“Kisuke. Will you do something for me?”
Kisuke blinks at the piece of paper thrust at him, and then at the folder clutched in her hand. “This is...”
He reads it again, slower.
“Please,” Yoruichi-san grits out, as close to begging as he’s ever seen her do, and how can he ever say no to her?
He signs the contract.
Left alone in his room, Kisuke picks up the sketch that’s fallen out of the folder and studies it.
That’s definitely not Shiba Yuzu, whom Suì-Fēng was supposed to be marrying.
He flips to the first page of the document he just signed. Shiba Ichigo, it says. He can’t say he’s met the other man before, but he supposes it doesn’t matter now.
“Marriage, huh,” he says aloud into the empty room.
Kisuke can’t say he’s given marriage much thought before. Marriage was for noble families, who required tangible bonds to symbolise their alliance. By right, an unacknowledged bastard child like Kisuke should’ve had nothing to do with it.
But this alliance is different.
To strengthen the ties first forged between Yoruichi-san and Kūkaku, there’s been an agreement between the elders to cement their ties with an arranged marriage. It’s not a matter of blood purity, it’s a matter of favour, and everyone knows Suì-Fēng is Yoruichi-san’s own protégé.
He flips to the next page.
Shiba Ichigo, first-born son to the head of the third Shiba branch house, and already a hailed a prodigy on par with or possibly greater than the clan head Kaien. No wonder Yoruichi-san has to swap Suì-Fēng out at the last minute, there’s no way the child of a retainer clan is an appropriate match for someone like that. For his youngest sister, yes, but not him.
Not to mention, the sheer amount of moon-tea little Suì-Fēng must drink each month, to ensure she doesn’t beget with child, because the last thing anyone wants is a purely political alliance to end up fruitful.
No, Kisuke is a better choice in all aspects. As a man, he’ll have no chance of threatening the line of inheritance of not one, but two Great Noble clans. And his birth father may have never acknowledged him officially, but he is the clan head’s brother in all but name, her best friend and her left hand.
He shoves the papers back into the folder, leaves it carelessly on the desk. It doesn’t matter, in a few hours’ time this will cease to be his bedroom anyway.
He knows his duty.
The wedding is a lavish affair, as befitting an alliance between two of Soul Society’s most prestigious clans. Kisuke keeps his false smile pasted firmly onto his face, nods at all the right times, and lets the flow of chatter wash over him.
He should probably pay attention, but he’s already spotted at least three Stealth Corps members circulating in the bevy of servants, keeping their ears to the ground for fresh intel. That’s not his job today.
No, his job is to –
There’s a commotion at the other side of the garden, and Kisuke looks up.
Shiba Ichigo is resplendent in a kimono the colour of sunset, his stride sure and head held high. Kisuke feels very underdressed all of a sudden, sitting here in just his backless Stealth Corps uniform. He doesn’t own any formal kimono – has had no reason to own any formal kimono, having no clan to claim for his own – and even the best tailors cannot work a miracle in two hours. But they’re both part of the military, and their uniforms are usually an acceptable alternative to formal wear.
Though, the way Shiba’s eyes rake down Kisuke’s body does make him feel a little better. Nobody has ever looked at him like that outside of a honeypot mission.
“Hey,” Shiba says, taking a seat next to him. Kisuke can’t say he minds the interruption, given that the alternative is listening to yet another great-aunt of some distant relation natter on about the minutiae of maintaining an estate.
Shiba Ichigo lives in the barracks, according to the briefing. There are no servants and certainly no estate to be concerned about, not even if he moves back into his father’s house. His youngest sister normally tends to the housework.
“I’m Ichigo,” Shiba says, dipping his head in what could barely be considered a polite greeting.
Kisuke doesn’t mind, it’s certainly more than what he usually gets. “Urahara Kisuke,” he introduces. Although, he supposes, it’ll probably be Shiba Kisuke now.
Ichigo smiles at him, his expression oddly bashful given the bold colours he’s chosen.
Kisuke slides the door open and – pauses.
Beside him, Shiba goes a gorgeous shade of pink. “What the –” he mutters, pushing past Kisuke to get into his bedroom. “I told them not to –”
The room’s been thoughtfully redecorated, either by the servants or possibly the younger sisters. Scented candles – sandalwood, Kisuke identifies, a far more pleasing perfume than what he must usually endure – and cherry blossom petals are scattered across the room. Three saucers of oil sit by the futon, their intended purpose obvious.
