Quiet Protector

BY : phoenixreal
Category: Bleach > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 1149
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, and I don't make money.

 September 9, 2014 (Three Weeks into Fall Semester)

University of Missouri, St. Louis

“Kira, man, what the hell are you doing?” came a voice behind the slender blonde college junior.

Izuru Kira was shy, painfully shy and introverted, actually. His best friend, though, a fellow student named Shuuhei Hisagi, was not shy in the least. Hisagi wore his short black hair spiked and usually had on tight t-shirts and jeans. In contrast, Kira’s hair was long and fell in his eyes often, and he usually wore loose slacks and polo shirts. Hisagi had a sixty-nine tattooed right on his cheek and a few other facial tattoos. He was also extremely proud to show off his Prince Albert piercing to anyone willing to look, and had several other facial piercings. Kira on the other hand had neither, though he admitted to finding them attractive on others. The pair could not have possibly been more different from each other. The things they shared in common were seemingly small compared to the things that separated them. A shared half Japanese heritage was what had originally brought them together since not many kids in first grade could speak two languages. It was a small thing, but it had been enough to forge a lasting and deep friendship between the two.

Kira turned to Hisagi and a blush shot across his cheeks. He was doing it again, and he knew that Hisagi was going to jump his case about it. He let the tree limb he’d been holding go and looked at his boisterous friend and brushed the blond hairs back from his eyes again.

“Were you spying on him again, Kira?” Hisagi said with a smirk, looking around the tree Kira was hiding behind. Not far away on the other side there was another boy. Sitting on the grass with a book open on his lap was a lanky freshman with glaringly orange hair.

Kira had first seen the freshman at orientation over the summer. He was an exchange student from Japan for the first time this year. Immediately he’d been entranced. He very rarely had that reaction to other students. Generally, the others he found attractive were American. However, he did fit his type of being on the effeminate side. There were several other Japanese kids in the group with him, but the orange hair stood out to Kira and everyone else. He’d been in Kira’s group because Kira and Shuuhei always got the Japanese speakers because both were involved with the Japanese Student Association. Their school was actually the only one in the state to offer Japanese studies as a major, so often times they got more students that spoke the Asian languages than many of the other schools in the area. St. Louis was a pretty large city, and the schools there always drew in lots of foreign and local students. He seemed to remember something about this particular boy having been related to a professor and getting a full scholarship to come attend the science program. For the life of him he couldn’t remember who it had been.

Kira shook his head and shifted his backpack. He sighed deeply and headed in the opposite direction, Hisagi trailing him. “Dude, you got the hots for him still?”

“I think he’s cute,” he said slowly as they came up to the vending machine where he bought himself a soda.

“So…you wanna fuck ‘im?” Hisagi said, leaning back against the machine and arching one black brow at him. Again Kira blushed a bit. “So you just go up to him and tell him, man it isn’t that hard. Just tell him you are dying to take out your cock and fuck him until he screams your name in absolute ecstasy.”

“I can’t just say that!” Kira said, flushing again.

Hisagi was always so forward about everything. He had never had a bit of trouble speaking his mind, no matter how much it got him in trouble or make others angry at him. It did, however, make it quite easy for him to approach women. He tended to either get slapped, or get laid, and sometimes he managed to do both. Kira was not about to be so vulgar or crass with such a delicate looking thing, however. In fact, he was never very verbal at all about his internal desires. Another way the two were different was Hisagi’s tendency to pepper both his English and Japanese with expletives and creative phrases. Kira rarely said anything vulgar at all.

Hisagi rolled his eyes. “Works on the chicks I bang. Aren’t you gay boys supposed, you know, dig the casual sex thing?”

Kira sighed. “I don’t dig the casual sex thing. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I have to like casual sex. Way to grasp at stereotypes, dude. I prefer a relationship, unlike you who just screws anything with a vagina.”

They made fun of each other all the time. Hisagi was completely happy sleeping with a different girl every night, ever since they’d been in high school it had been that way. He had a little black book a mile long, and more than one ready to come back to him the minute he called them. He had a sixty nine on his cheek for very good reason. He was known as quite the lady pleaser. It was a really good thing he wasn’t going into a field like law with his look. It was going to be hard enough to get into forensics with his facial modifications. When asked, he’d respond that his resume would do all the talking for him and he didn’t need to worry about his appearance.

