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A Shadow of What Was

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He watched Benihime fall from suddenly slack fingers and all he could do was scream.  He rushed to Urahara’s side cradling him, tears spilling over his checks as his lover’s blood spilled over his robes.  A long fingered hand reached up to caress his cheek and Ichigo’s heart stopped as he caught the sweet sad smile on the other man’s lips.  “I’ll miss you,” whispered Kisuke, his hand falling away as his eyes grew vacant.  

Ichigo howled, a scream of pure rage and denial torn from the back of his throat as he felt Urahara‘s soul chain snap.  He could feel himself shaking, energy whipping through his body.  He would kill the people who’d done this.  He would leave nothing but destruction in his wake.  He would make the people who had hurt Kisuke pay.

A mournful wail filled the air, a high counterpoint to the howling of his reiatsu.  He laid his fallen lover on the ground, kissing him softly before turning back to Aizen and his Espada, his eyes pure silver.  Kisuke was dead and the people before him had been the ones to kill him.  Kisuke was dead.  They had taken the blonde from him, taken his heart.  For once his soul and hollow were in complete agreement, both were screaming in rage for what the things before him had done to his lover.  He didn’t have to reach and didn’t have to fight for control.  He wanted exactly what the hollow wanted.  To kill.  To destroy.  They would pay for taking Kisuke.

He reached out automatically for the sword on the ground next to him, his lover’s blade, Benihime.

He grasped the sword and instantly found himself standing in his inner world.  The wind howled ripping at everything and rain poured from the sky.  He could feel the foundations of his world shaking and took a moment to brace himself, trying to keep the pain at bay.  The buildings stopped swaying but the fury of the storm raged on unabated.  Then again, he didn’t think his soul would even be peaceful again.  Kiuske was dead and he had taken Ichigo’s peace with him.

It took him a moment to realize that the keening song that had filled his head since his lover had fallen continued in his soul world.  Once he recognized it the song was impossible to ignore it.  It ached and tore at him even through the rain and the wind.  It tore at the fresh wounds to his soul and made the older ones feel as raw and vulnerable as when they‘d first been dealt.  He fell to his knees, unable to stand under the sudden onslaught of pain and grief.

A pale hand caught his arm and he glanced up into the sympathetic face of his hollow self.  Ichigo stared into Shirosaki’s solemn golden eyes, almost unable to believe that this grim faced creature next to him was his rebellious hollow.  There was no sign of the being who had tried so ruthlessly to consume him so many times.  Instead he saw his own loss mirrored on Shirosaki’s face and suddenly he wasn’t so alone.

“This way.  There isn’t much time.  She’s over here,” murmured Shirosaki.

“Who?” he asked as the hollow grabbed his elbow and dragged him along when he didn’t move fast enough. 

Shirosaki shook his head and glared at him like he was a particularly dense and stupid student, muttering darkly about what sort of a fucking king didn’t know what was going on in his own fucking kingdom.  Not so different from the Shirosaki he knew and loathed then, he thought with relief.  He resisted the urge to snarl at the hollow, more interested in learning what was going on than in trying to teach his inner hollow some respect. 

They made their way through the rain, a dark shape condensing before them, a shape that seemed to be the source of the mournful song.  “Zangetsu?” he asked figuring it had to be the only other person who shared his soul, although he‘d never heard Zangetsu sing and didn’t think the mournful soprano could belong to the zanpakutou.  The dark shape turned revealing his zanpakutou and another person.  A woman.  The source of the wailing song.

She was beautiful, pale and delicate, with skin like a porcelain doll‘s and features to match.  Her hair was long and loose, torn from intricate clips so that it fell around her like a silken veil.  It was a brilliant crimson color, like fresh blood.  She was dressed in a flowing sheath that matched her hair and was patterned with gold.  Her arms were wrapped about her thin frame and she was sobbing brokenly.  Zangetsu held her from behind and she was sagged against him, as if her grief was simply too great to bear.  When she raised her head, noticing him, he saw that her eyes were the same amazing red as the rest of her and that they were clouded with grief.  She saw him and choked on a whimpering sob, reaching out weakly with one hand.

Shirosaki muttered something like ‘asshole’ and shoved him forward toward Zangetsu and the woman.  His arms went awkwardly around them and he was shocked as Shirosaki embraced all of them.  “Kisuke,” moaned the woman softly and suddenly Ichigo knew who she was, who she had to be.

“Benihime?”

“Took you long enough,” muttered Shirosaki giving him a dark look.  “Who the hell else is it gonna be here?”

“Stop it.  We don’t have time to deal with the two of you fighting and Benhime doesn’t need to see it,” scolded Zangetsu with a sharp look for each of them.

“What is she doing here?” asked Ichigo, feeling his own heart ache as Urahara’s sword sobbed harder.  Her grief reminded him all too much of his own, circling like a vulture, just waiting to once more be acknowledged.  He didn’t want to face Kisuke’s loss, there would be long lonely years in which to drag it out and torture himself with it.  At the moment he just wanted the balm of denial.

“We brought her here,” murmured Shirosaki running a hand over the zanpakutou’s hair, gently soothing it.  The gesture was so out of character for the Shirosaki he knew that Ichigo just stared at him, amazed.

“I can help you find him,” whispered Benihime, her voice soft and beautiful despite the hitch in her words and the choking breaths she took.  There was a desperation in her eyes and delicate, long fingered hands gripped his arms with surprising ferocity. 

“Kisuke?!  You can find him?” demanded Ichigo, a sudden hope buoying his heart.  There was a way to find his lover.  Kisuke wasn’t lost.  “We have to find him then!  We have to!”

“I’ll sense when his soul returns to earth,” whispered Benihime and Ichigo could feel her trembling as fresh tears began to fall.  The heartrending song began again and both Shirosaki and Zangetsu held him more tightly. 

“Return to earth?  But…,”

“His soul is human,” Zangetsu reminded him.  “He will have entered the cycle of rebirth.  Without Benihime he would be lost to us completely, Ichigo.”  Ichigo felt his heart contract in instant denial, a life without Urahara was no life at all.  He couldn’t go back to the mere existence his life had been after his mother had died and that’s what a life without Kisuke would be.

“Isn’t there some other way?  Can’t we find him sooner?”  Benihime made a small sound of anguish and Shirosaki glared at him, but Urahara’s zanpakutou gently pushed him away, pushed them all away.  She took a breath, swaying unsteadily, before drawing herself upright.  In that instant it was easy to see the deadly beauty she would be in the right hands.   “No, no, Kurosaki Ichigo.  My lord is lost to us until he is reborn.  Only his desire and your strength permitted me to remain and offer us this chance.  I will permit you to carry me if you swear to bring me to Kisuke.  I will give you your love if you give me my lord, Kurosaki-dono.”

He nodded numbly.

When he returned to the real world he found Aizen gone and his lover cold, his blood forming a ghastly pool around them both.  Ichigo felt bile rising in his throat and his mind freezing, the enraged madness threatening to overtake him again.  His beautiful love had come to this.  He wanted to howl, to find Aizen and his dogs and rip them to shreds, but then Shirosaki and Zangetsu where there, shoring up his mind and keeping him from falling.  A soft mournful song reached his ear, soothing his soul and promising an easing of the pain, Benihime’s contribution.  He smiled faintly down at the sleek beautiful sword in his hand before noticing the crowd around him. 

Ishida, Renji and the others where standing around him, watching him with wide solemn eyes.  They hadn’t known about him and Urahara.  No one had.  They had never told anyone.  He wanted to say something, knew he had to, but the words wouldn’t come.  He sheathed Benihime, attaching her to his hip, before carefully lifting Urahara’s body.  His limbs trembled and blood continued to fall, soaking into his robes, but he stayed on his feet and kept a firm grip on his lover. 

“I need to take him home,” he finally managed to whisper, shocked at how weak his voice sounded.

Renji and Hitsugaya were nodding gently like they understood and as he caught their eyes he realized that they did.  “Of course.  I’ll open the gate and call ahead.  No one will trouble you,” murmured Hitsugaya. 

Chapter Text

(Twenty Years Later)

 

He had always been odd.  Seen things he shouldn’t have been able to and known things he couldn’t possibly have known.  Ever since he was old enough to understand he had known he was different.  Most days it didn’t even bother him.  Who wanted to be normal anyway?

His parents had named him Hideaki and while the name fit he refused to answer to it, demanding instead to be called Kisuke.  He didn’t know why, but he knew that was his name and he knew it was important that he remember it.  It had taken only one week to make his parents understand that they could call him whatever they liked but he wouldn’t answer to anything but his name, his real name.

“You’re thinking again,” murmured Midori.  “I keep telling you girls don’t like thinkers,” scolded the old woman.  She was one of the things he shouldn’t have seen but he was fond of her anyway.  Midori was a ghost.  She had haunted his house for years but after learning that he could see and hear her, she had taken to following him around, proclaiming it to be more interesting than sitting around the house.  He wasn’t sure how much of a compliment that was, but Midori was at least amusing.

Most times Kisuke didn’t mind her presence.  She kept the other ghosts from pestering him, which they tended to do once they figured out that he could see them.  He was less fond of the times Midori lectured him.  People thought he was strange enough without the added weirdness of talking to himself.  Especially talking to himself in class.

“I’m pondering; there’s a difference.  And I told you to stop following me to school.  Or at least stop talking to me in class,” he whispered, careful not to draw the attention of the teacher or the classmates around him still working on the test.  He had been finished with the test for nearly ten minutes, the first one done, but didn’t want to advertise that fact when he would already be getting the highest grade.  His classmates knew he was smart but Kisuke didn’t think they would appreciate knowing just how smart he really was.  It was just one of the many things about himself that he had learned to hide; such as seeing ghosts.

The dreams were another thing he had learned to hide.  While he sometimes spoke of the ghosts, mostly to Midori or to others in the abstract, he never talked about the dreams.  He wasn’t sure why but the dreams were private.  They were dreams of a time before, a time when he hadn’t been a seventeen year old high school student but something else.  He had never quite figured out what because the dreams never made enough sense.  They were filled with strange places and strange people.  Many times there were black robed figures called Shinigami in them.  Sometimes he was one of these Shinigami and other times he wasn’t. 

He knew the dreams were important, more than simple figments of his imagination though because the monsters were also in them.  They were called hollows in the dreams and sometimes when he was a Shinigami he fought with these hollows.  Like the ghosts, he had been seeing the hollows all his life; but he was always careful to hide from them outside of the dreams.  He didn’t need the dreams to know the hollows were dangerous, every fiber of his being screamed it to him when he sensed them. 

Midori was muttering at him but he just smiled a tiny, serene little smile and ignored her.  He was good at ignoring things.  The flash of blue light and spike of spirit energy from outside was harder to ignore and the mystery it presented was all too tempting.  He closed his eyes and carefully extended his senses outward.  He sensed something powerful but it wasn’t one of the monsters, it was something else.

He debated going to investigate against staying in class where he was safe and gave up.  He didn’t bother giving the teacher an excuse when he stood; he just deposited his test on her desk and left.  His teachers were used to his leaving as the mood struck him, his grades never suffered for it so most had given up trying to keep him in class when he grew bored.  Most days he just went to the library anyway, pouring over whatever books caught his interest.

He bypassed the library today, exiting the building at a quick trot, but slowed as he neared the gym.  The coaches were not as liberal as the other teachers when it came to attendance and he had no desire to be pressed into playing dodge ball or whatever silly game they were forcing on their students today.  He was a firm believer that dodge ball was just another name for government sponsored sadism.  He slipped past while the coach was yelling at some other slackers, intent on discovering the source of the strange energy.  His steps slowed as he neared whatever it was and stopped altogether when a second energy signature joined the first.  Two on one were bad odds unless he was one of the two.  He reached carefully into himself, into the source of his own energy and carefully tamped it down.  Holding his own spirit force back for too long was painful but he was curious about the strange spirits he was sensing and he had never been good about resisting his curiosity.

He slid carefully nearer, daring a peek around a corner into a shadowy area formed by three buildings coming together.  The narrow alley-like space was normally used by the stoners to take a hit at lunch.  Two strange men stood in it now.  Both were too old to be high schoolers, he would put them in their early to mid thirties maybe.  One was pale with dark hair and glasses.  He was dressed in white and was smirking at his companion, a red haired man.  The redhead was dressed in the black robes of a Shinigami, his long hair was tied up into a ridiculous ponytail and tattoos covered his face and neck.  He was frowning at his companion. 

“I won, first one here and six hollows,” purred the man with the glasses.

“Yeah, yeah, I got held up with an Arrancar,” growled the redhead.

“Our bet never mentioned strength of opponents, merely number and first here.  Most remiss of you,” said the man with the glasses.  Something about the smug gleam in his eyes and the superior twist of his lips pulled at Kisuke’s memory.  For a moment he could have sworn he knew this man, not as he was now, but younger.  Then another face flashed over that image, a different man, pale hair but with the same smug look.  He tried to examine the images, draw some sense of who the men were from his labyrinth-like mind, but came up empty.  He pushed the images away, growing frustrated as his brain refused to provide anything beyond the vague jumble of images that made no sense.  

“You’re such an asshole,” muttered the redhead, but there was warmth in his voice.

The other man smirked and almost too fast to see he grabbed the redhead, wrapping him tightly in his arms and kissing him.  Red hair tumbled out of that foolish ponytail and Kisuke had another flash, another time watching hair the color of blood tumble free. 

A lithe and graceful woman turned to smile at him, red hair falling around her in waves.  She was beautiful, sleek and deadly, a goddess of crimson.  “Benihime,” he whispered, not knowing how, but knowing that was her name and that she was his.

A groan pulled him back to reality and the two men passionately kissing just a few feet away.  He heard the sound of zippers falling and retreated with a sigh.  The last thing he needed was to be discovered watching them; Midori already gave him grief over the skin magazines he had hidden in his room.  If she caught him watching he would never hear the end of it, not that he was opposed to a little voyeurism, he was simply opposed to the part where he risked eternal torment from his ghostly stalker for watching.  He was just about to retreat to the library when he heard voices again.

“Where did you find the Arrancar?”  That was the guy with the glasses.  He heard a snort and glanced cautiously back around the building.  The redhead was on his knees looking up at the other man.

“Ya wanna talk about that now?” demanded the redhead, his annoyance clear.

“Ichigo has been getting weird about them lately.  He thinks Aizen might be mobilizing again.”  There was a pause and something he couldn’t read passed between the two men.  “He might be overreacting, you know how he gets this time of year.” 

“Yeah, and ya worry about him,” muttered the redhead with a sigh, he didn’t sound angry anymore, more amused.  Kisuke nearly laughed at the slightly offended look on the brunette’s face.

“He hasn’t been the same since Urahara’s death.  And I’m not worried about him, I’m worried about his ability to fight; there is a difference.”  Kisuke wanted to laugh, even he could tell that the dark haired man cared about this Ichigo person.  He was getting more curious by the moment.  What was an Arrancar?  Were they like the monsters or were they something new?  He also wondered if the red haired man was really a Shinigami and if he was, then what was the dark haired fellow?  

He weighed showing himself to them in the hopes of getting answers against the risk exposing himself posed.

“Things have been a little odd in the last few weeks though, more patrols running across Arrancar,” murmured the man with the glasses, his face growing pensive.

“Yeah, one of the rookies in the 3rd even said he thought he saw an Arrancar matching Ulquiorra’s description,” muttered the redhead, his tone making it clear that he thought the kid was making it up.  “Hitsugaya and I shut him up fast.”  Kisuke frowned as pain flash through his body, centering in a spot just to the right of his heart, and detached emerald green eyes regarded him from within an expressionless face.

The dark haired man snorted, “Like Aizen would be stupid enough to let him back here.  It would be like waving a red flag at Ichigo.  It took nearly all of us keep him from storming Hueco Mundo himself after the funeral.  If he even thought Ulquiorra was out here…,”

“What are you doing?” demanded Midori, coming up behind him and making him jump.  Three pairs of eyes pinned him and Kisuke felt a blush rising on his cheeks.

“I keep telling you people we shouldn’t end patrols here,” muttered the dark haired man with a grimace, pushing his glasses up his nose and drawing himself up tall and straight. 

“Yeah, but you complain about everything,” laughed the redhead.  He stood, glancing at Kisuke before a strange glimmer lit his red eyes.  ”Renji, wait!” his companion cried, reaching out a hand for him.   Somehow the redhead moved, appearing behind him, laying a hand on Kisuke’s shoulder.  The blond jumped and before he even knew it, he was moving.  He dropped, pivoting as he did so, then using the crouch like a runner’s start he sprinted past the man.

“Well, that went well,” came Ishida’s snide voice as Renji stared at his empty hand before turning to watch the kid’s retreating back.  “I told you to wait.”

“What’s the big deal?” demanded Renji, glaring at his lover.  Age hadn’t blunted the Quincy’s temper any but then again, it hadn’t done much to his either, thought Renji, making them well suited.  Their relationship had always been tempestuous anyway, it kept things interesting.

“How in god’s name did you and Kurosaki ever make captain?  There’s not an ounce of subtly or finesse between the both of you,” snarled Ishida.  Renji ignored the comment, he wasn‘t subtle but even his volatile lover knew he had every right to his command.  He had taken over leadership of the Third division during the war and Ichigo had been given emergency control of the Fifth.  His captaincy had been confirmed ten years ago and Ichigo’s commission had just never been rescinded.  Even after the war had slowed to a cold standoff, Ichigo had held command of the Fifth; after nearly fifteen years almost everyone assumed that the captaincy of the Fifth was his to keep, confirmation or no.

Ishida sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose.  “Did you even look at the boy?” he demanded, trying to keep a reign on his temper.  Long association with Abarai had taught him that conversations went far more smoothly when they both tried to keep things somewhat civil.  Not that they always managed, but they did try.  Sometimes.

“First of all, the boy saw us,” he held up a hand to forestall the argument he knew was coming.  “Yes, in Karakura that means almost nothing, practically everyone can see us.  But second, and far more important, there is something off about his spirit thread.  His thread is laced with pink.”

“So?”

Ishida bit his tongue to keep from growling, reminding himself that he was genuinely fond of the other man.  Most times anyway.  Other times, like now, he wondered how it was that he hadn’t killed Abarai Renji years ago.  “So!  So spirit threads are either white or red!  White and red, get it?  Mix them and you get?”

“Pink.  So what?  The kid’s a latent Shinigami or something?  Like Ichigo and his sister?”

“No.  Ichigo’s thread was white before Kuchiki awakened his powers and Karin’s still is.  I’ve never seen a pink thread,” murmured Uryuu, wondering just what a pink spirit thread might mean.  “That makes the boy something new.”

“We’ll report it then.  We can do it before talking to Hitsugaya about your demand to shift the patrol routes,” murmured Renji, a wicked sparkle in his eyes.  “Last one back to base cooks tonight,” he called, taking off running.

Chapter Text

Ichigo sank calmly into his inner world.  The sky was grey and a slight breeze blew but otherwise things were peaceful.  Time had eased the pain of the wounds to his heart and soul, although the hurt still lingered to strike him at odd times.  Like now, as summer turned to fall and the anniversary of Urahara’s death drew nearer.  It had been twenty years this fall since he had laid his lover to rest in his old playgrounds and seventeen years since Benihime had woken him in the middle of the night singing joyously at Kisuke’s rebirth. 

Seventeen long years and he had seen his lover only twice.  Once had been early on, when Kisuke was only a few days old, he had tracked his lover down and spent hours watching his family, inspecting his home and generally making sure his lover’s soul would be well cared for.  He had stayed away after that initial investigation to protect his defenseless lover, to insure that Aizen wouldn’t find him. 

The renegade Shinigami had come after Urahara all those years ago after it had become clear the war wasn't going to end quickly.  Aizen had grown restless and had wanted to harness Hougyoku’s power more fully, to do that he had needed its creator.  He had only intended to capture Kisuke and drag him back to Hueco Mundo but in the heat of battle Ulquiorra had gone too far, struck a fatal blow rather than a merely crippling one.

The memories brought a low ache to his chest, his dear Kisuke gone all because of an accident.  He had vowed to do better by his lost love this time, so he had stayed away so that Aizen would never know that Urahara had come back.  There was no reason to believe that this reborn Urahara would even be able to provide the information Aizen wanted, but Kisuke had been the one to create Hougyoku and Urahara would always be brilliant.  Ichigo had decided that it was better not to take the risk that Aizen might still want Urahara and so he had stayed away.

The second time he had seen Kisuke had been twelve years ago and had been by accident.  He had been working, handling the paperwork that came with running a division, when Benihime had wailed a warning at him.  An Arrancar had appeared in a park where Kisuke was playing.  He hadn’t waited for the regular response team, instead he had left his office at a dead run, intent only on ensuring that Kisuke was safe.  

He smiled faintly as Zangetsu appeared to greet him, Benihime close on his heels.   The two zanpaktous got along well, in fact, Benihime got along well with all the pieces of him.  Even Shirosaki was reasonably polite to her.  He wasn’t exactly close to the zanpaktou but they worked well together and he thought he might even miss her when it came time to return her to Kisuke.

“Everything alright?” he asked glancing around.

“Everything is fine.  You know that,” murmured Zangetsu with a faint smile.  He got edgy this time of year and his sword knew it; Shirosaki got pissy, Benihime got melancholy and he got edgy.  They all handled their grief in different ways. 

He was about to bid the swords a farewell and sink deeper into himself, to really meditate properly, when something collided with his physical body and jarred him from his soulscape.

“What the hell?” he growled, rubbing the side of his head, eyes darting around for the source of the attack.  A sandal lay next to him and Rukia stood in the doorway smirking at him.  The smirk vanished quickly, an innocent look replacing it, but neither of them bought it and Ichigo had to smile privately at the attempt, although the frown on his lips belied his amusement.

“You have a meeting, Kuriosaki-taichou,” said Rukia sweetly.

“Would you quit it with that ‘Kurosaki-taichou’ crap?  Hell, I don’t go around calling you Kuchiki-fukutaichou, do I?” he grumbled.

“Maybe you should.  It occurs to me that you don’t give me nearly enough respect,” said Rukia, collecting her sandal, all affronted dignity.

“How the hell did I get stuck with you as my vice captain anyway?” he groused playfully.  They both knew that the Fifth wouldn’t be the smooth running and efficient fighting force it was without Rukia.  They had literally rebuilt the shattered division from the ground up in the fifteen years they had been running it.  They both knew that there was nowhere else Rukia would rather work.  She had transferred to the Fifth to serve with him.  He was one of the few people who wouldn’t bow to Byakuya’s pressure about not making her a seated officer.  Renji wouldn’t have either but Kira and the Third needed Renji.  He needed Rukia.

“You?  I’m the one stuck with you as my captain,” Rukia retorted before breaking into a smile.  “You’ve got a meeting with Hitsugaya-taichou and Renji and then we’ve got dinner with your family.”

Family dinner night had become a Kurosaki tradition.  It involved both his sisters, their father, him, Rukia, Yuzu's husband, and Hitsugaya Toushiro.  Rukia had been practically adopted into their family, a fact that didn’t thrill Byakuya but which he couldn’t object to.  His father loved her and doted on her like a long lost third daughter, a fact that never failed to amuse Rukia and annoy Ichigo.  Toushiro had been attending for nearly six years, ever since he started dating Karin.  Ichigo couldn’t help but be amused at the idea of his sister and the Tenth division captain.  

Their relationship was one of the worst kept secrets of Soul Society, everyone knew about it.  It was just no one talked about it.  The fraternization would have gotten Hitsugaya into trouble if it was reported but without actual proof of the relationship no action could be taken.  And no one wanted to be the one to provide proof; not when faced with the wrath of not only Hitsugaya, but him, his father, Matsumoto, Rukia, Renji, Yumichika and even Ikkaku.  Despite the keen interest being paid in it the relationship seemed to be flourishing and there was even talk of the two of them marrying.  Granted, that was mostly Matsumoto - but it was still talk. 

Even Ishida, Renji and Byakuya had standing invitations to dinner although Ichigo preferred not to wonder how those had come about.  Captain or not there were some things he didn’t want to know.  He had enough strangeness in his life and the idea of his father knowing any of those three was frankly more than he could wrap his mind around.

“What are we covering today aside from Ishida wanting to change the patrol routes again?” he asked, getting up and starting towards the Tenth division’s wing of the building.  After years of battling in the real world, someone in Soul Society had finally gotten smart and set up a firm base of operations there.  A warehouse had been rented and under it their base of operations had been built.  There were living quarters, three division offices and even a permanent gate set up.  There were even training grounds since a tunnel had been built to connect them to the Urahara shoten.

He had inherited the shop from Urahara.  He had also inherited Tessai, Ururu, Jinta, and the mod souls as well, although in their case it was more inheriting the guardianship of all of them.  He left the running of the shop to Tessai; although the other man came by once a month to inform him of all the shop business.  He never understood why, since he never gave any input in the shop’s running, but Tessai seemed to take comfort in the routine.

“Ishida isn’t going to give up on that no matter how many times Hitsugaya turns him down,” chuckled Rukia, falling into step with him.  “There’s also the slight rise in Arrancar activity that we need to discuss how to handle, a small disciplinary matter between the 11th and some of our people on leave, and confirming Hisagi’s captaincy.”

“Haven’t we done that already?” growled Ichigo.  “He’s been in command of the 9th since Tousen left.”

“This for the record.  He showed full mastery of his bankai only a month ago and until he did that we couldn’t take an actual vote,” explained Rukia as they came to the Tenth division’s conference room.  Ichigo nodded to Hitsugaya in greeting, receiving a nod in return from the other captain.

Hitsugaya had changed little in the twenty some odd years since they’d first met.  Even though he had gained several inches of height, he was still the shortest captain of the Thirteen and he only just managed to look Karin in the eye.  He was still cool and aloft, although Ichigo had once seen him holding Karin and when he did that, the captain was washed away and only Hitsugaya the man remained.  A kind, noble man who felt things deeply and cared greatly.  From what he had seen, Ichigo was willing to say that man was more than good enough for his sister, about the highest compliment he could think of.

“Renji here yet?” he asked.

“Abarai hasn’t finished his patrol yet,” muttered Hitsugaya and Ichigo could read his annoyance in the words.  Renji and Ishida’s relationship was not quite as well known in Soul Society, but around the real world just about everyone had seen proof of it at one time or another.  Usually by walking in and discovering the Third division captain and the Quincy in some state of undress.  They actually took bets on when and where the new members would find the two; Matsumoto ran the pool.

And speak of the devil, thought Ichigo with a smirk as the 10th division vice captain came sailing up.  “Captain!  Oh Captain, you forgot this,” she said, grinning as she handed her captain a covered baking dish.  Rukia smothered a chuckle and Hitsugaya looked torn between glaring at her or glaring at Matsumoto.  “You wouldn’t want to leave this behind after you went to all the trouble to make it, Captain.  Karin would be so disappointed.”  Ichigo buried his smile in a file as a blush stole across Hitsugaya’s cheeks.  He growled at his vice captain to find Renji and stormed into the conference room, dish in tow.

Ichigo and Rukia shared a quick chuckle but were carefully straight faced when they followed him.  They were just being served tea when Matsumoto arrived with Renji and Ishida, neither terribly mussed for once. 

While the Quincy wasn’t technically part of Soul Society he had proven himself in battle often enough to have earned the respect of all the Shinigami and his and Renji’s relationship granted him an odd sort of status.  The Quincy was almost considered the vice captain of the Third as he did more fighting with the division than Kira.

The actual vice captain of the 3rd had never really recovered from Aizen and Ichimaru’s betrayal.  The years serving under Renji and careful work from all his friends were helping to rebuild his confidence, but it would still be decades before Kira recovered fully.  Renji worked hard to keep Kira out of the field, not wanting to chance an encounter with Ichimaru.  An Arrancar Kira could have taken, but no one thought he was ready to face his former captain.  Not and live through the experience.

“Can we begin?” snapped Hitsugaya.  They all took their seats, not eager to push the young captain, not after Matsumoto had needled him about Karin.  Hitsugaya liked to keep his private life private and it irked him that so many people knew how he felt for Karin. 

“What are we covering?” demanded Renji as he and Ishida were served their tea.

“First up is voting on Hisagi’s appointment to captain of the Ninth,” said Hitsugaya as Ichigo and Renji rolled their eyes.  Everyone knew they would support Shuuhei’s appointment.

“We all vote ‘yes’ on that, let’s move on,” ordered Renji earning a glare from the tenth division captain as well as a grudging nod.

They quickly settled the business for the day and Ichigo waited for Ishida to raise the issue of the patrols, he could tell the Quincy was itching to.  Not that he blamed the other man; ending a patrol at the high school was no big deal for the night shifts, but for the day shifts it meant being seen and not even Hitsugaya could pass for a student any more. 

“If we’ve covered all the important business then I have something to report,” murmured the Quincy.  Ichigo could see Hitsugaya brace himself for another argument over patrol routes and sat back to watch the shouting that was sure to ensue.  Ishida versus Hitsugaya was almost better than cable.  “Abarai and I ran across something odd today, a young man at the high school whose spirit thread was laced with pink.  He saw us and even managed to flee from Abarai.”  There was something in the look the Quincy gave his lover that made Ichigo think Ishida wasn’t happy about that last part.

“Pink?  That can’t be right, spirit threads are only white or red,” muttered Histugaya.

“I know what I saw,” snapped the Quincy.  "And I saw a thread laced with pink."

"What could make a thread pink?" asked Ichigo, Ishida and Hitsugaya could argue minutia for hours.

"Nothing, if Ishida saw it then it's something entirely new," answered Rukia. 

Hitsugaya glanced at his vice captain and sighed, “Fine, we’ll put out a notice to keep an eye out for the boy.  Get a description to Matsumoto.  If that’s all for today, we’ll conclude.”  

They all nodded and stood.  Matsumoto left to file her report and get shopping while Rukia and Hitsugaya went to change for dinner.  His father was still a freak about punctuality and guest or not Hitsugaya would be attacked if late, although the last time his father had tried to get the drop on him Karin had kicked him into next week.  Ichigo was about to join them, dinner was strange enough without him in uniform, when Renji and Ishida caught up to him.

“Lost to a kid, huh?” he asked jovially, elbowing the 3rd captain lightly in the ribs.  Renji glared at him and gave him a good natured shove.

“Little shit was fast.  He moved nearly as fast as one of us.”

“Yeah, yeah,” teased Ichigo.

“Ain’t you got a family dinner to get to?” grumbled the redhead.

“Speaking of dinners, don’t you have one to cook?” interrupted Uryuu smoothly, a smirk on his lips.  Ichigo had to chuckle at the all too familiar expression of Quincy superiority.

“Bastard,” muttered Renji.  Ishida just smirked.

“You’ve been betting again,” laughed Ichigo with a warm sigh at the end.  It was nice to know that some things never changed, such as betting against a Quincy always being a bad idea.

“Unlike you, he refuses to learn,” purred Ishida, all smug confidence.

“Idiot,” murmured Ichigo.  Renji just growled and glared at his lover.

“Since you both have things to do, I’m going to see about hunting up a few leads to our mysterious student,” announced Uryuu, leaving them as they came to an intersection.

“You should know better than to bet him,” Ichigo warned the other man, blinking as he saw Renji’s frown morph into a sly smile as Ishida strolled away.

“Only if I want to win,” murmured Renji.

“You’re such an ass,” muttered Ichigo, shoving him and smiling.

Chapter Text

Momentum and fear carried him past the coaches, over the fence and nearly eight blocks before he realized he wasn’t being followed.  As he leaned against the side of a building, doubled over to catch his breath after the frantic dash, Kisuke wondered if he hadn’t overreacted just a tiny bit.  But the instant that hand closed on his shoulder something inside him had seized control and reacted, no thought, no plan, just pure instinct.  There had been moments like that in the past, mostly when he was fighting and they always left him feeling out of place, not sure of who he was or where he was. 

He didn’t get into fights often, preferring to talk his way out of a situation or avoid it all together if he could, but there had been times when people had refused to let him walk away.  He had always reacted swiftly and brutally, with a skill he hadn’t dreamed he possessed.  His mother had signed him up for kendo when he was seven but he had stopped going after only two weeks; he had beaten everyone from the sensei down.  He never knew how, his body had just known what to do and done it.  It had been the same this time, his body had known what to do and reacted while his mind had slipped away.  Even now he still wasn’t entirely sure what he had done to get away.

He slowly straightened, glancing around in case the Shinigami and his companion had pursued him at a more sedate pace.  Seeing no one, Kisuke sighed and began walking, not sure where he was going but the physical activity helped him settle back into himself as he let his mind circle over everything he had seen and heard.

He was mostly left with questions and very few answers.  A pity because he had never been very good at accepting questions.  Eaten up with curiosity his mother called it, he called it keeping his mind suitably occupied.  Either way it ensured that he didn’t like leaving things as questions. 

He was fairly sure the red haired man was a Shinigami.  He seemed to match what the dreams told him a Shinigami should be like.  The dark haired man wasn’t a Shinigami but he must have been an ally of theirs.  He didn’t remember any allies from the dreams but the dreams could hardly be considered reliable sources of information. 

He let his wandering feet draw him west toward the river.  He liked walking along the bank, something about the air and water soothing him.  He walked until he came to a quiet spot with a large tree.  He settled against the base of the tree, content to watch the water and let it lull his mind.  He was safe and he once more felt at home in his body.  His eyes drifted closed, his body soaking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and the gentle sounds of the water and the light traffic along the foot trail.  It was perfect, just what he needed to remember who he was and push whatever strange genie was lurking inside him back into the bottle.  His mind drifted lazily and sleep claimed him before he knew it.

Water poured over him, just shy of scalding, soothing and relaxing his tired body.  Showers were without a doubt, one of the greatest inventions known to man.  Baths were nice, but there was just something about a long, hot shower at the end of the day.  He closed his eyes and sighed in appreciation, promising himself that he would start washing in a moment, after the water had worked a little more of its magic on his body.

 The door slid open soundlessly but the blast of cool air and warm brush of a familiar reiatsu alerted him to the presence of his companion, bringing a small, soft smile to his lips.  Strong arms wrapped around him from behind, pressing a hard chest against his back, making him sigh and relax into the embrace.  It felt so good to be wrapped in those arms, safe and right, like he had finally found the one place in the universe that he belonged.  Warm breath tickled his ear as a second later soft lips grazed his cheek and made him turn his head to catch them in a slow, achingly tender kiss that was all lips and tongues.  He sucked gently on his lover's tongue and was rewarded with a soft murmur.  He chuckled faintly as his own tongue was teased into his lover's mouth and nibbled softly.  It had taken awhile but he was finally starting to teach the boy some appreciation for foreplay.  When Ichigo finally drew back from the kiss Urahara groaned and let his head fall back onto the younger man's shoulder.

"I thought you couldn't come tonight, something about a book report," he murmured softly as those warm lips found his neck and began to trace a path down it with feather light kisses and tiny licks.  The arms holding him loosened slightly until one hand rested on his chest, playing with his nipples, while the other slid down his body to linger teasingly close to his hardening cock.

"I decided to make time for the important things in life.  Besides, sleep is overrated," came a warm purr that made his knees weak.  This man was his sin, the one he would burn for.  As fingers brushed over his nipples and knuckles gently grazed his cock he decided that some sins really were worth committing and this was one of them.  He groaned and rolled his hips, delighting in the feel of a hard cock sliding against his ass.  Ichigo moaned soft encouragement and nipped his neck playfully.  “Definitely more important than any book report,” chuckled the younger man.

Kisuke felt a smile pull at his lips and turned his head to catch his lover’s lips again.  This kiss was all heat and hunger and passion, pure Ichigo, and he loved it.  He groaned and shivered as a soap slicked hand closed around his arousal and began stroking him with gentle, teasing movements that left him trying desperately to get just a little more friction.  Ichigo chuckled and pinched his nipple, thrusting against his back and groaning softly.  "Mmm...missed you, Kisuke."  His name in that desire roughened voice was like a drug and he was fast becoming hopelessly addicted to hearing it. 

Long fingers slid over the head of his cock, gently playing with the foreskin before sliding it back, a thumb rubbed over the head making him moan.  Each stroke wrung some soft sound of desire from him and only encouraged his lover more.  He loved the way the younger man touched him.  Truth be told, he loved too many things about the orange haired Shinigami sharing his bed.  It would be far too easy to fall in love with the boy.  And Kisuke knew that giving his heart to the younger man would only end in heartbreak for one of them.  Most likely him.  He knew with morose certainty that things couldn‘t last and that at some point Ichigo would move on and all he would be left with were memories.   Still, there were moments when he was tempted to whisper the truth that was slowly consuming him.  He loved this man and he suspected that he always would.

Soapy fingers slid between their undulating bodies and Kisuke couldn’t help but whimper in delight as a finger teased his entrance.  His hips bucked as the finger slipped inside and he moaned as the fist around his cock tightened, stoking faster, rougher.  He felt Ichigo’s reiatsu flare around them, hot and wild, and carefully blunted it with his own.  A second finger joined the first as he wove their spirit energies together.  Ichigo groaned and sagged against him as their combined reiatsu enshrouded him, pulsing with lust and tingling with energy.  Kisuke had to chuckle, reiatsu play always pushed Ichigo hard, mostly because he hadn‘t yet learned the fine control needed for it.

“One of these days you have to teach me that,” groaned Ichigo, pressing hard against his sweet spot and making Kisuke gasp as the world went white with pleasure for a moment. 

“Of course, Kurosaki-kun,” he managed to get out on a pant.  He was teasing the younger man, but unable to help himself, but his lover needed to laugh more and Kisuke took it as his personal mission to bring a smile to the younger man's  lips at least once a day.

“None of that Kurosaki-kun crap in bed,” growled the boy, punctuating each word with a jab to his prostate and ending the pronouncement with a sharp nip to his ear that left Urahara dizzy with want for a moment.  He breathed deeply, controlling his eagerness but unable to control the spike of lust that surged through his reiatsu.  Ichigo gasped and held him tightly, whimpering as the lust ridden reiastu crashed over him.

“I can’t...I need...Kisuke,” panted the teen, removing his fingers and quickly replacing them with his cock, pushing in fast and hard and making them both moan.  Hot wet kissed were littered over his shoulder, a silent apology for the loss of control and Kisuke reached back to thread his fingers into his lover’s hair and tug his head up.  His teeth caught Ichigo's bottom lip, his tongue darting across it before thrusting into the boy's mouth, tasting and claiming.  Ichigo gave a low growl and slammed into him hard, making him gasp.  He braced himself against the wall, pushing back eagerly and groaning as sword roughened hands grabbed his hips.  Each thrust rocked him onto his toes and he knew there would be bruises on hips later, but at the moment Kisuke didn't care, all that mattered was the cock moving inside him, hitting that spot on each stroke and making him see stars.  Gods above and below he loved this man! 

Ichigo thrust into him one last time, crying out sharply as he came.  He felt the boy spasm inside him, pleasure soaked reiatsu washing over him in a wave, and gave a soft choked little whine before his own release was breaking over him.  He dimly heard Ichigo moan and felt strong arms drag him close before they were sinking to the floor, neither one of them steady enough to stay up or keep the other up.

His eyes shot open as his body was startled from the light doze.  He was achingly hard and all he wanted was to close his eyes and recapture the lost moment of bliss, follow it into completion.  Screw the mess he would make of his pants and screw the risk of public humiliation. 

The screaming started a second later.

He was on his feet barely a second after that, lust replaced by fear.  He flung out his spirit senses as he ran, trying to detect the reason for all the screaming and finding it instantly.  A hollow.  Large and powerful if what he was sensing was anything to go by.  It washed out the all the souls around it, but he could tell there were a lot.  He could hear them all screaming.

For a moment he wondered why he was running towards the hollow; it outstripped him in power and he didn’t even have a sword to fight with.  A fresh burst of screaming gave him his answer.  He couldn’t leave who knew how many people to be hurt or killed.  He had to at least try and help, even if all he did was give a few people a chance to run while the hollow killed him. 

He turned a corner sharply and barely managed to skid to a halt and avoid running headlong in the hollow.  Kisuke felt his eyes widen as he took in the monster and wondered again why he had thought running towards it was a good idea.  It was nearly two stories tall and almost as wide.  It resembled some demented cross between a millipede and a crab, with dozens of legs and two huge, claw tipped arms.  A bone mask covered its face and there was a hole in the center of its body.  It held a small boy in one claw but as its eyes focused on him Kisuke saw it release the boy.  He stumbled back a few paces under the hollow’s scrutiny, the hollow following eagerly.  For a moment he was relieved to see a woman rush in and pull the boy to safety.  At least someone would be safe.  He was remembering that saying about there being a thin line between heroics and suicide and wondering which side of the line his actions came down on.

The hollow scuttled forward and Kisuke hopped back, his eyes searching for anything: help, a weapon, a place to flee to.  Nothing presented itself and Kisuke decided this definitely came down on the suicide side of things.  A claw plunged toward him and he felt his body responding to the threat, shoving his mind out of the loop and just moving.  He took only a small step back, shifting his weight, the tiny movement drawing him out of the claw’s path.  He pivoted and leapt over the second claw which came at him from the side, landing smoothly and turning to face the hollow, a small serene little smile on his lips.  He moved as if he were dancing, all fluid grace and sinuous movements, always keeping the hollow’s attention and always staying just a hair’s breadth out of its reach.

The hollow grew annoyed and roared, throwing itself forward with lightning quick speed.  He leaned back to avoid the claw that tried to slice him open, feeling a sharp bite as the claw grazed his chest, opening a thin red line from his collarbone to his navel.  He managed to avoid the killing blow but as he tried to shift his weight he realized he had over balanced.  He felt himself tumbling back.  The impact jarring his mind back from the waking dream and cold dread filled him.  He would die.

Kisuke stared up at the face of his demise and felt the panic, the fear of death, all of it shoved aside.  This was not the gentle lose of self he was used to, this was fast and brutal.  The claw descended and Kisuke wanted to scream but couldn’t, couldn’t feel his body.  “Hadou 33: Soukatsui.  Way of Destruction,” he found himself saying, having no idea where the words were coming from, his hands moving as blue energy filled them.  A vicious ball of blue lightening slammed into the claw and his body was moving, rolling aside.  He was back on his feet an instant later, coolness spilling through his body.  He didn’t have Benihime but he was far from harmless.  A captain of the Thirteen was never helpless.

A flicker of black at the edge of his vision barely drew his attention.  The fight was in front of him and distraction could get him killed.  “Run!” screamed a voice from somewhere to his left; he ignored it.  He didn’t need to run.

“Bakudou 61: Rukujyoukourou,” he snarled, six swords of light shooting through the hollow to pin it, like a bug, he noted with mild curiosity and amusement.  A black clad figure appeared at his side, another Shinigami, but he didn’t know her.  Her badge marked her as member of the 5th and a vice captain at that - odd since he knew the vice captain of the 5th and this girl was not him.  She was short with dark hair that was layered against her neck and huge dark eyes.  She was pretty in a cool, hard sort of way and reminded him of Byakuya-kun.  She was staring at him in shocked wonder, like she had never seen kidou performed before, which was just stupid, one did not make vice captain without being able to at least perform a few basic spells.

“Hadou 90: Kurohitsugi.  Black coffin,” he murmured calmly before gasping as it felt like his soul was being ripped to shreds.  He staggered as the world went dark and swirled maddeningly around him.  Kisuke dropped to the ground, shaking and panting, his body frozen as bile climbed in his throat.

What was that?!  What had he done?  What the hell was he!  What was wrong with him?

“What are you?” whispered the Shinigami, her soft voice startlingly loud.  He stared at her, seeing the fear and amazement in her eyes, feeling it resonate through his body.  Noises began to penetrate the shocked numbness that had enshrouded his mind and his eyes darted around as panic rose up to embrace him.

The Shinigami took a step towards him and Kisuke scrambled back on his hands and knees.  It was too much.  He had to get away!  Had to make it all settle in his head.  He was up and moving before he or the Shinigami knew it, fleeing for something far more precious than his life - his sanity.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra watched the screen with his usual cool detachment, his amazement not showing anywhere in his face or bearing.  He was amazed however.  Few humans could survive a tangle with a hollow, fewer still could kill one.  And none could use kidou.  "Fetch Aizen-sama immediately," he told Yami, knowing that his master would want to know about this.

He frowned slightly at the frozen image of the human on the screen, studying the creature.  There was something odd about the boy.  Familiar.  But he was sure had never seen this human before.  The boy was too young for him to have ever encountered.  He had not been back into the human world since Urahara's death.  It was too dangerous.  Kurosaki Ichigo wanted his and Aizen's heads with a ferocity that bordered on madness. 

That meant he couldn't know this boy, and yet as he studied him Ulquiorra could still feel the nagging sensation that he should recognize the boy.  He frowned faintly, really nothing more than a tiny twist of his lips downward, but continued to try and place the boy and his odd familiarity. 

Within minutes Aizen Sousuke was arriving; Ichimaru and Tousen at his heels.  Even after all these years serving him, Ulquiorra still felt a wave of awe rise up inside him at the sight of the man.  The sheer magnitude of his presence was humbling; coupled with his charm and easy charisma it made Aizen Sousuke more than a force.  It made him seem like the god he aspired to become.

"What was so important that it required my immediate attention, Ulquiorra?" asked the man, a cup of tea in his hand.

Ulquiorra quickly played the surveillance of the last hollow attack, knowing he had done the right thing when Aizen grew still and tense.  He sensed the vibrating energy in his master, the eagerness; the laughter that came as the boy defeated the hollow was unexpected.  "Ah, Kisuke, who would have guessed that even you could succumb to vanity," he chuckled.

"Aizen-sama?" murmured Ichimaru, clearly puzzled.

"Ah, I forgot, Gin, you never saw Kisuke in his early days.  That body he wears looks exactly as he did when he was a student at the academy.  Our dear friend Kisuke has a streak of vanity," laughed Aizen, studying the boy.  Once it had been pointed out, the resemblance to Urahara Kisuke was unmistakable, the tousled ash blond hair, the sweeping cheekbones, the stubborn pointed chin, that serene little twist of the lips, and the sparkle in the grey eyes - all classic Urahara.  He was younger, thinner, untouched by heartache or hardship but the trickster captain still peeked out from time to time, slumbering perhaps, but not forgotten.  Ulquiorra wondered how he could have missed it before, it seemed so obvious once it was mentioned.

"Take whoever you need and retrieve him, Gin.  If Urahara has come back we must have him; he's the only one with the knowledge to make Hougyoku function stablely.  Find him and bring him back here."

"Of course, Aizen-sama," purred the former 3rd Division captain, the gleam in his eyes promising mayhem and his delight at the chance to cause it.   

Aizen nodded and turned to him, Ulquiorra felt himself drawing up tall and straight under the scrutiny, unable to help himself.  "Take Yami, Grimmjow and the rest of the tenth Espada and begin an attack here before Gin begins his mission," ordered Aizen. 

Ulquiorra stared at the map and the spot Aizen-sama had indicated.  The spot three blocks from the Kurosaki clinic.  The spot Kurosaki Ichigo would be sure to respond to.  He was being sent to the slaughter so that Gin could capture the boy.  Something in him, long quieted by his awe of Aizen awoke and screamed, rebelled at the idea of being so callously wasted, but he nodded his understanding and stood to gather the few remaining members of his Espada.

   * * *

"No fucking way!" snarled Grimmjow, slamming his fist into the wall, accomplishing nothing but leaving a very large dent and possibly hurting his hand.  Ulquiorra didn't ask about the latter, he frankly didn't care.  What he cared about was that they were all going to be dead in less than an hour.  Dying with Yami and Grimmjow and the few remaining members of their original Espada was not high on his list of activities.  The only problem was there didn't seem to be an alternative. 

Their original Espada was down from ten to a mere five.  The raid to rescue Inoue, the war and rivalries within the ranks had thinned their number considerably.  Of the five, there was only himself, Grimmjow, Yami, Halibel, and Wonderwice.  Yami didn't have the brains to think his way out of paper sack, Grimmjow was a hot-headed lunatic, he didn't trust Halibel further than he could throw her, and Wonderwice was Tousen's pet.  He was not overburdened in his choice for allies.  He had made his choice however and was forced to stick with it.

"We are to be sacrificed, there is nothing we can do to stop it.  And raging about it will not change it."

"The fuck it won't!  I'll rip his fuckin' head off, that'll change somethin'," snarled the former 6th Espada, slamming another fist into the wall.

"You cannot challenge him and hope to win; stopping being foolish.  Time is short, the others will be here soon and we must be ready to leave by then.  We cannot challenge Aizen Sousuke but that does not mean we must obey him either," murmured Ulquiorra, the words coming surprisingly easily once he realized that he had resolved himself to his current course.   He wasn't ready to die yet - even for Aizen. 

"He'd kill us.  He'd hunt us down and kill us where we stood, dumb ass.  We can't hide anywhere in Hueco Mundo and we wouldn't last a fucking week in the human realm."

"Shut up and listen!" snapped Ulquiorra, losing patience with his volatile companion.  Why had he chosen Grimmjow again?  Ah yes, no other options.  His plan required help and he had nowhere to look for it but among his companions.  Grimmjow was volatile but he was also cunning and very interested in his own continued survival.  Both of which were traits Ulquiorra could appreciate and use.  The former 6th Espada could also be trusted to hold to his code, slim as it may be, which was more than could be said for the others.   "No, we couldn't survive in the human world, but Hueco Mundo is not the only place with an abundance of spirit particles.  Soul Society is also comprised of them."

"And they're just dying to let us in there," growled Grimmjow.  "Hell, we can't even open a fucking gate to get there."

"We can't, but they can.  They can open a gate and take us across, they can offer us sanctuary from Aizen," he explained softly.  The plan was not entirely fool proof, but it was serviceable and their only real chance.

Grimmjow was looking at him with a newfound respect, watching him with his bright blue eyes, suspicion and curiosity in his gaze.  "Why the hell would they do that?  That fuckin' brat Kurosaki hates us and he's a fuckin' captain.  The Shinigami would skin us the second we got close to 'em."

"Unless we offered them something they want more than us, something even Kurosaki would be willing to treat with us for."

"The kid?  The one Aizen wants so bad?" breathed Grimmjow, his eyes widening in awe.

Ulquiorra nodded.  "If he really is who Aizen suspects he is, then even Kurosaki would be willing to give us asylum to get him back."

"Why tell me this?" Ulquiorra could see the wheels turning in the other Espada's head, looking for holes and flaws in his plan, looking for the betrayal.

"For my plan to work it requires two people; you are the most trustworthy of our companions, loathsome as that may be," murmured Ulquiorra.  He quickly outlined the rough plan that had been spinning in his head ever since realizing Aizen planned to get them killed.  Grimmjow nodded his approval and murmured soft questions from time to time but he wasn't objecting or rushing off to tell Aizen.

"It might just work.  Are you sure you'll be able to disengage from Kusosaki.  Little bastard's damn stubborn and he wants to kill ya."

"It should be fine."

"What should be fine?" demanded Halibel, her green eyes watching them closely, not surprising since they rarely exchanged more than two words to each other and those words were never civil.

"Just talkin' 'bout the mission," drawled Grimmjow easily.  "Wanted to see if emo boy was gonna be ready to face Kurosaki or if he wanted any help."  As he watched Grimmjow steered her away, covering their earlier conversation with a web of taunting lies, Ulquiorra was certain he had made the right choice in allies.

Chapter Text

The Kuroskai family dinner was never dull, that was about all that could be said for it in Ichigo’s opinion.  Then again, with three Shinigami, three normal humans, and his father (who really did rate a category all his own) what could anyone expect.  He sometimes wondered what it would have been like to bring Urahara into that madness and decided his lover would have adored it; but then again, Kisuke thrived on insanity.  The rest of his family might have been a little traumatized by Kiuske, but he would have been fine.

Karin met him and Hitsugaya at the door with a hug and a kiss on the cheek for him and a longer embrace with a peck on the lips for Hitsugaya.  It had taken her awhile but at twenty-two she had blossomed, going from tomboyish and cute to lithe and sexy in the blink of an eye.  It hadn’t mattered, she’d only had eyes for Hitsugaya by then and he had felt much the same, although it had taken him a few more years to admit it.  She led them inside, her fingers laced with Hitsugaya’s and the young captain’s reiatsu wrapped around her like a blanket.  Anyone who could sense reiatsu could read the warmth and affection wrapped around her.  Ichigo smiled faintly, a sad, wistful smile, wishing for Kisuke and the days when their reiatsu had done the same. 

He had been given the less than envious task of telling his father that Rukia would be late.  On the way over they had sensed a hollow and as the lowest ranking officer she was the one who got to deal with it.  She had also tripped him and darted off before Hitsugaya could say a word.  Ichigo decided he would edit that from the official version of events.  His father jumped him three steps inside the door and both Karin and Hitsugaya turned to watch with amusement.  He fought the old man off until Yuzu pleaded with them both to sit down and behave.  A sharp glare from Karin enforced the plea and Hitsugaya only smiled amiably at them, an old hand at Kurosaki interactions, before being led into the kitchen by Karin. 

He nodded a greeting to Yuzu’s husband, a nice enough, if rather dull accountant by the name of Jiro.  Ichigo didn’t really see the appeal but the man seemed to make his little sister happy and had survived his father’s grilling so he was alright.  He even managed to endure dealing with Shinigami in-laws since most of the 3rd, 5th, and 10th viewed his family as their family.

They were just sitting down to dinner when Benihime began wailing and Ichigo found himself on his feet and moving without a word; Hitsugaya at his elbow, unsure what was wrong but trusting his senses.   He flashed ahead of the other man, fear for Kisuke spurring him on.  Benihime only sang for Kisuke and the screaming, panicking quality of the song told him just how frantic she was.

He arrived to see Rukia standing over a fallen human boy, no hollow in sight.  His heart eased as he saw that it was Kisuke on the ground, a little bloody but very much alive and in no imminent danger.  He took a second to study the younger man, it had been ages since he’d last seen him and the years had wrought a number of changes.  His hair was a little longer than Ichigo remembered, more like the slightly shaggy cut Urahara had favored, but it was still the same achingly familiar ash blond.  The face it framed was stripped of baby fat with cutting cheekbones and a jaw he could have traced in his sleep.  There was no stubble on his cheeks but it was Kisuke.  He was taller but had another few centimeters to go before he would settle into his true height.  His shoulders were broad but he was still waiting to grow into them.  There were no dark circles under those beautiful silver eyes, but the fear and pain in them was like a bolt through the heart for Ichigo.  He would be seventeen now, very nearly eighteen, thought Ichigo, amazed with how very young he looked.  This was his lover untouched by all the heartache he had seen, this was his Urahara who was once more innocent, washed free from the sins that had weighed him down. 

He saw Rukia take a step toward the fallen young man and watched as Kisuke bolted in panic.  “Wait!” he screamed at Rukia as she took a step to follow.  She stumbled to a halt, glancing back at him with concern.

“Wait?  Ichigo, that boy just killed a hollow!  He used kidou and killed it!”

Kidou?  Kisuke was using kidou?  How?  He pushed those concerns aside, he would deal with them later when he could talk to Benihime.  “The boy is terrified, Rukia.   If you chase him you’ll only get one of you hurt.  Let him calm down.  I’ll handle the situation myself later,” he said, trying to keep his tone casual, light, as if it was unimportant, but he saw her eyes widen in surprise and cursed himself silently.

“If he was using kidou it really is a matter for an officer, who better than a captain?”

“If you say so,” murmured Rukia, but he could read the consternation and puzzlement on her face.

“Come on, dad’s gonna pop a blood vessel if we don’t get back soon.  Get your body and let’s go.”

“Everything alright?” asked Hitsugaya joining them, looking around for the hollow.

“Everything's fine.  Rukia handled it, just a false alarm,” Ichigo told him.  “Come on, we should get back.”  Hitsugaya nodded but Rukia was frowning at him and the lie.

“Let me handle it,” he whispered, grabbing her arm and steering her towards her waiting body.

They walked back in silence and apologized for the abrupt departure, finishing dinner peacefully.  With three Shinigami in attendance interruptions were hardly a new occurrence.  The clean up was handled with the usual fuss of seven people trying to fit into their tiny kitchen and help, but eventually they managed it and retreated into the living room for family bonding, otherwise known as torture.

Ichigo sat quietly away from the festive insanity.  This week it was Pictionary and if he ever found out who had brought it he would be killing them.  He was sitting back quietly drinking sake, wondering how much longer he would have to stay before he could escape.  He needed some time alone and a drink, several in fact.  Something to wash away the pain that was griping his heart and numb his memory for a few blessedly sweet hours.  That would have to wait though.  He didn’t like to do his serious drinking in public, a habit he had picked up from Urahara. 

He took another sip of his sake and tried not to think of Kisuke.  Or the young man he'd seen earlier.  The young man wasn’t his lover, might never be his lover, but all Ichigo wanted to do was tear after him and wipe away the shock and fear he had seen on that beautiful face.

‘Are you sure he’s going to be alright?’ he silently asked Benihime, worried over how terrified the younger Urahara had been laying there on the ground.

‘He’s badly frightened.  I think he has the captain’s instincts but none of the captain's memories, so he doesn’t understand where this violence comes from.  We must let him calm down, let the captain realize that the danger is passed,’ replied Benihime in her soft, musical voice.  Ichigo could sense the tension in her, the same burning desire to go to Kisuke and comfort him.

‘She’s right, we must wait,’ murmured Zangetsu, offering his opinion to the exchange.  ’Without a captain’s control he is a danger to himself and others.  As unbalanced as he is now, there is no telling what he might do if he felt threatened.’

Ichigo nodded and took another sip of his sake, he understood, he really did, that just did not quell the need to comfort Kisuke. 

'Is it alright that he's using kidou?  A human shouldn't be able to use kidou, especially high level spells.'

'I believe that is the captain again.  And it should be alright, being human simply means he'll be slower in recovering his spirit energy.  As long as he doesn't do anymore high level spells tonight he should be fine,' offered Benihime.

“Your family is growing concerned, Kurosaki-taichou,” growled Rukia, a false smile on her lips.  She wasn’t happy with him for not letting her follow Kisuke and lying to Hitsugaya.  He couldn’t have let her go though, Kisuke was too frightened.  If she had caught him, he would have fought her and Ichigo knew that such a fight would have led to one of them being hurt or even killed.  As for telling Hitsugaya, Kisuke was his responsibility, and the last thing he wanted was Soul Society or Aizen getting wind of him.  Either one would be all too happy to use his brilliance without a single thought to the emotional consequences for Urahara.  They had already done it once.  He wasn't going to let them do it again. 

“Just leave it, Rukia," he sighed, not in the mood to have her grouse at him when all he could think about were those terrified silver eyes.  So like Urahara's eyes...

"I think I deserve an explanation, think I've earned one," she snarled at him softly, looking at him coolly in a way that she had to have learned from Byakuya. 

Ichigo saw the hurt in her eyes and sighed, he did owe her more than he'd given her.  Rukia was more than just his vice captain, she was his friend.  "Not out here," he told her, standing and taking her arm, leading her quietly up to his old room.  They settled on his bed and Ichigo offered her the sake.  "You might need it," he warned her, with slight frown as she refused.

"Just tell me," she pressed gently.

 Ichigo rolled Benihime up and down his thighs, wondering how to explain.  "I couldn't let you go after him, Rukia.  That boy...he's Urahara," he finally managed to get out, feeling the admission like a punch in the gut.  He had never told anyone about the fate of Urahara's soul, never wanted to risk his love or pin too many of his own hopes on Urahara coming back.  Hearing the words though, hearing the truth, Ichigo knew it was already too late for his heart.  He had loved Urahara Kisuke nearly all his life, had waited twenty years for him to come back, his heart was tied up so completely he didn’t think he could ever cut himself free.  Even if he had wanted to.

"That's not possible.  Souls aren't reborn for...," she tapered off as Ichigo just cocked an eyebrow at her.  When had rules ever applied to Urahara Kisuke?  Rules were for mortal beings, not for his brilliant lover.  Kisuke had flouted the rules every chance he got and sometimes just because he could.

"It's possible.  Not allowed, but very possible.  Benihime here confirms it.  She can sense him.  Or didn't anyone ever wonder why I carried her?" he asked with a small smile for the sword.  He was the only man in Soul Society to carry two zanpaktou, even if he couldn't really fight with Benihime. 

"Other Shinigami have lost lovers, they don't take up their lost companion's swords, Rukia.  Usually when a Shinigami falls his zanpaktou falls with him.  But Urahara died twenty years ago and Benihime is still here, because Kisuke wasn’t just a Shinigami anymore, he was human.  Or human enough to enter the cycle of rebirth.  Benihime knew that and stayed behind so she could find him again. 

"That boy is Urahara Kisuke," he whispered, knowing his voice shook with emotion as he said the words but unable to help himself.  Urahara had returned and all he could do was pray that the other man would return to him as well.

Chapter Text

Uryuu's first stop had been Ryuuken, a mistake if ever there was one.  He and his father had never been close and the years had only added awkwardness to the distance between them.  About the only thing he could say for his father was that his disinterest in his son at least extended to his love life as well as every other sphere of his existence.  He wouldn’t have liked battling his father over Renji.  But Ryuuken couldn't care less that his son was involved with a man or a Shinigami and had been for more than twenty years.  He had been more pissed when Uryuu had dropped out of medical school to fight full-time than he was about Renji.  Which was kind of nice but also a little troubling, but Uryuu pushed that aside as typical Ishida family crap.

Ichigo had once called his family completely fucked up.  He had no idea how right he was.

Ryuuken hadn’t been able to tell him anything about pink spirit threads and even the few contacts he had called hadn’t been able to come up with any explanation.  That door closed, he turned toward the more mundane side of things and went looking for information on the boy, meaning a visit to Inoue Orihime.

The sun had set by the time he reached the Sakurabashi district and Orihime’s home.  Uyruu knocked quietly on her door, wondering if she would bother answering or if this would be the time she finally broke all contact.   

They had broken with Inoue shortly after Urahara’s death.  Or more accurately she had broken with Kurosaki.  The rest of them had just been a side effect of that.  Things had been strained since her rescue from Hueco Mundo, when she explained having willingly gone with her captors in some pea-brained attempt to protect them all.  Not only was it insulting to their skills that she thought them unable to protect themselves, but it had allowed Aizen to exploit her power time and again.  She had healed members of the Espada, endangering all of them and prolonging the conflict; Aizen using that same threat any time she rebelled even slightly.

That hadn’t been the worst revelation though. 

No, the worst of her sins had been trying to use her powers to reject the existence of Hougyoku. 

Aizen had been slowly destroying the artifact with his usage of it, forcing it into action to create his Espada before it was ready.  At the time of Inoue’s rescue it was only a few weeks away from destroying itself (and taking most of Las Noches with it).  When she tried to reject it, she had reset the clock on Hougyoku and opened her own power to it.  She had given Aizen a repaired and nearly half charged weapon. 

When she explained what she’d done was the first time Uryuu ever remembered seeing Urahara lose his temper.  The jovial shopkeeper had gone still and quiet, his grey eyes flashing to ice.  For one brief instant he had seen just how powerful and dangerous a man was lurking within Urahara, seen beneath the benign mask to the man who was the longest standing captain of the 12th in history.  He had thought Urahara would hit her, perhaps even kill her, then Ichigo’s hand had fallen on the shopkeeper’s shoulder and the edge of violence had disintegrated into weariness.  Inoue had been forgiven and after a night of drinking alone in the dark Urahara had begun making plans for the coming war.

The argument about keeping Orihime out of the fighting had been fierce and nearly shattered their bonds.  It was one of the few times Ichigo and Urahara had really fought.  He hadn’t understood the oddity of it then.  He had been too busy screaming at Renji.  It was only later, when Urahara was gone, that he realized how miserable all of them had been while shouting at each other, and the depth of feeling it implied.   

Finally, he and Ichigo won and Inoue had been allowed back into the field where she continued to falter in battle, endangering others and herself.  She had never been able to summon the resolve to really fight - and against Aizen that resolve had been vital.  The situation had come to a head shortly after Urahara’s death, after another Arrancar attack.  Yet another attack where someone was injured while Inoue did nothing.  That time it had been Renji.  Uyruu still remembered kneeling by his fallen sometimes lover, trying to hold his guts in and stem the bleeding.  He had been so sure Renji would die.  So sure that he would lose the redhead.   

So soon after losing Urahara Ichigo hadn’t been able to cope with the thought of losing the red haired Shinigami.  He hadn’t been up to losing anyone else, and not someone he trusted as deeply as he did Renji. 

He never knew if the hollow took over or Ichigo let him out.  Frankly, he didn’t really care.  Whichever it was, Shirosaki had come out and he had come with a vengeance.  He had attacked Orihime.  Ishida remembered watching as the hollow hit her again and again, goading her to attack him, to fight back, to do something.  But she never did.  The hollow had beaten her until she couldn’t get up, only then did he relent; but Shirosaki had sworn to kill her if she ever got one of them hurt again and no one had doubted the grim faced specter’s sincerity. 

And Ichigo had never gone against his hollow’s pronouncement.  

And Uryuu could never quite fault him for it.

Not after kneeling there in a puddle of mud formed by his lover's blood, not after begging Renji to hold on and live while he grew weaker and weaker. 

Inoue had fled after that and had never come back. 

She had always known there was darkness in Kurosaki, they all did, but she had never thought to have it turned on her.  She hadn’t been able to accept it.  It was one thing to know that a person was capable of terrible things.  It was something else to witness it first hand. 

The door opened as he was about to knock again and Inoue Orihime stood huddled in the doorway, regarding him warily.  He had spoken to her a few times in the years since she’d left but not often.  They had little to tie them together and once or twice he had gotten the impression that she wasn’t thrilled with his decision to ally himself with the Shinigami and Kurosaki. 

“Inoue-san,” he murmured with a polite nod.

“Ishida-san,” she murmured.  Politeness forced her to invite him in, but Uryuu could tell she was not eager to see him.  He wondered if her husband was home, recalling that he had read something about her marrying.  He had never met the man and didn’t care to.  Her husband was as mundane as Inoue wished she could be and the denial rankled him. 

“Would you like some tea?” she asked, more forced manners.

“That would be nice, thank you.”  Frankly, he hoped he was gone by the time the tea was ready.  He just needed information and Inoue would be the best chance of getting it.

“How is…everyone?”  It was difficult to read the question, it wasn’t honest concern.  More forced manners he finally decided.  She didn’t care how any of her old friends were; they weren’t her friends anymore.  They hadn't been her friends in years.

“Everyone’s fine.  Chad has three kids entering college this year and two entering Soul Society.“  The large man worked with children, in and out of Soul Society, mentoring them.  He still fought when the need arose but the children had most of his focus these days. 

“Kuchiki-san has started the training needed for bankai.  Her brother says it will be a hundred years before she achieves it but Renji says she’ll do it in fifty.  One bet even says twenty.”  That was Ichigo but he was careful not to mention the Shinigami captain; there was no surer way to shut Inoue down than to mention him.

“I came to talk to you about the high school however.  There have been some odd occurrences there and I wondered if you had noticed anything?  Any students acting oddly or any strange energy signatures?” he explained carefully.  Inoue taught history at the high school.

“I haven’t noticed anything unusual, just the regular patrols,” snapped Orihime.  She didn’t like Shinigami around the school.  Didn’t like to be reminded of the fight she was no longer a part of.

Uryuu sighed and growled faintly, “Do you know a boy, about sixteen, about 180 cm, light build, blond hair?  We saw him earlier today and noticed some abnormalities in his spirit energy.”  ’Abnormalities you would have to be blind or stupid to overlook,’ he wanted to growl at her.   

“That sounds like Mizuno Hideaki.  He’s a junior in class 2...but there‘s nothing unusual about him,” she went on quickly.  And willfully blind it was then, thought Uryuu with annoyance.

“His spirit thread is laced with pink.  You don’t find that a little odd?” he demanded.

“There is nothing unusual about Mizuno-kun!  And he doesn’t need you or anyone else dragging him into your war,” snapped Inoue sharply.  “He’s normal.  Happy.  He doesn't need any lies about the greater good!”

Uryuu wondered just how long Inoue had resented Urahara.  He also wondered how much of that resentment was really for involving her in the war and how much was for wining Kurosaki’s heart when she couldn’t.  It put an interesting new spin on some of their earlier conversations.  “He may be happy, but that boy is not even close to normal, and if you believe otherwise you’re more deluded than I thought.  Thank you for the tea, Inoue-san, but I won’t trouble you further.”

She showed him to the door and Ishida could tell she wanted to say something, to tell him to leave Mizuno alone.  She didn’t though because they both knew that she would never be able to enforce whatever pronouncement she made.  She could order him to stay away, but she would no more fight for Mizuno-kun than she would any of the rest of them.  He waited until she had closed the door before calling Renji. 

It had taken six shouting matches and a visit to the bureau of Research and Development, and it would be a cold day in hell before he visited that freak Kurotshuchi again, but the Shinigami had finally given him a communicator.  “Hey,” answered Renji on the third ring. 

“I need you to put one of the gofers to work running down a name.  I might have a lead on our mysterious young friend,” he murmured.

“I’ll tell someone, but I’m not sure what sorta response you’ll get, there was a hollow attack earlier that has everyone going nuts and the 12th is screaming ‘bout some freaky reading they're getting,” muttered Renji, a hint of his childhood accent slipping in and making Uryuu frown.  Renji's accent started getting more pronounced when he was stressed or upset.

“Everything okay, love?” he asked gently.

“Ichigo’s gotten squirrelly, really squirrelly.  It's got Rukia worried.  I ain’t got the story yet but something happened earlier.  She says a kid was the one to kill the hollow just a little while back.  You sure you wanna run the kid down alone?  If he took on a hollow...“ Renji let the thought trail off and Uryuu had to smile at the concern in his lover’s voice. 

“I’ll be careful.  See you at home in a little bit.”

“Take care of yourself, Uryuu.”

"I survived you, I can handle anything," purred the Quincy, earning a warm chuckle at the mention of their explosive early days.

Chapter Text

Kisuke staggered unsteadily into the darkened living room, glad neither of his parents were home.  There would have been awkward questions and stares he wasn’t ready to face.  He stumbled, catching himself against the wall only at the last minute, leaving a bloody handprint as a testament to his passage.  He would have to clean that, a dim part of his mind noted, the rest of it was still numb with shock, still trying to process what it was he had done.

A soft voice murmured something and the room exploded in light as millions of white threads encircled him, binding his arms to his body and trapping him.  Kisuke struggled within their wrappings, his limbs still shaking and his eyes wild.  He felt the numbness start to slip into his veins and grew frantic in his struggles.  “Lemme go!  Lemme go!  Please!  Oh god, please!  You have to let me go! 

“Calm down.  Calm down.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I just want to talk to you,” soothed the dark haired man from earlier in the day, stepping from the shadows into the light cast by the threads.  “I’m not going to hurt you, Hideaki.”  His face was earnest and his voice calm and gentle, as if he was speaking to a wild animal; but Kisuke didn't care.  All he cared about was getting loose.  He had to get loose, had to get away before whatever sleeping dragon inside him was roused.  He didn’t want to hurt this man, didn't want to hurt anyone.  "Please, you don't know what I can do, what I've done.  Please, you have to let me go," he begged desperately, his breathing growing strained and harsh.

"Shh...Calm down.  Just calm down and breathe.  I'll let you go, I promise.  Just hold still a second," soothed the man.  The threads released him and Kisuke sagged and would have fallen, but the dark haired man moved and quickly caught him.  "Here, just sit down for a second."  He was gently steered to a chair and lowered into it, the dark haired man kneeling next to him, studying him with concern.  "There.  It's okay, Hideaki.  I'm not going to hurt you."

Gentle fingers traced the cut on his chest, examining it.  "You should get this looked at.  It's not deep, which is good, but it's awfully long.  What happened?"

Kisuke glanced down and as if awakening from a stupor realized that his shirt was in ruins and the cut on his chest was still sluggishly bleeding from a few small spots where the claw had cut deeper.  There was grit and dust covering him as well the blood.  He was almost amazed no one had stopped him on the street.  "I was fighting," he mumbled softly.

"Well, let's get you cleaned up and then I'll take a look at that cut for you."  Kisuke nodded and let himself be led from the living room to the bathroom.  He blushed faintly at the sight of the shower, the dream from earlier in the afternoon rising eagerly in his memory.  The other man didn't seem to notice and Kisuke was grateful when he turned on the shower and stepped outside, closing the door.  "I'll bring you some clothes.  Just get cleaned up."

Kisuke nodded before he realized that the other man couldn't see him.  He tugged off his ruined shirt and pants, wondering what in the world he was going to do with them.  His parents were bound to notice if he threw them out and that would lead to questions he couldn't answer.

His parents were usually happy enough to give him his freedom, mostly since he had been doing calculus and reading theoretical physics since the age of ten, but they wouldn't turn a blind eye to their only son coming home bloody.  Ditching class was one thing, getting into fights was something else entirely.  And trying to explain about the hollows...the very idea gave him a headache.   

Neither of his parents saw ghosts.  When he had been little and told them about the ghosts, they had scolded him for making up stories.  He had stopped talking about the things he knew his parents wouldn't want to hear after that.  He didn't have the slightest idea of how they would react to learning that their boy was still seeing dead people, but his hunch was not well - of the drugs and doctors and mental wards variety.

He shoved those concerns from his mind and stepped into the shower, letting the warm water pelt his back for a few moments while he tried to reorient himself.  It had been a very long and strange day and it didn't look to be ending any time soon - a pity since he would have enjoyed a week or so to get his head back together.

"Who is that strange man in your bedroom?" demanded Midori, appearing in front of him and making him jump, squeak, and try desperately to cover himself.  Not that it would do any good, Midori had seen it all before.  Damn nosy ghost. 

"Get out!"  He hissed, trying to shoo her with one hand while covering himself with the other.

"Everything alright?" called the dark haired man.

"Fine!"  He glared at Midori, relieved when she took the hints and floated through the shower door.

"Don't do that!  And I don't know who he is!  I don't know what's going on!  I don't know anything!  All I know is something's wrong with me and I have to do something about it before I hurt someone," he whispered to Midori in a heated rush, growing cold and frightened as he finished.  Tears spilled down his cheeks and he wiped at them angrily, for once wishing that he could just be normal.

"Oh pet, there's nothing wrong with you," whispered Midori, floating back through the door to gently touch his cheek.  "You're the same sweet boy you always were, Kisuke-chan.  Hush.  There, there.  No need for tears, pet," she soothed, invoking her childhood nickname for him, making him sniffle and smile at her.

"I'm scared.  I'm remembering things I never did and doing things I shouldn't be able to do.  What's happening to me?" he asked with a sort of lost desperation.

"You're just growing up, pet.  You're special, you know that and I know that.  There's nothing wrong with being special, Kisuke-chan."  Ghostly arms wrapped him in a loose hug and for a moment he was wrapped in another set of arms, these ones strong and sure, protecting him and keeping him safe.  He closed his eyes to better capture the memory and let the warmth of it soak through him.  In the memory he was right where he belonged, he was home, and he desperately wanted that feeling now.

Slowly he opened his eyes, giving Midori a small, watery smile.  "I need to get cleaned up.  Will you keep an eye on our guest?"  She nodded, giving him a quick kiss on the forehead before disappearing.

He finished washing quickly, wincing as soap touched the cut on his chest, but figuring soap had to be better than dirt.  He toweled off, wrapping it around his waist and cautiously opened the door to find a fresh pair of his sweats waiting.  He slid on the bottoms but emerged carrying the top, no point it putting it on just to take it off again when the dark haired man looked at his chest.

He found the other man in the kitchen, kettle going and the first aid kit on the table.  "Your ghost told me where the first aid kit was," murmured the man with a rueful smile.  Midori appeared behind him, blushing faintly.

"You can see them?  Ghosts?" asked Kisuke, all thoughts of the cut or anything else vanishing.  He had never met another person who could see ghosts and suddenly all he wanted to do was talk about it, explore this part of his life that he had never been allowed to share.   To know that he wasn't alone in the world, that he was normal at least in someone's eyes.

"Of course I can see them," answered the man, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"What are you?" breathed Kisuke eagerly.  Finally, here was someone who understood, someone like him.

"Oh!  Ishida Uryuu, the last of the Quincy.  And you are Mizuno Hideaki, right?" asked the Quincy, pushing his glasses up his nose.  His tone said he knew he was right and Kisuke had to smile at the arrogance of it.

He shook his head.  "My name's not Hideaki.  It's Kisuke.  Mizuno Kisuke." 

For a moment Ishida looked as if he'd been punched in the gut, his face drained of all color and he stumbled to a chair, staring at Kisuke as if he'd seen a ghost.  "Kisuke?" he stammered softly, before he started laughing, it wasn't a happy laugh though, there was a desperate sort of pained edge to it.  "How did I miss...it's like looking into a fucking picture."

"Ishida-san?" he asked cautiously, suddenly nervous.

"I'm alright, Mizuno-kun, just a bit of a shock is all.  Like having someone point out that you missed the pink elephant standing in the middle of the room."  The Quincy shook his head, pushed up his glasses and stood, seeming more like himself.  "Sit down and we'll see to your cut."

"What pink elephant?  What are you talking about?" demanded Kisuke, sensing somehow that answers to so many of his questions were within reach.  A glare and a pointed look to the chair made him sit but he still stared determinedly at Ishida.  He would not be put off.

"It's complicated, and most of it is ancient history, long before your time.  You just look a great deal like someone I knew long ago.  It was simply shocking to realize how much," murmured the Quincy, going to work on his chest with skilled, confident hands.  The man had medical training Kisuke guessed; he was also lying.  He hadn't noticed anything until Kisuke had said his name. 

"You're lying, you didn't react until I told you my name.  You know something.  Something about me."  He saw blue eyes widen behind the glasses and felt a deeply buried flash of annoyance; he wasn't stupid.  Young, yes; but no one had ever accused him of stupidity.

The Quincy sighed, "You always were too smart for your own good.  As for what I know, I told you, it's complicated and a great deal of it would be conjecture at the moment.  Why don't we start with what you know and I can try filling in the gaps as they arise?"

Kisuke shook hid head, hissing as a gauze pad with alcohol gently cleaned his cut.  "I don't know what I know.  It's all jumbled up in my head.  I get...I get these...flashes, memories maybe, but they aren't mine and I don't understand them.  I know about the Shinigami and the hollows, but not much.  

"I can do things," he admitted softly, a tremor of fear in his voice.  "Things....I can fight.  I've always just known how, how to take a punch, how to dodge, where to hit.  And earlier...," he began trembling again, gripping the chair tightly to try and still the shaking of his limbs.  "It was a hollow.  I slipped and...and something...happened.  I was saying all these things and then I...I shot lightning at it and then these swords...and this black box of energy formed around it...  I killed it!  I killed it," he explained in a frantic rush, as if afraid that pausing would cause the words to get stuck and he would never be able to let them out.  Never be able to explain what he had done, to purge it from his psyche. 

He saw the instant Ishida absorbed his words and the shock the Quincy tried to mask.  He really was too smart for his own good, he thought morosely, his eyes prickling.  What was he that even the Shinigami and their allies thought him a monster?

The Quincy cursed softly but warm arms settled lightly around his shoulders, loose enough that he didn’t feel trapped but silently offering comfort and support, making Kisuke glance at the older man in surprise.  Dark blue eyes met his and Kisuke was surprised to find there was compassion in them.  Ishida understood how frightened and confused he was, how strange it all was.  What was more, he wanted to help.  He let the other man hold him for a second, taking what comfort he could before shifting his weight just a fraction, it was enough that Ishida knew he was ready to be turned loose. 

The Quincy straightened and gave him a small, tired sigh.  "I shouldn't be the one explaining things to you, Kisuke.  I'm not sure what is best to tell you and what should wait.  But I can try.  You need to calm down though.  You didn't do anything wrong.  Understand?"

He nodded, earning a faint smile from the Quincy.  They both jumped when the kettle whistled and Kisuke quickly fixed them both some tea, the routine of it helping to soothe his nerves and even the scent of the tea calmly familiar.

"What you did was something called kidou.  It's a type of magic.  Shinigami use it sometimes.  They prefer swinging swords around but even the most brash and impetuous of them can manage a few simple spells," murmured the Quincy, his voice warm and amused.  Kisuke guessed he was thinking about the redheaded man he had been with earlier.

"There's nothing strange or unnatural about you using it."  Except he wasn't a Shinigami; but Kisuke decided the comfort of the half lie was more reassuring than whatever truth he could badger out of Ishida.   The truth would likely only hurt, and while he had never let a little pain steer him away from things before, he was feeling just a little too fragile to cope with any more pain at that moment. 

"As for the rest, I think I'd like to talk to some friends of mine, perhaps have you come with me to talk to them?" he ventured tentatively.  Kisuke studied him carefully, not sure what to say.  If he went with Ishida he could be trapped or killed.  He had only the Quincy's word that they just wanted to talk.  He trusted the other man though, his instincts said Ishida was a good man and wouldn't betray him or see him hurt.

"Just talk?  And I can leave whenever I want?"  Life had taught him that clarification and asking the right questions was key.  Kisuke danced merry cob around other people's rules precisely because no one ever thought to spell things out clearly and concisely.  

Ishida nodded, frowning slightly and cocking his head as if listening for something.  A moment later Kisuke thought he knew what had caught the older man's attention.  There was a spike of energy, it was a long ways off but powerful.

Chapter Text

The four of them were walking back toward base.  Him, Rukia, Hitsugaya and Karin.  Karin was coming to visit him, or at least that was official story.  Unofficially, she spent four nights or five nights a week with Toushiro depending on their workloads.  They would have married years ago if not for the war and Soul Society's rules.  Ichigo knew they had whispered plans to marry once Karin entered Soul Society, since Hitsugaya wasn't a noble and no one could say a word about who he married then.  Not that marrying a Kurosaki would exactly bring his standing down; in terms of sheer power their family was impressive.  Three captains and one seated healer.

He wondered for a moment what it would have been like to share such plans with Kisuke.  If the other man would have even wanted to make such plans with him?  He gave up the thoughts and tried to focus on the present, the four of them walking and the paperwork awaiting his attention when they got back to base. 

He and Rukia walked a little ways ahead to give Karin and Toushiro the illusion of privacy and to talk themselves.  They had handled everything from squad business to trying to find a nice guy for Rukia during the walk home.  The former usually accomplished far more than the latter, but it was still amusing to try.  Tonight they were silent save for Rukia's reiatsu fluttering nervously around them.  Ichigo wanted to tell her to quit it, but he could sense the love and concern underlying the gesture.  She was worried about him.  And not without reason, he admitted privately.  His thinking had never been all that clear where Kisuke was concerned.  He was never going to be completely rational about Urahara or his feelings for him; love wasn't rational.  A few hours and talking with Zangetsu and Benihime had helped calm him down about how to handle the situation with the blond though. 

Urahara was in no immediate danger.  He was frightened and tired, but unhurt.  He didn't need Ichigo to go tearing after him in a panic, upsetting him further and possibly drawing attention to him.  His love didn't need any more attention after his stunt with the hollow. 

He glanced back at his sister and Hitsugaya, gentle laughter drawing him, and felt Rukia's reiatsu spike with worry.  "Stop that," he snapped at her.  "I don't need you fussing over me.  I'm fine.  Just because it's Urahara doesn't mean I'm going to do something stupid."

Rukia gave him a long look saying she believed him about as much as she believed Renji when he claimed to be late because of paperwork rather than a certain Quincy.  She knew better than to push him though, especially on Urahara.  Kisuke was the one thing he didn't talk about unless it was purely on his terms.  She sighed and gently touched his arm, offering whatever small comfort she could before her eyes lost focus and she cocked her head as if straining to hear some far off sound. 

A glance at Karin showed the same look of concentration.  Both Karin and Rukia were better at subtle energy work than he or Toushiro though, so they were likely to sense disturbances first.  When the 10th division captain narrowed his eyes Ichigo gave up any hope for a quiet, early evening to deal with his grief privately.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  He had always been more action oriented anyway, he thought slipping from his body.  The chance to beat the stuffing out of something might be just what he needed to help put Kisuke from his mind.

Reiastu erupted around them, dark and chaotic, with the eerie chill that only came with the formation of a gate.  A gate from Hueco Mundo.  Ichigo felt his head shoot up as individual spirit signatures washed over him.  And one in particular, long unfelt, but utterly unmistakable...at least to him.

Ulquiorra.

He felt Shirosaki stirring in the depths of his soul, the hollow's dark, cool anger a counterpoint to the burning rage he felt.  He felt Rukia startle as his mask began forming.  That long dormant wellspring of anger and rage lurking inside him had burst back to life and the edges between him and Shirosaki were blurring.  All that mattered was that Ulquiorra had returned and that the Espada would die.  The others, and there were others, didn't matter.  The only thing he cared about was killing Ulquiorra, repaying him for taking Kisuke.  "Rukia, take Karin and run," he ordered in that odd rippling voice of the hollow.

"Ichigo...,"

"Do it," ordered Hitsugaya sharply.  He could always be counted on to think of Karin's safety thought Ichigo approvingly.  While his sister was far from helpless, she was nowhere near strong enough to face an Espada.  Eventually she would be a seated Shinigami, probably a captain, but at the moment she was still merely human and not ready to fight Arrancar. 

Karin gave Hitsugaya's hand a squeeze and there was something in her eyes that was all too familiar to Ichigo and tugged at his heart strings - worried acceptance.  She knew she couldn't fight and that Toushiro had to; she didn't like it, but she knew that was the way things were.  "Be safe," Ichigo heard her whisper before she took Rukia's hand and fled.

Five Arrancar stepped into the street around them, blocking all retreat.  All of them were members of the old Espada noted Ichigo with mild interest, wondering what had caused Aizen to send them out.  Grimmjow stood blocking the path to the base, smirking and elbowing Ulquiorra who looked as disinterested as he always did.  Wonderwise blocked an alley, still looking a couple eggs short of a dozen.  Halibel and Yami stood blocking the retreat to the Kurosaki home, sneering at Karin and Rukia.  Five to three with one non-combatant were not good odds.

They stood there staring at each other for a moment, neither side seeming eager to break the stalemate.  Then Halibel moved, it might have been towards Karin and Rukia, Ichigo couldn't tell, and Hitsugaya didn't care.  He reacted.  He was between the two women and the Arrancar instantly, sword out and ice in his eyes.  That broke the stalemate and Ichigo lunged for Ulquiorra with a dark snarl.

Grimmjow struck at his left side, forcing him to dodge and giving Ulquiorra precious milliseconds to twist out of his way.  He hissed at the catlike Arrancar, earning a frown rather than the shit eating grin Grimmjow usually gave him.  Ulquiorra came at him and he dodged a blow that could have taken off his head. 

He saw Rukia block an attack from Wonderwise and watched as Hitsugaya tried to freeze both Halibel and Yami in one blast.  Then he was dodging a cero blast from Grimmjow and trying to avoid blows from Ulquiorra. 

He watched as the normally impassive Arrancar's eyes grew wide.  "Grimmjow," he said, motioning to something occurring behind Ichigo with a small tilt of his head.  The blue haired Arrancar nodded his understanding and Ichigo lunged to try and stop him.  Behind him were Karin and the others.  Ulquiorra blocked him by viciously attacking, drawing his attention back to the former fourth Espada.  He felt the gathering energy of a cero blast and heard Karin scream.  Rage spiked inside him, power pouring out of him, black and silver mixing in a wild storm of reiatsu.  He knocked Ulquiorra away and whipped around.

Grimmjow was just releasing a cero blast.  The malignant red energy slammed into the space between Karin and Halibel, forcing the Arrancar woman to release the hold she had on Karin and knocking his sister away.  Hitsugaya darted in and grabbed his lover, pulling her close and glaring icy hatred at Halibel for touching her. 

"What the hell, Grimmjow!" snarled Halibel, earning a shrugged grin from the former 6th Espada.

The dark energy of another gate washed over them all, it was far off however, and they had other concerns. 

Ichigo slid gracefully away from a blow Ulquiorra leveled at him, not sure whether to get closer to Hitsugaya to help him protect Karin or try and give him space to work in and lure off whatever Arrancar he could.  A cero blast from Yami that narrowly missed him convinced him that spacing themselves out more might be a good idea.

There was an explosion in the distance and Benihime began wailing.  Ichigo froze as conflicting impulses tore at him - help Kisuke or kill Ulquiorra.  There was no choice though and he knew it.  Kisuke.  It was always Kisuke. 

"Grimmjow, now," commanded Ulquiorra, firing a cero blast at him and sending him rolling head over heels into Yami.  Grimmjow grinned and used the break in formation to run.  He darted past Yami and Halibel, sending a cero blast back at the two to distract them.  Rukia blocked the blast by tossing Wonderwise into its path.

"What the hell are you doing, Ulquiorra!" snarled Yami.

"What I have to," murmured other Arrancar, grabbing Ichigo before he could follow Grimmjow and tossing him back into Karin and Hitsugaya.  "I would suggest fleeing, but do as you will," he murmured to the three other Arrancar.

"We will be in touch, Shinigami," he announced before using sonido and fleeing.

Ichigo snarled and leapt to his feet, wanting to follow Ulquiorra but knowing he had to get to Kisuke.  He darted past the stunned Arrancar who looked lost for a moment before disappearing back into Hueco Mundo.  "Ichi-nii!" cried Karin.

"Let him go.  This is something important to him," murmured Rukia, earning a sharp glare from Hitsugaya.  There were very few things that were important enough to the captain of the 5th to draw him away from his family or his vengeance.  In fact, Toushiro could think of only one thing...but that was impossible.  Urahara was dead.

Chapter Text

Kisuke felt energy tingle across his senses, something dark and malignant and far closer than the last wash of energy.  He glanced up and caught Ishida's gaze, seeing the same sick unease lurking there.  The Quincy quickly pushed it down however, with a soft curse.  "We have to go.  Now," he ordered, grabbing a hold of Kisuke's arm and moving swiftly toward the door.

"Go?  Where?  What was that?  Ishida-san?" he asked, stumbling as the older man tugged his sweatshirt onto him, the fabric rubbing painfully against the open cut on his chest.

"Arrancar.  A lot of them.  Close by.  Now, come on," demanded the Quincy, glancing around nervously, like he expected to be attacked at any moment.  And perhaps he did, realized Kisuke with a sick sort of dread.  "I know people, a place that's safe.  Do you know the Urahara shop?  It's near by.  Go there if anything happens to me or we get separated.  They'll be able to protect you.  Just tell them I sent you and that they are to get you to Abarai Renji or the 5th division office as soon as they can."

Kisuke stared at the older man, wide eyed and silent.  Why would he need protection?  So far, the only people chasing him seemed to be the Shinigami.  Until today he had had never even come within four blocks of a hollow or done anything beyond talk to a few ghosts.  Why would these Arrancar, whatever they were, care about him?

Ishida had just taken hold of the front door knob when he froze, staring at the door and cursing.  "Run!" he whispered sharply, turning and shoving Kisuke back toward the kitchen and the other side of the house.  They had only taken a few stumbling steps when the front wall of the house exploded inward, knocking them both forward.

The Quincy shoved him through the doorway to the kitchen with another order to run.  Kisuke obeyed, crossing the kitchen in just a few steps, turning only when he realized that Ishida wasn't following.  The older man stood in the middle of the ruined living room, facing people who were unlike any Kisuke had ever seen.

The man at the forefront was a tall, thin, figure garbed in white.  His hair was silver and slid onto his face, obscuring his eyes.  There was a grin on his lips but it wasn't a nice grin; there was something wrong about it, too many sharp angles.  It made Kisuke think of a shark or a crocodile, some grinning monster that was just waiting for the unwary to venture too close so he could gobble them up.  He felt a shiver of dread looking at this man.  He was dangerous.

Grim faced demons, for he couldn't think of what else they might have been, flanked the man, one on either side.  Like the man, both wore white, but otherwise they were as different as night and day. 

The one on the left was a tall, sleek woman with skin the color of jet and a short bob of shockingly white hair.  A white bone mask covered the left half of her face and her reiatsu pulsed with malicious darkness.

The demon on the right was bone white from head to toe.  His mask covered his face like a domino, dark red eyes peering out at the world from beneath it.  His reiatsu was almost nonexistent and yet he exuded the same dangerous air as his companions.

"Run!" snarled Ishida, a glowing bow of pure blue energy appearing in his hand.

"The Quincy boy," purred the grinning man, his smile widening and growing more vicious.  "Aizen-sama wants to visit with our old friend."

"He's busy," Kisuke heard Ishida retort followed by a loud crashing.  Neither slowed him, he was across the kitchen and shimming through a window before he'd even realized it.  The street was rough against his bare feet but he didn't care, he ran.  A blast of red energy made him stumble but he quickly found his balance and continued fleeing, Ishida's instructions about getting to the shop the only thing in his mind.

At the end of the block he turned to take one last look for Ishida, but the Quincy wasn't following.  Bolts of light were coming from his house, some blue and others red, Ishida fighting the demons he assumed.  Worry about it later, he told himself.  Ishida had told him to get to this Urahara shop and that was what he should do.  Everything else, including the grounding he would get for destroying the house he could handle later.  The first thing to do was to survive and that meant getting to this shop.

Just as he turned the corner pain exploded in his left calf, sending him to the ground.  He gasped and twisted, trying to see what was wrong and was shocked to see his leg impaled on a wickedly long blade.  The blade came from all the way down the street and passed clean through his calf and all the way into the concrete, pinning him to the ground.  One of the demons appeared at his elbow, the woman, and glared coolly down at him.  He felt that dark, dangerous thing inside him uncoil and when the blade in his leg retracted, he was moving.

He rolled aside, firing a blast of kidou at the woman before springing to his feet to run.  His injured leg screamed a protest and the pain seemed to make the darkness falter, bringing Kisuke back into his agonized flesh and sending him to the ground in a heap.  He stared up at the demon, panting and afraid, the darkness inside trying to find a purchase but the pain kept pushing it back.

As the demon raised a hand, a ball of glowing red energy in it, the darkness tore through him and Kisuke screamed.  "Bakudou 75: Gochuu Tekan," he snarled, rolling aside, just in case the Arrancar got her shot off before wrenching himself to his feet.  Pain, sharp and blinding, left him dizzy but he pushed it aside.  To falter here was to die.

He stumbled forward a few steps, growling as the second Arrancar appeared before him.  "I'm not in the mood," he murmured, a strained smile pulling at his lips.  The Arrancar tilted his head, clearly puzzled at the scene, him on his feet and moving, the other Arrancar behind him pinned with an advanced kidou rather than dead.  He didn't dare try for a killing spell though; in a human body he couldn't recover spirit particles fast enough, the battle with the hollow had taught him that.

"Aizen-sama wishes you," growled the Arrancar.

Kisuke felt a bright grin tug at his lips, "Aizen-kun will have to become use to disappointment and you can tell him I said as much.  Hadou 4: White Lightning," he shouted, using the distraction to dart past the Arrancar and continue running, the pain eating away at his control, but knowing that to give in to it meant death or capture, which was really nothing but a slower and less pleasant form of death.

A cero blast shot over his head from in front of him, knocking back the recovered Arrancar, and sending Kisuke skidding to a halt.  It was too late though, a fist lashed out, hitting him square in the stomach and sending him doubling over as he tried to remember how to breathe.  He sensed the fist coming for the back of his skull but couldn't do anything about it and darkness claimed him as it connected.

 

* * *

 

Ishida growled in annoyance.  Two range weapons fighting in the cramped confines of a normal human home was a recipe for futility.  Neither he nor Ichimaru could get the distance they needed for a true blow and the walls and furniture provided ample cover for both of them.  The Arrancar would have proven the tie breaker, but they were suspiciously absent, making him think that they had been sent to get Kisuke while Ichimaru toyed with him. 

The thought sent a spike of rage through him, not just at the idea of the young man falling into Aizen's hands but at the thought of having to tell Ichigo that his lover's soul was lost again.  He wasn't sure they would be able to control the other man's rage if he learned Urahara had been reborn and lost to them.  Losing Urahara the first time had nearly killed him, losing him again might very well finish the job.

"This is getting boring, little Quincy," taunted Ichimaru with a demonic grin.  Ishida growled and fired off three quick shots that hit nothing but the wall, jumping aside as Ichimaru's zanpaktou shot at him.

He felt a spike of reiatsu that had to be Kisuke and glanced toward the street and the open front wall.  If he could make it to the street he would have more room to fight and he could try and help Kisuke.  The problem was the former Shinigami between him and there.  Any attempt to get past him would leave him open for an attack.

Another presence joined the two near Kisuke and Uryuu cursed.  He had to help the boy, three on one with two of them likely Espada would be foolish odds for a captain, never mind an untrained boy with no idea of his power.  One of the Espada joined Ichimaru, whispering something that sent an angry spike through the man's reiatsu.  "Well, it's time for us to go, little Quincy.  It seems someone is being very naughty," growled the former captain. 

"Handle this," he ordered the Espada and Ishida felt a growing sense of dread as they flash stepped into the street, the Espada turning to hurl a cero blast into the remains of the house.  He had just long enough to curse Shinigami and their perchance for dropping buildings on him before the house began crumbling around him.

Chapter Text

The hand struck him across the face, dragging him back to consciousness but not just him.  It wasn't him who let his muscles stay relaxed waiting for the next blow.  Or him whose hand shot out and caught the other man's wrist before the next blow could fall.  Silver eyes ringed with red flashed open and a feral, nasty grin pulled at his lips as he stared at the man. 

Kisuke faltered as his took in the man, his grip going from bone breaking to something merely secure.  Another demon was kneeling over him, this one male with glacial blue hair and eyes.  The mask was on his right jaw and there was something rough and unkempt about this demon. He was kneeling over Kisuke, studying him and grinning just a little nastily at him.  This was the person who had punched him, he knew it.

"Ya 'wake yet?" growled the demon.

He scrambled back from the demon, glancing around, but the place was unlike any he had ever seen, open blue sky, barren rocky ground.  Some part of him thought he should know this place, but he couldn't summon a memory of it and he had never dreamed about a place like this.  Still, it was naggingly familiar to him.  He eyed the demon warily, before taking a quick look around for an exit, hackles rising when the demon laughed at him.

