Title: The World of Ruin
Pairings/Characters: Urahara Kisuke/Aizen Sousuke
Rating: M
Warning: Clear yaoi in here guys. Mature themes.

Words: 7,428
Description: Prequel to Solitary Serenade, second in Never Regret series. The before and the after. The night Urahara Kisuke abandons Soul Society, he leaves some things behind.
Recommended Listening: "When You're Gone," Avril Lavigne; "I Still," Backstreet Boys; "Say Goodbye," Skillet


The door slid closed with a quiet thump, echoing in the silent stillness around him. Urahara expanded his senses, mostly to ensure himself that there was no one in the vicinity. Detecting no reiatsu, he took a deep breath and concentrated on sealing the doors before him shut.

Fingers dancing over the thick steel, he whispered the strongest binding kidoh he knew, ensuring that few would be able to break into the building. Then, on top of those, he added several layers of concealment and reiatsu blocking. This structure contained his life's work, the things he could not take with him. He had to leave it as best guarded as he could.

Luckily, he had crafted most of it underground so that only the entrance was above the soil. It wasn't in plain sight either. And so far off into the vast reaches of Soul Society that only those who knew of its existence could find it. That number was very few indeed. He could name them all on just one hand and all of them were leaving with him.

Abandoning Soul Society.

His fingers fell away from the door as the last spell clicked into place. Above him, the moon gleamed down, the only witness. A wind stirred, rustling at his hair and captain's robes, reminding them that he had somewhere he was supposed to be. An event he was supposed to be celebrating. Not at this very moment but soon enough.

Brushing blond hair from his eyes, Urahara cast a lingering look at the hidden location that held all of his aspirations and hard work. He idly wondered how long it would take for Seireitei to discover it before turning away and slipping into the shadows. He didn't have long to linger. He and the others were leaving late this night before they came for him in the morning.

With that in mind, Urahara turned and flitted away, heading straight for the home that he shared with Sousuke. He could only hope that he wouldn't be late. He hated disappointing his lover. And he had only this one chance. He didn't want to end it on a terrible note.

It wasn't that Urahara wanted to leave. But his hand had been forced in the matter. Chamber 46 had found out about his research, and they were going to cast him aside anyway. But not until they found a way to destroy everything. He wasn't going to allow that to happen. Nor could he let them decide for themselves how to handle the situation.

He knew it wasn't really because of his research, but rather that they were frightened little children, cowering in their corners. They didn't want Shinigami stretching out of their control. They planned on making an example of him.

Urahara refused to let them.

They were going to claim that he played god, that he toyed with the lives of others, knowing full well that it wasn't true. There was nothing wrong with examining the limits of science, with testing above and beyond. His creations weren't necessarily evil. It all depended on the hands that held them.

He faced exile; Urahara knew that. Or at least, they would call it that after he escaped. If he had allowed them to come for him, he was pretty sure exile would have been the least of his worries. After all, if he was exiled, he was still alive. He could still research and plan.

They couldn't have that.

In all honesty, Urahara didn't want to leave. His friends and family were here. The division he had worked into notoriety, the Shinigami Research Institute he had begun with his own two hands. And most importantly, Sousuke was here.

His choice in the matter, however, had been taken from him.

He had debated long and hard about whether or not he should tell his lover. Sousuke had known that he was engaging in some potentially controversial research, was aware that Soul Society wouldn't approve. But he didn't know how advanced the situation had become, how close they were to finally catching up to Urahara.

By the end, he had decided to keep everything a secret. Even the fact he was leaving. He wasn't certain if it was because he knew Sousuke would try to come with him or that he feared his lover would choose to stay behind. He simply couldn't ask that of the other man, not when he had so much left to do. Out of all of them, Urahara knew that Sousuke was the best for bid to be the next captain-commander. The old man was already grooming him for the position. And he refused to take that opportunity from his lover; Sousuke deserved it.

Urahara knew it would hurt. Leaving Sousuke would be the hardest part of it all, especially since it would be without a goodbye. But this was something that had to be done. He couldn't stay, and he didn't dare ask his lover to leave. It was as simple as that.

He also knew that in order to escape successfully, he would have to break their bond. In order to protect Sousuke from the eventual interrogation, he would have to ensure that there was no way the other man could find him. That link between them, growing stronger over the years, binding them together, he couldn't afford Soul Society being able to trace it. Nor did he want to put Sousuke in the position where he would have to lie or try to hide it. Instead, he would make that decision for the both of them.

It would be easier with that bond broken for Sousuke to move on as well. He would at least want his lover to be happy with him gone. He wouldn't want Sousuke to feel obliged to remain faithful to an absent partner. The other captain was doing so much good for not only the fifth division already; Urahara knew that eventually he would be good for Soul Society. He refused to take that away.

