Author's note: I didn't really add anything new to this story, just fixed mistakes and also I did something I should have done at the very beginning, broke up the text into chapters! 27K words is just way to much to have as one long one-shot so I have broken it up into slightly smaller chapters for easier reading and a more enjoyable experience overall.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach nor any of it's characters.
~ One Month Later.
Not all that much had changed so far in the Soul Society, a month wasn't long enough to really even get started on rebuilding everything, though in a city made completely of reishi it was easier. Ichigo had seen the Kido Corps teamed up with other regular Shinigami a couple times and it was interesting to say the least, all of the rubble and debris would fade into blue reishi partials that would then be used to repair the upturned ground that they needed to rebuild the city on once more.
It was a nice ending to everything, using the old and destroyed Seireitei which was tied to all of the negative blotches that stained their long history as the building blocks to set the foundation for their new society, one which Ichigo hoped would finally learn from the past and do things differently. The Shinigami were getting excited as well, sure they wouldn't do anything too drastic like modernizing the Seireitei however this was the perfect time to finally implement some new and useful upgrades to their way of life.
The large and partially destroyed walls of Seki Seki which seemed to always surrounded them had vanished, most likely back up to the Royal Palace. The biggest shocker however was that no one had noticed them disappear, which in itself was incredible considering how massive they were.
It really was conformation that they were back in times of peace.
Everything had been pretty lax for the group from the human world. Yoruichi was staying back at the Shihoin manner, catching up with her family again and spending time with SoiFon. Urahara had been mostly cooped up in Kurotsuchi's private lab with him, much to the latter's dismay. Both of them were working on ways to improve not only life in the Seireitei but also make the reconstruction more efficient.
Inoue had spent a lot of the original couple weeks helping Isane at the fourth division with the healing of injured Shinigami and Rukon citizens, a lot of lives were saved due to her healing ability. Chad had once more located Shibata, choosing to spend time with him, the boy had grown a lot in the near two years since they last met and he was happy to have his giant friend back.
Ishida for the most part stayed around the Shiba manor, he still didn't like interacting with most Shinigami that much and considering he had just been their enemy not long ago, well most weren't too thrilled to interact with him either. So instead he enjoyed the peaceful serenity that came with living out in the wild with the Shiba's.. or he would have if the Shiba's weren't like wild animals when they got together with friends and family, and with Isshin's return as well as all of Ichigo's human friends that were staying there, well it got a little hectic sometimes.
Ichigo himself had probably had one of the most relaxing months he had ever had in his life. Yes, sometimes his sleeps were a little restless, and he had been subject to some pretty awful nightmares but living out here for such a long amount of time had really done him some good. It would have probably been a lot worse had he immediately been thrust back into his normal life in the human world, but here, he got to just unwind, relax and let his stress fade away.
He hadn't even drawn Zangetsu since the final battle, the only thing he had been doing that involved fighting or training was further improving his reiatsu control. It wasn't exactly the most exciting of tasks but it kept him occupied and it was very peaceful considering all he had to do was meditate.
When he was actually up and doing something though he just sort of bounced around from place to place, sure Chad and Inoue had their own friends and acquaintances among the Shinigami however their list couldn't even compare to the amount of people Ichigo talked to and considered to be friend. That was to be expected though, Ichigo was dangerously charismatic and he didn't even know it, his ability to make friends out of anyone was frightening in it's own way.
He had already visited – bugged – Byakuya and Toshiro at work a few times, and in tern that allowed him to speak with Rangiku, Ichigo had actually forgotten how dangerous she could be when in close proximity with himself. He'd stopped by the eleventh as well and caught up with Ikkaku and by lesser extent with Yumichika, it wasn't that Ichigo disliked the effeminate man, he just was never as close with him.
Most surprising however, were the couple of civil conversations he had with Kenpachi, Kenpachiof all people. Once more it wasn't that Ichigo didn't like the guy, in fact Ichigo considered the psycho to be one of his good friends among the Shinigami, however when you normally have to try and dodge blades which are trying to take your head off, it really doesn't leave you with much time to actually talk to someone. Though it seemed that at times like this even Zaraki Kenpachi couldn't shrug off his duties completely, and apparently he'd been warned – threatened – about what would happen should he try and fight Ichigo right now.
Of course he had visited each of the Visored, they were family to him and thus he made sure to check up with them at least a couple times. Rose was doing well, he had been swamped with a lot of work while his Vice Captain – Izuru Kira – recovered in the fourth, Ichigo had heard what happened to the guy and it was nothing short of a miracle that he was still alive.
Kensei and Mashiro were the same dynamic duo as always, - even if Kensei would deny it – Kensei was still the firm yet also laid back guy he'd always been and Mashiro was the same limitless ball of energy that loved causing trouble for him, they were doing well and that was good enough for Ichigo.
The Visored he visited the most was Shinji, hands down, after going to school with the guy for a while and then when he eventually gave in and went to the Visored hideout Shinji was always the friendliest to him, the others took longer to warm up and accept him as family however Shinji welcomed him with open arms as soon as he walked through the front door. They had always been good friends, they just clicked well together.
Through his frequent stops at the fifth division he was able to meet Momo Hinamori – Shinji's Lieutenant – and she was.. well it was hard to say. Ichigo felt bad for her, he knew who she was, had heard her name from Toshiro and others, she was Aizen's Lieutenant and the bastard had really messed her up bad in the head before abandoning her. She was afraid of him at first, she hid it well but Ichigo could still see it, the way she tensed upon noticing him, or flinching every time he moved or even slightly shifted. It bothered him, because from what he could tell through the short interaction he'd had with her, Momo Hinamori was one of the sweetest girls he'd ever met, with a smile that could light up a room. She reminded him a lot of his sister Yuzu and that only made him want to help her even more.
Thus, as much as he went to the fifth division to see Shinji, he also made it a point to see Hinamori and talk with her every time as well, Shinji caught on to what Ichigo was trying to do fairly quickly and thus would leave randomly, letting them be alone for a while, he could tell that it terrified Momo at first, but now? He was proud to call her one of his true friends.
Yoruichi had dragged him around a few times as well, bringing him to people that had wanted to meet him but hadn't the courage, or people he had already talked to before but didn't want to bother him by approaching him again. It was weird to find out that he had so many fans, especially since most of them were woman.
He had been to the second division a handful of times as well and honestly would admit that he liked spending time with SoiFon, sure she was a little to serious sometimes but when you got past her cold shell – something that was unsurprisingly easy with Yoruichi around – she was really fun to talk with and be around. Ichigo would admit that teasing her with Yoruichi and seeing how quickly they could make her snap was one of his new favourite hobbies.
Mostly though, along with his human friends, the two people he spent the most with was Rukia and Renji, for obvious reasons, although with Ukitake-taichou now gone there was a lot for Rukia and the two nutty third seats to do in his stead. Ichigo had tried to help in any way that he could but he wasn't really useful in these type's of situations. Renji had it a lot easier being that Byakuya hadn't died and thus he would often head over to the thirteenth to help as well, something Rukia appreciated.
As he sat on the front porch he could hear his man child of a father howling and wailing inside as Kukaku tried to berate him for something again. After meeting the last living Shiba's himself and finding out that his fathers exuberance wasn't just something wrong with him specifically, and was actually a trait that ran in the family. Well he couldn't help but wonder what nutcase let his father become a Captain in the first place.
Speaking of his father, he couldn't help but be reminded of the conversation they shared shortly after he'd departed from the first division's courtyard. He had just been aimlessly walking, distracted by the words Aizen spoke, the one's Kyoraku refused to acknowledge. He couldn't help but wonder, if it really came down to it, to a situation where the only way to fix everything was binding himself to the throne of the Soul King, would he simply comply and let them do it? As much as he wanted to protect all those close to him, protect the three worlds, he had a hard time saying that he would.
It was basic survival instinct really, if he had to be bound up in the palace for thousands of years, never being able to leave or see anyone, would that really be worth it? He had a hard time believing so.
