It had been a fairly normal day for recently-appointed Twelfth Division Captain, Urahara Kisuke. He had dodged several kicks to his face, sniggered as Sarugaki stubbed her foot again with his metal plaque and had tended to his division with the same care as all his inventions. That day had been a paperwork-heavy one, since Kurotsuchi had unfortunately eradicated a couple more souls than what was strictly necessary and as a captain he was tasked with informing the Gotei the reasoning behind it.
Which was the reason why he was currently not buried under research notes in the depths of his labs, but instead under a cherry blossom tree he had ordered to be planted quite some months ago, squinting dubiously at the man that had appeared from out of nowhere, taking a seat by his side and producing two cups and a bottle of sake to share as if they were friends.
Or, as this stranger had said. They will be friends.
The strange man looked to be his height, holding himself high despite being in the presence of a captain, and had woven an epic if highly impossible tale with such a firm voice that Kisuke had seen no reason to think it a lie.
“From the future you say?” Kisuke had asked before nodding to himself, just taking everything in stride as Ichigo knew he’d do. It was infuriatingly endearing. “Well, and what brings you here? I hope not to prevent an apocalyptical disaster from occurring in the near future?”
“You just never change, do you?” The tall stranger shook his head with a half-smile on him. Kisuke feels oddly exposed. He can hide his unease from his posture, but not from his voice.
“Could you remind me, who are you?” His voice dwindled in the middle of it, which made the other look at him curiously.
“Right. We wouldn’t have met yet. I’m Kurosaki Ichigo. Your…” He paused, and a softer expression surfaced, however briefly. “I’m a friend of yours.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Take your time, I can wait.” The time-traveler teased him with a good humor that was almost foreign to him. Only Yoruichi ever talked to him like that.
“I’m sorry, I think the whole time-traveling thing hasn’t fully sunk.”
“Uh-huh.” Ichigo said, unimpressed and unbelieving. “Any questions about it?”
“Isn’t there a rule that states that you can’t talk about the future to-“ He flushed when he saw the amusement tugging at the stranger’s lips. It made Kisuke feel inadequate.
But as soon as he thought that, horror replaced the amusement and Ichigo scrambled to say, “Hey, I’m not laughing at you, I swear it’s just that…”
“Back in the future you are also a sci-fi nerd. That’s it.” Ichigo relented, looking embarrassed for some reason. Kisuke half-wanted to ask what ‘sci-fi’ meant but he had more pressing matters at hand.
“…. And how come you know this?”
The strange man slanted a side smile at him. “I told you. I’m a friend. You have those in the future, you know?”
Kisuke squinted at him. “Could you please stop sounding so arrogant?”
“Am I? Again, the traveler’s face looked a little guilty. It was odd for him to see a face flowing through such a range of emotions so freely, without fear or inhibition. It made him think of a peaceful future, which contrasted absurdly with some scars he had been able to spot as Ichigo moved around. Those were fight wounds, not to mention how his movements were so nimble. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I’m used to bantering with you. Or your future you, whichever.” His smile stopped when Kisuke continued to stare. “What?”
“I find that difficult to believe.”
“Why would you want to banter with me?” Kisuke asked, clearly concluding that this man was a nutcase. The time traveler (“call me Ichigo”) rolled his eyes.
“Because you are a witty asshole, that’s why. “Ichigo said with just a hint of sarcasm. The man grabbed the bottle of sake and poured Kisuke again. “Believe it or not, I do like you, so there’s that. You and I can discuss very interesting topics without getting side-tracked by getting offended or something.”
Kisuke stared at his cup for a moment before bringing it to his lips. He had already verified it was unadulterated, but it still unnerved him. Almost as much as having this stranger talking about him as if they were friends. And, maybe they will be friends, but simply at this moment it was just weird. “And what sort of topics did we discuss?”
“Hmm, the- wait, fuck, can’t tell you that.” Ichigo stumbled over his words, making Kisuke’s eyes shine in dreaded curiosity. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. If I tell you, you’ll do something stupid and I don’t want you to.”
“Oh, but Kurosaki-san, aren’t we friends? Where’s your trust in me?”
