[Bleach] The Butterfly Effect 05

Chapter Five – Crossing the Rubicon

It didn’t take Kisuke as long for him to find his son as he would have thought. It was pretty easy to understand Ichigo sometimes. He sought solitude when he wanted to think, and with the knowledge of what he planned to do in a few hours, no doubt Ichigo was off in deep contemplation. Only Kisuke wouldn’t let him this time.

He found Ichigo on the roof and just as he expected his son would be. He didn’t know how or when Ichigo developed a fondness for high places, but he could often find him here. He sat on the roof, staring up at the clear night sky, a few stars twinkling. His reiatsu was a quiet stream surrounding his body, not contained but not escaping either. Like a blanket of his own power surrounding him.

“Are you ready?” Kisuke asked quietly, having shed his geta for the sake of balance and safety. He moved to his son’s side, looking down at Ichigo.

The boy lifted a hand, clenching and unclenching it to form a fist. “I know bankai. Tessai-san’s drilled enough kidoh into me that I’m drowning in it. And Yoruichi-san is going with me. If I’m not ready now, I don’t think I will ever be.” He uncurled his fingers and looked at his palm.

The blond lowered himself to sit next to Ichigo, feeling the restless anxiety coming off his son in waves. “That’s just the physical stuff, Ichigo.”

“Yeah, well, it’s the only stuff I can really help,” he muttered, lowering one knee and leaning forward against the other, balancing his chin across his arms.

To Kisuke, he still looked very much like the broken and lost little boy he had taken in so long ago. He had aged, true. And he had learned, but Kisuke could never forget the sight of him on that day. They – whoever the hell “they” were – always said that time healed all wounds, but Kisuke wasn’t sure there was enough time in the world for his son who bore everything on his own two shoulders.

He reached up, taking off his trademark hat and looking down at the striped fabric. “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

“Dad…”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Kisuke continued, looking everywhere but at his son. “The Gotei 13 are powerful.” His fingers clenched, and worry crashed over him where he had tried to be so supportive before.

“I’m not a pushover myself.”

He cracked a small smile at that. Yeah, Kisuke knew that all too well. Most of the time, he was surprised by Ichigo’s growth rate. It far surpassed anything that he had ever seen or found records about. Then again, his condition was also very rare. Kisuke had only heard of one other instance where a human had enough reiatsu to become a Shinigami while still living, and that had not ended well. Certainly, Ichigo’s continued existence proved his rarity, and he had to admit half the time, Kisuke didn’t know what to do with his son.

He thought that if there were anyone who could possibly do this, it would be Ichigo. He was lucky in a way that Kisuke had never seen before, with more resolve in his pinky finger than the blond had ever witnessed in some of the more powerful members of the Gotei 13. He was probably exactly what Seireitei needed to shake things up, and were Kisuke a vengeful man, he would gleefully send Ichigo in to wreak havoc without a second thought.

Things were different. Ichigo was his son. And as such, Kisuke couldn’t just bid him farewell without fighting back worry so great it rattled through his veins. He knew the might of the Gotei 13. He knew what Ichigo would have to face, and there was a very real, distinct possibility that his son could die. And there Kisuke would be, in the living world, unable to do a damn thing about it.

That particular thought didn’t settle well with him at all. In fact, it churned his belly and forced him to swallow down rising bile.

“I’m just worried,” he admitted, though it was probably the last thing his son wanted to hear.

Ichigo looked at him. “You don’t think I can do it?”

“That’s not what I said,” Kisuke hurriedly corrected because that was the furthest from the truth. “You don’t know anything about them, about what who they are and what they are capable of.”

“So tell me,” Ichigo said as though it really were that simple. Like his father could summarize everything that happened in the past into a few easy sentences that would explain his entire existence.

Kisuke exhaled harshly, frustration warring inside of him. Where would he even begin? What would he need to hide? What could he tell to make Ichigo understand? How much was too much?

“You never talk about why you’re here and not in Soul Society,” Ichigo continued with a teenager’s dogged persistence. “It’s kind of important right now, right? So just tell me!”

