The Will To Protect

Chapter 2: Explanations

From Unexpected…

Slowly, Renji got to his feet, using Zabimaru to support himself slightly. He willed himself not to sway. Despite his words to Tatsuki, he knew that he had to end this fight quickly if they both were to have any chance of leaving alive. Although the Soul Society law forbade it, Renji decided that this was the time to throw away the rules. He was going to release his bankai. Any other consequences that came with it later, he was going to ignore them for now. He faced the Allankar, determined to wipe that smirk of its face.

With his back towards her, Renji said solemnly, "Arisawa, sorry about your house."

Tatsuki was somewhat confused. So far it was only her room that was thrashed… However she had no time to question further.

"BANKAI!"

There was a massive release of spiritual pressure. The whole house shook before the world went white…


Tatsuki gasped at the amount of power released as she pressed herself as close to the foot of her bed as she could. The power was choking her, pressing harshly against her petite form. To make things worse, she couldn't see anything with the blinding light. What was going on? What was this 'bankai' thing? She was very confused and the light didn't do anything to lessen it. It only served to increase her forming migraine.

Finally, the light dissipated and she understood what Renji's apology meant. The unusually high amount of power released had completely blown off the roof of her house as well as demolished almost all of the walls of the second story. There were also many dents in the floor of her room. She had a feeling that even the first level walls would collapse soon. What in the world did Renji do to cause such destruction?

Then, she saw.

In the middle of her room, was a colossal, monstrous, coiling skeletal snake-like object with a wild mane and a skull for a head. It gave a menacing growl. And in the middle of the coiling thing, stood Renji. He looked as unfazed as ever from what she could see, considering that the release of power had caused his hair tie to snap and his red hair was now falling over his face. In his hand held something like a sword's guard and it was connected to the huge skeleton-snake. Tatsuki realized, feeling rather faint all of a sudden, that the monstrous thing before her was Renji's katana that had somehow transformed.

"Oh? So you released your bankai. Afraid to lose without it?" taunted the Allankar.

Renji's only response was a slight narrowing of his eyes before he lashed out at the Allankar with Hihiou Zabimaru. Despite the massive size, his bankai moved rapidly in the direction of the Allankar and struck it down, injuring it severely. Though, at the same time, a large portion of the remaining second level of the Arisawa house was demolished too.

"I see you don't look too well," Renji sneered at the injured Allankar. "Well, I think I can put an end to your misery. Sayonara!" There was a final loud bang, as Hihiou Zabimaru cut through the Allankar from its head. The Allankar gave a strangled cry as it disintegrated.

Renji smiled slightly. It was finally over. He returned Hihiou Zabimaru to its sealed form and turned to Tatsuki. His vision blurred and his knees suddenly went weak. Damn. He collapsed to one knee and crouched there, chest heaving as he tried to regain his breath. They had to evacuate. Where the Allankar once lay, was now a large hole that seemed to be growing due to the numerous cracks on the floor. The house would come down on them any moment. Then he felt an arm go mid-way around his shoulders and another hand on his left arm, gently supporting him.

"I guess I wasn't wrong about you. You are a showoff," Tatsuki chided as she helped Renji stand. Somewhere during the battle, Tatsuki had started to worry about him to no end. Now, she was thankful that he was still alive.

Renji chuckled softly, knowing that there was no ill intent behind her words. "And you're still a stubborn mule."

"We seem to finally agree on something."

"Hmm, I suppose. Look, we need to leave this place. It's going to collapse any moment."

Tatsuki looked around. The stairs were demolished. There was no way they could get away from the second floor, much less the house itself. "How are we going to do that? The-"

Suddenly, she was swooped up into Renji's arms and he then proceeded to leap from the mess that she once called home to the rooftop of the opposite house. Tatsuki blinked before trying to suppress a blush. Even though she wasn't interested in getting into a relationship with a guy for the moment (or so she liked to think), being pressed so… intimately against Renji's chest was proving to be very awkward. But she'd be damned to admit out loud that it was comfortable too. Although she had suspected that he had tattoos over his body, Tatsuki never thought she'd find out with her own eyes. She quickly averted her eyes from his toned chest and tried not to think about her current position… and how he looked great with his hair down… Get a grip on yourself Arisawa!

"W-What are you doing, Re- Abarai?" It didn't fail to dawn on Tatsuki that this was the second time she had almost called Renji by his given name. What was happening to her?

"What do you think? Escaping the ruins of your house and taking you to somewhere safe," Renji replied gruffly, ignoring, to the best of his ability, the way she was currently snug against him. All right Abarai, you've carried Rukia in this manner before. This is no different from that time. He squashed the irritating voice at the back of his mind that was trying to tell him that since he was carrying Tatsuki, and not Rukia, it made all the difference.

