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When Life is a Game (Don't Lose)

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[Earth]

Kisuke peers into the cardboard box. Hmm. There should still be enough room for the dictionaries. He looks at the bookshelf again. They’re going to need at least another two boxes for the rest of these books though.

He begins stashing the dictionaries away. The bed’s already been stripped, the sheets washed and packed and tucked away somewhere in the van out front. Ichigo didn’t want a big fuss so he only told his sisters a few days ago that he would be moving out, and with the two of them away for a soccer game and a cooking competition respectively, the process is going a lot more smoothly than it probably would otherwise.

Then again, maybe that’s just because Isshin is out of the house too. He’s been hassling Ichigo recently about getting married and repopulating the Shiba Clan, talking loudly about Inoue or - even better - Rukia, and generally being obnoxious enough to annoy even Yuzu.

Even just the thought of it makes something in Kisuke’s gut burn, makes him want to unseal Benihime every time he lays eyes on the man these days, makes even Yoruichi bare her teeth in a fanged grin just a bit too sharp to pass for amusement when Isshin invites himself over to the Shouten and complains about how bad his son is with the women in his life and how he’ll never get around to giving him grandchildren if he doesn’t quit being such a prude.

It’s at least half the reason Ichigo is moving out, and Kisuke only needed a kick and a pointed look from Yoruichi to get his own ass in gear and offer Ichigo room and board at the Shouten.

He’s still surprised Ichigo agreed. Yoruichi just looked smug, like she knew something the rest of them didn’t. She usually does.

But here they are now, helping Ichigo pack. He can hear Yoruichi and Ichigo coming back in through the front door after taking out another armful of boxes.

“-nything in the kitchen?” Yoruichi is asking, voice muffled by the distance.

“Uhh, I have a few mugs I want to take.” Ichigo replies. “Where’s the bubble wrap?”

“Here, I have it.”

Kisuke tunes them out, more interested in the back panel of the shelf he’s just cleared. He sets the last dictionary - in German, go figure - aside before rapping his knuckles lightly against the panel.

It rings hollow. And the shelf doesn’t go quite as deep as it should anyway.

How curious.

He thinks about calling Ichigo up to ask first - in general, he’s a little better about privacy these days - but then he hears… drums? So quiet he almost thinks he’s imagining them, except-

He reaches out and hooks a finger in the rough indent at the upper right corner and slowly pulls down the panel to peer into the hidden compartment behind it.

Porn, he guesses with some amusement, although that’s not like Ichigo at all, but then all teenage boys have their secrets. He’s definitely prepared to take some incriminating pictures to tease Ichigo with later.

Except. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, as he pulls down the panel, out falls-

-a wooden box?

Is the porn inside the box? That seems a little extreme.

Kisuke runs a hand over the smooth wood. He can still hear the drums but there aren’t any battery slots that he can see.

He flips the box over and frowns.

JUMANJI stares back at him, bisected by a long spear, superimposed over a jungle backdrop with a lake and a volcano beyond that. The carving looks like it was done by a skilled hand, and the box in general seems old but well-maintained.

He opens it, blinking in surprise when he sees the board inside, decorated with squared pathways that snake the length and width of the board, all of them intersecting in the center where a dark orb sits. There are words on either side, with smaller boxes at the top left and bottom right.

The first sentence on the left draws his eye: “‘A game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind’,” Kisuke murmurs.

Is this… a board game? Why would Ichigo feel the need to hide this?

...Ah. Perhaps it belonged to Masaki once? Well, now Kisuke just feels like an ass.

He grimaces and begins to close the game back up. Hopefully, Ichigo won’t be too upset.

He startles when a flash of green in the orb at the center catches his attention, and a moment later, the entire box literally jerks itself out of his hands and clatters to the floor. The smaller boxes’ contents spill out, and two dice and what looks like a player token roll out across the board.

Kisuke takes a wary step back, and then he stiffens even further when he realizes the drums - how did he forget about the drums? - are back and louder than ever, beating in a way that reminds Kisuke of some kind of rapid war march.

He goes still when he sees the token - a monkey - move, on its own, from the corner of the board where it first fell to a square seven steps ahead.

Seven.

He looks at the dice. A three and a four stare back up at him. And then the green orb glows even brighter, and words appear, one by one in rapid succession.

How-?

The drums thunder in his ears, and they don’t sound like they’re coming from the box itself anymore.

And then the bedroom door slams open.

Kisuke!

 


 

[Earth]

Yoruichi smirks as she takes down one of the mugs Ichigo pointed out for her. It’s bright red and in the shape of a strawberry.

Ichigo rolls his eyes at her. “Yuzu bought it for me for my twelfth birthday, with her own pocket money and everything too. And a cup’s a cup.”

Yoruichi’s smirk softens. That’s one of the things she’s always liked about him. Even as a teenager, he was never particularly bothered by things that other people might mock him for, never ashamed of what he looked like or who his friends were or what he liked and didn’t like. And now, after a couple wars and several more coups and invasions under his belt, he gives even less fucks about what other people might think of him. He’s comfortable in his own skin in a way not many people ever manage, especially at such a young age, and Yoruichi admires that about him.

