[Full Summary] – A war's long arms reach out to twelve exiles. Do they fight for a world that rejected them, fight a man that ruined them, or turn their backs on it all? Yoruichi, the former Shihōin Clan Princess, and Shiba Ichigo, the former head of the Shiba Clan, fall into an altercation with this issue at its center. But these jilted ex-soldiers have much more than war at the forefront of their minds. A century worth of issues are lurking at the surface.

Between strange human idioms and a few passionate clashes, they will need to come to a decision. And, along the way, they will find the definition of home.

[Notes] – This is an idea I had when I was contemplating what it'd be like if Ichigo's soul was born at a different time. Mainly, I decided to wrench him back a ridiculous amount of centuries so that he would have been in the Academy along with Kyōraku Shunsui and Ukitake Jūshirō. I have his past hashed out quite well and have legit reasons for why his character in this is how it is, but you lovely readers won't get the full story in this little oneshot – just hints and passing comments.

And if this concept isn't strange and completely AU enough, I decided to take a rare pairing (Ichigo x Yoruichi) and bring it to life. I also have the back story of their relationship hashed out as well but again, you readers will only get bits and pieces of it. Pretty sure this is kinda out there as far a Bleach-fic-concepts go, so I guess I'll just have to see what kind of response I get. So! Here's to hoping this makes sense. Happy reading!

[Warnings] – Some violence, some sexual content (though nothing extremely explicit), swearing, and probably some OOC (after all, Ichigo has lived a very different life than canon Ichigo).

[Disclaimer] - Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo, I make no profit from this and blah blah blah. I write and mess with the wonderful universe of Bleach just for my own entertainment.

[Of Two Minds]

"Enough!" Ichigo threw one last forceful blow towards Yoruichi's sternum that she would be forced to dodge and put some actual distance between them or risk a severely broken clavicle.

Just as he thought, the woman he'd long called his wife dodged gracefully and skidded to a stop ten paces from him. She straightened from her crouched position and eyed him warily, left arm bleeding freely and hanging limply at her side – most likely dislocated, he thought distractedly.

"Enough," he repeated, voice calmer, less raw.

Even from a distance he could see Yoruichi's jaw clench as her golden eyes narrowed on his stiff form. Fury was still pouring off both of them in waves but this spar (if one could call actively trying to decapitate one's significant other a spar) was getting them nowhere.

"Tch. Always so calm, so composed. It's refreshing to see you lash out for once, Ichi-chan. How's it feel to be brought down to the level of us lesser beings?" Yoruichi's face sneered at him, beautiful mocha features twisting as she managed to look down on him. Quite a feat at her distance and height, but if his Yoru-chan was one thing, it was imposing. Not that he was intimidated, but it did serve the purpose of irritating him beyond belief.

He could feel the reiatsu signatures of Kisuke, Shinji, and the others scattered on a few of the buildings he and Yoruichi had spared nearby, observing their latest domestic dispute, but he paid them no mind as he refocused on the enraged coiled form of his wife. She may have straightened up but she could still spring into action at the slightest moment. Her dark hooded sweatshirt was shredded in places almost tactically revealing tempting slivers of flesh. He had to forcefully pull his thoughts away from the road they were embarking on and refocus on the avenging angel in front of him.

She bared her teeth at him, a sort of hissing sound escaping that was mightily similar to one she'd make in her cat form, so much that he had to stomp down the urge to twitch a smile. How cute, just like he'd planned, his lack of reaction to her taunts was morphing into a sure-shot way to rile her up.

"You would turn your back on all of them, Ichigo?"

The fury he was just barely keeping at bay reared its head with a vengeance, reiatsu snapping out at Yoruichi violently. If it were anyone else in front of him the wave would've sent them flying back, as it was, she was long used to his reiatsu and stumbled – neck jolting to the side as if he'd slapped her. Her long plum hair, fallen from its telltale high ponytail many blows ago, whipped around her as if possessing its own ire. She reaffirmed her stance where she faced him midair, quite a ways above the demolished streets of whatever human city they were in. Her glare intensified and he couldn't remember a time she'd ever been this angry at him. Just as well because he couldn't remember ever feeling this enraged urge to rip her to pieces.

"Yes!" he spat at her, spittle flying from his gritted teeth. He had a feeling they resembled a pair of snarling animals.

If possible, even more contempt entered Yoruichi's expression. Her voice was low but carried to him effortlessly, "Coward." There was a tremor at the end of her utterance that spoke of pure rage. Blood was beginning to drip from her hairline and she brushed at it with an air of aggravation using her good arm.

"Don't you at least owe Shunsui-san and Jūshirō-san that much?"

"I owe them nothing!" Ichigo roared at her, voice shaking from its abrupt shift in volume. Yoruichi's eyes widened as he stalked closer to her in order to jab his finger at her chest.

"In case you've forgotten, Princess," Ichigo ground out the pet-name he usually used so flippantly, "They turned their back on us. And if you recall, NONE of us would be here if it weren't for your actions. Where were they, Yoru-chan? We were to be executed! No one fucking batted an eye. They all took perfect-Aizen-fukutaicho's word for it and we were to be killed. Over half of Soul Society's upper echelon disposed of on the word of a goddamn lieutenant! We would be dead if you hadn't stepped in. Do you understand, sweetcheeks? Fucking Dead. But we're not and it's no thanks to them. And sorry, but I'm just not for all that forgiveness bullshit. I. Owe. Them. Nothing." Each word was spit out clearly and succinctly, and he punctuated the last one with a well placed shove to Yoruichi's injured shoulder as he turned to shunpo away.

"And I suppose Soifon mean nothing, either? The child we practically raised as our own, the little girl Aizen forced us to abandon? You won't even give her a second look—"

"Do NOT!" Ichigo did a turnabout in a second and was pointing at Yoruichi, arm rigid. Something in his expression must have made her pause, for her mouth clicked shut and her golden eyes siphoned through a multitude of emotions before abruptly going blank. He didn't have the patience to decipher her expression, though if he were in his right mind it would have been second nature. His wife had never been able to mask her feelings from him.

"Do not," his voice was grief laden and he closed his eyes to hide the pain that was inevitably flashing through them. Then he flash-stepped away before another word could be said.

Yoruichi's keening scream of anguish echoed behind him but his steps never faltered.

On a rooftop that somehow escaped Ichigo and Yoruichi's wrath, Shinji stared at the space Ichigo had been standing not a second before. Yoruichi's heart wrenching scream seemed to stretch on long after the Flash Goddess had disappeared in the opposite direction of her husband.

When the yelling had started a little over forty-five minutes ago, they were all about to sit down for their weekly lunch that Tessai always insisted they gather for. Shinji had thought it was just another one of their spats.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

"No, Lisa-chan." Kisuke's voice cut through Shinji's thoughts as the scientist grabbed Lisa's wrist to keep her from going after Yoruichi.

"We're just going to leave them? Because I don't know about all of you, but that was not a normal fight."

Kisuke's lips thinned as he lowered his head, letting his hat put his expression in shadow. His signature fan was lost in the chaos that followed Yoruichi's first earth-shattering strike.

