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Cat's Cradle

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His life has never been more miserable.

Which is a record-winning statement, given that his life had never been exactly sunshine and rainbows.

 

Ichigo leaves the classroom as soon as the bell rings, no longer bothering with trying to catch any of his friends’ eyes. It’s not like they ever stopped for him. Not anymore. Heck, since he lost his powers he doubted they could still be considered friends. Not even his classmates try this hard to not talk to him.

He ignores the whispers, and he ignores the pitying looks as he vacates the premises on his own, scowl almost etched into his face and his shoulders so tense Ichigo's beginning to feel they'll get stuck like that.

His anger washes away as the soothing staccato of his steps –nowadays just a single set of footsteps – calms him down as usual. He doesn’t really like it, because whenever he’s not angry, he’s so inconsolably lonely that it physically hurts.

 

He doesn’t linger at school, but he doesn’t linger at home either. Both places are just reminders of everything Ichigo lost. Sometimes he’d skip school, or he wouldn’t arrive home and it didn’t really matter. Nobody seems to care either way.

Ichigo’s hands clench nervously at his side, as if desperately wanting to tear into something or grab a sword and-

He sighs, clutches his backpack harder and continues walking towards the graveyard.

He visits his mother a lot nowadays.

At least she can’t exactly brush him off. Ichigo likes to entertain the idea that she wouldn’t shun him either if she was still alive, but sometimes he can’t say that and believe it.

Because now that he didn’t have powers, and couldn't see spirits, there really was no use for him. No need to hang out with him. No reason to love him.

 

“Hey mom. It’s me again.” Ichigo says as soon as he reaches her gravestone. He replaces the flowers from yesterday, changes the treats he brought earlier and cleans the engraved stone even though it’s as clean as it can be.

Once he’s done, he sits down in front of her, as he had done so many times before. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t really have anything left to say. He just stares, looking at nothing, waiting for the hours to pass so he can have an excuse to go back to his house, just hearing the occasional bird chirping, the wind blowing and-

A cat meowing?

 

His stiff neck actually cracks with how fast he turns to stare at a black cat sitting a couple feet away from him, staring right at him.

He meows again, and the sound is horribly uncute. It’s raspy, as if the cat didn’t really do it often, or as if he had damaged his vocal chords. The cat stands up and Ichigo stares, transfixed as the creature pawed his way closer to him.

He stops again, meows and stares at him with those unnerving silver eyes, as if gauging his reaction. Ichigo is hit by a sense of familiarity so strong that he flinches violently and ends up falling on his side.

 

He scrambles to sit back up, heart hammering in his chest and worried that he had scared the cat away.

To his surprise, the cat's still there, sitting patiently.

 

His life has reached such a low point that Ichigo almost bursts out crying at realizing that.

Still, he can’t help the sob that escapes his lips and as if that was his cue, the cat walks up to him and… lifts a paw to his knee?

Puzzled at this odd behavior, the sob becomes a quiet laugh. The cat immediately drops the paw and instead begins to nuzzle against him. Ichigo’s breath is stuck in his throat as he marvels at how warm the feline is, how soft his fur looks and he hesitatingly lowers a hand towards him, wondering if the cat would let him pet it.

To his eternal surprise, the cat nuzzles into his hands again, letting Ichigo run his fingers through soft fur and he keeps mewing at intervals. The cat is a little clumsy, overreaching and bumping against Ichigo’s hand which only makes Ichigo smile a little.

 

Ichigo is mesmerized by the cat, and he doesn’t even notice that it’s gotten dark and cold. He probably would have just sat there until dawn came rolling by, but the cat suddenly breaks out his claws and softly stabs his knee before darting away.

 

As if on cue, all of the heavy feelings he has managed to push away come crashing down and Ichigo is struggling to catch his breath when he sees the cat again.

He’s standing a couple feet away, tail twitching nervously and meowing with his hoarse voice… almost as if calling him.

Ichigo hesitatingly stands up, almost falling over at realizing his legs were numb and stiff and prickling him with a thousand needles. The cat goes up to him and just weaves soft circles around him until Ichigo regains feeling in his legs.

 

And then, calmly, slowly, Ichigo leaves the graveyard. Once he’s out he realizes that he has a couple dozen missed calls from Yuzu, he realizes it’s pretty darned late and he sees the cat scurrying away, well out of his reach down a small crack between the walls of the closest building.

He’s too worried about calling Yuzu back to remember to feel sorry for himself. He hurries back to his house.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, he’s puzzled at feeling well rested for once. Ichigo sits up and checks the hour. It’s still early. It’s actually before his alarm goes off.

He’s confused, but he quite likes feeling as if he had actually slept for once so he doesn’t think twice about it and dons his uniform. He grabs his bag and heads downstairs. Yuzu isn’t up yet, but it’s not like Ichigo ate breakfast anyway. Not anymore.

He grabs a piece of toast for later, more out of habit than actually considering eating it. God know the amount of moldy bread he has to clean out of his bag every so often.

Everything else remains a blur. Classes start and end and he just write everything down, knowing he’ll have plenty of time to review everything. He thinks he saw Mizuiro trying to speak to him, but Ichigo was quick to brush him off. If they’re not going to speak to him because they wanted, he didn’t want to speak to them when they needed.

 

He makes his way to the graveyard again and his heart sinks because he can’t see the black cat from last night. He calls himself an idiot and just hurries inside– it was probably a stray; why would it be waiting for Ichigo? Heck, why would it still be here?

The day feels cold so he hugs himself as he makes his way towards his mother. He makes sure everything is pristine, the flowers are new and the candy refreshed. And then he finds himself with nothing to do. Which is weird because up until now, he hadn’t done anything anyway. Just because there had been a cat yesterday, didn’t mean that Ichigo has stuff to do now.

Just as he prepares to zone out again, he hears a soft pitter-patter and sure enough the same silver-eyed cat comes trotting up to him in a somber silence. This time he doesn’t stay away and Ichigo suddenly finds himself with a cat pressing both front paws against his thigh to peer at him closely. He meows again, with that funny voice of his and when Ichigo lets a hand fall to his head, the cat presses against it and begins to purr.

Ichigo silently combs his finger through his fur, again, amazed at this little ball of fur. His purrs sound a little like a rusty motor but they’re not unpleasant. On the contrary, Ichigo finds himself getting distracted by the constant cadence.

 

Once more, he comes to when claws dig through his pants into his thighs and he abruptly jerks away from the cat. They both sit upright and Ichigo quickly realizes that night is falling again. It had been a long time since time had flown by so quickly.

He stands up, his legs cramping up immediately afterwards. As he waits for his legs to become his again, he looks down at the impassive cat with the smallest hint of suspicion. “I wonder why you do that though. It’s not like you would know I have to get home.” Ichigo tells the cat, who stares at him, his silver eyes almost reflections of the moon. He laughs to himself. “It’s probably just that you get bored and want me to leave you alone, right?”

As all answer, the cat comes closer again and rubs against his legs.

“Alright, alright, sorry for saying that.” Ichigo tells him and immediately sighs. “Great, now I’m talking to cats, just what I needed.”

The cat meows.

His mild disgruntlement fades immediately. “Let’s go home, shall we?”

The cat meows as reply and tags along until they exit the graveyard.

Ichigo stops again at the entrance, looks back at the cat and realizes he doesn’t want to leave. But he’s not so desperate as to spend the whole night at the graveyard with a cat. Besides he’d probably get kicked out. So he just looks at the silver-eyed cat and murmurs, “I’ll be back. Wait for me.”

