"Onii-chan! Come on! We're going to be late!" Yuzu called out to her brother from outside the door.
Not even a second later, Ichigo's bedroom door swung open. But, neither Ichigo nor Rukia were dressed in their school uniforms. Yuzu smiled as she saw Rukia emerge. "Ah! Rukia-san, you look so good in the dress!"
Rukia smiled back at Yuzu, "Yes, it's very fitting and comfortable. Thank you for lending me your clothes, Yuzu-chan."
The three of them made their way downstairs and out the front door where they met with Karin and Isshin. "Okay! Is everyone ready for our annual family reunion?" Isshin's loud voice announced. "Everyone's accounted for! Let's load ourselves into the car!"
Yuzu took her seat in the middle of Rukia and Karin in the backseat. She made some conversation with Rukia as her twin sister just stared out the window of the moving car. It felt so strange, riding in the car with everyone, knowing what she knew now. Her father had another side to him, one shrouded in mystery that even Ichigo and Rukia barely knew about.
Now that things were more out in the open, Yuzu felt that she had met Rukia again for the first time. There was no need for her to keep up that strange façade and accent. Rukia did her best to answer any questions that Yuzu had about Soul Society, hollows, and spirits.
Speaking of spirits, Yuzu wondered if she would be able to see a certain spirit… one in "high-spec" as Karin called it. After all, that was the purpose of this reunion. To pay respects to their mother, Kurosaki Masaki.
"What sort of person was your mother?" Rukia asked gently.
Yuzu saw both her brother and sister visibly stiffen. Her father seemed unfazed. Yuzu smiled gently at Rukia. She didn't want Rukia to feel as though she had crossed a line in asking that question. "She was a very warm person. Karin-chan and I were really young when she died, but Otou-san would tell me about how kind she was." Yuzu paused in thought, "She was kind of the center of our universe. When she died, it really affected all of us… Onii-chan especially, since he was there when—"
"Yuzu." Isshin cut in.
Yuzu immediately stopped talking, as she saw that Ichigo was clenching his fists, turning his knuckles white. She looked at Rukia, who had a pensive expression upon her face.
Yuzu and Karin both stood in front of their mother's grave. Their father had gone to buy cigarettes while Ichigo and Rukia had made their way into the forest. Seemed there was a suspicious presence coming from there that they had to investigate.
Yuzu knelt before her mother's grave, placing her hands together in prayer. "Hi, Mom. It doesn't feel like it's been a year, huh? So many things have happened. I can see spirits now, too! I feel like I've entered a whole new world sometimes. Oh, but don't worry! I'm still focusing on school, especially since Karin-chan and I are starting our last year of elementary school."
Yuzu paused and then clapped her hands together, "Guess what, Mom! I entered a cooking competition. There was so much delicious food there, but I won with your curry recipe! Dad showed me your notebook of recipes, and…" Yuzu's voice cracked as she felt tears welling up in her eyes. "I wish… you could have tasted—" Covering her face with her hands, she fell into full-blown sobs.
Yuzu heard Karin sigh from behind her. A reassuring hand was placed on her shoulder. "Come on, Yuzu. You cry every year. She wouldn't want you to cry like this, right?"
Suddenly, a girl about their age with dark hair cut into a bob was standing before them. Yuzu stood up to take a step back from her sudden appearance as Karin stiffened. "Who are—Kya!" Before Yuzu could finish, a red hand had snatched her into the air, wrapped around her body.
"Yuzu!" Karin yelled.
Yuzu struggled to breathe as she tried to move out of the hollow's grip around her body. All Yuzu could muster was, "Karin-chan… Run away… Onii-chan…" The hollow gripped her tighter and she let out a cry of pain that she couldn't hold back.
"Put her down!" Yuzu could hear Karin yelling, but she could barely see. She heard Karin cry out in pain. Yuzu strained to open her eyes and saw Karin on the ground, the hollow's hand holding her down. "Yuzu…" Karin struggled to raise herself onto her elbows, but the hollow just lifted her into the air and then slammed her into the ground, hard. Karin didn't make any sounds anymore.
"Karin-chan!" Yuzu cried, tears falling from her eyes. She squirmed within the hollow's grip, and she could feel her left hand burning again.
"You're getting noisy," The hollow said ominously. It began to open its mouth. "One hostage is enough."
It brought her closer and closer to its mouth. But, Yuzu refused to be put into the same position as before. Yuzu tried to focus on the burning sensation in her hand, and she could feel it intensifying. The hollow released her with a cry of pain.
