Author's Note: This has been knocking around on my documents for a while. Not that there's a real narrative plot; it's mostly just a bunch of scenes that have Ichigo as a Player in SAO. So basically Aincrad is fucked.
Disclaimer: I don't own shit.
Warning: Profane language, suggestive themes, and general spoiler alert for both Bleach and Sword Art Online. You have been warned.
The first week or so he'd found himself stuck in a proverbial rut, having lost the abilities he'd spent his entire life wishing away. It had been a strange feeling, not having Zangetsu or the Hollow in his head, or seeing ghosts every other block as he walked through Karakura. It was at once liberating and depressing; now that Ichigo had the opportunity to step back and really look, he found that he kinda missed being able to do some of the incredible things his spirit sense allowed him. Plus, there was the fact that he was unable to see any of the friends he'd made who were living-impaired.
Oh, he knew they were around somewhere; he wouldn't put it past Rukia or Renji to mess with his head now that he was unable to sense them, and he'd seen Inoue and Chad talking to the air a few times. But he couldn't see them, or feel or hear them, and any conversation he might have with them would be almost hilariously one-sided, unless Geta-Boushi ever whipped something up for them.
Except even Urahara and the crew at the shop seemed to be avoiding him. In his most cynical moments, his mind conjured up ideas about how they had simply used him and then discarded him once he'd served his purpose, like a disposable cup. But he would always banish those thoughts. Obviously, they'd used him; the Gotei Thirteen was a sort of military service, and what were soldiers but disposable weapons thrown against the enemy? He was the one who'd shoved his way into their business by rescuing Rukia and then kept at it when the Bounts and later the zanpakuto rose up against Seireitei, so he shouldn't be surprised when they treated him as a member of their forces when he'd given them no cause to think he might not want to be.
Geta-Boushi had used him as well, but that was his standard modus operandi. He was a manipulator through and through, whether he did it consciously or not. Ichigo was just glad it had been Aizen who'd snapped and not Urahara; if the (only slightly) mad scientist had well and truly gone off the deep end, Ichigo doubted anyone would have been able to stop him, especially with the former captains of the Onmitsukido and the Kido Corps backing him up. Ichigo could feel resentful and mope around until the sun exploded but it wouldn't change anything, least of all someone's base personality.
Keep moving forward, he would tell himself as the months ground on with no contact from the dearly departed. He would sometimes see a small black blur at the corner of his eyes every now and then, so at least they were still keeping track of him. Hopefully they'd bail him out if he was ever attacked by a Hollow. Wouldn't it just be irony at its finest for Ichigo to have taken on the best and brightest of the Afterlife only to wind up as some cero-fodder's lunch?
But every day had worn at him, and though he tried to stay chipper (or at least as chipper as he was wont to get), he knew there were cracks in his mask. Karin and Yuzu were concerned and no matter how he tried to hide his growing melancholy, it was a futile effort. Their attempts at cheering him up would have been a little amusing if it wasn't so sad; Yuzu had taken to making Ichigo's favorite dishes so frequently that he was secretly getting a little tired of them, and though Karin's sudden enthusiasm toward having Ichigo teach her self-defense was actually pretty nice, her utilization of the techniques he showed her on local bullies was bound to get her into trouble soon or late (and he would know from experience).
His friends were worried as well, though they showed it a bit differently than his sisters. Keigo and Mizuiro, bless them, had taken their tsukkomi/boke routine to heights previously unimagined. At first, Ichigo had though the brown-haired teen had finally cracked until he realized it'd been for Ichigo's own benefit. Chad and Orihime seemed to think that their mere presence caused him grief because he only saw them perhaps once in a blue moon, and spoke to them even more rarely which was worse. Chad was one of his best friends, and while their contact from before all the supernatural bull crap had been limited, Ichigo had come to enjoy Inoue's almost eternal optimism over the course of their friendship. Having them essentially remove themselves from his everyday life hurt more than he'd care to admit. Tatsuki was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the one he had been most reliant upon since the Mugetsu had drained him of his powers. She always seemed to know just when he started falling into one of his funks, and proceeded to drag him off for a spar or to the arcades for a few hours of blissful, mind-numbing gaming sessions.
He had a hunch that she'd been the one to suggest to his family that getting Ichigo a NerveGear rig would be a good idea; really, it could only have been her since he'd told her alone how cool the full-dive technology was. And though he wasn't a hardcore gamer (the only video games he'd ever really gotten totally invested in was the Tekken franchise), the new VRMMORPG Sword Art Online had sounded like it was right up his alley.
He didn't exactly know how they'd done it. The rest of the Kurosaki clan had managed to not only get him the NerveGear platform, but they'd also found some way to get their hands on one of the mere ten thousand copies of the biggest thing to hit video games since the HP bar.
