It started out subtly. And then, it became distinctly obvious. And worsened to the point that Ichigo was sure something had to be done about it soon, or they would actually succeed.
And by succeed, he meant that Ichigo would find himself a permanent member of Soul Society rather quickly without ever properly finishing out the extent of his human life. And then, he doubted he would last long before they would find some way to usher him onto his next life.
The Kuchiki were out to get him. And his damn boyfriend – also, coincidentally, a Kuchiki – didn’t believe him.
The first time, Ichigo chalked it up to a coincidence. A disastrously cliché coincidence but one all the same. Walking down the street, a flower pot barely missing his head by a few inches. He looked up to see someone giving him an apologetic smile, and well, Ichigo just sort of shrugged it off. No big deal.
The second instance was a little more obvious. He was having tea with Ukitake-san, and they were having a pleasant time of it. The captain was suggesting that he teach Ichigo a few of the more advanced kidoh, while Ichigo stirred a few cubes of sugar into his tea, never able to drink the stuff without it. A strange sound had traveled to his ears, and when he looked down and pulled out his spoon, Ichigo noticed that half of it had melted away. Seconds later, liquid spilled all over the saucer and table as the cup itself dissolved. Acid ate through the saucer and then a large portion of the tabletop, dripping down to the floor where it preceded to eat through several inches of wood before losing strength.
Both he and Ukitake-san were left gaping at it. Especially since nothing at all had happened to the older man’s tea.
“Who… who made this?” Ichigo demanded with a thick swallow.
Ukitake-san edged away from his cup, pushing it from him with one long, elegant finger. “Kiyone perhaps? Or Sentarou?”
Ichigo shook his head. “Did I do something to offend them?”
Ukitake-san could only stare in wonder. And when later questioned, both third-seats adamantly denied trying to poison Ichigo, and well, he was inclined to believe them. He’d done nothing to either of them, and really, it seemed a little out of their league to try something like this.
The third attempt approached ridiculous and was when Ichigo really began to consider that someone was trying to kill him. He had been walking down some stairs in Seireitei, attempting to get from one place to another and foregoing shunpo because he was in no rush, when he’d been pushed him from behind. And then subsequently tripped by someone.
Fortunately for Ichigo, his reflexes were superb, and a quick manipulation of spirit particles had him standing on empty air. But by the time he turned, the perpetrators were gone. Not even their reiatsu was traceable. Che, cowards.
That was also the first time Ichigo began to get an inkling that someone was out to get him. Though he hadn’t yet decided to blame it on the Kuchiki.
Until the fourth attempt.
Wandering around in Rukongai because his two guides – Ikkaku and Renji – had gotten drunk and arrested and thereby leaving him to find his own way back to Seireitei, Ichigo had been mugged. Well, he had assumed it was a mugging as the guy sort of attacked him and grappled very uselessly at his shoulders. It had only taken a few punches and kicks on Ichigo’s part to lay him flat, and his three following friends.
Of course, Ichigo could have taken that for the mugging were it not for the fact that none of his attackers even looked like residents of Rukongai. Oh sure, they wore the clothes of the oppressed, tattered and somewhat stained. But with hands that weren’t calloused and skin nice and moisturized, they didn’t look desperate enough to be on the wrong side of the law. Of course, the fact that one of them wore a bracelet with the Kuchiki symbol etched into the metal might have been his biggest clue.
And the most recent attempt gave him his largest indication of all. It had been pure instinct to dodge those darts flying at him out of nowhere. And after he’d retrieved them from being stuck in the wall, he noticed the symbols that danced in the metal. The Kuchiki clan.
It was at that point Ichigo decided they really were trying to kill him though he had no clue why. Possibly because he was dating their heir and they weren’t too happy with that. He knew they had dozens of nice young woman lined up for Byakuya’s perusal, and the man just wasn’t bowing to their every whims. Maybe they blamed that on Ichigo.
Still, that didn’t give them the right to try to assassinate him. Try being the operative word here since they weren’t anywhere close to succeeding. However, it still made Ichigo tiptoe around everything in his life, wondering what absurd method they would try next.
“Would you please stop pacing,” Byakuya stated mildly, his voice cutting through Ichigo’s thoughts as he idly flipped the page in the book he was reading. “It is very distracting.”
He turned towards his older lover with a snarl dancing on his lips. “Distracting?” Ichigo repeated sharply and waved one hand wildly through the air. “Would you be able to relax if someone was out there, plotting your demise?”
Byakuya eyed him over the edge of a page. “I am the heir to a noble family. There is hardly a day that goes by without someone seeking my death.”
“Why didn’t you warn me this would happen?”
“I did not believe – and I still don’t – that it would ever be a problem,” the Kuchiki heir answered, shifting his gaze back to his book. “And I was under the impression you were capable of taking care of yourself. As evidenced by the fact you are still alive and well in front of me.”
The substitute Shinigami snorted. “Not for long, if your family has anything to say about it.”
“Ichigo, they would never harm you,” Byakuya retorted in a tone one would use when speaking to a particularly slow child before dropping into something a bit more seductive. “They would never dare. They know what you mean to me.”
