Closer To Fine
Inuyasha didn't know what to expect from Urahara's shop. Would it be a tiny cramped space full of odds and ends? Maybe a sweeping expanse of metal and glass with all the modern goodies Inuyasha had come to enjoy? Would there be only the owner and one or two employees to keep his secrets, or would there be a hive of workers that meant Inuyasha would be overlooked in the crowd?
What he stumbled upon was a medium sized candy shop, two seemingly young children fighting over chores in the courtyard outside the main store. The slightly smaller red haired boy was chasing a girl with black hair and rosy cheeks around the wooden walkway with a broom.
Chuckling under his breath at their antics, Inuyasha stepped between the kids, a hand on the boy's forehead stopping him from tackling the girl. Though the boy did fight against his hold, trying to push passed his hand, Inuyasha had spent too many years corralling Shippo, and to a smaller extent Souta, to lose to the runt. "That's enough of that. Can one of you tell me where I may find Kisuke Urahara? I need to speak with him."
The boy was too busy trying to get past him to answer, he did have to give him some credit, he was very persistent. The girl turned to him though, not bothering to brush off the dust that had collected on her clothes and cheeks, apparently used to the brawls, "He is inside, he is probably awake by now." Inuyasha patted her on the head in thanks with his other hand. He went inside the shop, removing his hand so quickly the boy landed on the ground in an undignified heap. Inuyasha paused long enough to make sure the only thing hurt was the boy's pride before continuing further into the store.
"Impressive, you survived Jinta and Ururu; they usually manage to scare off potential employees, customers too on occasion now that I think about it." The voice came from behind him and Inuyasha whorled around quickly, hand reaching for Tetsusaiga. Yes, he knew it was a gamble to bring the sword with him in the modern world, but now knowing about the Hollows, and stepping into an unknown situation, he felt much more comfortable with the sword on him. The sheath was strapped diagonally across his back, the loose unbuttoned shirt he wore covered up the distinctive shape of the sheath. It was the best camouflage he could come up with that still allowed him to reach the sword if he had to.
Relaxing a bit as he caught the actual words spoken by the green and white clad man he replied slowly, hand still not far from Tetsusaiga. "I've dealt with kids like them before, they don't bother me. I take it you are Kisuke Urahara?" Inuyasha would have known the man was the owner, the whole shop vaguely felt like Shinigami, but this man had the largest source of that essence by far. He felt almost exactly like Isshin, both Shinigami yet strangely not.
"And you are Inuyasha Taisho." That wasn't a question, though Inuyasha was a bit surprised this man knew the last name he had used since coming to the modern world. He hadn't told either Isshin or Ichigo that name. Kisuke seemed to realize what had him shocked, because he was quick to add. "I know the legends of Inu No Taisho, unlike Isshin I was head of a research driven division. Youkai interest me. I hadn't known one of his sons had survived for so long, it is an honor to meet you." Kisuke inclined his head slightly, and what could have been a very deep speech was ruined with the teasing, almost mocking, tone of voice the blonde haired man used.
"So you know who I am, and where I came from, what happens now?" Inuyasha was fighting the urge to flee, he hadn't been in the shop for five minutes before all his secrets were being ripped into the open.
"Isshin has told me what you told him, I don't need to hear that story again, however I have my own question. That sword of yours, how good are you at handling it?" Kisuke challenged, and there was no doubt it was a challenge, despite the calm relaxed way it was delivered.
Inuyasha felt his hackles rise, he didn't like this line of questioning at all. "I have protected myself and my pack from all the enemies that have come before us, including the Youkai responsible for killing my father." Inuyasha decided to let the man before him figure out what that meant.
"Good, you see the boy you met last night is my student, he is heading into a war he is unprepared for. He has a personal battle ahead of him that will drain him body and soul, but if he succeeds he will come back together stronger than he was before. I know you need him, and more importantly, I know why, however you may have a way of repaying that service in advance. I will test your skill; if you are up to par I want you out on the streets fighting in his place until he manages to get his abilities straightened out." The man was still lounging in the shadows, however Inuyasha knew better than to underestimate an opponent.
