Putting A Plan Into Motion
"Kū-chan said you needed to find another shinigami," Kaien murmured as they all went into the shouten to find Kūkaku. "Do you know his name?"
"We only know he's a fifth seat," Ryūken looked up to meet the shinigami's eyes, just as piercing a hue as his younger sister's, only his were aqua green. "Urahara-kun's seen him."
Kisuke gulped as Kaien turned his gaze to him, their eyes both as curious about the other, but as usual the boy had an edge in that area on anyone somehow. "He was large...um," He realized just about everyone was bigger than he was. "I mean...he was bigger than normal, meaty fists...black hair in lots of braids, pale skin..."
Tessai hadn't been able to give him much information on the subject of shinigami so Kisuke didn't know if that was very helpful. He knew that they were paragons in Rukongai, meaning he was currently gaping helplessly at the man in the black shinigami uniform. It didn't help that at his description the intimidating Kaien's eyes starting to glow with fury.
"He tried to hurt you?"
Kisuke lowered his eyes as it seemed Kaien, Kūkaku and Ryūken were staring him down. "I tricked him out of a loaf of bread, Tessai-kun and I hadn't eaten in a long time and-"
"It is still dishonorable action for a fifth seat. Plus taking your pet is a childish response," Kaien's hand suddenly came down to pat Ryūken's pale head in consolation. "Don't worry Ryūken-kun we'll rescue him."
The shinigami was taken by surprise when Kisuke threw his arms around his waist to hug him. "Domo arigatou gozaimasu!" He cried his face muffled in Kaien's kimono.
With a chuckle Kaien returned his embrace as Ryūken held back the reprimand he wanted to give either Kisuke or Kaien, as if he were reminding Yoruichi of her own station. "Give me a few moments kids."
They watched him as he left the shouten out the front door. Two nearly identical teenage boys appeared right behind them, bowing deep and Kūkaku nodded at them both. "Is it ready?"
"Hai!" They moved to flank the door and Kūkaku preceded them into the back room of before. Kisuke and Ryūken waited as they blocked the doorway while following their young mistress.
Kisuke's eyes grew so large it was funny enough to make Ryūken crack a smile. Being from Rukongai he'd never seen so much food in one place.
When spiritual pressure was so reliant on eating well and those of Seireitei had enough to instill it when creating new souls like the nobles, food was important. Ryūken was sure Kūkaku had ordered enough food made to feed the shouten; he'd noticed a lack of Shibas in the front room.
The number of trays that seemed to be for Kūkaku alone was impressive, being a noble brat's meal, hopefully she felt like sharing.
"Go at it," Kūkaku murmured and as she turned to see Kisuke's expression she cackled madly. "Wait Urahara-kun let me get some first!"
Kisuke gave a vigorous shake of his head-hair still thoroughly soaked through-and managed to shower Ryūken with tiny cold droplets. "Urahara-kun!" He sighed in frustration.
"Sorry, I've just never seen this much food!" Kisuke watched as Kūkaku started walking around the trays situated on the floor with Koganehiko carrying her large plate and Shiroganehiko filling the plate with anything she pointed at.
"Anyone with spiritual pressure has to eat, but I'm sure you noticed that," Ryūken admitted, and it was kind of a compliment Kisuke thought. Ryūken wanted to distract Kisuke, who looked to be salivating. The Quincy didn't blame him, the smell alone was getting to him; he could hear his stomach protesting not having the substance to go with the aroma.
"Yeah, Tessai-kun used to get really tired," Kisuke frowned and Ryūken remember Yoruichi's account of the two boys' friendship splitting. "I did too," He muttered, as if to himself.
Rather than let him dwell Ryūken pointed out that Kūkaku was elbow deep in food already. "As long as you don't eat more than half of it I can eat too."
There was a breathless moment when Kisuke treated Ryūken to an exuberant bear hug before descending on the food. Straightening his glasses Ryūken took the opportunity to return to the front room then out to spot Kaien muttering to himself.
"Oh it's Kaien pipsqueak," He turned and Ryūken was surprised to see a delicate black butterfly, edged with the color of the shinigami's eyes.
