“You have got to be kidding me.”
Goat-face grins, broad and stupid. “Nope, afraid not.”
Ichigo goes from staring incredulously at his old man to staring incredulously at the document in his hands.
“The Shiba Clan needs... repopulating,” His dad explains, obviously trying – and failing – to lay this matter out a little more delicately, probably in the hopes that Ichigo won’t hit the roof. “We’ve been reinstated as one of the Great Noble families in Seireitei, but because Aizen made sure we were all but purged decades ago after Kaien was killed,” His expression darkens. “There’s only a handful of us left. So, we need repopulating.”
He blinks expectantly at Ichigo. Ichigo does not rise to the occasion, arching a seriously unimpressed eyebrow.
“Come on,” His father coaxes, attempting a different route. “You've got girls flinging themselves at you left, right, and center. You’re the hero of Soul Society! Surely you’ll want to date at least one of them if you just give them a chance?”
Ichigo crosses his arms.
“And,” His dad tacks on hurriedly. “It’s not like the law says you have to get married and consummate it-” Ichigo’s features spasm with suppressed irritation and near overwhelming disbelief. “-right away. Engaged is fine too! It’s just- The other clans would like to see that there’s some... promise in the future of the Shiba Clan, and nothing says promise like the potential offspring of the Shibas’ pride and joy!”
Ichigo snorts, not at all motivated by such a ridiculous speech. He slaps the document back on the table between them. “More like the other clans all want ties to the Shiba Clan, probably because of me.”
His dad squirms a bit. Ichigo rolls his eyes. “How stupid do you actually think I am? Soul Society is so backwards in some ways that it’s not even funny.” He jabs a finger at the file in front of him. “This is the sort of outdated crap that happens in historical dramas that I rip off from the internet, not real life, and certainly not my life, so those other clans can stick their bullshit where the sun doesn’t shine. I'm not marrying anyone!” When his dad makes to interrupt, Ichigo adds crossly, “Or getting engaged! Nobody does this sort of thing in this day and age anymore!”
“Not in the human world,” His father acknowledges. “But Ichigo, you’re a Shinigami of the Gotei 13 now, not a human.”
A long silence follows. Well, that’s true enough. After the Quincy War, Ichigo could no longer stuff his soul back into his average human body anymore, and he’d more or less died. Adjusting to life in Soul Society took a bit of time, but in the end, it wasn't all that hard. He was still allowed to come down to Karakura anytime to visit his friends when he wasn't occupied with missions or captaining the Fourteenth Division, and hell, he’d already spent his entire human life with one foot in the world of the dead anyway.
So he’s been fine for over two decades now, relatively happy, keeping up connections with all his friends, and Kyouraku pretty much lets him do anything he wants – whether that’s disappearing into Rukongai for several months to solve starvation and rising crime rates, or bringing home new Arrancar from Hueco Mundo to join his squad – so long as he turns in his paperwork on time. Overall, Soul Society’s laws are far more lax these days.
When it comes to clan laws however... well, for all intents and purposes, clans still have a freaking marriage law.
“And it isn’t as if Kuukaku made up this law just for you on the spot, or even to appease anyone,” His dad tries again when Ichigo doesn't do anything besides sit there with thunderous frown on his face. “The Shiba Clan’s always had betrothals, especially after political struggles between clans. Seireitei always has to present a united front to outsiders after all, and it isn’t exactly rare to see alliances between clans solidified by marriage. Sometimes, the promise of children doesn’t even enter the equation.”
Ichigo gives his father an appropriately disgusted look. “You ran away and married Mom.”
His dad booms out a laugh at that, eyes fond even as his expression turns sheepish. “Yes, well, your mom was a special case, and the Shiba Clan had already fallen by then, not to mention you know what happened-”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Ichigo cuts him off with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’m still not marrying anybody, and I’d really like to see someone try and force me to.”
“Well, they won’t force you, per se,” His dad mutters, rubbing at his jaw. “But Central 46-” Ichigo rolls his eyes again. Ah, everything suddenly makes so much more sense. Even Kyouraku has problems keeping those nosy old busybodies out of Gotei 13 business. “-will make things... difficult for the Shiba Clan if you don’t agree to this.”
