Stand in the Rain

Shadow of an Echo

A/N A few quick notes, first I gave Rikichi a last name since he has no official one. I picked it out of a list of common Japanese surnames, hopefully I got the spelling right. Also I added an actual time frame to the events in the story to give you a benchmark, I hope it helps put things into perspective. Now please enjoy the continuation.

Chapter Sixteen

The Road Home

"Ichigo Kurosaki I am releasing you back to the Living World, once there you will assist the team I am sending with their endeavors to find and destroy the source of the Arrancar infestation. The team will leave in three days' time." Ichigo had to resist the leap of joy he wanted to do at getting the expected orders. It had been so long since he had been home he was more than ready to see his family. A twinge of regret hit him at leaving Jyuushiro behind, but like Retsu said, at least they would still get to see him while they were away.

"Yes Head-Captain, I will be ready." He managed to collect himself enough to respond when he noticed the aged Shinigami waiting for an answer.

He was dismissed shortly after that to return to the Thirteenth and prepare to leave, there wasn't much to do since most of his things were on loan from the squad until he could return home and have access to his own again. He only really needed to take himself and Zangetsu.

Which meant Ichigo spent his last two days saying goodbye to the people he had grown close to. Everyone from the group meetings was on the list, and he ended the tour with the Seventh as he wanted to speak with Komamura again before he left.

The wolf like Captain was on the training fields, watching over his squad members as they sparred, but choosing not to participate himself just yet. When Ichigo walked over to him quite a few heads turned to inspect him before returning to their training. The story of the two beaten Soul Reapers had traveled around the squad since it had happened so close to their territory, and at least in this particular squad they were on the side of the victims. No one deserved to be hurt even if they didn't agree with their lifestyle choice personally. Ichigo showing up at their squad wasn't an incredibly noteworthy event when taking into account the situation they had both been involved in.

The only thing that did catch their attention was the secondary story of what happened in the aftermath of the attack. Ichigo had battled their Captain and not only survived but matched him, that kind of thing alone was cause for a second look.

Ichigo didn't say anything to them as he passed through, neither encouraging nor discouraging them, until he finally reached his goal. Komamura beat him to speaking though, "How have you been Ichigo?"

"I'm doing good, Retsu has finally cleared me of any lingering effects of the Seki-Seki, the Head-Captain is sending me back home to help support the others shipping out to deal with the Arrancar." He explained, feeling relaxed around the large but kind Captain.

"I'm glad to hear it." Komamura admitted gladly. "Rumor has it that you've been busy lately with a training project, how did that go?" The word of Ichigo's efforts had spread through the Captains, everyone curious to know how it would go. They knew how quickly Ichigo could learn, and it made them want to know how well he could teach.

"It went better than I expected, everyone worked very hard. I hadn't known word had spread around so much about it though," Ichigo confessed, his pride in his students making him answer before he did any kind of questioning.

Komamura laughed at that, the sound deep and a bit rough around the edges, "When a Captain is excited about something information passes around very quickly. You made a lot of people very curious about the situation." He was one of the few Captains fully aware of who Ichigo had been working with, Byakuya and Retsu quickly letting him know since he had been involved in the attack.

"They can protect themselves now, I suspect they will be promoted in their Squads, well at least in the case of Rikichi that is true, with Hanataro I don't know how the Fourth weights the skill of their Officers. Just because I taught him to fight doesn't mean he became a better healer in that time. I'm betting he will be working hard to increase that side of himself now though, he has motivation." He had no problem satisfying Komamura's curiosity, he had helped get Rikichi and Hanataro to safety, it would stand to reason he would want to know they were capable of defending themselves.

"With you teaching them I don't doubt they would grow in strength quickly." Komamura observed. "I wish I could tell you more about the Fourth but the workings of that squad aren't as well known to outsiders."

"It's okay, if I get too curious I can just ask Hanataro or Retsu." Ichigo brushed off the Captain's apology, he hadn't been looking for answers when he spoke; it was just musings.

"Yes, that would be for the best," Komamura agreed. "So you are being sent to the living world? I bet you are anxious to get back to your family. Though it sounds like you will have a lot of hard work to do when you get there. None of my members are going or I would introduce you before you headed out."

