Everything was different. Nothing had changed. Both of these statements, while polar opposites, were true.
The manor hadn't changed much. Most of everything was how Kaiou remembered it, and it was still instinct, finding his way around. He did feel a little odd being back, if only because he'd spent a good deal of his time in a seemingly glass cage, and now he wasn't entirely sure what to do with the ability to move around. Fortunately for him, at least, he'd never been a particularly difficult one to deal with, and he'd been allowed a little more freedom than some.
Once in a grand while, someone else there took offence to that, and tried, at least, to take it out on him, but that usually just ended in a lot of banging and a sudden movement Kaiou never bothered to try seeing, and whoever that was being gone, and Kaiou never seeing them again.
Still, he did tend to jump a bit at sudden noises, and he wouldn't be surprised if he cringed into a ball if someone made the right sound.
Mostly, he was wandering up and down the outside porch, just out back in the garden, that wrapped around this part of the manor, one hand running along the wood. It was so nice to feel things again, and he was kind of curious how his dad had gotten him out of there. Kaiou was pretty sure he was going to end up dying there, but, getting rid of Seiji and Tetsuya had been very much worth it, all the same. He was pretty sure Seiji was a threat to aunt Ashera, and Tetsuya had been playing manipulation games with a Huang. (He wondered how she was doing. He'd not asked, yet, just like he hadn't asked about her brother.)
(He wondered if her brother even remembered him.)
It didn't matter, much. What was done was done, and for better or for worse, Kaiou didn't regret it. He missed Inori. Where was it? No, he'd get it back eventually. He just had to be patient, but his sense of time was wonky. He really wasn't even sure how long he'd been home. Ten minutes? Ten hours?
What was that... he knew what that was. For a moment, he froze where he was, his fingers still lingering against the wood panels on the outside of the walls, and then he shuffled toward it. Well, where he thought it was, but it seemed he was right, and Iname had the same idea, as he was moving, too. Then, Kaiou turned a corner, and there he was. He looked... different. It was a good different, it was just... different. Iname always did like his hair longer; Kaiou did too, usually, but at the moment it was just past his ears, probably a mess. The ombre looked really good on him. Was that ninth's emblem? That was good. He wasn't in second, but then, Kaiou doubted dad, or m - ... um, dad two, would've let him stay in second, anyway.
He'd told himself he wasn't going to do this, if he ever saw his family again, and yet, he'd cried when he'd seen dad, eventually cried when he'd seen not-mom, after he'd gotten past the confusion, and here he was, his vision blurring as he stared at Iname, apparently going to cry over this, too. His hand finally came off the wall, and he reached up to wipe the tears away, but that was only so effective when he was still leaking them.
"Kaiou..." The word was a bare whisper, Iname had frozen where he was, the moment he could actually see his brother. It was, perhaps, not surprising that he'd frozen there, somewhat amazed by what he was seeing. He'd never really expected to see Kaiou again, barring perhaps special circumstances allowing him to visit the other inside of the maggot's nest - something that had never been permitted before.
The other's hair was cut a bit messily, but honestly, it didn't matter. Mostly Iname was just so surprised to see him, surprised that dad had managed to get him released after all this time, and he'd missed him so much. Still, it was a tiny bit jarring, seeing Kaiou now as opposed to what he remembered. It was... different. Not drastic, but enough so that it reminded him of just how long it had been after all.
Iname closed the distance between them, the part of his mind that reminded him that moving too quickly might upset his brother seemed to fail to engage and he ended up reaching out for a hug before Iname really thought better of it. "I missed you so much."
That was probably an unnecessary statement. His eyes burned, and his vision blurred a bit. But it was just them, for now, and Kaiou had never judged him anyway. Iname never felt like he had to hide from Kaiou. Besides, his brother was crying too, and maybe that was okay. They were together again, for the first time in way too long, and while there were some wounds that would never heal, at least they could start to pick up some of the broken pieces together this time.