Ichigo clicks his tongue in annoyance. “For god’s sakes, you should've started with that, Goat-face. Is that what this is all about? The Shiba Clan did nothing wrong, it was Aizen who pulled the wool over the higher-ups for the umpteenth time, and Central 46 still wants to wring as many concessions out of us as possible before letting Kuukaku-nee move the clan back in?”
He scowls, fingers grazing the hilt of one of his two blades currently laid out on the floor beside him. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what he’s thinking, which is probably a good thing seeing as his old man isn’t the most intelligent of individuals no matter how you look at it.
“Don’t do anything hasty, Ichigo,” The man cautions like he thinks his son is still the reckless teenager that used to rush into danger without even half a plan to pin his hopes on. “You’re a captain now, and a part of the Shiba Clan. Anything you do-”
“-reflects those I represent, I get it,” Ichigo snaps crabbily. “You don’t have to keep repeating that stuff. Shinji already gave me the reputation talk twenty years ago, and he’s never seen the need to bring it up again.”
His dad glowers a little at that reminder. Ichigo ignores it. Kurosaki Isshin may be his father but Ichigo was the one who raised himself and his two sisters, and it was Shinji who helped him settle into his new life in Soul Society, walked him through his responsibilities, explained currency and taxes to him, and even took him shopping a couple times at the beginning to point out which fabric and cutting of traditional Japanese clothing should be worn when meeting with various groups of people.
“I’m still not gonna go through with it,” Ichigo says flatly instead. “I’m not marrying someone I’m not even in love with.”
His dad heaves a frustrated sigh. “Well, what about Rukia-chan? She’s a good friend, has excellent connections and standing, and Byakuya approves of you-”
“Rukia’s in love with Renji,” Ichigo interjects scathingly. “I love her like a sister, and no matter how much Byakuya ‘approves’ of me, he’ll still Senbonzakura me to death if I get in the way of Rukia’s happiness, so no, I'm not marrying her. Byakuya isn’t ever going to foist her off on someone she doesn't want anyway, not after he told those Kuchiki elders where to stick it when they tried.”
Ichigo’s still so proud of him for that one. Byakuya’s a real stickler when it comes to decorum, that’s never going to change, but at the same time, he’s become so much better than the man Ichigo first met all those years ago. Or maybe he just found himself again, buried under all those expectations and pressure.
Ichigo glances down at the file again before fixing his father with a sharp glare. “Why don’t you have to marry someone? Or Ganju? Or even Kuukaku?”
He wouldn't want them to have to do something like this of course but surely the clan head and the clan head’s brother would be excellent catches too? Although, whoever married them would have to put up with Ganju’s temper or Kuukaku’s penchant for violence, not to mention the overall raucous craziness seemingly inherent in every Shiba except Ichigo-
Yeah okay, maybe not.
“None of us have your reputation,” His dad counters before continuing on dramatically, “And my lovely Masaki will always be the only woman for me!”
Ichigo picks up the document and flings it at his father’s face, sending the man crashing backwards onto the ground. “That’s fantastic, Goat-face, I’m happy for you.” Note the sarcasm. “So how come you get true love and I don’t? You want me to pull a runner too? Because I swear to god if I ever wanna ditch all this Shinigami nonsense, you won’t ever find me in a million years.”
Not with his reiatsu these days. Not when no one will ever be able to track him if he doesn't want them to. He’s part of the Gotei 13 these days, yeah, but everyone – everyone – is very well aware that if Ichigo’s goals don’t align with the government’s someday, if they start cracking down on Visored or Arrancar or Quincy or whatever else again for being different or uncontrollable, Soul Society would once again gain a very powerful enemy, and it goes without saying that there would probably be mass defection in his wake. At least three-quarters of the Gotei 13 would follow him out the door should Ichigo ever be pushed to leave, and everybody knew it.
“There could be a loophole, I guess,” His dad voices abruptly, rifling through the file, and Ichigo braces himself for something absurd. “No other clan allows this stipulation for their members, but when Kaien took over, he made sure to add it for us. He always tried to be fair, and I know he wanted to abolish the marriage law completely, but that’s something that all five of the Great Noble clans have to agree on before it can be done, and none of the others wanted to, so he had to settle for including this condition instead to give our family more freedom.”