"I am ready to get back to my family for a while, people have treated me very well while I was here, but I still want to be home for a bit." He didn't need to bring up Jyuushiro and Shunsui here, too many people might overhear that could put the pieces together. He didn't want to get them turned in right when they were about to be separated. It would leave Jyuushiro exposed and possibly interfere with the mission. Best to just keep quiet about the whole thing.

"There is nothing quite like home," Komamura affirmed. "I wish you luck on the mission, and peace when you're gone. You've been through too much already, I don't like that we pulled an outsider into our mess, but I know better than to tell you to stop fighting."

"I was never an outsider." Ichigo responded quietly. "I was born a part of your world even if I didn't know or understand it at the time."

"What do you mean by that?" Komamura asked curiously, that hadn't sounded like Ichigo was talking about fate, instead it was something more concrete.

"I was born a Shinigami, my father was one. I don't know exactly why he left the ranks, but I do know he never came back because he met my mother." Ichigo explained, not feeling a need to hide that part of himself. What was the point? Most of the older Soul Reapers had known his father, why they didn't tell him about it was their own concern, though there was the possibility they thought he already knew and didn't see a point in bringing it up.

"It still isn't right that your choice was taken from you. You haven't been trained in the Academy or assigned a place in a squad. You should have no more responsibility towards this war than the souls in the Rukon. Aizen took that choice away from you. No matter how much many of us wish you didn't have to fight we know you will, you won't let the situation go without doing everything you can to help. That is just the person you are." Komamura observed gravely, not overreacting to hearing Ichigo's family history. It wasn't entirely unexpected from the way he had grown into his power so quickly.

Ichigo nodding, agreeing with his assessment, "I can't leave things as they are, not when it had gotten so personal. I was drawn into this mess long before he abducted me but that certainly helps to motivate me to keep going after him. He will not get away with he has done, and not just to me, this is about everyone he has hurt."

"I won't try and stop you from fighting, just don't lose sight of the good things you are fighting for. When you are surrounded by violence it is easy to forget there is more out there besides that." Komamura advised.

"Yeah I know. I have very good reasons not to forget, but I understand the traps people can fall into. Hopefully I can be strong enough to avoid them." The faces of his loves, family, and friends flashed through his mind. That was what he was fighting for, their safety, and his own peace of mind.

Captain and Substitute settled into an easy discussion of various training tactics as they watched the sparring Squad members around them. Komamura once again impressed with Ichigo, he was just as intelligent as he was powerful. He had faith this young man would make it far in Soul Society when he returned to them.

Soon after his talk with Komamura, and after saying goodbye to Jyuushiro, it was time to meet up at the Senkaimon and head home. Shunsui walked next to him through the gate, Hanataro, Rikichi, Ikkaku, Yumichika, and Isane followed. Hanataro and Rikichi were sent on the recommendation of their Captains, both young Soul Reapers practically buzzing with the honor. The Lieutenant in their midst was taken from the Fourth instead of bringing Nanao so they didn't leave any squad without at least their Lieutenant with them. There was already enough missing Captains to leave yet another Squad they would need to help govern in the missing Officer's stead. It didn't hurt that they were bringing two healers with them on a mission that more likely than not would involve fighting with extremely powerful opponents. The extra would definitely be appreciated in the aftermath of battle.

The Senkaimon opened in the Living World right outside Kisuke's shop. The minute Ichigo stepped out of the gate and onto the concrete sidewalk he took a deep breath and relaxed as the scents and sounds of home assaulted him. He nearly hit the ground when the reality hit him that he had survived, he was safe, and his family would be with him again soon.

Shunsui had been watching him carefully, expected some kind of reaction when he returned to his home. This allowed him to steady Ichigo when he started to swoon, releasing him once he was steady but keeping a comforting hand on his lower back. There wasn't anyone here that would say anything about it. That wasn't a coincidence either, there had been a bit of a conspiracy going on with the Captains. The people here were all hand-picked, mostly at the suggestion of Shunsui, and their individual Captains had recommended them so they could stall any future suspicion on the Head-Captain's part.

With Shunsui's help he made it into the store, only to have a body crash into him with enough force to knock the wind out of him, the distinctly feminine curves pressed against him proved it was Yoruichi even before he got a good look at her face. "Damn it Ichigo don't you ever do that again! Do you have any idea how much you scared us? We had no way to get to you or even send a message through. We didn't know if you were alive or dead. Your father has been worried sick about you, and the twins are inconsolable without their big brother. You have a lot of time missing to make up for!" He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't felt it for himself, but there were tears soaking into his Shihakusho from where her face was pressed against him.