"Feisty little thing for a cub," taunted the demon, making Kisuke frown and want to hurt him.

"Hey, Ulquiorra!  The kitten wants to fight," called the demon, roaring with amusement.

"Ignore him.  We need him in one piece if we are to trade him to Soul Society," intoned a flat voice that sent a shiver of unease rippling through Kisuke.  He knew that voice.

Unease turned to cold panic as another demon stepped from behind a rocky outcropping holding several shopping bags.  This demon was shorter and ghostly pale except for his dark hair and brilliant green eyes.  Kisuke felt his gaze drawn to those cold eyes and gasped as pain shot through his body.

He tried to parry but it was too late.  He knew that the second the Espada started the thrust.   He felt the blade sink into his chest to the hilt and knew he was dead.  He had pushed himself too far.  His gigai hadn’t been built to handle a captain’s level of energy, it wasn't strong enough.  He had resisted Aizen and died for it.  He felt the Espada pull the sword free and pain ripped through his body.  Blood and reiatsu poured from the wound and he gasped in agony. 

Benihime fell from fingers he could no longer control, screaming for him, wailing her fear and anguish.  The sound torn at his heart but he could no more help her than he could help himself.  They were both doomed.  

Somewhere in the background he heard Ururu screaming, calling his name and trying to reach him.  Jinta looked terrified and even Tessai looked worried, he realized as the pain drew his mind from the narrow focus of battle and back to the world around him.  Tessai was holding both the children back, keeping them from rushing to his side, and Urahara was glad.  They would only get hurt.

Strong arms grabbed him as he fell, cradling him, and trying to stem the flow of blood and spirit energy.  It was too late though.  Urahara opened his eyes to stare briefly up at his lover, once again amazed by the ferocity and beauty of the younger man.  This would be the one thing his heart regretted, leaving this glorious creature behind.  "I'll miss you," he whispered, wanting to say more, wanting to tell younger man for the first and last time just how he felt about him, that he loved him.  Would always love him; but knowing better.  Ichigo didn‘t need his feelings tying him down, didn‘t need to know that a foolish, former Shinigami loved him.  He closed his eyes and tried to quiet his heart.  He was ready.  He had lived a good life, loved well, and now he would die in defense of something worthy.  

He felt his soul chain snap and heard a scream of pure rage and denial split the air before darkness claimed him.

Grimmjow stared at the kid, wondering what the hell his problem was.  Something was definitely up with him though.  His eyes were wide and terrified, his whole body was shaking, and he stunk of fear.  The kid looked like his worst nightmare was standing before him.  He was staring at Ulquiorra like the guy was taking him apart piece by piece even though he was over ten meters away.  A soft keening began to spill from the kid's throat and Grimmjow finally remembered just who it had been to kill Urahara.  Ulquiorra had slipped and stabbed him, right through the reservoir of his power, a scarce millimeter from his heart.  Ulquiorra had killed him physically and spiritually, he realized.  No wonder the kid's soul remembered him.  Inflict a trauma like that on a soul and it remembered.

The cub remembered what Ulquiorra had done to Urahara.  He needed to get the kid away from the other Espada if they wanted something sane and functional to return to Soul Society.  Plus, he was kinda curious about the spark that had been in the back of the kitten's eyes when he first woke up.  There had been something dark and dangerous lurking there, a predator, and Grimmjow respected other predators, even if this one was still only lurking in the mind of a cub. 

"Those the medicine?" he asked, nodding to the bags Ulquiorra held.  The other Espada nodded, looking genuinely mystified at the kitten's response to him.  "Hey, humans need food right?  Grab some while I deal with the kid."  He took the bags and turned his back on Ulquiorra, the kitten needed attention, and he was the only one able to give it. 

"Kurosaki better fuckin' appreciate this, Kitten," he grumbled.  He smacked the kitten hard across the face, the blow instantly focusing him.  Hard grey eyes pinned him and Grimmjow grinned at the kid, seeing the predator in him waiting to see what happened next.  Something told the former Espada that if he tried for a second blow, it wouldn't land.

"Just me, Kitten."

"Kisuke," hissed the kid, darting away, his eyes searching, no doubt looking for a way out or Ulquiorra.  He wouldn't find either.  They had taken great care in choosing their hiding place and there was no way the kitten was getting out unless they wanted him to.

"What?" he asked.

"My name is Kisuke, not kitten," snapped the boy, making Grimmjow laugh.  He had never dealt much with Urahara, but he liked this kid, he had bite.  If the old him had been like this he could see the draw.

"Alright...Kitten.  Now, ya wanna get that leg looked at?" he mocked, motioning to the rough bandage around the kid's calf.  It was soaked with blood but it was the best he had been able to do when collecting the brat.  It needed to be looked at though, a small pool was beginning to form beneath the leg and that sort of bleeding couldn't be good.  Grimmjow waited and finally the kid sighed, scooting closer and sliding his bloody pants off.  Grey eyes met blue challenging Grimmjow to start something or make something of the fact that he was sitting there in his boxes and a baggy sweatshirt.  He definitely liked this kitten.

He dumped the supplies Ulquiorra had brought, trying to figure out what to do for the human.  He wasn't an expert on humans.  He had handled killing them up until now, not putting them back together.

The boy sighed in exasperation, picking up a bottle.  "This is alcohol, you have to wash the wound with that and then use these to close it and wrap it with the gauze."  Grimmjow nodded his understanding and dumped the liquid over the wound, jumping slightly as the kid shrieked at the top of his lungs and passed out cold.  Curious he scratched a tiny cut on his finger and poured a little of the alcohol over it, cursing vehemently at the sting.  No wonder the kitten had passed out.  Who the fuck had come up with dumping that shit in open wounds?  It hurt like hell!

The kitten shivered and tried to curled in on himself making Grimmjow frown and toss his jacket over the kid, not quite sure why but feeling a little bad for the kitten.  He went to work closing the wound like he had been told, odd little butterfly shaped things to hold it closed and then wrapping it tightly in the gauze.  The kid came around just as he was finishing with the gauze, watching him not with the predator's eyes but with the cub's, frightened and adrift in something he didn't understand.

"Why am I here?" asked the kid, his voice barely above a whisper and pitched as if he didn't really expect an answer.

"We took ya, me and emo boy.  And don't worry about him, he won't hurt ya.  Last time was a fluke."

"Last time?" pressed the kitten, leaning forward just a little when it became clear he was willing to answer questions.

"Aw, hell!  You don't remember shit, do ya?" muttered Grimmjow, shocked as the kitten fell apart right before his eyes.

"How the fuck am I suppose to the know anything!" snarled the kitten, tossing the bottle of alcohol at him and then anything else that was within reach.  "I never asked for this!  No one ever asked me!  And no one will tell me a fucking thing!  I have Shinigami chasing me, you bastards, those other demons, and not one of you will tell me anything!  Who the hell I'm supposed to be!  Why the fuck I'm so important!  Anything!"  Angry tears threatened to stream over his cheeks and Grimmjow was all but sure the kitten would claw him up one side and down the other if he didn't handle him right.

"Well, they think you're someone named Urahara Kisuke, his soul reborn and all that shit.  I don't know much about 'im, didn't really give a shit.  But he's supposed to be smart, really smart. 

“He used ta be a Shinigami captain.  Really powerful and scary clever but one of those ivory tower types, real sketchy on the morality of what he was doing.  Anyway, 'bout a hundred years ago he made this thing, Hougyoku, it was really powerful.  Maybe too powerful.  And the captain decides he doesn't want anyone to get it so he tries to destroy it.  But he can't.  Hougyoku is too powerful for him to destroy.

"Now, not everyone agreed with the captain about Hougyoku. A vice-captain named Aizen for one. He and others who'd never liked the captain stole his research and tried to use it, but they could never get it to work. Well, finally word gets out 'bout shit goin' on and the captain goes to investigate - only his gets blamed for it. Right before they're goin' pronounce judgement the captain escapes and he slips outta Soul Society with the Hougyoku.

"Anyway, Urahara hid out in the human world, but eventually his enemies caught up with him. And Aizen, who has become a captain himself by now, set a trap so he can steal Hougyoku. Him and his allies manage to steal it and flee Soul Society. The only problem is Aizen can't use it; only ol' Urahara knows how to make the damned thing work right. Each time Aizen tries to use Hougyoku, it drains the damned thing's power and destabilizes Hougyoku. So Aizen sends his followers to get him Urahara. That would be where yer phobia to emo boy comes from. He gets the job to collect Urahara, but he fucks up and slips while he's trying to subdue the captain, killed him when he was trying to wound him.

“No more Urahara. Except the captain is a tricky fucker and somehow he sets it up so he can come back after he dies. He gets reborn. And everyone gets a second bite at the apple. Aizen gets another chance of making Hougyoku work and winning his war. Soul Society gets another chance at getting one of their brightest back right when they're in the middle of a war with Aizen. Win-win for everyone except the poor fuck who ended up with Urahara's soul. That's you, by the way.

“This where me and the priss come in. Now, as you can guess Aizen ain't thrilled with losing 20 years in his war effort. He sends his people to get you, but he also sends some others to act as bait to keep away the Shinigami. A suicide mission 'cause there were some people on the Shinigami side real pissed to see Urahara go and there's nothing they'd like more than to take Aizen or those close ta him apart. Anyway, me and Ulquiorra aren't keen on dying, especially as a distraction. So we talked it over and figured we can trade you to the Shinigami for protection from Aizen. Even that bastard Kurosaki would help us to get Urahara back."

"Kurosaki...I know that name," murmured Kisuke, tilting his head as he tried to remember.

"You and he were fucking," replied Grimmjow, delighting in the blush that colored the kitten's cheeks. He would lay money the kid remembered something about that from the color he turned.

"And the rest you know," he finished with a shrug.

"I don't know anything! He was important! He was valuable! What about me? What does that make me?" whispered the kitten, anger and fear warring in his eyes.

"A shadow of what was," came Ulquiorra's merciless voice from the stairs leading to the surface.

Chapter Text

Renji stormed into the 4th Division ward with all the force of a hurricane, slamming doors, snapping orders, and in general making a nuisance of himself.  The ploy worked however, and within moments he was being led to Uryuu.  A junior healer opened the door for him, most likely to keep him from throwing it open and making more noise, and he found his lover lying on a futon, Yamada Hanatarou himself tending to him.

The younger Shinigami had worked his way up to fourth seat of his division and was commander for the contingent of healers stationed in the real world.  He was one of the best healers around and in another few years Renji wouldn't have been surprised to see him as a vice-captain.

"Subtle as ever," murmured Uryuu from his futon, a faint smile on his lips.  "We heard you all the way out in the hall."

Renji smirked at the Quincy, the tension that had filled him since hearing of his lover's injury leaving him.  Not that he would ever tell the other man that.  Uryuu knew how he felt without him having to say all that shit; it was one of the reasons they worked.  "Heard ya got a house dropped on ya," he snickered, able to tease the other man now that he knew the Quincy was all right.

"It seems to be a habit with you Shinigami," muttered Uryuu, his tone cool but Renji could see the sparkle in his eyes and read the amusement.  Falling roofs and medical wards brought both of them to mind of their earliest days, that first time that had started them down the road they were on.

"There you are, Ishida-san," murmured Hanatarou as he finished with his healing.  "You should rest and take it easy for a few days, but you'll be fine.  You can take him home, Abarai-taichou, if you remember to wake him up every few hours tonight.  He took a nasty bump to the head."

Renji grinned as his lover frowned.  "Sure thing, Hana.  Thanks for looking after him," he said, ruffling the little healer's hair affectionately. 

The little healer smiled and blushed as he left and Uryuu sat up, glaring at him.  "If I didn't know him better, I'd swear that was a dig at our last stay here."

Renji grinned at him, their last stay had included several late night wake up calls that most of the 4th probably knew about.  Neither of them was all that quiet, although Uryuu would deny the last until his dying breath.   "Never.  We were quiet as mice," he murmured, kneeling, reaching out to caress his lover's cheek before kissing him.  Soft lips opened readily and an agile tongue slipped out to duel with his.

Renji groaned as he felt nimble fingers loosening his ponytail.  He loved having his hair played with and he had long since discovered that Uryuu had a thing for his hair.  He let the kiss they were sharing grow slower and deeper, savoring the fact that he hadn’t lost this incredible man.  He gently tasted Uryuu, reassuring himself that his love was real and whole.  "Wanna go home?" he breathed softly over the Quincy's lips.

"Definitely.  You still owe me dinner and my reward from earlier," murmured the archer, grabbing his head and pulling him back down into a hot hungry kiss.  He groaned and pushed Uryuu back, moaning into his mouth and sucking on his tongue.   He shifted his weight, moving over the other man and kissing him harder, trying to devour him. 

He tore his lips away from Uryuu's, laying dozens of little kisses and nips along his jaw, chuckling as the Quincy tilted his head and pressed into the light touches.  He laved gentle attention all around what would be a vivid bruise that marred his lover's left cheek.  "You need to stop getting houses dropped on you or you’re not going to be pretty anymore,” he murmured into the Quincy’s ear, earning a soft growl and a glare.

He let his lips slide down the underside of Uryuu’s jaw and then down the side of his neck before stopping to bite and suck on a particularly sensitive spot.  Long fingers tightened in his hair and a soft cry of delight spilled from Uryuu as the Quincy bucked under him.  He chuckled, continuing to kiss and nip at that spot.  His lover would be pissed in the morning when he saw the mark he’d left but an annoyed Quincy wasn’t always a bad thing; it all but guaranteed him a frantic bout of morning sex.

He sat back for a moment and tugged open the white kimono the healers had put Uryuu in.  He took in the sinewy grace and beauty of his love.  Uryuu was long limbed and lean, with a supple strength that never failed to amaze Renji.  He was pale, but far from perfect, and more human for the myriad of tiny flaws.  There were bruises, old and new, that hadn’t been worth having healed.  There were scars, some prominent and some just a ghost of a mark on that fair skin, that testified to his years of battle.  Renji gently traced the most prominent scar, the star in the center of the Quincy’s chest, with first his finger and then his tongue, before laying a kiss at its heart.  He felt fingers tighten in his hair and smiled.  Ishida had no feeling in the scar tissue, but area around it was surprisingly sensitive. 

He nipped, licked and kissed a path to dusty pink nipples that were already hard, smirking up at Ishida and earning a soft smile in return.  He kissed each nipple savoring the feeling of strong fingers flexing in his hair.  “Renji.”  His name breathed out in a bedroom soft voice that made the redhead groan and want to push Uryuu’s ankles behind his ears and fuck him.

He glanced up, ruby eyes meeting with blue, and smiled before lapping at one coral nipple and slipping further down his lover’s body.  He laid a kiss on a sharp hip bone before wrapping a firm hand around the Quincy’s cock.  Ishida moaned and Renji grinned, wondering just how loud Uryuu would get and if he had any money on them being found in the medical ward.  These days even Uryuu had money on them.  Might as well make a profit if they were going to be caught being his logic; since neither one of them would give up quick fucks whenever they got the chance. 

He gently pumped his lover’s cock, delighting in the soft sounds of pleasure and encouragement he drew from the other man.  He slid his tongue around the head, tasting the archer and making them both groan.  "Renji."  This time his name was half supplication and half command, and spoken in that wonderful voice that made him wonder how he had ever lived without the creature under him.  He kissed the tip of Uryuu's straining erection and slid his tongue down the underside.  Ishida tossed his head and moaned encouragement, rolling his hip in a subtle demand for more.  He tossed an arm across Uryuu's hips to hold him still and slid a hand up the Quincy's body to his mouth, pausing to pinch his nipple along the way.

"Suck," he commanded Ishida with a low growl, offering him two fingers.  He groaned softly as Uyruu smirked at him and began sucking on his fingers, swirling his tongue and doing everything he could to remind Renji just how talented he was with his mouth.

He pulled his fingers free with a soft, wet pop, teasing the Quincy's entrance with the saliva coated digits as he let his tongue run back up the other man's cock.  Uryuu growled and tugged sharply on his hair, his blue eyes glittering, "Suck me," he demanded.  "Now."  Renji grinned and took Ishida back in his mouth, sucking hard as he shoved his fingers into the Quincy.  Uryuu gave a sharp cry of pleasure and thrashed wildly under him.  Renji held him down, letting his lips slide further down the cock in his mouth as he twisted his fingers.  When Uryuu gave a wailing sob of pleasure and pushed down on the invading digits he knew he had found what he was looking for.

"Renji," whined the archer, tugging on his hair and trying to thrust.

He began moving, mouth and fingers in a slow but steady counterpoint to each other, drawing groans and gasps from his lover.  Hands clawed desperately at his scalp and back, urging him to go faster to match his movements, anything.  He chuckled around the tip of his lover's cock, earning a cry of delight which turned into a shriek as he rubbed over the Quincy's sweet spot and then pressed hard against it.  He swallow the Quincy as deep in his throat as he could and pressed hard against his prostate.  Uryuu wailed, a sound that had to be heard throughout the entire building and came in rush.  Renji swallowed him eagerly, gently letting his cock slip free before moving up to kiss his the other man, moaning as Uryuu languidly kissed him back.

He drew his love close, smiling faintly at the soft sounds of contentment Uryuu made as he gently petted him.  "Ready to go home, love?" he asked softly.  Uryuu made a low sound that might have been agreement or an order to fuck off and let him bask, Renji couldn't tell but he didn't much care.  He enjoyed seeing the lazy post-coital lassitude that stole over the archer and knowing that he was the cause.  

Eventually soft lips began to graze his neck and a heavy sigh slipped from Uryuu.  "Let's collect Kisuke and get the meeting over with so we can go to bed," murmured Ishida softly, loath to abandon the post-coital bliss for the tension of a division meeting but knowing he had to.  Something that brought Ichimaru Gin to the real world would definitely require a meeting.  And Urahara's return as Mizuno only guaranteed it would be that much louder and longer.

"Kisuke?  As in Urahara?  Did you bump your head harder than we thought, Uryuu?  Urahara has been dead for twenty years."

Uryuu bolted up and blue eyes flew open to pin Renji.  "Kisuke!  The kid.  I sent him to the shop when the Arrancar attacked.  Damn it!  Hana told me everyone had made it back!  I asked!  Are you telling me he didn't?  Goddamn it!  I asked!" snarled the archer, taking a moment to pound his fist into his pillow.

Renji stilled and grew pale, if Ishida was cursing it was bad.  Actually, if Uryuu was cursing they had jumped past bad and straight into 'we're fucked.'  "Everyone did make it back, but there was no kid, love," he offered carefully.  Quincy had been known to flay the messengers of bad news.  In fact, they excelled at it.

"Fuck!"

"Stop cursing and tell me what the hell is wrong?" he snarled at the other man, earning a sharp glare but at least dragging Uryuu's attention back to him.

"That boy I went looking for, his name is Mizuno and he's Urahara reborn.  And now we get to tell Ichigo that he's lost," ground out Ishida.

"Fuck!"

"Exactly."

Chapter Text

It had taken four hours of reports and work, but they were finally alone, all the problems seen to, just them.  And it was perfect, thought Karin, smiling faintly and snuggling closer to her lover.  Hitsugaya chuckled softly as she began tracing designs on his chest, batting away her hand.  Karin laughed, catching his hand and pulling it to her heart.  It was rare to see Toushiro relax and forget who and what he was.  She treasured every second she saw him that way.  Most people didn't understand why she loved him, to them Toushiro was as cold and unapproachable as ice; but laying with him, hearing his laughter and seeing the open joy in his eyes it was impossible not to love him.

Her hand crept back to his chest and Toushiro caught it, frowning at her playfully.  "You're trying to tickle me." 

"No, I am tickling you," she said, rolling atop him and beginning to tickle her lover.  Toushiro squirmed and laughed, trying to escape her fingers before grabbing her and rolling her under him, trapping her hands above her head to stop the assault.  Karin grinned up at the Shinigami above her, letting her eyes slip closed as a strong hand caressed her cheek, continuing down her neck and shoulder to gently cup her breast.  She moaned softly and Toushiro leaned down to press his lips to hers.

"Love you," he whispered softly against her lips, drawing a whimper from her.  No matter how many times they said the words, each time was moving and special.  Maybe it was because she knew she might lose him, or maybe it was because she knew it was only thing they could give each other.  Whatever it was, the words were always something to be treasured.

There was a banging outside but Toushiro ignored it to continued kissing her, they had Matsumoto to act as gatekeeper to her captain's private quarters.  A job she took very seriously since having been promised a place in the bridal party when they married. 

"You can't go in there!" yelled their gatekeeper as the door slid open.  Karin felt Toushiro stiffen and his captain's mask snap back into place.  She tugged the blankets up to cover herself and glared at Abarai Renji and Ishida Uryuu's smirking faces.  She could understand the smirks, it had to be nice to be on the other side of being discovered for once.  Behind them was Matsumoto, looking strickened for a second before she spotted them and began cooing about how sweet they were and how in love.  Karin had the horrible suspicion that if the other woman had a camera there would have been pictures to immortalize the moment.

"Shut the hell up!" snarled Hitsugaya, releasing her and moving to sit next to her, blanket pooled in his lap.  "Why the fuck are you in my quarters?" roared the 10th captain as Karin reached out a hand to gently touch his shoulder.  Toushiro didn't move closer to her, but his eyes flicked to her for the briefest second and the icy rage in him warmed slightly.

"It's important and it happens to deal with your brother-in-law.  We thought you'd like to be involved," announced Ishida in his huffiest tone.  The Quincy didn't take well to being yelled at.

"Ichi-nii?" she demanded, sitting up and wondering what could concern her brother and be so important as to risk interrupting them.  Hitsugaya did not handle interruptions well.

"We'll let you get dressed and explain," murmured Renji, tugging both Matsumoto and Ishida away and leaving them to grab their robes.  She slid on a dark purple kimono she kept there, watching as Toushiro struggled with a glacial blue one that she had given him, anger making his movements stiff and jerky.  Karin sighed and helped him into the kimono, taking a second to draw him close.  She could feel the tension in him, Toushiro loved her, but he hated for others to know.  What they felt for each other was something private, between just the two of them in his mind.

"It's alright, anata," she soothed.

Strong arms slipped around her and a weary sigh slipped out.  "Are you sure you want to come?  There are things...,"

"I saw you bring Ichigo home after burying Urahara, Toushiro.  It can't be worse than that," she whispered, shuddering slightly at the memory.  Her older brother supported between Renji and Toushiro, covered in blood, dried tears on his cheeks and a dazed, broken expression on his face.  He had fought them when they tried to bathe him, clinging to his soiled robes and sobbing, clinging to the one part of his love he had left.  The lover he had never told his family about, the lover he had just buried. 

She heard Toushiro murmur comforts and pull her tight against him in silent support.  "I love you.  More than anything," he whispered fiercely.

"I know.  And I love you."

Matsumoto was pouring tea for Renji, Ishida, and Rukia by the time they arrived.  She could always be counted on to handle the niceties.  "What is it that couldn't wait until morning?" growled Hitsugaya, earning a smirk from Abarai and Ishida.  "And where the hell is Kurosaki?"

"Ichigo is why we are holding this meeting, hence it would not behoove us to invite him," murmured Ishida.  "He's also still out in the field."

"What do you mean?  What about my brother?" demanded Karin.

"If Uryuu is right," began Renji.

"There's no if, Shinigami," snapped the Quincy, glaring at his lover.  "Unlike some people, I have no problem with delicate work."  Karin frowned slightly.  It was rare to see Uryuu and Renji yelling at each other.  For all their differences and given the rumors of how they had started out, these days they tried to make an effort to get along.  At least in public.

"Fine!  Uryuu managed to track down the young man we encountered earlier today.  The same young man who killed the hollow earlier this evening," continued Renji, earning twin glares from Hitsugaya and Rukia.  "He believes the young man, one Mizuno Hideaki, is the reincarnation of Urahara Kisuke."

The room erupted in chaos as Matsumoto and Hitsugaya began shouting that the idea of Urahara returning was ridiculous while Renji and Ishida yelled back that it was completely within the realm of what the former shopkeeper was capable of.  Rukia tried to interject but her voice was lost in the confusion.  And not for the first time, Karin thought it was long past time someone in her family had a long talk with Ichigo about just who and what this man he loved so much had been.

"Shut up!" screamed Karin, using the glare she usually reserved for stopping fights between Ichigo and her father.  It worked just as well on a room full of shouting Shinigami, she noted, because each and every one of them grew silent and stared at her, blinking owlishly.

"Thank you," murmured Hitsugaya with a slight smile for her, the twinkle in his eyes was unmistakable however, and she knew they would laugh over this later.  "Now, what makes you think that this human is Urahara?"

"It is Urahara, Hitsugaya-taichou.  Ichigo can tell and he confirmed it to me earlier this evening.  If the young man Ishida found is really the same one I saw then it is Urahara Kisuke," whispered Rukia solemnly, her eyes down and her whole bearing contrite.  Someone had screwed up earlier this evening, but Karin couldn't begin to guess what Rukia could have done to make her think she had earned Hitsugaya's ire.

"Mizuno-kun is the one you saw, Kuchiki-san.  He told me he used kidou to kill a hollow earlier this evening.  Whether he is Urahara or not can wait, it's enough that Ichigo believes he is," murmured the Quincy, taking a deep breath. 

"Why is that, Ishida-san?" asked Karin, a sickening sense of dread filling her.

"Because Mizuno-kun has gone missing.  He and I were attacked earlier this evening by Ichimaru and two Arrancar.  I sent Mizuno-kun to the Urahara shop while I fought Ichimaru, but he never made it.  I believe Aizen took him," explained the Quincy and Karin felt the tension that seized the room.

"What?  What is it?" she demanded.

"We barely kept Ichigo from storming Hueco Mundo when Aizen killed Urahara," explained Toushiro, laying a hand on her thigh.  "If he believes this young man is Urahara and that Aizen has him...,"

Her brother would never let it go.  He had staged a raid on Hueco Mundo to rescue Orihime who was little more than a friend.  He had been ready to do so again to avenge the mere memory of a lover.  He would never leave someone he truly loved in the hands of Aizen and his goons.  He would sooner die.  He would charge into Hueco Mundo without a second thought for someone he loved.  She knew because she would have done the same thing.

"Toushiro...anata," she breathed, unable to go on past the lump in her chest, the cold certainty that her brother was going to go running off and get himself killed.  And she couldn't face that.  She couldn't lose her brother any more than she could lose Toushiro.

She found herself lifted from her seat and wrapped in a comforting embrace, drawn tight against her lover's chest.  For a moment she was honestly baffled, unable to believe that her proper Shinigami lover would abandon propriety so completely even for her.  As gentle hands began to pet her hair she felt a wave of embarrassment for her doubt in him and in them.  He loved her.  She never needed to doubt that.  He loved her and she needed the comfort only he could give her, and so he gave it, freely and without thought for his own feelings.

"I won't let him do anything foolish, Karin," he murmured softly, glaring at the rest of the room, daring them to make something of him comforting her.  Karin smiled weakly up at him and the scowl on his lips, only Toushiro could comfort someone while scowling.  She wrapped her arms around him and snuggled deeper into his warmth.

"I know you won't, anata."

"Then I would suggest we sedate him because Ichigo is not just going to wait for us to confirm that Mizuno is Urahara or that Aizen has him," murmured Rukia.

Chapter Text

"Still all the subtly of a bull in a china shop," murmured Ryuuken, lighting a cigarette rather than bothering to glance up at his unexpected and unwelcome housebreaker.

"Still as warm and welcoming as ever," retorted Kurosaki Isshin as he gave up on stealth and closed the door.  He took a few steps and glanced around the other man's living room before sprawling on Ryuuken's couch.  He was at least in his gigai, which was probably going to be the only good thing that could be said about his visit, decided Ryuuken with a sigh.  Frankly, he just wanted the other man out of his house as quickly as possible.  Having Isshin around reminded him of things and times he would rather have forgotten.

The last thing he needed was someone, like his son or Uryuu's lover, to notice that he had a Shinigami associate.  Abarai was tenacious and seemed to feel that Ishida family relations needed to be improved upon; something he and Uryuu had so far managed to avoid.  Given the slightest encouragement however, and Abarai would see to it that he found himself in counseling with his estranged son and said son's lover.   

"Did you feel it?" demanded Isshin, a hint of excitement in his voice.

"No, because I'm blind, deaf, and stupid," snapped the elder Quincy with a drag on his cigarette.  "Of course, I felt it, you moron.  Honestly!"

"It was Kisuke.  It had to be him.  I recognize his reiatsu.  Is that why you called me about pink spirit threads?" continued Isshin, brushing off his insult.  Nothing new about that, he had been insulting the other man for nearly fifty years and none of them had ever seemed to faze Isshin.  The man was worse than Kisuke when it came to brushing things off.  "Did you sense him?"

"The pink threads was Uryuu's doing.  He stopped by wanting information on them.  I couldn't tell him anything conclusive and he didn't ask about any theories I might have had," murmured Ryuuken, his smile a touch cutting.  "Clearly, the company he's been keeping is starting to show."

Isshin chuckled.  "Still pissed about that one, huh?  They're cute together, Ryuuken.  Flexible as hell, but cute.  Ichigo brought them to dinner once," he explained as the other man's eyes grew wide at his comment.

Ryuuken took another pull on his cigarette and wondered what he and Ishhin had done to have children like Uryuu and Ichigo.  Children who seemed to take up with the most unlikely, and unacceptable, of partners and thrive with them.  Uryuu had his Shinigami, Abarai, and Ichigo had chosen Kisuke of all people.  Both were eminently unsuitable and yet...Uryuu was happy.  Far happier than he had ever been in his marriage, thought Ryuuken morosely.  And from all accounts Ichigo still loved Urahara as fiercely today as he had twenty years ago.

It was baffling and a bit infuriating.  It was hard to object to relationships, that while inappropriate, worked.  But it was also...sweet.  It was reassuring to know that his son had found happiness despite all his shortcomings as a father.

"I don't need to know, thank you.  And can we stick to the topic at hand?  It's been twenty years since you felt Kisuke's reiatsu, you can't be sure it's him.  And anyway, I would think you would be less than pleased to see him," murmured Ryuuken.  "What with your son and all."  Isshin couldn't not know that their old friend had been fucking his son.  Even Isshin couldn't be that willfully blind.  Hell, he knew and he hadn't seen Ichigo since he was an infant. 

"You can't be sure it's him, Uryuu wasn't sure and he was right next to the boy," he muttered, although he was all but certain it was Urahara.  The man was a bloody menace and even death wouldn't have thwarted him for long.  Frankly, Ryuuken would have expected him back far sooner.  Nothing stopped Kisuke for long, although just once it would have been nice to see the blond look a little before he leapt.

"It's him," assured Isshin with a frown for the reminder of the relationship the other man had shared with his son.  He still wasn't sure how he felt about that.  On the one hand, Kisuke was his friend and Isshin was sure there was some sort of rule somewhere about friends not fucking their friend's children.  But Ichigo had seemed happy those last few months with Kisuke, and lord knew the boy certainly seemed to love Kisuke.  That had to imply something about just how serious the two were, even if Ichigo had never brought Kisuke around or mentioned him.

"Even if it is him, I fail to see how it impacts us.  Well, me," amended Ryuuken with a slight smirk.  It had been more than thirty years since he had associated with Urahara.

"He was your friend once, Ryuuken."  And he could hear the condemnation in Isshin's voice, felt it stir that place inside him he'd thought long dead, that place that felt vaguely like his heart. 

Kisuke had been his friend once.  One of his best friends.   He had loved the other man like a brother, trusted him with his life, and felt the same way about Isshin.  Duty and his father had torn them apart.  Souken had been a good grandfather but a terrible father.  His father and that stupid, stupid promise he had made the other man - to marry Uryuu's mother and have nothing further to do with the Shinigami.  He had ripped out his heart obeying his father, marrying a woman he didn't love, giving up his friends, giving up fighting so that Souken could have his fucking legacy. 

He had refused to take up his bow after giving Souken his grandson, too bitter at the loss of everything he hadn't known he loved.  Not that it had mattered by then, Kisuke was in hiding and Isshin had been nearly human with a family of his own.  They had all moved on and he had been left with an empty marriage and the bitter taste of his father's ambitions.

He sighed and offered Isshin a cigarette.  "What do you want from me, Isshin?" he asked wearily.

"Help me find him.  Something's happening, Ryuuken.  There have been strange pulses of reiatsu all night and I felt that lieutenant, Ichimaru's, reiatsu earlier.  Aizen is up to something.  And if he is, you can bet that Kisuke is at its center. 

"He needs help and we promised each other that we would always help."

"How the hell do you even know that, Isshin?" demanded Ryuuken with annoyance.  He was better at subtle reiatsu work than the Shinigami, than any Shinigami, and he hadn't managed to pick up any emotions from the burst of reiatsu he'd felt earlier.

"Call it a hunch."  Ryuuken sighed but had to admit that Isshin was probably right.  Where there was Kisuke, there was almost always trouble.  The man had a gift for attracting it.

"What would you suggest we do?" he asked with a sigh.

"Well, we could start by saying hello to Rukia-chan and seeing what she wants.  Going to come out, Rukia-chan?"

Ryuuken stared as a slim, wisp of a Shinigami girl slipped from the shadows.  She was young, about Uryuu's age, with short, dark hair and the most entrancing dark eyes.  There was lieutenant's badge on her arm and Ryuuken thought he recognized the 5th's device.  She was staring between him and Isshin with wide-eyed shock that made her look somehow years younger and vulnerable.  How the hell had he missed her, he wondered with annoyance and awe at her reiatsu control.  Then again, Isshin's reiastu tended to be wild.

"Kurosaki-san, Ishida-san," murmured the girl with a slight nod to each of them.  "Hitsugaya-taichou requests your presence, Kurosaki-san.  There was an incident earlier this evening.  And Abarai-taichou thought you would wish to be informed that your son was injured in the line of duty, Ishida-san," murmured the girl, her voice soft and cultured.

"No point in glaring.  Come on, Ryuuken.  We can see what the youngsters want and the see about that other matter we talked about."  Ryuuken glared darkly at Ishhin.  He wanted to argue to turn his back on both Shinigami.  But he couldn't.

"We'll both be returning to the base, Rukia-chan.  Why don't you run ahead and tell Renji?  Wouldn't want to surprise him and Uryuu," grinned Isshin, the idiot mask firmly back in place although Ryuuken didn't think the girl bought it.  She was frowning at them both, looking at them as if she knew there was more than what she'd seen but couldn't figure out how much more.

Eventually she nodded at them, "Of course, Kurosaki-san."

"That wasn't nice, Ishhin," he murmured, but there was something in his voice that hadn't been there in nearly forty years.  There was amusement.  For the first time since he was told of his marriage, Ryuuken found himself amused, that dead place in his chest lifting slightly.

Chapter Text

Ichigo awoke to white walls, a white kimono and the strangest feeling of being surrounded by water.  It was hard to move, hard to think, and his body felt sluggish and strangely distant.   He wondered what the heck was happening, knowing there was something important he was forgetting but unable to recall just what it was.  Something to do with Kisuke his befuddled brain finally supplied.

He had been searching for the other man, he realized.  There was something important about finding him.  He remembered a junior officer from the 10th finding him and insisting he return to base.  He wouldn't have gone if it had been anyone but a 10th Division officer, but Hitsugaya was nominally in command of the real world forces as the longest serving commander.  Meaning he was the one person in the real world able to pull rank on Ichigo, so he had returned to base to see what the young captain wanted, intent on returning to his hunt for Kisuke as soon as he had seen  Hitsugaya.

He made a few weak attempts to sit up, wondering what had happened between his return to base and the present.  His mind was hazy on the details and each time he tried to sit up, his body fell back into the futon.  He couldn't get his limbs working right, although the longer he struggled the more alert his mind seemed to become.

"It's the power inhibitor.  Toushiro said it takes some getting used to," murmured Karin from the doorway, staring at him solemnly, a tea tray in her hands.  He wondered when his little sister had been converted to the Shinigami cult of tea, but realized that after six years with Toushiro he shouldn't have been surprised.

"Inhibitor?" he asked dazedly, reaching up and touching a band that encircled his neck.

"Yes, inhibitor.  We talked it over and decided that you needed to think rationally for once, Ichi-nii, not go running off into danger the first chance you get.  I'm not going to lose my big brother, Ichigo," murmured Karin, sitting down next to him.  She poured them both some tea and helped him sit up, his body still sluggish.

"Karin," he began as she handed him some tea.

"We're going to talk, Ichi-nii.  All of us," she murmured, a hint of steel in her voice.  Ichigo knew that tone, it meant bad things.

The door slid open, Yuzu and his father standing there.  His father looked baffled but Yuzu just looked determined.  They were well and truly fucked.  Karin could be reasoned with - sometimes.  And Yuzu could be won with emotional pleas.  They two of them together were a different story, they were an unstoppable force.

"When were you going to tell everyone about Mizuno Hideaki?  When were you going to tell us, tell your family, about Urahara?" she demanded and he could hear the hurt in her voice.  The betrayal.

"Karin," he tried again, earning a glare that promised a sharp kick to the head the next time he said something stupid.  He sighed and took a sip of the tea.  He had learned to appreciate tea from Kisuke, sitting on the porch of the shop with the other man after patrols, drinking tea and talking about whatever crossed his mind.  Looking back on things, he thought that had been when he'd stared falling in love with the blond.

"My squad...I have duties."

"Rukia is handling the Fifth, Toushiro is handling the report to Soul Society and Renji and Ishida are handling the search for Mizuno Hideaki.  You are talking to us, Ichi-nii.  All of us," she said with a stern look at their father.  Yuzu deftly steered their father to a cushion before claiming one herself.

"Is that my pager?  I'll just run and check," began Isshin, jumping up.

"Sit!" commanded Karin, drawing baffled looks from everyone but Yuzu.  "We are going to talk about this!  I'm sick of you two dummies playing 'Let's pretend!' We are not going to ignore this any more!"

Ichigo ducked his head slightly, noting his father looked rather abashed as well.  "Karin, we don't...," he began, shutting up as an angry glare pinned him.      

"We are talking."  Firm, quiet, and said in a tone that was absolutely inflexible.

"We are going to talk about the fact that you never told us you were in love.  We are going to talk about the fact that we had to find out about one of the most important relationships of your life after the fact, in bits and pieces that you let slip out to friends.  We are going to talk about the fact that you and dad have never once addressed the fact that he was a Shinigami.  We are going to clear the air of all your damned secrets!  Both of you!"

Yuzu smiled faintly and poured herself and their father some tea.  "Who wants to start?" she asked brightly.

"What the hell am I supposed to say?" demanded Ichigo, suddenly angry at being cornered like this.  There was a reason he didn't talk about Urahara. It hurt too much to remember what he'd had and lost.

"We want to know...no, we deserve to know, why you never told us about someone who was obviously important to you, Ichi-nii," whispered Yuzu, pinning him with soft, pleading eyes, begging to understand.  She should have been too old to get to him like that, thought Ichigo morosely.  But she did.

He sighed, shoulders slumping, trying to find the words to explain Kisuke to his family.  "It wasn't serious, not at the beginning."  How to explain their beginning to someone outside?  From within it made perfect sense and was as natural as breathing; but how to make someone looking in at them understand the gradual and subtle change from student and teacher to lovers.

"The first time just sort of happened."  And kept happening.  "I didn't see any point in getting everyone all riled up over something that didn't really...," he paused, because it had meant something, even back then, that first time.  He and Urahara had never been just a one off and it was stupid to pretend otherwise.  He just hadn't wanted to admit that he was sleeping with a man physically old enough to be his father and realistically several centuries his elder.  There was no good way to break someone like that to any family.  And that didn't take Kisuke, himself in to account, the man had always been completely incorrigible.  He didn't need his sisters, or worse, his father hearing about their sex life.

He sighed and tried to get himself back on track, trying once again to find a way to put into words what Urahara had meant to him, the peace the other man had brought him.  "It was important, it was always important.  I just didn't know...how to break him to you guys.  Kisuke was always...eccentric."  He caught the faint smile on his father's face and grinned.  "I guess I was just scared."

"Eccentric?  That would certainly describe him," murmured his father with a chuckle.

Silence fell, heavy and awkward, no one sure what to say.  "Why him, Ichigo?  Why?" his father offered tentatively into the silence and Ichigo winced.  And there was the real reason he had never brought Kisuke home.  He had never wanted to confront the fact that his father was a Shinigami, never wanted to discover that he and Kisuke had known each other. 

It was one thing to know in the abstract that he was dating a man twice his age, but it was another to be confronted with the fact that he was sleeping with one of his father's old friends.  He glanced up and sighed.  "I can't really explain it...We were just good together.  Everything was easy with him...He understood.  Even when I said something stupid or didn't want to talk, he understood.

"He...He was never afraid of me, the power I had or what I could do."  Half of Soul Society was afraid of him, how strong he was; but Kisuke had never looked at him as anything more than a young man.  He had never been afraid of Shirosaki or doubted for one second that Ichigo couldn't contain the hollow.  "He never saw me as anything other than who I was.  He would tease me and make stupid jokes...he would make me smile," whispered Ichigo, suddenly understanding some of Urahara's behavior much more clearly.  He had done it to make Ichigo smile.  He felt tears prickle his eyes and a dull ache seize his heart. 

Kisuke.

 He wanted his lover, his Kisuke, not this lost child, but the man who had made him smile and had wiped away his tears.  The man he still woke up looking for at odd times in the night.  The man he could sit on the porch drinking tea with and talking about nothing with and still come away feeling better for it. 

Yuzu was the first to touch him, hugging him tight and crying into his shoulder.  Karin quickly followed, wrapping her arms around him.  Her eyes were dry and Ichigo couldn't help but think how amazing she would be when she became an officer.  No one in the entire Thirteen would cross her.  Isshin touched his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze and met his eyes for a long moment.  He understood.  He understood what it was to have your heart die with another person, to struggle on day after day because there were people counting on you, but to wake up in the middle of the night alone and longing for the missing piece of your soul.

"He made you happy?  You really loved him?" murmured the older Kurosaki.

Ichigo nodded.

"And he loved you?"

He flushed a little, but nodded.  At least he thought Kisuke had loved him.  It felt like love, not that he had much to compare it to.  But watching Renji and Uryuu and Toushiro and Karin he thought what he and Kisuke had was love.  "I think so.  We...We never said it," he admitted, tears stinging his eyes at the admission.  The words Kisuke had most deserved to hear and he had held them back.  "We felt it though.  We loved each other."

"Oh Masaki!  Our dearest son found love!  Protect his love until they can be reunited!" crowed Ishhin throwing his arms around them all.

"Shut up," snarled Ichigo and Karin, matching frowns on their faces.

Yuzu giggled and then grew somber.  "Why didn't you ever tell us about him...after?  After you came home," she asked carefully.  And there was no mistaking the homecoming she was referring to.  That first time after Urahara had died.  He barely remembered it.  All it was for him was a twisted nightmare of pain and loss.

He had held together long enough to get Kisuke into the ground, but the second the first handful of dirt had fallen on his lover he had broken.  He'd begun sobbing, falling to his knees and keening.  All the pain and grief he had been holding back had flooded through him and there had been nothing anyone could do to make it better.  Benihime had joined her grief with his in a high wailing song of pain and despair, bringing tears to every eye present and cutting Ichigo to ribbons all over again.

It had been Renji to drag him to his feet and understand just where his grief was coming from.  The redhead had stared at him in disbelief for a second before ruby eyes had softened with sympathy.  The redhead had helped him home, supported him between Toushiro and himself.  Ichigo didn't remember any of the trip, all he remembered was Urahara lying there in the hole, cold and still.  Gone forever. 

That image had been seared into his psyche, a raw bleeding wound that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Yuzu had been the one to open the door, to see the blood covering him.  She had begun screaming before Renji got through to her and made her understand the blood wasn't his.  He hadn't understood why the redhead had bothered.  The blood might not have been from any wound to his body but it was his, it was his heart's blood.

It had taken Renji, Toushiro, his father and Karin to wash Urahara's blood away and he had fought them tooth and nail, overcome with grief, unable to part with that last piece of his lover.  They had won though, ripping his robes from his body and forcing him into the shower, Renji, Toushiro and his father all restraining him.  He remembered being put to bed after that, not that he had cared, by then his misery had been such that all he wanted to do was curl up and die, to follow Kisuke into oblivion. 

He had laid in bed for three days, not eating or speaking, too heartbroken to even cry.  He would have stayed in bed if Renji and Ishida hadn't dragged him out of bed and kicked his ass.  And kept kicking it until he remembered how to live.

"It hurt too much.  It hurt too much to remember him and know that...that he was gone.  I couldn't talk about it.  It was some horrible nightmare that I wanted to go away.  Talking about it would have made it real and I didn't want it to be real.  I wanted Kisuke to come back and tell me it was just a dream.

"And we had never told anyone.  He...I never told him how I felt, or told anyone else how important he was to me and he was gone," whispered Ichigo, the tears breaking free and beginning to fall.  A soft, comforting song drifted through the air.

"It felt like a kind of betrayal.  I loved him so much, but I never did anything about it."

"Karin, Yuzu, let Ichigo and me talk for a minute," ordered his father, all hints of foolishness dropping away to reveal the man Ichigo so rarely saw, the captain his father had been.

Isshin hugged him, holding him and letting him cry like he hadn't done since he was a child.  "It's alright, Ichigo.  It's alright," murmured the older man, soothing hands moving gently up and down his back.  "Kisuke wouldn't want you to be so miserable.  You did the best you could and I'm sure he knew that."

"I miss him so much," he whispered softly, staring up into his father's face, looking for hope, for guidance, looking for anything to make the pain stop.

"I know.  There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss your mother."  And somehow, looking into his father's knowing eyes helped with the pain, because there was someone else who understood.

Chapter Text

As he stared at the other man's face he knew. 

He wasn't sure how he knew or how to take it.  Gin had never failed him before.  Looking at him, solemn, bloody, nursing a wounded shoulder, and several sluggishly bleeding grazes, he decided to let it pass.  The mere fact that Gin had failed was a confirmation of sorts.  There had only ever been one person to thwart him so thoroughly.  Urahara had returned and the other man was apparently in fine form.

Aizen felt a spike of jealous rage that he pushed down and covered with a benign smile.  He would not let them see just how annoyed he was, not let them see how much Urahara bothered him.  He was bothered however.  The only man to ever thwart him, to see through his designs, had returned and eluded his grasp. 

"What happened, Gin?" he asked, nodding for a healer to begin treating the other man.

"The little Quincy was with the boy, sent him scurrying for the Shinigami burrow," growled Gin as the healer went to work.  "Malgwen and Celtain went after Kisuke-kun but one of ours decided to interfere.  Someone has turned on us, Aizen-sama," he growled, pinning the surviving members of the old Espada with a venomous glare.

Aizen felt his eyes widen in surprise.  Betrayal from the Espada was one thing he had never expected.  And who had betrayed him...Well, Grimmjow might have been conceivable but Ulquiorra?  Never! 

The remaining three Arrancar withered under his gaze, shrinking in onto themselves as if their brothers' crime was in part their fault.  "What happened?" he demanded, all warmth and amusement gone from his voice.

"We engaged Kurosaki and the others as instructed, Aizen-sama.  Ulquiorra and Grimmjow fought with Kurosaki but when we felt Ichimaru-sama's party engage the Quincy, Grimmjow turned on us and fled with Ulquiorra following him," explained Halibel.

He pinned Malgwen and Celtain, waiting to hear what they had to say.  The dark woman looked to the floor.  "Celtain and I went after the child, Aizen-sama.  He surprised us.  That was when Grimmjow grabbed the child and shot a cero blast at us," murmured Malgwen.  "We lost them when Ulquiorra joined him and began laying down cover blasts."  Celtain nodded his approval of her account and Aizen bit back a growl.

"Leave us." he ordered sharply.

For one brief instant he wondered if Ulquiorra’s bumble all those years ago hadn't been a stroke of luck rather than the catastrophe he'd always assumed it to be.  For the first time he had been free of Urahara.  He had lost the chance to work Hougyoku to its fullest potential but he had also lost the only man to be able to beat him.  That whelp Kurosaki was powerful but he was a pawn, it was the man and the mind behind him, Urahara Kisuke, who was really to be feared. 

What had he been thinking?  He had been rid of the man and he had viewed it as a loss.  Foolishness.  No, worse.  Stupidity.

He had finally been out from under Urahara's oppressive shadow and rather than savoring his victory he had bemoaned it as a loss.  Even in death Urahara had outsmarted him.  He felt the old hatred bubble through his veins.  Until Kisuke, he had been the darling of the academy, the golden child they had all expected great things from once he was old enough to attend.  And then Urahara had swept in with all the force of a hurricane.  There was nothing that hadn't come as naturally to him as breathing did to everyone else.  He had not only surpassed all expectations, he had blown through them and left not even a mark to aspire to in his wake; because no one could match him.  That miserable Rukongai brat had waltzed in and stolen his glory, out shone him at every turn. 

His eyes moved to the silent and still figure waiting for him.  His own little Rukongai mongrel.  He descended from his dais to look over Gin, circling the man like a shark drawn to the scent of blood in the water.  The Quincy had scored a few hits, none of them direct except for the shoulder wound.  There was a seared hole straight through the other man's right shoulder and Gin was holding his arm to keep from pulling on the muscles and opening the wound.  He reached out and touched the inside of the wound, drawing a sharp hiss from Ichimaru.  The other man's eyes slid to mere slits from the pain, but Aizen could tell that they were slightly glazed.  Gin liked pain or perhaps he had simply learned to like it, mused Aizen with a dark smile.

He slipped behind the silver haired man, his silver haired demon, and jerked his robe off in a quick, vicious move that left the other man gasping.   He smirked as he noticed that several of the smaller cuts were bleeding again.  He grabbed Gin's wounded arm and twisted it up behind him, garnering a cry of pain, and faint whisper, like the whimpering of a fox cub.  "Aizen-sama."

Aizen used his hold on the other man and steered him to a wall, shoving him against it hard and earning a soft grunt.  The grin had slipped from Gin's lips, but he couldn't quite tell what that meant, not that he cared.  Gin was his creature.  Had been his creature since the day he took the younger man from the streets of the Rukongai all those years ago. 

Gin was as much his creation as Hougyoku was Urahara's.  He had molded and shaped every one of this man's responses.   He had taken this little Rukongai fox and broken him, tamed him to his hand and made him a captain.  As he tugged the Gin's hakama loose, watching it fall, he wondered if Gin was even aware of just how much of his soul Aizen owned.  He took a moment to study the other man, his clever little cat's-paw.  Gin was all smooth planes and lean muscles.  There were scars on his back, times growing up when he had been too slow, and one or two marks Aizen had put there himself over the years when his little toy had stepped out of line. 

He shoved two fingers into the wound and was rewarded with a tickle of crimson painting over that pale skin and a low whine of pain from his little fox.  He released Gin just long enough to undo his own hakama, stroking himself with his bloody hand.

A brisk kick swept Gin's legs further apart and then he was slamming into the smaller man, hard and fast with no prep.  Aizen smirked as the smaller body bucked and thrashed, fighting him instinctively.  Silver hair brushed his face as Gin tossed his head, close, so very close to what he wanted but not quite.  Not that distinctive ash blond.   He felt another wash of anger at the thought of Urahara, and this time let it come. 

Reiatsu, hot and sharp, crashed against the body under him like a whip, drawing a sharp gasp of pain.  He pulled out and slammed back in to Gin, rocking the other man to his toes and making him grit his teeth.  He began moving, watching as more blood slid over that pale flesh while his cock split open that tight passage. 

Gin was mewling, soft sounds of pain and arousal, ripped from the back of his throat and Aizen couldn't help but groan.  It was intoxicating.  The power he had over this man, the fact that he could take this man, a captain of the Thirteen, shove him up against the wall and fuck him raw, break him open and make him bleed. 

They were both breathing hard and Aizen felt his eyes drawn to the wall where Gin's face was pressed, in his mind's eye he could see Urahara in the silver haired man's place.  Urahara he was taking up against the wall like the cheap whore he was, Urahara who was finally in his power, who he finally conquered and forced to his will.  He groaned and shoved in fast and hard, grinding against the other man's ass, blood smearing over his chest, coming.

He slumped against Ichimaru's back, feeling the other man whine and wiggle against him, a quick check showed that Gin hadn't found his release and Aizen had to smirk.  He pulled out of the other man, turning him around and slamming him back into the wall, one hand going to Gin's cock and the other around his throat.  Dazed golden eyes sought his face as he squeezed Gin's throat, cutting off his air, as he began stroking the other man.  Gin thrashed and whimpered and Aizen felt his smirk widen.  He could kill him, snuff out his life, and Gin would do nothing to stop him.  Long fingers clawed at the wall as Gin moved against him more and more desperately, although whether it was the need for air or the need to come that drove him Aizen couldn‘t say.   

"Come for me, Gin," he purred into the other man's ear, chuckling as the other man's body went taut under his hands.  Cum splattered them both and Gin made a soft sound that might have been denial or plea as his eyes rolled back in head.

He let Gin fall to the floor in a crumpled heap, his body desperately dragging in air.  "Call our little friend in the real world, I have a job I want done," he told the silver haired man as he slid his hakama back on and headed gracefully toward the door, totally unconcerned with the blood or come covering his chest.

Ichimaru Gin lay on the floor, watching Aizen's retreating back, something dark and slippery twisting at the back of his mind.  Doubt, he realized.  It had been awhile since he felt it.  The last time was staring at Matsumoto's face as the Menos drew then into Hueco Mundo, but he doubted.  He doubted this man who had saved him, made him...the man he had thought might kill him a few minutes before.  He tried to remind himself that Aizen had saved him, had given him purpose, the other man could take his life if he wanted it. 

The doubt would not leave him though.

Ulquiorra and Grimmjow had left.  Why had they done that?  What had they seen that he had not? 

Chapter Text

Kisuke felt the panic return as he stared at the green-eyed demon who stood on the staircase to what he assumed was the way out of his new prison.  Part of him wanted to make a dash for freedom but the louder part just wanted to get away from Ulquiorra, this man who had apparently killed him in his last life.  That was if he believed Grimmjow's story and from the blind terror flooding his body, it was hard to doubt. 

"He ain't gonna hurt ya, Kitten," muttered Grimmjow.  And while his head could understand that, process it and suspect it to be true, the rest of him couldn't.  The rest of him screamed for him to run, to get away.

He huddled further under Grimmjow's coat, trying to calm his fluttering heart, trying to push down the blind terror that had seized him.  "Aw fuck!  Tell the kitten you won't hurt him, Ulquiorra," ordered Grimmjow, hovering over him as the blue haired man tried to figure out what to do for him.

The look Ulquiorra cast at them said they were both stupid, but that he would humor them solely because he had no other option.  "It would be unprofitable to injure him at this juncture."

"There!  See?  He ain't gonna hurt ya," announced Grimmjow.

"That would be far more reassuring if I hadn't been kidnapped," Kisuke snapped.  'And if I had some pants,' he added privately.  There was something very wrong about facing one's death in boxers.  He tensed as Ulquiorra took a step closer, he could feel the numbness fighting with the terror inside him. 

"Food," murmured Ulquiorra, holding out a bag with what looked like mild distaste as he continued descending the stairs.

“Hadou 4: White Lightning.”  Lightning struck mere millimeters from Ulquiorra’s left foot, halting his progress.  “Stay the hell away from me, Arrancar,” Kisuke growled, shocked at the sound of his own voice and the anger in it.  He also wasn't entirely sure what an Arrancar was or how he knew that Ulquoirra was one, but he knew.

“Hey, hey, no need for that, Kitten,” tried Grimmjow, looking slightly alarmed.  “Maybe if you take your sword off, Ulquiorra?”

The smaller man looked ready to object but he studied them for a moment and finally nodded.   "I fail to see why this is necessary," he growled, but removed his sword and cautiously continued down the stairs. 

"'Cause it makes things kinda hard if it the kid here is always trying to blast your stupid ass.  If losin' the sword makes the kid feel better then fine.  Don't worry, I'll protect you," taunted Grimmjow, snatching the food from the other Espada and giving it a sniff before thrusting the bag at Kisuke.

"Smells like shit," he growled, making Kisuke wonder what Arrancar ate.  To him the crappy convenience store chili burger and chili cheese fries smelled like bliss and tasted even better.  He devoured the food ravenously under the gaze of the two disbelieving Arrancar.

"Can't believe he ate that crap," Grimmjow muttered to Ulquiorra as Kisuke sat back happily.  It was hard to tell time in this strange place but his stomach insisted that lunch had been many hours before.  Too many hours before. 

"It was what was available, the human world does not function at night," replied Ulquiorra.  "Have you contacted the Shinigami yet?"

"Not yet.  Had to get the kitten patched up and then he attacked that stuff you called food."

"Since you've clearly finished, make him contact the Shinigami so we can be done with this," ordered Ulquiorra, moving to stand a few feet off.

Grimmjow sighed but turned his attention back to him and Kisuke felt himself growing tense, wondering what they wanted from him.  "What do you say, Kitten?  Feel up to calling home?"

Kisuke stared between the two Arrancar, not understanding what they were talking about.  "What are you talking about?  Call the Shinigami?  Why do you need me to call anyone?" he asked.  Panic flooded him as Ulquiorra turned a dark glare on him and all he could do was clench his fist, longing for his sword.  His lips were moving, a chant spilling out of him, before he even realized it.

Grimmjow dove for him, a large hand covering mouth, stopping the chant, as another settled around his waist to hold him in case he struggled.  "Calm down, Kitten.  Calm down.  No one's going to hurt you."

Ulquiorra was moving as he stared to calm, at his sword, hand reaching for it.  "Fuckin' hell!  Don't get him riled!  Stupid fuckin' prick," Grimmjow snarled at Ulquiorra as Kisuke growled and began struggling to get loose. 

"Fuck!" 

Kisuke twisted loose, breathing hard with a sharp feral smile on his blood-strained lips.  Red shimmered around icy grey eyes that glittered with an almost manic energy.  "Little bastard bit me!" snarled Grimmjow, making Kisuke's smile widen slightly.

He had never fought fair.  Fair was just another way to say fucked.  The Rukongai had taught him that.  Ulquiorra made a move for him and he leapt aside, pain shooting through his left leg, but the limb held.  He danced out of reach away from Grimmjow's lunge, smirking as he twisted just out of the man's grasp.

Both Arrancar were back on their feet quickly and Kisuke was impressed despite himself.  They moved faster than him and that was rare.  A sharp smile tugged at his lips, they were faster but he was smarter and more agile.  He had been raised on the streets of the 77th and he hadn't been caught since he was seven.  The beating the water merchant had given him insured he had ample motivation to make sure he was never caught again.  The two Arrancar looked at him and then at each other, the larger one taking the right flank and the smaller taking the left.    

He let them come at him, twisting and weaving from their grasps, flowing between them like smoke.  He pivoted and felt his left leg give out, sending him to the floor with a growl, both Arrancar following him.  He growled and punched and bit any flesh that came within range.

His first day at the Academy he had been jumped by a group of noble brats.  They had been jealous of the Rukongai upstart who had shown them all up.  All he could think of as he struggled within the tangle of limbs was of that other pile of bodies from so long ago.  He felt a dark and bitter rage well up from somewhere inside him, lending him strength as he clawed and fought to get free.  They had no right to do this to him!  “Shit!” snarled someone as he bit them.  Another voice grunted as his nails raked and caught tender flesh.  He twisted and snarled, fighting like an angry wildcat.

Finally strong arms caught his, locking them behind his back and hauling him to his feet.  He hissed and glared at the green eyed man behind him and the blue eyed man before him.  Years before it had been a woman in the blue eyed man’s place, a young girl with dark hair and golden cat eyes. 

Yoruichi.

She had looked at him, scruffy and bloody and still defiant...and kicked the older boy holding his arms right in the head.  They had been inseparable after that.

A sharp slap to the face dragged him from the memory and had him opening his mouth to spout out a spell when the world shifted.  Kisuke stared up at Grimmjow, panting, hurting, lost between the memory that still teased his brain and his own hazy memories of the last few minutes.

“Kitten?” murmured the Arrancar carefully.

“Kisuke,” he countered with a groan, shaking his head as if trying to clear it.  Eventually it did clear and his body began reporting in.  And it reported agony.  He was covered in bumps and bruises and cuts, the wound to his leg had been ripped open and was bleeding rather steadily, and his head ached horribly.

“Give him here,” muttered Grimmjow, hoisting him off the ground in one easy move that made his stomach flip unsettlingly. 

“I shall procure more supplies since we will clearly need them.  Deal with this,“ ordered Ulquiorra with a glare for the both of them.   

“Bring bedding; I want a rest after all that.”  Kisuke had to smile faintly at Grimmjow’s priorities.  He had a feeling the other man almost always put his comfort first.  “And bring some clothes for the kid.  I'm sick of looking at his scrawny legs.”

Ulquiorra glared but nodded and started up the steps back into the real world as Grimmjow carried him over to a rock and set him down.  The remainder of the alcohol went over his wound in a fiery burn sharp enough for Kisuke to wish they could just cut the damned leg off and quit doing this.  Tears stung his eyes and he wiped at them as Grimmjow redressed the wound.

"Where am I?" he asked softly, anything to drag his mind away from the pain in his leg and remind himself of who he was - Mizuno Kisuke, not some long dead Shinigami captain.

"Same place ya were before ya went psycho, dumb ass.  The Vaizards' old haunt," growled Grimmjow, glaring darkly at him.

Kisuke examined the new word, trying to see if he knew it, but coming up with nothing.  "What's a Vaizard?  And won't they be pissed that you're using their place?" 

Grimmjow glared up at him and for a second Kisuke thought the other man wouldn't answer, but then he sighed.  "Vaizards are a sorta Shinigmi-Hollow hybrid.  And they won't care, they haven't been around here for twenty-some-odd years - since the start of the war.  They didn't wanna take sides.  They didn't wanna bend over for Aizen but they hated Soul Society 'bout as much, so they refused to fight for either one.  They stuck around long enough to train Kurosaki and then hauled ass outta Karakura.  Ulquiorra found this place, not sure how.  Emo boy was always good with that detail shit."

"Kurosaki?  The one I...he...," he stammered to a halt, blushing at Grimmjow's smirk.  He was still trying to process the idea of a lover and just what Urahara's lover meant to him.  He'd never dated much; had never wanted to.  He'd chalked it up to knowing that anyone he did date would figure out just how smart he really was and once that got around his nice peaceful life would have been ruined.  That hadn't been the only reason though, there had always been some nagging part of him that had...wanted something, something he knew his classmates couldn't give him.

He just wasn't sure he wanted Urahara's lover.

"The one you were fucking?" asked Grimmjow, with a knowing smirk.

"Jerk," muttered Kisuke, kicking him lightly with his good leg and earning a chuckle from the Arrancar.  Grimmjow grinned at him and Kisuke smiled despite himself.  "Anyway, yeah, that Kurosaki?"

"Yep, same one."

"I...he...He was sleeping with one of these Vaizards?"

"Why not?" asked Grimmjow with a shrug.  “Hollow, Arrancar, Shinigami, Vaizard, all different sides of the same thing.” 

"Are they even human?"  Shinigami were real, he had been kidnapped by Arrancar, there was an evil overlord out to get him and he was worried that his lover from a past life might not have been human? Kisuke wondered if it wasn't time to take a long look at his life and reevaluate his priorities.

"Kurosaki was human before Urahara turned him into a Vaizard."

Kisuke startled, earning a sharp glare from Grimmjow and a jerk on his leg to remind him that the blue haired man was still working on it.  “I...I...made him?” he asked in a strickened whisper as some impossible memory slipped across his brain.  He was staring down into a deep, dark pit, a bound young man at its bottom.  And he was responsible for this.  In a few hours this young man would die and be consumed.  If he was lucky he would emerge stronger than either of them had ever imagined.  If the boy was not, then he would have to kill the boy.  Either way he had done this.  Bound another sentient being up like a lamb to the slaughter. 

Bile filled his mouth and Kisuke quickly leaned away from Grimmjow, sensing the Arrancar really would hurt him if he threw up on him.  He dinner came back up in rush and Kisuke desperately wished the memory could as well.  What had he done?  What sort of person could do such things? 

He lay trembling upon the rock, his stomach empty, his throat burning and those terrible questions spinning around his head with the memories.  “Aw fuck, what is it?  What happened, Kitten?  What’s the matter?” groused Grimmjow, no real heat in the words.  Instead the other man gathered him up, wiping his face, and carried him away from his mess to gently sit down with his back propped against a rock, Kisuke sitting in his lap and nestled against him.

“What happened, Kitten?”

“I...I...What was I?” he breathed out softly, frightened that any incarnation of him could do such a thing.

“Ya were trying to stop an egotistical madman.  Ends and means and all that crap.  ‘Sides, it was twenty years ago, who gives a fuck about it now?” soothed Grimmjow with a shrug and all the morality of a cat, thought Kisuke almost fondly.

The blond was afraid he knew the answer to the Arrancar’s question though.   He gave a crap.  He couldn’t be a man who did such things.  He couldn’t remember him because the risk of becoming him was just too great.  He had to make Urahara Kisuke go away.

Chapter Text

Ryuuken followed the girl through the Shinigami base, wondering what he was doing  - walking through a Shinigami stronghold, thinking of talking to his son and his son’s Shinigami lover, following some wisp of a girl.  It was foolishness, which of course explained why Isshin and Kisuke were right at the center of it.  His father had been right.  He really did have terrible taste in friends.  The thought dragged a tiny smile to his lips.  At least he was sure of one thing.

Well, two things.  First, that his friends were without a doubt, reprobates of the worst sort.  And second, that a man could do a lot worse than have friends like Kurosaki Isshin and Urahara Kisuke.

Which explained why he was undertaking this insanity.

"I didn't know you and Kurosaki-san were acquainted," murmured the girl, Kuchiki Rukia.  He seemed to remember the name Kuchiki from somewhere, but he couldn’t place it and didn't have the patience to try and drag it up when an interview with his son was looming.  Long association with Uryuu had taught him that those never went as planned, or expected, or hoped for. 

"Ishida-san?" prodded the girl. 

"Medical conferences," he answered, smirking as the girl frowned.  She was rather pretty when she did that; it made her nose wrinkle up like a rabbit's.  And the glint in her dark eyes said she didn’t believe him for a second.  Perhaps Uryuu had a point staying amongst all these Shinigami - one could bait them to the end of eternity and have them be none the wiser.

She opened the door to a large, bustling room filled with rushing Shinigami.  At its center stood Uryuu, glancing around and looking utterly comfortable and in control.  "We're in the middle of an incident," explained Kuchiki.  "He might not be able to talk."

Ryuuken nodded his understanding, taking a moment to study his son.  He looked bruised and tired but also strangely alert.  There were reports in his right hand and he was talking angrily to a large Shinigami who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else.  He was dressed in Quincy white and looked strong and determined, a man others respected.  Pride welled up inside him and quickly on its heels came regret.  This amazing man was his son...and Ryuuken’d had nearly no hand in shaping him.  If anything, his absence had been more influential than his presence in Uryuu’s life.

His son noticed him, pausing and looking honestly baffled for a moment before handing his report to an underling and joining him.  “Ryuuken,” he murmured, voice perfectly neutral. 

“Uryuu,” he replied with a slight nod.  So far just another typical Ishida interaction.  Someday they were going to learn to talk to each other, thought Ryuuken, and when that happened the world would end.

They were saved the embarrassment of trying to find more words when a strong hand closed on Ryuuken’s shoulder, giving it a familial squeeze.  “Hiya, Dad.“

Dad?  Dad?  Ryuuken was still trying to wrap his mind around the other man’s casual familiarity with his person; which was the only reason he could fathom for not summoning his bow and shooting his son’s Shinigami lover.  By the time he had recovered his wits, Abarai was standing next to Uryuu, arm thrown casually around his waist, grinning like an idiot.

Ryuuken was beginning to think that grin was something all Shinigami learned.  His only consolation was that Uryuu seemed as shocked by his lover’s antics as he did, his blue eyes going wide before narrowing to glare at the other man.

“Abarai, what the fuck do you...” began his son hotly before the Shinigami kissed him hard and fast.  Ryuuken had a horrible memory of Isshin telling him that they were flexible and an even more terrifying idea that he might just find out how flexible.

“Keep an eye on things here, Rukia.  Uryuu and I are gonna go talk to his pop,“ announced the redhead, releasing his son’s lips and handing his reports off to Kuchiki.  He then began dragging Uryuu toward the door, snagging Ryuuken’s arm as he passed.   He and Uryuu were dragged down the hall, both staring at Abarai’s back, too shocked to protest his obvious lapse into insanity.

“Get your hands off me!” snarled Uryuu, bringing them to halt and ripping himself free of the other man’s grasp, apparently overcoming his shock much faster than Ryuuken.  Probably years of experience, thought Ryuuken.  “I don’t need you leading me about like some naughty child.  I am perfectly capable of walking, and I am perfectly capable of talking to my own fucking father!”

“Coulda fooled me,” retorted Abarai.

Uryuu’s eyes narrowed and Ryuuken honestly thought his son was going to materialize a bow and start shooting.  Either that or punch the Shinigami.  Showing remarkable restraint, he did neither.  He squared his shoulders, shot the other man a withering glare and turned to Ryuuken.  “If you could come with me,” he murmured with icy politeness before storming down the hall, Shinigami scattering to get out of his way.

“He’s damned good at that,” murmured a deep, warm voice in his ear.  “Scares the piss outta all of ‘em.  Better hurry.  I’ll bring ya guys some tea once he calms down a little.  If he sees me too soon, he‘ll start shooting.”

Ryuuken stared at Abarai’s grinning face for a moment, honestly baffled before starting after his son.  Clearly it wasn’t just Kisuke and Isshin who were insane.  All Shinigami were. 

Uryuu led him into a smaller corridor and then into a comfortable sitting room done in tans and greens.  He thought he recognized Uryuu’s hand in the layout and feel of the room and the small sewing nook confirmed it.  Although the huge plasma screen TV screamed Abarai.   He had to smile faintly at the sewing machine and the bits of fabric; it seemed his son was never going to outgrow his sewing.

Uryuu paused in the middle of the room, taking a second to master himself before turning to regard him solemnly.  “You’ll have to forgive Renji,” muttered the younger man.

Ryuuken nodded, although he couldn’t help but wonder what drew his quiet and reserved son to someone like the loutish man he had encountered.

“He means...He means well," mumbled Uryuu, as if a little embarrassed.  “Why are you here, Ryuuken?”

“I heard you were injured.”  It was hardly believable since Uryuu had presumably been injured countless times in the last twenty years, and he had never once come to check on the boy.  Yet another shining example of his failure as a father.  He did wonder about his son, the life he had chosen, although Ryuuken knew the boy would never believe that.  There was too much history between them, too many misunderstandings and too many years of silence.

“You’ve never come to check up on me before.”  The tone was huffy; Uryuu getting annoyed.

“Like that’s a shock with the way you two get along,” muttered Abarai, a tray of tea in his hands.   The redhead set the tray on the coffee table and steered his son to the couch, giving him a tiny shove to get him to sit.  A second later, Abarai was pouring tea for him and then motioning Ryuuken to a chair before offering him a cup.

“Try and play nice for once, Uryuu,” ordered the captain, kissing his son on the cheek.  “And Rukia wants to know which emergency patrol route you were planning to use for the 10th since you were the one to set up the routes for the other squads?”

Ryuuken had to smile faintly as the domestic behavior seemed to defuse Uryuu and the business talk snapped him into a calm, rational place.  It was rather amusing to see Abarai Renji and how skillfully he managed Uryuu. 

“The patrol routes?  Oh, I was using the Plan C routes.  It’s all in the folders.“

“I’ll tell her.  Thanks, love,” smiled Renji, giving his son another kiss on the cheek and making a hasty retreat.

Ryuuken had to smirk as Uryuu noticed his scrutiny and blushed faintly, fumbling with his glasses.   “He makes excellent tea,” he murmured, chuckling as Uryuu’s blush deepened.  “Hundreds of years of practice I expect.”

His son seemed to stumble for a moment, looking for a place to start, something to say.  He hated to admit it, but it was easier with Uryuu off-balance, more like their other interactions.  Isshin was right.  He was a terrible father.  “You seem...good together,” he offered.

“We’re...It’s complicated, but it works for us,” Uryuu offered with a sigh.

“I can imagine.  You’re...happy with Abarai then?”

“I would think twenty years could be construed as happy,” retorted Uryuu.

“I’m glad,” whispered Ryuuken, looking away and taking a sip of his tea.  He really was glad.  Uryuu deserved to be happy, deserved more joy in his relationship than he had found with the boy’s mother.

Blue eyes widened, staring at him like they had never seen him before.  “You mean that?” asked Uryuu, his voice soft and guarded.  Hopeful, thought Ryuuken with a small hint of wonder.  His son wanted his approval; Uryuu want him to be proud of him.  “I thought...I thought you didn’t approve...a Shinigami...a man...”

"I'm beginning to think there might be worse things," he murmured with smirk.

Uryuu blinked at him for a moment before staring at his tea.  "Why are you really here?" the boy asked softly, a hint of resignation slipping into his voice.  "It wasn't to see me.  So why are you really here, Ryuuken?" 

He didn't show it except for a slight widening of his eyes, but the question startled him.  He hadn't expected it.  He should have known it'd be too much to hope that the boy would believe he was actually concerned - even if he was. 

He wondered how much of the truth to tell.  There were things Uryuu wasn't ready to hear and a few more that he wasn't ready to talk about.

"I felt a burst of reiatsu earlier..."

Uryuu snorted and rolled his eyes.  "Of course.  Urahara comes back and you come poking around.  There's your answer, Ryuuken.  You felt Urahara.  And he's gone now, taken by Aizen.  Anything else you want to know?  Because if not, I have things to do," snapped Uryuu, on his feet and heading for the door.  "You can find your own way out," announced his son, stalking past his returning lover, who stood there blinking at them, a tray of cookies in his hands.

"I don't know what you did, Dad, but you just fucked up big," snarled the Shinigami, giving him a dark glare and turning away in disgust.

Chapter Text

They were keeping something from him.  Something big.  Something he knew he should be angry about.  Ichigo wasn’t an idiot; he didn’t miss the subtle signs of his imprisonment, no matter how his friends tried to disguise it.    

He was kept in his own quarters, but he was not allowed to leave.  Not that he could have made it to the door.  The inhibitor locked his powers down to near nothing, and his body was still sluggish and slow from the drugs he had been dosed with when he'd been ambushed. 

He couldn’t even hear Zangetsu or Benihime thanks to the myriad of concoctions in his veins.  The only voice echoing in his head was Shirosaki, and he had nothing productive to say except for calling Ichigo an idiot.  He knew he was an idiot, if he weren’t an idiot, he wouldn't be stuck in his room while he should have been out looking for Kisuke.

There were guards posted on his door.  They weren’t called guards, they were called aides, but Ichigo knew a guard when he saw one.  The fact that all of the ’aides’ were from the 3rd or 10th, and were people he couldn’t technically order to release him, wasn’t lost on him.  He was a prisoner in all but name. 

Getting his family to talk to him had been a masterful stroke.  He wondered if it was Ishida’s touch or Karin‘s?  Those two were both formidable planners when motivated.  They would have done Urahara proud, he thought with a dull ache, the drugs eating away at his control and leaving his heartache far too close to the surface. 

He wanted to curl in upon himself, hug his knees and do nothing more than let the drugs take him, to pretend for at least a little while that he was happy.  That he was whole.  He couldn’t though.  Kisuke was counting on him, along with so many others.  He had to be strong.  Ichigo shoved the pain down and forced his body upright, calling for the guards.  “Hey!  Hey!  I want a report!” he snarled, annoyed when no one responded immediately.  Prisoner or not, he was still a captain and that deserved respect.

Finally, the door slid open and Ichigo felt his stomach drop.

He knew it was bad when the door opened and Rukia stood there - tea tray in hand.  Not just a tea tray, a formal Japanese tea tray.  Rukia only pulled out the formal shit when it was really bad.  The last time she had done it had been when one of the trainees under her charge had blown up his office during kidou practice.  He still wasn't clear on how his office had come under fire for a kidou training exercise, but there were some questions it was better not to ask.  Rukia had pulled out all the stops and done a full tea ceremony for him before finally getting around to telling him about the office though.  Ichigo was fairly sure it was something she had learned from Byakuya, or maybe Ukitake.  And just once he wished the Shinigami could skip all the formalities, and the tea - especially the tea - and just get to what was wrong. 

“I thought you might like some tea, Kurosaki-taichou,” Rukia murmured, and Ichigo moved her news from Incredibly Bad to Even Worse, cold dread settling like lead in his stomach.   There was only one reason they would go to all this trouble - sending Rukia to him, chaining him so thoroughly...

Something had happened to Kisuke!

“Spare me the formal crap, Rukia.  Where’s Kisuke?” he demanded, visions of the blond hurt flashing before his eyes.  Kisuke bleeding, tears of fear and pain clouding those beautiful grey eyes, his reiatsu getting weaker and weaker...  He began shivering, remembering all too clearly the last time...Urahara bleeding, his eyes growing dim, that long-fingered hand falling away...

A sharp breeze whipped through the room, rustling papers and stirring his bedding and Rukia’s uniform.  It died quickly, but the shock on Rukia’s face told him it had been more than his imagination.  “You need to stay calm, Ichigo.  We’re doing everything we can at the moment,” she assured him, her voice firm and calm.  It was her vice captain’s voice.  It did nothing to reassure him though; it only cemented his fears.

“What happened to Kisuke?!“  he snarled, fear and rage boiling through him.  Kisuke was out there alone!  He could be hurt...or worse!  And they were keeping him caged, had forced him to sit idle for nearly five hours while the blond needed him!

The wind burst back to life, sharp and hot, fiercer than before.  It tossed aside furniture and shattered windows, sending the glass and debris flying together in a deadly storm.  It screamed his outrage and hatred that his one hope could be stolen from him.  He could feel Shirosaki stirring within him, rising to the silent summons of his anger.  He felt the Hollow sliding into him, merging with him easily and naturally, like taking hands with the other part of himself.  His sight twisted, his view of the world shifting as his eyes grew golden. 

“You have to calm down, Ichigo!” cried Rukia, tossing away the tea and rushing to his side, trying to take his hand, to keep him calm. 

He swatted her hand away, rage lending him strength and coordination.  He felt his blood burning with power, washing the drugs away, purifying his body in silver fire.  For a moment, he thought the glowing silver-blue light was in his eyes...But it wasn’t.  The wind was glowing; his whole body was glowing.  Power was tumbling out of him faster than it ever had before.  He felt the inhibitor snap and fall from his neck, but it was from a long ways off, it didn’t matter. 

Kisuke was all that mattered - getting to him, saving him. 

Where is Kisuke?!?” he snarled, surging to his feet.

The guards rushed in but were stopped by the howling wall of reiatsu.  It sent them to the ground, trembling and breathless, cowering at the thunderous force of his rage.  Renji and Ishida were at Rukia's side an instant later.  Their reiatsu were merged into a beautiful, shifting creation of light blue, blood red, and shimmering lavender.  Their power was a solid wall against his, firm and unwavering.  For a moment, he had the urge to smash them, to rage against them for their joy, for having each other when he was alone.  The moment was gone before he could even complete the thought though.  They were his friends and he loved them.  He would die before losing either one of them.  He wanted them to be happy, their happiness was all he had left.  Their happiness...and his dream of Kisuke.

“He's missing!  He’s gone, Ichigo.  We don’t know where.  Uryuu thinks Aizen took ‘im,” Renji told him.  "We're gonna get 'im back!  But ya gotta calm down, Ichigo."

It took a moment for their words to sink in and even when they did he wasn’t sure he understood them.  He must have heard wrong.  Had to have heard wrong.  Kisuke couldn’t be gone.  He couldn’t.  Ichigo couldn’t live without him.  Not again.

He felt his heart stop and his world tumble from its axis.  He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see.  All he knew was the screaming denial in his heart.  The scream of a dying thing clawing its way up from the depths of his soul.  Or maybe it was his soul dying? 

One moment everything was dark and silent, and the next it was filled with light and screaming.

He was screaming.  The wind was screaming.  The power was screaming.  Even Shirosaki and Benihime were screaming, adding their cries to the mix.  Wind was whipping through the room, ripping and tearing at everything, slashing at all those it touched.   He was glowing with power, it was pouring out of him like a bright, burning flood, ready to consume everything in its path.

“No!  Ichigo!  No!” screamed Uryuu, the Quincy surging forward to knock him from his feet.  “Goddamn it!  Help me!” screamed the archer, and a moment later Shinigami were pouring into the room, bodies piling on top of him, holding him down and struggling to contain his power.

“Sorry ‘bout this,” muttered Renji, grabbing his hair and slamming his head against the floor.  Stars danced before his eyes and his struggles faltered.  The redhead slammed his head against the floor again and again.  He could feel darkness creeping in at the edges of his vision and increased his struggles.  He had to get free.  He had to help Kisuke.  To save him!

His head hit the floor once more and darkness began to fall.  He could see Urahara reaching out for him, his eyes begging him for help, but he couldn’t reach, couldn’t help.  How could he save the blond when he couldn’t even save himself?  “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry,“ he choked softly, a sprinkling of tears falling as he slipped away.

Chapter Text

Shirosaki gazed at his peacefully sleeping companions, restless and edgy despite their presence.  The power inhibitor his stupid king had gotten himself trapped with drained the zanpaktou.  The drain was not enough to harm them or Shirosaki would have had to push Ichigo aside and kick some ass.  The king's stupidity over the ol' Hat-n-Clogs was not going to cost him his lovers.  He hated the rain as much as Zangetsu and Ichigo, but Urahara was Ichigo's lover, not his.  Zangetsu and Benihime were his, and Shirosaki looked after what was his.

He growled faintly, unable to get comfortable or sleep and not interested in laying quietly with Benihime and Zangetsu.  He was not a laying quietly kinda guy; he liked action.  Time and Zangetsu and Benihime had mellowed him a little, but he was not, and would never be, some tamed house pet.  He was still the same wild horse he had been all those years ago, ready to turn on his rider the first chance he got.    

He slid carefully free of the zanpaktou's grasps, pulling on his hakama before leaving the confines of Zangetsu’s corner of Ichigo’s soul.  They each had their own little portion of Ichigo.  Zangetsu’s portion was tucked away on one of the highest buildings.  It was a dark and lush place, full of rich sounds and textures.  It reminded Shirosaki of nothing so much as the back room of a jazz bar, with exposed red brick walls, and hardwood floors.

 He left Zangetsu’s hideaway and paced the confines of the king's soul world, grumbling a few insults at Ichigo, but quickly growing bored with the activity.  Ichigo was asleep and insulting him wasn‘t nearly as fun when he didn‘t bitch back.  He seemed to the only one unaffected by the inhibitor, although Zangetsu and Benihime might have argued that his temper was shorter and he was edgier than normal.  He chalked it up to Shinigami power trying to affect him and those he considered his.

He stalked around the oddly twisted world of Ichigo's soul, finding himself in Benihime’s area.  It was the newest and most unique area in Ichigo’s soul because it was completely unlike anything else there.  It was foreign and alien and hence interesting.  And Shirosaki had never been one to miss out on something fun or interesting.

Benihime’s place was a sheltered little garden on the top of one of the skyscrapers.  It was a riot of green.  There were roses and orchids, and wisteria plants, and maple trees, and even a lone cherry tree, and millions of other shrubs and plants that Shirosaki could never identify but never grew tired of examining.  Even if they were plants - they were new, something besides glass, steel and concrete.  There was a tiny pond fed by a delicate little waterfall that trickled down over rocks, although he had never been able to figure out where the water came from.  Or reach the top of the rocky incline.  There was a crimson bridge across pond but it led to nowhere, which was annoying but not surprising. 

Only today the bridge didn’t lead to nowhere.

Normally, the bridge showed a green bank that could never be reached - at least by him.  Benihime claimed it was her link to the old man’s soul.  Today the bridge was different.  There was a hazy mist on the other side and dark shapes just visible through the fog.  Buildings probably.  What was with these damned people and the fucking need for buildings in their souls?

Shirosaki felt a huge grin split his face.  Change was always something fun.  He spared half a second to the idea of waking up Benihime to question her about the change but then thought of how sluggish the zanpaktou had been.  He might not have been able to get a straight answer out of them for hours.  And really, what would be the fucking point?  It wasn’t like she could stop him from exploring it - lover or not, Benihime was not his master.

He stepped onto the delicate red bridge, pausing as something about it felt different.  He shrugged and continued on, hand on the hilt of his sword; although Benihime and the king would certainly be pissed if he hurt Hat-n-Clogs.

Not that he was sure he could.  Old Hat-n-Clogs was one scary bastard for someone who acted like a total retard.  Shirosaki had met him exactly twice; once before he and the king had started screwing and once after.  The first time they had been sparing, the king and the idiot, and he had slipped out.  That nutty old guy had held him off until Ichigo could wrestle control back, which was pretty damn impressive since he had nearly killed captains of the Gotei Thirteen.  The second time he had broken free while the king was fucking the old man.  Urahara hadn’t missed a beat, just slammed him to the floor, blade at his throat, and called for Ichigo to come back. 

After that, Shirosaki had kinda decided Ichigo could’ve done a lot worse for himself than someone like Urahara.

He forced his way across the bridge, making the last half of the journey by sheer stubborn unwillingness to turn back.  With each step he had felt weaker and weaker, like the power was being drained out of him.  He made it across though, breathing hard, sweating and leaning on his sword, but he made it.

"Ha!  Stupid fucking bridge," he panted.  The fog on the other side of the bridge was dense and confusing, voices and ghostly images echoing around and through it.  He pushed his way through, trying to figure out where he was, but the fog was too thick and things seemed to shift around.  For a moment he thought he saw the Urahara Shoten, Hat-n-Clogs asleep in its depths, but when he looked closer it was gone.  There was the sound of children - not playing children, street kids - but he hadn’t seen any sign of them.  And when he looked for them, the noise had died to silence.

He ventured deeper into Urahara's soul and the fog began slowly to lift.  When he came to a crossroad, it was gone completely where the roads met but grew thicker the further one ventured from the clear spot.  There, in the center of the clear space, was the Mizuno kid, looking exactly like Urahara must have at seventeen.  He was looking around, lost and confused, turning all about but unable to leave his patch of ground. 

“Hey!“ called Shirosaki.

The kid did nothing, like he hadn’t even heard his shout. "Hey!" he tried again.  Again the kid ignored him.  Shirosaki frowned and moved closer, but as he reached the edge of the fog, he reached some sort of invisible wall.  He pounded on it but couldn’t get through and still couldn’t get the kid to notice him. 

A figure on the opposite side of the clear patch noticed him though.  Urahara, but not as Shirosaki knew him.  Younger and in a Shinigami robe and captain‘s haori.  This man exuded confidence and power.  Urahara the captain, Shirosaki decided.  And looking at him, yeah, the king coulda done a whole lot worse.

The captain was glaring murderously at Shirosaki and reaching out for the kid.  He didn’t seem to be able to enter the clear zone though.  But he could reach into it, brush against the boy.  Only the boy startled each time the captain reached for him and skirted away like a nervous colt.  For one brief instant, the captain grabbed a hold of the kid’s arm and Shirosaki watched as the two figures merged into one.  A young Urahara, no older than the boy had been, stood there in black robes with a captain‘s haori.  Then the two figures ripped apart and were once more two distinct entities - the boy and the captain.  And the kid fled to the far corner away from the captain.

"Spooked him good, huh, Captain?" he called to the other, giving him a mocking wave and a wicked grin.

The captain looked like he wanted to pound him.

Shirosaki felt a tug from the center of his being and found himself jerked back to Benihime’s garden on Ichigo’s side of the bridge.  He stared at the little bridge, his most devilishly delighted grin on his face.  He had gotten onto Urahara’s soul!  Granted, he hadn’t been able to do much of anything, but he had gotten there.  Gotten somewhere new.  Somewhere with new secrets to explore and new things to see.

A world of possibilities flashed through his mind, and Shirosaki couldn't help throwing back his head and laughing.

Chapter Text

He was doubled over, panting harshly, sweat pouring off him.  There was something he was missing.  Some integral connection that was not being made in his head.  Kisuke didn’t understand it.  He had performed kidou spells before, powerful ones, and yet when called on to perform a simple spell without the benefit of a life-or-death situation he couldn’t.    

He had never not been good at anything and didn’t like the feeling.  Well, that wasn’t entirely true, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and his poetry was dreadful, but he had never been stumped by something he applied himself to.  It was beginning to frustrate him.  The weariness kidou practice left him feeling also annoyed him.  It was like all the energy was sucked out of his body.  He had nearly passed out the first time he tried to cast a spell without Urahara guiding him. 

He needed to be able to perform kidou in order to get released though.  Grimmjow and Ulquiorra had both been clear about that.  They needed to contact all the Shinigami captains to make their point, not just the ones stationed in the human realm.  Kisuke could understand their reasoning; people they had been fighting for nearly a quarter of a century were not going to be eager to deal.  They needed to make their case to the whole Shinigami leadership to get their asylum.

The problem was he couldn’t do kidou.  Something was just not connecting in his head.  He couldn’t figure out what he was missing.  The Arrancar were no help as they didn’t use kidou and weren‘t that familiar with it.  Actually, Grimmjow tried to help but he just didn’t know enough about how the Shinigami spells worked to be of any use.  He had explained cero blasts and a few of the Arrancar's spells to Kisuke, but while the theory seemed to be similar, it wasn't close enough to help him.  And Ulquiorra didn’t care to help unless it was to create a life-or-death situation for him.  He wasn't that desperate yet.

He had managed to get his terror of Ulquiorra down to manageable levels mostly by ignoring and avoiding the former Espada.  And the few times he couldn’t, Grimmjow was there to help smooth their interactions and cushion them from each other.

Loath though he was to admit it of a person who’d kidnapped him, Kisuke was finding himself genuinely fond Grimmjow Jeagerjaques.  He was rude, abrasive, and annoying as hell, but the cat-like man told him the truth.  And he was beginning to appreciate that, even when the truth was frightening or hurtful.

He wiped the sweat from his brow and forced his exhausted body upright.  “Take a break, Kitten,” ordered Grimmjow.  The former 6th Espada refused to use his name and Kisuke hadn’t been able to devise any way to make him.  When he ignored the Arrancar, Grimmjow just physically fetched him, and the man could try the patience of a saint when he wanted to be annoying.  Kisuke hated to admit it, but he had met his match for sheer stubborn obnoxiousness.  This whole kidnapping was turning out to be quite humbling. 

“I’m working,” he muttered.  He might not have been able to master kidou, but it wasn’t from lack of trying.  He took it as a personal challenge to master the craft and the Arrancar were getting a firsthand lesson on just how stubborn he could be when intellectually challenged.

“Ya need to eat something and rest, brat.  Now, come on,“ growled Grimmjow, grabbing him and tossing him over his shoulder.  Kisuke growled but didn’t bother kicking or screaming as he had done the first time the ex-Espada pulled the stunt.  It was futile to raise a fuss when the only person to help was Ulquiorra and he didn’t care.

Grimmjow dropped him down as far as possible from Ulquiorra while still keeping him in their sleeping area and Kisuke glared at them both.  Two days with the Arrancar had begun to drain him of his fear and spark his curiosity.  The only reason he hadn’t started demanding information on the two Arrancar was the vague worry that Ulquiorra might get fed up and do him harm.  Grimmjow would just stomp off if his questioning grew too persistent, but Ulquiorra was still hard for him to read.

He began nibbling on the convenience store junk the ex-Espada had picked up, not really hungry until he looked down and noticed that he had eaten not only his dinner but also a good portion of the food Grimmjow had slipped him.  “Are we any closer to being able to perform the spell?” demanded Ulquiorra.

“Lay off the kitten.  He’s doing the best he can.  Only fucking human I’ve ever seen to even perform kidou,” retorted Grimmjow, making Kisuke smile faintly.  The two continued to snap and snarl at each other, but Kisuke ignored them, with his belly full and a full day of kidou practice behind him he found himself drifting off easily.

"Knowledge is neither good nor evil, Jyuushiro.  It's like power, totally devoid of morality.  It's only how we use it that's good or bad," murmured Kisuke, placing a white stone on the go board.

"He is right there.  One point for the baby," laughed Shunsui, sharing a grin with Yoruichi from where they were lounging on the bed.

Jyuushiro cast a quick look at his friend and Kisuke glared at him.  He might have been the youngest of their little group of four but he was not a baby! 

"As I was saying, before we were so rudely interrupted," murmured the pale-haired noble, "Just because the knowledge itself is not inherently evil doesn't mean it can't be too dangerous to be widely known.  Not everyone will have the maturity or morality to use the knowledge wisely, for the greater good.  And even you have to agree that a little bit of knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous, Kisuke."

"Jyuushiro makes a good point too.  What's the score again, Shunsui?" purred Yoruichi.

"I think they're tied - five to five."

"If you two can't say anything productive, you could try something novel and shut up," murmured Kisuke.

"But why would we do that?  This is much more fun.  And how is black at the 7-8 intersect for constructive?" laughed Yoruichi, her eyes filled with merriment.

"Great, if you want Jyuushro to lose.  And why shouldn't we try and learn all we can?  Do all we can to get stronger, better ourselves?" asked Kisuke, turning his attention back to the board and his opponent. 

"There's nothing wrong with bettering ourselves, but we should always evaluate the costs, shouldn't we?  Is it really bettering anything if we gain strength from killing or oppressing others?  Or what if the cost of our strength is the endangering of countless others?  Do we have the right to risk them without their knowledge or permission?  Power is a responsibility, after all, not a right."

Kisuke shot awake and shoved the remembered dream away hard.  He didn’t want to remember!  Didn’t want to become a man who could do such things.  He wouldn’t let Urahara come back, couldn’t let him come back. 

Urahara was the one who knew how to do kidou though.  He was the one with the knowledge.  Kisuke sat huddled in his sleeping bag, legs drawn up and his arms around them.  Somehow he had to get what he wanted from Urahara.  Every time the other man emerged though, he got…lost.  Forgot himself.  The memories got clearer but he grew dimmer and Kisuke knew that one of these times he wasn’t going to come back.  One of these times it was going to be him who got shoved into the shadows and Urahara who stayed out here.

He shivered and tried to understand it all, how someone so brilliant could be so careless.  He wasn’t evil, Kisuke knew that like he knew his name.  As much as he wanted to make the man the villain, he knew Urahara wasn‘t.  He wasn’t a bad person.  He just wasn’t a very good one either. 

There was a hardness in Urahara, a willingness to be brutal and do what he thought needed to be done.  It wasn’t a matter of good or evil with him.  It was survival.

Kisuke sighed and let his head fall onto his knees.  Thinking about it wasn’t doing him any good.  He could analyze Urahara all he wanted, but it didn’t get him any closer to figuring out how to do kidou.  And it didn’t get him any closer to making peace with the man.

Exhaustion dragged his eyes closed as he whispered a small prayer that no more dreams would come.

“It’s not that hard, Yoruichi,” he laughed, sitting on a rock, watching and trying not to laugh as Yoruichi once again failed to perform the spell.  She glared at him, so Kisuke was careful to repress his mirth.  If he laughed she would give up on the kidou practice and just kick his ass.

Yoruichi was wicked with her fists and feet, way better than him.  The only reason he didn’t walk around black and blue was that he could weave and dodge better than even Yoruichi.  A childhood in the Rukongai all but guaranteed that he could move like an eel.  In the Rukongai a person either ran or fought and he had never put much stock in fighting, not when most opponents were bigger and stronger than him. 

“Why the hell is this so hard?!” growled Yoruichi, stomping her foot and throwing up her arms.

“Tsk, tsk!  What would people say, the Shihouin heir swearing?” he taunted, trying and failing to keep a straight face.  With a growl, Yoruichi was on him, knocking him off the rock and rolling around in the grass trying to pin him.

“They would say it was all your fault,” she said laughing.  “Hanging out with that Rukongai kid.”

Kisuke twisted like an eel and used a sharp jab to the ribs to push her off him.  “If you wanna study kidou on your own, then go ahead,” he snarled, stalking off a few feet.  “Or go ask some of your ‘proper’ friends to teach you.”  He didn’t need this.  Not from Yoruichi.  Not from his first real friend.

Who the fuck cared if he grew up in the Rukongai?  Why did it matter?  He was at the top of his class, ahead of the precious nobles and their stupid heirs.  He was smarter and faster than anyone in his group and probably most of the other groups as well.  The only person who could hold a candle to him was Yoruichi and she wasn’t half as clever as him.  What did it matter if he was an orphan from the 77th?  He was the smartest, fastest, brightest student the academy had seen in...well, ever. 

Jyuusuhiro could beat him at go, but only one game out of five, and Shunsui could beat him at sword practice, but even Shunsui said that in another year or two Kisuke would be a match for him.  And they were three years ahead of him and Yoruichi.  It wasn’t fair!  No matter how well he did, no one ever saw past his origins.  What did it matter where he was born or who his parents were?  Or weren't.  Didn't his abilities count for anything? 

“Kisuke?  Aw, come on, Kisuke.  I didn’t mean it like that.  I was just playing,” pleaded Yoruichi, noticing the stiffness of his spine.  He slid out from under the hand she tried to put on his shoulder and turned to glare at her.

“Everyone else gives me shit about where I'm from!  I don’t need you doing it too!  You’re supposed to be my friend!  You swore that it didn't matter!”

“I am your friend.  I didn’t mean it like that, Kisuke.  Come on, you know that.  You know I don't believe any of that dumb stuff.  Help me.  Please,” she pleaded, catching his arm and gently turning him toward her, bright golden eyes locking onto him.  "Come on, Kisuke."

“Okay,” he muttered.  "You know, you look really stupid when you try and be all cute and innocent," he told her, cracking a reluctant smile.