It was almost odd to hear his brother's voice again, somewhere that wasn't just in his head. It wasn't like Kaiou didn't know that he'd missed him, because he very much had. Even the small snatches of interacting, albeit distantly, through their seemingly bridged inner worlds, it wasn't the same. He'd never had any misconceptions that it was, but for a while, it was all they'd had, and seemed all they'd ever had. Kai still wasn't sure how their dad had gotten him out, but he was starting to be beyond questioning it.
He still stopped, occasionally, and wondered if he was awake. Now was one of those times, between frantically trying to make himself stop crying, and Iname whispering what he thought was his name.
Then, of course, Iname moved, and instinctively, Kai jolted, and raised his hands, catching Iname's arms before he got to him. It took a second, but he breathed out, blinked. "Sorry," he said, stepping forward and hugging him, as he presumed Iname intended to. "M'still a bit jumpy." Yes, a bit. He was still readjusting to not needing to be so jumpy. (Even if he wanted to go into Nibantai, he was actually more likely to be dangerous, at the moment. Maybe in a few years. Maybe never. Dad'd sure be happy if he never tried for Nibantai; he seemed convinced Kaiou wouldn't match it very well, and frankly, he was right.)
"I missed you, too. How're you? And... I like the ombre. And how's Ciaran? You two are still a thing right?" Ciaran was good for Iname, Kaiou had never questioned that.
They had interacted in the space that was their inner world, it was enough that Iname had never really felt entirely alone, but it had never really felt like enough. Whispers and dreams and almosts. But at least it had been a connection between them, and he was sure that Kaiou felt the same way, about the way it had bridged them and the fact that it was important in keeping their sanity. They'd known for a long time that their zanpakutos were more-or-less one. That they broke a law just by existing, though most wouldn't know it looking at them. Their zanpakuto did different things, had different names. Iname had to wonder when that would come back to bite them.
Then again, without Central 46 calling the shots maybe Villas-taicho would be able to make adjustments so it didn't have to be one or the other of them. Iname would rather live in exile than be forced to obey that law. But maybe... maybe it would never come up.
"No, I'm sorry." Immediately. "I should have known better than to do that." Kaiou had been in prison for a long time, it made sense that he was going to need some time to adjust. Just coming right at him had been stupid, and Iname should have thought better of it. Ah, but it was too late, and there seemed to have been no harm.
Ah, he did wrap his arms loosely around Kai and hold him though once the other hugged him first. "Thanks." In reference to his hair, yeah. He was glad Kai thought it looked good. Certainly Iname enjoyed the way it had come out, and Ciaran didn't seem to mind as long as Iname was happy with it.
"Ciaran's doing pretty well. Lieutenant of Eleven these days." That he does. "Ah, yes we are. I, uh, have a ring picked out and everything." Even if he hadn't gotten around to giving it to Ciaran yet. It was in the plans. "He's helped me keep my head on straight." Which given some of the things that had been going on was easier said than done.
But Ciaran hadn't given up on him yet.
Ah, he kind of hated that Iname had to be a little careful with him, right now. Eventually, of course, Kaiou would readjust, and he'd stop being so jumpy (certainly, he'd feel loads better when someone gave him Inori back), but in the meantime, it seemed so silly. This was home, not there, he didn't have to be as on-edge as he'd been there. And really, even then, the jumpiness was probably not really necessary.
Sometimes, Xiaolen sent in care packages; mostly just little things from home she thought he'd enjoy, like a certain kind of tea, or one of the cinnamon rolls their mother made, and she often brought him puzzles to occupy his mind with. It wasn't really all that boring, or terrible; given he was one of the better behaved ones, it wasn't so bad. Mostly, after a point, the guards generally let him alone, so he wasn't even sure why he was so jumpy. Maybe it was just all the energy and excitement from being home coming out in a weird way.
"If I was brave, I'd do mine like that," Kaiou said. "... well, maybe not that colour combination. Blue might be nice." Blue was his favourite colour, and all.
