Disclaimer: Bleach and all its characters belong to Kubo Tite. (Any original characters are mine.) This is posted for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made or sought.

As it happened, Ichigo didn't make it until Friday.

His feelings of guilt had faded after a good night's sleep, and Ichigo jogged to class the next morning feeling oddly hopeful. While there was no trace of Ishida's reiatsu on campus, Ichigo's gut told him that his missing roommate was somewhere nearby and everywhere Ichigo looked, he kept expecting to see him. He was always disappointed, though, and by the time his last class rolled around, Ichigo's expectant mood had soured. He brooded through his Trigonometry class when he should have been listening and taking notes.

That bastard, Ichigo fumed as he sat there gripping his pen, watching the instructor mark up the white board and seeing nothing. It's been four days. Four! Does he think he can just disappear like this? What the hell is he trying to pull?

When the lesson ended and his classmates were standing up and gathering their books, Ichigo realized he hadn't heard a word of the instructor's lecture and had no idea what would be covered on the test next week. Stuffing his notebook into his backpack, Ichigo left the classroom in a bitter frame of mind, knowing that if Ishida didn't turn up soon, he would end up failing at least one class, maybe more.

Returning to a still Ishida-less apartment didn't improve his temper. Without Ishida around to harass him into cleaning up, he'd let the place go to hell, but it wasn't just the bowls and half-empty drink cans on the coffee table that signaled his roommate's absence. Even with the pillows and slip-covered furniture, the apartment was starting to feel like Ishida didn't live there any longer.

"Fuck," Ichigo groaned, dumping his backpack on the floor and sitting down hard on the arm of the sofa. He'd been kidding himself all this time, hadn't he? He'd been denying what he should have realized all along: Ishida wasn't coming back there. Not on his own at any rate.

"Dumbass," Ichigo grumbled, and for once he wasn't talking about himself. "Stupid, prideful, near-sighted, little…" He let his thoughts and words trail off as he rose and stalked down the hall to the bathroom, shedding clothes as he went. It was stuffy inside the apartment, but he didn't stop to open the windows or turn on the fans. Instead, he turned on the shower full blast and stepped under the spray. Ichigo shivered and gritted his teeth at the cold rush of water, but he didn't move from under it. It was what he needed to shock him back to reality and out of the haze of worry and self-doubt he'd been tangled in all week.

What the hell was I thinking? he wondered, scrubbing soap over his skin as if he could wash off his hesitation along with the sweat. Yeah, it had made sense that Ishida would eventually come back, and hell, Ishida was nothing if not sensible, right? But somehow Ichigo had forgotten about his stupid pride, his stupid Quincy pride, which as far as he could tell was just a cover story for Ishida being the most stubborn person on earth. And he'd forgotten just how often Ishida's pride trumped his usual caution and common sense. Hell, hadn't Chad told him something like that? That even Ishida couldn't be rational…

"…when it's a matter of the heart," Ichigo repeated. He shut off the water and stood there dripping, remembering Chad's expression, remembering Ishida's face before he stepped away from him so carefully and ran.

Ichigo let out a long sigh and felt most of the anger leave his body along with the breath. Most of it. There was still enough to fuel his own stubborn determination to find Ishida and drag him back, kicking and screaming if necessary, to have it out with him.

And I can do it, too, he thought as he toweled himself off. Urahara had given him the means, and right then, Ichigo didn't care how ugly and embarrassing those particular means were. As long as they let him track down Ishida. As long as he had a chance to talk some sense into him, to make him listen.

To make Ishida see that he was serious about this. About him.

Once mostly dry, Ichigo changed into clean clothes and moved around his room, opening the window, clicking on the ceiling fan, and finally stopping to stare at his bed. He remembered Ishida lying asleep on his rumpled sheets, and it was all too easy to imagine him there again but this time awake, unhurt, wanting to be there. Wanting him.