"Why me? You met me not ten minutes ago, you can't possibly know whether I am a threat or not." Inuyasha didn't want to push his luck, but he refused to be backed into a corner he couldn't claw his way out of.
"I told you, I know the legends. I know how to pick through them and find the facts. You are the second son of Inu no Taisho, a Hanyou born from a human miko, giving you a reservoir of power not normally seen in half-demons. You were raised in the wilds, belonging to neither world, but learning from both. The part that interests me is the rumors you had a pack at one time, comprised of both human and Youkai." Seeing the stricken look on Inuyasha's face, Kisuke stopped that line, forging on in a new direction.
"You didn't know your exploits were recorded did you? Soul Society keeps track of Youkai, they are some of the oldest souls traveling the world, it pays to watch their moves carefully. Soul Society itself is as old as the first soul; it hasn't changed much in the time since its founding. We watched you grow up Hanyou, and I can honestly say you are a better choice to trust than your brother is. You have worked with humans before, you know their strengths and weaknesses, and you somehow managed to drop off our radar for hundreds of years; anyone who can hide that well is an asset to us. I need someone to watch Ichigo's back when he is too warn out to do it himself. In turn I can guarantee you get the help you need, Ichigo isn't the only Vizard, and if he refuses I know where the others are." Kisuke laid the deal on the table.
Inuyasha knew the man was on the edge of desperation. Yes his explanation made sense, but it was still startling, they knew his Youkai could rise at any moment, and their only protection was a sword too risky to carry most of the time. Inuyasha wouldn't hurt anyone if he could help it, he had spent too much time protecting humans to turn his back on them now, but how could they possibly know all that from a few old stories?
"You are going to trust me solely on the word of a few old stories?" Inuyasha had never been one to avoid being blunt, it got him his answers faster.
"Of course not," Kisuke smiled slightly at Inuyasha's question, once again surprising the Hanyou, "You won't get off that lucky. You will be watched at all times, and I did tell you I will be testing you, I never said those tests would only be about your fighting prowess. Those stories only tell me you are worth a chance, not that I should trust you outright. We are going to war, we can't afford to toss aside a potential ally, but I will not allow that to blind us to the danger an unknown entity like yourself may pose."
Finally, Inuyasha felt himself relax, that was the heart of the matter, and once he heard that he knew this wasn't an elaborate trap. They were desperate, but they weren't stupid in that desperation. "What kind of tests? I will submit to them, I have come too far to back away now, I need help just as much as you do." He conceded aloud.
"You already passed one of them, you questioned me. Not out of anger, but because of caution and care, I was glad to hear that. If you were intending to spy on us, you wouldn't have risked your open invitation. I don't discount the possibility you would do that on purpose, so you do not have free rein, but you have earned a bit more trust." Kisuke informed him. "Beyond my minor tests, I will be checking to see how well you fight, and how much control you have over yourself. I want to know just what I am setting loose on the streets at night. Isshin will keep an eye on how you act with Ichigo; don't expect him to go lightly if one of his children gets hurt. I do believe you won't harm the children in the house, but that would go if you were an enemy as well. You wouldn't give your position away so easily as to attack anyone in the house you are staying in."
"I have never and will never hurt a child," Inuyasha interjected, wanting to have some input on the conversation, otherwise he felt like he was being lectured, and that always rubbed him the wrong way. Inuyasha sighed, he hadn't wanted to bring up the past but this man beat him to it, "Your stories are right. I did lead a pack, and it did have humans in it. Tetsusaiga won't work unless I have something to protect, a legacy left from my father. I know you won't believe me on words alone, but it may save you some time and worry. I will protect this town, and Ichigo, as I have protected all the ones who have treated me well in the past." Personally, he felt they were underestimating Ichigo. Isshin and Kisuke were warning him if he hurt Ichigo they would retaliate, yet Inuyasha knew instinctually if there really was a threat, then Ichigo would be the last to fall prey to it.
