On the shattered battlefield of crumbled rocks and smoking, craters were two men. One of them was on the ground, lying defeated. The other was victorious and standing, using what remained of his powers.
Ichigo was looking at Aizen's prone form, exhausted beyond belief.
He saw the Hōgyoku separate itself from Aizen and fly right in front of his face, only to disappear in a flash of purple light which blinded him for a few seconds.
After he regained his sight Ichigo noticed that Aizen was staring at him. He knelt beside him and asked a question he needed to know...
"Why did you want to become a god?"
Aizen watched thoughtfully, before smiling slightly.
"Because I wanted to change the world around me." His eyes started to lose focus, life seeping away from them "I wanted to get rid of the injustice in the Soul Society, its corruption and arrogance." He coughed up some blood, looking desperately at Ichigo. "The Soul Society was built on a lie Ichigo…and the creature that rules it…it's far more disgusting than any Hollow." He said with hate.
"Do you mean the Captain-Commander?" Ichigo asked, thinking about what the old man had done to deserve such hatred.
Ichigo was puzzled when Aizen started to chuckle.
"No... I mean the Soul King." Ichigo's eyes widened. "He is the cancer of Spiritual World, but those fools in the Soul Society are too blind to see it… All I wanted to do was get rid of him." He started to cough again, and more blood spilled from his mouth. "They are not aware of what they subject themselves to..."
"Was it worth sacrificing thousands to achieve it? Was it worth it to sacrifice Hinamori?" He asked quietly, expecting some remark of the greater good, or necessary evil, but was shocked when he saw the pain on his face.
"I-I couldn't find another way…and I wish I could do something differently….. but if you saw what I had seen, knew what I had known…I was desperate…" He fell silent again for a while. Ichigo lost all hope for him to talk again, he could already feel approaching Reiatsu signatures of his allies and friends. He tried to stand, but Aizen caught his wrist.
"Let me… give you one final warning." Aizen stared at him with the seriousness of a dying man. "Be wary of the Soul Society and its lies. See what is beneath their words, don't let them put a leash on you in one way or another…cough." Aizen was desperate to tell the boy more, but he knew his time is running out.
"Why are you telling me this?" Ichigo asked in confusion.
"Because…Because..." His body was shaken by violent coughs. "You are much more than you think Kurosaki Ichigo." And then he faded into nothingness, with a small smile that never left his face.
Ichigo decided to think about what Aizen said later.
He looked at the clear blue sky, and only one thought passed through his mind.
'Finally….this nightmare is over…' Ichigo thought wearily before returning his gaze to the slowly disintegrating corpse of the Ex-Captain. His body screamed in pain yet relief flooded over him, soothing his suffering.
The war between Shinigami and Arrancar was over.
The Soul Society had won at last.
But the young substitute Shinigami couldn't savor the taste of victory for long. The sacrifice he made for this victory was drawing closer, robbing him of the last remnants of his power.
An agonizing pain suddenly shot through his body, making him fall to the ground screaming in anguish.
The feeling was so intense that Ichigo felt his consciousness slipping away. The last thing he saw before darkness claimed him were several figures appearing before him.
He passed out before he could see who they were.
Ichigo was slowly coming back to the world of the living. He was lying on something soft and he was warm.
'Kami almighty please don't make me see Tessai when I open my eyes.' He prayed silently, and slowly opened his eyes. To his immense relief, he saw unfamiliar wooden walls, empty beds, and medical equipment laid out across the room.
'I'm probably at some hospital.' He deduced…then he tried to get up. He regretted it immediately when his whole body throbbed in intense pain, making Ichigo flinch noticeably.
He hadn't even had the time to get over the sensation when the door to the room swung open, revealing several people trying to enter at once.
"ME FIRST DAMN IT!" Ikkaku shouted, trying to push himself in.
"You wish! In your dreams baldy!" Renji yelled, slamming his foot into Ikkaku's face.
"It's such a vulgar way to get inside, you know?" Yumichika said with a smug smile as if he wasn't doing the exact same thing.
"Shut up ugly!" Renji and Ikkaku shouted in unison.
"I'll butcher you!" Yumichika screamed in murderous fury, charging blindly at the struggling duo, causing a three-way all-out war.
In the short fight that occurred half of the room was laid to waste, and the only thing preventing further damage in the room (including Ichigo's body) was…
"I think that your behavior hardly belongs in a hospital." A calm, soft, and gentle voice sounded through the room, sending shivers down everybody's spines.
Renji, Ikkaku, and Yumichika froze in absolute terror when Captain Unohana entered the room.
"I think you shouldn't trouble my patient. He just woke up after all." She said with a "gentle" smile, putting heavy emphasis on my, slightly worrying Ichigo.
Renji, Ikkaku, and Yumichika felt as if the devil itself was glaring at them.
"Y-Y-Y-Yes ma'am." They shuttered while sweating a great deal.
"Now let's see how our patient is feeling," Unohana stated, focusing her attention on Ichigo.
"I'm feeling fine, thanks." Ichigo quickly replied, trying to wiggle out of the examination.
"I'd don't think so. You have been unconscious for two days, and your injuries haven't healed yet. You should stay in bed." Unohana announced smiling at him, hints of concern in her eyes.
"No, I'm really fine, never been better." He said quickly while trying to get up.
"Ichigo, you should really stay in bed." She said with the same expression. For some reason, Ichigo was chilled to the bone as he felt the "this isn't a request" aura and some sort of sinister power backing it up from Unohana.
"Y-Yes ma'am." He squeaked in fear.
"Good. Now, the rest of your guests can come in, but only if they behave. But I believe that won't be an issue, will it?" Unohana mentioned while moving towards the doors. Her reply was a choir of, "Yes" and "Of course, Ma'am"s.
After she left, the room was slowly filled with people coming in order and calmly.
"Ichigo!" Rukia exclaimed happiness shining in her eyes.
"Kurosaki-Kun!" Orihime wept tears of joy, hugging the life out of Ichigo, causing his abused body even more pain. But being a man Ichigo pretended to be okay.
"Good to see you, you bastard," Ishida said with a nonchalant smile. Ichigo held back the urge to punch him, albeit barely.
"Yo." Chad greeted him with a small smile and grabbed Ichigo's shoulder gently.
"Ichigoooo!" Matsumoto chirped, slamming her body into his. Then she proceeded to suffocate him with her affection.
'There goes my ribs.' Ichigo thought in pain, hearing his poor bones creak under the pressure.
"Can't…breathe." He managed to wheeze before he lost consciousness from a lack of air.
"You're going kill him, let go!" Rukia shouted when she saw him going still.
"Oh my bad." Matsumoto said with an innocent grin.
"EEEEEEEE…I can breathe again..." Ichigo muttered.
"We were so worried about you!" Orihime said, wiping her eyes. Everyone agreed with her statement, giving him pointed looks.
"Sorry that I put you all through that guys. I swear to not do anything like that anytime soon…I hope." Ichigo promised with a relieved grin on his face.
"You better not, or I will personally kick your ass!" Rukia exclaimed, false anger in her voice.
"Yeah us too, Baka!" Renji, Ikkaku, and Yumichika yelled in unison, very real threats in theirs.
"I knew you guys loved me," Ichigo answered with a small laugh, hoping to not escalate things into a fight… yet.
Soon the others started to laugh with him, firing jokes about his state, while Inoue healed him completely.
However, the laughter soon died out, being replaced by a tense silence.
"So how was it?" Rukia asked quietly. "Your fight with Aizen." She whispered, the mention of the Ex-Capitan's name soured the atmosphere instantly.
"It was the hardest battle I've ever fought." He replied honestly, staring at his feet while recalling the duel he had. "I don't think without my last technique, I would have made it. He was… a terrifying opponent, I have to give him that." He whispered very softly.
"It's ok. He will no longer haunt you, and you won, saving the entire Soul Society." Rukia said gently while hugging him.
'If only it was true.' Ichigo recalled Aizen's last words about the Soul King and himself. He knew that those words would haunt him for a long time still. He felt like something very important was being kept from him on purpose, but he had no idea what it could be.
