When Ichigo gets home, he is going to kill Kisuke. Slowly.
In hindsight, he should have known better than to let a scientist mess around with dimension travel, because that’s when shit hits the fan. Especially when said scientist is a crazy son of a bitch who makes miracles happen on the regular, like impossible is a word that will never make it into the massive dictionary he calls a brain.
Well, it should be impossible to hop into a parallel universe. Should, being the key word.
Ichigo looks around at the all-too-familiar scenery and wants to punch something. Preferably Kisuke’s face.
Because he knows exactly where he is and when he is.
It’s a rainy day in Not-Karakura Town, and Ichigo is at the riverbank where his mother died all those years ago. Except here, it hasn’t been years. Here, he guesses it’s probably been a couple of weeks or so.
Otherwise tiny him wouldn’t be sitting in the wet grass several meters away, eyes staring out blankly at the dark waters of the choppy river. He’s looking at himself. And that is something that, in a world where dead people purify corrupted souls and wield magical swords for a living, even Ichigo finds weird.
He remembers those horrid days when he kept waking up to a world where his mother was gone and he had wandered up and down the riverbank for days, hoping that she would someday turn up with a smile and an outreached hand and say, “Let’s go home.” And she never came.
Right then, might as well make something of this unexpected trip to Not-Karakura Town. Ichigo is a big brother and a protector (and a Shinigami and a Quincy and a Hollow and about fifty shades of messed up, but the boy didn’t need to know that), and damned if he just lets some little kid (himself) sit outside in the pouring rain feeling like the world has ended.
Ichigo walks up to the kid and says, “Hey, you should go home. You’ll catch a cold if you stay here.”
Tiny Ichigo barely reacts, only partially turning to blink up at him with despairing eyes that make him want to give the young boy a hug, and Kurosaki Ichigo doesn’t do hugs. Ever.
“Don’t wanna go home,” little Ichigo mumbles, hugging his legs to his chest.
“It’s better than staying out in the rain.” Ichigo takes a seat next to him, ignoring the way the rain instantly soaks into the seat of his pants.
Little Ichigo shakes his head, burying his face against his knees. “Don’t wanna. He’s mad at me. He hates me.”
Ichigo is confused. Who was the kid talking about, Goat-Face? He doesn’t remember Isshin being mad at him. In fact, when he’d been drowning himself in guilt, his dad had repeatedly told him that his mother’s death was not his fault. But if this is a parallel world…
“Who’s mad at you?” he asks, feeling dread slither coldly down his spine.
“M’dad. He’s mad because I—because I k-k-killed—m-my mom—” little Ichigo sobs into his knees, his thin body shaking. Ichigo’s been in this world for five goddamn minutes and he already wants to punt this kid’s dad (this world’s Kurosaki Isshin) into a wall for making the kid’s guilt complex worse.
He takes a deep breath through his nose, and lets it back out. “Kid, c’mere.” He gently grabs the kid’s arm and pulls him over to lean into Ichigo’s side. Little Ichigo hiccups and curls into him, crying softly into his rain-soaked sweatshirt. “Look, I don’t know what happened—” Lies, but he’s trying to comfort a traumatized version of himself, not out himself as an older dimension-hopping Kurosaki Ichigo who’s already lived through enough bullshit for ten lifetimes, “—but no dad should ever let his kid wander around outside alone in the rain like this. I’ll take you somewhere safe and then you can tell me what’s going on, alright?”
The kid doesn’t even protest when Ichigo picks him up—too light, too thin— and holds him closely to his chest. Ichigo can feel his young counterpart’s fingers grip tightly onto his soaked sweatshirt and feels protective rage simmering beneath his skin.
He’s definitely not going to take the kid back home in this state. There’s only one other place he can go.
He lets memory carry him up to the doors of Urahara Shouten. It’s raining and he’s in a parallel universe, but the store looks exactly the same as it does in his own world, which is comforting. Little Ichigo has fallen into an exhausted sleep, half his face buried against Ichigo’s shoulder.