Ichigo swallowed thickly and turned away before he could take the fantasy further. Don't jinx it, he told himself, shoving his fingers through his damp hair and walking over to his desk. The borrowed cap – Urahara's Diamond Cloak of what-the-fuck-ever lay where he'd tossed it when he'd undressed the night before. Its appearance hadn't improved in the ensuing hours. It was still the same garish gold and muddy brown it had been when the shopkeeper handed to him, the outlandish cat ears standing out like flags. Setting his jaw, Ichigo picked the cap up and gave it a determined look.

"All right," he addressed the cap. "You and I are going for a little walk." With that, he took a breath, closed his eyes and pulled the thing onto his head.

For a second, nothing happened, but then Ichigo blinked his eyes, turned around, and his glance fell once again on his bed. Immediately the image of Ishida lying there returned, and the next thing Ichigo knew, it felt like the claw of some big, invisible, novelty crane machine had slammed into his chest, latched onto his heart, and was hauling him toward the door.

"Whoa!" Ichigo shouted, digging in his heels against the force that was pulling him out of the apartment. "Hold on!" he yelled, managing to slow down enough to lock the door on his way out. Once at the bottom of the stairs and out onto the street, however, Ichigo let the cap have free rein. All he had to do was think of Ishida – not hard, since Ishida was all he had been thinking about – and the way was clear.

He wasn't running, only walking with a long fast stride, but everything – the daytime crowd of students, office workers, food carts, and traffic – went by him in a blur. Faces turned to stare as he charged across the street, dodging bicycles and wide-eyed pedestrians. Both the noodle cart guy handing off a bowl of soup and the customer offering money gaped as he passed by, but Ichigo didn't care. It was like an invisible line was connecting him to his quarry, and nothing mattered but following that connection to its source.

Urahara had told him the cap wouldn't work in his Shinigami form, but somehow it felt like his heavy human body was moving at the speed of flash step. Sooner than he expected, he was on campus, passing the library, the science building, the fountain at the university's center, the rec center, and then going into unfamiliar territory. He passed buildings whose names he didn't recognize, a sculpture he'd only seen in the university brochure, and then turned down a walkway lined with cherry trees long past their spring bloom. The walkway ended at an ornamental gate which opened onto an unknown street, and Ichigo stood there for a second, unsure of which way to go.

The street was moderately busy, and two suited salary men gave Ichigo a look as they jostled by, probably annoyed that he was simply standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Ichigo barely noticed. He was staring in the direction they'd come from because the line hooked into his heart was throbbing there, there, there, and then he was heading down to the corner, across the street with the light flashing Don't Walk and a car honking as it braked. After that, he ran, dodging women with strollers and shopping bags, almost slamming into a knot of people sorting through a bin outside a 100-yen store, and finally careening around the corner to grab the handle of a smudged glass door as the drum beat in his chest shouted here!

The door opened to a small café – quiet, dingy, past its prime. The place was a long, narrow aisle of scuffed linoleum with booths on either side, fronted by a counter with a yellowing paper menu taped to the glass. There was no one behind the counter, though Ichigo could hear voices and pots clanging through the door to the kitchen. Now past 2:00 pm, the place was mostly empty except for a few lingering lunch customers. Ichigo had eyes for only one, and he moved carefully down the aisle until he was standing by the booth where a solitary student was reading.

Ishida's head was bent over his physics textbook while the long fingers of his left hand tumbled a pencil end over end. A glass of iced barley tea was sweating on the formica tabletop, and a half-eaten bowl of soup had been pushed to the side. The long sweep of his hair fell forward, obscuring his face, but even if he hadn't seen the silver cross bracelet dangling from his wrist or the top of the Quincy scar just barely visible down the open collar of his shirt, Ichigo would have known who it was.

