Yumichika looked down at Ikkaku's sleeping face, which was smooth, as always, relaxed for a change. He was, for lack of a better word, charming when he was asleep, simply because he looked so at ease and touchable. Usually, whenever Yumichika had the occasion to be awake while Ikkaku was asleep, he would indulge in the soft pleasure of tracing the scars on his chest, or find the delicate skin below the curve of his ear where he was ticklish just to watch him twitch and scowl in his sleep.

This time, however, Yumichika wanted nothing more than to draw his zanpakuto and do a fine job of separating that handsome, sleeping face from that equally handsome, scarred body.

"Don't even think about it."

Ikkaku's voice paused him, made him realize that he'd actually started to draw his zanpakuto, which somehow didn't surprise him.

Ikkaku's grey eyes slit open and he smiled. The bastard actually smiled.

"Too late," Yumichika hissed, quietly fuming. "I've already thought about it!"

Ikkaku sat up with a sigh, rubbing his bald head, the thin blanket sliding down to puddle in his lap. "You heard?"

"Who hasn't?" Yumichika asked, safely crossing his arms across his chest to resist the temptation to behead the man who caused him so much joy and sorrow...often simultaneously. "What were you thinking?"


"Oh, that's perfect. You weren't. Is that what you're going to tell Captain Kurosutchi when he comes asking?"

Ikkaku flopped back again, sighing. Yumichika gracefully lowered himself to sit a reasonable distance away, just to hammer home the idea that he was seriously displeased. Honestly, he put up with so much, and now this? Ikkaku had always been predictably unpredictable - when it came to fighting, he was guaranteed to accept, but never in the same way. When it came to drinking, he was a happy drunk, but never exactly the same any single time. When it came to his responsibilities, he would always complain, yet always perform them, but never when expected.

And when it came to women he knew that Ikkaku would leap at the chance, sober up, and promptly scoot back to Yumichika leaving nothing of himself behind except sweat on the sheets and some colorful bruises to remember him by.

This time, however, the subtle scent of perfume clung to his skin, which meant he hadn't bothered to so much as wash her off of himself.

Which meant he didn't care if Yumichika knew.

Which meant he intended to do it again.

Which meant that Yumichika would definitely have to behead him.

"I said don't, already!" Ikkaku said, a familiar wrinkle appearing between his brows as irritation seeped into both his voice and features. He slit one shrewd, grey eye and assessed the quietly seething man seated at his side. "When you think so hard about cutting my head off, it makes me thirsty."

"That doesn't even make sense," Yumichika said, careful to keep his arms crossed.

"It makes perfect sense," he argued. "Headless men can't drink sake."

"I can think of a few other things they can't do," Yumichika archly said, angling his nose up slightly to imply that he would be one of those things.

"Don't do that, either," Ikkaku said. "Here, here, now! Don't be mad! Don't be mad, I said! Come to bed, you're tired, that's all."

"I will not," Yumichika said, wrinkling his nose. "You stink like her."

"She doesn't stink, and jealousy doesn't suit you," Ikkaku countered. "Come here, let's do this tomorrow, I'm tired."

"I'm sure you are," he said, snide. "Sleep it off, then, Mister Madarame."

He slid gracefully to his feet and strode for the door, still ready to murder. At least he wasn't broken-hearted yet, but it was coming. He could feel it lurking just behind his anger and hurt, ready to crack all of his perceptions and let his fears rush in.

"Hey! Hey!" Ikkaku said, his voice rising simply because he normally operated at a louder volume and he knew that Yumichika would listen just to shut him up. "Where are you going? Come to bed, I said! It's late, don't be so angry until morning!"

Yumichika turned to shoot a sharp reply at him, but that was a mistake. If there was one thing in the world he could never resist, it was Ikkaku Madarame in all of his bewildered, uncomplicated, unrepentantly manly glory. He had that look on his face that Yumichika had first fallen for - his mouth pulled into a questioning frown, his brows drawn down, the vein in his temple starting to pulse as if he had no idea what had just happened or why but he didn't like it all the same. Usually that look was followed by a fight if it was aimed at a strong opponent. Sometimes it was followed by his hearty, irresistible laughter. Most times it was followed by Yumichika's soft smile, which let Ikkaku know that all sins were forgiven.

"Come to bed, I said," he repeated, a subtle stubbornness creeping into the bewilderment. And arrogance, too - he knew that Yumichika's anger was short-lived and often easily deflected.


"Eh?" One brow arched up. He was bulling up to be the wounded party and Yumichika knew it.

"Why did you do it?"

It was almost worse to see his broad shoulders rise in a shrug, to hear his raspy, rough voice simply throw out, "She was there."

"And I wasn't? Is that what you mean?" Oh, the tables always turned.

"I didn't say that," Ikkaku said. It seemed to surprise him.

"I don't want to come to bed with you when you haven't even cleaned up," Yumichika informed him. "Is this your respect for me?"

"Honestly, Yumichika, you take everything so personally," Ikkaku complained, rubbing his hand over his smooth head. "I was tired, that's all. Would it make you happy if I wash up?"

