Warnings: language, bit of KxH

Part 4: Curiosity and Restraint

Kurama barely felt Hiei leave the bed. By the time he woke enough to look over his shoulder the only evidence he'd had company during the night was the
open window. The lingering warmth beside him was so faint he might be imagining it. He had no actual memory of Hiei joining him. That whisper of motion
following the knock could have been a breeze shuffling the curtains. Except there was no wind and the curtains were tied back, just as he'd left them last night.
He hoped Hiei hadn't gone far.

Another knock sounded on the door, too hard and quick to be a servant. Kurama heaved a long sigh as he rolled onto his back. As much as he disliked being
rousted from bed every time Naruto had a crisis, he had to give the boy credit for at least waiting till dawn this time…and for waiting to be invited rather than
rushing in like he usually did.

"You may come in, Naruto," he called. The kit peeked around the room before darting in and shutting the door behind him. Kurama's nose wrinkled. "You
should have showered before leaving your room. A fox does not-"

"Assault people with his stench," Naruto finished impatiently. "I know. But Sasuke stole my bathroom and I've gotta talk to you. We mated last night."

"I can smell that," Kurama said distastefully. From the way Naruto reeked of blood, cat, and peach scented lubricant it was clear he and his new mate had
been quite busy. Unlike him, with only an open window to show for his efforts. "I do hope you'll spare me the details."

"No way," Naruto huffed. He hurried to the side of the bed as quickly as he could while trying to limit the amount of rubbing his clothes did to his back and
crotch. He scowled when Kurama didn't even bother to sit up. "You're old. You know all about this stuff. How come I went dry at six? Well, six and a half, but
still. Is that normal? Do I just need more practice? How many times can you go?"

"I am far from old," Kurama murmured warningly. "Comments like that will not persuade me to help you." He sat up and ran his fingers through his hair,
smoothing out a few snags and giving Naruto time to bluster his way to at least a pretence of respectful civility.

Naruto wanted to tackle him and beat all of that 'civilized fox' bullshit out of him so they could talk like real people. Kurama would torture him if he so much as
mussed up his hair. As an oldtimer, Kurama's torture methods were creative and ruthless. Abject humiliation featured highly in most of them. Naruto had been
humiliated enough last night. He closed his eyes and ground his teeth until his jaw hurt. Polite and respectful, whether it was false as hell or not. It was just a
mask. Kakashi wore masks all the time and he was a fucking wolf. Naruto could handle putting the polite one on in order to keep Kurama from designing some
new way to traumatize him.

Kurama watched with fond amusement as Naruto reigned himself in. The boy was genuine and struggled with the insincere niceties their class required. Naruto
was a fox far past the age of wearing his heart on his sleeve. Kurama didn't mind if Naruto remained a dog at heart so long as he learned to at least act like a
fox when necessary. Right now it was very necessary. Kurama didn't appreciate being asked to discuss sex when Hiei might very well be listening from the
roof. He required a modicum of respect before he would put himself out that way.

"Good morning," Naruto growled finally. "I'm sorry for intruding so early in the morning. I hope you slept well." And he meant that last bit because Kurama
obviously hadn't gotten any last night. It was no wonder he was so uptight. Kurama was jealous, of course. "I didn't sleep well at all. I would appreciate it if
you'd answer my questions."

"Good morning to you," Kurama smiled. "Was that really so hard?"

"Yes," Naruto snapped.

"You'll get better with practice." Kurama slipped off the bed and led the way to his bathroom. He turned on the shower and stood by the sink, looking away
while Naruto accepted the invitation. "Practice makes perfect is true for sex as well as politeness," he told him. Naruto could hear him over the shower, but
hopefully Hiei could not. "Stamina also increases with practice, but the amount of sperm a body produces does not. Diet can affect the consistency and taste,
but the amount is determined by the size of the testicles. The balls," he said over his shoulder. "Yours won't be getting much bigger than they already are."

"You mean I'll never be able to top six?"

"That depends on how much you release each time you do come. Since your goal is to impregnate your mate, spilling your entire load the first time is more
effective than spilling a bit over and over." Kurama raised an eyebrow, unable to make out Naruto's quiet grumbles. "It's the quality of the sex that matters, not
how many rounds you can go. Frankly, it's cruel to expect a new mate to go more than two or three rounds in one night. If you think you're sore, he might very
well be crippled. The fact that you're paying him doesn't excuse treating him badly."