“It’s complicated,” Kisuke retorted and winced because it was a lame excuse and he knew it.

Complicated was trying to figure out how to reconcile Ichigo’s three halves. Complicated was suddenly raising three human children on his own when he had no idea what to do with them. Complicated was the connection between he and Yoruichi, the truths they knew and the lies they told everybody else. Complicated was explaining to Yuzu why he would never bring her home a mother. Complicated was handling Karin’s turbulent emotions after the death of her birth parents. Complicated was so far from what he would use to describe one hundred years ago and all that Aizen had done to him that Kisuke didn’t even consider it in the same arena.

Ichigo snorted, obviously agreeing with Kisuke’s internal thoughts. “What? You do something terrible or something? Blow up a city with one of your experiments?” He gestured vaguely. “Cut off the soutaichou’s beard? Kill someone?”

It was the last that shoved him out of apathy. “No!” Kisuke denied and forced himself to pause to regain control, repeating himself a bit quieter. “No, I didn’t kill anyone. In fact, I didn’t do anything, and maybe that’s my sin, but I am not the only one to blame.”

“Then tell me!” Ichigo demanded, his voice reaching a higher volume that dared to echo in the night.

His son had a point, and damned if Kisuke didn’t want to tell him. But he would do it anyway because Ichigo had to know. He had to be prepared, to know who he could and could not trust. Kisuke refused to send his son in blindly.

He dropped his hat into his lap, abandoning the safety of its concealment, and raked a hand through his hair. His fingers tightened around the rim, but that only firmed his resolve.

“Ichigo, look at me.”

Though surprised by the request, Ichigo complied, something earnest in his expression.

Kisuke couldn’t help but fidget, though he’d prefer to be more restrained. “My exile was orchestrated entirely by the machinations of one man, though others were involved in his schemes. His name is Aizen Sousuke, and he is now captain of the fifth division. His co-conspirators – Ichimaru Gin and Tousen Kaname – are captains of the third and ninth division respectively. They are the three you must be most wary of.” His mouth was dry, the names falling like acid from his lips.

He tried not to think of that night to no avail, remembering his own failures. Aizen’s smug smirk. Tousen’s silence. Ichimaru’s unending grin. The cries of the betrayed Vizard, their pained moans as their bodies twisted and writhed, caught between forms. And night falling over all of them, concealing the truth.

Kisuke swallowed, forcing himself to continue. He had told Ichigo to look at him, but in truth, the blond could not return the demand. He found his eyes wandering away, to the safety of the vista easily seen from their roof. Rows and rows of buildings, the lights from the railroad tracks. All things that remained him painfully of his exile.

“Aizen is after something that Kuchiki-san has in her possession,” he continued quietly, guilt trying to swallow him whole. Ichigo still didn’t know, and Kisuke didn’t think he could bring himself to tell him. “There is every chance that what is happening may be part of his plan.”

Beside him, Ichigo straightened, his gold eyes flashing with a new anger. “They dragged Rukia away because of him?”

Kisuke could just see the boy adding Aizen Sousuke to an inner list of “Shinigami who desperately needed their asses kicked.” The fact that Ichigo’s birth father was currently the only other name on that list troubled him greatly.

“I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t dismiss it either,” Kisuke said and sighed, hoping he could impress on his son just how insidious Aizen was. That he shouldn’t by any means go picking fights with him. “Aizen is dangerous, Ichigo. More dangerous than you will ever know, and it’s entirely centered around his zanpakutou. Don’t trust anything you see when it concerns him; it could all be an illusion.”

He watched as Ichigo glanced away thoughtfully. “Aizen… He’s the reason Shinji and the others are here, too? No wonder they hate him so much.”

“Shinji’s mentioned him before?”

It was the first Kisuke had heard of this. He only wondered what else the Vizard might have told his son when he had begged their help. He hadn’t been able to “fix” Ichigo on his own those six years past. He’d had to rely on their assistance, and frankly, they hadn’t minded. Ichigo was one of their own, they still claimed. Though the boy himself didn’t really align himself one way or the other.

