A/N: Sorry it's taken me so long to post anything. Real life had to sort itself out. Anyways, this is a darker take on one of the problems I would think Ichigo and co. would find themselves in once they returned to school. Please note, this is AU. Here, the war against Aizen did not consist of potshots, one abduction, a rescue, and a final battle. There is no way that such a war would really happen that way if Aizen was the genius that he's claimed to be. Also, Ichigo and the others had a larger part in the war, essentially acting as backup to the other divisions. They did receive more training, but half of it was experience.
I'm looking at this being a two-shot, so hopefully I'll get the next chapter up soon. I'm kinda sorry that ya'll are getting this, but since this plotbunny has been one of the most insistent in leaving the corral, I had to let it go.
Warnings: Mm, scars of both the mental and physical kind?
Disclaimer: I do not, and more than likely shall never, own Bleach or any of the rights associated with it. Those belong to Tite Kubo. If I did own Bleach, I'm sure you're all aware of some of the changes I'd make.
There was one problem that everyone seemed to forget about with the transfer of wounds between the soul and body: the scars transfer as well.
They'd been so glad, so relieved. The war was over. They didn't have deal with ambushes, the random Hollow sightings all over Karakura, possible threats to family and friends constantly on their minds. And they'd returned. Not whole, not well, but present, in a way that no one was ever sure they'd actually accomplish in the end. After all, all's fair in love and war, right?
Against all odds, they were healing, slowly returning to some form of normal – because normal had become (and to an extent had always been) relative for them, and so what if they always sought each other out when they left the moderate sanctuaries of their respective homes? It was reassurance as much as protection. Numbers did tend to improve one's chances of surviving an attack and they'd all watched each other's backs during the war. There was always a certain anxiety that crept up on them when another wasn't close.
So, once they were deemed well enough, they'd returned to school. Their peers could tell that something was different about them. Showing up to school in one tight group, wary faces constantly checking their surroundings, more guarded with an edge that those they once called schoolmates (because these people that showed up couldn't be Kurosaki, Sado, Ishida, and Inoue) had never had before. When Orihime felt dangerous, like a mother wolf or lioness or some other wild protector, there was something very, very wrong in the world.
The school watched closely, during classes, comparing theories at lunch, observing constantly. Then, the changes were carefully noted.
Kurosaki had always had a scowl on his face, but that no longer existed, wiping his face clean of any expression, which when coupled with his dead, hard eyes were enough to almost permanently prevent anyone from approaching him. They were all harder, more dead.
Sado was always the quiet one, but now he was even quieter, despite his size. But they'd all gotten quieter. Sado took it almost one step further, though, blending into the almost nonexistent shadows of the classroom's last row.
Ishida became even more neurotic than before, but that was the only difference their classmates noticed and reported. People still approached him for help with sewing projects. They'd learned not to touch him, though. The last person had a near miss with a sewing needle, only to be saved by the zombified version of Kurosaki. (Few knew that it was actually one of the modified reiatsu swords the Quincy always kept on him. Ichigo had stopped him before anyone actually got hurt.)
Inoue had the most drastic change. Where once they had seen a cheerful, albeit ditzy girl, her head always in the clouds, yet somehow managing to transmit enough data to her body for her to be one of the top students in the grade, there was now a calmer, mature woman in her place. She tried to keep her peers from noticing, but they'd all noted on her newly acquired ability to deal with Chizuru. They'd also become aware that no one should insult or insinuate anything bad about the other three within her presence. That was a wish for slow torture under and aura of pure protective malevolence (and wasn't that sort of an oxymoron?).
What solidified it, the change or event – the thing, in their minds was when Ichigo had rejoined gym class.
Apparently, whatever had happened to the four teens had managed to wound Kurosaki badly enough that he wasn't allowed to participate in gym classes (or any strenuous activity) for over a month. By this point, most of the more obvious changes had been noted by the others on the running list of Things to Not Do Around Kurosaki and Friends. No one had wanted to accidently do something they'd seriously regret. Most of the students had reasonable self-preservation instincts. Those that didn't…well, everyone was generally glad to be rid of them for some time.
Of course, as the boys and girls were assigned to change mostly within the classrooms, all of the boys in Kurosaki's class were sneaking glances at the carrot-haired teen. He'd almost never missed gym class before, so whatever his reason was, they all wanted to witness it.
