Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! Another small one shot based on the shihakushou this time, the traditional garb of the Shinigami. Enjoy :)
Warnings: AU. Spoilers for the series up to the Fullbring arc, and possible OOC-ness.
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
A week after bringing Kuugo Ginjou's body back to the Real World, Ichigo was back in Seireitei.
He hadn't planned on returning so soon, but it turned out that the Shinigami Daiko badge he brought home was a fake. He only realised it when Rukia turned up in his bedroom one night, kicked him awake and demanded to know why was he sleeping instead of doing his duty out there, and that she had already killed two Hollows and performed two soul burials on her way to his home.
After comparing his silent badge with Rukia's beeping cell phone over the next day or so, Ichigo was resigned to following her back to Soul Society. Not that he minded too much, he could go say 'Hi' to his fellow shinigami friends before returning home.
- o -
The matter of the badge was swiftly dealt with. Ukitake handed Ichigo the correct badge with an apologetic smile. It had been found in Kurotsuchi's office, but he denied any knowledge of the matter, and even kicked up a fuss about his place being checked without his permission.
Ichigo had no idea how the switch happened seeing as Captain Kurotsuchi and Nemu weren't even present when he asked the Captain Commander for Kuugo's body. However, he knew how eccentric the Squad Twelve Captain could be so he just pocketed the real badge, thanked Ukitake and said it was fine.
"You're not going back immediately, are you, Ichigo?" Rukia asked as they left the Squad Thirteen barracks.
"I don't mind staying a bit longer," Ichigo replied. "I'm not sure if it's OK to roam about Seireitei without a good reason though."
"Getting back your badge is a good reason right there," Rukia told him.
"Great," Ichigo said and grinned. "Let's go by Squad Eleven. I didn't get a chance to say 'Hi' to Ikkaku last time."
- o -
Ikkaku was in Squad Eleven's training hall, kicking half his squad members' butts and shouting about how lucky they were that Captain Zaraki and Lieutenant Kusajishi were off on a mission otherwise they might be killed for being a bunch of weaklings.
"Yo, Ikkaku," Ichigo called from the open doorway as soon as Ikkaku paused for breath.
Ikkaku whipped around, his scowl giving way to a a wide grin.
"Ichigo! What're you doing here?" He came to the doorway, wooden staff resting across his shoulders and arms draped over it, sweat running down his face.
"Nothing important," Ichigo said, not wanting to have to explain the whole story about his badge. "Just dropped by to say hi."
"What, no special permission needed to enter Soul Society anymore?" Ikkaku teased, looking half envious.
"That is nice of you, Ichigo." Yumichika pushed off from the wall he was leaning against and approached them. Despite the pungent, sweat laden heat of the training hall, he looked cool and poised, not a single drop of sweat on his face. "Ah, Kuchiki-san too."
"Spar with me before you go off, Ichigo," Ikkaku urged. "Let's show this useless bunch a thing or two, eh?"
Ichigo took a quick step back. He enjoyed a good fight as much as the next Shinigami - Well, if they weren't battle-crazed lunatics Ikkaku or Kenpachi - but he wasn't planning on working up a sweat right now.
"Sorry, can't stay long," he apologised. "Maybe next time."
Ikkaku looked disappointed, but didn't press the issue, much to Ichigo's relief. If Kenpachi were here, Ichigo knew he would be fleeing for his life already. Giving a final wave, he left with Rukia, heading for the Squad Six barracks to see if Renji was around.
Less than a minute passed before Rukia spoke.
"Out with it, Ichigo."
"Out with what?"
"You're thinking of something. Spit it out."
Ichigo quirked a grin. Rukia knew him all too well.
"Well, the shihakusho is the traditional uniform of the Shinigami, right?"
"But not everyone wears them the same way," Ichigo continued. "Ikkaku's is sleeveless now although it didn't used to be."
"Heh," Rukia smirked. "Didn't you see his shoulder pad?"
"What, that gold plated thing?
"So he wants to show it off? What about Kenpachi then? His robes have sleeves, but his captain's haori doesn't."
Actually, it looked like the haori's sleeves had been ripped right off, but Ichigo didn't think he had to mention that.
Rukia rolled her eyes.
"So what's his reason?"
"Captain of Squad Eleven, remember?" Rukia's voice was deadpan. "Think fight loving meatheads and sweaty armpits. Sweaty everywhere, actually."
