A/N: Chapter two everyone – wow, finally, right?
Warning: Nothing but mild language
All the King's Men
"Well that just seems utterly outrageous to me~"
Amber eyes narrow.
A fan waves idly, teasingly, then, crosses over smirking lips.
"You're mocking me. I know you are," the teenager growls and flairs his nostrils. He feels too heavy today, however, to huff and cross his arms. His temper is damp.
It doesn't go unnoticed.
"Oh, but you're mistaken! I really am not mocking you, Kurosaki-san. It really is outrageous." The man behind the waving fan chimes.
Ichigo doesn't let up – he knows better than to do that with this man.
"Outrageous is your field of practice, Urahara-san." He goes for the formalities, and as such, the fan-man cringes.
Urahara Kisuke is an old man. A very old man indeed.
He looks at the boy before him, a legitimate boy in comparison to him, and sniffs in disapproval. His blue-gray eyes quirk from underneath the shadow of his striped hat and he lifts his hand, the one not possessing his folded paper fan, and strokes his chin; adorned with his trademark five-o-clock shadow.
One wonders how he manages to sustain his ever-present stubble without an occasional clean shave.
"You know, Kurosaki-san, you may not be feeling all that great. You're respecting your elders without having to be told to do so~" he tweets as he continues to stroke his chin.
Ichigo can feel his temper rising once again, and as he fists his hands and gnashes his teeth, Urahara smiles reticently
"Damnit, Urahara, would you knock it off? I don't have time to screw around!" Ichigo honestly doesn't know if there is really a time limit, but he's assured there is one on his patience.
Or is there really?
Frankly, it is much more accurate to replace 'patience' with the 'common sense' not to deck some innocent bystander for the sake of blowing off the billowing steam in his system.
A puff of hot air exhales from Urahara's lungs and he snaps his fan shut. The business begins.
"You said you bit her."
Ichigo visibly grimaces at his words and he scrunches his nose – not exactly his trademark scowl, but anyone can note he is displeased.
"It bit her; on the neck," he replies, feeling heavy in his words.
The shop owner stretches out his limbs lazily and yawns before straightening his back once more. It is no wonder the man is best friends with a cat.
"Well that's not uncommon for a hollow, right? Eating souls; or at least trying to."
Ichigo's eyes are weary as he tries to break down what he means to say to the man. There's more to it than what's being dished out, but Ichigo has never been good with words.
He's gotten worse since Rukia arrived, but that really didn't have anything to do with lack of common motor skills. He thinks it might be a heart condition, though testing proves the organ to be all in good health.
Why it seems hotter and stronger when she's around, he can only guess.
"I know; it's a bit more complicated when it's your hollow that's trying to eat the souls of your friends."
If that isn't watered down. Ichigo isn't exactly sure if he is being offhanded about it, or trying to make him feel like everyone else – as if it were some general concern that a majority of the human populace is also dealing with.
Like trying to tame your new dog – or particularly stubborn acne or something.
Ichigo's nose scrunches once again when he absent-mindedly attempts to compare and contrast his hollow to a painfully oversized zit. One can make a simile to most anything now a days, but that is one in particular Ichigo doesn't want to focus on.
"I do believe you had your hollow under control, isn't that so?" Ichigo knows better than to assume that is a question. It was a test of truth – to interrogate Ichigo for any cracks; faults in his defenses.
He is weak today, but only emotionally – weary in his mood. His mentality remains ever strong.
"It wasn't a take over. She went into hi—it's – territory. My inner world." Hell if I know the fuck how.
Urahara's interest seems buzzed by Ichigo's words. One who does not know the man would barely be able to tell, let alone notice at all. But all that training does Ichigo well to discern the lift of his neck and the set of his eyebrows.
"Oh? And how did our little Rukia manage to swing that one?" Ichigo knows that Urahara wants the answers for the technique – not for the small talk.
But it can help. And that is all that matters.
"I don't know." Tch. A lot of help it does him, but it's an answer nonetheless. "She approached me about it and we argued. She said something but before I could really protest, I passed out... that's all I remember."
He feels pathetic to admit such things.