There was silence for a long time as Renji continued to leap from roof to roof and running on overhead wires to head to their destination. Tatsuki took the opportunity to take a look at her surroundings. It wasn't everyday where she could get a bird's eye view of Karakura Town for free. Everything looked so peaceful, it was difficult to believe that, just minutes ago, she was at the scene of a bloody battle. The whole town looked so normal that it seemed surreal that she was flying above the rooftops, being carried by someone who was highly likely a spirit and not a human. The silence continued for a few more moments before Tatsuki tentatively broke it.

"Eh, Abarai?" Tatsuki started, making sure that she said his surname. "Why did you save me?"

"It's a shinigami's duty to protect the innocent from Hollows or Allankars," he responded.

"Oh…" What was the deal with this shinigami, Hollow and Allankar thing? "But… you still didn't need to risk your life for me… So, why?"

Renji made sure he kept his eyes straight ahead of him and forced his heartbeat to maintain its normal rhythm. He had no idea how to answer her question. "I'm just doing my job, T-Arisawa. Just like the others. Now, shut up. We're almost reaching."

True enough, within Renji's range of vision, he spied Urahara's Store, which was free of any Allankars. Urahara and Yoruichi had defeated the Allankar. From what he could see, there were other people present too. And if the fight hadn't rattled his senses, they were Rangiku, Hitsugaya and Orihime. In a minute's time, Renji landed back onto the ground in front of Urahara's Store. He carefully let Tatsuki back on to her feet, making sure she was standing properly before letting go. She had landed into another state of shock upon landing her gaze onto those present. Nothing to be surprised about, he decided. After all, it isn't everyday you find out that the new transfer students in your class are all Death Gods.

"Tatsuki-chan! Renji-kun!" Orihime called as she ran over to the newly arrived duo. As the distance between them closed, she cried out in shock, "Renji-kun! What happened?"

"Nothing, Inoue-san. I'm fine." The irony quickly set in as he suddenly coughed up blood and his vision started to swirl.

"Yeah, right. You're fine," the sarcastic voice of Tatsuki (that was masking her concern) filtered into his ears as he felt the said girl and Orihime steady him. He winced slightly as Orihime's fingers unintentionally brushed the deep wound the Allankar had inflicted on him.

"Ah! Sorry, Renji-kun! Sorry!" Orihime hastily apologized as she adjusted her grip on the injured redhead.

"It's okay…"

Together, Tatsuki and Orihime carefully guided Renji over to where Yoruichi and two of Urahara's employees were tending to Rangiku's wounds. Renji was rather shocked to see Rangiku unconscious. Hitsugaya had most of his wounds bandaged, although his robes had bloodstains all over them. The Tenth Division Captain was currently hovering near where his Vice Captain lay, and if Renji squinted, he thought he could make out a slightly worried look in the white-haired boy's expression.

"Abarai-san, you're back. I was wondering if I had to look for you," Urahara's voice floated to his ears.

Renji merely grunted as he sat down. He had barely any energy left, having used up a good portion when he released his bankai to take down the Allankar and when he carried Tatsuki away from her house. His whole body ached, like a million blades had sliced into him. Much like when he faced off against Captain Kuchiki. Renji had ignored all his pain while leaving Tatsuki's house, and now they seemed to return with a vengeance, as if wanting to make him regret overlooking them for the slightest instance. Life was such a bitch at times. He was tempted to fall into slumber, but he didn't want to run the risk of going into a coma.

"Lie down," Tatsuki said as she kept her back towards him, "You're badly injured." She had a lot of questions in her mind; the most important at the moment was why Orihime – of all people – was involved in this bizarre mess.

"Don't worry, Renji-kun! I'll fix you up!" Orihime said in her usual cheerful and enthusiastic voice as she sat herself next to her injured shinigami. "Now, now lie down!" Her smile brightened as her 'patient' obliged.

"How are you going to do that, Orihime?" Tatsuki asked curiously. She knew Orihime could see spirits, but that didn't mean that she could do anything more… Right?

Orihime merely smiled pleasantly as one of her teal-colored flower-shaped hairclips shone with an orange light. Then two fairy-like beings appeared around her and the blonde-haired one flew in front of Tatsuki.

"Hello, Tatsuki-chan! I'm Shonon and that's Ayame! We're Orihime's special powers. We help to heal!" With a smile, Shonon then turned and along with Ayame, formed an orange-colored shield around Renji, starting the healing process.

"Why do they feel so familiar?"

"Mm…? Perhaps it's because I've used them to heal you before, Tatsuki-chan!" Orihime replied cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood. "Come on, Tatsuki-chan! Don't look so gloomy!"

