Author's Note:

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p-atreon. /FicticiousChaos

HUGE shoutout to SplooshMeister, Jason, Dean, DamnedThrice, Slowchoke, Daren, Kajun, Richard Piotti, Less, Collin James, Boondoggle, Tyler Boughton, Richard Darden, Jonathan, Fyre, mikefoxtrot, GHETTOKINGKAI, DigiDemonLord, Jarod, Zephyr Ahriman, Adrien, Bean Hawk, david m, Greg Olivier and Laeus!

Chapter 26: What if?

One full day.

One full day had passed since his discussion with his father, Yoruichi, Urahara and Tessai. A full day since some truths were laid bare and others remained hidden. That was fine with him, he had planted the seeds he had meant to.

This trip had been well worth it as he had received his closure from the many words said. Words from his father, and words to his mother's grave. His sisters were safe and happy and all else was peripheral. He had no regrets. Only a desire to continue to move forward.

Look forward. Move forward and never stop. You'll age if you pull back. You'll die if you hesitate.

At the very least, he knew an inquisitive father or, even worse, an inquisitive Urahara would not come poking into matters of the Underworld and possibly risk total dimensional collapse by some twisted quirk of fate. He had made his boundaries and set safe a distance.

And now he could return to the Underworld. To the new life he had built. To be Wrath once more.

Ichigo stood on a towering skyscraper with his hands in his pockets and his neck craned back to look up at a facsimile of a reversed ocean seated where the air should be. From within the sea above a single, colossal upside-down ginkgo spread proud. Its golden leaves scattering through soft currents and falling towards the surface of the crystal blue ocean. And as they touched the rising and falling waves of the watered sky, they broke through with a ripple and danced in air of his soul.

His gaze then fell sharply to the rest of the world, to the dozens of smaller urban towers of warped steel and glass that stood defiant and ominous. Between them ran raging rivers of black and crimson power, twisting and winding through the demon wrought buildings. At the very sight of the tide of demonic power, Ichigo could feel the starting of small irritation in the back of his mind that spread perversely, threatening to churn into whispered resentment. And before it could erupt and twist in total fury, he crushed the emotions back down to recess of his mind. And even as he did so, the black and crimson warp down below stilled and quieted, descending further down between the demonic edifices.

Slowly, Ichigo set his sight on the horizon, where whole chunks of the soul-city were ripped away and entire buildings went hurtling into a colossal maelstrom of ash and fire that threatened to swallow this nonsensical world. And yet, as each fragment of the city was torn asunder, the size of the place never changed nor shifted. Merely continuing endlessly, as far as the eye could see.

"Still an eyesore, ain't in?"

Ichigo briefly glanced at the white manifestation of his soul before letting out a derisive snort. "It's who I am now. Who we are."

"I guess that makes you an eyesore then, don't it?"

"If anyone's the eyesore, it's you," he said with a dry twist.

"It's what ya wanted though, ain't it? All the power and all the world to pick and choose from if you're ever spoiling for a fight. And I can feel it! Hah! Making nice with the kiddies and Shinigami don't do it. No, you need to be back down under, letting lose all those pesky emotions you thought you lost alongside your humanity! Those itty-bitty itchy feelings ya been tightly holding onto because of all the weak little humans. Can't let go otherwise they'd burn like weeds in the sun! Like living in a world of cardboard! Riles you, don't it?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Zangetsu. Let me think in peace for once."

Zangetsu snorted. "Thinking never got you anywhere, King. Swinging me around sure as Hell did!"

Ichigo gave Zangetsu an unimpressed look. "Was that supposed to be a joke?"

"It was. And it was fucking funny," Zangetsu said crossing his arms.

"Your sense of humor sucks," he responded wryly.

"I am you," his mirrored-soul said with a feral grin. "So, by default, your sense of human is the one that fucking sucks."

Ichigo merely shook his head and went back to gazing into the vortex of Hellfire.

"The Hell you even doing in here, anyway?" Zangetsu asked, coming to stand beside him. "Trynna to figure out how to make that 'sexy sensei in a hot spring' fantasy you've had since you first learned Bankai a reality without getting your ass whipped?"

Ichigo didn't even bother to dignify Zangetsu's provocations with a response. Instead, the glint in his eyes became stony as he continued to gaze deep into the First Flame. "Peering into Fate. Not as easy as Tiamat makes it out to be. Then again, I'm not a crystallized consciousness of a Precept of Nature."

Zangetsu chuckled. "Yeah, I can feel it too. Something's coming. Something big! And it's gonna happen damn soon."

"The world is moving," Ichigo quietly intoned. "I can sense a fight coming."

His soul-sword's arm snaked around his neck, hanging loosely in an almost friendly manner, but Ichigo kept his sight firmly straight on Hell.

"Oh, trust me, I know," Zangetsu laughed with dark glee as he patted Ichigo's shoulder good-naturedly. "I'm just as excited as you are."

And Ichigo's soul rang with maniacal laughter.

He had not expected company for the evening, as Tiamat had, astonishingly enough, decided to spend time with his sisters and try to form some kind of understanding with them. He doubted friendship would blossom from a single conversation, but at the very least he hoped for civil tolerance. Even if it was begrudging.

Thus, Ichigo had gone outside and onto the roof of his family home, laying down on the tiles with his arms behind his head. He kept his eyes closed as he turned his mind inwards, spiraling into his own soul. Trying to divine the eddies of Fate was no easy thing, and he didn't have Tiamat's thousands of years of practice, nor her natural affinity with the world. If anything, his infernal nature made such a thing even more difficult, being the walking anathema he was.