"Okay let's end this depressing subject! Ichigo, two days from now the Soul Society will hold a grand feast celebrating our victory and appointing new Captains. So get dressed and come with us, we are having a private party before the main event!" Matsumoto exclaimed, a wide grin and mischievous look in her eyes.
"Okay! Getting…" Ichigo stopped remembering Unohana's words.
"Ekhm, I will stay… a little longer." He replied quickly with a petrified face.
"But why? You're all fine, not even a scratch, I healed you perfectly." Orihime said creasing her eyebrows, then she felt a hand on her arm.
"Don't press it, okay? Let him stay a little longer." Renji said, giving Ichigo a knowing look, as were Ikkaku and Yumichika.
"Okay everyone, let's give Ichigo some rest. We'll meet him at the grand feast." Ikkaku said, and started to push everyone out of the room. He turned around, and said with a terrified expression "Beware.", before swallowing audibly.
"Thanks," Ichigo replied weakly.
Darkness, all she could see was deep inky darkness. There was no sound, no smells, no nothing around her. She felt numb… She felt like she was floating in nothingness.
Her name was Tia Halibel, Tercera Espada of Aizen's army...
The moment the name of traitorous Captain passed through her mind it brought her back from the numbness only to feel…
Pain so horrible that it almost made her lose her mind. Every fiber of her being was screaming in agony. The worst was her left shoulder and stomach for some reason.
But then the answer as to why came as her memories washed back in, along with a head-splitting headache.
The city… the battle… kid Captain Shinigami… the two wannabe Arrancars… the betrayal…the burning pain of a sword going through her gut… then falling and falling….
'AIZEN!' Tia seethed, feeling a wave of righteous anger course through her.
He betrayed her!
While she had been fighting off her opponents, Aizen Shunpo'ed behind Tia and delivered a slash, cutting open her belly.
With his ever-present superior smirk, Aizen announced that she was too weak to serve him. That hadn't seated well with the Arrancar lady. She tried to counterattack, but sadly she was already under the spell of his Zanpakuto, Kyōka Suigetsu. Her sword went through one of his illusions, making her vulnerable to attack. He stabbed her shoulder from behind and dragged his sword down, damaging her body further.
Then Tia started to fall, and the last thing she remembered was hitting the ground before she blacked out.
With her memories in order now, Tia tried to stand, but only managed to release an agonizing moan as the pain doubled.
Yet she pressed on, unrelenting and unbreakable, forcing her broken body to move. With an inhuman effort, she stood on shaking legs and took a step. Each time it felt like she was about to die. Tia could feel her own blood sliding down her skin, a trail of blood surely followed her.
It was like a dream…or rather a nightmare to her. Her vision was blurred, making her head spin. Yet even in such a state, she was more or less aware of her surroundings. She could feel the battle raging on, yet she could care less about it.
She couldn't sense the Reiastu of those she cared for. They were weak while she was fighting the young Captain, and now they were completely gone.
That was a hurt that dwarfed anything else she felt. Her Fraccion, her friends, her…family were gone…She was all alone now…
"I must endure." She chanted, taking another step. "Mila-Rose, Sung-Sun, Apacci, I won't let your sacrifices be in vain!" She took a defiant step forward. Tia needed to survive for their sake.
After an indeterminable amount of time, she managed to reach a park. From the looks of it, it was old and mostly abandoned. She walked deeper into it, finding a little clearing with a large tree growing in the middle.
She moved to the tree and rested against it, leaning her back against its trunk. She took a shaky breath and started to gather Reiatsu, to accelerate her healing process. But the Human World wasn't as rich in raw Reishi as Hueco Mundo, so it considerably slowed it to an almost snail's pace.
'Aizen…I promise you that I'll end you…no matter what it takes to accomplish it…I swear on my Fraccion's blood.'
Tia closed her teal eyes, using her determination to focus on healing.
The Soul Society's Grand Feast had begun.
However the parties, drinking, and singing had already been in the process right after the battle, but the big day was today.
The official celebration started at noon, with some (most), Shinigami present having a little trouble standing up straight.
Captain-Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto began the event with a speech about victory gained through the combined effort of all Shinigami, especially Kurosaki Ichigo, which caused a storm of applause. Then Soul Society values and traditions that created strong bonds, and finally the Captain-Commander warning about the uncontrollable thirst for power, and what are the consequences of betrayal held.
After the speech, he announced that the ceremony of appointing the Captains would begin at midnight, on Sōkyoku Hill, and everyone was obliged to show. There were no exceptions he said, looking towards the Visored group.
Then he wished everyone good fun and dismissed all of them.
"Wow, that was quite the speech," Ichigo stated while walking toward the Squad 10 barracks, with his friends. Matsumoto was throwing a large party there, much to the torment of Captain Tōshirō Hitsugaya.
"Yep. Good thing that you had been released from the hospital. Otherwise, you would miss out on everything." Rukia said chuckling.
"Yeah, right." He replied as he remembered hours of begging and tests to prove he was okay. When he was about to leave Captain Unohana wished him good health, in her usual gentle/scaring the hell out of your voice, and to not get overexcited at the party. Ichigo still shivered from the experience.
"Anyways let's not waste any more time, we might be late for the party. They will probably already be so drunk that they won't recognize us when we arrive." Ichigo joked.
"Come on, everybody will recognize their favorite strawberry-head hero," Rukia told him before laughing loudly.
"Why you little... I will get you for that!" Ichigo shouted.
"Catch me if you can. The last one to the barracks is a really big, and cute, strawberry head." Rukia shouted and ran away.
"We'll see about that." Ichigo chased after her.
Five Minutes Later
"Told ya you would lose," Rukia said with a huge smug smirk on her face.
"Shut up, midget," Ichigo muttered angrily.
"Awww, don't be like that Strawberry-Chan, we have arrived." As soon as those words left Rukia's mouth, men came flying out of the windows.
"Tōshirō's going to love this." He told her, and as confirmation of his words, they heard a loud roar.
"MATSUMOTOOOOOOOO!" Toshiro's voice sounded through the nearest area.
"Looks like the party's going on, let's go!" Rukia exclaimed and ran into the barracks.
"Lead the way Rukia," Ichigo replied as he followed her inside. As soon they walked in they saw pandemonium that only people with too much alcohol in their veins could cause.
Of course, Rangiku was at the very forefront of it…..
"GUYS! WHAT ARE WE DOIN!?" Matsumoto slurred, swaying like a reed on the wind. She already had a very healthy shade of red on her cheeks, and one very large bottle of sake in her hand.
"WE'RE PARTIN, SIGNIN, AND DRINKIN!" A crowd in similar a state roared back joyfully and with lots of cheering. Ichigo and Rukia noticed that the group was from various squads.
"GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE YOU DRUNK MORONS!" Captain Tōshirō Hitsugaya yelled in fury, but because he was so short he was ignored.
"Toshi come on, don't be such a party crasher. Drink with us! We've got the best sake in the Soul Society!" Matsumoto exclaimed with a giggle.
"It's captain Hitsugaya to YOU! And I will not tolera-" Tōshirō was interrupted when Matsumoto grabbed him quickly and started hugging him very tightly to her assets…
"What are you doing?!" He shouted, or at last tried to shout while struggling to get himself free.
"Toshi you have to understand that after such a victory, the men have the right to celebrate and relieve their stress from battle. Every wise Captain lets his men loosen up once in the while to keep morale high. Having fun once in a while is not a bad thing. I bet Hinamori would enjoy it if you'd take her out sometimes, so what do you say Toshi?... Errr, Captain?" Captain Tōshirō Hitsugaya, due to lack of air, fainted a few seconds ago.
"Awww...poor Captain, he must have been so tired that he fell asleep in a place like this." Matsumoto mused, completely oblivious to the actual reason he fainted. She picked him up and took him to his bedroom, placing him on his bed…only accidentally hitting his head against a nightstand.
"Sleep well, Toshi." She said gently, looking one last time at Tōshirō.
Meanwhile, Ichigo and Rukia were just noticed due to the fact that alcohol severely limited the brain power of the users…
"LOOK ITS KUROSAKI ICHIGO! WAR HERO, DEFENDER OF SOUL SOCIETY! HERO! HERO! HERO…" The crowd started to cheer loudly.
