Author's Note: Sorry for the late chapter. Life has kept me terrible busy.
Hope You Enjoy!
Beta Reader: SeerKing
Chapter 18: Fifteen Again
As he took a long drag from his cigarette and gave a heavy exhale of smoke, Ichigo's eyes fell solemnly on his mother's grave. The rising of the wind cleansed the surrounding air of his smoke and the chrysanthemum branches he had placed under his mother's name shivered over the granite stone.
Standing here after so may years; it was a…strange feeling, to say the least.
His knowledge of souls, his experience with the afterlife, left him knowing that there was no possible way his mother could see or hear him. Yet, standing there, at her grave, he felt a sense of catharsis that he hadn't felt in ages.
He felt content.
And he wasn't sure what caused the sensation. Was it Amaterasu watching over him from behind the still and heavy grey clouds? Was it the Primordial entity embodying motherhood, standing by his side and holding his hand in affection? Or was it simple nostalgia, stemming from being in the cemetery he hadn't visited in nearly two years?
A soothing breeze passed over the headstones and as he shifted his eyes towards Tiamat, a small smile began to tug at his lips.
His ancient lover stood with a somber expression, though her eyes shone with a deep and bold passion. His mother had died to protect him and, perhaps, there was no one who could respect a mother's sacrifice for her children more than Tiamat.
"It's strange," he said softly, his eyes falling back to the dull and grey stone before him. "I never really got to know my mom as a person."
"It is the nature of children to remember their mother through colored glass when she still shares with them the wonders of youth." The range of emotion in Tiamat's voice was impossible to convey, but it strummed the cords of his memory: playing music of much simpler and happier days.
"Are you saying that what I remember isn't real?" An interesting assertion, if it was true. Heartbreaking to be honest, but interesting nonetheless.
Not for the first time, did he wonder if it had been a mistake to never ask about his mother from his old man.
However, in those days, his family had always been trying to move on. Though it wasn't so much as them trying to forget her as it was them trying to learn to live without her. As such, any discussion about his mother had lain open and untouched.
"Nay," her voice a soft whisper, nevertheless, Tiamat turned to him with fire in her eyes, "a mother can never be truer than when she laughs with her children. Do not doubt what memories you retain. They are her at her finest."
The sudden fervor coming from their bond momentarily stunned him, but a fond smile came over him soon enough as she gave his hand an affectionate squeeze.
Tiamat gave him a kiss on the cheek and promptly let go of his hand, saying, "I will give you a moment. Say a few words to her."
He blinked in surprise. "What's there to say? She can't hear or see me."
She gave that dark smile of hers. "Speak to her, little one. There is nothing to lose."
And with that, she moved off a few feet away, though it was more of a gesture of sentiment than practicality. In such close proximity to one another, he and Tiamat had little privacy due to their bond.
Putting the cigarette back in his mouth, he stuffed his hands into his pocket while settling his mind into a soft drift. Several moments passed after which he took the bud away and let out another heavy plume of smoke.
"You know," he said to the lifeless memorial stone, "the last few years have been an incredible ride. Not really an excuse, I know, but it's part of the reason why I haven't visited in so long."
The wind picked up, bringing with it a few scant leaves that scraped across the grave marker.
"You probably wouldn't believe it," he started again, "but I've actually gotten married. In the most dubious circumstances, I might add. But yeah…sorry for not coming by and telling you earlier."
Ichigo let out a hollow breath and briefly stole a glance at the sky. A ray of sunlight broke through for the briefest moment before it was quickly swallowed by a churn of clouds, quickly coloring to a storm. He gave a brief shake of the head before settling his gaze back to his mother's grave.
"If it makes you feel any better, dad doesn't know yet. Though too be fair, there's a lot he doesn't know. And I mean a lot."
A very leaden pause occurred as his thoughts came to an abrupt halt and his mouth twisted sourly. He shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to another and, one frustrated sigh later, Ichigo ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. "The hell am I doing?"
As discontent and irritation with himself began to simmer, a coolness spread through his back and he felt Tiamat's hand. Soon enough, she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed herself against him.
Like water pouring over stone, Tiamat's presence flooded through him and a freshness dispelled the haze of frustration over his thoughts.
For a single breath, he let the fingers of one hand linger over her skin, tapping her knuckles in a show of gratitude.
"I'm going to be honest with you, mom," he said very softly. "I'm not a kid anymore. The things I would have said back then…the things I wanted to say, they're not the same. Don't get me wrong, nothing would make me happier than having you back…but…I'm not looking at the same place I was back then."
His mouth set in a thin line as he pushed back his long hair. "I love you and I always will. Just like I love Yuzu, just like I love Karin and just like I love that idiot you married. But I've found out the world is much bigger than I ever believed it was."
"There's…" he struggled to find the right words, "just so much out there. And every single part of me wants to dive right into it."
