The human world is quiet.
It’s one of the first things Kisuke notices when he, Tessai, and the Visored flee from the Soul Society. He hasn’t spent much time in the human world. Enough during his training to be able to apprehend a shinigami who flees to the human world to avoid assassination, but not enough to properly function as a part of it. Even the barest minimum of training comes in handy; after the first few close encounters during the first week, he’s able to find a place for them to lie low. Tessai hides their group’s reiatsu while Kisuke makes the last of his changes to the gigai prototype for it to be functional. Not comfortable—all of his senses are off the first time he steps into it and Kisuke can swear that even the gigai’s intestines itch—but it’s good enough for a supply run.
Kisuke hadn’t doubted his genius, but it’s put to the test to create bodies for the rest of his companions with the technologies he has available. He yearns for his laboratory. It rankles to know Kurotsuchi must now have full power over Kisuke’s labs and research. Kisuke had destroyed everything important, but there hadn’t been time to destroy everything. He hopes the Gotei 13 isn’t stupid enough to appoint Kurotsuchi as captain in his place.
Actually, with everything that’s happened, they probably are.
The rural farming society he’s found himself in is dull enough to bring tears to his eyes. Kisuke feels the loss of the Soul Society like an ache. It hadn’t been perfect. He hadn’t enjoyed being captain as much as he’d hoped and a former assassination division squad leader had been the last thing some of the members of his squad wanted, but there are people he misses. Yoruichi travels between the human and spirit worlds, bringing back news. None of it is good. Captain Aizen, hell. She doesn’t linger in the human world; Kisuke has to wonder if she regrets saving all of them. There aren’t many things a woman of her status can’t come back from, but treason is one of them. He’d been on friendly but distant terms with the hollowfied captains and lieutenants, but they’re no good for company in the weeks following their escape.
Kisuke doesn’t blame them. But more so than his labs or the ease of travel, he misses one person.
Ichigo must have returned from his mission by now, Kisuke thinks, unless something had gone wrong. He can’t be dead. Yoruichi would have told him, his former captain knowing Kisuke’s feelings well. She’d been there when he’d first met Shiba Ichigo, tenth division third seat and cousin to the clan’s head. Kisuke had been charmed down to his bones by the way Ichigo took down a rampaging hollow aiming for Kisuke and turned to ask if Kisuke was alright. Kisuke, third seat of the second division and assassination squad leader, who hadn’t had anyone seriously worry over his health in centuries. Later, he finds Ichigo brilliant, prickly, driven, protective of his family, and just about tailor-made to walk over Kisuke’s heart without even noticing it. Yoruichi laughed at him for years.
Ichigo, who would be told that Kisuke had performed hollowfication experiments on his fellow shinigami and fled the Soul Society once his crimes were discovered. As much as it pains Kisuke to have Ichigo believe him to have stooped that low, he’s grateful that he hadn’t dragged Ichigo down with him. Ichigo has a future that isn’t this tiny human farming community with no indoor plumbing. He has family, friends, and a girl Kisuke thinks Ichigo will one day date when he realizes her feelings. There’s nothing here for him.
Which is why Kisuke doesn’t expect to open the door one morning to find none other than Shiba Ichigo on the other side. Kisuke instantly glances behind him, but he can’t see evidence of any other shinigami.
“I wasn’t tracked here,” Ichigo says, scowling. “You know me better than that.”
“What about leading instead?”
“Like I said, you know me better than that.”
Kisuke nods, stepping aside. He does know Ichigo better than that. If Ichigo blames him, he will drag Kisuke to the Soul Society himself, no middlemen to get in the way. The house he’s occupying is tiny, but he has space for his makeshift laboratory. The hollowfied captains and lieutenants needed space, and Tessai and Yoruichi refused to share space with the fumes from his experiments. There’s a small table off of which Kisuke clears a month’s worth of research and rubbish.
“Tea?” he asks, stalling the inevitable.
Ichigo agrees to a cup. Kisuke is surprised that Ichigo is willing to trust him not to poison him, but then Ichigo is an honorable fighter. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to him.
“What are you doing here?” Kisuke eventually asks once he has poured two cups of tea. One a sweet green tea, one a black tea he’d bought only with Ichigo in mind despite knowing he’d never see him again. “I hadn’t expected to ever see you again.”
“Yeah, well I expected to see you,” Ichigo retorts. “I expected to get back from my mission and drop by my best friend’s labs and actually see you there. Instead, your creepy third seat is captain, you and Hiyori and so many others are missing, and there’s a warrant for your, Tessai’s, and Yoruichi’s arrest and a kill order on the others. What the hell, Kisuke?”
Kisuke smiles a little, a quiet sadness with just enough edge. “I was always going to go too far.” When Ichigo doesn’t immediately condemn him, Kisuke continues with, “I used my fellow captains and their lieutenants as unwilling test subjects in my hallowfication experiments.”
“That’s the fucking dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ichigo says, crossing his arms and frowning. “If anything, you would’ve manipulated them into thinking it was their own idea. But that’s moot point because you didn’t do it.”
“Your defense of me is admirable,” Kisuke replies, heart pushed back because he can’t afford to allow Ichigo to go down this path. “But you’ve always been easily blinded by friendship. I have innocent blood on my hands and a rather poor excuse for a moral framework.” Ever since he’d gotten to know Ichigo, Kisuke had molded himself around Ichigo’s own framework like putty, until he began to believe it. It’s terrible, what it does to you, finally having someone who understands you and believes in you. Kisuke had come to rely on it, expect it even, and now he needs to tear that down as cleanly as possible. He doesn’t want to hurt Ichigo, but there is no other path. Ichigo was already too good for him when Kisuke wore a captain’s haori; now, there’s no question of it. “I would have experimented on you as well, had you not been on a mission away from the Soul Society.”
