Mirror Flower, Water Moon
Still so pure and innocent, you do not see how I created you…how I molded you…how I built you from nothing. From beginning to end, you are mine. Your power has its root in me. And I have guided your steps all of this way. Have you come to realize why? Look at our reflection now…and know why I brought you to life.
Chapter 1: Dreaming
"Well," said Kisuke, leading Ichigo up the ladder and out of the training area, "It appears that your powers have reawakened. I would ask you whether that's a good or a bad thing, but looking at you, I can see that's not necessary. Obviously, you both desire and need them, or Zangetsu would not have reappeared in your inner world."
"Hai, Urahara-san," Ichigo said, smiling solemnly, "It appears that the ones I care about are determined to make protecting them a full-time, permanent job."
They reached the shop and passed through it, and into the dining room, where Tessai was just putting dinner on the table.
"Will you be staying for dinner, Kurosaki-kun? A few of your friends arrived while the two of you were training. I thought you might have seen Kuchiki-san when he went to watch for a bit, earlier."
"H-he?" mused Ichigo, "You mean, Byakuya?"
"Hai," said Tessai, nodding, "He and Abarai-san are staying with us while they prepare for a mission, and that's not all."
"Ichigo," said a soft, feminine voice.
The ginger-haired youth caught his breath, remembering how she had faded as he slowly lost his powers, how all of them had disappeared…
I see his manners have not improved since we last met," commented Byakuya, his eyes betraying the slightest hint of greeting.
"Oh, and like eavesdropping on us and not showing yourself is good manners…" Ichigo muttered in reply.
"Hey, don't insult my taichou like that," objected Renji.
Byakuya raised an eyebrow.
"I told you that you should stop calling me that," said Byakuya.
"Well," said Renji, "It's still technically true."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Ichigo, "Renji…Did you leave the Gotei 13?"
Renji laughed heartily and Rukia smiled.
"Renji passed his taichou's exam," she announced, "His official promotion ceremony isn't for a month, but he is going to be the new taichou of the fifth division."
"Really?" grinned Ichigo, "How did you manage that?"
"I got some good training while we were all in Hueco Mundo fighting for our lives," explained the redhead, "and after Aizen was sealed away, Taichou…"
"B-byakuya mentored me to make sure I was ready."
A sly smile crept onto Ichigo's face.
I have a feeling that's not all he taught you, Renji…
"He lets you call him that?" he asked instead of revealing his thoughts.
"Hell, you've been getting away with it for years," said Renji, trying to brush it off, "Why shouldn't I?"
"Nii-sama and Renji are seeing each other now," Rukia said, still smiling, "Renji lives with us at Kuchiki Manor."
"Huh," Ichigo mused, smirking slightly, "Congratulations…Renji."
Byakuya's eyes narrowed slightly in warning.
"Ah, Ichigo," Renji said quickly, "we don't want dinner to get cold. We should…"
"Oh, yeah," Ichigo said, sitting down.
Tessai brought the last of the food to the table and sat down between Ururu and Jinta, facing Byakuya and Renji. Kisuke sat next to Ichigo on one end and Youichi sat on the other.
"So," said Ichigo as they began to eat, "What brings you and Byakuya to Karakura Town?" Ichigo asked, surprised at how normal it felt to be back together with them again.
"There has been a disturbance in the reiatsu in the area…one that may belong to a high level hollow or some other creature," said Byakuya, "It has been concealing itself somewhere near here, but has been sensed several times by the Research And Development Institute. A second division operative was sent, but disappeared. His reiatsu has not been sensed since shortly after his arrival here. You should be aware that it has been sensed near this shop on a few occasions, and has also been sensed near your home."
"Yeah," Renji said, taking a bite of rice, "So we were wondering if you had seen anything odd."
Ichigo shook his head.
"I haven't, but then, I have only just regained my powers. My senses aren't yet fully working and I suck at sensing reiatsu anyway."
"Ah," said Renji, smiling ruefully, "that's still my biggest shortcoming too…"
"But it is something you can improve on…both of you," Byakuya said sedately, "It only needs practice, which you are sure to obtain on this mission, Renji."
As the meal continued, talk shifted to other matters and became more jovial. A bottle of sake and dessert helped the friends fall into more of a jovial mood, and by the time the meal was over, Ichigo was very full and extremely sleepy. He got up from the table, groaning softly at the thought of having to walk home. Kisuke caught his eye, smiling.
"You look beat," he said quietly as Byakuya and Renji disappeared into their bedroom and the children helped Tessai clear the dishes away, "You are welcome to spend the night here if you like."
"Ah, thanks Urahara-san," Ichigo said sleepily, "but the walk will be good for me. And besides, I have to be up early in the morning. I have a lot to do."
