The Twilight Hour – Part One
The sky crackled with static moments before it ripped and tore open, creating a portal between Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. Two white clothed forms stepped through the Garganta, a thin arm gesturing to close it behind them. Ichigo and Gin hovered in the darkened sky, looking down at the sleeping Seireitei. No one seemed to stir at their sudden appearance.
“So what first?” Ichigo posed, glancing down at the darkened buildings that he had once fought to save. Twice.
He felt only the briefest tugs inside of his chest, a faint hint of wondering, before it promptly flitted away. This place was no longer a second home to him, if it had ever been at all. The Shinigami within were his enemies. He cast off lingering attachments, concentrating instead on the slow burn of anger and disgust.
Beside him, Gin’s hand dug into his pocket. “I brought a list,” he chirped, producing a folded and slightly crumpled piece of paper.
“List? Let me see.” Ichigo blinked. He hadn’t realized that his lover was serious about the damn thing.
He took the paper and peered at the dark lines. The moon above and behind them was enough light for him to clearly make out their six objectives. Ichigo mumbled under his breath as he read.
“Rescue Izuru-chan… hmm. We’ll need a distraction for that,” he muttered. “Hitsugaya… mayhem… Yamamoto’s…” Ichigo’s face abruptly reddened. “Gin!”
The older man chuckled and leaned in close, whispering right in Ichigo’s ear. “Wouldn’t it be fun, hmm?” he asked, an adventurous hand trailing across the teenager’s lower back with an insinuating press of fingers.
Blushing furiously even after months of enduring such behavior, Ichigo shoved the list back, pressing it against Gin’s chest. “Let’s just do this,” he responded, trying to ignore the shiver of interest that drizzled down his spine.
Dammit, they didn’t need any distractions. At least not of that sort and not at the current moment.
One hand rescued the fluttering paper and returned it to the pocket from whence it came. “Everything on the list?” Gin asked with a warm parting nip to the other man’s ear.
Ichigo sighed, feeling his cheeks flaming scarlet, and conceded, “Yeah, everything.”
Beside him, Gin’s grin widened with lecherous intent, prompting his lover to roll his eyes. Ichigo made it a point to look around, in the mood to destroy something and figuring setting fire to something would be a great way to start the night. There was only one thing Aizen had been specific about, and they planned on hitting that last. Until then… well, they were given free reign to create as much destruction as they wanted.
“What building would be empty this time of night?” he questioned, still very unfamiliar with Soul Society’s organization and cycles.
“We need a distraction,” Ichigo answered, the warm wind pulling at their clothing a stark difference from the chill of Hueco Mundo. “I don’t want to just kill random people.”
Gin cocked his head, pausing and looking down at the structures beneath them. They were currently hovering above the common training grounds for the Academy. No sense in destroying those just yet.
He swept his eyes to the left, lips curving. “Tha’s a storage building,” Gin suggested, pointing to a large, two-storey structure with few windows.
In a burst of shunpo, Ichigo flitted over, face furrowing cutely in concentration. Time to put his kidoh to work in more than just battle. He hadn’t mastered all of them, but he had enough to be dangerous. That was all that mattered.
He pulled his reiatsu to his fingertips. “Shakkahou!”
A burst of flame, wild and barely within his control, burst from his fingers, barreling brightly towards the building. Aiming wasn’t even necessary as the orange blaze exploded against a wall, sending a great flare of light into the sky. Ichigo smirked as the structure abruptly went up in flames, fire licking at the sides and causing the glow to reflect on their faces.
Gin appeared at his right, admiring his handiwork. “Powerful but a bit unstable,” he mused with a faint nod.
“Oy!” Ichigo countered with a scowl. “I’m getting better.”
His lover chuckled at him. “So ya are. List?”
Shaking his head, Ichigo was convinced that a part of the older man was just a bit insane. Though he supposed they all were in some ways.
Ichigo nodded. “Yeah, let’s go.” He looked around them, still not quite sure which direction to go. “Where’s Kira-san?”
“Unless he’s on patrol, he should be at home,” Gin replied sweetly. “Follow me.”
And just like that, they dropped down to the roofs of Seireitei and bled into the darkness, their forms shadowed against the night. Behind them, guards sleepily awoke at their posts and cries of “Fire!” were beginning to resound. Ichigo chuckled to himself as he followed his lover, flitting from rooftop to rooftop in silent shunpo. It never ceased to surprise him just how much faster Gin was unless Ichigo happened to be in bankai.
It wasn’t long before they had arrived at the third division, the grounds entirely silent and still. Gin paused, releasing his reiatsu only briefly to scan for his lieutenant’s presence. Ichigo drew to a stop beside him, eyes constantly searching for any witnesses to their presence. While they were certain they could handle anyone who would attack, it would make their mission difficult to complete if they were constantly fighting.