"Tell me about it," Ichigo said and wrinkled his nose. "But not only are Yumichika's robes long sleeved, he even wears an orange turtleneck underneath."
Rukia folded her arms across her chest and gave Ichigo a look.
"You know he has his own ideas on beauty, right?"
"Yeah," he agreed. "Wait - is that why Byakuya's haori and robes are long sleeved too?"
Rukia's lips twitched.
"Funny how nii-sama's name came up right after I mentioned the word beauty."
"Oi!" Ichigo sputtered. He shoved her lightly in the shoulder and she laughed.
"How would you know whether his robes are sleeveless or not?" she asked. "You've never seen him without his captain's haori."
It was Ichigo's turn to roll his eyes.
"Please. He wasn't wearing it when he and Kenpachi battled that Espada Yammy in Hueco Mundo. And when he and Renji came to the Real World to arrest you that time. I was half dead then, but I wasn't blind."
Rukia stilled, that familiar twinge of guilt twisting her gut when she remembered how lost fifteen year old Ichigo had looked, lying on the ground after nii-sama severed his Soul Chain Link. She was so afraid for him then that she had said whatever she could think of, just to keep him alive.
That same hand nudged her shoulder again, but gently this time. Rukia looked up to see Ichigo giving her that crooked smile of his.
"And I'm still alive," he reminded her.
Rukia nodded, her throat feeling just a tiny bit tight.
"Anyway," Ichigo continued, "I bet it's because your precious nii-sama has really skinny arms. Hah!"
Rukia swelled up like an indignant balloon at once.
"He does not!"
"Does too. Why else would he keep them covered up? And to keep himself warm of course."
"Nii-sama isn't a weakling! Besides, Captain Kyoraku's robes are long sleeved too! And his haori! And that flowered pink kimono he wears over it!"
Ichigo tapped a finger against his chin, adopting a thoughtful look.
"Yeah, you'd think a man as hairy as Kyoraku-san wouldn't feel in the least bit cold."
Rukia snickered, she couldn't help it.
"Maybe it's because he wants to hide his hairy arms?" she murmured, glancing around. She didn't really want her words to be overheard.
Ichigo snapped his fingers, eyes twinkling.
"That must be it! Although he would do better to pull the front of his shihakushou closed. And I bet Ukitake-san keeps his arms hidden because they're just as skinny as Byakuya's."
"Shh!" Rukia glanced around again, but she wasn't smiling anymore. "That's because of his illness."
Ichigo's smile vanished as well.
"Yeah, you're right."
They continued walking in silence until Rukia cleared her throat.
"Lieutenant Hisagi wears sleeveless robes too," she pointed out.
Ichigo just grunted.
"He just wants to show off his muscles," he said. He had to admit swinging those deadly twin blades had given Hisagi-san some seriously toned arms.
"Is that a hint of envy I hear?" she teased him. "But there's another reason."
Ichigo cocked his head to one side.
"To show off those gothic looking tattoos around his biceps?"
"They're kidou armbands, silly!" Rukia shoved his shoulder. "And it's so he can access them easily."
"Kidou armbands," Rukia repeated. "You don't know anything, do you? Oh look, what a coincidence!"
Coming towards them were half a dozen Shinigami led by Hisagi.
"Lieutenant Hisagi," Rukia greeted.
"Lieutenant Kuchiki, Kurosaki," Hisagi replied.
"Where're you guys headed?" Ichigo asked.
"A few Hollows have been sighted in the northern area. I'm bringing our rookie officers to get some practical experience," Hisagi explained.
"Ichigo wanted to ask you something," Rukia said and ignored Ichigo's glare especially when Hitsugaya and Matsumoto walked up to them.
After exchanging greetings including a resigned sounding 'It's Captain Hitsugaya to you' from Toushiro, Hisagi looked expectantly at Ichigo.
"So, what is it, Kurosaki?"
"Nothing important," Ichigo said quickly. "Don't let us stop you from getting those Hollows."
"Ichigo wants to know why your robes are sleeveless," Rukia prompted with a mischievous gleam in her eye, causing Ichigo to scowl at her.
Hisagi didn't seem to think it strange.
"Well, the first time I saw Captain Muruguruma, my current captain, was when I was just a child. He saved me and two friends from a Hollow and he just... he just looked so cool doing it. His robes and captain haori were both sleeveless even then."
Ah - just a simple case of hero worship then. Ichigo nodded.