Shiba glances back at him, several extinguished candles in hand.
“Sorry,” he apologises. Even the tips of his ears are bright red.
Kisuke shrugs, closing the door behind him as he goes over to help. “I have an older sister,” he reminds Shiba. “She would have done way worse.”
And probably cackle the whole time through breakfast the next morning, if Kisuke knows her at all.
But Yoruichi-san’s not here right now.
Shiba’s face is burning, and he doesn’t look like he’s feeling any more amorous than Kisuke is.
Kisuke dips his fingers in a saucer of oil, tests the consistency between his fingers. It’s definitely of better quality than what he’s used to.
“Want a massage?” he offers.
Shiba’s eyes go wide and round. “S-sure?” He swallows audibly.
It’s awfully cute.
“Take your clothes off, get on the futon.” Kisuke’s glad his uniform has no sleeves; a normal kimono like what Shiba’s wearing will definitely get in his way, if he’s going to do this properly. And he is going to; he wants to make a good first impression.
An entire alliance depends on this.
Shiba’s cheeks have gone from pink to a proper red now, but he obeys the request – no, the order, Kisuke really shouldn’t be giving any orders, Shiba is not Yoruichi-san and may not respond favourably – and gets down onto the futon.
It’s a nice back, Kisuke observes. Tanned and broad, a single scar over his right scapula that looks like it belongs to the claws of some Hollow. He smooths a palm down the spine, testing the tension under his fingertips.
Shiba, just like most high-ranking shinigami Kisuke knows, is wound up so tight it’s a wonder he’s not all knotted up in pain.
Kisuke dips his fingers into the first saucer of oil and gets to work.
Shiba makes a low, shocked noise, a mixture of pain and pleasure. The sound gets a little more breathless, a little more high-pitched, when Kisuke works down his back, digging the heels of his palms into the worst of the knots.
“You sound like you’re going to come,” Kisuke whispers into his ear, and maybe he shouldn’t, this is skirting the edge of how he’ll behave on a mission, but he finds that he also really wants Shiba to enjoy himself.
“I feel like I’m going to come,” Shiba moans under him. His hips are hitching in a way that suggests he may be seeking friction against the futon. “You’re so good at this.”
Kisuke makes a snap decision.
“Go ahead,” he suggests, and it’s still too close to an order for his own comfort, but he can also tell Shiba’s likely too lust-drunk to remember their relative social stations at the moment.
He’s got no doubt half the family must have their ears pressed up against the door at that very moment, trying to hear what’s going on inside. If it looks and sounds like he and Shiba have consummated their marriage, it can only be most beneficial.
He slides the last dish of oil within reach, turns his head away politely, but he can’t block out the sounds of slick, wet skin.
“D-do you want me to –”
“Unnecessary,” Kisuke assures.
He waits until Shiba sighs out a stuttering moan before he looks back.
“G’night,” Shiba murmurs drowsily, leaning up to press a kiss against the corner of Kisuke’s mouth.
By the time Kisuke recovers from the shockingly affectionate gesture, Shiba’s breathing has already evened out.
Kisuke wipes his hands clean on the sheets and waits.
A black cat, fur the colour of midnight, hops into the room through the open window.
“This place is horrifyingly easy to break into,” Yoruichi-san says, perched primly on the tatami. Kisuke will have to inspect that area for cat fur later. “They’re all going to get assassinated at this rate.”
Kisuke notes tighten perimeter security down on his mental list.
“No problems detected,” he reports.
Yoruichi snorts indelicately. “Yes, because you pre-emptively tired him out,” she points out, and then blows out a long breath. “He seems like a decent man, at least. Trustworthy, even.”
Kisuke has to agree with that assessment so far.
“I’m glad.” Yoruichi-san stands back up. “This isn’t how I pictured getting you out would be like, but if Shiba Ichigo is half as good a man as he looks on paper, I’m happy that this opportunity came about.”
Kisuke frowns. “Get me… out?” he repeats, blankly. He doesn’t understand what she means.
“The other alternative would have been to nominate you for captaincy,” Yoruichi-san tells him breezily, and then hops neatly out of the window before he can demand that she explain herself. Get him out of where, and why? And, besides…
Him, a captain?