"They need space, Lisa-chan," Kisuke's voice was light but the unusually grave undertone kept everyone still.

Shinji hummed in agreement, staring up at the cheery blue sky dotted with the occasional cloud lazily floating about. "Kisuke's right. They'll be fine. We'll find Yoruichi back at home four bottles of Bacardi in and Kisuke and I will go extract Ichigo from whatever dive of a bar he's situated himself in sometime around 4a.m. Business as usual."

"I've never seen them fight like that," Hiyori's voice was quiet for once, and her eyes were unusually wide, as if still trying to convince her brain of what she'd just witnessed.

"They weren't serious," Shinji shrugged, bringing his gaze away from the deceptive sky. He felt…weary.

Kensei snorted in disbelief, "Shinji, some, if not all, of those blows could've killed."

"They've been sparring together too long for any of those hits to have been a real threat." Shinji took a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly. "Yeah, there was probably some legit killing intent there but they both know each other's styles inside and out. There aren't many people who can claim competency with Hakuda on a level such as theirs. No real danger, ne, Kisuke?"

"Neither pulled their zanpakutō, there was no real desire to maim. It was just…sexual frustration!"

Shinji sweatdropped before sighing in resignation as Hiyori's sandal went flying towards Kisuke's head along with a slew of insults to her former captain.

"They've fought over what to have for breakfast before and we didn't see Ichigo for like a week…we should go after them! Otherwise it'll be like a fucking decade before we see hide or hair of them!" Lisa looked frantic as she edged in the direction Yoruichi took off in.

"Maa, Lisa-chan," Rose leveled her with his calm violet gaze, "They've fought like this one other time and they're still married. They will be fine."

"Aa, why do you think Training Ground 14 appeared? It used to be an additional housing district before Ichigo-san and Yoruichi-san leveled it to the ground after what became the infamous Kitten-Tomato Incident," Love smirked, having relaxed now that the excitement seemed to be over.

Shinji blinked at his afro-haired friend. The kitten-what-incident? Shinji shook his head and decided not to comment, if only for his continued good mental health.

"Not to mention I've only seen Ichigo's zanpakutō once and I was half-conscious at the time. I doubt he'd kill his wife without honoring her with a proper death-by-zanpakutō."

Hiyori, seemingly finished trying to beat Kisuke to death with her sandal, was giving him a look as if questioning his cerebral capabilities—but the disheveled Kisuke snickered, as did Mashiro, so he'd count that as a win.

"I'm hungry!" Mashiro quipped. "Berry-tan and Neko-chii interrupted lunch." She had on a pronounced pout and her hazel eyes were deliberately wide, most likely a misinformed attempt at a hangdog expression. Needless to say, the effect washed harmlessly over everyone.

The expected whining started up as Shinji turned and started making his way slowly back to the warehouse. He'd let Kensei deal with Mashiro's antics. A sly glance back and he could already see the tick forming and the spasmodic clenching of the man's fists as the exuberant green-ette clung to his arm lamenting her 'grumbling tummy'.

The others fell in step around him without fanfare and surprisingly enough, Hiyori came up to walk beside him. As they shunpoed to the next structurally sound building, Hiyori brooked the subject all of them had skirted earlier.

"Ne, Shinji…what about what Ichigo was talkin' about?"

"What about it, Hiyori?"

"Che, Idiot!" he deftly dodged the customary sandal to the head and kept his steps steady as he touched down on a side street to blend in with the bustling humans.

"What are we gonna do about Aizen!"

Hiyori's shout reached the rest of their companions and even Mashiro's incessant whining ceased.

Shinji gave Hiyori a deadpan look but before the short-fused blonde could explode and begin one of her routine tirades, he replied.

"I guess that depends on what Ichigo and Yoruichi decide."

"What, so we're just gonna do what they do?"

Shinji looked up at the sky as if asking a higher power for strength. Bringing his attention back to Earth he noticed that Hiyori was frowning something fierce but not so much in her usual angry-I-hate-you-so-fucking-much-Shinji-fashion, but more in a, I'm-thinking-harder-than-I-usually-do-way.

Giving a cursory glance at his companions, he noticed their attention was solely focused on Hiyori and his conversation. He suppressed another sigh.

"No, shitforbrains," Hiyori scowled at his taunt but didn't lash out violently for once, "We all do whatever we want but it'd be nice to figure out what our resident marital-duo decides first. Cuz honestly, if I decide ta give Aizen a piece of my mind, I'd like to know how many people I've got behind me. And speakin' from experience, Ichigo's a good guy to have at your back."

"Humph, well I'm with Ichigo!" Hiyori spouted, "Those assholes don't deserve our help! Why Yoruichi wants to help them is beyond me…"

Hiyori purposefully ignored his mumble of how most things were beyond her.

"Yoruichi wasn't sentenced to death, Hiyori," Kisuke's quiet voice came from a few paces behind them. "For all intents and purposes, her exile was voluntary."

Shinji hummed in agreement. "She also didn't have much holding her there other than Soifon-chan. Most of the people she held dear had just been sentenced ta death or exile or eternal imprisonment so it probably wasn't much of a challenge to decide to leave everythin' behind. I know for a fact the hardest decision she made was whether ta take Soifon-chan along or leave her to live her life in Soul Society. Obviously, we all know what choice she made.

"Ichigo on the other hand feels quite a bit more betrayal and that man can hold a grudge like no other."

"Aren't we all holding a grudge?" Lisa inquired dryly, one delicate eyebrow raised over her spectacles at Shinji.

"Mah, you could say that, but I've always got the impression that Ichigo's grudge runs quite a bit deeper." Lisa's mouth opened to rebut his statement but he elaborated before she could get a word in edgewise.

"I don't know about some of you, but I'm a Rukongai-rat. Don't have family. Got some acquaintances and a few in the Gotei 13 righ' now that I'd like ta call friends and did once upon a time. But ya see, Ichigo has roots. Guy's got a pedigree. He's a Kuchiki and a Shiba, that's two of the Five Great Noble Clans right there and he married into the Shihōin Clan—a third. The 17th head of the Shiba clan, ex-Commander-in-Chief of the freaking Onmitsukidō for over a millennia. An unmatched strategist; widely lauded as a prodigy. Those aren't stats to be taken lightly.

"He's got family there and two best friends that have the Sōtaichō's ear. Hell, Ichigo had the old man's ear too. But they chucked him away. Ichigo held weight, if his clan, the Kuchiki Clan and the Shihōin had all banded together, not even Central 46 could've bulldozed through them. But no one did anything. Everyone took the word of my two-faced-son-of-a-bitch-lieutenant.

"No doubt that hurt more than he's ever let on. Hell, I'm sure we only saw a sliver of that pain today."

Shinji went quiet and the only sounds were everyone's quite steps around him and the bustle of the humans surrounding them as they went obliviously on with their daily lives.

Shinji let lose another sigh and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his slacks.

"Well ain't this just depressin'."

There were quite a few hums of agreement and answering sighs as they finally entered the more deserted section of the city that housed the warehouse they tentatively called home.