“One, it’s Ichigo. And two, because I’m your friend, I must stop you from committing monumentally stupid things.” Here there was an odd pause as the man thought about it. “And also saving your ass from other stupid things you’ll do anyway.”
Before Kisuke can continue interrogating this not-quite-a-stranger, his dear lieutenant appeared, screeching something about him being a complete bum and needing to complete his paperwork before the day was over. He had been distracted for three seconds at most, but when he turned to look back at his impromptu visitor, there was no one there.
Just the bottle of sake and one half-empty cup across from him to prove he had been there after all. He really ought to report this as a loyal member of the Gotei 13.
Kisuke poured himself a new drink and downed it.
Loyalty to the Gotei had never been his discerning quality.
“Hey, Kisuke.” Ichigo barged into his office like nobody’s business (Kisuke was just mildly disgruntled, and certainly impressed that nobody had either noticed or objected his entry) barely a day later. The man smiled sheepishly at whichever expression the other had and just took a seat by his desk. “I was just wondering. Do you like being a captain?”
Intrigued, Kisuke folded his hands on top of the desk. “I think it should be me who’s asking. Do I?”
“Nah, I’m asking current you.”
“It was never a position I coveted,” Kisuke replied mildly, which said absolutely nothing. “Never would have I thought I’d be actually approved for captaincy.”
Ichigo seemed undeterred by his vague words, without an ounce of exasperation he continued to ask, “But you were approved, do you think they were right?”
“I fail to understand the meaning of this inquiry.”
Ichigo shrugged his shoulders, a shadow of pain crossing his features. “I just…” He fell silent, his carefully composed body language faded away to a tense, anxious man. “I don’t want to presume anything, and maybe right now you don’t feel like I’m making much sense, but… I just want you to know that whatever mistakes you do as a captain; you still did the best you could. Maybe your morals are lacking, but your inventiveness will be admired by thousands of people to come. Maybe they won’t tell you, maybe they won’t know all the good things you did but I’m letting you know now.”
Kisuke is silent for a moment, his gaze once more on his hands, as he tried composing himself and thinking of what he could say to that. Because wasn’t it just hilarious? “Why are you trying to tell me all this?”
His features are somber. “Because. Because there is a series of unfortunate events that will happen in your future that I cannot change. It will suck, and you will feel absolutely miserable and the only thing I can do for you is tell you, that when everything is bleak and you have nobody to trust or turn to, just remember that this all will come to pass and a better future will be revealed to you. And,” Ichigo looked down briefly as well, as if he too was unsure of his next words. “And you will find someone you can trust. Who will understand you and work as your moral compass. And if you ever feel like the weight of the world is too much for you, then this person will take it off you. And even though you will fuck up monumentally several times, you will always fix your mistakes, probably fuck up some more in the process, but you will see it through. And I, as well as everybody else, will be grateful for having you by our side.”
Ichigo looked up and they accidentally locked eyes. Ichigo’s face melted into a warm smile as he slowly reached to give his hand a little press before retreating his hand. “Calm down. If you want me to, I’ll leave so you can digest what I’ve told you, but do calm down.”
Kisuke tried, he really did, but he couldn’t seem to be able to compose himself, his mind whirling in place as he tried making sense of everything the other man had said and also…
“Who are you?” He managed to wobble out of his stiff lips.
Ichigo smiled. “I’m a friend.”
“And what more?”
“Your partner in crime.”
And Kisuke would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice the way his lips lingered on your partner, the way his eyes softened when addressing him, the fervent ferocity of his words.
Heck, what sort of friend would go back in time just to reassure Kisuke that everything would turn out alright?
“Ah, I told Kisuke I’ve never even a good actor.” Ichigo mumbled when he saw the younger Kisuke connecting the dots. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“Are you an idiot?” Are the words that slip out of his lips as soon as he can get his mouth working. And of course the first thing he does upon discovering that maybe there was someone who might actually like him was attack his intellect.
Still, Ichigo took it in stride. “Not more than you.”