The moment he had seen the angle of Ishida's shoulder, the way the bone jutted from his wrist and the edge of his elbow, the sheen of light on his hair, Ichigo's heart had expanded with something too big to be contained and then contracted just as sharply. So many emotions battled inside him – relief, anger, frustration, attraction – that Ichigo couldn't process them all. He wanted to charge forward and demand to know where Ishida had been and why he hadn't answered his calls. He wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattled, and he wanted to wrap his arms around him and hold him so tight that he'd never get away again. He wanted to say something smart or sarcastic or cutting enough to make Ishida's face burn and his tongue falter, but he didn't do any of those things. Instead, Ichigo simply stood there and watched him.

Had he ever been able to observe Ishida without his notice before? Ichigo was sure he hadn't. Every time he'd tried to spy on him back in high school, Ishida had known all along and called him out on it. He remembered staring at him across the classroom and how Ishida never looked up, never acknowledged him, but somehow he always seemed to know. And didn't that mean that the only side of Ishida that Ichigo had ever seen – at least until last Friday night – was the one Ishida wanted him to see? Now, after everything that had happened, Ichigo wanted so much more than that.

Watching him silently, Ichigo saw that this Ishida was different from the stiffly formal boy who sat up straight in class and always knew when Ichigo was staring at him. This Ishida wore rumpled, un-ironed clothes – black shirt, gray shorts – and had shadows under his eyes like he hadn't been sleeping well. This Ishida did normal, human things like rub his eyes behind his glasses and prop his chin on his hand as if he was weary, and… well, if it had been anyone but Ishida, Ichigo would have said the guy was actually slouching. He edged closer, wanting to see more, but Ishida chose that moment to lean back from his book with a small groan and stretch, locking his fingers behind his head and arching his back so far that his shirt rode up to reveal his stomach.

Just the sight of Ishida's pale abdomen between the hem of his shirt and the waist of his shorts made Ichigo's pulse leap and his breath go out in a rush. There was barely a sound, but Ishida must have heard it because he froze in the middle of his stretch, opened his eyes, and stared straight at Ichigo.

Shock, confusion, and something close to horror flashed through Ishida's widening eyes. His mouth fell open, he collapsed out of his stretch, and his arms flopped to his side. The pencil fell from his fingers, clicked to the floor, and rolled until Ichigo put his foot on it to stop it. Without taking his eyes off his quarry, Ichigo leaned down, picked the pencil up, and then held it out to Ishida.

"You dropped this," he said, doing his best not to look or sound as pleased as he felt at Ishida's reaction.

Ishida didn't even look at the pencil. His eyes were trained directly on the cat-eared monstrosity on Ichigo's head. They flicked down just long enough to confirm that it was, in fact, Ichigo's face beneath the cap, after which Ishida straightened and glanced around the café before returning his astonished gaze to Ichigo.

"What," he mouthed, still staring as if Ichigo were some revenant ghost, "what on earth are you wearing?"

Ichigo couldn't remember ever seeing Ishida caught so flat-footed before, and the satisfaction he felt at that improved his mood greatly. It was the first time in this whole crazy fiasco that Ichigo felt he was operating from an advantage, and he could see that Ishida felt it too.

"Tell me where you've been since Sunday night," Ichigo replied smoothly, "and I might tell you."

Something flashed through Ishida's eyes, and Ichigo was sure it was guilt. He felt just a twinge of it himself at making Ishida so uncomfortable – even if it was his own damn fault – and sighed.

"Look, can I sit down?"

Ishida eyed the strange cap again and almost winced. "Only if you take that… whatever it is off your head."

Ichigo hesitated. "If I do, you have to swear, swear on your grandfather's shrine, that you won't ditch me here and run away again."

One corner of Ishida's mouth twitched and he looked away, unwilling to meet Ichigo's eyes. "Fine," he said wearily. "I swear."

Without taking his eyes off Ishida, Ichigo removed the cap, stuffed it in his back pocket, and slid onto the seat beside him. Ishida looked surprised and a bit uncomfortable at this but made room for him. Far enough away that their legs didn't touch, but not, Ichigo noticed, too far. Trying to regain his composure, Ishida gave Ichigo a considering look.

