Title: The First: A One-Shot in Ten Parts
Author: Harmony (Silver Harmony)
Pairing: Ichi/Hitsu, of course.
Rating: M 15 maybe, for implications.
Word Count: Approximately 7,622. Yes, this is quite a long one-shot (which is why it's divided into ten parts! Lol).
Disclaimer: Not mine – otherwise this pairing would be canon.
Notes: Also posted at LiveJournal at the IchiHitsu Community. Sorry, this is un-BETA'd, but I went through it heaps of times, so hopefully there aren't any mistakes. And yes, I know that the parts are significantly shorter at the beginning and significantly longer at the end. That's deliberate.
Feedback: Very much appreciated, as I would like to write much better IchiHitsu fics ... I'm not really as proud of this one as I could be. Your reviews mean a lot to me, especially when it tells me what you think of the story and what I can do to improve. Please and thank you.
By the way ... thank you very much to everyone who reviewed, and thank you to the TWO HUNDRED people (wow! I finally hit the big two-double-zero!) who put this story on your favorites list. I used to list all your names, and now there's so many of you! D: I really value all your feedback and your appreciation for this story, especially since this was my first Bleach fic. You have my gratitude.
The first time Toshiro saw him, it was at a distance.
The youngest captain of the Gotei 13 had been walking back to his office with his vice-captain when he noticed them. The substitute shinigami was sitting on the ground against a brick wall, joking around with Madarame Ikkaku and Ayasegawa Yumichika, who sat on either side of him; they were poking fun at one another and making an incredible ruckus. The smiles on their faces were bright, and their loud laughter merry – they were so relaxed, as if the recent events involving Aizen Sosuke's betrayal had never happened. Toshiro scowled and stared disapprovingly hard at the orange-haired ryoka, who did not even see him.
'What are they doing, making such a commotion?' the captain asked in annoyance.
Next to him, Matsumoto Rangiku shrugged. 'You know what they're like. They always try to find ways of making light heart out of chaos. Considering what they've been through recently, it's understandable that they'd want to joke around and have a good time,' she suggested vaguely, looking at the trio with interest.
The captain simply grunted in response.
'In their eyes it makes sense to not waste time with anxiety. Besides, Taicho,' she added warmly, patting his shoulder, 'not everyone can be as dedicated and serious as you.'
Toshiro barely heard this last speech of affection, however. The substitute shinigami's head was turned in their direction, and he seemed to stare right at them. Suddenly, a grin broke out on his face, and he gave a wink and a wave. Toshiro furrowed his eyebrows. They didn't even know each other; what was the fool getting at?
It was then that Shihoin Yoruichi practically glided forward from behind him and Matsumoto, waving back and calling out a fond hello.
Toshiro bristled and turned his nose to the air before walking off.
The first time Toshiro met him, he also saved him.
After fending off Baishin with his Hyorinmaru and having thereby pulled the former shinigami away from further injuring the weakened Kurosaki Ichigo, he gathered with Abarai Renji and the others from the scene at the Urahara Store and came to the conclusion that the substitute shinigami really was an idiot. His endless arguing with Abarai surprisingly hadn't even been the worst of it. But having the guts to call a Gotei 13 captain 'little one'? That was enough to get Toshiro's vein popping.
Even when he had gone ahead of Kurosaki to further investigate Baishin, he had to focus on directing his mind to the task at hand to keep from feeling irritated. And to think that it was the same idiot who had kept Baishin in check until Toshiro had actually arrived. Both times, at that!
But in the end, all was well after all. The threat had been eliminated in record time, to everyone's relief; ultimately they hadn't really needed so many captains to come all the way to the real world. Baishin had been defeated, thanks in part to Kurosaki's surprising guesswork – the first proof for Toshiro, perhaps, that maybe he wasn't that much of a moron after all.
Just before the gateway to Soul Society closed, Toshiro turned momentarily to look at him. In the brief glance he got, he saw the substitute shinigami standing before Baishin's lone zanpakuto, his gaze turned to the gentle orange-red sunset; a half-smile adorned his features. It had been a long day. Kurosaki's content face showed his readiness to return home.
A hand landed on his shoulder, catching him off-guard. 'Everything alright, Hitsugaya-Taicho?'
Toshiro looked up into Ukitake's smiling face and furrowed his eyebrows.
'Of course,' he answered.
He didn't look back again as the gateway slid to a close behind them.
The first time Toshiro understood him, it was beneath the pale moonlight, framed by Kurosaki's window.
They were only stopping by. He had just finished being dragged along by Matsumoto for a little late shopping and a short refreshing walk, when the vice-captain suggested stopping by at the Kurosaki Clinic which, given their location at the time, was conveniently nearby. Despite Toshiro's protests, the vice-captain's persistence was unwavering: within minutes, she was seated comfortably on the floor of Kurosaki's bedroom, while Kuchiki Rukia brought them tea. Predictably, Matsumoto started gossiping animatedly to Kuchiki about the useless little souvenirs she'd purchased, practically ignoring Kurosaki, who was drinking his own cup of tea in the corner; Toshiro watched all of this uninterestedly, sitting silently at the window sill as he always did.