“Hey, I think it’s cute,” She assures, turning to grab some bubble wrap. “And don’t you worry, it’ll have a place of pride in our cupboards once we get home.”

Of course, that of all things makes him blush. Which is excellent. Her diabolical plan is working. At glacial speeds, but she supposes that’s what she gets when two-thirds of the equation are so completely clueless.

Still, Yoruichi can be patient when she wants to be. And this is something she very much wants so she’ll do it right no matter how long it takes.

“I thought,” Ichigo says abruptly, and Yoruichi arches an inquisitive eyebrow even as she hops up to perch on the counter, dragging the cardboard box over to stash away the strawberry mug.

“I thought you guys would want to go back to Soul Society,” Ichigo continues in one breath.

Yoruichi studies him thoughtfully. “Why would we? We didn’t after Aizen, when all of us got our pardons.”

She has to suppress a moue of disdain. Pardon sounds a bit too much like they were all in the wrong, to her. Like their government was being generous by forgiving them. But the Visored accepted it, and Kisuke and Tessai too, so she let it go as well. Mostly.

Ichigo waves a dismissive hand. “Yeah, but things weren’t done, right? Kisuke was already planning for the whole Soul King replacement problem even back then. But now that Yhwach and all his Quincy have been taken care of, and the universe isn’t about to collapse, and even Seireitei is rebuilt, you guys can go home, if you want.”

Yoruichi considers him for a moment longer. Ichigo is forgiving by nature. But even she marvels at how much leeway he’s always given Kisuke - for Rukia, for Aizen, and then even for the Seat of the King. It was only ever a lucky coincidence that Yhwach came along at just the right time, and his corpse ended up a suitable replacement to maintain the balance of the universe in Ichigo’s stead.

Then again, Yoruichi knows Kisuke scrapped his plans for placing Ichigo on the throne a good while ago, possibly as far back as before Aizen was even defeated. But Ichigo doesn’t know that because the depths of Kisuke’s guilt complex can rival the ocean some days. Yet still, Ichigo’s forgiven him as easily as breathing, and one of these days, Yoruichi really wants to ask how he does it.

“If we want,” Yoruichi repeats out loud with a shrug. “But we don’t want. We can come and go from Soul Society now, but I’ve gotten used to living here, and so has Kisuke. We’re not so good at taking orders anymore. You’re starting college in the fall too, and commute is less complicated if we’re at the Shouten instead of Seireitei, right?”

She grins as Ichigo’s ears flush red again.

“I can find an apartment, you know,” He mutters, picking up another mug to keep his hands busy.

“But we want you to live with us,” Yoruichi counters easily, and this time, Ichigo still looks embarrassed but he also meets her eyes, and something unnamed hums warm between them.

It’s times like this that she wonders if maybe only Kisuke is truly oblivious, while Ichigo is simply being… cautious. For once.

There’s an idea. Maybe she can step up the plan a bit then-

She blinks and cocks her head as a rhythmic thump suddenly swells and fills the kitchen, interrupting her thoughts. Are those… drums? What-

Crash!

Yoruichi’s immediately on her feet again, looking from the shattered porcelain of the mug Ichigo was holding to the way all colour drains from his face.

She’s never seen him that pale, not even when he was facing off against gods and monsters. “Ichigo? What’s going on?”

Ichigo doesn’t even seem to hear her. He’s staring frozenly into some middle distance even as he whispers, “That can’t be. I hid-”

His head snaps up to the ceiling. “Kisuke.”

And then he’s gone. Yoruichi doesn’t hesitate. She’s half a step behind him as they bolt up the stairs in a rush of Shunpo. Ichigo barrels into his bedroom, shouting Kisuke’s name, and Yoruichi almost crashes into him as she storms in after him, ready to rip the heads off of whoever is threatening Kisuke and can make Ichigo react like this.

Except-

There’s no one in the bedroom, except Kisuke, who’s standing a foot away from- from some kind of wooden board. There’s dice, and it looks vaguely like an outdated version of the Game of Life set that’s still laid out in the Shouten’s living area where they were playing last night.

A board game? What in the world…?

Kisuke looks up, expression contrite, although a frown lingers on his brow, and he glances back down at the game with a mix of wariness and bewilderment.

“I apologize, Ichigo,” He says. “I found the hidden compartment-”

“That doesn’t matter!” Ichigo barks, and when Yoruichi glances over, there’s something like fear in his face, shut down an instant later to be replaced by that steely determination he’s always had when shit hits the fan. “Actually it does matter, fuck!

He races over to the bookshelf, seizes his entire collection of Shakespeare texts, and throws them to the ground like they mean nothing to him, when just yesterday, he made them promise to leave his collection of plays and poetry for last so he could personally carry them over to the shop and make sure nothing damages them.

“Listen to me!” Ichigo continues almost frantically as he rips out the back of the shelf to reveal two plain-looking daggers in dark-coloured sheaths. “Listen, are you listening? Jumanji is a game, but it’s alive!”

He whirls around and tosses both weapons to Kisuke, who catches them neatly without looking away from Ichigo. His gaze is acutely focused now, no laidback nonchalance anywhere in sight as if he’s grasped exactly how dangerous the situation has become even though he doesn’t know what the problem is. He’s taken another few steps away from the board, but - to Yoruichi’s abrupt horror - that doesn’t seem to matter, because his clothes, his geta and haori, his body, are all slowly crumbling into- into something, sucked towards the orb on the gameboard like sand streaming through an hourglass.