No one even stirred, however. Seireitei had gotten complacent in the past two seasons.
“Is he here?” Ichigo questioned, his voice carrying no further than the two of them.
After a moment, Gin nodded. “Sleepin’.”
In silent agreement, they dropped down into the courtyard without a sound. A cloud passed over the moon above them, giving them even more darkness as a cover. Not that anyone was there to notice.
Ichigo followed Gin’s lead as he moved to the door that Ichigo could only assume belonged to Kira. It slid open quietly, and they stepped inside, Ichigo closing it behind them with a faint snick. It was even darker inside, and they paused to let their eyes adjust.
He felt Gin’s hand on his arm, lightly squeezing.
“Ichigo,” Gin whispered in his ear. “Yer tellin’ everyone where we are.”
He flushed and forced himself to pull back on his leaking reiatsu. “I’m tryin’,” he hissed back, though he knew his lover was only teasing. “It’s hard ya know.”
Ichigo had been practicing, and he was much better at it than he used to be. He could go into Karakura without attracting every Hollow in sight at least. But those skilled in sensing reiatsu wouldn’t have too difficult of a time tracking him if he lost his concentration. He often needed to be reminded.
Gin chuckled and released his arm with a soft pat, stepping further inside. Ichigo followed him, carefully navigating the dark shadows of furniture that he thought he could make out.
They found the door to Kira’s bedroom, Gin soundlessly slid opening the door and padding inside. Ichigo trailed along after him but hovered near the doorway, leaning against the wall and watching. He was content to let his lover do most of the work here; Kira was far more important to Gin. Ichigo crossed his hands over his chest, half-concentrating on reigning in strands of leaking reiatsu.
Faint light from the lanterns outside streamed in through the window, illuminating the room enough to see Izuru in his bed, curled up on one side. His lips were pulled into a faint frown, even in sleep. Gin moved noiselessly over, crouching down next to his sleeping vice-captain. One slim-fingered hand snuck out, briefly brushing back long blond strands before covering Izuru’s mouth.
“Izuru-chan,” Gin murmured in a sing-song tone, trying to waken his subordinate. He would always consider Izuru his lieutenant. Never anyone else.
Kira stirred, rolling over onto his back with a faint noise. His eyes fluttered open, peering blearily upwards, only to widen in surprise. Not out of fear but out of genuine shock. Gin wondered if Izuru thought he was merely dreaming.
Gin lifted his free hand, holding a finger to his lips. “Shh,” he shushed with a motion, highlighting the secrecy of the visit. When the blond nodded in understanding, Gin removed uncovered his mouth.
“Taichou!” Izuru exclaimed in a loud and obviously relieved whisper. Then, his eyes flickered around the room, peering through the dark at the person standing near his doorway. “And Kurosaki-san! You’re not dead.”
Ichigo rolled his eyes, though his annoyance was directed at Soul Society, not Kira’s assumption. “I should have seen that one coming.”
“But…” Izuru trailed off, genuine confusion taking over his face as he pulled himself into a sitting position. One hand lifted to pull hair out of his eyes. “What are you doing here? If they find out–”
Gin shook his head, cutting his subordinate off before he could worry any further. “We came to get ya, Izuru,” he explained with a grin. He was relieved that the blond hadn’t instantly responded with anger. “Besides, Ichigo provided a nice distraction.”
The lack of honorific was not missed by Izuru, though he pushed it aside for other, more pressing concerns. “Distraction? Get me?” he repeated with a faint frown. “What do you mean?”
“We’ve a list of stuff!” Gin answered with a happy clip to his words. “And ya were number one.”
Ichigo snickered, well aware of his lover’s current feelings and shifted position against the wall. “Do you really want to stay here in Soul Society?” he asked Izuru. “Gin wants you to come with us.”
Again the familiarity they had with one another was startling to Kira. He wanted to ask about it but was startled by the offer they gave. The very one he had been waiting for, wondering why it hadn’t been given before. The very thing that had made him question himself.
Izuru looked at the man he would forever consider his captain. Gin nodded, confirming Ichigo’s statement, the smile on his lips warm and genuine. The blond sucked in his bottom lip, remembering all the sorrow and feelings of despair that had attacked him after the events of the betrayal.
“You didn’t even ask me,” he said quietly, folding his arms in his lap and shifting his eyes away. He didn’t want his captain to think he had become weak. “Before, I mean. I would have gone.” He paused, voice even quieter and a thousand times more hurt. “You left me behind.”
There was a moment of absolute silence where nothing stirred as Gin lowered his head, feeling incredible guilt and doubting his own judgment in the matter. He had thought he’d chosen what was best, but maybe… maybe he had been wrong all along.