Ichigo was literally mobbed into accepting drinks and telling the crowd the story about his battle. He of course excluded the parts of his training in Garganta and his talk with Aizen.
"Aww I always knew that you were destined to be a hero!" Rangiku said, taking a seat next to him. She leaned against him making sure to press her large chest to his arm, making him blush crimson. "You know you are cute." She whispered into his ear, blowing hot air into it. Ichigo did everything to not squirm. He was not used to something like that.
"Hey guys I think it's about time that we go to the Sōkyoku Hill for the ceremony." Rukia suddenly shouted, glaring daggers at Rangiku, who was still attached to Ichigo.
"Do we have to?" A few Shinigamis lamented, not wanting to part with their drinks.
"Excellent idea!" Ichigo stood quickly, trying to contain his blush. He could swear that Rangiku's lips brushed his ear lobe. "Let's go, guys!"
"Yeah, move your drunken asses over there or I will make you!" Rukia exclaimed only to see the room empty as she said that. After Ichigo's statement, everyone ran after him, ignoring Rukia completely.
"Wait for me, you morons!" She yelled as she quickly followed.
"With peace finally restored, it's time to fill the gap that was created among Captains during Aizen's betrayal." Captain-Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto said in a strong, deep, and commanding voice.
"Now I will appoint Captains to their Divisions." He stated. "The ones I call step forward and take your Captain Coat."
"I appoint Suì-Fēng as Captain of the Second Division."
"I appoint Rōjūrō Ōtoribashi as Captain of the Third Division."
"I appoint Retsu Unohana as Captain of the Fourth Division."
"I appoint Shinji Hirako as Captain of the Fifth Division."
"I appoint Byakuya Kuchiki as Captain of the Sixth Division."
"I appoint Sajin Komamura as Captain of the Seventh Division."
"I appoint Shunsui Kyōraku as Captain of the Eighth Division."
"I appoint Kensei Muguruma as Captain of the Ninth Division."
"I appoint Tōshirō Hitsugaya as Captain of the Tenth Division."
Each appointed Captain had to move to the Captain-Commander, bow to him, and receive their coat from him. The ceremony was going smoothly until the prolonged absence of Captain Hitsugaya started to cause a commotion.
In the crowd of Shinigami
"Where in the world is Tōshirō?" Ichigo said as he started to worry for the young Captain.
"Indeed. To be late for such a ceremony is a very serious offense toward the Captain-Commander and the Soul Society." Rukia told him, also starting to grow impatient.
"Yeee wonder if he's still…" Matsumoto stopped as she heard some noise that sounded almost like her name. 'Nah I must be imagining things.' She thought.
"Still what?" Ichigo asked curiously.
"Well, at the party he was making a ruckus so I pulled him into a loooong hug, and explained to him how important is to lie back sometimes. But poor Toshi fell asleep, probably from exhaustion." She explained, with an innocently oblivious face.
'Rather fainted from suffocation.' Ichigo thought as he recalled a similar situation from the hospital. He started to slowly fear the power of Matsumoto's breasts.
As soon as he had finished his line of thoughts about her bosom, still blushing slightly, he saw Toshi Flash Step before the Captain-Commander. Bowing quickly and taking his coat, he stood in line with the other Captains, behind the Captain-Commander.
Ichigo also noticed the "your life's going be so miserable from now on" look that Toshiro was giving to Matsumoto.
"Hyyyyy….Air!" Tōshirō choked out his first breath, as he was waking up from his Matsumoto induced coma. Noticing that he was in his bed….he also noted a giant hole in the wall, as a chilly night breeze was getting into the room.
Then he looked at the clock "00:13….." He gasped, feeling fury build inside him. He released it with one long pissed-off dragon roar shout. "MATSUMOTOOOOOOOOOOO!"
End of Flashback
"Let's continue." The Captain Commander send a VERY heavy glare toward the white-haired captain.
"I appoint Kenpachi Zaraki as Captain of the Eleventh Division."
"I appoint Mayuri Kurotsuchi as Captain of the Twelfth Division."
"I appoint Jūshirō Ukitake as Captain of the Thirteenth Division."
As soon as the Captain-Commander finished a storm of applause fell on the appointed Captains.
The Captain-Commander raised his hand to silence everyone, and said "The ceremony is not over yet." Confusing everyone, including the twelve Captains.
"After a long debate with Central 46, we decided to re-establish the Kido Corps Division." Everyone started to whisper in excitement and curiosity.
"We decided to hand the position to a person who fought valiantly for the Soul Society in the recent war, aiding us in defeating our foes." Ichigo had a really nasty feeling about this.
"Therefore I appoint Kurosaki Ichigo as Captain of the newly restored Kido Corps Division." Captain-Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto looked straight at Ichigo, as if daring him to decline.
Well, to be frank, calling the silence that fell after his words "deadly", would be a humongous understatement. Even nature went silent, as if in shock, after his words. Not even the wind dared to blow.
'WHAT THE HELL?!' Ichigo thought as his pupils widened to the size of dinner plates. Someone pushed him toward the Captain-Commander.
He walked up in a stiff robot-like fashion, performing a stiff bow, almost breaking his spine. He claimed the coat and went to stand in line with the rest of the Captains, (who were probably in greater shock than he was) accompanied by total silence. Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths in the tense atmosphere of utter disbelief.
"With that, I conclude this ceremony. You all are dismissed. Go and celebrate for the rest of the night." Captain-Commander stated with the hit of his cane. Then he Flash Stepped from the hill.
No one dared to move, everyone was staring at a certain individual who was probably close to a mental break.
"How the hell did this happen?" Ichigo felt so small under the gaze of over 4000 Death Gods.
No pressure whatsoever.
He turned his head to his left and looked at the row of Captains staring at him. Some with curiosity others with surprise...some with bloodthirsty glee, others in confusion and irritation, and even in anger.
"What?" Ichigo finally snapped getting annoyed at their stares.
"Forgive us Ichigo-san, but this was unexpected," Unohaha said diplomatically. "We weren't informed about this."
"You weren't? But isn't your opinion or something like that required to become a Captain?" Ichigo asked confused.
"Indeed. You would have to go through the test, or get a recommendation from us…or kill another Captain to take his rank…" Ukitake supported.
"Whoa, whoa slow down here. I didn't kill Aizen for any position or rank, and like hell, I don't remember taking any test! And from the look on your faces, none of you recommended me…so what the hell is going on here guys?" Ichigo inquired.
"We'll get to the bottom of this, I promise you," SoiFon said glaring at Ichigo for some reason. "There has to be a mistake here."
"What she said, was someone had to hit his or her head too hard. Where do I go to resign?" Ichigo looked at them with hopeful expectation.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, being chosen as one of the Captains is the greatest honor a Shinigami can be offered. Resigning mere seconds after nomination will be taken as an insult towards the Soul Society." Byakuya chastised him.
"Honor and pride aside, let's get technical. How I am supposed to lead a Kido Corps if I don't even know Kido!?" Ichigo snapped. "Even Unohaha-san said that I suck at this whole Reiatsu control thing!"
"Pardon me, but I didn't tell you that you "suck", but merely pointed out that your Reiatsu is a little rough around the edges. Nothing that can't be corrected with training and meditation." She smiled. "If you wish, I can teach you Kido…Trust me I'll make you a Kido master in no time…or you'll die trying." All that was said with her expression unchanged. Somehow it made Ichigo tremble.
"Maa, Maa don't scare the boy Retsu-san." Kyoraku said. "Listen, maybe, just for the time being, keep the position and we will ask around as to what this is all about ok? Let's not act hastily here."
"But I don't want it! I want to go home and return to my normal life. How I'm even supposed to balance life here and in the living world?"
"I'm sure you'll think of something." He said with disarming smile. "Now go enjoy the evening. We'll take care of things, so relax." With that he Shunpo'ed away, soon being followed by the rest.
Zaraki, before he departed, gave Ichigo one of his bloodthirsty smiles, while SoiFon continued to glare at him until her departure.
'Geez what's her problem." Ichigo shook his head.