“Surely you must not-“
“I made you tell me.” This not stranger said, as if reading his mind. As if able to understand him, as he so claimed. Kisuke felt both exposed and oddly relieved. “I made you tell me most of the things you’ve done. I don’t condone it. I’ll never like it, but everything you did shaped the man I know. So, so long as he doesn’t try to do that shit again, I don’t really have a reason to bring it up.”
“Didn’t you say you were my moral compass?”
“I did. I am.”
“But you’re just as skewed.”
“Maybe. We manage to swim by the river of morality and not drown. I think that’s enough.” His smile was cocky but Kisuke wasn’t sure he was actually thinking what he was saying. “Besides, nobody can force you through a worse hell than what you put yourself in. And I’m a firm believer that you deserve better.”
Kisuke huffed. “Try telling that to the Gotei.”
A mischievous grin lit up his face. “Oh, be certain that I have.”
Kisuke thought he was joking, but there was something in the way he carried himself that made him think… “You can’t be serious.”
“Well, actually I have a good record. My first time up here I was a ryouka leading an invasion into Seireitei.”
“How are you alive?”
“I’m lucky. And I’m strong. And I had you.”
“You say words and yet they don’t make an ounce of sense.”
Ichigo actually laughed. “Just give it time.”
Despite his own words, Ichigo gives him hints. He gives Kisuke weird advice, he tells him to refine his concealing cloak, to always have them at hand. To trust certain people, to mistrust others. And also…
“What about Aizen Sousuke? Do you have…?” Kisuke trailed off, taken aback by how abruptly he had lost his smile, the spark in his eyes. Or it could have been the sun finally sinking below the horizon, dipping Ichigo’s temporal living quarters in a vivid orange.
Ichigo just stared at him, pitiful and small and sad. “I’m sorry.”
“Pardon?” Kisuke said, feeling something cold curling in his stomach. “What are you apologizing for?”
Ichigo opened his mouth, said nothing and looked away. “For not being able to change things. If you’re asking me about him, it’s because you know. Or at least suspect, that he’s not who he seems to be. And I wish I could gut the damn bastard, but everything is so intertwined in his fucking web, there would be so many changes. Enough to complete obliterate several people. To erase their existence.”
“How… how can this be?” Kisuke asked, seeing this cocky, powerful stranger so defeated was strangely alarming. “Then what can we do?”
Ichigo looked back at him and actually managed a smile. He reached out a hand and ruffled his hair making Kisuke feel much younger. “First of all, never give up. Be prepared for any eventuality. Find people you can trust and never let them go. And well, I guess I can tell you that you’d better not get too used to living here.”
Kisuke tried keeping his face neutral, but he’s so utterly lost and frightened, he just knew Ichigo would pick up something. He knew he would do something but he couldn’t help the violent flinch when he saw a hand going for his arm, He looked up and saw Ichigo retrieving his hand as if burned.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He cringed, rubbing the back of his neck. “You probably don’t like physical contact do you?”
There was something so odd in what he said, in his expression, in his aborted action that Kisuke felt like he really wanted to know,
“What were you going to do?”
Ichigo looked embarrassed. “Hug you. I… we hug a lot in the future, but of course you wouldn’t-“
“I wouldn’t mind trying it.”
Ichigo looked as surprise as Kisuke felt.
Slowly, as if dealing with a wild animal, Ichigo drew closer, clearly both eager and familiar with Kisuke. He made simple, slow movements, giving him plenty of time to back out or lash out. Kisuke refrained from bolting away as best as he could and when he finally resigned himself to the ordeal, Ichigo finally closed the space between them. The young captain went very still as a body pressed against him, one arm going above his shoulder in a lop-sided embrace, meeting the other behind his back. The stranger was slightly shorter than him, which was unnoticeable with how he carried himself and Kisuke’s mind was whirling nonstop, trying not to wriggle away or something equally strange.
“So?” Ichigo’s voice was deeper, almost as if it went directly to Kisuke’s chest and echoed from his ribcage. He wasn’t sure he had ever been in this close proximity to anyone alive. “How does it feel?”
“Surprisingly… not uncomfortable.”