Kira on the other hand had only dated a couple of guys in his time, and they always ended because Kira didn’t just want the sex, he wanted to have someone that he could take care of, protect even. Perhaps that was why he went for the more feminine looking guys, thinking they perhaps wanted to be protected. It was a silly thing, of course. Appearances had little to do with desires. Considering his own appearance usually attracted more muscular and athletic guys, he was definitely at a disadvantage when looking for a partner. He didn’t want a boyfriend that tried to top him or even one that tried to top from the bottom. He wanted to be in control, and considering his shy and quiet nature, finding that right person had been…difficult. He invariably went out with guys that assumed he was going to do what they said in the bedroom. Kira had trouble asking them out, he didn’t have trouble telling them hell no once they were in the bedroom. More than once he’d tossed someone out of his bed when things weren’t going the way he wanted, needed, them to go.

Even more than that, he wanted someone to depend on him. It was a strange need, but that’s what he wanted; no, it was more than that, he needed that. He wanted someone that needed him as badly as he needed to protect someone. Hisagi had never understood that concept, and told him he just needed to find some needy bottom in a bar and go for it. He didn’t want to do that. It wasn’t that he hadn’t done it before, it just left him feeling so empty and hollow afterward. Asking people out though was nerve wracking because he was scared stiff of asking out a straight guy. That had happened once when he was just starting college, and he’d ended up with a broken nose for it. Well, that was one of the reasons. There were many others, as well, his dad for one who believed that he was simply “confused”. He always commented that he had obviously been confused since seven years old.

“Don’t tell me you still worry about some asshole homophobe decking you again,” Hisagi said as though he was reading his mind. “You’ve spent the last three years in tae kwon do, dude, you are not going to get decked that easy again. Besides, he just got the jump on you, is all. You were pussy blinded…er, is it cock blinded?” Hisagi said, scratching his head.

They headed off to their next class, and Kira muttered at him to just shut up about it. He’d do it when he got up the guts. He knew, of course, that that would probably never really happen. Hisagi often caught him staring longingly at guys and then tried very hard to encourage him to do something. Before he knew it, he’d see the boy he was after on someone else’s arm. If it was a girl, he didn’t feel too bad, but when it was a guy, he wanted to kick himself.

They took their seats, last two seats in the far left rows. It was a junior/senior level chemistry class. Both Kira and Hisagi were science majors, though Kira was going into medical science and Hisagi was going into forensic science. This had been the only class they could take together this semester so they’d used up an elective for it. They were talking and then the professor, Dr. Urahara clapped loudly and they looked up, Kira’s eyes widening in shock because it was the orange haired boy he’d been fascinated with.

“Attention class, we’ve got a new student. I know it is unusual at three weeks into the semester to have a new student, but Ichigo here was a bit too advanced for his freshman chemistry class so he was tested into this level.”

Hisagi and Kira exchanged glances. That was mildly impressive.

Dr. Urahara spoke to him and pointed out an empty seat in the middle row towards the back. Kira couldn’t take his eyes off him. He seemed…different, though. His head was bowed and he slipped into his seat quickly, pulling his jacket up over his shoulder as it slipped down. When he did, Kira frowned because he swore there was a bruise around his forearm under the sleeve of his jacket. And why was he wearing a jacket, he thought, it was bloody well hot outside…

“Ichigo, would you introduce yourself to the class?” Urahara asked with a grin.

The boy looked up and swallowed nervously. “I’m Ichigo Kurosaki, b-bio-chem m-major.”

Kira frowned and glanced at Hisagi who shrugged. Scared of public speaking, maybe? Urahara nodded, seeing that was all he was going to get out of him. He was a freshman, after all, he guessed. They went about the class, and Kira noted the way the kid seemed to avoid any and all attention. Kira kept glancing at him. He was cute, that was the only way he could describe him. He had big brown eyes and his skin was just slightly tanned. He was wearing a pair of tan pants and a dark t-shirt with a light jacket over them. He didn’t seem to have a Japanese accent, which was no surprise; some of the foreign students had been speaking English as long as they’d been speaking Japanese. The rest of the class went on without a problem and toward the end Urahara clapped loudly.