“Kisuke!” Yoruichi lunges forward, making a grab for him, but her hand passes right through even the still solid parts of him.

“That won’t work,” Ichigo interjects, features tense, expression urgent. “He’s already started the game. He can’t stop until he finishes now.” He takes a step forward. “Listen to me, you have to remember a few things. First, what was your riddle? What did the crystal ball say when you rolled the dice?”

Yoruichi has no idea what that means, but Kisuke’s eyes flicker briefly to the glowing green orb that he’s literally being absorbed into, before looking at Ichigo again.

“‘In the jungle, prepare to run,’” Kisuke hurries out, clearly reciting. “‘When night becomes day, there can only be one.’”

“...Fuck, I don’t know what most of that means.” Ichigo mutters and then gives himself a shake. “Never mind, just remember it and try to figure out what it’s talking about. It’s a clue, you’ll be up against something, and you have to overcome it by solving the riddle. That’s the point of the game.”

“Ichigo,” Yoruichi warns, hands clenching with the desire to do something, anything. Over half of Kisuke’s body is gone now.

“Second, this game hates cheaters!” Ichigo rushes on, words practically tripping over each other now. “Don’t use Kidou or Shunpo or anything like that.” They all glance over at where Benihime is leaning against the desk, but Kisuke doesn’t even have hands now, and Ichigo is already shaking his head. “It wouldn’t let you use your Zanpakutou anyway. It considers any form of reiatsu cheating, and it punishes cheaters. So don’t cheat!”

Most of the upper half of Kisuke’s body is gone now, and his face begins to blur even as he nods curtly, all confusion shoved aside, focused entirely on anything that might help him instead. “Anything else?”

Stay alive. ” Ichigo practically commands, eyes as fierce as they are wild. “You stay alive, you hear me? I’m coming in after you, I’ll roll next, but I probably won’t land exactly where you do. It’ll take some time to find you. So stay alive. I swear I won’t leave you in there!”

And then Kisuke is gone, the last wisps of his blond hair disappearing into the orb, which glows for another second and then goes dark, and all at once, the drums fall silent.

The sudden hush is reminiscent of a graveyard. That doesn’t stop Yoruichi from rounding on Ichigo and demanding, “What happened? What is going on?

Ichigo shuts his eyes for a split second. Then he opens them, and he’s already moving, scooping up the board and shoving the dice in the pocket of his jeans before closing up the game into its box form.

“I’ll explain on our way over to the Shouten,” Ichigo says grimly. “But I want somewhere less open to do this. It would be just my fucking luck if someone else stumbles over this damn game again.”

He heads for his window. Yoruichi glances at the Shakespeare texts scattered on the floor, and then she swears under her breath, grabs Benihime, and darts out after Ichigo.

 


 

[Jumanji]

Kisuke lands in a jungle.

Of course he does.

The sun is setting so it isn’t completely dark yet, but Kisuke figures he only has an hour tops before it turns pitch black. If time works the same in here as out there.

First things first - take stock of what he has, what he knows, and what can help him in wherever he’s been transported to.

He checks the daggers Ichigo gave him. At least he’s armed, even if he isn’t allowed to use reiatsu. They gleam a metallic silver when he pulls the blades out of their sheaths. Nothing particularly fancy, but their edges are sharp, and he likes the weight of them in his hands. They’ll do.

He slips them away, absently palming the other two knives he always carries on his person. Normal weaponry is allowed then. Good to know.

He reaches - briefly - for his connection with Benihime, and it’s as jarring as it is concerning that he can’t feel her anymore. He’s pretty sure she’s still there, if only because he doesn’t feel like he’s missing part of his soul, but he can’t even hear her anymore.

He takes a deep breath and pushes that issue aside for now. The florae rustle around him, and Kisuke casts an uneasy eye at his surroundings before shifting his weight to Shunpo to the top branches of a nearby tree.

Only to pause when he remembers again - Ichigo said not to, that this game punishes cheaters, and reiatsu is cheating.

Well. That’s a handicap he hasn’t had to deal with since he was still in training.

He sighs and takes a running leap at the tree instead, catching the first branch and swinging himself up before continuing his ascent without the aid of Hohou. It takes longer than he likes, and geta are definitely not advisable climbing gear, but eventually, he manages to scale to the highest branches that can still hold his weight, and with the wind tearing at his hat and hair, he finally gets a good look around.

It… really is a jungle. Trees and other plant life stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions. There are vaguely mountainous shapes on his far left - East - and if he strains his ears, he thinks he can hear running water. The setting sun paints the sky a fiery orange-red, and there are bird calls in the distance that Kisuke doesn’t recognize.

He eases himself into a sitting position once he’s gleaned what he can from his new environment, and he sets about wrapping his mind around the truly fantastical turn his life has taken. Then again, he’s a Shinigami who’s seen some pretty weird things over the years. Granted, not sucked into a board game weird, but there was that boy with the video game Fullbring a few years back. Kisuke never had personal experience with it, but Ichigo described it a little in the aftermath. He didn’t sound… quite like himself though, and at the time, Kisuke put his discomfort down to the whole Fullbringer ordeal in general and those seventeen months that they apparently all stopped talking to Ichigo, and that was enough to prevent Kisuke from asking again.