“Welcome to Urahara Shouten, how can I—” Urahara’s familiar voice cuts off as he registers who comes in and drips puddles all over the floor.
Ichigo doesn’t look him in the eyes as he carefully enunciates, “Sorry for the intrusion, Urahara-san, but could we borrow your bathroom?”
The shopkeeper looks at him from behind his white paper fan for a few seconds. Then he gets up and gestures to the back, responding quietly, “Right this way.”
By the time Ichigo gets to the bathroom with the kid in hand, Tessai is already laying out a change of clothes for both of them, bath water running in the background. He thanks the older man for the help.
He feels bad for waking the kid up to take a bath, but there’s no way he’s allowing his younger self to stay in those dirty, rain-soaked clothes. He ignores the way his own clothes stick uncomfortably to his skin. Little Ichigo is his main priority here.
The exhausted nine-year old peers up at him as he sits in the warm bath water. “You’re really nice, mister,” he says, the edges of his eyes red and puffy from crying.
“I wasn’t going to let you stay out there by yourself,” Ichigo replies, taking a sponge in hand. “I’d be a horrible person if I did that.” He scrubs the kid’s skin gently, almost crushing the sponge when he sees the finger-shaped prints on the boy’s arms and the fist-sized bruises on his torso. “Do you want me to wash your hair for you?”
His young counterpart nods mutely and Ichigo feels angry again that this kid is apparently so affection-starved that he won’t protest a stranger essentially bathing him. When this is over, he’s going to have a nice, long talk with this world’s Kurosaki Isshin. Preferably with less talking and more fists flying. And with Karin and Yuzu out of the house so that they don’t see what he’s going to do to the former Shinigami Captain.
“Um, what’s your name, mister?” tiny Ichigo’s voice breaks him from his thoughts.
Ichigo pauses as he soaps up the kid’s hair. Well, he certainly can’t introduce himself as Kurosaki Ichigo, can he? And he doesn’t want to come up with a long fake name that he won’t bother to remember once he returns to his own world. Something simple, something easy…
“Just call me Kuro,” is what ends up coming out. Well, he never did claim to be the most creative person, that was Kisuke’s job. “Now close your eyes.”
“Okay, Kuro-niisan.” It’s not the ‘Ichi-nii’ that he’s used to, but he’ll take it.
When the bath is over and both he and the kid have changed into clean clothes, he leads little Ichigo to the sitting room where Urahara-Not-Kisuke is waiting.
“All done?” the shopkeeper asks.
Little Ichigo yawns and slumps into Ichigo’s side again when they sit next to the low table in the center of the room. Ichigo drops a hand on the boy’s head and ruffles his hair, earning a sleepy noise of approval from his younger counterpart.
“Thank you for letting us use your bathroom, Urahara-san,” Ichigo begins. “If it’s not too much trouble, can he stay here for the night? The kid says he doesn’t want to go home.”
The shopkeeper waves his fan in the direction of the bedrooms. “That’s not a problem, we have plenty of space. Why don’t you put him to bed?” And come back out so I can grill you for information.
Ichigo nods. He picks the kid up again and lays him on the spare futon that Tessai helpfully rolls out. The boy whines unhappily when he’s detached from Ichigo’s side. “Hey, I won’t be gone for long. I just need to talk to Urahara-san about something,” Ichigo reassures, patting him on the head. “Get some sleep, okay?”
“Promise you’ll be back?” little Ichigo whispers.
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Okay.” The little boy curls up and falls asleep, his grip on Ichigo’s sleeve slackening. Ichigo tucks him in. He suddenly misses his sisters—his Yuzu and Karin, who are already eighteen and about to graduate from high school—and hopes that whatever’s going on between Not-Isshin and little Ichigo doesn’t extend to little Yuzu and Karin. If that bastard lays a hand on either of those five-year old girls, there will be hell to pay.
