Ichigo first began to suspect that he had a stalker when he woke up every morning to find a vase of flowers on his windowsill. As the Shinigami-Human liaison, he was accustomed to leaving his bedroom window open because it allowed the Shinigami to contact him without breaking the glass – as they usually did before he’d wisened up. Besides, he was Kurosaki Ichigo. He wasn’t exactly concerned with someone breaking in to kidnap, kill, or otherwise harm him.
The flowers were nice. Subtly fragrant. The colors vibrant but not too girly. And Ichigo didn’t even have to worry about them going rotten or turning brown. The minute a single leaf started to droop, a fresh vase would appear the next morning.
They were, however, unnerving. It was nothing to know that someone had a crush on him. Like catching them admiring him from a distance. It was quite another thing to suspect it and know someone was stalking him. Worse, Ichigo didn’t know who it was.
But flowers were harmless. So Ichigo let it slide.
And then, the chocolates came.
Once or twice a week, right around the time he came home from afternoon classes, there’d be a package waiting on his doorstep. Neatly wrapped. Perfectly innocuous. Same size. Same shape. Only the contents varied. The first time Ichigo opened it, he’d been cautious. And he refused to even try the chocolates until after they’d gone through vigorous testing to ensure that they were safe and free from poisons. Though that would be a pretty cowardly way for someone to kill him.
So there were flowers, and then, there were chocolates. All given without note or explanation. Ichigo was pretty sure he had a stalker by that point.
And then, things became stranger.
Ichigo walked out of one of his classes – a mandatory course on computers that he really didn’t need – when the trio of men assailed him. He stopped and stared as they broke into a three-part harmony and sang a badly covered rendition of a song from the nineties. Something by a boy band no one paid attention to anymore.
“I don’t know… what he does to make you cry, but I’ll be there to make you smile.”
Ichigo stared. And stared. And stared some more. In fact, he stared until he thought his eyes were going to dry out and he would never blink again.
“I don’t have a fancy car. To get to you, I’d walk a thousand miles.”
Behind him, his fellow students were pouring out of the classroom. Some stopped to gape at the spectacle. Others hurried on their way as if they were personally mortified to bear witness to Ichigo’s embarrassment.
Ichigo couldn’t seem to make his feet move. It was obvious from the way the trio was looking and gesturing to him that this… spectacle was meant for Ichigo.
“But my love is all I have to give. Without you, I don’t think I could live. I wish that I could give the world to you.”
“Umm, Ichigo?” Inoue asked tentatively as she appeared at his left side.
She, like most of Ichigo’s friends, attended the same university as him. Except for Ishida, the arrogant snot. He was going to some fancy, super-smart university in Tokyo.
“But love is all I have to give.”
All Ichigo could do was make a strangled sound of disbelief in his throat. Words failed him, and try as he might, he couldn’t make himself move to run away either. By this point, the singing trio had attracted a rather sizable crowd.
Finally, a voice of reason emerged as Tatsuki sprang forward. Waving her hands pointedly.
“Stop!” she shouted, louder than the trio could sing. “Stop right now!”
They did. There were few that could see that look in Tatsuki’s eyes and not immediately obey. The three men exchanged a glance amongst themselves before the one in the middle looked at Ichigo, blinking.
“You’re not Kurosaki Ichigo?” he asked, voice deep and echoing. One hand dove into his pocket to pull out a small index card. “You have orange hair and a constant scowl…”
Someone in the crowd snickered.
Ichigo growled. “Yes, that’s me,” he admitted because he couldn’t see where lying would do him any good. Not when there were so many people who knew the truth around him.
The man in the middle, obviously the leader, lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Well then, this song is for you.” He gestured and snapped his fingers, mouth opening with the intention of beginning to sing.
“No! Stop!” Tatsuki yelled before they could even start. “Just… don’t. Why the hell are you singing to him in the first place?”
The one on the right, better resembling a sports player than a vocalist, grinned. “We were hired to.”
“By who?” Inoue asked, hugging her books to her chest.
The leader shrugged again. “I don’t know. He just identified himself as A Special Friend.” He eyed Tatsuki, Inoue, and Ichigo sharply. “So can we finish or what?”
“No!” Ichigo denied, tongue finally ungluing itself from its stuck position in his mouth. “Hell, no. I’ve had enough!” he said and turned on his heel, striding quickly down the hall without another backward glance.
Clearly, his stalker hadn’t given up.
