Kisuke stares up at the ranking board, glaring hatefully at the name that has once again surpassed his own. And a first-year at that. His jaw clenches. This is unacceptable.
A mere half-point. Every time this Aizen Sousuke scrapes past Kisuke with the top scores in the Academy! It’s enough to drive a man crazy.
Someone squeezes by Kisuke with a politely murmured “excuse me.” Probably another student wanting to check his scores. Kisuke ignores the brunet, stalking back toward his waiting friends.
Lisa sidles up this side, snuggling against him. “Let me guess. Judging by that scowl I’d wager… second best?” Her hand trails down his chest; Lisa’s always of the opinion that rolling between the sheets is the best cure-all. “Sucks to be you.”
“Who the hell is this Aizen anyway?” Kisuke seethes outwardly.
On his other side, Rose chuckles. “You mean you don’t know?”
Hirako gestures back toward the board, where the crowd of students has thinned out to a manageable level. “You almost ran him over, Ki-chan.”
Kisuke whirls around. He glares at the brunet who’d eased past him earlier, taking in clunky glasses and average looks.
Laughing, Lisa tries to steer him away from the boards and the object of his ire. “Yes, him. The first year who’s smarter than you.”
“Luckier,” Kisuke corrects.
“Hmm. He must be Lady Luck’s own then,” Rose muses aloud. “Because you haven’t been first since he started here.”
Kisuke all but snarls. “I hate him.”
“Jealousy is quite unbecomin’ on ya, Ki-chan,” Hirako offers with a wry grin. He slings an arm over Kisuke’s shoulders. “Come on. Some sake will help ya wash down that bitter pill.”
He only looks back once more to see Aizen watching them go, his gaze inscrutable.
The Shinigami are losing this war.
The Gotei 13 is outmatched, outnumbered, and out-witted. Splintered by lingering betrayal and mistrust. Broken by deceit. Hope all but shattered. Reduced to relying on an almost-human child for their salvation.
It would be laughably pathetic if Kisuke didn’t consider himself aligned with said losing side.
He stares at the numbers. He analyzes every report of every battle. He tastes the sharp tang of blood and reiatsu in the air. He sees friends and loved ones fall in his nightmares. The Shinigami are losing this war.
Once again, Kisuke has proven to be only second best.
In the end, Sousuke still knows him better than anyone ever has, including himself.
“You’re wrong,” Kisuke insists, voice slurred from too much drink. “Too much pressure will shatter the delicate structure of the compound.”
Sousuke shakes his head, leaning forward across the table. “Not if you’re careful to apply a cooling element at the precise moment before it tips into instability.”
“There’s no way to accurately predict that temperature!” Kisuke retorts with a snort. “Impossible.”
“Have you tried it?”
Kisuke’s scowl deepens. “…No.”
Victory. Sousuke grins.
“Then how can you say it’s impossible?”
Grey eyes narrow at him, full of so much irritation. Kisuke leans forward, flicking his cup toward Sousuke.
“Pour the sake, damn it.”
“You’ve always been a sore loser, Urahara-san.”
Nevertheless, Sousuke pours another round for his drinking companion.
Kisuke huffs, all but snatching the cup. “You can’t claim victory until you prove it, Sou-kun.” He continues to watch the brunet critically.
“Is that how you define success then?” Sousuke asks.
Their faces are so close he can feel each puff of Kisuke’s breath, catch the whiff of alcohol. The older man toys with his cup, eyes never leaving Sousuke’s own.
“Don’t you?” He tosses back the shot and thunking the cup back down onto the table.
Sousuke’s lips spread into a slow smile. “Sometimes, the proof is in the attempt rather than the result.” He lifts a hand, idly wiping a drop of sake from the corner of Kisuke’s mouth, noting that the other man makes no attempt to back away or stop him.
Kisuke instead turns his head. He captures Sousuke’s thumb with his lips, tongue flicking over the tip of it.
“Is this a new game?”
“To the victor go the spoils?” Sousuke murmurs before crossing the distance between them. Their mouths crash together, wet and sloppy but absolutely perfect.
Sake and arguing are all too quickly abandoned. And Sousuke honestly doesn’t know which he prefers. Kisuke’s sharp wit or his even sharper kisses.
His throne is as white as his castle. A place of high esteem, absolutely fitting for a future king. A year, perhaps less at this rate, and Soul Society will be his.