In this manner, he would take the burden entirely on his own.

With a flash, Urahara came to a stop just outside their shared home, glancing quickly around to see if someone had noticed his arrival or the direction he had come from. He didn't see or detect a single individual, judging that all was safe. Breathing a sigh of relief, he headed inside.

"Tadaima," he called out as he stepped within, sliding the door shut behind him.

He only felt one other person inside, their servants obviously dismissed for the night. Down the hallway, Kisuke caught sight of Sousuke popping his head out of a doorway before ducking back.

"In the kitchen," came the answer.

He had assumed as much. Kisuke slid out of his waraji and left them in the front entryway, padding quietly down the hall. He tried not to dwell on the fact that this would be the last time he would ever do this. Instead, he focused on trailing his lover into the kitchen.

"I apologize for being late," he responded as he followed the delicious smells and caught sight of Sousuke in front of the stove, setting a tea pot on the burner. "I had some business to take care of."

Sousuke turned and arched a brow. "Should I expect to bail you out of trouble once more, Kisuke?" he asked, one hand idly brushing down a stray piece of rice from his dark green yukata.

The stab of guilt that flashed through him was not entirely unexpected. He overlaid it with a smile, however, refusing to let his turmoil show on his face.

"Of course not. Why would I seek to worry you?" he asked, full of false innocence.

Skeptical and not hiding it in the slightest, his lover merely waved him. "Go change. Dinner should be ready in a moment," Sousuke replied, turning back towards his food preparations.

"I should be doing that," Kisuke said, though he was already moving to their shared bedroom just down the hall. "It is your birthday, after all."

He was gifted with Sousuke's low chuckle. "If I wanted to eat charred meat and loose rice, then perhaps I would allow it," the other captain countered wryly, his voice following Kisuke's movements.

Shaking his head, the head of the research division chuckled and slipped into their dark room, flipping the switch. Light flooded the decent-sized chamber as he crossed the room towards the closet, already pulling off his captain's haori. He grabbed a hanger and hung it next to his spare, his eyes flickering to the two already beside it. One hand paused on his obi in thought as the other reached out, fingers brushing over Sousuke's haori. The sudden painful thought that he wouldn't be seeing this very scene again struck him hard. He wasn't taking any of this with him.

This night was going to be even more difficult than he had anticipated. Sousuke was so damn perceptive, and he was trying too hard to hide everything burbling up inside of him. Even if he had known it was inevitable and had been stretching how long he could stay in Soul Society, that didn't make leaving any easier. And to be forced to do so on Sousuke's birthday! It simply was not fair.

"Do you need help?"

Kisuke nearly jumped, barely managing to gain control of himself before he did. He turned to see Sousuke standing in the doorway, watching him, and smiled. This, at least, he did not have to force. Even if it hurt, he would always be happy to see this man.

He finally tugged his obi off, dropping his hand from the other hanging haori. "Getting dressed or getting undressed?" Kisuke teasingly asked, both of his kimono falling open in the absence of the sash.

Sousuke came further into the room, steps a silent swish on the polished wooden floors. "Which do you think?" he posed with a bemused air, stepping up behind the other man and wrapping his arms around him. The warmth of his skin and fingers was familiar against Kisuke's bare belly.

"Shouldn't you be watching dinner?" he countered, his free hand dropping to the arm around his waist.

"I'm not you, Kisuke. I'm in no danger of giving us food poisoning," he teased with a light chuckle. "Let us not have a repeat of the taiyaki incident."

Kisuke groaned, rolling his eyes as memories washed over him. "You're never going to let me forget that."

"I was sick for three days. Retsu-chan was not impressed," Sousuke reminded him, setting his chin on Kisuke's shoulder. "You single-handedly managed to take out half the captains in Soul Society, conquering even the captain-commander's iron stomach."

Kisuke laughed. "Yes, but Jyuu-chan was the only one who didn't get sick," he corrected with a fond smirk, thinking of that event decades ago. In the distance, he heard the shrill whistle of the tea kettle. "I guess that's my signal to make tea."

"No, I will make us tea," Sousuke inserted easily, unraveling his arms from Kisuke's waist and leaving his hands settled on hips bathed in layers of fabric. "We want it to be drinkable. Not bitter enough to kill Hollows."

Turning in his lover's grasp, Kisuke put on a playful pout that usually served to get him what he wanted. "Mah. You mock me, Sou-kun," he put in, eyes glinting mischievously.

"I consider it my duty as your lover," Sousuke replied with a very familiar smirk. "And as the only one willing to put up with you for all these years."