Lieutenant of Eleventh? Wasn't he in Sixth, last Kaiou heard? Okay, so something changed there, well, that was okay. He'd heard about the Winter War, at least. Rumours eventually trickled down, but by the time they got to them, it was all probably blown out of proportion. And Iname had a ring. But the way he said that, it sounded like he hadn't given Ciaran the ring yet.
"That's good," Kaiou said, at the end. "So, when's the wedding? I get to help with planning and stuff, right?" That'd be a nice thing to focus on, something to get his mind off the last few hundred years, and maybe it'd be a decent opportunity to see everyone he knew again, too. "... and, how's Xiaolen?" And Shouren, it was right there, but he was kind of afraid to ask. Well, he knew how to find him, so it wasn't like it'd be too much trouble to just, go find out.
"Maybe you should when things settle down." Iname mentioned mildly. "Blue would look good on you." If Kaiou was comfortable with it, at least. If he really wasn't then it would be better not to, obviously. But they'd see, he supposed. Just, ah, putting that out there, because honestly if it made him happy he should, and no one was going to complain anyway. Just as long as Kaiou was here and it wasn't hurting anyone, no one was going to worry about what he did or even what he looked like, exactly.
"Uhh. I'm not sure yet." Iname sounded a little sheepish. He'd been too nervous to propose, which Hyoukai kept insisting was silly, and Iname was sure it was to be fair, but he hadn't managed to overcome it yet, despite knowing that he would regret it if something terrible happened to either one of them and they'd never made that last step. There was also the fact that he didn't want Ciaran to wonder if Iname thought he was worth it. But he also didn't... want to botch it somehow by saying the wrong things and he just hadn't... gotten there. "But yes, of course you can help with the planning and stuff."
Kaiou had a good head and it'd be nice to spend time with him on something like that.
"As far as I know, Xiaolen is alright. She relinquished the captaincy of second to dad, but stayed as his lieutenant. She seems a little... different than before." But he wasn't sure how to describe why, exactly. "On the other hand, she and Jeon-taicho are sort of a thing since some time after the Winter War it just kind of... happened." Iname was sure there was more to it than that, but the two of them didn't exactly flaunt their emotions around.
Yeah, maybe blue would look decent on him. It'd probably behoove him to use a dark blue, rather than a lighter shade, if only because a lighter tone would most likely not work out so hot with his skin tone, but he supposed he could worry about that when he got there. Chances were, he wouldn't necessarily be doing it right this second, but on the other hand, maybe the change would be good, sort of an internal signal that things were different, now. On the one hand, that was a good thing, but on the other, no it wasn't. He had time to figure that out. It didn't have to be now.
Of course; Kaiou smiled a bit. "Haven't given him the ring yet? Why not?" It seemed a strange thing to him, for Iname to hesitate about. It wasn't like Kaiou thought he'd be having second thoughts. Ciaran and Iname had been together for nearly as long as they'd been alive, and were technically already married anyway, there just wasn't anything official about it. (Kaiou didn't think there needed to be, but sometimes the official affirmation was nice all the same.) And it wasn't like dad and... dad... oh boy, wouldn't go to town on the Kurogane elders if they put up a fuss about it. Maybe there was something to discuss, there, though, and Kaiou often wanted to; Iname was notoriously bad at his own emotions, and usually needed Kaiou around to help him sort through them.
Try as he used to like to, Iname did feel things, and actually quite strongly; he'd just gotten good at pretending he didn't. Kaiou never did, incidentally.
Yeah, he imagined she'd be different. Xiaolen was about as bad as Iname (no, worse), when it came to her feelings, and nobody lived through the crap Tetsuya had pulled with her without feeling something. Kaiou had to wonder if she'd ever recognised and accepted any of it, dealt with it properly, or if she'd just shoved it all down and pretended it didn't exist. The latter seemed more like her than the former. Ah? Jeon-Taichou... "Seung?" he asked, tilting his head. That seemed - oh, wait no, "No no, Habaek by now, that makes more sense. ... isn't he kinda hot-tempered for her? How do they get along..." Sheesh.
If she was happy, that was good, but Habaek was such an unbridled spitfire, it was difficult to imagine them getting along.
