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the shore at dusk (there you'll find my heart)

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Once upon a time, in land three steps removed from ours and long ago, there was a boy-child with day-lily hair.

He spent half his days in the golden city of Seireitei with his father, and half in the lonely house on the cliffs over the sea with his mother. He loved the seashore and the salt in the air and the white birds wheeling past the clouds, and his mother most of all.

For a long while the boy-child’s life was touched only softly by grief and sorrow.

Then, in his ninth year, his mother grew sick and died. She was in the house on the cliffs when she did, and for a long time the boy-child with day-lily hair could not stand the sight of the sea.

But he grew, as all things grow, and he healed, as most things heal. When he was grown at long last the man with day-lily hair moved into that empty house perched on the cliff, though he did not spend all his life there.

No, the kind, brave boy was now a kind, brave man, and skilled with both sword and magic. He traveled far and wide, setting right wrongs that had long stood.

—-

The skin around Aizen’s eyes pulls tight, but his smile never falters. It’s kinda creepy, honestly, and Ichigo doesn’t sheathe either of Zangetsu’s blades as the Fae Lord steps closer.

“Kurosaki Ichigo. As you have defeated my champion in single combat,” and here his cold eyes glance over the limp pile of the slight, black-haired Unseleigh Knight he had pitted against Ichigo, “you are now entitled to claim a prize from my treasury. Let me escort you.”

He beckons.

Ichigo doesn’t move.

The silence drags on. Ichigo continues to hold Aizen’s gaze, even as the Fae waits expectantly. Tension rises, raises, ratcheting tighter by the second. Around them, Aizen’s honor guard stirs.

Ichigo holds back a grimace. He has to be careful, here, otherwise everything he worked for will be pointless. Also, he really doesn’t want to get stabbed. That would be a pain in the ass, and Yuzu might cry.

“And, as per our agreement, you’ll inform everyone in your desmene that Karakura is off limits. Permanently.”

The Fae Lord’s smile grows fractionally tighter, but at last he nods.

“As I have sworn, so will it be. The town of Karakura will not be troubled by any I hold power over again."

"Now come, and let us fulfill the other term of our bargain.”

Honestly? He doesn’t want anything from Aizen. That part of their agreement was not his idea, and Ichigo knows his lore. Taking things from the Fae never ends well.

But he can’t afford to make more of an enemy of Aizen, and reneging on their deal after Aizen has already sworn would definitely do that. He’ll just have to pick the most harmless thing he can find, and hope it doesn’t come back to bite him.

Reluctantly, Ichigo slides Zangetsu away and inclines his head slightly.

“Lead the way.”

—-

Aizen’s treasury is - ridiculously opulent. It’s clearly just as much there to display his riches as it is to safeguard them.

Purple silks fall in shimmering cascades down the walls, the colors bleeding into red and pink with the stirring of air. Gold coins lie in disorganized heaps and piles, currency from different countries and eras lumped together. The cavernous room is filled with chests and armor, grimoires and furs. The very air crackles with a sense of restrained magic.

It’s a hoard to rival that of a fire drake. If Ichigo had ever doubted the accuracy in the comparisons between Fae Lords and magpies, he certainly wouldn’t now. The jewels alone could feed a small city for a hundred years.

Holy shit.

Aizen’s smile is wider now, smugly satisfied as he takes in the no doubt dumbfounded look on Ichigo’s face.

“Feel free to take your time choosing, Kurosaki-kun.”

Ichigo restrains the urge to blow out his breath in a sigh. Among the disorganized mess, how is he supposed to pick something that won’t have any drawbacks?

Well. He has to start somewhere. Fingers itching for Zangetsu’s hilts, he steps down onto one of the paths that skirts around the treasury.

Aizen follows a half step behind, footfalls an eerily silent counterpart to the tap of Ichigo’s boots on stone. It makes every hair on the back of Ichigo’s neck rise, and he can feel the muscles in his neck and shoulders tensing.