It was bait, but Ichigo didn’t bite.
“I don’t care what you say, Byakuya,” the teenager snarled, steps carrying a frantic pace across the floor of a stately study of the Kuchiki manor. “Your damn family is out to get me.”
The noble looked at him and arched one well-manicured brow, face placid but his eyes betraying his amusement. “I assure you, Ichigo, the Kuchiki have made no great effort to assassinate you.”
Frustrated, Ichigo glared at his lover, feeling just a bit twitchy. “I didn’t say it was great,” he stated through clenched teeth before throwing his hands up into the air. “They fail spectacularly every time!”
“Then what are you complaining about?” Byakuya returned mildly. His lips twitched as though trying to hold back great mirth.
Ichigo turned on one heel, stalking away from the captain before he followed through with the urge to commit some violence. He loved this man dearly, but sometimes, Byakuya could be quite impossible. Case in point.
“Forget it!” He threw over his shoulder, vibrating with annoyed tension. Zangetsu and Shirosaki weren’t too happy either. “I’ll survive on my own.”
Byakuya didn’t seem to realize his leaving for what it was. He set his book to the side, rising to his feet.
“Are you sure this isn’t some cry for attention?” he posed, following after Ichigo with that annoying scarf a pale trail in his wake.
Ichigo ground his teeth, refusing to answer the sheer ridiculousness of that question. He was not insane. He was not imagining things. Something strange was going on, and if it wasn’t the Kuchiki attempting the assassination, then it was somebody. And he was going to find out who.
“I can definitely tell the honeymoon’s over,” Ichigo muttered under his breath, ignoring Byakuya’s absurd accusation.
“Tell me why you think they would try assassination,” Byakuya started to say, pulling up beside Ichigo and taking on an expression that proved he was only humoring his lover. “The Shihouin would know better than to anger their head. The Kasumioji are far too fond of you, as are the Shiba. And the others are far too afraid of the Kuchiki, you, and your variety of friends. So tell me again why you think your life is in danger.”
Ichigo whirled sharply, glaring at the slightly taller man. And boy didn’t that still burn.
“I am not imagining things,” he hissed, body shaking with a rising anger.
“I did not say that you were,” Byakuya returned too soothingly for Ichigo’s comfort. And he lifted a hand, reaching for his lover and attempting to draw the younger man into his embrace.
Ichigo allowed it because he’d rather not be angry. Even if Byakuya was being both patronizing and unreasonable.
“Then what are you saying?” he demanded, just wanting a little support rather than an aura of complete and utter denial.
“You may be… misinterpreting the facts,” Byakuya breathed into his neck, moving his mouth to nibble on the skin there.
Ichigo huffed. And tilted his head away.
“You have an idea in mind, and you are reinterpreting the circumstances to fit that particular belief.”
Ichigo’s jaw dropped. “That’s just another fucking way of saying I’m imagining things, just in prettier words.” He turned away then, unwilling to listen to it any longer. “Fine. But if I get trampled by a random herd of cows in the next few days, no sex for a year.”
“A herd of cows?” Byakuya’s voice held a note of incredulity.
“It doesn’t make any less sense than the other stupid shit I’m imagining,” Ichigo all but snarled and flicked his hand through the air, well aware that he was causing a scene. “And while I’m at it, no anything else either. No kissing. No cuddling. No hand-holding. In fact, no touching! Nothing! How’s that for losing my mind?”
He whirled on his heels with the last proclamation and went out the door. Anger blazed in his veins as Ichigo stalked down the corridor, fully intending to leave the Kuchiki manor as it made him quite twitchy. Who knew what enemy lurked around the corner, just waiting to trip him or impale him or accidentally spill boiling hot water on him or set him on fire with a candle or any other number of mundane things that had the capacity to kill him? Purely by accident, of course. Since the Kuchiki would never stoop so low as to take the blame for purposeful homicide.
Byakuya didn’t chase after him, which was probably a good thing because Ichigo was seriously considering violence of his own. He had thought, of all people, that his own boyfriend would believe him. Ukitake-san definitely did, but then, he’d been there for the whole cup-melting incident. Kenpachi believed him because he’d been the one to help Ichigo get out of Rukongai. The geta-boushi believed him because he’d identified the ninja darts… and kept a few for safekeeping.
But Ichigo couldn’t even convince Byakuya that he wasn’t losing his mind. It frustrated him to no end.
Ichigo stopped in the middle of the street then, a new annoyance growing inside of him. In fact, he was pissed. Byakuya hadn’t gotten nearly the tongue-lashing he deserved.
He whirled around yet again, stalking back towards the manor. Only to halt in stunned surprise, catching sight of his lover leaving through a side entrance. Purpose in every step. Where in the world was Byakuya going on his day off? A day that they had intended to spend together?
Ichigo’s eyes narrowed, and without a second thought, he set to follow Byakuya, beyond curious. He was too angry to wait and simply ask for an answer. And so, shielding his reiatsu to the best of his abilities, Ichigo trailed along at a safe distance. Wondering if Byakuya would have ever known that his help in training Ichigo would come back to bite him on the ass.