"If he were crippled he wouldn't have beaten me to the bathroom," Naruto muttered. He completely ignored Kurama's lecture about exercising restraint.
Showing consideration was fine. Had Sasuke been too sore to do any more he would have accepted that. He would have been disappointed and maybe a little
guilty, but he wouldn't have argued about it. Restraint, though, was out of the question. If he exercised restraint he'd have to let Sasuke exercise it, too, and it
was already hard to get Sasuke to let go of his.

"You should have let him return to his own room last night, or visited him there. He's a temporary mate," Kurama reminded him, "not a servant. You have to
treat him with respect."

"We can't do anything in his room. He has a mom and her kitten in there."

By the time Naruto finished explaining about the ready-made family Sasuke had brought along with him, Kurama was more exasperated than annoyed. He had
only himself to blame for this unexpected complication. He hadn't vetted Naruto's chosen mate, hadn't exchanged so much as a word with him. He had been
too focused on Hiei to oversee the arrangement Naruto had made. Honestly, he had been relieved that Naruto had settled quickly and not gotten his face
scratched off in the process. Quite frankly, Naruto was the horniest kit he had ever seen. It had gotten so bad he dreaded taking him to public appearances
because he couldn't trust Naruto not to openly sniff the wrong cat. Many of the mated cats Kurama associated with would enjoy breaking in an enthusiastic kit,
but Naruto was too young – and far too honest – to discretely poach another fox's bored spouse. Securing his heir and spare would keep him occupied and
hopefully give him time to mature before he was once again free to catch the eye and nose of any sly cats who slipped his way.

"Can I take him shopping?" asked Naruto. "He needs a lot more clothes."

"Of course. He'll need a suitable wardrobe if he's to accompany us on the rounds." Kurama wondered what Hiei would look like in bold blues and reds. This
would be a perfect opportunity to rid him of that cloak.

"Rounds?" Naruto demanded. He poked his head around the shower curtain to give Kurama an outraged and sopping wet glare. "I still have to go out with
you? Why? I thought the whole point of getting a mate was so I wouldn't be on the market anymore!" Being on the marriage market was horrible. It was nothing
but foxes he wasn't supposed to react to and cats he wasn't supposed to look at or sniff or get caught alone with. The foxes treated him like shit and the cats
treated him like dinner when they weren't avoiding him at all costs as if he were rabid or something. He growled at Kurama. "I don't know what went wrong with
your cat, but I mated with mine. I'm off the market now!"

"Temporarily," Kurama said patiently. It wasn't as if he hadn't explained how these things worked multiple times. "A temporary mate takes you off the market
temporarily. Once you have your heir and spare you will no longer have a need to marry, so you will be off the market permanently. While working on that heir
you have to make it known that you are, in fact, working on an heir in order to eschew marriage altogether. If you simply vanish from public sight, those
interested in securing a match will seek you out. I, for one, do not want marriage-minded mamas showing up at my door with their kittens in tow." He didn't want
any affair-minded married cats showing up at his door, either.

"What if Sasuke doesn't want to go around with me? I can't make him if he doesn't want to. I never said anything about him having to do that when we made
our deal."

"I doubt he'll refuse," Kurama said with more dismissive confidence than he actually felt. "If he was willing to mate with you, then being seen standing beside
you in nice clothing should be no hardship on his part." He turned away in order to keep his misgivings to himself. As a cat, Sasuke was bound to be better at
feigning aloof disinterest than Naruto was. And if he wasn't? Well, one unpleasant scene might be enough to excuse him and Naruto from any more public
appearances in the near future. No one would question their absence if they weren't invited to begin with.

Hiei was leaning against the wall just outside the bathroom. Kurama hid his surprise as he shut the door and let himself be shadowed back to the bedroom. His
tone was more curious than censorious. "Letting yourself be caught defeats the purpose of eavesdropping. How long were you out there?"

"You left the door open," Hiei pointed out.