"Do not!" she glared, elbowing him in the ribs.  Kisuke grunted and retaliated by shoving her, which lead to her shoving him back and within seconds they were rolling around on the ground again, trying to pin one another, laughing and growling taunts.

Yoruichi slammed his shoulders to the ground, grinning down at him.  She was straddling his hips and had his hands pinned.  "Hah!  Gotcha!  Now help me with this stupid kidou already."

He grumbled yet couldn't help but smile, shoving her off and getting to his feet.  “You’re thinking too hard about the chant.  The chants just help guide you; they don't make the spell work.  You make the spell work.  That's why you can do kidou without the chants when you get good.  You need to focus on the energy, not the chanting.  Say a wrong word here or there and, as long as it fits in the spell pattern, it'll be fine.  Watch.”  He quickly muttered the chant for Hadou 33, changing half the words as he went, and shot a blast of blue energy into one of the rocks around them.  “See?  Nothing to it.  You just focus on the energy.  Let the chant guide you but don't focus on it.”

“Showoff,” muttered Yoruichi with a quick smile before she tried the spell with the correct words.  She managed to summon the energy to her hand but had it fizzle out on the way to her target.

"Good.  Just put more power into next time."

Kisuke awoke slowly, gnawing his bottom lip as he tried to hold on to the dream and understand what Urahara had been talking about.  He nearly had it.  He knew if he could just get things straight in his head he would be able to perform kidou spells without Urahara.   

“What’s got your panties in a twist?” muttered Grimmjow, not bothering to open his eyes.  He was sprawled out on one of the pallets Ulquiorra had gotten on one of his supply trips.  The ex-Espada seemed to have decided to divide their duties, with Grimmjow caring for him and Ulquiorra seeing to their needs.  It kept the grim-faced man away from him, which was all Kisuke cared about.

"I need to try something," he murmured, standing and limping off a few paces.  He closed his eyes, reaching for the calm, centered feeling he had felt in the dream when doing kidou.  The feeling came slowly but with it, the sense of power shimmering just out of reach, the power he had been looking for so desperately.  He reached for it and felt it snap through his body.  He was chanting before he even realized it, crackling, blue energy filling his hands.  Rock exploded in a shower of dust and both Arrancar were at his side and staring at him before the chunks of rock hit the ground.

"What was this message you wanted me to send?" he asked, panting slightly, red flashing around his irises and a smile tugging at his lips.  He had finally done it.

Chapter Text

Kuchiki Byakuya was not a happy man.  He was late.  Again.  It was only a few minutes late, but it was enough to annoy the uncompromising noble.  What was worse was that this tardiness was becoming more and more common.  He found it irritating in the extreme.

Twenty years without a reliable vice captain were beginning to wear on him.  He had never realized how much he had come to rely on Abarai until the man was gone.  Renji had been course and unrefined, and slacked on his paperwork; but he had also kept excellent control over the 6th's training regime and had done enough paperwork to at least keep Byakuya organized and the 6th running smoothly.   And while Byakuya honestly couldn't claim to be fond of the man, he would admit that Renji had been good at his job.  Better than Byakuya had realized really.

His scarf fluttered, drawing attention to a small stain on the silk and making Byakuya frown.  His latest attempt to replace Renji was an annoying and clumsy woman more interested in fawning over him than doing her job.  He would have the woman replaced at the next captains' meeting.  She was his third attempt at replacing Abarai, and better than the last two, which was perhaps the worst thing about her.  He was beginning to think he ought to speak to Abarai about taking Izuru as his vice captain and letting the Quincy take over as vice captain of the 3rd. 

It was no secret that the Quincy regularly trained and fought with the 3rd.  Arguments over the matter of the Quincy had been settled years ago when the young man had thoroughly trounced several of his most vehement detractors, who had also enjoyed sparring sessions with Abarai and Kurosaki once they recovered.  After that, no one had doubted the Quincy’s right to stand with the Gotei 13. 

The Quincy would make an excellent vice captain for the 3rd.  He already worked closely with them, was comfortable with the 5th and 10th, and from what Byakuya knew of the man, he was clever and well-organized.  It would take only a few months for him to learn the remainder of the job, while it would take Byakuya years to find and train a new vice captain.  And that was if he ever found someone.  Izuru would have been perfect for him; the man knew the job and from what Byakuya had seen, he was organized and industrious.  A perfect vice captain if ever there was one.

He schooled his features, trying not to let his annoyance show, before stepping from the veranda and into Jyuushiro's tea room.  He paused as he noticed Hisagi of the 9th already sitting with the 13th Division's captain.  Jyuushiro smiled warmly at him and motioned for him to join them. 

He had been having tea with Jyuushiro for centuries, since his days as the other man's vice captain.  It had become a sort of soothing ritual for the two of them, and the other captain was one of the few people Byakuya counted as a friend.  Jyuushiro was also one of the few people he didn't have to worry about his family objecting to him socializing with.  Not that he listened to them.  Just that they annoyed him less when they weren't objecting to his life.

"I hope you don't mind if Shuuhei joins us?" murmured Jyuushiro.

"Of course not," he murmured to Jyuushiro, taking a small measure of amusement from Shuuhei's shock at his easy acceptance.  Jyuushiro was forever trying to smooth the way for the younger captains.  He seemed to have an innate skill at it; he was able to dispense advice that coming from anyone else would have resulted in a challenge, but was accepted with heartfelt thanks from him.  

Byakuya glanced around for Shunsui, wondering where the other man was; he could usually be found with Jyuushiro.  Especially since quarterly reports were coming due and Jyuushiro’s aides were the only people capable of turning away Nanao.

“Shunsui got caught on his way here,” murmured Jyuushiro with a smile, as if reading his mind.  “Nanao mobilized all of the 8th to watch for him.  Something about being determined to get some work out of him."

Byakuya smiled.  Nanao would have been a wonderful vice captain, but she would never leave the 8th and he didn’t think the captain commander would let her.  Someone had to keep control of Kyouraku and Nanao was the only one capable of doing so.  Although Jyuushiro could manage it fairly well.

“How is the new vice captain working out, Kuchiki-san?” asked Hisagi, clearly searching for a topic.

Jyuushiro chuckled, and Byakuya shot the other man a disdainful look.  “He’ll be replacing her within the month,” announced Jyuushiro.  “Or did you miss the stain on his scarf?”

Hisagi stared between the two of them, clearly a little startled by the easy interplay.  It wasn’t that surprising though; they had known each other for centuries and been friends since before the Academy.  Byakuya had never been allowed to run with Jyuushiro, Shunsui, Yoruichi, Isshin, and Kisuke; the Kuchiki heir was far too proper to ever be allowed to associate with such hooligans according to his family and tutors.  He had known Yoruichi, Jyuushiro and Shunsui at least casually though, their heritage being deemed appropriate. 

Of course, then he had gone and married a woman from the Rukongai and thrown his family into lamentations of doom and despair. 

“Has the 9th found a vice captain yet?” he asked idly.

“No, there hasn’t been time yet.  Renji keeps saying I should try and talk Ikkaku or Yumichika over, but they won’t leave the 11th."  Or each other.  Byakuya wasn't sure entirely about the relationship the two younger Shinigami shared, since he didn't like to pry, but he knew it was deep.  Yumichika and Ikkaku were best friends and likely soul mates.  "I have the work split between myself, my third seat, and my fourth seat, but even then we aren’t getting everything done.  It's getting to be a mess."

"I'm just grateful Nanao put things in order for me.  Although personally, I think it was just her attempt to try and keep Shunsui from escaping here every chance he got," murmured Jyuushiro.  He and the 8th Division captain had been lovers on and off since their school days; it was only in the last four hundred years that they had become hopelessly committed to each other.  Although even Byakuya would admit they were good together. 

"I was thinking of having a word with Abarai about taking Izuru.  He could have Ishida step in as vice captain," murmured Byakuya, smirking faintly as both Jyuushiro and Shuuhei stared at him with amazement. 

Reiatsu crackled across their senses and all three heads shot up, Jyuushiro and Byakuya frowning as their minds tried to argue with what they were sensing.  The reiatsu was rough, untrained and wildly fluctuating, but also impossibly familiar.

"Kisuke?" breathed Jyuushiro, his eyes wide and disbelieving.

"My name is Mizuno Kisuke.  Most of you knew me as Captain Urahara Kisuke.  I am being held by two members of Aizen Sousuke's former Espada who wish to defect and seek asylum from Soul Society.  As a sign of their good will, they stopped Aizen from seizing me.  They wish to treat with emissaries from Soul Society to discuss a peaceful surrender, during which time they will release me into Shinigami custody.  We await your reply."

Storm-cloud grey eyes met brown, both wide and uncertain.  "That...that couldn't have been...Urahara-taichou?" breathed Shuuhei. 

"It was Urahara's touch, rougher and unrefined, but the flavor of the energy...  How?" whispered Byakuya, staring at Jyuushiro.  If anyone could figure out what the former head of the 12th had done, it would be Jyuushiro.  He was one of the only people to ever be able to decipher the other man.

The pale-haired man was just shaking his head, clearly baffled, unable to even figure out where to start.  Not that Byakuya blamed him.  It should have been hundreds of years before Urahara was reborn, and even then he shouldn't have been able to remember his old life.  He shouldn't feel like or be his former self.  Not surprising it would be Urahara to completely bypass the system.  They should have expected that.  Urahara had always viewed the rules as rather flexible things.  The question was how he had done it?  And why?

"We should go.  There's going to be a meeting.  There has to be.  If even a fraction of that message is true...," began Jyuushiro, trailing off as hell butterflies fluttered in and Sasakibe's voice called them for an emergency meeting.

Chapter Text

After two full days of missing the Quincy - swing shifts and crisis situations did not do good things to communication in a relationship.  Renji had finally found a moment to hunt up his volatile mate.  And from the reports he had been hearing it was not a moment too soon.  An angry Uryuu tended to scare the younger Shinigami.  Who wouldn't be scared of a pissed-off Ouincy master? 

Uryuu was easy to find, all he had to do was follow the dark, angry pulse of his reiatsu.  It was the deep hurt lurking under the anger that drew him though.  The desperate need to soothe that aching hurt in his mate.

Renji found the archer in the underground training facility, venting his temper on the rocks.  The Shinigami watched him draw, aim, and fire a devastating blast in under a second, captivated by the deadly grace of his lover.  Every movement was smooth and fluid, almost sensual.  He would never tell the Quincy, never admit it to anyone, but there was something deeply erotic about watching the archer shoot, something far more graceful and beautiful than any sword fight.  It was impossible not to be entranced - that lithe body taut, the supple strength staining against the pull of the bow...  Looking at Uryuu, it was easy to understand why goddesses of the hunt had been feared and desired in equal measure.  How could any mortal resist that sort of enticement?

 He silently watched the Quincy draw and fire again, saw the straining tension in his body, the barely leashed violence in his bearing, and wanted to track down Ishida Ryuuken and pound him into the ground.  How dare that man upset Uryuu?  How dare he do this to Renji’s mate?  Indignation rose up in him, but Renji tamped it down.  Uryuu did not need Renji beating up his father for him.  He needed comfort. 

Renji came up behind the other man, sliding his arms around Uryuu’s waist and hugging him from behind.  The Quincy ignored him in favor of destroying another rock, but when Renji gently pulled their bodies flush, the brunette went willingly and melted against him, a soft sigh coming from between pink lips.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asked, breathing the question into his lover’s ear as he hooked his chin over the other man’s shoulder.

“No.”  Short, terse, and totally to the point.  Renji chuckled, that was his Quincy - completely unwilling to communicate.  “Let me try that again,” he purred, nibbling softly on the brunette’s ear.  “Will you talk about it?” he asked, sealing his lips to Uryuu’s neck and sucking hard, earning a whimpered sound of bliss from his love.  The bow fell away and strong fingers tangled in his hair, urging Renji for more.  He smirked and gently set his teeth to the mark, and heard the breath stutter out of his lover.

“Renji.”  His name breathed out like a prayer.  The sound sent a jolt of arousal straight through the redhead and made him want to forget about comfort, forget about everything but the glorious creature in his arms.  His mate.   

He reminded himself that this was for Uryuu, giving him what he needed, the comfort and love he so richly deserved but had never received.  It was not about him getting his rocks off.  “Talk to me, love,” he pressed gently, earning a soft sound of denial from the Quincy.  Although whether the sound was for the talking or for him stopping his assault on the archer’s neck was hard to say.

“Come on, baby.”

Uryuu was stubbornly silent for a moment and Renji kissed his way down his neck to encourage him to start talking.  “Why doesn’t he care?  All I ever wanted was for him...,” Uryuu finally began in a heartrending whisper.  The whisper of a child longing for a parent’s approval.  The whisper of a child who knew no matter how good he was, how smart he was, he would never measure up. 

“Why does he hate me?”  The last was delivered almost too softly to hear and the anguish behind it was black and soul deep.   

Renji shifted the Quincy in his arms so they faced each other, cupping his face in his hands and kissing the brunette softly.  Blue eyes sought his and Renji hated the uncertainty and vulnerability his saw in them.  He looked so young.  It was easy to forget just how young Uyruu was, he was always so confident, so smart.  Only he didn’t look it now; he just looked lost.  Renji wrapped the archer in a tight hug, holding him close and hating the tremble in that graceful body.  “I love you.  Forever.  Just like we promised, baby,” he told the Quincy, whispering the words into his ear and pressing a kiss to the delicate shell.

He felt Uryuu’s breath hitch and his body shudder as the archer forced back a sob.  The urge to beat the hell out of Ryuuken rose sharply again.  Father-in-law or not, that man had hurt his mate, and no one hurt Abarai Renji‘s mate!  How could anyone look at this man and find fault, find him lacking in any way?  “He’s an ass, baby.  You are a brilliant, beautiful man,” he told the archer, kissing him softly to punctuate each word. 

“You’ve done more than he ever could.  You brought the Shinigami and the Quincy together.  Half the kids coming to our division join just to work with you - the great Quincy.  Ishida Uryuu, who stormed Soul Society and beat Kurotshuchi when he was only half-trained, who raided Hueco Mundo, who single-handedly held the eastern front during the incursion of ’09.  Ishida Uryuu, who saved my life and who any member of the Gotei 13 would be proud to stand beside.

“Ishida Uryuu, my lover, my everything,” he told the brunette, kissing him long and slow and deep. 

“You’re such an ass,” murmured the Quincy, his voice watery and weak, but Renji could hear the gratitude and relief under that.  The knowledge that someone cared, that someone loved him and valued him. 

“Yeah, but I’m yours,” chuckled the redhead, something inside him loosening as Uryuu gave him a solemn look.

“Forever,” murmured the archer, kissing him, tugging his hair loose, fingers idly carding through it and playing with it.

Renji smiled, carefully maneuvering them over to one the nearby rocks, sitting heavily and dragging the Quincy into his lap.  He made a pleased murmur when the other man came without protest, straddling Renji' hips and twining his arms around the redhead's neck.  "Feel better?" he asked, stroking Ishida's back and sides in long, soothing strokes. 

Uryuu made a soft sound of agreement, laying his head on Renji's shoulder and burying his nose in silky red locks.  "Wanna talk about what happened with Ichigo?" asked the archer quietly, knowing their friend's outburst had to be bothering Renji. 

"Nah, Rukia and I had that out the other night while you were on shift."

"Do I want to see the state of our quarters, or should I just assume a hurricane went through and select some hapless underling to clean them?" murmured the Quincy, an eyebrow arching and a smirk beginning to tug at his lips. 

Renji chuckled.  The other man knew him entirely too well.  "We cleaned up fairly well."  They had gotten rid of the bottles in any case; Uryuu's latest sewing project might not be the same after having Rukia bawling on it, but that was need-to-know information.  And Uryuu didn't need to know.

The Quincy chuckled softly.  "I'll get someone to clean later," he murmured as Renji nipped lightly at the mark that was beginning to darken on the Quincy's neck.  His mark. 

He couldn't help but grin as Uryuu shivered, and tugged the zipper on the Quincy's shirt lower, exposing more of his lover's neck and the beginnings of his scar.  Renji gently kissed and explored the pale column of flesh, tongue teasing the scar and earning a soft gasp from the brunette. 

"You have a meeting," whispered Ishida.

"We'll be quick," he retorted, grinning as strong, nimble fingers tugged at his robes, pulling them from his shoulders and down his arms, baring his chest and trapping his arms.  Uryuu rocked his hips against him, smirking faintly as his cock jumped to attention at the friction.  Renji tried to reach for him, to drag him closer, but his arms were still tangled in his robes, earning a dark growl from him and a warm chuckle from the Quincy.

"Never any patience," scolded Uryuu warmly, nuzzling his jaw and moaning as Renji caught his lips in a quick kiss that easily became something slower and deeper.

The redhead was smiling dreamily by the time the kiss end and those strong fingers began to slide the zipper of the brunette's shirt even lower, tantalizing glimpses of pale chest coming into view.  He made a low noise of frustration when he couldn't reach the Quincy with his hands or lips, wanting to touch, to taste, to feel all that beautiful flesh.  The white shirt was tossed away with a smirk and then those glorious hands were tugging at his robes, baring more of his chest.  Renji groaned as clever fingers began to explore, caressing and petting him like he was something precious.

He sobered slightly, remembering the earlier pain, and leaned forward to lay a kiss directly in the center of the star-shaped scar adorning his lover's chest.  One day Uryuu would tell him about it - how he had gotten it and what it meant to him - one day the Quincy would want him to know.  But until then, he could wait. 

He let his tongue trace the edges of the scar, making Uryuu's breath catch.  A careful nip and the tiniest brush of his reiatsu earned him a groan and brought his nipples to the attention of the Quincy's fingers.  "Uryuu," he groaned, the sound almost a plea as those fingers tortured him.  They played with his nipples, drawing murmured threats from the redhead that just made the Quincy smile as those wicked hands slide lower.  They opened his hakama, slipping inside to cup and caress his erection. 

“I love you.” they both murmured at the same time, eyes meeting and both of them smiling faintly.

Renji growled an objection when the Quincy slid from his lap before noticing that the other man was undoing his pants.  White pants fell to the ground and a second later Uryuu was once more straddling his hips, wrapping his arms around Renji’s neck and kissing him.  Then his arms were free and all the redhead could do was hold Uryuu close and move gently against him.  Gods!  He was beautiful.  So fucking perfect, and he was all Renji’s.

Skilled hands were spreading lube on his cock and he wondered when his archer had become a pickpocket and decided that it didn’t matter.  All that mattered was the wicked angel in his arms.  “Need you,” whispered Uryuu, and Renji groaned his agreement.  His hands slid to slim hips, lifting them and shifting the Quincy closer.  He teased them both for a moment by rubbing against the other man’s entrance.  A moment later Uryuu was sliding onto him, a thin moan coming from between those perfect lips and all Renji could do was bite his lip and growl at the tight heat slowly embracing him.

"So good," groaned the dark haired man once he was fully seated, his head tossed back and his muscles straining.

“Uryuu.  Uryuu, baby, please,” he begged, rolling his hips trying to make the archer move.

Uryuu just moaned softly, slipping up just a few millimeters only to slide down slowly.  Renji whined low in his throat and gripped his lover's hips tight, lifting him and pulling him back down, making them both gasp at the sensation.  Strong legs shifted until they encircled his waist and they began to move against each other, panting and clinging to one another, words tumbling out.  Renji reached between them, taking the Quincy’s cock in hand and stroking him.

“Love you...love you...so much,” Uryuu choked into his shoulder as their rhythm grew faster and more frantic.   Uryuu was whining, a thin, high sound coming from the back of his throat with each thrust, and Renji chased that sound, wanted to hear more of it.  The archer stiffened in his arms, his head tossed back as a scream was torn from him, come smearing their bellies.  Renji groaned at the tight pulsing heat, pulling Uryuu down hard onto his cock, burying his own scream in the archer’s shoulder as he followed his lover into completion.

He wasn’t sure how long they sat there, sweaty, come-smeared, and locked together; he just knew he didn’t want to let go of Quincy, wanted nothing more than to draw the moment out and hold him forever.

"GOD FUCKING DAMMIT!  Just once!  Just one bloody time!  WE HAVE A FUCKING MEETING, ABARAI!" snarled Hitsugaya's voice from somewhere a ways off, his tone enough to freeze all but the bravest or stupidest of men solid.  Considering the demon in his lap, Renji wasn't much worried about that, but it was better not to antagonize the younger man.  Hitsugaya got mean, and creative, when annoyed.

Ishida carefully climbed to his feet, glaring at his now dusty whites as Renji tried to tug his robes into place.  “Coming, Taichou!  Be just a second!” he called.

“Love you,” he told Uryuu, grabbing him and kissing him hard and fast.  "Take care of things here.”

“Always," promised Ishida, that determined glint once more in his eyes.

Chapter Text

She was one of the first to arrive, but she was still behind Jyuushiro, Byakuya, Shunsui, and Hisagi.  Although why the young captain of the 9th should be so interested in Urahara’s return Yoruichi couldn’t imagine.

“He was having tea with Jyuushiro and Byakuya,” Shunsui told her in a whisper, chuckling as she jumped slightly and turned to glare at him.  “Gotcha.  That’s a bottle you owe me. 

"Booze are on Yoruichi tonight, Jyuushiro," he called to his lover, earning a faint, indulgent smile from the other man.

"So, what do you think?  Is it really Kisuke, Yoruichi-chan?”

She glanced around the room on the pretense of checking to see if any of the others had arrived, but it was really to buy herself time.  She hated to admit it, but she didn’t know.  She, who had known Kisuke since they were both children, had no longer been in his confidence when he‘d died.  He had always played things close to the vest, but time and the war had increased his secrecy.  And the addition of Kurosaki Ichigo to his bed had made things ten times worse. 

A Kisuke in love was a Kisuke with something to lose.  And Urahara had never been good at losing.  He had guarded his relationship with the younger man as jealously as a dragon guarded his hoard and as a result, his other secrets had stayed locked away as well.

“It’s him.  Or at least it is if Kurosaki’s reactions are to be believed,” announced Hitsugaya, Abarai at his side and Kuchiki Rukia beside him.

“Where is Kurosaki?  I’d have thought he’d have been here for this,” murmured Jyuushiro.

“He excused himself because of how close he is to the issue.  Kurosaki-taichou didn’t believe he could be impartial and sent me in his stead,” replied the tiny vice captain of the 5th, her eyes daring someone to disagree with her.  Not that anyone would.  They all knew she was lying.  Only a fool wouldn’t know.  Ichigo would never excuse himself on something concerning Urahara. 

If there was one thing Kurosaki excelled at it was obsession and love tended to bring out the best and the worst of his obsessive qualities.  He had tried to storm Hueco Mundo single-handedly to avenge Urahara’s murder; a little thing like being emotionally connected wouldn’t have slowed him in the least about ruling on his return.  In fact, it should have guaranteed his attendance to try and push Soul Society into acting - if only to try and keep the young captain from acting in their place. 

“Sedatives or inhibitor?” Byakuya asked blandly.

“Both.  As well as Renji repeatedly connecting his skull to the floor several times,” replied Hitsugaya as Unohana and Soi Fong entered, the latter attaching herself to Yoruichi’s side instantly.  She had split her old duty as commander of the Onmitsukidou and captain of the 2nd with the smaller woman, with Soi Fong handling the 2nd while she took the larger job of the Onmitsukidou.

“He was that determined?” asked Hisagi.

“He was sure even before the message.  He still has Benihime and she claims to be able to sense her old master,” murmured Renji.  “And Uryuu is pretty sure as well.  He met this Mizuno and says the kid is the spitting image of Urahara.  And he can do kidou.

“Humans cannot perform kidou,” hissed Kurotshuchi, entering and glaring at the assembly.  Yoruichi shot him a feral grin.  Even the threat of Urahara returning had to be making things interesting around the 12th.  Kisuke had been captain there for a long time and while he was gone, Urahara was not forgotten.  Mayuri has stepped into big shoes, and the other man didn’t have near the skill Urahara did with people.  His very public animosity with Ishida didn’t help him any either; the Quincy was very well respected, especially among the younger officers.  And his affair with Abarai only increased his standing.  Nothing like a torrid romance defying Soul Society and family alike to sell the youngsters, she thought with a small grin.  Hitsugaya was proof enough of that, the number of cadets petitioning to enter the 10th had increased three fold since rumors of his affair had gotten out.

“This one can.  I saw him kill a Hollow myself two evenings back.  And he used a high-level kidou spell to do it,” announced Rukia, earning a sharp glare from the captain of the 12th.  “Or has Hadou 90 been downgraded recently?” asked the girl sweetly, a cutting smile on her lips.  Byakuya's lips twisted into a matching smile and he drifted toward his sister, regarding Kurotshuchi benignly from her side, daring the other captain to naysay her.

"Ya gotta problem with little Kuchiki-chan?" growled Kenpachi, giving Kurotshuchi a menacing and slightly maniacal glare.

"Is there a problem, Kurotshuchi-taichou?" murmured Byakuya.

"No.  No problem," grated out the captain of the 12th, looking as though he had swallowed a lemon.  When faced with one of the most powerful and one of the most dangerous captains of Soul Society, retreat was definitely the better part of valor.  Especially if Ichigo learned that Mayuri had been bothering his fukutaichou.

"Where's Kurosaki?"

"He excused himself, Zaraki-taichou, and sent me in his place," murmured Rukia.  "The recent activity coupled with matter of Urahara-san's possible return made him feel that it would be impossible for him to be impartial."

Zaraki laughed, believing the lie about as much as everyone else did.

"How far did the message spread anyway?” demanded Yoruichi, suddenly curious.  They all treated receiving a message from Urahara as something normal; but the message couldn't have come from him - or at least not him as they had known him.  The message had come filtered through a human.  A human who was missing twenty years worth of advancements in Soul Society.

"The spell was modified to reach anyone able to achieve bankai," growled Kurotshuchi, a hint of a sulk in his voice.  "Quick and sloppy work."

"It worked," pointed out Abarai.  

"It was foolish and caused several normal messages to be jumbled," snarled the captain of the 12th.

Nothing like politics and old rivalries to enliven a nice dull captains’ meeting, thought Yoruichi with a sigh, as the debate degraded into a shouting match.  She spared a thought to wondering if she could managed to get herself seated next to Shunsui.  He was always willing to share a cup, or six, of sake with a good friend.  And if she had to sit through even half the meeting she thought she might, then sake would be necessary.  It was never a good sign for getting things done quickly or efficiently when the meeting hadn’t even started and they were already arguing.

Yama-jii and the few remaining others trickled in and the meeting was called to order.  Which really only meant a short break in the argument for formalities before the yelling started back up, louder and with more people contributing.  Had to love those captains’ meetings.  Nothing said fast and efficient like hours of arguing over the smallest point.

“We will first handle the issue of the Arrancar,” announced Yama-jii over the din.  “The issue as to whether or not this message is truly from Urahara will be handled secondly and must be given all due consideration,” he said as Kurotshuchi snarled and began to object.

“The Arrancar have no reason to defect; they were created by Aizen,” snapped Kurotshuchi.

“They have no reason to remain loyal either,” countered Jyuushiro calmly.  “If they are former members of the Espada, they might have become disenchanted with Aizen’s guidance when he replaced them.”

“That would make their loyalty highly suspect,” offered Hisagi. 

“Loyalty must be earned.  What has Aizen done to earn theirs?” countered Byakuya, his eyes meeting Abarai’s and something passing between the two men.  Yoruichi couldn’t say what, but from the small twist of Abarai’s lips he seemed to understand his former captain perfectly.

“Absolutely right, Kuchiki-sama,” murmured Abarai, startling just about everyone by not only agreeing with his former captain, but using the most formal honorific.  Abarai and Kuchiki had never had an easy relationship and Yoruichi wondered what had happened to change things.  And when? 

Damn Kisuke for getting himself killed and letting his information network in the real world fall to ruins.  Not that it was really his fault, but Kisuke’d had an absolute gift for gathering intelligence.  Between him covering the real world and trying to get data on Hueco Mundo and her covering Soul Society and trying to get data from that end, they had made a formidable team. 

“These Arrancar could have information on Aizen’s forces.  Information we need,” she offered.

“They could also turn the human over to Aizen if we refuse to treat with them,” murmured Komamura.

And like a flash they were back to whether the human could really be Urahara and just what it meant if he was.  Trouble, decided Yoruichi.  Kisuke had always been smart and that intelligence in Aizen’s hands would have been disastrous.  Especially without centuries of experience to counter Aizen’s wiles.  The bastard loved to play head games, one only had to look at Hinamori to see that.  Twenty years and she was still unready to take up her old post - and likely never would be.  A human under Aizen’s thumb would be like entrusting a newborn lamb to a wolf.

“Silence!” roared Yama-jii.  "We will send a party to speak with the Arrancar and discover their intensions.  Our representatives will also take charge of the human until such time as we can determine his status and assess what will be done with him."

"I would like to volunteer to negotiate with the Arrancar," murmured Jyuushiro.

"Agreed.  You and Kuchiki will be authorized to make contact with the Arrancar and speak for the Gotei 13 in this matter.  Shihouin, you will take charge of the human and attempt to determine if he is who he claims to be."

"I object!" snarled Kurotshuchi.  "If it is Urahara, he should be turned over to the 12th to be studied."

"A member of the Thirteen, even a former member, should not be studied!" objected several people, including Abarai, who looked ready to challenge Kurotshuchi.  Yoruichi wondered if there would be bloodshed.  It had been several years since a captains' meeting had erupted in violence.  Although she seemed to recall Kurotshuchi being at the center of it then as well.  Something about him studying a member of the 11th; Kenpachi had objected. 

"That is enough!" snarled Yama-jii, a burning wave of reiatsu washing over them all.  "A member of the 12th will accompany Yoruichi and may discreetly examine the human."

"That's four of us.  Think four captains is enough to handle a teenage Kisuke?" Shunsui asked her in a whisper. 

Chapter Text

He was dreaming.  No, he was remembering.  But it was alright, his memories were where he was happy.  Where they were together.

He had found Urahara sitting alone on the porch, staring up at the sky with a jug of sake at his elbow.  He had been well on his way to emptying it and showed no signs of slowing.  Yoruichi had returned to Soul Society just a few hours before to take up her old position and rank.  Watching Urahara, it was hard to tell whether he was toasting her return or cursing her leaving.

"Urahara-san?" he murmured carefully, not sure why he was intruding on the blond shopkeeper other than a simple feeling that Urahara could use a friend, or at least someone to talk to.  That and his own curiosity about the man.  He had known the blond for nearly two years and Urahara was as much a mystery today as he had been the first time he'd met the man.  Urahara was almost his teacher for god's sake and Ichigo barely knew him.  The blond hid behind ready smiles, that stupid hat of his, and that silly fan which he wielded like a weapon.

Staring at him there in the moonlight, cup in his hand, there was something terribly mortal and real about Urahara though.  Something that fascinated Ichigo.

"Ah Kurosaki-kun, I am afraid I'm not much for company at the moment," joked the blond, turning to give him a bright smile that Ichigo saw was just a shade too bright.  And even the quick turn of his head and his idiotic hat couldn't hide the pain that flashed in those shadowed silver eyes.

Ichigo sat quietly, not saying anything but not leaving either and Urahara sighed, producing another cup and pouring him some sake.  He took a sip and glanced at the older man, waiting for him to speak, but the blond remained stubbornly silent, studying his cup with an intensity rarely seen.  Urahara liked to play the fool but over the years Ichigo had caught enough glimpses of what lay beneath - a man who was brilliant, whose focus and intensity could overwhelm anything when he applied himself.  This was the man staring into his sake and trying very hard to empty the bottle.

"I guess you're going to miss her, huh?" he asked, thinking the question asinine as it left his lips but unable to draw it back.  Of course he was going to miss her, they had been friends forever and were probably far more, realized the redhead with a slight pang of regret.  Neither Urahara nor Yoruichi had ever really said what they were to each other, but she had followed him into exile, that had to say enough.  "I mean it must be hard for you guys with her there and you here," he said in a rush to try and fill the awkward silence.

Urahara poured himself another cup, chuckling softly, a sad, snorting little chuckle.  "No.  No, I learned my place long ago when it came to Yoruichi-sama," murmured Urahara, some ancient bitterness sounding in the words, causing Ichigo to stare at him.  He had never heard bitterness from Urahara.  In all the years he had known him, he had never heard him like this.  Sad, hurt, lonely.

"You never wondered, Kurosaki-kun, about why my gate into Soul Society appears in the Rukongai?"  The tone was cutting but the blade was not directed at him and Ichigo had to wonder how much the other man had had to drink and just what dark secrets might come spilling out with his tongue so loosened.  This Urahara was both dark and dangerously appealing for his brutal and strange honesty.

"I was born there," Urahara plowed on.  "In the 78th.  A mongrel brat, but a genius brat and powerful to boot.  I was one of the youngest to ever attend training and was the top of every class.  Everything they taught came to me as easily as breathing."  The fan emerged and Urahara was gesturing with it, cleverly drawing attention away from himself, trying to hide although it was far too late.  "A brilliant mongrel brat was good enough for the exalted Shihouin heir to play with, but never to dally with.  I believe I was twelve when I stole my first kiss from Yoruichi and oh so kindly had Jyuushiro sit me down the next day and explain that facts of who and what I was to me."  The last bit was said in a bitter, stricken whisper and moonlight glittered off what looked like tears on the other man's cheeks.

Ichigo didn't think, didn't pause to consider, just moved, acted on instinct.  He reached out and gently slipped Urahara's hat off, leaving the blond blinking owlishly at him in a way that was utterly adorable.  Startled grey eyes tracked his hand as he raised it to wipe away the tears.  He expected his hand to be knocked away, or perhaps even lopped clean off; he didn't expect Urahara's eyes to sink closed or for the older man to lean into the soft caress with a tiny sigh.

Looking at him there, in the moonlight, his hat gone, and his face open and vulnerable it was impossible not to see how beautiful he was.  Impossible not to be moved by the sadness on his face.  He leaned forward slowly, bridging the distance between them, his eyes sliding closed as his lips brushed over Urahara's.  Once.  Twice.  And then they held and he was kissing the older man.  It was soft and sweet and achingly tender.  Warm breath mingled with his and a soft whimpering plea from the back of the blond's throat had Ichigo's heart racing.  He had never imagined Urahara could be like this.

He groaned and slid his tongue into the blond's mouth, tasting, as silver eyes blinked open and sword-calloused hands pushed him away.  Ichigo went, sitting back, panting and staring at Urahara who was panting as well.  "You should go, Ichigo," he whispered solemnly before his fan came up, hiding his face.  "Wine has made fools of us both, Kurosaki-kun.  Best to go and sleep it off."  That last was delivered in a jovial tone that sounded forced, but Urahara was grinning once again.  It wasn't a real grin though, it was the grin of a man who had seen Heaven and been turned away at the gate.

"Kisuke," he breathed, testing the other man's name on his tongue. 

Urahara's head shot up and the fan fell away, startled grey eyes locking with his.  "You should go," whispered Urahara.  "Please Kurosaki-kun, just go."

He thought about leaving, about turning away from this.  He didn’t want to, he realized.  He didn’t want to give up this new facet of Urahara.  "What if I don't want to?" he asked softly, reaching out to touch the blond's cheek - only to have the other man flinch away.  He cupped Urahara's face and brought his head back around, sealing their lips together in a soft, insistent kiss.

He knew the exact instant Urahara's resolve crumbled because the kiss went from insistent to incredible as Urahara turned all that focus onto him.  An agile tongue traced his bottom lip before slipping into his mouth, making him moan.  The kiss grew slow and gentle and deep, as if Urahara intended to map out every corner of his mouth or sear himself into Ichigo’s memory forever.  No one had ever kissed him like that before, like they wanted to spend all night doing nothing more than tasting him. 

Ichigo counted it as one of the single most erotic experiences of his life and also the most frustrating.  

All he could think of as the blond’s tongue thrust gently into his mouth was of Urahara thrusting into him with the same lazy skill.  He groaned and tangled his fingers into silky blond hair, deepening the kiss, and moaning softly in protest as Urahara pulled back.

"Be sure.  Be very sure, Ichigo,” begged the blond, his eyes both imploring him to go and entreating him to stay.  Urahara wanted this, he realized.  Wanted this as much as Ichigo did; but he was afraid.  Thinking too much, thought Ichigo with a gentle smirk.  He might never have gone much beyond heavy petting, but he knew what he wanted.  He wanted this - wanted Urahara.  No, wanted Kisuke.    

“I know want I want,“ he told the blond, tugging the older man back to him and kissing him hard and deep.  Answer given.  Urahara groaned and pushed him back, following him down and never once breaking their kiss.  Long, nimble fingers tangled in his hair, holding his head in place as the blond kissed him for all he was worth, Ichigo simply clinging to him and moaning encouragement.  Not that Urahara seemed to need any.  The blond seemed intent on devouring him like a starving man.

Urahara spread out over him and Ichigo whined softly as a strong thigh pressed gently against his arousal.  He rolled his hips upward, trying to get more pressure and groaned as Urahara settled more of his weight onto him.  That amazing mouth left his to trace his jaw and Ichigo returned the favor, nipping and kissing the other man’s jaw, the tiniest hint of laughter escaping as the stubble on the other man’s chin tickled his lips.

Grey eyes stared at him in wonder before long fingers caressed his face.  He could tell the blond had wanted to say something right then, but he hadn’t.  They had both stayed silent. 

Urahara gently pulled his shirt off, soft touches grazing his abdomen and leaving Ichigo arching into the brushes of flesh on flesh, hoping for more.  The older man chuckled and a sparkle lit his eyes, stealing the redhead’s breath.  Sorrow might have made the blond beautiful but joy made him exquisite.

Ichigo groaned encouragement and kissed the blond enthusiastically as clever hands returned to his chest.  Warm touches brushed over his torso, tracing the span of his shoulders, playing down his arms, across his pecs, along his ribs.  The fingers toyed with his bellybutton and returned when they drew laughter.  Mischief lit Urahara’s eyes and Ichigo knew the blond was going to be tickling him forever.  Oddly, the realization didn’t annoy him as much as he thought.  In fact, he thought it might almost be fun.            

He wrapped his arms around the older man and flipped them so he was on top, earning a surprised noise from Kisuke and making Ichigo grin.  He tugged open the blond’s shirt, letting his hands and eyes map the pale, smooth flesh.  For a man who claimed to be allergic to work Urahara was surprisingly fit, but then he was always full of surprises.

Ichigo kissed and nibbled at his chest sucking at his nipples and delighting in the nails that scratched gently down his back.  He learned that the blond loved to have his collarbone kissed and that there was a faint, silvery scar just under his left pec, about six inches long.  He learned that the blond’s navel was ticklish and hearing Urahara giggle had made Ichigo’s inside’s melt.   He was so beautiful, his pale skin gleaming in the moonlight, his eyes filled with passion, and a sweet, gentle smile on his lips...Ichigo almost thought he could love the other man after seeing him like this - open, vulnerable, happy.

Urahara rolled them so they laid side-by-side, before drawing him close and kissing him.

Ichigo never knew how long they laid there, kissing and touching, exploring each other.  He only remembered the novelty and joy of experience - so unlike anything he‘d ever done before.

He groaned soft encouragement into the other man’s neck when Kisuke’s touches finally moved below his waist.  Skilled fingers opened his pants and slipped inside, petting the skin of his stomach before sliding lower, teasingly brushing his cock.  Ichigo bit his lip at the too light touches, wanting more.  The knowing, sensual smile Urahara gave him made him groan and attack the fastenings on the older man’s pants.

He tugged the blond’s pants down to mid-thigh, chuckling as he realize Kisuke had neglected to wear any underwear - sensing it was a common occurrence.  He was such a pervert, thought Ichigo fondly, his fingers closing around the blond’s cock.  Kisuke moaned and tugged Ichigo’s pants down, bringing their cocks together and stroking them both. 

Ichigo bit his lip to stifle a whimper, wondering if it was possible to die of pleasure; because nothing in his life had ever felt as good as his cock sliding against Urahara’s.  He ran a blunt nail over one of Kisuke’s nipples, earning a soft moan before latching onto the nub with his lips.  “Gods, Ichigo,” gasped the blond, his hand tightening around them both and drawing low whines from the backs of their throats.

“Want you,” he panted into the blond’s chest, taking Urahara’s left hand, which had been holding his hip, and gently tugging it to his entrance.

“We...we shouldn’t...You‘ll...regret,” whispered Urahara, although the hand he was using to stroke them both didn’t pause in its rhythm.

Ichigo drew himself away from the blond‘s chest and his torment of the other man‘s nipples, meeting grey eyes squarely.  “I want this,” he told the other man gently but firmly, a little surprised to find that he really did mean it.  He wanted anything and everything the blond would give him.

Kisuke stared at him for a long second before he groaned, grabbing his face and kissing him, his eyes seeming to promise that Ichigo wouldn’t regret trusting him.  “Stay.  Just stay,” ordered the blond, the eagerness and uncertainty in his voice making Ichigo smile.  The blond was on his feet a second later, shunpo carrying him swiftly into the depths of the shop and back nearly instantly. 

Ichjigo chuckled and dragged the older man back down to the haori he was lying on and eagerly kissed his neck.  “So beautiful,” he whispered, nibbling Kisuke’s collarbone and earning a breathless sound of approval.  “Fuck me, Kisuke.”

Urahara groaned, his hands tightening almost painfully on Ichigo’s hips before the soft scent of sandalwood filled the air.  A moment later a slick hand closed around his cock, stroking him with a slow, easy rhythm while a single digit gently rubbed at his hole.  Ichigo whined softly, his body trying to arch forward into the hand around his cock and back onto the finger at the same time.  “Shh...just be patient,” soothed Kisuke, his finger slipping inside and making the redhead pant.

The finger moved slowly, teasing him and drawing soft whimpers of pleasure from him.  All the while Urahara stroked his cock and whispered how beautiful he was, how hot, and tight, and how all he wanted to do was sink into him.  “Kisuke,” he begged.

“Soon, baby.  Soon,” soothed the blond kissing him, his tongue moving in and out of Ichigo’s mouth in a subtle mimicry of his finger.  A second finger slid in while they kissed and Ichigo gave a startled cry that was swallowed by their kiss.  Those fingers twisted and moved inside him, stretching him and making him want more.  He nearly screamed when they touched something inside him that made his body stiffen and his cock jump, fireworks going off in his brain.

Kisuke chuckled and nuzzled his cheek, smiling knowingly at him.  “Just enjoy it,” purred the blond, touching that place again, making Ichigo cling to him and bite his lip to try and stay quiet.  He was going to come!  He was!

He whimpered and tried to rock back onto those fingers, wanting them to touch that place again.  Kisuke chuckled and twisted his fingers before stroking that spot.  Ichigo stiffened and growled a denial as Urahara squeezed the base of his cock, jerking him back from the brink of his orgasm.  “What the fuck!  Kisuke!”

“Shh...just a second, love,” soothed Kisuke, kissing him gently, his fingers leaving Ichigo and drawing a whined protest from the younger man.  The blond nudged him onto his back, settling on top of him.  Ichigo felt something larger rub against his entrance and moaned softly.  It burned a little but Kisuke was kissing him and touching him and the feeling of that slick tongue playing with his and those slicked fingers stroking his cock easily chased away the pain.  And then the blond was fully inside him, clinging to him so fiercely, his eyes closed and his whole body straining.  Ichigo moaned and tried to move, drawing a soft groan from the blond and making him feel wickedly powerful. 

He shifted again.  “Gods, Ichigo!“ whimpered Urahara, rolling his hips and making them both moan.

“More,” he demanded, trying to arch, to push the blond deeper.  Grey eyes shot open to stare at him, their depths molten silver and filled with heat.  The blond gently shifted inside him, sliding partway out before returning.

“Good?” 

“Yes,” Ichigo hissed, feeling his Hollow shift subtly at the edge of his perception; but he shoved the other away.  This was his!

Urahara nodded and began a slow rhythm of thrusts before hitting that place inside that made Ichigo buck and scream.  It felt even better than the fingers and it was all he could do to clutch at the haori and not come right then and there.  Kisuke chuckled and gently shifted Ichigo’s legs and thrusting back in.  The younger man bit his lip and arched as that spot was stroked again.  He grasped at Kisuke’s arms, tugging the older man forward and sealing their mouths together. 

They moved against each other gasping and clutching at one another.  Kisuke’s thrusts sped and his hand stroked Ichigo in time to his movements, driving the younger man wild.  Ichigo thrashed burying a scream in the older man’s shoulder as he shuddered to completion.  Kisuke gasped at the sudden pain and the clutching heat, following him with a muffled yelp. 

The blond slumped onto him with a tired sigh and Ichigo couldn’t help but smile, wrapping the older man in his arms and nuzzling his shoulder.  Urahara turned his head and smiled at him - a sweet, happy smile - and kissed the tip of his nose before gently pulling away.

“Kisuke?  Kisuke?” he whispered hazily, reaching out for the blond, confused as his hand touched only air.  

He blinked, his eyelids heavy, but needing to understand.  Where was Kisuke?  Urahara wouldn’t have left him alone - not after their first time.  “Kisuke?” he called softly, something inside him growing cold.

He struggled to wake up, to drag his mind from the haze.  Drugs, he realized numbly.  He was drugged.  Why was he drugged?

Memory returned with the force of a semi hitting him between the eyes.

Kisuke wasn’t there because he was dead.  He was gone and Ichigo was all alone.  He gasped.  The pain hitting him hard and fast, stealing his breath and aching worse than any wound.  “No...please no,” he begged the universe softly, tears beginning to fall.  He curled tightly in upon himself, beginning to sob as Urahara’s loss rolled over him again, as fresh and real as it had been all those years ago.

He was still sobbing, when Yuzu came in.  She touched his shoulder gently, clearly startled by his tears.  “Ichi-nii?” she asked hesitantly.

“Please...please, you have to let me go to him,” he begged brokenly, staring up at her with bloodshot red eyes.  “Please, Yuzu, please,” he entreated her, tugging at the inhibitor around his throat.  For the first time in...he didn’t even know how long, he could sense Kisuke.  And he had to go to him, to make sure he was okay.  He couldn’t lay there with the memory of Urahara cold and dead - not and maintain his sanity. 

Yuzu looked at him, her heart in her throat and tears welling in her eyes.  “Oh, Ichi-nii,” she whispered softly, taking his hand between hers.

Chapter Text

Kisuke was sitting on a park bench, flanked on either side by Grimmjow and Ulquiorra.  They had arrived at the park first and Kisuke was grateful to get off his feet.  Grimmjow had carried him most of the way to the park but he had insisted on walking from the entrance of the park to the rendezvous point and was paying for it now.  His left leg was screaming in agony.  The only good thing was that he at least hadn't reopened the wound.  Grimmjow would have scolded him for days if he’d done that. 

"You okay, Kitten?" asked Grimmjow.  "Hey Ulquiorra, where are the kid's pills?  The pain stuff."

Ulquiorra glanced at the other Arrancar and Kisuke thought he detected a hint of annoyance in that impassive face.  He was learning to read the tiny cues that gave away Ulquiorra’s mood, but it was delicate and tricky work.  "He has three additional hours on the last pills you gave him.  His wound is unopened.  He is fine," announced Ulquiorra, earning a glare from Grimmjow.  The cat-like man seemed to have taken to him like a momma cat with one kitten, and nothing Kisuke or Ulquiorra did seemed to dissuade him in the slightest.

"Remind me again why this is a good idea," murmured Kisuke as he sensed half a dozen powerful spirit signatures enter the park.  One was Ishida, another was the redhead, Renji, and the rest were unknown; although one tickled his senses, ghosting over him lightly and then returning to cling to him and tangle around him.

"Because we are unable to survive outside Soul Society or Hueco Mundo," replied Ulquiorra as if to a very dumb child.

"I know that," he retorted sarcastically.  "I meant why are we meeting in this park, letting them bring so many people?  Three of us, three of them," he muttered, ignoring the fact that he was not really one of them.  It was probably Stockholm Syndrome setting in but he felt like one of them.  Neither Grimmjow nor Ulquiorra had hurt him.  They were just doing what they had to in order to survive and a certain pragmatic part of him could respect that.

It was that side he was most afraid of because he knew that pragmatism could let him do horrible things.  There was some quote about doing evil to do good and he could sense that potential in himself.  Or maybe in Urahara.  Either way it was dangerous, something he had to be on guard for.

"It's a sign of good will," murmured Ulquiorra.

"It's a sign of wanting to be fucked over," muttered Kisuke, still not liking the idea.  What was to keep the Shinigami from betraying them?  Killing the two Arrancar and just taking him.  He wouldn't really care if they killed Ulquoirra, except maybe for Grimmjow's sake; but he liked Grimmjow and seven...no, eight...nine?  Nine, he finally decided.  Nine against three were bad odds; especially since he couldn't fight because of his leg.

Reiatsu brushed over him, like silk sliding against his skin, it washed him in warmth and tingled with seductive promise.  He shivered faintly and tried to slump as his nipples tightened and his cock began perking up.  The last thing he needed was Grimmjow noticing, the Arrancar would rib him forever.  He heard a dark chuckle and knew it was too late.

"Didn't know you felt that way about Ulquiorra, Kitten.  I could leave you two alone for a few minutes," purred the blue-haired Arrancar, leaning down to lick his lips right in Kisuke's face.  The blond rolled his eyes and pushed the Arrancar away.

"Shut up.  I'm seventeen; a strong breeze can turn me on.  And if you would keep your reiatsu off me..." began Kisuke before noticing that both Arrancar pinned him with curious gazes.  "You're...you're not doing it, are you?" whispered Kisuke, suddenly wanting the strange energy off him.  It was one thing when it was Grimmjow messing with him, but he didn't want some stranger toughing him no matter how good or natural it felt.

"Hey, calm down.  Just push it away like we've been practicing and then pull your own reiatsu in real tight like we worked on,” soothed Grimmjow, settling on the edge of the bench, an arm going around his shoulders.  Kisuke took a quick breath and did as Grimmjow told him, the reiatsu lessons coming easily. 

“This was a really bad idea,” Kisuke murmured to himself as Grimmjow stood, once more alert and ready for anything.  He wished he felt the same, but the vague uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach was rapidly becoming a hard knot of dread.  Something was wrong.  Terribly, horribly wrong.

A black cat strolled by them and Kisuke stiffened, something stirring inside him.  He stared at the kitty, frowning faintly before letting his face clear into a welcoming smile.  “You hungry, kitty?” he asked softly, sliding off the bench with a wince and a sharply in drawn breath.  He held out his hand and fished into a pocket for one of the candy bars Grimmjow had pressed on him before they'd left.

"You are not getting a pet.  One kitten is enough trouble," Grimmjow told him, folding his arms and staring up at the night sky.

The cat came closer and sniffed at his fingers before letting him pet it.  He scratched the silky black ears and made soft, stupid cooing noises, letting the cat edge a little closer.  When he struck it was lightning fast, one moment his hand was scratching the cat, the next he was holding the hissing, spitting demon by the scruff of its neck.  “Quit jerking us around,” he snarled into the night, standing and holding the cat at arm’s length.  “You can come out and talk like we agreed to do or I can practice kidou on your little spy here.”

“What the hell?” demanded Grimmjow, staring at him like he was nuts.

“Animals don’t have reiatsu.  This cat does.  Therefore, this cat is not a cat,” he explained to the Arrancar with another glare out into the waiting darkness

“Fuck!  And you didn’t want him,” Grimmjow taunted Ulquiorra, ruffling Kisuke’s hair affectionately.  “That’s my kitten.”

“Put me down,” snarled the cat in a rough voice, twisting in his grasp. 

“Tell the others to come out or we shall let Kisuke practice his kidou.  His aim is poor but I suspect even he could hit you at this range,” replied Ulquiorra.

Four figures appeared out of the darkness, all Shingami, all captains and all powerful enough to make Kisuke reclassify their endeavor from bad to insanely stupid.  He dropped the cat, who landed on its feet, shot him a dirty look, and trotted over to a pale-haired man.  He was tall and kind faced, with long white hair and warm brown eyes.  Ukitake Jyuushiro, older than he remembered him, but it was Jyuushiro.  “Well, he gets my vote.  Kisuke was the only one good enough to sense me coming.  And that kid’s one clever bastard,” muttered the cat.

“It looks like Kisuke alright,” drawled a man in a pink haori with a large straw hat pulled down to cover his face.  Kyouraku Shunsui.  He would recognize that lazy drawl anywhere.

“Whether or not he is Urahara is irrelevant except for the fact that Aizen believes he is.  Returning the human to you is merely a demonstration of our good faith,” announced Ulquoirra, earning a sharp glare and a muttered warning about being nice to Kisuke from Grimmjow.

“Why should we believe this sudden interest in allying with us?” demanded a beautiful dark-haired man.  His face was set in a cool mask and his voice was cultured and smooth.  Even without the Kenseikan in his hair Kisuke knew he was a noble.

“Because that fucker tried to kill us.  We‘ve got no reason to serve someone who tried to fuck us over,” snapped Grimmjow, glaring at the Shinigami.  He tugged at Kisuke’s collar and gently but firmly forced him back onto the bench and off his feet.  “Sit.  You shouldn‘t be on that leg.  You did enough with the cat.”

Kisuke glared and tried not to look like a petulant teenager.  He told himself that his leg hurt and that was why he was sitting.  The coldness seeping into his veins was the chill of the night air, not Urahara.  He didn't quite believe it though.  The additional reiatsu signatures were bothering him and under them was something else.  Something he didn’t like.  It felt like the prickle of insect legs on his skin and kept leaving him feeling dirty and edgy.

“What happened to his leg?” demanded the cat, pinning the three of them with golden eyes that stirred a flutter of memory in Kisuke, making him frown and try and remember where he knew those eyes from.

“The human was injured in Aizen’s raid.  He is fine and the wound is closing at an adequate rate,” replied Ulquiorra.

“We can worry about Urahara...“ began the noble.

“Mizuno.  My current name is Mizuno Kisuke,“ interrupted Kisuke, not wanting to rouse Urahara any more when the man was so very close to the surface.

“Very well.  Mizuno can be looked over by a member of the Fourth at a later time.  We still need to address the issue of the Arrancar and why we should take you in or what benefit there would be to sheltering you.”

The insects crawling on his skin turned into an entire swarm and Kisuke blanched.  Energy tingled against his senses, foul and rancid, making him shake and drawing Urahara’s attention.  “No.  Oh, dear god, no,” whispered Kisuke, trying to fight back the other man and failing.

“What’s wrong, Kitten?” asked Grimmjow, instantly focused on him.  He couldn’t answer though, couldn’t think or speak past the slow dread building in him. 

The sky parted, the edges of the void framed in black, and dozens of figures stood in the maw.  There were ten Arrancar, all dressed in white, and flanking three men.  One was a dark man with dreadlocks.  He stood solemn and still, like a carved statue of Justice - all he need was the scale.   One was the silver haired man from his house, and he stood to the right of a tall handsome man with dark brown hair.  The man in center oozed power and charm but there was something sickeningly off about him, some touch of darkness that all the glitter was meant to cover.  This man was the mirage of water in the desert, beautiful and shimmering but false...deadly.  

“So sorry we’re late,” purred the dark haired man.  “A pleasure to see you again, Kisuke.  Thank you so much for inviting us.“

"I didn't!" breathed Kisuke, gripping his head, his whole body shaking as he tried to fight Urahara back.  The strangely familiar reiatsu was swirling around him, but it was no longer soft or seductive, it was hot and angry.  It was a savage shield that threatened to maul anyone who touched him.

"Don't be so modest," taunted Aizen, making a quick gesture.  Suddenly his voice was filling the air, repeating the kidou message.  The silver haired man was laughing and even the dark man on Aizen's left was amused.  Kisuke felt Urahara tear free, his body sinking from his control as the other man shoved him aside.  He slid gracefully to his feet, paying no notice of his leg or the wound.  A cuttingly benign smile played on his lips.

"An obvious miscalculation on my part," he murmured, smile widening to a grin, but there was nothing nice about this grin.  

"No talking to the evil megalomaniac, Kitten," muttered Grimmjow, laying a hand on his shoulder and trying to draw him back.  Kisuke glanced back at the Arrancar, a faint growl on his lips.

"I believe we should withdraw," murmured Ulquiorra

"It might be wise to reschedule, " added Shunsui, eyeing the Arrancar in the rift.

"It's cute, ya think ya can leave," chuckled Ichimaru.

Chapter Text

“You ready?" asked Ishida, his voice a smooth purr, confident, calm and hot as hell.  Renji grinned at him and nipped lightly at the fingers that brushed his cheek in a tender caress.

"What's to be ready for?  Just don't shoot me in the ass," he told the dark-haired man, his voice a soft growl.  The twinkle in Ishida's eye and the slight upward tilt of the Quincy's mouth told him that after this was over, he would likely find himself shoved up against a wall by the archer.  And he was looking forward to it immensely.

"Can you two engage in your verbal foreplay later?  We have a job to do," snapped Rukia, rolling her eyes at the display.  "Ichigo..." she broke off softly, the check she had done on her friend earlier still haunting her. 

He had been sedated, heavily sedated, but he had still twitched and moved uneasily in his sleep, body and reiatsu reaching out longingly for Urahara.  She could still hear him, calling for Kisuke, and it broke her heart.  He needed so much but there was nothing any of them could do for him - they weren't the person he needed

Renji's arm slid around her shoulders, pulling her close and crushing her in a fierce hug.  "Don't worry 'bout it, Rukia.  I promise we'll help him.  We'll make it right," swore Renji, feeling Rukia sag against him and return his embrace.  He would make things right for his sister in all but blood.  He would return her friend and captain to her.  He would save one of his best friends.  Ichigo would get his heart back even if he had to cut through every fucking Arrancar made.

"Time to go, love," murmured Uryuu softly, drawing his bow and sighting along a shimmering blue arrow.

Renji gave Rukia one last squeeze and vanished, shunpo carrying him well into the park.  "Go," Ishida told Rukia a moment later.

Renji slowed as he neared the meeting ground, letting Rukia overtake him before darting in after her, grabbing the lone human in the fray.  He heard Aizen order the Arrancar after them, Kisuke's disappearance breaking the stalemate and sending people every which way.  Arrows rained down around him, missing him by mere centimeters and forcing the few Arrancar that had tried to follow him back.  Uryuu was one gifted bastard, he thought with a grin.

"Hadou 4: White Lightning," snapped out the kid.  A second later pain exploded through Renji and the brat was wriggling free of his hold.  A few quick steps carried the blond out of the redhead's reach.  The boy turned to smirk at him, "Bakudou 1: First Restraint Obstruction."  Renji cursed and struggled to break the binding, the few precious milliseconds carrying the boy further from him.  The brat could move, he would give him that.

An Arrancar flashed into his path, using the lull in the arrow fire to close on them.  A female, dark and sinister looking.  She was one of the new ones and Renji couldn't place her.  It didn't matter though, the kid seemed to know her.  He shot her a wicked smile.  "Come to play again?" he asked, the voice surprisingly close to Urahara's but the tone was different, meaner, more mocking.

"You won't get away this time," growled the Arrancar, a cero blast flying at the blond and Renji behind him.  Renji dodged left, cursing as Urahara went right.  "Hadou 33: Soukatsui," snapped the kid, his hand filling with crackling blue energy and then being slapped into the Arrancar's side.  She stiffened and screamed, before lashing out with her sword.  The kid was already ducking, readying another blast if the look on his face was anything to go by.

Renji leapt in to block the next blow from the Arrancar, cursing as the blond used his cover to dart off and head toward the river.  "Rukia!" he snarled, taking a vicious swipe at his opponent with Zabimaru.

"Busy," snarled Rukia, dancing past him, dodging blows from another Arrancar, this one a pale man.

How the fuck did Aizen get so many if that damned marble was busted, thought Renji as he avoided another cero blast.

"Time to go, Kitten," announced Grimmjow, streaking by and grabbing the blond, tossing him over his shoulder without missing a step.  The Arrancar Renji had been fighting cursed and took off after them, Renji a mere step behind her.

He cursed and tossed out a prayer to the gods he didn't much believe in when he felt Ichigo's reiatsu wash over him like a tidal wave.  Whoever had been watching him was going on report!  The last thing this free-for-all had needed was the addition of a doped up, emotionally volatile, insanely powerful, and completely love-struck Kurosaki Ichigo. 

How the hell did one kid generate so much trouble?

Grimmjow roared in pain as another Arrancar who had been dueling Ukitake slashed across his midsection when he ventured too near to where they were fighting.  The feline Arrancar tossed the kid out of the way of the blow with an order to run and viciously returned the attack.  Renji followed the dark woman as she dove for the human, catching her and dragging her down. 

"Too slow," taunted the kid, leaping back.  "Hadou 31: Shakkahou - Artillería Carmesí," he snarled and Renji cursed, rolling aside to avoid the blast of kidou that took the Arrancar straight in the face.

She screamed and the kid smirked.  "You might wish to remind dear Sousuke that there was a reason he never beat me.  He might want to think about that," snarled the kid, twisting violently as Ichimaru Gin alighted next to him. 

Ice erupted around them and Renji wondered when Hitsugaya had arrived, and how he had missed that one?  Too much reiatsu in too small a space, he decided.  Besides, who could feel a fucking thing with Ichigo going critical only a few hundred meters away?  The kid used Hitsugaya's attack to cover his retreat and Renji dragged himself to his feet to follow.

It was official.  The kid had to be Urahara.  He would swear to it.  There was no other way a human kid could cause so much trouble.

"You go left, I'll go right," called Rukia, catching up to him, her opponent apparently lost to someone else.  He nodded his understanding and wondered just how they were supposed to catch or contain a young Urahara.  The kid was a few meters ahead, making good time, his left leg was bleeding but it barely slowed him at all.

"That's far enough," announced Tousen, appearing in front of the kid and slashing at him viciously.  Sword bit flesh and the human screamed, slowing and staggering.  Renji heard the blade hit bone and watched it bounce off, saving the boy from being cut in two.  Reiastu pulsed, sharp and agonized, and twin screams of rage cut the air.

"Kitten!"

And then Renji knew he had gone insane, because barely a heartbeat later, Grimmjow Jeagerjaques, who up until then he would have sworn didn't give a fuck about anything, was slashing at Tousen like a feral cat gone mad.  "Ulquiorra!  Get the kitten, he's hurt!" screamed the Arrancar, ducking a blow from the former 9th captain and raking his claws against the man's ribs.  He seemed determined to gut Tousen with his bare hands for hurting the kid.

"Bakudou 75: Gochuu Tekan," wheezed the kid, clutching at his side but glaring murder at Tousen.  The spell caught the former Shinigami just as his sword bit into Grimmjow's leg, saving the Arrancar's leg and likely his life.

Rukia took the kid in a tackle that sent them both rolling.  "No!  Let me go!" he screamed.  "Baku..."  The spell was cut off with a grunt of pain and Renji darted forward into the tangled mass of limbs, adding his own weight to pile and trying to get a grip on the kid.

"Kisuke!"

And there was Ichigo, thought Renji as sharp fingers raked at his eyes.  The very last thing they needed and there he was.  "Hadou 106!" snarled the brat and Renji had just enough time to think that there wasn't a Hadou that high when pain exploded through his body.  In the distance he could hear Rukia and the kid screaming but it was drowned out by his own agonized cries. 

The pain stopped and Renji was conscious just long enough to watch the kid stagger drunkenly for a few meters before toppling over unconscious, Ichigo catching him and drawing him close.  His whole body shielding the boy and his reiatsu a huge glowing windstorm around them, daring anyone to try and take Urahara from him a second time.

Chapter Text

Gin watched the Espada surge forward and the Shingami scatter.  Captains needed room to work and with the numbers against them, it was guaranteed attacks were going to get big and showy.  Just his sort of event.

A hail of blue arrows halted Malgwen and Celtain as they tried to pursue Urahara.  The baby Quincy was in fine form.  The two Arrancar quickly darted off to the left and right to avoid the shower of arrows and intercept their quarry. 

The other Arrancar were pairing off with opponents.  Zerimar, Rantar, and Gaian had followed Jyuushiro and Shunsui deeper into the park and out of sight.  They seemed to have engaged the captains if the flashes and explosions were any indication though.  Gin wished the three luck with that; those two were two of the oldest and most powerful captains of the Thirteen.  They knew how to handle themselves and worse yet - how to fight together.

Virtu had lured or driven, one could never tell with the second Espada, Mayuri toward a sandy play area.  The two were veiled from sight by a cloud of fine dust but Mayuri's reiatsu pulsed with annoyance.  It would be a toss-up to see which of them emerged from the dust; Virtu was powerful and wickedly clever but Mayuri was ruthless and had more lives than a cat.

Faena, the prima Espada, was regarding Ulquiorra coolly, blocking escape from the park along the path.  Gin silently bid the former Espada farewell.  Faena was a viciously brutal fighter and her power far outstripped Ulquiorra's.  The former fourth Espada was not long for this life.

Grimmjow was trading blows with the cherubic Azarro, but he was glancing nervously in the direction Urahara had been taken.  Gin brightened as the feline-like Arrancar slashed at Azarro with his sword and then slammed his fist into the Espada's nose, smashing it like a ripe tomato.  The blond pretty boy was not going to be so pretty anymore.  Grimmjow used the move to break from Azarro and dart after Urahara - which was not his usual style.  The former sixth Espada hated to abandon a fight for any reason and Gin wondered what had made him do so.

Byakuya-kun had stayed by the rift, caught between Seregil and Dresry, the fifth and ninth Espadas.  They hadn't yet managed to hit the young captain, but it was only a matter of time.  Gin watched in fascination as the normally stoic captain of the sixth grew annoyed with the glancing blows and back attacks, snarling the release on his zanpakotou and sending what appeared to be a wash of cherry blossoms into the air around him.  Thousands of blades rushed at the two Espada, making them retreat and giving Byakuya a moment's respite.

Aizen watched the battles eagerly and a small gesture from him sent Gin and Tousen forward into the fray.  The former captain of the Ninth darted toward Ulquiorra, intending to land a blow and continue on after Grimmjow and Urahara.  He likely attributed the defection to the former sixth Espada.  A wave of cherry blossoms forced him to abort his attack and gave Ulquiorra a pause in his battle with Faena.

Gin watched in mute shock as the former fourth Espada slipped to Byakuya's side, not taking the other man's back but the offer to do so plain in his bearing.  A slight tilt of that noble head was all it took for Ulquiorra to slide behind Byakuya and fire a wicked cero blast at Dresry.  Gin chuckled at the idea of prim and proper Byakuya-kun letting an Arrancar at his back, a little sad that there was no one he could tell.

He was about to join in the chase for Urahara when the air grew stiflingly heavy and the ground all but shook.  Kurosaki landed only a few meters to the left of him, his eyes silver and unseeing, and his reiatsu howling with malevolent tension.  The force of that dark power froze them all for a moment, wondering what this demon given flesh in their midst would do.  Twenty years and countless battles had turned the young, foolhardy, substitute Shinigami into someone even Aizen had reason to fear.

Seregil was the first to break their stalemate and took a swing at the captain of the Fifth.  The sound of steel clashing rang through the night.  Gin was about to use the pink-haired Arrancar's attack as a cover for a strike of his own when an icy reiatsu swept across the park.  "GIN!" bellowed Hitsugaya, striking at him with a blow that meant to split him clean down the middle.

He dodged, covering his wince at the young captain's arrival with a mocking smile.  He was unable to stop the dread filling his heart though.  Where Hitsugaya went, she was sure to follow.  Sure enough came the sad, husky contralto, ”Roar, Haineko!” 

Gin felt his heart skip a beat even as he leapt clear.  Matsumoto.  He turned, his eyes widening and smile slipping, as he took her in.  She was still beautiful, although it had never been her beauty that drew him. 

It was her light.

She was his hope, his soul. 

Hitsugaya charged at him with another angry roar, an enraged dragon, and Gin bid a silent farewell to Matsumoto as he dodged the younger man’s attack.  “Sloppy, Hitsugaya-kun,” he chided with a mocking grin, sending a glancing blow across the younger man’s right arm.

“Taichou!” screamed Matsumoto, sending a vicious slash at his head.  He flinched away, losing a few strands of hair, but saving his skull from being cleaved.

“Too slow,” he told her gently, wanting to be able to summon something more - a better mask, wanting to be able to drop his masks completely and throw himself at her feet and beg her forgiveness.  He could do neither.  He loved her too much to do the former and his training was too good to allow the latter. 

For better or worse, he was Aizen’s creature.   He just wished it didn’t feel so much like it was for the worst.

Shunpo carried him to within a meter of Urahara, and he would have reached out and grabbed hold of the younger man had Hitsugaya not dogged his steps, leveling blows and icy hatred at him.  The young captain had never forgiven him his part in destroying Hinamori.

He caught sight of Celtain attacking Matsumoto, ignoring Kuchiki Rukia in favor of her, and wanted to shout an order to leave her alone.  He didn’t though.  He knew better.  Aizen might kill him for giving such an order and he certainly would have killed Matsumoto if he even suspected Gin cared for her half as much as he did.  Aizen Sousuke was an exacting master and not inclined to share.

He darted away from Urahara, trying to put distance between himself and Hitsugaya and more importantly - between himself and Matsumoto.  He watched as a blue arrow slammed into Kurotshuchi''s back, sending the Shinigami toppling down the incline from his perch atop a child's slide.  He laughed, alighting near the prima Espada.  Faena had abandoned her battle with Ulquiorra and was trading blows with Kurosaki, managing to hold him at bay thanks to Seregil’s help.  Their battle had driven Byakuya and Ulquiorra back from the gate, the two were still fighting together however, and handling Dresry with devastating efficiency.  Rantar abandoned his haring of Jyuuashiro and Shunsui to help her, hacking and slashing at the two men.

There was a pulse of reiatsu from Urahara, pain and panic, and Kurosaki’s reiatsu screamed in rage.  His mask slid over his face without being drawn and he sent Seregil flying more than a hundred meters with a backhanded blow, turning murderous rage onto Faena.  The Vaizard hissed, "Getsuga Tensho," unleashing a black wave of power at the Arrancar.  Gin staggered back from the force of the blow, the only thing saving him from Hitsugaya’s attack.

Ichigo was gone an instant later, off to find Urahara most likely.  “Ichimaru-sama!” screamed Faena, a mere second before a blue arrow hit his leg, pinning him to the ground for precious milliseconds.  Hitsugaya slashed at him, opening a wound from his fourth rib all the way down to his knee along the right side of his body.  And freezing it a moment later.  He stumbled over and used to the move to send a thrust at the younger man while he drew his sword back for the killing blow. 

Shinsou took him clean through the middle and Gin could hear Matsumoto scream dimly before he was grabbed and hoisted from the ground.  After that, there was only darkness.

Chapter Text

This was all Abarai's fault, Byakuya thought as he trudged back toward the base, his body beginning to ache and his head throbbing from the overload of reiatsu.  All he wanted was a nice hot bath, a good meal, and perhaps some peace.  Preferably in that order.

He would deal with Abarai after he'd had time to ponder over a suitable punishment.  And to think he had almost missed the man!  He was going to kill his former vice captain when he next saw him.  Yes, it would lose him the chance to have Izuru but the satisfaction of separating Abarai's head from the rest of his body would make up for that.  The whole evening had been a debacle from the start, but Abarai had not helped matters by stealing Urahara or Mizuno or whatever he was calling himself these days. 

Byakuya sighed and glanced at the figure at his side, his other surprise of the evening and perhaps the only good to come from it.  He had never dealt with Aizen's Arrancars much aside from across a battlefield, but the former fourth Espada had accounted himself well.  And Byakuya would not have been averse to having the other man at his back in battle again.  Which rather shocked him.  He had not expected to find the Espada at his back or to become accustomed to him so quickly.  They had slid around each other easily though.  There had been none of the awkward moments of working with someone new, hindering one another's attacks, stepping too far away from each other, or staying too close and fumbling each other.  They had worked together as seamlessly as Jyuushiro and Shunsui, who had fought together for centuries.  Once or twice they had even been able to use each other's attacks as cover to strike blows of their own.

"You fought well," murmured the pale ghost of a man at his side, a tiny smile on his lips.  Byakuya felt his eyes drawn to the man and a hint of a smile tugged at his own lips.  He gave the Espada the tiniest of nods, thanks for the praise and a silent acknowledgement of the other man's own prowess in battle.

They walked on for a few meters in comfortable silence, neither in the mood to hurry.  "I should rejoin Grimmjow," murmured the Arrancar eventually, but making no move to do so.

"He is in the hands of the Fourth, I can take you to him should you wish it once we return to base," offered Byakuya, rather surprised to find that he meant it.  He would be willing to forestall his rest to see that his companion was made comfortable.  The other man had fought and bled with him and he could respect that.

The Arrancar inclined his head in silent thanks.

"Kuchiki-taichou, the park is secure and we are working on restoring it.  Hitsugaya-taichou, Kurotshuchi-taichou, and the Arrancar are being transported back to the Fourth and Kurosaki-taichou is seeing to Urahara-san," reported a tall woman from the Tenth, Byakuya didn't know her but he nodded his thanks for the report.

"Thank you.  You may tell Ukitake-taichou that I am returning to base with...,"

"Ulquiorra Schiffer," offered the Arrancar.  Byakuya nodded his thanks and dismissed the woman.

"Kuchiki Byakuya, captain of the Sixth," he murmured before turning back towards base and his much desired bath. 

He and Ulquiorra walked in silence, leaving the park and taking in the cool night air.  Shunpo could have carried them to their destination in a matter of seconds but neither one seemed inclined to expend the energy.  The fight had been quick but fierce and filled with too many surprises, Byakuya sensed they both wanted the time to unwind before they were forced back into the stress of trying to handle the fallout.  It was not every day two of Aizen's former Espada betrayed their master, after all.  Or that a man who should have been dead returned to life.

"Your companion will be well cared for by the Fourth," he told Ulquiorra, wondering how to bridge the question that really interested him.  Why the other man had betrayed his former master?  Ulquiorra did not seem the type for betrayal.  Grimmjow, yes, easily; but it seemed odd to think of this quiet, immovable force of a man surrendering.

"Grimmjow will survive.  He is too annoying to die," muttered the Arrancar with a slight frown, his look of distaste drawing a small chuckle from Byakuya.  The smaller man blinked up at him in surprise, likely to see if he was the one being laughed at, but smiled faintly as he caught sight of Byakuya's face.

"If you are not fond of him, why leave Aizen with him?" 

"Grimmjow is brash, violent, and annoyingly independent; he is clever and vicious however, and his honor can be relied on.  I chose him because he was preferable to the alternatives," explained Ulquiorra crisply.

Byakuya nodded his understanding, much like his taking Renji as his vice captain all those years ago.  The partnership had worked well though and he sensed that it was the same for Ulquiorra.  He had taken the best of a bad lot and found himself unexpectedly pleased with his choice.  

"If you are in no rush, I would like to explore a bit.  It has been a number of years since I was last here and I likely won't return for some time," he murmured.

Ulquiorra nodded his consent.  "I will only need to look as far as the human to locate Grimmjow and none of my wounds requires immediate attention."  The Arrancar must have caught his look of surprise for rather than falling silent he went on with a look of distaste.  "Grimmjow has become fond of the human, although I have yet to understand why."

Byakuya chuckled, trying to picture Ichigo tolerating anyone being 'fond' of his lover and failing.  The conflict should prove violent and explosive - it should also be highly amusing, he noted.  "I do not imagine Kurosaki taking that well."

The tiny smirk that blossomed on Ulquiorra's lips pleased him, as did the sparkle that lit his green eyes.  "That might almost be worth the hassle the human has provided."

"I would expect nothing but from Urahara, the man is notorious for it."

They walked on in silence, past the high school, noted Byakuya, remembering Hitsugaya's reports of the place and how much he had detested it.  He wondered if he asked Ulquiorra to dine with him whether the Arrancar would accept?  He was good company, soothing and not feeling the need to fill every small silence with noise.  It was refreshing.  Plus, he had been given charge of overseeing the Arrancar until they could be debriefed, a dinner invitation would not be out of bounds.  It was either that or be forced to dine with Jyuushiro, Shunsui and Yoruichi.  He had no qualms about the first two, but dinning with Yoruichi was never fun, she enjoyed needling him too much and Shunsui tended to follow her lead with enough sake in him.

"Why did you seek asylum from us, if I might ask, Ulquiorra?"

The Arrancar paused and stared up at him before shoving his hands into his pockets and continuing to walk.  Byakuya thought he was going to ignore the question but then his soft voice filled the night.  It really was a very nice voice, he realized, controlled and even.  "I would not have you think I am afraid or unwilling to die, Kuchiki-taichou."

"Byakuya," he prompted softly, not sure why, but fairly sure he would enjoy the sound of his name in that soft, measured voice.

"Byakuya.  I am not unwilling to fight or to follow my master into death.  I will die gladly if my master commands it.  I am unwilling to see my life tossed away for nothing but a madman's amusement, however.  Aizen-sa...Aizen intended that my Espada and I should die as nothing more than a distraction for his attempt to seize Urahara.  We were to die for no other reason than he willed it," growled the smaller man, his reiatsu flaring briefly, the first time Byakuya had felt it since the battle.  Silence fell between them, and Byakuya could tell Ulquiorra was not inclined to speak of his former master further.

He tilted his head slightly to show his understanding and gratitude for the Arrancar's words, not seeking to break the heavy silence that hung between them.  He sensed Aizen's fall in Ulquiorra's eyes was still a tender spot for the other man.  He could understand and respect that.  Realizing he had never come first in Hisana's heart was still a difficult thing for him to accept when he had loved her so fiercely.  He would not push at another who had become so disillusioned. 

They turned toward the river and the base, not in any hurry; but Byakuya had no desire to pass the Urahara Shoten and was fairly sure that Ulquiorra would rather avoid it as well.  There was also no need to tempt Kurosaki's wrath by letting him sense the other man's reiatsu there.  With the drugs that were likely still in his body, he might lash out at the Arrancar.

They passed the ruins of a hospital and then a few blocks later came to the entrance of the base, both lingering outside the door to the warehouse.  "I would be pleased if you would dine with me once you have seen to your companion and your injuries, if that is agreeable to you?" murmured Byakuya softly.

Ulquiorra stared at him for a moment, clearly shocked although his face showed little beyond mild surprise.  "That would please me as well.  Thank you...Byakuya."

They nodded faintly at each other, hands brushing for the briefest of instants as the doors to the warehouse opened and they walked inside.

Chapter Text

He came awake slowly, his body enjoyably warm and drenched in pleasure.  It took a moment for him to realize the hazy pleasure of the dream was in fact real.  He rolled his hips, delighting in the warm, wet velvet sensation engulfing his cock.  He groaned as someone moaned, thrusting just a little further forward.  Strong hands gripped his hips, gently but firmly easing them back and making him moan as that wet heat slid away.

Urahara forced his eyes open, his brain objecting vehemently to the idea of moving even that tiny bit closer to wakefulness.  He cried out as the tip of his cock was sucked, his brain finally coming online as his eyes registered the brilliantly orange hair at his groin.  Ichigo.

He smiled and slid his fingers into that orange hair, cupping the younger man's skull and encouraging him to continue.   Ichigo smiled up at him, his eyes molten, and he released Urahara’s cock, earning a moan of protest.

A pink tongue came out to lick at his tip, swirling around it and making Urahara wonder just what they were teaching the teenagers in sex ed these days.  A strong, sword-calloused hand gently stroked him, and Urahara closed his eyes and groaned, fairly sure he could have died a happy man at that moment.  He didn’t care that it was before dawn, a time he usually regarded as completely inhuman; it was worth waking up if it came with a blow job from one Kurosaki Ichigo.

“Awake yet?” teased Ichigo before drawing hard on his tip.  Kisuke groaned and tried to thrust, moaning when Ichigo let him.  Nothing in the universe could ever feel as wonderful as that glorious mouth taking him.  “Oh god!” he panted trying to remind himself that he was not a horny teenager; he was well over seven-hundred, and he was not going to come just from having his boyfriend blow him.

Ichigo made a sound of approval and Kisuke bit his lip.  He would not start moaning, he would not beg, and as long as Ichigo didn’t...That tongue pressed firmly against the underside of his erection, caressing him each time Ichigo bobbed his head and he was lost, thrusting, hands fisted in that incredible orange hair. 

He was gasping, soft, choked little sounds of pleasure with each pass of that mouth.  He was so very close, his whole body going taut and a low wail of pleasure being ripped from him as Ichigo swallowed around him. 

“I think my brain melted,” he sighed, eyes closed and not even caring that there was probably a dopey smile on his face.  It was worth looking foolish for something that good.

 “Oh no you don’t.  No going back to sleep!  I did not go to all the trouble of waking you up for you not to say goodbye properly,” growled Ichigo, kissing him hard and dragging him out of bed.  He knew there was a reason dating this man was trouble and this was the proof.  He was up before the sun.  A very clear sign of a terrible day.

“Come on,” ordered Ichigo, handing him his robe, the fluffy grey one that looked terrible on him but was comfy and warm.  The brat had laughed himself silly finding out he had clothing in something other than green, which was why he never let anyone else see - especially since he looked terrible in the robe.  But some things were more important than looking good and being warm on cold nights and even colder mornings was one of them.

A warm cup of tea found its way into his hand and Urahara smiled faintly at Ichigo.  “Ready to form thoughts again?”

“Not in the least, but I might forgive you for dragging me up at this inhuman hour,” he told the redhead, kissing his cheek before turning to the tea.  The mark of a good, well-trained young man - he could make a cup of tea; Kisuke didn’t want to think about how long it had taken to teach Ichigo that particular skill.

Ichigo was staring at him, a slight frown on his lips that said he had spaced out for just a little too long.  “I never claimed to be a morning person,” he pouted, earning a slight snort and a twitch of the lips from his lover.  Ichigo plucked his tea cup away and grabbed his hand, dragging him toward the front of the shop.

They paused on the porch to stare at each other, the sunrise still barely even a hint on the horizon.  Ichigo had to get home though; they both knew that.  Ichigo had school and too many nights spent in the shop would be sure to bring Isshin's ire down on them.  So Ichigo was sneaking home and he was up early to see the younger man off.

"I'll be by after patrol," Ichigo told him, pausing at the edge of the porch and making Urahara smile.  The younger man was still holding his hand.  They were holding hands like stupid, love-struck teenagers.  Only it wasn't stupid; it was actually kind of nice.  He couldn't remember the last time anyone had held his hand, just wanted to touch him and be touched in return without it leading to anything.  It was rather intoxicating, Ichigo's hand warm in his, the boy's reiatsu wrapped warmly around him, full of happiness and affection.  It was worth being up at the crack of dawn for stolen moments like this, reflected Urahara.  

"I won't wait up," chuckled the blond, although they both knew he would.  He would be sitting on the porch in his horrible grey robe with a cup of tea for the redhead the way he had every night for nearly year.  Ever since they had become lovers.

Ichigo smiled at him, one of those rare, heartrendingly beautiful ones that made Kisuke want to give the boy anything in his power if only to keep that look on his face for a moment more.  The younger man's free hand stole up to caress his cheek and Kisuke couldn't help but let his eyes sink closed as he leaned into the gentle touch.

"Kisuke."  His name breathed out in a groan that Urahara was beginning to suspect his soul was hardwired to respond to.  He drew the boy close and kissed him, a slow, sweet kiss that left them both smiling.

"There.  You can go back to bed now," Ichigo told him, laying a quick kiss to the end of his nose.

He chuckled but let the other man go, watching him from the porch until he was well out of sight before sighing heavily.  It had been too good to last, he knew that.  Especially with his luck.  But he had hoped for at least a little longer with the redhead.

"I can feel your reiatsu, Yoruichi.  You might as well come out," he announced quietly.  A moment later a black cat dropped from the roof to the ground, staring at him with accusing golden eyes.  He had missed her reiatsu while Ichigo was there, his power easily masking hers - a careless mistake. 

"Would you like to come in?" he asked, opening the shop door for her, feeling like a condemned man on his way to the gallows. 

"We need to talk, Kisuke," she snarled at him, stalking past him.  He tried to tell himself that he'd had Ichigo for a year, far longer than he'd had any right to hope or pray for.  He'd had his taste of bliss and now, like all things, he had to pay for it.

He put the kettle back on the shove, not really wanting tea but the ritual helping to soothe his nerves.  It was silly but when things were bad there had always been tea and he found the consistency soothing.

"What the hell was that?" demanded Yoruichi storming into the kitchen, once more human and dressed.

"Tea?" he offered, trying to summon a smile and his jovial mask, but finding neither would come - not when he was about to have his happiness ripped away.  

"What the hell are you doing, Kisuke?" snapped the noble, knocking the cup he had been offering her away.

"I was saying goodbye to Kurosaki before he had to go to school," he retorted tartly, annoyed over the loss of one of his favorite cups.

"Don't try playing those games with me!  You're fucking him!?!?  A seventeen..."

"He's eighteen. His birthday was last month," he interrupted, not that eighteen was any better than seventeen when they were talking about centuries of age difference. 

"He's still an infant!  What the hell are you thinking, Kisuke?  What the hell have you become?  Are you that desperate to come home?  What do you hope to do?  Be accepted back into Soul Society as a consort of the house of Kuroskai?"  The sword was at her throat before either of them realized it.  And Kisuke was shocked to discover he meant it.  He would kill his oldest and dearest friend.  Not for what she was implying about him - he'd heard worse - but for the thought that he could do such a thing to Ichigo.

"I don't need Ichigo to get me home," he whispered, something dark and malicious in his voice, a whisper of a long forgotten part of his past.  A part he buried under laughter and smiles.  "And if you ever suggest I would use him in such a way...,"

"Then why, Kisuke?  If not to come home, why?" She paused to stare at him, golden eyes widening before she drew in a sharp breath.  "Dear god, you're in love with the boy!"

"Don't be ridiculous.  It's nothing," he said, trying to brush it away.

"Then why haven't you told anyone?" she demanded.  "Why not talk about it if it's nothing, Kisuke?  I've known you for centuries and you've never not talked about a fling."

"Because it isn't important," he snapped, because it was important.  At least to him.  And he had learned to protect the things that mattered to him, hiding them away from prying eyes where they could be mocked or stolen.  It was the one fucking love of his whole miserable life and it was precious. 

But he knew better than to pin his hopes and dreams on teenage human boy.  Knew he was only setting himself up for heartbreak.  He didn't care; it was his heart and at least it would be broken for someone more wonderful than anyone he had ever met.

In a few months the boy would go off to college and his brief affair with his old master would end.  He would meet new and interesting people - people who were young and beautiful and not nearly so damaged as one Urahara Kisuke.  Oh, there would be calls and letters, visits over breaks, and the like, but after a term, maybe two, those would dwindle and Ichigo would find someone new.  There might or might not be a call - he couldn't say - but knowing Ichigo there likely would be.  A very polite call to tell him it was over, that the boy had met someone new. 

In five, or maybe ten years, he would get an invitation to the wedding because Isshin had never heard of the word restraint and would invite anyone and everyone.  And he would go because it was expected of him - the old teacher and the even older friend of the family.  He would drink champagne and laugh and smile while the man he loved began his life with someone else.  Someone worthy.  He would watch his happiness walk down the aisle and his heart would go right along with him.

He didn't fool himself about his role in this story.  Not anymore.  He wasn't the hero and he wasn't the one to get the boy.  Happily ever after was not part of his future. 

Kisuke came awake slowly.  His entire body ached but it was nothing compared to the raw, soul-deep agony that welled up from his heart.  Nothing was right and it would never be right again.  He wanted to wrap his arms around his chest and sob with how much it hurt.  His hurt, Urahara's hurt - everything hurt.  And there was so much pain.  A low keening noise rose from the back of his throat.

"Kisuke!" his name breathed in a panicked whisper as reiatsu washed over him, cocooning him in warmth, stealing his physical pain and trying to soothe his heart.  It didn't work.  It just cut him to shreds all over again as he realized what else was in that wonderful reiatsu blanket. 

Love.

But not for him.  For Urahara.   He gasped as another wave of despair washed up from deep inside him.  Even Urahara knew he couldn't have this, wasn't worthy of it.  There was so much blood on his hands, so many lives ruined.  This love was his sin, his greatest sin; and his penitence for all he had done would be watching it walk away.  It would kill him, rip his heart to pieces to lose this, but he would.  He always lost those things that mattered to him.  And this...something as precious and wonderful as one Kurosaki Ichigo could never be his.

He made another soft sound of despair and a hand wrapped around his.  "It's okay.  The healer will be here in a second.  Just hold on, love."

A growl filled the air and the reiatsu around him grew tense and angry, ready to lash out or kill.  "Get out."  The words were hard and clipped and the tone could have eviscerated.

"Fuck off," snarled Grimmjow, taking his free hand a holding it gently.  "Kitten?"

"Get your fucking hands off him!"  The first voice was back and had moved into an eerie sort of warble.  The reiatsu around him spiked with dark, possessive rage and he felt Grimmjow's reiatsu shove angrily against Ichigo's.

"Back off, Kurosaki.  I got just as much right ta be here as you.  Maybe more," snapped Grimmjow, and Kisuke knew violence was a mere heartbeat away.  He couldn't let that happen, couldn't let these people fight - Grimmjow was his friend and the other...the other was Urahara's world.  And as much as he wanted to deny it, he couldn't let someone who had meant so much to Urahara be hurt.

He forced his eyes open, every cell in his body rebelling at the idea, and his head protesting vehemently with a spike of pain.  He took in the neutral colored walls and the two looming men growling at each other from either side of his bed.  Two pairs of eyes turned to him instantly, one set glacial blue and the other a warm brown.

“Kitten,” sighed Grimmjow, an almost fond smile on his face as he reached out to ruffle Kisuke’s hair affectionately.

“Kisuke,” he correctly with a hoarse whisper.  There was a sharp spike of reiatsu, a wash of blackest despair for just a second before it was cut off and Kurosaki Ichigo was staring at them, his jaw set and unshed tears in his eyes.

“Ichigo,” he breathed, feeling something far down inside him flutter and respond instinctively to the pain in those eyes.  He reached out for the other man, not sure why, but knowing it was the right thing to do.

Chapter Text

"Give us a minute, Grimmjow," murmured Kisuke, his eyes sliding closed for a second as he tried to master his feelings.  Not sure how successful he was; his heart still ached and his body still felt like it had been dragged through hell.  He opened his eyes and tried to force his battered body upright.  He was not going to have this conversation on his back in bed.  He pushed himself up onto his elbows, the pain increasing sharply, but still bearable; then tried to go higher.  The effort made him gasp, black spots dancing before his eyes, as his flayed abdominal muscles tried to work.  He felt his ribs burning and clutched helplessly at his ruined side, flopping back like a beached fish.

“Asshole, you’re gonna tear everything open again.  The fucking Shinigami just got you patched up.  Dumbass,” snarled Grimmjow, shoving him back into the futon’s embrace, and making Kisuke bite his lip to stifle another cry of pain.  Clearly, moving had not been one of his brighter ideas. 

“Don’t touch him!” snapped Ichigo, and Kisuke wondered if he was insane to even think about trying to handle these two.  He couldn’t even sit up and he was putting himself between two volatile, highly aggressive males.  And people thought he was a genius?

Grimmjow growled softly at Ichigo, flipping him off, before he gently helped Kisuke upright.  Ichigo grumbled but slipped several pillows behind his back to help keep him up.  “I’ll find yer healer, Kitten.  Tell ‘im ya need ‘im,” murmured the Arrancar, a large hand landing on the blond’s head in a gesture that, had it come from anyone else, Kisuke would have called a caress.

“Upset him and I’ll rip yer balls off, captain or no,” he told Kurosaki in a growl that made Kisuke smile.  It was nice to be cared about for more than just Urahara’s sake. 

The blue-haired man left and Kisuke suddenly found himself alone with this stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger at all.  Ichigo’s reiatsu wrapping around him felt...for lack of a better description - like a homecoming.  It felt safe and natural to be wrapped in the other man’s energy - or at least it did to a part of him.  And that part wanted nothing more than to reach out and return the affectionate gesture.

The problem was, he wasn’t the person who felt that way.  This was Urahara’s lover and those were Urahara’s feelings.  He, Kisuke, didn’t feel that way...he just remembered feeling that way.

Or that was what he tried to tell himself.

It was hard to fight against the offered warmth though.  It was hard to turn away the obvious need in Ichigo when some part of him screamed and struggled against the very idea of hurting this man.  He couldn’t remember all, or even most, of what they’d had, but Kurosaki Ichigo had been more than important to Urahara.  This man had been like air to the former Shinigami and he would rather die than see him hurt.

“Kurosaki-taichou?” inquired a soft, hesitant voice from outside.

“Come in, Hanatarou.  It’s fine.  Mizuno and I can talk after you see to him,” called Ichigo, sounding calm and collected, the perfect captain.  The haori the orange-haired man was wearing hadn’t escaped his notice and he remembered what one of those meant on a Shinigami.  Ichigo had achieved his captaincy.  Kisuke felt a spike of pride tinged heavily with sadness well up from deep inside him not sure why.  He had helped make this possible, he knew that, but he couldn‘t remember how or why.  But he knew he was responsible for this.  And that he had done something terrible to achieve it.  He had done something to rip away this young man’s innocence and shred his soul to make a captain.  His eyes slipped closed, tears sliding down his cheeks.  It hurt so much, seeing the love this man had for him and knowing that he was a monster.

A warm hand caressed his cheek, gentle and soothing.  “It’s alright, Kisuke,” murmured Ichigo, his voice like a balm, and like parched earth hungry for water, his soul lapped it up.  Grey eyes fluttered open and locked with brown - and suddenly he was drowning - swept away on a flood of emotions.

He knew this man, loved him more than anything.  He reveled in the fact that for a short time, this glorious creature of faith and fire would want him.  He had pledged himself to this man heart, body and soul.  Would live or die by his will.

"Kisuke," breathed Ichigo, moving to hug him, to take him in his arms. 

"Don't touch me!" he nearly shrieked, unable to help it, knowing his resolve would crumble with a touch.  The memories were too strong, too near the surface, he would be lost beneath them if Ichigo touched him.  And he couldn't allow that; couldn't give Urahara that kind of a foothold.  He couldn't let Urahara take control of him.

Kurosaki froze, snatching his hand back as if burned and looking at him with such honest and soul-deep concern that it cut him again.  "It's alright, Kisuke.  I won't hurt you," he promised.  "I don't know if you know me..."

Kisuke shook his head, not looking at him and trying to shove back the tidal wave of feelings that this man brought out in him.  He felt the numbness start to claim him, pushing back the feelings and for once he let it come, didn't fight it.  Anything to block the torrent of emotion.  Red ringed his irises and an iron will slammed down on the feelings, stopping his tears and letting him draw himself up tall and straight despite the pain in his side.

"He really should be laying down, Kurosaki-taichou," said the healer, clearly uncomfortable with all the emotion.

"I'm fine," murmured Kisuke, his voice cool and remote.  "Just cast a quick spell on my ribs and you can leave us."  The little healer did as he was told, leaving quickly.

"Kisuke?" whispered Kurosaki, doubt creeping into his voice, as if he was confronted with something he had never seen before.

"No.  Not really, not in the way you mean.  I remember a little, Kurosaki-san.  I remember you.  But I'm not him.  I'm not your Urahara," murmured the other him, his voice smooth and apologetic.

"Then how...," began Ichigo, his eyes wide and pain beginning to suffuse his face.

"I remember a little and Ishida-san and the Arrancar told me about you and me.  I'm not him though, Kurosaki-san."  Emotion swelled inside him as Ichigo's face crumbled, grief, pain, sorrow, and hopelessness, chased one another across his face.

"Forgive me for troubling you, Mizuno-kun.  I'll let you rest," murmured the redhead, stiffly, barely holding back his tears as he fled the room.

Kisuke watched him go, feeling the other him step back and the pain come surging forward.  He choked back a single sob before giving up and letting the tears come.  He slumped back into his futon and rolled to his side, drawing his knees up to his chest despite the pain and just sobbing.  

"Ya lied to him," murmured Grimmjow from the doorway before coming to sit beside him.  His face was surprisingly serious and there was something suspiciously like compassion in his eyes.

Kisuke just nodded miserably, not even sure he could get any words out past the lump in his throat.  He could still see Kurosaki's brown eyes.  Those haunting brown eyes filled with pain, the light dying in them.  He had killed Kurosaki Ichigo's hope.

Tears slid over his cheeks, hot and bitter, and Kisuke tried to turn his back to the Arrancar.  He didn't want to talk to anyone.  He didn't want to talk at all.  He wanted to curl up and cry.  Either that or slit his own wrists and put the world out of his misery.  He tried to choke back a sob, his whole body trembling and pain tearing through his injured side. It didn't matter.  It was a tiny drop in a vast ocean of pain.  It hurt so much.  It should hurt, it was his due, a tiny portion of him whispered.  He had hurt Ichigo.  He should hurt.

"It's...it's better...this way," he choked out.  Not sure who he was trying to convince - Grimmjow or himself.  Neither one seemed to believe him though.  Grimmjow just stared at him dubiously and his heart just continued to ache.

He made a soft, low sound of pain and curled in upon himself tighter.  Urahara was the one who was in love with Kurosaki, not him - at least that was what Kisuke tried to tell himself.  It didn't help, it still hurt.  It still felt like his soul had died when Kurosaki had walked out the door with tears on his cheeks.

Grimmjow picked him up, dragging him into his lap, wrapping an arm awkwardly around his shoulders and holding him close.  Kisuke didn't startle, didn't do anything, too miserable to fight any hint of affection.  He let himself be wrapped in the Arrancar's embrace, laying his head against Grimmjow's shoulder and continuing to cry.  Grimmjow patted his back, hard thumps that proved he had no idea how to comfort anyone, and drew a small, sad smile from Kisuke for the attempt.  "Seems ta me that if it were really best it wouldn't be hurting ya both this way," murmured Grimmjow, the larger man's cheek rubbing against his hair.  Nuzzling him, realized Kisuke, slipping his arms around the Arrancar in a careful hug.