Kisuke dreaded to think that the time when he might have to choose was coming faster than he would have liked.

Ichigo shrugged, as though it didn’t really matter. “In passing. It’s usually joined with much cursing and Hiyori stalking off to destroy something.” His eyes narrowed, certain that it was so much more than that.

And he would be right.

“Aizen is powerful. Even back then, he was a force to be reckoned with, even if he was only a fukutaichou.”

Casting a high level kidoh with barely a chant and no concentration. Breaking another – Tessai’s spell, no less! – so easily, as if a student from the academy had been the one to throw it at him. Ensnaring all of them under the web of his reiatsu. Weaving illusions around them effortlessly for decades. Centuries perhaps. And finding others of like mind. Suborning them to his will.

Kisuke exhaled very heavily. “Aizen is very powerful. I’m not certain if even I or Yoruichi could defeat him without cheating. If it comes down to it and you have to fight one of them, go through Ichimaru. He’s the youngest of the three and was only a child last I saw him.”

Better than Tousen at any rate. Shinji and Kensei had told him firsthand of the things Tousen’s zanpakutou could do. And there was no way in forty hells that he’d want Ichigo to work his way through that.

“But-” His son began, only to be cut off by the blond’s sharp gaze.

One of Kisuke’s hands curled into a fist, entirely without his consent. “I know far less about Aizen than I would like, Ichigo. Far less. I can only surmise that he’s gotten stronger, and I don’t think he’d hesitate to kill you. Especially if he knew of your connection to me or even the other Vizard. So believe me when I say this: if you have to, just run.”

He knew the idea of flight didn’t appeal to his son in the slightest. He hated to run from anything. Not a fight with the local thugs. Not a particularly difficult Hollow. Not from his own inner troubles. Not a single obstacle that had been put in his way. Ichigo’s pride, his resolve, his determination were a strength for him. But Kisuke worried – no, he knew – they were not enough in the face of Aizen. His son was just so very young, and Aizen was a monster in the truest sense of the word.

Ichigo scowled. “If he’s after Rukia, then I’ll probably have to fight him. I don’t think I can avoid it.”

Ichigo.”

He sighed, a teenage exasperation of sound, and hauled himself to his feet. “But I’ll do my best to avoid him. Can’t make the old man worry.”

“Are we going by your definitions of old or mine?” Kisuke retorted, unable to explain the flash of relief that soared through him.

Ichigo might not like it, but at least, he would think before charging into the thick of things. And at least this way, he wouldn’t be blindsided as Kisuke himself had been. He would know about the sinister intentions lurking behind Aizen’s picture-perfect persona. He would stand a fighting chance.

The ex-captain watched as his son stretched.

“Mine,” the boy said, and there was a hint of humor in his voice.

“I’ll have you know that I’m younger than Yoruichi.”

Ichigo snorted. “That’s not really saying much.”

“I dare you to say it to her face.”

“I think I’d rather face Aizen.” A vague look of embarrassed horror crossed Ichigo’s expression, remembering with a tinge of red to his cheeks his aunt’s way of punishment.

Kisuke forced himself to chuckle, even if just hearing Ichigo say that name made his insides churn. What had happened to his carefree days? Gone in the wake of his children, he supposed. Sometimes, he wondered how anyone survived being a parent these days, what with the stress and worry his kids put him through.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” Ichigo assured him, already moving across the roof to the short ladder, no doubt to finish his preparations for the mission. His reiatsu was much calmer now than it had been before, which relieved Kisuke. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

It wouldn’t be soon enough, but Kisuke kept that to himself. He’d rather Ichigo think that he was entirely confident in him.

Silence – except for the usual noise pollution of a town in motion – surrounded him. A wind stirred, chasing away the lazy heat that lingered from the afternoon. And somewhere below him, his home practically thrummed with reiatsu.

He’d never known it would be this hard.

“Tenchou!”

Kisuke hauled himself to his feet, glancing over the edge. Tessai stood waiting at ground level, confusion furrowing his brow. He was probably trying to figure out what the shopkeeper was doing on the roof.

