Chapter Eight – The Shooting Star Project
She found him sitting outside, perched on Kuukaku’s roof between the two reaching hands. He was gazing off towards Rukongai and the high walls of Seireitei beyond it. Her nephew’s habit of high solitude would never change, Yoruichi surmised. Sometimes, he was more like Kisuke than either of them realized. Despite their dubious blood ties.
“You should be sleeping, Ichigo,” she commented as she moved across the roof to join him. The wind buffeted at her and tugged her hair from its high ponytail as she came up beside her nephew.
“Can’t.” His arms were balanced over his drawn-out knees, Zangetsu lying across the roof next to him.
Ichigo shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said with narrowed eyes. “There’s something else going on. I can feel it. This can’t just be about Rukia and whatever they think she did or has. It makes no sense. Even if she’s one of the elite Kuchiki. There has to be something else we don’t see.”
Lowering herself onto the roof beside him, Yoruichi marveled at his insight. Even as she was struck with the realization that she didn’t understand her nephew any more than his father did. It was a chilling thought. Especially with how good she was at reading people and the fact that she’d known him since birth. As much as he was like Kisuke, Ichigo was also someone else – something else – entirely. And sometimes, she wasn’t even sure if that something was human.
“What makes you say that?” she asked. But it wasn’t nearly as casual as it sounded, and both of them knew it.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t really explain it. Just a feeling.”
She watched as his hands twitched. Fingers twisting around.
“That we’re probably in over our heads and have been since before landing in Rukongai.”
He was perceptive, her nephew. Scarily so at times. Yoruichi had come to much the same conclusion herself. It seemed too coincidental, too extreme. Execution for fraternizing with an exile? Since when had that been punishable by death? There were very few deeds that demanded execution, and nothing Kuchiki Rukia had done was on that level. Even Kisuke hadn’t earned it. Had gotten exile instead.
Something much larger was at stake here. She could feel it in her bones. She just wondered if Byakuya was involved. Or if it was in fact Aizen. If he knew what Kisuke had done. What he’d put inside the Kuchiki girl. But how could he? How could that bastard possibly know?
“It does seem very suspect,” Yoruichi agreed vaguely, wondering how much her brother had revealed to Ichigo. “But then, they don’t know the truth.”
“Of what Aizen is, right?” Ichigo questioned, gesturing towards Seireitei just visible in the distance. “And we can’t exactly warn them.”
She breathed out at that. At the implication that Kisuke had actually been honest with him. To a point. Not that she didn’t blame her brother for his uncertainty. For his hesitance in dragging his son in deeper than he already was. For taking that last little bit of innocence Ichigo had left. Her nephew hadn’t been a child for a long time, not with a monster living in his very soul. But it was so easy to forget at times. Forget that he was more than a spiritually-gifted teenager. That if he really put his mind to it, if he lost control of himself, he was powerful enough that Yoruichi wasn’t sure she could put him down without getting them both killed in the process.
“No, we can’t,” she replied slowly. “They won’t listen. Not that they ever do.”
He lifted his shoulders. “That’s fine. I’ve already decided I’ll go through them if I have to. I knew that before I went through the gate.”
Yoruichi grinned, but it was frayed at the edges. “I knew you were my favorite nephew,” she said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. Something she hadn’t done for awhile; he claimed that he was too old for it now. “We’ll make a clan member of you yet, Shihouin-sama.”
He reddened. A response that she never failed to find adorable. He was so delightfully naïve about some things that it was refreshing for Yoruichi to see. Kisuke’s exile had been awful. A harsh blow to their lives, true. But in many ways, it was also the best thing to ever happen to them.
Yoruichi felt free now. Or at least freer. And Kisuke had free reign for his experiments, not that he had needed much reigning in before. Even more than that, Kisuke finally had a family. He had something the both of them cherished deeply. If not for Aizen’s betrayal, they might have only ever had each other. Probably never the shop kids. Jinta and Ururu. Most definitely never her nephew and nieces. Not Ichigo or Karin or Yuzu. Isshin wouldn’t have been with Masaki without Kisuke’s help. Which meant the children never would’ve even existed.
A sobering and horrible thought. One that she firmly banished.
