a/n: This is the last chapter my dear readers. I hope you enjoy it.
The Beautiful Lie
At night, Ichigo doesn't dream for himself anymore. Instead, while sleeping his mind accesses that separate part of him that is king. He dreams the dreams of any one of the thousands of Shinigami under his command. Or the hopes and wishes of the souls waiting to be incarnated into the living world. He sees the occasionally primitive – occasionally not – desires of the Hollow. Those desperately wanting to be saved, those eagerly anticipating a different future.
At night, Ichigo is more than Ichigo. He is King – capital letter and everything. He isn't one man but a thousand minds, all clamoring for attention. He sleeps, restful, but the dreams are never his own.
By the time he wakes, Ichigo has forgotten the particulars. But he never forgets the emotions and stores them away for the next night.
"I picked this place out because it has a lot of space." Kisuke gestures to the wide open front room and the multiple hallways that attach to it. "Plus, it's close to Seireitei without actually being under the Shinigami's thumb."
Beside him, Tessai nods in approval. "Good choice, tenchou." His gaze wanders over the undecorated walls, probably already arranging furniture in his mind. "And you?"
Without his consent, Kisuke feels his cheeks attract some heat. "I have quarters in the Royal Palace."
A full on flush darkens his cheeks. Kisuke straightens his shoulders, turning to look at Tessai. Who has always been more friend than servant, despite the route their roles had taken.
"Yes," he confirms. "With Ichigo." He pauses to make a face. "And unfortunately, Aizen as well. He, however, is easily avoidable. For the most part."
"I'm happy for you."
A smile flutters to Kisuke's lips. "It's unusual and not exactly ideal," he says, lifting his shoulders. "But..."
Tessai inclines his head. "But you're happy now. I can tell." He steps away, pretending to examine one of the huge windows in the main room. "I wasn't sure you would be after Yoruichi-sama left. I was wrong. I am glad for that." He glances over his shoulder. "You love him."
Warmth floods Kisuke's insides. He fights not to grin like a lovesick fool.
Strange how easy it is to admit now. And a little embarrassing, too.
He clears his throat noisily. "So... let me show you the rooms I thought Uryuu and Jinta would like."
Laughter rumbles in Tessai's chest. "Lead the way, tenchou."
The first night they share together is awkward. Ichigo feels like a stiff board on the appropriately sized mattress, lying between his two lovers. Kisuke on his right, Sousuke on his left. None of them sleeping. All of them barely moving, wishing to draw the least attention to themselves.
'Thisisn'tgoingtowork,' Ichigo thinks glumly.
He can't sleep with this much tension. He's not comfortable on his back. But he daren't turn to one side or the other, for fear of being accused of favoritism or for one or the other to think Ichigo has deliberately chosen.
He wants to sleep. He's so very tired. The fatigue is pulling at him, though his mind races a mile a minute. There's a deep, steady thrum of reiatsu in the world around him. So many things to follow, to keep track of.
Somewhere in Seireitei, two men are clashing blades. He can feel the steady hum of each Shinigami on patrol. Somewhere else in Hueco Mundo, a Hollow clenches with hunger. Down on the living world, a little boy spirit runs for his life. The Shinigami protector is just too far away.
Numerous instances such as those. Ichigo's aware of them all. They flash by so quickly, and just as he realized in that first terrible week of acclimatizing himself to the changes becoming king had wrought, that though he knows all, he can't fixall. He can only do his best from here, guiding and watching, a firm hand and a compassionate heart.
The realization is truth, but it's worrisome. He wants to sleep. He wants to curl up with his lovers and just forget however briefly the responsibilities outside his door.
But he can't. Because they hate each other. And here he is, the Ichigo-shaped buffer between them. Too afraid to do anything for fear of upsetting the delicate balance.
'It'snotgoingtowork,' he realizes helplessly. And his eyes shutter briefly closed. He had been optimistic to think they'd even try.
He sighs audibly with every intention of sitting up and telling them to go to their respective rooms or moving himself to the floor. Let them handle sharing a bed without him, if they could stomach it. Besides, he'd rather sleep alone than suffer in this tense silence.
In the same moment, however, Kisuke turns toward him. Something like determination shines in his eyes, and his lips press together firmly. His hand reaches out, landing on Ichigo's shoulder.
"I know you don't like sleeping on your back," he says quietly.