"I believe you," This time there was no joke in the man's voice. "I do believe, but I can't take any chances, my instincts have been proven wrong before." Kisuke was thinking of Aizen, the person he had so badly misjudged. "Isshin is of the opinion you will be a good ally, and I agree with him. He was the one who didn't trust the things I did, he escaped, while I fell victim. On matters of trust I defer to him now. If he thinks you can be trusted I will agree."
The man seemed to shake himself, as if memories were trying to overtake him; Inuyasha knew the feeling. "If you are ready to begin, there is a place here where we can spar without being sensed. Follow me and we can get this out of the way."
Inuyasha nodded his acceptance. Following the man to a door in the living quarters in the back of the shop, expecting the door to open to a dojo, he was surprised to see it was no bigger than a broom closet, and it contained a single ladder leading down into what appeared to be a well-lit basement.
"That ladder leads to my training room, we should have plenty of room," Kisuke informed him, before heading down the ladder first.
Inuyasha was astonished at the space beneath the store. It had the appearance of a rocky desert, all beige with boulders strewn haphazardly around, several of the rocks appeared to be scorched or fractured. He couldn't see the end of the space, in any direction except the wall where the ladder descended.
"Do whatever you need to get ready for a fight, I will not go easy on you, if you have anything on you that can't be replaced leave it here." Kisuke informed him, and Inuyasha knew that wasn't an empty threat.
He quickly removed the loose shirt he had worn to conceal Tetsusaiga, it would just be in the way. He then reached up and untied the strip of cloth holding his ears down, it dampened his hearing enough to hinder him in a fight. As an afterthought he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, laying it down on the pile of cloth, it was a hassle to replace all the contents if something happened to it.
He removed Tetsusaiga from his back, retying around his waist where the weight was more familiar and less likely to throw him off balance. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a red muscle shirt, the shirt was the same shade of red as his beloved fire rat clothing so it had quickly become his favorite. Deliberating for a moment, glancing out of the corner of his eye to see Kisuke looking on his preparations with amused patience, making his decision he threw the red shirt on the pile as well, he didn't want to go through the hassle of replacing it if it got stained or ripped.
Turning to his opponent, he spoke, "Alright, let's get this over with."
Kisuke smiled wolfishly, and suddenly he disappeared. Only Inuyasha's well honed reflexes had him lift Tetsusaiga in time to stop the blow that came out of nowhere.
Maybe this fight would be a bit harder than he thought.
Ichigo knew something was odd the moment he stepped into his mentor's shop. For one, Jinta was actually doing his chores, a faint bruise barely visible on his forehead, while Ururu was her normal self. Next, Kisuke was nowhere to be found, Tessai was located in the back looking over boxes of inventory, and he told him Kisuke was downstairs in the training room.
Who would he be training with? Hitsugaya's team was either patrolling or resting up for their turn. He had spotted Renji and Rukia heading towards their favorite restaurant on his way here. He didn't know where Yoruichi was at, but he didn't feel any sign that the cat-woman was near the shop, and he might not know the exact location, but he at least knew his friends' Spiritual Pressure enough to tell if they were nearby.
Well there was one way to find out. He headed down the ladder into the training room, leaving his physical body in the room he always seemed to end up in when he was injured. The moment he cleared the floorboards of the shop, he was coated in a thick layer of dust, whoever was sparring had been at it for awhile to kick up that much debris, he knew that from experience.
At the base of the ladder he found the answer, a now dust covered pile of clothing, and a familiar white strip of cloth were laying on the ground. So Inuyasha had found his way here, he wondered briefly how that had happened, and it was very briefly indeed because almost as soon as he found the clothing a powerful shockwave of blue light cut through the grit. He leaped out of the way, blocking the power residue with a hastily raised Zangetsu. Well that was odd. He had seen Benehime's power before, crimson princess was very fitting, her attack was red, not blue.