For the first few minutes, he’s too preoccupied with the way every instinct is screaming threat to really look around. But as the Fae Lord keeps doing nothing except follow him (creep), Ichigo starts noticing some of the more unique items in the vault.

A two-handed broadsword with thorn vines wrapped around the blade and hilt. A mirror of black glass that ripples ominously as they approach. Two glittering diamond fish, turning endlessly over a pool of red.

A purple gem on a white pedestal. Huh.

Ichigo doesn’t notice he’s slowed to a stop until Aizen’s voice purrs from just behind his shoulder. Ugh.

“The Hogyoku. It can grant the wielder every hope and desire in their heart. Is this your choice?”

For an instant, the word yes sits on his tongue. The Hogyoku has a draw that’s almost magnetic - his loved ones safe, the strength to meet any challenge, his mother alive again -

No.

Ichigo shakes himself, mentally batting away the gossamer strands of entrapment magic. The dead are dead. Best to leave them.

Besides, it probably drives anyone who uses it crazy or something.

He meets Aizen’s eyes again. There’s something dark and expectant there, something hungry, and Ichigo declines as respectfully as he can. His voice is somehow steady.

They keep walking.

And walking, and walking. It’s a big room, stuffed full of things that feel dangerous or make Zangetsu grumble wordlessly.

He’s about ready to pick one of the thousands of coins as his prize and hope it isn’t cursed when something catches his eye. In a room swimming with rich colors, it’s a muted, softer grey.

In a room designed to showcase wealth, it’s tucked up against the wall, half-shadowed by a marble statue.

Fascinated, Ichigo steps closer.

There’s no sense of warning from Zangetsu as he approaches, and nothing about it makes him nervous either. For all intents and purposes, it‘s just the skin of some long-dead creature. A rather pretty skin; up close, the silver is shot through with glimmering highlights of white and dapples of almost-black. A leopard’s coat with all the gold washed out, but nothing more.

Aizen hums. It makes Ichigo half-turn to meet his eyes, hindbrain prickling age-old instincts in his mind.

The Fae Lord is still smiling.

“A trophy from one of my hunts. The cur who used to wear it will trouble me no longer.”

He can’t feel a thing from it. That’s better than anything else he’s run across so far, and the longer he’s in here the more he wants to leave.

“To the left is-"

Ichigo makes a snap decision.

“I’ll take it.”

Aizen stops smiling. Damn. Ichigo didn’t even know he could do that. He’s not sure he wanted to know, actually. Instead, the Fae Lord measures him with a frozen gaze, eyes narrowed to half-slits.

“Are you sure, Kurosaki-kun?"

Ichigo nods once.

Aizen keeps pressing, though.

“There are many things more valuable in my vaults, and much that is far more suited to your... occupation.”

If he’s pushing the issue towards the requisite three answers traditional in old, old magic, the Fae definitely doesn’t want to give it up. That’s good enough for Ichigo.

“I’ll take that pelt and your vow to fulfill our bargain, Lord Aizen, and nothing else.”

Aizen’s lips twist in a definite snarl. His teeth sharpen into points that catch the light, into something old and animal. Something thwarted.

Ichigo takes a half-step back.

“Very well then. It is yours. Now, begone from my lands!”

The world around Ichigo shudders like a bucking horse and pulls at his gut with a sickening lurch. He squeezes his eyes shut against the blur of colors across his vision.

When everything stops moving, there’s heat at his back and a warm breeze ruffling his hair.

He opens his eyes.

The desert sun turns the two marble pillars before him a blinding, burning white.

Ichigo closes his eyes again.

When the afterimage fades, he tries again, and thankfully recognizes where he is. The pillars are one of the mortal gateways into Aizen’s desmene, Las Noches. Even better, it’s the one he came through.

Having met Aizen, he’d bet that it wasn’t because the Fae had a sense of courtesy.

Time to go find Chad.

He turns towards the path away -

And almost eats dirt as his foot catches on something beside him.

Right. His “gift”.