“I’m sorry,” Gin responded softly, trying to explain himself. “But ya weren’t ready yet.” He lifted his head, looking at Izuru. “Now, ya are. So I came back.”
Those big blue eyes turned back towards him, blinking rapidly. There was a second of wibbling before Izuru was suddenly tackling him with a hug.
“Taichou!” he sniffled, burying his face in Gin’s chest and clinging tightly.
Fondness replaced the guilt as Gin wrapped his arms around his subordinate, the young man he had taken under his wing all those years ago. Izuru was shaking, releasing pent up emotions that Gin blamed himself for causing.
His Izuru was quite different from Hinamori-chan and her obsessive behavior. No one understood just how important Gin was to his lieutenant, who had lost his parents and most of his family already, who just wanted someone to believe in him. Someone he could trust.
The thought made Gin feel guilty all over again.
On the other side of the room, Ichigo watched the exchange in silence. Their obvious comfort with one another would have bothered him if he hadn’t already known the aspects of their relationship. Gin and Kira were more like Aizen and Gin or Ichigo and the geta-boushi. Something that was far more parental than romantic. There was nothing to be jealous over.
Gin’s fingers rubbed over the blond’s back as the last of his silent weeping trailed off. “Get changed, Izuru-chan,” he ordered softly. “We’ve got stuff to do.”
“Right,” Izuru confirmed with a faint nod, pulling back and surreptitiously wiping at his eyes, which were the brightest Ichigo had seen them in quite some time. “The list.”
They detached themselves from each other, and Gin rose to his feet. Silent communication passed between Ichigo and him as they left the room, giving Izuru time to compose himself, gather whatever belongings he wanted to keep, and change his clothes. Gin closed the door behind him, and Ichigo watched his lover critically, knowing there was a storm brewing behind those shuttered eyes.
“Maybe I shoulda brought ‘im wit me the firs’ time,” Gin commented, hand lingering on the latch to the door before dropped it at his side.
“Soul Society wasn’t exactly kind to him,” Ichigo responded without thinking, remembering the few times he had managed to coax some information out of Renji or the geta-boushi.
He caught sight of the shame flickering across his lover’s expression, followed quickly by a deep frown. Ichigo hurriedly amended his statement.
“But he might not have understood then either,” the teenager added, fully believing that Gin had done the right thing. “He might have regretted his decision.”
The older man was silent a moment, considering the statement before he moved away from the door. “You’re prolly right,” Gin murmured, fingers sliding around Ichigo’s upper back and dragging him near.
“Of course I am,” Ichigo responded with a snort, allowing the movement. He closed the space between them, capturing Gin’s lips with his. It was an instinct he simply couldn’t ignore when they were that close, this desire to kiss his lover.
The sound of Izuru’s door opening was accompanied by a light and polite cough. “I’m ready,” the vice-captain announced, wisely averting his eyes. The bare flush that pinked his cheeks was just as adorable as the one Ichigo tended to accrue.
Gin smiled, pulling away from his lover, only to hear the warning clanks echo through Seireitei. It was only preliminary alarms, alerting whichever division was supposed to be on call for the night. Gin and Ichigo weren’t worried about facing hordes of Shinigami just yet. One burning building wasn’t enough to call out all the divisions and captains.
“They discovered my handiwork.” Ichigo smirked, crossing his arms over his chest rather proudly. He cocked his head, listening to the clanks again. “And they have the shittiest alarm system.”
Izuru’s brow wrinkled as one hand slid Wabisuke into his obi. “What did you do?”
The younger Vizard waved off the question, which was filled with some concern. “Relax. It was only a storage building. Gin pointed it out to me.”
Blue eyes shifted to his captain as Ichigo moved to Izuru’s outside door, sliding it open a scant few inches to peer around. “Which one?”
Gin grinned, tucking his arms into his sleeves. “Does it matter?”
“It’s clear,” Ichigo announced before Kira could even answer. “Let’s go.”
The former substitute was flitting out the door in the next second, making a silent leap onto the roof of the building. Exchanging glances, captain and lieutenant moved to follow, Izuru careful to close the door behind him. It was best to keep up appearances as long as possible.
Izuru lingered for only a moment, looking back at the station he had worked so hard to obtain and the division that had been his, even if only for a short while. A small part of him felt as if he were abandoning the third and all the Shinigami who depended on him. But a larger, more cynical, part of him realized that he wasn’t leaving behind anything that hadn’t already turned its back to him.
The third would find new leaders soon enough; they would be fine, better off without him. His subordinates would learn to accept someone else. Chamber 46 and Yamamoto would be proud of themselves for thinking they were right all along. What was Izuru really leaving behind him?
Nothing but pain.
