Urahara Kisuke was confused, which wasn’t a normal state for him. Not at all. He was usually the man who knew everything. He had spies in all corners of Soul Society and even in the living world. He was rarely ever misinformed, and even if that were to happen, he was composed enough not to let it show.
However, if there was one person who had always broken the laws of reality for him, it was Kurosaki Ichigo. He had the amazing ability to displace all plans. To throw the world out of alignment. To bring chaos where there was once order.
Or in this case, to bring one of Aizen’s Espada over to their side.
And not just any Espada either. But the primera. The number one. The strongest Espada Aizen carried in his arsenal.
Kurosaki was a person born to disrupt the natural order of things. To put a kink into Kisuke’s plans. To confuse him at every moment, leaving him scrambling to find reason again.
“He’ll have to stay here,” Ichigo was saying, sort of apologetic, only not. “He can’t stay with me.”
He, of course, was Stark, the Espada sitting next to Ichigo and calmly sipping his tea. Or to be more precise, he had sipped his tea once, made a disgusted face, and promptly set the cup back down. He was now giving his cup a fearful look, gradually inching away from it. Kisuke was vaguely insulted. He’d made that tea!
Reluctantly, the shopkeeper forced his attention back to Ichigo. “Eh, but…” The fan waved in front of his face, trying and failing to hide his fluster. “How… I mean, why is an Espada here?”
The two of them exchanged a glance, some unknown conversation passing between them before Ichigo rubbed the back of his head. “It’s kind of a long story. Can he stay here?”
“I don’t really need any more freeloaders,” Kisuke hedged, ignoring Abarai-kun’s indignant cry of “hey!” from the other room.
He couldn’t exactly turn away such an auspicious chance either. To steal away some of Sou-kun’s power and make it into his own. To learn something of the man’s plans. This was indeed an excellent chance.
But still… how? That was burning in the back of his mind.
“But you’ll let him stay, right?” Ichigo pressed, even as he was rising to his feet, leaving his newfound friend.
“I don’t… Where are you going?”
He leaned over to pick up a bag, slinging it over his shoulder. “School. I’m late,” Ichigo answered before sliding the door open.
Blinking, the shopkeeper tried to rise to his feet, but his protests were lost.
“See ya, Stark.”
And then, the teenager was gone. Leaving Kisuke in a half-risen position, gaping like a beached fish. The door slid shut behind Ichigo, and silence descended in the room. Well, except for the sound of Stark poking at his tea cup.
“There wouldn’t happen to be anything more… palatable than this lying around, would there?” the Espada asked, a sense of hope in his tone.
Strangely, Kisuke felt a migraine coming along.
It was only a week later when Ichigo returned, yet another Espada in tow. Kisuke had finally gotten Stark settled in, having resorted to temporarily stashing the Arrancar in his training room. There simply wasn’t any space in the shouten above, and he resolved to build an addition to his shop. Eventually.
Anyway, Stark was hardly a bother. He spent most of his time sleeping or training. He was remarkably agile, and he could carry on rather pleasant conversation. In fact, it was a brief discussion with the Espada that gave Kisuke an idea for one of his inventions. So having him in his care wasn’t all too bad.
Seven days later, however, had Kisuke blinking in shock at the sight of Ichigo, lifting his hand to wave with a rather busty female sauntering along behind him. She was beautiful, what of her face Kisuke could see, and her arms were folded over her ample assets. Her hips swayed in a fashion that made even him, pervert extraordinaire, blush to the gills.
“And who is this delightful young woman?” Kisuke asked, fingers wrapped tightly around his fan as he admired her long hair. Though with the white outfit and the distinct zanpakutou, it was pretty clear she was an Arrancar.
Dear kami, had the kid attracted another Espada?
Ichigo jerked a thumb over his shoulder, gesturing the bronze-skinned woman. “This is Halibel, Aizen’s third Espada. She needs a place to stay.”
Kisuke was feeling a little faint. “For how long?” He should have expected this.
Rubbing the back of his head, Ichigo shrugged only partly apologetic. “Awhile? She doesn’t want to go back to Aizen.”
“Doesn’t she now?” His eyes slid past the teen to fall on the woman, who met his gaze evenly and without even flinching.