For a half-second Ichigo is tempted to leave it there. But that would be basically giving it back to Aizen, and the Fae has thoroughly proven he’s a dick.

Ichigo bends down to scoop it up, and -

The world dissolves for one instant into a blaze of magic as a knot of raw power arcs from the skin to him, slamming him into the ground several feet away.

His ears are ringing.

He sits up slowly, spitting to the side and wincing at the gritty scrape of sand in his mouth. The skin is sitting in an innocent puddle, completely unchanged.

Ichigo stares at it for a long minute.

Nothing happens.

He heaves himself off the ground, hissing slightly as one of the slashes left on his shoulder reopens. Zangetsu’s healing is amazing, and has saved his ass countless times, but even it can’t fix everything Ulquiorra put him through instantly.

Ichigo prods at the skin cautiously with one foot. Zangetsu remains quiet. There’s no sound except that of his breathing and the wind over the sand.

Well, it doesn’t seem reactive anymore...

Ichigo shrugs, flexes the tingles out of his hand, and touches it again.

The fur is surprisingly soft, dense and silk-slick. It’s heavy, too, much heavier than he was expecting, and as Ichigo shakes the pelt out he finds that the folds hid quite a bit of area.

It’s long, longer than he is tall, and even the full spread of his arms can’t match the width.

Whatever - or whoever - wore this skin before Aizen killed them was massive.

The sunlight touches the guard hairs with soft silver-gold. They shiver and dance in the breeze, rippling like water, like something living.

It’s not, though.

He shakes out as much sand as he can before refolding it carefully and setting off down the path, towards Chad and their horses. Towards home.

Despite his success, Ichigo’s unable to shake a low, quiet sorrow at the weight of the pelt on his arm.

—-

A knock pulls Ichigo out of his newest book. He marks his place and sets down The Complete Plays of Skiryashi the Dragon-Poet. (It’s supposedly one of the better written versions, but so far the translator’s inclusion of the rumbling sub-vocals so important to draconic speech has been a bit lacking.)

Who ever it is got by the wards without them so much as twitching, so they’re either harmless or very skilled. Probably harmless; none of the people he can think of who’d be both willing and able to bypass the very thorough protections would bother knocking.

He still grabs Zangetsu on his way up.

The person knocks again.

“Coming!” Ichigo calls brusquely.

He slides the door open.

—-

“Good morning, Kurosaki-san! I was beginning to wonder if you were home.”

Ichigo eyes the man on his front porch warily.

“Right. And who‘re you, again?”

“Ah, my apologies.” A white fan slides out of his sleeve and snaps open, fluttering gently. “My name is Urahara Kisuke, humble shopkeeper, and I’m here to inquire about purchasing something you recently acquired.”

There’s a lingering, halting pause.

“...Sure,” Ichigo says eventually. “Why don’t we talk about this over tea?”

Ichigo’ll listen to the man’s pitch. And maybe he‘ll find out where this Urahara has been getting his information.

The fan disappears.

“A most excellent idea, Kurosaki-san.” Urahara’s voice is light and careless. He crosses the threshold without trouble, but his steps are quiet in a way that makes Ichigo internally scoff at the “shopkeeper” line.

He waves Urahara towards one of the rooms they pass.

“Go on in and grab a seat, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Good thing he already has a pot brewed.

Ichigo returns to find that Urahara has settled in with his back to the wall, facing the door. He slides in across from him and sets down the tea.

Steam rises up from the cups.

Urahara takes one and sips slowly instead of talking. Ichigo sits and tries not to fidget for a good minute before he loses his patience.

“Right. So, what were you interested in?”

Urahara blinks slowly at him. He’s taken his hat off, and his hair is a scruffy mess underneath it.

“One of the individuals I work with informed me that you received a particular object from a Fae by the name of Aizen.”

“Oh, yeah. I did.”

Urahara smiles again, bright and energetic. He snaps the fan open too.

