Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! I felt like teasing one of my favourite characters, but it's not much fun if there're no witnesses or bromance. This story has both so enjoy! :)

Warnings: Slight spoilers for the Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale arc. Possible OOC-ness and minimal plot if any.

Rating: T

Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.

- Story Start -

This was ridiculous.

Three Captains, three Lieutenants, three seated officers (even if one of them was the Seventh Seat from Squad Four), and here they were, all skulking around in the dark because of a rogue zanpakuto.

Ikkaku Madarame grumbled under his breath. This wasn't his style. His style of fighting involved being bold, honest and upfront. In your face upfront. None of this hiding and creeping around Seireitei, unarmed and help-

No. He was not helpless and neither were any of them. Not even Yamada since he was the only one here who knew their way around the sewers.

There was a snort on Ikkaku's right.

"Remind me again why we're using this route to get to Squad Four?" Yumichika sounded like he was gritting his teeth and pinching his nose shut at the same time. "It stinks."

Yamada gave his nervous, chittering laugh which always set Ikkaku's teeth on edge.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," he replied. "But ah, Muramasa shouldn't be able to sense us here."

"Because of the stench?" Yumichika's voice went a note higher.

"And why aren't there any torches?" Ikkaku demanded, feeling justified since Yumichika had started the ball rolling.

Yamada laughed again which made Ikkaku's eye twitch.

"Sorry for the inconvenience and please keep your voices down. Somebody's zanpakuto - I won't say whose, but it has butterfly wings - decided to extinguish all the torches here for fun. And I can't light them without a-"

"If we could use kido, I could light them," Hisagi interrupted, sounding almost as annoyed as Ikkaku felt. Probably because he had stubbed his toe a couple of times, judging from his cursing.

Who knew Hisagi had such a repertoire up his sleeveless shihakshou?

Yamada tittered again.

"S-sorry for the inconvenience. W-we don't want to alert Muramasa to our presence here, do we?"

Ikkaku thought about whacking him upside the head. Did the little runt have to start every sentence with that annoying laugh and apology?!

Thankfully, no one else spoke for the next fifteen minutes. There were only the sounds of annoyed breathing and the slap of sandalled feet against cement.

Without any distraction, Ikkaku tried his best to breathe normally. They were walking at a snail's pace, for Kami's sake! But in the silence, his breathing sounded both faster and louder than the others.

"Ikkaku?" Yumichika whispered. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah. I'm fine," Ikkaku muttered out of the corner of his mouth, feeling both relieved and annoyed at his best friend's voice.

"Are you sure? I know you're afra-"

The annoyance won out. By a mile.

"I said I'm fine!" he snapped.

There was a collective 'Shh!' from everyone else and a sharp intake of breath from Yumichika.

Ikkaku cursed silently as he continued walking. He had a fear that only Yumichika knew and it was an even bigger secret than his Bankai.

He was afraid of the dark.

He, Ikkaku Madarame, Third Seat Officer of the most bloodthirsty squad in the Gotei 13, was afraid of the dark like some... sissy.

Not even Hanatarou Yamada, the spineless runt leading the way, was afraid of the dark.

Nyctophobia - that was the scientific name for it. Well, Ikkaku had another - ridiculous.

But there was no mistaking the frantic pounding of his heart (trying so hard to leap out of his chest) and the sweat pouring off him, more than if he had been sparring for three hours straight. The darkness was like a physical, menacing presence, pressing against him from all sides, squeezing his lungs tight. His sweaty skin crawled with the feeling of a hundred eyes watching him... despite being surrounded by the other officers of the Gotei 13.

Ikkaku did his best to not think, to just breathe - in, out, in, out - and walk - right, left, right, left - as normally as possible.

When something touched his right sleeve, he almost jumped out of his skin. Almost let out a yelp. Fingers brushed against his own and then a warm, dry hand grasped his cold, trembling hand in a tight grip.

Ikkaku's breath left his lungs in a rush, his fears receding almost at once. He scowled in embarrassment and relief. Yumichika knew he hated the dark and, despite Ikkaku's earlier brush off, was offering silent support under the cover of pitch blackness.

Ikkaku swallowed past a dry throat.

"Thanks," he whispered and felt the hand squeeze his in reply.

Another fifteen minutes passed by. Ikkaku's heartbeat slowed down and the tight knot between his shoulder blades loosened.

He could do this.

He was fine.

"Everyone, we're almost at Squad Four. Just five more minutes." Yamada's voice sounded in the dark.

Ikkaku relaxed even more. They were almost there and Yamada could speak without first laughing or apologising. Yes, Ikkaku could get through this.

Then someone else spoke.

"Yo, Ukitake," came the deep, unhurried drawl of Captain Kyoraku from somewhere behind. "How long are you going to hold Ikkaku-kun's hand? Yumichika-kun here is about to blow his top."

In the stunned silence, there was an annoyed 'Hmph!' from Yumichika, an exasperated 'Kyoraku!' from Captain Ukitake, a horrified 'What?!' from Ikkaku, and a burst of startled laughter from the others.

Ikkaku wrenched his hand free and clenched it tightly, face burning and heart pounding faster than ever.

Then an annoyed 'Tsk' sounded from somewhere in front.

"There was no need to point that out, Captain Kyoraku," Captain Hitsugaya stated in a dry tone.

Captain Kyoraku just chuckled.

"Ma, ma, you're holding hands too, aren't you, Toushiro-kun? Ooh, I do believe it's getting chilly here all of a sudden."

"S-Shiro-chan, you're squeezing my hand!"

There was a muttered curse and then a barely audible "Sorry, Hinamori."

For the next minute or so, there was silence and then Kyoraku spoke again.

"Nanao-chan, lovely Nanao-chan, would you hold my hand?"

"Indeed I will not, Captain!"

"Ah, you're so cruel to me. Hey, Ukitake, since Nanao-chan isn't cooperating and you're not holding Ikkaku-kun's hand anymore, would you hold mine?"

An exasperated sigh was his only answer.

Yamada gave that nervous laugh again which now grated on Ikkaku's nerves like fingernails across a chalkboard.

"No one is holding my hand either," he said.

"And no one will," Yumichika said, sotte voce.

A warm hand closed around Ikkaku's left, making him tense up again.

"It's me," Yumichika quickly whispered.

"What took you so long?" Ikkaku complained under his breath.

"Well, you cut me off earlier."

"I... sorry."

"Apology accepted."

- Story End -

A/N: I'm sure manly Ikkaku isn't afraid of anything except for his secret Bankai being found out, but I couldn't resist. Thank you for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed it :)