“A good little heir,” she sing-songed in an attempt to make both of them feel better, and really, she was too much like Kisuke herself. “You’d probably even have met my father’s strict standards. And trust me, that man was pretty damn hard to please, Shihouin-sama.” She ruffled his hair some more. Surprised as always how much the texture was like her brother’s own for all that the color was different.
“Don’t call me that,” Ichigo muttered, acting like the teenager he was supposed to be as he ducked out from under her hand.
Laughing, Yoruichi rose to her feet and let the wind buffet briefly at her body. It felt strangely nostalgic to be here, though arguably she returned to Seireitei where Kisuke could not. She served as his eyes and ears here after all. Sometimes, she wondered just how badly her brother missed this place. If he even still considered it home. She wasn’t even sure that she did anymore. Not when her brother and nieces weren’t here. With only Ichigo at her back, it felt more like they were in hostile territory. Which wasn’t far from the truth even in the sanctuary of Kuukaku’s stronghold.
“Don’t stay up here too long,” she warned him, moving to leap down from the high roof and back to the warmth of the house. Yoruichi knew that Kuukaku had a bottle of warmed sake just waiting for them to enjoy. “You need sleep as much as the rest of us mortals.”
The sound of her nephew’s snort was her answer. Yoruichi shook her head at his cute behavior and hit the ground with a tap, her steps as light and sure as a nimble-footed cat. She looked back at him briefly, his seated form appearing solid and determined. He had quite the battle to face tomorrow, but she also knew he’d made his choice. And nothing could dissuade him. He could be so stubborn. It was the Kuchiki in him, Yoruichi had always thought. It was Isshin’s fiery determination. The heat and passion that had led him to defy everything. To love and marry a living human and make a family.
Or maybe it was Kisuke. The look he carried was certainly that of her brother. Even if the face itself was that of a Shiba. Even if it was so freakishly close to Isshin and even Kaien when he’d still been around. But gleam to his eyes? That was pure Kisuke. That was the same resolve she’d seen when her brother had wanted to go through the ranks without relying on her name and influence. When he’d wanted to reach bankai with a completely untested method. When he had been so determined to help Shinji and the others. To have them conquer themselves and the Hollows lurking inside. Yoruichi herself had been willing to concede defeat. To put an end to them and their misery. But as always, Kisuke had pulled a miracle out of his ass and made it seem easy in the process.
Yes, that stubbornness had definitely come from him. She only hoped that Ichigo really had inherited that golden touch along with it. The ability to always land on his feet. To always come out ahead no matter the odds stacked against him.
They certainly needed it.
As for her, Yoruichi could just hope for the best. Could only stand with him and catch him if he fell.
But for now… Now, there was a new jug of sake with her name on it. And Yoruichi headed back into the house, thinking that the alcohol would be much needed. Definitely the booze. The company wasn’t bad either. Kuukaku telling her everything she’d missed in the last few years. Simple and fun. Just what she needed.
Tomorrow wasn’t going to be easy. Nothing truly worth it ever was.
Their landing in Seireitei was much more graceful than the one in Rukongai. Though the cannonball had punched through the barrier with more force than any of them had expected, it held together thanks to Ichigo’s quick thinking and the stabilizing presence of his aunt. The assorted group landed in some back alley with only a small lurch and a bruised nose. It was Ishida’s as Inoue had flailed in her excitement and accidentally smacked her elbow into his face. No biggie really. The bruise might actually make him seem manlier.
Ichigo straightened as the last of the cannonball shattered to bits around them and vanished. He could feel the remnants of the spell lingering around him and shook it off as though it were something tangible. He felt keyed up, his senses stretching out in all directions. For some reason, being here in Seireitei, his reiatsu felt more energetic. He couldn’t explain it. And to be honest, he didn’t really like it either.
“Well, that was fun,” Tatsuki muttered, rolling her shoulder as though easing a cramp. She looked around and took in the featureless alleyway. “Any idea where we are?”
Yoruichi, hand on her hips and grin on her face, surveyed her assortment of teenagers. “In Seireitei. And that’s all that matters.”
“I get that. But what’s our destination, and how far are we from it?” Tatsuki pressed, going through a few idle stretches, obviously preparing for battle.
Ichigo felt a stab of fear rock through him before he could hold back on it. He was used to risking his own life; that had never been a problem for him. But Tatsuki and Inoue? Chad? Even that snot Ishida? They were here because of him, not for their own sakes. What would he do if they were injured because of him? Or worse killed? And why hadn’t he considered this sooner? Before it was too late to tell them to go back?