His hold on Tiamat's hands tightened. "This isn't me saying goodbye. This isn't me saying I'm leaving. This is me saying I'm jumping over the ledge not knowing what's down on the bottom or even if there is a bottom. You spoiled me rotten mom…so sorry, but I think I'm going to be a little selfish."
Ichigo stood in silence for a brief second before taking another drag from his cigarette and as he did Tiamat moved to his side, took hold of his arm and laid her head on his shoulder.
The several moments of idle serenity left him with a strong appreciation for the woman at his side, as well as for the woman buried before him. The headache inducing, clothes stealing, morality destroying, monster of a dragon had been a blessing in his life. There was a strength to be gained, from knowing that he shared his life with another living being. That they had a…together.
Gratifying, in fact, was the word.
And, once upon a time, his mother had had it too. With his father.
The thought of being rent from Tiamat, to no longer have their intimacy, was a heart wrenching thing. And that thought, that mere assumption of what the sheer desolation would be, filled him with an appreciation for his father.
Because, it was an overwhelming thing, for his father to smile year after year for his children, in the faces of his children, when the love of his life had been ripped away in such a violent fashion.
And as the clouds grew heavier and the winds more aggressive, he realized that the weight of his thoughts was influencing Tiamat's mood.
"Sorry," he murmured, as he pressed a kiss into her hair.
She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, a clear note of old sorrow ringing from her mind. "Such joy to be found in reveling in our memories…yet what cruelty does that joy bring. The longing of the gone, the pulling weight of what is absent and the desire for that which was that is no more…truly 'past' is but another way to pronounce 'misery', no, beloved?"
There was mockery in her voice, one brought upon from ages of dealing with loss and life, and it put a frown to his lips. Brushing his thumb across the back of her hand, he put a quiet kiss to her brow.
"Here and now, Tiamat," he whispered. "Here and now."
Time passed on and Ichigo continued to stare at the stone monument, it's unadorned surface doing nothing but throwing the name of his dead mother back at him. And as the minutes ticked on, Tiamat still and light in his arms, a crunch of gravel drew his attention from behind.
He turned around in curiosity, noting the young woman staring wide eyed at him and standing frozen on the spot. Ichigo stared at her for all of two seconds before waving a hand. "Yo Karin. You've gotten taller."
'Yo, Karin. You've gotten taller.'
The words kept echoing again and again inside of her mind as she stood there blinking up at him.
That was all he had to say to her after more than a year had passed since they last met? That was all he could muster after a few scant phone calls and text messages sent?
How was she supposed to respond to that?
'I know, right? How weird is it I grew in the year and half since I last saw you? What are the odds of my teenage body doing that!'
Not to mention, it seemed her brother had done some growing of his own. And it wasn't just in the obvious increase of height that apparently put him to equal height to their father. Her brother had always walked with and been surrounded by an aura of quiet confidence. That silent charisma she was so fond of; one that others drew strength from just by standing with him…but is was different now. It felt…it felt…domineering.
She didn't know how or why, but there was something in her brother's eyes. It wasn't emotion nor was it any form of intent, but it felt like something inherently deep inside of him. Something which, despite the casual and utterly normal look on his face, said, 'Don't make me angry.'
Which prodded the query, what happened to him? Where has he been? How has he been? And, most important of all, since when did he start smoking?
One after another, questions popped into her head. Questions she wanted to demand answers for. Yet, for all the fire than ran through her veins, she couldn't muster the will to voice them. Her throat constricted and closed in on itself, as if she were chocking on all the words that were threatening to rage out.
Entirely lost on what to do, as every possible confrontation she had played out in her imagination for the last year and a half crumbled in the face of reality, Kurosaki Karin, did what came to her naturally.
She kicked him.
Ichigo grabbed his shin as he hopped back on one foot. "Son of a-that hurt!"
He should thank his lucky stars that she didn't put any real force behind it! Else he'd be dealing with a few broken bones! However, before she could voice her jibe a black streak blurred past her and nearly gored her brother.
It was only her brother's excellent reflexes that allowed him gain a stable footing and kept himself and Yuzu from crashing into their mother's headstone.
"Yuzu! Be careful!" He quickly drew the cigarette out his mouth and held it away so that the smoldering ash wouldn't fall on her head.
Karin rolled her eyes as Yuzu let out the waterworks and began a dramatic slapping of their brother's chest. "You don't call, you don't text! Where the hell have you been?"
Her brother rolled his eyes as well, though not without a look of fond exasperation. He patted Yuzu on the back as he said, "Sorry, I guess I just got really busy."
Karin's eyes narrowed as she slowly drifted over to her brother's side and gave him another kick. Albeit, this one was significantly softer.