And that happy exclamation was from Stark, emerging from the hall behind Kisuke and displaying distinctly more energy than Kisuke had ever seen from him. It was a lazy stroll that he effected, looking quite dapper in a borrowed kimono, but it was clear he was pleased to see his companion.
“So this is where you were, Primera,” the woman finally spoke, her voice rough and yet strangely sexy. She reminded Kisuke of a tame version of Yoruichi in some vague and mostly disconnected way.
“The boss was looking for me, I suppose,” Stark responded as he slipped by Kisuke to move towards the other Arrancar. He slung an arm over her shoulder, deftly steering her back to the inner sanctum of Kisuke’s shouten. “You’ll like this place though. Excellent beds.”
“Only you would extol the virtues of a place by its sleeping arrangements.” Her voice was both amused and pleased.
Stark chuckled, and the two disappeared down the hall.
Without his permission, Kisuke had picked up yet another boarder, just as strange as the last. And he wondered how this had happened. His gaze shifted to Ichigo, who was in the midst of leaving!
“Sorry, Urahara-san, I promised Yuzu I’d help her with her homework. Later!”
And then the teen was gone again, leaving him with the same unanswered questions as before. Kisuke blinked, fluttered his fan, and sighed. Looked like it was time to make more arrangements. His shop was really too small for this.
Halibel settled in, proving another silent presence. Kisuke didn’t mind her so much as she was a pleasant, intelligent person to be around, and she made little mess. Like Stark, she had been remanded to the basement where there was more space.
He really needed to think about expanding.
And then three days later, Ichigo shoved an older gentlemen at him, muttered something about homework and vanished.
“You can’t keep sending me your unwanted castoffs, Kurosaki-kun!” Kisuke yelled after him out of pure exasperation.
But Ichigo was far gone.
Feeling distinctly perturbed though he hid it well, Kisuke took another glance at his newest guest. A bone crown perched over his white hair, and his aged face was particularly surly. A scar crossed over one eye, and his burly mustache nearly hid his lips.
“Barragan Luisenbarn,” he muttered, voice gravelly and full of self-importance. “The second Espada. Where’s my room?”
Kisuke instantly felt a flicker of dislike. But he couldn’t in all rationality turn away a potential ally or source of information in their war. And he really wanted to know how Ichigo was accomplishing this.
With three Espada living in his basement, only two of whom Kisuke actually liked, he was beginning to suspect that a trend was forming. Even more suspicious was the manner in which they seemed to so easily turn their backs on Aizen and join Ichigo’s side. He didn’t dare comment that they had sided with the Shinigami. He’d learned the consequences of that mistake.
Oh, no. The three had made it perfectly clear they were on Ichigo’s side and Ichigo’s side alone. Yet, they couldn’t explain why or how. Just that Ichigo “made sense.”
A week after Barragan’s appearance, Ichigo wandered into the shouten again. Kisuke just sighed.
“Let me guess: someone else needs somewhere to stay,” the shopkeeper said before Ichigo could even speak.
Behind the teen, there was a disdainful sniff. “A hovel,” a voice commented, sounding bored to tears and yet not caring at all. A strange dichotomy.
Kisuke’s brow rose, even as he shifted to the side to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. He was therefore surprised to see a rather attractive young man, his eyes dispassionate pools of green. He carried himself with pride, though somehow remaining detached from everything around him. His skin, not just pale, was milky white. And the markings on his face made it appear as though he were weeping.
My, Sou-kun really did make them pretty, didn’t he? Well, other than the old fart who had tried to make himself “king” of the basement. Neither Stark nor Halibel humored him.
“Don’t mind him,” Ichigo inserted with a dismissive wave at the boy behind him. “He’s always like this.”
“Aizen-sama would have never resorted to a place like this,” the Espada continued, even though Ichigo was very obviously ignoring every word from his lips.
Kisuke’s brow lifted higher.
Ichigo scowled, twitching just a little. Okay, so he wasn’t completely ignoring the pale brat, but he was definitely trying. Kisuke suspected a story in this, if only he could drag it out.
“And who might this be?” the former captain questioned, having a great urge to delve deeper into the mysteries of his newest guest.