"Why is your hell butterfly that color?" Ryūken asked while cursing his prolonged exposure to one Kisuke Urahara...Where had his restrain gone? Caution? Hello? No. None!
"Matches my eyes," Kaien shrugged. "He just came that way," He looked surprised as the butterfly left his hand to dance away, thankfully distracting Kaien from the admission of shinigami knowledge Ryūken was still berating himself for.
"Where to?" The questions wouldn't stop!
"Oi! Maukawa!" Kaien shouted and Ryūken jumped. "I wasn't done where do ya' think you're going?"
The hell butterfly did a beautiful loop and turned around to hover in front of his shinigami's perturbed scowl. "Ukitaki-taichō," Came out in Kaien's off-handed manner, like a perfect imitation.
"Aw don't be a show off now," Kaien gave a wave of his hand.
Ryūken watched the creature fly away worry gnawing at his stomach in combination with the hunger. "Why did you-"
"I'm only a twelfth seat...they don't officially count it as a seat all the way in Central 46 but the division does." Kaien murmured and watched his hell butterfly long after he disappeared. "Except for Ukitaki-taichō," He laughed fondly. "Although he says he only tolerates me because I'm so promising."
"Kaien-sama," Ryūken glanced toward the shouten door. "Koneko-sama is really..." He hesitated and when Kaien met his gaze questioningly the Quincy found he couldn't reveal precious secrets to a shinigami even Yoruichi's secret. "H-he's really important to me. How will you rescue him?"
"I've sent word to Ukitaki-taichō, who is sending for that baka that thinks himself worthy of a seated position. Tch," Kaien crossed his arms over his chest and Ryūken saw a large black tattoo along the top of his forearm, revealed when the sleeve of his shihakushō moved. He quickly recognized the curling black shape as the Shiba crest, easily since there were several blaring in his peripheral vision along the shouten's front. "His quarters aren't far from here and Kūkaku convinced me she could sneak in much easier without either Koganehiko or Shiroganehiko-"
"Kūkaku-chan? Why aren't you going?"
Kaien gave him a grin, "Weren't you the one that wanted this to stay covert? Shouldn't you be an expert already after infiltrating the Shihōin noble house?" He moved to lean on the front of the building, one of his feet lifting up to scratch the back of his other leg. "Huh Quincy-kun?"
"I-I only want it to stay covert because I don't wish to ruin Shihōin-hime's chance to make her okasama proud."
Surprised Kaien straightened against the wall. "What does Yoruichi-chan have to do with this?"
"This is my problem, I don't want others to find out, and make it hers," Ryūken murmured and the silence following was broken with the loud rumble of hunger from his empty stomach.
"Kū-chan has spiritual pressure but she's an unknown," Kaien pushed away from the wall and moved toward the door. "Shinigami are hard to hide reiatsu from," He lifted an eyebrow as he glanced down to catch the boy's eyes. "So I can't go, he'll recognize me."
Ryūken was so off put by having his deepest secret detected without a single ounce of visible effort-he hadn't even felt Kaien's reiatsu examining him-that he worried the shinigami was powerful enough to hear his heart speeding in his narrow chest. He didn't want Kūkaku to go alone, but he was pretty sure she wouldn't want to have him tag along, plus if a twelfth seat could tell his reiatsu belonged to a Quincy...
"Kaien-sama, could Urahara-kun go?"
Surprise lit Kaien's eyes and he glanced back in Kisuke's direction, then down to Ryūken. "I don't recognize his name, is he a student in the Shihōin guard?"
"I don't mean to sound condescending but this isn't a mission for kids."
"I know but-" Ryūken hesitated a moment before asking, that was something like his old self-control. "He has spiritual energy, you can feel it right?"
Kaien's expression didn't change, but soon Ryūken felt the swell of the shinigami's considerable reiatsu as he stealthily reevaluated the boy. He was pleased with his own skill when he found that he hadn't skipped needlessly over the boy easily sensing that he was a non-threat when he'd arrived. "Not more than any soul has in order to stay corporal."
"But..." Ryūken grumbled to a halt as he thought over the strange Rukongai native. "He can sense reiatsu."