The shrieking of the tea kettle grew louder, rattling the walls of their home and reminding them that it was ready to get off the hot stove now. Before Kisuke could speak again, Sousuke ducked in for a brief kiss before pulling away with evident disappointment.

"You're telling me what is bothering you at dinner," he declared, already sliding out of the room and leaving Kisuke to stare after him.

He should have known that Sousuke would see through him in a moment. The other captain had always been incredibly perceptive, even when it came to him. But it wasn't something he was willing to discuss. Not and ruin everything tonight. Kisuke wanted to leave with good memories, not an argument and demands and questions.

Sighing, the twelfth division captain quickly shucked off the rest of his shihakushou and grabbed his favorite yukata. It was a soft grey color, minimalistic but suited to his purposes. At least, no one could tease him about his lack of fashion sense in it. He pulled it on and slid the closet doors shut, heading out of the room and flicking the light switch back off as he passed.

In the small room off to the side of the kitchen that served as their dining room, Sousuke was already pouring out the tea. He had seated himself at one end of the table, the surface covered in a myriad of dishes that all smelled delicious. Kisuke's stomach grumbled appreciatively as he took his seat across from his lover, staring at the results of Sousuke's afternoon spent cooking.

"It looks delicious," he commented, getting settled.

He was regarded with amusement. "Of course," Sousuke replied, setting the kettle back on the warming pad.

Chopsticks in hand, Kisuke wasn't even sure where to begin with all that Sousuke had prepared. He settled for starting with his favorites, murmuring an "Itadakimasu."

Soft eyes watched him for several long moments before Sousuke copied his movements, filling his own plate as well.

They ate in companionable silence, Kisuke surprisingly able to push away the uncomfortable clenching in his belly. He was going to miss this, but he refused to ruin it by dreading his plans for later that night. He didn't want to dwell on what he was going to be doing. He wanted to enjoy where he was now.

"Are you going to tell me?"

Inwardly cursing, Kisuke lowered his hand, setting his chopsticks against the plate. He lifted his gaze to his lover, having hoped that Sousuke would have forgotten about his earlier declaration.

"Tomorrow," he assured the other man, suppressing the wince that tomorrow wasn't in existence for them. "I do not want to spoil tonight."

Pools of dark brown searched him for a long moment before Sousuke dipped his head. "Fair enough," he conceded.

Kisuke breathed a sigh of relief, pulling a grin onto his lips. "We're celebrating, aren't we?" he inquired, ignoring the twisting churn of guilt in his gut. "Let's splurge and drink that expensive bottle of sake Shun-chan gave us last year."

Sousuke lifted a brow. "Us?"

Rolling his eyes, he waved a dismissive hand. "Alright. He gave it to you. But we should share it." Kisuke put on his best sultry look, watching his lover over the rim of his tea cup. "It always tastes better shared," he added, pointedly flicking his tongue briefly over the white porcelain. It was Sousuke's favorite tea set, he recognized.

He was pleased to find Sousuke's gaze following the movement of his tongue, even as a chiding tone slipped from his lover's mouth. "We may have this day off, Kisuke. But the both of us have to return to work tomorrow."

The cup met the table with a soft thunk. "It's a special night. We should ignore responsibility just this once." Kisuke shrugged nonchalantly. "And what could it hurt?"

A fond smile decorated Sousuke's lips as he rose to his feet with careful movements not to jar the table. "Why is it that you always con a gift out of me on my birthday?" he asked rhetorically, voice filled with amusement.

He stepped inside the kitchen, moving to their increasingly sparse alcohol rack and selecting the aforementioned bottle. It really was one of the finer sakes out there, to be expected from Kyouraku Shunsui. It was perhaps the only real gift he knew how to give.

Pleased, Kisuke stood and stepped away from the table, gathering up their sake cups. He had known, with a brief glance at the clock, that he was running short of time. As much as he wanted to sit and enjoy dinner for another couple of hours, he'd had yet to finish saying his silent goodbye.

He greeted his lover before Sousuke could step completely into the room, gesturing towards him with the cups. "Bedroom?" he suggested.

Those eyes looked pointedly past him, glancing at their meal. "And dinner?"

"It should keep," Kisuke countered, leaning in to steal another quick kiss that wanted to linger. "It was delicious, by the way. Thank you." He raised his gaze, and their eyes locked as he added, "And happy birthday."

Chuckling, his lover smiled. "I was wondering when you would get to that."

"I have to keep you guessing; otherwise, you might try for a newer model," Kisuke countered before returning to their original conversation. "Bedroom?" he posed once more.

Though obviously amused, Sousuke was quick to agree. "Lead the way."