Sousuke smirks and shifts on his throne. Seated above everyone and everything as should be his due.
Yamamoto and the Gotei 13 have fought a valiant battle. But they have no hope. They throw away their lives in hopeless desire to forestall Sousuke’s inevitable domination.
It is only a matter of time.
Sousuke will finally achieve his dream. He’ll see Yamamoto defeated. He’ll be the King of Soul Society, the highest power. No one will be his equal.
His throne is a good place to start. It seats only one. But there is yet room at his right hand. Sousuke stares at that empty place for long, brooding hours. An empty place he never meant for Kaname or Gin to fill.
He knows whom he wishes to be there.
And he also knows how improbable such a desire is.
By all rights, this isn’t the way things should be. Kisuke is the elder, the more experienced. It is his due to take the lead.
Yet, it’s hard to argue rights when it all feels so damn good. When the weight of Sousuke’s body over his is bettered only by the heat blanketing them. When the push-pull of Sousuke sliding into him drags his ecstasy to new heights. When logic and coherence have fled out the window, leaving only monosyllabic demands for more spilling from his lips.
Kisuke moans, scrabbling at the bedcovers, pushing back to meet each thrust. He trembles, body coated in sweat, length dripping onto rumpled blankets. Sousuke’s hands on his hips are a welcome, teasing grip. The sound of his gasps like an electric stab to Kisuke’s pleasure center.
Of course it would be like this. Their coupling as frantic and heated as their conversations. Nothing between them is ever placid or compromising. It’s unstoppable force butting heads with immovable object.
Kisuke wouldn’t have it any other way.
His arms tremble, give out, and Kisuke drops to his elbows. The angle shifts, and Sousuke’s next thrust rakes across something electric. Kisuke shouts, lurching, fingers squeezing the bedcovers. He swears he can hear his heart beat, and blood pounds in his ears.
He comes with a roar, and starbursts explode behind his eyelids. Kisuke draws in great, heaving breaths, barely cognizant as Sousuke brazenly flips him over. He falls over Kisuke, sliding back into him like a key to a lock, hips seeking his own release.
Brown eyes are drenched with desire. Kisuke reaches, hauling Sousuke down so their mouths can meet. Each thrust is pleasure-pain on over-sensitized flesh. Sousuke’s kiss is eager but unfocused. Heaving gasps make for puffs of wet heat against Kisuke’s lips.
He’s beautiful like this. Kisuke keeps such observations to himself.
Sousuke’s release seems to take him by surprise, his body giving a harsh jerk before he comes. A mess to be cleaned later but ignored right now.
Sousuke’s last effort is to tip himself to the side, but that doesn’t stop Kisuke from dragging him close. They are hot and sticky, but that’s part of the fun.
They don’t speak. They don’t have to.
There is but one option left to him. It is the smallest chance, the dimmest hope.
The Shinigami are losing. Kisuke can only see pain, blood, death, agony on the horizon. Corpses pile up in his dreams, screams echoing in his ears.
He still feels partly to blame.
There is only one thing he can do.
He must go to Aizen and beg. He must wheedle his way to his former lover’s side. He must try to convince Aizen to spare as many lives as he possibly can.
In short, Kisuke must defect.
It is too late to win this war for the Shinigami. But there may still be a chance to salvage a smaller victory from the ashes. To save a few lives.
Kisuke can only hope Aizen is willing to negotiate. That he hasn’t forgotten what they once meant to each other. That he understands the message Kisuke has given him.
“Do you really think we’ve reached the limit of our evolution?” Sousuke asks, frowning as he flicks a fireball between his fingers.
Kisuke chuckles. “The very nature of evolution implies that there will always be a further step. Another leap. A desperate mutation.”
Dispersing the low-level kidoh with a flicker of his reiatsu, Sousuke tries to focus on the next step in this chemical process. He seems contemplative though.
“What is there left?”
“That’s the beauty of science. We get to find out.” Kisuke grins. “Hand me that magnesium?”
He reaches for the vial and passes it over. “Aren’t you curious?”
“About what?” Kisuke questions, half-absent, as he carefully measures.
“About the next stage,” the brunet replies, leaning back to watch scientific genius at work. There are many ways in which Sousuke is smarter than Kisuke, but his lover will always outstrip him when it comes to the sciences. “We should see what we can manage.”
Kisuke glances at him from the corner of his eye. “That kind of research is illegal.”
