a/n: And now we reach the end. The last few scenes run a little into the beginning of The Butterfly Effect. Also, warning for spoilers and stuff.
Ties of Blood
He was beautiful in a way that Kisuke hadn't known infants could be. Of course, that might've had something to do with the way his father was beaming over him, holding him so close. Like something precious. Something worth more than power, fame, or fortune.
"His name's Ichigo." Isshin's voice was filled with devotion and awe. Eyes big and bright and moist as he looked down at his newborn son, swaddled in cloth and cradled in his arms.
Kisuke barely breathed. Worried that the sound of it would bother the quiet baby. Who peered at the world around him with surprisingly alert eyes.
"He's perfect," Kisuke returned. Insanely, strangely jealous in that moment. "Gods above and below, Isshin, you and Masaki make a beautiful kid."
"More Masaki's influence than mine I think," Isshin said with a wide, proud grin. One finger brushing over the crown of brightly colored hair. "Want to hold him?"
Kisuke blinked, excited by the idea but also worried. He smelled of gunpowder and labwork. And he wasn't certain such a responsibility was a good idea. What if he dropped Ichigo? Isshin would kill him! Kisuke would kill himself!
"It's not that hard," Isshin went on to say.
And before Kisuke could so much as protest or agree either way, a warm, sleeping bundle was thrust into his arms. He quickly adjusted, curling one hand around the tiny, blanket-swaddled body and supporting Ichigo's head with the crook of his arm. The infant stirred, making a tiny noise of protest at being shifted around. Ichigo blinked sleepily, and Kisuke stared down at him, the baby's weight barely perceptible.
"He's so light," Kisuke murmured.
"Barely seven pounds when he was born," Isshin boasted proudly. "Though to hear Masaki say it, he was the size of a watermelon."
Kisuke smiled at the thought. Still amused by the way Isshin was practically bouncing in place from sheer joy and pride.
"How is she?"
"Tired. But otherwise just fine." Isshin beamed, looking for all the world, as if a decade had been stripped from his appearance. Making him appear younger, less jaded, less the man he'd been after showing up on Kisuke's doorstep years beforehand.
In Kisuke's arms, Ichigo fidgeted around the blankets before settling and closing his eyes. As though intending to go to sleep. He was so small; Kisuke couldn't get over that fact. Tiny and fragile and defenseless. Another pang of envy struck him then; he wasn't even sure why.
Yes, Kisuke fully intended to have a family… some day. As in, a day when he was no longer worried about whatever foul plans Aizen had in mind. And whenever he wasn't looking over his shoulder for constant concerns over possibly being discovered by Seireitei. Not to mention actually meeting someone who carried not only the same future intentions as him but also knowledge of the truth of his existence. At this present moment, family looked to be something only for the distant future.
Isshin was a really brave man to attempt to one for himself with a human. Both brave and exceedingly stupid. But then, Masaki was an amazing woman, and Kisuke supposed he couldn't blame Isshin for not wanting to let her go.
The shopkeeper stilled because Isshin's voice suddenly sounded serious. Intense. He looked up and found a fire in his friend's eyes.
His brow furrowed. "Isshin?"
"I need you to promise me something," the brunet said then, large hand settling lightly on his son's head, expression softening for just a moment. "And I need it from you because there's no one here that I trust more. No one else that I'd even consider asking."
"Isshin, is something wrong?" Kisuke shifted Ichigo's weight in his arms, an uneasy feeling settling in his stomach.
The older man shook his head, sighing as he ran his free hand through his hair. "No. At least, not right now. But I can't read the future." He took in a slow, steady breath and then pinned Kisuke down with a look. "You know that Masaki doesn't have any family, right? Except for some cousins out in Okinawa who don't know the important things about me. About what I am and what Ichigo could be."
Kisuke nodded slowly. He remembered Isshin mentioning something about Masaki being an only child whose parents had died in a car accident. The same car accident that had led to Isshin and Masaki meeting for the first time in point of fact. And her grandparents were long dead. Only the kids of her father's sister remained.
"Good." Isshin took another deep breath. "Look, if anything ever happens to me, I want you to promise you'll look after Ichigo for me," he said much to Kisuke's astonishment, fingers gently stroking the boy's soft hair. "If he's anything like me, he'll need special looking after. Something that a human from the living world won't know how to handle. Masaki won't be able to help him. Not with that."
"I'm… Honestly, Isshin, I'm honored." Kisuke swallowed thickly. "You know that I will," he added and smiled lightly. "Though don't go thinking about dying on me just yet. Where's that Kuchiki stubbornness? Byakuya would be ashamed of you."
Isshin's face darkened briefly. As though reminders of his former time in Seireitei were the last things he wanted to hear. But his lips twitched at the mention of his cousin.
"I just like to make sure all my bases are covered. You better than anyone know how unexpected things sometimes happen."
Kisuke could only nod at that one. "I promise." One hand traced down the length of Ichigo's arm, marveling at the softness of the infant's skin and internally remarking on the small size of his fingers. "If anything happens, I won't let you down."