While the girls proceeded to chatter amongst themselves, Kurosaki slid up to the window beside him, his expression content and untroubled. Out of reflex more than anything else, Toshiro drew back the leg that had been resting on the window sill, simply to give him more room; the substitute shinigami, seeming surprised, raised an interested eyebrow at this gesture.
'You should relax a bit too. Tea?'
'No thanks,' the captain replied.
Kurosaki smirked, and leaned back against the freed-up space on the window sill. 'You know, it's funny – a captain and his vice-captain were sent all the way here to the real world yet again, meaning I should probably expect the worst to happen … but I'm feeling a lot less concerned about things than I usually am. All of us are pretty lucky to have each other, don't you think? Even now, we've got four such strong-willed people here, in this room.'
'I'm not worried about anything, if that's what you're trying to say,' answered Toshiro with a glare.
The substitute shinigami laughed. 'Did I say that? You must be the strongest-willed of them all. But it makes you very likeable. Rangiku-san knows what she's talking about.'
Toshiro almost snorted at the sentimentality, but Kurosaki's eyes sparkled with confidence and compassion as he went on.
'In these times … we're actually quite the lucky ones, Toshiro.'
He hadn't even needed to explain how, or why. Because Toshiro just knew. It had been something he himself felt sometimes, too, beneath the seriousness and the unwavering dedication and adherence to his responsibilities. And he knew then, also, that he and Kurosaki weren't as different as he thought they were. Kurosaki seemed to have realized this much earlier, in fact: his expression seemed to say it as they gazed at each other silently for some time.
The young captain sniffed, and turned away.
'It's Hitsugaya-Taicho to you.'
The first time Toshiro felt it, he'd never expected it.
He just hated the way Matsumoto could somehow get him to give in to do anything she wanted. Gathering with the others – Kurosaki, Kuchiki, Yasutora Chad, Orihime, even Abarai – after school-time and being forbidden by his own vice-captain from returning to Orihime's house until they'd all bought some snacks to share definitely was, without a doubt, one of those times. Of course, it wasn't just because it gave Toshiro flashbacks of Ukitake giving him packets upon packets of sweets. But in the end, no matter how much he protested, Matsumoto still dragged him along anyway.
'You know, sometimes you should embrace your inner child, Taicho. Candy is delicious,' she'd say tactlessly, her mouth in a thoughtful pout; he'd have to hold his breath and count to ten to keep from strangling her.
And while he was walking at the rear of the group, the idiot Kurosaki had had the nerve to approach him and offer him one of his sweets he'd just bought. He refused vehemently, of course. He had enough of that treatment from Ukitake to make him always repeat to himself the question of why on earth it was always him. Kurosaki seemed to think nothing of it, however, shrugging and returning to Kuchiki's side.
'I'll have some more, thanks,' Kuchiki chirped, taking a handful from his packet. Kurosaki was already unwrapping a sweet himself.
'Yeah, have as many as you want, Rukia.'
Kuchiki then proceeded to bump his shoulder gratefully with hers, after which they were instantly chatting and chuckling about useless things.
Toshiro hadn't meant to observe them, but he hadn't been doing anything else at the time, and he was walking behind everyone else. In any case, he found himself somehow disliking what he saw. Orihime was right: Kuchiki had this strange ability to make Kurosaki cheerful. Toshiro had not been around Kurosaki many times, but when he had, seeing the substitute shinigami behaving in this way was a rarity; but now he was doing it openly, allowing the nature of his friendship with Kuchiki to guide his actions – it was obvious with a nudge of an elbow or a silently shared smile how much they'd grown closer in such a short span of time. They behaved … almost in a couply way. Seeing them made Toshiro slightly uncomfortable.
It's because he himself never really showed obvious affection to anyone, not even Hinamori, he told himself.
Kurosaki's face really was brighter than the captain had ever seen it before. He was smiling as he told Kuchiki how delicious the strawberry sweets were, and even popping one into her open mouth when she asked if she could try one. There was an intimacy to the whole interaction that made it seem as if no one else was there but the two of them. Toshiro told himself that he didn't really care, but at the same time he decided that he didn't particularly like the idea of them as a couple.
It was when Kuchiki tucked her arm affectionately through Kurosaki's, seeming so nauseatingly close and cozy, that suddenly the captain lost his bearings and couldn't stop himself.
He'd yelled so loudly that everyone turned around. Abarai and Matsumoto were looking at him in complete bewilderment, and Orihime and Yasutora seemed startled. Kuchiki had let go of Kurosaki's arm, and the two of them had turned around with surprise on their faces, too. Toshiro only realized then how idiotic it was to have yelled out loud like that, since he hadn't really had anything to say to Kurosaki at all; he didn't even know how on earth he'd managed to shout before stopping himself. He felt his face grow hot and looked to the ground, shoving his hands into his pockets.