The energy wave had the effect of burning away a lot of the dust in the air, and now Ichigo could plainly see who was fighting. A shirtless Inuyasha was panting with exertion, blood running in rivulets from various shallow cuts. Kisuke was closing the gap between him and the Hanyou, his hat had been knocked off, the blonde locks fluttering in the breeze he made rushing towards Inuyasha.
Ichigo watched as Inuyasha rolled out of the path of the blow, coming up swinging his massive sword. Kisuke leaped back nimbly, sending a red wave of energy towards the Hanyou from the tip of his Zanpakuto. Inuyasha dodged again, and in a move that startled Ichigo, he made a motion with Tetsusaiga like he was cutting the air, and another of those blue energy waves issued from the blade.
As he watched Kisuke barely blocked the energy, even with Benehime shielding him from the attack, he was still thrown back several feet only years of practice keeping him from falling as he slid backwards. Next thing Ichigo saw was Inuyasha rushing forward taking advantage of Kisuke being off balance, the Hanyou coated his finger in the blood running down his chest, and shouting something that sounded like "Blades of Blood!" He tossed his hand, and what looked like red boomerangs flew from his hand, traveled across the distance, and one hit Kisuke on the cheek; a line of red started pouring down from the slice.
In that moment, Ichigo knew he had been right about Inuyasha the night before. He hadn't been trying to hurt them, he was defending himself, because with those kinds of attacks at his disposal he certainly wouldn't have yielded so easily had there been any real malice.
"I think that is enough for the day, we have an audience." Kisuke seemed content to ignore the blood now streaming down his cheek, and the disarray his clothes were thrown into as they fought.
Inuyasha listened to the shopkeeper, not completely dropping his guard until he saw the man sheath his sword. Only when that move was complete did he look around to find who was watching them. At the sight of spiky orange hair, he knew it was Ichigo.
Ichigo waited until the other two men came over to him before starting in on the question, "Inuyasha how did you find this place? How long were you two fighting? Those were some interesting attacks; Tetsusaiga has a few things in common with Zangetsu I wouldn't mind a spar to see how far that goes." He knew that was a lot of questions, but he forced himself to speak calmly, and not overwhelm the Hanyou like Rukia had that morning,
Inuyasha shared an odd look with Kisuke at Ichigo's first question; he took a moment to figure out the best way of salvaging this. Ichigo knew what Kisuke was, as he had taught him, but didn't know Isshin, there had to be a comprise, "I came here looking for a job, he realized what I am, and offered to spar with me for awhile. I may be able to help you with the Hollows." Inuyasha felt that was as safe an answer as he was going to find for the first question.
"Alright, that sounds good, we can use all the help we can get." If it had been anyone else speaking, that phrase would have sounded like a warm acceptance, from Ichigo it sounded like a serious business dealing.
Inuyasha wondered how old Ichigo was, now that he thought about it he realized Ichigo must be younger than his first impression had presented. Inuyasha knew for him to still be in school he must be in his teens; much younger than his words and expressions indicated.
Deciding to deal with that later, he finished answering Ichigo's questions, "I think we've been sparring for a few hours, I don't know for sure." He looked to Kisuke, who nodded in conformation of Inuyasha's answer.
"You were more blocking than fighting last night, give me a bit to heal and I wouldn't mind a spar with you." Inuyasha wouldn't deny it, he enjoyed fighting, just because he used his violent side to protect people didn't mean he didn't have it.
Kisuke quickly shook his head, "Not tonight. Ichigo you have an appointment you can't miss. Go get that taken care of, I will make sure Inuyasha is patched up and ready to go on patrol tonight." He said this both for Ichigo's benefit and to let Inuyasha know he had passed the test. Several hours of heavy sparring and the Hanyou hadn't surrendered, lost control, or fell to his blows. Kisuke hadn't had such a good workout since his last spar with Ichigo. Not that he would tell the boy that, Ichigo needed to train his power as far as it would go, if he didn't know where the normal limits were he had a better chance of surpassing them.