"I'd prefer it if you were comfortable," Sousuke says from the other end, and the bed creaks as he too turns on his side. His gaze briefly flicks past his would-be lover to Kisuke before returning to Ichigo.
Confusion merges with reluctance and the lingering feelings of disappointment, and Ichigo warily turns on his right side, curling into his usual sleeping position. He's facing Kisuke, and now he's just waiting for the backlash. For Kisuke to look victorious, Sousuke to hide his disappointment behind that solid mask of his.
Instead, the two of them move in tandem. Kisuke shifts closer, hand sliding to rest just below Ichigo's arm. Sousuke presses against Ichigo's back, one arm falling over his flank. They aren't touching each other, but it's a start.
For the first time in a month, Ichigo dares believe this might actually work.
"So," Unohana-san says, pulling Sousuke from his thoughts. "When shall I expect grandchildren?"
Sousuke, hands lifted in the middle of pouring tea, nearly drops the pot. "Excuse me?"
She smiles at him, sweetly serene, but with an edge of teasing. Her eyes are too blue and not nearly innocent enough.
"Grandchildren," she repeats. "I hope to see some soon, you know. None of us are getting any younger."
He manages to pour the tea without spilling a drop before settling back down. He eyes her across the table, but she just keeps smiling.
"This is true. However, as Ichigo and I are both male, I don't see children as a possibility." He pauses, a wicked thought occurring to him. "Unless, of course, he can convince Urahara to undergo a change."
Unohana-san laughs and curls her fingers around the cup. "I don't think Urahara-kun will agree to that." She shakes her head. "Besides, Sousuke, there is such a thing as adoption."
"It's a little early to think about children," Sousuke replies and sips at his tea, the pleasant aroma floating to his nose and the taste dancing on his tongue. "When would we have the time? The attention to spare? And how exactly would that work with Urahara as a factor?"
She shrugs. "Involve him," Unohana-san says, and she looks at him squarely, her eyes understanding and with their own share of grief. "My feelings are much the same as yours, Sousuke. But the past is the past, and if we allow ourselves to cling to it, we'll never be able to enjoy our future."
He mulls over her words and has to set down his teacup. He isn't angry over this. Not anymore. But there is still something all too much like hate curling in his soul, and he isn't certain it'll ever go away no matter how much time passes.
"You've forgiven him then?" His voice is deceptively soft.
"It's not as simple as that, but yes." Unohana-san sighs softly. "It is a matter of intent, Sousuke. It was an order that he obeyed. It was not done out of malicious will so as much as it pains me to admit… I no longer blame him for their deaths."
Sousuke toys with his cup, warmth soaking through thick ceramic. His gaze lowers to the pale green liquid as ripples stir across the surface.
"In other words," he says, carefully choosing what he means to say. "If I want to cling to my hatred of him, I must turn the same feelings onto my own actions."
Unohana-san sips at her tea. "Ichigo-kun has already forgiven you. I would draw from his example." Her mouth curves above the rim of the cup. "And get started on those grandchildren for me."
Her last words break the tension of the moment. Sousuke dissolves into a light chuckle.
"You aren't going to let that go, are you?" he asks but already knows the answer.
"Not if I can help it," Unohana-san replies cheerily.
In the end, he's not Shinji's best man but the officiant. Ichigo stands at the front of the massive room, redecorated for the sake of the wedding, with what seems like half of Seireitei in attendance.
As King of Soul Society, Shinji had reasoned, who was better suited for marrying them? Jyuushiro? In which case, no, Shinji would prefer Ichigo. So he'd agreed, and Sousuke had taken his place as Shinji's best man, something which amuses Ichigo to no end.
Especially when Neliel asked Kisuke to be her matron of honor. Oh, many snickers were to be had at that request. Kisuke, in a fit of good mood and humor, had agreed.
Here they are, standing diagonally to Ichigo, watching with Shinji for the blushing bride to walk down the aisle. She's resplendent in shades of cream and pale green, better suited than the pure white of a traditional western-style bride.
On Sousuke's other side are Love and Rose. Beside Kisuke are Lisa and Hiyori, the latter of whom is still scowling despite the relative celebration of the moment. Ichigo thinks Hiyori will be scowling even on her own wedding day; pity the poor man who decides her to be his goddess.
The music starts. It isn't the traditional march, but then, nothing about this wedding has been traditional in the slightest. Shinji rejects tradition by wearing a zoot suit in stunning shades of maroon and gunmetal, rather than a black tux and tie. He's even wearing a hat, and he keeps reaching up, running his fingers along the rim of it with a bright grin.
