Ichigo pulled his pillow over his head tighter and wondered if he could suffocate himself to death. Which made him wonder if he could die and what would happen if he did. Would he automatically be a Shinigami? Or a Hollow? Or some strange mixture of both that invariably meant monster? A part of him half-wanted to test it out if only to escape the noise invading his room that he could not be rid of.
“Ichigo! Ichigo! Ichigo! Ichigo!”
“Dammit, woman!” he roared, throwing the pillow across the room with enough force that it struck Rukia directly in the face, giving him a small measure of satisfaction. “I said no!”
Her hands planted on her hips as she glared at him, the pillow making its quick descent to the floor. Even one foot was tapping impatiently. One of her many quirks that made Ichigo want to strangle her on many occasions.
He glared back, but as always, it wasn’t quite as effective.
“You said that the last four times, and you went anyway,” she reminded him, nonplussed as to his anger. “Besides, this time is different.”
Ichigo placed his hand over his face and groaned. He was doomed to suffer her presence the rest of his life; he could see it now. Rukia, harping over him until he was a wizened old man, provided he managed to live that long. He would never escape from her.
Wham! Something struck him in the face. It might have been his pillow.
He grabbed the stuffed cotton and promptly dragged it over his face, wondering if it would be enough to drown out her voice. It wasn’t.
You don’t want to disappoint Ukitake-taichou, do you?” she asked, her tone needling.
Despite himself, Ichigo felt his ears perk. “Ukitake-san?” he repeated, tugging down the pillow to eye her warily.
He’s been looking forward to talking with you.” She nodded sagely, looking quite proud of herself for having gotten through to him.
Dammit. She always won, the manipulative little bitch. She knew that Ichigo actually respected Ukitake and that he wouldn’t mind the white-haired captain so much.
She was good.
He narrowed his eyes, suddenly having a flashback to the Ikkaku incident. “Does Ukitake-san know this is a date?”
It’s not a date,” Rukia chirped innocently.
For some unknown reason, he didn’t trust her.
He flopped back down on his bed and turned his back on her, burying his head beneath the pillow once more. “Fine,” he muttered, his voice muffled from the cotton. “But no more after this.”
Okay!” she agreed and promptly crossed her fingers behind her back, a trick that Karin had taught her not long ago.
Che. Ichigo should have known better.
* * *
When Ichigo stepped through the Seikaimon, Ukitake was waiting for him on the other side, his third-seats noticeably absent. He immediately realized that the captain wasn’t dressed in his Shinigami garb but actually in a dark green haori and hakama with white underneath. It was a nice change.
Good evening, Kurosaki-kun,” the man greeted him with a smile, looking genuinely pleased to see Ichigo.
It made things a lot less awkward.
Hey, Ukitake-san,” Ichigo responded, stepping out of the gate completely and falling into line beside the captain. “How are you?”
Fine, actually. And yourself.?”
Ichigo shrugged. “Training a lot.”
Ah, that is to be expected,” Ukitake responded kindly, tucking a stray strand of white hair behind his ear. “Any luck in learning kidoh?”
With a sheepish grin, Ichigo rubbed the back of his head. “Eh, not really.”
Don’t worry. Kuchiki-taichou had problems with some in his time as well,” the older Shinigami responded almost musingly. “I’m sure that I could give you a few pointers.”
That would be great. Thanks.”
And truly, Ichigo was grateful. He was pretty strong and used to just bashing his way through battles, but it wouldn’t hurt to be able to suddenly throw some kidoh at his enemies. At the very least, it would be a surprise.
It was the most normal conversation Ichigo had had in a long time. Well, besides the one he had had with Kira, but he didn’t want to think about that at the moment. Nevertheless, it was greatly refreshing, and he found himself relaxing even further.
If you don’t mind,” Ukitake began, almost sounding… hesitant. “There happens to be a fireworks show tonight. and I thought you might be interested in watching it.”
Well, it had been a while since he had seen one. Not since before he had to break his way into Soul Society to save Rukia. Huh, it seemed like so long ago now that he thought about it.
Ichigo blinked and shook his head, shoving his hands into his pockets. “That’s fine,” he answered.
The captain smiled, and the two soon found themselves in a rather secluded area, overlooking the place where the presumed fireworks would soon take place. Sitting down in the grass where it was faintly dark and rather quiet, Ichigo relaxed, feeling the pressure and the recent stress gradually melt away.
I hear the Shibas are in charge of it this year,” Ukitake-san said conversationally once they were both rather comfortable. “It’s kind of a tradition here… the fireworks show, I mean. Ever since one young brat got it into his head that Seireitei needed to liven up a little.” He chuckled at that.
Ichigo lifted a brow, actually interested. “A brat?” he asked.
The man nodded. “Yes, Yamamoto Isshin,” he explained, thinking fondly of his lost comrade. “Both he and his mischievous friend, Urahara Kisuke.”
The substitute Shinigami blinked. “Yamamoto Isshin?” he repeated.
Yes, you wouldn’t know him,” Ukitake stated, noticing but misunderstanding the inflection in Ichigo’s voice. “He died before you were born. He was the captain of the sixth division before Kuchiki-taichou.”
