Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
There was a blinding white light. The first sensation after was rain. Ichigo was very confused by this turn of events. It hadn't been raining in the Royal Realm. He wasn't even sure it did rain in the Royal Realm. He concentrated trying to remember the events before the white flash. Urahara had thrown something at him and then nothing. Was that thing he had thrown at Ichigo the cause of the white light? And Aizen had been there too; with Urahara? What was happening?
The next thing he felt was the reiatsu of a hollow. It was so sudden and unexpected. Ichigo's mouth went dry and his body tensed in reaction. He may not be the best at sensing reiatsu, but he knew this hollow. It was the Grandfisher. Goat-face had killed the Grandfisher hollow, right? Also, very close to him, he could sense another person, a Quincy?
The Quincy was fighting the Grandfisher. Ichigo felt so useless. While someone else was risking their life he was on his knees scrabbling at the ground, which felt like asphalt. Asphalt? Was he even still in the Royal Realm? No. Where was he? How did he get here?
He reached over his shoulder with his right hand and to his waist with his left looking for Zangetsu only to have his hands close around thin air. No! I can't loose them again. Loosing his powers the first time had sent him on a downward spiral he had not even recognized until it was almost too late. Having his companions back in his inner world had made him realize just how lonely he was without them. The only bright side to the whole situation was that he still had his reiatsu.
He raised his reiatsu. So what if he couldn't feel Zangetsu at the moment. He still had his reiatsu. If he couldn't kill this hollow with Zangetsu, then he would crush it. As his vision cleared he saw the hollow stumble under the assault. The Quincy was standing right in front of him, a woman. Long blond hair pulled back into a low pony tail. Mom? It can't be.
The woman whipped around at the increase in reiatsu. Wide brown eyes stared back at him in surprise, and his heart stopped beating. It was her. His mother was standing in front of him, alive.
He gazed past her truly taking in his surroundings for the first time. This was the exact spot where she had died. He could see the river, the rain, the empty road. Everything was as he remembered it that day, as it had been burned into his memory forever.
On instinct he increased his reiatsu. Hate added fuel. He had no idea what was going on, but he could not let this woman, his mother, die here again. The Grandfisher was pinned to the ground, unable to move and was slowly suffocating. It was almost done. Soon the hollow would be dead.
Suddenly his mother, who had been standing fine under his reiatsu, started to struggle for breath. She fell to the ground, and Ichigo had to let up on his spirit pressure lest he kill her as well. Ichigo remembered suddenly that this was not just the day his mother lost her life, but the day she also lost her powers as a Quincy. The day Yhwach culled his herd. Ichigo could not kill the hollow without killing her as well. He did not have the control necessary to pick targets for his reiatsu.
He stood with tears running down his face mixing with the rain. No, he could not be this useless again. Ichigo moved himself between the hollow and his mother. This time he would save her, even if he had to sacrifice himself; even if this was just one of Aizen's illusions.
A flash of green caught Ichigo's attention. Urahara appeared at his side, hat pulled low over his face, Benihime in hand. Ichigo saw red. He remembered Urahara in the Royal Realm standing next to Aizen. And now he was just coincidentally here of all places watching a mother desperately try to protect her son, and he did nothing. Ichigo wanted nothing more than to kill the traitorous bastard in that moment.
Urahara was looking at him with a surprised expression on his face. "Urahara you evil bastard! Kill it," Ichigo screamed at him. "Kill it now! If she dies I will destroy you!"
Urahara lurched backward at the forceful words. He was positive the boy had never met him. How did he know his name? Ichigo stared at him with pure venom in his eyes. The boy was swaying slightly from over exerting himself. The sheer amount of reiatsu he was giving off draining his already depleted reserves. Making his decision Urahara drew Benihime and dispatched the hollow with a casual flick of his wrist. Behind him the boy collapsed from exhaustion as soon as the hollow reiatsu dissipated, next to his still living mother.
Ichigo woke in the familiar surroundings of the spare bedroom in Urahara's shop. He scowled at the thought of waking up in that scorpion's den. Urahara must have carried him here after he had fainted.