"I don't know," Yumichika said, his tone frosty. "Would that keep you in your pants?"

"I sort of have to take them off to wash..."

He couldn't help it. God help him, he laughed - or, rather, he couldn't suppress his smile, and Ikkaku saw it. His grin displayed his sharp white teeth and crinkled his fierce grey eyes, and he looked so damnably pleased with himself that it was impossible to refuse him.

"Ikkaku," Yumichika said, moving close enough to touch his cheek, secretly relieved when the man leaned into his touch and rolled his grey eyes up to see him, still grinning. "Stay with me..."

"I do stay with you," he said, utterly missing his meaning. "See? Here I am, scars and all."

"No, I mean..." He hesitated. It was always wise to show caution with Ikkaku. The man never pained him purposely, it was the thoughtlessness that hurt him, a simple difference in disposition. "What would you do if I slept with someone else?"

"Eh? What's this?" His grin melted to a scowl. The volume of his voice rose again, this time with outrage. "Heh? Yumichika! What kind of question is that?"

"A reasonable one, considering your penchant for liquor-induced affairs of the moment," Yumichika said, drawing back and letting his hand drop. "I'm asking you a question, Ikkaku - what would you do if I slept with someone else?"

"Like who?" Ikkaku demanded.

"Would it matter?" Yumichika asked, exasperated. "Anyone!"

"What?" Ikkaku bounced out of bed, naked as birth with livid nail marks scored down his ribs. "Anyone? You're telling me that you would sleep with anyone?"

"No! Ikkaku! Just answer me! What would you do?"

The man straightened to his full height, crossed his arms over his bare chest, and said with offended dignity, "I'd kill them."

Somehow, it wasn't surprising.

"Well," Yumichika said softly, taking a deep breath. "Should I go and dispose of Nemu, then? Or Hinamori? Or Rangiku? Or Sui Feng - "

"She would hurt you," Ikkaku interrupted, poking a finger in Yumichika's direction. "She did a number on me, remember? Tsk, she said I just confirmed that she likes women. What a thing to say afterward!"

"You're missing the point - why do you get to sleep around but I can't?" Yumichika said, laying it out for him.

Ikkaku frowned. It wasn't a bewildered one this time, or a ploy to get Yumichika to indulge him. It was actual, honest-to-goodness, serious frown.

"Because it always means something to you," he finally said, his words stilted and stiff when he admitted, "And because it doesn't mean anything to me unless it's you."

Strangely, it was touching; mostly because no one knew better than Yumichika how much it cost Ikkaku to say such a thing, especially if there was the slightest chance that their Lieutenant would overhear them.

"I can't have you finding someone better," Ikkaku said, and finished with a logic that was perfectly sound to his own mind, "And you don't have to worry I'll find anyone better because there isn't anybody - so it doesn't matter, like I said."

"I think I'm the only one in the world who would understand that, Ikkaku," Yumichika softly said, realizing that this was like everything else - simply a part of life with the man he adored, another hurdle to leap for the prize of being with Ikkaku. "Go clean up, will you? It isn't beautiful when you're in such a state."

"Fine, fine, I already said I would!" Ikkaku pointed out, a light stain on his cheeks matching his sudden discomfit. "I'm going, I said! You get some sleep."

He turned, the soft moonlight catching the slope of his muscular shoulders, throwing shadows on the ridges of his scars. How could a man be so physically strong but so utterly naive in matters of the heart? Love was not the black and white of a fight. It did not fall within the bounds of fair play or understand a personal code of honor. It would not yield when hit with the full force of a powerful swing but it would crumble at the subtle brush of fingers over strange flesh. Love was not a thing that a physically-grounded man like Ikkaku could grasp intellectually, but Yumichika knew that Ikkaku instinctively understood it very, very well.



"I'll join you."

And just like that, his smile was back. Any pain was worth it for the pleasure of touching him and knowing that he was happy to be touched. Any pain was worth it for the pleasure of being at his side, and it always had been.

"Yumichika," Ikkaku said, moving closer to drape his arm over the other man's shoulder. "What would I ever do without you? Don't scare me that way! Always thinking of cutting off my head!"

"Sorry," Yumichika said, leaning into his lean side, ignoring the cloying sweetness of perfume and the musk of a body that should never have been explored. "It's just so tempting sometimes."

"Well don't I said!" Ikkaku loudly complained, leading the way to the bath with Yumichika in the hollow of his arm. "Come on, let's have a bath and I'll make you glad you aren't mad at me."

"I thought you were tired."

And that smile...that smile - what wouldn't he do for that smile?

"Come on, I said, Yumichika! I'm never too tired for you."

It was only once they were back in bed, with Ikkaku curled closely around him, that Yumichika dared to ask, "Are you going to see her again?"

"I dunno," Ikkaku murmured, his silky lips moving against Yumichika's nape, his breath warm as it spilled over his skin. His corded arms tightened slightly, as if anticipating another flare of temper, but Yumichika was too satiated to consider it right now. He might be rough, rowdy, and an utter brute at times, but Ikkaku was as thorough a lover as he was a fighter.

"What is it about her, Ikkaku?"

