Title: Misguided Manipulation

Pairings/Characters: Stark/Ichigo

Rating: T

Warning: Language, spoilers, yaoi smexiness, angst

Words: 1298

Description: Sent to the Living World on Aizen's orders to recruit Ichigo to his cause, Stark finds himself led astray by the orange-headed teen. What a surprise.

Epilogue – The End They Chose

Stark wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and dropped down from the roof, having had enough of attempting to build for the day. It was tiring work. And it wasn't as if he'd seen a soul since coming to Las Noches several weeks before. He'd found no one in the ruins, except for a few bodies. If there had been any survivors, they were long gone. Unsurprising, considering that Hueco Mundo was vast in size.

He'd come to Las Noches mostly because it was familiar, and he wouldn't have to start from scratch. It was easier than trying to set off on his own, finding someplace new. And at least here he could scavenge something like a comfortable bed, even if it was noticeably empty at night.

Hollows rarely bothered him. Especially here. Either they recognized him for his former position, no longer obvious now that he'd found some gloves. Or they were smart enough to sense his reiatsu and steer clear.

Stark flopped down on a rescued chair; he thought it might have belonged to Ichimaru at some point. He was utterly bored. Physical labor was far from what he considered entertaining. There was no one here to spar with, something he'd always enjoyed with Ichigo. And having only himself to talk to was causing him to rapidly develop a complex.

He contemplated taking a nap. There really wasn't much else to do besides rummage through Aizen's book collection or go through the remnants of Szayel's lab. Or flick through Grimmjow's artwork. Who knew that the prickly feline could draw so well? Though a disturbing amount of it consisted of rather violent pictures. Ones that disturbed even Stark with their vividness. Had Grimmjow still been alive, Stark would have recommended therapy. Honestly, he didn't think some of those things were possible.

On the edge of his senses, however, something familiar pinged. Stark sat up straight, furrowing his brow to concentration. This reiatsu… He knew this reiatsu.

Stark rose to his feet with his usual languid grace and headed for what he was calling the door. At the moment, it was little more than scraps of fabric somehow stitched together and hung between two pieces of broken wall.

He'd no sooner stepped out of his "shelter" than he felt the presence draw uncomfortably close, as if being led by some invisible string. Reiatsu surged and then suddenly, Ichigo was standing before him, panting a little from exertion.

Startled, Stark could only blink in his surprise. "Ichi--"

In all honesty, he should have seen the strike coming. As it were, Stark's reflexes were remarkably slowed after all the days of laziness. Or perhaps he had never expected Ichigo to strike him in anything but a spar. As such, the Vizard's fist slammed into the side of his face, though lighter than his blows usually landed, and Stark took a step backwards to absorb the hit. His jaw ached, and he mumbled a curse, rubbing at his chin with his fingers.

"Idiot," Ichigo growled, shoulders heaving as a myriad of emotions reflected in his eyes. "Stupid Arrancar. What the hell did you think you were doing?"

Gingerly pressing at his jaw – there would be a bruise, he was certain of it – Stark raked his eyes over his lover, a very welcome sight. "And here, I thought you'd be happy to see me."

Something flickered across Ichigo's expression before he moved forward and grabbed Stark's clothes. He fisted the fabric tightly and pushing him back into the weak enclosures of his shelter.

"You didn't bother to tell me you were leaving!" Ichigo growled, and Stark finally identified that look.

It was hurt. Hurt mixed with anger. Rage. Fear.

Guilt instantly flooded him, and he grabbed Ichigo's arms as they came to a stop in the middle of the room, having nearly tripped over a low-lying table. "I knew you'd do something stupid like try to come with me."

"Damn right I would've," Ichigo returned. "Selfish bastard, if you didn't want to be with me, you should've just said it."

Stark let loose a sound of frustration. "That wasn't it, and you know it. You should be living your life, not abandoning it for my sake."

"Yeah, big thanks for giving me that choice." Ichigo snorted. "It took me weeks to wait for Urahara-san to build me a gate to get here."

"I'm surprised he didn't have one ready," Stark muttered, and sighed heavily. "I didn't want you to come."

Brown eyes narrowed. "Too late. I'm here, and I'm not leaving unless you're coming with me."

"You're so stubborn."

"Damn right I am."

Ichigo released his arm, only to curl fingers around the back of Stark's head and drag him down. He didn't resist, allowing their mouths to meet in an intimate kiss, lips moving sensuously together. Stark felt something inside of him warm, the bitter sense of loneliness being utterly washed away in the wake of this familiarity.

Suddenly, Stark really didn't want to let this go. And he couldn't remember why he had in the first place.

"You actually plan on staying here?" Stark asked, once the kiss had finally ended, though he wanted to do much, much more. "What about your family and friends? Schooling. That sort of thing?"

Ichigo lifted one brow. "Can't you open a Garganta or something?"

"Or something," Stark responded. "But Soul Society--"

"--isn't going to do a damn thing," Ichigo interrupted, eyes gleaming with his usual determination. "Not if I have anything to say about it. I have enough friends who'll stand by me. And so do you, though you don't know it."

Stark blinked. "What?"

"Well, Yoruichi-san for one. She seems to think you're good for me." There was a hint of smugness to the Vizard's tone. "Not to mention Ukitake-san and that drunk guy. They saw you take out Ulquiorra. And then that chick with the blonde hair who covered her face."

"Halibel," Stark said absentmindedly. "Besides, they were trying to kill you," he defended, remembering how the fourth Espada had attempted to stab his lover in the back. Halibel had at least gone for the front, though Ichigo had been fighting Nnoitra at the time.

Ichigo rolled his eyes. "And the fact that you saved Rukia and Renji in the process was entirely coincidental."

The Arrancar frowned but didn't argue.

"Byakuya's grateful about that, by the way. Not that the prissy bastard will ever say anything," Ichigo added with a hint of almost amusement, but he quickly shook it off. "Soul Society's not going to do anything to us. They're too desperate not to get on my bad side apparently. And if you'd stuck around, you'd have seen that."

Stark had to fight not to bluster. "Well, pardon me for wanting to protect you."

"Idiot." Ichigo just gazed at him with those damn expressive eyes. "Haven't you learned yet that I don't need it?"

Something in Stark eased at that. He smiled, releasing his hold on Ichigo's arms to pull his younger lover into his embrace. Thoroughly enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed together.

"I must be stubborn, too."

He tipped his head and used that opportunity to kiss Ichigo again. Predictably, Ichigo didn't seem to mind. And Stark had the idea that he couldn't give this up again. He couldn't walk away. It was impossible to abandon that gravitation. He never should have even tried.

"I really am an idiot," he murmured against Ichigo's lips, hands already reaching for his younger lover's clothing.

Ichigo blinked, his eyes darkening with desire. "What?"

"Nothing," Stark assured him. And his lips traveled across Ichigo's jaw, leaving kisses in his wake.

Hopelessly ensnared. Just like Urahara warned him. Funny, how Stark didn't seem to mind at all.

a/n: And that would be the end. You guys were probably expecting smut, huh? Sorry, I ran out of steam. Don't worry, there is a bit of a sequel in the works, though it focuses on another Espada. Look forward to it.

I do hope you guys enjoy! And if you're following my Seireitei Monogatari series, I've reopened requests until April 21st. Thanks for reading! I look forward to your comments!