"It wasn't like I planned to disappear like that," Okay he was fibbing a little, he had made a deal with Aizen, but he had been planning on finding a way to escape and that just didn't happen. "I'm back now though and I'm not planning on being held captive like that ever again."

"Well I certainly hope you didn't plan on it this time, no matter the next time," Kisuke broke in drily, at least he stayed the same. That was a relief to Ichigo, he did hope there was more like Kisuke to combat the ones likely to react like Yoruichi was.

Ichigo looked up from Yoruichi to glare at his mentor, "You should know I would never abandon everyone like that if I'd had a choice." Which was true, he had every intention of returning from Aizen.

By now Yoruichi was regaining control of herself and pulled away from Ichigo, "You'd better not, or we will save Aizen the trouble and kill you ourselves." She warned, the threat just as terror invoking as any of her other ones despite the drying tear tracks on her cheeks.

Shunsui responded to that one, bringing attention to the others entering the shop behind Ichigo. "Wouldn't that kind of defeat the purpose of keeping him safe?"

"Yes, but it should motivate him to keep his tail feathers out of the fire." Kisuke responded without pause, before a little smile graced his face. "It's good to see you again Shunsui." The familiarity was not as surprising to Ichigo as it should have been. It wasn't like his old mentors hadn't spent much time in Soul Society before their exile, it stood to reason they would still have old friends in the squads.

"I'm just glad you two have done so well with yourselves. Ichigo has spoken of you, and he appears to still be sane after learning from you, so it looks like you haven't changed a bit." Shunsui responded, throwing a mischievous grin at his love when speaking about him.

Kisuke looked around at his shop, "Yeah I guess we have done fairly well for ourselves. Would have been better had we gotten to stick around Seireitei long enough to do more research, but hey what can you do. The past is the past, and a little birdy had informed me that even the echoes will be gone soon. Ichigo was threatened, and he only gets stronger when that happens." He had been one of the few to keep his cool when Ichigo went missing, he had faith his student would find his way home, and here he was.

"We've seen that for ourselves," Shunsui informed, "He has a way of surprising people. Your student even took on teaching while he was gone, both of them came with us." Shunsui pointed out Hanataro and Rikichi as he spoke, bringing attention to the others.

Kisuke raised an eyebrow in interest at the situation, "So you decided to teach, interesting, I'd like to test that for myself." He directed at Ichigo.

"That would be up to them, but I bet they'd pass any test you threw at them," Ichigo's response only increased Kisuke's interest, making him inspect the two Shinigami in question.

"I recognize you, you're Hanataro; you belong to Retsu's squad." Kisuke picked out easily. "I don't think I've met you?" He invited Rikichi to introduce himself. "I'm Rikichi Maeda, I'm in the Sixth squad under Captain Kuchiki."

"Ah you're one of little Bya's members!" Yoruichi looked like she was going to pounce so Ichigo interrupted; thereby saving his student.

"They have picked up a lot in the time I've been teaching them, care to hazard a guess how much?" Ichigo challenged.

Measuring gazes passed over the two younger Soul Reapers as both ex-Captains looked them over. "At least one of them has a Bankai, I wouldn't expect anything less from your students." Yoruichi figured out.

"That one does," Kisuke pointed his cane, the hiding place of Benehime, at Hanataro. "The other has a Shikai that is still new to him."

"How did you manage to guess?" Hanataro asked in amazement.

"It's in the way you carry yourself. People with power stand a certain way, not hard to pick up on when you do it for fun when you get bored." Kisuke answered with a shrug.

Ichigo had to ask the question he'd been putting off, "Do you know where my dad is?" It was time to go see him. Though he did think it would be a good idea to see his dad first, if he had questions about his captivity Ichigo would rather not answer them in front of his sisters. He would shield them as much as he could from the reality of just how bad it had gotten.

"Normally I would say he's already on his way, but you've managed to control your Spiritual Pressure a lot better than you used to." Kisuke admitted, "I bet if you let it flare for a minute or two he will be here quickly."