"So that… thing you were wearing hides your reiatsu," he assessed. "That's why I didn't sense you until just now. You must have been to visit Urahara-san."

"Never mind where I've been," Ichigo said. "Let's talk about where you've been for the past four nights. And don't tell me "around" or "here and there" or some other lame answer like that." When Ishida didn't respond immediately, Ichigo's suspicions got the best of him and he blurted out: "Were you staying with Toru? Is that where you've been all this time?"

To Ichigo's tremendous relief, Ishida bristled and said: "Of course not! Why would you think something like that?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Ichigo tossed back, crossing his arms. "From what I saw, good ol' Toru-kun would have been delighted if you'd shown up at his door."

"Well, I didn't," Ishida frowned, "nor would I have. Besides," he added in a clipped tone, "Toru-kun and I agreed that we weren't … what each other is really looking for."

"Oh. Uhm. Really?" Ichigo stammered, trying to keep his tone sober while his heart did cartwheels of delight at the news.

"Don't act like it doesn't make you happy," Ishida snapped, some of the fire returning to his tone.

"Fine," Ichigo agreed. "I won't. Because you know what? It does make me happy. Happiest I've been since before you jumped out your damn window and ran the hell away."

"I didn't run away!" Ishida challenged, then stopped and peered around when he realized he'd spoken louder than he'd intended. A trio of girls two booths down were obviously straining their ears to hear them, and Ishida sat back, lips thinning, and closed his textbook. "I did not run away," he repeated in a stiff whisper. "I was just…giving you some time alone. To…reflect."

"Reflect?" Ichigo said, not moderating his voice in the slightest. "Reflect on what? The fact that you couldn't get out of there fast enough after we humped like a couple of monkeys?"

"Kurosaki!" Ishida hissed as their observers ducked their heads and stifled giggles. "Keep your voice down!"

"You still haven't told me where you've been all this time," Ichigo pointed out. "Though from the looks of you," he added, fingering the sleeve of Ishida's rumpled shirt, "I guess you weren't staying at some fancy hotel."

"I've been sleeping in the car!" Ishida growled, yanking his arm away and glaring at Ichigo. "Sleeping in the car, showering at the rec center, and taking my meals at… places like this. Is that enough of an answer for you?"

It wasn't – not by a long shot – but Ichigo was too busy processing what Ishida had said to pursue it at that moment. "The car?" he repeated. "You mean all this time I've been running all over the place trying to find you, and you've been down the street? In the stupid parking garage?"

He expected Ishida to look smug at that, at his reiatsu detection being so piss-poor that Ishida could hide from him only a city block away, but he only looked tired.

"I slept in the library the first night, but all the private study rooms were booked after that," he grumbled, "so my options were limited."

"So you decided that going into hiding was your best choice? For four days? Damn it, Ishida, why didn't you just come home?"

"I told you before," Ishida said stubbornly. "I wanted to give you some time."

"And I still don't understand what you mean by that," Ichigo insisted, his frustration building.

"God, Kurosaki!" Ishida rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I was giving you a chance to come to your senses. If you were going to wake up the next morning and realize it was all a big mistake, then it would be easier if I wasn't there. We could just ignore it. Pretend it didn't happen."

"What the hell are you even talking about?" Ichigo demanded, moving from frustration to bewilderment. "I don't want to ignore it. I don't want to pretend it didn't happen. It did happen. I wanted it to happen. And I'm not going to "come to my senses", you idiot! Did that Hollow knock part of your brain loose or something? How could you think I'd do any of those things?"

"I don't know, Kurosaki," Ishida retorted, his blue eyes narrow and hard. "I never thought you were the type to spy on me through my bedroom door, either, but apparently you are. How the hell do I know what you're going to do anymore?"

The words stung, but it wasn't the accusation of peeping that truly bothered Ichigo, it was the deeper implication.