He goes back to the sitting room, where Urahara is still in the same position as before. “So, I’m sure you’ve got questions like who I am and how I know your name, so let’s just get all of that out of the way first,” Ichigo says nonchalantly, plopping down on the cushion across from the shopkeeper. “I’m Kurosaki Ichigo, from a parallel universe, and the Urahara Kisuke over there accidentally sent me here while conducting an experiment on dimension travel.”
Urahara hides his shock well behind the fan and bucket hat, but Ichigo’s worked with Kisuke long enough to notice his tells. He adds, “If you don’t believe me, ask me a question. Any question you want. Or we could spar, that works too.”
The ex-Shinigami Captain hums. “That won’t be necessary, Kurosaki-san. I believe you. No one else has quite the same shade of hair as you do,” he teases. He sounds so much like his world’s Kisuke that Ichigo has to clamp down on the urge to call the shopkeeper by his first name. “What I would like to ask, however, is what you were doing with your younger counterpart?”
Ichigo growls, “The kid was sitting outside in the rain by himself. He told me he didn’t want to go home because his dad was mad at him. He thinks it’s his fault that his mom died, and it’s not!” He breathes deeply to calm himself down before he can raise his voice. “Do you know what I found while I was bathing him, Urahara-san?”
“Do tell.” Urahara is watching him seriously, all traces of the happy-go-lucky shopkeeper persona wiped from his face.
“I found bruises. That bastard hit him,” Ichigo spits, hands balled up into fists. “Goat-Face wasn’t the best dad to us, but he did try to keep us fed and healthy after Mom died. I mean, sure, he had a crazy way of showing that he cared, but he never lashed out at us or blamed me for that incident. So for another version of him to go this far… I’m pissed, Urahara-san. I want nothing more than to go and give that fucker a piece of my mind, but not while Yuzu and Karin are still in his care.”
He pauses to scrutinize Urahara for any reaction. The man did have a hand in his birth, after all. He knows Urahara had kept tabs on him while growing up, had shown up for his mom’s funeral and everything. But he doesn't know if this Urahara Kisuke is aware of Not-Isshin’s abuse towards his son. The bruises were in places that were easy to hide underneath clothes. Ichigo wouldn’t have seen them if he hadn’t helped the kid bathe.
The blonde is still hiding his face behind the fan, but the subtle tensing of his fingers on the fan’s delicate folds tells Ichigo everything he needs to know.
“…It seems that I will need to have a little chat with Isshin-san,” Urahara declares, snapping the fan shut and getting to his feet.
“Wait, I’ll come with you!” Ichigo hurriedly pushes himself to stand, but Urahara shakes his head.
“No, Kurosaki-san, you should stay here with your counterpart. We can’t have you showing up as you are now,” the blonde says, gesturing to his whole body.
Ichigo grimaces. Right, Aizen’s camera flies. Here, Aizen is still lurking in Soul Society and biding his time for the perfect moment to steal the Hougyoku. He might have already seen an adult version of Kurosaki Ichigo running around with little Ichigo and planned for more contingency plans. No need to add more fuel to the fire.
Besides, he had promised the kid that he’d come back after talking to Urahara about the situation.
“Fine,” he sighs, turning towards the empty bedroom where he’d left the boy. He pins Urahara with a pointed glance. “You better give him the asskicking he deserves.”
“Oh, it won’t be anything as violent as that,” Urahara says airily. “Just a little talk, that’s it. I’m just a harmless old shopkeeper, after all.”
Ichigo laughs, “Liar.”
Urahara smiles under the brim of his striped bucket hat. “I’ll see you later, Kurosaki-san. Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” he sings as he sails out the door, spinning his shikomizue in one hand. The sliding door closes behind him with a soft snap.
Ichigo shakes his head, exasperated yet fond at the same time. Trust Urahara Kisuke to never change, no matter what world he existed in.
He returns to the spare bedroom and catches little Ichigo tossing and turning restlessly, clearly in the throes of a nightmare. He sits by the little boy’s side and puts his hand on his head, slowly carding his fingers through the short orange strands. His young counterpart calms instantly, rolling over to smoosh his cheek against Ichigo’s open palm, a tentative smile forming on his face.