No, nothing about this wedding has been traditional. But considering the bride and groom, Ichigo supposes it couldn't have happened any other way.
Neliel enters as the music reaches a chipper crescendo, and the gathered audience rises respectfully to their feet. A subtle applause marks her approach down the aisle. She's beaming, hair done up in a soft bun with curling tendrils escaping from the light twist. She isn't wearing a veil either.
As she approaches the dais, Shinji steps down a single stair to offer a hand. She takes it and together, they step forward.
Ichigo's having a hard time fighting to keep the smile from his own face. He clears his throat noisily and pulls a paper from his back pocket. He's not had nearly enough time to memorize what he's supposed to say, so he's got a cheat sheet.
Neliel and Shinji are standing there, beaming like a couple of fools, and Ichigo's hard pressed not to match their glee.
"To all gathered here today," Ichigo starts.
And the rest as they say, is history.
Kisuke corners Ichigo in the massive bathing room, sliding behind the man standing at the counter and curling his arms around Ichigo's waist. He nuzzles into the damp skin of Ichigo's neck. Ichigo just leans over, spits into the sink, and catches Kisuke's gaze in the mirror.
"You're up early."
It's true. Of them all, Kisuke is always the last to rise. He sleeps late as often as possible to counter the fact he's up late at night, unwilling to fall asleep while in the middle of a project.
Kisuke presses a kiss to the side of Ichigo's neck. One hand roams upward to explore a bare abdomen as the other wanders downward. Fingers cup Ichigo's soft length through the fabric of his undergarments.
"I wanted to catch you before you started your usual round of boring, long meetings."
In his arms, Ichigo shivers. His hips roll into the blond's skilled touch, arousal slowly filling with blood.
"Catch me?" he questions, but his voice has gone low.
Kisuke grins, pressing himself against Ichigo's back. "Mm hm," he replies and nuzzles the side of Ichigo's face. "Can you think of a better way to start the day?"
"Not particularly," his lover says, and there's humor in his voice. He turns his head, their lips barely brushing. "But you'll have to be quick." His breath hitches as Kisuke's fingers stroke him, flesh hardening under the sensual onslaught.
Kisuke chuckles. "As you wish, your majesty," he murmurs and leans closer, stealing Ichigo's lips for a kiss that tingles on his tongue.
"No," Ichigo puts in tiredly. He leans in the doorway of his quarters whilst Kisuke and Sousuke look at him, standing in the hallway just outside his room. "I don't have the energy to put up with your subtle battle over the bed."
He starts to close the door, letting that be that. But Kisuke's hand smacks against the wood, keeping it open, even as Sousuke steps forward. Ichigo doesn't fail to catch their exchanged glances either.
"We are not here to fight," Sousuke insists quietly, trying to edge into the room. "We are here to help."
Ichigo's shoulders slump. Fatigue drags on every muscle, every limb, until he feels like he could curl up on the floor and sleep for days. The past two days have been nothing but endless meetings, and he's plain exhausted.
"Help?" he repeats and shakes his head. "I'm too tired to try and balance things, to prove there's no favoritism. I'd rather sleep by myself. Thanks anyway."
Something flickers over Kisuke's face, but Ichigo turns away before he tries to interpret it. He really is too drained.
They follow him into the room, Sousuke closing the door behind them. Ichigo would like to protest, but he's not in the mood to do that either. If they're that determined to be here then they can deal with his piss-poor mood and be happy for it.
He sheds layers of clothing, leaving nothing but his boxers, and crawls into bed. He takes up as much space as obnoxiously possible; Ichigo's not going to make this easy for them.
By some silent agreement – agreement? A first! – Kisuke and Sousuke climb onto the bed on either side of him. Ichigo closes his eyes, grits his teeth, tries to relax. But relaxation won't come; he's too tense.
That's when hands land on his shoulders – Kisuke by the soft tingle of reiatsu. Fingers rub into sore muscles, warm and tender.
"We're not here to argue," the blond murmurs. "We're here for you."
We. Not a singular but we. Another first.
Ichigo relaxes by a fraction, his eyes sliding open as Sousuke eases down next to him. He takes Ichigo's hand sprawled across the mattress and pulls it toward his lips. A warm mouth descends, pressing a kiss to Ichigo's palm, brown eyes soft with affection.
