Title: A Modern Myth
Series: The Beautiful Lie
Characters: Hirako Shinji, Kuchiki Byakuya
Warnings: AU, Language, Implied Slash
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.
Summary: Years after the painful end, the echoes of war still prove their influence. Ichigo comes home to find a dead man in his kitchen.
Part of The Beautiful Lie by dracoqueen22.
Sou-chan is curled up on his side when Shinji gets back to their now shared room. His mouth is open a little with his hand tucked under his head like a kid. He looks so fucking innocent like that. Not at all like the man who practically stabbed his comrades in the back and more like the boy Kyouraku Shunsui claimed as a son.
He can almost picture that kid, too. Nose stuck in a book and big, bright eyes hidden behind his glasses. Smile shy and little more than a quirking of lips. Brown hair somehow neat but messy at the same time and forever making him seem like he just woke up in the library after studying late. Strangely looking just like his uncle if Shunsui happened to be the king of the nerds and not a lazy, skirt-chasing drunk.
So cute. So innocent.
But then, Lucifer was supposed to have been an angel. And history is full of seemingly nice people with demons inside. And maybe that describes Aizen Sousuke better than anyone really wants to admit.
Shinji knows the instant he wakes up since it's the exact same second that Shinji steps out of the doorway and into the room proper. Sousuke doesn't open his eyes or even move a muscle, but some of the invisible tension eases when he realizes that it's just Shinji. He lies there for a minute before drifting back off to unconsciousness, and if that isn't a testament to what he thinks about his one-time captain, nothing else is.
And they've truly come far to get here. To get to this place where Aizen Sousuke can sleep and Hirako Shinji hasn't slit his throat already. Aside from Ichigo and Nel, he's probably the only other person that Sousuke trusts not to seriously hurt him. At least among the people currently around. Shinji seriously doubts the lovely and exquisite Retsu would so much as raise her voice to him. Even if she did help Shinji defeat Sousuke in the end.
She was and still is more a mom to Sou-chan than his own ever was. She'll be glad to see him again. She might even cry. And won't that be something to see? Serene Unohana Retsu, who's stood in the face of hardship and heartbreak for two thousand years, acting like the mom she is.
Shinji only hopes that the other one – the first one – is already dead. He's met the woman who supposedly birthed Sousuke just once, and that was more than enough for him to nearly strangle her. Only that'd involve touching her, which is something he won't ever do. She's beautiful. Exceptionally so. With liquid dark eyes, smooth and shiny hair, and a figure that should be illegal for a woman with kids. And if her sister looked anything near to her, Shinji can understand why Shunsui took one glance and was riveted. But there's something about her. Something about her smile that set him on edge in a way not even her son managed. Sousuke might be a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur, but Shinji'd take him in a heartbeat over the woman who spawned him. Shinji has a Hollow, has nearly been consumed by it and a number of external ones, too. But he's never felt as close to having his soul sucked out as when he met Aizen Sakura.
He still recalls their one encounter with shivers and shuddering glances over his shoulder. It was at one of those useless functions the old fart forced him to attend. Something meant to bring understanding and build connections between the Gotei and nobles or some shit like that. Shinji just went because he was ordered. And well, the free booze. She'd come up to him already knowing exactly who he was. All smiles and demure laughter. Her eyes were lovely and a deep brown. But completely dead. Like there was no one inside and had never been. Empty in a way that Hollows had trouble replicating.
It's the first and last time Shinji's ever gone home and immediately taken a bath. Two of them. And he still felt dirty.
He can understand why Sousuke avoided her like the plague. Sure, he's a murdering sociopath, but he has standards for villainy. Ichimaru had his creepy moments, but at least, he had some redeeming qualities. And Tousen wasn't that bad. If Shinji squinted. And sort of moved his head back and forth and tilted it to the side. And then punched him and stomped up and down on his crotch for killing Kensei and Mashiro.
And if there's anything that truly pissed him off about the war, it was that. But he can't blame Sousuke for that one. It was all Tousen, and he's very much dead at the moment thanks to Komamura and that Hisagi guy. The only person Sousuke actually killed was Shunsui – well, aside from Chamber 46, but they don't count, and Shinji would've done them all in himself. Really, Sousuke did the universe a favor with that one. Maybe Shinji should buy him a drink or something in remembrance. Only, Sousuke's never been a fan of booze. No surprise there.
But anyway… Shunsui. Yeah, Sousuke killed him. Shinji was there; he saw it all. And as much as he hates to admit it, he's pretty sure it was accidental. That Sou-chan hadn't meant to do it. To injure Shunsui, yes. To drive him back… that one, too. But to kill him? No. As much as an unmitigated bastard and monster little Sou-chan can be, he'd never have intentionally killed his uncle. His mother? Well, Shinji and probably a couple other people would help him. His dad? Shinji has suspicions about that one.