"No I haven't." Iname admitted, fidgeting a little. "It's silly, I know, but every time I go to do it I get nervous and end up backing out. Hyoukai says it's silly, too." For the record, yes. "But it's like... I'm so terrible at emotions and it's been a mess and sometimes I still can't fathom what he sees in me." That summed it up, though even Iname had to admit it sounded kind of silly, considering what all Ciaran had remained near him through. "And... I guess I'm worried that if I push to take the next step it'll be one step too far, and maybe Ciaran will decide it's too much. ... And maybe that would be good? Because if it's... if it's true then that's something we should face together but it doesn't change that I'm worried about it." Not really, at least.
"On the other hand, the brief war we just finished... it was a pretty sharp reminder that we really don't have forever ahead of us. And I really should stop stalling." People had died in that war - the Sotaicho had died in that war. It had been a jarring way of shaking up the Seireitei, and while the loss of life had been horrible, Iname had to admit that some good had come of the bloodshed. He went home to Ciaran every night. He actively tried to make sure Ciaran knew just how much he meant to Iname. But that wasn't the same as actually marrying him officially. On the other hand, they'd been together so long that the official wedding was really probably more of a symbol than anything.
"Yeah, Habaek." Silly him, he should have known to clarify. He did smile a little. "Actually he calmed down a lot as he grew up a bit." Mildly. "I mean, I'm sure at least some of that temper still lays under there somewhere but he's a lot more like his grandfather now. Calm to the point of seeming impossible to ruffle unless you hit just the right spots." The Winter War had, unsurprisingly managed to hit a few of those spots. And then of course he'd dialed back a bit from the honor-and-duty obsession to remember that sometimes using his brain was important.
And then he and Xiaolen had started to date, it would seem. "Shouren's doing alright too." Iname volunteered after a moment or two. "He's in seventh at the moment."
Oh, Kaiou was sure he did. Even though he had to know, by now, there was very little chance Ciaran would say no, it didn't really make it all that easier. At least Kaiou could understand that (maybe Ciaran did, too). Hmm. That was probably something they should talk about. He'd wait a minute, though.
Ah. Habaek wasn't as much of a spitfire? Well, some people grew up, he supposed. Most often did, even, and if there was anything Kaiou understood the best, it was how the Great Noble Families had expectations, and things like. It was possible, likely, even, that at some point those expectations caught up with him, and his family stopped tolerating his impetuousness because it'd stopped being cute when he'd stopped being a child. For a moment, Kaiou probably looked a bit surprised, but then he smiled a bit. Yeah, it'd figure Iname would think to say that. Seventh, though? That was surprising, and actually he had no idea the Huangs were allowed to be in a division besides whichever one the Onmitsukidou was tied to. Then again, Xiaolen seemed to like bending the rules, for everyone but herself, these days.
It was good, though, that apparently she was trying to move on. Even if it wasn't perfect, it was something more than it was, and Kaiou was glad for it. It was better to take baby steps, than giant leaps, sometimes, especially in situations like hers.
"Hyoukai's right," Kaiou said, smiling a bit. "It is kind of silly, but, not completely unfounded. But you know, we often have trouble seeing our own virtues. It's a good thing. Just imagine it the other way, I guess. Whatever you'd say to him if he had the same problem, that's probably what he'd say to you. You two've been together a long time, anyway. It's almost like you already are married." Sometimes, Kaiou forgot they weren't, honestly. "But you're right, you don't really have forever. ... then, there's also the possibility it's not come up before because you really are almost already married, basically in everything but legal paperwork and name. Ciaran doesn't seem like the type that'd get caught up in semantics, you know? So maybe it's okay if you never do get married officially, if you're both okay the way you are." It wasn't like their parents were going to be too upset if they didn't.
Then again, there was the issue of the Kurogane elders. Sooner or later, they'd probably decide it was time for Iname to get married... Kaiou didn't know the current state of affairs on that front. Hard to say how it'd go, for him. "I wasn't going to ask about Shouren, but, thanks." Yeah. That was good to know.