Author Notes: Hello, everyone! It seems de rigueur for any Bleach fanfic writer to touch on the subject of Ichigo calling a certain noble class Captain by his first name at least once. Enjoy :)
Warnings: Spoilers for most of the arcs including the Fullbring one. Words in italics taken directly from the start of Episode 366 (Changing History, Unchanging Heart).
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Kurosaki Ichigo and Ginjou Kuugo continued to battle high in the air, swords clashing and ringing against each other, colourful sparks lighting the night sky. Without a word, Toushiro, Byakuya, Kenpachi and Ikkaku turned and walked away.
"Where are you going, nii-sama?" Rukia called.
The four of them stopped.
"We are returning to Soul Society," Byakuya replied and turned around. "Have you forgotten, Rukia? We came here to witness Kurosaki Ichigo's decision."
"Soul Society knew that the next time a Shinigami Substitute appeared, Ginjou would target them sooner or later," Toushiro added. "When that time came, they would use the Shinigami Substitute as bait to locate Ginjou and then eliminate both of them at the same time. That was the captains' consensus. But our interactions with that substitute changed Soul Society. It shared its power with the man it was supposed to kill, and dispatched its captains to see his battle through instead.
"Kuchiki, you objected back when you received the order to monitor Kurosaki Ichigo."
Rukia remembered that scene. She remembered protesting to Renji that it was ridiculous, that Ichigo would never join the enemy.
"You were right," Toushiro continued. "When Kurosaki Ichigo learned the truth, he made a decision. It was exactly the decision we expected from the man we knew, and from the man you believed in. I'm glad he was the one to succeed Ginjou as Shinigami Substitute."
'It's true,' Rukia thought. 'He hasn't changed since the very beginning. This one man's refusal to change completely overturned Soul Society's millions of years of immutability... Ichigo!'
"Sa! Your son is quite something, isn't he?" A beaming Urahara whacked Kurosaki Isshin on the shoulder with his fan.
Rukia's eyebrows rose. She didn't know if Urahara said that to bring the other captains' attention to Isshin - Ichigo's father and ex-Captain gone MIA from Soul Society some twenty years ago - or if he merely wanted to lighten the atmosphere.
"So this is where you've been hiding all this time," Toushiro muttered, turquoise eyes narrowed at his former Captain.
"Heh," Isshin grinned at him, one hand going up to rub the back of his neck. "I had my reasons. But hey, I hear you're a great Captain, Toushiro!"
Toushiro sniffed and folded his arms across his chest.
"Still sweet talking your way out of work or explanations," he grumbled. "You haven't changed either."
"Like father, like son," Urahara chirped happily. "Ooh, what's this now?"
A smaller Senkai Gate had just materialised nearby. The doors slid open and Kyoraku, Ukitake, Matsumoto and Yumichika strolled out.
"Why are you here, Matsumoto?" Toushiro demanded of his Vice Captain, looking displeased. "We're just about to return to Soul Society."
Rangiku looked around and pouted, seemingly disappointed at her barren surroundings.
"We're not in town so there're no shops around," Toushiro told her.
"Did the old man send you lot here?" Kenpachi growled.
"Oh no," Kyoraku replied with an easy smile. "We just wanted to make sure Ichigo-kun got back his Shinigami powers, that's all."
"Hey, Kyoraku-san! Ukitake-san! Rangiku-san, Yumichika!" Ichigo greeted the latecomers, still battling Ginjou in the air high above them. "Toushiro and Byakuya, you guys still around?"
"How he addresses people - that's another thing about him that hasn't changed," he muttered. "He still calls me by my first name."
"You can say that again," Toushiro sighed, folding his arms across his chest.
The others hid their grins while Kenpachi tipped his head to one side in puzzlement.
"What's the big deal?" he wanted to know. "He also calls me by my first name."
Byakuya ignored him; it wasn't saying much when a tiny, pink haired imp could get away with calling the ferocious Eleventh Squad Captain 'Ken-chan' to his face.
"Well, Ichigo also calls me by my first name," Ikkaku had to put in his two cents' worth.
"And me," Yumichika added, not to be outdone.
Byakuya narrowed his eyes at them.
"Maa maa, don't read so much into it, Byakuya-kun," Kyoraku told him in soothing tones.
"I'm sure he doesn't mean anything by it," Ukitake added with an equally placating smile.
Byakuya gave them both a disdainful look that questioned the number of brain cells they had.
"He calls you Kyoraku-san, and you," turning to Ukitake, "Ukitake-san," in a suffering tone which clearly said there was a world of difference between using one's family name and first name, and just by the way, where was his honorific, damnit?
When Rangiku opened her mouth, he raised one eyebrow at her and she closed her mouth again.
This time, the growing silence was broken by a snort.
"At least he calls you by your name," Isshin griped, scowling at Byakuya with his hands at his hips, "and not Goat Face!"
The others chuckled, joined in by Yoruichi as she strolled up to stand beside Urahara.
"Aww, that just means Ichigo considers you his equal, Byakuya-bou," she said, the honeyed sympathy in her voice contrasting with her positively evil grin.
When her older brother's reiatsu flared, Rukia quickly reached out to place a hand on his arm.
"Ichigo's just a human, nii-sama. He doesn't know etiquette very well, that's all."
Byakuya sighed and the tight line of his mouth relaxed just a bit.
"What human? He's part Shinigami and from the Shiba noble family," Yoruichi added slyly.
When Byakuya glared at her, Rukia quickly frowned at Renji who blinked at her before his mouth formed an 'o' of comprehension.
"Ah, Ichigo's just an idiot, Captain, thinking he's equal to whoever he calls by his first name." Renji shook his head as if to say how preposterous was that, but he couldn't keep out the fond note in his voice.
Byakuya just stared at him.
"Exactly," he said succinctly.
As silence fell again, the others traded meaningful lifts of eyebrows, amused looks, and in Urahara and Yoruichi's cases, stifled laughter.
Because that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it?
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed it :)