Ichigo is a guardian. Even in a parallel universe, he can’t help his natural instinct to protect. He keeps a silent vigil by the boy’s bedside, even as day turns to night and Urahara doesn’t return. He trusts the shopkeeper to mete out appropriate justice, and hopefully find some way to get the three kids out of Not-Isshin’s care. They deserve better.
It’s close to eight o’clock when the boy finally stirs. His eyes flutter open, immediately landing on the sight of Ichigo sitting by his side. His eyes widen and he sits up, an expression of disbelief crossing his face.
“…Kuro-niisan?” Ichigo has to fight back the urge to curse at the heartbreaking incredulity in the kid’s voice.
“Hey, kid. Feeling better now?” he asks instead.
Little Ichigo’s eyes begin to tear up. “You’re… you’re real?”
“Of course I am. I told you I’d come back, didn’t I?” Ichigo pats the boy on the head. “Are you hungry? I can ask Tessai-san to whip up something—whoa!”
The little boy leaps at him the way Nel used to in her baby Arrancar form, and sends him crashing to the floor on his back. “Ow! What gives? I’m here, aren’t I?” Ichigo winces, rubbing his fingers against the back of his head.
His younger counterpart trembles on top of him, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. “I thought I was dreaming,” he confesses, rubbing at his eyes with one small fist. “You’re really here?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” Ichigo confirms. “Urahara-san and I are going to protect you, alright? So you don’t have to cry anymore.”
“Okay… okay, Kuro-niisan.” Little Ichigo gets off so that Ichigo can sit up. Then his eyes land on the clock and he gasps. “Oh no! It’s so late. Yuzu and Karin are probably worried. And…” He bites his lip, looking down.
“Hey, look at me. Don’t worry about going home tonight. Urahara-san is going to take care of that for you,” Ichigo says, ruffling his hair. “I’m sure Yuzu and Karin will be fine, so why don’t we eat something while we wait?”
On cue, the boy’s stomach growls and he blushes. “Um, yeah, that sounds good,” he agrees.
Tessai fixes a quick dinner for them, reserving a separate portion for Urahara for later. Little Ichigo remains glued to Ichigo’s side the whole time, which makes it a little difficult to eat, but nothing that Ichigo hasn’t had to deal with before.
At eight thirty on the dot, the door to the shop finally slides open again, admitting Urahara and two little girls clinging tightly to his haori.
“Yuzu! Karin!” little Ichigo gasps, running over to them.
The twin sisters throw themselves at their older brother, and the three Kurosaki siblings huddle on the floor, crying.
Ichigo gives Urahara a meaningful look. “Well? How did it go?”
The blond shopkeeper proudly produces a sheaf of papers from behind his back. “As of today, I am considered the legal guardian of the Kurosaki children,” he announces cheerfully. “Isshin-san will no longer be bothering them.”
Ichigo gapes at him. “Isn’t that supposed to take years to do?” he asks suspiciously, snatching the papers from Urahara’s hand. “How’d you get that bastard to agree? And where the hell did you get these papers in the first place?” Well, damn, Isshin’s signature is really on all of these papers. He’s never understood how Urahara always manages to pull miracles out of his ass at the last minute.
The former Shinigami Captain just flutters his fan infuriatingly in front of his face as he crosses the shop to the back room. “Now, now, those are secrets of the trade, Kurosa—” Ichigo makes a panicked ‘abort, abort!’ motion at him before he can utter his name, points at himself, and mouths ‘call me Kuro!’ “—n. The Kurosaki Clinic will be closed down and the space will be sold to someone else. Tomorrow, we will fetch their belongings and relocate them here officially.”
“Wait, relocation? Closing down the clinic?” Ichigo questions, confused, as he hands the papers back. Urahara gives him an all-too-innocent look, one that Ichigo knows intimately after years of being associated with his world’s Kisuke. “Okay, spill. What did you do to him?”