"Let us be by your side," Sousuke adds, his gaze briefly flicking past Ichigo to Kisuke, and some silent communication travels between them. "Please."
In the face of their earnest affection, Ichigo doesn't have the will to argue. He nods and sinks into comfort. Into the feel of Kisuke's hands over his tense muscles. Into the soft caress of Sousuke's lips.
It's intimacy without lust, and when he falls asleep that night, pressed between their warmth, it's the best sleep he's gotten in years.
Somehow, Ichigo's ascension to the role of king has prompted more feelings of victory and togetherness than ending Aizen's war. And with those feelings of togetherness comes the irrepressible urge to pair up, start families, and move on.
Yoruichi, however, is one notable exception.
While everyone around her joins together like lovesick fools, she's quite content to rebuild the second division to its former glory. Correcting the wrongs her ill-appointed predecessor had committed, shaming the legacy that Soifon left behind.
She's also made it her duty to whip the Onmitsukidoh into shape. After clearing out the Maggot's Nest and sealing the now-abandoned prison up tight, Yoruichi has shifted the purpose of the Onmitsukidoh as well. For one, Ichigo-heika does not condone assassinations. So instead, they now focus on intelligence. On watching the moods and whims of the populace and providing counterbalance to enemies. On subtle body guarding and defending the realm and her ruler.
She doesn't mind the changes one bit.
Yoruichi is happily single. Though she does, on occasion, find her way into the beds of many a receptive partner. They don't mind. And frankly, neither does she.
Maybe, one day, when she's feeling particularly old and settled, Yoruichi will allow herself to commit. She'll pick a partner. Might even pop out a few kids for Kisuke to fawn over. But for now, she has her duty and her division and a trust in her king.
And that's enough.
"Do you have a seven?"
"Nope. Go fish."
Kisuke watches from the doorway. He's simultaneously perplexed and amused, as the three "guardians" – as they'd so named themselves – play a card game. And not an adult game either.
Gin, a mischievous grin curving his lips, ponders his cards. "Hmmm. Shun-chan... do you have a queen?"
"How do you always know?" Muttering under his breath, Shunsui plucks a card from his stash and flicks it Gin's direction.
"Family secret. Passed down through generations," Gin replies cheekily, plucking the card from thin air before turning to Renji. "Yer turn."
Scratching his chin, Renji contemplates his cards with more attention than Kisuke had ever seen him give either his training or his tedious reports to the sixth division. He shuffles his hand several times and tilts his head to the side.
"Do ya have a five?" the redhead finally asks Gin.
"Nope," Gin replies with barely repressed glee. "Go fish."
Huffing, Renji reaches for the stack. "Ya know, I think he's lyin'," he tells Shunsui, but even Kisuke can tell it's with humor and teasing.
"You're just a sore loser." Shunsui laughs, sprawling out over the floor and making himself comfortable.
"So says the man with more cards than any o' us," Gin comments. He looks pointedly down at his three sets of matching cards already.
Kisuke's eyebrows try to mate with his hairlines. "Please don't tell me you've all been playing cards since the end of the war," he says, strolling into the room and announcing his presence.
"Of course not," Shunsui replies loftily and waves a hand through the air. "Sometimes, we play board games."
"Or Simon Says!" Gin adds cheerfully.
Renji grunts. "And on one occasion we'll never repeat, a rousin' round of charades."
Kisuke can't help himself; he bursts into laughter. There's something rather ridiculous about the idea of the three of them – one who might be considered a mortal enemy – passing the time by playing games of some sort.
"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up," Shunsui says, only partially disgruntled, and looks pointedly at Renji. "Got any kings?"
A curse fills the room as Renji tosses him all three that he has.
Ichigo finds Sousuke in the library, buried in his book. He looks quite thoughtful as he balances his chin on his knuckles and his elbow on the arm of a chair. He's so engrossed in whatever he's reading that he neither hears Ichigo enter the room nor sees him approach.
Which is, in Ichigo's opinion, the perfect opportunity to pounce. If there's one thing Ichigo has come to enjoy doing, it's disturbing Sousuke's perfect poise and surprising him. He loves watching Sousuke in a second of startlement.
Ichigo drops down on his lap, straddling the brunet and draping his arms over Sousuke's shoulders. His lover belatedly lowers his book.