The cat’s tail flicks before he emits a sound closer to a hum than a purr.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Ichigo still feels well rested, which is still an odd feeling and he dresses up as normal and heads out, although he doesn’t go to school. He walks into the closest convenience store and browses the half-a-shelf dedicated to pets. He’s surprised how expensive cat food is. He’d never owned one. Not any sort of pets, which is weird because his mother really loved animals and so did his sisters.

The cashier eyes him up and down and asks, “aren’t you supposed to be at school?” Ichigo glares at him while picking up his bag and doesn’t reply.

He heads to the graveyard and his heart sinks again because the cat’s not there.

He’s about to enter anyway, because he had to go greet his mother but he realizes that he spent all of his money on cat stuff instead of on his mother and if he wants to go buy her flowers, he’d need to return home. Returning now would mean explaining why he was there to Isshin who, although personally doesn’t care, would still tattle to his sisters and they would nag at him.

Talking about which, he doesn’t have that much money left. He had been pinching from his college savings for a while now, either as emergency food money or bandages or whatever he needed for his crazy adventures to Soul Society and then to Hueco Mundo. Not to mention to buy birthday gifts for his sisters and then flowers and sweets for his mother and…

He really should be getting himself a job.

Maybe Ichigo’s world had stopped turning. But time didn’t stop for anyone and Ichigo was no exception. The world around him kept moving without him.

Being sad could only be affordable for so long.

His shoulders slump, as he thinks about that, but he just drags himself to his mother and sits down. He sighs. “It’s not like I’m waiting for someone to come help. I really should just… keep on living.”

If only to not be a burden to his sisters.

“If I did that, would you not get angry at me I wonder.” Ichigo says to his mother, rubbing at his arms.

He paces around the graveyard, subtly seeking out the cat, unsurprised but still disappointed at not finding him. He gives a few rounds before taking a seat by his mother. For the first time in weeks he has something to tell her, even if it’s minimal, and he does.

As the day became evening, Ichigo once again hears soft steps and he turns to lock eyes with the black cat with silver eyes. The cat looks surprised for a moment before he’s speed-walking his way over to him, meowing every so often.

The cat doesn’t seem to be able to stop in time and crashes against Ichigo’s knee. Ichigo cringes, having been a sore spot but he can’t get mad at the cat when he proceeded to press both his front paws over his lowered head as if he too was complaining about the pain.

“You stupid cat.” Ichigo mutters without any real heat before gently trying to soothe him, by rubbing circles on his shoulders. “Watch where you’re going.”

In no time, the cat is purring in his hands and Ichigo finds himself smiling for the third time that week. After the pain is very evidently gone, Ichigo retracts his hands to rummage through the convenience bag he had left on the ground. “I brought you something.”

As if he could understand him, the cat sat down and stared at him intently. When Ichigo got so distracted he stopped moving, the cat mewed once to make him focus.

“Right, right. Here.” He said, producing the first toy he could grab. He produced a bright red stick with a handful of feathers on the tip. “Um.” He looks a little embarrassed, a little confused. He looks over at the cat who looks frozen. He lets it near the cat to let him sniff it or whatever it is cats did with it. The black feline actually recoiled looking horrified and indignant.

Feeling his cheeks heating up, he tried what he always saw people doing, “here, kitty, kitty.” He said in a mumble, bouncing the stick up and down to try to catch his attention. All that this managed to do was make the cat shoot him a –completely unwarranted, mind you– look of disbelief.

Hesitatingly, almost as if doing just out of obligation, the cat raises a paw and smacks the ball of fluff, still looking inordinately bewildered.

Ichigo drops it. “Okay, fine, I get it, you’re too good for that, Jesus Christ.” He mumbles under his breath, regretting ever trying to act like that. He huffs and puffs as he retrieves the next toy, a pair of toy mice. He looks at them, back at the cat and simply deadpans. “I’m guessing your highness wouldn’t want this either, right?”

The cat flattens his ears, before he slowly draws near, sniffing at the white and blue toys. Apparently finding them sufficiently satisfying he grabs one with his mouth, delicatedly and drops it at his feet. He draws out his claws and just… sort of massages the toy.

Ichigo thinks it’s a little odd, but the cat actually seemed to be enjoying himself. And he looks cute, which is a plus.

While the cat is entertained with the toy, Ichigo rummages through the remaining objects and pulled out a can of wet cat food.

The package said something absurdly extravagant like roasted beef, and Ichigo really had no clue what would be good, so he had just grabbed the one that had sounded the most appealing.

He pulls it open and immediately jerks it away from his face, keeping the can at arm’s length, trying to get it as far as physically possible without dropping it (or gagging). What was that? It looks like a homogeneous paste of something. Hopefully meat. And the smell.

Did cats actually eat this?

Ichigo clicks his tongue to draw the cat’s attention and gingerly sets the can down, close enough to the feline to incite curiosity. The black cat walks over to the food and promptly his face switches from alarm to a surprisingly human expression of disgust before it returns to surprise, so Ichigo has to wonder if maybe he magined it all.

But what was obvious enough was that the cat found that pâté as appealing as Ichigo had.

“Maybe he’s never had wet food.” Ichigo musses out loud, staring at the affronted look of the feline. But he also notices how scrawny he was, surely he was hungry. “I’ll bring you dry food, then.” He says to the cat. “But that’ll have to be tomorrow, because right now I don’t have any money left.”

Curiously enough, the feline bristles softly before drawing out his claws and using a single one to elegantly scoop up some of the grissly mixture. Some of it falls back on the can with a wet plop.

Ichigo has never seen a more horrified cat.

“It’s alright if you don’t want it. I’ll take it to a shelter or something.” Ichigo assures him as if the cat could understand. “I’m guessing you got lost huh? Mighty family you must have come from. You’re probably used to eating cooked fish and minced meat or something.”

The animal stands up after shaking his paw clean and meows at him.

“Alright, alright. I’ll see if I can bring you something then.”

When the cat begins to purr. Ichigo smiles despite himself.

 

 

Yuzu had been inordinately happy when he had popped into the kitchen to ask if he could have a lunchbox for the evening. Ichigo wondered why, it was more trouble for her and he had been limiting his eating hours because of that, and because he was seldom hungry anyway.

The cat seems to appreciate it at the very least. He sat primly by the lunchbox, using a paw to snatch bits and pieces of food and Ichigo is pretty amused by this. At one point, the cat seems to be done, but the moment Ichigo places the lid back on, the cat looks at him so sharply, Ichigo asks, “what?”

The animal actually responded by using his head to push the lunchbox closer to Ichigo.

“Oh, no, I’m not hungry. I don’t usually eat during the day,” Ichigo says as reflex and then he sighs to himslelf, “Now I’m having conversations with you. Great.”

The animal certainly doesn’t seem to be moving at random, as he pushes the lunchbox again and begins meowling more insistently.

“Dammit, stupid cat, I’m not hungry.” Ichigo replies, getting irritated by the nonstop meowing and pacing of the creature. He immediately huffs, tension leaving him as he realizes that now he’s arguing with a cat. Which is now rubbing against his knee, still asking him to eat.

The food doesn’t smell half as bad.

His stomach grumbles and for once, Ichigo notices.

“Alright, okay, just a bite.”

 

When he leaves, the cat stays behind as always, but Ichigo feels lighter than even the day before. He’s not entirely sure what to make of this abnormally smart cat, but he decides not to dwell on it.

 

 

Said abnormally smart cat watches Ichigo go, before he scurries away from the graveyard, weaving an elaborate path to an abandoned building into which he disappears.

Not even two minutes later, Urahara Kisuke walks out of that same building, looking lost in thought.

As he makes his way back to the shoten he mulls the information recently acquired and can’t help the heavy weight of guilt in his stomach. He knew the boy had looked pretty thin, but he had never assumed he would have resorted to starving himself.