The sound of fluttering cloth and a flash of black was what caught his attention at first, though upon looking up it wasn't a regular Shinigami that he met gazes with, it was his father. He hadn't expected too see him in the Seireitei at all, probably still in the living world with Yuzu and Karin, but yet here he was. Sat casually on the destroyed wall of a random building with his white Captain's Haori fluttering behind him. Ichigo would never actually tell the man, but he looked pretty cool at that moment.
~ Flashback Start.
"Oyaji." he called out simply.
They looked at each other for a moment, however it didn't last long and then his father looked away once more, instead choosing to glance out over the destroyed Seireitei with a contemplative look on his face, an action Ichigo mimicked.
"I won't ask how you're doing. I can see it in your eyes that you feel like shit, you look like shit too." if that was meant to be a jab to lighten the mood, Isshin didn't show it, instead his face remained stony. "You've been though a lot, in less than a month you've had your whole world thrown upside down, finding out everything you thought you knew about your parents was a lie, and although I don't know the full details I heard you had some pretty groundbreaking discoveries with your Zanpakuto as well." he finished, briefly looking down at the sealed blade that rested on Ichigo's left hip.
"I know things are hard right now, there's probably a lot of things you still need to think through, and make your own decisions about, but just know that you aren't alone, I'm here for you and so are your friends if you need to talk. I'm proud of you son, immensely so, and I know your mother is too, just remember that."
There was a brief silence before Ichigo responded again, he could feel a slight sting in both of his eyes at his fathers words, "Thanks, Oyaji." and that was it, he wasn't sure if it could even be called a conversation, but it was enough. Him and his father had never been much for talking, they'd always preferred to express themselves with more violent actions, and so those words that his father spoke, while few in total, meant more then any long heartfelt talk ever could.
~ Flashback End.
Shaking the thought from his mind and glancing back outwards into the yard he was pleasantly surprised to see SoiFon come into view a few feet away from him, a slight ripple in the air the only thing to signify that anything had actually happened, that's the Captain of the stealth force for you. As she strode over towards him he could see that she had quite the heated glare on her face which was directed right at him, though the flush of pink on her cheeks did well to nullify any intimidating factor she might have had without it, 'Guess she hasn't gotten over mine and Yoruichi's last prank yet,' he mused with a slight smirk.
"Yo, Soifon!" Ichigo called out cheerfully only serving to intensify the flush further.
Stopping a couple feet away she cleared her throat before responding, "Good afternoon, Kurosaki."
Ichigo frowned slightly at that, "Oi, I thought we got over the formal crap already? What happened to calling me Ichigo in private?"
He could see her eye twitching a little at that, it was a miracle that he had gotten her to agree to it in the first place although he gave all the credit to Yoruichi's presence, he should have known that it wouldn't actually be so easy. Her eyes had closed, obviously she was trying to think of an excuse to get out of calling him by his first name, and that just wouldn't do.
Before she even knew what was happening Ichigo had reached out and grasped her hand, pulling her towards him while also shifting her so that she fell into a seating position right beside him, and to finish off the swift and smooth movement his arm had rested itself around her shoulders pulling her closer. She froze instantly upon realizing their new position and Ichigo couldn't help but smirk again thinking about the face she was most likely making.
Yeah, maybe this was a little out of character for him, okay a lot out of character but after the endless hole of depression, anger, pain, and struggle since his mothers death till now, he was just tired of being so serious, tired of always scowling, he missed smiling and laughing freely. Obviously he would never become as nutty or eccentric as his father and had already made Yoruichi promise to capture and rehabilitate him should that happen, but letting lose like this after everything, just having fun, it felt good.
He remembered the first time Yoruichi had finally convinced him to get a little touchy with SoiFon, her oaf of a Lieutenant had just walked in on a similar situation to this however the first time she was sat in Ichigo's lap and not beside him, well lets just say the guy didn't like it too much, luckily Ichigo avoided the little bee's wrath that time because after demanding that Ichigo unhand what was his he received a sound thrashing from his Captain.
Unfortunately, without Omaeda around there was no one else to accept her wrath and so quicker then he could follow her elbow was planted in his ribs, causing him to double over gasping for air as she looked on sadistically from her position in front of him once more. Sadly for her however, once again her red face ruined any semblance of authority or superiority she had.
"S-so wha-t can I do for y-you today Soi-Fon." the war hero wheezed out, finally starting to regain a steady breath.
"Hmph, if you aren't busy then Kyoraku-soutaichou would like to have a word with you."
Those words sobered Ichigo up quickly, something the second squad Captain noticed too. She knew that Ichigo and the Captain Commander hadn't spoken again since that day and she understood why Ichigo was bothered by it still. To hear something like that, well she didn't think she would be able to take it all that good either.
"I don't know if it helps or not but, I believe that Kyoraku-soutaichou feels regretful about how things played out that day."
Ichigo simply hummed in thought at her words, staring out at the setting sun. "I don't hold anything against Kyoraku-san, or any of you guys for that matter. Yeah I'm bothered by what I heard, but more so just for the fact that I had to hear it from Aizen of all people."
SoiFon grimaced slightly at that and nodded.
"Well no point in keeping the guy waiting," Ichigo mumbled whilst standing up, grabbing the sealed Zangetsu which had been resting beside him and slid it through his sash. Slowly the two of them walked towards the gate of the yard before stepping into a mild Shunpo and vanishing from sight.
With a bit of a smug smile on his face Ichigo stepped into the somewhat rebuilt first division barracks, most of the rooms and even some of the walls were still incomplete and most doorways were still lacking actual doors however it was coming along. It seemed that first on their agenda was reconstructing the division barracks so at the very least paperwork could begin once more and squads could resume recruitment and training. Even with no more enemies on the clear horizon, it wouldn't be smart to sit unprepared like they were for much longer.
The reason for the smug smile on his face? That was simple, he had just beaten SoiFon in another of their impromptu friendly races. Ever since Yoruichi had first told her little bee of Ichigo's surpassing her in hoho, SoiFon had vehemently refused the possibility that anyone other than her Lady Yoruichi could be faster then her, upon Yoruichi's insistence that it was true SoiFon hunted him down demanding he go head to head with her in a contest of speed, long story short, she lost, big time. Ever since then she had made it a case to randomly race him places in hopes of beating him even once, she was currently 0-4.
One thing Ichigo had found out early on was that he was something of a celebrity in the Soul Society, no matter where he went everyone knew who he was and he would be lying if he said it wasn't a little bothersome, not the people who were fans of him themselves, just the notion of it in the first place. He wasn't anti-social by any means, but having people constantly want to talk with him in public wasn't exactly his cup of tea, he preferred to just blend in, well as much as he could with his orange hair anyways.
As he walked through the busy halls of the first division he was forced to greet nearly every person that passed him, though luckily none tried to hold him up for too long, maybe they had been told before hand that he was here for business? Or maybe it was the stern looking woman at the end of the hall with a large book in her hand that was glaring at everyone who approached him. Ichigo definitely recognized her, he had never really talked to the woman himself however he had seen her around a few times and knew that she was Kyoraku's Lieutenant.
"Ichigo Kurosaki, I'm glad you could make it," She called out.
Ichigo tilted his head forward in acknowledgement as he approached her, upon his reaching her destination she immediately turned and started walking with him towards the inner part of the barracks. "It's not like I had anything important to do anyways, though I wonder why Kyoraku-san wanted to see me."
"I do not know all of the details myself however I believe part of it has to do with what unfolded a month ago." she stated briskly, glancing up at him to see his reaction, she was happy to note that he looked indifferent on the matter, perhaps he wasn't mad about it anymore.
They stopped outside two large doors bearing the insignia for the first division right in the centre of it. At first Ichigo wasn't sure if this was the right place because all he could hear through the door was a muffled and horribly off tune humming, that thought was quickly pushed away as seeing the woman to his left twitching in annoyance told him that it was indeed Kyoraku on the other side of the door.
She coughed lightly into her fist, clearly hoping to regain some form of seriousness again, but with all that noise, it wasn't happening.
She reached up and banged on the door three times, immediately the humming stopped, "Captain Commander, I've returned."
"Ah! My lovely Nanao-chan come in~"
Ichigo glanced down at 'Nanao-chan' once more and he couldn't help but feel sorry for Kyoraku. His Lieutenant looked torn between just walking away or going in there and beating him with that large book of hers, unfortunately for him it was most likely going to be the latter.