However, his eyes suddenly snapped open as he sensed a rapidly approaching Reiatsu, muted that it was. As his sight adjusted to the night sky illuminated by a waxing moon and stars, the outline of person materialized in his peripheral views.

"Fancy meeting you here," Yoruichi said.

Ichigo turned his head on the side, looking up her legs in those tight black leggings that so perfectly accented her curves, and met smiling amber eyes. "Hey there."

"Mind if I join you?" she asked, arching a playful eyebrow.

Ichigo let out a low laugh. "Sure. Grab some tile."

Yoruichi sat down close enough next to him that the occasional breeze carried over the tips of her ponytail to brush his own unruly hair. She drew up her knees, wrapping her arms around her legs and rested her cheek on the top of her knees to look down at him.

Her sharp eyes studied him carefully and, as the seconds ticked on, the laughter in them receded to a light melancholy.

"For what it's worth," she began softly, "I'm sorry for how things turned out."

He looked at her with surprise. "Don't be, I'm not."

"But I am," she said resolutely, her gaze gaining an edge while retaining the touch of sadness. "It's not an easy thing, having to leave behind everything you've known and loved for your whole life due to things outside of your control."

He opened his mouth to respond before promptly shutting it.



Yoruichi would know. She didn't just leave her home; she was chased out of it. While his friends and family pushed him away out of well meaning, in not utterly unjustified, concern: Yoruichi was branded a traitor and criminal and actively had to flee from her own home.

After gathering his thoughts, he summed them up shortly. "I made a choice."

"We all do. Doesn't mean it's easy."

He regarded her for a moment before answering, "No, I suppose it doesn't."

Yoruichi slowly turned her head away, setting her eyes straight over the various houses of Karakura Town. And Ichigo set his eyes back towards the night sky and luminous gibbous moon so far above.

A comfortable silence fell over the two, and a soft breeze pushed her hair onto the edges of his face, surrounding him with the comforting scent of vanilla. His hands were heavy under his head, and dreams and temptations he had long forgotten began to resurface at the forefront of his mind.

"Tell me," Her voice carried over, breaking him from his thoughts, "what's the Underworld like?"

He let out a thoughtful hum. "There aren't any oceans like the Earth, but there are plenty of in-land seas and lakes. The skies are a deep purple in natural places. In other places, territory Lords and powerful Devils have altered it to mimic the Earth, and have even altered the flow of time to match the same twenty-four hours we have up here. Some places have more unique sights like burnt orange skies or vivid pink filled with rainbow colored shooting stars."

"Rainbow shooting stars?" Her voiced riddled with amusment and bafflment.

His chest rumbled in humor. Serafall and her own particular brand of aesthetics was an acquired taste, to say the least. "Mm-hmm."

"What else?"

His mind went back to those first few months of wonder and discovery. "Sky-continents that float so far above the clouds you'd believe you could jump and touch the moon. Both of them. One shining so pure and white you'd think it was actually Heaven, and the other riddled with so many active volcanoes that its surface is cracked with ravines of molten fire, making you wonder if it's Hell itself. Deep below are caverns that extend on for thousands and thousands of miles. Some leading to chasms so great you could fit entire cities in them. Above, the lands are riddled with these megalopolises carefully planned and built in perfect geometric symmetry in emulation of runic circles to allow their ruling Lords to cast powerful magic that can warp time and space itself. Hence the different skies and flow of time. There are jungles that can cover the expanse of an entire country and run so deep that, even with the magic and technology of Devils, they've remained fully unexplored and undocumented. Some even theorize that the tremendous life energies of some jungles and forests coupled with the latent magic of the Underworld has made the plant growth gain a collective state of semi-consciousness. Then there are these glass towers of-"

Ichigo cut himself off as he noted Yoruichi was staring at him with a such a serene smile that it honestly threw him off. He'd never seen her make that expression before.

"Oh, sorry. I'm rambling, aren't I?"

She shook her head with a small laugh, sending her hair dancing in the moonlight. "No. It's just that I've never heard you speak so much in one go before. And with so much passion too."

Oh Lucifer.

He was blushing.

He was actually blushing. Two plus years of dealing with Tiamat and her antics and, yet, Yoruichi could still reduce him to such a state with some words and a disarming smile.

Real smooth Kurosaki.

She gave him a warm look. "You really are happy, aren't you Ichigo?"

The question surprised him, but Ichigo answered without any hesitation. "Yeah. I am."

"Then I'm happy for you too." And again, she set her gaze straight and away from him.

Ichigo frowned and almost made to sit up, but honestly, he didn't know how to respond to that simple statement from her. His frown grew.

"I'd like to see it," she said.

"See what?"

"This Underworld of yours," she turned towards him with that same smile. "It sounds quite beautiful."

"Some parts, yeah," he nodded. "But then you start meeting some of the denizens and you realize how wild it really is. Like flowers the size of houses that release hallucinogens spores so you're distracted long enough for them to eat you. Dragons and Devils that blow apart entire mountain ranges in petty arguments. Or these tentacle brain things that have this really weird obsession with that American movie Scarface."

"Sounds like quite a few adventures to be had," she purred. "So, you'll let me tag along one day?"

He locked eyes with her and said seriously, "Any time you want."

She gave him a playful wink. "It's a date then."

She turned away from him again, and as the silence descended once more, Ichigo kept his eyes firmly on her and the moonlight illuminating her graceful frame. Several minutes passed like that, with him laying down and eyes firmly on her while she looked out far off towards the night horizon.