As soon as the Captains left he was literally swarmed by a cheering and curious crowd. He was flooded under an endless wave of congratulations.
After a while Ichigo was finally free, leaving him with only a group of his friends namely Inoue, Chado, Ishida, Rukia, Renji, Ikkaku, Yumichika and Rangiku.
"Congratulations Kurosaki-kun." Inoue said with a bright smile.
"Thanks, but I'd rather remain a substitute Shinigami for the time being." Ichigo shrugged.
"Baka! Don't you know what a great honor this is!" Rukia whacked the back of his head.
"Ow! That hurts you know!" He growled, massaging the sore spot.
"Oh don't be a baby Ichigo! And put the coat on, I want to see how you look." Rangiku slurred. "Pwese?"
Ichigo couldn't contain his blush at her cute pout and folded. He exasperatedly put the coat on and looked at the gathered. "There, happy?"
"I have to say, it suits you," Chado admitted.
"I have to agree," Ishida added, adjusting his glasses.
"Et tu, Ishida?" Ichigo groaned. "Come on even Renji would be better, he at least knows Kido…no matter how lame he is at it." Ichigo snickered.
"You bastard, want to try and back up those words!?" Renji grabbed the hem of his coat.
"Oh I don't know, Vice-Captain Abarai." Ichigo gave him an evil grin, suddenly enjoying his new station. "Is that any way to address a commanding officer?"
At that very moment, the Shinigami realized that Ichigo just outranked them.
"Noooo! He became a Captain before me!" Renji wailed.
"Ok this job just got much better hehehe." Ichigo chuckled darkly.
"And don't forget that you get paid!" Rangiku chirped. "A lot actually. You can even change the currency to any in the Human World."
"Seriously?" Ichigo exclaimed. 'Ok now it's definitely not that bad. I get a well-paid job in something I actually excel at.'
"Of course! How do you think we survived when we were sent to help you before the war?" Yumichika said, brushing his hair off to the side. "Not only by depending on other people's kindness, and selling Ikkaku's body to the landlady."
"I told you to never speak of that again!" Said the man roared with an embarrassed blush.
"Yuck! I don't even want to imagine that." Rukia makes a gagging noise. "Before it gets even more disgusting how about we get to celebrate?
"Hell Yeah!" Everyone cheered, marching back to the 10th Squad barracks.
The Next Day
Rukia yawned while walking through the streets of Sereitei, enjoying the peaceful afternoon. She decided to end the party earlier along with Inoue, Ishida, and Chado, who all returned to Human World. Ichigo on the other hand wasn't allowed to leave until the very last of the party members had fallen asleep.
She initially went to collect his drunk ass from the 10th, where he undoubtedly ended, but she was informed that Hachi already got him and they went to train in Kido.
Suddenly a loud explosion ripped through the air. Rukia ran towards the source of the explosion and saw Ichigo scrambling out of the undoubtedly self-made crater.
"I'm telling you it's frigging impossible for me to do this!" Ichigo grumbled while trying to extinguish his burning robe.
"You just have to concentrate." Hachigen Ushōda reminded him with a chuckle. Via messenger, he was informed that he was appointed as Ichigo's very private tutor by the Captain-Commander himself. Whether he liked it or not.
"I still don't get why they didn't make you Captain instead? You're an experienced Kido Master, trained by the one considered to be the best Kido user ever." Ichigo said as he cooled down (literally).
"Well it's true that my sensei Tessai Tsukabishi-sama is the best, but even I can see you have great potential too. In only a few hours you've learned to use both Bakudō and Hadō up to the 4th level. A remarkable feat for someone who hasn't had any practical Kido training before. You have very good instincts and adaptation, all you simply lack is theoretical knowledge of how to execute spells. Nothing that can't be fixed with time."
"You didn't answer my question." Ichigo pointed out, slightly embarrassed at the compliments.
"To tell the truth, I do not want to be a Captain, because I'm not meant to be one. I can guide and teach you Kido, and do some paperwork, but I do not hold the qualities of a leader. Something that you have in spades." Hachi said sincerely.
"Thanks." Ichigo muttered, flattered by his teacher's praise.
"Sooo can we call it a day? Feels like we've been training forever." Ichigo almost begged.
"No way I just got here, and from what I can see this is too good to end it now." Rukia interrupted with an evil grin.
"Damn straight! Watching Ichigo's epic fails are wayyy too much fun." Renji exclaimed with a choir of support from the other spectators.
"Come on Ichigo you can do it…Hahaha…you just have to focus…Hahaha…." Matsumoto was laughing her ass off, obviously having just as good a time as the last few days.
"Bwuhahaha!" Ikkaku, Renji, Yumichika, and Kira burst out laughing, pissing Ichigo off.
"Oh I will FOCUS now if that's what you really want….." Ichigo said darkly as he raised his left hand, straightening his forefinger and starting to chant.
"Seeping crest of turbidity, arrogant vessel of lunacy…." The rest of his words were turned into mumbling. A thick black mist started to form around Ichigo.
"What the hell is he trying to pull?" Renji asked starting to get a very unpleasant feeling.
"That stance and chant have a strange resemblance to… Kuro...hit...sugi." Hachi mused with a growing sense of dread. "Everyone get out of here now!" He shouted in absolute horror feeling a sinister Reiatsu build behind the spell.
"Run to the hills!" Rukia shouted, retreating from the blast zone.
"Run for your life!" Matsumoto yelled, obviously not having such a great time anymore.
"He's friggin' insane!" Renji screamed as he Flash Stepped away from the training grounds in terror, as did every sane creature that felt the oncoming doom.
"Hehehe... suckers." Ichigo said with an evil grin as he stopped the spell "Thanks Aizen." He uttered feeling a sudden gratitude towards the Ex-Captain.
"Alright! Time to go home." He exclaimed happily.
"Ekhm." Hachi coughed politely, tapping his foot.
"Aww, give me a break!" Ichigo wailed.
"I planned to, but it seems that you need a lecture about the dangers of using such deadly Kido." He said in a stern tone.
"Kami kill me now!" Ichigo face-palmed.
Human World, Around Midnight
"Ah it's good to be back." Ichigo said happily, imagining a few days of free time. His plan was mainly sleeping, eating, watching TV, meeting with his friends, and from time to time checking for any Hollow activity.
"Ok let's do one last check, and then time for bed." Ichigo extended his senses, trying to discern any Hollow presence.
"Everything seems alright..." He paused feeling, just on the edge of his senses, a spark of Reiatsu. Only thanks to his very recent Kido training did he manage to feel it. Any less sensitive Shinigami would simply have missed it. Whatever it was it was meant trying to keep its presence hidden.
'Work never ends.' He thought as he flew toward the signature. When he got close enough he recognized the soul structure of the Reiatsu. It was a Hollow's….no an Arrancar's.
'Looks like I will have to deal with some remnants of Aizen's army.' He thought as he landed about five hundred meters from the source.
"Couldn't they choose a nicer place to hide?" Ichigo looked at the deserted park, full of wild bushes, high grass, and old trees.
"Let's see what surprises I can find here." He said to himself while advancing into the bushes. The fact that the only source of light was the moon was not helping. The sky being semi-clouded most of the time made it difficult for Ichigo who was moving through the bushes in near-total darkness.
"Shit!" He shouted as he tripped on the root of an old tree, and hit a nearby rock with his face.
'Great, now they know that I am here. There goes the element of surprise.' He thought bitterly while massaging his forehead.
He got out of the bushes and entered a clearing, an old sakura tree in the dead center of it. Despite not being able to see anything, Ichigo could feel the presence of something right in front of him under the tree. He took a fighting stance, drawing Zangetsu, and slowly advanced towards the Arrancar. Moving forward, the moonlight started to slowly illuminate the clearing.
When the moonlight had finally reached the sakura tree, he saw the person who was sitting under it.
It was a female Arrancar. An extremely beautiful female Arrancar….
'Do not think about it.' He thought with a blush.
'Oh please do…' His Inner Hollow whispered from the back of his mind. Ichigo dreaded to think what he want to do with her.