Urahara hums then, deep in his throat as he proceeds to rhythmically tap his paper fan against his chin. "Most likely a kido spell of some sort. That's what I'm presuming, anyway."
Ichigo scoffs, unbelieving.
"Kido that can purge into my mind!?" Isn't there some shinigami morality that forbids screwing with people's heads or something? That just seems so unethical.
Urahara is amused then and he chuckles a bit. "No, Kurosaki-san, I'm referring to your passing out."
"Yeah – yeah, I'm sure it- it was- yeah…" He trails off, embarrassed at his blunder as he bashfully scratches the back of his neck.
Urahara, however, waves his fan once more and hums delightedly. "But I don't doubt there is a type of spell that could do such a thing~!" He chirps and crosses his arms. "It'd be a very high power spell, though."
Ichigo glares, his brows immediately puckering. Sure – make him feel like an idiot first before assuring him that such a thing was a possibility. Regular Urahara.
"Kurosaki-san," Urahara speaks then, and Ichigo draws his slightly flushed gaze up to the man.
He is serious now – his face devoid of crinkled mirth and crooked grins.
"This isn't something natural."
A figurative stone drops into his belly, from a higher distance than normal Ichigo surmises, because when it hits the pit of his stomach, it hurts a bit more than a figurative stone should.
His brows pucker and he looks so much like when he was little, when he would try to decipher the simple makings of a math problem, the malfunction of his bakery goods or why his mommy would kiss his daddy different from the way she'd kiss him (which didn't take long, really. That came with the 'cooties' stage.)
"But, you just said-"
He is interrupted as Urahara continues to speak.
"Rukia-san may have the ability to knock you unconscious and probe your mind to that extent, but that doesn't make her encounter with your hollow any less unnatural."
Ichigo doesn't understand and he shakes his head, mane of citrus locks flicking about then settling back into place.
"Such injury inflictions upon her in your mind should not affect her physical state of being in reality. It's all subconscious."
It sounds so…heavy. Ichigo can't help the shiver as he reverts his chocolaty depths down to the mats below for a moment before flicking upward and around – his thoughts direct in his concentration.
It was just one little bite…
"…What does that mean…?" He is almost scared to ask.
The shop owner shakes his head, tussling his genius mind for answers yet receiving none. His fan snaps and he sighs heavily – it makes the buckles of Ichigo's spine click in the ominous apprehension.
He never once liked when Urahara was unable to produce some semblance of an answer. That always meant that it had never been dealt with before; that they'd have to blaze the trail; that they'd have to figure it out from scratch.
His spinal chord sends a current of chills through his nerves.
And it has to be Rukia.
The rustling of clean fabric with the resonance of some popping bones and stretching muscle brings Ichigo from his reverie – snapping his head up to the man.
"I'll talk with Yoruichi. We'll try to pull something together – figure it out." Ichigo hasn't even noticed until now that the small black feline had padded her way into the room a good handful of minutes prior to his deep thinking.
Her tail ticks here and there as she languidly pushes herself up onto all four paws.
Ichigo isn't an observant fellow, but even with such lack of ability, he can sense that she's distressed, or as distressed as Yoruichi could be.
And as Urahara bids his adieu, Yoruichi's ebony tail swaying about in the wake if their leave, Ichigo feels like they know much more than they are willing to share – and for some reason, that scares him.
It scares him more than he'd be willing to declare.
He is left alone then. It's quiet, yet he doesn't move.
He is still for some time before his muscle twitches.
He bows his head.
His fingers clench.
And the silence begins to consume him.
"Did you say some choice words to Kuchiki-san again, Kurosaki?"
His shoulders stiffen a moment, stilling, before he turns as the glint of the prescription glass blinds him momentarily. He scowls, more prominent than usual, and wrinkles his nose at the Quincy.
"Stuff it, Uryuu. It's none of your business."
They are in class now. Chit-chat buzzing the room with white-noise.
The pale ( teammate? Enemy? Friend? Acquaintance? ) classmate gives a conservative scoff and lifts himself higher on the balls of his feet.
