“A place where flowers are sold at expensive prices is a place that has yet to learn the first principles of civilization.” ~ Chinese saying.
The blue sky had not been as bright on first viewing as Ishida expected it to be. In some ways, the desert landscape was not that much different from the den interior. It had a similar timelessness, and the light did strange things against the horizon.
It was Urahara’s shop with its paper doors and flowerpots that seemed foreign.
Ishida looked around the small room and felt that he himself was physically smaller. Every little sound was a jolting noise, and voices were so loud they hurt his ears.
“Maybe they’re robot spies.” The little red haired boy was pounding a baseball mitt. He looked sweaty--like he’d just returned from playing outside. “Aizen killed the real ones and sent these ones down to spy on us.”
Urahara-san glanced at Ishida and then at Kurosaki. The shopkeeper’s eyes looked deadly serious even though his voice affected the usual nonchalance when he spoke to the boy. “Nope. Not spies. Go fetch Tessai, my little friend. We’ve still had got good reason to hold them here and do some tests. Their bodies are teeming with Arrancar reiatsu.”
“What are you going to do?” Ichigo was already angry. “What makes you think you have the right to test us?” Five minutes in the Living World and he was trying to pick a fight.
“Oh don’t worry, it won’t hurt. Tessai is going to give each of you a nice sponge bath. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? No water for sixteen months. A bath is going to feel lovely.”
So that’s how long it’d been.
Riding on Bawa-Bawa with the Desert Brothers across the sand, Ishida had tried to get that information out of Pesh. It was the first thing he had wanted to know--even before asking about the war and after loved ones. How long were we in there? Pesh said six hundred years, and Dondo said four hundred, and the two had started arguing. Nell, sitting in Ichigo’s lap and cooing “oh Ichigo, Ichigo I’m so happy you’re here” had been the only reliable source of information, but all Ishida had gotten out of her was that the Desert Brothers had been hiding from the Espada as well.
“We ran into a bunch of them and had to speed to the nearest nest. We didn’t come out until we guessed Aizen must’ve given us up for dead. And he must’ve thought that you were dead too because there was only one guard at the passage to the Living World….Dondo ate him. Then we figured that all the trouble and war was over and that it was safe to come get you two.”
At the same door between worlds that they had used to first enter Hueco Mundo, Ishida and Kurosaki were told farewell by the Desert Brothers. Pesh kissed Ishida on one cheek and then the other. “Go forth and be brave, Ichigo.” The boys sped through the windy passage, and Urahara had been waiting for them.
Now the shopkeeper was staring at them with something like compassion, and Ishida felt afraid. He wanted Kurosaki to ask the questions.
“Your father, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara said at last. “Your father never gave up on you.”
The questions came in a rush after that. Kurosaki asked about Yuzu and Karin and then Inoue-san and the others. “Everyone’s fine!” Urahara held up his hands. “Details later. They all fought bravely. Your friends Arisawa-san and Asano-san took small injuries during their individual battles but they’re none the worse for wear now. You gentlemen must be feeling overwhelmed. Baths first, then naps.”
“Tatsuki?” Kurosaki was bewildered. “Tatsuki fought? Keigo?”
Ishida leapt in. “It happened? Aizen’s defeated?”
Urahara appeared not to want to reveal more, but he said that the war wasn’t over yet. The Espada had come in the early spring, and there had been intense and prolonged fighting for days. Aizen’s army had retreated with all their top lieutenants still alive, though, and Karakura was expecting another attack.
“We can fight,” Kurosaki said. “We’re a little crazy but we still remember how to fight.”
“Patience, patience,” said Urahara. “I have to re-strategize the situation.”
“Did you miss us?” Kurosaki was talking about battle-hands. “If I’d been there, would it have made any difference?”
Biggest ego in the world, thought Ishida.
