Rukia was babbling again, not that Ichigo was listening. In fact, the substitute Shinigami was actually trying to go to sleep. He was curled on his bed, a pillow over his head, trying to drown out her voice, but she didn’t appear to be noticing.
Ichigo wasn’t exactly certain why Rukia liked to jabber at him. Perhaps she took some sadistic joy in seeing how far she could push before he would explode. After all, she never wanted to talk to him unless he was in the middle of doing something else. Like right now, when he was attempting to go to sleep after a hard day of training and fighting Arrancar.
Still, all her usual babble gave him plenty enough practice to tune her out, except for the occasional phrase that slipped through his defenses.
“…I think Keigo needs therapy…”
“…Renji was looking at nii-sama rather strangely today…”
“…Hisagi-san is apparently a very good knitter…”
“…and I love Ukitake-taichou.”
Ichigo grunted. “That’s nice,” he mumbled, wondering how long had passed and if that meant she was finally drawing to an end.
“No, I mean. The same way you love nii-sama.”
On the bed, Ichigo froze and slowly dragged the pillow from his face. “What’re you talking about?” he asked, his voice faintly nervous.
“I don’t like your brother.”
She shot him a disbelieving stare. “I’m not stupid. Did you forget that I’m the one that set you guys up?” she retorted. “Besides, I caught you two trying to swallow each other’s tongues.”
He hemmed and hawed, his eyes shifting from side to side. “Right… so… Ukitake-san?” he redirected, brilliantly changing the subject.
Rukia looked as if she was going to argue before slumping. “Yes. Though I know better than to expect anything will ever come of it,” she added dejectedly, eyes dim.
Ichigo idly wondered why she felt the need to drop this particular bombshell. Or why he had suddenly become her one of her girlfriends. He racked his brain for an answer, but not accustomed to talking to other people about their crushes on their superior officers, he drew a blank. So he settled for abrupt honesty. It was what he was good at anyway.
“Have you asked him?”
The look she gave him clearly implied her thoughts on that suggestion. It was like she thought his brain had suddenly shrunk two sizes. Well, what did she expect? He wasn’t some love doctor.
Ichigo sighed. “You never know unless you try.”
“Not everyone can be as lucky as you,” she countered with a sniff. “I can’t just go rushing into a situation and hope everything comes out victorious.” Then, to his surprise, Rukia suddenly stood up, looking peeved. “Never mind. Forget I told you anything,” she muttered before suddenly storming from his room, leaving Ichigo to blink in bewilderment after her.
* * *
Ichigo mused on Rukia’s revelation for several days, mostly because it was obvious she wasn’t too happy with his reaction. And also, he had a certain stake in it all, especially considering that he was dating her brother. It was sort of like he had to watch out for her where Byakuya couldn’t. Besides, it wasn’t as if he would up and tell Byakuya either.
And Ichigo supposed that he sort of owed Rukia. She did, after all, indirectly get her brother and him together.
Therefore, it was up to him to do something with the information he had been given. With that in mind, Ichigo found himself venturing into Soul Society with the intention of joining Ukitake-taichou for afternoon tea. He was going to scope him out, for lack of a better word.
The thirteenth division captain was more than happy to see him, smiling in greeting as his two third-seats showed Ichigo into his office.
“Kurosaki-kun, this is a pleasant surprise,” Ukitake greeted as he set about getting their tea ready.
The substitute Shinigami lowered himself by a table, idly tapping his fingers on his knees. “I was in the area,” he replied without second thought.
It was a rather lame excuse, but it did give him time to think. He hadn’t actually planned what he was going to say. Like everything else, he hoped it would just come to him as he went. He was lucky like that.
The look Ukitake-san gave him was full of amusement. “I see,” the captain responded with a light grin as he poured their tea. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Ichigo wasn’t a fan of subtlety nor was he really good at it. His best talent was in barging into the situation and hacking his way through. Little things like word-play and tiptoeing around his real intentions weren’t really his style. Nevertheless, he tried his best.
“Actually, I… uh…” Ichigo shifted, toying with his cup and racking his brain for something to say.
A question or comment. Think, dammit!