What a ludicrous idea.
“You missed breakfast today.”
Kisuke’s glad he caught Shiba on his way out. He’s not sure whether Shiba plans to stay at his family home for another night, or move back into the barracks.
“Breakfast?” he repeats.
“Yeah.” Shiba falls into step next to him. They seem to be headed back to the family home for now, Kisuke notes, and makes another mental to do a perimeter sweep that night. “When I woke up, you were gone.”
It doesn’t sound accusatory, but Kisuke errs on the side of caution. “My most sincere apologies,” he explains, bowing, “I am required to report to work at five each morning.”
“Oh.” Shiba’s quiet for a moment. Most soul reapers only start at eight, Kisuke recalls, but the Stealth Corps mission desk runs 24/7, and shift changes are deliberately scheduled so as not to overlap with peak foot traffic hours. “I suppose Yuzu can make you something every night, then, and you can pick it up before you leave for work?”
“Oh, no,” Kisuke demurs. He can’t imagine having to trouble Shiba’s little sister for something as trivial as that. “I cannot possibly –”
“We insist,” Shiba says, with a particularly mulish look on his face that Kisuke is rapidly coming to learn means that he will not budge on the matter. “She was so upset when she realised you already left, like you won’t believe.”
Well, in that case. Upsetting the cherished sister of his new husband is certainly more detrimental.
The rest of the walk to Shiba Isshin’s modest house is spent in silence, but not an awkward one, Kisuke’s glad to note. It sounds as though Shiba Yuzu-san intends to pack him a bento; in which case, Kisuke can leave it at his desk until an appropriate hour for lunch. Or perhaps offer it to Yoruichi-san?
“You should move the rest of your stuff in,” Ichigo says, as they toe off their sandals at the door. “Yuzu’s efficient, there’s definitely enough space around for all your stuff by now.” He peers at Kisuke’s uncomprehending expression. “Do you need me to go with you, help you carry any boxes?”
“That would be unnecessary,” Kisuke is quick to reassure. “All my belongings have already been brought over yesterday.”
Shiba opens his mouth, and then closes it again without saying anything.
This is why the clan doesn’t normally send him to deal with outsiders, he thinks wryly.
“You… own nothing but eight sets of Onmitsukidō uniform, two sets of standard shinigami uniform, and three sleep robes?”
Kisuke’s not sure what Shiba wants him to say. “… yes?” he confirms cautiously.
Shiba is wearing the kind of expression Kisuke associates with Yoruichi-san right before she orders a hit on someone. He doesn’t think Shiba wants him to kill anyone, but he can’t think of any reason why Shiba’s looking at him like that. It’s not like Kisuke needs anything else.
“Okay,” Shiba declares brusquely. “We’ll just have to go shopping then.”
Kisuke stops walking.
Shiba looks back at him, a suspicious scowl in place.
“There is no need,” Kisuke finally manages to say, forcing through the shock and horror that have temporarily stolen his voice.
“I insist,” Shiba repeats, arms folded over his chest.
“Really,” Kisuke argues, “there is no need for that. I will have no occasion to wear them.”
The scowl deepens. “On your days off?” Shiba challenges.
Kisuke pauses, and reflects briefly on how awkward it is to speak to someone who has no inkling what it is that Kisuke does for work.
“This one works every day, Shiba-san,” he breaks the news as gently as he can. “Any additional clothing will only go to waste.”
“My name is Ichigo,” Shiba protests, before he stills. “What the hell do you do, that needs you to be there seven days a week, more than twelve hours a day?!”
Kisuke falters. He hasn’t been explicitly given a gag order, but he’s not sure if he’s actually allowed to answer such a question.
Shiba scowls harder at his clear hesitance.
“I manage the jail,” Kisuke says hastily.
Shiba blinks, clearly taken aback.
“The Second needs a Third Seat to run their jail?” he asks in an incredulous tone. “Most divisions are satisfied with a roster of unseated shinigami!”
“It is the jail for criminals working against Seireitei,” clarifies Kisuke. He knows that the existence of the Maggot’s Nest is relative common knowledge to lieutenants and up. “As decreed by Central 46.”
Shiba hums in thought.
“Is there no way to get another person to split the job?” he asks eventually.