“Attention students, because this is a two part class, I’ll see all of you tomorrow during lab, but for the lecture portion, we are going to have a group project which will take up around seventy percent of your lecture grade,” he said, getting pained groans from throughout the room. “Now, now, none of that. We’ve got eighteen students, so we’ll be dividing into groups of three for this assignment. Loly, Tosh, and Luppi, you’re group one. Franceska, Rukia, and Love, group two. Edrad, Illfordt, and Ggio group three. Ikkaku, Nelliel, and Emilou, you’ll be group four. Yasutora, Di Roy, and Findorr, group five. And finally, group six, Shuuhei, Izuru and Ichigo. Now, please, meet with your groups for about five minutes before class ends, exchange numbers and email addresses and Wednesday we’ll discuss the details of your projects.”

Kira’s heart flew to his throat and he choked. Hisagi looked over at him with an evil looking grin. Kira frowned and shook his head emphatically at his friend as he stood up and went over where the other student was sitting. He could tell by that look that Hisagi was determined to try and “wingman” again. This was not an uncommon occurance, and generally ended with Kira feeling abashed and ashamed in the end. They had to work together all semester! He did not want to end up feeling uncomfortable with his group partner, even though he actually did want to take him to bed and do all sorts of naughty things to him. He shook his head and realized that Hisagi was already over at his desk. Dammit, Shuuhei, he thought to himself.

“Hey, Ichigo!” Hisagi said, flopping into the desk in front of him. Ichigo started and looked up at him. Kira quickly grabbed his things and moved over beside him and pulled his desk across.

“Hi, don’t mind him, he’s a bit on the loud side,” he told the younger boy. Ichigo looked at him for a long moment.

“You were at orientation,” he said finally to Kira.

Kira grinned, happy to have been recognized. He nodded. “Yeah, I was helping out with the Japanese Student Association and doing the tours for the students coming into the program from Japan.”

Ichigo’s eyes didn’t move for a long moment. “You’re Japanese?”

Kira nodded. “My dad is, anyway. My mom’s American. My dad works at St. Luke’s here in the internal medicine department. I’m going to school for the same thing once I get into Wash U.”

A small smile ghosted over Ichigo’s face. “I want to go there too,” he said quietly. “That’s…that’s why I’m here, my uncle…” Kira couldn’t help but notice the pause and hitch in his breath. “He…he’s the dean of business here, and I got a scholarship. B-but I had to leave my family back in Japan. When I gr-graduate they’re coming to the US, though,” he said. “My sisters will be out of school by then.” He then stared at his hands thoughtfully.

“I’m in forensic science. I want to be one of those CSI guys like on TV, but I know that it isn’t really like on TV, so don’t bother telling me that,” Hisagi said, seeing that Ichigo wasn’t going to say anything else. “So, you got a girl back in Japan?”

Kira glared at him hard and Hisagi shrugged at him. Ichigo shook his head, flushing a bit. “No, I wasn’t seeing anyone there. I have a lot of friends, though. This one girl that used to always try and get me to ask her out. She just didn’t understand. I don’t miss that k-kind of attention.”

Urahara clapped from the front of the room. “Okay students, you are free to go if you like, but there’s no class in here after us, so you can stay and get to know your group if you want to!” he said and headed out the door.

Ichigo stood up. “Um, nice to talk to you, gotta go, m-my uncle’s picking me up,” he said and ducked out the door with the crowd of people.

Kira looked after him. “Something’s not right,” he said to Hisagi as he stood.

“You worry too much, he’s just intimidated by being in an upperclassmen class. Besides, did you hear that? Boy’s gay, I know these things. I mean, he’s in a new country with new people, things aren’t going to be smooth at first,” Hisagi said with a wave of his hand.

Kira shook his head. “No, that’s not it at all, Hisagi, and I don’t know what it is…”

March 2014

Karakura Town, Japan

“It’s a golden opportunity, son!” Isshin Kurosaki said across the dinner table to his oldest child. His twin daughters, Karin and Yuzu sat on either side of the seventeen year old boy.

Ichigo growled under his breath. “But the United States?” he said with a sigh. “I don’t want to leave you guys for four years! I don’t even know anyone there!”

Ichigo was trying to imagine missing his sisters and dad for that long. He barely went away for weekends as it was. Karin and Yuzu had been attached at the hip to him since their mom died, and he had honeslty thought that would never change. Here his dad was, though, suggesting turning everything he knew on its head. His left knee throbbed with the anxiety of just thinking of leaving home. He swallowed and tried to remember what he’d done with the anxiety meds he kept for emergencies.