In one accord, the two lovers headed towards their shared bedroom, hearts thrumming with a sense of anticipation.

"Gin-chan brought breakfast this morning," Sousuke idly commented, his tone filled with appreciation for his vice-captain. "He was up bright and early making Eggs Benedict for me."

Kisuke easily recognized this turn, the beginning of of another one of their usual lines of banter and play. "Oh?" he responded as they entered the bedroom. "It was good?"

The look he was given was filled with amusement. "Is that jealousy, Kisuke? Ashamed that my cute vice-captain can cook and you cannot?"

Kisuke scoffed, ignoring the thin trail of jealousy that was indeed threading through him. A good portion of Soul Society was unnerved by Ichimaru Gin, but Kisuke was not one of them. There was something too lost in the silver-haired boy for Kisuke to be even slightly afraid of him.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he took a class just for the occasion," Kisuke responded with a hint of teasing. "The boy worships the ground you walk on. You're his hero."

It was only one of the many reasons Kisuke was certain that he couldn't ask his lover to come with him. There were too many who needed him in Soul Society. There was too much that his lover planned to do and accomplish. Sousuke needed to remain behind.

Sousuke lowered himself to the bed, situating himself comfortably as Kisuke flicked off the lights, leaving only the lamp by the futon on.

"You're being awfully romantic, tonight, Kisuke. Is this my birthday gift?" Sousuke teased, dark eyes glinting. "I make dinner, and you... turn off the lights?"

Kisuke shot him a look of exasperation, crawling onto the futon next to his lover. "Sousuke, you know me better than that," he answered with a sly smile, handing over one of the two cups he held.

"Indeed, I do." The other man shifted closer to him and uncorked the bottle, slowly filling their bowls. "I should expect something surprising tomorrow then?"

"If you expected, it wouldn't be a surprise," Kisuke reminded him, watching the sake slosh into his bowl before holding it out for a toast. "To another year's worth of... happiness and good fortune."

"And another year's worth of love," Sousuke added, poking fun at their benefactor.

Shunsui always saluted to love.

Their bowls struck each other gently before both captains swallowed down their drinks, enjoying the delicious flavor of the expensive sake. A warming sensation spread through Kisuke's body, and he inwardly thanked Shunsui. He reached for the bottle, determined to pour them another, when Sousuke turned towards him, capturing his lips in a sudden kiss.

Pleasantly surprised, Kisuke enjoyed the simple press of their mouths, his tongue flicking briefly across Sousuke's lips before he ended the short kiss.

"Good stuff," Kisuke commented, licking his lips and wriggling his bowl demonstratively.

Sousuke chuckled lightly, sake sloshing into the wood carefully. "We should go to the festival again this year," he suggested, sipping lightly, enjoying the soft burn as sake trickled down. "It is always amusing to see Shunsui make a fool of himself."

Inwardly, Kisuke cringed. It seemed unfair that it should hurt this much. It was almost as if Sousuke knew that he was leaving and wanted to grind the guilt into him as much as possible. Talking of tomorrow and the future when there was not going to be one.

It was decidedly bitter.

"I enjoyed that." He wished whole-heartedly that he could be there. One of the many things he would miss.

The smile on his face was bittersweet. He turned and cupped his fingers around the back of Sousuke's neck, pulling their mouths together in order to chase away the sorrow. He traced his tongue over his lover's lips, loving the taste of sake, tea, and familiarity. It made his heart skip a beat as he pressed onwards.

Empty sake cups tipped to the floor, a twin set of low clatters echoing around them. Kisuke's hand slid through the part in his lover's yukata, pushing the fabric off one browned shoulder. He loved Sousuke's skin, a shade darker than his own.

"I've always loved you in this color," he murmured, dragging his lips down to Sousuke's exposed collarbone, dropping feather-light kisses. "It really suits you."

The sound of the sake jug hitting the floor floated to his ears, joining the subtle noise of Sousuke's quickening breathing.

"It's my favorite," the other man replied in a soft tone, shifting slightly to accommodate Kisuke's position. One hand lifted, setting on his lover's hip and curling around him.

"I know," Kisuke purred, breath ghosting over the bared skin before him.

A warm tongue traced a path across Sousuke's flesh as his free hand dragged downwards, fingers dancing over warm skin. Sousuke smelled of eucalyptus and tea and cypress wood. A scent that had always proved to be fascinating.

"Mine, too."

With a shift and a move that surprised his lover, Kisuke surged upwards, guiding Sousuke to lie on his back. One hand deftly pulled off the man's obi, causing the dark green yukata to fall completely open. Kisuke's eyes hungrily devoured the flesh presented to him, wanting nothing more than to lick and taste.