“I don’t think so,” said Urahara. “But I expected Karakura would defend itself, even in your absence. The Shinigami were helping, after all. It wasn’t until that that blue-haired Arrancar--charming fellow really--demanded to fight Kurosaki-san that we realized that Aizen assumed you two had escaped to this world. Such good news. We were fearing the worst--that you’d be taken prisoner and Arrrancarized.”
“No one thought we were dead,” Ishida said. For some reason, the idea relieved some of the agitation he’d felt since arriving at the Urahara shop.
“I was concerned that you might be trapped between worlds--getting souls out of places like that is very tricky. But no, most people thought you two were dead. The girls cried miserably.”
Before the boys could respond to that disquieting revelation, Tessai arrived with bath towels.
“You two must have grown sick of one another,” Urahara said. “You’ll have time apart here while I test your reiatsu. Won’t be long. A couple days at most.”
Had his body gotten so accustomed the sand that he actually missed the graininess against his skin? Inside a too-soft futon after the tepid bath with a too-soft sponge (Tessai had allowed Ishida to sponge himself--otherwise it would have been too weird and Ishida would have protested), Ishida found himself worrying about his father.
Ryuuken had lost everyone in his family. Would believing that he’d lost his son change him in any way? The man had a vise-like grip on his own emotions, and a fragile conception--at best--of what it meant to be an ordinary father. Could Ishida’s death have made him any more mean and ruined?
Urahara-san said that Kurosaki’s father hadn’t given up hope, but I’m certain Ryuuken just assumed I fucked up and killed myself.
Ryuuken would get the miraculous news soon. Urahara-san had said so.
Kurosaki’s father would hug his son and weep, but what would Ryuuken do?
Would anyone be very glad to see him again? Oh, they would be glad. Inoue-san would throw her arms around his neck like she had the time he’d won the district sewing competition, and Ishida would feel embarrassed and slightly aroused by the pressure of her giant mammaries. Chad might pat his shoulder. Ms. Ochi would smile and say, “You sure do seem to take a lot of long vacations, Ishida-kun. It’s a good thing you can catch up so easily.”
But other than Kurosaki, who in this world loved him? And did Kurosaki really--?
Ishida felt his body shrinking even smaller. He had wanted so badly to return to this life, but now every physical sensation irritated him and every unanswered question depressed him.
Other earthly bodily functions hadn’t returned yet, but Ishida felt his eyes moisten. The tears then ran freely on either side of his face, and he didn’t care.
Feeling pitiful? That’s part of P.O.W syndrome, isn’t it? I’ve got this craving for sympathy. That’s what it is. Next thing you’ll know I’ll start developing psychosomatic illnesses like the Americans claimed their repatriates did after being released from Japanese war camps. I’ll become impotent. I’ll get mysterious skin rashes.
Ishida told himself that he wanted to be lying next to Kurosaki being kissed and comforted but then again, he wasn’t so sure. He wanted his father to weep upon seeing his prodigal son, but then again--there was really no empirical way to gauge what another person felt.
Other people’s feelings were always open to interpretations. Kurosaki and his “maybe this is a big fakery.” The reluctant love Ishida always suspected Ryuuken held for his son. Ryuuken’s pretend hate, Kurosaki’s pretend love….
The truth, Ishida concluded with the gravity of an ancient philosopher, is that no matter where I am, I am always alone.
Get out, get out, get out.
Ichigo felt like he was going to bust an artery if he couldn’t get up and walk around. Urahara might think he was escaping, though, and grab him by the collar of this heavy, disturbingly silky sleep kimono and lock him in this room.
Ichigo was in Tessai’s room. Ishida was nearby with the weird little kids.
At least get out of this damn futon so you can sleep on the comfortable floor.
Once on the floor, Ichigo realized that he was hungry, and once he realized he was hungry he knew he had to go find food. He wasn’t going to look for Uryuu. If he found Uryuu he would have to drag the kimono-clothed little temptation outside and fuck him under Urahara’s window if he had to. And Uryuu, proprietous person that he is, would kill him.
Ichigo stepped into the front room.