Ichigo’s patience and sanity, already strained to the limits, suffered another beating a mere three days later. It was the weekend, and with the intent of relaxing after grueling mid-semester exams, Ichigo wanted nothing more than to relax. Kick back. Take a breather. Renji and Ikkaku were supposed to be coming by, and everyone was going to go out for drinks. Hell, even Ishida was supposed to come back to town long enough for everyone to hang out.
It was supposed to be a nice, relaxing day. After a wonderful meal with his sisters – Isshin’s presence tolerated for the sake of Yuzu – Ichigo expected to have a reasonably decent night.
Until he stepped out of his house and happened to look up into the sky. Originally, his intentions had been to admire the sunset as the sky was a nice blend of oranges, pinks, and pale blues at the furthest edge. What caught his attention first, however, was that a message had been written across the sprawling and cloudless expanse.
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Strawberries are sweet. I’m sure you are, too.
Ichigo gaped. Feeling his cheeks burn even though there was no way a random stranger would know that the message was meant for him. Of course, he could read the insinuations in that small, stupid poem. Who else would do something so crazy and inane but his stalker?
Not for the first time did Ichigo wonder who in the hell it was. He didn’t think he knew anyone who could be so stupid and obvious and ridiculous. There was also the possibility that it was all some huge, practical joke. Ichigo had considered that, too. Then again, he didn’t know anyone who would go to such lengths to play a joke on him either.
Then again, there was one person who would do something so retarded. Ichigo distinctly remembered one occasion where a message had been painted on his wall in something that looked remarkably like blood. Or the time he’d been forced to say some ridiculous words in order to activate a so-called helmet of protection. Just to name a couple of instances. And something inane like the gifts and the message in the sky and the singing trio seemed right up that mysterious, shifty-eyed bastard’s alley.
Ichigo’s suspicions grew, spreading out thick roots until they planted inside of him and refused to be torn loose. However, he had no proof. And short of confronting the man who perpetually kept Ichigo in the dark about variously important things, Ichigo couldn’t really do anything.
Shaking his head, Ichigo kept his eyes on the sidewalk and stalwartly headed towards the bar where he was supposed to meet the others. Above him, the garish words gradually dissipated until nothing was left but wisps of smoke.
The next gift woke him with an excited yip and a wet tongue over his nose and face. Ichigo startled out of a warm sleep – strangely infested with erotic dreams of unknown origins – with a shout. He frantically flailed like a teenage girl confronted with a spider and batted away the offending attacker. He heard a yip and the sound of something dropping to the floor before he threw back the sheets and cast a glare around the room. One hand scrubbed furiously over the wetness on his face.
At first, he saw nothing. And then, he looked down. Catching sight of a wriggling, brown-furred creature that stared up at him with liquid brown eyes and a steadily wagging tail.
A puppy. Somehow, a puppy had gotten into his room.
Ichigo looked at the dog warily, wondering where, how, and when it had found its way into his presence. His first thought was that Yuzu or Karin must have given it to him. Or maybe even his crazy-ass father. It wasn’t beyond Karin’s idea of a funny joke. Perhaps they thought he was lonely in his new apartment, and Ichigo had given his sisters a copy of the key, just in case.
Then, he spotted something silver and shiny hanging from the puppy’s neck. It looked like dog tags of some kind. Interested, Ichigo leaned down, reaching for the collar. Understandably, the puppy leapt up at him in excitement and gave another high-pitched yip. Rolling his eyes, Ichigo picked up the dog and put the wriggling creature into his lap, wrestling for a moment to get a hold of the gleaming tags.
The first one was pretty normal. Listing a birth date, an adoption number, and the origin of the puppy. The second, however, was clearly personalized.
To Ichigo with love. Now, you can cuddle something other than your pillow!
Ichigo felt his cheeks redden with embarrassment. Great. His stalker had been observing his sleeping patterns. Wonderful. Things couldn’t possibly get any better than this.
The dog leapt up with a surprisingly agile motion and licked at the bottom of Ichigo’s chin. Tail wagging with increased fervor. He – at least, Ichigo was assuming here – kept turning this way and that in Ichigo’s lap as though making himself comfortable. Obviously, the dog was to be Ichigo’s. Obviously, the puppy needed a name.
He ignored the amused cackles from Shirosaki in the back of his mind as well as the unnecessary and coarse name suggestions. He also ignored Zangetsu’s hum of bemusement. As though holding some secret that Ichigo hadn’t yet realized.
A puppy. His stalker had gotten him a goddamned puppy. Ichigo dreaded to think what was next.