“Son, your uncle is being very generous with this offer. He has the chance to help you get an extraordinary education for nearly no cost to you or us!” his dad continued.

“Pop, I don’t even know Uncle Ryuken that well!” he complained, stabbing one of his chopsticks into a rice ball sullenly.

Isshin smiled. “He loved your mother dearly, and so he loves you and your sisters dearly. He and I never got along well, but he did care a great deal for your mother. That’s why he’s willing to let you stay with him while you go to school. He sees his dear friend and sister-in-law in you! He sees my beautiful Masaki. He also sees his own wife and your aunt in you.”

Ichigo grumbled. It wasn’t even like he was his real uncle. He was only his mother’s brother in law anyway. The last time he’d seen him, he’d been nine years old just after his mother had died. He’d never forget the white haired man with his black haired son. He’d walked up to Ichigo’s father and said terrible, horrible things about him and how his mom’s death was all his fault, and that if he’d raised Ichigo better, it wouldn’t have happened.

Ichigo had been nine at the time, and they’d been walking home in the rain after going to his karate practice. Ichigo was a complete mommy’s boy. He never left her side when she was around and when she left him, no matter how short the time, he felt empty inside. She was the very light that his life revolved around. Then in a thunderous crack, it changed. He and his mom had been jumped by a mugger, and she ended up taking a bullet to the chest trying to protect him. He’d ended up with another bullet going through his knee and shattering it completely. He’d still been in the hospital during the funeral and had only been let out to attend, and then he had been confined to a wheelchair.

He’d never forget his uncle’s accusing gaze when it fell on him. There was something in those eyes that chilled him through and through, and he thought he couldn’t get any colder without his mother there. Ichigo’s father had told him not to listen to what his uncle said because he was upset and hurt. He said that his uncle didn’t mean any of those terrible things he said. Still, Ichigo had to wonder if his uncle still placed the blame for his mother’s death on him. He certainly still blamed himself in many ways. It had, after all, been his karate practice they had been coming home from. Karate had been something he wanted to do. It had been so selfish, but he’d just wanted time with his mom by himself, away from his sisters and his dad. In the end, it had been the direct cause of her death.

Even still, Ichigo wasn’t sure why his mom’s death upset his uncle so much when not even his own wife’s death seemed to faze him. They’d been to that funeral as well. Ichigo remembered how distraught his mom was and it seemed that his uncle, who had just lost his wife, couldn’t have been more collected and stoic about it. He knew that his mom and Ryuken and his aunt had grown up together, so he supposed his uncle considered his mom his best friend or something. It still didn’t explain why Aunt Kanae’s death didn’t seem to bother him.

Ichigo was so confused, then, to have his uncle invite him to the states like this. Had things changed since he’d gone to the states? Had he changed that much?

“I don’t know, can I think about it, pop?” Ichigo said with a sigh.

“You can, but not too long, registration cuts off at the end of the week,” he said.

Ichigo gaped. “What! I haven’t even graduated yet!”

“I know son, but this is a United States school, and all the paperwork for a foreign exchange student has to be in by the end of March. You wouldn’t be leaving until the end of July, and your uncle has said he’ll pay for the plane ticket to get you there. You’d take the scholarship for four years at this University of Missouri in St. Louis where he works, then you can go on to Washington University, one of the US’s best medical schools. And by the time you graduate the first school, the girls will be out of school and I’ll have saved enough money to bring us across to stay with you!” his dad said with a grin.

Ichigo stood and nodded. “I’ll tell you by the end of today, pop,” he said and headed out to the park.

When he got there, his friends were sitting around laughing and talking. He plopped down beside Tatsuki with a frown. She leaned over and punched him in the arm. “What’s up?” she asked.

He sighed and told his friends about his uncle’s offer. Mizuiro and Keigo immediately started chatting about how awesome it was and Orihime looked slightly distraught. Ichigo knew it was because she had a crush on him. He couldn’t worry about such silly things right now thought.

“You’re going to take it right, baka?” Keigo said, leaning forward.

“I don’t know, I mean, last time I saw this uncle it wasn’t on good terms,” Ichigo said, scratching the back of his head thoughtfully.

