Disclaimer: I'm quite certain that Tite Kubo plans in advance about as much as I do (which isn't much), but we're not the same person and he still owns Bleach.

AN: Wow. What an intense... time. Dunno what else to call it. Took some exams, still waiting for one result, went to see how a doctor becomes a doctor (ph.D. doctor, not the medical kind) and was blown over by an awesome dissertation on trauma in biographical graphic narratives. Sorry about the wait. I give up on ever thinking I am a fast updater.

Special Announcement: Inspired by the brilliant dracoqueen22, whose works you must read if you haven't yet ("The Beautiful Lie" is my current favorite), I am now holding a weekly flash fic request event on Friday. Well, when I say 'weekly', it actually means 'I want it to be weekly and I'm trying to make it so'. I'm taking requests on my journal, which is on my deviantArt account. You can get to it by clicking 'Homepage' on my profile page here. That said, on to the chapter!

Chapter 15: Ending the Trial

Ichigo was in a decidedly good mood. His revelation the previous night, a warm bed and giving the first blowjob of his life in the morning had made sure of that. Sure, he'd been a bit worried to see Kisuke freak out for a short time there, but after that it had all gone smoothly. He'd enjoyed the feeling of being in control, of causing all the pleasure while he himself was free, basking in the blond's reactions. He'd loved the moaning and the words and the play, the fluttering of the man's eyelids, the soft, broken cries. However, the best part was probably Kisuke's expression as he'd realized just what Ichigo was about to do to him.

The young man thought that he didn't mind the feeling of it as much as he'd thought he would. Using his mouth for purposes that he wouldn't want his father to know about – but which Ichigo was under no illusion his father didn't know about - was strangely pleasant. There had been no great taste to bother him when he'd started, despite whatever expectations he'd built up, and that little had been washed away as he'd gone on. And at the end, well... He could live with it.

The two of them were heading towards breakfast, not really remembering where the breakfast room was supposed to be, but guiding themselves by the greatest source of reiatsu. While Ichigo was in no way a specialist in detecting it, he was still aware enough of quantities to know they were heading in the right direction.

It all felt so normal, as if they'd done this a hundred times before, as if they'd been together since forever. Mind you, some of the events had seemed to drag on endlessly, but there was a comfort between the two of them that the redhead thought you weren't supposed to experience until later, or so. Not that he had anything to judge by.

Ichigo got a sudden idea, spontaneously stopped walking and turned towards a bewildered Kisuke. He grabbed the older man, pushed him against a wall and slammed their lips together. The blond chuckled, dragged his teeth across the younger man's tongue teasingly, then pulled back.

"You're very enthusiastic this morning, Ichigo-san," he said with no little amusement.

"There you go, being polite to me again."

"I can't help it." Nibble on the neck. "You're quite worthy of my admiration."

"You're not that bad yourself, pervert."

Their lips met briefly again, then they parted, making their way further through the house, following what Ichigo termed to himself 'the yellow reiatsu road', although it wasn't yellow. Finally, they reached their destination and were about to enter whatever room it was that was calling them like a beacon through the night, when they overheard the conversation inside. It wasn't difficult to. Anybody halfway across the world could hear it, if they weren't entirely deaf.

"You're just biased because of the chemistry between us," Shichi cried with no little frustration. "You simply can't get it into your head that feelings. Aren't. Everything."

Ichigo froze in place. If Yachiru had been correct the previous night, and she probably was, then this could be messy. If he wasn't much mistaken, Byakuya was in there and any talk that sounded like that was probably not a good idea to intrude upon. Especially with Shichi doing the screaming and raging. He grabbed Kisuke's elbow, signaling that they should go.

"I'm not worried about fights," the blond said with a shrug. "Maybe we can fix it."

"W-wait. Maybe we really, really, don't want to find out what it's about." It wasn't his duty to protect the noble's unguarded secrets, but since he knew about things anyway, he might as well lend a subtle hand.

As if on cue, Byakuya's voice resounded from inside, much calmer and deeper, but still very clear. "Shichi. Please calm down."

"Calm down? Like damned I will, when this absolute rag of a woman is playing foul..."

Ichigo felt himself pale. This was precisely what they needed. Another love triangle, involving the ice prince, the bitch queen and... And...

Who could the other woman be, the young man asked himself with no little confusion. After all, Byakuya had been single before, right? How quick can somebody who had been abstinent for years get into a relationship mess, anyway?... Kisuke, Yoruichi and himself, that was maybe to be expected. Wives, husbands and lovers, yeah. But no-sex to all-sex? Just not possible. Or was it?

Kisuke pulled at Ichigo's elbow. "Really, there's no reason to be this worried," the shopkeeper said as Shichi cried out some increasingly creative insults against an as yet unknown woman. "After all, what's a little scuffle after all the hollows?"

"It's not the scuffle, it's the... mess." Ichigo just couldn't piece things together properly. Something was wrong with this picture. If anybody would be cheating in this short time, it wouldn't be Byakuya. It'd be Shichi. With a woman?...

"Well, then, we should stop it before it blows up," Kisuke said.

"You mean it hasn't already?"

Kisuke bodily manhandled him towards the door, resolved to get the younger man in the room, saying something that may or may not have been 'humbug', although Ichigo couldn't be sure, since who on earth said 'humbug', anyway?

"You castrateable cat of no good tramping!" Shichi howled on. "You biased, childish..."

That got Ichigo's attention so hard that between his suddenly unmoving feet and Kisuke's manhandling, he nearly tripped to the ground. Cat? Shichi had said cat - and Yoruichi hadn't been in bed that morning.

But before he could consider that more thoroughly, he was in through the door. And there, right before them, stood five people. Byakuya, sitting, looking annoyed in his cool, stoic fashion. Rukia, next to him, was embarrassed and worried. Yoruichi and Shichi were facing off in the middle of the room. A young man who looked vaguely familiar was leaning against a pillar, watching everything with interest. It was Yoruichi's turn to shout.

"As if you were much better, werewolf! You won't even listen to what I have to say before you accuse me of specism! Your head is so stuck up your ass it's coming out through your throat!"

"Good one," the unknown young man chuckled.

"Shut up!" both women screamed at him at the same time.

It took Ichigo a few seconds to realize that he wasn't witnessing a love triangle. It was something entirely different, which was one of those things that yet again didn't concern him and which had probably passed him by entirely, since he couldn't figure out what it was about. While he was busy studying faces and mentally replaying the conversation so far, the two women got into a half-literal cat fight. Yoruichi had turned into her furry self and jumped out of her clothes, probably feeling she had to prove something through her animal form. Shichi, to Ichigo's surprise, took this very badly and cried out a sort of battle cry, also transforming and becoming a brown-furred huge wolf. As if the young man wasn't confused enough.

"You bitch," Shichi growled.

"No, you bitch. Me cat," Yoruichi replied with malicious sarcasm. "Cat got your good, dirty tongue?" She lunged forward, claws extended.

"By the time I'm done with you, there won't be one life left in your body!"

"Oooh, I'm so evil I'll just have to kick a puppy."

Ichigo could only stare at the display. A wolf and a cat. Werewolf, werecat. He hadn't expected it, but somehow it all made so much more sense now. And in the upturned world that the universe he currently lived in was, it didn't really surprise him. So, a part of him said, this was where Yoruichi's resentment towards the other woman came from. Biology.

"Note to self," Kisuke muttered. "Animal shapes lead to live-action cartoons, complete with the according corny dialogue." He then cleared his throat, saying loudly, "ladies, please!"

"Out!" the two women snarled at him in unison. Ichigo had half-expected them to protest that they weren't ladies, but they apparently had no problem whatsoever considering themselves such despite the blatant evidence to the contrary.

"Can all shinigami do that?" the unnamed youth asked, grinning. "It looks cool."

"The insults, yes, the animal shapes, no," Rukia said, biting her lower lip worriedly. Ichigo thought she looked cute when she did that. But Shichi looked as rough and snarly as she usually felt now and she took up most of his attention.

"Thankfully," Byakuya added.

Ichigo watched the two women fight. They were both slightly awkward, as if they were unaccustomed to fight in these forms, but were trying to pretend that they were. They seemed to not want to hurt each other, but to appear to desire to do so. With the actual intention of proving that they were cooler as wolf or cat than the other was as cat or as wolf. Which was a long thought to express, but the redhead felt that it was the only one close enough to what they were having there.

"Had you known about Shichi being a werewolf?" Ichigo asked conversationally while the two switched to meowing and growling for emphasis. Yoruichi went for Shichi's nose with extended claws. The werewolf pulled back and bared her teeth, then jumped towards the cat, jaw opened.

"Yes," Kisuke replied at the same time in which Byakuya and Rukia answered "no".

Yoruichi took a hit in the side and flew through the air, managing to land on her feet close to a wall. Shichi didn't press the advantage, but the two took the opportunity for a breather.

"How dare you?" Shichi asked. "How dare you try and sway Byakuya not to accept my suggestion? How dare you interfere?"

"He's adopted Rukia already and doesn't want any other strays." Yoruichi looked much more mad than Ichigo had ever seen her. The hair on her back stood up.

"I don't suppose I get a say in this?" Byakuya said coolly.

"I don't really want to be a part of a clan, Shichi-nee-san," the young man said, apparently deciding that Byakuya's question gave an opening for his own input. "There's too much hubbub."

Both men were ignored. Kisuke sat and pulled Ichigo's sleeve to get him to do the same. "It might take awhile. They get along like a cat and a dog, pardon the pun."

"Not pardoning it, Kisuke."

But the two women proceeded to cause such a racket as to distract everybody from adding anything else. There was snarling and meowing and a flurry of claws and teeth and slipping around on the shiny floor. Eventually, when they stopped for another breather, Yoruichi took the verbal offensive. "You never listen to what I say!"

"Now isn't that a female excuse?"

"Byakuya shouldn't adopt the boy, there's too much trouble with the Kuchiki clan if he does it."

"Why don't you let Byakuya decide about that?"

"Good point," the noble said, but was ignored. After all, he would only get to decide what one of them said and it was the two women who would decide who did the saying.

"The kid doesn't even want to be a Kuchiki. They're formalists. He doesn't want that."

"You and your chemistry, Yoruichi, you simply can't allow a good thing to happen because of this grudge that you seem to be unable to-"

Yoruichi let out a frustrated meow and hiss. "Sick of this! Let me adopt him."

It pretty much confused Ichigo to hear that, but he settled for just observing everybody's faces. Kisuke's eyebrows had disappeared entirely under his hat, Rukia frowned, the unnamed young man shrugged and Byakuya blinked. Shichi, on the other hand, stopped short in much more shock than the others put together. The two women remained facing each other, still ready to jump, but much more reluctantly, waiting to see what happened next.

"He's got the power," Yoruichi said. "He can be a werewolf, like you. And he's cool and relaxed and probably lazy, the way I look at him, even if he looks talented. The Kuchikis would hate him, but he'd fit right in in my own clan."

Shichi returned to her human shape. Entirely naked, of course, which nearly made the young man's eyes pop out of his head. Before propriety kicked in, Ichigo noticed that she was good-looking. He could understand why Byakuya would be attracted. A second later, however, he realized he was staring, so he averted his eyes as casually as possible. She grabbed some clothes and hastily got dressed, not that the damage wasn't done already. Yoruichi took the opportunity to change back, too, seeing that there was no more cat fighting to be done. But being who she was, she didn't bother remembering an insignificant, constricting detail like wearing anything. Kisuke jumped up and threw his coat on her with the practiced gesture of somebody who has spent a century close to a person who runs around naked through the house, flashing guests.

It all took only a few seconds.

"Holy shit!" the unknown young man cried and was about to comment more when he met Ichigo's eyes across the room and wisely shut up. Between them, the two women were still stuck in their own one-on-one world.

"Fine," Shichi finally said. "Done deal."

Yoruichi smiled sarcastically. She chose to say a single word. "Good."

"Good," the other were repeated.



"It's all fine, let's get to breakfast already," Kisuke said, then turned to the young man. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Can't remember my name. You can call me Kiba, though." The young man grinned and demonstratively waved at them a fang he had on a string around his neck. Kiba. Fang. Well, if he found that on himself as a ghost, it was a cool name to have. But there was something more to it, something that tickled Ichigo's memory.

"Breakfast!" Kisuke said. "Somebody point us in the right direction!"

On their way to breakfast, Ichigo pondered on that familiarity. Kiba. Fangs. Werewolf. Why did that sound so familiar? It definitely rang a very clear bell, something recent, something clear. Laid back attitude, strength, wolves... Brown hair. Somebody had mentioned... But then...

As they finally reached the breakfast table and took their places, Ichigo's memory flared. There had been an espada, a guy who fit that description. He had a mental image of the man taking Orihime away from right in front himself and Kenpachi. Later, somebody had mentioned guns and a pack of wolves in connection to him. Starrk, the first espada. But surely it couldn't be he! They would know. And besides, the young man had no mask. And he was dead, too, killed in the battle against Aizen. And where, his mind asked, did dead hollows go when purified by a shinigami's blade, but to Soul Society?

Ichigo raised his eyes to look at Kiba more closely. The young man was eating cheerfully and fast, saying something to Shichi. So. Starrk was back. It really took all the bite and tragedy out of death. Or not, seeing that Kiba was not exactly Starrk, but a version of the espada that he had lost his memories and probably his powers. And who wasn't a hollow anymore. But it still wasn't all that bad, seeing that he was alike enough for Ichigo to recognize him, seeing that he was well and talented and ready for a happier life. Or maybe it was just good luck for him to do so well. Or good karma.

It was something to think about.

And how did he end up under Shichi's protection, anyway?


The trial was long, pointless, boring, repetitive, annoying and vengefully pointless. It was clear to everybody within the first half an hour that the matter had pretty much been settled the day before. All that was left to do now was to cope with the idea that there would just have to be a fuku-soutaichou and that Urahara would be that man. Especially since he had declared during the first five minutes that he would be willing to comply with Shichi's plan, since it made sense to him. It was also clear from the very first three quarters of an hour that the only reason that the trial went on for the further hours from eleven thirty AM to nine PM was so the Central could mope and complain and bitch about it.

Ichigo spent the time staring ahead and trying to meditate with his eyes opened. He contacted his inner Hollow, who suggested mass murder as a general solution to the problem. It made Aizen sound justifiable, indeed. In the end, Ichigo had a fascinating conversation with the darkest, or whitest, part of himself concerning wielding weapons, inner strength and stuff that would be fun to do in bed. It was astonishing to see how easily one made friends with a psychotic aspect of oneself when confronted with the Central 46. It was a journey of self-knowledge driven forward, as usual, by desperation and the sheer will to survive.

By the time it ended and Ichigo was wondering whether calling the meditation/talk he'd had 'psychotic analysis' would be correct, nobody was happy. Not even the bitchy high command of Soul Society that had made it drag on for so long without even a lunch break. People shuffled out of the court room without even the energy to be cheerful to have gotten away. It was all about dragged feet, quiet groans, slumped shoulders. Even Byakuya seemed to be a dusted version of himself.

Dinner at the Kuchiki mansion was therefore a hungry, tired, nearly speechless affair. Yoruichi had slipped out of the courtroom early, claiming something flimsy, but she wasn't there now. A servant told them that she and Kiba had left to spend the night on the Shihouin estates somewhere, hoping to get the adoption papers done the next day as soon as possible. Also, there were probably talks to be had, things to be settled.

Ichigo didn't care right now. He just ate, fast, much, uncaring, wishing it was all over with. He desperately needed to relax mentally after the ordeal. Maybe a walk would be in order. Maybe running around. Something, anything, to make his mind feel less clogged. The sushi tasted like rubber to him now, the rice like dust. There was probably nothing wrong with the food, but his brain was damaged enough to malfunction for awhile. Byakuya, while never breaking away from his usual elegance, was apparently thinking along the same lines, the chopsticks moving quickly and with an economy of effort from dish to mouth, no pleasure evident from eating. Just another duty. Rukia, on the other hand, looked bored with eating after awhile. She played around with her food, not even looking around. Kisuke munched slowly, with a depressed air about him. Shichi was staring at the wall, lost in a parallel dimension, probably and slurping up the sixth bowl of soup. Ichigo wondered if she even knew what she was having or why she was having it.

"I'm off for a sec," she said dreamily, getting up from her empty bowl and leaving as if in a daze.

"Law systems," Kisuke said, watching her go. "They kill you even when you win. I think I prefer hollows, thank you very much."

"Seconded," Ichigo said.

"Thirded," Rukia added.

"Hmm," Byakuya fourthed.

Nothing of interest happened during the rest of dinner. When they got up, Byakuya disappeared so fast that he may as well have used shunpo. Rukia caught Ichigo's eye. The redhead waved Kisuke forward, saying that he would follow him shortly. He looked at her and tried to muster a smile.

"Hey," he said, for a lack of anything better to start with.


She shifted uncomfortably. After that long in the weary trial, he felt that just being silent with somebody was something he could do forever effortlessly, so he just watched her, waiting for her to say whatever she wanted to say. She was pretty, with her large eyes and perky attitude. It made him happy just to see her, to be with her.

"I'm sorry."

The words surprised him. "About?"

She shrugged. "The trial. Everything. That he'll have to come stay here and won't be in the real world. Assuming that you wanted him there."

Ichigo wondered if this was an 'I want you to be happy' of the same sort he'd say to her, would the situation be reversed. It made him smile. "I'd have enjoyed it, yes. But don't worry too much. Moving between worlds was never too much of an issue. For people who could open the pathway, I mean. I'll have to learn how to do that."

"Oh." She pulled at a sleeve, hesitated, then suddenly jumped on him and embraced him tightly. He hugged her back, wondering what had brought it on. Her perfume enveloped him, delicate and subtle. Her arms were warm and a pleasure to feel around himself. His chin unconsciously buried itself into her hair.

"Hey, I don't break easily. I'm fine, I promise," Ichigo muttered.

"Idiot." She smacked him with a palm. "I'm hugging you because we don't have time to talk. This is supposed to be a faster way to communicate, although we're apparently doing it at cross purposes."


They remained embraced for a few long, comfortable minutes.


Kisuke felt restless and confused. The trial hadn't helped matters at all, only making him feel caged. He'd entered the bedroom, seen that Yoruichi still wasn't there, guessed correctly that she wouldn't come back that night, so he was free to do whatever he wanted, turned on the lights, tried to lie down, to go to sleep, got up, and started pacing. He wanted to get undressed and go to bed, but then again he didn't. He wanted to lie down, he wanted to pace, he wanted to take a bath and to remain dry. He wanted to have sex and then he wanted to run. All at the same time, if possible. There was a turmoil inside him, coated by lava, covered in cold sweat. He wanted a bath. As impulses went, he was definitely having too many of them at the same time.

It was done, then, his life being turned over. Too shortly, too simply. In hindsight, it was almost as if he had been swept away by some sort of immutable fate, one convenient happening after another, pushing him closer and closer towards an inevitable destiny that he never saw coming.

Captain of the fifth, of all divisions. Taking Aizen's place. Fuku-soutaichou. Catapulted back into Seireitei, with all its madness. He didn't have a life here. He hadn't had a life here for a hundred years. He had few acquaintances, no friends, his lovers would be away. He didn't like the company, or the style and his only memories were either nostalgia-colored, with the sentiment of being unable to be recovered attached, or unpleasant. Work, work, work where he wasn't welcomed. For the sake of a person whom he had barely gotten to know, now that he actually thought about it. For a young man whom he didn't even have the time to taste properly. It didn't bother him that he had yet to unravel the mystery of the young man – unraveling mysteries was a favorite pastime, after all. But there was no time to do that now. Giving up Ichigo, a person who'd need him to survive, for the sake of Ichigo, who was off with Rukia, a person the redhead actually was in love with.

Kisuke arranged the bedding, then paced, then fumbled with the pillows some more. The light was dim and that was the only thing that suited him. The bedding was too silky, the floor too hard. He was being picky and he knew it. That, and restless.

He didn't want an Ichigo who would need to be with him, no matter how nicely he'd act about it. Even if he would go back to the real world now, the young man would still be in love with Rukia, and it didn't bother Kisuke that much to know that – it was just that, out of the two of them, it was he, not her, who deserved more time and a fighting chance. Maybe he'd earned that. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe the universe just didn't give a damn about what anybody earned, morally speaking. Things just were.

Despair, he thought as he started pacing again. He was cornered like an animal, willingly stepping into a cage. He didn't want this. He didn't want the work, the responsibility, the power, any of it. He already had his ideal life. This was just going back to something he already knew, something displeasing and tedious and difficult and that went on day after day, wearing one out, burning their spirit. He was...

He was panicking.

Ichigo chose that moment to come in and the shopkeeper turned around, his heart rising in his throat.

"Kisuke?" Ichigo asked, seeing the older man's fear before the mask could slide into place.

"I'm fine," the blond answered, recovering and trying feebly to smile. "Just worried."

"That wasn't worry."

The blond felt every conflicting feeling rise in him. He wanted all that he'd wanted before, and more, and there was not enough time left. His mind chose one single way, one single action that would help him escape, just for a second. It chose one thing to concentrate on as if it were a lifeline. He wanted, he desired, he needed. Kisuke grabbed the younger man and pulled the both of them down on the futons before Ichigo could gather his thoughts and ask another question. He kissed him forcefully, desperately, letting his hands roam. Why did this happen? Why couldn't the world at least pretend to let him be happy for once? He tugged at Ichigo's clothes, opening them, attacking the younger man's neck with lips and tongue, loving the groan he got as a reply. He'd solve this and then they'd both be free. Until then, he could still, he dared still impose himself like this. He'd be selfish, dammit. He'd take and have and it would be...

"So much like the first time."

The whispered words brought him to a halt. Yes. So much like that first time, when he'd just selfishly enjoyed, without any other thought. Just as frantic. Just as desperate. Treating Ichigo just as much as if he were a possession. He looked into the redhead's eyes and pulled back, slowly, worried. "I'm sorry." And he was, he really was. The frenzy had receded fast, leaving remorse in its wake.

"I didn't tell you to stop, did I?"

"I'm so sorry." Kisuke pulled Ichigo's clothes back awkwardly. "You deserve better than this."

"I don't mind what I'm getting. If you need me, Ki..."

"Dammit." The swear word escaped him, surprising both of them. Ichigo was lying on his back, his clothing askew, but not seeming too mad. Kisuke shifted, then forced himself to lie down half-hugging the younger man tightly against himself, deciding that nothing would happen that night, unless Ichigo asked for it. He wouldn't take advantage, he wouldn't force. He wouldn't be that sort of a bastard, no matter that Ichigo was saying 'yes' even to this side of him. "I'm a brute at times. My desires get the better of me, they cloud my mind, obscure my judgment and make me do things I shouldn't." He recited this as if it were a speech he'd learned by heart, feeling himself speak, but not really letting it register, lest he become afraid and stop.

"I'm willing."

"That's not the point. I don't want to hurt you. I want to bring you pleasure. Just like the first time. It shouldn't have been like that, I... Ichigo, I..." He wanted to say it. To explain just how much of a dirty man he really was. How low and despicable, behind the mask. If Ichigo had told him to stop, he would have, he wasn't that sort of a monster. But he was close enough, Kisuke felt. Too close for there to be an excuse for it. Anything that went on through his head at that time couldn't possibly justify this, this mad conquest that would go on as long as there was nothing to stop it. What was next, then? Gagging the young man to pretend he couldn't tell what he was thinking? What he didn't want? What he shouldn't want?

"You love me," Ichigo said.

The sentence, in its simplicity and naturalness, took him by surprise. His limbs locked around his lover, his heart skipped a beat in his chest. Pain and fear and confusion. "Ichigo..." And then he didn't know how to continue.

"I'm sorry," the redhead said at last. "I know I should have let you say it."

His mind started to calculate, put on automatic. Either Ichigo really believed that love to exist, or he didn't. The first being the most complicated option, Kisuke's inner scientist took the second option for analysis first. Testing of waters? Maybe. Mockery? Possible, but unlikely, since the tone didn't fit. Attempt to end the conversation through a statement out of the context? No.

Kisuke stopped himself. That way madness lay. "I wasn't about to say it."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"If I loved you... Love isn't like that. I'd control myself. Do you want me to say that I love you? Do you want me to feel it? Ichigo, I..." Another long, uncomfortable pause, in which neither knew what to say. Kisuke had effectively started that sentence and while that wouldn't be a problem in a normal conversation, it could be one now. He couldn't back down, he couldn't leave it hanging, now that Ichigo was blushing so hard and apparently trying to disappear by sheer force of will. Did he love Ichigo? Did he want to say such a thing? He wasn't certain himself. He'd almost said it that very morning, but did he really, truly believe it? Was he ready to burden Ichigo with the knowledge that the blond next to him wanted him? "I might," he finally whispered. "But I don't want you to worry about that." He kissed Ichigo's hair lightly. "It doesn't mean anything." The young man had this tendency to do things for people who believed in him, this madness to please everyone. Well, Kisuke wouldn't let him. He wouldn't allow himself to take advantage of that tendency. He wouldn't let Ichigo give up anything for a foolish, perverted shopkeeper who was about to lose his shop and be thrown into being something else entirely. "Whether I... care for you a bit too much or not, it doesn't change anything. You are free." He said it again, to remind himself as much as he reminded Ichigo. "You are free."

But Ichigo didn't seem to get the point. He sighed and placed his forehead against Kisuke. "I care about you, you know. I didn't think about you this way before. I like the way you are underneath that silly mask."


"I appreciate you and I'm attracted to you. I didn't expect this to happen."

"Please, don't." He could take the fact that the younger man didn't love him, but he couldn't take lying. Most of all, he couldn't stand the thought that Ichigo should start lying to himself.

"I didn't think when you blackmailed me that anything good could come of it. But I don't mind what happened. I like being with you."

"Don't just say that, Ichigo."

"I'm not. I mean it. I could have said it at any point for the last... well, the last few days. It seems like so much longer. As if it's already been a lifetime since we've been together. A century in Byakuya's house." Ichigo licked his lips. "I mean it. I don't know what it's meaning is, but I mean it. Does that make sense?"

No lies? No lies. Could Ichigo be honest? He could. Kisuke felt a bout of selfish happiness to hear it. He knew that it wasn't a sane relationship, that what the younger man was feeling was something that psychologists would love to dissect, but right now he wanted to clench his fists with joy and cry out in his mind that there was something that went right in the world.

Dear gods, he realized. He did have it bad. And the kid had gotten it probably before he had.

Kisuke nuzzled Ichigo's neck, hiding his face away from the younger man, uncertain whether his mask was safely in place.

"If nothing depended upon this relationship, but Rukia would accept it, would you still be here with me?" he whispered, feeling like a stupid schoolboy.

Ichigo snorted. "So much romance, Kisuke."

"I know where I stand." The shopkeeper was hit by how pathetic he was right now.

"Yes. I would still be here."

"That's more than enough to make me happy." Kisuke nuzzled his lover's neck with a mixed feeling of guilt, happiness and of being pathetic. "I'm sorry about the violence."

"What violence?"

"Your first time. My gestures right now. It won't happen again. If it ever seems to, stop me. Don't let me..."

Ichigo got up on an elbow, staring down intensely at the blond. "You weren't violent."

"I know what I am." Selfish. Perverted. Disgusting. Taking advantage of a kid he'd seduced. Self-sacrificing, too, maybe, but weak and pitiful. Violent, giving in to his baser instincts, to his desires and-

"No. No, you don't," Ichigo cut over his inner monologue. "You have this bad opinion of yourself, but you aren't violent or whatever. I can't believe you don't know this, but you're very tender. Even the first time. Sure, it was frantic, but it was good and still gentle. I've been fighting for awhile, I know what harshness means, so don't even try to explain it to me. You weren't it."

"I'm selfish and a-"

"I don't give a damn. Fuck if I know what came over you, then and now, but I wasn't hurt. You aren't hurting me. Is that what you thought? Fuck, was it?" Kisuke put his usual mask on, but it felt so fake that he dropped it. Ichigo frowned at him. "I was happy. Before my first time, I thought sex was all about orgasms. Then I realized it wasn't."

Kisuke shifted uncomfortably. "Ichigo, that's not-"

"I don't mean I don't like that part. I like the pleasure. And your pleasure, too. But then I realized that sleeping with someone was a lot like fighting, but way more intense."

The blond felt as if somebody had thrown a bucket of cold ice over him and even if he couldn't figure out how on earth he'd managed to fuck up the young man that badly, this was horrifying, this was worse than he'd have imagined. "Ichigo, no! It's not supposed to-"

"Shut up." Ichigo punched his shoulder lightly, finally annoyed. "I was talking. So, it is like fighting. Not like whatever just went through your head. I mean, you touch and suddenly there's not just skin there, but the entire person. You feel and it's not just a body, not just something that's up there against you, it's somebody with a huge world inside that you can suddenly sense. I can feel who my enemy is when I battle them. And I could feel you very, very much every time we slept together. I know what you were feeling. I know who you are. I can sense you, I can taste you, I can understand you. Fuck, Kisuke, I was so overcome by you and your world, I almost drowned in it. I forgot I had a body, do you get me? You were so desperate and so afraid, you were in denial, in lust, you were dark and mysterious and gentle and tender and a whole bunch of other things, and wonderful to top it all off, that I didn't give a damn that I didn't get to come. I forgot I was supposed to. Not violent, Kisuke. It's not violence I'm getting from you. It's pain. Your pain."

Kisuke could only stare. Ichigo was almost mad now, he looked as intense and frantic as he himself felt. And beautiful. Pain? Now that it was thrown at him, he could see it. Maybe he'd seen it before, too, but not really understood it. Who was this young man, then, to read him like that? "You're definitely something."

"Would that something be a monster? If yes, I've been told. I'm a monster, too. So stop being so guilty, we're both in this. It's not just you doing stuff to me – I'm here, too. I'm reacting to you and I have my say in it. Sure, I have fuck clue what I'm doing and most of the time I feel I don't know a damn thing, but I'm learning and I'm not somebody whom you can hurt without really trying. Get that?"

Before Kisuke could answer, Ichigo pushed him against the bed and kissed him furiously, pining one of his shoulders to the futon, taking control, letting his reiatsu flare around the two of them. One of the younger man's hands grabbed at the blond's clothes, pulling them apart, bearing Kisuke's chest, which then allowed him to bite it randomly, leaving red marks on the skin. It burned to feel him like that, in his full strength made manifest.


"Am I hurting you?"


"Then shut up."

Teeth and lips and tongue everywhere on his body, nails dragging on his skin, hands caressing, a flurry of movement that was all the more overpowering for being so unexpected. Ichigo got up just enough to remove his own clothes and throw them away, then returned to Kisuke and flipped them over, so he was under the blond. The young man had a glint of steel in his eyes, a wild determination, a passion that were usually reserved for battles. He was intoxicating like the subtlest perfume, like a spring breeze, like moonlight.

"I don't think you'd take kindly to the way I'd take you right now," Ichigo said. "So you do it. Any way you want."

He rose to suck on Kisuke's neck while the older man attempted more or less gracefully to remove his clothes. Once he finally escaped from the confinements, the blond focused on his lover, who couldn't have spelled out a more enthusiastic invitation to just let go. And, for once, he resolved to give in without restraint or remorse: he could nearly taste the fire in Ichigo's reiatsu, he could feel a strength as great as his own facing him - the entire being of the younger man cried out challenge, defiance and not a resignation to his fate, but a jump to face it.

Kisuke could definitely work with that, and he did. He attacked Ichigo's shoulders with not very tender bites, making the younger man squirm and gasp. A hand entangled itself between blond strands of hair. Kisuke found himself pushed roughly towards the neck and was glad to nibble, suck and work away at it in any way that occurred to him until a bruise was clearly forming. Then he captured Ichigo's lips again and found himself pulled down by eager, strong hands in a demand to be rougher.

"You don't," Kisuke rasped, "have to do this," nibble, "just to please me."

"Maybe I like it." Unfairly enough, Ichigo was more composed than he was. "Maybe I wanna see..." though not much more composed "...how it is this way."

Kisuke searched almost desperately for the bottle he kept in one of his pockets, found it, and used its contents to prepare a willing, writhing, wonderful young man. Ichigo was wildly manifesting his sensations, his entire body moving like liquid against Kisuke's own. The blond knew that he had more than an inkling of what he was doing to his older lover if one was to judge by the grin and self-satisfied, enraptured expression that were somehow.

"You're loving this."

"Yes. Take me."

Kisuke couldn't very well ignore that, could he? He did as he was bidden and soon he found himself enveloped in Ichigo, who had entangled his hand in Kisuke's hair again with a very possessive gesture. "When did you turn so sexy?" he murmured, both to give him time to adjust and because this was truly spectacular.

"I learn fast, remember?"

Too fast. The low voice, the seductive tones, the dark lust in his eyes... Kisuke felt that he was losing himself, moving instinctively, erratically. He wanted more of Ichigo, more of what was before him, he wanted to devour the younger man whole, now that he could.

Fingers dug into his back, legs twisted around his own. Ichigo bucked against him, grinding his hips against the older man, mewling with passion. Kisuke had no resolve left, anyway, so there was nothing left to lose. Their moves were far from rhythmic, but they were fast and hard and filled with so much desire that their reiatsu flared with it, unrestrained, not that they cared. Helped by Kisuke's skilled hand, Ichigo reached his peak first, lifting almost entirely up against the blond, his entire body tense, locked with pleasure. He gave out a loud cry and circled his arms around Kisuke, hanging on to him as if he were a lifeline. The man followed soon after, his entire world seeming to go dark, his ears pounding. He felt as if he'd run as far as this point and now he was jumping high, lifting off from the ground and flying with sheer pleasure. Every cell of his body felt as if it were bursting, exploding, dying, being reborn. They remained unmoving while the feeling raged in them, burning, hot, intense, empowering, feeling each other's bodies still, each other's essences flaring.

When sensations finally started to return to them, they managed to let go. Kisuke collapsed on the futon, gasping for air that he hadn't needed until that point. Ichigo was breathing hard, his chest still arched with the last remaining waves of pleasure.

"Wow," Ichigo breathed out in a pant.


"That was... so good."

Kisuke chuckled. He was still floating, still high. And it had been so much better than just 'good'. He pulled the younger man closer, dragging his body over the blond's own. There was a silence in which they slowly pulled themselves together, drawing their reiatsu closer to their bodies. It occurred to the older man that there was probably not one single person in the Kuchiki mansion who didn't have the sensing abilities to understand what they'd done and how they'd done it, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Let them gossip. It would only help their case.

Ichigo pulled a blanket over them.

"I have a theory," Kisuke said.

Ichigo's mouth dropped open. "Already? You can still think?"

"Yes. Your... manifestation just now. I think I know why it happened."

Ichigo gave him a look. "Dear gods. It must be horrible to be you, thinking all the time."

"Here it is: you are in control of your hollow side. Now, that side it basically composed of your primary instincts, of your basic desires, killer intent, all sorts of things that are generally part of the unconscious and the destructive side of you. By mastering it, you master those sides of the personality which are generally related to this sort of play. Hence, you become darkly sexy."

"Jeez, Kisuke."

"No, but hear me out..."

"I didn't say you weren't right." Ichigo's lips brushed against Kisuke's and he flicked his tongue out to taste them. "I'm just saying you're impossible. Do you think anybody heard us?"

"Heard us? Don't know. Maybe. There isn't anybody on a five-mile radius, however, who hasn't sensed us, I believe."

Ichigo groaned. "We've just put on a show, right?"

"More like announced ourselves from rooftops, rather than putting on a show, but yes. Don't worry. People tend to be quite, ah, discreet about this sort of thing. Although 'discreet' might not be the best word for it. They'll be too embarrassed tomorrow to mention it."

"And we've sort of lost privacy what with the videos."

"That, too."

Ichigo pecked Kisuke's lips. "You still think too fast."

"What? The idea came to me right a second ago. It's not as if I were considering anything carefully while we were..." He couldn't find an appropriate word for once.

"You're creepy. But maybe right. I've spent a good few hours talking to my inner hollow and fantasizing about you. He had pointers."

Kisuke blinked. "You were fantasizing about me during the trial? And sharing impressions with your hollow?"

"With myself, mostly. I'm starting to feel as if he really were a part of me. It's weird, but somehow natural. I feel as if there's all sorts of things I could know which are just out of my reach."

"I don't know much about hollows. I never got a chance to study them."

"Maybe I'll let you study me."

"You make it sound so seductive. Why, when I have the time..." As soon as he said that, Kisuke felt a renewed pang of emptiness. He would have to stay and Ichigo would have to leave. And even if he planned on returning to the real world quite often, even if he planned to create a better way to link the real world with the shinigami world for Ichigo to be able to visit more easily, there was still the fact that his life was going to become much busier and much more difficult soon. His hand tangled itself into the younger man's locks on its own accord and he drew the redhead into a deep kiss, cutting himself off.

When they'd have time to themselves, and peace, and someplace private, Kisuke would... He didn't know what. But he wanted something special.


The next day, Kisuke was dragged away to take care of all sorts of arrangements that needed to be made in order to return to Soul Society. Ichigo, finding himself with suddenly too much free time on his hands, went around Seireitei to say hello to everybody he knew. The first he encountered was Hanatarou, who had stumbled across his path. Ichigo and exchanged a few words with the likable fourth division member, who was much too enthusiastic that Ichigo remembered him.

Next, he dropped by Ukitake's division, hoping that Rukia would be around there. She wasn't, but he got a good chance to chat with the white-haired captain, who seemed to be very happy for the visit. Shunsui also showed up to grin at him and say something like "You and Urahara, who'd have thought? My, my" before trying to drown him in alcohol. Ichigo barely escaped with his balance intact.

A chance meeting with a fuming Mayuri sent him off very quickly in the opposite direction, in which he encountered Kira, Matsumoto and Hisagi. The two men looked very awkward to be around him, checking him out as if he were about to pounce and try to sleep with them at any second, which he wasn't. Matsumoto, on the other hand, seemed to think he was cute.

The eleventh division members tried to offer him a meeting with Zaraki, which he excused himself from on account of having to go see Renji urgently. A complete lie, but if he'd said it, he might as well hold his word.

But Renji was nowhere to be found. Rukia, he heard on his search for the vice-captain, was off with Yoruichi, helping Kiba settle in with the Shihouins. She was apparently giving him pointers about do's and don't's that Rukongai rats could use when joining noble families.

It made sense, but it also meant that he'd just get in the way if he went to see them, so Ichigo went off all on his lonesome up and down the streets some more, until a hell butterfly flew to him and told him that Kisuke would be near the tenth division building in a few minutes, seeing Shichi off, so maybe they could meet there. Ichigo wondered why he hadn't considered sending hell butterflies off to meet friends more easily, but then he remembered that he had no clue how to do it. Seeing as he had nothing better to do, he made his way towards the meeting point.