That’s not exactly Kisuke’s fault, but he resolves to fix it anyway. It was painful to see such a proud, brave soul being reduced to this shell of himself; and while he couldn’t do anything about the dumb dumb shinigami over in their happy little world, he supposed he could see why his human friends were also avoiding him.

He’s so deep in thought that it’s not until he’s having dinner that he remembers the cat food he had actually been considering on eating just to ease the boy.

He’s just glad that nobody besides the two of them knew of this, and it’s not like Ichigo would ever know that it was him disguised as a cat.

Famous last words.

Chapter Text

Life isn’t as easy as fiction, Ichigo’s “friends” aren’t sitting in a circle while talking about why they’re avoiding Ichigo when Kisuke arrives at their school, concealed as a cat. He stays there, crouched under the window of their classroom until he is spotted by another classmate. So he decides to take it a step further.

He waits for the perfect moment to intercept them all individually, to subtly corner them as he clip-clops his way out of the shadows and politely inquires as to how their lives have been so far, have they had problems with anything of the supernatural, he’s supposed to ensure that doesn’t happen after all and…

“Have you seen Kurosaki-san lately?”

This question triggers many emotions on the teens’ faces. Much to his relief, there is neither disinterest nor annoyance.

Asano Keigo and Kojima Mizuiro both look tired and unhappy. “I suppose you can say we see each other every day at school but… We were excluded from the beginning because we couldn’t see ghosts and he hasn’t stopped keeping us at arm’s length since.” Kojima says, crossing his arms and looking more hurt than he tries to be angry.

Asano shrugs and adds, “I bet you’ve seen him too. He looks miserable, but he brushes off everything we say. He doesn’t let us close.”

 Aisawa is more of the same. “We drifted apart once we entered high school. Well, no. We drifted apart when his mother died, he pushed me away and locked the door behind me.” She confides in him, arms crossed over her chest, chin high and not looking at him. “I thought we were still friends though. Even with all the secrets he carried but…” Her face changes for a second and the dark ring around her eyes draw his attention. “He’s doing the same now, and I don’t see how I can help…”

Kisuke listens and nods and offers empty words of comfort. He can’t really blame them, not when he realizes that these Human children could not know better. They had tried their best, at the very least. Now, if Ichigo could see that... that would be great.

Ichigo is hurt, that much is obvious. He’s hurt and in pain and feels lonelier than he has ever felt. Part of the reason is because of his lost powers, of his lost connection to a world he had been a part of ever since he can remember.

But what probably not even Ichigo understands is that he’s not whole either. He lost his zanpakuto and his hollow. His soul must be crying like it never had before. Even if his Shinigami friends hadn’t simply decided not to show up anymore, he’d still feel as lonely and miserable. Not for long, maybe, but it would take time.

Kisuke wasn’t sure he was better off than these teenagers in regards to emotions and caring, but he owed it to Ichigo to at least try.

His musings and plans and ideas swirl in his mind, crafting something half-plausible. This is probably the first plan he has ever thought up that not only does it not involve killing anyone. But probably the first plan to fix a mistake that wasn’t his own or to make someone else happy.

He’s not against it.

 

He designs a mystery.

He designs a mystery with just the right amount of supernatural to make his Human friends immediately think of him, but not enough for Ichigo to feel useless because of his lack of powers.

He hands the invites to Aisawa, Asano and Kojima, he tells him of the rumors, of the disappearance of objects over the course of a week, and of the disappearance of a girl. He adds in a detail of ghostly possession as to not have them calling the cops, he hands them small soul-powered weaponry to stand their ground and then urges them to seek Ichigo out.

They’re not so useless as to not manage that, although it involved a couple punches, a lot of cajoling and reluctant honesty which finally made the thin boy slip on his sneakers and trail behind them in silence.

Kisuke sees it all unfold from the shadows, already transformed as a cat, his silver eyes the only visible part of him. He makes use of his extra stealth to follow them through this bizarre endeavor and hoping it would be enough to make Ichigo a little less miserable. To make him realize that he’s not alone.

He’s never been alone.

 

They follow the clues Kisuke left scattered all throughout the neighborhood which leads them to a particularly creepy abandoned house. They make use of Kisuke’s strength-enhancing gauntlets and boots and of the kidou-launching gun (only five rounds) as they have to dodge or destroy the flying debris that comes after them as soon as they step in.

Ichigo is not equipped with anything, having refused the offer, but he’s not falling behind. He’s still nimble, which surprises Kisuke, although his lost muscle mass is quite evidently a bother for him. He doesn’t really try to smash his way through anything, no matter how small, which is quite nicely covered by a sense of teamwork from his other friends and Ichigo’s default leadership.

Kisuke is still following them, skulking amongst the shadows and feeling oddly proud of the way Ichigo manages to stand his ground despite everything. He’s actually the one to talk with the ghost possessing the awfully convenient doll, drags his sobstory out of him of spending so many years as a ghost, unnoticed by everyone and seeing his daughter growing up and leaving home and that he misses her so much.

In true Ichigo fashion, the boy punches the doll and then gives the ghost a verbal smackdown. The ghost gets angry and tries to attack him, but Aisawa jumps in front of him and kicks him into the opposite wall.

Ichigo’s countenance darkens abruptly, but Aisawa rounds up on him and starts ranting about how he was taking too long, the ghost was clearly deranged and he better get his ass in gear and have their back as well.

Ichigo is taken aback by her ferocity, which is quickly supported by his other friends and Mizuiro proceeds to use a fly-swatter to perform konsou on the soul. Ichigo is extremely confused, but he’s informed that it was inscribed with a seal for exorcising ghosts.

Ichigo closes his fists and doesn’t ask where did they get all that.

They rescue the girl and accompany her to her house, fleeing before her parents can ask too many questions.

Chapter Text

The next day, Ichigo doesn’t go to his mother’s gravestone. The black cat waiting for him is relieved not to find him there.

He’s maybe a little annoyed because he could have spent the day furthering his research, but he decides not to dwell on it.

 

 

The day after, he’s surprised and not, to see the lone figure of the boy making his way into the graveyard. Kisuke is not there, he had decided to install a couple cameras by the entrance so he could be notified if Ichigo decided to swing by.

He hurries after him, a tail already flapping in the wind.

 

Ichigo looks more tired than the previous days, but he also looks lighter.

When Ichigo spots him, he quickens his step; he feels perhaps a little embarrassed but there’s nobody to see him or call out to him so it’s okay. He drops to one knee and runs his hands through soft fur instead of letting them clench nervously at his sides.

Kisuke would have expected the teen to be less nervous, but he just accepts the long minutes of silence, as he combs through his hair.

Ichigo stops petting the cat only when his body begins to protest the prolonged posture and murmurs, “do you want to come with me?” Despite knowing that there’s no way the cat can understand him. Still, the gorgeous ebony cat walks up to him and just kind of hovers at his feet.

Ichigo smiles and tries walking towards his mother and the cat follows suit. Ichigo smiles and doesn’t completely zone out as he changed the flowers and replaced the sweets and cleaned the tombstone.

He sits cross-legged in front of it, his left hand slowly combing through the feline’s fur. They’re silent for a while, but then the cat begins meowing again, rubbing against him and demanding his attention and affection. Ichigo is more than happy to comply.

Ichigo hasn’t stopped biting his lips, and when he finally gives up he’s speaking both to his mom and to the cat of all the stuff that happened the other day. His voice is stilted, guarded, which strikes Kisuke as weird because nothing negative happened then.

And then Ichigo apologizes.

“I know I’m supposed to be the protector, to live up to my name, but Tatsuki had to save me because I’m useless without my powers, and I’m so sorry.” He finally breathes out, deflating like a punctured soccer ball. He jumps upright again as the feline digs his claws into his thigh as if to draw his attention.