“Since when has that stopped you?” His lover arches his eyebrow. “I seem to remember a certain third-seat inventing an item that would help him learn bankai.”
“Ah, you have a valid point.”
The magnesium hits the chemical concoction with a violet poof. Kisuke inclines his head, as though satisfied with the result, and turns toward the burner.
“Let’s do it,” Sousuke whispers quietly.
Kisuke pauses and looks over his shoulder at him. “I take it you already have an idea?”
“You can’t tell me you haven’t built hypotheses already.”
“It would be a lie if I did.”
Sousuke holds out a hand. “Let’s make things interesting. Whoever makes a discovery first, wins.”
Kisuke eyes his hand. “What do we win?”
“Eternal bragging rights.” When Kisuke doesn’t seem sufficiently enthused, Sousuke sweetens the deal. “And the option to always win our arguments.”
“Deal.” Kisuke grins, shaking his hand with no hesitation. “You realize you’ve challenged me in my own hunting grounds?”
Sousuke steps up beside him. His smile is a touch wicked.
“The games only just begun, my dear.”
When the jigokuchou flitters into his personal quarters, Sousuke can only blink in surprise. The average messenger never makes it this far into Las Noches. It is too quickly set upon by the random Hollow. But this one is obviously of stronger constitution. There’s a silver lining to its wings and a faint, familiar reiatsu emanating from it.
Ah, an Urahara Kisuke creation.
Sitting up, Sousuke holds up a hand and allows it to land upon his finger. The message it transmits is only a single word. It has been decades, but Sousuke has not forgotten the meaning behind the single syllable.
It is a request for a meeting. From Kisuke.
How… unexpected. And yet desired.
Sousuke composes an answer – as monosyllabic as the question itself – and watches as the jigokuchou flies off into the night.
Tomorrow shall prove to be interesting indeed.
No amount of composure can hide the horror thrumming through Kisuke’s entire being. His ears are ringing, the sound of his best friend’s screams growing louder and louder. They’re in pain, and there’s so little he can do.
Hiyori won’t stop convulsing. Love has chewed his lip raw. Kensei is pulling so much at his bonds that Kisuke isn’t sure they are strong enough. Rose still howls like a mad dog. Hachi is eerily silent. Lisa’s clawed fingers are digging into her own thighs. And Shinji’s reiatsu is lashing throughout the room strong enough to rattle the walls and physically strike everyone within the confined space.
Tessai is looking at him, demanding instruction, wishing for Kisuke to give him some clue as to how to proceed.
Kisuke doesn’t know what to do. This is Sousuke’s research not his. The same goal, but they’d taken completely different paths to get there. Kisuke hadn’t even considered deriving a power boost from a Hollow’s energy! But Sousuke had. And had been experimenting for quite some time, though obviously this method is a bit… unfinished.
His friends are in pain, and he can’t help them. He doesn’t even know where to start. It’s especially hard to concentrate with the agony inside of him. Thoughts bouncing back and forth.
How could Sousuke do this? How could he dare do this? How could he ever do this?
Tessai steps up beside him. “Urahara-san?”
Kisuke draws in a ragged breath. He can’t admit that he’s clueless. More than that, he can’t fail them.
This is his fault. He should have seen this coming. Should have known his lover better than this. He hadn’t been able to protect them, but Kisuke’ll be damned before he’ll let himself fail to fix them.
This is his burden to correct.
The outskirts of Karakura are the closest to neutral territory that Kisuke could find. He flares his reiatsu, knowing Sousuke can find him through it alone, and waits with growing trepidation.
He half-dreads, half-anticipates seeing his lover again. He has so many mixed feelings; he doesn’t know where to begin. His heart bears hatred and longing, all intermingled.
He’ll never forget what Sousuke has done to their friends, to Kisuke himself.
But his heart reminds him of all those years they’ve sent together. Of the life they’d built. The promises made.
Perhaps there is still some of the Sousuke he loves left.
“I received your message.”
Kisuke whirls, heart leaping into his throat. He’d neither felt nor heard Sousuke arrive. And that more than anything makes a stab of worry go straight to his spine.
“So I see,” he says and struggles to regain his composure.
Dressed in the all-white of his new lordship, Sousuke looks so very different. Kisuke misses the clunky glasses.
“What did you want to ask of me, Urahara-san?”
He winces. The reversion to formalities stings, even if it’s only logical.