"Hey Ichigo, I think it would be a good idea to get out of your way, the rest of us will go find a place to stay like we did last time," Yumichika offered, figuring Ichigo would like some time alone to reacquaint himself with his family.

"Thank you Yumichika," Ichigo responded gratefully, "I would appreciate that."

With that Yumichika, Ikkaku, and Isane left without fuss after Kisuke gave them their Gigais. Hanataro and Rikichi hovered by the door uncertainly, and Shunsui looked like he wasn't budging any time soon.

"Rikichi, Hanataro, you can stay," Ichigo allowed, making up their minds for them, "Shunsui I know better than to try to kick you out, so I'm not going to try."

"Good choice," Shunsui responded blandly, teasing Ichigo a bit, there was no force on Earth that would keep him from standing by Ichigo. He knew exactly how emotional Ichigo was likely to get when he met with his father and wanted to be there for him, even if he had to do it quietly until Ichigo was ready to tell about their relationship.

With that straightened out, once Hanataro and Rikichi had seated themselves at the round table Ichigo had plopped himself down at, and Shunsui already there; Ichigo closed his eyes and released his pent up power. It flooded out of him in a wave of pure energy, the others at the table getting goose bumps at the feeling. It had been awhile since Ichigo had willingly let go of his control.

He let it flare wildly for a few minutes, before reining it back in. Now they just had to wait, there was no way anyone with Spiritual sensing abilities in Karakura would have missed that.

Shunsui saw how tense Ichigo was waiting for Isshin to show up, and tried to comfort him, "It's going to be okay Ichigo. You shouldn't be nervous about him."

"I know I need to tell him what Aizen did, he will want to know, but I can't help getting anxious over talking about it." Ichigo confessed.

"Just remember we are right here, you aren't alone, and if you need to take a break or let one of us take over for a while, that is perfectly understandable so don't be afraid to let us know how we can help you." Shunsui assured.

He's barely gotten the sentence out when the familiar feel of Isshin's Spiritual Pressure proceeded him into the shop. He had forgone his gigai, coming in Spiritual form so he could move faster. Ichigo braced himself for what was to come just in time for Isshin to slam into him, way harder than Yoruichi had done.

One of Isshin's hands was running through Ichigo's orange hair, the other checking for injuries as the constant low mantra passed his lips, "You're safe, oh thank Kami, you're safe." That repeated over and over again until Ichigo interrupted him.

"It's okay Dad, I'm back. I'm all healed up, Retsu herself gave me clearance, I'll be fine." He managed to get the flood of words stopped, but Isshin refused to let go of his son.

"You might be fine now, but you definitely weren't before, we nearly lost you. Don't you dare try to deny it!" Isshin responded, his fears and worries over the past few months all boiling out at once. "You were gone for so long, there was no way you came through that completely in one piece."

"I won't deny it," Ichigo mumbled, "I know how close it came, but it didn't happen and I'm right here."

"Ichigo tell me please, what happened, I can't help you if I don't know?" The expected question came, a little sooner than Ichigo was ready for, but he knew he would never feel completely ready to have this conversation.

"You are going to want to sit down," Ichigo warned, his father's concern growing as he settled into an empty spot at the table, barely noticing the other people there.

"Okay Ichigo, I'm ready, now tell me?" Isshin's voice was determinedly encouraging. He needed to hear this, and he suspected Ichigo needed to talk about it in order to keep healing.

Looking at the table to make it easier to keep talking as opposed to looking at his father, Ichigo started to explain. "The first thing you need to know, and I really don't want to admit this, is that Aizen didn't kidnap me. I went to Hueco Mundo under my own power. That bastard had Orihime and I needed to get her back before they could kill her."

"Ichigo we know that much," Isshin confessed, "Your friend told us you saved her by taking her place. She has been tearing herself apart with guilt ever since you left, we keep trying to get through to her, but I doubt anything would except for her seeing you safe again."

Now it was Ichigo's turn to feel guilty, he had been so caught up in the moment he didn't think Orihime might end up blaming herself for his captivity. All he could think about was getting her safely out of there and even knowing what happened afterwards he would do it all over again if it meant sparing her the pain of Aizen's mind games. He would talk to her, and the rest of his friends, when he was done with his family. "They had been keeping her prisoner, but were treating her surprisingly well; I had no idea they would do things so much differently for me. I was not given a room with a bodyguard at all times, I was literally chained at Aizen's feet." Oh god the rush of memories slamming into him had his start to shake. This was harder than he thought it would be.