But not Kyouraku Shunsui.
And the look on Sousuke's face afterwards… Shock. And fear. And even sadness. Guilt. Regret. He hadn't meant to do it. It hadn't been in the plans. He actually felt and still feels bad about it.
And that more than anything is probably why Shinji's finally forgiven him. Not just for the war but for everything. Why after a century of hatred and decades of distrust before that, Shinji can actually be genuinely glad to see him. Maybe to even be around him. Can refrain from killing him on sight. Can ruffle his hair and feel more than vindictive glee. Can even sling a companionable arm around his shoulders and so graciously share his room.
Well, that and the fact that it annoys Sousuke to no end. He's always been about personal space. His own little bubble that separates him from the masses. Personally, Shinji thinks he wasn't hugged enough as a kid. But that's more his shitty parents' fault than anything.
It's not an excuse. It never is. But it does explain some things. Explains a lot.
Like why Ichimaru responded so well to Aizen and followed him around like a faithful puppy when Shinji himself could barely get the time of day. Why the division as a whole responded so well to his lieutenant. Why he was always so understanding and seemingly full of sympathy. Why pretty much everybody and their dog thought the sun shone out his ass and stars sparkled in his eyes.
And he's adult enough – he is… really! – to admit that part of him was a tad jealous. He was the captain. The captain dammit! But his division liked their lieutenant better and always had. The other captains liked him better, too. So did the captain-commander. And the other staff members. The old lady who ran the division kitchen. The guy who cleaned the office at night. All of the women. Not that Sou-chan ever seemed to notice. Probably still wouldn't if a naked and horny woman threw herself at him.
The gods know that Lisa did just about everything up to that point. And really, Shinji has no clue what she ever saw in him. Or what the hell Sousuke ever saw in her for that matter. Yeah, she's easy on the eyes, but she's easy in other ways, too. Ones that make even Shinji blush. And that takes a lot.
But maybe that has more to do with the fact that he knows about her past conquests. He should with how much she's told him and just about all of their group. Shinji only wonders how much Ichigo knows about that. Just how much he realizes went on before he was even a twinkle in Isshin's eye. And Shinji doesn't just mean sex or relationships between all and sundry. About Isshin's family in Soul Society and his past as a captain and then in the zero division.
Ichigo surely has to know at least some of that by now, right? If not from Isshin, then from Shunsui. Or even from Kisuke.
Especially that last one.
They're lovers after all. Shinji's nearly a hundred percent sure of that. Even if he hasn't seen them in flagrante. Ichigo all but confirmed it to him.
Not that it's a huge surprise. Shinji saw this one coming a mile away.
Yeah, he supported Ichigo when he and Ukitake had their… whatever the hell that was. Not really a relationship. Not with the way Ukitake alternated between lovey-dovey and half-panicked that he might steal his boyfriend's precious virtue. He doesn't know how Shunsui put up with it; man must've had the patience of a saint. Especially so not to take drastic measures. Like locking them both in a closet while drugged with aphrodisiacs or tying them together naked. Something. Anything at all to wipe that look of longing from Ukitake's face.
He honestly wonders why Ukitake even let Ichigo go in the first place. Why he ever let him slip away and not cling tighter to him after Shunsui died. Why he didn't so much as stand up for Ichigo when he'd been brought up on those shit charges. And yeah, Shinji'd been surprised to hear that part of the so-called trial. Not where he'd been dragged before Chamber 46 in chains; that one was almost a given. But the fact that not even Ukitake stood up for him.
Ukitake, the guy Ichigo originally wanted his happily ever after with. And if Ichigo'd had his way in the beginning, he'd be shacked up Ukitake in Seireitei at this very moment. Probably married to him. Maybe even a captain by this point. And no doubt well on their way to adopting a million brats from Rukongai and having them run around calling him and Ukitake "daddy." Kisuke would still in his damn shop, pining away after Yoruichi and not even knowing what he'd missed out on. And Sousuke'd be doing whatever he was doing before he barged back into their lives.
Funny how things turn out. Shinji still marvels at it. That they've somehow gotten to this point. Ichigo on the run. Kisuke as his lover. And them – the Vizard – on the cusp of actually joining forces with Aizen Sousuke. It's strange that he now rooms with that same guy who turned him into a monster and that he doesn't worry about being stabbed in the back.
Not anymore. And not from this man.
So fucking ironic. The whole damn thing.
