Full credit where credit is due--this story is a remix of Tenebris' "A Secret Between Them" written for, appropriately, this year's Remix Redux project on LJ. Written fairly early post-SS arc, this has been thoroughly jossed by now (as all fics of that time period have been, really) and I fudged things so takes place between Grimmjow's attack and training with the Vaizards. It, uh, took longer for Ichigo to get around to that, as the story shows... Vague spoilers for events here and there. Ichigo/Rukia, not that you see them much.
Thanks to Raynos for the beta, Aino for the pumping up, and Sophia Prestar for the last minute checkup.
A Secret Between Them (And All Who Would Behold It)
Sado doesn't spend a lot of time brooding. He has never seen the point. Even during the leaner times, he knows his life is good, much easier than others have it. He has a roof over his head, warm food to eat, and enough clothes to wear. He could want for more, but he does not. Abuelo taught him to do things, not wish for them, and since he met Ichigo, Sado has never been unsure of what he should do. He fought for Ichigo, and Ichigo fought for him. They protected each other, and protected what the other held dear.
Past tense. Ichigo is the one who protects him now, and Sado—
Sado doesn't quite know what he is supposed to do anymore, or where he belongs. Not by Ichigo's side anymore; of that much he is certain. Not when his entire body is defenseless against an enemy Ichigo can halt with a casual swing of his sword.
He has taken to going out for long walks after school. Rather than search for hollows—with so many shinigami here now, his punches are hardly necessary, even if they are powerful—he walks to clear his head, to listen to the world around him, think, and work out what he must do.
Crowds of people are not the best for concentration, so he finds himself seeking solitude in places far from school and home. It's not difficult. For someone as big as Sado, who has been labeled a punk both for his stature and the company he keeps, knowing places to escape to be alone or with friends but unbothered by adults is vital.
He wanders through an empty construction site, ducking under girders and winding his way past concrete barriers—not because there's anything inside he needs to get to, but it's something to do, somewhere to go. Besides, these places remind him of how he first met little Yuuichi and that's a good memory, a warmth in his chest he can hold onto (even if he also remembers getting hit by a girder shortly after.)
Maybe it's luck, or maybe there's some small sound that alerts him, or maybe it's just that he's always been able to sense Ichigo, even before his powers awoke, but Chad is very glad he looks up to see Ichigo and Rukia before he gets too close.
They are very close to each other.
Sado turns around and leaves. They would want privacy, if they have gone so far out of their way to be alone.
He doesn't think about it much on the way home. There's not much to think about, is there? It's not like this is surprising. When they traveled together to Soul Society to rescue Kuchiki-san, he is certain that Ichigo did not do so simply because he liked her…in that way. His friend is too honorable for that. That doesn't mean Sado has never noticed the way he looks at her, though, even if Ichigo never realized it himself. He has also heard the rumors, before and after Kuchiki-san's time in Soul Society. Ichigo's never paid real attention to the rumors or to girls, even Kuchiki-san.
Clearly something happened to make him notice.
Sado is happy for his friend, and respects his need for privacy. He doesn't tell Ichigo about every single thing in his life; sharing secrets is not proof of friendship.
It doesn't change that he feels he's falling even farther behind. Ichigo…is this one more thing you thought I wouldn't understand?
After dinner, he stares into space and flexes his right arm. Tomorrow, perhaps, he'll go to Urahara-san's and make the request that's been in his mind. He'll train. He'll make himself stronger. And he won't say anything to Ichigo about what he saw.
There are many reasons Sado needs to get better, must get better. All of Karakura and Soul Society could be counting on them, but more important, his friends should be able to count on him. Sado won't let them down again.
He'll be stronger. And then maybe he can stand by Ichigo's side again, and they'll talk, and they'll smash down these barriers between them.
Karin is pretty sure she's sharing her bedroom with a dead girl. Or maybe not dead—Ichi-nii definitely isn't dead, but he definitely is a shinigami, even if he lies and says he doesn't know what Karin's talking about. She knows. She's seen him.