Yuzu could feel herself falling, but she never felt the ground. She was safely caught in the arms of her brother… no, not her brother. "Kon-kun…" Yuzu whispered. "How…"
Kon looked at her fully. "I'm a Mod soul, built specifically for hollow extermination. My hollow detection is second to none, so I'm way faster than Nee-san's cell phone. Ichigo, Rukia, and your dad shouldn't be far behind me," Kon explained to her. "More importantly… we need to get your sister, too."
Yuzu nodded. Karin was still unconscious underneath the hand of that hollow.
"So much delicious prey in front of me," the hollow remarked in a sinister tone. Its tongue snaked its way across its mouth in an unsettling way.
Ichigo slashed his zanpakutou, cutting off the hollow's arm that was caging Karin to the ground. Rukia quickly grabbed Karin and brought her to safety.
Yuzu quickly ran to Rukia and Karin's side. "Don't worry. She's just unconscious," Rukia reassured Yuzu.
Yuzu could only nod as she tried to hold back her tears. She turned back to see her brother squaring off against the hollow. But, Yuzu could tell that her brother seemed shaken. "You…" Ichigo whispered, seeming to pay more attention to the black-haired girl rather than the hollow. "You're the same girl from 6 years ago… Why are you here?"
"Oh? You've seen me before? I'm surprised I let you live." The hollow snickered. "Looks like it was a good choice. Like marinating a steak. You have such delicious spiritual pressure now." The hollow laughed wholeheartedly now. "One…" he pointed at Ichigo. "Two… Three… Four…" He pointed at Rukia, Karin, and Yuzu. "Five…" He pointed at Kon. He laughed again, "And six!" He was pointing at Isshin who had just arrived. "I don't know if I have the appetite for all six of you!"
"You. The Grand Fisher." Isshin hissed. His fists were clenched at his sides. Yuzu looked at her father with wide eyes. She had never seen her father like this. "My wife and son 6 years ago… and now my precious daughters…" Isshin placed his hand over his forearm, with his palm aimed at the hollow's mask. "Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws. Hadou #33: Blue Fire Crash Down!"
An impressively sized blue sphere of spiritual power fired off from Isshin's hand. It exploded upon contact with the hollow's mask, leaving a burn mark. Still, it wasn't enough to defeat the Grand Fisher. Isshin clicked his tongue in annoyance. "I guess that's all I'm capable of firing." Isshin heaved a sigh of disappointment. "Ichigo… As I am right now, I can't defeat him. I'll take care of Yuzu and Karin." Ichigo looked at his father with a stunned expression. "I leave that monster to you."
Yuzu could see her father's words sinking into her brother. She could tell because she was feeling the same way as she processed the meaning behind her father's words. Ichigo was the one to speak up, "6 years ago… Then…"
Isshin looked at Ichigo with a hardened stare. "Yeah. He attacked you and your mother by the riverbank."
Yuzu brought her hands in front of her mouth as if those would stop the coming tears. They didn't. Yuzu called out to her brother feebly, "Onii-chan…"
Ichigo turned his gaze from his father to Yuzu. She saw the shell-shocked look in his eyes as he looked at her. His eyes went down to Karin, who was still unconscious in Rukia's arms. Without warning, Ichigo disappeared right before Yuzu's eyes. She heard the cry of pain from The Grand Fisher before she saw him again.
The Grand Fisher was now missing both arms.
Ichigo stood at a distance from the hollow, pointing his zanpakutou at the hollow. Yuzu could sense that her brother was on the verge of tears as he launched himself into battle once again. Yuzu held her arms as she cried freely. "Yuzu…?"
Yuzu's attention was brought down to Karin who seemed to have regained consciousness. "Karin-chan!"
Karin attempted to prop herself up on her elbows, but she failed, wincing as she fell back into Rukia's lap. "Don't move yet, Karin-chan. That hollow really did a number on your bones." Rukia explained as she used her kidou.
Defeated, Karin sighed. "Yuzu, why are you crying?"
Yuzu felt tongue-tied. She tried to find the words, but she could barely muster more than a croak. No more secrets.
"Ichigo is fighting the hollow that killed your mother," Isshin's voice cut in.
Karin's eyes widened. Yuzu could see Karin's thoughts flashing across her face. "Karin-chan!" Yuzu tried to grab a hold of Karin who had suddenly sat up. Rukia had made a grab for her as well.
"Let me go! That bastard—" Karin struggled against their grips. "I have to help Ichi-nii!"
"Enough, Karin-chan!" Rukia had successfully restrained Karin. "That's just the adrenaline talking! You can barely move!"