From what Ichigo could see, she was in a bad state. He noticed that she had some barely healed wounds on her belly and arm. He also noticed her very, unusual outfit. She wore a long-sleeved top, that covered half of her face, and that reached to her breasts, stopping halfway down them. This left a healthy dose of her bosom visible. Ichigo fought hard to contain his growing blush, not that she taught an exposed belly helped that. Below her waist, she wore a long white skirt, tied by a black sash. He also notice that it left the sides of her waist and upper thighs visible.
Yet the most noticeable parts were large dark stains on it. Ichigo guessed that it must be blood…lots of it.
Regardless he continued his observation. Her skin was tanned and she had messy blonde hair that was sticking to her face. He couldn't see any more of her face since it was covered by her jacket's high collar.
But what he could tell was that she was looking at him with caution and determination in her eyes. Despite the obvious wounds and fatigue, she held herself tensely, ready to try and defend herself, much like a cornered mouse.
"Yyyyyyyyy….Hi?" Ichigo said dumbly. Hearing those words the mysterious Arrancar lady tried to stand up, only to give a quiet cry of pain and start sliding back down.
Ichigo moved to catch her, which almost cost him his head. She tried to slash him with her unique sword, scaring the hell out of him.
The sword was really strange, it had a European-like hilt, and the blade itself was empty inside leaving only the edges of it.
The Arrancar leaned heavily against the tree trunk, losing her battle with gravity, but held a sloppy defensive stance while gasping for air. Ichigo noticed that the sudden movement re-opened some of her wounds, making blood flow again.
'She will pass out any minute now.' Ichigo thought looking at the wounded Arrancar. But when their eyes met he saw nothing but pure defiance riddled with a lot of pain. That made him feel a little guilty that he was causing it even indirectly. Wanting to ease the tensions he sheathed his blade, raising his hands up in surrender. He also took a few steps back to give her some space.
"Easy now, I'm not going to hurt you." He explained calmly, greatly surprising the Arrancar lady.
"Then…what you're here for?" She asked after a moment of silence, suspicion prominent in her tired tone.
"Well…I was patrolling the area and felt your Reiatsu, so I came to check." Ichigo said.
Tia watched him in silence, closing her eyes briefly to push the pain back, so she could think clearly.
"What...what are you going to do with me now?" The Hollow asked in a pained calm after some time, confusing Ichigo. For some strange reason he didn't want to fight her, and it only made him more so.
"Maybe we can start with introductions. I'm Kurosaki Ichigo subs... Captain of the Kido Corps Division." He said, a little annoyed as he had to remember his new position.
"Kurosaki... Ichigo." She repeated slowly wincing every so often. "Y...you're the Shinigami that Aizen was interested ...in."
"Yep that's me." Ichigo replied. "May I have your name?" He asked, and after a rather long pause, he lost all hope of hearing it.
"I'm… Tia Halibel… the 3rd Espada." As soon as those words left her mouth she slid to the left. Ichigo realized that she just used what was left that kept her conscious, and ran to catch her before she fell. Luckily this time there was no response from the blonde.
'Ok... so what do I do with her now?' He thought as he lifted her bride style. Her head fell against his chest, allowing him to see more of her face. The first thing he noticed were the dark bags under her eyes…and the fact that she smelled quite a bit. 'Well, what should I expect if she was lying here for days.'
With that thought, he headed towards the only person he thought might be able to help, Inoue.
Earlier with Tia
The pain… was slowly leaving her body. Her healing process started to finally show some results. Now Tia's body was numbing. Yet compared to the last few days, it was a welcome and pleasant happening. She would have healed up faster, but she had to scare off other Hollows which attempted to feast on her, resulting in wasting Reiatsu.
Suddenly her eyes snapped open.
'What….is…that?' She thought, feeling a very powerful presence. 'A Shinigami? No, it's more like an Arrancar, but…' She was confused because she couldn't figure if it was one or the other. 'Maybe it's one of those Visored? But this Reiatsu feels familiar…' She hazily pondered, hoping that the person wouldn't notice her. Her hope was quickly crushed when the presence started to get closer.
'So this is it…' A sad sigh escaped her mouth. She grabbed her sword and brought it closer, feeling comfort in holding the familiar hilt. She wouldn't go without a fight, no matter how weak she was. Again she was struck by how familiar this Reiatsu felt.
She heard a loud yelp from the bushes.
'Well they aren't subtle are they.' She thought lightly. She already knew that her days have been counted, but Tia probably had a few more minutes to live.
'I couldn't even take my revenge on the bastard Aizen.' She thought bitterly, closing her eyes. She allowed herself to get lost in her memories for a few seconds. She recalled the good memories she had with her Fraccion, but even those were tainted by regret. Tia wished that she was more open with them, and maybe participated in some of the arguments they liked too much. 'It's all too late now….'
Not a second later she spotted a silhouette coming out of the bushes. She noticed that it was a male, with orange hair and a large sword. For some reason, he was wearing a Captain's Coat.
'So young.' Was her first thought, recalling another young Captain. This Captain stepped out of the shadows, and the realization hit Tia like a ton of bricks. It was the same boy that fought against Grimmjow in Las Noches. Even then she had doubts about his origins. His Reiatsu had even more of a Hollow feel than the others.
Lost in her thoughts she almost missed his intense stare. His eyes seemed to glow in the darkness, piercing her very soul. She started to feel a little bit uncomfortable under his gaze.
It was like looking in the eyes of another Hollow.
'It must be my imagination. He surely can't be thinking of devouring me.' Tia thought slightly anxious, but she couldn't be aware of what Shinigami's lower instincts were thinking just that, though not in the way she imagined.
Finally, their eyes met.
"Yyyyyyyyy….Hi?" The stranger said. She tried to get up quickly, rather from reflexes than from actual intention. The pain returned in full force making her lose her balance. She had seen the Shinigami moving quickly towards her. Forcing her hand to move she slashed her sword, aiming for his head. If she was going down it would be in a fight.
Yet she also noticed the surprised look on his face, like he wasn't expecting a counterattack.
'Did he really think I would just give up?' Tia questioned internally with no small amount of anger. Recently too many Shinigami thought of her as weak.
But what he did next, truly stunned her. He sheathed his sword and raised his hands in a surrendering manner.
"Easy now, I'm not going to hurt you." Tia watched him for a few seconds, looking for signs of deceit, but she had found none.
"Then…what are you here for?" She finally asked eying him closely.
"Well…I was patrolling the area and felt your Reiatsu, so I came to check." The stranger said. Tia had a hard time believing in such a coincidence. If he was a Captain he had to have been ordered to look for her specifically.
'Perhaps they want no chance of any retaliation.' She thought glaring at the man in front of her. She could do it all night, she was too tired for that. But it was better to cut to the chase quickly, it's not like she could defeat him now, at her best maybe, but her current state was very far away from best.
"What...what are you going to do with me now?" She asked him as calmly as her shaking voice could manage. Tia saw some sort of conflict on his face, but she didn't feel any hostile intent from him. 'Strange…' She thought, puzzled because wasn't he supposed to kill her?
"Maybe we can start with introductions. I'm Kurosaki Ichigo subs... Captain of the Kidō Corps Division."
"Kurosaki... Ichigo." Tia repeated, confirming her earlier suspicions. "Y... you're the Shinigami that Aizen was interested ...in."
"Yep that's me," Ichigo replied. "May I have your name?" He asked, in what she guessed was a casual tone.
"I'm… Tia Halibel… the 3rd Espada." She answered before she even thought about it. Suddenly her body and mind finally gave in. Tia felt her whole body shut down, the effort to stand and defend sapping what she had left. At some point, she felt her legs give up and she fell.
Tia watched Ichigo rush towards her. She closed her eyes, resigned to her fate, but instead of the pain, she felt a pair of arms wrap around her.
Before she lost consciousness she remembered being lifted by very warm comforting arms.
Meanwhile at Orihime's House
"So tired." Orihime yawned, finishing her homework. She stretched back, feeling her joints pop back in their right places.
"00:45... looks like it's time for bed." She packed her books and notebooks into her bag and prepared to take a shower.
Then she heard the doorbell. She wondered who could be visiting her at such a late hour.