Ichigo did remark, “His Fullbring was pretty weak though. I went Bankai, and his dimension broke just like that.”

It didn’t mean much at the time, but now… well. Kisuke is going to assume that even if he had his Zanpakutou here and could unseal it, it would be a very bad idea.

But he supposes this jungle is a bit like that Fullbring. For all intents and purposes, Kisuke is now trapped in a pocket dimension inside the board game, one that’s somehow powerful enough to enforce its own rules on this world and ensure its players follow them.

Kisuke would dearly like to take it apart to figure out how it works. But for now…

“Stay alive,” Ichigo told him. Which means there’s an actual chance Kisuke can die in this game.

He wonders how Ichigo came to figure that out. He recalls the flash of fear on the young man’s face. The same young man who went toe to toe with Yhwach without batting an eye.

And yet, Ichigo said he would be coming. From the sounds of it, Ichigo’s already been trapped here at least once, and still he’s diving right back in because Kisuke wasn’t careful enough with a harmless-looking board game. He of all people should’ve known better than to take something at face-value, although granted, he wasn’t expecting Ichigo to be in possession of something this strange.

He grimaces. Well, no use dwelling on it. He checks the position of the sun again, and then begins climbing back down to the jungle floor.

Ichigo said, now that Kisuke’s started the game, he can’t stop until he finishes. So, presumably, he has to win. Or, maybe, one of them has to win? It’s probably too much to hope that Yoruichi will stay on the outside and not follow Kisuke in as well.

A chilling thought occurs to him: What if only the winner can leave?

But Ichigo didn’t give any indication that that was a rule. And Ichigo is prone to self-sacrifice, but he’s not stupid. Even if he lets Kisuke win, he would know that there would still be Yoruichi to consider, and Ichigo would never sacrifice her too just to save Kisuke.

So, Kisuke will go forward on the assumption that all of them will be able to escape this game. And their chances will be better once they’re together, so Kisuke will have to wait for them to catch up. He doesn’t like leaving them to do all the legwork, but at the same time, they at least have a general idea of where he is. The least he can do is stay in the area.

In the meantime, he should probably do his best not to die. Nothing’s tried to kill him yet, but in his experience, murder attempts usually happen at the worst possible moments.

Besides, the sun hasn’t completely set yet. And Ichigo did say that the point of this game was to figure out the riddle he’s been given and overcome whatever obstacle or challenge will be presented to him.

IN THE JUNGLE, PREPARE TO RUN
WHEN NIGHT BECOMES DAY, THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE.

Well, he’s definitely in a jungle. And if he’s interpreting his riddle correctly, then he only has the night to defeat whatever it is will be coming for him.

Kisuke has no intention of not seeing tomorrow’s dawn.

 


 

Night falls, and everything seems so much louder. Insects, frogs, birds, something howling in the distance.

Kisuke contemplated making a fire but decided against it in the end. It would just make him a bigger target, and at least the moon provides a little light for him to see by.

He has no real destination to head towards. He’s pretty sure he can still get hungry and thirsty here - he’s never been that lucky, current case in point - but he checked out the nearby river earlier, and its muddy depths didn’t look particularly appealing. He can go a while longer without water; even longer without food. Hopefully, it’ll at least rain sometime soon. It’s clear skies at the moment but he could make out clouds on the horizon earlier when there was still a little sunlight to see by.

He’s slipped out of his geta. Yoruichi will never let him live it down when she finds out, but even he has to admit they’re not ideal footwear for the jungle. For one, the ground isn’t exactly paved here, so his geta sink too deeply into the dirt, and he apparently had no real idea until now just how much they would hamper him without even a spark of reiatsu to cushion his steps.

At least nothing has come after him. Yet. Once night fell, he thinks he’s felt eyes on him a couple of times, but he hasn’t been able to pick up footsteps or breathing. He’s tried circling back once, pretending to get turned around, but he hasn’t been able to find any tracks either.

He keeps moving though, not rushing but not remaining in one place. Hiding is a good way to get himself cornered. He follows the river, careful to keep several feet of plantlife between himself and the water though because he’s not stupid enough to take an accidental tumble into its unknown depths if something attacks him while he’s on the bank.

It only takes another ten minutes or so before he’s certain - he’s being followed. He still hasn’t caught so much as a glimpse of whoever or whatever it is, hasn’t heard anything outside of what seems ordinary in a jungle either, but he knows when he’s being watched.

He stops beside a tree, leaning against it as if to catch his breath.

All predators attack when they think their prey is weakest.

Kisuke gets only a split second’s notice, but a split second is all he needs. A rustle, from his left, just inside his blind spot, the sound half a moment off from the rhythmic whisper of wind through the leaves, and then-

Kisuke ducks, twists under the dark humanoid shape that flies over him, and lashes out with the dagger already in his hand. The blade sinks into flesh and rewards him with a high-pitched screech of pain as he splits open what he’s pretty sure is the thing’s abdomen.