'… Never mind. It's nothing.'
And he kept walking forward, past Abarai and Matsumoto, past Orihime and Yasutora, determined to retain his dignity.
But Kurosaki chuckled, and stepped in front of him. Before he could say anything, Kurosaki had taken one of the captain's slender hands with his own. Toshiro felt his face grow even hotter; what on earth was the moron doing?
Before he even had the chance to ask, he felt something solid being pressed into his hand.
'If you wanted a sweet, you could've just asked,' said Kurosaki pleasantly, winking at him. 'I would've given you one.'
He closed his other hand over Toshiro's, seeming to take forever before he gave it a light squeeze and let go.
The captain watched as the substitute shinigami made his way back to Kuchiki's side, and they resumed walking with Orihime and Yasutora in tow. However, as expected, Abarai and Matsumoto were giving him funny looks and just couldn't help but to stop alongside him.
'Ooh, which one did he give you, Taicho?' asked Matsumoto cheerfully.
Toshiro opened his fist and looked at the candy he'd been given.
It was strawberry.
The first time Toshiro surrendered to him, they'd almost been caught.
He and Kurosaki had stayed behind in the school hallway after class at Matsumoto's request; she said she had misplaced her watch and may have dropped it somewhere in the courtyard earlier during the day. Orihime and Kuchiki had gone to help her. So now, while his foolish vice-captain was running around the school grounds, he and Kurosaki were stuck in the deserted hallways, wasting time. They sat on the floor and leaned against the wall side by side, Toshiro with his eyes closed.
After a long, long silence, Kurosaki apparently thought it was the right time to poke some fun at the captain.
'Captain Hitsugaya,' Toshiro corrected curtly, without looking at him.
Kurosaki sniffed and chose to ignore that. 'You should smile once in a while, you know. It'll look nice on you.'
'You sound just like Matsumoto when you say things like that,' the captain grunted, glaring at him. But Kurosaki wasn't the least bit intimidated. He simply leaned his head lazily against the wall, beaming at him.
'Like I said, Rangiku-san knows what she's talking about,' he answered good-naturedly. 'Sometimes I wonder if you were born to act this way. It makes you seem unattainable.'
Toshiro couldn't believe it.
'How dare you suggest—'
'It's not an insult,' interrupted Kurosaki casually, catching hold of Toshiro's wrist before he got more emotional. 'And I'm not implying that you deliberately do it for attention. I'm just saying that it actually makes people strive to reach you more. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Sometimes that's just what we want to do.'
Toshiro looked at him, and was slightly surprised at what he saw. There was in Kurosaki's eyes a glimmer of admiration. It was not something that he'd expected from a substitute shinigami who had defeated many captains on his first visit to Soul Society, and whose strength was unmatched to most. It caught him off-guard; he felt the grip on his wrist relax a bit, and he knew that it was because he himself had started to relax a little, too.
'Thanks,' he said in a low voice. 'I suppose.'
Kurosaki chuckled, and Toshiro felt fingers ghost over the back of his hand as Kurosaki slowly let go. 'You could say it with a little more smile.'
'It's not my personality,' he answered. But he wasn't really thinking about what he was saying, and he was only half-listening to what Kurosaki was saying, too. For some reason, his heart was beating faster, and although a part of him suspected why, another part of him didn't want to admit to it.
Before he could control himself, he was reaching over slightly, the back of his hand making contact with Kurosaki's palm again.
'What's wrong – need reassurance?' Kurosaki raised an eyebrow, smirking.
Toshiro felt himself blushing and shot out, 'Shut up, Kurosaki.'
And suddenly Kurosaki was slowly moving his hand and massaging Toshiro's, and Toshiro didn't know why he couldn't bring himself to slap his hand away, abandoning himself to the touch instead. His mind wouldn't even work properly enough to curse in his head when he felt himself trembling slightly. He'd never done anything like this with anyone before, and while that factor made the touch feel foreign, it also felt strangely secure at the same time. He could have died with humiliation, but at the same time, he told himself, there was no one around to see this.
Toshiro caught the substitute shinigami's hand, holding it between both of his own. When he looked into Kurosaki's face, the smile had disappeared, and there was a different gleam in his eyes, one that he couldn't decipher – or, maybe, one that he wasn't ready to decipher. He had never seen that expression on Kurosaki's face before; but then again, he might have had the same expression on his own face, for all he knew.
And then, he didn't really care anymore. His body was automatically moving forward to kneel between Kurosaki's knees, and he felt Kurosaki's warm hand taking hold of his waist, and his brain instantly stopped working entirely and he gave in to what his instinct screamed he wanted. Toshiro slid a hand onto Kurosaki's thigh. The embarrassment that had flooded him before had not gone away, but it was being dominated by something else, a fierceness which overwhelmed him.
Kurosaki was slowly pulling him closer and leaning in, and the captain was just about to surrender everything and ultimately relinquish himself to this warm human body when he felt a familiar reiatsu approaching. His eyes opened wide. It was Matsumoto.