And wherever he is, Kyouraku Shunsui is probably laughing at the lot of them. At Ichigo and Kisuke and even Nanao and Lisa. Maybe even at Sou-chan. Who is sound asleep again and still curled up like a little kid. Not even stirring as Shinji lies down beside him and settles in.
With Shunsui laughing all that much harder as Shinji closes his eyes and drifts off to the sound of Sousuke's breathing.-----
The house is quiet around him. Shadowed and lit only by the moonlight filtering in through the open windows. The hour is late, and he has no doubt that he is the sole one left awake. But he finds that fact comforting more than anything. This part of night is the only real time he has to himself and his thoughts. To ponder and consider without outside influence. To view the situation from every angle and attempt to attain a solution. To realize that an inevitable truth still remains.
Kuchiki Byakuya is at an impasse.
Not a physical one. No, that could be easily overcome. His current problem is far more subtle in nature and all the more dangerous. He knows what he wishes to do. What is right and proper if not truly legal. And he knows the consequences if he is caught. However, he also knows what will happen if he does nothing. If he becomes like Ukitake, content to stick his head in the sand and allow evil to take root. To allow a good and honorable man to be dragged away in chains.
The center of this current conflict. And more to Byakuya that he will likely ever admit.
An ally, yes. Someone others would even term a friend. And he knows what the boy – man, really – calls him behind his back. A term all-encompassing and far too descriptive of their relations. Something that Byakuya would never dare say aloud even though he feels it in the very depths of his soul.
Even if he heard it whispered one terrible day as red hair was soaked through with blood. As the heavens suddenly opened and rain poured down in buckets and Byakuya only stood because of the boy supporting his weight. As Ichigo gripped Byakuya's sleeve so tightly his hand was white and shaking as they both knelt down in the muddy earth. As Byakuya watched the best lieutenant he's ever had breathe out his last and lie still.
He has never seen Rukia cry so hard as she did that day. Not even after Shiba Kaien.
No, that is no longer true. He has seen worse tears than that. Has watched them drip down her face to the floor as she prostrates before him. Has felt his own anger at her unintentional betrayal ebb away with her apparent horror.
Ichigo is more than a mere friend. He is not just a simple comrade. To her. To them both.
He is family.
It was shocking, yes, to learn the truth of this boy he had tried so very hard to kill in the past. Or more specifically his father. To travel to their Karakura residence in search of his sister one panicked and nearly frightful night. Only to see the face of a dead man. Of a several decades lost man who he had once called cousin. Much to his chagrin, true. But cousin nonetheless. An older cousin who Byakuya could still remember from his boyhood. Most of the memories were embarrassing when they were made and even more so now. But some had been pleasant. Almost happy. Training interspersed with laughter and good-natured taunting.
And this man was Ichigo's father. Was and still is called Kurosaki Isshin when he had once been named something else entirely.
Rukia, as far as he can discern, has no inkling of the truth. No idea that the ignorant fool Ichigo's father presents to the world is anything but fact. He suspects that Ichigo labors under much the same misconception, but Byakuya has no doubts that others know. Urahara surely must. Just as he must be involved at least passively in helping Isshin hide. That she-devil Yoruichi must as well. And certainly Tessai-san. As for others in Seireitei, Byakuya is uncertain. In all probability, Hitsugaya is in on the secret since he is courting the older of the two daughters. And it is impossible to determine what goes on in the unexpected steel trap of Zaraki's mind much less fathom what is behind Unohana-taichou's eyes. It is doubtful that Ukitake knows. Much less any of the slew of newcomers, as incompetent as they are.
No, as far as most are concerned, Kurosaki Ichigo is simply an anomaly. A human who inexplicably rose to great power. No true explanation is needed. Or wanted. All they truly want now is his head on a pike. And only that because his escape and continued evasion flies in the face of their pride. If there is anything Byakuya truly understands, it is the lengths men will go for wounded and bleeding pride.
His wanderings bring him to a crossroads in the house. The meeting point between the wing holding his private office and the one occupied by Rukia's bedroom and his own. While it is indeed late, far past midnight, Byakuya is not nearly so tired as to be ready for sleep. He has other tasks to finish first. Nevertheless, he finds his feet stepping that direction of their own accord. A soft and soundless movement on the wooden floorboards. Easing down the hallway and stopping just outside Rukia's door.
After Ichigo and Ukitake ended their… liaison, a part of him had hoped that the younger man would drift to Rukia in her captain's stead. They were already close companions, and Byakuya knows that few would ever treat his sister as well as Kurosaki Ichigo. That she would've been honored and cherished all her days. That she would never want for affection or happiness as so many of the highest nobles do and as Rukia herself did before their fortuitous meeting. It would've been a good match, an excellent one. Ichigo was a war hero and is powerful enough to appease even the most stringent of his clan. And it would've effectively made any children part of his family by blood if not necessarily name.