Kurama wasn't about to admit he had done so in order to listen for any sign of Hiei returning via the window or exiting via the door. He hadn't heard a sound.
Hiei, on the other hand, might have heard everything. "Naruto grew up among dogs, in a neighborhood nearly as bad as the one we visited last night. He has
the instincts and looks of a fox, but none of the refinements necessary for polite society. Some of the cats have made a game of who can entice him first. Their
husbands are no more amused than I am."

"Then he poses no danger to the debutantes?" Hiei shrugged at Kurama's curious look. "I hear things. When I do set out to eavesdrop, I'm never caught. The
phrase 'fox in a henhouse' comes up frequently."

Kurama smiled. Hiei had taken the open door as an invitation to listen. Had he been eavesdropping he wouldn't have remained to be seen. Kurama
appreciated the warning. "Naruto's hormones are absurd given his age. I can only assume that's a result of him having no interaction with cats at all growing
up. Despite that, he's no threat to anyone who isn't interested. He's more liable to be lured off and trapped into marriage by a debutante than he is to
compromise one himself. No, it's the older cats who catch his nose, and vice versa. I'm hoping his new mate will keep him too focused to be lured into trouble."

"Cats are territorial," Hiei remarked. He sniffed at Kurama's pleased smile. "I'm not offering to fight your milkfed suitors, but I'll do my part to keep them at bay.
Being seen is no hardship on my part."

Kurama's smile faltered at that. "So you did hear everything. I'm not usually so…blunt."

"Youth requires bluntness," Hiei said dismissively. His only regret was not getting to see Kurama's face when he was talking to the kit about ball size. Judging
by that awkwardly stiffened silver tail, Kurama was embarrassed to have been overheard. Hiei gave him a delving look. "Do you always play by the rules of

"No," Kurama admitted. Was Hiei asking him to shed that front? Tempted as he was, he didn't dare do so with Naruto nearby or he might ruin all of his efforts
over the last few years. He smiled wryly. "I have become quite a stickler for the rules since taking Naruto under my wing."

"And before that?"

Kurama let the smile fade. Hiei wasn't making small talk or asking out of idle curiosity. "What are you asking me, Hiei?"

Had the fox not been so tall, Hiei could have pulled him down and answered the question himself. He had heard Kurama's opinion on how a mate should be
respected, whether he was being paid for his services or not. He had to wonder how much Kurama's dealings with him would be influenced by the fox's need to
keep up a front of polite respect. Hiei slipped past him to perch on the windowsill. Kurama didn't hesitate to follow him. That was something.

"Why didn't you mate with me last night?" asked Hiei.

Kurama sighed. It was difficult to woo a cat who bluntly called him out for being considerate. He sat on the edge of the bed across from him. "I would like to be
on good terms with you when our temporary association is finished. I'm not a hormonal kit who can't keep his tail to himself. You can join me in bed any time
you like without fear that I'll take advantage of you."

"Take advantage?" Hiei snorted. "You're paying me to be your mate. You can't take advantage of your own mate."

"I believe you can," Kurama said firmly. "I won't do that unless I'm invited to do so."

Hiei's eyes widened. "You were waiting for an invitation? I came to your room of my own accord. That wasn't invitation enough?"

Kurama dropped his eyes, slipping his tail onto his lap so he could idly brush the fur with his fingers. "I took that as an invitation to enjoy your company." He
flicked the bristling cat a coy smile. "Which I do."

Hiei huffed and shifted irritably. The fox was flirting with him again. As if there was a need to when he was already his for the taking. "It's no wonder you don't
have an heir yet," he scoffed. That kit of his had more initiative than he did. Not that Hiei would point that out after overhearing the 'six times' talk. Even
Kurama's 'two or three' sounded excessive. But they could have at least mated once so he would know exactly what he was getting himself into. "If you need
an invitation, consider yourself invited. I'm no more a virgin than you are."

"Perhaps not. Technically," Kurama murmured as he fussed with his tail. "But you smell like one." He heard the indrawn breath and his hands stilled. Silence
spread over the room until he wondered if Hiei had slipped out the window. Then he felt the bed dip beside him and caught the black from the corner of his

"What do I smell like to you?" Hiei demanded quietly. "Have you smelled anyone like me before?"