It was in that serene moment Ichigo realized just how deep his thoughts were filled of her, and just how much her presence in his life fully and truly meant to him. He had missed her. He had missed her a lot.

She was a legitimate princess born to the highest nobility within her homeland. She had been destined to guide and shape Soul Society's future for centuries to come. But not just by virtue of birth. But by her own strength and power built through hundreds of battles and years upon years of struggle and strife. She could move with such elegance and agility where the eye couldn't be helped by be drawn to her movements...up until her sheer mastery of foot techniques made one unable to keep up with her phenomenal speed.

Yoruichi really was a remarkable woman. And for the briefest moment, his mind flashed to a single crimson piece that he could materialize at any moment he wished.

"Can I ask you something?" he said, breaking the still silence between them.

She raised one arm above her head while grabbing her elbow in a stretch. His eyes followed the curve of her back as it arched in the movement.

"Sure, what's up?"

Yoruichi straitened her legs and made to lay beside him, but she turned on her side instead of her back, with her head resting on one hand. Ichigo waited until she made herself fully comfortable.

He held her gaze, and without any indecisiveness asked, "Are you and Urahara together?"

Yoruichi's eyes widened, and she froze perfectly still. The seconds sat impossibly heavy between them, and briefly Ichigo wondered if he had crossed a line. And then she threw her back and began laughing wildly.

"What?" she asked between deep laughs as she wiped at her eyes. "Me and Kisuke? What on Earth brought this about?"

He stared at her, taking in her raucous laughter and joy. Almost tempted to smile himself at the sight of her, Ichigo let out a breath instead, and turned back towards the moon. Its pale light almost piercing to his eyes.

"I never did thank you, did I?" he asked in lieu of answering her question.

"Thank me for what?" she responded with laughter still echoing in her voice.

"For being my friend," he said heavily, turning back towards her. And it dawned on him then, just how close their faces were to each other's. His gaze was momentarily drawn to her pouty lips in a still smile before thet bouncing back up to her captivating eyes.

Her laughter quickly died down and her eyes slightly widened once more. Though quick enough, the smile on her lips softened to one of fondness and mirth, and the gold in her eyes shone with warmth. "You don't have to thank me for that, Ichigo. Not ever."

"Yeah, I do," he said solemnly. "After I lost my powers, after my dad pulled off his brilliant idea of trying to keep me safe, you were the one person who said fuck it. You still talked with me. You talked to me. Like I was still me. Not some porcelain doll that was stamped 'fragile, handle with care.'"

"Again, you don't need to thank me for that," she said warmly before shrugging and adding flippantly, "Besides, I'm really not all that good when it comes to listening to others. This kitty is a rebel through and through."

"And like I said, I do need to thank you for that," he insisted quietly. "I don't think you understand how much that meant to me. Those afternoons you walked with me as I went home after school. Weekends where I'd just go to the park and you'd be there demanding I give you belly rubs."

Suddenly, Ichigo's brows furrowed as he recalled other interactions, and the inflection of his voice changed as he vocalized them. "...making me spend my part-time job money on special brushes to comb your fur with. Or making me buy an assortment of heavy creams and different brands of milk for you to drink from all across town...huh... Anyways, what I'm trying to say is, I think I would have gone insane without you. And I'll never be able to repay you for what you've done for me."

Yoruichi's smile was equal measures joy and sorrow as she reached out with one hand and ruffled his hair blithely. Ichigo did not stop her, and a not so small part of him wanted to lean into her touch. Though he kept himself and his rising emotions in check. "I'll stand by what I said, you don't need to thank me. I got just as much out of our little hang outs as you did. But that still doesn't explain why you're suddenly wondering if Kisuke and I are together."

Ichigo stared at her, taking in the lines and smooth curves of her face. The same face that had been his hope and joy through the final two years of high school. The smallness of her nose and its faint twitches that gave away her mood when she was agitated. The exotic color of her eyes that danced in sunlight and shone bright in shadows. The violet hues of her dark hair that were only made apparent when light struck it just right.

He had missed her.

Lucifer, he had missed her a lot.

"Because," he said, his voice strong and smooth even as he paused briefly. "Because I was in love with you."

Yoruichi's hand in his hair his hair stopped immediately, and she gave a sharp intake of air. Her lithe body going deathly still. He kept his gaze locked onto her amber irises, even as her pupils shrank and her eyes went wide. His enhanced hearing picking up the quickened pace of her pulse.

Ever so slowly, she pulled her hand back, setting it down and pushing herself slightly up. She looked down at him, her expression such a perfect paradox of focus and bewilderment.

"What did you just say?" she whispered.

Ichigo gave her a sincere look. "It was just a crush at first. Nothing serious. Started during the Bankai training when we invaded Soul Society. But, by the time I was in my last semester of high school, I'm pretty sure I was head over heels in love with you. The day that I graduated, I wanted to ask you out."

She started down at him, her eyes flickering over his face in a fierce study. Astonishment and austerity marring her lips into a frown.

"You're serious."

It wasn't a question, but he nodded in affirmation anyway.

Her eyes narrowed. "You were going to ask me out?"

That was a question. And through the tone of her voice, he inferred the second unsaid one.

"I was," he said with a shrug. "And, obviously, I didn't. The reason why being typical hormonal teenage insecurity coupled with self-confidence chiseled away by well-meant stupidity. So, I caved."

Yoruichi kept staring at him in disbelief for several more seconds before breaking their shared gaze away to angrily mutter curses aimed at his father under her breath.