Hair splayed out against the soft cotton of the blanket, Sousuke's eyes flickering to the sash questioningly. "Oh?"

Kisuke shook his head, tossing the obi to the side. "No games," he clarified, crawling over his lover and leaning down to brush his mouth over Sousuke's lips. "Not tonight."

Gray-green eyes regarded his lover. Kisuke grinned, plucking the glasses from Sousuke's face with some amusement.

"Honestly, you should get rid of these clunky old things. Or at least get better looking ones," he commented, shaking the heavily-rimmed frames.

Sousuke reached up, taking them gently from his hold and folding them carefully. "If I were to go by your fashion sense, I would be as big a laughingstock as Isshin," he replied, setting his spectacles off to the side, where they would hopefully be out of danger.

"So says you."

Sword-calloused hands ran along Sousuke's side, enjoying the warmth of skin beneath his fingers. The grey fabric of his own yukata was beginning to fall from his shoulders, gaping visibly and giving hints to the flesh beneath. Brown eyes watched the slowly revealing skin hungrily while Kisuke sought to memorize all the little details about his lover.

It was proving rather difficult to keep his emotions dampened in an effort to remove Sousuke's suspicion.

Leaning over, Kisuke pressed a kiss to Sousuke's belly, his lips a faint touch as he began to work his way upwards. The scent of his lover wrapped around him, always familiar. And then, a hand settled in his hair, inspiring him to look up. Sousuke was watching him with that endlessly mysterious and yet fond look, eyes beginning to glaze over with desire.

Kisuke had never wanted to damn Soul Society more in his life.

He returned his attentions to the body in front of him, slowly undulating under his ministrations. If Sousuke lifted a hand to help, he calmly batted it away. This was his moment, his pleasure to provide, and he left kisses where his lips trailed, over firm abs, across a flat chest. He nipped and licked at the tender skin of Sousuke's throat, refraining from making too visible a mark. His hands were relentless in their stroking, flitting touches here and there designed to drive his lover into heavy need.

He loved moments like these, watching Sousuke's eyelashes fluttered closed. All the calm and politeness he showed the world bled away in the face of desire and pleasure. He silently demanded more, and Kisuke had always been proud that he was the only one to see Sousuke like this, completely open and free.

The soft noises coming from Sousuke's mouth could only be taken as encouragement. But as much as he wanted to hear them, Kisuke wanted to taste his lover more. His lips found Sousuke's as he kissed him deeply, tongues tangling and warring with bouts of submission and fighting.

Kisuke allowed himself to fall into the moment, not thinking of anything beyond this instant in time. He pushed away what was to happen later and what would be coming the next day. That had no place here.

His lips were hungry and desperate yet slowly devouring Sousuke's. His hands roamed unceasingly, flitting and embracing. One set of fingers dove into the covers, seeking the always present bottle of oil, which was half-empty judging by the heft of it. He dragged it closer, his lips finding Sousuke's smooth jaw and throat, trying to memorize everything. Every line and curve. Every moan and sigh.

The oil's light scent filled the room as he positioned himself between Sousuke's thighs, hands stroking over the surprisingly velvety flesh. Quiet breaths echoed, even as his fingers worked gently, bringing nothing but pleasure. He pressed kisses to Sousuke's belly, to his shoulder, to wherever his lips could reach.

Preparation was quick because Sousuke's hand was on his arm, encouraging him to blanket his body. He pressed inside of his lover slowly, rocking deeper with each roll of his hips. The soft moans were like music to his ears, and he gasped, embraced by tight heat. He wondered if he would ever forget this feeling before promptly pushing that thought to the back of his mind.

Fingers tangled in his hair, Sousuke forcing their lips together, not that Kisuke minded. Their bodies moved together in a rhythm borne from memorizing each other and their wants. Sousuke's legs clasped around his waist, driving him deeper. Deft fingers slipped between their bodies, Kisuke gripping his lover and stroking him in time to their thrusts.

The faint coppery taste of blood met his tongue as their kiss grew harder, but he didn't mind. A hand groped at his back, fingers digging into his flesh. Kisuke's own free hand grasped at the futon, giving him more leverage. Sousuke arched to meet every deepening thrust, a throaty purr echoing in his chest. Kisuke's own rumbles of pleasure joined his. The quiet slap of flesh on flesh joined the silence of the room, sweat beading on their bodies and dampening their hair.

Without his consent and surprising them both, Kisuke was the first to reach his peak. He broke away from Sousuke's lips with a desperate need for air, body trembling as he released inside his lover. His fingers flexed in their hold around Sousuke, dragging the other man into climax with him.