“Now, depending on what you’re interested in, there are a variety of potential trades I have to choose from-"

“Wait. Who said I was selling?”

The fan stops.

“Well, naturally, I assume that some of the rare and valuable things I posses could perhaps tempt you into parting with it. If I was wrong, I can take my leave...”

“I might sell it, but I’d need to know why you want it.” The corners of his mouth pull down. He’s not about to give it back to one of Aizen’s lackeys.

“I know some individuals with what might be deemed a... mild sentimental attachment to it, Kurosaki-san.”

That doesn’t tell him anything. Ichigo scowls. Urahara seems determined to give him the run-around, and it’s making Ichigo want to deal with him less and less.

“Just answer the damn question already. Why do you want it?”

The smile drops, something that looks a lot like panic replacing it. The words tumble out of Urahara’s mouth like he can’t stop them.

“Because I am a selkie, and that is my pelt.”

Oh shit.

No wonder he hadn’t wanted to share his reason.

The person who holds a selkie’s skin holds their absolute obedience in all matters. All they have to do is order.

And here Ichigo is, compelling his secrets out of him.

Fuck.

Across the table, Urahara puts down his tea. Ichigo feels like it should shake and rattle against the table, but the selkie’s hand is unnervingly steady.

His voice is quiet.

“Kurosaki-san, if there is anything I can offer you, anything at all, consider the offer made. I have access to quite a lot of money, and even more enchanted items -“

Ichigo reels back from the table, appalled all over again.

“Fuck, no - I don’t want anything from you -“

His thoughts dissolve into mental curses as he realizes that his shock made his tone much harsher than he meant it to be.

Urahara is standing now, and when did he get so close?

“Nothing at all, Kurosaki-san?”

His eyes are steel-silver, the same color as the pelt - no, as his pelt. They dart down towards Ichigo’s lips then back up again.

Urahara slides forward again, looking determined, and Ichigo is still hesitating, still silent, still caught in the sharp shock of revelation -

Then lips are on his and Urahara is pressing forwards, into the kiss, with a sort of urgency that makes cold start to creep up Ichigo’s spine.

He grips the other man’s shoulders and pushes him back, gently.

“No, listen, you can just have it. I don’t want anything for it. It’s yours.”

Urahara’s fan slides out of his sleeve and hits the floor. He doesn’t pay it any attention. He’s too busy watching Ichigo with the barest flicker of something terrified and hopeful on his face.

“You mean that.”

“Yeah.”

Urahara holds his gaze for a heartbeat, then another, a steady, solemn measurement. Ichigo doesn’t drop his eyes or waver.

At last he breathes out in a long, steady exhale.

“You are a singularly unique person, Kurosaki-san.”

Ichigo ducks his head slightly. He can feel a flush rising to his cheeks. “You can call me Ichigo, you know. Feels kinda awkward to have you not, after, uh-“ He gestures at the space between them “-that.”

Urahara is still close, enough that Ichigo thinks he can feel the warmth of his body (and he curses that traitorous blush as it worsens). It’s definitely close enough to see the start of a sly smile.

“Very well, Ichigo-san. But I insist you call me Kisuke.”

“Alright, Kisuke-san, I can do that.”

—-

Uraha - Kisuke, he said to use Kisuke - keeps pace with Ichigo all the way to the library and through the winding shelves. His measured stalk towards his pelt never falters, not even when Ichigo slows and stops.

He catches it up off the table in a sudden, blindingly fast motion, and a glow spills from the pelt. Crimson magic sinks into his hands, traces his veins in blood-red, and hums, wildly, fiercely free.

The look on his face is so nakedly, warmly joyous that Ichigo has to turn away for a moment, unable to shake the feeling he’s intruding on something intensely private.

He scratches the back of his head, and only looks back when he can feel Kisuke looking at him again.

“Uh, I can show you the path down the cliff, if you’d like. It can be a little tricky to find, at first, especially ‘cause the sun’s going down.”

Kisuke nods, wrapping himself possessively around the bundle in his arms.