The shorter Lieutenant just sighed before opening the two doors and stepping in, clearly she had resigned herself already. When Ichigo stepped in he noted that it was actually a really nice office. He had never been in here when Jii-san was the Captain Commander so he didn't know if it was the same or not, but it was nice nonetheless.
To the right when you step into the room is a large wooden desk, though he couldn't actually see much of the top since it was covered in various stacks of paper. To the left in the room was a seating area with a large sofa and two single chairs to relax on all surrounding a wooden coffee table. The best part about the office in Ichigo opinion however was that it wasn't completely walled off, the whole opposite wall was gone, instead leading to a long balcony that overlooked the whole Seireitei, and with the large Seki Seki walls gone you could even see far off into the Rukon districts, it was beautiful.
While Nanao berated her Captain for his foolish behaviour when he knew there was a guest outside, Ichigo had unconsciously walked over to the railing and was currently staring out over the darkening city as night continued to fall, he was completely entranced by the orange light that weaved throughout the sky, he hadn't even noticed that the one sided argument – beating – behind him had ended and that both of their eyes were now on him.
Silently Nanao left the room leaving the two males alone. Kyoraku didn't take long in joining Ichigo at the railing, the teen only having noticed the mans arrival when a second weight was placed on the wood under his fingertips. Glancing to the elder Shinigami on his right he was momentarily taken back but the solemn look that had overtaken the mans face, it was an expression that Ichigo couldn't ever remember seeing the lax Captain make.
"Are you alright, Kyoraku-san?"
The question must have snapped him out of whatever stupor he was in judging by the light flinch he gave, he slowly turned towards Ichigo, giving him a quick sideways glance of his own and a small, sad smile to accompany it. Turning back towards the Seireitei he hummed in acknowledgement at Ichigo's question, "Don't mind me, Ichigo-kun, I'm just and old man reminiscing about the past."
Ichigo pondered that for a moment before speaking up once more, "Do you want to talk about it?" he said surprisingly, Kyoraku must have been surprised too for he looked like someone had just slapped him across the face, though there was a sort of amused and interested glint in his eye.
"Well there isn't much to say, you just reminded me a lot of myself back when I was younger is all. The first time Yama-jii ever called me up here I had the same reaction as you just did." he finished with a light chuckle.
"It's an incredible view," the teen responded.
"Indeed it is. I remember one time, - this was a couple hundred years ago now at least – but I was here having tea with Yama-jii, and I don't know where it came from but I just sort of blurted it out. I asked him how after all these hundreds of years could he still get up early every morning, go to sleep late every night, how, after everything that had happened could he still want to hold the position of Captain Commander. And I still remember what he told me clearly."
"It isn't easy, Shunsui, I've thought about resigning more times then I would care to admit. I've done a lot of horrible things in my life, things that will probably earn me a one way trip through hell's gates when I finally give out. So maybe it's part of a twisted sense of duty on my part, maybe I just hope that if I keep giving until my flames finally snuff out I will be forgiven for the sins that weigh me down.
Or maybe it's much simpler then that. Maybe it's just that when I wake up in the morning, and I stand here at this balcony looking down over the Seireitei, seeing all of the young and excited faces of the Shinigami below me, the hopes of the future, I just cant help but want to give everything I can to protect them as they grow, so that they may move forward in peace and never have to see the things that I did."
Ichigo didn't respond, he just looked wide eyed at the man beside him, mulling over what he was just told.
The next morning came quickly and Ichigo was once more in Kyoraku's office, though this time they were both seated in the lounge area instead of standing at the balcony, they were waiting for Nanao to bring them some tea for the discussion that they were about to have, the one which they failed to have yesterday.
"My apologies, Ichigo-kun, it seems I got too caught up in old memories last night."
Ichigo shook his head lightly, "It's fine, I wasn't any better." Kyoraku gave him a pleased smile, "Though I'm curious about what you wish to speak of."
The Captain Commander nodded, "Understandable, I wont take too much of your time, there's just a couple things I'd like to discuss, but first." with Ichigo's attention on him he removed his Sakkat and leaned forward in his chair, "I apologize, Ichigo-kun. We the Soul Society have never been completely honest with you, even while asking you to fight with and for us we could never come clean with you, however I want that to change now and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive myself and the Soul Society."
Ichigo's eyes were closed when the man sat back up, it was understandable that he would want to think for a moment, he was momentarily taken back when Ichigo did speak again and asked what he did, but he should have known better.
"What was the 'worst case scenario' that Aizen brought up?"
'Well I said I would come clean with him from now on,' the man mused, putting his Sakkat back on. "Simple. In the case that the Soul King is destroyed and the worlds begin collapsing, that is when our last resort will be put into motion."
The bluntness of the statement kind of caught him off guard briefly but within a couple seconds he was back to normal and nodding slowly, he understood that but now there was the question of, "Why me? Why would I be the replacement?"
"Because of your nature. As a naturally born Shinigami, Quincy, Hollow, hybrid who has found harmony between the three aspects, you are the only one who could actually do it, as much as he would disagree, Aizen can never become the Soul King, he would just destroy himself."
Now that was an interesting thing to say, "So the Soul King was the first then?"
Kyoraku's eyebrow rose at that question, 'The kid's a lot sharper then people give him credit for.' he mused, "Correct, you are the second. The original Soul King was the first ever hybrid born of the three races."
"So is the Soul King still alive then?" Ichigo asked, though he frowned upon noticing the grim look that took over Kyoraku's face at the question.
"We don't know." he stated simply, causing Ichigo to go bug eyed.
"What the hell do you mean you don't know?!"
"It's just as I said, the original Soul King was absorbed by Yhwach, and Yhwach was killed by you, technically everything should be falling to ruin around us, but it isn't." while it was a very serious topic, Kyoraku couldn't help but smirk internally, the kid in front of him looked like he was about to blow a gasket.
There was a brief lull in their talk so Ichigo could mull over things, "So basically, this 'worst case scenario' could still happen?"
The Captain Commander gave another grim nod, "It could be tomorrow, a year from now, a thousand, or even never, no one can say."
Ichigo merely sighed and nodded slowly, there wasn't really anything he could say to that. Just as the conversation ended Nanao opened the two large doors, tray of tea in hand, she either had really good timing or was waiting outside for the right opportunity, Ichigo was voting for the latter of the two.
Deciding to go onto a lighter topic, he asked about something he'd been wondering since the end of the war. "What happened to Nel and Grimmjow?" honestly he was kind of worried, even though they both helped in the 'thousand year blood war' it was hard to trust that the Shinigami had changed yet. He didn't know much about the Royal Guard either, at least personally. For all Ichigo knew they hated hollows as much as the Central 46 did.
"Ah! Yes, I forgot to tell you about them, my apologies, it's been very hectic recently. As you know, Yhwach transferred some of the Silbern as well as his Palace up to the Royal Realm, well it turns out he had one of the former Espada held prisoner in there and so Nel and Grimmjow went to save her, by now they should each be back in Las Noches." Kyoraku could see the relief in Ichigo's eyes at those words, it was unfortunate that they young man didn't have more faith in them but really Kyoraku couldn't say anything, the Soul Society had a long history of ordering executions just because people were different.
"And the Fullbringers?"
"Ginjo and Tsukishima each went off on their own, said they didn't want to be around Shinigami if they didn't have to be, and as long as they don't cause trouble out in the Rukon I don't mind, Riruka and Yukio are each back in the human world, I don't know anymore then that unfortunately.
"No it's fine, you told me enough," Ichigo responded, shaking his head to emphasize his point. 'I should go and visit Nel soon, it's been a while since I got to talk with her. It will give me a chance to beat that bastard Grimmjow into the ground again too,' he thought with a smirk, though it quickly turned into a small frown, 'That damn Zangetsu is rubbing off on me too much.'
"Ichigo-kun," Kyoraku called out, this was the most important question, "What do you plan on doing from here on out? Now that all the fighting is done I mean." It was a fifty, fifty toss up for Kyoraku, he wasn't sure what the teen would decide.