“They’re here,” his friend added when he caught Kisuke looking at him.

They…?

A spark of recognition flittered across his brain, and Kisuke couldn’t help but grin a little. He was sending his son into Seireitei, but he wouldn’t be going alone. And he’d yet to tell Ichigo. That at least should bring some amusement.

Ichigo wished he felt more certain than he did, nervousness twisting in his belly. It was easy to project confidence to others; he just wished he could make himself believe it as well. Contrary to his father’s opinion, he realized the danger that awaited him. He knew what he would have to face, and he understood it would be no simple task.

That didn’t mean he was going to turn his back on Rukia either. Even if he had to fight the whole of the Gotei 13, Onmitsukidoh, and Kidoushuu.

Squaring his shoulders, Ichigo padded through the mostly silent shouten towards his room, seeking out Kon. He didn’t want to put his body in stasis for however long it took. Besides, Yuzu and Karin would need someone to look after them, though he imagined the latter would deny that stridently.

He found Kon snoozing in the middle of his bed, a stuffed lion somehow managing to snore despite lacking a real body. Ichigo picked him up, and Kon woke immediately, flailing around like an imbecile and screaming something entirely random.

“The hippies ate my donuts!”

Ichigo blinked. “The hippies… What?” And then on second thought. “Wait. Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

Kon harrumphed, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared up at Ichigo from where the teen gripped him by the back of his neck. “What do you want?” he demanded, still sulking over Rukia’s disappearance. “I was sleeping, you know.”

It was only after Kon bounced around the room a few times that Ichigo reminded himself he couldn’t actually feel pain in his current form. “You want Rukia back, don’t you?”

“Nee-san?” He swore sparkles entered the plushie’s eyes as he performed a miraculous leap to his feet, squeaking across the floor back to Ichigo.

Ichigo nodded and raked a hand over his hair. “Yeah, I’m going to get her. But I can’t exactly leave this lying around.” He plucked at his chest demonstratively.

Ichigo knew all too well the pains of getting back into an untended body after a long period of time. Stiff and cold, it always felt unnatural. He loathed it with a passion, even more than returning after a temporary soul had been placed inside.

He watched as indecision wracked Kon, who warred with himself over helping Ichigo and helping his precious Rukia.

“Fine!” he declared, pointing a stuffed fist at Ichigo. “I’ll help you this once! But only so you can save nee-san!”

“Whatever.”

A few minutes later and Ichigo was in his Shinigami form with Kon performing his usual stretch-and-dance routine to get comfortable in Ichigo’s body. It always amazed the teen how quickly Kon made it is his own, his mannerisms showing clearly on Ichigo’s face. Sometimes, it was hard for him to tell that it was supposed to be his body and not Kon’s, and boy, didn’t that spark some strange thoughts.

Ichigo fidgeted, tugging at the ties of his obi and adjusting and readjusting Zangetsu over and over. His zanpakutou vibrated with his restlessness, and in the back of his mind, Shirosaki shook his head at his king’s foolishness. Bah, what would he know? He wasn’t all of fifteen and getting ready to declare war against the might of Soul Society.

Doesn’t sound too bad ta me, aibou.

He mentally told Shirosaki to shut up.

His bed squeaked as Kon dropped back onto it, eyes dropping in preparation to go back to sleep. Honestly, did he do anything useful?

Ichigo prodded him in the side with the end of his sheathed zanpakutou. “Oy?”

One golden eye cracked open. It was always eerie looking back at himself.

“What?” Kon practically whined, and Ichigo swore that his own voice didn’t sound like that.

“Watch them for me,” Ichigo commanded and then elaborated for the sake of Kon’s puny sense of understanding. “Karin and Yuzu. Jinta and Ururu too, though they can take care of themselves probably better than I can. I’ll kick your ass if anything happens to my family.”

Kon stuck out his tongue like a juvenile, promptly closing his eyes. “Whatever boss. I’ll kick yours if you don’t bring back nee-san.”

Empty threats. Ichigo wondered when they’d started treating each other like annoying siblings and not… well, two beings who didn’t really like each other too much. He looked at Kon again, but the mod soul seemed to be slipping back into sleep already. He should have known.