"You don't trust me," he accused, searching Ishida's gaze. "That's what you're saying, isn't it?"

For the second time since Ichigo had walked in, Ishida opened his mouth, said nothing, and then shut it. He closed his eyes with a small sigh, and shook his head.

"That's not it. I do trust you, Kurosaki. To be honest," he added in a bemused tone, as if he couldn't quite believe it himself, "I'm not sure there's anyone I trust more. It's just…" he hesitated, "it's this suddenness that I don't trust. I mean, why now? After all the time we've known each other, you can't convince me that just seeing Toru and me… together… is enough to…" Ishida trailed off, looking uncomfortable and twirling one hand in a gesture of frustration. "Kurosaki," he sighed, "you don't just turn gay one day because of something you've seen."

Ichigo took in Ishida's troubled expression then frowned at the table top. This was the heart of the whole fiasco, wasn't it? The reason Ishida had run, the reason he'd stayed away all week. The reason he'd slept in his car and showered at the gym and eaten soup at cheap little cafés like this one. The fear that this was just a "phase", that Ichigo would wake up one day and – just like Ishida had predicted – realize it had all been a terrible mistake.

"Okay," Ichigo said, turning in his seat to face Ishida. "Maybe you're right. People probably don't just turn gay one day out of the blue. But you know, maybe that's not what really happened."

Ishida narrowed his eyes and tilted his head a bit. "If you're about to tell me that you've never really been attracted to girls and have secretly been gay all along, I should probably warn you that I've heard that one before."

"Uh, no," Ichigo said, scratching the back of his head. "Nothing like that. But I think you know that, well, it's never been that big a deal for me."

"What do you mean?" Ishida asked with a suspicious look.

"I mean I'm not like Keigo, all right?" Ichigo said. "Or even like Mizuiro, for that matter. I've never been all about girls and sex and boobs and… stuff like that."

"I'm not sure anyone can be compared to Asano in that respect," Ishida deadpanned, "but I take your point. I still don't see what you're getting at."

"Think about it," Ichigo urged. "I've made a lot of choices in the past few years. I could have gone to Soul Society and been a full-time Shinigami. I could have stayed in Karakura and joined Chad's band. I could have spent a year backpacking around the country from Okinawa to Hokkaido like my old man suggested. But I didn't do any of those things. Instead, I'm here with you, living in the same apartment, attending the same university. Did you ever think that maybe that was something more than just chance and convenience?"

"Not really," Ishida said, but Ichigo could tell by his expression that he was thinking about it now.

"I didn't either," Ichigo admitted. "Not until I went to see Urahara-san and something he said made me start thinking about it. Here." With that, he reached for Ishida's hand and pulled it toward him. Ishida instinctively tried to jerk his hand back, but Ichigo held on until Ishida relaxed and allowed him to turn his palm up to the light.

"There," Ichigo said, pointing at the fine white lines of hair-thin scars traced over Ishida's fingers. "Remember how you got those? And these up your arm?"

"Like I could forget."

"Yeah? Then remind me."

"Idiot," Ishida snorted, tugging his hand away. "You were there. You know what happened. Your reiatsu went crazy. I had to do something."

"But what did you do? And how did you do it?"

"I simply channeled your reiatsu," Ishida frowned, "and dispersed it until you could control it again."

"Simply, huh?" Ichigo repeated. "You act like it was easy, but I remember watching you. How crazy you looked, the way you were gritting your teeth. I thought your arms were going to come apart. It had to hurt, doing that, and now you've got all these scars."

"So?" Ishida challenged, closing his hand to hide the scarring. "What does any of this have to do with Urahara-san anyway?"

"Because," Ichigo said, holding Ishida's gaze, "he thinks that you weren't the only one with scars from that day."

Ishida's expression went from annoyed to wary, and he glanced down at Ichigo's hands as if expecting to see his own scars mirrored there.