A hand landed on his shoulder, dragging him from his thoughts. He turned to see his aunt giving him a strange look. Her normal teasing expression had been replaced with something far more somber.
He blinked and forced himself to look more alert. “Ah, sorry. What was that?” he asked, pretending to be distracted by the pressing influx of different reiatsu that swirled around them. The walls and ground seemed soaked in it, probably due to the amount of Shinigami that resided within the city.
“We were deciding to split up,” Chad interjected. His dark eyes regarded Ichigo with no small hint of concern.
“To cover more ground and hopefully, distract the Shinigami as well,” Tatsuki added, looking a little worried herself but choosing not to vocalize it either.
“Split up?” Ichigo repeated.
His first thought was that it was impossible for them to go their separate ways; he couldn’t protect them that way. But looking at all the determined faces, he knew he couldn’t say that. They’d all come here thinking to help him, and it would be insulting for him to imply that they couldn’t take care of themselves. Maybe the one he worried about the most was Inoue, but Tatsuki would rather lose an arm than watch Inoue come to any harm. Not that that thought was comforting either.
Ichigo sighed, curling his hand around Zangetsu’s hilt. “Great idea,” he amended, soothing what had been a rather abrupt outburst. “Our goal?”
Yoruichi lifted a hand, pointing to white spires rising in the distance. The towers were visible even from their position in the alley.
“There. The Shrine of Penitence. It’s where all criminals are kept until their execution.”
Ichigo nodded for a second. Only to abruptly freeze.
“Wait a damn minute. Execution?” Ichigo demanded, admittedly raising his voice a bit louder than was necessary. “What the hell are you talking about? I thought her punishment hadn’t been decided?”
His aunt was sympathetic. Even as a strange noise started echoing through the still air, sounding like a bunch of people were hitting wooden blocks with baseball bats.
“The announcement came through his morning,” she told him. “Kuchiki Rukia is facing execution for her willing association with exiles and rogue Shinigami.”
Ichigo nearly choked on his next breath. Unable to vocalize the surprise that bubbled up in his chest.
Thankfully, Ishida was there to step in.
“Is that even an executionable offense?” he demanded, horrified as the rest of them.
What the hell sort of place was this? What kind of people were they that they were so ready to kill one of their own?
Yoruichi inclined her head solemnly. “It is now.”
“What the fuck?” Ichigo’s hands curled into fists, and that tapping noise was a growing irritation on the edge of his conscious. “They can’t do that!” he shouted. Only to throw up his hands. “And what the hell is that noise?”
“It’s the alarm,” his aunt answered, a frown erasing her amused expression as her eyes narrowed. She was obviously concentrating on something inward. “Seems that our entrance was noticed.”
“Hard to miss something like that,” Ganju muttered and thumbed his nose. “Even for the Shinigami. And they’re not exactly playing with the full deck of cards,” he added derisively.
Tatsuki arched a brow. “That’s how they announce an invasion?”
The Shihouin head shrugged, cracking her knuckles in a very unladylike fashion. Then again, Ichigo had never accused his aunt of acting like a lady. Saying that she acted like a woman was pushing it.
“What can I say? They’re a little outdated.”
“A little?” Ishida snorted, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “If they were any less sophisticated, I’d expect to see smoke signals.” One hand brushed invisible dust off his sleeves.
“Wait until you see how they deliver messages to each other. I’ll give you a hint; it doesn’t involve telephones.” Yoruichi grinned.
Tatsuki smacked her palm against her forehead. “I honestly don’t want to know. Everything in this place is completely retarded. Or insane. Or both.”
Rolling his eyes, Ichigo gave them the explanation his aunt seemed less interested in providing. “They use souls that take the form of butterflies.”
“They use butterflies to convey messages,” Ishida repeated with utter disbelief etched into his features. As if he wondered how his ancestors had ever lost to such people. “How does that even work?”
“Magic?” Inoue suggested, hands clasping together as her eyes practically gleamed. “Ooo, I’ll bet they’re pretty. I want to meet one.”
“No, you don’t.” Ichigo shook his head, arms crossing over his chest. “If you see a black butterfly, you need to scatter. It means a Shinigami is definitely nearby, and we’re not trying to fight them. At least, not yet.”