"I'm coming!" She yelled, moving to open the doors
"Oh it's you Kurosaki-san. What are you doing…." Inoue paused as she noticed what, or rather who, Ichigo was carrying.
"Who is that?!" Orihime exclaimed, seeing the battered and bloodied woman in Ichigo's arms. Her formerly white attire was now painted red, with large stains of blood all over. Not to mention all the grime and dust on it. "Wait, I have seen her before…in Las Noches!"
"Yeah, her name's Tia Halibel, and she was third Espada. Can we come in, she really needs your help, Inoue." Ichigo asked with urgency. He felt Tia's blood seeping through his fingers the whole way here.
"O-Of course! Let me get some towels, and we'll put her on the sofa!" Inoue quickly ran back inside.
"Can you call Ishida and Chad? Tell them that it's a very important matter and they have to come right now. I'll get her settled." Ichigo said while entering Orihime's house.
It was just as he remembered, warmly yellow painted walls, some paintings on it, a set of wooden furniture, and in the middle of the living room was sitting a big white sofa with a lot of soft pillows, surrounded on both sides by armchairs.
Inoue came back with towels, and spread them on the sofa, allowing Ichigo to put Halibel on it. He tried to be as gentle as possible hoping to not upset her injuries further.
He fell into a nearby chair, exhausted but not from carrying her. His mind was racing all over the place with what he was getting himself into and what he was going to tell the Soul Society. Ichigo took in the sight of the sleeping Arrancar. In the light, he could see the full extent of the wounds. In addition to the life-threatening wounds, she was covered in bruises and scratches.
'She must've been through a lot of pain for a long time.' Ichigo thought with sympathy.
He also wondered how she survived in this state the whole time. It's been nearly three days since the battle with Aizen.
He felt a spark of respect toward the Arrancar lady, admiring her determination… and not only that. He quickly regained his composure as Inoue walked into the room looking at Ichigo with hesitation.
"Ishida-kun and Chado-kun will be here in fifteen minutes," Orihime said, her glance turning to unconscious Arrancar.
"So what do we do with her?" She asked hesitantly, not sure about the whole situation. And the way that Ichigo looked at her…. disturbed her somehow.
"Can you heal her?" Asked Ichigo.
"Are you sure about that, Kurosaki-kun?" She asked.
"I…am," Ichigo answered with some uncertainty in his voice, but something was telling him that it was the right thing to do, or at least what he hoped was.
"Ok….. Soten Kisshun: I Reject." Said Orihime, and an orange energy ball formed around Halibel.
"It will take a while Kurosaki-kun." She told him.
"Ok thanks. Would it be alright to wait for explanations until Ishida and Chado arrive?" Ichigo asked, taking a more comfortable position in the chair, keeping an eye on Halibel. He wasn't even sure he had an explanation yet, considering it all happened so fast.
"Ok." Orihime nodded turning her attention to the task at hand.
After fifteen minutes the doorbell rang again, signaling that the rest of the group just arrived. Ichigo opened the doors, and lead them inside.
Ishida and Chad entered Inoue's living room only to gawk in shock at the unconscious woman. The first one to speak was Ishida. As the calmest and most composed person in the room, he stated that the most logical and correct thing to say, while minding his high-class manners.
"Are you out of your damn mind!?" Ishida growled, glaring at the sleeping Arrancar.
"I agree with Ishida. Ichigo what is the meaning of this?" Chado asked with a calmer, but still annoyed tone.
"Well, maybe I'll start at the beginning," Ichigo said with a sigh, telling them how he found Halibel. After his story ended the room was filled with an awkward silence.
Again Ishida was the first to speak.
"Ichigo…" Said Ishida with a gentle smile and compassion in his eyes, "Are you out of your damn mind!?" He finished gasping for air.
"Do you have any idea what will happen when the Soul Society discovers that you are harboring an Arrancar? Not to mention the 3rd Espada?!" Ishida exclaimed again, a stunned expression on his face, not believing in the stupidity of his friend.
"What was I supposed to do then, kill her?!" Ichigo snapped, but he already knew Quincy's answer, and it pissed him off even more.
"YES! She is an Arrancar, an enemy!" Ishida shouted angrily.
"Well, I don't kill the defenseless, first thing! Especially not a defenseless woman! And if I was supposed to kill my enemies, you wouldn't be here yourself, would you?" Ichigo yelled furiously back at Ishida. For some reason, the fierceness in his voice to spare the Arrancar angered Inoue slightly, and she wasn't sure why.
"If you put it like that…. I suppose it isn't necessarily the right thing to do." Ishida said as he settled down a bit, feeling somewhat like a bastard… for the moment.
"What you are planning to do with her after she wakes up?" Chado asked with a conciliatory tone.
That was the million-dollar question, one that Ichigo had been asking himself since the moment he found her.
He knew what would happen to her if he turned her into the Soul Society. At best life-long imprisonment, and at worst painful interrogation to obtain information, then public execution.
He felt a shudder go down his spine. He immediately started to think about option two. Well, it was immediately outvoted he couldn't let her go either.
She was too strong to roam free. Ichigo was totally out of ideas for what to do with her. Then he answered, feeling the united pressure of his friends on him.
"I really don't know what to do with her. After she wakes up I will speak with her, and decide what to do then." Ichigo said dryly.
No one had anything to say more to say but gave Ichigo blank unbelieving stares.
"Uhh…" All of them jumped when they heard a soft moan coming from the topic at hand.
Halibel rose slightly, helping herself up with her elbows, just to see a group of four humans staring at her, stunned expressions all around.
"Where am-" She didn't finish, as realization dawned on her when she recognized the orange hair Shinigami Captain. Her eyes widened with every second.
"Hi…?" Ichigo said hesitantly. He was wondering how to start any decent conversation, but the only experiences with the Espada he had up until now were either killing them, being nearly killed by them, or being followed around by them (Nel). That wasn't much help in this situation though.
Tia on the other was looking at him in disbelief. She was sure that she wouldn't wake up, or at the least would do it on a prison mat, not on a soft sofa. Not to mention she felt…better. Like she hadn't been suffering from any injuries at all. Looking around the room she deduced that this was probably at Ichigo's home, albeit it seemed a bit womanly so it might be the only girl in the room's home.
'Orihime Inoue.' She recalled her name from the time she was held prisoner at Las Noches. Then her eyes widened further, realizing that the girl was the reason she was even moving.
She healed her.
The atmosphere tensed with every second of silence from the quiet Hollow. She was looking around the room and all of them respectively, gauging them, analyzing them.
At last, her eyes stopped at Ichigo and remained there. He noticed that she had teal irises. Yet after a while, her silent staring started to make him uncomfortable.
"So… could you tell me what you were doing in the park?" He asked, hoping that she would at least reveal her intentions.
There was that silence again. She was looking at him cautiously as if expecting him to attack her any second. The distrust on her face almost made Ichigo cringe.
"I have no quarrel with you." She finally answered.
'Good. It felt like that took an eternity to hear.' Ichigo thought, happy that he didn't have to draw his sword against her…yet.
"So with whom do you have a quarrel?" Ishida asked, in his oh-I'm-so-much-better-than-you tone, plus he was annoyed.
Halibel didn't answer, but Ichigo noticed that her eyes narrowed slightly
'Not good.' He had to do something quickly, or the whole district would end up as a smoking crater in the subsequent fight.
"Okay, I think that's enough. She said that she has no ill will toward us. So let's all calm down a bit." Ichigo said as he started to get up.
"I will take her to Urahara's shop, and we'll decide what to do with her there." He told them. Halibel didn't very much like the idea of putting her life in a Shinigami's hands, but until now he hadn't shown any sign of malicious intent. So she could cope with this kind of treatment…. for now.
"Can you walk?" Ichigo asked Halibel.
"Yes." She answered with an emotionless tone, as she slowly tried to get up. For some strange reason her wounds were closed, and her clothes were repaired. She made a mental note to ask the Shinigami what happened. Then she remembers one more thing…
"Where is my sword?" Halibel asked in that same tone, but the reaction of the humans was far from emotionless. Ishida summoned his Quincy bow and aimed it at her. Chad called upon his arms and the strange powers they held. One of the arms was white with red lines on it, and the other was like a black shield with purple lines, forming some sort of face on the shield. Inoue held her hands close to her temples. Ichigo was immediately between the hammer and the anvil, literally.