“I have a proposal.” Kisuke tilts his chin upward. “An offer to make.”
Sousuke inclines his head. His eyes aren’t hidden behind his glasses or hair, but they’re still unreadable.
He draws a breath, prepares himself. “The Shinigami are losing,” Kisuke offers, though he knows it can’t come as a shock. “You and I both know that. And a part of me also knows that it’s only what they deserve.”
Sousuke is still watching him. “You agree with my intentions then?” he questions, voice utterly benign.
“I never disagreed,” the blond corrects, daring to step closer. “It was your methods that I disdained. And the memories of your betrayal are rather fresh.”
Sousuke’s eyes flash then. Just a flicker of something that Kisuke can’t even begin to name.
“I never betrayed you.”
And it’s all too close to true a denial.
Kisuke’s heart leaps into his throat, and he inhales, fighting to regain control. He hadn’t come to fight or toss around blame, but he can’t help it.
“The Shinigami deserve their defeat,” Kisuke tries again, “but not everyone deserves to be killed. And I know you’re pragmatic enough to consider cutting down on your losses.”
The brunet is watchful again. Waiting.
“How would you propose I do that?”
Kisuke meets his gaze fearlessly. “By letting me change sides. They’ll fall faster without me to counter your plans,” he explains as if it isn’t obvious. “I only ask that you spare a few lives.”
The soon-to-be overlord begins a slow circle around Kisuke. His reiatsu teases outward as though enticing Kisuke’s own. It’s almost but not quite flirting.
“What is the benefit to me?” he inquires, but his tone is nearly playful.
There is a temptation to bring up their past relationship, as though it might have any weight on Sousuke’s decision. Kisuke doesn’t know if he dare reference it, however. Such a thing might have the opposite effect.
He considers voicing all of the arguments he’d used to convince himself. But in the end, they are nothing more than lyrical posturing.
The truth will serve him best.
He drops his chin, and metaphorically, his barriers as well. “We can continue this game if you’d like,” Kisuke retorts. “But we both know how it will end.”
Sousuke pauses mid-circuit, standing so that they are nearly side by side but facing opposite directions. He watches Kisuke from the corner of his eyes.
“You know me so well then?”
Kisuke turns his head, trying to meet the brunet’s gaze directly. “If you had asked me, things could have gone a lot differently.”
“No. It wouldn’t have.” Sousuke pauses, eyes shifting away. “You were open to pushing boundaries but not willing to do what’s necessary.”
A flush of annoyance mixes with anger. Kisuke bites back indignation.
“And your ego never submits to a compromise.”
Of all things, Sousuke laughs. Actually laughs. Real laughter. Not posturing. As though this is nothing more than their usual banter. As though decades of betrayal, hurt, and resentment don’t stand between them.
“In the end, my dear, you are the one standing here, wishing to join me on my quest.”
“Are you telling me that you’d prefer I remain with the Shinigami?” the blond counters, his voice carrying a slight chill. He can’t tell if Sousuke is mocking him or being genuine.
Sousuke’s eyebrows crawl upward. “Hardly. You are the one advantage they had left. Outside of the Kurosaki boy.” He lifts a hand then and rests it on Kisuke’s shoulder near his neck; his fingers are too much like a caress “I do have a place for you, my dear.”
An unaccustomed warmth spreads through Kisuke at the bare touch. He doesn’t know whether to loathe himself for the reaction or lean further forwards. He’s trapped between what he wants and what he shouldn’t do.
“Kurosaki-kun isn’t to blame for any of this” is all he manages to say. “And there are others, those who fight because they don’t understand why they shouldn’t.”
Sousuke turns to face him completely. Their noses are now in close proximity.
“We’ll discuss that when the time comes. Though I will admit the boy is interesting at least, and his little friends would prove useful.”
A slow smirk curls his lips as his fingers trail along the skin of Kisuke’s neck to his jaw. His touch ghosts up to an ear and tucks back a stray strand of blond hair. Soft. Familiar.
Kisuke isn’t prepared for the following kiss, however. He’s still reeling when Sousuke swoops in and captures his mouth. But he’s gentle, so gentle. Only gives a slight nip before he pulls back.
“Welcome to the winning side, my dear,” Sousuke breathes then. Too smug. Too pleased.
Too soft as he steals another kiss. This one long and lingering.
Kisuke just kisses him back.