He collapsed atop Sousuke, breath coming in sharp pants. Their mouths languidly met.

"No stamina," Sousuke teased, but it was without any true heat. "That's okay. We'll do better next time."

Kisuke froze for an instant before rolling his eyes. "I blame it on the sake," he countered, his hands tracing along Sousuke's hip.

"Excuses."

He smiled, placing a consoling kiss to Sousuke's collarbone before gently extricating himself from their tangled bodies. He was released without any argument, his intentions clear. Sousuke merely raked a hand through his hair, brushing the loose strands out of his face as he watched his naked lover move.

Kisuke rose from the futon, paying no heed to his nudity as he padded to the bathroom and procured a wet cloth. Returning to the room, he lazily wiped them clean, chuckling when Sousuke dragged him down for another kiss.

"And who was the one reminding me of work tomorrow?" Kisuke teased, swiping the cloth over their cooling bodies.

A finger traced over his upper arm as teeth nipped at his lips. "And who was trying to distract me from my responsibilities?" Sousuke returned lazily, voice filled with satisfaction and sleepiness.

"Guilty as charged." He nipped at Sousuke's ear and tossed the cloth over his shoulder, throwing it against a far wall where it slapped wetly and then struck the floor.

Amusement flooded him at the disconcerted look that briefly crossed Sousuke's face. "You're cleaning that later," he murmured, throwing a leg over Kisuke and pulling him onto the futon for sleep.

He ignored the twinge that seemed to always strike at the mention of any sort of later. "Maybe I will; maybe I won't," he countered, breath puffing over Sousuke's ear.

His lover barely stirred, body already shifting into the most comfortable position for sleep. Silence descended in the room, but Kisuke didn't bother to allow himself the comfort or warmth offered by Sousuke's body. Instead, he waited for his lover's breathing to even.

Sousuke was always the first to fall asleep; he did not have to wait long.

Kisuke knew that there would be no rest for himself. Nevertheless, he laid in bed, quietly watching his lover of so very long sleep. He knew on some level that this would be the last time he would see Sousuke so relaxed. Perhaps the last time he would see him at all.

His heart clenched and coiled at the thought.

Chewing on his bottom lip to reign in his emotions, too wild and possibly strong enough to awaken his lover, Kisuke forced himself to slip from bed. His fingers brushed over Sousuke's cheek, lingering at the smooth warmth, just a bare touch before he pulled back. He ignored every instinct to lie back down and began the search for his clothes but not before pulling the blanket over his lover's unclothed form.

He left his captain's haori behind, the white fluttering fabric more obvious than he needed at the moment. He pulled on the plain shihakushou, pretending to be any lower-ranked Shinigami. Benihime slipped into his obi, humming disconsolately at his side. She did not want to leave either. Did not want to desert her mate.

Kisuke stood in the doorway of their shared bedroom, turning to look back despite his every instinct not to do so. They always said never look back, but he couldn't help himself. From his position, he could see Sousuke's form outlined on the bed, body still slack in sleep.

It touched something inside his heart.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, barely loud enough to carry beyond his own ears, and Kisuke slipped out of their room.

He cleaned the kitchen before he left, putting away their food and storing it for later. Everything would have spoiled by morning, and he didn't want Sousuke's hard work to go to waste. It would be his final gift, other than the one that would arrive long after Sousuke had left for work in the morning.

Only afterwards did he disappear into the night.

He knew that Yoruichi and Tessai were waiting for him out in the cover of darkness, both carefully concealing their reiatsu. His vice-captain's loyalty was unprecedented. Kisuke hadn't asked either to come, but they had made that decision anyway. He could only imagine how they had discovered what was to come but couldn't begrudge them their choice.

Kisuke flitted away from his home in quick flashes of shunpo, making his way through the night. He tried not to linger on the emotions surging inside of him, but it was hard to keep them dampened. He hoped that their friends would be there to take care of Sousuke in the morning. Both Isshin and Jyuu-chan. Maybe even Shunsui if he were sober enough.

Swallowing thickly, he put on a face of determination. This was something he had to do; there was no turning back now.

Morning came, stealing its way into the day with a subtlety that surprised all the residents of Soul Society. Bright sunshine fought with graying clouds, spraying a mist of clear beams and faint rain. It was both warm and wet, bright and dark, and the moment Sousuke opened his eyes, he felt off-balance.

Blearily, he looked out the nearest window, frowning at the fourth week in a long string of strange weather. It seemed the sky couldn't decide if it would rain or be sunny, not that either would get him out of going to work. He stirred from his nest of covers, missing immediately his lover's usual warmth at his back. It wasn't unusual for Kisuke to leave before him, and worry left in a blink.