Ichigo attempted to sit up but lay back quickly when he felt a pain in his chest. Funny he did not remember being wounded. He lay still and checked himself over and felt no open wounds. His chest felt heavy for some reason, and his skin felt too tight. He also could not shake the sensation of feeling trapped.
He tried once more to call upon his sword spirits for advice but heard nothing. Swallowing, he lay back down and prepared to enter his inner world. It took him longer than expected to relax and descend into his mindscape. Anxiety kept clawing at the edges of his thoughts. But finally he managed to enter the horizontal city. He looked around at the deserted scenery. It was the same as always. "Shiro? Ossan?" He called.
There was no answer. Ichigo started to panic. Usually Zangetsu did not wait for him to call them. He crouched down and took deep breaths to calm himself. They weren't here. He still had his reiatsu, but Zangetsu was not here. He could not go through this again. He could not be alone again.
Ichigo's eyes snapped open back in the guest room of the shop. He leaped off the futon, ignoring the pain and dizziness and slammed open the shouji door. He stumbled drunkenly down the hall to the kitchen where he can hear Urahara and his father talking quietly.
Ichigo fell against the door jam breathing hard. He knew he was on the verge of a full blown panic attack and that this was not the best state to confront Urahara in, but he didn't care. He looked up to see Isshin half standing and Urahara staring at him. Both men gaped at him. "What did you do with them?" Ichigo growled rushing over and grabbing Urahara by the shirt.
"Ichigo-" his father started.
"Shut up Goat-face." Isshin was shocked into silence. His son had never called him that before. Where had it come from?
"Where are they? That flash, what did you do?" Ichigo screamed at Urahara.
"Where are who?" Urahara asked very confused by the whole situation. The boy did not act like any nine year old that he had ever seen.
"Zangetsu, you lying fuck! What did you do with them?"Ichigo screamed hysterically.
"Them?" Urahara for once in a very long time felt out of his depth.
"Ichigo," Isshin tried again to calm his son down by placing a hand on the boy's back. Ichigo flinched and turned on his father with wild eyes. Isshin took the boy's hands and pulled them from Urahara's shirt. "Who is Zangetsu?" He asked.
For the first time Ichigo really looked at his father. He looked a lot younger than he did the last time Ichigo had seen him, less care-worn. He looked down at his own hands in Isshin's. He was surprised at how small they looked, way too small. How?
"I don't understand what is happening. I need to talk with Zangetsu."
Those words hurt Isshin. Who was this Zangetsu to have earned Ichigo's trust when he would not talk to his own father? "Who is Zangetsu?" He tried again, attempting to remain calm. Ichigo's anxiousness was rubbing off on him.
Ichigo pulled himself free of Isshin's grasp and stumbled back a few steps. Frustrated tears ran down his face. He was angry. He hadn't cried this much since the night he regained his Shinigami powers. He fell back on the floor gazing dumbly at his much shorter legs. "Zangetsu," he choked out in a tiny voice. Both older men lean in to hear better. "Is my zanpakutou."
Isshin collapsed back in his chair in surprise. Urahara spread his fan over the lower half of his face in a blatant attempt to hid his own reaction. He gave Ichigo a considering look over the fan, blue-grey eyes trying to dissect the boy on the spot.
"How do you know what a zanpakutou is?" Isshin finally choked out.
Ichigo frowned and met Urahara's piercing gaze. "Not in front of him."
"Ichigo..." Isshin tried again.
"I don't trust him."
"He is working with Aizen."
Urahara jerked at the name, eyes wide.
"Urahara-san is an old friend of mine." Isshin said.
"I bet," Ichigo shot back. "Aizen sent that hollow to kill mom."
Isshin stared at his son who was glaring at Urahara.
The blond sat very still under the scrutiny. "Why?" Ichigo asked in a broken voice. "Why did you take her from me?"
Urahara blinked. The boy thought his mother was dead? "Your mother is still alive," He said very carefully.
Ichigo stared unable to process the information fully. "Alive?" The hope in the boy's voice was painful to hear.
"Yes, very much so. She is resting. Her powers as a Quincy seem to be gone though," Urahara said softly.
"You would know. You planned for that to happen during the attack," Ichigo snapped at him.
Urahara studied the boy. He knew Ichigo was making his assumptions on … something. But they were deadly accurate nonetheless.