"Then let me walk you back," said Kisuke, opening the door and following him outside.
They walked down to the end of the street and into the large park that bordered the river and led back to Ichigo's neighborhood. Ichigo felt the shopkeeper's eyes touch him more than a few times and sensed that he seemed somewhat tense.
"What's bothering you, Urahara-san?" he asked quietly, looking up at the stars, "You aren't spooked by the creature roaming around here, are you? I'm sure it would be no match for you, ne? But why are you worried about me? I have my powers back now."
"You have just gotten your powers back, and remember that you are not operating with full reiatsu yet. And…I do have some concerns about that creature. Whatever it is, it seems to be focused on you, maybe not just you, but…"
"Why would anyone be interested in me now?" he asked, "We haven't made a show of my regaining my powers, and what interest would a hollow have in me? My reiatsu is still poor."
"It may not be a hollow. There is too much we don't know about this creature. And until we do know more, I want you to be careful. I already talked to your dad about this, and he was quick to make sure that your sisters were protected, but he said that he would trust me to look out for you."
"My dad said that? I thought you two didn't get along."
"Well, we aren't the best of friends," admitted the shopkeeper, "I guess he didn't appreciate me getting you into so much trouble with the whole 'saving Rukia' thing. I think he liked how simple it was when you were just a kid who could see ghosts and you didn't yet have your powers. You have to admit, things have been crazy since then…and much of the responsibility for that rests on my shoulders. I created the hougyoku and started the Aizen mess. I used Rukia to hide the hogyoku, making her a target. I helped you regain your shinigami powers after Byakuya nearly killed you and I sent you to Soul Society to save Rukia. I won't even start on the whole opening the garganta and sending you to Hueco Mundo thing."
"You know, Urahara-san," Ichigo said thoughtfully, "Maybe you did a few things you shouldn't have, but who doesn't? I was determined to save Rukia. Then, I was determined to go to Hueco Mundo to save Orihime. I would have found my way there and into the middle of that mess one way or another."
"Yeah, you probably would have," he commented.
They stopped for a moment at the side of the river, a short distance from the youth's house, admiring the full moon and its reflection in the water.
"Ichigo," Kisuke said, his eyes on the water, "I'm going to ask that you be on guard and stay close to your family until this situation is resolved. I know you can take care of yourself, but your powers are in flux and are not reliable as of yet. We'll want to spend some time training to bring you up to full power and get you fighting ready."
"Why? Are you that worried I'm going to be fighting again that soon? Don't worry, Urahara-san. Aizen was tougher than anything that is going to show up here. And he in prison, bound and sealed away. He isn't going anywhere."
"Yeah, well your powers were a lot stronger when he was on the loose and while you are in this phase of the redemption of your powers, you are vulnerable."
"I'll be careful," Ichigo promised, noticing the way the moon was now reflecting in the shopkeeper's eyes.
He felt a soft stirring inside, looking at Kisuke in the moonlight like that. And he was sure that he saw something, some glimmer of the return of that emotion in the shopkeeper's eyes. It might just be friendly affection, but…
"Well," said Kisuke, interrupting his thoughts, "I have to get back. Byakuya and Renji are going to share what information the Research and Development Department and Secret Mobile Corps gave them about the missing agent and the creature they sensed and I'll be strategizing with them over that."
"Okay, I uh, guess I'll see you around later then," Ichigo said, turning towards home.
He had only taken a step when he heard Kisuke's voice again behind him.
"Why don't you come back to the shop tomorrow? After I finish talking to Byakuya and Renji, we can…do some more training…"
Ichigo couldn't contain the smile this brought to his face. He didn't turn, but could feel the other's questioning eyes.
Something is definitely up.
"Sure thing," he said softly.
Kisuke smiled and nodded, then watched as Ichigo left the park and walked up the street to his house. He went inside and closed and locked the door behind him. A few moments later, the light went on in his room.
Kisuke sighed softly, thinking back to how Ichigo had looked, standing beside the river, with the moon reflecting in the water behind him. For the millionth time, he wished that he could bring himself to act on what he had been feeling for the longest time. And he was genuinely surprised that Ichigo had not sensed it. But love, Kisuke thought, could be hard to see when it came on gradually as this one had…and it was even less likely to be seen if one cautiously withheld his heart, so as to hide it.
And Urahara Kisuke was a master at concealing his heart.