"Why are you here?  With me," he sniffled, deflecting Grimmjow's point.  He didn't want to defend himself when he was no longer sure of the answer.  There had been a good reason for sending Kurosaki away - several of them.  He just couldn't remember them when every fiber of his heart was screaming for him to go after Ichigo.

Grimmjow ruffled his hair affectionately, a gesture Kisuke thought he would have to get used to if the other man hung around, and shifted them.  The larger man leaned against a wall and settled Kisuke more comfortably in his lap, strong arms closing around him.  "Figured someone had ta keep an eye on ya," he grumbled.  "Plus it was either watch yer sorry ass or be stuck with emo boy and that priss of a noble."  Kisuke chuckled and sniffled recognizing the grumbling as Grimmjow's way of saying he cared.  Apparently, badass former villains couldn't admit to feelings.

He nuzzled Grimmjow's shoulder and received a gentle head-butt in return.  "Now why're ya making yerself and that dickhead Kurosaki miserable?  I got nothing against ya making Kurosaki miserable, but ya get all sniffly and...wet," Kisuke could hear the absolute feline disgust at the idea of getting wet and chuckled - making him sniffle.  "See?  Wet," pronounced Grimmjow with a shudder.

"Why are ya making ya both unhappy, Kitten?" he asked more gently, giving Kisuke a careful hug.

"Because it's better to hurt a little now than a lot later," he whispered, eyes closing as the pain threatened to engulf him again.  How could it hurt this much?  They weren't even his feelings.  They were Urahara's.  How could someone so...methodical, feel so much?

"I'm not Urahara, not really.  There are just bits and pieces, feelings and impressions of him inside me.  I'm not the person he loves though and sooner or later...," he broke off, choking on the tears that had begun falling again, Urahara's grim knowledge that Ichigo would, and should, leave resurfacing.  Urahara had been able to live with the knowledge that he would lose his love because he'd had Ichigo.  Kisuke couldn't do that, couldn't embrace all those old feelings knowing that he would only lose the redhead. 

He wasn't Urahara and he could never be him - not even for Ichigo.

"Sooner or later he would realize it?" Grimmjow prodded gently, his voice a soft, rumbling purr.

Kisuke nodded miserably, curling up and crying; Grimmjow letting him, soothing him quietly. 

Chapter Text

"Kisuke!  Kisuke, are you here?  Kisuke!" called Benihime, racing across the bridge and into the foggy world of Kisuke's soul.  There were hints of how things should have been, glimpses of familiar walls and paths, they were quickly swallowed by the fog though.  She glanced around, hating this alien place that had once been her home, hating the fog that covered and concealed everything she had once known. 

"Kisuke!" she called again, growing worried.  She could feel the pain radiating through their link, feel the utter despair of her master - and couldn't reconcile it to the calm, cool discussion she had seen in Ichigo's memories.  Something was wrong.

"Kisuke!"

"You don't need to yell, my crimson princess.  I can hear you just fine," murmured Kisuke, appearing from the fog.  Only it wasn't him.  Or rather it was him, not as he should have been, but as he had been.  It was Kisuke as he had been all those centuries ago when he was a young Shinigami, dressed in his robes with his captain's haori around his shoulders.  That casual arrogance and complete self-assurance that he had lost years ago, were once more in his bearing and a certain hungry gleam lingered in his eyes.  It was Kisuke as he had been when she first met him, not as she remembered him, weighed down by guilt and sorrow.  It was the young captain who had thought he could take on the world and do anything.

"Kisuke?" she asked, puzzled and unsure of what could be happening.  Her home was an alien place and her master was an unknown once more.  It was not how she had imagined her homecoming, her reunion with her beloved.  She had imagined that he would remember her and reclaim her once more.  But Kisuke was not ready to take her up and yet the Captain - her master - stood before her.

"Not quite.  Come with me, Benihime," Kisuke murmured, holding out his hand for her.  She hesitantly took it, wanting to wrap her arms around her lord and cry at the oh so familiar feeling of joy that touching him brought.

Kisuke led her through the fog as if unaffected by it, as if he could see all the old corridors and paths.  "Not all of them, but the ones that are mine," he told her softly, shocking her and making her smile.  He had always been brilliant, five steps ahead of everyone else.  He led her to a clearing in the fog, a crossroads where a young man lay curled up in the fetal position, clearly having cried himself to sleep. 

She watched in fascinated horror as the young man's image wavered and changed.  He grew older and dark circles formed under his eyes, his shoulders - his whole body - sagged under the weight of his sins.  His clothing shifted to the green haori and hat she knew so well.  This was Kisuke as she remembered him, as he had been when he died.  Then Kisuke was once more young, no older than his mortal age of seventeen and dressed in the white kimono the healers had placed him in.  He slept on as the image fluctuated between the two versions, one moment Urahara and one moment Mizuno.

"What...what's happening?  Why is he like that?  What's going on?" she demanded, jerking her hand away from the version of Kisuke at her side and backing away from him, frightened by this horrible fracturing of her master.  What had happened to him?  Had he gone mad?   

"I can merely guess as I only truly awakened a short while ago, myself.  I suspect however, that one of those is our current incarnation, his thoughts and feelings and emotions.  The other is likely a later version of myself, still slumbering in the recesses of our soul, Urahara as he was when he died.  I am likely his early life, his memories up until he left Soul Society, or perhaps just until our current age.  I'm unsure which of us has what memories or how many there might be," murmured the Captain.

"You awakened?" she asked softly, looking between the three versions of Kisuke with shock.

"Yes, when we did battle with the Hollow.  I was forced to awaken in order to save us.  It drew me from my slumber and since then I've been trying to protect us and to speak to our current self.  I am able to merge with him for a short time but not lastingly.  And he has been less than receptive," murmured the Captain with a slight look of distaste for the figure at the crossroads.  She recognized that look, it was the same look Kisuke had used to get when he was forced to explain something for a second or even third time to a particularly slow underling when he was working on a project.  In the past it had been funny, but without the laughter and light, Kisuke's boyish charm, it was just chilling.

"You were the one in the medical ward!" she realized.

"Of course.  Our human self was endangering us," murmured the Captain with a slight shrug.

"Wait!  If he and Hat-n-Clogs' are merged then why doesn't he remember?" she demanded, staring at the still fluctuating Kisuke.

"They are not merged, I would guess because this Hat-n-Clogs as you call him, is still asleep.  His memories are still buried but his feelings carry through to our host in dreams.  That is only a theory, but it seems sound and would explain his...attachment to the captain of the Fifth."

"Wait!  He remembers?  He remembers Ichigo?  He remembers what Urahara felt for him?  Why did he say he didn't?  Why lie about it?" she exclaimed, not understanding.  Kisuke had loved Ichigo beyond all reason, would have walked through Hell on nothing more than his command.  There was no way he would have let Ichigo be hurt. 

"You!  You did this," she breathed, starting at the Captain in shocked horror.

"I protect them," he replied with a shrug.  "Our host couldn't handle the feelings, was terrified of them.  I am unable to reach the later version of myself and awaken him to deal with this and I have no stake in this relationship we are alleged to have - it is not part of my memories.  No one else was able to handle the situation so I stepped in and dealt with it."

"You shattered both of them!" she snapped at him, earning a sharp frown.

"I protected both of them," A gesture for the men in the clearing, "And myself.  This relationship is dangerous and counterproductive to us while we are still divided."  Benihime frowned as she tried to remember Kisuke as a young Shinigami, without his later burdens and without his love for Ichigo.  It was hard, Ichigo had become so integral to him, his first love - she tried to imagine what a younger and hungrier Urahara would make of those feelings.  The closest he could come to understanding them was his feelings for Yoruichi but there would always be a certain bitter resentment buried there, a certain hatred for not being good enough.  There was none of that with Ichigo.  The young man had snuck in under his defenses and stolen Kisuke's heart before her master had realized it - and he had been absolutely charmed and terrified by it.  From the outside, Kisuke's devotion had to seem like madness - especially to the Captain who had only found pain and heartache in his few, fumbling attempts at romance.

"You're ruining their lives!"

She quailed as the Captain drew himself up tall and straight, not used to this colder and harder version of her master.  She had grown used to Urahara's laughter and affection.  The Captain had laughed but he had always been able to be more...ruthless than Hat-n-Clogs, because he had believed in himself with the faith of the young.  Time and tragedy had sapped that blind confidence from him in later years, but this man still had it.  He could still do terrible things for what he perceived to be the greater good.   Hat-n-Clogs had been able to do those things, but the difference was that he regretted them.  He knew they stole pieces of his humanity and he mourned it.  The Captain hadn't reached that point yet.

"I am doing what I think is best for us, all of us, Benihime," he told her firmly and she knew that tone, it was the tone of the man who had created Hougyoku.  The Captain would not be moved on the issue of Ichigo or their feelings for him.

Chapter Text

Uryuu and Renji were waiting for him at the end of the hall, attaching themselves to him as he walked past, one on each side.  There were times he honestly didn't know whether he hated them or loved them, and this was one of them.  He wanted to be alone.  He wanted to rage and snarl and hate the universe before his broken heart dragged him back into despair.  He also knew that the two men were there to help blunt the worst of his emotions, to give him an outlet and comfort.  Comfort he wasn't sure he wanted.

"The training grounds or our room?" asked the redhead neutrally.

"Not our room, I just got things in order after your and Kuchiki's little party," growled Uryuu.  "Besides, we always end up at the training grounds anyway.  Why insert an unnecessary detour?"

Ichigo growled faintly but remained silent.

"So, booze or no booze?" asked Renji.

"Are you sure your liver is up to another night of you trying to poison it?" asked Uryuu, baiting his lover.

When Ichigo turned to head to his room, his friends grabbed his elbows and lifted him from the ground, carrying him toward the corridor and tunnel that led to the training area under the shop.  "Put me the fuck down," he growled, not bothering to struggle.  He had trudged this path with Uryuu and Renji before - back when Kisuke had first died.  Struggling just meant their attempt to beat the hell out of each other started before the training ground rather than at the training ground.  So rather then fight and damage the base, which would get Hitsugaya angry at him, he let his friends carry him and tried to convince himself that it was a tactical decision rather than him sulking.

"We need booze for this, Ichigo?" demanded Renji.

He thought about mixing alcohol with the residue of the drugs in his system and then about the explosion that would likely be coming once he started feeling again, once he started realizing that the endless stream of time spanning before him.  Time he would be spending alone.  Alcohol would not be a good idea. 

"No drinking," he said in a stricken whisper, panic welling up inside him at the idea of being alone for centuries.  He couldn't face that.  Kisuke had been over seven-hundred when he died - Ichigo didn't know exactly how much over because Kisuke didn't.  Rukongai orphans didn't get birthdays.  He remembered how shocked and amused Kisuke had been when Ichigo had surprised him on the 31st of December with a cake and some stupid idea about making that his birthday.  He choked back a sob as he remembered Kisuke's utter delight over blowing out candles and opening the stupid gift Ichigo had gotten him - it had been nothing more than some of his favorite tea but the blond had been completely charmed by the gesture.  They had laughed and kissed and sat on the porch feeding each other cake for half the night before slipping off to bed to celebrate the New Year by making love.

They entered the training grounds and Renji and Uryuu released him.  "Do we really need to go through the formalities of beating the hell out of each other?" asked Uryuu with a sigh, earning a pout from Renji.

"You're no fun.  Best part of the whole fucking system and he wants to get rid of it," the redhead told Ichigo, elbowing him in the ribs.

"You both are bastards," he grumbled.

Ishida sighed and summoned his bow.  "Very well, we will proceed with the insanity.  You have to the count of five," he told the two Shinigami, drawing his hand back, a shimmering arrow forming.  Ichigo sighed and took off running, knowing full well that Ishida would shoot him at point blank range without a second thought - he would shoot to wound, but it still meant Ichigo going to the Fourth with an arrow wound.  That Quincy bastard had even shot him in the ass once.

Renji struck first, coming down at him from the right with a vicious swing of Zabimaru.  He blocked the blow, cursing as a Quincy arrow grazed his left bicep.

He slid Zangetsu free of Zabimaru and slashed at Renji's midsection.  The redhead jumped clear, earning an arrow to the thigh.  The shot hit him hard enough to bruise but not penetrate.

"Dammit!  That hurt, Uryuu!" snarled Renji, slashing at the Quincy, who easily evaded the blow and fired another shot at his lover.  Ichigo chuckled despite himself and once more earned their loving attention.  An arrow set him up to get a nasty slash across the right thigh from Zabimaru.

He retaliated with a wicked Getsuga Tenshou at the Quincy, missing Uryuu, but pelting him with rocks and debris.  Renji darted into the cloud of dust and Ishida fled with a wound across his midsection, a minor cut that was little more than a line of red.  The look on his face made it clear that Renji would be getting some of his attention though.  "You are sewing that, Abarai.  Three ruined shirts in twenty-four goddamn hours," grumbled the archer, making Ichigo chuckle.  There were times having Ishida and Renji as friends was worth it and when Ishida got snippy was one of them.  Provided one could stay out of the line of fire.

Half a dozen blue arrows launched themselves at the cloud and Renji shouted outrage before another barrage was turned on Ichigo.  He made a rude squawk and leapt aside, dodging arrows with little grace - but managed not to get hit.  While he cursed and avoided more arrows, Renji sent Zabimaru at Ishida, sending the dark-haired man to the ground to avoid the blow.  Ichigo struck at the redhead while he was focusing on the Quincy, whacking him with the flat of his blade.

Renji twisted to try and slash at him and Ichigo leapt clear only to leap back and whack the redhead on the other side.  Urahara had loved to pull that move and it had taken Ichigo longer than he liked to admit, and far more bruises, to get it right.

They continued to hack and slash at each other, pulling blows so they left only minor cuts and bruises.  The Fourth did tend to yell when two captains and a Quincy came in sporting too many injuries from what was supposed to be just some friendly sparring.  The members of the Fourth were good guys but they didn't realize the necessity of beating the hell out of each other in times of stress.  In fact, they had filed several reports the first time Ishida and Renji had begun their unorthodox form of therapy with him.

An hour later - all of them sweaty, bloody and bruised - they called a halt to the fight.  They all slid to the ground, leaning against one of the large outcroppings, trying to regain their breath.  "Drinks?" panted Uryuu.

"Flip ya for it," mumbled Renji, digging out a coin and tossing it in the air.

A blue shot streaked past and hit the coin.  "Heads," purred the Quincy, smirking like a cat who'd just swallowed a canary.

"Cheating Quincy bastard," muttered Renji fondly, laying a fast, hard kiss on the other man before dragging himself to his feet.  He was back a few moments later with drinks.  He handed Ichigo a soda and tossed a bottled water at Uryuu who caught it easily.

"So how bad was it?" asked Renji, sliding back down and opening his own soda.

"He doesn't want to be with me.  Doesn't want anything to do with me really," whispered Ichigo, staring at the bottle and trying to block out the hurt.  Trying to ignore the great looming future of emptiness opening up before him.  A life without hope or love.  "He won't even let me touch him."

Uryuu was frowning at him, clearly trying to put things together in his head.

"Did he say why?" asked Renji

"No, he didn't want me there and he didn't want to talk," whispered Ichigo, drawing his knees up to his chest and laying his head against them.  He was so tired.  So very tired.  And he was bleeding again from that gapping wound inside him, the one he had taken when Kisuke had died, the one that had never healed.

"Urahara never was big on full disclosure," muttered Renji and Ichigo nodded.  He had loved Kisuke but even he knew that the other man had had secrets.  He had accepted it.  There were darker areas of his lover's past, things that the older man didn't want to share, didn't want to think about.  Ichigo had understood that because he'd had his own secrets and demons.

Uryuu made a soft noise of agreement, before adding his thoughts.  "He was scared.  He couldn’t get away so he did what he could to make you go away."

"But why would the kid lie?  And why to Ichigo?  Especially if he really is Urahara?" demanded Renji, taking a huge gulp of his drink.

"Well, look at it from Mizuno-kun's perspective.  You two have always been hard to figure out, Ichigo.  And Mizuno-kun doesn't have the full story, unless something has changed a great deal since I spoke with him.  He is trying to solve a puzzle when he doesn't know what the picture is supposed to be and someone is hiding pieces from him.  He has all this data that he has no context for it.  That has to be jarring.

"Toss in a case of Stockholm Syndrome and probably a little Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it would make anyone flinch."

"What's this Stockholm thingy?" asked Renji.

"It's a condition that can occur in kidnapping cases; it's when the victim bonds with his kidnappers.  In this case, the waters get even more muddled because the Arrancar probably didn't want to hurt Urahara so they were nice to him.  Also, in a way they did save him.  If not for them, he would have been taken by Aizen.  Something like that is bound to muddle things in a person's head.

"And that's ignoring the intensity of your relationship with Urahara.  Dumping all that emotion into the lap of a seventeen year old kid - it's just asking for trouble.  It's bound to scare him.  Especially when it's just there, no build up, just all these feelings and all this passion."

"So you think he was lying about how much he knew, to what?  Protect himself?" asked Ichigo.

"I think it was his way of trying to stall for time to get it all sorted out.  He has all these things happening to him - most of them way beyond his control.  The one thing he can control is how close he lets you get, so he exercises it.  To give himself some space to breathe in and some room to work."

Ichigo nodded slowly.  "So you're saying I should wait?"

"I'm saying you shouldn't push at him.  Give him time to recover and remember at his own pace.  In the last five days his world has been turned on its head and he's just trying to get his bearings," murmured Uryuu.  "I think Urahara is in there, Mizuno just doesn't remember him yet and that scares him.  Give him some time to become comfortable and I suspect Urahara will emerge."

Ichigo stared at him, not wanting to hope, not sure his heart could take another blow, but unwilling and unable to give up on Kisuke.

Chapter Text

Ryuuken sighed, wondering how he had let Isshin talk him into sitting out in the cold to watch the Shinigami base.  That was right, he had gone odds-and-evens with the other man, forgetting that Isshin cheated only slightly less shamelessly than Kisuke.  Damned Shinigami.

Still, it had been an interesting night.  The Shinigami had been scurrying around like rodents for hours, although after all the excitement in the park he couldn't blame them.  That had been amusing.  He had even managed to get a few shots off hidden under his son's power.  It had been particularly satisfying sending an arrow into Kurotshuchi, not enough to kill the son of a bitch - unfortunately.  But enough to hurt and remind him that no man toyed with the Quincy lightly.

Since the park there had been a steady stream of lower ranking Shinigami exiting the base.  The flood had ebbed to a trickle only a short while ago.  Ryuuken was about to leave, screw Isshin and his surveillance.  If he wanted to freeze his ass off he was welcome to, but Ryuuken had had enough.  There was nothing else happening tonight and he had work in a few hours.  He had just stood to leave when he noticed the faintest brush of reiatsu and a shadow where there shouldn't have been one.  Someone else was leaving the base, but they were sneaking out.

"Quite the exodus tonight.  Where are you off to, Kuchiki-san?" he asked, Hirenkyakude carrying him to within a meter of the escaping Shinigami.  He smirked as the small woman startled, letting his smirk widen a bit.  It was nice to finally be surprising her; it meant things were back the way they were supposed to be.  He snuck up on Shinigami; they did not sneak up on him.

The girl frowned at him before straightening her robes, it was a gesture he was intimately familiar with, having seen both Isshin and Kisuke doing it when nervous.  "What are you doing here, Ishida-san?  I was told you left hours ago," she said huffily, clearly not pleased with having been snuck up on. 

"I did leave.  We are outside your base.  Hardly my fault if Shinigami patrols are ineffective," he replied, thoroughly amused.

"An oversight that I will see is corrected at once," she growled.  She was a pretty little thing in the moonlight, all shadows and light.  Her skin glowed in the soft light and her dark eyes sparkled with untold mysteries.  She looked enchanting, like some fairy woven out of shadow and moonlight come to life. 

"You still haven't said where you're off to so late, Kuchiki-san.  Or are vice captains taking patrols now?" he asked, baiting her.

"I was going to the Kurosaki clinic, if you must know," she sighed, shoulders slumping and weariness filling her bearing.  Ryuuken felt his attention sharpen.  She didn't look injured and even if she was the base had healers.  There was no reason for her to visit Isshin.

"Were you hurt earlier?" he demanded sharply.        

"What?  No!  I'm fine.  And how do you know about what happened earlier?" she demanded, weariness slipping away as she began to demand answers from him.

He felt his smirk widen and chuckled faintly as she noticed it and cursed.  "Fine!  If you must know I need a place to sleep.  Ichigo's reiatsu is...unsettled and with the battle and all that's happened...  There are also five other highly tense captains hanging around.  It makes things uncomfortable.  Most of the lower ranking Shinigami are probably staying with friends.  I don't have any human friends anymore, but Kurosaki-san probably has a spare bed or two, so I'm going to stay with him," she announced with annoyance.

Ryuuken sighed, feeling his amusement slip away.  "Don't bother.  Kurosaki's is all the way across town and Isshin is no doubt asleep by now.  I have a spare room you can use and my home is only a few blocks away," he murmured, not sure what moved him to make the offer other than that fact that this woman was important to his son.  And there was something in the forlorn cast of her face that spoke to him.  Kuchiki looked like her whole world had tumbled from it's axis in the space of a few short hours and Ryuuken knew that feeling - and wouldn't have wished it on anyone. 

Kuchiki looked torn for a moment before weariness won out and she nodded.  "Thank you, Ishida-san, that is most kind."  Ryuuken felt his lips twitch into a tiny smile and motioned the young woman in the direction of his home, rather amused with the idea of a Shinigami spending the night.  Uryuu would never believe it.

They walked quietly side by side until the end of the block.  "Was the battle this evening difficult?" he asked, as if he hadn't been spying.

"It wasn't pleasant.  Several members of our party were injured."

"You claimed the prize, however," murmured Ryuuken.

Rukia's eyes snapped to him, and there was something both amused and considering in her gaze.  "Why do I get the feeling that you know more about this than you're admitting, Ishida-san? 

Ryuuken chuckled, unable to keep the superior smirk from his lips and not really wanting to.  "Because you've had twenty years of dealing with Quincy, Kuchiki-san.  We always know more than we let on," he murmured smugly.

"I am beginning to think Renji has a point about the Quincy - you're all arrogant bastards," she retorted with a smirk of her own, earning a soft chuckle from Ryuuken. 

"Only Shinigami would mistake skill for arrogance," he teased, thoroughly amused.

"I'm also beginning to see Hitsugaya-taichou's point about gagging all Quincy."  Ryuuken laughed, unable to help himself.

"My dear Kuchiki-san, you have no idea.  Uryuu is the very spirit of tact and decorum compared to his grandfather or me."

"I've heard Uryuu mention his grandfather a time or two, usually with Renji and alcohol involved," she said, her voice brightening as she grew to like conversation and the man she was sharing it with.  Ishida Ryuuken had always been this distant, foreboding figure from Uryuu's past, never a real person with feelings and motivations of his own.

"My son was quite fond of Souken.  He-he had a large hand in raising Uryuu," murmured Ryuuken softly. 

"You weren't fond of your father, Ishida-san?" she probed gently, watching him with those dark eyes that seemed both soothing and inquisitive.  Ryuuken sighed, not sure he wanted to talk about Souken or his own less than amiable relationship with the man.

Kuchiki seemed to sense his reluctance for she seemed to draw in upon herself and murmured softly, "Forgive me for prying, Ishida-san." 

"No.  No, it's fine, Kuchiki-san.  I simply haven't spoken of my father in a number of years and we were never on the best of terms to begin with.  Souken was a much better grandfather than he was a father.”  He paused, not sure what else to say, not wanting to say anything.  His feelings on Souken were still a tangled mess of reluctant affection and bitter resentment that Ryuuken wasn’t sure he would ever be able to sort out.

"We are here," he murmured, grateful to reach his front door so he could abandon the topic.  He quickly unlocked the door and escorted Kuchiki inside.  "May I offer you something to drink?  Water, tea... I believe there is a bottle of wine from my secretary somewhere," he murmured, opening the refrigerator as Kuchiki settled politely in his living room.

"Anything stronger?" asked Rukia, smirking faintly as Ishida's head whipped around to regard her with shock for a moment before an amused smirk twitched onto his lips.

"I have an excellent Glenn Livet as well as some cognac and perhaps a bottle or two of bourbon somewhere."

"The Glenn Livet is fine," murmured Kuchiki, watching him quietly as he fixed her a glass before pouring one for himself.  "Why do you hate your son?" she blurted out as he turned back to her.

Ryuuken felt himself staring at her, blinking in shocked surprise.  "I don't hate Uryuu," he said quietly once he had regained himself.  "I love my son.  A great deal, Kuchiki-san.  I wouldn't have helped him regain his powers if I didn't," he said wearily, settling heavily in chair and wishing he had just once been the father Uryuu deserved. 

"I haven't always agreed with the choices he's made..."

"Renji is a good man," she interrupted quietly, needing to defend her oldest and dearest friend.

"I am aware of that," murmured Ryuuken, something close to a smile touching his lips.  "But Abarai Renji will still be a young man in two hundred years when my son is dead.  Uryuu abandoned his life to fight your war and his reward shall be aging and dying while his lover barely changes.  Would you want that for your son, Kuchiki-san?"

Rukia stared at him, having never even considered such a thing.  Uryuu was nearing forty but he still look no older than twenty-five - he was aging though.  And far faster than a nearly ageless Shinigami.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't realize...none of us did..."

"I doubt even Uryuu has thought about it," murmured Ryuuken quietly.  "I'm more familiar with these things than he is."

"How is that?"

"I'd have thought it would have been obvious.  I was once, in my youth, friends with several Shinigami.”

“Medical conferences?" she asked, one elegant eyebrow arching and her voice teasing.

Ryuuken smiled and chuckled softly.  "I did sew them up a time or two after patrols."  Rukia's laughter joined with his and Ryuuken couldn't help but notice that she had a nice laugh, soft and pleasant on the ears.  "That was ages ago though, we've all moved on."

Silence fell between them, both of them taking a sip of their drinks, Rukia choking slightly on the first mouthful.  Her sputtering drew a smile from Ryuuken.  "Strong stuff," she panted, taking another gulp, this time without incident.

"It has its charm.  I can get you something else if you'd prefer," he offered with a smirk.

"No, this is fine," purred Rukia taking another sip, her dark eyes locking with his.  Ryuuken saw the subtle challenge lurking in them and couldn't help but be amused.

"What of you, Kuchiki-san?  I know you are vice captain of the Fifth and that Kurosaki and my son went to Soul Society once to retrieve you, but little else."

"There is little else to know, Ishida-san," she murmured, taking another sip of her drink.

"I doubt that.  I seem to recall a Kuchiki Byakuya being mentioned a time or two.   Also that there was some scandal associated with the name," he purred, watching her stiffen.

Her gaze fell to her glass and her voice sank to a whisper.  "I was adopted into the Kuchiki family after Nii-sama married my sister."  Ryuuken sensed there was more than a story lurking behind her words, there was a wealth of pain as well.

"I take it you did not fit in well with the Kuchiki clan?"

"My sister and I were born in the Rukongai," she whispered, almost as if ashamed of the admission.

"And nobles don't marry commoners," he muttered, a dark resentment stirring in him.  He remembered his own arranged marriage and Kisuke's bitter umbrage at the Shinigami's class system.  Kuchiki's dark eyes met his, filled with surprise.

"Nii-sama loved my sister a great deal...she was...unworthy

"What makes you say that?" he asked gently

"Because she was his world while he was just...an auxiliary to hers.  He...he didn't deserve that."  Dark eyes filled with unshed tears met his and Ryuuken nodded quietly, they tossed back their glasses at the same time and Kuchiki poured them both another and then another after that. 

~*~*~*~

There was a brass marching band warming up in his head, his eyelids had been glued shut, and something had crawled into his mouth to die.  Ryuuken remembered the feeling of being hungover, but the last time he had experienced it had been ages ago.  Likely it was the bachelor party Kisuke and Isshin had thrown him, but he couldn't quite get his brain working to recall.

"Rise and shine, Ryuu-kun!" came a horrible voice that seemed designed to shatter his eardrums and echo around his poor battered skull.  He growled something that he thought was 'Fuck off and die' but it might have been anything really since his mouth did not seem to be communicating with the rest of his body.

He rolled over, trying to escape Isshin's voice - and fell two feet before landing heavily on the floor.  He had fallen off the couch, his brain finally supplied as Isshin cackled at him.  "Did somebody have a party last night?  And you didn't invite me?  I'm hurt, Ryuuken.  Mortally wounded," taunted Isshin, hand going to his heart, although his volume didn't decrease a single bit.

"If you don't shut up, you will be," snarled Ryuuken, managing to get to his knees without his stomach rebelling - although the thing that died in his mouth seemed to have brought friends which had died in his stomach.

"Jeez, Ryuuken, what did you do last night?" asked Isshin, noticing just how badly he was doing.

"I was drinking, you jackass!" he snapped, pain fraying his temper.  And where the hell was Kuchiki?  If he was dying, she should be in agony too.

Isshin got him a sports drink from the fridge while Ryuuken managed to pull himself up so he was sitting on the couch, a flash of white on the coffee table catching his eye.

Had to return to base.  Thank you very much for the bed.  I had great fun last night, Ishida-san.  Thank you again, Kuchiki Rukia 

The paper was plucked from his fingers and replaced with a bottle.  Isshin read the note, noticed the twin glasses and began howling with laughter.  "You....You...under...little...girl...forty kilos wet!" choked out Isshin, holding his sides as tears streamed over his cheeks and the laughter continued.

He was going to kill him, thought Ryuuken.  As soon as his head stopped pounding and he murdered that miserable brat Kuchiki, Isshin would die.

"Shut up," he hissed, his tone silencing Isshin but not taking the merriment from his eyes.   Ryuuken tossed the bottle at the former Shinigami's head, nailing him, before stalking off to seek some aspirin, a shower, and then Kuchiki.  No forty kilo Shinigami girl was going to drink him under the table!

Chapter Text

Matsumoto glanced at Shuuhei, who was snoring peacefully, and then at Kira, who was tipping back another cup of sake.  The vice captain of the Third looked miserable, not that she looked any better.  She knew her face was drawn and that the darkness of her robes was matched by the shadows lingering in her eyes.

She could still see the blood.  So much blood.  Feel the sticky, hot wash of liquid against her hands and soaking into her robes.  Her captain's blood.  The two men she loved most in the world had drawn their swords against each other and she had watched, her heart in her throat.  Watched them try and kill each other.  Watched them grievously wound each other.  And she hadn't known who she had feared for more in that moment - both of them on the ground, their life's blood staining the earth.

She shivered and glanced up, catching Kira's eyes.  She could see the hollow emptiness in his eyes and knew the same despair was lurking in her own gaze.  Just as she knew the same person had put that look in their eyes. 

Ichimaru Gin. 

She wanted to hate him.  Wanted to be able to kill him for what he had done - although whether it was betraying Soul Society or leaving her alone that fueled the feeling even she couldn't say.   All she knew was that she had loved him and he had left her.  Chosen Aizen Sousuke and his lies over her.  She hated him for that.

She knew Kira felt that same.  He had loved and idolized Gin as much as she had.  And while her love was that of a younger sister for her god-like older brother, Kira's was the more simple love of an underling for a man he wished to become.  They had both looked up to Gin however.  They had loved him and he had shattered their hearts and broken their trust.

"Did you see him?" asked Kira in a soft, hoarse whisper.  There was no need to clarify which him - there was only one him for the two of them.

She nodded, holding out her glass for a refill, her mind all too easily summoning an image of Gin as she had last seen him - his right side a wash of blood and ice, his golden eyes senseless.  He had looked years younger and almost innocent as he lay in an Arrancar's arms while she rushed him to safety.           

Then came the memory of Aizen's bland smile, not even a hint of concern for the captain who had given up everything to follow him.  She felt a dark shimmering rage build up inside her at the thought of Aizen.

Why did Gin follow him?  Why did he stay with a man who clearly didn't care about him when she and Kira loved him so much?  Why weren't they good enough to hold him?  Why wasn't their love enough to bind him to them?  What made Aizen's cool and indifferent regard so much more valuable than their love and adoration?

She wanted to scream and snarl for Gin to come back and tell her what made her and Kira worth so much less than Aizen. 

"I saw him," she whispered soft, her voice brittle with pain and anger.

"Did he..."Kira began before breaking off, biting down hard on his fist, a few tears slipping free.  She could read the questions he wanted to ask but couldn't bring himself to give voice to.  Did he take any injuries?  Did he hurt anyone?  Did he escape?

"Hitsugaya-taichou struck him," she managed to squeeze out, wrapping her arms around her middle to try and still the trembling of her limbs.  She felt sick remembering the fight.  She heard Kira's soft gasp of pain and denial and looked up to meet aching blue eyes.  They slid closer, each wrapping an arm around the other as they sat side-by-side, drawing comfort in each other's warmth.

Shuuhei had dragged Kira through the gate after hearing about the incident in the park.  Matsumoto was sure one of the other captains, likely Ukitake-taichou or maybe Renji, had sent word ahead to him to warn him that Gin was involved in the altercation.  Either of them would have realized how sensitive a subject Ichimaru was to her and Kira and done all they could to buffer them from the pain.  Hence Shuuhei and the vast amounts of alcohol.

It didn't help though, she still missed her savior and Kira still longed for his idol.

Kira poured her another glass as she laid her head on his shoulder.  "Will he be all right?"  A soft guilty whisper, knowledge he knew he shouldn't want - but did anyway.

"If they work fast," she whispered, just as guilty for the relief the knowledge brought.  She should hate Ichimaru - want him dead.  But she didn't and couldn't.  Just like Kira, she still loved him and secretly wished that somehow he would come back to them.

They both glanced at Shuuhei, relieved that he was still sleeping and couldn't have overheard their shared sin.  The captain of the Ninth would never have understood their inability to give up on Gin.  He hadn't loved Tousen, he had just served under him.  He hadn't idolized the former captain of the Ninth the way she and Kira had Gin.

Kira sagged against her and Matsumoto gently laid down with him, snuggling close, each drawing what comfort they could.  "He used to hold me like this," she admitted softy, a secret for Kira's ears alone.  "Back when I first started at the Academy.  I was scared of the dark and he would let me sneak into his room and hold me."  Tears slipped down her cheeks at the memories, the sake bringing the pain easily to the surface.  It was stupid and childish but she wanted those days back; days when she could lay down and entrust her burdens to someone stronger.  She stifled a small sound of pain, almost able to hear Gin's soft voice whispering stories and jokes to her from across the years.  He had always been able to make her laugh.

"He used to do the same kind of thing for me when I started with the Fifth," admitted Kira quietly.  "He would stay with me after training and tease and poke at me - I hated it at first.  But he talked to me and made me talk...and when he became a captain, he insisted I go to the Third with him.  I was so thrilled, so proud that he thought I was worthy.  

"I miss him, Rangiku.  Renji's a good captain but...he isn't my captain.  He was the first person I served under.  He‘s the one I want."  Matsumoto made a soft noise of understanding.  Even while he had been in the Fifth, Gin had made a personal project of Kira, keeping him away from Aizen and taking a certain personal interest in the younger man's training.  Something in her liquor soaked brain stirred, something about that thought, but her befuddled brain couldn't quite make the leap her intuition was insisting was needed.

There was something about Kira, Gin and Aizen though, some thought that was lurking there waiting for her to understand.  She was about to ask Kira when a soft snore drew her attention.  She smiled a sad, wistful smile at the blond head resting on her shoulder, slumbering quietly.  She gently kissed his brow and let her own eyes slid shut.

"I'll guard your dreams tonight if you can guard mine, Izuru," she whispered softly in the darkness - wishing for just an instant that Gin was there to guard both of them.

Her eyes flew open a second later as the pieces fell into place in her head - Gin, Kira, Aizen and her.  She saw it.  She finally saw it!  Gin had been protecting them.  He had refused her requests to join the Fifth to keep her away from Aizen and he had taken Kira under his wing to keep the younger man out from under their captain's eye.  He had seen even then the sort of man Aizen had been and had tried to keep the people he cared about out of his control.

But if Gin had known what sort of a man Aizen was, then why had he stayed with him?  Why follow him into exile and abandon everything and everyone he had loved if he knew the monster Aizen Sousuke was?

"What does he have over you, Gin?" she asked the darkness, suddenly afraid for Gin.

Chapter Text

He should have expected it.  Should have known the sort of idiots he worked with.  Hitsugaya chalked his lapse up to too little sleep, having endured one Kurosaki catastrophe already and delayed shock from finding Ishida and Abarai together - again. 

And really, what was so damn wrong with their bedroom?!  He and Karin stayed in the bedroom...  Well, there had been that time in his office and that time watching fireworks on the rooftop, and....  All right, so they didn't!  But they didn't get caught!

He growled as he added his signature to the first of the preliminary reports for the incident in the park, finishing it.  That was preliminaries done.  Just the actual report, the recommendations report, and the post write-up report left to go.  That, and to finally track down the idiot who had decided they needed all these reports and crush him under all his stupid paperwork.

"You're supposed to be resting - in the medical ward, no less," came an amused voice from the door of his office. 

Hitsugaya glanced up and stared.  Karin stood there leaning against the frame of the door, the light from the hall casting her face slightly in shadow but silhouetting her clearly through the thin silk of her robe.  The dark color highlighted the pallor of her skin, making it glow like fresh snow and stealing his breath.  She was so beautiful.

"Toushiro?" she asked softly when he didn't respond.

Hitsugaya stared at her and wondered if he could steal a few moments just to be with her.  He saw her so little and yet every moment stood out, because having her near made it better, brighter, more vibrant.  Surely he could have a few moments that were just for him, a few moments to drink in the comfort and warmth she brought to him.  He had nearly died - well, not really.  The wound Ichimaru had given him was painful as hell but hardly fatal, one of the reasons he had fled the medical ward for the safety of his office once the healers had finished their initial treatment.  "It's nothing, love.  Just daydreaming for a moment," he told her softly, grateful when she came further into the room, smiling knowingly at him.

"That's because you're an idiot who should be in bed.  I know the healers told you to rest, not do paperwork, dummy," she told him, gently slapping the back of his head before kissing the corner of his mouth.  She perched on his desk, crossing her legs, her robe sliding temptingly open to show him pale, smooth legs.  For a moment he wanted to reach out and tug her into his lap, but he knew his midsection would be unable to take the strain.  He would tear open his wound and Karin would berate him for hurting himself and demand he return to the Fourth, where she would keep watch over him until she deemed him well.

His love was a tigress when angry.

"I just wanted to finish this report," he murmured, letting a hand steal out to caress her thigh.

Karin smiled at him, that tender, wistful one she sometimes got.  The one that made him want to forget his duties, forget Soul Society, forget everything but her and just wrap her in his arms and never let go.  "You always say that.  Come to bed, love," she coaxed softly, her hand carding through his hair.  "I know where Rangiku is and I can fetch her," she threatened playfully.

"I'm quaking, I assure you," he told her with a smile.  "Is she alright?  After what happened..." he murmured, worried for his vice captain despite the fact that he would never admit it to anyone but Karin. 

"Last I saw her, she was passed out after far too much sake.  Shuuhei and Izuru were with her.  She was worried about you, love."  The last was reported softly, quietly, and Toushiro could read the subtext - I was worried about you.

He took her hand, drawing it to his lips and kissing it before holding it close to his heart, letting her feel the warmth of this skin and the beating of his heart as he savored the feel of her hand in his.  "I was...I love you ," he said, abandoning his apologies and excuses, nothing mattered beyond that.  He was alive and he loved her.  From the smile she cast at him, Toushiro knew he had said the right thing.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, staring at her with some dopey smile that Matsumoto would have been sure to blackmail him over had she seen it, but it didn't matter.  All that mattered was her, this wonderful woman that he loved.

Her smile softened further when she sighed, and Toushiro knew the moment was over.  "Everything settled?" he asked.

"Rukia, Ishida, and I got our visitors settled.  Ukitate and Kyouraku are in the largest room I could secure.  Shihouin is next to them.  Kurotshuchi is in his room after removing himself from the care of the Fourth.  There was a minor incident between him and Ishida coming in - he claims Ishida-san shot him during the incident in the park.  Abarai broke it up and claimed Ishida was covering him.  I made sure Kurotshuchi's room was as far from theirs as possible."  He nodded.  That was one worry down.  Having the captain of the Twelfth and Ishida in the same place was always tricky, a fact that was made worse by Renji wanting to kill the man for upsetting his lover.  God save them all from Abarai in love!

"The Arrancar Ulquiorra is in the suite next to Kuchiki-san.  The other is in the medical wing with Mizuno, seventy-five percent mobile according to the healers.  Mizuno is immobile for at least forty hours.  And you should still be in bed according to the report I received," she pointed out, tapping him on the end of the nose with a smile.  "But otherwise, all present and accounted for.  The patrols report it's quiet."

"The meeting between Ichigo and Mizuno?" he asked, already knowing the answer.  He could feel the black depression in his almost-brother-in-law's reiatsu.

"Could have gone better from what I've heard.  Could have gone worse too.  Ichi-nii's working it out with Renji and Uryuu.  I also found out who removed the inhibitor."

"Who?" he growled, eager to find out who he was going to kill in the morning.

"Yuzu.  She found Ichi-nii distraught and begging for Urahara."

"Fuck!" he growled vehemently, knowing he wouldn't even be able to chew out his almost-sister-in-law.  Not that he blamed her for giving in to Ichigo.  He had seen Ichigo when Urahara died and each year on the anniversary of Urahara's death.  The man was a mess.  He probably would have given in to try and ease the sort of heartache that poured off Ichigo when he was in the depths of his grief.  He just wished Yuzu had given her brother a hug rather than setting him loose on an unsuspecting city.

"Goat Face and the elder Ishida are also gone and Rukia-chan is spending the night outside of base.  Avoiding Ichi-nii and her brother, if you believe the gossip.  Everything's fine, Toushiro, come to bed.  Please?" she entreated softly.

 He sighed and nodded, letting her help him to his feet and using the chance to steal a kiss.  "I love you more than anything, Karin," he whispered softly.

"With all the work I do around here you better," she teased, skillfully sliding under his arm and pulling him close, taking most of his weight before he had even realized what she was doing.  She really was too good to him, he thought with a sigh.  "Everything's fine, love.  Come to bed."

They made it halfway down the hall before everything wasn't fine.  Hanatarou's second came trotting up to them, looking pale and fearful, like he thought Hitsugaya might flay him alive.  A foolish hope, thought the young captain, he was too tired to flay anyone.  Karin might rip him to shreds though.  She didn't look pleased and a displeased Karin was far scarier than Ichigo at his most fearsome - at least in Hitsugaya's experience.

"Hitsugaya-taichou...we...there's....um..."  Karin glared darkly at the young man.  "Urharasanismissing!"

"What did you say?" growled Toushiro, not wanting to believe he'd heard what he thought he'd heard.

"We can't find Urahara-san," whispered the healer, cringing as he and Karin stared at him.

"Goddamnit!" snarled Hitsugaya

Chapter Text

The alarm had dragged him from the shower and Ichigo was not pleased about it.  He hated sitting through meetings wet.  He especially hated sitting through meetings called in the earliest hours of dawn wet - no good news ever came before the sun. 

Hitsugaya, Jyuushiro, Shunsui, Yoruichi, Kurotshuchi, Byakuya, Ishida, Renji and he were seated around a too small table.  Their table had never been intended for more than five or six people and was seating nine, with others crammed in around the walls.  He sat wedged between Renji and Ishida, which he would have chalked up to concern if it hadn't been for the way the whole table was subtly watching him.  Something bad had happened and it had something to do with him.  He closed his eyes, wondering how much more he could stand.  Every nerve felt raw and his control was slipping away. 

It will be alright, murmured Zangetsu and he thought he heard Shirosaki add his two cents with a 'wimp'.  Benihime's contribution was a soothing little wisp of song.

 There were several loud thumps and a small explosion before the door to the conference room was thrown open.  Grimmjow stood towering in the doorway, panting and radiating fury.  "Where the fuck is the kitten!?!" he snarled, his voice more of a growl than anything else.

Ulquiorra stood behind him, the voice of sweet reason, which the other Arrancar had totally abandoned.  "The human is no longer in the medical ward and Grimmjow has taken his disappearance poorly," murmured the former fourth Espada.

"So I broke their fucking door," snapped Grimmjow, glaring at his companion.  "The kitten is missing!”

And there was what they were all so worried about, thought Ichigo, too numb to give his companions the explosion they so clearly expected.  Besides, Grimmjow was doing an excellent job all on his own.  He was soul weary and heart sore.  In a few hours, rage or despair might come but he wasn’t sure about even that.  He needed time to process the last few hours and come to an equilibrium again - although it looked like that wouldn't be happening any time in the near future. 

"We are aware of the situation," growled Hitsugaya, giving the Arrancar a frigid glare.

"There’s no need to panic, Kisuke hasn't left the base.  All the exits are guarded and sealed to his spirit signature," murmured Yoruichi.  “So he’s got to be here.”

"Meaning we just have to find him," added Shunsui with a sigh.  Something they all knew was easier said than done.  Kisuke had mostly given up hide-and-seek by the time they had become lovers but the blond had told Ichigo dozens of times about merry chases through the Rukongai, or the Academy, or Sereitei itself.  Most of those had been for fun, but Ichigo didn't doubt for one minute Kisuke could apply the same skills to this hunt if he wanted to.

“What I want to know is how the hell he got mobile?” growled Hitsugaya, he looked strained and pale, his wound likely bothering him, thought Ichigo.  “I was told he would be immobile for nearly two days."

“He was responding much better than we expected to the healings,” supplied Hana from the east wall where he stood squeezed in.

“He was also probably performing spells of his own to speed his recovery.  The human has shown an aptitude for kidou,” announced Ulquiorra, earning frowns from everyone but Byakuya.

“We already knew he was doing kidou; it's no surprise if he was remembering other spells,” said Yoruichi with a shrug.

“Fuck the kidou!  What are you doing to do to find him?” snarled Grimmjow, glaring at them all.

Ichigo caught Ulquiorra rolling his eyes and a faintly sympathetic look from Byakuya, wondering briefly what that was about.  He hadn’t thought the captain of the Sixth was acquainted with the Arrancar or likely to become so.  Years and Rukia had helped thaw the noble slightly, but he was still an ice prince in Ichigo’s opinion.

“Ulquiorra, if you could please remove Grimmjow to your quarters.  We shall handle this matter as swiftly and efficiently as possible.  This is however, a Shinigami matter,” murmured Byakuya, earning a nod from the smaller Arrancar.

The fourth Espada grabbed his companion’s arm and began to drag him away, Grimmjow growling and cursing the entire time.  Ichigo even thought he saw the larger man try and throw a punch, which Ulquiorra deftly avoided before turning annoyed green eyes on the sixth Espada.

“He does have a point.  We need to find Kisuke,” he muttered, hating the idea of agreeing with Grimmjow, especially now, but not wanting to lose Kisuke.  He knew given time and a little bit of motivation Urahara would be able to find a way past all their precautions; this younger version of him seemed to have the Urahara brilliance and knack for causing trouble in spades.  He wondered for a moment if this Kisuke had Urahara’s luck.  The blond had joked that he had the worst luck in the entire universe - to compensate for his charm, brilliance, and good looks.  The thought drew a faint, sad smile to his lips before his mind returned to the meeting. 

They had pulled up diagrams of the base and were dividing up how to search it.  Jyuushiro and Youruichi had volunteered to take the medical wing.  Renji and Ishida were taking the Third’s wing.  He and Shunsui would search the Fifth’s domain.  And Matsumoto, Rukia, and Byakuya would handle the search of the Tenth.  Word would be sent to the sentries as well as the shoten so that everyone would be on guard and ready to detain Kisuke if they saw him.  It was a good plan if one overlooked the fact that the base was huge - holding three divisions and a small contingent from two more, the Fourth and the Twelfth.  Kisuke could easily avoid them for days if he hid well and was willing to risk doubling back into already searched areas.

Ichigo sighed and wished a fond farewell to the idea of sleep any time in the near future.  “Kurosaki Karin and I will be coordinating the effort.  I expect hourly progress reports,” Hitsugaya was saying, earning weary nods from all present.  They stood and Ichigo reflected that it had to have been one of the shortest meetings in history, clearly there was a certain logic to denying them all sleep and having an injured commander - it made everyone eager to get things done.

He trudged back to the Fifth Division with Shunsui.  "Can you organize things within the division for the search?  I want to try something," he murmured softly, pulling Benihime from his hip and staring at the sword.

She really was a remarkable blade.  Delicate and beautifully worked but just as fierce and dangerous as Zangetsu or any of the other zanpaktou he had ever encountered.  She suited Kisuke, he thought sadly, mysterious and beautiful, powerful but never showing it.

"Ah, going to speak to the lovely lady?" asked Shunsui brightly.  "I can begin the search and handle Hitsugaya-kun if you think she can help us."

Ichigo nodded his thanks.  "I don't know if she can help, but she is linked to Kisuke.  She might be able to tell us where he is like a game of hot and cold.  I have to see."  He left Shunsui in the division office, retreating to his private office.  He settled into his chair with a sigh and wondered for just a second if he could rest, recover just a little.

A moment after he closed his eyes he was standing on the side of a building staring at Benihime and Zangetsu, who had an arm protectively around her.  Shirosaki stood a little apart from the two swords, ignoring them all - or pretending to - Ichigo knew he would hear every word they said.

"You came to talk about Kisuke," murmured Benihime.

He nodded.  Rain was falling in his soul; a steady, solid downpour that seemed designed to weigh down everything it touched.  "He's missing.  We need to find him."

"I cannot sense him," murmured Benihime, her tone soft and apologetic.

"We think he might be unconscious.  He has never been blocked from her like this, even when he was with the Arrancar there were impressions of him.  Now she can sense nothing," explained Zangetsu.

"No, you dummies think he's unconscious.  I keep telling ya, he wouldn't have left, Hat-n-Clogs was one smart fucker and it ain't smart to wander around wounded in hostile territory," muttered Shirosaki, earning raised eyebrows from both Ichigo and Zangetsu.

"What?  If dickhead there doesn't find him it's never gonna stop raining," grumbled the Hollow, disappearing in annoyance.

"You know, it's a little scary when he makes sense," muttered Ichigo, rubbing his eyes.

"Agreed.  He does make a certain amount of sense however.  Urahara had no reason to leave the medical ward and this level of blockage would suggest more than simple hiding - especially since the boy has no knowledge of any need to block Benihime," replied Zangetsu, wrapping his dark coat around Benihime as she shivered faintly.

"So someone stole him?"

Both swords nodded.  "That is Shirosaki's preferred theory; but we can neither confirm nor deny it."

"Fucking hell," snapped Ichigo, a spark of anger rising inside him again.  How dare anyone steal Kisuke!

"I am sorry we are unable to help you, my bearer.  If it brings you any solace, you may know that I have spoken to a portion of my master and he is...conflicted over his feelings for you.  He does not yet remember all you were to each other but he is not without feeling for you.  I think, were he not so injured and in such turmoil from all the upheaval in his life, he would ask for time to remember and to know you once again."

Ichigo took a breath, hope laying a seed in his chest.  He had seen his Kisuke for a moment back in that medical ward.  He had.  His lover was still there, he was just waiting.  "It does.  Thank you, Benihime," he told her, coming forward and kissing her cheek, the tiniest hints of a smile coming to his lips as both zanpaktou stared at him.

Chapter Text

Ryuuken had been prepared to quietly seethe through his day.  The hospital staff had recognized his mood and been tip-toeing around him all morning.  Oddly enough, by eleven am, the worst of his hangover was past and a great deal of his work was done, mostly because everyone had been too afraid to bother him, and he was beginning to find the humor in his situation - something that was much easier to do when Isshin wasn’t laughing at him.  

He loved the other man but being laughed at always raised his hackles, it was an ingrained response from years of being bullied.  He hadn’t been the genius Kisuke was, but he was more than merely bright.  He had always been the top of his class and had been in the top two percent in medical school.  It had not endeared him to his classmates.

And none of that had mattered to Souken.  Now he was a force to be reckoned with, but as a skinny boy of ten he hadn't even been able to summon a bow.  His father had not been pleased and had ridden him relentlessly about it.  Most Quincy began manifesting their powers around five or six, gaining a boost at puberty and finally settling into their final strength around twenty-two, another ten or fifteen years after that and they had usually achieved their mastery.  He had not even been able to draw a bow at ten and had tried to make up for it with grades; but it hadn‘t mattered to his father.  He was the last Quincy and he was without powers.

It hadn’t been until sixteen that he came into his power - his full powers - all in a rush.  It had been heady and wonderful and he had delighted in the newfound attention Souken lavished on him - until he had realized that the only reason the older man was so interested was his powers.  That realization had cemented his hatred of his father, but oddly enough, not of his Quincy powers.  Those he had clung tight to and nurtured, training himself and devouring every lesson he could.  Mostly because he had met Isshin and Kisuke by then.

They had been older than him, around twenty to his seventeen, but the three had become fast friends.  Kisuke had been fascinated by his powers and Isshin had just loved to talk to him, enchanted by the human world and the idea of being human.  He had simply loved having friends, people to talk to and to trust. 

He sighed and stood, stretching before moving to stand before his window, looking out over the town.  He growled faintly as his phone rang, drawing him from his peaceful contemplation of Karakura and his own life.

“What?” he snarled into the receiver, no reason to ruin a good morning by letting everyone know he was in a good mood.

“I tried to stop him, Dr. Ishida, but he wouldn’t listen and…” came a frantic, young female voice, the receptionist at the front desk - Hana or something.  He hung up as he heard his secretary desperately trying to stop someone and couldn’t help the tiny smile that tugged at his lips.  The woman had no chance.  Isshin might have acted like an idiot, but he was quick, clever and strong.

“It’s fine, you can let Dr. Kurosaki in,” he said opening his door, smirking at the woman attempting to bar Isshin from his office.

Isshin grinned and sauntered in, a huge bag in his arms - that explained why the girl had been able to fend him off for as long as she had.  “I figured you would be feeling better about now, so I brought lunch,” announced Isshin.

“And had to deliver it yourself?” taunted Ryuuken with a smirk.

“Well, I was thinking afterwards we might take a walk by the old hospital…,”

“By a certain Shinigami base?” he asked, sliding into the game with amusement.

“Since we would be in the area, I figured we might as well stop by there.  See how a certain mutual friend is doing and maybe give you a chance to say hello to a certain young vice captain,” offered Isshin archly.

Ryuuken took the food from him, giving the former Shinigami a sharp look.  He opened the bag and was greeted with the scent of garlic and basil - Italian.  Isshin really was trying to get him to come.  There was linguini and shrimp for him and lasagna for Isshin, small salads and plenty of garlic bread.   

“I suppose I could see my way to a walk,” he murmured, setting out the food and making Isshin chuckle.

“Of course you could!  A man your age needs to stay active,” teased the former Shinigami captain, earning a sharp glare from Ryuuken.

“I am not the one nearing his millennium,” growled the Quincy.

“Hey!  I’m not that old!” protested Isshin.

“Another hundred and seventy-four years,” purred Ryuuken with a wicked smirk as Isshin flailed and sputtered.  The Kurosaki family was prosperous enough that Isshin knew his birthday.  Privately, Ryuuken thought that had things gone a little different in the war the Kurosaki family might have found itself promoted to a noble house.  Soul Society was in desperate need of an infusion of strength and that was one thing the Kurosaki family had in spades.

Isshin finished his tantrum and pouted at him, making Ryuuken smirk.  "Eat your lunch and we'll take your walk, Isshin," he murmured, sighing happily as he opened his carton.  "Any plans for getting in the door?  You will remember we were ejected."

"My daughter is sleeping with the base commander and my son is a captain.  Also, I called Tessai and told him we were coming," announced Isshin smugly, clearly pleased with himself as he attacked his lunch with gusto.

"Is this where I point out that Tessai was your friend, not mine.  And in fact, does not like me very much?" asked Ryuuken, before taking a bite of his pasta.

"He's making an exception so we can check up on Kisuke.  He may not like you, but he loves Kisuke.  Now enough on blonds, I want details on petite brunettes," pressed Isshin with a truly wicked grin.

Ryuuken glared at him, cursing that Isshin seemed to be one of the few beings immune to his glare.  "There is nothing to tell.  Kuchiki merely wanted a place to stay.  Your son was upset over the situation with Kisuke and his reiatsu is rather overwhelming, as you well know.  I let the girl sleep in my spare room.  We had a few drinks and talked a bit.  Honestly, Isshin, you're making something out of nothing."

Isshin eyed him jaundicely for a moment and Ryuuken relented with a sigh.  "I will admit that she is a very lovely young woman.  She is also quite intriguing and very well spoken.  Under other circumstances I might be inclined to ask her to have drinks.  These are not other circumstances, she is a Shinigami vice captain and I am a Quincy.  She also happens to be rather good friends with my son and his lover - a fact you seem to be overlooking."

"So you admit that she's pretty," grinned Isshin cheekily.

"Are you selectively deaf or just stupid?" snapped the Quincy. 

"Neither.  I just fail to see your point of view on things.  The Shinigami-Quincy argument is flawed since Uryuu is sleeping with Abarai and has been doing so for years.  As for her being Uryuu's friend...Well, Kisuke and Ichigo seemed to work out pretty well."

Ryuuken growled, half tempted to shoot Isshin.  "If there is one thing guaranteed to convince me not to pursue this idiocy it is comparing it to your son's affair."  He paused and a considering smirk tugged at his lips.  "Although could you imagine Uryuu and Abarai's reaction?"

Isshin howled with laughter and Ryuuken found his own lips turning up in a smile.

"Sadistic bastard," muttered Isshin once he had stopped laughing.  "Still, I think it would be good for you to get out - even if it is only to piss off Abarai and reclaim your Quincy honor by drinking Kuchiki under the table."

"Fine, you can locate Kisuke and see how badly the Shinigami are screwing up handling him and I'll have a word with Kuchiki.  It'll be nice to have an intelligent bit of conversation," snapped Ryuuken, wondering if it would be childish to throw the heel of his garlic bread at Isshin.  Probably, he decided.

"You know, as long as we are discussion people getting out," he murmured gently.

Isshin grew sober and seemed to visibly dim.  "I can't, Ryuuken.  There was only her and there can only ever be her."

Ryuuken nodded, his eyes closing for a moment.  If he ever needed proof in the existence of love he never had to look further than Isshin.  Willing to give up everything for the woman he loved, still devoted to her memory - then again, Masuki had been someone worth doing those things for.  He might have loved her himself once, if Isshin hadn't been taken with her the first time he laid eyes on her.  And they had been happy.  So happy.  What he had imagined a marriage should always look like.

"It's all right, Isshin," he soothed, laying his hand over the other man's for just a moment, earning a grateful look from the former Shinigami.  "Let's see about that walk.  I have a Shinigami to drink under the table and someone needs to see how badly your lot are doing with Kisuke."

"Do you think we should make alternate arrangements for him?" asked Isshin. 

"It couldn't hurt to have them standing by," murmured Ryuuken, making a private note to let Isshin be the one to tell the Shinigami when they took charge of Kisuke.

Chapter Text

Ichigo met him on the steps, kissing him hard, a long deep kiss that seemed designed to make up for every lost moment in that one kiss.  The younger man clung to him, not letting go and despite his intentions Kisuke knew his own fingers were clutching the boy just as tightly.  He moaned and returned the hard embrace, crushing the orange-haired Shinigami to his chest and kissing him back just as passionately.  Tongues dueled as their fingers groped for purchase, desperate to get closer.

"Mmmm...missed you...missed you so much," groaned Ichigo, punctuating each word with a kiss before sealing their lips together again.

Kisuke pulled away, unable to suppress his chuckle of amusement.  "You were gone a week," he reminded the younger man, not wanting to think about how many of those nights he had sat up awake, unable to sleep because Ichigo wasn't tucked in next to him.  It was becoming frightening how much he needed the young Shinigami, how often he would turn around wanting to tell him something, or how reassuring it was to wake up from a nightmare and glance down and see him. 

He shouldn't need this.

He had meant to call a halt to their affair after the first time.  He had meant to explain things to Ichigo that first morning, explain how they had made a terrible mistake and they should both just forget about it and move on.  But he had fallen asleep with the boy curled against him and when he had opened his eyes in the morning, Ichigo had been staring down at him, this soft, sweet smile on his lips.  He had looked so happy.  Happy to find himself in bed with one Urahara Kisuke.

And then the orange-haired young man had kissed him and all his good intentions had melted away.  The younger man had pulled him close and he had given in, telling himself that it wouldn‘t happen again.  But it had.  A second and a third and fourth time until finally he had stopped fighting it.

"You try spending a week with my father," muttered Ichigo, pausing in his explorations of the blond's neck.  Kisuke chuckled, unable to help himself.  He would have had a wonderful time with Isshin.  Of course, he and Isshin had been clubbing together for centuries; but it was better not to remind Ichigo of that.  Neither of them liked to think too hard about Isshin - especially when they were together.

The young Shinigami must have seen the twinkle in his eye though because the redhead glared at him.  "Not one word or I'm going home," he warned.

"Of course not, Kurosaki-kun," he agreed placidly, kissing the younger man before Ichigo could scold him for using his surname.  He gently pulled the younger man off the porch and back into the shop toward his bedroom, never breaking their kiss.

Ichigo attacked his clothing the second the door slid closed.  His hat was the first thing to go, tossed across the room, and Kisuke couldn't help but chuckle.  Ichigo and Yoruichi seemed to have hat issues; he didn't understand why, his hat was very stylish - no matter what anyone said.

He pausing in kissing the redhead and tugged his shirt off, groaning as his fingers encountered warm, smooth skin.  He nibbled the younger man's neck, sucking hard where his neck met the shoulder.  Ichigo moaned, his hands sliding up from fumbling with the blond’s shirt and into his hair to hold him there.  Kisuke chuckled and nipped at his collarbone before kissing the spot lightly.

Strong fingers deftly undid the fastening to his pants, sending the green cloth to the floor and causing the older man to stumble.  Ichigo grabbed his hips and pulled him close, trying to steady him and instead losing his own balance.  They crashed onto the bed in a tangle of limbs, cursing softly and trying to right themselves before their eyes locked and they both laughed.

"We'll be dead before we get naked at this rate," grumbled Ichigo, sitting up and quickly chucking the remainder of his clothes.

"A slightly less romantic method but it definitely has its advantages," purred Kisuke, his eyes traveling over his lover's body.  A week at the beach had given him a healthy tan that made his skin seem to glow in the dying afternoon light, his hair was shimmering and the heat in those brown eyes made his knees weak.  He tossed his own shirt away and drew Ichigo close, sighing as the younger man settled against him, feeling whole for the first time in days.

He shouldn’t want this, he told himself, but feeling Ichigo, his body warm and hard against his and his reiatsu crackling around them, Kisuke couldn’t help himself.  In the short time they had been together the younger man had become something he not only wanted, but something he suspected he would always want. 

He gently pushed Ichigo onto his back, earning a slight frown from the redhead as they slowly separated.  He smiled faintly at the younger man, leaning over to give him a quick kiss, knowing better than to let himself linger too long.  Ichigo had a way of distracting him, it made him think the sake hadn’t been the only thing to go to his head that first night.  “Kisuke?” murmured the redhead, staring at him as he sat back on his heels, staring down at intoxicating vision of Kurosaki Ichigo sprawled out on his bed.

“Shh…I’m welcoming you home,” he told the boy, grinning softly down at the younger man.  “Just relax and enjoy,” he ordered, a long fingered hand petting Ichigo’s chest.  The faint hint of uncertainty in those warm brown eyes made him give the younger man a reassuring smile and needled his conscious that their first time had probably been Ichigo’s - a fact he was not going to question the young man about for fear of actually having it confirmed.  Bad enough to fuck a friend’s son, but he was fairly sure taking your friend’s son’s virginity earned you a one-way passage straight to Hell.

He cradled Ichigo’s face in his hands for a moment, staring at him before smiling and giving him a gentle kiss.  He nuzzled the younger man’s neck, delighting in the soft groans and the subtle shifting of his lover’s body to get more.  Ichigo jumped as he nipped playfully at his neck, careful not to leave a mark where anyone might notice it.  Isshin liked to play the fool but he was not an idiot.

His hands slid over the younger man’s chest caressing and exploring, refamiliarizing himself with the ridges and plains, and taking in all that beautiful golden skin.  Ichigo arched into the touches like a cat longing to be petted and Kisuke couldn’t help but lean down to nuzzle him, savoring the warmth of his skin and the beating of his heart.  He ran blunt nails over Ichigo’s ribs and licked his nipple, earning a whine from the young man as though he wasn’t quite sure whether to object to the slightly ticklish sensation or lean into the wet caress.

“Kisuke.”  His name in a soft growl than sent blood rushing to his cock and that the blond suspected he would be hearing in his dreams until the day he died.

He smiled at Ichigo, one of his honest and sincere ones (he had practiced it in the mirror), which seemed to make the younger man frown even more.  “Just enjoy,” he murmured, sucking on the younger man’s right nipple while he gently plucked the left.  Ichigo groaned, arching into the touches, his hands clutching desperately at Kisuke‘s shoulders.  “I promise you’ll like this,” purred the blond, giving his left nipple a quick kiss before sliding down his lover’s body. 

He nipped and kissed his way down Ichigo's torso, smirking as Ichigo strained at every brush of his body against the younger man's.  He chuckled and blew a soft raspberry against the young Shinigami's stomach, making Ichigo glare at him.  "Idiot," muttered the redhead, but he softened the words by reaching out to gently touch the blond's cheek.  Kisuke leaned into the soft caress, unable to resist the small, infinitely precious touch.  Ichigo was always gentle when touching him, always treating it like some rare gift he had been given that he never intended to forget.  He kissed the redhead's palm, something coiling tight in his chest, making him wonder how he would live without this when it was gone.      

Brown eyes grew wide as he settled between Ichigo’s legs, his hands settling on the redhead's hips.  He eyed the young man's cock, already hard and smeared with pre-come and gave his lover a smirk.  Long, fingers wrapped around his cock and Ichigo moaned, thrusting his hips as his eyes slid closed.  Kisuke chuckled faintly, stroking the redhead and delighting in the soft sounds of pleasure he pulled from the other man.  “Did you touch yourself like this while you were away?” he asked, gently fondling the younger man’s balls.  Brown eyes flew open, locking with his and filled with lust.

“Kisuke,” hissed the young Shinigami.

“Did you?  Did you touch yourself?  Did you think about me and touch yourself?” he purred, stroking the younger man’s cock and smirking as Ichigo’s eyes slid shut and an almost angry ‘yes’ slipping from between his lips.  “Good,” growled Kisuke, grabbing his hips and swallowing his cock to the base in one smooth motion.  Ichigo screamed, fingers clawing at his shoulders and hips arching against his hold.  Reiatus flashed over them, hot and untamed, and Urahara carefully tempered it with his own.  He let his lips slide back up the younger man’s cock, teeth lightly scraping the top while his tongue caressed the underside.  He circled the tip with his tongue, tasting the fluid gathered there and moaning softly.  

Ichigo was sobbing, tossing his head and trying desperately to thrust.  He sighed softly and sucked hard on his lover's tip.  "God...Kisuke...," began Ichigo, his words trailing off into nothing but a long wail as the blond swallowed him again.  He pulled back up, smirking at Ichigo and licking a broad swipe from base to tip.  Ichigo groaned and his hips jerked, his climax wringing a scream from the younger man and startling them both. 

Kisuke grabbed the sheet wiping at his cheek and licking his lips a little, unable to hide his amusement and not even trying since Ichigo had his eyes closed and was still enjoying the afterglow of his release.  The problem with teenagers, he thought, snuggling the younger man, and rubbing his own erection against the redhead’s hip, was they went off at the drop of a hat.  Of course, there were also certain advantages, he reminded himself as Ichigo opened his eyes and blushed, a blush that made every brilliant orgasm he’d ever found with anyone else seem hollow.  “Beautiful,” he whispered, gray eyes meeting brown as he kissed the younger man.

The boy wasn't the first to awaken, still caught in the lustful memory of their older self.  He was the first to awaken; leaving him blissfully alone and in control without the constant struggle of dealing with the boy.  He brought their body awake fast, but gave no outward sign of his return to consciousness.  Instead he listened and sent out the faintest tendrils of reiatsu to investigate.  There was something nagging at the edge of his perception, something wrong.  Something that made him glad that he was the one in control.

The boy was startled back into alertness by the sharp slap to his reiatsu and the sound of eerie laughter.  The captain felt a flash of annoyance as the youngster struggled awake.  He was sluggish and numb, not knowing how to combat or compensate for the drugs in their system. 

There was quick struggle as the boy fought him for control and he growled in annoyance as he was forced to yield a portion.

"I know you're awake," purred a strange voice that both chilled him and made him want to hurt something.  He had the strangest urge to open his eyes and rend the bearer of that voice limb from limb.  He forced his eyes open, blinking dazedly for a moment, before the world came into focus.  The room was dim and filled with various things that he couldn't identify but assumed were medical or scientific instruments.  The white kimono he had been in earlier was gone, leaving him in nothing but those damned briefs Ulquiorra had gotten him.  There were needles and tubes in his arms and legs.  Sensors were struck to his chest and wires covered him.  The futon he had been resting on when he had drifted off to sleep had been replaced with a cold, metallic examining table and the chill was seeping into his body. He tried to move and felt a stab of panic as he found his limbs were bound.  A spike of white-hot rage shot through him on the heels of the fear.  He was so fucking sick of this!  Waking up to strange things.  Waking up to strange people.  He wanted his life back!  He wanted to go home!   

'I can help you get home.  I can get us out of here.  Let me help,' whispered a soft voice filled with urgency.  Urahara.  Kisuke froze, terror suffusing him.  The other man had never spoken to him before.  'Don't fight me.  You need me.  You don't know what he's capable of.'

'You won't let go,' he told the other man.

"Nothing to say Urahara-taichou?" taunted the eerie voice and Kisuke silently screamed as he was shoved aside.

He growled and glanced around before his attention centered on a blank patch of wall.  "I can feel you, Kurotshuchi.  Let me up.  Now," he snarled softly.

A figure detached itself from the wall, a man in a captain's robes and hideous face paint, like a demented clown.  He had always hated clowns and Kisuke had the suspicion that this man was the reason why.  Somewhere inside was another spike of anger at the sight of the captain's robe, his captain's robe, on this man.  

"I was beginning to think you would never wake up, Urahara-kun," purred the clown.

"Urahara-sama, but it's Mizuno these days.  Let.  Me.  Go," he ground out, feeling his younger self stir restlessly, terrified and angry. 

"I don't think so.  I've been ordered to prove whether or not you're really Urahara.  That requires study," hissed Kurotshuchi, malicious delight filling his face.  "Extensive study."

"You don't want to try me, Mayuri.  You won't like it," growled Kisuke, power pouring off him in angry waves.  How dare Kurotshuchi touch him!  How dare he try and take him apart or hold him down!  No one held him!  How dare this presumptuous child try!  He would take Mayuri apart piece by piece for this, he thought, rage washing through him.

"Don't say I didn't warn you, Mayuri," he purred with malevolent amusement.  "Voice recognition: Urahara Kisuke.  Sixteen, white, red, seven, nine, thirty-three, green, ten, black, two, twenty-seven, twelve.”

Kisuke couldn’t help the smug satisfaction that poured through him when the monitors died and the restraints snapped open.  “Voice recognition confirmed.  Urahara Kisuke.  Status: God,” chirped a computerized voice. 

“We need to talk, Mayuri,” he growled, sitting up slowly.  “Hadou 126!"

Chapter Text

"We were told to wait in our quarters," murmured Ulquiorra, wondering just why he had followed Grimmjow from their quarters, other than some vague desire to keep the other man out of trouble.  He had no desire for Grimmjow's behavior to reflect badly on him.  Especially when his dinner with the captain of the Sixth had gone so well.  

He almost hoped the other man might offer another invitation.  Dinner with someone polite, well-mannered and able to carry on a stimulating conversation had been a rarity in Las Noches.  And was also proving to be one here as well.  For the last three days he had only had Grimmjow for companionship and Ulquiorra was quickly coming to the opinion that no company would have been better than his.  The other man had been ever more restless and irritable as the days dragged on and Urahara remained missing.

"We are waiting, we're just helping them look for the kitten too," murmured Grimmjow, pausing to lift his head and cast around like a cat searching for a scent.  He apparently found it because his head went back down and his shoulders slumped and he continued walking.

"Your attachment to the human is foolish, illogical and dangerous," snapped Ulquiorra, not understanding why Grimmjow cared for the human.  It was stupid and pointless.  Kurosaki didn't like them and he would like them associating with his lover even less.  Grimmjow's fascination with the human meant they risked Kuorsaki's ire, something they most assuredly didn't need.

"Shut the fuck up and help me search.  They have to have the kitten stashed somewhere in this place," growled Grimmjow with annoyance.  Ulquiorra rolled his eyes and wondered once again why he had selected Grimmjow as his accomplice?  Or why the other man couldn't have taken after his feline ancestors a bit more?  Cats were supposed to quiet animals according to all he had heard.  After three days with Grimmjow he would have paid dearly for quiet. 

An explosion rocked the entire compound.

Smoke filled the hallway and Grimmjow's head shot up.  Reiatsu swept over them, red hot and filled with fury.  "Kitten," Ulquiorra thought he heard Grimmjow breathe before taking off toward the source of the explosion using sonido.  Against his better judgment he was a step behind the other Arrancar.

They turned a corner and the smoke grew thicker, debris littered the hall and one whole side of the hall was blown out to reveal what had to have once been a lab.  The room lay in ruins.  Instruments were overturned or smashed completely, glassware littered the floor in various stages of disrepair, and there were scorch marks covering the ceiling and walls.  Across from that, slumped against the wall, dazed and charred, lay the captain of the 12th. 

Ulquiorra stared as a figure emerged from the smoke filled lab.  Reiatsu flowed from him in malevolent waves and a red aura encircled him; but there was no mistaking the boy - Grimmjow's kitten.  There was a serene little smile on the boy's lips, as if he hadn't just blown a hole in the wall or nearly killed a man.  He was ripping tubes, needles, and patches from his body, letting them fall were they may.

"I told you, you would regret not letting me up," said the boy, his voice blithely unconcerned.  "I may not have a sword but I am far from helpless, Kurotshuchi.

"You would do well to remember that," snarled the kitten, stepping onto the captain's wrist and grinding his foot down.  The sound of bones breaking and a cry of pain filled the hall.  "Touch me again and I will take you apart, Mayuri.  We both know I can.  Just as we know I don't need Benihime to do it."

From across the now divided corridor Kurosaki stared at the younger man with something Ulquiorra thought might be half wonder and half shock.  Behind him was the captain of the 13th and flanking him were Kyouraku and Yoruichi.

"Kisuke!  Kisuke, that's enough," cried Ukitake.

The boy turned to look at them for a moment, before turning to regard the man at his feet.  "No.  No, it really isn't, Jyuushiro.  Mayuri needs to remember just who he's dealing with," purred the kitten, and Ulquiorra began to realize just why Aizen had feared this man.  He was a force.  It took a great deal to rouse him but once he had been stirred it was a monster that lurked inside. 

"I stepped out, Mayuri.  I didn't step down.  You took my seat by default.  Come near me again and I will remind you and everyone else just why no one ever took my seat legitimately," hissed the boy, a kidou blast slamming into the prone captain, making him scream again.

"He remembers, Kisuke.  You made your point," soothed Yoruichi, inching closer to the boy.

Hard grey eyes flickered to her, freezing her in her tracks and Grimmjow took the chance to move closer to the boy, making Ulquiorra wonder if he had a death wish.  "It's okay, Kitten.  Just calm down," he soothed softly, reaching out for the boy like he was some sort of wild animal.

The second his eyes moved to Grimmjow Kurosaki was moving, looking worried.  "It's okay, Kisuke.  You're safe now," he murmured gently.

The boy spun to stare at him, stiffening slightly before he seemed to recognize the other man and deflate, the tension leaving him.  "Ichigo?" he whispered, his legs trembling and his voice filled with a strange longing.  Ulquiorra had never heard anyone infuse such emotion into another's name and wondered for the briefest moment what it might be like to care for another so much.  It was foolish, of course.  Caring that much was a liability - it made a person weak and exploitable. 

Seeing that longing on the boy’s face though, he couldn’t entirely suppress his curiosity about what it would be like to trust so completely.  Trust had been a dangerous thing in Las Noches, viewed more as a sign of weakness than an asset.  He thought of the battle and Kuchiki at his back and wondered what it might be like to always know that someone would be there.

Kurosaki nodded, offering a reassuring smile to the kitten and moving carefully closer to him.  "It's alright, Kisuke.  It's alright."

"He wanted to hurt me," whispered the boy, some of the steel leaving his eyes and the strange red aura around him dimming.  A shiver passed through his frame and Grimmjow inched still closer as Kurosaki eased his captain's haori around the younger man's shoulders.

Shinigami hand met Arrancar on the boy's back and for a moment Ulquiorra thought there might be more violence in the corridor.  An instant later the tension was gone as both stared at the figure between them, somehow wordlessly finding common ground.  Although they did both growl.  One arm, Kurosaki's, went around the kitten's shoulders as Grimmjow's slid around his waist.

"He won't be makin' that mistake again, Kitten.  Come on, ya must be cold," pressed Grimmjow, carefully and skillfully steering the boy off the prone captain.  Ulquiorra caught the hint of hatred lurking in the other Arrancar's eyes for the man on the floor and the small, swift kick to the head he landed while leading the boy away.

"I want some clothes," whispered the boy, his voice growing less confident and weaker as the rage slowly left the boy and Urahara retreated. 

"We'll get them for you," promised Kurosaki soothingly, something sickeningly close to adoration on his face.

"Ones that fit.  Not like that crap Ulquiorra got for us," promised Grimmjow as more and more Shinigami fill the hallway to see what the commotion was.  Abarai and the Quincy slipped in next to him and Ulquiorra slid a few steps away.  He had never seriously harmed either man, but he had been fighting both for nearly a quarter of a century and had no desire to court disaster by bringing himself to their attention.

The kitten was glancing around at all the faces, growing more nervous, his reiatsu fluttering over them.  Kurosaki wrapped his reiatsu around the younger man, both soothing him and sheltering the others from him.  The human jumped as he felt Kurosaki’s reiatsu close around him, looking panicked for a moment, until it became clear that Kurosaki was not going to push the contact.  Once he understood that, the human almost sagged against the Shinigami captain, looking young and lost and frightened.

“Do you want some robes or do you want to try to find something more normal?” asked Kurosaki carefully.

“Renji and I will take him and get him something normal,” murmured Ishida, stepping forward.  For a moment Kurosaki looked like he wanted to argue, but a cocked brow from the Quincy silenced him and Ulquiorra wondered what had passed between them.

“Kisuke, these are..."

“Ishida Uryuu and the redhead from the school,” interrupted the blond.  “I might not be Urahara but I’m still a genius,” he went on when pinned with several curious looks.  Kurosaki chuckled, giving the young man a gentle squeeze.

“Abarai Renji, Captain of the Third,” Uryuu told him with a small smile.

“We'll handle him, Ichigo," murmured the redhead, stepping close and slinging an arm around the blond's shoulders, drawing him away from Kurosaki and Grimmjow.

Ulquiorra sighed as a low rumble rose from Grimmjow's throat, wondering if he would be forced to step in.  Grimmjow did not seem inclined to let go of the kitten.  "If everyone would calm down," came a soft, smooth voice, laced with command.  It cut through the noise and drew all eyes.  Kuchiki Byakuya.

The crowd of lower ranking Shinigami that had gathered scattered before him and the captain of the 6th glanced around.  "Abarai, Ishida, take Mizuno-kun and the Arrancar to find the some clothing and then to their rooms. 

"Shihouin, could you see to the clean up here?"

Yoruichi nodded, glancing around at the mess, clearly figuring out what would have to be done. 

"Jyuushiro and I will make sure Mayuri makes it to the medical ward and have a word with him about bothering Kisuke," Shunsui volunteered with a lazy smile.  Something about that smile made Ulquiorra think that sharp pointy objects might very quickly become involved if the captain of the 12th didn't heed their advice.

"Thank you, Kyouraku-taichou."

"Kurosaki, if you could call off the search and see to returning your people to their proper schedules," murmured Byakuya, and Ulquiorra could hear the subtle insistence in the request.  Kurosaki glowered darkly but nodded and took one last look at the kitten before sighing and marching off to see to his duties, the lower ranking Shinigami scrambling to follow him before they became drafted for Yoruchi's clean up.

Ulquiorra glanced over at Byakuya, catching the noble's eyes and giving him a faint nod of greeting.  "May I have a word with you, Ulquiorra-san?" came the soft request in that cultured voice.

"Of course, Kuchiki-taichou," he murmured, moving to stand beside the other man and giving him the smallest of smiles.

Chapter Text

"I have a great deal of work to see to, but I wondered if it might please you to dine with me again this evening?" Byakuya murmured softly to the Arrancar.  He had enjoyed the brief meal he and Ulquiorra had shared together, although most of the meal had been silent and their dessert had fallen to talk of battles.  Strictly speaking it had hardly been proper, but Byakuya found he had enjoyed it immensely.  Ulquiorra was a keen strategist and Byakuya hadn't minded debating points of minutia with the Arrancar.

"I would find it most enjoyable.  Kurotshuchi-taichou had expressed his desire to begin his examinations of Grimmjow and myself but that appears to be unlikely," answered the Arrancar quietly, a hint of a smirk quirking his lips and Byakuya found himself mirroring the Arrancar's amusement. 

"Kurotshuchi will likely find himself detained for the foreseeable future," he murmured.  The Fourth may not have looked it, but they could be quite formidable.  In the interest of keeping peace, they would likely keep the injured captain sedated and confined to their territory until tempers were a little cooler.  There would also likely be a very polite but stern discussion about the relocation of patients without proper authorization from a healer.

They took one last look at the corridor before beginning the journey back to the portion of the base where their rooms were located, the wing usually occupied by the Tenth.  Ulquiorra seemed to settle comfortably at his side and Byakuya was almost sad to see his quarters come into view.  The other man was peaceful and serene, his reiatsu nothing but the barest hint against Byakuya's skin, carrying with it the faintest hints of moonlight.

"I am sorry for the confinement to quarters during the duration of the search. I trust it was not too unpleasant and that you were well seen to?" he asked, suddenly concerned that in his focus on the search he had in some way overlooked something to do with the Arrancar.

"It was not unbearable.  The worst part of the experience was sharing quarters with Grimmjow.  I was considering requesting a ball of yarn to see if that would placate him," murmured Ulquiorra with a smirk.

A soft sound of inquiry from Byakuya drew the Arracar's gaze.  "Grimmjow is descended from a panther-type Hollow," he explained and Byakuya gave a soft snort of laughter.

"Ah, the kitten references?" 

Ulquiorra nodded and Byakuya couldn't help but smile.  "If you would like to explore the town or the base I could arrange someone to escort you?" he offered, wanting to be able to do so himself, wishing he could ignore his duties.  He wouldn't have been a Kuchiki if he did though.

Ulquiorra seemed to consider his offer for a moment before softly saying, "No, thank you.  If you would not find it intrusive, I would much prefer to accompany you."  Byakuya felt his eyes go wide, wondering what possible reason the Arrancar would have for wishing to shadow him.  His afternoon was going to be filled with nothing more interesting than paperwork and possibly observing the training of the new recruits for the Sixth. 

"Las Noches is not structured like Soul Society or your Gotei 13.  We must understand how they operate and what would be expected of us if Grimmjow and I are to assimilate into them," explained the Arrancar reasonably, startling Byakuya with how much thought he had clearly given his desertion.

"You realize no decision has been reached about your status within Soul Society?  You might not even be allowed to join the Gotei 13," he warned Ulquiorra carefully, highly doubting that the two Arrancar would not be given the asylum they sought.  And once they were given sanctuary in would be foolish not to employ them and the store of information they brought with them.

Ulquiorra was smirking faintly at him, a tiny upward tilt of the corner of his mouth that was charmingly superior.  "Grimmjow and I, while no longer Espada members, are two of the oldest Arrancar in Hueco Mundo.  We are also experienced fighters who have survived twenty years of combat.  We bring far more than just information with us and it would be foolish of Soul Society to overlook that simply because of what we are," murmured the Arrancar and Byakuya could sense the almost desperate hunger in the smaller man - the need to serve and be useful.

Byakuya let his normally stiff posture soften slightly and smiled a tiny, reassuring smile at the smaller man, silently telling him that he understood.  He saw the tension slip from Ulquiorra, the Arrancar swaying fractionally closer to him, and saw gratitude in those normally shielded green eyes.   "I would not mind your company in the least, Ulquiorra," he told the Arrancar gently, a warm feeling suffusing him when the other man nodded his thanks.

Byakuya turned, leading them out of the Tenth wing and towards the central gate.  Each wing of the base had a gate that could be opened should that base ever come under attack, but the main gate was located centrally so that commanders and general staff did not have to travel as far when visiting.  If he was going to show Ulquiorra the duties of a Shingami he might as well return to Soul Society and do so properly from within the Sixth. 

"I will need to escort you through the gate since you cannot summon a hell butterfly," Byakuya murmured as they approached the portal.  "I hope you understand," he said, taking the Arrancar's hand.  Ulquiorra stared at their linked hands and regarded him for a moment before a tiny smile twisted his lips.  "I don't mind, Byakuya."  The Arrancar followed him through the gate and Byakuya told himself that if he held the other man's hand just a moment longer than necessary when they emerged that it was of no consequence.

They earned a few stares as they stalked from the First, and the location of the gate, toward his office.  Ulquiorra was always a mere step behind him and silently taking in all he saw.  Byakuya was almost certain the Arrancar would have been able to find his way back to the gate alone, something that pleased him immensely.  Very few people could navigate the Seireitei their first trip through.

"The Sixth," murmured Byakuya as they walked into the Sixth's compound.  "My office is this way."  In the distance the sound of training could be heard and Byakuya wondered if he dared take a look and see how badly it was going, before deciding the massive stacks of paperwork waiting for him should take priority.  He slid open the door to his office, leading Ulquiorra past his startled lieutenant and into his office.  "Please fetch some tea for myself and my guest," he ordered, closing the door, the gaping look of shock on her face annoying him.

He turned to find Ulquiorra examining the office, his hands clasped politely behind his back as he leaned over to glance at a few of the many papers awaiting Byakuya's attention.  "I had not realized captains did so much paperwork.  I assumed a greater level of formality, of course, but nothing to this extent," murmured the smaller man.

"Under normal circumstances captains wouldn't; however events have left many short staffed - myself being one of them.  I have not yet been able to replace Abarai to my satisfaction and have been forced to take on many of the duties of a fukutaichou as well as my own," explained Byakuya, offering Ulquiorra a chair before settling in his own with a barely perceptible sigh.  Ulquiorra nodded in understanding and moved his chair close so that he could watch.  As the Arrancar settled in next to him Byakuya realized that with almost anyone else being so near he would have felt crowded and annoyed, but Ulquiorra was unobtrusive and his nearness was rather pleasant.

He worked in silence, handling each form and signing it before handing it to Ulquiorra who studied it carefully and then set it aside.  They paused only when the Arrancar had a question over one of the forms and then Byakuya would explain, Ulquiorra questioning him carefully.  His vice captain came and went, Ulquiorra's presence keeping her quiet, and the tea sat untouched and forgotten.  Within an hour of beginning, Ulquiorra was helpfully slipping him the next page he needed and soon after that papers began coming to him needing nothing more than his signature.  Within four hours his desk was clear save for the neatly completed reports that would go out in the morning and Byakuya was staring at the dark, polished surface of his desk for the first time in what felt like years.   

A feeling of wonder stole over him and he turned slightly to offer Ulquiorra a true smile only to find the other man staring at the desk and all the papers with near wonder himself.  A soft chuckle slipped from his lips and Ulquiorra's eyes shot to him, locking with his.

He really was quite pretty realized Byakuya, staring at the former Espada.  He was exotic, pale and delicate with the twin green tracks down his cheek and the broken mask on the left side of his face.  "I...thank you," he managed softly, swearing he could feel a faint blush rise on his cheeks. 

The smile Ulquiorra gave him was small but he swore it was warmer and more personal than the other smiles he had received from the Espada.

"I realize it is later than we had planned, but my offer for dinner still stands," murmured Byakuya quietly, reaching out to straighten a slightly crooked stack.

"I would be delighted to join..." began Ulquiorra, reaching for the same stack and falling silent as their hands touched.  Green eyes met grey and locked.  Byakuya felt himself moving, but from far away, unable to stop himself and barely able to comprehend what was happening until his fingers brushed a pale, cool cheek.  An instant later his lips touched Ulquiorra's in gentle, chaste kiss.

When he pulled back he noticed the surprise in Ulquiorra's green eyes, the shocked amazement.  A moment later a faint pink rose on the former Espada's cheeks and he ducked his head slightly, making Byakuya chuckle.  Who would have thought that wonderfully composed Ulquiorra Schiffer could blush?

"Forgive me, that was...presumptuous of me," he apologized softly.

Ulquiorra's hand caught his, the former Espada's fingers soft and cool against his own skin.  "There is nothing to forgive, Byakuya.  Although I believe discussion might be in order," whispered Ulquiorra, raising his eyes once more and leaning forward to lay a quick kiss on his lips.

Byakuya felt his smile widen and gave a silent nod of concurrence, "Over dinner then."

Chapter Text

By the time they were clear of the crowd's eyes, Renji and Grimmjow were the only things keeping Kisuke on his feet.  He swayed unsteadily between them.  His legs felt like jelly, there was a hollow, empty feeling in his stomach, and his head was throbbing.  He had pushed too hard to escape, his rage making him reckless and lending him strength.  Strength he couldn't afford to toss around.  And now he was paying for his rash behavior.  He would need food and rest - soon.

"Are you all right?” asked Ishida, eyeing him with a bit of concern.  "We can find you a room and let you rest.  Worry about the clothes later."

He was considering it when the choice was taken out of his hands.  Grimmjow swept him up, cradling him like a baby and earning slight frowns from Ishida and Abarai.  "Rest and food first, ya damned brat," grumbled the Arrancar as Kisuke glared at him.

"I am not a brat and I am able to take care of myself," he growled, making the Arrancar rumble a chuckle and sneer at him.

"Prove it," challenged Grimmjow, making Abarai and Ishida smirk.

"I will find Mizuno-kun a room in the Third, if you can find him some clothing, Renji?" murmured Ishida.

The redhead nodded.  "Make sure he's close to us.  And check on Kira, will ya?"  He turned to Kisuke with a smile, "Any colors you want aside from green?"

He sighed as the redhead pinned his favorite color, a little annoyed to find Urahara had also liked green.  "Blues, black, and light greys are good too," he mumbled around a yawn.

The captain nodded his understanding and started off down the hall.  "The Third is over in the next wing, it's this way," murmured Ishida, leading them back to the last intersection and turning.  Within only a few minutes they were in a different set of corridors and then Ishida was stopping in front of a totally nondescript door.  Kisuke wondered for a moment how the Shinigami found anything when all their doors and halls looked the same.

"How the hell do these people find anything?" he muttered darkly, not looking forward to navigating the Shinigami's lair.

"Reiatsu markers.  Ya could feel them if ya weren't so tired," muttered Grimmjow, giving him a glare that seemed to be scolding.  Grimmjow was turning out to be worse than his mother.

His family!

He hadn't thought about them in days but his house was gone and he had been missing for...Five days?  A week?  How long had it been?  He struggled in Grimmjow's grasp, trying to sit up, trying to figure out how long he had been gone. 

What if Aizen had taken them!

"Stop that," growled Grimmjow as his breathing grew quick and shallow.

"My family!  My parents!"

"Calm down.  Calm down, Kisuke," murmured Ishida, reaching out hesitantly to touch his arm, the gesture earning a curious look from Grimmjow.  "Your parents are fine, I promise.  One of our teams was waiting at the house.  We altered their memories so they wouldn't worry about you.  Or worry about what had happened to the house.  We currently have them hidden in Tokyo," soothed the older man.

"They know I'm all right?" whispered Kisuke, not being able to stand the idea of them worrying about him, not knowing if he was alive or dead, if he was coming back.

"They think you're on an extended school trip to your school's sister school in France.  You are staying in a very nice little town about two hours outside of Paris with a lovely family.  The internet connection in the area is not the best so you write letters, one a week, to let them know how you are doing," explained the archer, looking just a bit smug.  Kisuke once again saw the flash of another man's face, but nothing more came and he pushed it away with a sigh.

His family was safe.  Aizen didn't have them.  He sighed softly in relief, and sagged in Grimmjow's embrace, letting his eyes slip closed.  As long as they weren't worried about him, it was all right.  His life had always been strange - what with ghosts and dreams.  What were Shinigami and kidnappings and evil overlords added on to all the other weird?  He could handle it, adapt.  But his parents didn't need to know.  They didn't need to know all the lies he'd told them and all the things he had kept from them. 

"Your life will be waiting when you're ready to return to it, Kisuke.  I promise.

"Now, this is your room, I'll mark it for you," murmured Ishida, his hand going to the door for a moment and a cool wash of power, like a winter stream, flowed over them as his reiatsu touched the door.  "Renji and I are just across the way from you if you need anything," he said, motioning to the other door before opening the door to what were to be his quarters and letting Grimmjow carry him inside.

Kisuke glanced around the new place as Grimmjow carried him to a couch and deposited him gently.  Ishida got him a pillow and a blanket but let the Arrancar tuck him in.

"Stay put," growled Grimmjow, glaring at him.  "Where the fuck can I find him food?" he snapped, rounding on Ishida.  The Quincy shot the Arrancar a huffy look, pushing his glasses up his nose and drawing himself up straight and tall.

"The mess is back in the central hub," retorted Ishida as Grimmjow shoved his hands in his pockets and started toward the door.

"Good.  Watch the kitten while I get him something to eat," ordered the Arrancar.  Ishida shook his head, looking annoyed before he sighed and apparently decided to drop the issue.

"Would you like something to drink, Mizuno-kun?  Tea?"

"No tea," growled Grimmjow from the doorway.  "Give him one of those sports things - the ones that put back all those rocks he needs."

"Minerals.  He means minerals and salts," murmured Kisuke with a sigh and a faint smile for the direction the Arrancar had gone.  Ishida nodded his understanding and went to get him a drink from the rooms he shared with Renji, giving Kisuke a chance to study his new cage.

It was comfortable, decorated mostly in blues and greys that Kisuke thought were meant to be soothing.  There was a small living area with a couch, two chairs, a little glass coffee table and an end table with a lamp.  To the left of that was a small kitchen and to the right he could just make out a bedroom.  He was tempted to explore it, but the couch was comfortable and he was tired.  He could guess at its contents anyway - a bed, a small chest of drawers, and a little bedside table.  The bath room was probably off of that, he reasoned, closing his eyes and drifting for a moment until he heard Ishida.

"Would you like me to go?  Let you sleep?" asked the Quincy softly.

"No, I'm alright.  I just need to sit for awhile," he murmured, forcing himself to sit up a little.  He downed half the drink in just a few gulps, his body taking over once it was offered liquid and sugar.  He forced himself to slow down and cap the bottle, setting it aside.  He wasn't sure how long he had been in the lab and if he went too fast he might be sick.

He glanced at Ishida, blushing faintly.  "You're his...Kurosaki-san's friend, right?" Kisuke asked softly, staring at his hands which were grasping the blanket.

Ishida sighed heavily and a small, wistful smile tugged at his lips.  "I suppose I could be called such.  Why?  Is there something you'd like to know?"

Kisuke nodded and gnawed on his bottom lip not sure how to put into words what he wanted to know.  What he needed to know.  He had to understand though.  The dreams were getting stronger, the memories more pronounced.  Urahara wasn't leaving him.  Denying him wasn't working which only left trying to understand this man he had been - finding ways to minimize his impact and control.

There was also a certain dark fascination and wonder about the man.  What had he done to engender such devotion from Ichigo?  Why did Kurosaki still want him?  Why had he ever wanted him?  Kurosaki Ichigo was handsome, powerful and noble - a born hero.  What drew a person like that to someone like Urahara, to whom rules were mere suggestions?  A man who could do almost anything in the name of the greater good?

"Kurosaki...he...he really loves-loved him, didn't he?" he murmured softly, releasing the blanket and clenching his fists, his nails digging into his palms hard enough to break the skin, frightened at the idea of venturing too near the topic of his former self and said self's lover.

A delicate, long fingered hand touched his, giving them a gentle squeeze.  Grey eyes shot up and locked with blue, lost and frightened; but Ishida's smile was soft and filled with understanding.  "Ichigo once said that Urahara was the only person he'd ever met who ever saw him just as he was.  Urahara never saw him as a savior or a monster; was never afraid of him or idolized him.  He never treated Ichigo as anything other than his friend, he held him when he cried and teased him to make him smile.  So yes, I would say he loved Urahara a great deal."

And still does.

The words were unspoken but Kisuke heard them as clearly as if Ishida had said them.  He tore his gaze from Ishida's, certain that he would start crying any second if he didn't turn away.  "I've...I've seen things...How could he love someone who could...could..."

Ishida gently took his hands, frowning at the crescent shaped cuts in his skin.  "I won't lie to you, Kisuke.  Urahara Kisuke was not a hero.  He was not a brave man or a noble man.  He lied and manipulated.  His methods were harsh, brutal and bordering on sadistic.  In short, he did terrible things."

The Quincy caught his eyes and Kisuke felt like a mouse staring up a cat.  "The one thing Urahara was though, was a good man.  Everything he did was for the greater good.  With his brains he could have ruled Soul Society.  With Hougyoku he could have made himself a Vaizard and taken over the Gotei 13.  He didn't though.  Once he understood what Hougyoku was and how dangerous it was he tried to stop it.