The other three exchanged glances, remembering vividly when Ichigo’s mother had been killed. Ichigo himself had spent nearly six months between the hospital and rehabilitation just trying to get full use of his leg back afterward. The bullet had shattered his knee and he’d needed a replacement. Of course, Ichigo had been nine. That meant that he was still growing, and he spent most of his youth in pain of one sort or another, either from surgeries or his growing around the false knee that had been put in place. Of course, it had destroyed any hopes of sports or martial arts he’d had. He would have to have one to two more surgeries in the next few years as he hit his last growth spurts. He reached down unconsciously and rubbed his left knee. It was starting to ache already. It was a daily reminder of what had happened that changed his family forever.

Noticing Tatsuki looked up. “Will he get you the surgery you’ll need on your knee?” she asked.

Ichigo nodded. “Pop told him about that, he said that there wouldn’t be any trouble getting the last surgeries I’ll need.”

Tatsuki put an arm around her oldest friend. “Hey, either way, we’re here for you, okay? And we’re just a phone call away, you know, if you do go. I have to agree with your dad, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

By the time he got home later that evening he’d made up his mind. The chance to become a doctor was too attractive. He would never get such an opportunity again, no matter how well he scored on tests and exams. Also, the chance to travel to the United States was pretty awesome as well, and he knew that there, at least, his hair color wouldn’t mark him as being someone weird. Granted, it wasn’t like he cared. Between his hair and being the school’s favorite “cripple” as he was often teased with, he honestly hadn’t had a great time in school.   Maybe a change would be good, and going somewhere where he could start out fresh. He still couldn’t believe the stoic and dour man had made such an offer.

Before long he trudged up the stairs to tell his father he was going to accept it. His father cried, his sisters cheered and bawled when he turned his back. Then he headed up to his room and dug franticly through his desk until he located the prescription bottle he needed and dry swallowed three of them. The last time he’d taken them had been before the last fireworks festival. As usual, he calmed and then passed out into his bed.

July 28, 2014

St. Louis International Airport

4:00 pm

“I guess I don’t understand, Ryuken. I thought you swore to never have anything to do with the Kurosakis after Aunt Masaki was killed,” Uryuu said with an exasperated sigh as they waited at the airport for the jet with his cousin on board.

Ryuken, Uryuu’s father though his son had stopped using that name long ago, nodded. “I know that, son. But how can we blame a child for his father’s idiocy?”

Uryuu glanced at his father. He didn’t trust him at all. Something about the whole situation was off. Uryuu had left home as soon as he was able to move into the dorms after he graduated. After his mom died, they’d moved to America. Since then, he and his father hadn’t gotten along. Then when they’d had to fly to Japan after his mom’s sister had been murdered during a mugging, he’d become impossible to live with. It was like losing his wife had barely fazed him but for some reason losing his wife’s sister destroyed him. Uryuu had spent most of his time outside the house after that point with his best friends Renji, Ikkaku, and Yumichika, Ikkaku’s boyfriend. Ryuken randomly gone on rants about his brother in law and the bastard child that got his wife’s sister killed. Uryuu never understood blaming the kid for his mother’s death. Even at twelve years old, Uryuu had known his younger cousin couldn’t have done anything. And now, he was letting that same “bastard child” that he’d blamed come live with him, free of charge? He’d even paid to have him flown from Japan. No, Uryuu didn’t trust his father at all. Then again, Uryuu had raised himself after his mother died.   Then a year later her sister had been killed. Something just didn’t feel right about the whole situation.

Uryuu didn’t know his cousin very well, but there was no mistaking that head of orange hair. He’d never seen someone that had such an obnoxious color naturally. Ichigo waved to them and Uryuu watched as his father smiled at Ichigo. Uryuu was even more suspicious. His father was not known to smile except when he was trying to manipulate business associates or when he was extremely self-satisfied over something.

“Ichigo,” Ryuken said, bowing slightly at the boy. “I trust your flight was well?”

Ichigo smiled, nodding, obviously nervous. “Yes, I am still surprised at your generous offer, Uncle Ryuken,” he said. “I must thank you once again,” he said and bowed deeply at the white haired man.

Uryuu read the tension and saw the way he leaned on his right leg when he stood. He remembered then that he’d had his knee shattered when his mother died.

“Oh, I would do anything for my dear nephew, after all, we’re the only family we each have left,” Ryuken said with another smile. “How is your knee? I hope the long flight wasn’t too hard on you.”