Slowly Ichigo leaned forward, interlocking his fingers and resting his chin on his hands, this was a question that Ichigo had put a lot of thought into since the fight with Yhwach ended, and he'd even spoken to his father about it, it was a life changing decision for him. "I'd like to finish high school, for my mom, I think she'd be pretty disappointed in me if I didn't even do that much. Plus, I want to spend more time with Yuzu and Karin, ever since becoming a Shinigami I haven't been able to bond with them like I used too."
It looked like that wasn't the answer Kyoraku was hoping for, if the slightly disappointed tone in his eye indicated anything, however Ichigo wasn't done yet, "but, after my graduation I'd like to come back here, permanently." and that brought a smile to the mans face again.
"I can try and play pretend all I want, but, back when Urahara-san cut my chain of fate, my future was already sealed. I'm going to live for a long time, and I'm going to age many times slower than everyone else, there isn't a point in me remaining in the human world. Plus, after being powerless and trying to live 'normally' for seventeen months.. I don't think I even want to."
"I'm glad to hear that Ichigo-kun, and I think a lot of other people are going to be as well. Now then, since that is your decision, I have a proposition I'd like you to hear for when you return to the Soul Society.."
'That definitely took a lot longer then I thought it would, but it wasn't a bad talk,' he mused, stretching out his body in front of the first division barracks, he really didn't like sitting still for so long. 'I wonder what I should do now, maybe some lun-'
His inner thoughts were immediately cut off when a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his neck and two soft, but fairly large objects pushed into his back, "Ichigo~" the dark skinned goddess of flashed purred into his ear.
"Y-Yoruichi-san! What are you doing?!"
"Oh you know, a little of this, a little of that. I was just minding my own business when I came across quite the fascinating conversation."
Ichigo frowned at that, he wasn't mad that she eavesdropped, it was in her nature as the former commander and chief of the stealth force, however if she heard the start of the conversation then.. well, it might not be good. Kyoraku had explicitly told him to keep that little bit between themselves. "Y'know, they say curiosity killed the cat."
She merely let out a chuckle at his remark, "I don't think hearing about the Arrancar and your post war plans will put me in any danger, Ichigo. Although I'm flattered that you care so much." that last part was supposed to be just a teasing remark, however his response surprised her.
"Of course I care, Yoruichi-san, your one of the most important people my life. I wouldn't be even close to where I am now if not for you. Hell, I'd probably be dead by Byakuya's hand." though his words were only just above a whisper, his feelings were conveyed clearly, Yoruichi's arms tightening around his neck confirmed this.
They were both silent for a moment, completely oblivious to the many Shinigami pointing and blushing at their close proximity, Yoruichi deciding to get payback for his making her blush just now once more spoke into his ear, voice low and husky, "Y'know Ichigo, you already have the body and the heart, if you keep smooth talking me like that I might just let you put a ring on my finger." she couldn't stop the large grin which spread on her face as she felt him freeze against her.
Ichigo choked in surprise at the comment, face completely red, she really was the master of teasing. "You shouldn't joke like that Yoruichi-san, there are much better guys out there then me."
The former Captain turned house cat felt a really strong urge to face palm right now, 'how can this kid still be so insecure?' unable to resist she smacked him upside the head, "Ichigo, I know you're modest but this is too much. You do realize that both you and Byakuya-bo have long since been named the two most desirable men in Soul Society right?'
"What?!" he couldn't believe what he had just heard.
Yoruichi just laughed at his response, it was too be expected, "I'm surprised Rukia never told you. Byakuya-bo was named by the woman of Soul Society as 'the Handsome, prince of the Seireitei.' and you were 'the Sexy rogue that make's good girls turn bad."
Ichigo just slumped, letting out a groan, where did they come up with this stuff? 'I've never even been with a woman, damn it.'
Tone shifting to something more serious Yoruichi addressed the moping man once more, "Ichigo, I need to talk with you about something, let's go somewhere more private." he merely nodded, and followed her.
hey had ended up in the forest underneath the Sokyoku hill, thanks to the many battles fought there multiple trees had toppled over and it made for good sitting in a peaceful environment, a perfect place to have a serious talk without worry of being interrupted or listened in on.
"I heard that you want to come back here, permanently after graduation, and I also heard the proposition Kyoraku-soutaichou made to you which I can't see you turning down."
"Yeah, why? Do you think it's the wrong choice?" this woman seated across from him was one of the people with the most sway in his life, if she thought against it then he would seriously reconsider, maybe he wouldn't change his mind completely, but he would definitely think about it.
She just wove her hand in a dismissive manner "No, no, nothing like that. I think it's the right choice and I know that most of your friends will agree too."
"So then what is it?"
The goddess of flash sighed in annoyance, did she have to spell it out, "Inoue, Ichigo. I'm talking about Inoue, what are you going to do about her?"
The orange haired man frowned at that name, "As harsh as it may be, if she doesn't bring it up with me, I doubt I'll bring it up with her."
"Why are you playing it like that?" she didn't see that as a very good way to solve the situation.
"Don't get me wrong, Yoruichi-san, Inoue is a very important person to me, however that doesn't extend past what we are, just friends." he paused briefly, voice dropping, "I don't think I could ever love her like she think she loves me.
That caused Yoruichi to narrow her eyes, this kid better have an explanation for saying something like that, "What do you mean 'think she loves you'?"
Ichigo ignored the glare being directed towards him, he knew that his words sounded bad but there wasn't a way to sugarcoat these kinds of things, so instead he just leaned backwards, gazing up at the clouds above him.
"She barely knows me, and the few things she has learnt about me she learned from the mouths of someone else. She never made an effort to come to me and ask to learn more, to learn who the man she 'loved' really was on the inside, and I think it's because she knew she wouldn't like what she found.
Inoue has.. she's always seen me though rose coloured glasses, as a prince charming, her night in shining armour, but, that isn't what I am. Sure I like saving people, however I'm not perfect, I have a lot of darkness in me that I just don't let anyone see, she refuses to accept that darkness, refuses to acknowledge that it even exists. What she is in love with is the side of me that likes saving people, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing I guess, but, I'm a lot more then just a hero complex."
"Ichigo.." Yoruichi was shocked, she never knew he had thought about this so much, that he could be so mature on the subject of love when he had no prior experience, and as unfortunate as it was for the auburn haired healer, the things he was saying were exactly right.
"I never told anyone this, but back when we went to Hueco Mundo and I was locked in battle with Grimmjow, Inoue and Nel had been watching from above on one of the pillars there, Grimmjow had fired a Gran Ray Cero, I easily dodged it however in a brief laps of judgment I didn't realize that what he was actually firing at was Inoue and Nel themselves, and not me.
Inoue's shield wouldn't have been able to stop it and thus the only way for me to get there in enough time and to block the Cero before it seriously hurt or killed both of them was to use my mask."
Yoruichi listened intently, not making a single sound or movement, she could tell that what he was about to say had weighed on his mind for a long time, his eyes held such a sadness, it made her heart wrench for him.
"I wanted to make sure that the both of them were alright before continuing the fight, but when I turned around.. I still remember it vividly, the fear that filled her as our gazes met, it hurt so much to see her look at me with those terrified eyes, like a knife through my heart, but surprisingly it made me just as angry, it made me want to scream,
How can you look at me like that?
I hate my inner hollow more then you, more then anyone!
Yet I'm still using it right now, still calling its power, still letting it eat at my soul, all so I can save you!
So how can you look at me with those eyes?!
After that, I knew that I wouldn't be able to love her, she is still important to me, very much so, but that's as far as it goes, Yoruichi-san."
The Goddess of Flash just nodded slowly, there wasn't much she could say. She was confused when he suddenly let out a chuckle beside her, turning slowly to look she could see he now had a big grin on his face as well, 'Did he just lose his mind?' she couldn't help but ponder.
"You know, it's kind of funny looking back now. I used to always think he was some evil entity that wanted to consume my soul and destroy everything I cared about, I hated him, I was afraid of him, I just wished he didn't exist. Fast forward to now and I find out that he was actually always Zangetsu and never my enemy, that all the times he took over my body it was because he wanted to protect me and make me stronger."