"It is when she's like this." He presses haughtily. Honestly, to the common observer, Rukia is not acting any different. Perhaps a decibel less dynamic, but always there to pick up her ques.
But she is quiet. Not just in generality, but in her voice as well.
For Ishida Uryuu, he can see that it isn't a regular softness in her tone.
She is thinking, brooding, mulling, hesitant, cautious. She is not focused on the world around her.
Ichigo snorts, sneering and rolling his eyes while attempting to redirect his focus forward, though nothing is happening in said direction, thus makes it seemingly more difficult to ignore Uryuu's presence.
They stay that way – Uryuu standing by his desk, Ichigo sitting still in his seat. It's awkward and uncomfortable.
Uryuu sighs and lets his shoulders drop a millimeter or so.
They end in a stalemate.
Uryuu knows that the subject is not his own until Ichigo addresses him to it. And even if he is the enemy to the dandelion head, he's a modern gentleman. He isn't about to allow trifling rivalries to separate his priorities in helping people.
And so, he retreats to his own desk, flashing his ice blue eyes in the direction of the raven haired shinigami and stares softly.
He isn't the only one.
Ichigo now watches from across the room – brows puckered and fingers clenching.
Her damn neck.
There is a mark there now.
A cross between a bruise and a hickey.
And he can smell it – the hollow – the mark of possession.
And it angers him so much. So much. And he knows that others are staring as well, then turn their eyes to him and wonder. But what really guts him – really twists his stomach into a faction of knots is that they're right.
He did it.
But he did.
And god, it makes him just so sick. Because he hates the way it looks on her. And beneath the layers of morality and his sense of justice, where things start to pull apart into categories and feelings, rather than things to save, protect and look after; where emotion is raw and desires are present, beneath everything that separates the hero from the regular man, he likes the way it brandishes her neck.
The way his mouth was (indirectly) the one that marked her perfect skin.
He gets queasy again, his stomach churning in both disgust and confusion.
He looks forward to the board.
But his eyes don't see anything
He just stares.
Chad's voice has always been deep – a soothing type of bass that seems far too low for someone as young as him.
But even so, the sound makes Ichigo cringe before he flickers his amber eyes in the direction of his junior high fighting staple.
"What's up, Chad…"
It's lunch time now, and they're all gathered on the roof – just like normal.
Keigo is spouting off about some hot girl he'd seen walking her dog the other day while he was out running an errand for his sister, buying some fruity soda – just like normal.
Mizuiro is nodding occasionally to Keigo's rambling, not listening as he ate his lunch placidly, while occasionally breaking that façade just to cleverly insult his blabbering friend before quieting once more – just like normal.
Uryuu is eating in stoic silence – just like normal.
It is almost driving Ichigo insane. Because he knows that almost all were aware of that mark.
That damn mark.
But they keep themselves ignorant and proceed as blissful as ever (or as blissful as high school students could really be.)
Although it was really a paradox of frustration. If one inquired, he'd withdraw. And if one ignored it completely, he'd grow frustrated at their strange sort of sympathy or sense of privacy.
He can deal with the thought of it as just a little nip mark – a sign of passion, a little red hickey. Because most know of his 'celibacy' as they call it, just to tease him (where he likes to call it his 'lack of preparation on such a matter').
But two things stand in the way.
Who would do that to Rukia, other than him? Everyone seems to know that Rukia runs around far too much to have some secret lover.
And who does she run around with?
But it was that small difference – that small discoloration – that slight purpling. The bruise. It wasn't a hickey alone. It was a bite mark – a mark of aggression. A mark of a rather abusive dominance.
Who would do that to Rukia?
But who else could, if not him?
They have been staring at one another for a while, a quiet stir swirling around them both before finally, finally deep hazel eyes glanced away and wavy russet locks sift ever so slightly.
He seems to understand. There's a bit more going on than what can be figured out at the time. So he leaves it be and sits down beside Ichigo to eat his lunch.
Lunch carries on regardless with dynamics and silence alike – just like normal.
Rukia does not walk beside him that day. She doesn't accompany him home, skip ahead when the juice vendor comes into view, she doesn't even speak to him as the bell rings and everyone is eagerly skittering from the school to get home.