"Are you saying you've got scars like these?" Ishida sounded incredulous, but his eyes were sharp with interest.

"Not on the outside," Ichigo said, holding out an open hand. "Inside. Urahara-san said that much power going through someone always leaves a mark, even if you're the source of it. Even if you can't see it. That's why I never knew."

"Never knew what, Kurosaki?" Ishida demanded, losing his patience.

"That we're connected, dumbass! That we have been ever since my reiatsu went crazy, and you took it inside yourself and then shot it all out through your bow—umph!"

"Will you keep your voice down?" Ishida hissed, clapping his hand over Ichigo's mouth and only removing it once he'd scanned the café to see who was listening now. "And did you have to make it sound so... so embarrassing?"

"Sorry," Ichigo offered, trying not to smirk at Ishida's discomfort. "But that's what happened, right? Isn't that what you did?"

Ishida crossed his arms and gave Ichigo an uncomfortable sidelong glance. "Technically, yes."

"And technically," Ichigo repeated, scooting closer to Ishida, who drew back until the wall stopped him, "we've never been able to leave each other alone since then, have we?"

"That's ridiculous," Ishida said automatically, but his eyes looked troubled. Worried, even.

"Like hell it's ridiculous," Ichigo said. "I haven't been able to get you out of my head since that day. I always thought it was just guilt – for getting you involved, for you losing your powers, for… for all the times you got hurt – but it isn't. It's more than that."

"Kurosaki…" Ishida tried to interrupt, but Ichigo cut him off.

"And you, you're just as bad! I didn't ask you to go to Soul Society, or to Hueco Mundo, or anywhere else, but you did. And it was all because of me, wasn't it?"

"You?" Ishida looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel. The tops of his ears were turning red and his eyes could have shot sparks. "You think I did those things for you? I went to Hueco Mundo for Inoue-san!"

"Oh yeah? And you thinking up that logic loophole to get out of the vow to your father? Who was that for?"

"Stop twisting things around," Ishida snapped. The blood was rising in his cheeks now, but behind the flush his face seemed to be growing paler, and his eyes held a desperate glint.

"I'm not twisting things around," Ichigo insisted, sitting up straighter and scooting closer so that his knee pressed against Ishida's leg. "I'm finally trying to straighten them out."

"Are you also trying to push me through the wall?" Ishida glared, his back literally against it. He reached out to shove Ichigo back, but Ichigo caught his hand, palm to palm, and wound their fingers together.

"Stop acting like I'm crazy or you don't believe me," Ichigo demanded. "There's a connection between us, and I know you can feel it. You've known it all along, haven't you? You've felt it all along. I'm the one who couldn't figure it out until it jumped up and slapped me in the face. So yeah, I think you're right after all. Seeing you with Toru, all hot and wild and desperate like that – that didn't make me gay. It made me see. It woke me up to what had been there all along.

"And as for you," he rounded on Ishida, "you're so damn good at lying to yourself, and you've done it for so damn long that you stopped believing in it. You convinced yourself it was just some weird one-sided attraction, didn't you? A feeling I'd never return, right? So you just shoved it down inside you and tried to ignore it. And now that I finally figured out what's going on, you think I'm crazy, that I'm the one who's lying, but I'm not!"

"Shut up!" Ishida growled at him, his tone low and threatening. He had stopped trying to pull his hand from Ichigo's grasp and was now pushing against him, trying to force Ichigo back. Slim as he was, Ishida was strong, and Ichigo had to work to brace against him, to push his arm back. Blood and power were singing through his muscles, his heart felt like a galloping horse, and it was the most alive he'd felt all week.

"I won't shut up," Ichigo growled back, forcing Ishida's hand back toward his shoulder and his shoulder closer to the wall. "Not till you admit it. Not till you stop lying to yourself and admit what's between us, admit that you like me. That you've liked me all this time."