"What are you reading?" Ichigo asks, fingers toying with the nape of Sousuke's neck.
Sousuke closes the book and reaches out, setting it on a nearby table. "Nothing quite so interesting as this," he replies warmly, hands settling on Ichigo's hips. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
Desire swells slowly in Ichigo's belly as he shifts, glad that he's already thought to lock the doors. Though to be fair, the way his powers work, no one's getting in this room if he doesn't want them to. Sousuke, however, doesn't know that.
"I seem to recall an emergency interrupting us this morning," Ichigo responds huskily. "I'm here to finish what you started."
Sousuke's hands, bold for once, slide from his hips to venture downwards. "Here?"
"Yes, here," Ichigo confirms and leans closer until there's less than an inch between their faces. "Unless you don't approve, in which case I'll just go away..." he trails off and shifts his weight.
Sousuke's grip tightens. His eyes have gone dark, almost black. Ichigo is all he sees.
"I said no such thing," he replies, an almost growl to his voice. "But you do have a meeting in an hour."
Ichigo's pulse leaps, his pants growing uncomfortably tight. "Then we'll have to make this count," he murmurs against the brunet's lips.
Sousuke makes a noise of approval in his throat. "I intend to."
To no one's surprise, Karin graduates with top honors after only two years in the Academy. To everyone's shock, however, she is then assigned the eleventh division, per her request according to Jyuushiro.
She spends the next few months fighting and clawing her way to the top, easily dispatching each and every person who stands in her way, until she has no one to contend with but Kenpachi and Yachiru. At which point, Kenpachi grunts that she's like her brother in every way but one – Karin's smarter.
She cheekily grins and then demands to be transferred to another division, one that has an open position worthy of her talents. Especially since she has no intention of fighting Yachiru to obtain hers. Laughing a bit too ferally, Kenpachi points the way to the ninth division and gleefully sets her free, set to do havoc on any who dare cross her path.
Toushirou later tells Kenpachi that it's a wise move. That it's best to do as Karin says rather than argue. In that, she's very much like her brother.
Karin strides into the ninth division, head held high, with a dozen easily obtained victories under her belt and glowing recommendations from her instructors at the Academy. She offers her services for the remaining position open, reiatsu tingling with intent to give proof of her shikai, if it is so desired.
Hisagi, the captain and a man with a keen sense of survival, readily agrees. Karin, after all, is a much better choice than the others he'd been considering for the position. And in the end, it's safer for everyone.
With Karin's appointment to the ninth division lieutenant, the Gotei 13 is finally operating at full capacity. And somewhere within the Royal Palace, Ichigo breathes a sigh of relief.
For all the years he's been king, Ichigo hasn't encountered this situation before. Not even from the one Shinigami who, arguably, should have been the first.
Kneeling before him, utterly pleading, Hanatarou is the prefect picture of subservience. Sitting beside him, Yuzu is serene and hopeful, her hands folded delicately in her lap.
"Ichigo-heika," Hanatarou says, tone quiet and humble. "I formally ask that you allow me to take your sister's hand in marriage."
Baffled, Ichigo's composure betrays him. "Shouldn't you be asking Isshin that?"
Yuzu's lips twitch with humor, but Hanatarou looks up at him, eyes open and frank.
"With all due respect, heika, you're much stronger than Kurosaki-fukutaichou."
Behind Ichigo, there is a muffled noise. Which is surely the sound of Kisuke concealing his laughter. Ichigo shoots Sousuke a helpless look, but the brunet shakes his head and shrugs. Clearly, Ichigo is on his own in this. Neither of his lovers are being remotely helpful.
He sighs. "I get your point," Ichigo allows, "but you don't have to actually ask for permission anymore." That tradition had fallen by the wayside eons ago, according to the occasional spurt of information his newly acquired kingly powers deigned to provide.
Kisuke snorts again but quickly disguises it with a cough. No one is fooled.
"I would prefer to cover all my bases, sir," Hanatarou replies.
Ichigo works his jaw. By the gods, not even Toushirou has asked, and he's been attached to Karin for far longer. To be fair, Ichigo suspects the both of them will choose to elope instead. It's a much saner option.
And really, Hanatarou doesn't have to call him sir. Like ever.
He turns his attention to Yuzu. "Do you accept his proposal?" he questions since it's honestly her choice. Not that it isn't obvious what she already wants.
"With all my heart." His sister smiles, an expression of pure joy and affection. Her entire face lights up.