'I can't believe you left it there, Rangiku-san. Someone could have taken it,' he heard Orihime's voice faintly down the corridor.
'I agree.' That was Kuchiki's voice. 'It was a good thing you found it before someone else did.'
Toshiro suddenly magically regained control of himself again, and knocked a startled Kurosaki away in his undignified scramble to get as far away from him as possible. The footsteps, initially distant, were getting much louder already. They both made it just in time: Kurosaki had gotten the idea and was simply stretching in a relaxed way against the wall while Toshiro stood opposite him, his arms crossed and not even needing to pretend to scowl, when the three feminine figures appeared at the end of the hallway.
'Well, I'll be sure to be more careful next time,' grinned Matsumoto positively, twirling the watch around her fingers. Her eyes fell on Toshiro and Kurosaki and she started beckoning at them to follow. 'Come on, boys, let's go.'
''Boys' indeed,' mumbled Toshiro indignantly, insulted.
Kurosaki grinned at him as they both simultaneously moved and made their way over to where the girls were, following them as they led the way.
The first time Toshiro kissed him, he was due to return home.
He, along with Matsumoto, Abarai and Kuchiki, had stayed down in the real world long enough and had been requested back by Captain-Commander Yamamoto, who deemed – through the high recommendations of Ukitake – that Kurosaki was reliable enough to handle things here now. As was his responsibility, Toshiro accepted this without any complaint, despite the Kurosaki incident in the school hallway only the week before; however, Kurosaki had not seemed to forget this so easily. They were all gathered at Orihime's house: Kuchiki and Abarai were helping Matsumoto pack, while Kurosaki sat uselessly on a chair next to a study-desk in the guest-room that Orihime had given Toshiro, only looking at him while he surveyed the room to see if he'd left anything behind.
'It's hard to believe you guys are going,' the substitute shinigami said.
Toshiro sniffed. 'I'm a captain. It'd be irresponsible for me to leave behind everyone in my division for too long.'
'I know, I know. It's just that I've kind of gotten used to the idea of you being here now.'
The captain looked at him momentarily. Kurosaki, he realized, was a young man with such strong bonds.
'… Well,' he answered (only to make the moron feel better, he told himself), 'feel free to visit Soul Society if you feel like it.'
A smirk suddenly spread out across Kurosaki's face.
'Are you inviting me, Hitsugaya Toshiro?' he asked, with a smug edge to his tone that made the hairs on the back of Toshiro's neck stand up. The captain made his way across the room with a snort and stood firmly in front of the seated substitute shinigami, his arms crossed.
'You are so insufferable, Kurosaki.'
Kurosaki laughed and tugged at Toshiro's sleeves. 'So are you,' he commented. 'I'm going to miss you. It's a shame, you know. Just when it seemed like something was going to happen.'
'What do you mean?'
'You know what I mean,' the substitute shinigami said with a slight blush, waving his hand in a mock-dismissive way, although Toshiro could tell that he was far too nervous to be casual. '… The other day. I mean, the thing at school. In the hallway.'
Toshiro started blushing too.
Kurosaki looked up at him, a gentle shyness in his face. 'I really liked it, Toshiro.'
It was unbelievable that only such words could make an infallible captain quiver, but circumstances had changed, and Toshiro knew that things between them were different now. Kurosaki seemed to want to be alongside him, regardless of position or gender. Kurosaki was waiting for him. And Toshiro found it difficult to lie to himself about wanting this. But there was one question still left unanswered.
'What about Kuchiki?' he asked slowly. 'I thought things were already going on between the two of you.'
Kurosaki looked surprised.
'Rukia? Not at all. She's special to me, and I want to protect her. But it's not what you think.'
Toshiro didn't say anything, and he would never have admitted it, but he was relieved to hear that. However, he hadn't needed to say anything anyway, because Kurosaki seemed to be able to understand what he was thinking from watching his face.
'Full of envy, are we? I'm flattered,' he teased.
'Of course not,' Toshiro snapped, although it had ended up louder than he'd intended. Kurosaki laughed, and pulled him in closer.
'It doesn't matter if you are,' he whispered. 'You're stunning when you're jealous.'
And Toshiro suddenly felt Kurosaki's fingers brushing his cheek and his mouth against his own; after the initial shock in which he had to calm his mind to keep his heart from beating so fast, he let go of all thought and leisurely gave in to a warm first kiss. His arms encircled Kurosaki's shoulders, and as he embraced this closeness he distantly wondered if Kurosaki would accept his so-called invitation sometime soon. Whether or not this was the case, he may be going back to Soul Society, but he was leaving a piece of himself behind.
The first time Toshiro called him by his given name, he hadn't even realized it.
It was during a battle, after all, and they were both distracted. Some powerful intruders had infiltrated Soul Society and were doing considerable amounts of damage; the captains and vice-captains had all been put to the test and were out with their zanpakuto, sometimes fighting against two or three opponents at once. It was utter chaos. Matsumoto was already badly wounded and being stolen away by Kotetsu Isane, who was demanding that her injuries be healed at once; Hinamori, Toshiro heard, had also been knocked unconscious and was under Unohana's care. He gritted his teeth. Was Seireitei really so disorganized that they had to endure this many infiltrations and gain so many casualties every single time?