"You smell fresh," Kurama admitted. "As fresh as an untouched kitten, yet not like a cat at all. I've never heard of a male cat impregnating a female fox so it's
no wonder I've never smelled anyone quite like you."

"I was never a kitten," Hiei growled, "just small." He curled his hands so tightly his short claws bit into his palms. "I must have cut her being born. The dog who
raised me said my claws were torn out. It took years for them to grow back."

Years as a curious-smelling kitten with no claws. Kurama leaned sideways into him as his stomach clenched bitterly. Hiei's tail brushed against his own, but it
didn't cling so Kurama didn't put an arm around him like he wanted to. "Were you going to tell me your sister was kept by a household of foxes?"

"Only if necessary," Hiei muttered. "If I encounter any who have been near her, I'm sure I'll recognize her scent. I didn't expect you to catch my scent, let alone
guess what it meant." He pushed back against Kurama's shoulder. The fox was too heavy to be leaning on him. He leaned on Kurama instead. "I've gotten
good at keeping my scent suppressed. It only leaks when I'm in heat."

"Then you do go into heat. That's good to know."

Hiei huffed. "Unfortunately. That's the only time I actually feel like a cat." That was also the only time he reacted to scent. He wouldn't tell Kurama that. The fox
might decide to postpone any mating until his next heat. Hiei didn't want his first time mating by choice to be done in a hormonal haze. Kurama was attractive
and confident and as a fox would probably take pride in making it good for him. Hiei huffed again, longer this time, and curled his tail around Kurama's. Was
that invitation enough?

It certainly was. Kurama was too much a fox to decline an invitation like that. He pulled Hiei into his arms, feeling the lithe form hidden away by that dratted
cloak. Hiei opened up to his kiss, more relieved than eager which was a blow to Kurama's ego. Hiei kissed him back, though, with a tentative curiosity Kurama
did his best to welcome and encourage. Where Hiei's scent was muted mystery, his taste was pure cat, hungry and curious and delicious. Kurama pulled him
closer until he felt Hiei's hands come up to catch in his hair. He stroked his own hands along Hiei's back, taking care not to venture near his tail, which was
curled tightly around his own. It was be so easy to catch that tail and overwhelm him. Kurama preferred to feed his curiosity just enough to leave him wanting
more. If Hiei didn't feel like a cat it was because he didn't feel at home in his own body. Kurama looked forward to helping him with that. There was more to
mating than scents and instincts. He would teach him to love his body by loving it himself. Starting with that suspiciously well-spoken mouth of his.

Kurama kissed the way he conversed, as if it were a dance only he knew the true steps for. Hiei had realized last night that he didn't care for dancing. But he
was nothing if not a quick learner. He accepted the invitation to explore the fox's mouth and found he liked the taste of him. He wasn't as comfortable with
Kurama exploring his own mouth. He worried about his teeth, which he knew were unnaturally sharp even for a cat. He opened his mouth wider, trying to cover
them with his lips, but that only had Kurama pressing closer, deeper, until Hiei was in as much danger of being cut as he was. Maybe Kurama wanted a bit of
blood with this meal. Hiei stopped worrying about it. If he had to protect Kurama from his teeth the fox had no business in his mouth to begin with. He pushed
into the kiss, knowing full well this was all he would be getting if he didn't do something to change Kurama's mind. He could smell the fox's attraction for him
and there was no urgency to it whatsoever. Kurama wanted him, but no more than he had last night when he had barely even touched him. As frustrating as it
was, Hiei didn't know how to change that.

Naruto reminded Kurama of his existence as rudely as only a horrified kit could. "Oh, my Gag! At least wait till I'm out of the room! My eyes! I'm gonna barf!"

Kurama's ears flattened and had Hiei not been pressing so close he was nearly in his lap he would have pulled free to verbally flay that rude brat. Then Hiei
really was in his lap, chest pressing close and legs straddling his own, and Kurama decided his new mate had the right of it. Far better to ignore the kit than to
acknowledge him as the interruption he was trying to be. Besides, Hiei's grip on his hair was so strong he doubted he could have lifted his head even if he had
wanted to. He would reprimand Naruto later, especially for slamming the door so loudly on the way out. For now he was curious to see just how demanding Hiei
could be for a cat whose tail was restraining his own like a steel whip. Hiei's mind might be impatiently set on mating, but his body clearly was not. As much as
Kurama enjoyed Hiei's mouth, it was Hiei's tail he would be listening to.


