His lips felt as though they were burning and yet cold at the same. Abruptly missing the feel of Stark’s mouth and buzzing with sensation. Izuru was no virgin in any sense of the word. He was no stranger to relationships or intimacy with men or woman. He’d been kissed before. He’d been complimented and admired just as much as he’d been insulted and teased. Izuru was no naïve romantic.
But he couldn’t deny that long after Stark had kissed him, Izuru could still feel the brush of the Arrancar’s mouth against his.
“What’s got ya so distracted, Izuru-chan?”
Izuru’s cheeks turned pink as he looked up at the man he would always consider his captain. “What makes you think I’m distracted?”
Ichimaru-taichou grinned. He reached out with long fingers to gently brush the tips of them across Izuru’s mouth.
“Cause ya were smilin’ to yerself just a minute ago. And I was talkin’ bout Aizen-taichou’s plans which really aren’t that interestin’.”
His blush only deepened. “It’s nothing important,” Izuru dismissed before his captain embarrassed him any further. “Does Aizen-sama have any need for me?”
Ichimaru-taichou made a sound that was a cross between a sniff and a snort. He suddenly stopped walking and took Izuru’s shoulder with a firm grip.
“Ya can’t fool me, Izuru-chan. I know ya best.” Pale eyebrows lifted in silent questioning.
Mortification fought with warmth; he was always thrilled when he had his captain’s full attention. Izuru’s eyes skittered away.
“It’s stupid and embarrassing, taichou,” Izuru admitted.
And really, that was all Ichimaru-taichou was going to get because no way in hell was Izuru saying aloud that he was probably developing a virulent crush on the Primera Espada.
“Hmm.” His captain’s fingers didn’t relent in their hold as he looked Izuru up and down before a slow smile curled his lips, one that didn’t bode well for Izuru’s pride. “I think I ‘ave an idea,” he said with almost scary glee. “Got ta do with Stark-bo, doesn’t it?”
When the red in Izuru’s cheeks flared impossibly darker and brighter all at once, Ichimaru-taichou cackled as though stumbling upon the best secret in all of Hueco Mundo.
“I knew it,” he crowed. “He always did ‘ave an eye fer the pretty ones.”
The older man laughed again. “Now, Izuru, I done told ya ‘bout callin’ me tha’,” he said and gave Izuru a pointed look. “Not that I’m distracted from the original topic or nothin’. I’m guessin’ from that blush his fascination is mutual?”
For the life of him, Izuru couldn’t figure when his captain had taken it upon himself to become his love guru. “I don’t… why do you…”
Izuru forced his shoulders to square. He hated himself for his stutter that was only making Ichimaru-taichou’s grin wider and wider.
“Ya should tell ‘im,” Ichimaru-taichou said, squeezing Izuru’s shoulders again. “This isn’t Soul Society. But if ya stay the same, it’ll be like ya never left.”
Izuru’s brow furrowed as he tried to puzzle out what his captain meant by that. Ichimaru-taichou’s grin widened as he appeared to glance behind Izuru with a small chuckle.
“And ya know what? Now’s an excellent time ta start!” Ichimaru-taichou added with a cheerful clip of his voice before he spun Izuru around and gave him a little push down the hallway. “Go get ‘im, tiger.”
Izuru spluttered and stumbled, half-turned to question his former captain when Ichimaru-taichou just grinned at him, gestured over Izuru’s shoulder and waved goodbye. Sparkles floating around his head in a weird halo.
Izuru turned slowly, already half-suspecting who was standing there in the hallway. And sure enough, there Stark was, hands in his pockets, posture lazy as he approached. Eyes flicking between Izuru and his departing captain. And admittedly, they had been in a rather unique pose that could be mistaken for something else by potentially jealous eyes.
“Stark-san,” Izuru said with a small smile, pleased with himself for not stuttering and revealing the fortuity of the circumstances. He couldn’t help but wonder if Ichimaru-taichou had somehow planned this.
Stark-san’s return smile was equal parts lazy and easygoing. But there was a touch of restraint to his bearing.
“Back to formalities already?” he returned with an arched brow. “Should I be insulted?”
“Sorry. It’s a habit,” Izuru replied, heart racing as the Espada came nearer. His presence was so much larger than the blond’s own, and his strong scent spilled into the space between them, something sharp and lemongrass. “One that’s hard to break.”
He watched as Stark scratched a finger through his goatee. The emotions behind his gaze completely were unreadable.
“So I see,” he commented and made a point to glance past Izuru. “Your boss seemed to be in a good mood. Not that I’ve seen him in a bad mood.”
“There’s nothing between us, you know,” Izuru found himself blurting out, as though desperate to correct a misconception. The tips of his ears burned a little at the urgent note to his voice.
That was pretty telling, wasn’t it?
Stark’s brows rose. “Is that so?” There was amusement in his voice.
“He’s just my captain. Or was.” Izuru frowned, forehead wrinkling. Truth be told, he didn’t know what to call Ichimaru-taichou anymore. Or how to react to him.
He’d come to Hueco Mundo because remaining in Soul Society was no longer an option. He couldn’t take the stares and the accusations, the questioning of his ability. The way they treated him as something weak, someone needing protection, something broken by Ichimaru-taichou’s abandonment. Izuru had come to Hueco Mundo because it was better to be the traitor Soul Society expected of him than endure Soul Society’s fake pity.
Even if he really didn’t have a place here except to follow Ichimaru-taichou around like a trained lapdog. Perhaps it was time he actively sought a way to be useful.
Stark’s laughter broke through Izuru’s musings.