"And then I moved away," he continued with a laugh filled with self-deprecation. "And wow, did I miss you. I missed you a lot. I spent a lot of nights thinking about you. Part of me kept saying, 'Just go back. Just ask her out. Go to her next weekend.' And another far more vocal part of me went, 'What would she even see in a kid like you? What could you offer a grown, adult woman? Why would she even look at you when-"

"Kisuke," she supplied, finishing the point for him.

He pressed his lips thinly and nodded. To which Yoruichi let out a frustrated breath. She turned herself around and sat up with her hands in her lap, her head held down contemplatively, her chin touching her chest.

"And now?" Her voice low and barely made out in the whisper of the night breeze, while her face remained utterly hidden from him.

Ichigo pushed himself up and, much like how she was sitting before, raised his knees and put his arms around his legs.

"Now, I'm happy," he said, knowing full well she would understand what those two last words entailed.

Yoruichi didn't say anything, sitting perfectly still and quiet for several moments, though Ichigo noted how her hands clenched tightly in her lap. Several more tense moments passed before she let out a firm curse. "I'm going to beat the shit out Isshin."

Ichigo dropped his eyes into his own lap, not sure what to say in this moment. He understood that this wasn't entirely fair to her, given he had years to think about this. Meanwhile, he had unloaded all of - whatever this was - onto her so suddenly.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Her hair fluttered in the wind as she shook her head. Her voice came out so soft and heartfelt, Ichigo's own heart nearly lurched in the moment "Don't be. It's always better to know. Even if it pisses you off royally."

Ichigo rolled his jaw. And as the wind carried the tips of her hair towards him, he reached out with one hand, allowing the wind to lightly brush violet strands against the back of his fingers. "You'll always be my biggest what if."

She snorted in derision and then let out a mock laugh. "Hah. From friend, to in love, to what if: all in five minutes. You sure as Hell know how to take a woman on an emotional roller coaster, kid."

"I'm sorry," he repeated. And he was.

Yoruichi let out a sigh and threaded both her hands through her hair. She then craned her head back and let loose a drawn out and aggravated growl. "Uuuurgh!"

She ran both her hands over face before saying in soft tones, "I've always loved Kisuke. Can't remember a time I never did, pain in my ass that he is. And yes. I've been with him many times over the centuries."

A roll of emotions passed through him, and Ichigo swallowed down the tightness in his chest.

"But it never went beyond comfort and companionship with him. Kisuke spends too much time in his own head to ever be able to commit to a relationship fully. Not a healthy one, at any rate."

Ichigo ran a thumb over his shin absently, even as he acknowledged and appreciated the openness and honesty Yoruichi was trusting him with.

"We're just friends."

He took in a deep breath through his nose and tore his eyes away from her. Staring hard at stars drifting in the dark sky.

Just friends.

The words rang hollow in his head and his mouth went dry. How different would things have been had just one day, just one single day, he had mustered the courage to act out on his feelings back then?

You'll die if you hesitate.

A whole potential future killed off.

Ichigo smiled sadly to himself. What's done was done. No use crying over spilled milk. He had made his choices, and he was determined to live by them. All of this was just fleeting regret. He had a life to return to soon enough, after all.

Suddenly, he felt a warmth press to his side. As he looked down, his face morphed with surprise as he beheld Yoruichi planted against him, her arms entwined with one of his as she put her head against his shoulder. Her face obscured behind the shadows cast by her long hair.

"What if, huh?" she said faintly.

He leaned his head against the top of hers.

"What if," he murmured back to her.

Yoruichi's fingers crept up his wrists and palm, until the pads of her fingers brushed against his and, slowly, their hands locked together. And like that, they sat under the moon and stars in a quiet sorrow. Each dreaming away of things that could have been and never were.

Hours passed, and neither of them said anything. Not that anything more needed to be said. Ichigo knew that they both fully understood what this moment that would inevitably be lost to time was. But they could make do. They were strong enough too.

Ichigo turned his face into her hair. It would be so easy, so simple. All he had to was lower his head, turn his lips, and all those wants and whims from years past were his to be had. He could whisk her away to the Underworld, hold the softness of her curves in his arms as he made her cry out his name in his bed. Again, and again, and again.

He could hear her pulse like thunder in his ears. She wouldn't say no, he was sure of it. And even if she did...

He closed his eyes, willing away dark thoughts and Devilish inclinations. Sirzechs had told him long ago that temptation is a Devil's greatest drug, but the trick is to peddle it, not partake in it. And Yoruichi was a drug he could ill afford to taste. Not now.

His grip on her hand tightened.

The moon moved, the stars fell, and slowly the midnight majesties were dyed away in hues of dusted pink, soft blues and the emerging gold of the dawn.

Yoruichi raised her head, looking at the rising sun.

"I should go," she said gently.

Ichigo let out a breath of vexation, but he acknowledged that their night was over. He nodded to himself while brushing the back of her hand with his thumb. Yoruichi responded with an affectionate squeeze.

She stood slowly, pushing herself up with her one free hand and moved to undo their joined ones, but Ichigo gave a light tug and her amber eyes immediately jumped to meet his own.

"Can I ask you another question?" he asked lightly.

She gave an easy chuckle. "It couldn't possibly lead to a heavier conversation than the last one, so sure."

Ichigo's eyes fell to her knuckles. The skin over her deceptively delicate looking bones was perfectly smooth, despite what he knew of her preference for hand-to-hand combat. He ran his thumb gingerly over them before meeting her gaze once more.

"If I offered to make you a Devil, what would you say?

Yoruichi locked in place as if she were completely paralyzed before closing her eyes and letting out a heavy sigh. "Wow, I was wrong. I was dead, dead wrong."