Ichigo looked around his room and at all the things he knew to be his. Schoolbooks stacked on the desk. Uniform hanging to dry. Quincy curtains, Ishida’s idea of a joke.

He better come back to this.

Ichigo left Kon to his sleep and wandered back into the hallway, passing by Yuzu and Karin’s shared room. This late at night, they were both asleep, but he looked in on them anyway. They knew he was leaving, and they knew why, though Karin was of mixed feelings about it. Yuzu made him promise to be careful, and Karin had socked him in the shoulder much like Tatsuki.

He had to come back for their sakes.

Ichigo had dawdled long enough. There was enough reiatsu being pumped downstairs that he could feel it in the floor. His dad and Tessai had the gate ready. All that was left was for him to go through it. And no doubt Yoruichi-san was waiting for him, too.

The shop was silent, and as he passed, he saw that Jinta and Ururu were asleep as well, the former sprawled out over the covers, half-under and half not. The latter was curled into a ball around a stuffed rabbit. They were like his siblings, too, but nothing compared to the connection he had with his sisters.

Ichigo pulled up the trapdoor with a slight squeak and dropped down into the basement, shielding his eyes from the sudden shift from dim to fake, bright lighting. He could just feel the reiatsu from the gate a short distance away, and a quick burst of shunpo took him there. He pretended he didn’t feel like butterflies danced a waltz in his belly.

His father was waiting. As was Tessai, standing and discussing something in low tones. Yoruichi-san was there as well in full battle regalia. And next to her…

Ichigo’s brain abruptly stuttered.

“Kurosaki-kun!” Inoue was the first to notice him, and she waved wildly, lips pulled into a joyous grin. “You’re finally here!”

“You’re late,” Ishida added with a grumble, one hand brushing down the front of his painfully white outfit that Ichigo highly suspected he had sewn himself. But he didn’t want to ask. Not at all.

Chad just looked at him, as though his presence didn’t need an explanation.

And Ichigo? He gaped.

“What? You think we’d let you run off by yourself, dumbass?” Tatsuki stated with a rough smile. She jerked up an arm, showing him her fist. “As if, Kurosaki.”

Ishida pushed up his glasses with one finger. “Kuchiki-san may be a Shinigami, but she does not deserve the type of a punishment they will inflict upon her.” He rubbed his arm in a manner that suggested there had once been more than skin there.

Ichigo belatedly recalled that Kon had mentioned Ishida was there when Rukia was taken. Yet another reason that Ichigo had to do this. He should have been there, too.

“And if Tatsuki’s going, then so am I,” Inoue insisted, eyes sparkling with determination, even as she set her jaw in that stubborn way that was uncomfortably familiar to Ichigo.

“You need someone to watch your back,” Chad added quietly, voice brooking no argument. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Ichigo struggled for words, wanting to deny all of them. Where did they get off thinking this was their fight? Hell, Ishida was the only one of them who even knew how!

“Don’t be so surprised,” Yoruichi-san said from behind him, the smile on her face wicked and her tone amused. Ichigo wouldn’t be surprised if he saw a cat’s tail waving behind her mischievously. “All that reiatsu you spill everywhere had to go somewhere.”

He scowled, whirling towards her with his brow drawn tight. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

His aunt shook a finger at him. “Tsk, tsk. Ichigo. Such language to your dear oba-chan. I know that Kisuke raised you better.”

He felt an eyebrow twitch as Tatsuki snickered behind him. “They can’t come,” Ichigo practically growled at her, though he sensed it would end up being a battle. “This isn’t a game.”

Yoruichi-san looked at him, and though there was a grin on her lips, her eyes hardened with sobriety. “No, it’s not. Which is why you’ll need all the help you can get. Where do you think I’ve been this past week? Or Tessai? Jinta? Ururu? You think they’ve all been here working on the one gate?”

“You didn’t think I’d send my own son in alone, did you?” his father asked from his position just in front of the unopened gate, voice light but holding a note of tension. He still didn’t like this at all. “Dear Yoruichi is the best at stealth, but she’s just one woman.”