Hanatarou looks at her, adoration in his eyes, and Ichigo half-expects rainbows and daises to sprout around them as playful angels sing a chorus. It's that kind of sickeningly cute moment.
Ichigo lifts his hands, spreading them out in front of him. "Well, then I don't see a reason to protest or anything. Feel free to get married. Congratulations."
He watches as Yuzu and Hanatarou happily embrace, while Kisuke gives a polite clap behind him and Sousuke looks long-suffering.
Time, as ever, continues to move on.
Ichigo consults his notes, scratching fingers over his head. "So... you've got thirteen fully staffed divisions now, right?"
"With the addition of your sister, yes, I now have a full roster," Jyuushiro confirms and sets aside his paperwork on his desk with a faint snap. "Did you want to make more changes?"
He waves a hand of dismissal. "Nah. I trust you," Ichigo replies. "I just wanted to make sure you have everything you need."
"I do." Jyuushiro smiles. "But before you leave in a hurry, might I ask how you are doing?"
Ichigo actually seems taken aback.
"In regards to...?"
It's Jyuushiro's turn to gesture, though this time he uses one that seems to encompass the world as a whole. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. He wonders if Shunsui's been ratting him out.
"Anything. I'm still your friend, Ichigo-kun, and you have to admit, your two closest advisers are a bit... compromised."
Ichigo laughs, relaxing back into his chair. He never thought after the clusterfuck that had been Aizen's war it'd be this easy to talk with Jyuushiro again.
"You have a point." He sets his own paperwork aside. "Things are... actually good."
"No complications?" Jyuushiro arches a brow.
"Only the ones that could be expected." Ichigo purses his lips, considering. "They're working together more. Less snapping and growling, more compromising. I don't feel like I'm babysitting school kids anymore. Which makes my job a lot easier."
Jyuushiro chuckles. "They're intelligent men after all. What of your duties? Are you learning to balance them?"
"A bit. It gets tiring sometimes," Ichigo admits and then manages a sly grin. "But then, I have two capable advisers."
"Indeed you do."
A spike in reiatsu is all the warning Ichigo receives before Jyuushiro's door suddenly slams open. He turns and looks over his shoulder to see Lisa looming in the entryway, the smile on her face at complete odds with her boisterous appearance.
"Hey, Ichigo," she says briefly as she strolls into the room, the air of command swirling about her nearly rivaling Jyuushiro's own.
"Nice seeing you again, Lisa." He tips his head.
She flashes him a grin. "Always a pleasure," Lisa replies before focusing on Jyuushiro, whose smile upon her appearance is faltering on the edges. "It's lunchtime, Jyuu. And I believe we have an appointment."
"So we do." Jyuushiro shoots Ichigo a look. One of commiseration. "If you'll excuse me, Ichigo, I did promise to have lunch with my intended."
Ichigo waves them off, infinitely amused at the way Lisa swings her weight around and Jyuushiro lets her. It's an odd pairing, but it works. Well, whatever makes them happy he supposes. At least Jyuushiro's smiling now.
"It's not fair," Shunsui whines, sounding like a teenaged girl as opposed to the millennia old man he actually was. "My sweet Nanao-chan's left me!"
Sousuke makes a noise in his throat, instead focusing on the sheets of paper spread out in front of him. He ignores Shunsui as he half-drapes across his nephew's desk, the perfect picture of betrayed disbelief.
"Is that so?"
He doesn't really want to encourage Shunsui's melodrama, but Sousuke also knows full well that his uncle won't leave until he's spoken his peace.
"Yes," Shunsui says with a full pout. "To marry Bya-bo of all people." He turns a mournful look upon his dear nephew. "Why didn't you marry her?"
Amusement tugs at Sousuke's mouth. "I should think that answer obvious. In case you haven't noticed, I'm attached to someone else."
"Yes, Ichigo-kun." Mischief dances in Shunsui's eyes then. "But once upon a time, you and Nanao-chan were like two lovebirds in a tree."
Sousuke inclines his head. He plucks one document from the stack and scans it quickly.
"It was in the past, yes. But you and I both know that it wasn't meant to be. Which is something she and I understand. We are better off as friends."
Rolling his eyes, Shunsui sits up, planting his chin on his knuckles. "Only because you were too focused on taking over the world."