"Like I'd ever do that!" Ishida raged, glaring at Ichigo as he tried to twist out of his grip. "You are out of your mind if you think I'd …"

"I talked to Chad," Ichigo said before Ishida could even finish his outburst. His comment sank into their battle of wills like a depth charge, and its effect was instantaneous. Ishida stopped as if he'd hit a wall. Stopped talking, stopped moving. His hand went loose in Ichigo's grip, and his angry expression drained from his face along with most of his color.

"Chad," Ishida repeated. Maybe it was the changing light in the café, but his eyes had gone from sapphire to a pale blue gray. They looked like there was a desert behind them. "What did Chad tell you?"

"Everything," Ichigo replied. "He told me how you felt about me, and for how long. And he told me about that guy, the one you never let me find out about – and yeah, I would've kicked his ass if I'd known."

"That was… a long time ago, Kurosaki," Ishida said, swallowing hard. "Chad doesn't…"

"Are you about to tell me Chad's lying?" Ichigo cut in. "Because if you are, I might have to knock your fool head through that wall."

Ishida had the grace to look guilty at that. He let out a long sigh, and everything seemed to go out of him with that breath. His hand in Ichigo's felt limp, almost dead, and Ichigo allowed him to pull it free as Ishida turned, propped his elbows on the table and put his forehead against his fists.

"What do you want from me, Kurosaki?" he asked. His voice was dull, and he sounded even more weary than he looked.

Ichigo gazed at Ishida – at his bowed head, at the shoulder blades riding up against his shirt, the defeated line of his body. He took a breath and slid an inch or two closer, to where his thigh pressed against Ishida's thigh and their shoulders touched.

"I want you to believe me," he said. "I want you to believe me when I say that I like you – the same way I think you like me – and that I want you like I've never wanted anyone before."

Ichigo felt more than saw the shiver that went down Ishida's back. He heard the intake of breath and watched Ishida slowly lift his head and fix him with a serious glance. He had the distinct feeling that he was being measured, that Ishida was sizing him up in a way he hadn't since he'd first come out of the darkness and told Ichigo that he hated him. Ichigo felt his heart thump three, then four beats, then Ishida pushed up his glasses and said: "You're saying you want to have sex with me."

Somehow Ichigo fought down the Dear God, yes! that wanted to leap out of his mouth at Ishida's words. He sensed he was on precarious ground and silently prayed to whatever gods were listening that this time he wouldn't fuck things up.

"Yeah, of course I want to," Ichigo said. "But there's something I want more."

Ishida raised his head a little higher, the question in his eyes.

"I want you to come home," Ichigo answered. The words came out in an almost plaintive tone, but really, he didn't care. If pleading would work on Ishida, then he would plead. "The place doesn't feel right without you," he went on. "It feels empty and… wrong. I miss you, okay?"

"You miss me," Ishida repeated.

"I miss you," Ichigo confirmed. "I miss having you there. I miss arguing about stupid shit like who started the rice cooker last time and how I wash the dishes all wrong. I want to come home to a place that smells like you live there, and has stupid embroidered pillows on the floor and too much blue and white crap in it. I want to know you'll bitch me out for leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor, or using all the hot water, or eating those awful green tea breakfast bars of yours, and when Hollows come around, I want you there fighting beside me, and griping at me about being reckless, and I don't want you to get hurt again, ever, but if you do, I want to be the one to bind your wounds and make sure you're okay and give you hell about being careless."

When he paused, Ishida was staring at him with an expression he didn't think he'd ever seen before: not cool, aloof, or frowning, but open, surprised, almost dazed. Eyes wide, lips parted, Ishida looked in that moment like the child he must have been before his grandfather was killed, and Ichigo felt his heart tip over like a full goblet and spill both cold and hot inside him. Staggered, suddenly short of breath, Ichigo reached for Ishida, wrapped his arm around his neck and pulled him close. Ishida's hair swept loose from behind his ear, and Ichigo pressed his mouth against the long, silken strands.