The manors grew more elite, and Ichigo could tell that he was garnering quite a few disapproving stares. It didn’t help that he had the feeling he headed into deeper noble territory, which worried him just a twinge. After all, wasn’t it the nobles who were trying to kill him? He’d have to be on his guard.
He followed Byakuya to one of the larger and more ornate buildings, the nameplate answering all the questions Ichigo carried. Kuchiki. So much for Byakuya not really believing him. Why else would he come here?
Ichigo scowled, taking up a position across the street where he could watch the gate. He would wait for Byakuya to emerge and demand answers then. His eyes tracked over the large structure, practically screaming old money and affluence. Places he had never been very comfortable at or inside.
Time crawled, the sun passing overhead and making Ichigo sweat, pulling at his collar to relieve the stifling heat. People passed by, wrapped in their fine robes, and tossed occasional disgusted glances at him. Ichigo just offered a scowl in return. He wasn’t leaving until Byakuya came out.
Which coincidentally, he happened to be doing at this exact moment. Ichigo rose to his feet, swiping a hand over his sweaty forehead, effecting a lazy stride as he moved to intercept his lover.
“Didn’t believe me, huh?” he said, the moment the captain came into view and causing Byakuya to nearly startle in his surprise. “Just imagining things?”
Byakuya worked his jaw, unwilling to immediately admit defeat. “Perhaps things were worse than I initially believed, but the matter has been dealt with I assure you.”
Ichigo snorted. “We’ll see. As for me, I’m not drinking or eating anything that I haven’t made myself anytime soon.” He fell into line beside Byakuya, who looked to be beginning a slow trek back towards his own home. “As well as avoiding jaunts into Rukongai, windowsills, and long stairs.”
“I have been informed that you had best avoid the Seikaimon for the next few days as well,” the older male added softly.
“What?” Ichigo was embarrassed to admit that the sound leaving his mouth had better resembled a squawk than an actual word.
Byakuya slanted his eyes at him, a touch of apology in his gaze. “It is a good thing you weren’t planning to do so anyway.”
A low growl escaped Ichigo’s lips, only to die on the end of a resigned sigh. “Your grandmother’s a piece of work,” he muttered but held a hand out anyway, capturing Byakuya’s wayward fingers.
He could tell that the captain was startled by the move, considering Ichigo’s proclamation of earlier. Let him consider that the teen’s silent appreciation for a much deserved gesture.
“Midoriko-sama still trusts in outdated times,” Byakuya conceded, his way of admitting that Ichigo’s frank assessment of her character was rather accurate. “She understands now, however, and that is all that matters.” His fingers gave a squeeze in return.
Feeling a bit mischievous, Ichigo tugged them back, eyes glancing around briefly before turning towards Byakuya. He leaned in for a kiss, lips gentle but warm. There was no one in immediate sight to witness the moment of affection, but he was certain some Kuchiki goon lingered in the shadows trailing them. Well, let them take that back to Miss-High-and-Mighty-Kuchiki-Sama and see what she had to say about it.
He ended the kiss, his mouth a few scant inches from Byakuya’s. “Well, I suppose they won’t try anything so long as I’m with you.” He gave a playful nip.
“Oh?” Byakuya asked, trying and failing to conceal the interest in his tone.
Ichigo shrugged nonchalantly. “So I guess that means you’ll be seeing a lot of me for the next few days.” He guided the man into heading back towards his manor and out of sight of prying eyes.
“I’d like to see a lot of you right now” was his low and heated response. Grey eyes flickered over him, and Ichigo could just see his lover undressing him in his mind. Of course, the hand sliding beneath at his collar certainly helped that illusion, fingers warm and smooth against his neck and trailing ever downward.
Ichigo rolled his eyes, a touch of amusement pulling at his lips. “What is with you and those cheesy lines?” Not that they didn’t work very well.
“I learned from the best,” Byakuya replied, mouth so close to Ichigo’s ear that his lips brushed skin.
Ichigo pretended to ignore that as he considered. “Who? That drunk guy? The one who always wears pink?”
“No, actually.” Byakuya’s hand slid down a bit further. “Ukitake-senpai.”
“The guy who’s dating your sister.” Ichigo was incredulous, having thought Ukitake-san to be a bit smoother than that.
Byakuya’s hand froze, a vaguely disappointed cast to his face, still not entirely pleased with that particular relationship. But not voicing his opinion for the sake of Rukia’s happiness. Not to mention the fact that it kept her otherwise occupied and from prying into his own affair.
“Unfortunately yes,” he commented, fingers resuming their wanderings.
Ichigo squeezed his hand, stepping back and giving him a tug. “Just think, soon you’ll have him as a brother-in-law.”
“He’ll be yours as well,” Byakuya reminded him smugly, allowing himself to be pulled along.
Ichigo let the comment fall by the wayside. “Is that a proposal, Kuchiki Byakuya-sama?”
It took a moment for him to reply. He was too busying running his thumb over Ichigo’s knuckles. Not even bothering to pull away as they walked by several other people. Lips curling faintly at their nearly scandalous expressions and muted whispers.
“Small steps, Ichigo. Small steps.”
Not an affirmation. But not a negative either.
Ichigo could live with that. For now.