“That would be lovely.”

They make their way down the winding path carved into the rock face, white stone painted gold by the sunset. Ichigo has to restrain himself from catching Kisuke’s arm a couple times when it seems he’ll slip, unable to grab at handholds because of what he’s carrying. The selkie’s sleek grace never fails him, though, and both of them make it down to bottom in one piece.

The path open up onto a cove with a sloping sand beach. His mother had called it a smuggler’s perfect nest, pointing to how the jagged rocks at the entrance overlapped, hiding the way out to the open sea. The wide, shallow pier, made of solid stone anchored to the bedrock, was added much later, when the house was built up on the cliffs.

Ichigo gestures towards it.

“There are stairs over on the dock, if you don’t feel like using the beach.”

Ichigo watches as Kisuke makes his silent way down towards where the waves hiss quietly against the rock. His footsteps leave little smears of seawater behind.

He looks out at the ocean and is still and silent for a long, long moment. At last he turns around and bows low, one hand pressed to his heart.

“Thank you, Ichigo.”

Then Kisuke is sliding beneath the waves, sealskin pooling around him, until he ducks his head beneath the surface and the world shifts, blurring half a step to the left. A grey shape cuts through the water, away from the stone dock.

Ichigo is left looking out over the water, feeling - a little lonely, honestly. But glad. Kisuke has the ocean again; he’s not trapped on land and yearning for what can’t be. It’s a good finish.

He pulls his cloak tighter around him, against the chill. It‘s the fog, no doubt, leeching the heat of home away from his bones. (He ignores how the day had been dry and warm, and dusk was looking no different.)

That was where it should have ended.

—-

That’s not where it ends, though.

Three weeks later Ichigo finds a basket of fresh fish on his doorstep. The heads are all neatly bitten off, by something with a mouth the size of a melon and lots of very sharp teeth. Huh.

They’re delicious.

It doesn’t stop with fish.

Crabs start showing up too, and squid. Once there’s a pufferfish, but fugu has never been Ichigo’s preferred method of risk-taking, so he throws it back into the water.

Apparently the hint gets taken, because his “mysterious” gift-giver doesn’t leave it again.

After another month, Ichigo begins to catch flashes of silver and a dark, sleek head out among the waves.

He started leaving his own things for Kisuke a while ago; fresh bread, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, eggs and the occasional cut of red meat. They’re always gone from the dock when he checks in the morning, and he just hopes some enterprising seagull isn’t making off with the lot.

Ichigo wouldn’t put it past one, but at this rate the bird would be too round to fly.

—-

It’s not as surprising as it should be when he arrives down in the cove one morning, fishing rod in hand, and finds his favorite spot already occupied.

There’s a massive lump of silver fur dozing in the sunlight. As Ichigo approaches, the seal raises his head, blinks dark eyes at him, and then apparently goes back to sleep.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

The seal doesn’t give any sign he heard.

Ichigo shrugs and sets down a little distance away from Kisuke.

“Just let me know if you want me to move.”

Ichigo baits his hook, casts, and waits.

—-

“You know, I really hope you’re Kisuke-san, otherwise I’m gonna feel pretty stupid for talking to you.”

The seal makes a growling-bark sound, fur rippling, and Ichigo realizes he’s laughing.

“Hey!”

—-

Time wears on. The season turn, summer to winter to spring.

Ichigo rides out.

He settles a dispute between a werewolf clan of the north and kitsune they share their forest with. He and Chad team up against a feral unicorn, settle a displaced dragon with a town that has a need for a supernatural protector.

He rides home.

Kisuke is often there to greet him, sometimes in the cove, sometimes curled up in the library.

—-

Ichigo twists, blocks the incoming punch and slides out of the way of the kick that follows. He catches the next punch solidly in the ribs, because Kisuke is fast. His blood is singing in his veins as they fight up and down the beach, trading blow for blow until they’re both panting and sweat-soaked. Kisuke ends the match with a foot that hooks around Ichigo’s ankles, sending him sprawling, and then a pin that sets him up to break a neck or an arm.