He withdraws a piece of paper and passes it back to Ichigo. “There, it’s in Section E. The gist of it is, if you’re already dating someone else, you have the right to bow out of any arranged marriages so long as you get engaged to them post haste. Kaien made sure the law was passed for the Shibas, and not even Central 46 would be able to deny that right, so they wouldn't be able to use the marriage law against our clan under those circumstances.” His dad smirks almost sardonically. “So, is there anyone you’re madly in love with that you've been hiding from the world, Ichigo?”
Ichigo doesn't get to answer before the sound of a key at the front door reaches their ears, and then Karin and Yuzu’s cheerful greetings are ringing throughout the house, sending their father racing out to meet them with theatrical sobs and wailing. Both his sisters have been out of the country – Karin with her soccer team for a tournament, Yuzu visiting friends in England – and they just got back today, which was Ichigo’s original reason for visiting Karakura that afternoon.
Well, that and...
He stares pensively at the piece of paper in his hands, and he straightens determinedly.
In love, huh? Engaged. Married. And if he could fake it all...
Well, he supposes that this is perfect timing. Ichigo was going to drop by the Urahara Shouten today anyway, and he has it on good authority that the best liar he knows is in today.
“Kisuke!” Ichigo throws open the door of the lab, leaving it open so that the smoke has somewhere to go. “Let’s get married!”
“Tell me why and I’ll consider it despite the fact that that was the worst marriage proposal I have ever heard in my entire life,” Comes the prompt muffled reply from somewhere underneath one of the equipment-covered desks. “And pass me those notes by the microscope while you’re at it.”
Ichigo smirks and does as he’s told, fetching the aforementioned notes when a pale hand appears from under one table and flaps impatiently in the air.
It’s been nearly three decades since he first met Urahara Kisuke, and over the years, they've grown surprisingly close – best friend close – especially what with Ichigo using Kisuke’s place to hide from Harribel whenever she wanted him to complete his damn paperwork. The two of them don’t live in the same place anymore since Kisuke wanted to maintain his shop in the human world, but Ichigo still spends the most time with the shopkeeper these days. Ichigo tends to whisk the man away with him when he has a particularly long mission to complete, and Kisuke tends to invade his compound and drag him back to his lab to play science with him at least once every other week.
Aside from that, they also take meals together whenever they can get away from their respective lives (which is often more than you’d think), they complain about subordinates or friends to each other over sake whenever one of them has had an especially busy week, and – three times now – they even ditched the home crowd, grabbed a Gigai each, packed a few bags between them, and ran away across the globe for a vacation from all the insanity, usually after something big happened like a coup or an invasion or some such rubbish that required the old crowd to gather, work out the root of the fiasco, and save the world(s) yet again.
(Seriously, last time it happened, when a rogue Shinigami returned and began declaring his plans for world domination in front of the entire Gotei 13 elite because it was his destiny, even Sui-Feng of all people openly sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, and Ichigo personally heard her muttering under her breath about why does this bullshit always happen to us while they were waiting for the latest megalomaniac assailant to wrap up his monologuing so that they could take him down. It was hilarious.)
Still, it drove their friends/superiors/subordinates around the bend whenever Ichigo and Kisuke dropped off the face of the planet for a while, and they typically got chewed out for it when they got back, not to mention that a lot of people panicked the first time it happened, but Ichigo always secretly left a means of emergency contact with his lieutenant and Shinji, and Kisuke always dropped a word with Tessai, so neither of them ever felt all that guilty for dereliction of duty whenever they took a well-deserved holiday.
“So what’s this about marriage?” Kisuke mumbles. Something clanks loudly, resulting in more smoke pouring out of whatever the shopkeeper is working on. Ichigo wrinkles his nose, wishing for a window or two in this underground lab.
It used to irritate him, Ichigo thinks fondly even as he quickly summarizes the bad news his father gave him earlier. The way Kisuke always manages to take things in stride without batting an eye, as if he was already expecting it before he’s ever even been told anything. Now though, well, the man’s grown on Ichigo, habits and flaws and quirks and all. It helps that Kisuke’s no longer quite as ruthlessly manipulative as he once was.
“And to solve the problem,” Kisuke drawls with a smile playing on his lips once Ichigo finishes. “You’re going to get married to someone of your choice?” His smile turns into a playful taunt. “Why Ichigo, I never knew you were in love with little old me. I'm flattered!”
Ichigo rolls his eyes even though he can feel a tinge of heat rising in his cheeks and a funny twist in his gut. He focuses on chucking a paper fan at the shopkeeper instead. Kisuke catches it easily as he pulls out another chair to sit in. The smoke is almost all gone by now.