And so, Ichigo sat and glanced while the pencil tapped and the clock ticked its way closer to the official launch of Sword Art Online.
When it was nearly time, Ichigo slid the NerveGear down over his head (he'd made sure everything was ready and waiting as soon as he'd woken up that morning) and settled himself in a comfortable position on his bed.
As 12:59 flickered and changed to 1:00 in the corner of his eye, he allowed a grin to tug his lips upward as he spoke, "Link Start."
His senses faded quickly until it seemed that he was floating in a blank white expanse of nothingness. Five spinning discs appeared before him, glowing a bland red before brightening to green and shuffling over toward the side to allow bars of multi-colored lights to spear toward him in a vertigo-inducing blur.
It took Ichigo a few moments to realize it had stopped, and he zeroed in on a clone of himself. It was somewhat disorienting to see a copy with color; he was used to a bone-white version, and the fact that this double had a completely blank face as opposed to an insane smirk was unsettling, too. To the right of the mannequin was a menu that boasted a wide array of choices to change the appearance of his avatar. For a while, he deliberated on whether or not to go all out on character creation before discarding the idea, far too intent upon actually playing the game to care what he would look like while doing so.
When the game asked him what he wanted his name to be, it took only a moment before he settled on Zangetsu, in honor of his partners in crime. Look forward, he told himself, but remember the past as well.
And then, with jarring abruptness, Ichigo was in a large town whose architecture and layout were modeled in late-Medieval European style with thousands of other people, some laughing and greeting others, a fair few already heading off with purpose (a part of Ichigo's mind supposed these were the incredibly lucky folks who'd gotten the privilege of beta-testing this game), but the majority were simply standing around and staring slack-jawed at everything around them.
Ichigo couldn't blame them, really. This was the first VR experience he'd ever had, and it wasn't disappointing in the least bit; to be perfectly honest, it exceeded any of his wildest expectations. He allowed himself a moment to just stand there and take everything in, and as he felt his determination well up a grin formed on his face
Zangetsu stepped forward; he was gonna make this game his bitch.
Twenty minutes later found Ichigo wandering around Town of Beginnings, stopping at every stall and entering every open shop he saw, intent on finding the best way to spend the thousand Cor he'd found in his inventory after playing with the menus for a bit. He was searching for a good weapon, but he supposed the game wouldn't have anything he was used to, at least at the beginning.
It was as he scanned a narrow street full of weapons stalls while his feet carried him along that he bumped into someone about a head and a half shorter than him wearing a dark gray hooded cloak.
"Ah, my bad," Ichigo said, embarrassed that he'd allowed his spatial awareness to slacken.
"It's alright," the person replied in a girl's voice. looking past the shadow of her hood, Ichigo realized that this girl's face was comparable to some pop idols in its beauty, and her green hair cascaded down in waves.
The girl herself peered thoughtfully up at him for a few moments before saying, "It's quite a bold decision to use your RL appearance as your avatar."
Ichigo shrugged. "I'd rather just get to playing. S'not like I care what I look like, anyway, as long as I can experience this," he answered, gesturing around vaguely.
Smirking, she commented, "A practical man in a virtual world, that's quite a novelty. My name is Argo," she added. "You're a noob, huh?"
"So green I piss grass," Ichigo replied bluntly. "I'm Zangetsu, this is my first full-dive."
Argo hummed, then said, "Well, I suppose I could give you a few pointers. I assume you were looking for a good weapon and some armor when you crashed into me?"
Ichigo grimaced. "I barely nudged you," he said defensively. "But yeah, I've been through half the merchant NPCs in the west quarter, though I haven't found anything good enough yet."
"A shrewd shopper; I approve," Argo snickered. "You haven't found very good items because the west quarter is where all the inns and taverns are. The southern district is where the best armorers and smiths are."
"Ah, thanks for the advice," Ichigo nodded gratefully. "I take it from how well-versed you are with this place that you were one of the beta-testers? That must be quite an advantage."
"Oh yes," Argo agreed, looking like the cat who ate the canary. "I spent most of my time collecting information in order to sell it when the game was officially launched. No worrying about Cor for me."
"So that's why you're telling me where the good shops are?" Ichigo asked with a raised brow. "How much will that cost me?"
Argo gave him an innocent smile that nearly had him fooled. "First one's free; I use the drug-dealer method."
Ichigo couldn't help but snort in amusement. "Okay, okay."
"Hey, why don't I show you the best place to get a good weapon for cheap?" she offered. "You're kind of amusing, and I'm headed there myself."