“Yield,” Ichigo wheezes, and Kisuke backs off to let him sit up.

There’s a bruise blossoming on the blond’s cheekbone, purple-blue, but the tension sitting in his back has eased.

“Feeling better?”

Kisuke rolls his shoulders, like he’s checking, and smiles slightly.

“Yes. Thank you, Ichigo.”

He shrugs, and doesn’t ask what had put Kisuke’s hackles up. He’ll share if he wants to, or if Ichigo can help.

“Anytime. Now, d’you wanna head up to dinner? I think I have the ingredients for udon.”

—-

Ichigo feels the slight tug on the line and twitches it to set it, then starts pulling. There’s no resistance, though, and he already knows the bait is gone when the empty hook appears.

Rather than rebaiting, he sets the fishing pole aside, closes his eyes, and turns his face towards the sun. His thoughts drift in the summer heat.

It’s a long time before he speaks.

“I’m in love with you. Just figured you should know.”

The seal at his back jolts, like someone slapped him, and then reality warps. Ichigo almost gets dumped onto the rock underneath them.

Kisuke sits up in human form, eyes wide, and croaks “You what?”

His voice wavers like it wants to crack. Ichigo shrugs.

“I’m in love with you. I mean, at this point I kinda thought it was obvious, but I figured we should talk about it anyway.”

Kisuke gapes at him, just a bit.

He starts to flush.

“I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, okay? Just cause you don’t feel the same way -“ He’s going to continue with doesn’t mean we can’t keep being friends, but Kisuke is watching him with that “you’re missing something” look on his face. Ichigo snaps his mouth shut.

“Where on earth did you get the idea I don’t feel the same way?”

But- wait, that means-

Ichigo blinks, and tries not to look like someone just whacked him on the head with a club. Based on Kisuke’s amused huff, he doesn’t really manage it.

“Oh.”

Neither of them speak for a long moment.

At last, Ichigo says, “We still don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want.”

Kisuke gives him an unreadable look.

“And if I did want to do something?”

Ichigo swallows, hard.

“Then, if you wanted to, you could kiss me.”

Kisuke is close enough that he doesn’t have to move much, just lean in, and he does, Ichigo’s heart feels like it’s going to jackrabbit out of his chest-

And then they’re kissing. It starts chaste and then slides into something slow and slick, something that starts a fire burning in the pit of his stomach. He doesn’t want to stop, ever, but eventually he has to breathe.

Kisuke watches him pant and then asks, “How was it?”

He sounds smug, like his own pupils aren’t completely blown and he wouldn’t be gasping for air if he didn’t have the advantage of being able to hold his breath for a good thirty minutes even in human shape.

Ichigo considers. “Less fishy than I was expecting.”

Kisuke’s startled bark of laughter sends him snickering too.

“But no, seriously, it was good. We should keep doing that, definitely.”

Kisuke moves back in, brushing his fingers along Ichigo’s jaw before kissing him again. Ichigo closes his eyes and loses himself in the sensation.

At one point, Kisuke pulls back just enough to smile slyly at him and suggest he could stop, if his breath really was that bad.

Ichigo rolls his eyes and tugs him back in.

—-

The black-covered wagon that rolls up to his gate one day isn’t really a surprise. Ichigo has know Shiba Isshin was dead for weeks, since the messenger bird from his clan showed up carrying condolences from Kaien.

He even attended the funeral, although that was more for his sisters’ sakes than anything else. After the fight when Ichigo was seventeen about him moving out to his mother’s house, Isshin hadn’t been even remotely parental. Truthfully, he hadn’t acted as a father well before that. Ichigo made his peace with it years ago.

These must be the possessions Kaien had mentioned; the stuff they hadn’t finished sorting through by the time of the ash scattering.

Ichigo exchanges pleasantries with the driver, collects his packages, and brings them inside.