The cat bristles indignantly and Ichigo is thoroughly confused. He tries pulling him off his lap to no avail and he curses under his breathe before giving up and just staring at the ball of fur firmly in his lap. “What’s your problem?” He mutters, getting slightly annoyed.

The cat obviously doesn’t answer, but instead decides to try and nuzzle against him. Wary of the clawed creature drawing closer to his neck, Ichigo is very careful, but it doesn’t seem like the cat wants to harm him. He doesn’t meow, he just stares with his unsettling silver eyes, which are so familiar his heart shrinks.

“What? Do you want me to protect you too?” Ichigo asks the cat in a vain attempt at making himself feel better. His hopes are once again shattered as the feline bristles further, avoiding his hand. “Oh,” he mumbles, “you think I’m a failure too.”

The cat looks like an oversized black dandelion at this point, and with his fur still frizzy he demonstrated a fake slash, showcasing his long claws. He does it several times until Ichigo gets the hint and as soon as the boy huffs and says, “oh so you can protect yourself just fine is what you’re saying?” the cat immediately goes back to being within reach and soon enough Ichigo’s hand is tucked between the cat’s paws, firmly pressed against his chest as the cat curled as tight as possible against his limb.

Ichigo can feel the small pitter-patter of his heart. He feels so pathetic, but he feels reassured.

Chapter Text

Ichigo knows that the stray black cat is absurdly intelligent. Which is the main reason he doesn’t feel as stupid as before when he talks to him.

He sat down in front of his mother as always, and he talked to the cat about what had happened after the war. He told him what his days were like now. He still couldn’t let the longing out of his lips.

Since he knows there’s at least something the cat understands, Ichigo asks him one day, “would you like to come home with me?”

He calls himself stupid because his heart is beating like crazy, worried over getting rejected by a cat.

The creature cocks his head and gives out his own weird version of a meow.

Smiling without even realizing, Ichigo begins walking away and he sighs in relief at seeing that Kuro was following him just fine.

There’s a little voice in his head that whispers, that warns him, no matter how intelligent. No matter how smart. A cat shouldn’t be able to interpret his words so accurately.

Ichigo calls it a coincidence. He calls it simply wanting to be with him. He shoves that voice down.

The cat purrs briefly as if agreeing with that decision.

The cat has no trouble walking with him to his house, he kept pace with him without any trouble. Ichigo had been worried about crossing any busy streets but Kuro had refused to be picked up and Ichigo had simply kept an eye out for him while they crossed, but there had been no problems.

That was, until they reached the Kurosaki household. They arrive and Ichigo opens the gate and walks towards his door when he notices that Kuro is not following him. The cat is sitting primly at the entrance, as if he had no intention of joining him.

Ichigo runs inside and comes out with some leftovers from the day before– some cold fish and sliced bread. Kuro looks at him, his beautiful silver eyes brimming with amusement, but doesn’t move an inch.

“Please, Kuro. Won’t you come in with me?” Ichigo mumbles, for some reason feeling sad that a stray cat didn’t want to go into his home.

As he’s thinking that, the cat calls him, or well, he meows softly as if calling his attention and Ichigo looks up in time to see Kuro getting a running start and jumping atop the Kurosaki clinic banner. Once there, he peered down at him before turning to his bedroom window and sitting down. Waiting.

Ichigo stares.

He stares and stares but the shadow of horrible solitude appears again and Ichigo is dashing inside to open the window for the accursed cat.

When he reaches his bedroom door, he’s panting. He looks up, half-expecting to see the cat gone, but he’s waiting for him softly pawing at the glass as if he were greeting him.

Ichigo hurries.

He unlatches the window, and he admires the skinny black cat make his way across the room. He falls a little graceless on his bed, bouncing a bit much. Ichigo would have expected him to sniff around this foreign room, but Kuro is much more interested in him.

The cat tries to make a beeline to him with much resistance from the bouncy bed.

Ichigo smiles.

 

 


 

Ichigo is reading a book on his bed, bag tossed carelessly on the floor, homework forgotten as Kuro had decided to take a nap on his lap. His room is quiet, but this time it’s not oppressive.

Even if it’s just him and a cat there, it almost feels companiable.

Kuro is purring softly, Ichigo is just skimming over his book, too distracted with the soft creature on his legs. His mind begins to wander as he keeps a soft hand pressed against the small ribs of the cat, feeling it rise and fall with his breathing and he can’t help the thought that he wants to adopt the cat.

His father would no doubt protest. But if either Yuzu or Karin mentioned they wanted the cat to stay, then his father wouldn’t really have a choice. But he knew that Kuro would not stay.

For whichever reason, he knew Kuro would not enter his house. Just his room for some reason. Ichigo doesn’t blame him. Cat’s better off this way, coming and going and being a free spirit and not being bound to Ichigo.

Something bad always happened to those that hung out around him. Kuro is probably better off without him.

Chapter Text

Kuro is gone the next morning.

Ichigo had fallen asleep at some point, having been either more tired than he remembered or Kuro’s presence relaxing him way more than it should.

He’s not surprised. Not really.

Kuro might like him for some bizarre reason, but he was still a stray, which was the main reason he had left his window open. If the stray wanted to leave, then that was just perfect.

 

Tatsuki’s at his mother’s grave that evening. Ichigo freezes, not having been expecting anyone there. There never had been.

He’s half-ready to turn around and wait for her to leave, but she catches sight of him and waves at him.

There are flowers in her hands.

Ichigo tells himself he stays just for that. But the way Tatsuki smiles at him is enough for him to attempt it as well.

She says hi, quiet and a little awkward and somehow it hurts them both to barely recognize each other. They stand together as they pray to Masaki and then Ichigo tries to come up with an excuse to make her go away.

He wanted to be alone with his mother. Hopefully Kuro would be there.

“So,” she begins, not looking directly at him. “My mom made you food.”

“She did? Why?”

Tatsuki shrugs, “She made too much food yesterday. And she says she misses having you around. I do too.” She adds almost like a whisper.

“Well, thanks? I’ll see if my sisters like it.” Ichigo replies with such ease that it takes Tatsuki a moment to understand what’s wrong with that statement.

She bites her lip and then says, “yeah. But you also have to eat.”

Ichigo blinks. He has it on the tip of his tongue, ‘Why?’ He wants to say. He’s not too sure if that would be a proper question, so he refrains.

But he also forgets to answer anything else.

“So!” Tatsuki exclaims, perhaps a bit too shrill and high for it not to be nervous. She fiddles with the flower offering in her hands before reaching for the plastic bag hanging off her wrist and forcing it on him. “It’s a promise now. You have to eat too. My mother would love it if you do. Maybe swing by some other time. It’s been a while.”

Ichigo stares at her blankly.

When he answers, it’s more out of courtesy than anything else. “Sure, sounds great.”

 

Ichigo was already halfway out of the graveyard when Tatsuki calls out to him again.

He turns around in time to have a book shoved at his face.

In silence, he steps back to focus on the skull with a crown on top showcased on the cover, something vaguely familiar in it. He doesn’t get the chance to figure out why, or even read the title before Tatsuki says something about needing to get to her karate classes

“I don’t even know if you still like it but…”She says, as he forced the book into his hands. She looks mildly uncomfortable and she just dashes away shortly after. “At least read it once!” She calls over her shoulder as she makes her retreat.

 

Ichigo stares at the book with some surprise.

Hamlet.

It had been so long ago since he had last read any Shakespeare.

He knows he has his old copy somewhere in his house but… he wants to read Tatsuki’s copy.

It’s new, he excuses. He already has it out, he tells himself.

But he can’t keep trying to delude himself when he goes to the first page and he sees his name written in Tatsuki’s chicken scratch of a handwriting.

Below it it says, ‘hope you feel better.’