Renji was woken by the gurgling of his own stomach. Byakuya would have been more amused by that if it didn't serve as a reminder that his guests hadn't
been fed the night before. The two girls in particular were too small to be missing meals. He would assign someone to see to their needs, assuming Matsumoto
didn't volunteer for the role. He watched from the corner of his eye as Renji stretched and squirmed his way fully awake. He was glad he had reconsidered and
thrown the blanket over him before admitting Hinamori. From the way Renji's knees were spread that robe of his must be gaping wide open. No servant was
going to see that much of his mate whether it furthered his cause or not. He was already regretting letting the girl see him with his hair down, mussed and
messy as it was.

Renji floundered his way up so he could brace his elbows on his knees and cradle his sore head in his hands. He was starving and his head felt thick. He
never drank on an empty stomach. Only idiots did that. So why was he in a strange bed with his stomach empty, his head throbbing, and his body feeling like
he'd been slapped around all night? His breath caught in his throat as a horrible possibility sprang to mind. He did a quick check. His ass felt fine, tail intact,
nothing wrong with his cock that a little masturbation wouldn't fix, and although his mouth could use a toothbrush and some rinse there was nothing gross in
there. He hadn't gotten drunk and been reamed by a weird dog. Thank fuck. He let out a long sigh and was all set to flop back on the deliciously soft bed when
his nose twitched. Cats. Faint, but definitely cats. His cat and a female. He had a cat now. How the hell had he forgotten he had a cat now? He turned his head
and stared blankly at Byakuya, his cat, and the little black-haired female fixing his cat's hair. Not only did he have a cat, he had a cat who required a maid to fix
his hair. Renji blinked slowly as he watched the girl pull the last free bit of that black hair tight as if the strands were criminals to be locked away. What a cold
thing to do to such pretty hair.

"Is tying it up like that really necessary?" asked Renji.

Byakuya's eyebrow rose. The dog sounded rather lucid for someone who looked half asleep. "These clasps are a Kuchiki tradition." A tradition he resented
more with each passing year and each coinciding clasp. He sent another sharp look at Hinamori's reflection in the mirror. She was quiet and quick and
Matsumoto had pleaded for him to give her this job. She was also young and far too interested in his new mate. He forgave her blush, but if she didn't learn to
control her scent he would have to replace her for the duration of Renji's stay. It didn't matter that Renji hadn't noticed her entering the room and showed no
interest in her even now. A female cat shouldn't release her scent so freely around any dog. Matsumoto would have to speak with the girl before she got
herself into trouble. "Thank you, Hinamori. You may go now."

Renji frowned when the poor girl all but bolted from the room. "She's scared to death of you. Are you a bully or what?" Byakuya sent him a look that made him
stiffen and scowl. "What?"

No dog was that oblivious. Byakuya eyed the red marring Renji's forehead. "Did the injury to your head affect your sense of smell?"

"Ah, shit," Renji grimaced, slapping a hand over his forehead. There was some swelling after all, right between his eyes. No wonder he had forgotten he had a
cat. He was in Byakuya's bed and he could barely smell him. How was that for fair? "We got caught up in a dog fight on the way to the car," he admitted. "Some
fool cats brought a kitten out and the locals went nuts. The stupid tomcat made it worse than it should have been. They were picked up by a wolf, though, in a
car as big and fancy as yours. What are the odds of that?"

"Indeed," Byakuya murmured. There had been foxes in the mingling hall last night. He hadn't recognized them, but he could only think of one fox who would
deign to use a wolf as a driver. He and Youko Kurama acquiring temporary mates in the same slum on the same night? What, indeed, were the odds of that?
"Did you know these cats?"

"No. The girls made friends with the female, but the tom had to be a stray. I'd know if that cat had ever picked a fight in our area. He made a hell of a mess."
He'd had a hell of a scent, too, but Renji wasn't going to admit that. The crazy little cat could have been right in the mingling hall rubbing all over him and he
wouldn't have even noticed him over Byakuya. He might not be able to smell his cat very well at the moment, but his eyes were quick to assure him he'd made
a hell of a catch. "You look awfully pretty in the morning, Byakuya-hime. I'm sorry I missed your bed-hair, though."