Ichigo shook his head. “Oh, sore, but if it wasn’t I’d be surprised. It won’t be long before I have to have another replacement. Been three years since the last one.”

“Yes, we’ll handle that, my boy, don’t worry, now, let’s show you to your new home,” he said with a grin.

Uryuu smiled at the younger boy and took his suitcase from him. “I’ll get that, Kurosaki,” he said with a small smile. Ichigo returned the smile, feeling a bit more comfortable with the less familiar use of his name.

“Uryuu, please. He’s in America now, he needs to avoid using the Japanese style of address,” Ryuken said with the built in annoyance that Uryuu was used to. Uryuu didn’t think his father could talk to him without it.

He rolled his eyes at Ichigo. “Fine, Ryuken, whatever you want,” he said with a sigh, following behind.

“He has to get used to the way we do things here, and the sooner the better, it will make his life a lot easier. You know that,” Ryuken said as the two boys got into his car.

“Pop said that you don’t use last names when you talk to people here that you know casually. It will take some getting used to hearing my first name used by people who I don’t consider my friends already,” Ichigo said, looking at the city as they drove through it to a suburban area to the west of the airport. Uryuu noted the slight tremble to his hands when he moved them.

They got out at a large house. Ichigo gaped a bit, because most the houses he was used to were compact. This was extravagant. Uryuu put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll get used to it. But to be fair, this is a big house even for America.”

He nodded and followed them into the huge two story home. Ryuken turned. “Your bedroom will be the first one up the stairs to the left. Uryuu has a room here, though he lives on campus. You’ll be going to the school with me each day, so I ask that you be ready by seven thirty am and waiting by the front door. I will pick up after your classes at four pm to come home. If you miss me for some reason, you’re on your own to get home. I would suggest you not miss me, especially not at first. Once you’re used to the city, you may wish to explore after classes, however, I advice against it at first.”

Ichigo nodded. “Hai, sir,” he said with a bow.

“And stop bowing. A simple nod of your head suffices,” Ryuken said and headed off into his office.

Ichigo sighed and watched him go.   He jumped when Uryuu put his hand on his shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry, he’s an asshole. So if you feel like complaining, you’ll just have to call me. By next year, we’ll get you set up in the dorms and you won’t have to worry about him,” Uryuu said and motioned for him to go ahead of him up the stairs.

It was a simple room, but it was bigger than Ichigo’s in Japan. There was a double bed, small desk, a large closet that the meager clothes he’d brought wouldn’t begin to fill, and a nightstand with a digital alarm clock. There was a built in bookshelf along the empty wall, and Ichigo was looking forward to filling it with his favorite Mangas and books.   He smiled broadly and put his large suitcase on the bed and began to unload his things. His father had promised to ship him some stuff each month so he’d at least have the most important things to him. He smiled as he pulled out a small stuffed plush lion named Kon. It had been the last gift his mother had given him as a reward for getting his yellow belt in karate the week before she was murdered.

They talked while Ichigo unpacked, Ichigo telling Uryuu about what all had happened in his life in Japan. Then Uryuu talked about his own life in America, making sure to fill him in on what a bastard Ryuken was, and that he shouldn’t feel bad for thinking so in the least. He heard the distinct rattle of a prescription bottle, and saw him set three on the desk by the bed.

Ichigo disappeared into the bathroom to put away his hygiene products and Uryuu picked up the first bottle. Hydroxizine. The instructions were to take one to three every four hours as needed for anxiety. He still heard Ichigo in the bathroom and glanced at the second. This one was labeled Tramadol and said to take in combination with NSAID for knee pain and gave similar instructions as the first. The last one was a bottle that was nearly empty with a label reading ropinirole. It just said to take once a day and didn’t list a diagnosis. He looked up as Ichigo returned.

“Oh, I should put those up in the medicine cabinet,” he said, picking them up and pausing. “Do I have to find a doctor here? Pop always got my prescriptions when I needed them.”

Uryuu nodded. “Yeah, but you can go to the student wellness center and get it taken care of, that’s where all the students go especially when they first get here.

He nodded. “Good. Hard to sleep some nights if I don’t have my medicine,” he said, disappearing into the bathroom again. Uryuu thought for a long time. The pain medication he understood, but he had an anxiety problem? He didn’t like that with him living with Ryuken. That man gave Uryuu anxiety and he was hard to make anxious. He came back out and they continued hanging his clothes.