Regardless, it never happened. And now, it clearly never will. Even if Ichigo's name were to be cleared and he returned to Seireitei. Even if he forgave Rukia and once more offered her friendship. They will never be as close as they were before. And certainly not close enough for a successful marriage. Not to mention that Byakuya has his suspicions about Urahara Kisuke and the nature of that man's relationship with his one-time student.
But that is ultimately Ichigo's decision. And truly none of his business. Especially since he has never acknowledged their tie aloud or to anyone besides himself. Still, Byakuya can't help the faint twinge of worry that creeps down his spine. Perhaps it is simply the older brother in him. Perhaps it is something else. Something more deeply familial. The urge to look after one who has protected Byakuya's own sister from so much.
Rukia is restless in her sleep when he glances inside. Curled up but twitching and kicking out like a nervous rabbit faced with a predator. And Byakuya can't help but move to straighten her covers, which are balled up at by her feet. She is impossibly thin in her enormous futon as he pulls the blankets back up and strokes her sweat-soaked hair from her face. Thinner than she was at the start of the year. Intellectually, he knows it's from the stress of the last two months, but a part of him is still disturbed by this. By the fact that her cheeks are no longer as round and that dark circles highlight her now dulled eyes. Her resemblance to Hisana just before his wife's death is only growing. And perhaps that is what disquiets him the most.
He has already lost his wife. His lieutenant who was also a friend. A now seemingly a comrade who is a cousin. He has no desire to lose his sister as well.
Rukia shifts just as his hand pulls back and lets out a high-pitched sound. But then, she unexpectedly quiets and drifts into a more restful slumber. Byakuya lingers a minute longer to ensure that it isn't a temporary thing and softly withdraws when her breathing deepens. However, that isn't before he casts a quick kidoh, a spell he learned from Unohana-taichou when it became clear Hisana's illness would only worsen. Something to keep him appraised of her condition as long as he remained within range. Now, he uses it for his sister. To stay vigilant in the wake of the nightmares he knows she still often has.
Byakuya shuts the door softly behind him and eases down the corridor the way he came. His steps take him back to the intersection from earlier. Yet, he takes a different path this time. One that heads away from the sleeping quarters and the daytime haunts of his relatives and towards the more unused parts of the mansion. He moves quietly and lightly out of habit more than wariness. He knows that those in power would like nothing more than to spy on him within his own residence, but his retainers and guards are loyal not just to the Kuchiki as a whole but to him as an individual. And none short of Kusajishi Yachiru – lieutenant by profession but ninja by preference – can get in unannounced.
Of course, Byakuya has few worries of her visits anymore. As with many things, he has simply learned to live with it. He's even contemplated giving her a bedroom of her very own. Fitting given the number of times he has found her asleep in various odd locations throughout the mansion. The room next to Rukia's is still unoccupied, and he does not think his mother would begrudge a little girl the use of a space she no longer needs.
Besides, he believes it will almost be worth it to see the expressions of the general populace when they learn. Zaraki will undoubtedly just laugh. That fearsome but full-bodied guffaw he gives so rarely these days. But then, no one in Seireitei laughs much anymore. Not since the war. Though honestly, they didn't much laugh before then either. And always with a nervous glance over the shoulder. A skittish twitch of eyes to the shadows. Wary of what was said and how it might be taken. Who could've overheard.
Byakuya comes to the end of a long corridor and slips down a much shorter and darker hallway that is neatly hidden behind a wall scroll. The way is mostly unlit, and he navigates by memory. He's taken this path often enough in the last few years to know it well. Few others know of it at all. And most of them aren't even residents. Truthfully, it is meant only for the head and his or her most trusted followers, and Byakuya has put that fact to good use.
Allies are always useful. Some more than others. Ise-san's support is forever welcome, but he knows it is difficult thing for her these days. She is watched as closely as Ukitake, her captain, and it is hard for her to slip away. Hard for most captains and lieutenants to even walk down the street without eyes watching.
However, that doesn't not mean others cannot. That they cannot move free of suspicion.
And Byakuya reaches the end of this journey and slides open the side door just in time to see them glide into the ready-made shadows cast by the house itself. He sends an appraising eye over them both and then to the garden beyond. Silently pleased that he doesn't even feel a stray flicker of reiatsu.
"Do come in," Byakuya invites with a gesture.
Ayasegawa simply inclines his head and eases by him. Somehow adding a slight sashay to his step but showing no other outward sign of his one-time flamboyance. Yamada follows him sedately, daring a quick glance and twitch of his lips into an almost smile.
And Byakuya closes the door behind them with a quiet but firm snap.