There was Uryuu kneeling at the chabadai. Apparently he’d gotten hungry too. He was chewing so ravenously that he didn’t notice Ichigo’s presence.
“The hunger’s awful, isn’t it?” Ichigo whispered. “I’ve never felt so hungry in my life.”
Uryuu didn’t startle. “I found some rolls in a basket,” he said.
“I found a little more out about the war from Tessai. The old man who’s head of the Gotei 13--”
“Yeah, him. He’s dead. Seems he fought Aizen one on one. Utikake-san and that other guy with the pink robe are temporarily acting as generals of the army.”
Details of the war should’ve seemed important. Ichigo should’ve asked more questions. Important things had happened, and he and Uryuu were not up to speed.
Then Ichigo noticed the shiny tear tracks on Uryuu’s face.
Great. He’s at it again. I wonder who kissed him this time.
Uryuu looked vulnerable and small. Even at his worst in the cave, he had looked self-possessed and determined.
Maybe I shouldn’t ask about what’s bothering him. It’s probably normal to cry when things change very suddenly, and I’m the weird one because I can deal with changes. I’ve dealt with the worst. Like what happened with Mom.
Ichigo frowned and tried not to feel infected with self-pity. He was alive; the world was here; he should be ecstatic to be back.
Had something already changed between him and Uryuu?
Uryuu set the basket of rolls away like he was done with them. He probably expected Ichigo to eat them. Ichigo wanted Uryuu to eat them.
“Well….” Ichigo folded his arms. “The Outside World was still there.”
“I know,” Uryuu said. His face looked pinched and impatient. “I was wrong.”
For a moment, Ichigo thought that Uryuu was talking about something else. About how he was wrong for doing sex things with Ichigo or how he was wrong to believe that he was actually in love with somebody.
Then Uryuu flew at him. Ichigo’s vision careened and the room blurred.
Ichigo’s eyes were still sharp enough to detect movement at shunpou speed but Uryuu’s doing that Quincy-whatever flying step across the room had really surprised him.
When Ichigo blinked away the confusion, Uryuu was lying on top of him and looking hard into his eyes. God, what beautiful eyes….
Outside the shop it was a noisy, noisy world. Crickets chirped. Leaves of grass roared as breezes ran across them. Inside the shop, fabric folds made a loud shhhhhhhhh sound as silk kimonos crushed against one another
Ichigo never expected it when anyone managed to knock him off his feet. That punch Tatsuki had landed at school--he hadn’t allowed her to hit him. She’d just totally surprised him.
Disregarding reiatsu, Ichigo’s physical strength was probably three times that of Uryuu’s. Yet here Uryuu was, lying on top of Ichigo and kissing away.
“I couldn’t stand it in that miserable futon,” Uryuu said.
Ichigo rolled him over, rose to his knees, shed his kimono and threw the sides of Uryuu’s apart.
“We can’t,” Uryuu hissed.
“What do you mean? You were the one who jumped me.”
“I just wanted to kiss you.
“As in? How? What do you mean?”
“As in just wanting to kiss you. In case you haven’t noticed, there are rice-paper walls here.”
“So?” Ichigo nuzzled Uryuu’s neck. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. A society where people couldn’t just fall on the floor and fuck whenever they wanted to was an unfair society.
“Get off of me, you moron. We can’t do it here.”
“Says who?” Ichigo wanted Uryuu to drop this civilized act once and for all. He wanted to humiliate him into real tears. He wanted him to fuck him so hard that when he came inside him, the stuff would never spill out. Love me, Uryuu. Ichigo was opening his mouth against Uryuu’s throat, against his nipples, lapping and sucking and trying to make it hard for Uryuu not to whimper. Prove to me that you love me.
Uryuu’s hands pushed against Ichigo’s shoulders. Ichigo took those hands and pinned them on either side of Uryuu’s waist. Uryuu kept struggling. Ichigo brought his mouth to a cock that, unlike the rest of Uryuu, showed no misgivings. He licked a slow circle around the head.