“Who, me? I didn’t do anything to him,” Urahara drawls, settling himself at the low table. “I simply may have… persuaded him to return to his hometown.”
Ichigo stares at him, wide-eyed. Then he starts to laugh out loud, covering his face with one hand even as his shoulders shake with exertion. The three Kurosaki siblings move out of their little huddle and pile up on either side of him, sprawling over his lap or against his sides in a tangle of limbs. They look far more like a family than they ever did with Isshin. Ichigo’s other hand comes down to absentmindedly pat each of the three kids on the head, and they revel in the attention.
When the orange-haired man finally stops laughing, he manages to choke out, “Kisuke, you glorious bastard, I love you.”
Urahara actually drops his fan in shock, and Ichigo instantly remembers that this Urahara Kisuke isn’t his Urahara Kisuke. He gives the shopkeeper a sheepish grin. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. But I meant every word I said.”
“So I see,” Urahara says slowly, picking his fan back up so he can hide behind it. Ichigo almost thinks it’s a trick of light when he sees a faint blush on the blonde’s cheeks. The orange-haired man looks down at the pile of children peacefully napping on top of him, and wonders if he’ll still be around tomorrow to help them move out of the house.
“Urahara-san, Tessai-san, can you help me carry them to the bed?” he asks, hooking his arms under his younger counterpart, who is laying across his lap. The two older Shinigami pick up the twins, and together they bring them to the spare room down the hall that little Ichigo was using earlier. They tuck the three children in together. In the absence of Ichigo’s warmth, Karin and Yuzu latch onto their older brother instead.
Ichigo looks down at them fondly.
“Well then, Kurosaki-san, what will you do now?” the shopkeeper inquires as they return to the sitting room. Tessai excuses himself to watch the shop while they talk.
“Hmm. I don’t know if I’ll still be around tomorrow or not, so I might as well tell you some things now,” Ichigo reponds, crossing his legs on the floor. “First things first: Urahara-san, whatever you do, don’t try to hide the Hougyoku in someone’s soul. Seriously, just don’t. And second, actually teach that kid how to fight so that he doesn’t die trying.”
“You seem perfectly fine to me,” Urahara comments carefully.
Ichigo snorts. “Trust me, after all the shit I’ve been through, I don’t even know how I’m still alive. I died in battle at least two times and still got back up and finished the damn job, and I didn’t know about all this crap till I was fifteen,” he says. “So you can’t complain about starting him on controlling his powers early on.”
“Touché,” the shopkeeper acknowledges, tilting his hat over his eyes.
A jaw-cracking yawn forces its way out of Ichigo’s throat. He stretches towards the ceiling, pretending not to notice the way Urahara's gaze briefly lingers on his exposed belly. “I guess I’ll crash early tonight. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” Urahara gives him an extra futon right next to the one for the kids. “Goodnight, Kurosaki-san. I hope to see you again tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Urahara-san. Take care of the kids for me,” Ichigo sleepily replies, settling beneath the comforter.
“I will,” Urahara promises. He quietly slides the door shut, leaving Ichigo in the dark, listening to three soft sets of snores. He closes his eyes and drifts off.
The next morning, Ichigo is woken up by a soft voice whispering into his ear, “Wake up, Ichigo.”
And at that point, he knows that he’s back in his own dimension, because there's only one person in the world who greets him like that in the morning.
Ichigo opens his eyes and smiles up at Kisuke. “I’m home. Did you miss me?” he asks cheekily.
The scientist drops a kiss on top of his head. “Of course I did. How was your trip?”
“Enlightening. I think you should try it out once yourself,” Ichigo suggests, freeing himself from his blankets. He gazes thoughtfully out of the window. “I think you might find something… interesting.”
Years down the road, Kurosaki Not-So-Little-Anymore Ichigo asks Urahara-Not-Kisuke whether they will ever see ‘Kuro-niisan’ again.
The shopkeeper smiles behind his fan and says, “Of course. Just look into a mirror and you’ll find him.”