Yes, the cover pic is the same as my profile pic. I just find the image of Nyanko-sensei smushed up against the glass hilarious to look at.
When Ichigo first found the odd books full of scribbles, he thought little of it outside of having some memento he could keep close that belonged to his recently departed mother.
He had always seen weird things, from the souls of the 'dearly departed' to weird creatures that avoided him like the plague for some reason.
But everything changed when he turned thirteen.
Ichigo never paid much mind to yokai. They left him alone, and he more or less pretended they weren't there, aside from moving aside to avoid bumping into them.
His mother had been clear on that. If they knew you could see, they'd never stop harassing you. However if you only showed a passing ability to notice their presence, they generally didn't bother with you.
Ichigo never had that problem, as for some weird reason yokai generally didn't come near him. He could see them, and occasionally he could talk to one, but for the most part they avoided him like the plague.
Fallen spirits, however, were another story.
The last time he asked a yokai what the odd-masked creatures were, they had called the beings "Hollows". Though apparently that was a term the death gods had given them. The yokai had another term for them.
The fallen ones. Humans who were never properly put to rest or sent on to whichever afterlife they belonged to eventually corroded to the point they lost even their humanity.
However unlike yokai, humans did have a chance to come back from that point. Their souls would degenerate, but eventually they might one day become sane again to the point they were able to remove the mask (even partially) and regain coherent thought.
These beings were called "Arrancar", and the yokai had been firm to Ichigo that he should avoid them at all cost.
Back to the present though.
Yokai avoided Ichigo for reasons they wouldn't explain. Hollows, on the other hand, seemed to think of Ichigo as candy.
And since he had yet to successfully channel his apparently rampant spiritual powers into actually causing some damage, he was better off running to any shrines he could find.
Like yokai, the weaker hollows couldn't come near shrines. No one knew why, but Ichigo wasn't complaining.
At thirteen, he had long since learned when not to question good things like that.
Inside his head, Ichigo was swearing up a storm as he ran like hell. Spotting a roadside shrine that lead to a bigger one, Ichigo didn't think twice. It was big enough for him to hide in if he squished himself enough.
That was the moment he tripped, crashing through a rope and paper barrier he hadn't realized was there. He was so caught up in getting inside the shrine he hadn't even noticed it.
"This is certainly nostalgic. And such a familiar scent as well..."
Ichigo lifted his head and saw...a lucky cat statue missing the coin?
"Ara? What do we have here? A human child who isn't afraid of yokai?"
"I've seen weirder, and you remind me of a cat," said Ichigo calmly. He could feel the power on this thing, and it wasn't some low-level yokai that would avoid him.
The weird cat practically leaped out of the small shrine. There was something really, really familiar about this cat, but Ichigo couldn't place what.
At that moment, all Ichigo cared about was the Hollow chasing him.
Turning his head, he was shocked to find that it was gone.
"The fallen ones seem to like your scent boya. You must have a very strong spiritual presence if you can see them as well as yokai such as myself. What's your name?" asked the weird cat.
The cat disappeared.
Talk about a strange encounter.
Ichigo would have put the entire thing out of mind, save for one important fact.
He felt like he knew that cat.
He had just finished pulling out the weird book of scribbles when he heard an outraged shout from his window.
Turning, he found the same cat from earlier...his face smushed against the glass.
Ichigo was about ten seconds away from laughing at the sight of a cat on the glass window. Instead he opened it.
The cat looked pretty angry about something.
"How do you have the Book of Friends?! I know that brat hid it from that damn exorcist before I was sealed again!"
"I found it in my mom's things after she died," said Ichigo, confused. How did a cat know about the scribbles? Mentioning his mother sparked a memory.
He remembered the cat.
The cat froze.
"How do you know that name?"
"I knew I recognized you from somewhere! You're the one that went missing!"
Ichigo had seen this cat, had heard stories about it from his grandfather. The one that always looked suspiciously too young for his actual age. He ran an inn that didn't always cater to human guests. It also doubled as a school for young spiritualists who could see yokai and didn't know what the hell was going on. Thanks to a very strict neutrality agreement, the yokai agreed to keep their mischief to a minimum while on the grounds. Apparently there was a spring next to the inn that had some really, really good sake.
The cat looked ready to attack, and probably would have if not for one thing.