"Is that true?" Isshin asked him.
Urahara sighed. He would have to be very careful with how he answered that. Lost powers or not Isshin would find a way to kill him if he thought Urahara meant any harm to the man's family. But he had to salvage this situation. Aizen was going to be pissed. Ten years of planning just went down the tubes. He smiled slightly at the thought before wiping his face clear of emotions. "It was not my idea," He began. Isshin's face hardened at his words. "The attack was timed perfectly to when we knew she would loose her abilities." Isshin started to growl. "I was there to make sure that Ichigo himself did not die." Urahara looked down at his forgotten tea cup, turning it in his hands and trying to ignore the fact that he was sitting next to a man who now wanted to kill him. "As for why; we need the boy to be stronger."
"What the hell, Urahara?" Isshin yelled fists clenched in rage. He could not believe what the shop keeper was saying.
"This has something to do with the Soul King, doesn't it?" Ichigo asked. "Aizen was always very blunt about wanting to kill the Soul King. It's why you-"
"I would not call Aizen blunt in any sense of the word," Urahara said taking another sip of cold tea. He wondered why the boy spoke as if he knew both Aizen and himself personally. He would swear yesterday that the boy didn't even know his name. His hand shook slightly. He had not been caught off guard in over one hundred years. He was not happy about it. "May I ask you a question?" He ventured.
"No," was the immediate reply.
"But you do need my help, don't you?" Urahara asked slyly.
Ichigo grit his teeth. The answer was obviously yes. "I don't trust you."
"With good reason, but I will do anything in my power to help you nonetheless."
"You want me to kill the Soul King for you,right. I'm just a weapon to you."
Isshin gasped. He had been trying to follow the exchange between his son and the man he had always known was more than a little shady. He felt the two of them were having two different conversations, and he didn't understand either of them.
"No, Ichigo." Ichigo looked up at Urahara's words. The determination in the man's eyes stopped him cold. "I want you to replace the Soul King." This time it was Ichigo's turn to gasp in shock. "Your mother is making you soft. You will never reach the level required of you while you lean on her."
Ichigo remained silent.
"I thought I could trust you," Isshin said from Urahara's side.
"I am not in this to make friends Kurosaki-san," Urahara said pulling his hat lower over his face. He went on clinically. "Though I think your wife's death will be unnecessary now. The boy is already far stronger than I had thought possible."
A fist connected with Urahara's jaw. The man had been expecting it and did not even try to lessen the blow. Though being who and what he was he managed to keep his seat. He massaged his quickly bruising jaw.
"I want you to stay away from my family," Isshin said standing. "I know I can't fight you as I am now, but I wont stand by and let you use my son."
Ichigo cursed silently. This was not going well. He needed that lying sack of shit regardless of how untrustworthy he was. "Wait, Goat-face," Isshin twitched at the name. "This has already gone way too far. I'm already too powerful for us to ignore it. At the very least hollows will be attacking our home on a nightly basis. Right?" He asked directing the question at Urahara.
The man nodded. "His power is already greater than a good number of the taichou. They will find him."
Isshin glared at both of them. "Who will find him?"
"Everyone, I'm afraid," Urahara answered.
"I want to make a deal," Ichigo said.
"No," Isshin said. "You are too young to be involved in things like this." Ichigo crossed his arms over his chest and just looked at his father. For the first time since the hollow incident Isshin got a really good look at his son. The boy's eyes were much too knowledgeable for his age and far too determined. That calm gaze rattled Isshin more than anything else had so far. "Ichigo," He said trying to remain firm. "You are only nine years old. I am your father, and I say no."
Ichigo twitched. He was nine? Ignoring everything else his father said he turned to Urahara. "I want them back. I want Zangetsu back."
Urahara nodded. It was after all what he wanted as well.
"Dad please." Isshin stopped at the sound of his son's voice. The soft, high pitch, on the edge of breaking down into tears. His son was begging him. He bowed his head in acquiescence. Ichigo had been hysterical while asking about his zanpakutou. He tried to remind himself that Ichigo needed this. He himself still felt the loss of his companion. He would be staying to keep an eye on both of them.