"Interesting," Kaien's raven eyebrows hitched downward into a scowl, made softer by the bewildered grin on his face. "I'd heard Furui-jiji was making announcements in Rukongai for guard submissions."
Ryūken shook his head as yet another person told him something that he knew had been decided only last night, proving that Kentetsu was making good on his deal. "The Fon and Tsukabishi families were humble Rukongai citizens once."
"True," Kaien nodded with an approving smile on his face. "You're a smart kid."
Ryūken only nodded back and gave a small grateful bow of his head to the noble.
"And I'm sure a Quincy needs to eat just as much as a shinigami does, so lets get inside and eat before we have to put the rest of our plan into action," Kaien joked as he let Ryūken proceed him into the shouten. "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure you're not going to prove Soul Society's enemy so I'll keep your secret for you."
"Domo arigatou, Kaien-sama." Ryūken quickly lead the way inside, part of him chaffing at the necessary gratitude towards a shinigami.
By the time they reached the food there was hardly enough for Ryūken, let alone Kaien. Kisuke was sleeping in Kūkaku's pillow nest and the girl was in the final preparations for her mission.
"Yūk-kun," Kūkaku barked when she caught sight of him. "The twins went to make more food, they should be back soon."
"Yes! Second course? Fantastic!" Kaien moved to grab a mostly empty platter then he started putting whatever was left on the other platters onto it. When he was done he handed the platter over to Ryūken who could only gape at it in surprise a moment. "Ryūken-kun you are a growing boy."
For some reason Ryūken found himself sitting near Kisuke's snoring form. He looked like someone had hit him over the head and he'd stayed exactly where he had fallen...A small upward twitch to the corners of his lips was the only indication of his amusement.
"I think I'll go see how far along the cooks are," Kaien announced and he disappeared while Ryūken was distracted by the food in his mouth.
Kūkaku laughed loud enough to wake Kisuke as it became very apparent that Ryūken had just eaten the infamous, "Shrieking Shiba Fire Fish." "We like our food a little spicier than Shihōin-sama."
"That's why I filled up on rice..." Kisuke confessed with a yawn. "I loved 'em but they didn't love me."
"For a Rukongai brat, he sure ate like a Shiba," Kūkaku purposefully repeated the compliment from earlier to see if she could get the same blush and wasn't disappointed the second time.
"Kū-chan stop it!" Kisuke held a pillow up to shield his face.
Ryūken was already fanning his burning tongue so when the exchange happened it was nothing for his jaw to gape open even more in shock. Then Kisuke threw the pillow at his face.
"Did your mom ever tell you not to make faces like that for long or the expression might stick," Kisuke noticed the forming smile wilt.
"My father," Ryūken nodded. "You're being rude to Kūkaku-chan."
"Oh, not everyone's as stiff as you," Kūkaku admonished. "I don't know what she sees in you."
"Who?" Kisuke murmured, Ryūken hadn't really thought he could go for as long as he had without a question.
"Shihōin-hime," Ryūken answered and waited for the inevitable follow-up question.
"Oh yeah," Kisuke nodded instead. Ryūken noticed how his hair had dried funny while he slept, now it was down in his face but bunched to either side of his eyes and Ryūken noticed someone had braided a clump down the center over his nose. "Koneko-sama said he belonged to the princess."
"Ichi-kun hates formality-"
"Ugh your nicknames Kūku-chan!" Ryūken protested.
"Hey that's my line Yūk-kun!" Kūkaku laughed a moment until her head suddenly swung upward only a moment before Kaien's hell butterfly, Maukawa, fluttered in through the tiny window high up in the wall. "Oniisan!"
Kaien was suddenly there, then suddenly on the other side of the room shunpoing as the butterfly danced down like a leaf flittering back and forth. Kaien lifted his hand to intercept and he landed with delicate tickling feet on the shinigami's fingertip. As soon as his wings went still a deep somber voice filled the small room.
"Shiba-kun the quarters are empty, let me know by hell butterfly when it is safe to release Nakamura Kyojuu."