Finally, Ichigo was unpacked and they sat down on the double bed. Uryuu looked at him and shook his head.

“I don’t get it, though,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t understand why he offered to let you come stay here and go to school like this. He barely tolerated me, let alone invite someone else to live with him.”

Ichigo shook his head. “I don’t either, but it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, you know.”

Uryuu looked at the younger boy thoughtfully for a long time. “Yeah, it really was, wasn’t it?”

August 13, 2014

Ryuken Ishida’s Residence, Chesterfield, MO

~1:00 pm

The first thing that Ichigo realized was that Ryuken had perhaps one of the nosiest neighbors in existence. Her name was Gretchen O’Malley, and she was a widow who lived in the two story house closest to Ryuken’s. They were separated by a fence and about two feet on either side of it. After Ichigo moved in, he caught her standing in her yard staring at him. He knew curiosity when he saw it, so he limped over to the fence (it was one of the days his knee was giving him more trouble than he could handle and hide it). He tried to avoid taking his pain medicine unless it was absolutely necessary. He’d already taken the Tylenol that his uncle gave him. He guessed it was the same thing he took in Japan, even if it was a different name. Once school started he’d go to this Student Wellness Center and see about getting things squared away. One of the things he’d brought had been his medical files.

Konnichiwa!” he called and waved to her. She frowned as she came to the fence where he was standing. “I’m Ichigo Kurosaki, ma’am! I just moved here from Japan to stay with my Uncle Ryuken for school,” he said with a bow to the older woman.

She smiled then. “Well aren’t you polite,” she commented, reaching a hand over the fence to shake his hand. He complied, getting used to the way Americans did things. “What are you going to school for?”

Ichigo smiled. “I’m a bio-chemistry major at the University of Missouri, but I want to be a doctor, so I’m going to Washington University when I finish there.”

“Oh my, aren’t you the ambitious one,” she said, glancing up to see that Ryuken was standing on the porch of his house watching them talk. “I don’t talk to your uncle much; he tends to keep to himself…”

Ichigo smiled. “He’s rather abrasive,” Ichigo acknowledged. “But I am very grateful he let me come to go to school here. It is a good opportunity to see the world and to get my education here in America. I never thought I would be able to leave Japan let alone get to come and stay here in such a wonderful house.”

Gretchen smiled again, finding the boy’s attitude infectious. She glanced down to see him standing entirely with his weight on his right leg, his left bent and resting against the other. “You have an injury?” she asked.

He looked confused then glanced. “Oh, that, I had to have my knee replaced when I was nine. Every so often I have to have surgery when I’ve grown too much for it, and I’m getting to the point of needing another.”

She looked confused. “I thought they didn’t do knee replacements on children,” she said, knowing all too well the pain associated with the procedure. “I had mine replaced two years ago due to arthritis.”

Ichigo nodded. “They don’t, but mine was shattered beyond repair, so they had to do something. I actually lost more than the portion that is normally replaced in a replacement surgery, but it was to be expected.”

“Goodness me, what in the world happened to shatter your knee that young?” she asked, genuinely curious.

Ichigo’s face changed for a moment and he swallowed. “Um, a mugging, I was shot in the knee with a high caliber, it pretty much destroyed it. I was lucky they were able to fix it so I could walk, there was a good chance they wouldn’t be able to fix it.”

Gretchen was nosy but she knew a sensitive subject when she saw one, and the pained look that passed over his face was unmistakable. It was the look of someone who had lost more than a knee. She reached over and patted his shoulder. “Well, you just take care of it, my dear. And anytime you feel like it come by and have tea with me.”

“Ichigo,” Ryuken called from the house. “Orientation is beginning soon. We must go,” he said with a scowl on his face at his neighbor.

She watched them go, but what she definitely didn’t miss was the look on her neighbor’s face when he watched the boy get into his car. It was slightly chilling and she couldn’t identify it. It wasn’t the look of a man who generously offered to let his nephew stay with him while he went to school. There were a lot of things in the look, scorn and dislike among them. She made up her mind that she was going to keep a close eye on that boy. She knew that Ryuken’s son and he did not get along, and he rarely visited, and most the time when he did, the visit ended with them arguing and the boy leaving. Something wasn’t quite right, but she wasn’t sure exactly what it was…

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