Tatsuki forced a smile for Orihime's benefit and returned to gazing at the sight before her. Everything was happening all at once and it was a hard pill for her to swallow. So Renji, Matsumoto and Hitsugaya were all shinigamis… Did that mean they were ghosts? Orihime had special powers. There were things called Hollows and Allankars that threatened the safety of humans… What else was there to all of this? Were any more people she knew going to appear? If any more did show up, Tatsuki knew she would get a serious headache.

"Kurosaki-kun! Sado-kun! Kuchiki-san! Thank goodness you're all okay!"

Yep. Tatsuki was feeling her headache coming along very nicely.

"Inoue, nothing happened to you right?" came the gruff, but concerned, voice of Ichigo.

"I'm fine Kurosaki-kun! Rangiku-san and Hitsugaya-kun protected me. But Rangiku-san is badly injured… Ah, Renji-kun and Tatsuki-chan are here too!"

"Tatsuki!" Ichigo exclaimed. Even Sado looked a bit surprised.

Rukia snorted slightly. "You shouldn't be too surprised. After all, your ability to detect spiritual auras of those around you isn't the best."

"OI! What's that supposed to mean!"

Tatsuki eyed the newly arrived trio, noting that Rukia and Ichigo looked very much battered up. Ichigo had blood stained on his robes as well as open wounds that were oozing blood. Rukia didn't look much better. If it were possible, she looked worse off than the orange-haired male. Sado seemed fine, though he seemed to be carrying a heavy air of depression. Tatsuki wondered whether they had been fighting. And if Ichigo was wearing the same robes as Renji, Matsumoto and Hitsugaya… Did that mean that he was a shinigami too? But Ichigo was alive, wasn't he? She had known him since they were children… She decided then and there that she would leave all questions until later. A migraine really wasn't what she needed, especially since the after effects of experiencing a high amount of tension were starting to set in.

Instead, she said as calmly as she could, "Hey, Ichigo. You and Kuchiki-san look pretty bruised and battered… you could leave your bickering to later on."

She was too tired to feel surprised when Ichigo and Rukia continued bickering (like an old married couple in her opinion) although they did sit down to allow their wounds to be tended to. She had suspected something was strange about Rukia when she first appeared in their class. Now, everything was proven to her. Tatsuki proceeded to sit too, uncharacteristically pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her forehead on them. She was worn out. Perhaps she could rest until the time came for things to be finally cleared up between them…


"Tatsuki-chan? Tatsuki-chan, wake up!"

Tatsuki stirred as she felt a hand gently shaking her awake and Orihime's voice coaxing her from the depths of her dream realm. As she blinked and slowly sat up straight, working the kinks out of her back, she wondered when she had fallen asleep. She still felt drained. All the tension earlier had totally worn her out.

"What's happening now, Orihime?"

"Oh, Yoruichi-san left to look for Ikkaku-kun and Yumichika-kun half an hour ago. Urahara-san is going to fill you in on things that will help you understand. Ah… After Yoruichi-san returns, Hitsugaya-kun is going to explain to all of us about everything else. Okay?"

"Um… okay," Tatsuki replied, feeling apprehensive about what she was going to hear.

She surveyed her surroundings. Sado was sitting by himself off in a corner. He seemed more silent and broody than usual. Rukia and Ichigo were next to Hitsugaya. The trio was talking and from their expressions, it was about something serious. Matsumoto was still unconscious. The female was lying on a straw mat that Tatsuki hadn't realized was there earlier. A young dark-haired girl was still tending to the numerous little nicks and cuts on her arms and legs.

As for Renji, he no longer had that orange shield above him. Some of his wounds had disappeared, but the largest wounds were still visible, but somewhat healed. They had been bandaged, but Tatsuki couldn't help but wince slightly as her eyes traced over the bandages that covered the slash wound that started from his right shoulder and ended midway through his torso. She contemplated whether she should walk over to join Renji (though she couldn't help but wonder why).

"Arisawa-san?" a voice questioned lightly.

She turned around and saw the blond man with the green-striped hat standing behind her. "Yes… Urahara-san?" she ventured a guess.

"Ah… Inoue-san must have told you. So I can start filling you in?"

Tatsuki nodded and Urahara began his story. Throughout it all, she was captivated by it. If not for what she had seen, it was very unlikely that she would believe what Urahara was telling her. It was much too bizarre for Death Gods to be real. Yet, Tatsuki still did not understand how Ichigo became a shinigami. As far as she could tell, he was very much alive. So, she questioned Urahara.

"Kurosaki-san? He's a special case. Kuchiki-san transferred her powers to him the night they met so both of them, along with his family, would be survive a Hollow attack. Because of complications, Kurosaki-san took almost all of Kuchiki-san's powers. So Kuchiki-san had to reside in a gigai and enter your school to make sure Kurosaki-san did her shinigami duties."

"So that's why he kept disappearing along with Kuchiki-san," Tatsuki muttered. It began to make sense… if supernatural beings made any sense in the first place.