“Funny, because I thought we were here for a rescue,” Tatsuki countered with a wave.
“A quiet, quick, and hopefully uneventful rescue,” Ichigo clarified.
Tatsuki arched one brow. “And punching a hole in their protective barrier by using a cannon didn’t announce our presence?”
“I didn’t say it was a perfect plan,” Yoruichi inserted with a shrug. “But if we stand around here talking, none of that will matter. They’ll find us eventually.”
Ichigo inclined his head and glanced over his friends. He was no master tactician; he had no clue how to split them up properly. But luckily, his aunt stepped in when finding him at a loss. How he had fallen into the role of leader, Ichigo wasn’t sure. He obviously wasn’t cut out for it.
“I’m the only one who can keep up with Ichigo,” Yoruichi said then, one finger tapping her chin. “So we’ll stick together. Ganju, keep an eye on Sado here. Ishida-kun, I’m trusting Tatsuki and Inoue-chan to you.”
Tatsuki snorted, rolling her shoulder again as though very eager to get out there and find some Shinigami ass to kick. Ichigo still wasn’t sure what sort of abilities she’d been trained to use. But he had a feeling that of the three of them – Chad, Tatsuki, and Inoue – she was the least of his worries.
“More like I’ll be watching over him,” she put in with a teasing jab of her elbow in Ishida’s direction. Succeeding in striking him in the upper arm and knocking him off balance.
Ishida scowled, reaching to adjust his glasses as though affronted by her intimation. “As you know little of sensing reiatsu and even less about Shinigami, I think it is I who will be taking that role here.”
They would be arguing all week at this rate. And something pinged on the edge of Ichigo’s senses. The hair on the back of his neck rose.
“Stuff it, Ishida,” Ichigo snapped, body tensing. “We don’t have the time to argue. The Shinigami have calculated our landing point. We’ve got to go. Now.”
“He’s right.” Yoruichi easily leapt out of the alley to the nearest and lowest roof, crouched down as golden eyes swept around them. “They’re coming.”
Ichigo was quick to leap up beside her, reiatsu powering the simple move. Amazing how much stronger he felt here. As though just being in Seireitei amplified his abilities. He’d have to fight to not grow too used to it.
“Time to go,” Tatsuki announced, grabbing Inoue’s sleeve and pulling her towards the open end of the alley with Ishida following along behind. “Don’t get yourself killed, Ichigo. Or I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Duly noted,” Ichigo tossed back down to her.
“Bye, Kurosaki-kun!” Inoue’s farewell was far more energetic. Half-bubbles and sparkles as she waved gamely before the three of them vanished into the shadows of a side-street.
Chad and Ganju were the last to depart. The former tossed Ichigo a thumbs-up as the latter belted into the next street, head swinging this way and that before choosing a direction at random.
“Well,” Yoruichi said brightly, rising to her full height. Which only made the wind whip across her clothing and hair. “Shall we depart?”
Ichigo flicked a hand at her. “Lead on.”
Izuru glanced around skeptically. He stared at a field of grass and an empty plot of land where a house was supposed to be standing.
“This is where he said it would be… right?”
Beside him, Hisagi-san nodded slowly. “I’m sure of it,” the other vice-captain confirmed, also looking around. One hand traced the outline of a building on the grass. “Look, the ground is imprinted. Something was here.”
“How does one move an entire building?” Izuru demanded, waraji tromping through the grass as he walked the outline. “And so quickly?”
It had to have been quick. Only thirty minutes beforehand, he and Hisagi-san had watched a streak of light shoot overhead, aiming straight for Seireitei. And not long after that – seconds actually – they had felt the force of the power as it punched through the sekki-seki barrier and spilled invaders into Seireitei.
In fact, Izuru sniffed the air carefully. It still stank of gunpowder and kidoh, an intriguing mix of odors. He could still feel remnants of the spell in the air, tingling across his skin.
“I don’t know,” Hisagi-san commented, hand pressed to his chin in thought. “The Shiba have always been a bit secretive, even before they fell out of favor.” He shrugged. “Perhaps Urahara gave them something.”
Izuru hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose,” he murmured, kneeling to press a hand to the flattened grass and bare patch of soil. Energy and reiatsu thrummed at his fingertips. “I may be able to track this.”
“You can do that?” Hisagi-san blinked in surprise.