A flash of orange, and Toshiro was immediately distracted. He blocked one of the ryoka's attacks with Hyorinmaru and looked up at Kurosaki's smirking face; he already had his famous Zangetsu unsheathed and in his hands, ready to strike.
'About time you came!' The captain said in a bad-tempered way.
Kurosaki struck down the ryoka that was running towards him and pouted at Toshiro. 'I'm happy to see you, too.'
'Shut up and get rid of them!'
Toshiro cut down his opponent and moved on to the next one. He looked around and assessed the situation as quickly as possible: so far, only Abarai and Madarame seemed to have unleashed their Bankai, and the captains were defeating their respective opponents fairly quickly, which filled him with hope. It appeared that the strength of the captains was really a decisive factor in the control of the outcome of the battle, which was positive – for now.
His eyes fell on Kurosaki and was startled by what he saw. He was fending off four or five powerful opponents at once; they seemed to understand his power and had decided to ambush him. Toshiro clenched his fists. What stupid trouble, when he was busy with his own opponent. It was then that he noticed Kuchiki Rukia in the corner of his eye; she was coming to help. He passed his opponent off to her and leapt towards Kurosaki, who seemed to be attracting even more of the ryoka.
Slicing through the intruders, Toshiro made his way through the chaos and came to his side immediately. Before they were poised together, back to back, both wielding their zanpakuto with a staggeringly devastating power, Toshiro caught a glimpse of Kurosaki looking at him in fond surprise and giving him an affectionate smile.
He didn't even know what on earth it was for.
But all he knew was that both of them were ready to fight. And that neither of them were going to be defeated. Not by these goons.
The first time Toshiro told him, it was the first time he'd told anyone.
Kurosaki had stayed in Soul Society for some time now, always keeping a vigilant eye on his friends. Yasutora, Ishida Uryuu and Orihime had been very severely wounded and were still bed-ridden, even though the battle against the intruders had already been two and a half weeks ago; in fact, Yasutora was the only one who had awakened, whereas the other two were still deeply unconscious. Kurosaki was not someone who lost hope, but even Toshiro could see the deep sadness that was making him less and less confident about going home with his friends beside him.
Even now, he was lying around on the couch in Toshiro's office and looking like he felt sorry for himself. Nothing Matsumoto did had successfully cheered him up. Toshiro sighed. Yes, his paperwork was important, and he couldn't really focus on it when Kurosaki was right in front of him, distracting him with his over-worry.
Tired eyes looked up from underneath messy orange.
'Why don't you go back and watch over them for a while? You could probably talk to Yasutora while you're at it. No point in wasting time worrying.'
'I already did, all morning. I only came here ten minutes ago, and you're already keen to get rid of me?' he smiled weakly.
Toshiro sniffed, got up from his chair and made his way over to the couch. He sat down next to Kurosaki and looked down as the substitute shinigami shifted over to make room for him. He was yawning. He had circles under his eyes, and looked exhausted.
'You should probably get some sleep, then,' he suggested.
'Can't. I try, and I just end up lying there for hours.'
Kurosaki was pulling at his arm, and Toshiro knew that he was hoping for close company and comfort, which he needed more than anything at that moment. He sighed. He lay down, too; warm, soft arms enveloped him at once, and Kurosaki nuzzled his ear as he shifted around to accommodate him, before settling down and pressing his cheek against Toshiro's hair. Toshiro could feel Kurosaki's chest rising and falling as he breathed, and Kurosaki's hands tracing slow, gentle strokes on his back. It was funny that the substitute shinigami wasn't even looking at him. His eyes were gazing at the ceiling, and he seemed to have once again slipped into a state of absent-mindedness.
All this time, it had always been Kurosaki who offered words of comfort even though they weren't asked for. But now, Toshiro felt like it was his turn.
'You should give yourself more credit, Kurosaki.'
'Thanks,' he replied softly, although the tone of his voice made it obvious that he wasn't convinced.
'You've always strived to do all you can. They'll wake up, Kurosaki. You'll see.'
Toshiro frowned. 'You and your one-worded answers. I feel like I could very well be talking to a brick wall.'
Toshiro rolled his eyes, and leaned over and kissed him softly.
'You're such a moron,' he whispered against the substitute shinigami's mouth. He could feel Kurosaki suddenly smiling.
'But you love me for it.'
The captain pulled back and huffed. 'Luckily for you.'
Kurosaki grinned widely, pulled Toshiro gently towards him again and held him closely. He seemed rather smug even through his exhaustion. Toshiro's eyes widened as he realized that he had just admitted to feeling love for Kurosaki; although he had harbored all kinds of love – friendly and familial, especially – it was something he had never outwardly told anyone before. It was not really in his personality to express something of that nature so directly. He blushed, feeling rather embarrassed.