Quickly agreeing, Ichigo couldn't believe his luck. Of all the ten thousand players, he managed to bump into a beta-tester info-broker willing to help him even a little.
They made their way south, with Argo occasionally pointing one thing or another out to him while soaked it all up. The more he learned about this game, the more surreal Ichigo found it.
Tobho's Smithy was a cleverly-hidden shop whose entrance was in a back-alley of the southern district, and Ichigo quickly recognized the superior quality of the items. He drifted in, forgetting about Argo for a moment as he examined the merchandise.
His first instinct was to purchase a large, black One-Handed Straight Sword with a blade nearly as thick as his forearm, but then hesitated. He'd been swinging big-ass swords around for long enough; it was about time for a change.
Looking instead toward a wall hung with smaller weapons, Ichigo eventually settled on a Dagger that looked a lot like a stylized steak knife called Iron Fang that enhanced his AGI by four points. It wasn't a huge amount, but the buff it afforded him was much better than most of the rest he'd seen.
A little white rectangle drew him from his thoughts, offering a friend request from Player Argo. He looked over to where the girl was purchasing a pair of punch daggers from the NPC shop owner. "You're an intriguing noob, Zangetsu," Argo said, scratching at a reddening cheek. "It'll be interesting to see how you play."
It struck Ichigo as odd that someone who presented themselves as a disinterested businesswoman like Argo would flush so easily before he remembered something he'd read on a game site, that Sword Art Online boasted a feature which enhanced facial expressions depending on a player's emotional state. He wondered idly if his omnipresent scowl stood up to the programming as he tapped the Accept button.
"I appreciate the help," he said, dipping his head gratefully. "I'd have probably spent the rest of the day in the west sector and ended up buying sub-par gear without you."
Argo grinned playfully. "The pleasure was all mine," she assured him. "Give me a chime if you ever need to know something, Zangetsu."
"Will do," Ichigo promised. "See you around, Argo."
And with that, she disappeared out the door, leaving him to buy Iron Fang, and a few pieces of leather armor besides.
Equipped and ready to get to the meat of the game-play, Ichigo set off toward the wall that circled Town of Beginnings, and before he knew it he was walking through a hilly area with a line of trees visible in the distance. Dark brown porcine creatures dotted the area, and above their heads were the words Frenzy Boar along with various one-digit numbers to denote their levels.
A sharp squeal to his right made Ichigo glance over just in time to see one of the monsters materialize in a flash of blue pixels and charge him. It was a simple matter to side-step the attack, but Ichigo frowned at the sheer lack of speed his avatar possessed. He had known that since everything in this game was governed by stats and numbers he wouldn't be able to move with the grace and aplomb he was used to in real-life, but experiencing it first-hand was something else entirely.
The Frenzy Boar gave a furious snort before rushing at him again, and when it passed once more, Ichigo drove his Dagger into its side and gouged a glowing orange gash from shoulder to hindquarter. Before it could make another attempt at his life, Ichigo darted forward while its back was still turned and sunk the Iron Fang into the base of its skull five times in quick succession.
Poor little fucker never stood a chance, Ichigo thought victoriously as the Frenzy Boar shattered into hundreds of shining polygons that dissipated on the soft breeze. A large square window blinked into life, congratulating him and giving him a rundown of the XP and Cor he'd earned through battle. A single glance showed that he'd also obtained an item called Pork Chop. Cooking ingredient, maybe? he wondered. I'd heard there were skills not related to combat...
Shrugging, Ichigo scanned his surroundings and spotted a group of three Frenzy Boars as they appeared and strode toward them, rolling up his mental sleeves. Time to get grinding...
After-Action Report: Basically just an opener, a little something to drum up some interest (I hope). To answer a few pre-emptive questions, no, Ichigo won't be getting the Dual Blades Unique Skill. I know that it goes to the Player with the fastest reaction times, and Ichigo's got great reflexes...so much so, in fact, that the Cardinal System registers it as a glitch and gives the coveted skill to the next most qualified player, Kirito.
No, the harem won't be centered on Ichigo, or Kirito for that matter. I like watching harems unfold as much as the next person, but SAO's harem thing wasn't really that great, or even necessary. I wanted some got-dang gaming, not a fuckin' romantic comedy! So the height of romance in this story will just be Kirito and Asuna's subplot on the sidelines.
There will be some spiritual shenanigans within the game, but nothing that hasn't been previously established. At the end of that mystery two-part episode, it's revealed that the spirits of Players who have died do in fact, linger within the system, so it's actually canon. There won't be any zanpakuto, kido, cero blasts, etc. in the game, though, so don't worry.
I suppose that's all for now. If you've enjoyed the story, please review and tell me what you think. I hope to see you again, and have a great day!