"But the thing I keep thinkin' of is tha' Soul Society is still the place I call home, whether I like it or not. Probably the same to you lot too. I know Ichigo still sees it as such, as does Yoruichi. An' that bastard Aizen is threatin' it. There's where our dilemma comes in. Either way, this war ain't stoppin' on our account. We gotta make our decision."

With that said, Shinji kicked open the door to the place they'd all haunted for the past six years and made his way into the loft as everyone filed in behind him, contemplatively silent. Damn, he talked a lot there. But they needed to hear it because whether they liked it or not, a choice had to be made. And soon.

Ichigo internally fumed as he signaled the bartender for another Whiskey Neat. He'd been stewing in fury since he arrived at this dive of a joint quite a few hours before. Honestly he wasn't even sure how long it'd been, just that he was on drink number…well lets just say quite a few drinks in.

The bartender seemed to sense his mood because his drink was promptly placed before him. Ichigo gave the poor sap a nod of appreciation before focusing on the burnished liquid he swirled around. After staring down at the whiskey for longer than necessary, he took a gulp. Couldn't even fucking taste the shit anymore. And wasn't that something? Cuz it was damn hard to get him drunk.

Fuck. Was he drunk?

He'd been going from bar to bar all day. Ever since he got the hell away from his crazy wife earlier.

And this day had started off so well too.

Ichigo sighed and drained the rest of his drink, irritation creeping up again. Fucking Yoruichi. What right did she have to tell him to fight? To fight for those lowlife scum. It pissed him off more knowing that if any of them had been the ones hollowfied he would've brought Soul Society to its knees for them.

And obviously that favor wouldn't be returned.

"Well some people aren't as strong or thick-headed as you are, obviously. Come on, Ich. You ever heard of self-preservation?"

Her stupid, grating voice echoed in his ears. Her words from earlier today ricocheting within his mind without mercy. Persistently trying to continue this tedious, ongoing, argument that wouldn't shut-the-fuck-up. The dumb bitch wasn't even here to prolong it, yet he was still managing all on his own.

Che. Self-preservation his ass. Cowards was more like it. Yoruichi and he had self-preservation in spades. Hell even Kisuke did, come to think of it.

"What, so you in all your infinite wisdom were executing your own special brand of self-preservation by risking everything to secrete eleven Shinigami out of Soul Society and into the world of the living?"

"'Couse I was. You think I would've been able to live with myself if I didn't do something to save your sorry ass? Self-preservation, babe."

The argument hadn't even been anything out of the ordinary at that point. Business as usual, really. What was that human saying? Beating a dead horse? It was definitely one of those arguments. Routine at this point. But apparently today had been a breaking point for Yoruichi.

One minute he was just calmly (reflexively) countering her usual arguments about why he did not give two flying fucks about Aizen and the Gotei 13 and the next she was aiming a Gatoringu Jidanda right at his head. And there was no pretending that didn't happen. You can't just brush off multiple high-powered foot stomps aimed at your head.

Obviously that was her plan all along. She wanted him to react. Oh he reacted all right. Though he was pretty positive even she didn't expect the full on brawl that erupted. They hadn't fought like that since they'd demolished that housing district that was later transformed into Training Ground 14 because they ravaged the foundations beyond repair or something. He wasn't really listening to the dressing down he'd received afterwards from Yama-jii.

He hoped she was pleased with the response she got. Fucking devil-she-cat.

The sound of another drink being placed in front of him brought him out of his ruminations. He nodded at the bartender once more in thanks.

"You know the time?"

The bartender blinked muddy-brown eyes at him and pulled out a mobile phone. He was probably surprised that Ichigo could talk. The only thing he'd said since he arrived was 'Whiskey Neat' all the while handing the kid his card so a tab could be opened.

"It's 11:27p.m."

He grunted in reply and downed the new drink in one go. "Close my tab, will ya?"

The bartender nodded and scurried away to do his bidding. Ichigo ran a hand through his bright hair, frustration lacing his movements.

Should he hit up another bar or jump town for a bit? Go check out some auctions around the country? It'd been a while since he'd been able to pilfer for some good merchandise. It might be nice to take his mind off the fuckery his life had just descended into.

His mouth twisted down into a frown at the thought. That would be par for the course for him but it just didn't sit right—leaving everyone when the current conflict with Aizen was at its peak.

Yoruichi pissed him off on a good day but he still loved the woman…more than he ever thought he was capable of.

His card and bill was placed in front of him along with a pen. He scanned the total, not even batting an eye at the astronomical price he'd raked up in a place that wasn't even that spend-y. Twenty-seven Whiskey Neats and one Whiskey Sour. Huh, way to branch out and throw in some variety there, Ichigo.

He wrote in a twenty-percent tip and signed off before slipping his card back in his wallet. He stood up on steady legs and nodded once more at the slightly perturbed looking bartender. No doubt the kid was wondering how the fuck a guy who just downed twenty-eight drinks like pro could walk straight, let alone stand. Wonder what he'd think if he realized this was his forth bar today. Pretty fucking impressive, even for a Shinigami.

He slipped out of the bar and made his way down the street. This side of the city was sparsely littered with humans. It wasn't an intelligent area in which to go meandering around at this time of the evening. Not that this mattered to him. Pity to the fool that tried to fuck with him.

Blanking his thoughts, he let his feet carry him towards a more populated part of the city. The quietness of the last bar was all well and good but he wanted a more rowdy atmosphere to aid in the numbing of his thoughts.

Soon enough he entered a wide street thrumming with humans enjoying the night life. Passing by a few bars and store fronts he finally came to an establishment that looked promising.

Strolling in, he easily ignored the eyes that automatically fell on his person. The raking eyes of humans had long ago lost its appeal. Sidling up to the bar, he caught the bartender's eye and nodded in greeting. The bulky man sporting a purple bandana covering what was most likely a balding or bald head nodded in return. Ichigo settled in to wait for the man to finish serving the current patrons. Eventually the man approached the corner of the bar Ichigo had seated himself at.

"What can I get ya, sir?"

"Whiskey Neat, best you have—Hibiki 21, something worldly, I don't care."

"Coming right up," straight and to the point, Ichigo liked him already. The last bartender had been a little too skittish for his tastes.

Looking to the side at the bottles of liquor lining the back of the bar, Ichigo caught sight of Yoruichi's favorite bottle of Bacardi—her preferred drink choice.

"Ya wanna open a tab, sir?" Purple Bandana's form was hulking before him. Glancing down Ichigo saw his drink sitting there, unassuming. Ichigo's eyes wandered back to the amber toned bottle of Bacardi 151.

"No thanks, just give me a few shots of that Bacardi 151, will you?" Ichigo motioned at the aforementioned bottle with a head tilt all the while fishing out his wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans.

Purple Bandana nodded and set right to work as Ichigo counted out the appropriate number of bills along with a suitable tip. The shot of swirling amber was placed in front of him and Ichigo slid the bills over to Purple Bandana with a nod of thanks.

"Thank ya, sir. Let me know if ya need anythin' else."

The large man then walked off to the center of the bar to a young girl who was calling obnoxiously and holding onto the bar top for dear life.