She's seen Rukia before, too, ages before Ichi-nii brought her home with a sob story that everyone but Karin bought. She's seen her before, running along her big brother dressed all in black. She looked normal herself, but no one normal would be hunting Hollows, and Karin is sure that's what they were doing. Plus she just feels different, like Ichigo started feeling different last spring, and she talks like she learned how from reading a Yuu Watase manga. Goat-chin thinks it's charming. Karin thinks it's so fake-sounding it's pathetic.
Karin does not trust Kuchiki Rukia. It doesn't help anything when Karin realizes Kuchiki Rukia is making out with her brother.
She's been trying to avoid them. If Ichi-nii wants to pretend nothing's weird (which just shows how dumb he can be when he wants to—not like Karin didn't notice when he left his body to fly out the window. Dumbass. She'd been tempted to draw pictures on his face while he was gone.) then that's fine with Karin, or as close to "fine" as things can get these days. Yuzu and Goat-chin would just get worried and ask too many questions, so for them, for now, she can pretend everything is still their special brand of normal.
It would be easier if she could get Ichi-nii alone for a minute to get some kind of reassurance that everything is okay, even if she knows it's really not. But he's hardly even home lately, and when he is, their new "sister" is always with him, and while Karin's not intimidated by Rukia, she doesn't want to interrogate her brother about his secrets while she's standing right there.
She can't even go find him before everyone gathers at home for dinner. She's tried. The one time Karin sensed him nearby, when she was walking to the park for some soccer to take her mind off things, she started toward his presence (and how she could apparently feel him now without looking, she didn't even want to think about, it just gave her a headache) only to feel another familiar presence with him. Rukia. And Karin hadn't refined this mumbo-jumbo "sensing" crap, but it sure felt like they were close together, under the bleachers, and she guessed that there were no Hollows there.
Karin decided she didn't want to know and went home.
Still, it isn't like she expects kissing. It's not that she thinks Ichi-nii is gay. Judging by how red he gets whenever Pops tries to offer him some porn to promote "healthy plumbing" in a growing boy, he definitely reacts to girls. But he's always cared about other things more, a stance with which Karin definitely agrees. She's already seen boys a little older than her turn into complete dopes when they notice girls exist.
But Ichi-nii is different. Different because he's not a complete dope, and different because of whatever's going on that he won't tell her. So even though Karin's plenty suspicious about her new "sister," there are some things she doesn't see coming.
It's late at night when Karin comes back from getting a glass of water in the bathroom, but the dull glow of moonlight through the window is enough. She can tell from Yuzu's even breathing that her sister is deeply asleep. Karin envies her; she hasn't been sleeping so well lately. Rukia's body is a small lump on the third bed they barely have space for, and her breathing is even too—but a little too loud, and a little too steady. In fact, she sounds a lot like what Karin used to when she was little and didn't want Daddy to know she was awake when he'd peek in to check on them.
She touches Rukia's shoulder and shakes gently. "Hey."
Her eyes snap open immediately. "Yes, Karin py—chan?"
"Nothing," Karin says. "Just checking if you were awake."
She rolls over and goes back to sleep—or sleep'— and Karin feels like she's answered one question but found a few more. She supposes she shouldn't be that surprised. This isn't the first time she's seen someone else in the body of someone she knows, after all.
In a few hours it'll be time to get up and go to school, but Karin's feeling restless, so she walks to the window and leans against it for a while, looking out at the quiet night. Karakura looks peaceful, but there's something wrong under the surface.
She's looking out and over the rooftops when she hears whispers below her and there are Ichi-nii and Rukia on the ground below, both dressed in those strange black clothes. She ducks low in the window so they won't see her, but they're not watching her anyway. They're talking—arguing, it looks like, but it's not too heated. They argue like that's regular conversation. After a minute, they quiet down; Ichi-nii jams his thumbs in his hakama sash and leans over her.
Karin only gapes at the sight for a few seconds, but after those few seconds they're still kissing, so she dashes away from the window and jumps into bed, pulling the blanket over her head. She's not so immature that she finds kissing gross (more like uninteresting.) That doesn't mean it's not creepy to watch her brother kissing. She's been suspicious of Rukia for a lot of reasons, but never this. Seeing him kiss a girl is almost weirder than seeing him jump out of his body and out the window.