 

Ichigo doesn’t get much reading done that day.

Chapter Text

For a while he doesn’t even open it. For some reason he can’t.

Then the second Kuro appears again in his life, black and alive against the graves and meows at the book Ichigo always carried around, with curiosity in his silver eyes. Ichigo picks it up and begins to explain to Kuro what was Hamlet about.

But there are fragments he doesn’t really recall, and certain witty phrases he doesn’t want to get wrong, so he opens and flips through its pages trying to find the appropriate verse and before he knows it, he’s reading it to Kuro.

“Yet now, I must confess, that duty done. My thoughts and wishes bend again toward France. And bow them to your gracious leave and pardon.” Ichigo almost mumbles, as if he were reading for himself and Kuro just purrs along, as if listening keenly. The boy is very careful with enunciating everything with the correct amount of pauses and inflections, but his voice is quiet, unlike the voices that should be singing their lines inside his head.

“A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Ichigo reads, then pauses. There’s a wry smile on his lips when he adds, “well. I can relate just perfectly. Claudius was always annoying. Like someone I know. Ah, the similarities just never end.”

The black cat just sits there, quiet and watchful.

 

Some more days pass and he’s once more invested in the lives of Hamlet and King Hamlet and Horatio and Ophelia and everyone else.

He begins reading louder, his audience a cold tombstone and a weird cat. He begins using different tones for different characters and Kuro seems to like it.

The cat stares at him with his unnerving grey eyes, purring louder at certain moments, even meowing at others and at some point Ichigo finds himself gesticulating wildly, modulating his voice to match his impressions and sometimes doing some sound effects when he’s feeling particularly energetic.

Kuro curls around him and Ichigo can’t help the thought that the cat is happy for him. That or he appreciated the new foods Ichigo had been bringing him.

Chapter Text

Kisuke had begun to notice that even though Ichigo still walked to the graveyard with the diligence of a soldier, he was increasingly restless as he continued reading Hamlet and talking to him and every day that ‘Kuro’ was there with him, the earlier Ichigo would leave the cemetery and they would walk back to his home or to the riverbank to continue the play. Either the boy was embarrassed or he wasn’t quite ready to let his sisters and father listen to him.

So Kisuke began spending more and more time as a cat, loitering in Ichigo’s room until the boy fell asleep or actually went downstairs for dinner and he would slink away to the darkness of the night. It was time-consuming, and it bit into his sleeping hours but…

He had worked worse hours for less noble causes.

He didn’t mind.

It was, after all, the only thing he could do. And as minuscule as it was, he’d be dammed if he failed it.

 

So Kisuke continues spending several hours at his house, and according to the laws of chance and probability, it might have come to no surprise that there would be one day in which he would be too tired and the darkened room and Ichigo’s slow breathing patterns lulled him to slumber.

 

Kisuke had never slept transformed as a cat. Partly because he didn’t particularly fancy spending more than a couple hours as a fur ball and partly because his impeccable control over his reiatsu waned with his sleeping patterns.

 

Which is something he forgets that rainy day Ichigo brings him into his room. Kisuke is mostly dry, having taken cover the moment the rain began and then having been protected by Ichigo on the way to his house. Ichigo, on the other hand, is completely drenched, trailing raindrops with his every step. Kisuke just sits put as Ichigo pulls out a change of clothes and a towel and kindly looks away while the teen dries himself.

Afterwards, Ichigo plops down on his bed, the rain making him feel groggy and tired. He looks over to him and smiles slightly– a smile aimed solely at the cat he had sort of adopted, and Kisuke can’t help but feel bad about it.

Ichigo pats the place next to him, and Kisuke obliges, jumping with more confidence than he has skill and curling into a ball by his side.

He stares up at the not-as-thin boy, who once more looks on the wrong side of tired as he raises a hand to run it through his fur.

What’s wrong now?’ Kisuke wants to ask, but he has to content himself with meowing softly and nuzzling into his hand as a show of comfort.

“I’m fine,” Ichigo says, even as his free hand opens and closes almost spastically. “It’s just that it’s raining today.” But it’s not like he can brood for long because having Kuro here with him always lifted his mood.

It was raining today. Kisuke had known, for a very long time that Ichigo had developed a trauma since the day his mother had died, but Kisuke had never really considered what that meant for the boy.

It had never been important.

Kisuke remembers his previous thoughts, remembers his assumptions and he wants to throw himself off the second floor. He too, had seen this boy suffering and done nothing about it once.

But not anymore.

He had decided to don the scrappy flesh of a cat to make sure Ichigo would not crumble after losing his powers. He had thrown his pride away to create an anchor for the desolate teen.

Kisuke stares at the brittle smile on his lips and fervently wishes there was more he could do.

There’s so much he can’t do as a cat, but not only does he not deserve to be by his side, Ichigo would be horrified to know that the awfully nicknamed Kuro was none other than Kisuke.

As a cat he curls up around his propped hand and sighs. Ichigo slowly moves around him, trying not to dislodge him as he too laid down on his bed, one hand firmly tucked between the cats paws.

Ichigo would normally despise the feeling of being protected, but just this once, as rain continued to fall…

He basked in the warmth of the feline as he let himself fall asleep, knowing that for once, there would be no nightmares to accompany him.

 

Kisuke doesn’t realize he fell asleep until he’s waking up. He freezes, a hand on the air as he doesn’t recognize where he is. He hears some grumbling behind him and he instinctively scrambles to his feet. As his sandal-less feet touch the cold ground he realizes with sudden horror that: a) he’s in Kurosaki’s room and b) he’s not currently a cat.

He turns around in time to see Ichigo beginning to wake up and Kisuke is a cat again in one step, the next he’s jumping on the bed and basically throws himself out of the window and dashes away.

Ichigo finishes waking up and can only stare in a sleepy state of confusion as the black cat scampered off.

Chapter Text

Ichigo appreciated what little wind got in through the open door, as his intensive studying session was making him cranky and hot as the minutes ticked by into the new day. He looked away to see Kuro napping perfectly at ease on his bed and he had to huff. Cats were so lucky.

They didn't have to worry about going to school not having to memorize formulas for stuff he probably wouldn't use, although it's not like he had any clue what he was going to do when he graduated anyway.

Ichigo rubs at his eyes, stifling a yawn as he returns to his problems.

He was done with the first pack and he had a little time to start the second one before his alarm went off and...

He dozed off.

When Ichigo wakes up, the sun is already high in the sky,, Kuro's not there and someone had placed a comforter over him as he dozed off in his desk.

He's confused, late for class and a little worried about the warmth that seemed to be coming from within him.

He makes the mental note to ask Yuzu if she came in before going to school but he knows he won't ask.

He wonders why.

 

 

The perfect, genius, master-minded shopkeeper had been slipping. Not only had he already fallen asleep and transformed back into his Shinigami form, now he had not been able to blend in with the shadows as Yoruichi had painstakingly taught him and he had been spotted by none other than Kurosaki Ichigo’s younger sister.

He still has no clue as to how Kurosaki Yuzu had gone from spotting him as she took out the trash, to cutting off his escape route, towering over his small cat form. Kisuke didn’t even get the chance to try and scuttle away in between her legs before he’s hoisted up by his armpits to be face-to-face with a very curious Yuzu.

“I think I have seen you around here lately, do you think this is your home? Are you lost, kitty?” She begins to ask him, giggling softly at the expression of horror on the cat’s face. She has to shift her grasp on the small scrawny feline to envelop his body as to not lose grasp of him as he goes very still.

She squints at him, then frowns looking remarkably like her brother for a second, “do you know? Someone has been ripping up our trash bags and letting our trash fall on the ground, have you been doing that? You’re the only cat I’ve seen around, so it has to be you!”