So he finds her before she's completely gone and unreachable and asks her softly where she is going.
She gives him a look over her shoulder and then snorts – rolling her deep blue eyes as she proclaims she needs to hassle Urahara about some new supplies.
And she doesn't bother to look back at him as she quickly jogs off.
He watches her go, so unsure of what to feel, or what to do.
So he grips his bag tightly and turns the other way.
He walks home alone for the first time in a long, long while.
It reminds him so much of that day – that day so long ago when he was walking along the same street, and thinking of the same person. Now that he thinks about it, everything was so much simpler then, too.
He almost laughs, barely cracks a grin as he thinks how he would undoubtedly take the route of going back through Soul Society and the promises of death around ever turn over the obstacles he faces now. Within a heartbeat's time, he'd take that right up again.
Because the obstacles he was against then were so blunt. So defined. So simple.
Yet here…he's afraid to realize that he doesn't even know where to begin.
As if his feet are on the sky and he can walk any which way forever, yet not get anywhere at all.
It really is just like before…so lost and confused.
The sounds of shoes clopping softly upon the pavement begin to draw him from his reverie. He looks up to see the same face and asks the same question – the repetition of history almost too eerie for his tastes.
The auburn haired girl twitches her brows – her shadowy gray eyes glimmering softly as she tries to sort out the questions she has on her own. But Ichigo Kurosaki had always been a rather difficult mind to read – either right out in the open, or completely withdrawn.
She straightens her back and tries to compose herself a bit more, as her heart aches lightly in her chest to see his eyes the way she's seen them so many times before.
"…What was the matter with Kuchiki-san…?"
Her voice is soft and hesitant, and yet the question seems to nail Ichigo right between the eyes. Had everyone noticed her off behavior today? Granted, Keigo seemed oblivious, but his powers of observation were nothing to rival to – practically nothing there to rival anyway.
"…What do you mean?"
He asks the question carefully. It is obvious that Rukia was not the same. But perhaps… perhaps it would help to see the different sides of her that his friends observe, as well as his own study. And Inoue always had a gift in reading people.
Her face becomes just a bit more twisted. Her fingers are clasped, one set over the other – placed gently atop her lower stomach as the fiddling causes her skirt to shift a bit at the edges.
"…She seemed anxious…"
Ichigo's shoulders slouch a bit and he sighs, flicking his amber orbs off, as he has never been very good at reassuring people with comforting tactics.
"Yeah…" he replies lamely and almost blushes a bit at such a lousy response. Inoue, however, takes it as an initiative to reveal her small revision as worry presses a small crease on her forehead.
"I mean, she seemed more anxious today than other days…so I didn't think it could be about hollows," Ichigo cringes at the irony that, it really did, just not that of the norm. "But that mark on her neck smelled a little bit like one…I mean, I could be wrong...- … and she was avoiding you, too…even in conversation at lunch time…"
That draws Ichigo's spark of curiosity. He knows that she had kept her distance for a reason, if only to keep her train of thought completely safe from becoming derailed…but it seems as though she is diligent in keeping him out of mind, as well.
"I'm not sure…so I thought I'd ask you…" He had failed to realize his question was stated aloud.
He shifts on his feet and shakes his head, lifting his palm to mow his fingers through his citrus locks like running through blades of grass.
"…I…don't know, Inoue…" He tries to half-lie.
She sees the reluctance of honestly, but as always, she does not press the matter and decides to withdraw from interrogating him – she doesn't possess the heart to do such a thing regardless. She realizes that perhaps he is still figuring it out himself; so instead, she raises her hopeful spirits and nods softly.
"Please tell me if you figure anything out, Kurosaki-kun…" Her fingers clench. Rukia is her friend as well, and she won't leave her in the dark alone.
He answers with a nod and a crook to the corner of his lips. His eyes are thankful, but it's easy to see he is troubled still as the auburn haired girl pivots her body gracefully and, with a quirk over her shoulder and a gentle wave of departure in his direction, she is the one who is leaving, while he's left standing still.