He gave her an annoyed look which she met with a challenging stare. With a shake of his head, her brother lifted his hand and ruffled her hair. And just like that, the swell of emotions within her dispelled like water on fire and she found herself moving forward and wrapping her arms around him and Yuzu.
He was warm, almost uncomfortably so, but she wasn't about to let go. Not after the ridiculous amount of time which had passed since she last had her brother's physical support.
"Stupid, Ichi-nii," she muttered into the fabric of his shirt.
Karin felt his fingers on the back of her neck and his voice drifted over her head. "Are you crying too?"
Not lifting her face, she crossly punched him in the ribs. "Like hell."
She would never acknowledge the quiver in her voice even if she died…though that did little to stop him from laughing.
She punched him again.
"Well, ain't this quite the surprise."
Her father's voice grew louder as he approached them, though neither she nor her sister let go of their brother.
"Yo, Ichigo. You've gotten taller."
Not surprisingly, she felt the need to turn around and nail her father in the face. Naturally, Ichigo inherited all his annoying tendencies from their dumbass father.
"And you've gotten grey," her brother responded.
She huffed into Ichigo and began to pull away from his arm. Apparently, stating the irrelevant and obvious was how the men in her family dealt with tense situations.
She cast her father a wry glance as he ran a hand over his scruffy beard. "Yeah, I've gotten a few white ones these days. But I'm still as young as ever!"
"Uh-huh," was her brother's unimpressed reply. He then looked down at her twin. "Yuzu, you're going to ruin my shirt if you keep soaking it with your tears."
"I'm not crying," Yuzu grumpily exclaimed as she pulled away in a huff and wiped her eyes.
"So I have to ask," her father said as he pointed with the jut of his chin, "what's with the smoke?"
"Hmm? Oh, this?" Ichigo lifted the nearly depleted cigarette. "You always said mom thought you looked cool when smoking or something like that. Got curious as to what she would say if she saw me with one. So I went and bought a pack."
Their father snorted. "Masaki would have kicked your ass if you had lit one in front in her. Then she'd probably have kicked mine for giving you the idea. Still, it's best you put down the cig. A brat like you can't pull off the coolness of an adult."
And with that, her father struck a ridiculous thoughtful pose.
"Yeah right," Ichigo said dryly. "Your old ass is likely to start coughing up a lung if you lit one up right now."
'Here we go…'
Her father took an aggressive step forward. "You lookin to start something?"
Ichigo responded in kind with a growl. "No, but I'll sure as hell finish it!
Her father shook his fist threateningly. "Brat, you sure are asking for it!"
"I'm practically begging for it! So do something, you old goat!"
"Oh come on," Yuzu whined as she quickly squeezed in between the two of them. "It hasn't even been ten minutes and you're already at each other's throats!"
It was almost ridiculous, how fluidly everything managed to fit back into place. As if, the last two years of her brother's absence had never occurred.
However, while it was tempting to drop her head with an aggravated sigh, the overbearing welcome of familiarity and normalcy tempted a smile to her lips. At one point in time, the futile quarrels between her father and brother were a source of embarrassment, despite their regularity. Now? They were a wanted mark of a return to their family being whole again.
It wasn't lost on her, the irony of reuniting with Ichigo at their mother's grave and, while she didn't know too much about Soul Society and the afterlife, maybe there was some guiding force there on the other side, bringing their family together again.
Shaking her head as Yuzu attempted to break apart her cumbersome father and brother, her eyes drifted off to the side as the wind carried a fray of whiteness into the edges of her vision.
She had completely ignored the woman her brother had been standing next to, but now that she finally took notice of her, Karin found herself dumbstruck.
'How did I not notice that?'
Karin had the self-confidence to acknowledge when a woman stood in a different class in terms of looks. His brother's friend Orihime was one hell of a knockout and she knew that there were more than a few boys in the neighborhood who had had a crush on her. That her brother never seemed to notice Orihime's obvious affections was something of a head-scratcher, but, then again, he was his father's son.
There was also Yoruichi, over at Urahara's shop. That woman could put supermodels to shame when she wasn't lounging about as a cat. And then there was that lady who accompanied Toshiro all those years ago. To this day Karin still wondered how it was anatomically possible for a woman to have such massive…things…
So yes, she could admit that this woman with her brother was undoubtedly gorgeous, but that wasn't what captured Karin's attention. It was in the fierceness of those features that seemed to laugh at the stereotype of delicate and doll-like features of modern beauty, that caught her eye.
From her wild white hair to the exotic and foreign tone of her skin, everything about the woman screamed different. And not in a good way.
Karin stole a glance at her brother.
Somehow, he and their father had fallen into a grappling contest with near sparks of electricity flying from each of their respective glares.
"You stinking brat! It's a good thing you came back! You've gone too long without me having teaching you a lesson!"
"Hah! Dream on, old man! What's good is that we're in graveyard! Maybe if we're lucky we can find a hole for you!"