Her eyes snapped back open. She narrowed them and he could slightly make out a lick of irritation. "And you seriously need to stop dropping these bombs on me. My heart's going to explode at the rate you're going."

Ichigo merely offered her an apologetic smile.

Yoruichi let out another sigh and ran her free hand through her ponytail. She then looked at him dead in the eye and said sincerely, "I'm a born and bred Shinigami. And I've been one for a long, long time. Just because we leave somethings behind, that doesn't mean we have to turn our backs on them completely. We all make choices, Ichigo."

"And what if," he began slowly, "I could promise you anything you wanted?"

Her lips curved roguishly. "Can you promise me Heaven?"

He froze even as her words registered in his mind. And then he threw back his head and roared with laughter. He laughed harder than he had in a very long time. His entire body shaking with cheerful tremors as he held onto her hand. Yeah, there was no way she would have made it easy for him. She always pushed him to the impossible. Whether it was learning Bankai in three days or having him travel across cities for a specific brand of cream he had never even heard of before. That's the Yoruichi he knew. That's the Yoruichi he –

"No, I guess I can't," he laughed.

"Tell you what," she said with a cheeky smile, "ask me again in a hundred years. Maybe I'll have changed my mind by then."

He looked up at her, as the Rising Sun framed itself behind her perfectly, lighting up her silhouette and giving that dark skin of hers a warm and golden shine. She was so beautiful, so utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. She looked down at him with naked emotion, her eyes conveying everything that had gone said and unsaid in their chaste night together.

And then her fingers slipped away; his hand falling away from her touch.

"Good-bye, Ichigo."

"Good-bye, Yoruichi."

And she was gone in a Flash.

Isshin sat at the breakfast table, having gotten up earlier than usual. His daughters were just rousing, and would soon begin the start of their morning routine in preparation of school. As for his son, Isshin threw a glance at the stairs as the tall young man walked down, his eyes shadowed by his long bangs.

"Morning dad," he said in a quiet, almost mournful tone.

Isshin regarded him with a cool nod and returned to reading the morning paper while he ate his eggs. As his son shuffled through the kitchen, grabbing a glass from the cabinet and opening the refrigerator to pull out a carton of orange juice, Isshin gave the boy a hard glance from the sides of his eyes.

"You know," he said, returning his eyes to the paper. "In another time, in another place, you would have been born with the Shiba name. There were talks at the time before I left between our family and the Shihōin. There would have been a decent chance that you would have been engaged and married off to her."

Though he couldn't see his son from behind his newspaper, he could sense the boy had paused in his step. And then an annoyed voice carried over, "I forgot how fond you were of eavesdropping."

"Nothing of the sort," Isshin said gingerly as he flipped the page. "Though, for future reference, if you plan on spending the whole night talking with a pretty girl, try not to do it right outside your father's window. At my age, I need all the sleep I can get."

"Duly noted." His son's voice dripped dryly. A few seconds later said, "You know, there's a good chance she's going to kick your ass."

Isshin took a sip of his coffee. "And I'd let her too."

As Ichigo sat at the table and started his breakfast, Isshin was at the end of his. Though he ate much slower than his son, given most of his attention was spent on the paper rather than his meal. After several quiet moments in the kitchen, his son finally broke the silence.

"Hey, dad?"


"How strong of a Quincy was mom?"

Isshin's hands momentarily clenched, crumpling the paper under them before relaxing and letting his grip loosen. He already knew where this conversation was heading.

"Strong enough to handle most any Hollow," he said plainly, taking another sip of his morning coffee before returning to the paper. "Could give any lieutenant from the Gotei 13 a sound beating while even compete with some of the lower end captains without them using their Bankai."

He heard his son sigh. "I was gonna ask you last night, but I figured it'd be better to wait until we were alone, but how did that damn thing manage to kill mom if she was that strong?"

"It's a long story, son. And your sisters will be down in about ten to fifteen minutes."

"Talk fast then," his son said simply.

Isshin let out a sigh as he folded the newspaper and put it down. He looked into Ichigo's brown eyes and said gravely, "It's an old Quincy legend, about a sealed king..."

Three Days Later

Things were awry.

Tiamat could feel it in the very bones of the Earth. The Tides of Fate churned almost violently these days. Infuriatingly enough, while she could peer into the greater depths of the future, too much of it was diluted by greater immortal powers. There was no definiteness nor any greater probability of occurrence The future was moving far too randomly, almost chaotically. And with it, it brought a primeval familiarity. Things that were best left in slumbering dreams were rousing, and they would soon cross over the folds of reality into this world.

She frowned.

She could sense herself and her beloved in the Waters of Destiny. A battle was coming, though in what capacity she was unsure.

She looked over to him, even as she held his hand as they walked the streets of the human world. His promise to procure ice cream for his two sisters had been left unfulfilled. Now, many days past, she had convinced him to make true of his words and had him bring his two sisters on an outing with them. Naturally, she too would receive her fair share of the frozen and sweetened delight.

Her lips parted slightly at the thought of what awaited. Cookies and cream.

"You're salivating," he laughed teasingly from beside her.

She threw him a fierce look. "As if I would ever do something so primitive."

"Uh-huh. Big bad Tiamat loses her mind at the thought of ice-cream. You are so damn cute, sometimes."

She growled low in her chest. She would bite him again were it not for-

"Uhh, hello? Yuzu and I are right here? Can you not flirt so blatantly? Have some shame you two." The dark-haired sister said, her voice dripping with exasperation.

Tiamat bit back a reply as her master turned around and gave them a scowl. "Who told you to watch? Third wheels can avert their eyes."