Ichigo looked wide-eyed, before he sighed in defeat, "How'd I guess you had a hand in it? You sent the Vizards to me, didn't you? I know Inuyasha didn't tell you about it, as I didn't say anything about when we would be meeting again."
"I am a, well for lack of a better word, friend to the Vizards. So yes, I knew about it, and I know it is the best ling for you. Go, I will take care of things here." Kisuke ordered, knowing Ichigo would look for any excuse to avoid the training he sorely needed. Ichigo needed some confidence. The orange haired Vizard was terrified he was going to hurt someone, and that fear was holding him back, and could possibly make him more dangerous in the end. It was better he learn control.
Inuyasha watched Ichigo dither for a few moments before making up his mind, slumping slightly as he stood, the reluctance was obvious in hid posture, and his voice was coated in it too as he replied, "Yeah, I know I need to go, I don't like it though."
"You don't have to like it, you just have to do it," Kisuke knew his words sounded harsh, and they were, but it had to happen that way. Ichigo had to fight passed this block in his mind.
"Ichigo," Inuyasha spoke up, surprising himself almost as much as the other two, "Don't be afraid of yourself. I spent years trying to blend in with humans so they wouldn't hunt me as a child, it never worked, and I would be driven out of the villages with the people throwing stones at me. If I had spent those same years training my strength, learning all I could about both sides of my heritage, those humans would still have run me out, but I would have been better prepared to take care of myself and avoid the rocks. You are only as dangerous as you allow yourself to be. Now get out of here and train until you drop, that is the only way you can keep those you care about out of danger."
Yes, Inuyasha was rash and impulsive, but he had spent three years thinking about the past, for once in his life he wasn't fighting for survival. His childhood was a painful memory, but looking back, he knew there were ways he could have survived it better. It was too late now, but Ichigo was now at a similar crossroads, and he couldn't not speak up. He wished someone had said those same things to him, maybe he wouldn't have gotten himself caught up in so many messes.
Ichigo locked his gaze with Inuyasha, gold meeting cinnamon as they stared each other down. Neither one backed down or looked away as they measured each other. Finally things clicked into place, and Ichigo nodded slowly, "Alright, I'll be going now. Take care of things until I get back."
Finally done stalling he quickly ascended the ladder and went for his body, now that he made the decision to go back he didn't want to be late.
Kisuke gave the still bleeding Hanyou a measuring look. "Thank you." He spoke simply, no games, jokes, or underhanded meanings. Inuyasha had just managed what both Kisuke and Yoruichi had been trying to get the boy to understand for months in the span of five minutes.
"How old is Ichigo?" Inuyasha asked impulsively, hoping for an answer, but not sure if he would like it.
"Fifteen," Kisuke responded. "He acts older, but I doubt he has even had his first kiss. The kid is too young to act that old."
"Hmm, Kagome was that old when I met her," Inuyasha thought, but at Kisuke's raised eyebrow he knew he had accidentally spoken aloud.
"Who is Kagome?" The shopkeeper asked curiously, he knew quite a bit about Inuyasha's past but over the last few hundred years there was nothing on him; it was as if he had traveled directly from the warring states period to now.
Inuyasha's ears dropped a bit, and a somewhat sad expression came over his face. "Kagome was my fiancée, she was a member of my pack during the times you spoke of, we were living peacefully but well, peace for me doesn't usually last."
Knowing he was probably over stepping his boundaries, Kisuke was too curious not to ask, "What happened to her?" He had caught the past tense Inuyasha had used.
"She betrayed me, we were supposed to have a pup together, when the child was born the baby wasn't mine." Inuyasha didn't realize how much pain he had locked away, that was the first time he admitted it out loud. The truth was stampeding over him, making his knees buckle, but he caught himself before hitting the ground. He had endured so much, this was just one more heart ache to add to the list.