Ichigo's twin sisters heard his surprised exclamation and came to investigate.
"Ichi-nii, what's going on?" asked Karin.
"I think I accidentally found Grandpa's pet cat that went missing."
Karin looked at the cat. It looked at her, more than a little irritated at being ignored.
"He definitely looks like Nyanko," agreed Karin.
Their grandfather had more than a few photos of him in his younger years. After a certain point they almost always included his "pet cat" Nyanko-sensei. One that went missing after a rather large misunderstanding between an old friend of his. He still helped with certain matters between humans and yokai, but they weren't nearly as close as they had been.
"Ichi-nii, supper's going to be ready soon!" Yuzu called out from downstairs. After their mother died, Yuzu took over caring for the house. That included most of the cooking, once she was old enough to reach the stove without burning herself.
Perking up at the word supper, Ichigo picked up the rather fat cat.
"Think dad will mind an extra guest? If this really is grandpa's cat, he'll want to know."
"I doubt he'll care. Yuzu on the other hand..." said Karin. Ichigo had a similar mischievous look to the one Karin was trying very hard to hold back.
Yuzu loved cute things and wouldn't hesitate to dress up the kitty if given a chance.
Ichigo called his grandfather as soon as dinner was over. It was Karin's turn to do the dishes, and the cat was being placated into waiting by drinking with their father Isshin. He wasn't about to turn down free booze.
"Natsu Inn. Who is calling?"
"Is Taka-jii-san there?"
"Just a moment Ichigo-chan. Oi! Takashi! Your grandson is on the phone!"
Ichigo patiently waited for his grandfather to come on.
"Hello Ichigo-kun. Are you wanting to come visit for a few days?"
"I think I found your cat."
There was dead silence. Then his grandfather had a rather hopeful tone on his voice as he asked...
"You sure it's Nyanko-sensei?"
"He's drinking sake with dad downstairs, he also looks a lot like the pictures you have around the inn, and he recognized the book. He also said something about me smelling familiar."
"I'll catch the first train tomorrow. Tell your father to air out the guest futons for me," said Takashi.
"Okay Grandpa. I'll see you soon," said Ichigo. He hung up and went to tell Yuzu that their maternal grandfather was coming over for a few days. Good thing it was the weekend.
The next morning...
Takashi Natsume took a deep breath of city air. Living in the nearby countryside, he didn't really have much reason to come into the bigger towns save for one.
His grandchildren lived here. Masaki had the gift, but not enough that the yokai really bothered her. Especially after she married Isshin, who Nyanko said was a death god. Or a former one at any rate.
Having three adorable grandchildren, all very, very strong in the gift, had been a pleasant surprise. Especially Ichigo, who seemed to have inherited the bulk of both parent's spiritual powers and then some. His sight was as strong as Reiko or Takashi's. Even if he hadn't figured out how to channel that power into his fists like Takashi had by necessity.
Passing by a girl in a karate outfit, complete with black belt, he smiled at her while carrying his bag.
"Hey mister! Are you lost?" she called out. Figured she'd notice he wasn't local.
"Not at all. My grandchildren and son-in-law live nearby."
"Do you need help carrying your bag, mister?"
"I'm fine. I still have a few blocks before I reach my son-in-law's clinic," said Takashi.
"Ah! You must be Ichigo's grandpa Takashi!"
Spotting a familiar face behind the girl, watching protectively, Takashi smiled.
"You must be Natori's grandchild, Tatsuki."
"You know grandpa?"
"We used to be friends. Besides, I'd heard that Hiragi asked to be placed under the care of his granddaughter when his sight started to go, and you have the curling dragon around your neck."
Tatsuki, like Natori, had a strange birthmark that could only be seen by those who had the Sight. It had been the main reason why Natori had moved into the city, once he released most of his shiki. Hiragi had asked to be bound to Tatsuki, once the girl was old enough to understand what a shiki was. She didn't want to leave Natori, and this was a good compromise.
He had somewhat mellowed out towards yokai and ayakashi after the monumental misunderstanding that resulted in Nyanko being sealed a second time. Natori couldn't remember where he had put the cat, only that it had been in Karakura, which was why Masaki even met and eventually married Isshin in the first place.
She was looking for her father's cat.
Tatsuki ended up 'escorting' Takashi all the way to the clinic. Mostly to get blackmail on her grandfather for later. Takashi was more than happy to help in that regard.