“Ulquiorra Something-or-other ,” Ichigo answered, a vein beginning to tick in his forehead as his companion had yet to remove his hands from his pockets.
He dispassionately gave his surroundings a look that was filled with disdain, perhaps even disgust. Kisuke was just a bit indignant. He cleaned! Or well, Tessai cleaned! His place was absolutely spotless, except perhaps for the labs. But no one ever went in there.
“Schiffer, Kurosaki trash, Schiffer. And do not forget again.”
My, they were quite good friends, weren’t they? How in Karakura had Ichigo managed to win this one over when it was obvious their respect for each other was pretty much nil?
That was quite the quandary.
Ichigo snorted. “Whatever. Stay here. I’m late for a meeting.” He turned away, and Kisuke had a brief thought of chasing after the teen.
“You know, if you keep bringing them here, I’ll have to start charging you rent!” the shopkeeper called after him, wondering why it was even he couldn’t say no to Ichigo. In fact, he felt just a bit like sulking.
Sort of like short-and-pasty over there was doing right now.
“So…” Kisuke began, eying the Espada calculatingly and contemplating bringing out his fan. “What number are you, Ulquiorra-kun?”
Those eyes stared back at him unflinchingly, as though examining, measuring, and dismissing him all in an instant. “Cuarta,” he answered flatly and without a hint of intonation. “Where is my room?”
It was evident that this one expected private quarters with full amenities. No doubt, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed by the other Shinigami, those he considered trash.
And Kisuke just sighed. He really, really needed a drink.
With Ulquiorra situated in one of the smaller rooms in the back of the shouten – one look at the kid and Tessai had ever so gracefully given him Jinta’s room, though Kisuke wasn’t entirely sure why – things were finally starting to settle down. This left Kisuke with a few extra moments to ponder his ever-increasing number of house guests. Surely, Aizen was getting a bit desperate at this point, what with all his high-ranked officers vanishing beneath his nose.
At the present, however, Kisuke was attempting to enjoy the nice and lazy afternoon. It was pleasantly warm outside, and the breeze was fresh, faintly smelling of wildflowers. He was soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the minute of peaceful solitude.
The shouten behind him gave a great rumble. He felt it through the wooden floor followed by the sound of several things breaking. Many of them likely irreplaceable.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make Goat-Face pay for that!”
Rattle, rattle. Clunk! Crash!
“Dammit, Kurosaki! You could’ve killed me!”
And yet, Ichigo didn’t seem to be too apologetic. And there he was, sprinting away on the rooftops, paying no mind to the Espada he’d just dropped onto and through Kisuke’s roof. It appeared that he now had another guest. Honestly, he shouldn’t have been surprised. Though he could have done without the hole in his roof. Perhaps Stark would be inclined to fix it, if he asked politely.
These Espada had to pay for their room and board in some fashion, after all.
It wasn’t until after Kisuke rose from his contemplations that he managed to find out the identity of his new resident. One Nnoitra Jiruga, the fifth Espada in Aizen’s army. Or truthfully, the fifth in Ichigo’s rapidly expanding Arrancar army. Honestly, how did the boy do it?
He wasn’t exactly charming, more prone to scowls and cocky behavior. And there was no way he was defeating these opponents. Kisuke was proud of his student, but Ichigo wasn’t that powerful. Unless he’d stumbled on some mysterious ability that Kisuke had never heard of. And if he didn’t know of it, it didn’t exist.
It was true that Ichigo had a gravitating sense about him. Kisuke didn’t think it worked on his enemies, especially considering the personalities and attitudes of the five he’d already met. Namely, the callous Ulquiorra and the argumentative Nnoitra.
He’d learned the hard way that it was best to separate Halibel and Nnoitra, the latter being an obvious misogynist and holding that against the former. And Halibel had no scruples about grinding him into the dust with only a few key moves and judicious applications of a well-timed cero. They kept destroying his training grounds, so Kisuke had been forced to find a means to keep them separated. An exhausting task.
Sighing to himself and wondering if his guest list would grow even larger, he felt the approaching surges of reiatsu moments before Ichigo was set to arrive. Unsurprising. Suspecting that his student was not alone, though he couldn’t exactly tell beneath the layers of aggression and aggravation, Kisuke headed for the doorway. It would be best to meet Ichigo there, he decided.