With a nod of his head towards Shunsui he gave his love permission to carry on with the story. "They kept him chained by using a collar of Seki-Seki stone around his neck, it rendered even his Hollow powerless. They kept him emotionally weakened by not allowing him to wear clothing during his captivity. Aizen would also pit him against the Espada in a training arena; they made him fight weaponless and kept his movements hobbled by attaching his chains to a pole sunk into the ground. They would do this 'training' at least once a day the entire time he was there." He tried to keep his voice as clinical as possible, but Shunsui found himself choking up when he had to explain some of the more humiliating details.

Isshin on his part had gone paler and paler the longer he listened to the story. Realizing it was such a painful topic they had already planned for someone to take over if Ichigo needed to stop. It was nearly as hard for Isshin to hear as it was for Ichigo to answer, all he wanted to do was wrap up Ichigo and hide him away until Aizen was rotting in his grave, but Isshin knew better than anyone that his son was too stubborn to stay away.

"Oh Ichigo, I had no idea how bad it was." Isshin admitted shakily, "How did you manage to get away? It sounds like it would have been nearly impossible."

"It was impossible, at least it was when I tried to break free on my own," Ichigo took over the explanation, having collected himself while Shunsui had taken over. "I had to have help to break out. One of the Espada helped me build up enough power to break the collar, and when I nearly collapsed in reaction to my power coming back he opened a Garganta and had to half-drag me back into Soul Society." He was at least trying to cover up the exact means of Grimmjow's help, hoping Isshin would not know the likeliest solution.

To Ichigo's relief Isshin glommed onto a different part of his explanation, "So there is a rogue Espada in his ranks. I'm not all that surprised, Hollows are difficult to control at all, and Arrancar have far more developed minds. They would fight against a ruler if they had any means at all of doing so. Especially if that ruler was a Shinigami like Aizen."

"You hit the nail on the head," Ichigo responded, "He told me pretty much exactly what you did. I don't know precisely how many of them are willing to go against Aizen, but I know of two of them as they were both involved in my escape."

"What has happened since you got back to Soul Society? I'm guessing you've been getting help dealing with this." Isshin wanted to know his son wasn't left alone with his demons. He was pretty sure that wasn't the case but he still needed to check.

"I've had a lot of help," Ichigo assured, "I've been staying with Captain Ukitake at the Thirteenth. Shunsui and Jyuushiro have been working together with Retsu to get me pulled back together." It felt weird to call Jyuushiro by his proper title, but he would give a token smokescreen to their true relationship for now. He would tell his father when he was calmed down from his return. At least once that one formality was over, his habit of dropping titles was well known enough it wasn't taken as unusual that he did so with the people he was working closely with.

"Thank you for taking care of him," Isshin addressed Shunsui directly. "I'm glad he had someone there for him. You three were always the Captains I had the most respect for."

"It was no problem to give him support," Shunsui assured, "He needed healing so we helped him chase away the past. He has come a long way since he joined us." There was a slight double meaning in that sentence but Isshin wouldn't be able to pick that up until he knew about the trio his son was a part of.

"I can tell that," Isshin agreed with the assessment, "He's stronger than before, and he has control now. That's another thing I need to thank you for."

"Actually the control part wasn't our doing," Shunsui confessed with a fond smile at Ichigo. "He has been learning Kido from the Lieutenant of the Third, Izuru Kira. He has also begun to learn healing from Isane, he is proving to have a talent for it."

Isshin's grin was blinding at hearing that, "You're following in my footsteps, I was a healer too; before I became a Captain I was a Lieutenant in the Fourth." This revelation caused Hanataro to gasp.

Isshin was calmed down enough to pay attention to others now, so he switched focus to Hanataro, "Hello there, I don't think I have met you, either of you." He added the last part when he glanced at Rikichi and couldn't place him.

"I'm a member of the Fourth now, my name is Hanataro Yamada." He spoke with a little awe in his voice, he had a fascination for strong healers and now here was one of them, in the family of a close friend on top of that.

"So that's why you reacted to what I said," Isshin realized, "It's been a long time but I did enjoy my time there, and Retsu and I remained friends until I left."

"It's a pleasure to meet you sir." Hanataro responded honestly, only to hear laughter from the older man.