“If Shiba-san cast something to help herself relocate, it’s possible that I can track it. Provided it was reiatsu-driven and not scientific,” Izuru explained with a nod, closing his eyes to focus on the tangle of reiatsu clinging strongly to the air. “But then, I don’t know with all the other signatures still lingering…”
He rose to his feet, glancing around them and catching sight with Hisagi-san who inclined his head.
“Our orders were to find Shiba Kuukaku. I suppose that means we’ll have to keep chasing after her.”
“An unappealing task,” Izuru muttered more to himself than the other. His captain’s words still lingered in the back of his mind, and it bit his lip with indecision for a moment. “Senpai… do you think any of this is odd?”
Hisagi-san’s brows furrowed. “Odd how?”
Izuru shrugged, pinning down a stream of reiatsu that might prove useful to them and following along after it. “Ichimaru-taichou thinks there’s something else going on. Something underneath the ryoka invasion and Kuchiki-san’s imprisonment.”
“Like what?” Hisagi-san couldn’t quite hide the surprise in his tone. Or the curiosity.
Izuru was relieved. He needed to share this with someone. His senpai seemed his best bet. The other man was both older and wiser. Perhaps he could make more sense of it.
“Whatever Urahara-san did a hundred years ago, it was terrible enough to warrant exile,” Izuru replied as they walked further and further away from where the Shiba’s house used to be and hopefully towards their new location, deeper in Rukongai. “But taichou doesn’t think that the ryoka are here for revenge. He thinks that Kurosaki-san is here to save Kuchiki-san.”
Dark eyes widened with disbelief. “Save her?”
“You heard it right?” the blond questioned absently. “Before we left?”
“The announcement that Kuchiki-san was slated for execution? Yeah.”
Izuru lifted his shoulders and spread his fingers. “Execution? For failing to reveal the existence of a rogue Shinigami. Doesn’t that seem a bit much to you?”
“Chamber 46 must have their reasons.” His senpai shifted uneasily even as they walked.
Not quite convinced, the blond tucked a strand of hair behind his ears from where it had slipped free. He was silent for a minute as he trailed after the Shiba’s reiatsu.
“Yes, but it doesn’t it seem a bit extreme?” he pressed. “Even Ichimaru-taichou thinks so.”
“Tousen-taichou didn’t mention anything,” Hisagi-san countered.
Izuru was surprised. “Nothing at all?”
Pausing to glance in the direction of Seireitei, his senpai shook his head. “He doesn’t talk to me in the same way that your taichou does, Kira.”
He couldn’t quite fight the flush that threatened to steal into his cheeks. Izuru knew about the rumors. Even if he pretended that he didn’t. They were utterly untrue; Ichimaru-taichou would never do anything like that. But that didn’t stop the gossip mills from turning full force. The fact that Izuru himself had never so much as looked at a male cross-eyed didn’t even seem to help at all. Why must everyone think that he preferred men?
Izuru sighed, resisting the urge to square his shoulders. Hisagi-san didn’t mean anything about it.
“Did you know that Urahara never admitted to doing anything?” the blond continued. “He claimed that it was Aizen.”
It came out nearly as a squeak. And Izuru was surprised that his senpai’s voice could even get that high.
“Yes, that was my reaction, too.” Izuru gestured vaguely, not so much following an invisible trail anymore. He didn’t think they were going to find Shiba-san; she was simply too good at vanishing.
Hisagi made a noise in his throat. And it wasn’t entirely disagreement either. In fact, it sounded more like contemplation.
“You know,” Hisagi-san began slowly, one hand falling to rest on Kazeshini, “the ninth division was nearly wiped out a hundred years ago. At least, most of the officers.”
Izuru blinked. “No, I didn’t know that.”
Nodding slowly, the other vice-captain went on. “When Urahara betrayed us in whatever manner he used, he killed nearly all of the officers of the ninth. First, he took out a patrol of the lower-seats sent out to investigate. Then, the top officers when they went in to find the others. Tousen-taichou was one of the few to survive.”
“He was lucky,” Izuru responded honestly.
“Tousen-taichou probably wouldn’t call it that, but yeah, he was lucky.” Hisagi-san frowned, brow pulling into deep furrows. “He doesn’t talk about it though. Even now, with everyone suspecting Urahara is behind the ryoka, he won’t tell me what it was that guy really did. I mean, aside from killing so many people. But it had to be something really horrible for them not to say.”