His eyes narrowed, cutting sharply to the first Espada. “What’s so funny?” he demanded because Izuru couldn’t remember making a joke.
Stark’s smile stretched his mouth. “You,” he said and reached out with one hand, finger smoothing the wrinkle in Izuru’s forehead. “I can’t tell if you’re annoyed, anger, or embarrassed. You’re quite the contradiction. It’s cute.”
Oh, like Izuru hadn’t heard that before.
“Kittens are cute,” he huffed and swatted Stark’s hand away. “Small children and clouds shaped like bunnies are cute.”
“And so is that indignant look on your face,” Stark commented, utterly amused and apparently unconcerned for the fact he was making Izuru very annoyed.
Heat stole into Izuru’s cheeks; he couldn’t tell if it were embarrassment or anger. Perhaps a mixture of both. His hands formed into fists at his side. It was like being back in Soul Society again, where they thought him cute and weak and pliable. Where his big eyes and pale skin and slim form made everyone think he needed to be protected, that Ichimaru-taichou had more than influenced him. Had obviously damaged him in ways only a man could damage another man, especially a pretty one.
Ah… well, that explained it, didn’t it? Stark’s attraction wasn’t based on a liking for Izuru. He fancied big blue eyes and soft expressions and slim hips and everything that marked Izuru as cute in his mind. Things that made Izuru less of a man.
Those thoughts boiled in his blood.
Izuru sucked in a breath and shot it out again in a great gust. Reiatsu coiled inside of him. Wabisuke whispered in the back of his mind. He drew straight, his eyes flashing in a matter meant to intimidate.
“I think you’re laboring under a misconception, Stark-san,” Izuru stated, reverting to formalities before he got far too comfortable around this Espada who wasn’t as different as he’d hoped.
Confusion flickered briefly in Stark’s expression. “And what would that be?”
“I am not what you’re looking for.” Izuru shook despite his efforts to control himself, Wabisuke thrumming at his side. “I’m not what you think I am.”
A slow smile curled Stark’s lips, lazy and intrigued. “And what do I think you are?” There was a touch of enjoyment to his voice, but a touch of something else as well. Curiosity maybe.
“Weak. Pliable.” Izuru’s face twisted into an unattractive sneer. “A woman.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Stark drawled, drawing closer until he was almost in the blond’s personal space. “I happen to know several women who are tougher than nails and would put most of the men I know to shame.”
Izuru worked his jaw. “I’m not a plaything either.”
“Who said you were?” Stark responded lowly, eyes burning with an intensity that Izuru hadn’t seen before. Usually, the Espada was too laidback, too relaxed to show passion for anything. But now there was a heat in his eyes that made Izuru want to backpedal, made need rise through his body, and quickened his pulse.
It was a heat of desire. For Izuru.
“You didn’t have to. I’ve been around long enough to understand,” Izuru all but spat, surprised himself by the acidity of his tone.
It felt a little forced. Was that the disappointment talking? Perhaps it was.
He turned, unsure of why he did so. Not to escape or storm away in a huff. He just wanted to end this humiliating conversation, wallow in his own disillusionment. So much for starting over.
Fingers enclosed around his upper arm, halting his retreat. Izuru turned, angry protest on his lips, other hand raised to strike. He hated being manhandled. But instead of seeing amusement in Stark’s expression, he saw something else. Something vibrant and hungry and… proud?
Before Izuru could so much as ask a question or pull himself free, Stark spoke.
“Your stubbornness is as infuriating as it is attractive.”
And then, Stark abruptly cupped Izuru’s face with both hands before his mouth descended. Warm and wet, tasting vaguely of licorice. This time, the kiss was far from gentle and chaste. It was hungry, teeth nibbling on the blond’s lips before Stark’s tongue slipped inside to tease.
Izuru’s hands lifted to Stark’s arms. He thought maybe to shove the Espada away, except that wasn’t what his body did. Instead, he gripped Stark’s arms and returned the kiss with equal veracity. His tongue plunged into the man’s mouth, and he sought more of that vaguely anise flavor. And never mind that they were standing in the hallway where anyone could see.
Izuru’s hands down to grip Stark’s robe, pulling and tugging until he came closer, their bodies nearly aligned. Stark radiated heat. It was something that surprised the blond but shouldn’t considering the warmth of the hands on his face.
The Arrancar broke off the kiss with a gasp, eyes bright and alive. “That’s what I wanted to see,” he panted.
Izuru was confused. And relieved. Both at the same time. And with that relief came a surge of understanding. He thought that maybe he knew where this was going.
“You just wanted to push me?”
Stark shook his head. “No. I wanted to see something no one else has. Something that could belong to me and me alone.” He licked his lips again, and Izuru followed the motion with his gaze.
Thumbs stroked Stark’s cheek. “I may be lazy, but I’m a possessive bastard, and Ichimaru’s far too smug for his own good.”
Izuru’s lips twitched. But before he could control himself, he chuckled.
“I think I can live with that.”
Stark smiled, and it was the last thing Izuru saw before Stark kissed him again, lips slow and gentle but tasting him intently.
“You’re mine now.”
He couldn’t fight the shiver that worked its way through his body at Stark’s possessive tone. Izuru was simultaneously thrilled and incensed by his gall, but he couldn’t find it in him to protest.
“We should take this out of the hall,” Izuru suggested.
He licked his lips pointedly. His cheeks burned at being so forward, but he was sick of being inhibited. And judging from the look on Stark’s face, he didn’t mind Izuru’s forward behavior one bit.
Ichimaru-taichou was right. There was no point in leaving Soul Society if Izuru wasn’t going to change. Now was the perfect time to start.