“Face it, Kurosaki,” Tatsuki added with more than a hint of cheer, coming up and clapping him on the shoulder with a strong enough grip to nearly make him stagger. Damn, but she hit like a man. “We’re coming with you.”

“But… your arm,” Ichigo protested weakly, feeling like he was fighting a battle he’d lost long before he even knew there was a war.

Inoue giggled. “Oh, don’t worry about that! Thanks to Yoruichi-san, I helped her heal that right up!” She poked Tatsuki’s arm demonstratively, prompting the other girl to give Ichigo a thumbs-up with said formerly injured appendage.

“So quit gaping like a fish, Ichi-kun,” Yoruichi insisted, her amusement yet to fade, “and thank them for their hard work.”

Ichigo, for his part, couldn’t separate the conflicting emotions that ripped and roared through him. There was an embarrassing amount of gratefulness for his friends – their bravery and their loyalty and their dedication. That he didn’t have to do this alone warmed him in ways they could not understand. But for all that, there was an incredible sort of worry and trepidation. He would never forgive himself if they were injured for a cause that was his own. Or even worse, if they died.

He didn’t know what face to show them. So he was therefore relieved when his father clapped his hands, attracting their attention back towards the empty gate.

“Now,” the blond interrupted, “that it’s settled, we should get things moving. Kuchiki-san’s time is limited, after all.”

With that heavy reminder, Ichigo returned to business once again. “Fine,” he growled, though it came out less annoyed than he would like and more generally accepting. It prompted both Tatsuki and Inoue to grin like fools.

“Very good then,” Urahara continued, clapping his hands together once more. “Let’s get this started.”

He snapped his fingers, and to the surprise of everyone in the room, especially Ichigo, a gate suddenly appeared out of thin air just behind him. Slamming into existence with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face. His dad liked to make a grand entrance that way.

“Now, this here is a Seikaimon,” Urahara began to explain for the benefit of those who hadn’t been subjected to years worth of lessons and explanations. “It’s not a normal gate, however, because there’s a tiny problem of attempting to send humans through here. Which just doesn’t work, so I’ve altered it.”

“And tested it, right?” Ichigo insisted, locking eyes with the blond and promising dire retribution if it were otherwise.

Urahara laughed, his damn annoying fan appearing with the same startling nowhere-ness as the gate. “Of course, Ichigo! I wouldn’t put my own son in danger!” He smiled, but it was suspicious. “Moving right along.” He gestured to the gate once more with a sharp twist of wrist and fan. “I am a genius; this is true. But even so, Tessai and myself can only manage to keep this open for four minutes. I hope you brought your running shoes.”

“Oh, no,” Inoue gasped and then whispered to Tatsuki, though pretty much everyone else could hear it. “Should I go back for mine?”

Tatsuki’s sigh was even more audible.

Ichigo simply pretended he hadn’t heard either of them. It was better for his sanity if he did. Why was it a good idea that they came along again?

“Four minutes,” Ichigo repeated and frantically tried to recall all the lessons that had been crammed into his brain. “That’s not long enough!”

“It’ll have to be,” his father stated. “There’s no other way, Ichigo.” He paused, sweeping his gaze out over the group, expression unreadable beneath the shadows of his horrid hat. “Don’t worry. I have no doubts that you will make it. Yoru-chan is your guide, after all.”

“That’s right!” She agreed amicably and draped herself over Ichigo’s back, completely heedless to Zangetsu, rubbing against the side of his face in a very cat-like fashion. “Just keep moving forward, and the rest will take care of itself.”

He lifted an elbow to try and remove his aunt from her clinging, but alas, it did him little good.

“Fine. We get it. Time’s wasting.”

“So it is,” Urahara agreed and stood silently a minute more, watching the assembled group and his son. Wishing he could reconsider. Wishing he didn’t have to do this.

Ichigo looked at him, arms crossed over his face. And though he didn’t waver, he recognized how hard this must be.