Once she reaches that conclusion, Kisuke is subjected to several minutes of this child berating him for something he clearly hadn’t done.

And here he had thought that considering on eating cat food had been humiliating. This was nothing in comparison.

 

 

Because he has his pride to account for, it takes Kisuke less than a day to figure out who the real culprit was and how to catch him in fraganti.

He devises a trap simple enough he could manage with his cat body and as morning approaches, Kisuke lies in wait.

A scrawny street mutt makes his appearance, paddling softly and sniffing the air in search for something to eat. As it enthusiastically draws closer to the trashcan, it inevitably trips over the wire laid out on the floor and makes the trashcan’s lid fall and clatter loudly to the ground.

The dog yelps but his ankle has been caught in the wire. He spends long enough to untangle himself that Kurosaki Yuzu opened the door to their house, still in her pajamas to see what the commotion was.

And to see who the culprit really was.

 

Kisuke can’t help himself.

He cackles.

 

On the top floor, a curtain swishes close.

Chapter Text

The next day, when Kisuke paws his way to Ichigo’s house, he’s surprised at finding his window closed.

Kisuke shrugs and assumes Ichigo just forgot or maybe Yuzu closed the window when she came in to clean.

He jumps up to the Kurosaki Clinic banner as he has done plenty of times before. He sees movement and he can see Ichigo pacing inside his room. He meows a couple times and he’s pretty sure Ichigo looked directly at him, but before he can even stretch and approach the window further, the teen has disappeared into his house.

Maybe the teen hadn’t seen him?

He waits and waits until his overly warm fur is itching even though the sun has already sunk down, but Ichigo does not return.

Strange. But not uncommon. Ichigo has been spending more time with his sisters lately, which is always good.

Kisuke stretches and finally makes his way back to the Shoten. He tries not to think too hard about it but…

His window had always been open for him.

 

The following day is a school day so Kisuke decides to wait for him to get home and gets instantly worried at how Ichigo freezes upon spotting him.

Irritatingly enough, his cat body is harder to control, so he can feel his tail falling and his ears lowering as he fails to understand why Ichigo is reacting like that.

Ichigo rubs his neck, looks away. Continues walking, looking somehow dejected. “Come on inside…Kuro.” He mumbles, as he walks inside the house. He leaves the door open, looking at him expectantly.

Kisuke finds it odd. He thought they already had it planned out that he’d go in through the window (less chance of bumping into Ichigo’s other family members).

Ichigo looks down and then nods at the cat. “Okay, if that’s what you prefer.” With those rather strange words, he closes the door and before Kisuke can begin to truly wonder what that had been about, the window to Ichigo’s room is unlocked and opened wide.

Kisuke jumps up and enters.

He sits on his bed, primly, waiting to settle wherever Ichigo decided to be at. The teen was already pulling out his school supplies to probably do homework so he makes his way over but Ichigo is too close to the desk to properly fit in his lap, so he just sits on the floor next to him, thinking where should he go.

Ichigo notices him and mumbles, “you don’t have to be there. You can… sleep on the bed or something. You don’t have to be hovering over me all the time.”

Something was off.

Ichigo isn’t looking at him. Kisuke steps forward, meowing softly as he tries nuzzling against him. Ichigo slides his legs away, “No, it’s alright, don’t… don’t…”

A chill runs down Kisuke’s spine.

He steps back.

He sprints away.

He can vaguely hear Ichigo calling him back but he doesn’t stay to hear it.

Chapter Text

Kisuke avoided going to Ichigo’s home, avoided going to the graveyard and avoided thinking about the implications and what exactly did it mean for their current relationship that Ichigo now apparently knew who he was.

Had Kisuke interpreted him correctly? Had this depressed teen been sharp enough to figure out who he was?

Was he simply overthinking everything?

 

(Had he ruined everything again, with his own hands?)

 

 


 

A week later, the black cat is back by Masaki’s gravestone and as Ichigo walks inside, his expression, which already looked tense, gains several years’ worth of tiredness.

Ichigo does his best to ignore him as he cleans his mother’s grave, going that extra mile to make sure even the carvings were spotless. He changed the offerings, the flowers, prayed for a good minute and then he finally looked at the cat.

“Did you have fun?” He asks in a quiet whisper, with no further fanfare. Asking him because he expects an answer. With those simple words, Kisuke knows that his ruse is up. His lower lip trembles, but his face is inscrutable.

Kisuke doesn’t fight it as his ears lower, his tail falls flat and he hesitates a split second–time he doesn’t really have. “It was never my intention, no.”

As always, his voice is weird. Weirdly androgynous, maybe even a tad feminine, but definitively doesn't sound like his voice. He had always wondered why this was. Now, that may just be his salvation.

Ichigo actually flinches, he looks so surprised that Kisuke has to wonder if maybe talking had been ultimately his undoing.

“Who are you?”

Kisuke is far too aware that if he revealed who he was, Ichigo would scorn him further, but he knows with that same certainty, that the boy deserves an answer.

In the hesitant silence, Ichigo speaks again as if he preferred the questions over the silence.

“You can’t be Rukia you’re not cute enough. You’re too calm for Renji.” He begins listing off, and then his face falls even further and all Kisuke wants to do is soothe that pain away but now he’ll never be able to. “Well… obviously not. It’s not like they would come back. They never visited before. And why would they even appear as a fucking cat.”

“It’s not like that…”

Ichigo continues, undeterred. “You can transform into a cat. Are you related to Yoruichi-san, then? Maybe you are a cat. Yoruichi’s familiar maybe? Then what are you doing here? Did she tell you to come? Why? Do I look that pathetic?”

 

Ichigo breaks composure and covers his face with his hands, interrupting the barrage of words for a second. “I can’t do this. I don’t know who you are. I don’t understand what you are doing here. Please just… just stop. Leave me alone.”

“Please, if you could only…” Kisuke tries, but the way Ichigo is hunching in on himself makes quite obvious that there are no words to make up for this. Kisuke decides that the better thing he could do at that moment is disappear. “My sincerest apologies.” He says, as he begins to turn around. “But I just wanted to mend our mistakes. I wanted to help you. There was no ulterior motive.”

 

Alone in the graveyard, Ichigo grabs the closest object at hand and throws the water bucket in the direction the cat had disappeared to.

“Yeah, and using his eye-color was certainly not for fun. Ha!

Chapter Text

Ichigo had been restless that day.

He had come directly from school, mind clearly elsewhere as he made his way to his mother’s resting place.

Kisuke was already there this time. He was lounging as a cat in a grass patch nearby and had swiftly made his way over to the jittery teen, wondering what was wrong this time.

Upon seeing him, Ichigo’s face lights up. He opens and closes his mouth but he doesn’t say anything. Instead he bites his lip and looks around.

Kisuke sits down on his haunches wondering what could be wrong. Ichigo shifts his weight from one foot to the next and while clutching at the bag strap across his chest, he leans down to the black, silver-eyed feline and whispers. “Do you want, I mean, wanna come with me?”

The cat cocks his head to a side, as if curious. He proceeds to stand up, his tail briefly curling around him, before he paws his way over as answer.

Ichigo can’t help the nervous smile that lifts up the corner of his mouth.

 


 

Ichigo takes them to the riverside, looks around him as if to make sure nobody else was there, before plopping down on the ground. Kisuke curiously makes his way over to him, but he has to jump back in surprise as Ichigo abruptly stands up after fishing out a book from his bag. If memory served Kisuke right, that was the one Tatsuki had given him.

“Oh, oops.” Ichigo looks nervous and sheepish as he half-smiles as an apology and Kisuke just meows back in reassurance.

Ichigo opens the book, and begins leafing through it. He stops at a spot, pinches his lips and continues. He begins to pace up and down the uneven terrain until he’s satisfied with whatever he’s found.