To his utmost surprise, however, Ichigo didn’t just come strolling in with another Espada trailing after him. Oh, no. Defying the norm once more, Ichigo trudged into Kisuke’s hallway. Half-carrying and half-dragging a beaten and bloodied creature that even now was dripping red onto the shopkeeper’s recently refurbished flooring.
He vaguely recognized bright blue hair beneath the evidence of a harsh battle, and he could hear angered, muttered curses. Not to mention the stranger had a death grip – and were those claws? – on Ichigo’s shihakushou. The teen himself was pretty worse for wear, clothing ripped in several places and a few bits of Hollow mask clinging to his hair.
“He wouldn’t stop attacking me,” Ichigo said by way of introduction. “Said I had to defeat him to make a point. And then, it was best two out of three. Then seven out of ten. And then-”
Kisuke held up a hand. “I think I get the picture,” he intercepted hastily, especially since the both of them looked about ten steps from death’s door. “I take it this-” he wasn’t sure what to call it so he stuck with that “- is an Espada.”
“The sixth, asshole,” the bleeding creature grated out, shifting a little and slamming one bloody palm into the side of the wall to help hold himself up. One blue eye glared hotly at Kisuke with interesting markings to the side of it. “And I ain’t this. I’m Grimmjow.”
“Well, Grimmjow-kun,” Kisuke drawled, a bit annoyed that the brat wasn’t being all grateful like he should be. “You’re bleeding all over my floor.”
“It’s Kurosaki’s fault.”
“It’s your fault, dumbass! You wouldn’t stop fighting!”
“That’s cuz you need ta get yer ass kicked!”
And before Kisuke’s very eyes, they started scuffling once more. Though in their current state of fatigue, it looked more like a slap-match between a pair of grade-school girls. Ichigo grappled. Grimmjow affected a very weak blow that was lazily dodged. Actually Ichigo probably tripped. It would have landed otherwise.
Suddenly, the two boys were separated, pulled apart by a hand gripping the back of what remained of their uniforms and dragging them away from one another.
“Come now, kids. Fighting in someone else’s house is rude,” Stark drawled, strength easily keeping them pinned on opposite sides of the hall.
Kisuke blinked since this was the first time he’d seen Stark do anything of his own accord.
“He started it!” both Grimmjow and Ichigo declared in the same moment, and promptly returned to glaring at one another.
Kisuke’s temple throbbed. He had the feeling that this Espada might be just a bit troublesome.
“Urahara-san, would you like to experience-”
“No, Zommari-kun, I would not.” Kisuke tried his best to respond politely. “But thank you so kindly for the offer.”
The Espada, numero siete to be precise, didn’t seem put down by his thirteenth – or was that fourteenth? – rejection.
“Ah, well perhaps later.” And then the dark-skinned man was gone, palms pressed together as he moved placidly down the hall. Presumably to meditate some more until Kisuke made the mistake of accidentally passing by him again.
From the moment Kurosaki-kun had dumped the man on Kisuke’s doorstep, he hadn’t gone five hours without being propositioned – for lack of a better word. It seemed Zommari couldn’t let a moment pass without asking Kisuke if he wanted to experience “Amor.”
He faintly considered hiding from the seventh Espada, but Kisuke had too much pride for that. He’d just have to endure Zommari’s attempts to be “closer” to him. And here, he’d thought that Arrancar hated Shinigami. He’d certainly heard Zommari mutter about them often enough. It seemed though that the dislike did not extend to exiled Shinigami. As though that made a difference.
Sighing, Kisuke returned to designing a hotel in his backyard. He had the feeling that Ichigo would be bringing him another one soon enough, if recent trends were any indication.
The first thing Kisuke saw was a blur of pink and a shriek of fangirly joy before a white-clad figure bound towards him and grabbed his hands, squeezing them tightly. He was faintly dizzy at the sudden flux of energy directed at him, even as the stranger – who must have been an Espada – made a noise that suspiciously sounded like a squeal.
