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Kira hadn't meant for it to turn out this way.

There had, before, always been a clear line. People fell into four categories for him: friend, enemy, ally, stranger. So what was he to do when a falling star shattered everything he thought he understood about the world?

First the star was a stranger, mentioned only in Captain Kuchiki's reports as a defeated opponent. Then he was an enemy—ryoka, intruder, invader. Then Gin Ichimaru defected, along with Aizen and Tousen, and labels had reversed. His former captain had been the enemy, and the ryoka boy with hair the color of a daylily had become an ally. He fought with them, all through the Winter War, Soul Society's darkest days. He invaded Hueco Mundo, much as he had once invaded the Seireitei, and Aizen had fallen. So had Ichimaru.

Kira still didn't know quite how to feel about that. The man had been his captain for longer than most humans had been alive. Kira had worshiped him. Yes, he was sad. But there was also a little bit of anger there, that he hadn't been the one to strike the final blow.

After all, the man was a traitor. He had betrayed all of Soul Society. And, more importantly, he had betrayed Kira, who had thought—despite their differences in station—that they were friends.

And now, Ichigo was here.

In Soul Society.

A captain.

Kira wanted desperately, desperately, to call the younger man a friend.

But he knew it wasn't that simple anymore.

For a man, Ichigo was unusually beautiful. He was slender, not overly tall, and had deceptively delicate features. Most of the time, no one could tell, because that face was filled with fire and passion and fury and life. But sometimes, when everything was quiet and the world was still, Kira would see Ichigo at rest, his face relaxed and peaceful, and it would hurt in the way that looking at beautiful things always did. It was a gentle ache, sweet and good, acknowledging how precious something was. And Kira admitted it, if only to himself. Ichigo was precious to him, more so than anyone else. Even Renji. Even Momo.

And Ichigo would never, ever look at him.

He was always quiet. Ichigo was learning that it was like a defensive wall, that silence. Kira used it to keep everyone out. And behind the barrier, his eyes grew darker and darker, until the summer-sky blue was nearly black. Not that anyone else looked at the blond captain closely enough to notice. He was just a figurehead, someone stuck into the position of captain because of a shortage of personnel, never to be trusted with too much authority after what had happened with his captain.

Ichigo was never quite sure what drew him to Kira. Maybe it was the silence, which had caught his eye amid all of the Seireitei's endless whirl, the rush of motion that was both mad and maddening. Kira was like a steady rock standing against the tide, stationary and immovable but slowly worn down by the relentless beating. That alone made Ichigo want to go to him, prop him up, give him a shoulder to lean on and a safe haven to retreat to when he needed it.

He didn't bother to analyze his feelings too deeply, but even from skimming just the surface, he knew that Kira mattered. The why was irrelevant. He just did, and that was enough for Ichigo.

He made the first move, and it was easy—surprisingly easy—to do.

During one of the nights that Renji, Shuhei, Ikkaku, and Yumichika dragged him out to watch them drink themselves into a stupor, he happened to see Kira sitting far back in the corner. Unlike the other loud, obnoxious shinigami in the place—of whom Ichigo's unasked-for companions were the loudest and most obnoxious—he wasn't drinking, just staring out the dark window.

Ichigo considered a dozen excuses to go over and join him, but rejected them all in favor of doing what came naturally. He got up, ordered a pot of tea and two cups from the bartender, and carried the tray over to Kira's table.

"Mind if I sit here?" he asked.

Kira looked up at him in surprise, and then managed a half-smile. His deep blue eyes lightened just a little bit. "Ichigo. Shouldn't you be…ah…" His gaze flickered to Ichigo's group, and then back as he trailed off.

Ichigo shook his head, sitting sideways in his chair and leaning back against the wall so that he could see the rest of the bar. "No. They just wanted me here to make sure that Rukia and Matsumoto don't pull any tricks on them while they're drunk off their collective ass. Apparently, last time they got hammered, the girls convinced them to go skinny-dipping in Byakuya's pond and then stole their clothes."