That was enough to elicit a sexy syllable or two back at the cave. But what do you know--Uryuu could discipline himself again. He didn’t make a peep. The more Ichigo licked, the more determinedly Uryuu resisted. His hands stopped trying to get free. His body went rigid--refusing to writhe, refusing to demonstrate any of the eagerness that Ichigo adored.
As he licked, Ichigo felt afraid Uryuu would get all neurotic and uptight in this world, stop wanting to do this, maybe even pretend that they’d never fucked. Prove you love me. He took Uryuu deep into his throat, sucked hard with his tongue and pallette.
Uryuu’s wrists came alive in his grip. They fought Ichigo’s hold, but Ichigo only squeezed tighter.
He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t make one goddamn little noise.
Then Uryuu’s hips rose against Ichigo’s mouth and started thrusting furiously. Trying to get it over with?
No you don’t.
Ichigo dropped Uryuu’s hands and grabbed Uryuu’s thighs. He kissed him hard on the mouth while he positioned his legs--one bare foot on each shoulder. Uryuu’s arms were flailing and his neck was arching, and Ichigo entered him without preparation or warning.
A little coughing noise escaped Uryuu’s mouth. His breath staggered a bit but he settled soon after. He swept his fingers into Ichigo’s hair and his breathing was slow and deep.
Ichigo didn’t care if he himself made noise. Let Urahara hear. Let the weird little kids hear. He hammered Uryuu with a steady rhythm. Urgh .. urgh ..urgh.
“Kurosaki,” Uryuu sighed, “you sound like a freight train.”
“Fuck you, Uryuu.”
The fucking continued with both boys grimacing at one another. Then Ichigo angled just so, and Uryuu spurted between their bellies. Ichigo watched him spasm--mouth wide open, face thrashing side to side--and then fall very still.
Ishida’s eyes looked triumphant. Then his limp hands rose to rest on Ichigo’s shoulders.
He hadn’t made a noise beyond breathing loudly.
“Damnit,” breathed Ichigo. “You’re inhuman.”
“Don’t,” said Uryuu as his fingers pressed into Ichigo who was thrusting with concentrated deliberation and even louder grunts. “Please don’t yell. Promise me you won’t--”
Ichigo growled loudly but he didn’t yell. He kept thrusting into Uryuu even after he was finished. He felt that momentum could’ve carried into the world’s first male multiple orgasm, but he quit and gently unfolded Uryuu into a lying position. He dropped his face against Uryuu’s neck.
The boys lay there panting. They kissed, panted some more, and eventually fell asleep. It was the natural thing to do, and when they woke up, that’s how Ichigo saw it.
It’s a natural thing.
He was never going to feel ashamed about his relationship with Uryuu.
He still wasn’t sure about Uryuu, though.
“Hollow must hibernate in these nests,” Urahara said. “Or else they acclimate to sensory deprivation very well. Tell me, did you hallucinate? People usually start to hallucinate under less severe circumstances.”
Ishida held out his cup, and Urahara poured more tea into it. “We didn’t hallucinate,” Ishida said.
“We weren’t all that sensory deprived,” said Kurosaki. He was eating soy porridge with his mouth open, and Ishida tried not to look. Had Kurosaki been this crass and bad-mannered before? Ishida was starving too--you didn’t seem him gulping his food.
“Really?” Urahara’s light and breezy voice was hard to interpret. “What sort of sensory stimulation did you gentleman have down there?”
“The place glittered all the time,” Kurosaki said. He was eating so fast he had to swallow hard before speaking or he would choke. “It was like downtown Tokyo in that hole.”
“Hmmm, the architectural reiatsu and the sand crystals,” said Urahara. “That must’ve been very disorienting.”
Ishida knew that Urahara was well-intentioned, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being interrogated. Honestly, what was there to say about those sixteen months? For a good part of time, Ishida had planned on killing himself. He felt ashamed about that now. He had fallen in love with Kurosaki … he wasn’t ashamed of that, though … or was he?