"Hell of a way to show it," Yoruichi grumbled, she had heard about 'Zangetsu' a few times and they weren't very nice things.
Ichigo just shrugged, there wasn't much he could say to refute that.
~ Seven weeks after the defeat of Yhwach.
A large group had gathered around the now repaired Senkaimon, All of the Captain's and Lieutenants – Yes, even Kurotsuchi – as well as a select few others had all come to bid farewell to their friends from the human world and the boy who once again saved them all from certain doom. There were many sad faces, many confused as well, they couldn't understand why Ichigo was leaving them, they understood he had friends and family back in the living world, yet those friends and family would be welcome here anytime they wanted to visit him.
They had seen it, all of them, they happiness which consumed their saviour when he was here, as a Shinigami, where he belonged, he had told some of his closest friends how horrible it was being powerless, trying to live 'normal' where he just didn't belong, so they couldn't understand why he was leaving them once more.
Ichigo however had a smile on his face as he prepared to walk through the gate and so they would leave it be, they wouldn't question his choice, as long as he was happy, then so were they. The most amusing part of it all, was that Ichigo's smile was for a completely different reason then they had assumed. The young man had just finished a meeting with Kyoraku, Yoruichi, Urahara and Isshin, talking about the plans for the future and how they should keep Ichigo's to themselves, because who doesn't like surprises?
Even though his time in the human world would finish shortly, and he would once again be back here where he belonged, it was nice to finally be able to head home, to the human world once more. Sure they could have left sooner if they really wanted too but there wasn't a rush, well for Ichigo and Isshin they would have liked to see Yuzu and Karin sooner however things just didn't play out that way, apparently both of them had been staying at the Urahara Shop this whole time with Tessai, Ichigo new that man was responsible so he wasn't worried. Also with Ururu, Jinta and the mod souls they would have plenty to do there.
Ichigo paused, a contemplative look on his face, 'That reminds me.. where is Kon?' he hadn't see the mod soul since they were back at Nimaya's palace up in the Royal Realm. Shrugging he turned back to the group around him, 'ah, whatever, he'll turn up eventually.' he always did.
At the sound of someone clearing their throat all attention shifted to the Captain Commander who was getting ready to speak once all quieted down. "Ok!" he exclaimed, clapping his hands together, "I won't take up too much of your time here, so it'd be greatly appreciated if you could listen to this old man for a moment."
"As you are all aware, it is time to bid farewell to our friends from the human world, as much as we would like them to stay they have lives of their own which they must return too, but, that doesn't mean this farewell has to be the last we ever give.
It's been a long time since that ragtag group of teenagers, an untrained Shinigami, a Quincy, two gifted humans and a cat, broke into the Seireitei, bringing our city into chaos, all to save one friend who you had only known for a few months.
It was a rocky start to our relationship, but ever since then, through two wars, and countless other emergencies, you have always come to our aid, offering your assistance, be it fighting alongside us or healing our wounded, and I can say with confidence, that without your group, we wouldn't be here today.
So it is with those words said that I, Shunsui Souzousa Jirou Kyoraku, Captain Commander of the Gotei 13, on behalf of myself and the Seireitei, extend my eternal thanks to you all." with those words spoken he removed his Sakkat and bent forward, slowly one after another each Shinigami present mimicked his actions, the strongest fighters of the Gotei 13 all bowing their heads in gratitude to the humans which saved them all.
After a moment of silence, the bowing Shinigami rose once more, locking gazes with the mind blown Karakura group. Silently Kyoraku signalled to Akon, the third seat of the twelfth division who on command handed Inoue, Chad and Ishida each a small card, no larger then the size of a bookmark.
"As a show of our gratitude, we ask that you accept these Soul Tickets, devices that will allow you to at any time open a Senkaimon and come to the Soul Society where you and your other human friends will always be welcome."
Inoue beamed brightly at this, "ah! Thank you so much Kyoraku-san!" she had already located Rangiku in the crowd and through a brief moment of eye contact plans for shopping began formulating.
Chad merely gave a small bow of his own, everyone knew him to be a man of few words.
Ishida looked torn between actually being grateful for the ticket and throwing a fit, talking about how Quincy and Shinigami cannot be together, in the end he just settled for an awkward tilt of his head, acknowledging them in his own way.
It was then that Inoue noticed something odd, "How come Kurosaki-kun didn't get one?"
"As a Shinigami, Ichigo-kun already has the ability to open a Senkaimon gate. He was only unable to before because he never possessed a true Zanpakuto which acts as the key for the world penetrating gate, now that his Zangetsu has been reforged and infused with an Asauchi he is able to open the gate with his Zanpakuto."
A look of understanding flashed across the healers face at Kyoraku's words, everyone from the Karakura gang had heard about Ichigo's adventure in the Soul Palace, as well as having his blade reforged after it was broken during his Bankai state in the Quincy invasion.
A slight shift in the air, followed by humming reishi particles told them that the Senkaimon had just come back to life behind them and it was time to leave. So with farewells given the Karakura group was off to the human world once more.
~ Roughly one year later, Urahara Shop.
Laughter, light hearts and smiles were what filled the packed Urahara Shop right now as the celebrations began. The ceremonies were over, diploma's had been given out, and Ichigo and his friends were all officially Karakura High graduates. Each of the adults, Urahara, Yoruichi, Tessai, Isshin – hell they had even managed to convince Ryuken to show up – were all sat together in the back, saucers of sake in hand as the young adults mingled and congratulated each other.
Ichigo, Chad, Inoue, Ishida, Tatsuki, Keigo, Mizuiro, Ryo, Chizuru, Michiru, Mahana, basically everyone who knew about the supernatural world and the Karakura gang's adventures in it were all there, celebrating together. Yuzu, Karin, Ururu and Jinta were also present, only Ichigo and the adult's knew the real reason why everyone, even his sisters had gathered here tonight.
"I'm surprised that you were able to catch up to me, Kurosaki."
"Hah?! I only ranked so low before because I was too busy kicking ass, now that I've had a few months off to concentrate on studying I got second place, you barely beat me out of first."
"Barely or not, I still beat you." Ishida responded with a smug grin, Ichigo just Tsk'ed and turned away, though after a couple seconds of silence they both broke out into chuckles.
"I still can't believe that you two are actually best buds with how you act in school," the teasing voice of Tatsuki spoke up behind them, bringing a light scowl to Ichigo's face.
"We aren't 'best buds' and besides, it called keeping up appearances."
"Yes, yes, can't ruin that bad boy delinquent image of yours,"
"Ah, come on, Tatsuki-chan, Kurosaki-kun, no arguing!" Inoue called out, waving her arms as she tried to placate them.
Tatsuki just sighed before addressing her best friend, "I don't know how you let a dunce like him pass you in the rankings, Inoue." everyone knew that Tatsuki was just messing around at this point, trying to rile Ichigo up. Though she glared heavily when she heard said man mumble 'Yeah, well this dunce did better then you, so what does that make you?'behind her.
Inoue having heard this as well just grabbed the Karate girls arms and steered her away, "Come on Tatsuki-chan, you know Kurosaki-kun is very smart." she admonished.
"Yes, Orihime, I know, you constantly tell me about how amazing your beloved Kurosaki-kun is," she teased, causing her friend to flush and turn away slightly. Tatsuki followed her statement up with another question, "Tonight is the night right? You're finally going to confess to him and not chicken out like last time?"
Inoue just nodded shyly and mumbled a small 'Yes.'
Unknown to them, the adults had heard that little tidbit of information and brought a small frown to some of their faces.
Yoruichi let out a heavy sigh and shook her head, "I was afraid of that, though tonight would be her last chance to do so."
"Hm, so you're son is announcing it tonight, Isshin?" Ryuken queried, blowing out a puff of smoke.
"Yeah, the only people who know asides from us and Kyoraku-soutaichou are Yuzu and Karin." there was a collective nod of understanding at that statement, everyone knew that the two hardest people to convince to let Ichigo go to the Soul Society would be his two sisters, and it was no exaggeration when they say it took a few months to convince the two of them. Once they understood that they'd be able to visit him at work anytime it was easier to accept.