"It's just Isshin, I don't stand on formality much, must be where Ichigo picked it up," Isshin allowed, watching his son puff up in indignation at the comment about him. Isshin headed off the impending explosion by speaking to Rikichi, "What's your name? Don't be shy, there isn't a need for that around me." He assured, directing it to both Hanataro and Rikichi.

"I'm Rikichi Maeda, I'm in the Sixth squad." He found himself liking Isshin, he really cared about his son, but was very relaxed and easy to talk to when he pulled himself back together.

"Ah, that's the realm of the Kuchikis, must have been interesting for you. I haven't met the current head of the family, but I knew Ginrei." Isshin replied with a bit of nostalgia.

"Ginrei is Byakuya's grandfather," Yoruichi explained, her and Kisuke had been hanging in the background while Ichigo's story was being told, each of them holding back their own horror at the situation Ichigo had managed to survive.

"Hmm, poor kid, Ginrei was a good Captain, but a little stuffy to be teaching a child," Isshin observed.

Yoruichi laughed, remembering several incidents that had proven amusing when she baited the young heir, "It was even more difficult when Byakuya proved to be just as wild as Ichigo. He's settled down quite a bit, but I'm willing to bet if he was provoked right he would revert." She had been almost sad to see the changed in Byakuya when she followed Ichigo back to the Seireitei. Time did that to a person, but she would love to see him with joy in his eyes again.

"Maybe we should try it?" Ichigo suggested, a devilish glint in his eyes, As much as he had grown to respect the noble, he couldn't quite resist the urge to tease him.

"Sometimes it's best not to poke a bear, but I think this time it might be worth it," Yoruichi mused.

Rikichi had been attempting to hold back his laughter since his Captain had been brought up in a way that accented his misspent youth, but it was proving to be too difficult and his soft laughs drew attention back to him, "Sorry but I can't help imagining my Captain acting like that. It is almost more than I can believe."

"Oh it's very true, I used to mess with him all the time, he was very fun to get worked up," Yoruichi confessed, with a look on her face that left no doubt she was plotting something, probably along the lines of what Ichigo suggested.

"May I ask one thing?" Isshin interrupted, changing the topic away from Byakuya, "I can understand Shunsui being here, but why did you two stay for this? I'm not mad just curious." He asked gently, not wanting them to think he was upset the pair of Shinigami were there, Ichigo obviously let them, he simply wanted to know why.

"I trained them when I was in the Soul Society. I am nearly as close to them as I am to Jyuushiro and Shunsui. They helped me get my strength back," Ichigo explained, "Plus they already knew most of the story from spending time with me."

"How did the training go?" This was the first time he had heard of his son taking on teaching.

"We loved it," Hanataro answered for the both of them, "Rikichi and I had run into some trouble with a group of thugs. Ichigo found us all beaten up, and when he visited us in the Fourth he offered to train us. I know I can talk for the both of us when I say we are very thankful for his help, and we tried to get the most out of it as we could."

Ichigo had to hold back a snort, some of it leaking through, "They did amazing. I got Hanataro up to Bankai and he is learning how to use it more every day, and Rikichi started not knowing the name of his Zanpakuto and now he has a fully controlled Shikai."

"Pretty impressive, on both sides," Isshin commented, "So does everyone have a place to stay while you are here?"

"I'm staying with Kisuke," Shunsui explained, the arrangements made in advance after Ichigo and him had deciding being under the same roof would be more than a little distracting and the shop was going to be mission headquarters, they would see each other every day.

"We weren't sure where to go, we were going to look around for someplace cheap to rent," Rikichi answered first. Hanataro had gotten a job the last time he had come to the Living World, his and Ganju's salaries had been enough to rent a small apartment, it was tight quarters but they managed it.

"Save on the rent, my daughters know about Soul Society now, we had to tell them to explain why Ichigo was gone; you two can stay with us. We have the room." He offered, figuring they could put the twins together in one, they were prone to crawling in bed together anyway when they needed comfort at least with this excuse they wouldn't have to sneak around. Doing that would free up the other room for the two Soul Reapers.

"You would really let us into your home?" Hanataro asked cautiously.

"Ichigo trusts you, that's enough for me, and it isn't like we have never housed a Shinigami before," Isshin responded simply with a shrug.