She keeps the blanket over her head so she can't see anything, but she does hear a soft thump a few minutes later, then the sound of footfalls on the floor. There's a quiet pop, a quick sighing sound, and then all Karin can hear is the breathing of the two other girls in the room. Rukia's sounds much more natural this time, and she might really be asleep.
Karin stays awake for quite a while.
The next morning at breakfast, she mostly watches. Yuzu cooks, Goat Chin acts like a kook, Ichigo and Rukia bicker as they feed their faces before running off to school. It's all pretty normal, which just makes Karin feel weirder for reasons she can't explain.
She knows she should confront Rukia. If Ichi-nii won't tell her about what's going on, maybe his partner in crime will. Instead she grabs her bookbag and leaves for school in the opposite direction.
Ichi-nii might not trust her enough to tell her the truth, but he trusts Rukia—to keep his secrets and to not beat him up when he acts more like a regular teenager. Karin doesn't like it, but she can wait just a little longer. For a little while more, she can act normal herself and pretend there are no secrets in their house.
Though if Rukia breaks his heart, Karin's going to kick her.
Nee-san is keeping a secret from Kon. He doesn't like it. Doesn't she know how devoted Kon is? How he would listen to her as she confided in him, just the two of them, alone together? How he would keep her confidence close to his heart, just as she could keep Kon close to her delicate bosom?
He's sure Nee-san will understand someday, but for now, she hasn't told him anything. Not that he's sure what she would tell him. But his little plush body has instincts, just as built in and strong as his super-powerful legs when he gets to run around in Ichigo's body, and those instincts are telling Kon she is hiding something.
Come to think of it, he's been getting to run around in Ichigo's body more often. Not all the time—it's not as good as that wondrous summer where he could do anything he wanted and ogle as many beautiful girls as he could without getting slapped (though Nee-san was gone, so things are much better now.) But Ichigo seems to be fighting more Hollows than usual, which means Kon gets to pretend to be human more too. Kon knows there's a war on the horizon, so maybe that's why there are more Hollows, but Ichigo is also taking longer to defeat them, and that doesn't make any sense, especially not with Nee-san's glorious blade to make up for his shortcomings.
Kon would never try to spy on Nee-san. It would be rude, and besides she would stomp her beautiful stomp if she caught him. He wishes he could tell her what a good secret-keeper he would be, much better than certain other residents of the house, the less-manly ones with stinky armpits, but when he's not in Ichigo's body he's usually with Yuzu. She still makes him be a girl and Kon would run away again if she didn't look so sad and cute when her toys went missing. He supposes he is still a sucker for pretty girls even before they're old enough to make it interesting.
He spends most nights in Yuzu's arms due to her surprisingly strong grip and his desire to be near Nee-san, but sometimes she's not there. Sometimes it's that crazy mod soul in her gigai. Kon is a little scared of that one. He wishes Ichigo would put him in his bodies on these nights, too, but Ichigo doesn't share a room and doesn't have to worry about pesky roommates noticing he's a corpse.
He's up one night wondering if there's a way to get rid of this dress Yuzu's stuck him in without her getting suspicious when he sees Karin come back from the bathroom and look out the window. From his angle on the bed, he can't see what she sees, but he can see the strange expression on her face. A few minutes later, he can see Rukia as she jumps to the windowsill, comes inside and returns to her gigai.
She looks happy.
Kon thinks that is weird, because he's been looking over Nee-san for a long time and when she is happy, she doesn't usually show it. She'll smirk or look stoic or—actually Kon's not sure what her expression is when she's pounding him with her foot, but that doesn't matter, because he can tell she's happy then, and he will gladly bear it for her sake.
But Kon's instincts are telling him something, and that's how he finds himself back in Ichigo's closet a couple of days later. Normally he'd cuddle up to the bedding, searching for a last lingering remnant of Nee-san's warmth, her scent, a reminder of the days when he could watch over her better, but now he's peeking out the crack between the door and the wall and waiting.
He doesn't have long to wait. Nee-san and Ichigo went out to kill a Hollow after they got home from school, but Kon was hiding so Ichigo couldn't use him. He wants to see. Whatever normally keeps them out so long must not happen this time, because soon they're back in their bodies and sitting on Ichigo's floor doing math homework. Well, Ichigo's doing it, and Rukia's copying off of him. Close enough. Kon hates math, hates being stuck spying from the closet instead of being in Nee-san's lap and hates Ichigo for being a moron for good measure when it happens.