“That’s a droopy look, Ishida-kun. Did you sleep well?”
“Oh yes.” Ishida lowered his eyes. “Thank you for asking.” He felt like a five-year-old at the formal table. He didn’t know what to say or do under the scrutiny of the of the shopkeeper’s gaze.
Even though he and Kurosaki had scrambled to their respective beds before dawn, Urahara had been looking at them funny since breakfast. He had to know. Even if they hadn’t made much noise, maybe the shopkeeper had psychic powers. He was mysterious like that.
Urahara poured milk into a saucer and set it on the table. “Yoru, darling. I bought the high fat this time.”
A black cat leapt on the table.
“Anything exciting happen on night-time watch?”
“Not on the watch,” spoke the cat in its rough voice. “I came back early to take a nap in the front room. There were already two boys sleeping there. Huddled like kittens.”
Ishida choked on his tea, and Yoruichi flared into her true form. Dense white light filled the room for a moment, and then there was a beautiful nude woman sitting at the chabadai. Ishida knew she could do this, but he was still shocked. Everyone could see her nakedness from the waist up!
“Why didn’t you tell me you were serving something special for our guests?” Yoruichi reached for a teacup and emptied her saucer of milk into it. “Just like the British drink their tea, Kisuke. It’s not bad. You should try it.”
“I suppose you’ll be wanting eggs and porridge now as well,” said Urahara-san. “Tessai!”
Ishida was blinking. He looked at Kurosaki who was staring at his bowl of porridge. The idiot was still chewing.
Urahara continued talking as if naked women sat at his table every other morning. Maybe they did. Ishida struggled to appear as nonchalant as possible while Urahara told him and Kurosaki that last night he’d phoned their families to tell them the good news. Everyone had protested Urahara’s keeping the boys for another day, but the shopkeeper insisted that the quarantine was necessary for the guaranteed good health of the Hollow-reiatsu-ridden boys.
“Doctor Kurosaki-san was very angry. I do believe he said something about coming over today to tear me a new intestinal orifice.”
Ishida dared to ask. “Ryuuken?”
“He was particularly hard to reach because he was in Spain.”
“Spain?” Ishida assumed a business trip, but Urahara said that the man had been on vacation in Europe for months. Ishida could not remember his father ever having taken time off from work in his lifetime. Maybe Ryuuken had been broken-hearted. Maybe he was colder than ever. How could Ishida know? All he knew was that he dreaded seeing his father again. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Even if Ryuuken had taken the first flight out of Spain, he wouldn’t be in Japan until this evening. He probably didn’t take the first flight out, though.
Yoruichi slammed her teacup on the table too loudly and startled everyone. “Kisuke, this milk tastes like yogurt. Get the flavored kind next time.” She winked at Ishida. “I like strawberry milk the best.”
Ichigo’s head fell forward on the table. Yoruichi laughed and laughed.
Urahara stood up and raised his index finger. “Now, to the underground training facility. I need to test your reflexes, gentlemen. I’m certain you lost some of your physical prowess in that horrible, lonely place.”
“I just want to go back to sleep,” Kurosaki grumbled. “Sixteen months I staved off insanity only lose to my mind here within one day.”
“Never fear, children, and regret nothing! Chastity is the most unnatural of the sexual perversions, and the soul is forever a virgin to Truth!
Urahara-san never missed an opportunity to spout a proverb. He made them up himself, Ishida thought. He had to.
Ichigo was pissed off because Uryuu had outrun him on Urahara’s impromptu track. It’s not fair. He didn’t even exercise for over a year. He tried to rationalize Uryuu’s winning by telling himself that the Quincy weighed as much as a feather and the wind helped carry him.
“You didn’t cheat and use that Quincy-shunpou-whatever, did you?”
“Hirenkyaku.” Uryuu’s voice was indignant. “Why would I cheat? A Quincy doesn’t cheat!”