In the end, Ichigo kept the puppy. Mostly because he couldn’t bear to take the poor thing back to the animal shelter. He knew that if he did, Peaches would only be killed. And yes, the name was lame. It was the best he could come up with considering the situation.
Luckily, his stalker had thought ahead. Not only providing Ichigo with food, water, and dishes – all conveniently placed within the kitchen – but also bringing a pet bed. Therefore, Peaches lacked for nothing. Of course, his friends found the fluff-ball utterly adorable and while they had questioned the puppy’s fortuitous appearance, they decided the dog wasn’t really a threat and let it be.
Sighing, Ichigo leaned over to try and attach the leash to Peaches’ collar so he could take the damned dog out for a walk. But the puppy kept doing a little happy dance, refusing to sit still long enough for him snap the latch in place. He wrestled with Peaches for several minutes more before. Relieved, Ichigo let his new pet lead the way as they exited the apartment.
It was a warm spring day. Birds chirping. Flowers blooming. Ichigo cast a worried glance to the sky. But there wasn’t a single cloud in sight, not even an artificial one. Just an endless blue sky. Other people were walking, too. With friends and family, a few with pets. Altogether, it was rather peaceful.
Until his senses crawled, and a familiar roar pierced the pleasant quiet. Peaches yipped, dancing in place as Ichigo swung his gaze around to search for the Hollow. It had to be nearby; he could practically feel the hungry stare. One hand dove into his pocket, reaching for his Shinigami badge. And then, Peaches yipped again, reminding Ichigo of his presence.
Damn. He’d forgotten about the puppy. He didn’t really like the thing, but it wouldn’t be fair for Peaches to get hurt either.
Another roar ripped through the gentle afternoon, and Ichigo whirled catching sight of the monstrous Hollow as it stalked his general direction. Was it after Ichigo or some easier prey?
He didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He had to stop it.
Ichigo’s fingers closed about the badge. He lifted it out of his pocket, bringing it towards himself with full intentions to shift into his Shinigami form.
Something barreled into his body before he could complete the motion. Ichigo tumbled sideways, falling head over heels into a nearby bush, bristling with thorns and bright pink flowers. Peaches came tumbling with him as Ichigo received a face full of flowers and leaves. And the badge bounced out of his fingers as Ichigo flailed to get free of the bush.
A prickle of power spiked in the air, a feeling much like that of a Shinigami. And as Ichigo spluttered and fought to right himself, he ran the voice through his head again.
He knew that voice.
Spitting out bits of leaves and shoving off Peaches – who had pounced on him trying to lick his face, oblivious to the possible danger – Ichigo extracted himself from the bush and tumbled out onto the sidewalk. A blur went crashing by him, slamming into the pavement and releasing a keening moan of pain. Ichigo blinked as he realized that it was the Hollow. Covered in blood and looking much worse for wear.
It struggled to get up from the ground. One arm nothing less than a mangled mess beneath it. And a leg also suffered from the same destruction.
Gaping, Ichigo traced the Hollow’s origin and found none other than Urahara Kisuke cheerfully hunting the Hollow down. Geta clacking loudly on the pavement.
He tsk’ed loudly, shaking his head. “Now, that wasn’t very nice,” Urahara-san said in an almost teasing tone. “You shouldn’t attack my precious things.”
The Hollow made a low growling noise in the back of its throat and flopped around wetly. Clearly not interested in Urahara-san’s chastisement.
Reiatsu swam in the air, crawling over his senses. He watched as Urahara-san stopped in front of the Hollow, his eyes shadowed by that hat. Benihime swung lazily through the air, almost as an afterthought, and sliced neatly down. Chopping straight through the Hollow’s white mask.
There was an echoing sound of agony before the Hollow began to dissolve. Body whiting out until nothing was left.
It took Ichigo several moments to realize that he was still sprawled over the pavement in an undignified fashion. Peaches pranced around him, yipping excitedly. As though this was some new game his master had developed. And Urahara-san was idly wiping down Benihime’s blade before returning the zanpakutou to her hiding place within his cane.
Ichigo rocked forward, scrambling to his feet, cheeks heated. “You!” he spluttered, ignoring the strange looks he was garnering from passing strangers. One pointing finger shook from the force of his indignation. “You! I should have known it was you!”
Urahara-san smiled at him and approached at a slow pace like he had all day. “Did you like my presents?” he asked, pointedly glancing at the excited Peaches before looking at Ichigo again. “I put a lot of thought into them.”