"Ei? Are you sure it's not to show off those arms of yours, Shuuhei?" Rangiku asked, her blue eyes wide with pretended innocence.
"Of course not!" Hisagi scowled at her, his lean cheeks tinged with pink. "Excuse me, duty calls. Follow me, men!"
He marched off, the tips of his ears turning red at the snickers following him.
"Did you have to say that, Matsumoto?" Toushiro sighed.
"Oh, but it's fun to tease him," Rangiku replied, not in the least bit repentant.
"Uh oh," Ichigo said suddenly, having sensed a very familiar reiatsu approaching.
"Captain Zaraki," Hitsugaya confirmed with a sigh.
"And Lieutenant Kusajishi," added Rangiku.
They could all hear Kenpachi's roar even from a hundred feet away. Before Ichigo could take two steps in the opposite direction, the Squad Eleven captain stood before them, a feral grin on his face.
"Fancy seeing you here, Ichigo." Kenpachi's uncovered eye had an unholy gleam to it.
"Hello, everyone!" Yachiru cried, waving her hand.
"Ah, good timing, Captain Zaraki," Rukia said. "We were just wondering why your captain's haori is sleeveless."
"Eh?" Kenpachi blinked down at her as if she had just announced that all forms of fighting were now prohibited in Soul Society.
"That's easy!" Yachiru piped up with a laugh. "Ken-chan sweats a lot, you see."
"Yeah. My shihakusho won't dry as quickly if my haori has sleeves and I don't like that wet feeling at my armpits," Kenpachi growled. "You wanna make something of it, Ichigo?"
Ichigo quickly took a step back and held up his arms.
"No! It's none of my business what you wear or how you wear it."
"You sure?" Kenpachi looked disappointed.
"Yeah. It's, uh, time I went back anyway," Ichigo said, taking a few more steps backwards.
"Maybe you should tear out the sleeves of your shihakusho too, Ken-chan," Yachiru suggested. "That way, your underarms will dry even faster!"
"You think so, huh?"
With the two of them somewhat distracted, Ichigo gave a quick wave to Toushiro and Rangiru and beat a hasty retreat, hustling Rukia along.
"That was close," he remarked once he had put a few buildings between them. "I think I'll see Renji another time. I promised Yuzu I'd go marketing with her."
"Alright." Rukia opened a Senkai gate for him. "So, any thoughts on modifying your robes?"
Ichigo gave her an indignant look.
"I wasn't thinking of that! Besides, they change by themselves from time to time, you know? Just before I went to rescue you, Yoruichi-san even cut off one shoulder so that the top resembled a Greek toga. No idea why since I was covered in bandages from her intense three day training. Then after three months in the Dangai, training to defeat Aizen, my robes had only one sleeve (take that, Hisagi!) with black chains wound around my right arm, connected to Zangetsu. That was kinda cool... except for my hair which had grown so long, I could barely see anything, let alone Aizen."
Rukia shook her head as they stepped out of the gate and floated to the ground just beside Karakura river.
"You look fine just like this," she told him seriously. "Everyone in Soul Society already knows how badass you are, sleeves or no sleeves."
Ichigo rubbed the back of his head, looking rather self conscious.
"As long as my friends know I wear these robes to protect them, that's all that matters."
"Ah, speaking of friends - Inoue! Chad! Ishida!"
Ichigo spun around to see the trio approaching him, smiling and waving. After exchanging greetings, Rukia turned to Ishida.
"Ichigo and I were just discussing how some Shinigami wear their shihakusho differently," she explained, ignoring Ichigo's wide eyes and frantic head shakes.
"Oh?" Ishida pushed his glasses up, eyes narrowing. "Did you want a new look, Kurosaki?"
"No! That's not nece-"
"Because I'm quite free today," Ishida continued as if he hadn't heard him. "Funny Kuchiki-san brought that up, I was just thinking that a short cape would add flair to those otherwise boring-"
"Cape? Absolutely not!" Ichigo's horrified expression made the others exchange amused smiles.
"Are you sure?" Ishida whipped out a tiny sewing kit and some white cloth from his backpack. "Since I have everything here, I can whip you up one in... wait, Kurosaki! Where're you going?"
"Marketing with Yuzu, very important. Bye, everyone!" Ichigo called over his shoulder as he fled.
Whatever changes his power boosts made to his Shinigami robes were fine with him... sleeveless or no... just as long as they didn't include the dreaded cape.
- Story End -
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed :)