The day would come whether he was ready or not, and he would have no choice but to let his heart and mind loose. No choice but to give in - for all that he was Harry, he was also Kaien. Two separate beings, both from the same soul. His mind was restless, his heart tired. He wished to stay selfishly in the present and blind himself from his future, but a restless mind was not kind - was not forgiving.
Harry could feel the day come as the man, Kyoraku, came and went from his humble shop. He asked more questions and became less open as the days went by. Kyoraku shut himself up from Harry, and Harry did the same. It wasn't the same - with Ganju, things were light-hearted. With Kyoraku, things were tense, although that was blanketed by a façade of politeness.
He was restless. The day was approaching, and soon Ukitake - his leader, his nakama - would walk through those doors.
"Up you get, Takeshi!" Harry yelled as he shook the boy, "Didn't you want to help me with the store?" He grinned widely as the boy groaned and rolled over. Not to be outdone, Harry climbed under the sheets and hugged his son.
"Tou-san...ten minutes please..." Takeshi mumbled, which was understandable, since it was five in the morning and the sun had yet to rise.
Harry readied his hands, "Sure...ten minutes of torture coming up!" And with that, he tickled his son who giggled loudly and began kicking his father. The boy struggled in his father's grip and kicked off the sheets in his effort to be free of him.
Eventually, Harry picked up his son and placed him on his feet. Takeshi stumbled a little as he shook off the last of his giggles. Harry gave him a large smile and told him to get ready. He packed away his son's futon and placed it inside the cupboard. And of course, he checked up on his other son, Katsu, who was awake from all the ruckus he'd caused.
"Papa..." The young boy trailed off as he poked his head out of the blankets. Harry gave a gentle smile and smoothed Katu's fair hair down. "I can't go back to sleep," Katsu said as he rubbed his eyes.
"I guess you're coming with us then," Harry replied and moved to grab his son by his arms and pulled him up. "Go get ready, and eat something if you're hungry, okay?"
Katsu grinned and gave Harry a sloppy kiss on the cheek, "Okay!"
Soon enough, both of the boys were ready with straw baskets in hand. Harry had his own basket resting on the crook of his arm. Together, they walked towards Mt. Koifushi as the sun began to rise slowly. The sky was coloured with red, orange and yellow by the time they reached a familiar meadow. Trees were scattered throughout the meadow, some bearing fruit and flowers or nuts, some of them not. Small shrubs gathered in clumps close to trees, others stood proudly in the sun's light. All in all, the meadow was large and a wonderful place to gather herbs.
By the end of their visit to the meadow, they had gathered enough herbs for the week (or three, considering that people hardly got sick here). They returned home, where Harry immediately put Katsu to bed. The boy had chosen to run around instead of helping the other two males.
Knowing that granny would soon be awake, he left home with Takeshi and opened his store. He let his son sit on the counter and watch him grind some previously dried herbs. Takeshi sorted out the herbs into boxes and labelled them. When he was done with that, Harry began to instruct him on which herbs were which and which ones to grind. Takeshi absorbed the knowledge like a fish to water and Harry felt himself glow with quiet pride.
As per usual, his first customers were the two female shinigami. The women browsed his store without buying anything, but left with cheerful goodbyes. They both promised to visit again, as they always did.
It was around midday that Kyoraku visited - later than usual. But Harry knew why he was late as soon as he Kyoraku entered the store.
"Kaito-san! Good morning!" Kyoraku greeted with a beam as he walked up to the counter, "I want you to meet somebody, and it looks like you've got someone to introduce too!"
Kyoraku's false cheerfulness only served to make Harry feel nervous. With a calming breath, Harry smiled politely and turned to his son who smiled and waved at the two strangers shyly. "This is my son, Takeshi," he said briefly, "Takeshi, this is Kyoraku-san and..."
The white-haired man gave an equally polite smile, "My name is Ukitake Jushiro. Nice to meet you." And with that, the two men shook hands firmly. Katsu, oblivious to the stiff atmosphere that surrounded the three men, merely gave a quiet 'nice to meet you' after his father had done so.
"So...what can I do for you today?" Harry began, "anything in particular?"
"Well, I'd like some meadowsweet please," Kyoraku said. Harry smiled and turned to a tall wall of drawers and pulled out one and set it on the counter.
"How much? Which parts?" Harry asked quickly.
"Enough for a week. The roots and the flowers," Kyoraku replied.
While they were talking Ukitake remained silent and watched Kaito with sad eyes. He paid no mind the conversation taking place. Instead, he focused his attentions to Katsu who was busying himself with laying out paper bags and handing two to his father.
When Kyoraku and Harry stopped exchanging replies, Katsu spoke up, "what's meadowsweet for?"