Ichigo, frankly, was stunned into silence. There was no way. It was impossible. But then again, the signs were there. His own freakishly strong spiritual power. His father and geta-boushi seemingly knowing each other beforehand. Urahara not surprised to see him in the slightest.
He wondered how he didn’t figure it out sooner.
In his shock, Ichigo almost missed what Ukitake said next.
Anyway, it was Isshin and Kisuke-chan who started the fireworks festival, and even in their absence, it continues. Of course, they had a little help from Yoruichi back then.”
It kept getting weirder and weirder.
Yoruichi, too?” he asked, unable to help the incredulity in his voice. Suddenly, he wondered with strange glee, if he would finally have something to tease her about rather than the other way around.
Ukitake smiled briefly. “You should ask her sometime about the taiyaki incident. See what she says. I swear, we thought for a long time that they would never mature.” He paused, eyes growing a little dim. “And now, not a one of them is here.”
Ichigo struggled to change the subject, wondering what else he could get the man to tell him that wouldn’t remind him of sad memories. “Do you have any amusing stories you could tell me, Ukitake-san?” he asked softly.
The captain tilted his head to the side. “I think it’s all right if you call me Jyuushiro, Kurosaki-kun,” he suggested, tucking a lock of white hair behind his ear.
Ichigo couldn’t help but grin, and eventually, Uki…Jyuushiro launched into several accounts and tales that he knew, some of them even relating to a few captains that Ichigo vowed to use later. Ones about Byakuya, for instance.
The substitute Shinigami found himself having a pleasant, normal time. It was a first in these meetings that Rukia had been setting up. He thought, in that moment, that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. And a small, very tiny, part of him was even thanking her.
Beside him, Jyuushiro chuckled as he finished the last of his story. “He never even realized it was all an elaborate scheme concocted by Kisuke-chan until the last minute. Of course, by then, everyone in Seireitei knew. It was all anyone talked about for months.”
If Ichigo hadn’t heard it from Jyuushiro’s mouth, he might not have ever believed such a story about Aizen. He laughed at the thought, an amused smile on his lips.
The two of them fell silent then and Ichigo suddenly felt eyes on him. He shifted his gaze to find that Jyuushiro was watching him intently. But it wasn’t uncomfortable, just… contemplative. As if he was considering something.
The fireworks should be starting soon,” the man murmured, but he wasn’t looking at the sky. He was looking at Ichigo.
An uncertain, but not entirely unwelcome, flutter began in Ichigo’s belly at the gaze. It was… wanting.
Was Jyuushiro going to kiss him? Gazing into the man’s dark eyes, it was the only conclusion that Ichigo could come to. He had thought it wasn’t supposed to be a date, but considering Rukia, he should have known better. Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t like Jyuushiro.
The anticipation was heavy in the air, so much that he could almost taste it. He heard Jyuushiro lean closer, the captain’s breath ghosting across his lips. Ichigo unconsciously tilted his head upwards to give the man better access, and his eyes fluttered shut. He distantly realized that the man’s hair was tickling his face but didn’t really care as Jyuushiro’s nose brushed his, and Ichigo felt something oh-so-lightly touch his lips–
Despite the fact that they were in Soul Society, his first thought was that his father had somehow followed him. His instincts kicked in and he promptly flailed, accidentally knocking Ukitake across the chin in his fear and sending the captain reeling.
“Goat-Face!” Ichigo screeched in terror, eyes popping open as he scuttled backwards, staring in horror at the intruder. He belatedly realized that it was not, in fact, his father but someone else. He reluctantly calmed down.
Jyuu-chan! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!” the intruder continued, grinning as he set himself between the two of them, seemingly oblivious to Ichigo’s racing heart or body poised to attack.
Ukitake Jyuushiro sighed, looking very disappointed as he idly rubbed his chin where Ichigo had struck him. “Shunsui,” he said reprimandingly. “Have you no shame?”
Now, you ought to know the answer to that, lover-boy,” the man in the outrageously pink haori answered with a wink, settling himself comfortably and promptly pulling a sake jug from who knows where. It was then that he seemed to notice Ichigo. “Yo, Ichigo-kun, want some sake?” He wiggled the jug in the substitute Shinigami’s direction.
Ichigo blinked. “I’m not old enough to drink.”
He was waved off, as if that particular rule was of no importance. “It’s a fireworks show. Live a little.”
The white-haired Shinigami sighed again. “Shunsui, can’t you see that you’re interrupting something here?” he asked slowly, something almost like annoyance, or perhaps even anger, in his voice.
Ichigo reddened a bit at the reminder. “No, that’s okay,” he mumbled under his breath.
Shunsui didn’t even seem to notice. “Not in the slightest,” he countered jovially. “Now, why don’t we enjoy the fireworks, hmm?”
Jyuushiro opened his mouth to argue, but just then the sky lit up with colors and sounds, instantly diverting their attention from the matter at hand. The brunet captain cheered and saluted the show, hat tipping back as he stared up at the darkened horizon.
Jyuushiro shook his head, and his eyes met Ichigo’s around the unexpected intruder. “I apologize,” he said. “Perhaps another time?”
Honestly, Ichigo really should have expected that something like this would happen. He smiled.
Sure,” he replied, turning his eyes back to the fireworks.
After all, he couldn’t blame Ukitake for having an outrageous friend; he had several of his own.