Ichigo chuckled and Kisuke found it to be a delicious sound. He would love to hear it again. “Well that’s good,” he said. “You tell me when you get enough.”
They stayed like that for a period of time Kisuke would later be embarrassed about. Ichigo shifted his arms around, probably getting tired of just standing there and then Kisuke realized that his own arms were still lying limply by his sides.
He hesitatingly raised them to clutch at his back, unsure of how to do it properly and as answer, Ichigo pressed him closer to his chest, as if happy. Kisuke would be lying if he didn’t find it at least a bit enjoyable as well.
Safe. Secure. Warm.
“I’m afraid I’m going to get used to this.” Kisuke mumbled at some point, mouth pressed against Ichigo’s shoulder. Ichigo chuckled.
“Oh don’t worry, you’ll get your fair share when I get back.”
Kisuke found it in himself to be childish. He pouted. “Well that is not fair at all. For you it’ll be a couple minutes, for me it’ll be decades.”
Ichigo hummed, cheek pressed against his hair. “Then I guess I’ll have to make up for it, won’t I?”
That’s enough for Kisuke, but when Ichigo pulled back, he’s conflicted. He stared at him as if trying to decide what to do and finally, he softly grabbed hold of his hand.
“One more thing,” he began, voice soft. He looked up into his eyes and Kisuke felt himself getting lost in those warm brown eyes. “When things get rough, when you can’t seem to muster hope, just remember that I will get back to you, no matter how many years or how far I’ll have to go get you. When you have lost all hope just remember that I love you. I will love you until the sun goes out and even then, I’ll find a way to rescue and continue showing you how much I love you.”
They’re close, so close, Kisuke can feel Ichigo’s breath on his face and the tension is palpable, but he realized with sudden certainty that Ichigo will not do it. If Kisuke didn’t want it, they would not kiss. It was his choice.
Kisuke smiled and even though he didn’t know Ichigo like he apparently knew him, he let himself follow the tug and let their lips connect. It was a bizarre experience. It was not his first kiss, Yoruichi and Tessai having had that honor one drunken night several decades ago, but still something coiled and fluttered inside him and made his hands and lips tingle and before he was done processing everything happening at the same time, they break apart and Kisuke suddenly feels like he can weather everything.
He didn’t return the sentiment–even with everything he wasn’t sure he did, or even if he was capable of loving someone, but Ichigo didn’t seem to mind. He smiled, wide and earnest and loving and asked nothing in return.
Nothing, but for him not to give up hope.
As if it was a dream, a scripted scene, Ichigo’s smile slipped off as confusion won over. He blinked down at himself, as if feeling something odd within him. He glanced up. “Guess we’ll see each other in a couple decades.”
With no further fanfare, no other words of parting, Ichigo disappeared, as if being sucked into a tiny pinprick hole in the air. Kisuke stared at it, wondering if he would be able to get behind that hole or if that would be physically impossible.
Then it disappeared as well and Kisuke heaved a sigh. There was a knot in his chest. Kisuke rubbed at it briefly before he bowed in the direction Ichigo had been. “Until we meet again, Kurosaki Ichigo.”
He looked sad but a smile pulled at his lips. “I can barely wait, dear time traveler.”
A couple years later, he would be falsely framed, sentenced to exile by the organization he had served for so many years. He would escape with all the others who had fallen to Aizen’s ploy, along with Yoruichi and Tessai who were his friends before anything else and Kisuke would do whatever was necessary to repay this sacrifice.
When his world came crashing down, as he was labeled a traitor, a liar, a murderer, stranded on the Human realm with a dozen injured Shinigami he would remember Ichigo.
With help of the memory of his warmth, he kept his cool and helped the hollowification process stop even if not heal completely. With help of his smiles, he could sketch one of his own for a frazzled Yoruichi and a worried Tessai as he cooked up a plan to continue living, to settle in the human world.
And with help of his promises, Kisuke would be able to keep on living, day after day, knowing that things would get better and that Aizen would be defeated and that in the end…
He would meet again someone who would see all of him and accept him, want him, love him.
Kisuke could barely wait to finally say it back.
“I love you too.”