Besides, he could still feel Kisuke's reiatsu, a thread humming inside of him in a constant presence he had come to expect every day. It was something he cherished. He knew Kisuke more intimately then he knew himself sometimes; it was often hard to untie them from one another.

Languishing in the comfort of his futon for another moment, the wet heat of the morning finally annoyed him enough to slip from his blankets. His body was both pleasantly sore and equally sated, bringing a faint smile to his lips.

Sousuke rose from his futon and went about his morning ritual, his mind already busying itself with the task of preparing for the office. There were papers to be signed, plans to make, a few disciplines to hand out, and he had a meeting with the captain-commander later that afternoon. However, he wasn't entirely certain of what topic they were supposed to be discussing.

He dressed quickly, ran a hand through his hair and located his glasses. He forewent breakfast, inwardly relying on Gin-chan to bring him something as always. He would have tea in the office.

Slipping Kyouka Suigetsu into his obi, Sousuke frowned in faint confusion. His zanpakutou was thrumming weakly, his voice carrying an odd, saddened note. It was something he would have to investigate fully later. As it were, his languorous motions this morning had put him behind schedule. Leaving his pondering for a better time, Sousuke left his home and headed to the office.

He was amazed to find most of Seireitei in a buzz of excitement. Something must have happened. Since he hadn't heard the alarms, he assumed it wasn't an attack of some kind. Nor did he know of any special occasion that was up for celebration. Which meant it probably had something to do with his lover.

A small chuckle escaped his lips. He wondered what amusing joke Kisuke had played on Yamamoto-soutaichou this time. The other captain would never learn, it seemed. And Sousuke was certain that he probably had an accomplice. The whispers among the lower-ranked Shinigami stirred his interest. He would probably find out once he arrived in his office though.

The rain was becoming more than a faint mist, now a steady drizzle that still combated with the early morning sun. It made for a strange experience, adding to the off-balance feeling he had been suffering all morning. Sousuke hurried to his division, feeling he wouldn't fully awaken until he'd had his morning tea.

Gin-chan wasn't at his desk when he arrived, which in itself was unusual. Sousuke's gaze flickered past it to the door of his office, which was halfway open. He caught sight of a few black-uniformed people moving around inside. One hand on Kyouka Suigetsu, he moved forward, pushing the door open all the way.

The three looked up at him, in the midst of rifling through his belongings. Half of his things were already spread out over the floor, and one was sitting behind his desk, thumbing through his paperwork.

Confusion mixed with irritation, but neither registered on Sousuke's face.

"Excuse me?" he began, dropping his hand from his zanpakutou. "Could you please explain what is going on here?"

One of the lower-ranked Shinigami, a female, shifted uncomfortably. "Aizen-taichou... we did not expect you to be here."

He blinked. "Pardon?"

"We thought you would be gone," another clarified. "Yamamoto-soutaichou sent us here, and--"

Something in Sousuke's blood ran a little cold.

"Why?" he demanded and then retracted, forcing calm into his voice. "Why would he do such a thing?"

"Because Ki-chan's not here anymore."

At the familiar voice, Sousuke turned to find Yamamoto Isshin standing behind him, an unusually sober look on his face.

"He and Yoruichi aren't here anymore," Isshin went on in a serious tone. "Neither is Tsukabishi-fukutaichou. No one can find them."

Sousuke's mouth opened and then closed, a part of him automatically confirming his connection with Kisuke before he managed to find words. "What are you talking about, Isshin?" he asked, though his ears continued to register the sounds of the nameless Shinigami rummaging through his belongings with little regard for his privacy.

Gone? How could Kisuke be gone? It still felt as if he were right there. Sousuke could still feel him! Still feel his presence coiling in his soul.

The thoughts ran rampant inside his head. The look on Isshin's face was full of pity and apology, though it couldn't have been any more his fault than it was Sousuke's himself.

"You don't know where he is, do you?" Isshin asked, voice softer than Sousuke ever imagined it could be. It almost didn't fit with the boisterous man he knew, the always scheming troublemaker with an easy grin.

A part of him wanted to believe that it was all some elaborate scheme. But the rational side knew that couldn't be true. He had known that Kisuke had been dabbling in dangerous research. He hadn't thought they would come after him so soon, however. And why hadn't Kisuke said anything? Why had he left without a word, without a goodbye?

He instantly went cold, frozen so quickly that he missed whatever Isshin had said next. And there was a sudden roaring in his ear, heart pounding in his chest.