Kira chuckled, though it sounded a touch reluctant—as if he did find it funny, but laughing about it was too hard. "I see. That would certainly make me rethink ever getting drunk again. I'm surprised they made it out alive."

Ichigo poured tea for them both. "Do you ever? Get drunk, I mean." He nodded at the single cup that sat in front of Kira, still half-full of sake.

The other's smile was so melancholy it hurt to see. "Not anymore. At first, I thought…but it just numbs things for a short while, and makes them harder to bear afterwards. It wasn't worth it. I just come here because…" He accepted the cup that Ichigo offered him with a nod of thanks. "Well, the nights are too long, sometimes."

Ichigo nodded in understanding, cradling the mug between his palms. "For me, too. I guess I'm still used to getting up at all hours to fight hollows, like I used to do in the world of the living. Here, unless I have patrol or my division is on duty, the dark seems endless." Offhandedly, he offered, "You know, if you ever can't sleep, my door's always open. It would be nice to have someone to talk to in the middle of the night."

Kira paused, about to take a sip, and then looked at the other captain. For a moment, Ichigo thought he was going to refuse, but then his head dipped ever so slightly. "Thank you, Kurosaki-kun. I believe I just might take you up on that." Quickly, as though to avoid Ichigo's eyes, he turned to gaze out the window again, changing the subject. "The sky is beautiful tonight, isn't it? I used to sit out on the rooftops whenever it was clear like this, and just watch the stars until I fell asleep."

There were too many lines in his face, Ichigo thought. Too many cares and worries placed on his shoulders far too soon. Coming to a quick decision, he set his now-cool tea down and stood. "Then let's go. My apartment isn't far away, and I live on the top floor, so no one can complain."

Kira looked startled, turning to blink at him. "I…" For a long moment, he couldn't seem to find the words. Then, after a few seconds of struggle, he gave in and bowed his head. "All right. But…the others…"

Ichigo cast a glance at his friends, and then raised an eyebrow. "They dragged me along without permission. I never promised I'd watch them. And besides, at this point, I think they deserve whatever's coming to them. "

The blond chuckled again, but this time it was free and open, not suppressed or tinged with sadness. "Yes. I rather think the barman agrees with you, too."

Ichigo looked at the heavyset man, who appeared to be pleading with Ikkaku not to dance on the tables, and laughed.

Kira smiled, and they walked out side by side.

They spent the night together, looking at the stars in silence or talking in low voices. It was the same the next night, only they fell asleep halfway through and woke up with the dawn, stiff and chilled, but content. The night after that, Ichigo brought blankets up with them, which made Kira smile again, and they slept side by side under the sickle-shaped moon.

Kira wasn't quite certain what was happening, but he thought it was good. Ichigo was looking at him, talking to him, smiling with him. He hadn't thought that anything could make Ichigo more beautiful. That first smile proved him wrong. When the other captain smiled, he was breathtaking.

Their stargazing quickly became a nightly ritual, and it led to other things. Eating breakfast together was a natural progression, since they woke together every morning. Soon after, they started to eat lunch together, on the hill overlooking Ukitake's lake. And then it was dinner, either in one of their homes or out in the Seireitei, where the two of them together grew to be a frequent sight. They were an odd pair—one fierce and loud, the other quiet and subdued—but they complemented each other perfectly, and their friends were happy for them—happy that Kira was finally smiling and laughing again, when they had thought he never would, and happy that Ichigo was finally content in Soul Society, when they had not thought he could be.

And then there was the kiss.

Kira was never quite sure who initiated it, but he really, really couldn't care less, because there, sitting on Ichigo's roof in the pale glow of false dawn, Ichigo was kissing him, their tongues tangling together, breaths mixing, fingers intertwining. And it was heat, and good, and great, and absolutely goddamned incredible, and Kira never wanted it to stop. Neither did Ichigo, apparently, because as soon as they had surfaced in order to breathe they were kissing again, fierce collisions and gentle meetings and curious explorations that drove both of them halfway to madness as everything they had been feeling for months now all came pouring out at once.