"And he never did anything Ichigo didn't ask him to do first.  Even Ichigo will tell you as much," murmured Ishida with a smirk that sent the blood rushing to Kisuke's cheeks.

"Would you mind if I asked you something?" asked the Quincy.  Kisuke shook his head and tried to look anywhere but at the older man.  He didn't want to talk about Ichigo anymore, not when he could still remember the feel of his hands, the taste of his skin…he shivered and pushed the memories away. 

"What is your relationship to Jeagerjaques?"

He blinked in surprise, clearly startled.  "I guess he's sort of my friend.  He took care of me when I was with the Arrancar - treated my wounds and kept Ulquiorra away.  And he helped me with my kidou and told me things....about who...about Urahara," he finished.  Grimmjow was also one of the few people who honestly didn't want anything from him - anymore at least.  It was refreshing and helped remind him that there was more than just Urahara's happiness at stake - he deserved a chance to live his own life and be happy.

"We managed to dig out some of your things," ventured Ishida.  "I'll have someone bring them by later.  You can always tell one of the younger officers to get you anything you need.  We always have people out in the town."  Kisuke nodded his understanding, smiling faintly in thanks. 

Grimmjow didn't bother knocking, just opened the door with a startlingly loud bang.  "They had something called curry," he told Kisuke, handing him a plate.  "The smell is overpowering so you should love it.  Still don't know why you can't eat normal smelling things."

Kisuke laughed, attacking the food with relish and even Ishida smiled faintly.  Grimmjow prowled around the little apartment like a cat, inspecting it, but always circled back to check on him every few minutes.  Kisuke finished half the plate and the rest of his drink before sighing happily, sinking back deeper into the couch and drifting off to sleep almost instantly.

"Is he alright?" he thought he heard Ishida whisper.

"Yeah, doing a lot of kidou really sucks it out of him.  A few hours and he'll be up and back to being a pain in the ass," Grimmjow assured the other man softly, as Kisuke felt his blankets shift a tiny bit.  Then everything was black and he knew no more.

Chapter Text

"I took everything I could find and grabbed a few robes just in case," announced Renji, meeting Uryuu at the door and getting quickly shushed.  "What?" demanded the redhead in a heated whisper, growing quiet as he noticed the bundle on the couch.

"He just drifted off," answered the Quincy, moving aside and giving him a glimpse of a pale blond head.  Gray eyes were closed but sleep hadn't washed the tension from the kid, his face was still shadowed and he moved restlessly, his reiatsu pulsing uneasily.

"Is he okay?" asked the redhead quietly, not liking the fluttery feel of the kid's reiatsu.

Jeagerjaques was perched on the end of the sofa by the blond's head, a large hand gently soothing the kid's hair, and a sour look coming to his lips as he caught Renji staring at him.  "He dreams about Urahara a lot.  It upsets him," murmured the Arrancar, leaning protectively over the blond, a low rumble rising from the back of his throat.

"It's fine.  Renji is just worried about him.  We all are," soothed Uryuu, helping his lover carry the clothes he had gathered into the bedroom.

"Uryuu," the Shinigami began only to be shushed again.  "When we get home," promised the archer.  It took only a few minutes with both of them working to get the clothes put away and pull out a few toiletries for kid.  After things were settled, they bid a silent farewell to Jeagerjaques and slipped out into the hall. 

"Is it safe to leave him with Jeagerjaques?" asked Renji once they were safely in the hall.  He opened the door to their rooms, frowning slightly at the chambers they had just departed.

"The relationship is familial rather than romantic.  Ichigo might end up with an in-law he doesn't like, but Grimmjow isn't trying to steal Kisuke," murmured Ishida with a slightly superior smirk.  "Besides, the Arrancar seems to be a touchstone for this version of Urahara.  I suspect if you tried to separate them you would just annoy both of them." 

"Just what we need," retorted Renni.

"That was rather my feeling on the matter," purred the Quincy.

"Smug bastard," groused Renji playfully, drawing him close and kissing the archer.  "How about you, me, and our bed?" he whispered in the other man's ear.

"Yeeeessss," moaned Uryuu softly, pressing himself against the redhead and rocking his hips a little.

"And a shower?" he suggested. 

"God yes!" snapped Uryuu, grabbing him and kissing him hard.  Three days of searching left little time for the luxuries and if there was one luxury he had missed it was a long, hot shower or an even longer soak in the tub.   

They kissed each other eagerly, tongues dueling as they stumbled through their living room, each trying to get the other naked and constantly foiling each other.  It was silly, thought Ishida, the two of them groping like horny teenagers when they both knew the surest and fastest way to get what they wanted was to strip themselves, but there was something wonderful about still being stupidly passionate for each other.

His back hit the wall between their living room and bedroom, two feet left of the door, Uryuu noted before Renji nipped his ear and began sucking on a fading mark on his neck.  He moaned and shivered, loving the attention to his neck and the knowledge that tomorrow morning he would be sporting another mark.

He tugged at Renji's clothing, earning a sharp growl when he tangled the redhead's arms in his sleeves again.  He smirked at the redhead and nipped at his collarbone, before smoothing his hands over Renji's shoulders and chest.  The Shinigami was broader in the chest than him and toned from hours of practice with Zabimaru.  Uryuu would never admit it, but he loved touching Renji and feeling the power in him.  He would never have the sort of raw physical power his lover commanded and there was something arousing about feeling that strength under his hands.  He let his fingers slide over Renji's chest, tracing the dark lines of his tattoos, barely touching, loving the way Renji shivered and tried to press into the soft touches.  His fingers ghosted over the redhead's nipples before returning to play with them.

Renji made a strangled noise that Uryuu thought was half growl and half whimper.  He chuckled, gasping as the redhead undid his pants and began caressing him.  "Aaah...Renji," he moaned, unable to keep from thrusting a little.  Renji was just too good at that.  The redhead nipped at his jaw before leaning in to the kiss the hollow at the base of his throat, his lips just grazing the edge of the scar and making him shiver. 

Renji managed to get his arms untangled, shedding his gi and then attacking the zipper of Ishida’s shirt.  Uryuu smirked, easily opening the Shinigami’s hakama and taking his cock in hand.  He stroked his lover, his eyes shining as Renji moaned and bucked into his touch.

The Shinigami grabbed at his shirt and the sound of cloth ripping split the air.  “I am not sewing that,” murmured Uryuu, giving his lover’s cock a warning squeeze and nipping at his collarbone.

Renji grinned and laughed, kissing him hard and stroking him.  “Remember that thing I did for you last White Day?” he asked.  Uryuu could hear the smugness in his voice, but he also remembered just how amazing last White Day had been.  He had never come so hard in his entire life.  “Sew it for me and I’ll do that again,” purred Renji.

The Quincy swallowed hard, trying to calm the racing of his blood and the throbbing urgency in his cock.  “Deal,” he snapped, kissing Renji hard and fast to seal their bargain.  He caught the Shinigami’s faint ‘love ya’ and pressed against him.  “Shower,” he reminded his lover when they came up for air, leading Renji into their bathroom by the cock.  The redhead followed him, smirking the whole way and pressing against his back when he paused to start the water.  Uryuu moaned when warm lips traveled down his neck and strong hands caressed his chest.  He reached back and undid his lover’s hair, not seeing that fiery fall of hair, but able to imagine it and adoring the sight.

He slipped free of Renji’s grasp and into the shower, pausing to toss a come-hither smirk over his shoulder.  An instant later strong arms were encircling him and a warm body held him close.  "Mmm...feels so good," purred Renji, grabbing the soap and beginning to wash him.  Uryuu sighed softly, relaxing into the soothing caresses and letting them strip away the tension of the last few days.

He twisted in his lover's grasp, reaching up to run his fingers through that glorious hair.  Renji had the most beautiful hair of any man he'd ever seen and while he would never admit it, he loved the feel of it against his skin - like red silk ghosting over him.   "Missed this," he moaned, as Renji pressed him closer on the pretext of soaping his back.  He groaned as soapy hands grabbed his ass, rocking him against the redhead.

He kissed Renji's neck, setting his teeth gently against the soft skin and sucking hard, delighting in the Shinigami's groan and the desperate clutch of his fingers.  "Ooohh...Want you," breathed the other man, a slick finger pressing against his entrance.  He rocked back into the too light touch, wanting more.

He gasped softly as Renji sucked on the center of his scar - the contrast of heat and wetness against the lack of sensation startling.  Renji used the distraction to slip his finger inside.  "Renji," he moaned, arching away from the finger and into a lick to one arm of the Quincy cross on his chest, before rocking back eagerly.  “More,” he demanded, tugging at his lover‘s hair.  Red eyes filled with lust met his and Renji groaned, gently pushing another finger inside him.  He panted as the fingers twisted inside him, trying to get more, trying to make the redhead hurry.  He jerked Renji’s hair, earning a grunt of pain, as the Shinigami found his prostate. 

“Play nice,” growled the other man, kissing him hard and deep as his fingers nudged that spot again and again.  Uryuu moaned and twisted in his lover's arms, each touch sending lighting racing through his veins.  He groaned into his lover’s mouth, tongue tangling with Renji’s as his arms went around the other man’s neck.  Renji was smiling at him when they broke the kiss, that primal confident one that always made Uryuu feel sensual and powerful. 

Renji lifted him and Ishida quickly wrapped his legs around the redhead’s hips as his back was pressed against the cool tile of the shower wall.  He felt the other man’s cock nudge at his entrance and groaned in approval.  Renji tilted his hips and slid in slowly, drawing a soft cry from the archer.  It burned, but it was a good burn, the kind that turned into white-hot fire and made him howl.

Renji shifted his grip, strong fingers digging into his ass, and gently rolled his hips.  A soft sound was dragged from the back of his throat and Uryuu clutched at Renji's shoulders.  He grit his teeth as Renji began to move, the pleasure slowly building.  Uryuu reached for his cock, slipping slightly against the wet tile, giving a sharp cry as the change in angle set off a riotous starburst of pleasure inside him.  Renji groaned and adjusted his grip, thrusting harder and hitting that spot with every thrust.  He was nearly sobbing, clutching at Renji, so very close...if he could get just a little more...  Renji slammed into him hard and Uryuu felt himself tipping.  He howled his completion into Renji's shoulder and dimly heard Renji growling as he followed him.

As his heart rate slowly returned to normal, Uryuu couldn't help but be amazed that they were both still standing - although he was more stuck between Renji and the wall than standing - it was close enough to standing.  Renji was nuzzling him and Uryuu could help but smile, returning the affectionate gesture and delighting in the feel of silky soft hair against his cheek.

"I love you," he murmured softly against Renji's shoulder.

Renji gently helped him back to his feet, kissing him softly and smiling at him.  "Let's get cleaned up and go to bed, love."   Uryuu nodded, the idea sounding like the best he had heard all day.

Chapter Text

He shouldn't have been up.  He would be scolded when it was discovered.  Oddly enough, for once Gin didn't care.  Let the healers rebuke him and Aizen chastise him.  He wasn't in the mood to lay in bed with his thoughts and his pain.  He wanted to be up.  He wanted to think and he wanted to see the sky. 

The sky in Las Noches wasn't like the sky in Soul Society or on Earth.  There were no stars.  He hadn't thought he would, but he found he missed them when he was stranded in Hueco Mundo.  He had always liked the stars, found them soothing.  They were one of the constants in his incessantly shifting life. 

The old woman who had raised him had claimed he was a child of the stars with his silvery hair and pale skin.  He sighed softly as her wrinkled and weathered face came to mind.  He tried to place a name to the face, saddened that he couldn't.  She had been the first to take him in, having found him after his true mother had dumped him in the Wastes.  He had been a strange and sickly child - his reiatsu burning far too brightly for his tiny frame to handle.  It was the reiatsu that had bleached his hair and had likely caused his mother to abandon him.  It was rare, but some infants, usually those with large amounts of spirit energy, were born with their full power coursing through them.  It burned out their tiny bodies, killing most in a few weeks.  Some survived though.  He had.  Ukitake had.  For most however, death was the only escape.

The old woman had found him and taken him in.  She had raised him until one winter night she had fallen asleep and never woken up.  Gin shivered, his body remembering that frigid bite of the cold from all those years ago.  He remembered awakening and finding Shaya - that was her name!  ...finding Shaya cold and stiff.  He wrapped his arms around himself, he had been no stranger to death, even then.  He and Shaya had always stumbled across some poor bastard on the cold mornings.  He had just never thought Shaya to be one of them.  He remembered huddling next to her, no tears coming, but reluctant to leave her.  She hadn't been his mother and she hadn't always been kind to him, but she had been the closest thing to a mother that he'd ever known.

He had huddled there for three days, only his desperate need for water prodding him to leave her.  He tried to guess how old he might have been - no more than six, that was certain.  It would be three winters before he caught his first glimpse of Aizen.  The young member of the 12th had been helping to put out a fire in the 80th when Gin had first seen him.  And a tiny part of him couldn't help but wonder if the other man hadn't played some part in the fire starting.  Aizen had always had a rather casual view of the lower wards and considered their inhabitants little more than ready subjects for his research.  It was one of the things that had led to his transfer from the 12th to the 5th.  Urahara had liked to play the fool, but there was a core of solid steel in him and he took a very different view of the Rukongai and its people.

He remembered huddling in the ruins of a burnt out building, covered in soot, waiting for the Shinigami to pass.  Like most children of the ward, he had been both scared and fascinated by them, but years in the lowest wards had taught him to hide from those bigger and stronger than himself.  He had been good at hiding, but somehow Aizen had sensed him because he had paused and stared at his hiding place for a long minute.  Gin had felt sure the older man would drag him out, but he hadn't, he had just snorted and moved on.

It had been another three years before he had seen Aizen again - he had been perhaps twelve.  He had found Rangiku two summers before, a tiny, underfed girl with a smile that had shown like the sun.  He had been captivated from the moment he'd seen her, lured by that beautiful smile and her soulful eyes.  He had claimed her, taken her as his own and fought eight fights to keep her.  He had gone with Aizen the first time for her.

Aizen had caught him trying to steal from a merchant, the first person to catch him in years.  He had been as clever and nimble as a fox by then and an accomplished thief.  Aizen had seen him though, had trapped him with a kidou spell.  Gin still remembered standing there, locked to the ground, helpless and enraged by it.  He had snapped and snarled at the older man until Aizen had hit him across the face and combined it with a kidou blast.  Rangiku had come flying out then, a wild creature full of fury, clawing and screaming at Aizen to leave him alone.  The Shinigami had tossed her aside with an easy and casual strength.

Gin could still hear the sickening crunch as her little body hit the side of a building, her head rebounding off it, smeared with blood.  He had watched her slide to the ground, something inside him tearing loose as he screamed.  He had shattered Aizen's spell and thrown himself at the older man.  Aizen had knocked him down, letting him up only to knock him down again, over and over, until he was too weak and bruised to move.

Then the older man had made his offer. 

Gin could go with him, give him what he wanted, and he would help Rangiku.  Or Gin could refuse him, in which case he would turn Gin over to the merchant to be punished for his theft and leave Rangiku to bleed to death.  The blow had broken something in her head and it had been bleeding into her brain.

He had gone.

He had followed Aizen into one of the twisted little alleyways and sunk to his knees like he had been ordered, hating himself but hating Aizen more.  The few coins Aizen had tossed at him had kept him and Rangiku in water for days though.  After that, the Shinigami had shown up periodically, sometimes offering treats and sometimes beating him and demanding his favors.  He had never been able to detect any pattern to Aizen's actions and sometimes he didn't think Aizen himself knew what he would do until he saw him.

Gin frowned and hugged himself against the bitter taste of his own memories.  He waved his hand, twisting a tiny bit of power with the gesture and opening a doorway between Hueco Mundo and Earth.  It was a smaller portal than anything the Arrancar used and neater than even Aizen's.  He stepped through into the world.  He was in the park they had fought in not so long ago, confident that any trace of his gate would be chalked up to residual energy and ignored.

He stared up at the night sky and tried to find some solace in the stars.  Tried to find that time when everything had made sense.  Long ago he had believed in Aizen, trusted him and followed him, but everything seemed muddled now.

When he closed his eyes he could see Rangiku's face and Kira's soft voice haunted his dreams.  They made him doubt.  He could see their eyes in his dreams, sad and echoing the loneliness he sometimes saw in his own.  He missed them.  He missed Matsumoto's laughter and he missed Kira's quiet grace.  Aizen's haughty perfection seemed pale and shallow when placed beside them. 

Gin sighed, settling heavily on a swing, the pull of his wounds bringing a hiss to his lips, but the urge to rest was greater than the pain.  He had left Rangiku twice for Aizen.  Both times he had kept silent, protecting her from the other man.  No matter how she had grown he couldn't quite exercise the image of her tiny body, broken and bleeding, from his mind.  Looking up at the stars, he wasn't sure there would be enough left of Ichimaru Gin should he have to choose between her and Aizen again. 

"Tell me what to do," he pleaded softly with the night, a lost child looking for a course home.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra tried to keep track of the path they took when they left the Sixth, but the Seireitei was a maze of buildings and streets and most of his concentration was focused on the man at his side and the conversation he would soon be having.  He had never had a formal conversation such as the one looming before him.  Frankly, he had never wanted to find himself entangled so closely with another person.

He was startled from his thoughts when they went through a small doorway into a beautiful garden.  He had never seen anything so lush and green.  Even his forays to Earth had not prepared him for the manicured perfection laid out before his eyes.  There were trees of all sorts, more than he could ever hope to identify.  There were beds of flowers laid out in patterns more intricate than he would have thought possible, with colors that boggled the mind.  He could hear the trickle of water in the distance and the night breeze carried the scent of jasmine and other blossoms to his nose.  Ulquiorra thought it was one of the most exquisite things he had ever seen.

Which of course explained why Kuchiki Bayakuya should be the one to show it to him.

Byakuya smiled faintly at him, the Shinigami's hand brushing his lightly before taking it.  He glanced down at their joined hands, still startled by the warmth of the Shinigami's skin and the enjoyment the small touch brought him.  He had never willingly touched in Las Noches, had hated to have others near him there, but oddly the idea of touching and being touched by Byakuya did not repulse or annoy him.

"I hope you do not mind, but my family's home was closer and more private than the base," murmured Byakuya.

"I do not mind.  I've never seen anything...  Hueco Mundo was a desert," he murmured, still amazed by the sheer volume of...life.  The gentle smile Byakuya gave him warmed that strange place inside him and Ulquiorra felt his grip on the Shinigami's hand tighten for the briefest moment.

"My quarters are this way, we can talk undisturbed there."

As Byakuya led him through the garden, Ulquiorra felt his estimation of the other man's standing edge steadily upward and an answering cold settle in his belly.  A relationship, of any sort, would have been hard enough with a captain of the Gotei 13, but he knew certain things would be expected of a noble of the kind of rank Byakuya appeared to have.

And dalliances with turncoats was not one of them.

Byakuya led them to one wing of an elegant manor house and then along a veranda for a short distance.  A servant was waiting for them, but was too well trained to react to Ulquiorra, although the Arrancar thought he caught a hint of surprise on the man's face before his mask of blank politeness fell into place.  Shojo were slid open and Byakuya gestured him inside, pausing to speak to the servant for a moment.  Ulquiorra took the chance to study his surroundings, amazed by the understated wealth of the room.  Tatami mats covered the floor and the fusuma were decorated with breathtaking nature scenes - one season on each wall, with a spring riot of cherry blossoms leading deeper into what had to be Byakuya's personal rooms.  The central feature of the room was a beautiful, low redwood table.  There was a pillow comfortably arranged where someone could sit and observe the garden and as Ulquiorra watched a servant came in with another pillow and some tea.

They sat, letting the servant pour them each a cup of tea before slipping out unobtrusively.  "I very much appreciated your help today with the paperwork," murmured Byakuya, sipping his tea.

"I enjoyed it and considered it a wonderful learning opportunity.  If your vice captain is unable to perform her duties, however, why retain her?" asked Ulquiorra, examining his tea with faint distaste, memories of Aizen and his 'tea parties' coming swiftly to the front of his mind.  He took a small sip of the golden liquid, surprised to find the flavor subtle and delicate.

"I do not intend to, I have simply been unable to replace her at this time," replied Byakuya as several servants slipped in, arranging various dishes before them and pouring each of them a glass of wine before leaving as quickly and silently as they had come.

Byakuya regarded him warmly and Ulquiorra felt an odd flutter in his chest, something he thought might be familiar, but from long ago.  "I have enjoyed our time together a great deal," murmured the Shinigami.

"As have I," he replied softly.  He couldn't remember the last time he had enjoyed another person's company to such a degree.  Grimmjow was a worthy ally and could be tolerable for brief periods; but the man was like a cat and confinement with him was as pleasant as being trapped with an angry panther.

"It would please me a great deal if we could continue to see one another," Byakuya went on, his eyes warm and his voice a smooth purr.

Ulquiorra regarded him, pragmatism warring with desire and leaving a tight, sick feeling in his gut - like he had been punched.  He didn't like it.  Didn't like the uncertainty or the suddenly countless choices open to him. 

Logic said that he should limit his involvement with the captain of Sixth.  A high ranking noble might enjoy a friendship with him, but never anything more.  Byakuya would have duties, obligations - the need for an heir.

"What troubles you?" asked Byakuya softly, a small frown marring his lovely features.  "Your reiatsu became agitated," he explained when Ulquiorra stared at him in confusion.

Ulquiorra dropped his gaze, unable to look into those smoldering grey eyes.  For once he did not want to be logical or reasonable, he wanted to remain with Kuchiki Byakuya, to feel the warmth of his skin and the soft kiss of his reiatsu.  "I had not given any thought to the position you held before now.  There must be...obligations," he began, growing silent when Byakuya's hand touched his and then settled over it. 

"There was only one person I might have wished to carry on my line with and she's gone now.  I have married once, I shall not do so again, Ulquiorra."  Ulquiorra felt his eyes drawn from their joined hands to Byakuya's face and his eyes.  The odd fluttering feel in his chest intensified and he swallowed hard, wondering if it was possibly to become lost in another person's gaze. 

"I would be honored to spend more time with you, Byakuya," he murmured softly, blushing faintly as the Shinigami's hand gave his a gentle squeeze.  A soft thumb brushed the back of his hand and he couldn't help but shiver under the gentle caress.

They ate in comfortable silence, their eyes often meeting, and the same faint smile touching their lips.  Ulquiorra watched in wonder as their meal was cleared away when they were done and the doors to the veranda opened, affording them a lovely view of the garden and allowing the soft night sounds to drift in.  Byakuya waved the servants away, settling closer to him and pouring them both another glass of wine.  Ulquiorra felt the warmth of the other man at his side, reaching out hesitantly for the Shinigami.

"I feel I must mention that my...experience with...," he began, only to pause, searching for the right words to explain.  "I have never indulged in a romantic liaison before now," he finally admitted, wondering if it would make a difference. 

A strong hand on his cheek gently urged his gaze toward Byakuya, the noble's face pondering.  Byakuya's fingertips moved lightly over his cheek and Ulquiorra couldn't help but relax into the soft touch.  He had never realized the appeal of such touches, the gentle contentment they stirred.  "You are not completely without experience," Byakuya said softly, the words not quite a statement but not a question either.

Ulquiorra dropped his eyes.  "I was fourth," he explained quietly as if that would explain - and in Las Noches it would have.  He was fourth.   There were three others higher than him and to whom he had to answer to.  They could force him to their will just as he could have forced anyone lower than him to his.  It was the way of Las Noches.  That he had never chosen to use his power for...such things was immaterial.  There had been three above him and they had on occasion.

Byakuya's eyes narrowed and power flashed over Ulquiorra, tightly contained but banked with rage.  "That does not make it right," growled the noble quietly.

"It does not change the facts of Las Noches either," murmured Ulquiorra with resignation.  "It means nothing...unless..."

Reiatsu crackled and lightning flashed in Byakuya's eyes.  "My affections are not so shallow," growled the nobleman.  Ulquiorra felt a smile pull at his lips and leaned forward to touch his lips to the other man's in a soft, chaste kiss before letting his cheek rest against the Shinigami's.

"Thank you," he whispered softly.  Byakuya's arms slid around him and the noble drew him close, holding him.  Ulquiorra shivered faintly and held himself stiffly, not sure what to do.  It was only when the other man gently pressed him closer and began small gliding stokes of his hand down his spine that he began to understand and relax.  "Thank you," he whispered again as Byakuya laid a gentle kiss to his mask. 

Chapter Text

It was late.  Well into the third shift and after three in the morning.  Concentrations were lagging and no one was apt to pay too much attention to an angry, restless captain stalking the halls.  Well, almost no one.

“Renji,” Ichigo growled softly, as the redhead attached himself to his side.

“Ichigo,” greeted the other man warmly, earning another growl.  He was not in the mood for company.  “Going to pay a visit to a certain mutual acquaintance?”

Ichigo managed to suppress a snarl, tamping down hard on his rage.  Twenty years as a captain had taught him patience.  And he had employed every trick at his disposal to keep from murdering Kurotshuchi.  Only two things had stilled his hand back in that hallway all those hours before.  The first had been Kisuke - not wanting to frighten or upset him; but also wanting to calm his anger and fear. 

The second had been the presence of all the other people.  He likely could have killed Kurotshuchi, despite the five captains and Ishida standing by - especially since Ishida probably would have helped him.  But five captains and a hallway full of his own people, people he had served with and trained, had stayed his hand.

For a few hours at least.  It didn't mean he was just going to forget that the captain of the 12th had stolen his lover and treated him like some lab rat.

“He hurt Kisuke,” he ground out.

“Ya can’t kill him,” Renji reminded him jovially, making him snarl.  He wanted to kill the man.  Wanted to rend him limb from limb.  Kurotshuchi had hurt Kisuke!  He turned golden eyes on Renji, his reiatsu fluttering with Shirosaki’s dark power and hints of Benihime’s bloodlust.

“Hey!  Calm down.  I just said ya couldn’t kill him.  Didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout beating the shit outta him,” grinned Renji, his eyes sparkling with their own malevolent fire.  “Gotta few things to say to the captain of the 12th myself as it happens.”

Ichigo felt a dark, feral smile pull at his lips.  “You hold, I’ll punch,” he told the redhead.

“For the first hour anyway,” countered Renji.

* * *

Uryuu was waiting for them in the hall when they were done, wrapped in a beautifully patterned blue and white robe.  The colors suited the Quincy perfectly, but Ichigo could tell that Renji had picked out the robe for his lover.  The colors were Uryuu’s, but the pattern was all Renji, bold slashes and sweeps of color.  It was one of those small things that spoke to the depth of their feelings for each other and made Ichigo smile.

The Quincy frowned as he took them in, then sighed.  "You are aware that fighting within the base is forbidden?  And that fighting between captains is severely frowned upon under any circumstances?" he announced quietly.

Renji looked between Ichigo and his lover, a huge grin splitting his face.  "I don't remember fighting, do you, Ichigo?"

Ichigo felt a smirk tugging at his lips.  "Nope.  No fighting that I recall."

"Torture is not allowed under the Geneva Convention," retorted the Quincy.

The two Shinigami shared another grin and then shrugged at the Quincy, earning an exasperated sigh.  "At least tell me you have an alibi for this insanity?"

Renji grinned, wrapping the dark haired man in his arms.  "Why would we need an alibi?  We were here drinking all night with you, weren't we, Ichigo?"

"That's what I recalling doing.  Don't you remember that, Uryuu?"

"I hate you both," Ishida muttered into Renji's shoulder.  Renji's hands swept up and down the Quincy's spine, the dark haired man all but melting under the touches.  His blue eyes were warm as they met his lover's and Ichigo knew the other man would cover for them.  "At least tell me you beat the shit out of that asshole," sighed Ishida.

Ichigo smiled as Renji kissed the Quincy.  While both of them were distracted, he stole a tiny look at the door across the hall.  Kisuke.  The blond was so close.  For a moment all he wanted was to open that door and just look at the other man, just reassure himself that Kisuke was there and safe.

"He's fine.  There have been people stationed at both intersections and they've been told to alert me if Mizuno leaves or anyone visits," Ishida told him, laying a hand on his shoulder.  Ichigo gave the Quincy a grateful nod, knowing the other man could be counted on to think of everything.

"Come on, if we're gonna say we were drinking all night, we might as well have a little proof and we could all use it after the last few days," said Renji, tossing an arm over each of their shoulders and steering them into the quarters he shared with Ishida.  Ichigo sighed and shook his head, but went along with the other two.  He had nothing but an empty bed and his memories to keep him company and seeing his friends - their happiness and love for each other - was more often a boon than not.

Ichigo settled into his favorite chair as Ishida settled onto the couch, retrieving his latest sewing project.  "You'll be pleased to know that while you might have an in-law you can't stand, it doesn't look like Jeagerjaques has any romantic interest in Mizuno and the feeling appears more than mutual," murmured Uryuu, beginning to do some very delicate needlework along the collar of his latest creation.

"He's settled in okay then?"

"He's resting comfortably last I saw.  Did we ever determine what your father wanted?"

Ichigo sighed, "No, I foisted him off on Karen and Hitsugaya with the excuse of searching the Fifth."

"So we can expect you to return from the next Kurosaki dinner in a body bag?" asked Renji, tossing him a beer before snuggling onto the couch next to his lover.  Uryuu glared at him for a moment for laying on his project, but then set aside the sewing with a sigh as he was handed a beer.  It still amazed Ichigo the way they managed each other, it was both startling and cute in a way - although Renji and Uryuu would likely kill the first person to call them cute.

Ichigo took a swallow of his beer and nodded.  "Hitsugaya's injured and you know what Karin gets like when that happens.  But it was either give Dad to her or deal with him myself."  He took another swig, he could handle his father and he had survived Kisuke missing - again - but he didn't think his brain was up to dealing with both.

"What did the supreme bastard want?" he asked the other two, trying not to notice as Renji's hand tried to slip into Ishida's robe.  Although he did chuckle faintly as the Quincy slapped the roving hand away and rearranged his robe. 

"Whadda ya mean?" demanded Renji, frowning slightly.

"I thought one of the kids said Ryuuken was with my dad," murmured Ichigo, assuming the elder Quincy had come by to pester Renji or Uryuu.  It would have been the first time, but stranger things had happened.

"Never saw him," murmured Renji, which was probably a good thing from the annoyed scowl Ishida was wearing.  "Come on, baby, don't get like that," he murmured to Uryuu, pulling him close.  "We don't even know he was here.  The kids are all idiots, you know that."

Uryuu growled and took a sip of his beer.  "I don't like it.  Two visits from Ryuuken is strange."

"Can we not borrow trouble just for one night?" asked Ichigo wearily. 

"I'm with Ichigo.  God, isn't Urahara enough?" demanded Renji.

"Hey!" snapped Ichigo, tossing a throw pillow at the redhead.  The pillow clipped him and from the wicked grin Renji shot him, Ichigo knew he would return fire - had Uryuu not intervened and grabbed the pillow. 

"Must you two always abuse my throw pillows?" he asked with a long put upon sigh, fluffing the pillow before setting it aside.  Renji and Ichigo shared a small smile over the Quincy, and Renji planted a messy kiss on his cheek.

They all drank in happy silence for a few minutes and Ichigo felt the tension seeping from him.  If not for the subtle traces of Kisuke's reiatsu he could almost imagine it was one of a hundred nights he had spent drinking with the other two men.  Uryuu rose to get them all another round and Renji tossed a pillow at him, making Ichigo laugh.

"You know, I don't know how you two managed to hide your relationship for nearly as long as you did," muttered the archer as he handed Ichigo another beer.

"Hm?" murmured Ichigo, looking up from his bottle to find Uryuu smirking at him faintly.

"Your reiatsu are constantly reaching out for each other's and then merging," explained the Quincy, gesturing to the air around him.  "It's very subtle now, not like this oaf," he teased, elbowing Renji as the redhead's power curled around him in a heavy wave. 

Ichigo stared at the other man for a moment before closing his eyes and concentrating on his reiatsu.  Twenty years had given him a better feel for reiatsu work, but he would never have the skill Ishida, or Rukia, or Karin had.  Sure enough, at the outer edges of his reiatsu, mingling with his own silvery energy, was a tiny bit of red.  He smiled faintly.  "We were more careful then," Ichigo told him with gentle mirth.

"Ya could stay on the couch tonight if ya want, be closer to him.  As long you didn't go sneaking over I doubt the kid would notice," Renji offered, his face a mixture of speculation and understanding.

Ichigo nodded gratefully.

Chapter Text

Ichigo was frowning, this cute little furrow appearing on his brow and Kisuke couldn't help but chuckle at his lover and give him a quick kiss to reassure him.  Ichigo was not someone who enjoyed surprises, but he had allowed Kisuke to blindfold him.  The level of trust that took left Kisuke feeling both humble and incredibly flattered.  Ichigo, perhaps more than anyone, knew the depths to which he could sink and yet he still walked blindly with nothing more than Urahara leading him along.  The trust behind it staggered him and sent butterflies crashing around in his belly.

He stopped and stepped close to his lover, gently taking the boy's face in his hands and kissing him softly.  His tongue ghosted over the seam of Ichigo's lip, drawing a soft sound from the redhead before he parted his lips.  They kissed slowly, tongues caressing and rubbing against each other.  The kiss ended before he was ready for it to, but they always did.  He could have kissed Ichigo forever.  He stared at the younger man for a moment and kissed him again, unable to resist.  He couldn't seem to stop himself.       

A flutter of uncertainty went through him as he thought of what he was about to do.  He shouldn't be doing this, shouldn't be opening himself this way.  He was already in far too deep though and...

It was Ichigo.

Ichigo who deserved anything and everything he had to give and more.  "I...," he began, his courage deserting him.  "Just a little further," he finished weakly, drawing the younger man the last few steps to his bedroom.

"Stay right there," he whispered into Ichigo's ear, delighting in the tiny shiver he drew.  He retreated a few steps and quickly shed his clothes, trying to still the nervous flutter in his belly.

"Go ahead and remove the blindfold," he murmured.

Ichigo tugged off the blindfold, tossing it aside, and glancing around.  "I've seen your bedroom, Kisuke," he said.  "I've also seen you naked, not that I'm going to object to that."

"That isn't what I wanted to show you.  This is," murmured the blond, picking a small green pill off his dresser and swallowing it quickly.  His gigai fell away for the first time in more than twenty years and Kisuke shivered at the rush of sensation that swamped him.  His gigai were good, but everything was far more intense in spirit form.

"Enjoy the bath, Kon.  And thank you," he murmured, handing the mod soul his favorite robe and earning a small nod.  Kon knew just how significant a gesture he was making.  He hadn't been out of a gigai since he'd fled and there was something far more intimate about being seen this way than just being naked.  The mod soul slipped past Ichigo quietly, giving him a meaningful look as Kisuke fidgeted nervously - waiting for Ichigo to pass judgment.

Ichigo stared at him with wide eyes and he felt a tiny blush climb his checks, wondering if Ichigo understood just how much of himself he was revealing.  The redhead bridged the distance between them, one hand coming up to cup his cheek as brown eyes sought his.  He swallowed hard, nearly dropping to his knees as he found compassion and understanding waiting for him in the other man's gaze. 

"Kisuke," breathed Ichigo, kissing him tenderly.  Kisuke sagged against the redhead as his lips were released, making a soft sound as Ichigo kissed along his jaw up to his ear.  "Thank you," whispered the young man quietly, petting his hair and holding him.

He knew he should just do it, tell the boy the truth, but the truth would have gotten him laughed at.  Doing this had been stupid enough.  He gently nuzzled Ichigo's neck, his lips grazing it every so often, savoring the feeling of just being held.

"I can feel you," whispered Ichigo, awe in his voice, before kissing him again, this time deeper and more passionately.

"The gigai suppresses my reiatsu, it helps make sure no one can find me," he told the redhead, grateful for the chance to focus on something besides his fluttering heart.

"You look amazing and I can feel you all around me," whispered Ichigo, kissing him again, before latching onto his throat.  Kisuke moaned, arching into the attention and sliding his hands inside the redhead's gi.  A warm tongue traced his collarbone and the blond shivered faintly. 

He tugged off Ichigo's gi, fingers tracing over the younger man's chest before crying out sharply as Ichigo sucked hard on the spot where his neck and shoulder meet.  He had definitely been in the gigai too long, he decided, panting softly into Ichigo's shoulder.

"Are you okay?" asked Ichigo, looking at him with concern.

"Just not used to being like this again.  It takes a little getting used to."  Ichigo chuckle and Kisuke yelped as he found himself swept into the younger man's arms and carried to the bed.  Ichigo set him down gently and Kisuke couldn't help but smile up at the redhead, the heat in those brown eyes comfortingly reassuring.  He laid back, one hand stealing up to languidly caress his chest, enjoying the spike of lust that shot through Ichigo's reiatsu and the flash of lightning in his eyes.

"Fuck, Kisuke," groaned Ichigo, falling on him eagerly.  Warm lips attacked his throat as strong hands began petting his chest.  The blond moaned, his fingers tangling in that vibrant orange hair as Ichigo slid down to lick gently at his nipples.  Reiatsu flared and Kisuke quickly tempered it, the heat and yearning in it stealing his breath.  He clutched lightly at Ichigo's shoulders as that clever tongue traced the scar under his left pec, the one he had gotten from Benihime when he had achieved bankai.

"Are you sure you're alright?" murmured Ichigo, laying a gentle kiss over his heart.  He nodded, nails lightly scoring the younger man's back before running them over his chest.  Ichigo groaned and a warm fist closed around his cock as power tingled across his skin and Kisuke gasped, forgetting about controlling his reiatsu, forgetting about everything except the feel of Ichigo touching him.

Ichigo pumped his cock before leaning over to kiss the tip, a pink tongue darting out to tease the slit.  Kisuke threw and arm over his eyes, knowing things would be over far too soon if he watched.  People called him a genius, but Ichigo had an absolutely wicked learning curve for all things physical and sex was no exception.  The younger man had moved on to sucking on his tip, happy, little wet noises coming from the back of his throat.  Kisuke groaned and rolled his hips, letting his grip on his reiatsu slip just a little more and earning a moan from the redhead.

"Fuck me," he whispered softly, offering Ichigo the sandalwood oil he had taken to keeping near the bed since he'd begun seeing the younger man.  Brown eyes regarded him with surprise before a firestorm of lust burst to life within them.  Kisuke moaned as Ichigo eagerly took the oil and swallowed his cock as deeply as he could, not completely, but with a little more practice...

An oil slicked finger ghosted over his hole and Kisuke shivered, once again wondering if he was mad to even consider this.  The finger teased him gently as Ichigo continued to demonstrate his oral skills.  Kisuke gasped as the finger breached him, clawing at the sheets and trying to relax.

"So tight," purred Ichigo before making a valiant effort to try and deep throat him as that single digit moved inside him.  A second finger joined the first and Kisuke whimpered, trying not to remember that it had been centuries since anyone had topped him - at least in his true form.

He bit his lip as the fingers brushed his prostate and fireworks went off behind his eyes.  The fingers twisted and he tried to fight back another small sound of pleasure.  "Don't do that.  Let me hear you, Kisuke," purred Ichigo, seizing his bottom lip between his teeth and gently tugging on it.  A clever tongue slipped into his mouth and the blond groaned, clawing at Ichigo as more of his reiatsu unraveled.  He tore open Ichigo's hakama, stroking the redhead and causing the younger man to work the fingers inside him faster and harder.

"Enough.  Need you now," he ground out, pushing Ichigo onto his back and straddling his hips.  He poured some oil on his hand and gave the redhead a few quick strokes before slowly sinking on the younger man's cock.  They both groaned, Ichigo swearing, their hands meeting on his hips before locking together.  Grey eyes ringed with red stared into liquid silver and brown eyes before their mouths crashed together in a wet, hungry kiss.   Kisuke whined, shifting his hips, trying to move, to turn the dull ache into pleasure.

Ichigo made a noise like he was breaking and his eyes went silver.  Kisuke gasped as he suddenly found himself on his back, one leg around Ichigo's hips and one hooked over his shoulder.  He gave the younger man a sensuous knowing smile and poured his reiatsu over Ichigo in a heavy wave.  Ichigo cried out and slammed into him, his power washing over them and making the blond scream.  He grabbed the redhead's shoulders, jerking him forward and sealing their mouths together as Ichigo began to move.  The pace was frantic - fast, erratic thrusts with massive spikes of reiatsu from both of them.

Ichigo came first, thrusting into him hard and screaming, power spilling over him in a rush that sent him following the younger man with a wail.   He wasn't sure how long they laid there, neither coherent enough to move, but eventually Ichigo slid off him.  Kisuke groaned and sat up, only to be tugged back down and tucked against Ichigo's side.  He sighed and let his eyes slip closed, basking.

"I'm glad I ended up here," he eventually murmured.  The younger man made a soft questioning noise and the blond glanced up at him.  "I never thought I'd be happy to have been banished," he explained.  "But this is good.  I'm...I'm happy here. 

"I never was a very good captain," he admitted quietly.

"Don't be stupid," muttered Ichigo, giving him a quick kiss.  "You were probably an incredible captain."

Kisuke shook his head, warmed by Ichigo's assertions even if they weren't true.  "No, I preferred my lab a little too much and...being banished made me think about things."  He paused, grey eyes slipping closed.  "It made me a better person," he admitted quietly.

Strong fingers tangled in his hair and dragged his head up so that blazing eyes could bore into him.  "You are a good person, Kisuke.  And the next time I hear you say otherwise I'll kick your ass," growled Ichigo, kissing him hard and deep.  And as that skilled tongue plundered his mouth, the blond found he almost believed him.   

He awoke feeling calm and relaxed, better than he had in days.   Kisuke rolled over, luxuriating in the feel of a soft mattress and a warm comforter rather than a hard cot and a thin sleeping bag.  Sometime in the night, someone, probably Grimmjow, had moved him from the couch to his bed.  He smiled faintly and wondered if it would be worth needling Grimmjow about the small kindness.

He gave up worrying about it and just twisted under the covers.  He was almost ready to just spend the day lounging in bed.  He hadn't felt so relaxed in ages and didn't want to lose feeling.  He had been tense and frightened for so long, and now, suddenly, he felt good.  It was almost intoxicating.

Eventually he was dragged from bed by his body's demands and from there lured to the shower.  It had been days since his last real shower, although he imagined the healers had given him a sponge bath - a fact that were it ever confirmed, meant he would have to commit honorable suicide.  The shower was spacious, easily big enough for two or three people, and done in cream and slate blue, with a tub that would be perfect to soak in.  Kisuke decided instantly that he loved it, Grimmjow's assertions about water aside.

He turned the water up almost as hot as it would go and groaned as he slipped under the spray.  It was absolute perfection, he decided, savoring the feeling for a few moments before grabbing a wash cloth and beginning to scrub, taking the chance to examine his injuries.  The wound to his leg was closed, nothing more than two faint lines on either side of his calf.  The chest wound was closed but the skin was still pink and tender.  He shuddered as he realized that he had nearly been flayed, a section of flesh almost six inches long and five inches wide had been cut from his ribs.  The only thing that had saved him from being cleaved in two was that the blade had bounced off his ribs. 

He finished getting clean without any other disturbing revelations; the knowledge that Grimmjow was in the other room and would sense it kept him from enjoying the shower further.  He was just toweling off when he felt a flash of reiatsu, sharp and full of anger.  He slid carefully out of the bathroom and toward the living room, sensing three presences - one was Grimmjow and two were new, although faintly familiar.

"He's sleeping.  He needs to rest," snarled Grimmjow, his voice a growl and a low rumbling coming from his chest.

"He's wide awake and hiding just beyond the door there," correctly a masculine voice in an amused drawl.

Kisuke stepped into the doorway.  Grimmjow stood between him and two Shinigami captains - Ukitake Jyuushiro and Kyouraku Shunsui.  The Arrancar was growling menacingly but the two men looked more amused than frightened.

"Good morning, Kisuke," murmured Jyuushiro giving him a small smile and a polite nod.

"Interesting choice of nurses," grinned Shunsui.

"Fuck off, asshole," groused Grimmjow and Kisuke knew if the Arrancar had a tail it would be lashing angrily.  "And sit your ass down before you fall down," he snapped at Kisuke, stalking toward the Shinigami and forcing them back a meter or two.  Kisuke shook his head, smiling faintly at the former Espada's antics.

"Lay off.  I feel fine.  I just needed some sleep.  Breakfast would be good though.  Do we have any more of the curry?" he asked, glancing around with interest.  Jyuushiro and Shunsui were both smiling and Grimmjow looked like he wanted to bite something. 

"You are not eating that crap for breakfast!"  

"Why don't you and I get our young friend some breakfast, Kitty Cat?  Jyuushiro can keep an eye on Kisuke," purred Shunsui, his brown eyes sparkling with merriment.

"Kitty?  Cat?" Grimmjow managed to growl out, looking too offended to even punch the other man.  Kisuke was holding in his laughter, not wanting Grimmjow's ire turned on him, but delighted by the interplay.  It was nice to see someone pissing off Grimmjow for a change.

"Food," he prompted when it looked like Grimmjow might have recovered enough to rip Shunsui's throat out.  Kisuke watched as violence warred with the Arrancar's mother hen instincts.

"Lose him and I will rip your fucking head off," he growled at Jyuushiro, stalking off with Shunsui at his heels.  The captain of the Eighth had a smug smirk on his lips, as if he wasn't at all concerned with the fact that a powerful Arrancar wanted him dead.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a very interesting day," murmured Jyuushiro. Kisuke smiled faintly at the older man and shrugged.

Chapter Text

The Arrancar stalked down the hallway like an angry jungle cat, lower ranking Shinigami ducking out of his way.  Shunsui chuckled softly, following along in his wake and earning curious stares.

As they reached the end of the corridor Grimmjow wheeled on him, grabbing his haori and pulling him close.  Shunsui caught himself on the other man's chest and stared into furious blue eyes.  "You or that other guy upset him in any way and I'll fucking kill you," Grimmjow snarled at him, a deep rumbling growl resonating in his chest.

Shunsui stared into those icy blue eyes, fascinated by the feral rage in those eyes and the vibrations of the flesh under his fingers.  Something in those eyes reminded him of the time when they were boys when he and Jyuushiro had stumbled upon a wild cat and her litter.  The kittens had been awkward and curious of them, but the mother had hissed and scratched if they ventured too near.  Grimmjow was behaving exactly the same way. 

He smiled at the feline in human form before him, grabbing one of his wrists and twisting it up behind the Arrancar's back in a move that made the cat roar with outrage.  Sharp claws were driven into his thigh and Shunsui winced, tugging Grimmjow's wrist higher and silently threatening to dislocate his arm.  "Calm down, Grimm-chan.  I'm not going to hurt you," he purred into the infuriated Espada's ear.  "Behave, Kitty.  No one is going to hurt you or your kitten.  I promise," he murmured, tugging just a little harder to make his point.

The claws in his thigh twitched and he could see the speculative tension in the other man's body.  "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Do not," muttered the Arrancar sulkily.  "We needed the brat.  Kurosaki and the rest of you bastards woulda killed us without him."

Shunsui chuckled softly, his free hand ruffling electric blue hair, surprised at the silky softness of it.  "Liar.  We don't have to like each other, Grimm-chan, but we all need to play nicely for Kisuke's sake.  You can at least admit that much, can't you?"

"You fuckin' bastards lost him.  You and your fuckin' people took him.  Got him all riled up and upset," hissed Grimmjow, his voice a mixture of anger and sulking complaint.

Shunsui continued to card his finger through the Arancar's hair, noting that the other man slowly began to arch into the touches.  "I know.  What Mayuri did was foolish and we all should have watched him better. 

"What if Jyuushiro and I try our best not to upset Kisuke?  You could stay with him and make sure.  If it looks like we're upsetting him you can tell us."

Grimmjow growled, but the claws in his legs retracted and Shunsui sighed.  The Arrancar muttered darkly about kittens and Shinigami but Shunsui could tell there was no real heat behind the words.  Amazingly, Kisuke appeared to have found the family he had always wanted in the irritable Arrancar.  "You shitheads upset him and I'll let him tear you up one side and down the other before I fuck ya on yer own damned swords," hissed the former Espada, his eyes filled with hate.

Shunsui carefully turned the other man lose, tipping his hat slightly.  "Keeping Kisuke safe and happy is something I think we all want," he purred, giving Grimmjow one final pat on the head and nearly losing a fingertip as he withdrew his hand.  He chuckled at the feline display of contrariness and slipped around the Arrancar.  "We'd better hurry or they'll come hunt us up."

Grimmjow growled at him and stomped past him, head down and glancing around warily.  Definitely a cat, thought Shunsui.

"What's with that other guy?  He smells weird," muttered the Arrancar after a few tense moments of silence.

"Jyuushiro is ill," he began before the Arrancar turned on him again, his reiatsu blazing.

"AND YOU LEFT HIM WITH THE KITTEN!?!" screamed the blue-haired man.

He caught the ex-Espada before he could take off down the hall, ducking the swipe of a claw-tipped hand that probably would have knocked his head clean off if it had connected.  He used his grip and swung the Arrancar into a wall, pinning him there with a forearm across the throat.  "Jyuushiro's condition is genetic.  Non-transferable.  Kisuke is more likely to die of a paper cut than to be in danger of contracting it," he told the blue-haired man, shouting to be heard over a choked off roar.

"Shunsui?" cried Jyuushiro, shunpo carrying the captain of the Thirteenth to his side.

"Let him go!" screamed Kisuke, standing there in nothing more than a towel and a glowing red halo of power.  "Hadou 33: Sou..." he began, cut off as a large hand settled over his mouth and another went around his waist, trapping him against Abarai.  Kisuke struggled furiously and Grimmjow was thrashing just as hard.

"Calm down!" shouted Jyuushiro, his power crashing over all of them like a wave and stilling them.  "Everyone just calm down.  Kisuke, Abarai-san is going to release you, but no kidou.  Shunsui will release Jeagerjaques, who in turn will not kill him," came Jyuushiro's infinitely patient voice.

Slowly, with infinite care, everyone stood down.  Jeagerjaques rushed over to check on Kisuke while Jyuushiro slid close to him.  A cough wracked his frame and Shunsui slipped an arm around his lover. 

"What happened?" asked the pale-haired man, wiping away a small bit of blood from his lips.

"The kitty was worried about Kisuke and got a little over-excited.  I think we have it all worked out.  Are you alright?" he asked quietly.

"Just a small exertion.  I'll be fine.  Was it really necessary to nettle him, Shunsui?  We are trying to get them to trust us," sighed Jyuushiro.

Shunsui nodded and tried to look contrite, it was a good look, it fooled Nanao almost every time.  Jyuushiro was apparently made of sterner stuff.  "I taught you that look, idiot.  When you got caught climbing into the girls' dormitories to meet that redhead with the...what was it?  Enormous eyes?"  Shunsui chuckled and felt his cheeks heat, trust Jyuushiro to remember everything.  And it wasn't like he had been the only one to sneak in to the girls’ dorms - Isshin and Jyuushiro both had.  And there were some fascinating rumors about what Yoruichi got up to.

"Alright.  No poking the kitty.  Do you want to take him and get the food?"

"I probably should.  Can you sit with Kisuke?"  Shunsui nodded, making his way carefully back to the blond, who was being fussed over by Grimmjow.  The two grew quiet as he drew near and Shunsui sighed, there were times he really did think Nanao had a point about his needing to be more serious.

"I'll take care of Kisuke if you want to go with Jyuushiro to get breakfast?" he offered.  The Arrancar snapped at him but stomped off towards the mess, Jyuushiro quickly following him.

Kisuke glared at him and drew himself up tall and straight, walking back to his room and into his bedroom, slamming the door.  When he emerged the younger man had traded his towel for a pair of blue jeans and a dark green t-shirt.  He stalked into the living room, ignoring Shunsui and curling up in a chair like a wary cat.  Clearly he had been spending a little too much time with felines.

"Are you alright?" he offered tentatively into the awkward silence.

"I'm fine.  I wouldn't want to calculate your odds of survival though," retorted Kisuke before falling silent again.

Shunsui poured himself a cup of sake and sipped it, noticing the blond's lips moving every now and again.  "Are you actually calculating it?" he asked, because doing so would have been such a very Kisuke-like thing to do.

"No, I was calculating pi.  I was out to the sixteenth place past the decimal," murmured Kisuke.

"Why in the world," began Shunsui before remembering it was Kisuke and he was prone to rather odd amusements.

"I happen to like math," retorted the blond.  "Besides, what else am I supposed to do?  You aren't going to allow me to leave anytime soon."

Shunsui stared at him for a moment.  "What makes you think that?"

"Because I'm not an idiot.  The threat Aizen poses to me isn't going to just disappear.  Urahara isn't just going to go back in the box," muttered Kisuke.  Shunsui could see there was more, but he could also see that asking about it would shut the younger man down.

"You sound rather resigned to things," he ventured carefully, suddenly having a new sympathy for Yama-jii and their other teachers.  It was disconcerting to be confronted with power and a towering intellect in the body of a teenager.

Kisuke shurgged.  "I'm used to the fact that my life is never going to be normal.  I've been seeing ghosts and dreaming about a dead Shinigami captain since before I could walk," he said, his voice breaking near the end.

"You've been remembering that long?" asked Jyuushiro from the doorway, the Arrancar behind him and carrying enough food to feed a small army.

"Dreaming.  Not remembering.  There's a difference.  And I don't want to talk about it," snapped Kisuke.

"Good.  Eat your fucking breakfast," growled Grimmjow, shoving past Jyuushiro and setting the food down in front of the blond.  There was toast, eggs - poached, hard boiled, fried and scrambled - ham, steak, bacon, three types of melon, orange juice, milk and coffee.

Jyuushiro smiled faintly at the display and settled next to him on the couch.  Shunsui tossed an arm around the other man's shoulders.  "Everything okay?  Did you and Grimm-chan play nice?" he asked the other man, pouring himself a cup of sake.

"Still in one piece." 

"Quit calling me that," snarled Grimmjow, circling nearer to them and sniffing the air delicately.  "And what's that shit?"

"This is sake, very good sake," murmured Shunsui as his cup was snatched away to be sniffed at and frowned over.

"Try some," murmured Jyuushiro giving him a slight nudge to refill the cup.  Shunsui dutifully poured a little into the cup and watched as it was again sniffed at before being tossed back in one gulp.

"Good?" asked Kisuke as the Arrancar puzzled over the taste, clearly trying to decide if he liked it.  Kisuke smiled as Grimmjow made a noncommittal noise.  "Let me see."

Shunsui shared a smile with Jyuushiro as Grimmjow growled and ordered Kisuke to eat his breakfast before snarling at him not to give the young man any sake.  They lapsed into silence while Kisuke ate, the boy being the only one who didn't seem to notice or care about the tension in the room.  Urahara had always been good about ignoring tension though, years of being the only person not of noble status to associate with them and Yoruichi.

"That was a very impressive kidou display the other day," Jyuushiro finally murmured.  Grimmjow's attention whipped from cupboard he had been examining, blue eyes darting between them and Kisuke. 

The blond shrugged.  "Once I got the theory it was easy enough.  Are we going to sit here all day and stare at each other?  Because if we are I'm going to go back to bed," replied the blond tartly.

"Well, we could go to the shoten and have a little kendo practice?" suggested Jyuushiro.

Chapter Text

Deciding it was better to beard the dragon in his den rather than wait for the dragon to find him, Ichigo found himself knocking on Hitsugaya's door.  It was early but not unreasonably so, meaning he was not going to be walking in on Toushiro and his little sister.   Karin stayed over about four times a week, so encountering her was more likely that not.  He had escaped Uyruu and Renji's before they could find him in cum smeared robes.  He was fairly sure Ishida considered coming on his couch a justifiable reason for murder.  And really, how embarrassing was it to be nearly forty and still having wet dreams like a teenager?

Despite the somewhat mortifying start to his morning, he felt better than he had in days.  Kisuke was alright and safely under Uryuu and Renji's watchful eyes.  He would have preferred having the other man under his own care, but he could be patient.  He had reason to be.  Kisuke's reiatsu had been a subtle presence at the edge of his own power all morning, gently caressing him.  The touches were teasingly light but achingly familiar; they were Kisuke.  His Kisuke.  He knew there was a stupid little smile on his lips, but he couldn't help it. 

The door flew open under his hand and Karin glared darkly at him for a moment before recognizing it was him and relaxing.  "If it's more bad news I'm going to kick your ass myself," she warned him.  Definitely his little sister, thought Ichigo with a grin.   

"Everything's fine.  I promise.  Although, if Ishida comes looking for me about a couch, you haven't seen me," he told her, kissing her brow and following her into Toushiro's quarters.  Her hair was brushed sleek and shiny, but she was still in her robe - a beautiful creation of purple silk that Hitsugaya had given her - a cup of coffee in her hand. 

"Where's Toushiro?" he asked, glancing around as he didn't spot the captain of the Tenth anywhere in the living room or dining room.  It was early but Hitsugaya could usually be counted upon to be up by now.  Hell, before Karin he would have been in the office before now.

"Still asleep.  The last few days haven't been good for him - he's barely slept and he pushed himself way too hard.  The dummy shouldn't have been up at all, but someone had to coordinate the search.  He never listens," sighed Karin, leading him into the dining room and pouring him a cup of coffee.  Ichigo recognized the grumbling tone and the emotions behind it, she was worried for her lover and angry that he had pushed himself so hard.

“How is he?” he asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“Better.  Hanatarou says he should be back on his feet in another three or four days if he actually listens this time and rests.  Matsumoto and I are handling most of the paperwork until then.”  Nothing new about that.  Karin had been an unofficial part of the Tenth since the first night she had stayed over.  Most of the Tenth viewed her rank as somewhere between Matsumoto and Hitsugaya.

“Not going in to work today?” he asked.  He knew she had been calling in sick since the whole business with Kisuke started; but he had assumed that she would be heading back to her human life soon.

Karin shook her head.  “I told them my fiancé had been injured and I wanted to look after him.  Although sometimes I think I should just do what you did and become a Shinigami.  Hisagi-san and Ukitake-san have both mentioned openings in their divisions.”  Ukitake and Hisagi had been courting her since Toushiro had begun seeing her, both men eager to find themselves a vice captain. 

For a horrible moment Ichigo could see her down at the bottom of a shaft, her arms pinned as she screamed.  His baby sister.  She would survive the change of course.  He knew Karin and she was a fighter.  She would emerge just as he had. 

He didn’t want her to though.

He didn’t want to have to watch as his baby sister suffered or see her come to terms with the darkness she could be capable of.  Suddenly the nightmare Kisuke had occasionally woken from, tears on his cheeks and a desperately apology on his lips, made a lot more sense.  “You don’t want to do that, Karin.  Not what I did.” 

“Why not?  You turned out okay.”

“Yeah, but…,”  How to explain?  To find the words to make her understand that Shattered Shaft wasn’t hard on the person at the bottom of the shaft, it was hardest on the people at the top.  The people who stood waiting while someone they cared about suffered.  He wasn‘t strong enough to do that to her.  Kisuke had done it and he had hated himself for it.  “The way I was changed…it’s too dangerous.  We can talk to Tessai, maybe check Urahara’s notes,” he murmured.  He could take down the wards around Urahara’s workshop easily enough, but he wasn’t sure even Tessai would be able to make head or heels of Kisuke’s notes. 

After the blond had died, he and Tessai had sealed the workshop.  They hadn’t even bothered trying to inventory it.  Very few things were labeled and Urahara’s notes were a jumble of information.  There were math problems suddenly appearing in the middle of the page, random bits of what Ichigo thought might be poetry, and sometimes the notes were nothing more than a word or two meant to jog Kisuke’s memory.  There had been a very good reason no one but Kisuke had touched anything in the workshop.  

"You know, one of these days we're going to have to have a long discussion about your choice in boyfriends," she growled at him.

"Like you're one to talk.  Kisuke was a pushover compared to your ice dragon.  You should talk to Toushiro though, before you decide anything...be sure about it," he murmured softly, taking her hand in his and giving it a gentle squeeze.

"I know.  I just hate not being able to be with him all the time, which is stupid because we couldn't be together all the time even if I was a Shinigami," she said in a sigh.  He could understand though.  Toushiro was hers and she couldn't protect him.  And Karin handled that about as well as he would have.

"It'll be alright," he told her, leaning forward and kissing her forehead.

"You know, I tried to talk to you last night.  You weren't in your room," she told him, sitting back and once more his strong, confident, younger sister.

"Yeah, I crashed on Uryuu and Renji's couch last night and in my office before that.  My rooms are still a mess from before," he muttered, frowning irritably at the reminder of his outburst.  It would take him ages to get his rooms back together.  It could have been worse however, he could have killed someone.  He wondered about the Shinigami sometimes, how much brainpower did it take to figure out that drugging someone as insanely powerful and emotionally fucked up as him was a bad idea.  

Karin sighed softly.  "Do I even want to ask or can I just assume that you and Ishida had a few words with Kurotshuchi?"

"Renji and I, actually.  But officially we were drinking all night.  Uryuu will vouch for us," he told her with a grin, making Karin laugh.

"I'll be sure and note that," she told him wryly.  "So when were you planning on mentioning the latest development with Urahara?" Karin asked glancing at a portion of empty air around his feet, obviously noticing the hints of the other man's reiatsu mixed in with his own.  

"No development to report.  I haven't seen him since yesterday in the hall.  Uryuu suspects the reiatsu thing is instinct.  We reach out for each other, like you and Toushiro, or him and Renji.  It's nice, soothing," he whispered softly, savoring the soft touch of the blond's reiatsu. 

"My brother the sap," murmured Karin, getting him more coffee and kissing his forehead.  They drank in comfortable silence for a few minutes.

"So what did Dad want?" Ichigo finally asked.

"Him?  It was weird, even for him.  He just yammered at me and left, didn't really say anything at all," muttered Karin.  "I was just about ready to kick him.  Everyone was running around and he was talking about the goddamn weather."

Ichigo shook his head, wondering if too long in a gigai led to mental problems or something.  It was far more comforting than thinking their father was just batshit insane.  "Any truth to the rumor that Ishida senior was with him?  Having his dad around makes Uryuu twitchy," he explained when Karin frowned at him.

"Never saw him, but there is something weird going on with those two."

"I'm beginning to think normal and Urahara are unable to exist in any sort of proximity to one another.  One kills the other almost instantly," murmured Toushiro around a yawn.  "Good morning, Kurosaki," he nodded to Ichigo, his hand ghosted over Karin's for the briefest instant, but Ichigo could sense the spike in both their energies.  The frown melted from Karin's lips, replaced by a sweet smile, as Toushiro fixed himself a cup of black coffee before joining them at the table.

"I'm going to get going.  I need to get into my office or Rukia's gonna skin me.  See ya, Hitsugaya.  Bye, Karin," he murmured, beating a hasty retreat, figuring talking to Karin had been as good as talking to Toushiro.  And honestly, he really did not need to see his friend and his baby sister making eyes at each other over coffee.

Chapter Text

"Ya sure you're up to this?" demanded Grimmjow, shifting restlessly and glaring at Kisuke grumpily.  The Arrancar was not happy about his being up and about.  And very not happy about his decision to spar with Jyuushiro and Shunsui.  He needed to move though, he couldn't sit around his room without wanting to break something.  He had never handled boredom well and enforced boredom...the results of what he might come up with scared even him. 

Kisuke laughed and stretched, using his bokken to arch his back, before straightening and flashing the Arrancar a bright smile.  "I'll be fine," he said confidently.  "I bet I can even do better than you."

The Arrancar's smile grew sharp and he struck at the blond with his own bokken, only to find Kisuke was already in motion and beyond his reach.  The younger man laughed and pivoted, darting in close to whack Grimmjow on the back, running away as the Arrancar turned. 

"Gotcha," laughed Kisuke, dancing away and grinning brightly. 

"Kisuke used to train with Yoruichi," drawled Shunsui, from his seat next to Jyuushiro, the captain of the Thirteenth having chosen to sit out.  "She's wickedly fast."

"She also cheats shamelessly," called Jyuushiro, making Kisuke grin.

"It's only cheating if you get caught.  If you win, it's a novel strategy," replied the blond.

Grimmjow growled and took off after the boy, bringing his bokken down in a blow that would have been bruising had it connected.  It didn't.  At the last instant Kisuke twisted his body, evading the blow and using his new position to strike yet again at Grimmjow's exposed back.  A moment later he was out of the Arrancar's reach once more.  "Missed me," he taunted.  Grimmjow grinned wickedly, tossing aside his sword and bridging the distance between them in an instant to slap the boy on the back, staggering him.

"Gotcha," retorted Grimmjow with a grin, sticking out his tongue.

Kisuke looked offended for a second before he broke out laughing and rushed at Grimmjow, causing the Arrancar to leap aside.  A moment later they were off, chasing each other around the training grounds, throwing taunts at one another and laughing.

"Go play, I can see you want to," Jyuushiro murmured to Shunsui, seeing the childish delight in his eyes at the game so very like their own.  Shunsui gave him a grateful smile and a quick kiss on the cheek before he was off.

Both Grimmjow and Kisuke watched as the captain of the Eighth set aside his sword and picked up a bokken, neither looked eager to have him join in the game, but neither objected either.  Grimmjow took the first swipe at him and Kisuke watched with interest.  The older man was fast with a large step, but he couldn't turn as quickly as him or Grimmjow.

The two older men traded blows as Kisuke watched them both carefully.  It was obvious that neither considered a human much of a threat.  He was smaller - only slightly, but it was enough - and weaker than them.  He was also smarter, he thought with amusement.  He waited for a break in the two men's pattern of break, attack, break and then he moved.   

Kisuke darted in at Shunsui's left flank, twisting abruptly and smacking Grimmjow before stealing Shunsui's hat and running.  Both men yelped and were after him in an instant, making him laugh and grin.  "Too slow," he taunted, turning and slipping between the two as they tried to follow him, their momentum carrying them past him and for a few critical meters.

He wove and dodged between them, grey eyes bright and relaxing into the game.  He lengthened his stride, settling into a ground-eating pace that felt wonderful.  It was just him, no Urahara, no loss of control - only him, he realized.  He stole a glance back at his pursuers and smirked before planting his sword and using it to swing around and reverse course.  Shunsui and Grimmjow cursed and tried to follow, but neither was light enough for that trick.

Shunpo carried Shunsui in front of him and Kisuke grimaced, twisting and taking a blow across his shoulder.  Grimmjow grabbed the hat from him with a triumphant cry and turned to flee.  He got only a few steps before a dark shape darted in and stole the hat, making Grimmjow roar in outrage and Shunsui shout to Jyuushiro about fair play.

"I'm still out," replied the other man with a smile.  "I believe Yoruichi has found us."

"Yoruichi," breathed Kisuke, skidding to a halt as something fluttered in his chest - so many feelings, so many conflicting emotions.  Love, loyalty, joy, anguish, resentment, hatred.  He fell to his knees, eyes wide and body trembling as he tried to stem the flow - or at least make sense of it all.  He loved her, she was his dearest friend, and he hated her just as much, she was family and family always hit the hardest - because they knew where it hurt. 

Ichigo loved him and believed in him, made him want to be the man Ichigo thought he could be.  Yoruichi knew what he was.  She stood by him, trusted him, but she never let him forget what he was either. 

Reiatsu, soft and gentle, brushed over him, offering comfort.  He drew it in, his eyes drifting closed as it caressed his cheek and something deep inside told him that everything would be all right.  He opened his eyes and wondered for a second if maybe he had taken a blow to the head because the world was cast in a shimmering silver-blue glow before the energy shifted and the world returned to normal. 

"Kitten?  Kitten?" pressed Grimmjow instantly at his side, a rumbling growl in his chest as he searched for someone to blame and eviscerate for the sin of upsetting him.

A big hand drew back to slap him when he didn't respond, but was caught by a pale hand with an iron grip.  Reiatsu flared and blue eyes met brown.  "I don't think that will be necessary," murmured Jyuushiro, kneeling to catch his eyes.  "Kisuke?  Kisuke, are you alright?"

He nodded, not trusting his throat to words.  "Told you bastards this was a bad idea," muttered Grimmjow tugging him up and dragging him to a rock.

"He's all right.  Ichigo would be here out for bloody vengeance if he wasn't," murmured Yoruichi, alighting gracefully next to him, the hat on her head.

Shunsui grabbed his hat, giving them all a mournful look as he tried to resettle it. 

"You're still doing it wrong," Kisuke heard himself say wearily.  Four pairs of eyes regarded him with curiosity.  "You'll never fool anyone that way.  The corners of your mouth still tilt upwards," he went on.  Grimmjow wrapped a protective arm around his shoulders and glared at the three Shinigami captains while shooting him worried looks.  "I'm not insane.  Well, not any more than I ever was," he snapped defensively, feeling tears welling.

Grimmjow grabbed him in an awkward embrace, rubbing his cheek against Kisuke's hair, a soft rumble coming from his chest.  A pale, delicate hand touched his shoulder and drew his eyes to Jyuushiro's kindly smiling face.  "Of course you aren't."

"I still wouldn't call you entirely right in the head, but you aren't nuts," muttered Yoruichui, reaching out to ruffle his hair.  Grimmjow jerked him away from her, the soothing purr going to a warning growl.

"I don't think the kitty wants to share, Yoru-chan," laughed Shunsui, reaching out to scratch gently behind Grimmjow's ear.  Kisuke nearly giggled as the Arrancar allowed the touch for a moment before scowling and snapping at the captain of the Eighth.

"Quit flirting.  You aren't fooling anyone," snorted Yoruichi.

Kisuke glanced between merry and knowing brown eyes, to dark eyes filled with amusement and finally to annoyed blue eyes, reading them all.  Clearly Yoruichi had forgotten who she was dealing with.  Grimmjow wouldn't have been the first person to end up between the captain of the Eighth and Thirteenth.  The very idea of it though... "Eeeeww!  No!  Not going there!  Ew!" he cried, struggling out of Grimmjow's embrace to glare between Jyuushiro and Shunsui.  Shunsui was chuckling and Jyuushiro's smile was decidedly amused and Kisuke decided that someone really needed to invent mental bleach because - well, just no!

He whacked Yoruichi's shins with his bokken, earning a startled yelp.  "Look what you did!  And just....Eeeew!"

Jyuushiro chuckled.  "I would suggest we continue with our game, since the current topic seems to be upsetting Kisuke," he murmured, plucking Shunsui's hat from his head. 

Kisuke glared at him for a moment, grey eyes meeting brown.  "No details.  Ever," he snapped, grabbing the hat and receiving the tiniest of nods from Jyuushiro as he trotted back onto the field.

Shunsui gave his lover a put upon smile.  "Was it really necessary to give him my hat?"

"Would you like a seventeen year-old Kisuke annoyed with you?"

"Good point."

"Are we playing or not?" growled Kisuke and three figures obediently returned to the field.

Chapter Text

He had snuck out of the office after lunch, not that there had been much sneaking necessary.  Rukia had left with Matsumoto and Karin muttering something about a dress and plans.  If it had been another woman, Ichigo would have said she had a date, but Rukia's last date had been during the Bush administration.  Having Byakuya as a brother was not conductive to dating - especially since last he'd heard, Byakuya had the standing policy of anyone touching his baby sister would be touched by Senbonzakura.

He had wandered the base for a bit, avoiding going back to his rooms to begin the clean up before escaping into Soul Society.  The Eleventh was always up for company, although visiting often meant having to spar with Zaraki.  And more fearsome yet, it meant playing with Yachiru and Nel. 

The young vice captain had become fast friends with the little Arrancar and the two were the terror of Soul Society.  Nel was still trapped in her childish form, although Ichigo was never sure if it was a matter of her not being able to grow up or not wanting to.  She had found a sister in Yachiru, a father in Zaraki and she had the entire Eleventh as her playmates. 

Of course not everyone was thrilled with the demonic duo.  As far as Ichigo knew, Yumichika and Ikkaku still hadn't forgiven him for bringing the young Arrancar to Soul Society.  Yumichika had never really gotten over the girls dying his hair green and cutting it into a mohawk.

He was just passing the Sixth on his way to the Eleventh when a massive burst of reiatsu washed over him.  A rush of power coming from the Sixth was odd and caught his attention.  Byakuya wasn't big on large showy displays of power and most of his people learned to emulate their captain - at least they did if they didn't want to be glared at.  The Eleventh was the place for blowing things up, although the Fifth and Third were getting a reputation for it too.

He saw a flash of pink in the distance and wondered just what the hell was going on; Byakuya didn't often train with his people and he never brought out his shi-kai.  Curiosity getting the better of him, Ichigo hopped up onto the roof of outer walkway of the Sixth and looked around.  A glimmer of green drew his eye and he leapt nearer.  When he saw what was happening, Ichigo could hardly believe it - well away from the eyes of the division, Byakuya was battling Ulquiorra. 

Ichigo couldn't remember the last time he had seen Byakuya spar and he had never seen the noble like this.  His hair was free of the Kenseikan, pulled back into a simple braid, and his haori had been abandoned.  He was sweaty and even a little bloody.  Ulquiorra was similarly mussed and there was even a tiny smile on his lips and a glimmer of excitement in his green eyes.  

Byakuya smirked and a graceful wave of his hand sent a wash of blades hurling at the former Espada.  Ulquiorra easily avoided the deadly barrage and sent a cero blast straight at the noble.  A wall of cherry blossoms appeared between the captain of the Sixth and the blast, absorbing it, before whipping forward at Ulquiorra.   Ichigo watched in utter fascination as the Arrancar parried the storm of blades with a bright green blast.  Not many people would have been able to counter Byakuya and the fact that Ulquiorra was swinging a blade for Byakuya's head a mere heartbeat later was truly impressive.

A quick step to the left took Byakuya from harm's way and his sword was at Ulquiorra's neck a second later.  The Arrancar froze, his green eyes sliding closed in a silent admission of defeat.  A tiny smile settled onto the noble's lips, "That is a boon you owe me, Ulquiorra."

The smaller man nodded as the sword was withdrawn from his throat.  "What would you have of me?" murmured Ulquiorra, his voice soft and differential.  There was an odd tension to the former Espada's stance though, as if he expected violence.

Ichigo watched as something tender settled over Byakuya's features, softening his expression.  A graceful hand stole out to caress Ulquiorra's cheek and the smaller man flinched before he could help it.  Byakuya frowned and Ichigo watched in utter amazement as the normally reserved noble drew the Arrancar into a gentle embrace.  "I would never betray the trust you have given me in such a manner," promised Byakuya softly.

Ulquiorra nodded, looking both embarrassed and uncomfortable, it was the most blatant display of emotion Ichigo had ever witnessed from the former fourth Espada.  And he still couldn't quite believe that it had been Byakuya - cool, reserved, stick-in-the-mud Byakuya - to draw it from him.  "I know.  To suppress a lifetime of instinct however," began Ulquiorra softly, something almost apologetic in his voice, before long, delicate fingers brushed his lips and silenced the Arrancar.

Byakuya tilted the smaller man's face upwards and he brushed his lips over the Arrancar's.  He then knelt, gazing up at the other man solemnly, "What came before has nothing to do with us.  I swear never to show you such disrespect."

Ulquiorra's hand brushed Byakuya's cheek, earning a small smile from the noble, and a moment later the Arrancar was leaning over to press his lips to the other man's.  Ichigo watched as the kiss went from a tender brush of the lips to something heated and filled with passion.  Pale fingers tangled in Byakuya's hair and Byakuya's went around the Arrancar's waist, drawing him nearer.  There was something odd about the idea of the two them together; but seeing it, seeing the hesitant affection, it was beautiful, thought Ichigo.

The kiss ended and the two men nuzzled affectionately.  "Dine with me in two night’s time," pressed Byakuya, rising gracefully, one hand twining with Ulquiorra's while the other caressed his cheek.  The Arrancar nodded his consent and the satisfied smile that bloomed on Byakuya's face was something the Shinigami Women's Association would have paid through the nose to get a shot of. 

"I had wanted to wait until then to ask, but I find myself unable to do so," murmured Byakuya.  "As you know, in a few days the discussion as to your dispensation will begin.  It is likely that you will be granted entry into Soul Society and asked to join the Gotei Thirteen.  I would ask you to consider joining the Sixth."

The small satisfied twist of Ulquiorra' lips was smug, but there was something grateful in his eyes.  "You just want someone to help you with your paperwork.  Most shrewd of you," murmured the Arrancar.  And then the world turned on its head because Byakuya laughed, his grey eyes filled with warm amusement.

"You expect me not to press an advantage?" purred the noble. 

Ulquiorra regarded the other man for a moment before giving him a small smile.  "I would be honored to serve under you, Kuchiki Byakuya," murmured Ulquiorra, kneeling and offering his sword to the captain of the Sixth.

Graceful fingers ran over the blade before Byakuya nodded.  "It is I who would be honored, Ulquiorra Schiffer."  The fingers shifted to caress the bone mask for a moment before taking one of Ulquiorra's hands and drawing it to Byakuya's lips.  "I fear I must return to my office, but thank you.  I have enjoyed myself greatly."

Ulquiorra nodded and Byakuya gave him one last small smile before leaving.  Ulquiorra watched him go, something very near to longing on his usually impassive face, before he turned and left. 

Ichigo shook his head and sighed, wondering if it was too early in the day to start drinking, because Byakuya dating Ulquiorra definitely warranted a few shots.  "Oh fuck!" he moaned as he realized that eventually news of the relationship would get out - meaning eventually Rukia would hear.  Somehow, he didn't see her handling the information well.  And if she learned that he had known about it and not told her...  Well, there were a lot of ways a vice captain could make her captain's life utter hell if she wanted to - and Rukia knew all of them.

Ichigo sighed, letting a few quick steps carry him to outside Byakuya's office, figuring it would be a good idea to have a word with the noble about what he had seen.  Let Byakuya be the one to tell Rukia and face her ire, he only had to see her at family events, Ichigo had to see her everyday.   The serene, almost smile on Byakuya's lips vanished as he saw him.  "Kurosaki," he murmured, calm and cool, like he wasn't mussed from sparring and other activities.

"Byakuya," he nodded in greeting, following the other man into his office and closing the door.  The dark-haired noble turned to frown at him, eyeing the closed door with annoyance.

"May I help you with something, Kurosaki?" he bit out. 

"Look, I know it's none of my business, but if you’re serious about Ulquiorra, then you need talk to Rukia.  And the sooner the better."  The angry flash of the other man's reiatsu was startling and made Ichigo wince.  

"How I choose to conduct my affairs is none of your concern, Kurosaki.  If you must know however, I intend to speak to Rukia this evening," ground out Byakuya, drawing himself up tall and rigid, his bearing icy but his eyes blazing.

Ichigo sighed and rubbed at his eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache, but that was nothing new with him and Byakuya.  "I'm sorry okay.  I'm not going to go telling everyone, I just wanted to make sure...Rukia's ...fuck," he muttered.

Byakuya seemed to understand, some of the frigid hatred leeching from him.  "I am aware of my responsibilities regarding my sister."

Ichigo nodded.  "Good, then I'll just go."

"Please do so," growled Byakuya.

Chapter Text

"Kuchiki fukutaichou?" cried Tatsuki, hardly recognizing the fukutaichou of the Fifth.  She was in her gigai and dressed in sleek black shift dress.  She looked stylish and sophisticated, the dress accenting her delicate frame and bringing out the pallor of her skin.  Coupled with her dark hair it made the hints of blue in her eyes all the more striking.

"Arisawa-san," murmured Rukia, giving the other woman a nod.  Tatsuki had been one of the casualties of the war.  She had become a Shinigami on crossing over and had just completed her training, being assigned to the Tenth.  The younger woman hadn't been seated yet, but Rukia expected her to make fourth or fifth seat by the time she was done.  She would never have a captain's power, but she was smart and determined.

"Kuchiki-san," murmured a deep, smooth voice that made Rukia turn and drew a faint smile to her lips.  Ishida Ryuuken was dressed in dark slacks and a dark blue shirt that brought out the color of his eyes.  The moonlight glimmered in his hair, turning it almost silver, and a cigarette was in his hand.  The Quincy looked confident, successful, and handsome and Rukia could read the amusement in the faint twist of his lips.

"Ishida-san," she purred, taking his arm as he offered it, enjoying the shocked look on Arisawa-san's face.  Most of the base probably knew about Ishida's visit to her office, although not the outcome of that visit.  The Quincy and Kurosaki had been found wandering the base four days before.  Kurosaki had been shown to his son's office, but Ishida had demanded to speak to her and apparently the junior Shinigami had certain conditioned responses to orders from Quincy - they obeyed them.

"You look quite enchanting, Kuchiki-san," murmured the Quincy, his eyes full of mirth and Rukia couldn't help the smirk that pulled at her lips.  She had never been challenged to a date before, but that was exactly what the elder Quincy had done four days ago.  It was delightfully novel and yet, something so much like what Uryuu would do that she couldn't help but be amused.

"Thank you, Ishida-san.  Shall we go?" she asked, unable to keep the twinkle from her eyes.

They walked off, both delighting in the puzzlement they could feel radiating off Arisawa.  "I think we surprised your underling," murmured Ryuuken.

"I believe you're right.  This might almost be worth it for the shock value alone," she mused, earning a speculative look from the Quincy that made her think she had just gone up a notch in his estimation.  They walked in silence and Rukia found herself studying the Quincy.  He was proud and dignified, subtle in his moods with a wickedly cutting wit that she was just beginning to grasp.  There was so much of Uryuu in him, or perhaps it was more accurate to say she recognized a great deal of Ryuuken in his son.     

"You share a great many traits with him, you know?" she murmured, smiling softly as Ryuuken turned to stare at her.

"Who?" he asked, seemingly baffled, the moonlight glimmering off his glasses.  Surprise made him look years younger and reminded her of how he had looked when he slept.  Underneath all the vitriol Ishida Ryuuken was a very handsome man, she realized.

"Uryuu.  You two share a great many mannerisms."

"A fact that is hardly surprising considering we were raised by the same man.  Tell me, Kuchiki...,"

"Rukia.  My name is Rukia," she murmured, suddenly the formality between them seemed odd. She had watched this man sleep and spoken with him of things she had never told another soul.

"Ryuuken," he offered stiffly, clearly a little embarrassed.  It brought to mind the teenager he must have been once, young and hesitant with the opposite sex. 

"Where did a Shinigami vice captain learn to drink?  According to Isshin the Eleventh is the only division requiring officers to be able to meet a drink quota," he murmured.

"How does a Quincy who professes to hate Shinigami end up knowing so much about them and associating so often with one?" she countered.

A pale brow rose in contemplative amusement.  "Your question for mine?" he offered, giving her a bland smirk.

Rukia couldn't help the soft snort of laughter that escaped.  There was something endlessly fascinating about the Quincy, Uryuu had a touch of it, but Ryuuken seemed to have gotten the full measure.  "Renji and I drink together sometimes.  He trained with the Eleventh so I learned to keep up with him."

Ryuuken sighed.  "The more I learn of that man, the more I wonder what my son was thinking.  As to your question, Isshin and I are old friends, we attended medical school together and often fought together in our youth - or my youth, I suppose, since my grandfather was not even an infant in Isshin's youth.  I stood at his wedding though and even delivered his son.  Between him and Kisuke, I was once very well informed about the workings of Soul Society."

"You delivered Ichigo?" demanded Rukia, stopping dead in her tracks and staring up at the Quincy. 

Ryuuken smirked, a snort of laughter coming from him.  "Yes.  Masaki's water broke while we were shopping together and, unlike most first born, Ichigo was in no mood to wait.  It was almost worth appearing in a news clip to see Isshin's face the first time he held his son.  I don't think I've ever seen him so panicked."  The mischievous twinkle in his eyes made Rukia smile, and there was a happiness around the older Quincy that she suspected was rarely seen.

"There's a news clip?" she asked.

"I can try to dig it up for you after dinner...,"

"Maybe with a little Glenn Livet?" purred Rukia, drawing a small chuckle from the Quincy.  "You should smile more," she told him softly, one hand reaching up to ghost against his cheek before she remembered herself and jerked it back, a blush rising on her cheeks.  Ryuuken was staring at her like she was something new and potentially dangerous.

"I've had very little reason to smile in recent years," murmured Ryuuken, turning and moving again.  Rukia caught up to him quickly, sensing the carefully controlled hurt in him.  Her hand brushed his and she seized his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze as she laced their fingers together.

Ryuuken stared down at their joined hands, then at her face before the corners of his lips quirked up for a moment.  "You are a most remarkable young woman, Kuchiki Rukia."

"And you are, without a doubt, the single most difficult man I have ever meet, Ishida Ryuuken," she countered, earning a smile and another soft laugh from the Quincy.

Ryuuken lead her to a tiny little Italian restaurant at the edge of town, that she had never even heard of.  It was tucked away and looked quaint, but hardly the sort of place one took a date, especially a first date - even if it really wasn't a date, but a drinking challenge with food.  "I know it doesn't look like much, but the food is exquisite," murmured Ryuuken, opening the door and ushering her inside.  Rukia sniffed cautiously at the air and was delighted with the scents that wafted back to her - tomatoes, basil, and garlic. 

"How in the world did you ever find this place?" she asked as they were seated by a cute, freckle-faced girl of about sixteen.

"Yoruichi found it on one of her wanderings.  She mentioned it to Kisuke, who told Isshin and me about it.  The great-grandmother immigrated here after the war and started the restaurant.  It's the only place to get authentic Italian food outside of Tokyo," murmured Ryuuken, perusing the menu with the air of a man who had done so a thousand times before.

"Yoruichi-san?  How in the world...?"

"I believe it was an attempt to avoid poker night.  Let us just say that strip poker and that feline are a very bad combination.  Although watching Isshin try to kill her for taking his boxers was quite amusing."

Rukia nearly fell from her chair laughing and Ryuuken was chuckling at the memory.  "I can see I need to invite you to the Third's poker night.  It's not as wild as the Eleventh's, but Nii-sama won't let me go to that after Renji walked me home in nothing more than a bandana."

"Your brother is clearly a very wise man," he murmured, earning a giggle.  "Am I to take it you emerged unscathed?"

Rukia gave him an innocent wide-eyed smile that made Ryuuken snort.  "I did lose my shoes and a sock," she admitted with a grin.  "What would you recommend?" she asked as a waiter came to take their order, an older boy who spent most of his time watching the girl who had seated them.

"Everything is good.  Isshin is fond of the lasagna and I enjoy the octopus.  Kisuke liked the eggplant and Yoruichi swears by their cream sauces.  I'll have the Parmigiana di Paste e Melanzane Grigliate and whatever wine Marcel insists we have to try," purred Ryuuken and Rukia nodded that she would have the same.

They sat in the little restaurant talking until closing, drinking wine and trading stories.  It had been fun, realized Rukia as she and Ryuuken stepped into the cool night air.  She shivered faintly at the first bite of the cold and Ryuuken wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close.  He was warm and solid around her and she couldn't help but lean a little closer.

"This was most enjoyable," she said quietly.

"It was," agreed Ryuuken.  "I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an evening so thoroughly.  I'd actually like to do this again if you'd find it agreeable."  She could hear the subtle question in the statement and paused to stare up at the Quincy.  Her fingers caressed his cheek and Ryuuken smiled faintly at her.

"I'd like that," she whispered.  Blue eyes held hers as warm lips brushed the corner of her mouth in the faintest of kisses.

Chapter Text

Ichigo paused on his way past the training chamber, something nagging at the edge of his senses and drawing him toward the rocky room.  He stepped inside, not sensing anyone, and sighed softly.  He wasn't much in the mood to train, but a little activity wouldn't have been totally unwelcome.  With another soft sigh he set off over the uneven terrain, figuring a lap or two might tire him out enough to appreciate Ishida's couch. 

He rounded a rock and froze as he found himself less than three meters away from Mizuno Kisuke.  Ichigo stared at the younger man, held captive by those wide grey eyes that stared at him with a mixture of shock, longing, and wariness.  The blond was the first to look away and a faint blush tinged his cheeks.  "Kurosaki-san," he murmured in a soft, polite tone - so unlike anything Urahara had ever used.

"Mizuno-kun," he managed to squeeze out around the lump in his throat.  "What are you doing here?" he asked before his eyes went wide as he realized that the blond shouldn't have been there.  Not alone.  "What the hell are you doing here all by yourself?"

The blushed was new but the smile and the twinkle in those gre eyes were pure Urahara.  "I snuck out," murmured the blond, as if sneaking past guards was something he did everyday.

"How did you get past the guards?" asked Ichigo, the old tone disarming him and softening the frown that had been tugging at lips since realizing that the young man was once more, for technical purposes, essentially missing.

"If I tell you, I might not be able to get out next time," replied the younger man and Ichigo couldn't help but laugh. 

"Alright."  He couldn't say no to that face, which he reflected, had led him into trouble more than once.  It had also led to Tessai finding about him and Urahara in an event involving the two of them, chocolate sauce and the kitchen counter.  "Just no hide-and-seek, please," he teased, a small thrill going through him when Kisuke laughed and smiled at him.  "So why are you down here?"

"I was bored and...I wanted to be alone.  I haven't been alone since this started," explained the younger man softly, his expression growing heavier.

"I can go if you'd like," murmured Ichigo, wanting to kick himself as the words came out.  He didn't want to push, but it felt good to just be near the blond.  Kisuke's reiatsu had been a subtle and welcomed presence against his senses all day, soothing him and easing the loneliness inside him.  It wasn't the same as it had been with Urahara, but it was close 

"That's alright.  There wasn't actually anything to do here except practice kidou and everyone would sense that," muttered Kisuke and Ichigo recognized the look of frustration.  For someone who had claimed to be allergic work, Kisuke had hated being bored with a passion. 

"Well, what would you like to do?" he asked, shifting Benihime and sitting down.  Grey eyes locked instantly on the sword and stared at it with fascinated wonder while fingers twitched, clearly wanting to touch her. 

"Would you like to see?" asked Ichigo, unbuckling Urahara's zanpaktou from his waist and offering her to Kisuke. 

A delicate hand took the sword, the blond still staring at her.  "Benihime," he breathed almost reverently.  Ichigo watched as Kisuke drew his sword, a slight frown coming to his lips and hurt blossoming in his eyes.  "I can't hear her," he whispered, looking as if he might cry.  Ichigo reached out to reclaim Benihime, silently cursing.  He had hoped Benihime would be able to talk to Kisuke at least a little. The lost, mournful look on Kisuke's face as the younger man trailed his fingers over the blade spoke volumes though and Ichigo wanted to kick himself for helping to put that look on the blond's face.

"Careful," he warned as Kisuke hissed, a red line appearing across the blond's index finger.  Kisuke stared at the welling blood and then at Benihime before running his bloody finger over her blade.  Ichigo watched as the blood vanished into Benihime and a faint crimson aura suffused her.  At the edge of his perception he could hear her singing, her voice raised in joyous welcome to her master.

"Better?" he asked, already seeing the answer on Kisuke's face.  The blond looked mesmerized and his joy was a palatable thing.  Ichigo touched his hand and grey eyes stared at him, easing the tight, painful place inside him.  "Wanna try sparring with her?" he asked, unable to help himself.

Kisuke grinned, taking a few swings with Benihime to get a feel for her balance.  Ichigo chuckled and drew Zangetsu, waiting for Kisuke and cursing when, like Urahara, the younger man lunged at him with no warning.         

He rolled backwards off the rock he had been sitting on to avoid the blow and quickly retaliated with a vicious over head swing.  Kisuke twisted aside and lashed out with his foot, trying to sweep his feet out from under him.  Ichigo leapt back, his eyes meeting the blond's and sparkling with delight.  Despite being human the younger man would have done Urahara proud.  He was quick and graceful with an aggressive style.  "Not bad.  A little slow," he taunted, delighting in the offended look that flashed over Kisuke's face before a wicked smile replaced it.

"You were saying something about slow, Kurosaki-kun?" retorted Kisuke, turning quickly and slashing at him.  Ichigo jerked back, Benihime's tip grazing the edge of his robe, and he could hear Urahara laughingly chiding him for being too eager.

He hopped back to avoid the kick Kisuke leveled at him and the younger man looked impressed.  An instant later Benihime was swinging at him and Ichigo barely blocked the blow.  A quick twist of his wrist freed Zangetsu and he whacked the blond's arm with the flat of his blade.

"Where in the world did you learn that?" demanded Kisuke, his tone sharp and curious.

"Too many hours sparring with the captain of the Eleventh.  He loves to get in close and lock up a blade.  I had to come up with some way around it or keep getting sent to the Fourth.  Unohana-taichou isn't nearly as nice seeing you for the fifth time in ten days," he told the blond, leaping clear only to have Kisuke close on him again.  He grinned and lunged for the youngster, nearly impaling himself on Benihime as Kisuke switched the sword from his right to left hand.

"Where the hell did you learn that?" demanded Ichigo, nimbly dodging a left handed thrust.

"I trained myself to be ambidextrous after I broke my arm in third grade," replied Kisuke.

Ichigo lunged at him, delighting in watching that lean body twist skillfully out of the way.  "You fell off the roof, didn't you?" he asked, smiling in delight as the blond blushed.

"I did not fall off the roof," snapped Kisuke defensively, before mumbling, "I fell of the ladder coming down from the roof."  Ichigo laughed and Kisuke scowled; Ichigo didn't have the heart to tell him that the scowl just made him adorable.  "And it was not my fault.  I was testing some theories on wind sheer - theories that were turning out to be right, I might add - when my parents came home early.  If they had given me an accurate ETA I would have been safely back in bed when they got home rather than scrambling to get down a ladder in the rain."

Ichigo howled with laughter and the annoyed pout, so very like Urahara's when he was laughed at, only made it worse.  Kisuke whacked him with the flat of his sword and Ichigo dropped to the ground laughing harder.  He reached up and dragged Kisuke down next to him, giving him a quick hug that seemed to wash away his anger because a second later the blond was chuckling softly into his shoulder.  "It's not that funny," he warned Ichigo, pulling back slightly, but the redhead could see he was amused as well.

They were still sitting together chuckling when Ichigo noticed Kisuke rub at his right arm where he'd been hit.  "You okay?" he asked, gently pushing the blond's fingers away and trailing his own delicately over the reddened flesh.  The skin was unbroken, but the younger man would have an interesting bruise in the morning.  "Guess that was a little too hard.  Come on, I know something that'll help," he murmured, standing and pulling Kisuke to his feet.  He led the younger man to the mineral pool, laying Zangetsu aside and carefully taking Benihime from Kisuke.  He shed his haori and had loosened his gi when he caught Kisuke staring at him, his look frozen somewhere between blushing embarrassment and hunger.  "Come on, the water will be good for you and help heal the bruises," he explained carefully, moving to pull Kisuke toward the water's edge only to have the blond flush crimson and flinch away.

"Sorry," they both mumbled awkwardly.  Neither knowing what to say beyond that.

Finally Ichigo turned his back and returned to removing his robes, wondering if he had shattered the camaraderie he had been building with the blond.  His gi and hakama joined his haori on a rock, but he decided his boxers would probably be better on.  He sighed softly for better times when he and Kisuke had finished spars with a long soak and then slipped up to bed together.

"I'm not him...Urahara...I'm not," came Kisuke's soft voice as he slipped into the pool.  The hot water stung but Ichigo hardly noticed it, intent on the forlorn figure hovering nervously with his back to him.

"Come have a soak, Kisuke," he pressed gently, his heart nearly breaking as the blond jumped and turned to look at him, scared and uncertain.  "Come on," he urged, watching as a green T-shirt fell away to reveal a chest that was both familiar and new. 

All the old landmarks were gone, but the skin was the same pale alabaster and his nipples were still the soft coral Ichigo remembered.  The shoulders were wide, as wide as he remembered, but the younger man lacked the muscle Urahara had had.  He was still waiting to settle into his final growth, the one that would take him up another centimeter or two and see him fill out a little more.

Kisuke blushed and undid his pants, revealing brightly colored boxers that Ichigo just knew had to be Renji's work.  The blond stumbled haltingly to the pool and Ichigo gently dragged him in, wrapping the younger man in his arms, amazed that Kisuke allowed the contact.  "And I know you're not my Kisuke.  It's okay," he told the other man quietly.  He settled Kisuke carefully on a ledge carved out of the rock, one look telling him that the blond wasn't up for talking about Urahara.  He looked terrified, like he might pass out or crumble if pushed.

"Did you like Benihime?" he asked, smiling reassuringly and settling across from the blond.

Kisuke smiled, looking relieved be discussing a safer topic.  "She's beautiful.  She...She liked it with you, you know?"

Ichigo nodded, "I get the feeling she and Zangetsu are friends.  Hell, I think she can even get along with Shirosaki."

Kisuke giggled.  "If she could get along with Grimmjow I'd be really impressed," he told the redhead, seeming to brighten as Ichigo laughed.

"No one can get along with Grimmjow.  I think he considers it part of his charm.  He's not bothering you, is he?" asked Ichigo cautiously, not liking the Arrancar around the blond but also remembering that Ishida thought Kisuke was fond of the overgrown furball.

"No, just over-protective.  It's like having another mom.  And Jyuushiro and Shunsui flirting with him is just disturbing," grumbled Kisuke.  Ichigo stared at him, wide-eyed and not sure which part of that scared him more - the idea of Grimmjow playing mommy or the idea that Jyuushiro and Shunsui might want to bed the psychotic feline.

"I don't want to know.  I really don't want to know," he breathed, trying to push both pieces of information from his consciousness.

"Tell me about it," muttered Kisuke, a slightly horrified look on his face but warmth in his eyes.

Chapter Text

She shouldn't have done it.  It was against the rules.  Hitsugaya-taichou would freeze her solid, Kurosaki Karin would snarl and kick her ass six ways to Sunday, and Ichigo would give her this weary, disappointed frown that made her think she had kicked a puppy.  Tatsuki knew all the reasons she shouldn't have deviated from her patrol route, but she couldn't shake the one reason that always made her.

Orihime.