Karin fell back against Rukia, further proving her point. An exasperated sigh and a frustrated groan. A look of understanding came across Rukia's face. "I know it's frustrating to watch from the sidelines. Believe me, I know the feeling all too well," Rukia closed her eyes. Yuzu noticed Rukia's jaw clench. "Battles fall into two categories: battles to protect life, and battles to protect pride."
Yuzu looked back to her brother who was swinging his sword with intense resolve. The look in his eyes was completely different from the last time she saw him fighting. He had looked desperate before, but now he seemed hardened and determined.
"Before, you saw Ichigo fighting to protect life because each of you were in danger. But in this fight, he is fighting for pride. But not just his." Rukia had a gentle smile on her face, "Ichigo knows how important this battle would be for your mother, father, and you two also. He wants to bring about closure for all of you just as much as he wants it for himself."
Yuzu marveled at Rukia. This woman who had only met her brother a month ago had such a deep understanding of her brother's feelings. It astounded her as much as it astounded Karin, who looked as speechless as Yuzu felt. She could feel the tears again, but she wiped her eyes defiantly. "I believe in Onii-chan." She looked at both Rukia and Karin.
Karin nodded in response as Rukia offered the twins a smile of encouragement, "As you should. Ichigo isn't a novice anymore. He's received excellent Shinigami training and his resolve is strong from the battles he's experienced. There's nothing that hollow can do to shake him."
Rukia's words resonated with Yuzu. She could see how correct those words were. Ichigo had the upper hand. His movements weren't graceful, but each slash of his sword was strong and powerful. It was exhilarating to watch. Ichigo had leapt into the air, his zanpakutou raised above his head as he released a battle cry for the finishing blow.
And then Yuzu's stomach flipped as she looked on, stunned.
"Mom?" Yuzu wasn't even sure if she had whispered that or if one of her siblings had.
All the same, Ichigo's zanpakutou had halted in its path, his demeanor void of that intensity he had before.
"Ichigo! Focus!" Isshin's desperate shout broke the trance too late though.
Yuzu's piercing shriek echoed throughout the forest next. She was sure she would have nightmares of the scene in front of her. Both her mother and Ichigo were impaled by the Grand Fisher's red hand, dripping with Ichigo's blood. Yuzu shut her eyes and grabbed fistfuls of her hair as she continued to scream. She was enveloped in her father's embrace as he rubbed her back reassuringly with shushes. But, Yuzu continued to wail in agony as though she were the one stabbed through the abdomen.
Ichigo half-gurgled, half-choked out, "You damn bastard…" Blood spilled from his mouth, "How dare you bring my mother's image to this place…" Ichigo wheezed as he raised his zanpakutou. The Grand Fisher seemed shocked that Ichigo could even move. Now Ichigo had stabbed Grand Fisher through. "I won't lose to the same, dirty trick twice!" Ichigo shouted as he sliced the hollow nearly in half. Ichigo stabbed his blade into the ground and leaned his weight into it to steady himself. The Grand Fisher had retracted his arm, so now Ichigo's wound was bleeding even more profusely. The hollow, along with its lure, slowly disintegrated until it was no more.
"Onii-chan!" Yuzu shouted as she ran over to him. Rukia was close behind her, her hands already glowing. Kon had carried Karin over so that she could be closer to her heavily injured brother. Isshin sauntered over to them as well.
Yuzu saw the gaping wound left behind as Rukia did her best to close it. Tears fell from her eyes, which she wiped away furiously. Somehow, he was still conscious and able to speak, "Yuzu. Karin. Oyaji." He regarded each of them. "Are you guys okay?"
Isshin huffed, an amused twinkle in his eye.
"You're one to talk! Stupid Ichi-nii!" Karin's voice cracked, but she maintained the scowl on her face. She folded her arms across her chest.
Yuzu only nodded and smiled happily at her older brother. She glanced at Rukia, who had a gentle expression as she gazed upon Ichigo. She seemed… grateful. "You're lucky, Ichigo. This wound should be fatal. But, your tremendous spiritual power is keeping you alive," Rukia smirked. "Your whole family seems to have been born with that fortune."
Isshin looked at Rukia with an expression that Yuzu couldn't read. Rukia seemed to realize something and looked down in shame, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"
Isshin cut her off, "No. You're right. We are lucky, Rukia-chan. Masaki's soul can rest in peace now thanks to you and Ichigo. It was lucky—perhaps fated—that you and my son met." Isshin looked to the sky. "Now I'm sure that I can meet Masaki again, in Soul Society." Isshin retrieved the whistle around his neck and blew it. "Now then! It's time for us to head home," Isshin began walking away.
Yuzu looked up at the sky too. She smiled. I'll see you later, Mom.
Hello? Apologies for such a late update. But, I am alive and well. Hope you enjoyed!