"Not the world," Sousuke corrects with good humor. "Soul Society. For a good reason." He pauses, one finger gesturing to a point of data as he grabs another paper to confirm the total. "Please pass my congratulations onto her. Though I have little love for Kuchiki-taichou, he must be doing something right to keep her affections."
Shunsui snorts a laugh.
Isshin is all but vibrating with excitement. His reiatsu is a wild swirl around him that makes the tapestries on the walls ripple.
Ichigo though just stares at his father.
"Pregnant!" Isshin declares with unabashed glee, eyes lit up and arms stretched wide as though he might hug Ichigo at any second. Wisely, Ichigo takes a step back. "You'll have another little brother or sister soon."
"How is that even possible?" Ichigo demands and tosses a wild glance over his shoulder, where Gin and Sousuke are both watching him, the former with amusement glinting in his eyes.
"Magic!" Gin chimes in with a perfectly straight face. "Guess ya wanted another sibling, Ichi-kun."
Slapping a hand over his face, Ichigo groans. He does not want a mental image of his parents working hard at creating another sibling for him. No, he doesn't.
"We thought you should be the first to know," Isshin practically sings, all but bouncing in place. "We're going to tell Karin and Yuzu next."
Oh, to be the fly on the wall for that particular conversation.
"I'm... happy for you?" Ichigo says with a wince.
He supposes having another sibling will be fun, and he's glad that his parents are reunited and happy. But still… how in the world does one mostly dead ghost and a kinda dead Shinigami create another soul? His kingly duties hadn't remotely hinted to this as a possibility!
Isshin's grin stretches wide, and all the kingly duties in the world aren't enough to save Ichigo from the crushing hug that Isshin attacks him with. Behind him, both Gin and Sousuke are snickering.
Ichigo fights a yawn as he opens the door to his quarters and slips inside, closing it quietly behind him. The room is dimly lit, but it's been long enough that he could find his way to his bedroom and his bed even with his eyes closed.
He's too tired to do anything more than strip out of his clothes, leaving a trail of them behind him as he heads for their shared bedroom. It's dark here too, only a bit of moonlight seeping in through curtains over the windows. It's enough for Ichigo to see the lump on his bed – one lump, not two.
He smiles to himself. Kisuke and Sousuke are very nearly wrapped around each other. There's a bare inch of space between them. Once, many years ago, Ichigo could've parked a truck between their bodies. Now, things are quite different.
Shaking his head, Ichigo crawls onto the bed from the end of it. It takes him a moment to wiggle himself between his two lovers.
"Oy. Move over," he says, giving Sousuke's shoulder a push and nudging Kisuke's side.
"Mmmph," Kisuke says, barely coherent, as he scoots over a fraction. Which leaves Ichigo room to slide in next to him.
"Welcome home," Sousuke replies, more awake as he rolls over, giving Ichigo more space to fit comfortably.
He nestles between them, Kisuke instantly snuggling into his chest. One arm drapes over Ichigo's hips, breath ghosting across the younger man's throat. He exhales noisily and just like that instantly drops back into a deep sleep. Their reiatsu curls together comfortably, helping to soothe the frazzled fatigue.
Sousuke settles against Ichigo's back, a warm presence that guards him where he's most vulnerable. His arm slides around Ichigo's chest, trapped now between the other two. Without a moment of hesitation, not caring that he's inadvertently touching Kisuke as well.
They don't kiss. They don't touch each other intimately. Ichigo doesn't think they'll ever develop lust or feelings of affection. But they are friends now, no longer enemies, and this works. Amazingly enough, this works.
Ichigo's eyes slide close, safe and secure, held between his two lovers. Tomorrow will be another day of kingly duties. Kisuke will bury himself in his lab. Sousuke will tell Ichigo about all his meetings. Soul Society will recover, and the world will move on.
Strange how it all turns out.
a/n: And thus this is the end. It's been a long and rough and beautiful ride, but I must say goodbye to this story. If there's anything you feel I've left unanswered, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. Questions regarding the fic are welcome; I plan to compile a FAQ. I also plan to put the whole story into a pdf for those interested.
Big thanks to all the readers, reviewers, and commenters who have supported me through this long fic. I wouldn't have made it without you. Much love to Lady Azar de Tameran for writing the interludes and some of the chapters when I got stuck, and to mandalee1013 who helped me work out some very troublesome plot holes. You two are the reason this fic found an ending!
Thanks again for reading and I do hope you enjoyed!