Looking honestly mortified, Ichigo clears his throat and begins to read. “If it assume my noble father's person,” He scowls as his tongue twists and makes his English sound way too rough. “I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape. And bid me hold my peace. I pray you all…”

Ichigo glances at Kuro, who is staring at him wide-eyed and curious and he almost balks right then and there. It was a long time since he last spoke English in more than a mumble and still he didn’t find the courage to actively act it out despite his best intentions.

He bites his lip, and then decides he can at least finish the dialogue. He clears his throat again, feeling his cheeks heating up, and straightens his back, unconsciously posing as he imagined Hamlet would.

“If you have hitherto conceal'd this sight,

“Let it be tenable in your silence still;

“And whatsoever else shall hap to-night,

“Give it an understanding, but no tongue:

“I will requite your loves. So, fare you well:

“Upon the platform, 'twixt eleven and twelve,

“I'll visit you.”

Kuro meows and dips his head as if in a bow and Ichigo actually smiles. He buries his nose again in the book and says, “Your loves, as mine to you: farewell.” He takes a deep breath and exclaims, a hand to the air. “My father's spirit in arms! all is not well; I doubt some foul play: would the night were come!

“Till then sit still, my soul: foul deeds will rise,

“Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes.”

“Hamlet exits.” Ichigo winks at Kuro, feeling much lighter than in the past months.

Even though his only public is a stray cat, he can’t avoid the blush that crawls up his face. He clears his throat again and picks up his discarded bag to return the precious book. He looks back at Kuro briefly before whispering, “let’s go.”

Ichigo isn’t sure what to feel when the feline that walks home with him, purred in smug delight.

But at least, the cat had liked it.

Ichigo smiled to himself, he was glad.

Chapter Text

Ichigo doesn’t know how exactly, but he ends up in front of the Urahara Shoten for no good reason.

He’s not too sure why the Shoten, but something about it made him feel moderately better. All the other previous times he had come here, he’d have Zangetsu with him, so that probably had something to do with it.

The smile that had started forming on his lips drops as he sighs. And yeah, it also had to do with the one person who had always tried listening to him. Who despite having his own agenda, had always done his best to help Ichigo anyway. Who had no qualms breaking even more rules just to get Ichigo what he wanted.

Urahara Kisuke had had a big part in his life and somehow, he had translated his gratitude in this insane crush on a man so many decades older than he was.

(It was probably a good thing the man had never sought him out after he lost his powers. It would have been pathetic seeing the state he was in, and it also served to make him realize that this was nothing but a one-sided crush and probably a friendship just as unilateral.)

Ichigo himself had to admit that it was a little sad that with all the things that had happened along these years, his memories of the Shoten were almost kind. But that was probably the reason he had come here. He really shouldn’t go in, though, he shouldn’t knock.

He wasn’t sure he would be able to be okay when Kisuke inevitably turned him away since he no longer had his powers.

He says that but he finds himself sitting with his back against the side of the building like some damn creepy hooligan, staring at the sky above him.

This was stupid even for him. He should leave.

And just as he was thinking that, Yoruichi’s voice drifts over to him, as the door to the Shoten opens. Ichigo curses to himself but doesn’t try to move. No matter what he did, if he tried to leave he would be spotted. He just stills as much as possible and prays to whatever nonexistent god to spare him just this once, to not let Yoruichi hear his racing heart.

“Ah! What a nice morning for a walk, wouldn’t you agree?”

And Ichigo’s heart jumps into his throat as a very particular voice responds, “Do you need me for anything or can I just leave already?”

Slightly feminine. Raspy. Impossible not to recognize but…

What is that cat doing here?

Ichigo listens, frozen to his place as what appears to be Yoruichi’s familiar continues snapping back at her, apparently not in the mood.

And it all comes crashing down with the simplest sentence.

“It would do you good to go out, Kisuke. You’ve been cooped up ever since your fallout with the Kurosaki boy.”

The cat snarks something back, but Ichigo doesn’t hear it over the pounding in his ears.

He stays there, frozen on the spot until Yoruichi and…

Until they leave.

Ichigo stumbles out of his hiding spot, paper-white, unsteady and very much feeling like his life was falling apart at the seams.

Chapter Text

It’s Tatsuki who goes to his house and knocks on his bedroom door as if the house was burning down.

Ichigo ignores her to his best capacities, attempting to drown all sounds with his pillow but Tatsuki is as bullheaded as he is and decides that he doesn’t really need privacy and picks his lock.

Ichigo springs to a sitting position, alarmed and mildly annoyed but he can't get any words past his lips as they stare at each other. With all the banging, Ichigo had expected her to look furious, but the concerned face she wears takes him by surprise and he just looks away, refusing to acknowledge her presence.

“Ichigo.” She says. He doesn't reply.

She sits on the edge of his bed. Stretches out a hand, touches him.

“What do you want?”

She ignores his frisky tone, just softly says, “you have missed a couple days in school. At this rate Keigo’s going to take your place at the school lists.”

Ichigo looks back at her, frowning. “Why should I care? When…”

When I have been utterly humiliated in front of my crush? When even that man had been in on the joke of Ichigo having romantic feelings?

“I’m just saying.” Tatsuki hesitates. “It’s been a week. You haven’t gone out of your room. We’re worried.”

“Oh. Right, yeah, real believable.”Ichigo growls, hands fisting on his bed sheets.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, I don’t know!” Ichigo says, jumping off the bed with an irritable gesture, upsetting and almost making Tatsuki fall. “Maybe you're sort of worried, god knows why, but I know I've been tossed aside by everyone else. I know I’ve been made fun of. Don't try to say it's not so. Goodbye.”

With that, Ichigo slams the door to his bedroom and he descends three steps at a time.

He leaves the house without keys, or a coat. Without a goodbye.

 

 

He leaves in a fit of fury, but when he loses count of the steps he’s given, and he’s not entirely sure where he is, Ichigo feels more sad than angry.

He huddles in a corner and tries not to cry.

He hates this. He hates everything. Why had he given up his powers? Why had it been him? Why did his father teach him that technique? Why didn’t he listen to Zangetsu? Why why why?

And why did people think it was okay to mock him for that?

He had given everything up for them and yet they make fun of him and trick him into… into making a clown out of himself in front of the person he had the most stupid crush over.

Unwanted and unneeded, a memory of the cat reappears. His tail is dragging, his ears are flattened, he looks miserable as he mumbles, “it was never my intention.”

“My apologies.”

Ichigo hugs himself closer, trying to force the memory away as he leaned against the filthy wall of a shady establishment. He’s not sure where he is.

Does it really matter?

Chapter Text

He ends up falling asleep, and he’s just annoyed but not surprised at having dreamed about the damned cat that had been everything's fault.

 

He’s more resigned than anything when two cats finally find him. He’s supposed to be angrier at them, but it somewhat lessens when Yoruichi leaps nimbly from the top of the wall to his feet and…

The other black cat with silver eyes tries to shift closer to the ledge, miscalculates and slips off the wall, scrambling for nonexistent purchase in his fall.

He lands on his feet, but he shrinks briefly as if embarrassed. The taller cat rolls her eyes before ignoring her companion.

“So,” She says, her golden eyes gleaming. “You are one tough boy to find.”

Ichigo sneers at her, tired and thin. “Yet your gracious highness is skilled enough to find me anyway.” He rolls his eyes. “Congratulations.”

Yoruichi is about to snap something back, when the clumsier cat shuffles forward, head hanging low.

“Kurosaki-san.”

Ichigo looks away.