Ichigo leans over and does something unspeakable to Nee-san's mouth. Kon can feel his little cotton soul howling inside of him. How dare he, to sully Nee-san's purity like that! He doesn't care if Ichigo is bigger than him, he is going to take care of things right now.
But before he can, Karin yells that it's time for dinner and Ichigo blessedly stops chewing on poor Nee-san's face. They leave the room together and Kon is ready to leap out and make a mess of things, throw all of Ichigo's underwear out the window or do something that will annoy him even more, except he sees Rukia's face as she goes.
She looks happy. All the righteous fury goes right out of his stuffing.
It's not that Kon didn't know that those two are friends, or that Ichigo really, really likes Nee-san. It's one of his best qualities and the few things he and Kon see eye to eye on. He definitely doesn't deserve Nee-san, but if Kon reveals he was watching and punishes Ichigo, Nee-san might not have that happy look anymore.
Nee-san should always look happy.
Kon makes up his mind and scurries back to the girls' room so he won't have to be around if Ichigo and Nee-san come back to be gross. He can do this for her. Definitely not for Ichigo. But if it will help her, Kon will keep her secret as long as Ichigo keeps her happy.
If he doesn't, Kon will use his plushie body to smother Ichigo in his sleep.
Renji is nothing if not a prepared man. He's gotta be, working under a captain who isn't afraid to use words as sharp as his sword if everything isn't just so. For that matter, he's been preparing to surpass this same man for decades. His achievement of bankai for Rukia's sake, the fact that he managed to touch Captain Kuchiki at all during their fight—everything because Renji knew what he'd need to do and he practiced. He prepared. He was ready.
He's pretty sure it's because of this habit of readiness that he's gotten as far as he has in this burgeoning war without getting totally fucked up. As soon as the ryoka had gone and he was cleared for duty, he spent every second that he wasn't in the office or catching up with Rukia training with his bankai. Just because it's supposed to take ten years to master didn't mean he can't do his damnedest to speed it up. He knows he'll need every edge he can get.
The training hasn't stopped now that they've come to the living world, either. If anything, Renji's more driven now that he's seen what the enemy is capable of, seen all the innocent souls lined up like ignorant sheep to be slaughtered in this town. Right now Karakura is flush with shinigami, more than enough to take down the average sort of Hollows that show up, and Renji doesn't have much else to do but train while Ichigo and Rukia attend school. (He's not sure why she insists on going or why she banned him from the premises, but as usual, he can deny her nothing.) So he trains on his own when he has to, and with everyone else when he can. That Sado kid is especially driven. He doesn't talk much, but he works like he's got something to prove.
He's a ready man. Ready for anything, he likes to think. And the fact that he is ready, and has been for a while, is why he isn't shocked and doesn't run screaming or throw up when he spots the one woman he would give up everything for in the arms of another guy.
Well, under the arms of another guy, given that Rukia's lying flat on her back in the secret basement of Urahara Shoten and Ichigo's more or less on top of her as he bends over her.
For an instant the world flashes in black and white, like a photographic negative, and then Renji lets out a shuddering breath as a strange feeling settles over him. It almost feels like relief.
And if he's honest with himself, it feels nothing like surprise.
It's not like he sensed something like this was already going on, but he's not so dense he didn't see it coming. That's why he trusted Ichigo to save her in the first place, isn't it? He recognized what Renji had always seen in Rukia, he knew what she was worth. He looked at Rukia like she's the most important thing in the universe. Because she is. Renji can't fault him for that, even if Ichigo is a dumb jerk who didn't know his own feelings.
The kid always did learn fast.
Renji's ready for a lot of things, but he isn't ready to die, and that's what might happen if the couple on the ground notices his presence. So Renji does what he's always done and sacrifices the part of his pride that wants them to see him, to know he knows and they shouldn't hide anymore, and flash steps away so the two are conveniently hidden behind an outcropping of rock. Only then does he allow his reiatsu to spike to a noticeable level. Only then does he allow himself to call out.
"Oi! Ichigo! Rukia! Where are you two?"