When Kurosaki had finally unbuttoned his uniform shirt and quickly removed it in favor of the white T-shirt that was the standard gym uniform, the boys noticed the multitude of discolored skin that covered his back and shoulders.
Thin lines, thick lines, oddly shaped marks and other collections of scars littered the teen's body. Most seemed to be healed, but there were still others that seemed to burn an angry red in the florescent lighting, seeming to challenge the other boys to deny their existence on their peer's back.
The multiple inhalations of breath was the signal for Kurosaki and Sado, who had previously been waved away by Kurosaki, as if making to cover him from their formerly curious gazes, to leave the room. No one heard their footsteps before or after the door was gently slid close, offering the slightest of noises to their ears in the silence that consumed the room and its occupants.
One boy, interested in being a doctor for the sake of science and helping people, summed up the other's sentiments when he bravely broke the silence with a quiet but emphatic, "Holy shit."
Now the rumor mill was working in overtime to ensure that the student population of the school heard the rumors of Kurosaki's scars.
Of course, if the way the other three acted, it was safe to be that they, too, had scars.
The girls pointed out how Orihime was never seen without her torso covered in every way, even when brought shopping for swimsuits with some of her more distant acquaintances and Tatsuki for emotional (and unbiased) support.
Ishida, no one actually knew about, since his friends could be counted on one hand, specifically three fingers, and the student body knew that the three friends he did have wouldn't help them.
Chad still wore short-sleeved button-down shirts when students passed him on the sidewalk during the weekend, but where he had once left many of the upper buttons undone, showing off his chest, an undershirt appeared beneath it.
"Has anyone seen any new scars on them?" a girl whispered to her friend in the bathroom.
"No," came the equally quiet reply. "People think they're done with whatever they did."
"Good. Kurosaki may not have been the nicest person, but he did help me out once. I'd like to return the favor."
"Mmm. Yeah. Inoue-chan was always fun to hang out with, too…"
Unfortunately, the girls didn't remember the echoing qualities of school bathrooms and that occasionally teachers also frequented the same facilities. Ms. Ochi's face went pale, even as she promised herself to find out the circumstances surrounding her favorite student and his closest friends.
And so the teachers became involved.
Ms. Ochi hadn't wanted to break Kurosaki's trust, but nothing she did resulted in information. Everything was the same.
For four months, October to January, Kurosaki and his friends disappeared. No matter how many times the school called to alert their guardians, they never showed up. "Family matters," Kurosaki Isshin claimed, though his daughters still attended the middle school.
"Business," stated Ishida Ryuuken.
No one answered for either Sado or Inoue.
None of their friends knew where they had gone or what they had done, but after those four months, the children had returned as adults. Frightening adults.
But they acted normal. Or, normally. Ish. To an extent. Whatever had hardened their eyes and snatched the childhood from their souls had resulted in maturity that none of their classmates could relate to, even as the four attempted to restart old routines.
While Ms. Ochi had been researching, another teacher of the four had noticed her notes and pledged his help to her cause. Even teachers that didn't like Kurosaki or Sado for their reputations, attitudes, or hair color (obviously only Kurosaki) agreed to help during an unofficial staff meeting, since they did like Inoue and Ishida (if only because some of those teachers wanted to keep two of their top students).
That was when the shit really hit the fan.
Ichigo wasn't really surprised by the amount of attention that he and his friends gained when they'd returned from the so-called Winter War. Karakura was fairly insular and people who'd grown up with them attended Karakura High. Questions were a certainty.
What he and the others (and their parents to a lesser extent, but wasn't that just sad that their parents didn't even think of the effects of the war on their psyche beyond the loss, death, despair, helplessness –?) hadn't thought to account for were the teachers. The adults had issued orders during the war, but Ichigo took charge of his own small band of followers to go where they could do the most damage, so the "orders" were more along the lines of directions – go left, Fifth division needs some help; there's a large mass of low level Hollow headed for the base of Third division and they have minimal personal as the main force is attacking with the Sixth division; HEL –!
So, it was understandably a fairly large surprise to them that the teachers were going to such lengths for them, especially because more than half of them despised Ichigo and barely tolerated Chad. On the other hand, being brought to the police station wasn't quite on Ichigo's list of things to do.
So, yeah. I did just leave Ichigo in the police station.
As always, constructive criticism is welcome, so please leave a review?