Glancing up at the time Urahara realized that it had already gotten pretty late and if Ichigo was to make his announcement it should be soon, so he called over to the young man who nodded in understanding and they each went to the back of the shop. No one paid too much mind to it however Chad, Ishida and Inoue both found it odd that they both left like that, and that curiosity turned to worry when they felt the initial pulse of reiatsu that signalled Ichigo leaving his human body, was there something going on?
As if reading their minds Yoruichi walked up to them telling them not to worry. When Urahara came back out a couple moments later, this time holding a box they really began to get curious, Isshin and Yoruichi were both smirking and so that put them at ease but they were still curious.
Clapping his hands once, Urahara drew all attention to him. "Excuse me, may I have your attention. I'd like everyone with the exceptions of Inoue-san, Ishida-san, Sado-san and Asano-san to please come up hear and grab one of the bracelets from me, you will need them in a moment." this earned him many suspicious and wary glances however upon glancing towards their supernatural friends and seeing them nod encouragingly they all did as asked and placed the simple, silver bracelets on their wrists.
"Now then, I'm sure you are all wondering what those are for, and it's simple. These bracelets will temporarily allow regular humans to become spiritually aware enough to see spirits," that earned shocked looks from each of them present, some even glanced at Keigo curiously, the shopkeeper hadn't given him a bracelet so did that mean he could see ghosts?
The sound of shuffling immediately brought all eyes to the door on Urahara's right, and upon Ichigo's emergence, those who had a bracelet on could feels their jaws drop. Ichigo now wore a black kimono, with white socks and tan sandals and had a black Katana sheathed at his hip, though it wasn't his physical appearance that really got them, it was the fact that he literally fazed into existence right before their eyes. They all immediately understood, this must be the 'Soul Form' that they had been told about. They could feel it too, even though to their eyes he looked normal, he didn't feel normal, he felt ethereal, like his presence was filling the whole room, unknown to them it actually was in the form of his reiatsu.
"Hey everyone," he called out with a small wave. "As you've probably guessed, this is my soul you're looking at. I understand your confusion for why I have entered this form, however myself and the others – others being the adults – felt that it would be best for what I'm about to say."
Ishida was already starting to form his own conclusions, Tatsuki wasn't sure what was about to happen but she had a bad feeling it would be leaving Orihime heartbroken, every one else was just looking on curiously.
"So, some of you already know, but I have an announcement to make," Ichigo couldn't help the large smile that was splitting his face, he was just so excited, everyone could tell too, most of them had never seen him smile so widely before, though it wasn't a bad thing, each of the woman present had a light dusting of pink on their cheeks to affirm it.
"I'm going back to the Soul Society, permanently. I was offered a position by Kyoraku-san, the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13, and I accepted it, now that I've graduated high school it's time for me too take up the position." he clarified for the people who didn't know the name. Upon finishing clapping broke out in the room from the adults and his friends, they were each smiling largely to match his, if this was what he wanted – and they could tell he did – then they would support him, hell even Ryuken had a small smile.
Once more the celebration picked up, this time for Ichigo more so then their graduation, Keigo asked to see Ichigo do something cool and thus he demonstrated the ability to walk on the spirit particles in the air. It was such a big hit that some of them even asked if he wouldn't mind taking them up into the sky, Ichigo didn't minds doing it, it's not like it'd tire him out or anything. Seeing Karakura from way up in the air above the city really made some of them envy Ichigo and his abilities, for him to have such unlimited freedom, it was incredible.
Quite a while passed with Ichigo giving rides to his friend and the night was getting pretty late, soon it would be best for everyone to start heading home, and there was one person who still had something they needed to do, something that could change Ichigo's decision, but this would be their last chance.
Feeling a slight tug on the sleeve of his Shihakusho Ichigo craned his head to see a slightly fidgety Inoue who was unable to meet his gaze, "Inoue? What's up?" hoping that this wasn't what he thought it was he tried to deflect, "Do you want a lift up as well?"
Inoue flushed at the prospect of being carried by Ichigo, but no, she had to stay focused, "N-no, Kurosaki-kun, thank you though.. but, I was wondering if we could talk? Um, privately.." she trailed off, voice fading.
'I really didn't want to do this..' he thought grimly, though he didn't show it outwardly, instead he put on a curious look as he spoke again,"Sure, I don't mind, lead the way." and lead she did, a couple seconds later they had made their way into the back of Urahara's store, the room they were in was kind of dark but light enough that they could see each other. The faint sounds of their friends talking and laughing was echoing through the halls.
For a couple moments nothing was said, Inoue just stared at the ground while her hands played with the hem of her sweater, Ichigo just stood there patiently, he knew that this wasn't easy for her and he had no need or want to rush her. Slowly she took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, she repeated this a couple of times before finally raising her head and locking gazes with him. Her eyes were glossy and her cheeks pink, she looked unsure but also more sure then she'd ever been.
"Kurosaki-kun!," her face flushed, that came out louder then she probably wanted. Ichigo kept a neutral face but let his eyes soften to help calm her nerves, he already knew what his answer will be, and he hated himself for it, but it just couldn't be.
Much quieter this time she tried again, "Kurosaki-kun, I-, for a long time now I've looked up to you, you've always been so strong, so sure that everything would be alright, you always gave your everything for the sake of others, that's one of the things I love about you most-
You're so kind, so selfless, you try so hard to be your best at everything, you never just brush someone away, even if they had been or still were your enemies, you would still give your everything to help them.. you never gave up at all, when saving Rukia, when saving me..
I have always felt so warm next to you, so safe and secure, so happy, I hate seeing you cry, it always feels like my heart shatters whenever I do.. I- I want to stay by your side! Kurosaki-kun, forever, I want to make you happy, I love you, Kurosaki-kun.. I always have.."
Slowly, Ichigo's eyelids slid shut, he could feel the faintest of stinging in his eyes, he knew that he shouldn't, that it wasn't his fault that he didn't feel the same, but still, still he hated himself so much right now. This girl in front of him, perhaps if things were different.. if he were just a regular human, then maybe, maybe it would work, but he isn't, never will be, and thus it can't.
"Inoue.. thank you." he wasn't sure exactly what to say, how could you really know in this situation? It's impossible to do this without breaking a heart, you can only hope that your words cause as little pain as possible. He couldn't meet her gaze, her eyes we so pleading, so hopeful, he couldn't look her in the eyes as he said this.
"Inoue, you're an important person to me, incredibly so, but," ah there it is, as soon as the word but left his lips she flinched, eyes beginning to water, lips starting to tremble, she already knew what was about to happen, seeing her like this, and knowing he was the cause made his heart wrench, "Inoue, I'm sorry, but I don't love you."
That was it, slowly she fell to her knees, body shaking, tears starting to fall. Ichigo couldn't take this, he couldn't comfort her in this situation, so with his fists clenched, nails nearly drawing blood from his palms he turned and began to walk away. Just as he was about to leave the door she called out to him.
"Why, K-Kurosaki-kun.. why don't you l-love me?"
Slowly he stopped, he stayed silent for a brief second before answering, "because you couldn't accept my darkness.." his words were weak, Inoue immediately understood what he meant, she couldn't refute it either, she could see the hurt in his eyes when their gazes locked back in Hueco Mundo. She couldn't look past the beast within and realize that it was still Ichigo, still the protector he had always been.
'but.. but, now, I can, I'm no longer afraid!' even though she said that, the words weren't convincing, even in the Royal Palace when Ichigo used his new hollowfication she needed him to confirm the he was still himself, she still couldn't trust him to keep his sanity, 'I can't just give up like this!,'
"Please Kurosaki-kun, I can learn to accept it if you just let me try! I-I just need time,"
He could hear the hope in her voice as she said those words, but Ichigo already knew she wouldn't be able to accept it. Slowly as he turned around to meet her gaze once more he got the answer he knew he would all along, as her brown eyes met his golden and black she froze, he could see the fear consuming her before she even realized what was happening.
Blinking once, his eyes were back to normal and he turned again, walking for the door, though just before he passed through he called out to her in a low voice, "I don't think you can."