"And yeah," he said, in a rough, not-quite whisper, "I want to make love to you. I want to take you home and push you down on my bed and fuck you so hard that you won't be able to see straight. I want to spread those long, white legs of yours and fuck you till we both come screaming, and then I want to get up in the morning and burn the rice and listen to you tell me what an idiot I am until I kiss you just to make you shut up. I want…" Ichigo's breath hitched as his words stumbled. He felt dizzy from confessing all these truths, from holding Ishida so close, and when he found his voice again, it was close to a sob. "Oh god, Uryuu, I just want you so bad."

It was a moment before he realized that there were cool fingers threading through his hair, pushing his head back, tipping it up. Lips, firm and dry, pressed against his own, resting there a moment before softening, parting, kissing. A thrill went through him, electric, at the tip of a tongue skating just inside his lips, and he groaned, one hand stroking over a sharp shoulder blade, the other rising to comb through Ishida's hair.

This kiss was nothing like their first. Ishida had initiated this kiss, and Ichigo let him guide it, shivering as Ishida's lips touched the edge of his mouth, his cheekbone, his jaw, hovering, alighting, and pulling away too soon for Ichigo's satisfaction.

"Uryuu," he whispered again, pulling back, opening his eyes, and smiling at the face before him. Remarkably, Ishida gave a wry half-smile in return, then glanced around the café and blushed.

There were only four other customers in the restaurant – the three girls in one booth and an elderly man reading a paper in another – but every pair of eyes was fixed on them. When Ishida looked around, the girls ducked their heads and tittered, and the old man pretended he'd been looking at something else and returned to his paper.

"Uh, so," Ichigo said quietly, still eyeing the other customers, "you want to stay here and finish your soup, or… do you want to come home?"

In answer, Ishida glanced around once more, slid closer to Ichigo and took him by the wrist. "What do you think?" he whispered, guiding Ichigo's hand onto his thigh and sliding it up to his lap. A jolt of raw arousal shot through Ichigo as he felt the hard bulge beneath the zipper of Ishida's shorts.

"Fuck," he muttered, giving it a soft squeeze and moving his hand over it to feel out its shape. His fingers traced the outline of his shaft, grasping it through the tough material of Ishida's shorts and making Ishida stiffen and draw a sharp breath. Ichigo knew he should let go, that he shouldn't be feeling Ishida up under the table in this all too intimate café, but he couldn't help it, couldn't seem to stop running a finger up and down where he guessed the underside vein lay until Ishida made a small, desperate sound and murmured "Stop."

Ichigo stilled, but it was Ishida who pushed his hand away and poked him in the side with a sharp finger tip. "Let's get out of here," he said, his voice tight.

"Hell yeah," Ichigo agreed. He slid out of the booth and stood, looking around while Ishida pulled some bills from his pocket and set them under the glass of tea. He stooped to grab his backpack from the floor, threw his physics book in, zipped it and slung it over his shoulder. Without another word, he strode down the aisle with Ichigo at his heels. They pushed through the door and into the afternoon heat, and before Ichigo could orient himself to find his way back, Ishida had grabbed him by the shirt and was hauling him around the corner, down the street, and into an alley.

He was about to ask Ishida, in honest confusion, if he really couldn't wait until they got home, but before he could, Ishida had turned his back to him, taken both his hands and set them on his hips.

"What's going on?" Ichigo wondered, perplexed but not displeased to have Ishida's rump so close to his crotch.

"You're about to get a lesson in Quincy superiority," Ishida said, throwing him with a wicked smile over his shoulder.

Before Ichigo could protest or say anything more, blue-white reiatsu bloomed under their feet and rose up scintillating all around them.

"Hang on!" Ishida warned, and Ichigo did just that, clutching Ishida's hips as they rose straight over the tops of the buildings like a triple speed elevator, then sheared off at rocket speed, so fast that Ichigo's yelp of surprise was left far behind.