Byakuya rose from his chair. "You will have to wake much earlier to catch me looking even half as unkempt as you presently do." He crossed to the wardrobe
and removed a black robe. "Wear this when you return to your room." His eyes dropped to the ridiculous pink drooping off Renji's shoulders. "You may leave
that here to sleep in if you choose, but I will not have you walking through my halls in it." He placed the robe on the edge of the bed and turned for the door.
"Breakfast will be served within the hour. I will send someone to your room to show you the way."

"No good morning kiss?" Renji pouted when he didn't even get a slammed door for his efforts. True, his mouth tasted foul enough that he wouldn't have really
wanted that to be Byakuya's first taste of him, but still. Cats weren't supposed to be morning people. Rukia had been a damn night owl when he first picked her
up, prowling all night and napping all day. Even now she slept in much later than he did. He grumbled all the way to the edge of the bed. If his cat was a
morning person he'd definitely have to get up earlier. He hadn't just missed the bed-hair. He'd missed the chance to watch Byakuya swish around in one of
these robes. He picked the robe up and groaned at how silky it was. Byakuya might be uptight, but he obviously appreciated creature comforts. This robe
would be pure torture on his morning wood. He happily exchanged it for his own.

He eyed the flowery pink fondly before going off to wake the girls. He looked horrible in that pink thing, downright silly in fact. But Byakuya apparently liked it
enough to want him to continue sleeping in it. That was just too damn cute for words. He left with a smug grin that lasted all the way to his room, where he
remembered he was sharing a bathroom with two girls. So much for silky torture first thing in the morning. He barely had time to brush his teeth before a
servant showed up to take them to breakfast.


A knee to the crotch brought Ichigo to groggy consciousness. A blow would have had him yiping wide awake. A rub might have had him spreading his legs for
a little more. This was a brief press just hard enough to hurt that had him tensing and then cringing at the hot throbbing in his head. Booze. Sleeping on a
narrow couch. With a cat. That knee caught him again as Ishida scrambled off him, leaving him cold and sore and feeling like a dumbass. He'd seen his dad
after one of his monthly walk-abouts, so hungover he whimpered at the slightest noise. He knew better than to drink so much, especially without eating first.
Yet a bleary glance at the table showed just how many bottles they had put away. Only the fact that Ishida had gotten up kept him from closing his eyes in the
hopes of sleeping off the worst of it. Ishida had never drank in his life. If Ishida could get up and answer the door, then Ichigo could lift his head and look over
at him without dying. He managed the feat without his brain splurting out of his ears, though it definitely tried. He blinked the gunk out of his eyes just in time to
see Ishida shut the door and stand there with his head bowed for what felt like an hour or two. And Ishida wanted them to drink harder stuff tonight? There was
no way.

Ishida snapped into motion so suddenly Ichigo flinched, and then wished he hadn't. It was too soon for fast movements. Too soon for him, anyway. The cat
didn't seem to have that problem. He watched him clench a fist around a little slip of paper and belatedly realized that was why he'd been standing so still. He'd
been reading a note. A note that came sailing across the room to land in one of the empty glasses they had used before drinking right out of the bottles.
Ichigo blinked at the bit of paper and then looked up to see Ishida stalk off to his bedroom with a slashing tail and a growl that sounded like 'show him useful'. It
wasn't until he heard the bathroom door slam that he realized he was being shown up. If that glasses-wearing cat was up and about so quick and coordinated
Ichigo sure as hell wasn't going to be a hungover lump who could barely lift his head without whining. He sat up with a determined scowl and ignored his head's
attempts to explode and his stomach's attempts to surge its way up and out of his mouth. He was the dog here, after all.

Despite his best efforts, sitting up was all he could manage at the moment. He made the most of it by fishing out the slightly damp note. It was just two lines in a
sharp hand. 'See to our guests this afternoon. For once your aberrant interests might prove useful.'