He still felt sore that Natori sealed Nyanko in the first place, and didn't mind helping his granddaughter embarrass him if and when possible for better presents.
"Grandpa!" said Yuzu happily. Karin was equally quick to get up from breakfast. Ichigo was still sleeping in.
"How are my favorite granddaughters?" asked Takashi, smiling.
"We're your only granddaughters," said Karin.
"Hence why you're my favorites. Where's Ichigo?"
Takashi had a mischievous smile. He reached for a bucket and handed it to Karin.
"Think he'd appreciate a wake up call?"
Karin grinned evilly. Five minutes later there was an outraged shout from Ichigo, and an annoyed voice next to him for being splashed. Takashi's heart sparked with hope.
A slightly damp Ichigo came downstairs with a cat on his shoulder. The second the feline saw him, it's eyes widened rather wide.
In very little time at all, they were in the living room, with the cat known best as "Nyanko" sitting close to Takashi. The cat was very pleased with the bottle of "Special house blend" sake that Takashi had brought just in case.
He did actually have some home-brewed sake that he served his competitors, who were always trying to steal his secret recipe for their special blend (he charged extra for humans to drink it, Ayakashi paid either in favors or in IOU's that he could claim later) but it wasn't very good compared to the one he got from the spring.
The cat was definitely purring as he drank from his sake cup, that Takashi had kept for him.
"So the brat is your grandson. I should have guessed he was related to you. That explains why he has the Book," said Nyanko.
"Right before you disappeared, I gave the book to my daughter Masaki who was in another town. Natori tried to find and burn it, but I was a step ahead of him. She moved here trying to find you when she meet Isshin."
"The boy has twice the normal Sight. He can see shinigami as well as yokai. It's more of a curse than the normal kind," said Nyanko.
"What are shinigami?" asked Ichigo.
"Shinigami, or Soul Reapers, are human spirits with larger than normal reserves who have found a way to focus their powers into special swords that are unique to each reaper. They're also more hide bound than most yokai, and I hate having to deal with them. They also tend to dislike me, because I found a way to legally extend my life span in a way they can't execute me for," said Takashi.
Anyone with the amount of spiritual energy like Takashi tended to attract hollows in droves, so they tended to die rather young. Usually after they'd had at least one child. Thanks to Reiko's Book of Friends, and the fact he wasn't automatically antagonistic to yokai, Takashi had been able to cheat the soul reapers of their "due" and avoid being sent to the Soul Society. He was well aware that if he extended his life span for too long, he was more likely to become an ayakashi rather than just an unusually long lived human.
Such people weren't that rare, but they generally got snapped up by one of the exorcists families or killed outright by a yokai before they reached that point.
So long as he ran the inn and continued to cater to the yokai, they'd continue to keep him alive and relatively young until he reached that point. Which meant he could keep a close eye on his grandchildren.
"There's a long standing rumor that soul reapers kidnap and bind yokai into their precious swords, so most avoid them. Though the truth is that any soul reaper that can see yokai generally are able to reach at least vice-captain class in power, if not higher. The stronger their ability to See, the higher their levels. And you've got a double dose of both, meaning you could surpass most captain-class shinigami if given the right amount of training," said Nyanko with a slight hiccup.
"Nyanko-sensei, I'm afraid I can't hand the Book over to you like we agreed. It's already been passed down to Ichigo, after all. But you're free to visit the inn whenever you like," said Takashi.
"Bah! Just means I'll have to keep an eye on your grandson until he agrees to hand it over or the book is empty. But I still want sake!" said Nyanko, patting his cup despite being almost drunk at this point.
"We have the rights to a spring that has the best sake. I charge humans extra, but I'll be sure to visit regularly with a free bottle just for you."
Yuzu perked up.
"Does this mean we get to keep the kitty?" she asked hopefully.
"I'm not a cat!"
Takashi couldn't resist.
"That's right, he's a freeloader who loves being scratched behind the ears and playing with cat's tails," said Takashi.
Karin, who was closer, quickly had the drunken Nyanko purring while she scratched his head.
"So I take it this means you'll be visiting more often?" asked Isshin.
"And I'll take the kids in for the summers and babysit if you have a trip," agreed Takashi. "I'll also train Ichigo in how to use his power, since he's complained of the masked monsters chasing him frequently."