A tiny hand curled around Kisuke's finger. Barely tangible curls of reiatsu sparked across the blond's skin, and the strength in that grip surprising him. Brown eyes, strangely alert, looked right at Kisuke. And he felt something inside him give a lurch. A vague feeling of recognition. As if Ichigo himself would hold Kisuke to his promise.
Even so, Kisuke smiled.
They weren't in Seireitei. They weren't standing in front of a quiet, unassuming grave in the safer districts of Rukongai constantly decorated by flowers. And they weren't lighting incense in front of the Shihouin mausoleum, hands clasped in prayer.
They weren't any of these places because Kisuke was exiled and Yoruichi couldn't risk returning yet. But they made do.
Kisuke supplied the incense; Yoruichi supplied the sake. And together, they thought of their parents. Or at least, the one parent they shared and the two they didn't.
"Sometimes, you look more like her than I do," Yoruichi commented as she contemplated the swirls of sake in her bowl.
Kisuke made a sound in his throat. Tilting his head back to look up at sky as curls of incense drifted around them.
"The hair, right?"
"Among other things." Yoruichi chuckled and sipped at her sake, the subtle flavor dancing over her tongue. "I don't think you're ever going to lose that baby face."
"And you'll never grow out of teasing me."
"I'm the elder sibling. It's practically in the rulebook," his sister retorted with a sniff and elbowed him in the side.
Kisuke mock-gasped, nudging her back with his knee. "You? Following rules? Perish the thought."
"I've been known to do so on occasion. When the rules suit," Yoruichi allowed and shook her head. "Rules were meant to be broken. As you'd well know, considering the state of affairs in your lab."
"Not like there's anyone to stop me," Kisuke muttered and forced himself to ignore the pang in his chest at that reminder. Decades after that disastrous encounter with Aizen and his exile, it still stung. "Tell me more about Kaori."
"You always want to know more," Yoruichi said musingly and reached for the jug, topping off what Kisuke hadn't really touched. "She would've loved you."
Kisuke inclined his head, sweeping his hat – a recent gift – from his hair. "Do I really look that much like her?"
"More than you know." Yoruichi sighed and reached out, poking at his chin where a sparse growth of hair stubbornly refused to fluff out into full facial hair. "Though this scruffy attempt changes things."
Kisuke rolled his eyes. Yoruichi would never grow out of teasing him.
"Just for that, I think I'll keep it."
"You'll never catch a husband that way, Ki-chan," she protested with mock humor. "And then, I'll never have any cute nieces or nephews."
"Aside from the fact that men can't have kids together, don't you think – as the female in this sibling duo – that I should be expecting them from you first?" Kisuke retorted with a pointed look her direction.
She stared at him; Kisuke stared right back. And seconds later, the both of them dissolved into amused chuckles at the sheer preposterousness of his suggestion.
Shaking his head, Kisuke sipped at his sake and sighed pointedly. "Looks like it's up to me then. Perhaps I can adopt."
"Looks like." Yoruichi smirked and knocked back her own drink, gesturing for him to pour her a refill. She glanced up at the dark sky for a long minute. "I'll bet they're happy wherever they are."
"Who?" he asked with a blink.
"Our mother. Your father." Yoruichi purposely didn't mention her own father; Kisuke hadn't known him anyway. "I'll bet they even meet in their next life."
"Wouldn't that be nice?" her brother agreed wistfully and leaned against her, disordered hair tickling at the side of her neck.
Things were peaceful like this, quiet and content. Reminding Yoruichi that she wasn't alone. Would never be alone because Kisuke was always here. Her strange, curious, loud-mouthed little brother. She loved him. She'd kill for him. Would die for him. Would take exile and escape to the living world to save him. And it'd all be worth it. It all was worth it.
"It would," Yoruichi agreed and fell silent, letting the atmosphere surround her with comfort and familiarity.
They didn't speak again. But then, words weren't necessary. They simply drank the rest of the sake, toasted in memory to their parents, and thought of times long gone. Of mother and father. Of Kuukaku and Byakuya and friends beyond their reach.
She'd been standing in the doorway for ten minutes, but Kisuke hadn't noticed her. Yoruichi couldn't be sure if that was a good or bad thing. She wasn't even sure if this situation warranted a congratulations or words of sympathy. And Yoruichi strongly suspected it was a hell of a lot of both.
Isshin and Masaki were dead. Killed by some odd Hollow with strange abilities and intelligence and no explanation for either of them.
And here, Kisuke was. Sitting at the bedside of an orange-haired child. His hand clasped around one much smaller than his own, head bowed, and looking as if the world rested on his shoulders. The boy, Kurosaki Ichigo, was oblivious to this. Sleeping – if not a bit fitfully – while swathed in bandages, seemingly bruised and broken. His skin was ashen, his breathing labored. And judging from the occasional twitches, his young mind still hadn't chased away the nightmares.
The bitter tang of blood and regret hanging in the air soured Yoruichi's tongue.