His curiosity no longer driving him, instead he asked the next question out of the realization Inuyasha needed to talk, that physical reaction to his own words suggested the Hanyou hadn't dealt with the pain, and was bottling it inside. That was a recipe for disaster with as much power as the Hanyou possessed. "How long ago was this? For her to be part of your original pack this had to have happened hundreds of years ago."
The hollow laugh let out from Inuyasha had Kisuke second-guessing himself a bit, "No, it wasn't hundreds of years ago. The baby was born two days ago. I was searching for the Vizards to distract myself from it."
Kisuke couldn't get everything added up in his head, the only females recorded as part of his pack had been human; how on Earth had Kagome lived so long? "Was Kagome a Youkai?" Kisuke was confused, and Inuyasha was in pain, but nether wanted to give up the subject, Kisuke wanted answers and Inuyasha needed to talk.
"No, Kagome was a human, a Miko like my mother. She was capable of purifying evil, we met and grew close because she could sense the tainted Shikon No Tama, and I was strong enough to fight the demons in possession of the shards. It took us several years to track down all the pieces, and that was when the pack you read about came into being. We fought together to bring down our main opponent, the Shikon No Tama is a powerful thing. It could have made me a full demon. I chose to follow Kagome instead, remaining a Hanyou and using the jewel to heal the damage our battle had left on the land and people. We came back to her time and have lived together for three years. We were supposed to get married this spring, when she was recovered and the child was older." Inuyasha had only meant to answer the man's question over Kagome's species, but he hadn't been able to stop the story from spilling out.
Kisuke spent a good ten minutes digesting the information he had been given, watching with detached curiosity as the wounds he left on the Hanyou started to heal as time passed. Only when the bleeding on his own cheek stopped and wound began to knit back together did he speak again, there was one thing in the Hanyou's story that had struck Kisuke above the others. "Did you just say Kagome's time like it was different from yours?"
Inuyasha got the exact same expression on his face Ichigo had warn after Kisuke had reminded him about his appointment with the Vizards, it was comical how identical that look was, Kisuke would have smiled at it if Inuyasha's words hadn't drowned out his mirth. "You heard right. Kagome was from this time, I am from the warring states time, if it weren't for the interference of fate and a well I would be over five hundred years old right now, instead I am only about 200." That was a rough estimate, he wasn't sure exactly how old he was, the fifty years spent tacked to a tree had played havoc with his system and made his age hard to pinpoint.
If Kisuke had been a lesser man he might have collapsed in a pile of Shinigami at the shock, instead, his eyes widened and his knees felt like jelly. "So that's why you disappeared from the records. You really did travel directly here."
"Yes." Inuyasha replied simply, too emotionally drained to respond more. After the fight and the talk, he could use a good long soak in a hot spring and a nice tree to nap in.
He guessed he would settle for a bath and a bed. "I'm finished for now, if you want me on the streets tonight I will need some time." Inuyasha while being exhausted wasn't about to admit his weakness directly to the man that had dragged most of his secrets into the light.
Kisuke tilted his head in thought, recovering quickly from his shock. "I think if you turn to your left and walk a few paces you will find something you will enjoy, after that come upstairs, I have a spare room you may use today instead of tramping back and forth between here and Isshin's."
Inuyasha, too tired to respond, simply followed the directions given. Finding himself looking at a hot spring sunk into the ground a small smile curled on his face. He wouldn't have his favorite tree, but at least one good thing from his past was still around. Sinking up to his chin in the warm water, he felt the aches and pains of battle leave him. He would rest here, and then make good on his promise to protect this place. Kagome might be lost to him, but here was a place and people that needed him. He could live with that. Especially when the memory of determined cinnamon eyes staring into his own came back to him. Kisuke was right, that boy was too young to act so old. Maybe just maybe helping the serious young man could help Inuyasha heal, Kami knew both of them could use the support.