It crashes into the tree before tumbling into a patch of moonlight. Kisuke gets a glimpse of red eyes and snarling fangs and clawed hands before it promptly crumbles into dust right there in front of him, not leaving so much as a drop of blood behind.

Kisuke stares at where the creature was for a moment longer before heaving a sigh and adjusting his hat.

Vampires then. Or at least he’s pretty sure it was a vampire. Native to jungles apparently, and he didn’t even need a stake.

He pauses, and then looks around. Was that it? What the riddle wanted him to face? That seemed… a little too easy.

And no sooner does he think that, the wind picks up. It only mostly covers the twin chilling shrieks in the distance.

 


 

Kisuke kills fourteen more vampires before he’s certain of the pattern. They’re multiplying.

It’s his own fault, he supposes. He’s fairly convinced that there was only one at the beginning, but after he killed it, two more took its place, both of which he stabbed without much thought, only for four more to appear. Once he killed those four, eight more popped into existence and converged on him, and that’s when his suspicions kicked in.

He used that batch for experimentation. He killed four with a stake he hastily fashioned from a branch, lured two more into the river to see if they would drown (and then promptly reinforced the mental reminder not to go swimming anytime soon when a school of piranhas immediately swarmed the vampires for a midnight snack), and beheaded the last two. All turned to dust, but as soon as the last one died, more otherworldly cries reverberated through the jungle somewhere behind him, and he’d bet his hat that there are now sixteen of them altogether.

So. No more killing. Or at least no more killing all of the current group. Vampire lore-approved or no, he’s clearly doing something wrong.

He shouldn’t have killed that first vampire. It didn’t even try to attack when Kisuke was only strolling along. Now, well, there’s been a few narrow misses from the last eight, and one of them even managed to tear a strip from his coat. Nothing he couldn’t handle, but he suspects the impending sixteen vampires angling for him will all be even faster and stronger than the last batch.

He sets off at an easy jog, pacing himself as he tries to pinpoint where each vampire will be coming from, but there’s just too much echo to be any kind of precise.

At least they don’t sound too close yet. But they’re gaining ground, and by Kisuke’s rough estimate, sunrise won’t be for at least another five hours.

He hates hindsight. It’s the one thing that’s never failed to prove him wrong.

 


 

Another three hours go by. He’s had no choice but to kill twelve more in that time. The vampires caught up to him fast, and he’s barely had a moment of peace since. They seem to prefer lunging out of the darkness and going for his throat from the front, but they’re not opposed to simply attacking him when his back is turned and he’s occupied with another either. They’re not exactly working together - their timing is always a little off, just enough for Kisuke to take shameless advantage of it - but it’s still a hassle to beat back so many fangs and claws from so many different directions. They’re not Shunpo quick, but they’re still faster than any human can move, and if Kisuke wasn’t so used to the speeds that a Shinigami can reach, he would’ve been bitten at least a few times hours ago.

As it is, he hasn’t escaped completely unscathed either. He’s managed to shake the remaining vampires off his trail for at least a few minutes - they always catch up again in the end - so he takes a moment to peel back the tattered flaps of his torn coat and shirt to check the injury underneath.

It isn’t too deep, but the sight of the scratch marks scored along his side from abdomen to hip still makes him grimace. He’s not in danger of bleeding out, thankfully, but they look like they could probably do with some stitches or at least bandages, neither of which he has on hand at the moment.

Time, he thinks, has made him arrogant. Or sloppy. Maybe they’re the same thing, when it comes down to it. He’s been training more, more often and more regularly, ever since he managed to survive the Quincy War. Yoruichi too. They’d been lucky, and they knew it. If the former Tres Espada hadn’t been on standby, and if she hadn’t considered them important enough to save, if she hadn’t held Ichigo in high enough regard that she would choose to enter a war and risk her life for those he cared about, both Kisuke and Yoruichi would’ve died that day.

And it certainly doesn’t seem as if he’s improved much since then, does it? Injured by a mindless vampire - how embarrassing. Maybe - once he gets out of here - he should incorporate training without reiatsu into his weekly spars against Ichigo. If nothing else, he’s clearly become far too reliant on it.

He sighs. He can’t even heal himself so knotting the ragged tails of his shirt over it will have to do for now. More importantly, he has to figure out how to get rid of the remaining vampires. Preferably without giving them the chance to respawn yet again.

He checks his surroundings. He can hear the howls in the distance but it seems the false trail he laid by leaving his hat behind has distracted them for now. It hurts his pride a little that he couldn’t keep his favourite article of clothing with him, but the creatures are hunting mainly by scent so sacrifices must be made. Better hat than coat. Who knows how cold it can get in this world. Nighttime alone brings a significant chill.

He checks the sky before setting off once again to put some more distance between himself and his hunters.

( He’s being hunted the way he used to hunt his targets down when he was still in the Onmitsukidou. What a novelty.)

There’s probably at least another hour or two before sunrise. So he has an hour or two to figure this out.

Alright, start from the beginning. He thinks back to the riddle. Ichigo said the point of the game was to overcome the challenge that the riddle presented. If it’s downright absolutely unsolvable, surely that would be something Ichigo would’ve mentioned even just in the short time he had. He’s never been one to sugarcoat the more… unfortunate circumstances of any situation.