He stares at the wake of her going away, and gazes at the pavement – quiet.
It's ironic how he wishes the past to repeat itself, regardless of his earlier chagrin to the unsettling accuracy in repetition.
He wishes as he grunts and begins to walk again, that he had found the simple answer like last time, where he was running, running, running hard toward his purpose because he knew just how to get there.
Now his slow steps are aimless, his thoughts are unfocused, and his purpose is lost.
He's left with that one option once more, and god…it scares him more than anything…
His fingers click over the keypads and the little screen lights up as he does so.
Rukia's spirit phone had been left out on his night desk.
He has contemplated for some time – whether or not he should possibly use it, and if so, what he can possibly do with it.
The screen is bright against his eyes – illuminating his face in the darkness of his room. He is spread out on his mattress, body lax against the cushioning as he gazes at the highlighted name upon the screen.
He stares at the name for a while – the mobile device's back lighting burning the imagine into his retina. His brows knit and he runs over all of his options and outcomes once more – feeling unbearable monotony lick at his attempts to remain still and focused:
Should he call the shinigami?
If he did, what would he say?
Would he be able to ask advice?
And if so, what would the red-haired shinigami be able to give him that he hadn't already thought of?
Would it even be worth it, seeing as he didn't know about the situation's logistics at all?
Would it make things worse?
Would telling Renji be the upheaval of the fabricated calm, which blanketed their situation in an eerie comfort?
Being the fuku-taichou of Byakuya, would the nobleman find out as well?
And if he did, what would that mean for both him and Rukia?
…Would Rukia have to go back?
Would that be right?
…Or wrong . . .?
"Damnit…" Ichigo's mutter is barely a low grumble in the back of his throat. He closes the phone, eyes falling shut as the image still projects against his eyelids and fizzles away after a while.
The small charm hanging from the cell catches his attention and he lifts the little gadget for inspection. It's the Chappy ornament that Rukia had attached to her phone ages ago. The dangling rabbit replica grins back at him – its expression mirroring the ones Rukia doodles all the time.
His lip twitches as he thinks of her drawings and he snorts then, shaking his head. His opposite hand lifts from the mattress and gently flicks the little trinket.
As mocking as the smiling bunny seems to be, Ichigo's mind is preoccupied by the image of the little raven-haired shinigami eagerly squiggling away atop his desk.
His comfort is short lived.
The problem jolts back to him in a wave and his heart sinks.
He sighs, eyes closing as he reaches over to place the phone down atop his night desk again and sits up.
Though he doesn't possess an appetite, he was sure Yuzu would become concerned if he didn't come down for dinner, and thus she'd trek upstairs to get him. Though his motivation to move is little to none, his want for his family's involvement in his problems is even less.
He grunts as he pushes onto his forearms and up onto his feet. Opening his door, his nose is assaulted with the delicious smells of Yuzu's home cooking and a full course meal downstairs.
But it's not food he's hungry for.
He grimaces, goose bumps puckering across his flesh before he trudges downstairs. He eats everything on his plate and talks as little as possible. His father coos to him and inquires as to why he's so stoic, but before he can receive an answer, he begins to explain how such a depressing exterior can effect the probability of high quantity in grandchildren.
Before he can proceed to delve any further into such bogus symptoms, Ichigo stuffs a bowl of rice into his father's mouth and angrily finishes off his dinner.
"Ne, Ichi-nii~" Karin inquires, talking around the food in her mouth, ignoring both a gentle scolding from Yuzu about manners and her father haphazardly choking on rice grains and chopsticks.
"Huh." Ichigo grunts, his irritation evident as his answer indicates quite clearly that he isn't in the mood for a guessing game. But his sister knows better – they're very much alike, after all.
Ichigo begins to choke on a bit of miso and really, all he wants to do is bark a demanding explanation as to why everyone was so enamored with Rukia today. But he's far too busy coughing and wiping up he left over dribble from when he spat up the soup.
Yuzu is gently patting his back and once again scolding her twin. Karin, however, doesn't even flicker a brow at Ichigo's reaction. She only stares at her brother expectantly and waits to hear an answer.