But Kurosaki wasn't. He smooched the captain once on the tip of his nose, and said: 'Hopefully one day you'll be able to say the words openly without blushing so much. But in the meantime,' he teased, tracing Toshiro's jaw with a gentle finger, 'that will definitely do.'
He closed his eyes.
'Love you too, Toshiro …'
Within seconds, he had fallen asleep.
Toshiro did not move, but simply stayed where he was. He'd been slaving over the paperwork all day and he decided that the rest of it could wait. When Kurosaki woke up from his nap, he'd probably go down to see Yasutora, Orihime and Ishida again; Toshiro would come with him, to be beside him and offer him support as he knew he should. A few minutes later, Toshiro felt drowsiness sweep over him and he surrendered himself to slumber, too.
When a worried Matsumoto and Hinamori came to visit more than an hour later, he and Kurosaki were still curled up around each other, fast asleep. Stifling their giggles, the two women closed the door, realizing that it was probably best to let them be.
The first time Toshiro spent the night with him, he got more trouble than he'd bargained for.
That particular morning, Toshiro woke up feeling significantly more light-hearted than usual – it was as though the burdens had just rolled off his shoulders. He looked at Kurosaki's calm expression: the substitute shinigami was still asleep, snoring lightly. For once, Toshiro let a small smile creep onto his face; he was young, and he felt like he should be allowed to think of things he probably shouldn't be thinking about once in a while. But his first time with Kurosaki had been wonderful, and he couldn't help it. If he had known that he was going to feel so incredible and at ease all the way until the morning, they probably would've done it earlier.
He slowly slipped out of Kurosaki's arms, which were still wrapped around his bare waist, and started getting dressed. He already was ten minutes late, from what he could see; but he was feeling so good and so content that he was confident he could deal with any kind of lecturing or scolding for it. If he could quietly go off to his duties without anyone knowing, it would be everything he could hope for. As long as no one was rude enough to barge into his chambers while Kurosaki still hadn't woken up, that is; he was going to have a hard time explaining why the substitute shinigami was naked in his bed.
As soon as Toshiro had finished bathing and he was heading over to the gates, he saw Hinamori running over to him. He stopped in his tracks. She was calling out to him, her face distressed.
She stopped in front of him and panted, out of breath.
'What is it, Hinamori?'
'You were supposed to be at the gates three hours ago,' she said quickly. 'Kuchiki-Taicho has had to take over your duties and he is furious. Where on earth have you been all morning?'
'Hinamori, what are you talking about? I'm only half an hour late.'
'No, you're three hours late, Hitsugaya-kun,' argued Hinamori, her voice firm. 'You had sunrise duty today. You must have misread your timetable, but everyone has been waiting for you all this time.'
The two of them turned around at the interruption. It was Kira Izuru and Hisagi Shuuhei, and they were bounding up towards him, looking similarly flustered.
'What's wrong?' Toshiro asked, suddenly on edge.
'Yamamoto-Sotaicho has been calling for you since last night,' stated Kira, a touch of anxiety obvious in his voice. 'We were told that you retired early yesterday evening, so we couldn't come and fetch you, but we were supposed to come see you as soon as you arrived at the gates for your sunrise duty.'
'He said that he entrusted you to complete some document that you were to return to him last night, but you never did. And we've been waiting for you at the gates all morning and you never came, and Kuchiki-Taicho has been driven to the limits of his temper with us continually questioning him. We were supposed to report back to Yamamoto-Sotaicho two and a half hours ago with you in tow, no exceptions … we're going to get into so much trouble,' continued Hisagi darkly. Toshiro's eyes widened to hear this.
'Oh, his document,' he repeated, scowling. He couldn't believe he could be so stupid as to forget his responsibilities. 'I forgot all about it. Kurosaki was distracting me all night. I'll get right on it, Kira, Hisagi. Sorry for the trouble.'
Just as he swung around, he came face-to-face with Matsumoto and Abarai, both of whom had their hands on their hips. Matsumoto looked especially livid. She grabbed his shoulders with both her hands and held him firmly, as though she was trying to prevent him from making an escape.
'There you are, Taicho!' she shrilled. 'What have you got to say for yourself? Did you know that last night you were scheduled to take a three-hour night watch with me and Renji and Soi Fon-Taicho? You're lucky that Rukia volunteered to cover for you. I've never known you to be so lazy that you'd retire to bed without doing your duties. If Yamamoto-Sotaicho found out about this, you'd be in for a ten-hour lecture!'
'What are you talking about? That night watch was scheduled for tonight, not last night!' Toshiro raged, appalled that Matsumoto could dare to speak to him in such a manner.
'No, Hitsugaya-Taicho,' Abarai answered slowly. 'It was last night.'
Toshiro was so overwhelmed that he couldn't think of what to say.
Not that he had any time to say it, if he had anything to say; because the next moment he knew, yet another voice had interrupted his thoughts, calling out his name.