So there has to be a way. Sunrise is the deadline - that seems pretty straightforward. But if killing them isn’t going to work, even if Kisuke cuts this current batch back down to one, there’ll still be two of them come dawn. Does the riddle want him to time it down to the last second? Kill the last vampire just as first light appears? But he has no way of knowing exactly when sunrise even is. All he has is an estimate, and what constitutes sunrise for this game anyway? When the sky begins to lighten? Or when the first ray of dawn appears on the horizon? All things considered, that solution doesn’t seem particularly logical.

Aside from that, he isn’t even sure how death works in this game - does it require a fatal injury? Or will he be struck dead on the spot if he doesn’t fulfill the parameters of the riddle on time?

Well, when it comes down to it, he supposes it doesn’t matter much at this point. He’ll just have to be careful, and he has no intention of not solving the riddle.

It’s a goddamn riddle, and he’s Urahara Kisuke. He can do this.

He pauses next to yet another tree - he’s getting pretty sick of them - and strains his ears for some idea of where his pursuers are, but the howling has stopped for some reason. It would be just his luck if this batch knows how to use sound - and lack of - on purpose to try and corner him. He doesn’t want to keep running if the vampires have managed to circle around and come at him from-

Kisuke’s brain stalls.

Keep running.

Run.

The riddle… never did say anything about killing, did it? And Kisuke’s already figured out that if he’d just kept moving, that first vampire probably wouldn’t have attacked him at all. The only reason he’s had to deal with so many is because his first instinct had been to get rid of his pursuers each time. But if the point of all this is simply to run, to stay ahead of them…

Oh, he’s been stupid. The first vampire didn’t even show up until night fell, but maybe that was because it couldn’t.

When night becomes day, there can only be one.

And isn’t it one of the most common pieces of vampire lore - that vampires cannot survive in sunlight?

Kisuke leans back against the tree for a moment and huffs a rather rueful breath. He really is losing his touch. Serves him right, he supposes. Recent events aside, he’s been more or less retired, however unwillingly. He’s let himself slip too much, no longer as adaptable on the field, and even a few years of more serious sparring isn’t going to fully reverse a century of inactivity, especially when he’s been restricted from using reiatsu too.

Well, better late than never. He straightens, rolls the tension out of his shoulders, and then dodges to one side just as a snarling shadow flings itself at his head. A quick stab of his blade reduces that vampire to dust, and then he’s off again, loping through the jungle as the three remaining vampires restart their howling from somewhere behind him.

But he knows what to do now. And even a century of living in the human world can’t take away what he mastered as an Onmitsukidou agent. Outlasting a few pursuers for just a couple more hours is the least he can do.

 


 

[Earth]

“Tessai, lock up, and once we’re in the training grounds, seal us in,” Yoruichi orders as she and Ichigo hurry through the shop. “No matter what you hear or how long we’re in there, don’t let anyone enter, and don’t take down the barrier until we say.”

True to form, Tessai does not ask questions they don’t have time for. He takes one look at Ichigo’s deeper than usual scowl and the no-nonsense set of Yoruichi’s own features and nods, already coming out from behind the counter to close up the shop.

“I’ll meet you down there,” Yoruichi adds to Ichigo, who nods tersely, and they split up in the hall as Yoruichi flash-steps away to the master bedroom to ransack the closet for a couple changes of clothes and some extra weapons.

Ichigo gave her a basic summary of the game on the way over. Jumanji. A board game with very real consequences for the players.

“Technically, Kisuke could play through the whole thing and win on his own,” Ichigo had explained. “I mean I did.” He’d ignored the alarmed look Yoruichi had shot him. “But I doubt he read through all the instructions, and sometimes, the game is… tricky. Sometimes, the riddle you get can’t be solved by just one person. He’ll have an easier time if I’m there to help him.”

“If we’re there to help him,” She had corrected almost automatically and had been treated to that wide-eyed vulnerable look of surprise that Ichigo still gets from time to time, as if - even now - he never expects people to help him.

Kisuke’s like that too, even after all these years. Sometimes, Yoruichi questions her taste in men.

She quickly grabs a few pouches as well before sweeping out into the kitchen to pack some food and water. She nods at Tessai as she passes him, and then in one bound, she drops down into the training grounds to join Ichigo, and the hatch above her seals shut in her wake.

She finds him crouched over the game, already laid out with another two tokens at their starting points. Kisuke’s is on the same square, motionless for the time being.

“Here,” Yoruichi tosses him a change of clothes. “You’re about Kisuke’s size so those should fit you.”

Ichigo stares at the clothes for a moment before getting up to change out of his jeans and shirt. His movements seem almost mechanical, while Yoruichi simply strips out of her civilian clothes to reveal one of her old Onmitsukidou outfits underneath.

“We can bring food and water with us?” Yoruichi asks, hefting the small bags as she stuffs the last change of clothes into one of them.

Stupid Kisuke. Even he would find geta cumbersome in the middle of a jungle when he can’t even use reiatsu.

“I think so,” Ichigo says, rolling his shoulders as if trying to make the uniform sit better on him. Yoruichi steps over to slip a few daggers into the holsters that came with the uniform. It’s a little loose across the shoulders but not so much that it might hamper his movements.

“Listen,” Ichigo starts. “You don’t have to- urk!