The man sighed at his back, muscles shifting slightly as he moved to press more snugly to the curve of Yumichika's body.

"Do you remember when Kurosaki fought me?" he asked, mentioning one of the rare moments that had actually surprised Yumichika. Neither of them had thought that Ikkaku would lose to a fifteen year old, inexperienced boy - though what they knew of him now made them surprised that he'd managed to survive when Ichigo's powers had been so profound yet so uncontrolled.

"I remember."

"Captain Kurotsuchi came to question me. I thought he was going to dissect me there on the spot trying to get information..." He paused, gathering his thoughts. Expressing what went on in his mind was never easy for Ikkaku, Yumichika knew, which was probably why people assumed he was nothing more than a sake-loving, violent, brainless collection of muscle. Wily, yes; canny, oh indeed; driven by instinct, without a doubt, but Ikkaku Madarame was far, far from stupid. "She stalled him somehow."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Somehow...I dunno what she did, but he started to come at me and out of nowhere he started yelling at her to shut up. She hadn't said a word. I think it was just her disapproval."

"Disapproval? She routinely dissects living specimens, some of them are human, Ikkaku," Yumichika scoffed. "I think she had about as much empathy towards you as she has towards anything, which is none. There's something wrong with her, Lieutenant or not."

"At any rate, it was something in her eyes..."

The last time Yumichika had heard Ikkaku say anything along that sort was when they had finally come together as more than friends. Ikkaku had admitted in an endearing rush of embarrassment that there was something in Yumichika's eyes that lured him in. He either couldn't define it or refused to explain it, but every time they locked gazes, Yumichika remembered those words and felt a flush of happiness.

And now he'd found someone else with eyes that called to him.

"Here, here, now," Ikkaku said, feeling his tension. He spread his hand up Yumichika's bare chest and covered his pounding heart. "Go to sleep, I said. Why would you worry so much, Yumichika? I'm always with you."

Yumichika rested his smaller hand over Ikkaku's and breathed, "Except when you're not..."

"I'm always with you, I said," Ikkaku repeated, and gave him a borderline-sharp bite on his nape to hammer home his point. "You think anyone could take your place, heh? Not a chance, not a single chance!"

It would be consoling if Yumichika could say to himself, "That's right, I'm the most beautiful." But he knew that beauty factored very little into any estimation of Ikkaku's. For whatever unfathomable reason, the bald, fierce soul-reaper had accepted Yumichika without question and had never once based that on his looks. Yumichika's vain beauty was a bonus, not a necessity, and certainly not what kept Ikkaku so close to him.

"You're thinking too much, Yumichika," Ikkaku told him, settling back down. Even the sensation of his heated, smooth skin stretched over tight, lean muscle was enough to make Yumichika shiver, which Ikkaku mistook for a chill. "Relax, relax. Hold still and let me warm you up."

Yumichika sighed, relaxing as Ikkau's calloused hands chafed his arms, trying to draw heat to the surface beneath the thin blanket. Such a tender consideration from so rough a man, but then who had ever taught him the finer points? Unlike Yumichika, Ikkaku had not been raised in a restrained, noble household. Everything he knew of delicacy, he'd learned from the slim man in his arms. Even their first kiss had drawn blood, but never once had Ikkaku meant to hurt him...

"If I asked you not to see her again, would you respect my wishes?" he asked, deliberately snuggling his round bottom into the cup of Ikkaku's groin.

"Ah, Yumichika," Ikkaku sighed, sliding his hands around to embrace him tight again. "We both know you'd never ask me that. Now go to sleep, will you? I'm tired."

He said nothing in response, he just listened to Ikkaku's breath even out and deepen as he slipped into deep sleep. He knew that the dangerous, lovable man at his back would never forsake him, not for his own gain. He might tire of Yumichika, or yearn for something else, but he would never leave him. His honor wouldn't allow for it and their friendship was worth more to him than anything. If he somehow became entangled with Nemu, Ikkaku would refuse to turn Yumichika away, no matter if he wanted him gone. He was steadfast and stubborn, but neither one of those things added up to what Yumichika required of him.

The last thing a narcissist could do gracefully was share.

"If you see her again, I'll leave you," Yumichika murmured, though just to the dark, quiet room. He could never say it to Ikkaku directly simply because he couldn't bear the wounded expression he knew he'd get, couldn't bear the idea of hurting him. But he knew what he would do when Ikkaku came home with that perfume on his skin. He knew what he would do if there was a body in his bed in the place where his own should be. He'd only come to the Thirteen Court Guard Squads because Ikkaku had - if he no longer had Ikkaku, he no longer had any reason to stay.

He lay awake for a long time, memorizing the feel of Ikkaku's long, lean body at his back, trying to cling to the intangible for as long as he could because he knew that there was nothing that would stop Ikkaku if he wanted Nemu.

"Stay with me," he whispered, scalded to the depths of himself that he would ever need to beg - but Ikkaku was the only one who knew what lay beneath Yumichika's self-absorbed ego. "Stay with me..."

Ikkaku sighed at his back and shifted slightly, but never stirred from his easy slumber.