“No one will say why the soutaichou is so afraid of what power that boy may carry either,” Izuru agreed in a soft murmur.
Hisagi-san inclined his head, dragging his fingers through his hair. “I suppose that’s not for us to figure out though. We just follow the orders we’re given.”
Izuru, however, wasn’t so sure.
Kisuke was sitting at the table, idly sipping at some tea Yuzu had brewed for him and flipping through a thick sheaf of notes. They were all musings, ponderings, and theories he had constructed over the last few years about his son. He’d hoped that a second glance might give him a spark of insight. Or really, he just needed a distraction. Something to keep himself from pacing back and forth in worry. He had told Ichigo he trusted him; now, Kisuke needed to prove it.
Not that his notes were making much sense. They only confirmed the things he already knew. Kisuke had been gifted with a categorical, file-like brain. He rarely forgot anything and only scribbled down pieces of data to have some physical confirmation of the information he stored in his head. But he’d been hoping – praying – that there was something he’d overlooked.
It didn’t seem likely.
Kisuke tipped his head to the side when he heard the doorbell ring. Not the one for the shop but the one on the side of the building for the residence. Probably one of Yuzu or Karin’s friends then. He heard Yuzu claim that she would answer it. But without knowing why, a trickle of dread traveled down his spine.
He put down his tea and his notes, tucking them safely away in a drawer on the low side table as he heard the door slide open. Footsteps pounded down the hallway – many footsteps – and seemed to head directly for the room he currently occupied. Kisuke turned slowly towards the entrance. But he was rather certain he knew what was coming, and the suspicion was only confirmed by a steady trickle of various reiatsu. No sooner had he climbed to his feet and contemplated escape than they poured into the room as though they belonged and without so much as a “how do you do?”
The screech was his only warning. Kisuke dodged with skills he hadn’t really used in years but still maintained. Watching as the blonde and red blur careened past him, missing his head by scant inches. She hit the floor, rolled to her feet, and sprang upwards in a defensive position.
Kisuke exhaled slowly. “So nice of you to visit!” he declared with fake cheer, eyes raking over the half-dozen or so men and women who had poured into the room.
“Where’s the kid?” Hiyori demanded in her normal tone. Just this side of belligerent.
No pleasantries. No greetings. Simply straight to business.
“He’s not much of a kid nowadays,” Kisuke countered automatically. But inside he was thinking hard. Why were they here?
Shinji, self-proclaimed suave gentlemen, just bowed shallowly and smiled. “Ichigo then. So where is he?” He looked around pointedly.
And Kisuke suddenly remembered something that he should’ve earlier. Every week or so, Ichigo went to his fellow Vizard for training. Usually just a chance to let the destructive bastard out to play that he couldn’t really do anywhere else. And it seemed that today was the special day. How the hell had Kisuke forgotten this tiny but important detail? Of course they would come looking for him.
Kisuke felt himself deflating just a bit. And suddenly, he was one-hundred years in the past. Just a rookie compared to the senior captains and even the lieutenants. Looking up at Shinji. Desperate for advice and clueless as to what he’d gotten himself into.
Hiyori glared at him with a twitching lip. Her eyes were little, angry slits. Effectively matching the rest of her.
“Where the hell is he?”
And really with a face and attitude like that, was it any wonder she’d been single so very long?
“Ichi-nii’s in Soul Society,” a voice answered from the doorway, and Kisuke leaned around his visitors to find Karin standing there. “He’s rescuing Rukia,” she added and folded her arms over her chest. In that pose, she looked more adult than he did.
“Soul Society,” Rose repeated with disbelief. “You let him go there. Alone?” His gaze was fixed on Kisuke. Accusing him of so many things, the least of which was being a very bad parent.
“Of course not.” Kisuke’s shoulders squaring in affront. “Yoruichi is with him.” He said it as if that made it any better.
“Along with Sado-san, Tatsuki, Ishida, and Inoue-chan,” Karin added, ticking them off on her fingers.
Kisuke couldn’t help feeling betrayed. He glared at his daughter. That traitor. He’d have to dock her allowance or ground her or something. Not that he’d ever really punished any of them. Not when they often acted more like adults than he did.
Kensei arched a brow, thoroughly unimpressed. “A handful of untrained teenagers, one Quincy, and your sister,” he echoed the sentiment of his fellow Vizard as they exchanged glances amongst themselves.