Yuzu was still trying to break them apart...unsuccessfully at that too. "Urghh! What is wrong with you two?"
Letting out a low breath, Karin slowly turned her eyes back on the white haired woman who gazed on the antics of her family with some form of amused fascination. Carefully clenching her fists, she allowed a subtle and controlled wave of spiritual energy flow from out of her body.
There was something not right about this woman who her brother was apparently being accompanied by.
Keeping her expression as neutral as possible, Karin kept a wary stare on the woman as her power quietly swept over the field of graves. Yet, as soon as she felt her spiritual pressure fall onto the wave of white hair, it was deftly torn apart by some invisible force.
And, before she could even react, Karin found herself staring into a pair of stalking ocean blue eyes. The bones of her body locked into place as the color in those eyes collapsed into abyssal slits.
In that instant, she recalled the very first Hollow she saw in corporeal form. The sheer dread and terror from that sensation, from that experience, was something that she would never forget for the rest of her life. The creature's presence was like a putrid slime oozing through all the gaps in her body, filling her with a rotten taste. To Karin, that would forever be the day that she first understood evil.
So why was it, that a mere meeting of the eyes proved to be infinitely more haunting?
She felt something tugging on her spiritual power as those lingering blue eyes twisted and choked the very air in her lungs. A tremor seemed to pass through her knees and an alien sensation of subservience ran through her veins like ice and water. A dark whisper in her mind insisted that she fall to the ground, curl up and simply give in.
And just like that, the enchantment melted away as Karin's sight was swallowed by a wall of black and a strong hold fell on her shoulder.
"You alright there?"
Hovering in a daze, Karin did not expect the wall to speak. Her eyes trailed upwards in a painstakingly slow fashion, and she found herself gazing into still reflections of twin browns covered by an occasional line or dull orange.
She looked at him funny. "Ichi…nii?"
"I…" As cohesion crept back into her mind, Karin shook her head and focused on her brother. For a moment, she thought she saw an odd look of irritation pass through his eyes, but on closer inspection, he seemed as passive as ever.
Giving her a light pat on the shoulder, he took a step back and motioned with one arm towards the woman. "Right, I suppose I should introduce you all. Guys, this is Tiamat. My, err, girlfriend."
It was almost comical, really, how everyone's face morphed into the near identical look of incredulousness.
Yuzu, of course, was the first one to react. "What!"
However, before any further question could be posed, the woma-Tiamat-took one, powerful step forward and deposited herself right next to her brother.
Karin's eyes, along with Yuzu's, narrowed dangerously as perfectly manicured nails clawed around their brother's arm and the dark-skinned woman leaned into him. "A pleasure to meet you all."
A shiver passed through Karin's spine. There was a purr to her voice, one that seemed more amused than welcoming. And that smile…Karin was woman enough to recognize the challenge in that gesture. This Tiamat was blatantly staking her claim.
"Well," their father said as she he looked on with genuine surprise, "I can't say I'm not surprised, but it's a pleasure to meet you as well."
"Likewise," Karin said without an echo of the sentiment. Her curt tone, however, did manage to raise a curious eyebrow from her brother. For her part, Yuzu was still standing in semi-shock, semi-outrage.
"Sorry about earlier," their father slipped back into a more casual tone, though she noted the calculative gleam in his eye now. She nodded to herself in agreement, because, regardless of all the foolhardiness he could be accused of, her father was a perceptive man. Nonetheless, she was going to keep an eye on this woman. "But we can get a bit rowdy when we're all together."
"It is quite alright," Tiamat said, before turning to face her brother. She gave him a look of laughing amusement. "I have not seen this side of him before. It is…endearing."
Her brother met his girlfriend's eyes with a dry twist of the mouth. No words were spoken, but Karin was sure something passed between the two as the laughter in her eyes became brighter and the scowl on his face grew deeper.
Karin exchanged a glance with Yuzu and they both gave each other a barely perceivable nod.
"Huh," her father said as he scratched the side of his cheek. "Personally, I would use the word 'annoying' but if there's a woman out there who can stand my idiot son, then I'm not going to complain."
He then leaned to the side, peering around all of them. "See that Masaki? Your son isn't as hopeless as I feared he was."
"You're one to talk," Ichigo immediately drawled back, his brow twitching in annoyance.
Their father gave a snort of indignation before swiftly composing himself.
"Well, I suppose I've been rude long enough." Her father extended his hand. "My name is Kurosaki Isshin and these are my daughters, Karin and Yuzu."
"Well met," her brother's girlfriend said as she took the offered appendage. "Ichigo has informed me much about you."
"Really," her father twisted the word in his mouth. "Funny, he hasn't mentioned you at all."
The woman gave a knowing smile. "I know his stubbornness all too well, but I have learned to…'pick at his brain', I believe the phrase goes, no?"