Ichigo rubbed a towel over his face. His brow was wet to the middle of his scalp he sweating so much. It felt good to sweat again. It felt good to run. Everything felt good. Being human was a great thing.
The morning’s zaniness, however embarrassing, had eased his mind. Urahara-san didn’t give a lecture about homosexuality. No one said anything about telling his dad. And best of all, Uryuu didn’t deny the relationship. He could’ve easily denied it.
Or maybe Quincy don’t lie--even when they want to?
Ichigo shot a glance at Uryuu who was holding a stopwatch and making little marks in a notepad.
Is he going to be obsessive about time now the way he’s obsessive about everything else?
Obsessive. It occurred to Ichigo at that moment that he stood a good chance of becoming one of Uryuu’s obsessions. Uryuu had said once that Quincy don’t do anything half-way.
“I suppose,” Ichigo ventured, “that everyone in Karakura is going to know about us now.”
“Maybe I want people to find out.”
“I think a lot of our friends would be just as cool about it as Urahara-san.”
“Kurosaki, we’re seventeen years old. What do you expect us to do? Send out wedding invitations?”
Ichigo must have looked crestfallen, because Uryuu’s face softened.
“Kurosaki, there’s a war going on and other things for us to pay attention to besides one another. But the time we spent together the past year--I can’t imagine going back to the way things were before. I don’t believe that things are going to change that much between us, do you?”
“Things always change. Are you going to tell your dad?”
“Are you kidding?”
Ichigo downed an entire bottle of imported water. Urahara’s shop carried all kinds, but they tasted the same. Ichigo was a little suspicious about that. They all tasted just like tapwater.
“It’s really nobody’s business,” Uryuu went on. “Some things are still personal. Some things are still private. Even though people around here are mad hedonists, I’m sure they’ve got things they’d like to keep private as well.”
Ichigo felt better. The cold water, the sweat, the run, and Uryuu being honest with him.
“When something is private, that means it’s special,” Uryuu said. “We don’t have to have sex on a live webcam. Fucking in private is special.”
“You sound like a greeting card,” Ichigo said, and when Urahara-san was turned away, digging through the ice chest for something other than water (he got to drink cokes because he wasn’t training, he said), Ichigo kissed Uryuu on the white softness of his Quincy cheek.
It didn’t feel like a “happy ending” kiss; it felt like a “I’m not scared of what’s going to happen next” kiss.
And what happened next was that the Urahara Shop got a midnight visitor.
That second night, Urahara-san insisted that the boys sleep together in the front room. He had decided that their adjustment to society should be gradual and that maybe he would tell their parents that he needed to keep them for a few more weeks of tests. Yoruichi said she was going to stay out all night this time and maybe buy herself a yaoi manga, and Urahara-san said that there was no real need for reconnaissance missions tonight anyway and that she should rest her little feline self on the foot of his futon.
When all the lights were out, Ishida looked at Kurosaki and he knew they couldn’t have sex.
“We have to make some compromises with civilization,” Ishida said. Flagrant exhibitionism wasn’t his cup of tea. He only hoped that Kurosaki wouldn’t take that as a sign that he didn’t care. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that people live here.”
“Then maybe I’ll have to go back in Tessai’s room because I don’t know if I can control myself.”
“Liar.” Ishida hugged Kurosaki’s neck.
“Last chance,” Kurosaki said. “Last chance with this Shinigami body. Kon’s bringing my real body tomorrow.”
They were lying on the wooden floor because neither could bear the softness of futons. Kurosaki’s breath was even and deepening, and the very sound of it made Ishida’s arousal obvious. It poked the shiny fabric of his sleep kimono.
Kurosaki looked down and addressed the prominent bump. “You look very good in blue.” He opened the kimono. “But you look better now.”
Ishida’s hips squirmed. Oh what the hell. The whole shop already knew. He pushed his pelvis forwards to beg for a lick, and then he got an idea. “Sixty-nine,” Ishida said. “Maybe if our mouths are full, we won’t scream when we come.”