"Onii-chan, you meanie," Yuzu exclaimed with a pout. "How can you call your own sisters third wheels! Besides! You were the one who invited us out after you forgot to get us ice cream the first time around!"

He rolled his eyes, but the laughter in them was all too apparent. "Alright, I'm sorry. It was joke, don't take it too seriously."

She looked at him, carefully taking note of the ease that had set its way on his mien. His two younger sisters had that effect on them. Their presence and antics always gave solace to his heart. And such consolation was much needed for him. The conversations from his father and the little psychopomps that resided on the other side of this town had mentally exhausted him. Even worse was the latter conversation with his father the day after, on his mother's death and its manner.

The Devil in him burned strong that night. And there was only so much their love making could do alleviate his rage and burning desire for vengeance. Though that did not mean she did not try. Some nameless island far off the coast of this country had been sunk into the sea as he had attacked her body in savage love.

What was that word he was so fond of?

Ah yes.


They had fucked that night. And neither the storms she summoned nor the tidal waves from his brutality had been enough to quell his thirst for violence. He needed to return to the Underworld, back into the folds of familiar darkness, where he would no longer be forced to hold back his true nature. He could chain his Sin for so long, after all.

"Speaking of ice cream," Karin said, shaking Tiamat away from her musings, "you're paying, right?"

He stopped mid-stride, and she looked at him curiously as he threw his sister an offended look. "Of course, I'm paying. What kind of bum do you think I am? You think I'd invite somebody out only to have them pay?"

"Says the guy who gifted a gift."

Her lips twitched with amusement as his expression turned bewildered and he exclaimed angrily, "Are you still going on about that? Fine! I'll buy you both something else to make up for it!"

"But I liked the geode," Yuzu protested lightly. "It's very pretty."

Tiamat turned towards the two with a faint smile. "You would do well to take advantage of his generosity. If he says he will gift you whatever you wish for, then he will do so. You would be surprised to know how much pull you have on him."

"I'd be content if they didn't," he said dryly from beside her.

They had arrived at the quaint little ice cream vendor and Tiamat noted her table of preference was occupied by other mortals. With a quick mental command, the humans' eyes glazed over and they took their things and began walking away.

"You're unbelievable," her love whispered with exasperation. Though she heeded him not and set her long skirt straight as she sat down on the metal chairs. As the twin girls each took a seat next to each other and opposite of her, she gave him a pointed look.

"I guess that means I'm ordering," he said helplessly while taking in the sight of the three seated ladies. "What was it again? Cookies and cream for the Tiamat? Vanilla with Oreos, M&Ms and sprinkles for Yuzu? And plain vanilla for Karin?"

Tiamat said nothing, knowing full well he could simply take the information from her mind, but she watched with amusement as the light haired one nodded her head enthusiastically.

The dark haired one was on her phone and distractedly said, "Soft vanilla, Ichi-nii."

She kept herself from shaking her head. Mortals and their obsessions with their tools. The simplest way to distract a human was to give it a new toy to play with and watch them forget the rest of the world in their childish wonder.

"Right," her beloved said as he scratched the back of his head and turned to go order their ice cream.

'Take your time.'

He did say not anything back, but she felt his warmth seep through her mind in confirmation of her wish.

She watched him walk away, her eyes briefly falling to his backside. As he walked into the shop, she turned towards the two young girls. No, it was unfair of her to claim them mere girls, they had both passed well beyond the cusp of womanhood now. But a mere hundred years ago, it would not have been unusual for women of their age to be married off and birth children.

"So, Tiamat-san," her eyes jumped to the light haired one -Yuzu- and took note of how the girl did not flinch away from her gaze this time. Though, that had less to do with the girl's own growing mental fortitude and more to do with Tiamat's discipline. Irksome that it was to do so. The oceans were not meant to be restrained. "What is it that you do?"

She lifted a perfectly manicured hand and set her chin resting in her palm. "You will have to elaborate."

The teenage girl flushed. "Oh, I was just wondering what you do for a career! Sorry, I should have been clearer."

"You need not apologize," she said, her lips quirking with amusement. Unlike the dark haired one, this one became flustered all too easily. "As to your question, I have no profession. Nor do I possess any formal education of any kind."

The other twin perked up at her words, looking at her with surprise as she put away her phone. "You never went to school?"

"I did not," she responded, a teasing delight coloring her voice. "I was born in a very harsh place, in an equally harsh time. There were no school nor universities nor any sort of places of learning. One had to live off the world, least the world decide to live off you."

Both young women's eyes widened even further.

Karin's brows furrowed and she asked, "Then how do you live without any sort of income?"

"I have wealth," she said simply. "None that I care for, but I have it nonetheless. I spent my years traveling from place to place, taking in the beauty of the natural world: making new memories and reliving old ones. Yet, those days are gone for me."

They both looked at her curiously.

"What do you mean? You don't like to travel anymore?" Yuzu asked.

"I adore travel," she smiled at them. "But I love him more. And the memories I make with him are all the more precious to me for it. In a few years, I imagine, when his life is more settled and he is sure of his place of this world, I will look forward to traveling the land with him. I am quite sure we will have great fun."

'Till the end of time, Tiamat.'

Warmth blossomed in her chest, and she smiled to herself, despite his sisters being right before her. Karin blinked up at her, the young woman's eyes not holding any hostility for the first time. "You really love him, don't you?"

"More than I can put into words," she said in equal measures of conviction and passion. "He has made me happier than I have been in a very, very long time."

After a long pause, Yuzu's lips parted. "Thank you."