"I see," her father stated simply as he turned and gave her brother a questioning look.
An uncomfortable second passed before Yuzu blurted out, "How'd you wind up dating Onii-chan?"
"Yuzu." Their father gave Yuzu a chiding look, though not one too stern. It was obvious to Karin, that he was just as curious as Yuzu and she were.
"It is quite alright." And Karin hated the way her brother's girlfriend could look both gracious and smug with the same smile.
For her part, Yuzu wrung her arms behind her back abashedly, but continued to sneak suspicious glances at the couple.
Their brother gave an annoyed sigh but said, "A…friend of mine forced me along into a nature hike…I guess…and, as luck would have it, a storm broke out and I found myself in a cave. Tiamat was in that cave too and, well, the rest is history."
"It was a rather unique encounter," Tiamat added.
"That it was," the dry tone in her brother's voice couldn't have been more obvious. "Anyways, what are you guys doing here? It's not mom's anniversary."
"Probably the same reason you are," her father said as he deposited his hands into his pockets. "I got nostalgic and decided to visit your mother. Girls said they wanted to tag along so here we are. Quite the coincidence, ain't it?"
For some odd reason, Ichigo sent an irritated glance at the sky, causing Karin to give him an odd look.
"Yeah," he muttered, "you might even call it divine intervention. Anyways, I've already said my piece to mom, you guys go ahead and do what you need to do."
"You're leaving?" Karin called out immediately, alarm bells ringing through her and, as soon as she said the words, Yuzu practically teleported to their brother and grabbed his hand in a desperate clutch.
"Actually," Ichigo said, not at all bothered by the fact that Yuzu was trying to break his arm via constriction, "I was wondering if we could drop by for a few days."
"Huh? Don't be an idiot," their father said wryly. "It's your home. Like you need to ask to come back."
Karin wouldn't lie to herself. Rage and hurt gnawed viciously at the tight ball in her throat. And above all else, she couldn't stop the hot sense of betrayal stinging at her eyes. Taking a glance at Yuzu and noting her sister's face shadowed and head downturned, she knew her twin felt the same.
'Ichi-nii doesn't think of us as home any more…'
She barely headed her father's words. "I'm assuming you have luggage?"
"It's in the car."
That, however, did grab her attention and she asked, "You have a car?"
Having a foreign woman on his arm was one thing, but where on earth would he have gotten the money to afford a car? Exactly what had he been up to all this time? Wasn't he just in college studying to get his bachelors?
A large part of her wanted to simply kick his legs out from under him, pin him to the ground and start demanding answers, but she knew her brother well enough to know that he was a stubborn asshole at times. One, who had a horrible tendency to dump everything on his shoulder and make himself responsible for it all. Her brother hated having other people worry about him. Which was why, by habit, he kept things to himself. Ironically enough, that only made everyone worry even more about him.
Ichgio rubbed the back of his neck. "Not mine, per se. It's a car the company I work for gave me."
Her father gave Ichgio a flat look. "Do not tell me you dropped out of college and started to work instead."
Her brother dropping out of college…?
The idea was ridiculous to Karin. Despite his rough-around-the-edges attitude, Ichgio was quite the capable academic and performed highly successfully during his public education days.
"I'm still in school," he reassured them with a careless wave, "but…well, that conversation can happen at later time."
The two men stared at each other for a stressed moment, but her father quickly dropped his gaze and pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. "I suppose you are old enough to make your own choices...oh well. Anyways, you have the keys to the house?"
"Yeah, I still have them." He nodded.
"Alright then, we'll see you back home then."
A knot wormed its way through her gut as her brother took that terrifying woman's hand and began to walk away. For one paranoid second, she felt that if she let him walk out her sight, she'd never see him again and the same sensation must have gone through Yuzu as well because she immediately called to him.
The starch desperation in Yuzu's voice caused her to shut her eyes tightly, knowing she might not be able to compose herself if she saw the tears she knew were welling up in her twin sister's eyes.
Karin stepped back several paces before opening her eyes, making sure that her line of vision could only fall on the back of Yuzu's head. Though that did not stop her from noting Yuzu's quivering shoulders, nor the shake of her small and balled hands.
For his part, their brother had ceased his walk and turned partially around, his expression one of expectant curiosity.
She doubted she'd be able to form words any better were she in Yuzu's shoes at that moment. Nevertheless, it didn't stop Karin from having her breath stolen right out of her. Because, for the first time in years, she finally managed to obtain one of her big brother's smiles.
And in an abstract and random thought, Karin thought it incredibly rude on how the sun chose that exact moment to break through the sky and blind her in a brilliant cascade of gold.
"Yuzu," her brother's voice broke through the sunlight, "I'm looking forward to eating your food again."
"How quaint," Tiamat said with a smile as her eyes drifted from the number fifteen embedded on the door to the neatly made bed lying parallel to the window.