The night had ended shortly after that, Ichigo had passed Tatsuki in the halls who was looking for Inoue, immediately she understood what had happened and went to console the broken girl, she wasn't mad at Ichigo, how could she be? But still, this situation just sucked. After bidding farewell to everyone and thanking them for coming, Ichigo still in soul form found his way onto the Urahara Shop roof where he just unwound in the chilly nights air.
He could feel Zangetsu grumbling deep within his soul about the light rain which had started, Old man Zangetsu on the other hand was much more compassionate and thus understood why his wielders heart was in dismay and so he let the rain fall on him without making a complaint. It had been so long since the last rainfall in the world of sideways skyscrapers anyways, this truly didn't bother him.
He could feel Yoruichi's reiatsu coming closer and before he could blink she was on the roof beside him, like right beside him, they were basically touching she was so close, it wasn't that Ichigo hated it, he just wasn't really used to this kind of contact. They sat in silence for a while, neither saying a word, it was nice to be in someone's company like this, to not be alone, but still not be expected to spill your heart out.
He knew that with Yoruichi if he wanted to talk, she would always be there to listen, but if he didn't then she would just sit with him, but right now, he felt it would be best to get this off his chest.
"I didn't think it would be so hard.."
"Of course not, this is your first time ever dealing with a situation like this. It's because she means so much to you as a friend that hurting her like that was so difficult."
Ichigo nodded solemnly,
"but, I know you Ichigo, and behind that tough shell and rough exterior, your a total sweetheart with a heart too big for your own good. So as long as you can say confidently that you handled the situation the best that you could have, that you tried you best to make it hurt as little as possible, then you have nothing to hate yourself over."
'It's like she can read my mind,' he mused incredulously, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, she had hit what he was thinking and feeling right on the head, not one wrong word, and like always she made him feel completely better. "Thank you, Yoruichi-san"
~ Soul Society, Captain's Meeting Hall.
There was a lot of talking, a lot of curious gazes shifting around the room, everyone could already tell that this wasn't your typical Captain's meeting. The current Captains and Lieutenants each had their respective spots filled, though there were many gaps. Fourth was without a Captain, So was the seventh, the Eighth had no Captain or Lieutenant due to them both being promoted to the First Division. The Eleventh and Twelfth division were both missing their Lieutenants and finally the Thirteenth was missing their Captain as well. Along with the Captain's and Lieutenants, there were a couple third seats present and the last four Visored, Lisa Yadomaru, Love Aikawa, Hiyori Sarugaki and Hachigen Ushoda, as well.
It was obvious, today was the day that the Gotei 13 regained it's strength. Finally, after a few long moments of waiting the doors pushed open revealing a cheerful looking Kyoraku, an ever serious looking Nanao and even the third seat of the First Division, Genshiro Okikiba, who had a large package in his hands.
As their Captain Commander took his seat at the end of the line everyone else took that as their cue to quiet down and pay attention. "All right everyone, I now call this meeting to order," he started, clapping his hands together, "Sorry for the delay but my meeting with the Central 46 was dragged on longer then I would have liked, but! Now everything is good, and we can proceed."
Nanao, seeing that her Captain's introduction was over stepped forward and began addressing the group, "As you all know, for someone to become a Captain there are three methods.
The First, a Captain's proficiency test, where the potential Captain must preform Bankai in front of at least three Captain's as well as the Captain Commander.
The Second, Personal Recommendation, a Captain candidate must have a personal recommendation from six Captain's, and the approval of at least three others.
The Third and least common way, Trial by combat. The Captain candidate must fight and kill the current Captain for that division in front of at least two hundred members." she stopped there, and now it was Kyoraku's turn again.
"As you just heard, those are the three way's to become a Captain, however as you look around the room, and notice all these vacant positions, it's easy to tell that this isn't a normal situation where something like that would be advised, and so I improvised. During these last months I have spoken to all of the current Captains multiple times, had far too many meetings with the Central 46 then I would like, I've also talked with some outside sources and lower ranked members in the Gotei 13, and now finally with approval from the Central 46 we are finally ready to refill the ranks of the Gotei 13."
An excited air filled the room, these were exciting times, seeing who would be promoted, maybe someone unexpected?
"Kyoraku-soutaichou will be announcing the changes in order of the divisions, if you're name is called then you are to come up to myself and third seat Okikiba where you will be given your appropriate Lieutenants badge or Captain's Haori. After that you will take your new place in line and stand among your fellow Shinigami." Diligent as always Nanao directed everyone present.
"Alright, before we get onto the Division's themselves, if you would all take note of the large gentlemen in the back," it was hard to miss him, the man was a giant, "For those of your who don't know, this man is Hachigen Ushoda, former Lieutenant of the Kido Corps. He has decided to return to the Kido Division however he has now been promoted to the rank of Commander of the Kido Corps." Hachi merely stayed where he was and gave a small nod towards the Captain Commander, the Kido Corps was different in that it didn't have Captain's Haori's or Lieutenant's badges to signify rank like the other divisions.
"Alright then, time to move on."
"Second Division, no changes to be announced,"
"Third Division, no changes to be announced."
"Fourth Division, Isane Kotetsu is hereby promoted to the rank of Captain of the Fourth Division." Multiple claps filled the room as the tall but extremely shy woman stared wide eyed at the Captain Commander. Slowly she moved up to the designated spot where she was handed a pristine, long sleeved Captain's Haori, donning it slowly and moving back to her spot the room clapped once more and congratulated her again.
"Next, the Third seat of the Thirteenth Division, Kiyone Kotetsu is hereby transferred to the Fourth Division and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant." once more, claps filled the room, and she was presented with her Lieutenants badge, both of the sisters looked extremely happy to be together,
"Fifth Division, I'd like everyone to give a warm welcome back to Hiyori Sarugaki, former Lieutenant of the Twelfth Division, she will now be assigned to the position of Fifth Division Lieutenant alongside of Momo Hinamori." Once again there was clapping, though Hiyori was much more tamed then the Kotetsu sisters, choosing to just take her badge and stand in line, she wasn't too thrilled to be back yet but as long as she was with her fellow Visored she could deal with it, plus, there was no denying that the Gotei 13 had changed, and would continue to do so.
"Sixth Division, no changes to be announced."
"Seventh Division, I'd like everyone to give a warm welcome back to Love Aikawa, former Seventh Division Captain who has graciously decided to retake his position." he much like Hiyori wasn't all to thrilled to be back just yet, but he knew he would be fine with time,
"Eighth Division, ah! Let us give an especially warm welcome to the lovely Lisa Yadomaru~ a stern woman much like my Nanao-chan here but exceptional none the less." the room was silent, everyone just facing towards their Captain Commander with varying looks of disbelief, this was a complete 180 compared to how Yamamoto-Soutaichou acted. "I am happy to announce she will be retaking her former position as Eighth Division Lieutenant." As soon as Lisa got within arms length the flirtatious Commander tried to make a pass at her, but, the current first division Lieutenant wasn't having any of it, the room broke out into small chuckles as Nanao's book planted itself firmly in his face.
Some of the more serious and rule abiding people in the room didn't think this was how they should be acting during a meeting, but it wasn't like this meeting was to discuss a problem, and even though it had been just over a year now since Yhwach's defeat, it was still nice for everyone to laugh like this. A few seconds later, Lisa was in her position and things were ready to continue.
"Ninth Division, no changes to be announced." Everyone paused at that, did he just forget about the Eighth's Captain position? No one decided to voice their thoughts just yet, they would trust that he knew what he was doing, Nanao looked fine as well so obviously he meant to pass over it, for what reason no one knew.
"Tenth Division, no changes to be announced."
"Eleventh Division, Ikkaku Madarame is hereby appointed the position of Lieutenant." no surprise there.
"Twelfth Division, Akon is hereby appointed the position of Lieutenant." once again, no surprise there.
"Thirteenth Division," now this was where things got interesting. Up until Kyoraku started meeting with each of the Captain's there were only a handful of people that knew of Rukia's Bankai. Unfortunately because she'd only had it for a short amount of time, only one tenth the normal period of time it took for a Shinigami to master their Bankai, there were a lot of people wary of her being promoted so soon.