“Kurosaki-san, " Kisuke calls again, ignoring the silent treatment. "You have my apologies for making you feel… uncomfortable. I thought my presence would only be a hindrance for your mental state and-“

Yoruichi lifts a paw and hits him over the head. “Yes, now say it in less words.”

“I would appreciate if you could leave us alone.” Kisuke manages to scowl in his cat form. He immediately regrets it and adds. “Only if Kurosaki-san would be okay with that.”

“I don’t want either of you here.”

“I am not going to stop you if you really want to leave. I don’t blame you either, but please. For your own peace of mind. Won’t you hear me out?” Kisuke tries one last time, and he’s rewarded by the vulnerable glance Ichigo shoots him. Yoruichi takes this chance to disappear, hoping that her friend would know what to do. She liked the Kurosaki kid too much to forgive his friend if he screwed this up.

Ichigo deserved that much at least.

 

Ichigo looks close to tears, but doesn’t try to run. “Well whatever.” He tries to look rude, or aggressive but quickly deflates. He’s so tired.

But he doesn't leave.

Chapter Text

Kisuke sits down on the grimy floor in front of him and begins to talk.

He explains what happened in the aftermath of the war. How, while Ichigo had been unconscious, Kisuke had tended to his wounds, fixing what even Inoue’s powers couldn’t heal. How there was a seal in his soul that prevented him from losing his life on top of his powers.

He explained of the mess that Soul Society had become. Of the works of rebuilding, the spies to be upturned. The house that needed to be cleaned of centuries worth of rats. He explained that all the gigais except for his own had been destroyed in the aftermath of the war, either as a casualty of having his Shoten burnt. Or because it was deemed necessary for safety reasons.

How even despite everything, Rukia and Renji had bullheaded their way over to the human world to at least see him awake and walking again even despite the heavy punishment they were giving for skipping out on their respective duties.

He tells him that Byakuya had taken that opportunity to dump his own work on his lieutenant and had gone visit as well.

Kisuke doesn’t stop talking. He doesn’t let silence reign between them. He doesn’t let the heavy silence weigh them down.

He tells him of what he could see as a cat. Of how his human friends still swung by the Shoten, asking for news, gathering their own bundle of news to share with Ichigo. Of them being scared of not knowing how to approach him.

Ichigo looks skeptic, but doesn’t try to call him a liar when Kisuke says that his friends miss him.

He actually looks chastised when his sisters are brought up.

 

Kisuke tells him that he has no idea how a human teenager thinks. He tells him that he has never been good at human interaction, and he was at least partially responsible for Ichigo’s circumstances and how he feels inadequate at trying to help. “Yet,” Kisuke paws even closer, eyes transfixed on his. “I owe you at least this much. If I could cheer you up in any way. I would do it.”

“Why- why go so far? Why…?”

Kisuke is silent for a frightening moment.

“Because I care for you.” He says and Ichigo feels his heart stop.

“Because beyond any debt or guilt or whatnot. I feel you deserve more than what you think you got. Because I care for what you think. For what you feel. You matter, Kurosaki-san. Regardless of what you have done, or how strong you are. You matter as your own person.”

Ichigo is too tired to react. He just looks down and hugs himself closer. There’s a small breeze and when he raises his gaze, he jerks back at seeing Kisuke in his non-cat form.

“My apologies.” Kisuke mumbles, crouched low and looking as unthreatening as possible. “Would it be okay if I took you back to the Shoten?”

Ichigo has the words, “I can walk” in his throat, yet they don’t make it to his mouth. He ends up shrugging and before he can regret it, Kisuke has scooped him up in his arms as if he weighed no more than a child.

“Let’s go home, Kurosaki-san.”

“Ichigo.”

Kisuke smiles despite everything. “Very well. Let’s go home, Ichigo-san.”

Chapter Text

And just like in fairy tales, after the war, after the suffering, after everything, Ichigo gets his happy ending.

“Oi! Kisuke, there’s some guests for Ichigo at the door. Can they come in or…?”Yoruichi throws his door open, entering Kisuke’s room with no regards for its current occupants. She walks with purpose towards the window, where a couple of cats were sitting, curled against each other. The larger black cat had his tail wrapped around the skinny calico, and craned his head back to shoot her an annoyed (but resigned) look.The calico, Ichigo, follows just a second later, looking drowsy.

 

He yawns before getting up, making sure to nudge against Kisuke before making his way over to Yoruichi, phasing back into his human form between one step and the next. His decency was hidden as he swiftly picked up his clothes from the floor without stopping.

Yoruichi whistles as Ichigo nods at her and makes his way towards the door, his pants already on and juggling his shirt over himself. The cat woman smiles, arms crossed and leaning against the door frame. “He’s gotten good at this. And he’s even more unabashed than I would have thought.”

“Yes well,” Kisuke says, also turning back into his Shinigami form, stretching and taking his time to gather his own clothes. “I don’t think you gave him much of a choice in the matter.”

“Hey, he was going to be changing at random until he got the hang of it, and I didn’t want him hurting himself instead of asking for my help.”

“You just enjoyed flustering the poor boy.”

Yoruichi grins like the Cheshire cat. “He’s too cute for his own good. You would know.”

“Well, that I cannot deny.” Kisuke smiles back, as he finishes dressing and heads towards their guests with his friend.

When they finally made their way to the entrance, Ichigo was the only one inside, distractedly messing with his phone –new, courtesy of his friends (and Kisuke shamelessly pitching in to get him the best phone in the market).

“Hm? Weren’t your friends here to visit you?” Kisuke says in lieu of greeting, feeling more than seeing Yoruichi slinking away to leave them alone. The aforementioned teen smiles without looking up, finishes whatever he was doing and pockets the phone.

“Well, yeah. But I want to spend today with you.” His words catch up with him as he turns the softest shade of red, looking at anywhere beside Kisuke. “If it’s not too much to ask.”

“It is always my pleasure to have you as company.” Kisuke replies, spreading his arms in a mock English-style bow. Ichigo snorts and folds his arms over his chest. “Did you really turn them away, though?”

“Hm,” Ichigo shook his head. “They told me Kanonji is going to be in town this weekend and they want to go.” The powerless teen shrugged, not a single worry or regret in the gesture. “I don’t particularly like the guy, but it’s free entertainment I guess.”

“That’s good then. Just don’t accept to do anything on his behalf, now that you cannot see spirits.” Kisuke smiles as he steps forward to grab his hand. He lifts it to his mouth and places a soft kiss. “It won’t be long now.”

Ichigo smiles at the promise. “Yeah.” He breathes out, his chest swelling with barely contained emotion.

Kisuke had almost finished preparing the blade that would return Ichigo’s powers. He had not mentioned it to him until he had been at least 99% certain that it would work. Even though Ichigo had already learned to be content with his lot in life, Kisuke wouldn’t have been satisfied until he exhausted every single option in the world. Anything to see the shine of true joy in those beautiful eyes.

(When he had had the guts to breach the subject and offer his tentative solution, Ichigo had actually gasped and hugged Kisuke, knocking away his breath and his doubts as well.

Ichigo had promised to be patient, and that had only helped the teen cope with his new lack of Sight.)

It wasn’t the only reason, but little by little, he had been able to look past his grief and pain. And Kisuke couldn’t be happier for him.

Ichigo looks at him, smiling at the distracted stare on Kisuke as he was swept away by a thought, and hugs him without any warning. “Thank you, Kisuke.”

At this point, these random acts of affection do not surprise the blond man. He just lets his smile grow as he wraps his arms around him, securing him against his chest. “You are very welcome, Ichigo-san.”

Well,

“Kisuke?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

He could be even happier after all.

“And I love you too, Ichigo-san,”

Feelings and relationships are complicated, like a Cat’s Cradle, but with patience, attention and love, there’s no knot that can’t be undone.

 

Cat’s Cradle end