"Quaint it may be," Ichigo said as he placed a duffle-bag onto the floor, "But it's home sweet home."
She smiled in amusement as he plopped himself down on the bed and spread himself along its length. "You know, I'm surprised they kept everything the same after all this time. I was sure Yuzu or Karin would move into my room and throw all of my crap into the garage."
A low chuckle rumbled through her chest as she made her way to his bed and slid herself on top of him. Melding their legs together and pressing her ample breasts against his chest, she leaned forward and kissed him.
A soft purr rolled in the back of her throat as her lover ran the edges of his fingernails in circles along her back. A part of her itched to be rid of the dress and fabric which kept apart their physical touch.
But she controlled her urges and pulled back with a pleased smile. "Speaking of your siblings…they do not seem to welcome my presence very much."
His fingers ceased their dance across her back and he raised his head from the pillow with a glare. "I am not impressed with that stunt you pulled back there."
"My apologies," she said, though the smile never left her lips. "It was not my intention. But I do not take kindly to being challenged."
He dropped his head back onto the pillow with a breath of frustration. "I know, I was surprised too when Karin did that. I had no freakin clue that her spiritual powers had developed so far. Still, that's my sister. Let me handle it next time, okay?"
"Very well." And she rested her head against his shoulder. Several long minutes passed, in which the soft lull of sleep began to pull at her mind. However, before it could settle strong, his voice stirred her from the fuzziness of slumber.
"You're going to have to be extra careful."
"Hmm?" She rubbed her nose into his neck.
"If Karin suspects something odd about you then my old man definitely noticed something. He's a perceptive bastard, alright."
Tiamat slowly pulled herself away and set her eyes in an irritated glare. "There is nothing odd about me. I am beauty embodied."
"Yes, yes, yes," her irritation sunk deeper as he gave an exasperated roll of the eyes, "they were struck by your astounding magnificence. Can we get back on track?"
She nipped at his neck with her teeth, albeit playfully.
"You're going to have to up your game if you want to pass as norm…well human, at the very least."
"Up my game?" Tiamat let out a snort. "The idioms of the modern world are incredibly boorish."
"We're boorish?" He lifted himself onto his elbows. "Back when you were running things, the epitome of language was pointing and grunting."
"It most certainly was not," she said indignantly. "When the reigns of history yet remained in the hands of the Undying, had I not brought forth the cradle of civilization? Humanity has reached these heights due to my merits!"
Again, he rolled his eyes. "Yes, all a hail Tiamat, Queen of the Universe."
"As it rightly should be," she said haughtily, before leaning forward and pecking him on the lips. "But, nevertheless, I shall endeavor to keep my true self from your family."
"Thanks," he smiled, and then put a hand to the back of her neck and pulled her down for another kiss.
Tiamat snaked her hands over his sides and ran her fingers into his hair. As their lips moved against each other, he took the initiative and she felt his tongue slip past and trace her top teeth.
Her fingers tightened in his locks as she pulled him deeper into the kiss. Their tongues moved frenetically and Tiamat could feel her arousal build hot within her core. She felt one of his legs rise and Tiamat began a slow grind of her groin against his tigh.
"Beloved," she moaned into his ear as he broke away from their kiss and began a series of bites across her neck.
A sharp gasp escaped her lips as he yanked her head back and began to pinch away at her throat with his teeth. However, just as the moment grew in velvet heat, he suddenly pulled away from her.
A snarl ripped through her chest. Sexuality was her domain, and every fiber of her being ached for her young love.
As the nails of her hand curved into talons and the teeth in her mouth sharpened to fangs, she met his eyes of demonic fire. Like iron, each of his hands fell on the side of her head and he came forward and pressed their foreheads together.
"Breathe, Tiamat. Breathe."
And so, she did.
Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, the veil of primeval lust slowly dissipated and the air in her lungs cooled considerably. And as her eyes opened, she set her gaze against his.
"Err…sorry Tiamat, but we can't have sex as long as we're here."
For the barest second, her entire body froze like ice.
"What?" There was a perilous growl to her voice. One so obvious that he immediately began to explain himself.
"Uhh, by 'here', I mean here in the house."
He held up a finger. "One, us having sex equals property damage. I'm not destroying my childhood home. Two, my sisters are here. They'll end up being scarred for life. Three, my dad is here. I'll end up being scarred for life…and considering how long I plan on living, that's something I do not want happening."
Tiamat sniffed imperiously. "So be it…but we will be spending our evenings elsewhere."
He gave a deft nod. "You'll hear no complaining from me. Hell, we can even try the whole, 'make it rain' thing again. There're no stuffy Devils up here to complain about their windows."
That particular memory brought a mischievous curve to her lips. "One of our more…dangerous adventures."