Ichigo looked away and shifted in the bar stool so he could lean against the wall for support. He propped an elbow on the counter and set about observing the silly humans properly. Picking up the glass of Bacardi, he stared down into the liquid his wife was far too fond of.

Taking a generous gulp he allowed the strong fluid to linger in his mouth, letting the burn set in before swallowing it down. Shinigami had a naturally strong tolerance for alcohol. It took liberal amounts of the shit for him to even feel it. A human would have long died of alcohol poisoning from the intake that would only leave him feeling slightly tipsy. So it really was no surprise that his wife favored a drink that quite a few humans found far too strong.

He hit back the rest of the shot just as he noticed a human woman approaching him. The pleasant burn of the liquid hit the back of his throat as he eyed the woman; hips swaying far too much, skin too pale, expression too open, eyes too dull, eyes aren't the right damn color, smile too fake, tch – seen better tits at a brothel in South Rukongai District 78…


Stupid Yoruichi…ruining all women for him.

He supposed the bitch was decent looking but she couldn't hold a candle to his woman. The woman who was probably cursing his existence right now…or passed out after consuming enough alcohol to subdue an entire army.

"Now what's a good-looking guy like you doing all by yourself over here? How 'bout you come over and sit with some of my friends and me?"

Her attempt at being coy did nothing for him. He could smell tequila on her breath and the clumps of mascara he could see in her fluttering fake eyelashes was tacky. Seriously, he'd seen classier prostitutes. But he supposed that was their occupation—to be appealing. Apparently being appealing wasn't this chick's fulltime job. Sadly, she probably still got laid nine times out of ten.

He downed his whiskey in one smooth movement, before standing up just as smoothly, startling the girl.


He sidestepped her, making his way out of the bar. He'd had enough of this shit.

Her echoing shout of indignation was completely lost on him as he set off down the darkened street towards the warehouse.

The time seemed to slip by and before he knew it, he was standing in front of a seemingly abandoned building. In actuality it housed ten to twelve (depending on the week) disavowed Shinigami.

He sighed heavily and with quite a bit of effort made his feet move forward. He easily shoved the door aside, slipping into the warehouse as quietly as possible. Not that it mattered when his eyes immediately landed on the illuminated Shōgi board set between Love and Rose. Both ex-captains lifted their eyes from their match at his entrance.

"Yo!" Love saluted him and Rose gave him a solemn nod, looking him up and down. He wanted to scoff and ask the blond what possible injuries he was looking for but stopped himself. Rose was just a mother-hen and in reality he had plenty reason to check him over for injuries. Yoruichi had made a valiant attempt at severing off whatever body part she could get her claws into earlier today.

He nodded back and made his way towards the stairs that led to their living quarters. They had the warehouse renovated shortly after they'd moved into it. Now it had rooms for each of them, decent bathrooms, and a kitchen. Then of course there was the large ground floor that Love and Rose were in that acted as a sort of meeting/living room. Not to mention the basement training facility that was in a category all its own.

Climbing to the upper level, he bypassed the kitchen and most bedrooms until he came to the one he shared with Yoruichi. He hesitated outside the door, apprehensive to what he'd find inside. He could feel her reiatsu from within, letting him know without a doubt she was there…but whether she was conscious, still enraged, or indifferent was another matter entirely.

Woman was fucking unpredictable.

He cracked the door open cautiously before swiftly shoving it the rest of the way. Giving the room a perfunctory glance, he ascertained that his wife was conscious, three bottles of Bacardi in but slowing down, and giving him the cold shoulder. Perfect.

Yoruichi was sitting on the open windowsill, summer breeze flitting softly into their room and rustling the long dark hair that spilled over her slim shoulder. She was clad in one of his old wide-necked white T's that clashed nicely with her dark skin. It fell to her upper thigh, bunched up teasingly, just barely covering her from where she was curved around and hugging slender legs to her chest. The moonlight shone off her curled form and he itched to gather her into his arms.

He leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms and internally slapping himself. This is why he always stormed away when they fought. It was just so damn hard to stay legitimately pissed at her when she was right fucking in front of him.

He just wanted to be mad at her, was that so much to ask?

Fuck, was she good at the kicked-puppy look though—and not so much a 'pity-me-I'm-broken' because Yoruichi sure as hell never wore that look, but more of a 'you-should-feel-bad, look-at-my-bandaged-shoulder, you-know-you-love-me, I'm-ignoring-you-on-purpose, grovel-bitch' look.

He sighed in put-upon sort of way and pushed off the doorframe to stand next to her. He looked out the window and into the empty alley below. The only activity was a stray cat fumbling about a nearby dumpster.

Moving his gaze to Yoruichi who was still refusing to acknowledge him despite his proximity, he reached down and stroked a finger down her cheek, coming to a rest at her chin where he tilted her face up towards his. She didn't resist but also didn't raise her eyes to meet his. They were downcast and he frowned at her meek behavior.

Leaning down he brushed his lips across hers, leaving a chaste kiss in its wake. He moved his lips up along her cheek, coming to settle by her ear. He inhaled the scent of her hair, nuzzling into it slightly.

"I'm sorry," he murmured against her warm skin. The apology fell heavily from his lips. He was not one to apologize lightly. Any form of an apology, even an insincere one, was a rare thing for him.

"You smell like alcohol," her soft voice resonated throughout the room and Ichigo straightened up to peer down at her. Yoruichi's golden eyes were focused on him finally and he felt something loosen in his chest.

"So do you," his lips titled upwards in a small smirk.

She met him with an answering one of her own, "Well aren't we just one fucked up pair?"

He snorted, "I'll drink to that."

She reached down and snagged her forth bottle of Bacardi, still three-fourths of the way full, from the worn hard-wood floor and took a swig from it before handing it off to him. He mimicked her actions, letting the burning liquid slide down his throat smoothly.

Pulling the bottle from his lips, he set it in front of Yoruichi's feet so it was perched precariously on the windowsill. He leaned his forearm against the window frame and hovered over his wife. His other arm reached down to brush a few stray strands of hair from her face. He cupped the nape of her neck, running his thumb along her jaw line. His brown eyes met her golden ones and he felt his features relax instinctively.

She leaned up to press her full lips against his and he responded eagerly. Mouths parting automatically, he deepened the kiss. Her sweet mouth was instantly pliant as their tongues met.

The familiar fire she always managed to ignite in his veins flared up with a vengeance. A soft moan escaped her as he easily enfolded her in his arms, lifting her effortlessly. In a flash he had her underneath him on their bed, hands tracing her lithe form hungrily.

The kiss turned earnest and he felt Yoruichi's fingers dig into his hair, tugging in need. He let his body rest atop hers, not crushing, but allowing her to feel his comforting weight—a reminder that he was here.

He tried to pour the words he didn't know how to say into the kiss – tried to convey that he was asking for forgiveness. That he didn't want to hurt her. That he loved her, regardless of all the times they bashed heads. That he knew they were too alike for their own good, made obvious by the way they handled arguments in general—too fucking stubborn to function, most days.

She arched up against him and he groaned, pressing back as he hefted one of her legs up, allowing him to rest more snugly against her. He trailed a hand up the outside of her bare thigh lightly – teasing.

