“What’s wrong with you?”
Ichigo was aghast as he looked at his teacher. Urahara smiled back, but it only made him look worse. The man was thin, dark shadows under his eyes, even more than normally caused by his hat. His cheeks were hollowed as he looked up at Ichigo’s words. His hair, surprisingly long now, was limp and stringy. And he moved a little like he ached.
It had been months since he had seen the other. Ichigo had been focused on getting the most out of his remaining time as a shinigami to clear up the town as much as possible. The others understood why he was doing it, and it hadn’t occurred to him that he hadn’t seen the older man around lately. It wasn’t until Rukia had commented about how strong his powers still were that he went hunting. Wasn’t going to ask his old man questions, the other was an idiot. Besides, Urahara would probably have a better idea of what was happening with Ichigo’s powers.
The first few times, he had let himself be put off by Tessai, who claimed various reasons on why Urahara was unavailable. Now that he was seeing the man, Ichigo felt guilty that he had allowed himself to be convinced to leave without insisting on seeing the other.
Not that he could have gotten past Tessai if the other hadn’t wanted to let him by. But, still, it was the thought that counted.
“Ah, Kurosaki-san. It’s nothing much. Just a small issue that I’m working on clearing up.” Urahara took a sip of his tea, The evasion made Ichigo frown.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” he said, bristling as he realized it. “You’ve been avoiding all of us,” he added. Rukia and Renji had been semi-regular visitors to the shoten, but both had admitted to not seeing the other man since Ichigo had woken up and gone home himself. They had only dealt with the kids or Tessai.
Ichigo should have checked sooner.
He should have known that something was wrong. While they had never talked about it, Ichigo had seen the mark that peeked over the edge of Urahara’s clothing, a swirl of vibrant orange that had matched his hair coloring. Ichigo always planned on asking to see the rest of it. He wanted to see if the rest of that mark matched the pale one that decorated his hip.
Sometimes, Ichigo had wondered why Urahara never brought it up. He was sure the other man had seen it, as often as he helped patch Ichigo up. The color was right, the same ashy blond shade as Urahara’s hair, with marks of grey interwoven with it.
Ichigo hoped it was because Urahara was waiting until Ichigo was older. Not that Ichigo wanted to wait, but it was something that was really, really rude to demand. Not even he was so rude as to bluntly ask to see another person’s mark.
The quiet apparently went on too long for the other, and Urahara was back to studying Ichigo. “What brings you to my humble shop, Kurosaki-san?” At least he sounded the same, if a little more tired.
That got a squirm from Ichigo. “I….” He started and then stopped. “Are you sure you are okay?” Ichigo hated how uncertain he sounded. There were a lot of things Ichigo was, uncertain was rarely one of them. Even less so once he had gotten lessons on resolve from the man in front of him.
Urahara gave him an amused look. “That is not what brought you to my door,” he said easily. “Something to do with your powers, perhaps?”
Ichigo blinked. “How did you…?”
That got an actual laugh from Urahara, who smiled at him. “I have been around a while,” he pointed out with a grin. “What were you curious about?”
Ichigo took a drink of his own tea, needing to stall a moment. Then he gathered himself together. “I thought I only had a month or so of powers left before I lost them. It’s been a lot longer than that. Do you know why?” He felt a little hope in his chest. “I mean, was my dad wrong? He admitted to me afterwards that I was going to lose the ability to interact with ghosts, but I’m still doing okay.” Though Urahara said something similar, and Ichigo didn’t think he would be wrong.
Quiet fell again, and Ichigo had to fight down the urge to fidget as Urahara looked at him. It felt like the other was trying to peer into his soul.
And maybe he was.
“The attack sacrificed your power,” Urahara said finally. “You did something we never should have asked you to, and damaged your own soul to power an attack we should never have suggested to you.” He smiled faintly. “Something your father didn’t know however, was that there are things that influence the effects of that technique.”
He straightened up. “I had hoped….” Urahara smiled at Ichigo. “I know you’ve wanted to look at my mark for a while. Come over here and see. It will help make things easier to explain.”
Ichigo was not ashamed to admit he scrambled over at the invitation. He had been so curious, the chance of getting at least a few answers was too great a temptation to pass up on. He knelt down behind Urahara, cheeks a little flushed as he realized that, even as sick as the man looked, he still smelled good.
Long fingers pulled hair out of the way, and Urahara waited patiently for Ichigo to look at his neck. Ichigo’s own hands helped pull fabric out of the way so he could see the mark.
It was a swirl of lines, a nonsense, but unique, pattern, resting right over that spot where the neck and shoulders met.
Ichigo had to fight down the urge to lean in and bite at that line where it curled over Urahara’s spine, suddenly aware of just how close he and Urahara were. But he made himself focus, looking at the mark itself.
The colors were orange and browns, the pattern one he knew better than anything. Ichigo had always considered himself lucky that he could see his mark easily. That made it easy to see the twin of it when he finally got his eyes on the mark.
He couldn’t help the brush of his fingers along the lines, though he blushed harder as Urahara made a soft noise that sounded like it was a good sort of noise. But he did pull back, wanting to focus.
Ichigo would be giddy over confirmation of finding his soul mate later. Maybe after punching Urahara for not saying anything before now. Maybe not, as he sat back again and was reminded how sick Urahara looked.
“What does this,” Ichigo started, only to be cut off by the other man.
“You did damage to your soul, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara said, shifting so they could see each other’s faces again. He looked so very serious it was a bit off putting. “We are soul mates. So I am able to...help repair some of that damage.”
A smile. “You are draining power as a sink drains water. Our bond means that I could help keep power flowing in. I am the faucet, in this particular example.”
He rubbed his chin, which looked even more scruffy than normal. “It really was the least I could do, after setting you up the way that I did.”
Ichigo felt himself go pale. “You what?”
That got a laugh from Urahara. “Oh, no need to look quite so horrified. I can spare the energy at the moment. Plus, I am working on a method to help fix the damage you did to yourself.”
He shifted, leaning forward to make Ichigo focus. “Do you trust me, Kurosaki-san?”
Ichigo nodded without hesitation.
That got a smile from Urahara. Ichigo did trust the other man. Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to have nightmares about this for a while. He wasn’t just hurting himself now. He was hurting the one person who should mean the most to him. Even if his soul mate was kind of an ass.
“I have an idea how to fix this. I just need a bit more time. Can you hold on for a little longer? It is taking a bit more time than I like, since you are doing so well still. But I will get it sorted.”
Another nod from Ichigo. “No more hiding,” he said, frowning a bit as he realized that was what the other had been doing. “I… you….” He took a deep breath. “What can I do to help?”
Urahara smiled at him, and Ichigo found himself smiling back.
His soul mate was an ass, but if he said he was going to fix this, Ichigo trusted him to do so.