"Yeah…that's one way of putting it," he said ponderously. "Now, let me unpack before Yuzu and Karin get home and bombard me with questions, huh?"
Gently kissing him on the cheek, Tiamat rolled herself off him and settled herself on the side of the bed, just under the window.
"But first." And as he stood up, he immediately moved to the closet, slammed the door open and began to vigorously check through its contents.
Tiamat craned her neck in curiosity, wondering what he was doing. After several moments of him making a mess of everything inside, he finally seated himself at his desk and released a sigh of relief. "Good, that stupid mod soul isn't here. I don't care how useful it was in the past. I'd chuck it right into the depths of Hell if it was still hanging around and peeking."
A brief touch of their bond and all the necessary information sifted into her mind and dispelled what confusion had settled in.
"How curious," she commented as Ichigo turned his gaze on her. "An artificial life whose seemingly only purpose is to worship the female form. You've assembled quite the interesting collection of individuals in your past, beloved."
"Present company excluded," he asked with a raised brow.
"Naturally," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
He shook his head with a roguish smile. "Naturally. Well, better start unpacking."
Tiamat turned her face into the pillow and inhaled a deep breath through her nose. The scent that came to her was entirely that of her lover, despite his two-year long absence since last being in this room. However, the interesting thing was that, in spite of it being his scent, it was vastly different from her Ichigo.
Oh, it was entirely him, to be sure, butut it was a him that lacked the taint of Fire and Ash. His flavor was one of demonic spice cooled by the salt of the ocean and masked in the fragrance of jasmine.
But this scent, it was fresh in youth and entirely mortal and human. It was very pure.
A smile drifted to the corners of her lips. From the memories she had picked from him, her love was significantly shy around the opposite sex, masking it in a sense of moral strictness. Had she met him then, she would have devoured such a young and inexperienced fledgling.
In more ways, than one.
Taking in another deep breath and filling her lungs with him, the scent of youth and freshness, of cats and milk, of…
Her eyes flew open.
"Well, what do we have here?"
Ichigo's voice immediately drew her attention and Tiamat quickly sat up, her serpentine eyes honing on to him. He stood peering down into the open duffle-bag which he had sat onto his desk.
"Do not tell me…" she trailed off as he reached into the bag with both hands and pulled out a bundle of silken black fur.
"I can't believe you followed me again," he aid with more than a hint of surprise. "How did you not suffocate to death in there?"
'Oh if it only were so,' Tiamat wished dearly.
A sleek black cat began to purr contentedly as it curled into her lover's arms. The dumb animal had taken into appearing whenever it damn well pleased and at every occasion, successfully managed to steal Ichigo's attention in a swift and absolute way.
A low rumbling snarl tore from Tiamat's chest as she glared murder at the small creature. "Get. Rid. Of. It!"
The cat briefly peeked at her from out of his arms before quickly burying its head in the crook of his elbow.
"Tiamat," he said disapprovingly, much to her displeasure, "you're scaring her."
"Her?" A hint incredulity creeping into her voice. "You know-"
"Yes, I know." He quickly cut her off with a heavy frown. "But she hasn't been a problem at all. Have you?"
He directed the last part at the at the cat, who, upon being addressed, turned in his arms and meowed in delight as he began to scratch its belly. The sheer sight of the wretched creature writhing in pleasure under her lover's touch sent Tiamat into a near frenzy.
"See," he said with a light smile. "Besides, I have a soft spot for cats. Especially black ones."
And just as he finished his words, the accursed cat lifted its head and sent her a look radiating with pure smugness.
Tiamat didn't care what he felt. She would get rid of that overgrown rat even if she had to eat the damn thing!
Author's Note: Ichigo will be in Karakura Town for the next two chapters or so before I move back into the DxD main story.
My gratitude to those of you who pointed out the discrepancy in Millicas' age. I honestly didn't even notice it.
I uploaded a story that will be a series of one-shots that will take place between chapters 15 and 16 and fill in the time-skip. Several of you were disappointed I did the time-skip and complained so I made Do Me A Wrong: The In Between Years. Check it out if you're interested.
Return of the Sinful Strawberry
Sirzechs' rubbed vigorously at his temples even as he deposited several detailed reports onto an ever-growing pile on his desk.
Ajuka's latest invention was proving to be quite the pain.
His oldest friend had just released the most advanced form of mass magical transportation that could be made available to the public. Throughout New Lilith, the government would be able to place large arcane crystals that were linked to one another via powerful spatial magic.
An operator would theoretically be able to teleport dozens of people from one crystal location to another in a matter of seconds. However, the building of these stations, the scheduling of each mass teleportation, how to keep the potent spatial fluctuations from interfering with the various other magics in nearby facilities and the security and personnel required to operate and maintain these magical marvels, were all proving to be debilitating issues.
Not to mention the sheer cost of putting such infrastructure into place!