Choking on his next breath, Ichigo struggled to form a coherent response. He felt his face getting hotter and hotter as he tried to decide whether he was flattered or offended.
“You!” was all he managed to say again, shoving a finger in Urahara-san’s direction once again.
“Me,” Urahara-san agreed, kneeling to pet Peaches and making soft cooing noises to the over-excitable puppy. “You seem to be a little slow on the uptake, Kurosaki-kun.”
Ichigo dragged in a heavy breath, forcing himself to calm. It wouldn’t do him any good to deck the self-satisfied man in front of him. At least the mystery was solved, right? He should be relieved for that. Even if it had turned out to be Urahara-san.
Ichigo’s eyes widened as the realization struck home. It was Urahara-san. He’d been sending the gifts .The flowers and the chocolates and the singing trio and the puppy and the message in the sky. They were all from him.
Urahara-san liked him. When the fuck had that happened? And how? Why?
His reaction must have shown on his face because Urahara-san laughed again and straightened. Letting Peaches dance around their feet.
“You never answered my question,” he said. “Did you like the gifts?”
“The singing trio was a bit over the top,” Ichigo responded in a strained tone. “Or maybe the message in the sky was worse. I’m not really sure.” A large part of him really wanted to find the nearest bed and collapse in it. “What were you thinking?”
Urahara-san lifted his shoulders. “Seemed the best way of getting your attention.” He lifted a hand, tilting his hand back and revealing the gray-green of his eyes. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“Along with mortifying me in the process!” Ichigo growled out, though he was warmed by the sentiment. The geta-boushi had liked him enough to try and get his attention. Granted he could have picked another method, but it was kind of… flattering. Almost. If he turned his head to the side, leaned back, and squinted.
“An unfortunate side effect,” Urahara-san dismissed with a wave of his hand and then turned his intense gaze fully on Ichigo. “Well, what’s your answer?”
“To what?” Ichigo demanded, hating that his voice came out more like a squawk.
At his feet, Peaches plopped down and looked up at both men. Tail perpetually wagging.
Urahara-san rolled his eyes. “To my confession of course, Kurosaki-kun!”
“What confession! You haven’t even said anythi– Woah!”
No sooner had the words left his mouth than Urahara-san swooped in and kissed him. Well, if kiss was what he wanted to call the messy, sloppy, warm, and wet merging of their lips that the blond inflicted on him. Ichigo briefly thought of struggling. They were in the street after all and kissing like there was no tomorrow. It was even more mortifying.
But then, Urahara-san did something with his tongue that made Ichigo’s insides melt, and a moan gurgled in his throat before he could stop it. The shopkeeper tasted like tea and sweetness. And one of Ichigo’s hands flailed before tangling in his haori and clinging to it, unsure if he wanted to drag the shopkeeper closer or shove him away.
Urahara-san broke off the kiss with a lingering swipe of his tongue over Ichigo’s mouth. And then, he grinned.
“Well?” he prompted, licking his own lips as though savoring the lingering sensation of their kiss. “You get it now?”
Ichigo stared. “You could have used words,” he said hoarsely, brain thoroughly turned to mush.
“Since when have words ever gotten through to you,” Urahara-san retorted good-naturedly, and his grin widened. “I think you’re avoiding the question, Kurosaki-kun.”
“Ichigo,” he corrected hazily because it just seemed weird for Urahara-san to call him so formally after their years-long association and all the things they’d been through together. “Isn’t it about time you started calling me that?”
A slow chuckle built in Urahara-san’s chest before it bubbled past his lips. “And don’t you think you should start calling me Kisuke, I-chi-go?” He drew out each syllable with a peppy click, somehow making them roll of his tongue.
“If you insist,” Ichigo retorted, feeling his cheeks warm all over again.
He supposed it could have been worse. His stalker could’ve been Kenpachi or Keigo or – he shuddered – that freak from the twelfth division. That his secret admirer turned out to be Urahara-san… Well, that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
“And in answer to your previous question,” Ichigo continued as Peaches yipped around his feet, tangling the leash around the two and making a hopeless mess. “It wouldn’t hurt to give things a try.”
Urahara-san – or Kisuke rather – looked at him. And a slow, genuine smile curved his lips.
“I can live with that,” he said. Abruptly turning around, the blond grabbed Ichigo’s hand and pulled him down the sidewalk. “What do you say? Lunch? I’m rather fond of tempura.”
Ichigo, for his part, did nothing but allow Kisuke to drag him along for the ride. There were worse days to spend a lazy afternoon, he supposed.