Way to make Kisuke feel small and insignificant and the worst father ever. Urahara Takuya – his own dad – was probably rolling in his grave. Or he would be if he hadn’t been cremated.
However, it was Hiyori who chose to speak for all of them. Which was always a bad sign. She strode right up to Kisuke, ignoring the fact that he all but towered over her, hands planted on her hips. And gave him a look like a snake would when eyeing a defenseless mouse. He couldn’t help but swallow reflexively and go very still.
“You fuckin’ idiot!” Hiyori shouted and aimed a well-placed kick right for his groin.
A dull thud echoed through the room. It was so very loud in the following silence.
“Still wearing the cup, I see,” Shinji commented with approval as a grin stretched his lips. “Smart idea.”
Kisuke chuckled. “One never knows when dear Hiyori might stop by for a visit,” he inserted as her eyes crossed and she twitched, whirling away from him with an obvious limp.
“I always knew you were the smart one,” Shinji continued, strolling across the room and slinging an arm across Kisuke’s shoulders. “Except for the part where you sent your only son into Soul Society practically by himself. That I’m not seeing as too intelligent, Kisuke.”
“It’s downright stupid is what it is,” Lisa put in as she adjusted her glasses with the tip of one finger. A motion that distinctly reminded Kisuke of both Quincies. “If you had just contacted us, we could’ve done something.”
“We wouldn’t have let him go alone, that’s for sure. Some or all of us could’ve gone with him,” Love added with a note of censure.
Which managed to make Kisuke feel about an inch high. Possibly less. As if he didn’t know how to raise his own damn son. He hadn’t seen any of them eagerly leaping forward to take care of Ichigo and his sisters when Isshin and Masaki had died. And yes, he was purposefully ignoring the fact that he would’ve fought the lot of them to the death before handing the three children over. He’d nearly come to blows with Ishida Ryuuken a number of times over Ichigo in particular.
“It’s not like I had much of a choice,” Kisuke murmured then, all but pinned by the combined force of their stares. “Ichigo asked and you know how stubborn he can be.”
The entire group shared a commiserating sigh at his statement; it was very true. They knew of no one more stubborn than Ichigo. Except perhaps for Hiyori when she was in one of her snits. Ichigo was just less violent about it. Not to mention better tempered in general.
Kensei noisily cracked his knuckles. “That brat doesn’t know what he’s getting into,” he muttered darkly. “Doesn’t have a freakin’ clue. Sure, he’s powerful. Could take out any of the fukutaichou and seated officers with one hand tied behind his back. Maybe even a taichou.” He shook his head. “But Aizen? Or worse yet… the old man? What if he had to fight Kyouraku or Ukitake or even Unohana? They’re all fine and good, but they’d blow through him like nothing.” He crossed his arms over his chest almost defensively.
“I’m not sure any of us but Shinji could even take them on,” Lisa put in after a moment. “They’ve been leading divisions for nearly two thousand years for a reason. And it isn’t just because of their sparkling personalities either.”
Kisuke sighed, long and deep. “I warned him. As best I could,” he assured, though even to him it fell flat. “About Aizen, Tousen, and Ichimaru. And about the hierarchy in general. He knows who to avoid.”
“You think it will do any good?” Mashiro bounced on her heels with the sort of energy even a child envied. She was the last of the Vizard to speak. Hachi was probably in the kitchen with Tessai as usual, catching up with his former superior.
Kisuke swallowed, unwilling to remind himself of all the things he hadn’t told his son. All the things he’d been afraid to say but Ichigo so truthfully needed to know.
“I can only hope,” he admitted softly.
“Why would he go anyway?” Rose questioned, one finger on his chin as his hair fell across his shoulder in auburn ripples. His gaze flickered to Karin. “You mentioned someone named… Rukia, was it?”
Karin nodded. “Ichi-nii went to save her. She… she helped me and Yuzu and got caught up in all our mess.” The girl waved a vague hand at the shop in general. “He said it was all his fault. All our fault.”
However, her words did nothing to answer the confusion that thickened in the room. And they all stood there in silence for a time, trying to puzzle it all out.
“That’s it,” Shinji decided finally, focusing a look on Kisuke that yet again made him feel every inch the rookie captain. “You’re telling us everything.”