Just thinking about it gave him a migraine.
Flipping through the documents once more, he let out a tired sigh and slumped back into his large chair as no quick fix solution was made apparent to him. A soft tap of ceramic on wood caught his attention and he lifted his down turned gaze to his wife sitting in the corner.
Grayfia had set herself up on one of the small tables in his office. Her back resting itself against the corner of a chair as, in one hand, she held up a folded book while the other absently twisted a lock of hair.
Her eyes not even leaving the pages of the book as she knowingly reached for her cup of tea before setting it back once she took a delicate sip.
The sight made his brow twitch in annoyance. Here he was, wracking his brain to find a solution to a public issue which had been hounding him and his team of specialists for days, while his wife simply sat there leisurely on a casual break.
However, the knowledge that Grayfia worked harder than anyone else in the Underworld quickly placated his aggravation. If anyone deserved time to themselves then it was Grayfia.
As he returned his attention back to his work, she suddenly spoke up. "It's a quarter till three, now."
He didn't bother looking up. "What of it?"
"You have a meeting with the managing committee of the up and coming Underworld Youth Rating Games in fifteen minutes. I believe the budget proposal for the new stadium is to be put on the table."
"Oh yes," his mouth twisted sourly, "I forgot about that."
He suddenly muttered to himself. "Underworld Youth Rating Games…what a deplorably boring title. For all our capabilities, the nobility of our species is woefully unimaginative."
The soft sound of paper on paper went to his ears and he looked up just in time to see Grayfia turn a page. However, as he berated himself for getting distracted so easily, his eyes briefly caught the title of the book.
Sin and Strawberry.
He blinked once before returning his focus to the papers before him with a humored chuckle. The name of the book reminded him of the eventful first encounter he had with Ichigo. He had jokingly suggested that Ichigo's title be the 'Sinful Strawberry.' Ichgio had flatly refused on the grounds of it sounded far too akin to that of a stripper's name.
As the memory continued to have him laugh quietly to himself, the words 'sin' and 'strawberry' began to echo in within his skull. And soon enough, hundreds of years of honed instinct rang bells in his head and an abrupt weight of apprehension began settling onto his chest.
"Love," he called warily, "exactly who authored that book?"
"Lord Serafall is the au-," before she even had a chance to finish her sentence, Sirzechs moved with preternatural speed and deftly snatched the book from her hands.
"Sirzechs!" Grayfia gave an outraged cry, but he soundly ignored her.
Turning the book over in his hands, Sirzechs swiftly began to read the summary to himself.
"Ichirou Angra is a young man quickly making a name for himself in the ever shifting and cutthroat world of business. Born to a wealthy British father and Japanese mother, he was often mistreated due to his mixed heritage. After his father died in a car accident, his paternal family cast he and his mother out and swallowed up his rightful inheritance. After years of enduring humiliation and crawling up through the elite ranks of society…wait, wait, wait!" Sirzechs tore himself away from the summary and gave Grayfia an incredulous look. "What the hell is up with this crappy-ass, clichéd shoujo plot? Couldn't Sera have come up with something better!"
"Can I have my book back," his wife asked, ignoring his tirade.
"No!" With a childish shake of his head, Sirzechs returned to reading. "Where was I…something, something elite ranks...oh yeah! Crawling up through the elite ranks of society, he finally manages to garner the financial and political support to gain revenge on his father's family. However, having returned to Britain's high society, Ichirou garners the attention of his half-brother from his father's previous failed marriage…Sir Zemory, Baron of Morningstar!? Are you fucking kidding me!"
However, Sirzechs quickly reigned in his temper and continued to sift over the words. "Now Ichirou has to navigate the dark secrets of English nobility and avoid being pulled into the web of deceit and lies of his father's family as well as...his scheming brother's bed!?"
Sirzechs threw the book against the wall with a scream. "I'll kill the fucking bitch!"
"If you are," Grayfia said coolly as she slid from the sofa and went to retrieve her book, "may I request you hold off for another month? Book four is set to be released in the coming weeks."
Sirzechs blanched. "Book four? Book four? Are you telling me there's a two and a three!"
Grayfia primly sat back down and began flipping through the pages, attempting to find where she left off. "Naturally. Book two introduces Kurama, Ichirou's childhood friend from Japan as well as his manipulative, but well-meaning father. In book three, the dastardly Duke, Tyler Drake Bluewaters, blackmails and tricks Ichirou into submission and forces him into several shameful actions…all sexual in nature, of course. It's actually not that bad of a story."
"Huh…not that bad…," Sirzechs repeated weakly. Then he fell to the floor in a dead faint.
Grayfia looked on for a brief second before settling comfortably and returned to her reading. An impish smile flit on her lips as she lifted the book to her eyes. "I wonder how he'd react if I show him the pure smut fanfiction that Rias and Akeno are writing?"