However, Byakuya was very adamant in saying that his sister's Bankai was a magnificent one, one that even in it's immature state could still be beneficial to the Gotei 13, it had been a long time since anyone had seen him so animated about something and thus most decided to trust his words and Rukia was given approval for the Captain's position, however that didn't guarantee anything.
It could be argued that Renji deserved a Captain's position just as much as she did, and since Kyoraku didn't announce it already, he clearly wasn't getting the position of Captain in the Eighth Division, so it was a fifty fifty chance for either of them, no one knew for sure.
"I had a hard time with this decision in the beginning, I felt that by refilling his position I was just casting his memory away," this was surprising, but everyone listened intently, it was no secret the Kyoraku and Ukitake were the best of friends and had been for hundreds of years "but, I know that isn't the case now, I know that Jushiro will forever be remembered for the many things he did to better the future of the Gotei 13, and I know that he would want this more then anything.. So on behalf of Jushiro Ukitake, and his memory, I am proud to announce that Rukia Kuchiki will hereby promoted to the position of Captain, in the Thirteenth Division." Upon those words the short Captain's jaw unhinged itself, she looked like her brain had ceased all operation, The loud clapping was what brought her back to her senses, and though she was thankful to everyone for being so supportive, there was only one face she was looking for, her brothers.
She felt a stinging in her eyes as she gazed upon him, he had a wide smile and his eyes shone with approval, seeing that, she understood that she truly deserved this position, and so with great pride she strode up to Nanao and accepted the Haori, finally marking her as an equal with her brother. Finally the room settled once more, there were still two positions to fill.
"Continuing, Momo Hinamori is hereby transferred to the Thirteenth Division, she will keep her rank of Lieutenant." There was another round of clapping and once more the room went silent, everyone gazing at their Commander expectantly, there was only one more position to fill however no one knew who it would be to fill the position of Captain in the Eighth. Some eyes wondered to the Lieutenant of the Sixth, Renji Abarai, who has had Bankai for quite some time, but if he would be getting it, then wouldn't it have been announced back when Kyoraku was on his old division?
Looks of wonder and confusion took over the current members of the Gotei 13 as their Commander stood, "And with that, the ranks of the Gotei 13 are once again-."
Byakuya was the one to step forward, "Pardon my interruption, Kyoraku-soutaichou, but what of the Eighth Division's Captaincy?"
Immediately, one of the stupidest grins they'd every seen spread onto their Captain's face, "Oh? How silly of me, I completely missed that one," everyone could tell something was up, looking towards Nanao in hopes for some insight they were once again left in the dark, in actuality they were even more confused then before as she to was sporting a rare smirk of her own.
Suddenly, through the silence of the meeting hall, a set of light footsteps could be heard heading in their direction, from the time in between steps they could tell that this person was likely male, and tall, given that their stride was so long. The presence that they could feel was immense, maybe even more so then Kenpachi's indicating that he was monster in terms of power, however the most confusing thing was that they couldn't detect a reiatsu signature, well that wasn't exactly true, it was just suppressed so low and muffled to such a degree that they couldn't recognize it.
Kyoraku's voice spoke out again though everyone's attention remained on the two doors, "I am honored to announce my successor for the position of Captain of the Eighth Division-" A fluttering of white, and a flash of orange drew everyone's attention, multiple jaws dropped, many smiles lit up on the faces of those present as the mans name was finally spoken, "-Ichigo Kurosaki."
Most of the Captain's and Lieutenants had to do a double take, they couldn't believe what they were seeing, but there was no denying it, that familiar orange hair, the confident brown eyes that shone with a determination unmatched by anyone else, that cool, cocky smirk that they were all familiar with, it really was Ichigo. He had a simple black Shihakusho, with a sleeveless white Haori baring the symbol for the Eighth Division, along with the white sash that held his clothes up his Zangetsu was sheathed on his left hip, secured further by a dark, crimson red obi that was tied around his waist, much like the teal one which Kyoraku wore.
Silently, with all eyes on him he strode over to his position in line, between Byakuya and Toshiro, both of whom looked like they couldn't believe what they were seeing. "Oi, Kyoraku-san, what's with all this attention? I'm just a Shinigami like everyone else right."
"You damn baldy! Their ain't no way you outrank me!" that seemed to remove everyone from their stupor.
Ichigo merely smiled further at her comment, always 'baldy' with her, "Yo, Snaggletooth, it's been a while."
"Sna- What?! You damn baldy! I'll kick your ass!" before she could make do with her threat Shinji reached down, grasping her by the neck of her Shihakusho and lifted, making her flair around in the air for a short few seconds before accepting defeat and going limp. However just to make sure her new 'Captain' knew his place she craned her head around and gave him one of the evilest smirks she could muster, "You damn baldy, I'm going to make your life a living hell."
Shinji paled and released her, instead of going back to her place in line she caught sight of someone very familiar, "eh, well whad'ya know? It's the Chibi Pervert back from Karakura, you may be my ally now, but that doesn't mean your hands get free reign to do as they want, ya hear me baldy?"
Toshiro looked horrified as all eyes went to him, from the corner of his eye he noticed his childhood friend giving him a look of disappointment, "Hina-"
Any words of defence he had were cut off when Ichigo's hand landed on his shoulder, "Eh, Toshiro, I didn't know you felt that way about Hiyori," he looked away slightly, his other hand raising up to scratch his head lightly, "I can't say I understand your taste's, but if that's what you want then I'll support you." Ichigo's comment was only made worse by the fact that some of the people were nodding their head as if in agreement with him.
The wielder of Hyorinmaru just slumped forward, he knew that nothing he could say would be able to fix this, and the more he tried the worse it would get.
Unable to contain himself anymore Kyoraku let out a huff of laughter, this was how it should have been, he respected Yama-jii more then anyone, and missed him a hell of a lot, but he never agreed with his teacher's idea that everything should be serious all the time. True chemistry and camaraderie is born from laughter and fond memories like this. Deciding that the short Captain had been teased enough he stepped in for his rescue, "Mah, mah, I think that's enough for now Ichigo-kun."
As if a switch had been flicked in everyone's head they all remembered what, or specifically who was here right now that shouldn't have been. "I-Ichigo? What is the meaning of this?" the newly appointed Captain of the Thirteenth asked.
Ichigo's smile faded and his face set itself back into one of casualness, "What do you mean, Rukia? As you can see I am the new Captain of the Eighth," he emphasized his point by grasping his Haori in one hand and pulling it outwards. He smirked slightly as he noticed her eyebrow twitch, riling her up was too easy.
"You fool! I can see that! I'm asking why?!" her face fell slightly, and her tone grew sombre, "What about your life in the world of the living? Your family and friends? Why did you just leave that all?"
"Listen Rukia, It's like I told Kyoraku-san, back in the Urahara Shop when my chain of fate was cut, my future was already decided, I never had a choice in the matter once I crossed that threshold." Ichigo's face fell into a slight frown as he noticed Rukia slump further, 'That idiot still blames herself,' he thought he had made himself clear to her. "I don't regret anything, Rukia, if I could go back in time I would do all of this again. I love being a Shinigami, I love fighting, protecting people. Living as a human? That was never for me, even before I learnt of the supernatural I always felt disconnected, like I didn't belong. Meeting you and becoming a Shinigami was the best thing that ever happened to me."
There was a small lull as the war hero seemed to be thinking of how to continue, there were many wide eyes as they listened to him talk, "Yeah I'm leaving my friends and family behind, but is it really such a big deal? They can come and visit me anytime I want, it's no different then if I were to leave Karakura to go to university.. and you know what? Everyone in this room, with me right here and now," he spread his arms outwards, locking gazes will all those around him, "to me, all of you guys are my friends and family as well, and I want to be hear with you all."
At those words the slightly tense atmosphere dissipated instantly, there were many warm smiles directed directed towards Ichigo, not everyone in the room knew how Ichigo really thought of them, and to hear that he considered all of them and not just a few to be his friends and family, it meant a lot.
"That was well said, Ichigo Kurosaki, I look forward to working with you."
"Yeah, me too, Byakuya."
End of chapter two, I hope you enjoyed, please leave a review with your thoughts and feel free to message me if you like, I always respond to messages. - Vertius