The other girl wouldn't speak to her of course.  Inoue had refused to acknowledge all Shinigami since her break with Ichigo.  In fact, Orihime had only spoken to her once after she'd died, to cry and beg Tatsuki not to join the Shinigami's war. 

Tatsuki still remembered standing outside the Urahara shoten with Ichigo, Ishida, Abarai, Kuchiki and all the others, saying her goodbyes.  Hitsugaya-taichou had personally sponsored her entrance to the Academy, a reward for sacrifice she had made and the courage she had shown.  Ichigo had pulled strings to give her time to say goodbye and Urahara had loaned her a gigai so her parents and friends could be there.  She had just been hugging Keigo goodbye, the big baby sobbing all over her, when Orihime had arrived. 

The red-haired girl had pleaded with her not become a Shinigami, growing angry when Urahara had tried to intervene.  Orihime had even tried to slap the older man, blaming him for her death - like it had been his fault she had leapt between an Arrancar and a group of children on a school trip.  She had saved fifty-seven kids.  One life against fifty-seven others had been a good trade in her opinion - especially since most of those kids still came to her grave each year to thank her.  She had wanted to fight, to help, it didn't matter that doing so had cost her her life.  She had deemed her life worth the sacrifice.

And Orihime had never forgiven her that.

She sighed and checked her watch, she would be back on her route in time for her next check in.  Even Kyouraku-taichou said she had a real gift for shunpo - and her brief visits to Orihime's neighborhood over the years had only sharpened her skills.

Tatsuki slowed as a figure moved from the shadows, startling her.  Her hand flashed to her zanpaktou as she watched the dark figure moving quickly in the streets below.  She knew that figure, but she couldn't think of a single reason Orihime would be sneaking around at nearly one in the morning.  The other woman should have been tucked in bed with her mundane husband, pretending to be normal.

She wasn't though; she was skulking through the darkened streets in the early morning hours and Tatsuki wanted to know why.  She frowned as Orihime turned the corner and quickly made the decision to follow her one-time friend.  The path grew familiar and Tatsuki's unease grew.  The dread she had been feeling solidified unto a leaden weight as they turned another corner and she recognized the neighborhood.  

They were only three blocks from the Urahara Shoten.

Orihime had no reason to go there.  In fact, as far as she knew, the redhead hadn't been to the shoten since the night Ichigo had cast her out.  Tatsukui had been in training by then, so she had missed the actual event, but she had heard about Ichigo's explosion, it was wrapped in tightly with the story that had cemented Abarai-taichou and Ishida-san as a couple and everyone knew that tale.  It was considered one of the great romantic stories of the Seireitei.

Abarai-taichou had been grievously injured while fighting alongside Orihime and Ishida had knelt by his lover, stemming the blood loss until Unohana-taichou had arrived.  After that the Quincy had followed his lover back the Fourth and sat beside him until he’d awoken.  Naturally, when he’d woken up Abarai had gone and said something stupid to his lover.  There was some dispute as to exactly what he had said, and Abarai wouldn't tell; but whatever it was it had sent the Quincy storming off in a huff.  It had taken Unohana-taichou pointing out that Ishida had been by his bedside since his injury to make Abarai understand that something was up and then he had stomped after his lover. 

And from there the confrontation had become Soul Society legend.  Abarai had tracked down his volatile mate only to have the Quincy try and shoot him.  The two of them had had it out right there in the middle of the Seireitei, shouting and hitting each other, before they had finally snarled those all important three words that changed everything.  Ishida had been the first to say it but Abarai had quickly snapped it back.  Tatsuki privately suspected that only quick work on the part of Ukitake-taichou had kept the two from having sex right then and there, half the Seireitei watching.

Tatskui sighed, wondering how one of her friends could immerse himself so deeply in the matters of the Shinigami as to almost become one and another could turn her back on them so thoroughly as to deny any of the good they might have done. 

With another sigh, she wondered if it was time to notify one of her superiors.  She hated the idea of doing so; there were very few in the Gotei 13 with any fondness for Orihime.  Most would assume her guilty simply because of who she was, holding her past failures against her.  Instinct warred with her feelings for the other girl and Tatsuki wavered.  Her duty was to call in the suspicious behavior and ask for permission to investigate; but the part of her that still loved the other women knew that if she reported this Orihime could have her memory wiped, or perhaps even be taken into custody.

She closed her eyes and drew a shuddering breath.  There could be a perfectly innocent reason for Orihime to be out...Tatsuki just wished she could think of one.

The other woman circled to the back of the shop and there was a brief flash of light before she shimmied in a window.  All too soon Orihime was slipping out the door, the book bag she had been carrying now full.  Tatsuki cursed softly, hating the girl she had once loved for doing this to her, putting her in this position.  "Goddamn you, Hime," she whispered, brushing at her eyes before drawing a steadying breath and following the other woman. 

She was going to save her friend whether Orihime liked it or not.

Orihime led her through the darkness, quickly making her way to a nearby park.  The other woman would occasionally glance back, but she never looked up.  Tatsuki wondered when Orihime had forgotten that Shinigami moved in and thought in all three dimensions.  When the other woman paused Tatsuki leapt down in front of her.  "What are you doing, Hime?" she demanded.

"Tatsuki?!  What are...  You have to go!" breathed Orihime, panic filling her eyes.

"Well, well, looky what we found," came a mocking voice as cold, chaotic power washed over them.  Tatsuki slowly turned, not able to believe what her senses were telling her.  Aizen Sousuke could not be standing there in the middle of the park meeting her once best friend.  It wasn't possible.

Orihime might not have agreed with their war, but she wouldn't betray them.

Her eyes widened and her hand dropped to push the panic button on her link before everyone disappeared and Tatsuki was standing alone in an empty park, her sword and communicator gone.

* * *

"Don't hurt her!" screamed Inoue, throwing herself between Aizen-sama and the Shinigami girl.  It was a rather stupid thing to do in Gin's opinion.  It wasn't like she could slow a Shinigami or an Arrancar down - not with the way her powers had atrophied - and if Aizen had wanted the girl dead the Arrancar at his back would have no qualms about cutting through a human to get to their target.  Grimmjow and Ulquiorra might have found free will somewhere along the way, but all of the current Espada were loyal - or loyal enough.

"We are not here to deal with the Shinigami.  Did you get the data I requested," demanded Aizen smoothly, although Gin knew he wouldn't let the little Shinigami girl go.  It was a pity, she was a pretty little mouse and just a baby really - no more than fifty. 

"Promise you won't hurt Tatsuki," stammered Inoue, and Gin felt another wave of contempt roll through him.  He might have betrayed his oaths, his ideals and the people he loved but he was at least willing to fight for the things he believed in - not cower and beg.

"The Shinigami is of no interest to us," purred Aizen, the lie smooth and nearly undetectable.  He could spot it though, in the subtle twist of the other man's lips and the amusement in his voice.  There was no question the girl would die.  "The same can not be said for the material I requested."

Inoue gave a jerky nod, handing over a bag to Virtu.  "Excellent.  You should return home though, it's late and you no doubt need your beauty rest," murmured Aizen, his tone mild and charming.  Aizen-sama at his worst.

"You...you won't hurt her?" demanded Orihime, making Gin want to hit her and shout, 'How stupid are you!  Of course he's going to hurt her!  He's going to kill her!'  Aizen murmured benign pleasantries and assurances though, and the stupid little fool lapped them up, retreating slowly, but retreating.

"Tousen, if you could see to our friend," announced Aizen, earning a nod from the other man.

Gin felt his hand shoot out as Tousen's slipped to his sword and the former captain of the Ninth began to move toward the girl.  "I'll handle the little mouse, Aizen-sama," he said brightly.  Brown eyes turned to regard him and Gin felt a flicker of unease, as if those eyes could read his every thought.

"Don't strain yourself, Gin.  Let Tousen handle the girl."

He should let it go.  He knew that.  He didn't want to let it go though.  "No strain.  I want to," he chuckled, hating the feeling of those warm brown eyes sliding over him.  A hand reached out to caress his cheek and for a moment he wondered how such skilled hands could wreak such havoc.  Aizen had the longest, most beautiful fingers he'd ever seen, but all the other man seemed to do with those amazing fingers was destroy.

"Alright.  Have your fun," murmured Aizen, turning and leaving him to deal with the girl.

Gin stepped from the rift, circling behind the still dazed Shinigami.  His right hand stole down to hers and the link she held.  He took it, fingers brushing it before crushing it underfoot.  His right arm went around her neck and his left drew his sword.  "Tell her I'm sorry," he whispered to the girl as he stabbed her through the chest. 

He watched her fall to the ground and moved back toward the rift, hating himself and Aizen - and not really sure which one he hated more.

Chapter Text

He was becoming thoroughly sick of late night wake up calls.  Karin murmured and stirred restlessly, rolling towards their nightstand and the source of the noise that had roused him a mere moment before.  Toushiro smiled faintly as the bed sheets shifted and her breast came into view, which was worth waking up for.

"'Shiro?" she murmured faintly.

"Hush, love.  I'll handle things.  Just rest," he told her, kissing her brow.  He tugged the sheets back up, savoring the brush of her breast against his hand.  He slid from the bed and pulled on his robe, his wounds giving him a twinge of pain, but not enough to slow him.  He grabbed his communicator and sword, slipping from the bedroom before storming into the hall.

"Report," he barked into the little device, heading for the largest concentration of reiatsu.  It was generally a good bet that the trouble was there.

"We've received an alert from Arisawa-san, sir.  We've tried to raised her, but get no response.  A team has been dispatched.  Also, Tessai-san has reported a breach at the shoten," reported whoever was on duty.  Hitsugaya nodded, the reiatsu felt like it could be coming from the shoten.

"I want a report as soon as the team makes contact with Arisawa.  I'm on my way to the shoten now.  Is there any word on the nature of the breach?" he demanded, stalking through the halls.

"What's all the commotion, Shiro-kun?" asked Shunsui in a drawl, falling into step with him.  Jyuushiro was only a moment behind his lover, securing his robe and blinking sleepily.

"I'm trying to ascertain that, Kyouraku-taichou," grumbled Toushiro.  "Well?  Do we have word on the breach?" he demanded of the communicator.

"Not at this time, taichou."  He cursed and increased his pace, taking the shortcut up the ladder from the training ground.  The ladder was rarely used these days, sparing Tessai and the others a constant stream of people stomping through their home.

He emerged into the shop to the sound of raised voices and the angry pulse of several reiatsu.  It took a moment to figure out where they were coming from, but Hitsugaya quickly headed toward the back of the shop.  Jinta and Ururu stood between Kurotshuchi and the door to Urahara's lab; the former was wielding a bat and the latter looking slightly dazed, like she tended to get while fighting.

Tessai was standing between the captain of the Twelfth and Ishida and Abarai, and appeared to be trying to stop the three from coming to blows.

"I need to check inside," growled Kurotshuchi.

"And we told you, no," snarled Ishida, Abarai's arm around him to hold him back.

"What's going on here?" barked Hitsugaya, pleased when all eyes present snapped to him, even if he knew Kyouraku was grinning behind him.

"Jinta was doing one last check when he noticed the door to the workshop was ajar.  I reported the breach and Kurotshuchi-san came to investigate.  Ishida-san and Abarai-san barred his entrance on Kurosaki-taichou's request however," reported Tessai.

"That bastard is not getting into Urahara's workshop," growled Ishida, his eyes blazing.  Good to know they were all being rational about it, thought Toushiro with annoyance.

"Uh, where is Kurosaki-kun, if I might ask?" came Jyuushiro's voice.

"Ichigo went with the team to check on Arisawa," explained Renji and Toushiro remembered that the captain of the Fifth was friends with the young woman. 

He sighed and rubbed absently at his midsection, the wound aching a little as his tension grew.  "The shop and all its contents belong to Kurosaki, isn't that correct?" he asked, seeming to recall that Urahara's will had said something to that effect.  Or he hoped to god it did, because that would allow him to handle this problem quickly and easily by not handling it. 

"That's right.  Urahara-san left everything to Kurosaki-san," confirmed Tessai, as Jinta and Ururu nodded.

"What are you getting at, Shiro-kun?" asked Shunsui.

"The shop belongs solely to Ichigo.  This isn't officially a Shinigami matter," purred Ishida.  "Meaning he," a venom filled glare at Kurotshuchi, "has no business interfering."  The captain of the Twelfth hissed wordless anger at the Quincy and for a moment Hitsugaya wondered if the situation would erupt in violence.  It wouldn't have been the first time Kurotshuchi and Ishida had fought.

"Taichou?  The team has found Arisawa.  She is down and there is residual energy indicating a gate," voiced his communicator.

"Shunsui and I can check that out, as well as send Kurosaki along to handle this," murmured Jyuushiro with a small tug on his lover's sleeve.

"Abarai, if you and Ishida can remain until Kurosaki arrives I believe the situation will be contained and you can return to your room, Kurotshuchi-taichou," prodded Hitsugaya, figuring it was wise to get the captain of the Twelfth out of the way before Ichigo arrived.  Ishida was hard enough to handle around the man, but throwing Kurosaki into the mix would be like pouring gasoline on the flames after the assault on Mizuno-kun. 

With a few muttered words the captain of the Twelfth stomped off and Hitsugaya released a breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding.  A moment later Kurosaki joined them, his robes smeared with blood and his hands red.  "How is Arisawa?" he asked the other man.  She was rather new to the Tenth, but the girl showed potential and Toushiro couldn't help but like the young woman.  She reminded him of Karin, the two sharing many of the same qualities.

"She was stabbed through the chest.  The thrust missed her heart, too low, and got her liver and nicked a lung.  It was bloody as hell, but the healer got to her fast and says she'll pull through.  She was actually lucky, a centimeter higher and she'd be dead, according the healer."  Hitsugaya nodded, glad to hear that his underling would be well.  Ishida and Abarai were also nodding and he knew they understood.

"What's the damaged here?" asked the redhead, wiping his hands on his robes before Ururu slipped back with a wet towel for him.  Ichigo gave her a nod of thanks that sent the young woman blushing.

"The workshop's been breached, sir," offered Tessai with a gesture to the open door behind him.  Kurosaki swore and Hitsugaya could understand why, Urahara's workshop had always been a powder keg that they all hoped never received a spark.

"Wait.  How the hell did anyone open the door, the wards are still up," growled Kurosaki, holding out a hand toward the building and receiving a nasty shock.  Three eyes stared at the captain of the Fifth and Kurosaki sighed.  "Tessai and I just warded the place up after..."

"Take them down and we'll take a look at the damage," muttered Ishida, straightening his robe with great dignity, as if his lover hadn't been holding him back from attacking a man only a few minutes before.

Kurosaki gave Tessai a nod and the other man began tearing down the carefully constructed spells barring Urahara's lab.  As he did so Ishida and Abarai moved to stand beside Ichigo, and Toushiro could hear them talking, smiling faintly at the easy camaraderie they shared.

"You owe me a new pillow," Ishida murmured to Ichigo, raising a furious blush on the young captain's cheeks as Abarai snickered.

"Then you two owe me a new desk."

"You are all degenerates and insane," muttered Toushiro, earning a frown from Ichigo, an affronted sniff from Ishida and a grin from Abarai.

"So, how's the kid?" asked Renji. 

Ichigo stared at the other redhead, blinking owlishly.

"You're covered in his reiatsu," explained the captain of the Third with a grin.

"Oh, I talked to him a little earlier.  And we might want to look over the guard arrangement on his rooms," laughed Ichigo.

"He got out?" demanded Ishida with a sharp look for the other man.

"Yep.  He didn't mean any harm, just wanted to be alone."

Ishida growled softly and Renji hugged him from behind, gently rubbing the Quincy's arms.  Despite the slightly disturbing aspect of finding them in flagrante delicto more often than was reasonable, they were good for each other, thought Toushiro. 

"Oh!  Do you know where the hell Rukia was tonight?  Kuchiki-taichou called looking for her and he didn't seem happy," demanded Renji.

"Haven't seen her since lunch," replied Ichigo.

"Karin mentioned something about a date and having to help her get ready.  I chose not to ask," murmured Hitsugaya. 

The wards fell and Tessai sat heavily, sweating and panting.  Ichigo nodded his thanks to the other man and the four of them cautiously entered the darkened room.  A window on the far side of the room was open and drew a frown from them all.  Ichigio found the lights and flipped them on, glancing around, his frown deepening as his eyes moved over Urahara's desk.

"Kisuke's notes are gone.  There should be a several pages of notes over here," murmured Ichigo, waving to the desk.  "And his notebooks were stored on this self."  A shelf that was now conspicuously empty, especially since every other shelf was filled to the brim with books or bottles.

"Are you certain?" demanded Hitsugaya, wondering who would want Urahara's notes - aside from Kurotshuchi.  According to Ichigo and Tessai, most of Urahara's work would be unfathomable to those not familiar with it.

Ichigo nodded, his frown growing deeper and his reiatsu lashing angrily around them until a gentle presence brushed soothingly over it, calming the redhead and drawing a faint smile to his lips.

"Taichou, the healers are finished with Arisawa-san," interrupted the communicator.

"Someone should speak to Arisawa.  There's something very odd about this.  An officer on patrol assaulted in a park she is not supposed to be in on the same night someone breaks in to Urahara's lab - this stinks of betrayal," muttered Ishida.

"Tatsuki isn't strong enough or skilled enough to break these wards," countered Ichigo.

"Ishida's point is still valid however, Arisawa was somewhere she shouldn't have been.  Is there anything besides the notes missing?" asked Toushiro.

"Not that I can see.  I'll have Tessai look over things before we lock it down again, he'll be more familiar with Kisuke's work than me.  And I'll come with you to talk to Tatsuki."

"I guess that means we can return to bed, love," purred Renji, wrapping an arm around Ishida's waist and receiving a speculative smirk from the archer.

Toushiro rolled his eyes and stalked from the room, not eager to watch Abarai and Ishida flirt, especially when Karin was waiting for him.  "We'll speak to Arisawa in the morning then.  I doubt she'll awaken before then anyway.  I'll station guards on the shop and on Arisawa until this is resolved."

Ichigo shrugged and glanced at his friends.  "Mind if I crash with you guys again tonight?"

"Touch my throw pillows and you die," snarled Ishida, making Renji laugh and hug the archer.

Chapter Text

The door to their bedroom clicked shut and Renji sighed.  Ichigo was settled on the couch, with the two other throw pillows safely relocated to a chair - Uryuu's doing.  The guards on the hall had been increased and given orders about diligence and the importance of not losing Urahara - not that Renji thought they would have much luck with that one, but they could always try. 

It was just him and Uryuu until morning.  Or mid afternoon.  He fully intended to push back their shift after the excitement earlier.  Kira could handle things.  He heard Uryuu sigh and his eyes sought the archer.  Renji couldn't help the small smile that tugged at his lips as he watched the other man.  Uryuu sat gracefully on their bed, watching him with a tiny smirk before sliding onto his side of the bed, a deft touch to his robe letting it come undone and giving Renji enticing glimpses of pale flesh.

“Are you coming to bed?” asked Uryuu, long fingers teasing the edges of his robe, revealing and concealing more of the smooth skin beneath. 

Renji stared at that lithe body, a grin stretching his lips.  It still amazed him that someone as sensuous and beautiful as Ishida Uryuu stuck it out with him.  Ishida never talked about it, but he knew that among the Quincy Ishida's blood had to be just as blue as Kuchiki-taichou's.  Hell, from the way Uryuu and Ryuuken carried themselves he wouldn't have been surprised to learn they were fucking royalty.  And this powerful, refined man wanted him - not just for an hour or a day, but forever.

Uryuu smiled and Renji watched as a pink nipple peeked out from beneath the silk only to disappear a second later.  He could read the wicked merriment in his lover's eyes and groaned; Uryuu in a playful mood was always inspiring - and more than a little frustrating.

Uryuu smirked at him, beckoning him over and Renji felt a leer split his lips; frustrating or not, he was never one to pass up a naked and willing Quincy.  He eagerly shed his robe and joined his lover.  He pulled the archer close and kissed him, loving the contrast of Ishida's warm skin and the cool slid of the Quincy's silk robe against his body.  One hand strayed to tangle in the archer's dark hair and the other clutched a slim hip as he thrust his tongue in and out of the other man's mouth.

Uryuu groaned and returned his kiss, a hand tangling in his hair.  Renji chuckled, the sound trailing off into a gasp as a silk wrapped hand slid around his cock, stroking him slowly.

"Mmmm...Ichigo's in the next room," he reminded his lover, panting as that skilled hand began to work him faster.  Glittering blue eyes met his and Renji could read the arousal and a certain mischievous delight sparkling in them.

"I know," purred the Quincy, arching against him.

"This is just to get him back for your damned pillow, isn't it?" laughed Renji, groaning as the other man traced the lines on his neck with his lips and tongue.  A gentle nip made him moan and reach for his lover's cock only to have his hand batted away.   

"No, this is because I want to fuck you," purred Uryuu, running blunt nails over the redhead's chest before returning to pluck his nipples.  "Messing with Ichigo is just an added bonus." 

"Sadistic bastard," chuckled Renji, fastening his lips to Uryuu's throat.

"And you love me anyway," moaned the archer, fingers tangling in his hair to hold him there.  Renji murmured a soft affirmative as Uryuu whined and shivered when his teeth grazed the soft skin of the archer‘s neck.  His lips trailed slowly downward, nipping at Uryuu's collarbone before tracing it with his tongue.  The redhead smirked when the Quincy whimpered and arched his back in a subtle demand for more.

"Want you.  Want you so much, baby," he murmured softly as his lips grazed Ishida's scar.  He tried to nudge the other man onto his back, groaning when the Quincy slipped from beneath him to straddle his hips and push him down into the bed.  "Mmmm...my turn," purred Uryuu, his voice velvety soft, the words breathed into Renji's ear. 

Long fingers measured the breadth of his shoulders before trailing delicately down his back and making the Shinigami shiver.  Nails raked up his sides and Renji arched into the sharp pleasure, groaning and tangling his fingers in the bed sheets.  Uryuu chuckled and nipped at his shoulders before a wet tongue began tracing his tattoos.  There were soft kisses along the edges and stinging bites at the peaks that made him pant and writhe. Every now and then nails would gently score his skin, tracing patterns over his back and ribs, and drawing low groans that made even Renji wonder if he wanted more or less of the exquisite torture.

He sighed when Uryuu shifted to settle on his thighs, growling as a sharp slap was laid on his left ass cheek.  Another was laid across his right and he twisted to glare at his lover.  The last thing they needed was Ichigo getting curious about the noise and coming to check on them.  Uryuu simply smirked at him and leaned forward to kiss him placatingly.  He gave a pleased rumble as the archer slowly pulled back, then yelped as another slap landed on his backside. 

"Keep it up and you won't sit for a week," he grumbled at the Quincy, earning a cocked brow and a smug twist of those pretty lips.

"And how exactly would you accomplish that?" taunted Uryuu, laying dozens of soft kisses over his abused flesh.   

"You have to sleep sometime," he told the other man, moaning when clever hands kneaded his ass.  Warm lips grazed the point on the design on the small of his back, the one Uryuu joked pointed to a particularly enjoyable target, and Renji sighed.

Lube drizzled down his crack and the redhead hiss encouragement, rolling his hips against the bed, desperate for any kind of friction against his aching cock.  Uryuu groaned as Renji's thigh grazed his arousal and the Shinigami felt a spike of lust go through him.  A strong hand landed on the center of his back and slammed him into the mattress, "My show," Uryuu snapped, leaning forward to whisper the words in his ear.  Renji made a low soft sound of capitulation, unable to do anything else.

A fingertip brushed his entrance in reward, circling it lightly before slowly pushing in.  He arched into the touch, trying to get the finger deeper and wondering why the hell he didn't have Uryuu do this more often.  "More," he demanded as that slender digit began to move carefully in and out of him.  Renji swore he could hear his lover smile, and the kisses trailed over his shoulders confirmed the Quincy's amusement and pleasure.  Long hair was gently brushed aside after being nuzzled and rubbed against and Renji couldn't help but smile.  Uryuu never overlooked a chance to play with his hair.

The smile turned into a groan as teeth latched into the back of his neck and a second finger slid inside him.  "Hurry the hell up," he growled.  Uryuu just murmured against his neck, sucking hard and making him gasp and arch.  The fingers twisted and stretched him, pumping, making him long for something more substantial.

A third finger joined the two already working him and Renji snarled in annoyance before shouting as those long fingers found his prostate.  He twisted and writhed, panting as Uryuu shoved him back down and crooked his fingers to hit that spot again.  "Goddammit!  Fuck me, you miserable bastard," he growled at the Quincy, earning an amused snort and another brush of those finger over his sweet spot.

"When I'm ready to," purred Ishida, nipping his ear and grinding his cock into the redhead's thigh.  They both groaned at the contact and Renji knew neither one of them would last much longer.  A quick kiss to the back of his neck and Uryuu's weight left him, the archer gently urging him to his knees.  Renji went eagerly, sighing as that wonderful body was once more draped over his.  The fingers left his ass, the blunt tip of Uryuu's cock rubbing against his hole before slowly entering him.  Strong hands held his hips, keeping him from taking any more and making Renji whine in frustration.

By the time his lover had slid in fully Reni was ready to reach back and strangle the Quincy for playing with him so.  "Almost there, love," breathed Uryuu, rolling his hips and groaning.  When he began to pull back Renji snarled wordless annoyance that turned into a howl of pure bliss as Ishida slammed back in hard and fast, striking his prostate and making him see stars.  One hand tangled in his hair, jerking his head around so Uryuu could kiss him as the other hand fell to cock, stoking him roughly.  The pace grew frantic, Uryuu fucking him hard and drawing sharp sounds of pleasure from the both of them.

Renji gasped and stiffened as long fingers caressed the head of his cock and Uryuu hit his sweet spot.  Darkness danced before his eyes and his orgasm ripped through him, leaving him panting and boneless.  A moment later Uryuu was groaning and grinding his hips against Renji's ass, arms going around the redhead's waist and an 'I love you' breathed against his neck.

Renji collapsed onto the bed, too sated to even be annoyed that he was in the wet spot.  There would be time to worry about that later, right then, all he wanted to do was savor the feeling of his lover being close and the remnants of a truly mind blowing orgasm.  "Love you, baby," he whispered, turning his head to catch Uryuu's lips.

Chapter Text

Urahara was one fucked up son of a bitch.  If he hadn't been completely sure of the fact before, one visit to his soul would have confirmed it, thought Shirosaki.  He sat panting in Benihime's garden, jerked back from Urahara's soul to Ichigo's once more.  He was getting stronger, able to linger in the other soulscape for longer periods, but he still ultimately had to return to Ichigo.

He wasn't sure why he bothered exploring the blond's soul so tenaciously other than sheer stubbornness.  He had been back numerous times but had learned nothing and had not been able to notice any lessening of the fog.  He had seen the Captain a few times, but gave him a wide berth, not wanting to draw attention to his visits; some instinct also warned him that the Captain could - and would - hurt him.  He had seen the boy too - still locked within his little prison at the crossroads.  Once or twice, through the fog, he had seen old Hat-n-Clogs dozing.  He was almost ready to shake the bastard awake just to make it stop raining in his stupid king's soul.  But instinct again intervened and warned him that waking Hat-n-Clogs wouldn't be wise.

Memories were like any other power and triggering them too soon might well damage the kid.  And he didn't want to explain to Benihime or Ichigo how he had fucked up Urahara - neither would be terribly understanding.

He wiped the sweat from his brow and glared angrily up at the cloudy sky and the light drizzling rain that was falling on him.  It was no longer pouring, but it was still raining.  "I still find it hard to believe that you and Zangetsu cannot find anything to recommend the rain even a little," murmured Benihime, stealing up next to him.

Shirosaki glanced at her before glaring at the sky.  "It's cold and fucking wet," he growled in annoyance, not bothering to mention that Ichigo hated the rain and so they did as well.

He could all but hear Benihime's smile, that subtle twist of her lips.  Unlike he and Zangetsu, Urahara's sword didn't seem to mind the rain, treating it as a novelty that she had yet to grow sick of.  "Are you telling me, you can't find even one thing to like about this?" she asked, slipping around to stand before him.  Her hair was loose, falling to her hips in a smooth wave, the water had darkened it from vermilion to crimson, and Shirosaki stared at it.  Even now, seeing Benihime with her hair loose was something to savor.  She smiled at him and slid her gown off, letting the red and gold cloth pool at her feet.  Water misted her body, adding a shin to the smooth golden skin and holding Shirosaki riveted.  

He reached out for her, running a hand possessively up her calf, enjoying the way her eyes slid to half mast and her nipples tightened as his power danced over her skin.  There was something wonderful about being able to draw a response from someone so contained and dangerous.  He slid to his feet, catching her in his arms and drawing her close, delighting in the knowing sparkle in her eyes.

"Nothing at all to recommend the rain?" she purred playfully.

"Maybe one thing," he growled, kissing her, savoring the feeling as she melted against him.  It always amazed him how someone so soft could be so deadly.  Benihime was like her master though, always thinking things out, seeing the details.

His hand slid up to cup her breast and Benihime gasped softly, nibbling his bottom lip before kissing him.  Delicate hands slid into his gi, soft as silk and slightly chilled from the rain.  Blunt nails bit softly into his pecs, scratching lightly and making him moan.  "Want you," he murmured into her neck, sucking softly and tugging gently on her nipple.

"I hate to be the voice of reason," murmured Zangtsu, watching them with dark smoldering eyes, "but our hosts are separated by only two walls.  Are we sure this is a sound idea with both of them so near?  They are both are fragile at this moment in time."

Benihime laid a soft hand over his heart, creating a small space between them and frowning, her eyes growing distant for a moment as she checked on Urahara.  Shirosaki tightened his grip on her, wondering what it would be like when the blond returned and she went back to him.  She was his and Zangetsu's just as much as she was Urahara's and while he was willing to share he would not lose something of his just so Ichigo and Urahara could be happy.  He wanted to be happy too.

A soft, delicate hand caressed his cheek and Shirosaki found beautiful ruby eyes regarding him with something tender and understanding - something he was tempted to label as love.  "Kisuke is asleep as is our host, my love.  I don't see how our indulgence could disturb them."

"See?  Nothing to worry about," muttered Shirosaki, reaching out for the other sword and earning a chuckle.

"Nice to know your priorities are in order," purred Zangetsu, removing his coat and making his way across the grass to join them.  He spread his coat out on the grass before pressing against Benihime's back, smiling as she twisted to offer him a kiss of welcome.  His arms wrapped around Shirosaki, grabbing his ass and pressing him closer to Benhime.

He seized Zangetsu's mouth as the sword's kiss with Benihime ended.  Zangetsu met his aggression and turned it aside, taking control of the kiss without ever doing anything.  The old guy had skills, Shirosaki would admit it.

The zanpaktou's shirt fell away, Benihime's clever hands at work, revealing a scarred chest with a sprinkling of dark hair.  Zangetsu was all hard muscles and sharp lines, a dark contrast to Benihime's soft, deadly beauty and his own milky paleness.  They were both creatures of power and they were all his, thought Shirosaki, delighting in the knowledge.

Two pairs of hands attacked his clothing.  Strong, calloused hands tugged his gi from his shoulders and caressed his back while delicate, nimble fingers undid his hakama, slipping inside to stroke him.  Shirosaki moaned, leaning forward to catch a dark nipple in his mouth and draw on it hard.  Zangetsu groaned, strong hands sliding into his hair to hold him in place.  Shirosaki purred, chuckling as he noticed that Benihime had sunk to her knees, tracing the ridge of Zangestu's erection with her lips through his dark pants and drawing soft grunts of pleasure from the other sword.

"I get middle," he murmured into Zangetsu's chest as he switched his attention to the older man's other nipple.  The zanpaktou chuckled and dragged his head up to kiss him deeply.

"I have no objections.  Benihime?" rumbled Zangetsu as the kiss ended.

Benihime glance up at them, her eyes languid and passion darkened.  "I don't mind," she purred, crawling from between them to lay out on Zangetsu's coat, a smug smile pulling at her lips.  She had a reason to smug, thought Shirosaki, knowing he was staring, but unable to help it.  She had looked incredible slinking across the ground like some jungle cat, sleek and sexy and dangerous.

The Hollow gave Zangetsu one last, long, deep kiss before joining Benihime.  She laughed, the sound soft and musical, and welcomed him eagerly as Zangetsu peeled away the last of his clothing.  Shirosaki grinned and grabbed Benihime's legs, hooking her knees over his shoulders and puling her hips up, earning a startled sound that turned into a soft moan as he began to lick her.

Zangetsu chuckled in his ear, a deep rich sound, as large hands caressed his hips, shifting him.  He slid a finger into Benihime, earning a frustrated little whine, as Zangetsu slid one slick digit into him.  Shirosaki arched back eagerly into the touch and groaned as Benihime's fingers twisted and tugged at his hair.  "More," both he and Benihime moaned at the same time.

Zangetsu added another finger, twisting them and pumping in and out of him hard.  Shirosaki reached up, tugging on Benihime's nipple and earning a startled cry of delight.  Fingers tangled in white hair and jerked his head up, Zangetsu sealing their mouths together and pressing hard on his sweet spot.  Shirosaki grinned as Zangetsu released his lips, that slightly maniacal one that always made Ichigo and Zangetsu nervous.  He grabbed Benihime's hips and pulled her onto his cock, earning a thin, high sound of pleasure before glowing red eyes filled with satisfaction caught his.  He had only a moment to savor the heated gaze before Zangetsu pushed him slightly forward and pushed into him, hard and unrelenting. 

Shirosaki groaned as Zangetsu’s penetration crushed him against Benihime and she took the opportunity to seal their lips together in a brutal kiss.  Zangetsu nipped his neck and power crackled around them in a silver and red halo tinged with black.

"Fuck," moaned Shirosaki as they began to move.  Zangetsu pulled back, Shirosaki following him and groaning as Benihime arched her hips and whined softly.  The Hollow sank back into her, unable to help the deep sound of pleasure that slipped out as Zangetsu reclaimed him.  They moved together, falling into a familiar rhythm.  Sharp nails bit into his back and Shirosaki leaned forward to nip at Benihime's lips, moaning as the angle sent Zangetsu's next thrust right into his sweet spot.

The power grew sharp and biting, tumbling out of them as their movements grew faster.   Red and silver blurred together into a chaotic maelstrom of power with them at its center.  They move against each other, panting and struggling both to hold on and to find an end to the coiling tension.  Benihime tumbled first with a piercing cry that gave the energy a voice.  Shirosaki thrust into her tight, contracting heat and groaned, losing himself and his hold on the power.  Black lightning streaked through the storm of power.  Two quick thrusts later and Zangetsu followed him and the world exploded in silver, red and black.

He was the first to recover and Shirosaki looked around dazedly from where he had collapsed atop Benihime to see if anything had changed.  Garden?  Check.  Stupid ass, freaky buildings?  Check.  Rain?  Check.  He stole a glance at the bridge and saw a blinking Hat-n-Clog's observing him with a raised brow and a knowing smirk before the mist swallowed him.  That was definitely new.

Zangetsu slid from him, dragging Shirosaki off Benihime to lie beside her.  "We definitely need to do that again," murmured the Hollow, a grin splitting his lips as he yawned and flopped back to enjoy the afterglow of one of the top ten orgasms of his life.  Zangetsu and Benihime shared an exasperated look over his chest but neither chastised him, only curled against him and drifted quickly to sleep.

Chapter Text

"Going somewhere, sweetheart?" purred Renji, turning the endearment into a mockery.

Uryuu turned to glare at his lover, who was sprawled temptingly on their bed.  The redhead was naked, his head propped up and his hair framing his face in delightful disarray.  He looked sleek and powerful and utterly delicious.  He reminded Uryuu of nothing so much as a wolf that had heard the sound of something that caught his interest.  And just like a wolf he was not about to be stirred and then quietly let it go.  No, he was going to hold on and shake his stupid muzzle until the truth tumbled out, no matter how much trouble it caused.  Miserable, arrogant Shinigami. 

And of course he wouldn't have wanted him any other way, admitted Uryuu, wondering what that said about him. 

He gave a soft snort of resigned amusement and pulled on the light, black sweater he had picked up to put on before his lover had so rudely proven he was not asleep.  He supposed he ought to have been used to Renji surprising him.  Abarai was far smarter and more devious than his gutter drawl led others to believe.  Behind all that brute strength Renji was clever, he just had to be motivated.  And where a certain Quincy was involved he was always motivated.

"I couldn't sleep.  I thought a walk might help," he murmured, stealing a glance in the mirror.  He looked human and respectable, just a late twenty-something year old out for a midnight stroll.  He would have no trouble gaining entrance he decided with an imperceptible nod.

"And you just decided to dress entirely in black," snorted Renji, rising and coming up behind him, wrapping the Quincy in his arms and pressing against his back.

"I'm allowed to wear black.  Just because not all of us have only one color in their wardrobe..."

Renji laughed and silenced him with a kiss.  "Where are you really going, love?" he purred against the archer's lips, his eyes glittering dangerously, a silent promise that Uryuu wouldn't be leaving the room unless the redhead got the answers he wanted. 

"I told you - for a walk." It wasn't a lie, he would be walking, he just had a destination in mind.

"This is about that thing with the wards, isn't it?" grumbled Renji, releasing him to stalk over to his wardrobe and begin pulling on clothing.

"I can handle it," Uryuu growled.

"And I'm going to let you.  But I'm still coming with you," the redhead told him, pinning him with determined ruby eyes before returning to kissing him hard and fast.  Uryuu sighed but nodded his consent.  "Dress casual but respectably," he told his lover, grabbing some shoes while he waited for Renji to dress.  Years with Abarai had taught him that arguing with the redhead in this mood was futile - it only led to them shouting at each other.  And their shouting usually had only two conclusions; the first was blunt objects hurled at one another's head, the second was them hurled against one another.  Neither option was conductive to handling the break-in.  Although the second could prove a lot of fun.

Slipping past Ichigo was ridiculously easy and Uryuu had to fight the urge to toss a throw pillow at the sleeping Shinigami - especially since he was groaning softly and his reiatsu was fluctuating wildly.  Waking the redhead would probably save his couch another stain.  Of course it would also mean another person tagging along.  And he wasn't sure having Ichigo along on this particular errand would be safe.

He trusted Ichigo at his back but the redhead had to be growing frayed, his emotions had been tugged every which way over the last few days and he needed some time to recover.  And Uryuu didn't exactly relish the idea of trying to contain the other man again should he become angry again.  Ichigo was downright scary when he was truly enraged. 

The night air was cool and crisp and the streets were deserted.  Renji had tossed an arm around his waist the moment they cleared the base and Uryuu couldn't bring himself to shrug the limb away.  Renji enjoyed lavishing attention on him and the brunette couldn't deny privately delighting in the easy and constant affection Renji offered. 

"Remember, you promised to let me handle it," he told the redhead, earning an amused snort and a gentle tightening of Renji's grip on him.

"I'll remember.  Can I be told where we're really going now?" murmured the Shinigami, his voice warm.

Uryuu felt a swell of love and amusement wash through him.  He stopped, turning to smirk at the redhead before pulling him close and kissing him.  This man would follow him into the depths of Hell, he realized with awe.  It was such an insubstantial thing, little more than idea really, and yet to hold another's trust so completely... to be able to put your life into someone else's hands and know that they would value it as much, if not more, than their own life - it was a powerful and heady sensation.    

And it could also never be repaired once shattered, he realized.  No matter how many apologies, no matter how much atonement, once that first fragile trust was broken it could never be made whole again.  There would always be doubt.

"I love you, Abarai Renji," he murmured against his lover's lips, foolishly pleased by the smile that drew.

"I love you too, Ishida Uryuu - even if you are a secretive, manipulative, son of a bitch sometimes." 

He kissed the Shinigami once more before moving closer and laying his head on Renji's shoulder, burying his face in the redhead's neck.  Suddenly he didn't want to do this; he wanted to go home and just have Renji hold him.  Strong hands ran in soothing passes along his back and Uryuu sighed, relaxing into the embrace.

"Better, love?"

He nodded, slowly straightening, his blue eyes growing cold and hard.  He might not enjoy the task he had set for himself but it had to be done.  No one threatened the people he loved.  A Quincy looked after his own and he had made these Shinigami his. 

And someone had betrayed them.

They began moving again and he tried to understand how someone could do that.  Betrayal was one thing, but what did it take to not only turn your back on things you had once believed in, but to willingly sell out those who had once stood beside you in battle?  To betray people you had called friends? 

There could be no forgiveness for such a thing, he realized.  Only retribution.

He led Renji to an apartment complex and up to a second floor apartment, knocking firmly on the door.  The porch light flipped on and a man opened the door, blinking dazedly at them.  "Can I help you?" asked the man sleepily around a yawn.

"I think we're a bit lost.  You wouldn't happen to know where the Arisawa family lives would you?" asked Uryuu politely, his hand slipping to grab the doorknob before slamming the door inward.  He had to put his whole weight into the move, but he was rather pleased that he had been able to pull it off.  Renji was certainly pleased, he was grinning like a fool as he stepped past the threshold and closed the door.

"You're getting pretty good at that," purred the redhead, kissing him and groping his ass before planting a foot on the man's chest and shoving him back to the floor.

 "Could you keep an eye on him?  I need to have a word with an old friend," growled Uryuu.  The smirk he got in return was a mixture of heat and amusement. 

"Anything you want, baby."  The words were softly purred but there was lust and fury shining in his lover's eyes and Uryuu suspected that Renji knew exactly where they were and who they were there for. 

He had known who was responsible at the shoten from the second he'd understood that the wards were still in place.  There were only two people capable of opening 'doorways' in wards.  One of them was the Vaizard Hacchi; but the Vaizard hadn't been seen in Karakura in twenty years.  The other was staring at him, bed sheets clutched up around her throat.

Inoue Orihime.

"You treacherous bitch," he snarled, wanting suddenly to hurt her, to watch her bleed.  This woman had nearly gotten his lover killed once and now she had betrayed them all...And for nothing beyond paltry fear and jealousy!  "What did he promise you?  The chance to be normal again?  The chance to undo the decision you made?  You stupid, worthless, little fool."   He ripped away the bed sheets.

"Ishida!  I-I don't..."

"Don't bother to deny it!" he snapped.  He didn't need to hear her lies or see the tears he knew she would begin shedding.  "I know it was you.  There are only two people who can open doors through wards and Hacchi is noticeably absent these days. 

"Tatsuki nearly died because of you, or don't you care?  But why would you?  Just one more dead Shinigami, right?  Good riddance, am I right?"

"NO!  He swore..." she cried before realizing what she had admitted.

"He lied," retorted Uryuu, his voice dripping with contempt.  "You have five minutes to get dressed and come up with a lie for your husband as to why you're coming with us.  Be aware that regardless of what you tell him, you are coming, even if I have to drag you along by the hair.  And I wouldn't suggest running unless you think you can take me."

Uryuu turned on his heel and stalked back into the living room.  He didn't have to say anything more.  She couldn't have taken him when she was at her best, as she was now wasn't even worth considering.  Renji caught his eyes and a comforting hand touched his arm, making him glad the other man had come.     

Chapter Text

He walked through the halls in a daze, not seeing the long familiar corridors, not caring about them.  He knew what he wanted and it was not in the hallways.  He turned into the training room, his instincts carrying him swiftly to the pool.

"I was wondering when you would get here," welcomed a familiar voice in a jovial tone.

Ichigo froze, his eyes almost unwilling to believe what his heart and reiatsu were telling him.  Kisuke stood there in the water, steam rising around him gently, and droplets rolling down his body.  Only, it wasn't any version of the blond Ichigo had ever seen before.  The physique was that of the younger him, but that silvery scar was back on his chest and Urahara's hat sat low on his head, casting his grey eyes in shadow.  The smirking smile on his lips was full of warmth and laughter, full of promise in a way Mizuno hadn't yet mastered.  The blond's reiatsu was dancing around him and over him and Ichigo groaned at the softy teasing touches that were so achingly familiar.

"Kisuke?" he breathed, hardly daring to hope that what he was seeing could be real.

The smile was achingly sweet and welcoming with just a hint of amusement - it was Kisuke's smile.  The one for him - just for him.  Pale arms reached out for him, promising a warm embrace, the familiar shelter he had been without for so long.  Ichigo found himself in the water an instant later, heedless of his robes, and wrapped in the blond's arms as he crushed the younger man to him.  Tears streamed over his cheeks and he sagged against his love.  "Kisuke...Oh god!  I missed you.  I missed you so much," he breathed into the blond's shoulder, the words tumbling out as he choked on his tears.

"Hush, love.  Hush.  It's alright, Ichigo."  Soft lips grazed his temple and warm hands petted his hair and stroked his back.  "Did you really think I would ever leave you?  Or stop loving you?" asked the blond softly.

Ichigo froze at the whispered words, pulling back to stare at Kisuke, tossing his hat aside in annoyance as it hid the blond's eyes from him.  "Hey!  There is no call to abuse my hat," scolded Kisuke pouting.  "You and Yoruichi.  What is this objection you people have to hats?"

"Say it again," demanded Ichigo almost desperately.

"What?  About the hat...or about loving you?" murmured the blond, merriment lighting his eyes and a wicked smile curving his lips.

Ichigo shivered and Kisuke pulled him close again, crushing him against his chest.  "I do, you know - love you.  I think I've loved you since the beginning," whispered Kisuke, his voice thick with emotion and his chest heaving.

"I love you too," breathed Ichigo, his arms going around the other man.  "Only you." 

They clung to each other in the warm water, oblivious to everything but each other.  Eventually Kisuke tugged the sodden robes from his body and steered them to the edge of the pool.  He sat on one of the seats carved out of the rock, gently tugging Ichigo down so he sat between the blond's legs.  The younger man's arms wrapped securely around his waist and his chin hooked over Ichigo's shoulder, a contented sigh slipping from both of them.  Sandalwood tickled Ichigo's nose as tears prickled his eyes again.  It was so achingly familiar - so perfect - as if Kisuke had never left him.  His own arms dropped to hold the blond's, leaning back slightly, almost afraid to relax for fear of the moment dissolving.

"I'm not leaving you.  I'll never leave you, love."  Ichigo tightened his grip on Kisuke, not sure he could stand it if Kisuke left him again.

"Remember the last time we did this?" asked Ichigo quietly, earning a soft noise of agreement.

"You dunked me," accused Kisuke with a pout.

"And you splashed me," he reminded Kisuke, kissing the tip of his nose, unable to keep a smile from tilting his lips.

"I always splash you," replied the blond, his nose rubbing gently against the side of the redhead's face. 

"You do," agreed Ichigo, finding he had missed the mildly annoying bit of fun.  Soft lips grazed his neck and Ichigo shivered.  "I also remember some other things we did here," purred Kisuke, his voice a warm and playful purr.  Slender fingers danced lightly over his chest, teasing him with the slightest of brushes and making him wriggle to try and get more.

"Kisuke," he moaned softly, twisting to stare at the blond, his face a mixture of hope and longing.  Warm lips touched his in a chaste soothing kiss before returning for another deeper kiss.  A wet tongue traced along the seam of his lips and white teeth carefully tugged at his bottom lip.  He opened his mouth with a soft sigh, his tongue meeting the blond's gently at first but quickly twining with Kisuke's as the kiss grew heated and hungry.  Their hands clutched at each other, caressing and exploring, each refamiliarizing himself with the feel of his lover.

Ichigo groaned as his tongue twined with Kisuke's, sinking into the kiss with blissful abandon.  Nails gently scored his back as his own fingers dug into Kisuke's waist.  There would be bruises on the pale skin in the morning, but he couldn't quite bring himself to regret it, and judging from Kisuke's response he didn't think the blond would either.

He made a small sound of denial as their lips broke apart, sighing when the blond began kissing his throat.  He tilted his head to allow better access and was rewarded by warm lips fastening to his pulse point.  His fingers tangled in silky blond hair and Kisuke made a soft sound of annoyance as he dragged the younger man's head up so he could explore.  His lips trailed teasingly over an elegant throat and sharp teeth nipped at the delicate skin, dragging a cry of delight from the blond.

Soft hands - hands not yet calloused by centuries of sword wielding - slid over his chest, mapping and petting.  Ichigo arched in the touch and redoubled his attention to Kisuke's throat.  He gasped in surprise as long finger teased his nipples, circling them before tugging on them gently.  He nipped Kisuke's throat and ducked his head to lick at the blond's nipples, earning a groan and those skilled fingers tangling in his hair.  He smirked, letting one hand linger on Kisuke's chest while the other sank lower.  His hand brushed Kisuke's thigh as his eyes caught the younger man's, he could see the longing in them and gently trailed his fingers over Kisuke's cock.

Kisuke moaned and his hands slid down to clutch Ichigo's ass, kneading the firm flesh.  "I love you," Ichigo murmured as his hand closed firmly around Kisuke's cock, drawing a startled breath from the blond.  Ichigo gave the younger man a querying look before smiling.  “You know, this is going to be fun,” he smirked, beginning to slowly move his hand.

Kisuke bit his lip to stifle a small sound of pleasure, taking a moment to calm himself before asking in a breathy tone, “What will be fun?”

“Watching you go off at the drop of a hat.  I’ll finally get to be the one to drive you out of your mind,” chuckled Ichigo, his strokes growing faster, with a quick flick of his wrist each time he reached the tip.

“Gods!” gasped Kisuke, arching into the touches as his breathing grew ragged.  Ichigo smirked, savoring the transformation passion wrought on the other man - his body taut, his head tossed back and his features slack.  He was the most beautiful thing he‘d ever seen, thought Ichigo.

A fingertip teased his entrance and the redhead moaned softly as grey eyes slid open to regard him with mischievous delight.  “I might be younger, but I’m still me, Kurosaki-kun,” purred Kisuke as the finger slowly breached him.  Ichigo groaned and leaned forward, kissing the blond as that single finger began to move. 

“So tight,” breathed Kisuke as Ichigo panted against his shoulder.  It had been too long, he reflected as the blond kissed the side of his face and slowly stretched him.  “All this time?” whispered the younger man, his expression tender.

Ichigo bit his lip and nodded, not trusting his throat to words.  “I wouldn’t have minded, love,” soothed Kisuke, carefully adding a second finger.  Ichigo groaned softly at the slight burn.  “I would have,” he told the younger man quietly.  “There was no one but you, Kisuke.  No one else...It was always just you.”

The smile Kisuke gave him was small and soft, but heartrendingly beautiful.  “I know,” whispered the blond, because it was the same for him.

The fingers twisted inside him, drawing a low noise of pleasure from Ichigo.  His grip on the blond’s cock faltered as those long fingers brushed his prostate.  He whimpered, body arching and trying to push the fingers deeper, to enjoy that wondrous bolt of pleasure again.  “Beautiful,” whispered Kisuke and Ichigo groaned.  A third finger slipped inside and Ichigo tried to will himself to relax.  Kisuke smiled at him, kissing his face as those fingers carefully opened him.

He felt the younger man hesitate when he was stretched, clearly reluctant to carry things forward without lube, and gently lifted himself off the blond’s fingers, earning a slightly baffled look from his lover.  “Can’t wait.  Need you,” he explained with a moan, shifting and slowly lowering himself onto Kisuke’s cock.  The blond gasped, his fingers digging into Ichigo’s hips and his whole body straining.  Ichigo panted as his muscles stretched and burned, it hurt, but it was a good hurt, he thought as he clung to the blond.

Kisuke trembled, his eyes closed and his grip vice-like on Ichigo’s hips.  “Don’t move,” he ground out and Ichigo could tell he was close, the knowledge drawing a smile to his lips despite his own body’s strain.  “Love you,” he panted, arching and trying to move as Kisuke fought him.  Finally, Kisuke’s control broke with a tiny whimper and he flexed his hips, both of them biting their lips at the sensation.  Ichigo groaned and slowly lifted himself before slipping back down just as slowly.  They moved carefully, soft sounds of pleasure coming from the both of them.

It was unhurried, the water moving around them in small eddies, and it was better than he remembered, thought Ichigo as he reached down and began stroking himself.  Kisuke gave a soft sob, closing his eyes and pulling him down hard.  A tiny hitching noise slipped into his breathing and Ichigo kissed him hungrily, grinding down on the blond’s cock.  Kisuke wailed, the sound swallowed between their mouths and came.  Ichigo groaned and sped his movements on his own cock, gasping as one of Kisuke’s hands fell to help him.  He stiffened and came with a silent scream, slumping against the younger man, holding him tight.

“I love you,” he whispered with a soft kiss to the side of the blond’s neck.

“And I love you.  No matter what happens, Ichigo, I love you.  I always have and I always will,” promised Kisuke.  He glanced up, brown eyes locking with mercurial grey eyes, and smiled at his lover.  He wasn’t sure how long they sat there in each other’s arms, touching softly.  His fingers grazed Kisuke’s stomach and the blond squirmed, making the redhead smirk.  He tickled the blond, earning a peel of laughter before Kisuke splashed at him and tickled him back.  They struggled until they were both breathless and smiling, unable to contain their laughter.  It was childish and silly, but as they sat there panting, leaning against each other, their eyes bright, both of them grinning - it was perfect realized Ichigo.  It was laughter and love and comfort and all the myriad of other joys Kisuke had brought to his life.

Chapter Text

He awoke achingly hard and smeared with come.  There were tears on his cheeks and Ichigo's name still on his lips.  Kisuke stifled a soft cry, his body trembling as he tried to struggle through the conflicting morass of emotions.  There was pain and fear, the denial of waking and the denial of the dream.  There was Urahara's longing to reach out and pull Ichigo close.  And there was his own bitter anger over the situation, the devastating certainty that no matter what he did he could never make things right with Ichigo.

The other man would never see him as anything but a stand-in for Urahara, would never care about him.  It hurt, he realized as a dull pain radiated through his chest.  It hurt to know that Ichigo could never love him because it was becoming harder and harder not to want to love the other man.  But he would never be anything but a pale shade of Urahara Kisuke.

"A shadow of what was," he whispered, Ulquiorra's words coming to him and making him gasp as pain lanced through him.  That was all he was, all he could ever be, he realized, tears beginning to slip over his cheeks.

"Somebody had a good morning," taunted a feminine voice filled with laughter. 

Grey eyes flew open, meeting with sparkling golden eyes set within Yoruichi's smirking face.  She was eyeing his rumpled sheets and stained boxers with wry humor.  Rage flashed through him.  She was laughing at him!  He was being ripped apart and she was laughing at him, mocking his agony!  Despair turned to fury in an instant. 

"Get out!" he snarled, his left hand going to Benihime.  He had gone to bed clutching her close, drawing comfort from the familiar feel of her and the faint song that he could hear when he held her.  Now he was gratified by the echoing ferocity he could feel vibrating through her.

"Hey!  I was just joking!" yelped Yoruichi, holding her hands up in a placating gesture that just annoyed him more.

"GET OUT!" he screamed, rolling to his feet and tossing Benihime's sheathe away.  Her blade looked dull in the artificial light, but he could feel the hunger resonating through her, the desire to slake his anger in blood.  There was a primal and savage joy in holding her, a promise of blood and death that sang within his veins. 

This at least was his, this angel of fury and fire.

"What's all the noise?" demanded Shunsui, crowding into the doorway to the bedroom.  Jyuushiro was behind him and Grimmjow shoving at the both of them trying to get in.

"GET THE FUCK OUT!" he bellowed, suddenly infuriated by the lack of privacy.  He was not some exhibit for them to stare at and his pain was not on display for them all to chortle over.  A door opened out in the living room and more people called out in concern.  "Sing, Benihime," he growled, the command falling easily and naturally from his lips.  A sharp pain nipped at his wrist and a cut opened.  Blood flowed, a few precious drops of crimson life.  The ruby glow suffused Benihime as she drank it in, his power, his energy, his very life force.  Her power flowed up his arm and through him in return, a brilliant song bursting into existence in his blood.  A red blast sailed at the four bodies in his doorway and they dropped to the floor to avoid being hit.

"Kitten," began Grimmjow.

"You think this is funny?!?  This is my fucking life!" he screamed, a fresh sprinkling of tears falling.  He swung at Yoruichi as she rolled to her feet.  Jyuushiro shoved Grimmjow back into the living room, following the Arrancar.  

"Kisuke," tried Shunsui

"Get out!  Get out!  GET OUT!" he snarled, a red halo enveloping him and a blast of crimson energy flying towards the other man's head.  Shunsui ducked and dove back into the living room, Yoruichi following him through the door.  Kisuke growled and pressed the attack into the other room. 

"I think we should go!" exclaimed the captain of the Eighth, jerking his lover clear of a kidou blast.

"You might be right."

"I'm not leaving him," snapped Grimmjow, jerking clear of a swipe from Benihime.

"I don't think he wants you here right now," said Jyuushiro, grabbing his collar and tugging the Arrancar through the living room door.  Yoruichi dove through a second later and then the door slammed shut, a kidou blast rocking it before a barrier snapped into place.

Kisuke stared at the door, panting and crying, his limbs trembling.  The rage drained away slowly, leaving him aching and frightened.  Benihime fell to the floor a second before he did, his arms wrapped tightly around himself as his tears become wreaking sobs.  He rocked gently, nails digging furrows into his skin and his whole body trembling, not sure what he felt...or if he ever wanted to feel again.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, sweaty, bloody and stained with his own release.  It was long enough for numbness to replace the pain, and weariness to overwhelm the anger though.  The fear didn't fade, only receded slightly, just waiting to ambush him again.   With a few soft sniffles he dragged himself to the bath, rinsing mechanically, before sitting heavily, letting the hot water pelt his back.  He drew his knees up to his chest, laying his head on them and sat there in the shower, as small as he could make himself.

He wasn't exactly sure when the world went from being the bathroom of his little jail cell to being somewhere different.  He just knew that the bathroom had disappeared and been replaced with a world of fog.  There were hints of things through the fog, buildings that he could glimpse, voices that echoed around and reminded him of a childhood he had never had, and smells that were alien and familiar at the same time. 

"You do realize that drowning ourselves is not a solution?  Or at least not one I am prepared to explore," murmured a serious sounding voice, although Kisuke thought he detected a slight hint of dry amusement in the tone.  He whirled to find a nearly exact double of himself standing a few meters away.  Except this him looked harder, more confident, with a certain sharp cleverness and avarice lurking in his eyes.  He was dressed in a Shinigami's robes and a white captain's haori was draped around his shoulders.

"Urahara?" he whispered softly, trying to resist the urge to back away from the other man, this mirror image of him who wasn't.

"In a manner of speaking.  You do realize that denying the memories won't work, don't you?  You need to remember.  Knowledge is power.  And blind emotional displays like earlier are hardly productive."

"Where am I?  What do you want?" he demanded, settling for edging away from the other man slowly.

The Captain sighed at him, but an almost indulgent smile tugged his lips upward.  "This is our soul - well, your part of it anyway.  My portion is over there," murmured the other man with a gesture into the foggy landscape and for just a second Kisuke thought the mist cleared.  He thought he could make out a tangled warren of dusty streets and tiny, cramped houses.  The Rukongai.  He knew it as surely as he knew his name.

“As for what I want, I'll settle for conversation for the moment.  You need help and I am the only one around able to provide it - and since my fate is tied to yours, you will admit I have a certain vested interest in your welfare," continued the Captain, pacing a narrow strip of earth. 

"You know how to make the memories stop?  How to make it end?" demanded Kisuke eagerly, a faint blush climbing his cheeks as he remembered the latest dream.  It was so hard, remembering so much, feeling so much, and yet knowing that if he acted on it, it wouldn't be him Ichigo would be touching.  It wouldn't be him the redhead loved.  He would just be a substitute for Urahara. 

The Captain gave an apologetic shrug, "I can't.  They're not my memories.  They come after my time.  I only remember our childhood and time in Soul Society.  Ichigo and our relationship with him came after.  If you will remember, I did try and keep us away from him," pointed out the other man.

Kisuke sighed. It had been a futile hope anyway.  "I don't trust you," he told the other him petulantly.  "Why should I listen to you if you can't help me?"

"You might consider things from my perspective," snapped the Captain.  "You were raised with a home and a family.  I grew up on the streets of the Rukongai.  If my methods seem...harsh, it is because I learned to value survival above all else.  And you will admit that so far I have done an admirable job of keeping us alive - even if the conditions were less than ideal." 

Kisuke blushed faintly.  He hadn’t gone out of his way to help the other man, but he was not exactly eager to surrender his body either.  It was his life damn it!  He deserved a chance to live it. 

"If it helps any, I do not believe our later self intended for you to experience the dream," murmured the captain with a soft chuckle as he turned vibrant red.

"Why do I get the feeling that dream doesn't bother you in the slightest," he demanded of the other man with faint annoyance.

"What is to be bothered about?  We got an orgasm out of it and after giving the matter due consideration I have decided that we could have done much worse than Kurosaki,” murmured the Captain, making Kisuke shake his head in mild exasperation.  Why did all parts of him have to agree on that one thing?  "He is handsome and powerful.  He has sufficient rank to make a relationship possible without the trouble of a noble title.  He cares deeply about us and has proven willing to deal with our eccentricities.  Matches have thrived on far less."    

"We are talking about someone you are supposed to love, not a damn political ally," snapped Kisuke annoyed by the brisk summary.

"But I didn't fall in love with him.  That came later, after our banishment.  Love is far too fickle an emotion for me," murmured the Captain benignly.

"Yoruichi," breathed Kisuke, his eyes locking with the Captain's.  He could feel it, the aching and bitter anger of being told he wasn't good enough.  Knowing that Yoruichi could never love him simply because of what he was.  He was good enough for her to play with, good enough to train with her, and to stand with her in a fight - but not to love her.  He was a Rukongai mongrel.  That was all her family saw, all he could ever be in their eyes.  And the knowledge was a sharp and bitter pain that tainted everything else.  The Captain nodded.              

"To a spurned child love is a foolish hope, but power...power seems to promise all the security and stability he could ever want.  So I chose to pursue the mistress I could obtain.  Love came later."

"After our fall," murmured a soft, solemn voice.  A third figure stepped from the fog.  He was older than the Captain or Kisuke, maybe thirty, but it was clear he was an older version of them, what they would grow into.

He lacked the Captain's self assurance - this man had tried and failed.  And he was forever marked by that failure, held prisoner by it.  There was a certain sad acceptance to him, it was masked by a bright smile and a clever fan, but it was easy to see that whatever merriment the man feigned, it never reach his eyes.  Those stayed shrouded in sadness.  

"Urahara, I presume," murmured the Captain.

"Hat-n-Clogs, for convenience.  And this is certainly unexpected.  My younger self and our current incarnation I would guess?" inquired the self proclaimed Hat-n-Clogs.

"You!" snarled Kisuke, lightning flashing in his eyes as he stormed towards the other man.  A well placed foot sent him stumbling before he could get close however and a moment later he was pressed snuggly into the Captain, his right arm twisted up behind his back.

"I believe we discussed emotional displays already," scolded the Captain lightly.  "And fighting against ourselves will accomplish nothing.  We also covered the dream."

Hat-n-Clogs grinned sheepishly.  "I really hadn't planned for that to happen.  Benihime and the other two woke me up."

"Benihime?" asked the Captain and Kisuke could feel his interest sharpen. 

"I don't care why it happened," snapped Kisuke.  "I don't want it to happen again."  He yelped, jerked from the soulscape as cold water pelted his spine.  He scrambled to turn off the water and quickly toweled off and armored himself in a fluffy robe.  Not sure if he was glad to be free of the disturbing soulscape or annoyed at not being able to resolve things with Urahara.

'Do you think he would be mad if I told him that I have no control over what he remembers?' came a cheerily whispered voice at the edge of his hearing.

'Probably.'

Chapter Text

Dawn came far too early in Toushiro's opinion.  Especially when it dragged him from a warm bed and Karin's soft embrace.  He had grumbled menacingly at the alarm but risen quickly, so that Karin could continue to sleep.  She had done enough and needed to rest.  She of course would argue that he had done enough and want him to rest, he thought with a fond smile as she curled into the warm spot he had left in the bed.

He made quick work of his morning routine and laid a quick kiss to Karin's brow before he left, savoring that last glimpse of her.  Most mornings he would have lingered to have breakfast and coffee with her, both of them postponing the moment of their separation until the last possible instant. 

Their time together was precious and stolen.  It had to be with the two of them coming from such different worlds.  Sometimes, late at night, laying in her arms, he wondered what it would be like if he just followed Kurosaki's example.  Walked away from his duties and his life and became human.  For Karin, he just might have, he thought.  There was a war however, and Soul Society needed him and he wouldn't have been the man Karin loved if he had abandoned those who counted on him.  It pained him though, to consider his beautiful tigress of a love growing old.  And watching her die...he wasn't sure he could do that.  It was one thing to live with someone and grow old with them, it was another to watch your lover age and die while you remained unchanged.  He pushed the unpleasant thoughts away, they had time yet and he had duties to see to.

Abarai and Ishida's appearance at the first intersection was a clear sign that his work for the day would begin earlier than planned.  They joined him silently, and Toushiro reflected that there really ought to be some rule about not having to deal with the both of them together before lunch.  The both of them never meant good news.  "What do you want?" he growled, hoping that getting rid of them quickly would be possible.  It had only been four hours, even they couldn't get into too much trouble in four hours - he hoped anyway.  He had learned never to underestimate their ability to create havoc. 

"There are some things you need to know before your meeting with Arisawa.  Certain facts have come to light," murmured Ishida in that cool professional tone of his and Toushiro stole a measuring glance at the Quincy.

"What have you two done?" he demanded, knowing that if Uryuu had done something Renji would be in it right up to his stubborn neck.  The two were a matched set when it came to trouble.

"The person responsible for the break-in is in holding.  Thought ya might want to see her is all," announced Renji, an infinitely smug look on his face.

Hitsugaya paused considering them both before turning and marching toward the holding area.  "I assume you have proof," he demanded as the other two fell in behind him again.

"She admitted it to me last night and Renji was able to obtain a sighed statement of her involvement.  Also, there are only two people capable of breaking wards like the ones on the shop and only one of them lives in Karakura and has a known prejudice against the Shinigami," Uryuu pointed out.  Younger Shinigami leapt to get out of their way and Hitsugaya could understand why, two captains and a Quincy all glowering and marching down a hallway really was something best avoided - especially when news that someone had betrayed them had to be circulating.  Nothing stayed secret on the base for long. 

There was a seated officer there to meet them at the holding cells.  A young woman from the Fifth, who held the fifth seat, if Toushiro remembered her correctly.  She demanded their swords and took names and reiatsu scans, all according to procedure.  Ichigo might have been unconventional but he trained damn fine people. 

"The prisoner has been quiet, sirs," reported the woman before admitting them.  All three of them gave her a curt nod and continued down the hall without her.  She kept a weathered eye on them however, ready to step in if it seemed anything dubious might be going on.

Stationed in a cell at the end, hunched over on a poorly padded bunk sat Inoue Orihime - he could never remember her married name and didn't much care.  Her left eye was blackened and swollen shut and a nasty bruise marred her jaw on the right side.  Ugly purple marks that resembled nothing so much as hands were visible on her upper arms and on one wrist.  And Toushiro was willing to bet there were other less visible marks.

"The prisoner attempted to escape?" he asked blandly.

"The prisoner refused to cooperate," replied Abarai with a small blasé smile.  The sort of smile a wolf gave a rabbit, thought Toushiro, dismissing the bruises as a small taste of what the woman probably deserved.  Crossing the Shinigami was risky, crossing a Quincy was dangerous, and crossing Renji and Uryuu was just plain suicidal.  Inoue was lucky to have escaped with nothing more than a few bruises.  The last person to incur Abarai and Ishida's wrath had been in the Fourth's care for nearly a month.

"On your feet," he snapped at Inoue, pleased when she flinched and got shakily to her feet.  "By rights you should be put to death for consorting with the traitor Aizen Sousuke - civilian or not," he growled at her, watching her blanch.  "Morally you should be drawn and quartered for what you allowed to happen to Tatsuki."  Inoue swayed unsteadily on her feet and Hitsugaya made a note to thank Zaraki.  He had stolen that one from him; the captain of the Eleventh knew all the best threats.  "By law I could convene a tribunal at this very moment with myself, Ishida, and Abarai to pass judgment and have you executed where you stand."  Sometimes wartime efficiency really was quite useful - especially when it allowed him to offer threats like death as a stick.          

"The only reason I am not doing so is that you may yet prove useful, may yet redeem the trust others have wrongly put in you.  You have one chance to save yourself Inoue Orihime, and that is to tell us everything you know."  And there was the carrot - a chance to get her pitiful little life back.

Inoue crumpled to the floor, tears coming, and Toushiro snorted in annoyance.  He had things to do this morning and watching Inoue blubber was not one of them.  "There is a time limit on this offer," he growled, hand slipping to the hilt of Hyourinmaru.  Inoue stared at his hand wrapped around the hilt of his zanpaktou and words began tumbling out.  The more he heard, the more Toushiro wanted to drive Hyourinmaru right through her chest and he could feel the same barely leashed desire in the two men behind him.

Eighteen years.

For eighteen years she had been betraying them!  Most of it was small and unnoticeable, patrol routes, impressions of how much activity the base had.  Tiny pieces of data that hadn't actually harmed anyone, but painted a clearer picture of their presence in Karakura for Aizen.  Only twice had Aizen demanded actual action from her, making him suspect that Aizen knew exactly the sort of person his spy was.  The first time had been over fifteen years ago, and though he would never be able to prove it, he suspected that the data Orihime had stolen from them had been used to help plan the massive attack in '09.  An attack that had nearly cost them their hold on the town and had cost twenty-six good officers their lives.  No less damning was the most recent theft of Urahara's notes. 

Hitsugaya would be the first to admit that the former Shinigami captain had been a genius, but he had also been far too clever for anyone's good.  And his early work hadn't always been as well thought out as his later projects.  His early work had been fueled by ambition, and un-tempered ambition had a way of blinding men, even men as smart as Urahara, to the danger of their creations.   

Ionue finished her tale and sat blubbering on the cell floor.  "Seal her powers and get her out of my sight," he growled.  Inoue's head shot up and pleas fell from her lips but it meant nothing.  An instant later a blue arrow slammed into her chest, knocking her back and making her scream.  Toushiro smiled as spirit energy poured into the cell and was just as quickly siphoned off. 

The Quincy were damned scary at times and Ishida Uryuu was probably the scariest.

The technique he was using was something done only by Quincy masters and it was fiendishly clever.  The Quincy absorbed spirit particles, drew them in and used them to fuel their attacks.  Hollows, Shinigami and other spirit beings held a reservoir of spirit particles, all nicely collected and neatly bundled inside them.  Crack that reservoir open and the energy rushed out, free for the Quincy to draw in and use.  Quincy masters could quite literally consume their opponents - pierce their soul reservoir with an arrow and then drink in their power.  The shot was tricky as hell according to Uryuu, and the rush of incoming energy could be dangerous for a novice; but when employed by a master the effect was devastating.

For a spirit being such a blow, as well as the massive energy lose, was fatal.  For a human like Inoue it would merely shatter her powers.  Although, Toushiro was pretty sure it wasn't pleasant.

A blue glow suffused the archer and Renji was looking at the brunette like he wanted to devour him - that or shove him up against the closest flat surface.  Definitely time to leave, thought Hitsugaya.

"Take the rest of the day off," he grumbled, knowing both men would be useless until the high had worn off - well, Ishida would be useless and Renji would be too focused on his lover to notice anything else.  "And for the sake of my sanity, stay the hell out of the public areas!"

He marched past the guard, who was staring at the three of them like they were the most terrifying thing she had ever seen, and headed off to collect Ichigo for their early morning interrogation of Arisawa.

Chapter Text

"What.  Did. You. DO!?!?" ground out Grimmjow, turning on Yoruichi, his posture stiff and his whole body shaking as he tried to restrain himself from ripping out her throat long enough to find out what she had done to his kitten.  After that...all bets were off.  In fact, after that he was looking forward to smashing her face in. 

No one upset his kitten and lived.

But first he had to know what she had done so he could fix it.

"I didn't do anything," retorted Yorichi.  "I just teased him a little and he exploded.  And I'm not the one who has been hovering over him.  Hell, you're probably smothering the poor kid."

Grimmjow roared in fury and lunged at the dark-haired woman.  How dare she criticize how he handled his own fucking kitten!  It had been him who'd soothed the brat's hurts and kept him calm when the predator danced too near the surface and frightened him.  This Shinigami bitch had no right to pass judgment over how he handled the brat.

Yoruichi leapt to the side and the Arrancar's fist drove into the wall hard enough to leave a hole six inches deep.  The miss didn't faze the former Espada and he whirled to continue his attack, fangs bared and claws extended.

"What the fuck is going on?" snarled Ichigo, stumbling out of Abarai and Ishida's rooms looking rumpled and stinking of sex. 

Shunsui yelled for Jyuushiro to help him with Grimmjow as the blue-haired man pressed his attack on Yoruichi.  The two captains lunged for the Arrancar, one grabbing each arm and pulling him away from Yoruichi.  The enraged howl of feline outrage reverberated through the corridor, deafening them all for a moment.  Grimmjow snarled at the two Shinigami, hissing and spitting, before remembering that at least one of the people in the hallway would be one his side.  "The kitten," he snapped, as the captains of the Thirteenth and Eighth tried to twist his arms behind his back.

"Kisuke?!?" yelped Kurosaki, instantly awake and suddenly far more menacing.  Grimmjow felt a dark smile tug at his lips.  He might not have liked the son of a bitch, but even he would freely admit that Kurosaki could fight and that he took the kitten's well-being seriously.

Power crackled, silver and malevolent as the air began to stir and Grimmjow felt the hands holding him loosen as Shunsui and Jyuushiro braced for battle.  Grimmjow ripped free of them, sending an elbow back into Ukitake's midsection, knocking the wind from him and sending him tumbling to the floor.  Shunsui gave a quick cry before his lover gasped his assurances that he was fine.  The blood staining his lips made a lie of the words though.

"What the fuck happened to Kisuke!?!" roared Kurosaki.

"He's fine, Ichigo.  Just a little over excited," soothed Jyuushiro in a firm but calm voice, standing gingerly and moving cautiously toward the younger captain.

"She upset him," growled Grimmjow, glaring at Yoruichi and snapping at her.  Shunsui grabbed a hold of him, keeping him from making another attempt at harming her.  He snarled softly at the captain of the Eighth but made no move to get loose.  He didn't care who hurt the stupid woman, just as long as she paid for upsetting the kitten.  And if Kurosaki did it, all the better; he could be the one to get in trouble.  Grimmjow gave a pleased rumble as golden-black eyes turned on Yoruichi.

"Ichigo," murmured Jyuushiro, a delicate hand landing on the younger man's shoulder and gently but firmly turning the young man away from Yourichi so that he could look him in the eyes.  "You need to remain calm...for Kisuke's sake," pressed the captain of the Thirteenth. 

He had been right, thought Grimmjow, the captain of the Thirteenth was one tricky bastard.  He was playing the one card that was guaranteed to stop even Kurosaki in full battle cry.  Brown eyes instantly cleared and Kurosaki suddenly looked strickened.  "Is he alright?  Was he hurt?  What happened?" demanded the Vaizard glancing around for some sign of the kitten.

 "He's fine.  He's in his room.  He was just a little upset and wanted to be alone.  Grimmjow didn't take his insistence well," murmured Jyuushiro, the lie as smooth as silk and falling easily from his lips.  Kurosaki was frowning and knocking on Kisuke's door an instant later.  Energy crackled over his knuckles and hissed angrily at him.  The kitten wasn't happy and he did not want for anyone to miss that fact.

"Kisuke?  Kisuke, can I talk to you?  Please," pleaded Kurosaki, reiatsu brushing over the ward.  Power exploded into the hallway and Kurosaki was slammed into the far wall.  Grimmjow found himself studying the door, impressed despite himself.  Who knew his brat of a kitten was smart enough to rig something like that?  And could the kid teach him?  He had the wicked thought of watching Ulquiorra go flying and couldn't help but rumble in pleasure.  The prissy Arrancar had been even worse, if it was possible, since he had started hanging around with the captain of the Sixth.

"Now what's he done?" demanded Hitsugaya Toushiro in a tired voice as he observed the chaotic state of the hallway.  Grimmjow growled softly, sensing a slight being hurled at his kitten.  The stupid Shinigami didn't realize how good they had it, he thought with a sour look for the growing assembly.  Even he knew that an angry kitten could turn mayhem into an art form.  He had once used Aizen's dais as a scratching post when newly brought across, blaming the damage on Nnoitra.  So far, Kisuke had just been a little testy.

"Kisuke would just like some alone time," chuckled Shunsui, earning an annoyed sigh from the smaller captain.

"I don't need this.  And I don't have time for it.  Handle the human later, Ichigo.  We have things to deal with and Urahara, or Mizuno, or whatever the hell he wants to be called isn't one of them," snapped Hitsugaya.  All eyes turned to regard the younger man, reading the tension in his stance and the angry pulse to his normally placid reiatsu.  Something had upset the young captain and he was in no mood to tolerate any other disruptions.

Grimmjow watched as all the Shinigami in the hall stiffened slightly, his instincts saying that something bad had happened.  He took a sniff of air, trying to read the subtle information carried there, but it was no use.  There were too many other people and too much energy and they filled the air with the stink of sweat and ozone.  He growled softly and skilled fingers slid from his collar to behind his ear, rubbing softly and sapping the tension from his body almost against his will.

"Play nice, Kitty," came Shunsui's soft voice in his ear.

For a moment Ichigo looked like he wanted to argue, but duty prevailed over desire and he rose.

"Kisuke will be fine," murmured Jyuushiro softly and Ichigo sighed.

"Keep an eye on him," he pleaded with the pale haired noble.  "I think something happened between us earlier and...and it might have been what upset him," admitted the redhead with a blush.

Grimmjow's eyes snapped to the Vaizard, a low snarl rising from the back of his throat.  Mate or not, Kurosaki was not suppose to upset the kitten.  Then again, the kitten was weird about him and more often than not upset himself where the redhead was concerned.  Grimmjow didn't quite understand all the fuss when even the kitten admitted he had Urahara's memories and that the former Shinigami had come back to be with Kurosaki.  He sighed as another wet discussion with the kitten loomed before him.  Why did humans have to be so moist when upset?

"What the hell did you do to him?  He nearly took my head off?" snapped Yoruichi.

"Deal with the human later, we need to see Arisawa, Ichigo.  There are...facts that have come to light that you need to be aware of," growled Hitsugaya.  Kurosaki nodded and took one last look at the kitten's door.

"Watch after him, Jyuushiro?  Please," asked the redhead, his eyes pleading.  Grimmjow cocked his head, watching the exchange and trying to understand how someone could be so vicious in battle and yet brought low by nothing more than a human boy in a temper.  And how he had allowed the same thing to happen to him?  At least the brat was a follow cat and one that promised to be damned scary when he grew up, the Arrancar decided.

The captain of the Thirteenth gave the younger man an understanding smile and gently steered him toward Hitsugaya, who looked to be getting ever more twitchy.  "We'll take good care of him, Ichigo.  My word on it."  The captain of the Fifth sighed but nodded and followed Hitsugaya as he marched off.

"Come along, Kitty.  We'll get some breakfast and relax for a few hours; give your kitten a chance to calm down and get hungry," grinned Shunsui.      

Grimmjow glanced between Shunsui's beaming smile and the crackling ward over Kisuke's door.  Instinct said that no good could come from trusting that smile, but it didn't look like the kitten was going to be opening the door anytime soon.  The choice was taken from him when Jyuushiro joined his lover and they began leading him down the hall.  He struggled loose for a brief second to grab one of the guards stationed to the hallway, tossing him in front of the door and glaring menacingly at him.  "He doesn't leave.  You don't move.  If the kitten isn't here when I get back I'm gonna beat ya to death with yer own fuckin' spleen."

Jyuushiro and Shunsui both chuckled as they reclaimed his arms and dragged him away from the wide-eyed, young Shinigami.

Chapter Text

Ichigo took one last look back at Kisuke's door, instincts screaming to return to the blond.  There had been something odd about that dream, something more real than he wanted to admit.  And if Kisuke had shared it with him...he could understand the blond getting spooked.

He sighed and shoved all thoughts of Kisuke away - or tried to.  Not thinking of Kisuke was always a losing battle.  Fortunately, he had something more immediate to focus on.    Hitsugaya was strung tight and long experience had taught him that no good ever came from that.  "What happened?" he demanded quietly, for one brief instant fearing that Tatsuki had taken a turn for the worse during the night.  It was rare, but sometimes even the Fourth was wrong about a patient's prognoses.

"There's been a development during the night.  The spy was apprehended and a full confession obtained," snarled Hitsugaya.  That was good news which meant that something else about the situation had to be bothering the young captain.  Tatsuki was probably in up to her pretty little neck, thought Ichigo glumly.  It was the only thing he could think of that would have Toushiro spitting like an angry dragon.

"And?" he pressed gently, keeping his voice calm and his tone inquisitive without being demanding.  A truly furious Hitsugaya was a rare thing, but it was dangerous and to be respected.  Ichigo had once seen the smaller man incase a full kilometer in solid ice and had no desire to find himself so imprisoned.  For one thing Rukia would never let him live it down.

"The damage was more extensive than we thought.  The spy has been providing information for nearly two decades," whispered Hitsugaya as Ichigo breathed a soft profanity.  He could hardly imagine anyone in their midst betraying them for so long.  He could well imagine what the knowledge was doing to Hitsugaya though, since it was doing the same to him, worming around and leaving him both sick and furious.  How could someone they trusted, one of their own, do this to them?  And for so long?  How could someone they know and trust smile at them day in and day out and all the while be stabbing them in the back?

"Not Tatsuki.  Please," he begged the white-haired man softly.  He couldn't believe that his friend, a woman he had known his whole life could lie to them, to him, for so long.

"I don't know.  She isn't the spy.  But she was in the park where the other was meeting with Aizen.  She was out of bounds and off her route.  If she isn't guilty of betraying us she's still demonstrated a remarkable stupidity - enough to get her banished from the Gotei 13," explained Hitsugaya, his own voice growing soft and his reiatsu troubled.

"How are we handling it?" asked Ichigo, almost afraid to find out. 

"Questioning and summary judgment by you and me.  This is our problem and we're handling it.  We are not sharing our mess with the entire Gotei 13."

"And the spy?"

"Already handled.  Ishida shattered her power.  She'll get her memory wiped and be banished," snapped Hitsugaya.

"Banishment?  Are you..." began Ichigo before frosty turquoise eyes pinned him.

"I trust Abarai and Ishida to make our point to her," purred the captain of the Tenth in a malicious tone.  Ichigo had to agree, no one quite matched Ishida for shear creative nastiness, but he still would have preferred to go with a more permanent solution.

"She's stable and awake, sirs," murmured Hanatarou, joining them for a moment as they entered the Fourth but quickly peeling off to make his rounds once they had nodded their understanding.  The healers scrambled to get out of their way and the young man coming from Tatsuki's room actually yelped when he saw them - which would have been funny if the circumstances weren't so dire, thought Ichigo.

He followed Hitsugaya into his old friend's room, almost feeling the temperature drop.  "Leave us," he snapped at the young woman who was just finishing redressing Tatsuki's wounds. 

The woman left with a quick, "Yes, Taichou."  Ichigo stared at Tatsuki, there were dark circles under her eyes and she looked pale and shaky.  She also looked like she had been crying.  "Taichou," she began softly, only to be cut off with a quick gesture from Hitsugaya.

"You were off your route.  You failed to report suspicious activity by a known hostile.  And by the time you did report it was too late to do anything!  Give me one good reason not to strip you of your rank and cast you from our midst!" roared Hitsugaya.

Tatsuki shank before their eyes, her eyes closing and a fine trembling seizing her.  "Forgive me, Taichou," she whispered almost too softly to be heard.

"Tell us what happened, Tatsuki," pressed Ichigo gently, filling in the roll of good cop to Hitsugaya's bad.

"I...I didn't mean to...I just wanted...I loved her, Taichou.  I would just check up on her while I was patrolling.  I didn't know about...I didn't know until last night - you have to believe me!  I should have reported it, I know that...but...she was my friend.  I thought I could make her see reason," whispered Tatsuki as a feeling of cold dread began to consume him.  Ichigo could hear his blood rushing in his ears and darkness swam before his eyes.  Shirosaki was muttering angrily and his fury was a palatable thing, ready to slip its leash at any second.  He knew who had done this, who had caused it.

Orihime.

'Miserable, stupid, bitch!' snarled Shirosaki.

"Focus," snapped Hitsugaya, an icy lash falling across his back and drawing him away from the red-black vortex of his Hollow's rage.

"I want a full report, Arisawa.  Everything that happened, everything you saw and everything you did," growled Hitsugaya.

"Yes, Taichou," whispered Tatsuki dejectly.  "I left my route to check up on Inoue-san.  I shouldn't have, but she was my friend once and...and I miss her, Taichou.  I...I noticed something at the end of the street and realized it was Orihime; it was late, after one and I knew she wouldn't have normally been up, so I followed her.  I should have called it in, I know that, Taichou.

"I saw her enter the Shoten and carry something away," explained Tatsuki softly, tears coming although she didn't raise her head.  "I thought I could talk to her, make her see reason...I didn't know!  I didn't know about Aizen, Taichou!  I swear it!"

"What happened next, Tatsuki?" pressed Ichigo firmly, his voice calm but insistent.

"I confronted Orihime.  I was going to make her return whatever it was she had taken...I thought I could handle it.  I thought I could make her do the right thing...but there was this crawling sensation and then Aizen was standing there with Ichimaru and Tousen and several Arrancar.  Then everything...I was alone in the park and my sword was gone and my communicator...and no matter which way I ran, I never got anywhere.  Then there was pain and these sad golden eyes and I woke up here.  I'm so sorry.  I...I didn't mean for this...

"I'm so sorry," breathed Tatsuki, her eyes meeting theirs and filled with remorse.  Ichigo sighed, and tugged Hitsugaya into the doorway, far enough away that they could speak privately if they whispered.  Tatsuki had been stupid but he didn't want to see her career ruined because of it.  She didn't deserve that.  And she especially didn't deserve to have it happen over someone like Orihime.

"I'm not going to pursue the matter beyond this.  She'll be punished; but she has the makings of a fine officer and she doesn't deserve to have her entire career destroyed over this," muttered Toushiro, casting a dark look back at Tatsuki.

Ichgio gave him a grateful nod before letting his own face harden as they turned back to Tatsuki.  They might care, but in this case caring meant letting her know just how badly she had screwed up.  "Arisawa Tatsuki, you were derelict in your duties as a Shinigami, you have brought shame on your division and endangered your comrades.  Technically, what you have admitted is enough to have you stripped of your rank and banished from the Gotei 13.  Neither Kurosaki nor I feel that depriving Soul Society of your strength is the best course of action, however.  You will retain your rank and remain a Shinigami, in the hopes that you can learn from this failure. 

"You will be docked a month's pay.  You are suspended from your duties until further notice and will be assigned to Matsumoto until I deem you fit to return to duty," growled Hitsugaya, looking like icy vengeance.  There was even the tiniest layer of frost beginning to form on his haori and Ichigo was shocked at how far his control had slipped for that to be happening.

Tatsuki stared up at him, looking both miserable and grateful.  "Yes, Taichou.  Thank you, Taichou," she breathed, accepting a curt nod from Hitsugaya.

"Do not fail again, Arisawa.  You will not be given another such chance," murmured the captain of the Tenth before turning to leave.

"Matsumoto?" asked Ichigo as the door slid closed behind them.

"Can you think of anything worse than being responsible for Matsumoto getting her work done?" asked Hitsugaya with a smirk.

Chapter Text

Renji had grabbed Uryuu as Hitsugaya stormed toward the exit.  He shivered faintly at the tingle of power over his own skin and made a note to have a brief word with the younger captain about Ishida in this state.  The captain of the Tenth had been lucky not to find an arrow in his back.  Friends and prey tended to blur together for the archer during the power high from siphoning off another being's energy. 

Ishida claimed he would better be able to control the instincts with practice and Renji believed him; but practice was in short supply and this was only his lover's third time using the technique. 

Glowing blue eyes turned on him and Renji felt his breath catch for a moment, entranced by the dangerous and beautiful creature in his grasp.  "It's me, love," he whispered softly, watching for any spark of recognition.  Slowly the Quincy focused on him and Renji saw comprehension flare before long fingers grabbed his head and forced their lips together in a hard kiss.  Teeth crashed together and Uryuu growled, fingers tugging painfully on his lover's hair as he tried to force the kiss.  Renji eased the archer back, earning a snarl, before he opened his mouth and began to kiss the Quincy. 

"Never...never forget you," panted Uryuu between hungry kisses.  "Love you."

Renji smiled and continued to let the other man kiss him, strong hands running in soothing passes over the archer's back.  This was a far cry from his first brush with Ishida at his most fearsome.  The first time Uryuu hadn't recognized anyone, even him.  It had taken both him and Ichigo to subdue the Quincy and far longer than Renji liked to think about to get sense to return to his lover's eyes.

"Want you...want you now," growled Uryuu, pressing against him.  Renji groaned, hands quickly gripping the archer's hips and helping to slow the frantic grinding.

"Shhh...I'm right here, baby.  Not going anywhere," he promised, steering Uyruu into the open cell across the way and pressing him down onto the narrow bunk.  He gently pried his lover's hands loose and lifted them above his head to grip the bars.  It only took a quick flick of his wrists to cuff Ishida's hands to the bars and ensure they were locked securely above his head.  The move earned the redhead a sharp growl and an angry glare, but experience had taught him that caution was better than an arrow in the ass.

"Let me go," hissed Uryuu, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"When I'm ready to," he purred, trying to keep his tone light.  Renji wasn't sure he succeeded completely, but the hint of violence in Uryuu's eyes dimmed, leaving only heat.  He groaned and gently unzipped the Quincy's shirt, pushing the edges aside and letting his hands slide over the pale, glowing flesh.  Energy swirled and danced beneath his fingers, a soft, shimmering blue and Renji couldn't help but let his own reiatsu swirl and press against it.  Uryuu moaned, arching into the touch, and Renji smiled, letting his hands rest on the other man's pecs.

"So fucking beautiful," the redhead groaned.

"So fuck me already," snapped the archer, making Renji chuckle.

"When I'm ready to, baby," retorted Renji, letting the tips of his fingers graze Ishida's nipples.  Uryuu sighed as Renji's hands began sweeping over his chest in long, slow strokes that had the Quincy twisting for more.  The redhead smiled down at his lover leaning over to kiss the center of his scar before slowly tracing it with his teeth and tongue.  Uryuu gasped at the slight scrape and writhed under him.  Renji chuckled and shifted slightly to lick at the Quincy's lips, grinning as the other man strained to deepen the kiss.  Uryuu whined and Renji slipped his tongue past eager lips, groaning softly as Ishida sucked eagerly.  He dragged his nails lightly down the Quincy's right side and rocked his hips against the brunette's, let the other man feel his arousal.

"Uh...um...I'm here," stammered Inoue from the cell across the way.  She had her face turned away from them and was blushing furiously.

"Good for you.  Pay attention and you just might learn something," snapped Renji, sitting up and shifting until he straddled Ishida's chest.  Inoue gibbered as Renji opened his hakama and drew his erection from the folds, gently rubbing the tip against Uryuu's lips.  The Quincy moaned, pink tongue slipping out to taste, eyes luminous and filled with lust.

Uryuu leaned forward, running his tongue around Renji's tip and growling softly as he found he could do no more than brush his lips against the redhead's cock.  The Shinigami smirked at Orihime and slid forward, Uryuu eagerly swallowing his length.  "So good, baby," he purred, his hand brushing Uryuu's cheek tenderly.

Orihime yelped and Renji groaned, Uryuu's lips eagerly caressing him.  "Abarai!  Ishida!  Stop it!"

Renji growled wordless annoyance at the woman as Uryuu swallowed him to the root.  Ruby eyes met smirking blue and the redhead moaned as Uryuu slid back up, tongue caressing the underside as teeth gently scraped the top.

"I shouldn't be seeing this!"

"Shut her up," snapped the Quincy, pausing for a moment before sucking on Renji's tip, lapping up the fluid gathered there and moaning happily.  Renji grit his teeth and wondered how the hell Ishida wanted him to do anything when all he could concentrate on was the silken heat of that incredible mouth, those pretty lips stretched around his cock and that talented tongue sliding against him.  It was enough to halve an IQ on the best day.

He rolled his hips gently, groaning as Uryuu's eyes caught his, and that clever tongue caressed him.  He slowly sped his thrusts as Uryuu began whining and undulating his hips to the pace Renji had set.  "Just like that, love.  Ugh...so good...that's it," he urged in a deep groan, dragging his eyes from the sight of Uryuu working his cock.

"Please stop!" shrieked Inoue, her voice grating against the building fire in his blood but not enough to want to stop. 

"Abarai," warned Uryuu, pulling off his cock with soft wet noise.  A frown marred his pretty face and his eyes flashed dangerously with annoyance, silently telling the redhead that nothing else would be happening until he had dealt with Inoue.

Renji barked out the first binding spell that came to mind, earning a sharp cry from Inoue, but also locking her in place.  He grinned at the Quincy, chuckling as the other man nipped and licked at the fingers that caressed his cheek.  He shifted so that he could open Uryuu's fly while continuing to allow the archer to work him and drew the archer's erection out.  He nibbled gently on the Quincy's cock, licking the tip before beginning to lick and suck at him in earnest.  Uryuu gave a soft cry and renewed his efforts on Renji's cock.  They fell into an easy rhythm, hips arching and mouths straining, both groaning softly and nearly continuously.   

Renji felt his spell snap as his concentration dissolved under the burning need to come.  Inoue shrieked and Uryuu moaned, shoving in as deep as he could and spilling down Renji's throat.  The redhead groaned, his control slipping as Uryuu desperately swallowed him.  He came with a low moan, slowly dragging himself off the Quincy and not just collapsing on the other man.  "Love you, baby," he purred, nuzzling Uryuu's thigh and earning a soft purr in return. 

The figure stole down the hallway like a ghost, none of the other occupants sensing him until he landed a sharp slap on Renji's ass.  The redhead jumped and turned to glared at his lover, instead confronted with a demon's grin set on a familiar face.  Golden eyes danced with malicious delight and a key dangled teasingly from long fingers.  A key to the cell door that had somehow closed on them.

"Ichigo," he began in a soothing tone.

"Sorry, the king stepped out for a bit.  Just me," grinned the Hollow.

He was on his feet instantly, a mistake Renji reflected as golden eyes traveled over his naked form and then Uryuu's, a lascivious note creeping into the smile.  "Nice.  Always told the king he shoulda gotten in on that," chuckled Shirosaki.  Renji felt a blush climb on his cheeks and heard Uryuu snarl, suddenly remembering that stuck between Shirosaki and Ishida was not a good place to be.

A cero blast appeared in the Hollow's hand.  "Not now, Quincy.  I got things to do and the king would get pissy if I kicked yer ass," he growled, turning to Inoue.

"Don't kill her," ordered Renji, knowing there wasn't much he could do to stop the Hollow if he tried.  Shirosaki was strong enough to break any kidou he could cast and in the time it took him to break out of the cell, the Hollow could have kill Inoue six times over.

"I ain't gonna kill her.  She can't suffer if she's dead," growled the Hollow with fiendish glee, opening the door to Inoue's cell and strolling inside.   "I'm just gonna make her hurt."

Chapter Text

The gentle knocking, soft and hesitant, finally drew Kisuke from his bed.  He had collapsed there after that whatever it had been that had happened in the shower, scared to sleep, hating to be awake, and not sure what to do.  So he had sat there in his bed doing nothing.  Except trying very hard not to think.

He had just been getting around to trying to distract himself with some truly evil differential equations when the knocking had started.  Cautiously, he had crept toward the living room door, not eager to face anyone again, but also knowing he had to.  He couldn't stay in his room forever.  For one thing, he was already hungry. 

It was probably Grimmjow at the door, he reasoned.  The Arrancar being the most likely to want to see him and the first to forgive his outburst.  He could handle seeing Grimmjow.  Grimmjow would be nice to him and not laugh at him.  Well...not laugh at him too much. 

He carefully pulled down the kidou barrier, rather impressed with just how solid it was considering how quickly he had tossed it up.  He was getting better at kidou, although whether that was a good thing or a bad thing he couldn't really tell.  On the one hand it gave him a way to protect himself, but it also meant that Urahara, both of them, were becoming stronger.  He shoved those concerns away and pulled the door open just a crack, throwing it all the way open when it was not Grimmjow waiting for him but Yoruichi.  She was holding a huge wicker basket and looking contrite. 

"Pax?" she whispered softly, giving him a pleading look.

A wave of gentle affection flowed through him, battling his own anger at the woman.  The captain, he thought with mild annoyance, it had to be the captain.  He wanted to stay angry, but he was tired and hungry, and as the other man had pointed out, fighting himself wasn't likely to accomplish much.  The captain forgave her and so he was expected to do the same.  "The terms?" he asked.

"How about some lunch and a view?  A chance to talk a little?" offered the noblewoman with a mischievous grin.

Kisuke couldn't help but smile.  Everyone had thought he was the bad influence, but Yoruichi was far worse.  She was forever leading him down the primrose path to temptation.  And temptation was one thing he had never been good at resisting.  "A view?" he asked, both delighted and suspicious.

"A view," she confirmed with a wicked grin.  "The best view in the whole town according to my sources."  Kisuke flinched as she took his hand and Yoruichi gave him a look that was half sadness and half apology.  "I shouldn't have presumed.  Come on, Mizuno-kun."

"Kisuke," he offered tentatively, earning a speculative look and a small smile as well as a wash of warmth from deep inside.

Sneaking passed the guards was ridiculously easily and in under twenty minutes they were outside in the open air.  Yoruichi rocked gaily on the balls of her feet, looking very much like a cat who had fallen into a vat of cream, and Kisuke could feel his own spirits lifting.  There was something so achingly familiar and comforting about skulking around with Yoruichi that he couldn't help but enjoy it.  Memories drifted up to him, offered rather than forced, of prowling around other streets - some dusty and cramped and others paved and lined with tall walls.  He gently pushed them back, content to simply enjoy the sun and the fresh air.