He freed his lips from hers, leaving hot open-mouth kisses down her neck as he pushed aside the baggy t-shirt to expose her injured shoulder fully.

Her half-lidded golden eyes followed his movements. As he reached the pristine bandages he slowed, hovering over the injury he caused earlier that day. It had been a cheap shot that he'd honestly thought Yoruichi would dodge. He'd been taken aback so thoroughly that the hit had landed he'd almost been skewered with the Anken she'd flung out with a swing of her leg. Sneaky she-devil.

He brushed soft kisses on the bandages shielding her flesh from him. He lifted his eyes to hers as he continued his ministrations, silently asking for forgiveness.

Her eyes softened and she tugged at his hair. The silent message to 'come hither' was flawlessly transmitted and he obliged, sliding up to seal their mouths together once more.

"Idiot, I knew what I was doing when I took that hit," she whispered against his lips, voice amused. "My only regret is that my Anken didn't land true."

He snorted and nipped at her jaw before moving to her ear to give it the same treatment. He bit harder than usual in reproach.

"Reckless," he murmured.

She sighed as he found that sweet spot she loved so much just behind her ear. He let his breath ghost over the sensitive skin and he could feel gooseflesh burst up and down her thigh. He smirked as the hand that had been continuing to map the velvety flesh of her upper leg, deftly slipped underneath the t-shirt, hoisting the material up so he could trail a hand up her side. He bypassed the tempting unadorned mounds of flesh he adored and instead let his hand trail back down, fingers tracing her navel.

A small noise of disapproval escaped Yoruichi and his deep chuckle echoed throughout the room in response.

"Stop teasing," her breathless protest fell on deaf ears as Ichigo continued his feather light touches, skirting all her favorite spots. She yanked on his hair, pulling him away from her neck and crushing her mouth to his. Her teeth bit at his lips and he complied with the silent demand, allowing her entrance and control of the kiss.

He let himself get lost in the feeling of her. Yoruichi was addictive – always had been since he'd given into her wiles centuries ago. However, her kiss had a desperate undertone that made him frown. He stilled her frantic rutting against him with his hands on her hips, calling a halt to their movements.

A whimper left her and he lifted his eyes to hers. The gold of her irises were just barely visible due to her pupils – fucking dilated beyond belief. But behind that dazed lust, there was a frenzied, hysterical look that made something inside him clench up. And right there, he knew he needed to fix this. Fix them.

Yoruichi made another irritated noise as she pushed at him, hands sliding down his chest to pull at his fastened jeans. He caught her hand in his, bringing it up and skimming her knuckles with his lips. She paused, dark eyes searching his face.

"Slow down, Yoruichi. Let me spoil you." His voice came out rougher than usual but there was an undeniable loving quality to it.

Normally it was so easy for the both of them to surrender to this delicious bliss. To easily reduce each other to a pathetic mess of wanton need. But he would not be selfish tonight. The blood that had been rushing south, pooling in his groin since they'd fell into this familiar dance could wait.

Yoruichi's breath hitched as pushed the t-shirt up, trailing kisses down the center of her abdomen, to her hipbones, setting her nerves alight as he paid every inch of her body equal attention.

And he would continue to do so. He would not be stingy. By the end of this he would make sure Yoruichi understood implicitly that she was his everything, that he needed her and that fact of the universe would never waver. His love for her would never falter. If that took until dawn, well, the physical aspects of their relationship had always been his favorite to explore.

A quiet smile graced Yoruichi's lips as she let her eyes trail over Ichigo's relaxed form. Her damp hair fell in rivers, surrounding her like a violet cloak – strewn out on the rumpled sheets she rested upon. Her head was cradled in her crooked arm as she laid on her side, peering at the man she'd long called her lover, partner, protector—husband.

His eyes were closed contentedly, breathing even. Though she knew he wasn't sleeping. Post coital bliss was a lovely thing.

She reached out with the hand not supporting her head and let her slender fingers trace the contours of his muscled back. His golden-toned skin was beautiful in the moonlight, a pleasurable sheen of sweat glistening from their previous activities.

Make-up sex was one of her favorite things in life. It made every fight well worth it.

Especially after a fight like earlier today…or…she guessed it'd be yesterday right about now. The way he had loved her moments ago had been something she'd missed. It had been a reminder of his love for her, his devotion, not that she'd forgotten but sometimes those feelings got lost.

The all-encompassing way he had worshipped her body had resonated deep within her soul. Their unique bond, at times, faded into the background in the monotony of everyday life and the reemergence of it, the reassertion that she still loved him as much as he loved her, that the balance still existed, shining on just as strongly as ever, left a feeling of contentedness—a pure glow of warmth that filled her to the brim.

Ichigo was one of those guys that were blunt to a fault. She could be much the same, so heartfelt, whispered sweet nothings weren't really their thing. The fact that they could still communicate without words and in such a passionate and loving way was a relief.

Not that they didn't have sex, no. They actually participated in that activity quite often. Whoever said marriage dulled sex was obviously not in the right relationship. They had always had an active and healthy sex life. Neither were prudes when it came to the bedroom. But most of the time, they fucked.

They were good at fucking. Hell, they could make a sport of it. But there was a difference between fucking and making love.

Tonight was the first time in quite a few years that she could honestly say that they made love.

She felt giddy. There was such an honest feeling behind every kiss and touch and it wasn't just lust or need. It was an intense, sincere promise…apology?—declaration…all of the above.

She laid her palm flat over an old scar on his left shoulder blade. The multitude of emotions she felt for this man was ridiculous—and what's more, they hadn't diminished even after all these years.

They flowed together, whether they be fighting as one on a battle field or on opposite sides. Whether they were making love or engaged in a verbal spar, it was a dance she knew she would never tire of. He was her forever.

And the best thing about Ichigo was that she would never have to say anything that cheesy out loud. Because they already had that basic, silent, understanding hashed out years ago before they'd stoop up in front of all those stuffy nobles and said their vows.

One of Ichigo's honey-amber eyes slit open, peaking at her from where his head rested on the pillow he was hugging.

The sweet, crooked smile he sent her way was precious and she couldn't resist sidling forward to press her lips to his. He returned the kiss, but she pulled back before he could deepen it. They had shit to talk about.

He propped his head up on an elbow as he turned to face her. Her eyes lazily traced his sculpted form as his muscles rippled underneath all that exposed skin from the slight movement. Not for the first time she felt a thrum of pride for being the lucky woman that was able to bag this gorgeous creature before her.

Sitting up, she sat Indian style and let the sheet pool in her lap all the while bringing her hair forward to hide her chest. Didn't need her man getting distracted now.

Ichigo cocked an eyebrow, lips tilting up as amusement sparked in his eyes.

"So Princess, what's with the generosity? And don't say anything about Shaolin-chan. This goes deeper than that."

She had to stop herself from blinking in surprise when Ichigo started the conversation all on his own, no skirting around it or deliberately pleading ignorance.

A wry smile tugged at her mouth and she averted her eyes from him, attempting to gather her thoughts.