“All I have to do is win,” the teen added, Zangetsu and Shirosaki echoing the sentiment within him. “I’m coming back. All of us are coming back.” His eyes locked with his father in a silent promise.

“You had better,” the blond insisted, and reaching up to briefly touch his hat, he abruptly turned back towards the gate and gestured towards Tessai with the other hand. “Let’s get this started then, shall we?”

Tessai inclined his head and stood to one side of the massive structure, its squarish construction standing firm. Ichigo watched as they knelt on the ground and felt the faintest prickle of reiatsu in the air, sensed it swelling and drawing towards the gate, growing stronger with each passing second.

“Enter the instant the gate opens,” Urahara announced, voice taking on the edge of strain, though it retained its light and noticeably fake cheer. “And simultaneously. Once inside, run like hell. And follow Yoruichi.”

No sooner had he spoke than the press of reiatsu became an outright flood, slamming through the underground room. Energy and light exuded from the stone-surrounded walls of the gate, nearly blinding Ichigo and his entourage. He felt something inside of him tugging towards the gate, calling, demanding entrance. A strange sort of calm settled within him, where his nerves had been slightly rattled before.

He was going to do this. He was going to save her. And nothing was going to stand in his way.

“Here it goes!” Urahara shouted, and his announcement was followed by an even brighter flare of reiatsu.

Ichigo’s feet were moving before his eyes had a chance to adjust, and by the sound of footwear beside him, he knew that his friends were with him. He couldn’t see his father through the flash of reiatsu, but he knew that Urahara was there.

And then he was gone, swallowed by the gate.

They were through in a flash, and Kisuke felt an answering pull of reiatsu from deep inside his body as the gate called on more power to fuel their cross. Tessai suffered from the same draining tug, face painted with sweat though his expression betrayed nothing. Kisuke blinked to clear away the dots dancing in front of his eyes and rose slowly to his feet, the light fading.

The gate still rippled, just waiting for another to take a step through it. Four minutes really wasn’t enough time. Kisuke wished he could have given his son more. A lot more. As it were, any longer and Ichigo would face certain death upon his arrival. Soul Society would sense them coming in an instant. This unauthorized entry would certainly attract someone’s attention.

He walked forward, watching the portal where his son and his friends had gone, wishing with all his being that he could go as well. It rippled, almost invitingly, like the play of light over waves in the sea. Sparkling and gem-like, fleeting in its beauty.

Kisuke lifted his hand, barely pressing the tips of his finger against that enticing ripple. The response was immediate and violent. A ripple of pain that stabbed through his hand, and the ex-captain grimaced, taking an unconscious step back. Where he had briefly touched it, his skin was reddened and raw. Burned.

Exiled.

Kisuke chewed on his bottom lip, something sitting heavy and thick in his stomach. He worried. By Kami, he worried. How could he not? Ichigo was his son in everything that had ever mattered, and he’d just sent the teen against the might of the Gotei 13. For the sake of a Shinigami who Kisuke cared nothing for but seemed to matter to Ichigo very much.

“He’s going where I can’t follow,” Kisuke murmured, more to himself than anyone else, though Tessai plainly heard him. “How could I have let him do such a thing?”

“Because you know it was the best thing to do,” Tessai rumbled softly, reaching up to adjust his glasses and wipe a bead of sweat of brow. “And because you know you had no other choice. We both know this seems too coincidental.”

Shoulders slumping, Kisuke turned away from the gate as it shimmered one last time and closed, collapsing. He prayed to a god he didn’t believe in that Ichigo made it to the other side safely. He drew his hat down further onto his face, eyes slanting to the side as he considered.

Kisuke had done his best to warn Ichigo. He only hoped it was enough. That his knowledge of the situation would carry his son through. That he hadn’t made a mistake somewhere along the way and that he wouldn’t regret this decision.

“You’ll just have to trust in him,” Tessai added, already turning towards the ladder and the shop above where the rest of Kisuke’s children waited; the Kurosaki twins were anxious and apprehensive already.

“I do,” Kisuke murmured and was surprised himself with the absolute conviction his tone managed. “But will that be enough?”

And to that, Tessai had no ready answer.


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