Just by saying the words is enough to set his course. He wants to be the friend that Rukia can tell anything to, the one who tells her everything in return because they don't keep secrets between them. But he's always been behind her, always following, and he'll follow Rukia's lead in this, too. When she's ready to tell him, he'll listen, and he won't freak out and he won't punch Ichigo. Until she's ready for him to know, he just won't.
The combat practice goes as usual, all of them working together and making themselves ready for the war to come. It's easier than Renji expects, either because the other two are master actors when it comes to hiding their feelings (not likely) or maybe, just maybe, because when it comes down to it, not much has changed. Even if they're actually makin' out and not just makin' eyes at each other, there's not more there that wasn't there before.
It makes him feel a little better that night, when he's lying in his pallet in Urahara's spare room, looking out at the sky through the window and imagining he can see a shooting star. Renji is not ready to be replaced. Forget the kissing (like he can). He's been Rukia's family longer than Ichigo's been alive, even when they hadn't spoken for years. Family is what you make it, and in the end the family they'd made had been stronger than the distance. He can cope with Rukia loving another, with her not telling him, as long as there's still a place for him to stand by her side.
And he will. No matter what happens in the battles ahead, Renji will stand up, and if he gets knocked down he'll get back up to protect Rukia and everyone else. Because the best way for him to be her friend now is to be everyone else's friend, everyone's comrade, so she never has to see someone else she loves die.
One of these days Isshin will learn not to accept a drink from Urahara Kisuke. Even if the official reason they meet is to discuss developments in the build-up to war, inevitably they end up a little tipsy or worse. Sometimes Tessai can be convinced to break out the old stuff. Those nights usually end up with the three of them crooning bar songs from a hundred years ago and arguing over the words.
Thankfully Isshin has escaped that indignity tonight. He's only a little drunk, but he has early appointments with patients tomorrow, so to forestall any hangover, he sits in the darkened kitchen, sipping water and listening to the sleepy silence of his home.
There wasn't much to talk about tonight. Until Aizen makes his move or Soul Society comes out of its rut and decides to make its own, everyone's in a holding pattern. Training. Waiting.
Isshin can do waiting. He's been doing it ever since a far-too-young policeman with a sad face informed him that his wife had been killed and, by extension, his son had power (though Mr. Policeman didn't know that part). That day feels both long ago and just yesterday. It isn't that far in the past that Ichigo was a little boy who couldn't go potty without Mommy there to keep the Poop Monster away. Now he's sneaking around to make out with a girl he brought into the house under false pretenses, pretending she hadn't already lived there for two months previously.
Isshin is really proud of Ichigo.
This isn't something Isshin heard from Kisuke. He's not even sure if he knows. He hasn't said anything to Isshin about it, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything; the shady bastard could always be saving it to hold over his head later. It would be just like him.
He sips his water and listens to the slight creak coming from the hall upstairs. He doesn't need incredible hearing to know that it's Rukia-chan, tiptoeing down the hall to Ichigo's room. His reiatsu sense has never diminished throughout these long years, even if others can't sense his in this gigai.
It's better that they don't notice him. Ichigo's not the type to come to his father for advice on girls—he's always charged right ahead, determined to learn things for himself. A lot like his mother. Besides, it's not like he can get her pregnant, unless the 12th division was gotten very creative with its gigai since Isshin left. As for the emotional intimacy, the danger of a broken heart—well, a father can't protect his children from everything, and Ichigo got too old for coddling as soon as he swung a sword. He's a man now.
Besides, they're probably not even doing that sort of thing anyway. Ichigo's still got some innocence left to overcome. Isshin's glad; he's not ready to let go entirely just yet.
Isshin finishes his water and stands to go to bed as he hears Ichigo's door click shut upstairs. He wishes he could tell Ichigo that he's proud of him, that he's doing a good job, that Rukia-chan is a good catch and Masaki would like her. There are so many reasons not to, though. A lot of things will be stirred up when Isshin finally reveals himself, and that time hasn't come. He could sit Ichigo down and talk to Ichigo about girls, but he can't say anything about the difficulties involved when a human loves a shinigami. He can't tell Ichigo he understands without telling him why.
And it's healthy for kids to keep secrets from their parents. That's what being a teenager is all about. He'll keep theirs, and his, a while longer.