"Hell," Ichigo whispered when the need for air was finally too pressing to ignore. He drew back and let his forehead drop against Kira's, pupils blown wide, beautiful face almost too close for Kira to bear. Then his lips—soft, full, coral, delicious—quirked in the bare shadow of a full-fledged grin, and he let out a long breath that was scented with the plum wine they had both been drinking—lightly, of course, because Kira had paperwork in the morning and Ichigo was on patrol, and they were both good officers above all else.

With that, Kira knew that there was not a single part of him that did not love Kurosaki Ichigo's everything.

And, reflecting back at him from the depths of Ichigo's honey-brown eyes, the same emotion made his heart rise up in his chest, overwhelming the sudden rush of horrified fight/flight flight/fight getaway-run-move-pushhimoff-thiscan'tbehappening that made his stomach take a screaming, suicidal leap towards the vicinity of his toes.

"Kurosaki-kun?" he managed after a moment, and hated that it sounds so breathless and uncertain, like an untried schoolgirl facing her crush for the first time.

Ichigo shook his head, smile growing by hair's breadths as he pulled back and looked at Kira as though the 3rd's captain was everything and anything and all he could want and hope-future-brightness-Iloveyou all wrapped into one.

"I think we can move past last names," he said, and there was very real, utterly tangible amusement in his voice. "I try to be on a first-name basis with everyone who gets their tongue halfway down my throat."

Kira couldn't help but smile at that, because he already knew that Ichigo had never done this before, never been in a real relationship—and it had been a long time for Kira, too. Far too long, though he was glad he had waited, if this was what was in his future.

"Ichigo," he agreed softly.

"Izuru," Ichigo echoed gently, and Kira couldn't keep from kissing him again.

It was almost absurd how easy it was for them to slip together, Ichigo thought, watching the sunrise over the walls of the Seireitei. Even after four months together, they were still all but unable to sleep a night through, and usually ended up on the roof again, pressed together like some kind of shinigami Gordian Knot, legs tangled, arms intertwined, heads resting on whatever convenient pillow-like areas were available on the other's body.

They were also the resident odd couple, but Ichigo couldn't bring himself to mind—and he doubted, stringently, that they could ever be any weirder than Byakuya and Renji. Just thinking about that gave him the shivers. But he was able to ignore the strange looks, the odd glances whenever they were out together, because Kira was everything he had ever dreamed or fantasized about in a friend—and even more so what he had wanted in a lover.

Once, he might have fought these feelings, might have run from their implications—and the large, aching hole in his heart where he stilled blamed himself for his mother's death urged him to do just that. But Kira was good, and Kira was kind, and Ichigo knew that, no matter how long this lasted for Kira, it was forever for him.

And he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Kira was his first, but he couldn't bring himself to feel nervous, anxious, or even worried when he looked the blond captain straight in the eyes and invited him into his bedroom. They were perfect together, hot and cool, fast and slow, fight and flight, opposite and identical and so damned complete that it was an almost tangible ache in his chest whenever he thought about it. Kira said yes, accepted his invitation, and as soon as the bedroom door closed, he overwhelmed Ichigo with touches and kisses and hands everywhere. When they finally came together, it was everything Ichigo had thought it would be, and when he was recovered, he returned the favor, leaving them tangled on the futon in a sweaty, exhausted heap.

They were pressed together, every possible inch of skin touching, arms around each other and gazes softly, gently unwavering, and Ichigo had never felt so whole or contented in all of his life.

I get frightened in all this darkness; I get nightmares—I hate to sleep alone. I need some company, a guardian angel to keep me warm when the cold winds blow. I can feel you breathe; I can feel your heart beat faster.

They fell asleep like that, together, each with a hand over the other's heart, and didn't stir until the sun broke the horizon the next morning.

Neither had ever slept better.