“Urahara Kisuke! What an honor!” the Arrancar gushed at him, a bright grin on his rather youthful face. Amber eyes sparkled behind the rims of his bone mask. “I’ve read everything you’ve written. At least, what I could get my hands on. Aizen-sama had such a collection.”
Blinking in the face of such obvious adulation and praise, Kisuke felt his shoulders square in pride. “You have?”
“I have,” the Espada confirmed, cheeks flushing happily. “You are utterly brilliant! Your theories on Hollowification are unparalleled!”
Behind the pink-haired man, Ichigo coughed, quite bemused. He crossed his arms and smirked at the shopkeeper’s predicament, not caring that he’d thrust yet another Espada to his teacher’s care.
“And you would be?”
The Arrancar’s mouth dropped as he suddenly realized he’d yet to introduce himself. Releasing Kisuke, he giggled and shook his head. One hand lifted to his forehead, pressing gently.
“How could I have forgotten?” He gestured to his chest, the other hand performing some elaborate twirl. “Szayel Aporro Granz, Octava Espada, at your service. And most pleased to shake the hands of the famous Urahara Kisuke.”
And that had to be the longest introduction Kisuke had ever been forced to endure, not that Szayel was entirely unattractive. Just… excitable. Like an overeager puppy. But Kisuke couldn’t find himself disliking the Espada too much. After all, they shared a common interest. Perhaps this would prove to be the most useful of his new guests.
“How nice to meet a fellow scientist,” Kisuke returned, fan mysteriously appearing as it fluttered before him. “Shall I show you to my lab?”
Szayel clapped his hands together in absolute glee. “That would be wonderful!”
It wasn’t until several hours later that Kisuke recognized he wasn’t quite sure when Ichigo had left, abandoning Szayel to his care. And then, he realized that it didn’t really matter. This one was a keeper.
“Kurosaki-kun, I really don’t think this is… appropriate,” Kisuke commented uneasily, glancing at the… thing that the teen held.
Honestly, Ichigo looked a little apprehensive himself. “He… It… He really doesn’t have much else to go.”
Eying the two heads bobbing up and down within their glass casing, Kisuke resisted the urge to grimace. “I can’t imagine how it… eerrm, he would. Lacking legs and all.”
Ichigo winced and pushed the container in Kisuke’s direction. “That’s mostly Rukia’s fault. Remind me never to piss her off. Like ever.”
If that were the results of an angered Kuchiki, then Kisuke made a mental note to never do so himself.
The two heads bouncing within their cage turned to look at Kisuke in unison and tried to speak, but all he saw was bubbles. He really wished they wouldn’t do that. He might be an eccentric scientist, but even this stretched the limits of acceptability. Though he did wonder how a being functioned when it consisted only of heads.
Kisuke sighed, reaching to take the… thing from Ichigo before he dropped it in his haste to be rid of the burden. “I suppose this is another Espada?”
“Yeah, sort of like a shapeshifter,” Ichigo replied with a strange look on his face as though recalling something he had recently witnessed. “He said he was the ninth before Rukia iced one of his legs off.”
“So he did originally have limbs?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Rukia was really, really angry.”
“Ah.” It was quite unusual for Kisuke to be reduced to speechlessness, but honestly, there wasn’t much else he could say.
He looked down at the – he’d call it a jar because that’s what it looked like – in his hands. One of the heads smiled at him. Creepy.
“At least, he won’t take up much space,” Kisuke muttered to himself, thinking that he might give the ninth to Szayel. In fact, he turned to do just that. “Someday, Kurosaki-kun, you’re going to have to tell me how you’re acquiring your army,” he tossed over his shoulder.
The teen shrugged, idly rubbing one of his shoulders. “It’s not an army. And besides, it’s Aizen’s fault for continuing to send them to me. He’ll run out of lackeys eventually.” Ichigo threw a wave at him as he turned to leave.
Kisuke shook his head. “Dear Kami, if he sends Ichimaru or Tousen next, I’m going to protest,” he murmured to himself and looked down at the burden in his hold.
One of the faces stuck out its tongue at him.
He shuddered. He might have been a crazed scientist, but he still had some scruples. And this Espada – Aaroniero Arruruerie, and wasn’t what a mouthful? – completely crossed all the boundaries. In fact, he’d just remembered that he had space on his specimen shelf for another jar.