"Thank you, that means a lot to us," Rikichi accepted after a quick look at Hanataro and getting a nod of assent.

"Then come with us, we will get you settled in while the girls tackle their brother," Isshin invited with a laugh at the pictured reaction of his children's reunion.

With a last goodbye to Shunsui, Yoruichi, and Kisuke; Ichigo and Isshin left for home trailing the two invited Soul Reapers.

This left Shunsui alone with the two ex-Captains, and he was immediately the recipient of two very piercing gazes. He sighed in resignation before speaking, "Alright, just go ahead and ask," He ordered, knowing what the next question would probably be.

Kisuke beat Yoruichi to the question, "So how long have you been together with Ichigo?"

"Officially? A little less than a month. It feels like a lot longer though." Shunsui admitted. "Jyuushiro and I talked about it off and on for a while before an opportunity came to approach Ichigo." There was no need to hide the fact they were a trio from these two. Yoruichi had been a full-fledged member of their meetings, and Kisuke was a supporter. They had been around for one of their previous tries at adding a third.

Shunsui spared a brief thought for how they might react to the knowledge of who the previous try had been. That had been after they left Seireitei. He decided to keep quiet about it for now, they were putting him on the spot enough already.

"So it was you that approached him?" Yoruichi asked, wanting to get the facts straight to help her understand the situation.

"It ended up being a mixed up mutual kind of thing," Shunsui informed. "He had been talking with Jyuushiro, and it got to the point he was worked up enough to touch him. It wasn't like he did anything that bad, just brushed his hair away from Jyuushiro's face, but he ran away like a thousand Hollows were after him, plus all the Espada. His reaction to the event was our signal to approach him, he would not have reacted so strongly to what he had done if he didn't have thoughts about going further. When he ran instead of trying to push the issue with Jyuushiro also let us know how much he cared, and the lengths he would go to protect us by distancing himself from something he clearly wanted."

"How much did you tell him about what he would be getting himself into?" Yoruichi's voice was both worried and challenging. They had better have done the right thing by her student or they would find themselves mauled by a certain talkative feline.

"We told him everything about both the good and bad things, we gave him more than one chance to walk away if the consequences were too much to handle. He even saw some of it first hand, Hanataro mentioned him and Rikichi had a problem with some thugs in the Seireitei, it's because they were caught together. They were injured badly enough it took a full week for them to be healed enough Ichigo could train them, and you know how good Retsu is at healing. Rikichi had a pretty bad head wound, Hanataro broke a couple ribs." Shunsui's voice was sorrowful as he explained what happened to the young couple. It was far more than they should have had to handle. "Ichigo really did find them by the way, he was first on the scene and had to drive the mongrels who did it away from them."

"Ichigo had been through way too much," Yoruichi realized, "Please tell me you did not go to him out of pity? He will not be able to handle much more trauma before he breaks."

"We would never do something this serious out of pity or guilt, we both love him very deeply. I fell in love with him because of his strength and his kindness, what he went through at Aizen's hands could have very easily made him bitter and angry; but in the end he is all the more gentle with people. His rage is solely directed at Aizen. His perseverance was something that caused us to take notice of him as more than just a student. He has a very pure soul and we both want to keep it that way. Jyuushiro was drawn to both his gentle side, and his will to protect above everything else. You should see the way Ichigo handles his insecurities about his illness. He surprises us every day with new observations about us that make us want to melt. When we are together it just fits so naturally. Like we are an extension of each other, Jyuushiro and I didn't just insert him into our relationship, he helped it grow into something new and even stronger than we were before." Once Shunsui started talking he couldn't bring himself to stop. Ichigo was so wonderful he could keep talking for hours about it, but he could see he had already won them over when the tension relaxed out of their muscles.

Kisuke was the first to respond, "I for one trust you two to make the right calls when it comes to him, but we had to make sure. He had many people just as protective of him as he is of everyone else, the people in this room included. If anything were to happen to him after this the person responsible will not get off lightly."

"Ichigo will never come to harm from either Jyuushiro or myself, we would lay down our lives for him, as he would for us. You're welcome to observe how we act while we stay here, just to assure you I have only good intentions towards him." Shunsui insisted sincerely.

"We will make sure you keep that promise." Yoruichi said sternly.

"Nothing will ever make me break it." Shunsui promised.