In under ten minutes they were on the roof of the high school and Kisuke couldn't help the snort of laughter that slipped out.  "The best view in town?" he asked with amusement.

Yoruichi grinned, setting out a blanket and then sitting happily on it and opening the picnic basket she carried.  "You always used to think so.  Although it might have had more to do with Kurosaki taking gym down there than the view afforded of the rest of the town," she teased, beginning to set out various items.  The promise of food was tempting enough that Kisuke didn't bother to get annoyed.  Annoyance was for people who'd had breakfast.

Yoruichi grinned as he sat down, handing him a familiar white box.  Kisuke opened the lid and closed his eyes in bliss as the scent of tomato, basil and oregano struck him.  "I got you the Pasta and Eggplant Parmesan, but if you don't like that we have the Penne with Gorgonzola and Mascarpone - they tossed on some scallops because it's me.  We also have the Pork Stew with Porcini Mushrooms," murmured Yoruichi.  His stomach rumbled and Yoruichi shot him a sly smile.

"Shut up.  Some of us didn't get breakfast," he told her.

"And whose fault is that?" teased Yoruichi with a soft peel of laughter.

"Yours," they both accused at the same time.  They stared at each other for a moment before they both laughed.

"We'll blame Ichigo.  Most of your worst decisions revolved around him anyway," laughed Yoruichi, claiming the penne and pulling a bottle of wine from the basket.  "You don't happen to remember Urahara's old trick for getting out corks out, do you?"

Kisuke sighed and took the bottle, a few muttered words and a quick flick of power sent the cork flying.  "Never could get that right," laughed Yoruichi reclaiming the bottle and taking a swallow.  "Want some?"

Kisuke stared at the bottle and thought about Grimmjow finding him drunk after he had snuck out and decided that since he couldn't even imagine what the Arrancar would do to him, drinking would probably be an incredibly bad idea.  "No, I have aspirations of making it to eighteen," he told Yoruichi, pleased when a soda was tossed his way. 

"Please, you have Ichigo wrapped around your little finger and that psychotic furball is ready to commit murder if anyone so much as looks at you wrong." 

Kisuke stared at her before he burst out laughing.  "They are a little much, aren't they?" he managed to breathe out between giggles.  Overwhelming or not, it touched a part of him to be fussed over and worried about so tenaciously.

"No, Soi Fong is a bit much, they are completely insane," retorted the dark-haired woman, earning another chuckle.  They ate in amused silence for a few moments, laughing again whenever they happened to catch each others gaze.  It was nice Kisuke realized, comforting, like having a friend.  He had never had many of those.

"Why did he do this?" Kisuke asked quietly, not need to say which he.

"Who?  Urahara?" asked Yoruichi, pausing to stare at him.  "Well, he didn't consult with me about it; but probably a number of reasons.  Ichigo was probably the main reason.  He would have walked into Hell without a second thought for that man.  Love makes most men stupid...and Kurosaki was his first.  Aizen and a good dose of guilt probably cemented the idea."

"Tell me about Aizen," he murmured, surprising himself a little with the request.  But he was getting tired of just reacting, of being shoved and shuffled around and not knowing anything.  He needed to understand the situation better if he was going to start taking some control of his life.  Aizen was part of the situation, and he was a key part in directing what happened to his future.  As long as Aizen wanted him, he would never be safe.  

"Aizen?  You want to talk about him?  Seems like a great way to ruin a nice lunch, but each to their own," murmured Yoruichi.

"More like know thy enemy," he purred softly, someone dangerous flashing in his eyes, a hint of someone she had once known.  Yoruichi stared at him with speculative wonder for a moment before shaking it off and continuing.

"Aizen was a minor noble, with links to the Ukitake family and a side branch of the Shihouin family, if I recall correctly."  She did.  If there was one thing every noble knew it was the family lines of all the others, he thought with just a trace of annoyance.  "He was well out of any line of succession but still genteelly raised.  He was clever and ambitious as hell, and before you came along he was the wunderkind of the Seireitei but you sort of took the thunder out of that," she explained with a smirk.

"We were a few years ahead of him and by the time he entered the academy you were all anyone could talk about.  You two were always polite but there was always this weird competitiveness to your interactions."

Kisuke frowned, some of what she said familiar but other parts jarred against him.  "I don't...I don't think he remembers it that way," he finally managed.

Yoruichi just smiled at him.  "Well, you always were a little slow on the uptake.  Besides, back then all you thought about was getting where you wanted, proving that you were the best.  You didn't realize what a brat you were."

"This from the demon cat?" he retorted before he even knew where the words had come from.

Yoruichi stared at him, something shocked and longing in her eyes.  "Kisuke," she breathed, his name infused with a longing that made the blond want to return to his room and hide again.

"No.  Not yours, not his...I'm not him!  I can't be," he snarled vehemently, even as something wavered dangerously in his eyes, bringing him close to tears.

"I didn't..." began Yoruichi, staring at him, before understanding dawned on her face.  "How long have you been in love with Kurosaki, Kisuke?" she asked gently, touching his hand and making him jump.

"I'm not!  I don't!"  Clever fingers plucked his meal away and a moment later strong arms were encircling him and Kisuke found his head nestled against a soft, soothingly familiar bosom.  His arms stole hesitantly around Yoruichi's waist as warm breath ruffled his hair.

"You never could do anything the easy way, could you?" asked Yoruichi gently, weary amusement in her voice.  "How long, Kisuke?"

"I don't...It feels like I've been waiting for him my whole life.  And I keep dreaming about how it was between us....I want it," he admitted in a quiet whisper laced with desperation.  A hard knock upside the head made him frown and try and pull away, but Yoruichi held tight and eventually Kisuke gave up.  It was nice to be held.

"Believe it or not, I don't think Ichigo is going to object too strenuously.  In fact, I think he just might beat you to the floor if you tried tripping him," she told him with a chuckle. 

He sighed, wriggling loose and reclaiming his lunch.  Forming an attachment to Kurosaki wasn't the problem, maintaining it was and that wasn't something Yoruichi could solve.  "I don't want to talk about it.  Tell me about the Houg...?"

"Hougyoku?" supplied Yoruichi, accepting a nod before going on.  "I don't understand too much of it.  Tessai might be able to explain more about it, but even he couldn't follow some of it.  Urahara was the only one who really understood it.  It's suppose to bridge the divide between Hollow and Shinigami - to create a being that is not one or the other but both.  It was meant to help Soul Society to restore the strength we had lost.  Centuries of fighting had taken the lives of several of the oldest and most experienced captains leaving younger and weaker officers to take over in their place," explained Yoruichi.

Kisuke titled his head, pausing to consider what she had told him.  "How does it work?"  Masculine laughter rang through his head as feminine echoed in his ears.

"How the hell should I know?  The damned thing is easy to use but I don't think anyone besides Urahara ever understood even a fraction of the theory behind it.  I certainly didn't.  And I know Aizen doesn't or he wouldn't have almost destroyed it."

Kisuke felt his interest sharpen at her words, possibilities swam before his eyes, swirling nebulously in a storm of half formed ideas.  He could use this something deep inside him whispered. 

 

Chapter Text

Grimmjow stared at the water in exactly the same manner as any cat confronted with a large body of water, equal parts mistrust and disgust.  Jyuushiro couldn't help but chuckle at the Arrancar's expression, earning a sharp look and a disdainful sniff as the former Espada slunk over to one of the large rocks lining the mineral pool.  The blue-haired man curled up on top of it exactly like an offended cat and Jyuushiro couldn't help but find it amusing.

"The water really is quite nice," he murmured in a coaxing tone.  He and Shunsui had spent most of the morning showing the other man around the Seireitei.  Not that the Arrancar cared in the least for any of it.  He had been short-tempered and irritable all morning until it had been pointed out that the guards would call them when Kisuke emerged. 

The Arrancar had perked up slightly after that and made a passable show of touring the Eleventh.  There had been one or two moments when Jyuushiro admitted he had been worried, but Grimmjow had shown surprising depths.  He had gone so far as to chat with Ikkaku and Yumichika about some battle they had all been in.  The three had found common ground in laughing over how spectacularly everyone else had screwed up.   The Arrancar had managed to tolerate Nel and Yachiru without so much as a twitch, going so far as to ruffle the little Arrancar's hair in greeting.  When it had been demanded he play with them, he had roared and pounced at both girls - much to the shrieking delight of both girls - who had pretended to flee.  He had even let them climb on him for a brief time when they had grown bored with the game of tag.

Grimmjiow had been less tolerant of the mothering lieutenants of the Thirteenth and had eventually driven them off with a sharp snarl.  As Shunsui had pointed out though, having someone around who was able to banish his keepers could be useful. 

"It's fucking wet," muttered Grimmjow, stealing another glance at the pool and shuddering slightly.  Shunsui chuckled and shot him a look that dared Jyuushiro not to find the kitty adorable, and the pale-haired man had to admit that his lover was right.  "Come on, Grimm-chan.  You should at least try it.  You might find you like the water," teased Shunsui, frowning as he tried to pour himself another round and found his jug empty.

"Don't need to try it!" snapped Grimmjow defensively with what could only be a pout. 

Shunsui frowned and Jyuushiro laid a soothing hand on his arm.  "Go see about another bottle.  I'll see about the kitty," he told his lover softly.  Jyuushiro watched as the Arrancar's interest peaked when Shunsui climbed from the warm water, blue eyes quickly traveling over his body before snapping back to the rock as the cat-like man shuddered faintly.  The kitty apparently was quite adamant about the water.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" asked Jyuushiro, drifting closer to where Grimmjow was curled up.  A pale hand lifted from the water to pet the Arrancar's head.  A low rumble came from the other man's chest but he didn't stir except to grumble slightly, that and shift slightly into the touches, noted Jyuushiro.

"The Eleventh wasn't so bad even if they are all batshit insane.  Are any of you Shinigami not fucked in the head?" snapped Grimmjow, head lifting slightly to pin him with annoyed blue eyes that closed in bliss as Jyuushiro's fingers lightly scratched behind his ear.

Jyuushiro chuckled.  "I think we prefer to think of ourselves as...uninhibited.  One learns to relax a little when the centuries lay spread out before you."

Blue eyes slid open, curious and considering, reminding him that under all that rash violence was a brain with a cat's deviousness.  "How old are you?"

"Far too old to answer that question.  But I think I can safely say twenty times your senior and not be far off," murmured Jyuushiro, watching as Grimmjow crept slightly closer to the water's edge so that the scratches fell where he wanted.

"Shunsui is about twenty years my senior.  We are two to of the oldest Shinigami still serving."

 He sighed softly for old friends who were no longer there.  The youngsters were amusing and sweet, but they didn't have the same shared history; and sometimes a person didn't want to talk, he just wanted to sit with a friend who had been there with him and knew what he had seen.

"What happened to all the others?  Ya ain't been fightin' Aizen that long," murmured Grimmjow, his head gently butting Jyuushiro's hand when he paused in his petting for too long.

The captain of the Thirteenth smiled and resumed his petting, moving back just a few centimeters and drawing the Arrancar that much closer.  "Well, Yoruichi is still with us.  She was just a few years behind Shunsui and me in school; but her time in the human realm changed her and Kisuke's loss hit her harder than I think even she realizes.  Kisuke, our Kisuke, was lost almost a hundred years ago when he fled.  Isshin has been gone for nearly as long.  He abandoned Soul Society for the mortal realm when he fell in love with a human woman.  Retsu is still here but she never ran much with our crowd.  The others are dead or gone now, lost to various battles.  It must be the same with you, a number of your Espada have fallen, haven‘t they?"

"Didn't give a flyin' fuck about those bastards," grumbled the kitty, shifting still further forward.  Jyuushiro's fingers brushed bone and he paused, brown eyes glancing down to take in the bone mask on Grimmjow's right cheek.  He lightly trailed his fingers over the rough surface, drawing a soft, rumbling purr from former Espada.  Jyuushiro smiled as a pink tongue slipped out to lick at his finger tips with feline grace before the bone mask was pushed against his palm.

A few soft touches more and the Arrancar was straining at the edge of the pool to reach him for more attention.  Jyuushiro smiled faintly, scratching behind the other man's ears and earning a soft, rumbling purr in return.  It was the work of an instant to lean forward and touch his lips to the Arrancar's.

Blue eyes shot open and the former Sixth Espada backpedaled away from him to crouch with his back to a rock, blinking at him owlishly.  "What the fuck?!?" snarled the other man. 

An amused chuckle and the brush of Shunsui's finger's through his hair made the feline whirl, a snarl on his lips as he watched them both warily.  "Just me, Kitty," laughed Shunsui, leaning down to tickle Grimmjow's his ears and playfully kiss the tip of his nose.

Grimmjow snapped at him, rubbing at his nose in a decidedly feline gesture and earning twin chuckles from Jyuushiro and Shunsui which made him glare angrily and huddle tensely against his rock.  Shunsui shook his head and slid back into the pool, pouring a cup of sake for Jyuushiro and then himself.  Jyuushiro smiled as Grimmjow crept closer, sniffing at the air.  "That more of that sake crap?" he demanded.

Shunhsui nodded, taking a sip and leaning back against the stone ledge.  Jyuushiro glanced between his lover and the Espada.  "Would you like some, Kitty?" he asked, holding out his cup for the blue-haired man.  Grimmjow leaned further over the pool, straining to reach the cup.  Jyuushiro grinned at Shunsui and inched the cup slowly back, causing the Espada to extend even further over the water.  It took only the tiniest of touches to unbalance him and send him toppling into the pool. 

Jyuushiro had to chuckle slightly as the contented cat that had been purring under his hand a few moments before became a hissing, spitting, inferno of feline rage.  Water splashed and claws flew wildly as Grimmjow yowled in outrage, frantically trying to right himself and climb from the much hated water.

Jyuushiro couldn’t have said how he knew when things turned wrong, but reiatsu exploded out of the Arrancar in a white hot rush.  Water churned and rolled, almost boiling under the sudden and massive influx of energy.  Grimmjow broke the surface with a roared scream and Jyuushiro felt his knees buckle and almost give way under the terror that washed over him.

“Help me get him out of the water!" screamed Jyuushiro.

Shunsui got to Grimmjow first, and claw tipped hands flew at his face as the former Espada desperately tried to escape, stumbling and falling back into the water in his haste.  Jyuushiro caught him, wincing as sharp teeth pierced his shoulder and reiatsu beat madly against him.  He pulled the Arrancar into a tight embrace, shocked at the shudders that were running through the other man’s large frame.  A soft, low whine of unhappiness came from Grimmjow's throat and he seemed to grow very small and still in Jyuushiro’s arms, as if waiting for an attack to come. 

He tugged the softly keening Arrancar from the water, carefully peeling the wet clothes from the blue-haired man, Shunsui silently helping him.  They dried the kitty together, Grimmjow sniffling and miserable, huddled in upon himself the entire time.  The moment he was dry he snapped at their hands and scrambled over to his rock to curl up and glare balefully at them.

"Fucking bastards," he hissed angrily, still clearly upset but masking it as best he could with a show of anger.

Shunsui shared a concerned look with him and they both cautiously approached the former Espada.  Grimmjow tensed and growled as them, his reiatsu lashing uneasily and clearly expecting an attack.  "Easy, Kitty.  Jyuushiro didn't mean any harm.  He was just playing, Grimm-chan," soothed Shunsui, crouching down and reaching out to pet damp blue hair. 

"Fuck off!" snarled the former Espada, taking a swipe at the fingers.  Jyuushiro used the motion to stroke a hand down his back and Grimmjow whirled to face him, tense and - Jyuushiro stared at him not quite believing what his eyes were telling him - the other man was actually frightened of them.  The kitty truly thought they would hurt him. 

Jyuushiro felt a flash of anger, wondering just how often Aizen had had this bright, rebellious creature beaten or tortured simply for being who and what he was.  "No one is going to hurt you, Grimm-chan.  Not Shunsui.  Not me.  No one here will ever hurt you," he soothed quietly, earning a low snarl from the Arrancar and a vicious swipe at his face from claw tipped fingers.

"I'm not afraid of you fuckers!" snapped the blue-haired man, his eyes blazing and his fangs bared even as he tried to keep both of them in his line of sight.  He reminded Jyusshiro of nothing so much a cornered, wounded cat - all snarls and hissing, afraid of being hurt again and desperately in need of some kindness.

"Shhh.  Hush, Kitty.  It's alright," soothed Shunsui, carefully petting Grimmjow, snatching his hand away each time the Arrancar tried to claw or bite him.  Jyuushiro quickly fetched some milk, carefully pouring the former Espada a bowl and offering it to him.

Grimmjow sniffed at the milk cautiously, watching them carefully for signs of duplicity.  A pink tongue delicately touched the liquid before the Espada carefully drank it, watching them and growling softly each time they touched him.

“Aizen used to hold you under, love?” murmured Jyuushiro very softly, drawing both Grimmjow’s and Shunsui’s eyes.  He was pleased to note the flash of outrage in his lover’s eyes on the Arrancar’s behalf.

“That fucker Tousen didn’t think I showed proper respect,” hissed Grimmjow, something dark and malevolent stirring in his eyes.

“Miserable son of a bitch,” snarled Shunsui softly, making the former Espada’s eyes widen.  He looked between their stern faces searchingly, as if unable to believe that anyone would be outraged over the wrongs done to him.

“No one hurts you like that ever again, Grimm-chan,” vowed Jyuushiro, his hand against the Arrancar’s cheek as hard brown eyes met blue.  Shunsui nodded, his hand on his lover’s shoulder in silent support of the pale-haired man’s promise. 

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra sipped at the wine Byakuya had poured for him, a concession from the noble for his dislike of tea, and stared at the man's moonlit gardens.  They were once more in Byakuya's private rooms, their food had been cleared away, leaving them sitting close and sharing a glass of wine.  It was pleasant, thought Ulquiorra, who had found himself telling the Shinigami far more than he ever intended of life in Hueco Mundo; and in return he had found the other man making minute but significant changes to help put him at ease.  The former Fourth still found himself marveling over the consideration, since no one had ever done anything to accommodate him before.  And the thought that someone like Kuchiki Byakuya would even worry about what might please him was both touching and intoxicating.

A cool hand caressed his cheek, drawing his attention back to the man at his side.  The tiniest hints of a smile played on Byakuya's lips and Ulquiorra found himself satisfied by it.  "You are pleased," he murmured softly to the noble.

"I'm still amused by the notion of you bringing me flowers," purred Byakuya, a wicked glimmer in his eyes.  Oddly that glint left a the former fourth Espada warm rather than cold; there was nothing malicious or threatening in the look, only heat and gentle laughter.

"The captain of the Eighth insisted that they were necessary," Ulquiorra told him again, blushing faintly at the memory.  He had begun the evening by thrusting a dozen pink roses at the captain of the Sixth, having been told that flowers, and specifically roses were a vital part of the courtship ritual. 

Byakuya had taken the flowers with a smile and soft chuckle before kissing him.  The kiss alone convinced the Arrancar that the flowers had been worth the annoyance if not the embarrassment.  He was learning to savor the soft kisses the Shinigami captain pressed upon him, just as he was learning to enjoy the careful touches.  No one had ever touched him so, like he was delicate and precious, something beautiful.  

"Perhaps not so much necessary, but the gesture was much appreciated," whispered Byakuya, leaning forward to bridge the distance between them and brushing their lips together in a gentle kiss. 

When he moved to pulled away Ulquiorra followed, unable to help himself.  A quiet murmur of encouragement came from Byakuya's throat as Ulquiorra shyly brushed his tongue against the other man's lips.  He groaned softly when Byakuya pulled away and plucked the wine glass from his hand, setting it aside, before once more kissing him.  Byakuya's tongue touched his and the Shinigami's hands slid around him, gentle and secure, one tangling in his hair and one around his waist, urging him closer.

Ulquiorra moved slowly nearer, his own hands going hesitantly to the noble's shoulders, unsure of just what was allowed or expected of him.  He could feel the warmth of the Shinigami all around, holding him tight but somehow not forcing, not demanding.  One hand left Byakuya’s shoulder to gently caress the other man’s dark hair.  The nobleman had neglected his Kenseikan and left his hair unbound, and Ulquiorra savored the silken feel of it under his fingers.

Byakuya’s hand slid over his mask and gripped his horn, gently angling his head to deepen their kiss.  Ulquiorra moaned in soft approval, his tongue sliding against the Shinigami’s and exploring his mouth.  They traded long, deep kisses only pausing for air but quickly falling back into each other, neither one willing to stop.

Ulquiorra paused as he felt a gentle pressure leaning him back, green eyes fluttering open and his tongue stilling in its passionate duel with Byakuya’s.  The nobleman pulled back, smoldering gray eyes searching his face carefully.  “Not all right?” Byakuya asked him softly.  “Your reiatsu fluctuated,” the nobleman explained when Ulquiorra stared at him, wondering how the other man had sensed his uncertainty.

“I did not…being held down or pressed down is…I do not find the sensation pleasant,” he finally explained quietly.  He had not fought back the way Grimmjow had, but he had been held down and forced enough that the sensation of a body over his was disconcerting. 

Byakuya‘s expression softened even as something dark and angry sparkled in his eyes for a moment, and a long fingered hand gently caressed his cheek.  “Do you wish to stop?  We could walk in the garden or I could search for the book of poetry you wished to examine,” suggested the captain of the Sixth gently, clearly wishing to put him at ease.  The Arrancar felt that tiny flutter in his chest, the one that had been becoming ever more frequent since he'd begun his relationship with the captain, and felt his tension slip away. 

Byakuya would not hurt him, he knew that, was confident of that one point at least.

Ulquiorra shook his head, he had no desire to end their evening or put a halt to their amorous explorations.  The smile his gesture earned from Byakuya was small but achingly tender and warmth suffused the smaller man. 

"Perhaps this would be better?"  Strong hands settled at his hips and lifted him, resettling him across the Shinigami's lap.  Ulquiorra considered the new position, it put him at nearly equal height with the captain and while he was in the man's lap Byakuya's hands were loose against him, barely touching him.  He gave the other man a tiny smirk and pressed their lips together again, tangling his fingers in Byakuya's dark hair. 

Byakuya groaned and eagerly returned his kiss, hands gently drifting over his body.  Ulquiorra made a soft noise of protest when the noble's lips left his and trailed over his jaw.  The protest became a sigh as teeth closed gently on a spot on his neck, not hard enough to break the skin but sending a small burst of pleasure through him.  Byakuya licked and sucked at the spot, marking his pale throat and drawing a tiny shiver of lust from the Arrancar.

Long fingers caressed his throat and Ulquiorra stiffened and gasped as they brushed his Hollow hole.  Byakuya paused, his fingers still pressing into the edge of the hole, watching him for some hint as to whether the touch was welcome.  Ulquiorra swallowed, the small movement shifting his flesh against those fingers and forcing him to bite back a whimper of pleasure.  He had never felt anything like the white hot electricity that seemed to shoot through him when Byakuya touched his hole.

"Good?" asked the nobleman gently, lifting his fingers but not entirely removing them.

"Very good," whispered Ulquiorra with a shaky nod.

"Should I stop?"

Ulquiorra didn't even pause to think, simply tugged Byakuya's hand back to his collar and the Hollow hole, kissing the noble fiercely.  He felt more than heard the Shinigami's chuckle but didn't care, not with those fingers skillfully tracing the edge of his hole or gently dipping inside.  He cried out as warm lips brushed his hole, the sensation startling in its intensity.  His hands tangled in Byakuya's hair and even Ulquiorra couldn't have said if it was to stop the noble or urge him for more.  A wet tongue traced the edge of the Hollow hole making him gasp and shiver.  The Shinigami paused to consider him for a moment, gray eyes filled with satisfaction, before he leaned forward and licked the inner edge, earning another sharp gasp from Ulquiorra as his cock throbbed and his whole body burned. 

"Byakuya, please," he choked, hips rocking against the other man's, desperate for friction, for release, for some end to the tension coiling ever tighter inside him.

One long-fingered hand fell to his hip, stilling his motions and drawing a soft whine from him.  "It's alright.  Just let it come," soothed Byakuya before leaning forward to suck gently on the sensitive flesh.  Ulquiorra stiffened, his focus narrowing sharply to the ache in his groin and the nearly transcendent pleasure radiating from his chest.  Teeth closed firmly on the upper edge of the Hollow hole and Ulquiorra felt himself shattering.  Pleasure washed away all else and left him draped limply against Byakuya. 

The noble petted him and gently kissed his hair, his face, his mask, any part of him his lips could reach.  "Beautiful," whispered Byakuya, gray eyes meeting green and pinning him.  The Arrancar murmured and brushed his lips tiredly against Byakuya's, amazed that the noble made no move to take his pleasure or press for anything more.  He could feel the other man's arousal straining the front of his robes but Byakuya seemed content to do nothing more than kiss and comfort him.

"You?" he asked gently, not sure how phrase his inquiry, not even sure how to begin.  No one in Las Noches would have given another pleasure without expecting reciprocation and for most even that was unnecessary - why reciprocate when an underling could be forced?

Byakuya made a pleased murmured, tongue trailing over his bone mask and drawing a faint shiver from the smaller man.  "I am quite content to have watched you," purred the captain of the Sixth.  Green eyes regarded the noble skeptically for a moment, wheels turning in his head as Ulquiorra tried to puzzle out the subtleties of a situation he had never been in or thought to be in.  Byakuya respected him, was patient with him, and asked for nothing.  He gave a tiny nod as he reached his decision - the other man asked for nothing, but he deserved far more.

He slid gracefully from the nobleman's lap to the floor, glancing up to meet curious gray eyes.  Ulquiorra gave a tiny smirk and carefully went to work on the ties of the Shinigami captain's robe.  "That's not necessary," Byakuya told him softly. 

"And if I wish to?" murmured Ulquiorra.  Byakuya gave him a single, small nod, hands settling gently at his sides, a silent promise that he could do whatever he wished with no interference from the Shinigami.  The ex-Espada felt a tiny smile pull at his lips and gently parted the cloth.

Byakuya's cock was like the rest of him, graceful and beautiful, rising from dark curls.  Ulquiorra leaned forward, tongue slipping out to gently touch the other man's tip, his eyes glued to Byakuya the entire time.  The Shinigami made no move to touch him and there was only arousal and affection in those storm cloud colored eyes.  The taste was different than he remembered, different from an Arrancar, and Ulquiorra felt himself relax slightly.  He could do this.  This was nothing like before.

He took the head of Byakuya's cock in his mouth, sucking lightly, tongue swirling around it.  Gray eyes slid closed and a soft sigh slipped from the noble's lips.  Ulquiorra made a soft sound of pleasure, letting himself take more of Byakuya's shaft into his mouth, his hands gently caressing what he couldn't swallow. 

Tension filled that elegant frame as he applied himself to pleasuring the other man.  Slender hips strained not to thrust and long fingers clenched and unclenched, a tiny sound coming from the Shinigami as he sped his movements.   Ulquiorra cautiously took one hand, brushing it against his cheek as he slid back up until just the tip of the other man's cock rested on his tongue.  A soft groan slid from between noble lips and strong fingers gently brushed through his hair.  Ulquiorra groaned, unable to believe how arousing it was to feel Kuchiki Byakuya straining under him, allowing him to do whatever he wanted.  A second hand joined the first, not holding, merely tangled in his hair, and Ulquiorra made a pleased sound, swallowing Byakuya as far as he could.  

He made a soft sound of annoyance as Byakuya dragged his head up, kissing him hard and fast, as he finished himself with a few quick strokes.  Ulquiorra panted, staring at the other man, his hair mussed, his robes open, color high on his sculpted cheeks.  The Arrancar couldn't think of anything more beautiful than Kuchiki Byakuya at that moment until gray eyes slid open and locked with his.

"Beautiful," he murmured softly, drawing a sated smile from the noble.  The Shinigami pulled him close and kissed him again and Ulquiorra gave a soft sigh.

"Forgive me for bothering you, Nii-sama, but I was told..." Kuchiki Rukia's voice cut across the tranquility that release had brought them and Ulquiorra felt Byakuya go rigid.  They turned together, green eyes and gray taking in the horrified shock on the vice captain of the Fifth's face as she stared at them from the doorway.

Chapter Text

Blood.  He could still see the blood, still feel it on his hands, warm and sticky.  Sometimes Gin thought his entire life was spent trying to wash the blood away.  And failing, he realized morosely.  No matter how much blood he washed away there was always more.  Rangiku's, his own, the little mouse girl's - there was always blood.  And he always hated it, the feel of it, the smell of it, the taste of it.  His whole life had been painted in blood since the night Aizen had found him.

He stood under the nearly scalding spray of the shower and scrubbed until his skin was pink, tensing as Aizen crowded close to him with a chuckled.  "Such a fastidious little fox," he purred into Gin's ear, and Gin had the distinct urge to turn and snap at him, something he hadn't done since he was a child - because the last time he had done it Aizen had beaten him so badly that he had nearly lost the sight in his left eye.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," he quipped, trying to sound cheery, but he knew the words had fallen far flat of their intended mark the second he heard them.  He caught a faint frown on Aizen's lips and pulled a wry but tired smile, hoping the other man would chalk his mood up to weariness and his wounds paining him.

Lying to Aizen Sousuke was dangerous business; but over the years he had learned to keep a few secrets of his own.

"You should have left the girl to Tousen if you were that tired," murmured Aizen, a hint of censor in his voice.  No mention was made to the fucking the other man had just given him.  Tired or not, Ichimaru Gin did not turn down Aizen Sousuke. 

Gin shrugged and then winced, not having to feign the expression, the small movement of his shoulder had tugged on his wounds.  "Wanted a bit of fun," he said, rinsing the soap from his pale body and turning.  Aizen blocked his path and reached for him with a slight frown, Gin easily slipped from his grasp like smoke.  Aizen liked to tease him about being a fox, but the other man had clearly forgotten that no one caught him unless he allowed them to.  Not these days.

A smile cracked his lips but his eyes grew distant and troubled as Gin quickly toweled off and retreated to his own rooms.  He dropped his towel, leaving it where it fell, and pulled on a huge fluffy blue robe that seemed to swallow him.  He glanced at his bed.  The bed was the one place that was his.  It was a more of a nest than a bed - a tangle of sheets and pillows and blankets - but it was his and it was the only way he had ever been able to sleep.  Too many years on the streets, he decided.  He hadn't slept in a proper bed until he began training for the Thirteen and fifteen years was a lot of conditioning to overcome.  And while the simple joy of being warm never left him, Gin realized a tiny part of him longed for the alleys and huddled bodies of his youth.  He had never felt as safe or as happy as he had curled up tight with Rangiku or Izuru.

He wanted to rest, but couldn't bring himself to lay down; his body ached but his mind was agitated and restless.  He paced the confines of his room, light, quick steps carrying him easily across the distance and back.  A frown pulled at his lips and his fists clenched and unclenched as he tried to quiet his racing thoughts.

It had all gone wrong somewhere along the way.  All the high ideals had crumbled to be washed away by blood and violence.  He had never been much of a philosopher, there was too much of a back alley fox in him for that, but even he could see that Aizen's empire was built on lies.  How could they claim the moral high ground over the Seireitei when their own structure not only allowed the stronger to prey upon the weak, but actually condoned it. 

The costs were beginning to stack up.  And he was beginning to wonder if all the pain was worth the end result.  He had given up so much of his soul already and he wasn't sure how much he had left to give.  Not when doubt seemed to plague him.  It was them - - Rangiku and Izuru.  He hadn't thought it would be so hard to leave them behind.  But it was there inside him every time he turned around, this great aching chasm that nothing seemed to fill.  It had been easier in Soul Society...pretending that he wasn't alone.

Aizen had always kept him apart from the others, and he had never wanted to offer the other man another lever to use against him; but he had at least been able to pretend that he wasn't alone. 

At first it had been Urahara who made tentative gestures of friendship.  The other man had been an unseated officer in the Second by then, too clever by half and hungry to prove himself.  The blond hadn't forgotten what it had been like to be from the Rukongai though.  Urahara had seen him, a young man from even worse straits, clever, and cunning and had tried to help him, tried to take him under his wing.  He shivered as memories of Aizen's fury washed over him.  He didn't remember much, just pain and blood.  So much of both that he had been sure he was dying.  He had avoided Urahara's wing after that.  Although a tiny part of him wondered what it might have been like to go with the blond. 

Dangerous, he decided.  Both of them were lean hungry creatures with too much of the Rukongai clinging to them.  It was wrapped in grinning smiles and foolish laughter, but it wasn't hard to see the dark viciousness lurking beneath - not if one knew what to look for.

He sometimes wondered if Aizen realized the danger he courted.  The Rukongai bred them hard.  It left marks that never dulled on the heart and soul.

It also left them cunning.  Hadn't he proved that?  He had kept his two most precious treasures out of Aizen's plans for the most part and the other man never even knew. 

He could still remember his shock and horror at seeing Matsumoto within the walls of the Seireitei for the first time.  She had been two years below him and Gin never knew how she had found him; but he had worked tirelessly to keep her out from under Aizen's eye.  It would have been hard to equate the voluptuous beauty with the skinny, dirty girl she had been, but he hadn't wanted to take the risk.  He had gone with Aizen to keep her safe; he was not about to undo that by handing her over to the other man.

It had been easy to dismiss his spending time with Rangiku as just wanting to sleep with her.  Most of the men who saw her did and Aizen had never been concerned where his affections lay, only where his loyalty did.

Izuru he had fallen across despite his best intentions to the contrary.

He had been a brilliant young officer of the Fifth by then, and Kira a promising young trainee.  Gin admitted that he had been lost the first time he had heard that soft, husky voice, so quiet and full of grace.  Then he had seen those sad blue eyes and it had been like Rangiku all over again.  He had known he would do anything to protect that dear gentle soul just for the chance to bask in his warmth and perhaps glimpse a tiny peak of the world as seen through his eyes.   

Just like with Rangiku though, he had been powerless.  Aizen had seen the potential in Kira and his friends and had wanted it for his own.  Even then the other man had been plotting, planning some way to seize power and bend the world to his will.  Gin hadn't much cared, he had seen the segregation and petty bigotry of the Seireitei - through Aizen's eyes and his own.  He had also seen that it wasn't insurmountable.

Gin passed by his bed, grabbing a pillow and hurling it angrily at the wall.  A mixture of rage and disgust welling up inside him at what he had allowed next.  Aizen had claimed both Hisagi Shuuhei and Kira Izuru for the Fifth, trusting Hisagi to Tousen's tutelage and taking Kira for his own until Gin had slid silently and gracefully between Aizen and his target. 

The price for getting Kira had been submitting to Kurotshuchi Mayuri's attentions, both in the lab and in bed.  The other man had been Urahara's second by then and eager to slip the other man's leash and Aizen had wanted into Urahara's lab.  Gin shivered, hating the horrible crawling sensation that always accompanied thoughts of the captain of the Twelfth.  Kurotshuchi'd had no more fondness for him than Aizen, the other man had simply wanted to study someone with his condition and Ukitake had glared cold-eyed murder at the other man when it was suggested he submit.  Gin privately wished he had done the same.  Kurotshuchi was a closet sadist at best and more truthfully a twisted freak. 

The other man had been eager to get control of the Twelfth though and had disliked Urahara almost as much as Aizen.  It had been no effort to steal a peek into Urahara's lab as Aizen had wanted with Kurotshuchi's aid.  Urahara had been less paranoid then; success had helped to temper his lust for power and prestige into something more noble - a general longing for the betterment of Soul Society. 

Gin felt his shoulders slump, the past and his crimes suddenly settling around him.  It had been him who had first brought word to Aizen about the Hougyoku and Urahara's work on it.  He stumbled the few steps to his bed and fell into the nest with a soft grunt of pain, pulling a quilt around himself.  He had done it to himself, brought Aizen the knowledge that had ultimately ripped him from the people he cared for most.

For a moment he considered opening a portal and fleeing, abandoning Aizen's madness and returning to throw himself on the mercy of the Seireitei - only he knew exactly what mercy he could expect.  None.  Only two people in the entire Gotei 13 might not kill him on sight.  He was well and truly trapped, he realized with a certain pragmatic fatalism.  He would never see Soul Society again unless it was hauled back in chains to await execution and would most likely die in the alien sands of Hueco Mundo - remembered only as a traitor.

Chapter Text

Shirosaki stalked back into the soulscape with a pleased smile on his lips and a vicious glint in his eyes.  It had been immensely satisfying to beat the hell out of Inoue Orihime.  He had broken one arm and a number of ribs (it was hard to keep track - but he was sure it was more than 2 and less than 20) and the soft tissue hits would have the bitch pissing blood for a week.  It would have been more satisfying to rip her soul out and devour it one tiny piece at a time, but he figured popping up at random for the next few years would be just as much fun and have the added bonus of terrifying the idiot.  Hell, the king got moody if he was cooped up too long anyway, this just gave them a reason to take a lap around the town.

He strolled across the red bridge into Urahara's soul to glance around.  If the blond man was linked to Ichigo he wanted to keep track of things - since things affecting Ichigo invariably affected him.  Not that he wasn't fond of his nobler counterpart in his own way, but sometimes the king needed a good swift kick to get his head out of his ass.  And since no one else seemed to want the job...

He glanced around the blond's soul shocked by the changes.  A green garden to match the one in Ichigo's soul now met the bridge on Urahara's side.  The plants were all young and small, but all looked to be taking root.  Benihime appeared to be making firm inroads into her host and was clearly making herself comfortable.  No mist hovered in the garden and he thought he detected a thinning of the mist beyond, as if things were clearing. 

He wandered out onto a dusty street littered with small, cramped houses.  And set in amongst them, looking just as it always had, was the Urahara shoten - all it needed was the brats out front and he could have been standing in Karakura.  Shirosaki growled softly and glanced around cautiously, Hat-n-Clogs might not have been the hard nosed son of a bitch the captain was, but the old guy still wasn't someone to fuck with, and the shop was his place.

Nothing moved and the front door was open wide.  The pale figure moved carefully nearer and slipped inside when nothing accosted him.  He frowned and looked around the shoten interior.  He had never actually been in the shop proper, but he was familiar with it because Ichigo was.  He prowled the main room before venturing further in, instinct telling him that was where he would find his quarry.

"Come into the kitchen, Shirosaki-kun," came Urahara's bright voice.  "I won't bite...Kurosaki-kun would be most annoyed if I did."

Shirosaki grumbled about fucking perverts but wandered deeper into the shop.  He found the blond in the kitchen, a cup of tea in his hand and another waiting on the table.  "Tea, Shirosaki-kun?"

"How the fuck did ya know I was comin'?" he demanded with annoyance, sitting and giving the tea a disdainful glance.  The blond looked just as the Hollow remembered him, same shadowed eyes, same devil may care grin, same patient air of certainty...and same stupid ass hat. 

The shopkeeper smiled and sipped at his tea, saying nothing, merely watching the Hollow's cup with an air of expectation.  Shirosaki growled softly and took a sip.  Urahara's grin went up a notch, but the blond also answered him.  "This is my soul, do you really think I would be unaware of what occurs in it?

Shirosaki shrugged his acceptance, admitting that the other man was probably right, he noted changes in Ichigo's soul pretty fast.

"I suppose I should commend you on the most original wake up call I've ever experienced." 

The bastard had waited until he had taken another sip before speaking...causing him to spit it out and glare darkly at the grinning man even as a blush rose on his pale cheeks.  Bastard.  Miserable, grinning, perverted asshole.

"Smile Shirosaki-kun, you wouldn't want your face to stick like that, people might mistake you for Ichigo."  He hissed an insult at the other man, earning nothing but another peel of laughter before Urahara went on.  "And you might want to reconsider raising that kind of power until things are more settled.  It's rather...dangerous at the moment." 

The Hollow frowned but nodded before another thought occurred to him.  "Hey!  If you're awake again why the fuck are you here?  Shouldn't you be back there?"  A wave to indicate the world beyond the soulscapes. 

Urahara smiled, that really annoying one that had always charmed Ichigo while at the same time making him want to throttle an answer out of the blond.  Shirosaki decided he didn't know what the hell his counterpart's problem was since all the smile made him want to do was punch the man.  He held back because last time he had started a fight with Urahara it hadn't exactly gone according to plan.  That, and he was in no mood to have to explain to Benihime why he had felt the need to pop her master in the face.  She was sure to be all kinds of pissed if he laid a hand on the bastard and a pissed Benihime was not good for him getting any.

"It isn't time yet," murmured Urahara quietly, something more than a little dangerous glittering in those shadowed eyes.

"Fuck time," growled the Hollow.  He personally couldn't have cared less what the old man did, but Urahara in charge got Benihime and Ichigo what they wanted.   A happy king meant less rain and Shirosaki was all for that.  And a happy Benihime promised more sex for him.  Another win in his book.

Urahara's laughter was bright and merry, a contrast to the darkness that had been lurking in his eyes.  "It's nice to know some things never change.  Patience is a virtue, Shirosaki-kun.  And in this case a necessity as well."

"What the fuck does that mean?  If yer back ya should get yer ass back out there and quit jerking everyone around.  People are waiting on yer lazy ass," snarled the hollow.

"It means that while in the short term it might seem beneficial for me to return, perhaps even overpower and subdue my younger self, I am choosing to take a more long term view.  Trust is not built with violence and I refuse to spend the rest of eternity at war with myself," murmured the former Shinigami, his cup settling lightly on the table with an air of finality.

Shirosaki glared menacingly at the blond, not understanding in the least.  How the hell was the idiot going to come back if he was just going to sit here waiting?  What was the fucking point of that?  "What kind of stupid ass plan is that?  Waiting!  Why the fuck even come back at all if you ain't gonna be you?  What the hell is the point?"

The captain's gray eyes pinned him from beneath the green and white stripped hat, cold and hard, before the blond grinned and a fan appeared from within his sleeve (or at least Shirosaki hoped it had come from his sleeve because he was not up to any other freaky shit from Urahara - the man was crazy enough without fans appearing from nowhere).  "Now, now, Shirosaki-kun, if you're not careful I might think you cared," teased the blond, that annoying smile flashing across his face.  "And I never said I wouldn't be back, only that the timing isn't right yet.  There is a method to my madness, Shirosaki.

"That being said, I would suggest you leave unless you wish Benihime to discover you here.   My princess does not share well and I doubt she would be pleased to find you in what has traditionally been solely hers."

The Hollow nodded, that was one trait he and the princess shared - they were both fiercely possessive of who and what was theirs.  He stood and started heading towards the door when strong fingers closed around his wrist.  He was about to turn and demand to know what the blond wanted when the world suddenly shifted.  He found himself on the floor, Urahara straddling his hips and the blond's forearm pressing hard into his throat.  A little more pressure and the old man could seriously do some damage.  "One last thing, Shirosaki-kun.  If you hurt my princess, I will hurt you.  I helped make you, so believe me, I can break you," murmured Urahara, his tone light and soft, as if he wasn't speaking of anything more important than the weather - not threatening a person's life.

Shirosaki hissed outrage before a dark smirk flashed over his lips.  He slammed his reiatsu into Urahara and tossed the older man off him.  The blond hit the far wall with a satisfying and solid thud and Shirosaki had Zangetsu at his throat an instant later.  "Learned a few things since the last time, you bastard," he grinned, wincing as reiatsu wrapped around his throat and strong fingers closed around his balls.

"And it's cute you thought those were all my tricks," smirked the former Shinigami, his hand tightening warningly.  He might have been able to kill the blond had he wanted to, but he would have paid for it, realized Shirosaki.  

The Hollow grinned and slid his sword away from the other's throat.  Gold eyes caught gray and both were filled with wry amusement and understanding.  Respect, realized the Hollow.  The blond respected him as another presence to be reckoned with, just as he recognized and acknowledged the same thing about Urahara.  "My king for your princess?" offered the Hollow with a smirk.

Urahara laughed, releasing him.  "I don't see a problem with that."

Shirosaki straightened his robes, giving the other man one last smile.  "Ya ain't so bad for a crazy ass retard.  Get yer butt back out there soon though, I'm getting sick of all the damn rain."  Laughter followed him from the shop and the Hollow couldn't help but be amused.  Maybe the king had better taste than he had given him credit for.  Hat-n-Clogs wasn't that bad...for a guy who was clearly batshit insane.

Chapter Text

Ichigo smiled faintly as he caught sight of the two figures trotting up to the shoten.  "Contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Yoruichi-san?" he murmured blandly.  He should have been angry, should have been annoyed with her and the risk she had taken.  But he had seen the brilliant smile on that beautiful face and heard Kisuke's joyous laughter; those two things had washed away his anger.  He smirked as the dark haired noble cursed softly and a pale figure slipped from the shadows, a blush staining his cheeks.

"Nah, he's already a menace to himself and others," laughed Yoruichi.

"Mangy furball," retorted Kisuke, giving her a shove and quickly retreating to Ichigo's side.  Ichigo blinked owlishly for a moment before giving the younger man a shy smile.  His hands itched to reach out and touch that pale cheek, caress that silky blond hair, anything and he had to clench his fist to stop himself.  Gray eyes met his and Kisuke gasped softly and froze, staring at him, half longing half afraid.

"Gods above and below, you two are hopeless," muttered Yoruichi, stalking past them and giving Kisuke a shove so that the younger man stumbled into him.  "Just trip already."

Ichigo caught the blond, helping him back to his feet.  Kiuske blushed and muttered something that Ichigo really hoped was impossible - if only for the sake of the sheep.  He tried to resist, but his arm slid around the younger man's shoulders as if it had a mind of its own.  Kisuke turned and stared at him and Ichigo felt his heart constrict painfully at the sight of those beautiful gray eyes.

"Are you okay?" he managed to squeeze out softly.  Sadness crept into those gorgeous eyes and before he could stop himself, Ichigo was gently wrapping the blond in his arms.  "It will be alright, Kisuke.  It will," he soothed gently.

And as the blond's arms slid around his waist and the younger man's head settled onto his shoulder, Ichigo almost believed the words himself.   

He wasn't sure how long they stood there, but eventually Kisuke straighten and Ichigo released him, knowing the moment was over and as wonderful as it had been, if he clung to it he would just upset the younger man.  The smile Kisuke gave him, understanding and grateful, was almost worth letting go, because there was so much of his lover in that look.  "Sit with me a bit," he pressed, suddenly unable to let the moment end or let the other man slip away.  Not when it was all so familiar.

Kisuke looked hesitantly at the porch and Ichigo wondered if he had pushed too hard.  The porch of the shoten had always been their spot.  A moment later the younger man was moving and settling on the on the steps near the tray of tea he had been nursing before the blond had shown up.  Ichigo couldn't help but notice that it was his, Kisuke's, spot.  He silently joined the blond, pouring him a cup of tea.

"I couldn't," began the Kisuke, trying to refuse the cup.

"Ururu will be out with a cup any second now."  Sure enough, the graceful young woman appeared as if by magic and quietly added a second cup to the tray she had brought him.  Ichigo nodded a quick thanks to her, earning a soft blush and a quiet goodnight in return.  The redhead poured himself a cup of green tea, letting the warmth soak into his hands as he savored something he had thought never to have again.

"Did you have fun with Yoruichi?" he asked quietly, not sure what to say but wanting to hear that soft voice and let it wash over him. 

"I'm not sure fun would be the right word, but we had lunch," murmured Kisuke, a touch of wry humor in his voice.  "It was informative if nothing else."  Ichigo caught the hint of speculation in the blond's voice and glanced sharply at him, his own ocher eyes meeting glimmering silver eyes and locking.  He could almost see the sharp-edged intellect and reached out instantly to brush his fingers against the other man's cheek.

The intensity of those eyes dimmed and affection flowed through them.  "Do you really think any of this can work out?" asked Kisuke softly.  His voice was filled with doubt and longing and such hopeless confusion that all Ichigo wanted to do was take him in his arms and comfort him.

His fingers gently brushed away a few soft tears, leaning forward and tenderly brushing his lips against Kisuke's in a silent promise.  "I have to, because the alternative just isn't worth considering," he murmured softly, resting his forehead against the blond's

A soft cheek rubbed against his and Ichigo could feel the hints of moisture on it and wanted so much to make things right for the blond.  Slay a dragon, bring him the moon, complete any impossible task if only to wipe the tears from those gray eyes he loved so much and to bring a smile to those soft lips.

"How do you stand it?  Knowing what he did, what he was capable of?"

"The Shattered Shaft?" asked Ichigo, earning a miserable nod and Kisuke burying his face against his shoulder.  "Why don't I hate him for doing that to me?  What exactly am I supposed to hate him for?  For giving me the strength to save Rukia?  For letting me fight to protect the people I care about?

"For sending you to war.  For watching you suffer at the bottom of that pit.  For stealing your life and forcing you to take on the burden of my sins..."

"You listen to me," growled Ichigo, his hands on Kisuke's cheeks and forcing the other man to meet his eyes.  "I might not have chosen this, but there is not a single thing I would change about my life!  I happened to be doing something to make a difference!  I have good friends and people I have been honored to know and fight with.  Don't you dare try and cheapen that with your silly misplaced guilt," snarled Ichigo.

"Not one thing?"  The words were softly spoken but the tone was playfully inquisitive.  Pure Urahara.

Ichigo snorted and brushed his lips over the other man's.  "Maybe one thing," he murmured.  A soft hand brushed his cheek and Ichigo leaned into the touch.  He could feel Kisuke's lips a hair's breadth from his own and felt the quivering tension that was strung between them.  The blond shivered delicately and somehow the moment broke.  Kisuke was blushing and Ichigo could see the goose bumps rising on his arms. 

"Here," he murmured fondly, tugging off the old haori that he had been wearing.  One of Urahara's old green coats, a little threadbare but still smelling of sandalwood.  Ichigo draped the old haori around Kisuke's shoulders and stared for a moment - in the dim light it was really as if it was Urahara sitting there.

Kisuke drew the haori around himself, breathing deeply before smiling, this one a subtle twist of his lips that bespoke his pleasure and amusement.  "I remember this," he whispered, just a hint of fear trickling into his voice.  Ichigo couldn't help but laugh.  He remembered those damned coats but not Soul Society or the people who'd been important to him.  It was so blastedly Urahara that he couldn't help but be charmed by it.

"You're laughing at me, Kurosaki-kun," pouted Kisuke and one look at his face proved the words had slipped out completely by accident.  He was blushing and looked so adorably lost mouthing the word 'kun' and trying to figure out why he'd said it.

Ichigo chuckled. "Just a little"  He caught Kisuke staring at him, studying him and reached out, gently caressing the younger man's cheek.  Gray eyes slid closed at his touch, savoring the soft brush, not moving away or startling.  The reaction was Urahara's - the joy he took in being touched, the gentle longing for more without the need for words.

When those eyes opened they were molten and filled with unrestrained hunger and longing.  "Ichigo," whispered Urahara, for it was Urahara in those eyes, his Urahara.

"Kisuke," he breathed, his voice breaking softly on the name.  The distance between them closed, although Ichigo couldn't have said which of them bridged it.  All he knew was that soft lips found his as long fingers slid into his hair.  He groaned and wrapped his arms around the other man, pulling him closer and tumbling back as the blond came far more eagerly than he anticipated.  He moaned at the long forgotten pleasure of having that body pressed to his.  A tongue gently touched his bottom lip and he opened his mouth to let Kisuke inside.  Kisuke moaned and kissed him harder, one hand leaving his hair to settle at his hip.  Ichigo slid a leg between the blond's, moaning at the feel of the other man's arousal as it brushed his thigh.  The hand on his hip drew him closer and Ichigo rocked his hips against Kisuke's. 

Their reiatsu rose and twisted together, hot and sharp, and filled with lust and they both moaned.  Red and silver danced around them, merging into a swirling storm of carnelian and cerise.  Gray eyes opened and filled with shimmering red as they met glowing silver-blue.  Their lips crushed together hard and they kissed each other hungrily. 

Soft hands tugged open his robes, caressing his chest and murmuring appreciation.  Ichigo moaned, kissing Kisuke harder, his hands slipping to the younger man's ass and pulling him close, grinding against him.  "Gods, Kisuke!" he cried, blunt nails lightly scraping his chest before warm lips seized his left nipple, sucking hard.  He moaned and pulled Kisuke’s shirt from his pants, tugging it off and tossing the garment away.  A groan slid from the younger man and Ichigo kissed him hard and fast, letting his hands clutch and explore that silky back as their hips rocked together.

It was embarrassingly quick really - for both of them - but Ichigo had felt Kisuke stiffen in his arms and groan softly after only a few moments of their bodies rubbing together.  And Ichigo had followed him helplessly at the white-hot wash of the blond's reiatsu over his skin.  He wanted to shake his head, coming in his pants like a teenager, but he was simply too happy; awash in the pleasure of his release and the rightness of the person in his arms.  "I love you," he whispered softly into silky blond hair, not even caring if he got the words back, just having to tell Kisuke.  The body in his arms stiffened and the next thing he knew, he was being shoved away, Kisuke staring at him with wide, frightened eyes that screamed betrayal at him.

"You don't!  I'm not him," said the younger man in a stricken whisper, his whole body trembling.  "I'm not him, damn it!  And I can't be him!  I'm me!  Me!" snarled the blond, tears in his eyes before he turned and fled.

Ichigo closed his eyes and sank to the ground, unable to stand against the black despair that seized his heart.  Something deep inside him wanted to curl up and keen at the look that had been in Kisuke's eyes.  Fear.  Fear of him.  The one person in the whole world who had never been afraid of him, who had seen the very worst of him and still held him close – and now he was afraid of Ichigo.

Chapter Text

Grimmjow stared at the door, annoyance stiffening his body and making him want to bite something.  The kitten - his kitten - was locked behind that door and he couldn't go to him.  The kidou barrier had come down, but the door was still locked, barred against entry and he was not inclined to test the kitten.  The predator he had seen lurking in the kitten had been roused to fury this morning and it was everything Grimmjow had though it would be.  It didn't make him any happier though.

"Relax, Grimm-chan," urged Shunsui, making him growl darkly at the two men flanking him.  He didn't want to relax.  He wanted his fucking kitten.

He pounded on the door, his growl growing deeper.  "Open the fuckin' door, ya miserable brat!" he snarled, his voice drawing the eyes of every Shinigami in the corridor and even causing a few to peek out of their rooms to see what the noise was about.  The bastards behind him just chuckled and shared a look behind his back, Grimmjow didn't see it, but he still knew they had done it.

That was another reason he wanted to talk to the kitten, maybe the human would be able to explain what the two Shinigami wanted from him, because frankly he had no idea and it was starting to annoy him.  It almost seemed like Jyuushiro and Shunsui wanted to fuck him.  They kissed him and petted him, but the touches went no further - and while Grimmjow liked to pretend otherwise, he knew that either one of them could have easily overcome him.  Together they wouldn't have even had to struggle to take what they wanted from him.

The growl rose an octave in pitch, going almost from a rumble to a whine, as he remembered earlier and the bath.   A soft, pale hand grazed his forearm in a soothing caress that did little to soothe and nothing to alleviate his confusion.

Where the fuck was the kitten?  He was supposed to understand these lunatics.  The door remained stubbornly closed however and Grimmjow felt his patience snap as another hand brushed his shoulder.  He roared wordless rage and knocked the door in with a solid blow that nearly tore it from its hinges.  There was no human waiting to scold him on the other side and even his sharp ears couldn't detect any sounds from further in.  He stormed into the bedroom to be sure and froze for a moment before erupting in fury.

His kitten was gone!  Again.

Reiatsu exploded out of him in a mad rush and he flexed his fingers, wanting to rend, to tear, to utterly destroy whoever had dared to take what was his.  He would kill whoever had taken his kitten and present the tattered hollow he had made of their soul to the kitten as a play toy.

Strong arms slide around him and reiatsu that tingled with the sun warmed scent of flowers caressed his back, blunting his power.  A seemingly frail body pressed against his front at the same time and cool reiatsu laced with the scent of salt and water and ozone slid against him.  "Calm down, Grimm-chan," came Jyuushiro's soft voice through the haze of rage and fury. 

"You need to calm down, Kitty.  You can't help him like this,” murmured Shunsui, making him snarl in annoyance.  He didn’t want to be calm, he wanted to kill.  Reiatsu pulsed hot and sharp, the kitten’s twined with Kurosaki’s!  Grimmjow shook loose his Shinigami keepers and was off like a flash following the source of the power. 

He emerged into the cool night air of Karakura and looked around eagerly for Kisuke.  The pale blond hair was nowhere to be seen.  The only thing he saw was Kurosaki curled in upon himself, black misery pouring off him.  Grimmjow frowned and sniffed the air, a low growl rumbling in his chest as the scent of sex, Kurosaki and his kitten all mingled in his nose.  “What the fuck did you do?” he demanded of the redhead angrily.  The captain of the Fifth ignored him, too consumed with his despair to respond.  Grimmjow growled and lifted the other man from where he was sitting.  Tears streamed over the redhead’s cheeks in a slow steady stream and his brown eyes were sightless, focused on some tragedy that only he could see.  “Where the hell is my kitten?”

“Gone.”  The word was whisper soft and filled with anguish.

“WHAT?!?” roared Grimmjow, shaking the listless man. 

“Grimm-chan,” warned Jyuushiro’s soft voice, but the Arrancar ignored him.

“WHERE IS MY KITTEN?!?” he erupted, slamming Kurosaki against the side of the building.  His fist smashed into Ichigo’s face.  “WHERE?”  Another hit.  Then another.  And another.

A strong hand seized his wrist as he drew back to hit Kurosaki again and Grimmjow whirled on the captain of the Eighth, landing a punch to his chest that sent the other man stumbling back and set him free.  The captain of the Thirteenth was at his lover’s side instantly and Grimmjow viciously kicked Kurosaki.  There was a flash of something other than despair in the prone captain’s reiatsu but Grimmjow ignored it, focused wholly on finding out what the miserable son of a bitch had done to his kitten.

He closed on Ichigo and the other man looked up, gold and black eyes meeting his own icy blue.  “The king ain’t here anymore.  I am.  And the next one costs you, ya sonofabitch,“ hissed a malevolent voice.  “Letting fucking Jeagerjaques beat us up, never gonna let him live this down.  Goddamn lame ass.”

Grimmjow snarled as the other Hollow got to his feet and hissed angrily at him.  They lunged at each other, blades crashing together almost faster than the eye could see.  They broke apart, meet again, and broke once more.  Wicked claws raked Kurosaki’s hip as a blade nicked Grimmjow’s chest.  He growled at the other man, earning a sneering snarl in return.

“Grimmjow!  Ichigo!  That’s enough!” snapped a voice from the shoten.  The Quincy.  Neither Hollow even bother to look his way, their eyes stayed focus on each other as they both looked for a moment to strike.

Kurosaki moved first, darting left, and Grimmjow met him, hating the other man in a way he hadn’t in years.  He had allowed Kurosaki to court the kitten because he was supposed to be able to make him happy and protect him - if he couldn’t do that right he didn’t deserve the blond.  And he certainly didn’t deserve to be part of Grimmjow’s pride.

Blades clashed and hands reached for both of them.  Grimmjow hissed and snapped at the intruding appendages while the other Hollow swatted them away with a blast of reiatsu.  He sneered at the other Hollow and parried, catching his shoulder and screaming in outrage as the other man’s blade sliced into his side.

“Get Ichigo!  Shunsui and I will handle Grimmjow!”  Jyuushiro’s voice.  An instant later he and Kurosaki were ripped apart.  Grimmjow roared first at the loss of his prey and then in outrage as two nearly overwhelming reiatsu washed over him.  His knees gave way under the onslaught and the air grew too heavy to breathe.  He sank to the ground, struggling helplessly against the power, hating it, hating the bitter, impotent anger that rose up in him.   

A few feet away Kurosaki was in the same position, only it was not reiatsu that held him down but Abarai Renji’s physical bulk and Ishida Uryuu standing over him with a Quincy arrow only centimeters from his skull.

Shunsui settled across his hips, drawing his hands behind his back and locking them into a hold, but the crushing pressure of the reiatsu eased and Grimmjow could breathe again.  He growled softly and let his body relax, waiting for the moment when he could strike.  “No one is going to hurt you, Grimm-chan, but no more fighting.  Killing Ichigo will not bring Kisuke back,” scolded Jyuushiro kneeling beside him and gently touching his face, his hair, his back, anything that his fingers could reach.  The Arrancar tensed under the touches, not quite understanding what was going on.  He had been forced down and was being held, but he was not being hurt.

As the soft touches turned into scratches and caresses Grimmjow felt himself relaxing almost against his will.  His released form fell away and twin sighs of relieved pleasure came from above him.  His eyes meet brown from across the yard, where a similar carefully controlled gentling was occurring with Kurosaki. 

“If we let you both up, can you behave?” demanded Jyuushiro, sounding for all the world like a parent addressing a pair of naughty toddlers.  Blue eyes met brown and they both made soft grumblings of affirmation.  Grimmjow blinked as the hold on his hands was released and suddenly two pairs of hands were helping him to his feet and fussing over his injuries.

“Would someone like to explain the cause of this insanity?  Because I don’t relish having to explain it to Hitsugaya,” snapped the Quincy from across the courtyard, all prim and proper and reminding Grimmjow of Ulquiorra.  He still didn’t understand why the other Arrancar would want to spend so much time with a cold fish like the captain of the Sixth, but Ulquiorra was a priss anyway.

“He did something to the kitten!” snarled Grimmjow as Ichigo sagged against Renji, looking miserable and defeated.

“That is enough, Grimmjow!” scolded Shunsui, his voice brokering no argument.  Grimmjow growled softly but wasn’t inclined to try and challenge the older Shinigami.

“We will handle Ichigo,” announced Ishida.  “I suggest you deal with Jeagerjaques.”

“And Kisuke?” asked Jyuushiro.

“I’ll notify teams to start looking for him.”

“No,” whispered Ichigo, his voice whisper soft.  “Give him a little time to calm down.  I…I messed up with him.”

Grimmjow watched as Abarai drew the other man into a comforting hug, patting his back and murmuring soft words to him.  He startled as warm arms slid around his waist, bringing a hard body against his back, and Kyouraku Shunsui hooked his chin over the Arrancar’s shoulder.  The embrace was firm and comforting, unlike anything he had ever received before and he couldn’t help been lean back into it a little. 

“Shhh…We’ll find your kitten, Grimm-chan,” murmured the Shinigami captain, giving him a gentle squeeze that almost made him believe the human.

Chapter Text

Byakuya stared at the shambles that had been made of his room.  A thick layer of frost covered everything.  His little sister was becoming quite powerful a distant part of his mind noted.  The rest of him simply stared at the icy ruination of his private quarters.  There was something oddly fitting about it, he thought.  His evening destroyed and him alone in a frozen wasteland.  Something told him that a good number of people would find it highly appropriate.

Ulquiorra was gone, slipping out quietly with an emotionless murmur of, 'I should go' after Rukia had stormed off in a huff.  Byakuya hadn't wanted to let him go, hadn't wanted to stand there stiffly as the Arrancar left.  But he had responded with a stoic, 'that would be best' and watched the other man leave.  He had wanted so much to reach out and stop the former Espada, knowing that if he let Ulquiorra leave then it would destroy whatever lay between them.  But fear and his own training had held him back.  It had been easy to watch Rukia stomp from the room, he had been watching her slip ever further from him for decades - not that they had ever been close.  His fault again.

Watching Ulquiorra quietly leave him had felt different than Rukia's leaving.  It had felt like the death of something beautiful, something so fragile and new he did not even have a name for it yet.  He knew that whatever it might have grown into had died though when the pale figure of Ulquiorra Schiffer had slipped from his quarters.  It was too late for anything other than regrets.

And regrets were something he had plenty of.  Ulquiorra and what might have been would just be one more thing for him to pull out late at night and torture himself with.

His eyes fell to the broken vase and the shattered roses.  Rukia's display of temper had flash frozen them and the shoe she had tossed at his chest in a fit of pique had bounced off to hit the vase.  The vase had tumbled over and the roses had shattered.  It was odd to mourn the loss of a few silly flowers, he thought, but still he did.  Those pink roses had been the first flowers anyone had ever given him.  It seemed strange that of all the suitors to ever court him, only an Arrancar had ever given him flowers; and that of all the tokens he had received, a few silly roses counted for so much.  He had seen the uncertainty and honest emotion swirling in the former Espada's green eyes though.  Ulquiorra had thought his gesture foolish and had not understood it, but he had still presented the flowers to Byakuya - an honest expression of his affection in the only way he had known to make it.

And more touching for its honesty than all the other shiny baubles he had ever been given.

He stared at their ruined beauty and wondered if he shouldn't have gone after the Arrancar.  He knew going after Rukia would have been futile, had known that since she tossed her shoe at him.  He made a small note that his sister was spending far too much time with Abarai and Kurosaki before sighing again.

"Forgive me for interrupting, but I have need of you."  Hitsugaya Toushiro's voice cut across his melancholy and reminded him of the one thing he had left.  Duty.  He straightened quickly and composed himself with the skill of a lifetime's worth of practice, his face easily falling into the smooth lines he customarily wore.

"How may I be of assistance, Hitsugaya-taichou?" he asked with calm propriety.

"We are having an incident and your input would be greatly appreciated," murmured the smaller man, glancing around the frosty room without so much as a twitch.  Byakuya wondered how far word of Rukia's little explosion had spread and winced at the idea of his personal life as fodder for Soul Society's rumor mill. 

He felt his spine stiffen and gave the white-haired captain a small nod before he broke Senbonzakura loose from her icy prison, earning a wash of irritation from the blade.  He belted her to his hip with a silent apology and turned to face the captain of the Tenth.  "I am ready," he murmured.

"You could take a moment, say goodbye to anyone..."

"Unnecessary, but thank you."

They marched quickly through the garden and towards the Tenth, the nearest of the Earth gates.  "I take it the evening did not go as planned?" murmured Hitsugaya as they stepped onto the streets of the Seireitei.  The younger man's voice was soft and neutral, not pushing for explanation but offering to listen if he should want to talk. 

"I begin to think little in this life does," he replied softly, suddenly finding that the idea of sharing a word or two with the captain of the Tenth didn't seem so awful.  It almost seemed like it might help ease the lonely, cold place inside him that was threatening to once more consume him.

"If I might offer a small bit of advice, Kuchiki-san?"  That was another reason to like Hitsugaya, he had tact, he did not just go stumbling blindly into delicate situations.  Byakuya gave the smaller captain a tiny nod.  Hitsugaya might have been young, but he had the cunning of a dragon and surprising wisdom.

"It is better to court the contempt of those who don't matter than bring pain to one who does," murmured the Captain of the Tenth, a deep contentment settling over him.  "Kurosaki would tell you that our first kiss was September 02, 2024.  In truth it was our third kiss.  Our first was in '09, she kissed me after they pulled me out of the rubble."  There was wry amusement in his voice and Byakuya could understand why, Kurosaki Karin would have been only twelve or thirteen at the time.  The idea of her kissing a Shinigami captain several decades her senior was rather funny - especially considering what her older brother would have said about it.  "The next time she kissed me was seven years later when she admitted to having feelings for me.  We were friends by then; but I told her that nothing could come of her attraction - a mistake I would not see you make, Kuchiki Byakuya.  I wasted six years denying myself and her."

"And the third kiss?" asked Byakuya softly.  Although he knew their situations were vastly different.  For one thing, despite the frowns it might generate, there wasn't a person in Soul Society who could argue that a match between the brilliant and powerful young captain and Kurosaki was a bad one.  Even from a purely dynastic standpoint it was beneficial; any children they had promised to be powerful.  Hitsugaya was courting a woman, who while human, was the daughter of a captain and sister to one of the most powerful beings in Soul Society and of captain level strength herself. 

Not a turncoat Arrancar.

And he had no family to object to the match.  Not like Byakuya who already had a sister who violently objected and a pack of noble relatives just waiting to pounce on him about producing an heir.

"The third kiss was goodbye.  She had planned to leave; she had been offered a promotion that would have taken her Nagasaki.  She came to say goodbye and...I found I was not ready to let her go," murmured Hitsugaya, just the memory of the moment seemed to lighten him, to lift his spirit and bring him joy.

"Kurosaki Karin is hardly Ulquiorra Schiffer," Byakuya pointed out pragmatically, still he wanted that, that feeling of peace and contentment rather than just the icy stoicism of his rank.  He'd had moments of it with Hisana, but he had always come second in her affections and that had always been a hard pill to swallow.

"True, but you managed to dissuade your family from suggesting a marriage between Kuchiki Rukia and Kurosaki Ichigo. I'm sure a match to an Arrancar can be suggested in such a way as to appear favorable."  Byakuya chuckled softly, because there was little else he could do at the idea of his sister and Ichigo.  He still didn't know which of his idiot relatives had suggested the idea; he was just glad he had silenced it before either of the two in question heard of it.

"I let him go this evening when I shouldn't have."

The smile Hitsugaya gave him was soft and bracing, a gentle comfort from one who had made the same mistakes.  "I would suggest flowers and wine but I have need of you this evening, so I will instead offer breakfast and a sincere apology."

"What has happened now?" demanded Byakuya, wondering if one peaceful evening in which to attempt to resolve his life was really so much to ask for.  Apparently it was if the sigh Hitsugaya gave was any indication.

"Jeagerjaques is homicidal, Kurosaki is a damned zombie, and Urahara is once again AWOL.  I sometimes wonder what Ichigo was thinking wanting that man back.  We haven't had this much action in a decade," grumbled the younger man.

"Would you rather take the patrols or coordinate command?"

"Patrol.  I could use the stretch and with both Ichigo and Rukia," A pause as Hitsugaya waited for him to confirm that his sister would be unavailable, "We'll need another captain in the field.  Ishida and Yoruichi are good but they can't cover the whole town alone."

"I will attempt to impart that fact to Kurosaki Karin when she inquires after you," murmured Byakuya drolly, earning a smirk from Hitsugaya.

"Go after him when this is over, Byakuya.  He has been good for you." 

Chapter Text

"Two o'clock, low and coming fast," murmured Ryuuken, sensing their quarry.

"Jesus," breathed Isshin, sensing the wildly erratic reiatsu a moment later.  Kisuke wasn't just upset, he was one light push away from a complete breakdown if his reiatsu was indication.  "We've gotta be careful of him, Ryuuken.  Whatever they've been doing to him has the kid damn near suicidal."

The elder Quincy nodded but there was an angry tension in the set of his jaw.  Quincy did not handle loved ones being upset well, and whether Ryuuken liked to admit it or not, Kisuke was still important to him.

The pale figure came into view a few seconds later and Isshin frowned at Ryuuken.  Kisuke looked horrible.  His chest was bare, his shirt clutched in his right hand, but the blond didn't seem to have the presence of mind to put it on.  His hair was disheveled and his bottom lip was bloody from being bitten too many times.  There were tears falling over his cheeks and a fairly obvious stain on his pants.  He was unsteady on his feet, wobbling drunkenly, and trembling terribly.

Isshin alighted next to the blond on the right and Ryuuken on his left, startling the younger man so badly he jumped.  "It's okay.  We're not going to hurt you, kiddo," soothed Isshin gently, carefully brushing Kisuke's arm with the tips of his fingers.  The skin was cool; the poor kid had to be freezing and too worked up to even notice.

"Are you all right?" asked Ryuuken, his voice calm and mild, melodic.  Ryuuken had a great voice for soothing nervous patients if one could get him talking. 

"Do...do I know you?" whispered Kisuke, his voice frayed and full of fear.

"No.  No, you don't know us.  You might have once but that was a long time ago and not important now," replied Ryuuken.

Isshin nodded.  "What's important now is getting you taken care of," he told the blond, gently prying his shirt free of his right hand.  Kisuke stared at the shirt blankly, like he didn't recognize it or that he had been carrying it.  Ryuuken had pulled out a handkerchief and was gently dabbing at the younger man's cheeks.  "Anything else can wait."

"There was a vending machine about a block back, Isshin.  Get us some water," ordered Ryuuken, steering Kisuke to a bench and making him sit.  Isshin tossed the Quincy his handkerchief and trotted off to get the water, smiling as Ryuuken cursed him for not turning over the scrap of cloth earlier.

He was back a few moments later, water in hand.  Ryuuken was crouched next to Kisuke and the blond looked to be coming around a little, not that it was much of an improvement.  Rather than dazed and sightless, his eyes were haunted with grief and fear.  Isshin swore he was going to box Ichigo's ears the next time he saw his son before deciding that Ichigo had probably suffered enough if Kisuke was this bad off.  Still, the boy should have known better than to go feeling up Urahara.

"Water," he told Ryuuken tossing him the bottle and settling on the bench with Kisuke, careful not to crowd him but close enough to remind him that he was not alone.  He gently touched the boy's bottom lip when he began to worry it.  "No more of that, you're hurting yourself," he admonished.

"Goat Face?  Megumi-san?" asked the blond, his voice lost and afraid, years younger.  A second later he flinched and sobbed, arms going around himself. 

Isshin shared a knowing look with Ryuuken over Urahara's old nicknames for them, catching the faint, fond smile on the Quincy's lips.  "It's us, Kisuke," soothed the older man gently.

"It's okay, Kisuke," murmured Isshin, hugging the younger man as Ryuuken finished wiping him off.  They tugged the blond's shirt back on and Ryuuken even draped his jacket around the young man's shoulders.

"Let's get you out of the cold.  I'll be amazed if you don't have pneumonia running around like this," murmured Ryuuken.

"No!" shrieked Kisuke, shying like a startled colt, his eyes wide and filled with panic.  "I don't wanna go back!"

"No one's going to take you back, Kisuke," soothed Isshin.  "Ryuuken just wants to get you out of the cold.  You're cold, aren't you?"

He received a small, miserable nod.

"Your house is closer," noted Ryuuken, glancing around.  "We could get some tea and talk.  Would that be all right?" he asked the blond.  Kisuke looked uncertain and his teeth tried to worry his lip until Isshin tapped him on the nose.  Gray eyes stared at him before the blond gave a shaky nod and they were off, Kisuke carefully cosseted between them.

"Would you like to talk about what happened?" ventured Ryuuken.

Kisuke shook his head violently, gasping softly.  "He'll come.  It's all too close to the surface.  I can't tell what's him or me anymore!  But I can't...I'm not..." Kisuke startled again, his eyes wide and filled with panic.  He would have fled if Ryuuken hadn't grabbed him, covering the gesture as hug.

"Breathe.  Calm down and just breathe.  In and out.  Don't think about anything else, just breathe.  Nice deep breath in...and then out," ordered Ryuuken.  The blond obeyed, the first few breaths quick and gasping, but slowly he began to mimic Ryuuken's breathing, deep and slow, staring at the Quincy as if mesmerized.  "Good.  Just breathe," murmured Ryuuken, soothing the blond's hair slightly and giving him the faintest of smiles.

"Feeling better?" asked Isshin as Ryuuken released the boy.  Kisuke nodded.  "Think you can answer a question or two?"  The nod was shakier and the fear was back in the kid's eyes.

"Name?" he queried as Ryuuken shot him a smile.

"Rank?" asked the other man.

"Serial number?" they queried together and Kisuke giggled, for that was all the joyous little bubble of laughter could be called.

"He is supposed to be a genius, I suppose we could ask something a little harder.  What's one plus one?"

Kisuke giggled again.  "Miserable Quincy bastard," he snorted with good humor.

"I am questioning a Shinigami," smirked Ryuuken.  "I'd thought it best not to strain your meager intelligence too far."

They all chuckled and began moving again, keeping Kisuke between them but not pushing him with conversation just yet.  The breather seemed to help him calm down and begin to resettle.  By the time they reached his front door Isshin thought the blond might be almost calm.  Ryuuken and Kisuke settled in the living room, talking softly about nothing more unusual than the latest issue of National Geographic.  There was no tea, which Isshin was sure was some sort of grave oversight on the part of all that was good and right with the universe, but he found a box of hot chocolate buried in the cupboard and prepared that.  He even managed to dig up some marshmallows that had to be as old as the chocolate, but still managed to melt into a nice froth.

Ryuuken glared at the offering but Kisuke smiled and looked positively boisterous, sipping it happily.  "Your face is gonna stick that way," Kisuke teased Ryuuken shyly, grinning behind his cup.

"How could you tell?" shot Isshin, earning a sour glare from Ryuuken.

"Ready to talk about it now?" asked Isshin gently, feeling it was time to poke at Kisuke a little but not wanting to send him spiraling again.

The blond shook his head, "No, but if I wait until I'm ready I'll never talk about it."

"We could always talk about how you came to be walking half naked in the dead of night," came Ryuuken's bland drawl, his eyes twinkling.  They all knew what Kisuke had been doing and with who.  Kisuke flushed to nearly tomato red while Ryuuken blinked and Isshin chuckled.  He liked this softer version of Kisuke, in the old days, prying a blush out of the blond had been a thing of effort.  Now a little innuendo lit him up.  It was cute.

"Fuck off, Ryuuken," snapped Kisuke, finding a few of Urahara's teeth.

"Sorry, I don't sleep with Shinigami," grinned Ryuuken.  Grinned?  Isshin checked again just to be sure - yep, Ryuuken was grinning.  And if a grinning Quincy wasn't a sign of the End of Days, what was?  He decided to worry about it later.  He had a golden chance to yank Ryuuken's tail and he was not going to lose it.  "Unless the Shinigami's name is Kuchiki," he announced, making Ryuuken glare murder, mayhem, and all other manner of pain and suffering at him.  Kisuke just blinked quizzically before he burst out laughing.

"You?  You...Byakuya-kun...," he tried several times to get out before collapsing into whooping laughter each time.

"The other Kuchiki," sniffed Ryuuken, all stiff affronted dignity.

"Other Kuchiki?  Rukia?"  Isshin nodded and Kisuke stared, clearly not believing it.  "Ryuu and Rukia?" he managed to breathe in a whisper before he began giggling madly again.  "Byakuya is gonna skin you."

"We are straying from the topic," growled Ryuuken, a faint blush on his cheeks and a pinched look to his features.  He really did hate being laughed at.

"Do I have to talk about it?" whispered Kisuke, looking small and lost, uncertain in a way Urahara never had.

"No, but it might help," soothed Isshin, putting an arm around his shoulders.  "Things can't have been easy these last few days and it might be nice to talk to people who have no agendas where you're concerned."

Kisuke nodded, taking another sip of his cocoa.  "I...I'm lost.  I feel all these things but they're his - Urahara's feelings, not mine.  And everyone just expects me to remember and be him; but I'm not.  I'm me!  And what happens to me if I remember?  Every time...when he comes to surface, it's like I get lost, I forget who I am and...and...I won't die to bring him back!  I won't!," he began, the words tumbling out faster and faster in a heated rush before he broke off with a choked sob.

Isshin drew the younger man close, letting him cry it out, feeling oddly protective of this child who had been his friend.  Ryuuken refilled Kisuke's cup and fetched a box of tissue for when the sniffling began.  Slowly the tears faded and Isshin gently patted Kisuke's shoulder; even Ryuuken managed a small affectionate pat on the arm.  "What makes you so sure he'll consume you, Kisuke?  I know the memories can be overwhelming, all that experience crashing down on you, but you're thinking of it like it's a matter of you and him.  It isn't like that," soothed Isshin gently. 

Kisuke sniffled and chewed at his lip, earning a frown from Ryuuken.  "Stop that," scolded the Quincy gently.  Kisuke looked contrite and stopped, sniffling softly.

"You only have one soul, Kisuke.  There is no you and him.  There are just memories, differences in nurturing, the core being of Mizuno Kisuke is the same core in Urahara Kisuke.  You're not going to be lost to him, Kisuke.  You are him.  A younger, gentler version, yes; but still ultimately Urahara.

"Yes, remembering will change you.  You'll be getting hundreds of years worth of memories, lifetimes of experience and knowledge, all that is bound to change a person.  But it only changes you the way you would have been changed if it had been you living those things.

"The core does not change.  You are still you - still him - and pretending you aren't just tears both of you apart," whispered Isshin, holding Kisuke close, practically able to feel the blond weighing and evaluating everything he'd said.

"And Ichigo?  He loves him so much and I don't...I'll never be...not exactly...I can't be just a stand-in for him!  I can't!"  Isshin shared a look with Ryuuken, trying to translate the mangled sobbing into something sensible. 

"You are going to have to accept that Kurosaki Ichigo loves you, Kisuke.  Some of that is certainly carry over of his devotion for Urahara; but what makes you think that he couldn't love you?  Your soul is Urahara's soul, he fell in love with that soul once, is it so hard to believe that he would do so again?" demanded Ryuuken gently.

"I know he's a Shinigami, but I'm sure the boy has a few good points to recommend him," remarked the Quincy dryly.  And as Kisuke burst into laughter Isshin thought he just might hug Ryuuken.

Chapter Text

Shunsui sighed as Grimmjow made yet another angry circuit of the room.  Just watching him was tiring.  They had dragged him out of the shoten yard and back to his rooms - that way he could destroy whatever he liked and no one would be put out by it - but the kitty's temper seemed to have calmed to a slow boil.  He seemed content with pacing and muttering softly to himself, but Shunsui didn't expect that to last long.  The Arrancar was nothing if not volatile.  It made the blue-haired man interesting, mused Shunsui fondly, taking another sip of his sake.

They had talked him out of joining the search for Kisuke mostly by strong arming the former Espada back into his rooms.  Grimmjow had not liked it but had gone along with them with surprisingly little trouble.  It made Shunsui wonder if they hadn't inadvertently pushed one of the Arrancar's buttons back in the yard.  He wouldn't have put it beyond Aizen to have held the former Espada down and tortured some obedience into him.

It was one thing to discipline your people but to pass outright torture off as a disciplinary measure...  Shunsui wondered just how far the former captain of the Fifth had fallen.  And to torture someone like Grimmjow... someone there was no point in torturing.   Nothing would ever be able to tame the Arrancar.  Blunt his rough edges?  Certainly, but the only way to truly control Grimmjow would be to break him, to shatter that blazing strength and leave nothing but a hollow docile shell.  And that Aizen would even try...

Frankly, he was beginning to wonder if there was anything beyond Sousuke in his mad quest for power.

The door slid open and Shunsui couldn't help but smile as Jyuushiro's return drew him from his disquieting thoughts.  The other man led two junior Shinigami inside, each of them bearing a heavily loaded tray of food.  His lover could con almost anyone into almost anything.  A delicate cough, a small swoon and Jyuushiro had been known to have dozens of eager young Shinigami clustered around him to help in any way they could - and the other man exploited it to the fullest.  Even old Yama-jii sometimes forgot that under that fragile surface was a core as deep and limitless as the oceans.

"Just set them there," murmured Jyuushiro serenely, motioning to the coffee table with a tiny wave of his hand.  Shunsui was sure he was the only one in the room to notice the amused gleam in his lover's eyes and he couldn't resist shooting the captain of the Thirteenth a tiny smirk.  Watching Jyuushiro work was sometimes a thing of beauty - if one could keep a straight face.

The youngsters looked nervously at the annoyed Arrancar but retreated peacefully enough with a few soft urgings from Jyuushiro and Shunsui sighed in happiness as his lover settled at his side.  He threw an arm around Jyuushiro's shoulders and studyed the white haired man carefully.  No tremors, no hint of color on his lips, and no reiatsu slipping from him, Jyuushiro had just been playing with the youngsters.

"What's that?" demanded Grimmjow, pausing in his prowling to eye the table with feline suspicion.

"This is dinner.  We missed it with the tour and the excitement earlier.  And I thought we could all use a bite," explained Jyuushiro brightly with just a hint of steel in his voice.  Shunsui chuckled as Grimmjow's eyes flashed to Jyuushiro for just a moment before surveying the food - two bowls of udon, what appeared to be a lightly grilled salmon steak, salads for all three of them and a large pot of green tea.  Grimmjow gave a delicate sniff and whirled to begin pacing again, his reiatsu fluttering - if he'd had a tail it would have been lashing with barely contained tension, decided Shunsui.

"Sit down and eat, Grimm-chan," he scolded lightly, earning a softly growled refusal and another angry turn from the blue haired man.  Something had raised the kitty's hackles.

Jyuushiro frowned, a small downward tilt of his lips that made Shunsui want to kiss away the unhappy sight.  "I'll get him," he whispered to his lover, kissing him and rising to catch Grimmjow on his next pass. 

A claw-tipped hand swung at him and Shunsui easily blocked it, chuckling softly.  The kitty was at least predictable in some things, such as attack always being his first course of action.  "Sit down and be a good little kitty.  Who knows, finish your supper and maybe we'll give you a treat," he purred, watching a tiny frown crease the Arrancar's features.  The expression quickly melted away under a snarl as the former Espada was gently forced onto the couch.  Shunsui flopped down next to him, tossing an arm around Grimmjow's shoulders and nearly laughing at the slightly baffled look on Grimmjow's face, as if he couldn't quite figure out how he had come to be sitting between them.

Jyuushiro blandly handed the blue haired Arrancar the salmon, earning another frown as the former Espada sniffed at the fish.  "What the hell is this?"

"It's salmon.  A type of fish.  Try at least a little," urged Jyuushiro, popping a flake of the fish into the blue haired man's mouth, a twinkle in his brown eyes that made Shunsui want to forget about dinner and just drag Jyuushiro - and perhaps if things went well - Grimmjow off to bed.

The Arrancar chewed on the fish for a moment, cocking his head as he tried to decide if he liked it, before delicately attacking the fillet.

Shunsui chuckled softly and handed Jyuushiro a bowl of udon before taking his own.  It was rather amusing watching Grimmjow explore some of the simple pleasures to be found outside Hueco Mundo, touching in a way, to watch the Arrancar experience things for the first time.  It reminded them what it was to be young and full of fire again, Shunsui thought, giving the blue haired man a gentle squeeze.  Grimmjow looked up from his fish to eye him warily, but when no further touches came he quickly returned to his meal.

The scent of green tea filled the air and Shunsui sighed in contentment.  There had always been tea and it was oddly soothing to know that there always would be.  He watched as Jyuushiro poured a cup and offered it to him with a grace that reminded Shunsui of each and every line Jyuushiro's family had to the throne - sixty-seven if he recalled correctly.  He gave his lover a grateful nod and took a sip, the subtle slightly grassy flavor sliding over his tongue.

A second cup was poured for Grimmjow and Shunsui watched in startled amazement as the Espada stiffened and slapped the delicate porcelain cup away.  Twin pairs of dark eyes blinked owlishly at the display and Grimmjow hunched uneasily between them, clearly waiting for something.  Shunsui watched as a graceful hand slid soothingly over Grimmjow's arm, fingers tracing tiny patterns on the tan flesh, and if he hadn't seen the tiny flinch he might have thought it a figment of his imagination.  But it was real and the Arrancar was staring at that pale hand like he had never seen it before.

"You don't like the tea, Grimm-chan?" murmured Jyuushiro, his voice a liquid purr that made Shunsui's heart skip a beat.  He loved that sound, the smooth predatory tone, the tiny hint of danger. 

"I seem to recall Sousuke rather enjoyed his tea," replied Shunsui, gently urging Grimmjow to meet his glaze.  "Is that why you don't like it, Kitty?"  His only answer was a disgruntled noise of feline displeasure, a soft sort of yowl.

"I know you don't believe it, but we are not him, Grimmjow.  Telling us what makes you unhappy is not admitting weakness, it is merely expressing your displeasure with a situation.  We can't change things if we don't know they are bothering you, baby," he whispered, dark eyes locked with blue and his hands holding the Arrancar's head in place so he couldn't look away.  "No one here wants to hurt you, no one wants to see you upset.  In fact, several of us would like to see you happy, Kitty."  The words were laced with sensual darkness and Shunsui smirked as a startled look flashed across Grimmjow's face.

He chuckled softly, his lips closing over the Arrancar's with a soft but insistent pressure.  From the corner of his eye he caught the flash of white hair at Grimmjow's throat and knew Jyuushiro was kissing the other man as well.  For a moment there was only the soft brush of lips and skin, the gentle thrum of three reiatsu swirling together - darkness and flowers and rain.  It was a heady mix, subtle and mysterious, like the jungle at night, and definitely one he could get used to, thought Shunsui.

When the eruption came it was swift and brutal.  One claw tipped hand closed around his throat while another fisted in Jyuushiro's hair, a moment later they went flying and Grimmjow was on his feet, reiatsu blazing and his roar echoing off the walls. 

Jyuushiro rolled over the couch arm and the small table next to it, shattering a lamp and landing on the floor to blink owlishly.  Shunsui wished he had been as lucky.  He had gone flying and hit the kitchen counter hard enough to make him wonder if serious damage hadn't been done.  He doubted it though, serious damage usually hurt far less.  He would just be several very interesting shades of black and blue in the morning.

Glacial eyes filled with rage and feral wariness were darting between them.  "Just try it ya bastards," hissed the Arrancar, his hand on his sword.  Shunsui wondered what button they had pushed by kissing the blue haired man as he stumbled back to his feet, his back protesting most vehemently.  Jyuushiro was edging carefully toward the Arrancar, his hands up, clearly trying to placate the former Espada.  "Calm down.  No one's going to hurt you, Grimmjow-"

"The fuck ya ain't!" snarled the Arrancar.  "Yer trying to fuck me!"

"Actually, we were attempting to woo you, Kitty," retorted Shunsui, wincing as his back lodged a violent protest as he tried moving.  He saw a confused scowl flash across Grimmjow's face and it drew a frown to his own lips.  "Haven't you ever been courted?"

"You haven't, have you?" whispered Jyuushiro a shocked horror dawning on his face.  "Oh Kitty, what did they do to you?"

"What!?!  NOTHING!  Get the fuck out, you bastards!" snarled the Arrancar, his reiatsu pulsing wildly as he drew his zanpaktou.

"Calm down, baby.  No one is going to hurt you," soothed Shunsui, a dark suspicion taking shape in the back of his mind.  He saw the same suspicion lurking in Jyuushiro's eyes and felt bile raise in his throat.  Someone had hurt their kitty.  Badly.

"No, ya just wanna fuck me," hiss Grimmjow, a dark and malicious glimmer in his eyes and tension filling his frame - like he expected to be attacked.  Sad brown eyes met his gaze and Jyuushiro gave him a tiny nod.  He did, realized Shunsui.  That was what the bath and the yard had been about - they had overpowered him and all this time he had just been waiting for them to press their suit and demand his favor. 

"Oh baby, no.  We don't want that.  Whatever they did to you, whatever came before...This has nothing to do with that," pleaded Jyuushiro, his heart in his eyes as he moved toward the Espada.  A sword slashed viciously at his head and Shunsui lunged, catching the Arrancar's wrist and ripping the blade away.

"Just try it, you bastard," snarled Grimmjow, his face twisted into an ugly sneer as claws raked his chest, opening five bloody gouges.  Shunsui hissed in pain as Jyuushiro caught Grimmjow's free hand.  The kitty roared in outrage and went wild as they both held on desperately; knowing that if the Arrancar broke free the only possible outcome would be a fight.

"Hush, baby, hush," pleaded Jyuushiro, a tremor in his voice and pain in his eyes. 

"Stop it, Grimm-chan.  Please.  Neither of us are going to hurt you," shouted Shunsui, blunting a burst of reiatsu from the Arrancar.  When the cat-like man went still in their grasp, wary and panting, they moved closer to him, gently caressing him, both of them working to keep the touches innocent and soothing.

"You poor kitten," cooed Jyuushiro softly, petting the Arrancar's hair, his reiatsu a soft and careful blanket of warmth and affection.  "No one's ever given you a choice before have they?" asked the pale haired captain and Shunsui saw that his brown eyes were filled with tears.

"Of course there's no fucking choice!  If someone is stronger they don't have to ask to take," snapped the Arrancar resentfully, trying to twist away from them.

“Oh baby, we didn't know.  We never would have come at it this way if we had known," sighed Shunsui, heartsick at the pain they must have put the Arrancar through.  "We thought you understood.  Yes, Jyuushiro and I would like you in our bed, but the choice is entirely yours, love.  You only have to be with us if you want to."

"We would never force you, Grimm-chan.  All we want is to make you happy," breathed Jyuushiro, the tears that had been threatening to fall breaking free.  "I know this is probably all new to you, love.  That you probably don't believe, but it's true.  Shunsui and I will go, let you rest and think over what we've said.  And if you decide you might like to explore what we've offered you can find us in the morning."  As he finished the captain slowly released his hold on Grimmjow's left wrist, turning the gesture into a soft caress before chastely kissing the corner of Grimmjow's lips.  Shunsui followed his example before taking his lover's hand and leading him gently from the room, their bodies close as they drew comfort from each other.

"How could he...how could anyone allow that?" hissed Jyuushiro in revulsion as the door closed behind them.  Shunsui wrapped an arm around his shoulders before stopping all together and just hugging his lover tight.  "Never again, Shunsui.  Even if he doesn't..."

"Shhh...I know, love.  No one hurts him again."

"And Aizen pays," added Jyuushiro viciously.

"Way ahead of you, Jyuu-chan," he growled, kissing his lover softly, the tender gesture a sharp counterpoint to the cold, methodical cruelty of his words.

Chapter Text

"Our shields aren't completely up, but the house is secure," explained the voice on the other end of the line.

"He just needs a place to crash for a few days.  Somewhere where he won't be poked at.  I have a feeling things are going to resolve themselves fairly quickly once he gets some time to think it all through.  Just see to it that he's comfortable and leave him alone to work," ordered Isshin, his voice stern and serious, the voice of the captain he had once been.

"Not a problem, chief," came the mocking assurance.  And Isshin almost swore he could hear the grin that split the other man's lips.

He sighed and shook his head.  "Ryuuken and I will bring him by in a little while," he murmured, glancing back into his living room where the topic of his discussion sat playing cards with Ryuuken.  The game had been the Quincy's idea and it had amused Kisuke to no end.  Isshin wasn't surprised; the three of them had countless nights playing cards together lurking in their past.  And even if Kisuke didn't remember, he could still sense something familiar and no doubt soothing about the activity.

Of course, since it was Ryuuken and Kisuke playing, the game had evolved from the standard rules into a contest of who could cheat more blatantly and get away with it.  Card counting, dealing from the bottom of the deck, and marking cards were all fair game with those two.   It had reminded Isshin why it was a bad idea to play with the two them.  Of course, watching them and trying to catch them cheating was also more fun than he liked to admit - since any time one of them caught the other the ribbing that would ensue was vicious and brutal. 

Kisuke had fallen into go-fish with skepticism, had moved on to blackjack with amusement and he and Ryuuken looked to be playing a truly murderous game of rummy.  Isshin was just glad it was the three of them and no one had felt the need for a round of strip poker - Kisuke and Ryuuken had been brutal last time and Yoruichi was not a woman to be naked around.  She made a man feel his nakedness most distinctly with that sly smile of hers. 

Both men in the living room were palming cards and smirking at each other - clearly delighted at encountering someone worthy.   One day, Isshin promised himself, he would set the two of them loose in Vegas.  The Americans wouldn't know what hit them.

"I saw that," he called into the living room as Kisuke palmed a card.

"Prove it," retorted Kisuke, sticking out his tongue.  Ryuuken was chuckling darkly and used the distraction he had created to peek at the next card on the pile.

"We are just playing a friendly game of cards, Isshin.  I don't know where this idea that we're cheating is coming from," murmured the Quincy, all innocence and light - and if anyone believed that Isshin had the titles to a few bridges he would love to sell them.

"Long association.  Wrap it up after this hand.  Kisuke should be in bed and we have work in the morning," replied Isshin, causing the blond to stop trying to peek at Ryuuken's cards and stare at him.

"I'm not going back to the base.  I'll just leave if you take me back.  I will," muttered Kisuke, his eyes blazing even as a petulant frown settled on his lips.  It was pure Urahara stubbornness in those eyes; if they took him back he would be out in under and hour and god help them if they tried to find him.

"Of course you aren't going back to the Shinigami, they clearly can't handle you,” murmured Ryuuken.  He was going to be lording this over him for years, thought Isshin, rather amused by the idea.  There was nothing Ryuuken liked better than ribbing him about the Shinigami and it was good to see hints of that old, less bitter, Quincy pride emerging.

“Can I stay with you two?” asked Kisuke, trying to conceal his eagerness but still clearly favoring the idea.  Isshin and Ryuuken shared a small smile and Isshin knew the other man wanted to keep their old friend just as much as he did.  But safety had to come first and they both shook their heads.

“We can’t watch you.  It would be too easy for Aizen to locate you.  And neither of us is strong enough to hold off his people if he really came at us in force,” explained Isshin, giving Kisuke’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.

"But I can help!  I know how to fight and I can do kidou," argued Kisuke, something pleading in his face.

"Aizen has ten Espada and dozens of lesser Arrancar, Kisuke.  We would be overwhelmed easily if he truly moved against us.  We’re going to take you to some friends of ours though.  They can protect you.  They've promised to leave you alone and not bother you.  It should give you some time to get your head on straight and figure out what you want without everyone trying to push an agenda on you."

"They are a bit odd, but we are talking friends of Isshin's, so that really shouldn't be any great surprise," drawled Ryuuken, giving the blond's hand a soothing sort of pat.

"Aren't you one of his friends as well?" asked Kisuke, although Isshin could see the evil glimmer lurking in those silver eyes.  Definitely Urahara, he thought with a faint smile.  They just had to get past all the fear everyone else had instilled in the kid and let him come into the memories at his own pace.  Without all the emotional baggage the youngster seemed to slip into Urahara almost without realizing it.  It was just the fear that was making him freeze up and get irrational.

Ryuuken glared while Kisuke gazed sweetly up at him, oddly enough the innocent look actually worked because Ryuuken chuckled.  "Certainly not, I am a Quincy and we would never stoop so low as to befriend a Shinigami."

"Miserable bastard," growled Isshin good naturedly.

"Gin," announced Kisuke with a smug little smile, earning a sharp glare from Ryuuken as the Quincy began examining his hand.