And laughter filled the backyard. Kisuke watched with utter entertainment, hiding behind his fan lest his amusement annoy the tenth Espada. Not that he looked particularly terrifying at the moment, playing some sort of game with Jinta and Ururu. Of course, considering that the both of them were pretty powerful children and Yammy was an Espada, it was more like a destructive battle of tag than something more child-like such as tic-tac-toe.
When Ichigo had first brought him the last of Aizen’s Espada, Kisuke had wondered how he was going to house the huge Arrancar. But Yammy had settled in without a word and had quickly taken a shine to Jinta and Ururu for reasons unknown. It was almost… cute. It might have helped that Yammy’s intelligence hardly ranked higher than a mere child anyway. He probably felt comfortable with them.
So there Kisuke was, lord and master of his own shouten, overrun with Espada.
There was Stark, who was content to sleep all day unless prodded by Halibel to earn his keep. In fact, Halibel did a good job at making most of the Espada do something with themselves. No one, however, could get through to Barragan. He was still trying to make himself ruler of the basement. At present, having foregone a tyranny, he was attempting a democracy. No one would vote for him; it was quite amusing.
Ulquiorra kept to his room, and sometimes, in the middle of the night, Kisuke heard strange whispers from that direction. He could have sworn the pale Arrancar was still extolling Aizen’s virtues, despite having switched to Ichigo’s side. For the most part, the others avoided Ulquiorra except when Grimmjow tried to goad him into a fight. Or Yammy attempted to talk to him, always an amusement in itself.
Nnoitra could be found at any moment destroying parts of Kisuke’s training center in his attempt to be stronger. Or mocking Halibel and being subsequently torn into pieces for it. Sometimes by Halibel herself, sometimes by Stark if he was feeling out of practice and satisfied by a long nap.
Grimmjow was hardly ever present as he spent most of his time either stalking Ichigo or annoying Ulquiorra. Always itching for a fight and determined to prove just how strong he really was.
Kisuke was most pleased to find that Zommari had switched his attentions to Yoruichi. The Shihouin heir, however, was not quite so ecstatic.
Szayel was utilizing his labs and creating all manner of interesting things. In fact, they were collaborating on several projects at the moment. All classified, of course.
Aaroniero was still bubbling in his jar, seeming content for it. He often watched as Kisuke and Szayel puttered around in the laboratory.
All in all, Kisuke’s house was much livelier than it had been before.
He started a bit at the unexpected voice and turned from his position watching Yammy play with the children, only to find Tessai standing behind him. He held the day’s mail in one hand, and a single envelope was being offered to the former captain.
“A letter for you,” Tessai explained, pushing the plain paper in his direction. It was very flat and thin, almost empty.
Inclining his head and closing his fan with a snap, Urahara accepted the letter. “Thank you, Tessai.”
As Tessai padded back into the quiet confines of the shop, likely to prepare the massive lunch required to feed all of their guests, Kisuke turned his attention to the envelope.
On the front, it was addressed to Kurosaki Ichigo, care of Urahara Kisuke. Since his name was on it in some fashion, he felt he was entitled to open and read it. Turning it over, he found that it wasn’t sealed shut but the flap merely folded inwards. Within seconds, he had it open, and a small sheet of paper – no larger than an index card – slid into his fingers.
The neatly penned, perfectly spaced kanji was the first thing he noted before he quickly scanned the message. Only to stop, let a smile quirk his lips, and go back to read it more slowly.
“In light of recent events,” the letter began with hardly any introduction, “I must ask you to desist in acquiring my underlings. It is quite troublesome to create more. Cease immediately. Or I shall be forced to take extreme measures.”
And it was signed: Aizen Sousuke. Former Captain of the Fifth Division. Lord and Master of Hueco Mundo. Future King of Soul Society and Ruler of the Known Universe. Which was possibly the most lengthy and optimistic signature Kisuke had ever seen.
He could only throw his head back and laugh, never minding that he probably looked like a moron. All of the insanity and the noise and the lack of space was worth it. This single moment where Aizen Sousuke proved to be threatened by a teenage human/Shinigami/Vizard hybrid thingy.