When she had brought the topic up over lunch, Ichigo had countered her remarks and accusations with bored indifference – courtesy of his training in interrogation and infiltration. After all, even the best of spies could get caught. Fielding unwanted questions was a sought after skill in that line of work and Ichigo's expertise was unmatched. Which was fine and had always been impressive but she hated it when he turned those skills on her…which he knew. Something in her had snapped after he had made yet another noncommittal noise. He had opened his mouth, most likely to throw out some useless comment that would send the discussion spiraling in circles, but she beat him to it. She wasn't one for impulsive actions but Ichigo always had a way of bringing out the worst in her. He was a frustrating man and after trying to wear him down on the Soul Society-Aizen Issue for months without him giving one bit, she'd finally had enough.

At that point she hadn't even cared if she got an answer from him, she just wanted a fucking reaction, not this stoic man that reminded her too much of the cold, calculating former Commander-in-Chief of the Onmitsukidō.

Though throwing a Gatoringu Jidanda at his head wasn't something she would call her most intelligent move.

Both Ichigo and Yoruichi had honed reflexes from years of service in Soul Society's militia. Their movements were instinctive and automatic. Abrupt movements and hostile reiatsu were not wise things to direct at them if one valued their continued good health. So she really should have expected the Raiōken he threw back at her.

Luckily, they had all been at a park for a 'picnic' that Mashiro insisted on for their weekly Tessai-imposed lunch and not at the warehouse. She didn't want to deal with the hassle of moving again.

Because the surrounding park had been obliterated after the high-powered, speed punches Ichigo instinctually dealt out in retaliation.

And things had just degenerated from there.

Yoruichi sighed heavily, peering at her husband from behind lowered lashes. He was watching her with sharp eyes and she reached out to flick him in the forehead.

His face scrunched in indignation.

"Don't you analyze me Shiba Ichigo. I'm not one of your prisoners to be observed and catalogued. I'm your wife and we're just having an adult discussion."

He rolled his eyes and huffed out a breath. "I didn't mean to do that earlier you know—talk you in circles, back you into a corner...I just—didn't wanna talk about something that wasn't going to change, babe."

"And why isn't it going to change? You never give me a fucking straight answer!"

She held her breath, eyes closing as she calmed herself. Opening her eyes, she saw Ichigo watching her softly. His mouth parted but no words came out and he sighed, glancing off to the side, a frown creeping onto his features.

Slowly, he sat up and slung his legs over the side of the bed, pulling himself to his feet. There was no modesty in his sure movements as he paraded around their room, naked as the day he was born. Her eyes followed him keenly before she registered what he was doing. He was gathering his discarded clothing and covering all of that lovely bared skin.


Her voice held a warning. If he walked away again she wouldn't be held accountable for her actions.

"Relax, I'm not leaving. Just…get dressed. Let's go for a walk."

This time she really did blink in surprise…huh. A walk, how…human.

"Yeah, yeah. C'mon, Your Highness. Chop, chop, we're on a schedule."

She sniffed in disdain as she slid off the bed and scoured the room for some suitable clothing. "Is that anyway to speak to royalty, peasant?"

"Oh, peasant, am I?" She looked at him as he pulled the white t-shirt she was wearing earlier over his head. It showed off his collar bones nicely. Pulling her gaze away she focused on appearing wholly disinterested and revolted at being in a mundane presence such as his.

She hummed lightly, "Yes, terribly uncouth and barbaric, it is an absolute tragedy that I should have to bear your…company."

Ichigo snorted, "Charming, now are you gonna put those clothes on or do I have to do it for you?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and she gave him her best alluring look. As he started to approach her, she turned, dancing away from him. She started pulling on panties and a tank-top while Ichigo laughed and leaned against the side of their joint wardrobe.

Soon enough, she had on jean shorts and a dark zip up jacket that she enjoyed the cut of. Human clothes were much better than clothes in Soul Society. So much more variety! She pulled her hair up into her normal high ponytail and enjoyed the feeling of fresh air hitting the back of her neck. Ichigo was shoving on a pair of bright sneakers and he threw her a pair of flats. Slipping them on, she walked over and in one smooth motion, mounted the windowsill, pushed off and was landing lightly in the alley below. Doors were for pussies.

Looking up, she watched Ichigo vault through the opening with a grace no human could ever hope to match. He landed next her without a sound and started making his way forward. She followed him just as silently and there was no trace that they'd even stepped foot in the graveled alleyway.

Even if they were no longer Onmitsukidō, old habits were hard to break. They'd been trained all their lives not to make a sound or leave footprint or hair behind. It was just how they moved – with stealth.

It was one of the reasons they avoided humans even though they'd been living in their world for over a century now. Humans just took one look at them and knew they didn't exactly belong. Even if they wore untraceable Gigai's…they just…exuded a certain presence. God knew Ichigo couldn't walk anywhere without his posture practically screaming 'obey me, underlings, bow to me now'. He'd been in a position of power for too many centuries for him not to. Hell, even Shinji had a hard time not looking like a predator stalking its prey—a bored predator, but a predator nonetheless. Their eccentric appearances alone set off warning bells in all these plain human's head's. Needless to say, they didn't exactly fit in here. What was that human saying? Stuck out like a sore thumb?

It's also why they moved every few years. People noticed if you didn't age. That's why they stayed low and lived in obscure areas. It allowed them to live in one place for a longer period of time.

No one liked being uprooted. She and Ichigo were more used to it than the others. Stealth missions were quite a bit more unpredictable and long-winded than the standard missions of the Gotei 13, but it still wasn't terribly fun to constantly be ready to move at a moments notice. After all, they were hiding from nosy humans, Soul Society, and Aizen. Their only allies were themselves.

"We shouldn't get involved."

Ichigo's low voice cut through her thoughts and she frowned at his words. She was going to do her best not to get angry and hear him out now that he was finally answering questions and seemed semi-wiling to actually have a discussion about this instead of shutting her out with a few well-placed words.

They were crossing one of those sky bridges she always found fascinating. Humans could be surprisingly inventive and resourceful. However, the headlights of cars, flashing lights of the nearby buildings, and those bright neon signs were boring by now. Lately they'd grown accustomed to the human lifestyle but there were times, like now, that she felt that distinct pang of loneliness—of loss.

She wanted to smell fresh air, hear the rustling of tall grass in a warm summer breeze, hear the bustle of Rukongai, see clear unpolluted night skies accompanied by stars that were heartbreakingly familiar…feel the invigorating reishi that could only be found in Soul Society. She wanted to go home.


She turned to Ichigo who raised his eyebrows at her in question. She'd been far too quiet since he'd brooked the subject he was being surprisingly not-difficult about. She took in his relaxed form; hands stuffed into his jeans pockets as his eyes searched her face for some sort of clue as to her thoughts. To her absolute horror she found herself getting choked up. She ripped her eyes away from him and started blinking back that telltale burning that was just not okay.

Fuck, what was happening to her? Get a little homesick and she falls to pieces. She took a deep shaky breath to calm herself, studiously avoiding Ichigo's heavy gaze.

"Yoru-chan? Why do you want to get involved?"