He had become so good at it, in fact, that Ichigo might remain forever in his orbit, always close, but just missing the small signs…the extra moment he held the youth's eyes when they talked, the way his breath slowed to a crawl, nearly stopping when Ichigo touched him, for whatever reason, the instant smile his presence brought to the shopkeeper's lips and the way he had had to fight to keep the joy from his eyes when Zangetsu had reappeared and he knew that Ichigo was really regaining his powers. Not that he wouldn't have loved Ichigo, powers or no…but having his powers renewed the longstanding unspoken agreement between them that for as long as Ichigo had shinigami powers, Kisuke would mentor him in their use. So, Ichigo regaining his powers meant that he wouldn't have to search for reasons to see Ichigo. The youth would come to the shop regularly to train.
Sighing again, the shopkeeper turned away from Ichigo's house and walked slowly back to the park. It was late now, and clouds had moved in, in advance of a storm that was supposed to arrive before morning. As he walked along the river's edge, light sprinkles began to drift down from the sky, tickling his senses and cooling his skin. He was nearly to the end of the park, when he felt an odd sense of eyes watching him. He stopped and looked around, but could not see or sense anyone. Shaking his head, he turned back towards the shop.
He never saw the blade that slashed across his chest and sent him crashing down the embankment and into the river.
Ichigo settled into his bed and dropped off to sleep quickly. All of the testing of his powers had drained him, and the merriment of the evening with Rukia and the others had left him full, happy and exhausted. He had especially enjoyed the walk back to his house with Kisuke. He felt a soft jolt inside, thinking again about what he had felt in the presence of his friend and mentor. There was a lot of emotion between them, feelings which had grown slowly over time. He sensed that he was not the only one feeling them, but as Kisuke never gave any sign of a desire to explore those feelings, Ichigo was at a loss for exactly what to do. And for a while, it had seemed better to just let the feelings go. But with the regaining of his powers, things that had nearly been forgotten were becoming real again, and what he was feeling for Kisuke was real.
He wondered as he drifted off to sleep if they would ever do anything about those feelings.
He opened his eyes and found himself in Soul Society. The moon shined full overhead and the soft sound of the breeze washed over him. He stood at the top of a small range of mountains, overlooking the Seireitei…and with a view of Sokyoku hill. He gazed out across the Seireitei, wondering what had made him come back. Usually, he only came to the Seireitei when there was a crisis. He didn't remember there being anything like that.
And yet, he was here.
He flash stepped down from the mountains and made his way into the Seireitei, frowning thoughtfully as the guards at the gate acted as thought they couldn't see him. He walked down the empty streets, not sure where he was going, or what it was that was making his feet move in that direction.
"Ichigo," said a tranquil, male voice.
The youth stopped and looked around.
"Hello?" he said softly.
There was no answer…
He waited quietly for several minutes, listening, but eventually shook his head and moved on. He found himself entering a large, beautiful garden. At first, he thought it must be Kuchiki Manor, but then he realized that this place was strange to him. He frowned and turned to leave, but was stopped as he heard the voice again.
It had a tonal quality a bit like Byakuya's, but he knew it wasn't the noble. And when he looked up, he wasn't surprised that the face of the man he saw standing in the distance was one he had never seen before. No…the pale face, black hair and olive shaped green eyes were not familiar at all.
But for some reason, the voice was…
"Ichigo," he said again, "You have finally heard me…"
Ichigo came awake suddenly as someone staggered through his window and fell ingloriously onto the bed on top of him.
"What the…?" he began, sitting up and moving the soaked person to the side.
He turned on the light and was left breathless at the sight of Kisuke, lying nearly senseless on his bed, soaking wet and bleeding profusely from a wound in his chest.
"Kisuke!" he shouted, "What the hell? What happened?"
The shopkeeper's mouth moved, but nothing came out. He gripped the front of the youth's nightshirt, groaning as he began to lose consciousness. A moment later, he collapsed against Ichigo.
"Urahara-san! Kisuke!" Ichigo cried.
He jumped to his feet and lifted the shopkeeper into his arms. Flash stepping down from his window, he raced down the deserted streets, his eyes intense and all of his concentration on reaching his destination quickly. He reached an apartment building and jumped up onto a balcony, then slipped inside.
"Orihime!" he called frantically.
The girl dashed into the room he was in.
"Kurosaki-kun!" she exclaimed, then she caught her breath sharply at the sight of the injured shinigami.
"Orihime, Kisuke's been hurt badly. I need you to heal him."
Orihime nodded and joined him at Kisuke's side, sending the golden oval over Kisuke's body and invoking her powers. Ichigo knelt next to her, realizing only now that he was still in his pajamas, and they were wet and covered with Kisuke's blood.
"There's some of my brother's things in the next room," Orihime said, noticing his discomfort.
"Thanks," Ichigo said softly, "but never mind that for now. Just tell me…is he going to be okay?"
The uncertainty in her eyes left Ichigo with a hard chill inside.
Damn it! What the hell could have done this to him?