They didn’t, but Kurosaki’s hands tore the hem of Ishida’s kimono and Ishida made a wailing noise inside his throat that sounded like agony.
“You were louder than me,” Kurosaki insisted when they were face to face again.
“But I didn’t open my mouth. At least I followed the gameplan. You opened your mouth.”
“I didn’t make a sound.”
“Yes you did. You sounded a broken car horn.”
Ishida tied the obi of his torn kimono around his waist and lay his head on Kurosaki’s arm. They would always be competitive. That’s one thing that wouldn’t change.
Ishida was almost asleep when there was a knock on the front door.
The boys opened their eyes and looked at one another. Should they answer it?
They didn’t have time to decide before the door was kicked down. Kurosaki leapt to his feet, and Ishida felt for his Quincy bracelet.
It was Kurosaki’s dad.
“It’s been twenty-four-hours Kisuke!” he bellowed. “Is my beloved firstborn still crawling with extraterrestrial germs? Can his father see him now? His father who missed him sooo much?”
Kurosaki almost smiled. He hadn’t tied his obi and his kimono was wide open, exposing all his private parts.
I suppose it doesn’t matter since that’s his dad.
The almost-smile on Kurosaki’s face turned into a full one. His eyes were full of emotion. Ishida couldn’t decide if it was a dumb look or if it made Kurosaki more handsome, but the moment was touching. He was witnessing an actual, normal family reunion.
“You look good,” Kurosaki the Elder said. His eyes were bright with emotion too.
Kurosaki the Elder kicked Kurosaki the Younger in the face and Kurosaki the Younger went sailing to the opposite end of the room.
“What are you doing?” Ishida was incensed. In all his years of living with a cold and demanding father, he had never once been physically abused. He stepped between father and son and summoned his bow.
“Wow,” said Kurosaki the Elder with earnest appreciation. “That’s some weapon you’ve got there, boy. Does your father have one like that too? Is this what all the Quincy are carrying these days?”
Ishida blinked. Kurosaki told me that his father was insane but…
BAM again. Kurosaki the Elder hit the floor, and Kurosaki the Younger was sitting on his back.
“Don’t worry about it, Uryuu. He does this all the time. He’s been training me since before I started karate in primary school.”
“Good, good,” said the Elder. “You caught me off guard.”
Ishida’s bow fizzled away.
Kurosaki the Younger muttered about some things never changing, and Kurosaki the Elder insisted that oh no, his dear old dad might surprise him one day. The two were in their own orbit for a moment, so Ishida looked at the clock. Ryuuken wasn’t here yet. Ryuuken wasn’t coming.
“Uryuu, Uryuu,” Kurosaki the Elder hugged Ishida’s neck. “I spoke with your father this morning. Ice on the wings. He’s stranded at the airport for a while.”
Kurosaki’s dad knew Ryuuken? And he knew Ishida’s first name?
“Oh yes, known him for years,” Kurosaki the Elder said, responding to what Ishida knew was a horror-stricken look over his father having a connection to the Kurosaki family. “We’re both in the same profession, you know. Every now and then a poor clinic physician has to make contact with the powers that be at Karakura Hospital. We share the same objectives, your father and I. We just have different ways of reaching them--ICHIGO! Close your kimono! Your sisters are in the car outside. I outran them is all. Any minute now they--
“Since when have you cared about stuff like that?” Kurosaki was wearing a sour face Ishida hadn’t seen since before Hueco Mundo. Ishida had always assumed it was an expression of aggravation about family obligations, like going home on curfew and wearing good luck charms his father sewed on his shirts. Hadn’t Kurosaki been honestly overjoyed to see his father a few moments ago? Why was he suddenly so bitchy again?
Maybe the Kurosaki family communicated in odd ways.
“Don’t look so miserable, boy!” Kurosaki the Elder hugged Ishida so tight this time that Ishida’s feet left the floor for a moment. He almost fell backwards when the crazy man released him.