Yoruichi yanks him down by his collar so that they’re eye-level, and she gives him the sweetest fanged smile in her arsenal. “If you finish that sentence, I’m gonna kick your ass around these training grounds before we go, and I don’t think you wanna waste anymore time here than necessary, am I right?”

Ichigo looks appropriately cowed as he nods. Reluctantly. Yoruichi rolls her eyes but lets him go and drops to one knee beside the board instead. “So, how are we doing this?”

Ichigo heave a sigh but also crouches down again, fishing out the dice from his discarded jeans.

“I’ll go next,” He decides. “The board will move my piece, I’ll get a riddle, and then I’ll be sucked in too. If you’re- I mean, you roll after me, and it’ll be the same for you - your piece will move, you’ll get a riddle, and then you’ll be transported into Jumanji. We’ll probably not land in the same place so we’ll have to find each other. You might have to solve your riddle first, depending on what it is. Sometimes there’s a time limit, sometimes not.” He makes a face. “Kisuke’s sounded like he has a night to figure his out and beat it.”

Yoruichi nods, running a critical eye over the instructions on either side of the board. Her gaze lingers on ADVENTURERS BEWARE: DO NOT BEGIN UNLESS YOU INTEND TO FINISH.

The game even warns them. How kind.

“What happens after we solve our riddles?” Yoruichi asks.

“You have to roll again,” Ichigo tells her. “Once you’re in, you can call out ‘Board’ - it’s one of the commands - and the gameboard will appear, so you’ll be able to see everyone’s progress and fuck I didn’t tell Kisuke that.” He scrubs a hand over his face before shaking his head. “Anyway, there’s also a map function, just call out ‘Map’. It’ll only show you the places you’ve already been, not everything, but it might help if you need to return to somewhere. And… oh yeah, just call out ‘Dice’ for the dice. There’s no real order of who rolls when once you’re in, or even a time limit for how long you can go without rolling between turns. That’s up to you. But you do have to finish your turn before you roll again. It’s basically a race to the finishing line, and technically, it’s a good thing if someone you’re playing against takes forever to solve each of their riddles. The goal is to reach Jumanji-” He points at the orb in the center. “-by rolling the exact number of spaces that will get you there. If you roll more than that, you have to keep playing until someone wins.”

“And what happens to the losers?” Yoruichi asks flatly.

Ichigo’s features shutter. “They stay in Jumanji. Forever. Or they already died because one of their riddles killed them. Or anything killed them.”

Yoruichi watches him for a long unblinking moment. “...If it was just you and Kisuke, I could believe you’d do whatever you could to lose on purpose to let him escape, because you’re an idiot like that. But you’d never let me go in too if that was the only way to win, and realistically speaking, if it came down to it, you could probably put me down in a fight and make sure I can’t follow, even if it takes you a while. So what’s the other option?”

Ichigo blinks at her, then huffs a shadow of a laugh before reaching out to take her wrist. He’s one of the few who can do that without losing their hand in the process.

“There’s a… quest mode, I suppose you could say,” Ichigo tells her, cradling her wrist with a gentleness most people wouldn’t expect just by looking at him. “It’s a function of the game that triggers if there’s enough players gathered together. I’ve never played that route myself, but I heard that it’ll allow all the players to leave the game if they finish the quest.”

Yoruichi digests all this with a brisk nod, then glances back at the instructions again. “And call out Jumanji?”

“And call out Jumanji,” Ichigo confirms with a grim smile before tapping the inside of her wrist. “You’ll have three lives.” He grimaces. “I forgot to tell Kisuke that too, but at least this way he’ll try even harder to stay alive if he doesn’t guess what the bars are for. Which he probably will once he sees them. But yeah, there’ll be three bars here to show you how many lives you have left. You can die twice and be… ‘reborn’ instantly, no consequences.”

Ichigo’s grip tightens for a moment, and Yoruichi curls her free hand over his.

“Don’t die a third time.”

She smiles faintly. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I don’t plan on dying even once.”

Ichigo’s lips thin but he only nods and lets her go. “Right then, uh, anything else you’re not clear on?”

“What kinds of enemies will we be facing?” Yoruichi asks promptly. “Animals, probably, but will there be people coming after us?”

Ichigo grimaces again very tellingly. “Yeah, definitely. Or, well, I don’t know if they’ll come after us, exactly - depends on the riddle - but we will probably meet people sooner or later. Some of them will be gameworld people, and others will be…” His smile is as dark as it is mirthless. “People who used to be like us, but lost the game, or gave up, and went native. There’s not much difference. Most of the time, the ones who went native have already lost their memories of who they used to be, but occasionally, something might make them remember for a while.” He frowns and looks like he might say something else, but in the end, he only shakes his head and continues, “Anyway, people, animals,” He snorts. “Supernatural creatures too, for some fucked up reason. I met a minotaur once. And not everything will be out to get us, but…”

“Stay on our guard as if everything will be out to get us?” Yoruichi finishes dryly. “Don’t worry, I was Onmitsukidou once. It’ll be like the good old days.”

Ichigo blinks, like her past as commander of Soul Society’s covert ops branch is only just occurring to him. Then a cautious sort of relief flickers across his face. “Right, that’s- You and Kisuke were both...”