Kisuke shakes his head. “To prevent escape and rebellion, weaponry is not permitted. It is therefore a requirement for the Maggots’ Nest Commander to be able to defeat all inmates of the prison bare-handed.”
He turns around again, but the look in his eyes is entirely different, molten heat and naked desire like he’s strongly considering suggesting that they skip dinner and move to the bedroom instead.
“We should spar some time,” Shiba says, and his voice drops at least an octave.
Kisuke shivers a little.
“Certainly,” he acquiesces.
“Lieutenant Shiba,” Kisuke greets, looking up from the stack of papers on his desk. “May I help you?”
Shiba scowls, walking into the room uninvited and sits on the edge of the table. “You can call me Ichigo, you know.”
“That would be inappropriate,” Kisuke argues, flipping through the next document, although half his attention is on the intruder in his office. Not unwelcome, not really, but Kisuke tracks him the same way he would Yoruichi-san.
Shiba shakes his head, blowing out a long breath. “Kisuke, it’s nine p.m. I’m not here as the lieutenant of my division, I’m here as your husband.”
Kisuke shoots out of his seat. Rarely has he mourned the fact that his office has no windows; it normally means that no one is interested in disturbing him, but right now it means that he has no idea what time it is.
“My most sincere apologies,” he says, practically stumbling over the words. “I must have lost track of time – what are you doing?”
Shiba leafs through the dossier like he doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘confidential’. “Why are you doing a lieutenant’s paperwork?” he asks instead.
The idea of Ōmaeda Marenoshin doing paperwork is so preposterous that he laughs.
Shiba doesn’t seem to find it funny.
“What’s Ōmaeda doing?” he demands to know, but Kisuke can only shrug. He has honestly no idea. Something that will keep him occupied and out of everyone’s way, usually. Ōmaeda-wrangling isn’t in his job scope.
Shiba just stares at him like he thinks Kisuke’s gone mad.
“Lieutenant Ōmaeda has a delicate constitution,” Kisuke tries to explain. “I am but a bastard child, with no aptitude for negotiations.”
“You mean for pandering,” Shiba corrects, his scowl darkening. “Do you mean to tell me that your lieutenant does nothing useful at all?”
Kisuke begs to differ.
“The Ōmaeda family finances the entire Stealth Corps so that we are never in want of weapons and armour,” he disagrees. “They are arguably the most valuable contributor to the Stealth Corps after the Shihōin, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that they be accorded a lieutenant position each generation.”
“But they don’t do anything useful,” Shiba repeats.
Thankfully, Shiba nods, like he gets it. “So you have to do all of a lieutenant’s work, plus your own as a Third Seat, plus your job as the Maggots’ Nest Commander… I do hope they’re paying you extra for doing the job of two people.”
His eyes narrow when Kisuke doesn’t immediately respond.
The hesitancy is a verbal tic that Kisuke hasn’t quite been able to shake yet, but no one has managed to pick up on it at the speed Shiba has.
“What is it this time,” Shiba mutters to himself. Kisuke has the sinking feeling he’s about to commit yet another faux pas of some sort.
“I… do not get paid?” he says, hesitantly.
Shiba’s tone is flat, a little too flat, the kind of tone that usually means duck and cover.
Kisuke resists the urge. “It is unnecessary; everything I need, acquisitions will provide.”
The scowl may as well be perpetually painted on Shiba’s face at this point. “But what about things you want?” he demands.
Kisuke shakes his head, a little blankly.
“It’s like I’m talking to a brick wall,” he mutters.
“No, it’s not your fault –” Shiba shakes his head, and changes the subject with Herculean effort. “You must be hungry. When was the last time you ate?”
Kisuke considers the unsubtle proposition. “About noon,” he says slowly. All the urgent paperwork is already done, and he just needs to sign the last few forms. “Yuzu-san’s cooking is delicious,” he adds, hoping to placate Shiba a little.
He doesn’t expect the frown to make a reappearance. “That’s meant for your breakfast,” Shiba remarks, and this time it sounds a little like an accusation. “Around noon… and you got up at half past four, that means you went eight hours without food?”
Kisuke shakes his head, and then nods when he realises there is a second question.
“Next you’re going to tell me the Stealth Corps mess hall doesn’t serve food,” Shiba mutters, and rubs a hand over his face.