“It’s going to be an Ishida waterworks show, I bet, when your dad shows up here. Oh, you should’ve heard him on the phone. Throat so full of tears he could barely talk.”
Ishida froze. “Ryuuken?”
Kurosaki the Elder’s voice dropped a few decibels and his eyebrows wrinkled. He looked in deep thought. “Damnedest thing,” he said. “I didn’t think that Ishidas cried.”
Hours later, while Urahara-san and Yoruichi and his dad sat around the table with sake, Ichigo found Uryuu on the back porch with a box of tiny lollipops. Uryuu looked a little embarrassed to be eating little kid treats and explained that didn’t like hard candies but he was starving and the candies and a cherry coke were the only legal cuisine available to him in the place.
“Look, you’ve already had sex, so it’s no big deal if you have a drink.” Ichigo was standing in the doorway holding a large cup with a paper umbrella in it. “Tessai fixed this for me. It tastes sweet. Try it.”
Uryuu took a sip and made a face. “That’s terrible,” he said.
“You’re right,” said Ichigo and emptied the cup on the ground.
The crickets chirped. The breeze across the grass made a roaring sound. It wasn’t so loud now, especially when compared to the laughter of his insane dad inside the house.
He and Uryuu had missed two winters, and it was spring. Cool for the season or maybe Ichigo had gotten used to the vague humidity of the cave. Earlier, Uryuu had informed Ichigo it was February--how strange to know what month it was, to know what day it was. Ichigo hadn’t really cared about knowing the calendar date, but Ishida was obsessing big-time about time.
He started up again with the obsession on the porch. Valentine’s day had just passed, he told Ichigo. That explained the lack of chocolate in the front shop because all the leftover chocolate must have been put on sale last week.
“You like chocolate?” Ichigo asked. There were some things he hadn’t learned about Uryuu in that hole.
“We’re seventeen now,” Uryuu said.
“I know. If you’d known when our birthdays happened, you would’ve baked cakes, right?”
Uryuu ignored that remark. He looked unusually pensive, even for himself. “Kurosaki, do you feel like you’ve been denied a whole year and gotten emotionally stunted or do you feel like you’ve grown up some?”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to answer,” Kurosaki said. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing and make you cry.”
Uryuu turned to look at him and realized he wasn’t joking.
“All I know is that I learned to love you, Uryuu. That’s growing up, isn’t it?”
“I love you too,” Ishida Uryuu said. The words didn’t sound ridiculous at all.
Ichigo was leaning to kiss him when Yoruichi’s voice startled them. “Young love!” She laughed. “It’s been done. Done to death. Young people think they invented love.”
Ichigo turned around and was relieved to see her wearing clothes.
“Kisuke found some chocolates,” she said. She held out some boxes. It was just chocolate pocky, but the boys accepted them like treasures.
The quiet moments while they ate were pleasant. If Ichigo didn’t know better, he would think that time was slowing down.
“I watched hundreds of sunrises on this very porch with Kisuke,” Yoruichi said.
Ichigo looked up, and sure enough, there was an orange sun on the horizon. He liked the bright blue skies of midday better because flat colors were a relief after the sparkling cave. He had never dwelt much on the famous charm of sunrises before. There had always been the rush to get ready for school, a whole world of little nothings on his mind.
“Ohhhh,” Uryuu said, looking up. “It’s so pretty.”
The boy is such a sap, Ichigo thought, and then he realized that this was this voice he heard in his head when watching Uryuu sleep: pretty, so pretty.
“The sun is the most accurate clock we have,” Uryuu added.
Ichigo looked again. Okay. This sunrise was interesting. A little pale, not many blues and purples. Not as colorful, certainly, as ones he’d seen before but it gave him a feeling the others hadn’t. The yellows and golds melting into one another reminded him of desert sand.
All the different colors of sand that, once upon a time, he hadn’t known existed.