She stopped walking, eyes snapping to his. The surprise was surely evident on her face. This was the first time he'd ever asked her why. They'd beaten the argument to death in many insubstantial ways but they'd never gone into personal reasons for as to why.

He stepped closer to her frozen form. She distractedly noted they were by the park they'd demolished yesterday. Police tape and blinking barriers attempted to block it off from the public.

Yoruichi swallowed hard and finally said the words she'd been meaning to say for years now. "Something needs to change." Her voice was soft and stilted, and she thanked whatever gods were out there that only Ichigo was seeing her like this.

She cleared her throat and fought the urge to look away from his holding gaze.

"Someone needs to give, and right now, as things currently stand, both Aizen and the Gotei will wipe each other out. And I know you just want to say 'fuck 'em all, let them burn' but…that's our home, Ichigo.

"I—I want to go home."

Ichigo's blank expression finally crumbled into one of sorrowful understanding as he pulled her forward into his chest. She nuzzled into the fabric of his shirt and wrapped her arms around his waist, clinging in a way she would later deny as desperately.

Yoruichi felt Ichigo rest his cheek on her head. His chest moved from where she had her face buried as he took a deep breath.

"Is it worth the possibility of none of us coming out of this alive, though?"

She went to step back at his inquiry but he held her tightly, not letting her go, so she relinquished herself to his hold.

"There is a large chance of all of us dying, Yoruichi. Why risk it for so many uncertainties? Just for the chance to maybe see Soul Society again?"

"It's been over a century, Ichigo. How long do you want to keep living in hiding? Hiding in the Human World…Aizen's crimes have been brought to light. There's no doubt many of our old colleagues have connected the dots. Hell, most of them probably don't even know we're still alive!"

Her voice had gotten stronger as she talked and Ichigo released her from his grip. She began pacing back and forth before him as the words started coming to her easier and more impassioned as she gestured wildly.

"Yes we could all die in the battle, but we also have so many advantages that the Gotei 13 doesn't. Aizen doesn't know our abilities. He hasn't catalogued our fighting skills like he has the rest of Seireitei because we were exiled! We have the upper hand not to mention we can fight him on our terms. We also have motive. All of us have some sort of beef with Aizen giving us the will to fight. We can give Soul Society an edge. We can end this, Ichigo!"

She stopped and faced him fully, breathing harder than usual after her abnormal outburst. She let the silence lengthen as she regained her composure. Ichigo was back to being the blank-faced cold commander he would always be at heart, features set in stone.

"But is it worth it, Yoruichi? Because if it's not, you may be dying in a pointless battle, whereas if you turn away, your life expectancy will be infinitely longer."

And that's when a realization hit her like a Tesshō to the forehead. Ichigo was scared. Probably scared of more than she even realized. He had so many more issues with Soul Society than she did. This was something she had always known, but sometimes she forgot that Ichigo hid a lot more of his emotions than most anyone could comprehend.

"You know, Ichigo, it's not like you to not want to bash some heads in…"

Ichigo stared at her blatant subject-change.

"I've seen enough unnecessary death through the years, Yoru-chan, and been responsible for most of it. I'd prefer not to see anymore."

And there goes her attempt at lightening the mood. She suppressed a sigh.

"There's a large chance the Gotei can get Central 46 to pardon us."

"We don't need a pardon," there was an edge of warning to Ichigo's words that sent up red flags but she powered on regardless. It was time to move this conversation along.

"Ichigo, you can't tell me you don't want to go home, either. You miss it, we all do. We need to take this chance. I'd rather risk everything to get out of this mind-numbing hell than continue brainlessly living it. I'd rather die living—die fighting—than rot away of old age after hiding for practically my entire existence. And you can lie to my face all you want, but I know you don't want that anymore than I do."

There was a heavy silence in the wake of her words and she let it be, watching the neutral features of her husband carefully. The subtle frown on his face was the only sign that he had even heard her words.

"I don't want to face them."

Yoruichi swallowed at the raw tone of his voice. His eyes met hers and she almost took a step back at the grief-stricken cluster of emotions swirling in those honey-amber eyes she fell in love with all those centuries ago. The eyes that, as a little girl, she told her Otou-sama were melted caramel and chocolate.

"I just—just can't."

"But you can, Ichigo—"

"No! I can't!" The shout echoed throughout the deserted street and she eyed him warily.

"Fuck…" Ichigo ran a hand through his hair, tugging at it angrily.

"And since when do you say you can't, Ichigo? You were—are—known for the impossible. You can face them. Shunsui-san and Jūshirō-san. They were your best friends. But it's not like there was a lot of time for them to charge in for the rescue. You forget, Ichigo, this all happened in a span of two days tops. It was to be a quick and efficient execution. Trust me, I know. I got the orders. Orders to imprison my best friends, orders to execute my colleagues—my husband…Don't think I'd ever forget that day. I made the decision to act alone. But make no mistake. If I had gone to Shunsui-san or Jūshirō-san for help, I know they would not have even hesitated. They loved you Ichigo. Still do. But Central 46 kept everything very hush-hush. Hell, if I hadn't been the one marked to take-charge of the Punishment Force in your stead, even I wouldn't have known what was going on and I shudder to think what would have happened then…

"Shunsui-san and Jūshirō-san will spend the rest of their lives making up for not being there for you. But they can do that in Soul Society. They can't do that if they don't even know you're alive."

Yoruichi watched Ichigo's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. He was uncharacteristically avoiding her gaze and part of her was urging her on, telling her to push now while he was caving but another part knew she had to let him work this out.

Finally those troubled, weary eyes met hers.

"They took everything from us, Yoruichi. Our clans, our divisions, our families, our lives and you expect me to risk everything we've built here to maybe get a fraction of that back?"

She opened her mouth to say something, anything but no words came. Ichigo shook his head at her.

"I say we shouldn't get involved because their business is no longer our business. They made sure of that when they renounced the twelve of us over a century ago. And I know a part of us all still sees that world as our world and there is a tiny section of our souls still screaming that Soul Society is relevant to us and important…and yes, I can't deny that, but I don't want to lose—to throw away—the only family we have left on a whim.

"Because Shinji, Kisuke, Lisa-chan, Love, Rose, Mashiro, Hiyori, Kensei, Tessai, and Hachigen are our family now, Yoruichi. We had our lives in Seireitei ripped away cruelly and without warning. So we built new ones, and we've stuck together through all these years, when we could have easily gone our separate ways, because we are all each other has left of a life that was shredded mercilessly by a madman with delusions of godhood.

"This isn't some silly matter of pride where I don't want to come crawling back to a world that chucked us away. Or the reluctance to take a pardon for a crime we didn't commit. It's a matter of hanging onto the only things left that we hold dear.

"Yes, I'll admit I'm hesitant to see Shunsui and Jūshirō again. To see my clan, to see Yama-jii, but I would if it didn't have so high a price. Because I can't watch the others—I can't watch you—throw your lives away. It is not worth it, Yoruichi."

The only sounds were the distant rushing of traffic on the nearby freeway and the soft sounds of crickets as Yoruichi stared at Ichigo after the longest speech she'd heard him make in decades.