Tiamat regarded her carefully. "For what?"

"For making our brother happy," Karin answered in turn, and then Yuzu began to speak again.

"He's an idiot. Onii-chan is a Class A idiot. He'll take on everyone's problems and carry them around like they were his to begin with, but when it comes to his own issues, he'll keep his mouth shut and suffer in silence. Because he doesn't want others to be worried for him. He thinks having others worry for him means he's just being a burden. So, he just locks it all up inside and keeps on pretending everything is fine."

"After mom died," and Tiamat's heart lurched at those three words from Karin, "Ichi-nii did his best to take care of us. Dad was busy running the clinic and trying to fill an empty spot he never could. Ichi-nii didn't want to bother dad, so tried solving everything on his own. And he just got used to it."

Tiamat's gaze fell to the dull metal table. She knew this, of course. Having gleaned it all from his memories that she dreamed in countless nights spent in his arms. Nevertheless, to hear of it from these two young ones, and the anguish in their eyes and voice, how could she not be moved?

What was more sacred than the love between mother and child? And to have it wrenched away so violently at such a young age.

'You gonna adopt them?'

Tiamat had to keep herself from rolling her eyes even as she prodded hard at him within the confines of their shared mindscape.

'Must you be so indifferent to their worries?'

'I would prefer it not being there to begin with. That aside, I'm coming out now.'

She heard the falls of feet even as the door to the shop jingled with his exit.

"Sorry for the wait, the line in there was surprisingly long." He said with the same cool inflection as before he had left.

He placed a brown paper bag at the center of the table and took out one cup of ice cream at a time, matching each flavor to the person who desired it.

"Napkins and spoons are in the bag," he said as he sat down next to her. "So, what were you guys talking about?"

The twins were caught off guard, but Tiamat smoothly said, "We were conversing about professions. Though I am unfamiliar with this country's ways, I know that they are soon to join college within the year, yes?"

"Oh?" He rose a curious brow even as he tore the plastic covering from his spoon and dipped it into his own chocolate ice cream. "You guys have decided what your college majors are going to be?"

They both quickly composed themselves and nodded in unison, happily declaring, "Pre-med!"

She didn't need their bond to feel his surprise, it was as clear as day on his face. "Pre-med? What happened to being a school teacher and making the women's national team?"

Still in synchroneity, they rolled their eyes together.

"We grew up, Ichi-nii, in case you haven't noticed."

"We're not ten years old anymore, Onii-chan."

"Huh." Tiamat did enjoy his baffled look. It made him look rather adorable. "So, what changed your minds?"

"Because people get hurt," Karin said so factually and clinically that she could feel him reel from the words. "And no matter how hard you try; you can't stop them from getting hurt."

"But what you can do," Yuzu continued in place of her sister, "is try to help them get better. So, that they're not hurting anymore."

Tiamat's eyes danced with laughter as his mouth fell open and he stared at the two young women in wonder. Under the table, she reached out and put a hand on his thigh and he immediately grabbed onto it.

'You should be proud of them.'

'I am.'

"That's a very mature outlook," he said after a moment as his lips moved in a full smile. "I'm very proud of you two."

They both beamed up at him.

'And I am proud of you, beloved. That you would inspire them to such nobility, even if it was through that ridiculously stubborn stupidity of yours.'

She could see the faint blush dust his cheeks as he grouched back to her, 'Just eat your damn ice cream before it melts.'

Tiamat's laughter rang through both their minds.

Things were awry.

Right now.

Tiamat sat in his bed, staring out of his window and up at the moon now full and radiating immortal precepts as it had since time immemorial. Invisible to all but those who had the arcane eye for the ebb and flow of the natural world.

"What's wrong?" Her love sat at his desk, tapping away at his laptop.

They had returned from their outing; it having lasted much longer than anyone them would have anticipated. But it was a necessary thing for him to reaffirm his bonds with his sisters, and for her to build bonds to begin with. When they had passed through the threshold of the family home, as the night blanketed the sky, he had set himself to dealing with matters of the Underworld.

"I am unsure," she said slowly as she drew her legs up onto the bed and put them under the covers, never taking her eyes off the glowing moon. "I cannot see it clearly, but there is a coming catalyst. The turning point of a new age."

Moments passed, the shifting of the bed beneath her made her tear her gaze away from the lunar light to find that he had come to sit next to her, his eyes filled with concern. He reached up to cup her cheek, and she instinctively nuzzled into his palm, relishing in the heat of his demonic flesh seeping into her own. In a roundabout manner, it was comforting to her.

"Hey, we'll be fine. Everything will be fine," he said gently as he leaned in to kiss her lips.

She smiled sadly at him. "That promise is not in your power to keep. This may be a small thing now, but it will lead to a great upheaval. One that will bring about a cataclysm if not properly contained. I have seen it before, beloved. I saw it before I was betrayed. I saw it again just before the Morning Star fell from his lofty place, ushering the advent of the Three Great Factions and the inevitable Great War. And last I witnessed it, it heralded the Outrage of the Heavenly Dragons and the millions of deaths they reaped on that battlefield in their final moments - forcing the Great War to a fiery close."

His brown eyes remained resolute even as he ran his thumb gently across her cheek.

"We'll be fine." His repeated words were reinforced with the conviction that flowed from his mind.

Her smile grew even more mournful and said as much as she asked, "Hold me."

And he drew her into his arms and Tiamat collapsed against his chest. Fully melding into his embrace and pressing her head to where his heart would be. He rubbed her back, using the edges of his nails to trace soothing circles up and down her spine the way she enjoyed so much. As she pressed herself even closer to him, she let out a deep purr and kissed his chest.