Exhaling softly, Yoruichi stepped further into the room. Until she stood at her brother's side and could set a gentle hand on his shoulder. He didn't stir. At least, not immediately and only then it was to shift a slight bit.
His voice was hoarse, as though he had been biting back tears. Though it was probably more due to the steady stream of curses and prayers he had kept up in a desperate attempt to save Ichigo's life.
She squeezed his shoulder again. "How is he?"
"Alive. If that's what you want to call it," Kisuke said, and shook his head, loosely shorn hair falling to conceal his face. "That damn Hollow severed his saketsu."
Yoruichi felt something inside her clench, cold as ice. "Then… how?"
"I don't know." Kisuke's fingers tightened around Ichigo's briefly. "I don't know if it's because of his parentage or if it's because he already had some reiatsu. Which is what attracted that thing in the first place. Or even if it's because his will is that damn strong, but he's something else now. Not human. Not Shinigami. Not Hollow. I don't know what he is."
Gold eyes flickered to Ichigo. Who continued to sleep despite their quiet conversation. Unaware of the complete changes his life had taken.
"He's just a kid," she said and thought that really, this was all unfair.
Kisuke made a sound of agreement in his throat. "That it is," he said quietly and briefly fell silent, the only sound in the room that of their breathing.
Somewhere, in the distance, Yoruichi could hear other children making noises. Younger ones. Ichigo's sisters perhaps? They were probably in Tessai's care.
"I promised Isshin I would look after them," Kisuke said after a long moment. "But even if I hadn't… I'd still do it."
Yoruichi wasn't surprised. But still…
"Kisuke, you don't know anything about how to raise kids."
He snorted softly. "And you really think Isshin was better qualified?"
Ah, that was a very good point. Isshin was hardly qualified to take care of himself. Much less three children. To be fair, he'd loved his kids and doted on them to an almost ridiculous extent. He just wasn't the best in the child-rearing department.
"How are you going to explain things to the authorities?" she asked finally.
Kisuke's shoulders lifted and dropped. "I'll think of something. It can't be too hard. I managed to get a business license, didn't I?"
She turned that over in her head. Looking at it from every angle.
"And Ishida? You know that you'll have to fight him on this," she said in complete seriousness.
He stirred, tilting his head to look up at her. "As if it's any better to let that cold bastard take them. Hell no. His own son doesn't even live with him." Kisuke's eyes narrowed as if a thought had occurred to him. "You don't think I can do this?"
"I didn't say that." Yoruichi's hand fell from his shoulder as she gingerly perched on the edge of the bed, taking great care to not accidentally sit on a portion of Ichigo. "It's not going to be easy." Her smile was gentle. "Most people generally start with one kid, but you've got five now. If you count Jinta and Ururu."
His glare – because that had been the way his look had been shifting – softened. Kisuke sighed.
"I know. But it's not like I'm doing this on my own. Tessai's already enamored with the twins. And I was hoping, in some strange way, that there's someone around here up for the job of aunt."
His tone was soft. But there was a stirring of hope. Of a little boy who'd just met his sister for the first time and loved her immediately. Besides, Yoruichi never could resist when he gave her those puppy eyes. That big, beseeching look that she couldn't ever deny.
"Of course," she replied. "I'll be the fun one and leave all the disciplining to you."
Kisuke snorted. "You just like to avoid responsibility." But his voice was fond. His eyes cut back to Ichigo. "I won't let them suffer alone. We're all going to be a family, blood ties or not."
"Never stopped us before," she agreed and ruffled her brother's hair fondly. Blond hair so much like the mother they shared.
The blond made a sound of agreement in his throat and fell into quiet once more. No doubt overcome by the enormity of the situation. But like always and like before, he would adapt. Just as Yoruichi had. If exile from Soul Society and Aizen's betrayal hadn't broken him, neither would this unexpected responsibility.
Yoruichi knew she'd stand by him. Not matter what he decided to do. No matter what might happen in the future with Ichigo and the girls or even with Aizen. He was her brother; he was her family. She would never abandon that. Couldn't even consider the possibility of doing so.
He was her brother. Her baby brother. The result of her mother's love for a man who'd actually loved her back. Kaori and Takuya. Yoruichi and Kisuke.
She settled in closer to him. And let him put his arm around her shoulders and pull her into a half-hug. Even as his other hand threaded through Ichigo's hair.
This was her brother. This was her new nephew and her nieces were just down the hall.
This was her family.
Continued in The Butterfly Effect.
a/n: Ah, tis over. Such a beautiful journey it was!
It's come to my attention that there's been some hunting going around this site concerning content in stories. Well, if I should ever disappear, just remember that you can find me at my homesite and my livejournal, both links available in my profile. Also, googling this penname links you to my personal site as well.
Sorry for the delay everyone! Bleach has not been impressing me for the past half year (give or take) so my interest in the fandom has been waning. Never fear, however, I will complete all stories in progress and the requests I've already received!
I hope you enjoyed this little ficlet series. I promise to get back to work on The Butterfly Effect soon. Thanks for reading and as always, feedback is appreciated.