Last night had been a goodbye. He could remember Kisuke hedging away from what had been bothering him. His lover had been acting strangely, and at the time, he had thought nothing of it. But there had been so many other things on his mind, other plans, other events that needed handling. And he had pushed it aside, trusting Kisuke's judgment, reminding himself to confront the man about the next day. It had been his birthday, after all, no need to spoil the day.

No need at all.

"Sousuke-kun? Sousuke?"

He blinked, looking up to find that Ukitake Jyuushiro had joined Isshin while he was stuck in his reverie, and now, both looked at him with concern. They were still waiting for him to give an answer.

Sousuke shook his head. "No," he responded, trying to make his voice sound even. "I don't know where he is at all."

He wasn't sure he could handle Jyuushiro's kindness at the moment. Nevertheless, the other captain was standing by his side, offering a hand of comfort at his shoulder. It didn't make him feel any better. But he didn't shrug it off either.

"We're here for you."

That was all Jyuushiro truly needed to say. And it was all Sousuke really needed to understand.

The rest of his day went by with much the same effect, dragging on with agonizing slowness. He was summoned by Yamamoto mere minutes after finding the madness in his office, questioned about his lover's disappearance. The captain-commander also expressed surprise that Sousuke was still in Soul Society; it seemed everyone had expected him to vanish as well.

He would have, if he had been given the choice.

His fellow Shinigami were ruthless as they demanded answers that he did not have. He had heard that Gin-chan was questioned, as well as Isshin, Shunsui, and Jyuushiro. But none quite as much as he. Understandable. They were only friends and associates, after all. Everyone knew that he and Kisuke were lovers, though it was not as if they advertised.

Chamber 46 was certain that he knew something, that he was hiding the truth in order to protect his lover. A part of Sousuke wished that were true. That meant Kisuke had told him something, had given him some warning.

Instead, he could only keep repeating "I don't know." And this did not satisfy Soul Society.

It was not until the end of the first day that Sousuke felt it, in a moment of rare solitude between one round of demands and the next. He had been trying to find room to breathe, attempting to ignore his rumbling stomach and pondering the strange murmurings of his zanpakutou.

A sharp, sudden pain. Like being stabbed in the chest. It was as if something had snapped inside of him, some necessary thread that had once bound his heart together. A physical pain, a throbbing ache, and he jerked in surprise before a sudden emptiness swept through his very soul. Kyouka Suigetsu howled inside of him as the connection that he had always shared with Kisuke was so callously broken, and a sharp breath rattled in his chest.

Kisuke wasn't dead. He couldn't have died; the pain wasn't of that feeling. It would have been more agonizing, more gripping. This was more like the sun going behind the clouds, disappearing and darkening the world. Only it never reappeared, constantly keeping itself hidden behind a cover of fog.

Sousuke knew what a muted bond felt like, one dampened by a spell or something similar. This was not it. No, this was a purposeful ending, something that had been done consciously. As if Kisuke had been letting him know in some way that it was totally and completely over. His lover was gone, and there was no returning.

Something altogether like a sob tore from his throat. But he quickly stifled the sound.

A week later, they finally allowed Sousuke to return to his home. He blocked the entire seven days from his mind, wanting an escape from Soul Society's special means of deriving information that he didn't have to give. He knew that they still did not believe he wasn't withholding some knowledge. Sousuke was certain that they would be keeping a close eye on him for some time. Yet, he could not find it in himself to care at the moment.

Jyuushiro had offered to help him home. Isshin had practically invited himself over, bragging that he would bring his favorite food. Shunsui had a bottle already prepared. Sousuke had turned them all down. For the moment, he could not bear to look at another person.

He stumbled into his home, the silence that greeted him cold and empty. He only bothered with the lights in his bedroom, flicking them on and sending a pale luminescence into the room. Sousuke shed his dirtied uniform, sorely in need of washing, and collapsed tiredly on his futon. His glasses ended up in a clatter on the floor.

The blankets still smelled of the both of them, though it had grown faint in the past week.

Sousuke turned his head, pointing his nose away from the soft fabrics. It was then that he caught something from the corner of his eye, something he hadn't seen before. It was a small box, one about the size of his hands put together. He did not remember it being there prior to leaving a week ago.

Sitting up, he dragged the box closer to him and pulled off the small string tying it closed. The flaps popped open, revealing a smaller wrapped package within and a folded piece of paper; his name was scrawled in a familiar elaborate script. Ignoring the package for now, he reached for the folded note and pulled it out, unfolding it carefully. A quick scan informed him of what he had already known.

It was a letter from Kisuke. His lover never could do anything without flourish.


a/n: There are two more parts to this series. I do not know how soon they will be out because I'm in the midst of writing other stories but they will be written, I assure you.

I look forward to any thoughts you have on this piece. Thanks for reading!