Harry loosened up as he spoke to his son, "Depends on what part you use; but it's a pain reliever and it helps with fevers, inflammation, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea." He glanced at his son who nodded and fell silent again. He finished packing the herbs into their respective bags and handed them over, "Chew the roots to relieve your headaches and boil the flowers before drinking." He instructed the man. "That'll be 130 Kan."
As Kyoraku handed over the money, his stare intensified. "They're not for me."
Harry feigned interest, having already known who they were for, "Oh? Who?"
"My friend over here," Kyoraku said blandly, and naturally Harry's eyes trailed over to Ukitake.
Without a misstep, Harry said, "Well then, I wish you good health."
"Ah, thank you, Kaito-san." Ukitake replied with mild surprise as Kyoraku gave him the paper bags. "If you don't mind me asking, where do you get most of your profit from? I know that most people here don't get sick often, if at all."
Harry brushed off Kyoraku's stare and replied, "Most of my tea leaves go to the tea house down the road, since I grow my own tea leaves."
"The big one?" Ukitake asked.
"Yes, that one." An awkward silence followed. "Anything else?"
"...what?" Ukitake blinked in confusion, "Oh, nothing. I guess we'll be leaving now."
Once again, Harry smiled politely - something he felt he was doing more than usual. "Good day sirs, thank you for coming."
As they left, they heard a young voice call out, "thank you!"
It was not until they arrived at Ugendo, Ukitake's family estate, that the white haired man spoke. The bags of herbs had been given to a servant who disappeared off into the kitchen before returning with a pot of tea. Kyoraku and Ukitake sat patiently as a servant poured the tea and left. The tense atmosphere had not left them on their journey to his home, and it continued to reign as Ukitake blew on his tea and took a sip.
"Was that what you wanted to show me?" Ukitake asked with a hint of irritation, swiping and tucking away the hair in front of his face behind his ear.
"Yes." Kyoraku said blankly.
"Why?" He asked as he took a calming sip of his tea. He could feel a headache approaching.
"Because I'm not about to let my guard down," Kyoraku said as he removed his hat, "not when Aizen has just left us."
Ukitake frowned heavily, "Look, I understand -"
"No you don't, not when it comes to him," Kyoraku retorted, "You're still clouded by your own guilt."
They were interrupted by another servant, who placed a bottle of sake and a dish in front of Kyoraku before hurrying away. The two men waited until they could hear the servant's footsteps fading away until they spoke again.
"We've been over this many times, Shunsui," Ukitake said tiredly, "And you still haven't answered my question fully."
"I have. That Kaito man looks too much like he did. From the hair, eyes, posture and stature," Kyoraku stated, leaving the sake untouched. "If that doesn't make you suspicious, then his guilty manner should."
"Guilty manner? I saw no such thing," Ukitake said. "He seemed fine to me."
"It's not immediately noticeable, but you're not the one who's been hanging around him for the past three weeks," Kyoraku paused to pour himself some sake. "And shut up, I'm not done talking."
Were it any other situation, Ukitake would have cracked a smile. He didn't, but he did as Kyoraku said and waited patiently for his friend to gulp down the sake.
"Yes, I have been purposefully seeking him out. I'm suspicious. I decided that I wanted you to know that I was suspicious, considering the fact that it concerns you too, " Kyoraku said, "And while you're silent, I'm going to go ahead and say that you are guilty. You know that logically, you aren't. Regardless of that fact, you still suffer from survivor's guilt. You're not too different from that Kuchiki girl - the only difference is that you're centuries older than her." Kyoraku put his dish down and looked Ukitake in the eye.
Ukitake remained silent. He knew he'd lost this battle, it wasn't much of a battle anyway.
"Try to put it aside, Jushiro," Kyoraku said, "After all, you're far better at sensing reiatsu than I am, and you knew Kaien better than any of us."
Ukitake remained silent, but Kyoraku knew that he had acquiesced to his request.
Having already closed the store with his son, they both left while lanterns were lit by stores that catered to late night customers. By the time they left the shopping district, the whole street shone brightly and warmly. As they walked home, Takeshi began to tire, causing Harry to pick him up and carry him home. People walked calmly past them and Harry briefly thought about how different it was to District 75.
He discarded the thought when Takeshi mumbled into his ear, "Tou-san?"
"Yes, son?" He mumbled back.
"Don't be sad," Takeshi whispered, "You always look sad when you're alone." Harry couldn't help but be reminded of his son's innocence in that moment, especially when he sounded so small and fragile.
He smiled dejectedly, "I promise that I won't be sad anymore," he said. "Dad promises..."
Takeshi rested his head against his father's neck as his breathing slowed, "...'kay..."
Harry wouldn't be able to fulfil his promise and he knew. He only hoped that his son wouldn't have to see him like that ever again. His children meant the world to him - more than anyone from a past life - more than those he'd left behind.
He loved them with his whole being.