Urahara let go of the breath he had been holding. He was grateful that Isshin was going to go along with this. He suspected the man did not fully understand what his son was asking for but surprisingly the boy obviously did. "When?" He asked.
Urahara sighed. It seemed that there was no way around it. He got up from the low table and led the way to his basement. He went in first. As they were climbing down the ladder he began to speak. "You know, it would be nice if I had time to prepare for this."
"No," was the only answer he got.
Ichigo wished his father had not come. He did indeed know what he was doing. He had done it before. It had taken awhile, the first time for him to realize that he was actually dead and in a sense possessing his own body. He rubbed his chest where his chain of fate would be in his spirit form. The cutting of his chain of fate had ended up being the least traumatic thing to happen to him that day.
"Wow," Isshin whistled in appreciation of the training room in spite of himself. Ichigo looked around at rocky terrain in the seemingly endless underground chamber. He remembered his own awe and surprise the first time he had seen it. His lack of reaction had to look suspicious to Urahara. Indeed the 'humble shopkeeper' was studying him intently while leaning on his cane. The man looked distinctly unhappy. As if he had run into a puzzle that he could not immediately solve. Well tough, Ichigo thought. The traitor wasn't going to get answers from him. He can figure it out all on his own. Ichigo huffed. He was dreaming after all. If Urahara didn't already know what was going on he was half way there.
Ichigo walked up to the man dearly wishing he already had Zangetsu in his hands. "I have no choice but to trust you," He said for Urahara alone. "But if you hurt anyone I care about again, I will end you." He looked Urahara dead in the eye and tried to ignore the fact that his father was standing right there ready to protect him. "Separate my soul from my body," The boy stated calmly. Isshin gave a shocked cry of surprise, only now catching on to what they were doing.
"Done this before have you?" Urahara asked lightly. "Ichigo, you do know what you are asking, hmm?"
"Yes, I do."
Urahara hummed again and put a finger to his chin affecting a thoughtful pose. "Obviously you do not trust me. Perhaps it would be wiser to ask someone like say your father, to do the deed."
Ichigo glared at Urahara and tried his damnedest to remember all the times Urahara had actually helped him, in his own twisted way. "Of all the people I would ask, you are the only one ruthless enough to do it."
"You say such shocking things for a little boy." With that Urahara lifted his cane and smacked Ichigo on the head with the end. Even though Ichigo was expecting it, Urahara still managed to take him by surprise. His body slumped lifeless to the ground. Ichigo himself felt what seemed to be a rush of wind and then a lightness all over his body. He fell backward, tripping over the chain that still connected him with the slumped form of his real body. He fell and lifted a section of chain curiously. He tugged lightly and felt a dull ache in his chest. That's the pain, he thought. What is going on? He was still attached to his body by the chain of fate. He had thought he only needed help separating himself from his body like he always did.
He looked over to where his father was clutching his lifeless body to his chest. Isshin was wide eyed and pale. Ichigo really did feel for the man. He was going to watch his son die after all. Ichigo closed his eyes for a moment to prepare himself. He pushed his doubts away and got back to his feet. He stood in front of Urahara who merely looked back questioning. Ichigo himself remained silent. He grabbed a length of chain and pulled it taunt between his hands. He thrust the chain at Urahara.
The man actually seemed to falter for a moment. A shadow of doubt plain to seen in his eyes. "You cannot go back," he said.
"I go forward," Ichigo answered unflinchingly.
"No," Isshin choked out. "You can't." He grabbed Urahara's arm "You are killing him."
"Regrettably," Urahara answered the unasked question. "But your son is strong, Kurosaki-san, stronger than even I expected."
"Do it," Ichigo said.
"Ichigo," Isshin pleaded.
"It's too late, tou-san." Ichigo said bowing his head so that Isshin could not see his eyes. "You just don't know how late." He finished in a whisper.
Urahara seized his chance in the silence. He drew his sword, his arm shot forward, and the chain between Ichigo's hands severed with an anticlimactic tink.
Ichigo suddenly felt lighter. This was how his soul body was supposed to feel. He grinned unconsciously and did a quick shunpo backward just to see if he could. He ended up about ten yards from the two men. Both stared at him.
"How?" Urahara asked.
Isshin gaped at his son while still crushing the young body to his chest. "Don't hurt my body, dad. Once I get Zangetsu I will be able to use it again."