Even through all the uncertainty of the coming future, the one definiteness she had in the encroaching madness was him. The Devil who was also her heart and home.

"I love you."

"I love you too, beautiful." he said and she felt him plant a firm kiss to the top her head.

She stayed there in his arms for several minutes, content to keep her eyes closed against him. And, though she knew there were things that he wanted to do, she was just selfish enough to hold him here and have them both fall asleep in the moment.

And then his phone rang.

Tiamat's eyes snapped open furiously and she let loose a low, rumbling growl.

He let out a small laugh as she felt his waist twist in her arms as he sought out his phone. "I'm sure it's nothing, it's probably...just...err, it's Yasaka."

Of course.

The growl erupted into a full-blown snarl as she barred her fangs, but he immediatelygrabbed her head and pushed her head into his abdomen, muffling her.

"Are you crazy?" he whispered harshly. "My dad already knows, but my sisters definitely do not!"

"Fine, fine!" She jerked away from him. "Go talk with the gold vermin!"

He hesitated for a slight second, before flicking his thumb across his phone and putting it to his ear.

"Hey there, princess..." and he disappeared from the folds of space, and she felt him reappear several dozen meters above the house.

In truth, she had come to tolerate the Nine-Tailed Fox, but Tiamat was a Dragon and she had pride in spades. She highly doubted she would ever come to consider Yasaka a close friend. Allies, yes. But not a friend. At least not in the coming centuries. And with that thought, her mood soured even more. He was a Devil, not matter his young mind which still clung onto the last vesitges of humanity within him. And Devils and monogamy did not pair well together. He was already living that. In the next several centuries to come, perhaps even as soon as within the next coming decade, she would not be surprised if a third paramour climbed into his bed. And then there would another, and another after that, and so on.

Such was the way of things. Especially with how absurdly gifted he was when it came to unintntionally making women fall in love with him. Nevermind that he had an appealing face and physical form, his forwardness, his lack of indecisiveness, his protectice streak and the absolute oceans of power that dwelt in him; he was beyond appealing to many of the Supernatral.

She let out a frusterated growl. Still silently cursing Yasaka deep within the confines of her own mind. More than anything, Tiamat had been enjoying her moment in her lover's arms. That it was interrupted by his other woman only made it all the more grating.

About to entertain her grumblings with imagined scenes of violence, Tiamat's breath suddenly froze cold in her throat as panic and terror slammed into her hard.

Eyes going wide, her hand immediately went to her chest and the rapidly increasing beat of her heart pounding beneath her ribs. No. This fear wasn't hers. It was his.

"Beloved," she whispered with trepidation.

Instantly Tiamat reached out with her mind, but she was met with such a cacophony of raging emotions and chaotic thoughts that she was momentarily overwhelmed.

'What on Earth has the golden fool said to him?

About to tear through the fabric of space to go to him, he suddenly materialized back into his bedroom, his eyes wild and alarm radiating off of him in spades.


"We need to go. Now!"

Despite his obvious fear, the iron tone of authority crept into his voice.

Tiamat leapt out of bed, soothingly reaching out and grabbing both his shoulders in a comforting rub. "Beloved, what has happened?"

His eyes jumped from place to place as he gathered his thoughts and ran a frustrated hand through his hair, though he was so vexed in the moment he forgot he still holding his phone so he ended up dragging the glass through his locks.

"Something's gone wrong, Takamagahara's barriers around the country were deactivated. And Kokabiel, a fucking Cadre, entered Japan along with entire legions of Fallen numbering in the tens of thousands. Takamagahara is mustering its armies, but to make matters worse, that lunatic is heading straight to Kuoh Academy, where Sirzechs' and Sera's sisters are currently living."

Tiamat hissed. "He'll either hold them hostage or-'

"Kill them outright and enrage Sirzechs and Sera into launching an all-out war of vengeance. Yeah, exactly. And you want to know what the icing on the cake is?" he said without any humor. "Kokabiel stole the Excalibur fragments from the Church and is using them as bait. Uriel is leading his personal legions across the sea even as we speak to reclaim them. We're on the brink of an Immortal War."

"No," she breathed in horror. Mortals would die in droves if this place becomes a battlefield. The boundaries of life and death will inevitably fall, the Realms of the Living and Dead will spill over onto each other.

He rubbed his temples vigorously. "On top of everything this week, I now need to stop a fucking apocalypse. Worst! Vacation! Ever!"

Author's Note:

discord .gg/JV97AUmAr7

p-atreon. /FicticiousChaos

Please consider dropping by the discord! Lots of fun exclusive for discord members! Let me give you an example from a character interview we did with Sirzechs!

Hikori Takeo asks, "My question is, what's it like to lack one out of two balls?"

Aion asks, "For a devil to lose one testicle, how much testosterone is lost as well as impact in social status?"

Sirzechs says: "Your concern for my health and physical well being is most appreciated! If only I had more such warm-hearted people around me! Yes, Ichigo was most disgruntled about me fusing him into an aspect of pure evil. Though I do not believe that warranted him crushing my left testicle. Honestly, the boy is such a drama queen at times. It took me seven months to regenerate! Seven bloody months! A very itchy process, and you can immediately notice the imbalance when you wear trousers or undergarments. As the kids these days are want to say, ten out of ten, would not recommend. In regards to testosterone, I am afraid you are conflating your mammal biology with my demonic essence. My lineage is not of the elements of the Earth and Dead Stars, but of Corrupted Light and Precepts of Shadow and Destruction."