The captain was caught off-guard by the slender, lithe woman who had leapt and suddenly landed in front of him. He jumped, half-startled.
'I think Zaraki was annoying Kurotsuchi again. He couldn't find Ichigo to harass, so he decided to go for the next best thing,' Yoruichi stretched in a casual way, and jerked her thumb over her shoulder behind her. 'They're fighting in front of your office again. And their subordinates are joining in and making a mess in front of your doors. Maybe you should do something about it before you're forced to clean it up.'
When the captain turned around, bracing himself for the worst, he saw Orihime hastening towards him, followed by Yasutora and Ishida. Their faces were worried. Toshiro suppressed an inner groan. Now what?
'Toshiro-kun, have you seen—'
'You three shouldn't be running around,' he cut in curtly. 'You were only released by Unohana two days ago. She did say that you had to rest.'
'Don't worry about us,' cried Orihime, the worry heavy in her voice. 'Kurosaki-kun is missing. He wasn't in his room this morning. Someone said they saw you with him for a while last night, but we didn't want to wake you up to ask you … but oh, Toshiro-kun, we've looked everywhere for him. He's nowhere to be found!'
'He might have gone off somewhere, by himself,' Yasutora said in a low voice. 'It'd be just like him.'
'Unless he was carried off overnight and abducted,' continued Ishida, his face full of depth and thoughtfulness. 'What if there was another infiltration?'
'Oh, for Heaven's sake!' Toshiro lost his temper. 'There hasn't been any infiltration, and Kurosaki hasn't been kidnapped and he hasn't gone off anywhere by himself. As far as I know, he was still asleep in my room when I went back there to get my clean uniform about ten minutes ago. You know what? I'm going to go deal with Zaraki and Kurotsuchi, and then I'm going to give Yamamoto his document and then take over from Kuchiki. If you want Kurosaki so badly you can all go and shake him awake for all I care. You're all making way too much of a fuss out of things!'
And then … there was silence so thick it could have been cut with a knife.
Toshiro was so overwhelmed and angry by all this that he had almost forgotten the pleasant warmth that had enveloped him that morning. So much for a wonderful first time; spending the entire night with Kurosaki had made him forget about all of his duties, and had caused such trouble. He could hardly believe that all of this was happening only the morning after. He stood there alone, breathing hard, feeling betrayed by the joy he'd come to know.
The first one to break the silence was Hinamori. She looked like she was struggling not to laugh, but a squeak escaped her; Toshiro had swung around to glare at her, and noticed that everyone else was also bent over with heads bowed, shivering in what suspiciously looked like restrained laughter. And then, Abarai couldn't help himself and laughed out loud, and everyone followed, too; full-bellied, loud, boisterous laughter. All of them were laughing so hard that Toshiro thought they'd gone mad.
'He admitted to it,' Matsumoto squealed, leaning against the nearest wall for support. 'He actually admitted to it!'
'I didn't think he would!' Hisagi snorted. He and Kira were bent over in their laughter.
Hinamori was in hysterics, wiping her eyes that had cried from laughing so hard. 'We're all so cruel,' she giggled. 'This is far too mean.'
Orihime was also chuckling, but she put a gentle hand on Toshiro's shoulder. She beamed at him as he looked up at her in confusion; her cheeky expression, however, told him almost full well what she was about to say.
'Don't worry, Toshiro-kun,' she said between giggles. 'Everyone was just playing with you. We knew where Kurosaki-kun was. We were just teasing.'
'And it's okay, you're only half an hour late for your duties today,' grinned Hinamori, 'but Ukitake-Taicho and Kyoraku-Taicho were more than happy to cover for you. You won't be facing Kuchiki-Taicho's wrath after all.'
Toshiro stood there and stared at them as it began to sink in.
'And I knew you were too distracted by Ichigo to remember the document, Taicho. Last night I already handed it in to Yamamoto-Sotaicho on your behalf,' Matsumoto winked. 'And don't worry about the night duty. That was supposed to be tonight.'
'And I suppose that thing about Zaraki and Kurotsuchi was a joke, then, too,' Toshiro said darkly, feeling something unwholesome bubbling threateningly in the pit of his stomach. However, no one seemed the least bit intimidated.
Yoruichi smirked at him, peering at him in a cat-like way. 'Nah, that was actually true. But I've sent Soi Fon to deal with them. You deserve a break, after all.'
This last comment filled the air with sniggers. Toshiro took a breath and counted to ten.
'I suppose this was your idea? No one else would be able to pull off such an organized humiliation of their own captain,' Toshiro immediately turned to Matsumoto, his eyes flaring. She flicked her dark blonde hair back and harrumphed, her large bosom heaving.
'Of course it was me!' she turned her nose to the air. 'You deserve a punishment after what you and Ichigo put me through. The walls were thin and you two kept me up half the night. Even when I yelled at you to keep it down, you didn't seem to hear me. You must have been enjoying yourself way too much! Not that I could blame you. I'd probably be enjoying myself if it was Ichigo, too.'