After getting a lungful of air and no longer coughing sporadically, Ichigo stands from his place at the table and snorts – waving his hand. "Hell if I know. It's not my business to babysit her." And before his father can heckle him for swearing in front his beautiful daughters, while also disregarding his third daughter (his miraculous recovery from his prior choking fit going unnoticed), Ichigo promptly pivots and declares he's heading to bed.
All eyes follow him until he's out of the room, to which Isshin takes up wailing in anguish from the lack of affection his son bestows upon his poor daddy, and Yuzu reassuring her father that it was okay because Ichigo always acts like that.
Karin's eyes never avert from the door her brother had walked through, however. She stares blankly at the entry and finishes her juice before she, too, raises from the table. She thanks her sister for the meal and declares she's off to bed as well.
The two left at the table hush as they watch their second member leave the dinner table. They don't say anything more and begin to clean up.
That night is a quiet evening in the Kurosaki residence - but no one is resting.
He is still awake.
And very, very irritated.
His brows are guttered and his expression almost comical – gazing up in a pensive glaring contest with the ceiling.
It has taken him a long time to even sense Rukia's reiatsu.
But even when he got a small flicker of the familiar energy, he is still unable to pinpoint its location.
She is close, not moving, and safe judging by the flickering reiatsu.
But he wants to know where the hell that bloody midget is! Even though he is wary of her in his presence, that mark having made him anxious, he's obviously made a conjecture from his insomnia that he is much more comfortable with her at arm's length than at a distance.
His nostrils flair as his temple ticks. He's about ready to throw off his covers and look for her. But the sound of little squeaks and a moaning voice stops him.
His amber eyes quirk over to spot the little lion plush has scaled up his bedside and bears the expression of pure distress – quite a feat for a stuffed animal.
"Nee-san~" the little plush wails and Ichigo has half the mind to stuff the lion beneath the mattress and leave him there for good. He doesn't want to hear about Rukia being 'off' anymore. He is more aware of it than anyone.
However, the little lion surprises him a bit as he flops against his arm and huffs.
"Stupid crazy shop-keeper~" he sniffles and grumbles a bit more in his anger. "Hogging Nee-san all to himself when we had our designated snuggling tonight~" he continued to whine. Ichigo nearly feels the need to palm his forehead in his stupidity. Where else would Rukia go to when experiencing problems out of their control?
He groans and lets his arm fall back down to the side – having actually lifted it to smack his brow. The little plushie climbs onto his chest and flails his little arms. "Go get her, Ichigo~ That old man is a pervert. I don't trust my Nee-san with him."
Ichigo snorts and rolls his eyes. He will not even bother to argue with the duplicity of such an accusation of perversion coming from a pervert.
"No, Kon. She's staying there tonight." Ichigo dismisses and lets his eyes close – feeling very tired suddenly.
Surprising him once more, the mod soul doesn't make much of a protest. He sniffles a bit and waits in silence before his voice quietly pipes up again.
"…Can I sleep here, then?"
Ichigo grunts and turns onto his side – muscled back facing the stuffed animal. "Fine." He grumbles begrudgingly – far too tired to argue with the deprived lion.
He is starting to fall asleep then, body slowly lulling into unconsciousness from his exhaustion as he feels Kon's little body nestling against his own with a sniffle and a pout-like whisper of 'nee-san'.
He scoffs and settles in, feeling his body shut down so willingly.
He is asleep.
His window slides open and a little figure steps inside.
He does not stir – only mumbles in his sleep and turns over just a bit.
He is still again. Neither of them moves from their positions. Only their reiatsu begin to mingle – pushing and twisting with one another's. Softly dancing and nuzzling affectionately. She shivers at the intimacy and tries to pull hers back in modesty, but it only curls tighter around his and settles.
So she sighs in defeat, oh so tired, and gently settles as well.
Her eyes are on him – gazing softly over his relaxed form, patient for sleep to come.
Her fingers clench, his scent so familiar.
And she waits.
END OF PART II
Lendra-chan: I know – that took blood forever.
I'll try to be quicker~