“Well, you’re single and not dating anyone, right?” Ichigo grumbles as he straddles one of the chairs scattered about the room. “And you’re like one of the few people I can actually tolerate being around constantly without wanting to drown myself. God knows I’d die from Orihime’s cooking if Uryuu doesn't get to me first, and Shinji would laugh himself to death if I tried propositioning him. Besides, he’s too much like my older brother for me to actually go through with it. Same with Chad, plus he and Orihime and Uryuu are all still humans so I don’t think they count. Toshirou would be too embarrassed, Rukia and Renji will be getting engaged sooner or later, hooking up with Byakuaya- just no, and... there really isn’t anyone else I’d consider. I’ve got friends in practically every division but at least half of them would try and beat me up if I ever even suggested this farce to them.”
Kisuke hums thoughtfully, one hand reaching up to tug at the brim of his hat, only to remember that he doesn't have it on. Ichigo grins and raises the striped hat he picked up on his way in. Kisuke sighs mournfully but the corners of his eyes crinkle with amusement.
“Nothing much will change,” Ichigo continues, twirling the hat with one finger. “You've got your job, and I’ve got mine, so nobody will really expect us to move in together just because we’re married. We already spend a whole lot of time together anyway. And once everything’s settled down and the Shiba Clan is back in Seireitei, we can get a divorce. In the meantime, we might have to- um, kiss, or hold hands-”
He’s by no means a virgin anymore but he still reddens when Kisuke laughs out loud at him. He’s dated a few times, but they were never anything serious, not like how he and Kisuke will probably have to pretend to be in public.
“So in conclusion,” Kisuke chuckles. “You want me to be your fake husband in your fake marriage so that you can circumvent the marriage law and still help your clan. Our lives will pretty much stay the same, with the exceptions of showing affection in public and perhaps be seen coming out of your rooms together in the morning?”
Ichigo shrugs and nods because that sounds about right, and it isn’t as if Kisuke’s never slept in his room – or Ichigo in Kisuke’s – when one of their dinners ran late because the two of them were busy catching up.
Kisuke cocks his head and taps his fan against his chin. “Will I be in danger of castration once we tell your father? Assuming we’re not informing him of this lie?”
Ichigo makes a face. “Damn straight we’re not telling him; it’s none of his business. I can’t believe he brought it up at all. If someone came up to me with a proposal like this for Karin or Yuzu, I’d eviscerate them on the spot.”
“Yes, which is why no one ever will,” Kisuke says in rather long-suffering tones.
“They better not,” Ichigo agrees resolutely. “And don’t worry; no one will kill you. I can’t fake-marry you if you’re dead.”
“How kind,” Kisuke affects a very convincing pout but Ichigo is entirely immune.
Kisuke huffs another breath of laughter, but then his mirth fades, leaving something more sombre and contemplative behind that instinctively makes Ichigo straighten in his seat. “...Kisuke?”
The shopkeeper rises to his feet and strolls over to stand in front of him. Ichigo blinks up at him from his seat, more than a little bewildered right up until cool fingers touch his chin and tilt his head up, and before Ichigo can even register what’s happening, Kisuke is kissing him.
It’s chaste and gentle, really nothing more than a press of lips on lips for a handful of seconds, but Ichigo is suddenly incredibly aware of the warmth of Kisuke’s other hand curling around the back of his neck, and he doesn't even realize that his eyes have closed until he’s opening them again when Kisuke pulls away.
The fingers at his chin let go, lifting to brush at his bangs instead before sliding downwards from forehead to cheekbone. This close, Kisuke’s eyes are like steel and storm combined, and it leaves Ichigo strangely breathless and unable to look away.
“Well,” Kisuke murmurs, finally releasing him and taking a step back. The diminishing heat from Kisuke’s hand at Ichigo’s nape lingers like a brand. “I suppose married life might have its perks, for that blush if nothing else.”
And for just a second, Ichigo thinks he spots something wistful flash across the shopkeeper’s face, but that doesn't make sense, and Kisuke is smiling slyly again in another second, so Ichigo puts it out of his mind.
“Shall we go give our friends the good news then?” Kisuke enquires brightly. “You must let me tell Abarai-san. I can’t wait to see his face.”