Izuru clutched the small bag, filled with a few belongings, and then slung it over a shoulder. All that mattered to him was either inside or waiting for him on the roof.
He joined Ichigo and Gin where they had been patiently waiting for him and asked, “Where are we going?”
“Next on the list,” Gin chirped merrily, patting his chest demonstratively where he kept the paper stashed.
“List?” Izuru repeated, half-wanting to see it. He had heard of this so-called list but had thought it was merely a joke.
He watched as his captain’s smile widened to something more mischievous, producing a folded piece of paper. He handed it over without another word, the slip of parchment fluttering briefly in the wind. Izuru was curious, carefully unfolding and scanning the words scribed within.
His name was the first thing he spotted, right at the top on the list, and his eyes misted. “I’m first,” Izuru said quietly. His taichou had said that, but he hadn’t really believed it until he saw it right in front of him.
“Yep!” Gin agreed.
“We decided that together,” Ichigo threw over his shoulder, leaping to a higher rooftop above them and looking around to catch his bearings.
In the distance, he could see the orange and red of the burning building, smoke creating a grey cloud in the sky above it. The clanks were still echoing, though with less urgency this time, as the fire brigade responded. His handiwork would be put out soon. He’d have to blow something else up just to keep them occupied.
Behind Ichigo, Izuru scanned the list again. “Hitsugaya-taichou?” he read aloud in a questioning tone, already moving on the next number, which caused him to promptly redden. “Yamamoto’s–”
Ichigo was already in motion, and before Izuru could even finish the thought, the paper was snatched from his hand. Ichigo shoved the list down into the furthest reaches of his pocket where he hoped it would disappear. His own cheeks were pink, much to Izuru’s amusement. And Gin’s as well.
“Gin’s idea, not mine,” the teenager mumbled with a pointed look at his lover.
“But you’re still gonna do it,” Gin ribbed.
Ichigo sighed and raked a hand over his hair. “Yeah, whatever,” he responded, but the warmth exuding from his eyes told a story different than irritation.
Chuckling, Gin turned towards his vice-captain. “Isn’t Ichigo cute, Izuru-chan?”
Blue eyes darted between the two of them, furrowing with uncertainty. “Umm, I suppose, taichou?” the blond answered, making it sound more like another question.
Gin clucked his tongue. “Izuru-chan, call me Gin,” he corrected. “Ya know, I’ve told ya that before.”
Izuru nodded. “I know, taichou, but…”
“Don’t hassle him, Gin,” Ichigo interrupted, having gained control of his blush and feeling free to return to the conversation. “He was taught by Soul Society.”
Ichigo flitted ahead of them, putting an extra burst in his step. He had the feeling both captain and vice-captain would want a moment to sort out the last little bit. While he knew Izuru to some degree, the relationship between the two of them was far deeper. This mission was as much about retrieving Izuru as it was destroying the damn cannon.
Left behind, Izuru looked between his two companions again, wanting to confirm what he had already assumed. “So you and Kurosaki-san are… together?” he tentatively inquired, hoping he wasn’t offending his captain.
The grin on Gin’s face could have lit the world. “Of course.”
“Good,” Izuru responded with a firm nod, smiling a little himself. “I’m glad for you.”
His captain patted him affectionately. “I knew I could count on ya.” Gin switched his attention to his lover, a rooftop ahead of them. “Ichigo, yer goin’ the wrong way.”
Ichigo cursed under his breath, skidding to a stop and turning to wait for them. “Then, get up here and show me the right way.”
Smiling to himself, Izuru hurried to catch up to the two lovers. He watched them interact with interest, remarking that it was the first time he had seen a true smile on his captain’s face for someone else. He had never seen Ichimaru-taichou this happy before.
“Oy, Gin. Give me another target,” Ichigo was saying as Izuru caught up to them.
Gin looked around, appraising their location before pointing. “How ’bout tha’ one? It’s one o’the smaller commissaries.” He paused, reconsidering. “Try the soukatsui.”
Ichigo scowled, though he lifted his hand anyway. “You only suggested that one because you know I suck at it,” he put in and then glanced at Izuru. “Maybe you’ll have to give me some pointers, ne?”
“Mah, Ichigo-kun still says I’m not good enough for him?” Gin pretend-pouted even as Ichigo winked at Izuru.
The former captain received his response when Ichigo’s reiatsu spiked briefly and the kidoh went flashing through the air. Izuru chuckled under his breath as he watched the blue flame arc across the sky and slam into the side of the building. The commissary went up in a blaze, smoke curling around it.
A part of Izuru felt justified, unable to even dredge up an ounce of regret. And he knew that it was not over yet. There was still the infamous list to complete. Izuru was well aware of their destination, a trill of eagerness threading through him.
Hitsugaya-taichou was next.