He couldn't believe it. The sniggering grew louder. He felt his face go so red that he may as well have been a tomato.
'Matsumoto … you …' Toshiro growled in embarrassment, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth.
It was then – perhaps out of the unluckiest of fates for the young captain – that Kurosaki chose to stroll right up to the crowd, stretching his arms and yawning loudly. It came as such a surprise to the group that they all stopped right where they were, in their tracks; and, seeing everyone looking across at him in complete silence, the substitute shinigami also stopped and looked back in surprise.
'Hey, what's everyone doing here?' he asked in confusion. But then he brightened up and grinned. 'Oh well, it doesn't matter. Good morning!'
The laughter that met Toshiro was so unbearable that he stormed off, giving the clueless Kurosaki a glare along the way.
The first time Toshiro came for him, they would spend a holiday together.
He had been waiting by the school gates for half an hour, and there was still no sign of Kurosaki. Only hordes and hordes of teenagers, all chattering nonstop about the beginning of the holidays, which they were all looking forward to. Among them, just a handful of annoying senior girls who just couldn't resist commenting on how adorable he was. Toshiro sighed. He hated to admit it, but it was rather different going to the real world without Matsumoto: her annoying comments and antics, at least, gave him a distraction and something more familiar to be annoyed about – not that he'd ever forgiven her after the embarrassment she caused him, that particular morning when he thought he'd neglected all of his duties after being too distracted during the night. He supposed Kurosaki felt the same way; now that Kuchiki was back on duty in Seireitei, the substitute shinigami must feel slightly lonely without her around.
In these times … we're actually quite the lucky ones, Toshiro.
Toshiro remembered, as though it was yesterday, the conversation he'd had with Kurosaki by his window, only three-quarters of a year before. He closed his eyes. Everything had changed so much since that time. Maybe it was fate that the young man who saved Soul Society would come to love him and allow him to open up and give him what he had been missing. Toshiro furrowed his eyebrows. It would always be strange, thinking of Kurosaki in such a way.
'Even after I haven't seen you in a while, you still like to scowl.'
Toshiro opened his eyes, and looked up at the grinning face above him. Kurosaki hadn't changed; he probably would never change. Messy orange hair, his bag slung over his shoulder, a smirk plastered on his face. He bent over and kissed Toshiro once on the mouth, to which he protested.
'What are you doing? Anyone could see us!'
Kurosaki sniffed. 'Still the same bad temper, too. Relax, Toshiro. There's no one left around.'
He was right: the captain had immersed himself so deeply in his thoughts that he hadn't realized when the flow of students had become thinner and eventually dissipated. He looked around in surprise, blinking. Kurosaki really was the only student left; not even Yasutora, Orihime and Ishida were to be seen.
'How come you came out so late? And where are the others?'
'They've gone home. The three of them will be coming over to my house to have dinner later today to celebrate the start of the holidays, though. I came out last because I had to do some last-minute classroom checks before the holidays,' he explained, tilting his head sideways in thought. 'What about you? What are you doing here … and where's Rangiku-san?'
'She's back in Soul Society. She didn't come with me this time,' answered Toshiro. 'And I've come here because I've been permitted a short break. For the holiday period.'
A wide grin spread across Kurosaki's face. 'Are you serious? How long?'
Toshiro crossed his arms. 'A week, and no longer. In the meantime, I'll need somewhere to stay. You better be willing to give me special treatment, Kurosaki.'
'And more,' he replied, winking pleasantly. 'For a holiday from your duties, Toshiro, a week is fairly sufficient. It'll only be a small part of the time we'll be spending together, anyway.'
And they looked at each other for some time, a glimmer in their eyes, understanding one another even when the most important things were unsaid. Toshiro remembered all the significant moments that had led them up to this point: their first night together leading up to that unspeakable embarrassing teasing by their friends which, Toshiro decided in the end, the two of them probably deserved; the first time Toshiro admitted to Kurosaki that he felt love for him; the time they had fought together seamlessly against the intruders; the first time they had kissed, when Toshiro was due to part with Kurosaki; the first time Toshiro had begun to feel something for him and had surrendered to him; the first time he had felt jealousy for Kurosaki's attentions being diverted; the first time they had started to understand each other; the first time they had met; the first time Toshiro had seen him …
All of these moments would be cherished forever. And Toshiro knew that he would never regret any of them. With all the beautiful memories behind them kept safe, they had plenty to look forward to in the future. Whether it was fate, or luck, or destiny … all he knew was that whatever road was beneath his feet, and wherever this road was leading him, it sure felt like the right one, and the right way.
Kurosaki broke the moment by turning, seeming to get ready to walk away.
'Oi, Ichigo,' the captain frowned in response. 'Where are you going?'
The substitute shinigami turned back and held out a hand to him. There was still a broad smile on his face. 'Come on, Toshiro. It's time to go home.'
Toshiro rolled his eyes, but took the hand nevertheless. Kurosaki really was something else.
Although whatever he was, he would always be exactly what Toshiro wanted.