Isshin blinked and turned to Urahara for conformation. The man nodded his head in answer.
Ichigo wondered briefly what they each thought of this development. Shrugging it off as unimportant he tried a couple more bursts of shunpo. After the last he was sweating. Evidently even his spirit body was not used to extreme exertion. He plopped down ungracefully and crossed his legs. He was eager to get Zangetsu back. "Just don't bother me while I am looking for Zangetsu." He threw over his shoulder before closing his eyes and preparing himself to enter his inner world.
The sun in his inner world was bright, almost cheery. It shown down on the horizontal landscape and reflected off the glass windows of the skyscrapers. After a few minutes of collecting his thoughts, Ichigo tried to remember how he had found Zangetsu the first time. Somehow he had thought it would be easier when his inner world wasn't disintegrating. He walked slowly along the building he was on trying to picture what he had done before. It had been three years after all. An image of a red ribbon floated across his mind. Oh, yeah. Shinigami have red spirit ribbons, and so did Zangetsu.
Ichigo closed his eyes and felt for it. White threads surrounded him and he fished through them. After a few minutes the red thread flashed across his mind. He grabbed it intent on following it to Zangetsu. There was another flash of red. "What the hell?" Ichigo reached out and grabbed that thread too. He looked at the threads. They were distinctly two different threads. He scratched his head in annoyance.
Another red thread appeared just out of reach. Ichigo stared at it completely flummoxed. More and more red threads joined the first ones. "How the hell am I supposed to find Zangetsu now?" Ichigo bit his lip and grabbed a thread at random. He followed it to the end and as he touch the end of the thread a memory came to his mind. He was standing under the moon of Las Noches watching three hollows chase a little girl across the dessert: Nel.
Memories, the red threads were his memories from being a Shinigami. Only one of them would lead him to Zangetsu. He could do this. He just needed to concentrate on Zangetsu, as he had done when he found that little boy's spirit to lead him to Chad. All of those threads had been white, so... He thought about the sword spirits and many of the threads faded.
But that left him with another problem. There were so many different incarnations of Zangetsu that even he was confused by them on occasion. The Zangetsu he wanted was not the single blade or the first incomplete blade he had. It was his dual blade. Because both of them were Zangetsu after all. He thought back to the moment in Ouestu Namaiya's palace, when he had first held the two blades, and his resolution to accept both of them, all of himself.
A single red ribbon remained in his hand. It tugged almost playfully in the wind leading him on. Ichigo shunpoed over the landscape of his inner world on his way to find his closest companions. When he stopped at the end of the ribbon he noticed that it disappeared into thin air, but it clearly looked attached to something. Ichigo trailed his hand along the ribbon to the very end. He frowned as he felt nothing from where the ribbon ended.
Frustrated he grabbed the ribbon and yanked. From out of thin air the hilt of a long sword appeared, black and red with red tassels. "There you are," He said pulling the sword. He had to step back several times due to his new lack of height. The sword clunked on the glass when he pulled it completely out. "Eh," He stood the sword on its point. It was almost two feet taller than he was. "You just can't be agreeable, can you?" He groused at the sword.
He awoke in Urahara's basement with a plain long sword laying across his lap, completely black save for the red on the hilt. He was dressed in his normal shihakushou: black with two white straps across his chest to hold his shikai blades, with shoulder guard on his left, and a white cloak tied around his waist with black markings. Both his father and Urahara were staring at him. They had evidently moved off a ways and settled on some of the smaller rocks to watch.
This was becoming a very disturbing theme with them. It was almost as if they expected him to do tricks. His father came over and leaned over his shoulder to to get a good look at the blade. "You can call it without the aid of an asauchi?" He asked. "That should make it weaker."
Ichigo glared at him. "I can infuse it into an asauchi later, if you have one lying around. Until then, they will be strong enough."
Isshin blinked. Mentioning the asauchi had been something of a test. But his son's confidence in himself and apparently his zanpakutou remained unshaken. He did not expect his son to even know what an asauchi was. It was also surprising the way he always addressed his zanpakutou in the plural. Isshin wondered if that meant it was a dual blade.