The first has a scroll case tied to the outside. He opens it and starts scanning the contents.

Dear Ichigo,

These books were left by Isshin-san to the Shiba library, but they were annotated by your mother. We believe she would have been far happier to see them in your hands, well read and well loved, than gathering dust on the shelves.

Best wishes, Miyako and Kaien

P.S. - don’t forget to write us or to drop by when you’re visiting your sisters, little cousin!

Everything except the postscript is in Miyako’s thin and spiky hand; the end is thicker and a little messy, clearly the work of her husband.

Ichigo snorts. Next time he’s up in the capital he’s definitely kicking Kaien’s ass for this - they’re practically the same height. The letter gets carefully rerolled and slid it back into the case.

He cracks the lid of the first box, and is greeted by the sight of The Hero of the Setting Sun. He struggles against the surge of nostalgia.

It was his mother’s favorite. She would read it to him in the evenings until her voice grew hoarse and he was struggling against sleep for every word, then scoop him up and carry him off to bed.

Maybe he won’t beat his cousin into the dirt after all.

Boxes two through six are also books.

The last one is different. It’s older, made of worn and weathered planks. There’s dust embedded in the cracks that splinter across its surface, and a piece of paper affixed to it. The paper, despite its yellow tint, looks decades younger than the surrounding wood.

He unpins the note, unfolds it, and starts reading. It’s short, written by his father’s rough and scratchy hand.

Ichigo

This was your mother’s. She would have wanted you to have it.

Isshin

Ichigo sets the paper aside. He slides open the lid, reaches in, and pulls out a sealskin.

—-

Kisuke finds him that night on the dock, Masaki’s pelt pooled around him.

Ichigo feels like there’s a storm building beneath his skin, old grief made newly raw and fresh-born wrath howling. He wants to kill something, kill his father, but the man is already dead. It’s infuriating.

Kisuke slides up out of the water and just - stops. Watches. Ichigo can feel his eyes on him, feel the twist of magic as Kisuke dons two legs, smell the salt as he walks closer -

Ichigo almost flinches at the warm weight of Kisuke’s pelt when it’s draped over his back. He has to swallow down tears when Kisuke settles down behind him and pulls him in for a hug.

He clears his throat twice before he can speak.

“It belonged to my mom, Masaki.”

Kisuke settles in a little closer.

“Tell me about her.”

He does. At first it’s stumbling and halting, hesitant. He grasps at the words to describe his mother, her grace, her smile, her kindness, the occasional spark of temper, fumbles and drops them. The more he speaks the more fluidly they come, pouring out. He talks for hours, until his throat starts scraping dry, until the moon turns the waves to cold white fire. He talks until he falls silent, and Kisuke holds him the entire time.

Kisuke presses his chin into Ichigo’s hair and offers, quietly, “Later, if you wish, I can teach you how to truly wear it, and how to swim as a seal.”

Ichigo smiles slightly, and if he hadn't cried himself dry, he'd be blinking away more tears.

“Yeah. I think Mom would have loved that.”

His voice is hoarse and scratchy. Kisuke doesn’t respond, just hums lowly and tugs Ichigo more firmly against him, wrapping his arms around his waist.

Together they watch the sun rise.

—-

There are many other accounts about the life and love of Kurosaki Ichigo and Urahara Kisuke.

One is the epic legend of the Fae Lord Aizen’s eventual descent into madness, of how he broke his thricesworn word and set out to enslave the lands of the Living, the Faerie, and the Dead. It is a story of might and strength and courage in the darkest places, of a band of friends against all the odds to save their worlds. It is a story of love and sacrifice and cunning, of a desperate plot that should not have worked but did.

It is a story about the final battle between Kurosaki Ichigo and Aizen Sousuke, of how one battled the other until they were both torn and bleeding, until Kurosaki pushed the Fae Lord to the edge of a cliff -

And Urahara Kisuke lunged up out of the water and dragged the Fae down, down, down into the drowning deep.

But, of course, that’s a tale for another day.