"Whoa, whoa, take it, easy guys!" Ichigo yelled, sweating intensively. He knew who was going to be hurt in case of crossfire.
"Just…just calm down, and let me explain." He was nervously trying to not let violence get the better of the group.
"Tia… Halibel... I have your sword with me, but I can't return it to you for obvious reasons. I don't trust you yet. So I will have to keep it…for now." Ichigo hoped that the Arrancar wouldn't feel offended by his lack of trust, but on the other hand, he wasn't so stupid as to trust the enemy immediately. That was usually always a mistake (excluding Nel of course).
"Understood." She said calmer. The fact that the Shinigami used her name so causally disturbed her though. He wasn't that familiar with her being allowed such, but looking at her situation she decided to not voice it.
"See? Now let's lay down our weapons. Halibel and I will go to the Urahara's, and there we'll come up with what to do next. It'll be safer there for everybody." Ichigo emphasized his last sentence with a knowing look toward the human part of the group. It dawned a moment later on what he meant, and they lowered their weapons. He sighed, slightly disappointed in his friends' extreme reactions, but still understood.
"Fine, but I hope you don't end up regretting it later," Ishida said giving Halibel a death glare. Halibel thought that she should feel offended. He was looking at her like some sort of rabid animal.
"Watch your back Ichigo," Chado said, with the same type of look.
'Now I am offended.' Halibel through in irritation, because they treated her like some sort of heartless monster. Well, she didn't have a heart, but she never consider herself a monster. She never betrayed anyone who showed her kindness and never will. It wasn't in her nature. Ichi…. The Shinigami didn't do anything that threatened to harm her, so she would treat him the same way. Up to the point, something changed.
"Take care Kurosaki-kun." Orihime whispered.
"I will. Ok, let's go." He said motioning for the Arrancar to follow and walking to the door. After a second Halibel followed him out, leaving the trio alone.
"So what are we going to do now?" Chad asked worriedly. He noticed Ichigo's strange behavior, but couldn't think of a reason for it. He was way overprotective of that woman.
"Don't tell me that he turned into an Arrancar-loving Shinigami?" Ishida questioned with an angry tone.
"No way, that's impossible!" Orihime exclaimed quickly, maybe a little too quickly. Both the men in the room exchanged a look.
"Don't worry Orihime. I didn't mean he was loving towards that one, in particular, but as a whole." Ishida explained a knowing smirk on his face.
"Of course, I knew that." She said blushing fiercely. She had to admit that the Arrancar lady was attractive. Even beneath all that blood and grime.
"Of course," Chad said giving Orihime another knowing look, making her blush even more.
"Anyway, now is not the time to be discussing this! We have a bigger problem!" She exclaimed embarrassed.
"We know, we were just teasing you. I think that we should watch Ichigo closely from now on, and see what he will do with the Hollow." Ishida said.
"Maybe we should inform the Soul Society about this?" Inoue suggested. That should get the Arrancar away from him.
"No. If the Soul Society finds out that Ichigo is helping an Arrancar he will be in big trouble, and they may even accuse him of treason. You know what the punishment for that is." Chad said, slightly shocked at Inoue's suggestion.
"I know, but… this just isn't right. After what they've done to us." She sighed.
"Yes, but if Ichigo had just killed her while she was defenseless, he wouldn't be any better than them. And we wouldn't want that, would we?" Chad asked her.
"Guess not," Inoue replied, but inside she wasn't so sure.
"But one day that softness may very well be his downfall," Ishida said grimly.
"Maybe, but let's hope it won't happen any time soon," Chad admitted.
"Ok, so for now we'll watch Ichigo and his Arrancar." Inoue was startled when Ishida referred to the blonde Arrancar as Ichigo's. "So if anything happens we can act quickly."
"Fine. For now, let's head back home." Chado said yawning. Ishida and Orihime nodded as they too felt very exhausted, and they knew why.
The Way to Urahara's Shop
Winter was slowly retreating, but the night was still very chilly. They'd been walking through the suburban area, full of traditional late XX-century Japanese one-family houses. The houses were close to each other, with the idea of putting as many people as they could in the smallest area. They were built in the same pattern throughout the entire area.
Medium-sized one-floor buildings, a small garden in the front, and the average human height fence. All of the fences were connected, so the streets appeared almost like tunnels. Streetlights illuminated their way, as they went along it in absolute silence. Ichigo noticed that Halibel was trembling slightly, and guessed it was because of her… summer uniform.
'Strange… She should maintain her body temperature with her Reiatsu.' Thought Ichigo for a while, before summoning the courage to ask her.
"Are you cold?"
"No, I'm fine." She said in her emotionless tone.
"I don't think so," Ichigo stated firmly.
"I see you've been observing me quite closely." She stated, causing Ichigo to turn scarlet.
"I don't…I mean…not in this way… ah never mind. Why you don't keep yourself warm with your Reiatsu anyways?" Ichigo asked puzzled by her behavior while trying to maintain his composure.
"I don't want more Shinigami to notice me. So I must suppress my Reiatsu." She answered calmly.
"Ah I get it. Fine so we will have to do this the old-fashioned way." He said and proceeded to take off his Captain's Coat.
Tia gave him an icy stare, daring him to do anything more.
"Whoa! Easy. Here I'm just lending you my coat, so you can keep warm." He said with a genuine smile.
She stared long and hard at the offered piece of cloth, just as a person would stare if someone would offer them a poisonous snake.
"I don't think that's appropriate." Tia finally said. She had never worn other people's clothes, much less a Shinigami Captain's.
"It doesn't matter whether it's appropriate or not, as long as it will keep you warm." He answered honestly extending his arms. She hesitatingly took it and put it on. The sensation of warmth was a welcome one.
"You have my... gratitude." Halibel was feeling really awkward draped in someone else clothes. The feeling of the unfamiliar warmth of the coat was really unsettling her, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Not to mention the scent. Arrancar had a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans or Shinigami, so she could precisely tell what kind of smell Ichigo had.
He smelt like… the sea. The smell of the sea made her remember... things about her pre-Hollow life. She pushed those thoughts away quickly, since it didn't matter anymore. The scent of a person could tell her a lot about them. For example, Grimmjow and Nnoritora reeked like battlefields, bloody. Ulquiorra lacked any smell at all. Baraggan's was like some cheap suffocating cologne, that was supposed to be rich and noble. And Stark smelt like… old people.
But the scent that was around Ichigo was giving her a nostalgic feeling. She knew the sea could be calm and steady one second, but another second later it might be wild and dangerous, devouring everything in its path. She was wondering if Ichigo was that kind of man.
As they continued walking she noticed that Ichigo was gathering his strength to ask her another question. From the look on his face, he didn't know how to ask it though.
'Should I indulge him?' She thought, weighing her options. She decided that it would be better to answer some questions now that they were alone. If he had a hidden agenda she had a better chance of escaping now than later. "You want to ask me something, don't you?" She said, noticing that she had caught him off guard.
"Well…I do," He replied confused, scratching the back of his head. "Alright, mind telling me how you ended up in the park?" He asked a little uncertain. He already had his suspicions about how she got there. He recalled Tōshirō telling him about a female Arrancar that was cut down by Aizen, back in the Fake Karakura Town battle.
"I was betrayed by Aizen because in his opinion I wasn't worthy to be fighting for him. He cut me down and left me to die. I managed to leave the battlefield and reach this park. I remained there healing my wounds until you found me." She tried to remain calm, but the growing anger started to get the better of her.
Ichigo could clearly hear the bitterness in her voice. Yet his respect for her soared. To receive such wounds as those, and survive without any help for that long, was impressive.
"So what are you planning to do now?" Ichigo was really worried, her future was dependent on the answer to this question. The idea of them having to fight to the death saddened him.
'You're soft, Kingy.' Hichigo hissed, but Ichigo as per usual ignored his ramblings.