Ichigo stood with some difficulty. The long sword threw him off balance. He started to pull the sheath off the blade but only managed to get half of the blade out of the sheath before he had his arm fully extended. He growled at the blade. He really did hate his nine year old body.
His dad coughed suspiciously and Urahara had that damn fan covering his mouth and likely a wide grin underneath. Ichigo wrinkled his nose and scowled at the half sheathed blade. "Do you need some help, son?"
"No," Ichigo snapped prompting another smothered laughing fit from his dear old dad. Leaving the sheath where it was he grabbed the hilt in both hands and swung the sword across his body with all of his might. The sheath flew off the end of the blade and skidded to a stop several meters away. He could already hear Zangetsu laughing at him, and he hadn't even unsealed the bastard yet. It didn't help his temper at all that both men were laughing at him again as well and not even bothering to hide it.
As much as it pained him, his instinct was telling him that he would need the sheath to unseal his zanpakutou, so he stomped over to it while the old men snickered at him. He shot both of them a withering look as he bent to pick up the sheath. Isshin just giggled harder. Stupid Goat-face, he thought uncharitably. I am so glad he is entertained.
Ichigo held both blade and sheath in his hands, blade in his right hand and the sheath in his left. He thrust both out in front of him parallel to the ground. The blade shook as he was barely strong enough to hold it.
He closed his eyes and let his reiatsu build around him, savoring the feeling. It was not often he got to release his zanpakutou. Both Urahara and Isshin stopped laughing and backed away as the reiatsu whipped at their clothes. Urahara clamped down on his hat with his hand to keep it from being blown away.
"Cleave the sky asunder, Zangetsu!"
The reiatsu swirling around him blew outward as a pillar of pale blue light shot up into the darkness. When the light cleared Ichigo was left with two blades in his hands. In his right he held a giant Khyber knife, pitch black with a cut out going half way down the blade from the hilt; and in his left a trench knife easily as long as his arm, also pitch black. Both men stared in wonder at the small boy.
Ichigo swiftly sheathed the blades as they had scaled down to his actual size. The quick movement startled both men. It had been far too practiced for someone unsealing their blade for the first time.
Ichigo had closed his eyes and was obviously speaking with his sword spirit. Suddenly two men stood behind Ichigo. The one on the right was a young man, dressed completely in white, white skin and white hair that stood in spikes as Ichigo's tended to do. But the eyes were yellow on black sclera. Urahara's own eyes widened in surprised as he sensed the reiatsu given off by the young man. It was a hollow.
The man on the left was even more shocking. The reiatsu was that of a Quincy! He was a tall man in his mid-forties. With the shadow of a beard and long unkempt hair. He wore a long black cloak and tinted sunglasses over his eyes. For a zanpakutou to have two spirits that did not hold the reiatsu of a Shinigami but the other aspects of the boy's heritage... Urahara frowned.
Ichigo himself broke both men from their respective thoughts. He jumped at the hollow. Isshin and Urahara did not know how to react to this. It was clearly a hollow, without a mask and no visible hole, but still a hollow. The hollow in question caught Ichigo mid jump and lifted him up so that Ichigo could wrap his arms and legs around him. Ichigo buried his face in the hollow's shihakushou. The dark haired man leaned over and whispered something into Ichigo's ear, to which Ichigo nodded.
"Hey Aibou, you shrunk," The hollow said double-tone voice tinged with amusement. Ichigo's only reply was to lightly punch the hollow on the shoulder.
Both of the spirits faced the two, once again, shocked men. "Yo!" the hollow greeted a maniacal grin spreading across his face. The older man merely nodded.
"Hi!" Urahara called back with a cheer he did not feel. Isshin looked at him like he was insane. He had yet to get over the surprising forms his son's zanpakutou spirits had taken as well as the dual blade itself.
The zanpakutou spirits stared Urahara down until he pulled down his hat frowning. "Maa, It seems you hold your wielder's opinion of me."
"I want you dead," the hollow stated plainly.
"You are a devious and amoral man," The other spirit said. "The only reason you are still alive is that his mother lives too. I suggest you start to take Ichigo seriously."
"I see," Urahara said.
"Speaking of-" the hollow interrupted anything else Urahara would have said. "King here is falling asleep."