He trails off like he’s uncertain how to finish. Yoruichi sighs before leaning forward to curl a hand around the back of Ichigo’s neck and drawing him into a firm hug. It only takes a few seconds before Ichigo is returning it, arms coming up to wrap around her.

“How long were you in there?” Yoruichi asks softly.

Ichigo freezes. “...Two years, the first time. I- I went back in after I got Zangetsu to see if I could destroy the game from the inside. I couldn’t. Took me seven months to escape.”

This time, it’s Yoruichi’s turn to still. Two years? And then seven months? “Isshin never said anything.”

If that moron purposefully kept quiet about his son going missing for so long, twice, Yoruichi is going to shove one of her daggers in someplace not at all pleasant the next time she sees him.

Ichigo shakes his head and pulls back. Yoruichi lets him go but reaches for one of the pouches and goes about strapping it securely to Ichigo as she waits for him to speak.

“Jumanji is weird like that,” Ichigo explains. “More time passes out here than in there. I met-” His mouth twists a little. “I met a few people - former Jumanji players - who remembered their lives for a while and were willing to tell me about it, but they lived… years ago. As far as I could tell, one month in Jumanji is about five years in the real world. That’s about sixty days out here for every day in there.

“On the other hand,” Ichigo tacks on. “You could spend years in the game, but if you win, it’ll put you right back at the point when you first started the game. No time will have passed. And even if you grow old in there, you physically won’t have aged at all out here, so long as you win. I never got to that point of course, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hadn’t given up long before that. But yeah, my sisters and Goat-Face never knew. Nobody did.” He huffs a breath that teeters between sardonic and tired. “Because I won.”

Yoruichi swats him over the head. “You always do, when it counts.”

It’s a chilling thought all the same. In another timeline, the world would’ve moved on without Ichigo for who knows how many years. They would’ve lost him without ever even knowing him, gone on with their lives without knowing they were missing out on anything. Then again, without Ichigo, Aizen would’ve won. Who knows what the world would’ve been like then. Who knows if any of them would’ve even still been alive that much longer.

And all because of a game.

“Alright,” She says briskly, rolling onto both feet and reaching for her own pack. “So, don’t die, don’t win until we find each other, and don’t use reiatsu. Sound about right?”

“Don’t cheat,” Ichigo corrects. “Using reiatsu is cheating, but other things can be too. Like, don’t mess with the dice after you roll. Or… stealing’s okay,” Yoruichi arches an eyebrow. Ichigo snorts. “Yeah, I know, but if you strike a bargain with someone, don’t try to double-cross them.”

“And if we do cheat?”

Ichigo shrugs. “Depends. The most common punishment is a partial to full animal transformation, and no it probably won’t be as easy to adjust to as your cat form, even for you.”

Yoruichi scowls a little. Right, and no transforming into her cat form either. Fantastic.

She sighs and finally turns back to the board. “Right then. I’ll roll after you. Is there some place identifiable that we can at least try to head towards to meet up?”

Ichigo nods. “Head for the jungle if you don’t land there. You can ask around if you don’t see it in the distance or something, someone will probably be able to point you in the right direction. Kisuke’s riddle definitely took him there-”

“-and he’s smart enough to stay put so we can find him more easily.” Yoruichi agrees. “Alright, jungle it is. Let’s do this.”

Ichigo’s shoulders square, his empty hand dropping briefly to the various weapons on his person, and then his jaw sets in that familiar determined line, and with a shake of his other hand, he releases the dice.

They clatter across the board and comes to a stop on a two and a four. They both watch in tense silence as one of the tokens begins to move, and the orb in the middle flares to life.

All around them, the rapid beat of war drums swells once more.

As the token comes to a stop six squares in, words appear in the orb, floating in the eerie glow of the green:

AS YOU CLIMB, WATCH YOUR FEET
ONE WRONG STEP, YOUR DOOM YOU’LL MEET.

“...Well that’s dramatic,” Ichigo says dryly even as the edges of him begin to warp and blur, pulled towards the gameboard even faster than Kisuke was, as if the game has fully woken up now. “But at least it sounds pretty straightforward.” He glances at Yoruichi as an invisible wind roars around them. “See you on the other side.”

Yoruichi smiles sharply. “Very soon. Stay safe, Ichigo.”

And then he’s gone, and Yoruichi is alone with the dice and the game and the silence.

She picks up the dice without hesitation, although she does spare a moment to survey the tokens.

Hers is a tiger. Of course it is. Ichigo’s is an eagle though, and Kisuke’s is a monkey of some sort. As weird as it is, she has a sneaking suspicion that it was the game that chose them. All jungle animals but also… unsettlingly accurate.

Yoruichi snorts and rolls the dice. As if unsettling has ever stopped her.

She gets a two and a three, and the drums begin anew. She watches her token glide forward and her own death-game riddle appear:

HEADS YOU’LL WANT, TAILS YOU’LL FIND
CHOOSE CORRECTLY, OR YOU’LL BE IN QUITE THE BIND.

A toneless roar fills her ears, like some invisible wind come to life around her. She lifts her hands as they contort and bend and begin to flow into the game.

The last thing she hears is the drums, and the beat of them sounds a lot like triumph.