Ichigo was still frowning at the lines when he heard the shower stop. He crumpled the note and dropped it back in the cup. Ishida had obviously taken
exception to the 'useful' bit. Ichigo was more concerned with the 'aberrant interests' part. What the hell did aberrant mean? That sounded…kinky. He
remembered enough of last night to know Ishida wasn't the least bit kinky. Maybe a little drunkenly bold with that nipple teasing, but booze messed with people
that way. Ichigo flushed and squirmed as he recalled what he'd been doing with his own free hand. He'd pet the hell out of Ishida's tail. The nipple thing was
nothing compared to that. No, his cat was a skittish prude who just happened to thaw out a little with alcohol. Whatever 'interests' he had couldn't be sexual
anyway, not if they were supposed to be 'useful' with the 'guests.' He assumed he and Renji were the guests, and maybe the girls. Knowing his luck, aberrant
was another word for nerdy and Ishida was going to show them to a library. This place was big enough for one.

He heard the bathroom door click open and looked over to see Ishida rubbing a towel over his hair. His already booze-dried mouth became a desert. No
glasses, no shirt, no self-consciousness because he hadn't noticed Ichigo was staring at him with his dry mouth wide open, and no excess fat to hide the lithe
muscles in his arms and shoulders. Ichigo's eyebrows smashed together so tightly he could feel the skin creasing. Ishida was slender and didn't weigh much.
He'd confirmed that last night. But it was now clear that Ishida was most definitely not a nerd. Nerds were scrawny and bony and why hadn't he taken Ishida's
shirt off last night? Aberrant, he thought furiously. What kind of interests toned a cat like that? Ishida was too skittish for fighting, had admitted last night that
he didn't like violence, and his muscles weren't thick enough to pack a good punch. Swimming? But he was a cat, and he'd said cats didn't swim as a rule.
Maybe he just worked out. Ichigo's eyes glazed at the hot yet bizarre thought of a sweaty half-dressed Ishida doing pushups. Surely not.

"You're awake?" asked Ishida.

Ichigo blinked and got just a glimpse of Ishida's damp tail as he vanished back into the bathroom. He sighed heavily. His new mate might be hotter than he'd
realized, might even have some aberrant interests he was hiding away, but he was still too damned skittish. And quick! No one should move that fast after a
night of drinking himself stupid. Ichigo's ears perked up when Ishida returned, but the towel had been exchanged for a shirt and glasses, and he really wished
he had stripped him last night when he'd had the chance.

"Drink this," Ishida said, setting a glass on the table in front of him. "It's just water. Alcohol is a diuretic, so you may be dehydrated this morning. Water will
help." He waited until Ichigo took a drink before sorting through the empty bottles. He took the ones with colored glass back to his room. "If you hurry you
should have time to shower before breakfast," he said over his shoulder. "You might not feel like eating, but you should do it anyway. I'll be taking the two of
you shopping today, and it's no telling how long that will take."


"Apparently," Ishida muttered. He smiled bitterly as he returned to bag up the remaining bottles and wipe down the table. "I've been challenged to make myself
useful. That means the three of us will be out for most of the day."

Because his aberrant interests applied to shopping? Ichigo's stomach did an unpleasant roll as his hungover brain again tried to equate aberrant to kinky.
Surely not. And it wouldn't just be the three of them. This was probably a good time to warn Ishida about the girls. He glanced warily at Ishida's tight smile and
snapping tail, and changed his mind. He'd tell him on the way to breakfast. He chugged the water and all but bolted for the door. "I'll go get ready."

"Can you be ready in fifteen minutes?" Ishida called after him.

"Sure." He just hoped that was long enough to get rid of the image of himself dressed in kinky leather while Ishida worked those arm and shoulder muscles with
a whip. Obviously he was still drunk. Ishida might look sleek and dangerously sexy this morning, but Ichigo knew better. His cat was a skittish prude who
became surprisingly sweet and affectionate under the influence of alcohol. The poor cat couldn't even brush and rub without getting drunk off his ass. If he did
have aberrant interests, it was probably for painting bugs or something. Yeah. Because wielding a brush really worked those arm muscles. Honestly, Ichigo
didn't even want to know anymore. He preferred his uptight and shy cat over this edgy one with aberrant interests. He hoped this house really did have a
library. He seriously needed to look that word up.