A small crowd had gathered. Most of the captains, except Mayuri and Soi Fon, were there, as well as the vice-captains, probably as a sign of respect for the Spirit King, or from some sense of duty, or from a justified desire to see her leaving. Ichigo bumped into Yachiru nearly literally and she twittered to him that Shichi had sent off the rest of the Zeroes earlier to search for Aizen and she'd stayed behind to make sure everything was fine with Kisuke and Ichigo, or so the story went. Then the pink haired girl ran off to say something to other people and the young man made his way to the blond, who was luckily with Rukia and Renji, so he didn't have to feel guilty about being with one of them and not the others. Yoruichi and Kiba were also there.

"She comes, she blows up, she leaves," Kisuke muttered.

"Hey, she was actually kind of... you know. Nice," Renji intervened. "A bit brutal, but who's to say that it's a bad thing? I've been in the eleventh division, so I should know."

"My, Abarai-san, some would say that you're quite the brute yourself, considering the way you indulge in others' resources," Kisuke said, cheerfully. "I remember the dent you used to put in my provisions when you were a freeloader..."


"Now, now, no need to be upset, I didn't say I wouldn't forgive you, but the poor, starving Jinta and Ururu..."


"I-chi-go, you look marvelous today," Kisuke changed the subject. He then suddenly grabbed the redhead and Yoruichi and pulled them both close to him with a grin. "Luckily, Abarai-san, love is enough to support me in these hungry times."


Ichigo chuckled. It was good and comforting to see his older lover start to fool around again, messing with people's minds, not necessarily because it was fun to see their faces (although Renji's was priceless), but because it meant that Kisuke was feeling better. A side glance to Rukia, however, made the laughter wither on his lips. She wasn't amused, but upset by the display. She had looked away, supposedly scanning for Shichi through the crowds to hide her disgruntled disapproval. Ichigo gently removed himself from Kisuke, who didn't mind or notice, since Yoruichi did the same. Renji shook his head.

"Thank you all for the most welcoming welcome," Shichi said, somewhere in front. "It's been an utmost pleasure and quite fun to be here." Ichigo wondered if she was stressing the words for emphasis or irony. "It's good to see that Seireitei is as rational as always. Before I leave, there's some things I wanted to say to a number of you." Yoruichi groaned. "Kiba, good luck and have fun in your new clan. Hanatarou, you're a fun little bastard. Matsumoto, your breasts are pouring out. Byakuya, it's been fun sleeping with ya."

That got everybody's attention. A murmur that may or may not have been a sharp intake of breaths and gasps, or simply mouths dropping open noisily, resounded for two seconds before the proceedings grew very, very quiet. Ichigo could just feel the shock, the tension, the question: Byakuya and her, or all people? Shichi didn't seem to notice as she went on with her goodbyes to people like Sasakibe and Tetsuzaemon, that Ichigo was sure he should have known.

"I can't believe she said that out loud," Ichigo whispered, looking around for Byakuya. He saw the man standing in a very frozen posture at the side of the crowd. To the casual onlooker, he was just as noble and stoic as ever. To Ichigo, he looked petrified. Renji looked just as bad, turning very, very pale. The younger man supposed that seeing one's hero made a spectacle of would do that. Poor Byakuya, though. This would lead to some gossip and maybe even a stain on his honor.

"Shunsui, Ukitake, what the heck, mates? Get it over with, you know you can and you know what I'm talking about. Hisagi, that tattoo on your face, you should have consulted a linguist first, although now you'll forever be consulting linguists. Heh. Kira, I know nothing about you but your name – heck if I know what to say." The blond breathed out in relief. "Unohana, love the flowers you planted in front of your house. Yachiru, you're not all-knowing. Renji..." She paused. "Renji, you're neat. Love the fire, the passion, but you're unrefined. You could learn a few pointers from Byakuya in terms of elegance and style. And learn to do the damned foreplay properly."

For the second time, the crowd froze, but this time Ichigo joined it.

The silence boomed as loudly as an explosion, drowning whatever shock had been there before. Ichigo barely noticed as Shichi waved a final farewell, his attention focused on Byakuya. Somewhere from the corner of his eye, he saw her disappeared off into non-existence, leaving horror behind her. Byakuya was still.

A silent, frozen hell. Nobody knew what to say or how to react. Renji started trembling lightly. None of them dared to make the first move, all fearing that to do so would mean to break some sort of standstill and bring forth a total chaos.

Who knew how Byakuya would react? Who knew what Renji would do?

The horned captain had been, up until this point, untouchable. Cool as ice. Smooth. Noble. High up on a pedestal.

How was he going to act now? There was no way in which Byakuya could cry out, fight with Renji, sob, or anything of the sort.

All eyes were on him, including Renji's.

Finally, after what seemed like a million years, Byakuya cocked his head sideways elegantly and said, "So. Now it is over." He turned on his heels and left with dignity. He didn't spare a single glance towards his vice-captain, giving off the impression that it hadn't mattered. He walked, further and further, at a normal pace, followed by everybody's gaze, but never once looking out of normal, never once seeming to notice that he was the focus of attention. They stared after him until he disappeared behind a corner.

Ichigo didn't know what others thought, but he knew that this thing that Byakuya had done, this simplicity of acceptance, his quiet dignity, they were the one truly elegant way to escape the situation, to rise above it. Byakuya had gracefully slid over the conflict as if it didn't even affect him. There would be gossip, but he would choose not to accept it. There would be talk, but it would not touch him.

Renji did not have the same advantage.

"Good lords," the redhead said, sliding to his knees. "I am so dead."

And Ichigo got a feeling that most of the audience quite agreed with him.


AN: Another chapter done. Let me know what you think, because I've planning it for so long that I don't know what to think myself. Is the pacing ok? Are you getting bored with my endless scenes of people discussing? (I'm getting hit by karma due to that in real life. I've had more talks with my bf about us in the past two-three months than I've had in all the rest of our relationship together.)