“…I came for some advice,” he finally blurted out since it was partly true and partly not.
This clearly surprised the older man. “I shall do my best to help, Kurosaki-kun.” He settled more comfortably, giving Ichigo his full attention.
Ichigo tapped his fingers on his knees as he thought about it, wondering how to approach the situation in an offhand manner. The answer came slowly.
“What are the… rules involving dating and relationships for the Gotei 13?”
There was a glimmer in the captain’s eye, and Ichigo wasn’t sure he liked it.
The boy hastily added, “Specifically within or between divisions?”
A white eyebrow arched. “That’s an odd question for someone who the rules don’t apply to.” Ukitake calmly sipped his tea.
The man had a point.
Ichigo couldn’t believe he was about to reduce himself to this childish method. But dammit, he was out of options.
He rubbed the back of his head. “You see, I have this friend,” Ichigo began, hating that he had been forced into his last resort. “He really likes his captain but doesn’t want to risk anything for himself or for the captain.”
“You have a friend,” Ukitake-san repeated, his voice filled with bemusement as he hid his grin with his teacup.
The substitute Shinigami nodded.
“With a crush on his captain,” the older man continued, unable to hide his smile any longer.
“And he doesn’t know whether his captain likes him back?”
Ichigo wondered if Ukitake-san was deliberately repeating everything he had just said because it amused him or if he honestly didn’t get it. Still, the twinkle he caught in the captain’s eyes was plainly visible.
“Perhaps he should just ask?” Ukitake finally suggested, setting down his cup.
“That’s the same thing I said,” Ichigo grumbled to himself, well remembering Rukia’s reaction to that answer. “But he wasn’t satisfied with that solution.”
“I see,” Ukitake responded, pausing to ponder before he appeared to come to a conclusion, and his face took on a very peculiar expression. “It’s noble of you, Kurosaki-kun, to step aside for Abarai-kun’s… err, crush.”
Ichigo blinked. Noble? Renji? What the hell was the man talking about? Renji didn’t have a…
Understanding suddenly dawned.
“What? Renji? No, not that friend. This is someone else. You… uh… you don’t know him,” Ichigo stuttered, reddening as he realized that Ukitake-san had somehow known, or had guessed, that he liked Byakuya.
It was the truth, though the captain probably didn’t know just how much. Ichigo was pretty certain that no one besides Rukia knew that they were together, and she had only seen them kiss. She had no way of knowing just how far they’d really gone.
In any case, Ukitake didn’t seem convinced with Ichigo’s explanation. He lowered his gaze to the table, and Ichigo could practically see the names of all of his acquaintances flashing through the man’s mind, trying to discern exactly whom it was. The list was smaller than he thought it would be. In an attempt to distract Ukitake from inadvertently discovering the identity of Ichigo’s elusive friend, he opened his mouth to question him further on Shinigami rules.
Suddenly, however, Ukitake-san’s mouth dropped. And he blushed, starting at the tips of his ears and quickly spreading all the way across his face. He flushed far brighter than a man as refined as him seemed capable.
“And your friend,” he started but then paused. Ukitake cleared his throat and continued, “likes her… I mean, his captain?”
A slow grin tried to creep its way onto Ichigo’s face. “Yeah, I said that already.”
Ukitake fidgeted. He actually fidgeted, and at that point, Ichigo knew exactly what conclusion he had come to.
“And your friend really likes her–” Insert well-timed cough. “–his captain?”
It was Ichigo’s turn to be amused. “Actually, I’m pretty sure she loves him.” He was not even going to attempt to hide the gender anymore.
A look that he could only describe as stunned amazement flitted across Ukitake’s face. “Why?”
Instead of answering, Ichigo rose to his feet and brushed nonexistent dirt off of his hakama. “Why don’t you ask her?” he said with a bright smile and a faint bow. “Thanks for the advice, Ukitake-san. It was really helpful.”
“You’re welcome,” the captain responded out of instinct, his voice holding a note of both faint disbelief and unveiled hope. “Anytime.”
Ichigo was unable to hide his grin as he walked out of Ukitake’s office. Never let it be said that he ever let a problem go unsolved.