The burning in her eyes was back and she couldn't help but let her shoulders slump in defeat. There were a few counter arguments flitting through her mind but none of them could surface past the lump that formed in her throat.

There was a …relief spreading through her though. She had made progress tonight. She'd gotten her reticent husband to talk. To explain what was going on in that convoluted head of his. And now that he'd actually rationalized his reasoning to write Soul Society off, there wasn't much she could say to change his mind. Because it did make sense. Too much sense.

She ducked her head as she felt her face crumple and hot, wet, thrice-be-damned tears started streaming from her eyes. She choked back a sob as one arm hugged her stomach as if trying to keep her innards from spilling out and another went to her mouth, struggling in vain to stifle the awful sounds doing their best to escape her. She sunk down to her knees, ignoring the gravel piercing her skin.

Suddenly, surrounding her was the comforting scent of spice and Amberwood and a hint of something that always took her back to sunshine on a spring day in the forests by the Onmitsukidō barracks. It enveloped her and she leaned into the arms that always made her feel safe. The arms that always felt like home.

And as her sobs escalated and she honestly couldn't remember a time she cried so hard, she started to truly understand. Yes she missed Soul Society but there was a reason she left it in the first place. And that reason was holding her like she was his salvation right now as her body shook with unrestrained tears.

And she called Ichigo stubborn. Here she was, being held up on Soul Society and trying to pull everyone back into a world that rejected them, attempting to return to a home of the past when all along, her home was wherever Ichigo was. And it had taken her over ten decades to come to this realization. A choked laugh erupted through the revolting weeping snuffles that were leaving her lips.

She pushed away from Ichigo's chest and rubbed an arm under her no doubt puffy-as-fuck eyes. She'd always hated her crying face.

Then Ichigo's palms were cupping her cheeks, his warm thumbs brushing at the wetness under her eyes. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead with a tenderness he always solely reserved for her.

"What's so funny?" he whispered as he nuzzled her damp cheek.

"I just realized that I've been being an idiot for quite a long time."

Her watery eyes looked up at his and she noticed the curious half-smile gracing his features.

"I think that applies to both of us."

She snorted, using her sleeve to wipe roughly at her nose. Shit, crying was so unattractive.

"I think you underestimate the Gotei 13, Yoruichi. They haven't gone under without us yet. Aizen is a problem, yes. But you're also forgetting Karin-chan. She's been their trump card for quite a few years now if her stories are anything to go by. Aizen seems to have a difficult time planning for her. I don't think they need old has-been's like us when they've got that little spit-fire on their side.

"We'll keep an eye on the situation. Stay here until it all blows over, just in case. Because you do have one thing right, I'd prefer not to live in a world where Aizen sits upon a throne. If it seems like the situation is dire, we'll step in. But only then, okay?"

She nodded, swiping a few stray tears that refused to be quenched.

"And, you know, I'm pretty sure Kisuke is working on a private Senkaimon…and we all know he could bypass the exile set to his reiatsu signature 'keeping' him out of Soul Society if he really wanted to. We could make a trip to Soul Society, get a taste for it."

She gave him a half-smile of her own. He was adorable when he was trying to be comforting. He'd long ago admitted he didn't know what to do with crying people. Secretly, she was of the opinion that he was very adept at it.

"I'd like that. Maybe we can check on Soifon, see how she's doing."

"Oh I bet Shaolin-chan's fine. She's a strong girl. However, it would be nice to see her."

"We should keep our distance, though," Yoruichi looked off to the side, memories of her protégé flashing like a slideshow before her.

Ichigo hummed in agreement, as he lifted her off the pavement and effortlessly shifted her onto his back. His arms threaded behind her knees, hands grasping each other under her ass as a makeshift seat. Her arms automatically hugged his neck loosely as she rested her chin on his right shoulder. He started slowly making his way across town. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, his scent clogging up her senses pleasantly.

"I made the decision to leave Soifon behind to live out her life in Soul Society. It wasn't my place to force her away from her home, her future, even if she would have agreed in a heartbeat. So I don't think we have a right to barge back into it, the life she's built for herself. We need to let her go."

Another noise of agreement hummed through her husband as they passed under a sputtering streetlamp. Apparently he must have used up his entire conversational quota for the week. A smile graced her lips at the thought and she turned to brush her nose against his cheek. He peered at her out of the corner of his eye, noting her contented expression.

"What's up with you?"

"Hmm, I just love you is all."

He was still distractedly peering at her from the corner of his eyes and those eyes did a comical double take at her words. A laugh burst out of her abruptly and she couldn't help the unrestrained cackles that spilled from her. She noted Ichigo had stopped walking.

"Your face!" she spluttered through her gleeful guffawing.

The laughter was still coming in gasps and she should probably be concerned about the rollercoaster her emotions were on tonight but…

Unexpectedly she found herself dumped unceremoniously onto the concrete and all she could do was try and stifle the pure mirth still echoing around them.

A tick was forming on Ichigo's forehead.


Finally she calmed down and sent a beaming grin up at Ichigo. His lips were pressed in a firm line as he gazed down at her with an unimpressed expression.

"I do, though. Love you." Her words were fond. She pushed off the ground and levered herself back to her full height. Ichigo took in everything, eyes following her every movement carefully.

He shook his head at her as his face relaxed, a reluctant smile making itself known. "You will be the death of me, Princess, of that I have no doubt."

He stepped forward and pulled her to him, one hand buried deep in her hair and the other cupping the back of her head as he pressed their lips together. The kiss was short-lived as he broke away to feather soft fleeting kisses across her face, her nose, her cheeks, her eyelids, before resting his forehead against hers.

"I love you, too, you insufferable woman."

She smiled softly up at him, doing her best to convey the inconceivable depth of her feelings for him. She was pretty positive the message was delivered.

"Race you home?"

Then she was left blinking at an empty street. Her eyes narrowed as she flash-stepped after Ichigo. That sneaky bastard…the thought would have more weight if the tone of said thoughts weren't so fucking warm and affectionate.

As she raced through the streets of this alien human city, she couldn't help but feel like the last twenty-four hours had been a success. Yes, she technically lost the fight, verbal and physical, but a lot of issues had been brought to light. She and Ichigo had actually talked, and she'd gotten a good look inside that stupid head of his. He'd also reminded her of what was important. Yes she missed Soul Society, she always would, but that didn't mean they couldn't sneak back in once in a while. Kisuke was resourcefully scary on a bad day; he definitely had more than one way to get them all in. They could all practice their stealth and snicker at how laughably underrated Seireitei's security was as they remained wholly undetected. It would be fun! They could do some reconnaissance and see who each of their respective successors were…

Because Ichigo was right. Once everything had been ripped away from them, they'd all grabbed onto each other like a lifeline. And she honestly couldn't see herself not surrounded by this dysfunctional family they had somehow formed. She had been living in the past, trying to hold onto a faraway dream that was no longer probable. Her home was with her family—her fucked up, hazardous-on-the-daily family. Wherever life took them—all of them—well, she would be content with that.

Again, what was that human saying? Us against the world?


She smiled as the warehouse housing her few precious people came into view. It had been Ichigo and her against the world for far too many years now…and...she'd never been one for breaking old habits.

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