"This brat cheats nearly as shamelessly as you, Isshin," groused Ryuuken, there was wicked delight in his eyes though. 

Kisuke stuck out his tongue and Isshin just laughed.  It had been years since they had last done this, but it didn’t feel like years, it felt as familiar as it had fifty years ago.  For a moment he wondered if the three of them might pick up the old card games, maybe bring in some of the youngsters.  Something told him that Uryuu would put on a proper showing and Toushiro seemed to the type to enjoy a good game.  Maybe little Rukia-chan.  Abarai wouldn't have been bad, but Isshin wasn't sure Ryuuken and Renji could be trusted in the same space for that long.

A shrill trill drew all their eyes and Ryuuken quickly fished out his cell, standing and answering. 

“Almost ready to go?” Isshin asked Kisuke softly, the both of them giving Ryuuken the illusion of privacy although from the sound of the conversation it seemed to be quite interesting.  Ryuuken’s neighbor had called him and while Mrs. Ogawa was a nice woman, she was a rather excitable little soul.

"What?  On my porch?  Are you certain?  Yes, yes.  No, there is no need, I will be home shortly and see to her myself.  Thank you for alerting me, Ogawa-san.

“Can you see to Kisuke?  There is a situation at home that requires my immediate attention,” murmured the Quincy, looking almost anxious.  Isshin checked again, not quite willing to believe his eyes.  The last time Ryuuken had looked anxious was when Uryuu was being born.  

Nope.  One anxious Quincy in his living room

Kisuke gave a small shrug.  “I don't plan on bolting again."

"What you plan and what actually occurs rarely have any relation to each other," shot back Ryuuken.  Kisuke pouted adorably and Isshin stifled a chuckle.

"I'll see that he gets settled.  Go handle little Rukia-chan," murmured Isshin, grinning as red spread over Ryuuken's cheeks and Kisuke whooped joyously.

"I want to be kept abreast of this," demanded Kisuke, sounding exactly like Urahara, his eyes bright and a huge grin on his lips - add a few years to him and it could have been their old friend, thought Isshin.  "And remember Byakuya-kun will kick your ass if you touch his baby sister."

"He'll try," purred Ryuuken smugly, his eyes bright and glittering.  He hadn't looked so happy in years, thought Isshin, wondering if Byakuya knew just what he would be getting into setting himself between a Quincy and something he wanted.  Either way it would prove to be interesting. 

Chapter Text

Hirenkyaku carried him to his front door almost instantly and Rukia startled as Ishida Ryuuken stepped from the shadows.  Looking at him, dignified and elegant she felt even more miserable sitting there.  She was shivering, soaked to the skin, muddy, bloody and she knew her eyes and cheeks were red from crying.  She was also missing both her shoes.  When compared against Ryuuken she looked every inch the Rukongai brat she had started out as.  "Are you alright, "Rukia-chan?" the Quincy asked her softly, kneeling down beside her and taking one of her chilled hands in his large warm ones.

She gave him a miserable nod and a sniffle that quite clearly contradicted her.  "I'm sorry...I...I didn't know where else...I don't have anywhere else," she stammered, her teeth chatting and her jaw clenching to try and halt it.

"Hush, it’s fine.  Come inside, you're freezing out here," he ordered, gently but firmly pulling her to her feet and escorting her inside.  He turned on the light and Rukia blinked owlishly, wondering how much more miserable she must look under the bright light.  "Come, I'll draw you a bath.  There must be something around here that will fit you," he murmured, frowning at her bedraggled state and leading her to the guest bathroom. 

"Take your time.  I'll try and find something for you to wear.  We can speak once you're more comfortable," he ordered and Rukia gave him a pathetically grateful nod before the door quietly clicked shut.  She hadn't wanted to impose on the Quincy, but she'd told him the truth - there was no where else for her to go.  Ichigo had problems enough of his own and while she loved Renji she couldn't talk about this with him.  She didn't know why, she just knew that she would never be able to make him understand.  Not when she didn't entirely understand herself.

She shed her sodden robes and rinsed off quickly, her skin tingling under the nearly scalding water.  She couldn't remember the last time she had been so cold, or so lost, the only thing that came to mind was the vaguest wisp of a memory from long ago.  A memory of finding herself alone and hungry in an alleyway.  She had been so cold and frightened, but she had stayed there knowing that there should have been someone coming for her and waiting for them.  But no one ever came.

She had never felt more terrified than when she had slipped from that alley and into the world beyond.  Never until she had fled her brother's room anyway.  She stifled a sob and wrapped her arms around herself in a sad parody of a hug, trying to still the trembling of her body, trying to understand what she had done.  One moment she had been standing there staring awkwardly at her brother and the man who was clearly his lover, and the next she had been screaming, hurling accusations and footwear at her brother.  The head of her family.

She choked back a shuddering sob as she realized that Byakuya would likely have her expelled from the family for what she had done.  It was one thing to shout at him like the undignified hooligan he'd always thought her to be, but to throw things at him...

She shuddered and forced her mind away from the spiraling thoughts of despair and began scrubbing, the mud coming away easily and even the chill succumbing to the water's warmth.  She wished the horrible uncertainty would do the same, but it lingered, tightening her stomach and making her wonder if anything in her life would ever be the same again.

She dragged herself from the warmth of the shower with the greatest of reluctance, not ready to face the universe or her place in it.  Ryuuken had found her what looked like a pair of Uryuu's old sweats to wear.  She dragged the clothes on, nearly swimming in them, but savoring the warmth, before slipping from the bathroom.

The rich aroma of coffee reached her nose and under that a subtle scent that she couldn't quite place, but one that had her stomach tightening in eager anticipation.  Rukia wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but Ishida Ryuuken with his sleeves rolled up, standing over a pan was not it.  The smirk he gave her was filled with gentle warmth and mischievous delight.  The Quincy enjoyed throwing people off balance she decided with almost fond exasperation.

"You!  You're...cooking!" she exclaimed, gesturing to the tray of food he had assembled in her absence.  There were two cups of coffee - one lightened to a beautiful fallow color and the other black - and the Quincy was plating an omelet as they spoke.

"Yes, I found it to be a rather useful skill if I did not wish to starve," he retorted playfully before gentling his tone.  "I have been alone for nearly twenty years and had only a small child with me before that,  is it really so shocking that I would know how to cook?"

"No, no, I guess not...I just never thought of you as the type..." she trailed off.  She hovered near him and Ryuuken gently steered her toward the living room and the couch, handing her the heavily creamed coffee.  She nearly sighed in pleasure as the heady aroma reached her nose and the heat soaked into her fingers.  She settled on the couch and sipped at the coffee, watching as Ryuuken quickly finish adding things to the tray before joining her. 

Rukia eagerly devoured the omelet the Quincy handed her and when she was done Ryuuken quickly traded the plate for a blanket, draping it around her carefully.  "What happened, Rukia-chan?" he asked gently, his eyes startlingly blue and so deep she thought she might drown in them. 

"I...I came across my brother..." she confessed softly, the blush that rose on her cheeks saying more than enough about the state she had come across him in. 

"Entertaining," suggested Ryuuken garnering a quick nod.  "Hardly pleasant, but surly not enough to explain your state."

"I...I blew up.  All these words came tumbling out, all these old resentments that we never spoke of - about our family and my sister and how he treated me and....And the next thing I knew I was screaming at him.  And when he tried to get me to calm down...I threw my shoe at him," explained Rukia, feeling the stirrings of that heady madness once again as the words tumbled out.  She could almost see herself standing there shouting, her Nii-sama staring at her, shocked and frozen.  And in the background, almost as an after thought, the Arrancar, torn between her anger and her Nii-sama's chilly reserve.  Even then she had seen his uncertainty and discomfort, a tiny part of her reveling in it.

A warm solid weight settled across her shoulders and Rukia found herself gently urged closer to the Quincy.  She leaned against his side, almost sagging against his warm solid strength.  

"That explains one shoe.  What about the other?  And the rather moist state I found you in?" demanded the pale haired man.

Rukia blushed and snuggled closer to him.  "After I hit Nii-sama with my shoe I ran...straight into the pond in the garden.  I lost my other shoe there."  Ryuuken's laughter was rich and deep, and Rukia was annoyed for only an instant before she hesitantly chuckled herself.  "It's not that funny," she warned the Quincy, trying to fight back a smile.

"My dear Kuchiki, it really is," he purred.

"Bastard," snorted Rukia, sighing and relaxing further against the older man.  He was nothing like what she was used to, but he was soothing.  And there was an odd sort of compassion to his briskness.  Under all the ire and ill temper Ishida Ryuuken really was a very kind man.  She took a sip of her coffee, making a soft sound of enjoyment and let one of her hands touch the Quincy's, almost embarrassingly grateful when he shifted his hand and laced their fingers together.

"I realize it may be none of my business, but what exactly about your brother courting upsets you so?  Surely you must have known it was bound to happen sometime."

Rukia sighed and stared into her coffee cup for a moment to try and find a way to explain the wholly irrational but completely instinctive response.  "Nii-sama and I have never been close.  He only adopted me because my sister made him swear to look after me, but I reminded him of Hisana so he never wanted much to do with me.  He took her death very hard.  I guess...I had always hoped that we would be closer.  After Ichigo and the others came for me Nii-sama was able to let go of Hisana a little more, but we both had duties by then and...I'm not ready for him to move on...

"What if he forgets me?" she whispered softly, almost desperately.  It was a stupid fear, illogical and foolish, she told herself; but her sister - her very flesh and blood - had once left her.  Byakuya had even less of a connection to her.  Renji had moved on and fallen in love with Uryuu.  Ichigo had Urahara.  And while she didn't begrudge them a single moment of their joy together, she couldn't help feeling left behind in some small way. 

 Ryuuken set his coffee aside and shifted so that his gaze meet hers, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.  "You're being very foolish, you know," he chided softly.  "Your brother is not going to forget about you.  Things will change, certainly, but life is about change.  A very strange and terrifying thought for a Shinigami, I know, but you'll get used to it," he teased her lightly.

A warm hand cupped her cheek, thumb gently tracing over her cheekbone, as deep blue eyes studied her face.  "I know it feels like you're being left behind, like they're all moving on without you, Rukia.  But as much as we may wish it to be otherwise, we cannot stop the world and remain as we are.  Just as we cannot divorce ourselves from our feelings and those we have cared for.  The heart holds tightly to love long past the death of the last ember of affection."

"You sound like someone who’s found his hands full of ash," she whispered, starting into those endless blue eyes, as if looking deep enough would yield the key to understanding Ishida Ryuuken.  Something shifted in his eyes, some subtle falling of the walls that normally guarded him, and Rukia reached up hesitantly to caress the Quincy's cheek.

"Far too often I think," murmured Ryuuken morosely.   He stared at her for a long moment, his thumb caressing her cheek like she was some rare treasure.  "He would be a fool to let you go," whispered the Quincy, leaning in close and for just an instant Rukia was sure the Quincy was going to kiss her.  Oddly, the thought wasn't as awkward or strange as she once might have thought it to be.  In fact, she rather hoped he would.

Ryuuken's lips stopped a hair's breath from hers and Rukia blinked at him before smiling and closing the distance, brushing her lips against his.  The kiss was soft and gentle, feather light and over almost instantly, Ryuuken pulling away.

"You're upset," he murmured, something almost akin regret tingeing the words as he caressed her hair.  And as much as she wanted to contradict him, she couldn't.

"If I wasn't so upset?" she ventured softly, curiously.

The tiny twist of Ryuuken's lips spoke volumes and the laughing warmth in his eyes was intoxicating.  The Quincy brushed his lips over hers, his teeth closed gently on her bottom lip and his tongue slid past her lips.  Rukia moaned and let her fingers drifted into his pale, silky hair, earning a soft sound of approval.  Ryuuken kissed with the same thoroughness he brought to all things, decided Rukia as he slowly seduced her, exploring every corner of her mouth and sliding his tongue against hers.   When the kiss finally ended blue eyes slid open and met with hers filled with the languid contentment of a sated cat.  Rukia gave a soft sigh as warm hands caressed her face.  She kissed his fingertips and earned a tiny snort of laughter from the Quincy.

"We should both get some sleep.  It's been a very long day," murmured Ryuuken, although he made no move to release her or rise.  Rukia made a soft noise of disagreement and slid her arms around him, garnering a tiny smile from Ryuuken.

"I don't think I can sleep," whispered Rukia with a chuckle, earning a sigh in return.

"I'll get more coffee, you find us a movie.  I don't think either one of us is up for any more soul searching this evening," ordered Ryuuken good naturedly, gathering their cups and nodding her towards an entertainment center.  She nodded and began exploring, rather impressed with the set up, or at least knowing enough to know that she should be impressed.  Renji was a bit of a techno junkie and years associating with the redhead had taught her to at least recognize something her old friend would at least approve of.  She chuckled softly as she began pouring over the Quincy's video collection and easily selected a movie, trying to suppress her amusement while she waited for Ryuuken.

"You look entirely too pleased with yourself," murmured the Quincy, handing her a fresh cup of heavily creamed coffee and settling beside her.  She smirked at him, snuggling close and tossing the blanket over them both before pushing play. 

"Abbott and Costello?" she purred at him, pleased by the hint of amused embarrassment that crossed the Quincy's face.

"A gift from Isshin," he explained, an arm sliding around her shoulders, holding her tight.

"One of these days you are going to have to tell me how a Quincy became friends with not one but two Shinigami captains."

Ryuuken snorted softly.  "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he told her, the words purred into her ear as the credits began rolling.

Chapter Text

Kisuke grew tense and silent as they neared the shoten.  A part of him raged and snarled at his old friend's betrayal - and that Isshin thought he would be dumb enough to fall for it.  As if he wouldn't recognize the path they walked or infer their final destination.  As if he was really that naive or stupid.  A dark part of him whispered that he should have expected it.  Ichigo was Isshin's son and as Urahara knew all too well, blood was thicker than friendship.  Hadn't Soul Society proven it to him time after time? 

"You can stop quietly hating me, Kisuke.  I said you weren't going back and you aren't; we're just making a small stop," murmured Isshin, tossing an inane grin back at him and making the younger man flush.  He hadn't realized he'd been so obvious in his anger.

He closed the small distance between them so that he was trotting at Isshin's side and glanced over at the older man.  Isshin couldn't lie worth a damn face to face; Ichigo was the same way, everything they felt showed up in their eyes.  And it was all there for the reading if someone just knew how to look.  "Swear it," he demanded softly, his voice a low growl and his frame tense, ready to bolt.

Dark eyes met his, full of warmth and amusement.  "There's the paranoid bastard we all knew and loved.  I swear on my son's life that no one is going to try and return you to the Shinigami.  We're just going to stop by the shoten to pick up a few things...unless you would rather leave Benihime."

Denial twisted so sharply through him that Kisuke wondered that it was really his.  But it was.  He would sooner cleave off his arm than be parted from the sword.  Her gentle songs pulled at things deep inside him that he barely understood and had no hope of putting into words.  He needed her.  "No.  No, we have to get her," he whispered, a quiet desperation lacing his voice and making Isshin pause to stare at him.

A gentle smile tugged the older man's lips upward and a warm palm settled on Kisuke's shoulder.  "We will," promised the older man before continuing on. 

The shoten was dark and all the doors and windows closed when they stole into the yard, and Kisuke wondered if anyone would even be up.  A soft rap, barely more than the grazing of Isshin's knuckles against the wood had the door sliding open though, a young woman standing there in the doorway.  She was pretty, a few years older than him, with a gentle, timid smile.  The name Ururu came to mind and Kisuke could almost see the little girl she had been, the image a dizzying overlay to the woman before him.  He wanted to say something to her, thought he should, but the words seemed to dry up inside him and left him opening and closing his mouth a few times.

"Please come in," whispered the girl, stepping aside to let them pass and quickly closing the door.  "Tessai-san is in the kitchen," she began, leading them through the darkened shop and into the living quarters.  Everywhere he looked triggered a small wave of nostalgia and under that just a tiny grain of hurt.  Like Yoruichi this place was both beloved and despised.  It had been his home once and honestly, the site of his greatest joys.  But it had also been his prison, the place he had been forced to flee to after his banishment, the embodiment of his failure.  Either way it was home and it was his, a part of him insisted.  For a moment he rebelled against the feeling, but weariness and the pervading sense of rightness won out.  This really had been his home once and some small part of him still thought of it as home.

"Come on, Kisuke," murmured Isshin as he fell behind, each new wave of memory gently tugging to capture his attention.

"You go.  I want...I need to look around a little," he said as they neared the kitchen.  He couldn't sit quietly in this place that had once been his home, couldn't watch ghosts of what had been flicker behind his eyes, or speak quietly to people he had once known. 

It was easy to pretend Isshin was his friend rather than Urahara's.  The man didn't push at him and he had come to avoid his old friend towards the end - guilt over Ichigo.  Sitting with Tessai and letting Ururu serve him tea would be nothing like his time with Isshin and Ryuuken and he couldn't do it.

Isshin paused to stare at him for a moment before giving Ururu a brief nod and proceeding on alone.  "I'll come and get you when I'm done.  Stay in the shoten.  Ururu can show you around."

Ururu blushed at him, loss and longing in her eyes.  "It's alright, Ururu-chan.  I can find my own way," he murmured, the words slipping out as he gave her a gentle bracing smile and slid by her.  Just wanting to be away.  His feet carried him down the hall into a darkened room automatically.  Only when the door slid shut did he manage to shake off the daze that had seized him.  And then he wished he hadn't.   

Even in the darkness, with nothing beyond the faint moonlight peaking in the window, he knew this place.  His room.  Just as he had left it.        

Memories washed over him, poignant and powerful, drawing him around the room without conscious knowledge or thought.  His bureau with a few small knickknacks on it was on the west wall near the bathroom door, his closet on the east wall - doors neatly closed - and his futon occupied most of the space.   There was a low table near it, a place for notes or a book before he drifted off to sleep, although a second nightstand had been added to the opposite side - one for Ichigo.  Kisuke felt his heart clench and his whole body tremble as he stared.  He closed his eyes, trying to wrestle back control from the heady rush of longing. 

He was tired, a bit of brainstorm while he was enjoying a shower and his nice leisurely day had been turned into an eighteen hour day with him spending the last six pouring over notes and advanced calculations in his lab.  He sometimes wondered at the perversity of his psyche - he would likely be scribbling equations for days and driving everyone mad with twenty and thirty hours stretches spent in his lab - and he was utterly thrilled by the prospect.  He wiggled his fingers to try and loosen them and considered another shower before deciding that all he really wanted was a few hours of sleep before he headed back to his lab.

He staggered into his bedroom and stopped, staring, not quite able to believe his eyes.  Kurosaki Ichigo was laying there in his bed, a vision made flesh.  A welcoming frown pulled on the younger man's lips but his body was relaxed and he was holding up the bed sheets in a clear invitation.  Urahara sighed and quickly shed his clothes, eagerly joining the younger man.

He sighed in weary pleasure as he snuggled close to his lover.  "You're late," scolded Ichigo softly, fingers tangling in his hair to pull him close so the younger man could kiss him. He moaned softly and wondered if life got any better, Ichigo waiting for him, warm and welcoming, and a shiny new project to keep him busy in the coming days.

"Stop it," he ground out, clutching his head as he managed to wrestle the memory back.  "Leave me alone," he whimpered, another memory rising quickly on the heels of the one he pushed away.  Then another.  And another.  A vast wave of sensation that threatened to drown him.

It was warm and comfortable and utterly perfect, Kisuke thought fuzzily, lounging in that blissful daze between slumber and alertness.  Ichigo was wrapped around him, the younger man's head a pleasant weight on his shoulder.  Silky, orange hair tickled his cheek, smelling of apples and smoke, rich and subtle like a fall breeze.  He sighed and snuggled closer, savoring the tranquil moment.

His fingers traced gently over his lover's sun warmed skin, enjoying the minute brush of Ichigo's reiatsu against his fingers as it twined lazily with his own power.  It was still early, before 9, but it was Sunday and they had nowhere to go, nothing to do but lounge.  He brushed his lips against the top of Ichigo's head, smiling as the redhead grumbled and tightened his hold on him.

His legs gave way and he dropped heavily to the floor, not even the sharp pain of his knees hitting wood breaking the spell; the physical pain blending into sharp pain trying to block the memories generated.      

'Do something.  These are your memories,' snapped the Captain, stepping between him and the memories, adding a cool layer of control to temper the grief and pain that threatened to consume him. 

They fell onto the bed with soft grunts, the impact jarring their barely healed wounds. They were both dirty, bloody, slightly charred and utterly exhausted.  They were both wounded and neither of them had seen any sleep in nearly forty hours, but the lines had held and the town was once again theirs.  It had been brutal and bloody, the stuff that Kisuke knew would haunt his nightmares for years to come.  A tiny part of him whispered that it was all his fault - his creation, his lack of attention in not realizing how dangerous Aizen was, his stupidity for not finding some way to avoid all this.  Ichigo would have kicked his ass if he ever heard him voice such thoughts, but they still crept in to torment him from time to time.  To remind him why he was unworthy of the glorious creature at his side.

"Tell me we don't have to get up," groaned Ichigo.  And Kisuke agreed with him.  His body was announcing, quite firmly, that it had no intention of moving for anything for at least 96 hours and maybe even a full week.

"We should shower," he managed to get out, sensibility warring with weariness.  Both he and Ichigo were disgusting and the idea of sleeping in his nice clean bed in such a state was less than appealing.  On the other hand, the bathroom was several steps away and would require movement on their part.  Worse yet, the stitches they both had would demand that they take sponge baths rather than share a shower, meaning a delay in sleeping.  "Tomorrow," he sighed, reaching out for Ichigo and smiling as the younger man returned the favor.  Their fingers laced together and Kisuke felt the world drift away.

The world shifted sickeningly and Kisuke found himself in the soulscape again.  Things were different though.  The fog, while still present, was significantly lessened.  He could make out the edge of the Rukongai - shadowed, twisted runs that turned back upon one another in a Gordian knot to challenge even the bravest of souls.  As they drifted eastward the Rukongai streets slowly became more planned.  They no longer ran haphazardly and the buildings bordering them were no longer quite so cramped or dilapidated.  Nestled into that quiet, unassuming area like an afterthought was the shoten.

Kisuke shuddered, trying to blink away the disorientation that the shift had brought when a hand touched his cheek, gently wiping away the tears.  "It's over now.  Just breathe," soothed a soft, melodic voice as he shuddered and tried to get the tremble in his limbs to stop.  He felt raw, every nerve tingling and his head throbbing in agony.

"I think we need to talk about this a little," purred a second voice in a tone Kisuke knew all too well, it was a shade too bright and brokered no argument - it was his own 'we can talk about this or I can kick your ass and then we can talk about this, but either way we are talking' tone.

"There is very little to talk about.  The shoten was my home for nearly fifty years, you expect it not to trigger memories?  If we dropped him in the middle of the Seireitei it would have the same effect," retorted the first voice tartly, long fingers moved from his face to soothing his hair and rubbing his shoulder.

"And you didn't anticipate that visiting might be problematic?" snapped the second.

Hat-n-Clogs and the Captain, thought Kisuke wearily, glancing up to blink at them, his eyes not eager to focus.  In fact, his whole body not eager to do anything other than curl into a ball.

"Stop hovering and do something useful," rejoined Hat-n-Clogs, reaching up and dragging the Captain down to kneel beside him.  A fan was shoved into the younger man's hands and Hat-n-Clogs grinned, cocking one blond brow.  Kisuke chuckled wetly and wondered how the black robed figure restrained himself from punching the other man.

"You are not a very nice person sometimes," he mumbled, giving the green clad man a resigned look. 

The almost jovial air that had surrounded the older man evaporated and gray eyes disappeared into the shadow of a hat.  "No, no, I'm not."  There was a whole world lurking in the simple words, but Kisuke decided he wasn't up to pushing or demanding answers.

"Isshin and Ryuuken suggested accepting it, the memories....you," he murmured, rubbing tiredly at his pounding temples.

"Isshin and Ryuuken are very wise men," murmured Hat-n-Clogs blandly.

"Sometimes anyway," added the Captain with a smirk.

"Why do I sense a story or three there," sighed Kisuke.

"Probably because you know us and yourself.  I'm still not sure who was more annoyed that one time I snuck them into the labs," began the Captain, a grin spreading across his face.  It made him look his age and washed away the lean hungry edge that seemed to cling to him.  It made him look...like him, realized Kisuke. 

"We are not going to start trading Isshin and Ryuuken tales," interrupted Hat-n-Clogs.  "We would be here all night.  And Kisuke doesn't have enough yet to make it any fun.  Very nice card-counting by the way."

"The palming needs a little work," murmured the Captain, the fan disappearing so quickly Kisuke was unable to follow the gesture.  A moment later it was back, in the other hand, and concealing a brimming smile.

"The joys of a misspent youth," quipped Hat-n-Clogs.

"I'm not sure our middle years were all that much better," retorted the Captain with a telling glance at the older blond.

"They had their moments."

Ichigo, thought Kisuke.  It always came back to him. 

"Most things do come back to the people you love eventually," murmured Hat-n-Clogs, gray eyes meeting his own and staring.  There was so much in them, a wealth of knowledge and emotion, usually hidden behind a wall of glittering mirth, but peeking out occasionally to give glimmers of the cache that lay beneath.  Kisuke felt himself sinking into those eyes, getting lost in mysteries that lingered just out of sight.  

The world wavered and then condensed again, but different and new.  There were shades and hues that had somehow been missing before.  And the pain that had been griping his heart was lighter, easier to bear.  Kisuke swayed lightly, blinking in confusion as he realized that his clothing was different.  A green haori was draped around his shoulders and he didn't remember how it had gotten there.  Although he suddenly remembered other things, things he couldn't possibly know.  They came slowly and at his bidding now, not like the headlong rush of before.

"Now that is interesting," murmured the Captain, looking at him like he was a particularly interesting specimen.  The Shinigami reached out for him and they both gasped as the world shifted again, the colors skewing and then resettling.  More memories and a hard edged will of iron that seemed determined to bend the world to his will.  He took a few slow breaths, trying to understand, adjust to the feelings of rightness and calm that were suffusing him.  He wasn't just Mizuno Kisuke but Urahara Kisuke as well, and it was right, it made sense.  It was the way it was supposed to be.

"Time to go," announced Isshin, sliding open the door and startling him from the odd moment of clarity and shattering the peculiar merger.  Kisuke turned to stare at the other man and caught sight of Benihime in his hand.  He instantly reached out for the zanpaktou and felt a surge of power go through him as a ringing note of crystalline joy resounded through his blood.  Isshin was chuckling at him as he clutched the sword close for a moment before forcing himself to his feet and strapping her to his hip.

"I need a minute," he told the former Shinigami, sighing in gratitude as Isshin stepped back into the hall and slid the door shut.

He went to the closet, opening it and wading past a wide array of clothing.  Ichigo had been shocked at how extensive his wardrobe had been the first time he had gone rooting through the closet.  There, buried in the back, was an innocuous shoe box, yellowed with age and dusty, but still right where he had left it.  He smiled faintly, stowing the box under his arm and headed for the door.  He had just slid open the door when a nagging sense of longing seized him.  He held up a hand to forestall Isshin from shepherding him off and darted back into the room.  He dug around the back of the closet, quickly shoving something white under his arm with box before grabbing a green and white striped hat and putting it jauntily on top of his head.

"Ready when you are," he told Isshin, emerging into the hall where a young redhead was talking to the other man.  Tall and lanky and still bursting with energy, he recognized the young man instantly.  Jinta.  He tousled the brilliant red hair on his way past earning a violent curse and then quiet awe, which he decided was infinitely better than the mingled pity and sadness he had getting. 

Chapter Text

Uryuu sighed, collapsing onto his couch.  One of these days he was going to have it reupholstered he thought tiredly, not bothering to wonder much about the randomness of it.  His mind often went to odd places when he was tired.  Like wondering how long it would take Renji to realize the couch had changed and how much he would complain. 

“Leave the fucking chairs alone, Uryuu,” growled Renji, flopping down next to him and quickly snuggling close.  The redhead handed him a sports drink and sipped contentedly at his own drink.  They would both need the electrolytes.

"I was not going to touch the chairs," he groused good naturedly.

"You were going to do something.  You had that look.  Can't you just sew a new uniform or something and leave the furniture alone?" grumbled the redhead.  Uryuu eyed him carefully, reading the signs of too little sleep and annoyance easily in his lover.

"How is he?" he asked carefully, no need to elaborate on who he was.

"He thinks the love of his life hates him, how would you be?" retorted Renji.  In the bath with slit wrists, thought Uryuu silently.

"I took Zangetsu from him and put him to bed with a low grade sedative.  He fell asleep about three hours ago.   No destructive displays, no tears, nothing.  It's almost like he's not there," Renji explain quietly.  Uryuu frowned, not liking that.  Ichigo did tend to shut down when his own personal life fell into crisis; but this felt wrong somehow.  The man could stand up to power-hungry madmen, fight entire armies and single-handedly take on the world, but hit him in his heart and he shattered like glass.  Still, nothing about this felt right and Ishida knew that was what was setting his nerves on edge. 

"How long are we giving him to mope?" asked Uryuu softly.

"Until morning for sure.  The tranqs aren't strong but his body needs the sleep after all the stress.  Think we should let him brood until we get the kid back?" asked Renji, nuzzling his neck and making the Quincy sigh, a soft sound of appreciation.  Especially since Uryuu knew he was tired and sweaty - hardly at his best.  He had been in the first group of search teams sent out to search for Urahara.  Three full circuits of Karakura had yielded no signs of the blond though.

"No, Kisuke appears to have gone to ground.  We've been over the city with a fine toothed comb and haven't seen a trace of him.  I would almost think Aizen took advantage of the situation but I checked with the Twelfth and there haven't been any disturbances since his departure," murmured Uryuu, tilting his head just a little to give Renji better access as warm lips began to caress his neck.  "Mmm...that feels nice."

Renji chuckled softly, nipping at his neck and gently urging him to shift.  Large hands settled on his shoulders and began to knead them, making him moan.  "Did you check on that fucker Kurotshuchi's whereabouts?"

"First thing I thought of after Aizen.  The bastard is playing least in sight, but he didn't grab Kisuke unless he can be in two places at once.  Someone seems to have mentioned to the Captain-Commander that a certain captain was trying to test on living subjects again," murmured the Quincy, groaning softly as a knot came undone under Renji's ministrations.

The redhead chuckled softly and Uryuu was almost tempted to crane his neck and try and catch the devilish smirk he knew would be playing on the other man's lips.  He gave up on the idea as Renji's hands found another point of tension.  He could always catch the grin on its next appearance.  Knowing his lover, he wouldn't have that long to wait.  "I might have mentioned something to Yoruichi; you know those Special Ops types can't keep a secret to save their lives," Renji purred.  Uryuu sighed as warm lips fastened onto his neck with just a hint of teeth.

"Oooooh that's good," he moaned softly, wondering how much time they had before Renji went on shift and whether wanting to sneak a little personal time with his lover before taking his shift with Ichigo made him a bad person.  As Renji's hands continued to work their magic and the Shinigami sucked on the spot he had been nibbling, Uryuu decided that handling complex moral issues could wait.

"How long until your shift?" he groaned.

"Long enough for what I have in mind," purred Renji with a chuckle as his hands reached the Quincy's waist and slid under his jacket.  Uryuu smirked as the redhead's touch went slowly from soothing to sensual, caressing his skin rather than trying to seek spots of tension.  He made a soft sound of encouragement and arched into the touches, silently promising himself that if Renji tickled him, the redhead would suffer.

He glanced back over his shoulder at his lover and began undoing the front of his tunic.  "Just what did you have in mind?  Hitsugaya will freeze your balls off if you're late again," he taunted, letting one hand fall and slid into Renji's lap, fondling his half hard cock.  "And they are one part of you that I've grown rather attached to."  Renji snorted and traced the shell of his ear with his nose as broad hands swept up his chest.  He moaned and leaned into the caress, hissing softly when the redhead pinched his nipples.

"Mmm...nice to know there are some things to recommend me," laughed Renji before sealing his lips to the base of his throat.  Uryuu gave a soft cry as heat and suction followed, Renji's teeth teasing him.

He turned his head, managing to catch his lover's lips in a hot, wet kiss that was all teeth and tongues.  Renji groaned, his hands pressing against his chest and urging Uryuu to lean back against him.  He made a soft noise of encouragement as he felt the redhead's cock twitch beneath his fingers; he gave the other man a gentle squeeze and kissed Renji harder.  He tried to twist in his lover's grasp and made a soft sound of annoyance when the redhead held him fast.

Renji chuckled and his hands fell away, earning another irritated grumble until he finished opening Uryuu's jacket and tugging it off.  The Quincy sighed as those warm hands returned to petting his chest, savoring the soft touches.  He gasped as Renji's lips closed on his neck and the other man tugged lightly on his nipples.   "How did I get so lucky," murmured the redhead, warm breath ghosting over his ear and making the Quincy shiver before teeth closed delicately on his earlobe.

"I seem to recall being shoved against a building and finding your tongue in my mouth," laughed Uryuu, the sound turning into a sharp moan as the redhead's hands slid to his waist, fingers tantalizingly close to where he really wanted them.  Of course, he hadn't complained all that much the first time.  He had shoved his hands into Renji's hair and kissed the other man back just as hard.  He twisted slightly and brushed his lips against Renji's, sighing happily when the redhead craned his neck to keep the contact.

The sound of his zipper falling was distant and Uryuu didn't register it until clever fingers slithered into his pants.  He whimpered softly as black curls were tugged on with a force just shy of true pain and kissed Renji furiously, one hand reaching back to tangle in the other man’s hair and keep him close.  A low growl emerged from his throat as Renji’s hands settled over him, warm and enticing.  He rolled his hips, trying to get more, to get movement or friction, but knowing both were impossible in the tight confines of the binding fabric.  Renji chuckled, a deep rumble that brought to mind images of darkness and hunger, something feral and ancient.

Uryuu snarled a protest when Renji's hands slid from his pants.  The sound turned into a soft groan when strong hands settled on his hips and dragged him to his feet before peeling the pants off.  Sword calloused hands slid down his legs, caressing his skin and making him shiver.  When he glanced over his shoulder Renji was grinning up at him, a mischievous playful smile that always made the Quincy think of a naughty puppy.  He gave his lover a smirk and stepped gracefully from the white fabric pooled around his ankles.  The redhead grinned at him and dragged him back down onto the couch, his hands seeming to be everywhere at once.

Uryuu growled as he was shoved forward, his face hitting one of the throw pillows.  He turned his head to snarl at Renji but groaned as the other man draped himself over his back, warm skin against his and that wonderful red hair falling around them like a curtain.  He pressed back, grinding into the redhead and smirking when Renji panted into his neck.  The Shinigami kissed across his shoulder to his neck and then began a slow journey down his spine filled with licks and nips that made Uryuu wonder just how mad Hitsugaya would be if Renji never showed up for another shift again.

He moaned softly when the redhead reached the end of his spine and the other man’s hands pressed firmly against the globes of his ass.  “Do you have any idea how fucking hot you are like this?  Bent over and just waiting for me to fuck you, ” purred Renji, kissing the small of his back before shifting lower.  Uryuu yelped as something warm and wet gently touched his hole.  Renji wouldn’t dare, he thought, not with Ichigo in the next room and his shift about to start.  A moment later there was another lick tracing the delicate ring and then another.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck,” he groaned burying his face in the throw pillow and biting his lip to try and stay quiet.  He whimpered as that clever tongue ever so slowly pushed inside him before retreating.  A dark chuckle filled the air as a sob slipped free.  “Like that, baby?  Want more?” asked Renji, his voice saying he already knew the answer.  Uryuu nodded, not sure he could trust his brain to forming words - at least not anything that didn’t involve begging or maybe screaming.

The tongue pushed back into him, going deeper and making him writhe before pulling out and kissing his entrance softly.  That wicked tongue circled his hole, driving him nuts before it slid back inside him - this time with a finger.  Ishida set his teeth to the throw pillow, desperately trying to muffle the sharp sounds of pleasure his lover was ripping from him. 

The finger bent, pressing hard on his sweet spot while Renji’s tongue continued to open him and Uryuu screamed into the pillow.  His legs nearly gave out at the incredible burst of pleasure that shot through him.  A sob slipped out when first the tongue and then the finger left him, replaced by a string of curses into the pillow as Renji slowly pushed into him.  Above him the redhead was softly cursing as well, interspersed with exclamations of how tight he was, or how hot, or how beautiful.  The Quincy rocked back onto his lover’s cock, even the tiny movement feeling wonderful.

“God, I love you,” Renji panted into his ear, rolling his hips.

“Then fuck me, you son of a bitch!” he snarled, turning to glare at his lover, his eyes sparkling dangerously.  The rich warm peel of laughter he drew made him want to throttle someone - preferably Renji - but the redhead made up for it by straightening and beginning to thrust slowly in and out of him.  Uryuu dropped his head, deciding that for movement his lover could be forgiven.  Hell, for something that felt that good he could forgive anything.  He panted and slid a hand back to reach for his cock, groaning as his fingers curled around it.  “Oh hell yeah!  Jerk yourself off, baby.  I want to know you’re touching that beautiful cock while I’m fucking you,” panted Renji, thrust into him hard and hitting his prostate.  Uryuu wailed, burying the end of the sharp cry in the pillow and arching his back.

Renji was moving steadily in and out of him, hitting that spot on each stroke and coiling the tension strung through him ever tighter.  A sharp thrust followed by the redhead grinding his hips and sharp teeth grazing his neck sent the Quincy shattering into oblivion with a choked sob.  Renji cursed and followed him with another quick thrust.

Uryuu sank onto the sofa, Renji on top of him, nuzzling him and rubbing pleasantly against him, the feel of the redhead’s skin against his own soothing.  “I’m reupholstering the couch,” he told his lover, letting his eyes drift closed to savor the warmth and relaxation release had brought him.  Renji just chuckled and kissed his check. 

“You are such a pain in the ass, Ishida.”

Chapter Text

"So where are you taking me?" murmured Kisuke quietly.  He was strolling peacefully in a way that was entirely too reminiscent of Urahara.  The brim of his hat hid his eyes and a tiny smile quirked his lips.  He was also keeping his own council about the box he had taken from the shoten and the white object he had shoved into it.

"To some friends," replied Isshin, studying the younger man carefully.  He had been calmer and more relaxed since the shop.  Benihime lay comfortably at his hip in a manner reminiscent of the way he had worn her when he was a captain; and although it had taken him awhile, the younger man had finally stopped caressing her hilt every few minutes.  Isshin had almost wanted to chuckle at the display, so reminiscent of every young Shinigami when he first summoned his zanpaktou.  He had restrained himself though, knowing how much new Shinigami clung to their swords, trying to build their bond and understand each other.

"Are we ever going to get there, because we've walked this block three times already?" asked Kisuke with a sly smile.

"Our contact is supposed to meet us here.  Now, I need you trust me about this..."

"Because following you around in the dead of night when it feels like half the world is after me has not demonstrated a willingness to trust," interrupted Kisuke with a wry twist of his lips, a hint of something shinning in those silver eyes.

"I'm just warning you, these people will be odd...and...it might be hard, Kisuke."  Hard, there was an understatement, though Isshin.  If there was one thing besides Ichigo sure to rouse Urahara it would be this.   

"This him?" demanded a contemptuous voice from the shadows of the quiet residential street.  Kisuke stiffened and somehow the light caught his eyes - eyes that were filled with anguish and staring off at something far away and long ago.  Isshin felt a momentary flutter of unease go through him as deep, heady despair poured over Kisuke for a second.   A moment later those gray eyes slid closed and a shudder went through the blond; his hand went to Benihime's hilt before falling to hang limply at his side.  A towheaded little girl stepped from the shadows, giving Kisuke a disdainful once over.  Kisuke stared at her before he shook his head and straightened minutely, relaxed and casual.  And a complete lie, thought Isshin as one of Urahara's more annoyingly bland smiles settled on the younger man's lips.

"I'd be careful of him, Hiyori.  He's more dangerous than he looks," warned Isshin, hoping the girl wouldn't antagonize Kisuke too badly.  Their relationship had always been a rocky one, at least from Hiyori's side, and this new Kisuke didn't have years of patience to temper his responses to her.  Frankly, he would rather not have to get between them - Hiyori was as stubborn as Ichigo and Kisuke was...had been, simply brutal.  A fight between the two of them would only end badly.

He watched as long fingers fell into blond hair, ruffling it fondly while Isshin blinked in disbelief.  "I was sure you would have beaten some manners into her by now, Shinji.  I'm going to owe Shunsui a month's pay," murmured Kisuke jovially.

"She's not very amiable to it," countered the Vaizard with a grin as he stepped from the opposite side of the street.  Hiyori shrieked in outrage and growled at them both, clearly not sure who to kill first.

"Shut up, you bastard!" she finally screeched at Kisuke, kicking him in the shin and blinking angrily when he just grinned at her.  She turned her ire on Shinji when he chuckled, whacking him with her shoe.  For just an instant Isshin thought the little Vaizard might attempt retribution on him, but after taking one look at his grinning face she contented herself to calling him a bastard and glaring at the three of them.

"Now that we've handled the greetings, can we get this one under shields?" asked Isshin, tossing an arm around Kisuke's shoulders.  "Aizen and that son of mine are showing entirely too much interest in him."

"Yeah, yeah," grumbled Hiyori, stomping down the street three houses and tossing open the front door to an innocuous looking home.  "Well, get your butts inside."

Isshin shrugged and followed her in, glancing around the mostly empty interior.  There was no furniture but several of the Vaizard were curled up on the floor of the living room asleep.  It was impossible to say exactly who just from the dim light of streetlamps, but any Vaizard would prove a harsh deterrent to Aizen and his Arrancar.

"Who did you bring?" he asked Shinji quietly.

"Everyone.  It's safer to stick together.  We put Kisuke by himself in the last room on the right upstairs," explained Shinji, stealing a cautious look at the blond who had stepped away and was staring into the living room, his eyes once more haunted and a much more vulnerable look on his face.  Isshin gave the other man a tiny nod and gently recaptured Kisuke's attention, something telling him that only the frailest of margins stood between the blond and some sort of breakdown. 

 "Why don't you go grab a shower and have a lie down," he suggested softly, steering Kisuke toward the stairs.  "Last room on the right," he told the younger man, giving him a push to get him going.

"He okay?" asked Shinji quietly as the younger man disappeared up the stairs.       

"People have been pushing at him and it's got him unsettled," explained Isshin softly, not wanting to alert Kisuke as to how worrisome his behavior was.

"For a moment on the street there..."

"I know," murmured Isshin.  For a moment on the street it had been Captain Urahara Kisuke.  "That's what I was telling you about - the fracturing.  He needs to be left alone to remember it all at his own pace or he's going to hurt someone."

"I noticed Benihime at his hip," murmured Shinji.  "Can he wield her?"

Isshin shrugged.  "No clue.  He seems to know her though.  That isn't what you have to worry about.  According to my sources he handed that whack job Kurotshuchi his ass without a hint of a sword.  This Kisuke seems to have a tendency of resorting to kidou when annoyed."

"He always did like a nice explosion," grinned Shinji. 

"Yeah, well it seems Tessai was telling tales out of school as well because he's picked up more than a few of the uncleared spells.  Kisuke's always been a little dangerous, it's part of his charm; but you don't have Kisuke on your hands here, Shinji.  You have a scared kid with a captain's power.  A kid that everyone has been poking at, trying to make into something he's not ready to become yet," warned Isshin, all hints of merriment gone.  

Hiyori was frowning up the stairs at the way Kisuke had gone.  "He knows or remembers more than he lets on."

"It's Kisuke.  When has he ever not held something back?" muttered Isshin, earning nods from both of the blonds.  "He's been calmer since the shoten and getting Benihime back, but tread carefully.  All he really needs is space and some time to get himself sorted out.  Give him a cot, feed him and otherwise let him handle himself.  If he wants to spar or something go for it, but let him come to you.  Same goes for talking about Urahara."

"Got it, Chief.  So where is the supreme Quincy bastard?"

Isshin grinned from ear to ear and Shinji rocked forward just a little, when Isshin grinned like that it meant the news would be good.  "Ryuuken got a call from a friend - a lady friend - and had to go meet with her."  Shinji's eyes grew wide, as did Hiyori's and both started cackling madly, each trying to shush the other so they didn't wake those sleeping in the living room. 

"So when is the official interrogation and can we buy tickets?"

"Unfortunately, we get to skip the preliminary fun.  Her name is Kuchiki Rukia, she's a Shinigami with the Fifth," began Isshin before both Shinji and Hiyori collapsed against each other whooping with glee, all thoughts of the Vaizards in the next room forgotten.

"Ryu...Ryu..."

"It gets better," grinned Isshin.  "Kuchiki....As in baby Byakuya's little sister."  The peels of laughter grew louder and four groggy heads peeked up.  Love, Kensei, Rose and Mashiro, noticed Isshin, a tiny burst of sadness going through him.  He had known all of them.  He had trained Kensei and Love and had even socialized with them.  It pained him to think that they, like he, would never go home.  They had no place in Soul Society anymore.  Even if they were allowed back, they had changed too much for the place to ever again be home.

Kensei trudged over to glare at them, giving Isshin a tiny nod of greeting.  "Ryuuken's dating," Isshin murmured by way of explanation, earning a nod and a smirk from the silver haired man.

"Urahara here yet?"

"Upstairs.  They can fill you in."

"We might be getting another poker night going, any of you want in?"

Kensei seemed to consider it, "Yoruichi in or not?"

"Haven't asked yet, but probably not.  Poker's not really her game and frankly two cheats is enough.  Three if Uryuu is anything like Ryuuken," muttered Isshin, not bothering to mention that Uryuu might as well have been a carbon copy of Ryuuken.  For all their differences, the two Quincy were remarkably alike in all the ways that mattered.

"I'm in and I'll tell Love," said Kensei around a yawn.

“Good.  Tessai or one of the kids will be by with clothes for Kisuke later today.  I'm going to go break the news to Ichigo and then open the clinic."

"Are we taking bets on your chances of survival?" asked Shinji with a delighted grin. 

"I'll just tell him it was your idea," quipped Isshin, earning chuckles from Hiyori and Kensei and a yelp from Shinji.  "Call me if Kisuke gives you any problems."

Chapter Text

A ten hours shift with nothing to show for it had left Byakuya tired and annoyed.  Especially since most of his shift had been spent examining the many and various ways he had failed with Ulquiorra and Rukia and life in general.  He glanced at the heavily laden tray that contained what he hoped would convince the Arrancar to at least allow him to present an apology: two cups of coffee - both with cream and sugar (he was unsure about the beverage, preferring tea in the mornings, but didn't wish to unsettle Ulquiorra) -  poached eggs, toast, and a wide array of fruit.  He had also secured a single red rose and a tome on warfare that he thought might please the Arrancar. 

He paused outside the former Espada's door, taking a moment to center himself before carefully shifting the tray to try and knock.  "Allow me," purred an amused voice, knocking on the door for him.  Byakuya turned to find himself staring into eyes so dark that the pupil was invisible.  Shunsui.

And behind him stood Jyuushiro.

While both men looked like their normal inscrutable selves, Byakuya noticed a subtle tension to their bearings and that the smiles pulling at their mouths did not reach their eyes.  In fact, from the way their reiatsu were tightly contained Byakuya would have said the other men were furious but trying very hard to keep from letting their anger spilling over. 

"Is there something I can do for either of you?" inquired Byakuya, rather hoping there wasn't.  He wanted to speak with Ulquiorra and frankly, he would rather avoid Jyuushiro and Shunsui when they were angry.  They were both quite powerful and had a vicious streak when something truly raised their ire.

"Actually, we wished to speak with Ulquiorra-san," murmured Jyuushiro, his voice light and cheerful.  It took a trained ear to recognizer the undercurrent of steel.  A sliver of cold went through the captain of the Sixth.  Why would two of the most powerful captains of the Gotei 13 want to speak with an Arrancar with no connections?

"I wished a word with him as well," he murmured quietly.

The door opened and Ulquiorra blinked at them for a moment before his face went carefully blank.  "Kuchiki-taichou.  Ukitake-taichou.  Kyouraku-taichou," the Arrancar greeted them softly with a tiny nod for each one of them.  "Can I be of some assistance?"

"We were hoping for a word," Shunsui jumped in, making Byakuya frown.  He did not wish to offer his apology in front of the other men, but he did not want to leave Ulquiorra alone if Jyuushiro or Shunsui were annoyed with him.  Either one of them could kill the former Espada without effort.  He was also curious as to what they might have wanted with the smaller man since Ulquiorra had been nothing but polite and respectful during his time with them. 

"Of course," replied the Arrancar deferentially, stepping aside to allow them inside.  Byakuya quickly handed the breakfast tray to Jyuushiro and caught Ulquiorra's arm as he turned to follow the other men. 

"I did not come with Jyuushiro and Shunsui; and while I do not wish to intrude, I would beg your indulgence in allowing me to remain," he told the Arrancar quietly, letting his hand fall to gently brush the other man's hand.

Brilliant green eyes met his and Byakuya read the carefully veiled emotions lurking there, curiosity and confusion.  He let his own gaze soften and was pleased by the tiny lessening of the Arrancar's tension.  "I would not object to your presence, Kuchiki-taichou."

"Byakuya," he told the Arrancar softly, pleased by the tiny hint of pink on the other man's cheeks and the grateful look Ulquiorra gave him.  He steered the former Espada towards his couch, settling next to him and across from the other Shinigami, clearly startling Ulquiorra, who blinked quizzically at him for an instant.  Byakuya gave Jyuushiro and Shunsui a small nod, indicating they should proceed.

The two older men shared a look before Jyuushiro spoke.  "We have some questions regarding Jeagerjaques," murmured the captain of the Thirteenth.  Ulquiorra silently cocked his head, waiting for more, some prompting as to what the two men wanted to know.

"We were...curious about his time with Aizen," began Jyuushiro clearly trying to be tactful.  Byakuya felt himself stiffen as he realized what the other man wanted to know and a moment later he felt a tiny flutter of unease from Ulquiorra before the Arrancar retreated behind his icy mask.  Byakuya glanced at the figure at his side, his back ramrod straight, his face blank, and his reiatsu tamped down so tightly that it was impossible to feel him.  He stole a glance at Jyuushiro and Shunsui and then reached out to lay his hand over Ulquiorra's.

There was a tiny flash of surprise from the two men across the way and Byakuya glanced coolly at them, daring them to comment.  Both wisely chose to remain silent.  "How much do you know about the hierarchy of Hueco Mundo?" he asked quietly.

"Very little," admitted Shunsui.  "We have suspicions however."

"They are probably accurate," growled Byakuya before glancing at Ulquiorra, who was studying him carefully and discreetly.  He let his fingers caress the back of the Arrancar's hand, silently asking if the other man wished to speak of his time with Aizen.  He felt a tiny fickler of Ulquiorra's reiatsu and gently caressed the Arrancar with his own power, offering whatever comfort he could.

"Grimmjow was sixth, answerable to all those above him," murmured the Arrancar, another spike of white hot anger going through Byakuya as he thought of the graceful, reserved creature beside him being used in such a way.  Across from them, power rose in a slow menacing wave.

"Define answerable," growled Jyuushiro, lightning flashing in his eyes. 

"Anyone who could overpower him could demand sexual favors or anything else they wanted from him," Byakuya told the other Shinigami, bracing himself against the angry swell of reiatsu that washed through the room, a complex tangle of water, ozone, darkness and the faint hint of something floral.  Both men were coldly furious, more angry than Byakuya had ever seen them before; although he was beginning to appreciate the stories he had been told in his youth about their arguments.

"Who?" demanded Shunsui, something sharp and hard in his normally smooth voice.

Ulquiorra gave a small tilt of his head which seemed to serve as a shrug.  "Tousen paid him a great deal of attention, finding fault with his discipline - but that was not sexual in nature.  I was given to understand that Nnotira took a particular interest in him.  And Virtu as well.  Although I'm certain others have as well.  Grimmjow was universally unpopular and the chance to hold power over him would have tempted many." 

"Why?" whispered Jyuushiro, something painful twisting in his brown eyes and instantly drawing Shunsui's attention.  The captain of the Eighth was caressing his arm soothingly and his reiatsu brushed over the pale haired man like a warm spring breeze.

"Grimmjow is a born Hollow," murmured Ulquiorra quietly.  Three eyebrows rose in inquiry and all three men regarded the Arrancar questioningly.

"What?" demanded Jyuushiro, apparently the first to find his voice.  "What do you mean born?  All Hollows come from human souls that are consumed by regret."

"No.  There are two types of Hollows.  Those that come from human souls and those that are born from other Hollows.  The first type is what the overwhelmingly majority of us are, but there are a few that come from other Hollows.  Grimmjow is one of the latter.  They are exceedingly rare, perhaps one in every hundred thousand, and they are slightly different than the rest of us -

"More...closer to what we once were perhaps.

"Grimmjow is vicious, brutal and uncouth but he is in possession of a moral code; one that he devised for himself rather than something forced on him by outside forces.  He does not recognize right or wrong the way humans do - no Hollow does - but he acknowledges the concepts and adheres to them within the confines of his own perceptions.  Such a thing is a rarity in Hueco Mundo where survival is paramount. 

"Natural born Hollows are the closet thing you will find to nobility within Hueco Mundo, although they are accorded no rank or privilege.  They simply have a hard edge of viciousness that it takes most of us time to develop.  They are said to be the most powerful of us.  They were the first to achieve the level of Vasto Lorde and most come to it...more easily than the rest of us."  Byakuya sensed a great yawning chasm behind those words, something so primitive and primal that humans had no words to express it.  Something they had lost even the concept for centuries ago.

"How is that...why have we never heard?" demanded Jyuushiro, picking up the thread that would be most important to Soul Society - how had they never realized that there were a whole set of Hollows they didn't know about.

Ulquiorra gave a tiny dismissive tilt of his head.  "As I said, they are rare.  And the few that are born risk predation from other Hollows.  They are also still ultimately Hollows."

"Why would it matter if Jeagerjaques was one of these natural Hollows?" he asked the Arrancar quietly, pleased by the shy glance Ulquiorra gave him.

"It is unusual for normal Hollows to reach the status of Vasto Lorde without some sort of mental fracturing.  The suppression of all the absorbed personalities is impossible for all but the strongest of wills.  The natural born do not face this fracturing; they are able to evolve without the battle for mental acuity that the rest of us endure.  Many are...resentful for this.  When presented with the chance to avenge themselves, they were most eager."  The angry press of Jyuushiro and Shunsui's reiatsu expressed quite eloquently and firmly their feelings on the matter.

"And you never," began Shunsui, his voice silky growl.

"I was one of the few who did not fracture and felt no need to...avail myself." There was no pride in the words but Byakuya could sense the quiet strength in them and more than that, he could sense the iron will lurking in that slight frame.  He drew Ulquiorra's hand from his lap and gently brushed his lips against the pale knuckles, gray eyes meeting startled green.

"How did Grimmjow end up with Aizen?" asked Jyuushiro, quietly drawing their attention back to the others.  Ulquiorra gave another of his little head tilts.

"Aizen had found him before I came to Las Noches.  I was given to understand that Aizen was eager to get his hands on a born Hollow once he learned of them.  All the born Vasto Lordes had shunned him, but Grimmjow was young and hungry for power."

"How much damage..." began Jyuushiro before falling silent, clearly unable to even ask how much damage had been done to the Arrancar.  Byakuya didn't blame him; he wasn't sure he wanted to know either.  To be faced with the sharp reality of what had been done and know that they would never be able to exact suitable revenge - because no revenge would ever be suitable enough.

Ulquiorra gave another dismissive gesture.  "Grimmjow always fought, that made it worse.  Usually more than Aizen does to Ichimaru; but nothing permanent unless a point was trying to be made or one of the Shinigami were the ones doing it."  Byakuya felt the surprise that flashed through the room.  He didn't know Ichimaru Gin well but it was hard to imagine the mischievous fox allowing anyone to harm him.  And why would the pale haired man follow Aizen into exile if the other man mistreated him?  Just how many victims had Aizen Sousuke left?  And how many of them would ever be able to collect the pound of flesh due them?

Chapter Text

A claw tipped fist collided with the rock, shattering it and sending pieces flying.  The feline scream of rage echoed through the empty training ground, reverberating off the walls and doing nothing to cool Grimmjow's rage.  He stood there rigid before tossing his head back and screaming again.  Reiatsu exploded out of him like pale blue lightning, fracturing the ground beneath his feet and smashing all the rocks it touched.  Reddish dust filled the air, only serving to annoy him further.

He didn't want red dust or the bright sunlight of this foreign place.  He wanted the pale cool sand of Hueco Mundo and the gentle kiss of moonlight.  He wanted to feel the sand shift under his paws rather than put up with hard packed earth.  He wanted something warm and alive between his teeth, to feel flesh give way under his claws and hot coppery blood slake his thirst.  He wanted to vent his fury not on rocks, but on the people who had lost his fucking kitten!

He roared and bounded over to another rock, lashing out with a clawed foot and destroying it.  The human was his!  His kitten!  His pride mate!  His!  And he held onto what was his.  No one stole from Grimmjow Jeagerjaques!  Not anymore!  Not without paying for it in blood and pain.  There was very little twenty years with Aizen had left him with beyond his rage; but now he had this - a pride mate, of sorts.  And he would not loose it!  He had lost enough!

First it had been his parents.  His sire - a feline-type, pale like the sands of Hueco Mundo, and built like a lion, although lacking the mane.  Then his dame - a sort of hooded weasel type creature, dark like the night sky and wickedly fast, the most clever and dangerous creature he had ever seen.

Then his food.  He still remembered cowering in the darkness, a not even half grown cub, seething with impotent fury as others - those larger and more powerful - gorged themselves on his kill.  Unable to do anything, unable to fight back, knowing that should they find him he would be devoured as well.  Yes, he remembered - and it burned inside him, a dark, unholy wellspring of hate. 

He had given his freedom and his body over to Aizen.  He had sold himself to that cold-eyed devil with an angel's smile for the power to stop people from stealing what was his - not realizing until it was too late that Aizen’s power was a lie.  What he had thought would make him stronger had stunted his natural evolution, perhaps forever, by twisting it in unnatural ways.  Hollows evolved, Arrancar did not.  He had learned that just a little too late though; he'd been turned as an adjuchas-class Hollow rather than as a Vasto Lorde and the power he might have had had been lost.  Not that Aizen had cared.  No, he had gotten to run his experiments and a new minion.  What did it matter to him if he had shut off Grimmjow's evolution?  It wasn't as he could have left, reflected the Arrancar, the only way anyone left Aizen's service was feet first.  His tail twitched and he smashed his fist into boulder, killing another rock, which did exactly nothing to improve his temper.

And now someone had taken his kitten.  Again. 

He roared and viciously raked his claws down the face of a rock, leaving deep gouges.  He wanted his fucking kitten back.  And he wanted his fucking life back!  And he wanted something to kill besides goddamn fucking rocks!

A Shinigami peeked his head in, saw him, and made some sort of a strangled squeaking noise - it sounded just like a mouse before someone pounced on it and ripped its stupid little mouse head off.  He was tempted to tear the Shinigami's head off but like any smart mouse it fled for its miserable little life.  Besides, he was fairly sure picking on stupid Shinigami too weak to fight back was kinda pathetic - especially when there was real prey out there.  People who deserved to have their insides made outsides.

He rumbled darkly, his power ebbing and flowing with the low vibrations in his chest.  He clenched his fists, his claws dug into his palms, and the tangy scent of blood reached his nose and drew a feral smile to his lips.  That was what he wanted.  Blood.  Death.  The uncomplicated pleasure of the hunt.  There was the hunter and the prey.  There was life and death.  There was none of this confusion and uncertainty and....

Fear.

He gave a soft snarling yowl, a completely inhuman noise of irritation, and slammed his fist into another rock as he tried to tell himself that he was annoyed - not afraid.  He was angry.  That asshole Kurosaki had lost his fucking kitten.  He couldn't go out and hunt for the brat himself without Aizen finding him - meaning he was stuck relying on the Shinigami, who had already proven that they couldn't find their own ass with both hands and a map.  These were the people expected to locate his kitten - who they all freely admitted was smarter than any ten of them.

And to top it off he had two of the bastards making no fucking sense!

A whip-like tendril of reiatsu lashed against another rock, scoring it each time it touched.  Grimmjow whirled around, growling and wanting to smash something besides the landscape.  Why couldn’t the fucking Shinigami just come out and say things?  Why did they have to confuse everything?

Most of them were annoying as hell and useless too boot...  But they hadn’t hurt him - even when they’d had the chance.  They could have just taken the kitten; they’d had the people to do it back at the park, and nothing he or Ulquiorra could have done would have been able to do more than slow them down.  He wasn’t an idiot, and while he might not like to admit it, six Shinigami captains against two Arrancar and a barely trained kid would not have been much of a fight.  The Shinigami hadn’t fought them though.  They had even gone so far as to heal him and had let him stay with Kisuke - although he suspected part of that had been trying to keep the kitten manageable. 

They were nice to him and Ulquiorra though - annoying as hell, but nice.  Shunsui and Jyuushiro even fed him.  He was certain the Shinigami didn’t understand the significance of food, but in Hueco Mundo you only shared food with trusted companions: mates, whelps, or pride members.  He knew it wasn’t the same with the Shinigami, he’d done enough prowling to know that, but he couldn’t quite shake the idea that captains were trying in their own way to demonstrate...something by offering the food. 

He prowled the sunlit grounds, agitated and restless, not understanding what the Shinigami wanted or what he was supposed to want from them.  And the rocks were less than forthcoming.  The scent of water reached his nose, drawing him with the promise of a drink.  He slunk cautiously to the edge of another pool, shuddering faintly at the sight of so much water and glancing around warily.  For just a moment he could imagine the stuff closing around his head, filling his nose and ears, blunting his senses and leaving him helpless.  He could feel it rushing down his throat to choke him, filling his burning lungs and seeming to crush his chest.  He flinched and retreated, not thirsty anymore, not wanting to be anywhere near that open pool with its cool glassy death.

He huddled with his back against a rock, four sets of claws dug into the ground as he tried to forget the feel of the water closing around him.  Tousen had perfected holding him under until the last possible instant, making it into an art form.  The former captain had been able to hold him until the burn in his lungs had been nearly unbearable, until he had been milliseconds away from opening his mouth to breathe in the water.  And Tousen had been able to repeat it again and again for hours, until all that was left was the terror of the water, the desperate choking gasps of air, and the slowly consuming hatred for the beings responsible.

He hissed at the water, as if it might decide to come alive and rise out of its pool to try and drown him.  Tousen had beaten him each time he had finally dragged him from the water - he'd had to.  The first time the Shinigami had finished 'disciplining' him he'd gone for the other man's throat and very nearly ripped it out.  Tousen had sported his handprints on his neck for a week. 

Another set of hands came to mind, soft gentle hands that ghosted over his skin like he was something...important.  Ukitake and Kyouraku had once dragged him into the water, but they had pulled him out when they realized it upset him.  And rather than beating him or leaving him to cower wet and miserable they had dried him and petted him - even when he had tried to bite them.  They had never once hit him or hurt him.  He frowned, a soft, confused, little whine bubbling up from inside him, not understanding what they wanted.  Why the fuck couldn't they just make sense?  Come out and say what they fucking wanted?

A piece of rock came loose in his hand; he stared at the small red rock before tossing it at the water in annoyance, trying to understand just what the hell those idiot Shinigami wanted from him.  Instinct screamed there was more than what Las Noches had shown him - but all he had ever known was Las Noches.  Where strength was nothing but a tool to take what one wanted from those who were weaker.  Where sex had never been about pleasure, but about power - who had it and who didn’t.

But the Shinigami hadn't lied to him yet.

He growled and slammed his fist into the ground, wanting the goddamn universe to make sense.  Wanting someone else to be as confused as he was.  And very much wanting to punch the fucking bastards who had confused him.  His ears twitched and he leapt to his feet, rational side screaming that tracking down the bastards in question would be an absolutely terrible idea - since no conversation with them had ever gone as planned - but instinct whispered the siren promise of blood and violence.  He stood, a deep rumble echoing through his chest, he was tired of beating rocks for information they didn't have; but beating something living and warm was a whole other matter.  For once he was going to get some answers, he decided.

Chapter Text

The door opened but Kisuke didn't bother to glance up from the box, which was sitting across his knees.  He had been trying to convince himself to open it since waking up and hadn't quite worked up the nerve yet.  Something told him that it was his own Pandora's box he held and that once it was open his other selves were never going to go back into it - not that they seemed inclined to anyway.

Not that he was even sure he wanted them to.

Isshin and Ryuuken's talk had helped allay his fears of the Captain and Urahara somewhat; and the...he wasn't even sure what that had been back at the shoten, but whatever it was had helped.  He had been them for a moment and still held on to himself.  He had simply been both of them - or all three of them really - and it had made sense.  There had been no confusion, no fear, just him - complete and as he had been meant to be.  

"I made tea.  Get your ass down if you want any," growled Hiyori, although Kisuke could hear the faint edge of uncertainty in her voice.  It was the closest the little Vaizard would come to admitting she wouldn't mind his company and Kisuke found a tiny smile tugging at his lips.

"Green?" he asked, standing and tucking the box under his arm. 

"With lots of lemon," Hiyori told him with smirk.  Kisuke felt amusement well up from deep inside him at the once familiar argument.  He gave Hiyori's head a gentle pat and watched her bristle before giving her a teasing smirk of his own. 

“I’m up for a cup.  Will any of the others be joining us or is this just a Twelfth division reunion?” he asked, trying to keep his tone light and playful but knowing he fell flat.  He wasn’t her captain and she wasn’t the girl he remembered - they both knew it.  Kisuke wondered what had prompted the young Vaizard to seek him out and pretend that they were the same people they had once been. 

"Jerk," she snapped, kicking his shin.  "The others are out buying shit.  Me and Hachi got stuck watching your lame ass."

"Into every life and all that," he retorted with a tiny smile, following her down the stairs as she stormed down them and into the kitchen.  There was no sign of Hachi, but there was a teapot and two cups on the table.  Kisuke sighed and slid into a chair, depositing the box and looking expectantly at Hiyori.  The little blond snorted and poured him a cup of tea, carelessly handing it towards him, which told him exactly how nervous she was.  The more tightly coiled Hiyori got the more she tried to act like nothing was wrong.

He breathed in the scent of green tea mixed with a tangy citrus overlay and sighed, his eyes sliding closed to savor it.  He preferred his tea straight, but Hiyori liked hers with lemon and the tiny Vaizard had refused to serve him tea unless it was the way she liked it when she had been his vice captain.

They drank their tea in strained silence, neither of them knowing what to say to the other and a part of Kisuke mourned the familiarity they had once had.  They had never been exactly friends, but they had cared for each other in their own odd way - like her and Shinji.

"So ya know how to use that sword or what?" demanded Hiyori, breaking into his reverie and making him smile.

"I could show you," he offered, a bright smile pulling at his lips and his eyes shining as his right hand fell to his hip and Benihime.  The zanpaktou whispered a soft note of sleepy greeting to him that slid over his senses like silk.  The Vaizard blinked at him for a moment, startled, before she gave him a cutting grin with just a hint of fang.

"I guess I could kick your ass later."

"Of course you could," he agreed placidly, earning a frown and a low growl from the little blond.

"The sword I can understand, but why the hell are you carrying that thing everywhere?" demanded Hiyori, glaring at the shoebox.

"I'm trying to get up the nerve to open it," he admitted, sparing a glance at the rather innocuous looking box.

"What's so scary about a shoebox, lame ass," snorted the little Vaizard reaching over and tugging off the lid.  As she stared into the box her eyes grew round and a tiny 'oh' slipped from her lips.

"Even Urahara had things that were important to him," murmured Kisuke, taking a sip of his tea.  He could feel the gentle longing and sadness stir in his chest, but the feelings were soft and placid rather than overwhelming.  “Things he wanted to remember and treasure.”

He set his cup on table and took a bracing breath before confronting the box.  On top was his captain’s haori, quickly folded, but with the Twelfth’s device clearly visible.  Kisuke reached out for it, fingers brushing the material softly, almost reverently, feeling the Captain’s pride at obtaining it and Urahara’s impotent fury at having it taken away.  The haori was the symbol of everything he had wanted growing up, of all he had achieved.  It was also the symbol of everything he had lost.  He had left Soul Society in the dead of night, with nothing but the clothes on his back, an exile never to return; and nothing symbolized that half as well as the haori he would never be allowed to wear again.

“Bet that pissed off clown face,” said Hiyori, her tone positively gleeful.  “You taking it, I mean.”

“Probably.  He always did want my job,” murmured Kisuke, carefully lifting the haori and setting it aside, his hands lingering over it for only a moment. 

Under it was an odd collection of trivial seeming items.  There was a deck of cards, yellowed with age and worn around the edges, from the first time he had been invited to play poker with Isshin and some of the older Shinigami.  There was a broken silver necklace on which had once hung a Quincy cross - Ryuuken’s.  There was a gaily decorated fan of Chinese silk - red with herons painted on it - a gift from Shunsui for when he had been made a Shinigami.  There was a small jade prayer bead, well worn and often handled; it was a clear beautiful shade of green that seemed both serene and mysterious.  The treasure of a Rukongai child, carefully horded and jealously guarded. 

Kisuke picked up the bead, rolling it around his palm and staring at it, unable to completely suppress the sadness that wash through him.  For an instant he was an eight year old boy in the 78th, cold and hungry, alone in the world with nothing but the small green bead in his hand - a treasure beyond imagining for a child with nothing. 

His eyes blinked open and returned to the box, shoving the memory away.  There was a small plastic bag of loose tea leaves carefully preserved - his first birthday gift.  Next to that was a small dried flower that Masaki had given him at her wedding.  She had kissed his cheek and hugged him that day.

Under those were various pictures of Urahara with friends at important functions - the day he had been accepted into the Gotei 13, him in his captain's uniform, a picture of him, Hiyori and Shinji (Shinji was holding Hiyori upside down by the ankle after she had tried to kick him and he had put bunny ears on Shinji).  There was a picture of him, Isshin and Ryuuken all looking very stylish in human clothes, one of him kissing Masaki under the mistletoe at a Christmas party, and one of him, Tessai, Ururu and Jinta all together in front of the shop.  There was a picture of him and Ichigo sitting on the porch, their heads close together and the two of them talking softly, and one of Yoruichi trying to pants him at the beach while everyone looked on.  He had been rescued by Ichigo and Renji uniting to toss Yoruichi into the water.  A worthy and noble goal.

 Under all those, tucked at the very bottom of the box, almost as an afterthought, was a plain white envelope.  Kisuke stared at it, a sad longing going through him, before he lifted it and opened it.  The first picture was of him and Ichigo (him grinning into the camera and Ichigo frowning), his arm around the younger man.  In the next he was trying to kiss the redhead and being held off and clearly scolded.  Then they were kissing, Ichigo's hands tangled in his hair.  In the next picture their noses were touching and they were staring into each other's eyes, nothing in the world but the two of them.  Kisuke took a shuddering breath, his hands trembling, looking at them it was easy to see how in love they had been.

"Still can't get used to that," muttered Hiyori, coming around to stare at the picture.  Kisuke glanced up at her and the little blond elaborated.  "You and him.  Together.  It seems so fucking nuts, but you guys...," she trailed off, looking at the picture.  Looking at the picture, at how they had been, it was easy to see what she meant.  They worked.  They worked in all the little ways couples were supposed to.

"Yeah," he breathed softly, suddenly not afraid of Ichigo but of losing the chance to recapture what they had once had together.    "Do you have a phone?"

"Uh...Did the idiot forget to mention the whole in hiding thing?  Because generally in hiding you don't call your boyfriend to sort out shit that could wait until after the megalomaniac is dealt with," growled Hiyori.

"Which idiot?  We have a surplus of them in Karakura - starting with you if you think I am going to drop this.  The phone was a request.  Next time will be a demand.  After that, I will get unpleasant.  I will be speaking with Ichigo within the hour however.  You can help me or you can get out of my way, Hiyori.  Either way this is happening," Kisuke growled, hardly able to believe the sudden steel in his voice or the cool crispness of his tone.  Apparently it shocked the young woman across from him because she was staring at him with wide-eyed wonder.

"Son of a bitch," she breathed softly.

"My mother is actually a very nice woman," he murmured, thinking of the quiet voice that had sung to him when he was little, or the soft hand that had soothed his brow when he was sick.  He could sense Urahara's wonder and the Captain's quiet hunger for Mizuno Sayo, and the almost reverent way both viewed her. 

A mother.  Their mother.  Either of them would have walked through fire for the woman, Kisuke realized with astonishment.  She offered them something they had longed for ever since they could remember - a family.  It didn't matter that she was only his mother, he was part of them and through him they were linked to her.  Just as he was linked to Ichigo, he realized.  He wasn't exactly the Urahara Kisuke who had fallen in love with Kurosaki Ichigo, but he was a part of him, just like the Captain and Hat-n-Clogs were a part of him   Three parts of one whole.  It was such a simple realization, but it made things so easy, swept away the doubts and confusion and left only calm certainty.

"Now about that phone," he murmured with deceptive tranquility.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra closed the door on the captain of Eighth and the captain of the Thirteenth, not sorry to see either man depart.  He hadn't understood their questions or reactions, but had kept the confusion to himself, sensing that giving voice to it would only upset them and anger Byakuya.  The captain of the Sixth seemed to regard the things that he been done to him in Las Noches with a deep and abiding loathing, something that puzzled him as Byakuya had not known him then or done any of the things to him.  Still, he would rather Byakuya not be annoyed when around him.

He turned back to the depths of his apartment, something in his chest tightening at the sight of Kuchiki Byakuya standing there politely waiting for him.  The captain of the Sixth looked as he always did, calm and controlled, but under that Ulquiorra sensed a tension in him, a subtle nervousness to his movements and stance that was at odds with his normal self-assurance.  He bridged the distance between them easily, shocked when Byakuya reached out and took his hand, holding it between his own larger warmer hands.  Something tender passed across the Shinigami's face, something that was gone before Ulquiorra could even think of putting a name to it.  It left him curious and longing however.

Byakuya lifted his hand, brushing his lips against his palm and Ulquiorra couldn't help but savor the small gesture of affection.  He had worried that Kuchiki Rukia's disapproval would sour Byakuya to the idea of associating with him.  "Your sister," the Arrancar began, only to be silenced as graceful fingers brushed against his lips.

"Any problem my sister has with this it just that - her problem.  My only problem is in attempting to atone for last night," murmured the Shinigami.

Ulquiorra felt a tiny smile quirk his lips as he leaned into Byakuya's touch.  He reached up to caress the other man's hair, wishing for a moment that it was loose.  Byakuya had the most wonderful hair, it felt like silk and always seemed to carry the faint scent of cherry blossoms.  "There is nothing you need to atone for."  The small smile that bloomed on the other man's lips was nothing short of extraordinary and left a warm feeling in the Arrancar's chest.

Byakuya stepped closer and wrapped an arm around his waist, bending to brush their lips together.  Ulquiorra arched into the brief touch, sorry when it was over, but still savoring the gentle affection in the gesture.  He could feel the brush of the Shinigami's reiatsu against his own and the warmth that always seemed to radiate from the other man.  Basking in Byakuya's warmth almost made him forget the cold of Las Noches.  He turned his head, catching sight of the tray on the coffee table and smirking faintly.  "You brought me a flower," he murmured with gentle amusement, fascinated by the single red rose.

"I did," agreed Byakuya with a tiny tilt of his lips.  "I also brought you a book; but I thought you might appreciate the symbolism of the rose."  Ulquiorra nodded, not understanding but suddenly much more curious about the flower.  He hadn't examined the roses he had give to the Sixth division captain beyond a cursory inspection to ensure that they were indeed the flowers the captain of the Eighth had said were needed.  This flower was different; it was something Byakuya had gotten for him and the nobleman implied that it meant something.  What did it mean and why convey the meaning through the offering of floral arrangements rather than words?

Ulquiorra watched with a tiny frown of confusion as the other man reached out for him with the flower.  Soft petals slid over his cheek their texture unlike anything he had ever felt.  A delicate, sweet smell hit his noise and green eyes slid closed as he tried to lock the smell into memory.  "A red rose is a symbol of love and beauty," Byakuya told him as the rose caressed his lips.  The touch was almost like a kiss and he blinked down at the flower, earning a tiny whisper of laughter from Byakuya.  A warm palm settled against his cheek as Byakuya leaned into to share a brief kiss with him.  "You really are the most remarkable..." whispered the Shinigami before breaking off with a slight shake of his head, something close to wonder in his eyes.

"I cannot claim to love you, but I think that one day very soon I might.  And I would very much like to."  Ulquiorra blinked up at the nobleman, stunned.  Some deeply buried part of him stirred at the idea though; instinct whispered dark promises of hunts no longer alone but with a mate at his side.  He stared at the Shinigami fascinated by the sinister potential that seemed to spread out before him - death cloaked in elegance and beauty.

He opened his mouth to respond, to say something, anything - to find words to capture the nebulous vision that formed as instinct blended with reason.  Fingers reached out for him and before he could stop himself he found his own hand wrapped firmly around that graceful wrist.  Byakuya blinked at him for a moment before giving him the tiniest hint of smile.  In a flash long fingers were digging bruisingly into his throat, tilting his head up.  For the briefest of moments Ulquiorra thought he recognized the glitter in those stormy gray eyes, and then it didn't matter because Byakaya was kissing him hard and fast.  He clutched at the front of the other man's robe, jerking him closer.  

They kissed hungrily, tongues tangling as they dueled for control.  Hands grasped and clawed as they stumbled deeper into the room.  The bedroom door fell open under his hands and for one agonizing moment Ulquiorra wondered just what he was doing.  He couldn't understand how he was allowing this, letting Byakuya touch him this way, or permitting what would undoubtedly come next; because surely there could be only one outcome to what was happening.  The other man would expect more from him than what they had enjoyed last time, he would expect…

A warm palm caressed his cheek, startling him and drawing his gaze to the Shinigami, gray eyes filled with gentle affection and understanding met his.  The fiery heat was still there, but it was banked and controlled, a warm hearth fire in the darkness rather than the scorching inferno he had thought it to be.  "We shall go only as far as you allow, my word of honor.  I won't hurt you, Ulquiorra.  We can stop at any time."  Ulquiorra gave the other man the tiniest of grateful smiles and laid his head on Byakuya's chest.  The Shinigami's reiatsu closed around him, caressing him softly from head to toe with the silken touch of flower petals.  The faint scent of cherry blossoms filled his nose, washing away everything but the man in his arms, the deadly elegant beauty.

He slid from the noble's arms with a tiny, meaningful glance at his lover, his eyes silently telling the other man that he trusted him, would believe in the promises he had made.  A wondrously sweet smile curved Byakuya's lips and a fierce protectiveness seemed to spark to life under the passion.  Ulquiorra stared at him curiously for a moment, not able to understand what the emotion was at first, and then hardly able to believe it.  No one had ever wanted to protect him before.  The idea that this beautiful, powerful man wanted to was both startling and intoxicating.

His eyes never leaving Byakuya's, he took the noble's hand and gently drew him into the bedroom.  His calves hit the bed and Byakuya smiled at him, leaning in to kiss him softly before pushing him.  He had just enough time to be shocked at the wicked smirk that flashed across the noble's face before he hit the bed and instinct had him moving to retaliate.  He rolled backwards, getting to his knees and reaching out to grab the front of Byakuya's robes, pulling the noble forward and unbalancing him.

Byakuya's laughter filled the room, soft and husky, startling him and giving the Shingami a chance to roll onto his back and grab him in return.  They end up tussling, rolling around the bed, and Ulquiorra couldn't understand how something so reminiscent of his fights in Las Noches could feel so utterly different.  There was nothing threatening or violent in what they were doing, only the breathless eagerness of wrestling combined with some strange sense of whimsy.  It made him wonder if this wasn't why Grimmjow had hopped out at people in his youth. 

He finally found himself sitting across Byakuya's hips, the Shingami pinned loosely to the bed and smiling up at him.  "The world does not always have to make logical sense, Ulquiorra.  Sometimes we simply have to enjoy and take whatever delight we can from the moments we are granted," murmured Byakuya, lifting his head and kissing him.  He released a shuddering breath against the Shinigami's lips and leaned down to whisper soft words against the other man's neck.

"Thank you, Kuchiki Byakuya," he breathed, kissing the pale throat and nipping at it delicately.  Byakuya's hands traced his shoulders before gently easing the collar of his robe open, baring his Hollow hole and making the Shinigami smirk.  Warm breath ghosted against his hole, making him shiver, before soft lips brushed his collarbone.  Byakuya shifted beneath him, rolling them until they were both on their sides, tugging him closer.  Long legs tangled with his as the noble began lavishing attention on his throat and chest.

Ulquiorra sighed and shivered, his own hands pushing at the edges of Byakuya's robes to slide inside and over the pale, toned flesh beneath.  A pleased rumble slid through Byakuya and Ulquiorra murmured softly in response.  He watched as peach colored nipples tightened under his fingers, fascinated by the little nubs and the tiny sounds he could draw from Byakuya by touching them.  A twist drew a hiss and sent strong hands digging into his flesh.  A kiss or lick could draw a murmur of appreciation and fingers carding through his hair or caressing his mask.  Even a breath or a flick of reiatsu could draw some soft shiver or subtle demand for more. 

Byakuya eased his gi completely off, hands caressing his chest and drawing a soft sigh from the Arrancar as he gently returned the favor.  He groaned as warm fingers trailed over his skin, reiatsu following in their wake.  He gasped and clutched at the Shinigami as those long fingers circled his Hollow hole, energy tingled hot and sharp across his skin, making him tremble and bite his lip to try and remain quiet.  Byakuya chuckled smugly and let a single finger dip inside.  Lightning shot through his body, leaving burning pleasure in its wake, arching his back and making him gasp.  Byakuya slowly dragged his finger away, leaving it to hover teasingly close while Ulquiorra lay there panting, trying to catch his breath.  His cock was achingly hard and his whole body felt ultra sensitive.  Each touch of his lover's hands seemed to radiate warmth through him, filling the cold empty place where his heart had been.  For once desire and pleasure caused his body to ache rather than the gnawing hunger he was so accustomed to.

He caught the smug twist of his lover's lips and managed to summon a smirk of his own as he let his own reiatsu wash over the nobleman in a cool heavy wave while his fingers traced patterns on Byakuya's skin.  Ulquiorra gave a tiny grin as the Shinigami gave a soft, breathless moan and arched against him.  He let his fingers slide over Byakuya's chest teasing the other man as he cautiously undid the noble's hakama.  His hand slid inside and around the other man's cock, gently tracing up the underside with the pads of his fingers before closing his hand around the tip.  A fist wrapped around his horn, titling his head as Byakuya seized his lips in a hungry kiss that left them both whimpering and breathless.  Hakamas were somehow tossed aside, all he could remember of it was a gentle frenzy of hands while they traded wet, hungry kisses.

Ulquiorra gasped as warm palm cupped his balls before slowly sliding up his cock.  Passion filled gray eyes caught his and the Arrancar moaned, giving his lover's cock a firm stroke.  Byakuya purred, pressing their cocks together and drawing low moans from both of them.  Green eyes flashed and Ulquiorra tangled his fingers in Byakuya's hair, dragging the noble's head down and kissing him fiercely, as his hand began moving over their joined cocks.  Heat and hunger coiled in his belly, making his skin feel tight and his reiatsu twist and roil.

Fingers slid up his back and pressed hard into his Hollow hole, drawing a sharp cry from him and an echoing one from Byakuya as his grip tightened around their erections.  They both panted raggedly as their hands continuing moving, friction and pleasure washing away everything beyond the need for more.  Heat and hunger consumed him, blurring the lines between his own ghostly pale flesh and Byakuya's beautiful golden skin.  Byakuya crushed their lips together and shoved his fingers back into his Hollow hole.  Ulquiorra's eyes rolled back and he opened his mouth on a silent scream as burning, white hot pleasure slammed through his body, leaving nothing but the glorious, almost painful, euphoria of release.  From a long ways off he felt his reiatsu explode out and crash into Byakuya, shoving the Shinigami over the edge. 

Ulquiorra wasn't sure how long he laid there, dazed and crushed against the noble, both of them sweaty and smeared with their combined release.  Green eyes slowly opened and the former fourth Espada breathed in, the scent of sex and sweat filling his nose.  Under that though was something that was familiar - the delicate hint of cherry blossoms.  The scent drew a tiny smile to his lips as he relaxed against the Shinigami, feeling safe and warm.  Byakuya's heartbeat was slow and steady under his ear and Ulquiorra glanced up only to find himself startled yet again. 

Hollows rarely slept in each other's presence; the risk of attack was simply too great.  There were exceptions to the rule, but usually only one being was allowed to view a Hollow when he slept.  His mate.  Yet Kuchiki Byakuya slept trustingly and peacefully in his arms. 

He reached up, fingers delicately caressing the other man's cheek, staring at him as something tightened painfully in his chest.  That the Shinigami would trust him with this much of himself...it was a gift beyond measure and left him both humbled and fiercely protective.  This was his and he would protect it.  He would kill any who thought to harm the noble.  A tiny smile split Ulquiorra's lips as a single, softly purred word broke the silence -

"Mine."

Chapter Text

Ishida Uryuu met them at the door on the second knock, a sudsy scrub brush in his hand and a slight fraying around the edge to the frown on his face.  The Quincy looked tired and annoyed, the strain of the last few days beginning to show on his normally impassive face.  "He's in the bedroom," sighed the archer, turning and heading back into his apartment.  

Karin followed him, all but certain that she did not want to know why he was scrubbing his couch and muttering darkly about her brother and Renji.  There were times she really wished her brother could have gotten himself some normal friends, maybe a nine to five job, a lover who wasn't more trouble than their father and a group of kindergarteners combined.

"He's still pretty out of it," Ishida told her as he returned to his scrubbing.  "And good luck getting a reasonable response out of him."

"He'll wake up for us," murmured Karin, a slight growl to her voice as she glanced back at her twin.  Yuzu looked as sweet and adorable as ever - she had come though.  Her sister might not have been as commanding a presence as the rest of their family, but she was a Kurosaki and when pushed she was a force to be reckoned with. 

Their brother had just pushed.

And they were going to push back.  Ichigo might have been one of the strongest men in Soul Society, but he had nothing on the two of them when it came to sheer stubbornness. 

The smirk that crossed Ishida's lips was nothing short of wicked.  "Breakfast in an hour?" asked Quincy blandly, as Karin reached the door to his bedroom.  She shared a glance with her sister, silently asking her how stupid she thought their big brother was going to be.

"Thank you, Ishida-san.  Breakfast would be very nice."

"If he ruined my sheets I'm killing him," called Ishida, making Karin chuckle and Yuzu blush.  She was beginning to see the appeal of Ishida Uryuu, under all the Quincy pride was a truly cutting sense of humor.

She and Yuzu marched into Ishida's bedroom, where Renji and Uryuu had stashed Ichigo.  Karin flicked on the lights and stared at her brother.  He looked to be resting comfortably if one could overlook the slow and steady despair pulsing in his reiatsu.  She had only felt that from Ichigo once before - when Urahara died.  Their mother's death had wounded him and Urahara's had all but destroyed him.  For a moment she wondered how much more he could take, and on the heels of that thought came another -

Whether she could have endured as much?  Losing Toushiro?  Watching as friend after friend found a mate and settled down, knowing that her match was gone, that she would never have the easy comfort all her friends were finding.

She tried to imagine the centuries stretching out before her, not alone but cut off from the person she most wanted.  Surrounded by a sea of well meaning friends and family, people she cared about, but not the one person she truly needed.  She pushed the unpleasant contemplation away; Ichigo had to be strong, he had to endure this, for his own sake and for Urahara's.

No one as smart as the former Shinigami was going to go to all the trouble of coming back without some way of insuring he got what he wanted.  And everyone seemed to agree that the one thing Urahara would want was her brother.  That meant Ichigo had to endure.

Yuzu tugged the blankets off their older brother.  It took a moment for him to come around enough to realize that he was cold and a moment longer before he connected them to the discomfort.  It was easy to tell the exact instant reason returned to ocher eyes because with it came a crushing wall of pain and guilt, a black miasma so all consuming that Karin gasped and Yuzu stumbled, tears welling in her eyes.  Karin reached out for her sister, steadying her and taking a second to give her a quick bracing hug, before rounding in her brother with a sharp slap.

The wave of emotion charged reiatsu subsided as Ichigo blinked disbelievingly at her.

"Karin!" scolded Yuzu, staring at her with shock.

"That's better," she murmured, reminding herself that while slapping him might not have been the most sisterly of actions it was for her brother's own good.  Ichigo didn't tend to respond to talking much, he responded to action - and he usually needed something physical to jar him out of whatever headspace he had fallen into.  Slapping him had hopefully helped that process along.  "Yuzu and I talked about it and you don't have the luxury of waiting for Renji and Uryuu to beat some sense into that thick skull of yours."

"First Jeagerjaques and now girls.  When this is over I am so kicking your pansy ass," muttered Ichigo, brown eyes shifting to gold before resettling.  Karin shared a look with her twin, Shirosaki being so near the surface was not a good thing.  It meant one of two things was happening; either her brother's will was faltering letting the Hollow assume control, or Shirosaki was stepping in to protect her brother.  Neither option was really desirable because both of them meant Ichigo's dominance could be in danger.

"Asshole," came a weak retort from Ichigo, his eyes slipping closed and his shoulders slumping in defeat.  He looked beaten, worn down by battle and hardship, so very tired.  For just a moment Karin wanted to let him set down his burdens, let him wallow in his grief and mourn as he had never been allowed to do. 

"Just leave me alone," breathed Ichigo softly, the words too flat to be a plea although there was clearly a hint of entreaty in them. 

Yuzu wrapped her arms around him, hugging him and drawing a tiny shudder from their brother's lanky form.  "I know it hurts, Ichi-nii," she whispered, the words soft and gentle, her voice full of love and hope, a promise that the pain would abate.  There was more than just emotion in her voice though, there was something real and substantial.  Karin had never heard of a voice laced with reiatsu before, never heard of anyone infusing their words with power.  In fact, she wouldn't have thought it possible if she hadn't heard and felt it for herself.  But reiatsu, subtle and almost gossamer like, pulsed in her twin's voice and ghosted around their brother, wrapping him in warmth and love, touching the cold places and filling them.  It was a healing; but nothing like Karin had ever heard of before, something she didn‘t think even Unohana could have done.

"Yuzu?" she whispered questioningly, earning a benevolent smile from her twin, one that promised that she knew exactly what she was doing.  Ichigo shuddered in her embrace and then his arms slid around her, his face being buried in her shoulder as great sobs began to wrack his body.

"That's it, Ichigo.  Let it out.  You don’t always have to be strong.  And you don’t always have to bear it alone.  We’re here for you, Ichigo.  We love you and want to help you."  Karin watched in silent amazement as her older brother cried, releasing all the pain he had keep locked away for so long.  And through it all her twin held him, whispering soft words of love and comfort, promising that it would end.  

"Is he up?" demanded Ishida, poking his head in the door.

"Nearly so," murmured Karin, glancing at the sobbing wreck that was he brother - oddly, sobbing was a step in the right direction where Ichigo was concerned.  It meant he was at least responding again.

"Well, I've got something that will get him up," murmured the Quincy, his eyes sparkling with that arrogant superiority that always made Toushiro want to hit him.  Looking at him now, Karin decided her love had a point.

Ishida strolled into the room with the grace and assurance of a feline, a cuttingly bland smile on his lips and a phone in his hand.  "I've got someone who wants to talk to you," he all but purred, holding the phone out to her brother.

"Ichigo?" Urahara's voice drifted through the line, soft and hesitant, and laced with so much longing and emotion that Karin wasn't sure who she felt sorrier for.

"Kisuke," breathed her brother, a small sound that might have been a whimper pulled from his throat.  There was such desperate longing on his face that Yuzu gave him another hug.  "I'm so sorry.  I'm sorry.  Are you alright?" began Ichigo in a rush.  Karin could almost hear the tender smile the blond had to be giving her brother as he tried to talk over Ichigo's frantic apologies.

"No, no, it was my fault.  I shouldn't have...  I'm sorry." 

Uryuu rolled his eyes as the two of them each tried to shoulder the blame for what had happened and hurried to assure the other that he was blameless.  Karin noticed there was a tiny smile on the Quincy's lips despite the eye roll.  "You both are idiots, let's leave it at that," announced the archer, cutting across all the apologies and making Yuzu giggle.  Ichigo glared at the other man before a gentle chortle returned his focus to the phone.

"Are you alright?  Where are you?"

"I'm fine.  I'm staying with some friends."

"Kisuke," began the redhead, only to be interrupted by an amused and entirely reasonable tone.

"Even you couldn't object to them, Ichigo, and I really don't want to fight about it.  I'm safe.  Leave it at that."  Karin watched as her brother hemmed and hawed, his need to protect warring with his desire to make his lover happy. 

"We should talk," Ichigo finally breathed out softly.

The laughter that drifted over the line was gentle and genuine.  "Great minds.  Maybe over dinner?"  The suggestion was so innocently voiced and so uncertain that Karin couldn't help but smile, especially since the tender look on her brother's face was so heartrendingly sweet she could have wept.

"I'd like that," murmured Ichigo, still looking slightly dazzled.  "Tonight?"

"I'll pick up something on my way back to the shoten."        

"I told you, you are not going back there until I clear it!" came a feminine shriek, cutting across the line.

"And I thought we had discussed the chance you had of keeping me from doing what I wanted, when I wanted," retorted Kisuke.

"Who is that?" whispered Yuzu.

"Unless I am mistaken, I would say Mizuno-kun has found himself in the hands of the Vaizard," Ishida whispered back.

"Now you listen to me, you bastard," snarled the voice.

"Kisuke?  Kisuke, are you alright?" demanded Ichigo, his own voice rising to be heard over the commotion on the other end of the line.

"Fine.  And you listen to me!  I may not be Captain Urahara but I am not going to be pushed around anymore!  This is my life and I am going to be the one making decisions about it!  I am sick and tired of being shuffled around on everyone else's whim.  I am returning to the shoten and the Shinigami," the words were spoken in a crisp, calm voice, raised to be heard, but otherwise normal. 

"What the hell?!?  You were supposed to watch him not get him to formulate an insurrection!" screamed an outraged male voice.  A sharp yelp could be heard clearly and Karin and Yuzu both blinked questioningly at Ishida who merely shrugged.

"I have to go.  I'll meet you at the shoten at six."

"Kisuke," began Ichigo, only to find himself speaking to a dial-tone and blinking bewilderedly at the phone.

"So, are we ready for breakfast?" asked Ishida.

Chapter Text

The explosion drew them.  He and Shunsui had been working on paperwork, or more accurately, he had been working on paperwork while Shunsui hid from Nanao and his own work, amended Jyuushiro as he stared out at the courtyard of the Thirteenth and the pandemonium that reigned there.

Half a dozen members of his division stood between the furious figure of Grimmjow Jeagerjaques and his office, swords drawn and bodies tense.  It was Grimmjow or at least Jyuushiro assumed it was the Arrancar.  The creature looming in the courtyard bore only the faintest of resemblances to the former Espada.  A fall of blue hair cascaded down his back like a mane, the color the only thing to link it to Grimmjow.  Fuzzy ears peeked above, looking ticklishly soft and adorably cute.  Wicked claws tipped his fingers and a tail lashed angrily behind him.  His reiatsu hissed and crackled, a low angry hum that carried with it the promise and power of a predator, a creature created for the hunt, a being versed in blood and death, something primal.  It was Grimmjow stripped of the veneer of civilization, realized Jyuushiro.  The former Espada as he should have been - beautiful and terrible - a wild thing of darkness and passion.  This was the promise of every early human who had stared into the darkness and been afraid of what lurked in the night beyond.   This was a creature of nightmare - primal, deadly and utterly enchanting.

"Well, things will certainly never be boring with him," mused Shunsui with a delighted grin, as Grimmjow roared when two of the junior officers ventured too close.  The Espada swung at them and instant later all the others were on him.  Six Shinigami buried the Espada under their weight and for a moment it looked as if they might be enough to subdue him - an instant later Grimmjow exploded from the tangle.  Two of the youngsters went flying, one clung to each of the Arrancar's arms, a third was tangled in the Arrancar's legs, and a final hung from around his neck.  Grimmjow howled his outrage, struggling under the barrage, his reiatsu a terrible storm of sharp-edged hate.

"That is enough!" shouted Jyuushiro, drawing himself up straight and tall, and sending his reiatsu crashing into the courtyard in a heavy wave.  Shunsui took his hand, adding his own power to the mix, and sending the combatants to the ground - even Grimmjow wilting under the oppressive power, struggling futilely, but never just accepting or bowing. 

And Aizen wanted to break this creature, he thought, anger and outrage surging through him.  How could anyone want to shatter the brilliant man before him, shackle and destroy that incredible vitality?

"I'll get the kitty," murmured Shunsui as they let their power wane.  Jyuushiro nodded and looked sternly at his underlings, able to guess what had happened easily enough - Grimmjow had come to see them and the members of his division had objected to an angry and unpredictable Arrancar charging in on their captain.

He watched as Shunsui carefully helped untangle Grimmjow, earning snaps and growls from the former Espada.  When Grimmjow was finally free the Arrancar lunged and tackled Shunsui, growling angrily at him.  When Shunsui just gave him a roguish smile Jyuushiro was amazed that Grimmjow didn't throttle his lover.  The Arrancar's anger crashed through the courtyard chased by a menacing growl.

"What the fuck do you want?!?" snarled the Arrancar, slamming Shunsui's shoulders into the ground.

"It's alright, Grimm-chan.  Just calm down," soothed Jyuushiro, his hands extended to show that his intensions were peaceful, as he slowly approached the agitated feline and