Oblivious to Ichigo's problem Tia watched him warily. She knew that her immediate future was in his hands, especially without her weapon, he could undoubtedly end her.
She knew that she couldn't die as long as Aizen was alive. She was aware that he was probably defeated, that much was obvious, but he was most probably contained somewhere rather than dead.
She had to correct that.
"As I said, I have no quarrel with you or the Soul Society." That wasn't true, she still was furious about the Captain-Commander killing her Fracción, but they were enemies so killing them was his sad duty. Still, she held anger toward him. "The only one I want is Aizen. He will die by my hand, even at the cost of my own life." She spat, her voice dripping with venom. Ichigo stopped suddenly as he heard this.
"So you're saying that you endured all that pain in order to have your revenge on Aizen?" He asked carefully.
"Yes." She replied a little unsure why he'd stopped so suddenly. Moreover, the look he was giving her…was that pity? She didn't understand his strange behavior, not one bit.
'Uh… how do I tell her that I already killed Aizen.' Ichigo thought while looking at Halibel in a slight panic. 'She won't take this news easily.'
As the silence prolonged, Halibel started to feel a little more uncomfortable under young Shinigami's gaze.
Ichigo swallowed hard, rubbing his neck uncomfortably. Finally sighing he decided to break the news to her.
"Halibel... I don't know how to say this, but… Aizen is already dead." Ichigo could almost feel the burning gaze that she was suddenly giving him.
"What…did you say?" She whispered darkly, but she felt like some other person said it. Like it wasn't coming from her. Her mind went blank. 'No….'
"Aizen is dead. He was killed in the battle over Karakura Town." Now Ichigo was really worried about her. It seemed like someone drained all life from her.
Halibel felt her ankles starting to go soft and her shoulder slumped. With just three words the young Shinigami devastated her reason for being.
Aizen was killed.
That one sentence replayed over and over again. Her only reason to live, vengeance, was now gone. All that suffering was for nothing.
"W-who did this?" She asked in a low, dangerous voice. Some rational part of her brain told her that it was the most likely outcome multiple times, but she wished so strongly that Aizen was still alive. So she could murder him herself.
'Not good… This is really not good.' Ichigo thought backing away a bit.
Halibel raised her head and stared into his eyes. She saw confusion, guilt, and… fear. She realized what that meant.
"You… you did it." Now she really sounded like a predator ready to attack. But instead of the attack Ichigo expected, a black gate opened behind her. Tia turned on her heel and started to walk into it.
Ichigo moved instantly and grabbed her wrist stopping her. "Let me go." She said with a tone that could freeze hell.
Ichigo gulped but held her in a firm grasp.
"Hueco Mundo is being patrolled by Shinigami, you will die if you go back there." He warned her.
"I don't care." Tia looked into his eyes. Ichigo felt a pang of pain when he saw the empty, detached look in her eyes. She truly hadn't cared. "I don't have a reason to live anymore, allow me to fend for myself until I perish."
Those were probably the saddest words Ichigo ever heard. Her tone made them even worse.
"You surely have something to live for!" Ichigo pleaded.
"You just took it." She whispered offended. She tried to yank her hand again, but Ichigo kept an iron grip on it. "Let. Me. GO!"
"No!" Ichigo pulled Tia against him. Due to the slippery pavement and the force behind the pull, Ichigo slipped dragging her down with him. So now they were both on the ground with Tia on top of him.
Ichigo might have enjoyed the position if not for the raised fist that was coming alarmingly fast at his face.
He tilted his head to the side avoiding the fist, allowing the pavement to take the punishment.
He could hear it crack under the hit. Immediately he saw he going for her weapon strapped to his back.
Acting fast he twisted his legs and managed to shift their weight, pushing Tia off him and then instantly pinning her to the ground.
He was now sitting on the waist of the struggling woman, holding her wrists firmly.
"Tia calm down!" He snapped.
"Don't you dare use my name!" She spat, struggling harder. "Release me!"
"Not until you calm down, T-…Halibel." Ichigo corrected himself, not wanting to upset her even more.
Tia stopped her chest from rising and falling quickly, but she slowly calmed her breathing. She tried to contain her emotions, but they were easily escaping her. She was tired, angry, sad, and lonely.
"You took everything I had left to me…" She whispered all her energy leaving her. Ichigo felt how her tense body went limp. "Why can't you understand that boy?"
"Understand what?" He asked, fearing the answer. Tia's eyes were so full of hurt and despair that it made him want to comfort her…if he only knew how.
"Do you think that letting me…forcing me to live is merciful? I lost my Fracción, as well as all my comrades. My home is probably in ruins by now after your invasion, so I have no one left and nowhere to go. You took my vengeance. Tell me, what reason do I have to live?" The quiet agony in her voice was killing Ichigo. She wasn't even looking at him now, just having that infamous thousand-mile stare. "Just let me end the suffering that is my life…" She moved her unfocused gaze to him with her silent plea.
Just now Ichigo realized how beautiful her eyes were, even if they were filled with sadness. Ichigo slowly let her go, but she hadn't even bothered to stand. She was just lying there looking at him, silently begging him to…
Ichigo gritted his teeth, cursing Aizen with the vilest vulgarities he knew. He wished that he could kill him again for causing such pain to the woman that was now lying at his feet.
"Thank you." He had heard a quiet whisper and saw that Tia closed her eyes. With horror, he realized that she misread the object of his hateful expression. She thought that Ichigo was going to kill her.
Hardening his resolve he kneeled and slid his arms under her back and knees, lifting her bridal style.
Her eyes snapped open, and she looked at him in shock.
"What are you doing?" She asked ready to struggle, even if she was too exhausted to.
"I'm taking you to Urahara, and then we'll help you somehow." He said adjusting his grip, and she was shocked into submission. Tia watched him in silence for a few moments.
She couldn't understand why he was doing this. He had absolutely nothing to gain by helping her, and even more, he could be in trouble because of it. After a few minutes, her curiosity got the better of her.
"Why?... Wasn't I your enemy?" She asked quietly. "There's no benefit in helping me."
"Aizen was not you…and I'm not doing it to gain something. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do." He said with passion. "No one should be left alone like this."
"Maybe I deserved it?" She replied leaning her head against his chest. She was looking at her hands so she missed the blush on his face.
"You don't seem like a bad person Halibel-san." He told her. "I've met many different Arrancar, and I can say that only a few were like you…. good people."
They marched for a few more minutes in silence. When they almost reached the shop Tia spoke again.
"What reason do I have to live?" She asked and hated herself for it. She sounded so lost and weak, she didn't want his pity, but she knew that she was getting it, especially with such questions. She closed her eyes and again tried to calm the storm that was raging inside her.
She was lost and had nowhere to go. What reason had she to live for?
"I don't know." He admitted truthfully. His words hadn't even hurt, just brought a sense of serenity. His admittance gave her the closure she- " But I'll help you find one!" He suddenly said with vigor, making her look at him with wide eyes.
His brown eyes were so full of passion and determination, that they made her face grow hot for some reason.
"So don't give up Halibel-san! I'll help you look for a reason to live. I promise you that much! So until we find it stay alive! I bet your Fraccion wouldn't want you to give up like this!" He said hotly. "They would want you to push on and find happiness!"
Tia was left speechless after his tirade. The young man had so much power in his eyes. So much conviction in his voice that she almost believed him. But she was so tired of losing those precious to her…
"Don't lose hope Halibel-san, that's the worst thing you can do," Ichigo said gently, seeing that the glint in her eyes that his speech created starting to diminish. "I promise you that it will be alright." He seemed to hug her a bit tighter to himself.
Tia swallowed hard, unable to form a sentence. Maybe it was just the culmination of physical and mental weariness, but she believed him. She believed that everything would be okay.
She took one trembling breath after another trying to calm down. She gripped the hem of his shirt, finding a physically reassuring comfort that this man was real, and not some falsehood.
Ichigo smiled at her actions. Any other woman would already be sobbing, but she was stubbornly keeping tears at bay.
Ichigo made a promise…a promise that he would help her through these dark times.
With who you might ask?
Actually with no one in particular.
Just his soul.