Kisuke snorts at the absurdity. “That defeats the purpose of a mess hall,” he points out.
“Honestly? I can’t even tell anymore,” Shiba says. “Well, so if you do get lunch, why did you save Yuzu’s cooking until noon?”
The answer to that is easy, but Kisuke has the feeling it’s not something Shiba wants to hear.
“I am unaccustomed to food early in the morning,” he says with some reluctance.
“So you used to go eight hours without food,” Shiba says, and this time it’s definitely not a question. Kisuke can’t help but shrink back a little in his chair when Shiba gets all up in his personal space, leaning over the table to put his hands on Kisuke’s shoulders.
“Kisuke, I want you to answer me honestly, here.”
Shiba’s gaze pins Kisuke to his seat like a butterfly to a board.
“Did you want to marry me?”
Kisuke hesitates, just a fraction of a second too long, and he knows he’s messed up even before Shiba lets go of him like he’s been burnt.
“We’re going to sort this out right now,” he promises, tone dark and foreboding. “I’m not going to force –”
Kisuke vaults over the table and tackles Shiba to the floor before he could get out of the room. It’s nine in the evening, if Shiba is to be believed, which means there shouldn’t be anyone else around at this hour, no one to check up on any disturbances they might hear.
“No,” he hisses, driving his elbow into Shiba’s stomach, locking Shiba’s arms beneath his own torso.
“I yield, I yield,” Shiba chokes out underneath him. He looks kind of dazed, pupils blown wide open. Kisuke makes a mental note to check him over for a concussion later.
His lips are dry and chapped. Kisuke wets them before speaking, trying to formulate his thoughts into a coherent, persuasive argument. If Shiba knows him well enough in four days to extrapolate as to his motivations, so does Kisuke. Appeals involving the stability of a political alliance won’t work; no, Shiba requires a human component.
“Yoruichi-san said marrying you will be good for me,” he says, quietly.
“Am I?” he asks, almost desperately. “Tell me the truth, not what you think I want to hear.”
Kisuke takes in a deep breath, and then exhales. “Yes,” he decides, and knows it to be true. It may only have been four days, but Shiba cares for him the way Yoruichi-san does, making sure he gets food and clothes, asking for Kisuke’s opinion on the most inconsequential of things – like it actually matters to him.
Shiba had stopped struggling the moment he yielded, but Kisuke hasn’t realised just how tense Shiba was until he relaxes completely underneath Kisuke.
“Okay,” he pronounces that word like a promise and a dedication. “There’s a street festival tonight, would you like to come with me?”
That’s… not quite how Kisuke expects things to go.
“Okay?” he repeats, cautiously letting Shiba up off the floor.
Shiba scratches his head, sort of sheepishly. “We could get dinner there, too.” He gives Kisuke a very obvious once-over. “You’re about my height, I should have a yukata that fits you.”
Dinner is… not as awkward as Kisuke thought it would be.
Kisuke ended up having to wear one of the yukata Shiba’s outgrown, for although they’re around the same height, Kisuke doesn’t have half the muscle Shiba does. It’s a deep forest green, the embroidery subtle at the hems.
Kisuke finds that he quite likes it.
So does Shiba, judging by the way his gaze had gone hot and heavy at the sight of Kisuke dressed in his clothes, but he doesn’t make a single lewd comment. Come to think of it, Kisuke has never heard him make a single proposition in the past four days, even though sometimes he looks like he might be mentally undressing Kisuke.
Yoruichi-san is right, as she always is, he thinks.
Their hands brush over the skewers of chicken when Shiba hands them over, still piping hot from the grill and dripping with teriyaki sauce.
Kisuke eats, and browses the street stalls, and it’s like he’s a hundred years old again, sneaking out of the Shihōin Manor with Yoruichi-san, splitting a bag of roasted chestnuts between them as they try all the games on display.
His eyes linger on a stall selling paper fans for a moment. There’s one that’s a plain unadorned white, unlike its more colourful brethren. White, like it hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be yet.
“I’ll take that one,” Shiba says, marching up to the stall owner.
Kisuke stares down at the fan when Shiba shoves it into his hand, and then up at Shiba, and can’t help the smile spreading across his face.
“I am happy – happier – with you,” he tells Shiba.
Shiba slides an arm around his shoulders, far more gently than Kisuke expects.