After the message ended Kaien turned to meet Kūkaku's gaze and she gave a sure nod, her grin almost feral. "Ryūken-kun, Kisuke-kun I left Koganehiko and Shiroganehiko with a few dozen platters."
"Hai, Kaien-sama," Ryūken gave a small bow of his head and as he stood gave Kisuke a glance.
He was watching as Kūkaku hugged her brother and whispered in his ear. "Where is Kū-chan going?"
Rolling his eyes at the informality Ryūken reached down to help pull the boy to his feet. "To rescue Koneko-sama."
Kisuke's eyes went wide and he was obviously reluctant so Ryūken had to drag him toward the hidden door. "She might need help Ryūken-kun maybe you should-"
"I can't," Ryūken glanced back to watch Kūkaku duck out the door. "I would if I could believe me."
Kisuke could see he was angry with himself for his inability, whatever might have caused it. "It's all right Ryūken-kun not everyone can move stealthily."
"That's not why!" Ryūken yelled and they both stared startled at one another. The Quincy looked baffled at his lack of self-control. This boy...
With a shake of his head Ryūken continued to the tapestry, behind it was a surprisingly wide staircase down. "I'm not answering that question."
Oh, just that question? "I heard you call Koneko-sama 'Yoru' earlier to Kū-chan," Kisuke started and had to stop before he smashed into the boy who'd abruptly stopped in the hidden threshold. "Is that his-"
"Why don't you clean up the old platters so we have a place for them?" Ryūken suggested.
Since Ryūken was purposefully not looking at him, Kisuke didn't bother trying to hold back the pleased grin. "Are you sure Ryūken-kun?"
"Very," Ryūken grumbled before disappearing down the staircase.
"Hai!" Kisuke exclaimed muffled though the tapestry.
Ryūken had been in the Shiba palace only once in the few meetings he had tagged along in secret for with Yoruichi. The much more modest underground part of the shouten was a bit more familiar.
There was only a small hallway and a few rooms off of it. He found the kitchen by smell and found Koganehiko and Shiroganehiko helping a handful of cooks.
"Ryūken-san!" Koganehiko exclaimed in surprise.
"I was hoping I could help you with the food," Ryūken murmured with a bow of his head.
"Honorable Ryūken-san, domo arigatou gozaimasu! We could use an extra set of hands getting it upstairs," Shiroganehiko put hand on Ryūken's shoulder to guide the bewildered Quincy to the nearby wall.
There was a small door set too high in the wall, and hidden behind it was a compartment with a set of ropes, Ryūken could probably have fit inside it comfortably. "Food goes in and then someone at the top pulls those ropes," Shiroganehiko gestured with a thumbs-up. "And up it goes. With you we can get the trays in much quicker."
"Almost done Koganehiko-san!" One of the cooks started to fill a dozen more platters.
"Ryūken-san grab that tray with the short legs," Shiroganehiko pointed as he managed four platters at once, two in each arm.
"Hai! I'll be waiting up top Shiroganehiko." Koganehiko gave a clap of his hands and a nod to them as they loaded the dumbwaiter with platters and used the trays with the legs to stack and utilize all of the compartment's space. After six layers, each with two or three platters, Ryūken was taken by surprise when the lift jerked up and out of sight. "Whoa!" He leaned cautiously in to look up but the shaft was pitch black.
"Domo arigatou, Ryūken-san! You shaved two and half seconds off my average loading time," Shiroganehiko turned to the kitchen. "Domo arigatou gozaimasu!" Shiroganehiko called to the still busy cooks, who seemed to be cleaning up now.
They went back upstairs to find Koganehiko sitting with Kaien, eating from the trays, already all set out. Kaien ordered them to both join them. Now that he could see it all laid out Ryūken noticed a more sweets oriented menu. He also noticed...
Kaien only sighed, and then-to give himself time-he stuffed a sweet bun into his mouth whole. For a moment Ryūken thought he might be choking but then his eyes stopped rolling back as he groaned, "Mmmm yummy!"
"Kaien-sama!" Ryūken didn't hesitate to shout in a chastising tone. The resulting sheepish grin made his next words almost unnecessary. "Where is Urahara-kun?"