“Yeah?” Ichigo says. “You weren’t tempted during all the time I’ve spent in your labs with you? Not a single little change to my soul?”
“You knew too much about my experiments. You would’ve been suspicious.”
“You’re right I would’ve,” Ichigo mutters. “So tell me about your experimental subjects. Did you save them from Central 46 because you didn’t want your experiment being recreated? Is that what you’re going with? Are they buried in a ditch somewhere because you don’t view them as people?” He looks frustrated, but there’s no sign that Kisuke’s words had penetrated through his (too intelligent) skull. “I believe in you too much to believe that shit. I’m not leaving until you tell me the truth.”
The truth. “And what of your family? Your sisters, your cousins? Your duties to the tenth division? You can’t just tell them you’ve decided to take a bit of a holiday in the human world with a fugitive you’re convinced is better than he actually is.”
Ichigo leans back in his chair, some of the anger fading from his expression. He meets Kisuke’s eyes freely. “My father may prefer to live in denial, but my sisters are grown women who can take care of themselves. So are my cousins, Kaien excluded, but he has Miyako for that. They’ll understand that I’m not going to abandon my friend. The tenth division can go fuck itself if my captain doesn’t explain why he didn’t stand up and demand actual evidence and the bare minimum of humane treatment. Is that all you’re worried about?”
“Your career, too,” Kisuke admits, giving into the determination in Ichigo’s eyes. “I know you’ll tell me you don’t care, but you worked hard to get where you are.”
“So did you,” Ichigo replies. “Maybe you didn’t want to be captain, but you worked hard to make up for it. You don’t deserve this.”
“I don’t want you here.” One last try.
Ichigo clenches his jaw, then forcibly relaxes. “That almost hurt, but frankly, I don’t care if you don’t want me here.”
Kisuke adores Ichigo’s determination when it’s not directed at tumbling down all of Kisuke’s frantically constructed plans. And when it is... he admires it anyway, because Ichigo cares. Ichigo, who could be anywhere else right now. Ichigo, who could’ve turned his head. (Except that would never be Ichigo.) Kisuke refills his cup, too distracted to properly brew the tea. It’s weak and lukewarm. He should have known it would never work, but he’d needed to try.
“I was framed by Aizen Sousuke, Hirako’s former lieutenant.” Kisuke tells him the whole sorry tale, from the first Rukongai residents vanishing into thin air to the squad sent after them to Kisuke’s involvement. If he hadn’t sent Hiyori in his place... Kisuke is smart enough to know that the outcome would have still been the same, perhaps just with Kisuke also becoming hollowfied. Aizen’s plan is too thorough, the man himself too entrenched in their society. “I brought them here to regroup and figure out how to solve the problem, but it’s not as easy as storming into the Soul Society with proof of Aizen’s treachery if I can even find it. Hirako and the others were sentenced to death no matter the fact that I had been able to stabilize their conditions. I can’t overcome the lifetime’s hatred for hollows that overcame their common sense. It will take time. Time during which you should be leading your own life, not championing a hopeless cause.”
“Alright,” Ichigo says once Kisuke finishes speaking.
“Alright?” Kisuke doesn’t dare to hope that Ichigo will do the sensible thing and leave.
“I accept your apology for not asking me for help and trying to distance yourself from me on account of your guilt complex. We’re moving on to the part where you and I—and the others, later—figure out how we’re going to kick Aizen’s ass and make Central 46 and the rest of the Gotei 13 regret losing their spines, Aizen’s weird zanpakuto trick or not.”
Kisuke is speechless for a few moments. He can’t— dammit, Ichigo can’t just keep turning his world upside down. One of these days, Kisuke will find a defense against this amazing, loyal man. For now, he just says, “Thank you, Ichigo.”
Ichigo accepts the thanks too easily, waving it away in favor of brainstorming solutions. Kisuke resolves to find a way to properly thank him later, although he doesn’t know what could measure up to Ichigo resolving to help him. They decide that the best course of action is for Ichigo to stay in the Soul Society in order to keep an eye on Aizen and look for evidence. Kisuke shouldn’t be so charmed by the fact that Ichigo tells him the only reason he hasn’t already exploded through the Soul Society is that he’d needed to find Kisuke and he wouldn’t be of any use imprisoned while Kisuke needed his help. Hope is intangible, but Kisuke can feel it burying its way into his heart. He would dare anyone to spend time in Ichigo’s company and not feel hope. Maybe that’s why, when Ichigo begins to leave to return to the Soul Society, Kisuke calls his name.
The word slips out before Ichigo reaches the door. Kisuke gets up and crosses the room in the time it takes for Ichigo to turn around with a questioning look on his face. Kisuke throws caution to the wind. He’s a fugitive who, despite his best efforts, could still be tracked down. Not by Ichigo’s methods, which come from knowing Kisuke too well, but by something Kurotsuchi develops or by sheer luck. He’s lost his labs and peace of mind and belongings. But it makes him wonder if there’s something he can still gain, if there’s more than friendship behind Ichigo’s actions. If maybe, in the wake of destruction, fate will smile on him just one time.
He approaches slowly, giving Ichigo time to step away if this isn’t what he wants. But when Ichigo registers Kisuke’s intentions, he steps flush against Kisuke, meeting him in a moment that has been so long in the making. They’ve met with swords and words, but a kiss is infinitely different. Infinitely better.
“Alright?” Kisuke murmurs as he pulls away. Not far, because Ichigo’s hold is firm, and Kisuke doesn’t ever want to step away.
Ichigo’s lips quirk upward, his expression soft, a growing happiness in his eyes. “Alright.”