along the table, out of his field of vision.

He is yet to get a direct answer, but he is fairly certain the thing whispering in the dark can only half-taste everything - hence the copious amount of sugar.

Or he has a truly obscene sweet tooth.

(Ichigo is fairly confident that it's a he. He's certain the damn thing can't talk straight to save its own life, and asking for clarification only ever leads to more confusion.

He’s pretty sure that’s on accident. Most of the time.)

Thank you.” The whisper carries warmth with it, this time, the thing blowing cold air across the surface of the drink to cool it. Can he get burned?

...I’ve found traces of Aizen’s presence.”

Ichigo tenses.

“He’s been here, at night?”

No. For better or worse, not at night. I have found traces of his day-time presence.”

“But the wards…” Ichigo resists turning around to judge his companion’s facial expression- but of course, he can’t.

He doesn’t quite count in certain ways, I suppose, and my wards are weaker in the light of day, and he’s powerful. And with the Hougyoku… Only found his traces on the fringes, for now. “

Shit. Well. Could be worse. If he was out at night- Ichigo doesn’t know how strong the thing behind him is. But all Aizen would need to do is cast a sunlight spell, or see him straight on, and he’d win, just like that.

Today is perhaps not the best day, but I thought I ought to warn you.” There’s a long, regretful sigh. “I do suppose that is another thing I owe you for, now.”

“Tsch. If anyone here owes anyone- you have been protecting all of us since before I was born.”

And I have made errors that overshadow that by far.”

...The brick wall clearly wants to talk today, huh.

Well. There’s one thing- If his friend wants to pay off the debt that much...

“If you really want to give me something- what’s your name? I’ve never really asked what I should call you.”

There’s a contemplative silence behind him, regular exhales of cold air that chill the back of Ichigo’s neck.

A name- I do have some names. You’ve found a few of them too, I think.”

He has, but that’s not what he’s asking. And, okay, maybe it’s too much, maybe it’s dangerous and risky to ask like this of what might be a yokai, or spirit, or some kind of stranger, rarer monster.

It’s a risk.

But... Ichigo thinks he knows enough about what he is now. Enough to know that whatever he is… the real name won’t hold any power, isn’t of any mystical significance. Merely a personal secret.

“You have to have a real name, though. One that’s yours.”

Ichigo holds his breath as the air around him chills.

That’s not a bad sign. Not necessarily.

Kisuke.” His voice isn’t angry. More... melancholy. Yearning. “I do not have the right to it anymore.”

Ichigo’s not sure what he expected. Something strange and unpronounceable, not a human name. But… the name feels suitable. Kisuke is always happy to help.

He tries it out, the feel of it in his mouth like a secret, something heavy and precious and important. Something to not be said too loudly.

“Kisuke-san,” he says, and hears a brief, sharp inhale behind himself, almost as if Kisuke was bracing for a pain that didn’t come.”That’s a good name.”

Thank you.”

They sit in companionable silence, Ichigo pouring more tea for them both.

There’s still a couple of hours before the sun rises, and Kisuke will be exiled from existence until next nightfall.

He has time to decide whether he’ll ask any more questions tonight. Questions like “What were you before the Gotei did this to you?” and “What really happened with Aizen?” and, maybe, “What do you look like?”.

But hasn’t he already asked enough of Kisuke for today?

Ichigo holds very still as clothes rustle right behind him, Kisuke so, so close to him.

There's a hint of pressure on the top of his head, a gentle kiss pressed to his hair.

More rustling sounds behind him, more movement- but Kisuke isn't drawing back, and Ichigo closes his eyes, shutting them as tight as he can as something touches his cheek, feather-light and barely-there, a ghost sensation of fingers trailing over the side of his face.


Dry lips brush his cheek, hesitant, and Ichigo turns his head, eyes shut so tight they hurt, and kisses back.

Kisuke tastes like... tea. The tea he was drinking, overbrewed and ridiculously sweet. A hint of something metallic and salty, too.

Ichigo was- not sure what he was expecting. Ash or dust, maybe. Or ice.

What does a monster from under the bed and in the shadows supposed to taste like?

Kisuke draws back, breaking away from him, and Ichigo almost opens his eyes on reflex- and then remembers to keep them shut. It’s dark, but not dark enough for Kisuke to be safe if Ichigo opens his eyes.

He doesn’t want to risk making him vanish.

Something pulls him backwards, from the chair and onto the bed, until he’s pressed up against something solid, two perfectly human arms wrapped tightly around him, nothing like what the shadows that Ichigo’s seen suggest of Kisuke’s shape.

Maybe he’s only human when he’s not seen?

Can we… stay like this?” Kisuke’s cold breath tickles Ichigo’s ear, and he shivers.

“Until the sun rises.”