"Yes. That is why." There was a pause before he added, "You might have noticed, Kuchiki-san seemed to have been wiped from everyone's memory for a while. Am I correct?" At Tatsuki's nod, he continued, "She was taken back to Soul Society by Abarai-san and her elder brother. She had committed a crime by transferring her powers to Kurosaki-san."

"Did Ichigo go and rescue her?"

"Obviously. He had chased after her and then rendered himself seriously injured. Prior to this, Kurosaki-san wasn't as strong as he is now. Kurosaki-san then trained with me, regained his powers before leaving for Soul Society to stop Rukia's execution. However, that is another long story, which I will not bore you with."

At that moment, Yoruichi returned. With her were Ikkaku, Yumichika and Keigo. Tatsuki noted with some amusement at the way Keigo was being slung over Ikkaku's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. After hearing Urahara's explanation, she was not that surprised to see them. Though looking at the injuries Ikkaku had… she was impressed that the bald guy could even stand, much less carry Keigo.

"Ah! They're back. Looks like I should go and help," Urahara commented before walking over to the newly arrived people.

After sorting out the two male shinigamis and having Urahara explain the same things to Keigo, Hitsugaya took charge of the situation. He briefly explained the situation in Soul Society before talking about the Allankars and how their powers were greater than captain-level shinigamis. The boy captain also proceeded to announce that there seemed to be cases of shinigamis with Hollows – Viazards – around the area although it was unconfirmed whether they were planning an attack. Tatsuki noted that Ichigo seemed to squirm slightly then and the other shinigamis had briefly glanced at said teenager.

"I advise that someone should stay by Arisawa Tatsuki and Asano Keigo's side when they're out of school. We do not know when and where the next attack will be," Hitsugaya finished.

"Perhaps all of you would like to stay at my humble shop for the night?" Urahara suggested.

"That would be good," Hitsugaya agreed.

"Well, I'm going home. I don't trust Kon being in my body," Ichigo said as he stood up and stretched slightly. "See you around."

"I'm leaving with him too," Rukia announced. "It wouldn't be good if your dad finds out his third daughter is missing," she added slyly to Ichigo, who glared at her in reply.

"Third daughter?" Renji choked out, barely resisting the urge to laugh.

"Don't even ask, Renji," Ichigo bit out as he turned his back on the group. "C'mon Rukia. Let's go," he added gruffly. Said female just shrugged, waved goodbye and followed Ichigo down the street, disappearing round the bend moments later.

"Eh… Well… I think I'll go home…" Keigo said, stuttering slightly.

"Good. That means we'll be crashing at your place," Ikkaku said as he too stood up along with Yumichika.

"EH?"

"You didn't forget our agreement, did you?"

"Um… no…"

"Great! Let's go then! I need my beauty sleep, you know."

Watching the trio depart, Tatsuki felt a pang of sympathy for Keigo. She wondered how he was going to explain to his family about Yumichika and Ikkaku… especially the current state of injuries on the duo. Turning her gaze away, Tatsuki looked at the remaining few. Rangiku definitely had to stay at the store. Hitsugaya would too, as well as Renji. Orihime could return to her house… while she herself would have to stay at the store too. Tatsuki couldn't imagine what to do with her house or how she was going to explain to her mother about it. She couldn't say that an evil ghost-monster had attacked her and a huge fight had then taken place when a shinigami came to save her. Nobody would believe her. She probably wouldn't believe it herself had she not experienced it.

In the end, Orihime stayed behind as she thought it'd be safer than if she were to be back home. So she had said when asked. Privately, Tatsuki thought otherwise, but she was glad for it. She didn't really fancy spending the night at some stranger's place with just Hitsugaya, Rangiku and Renji. It wasn't like she knew them that well.

Inside the shop, Urahara had provided them with futons. Tatsuki positioned hers next to Orihime's. Said girl had already fallen asleep. As for Tatsuki, she was merely lying down, not yet falling asleep, as it was a foreign environment. Then she heard some scuffling noises to her left. Glancing to her side, she saw Renji sit down on his futon not too far away.

"You okay, Abarai?" she asked quietly, trying to act casual.

"Hn. I'm fine. Been through a fair share of worse incidents."

"I'm wondering… How are you all going to cover up for what happened to my house?"

"If anyone saw… a few memory replacements will do the trick. And you could always say something blew up… like some of those metallic things…"

"And that'll explain why I'm injury-free? Save some minor cuts and bruises?" Tatsuki retorted sarcastically.

"Get Inoue-san to play along with you… like you were at her house and you didn't know why something blew up…" Renji wondered why he didn't tell the raven-haired female to just shut up and let him sleep. He was definitely feeling tired. Had it been Rukia, he would've done that ages ago. But she isn't Rukia, is she? The same annoying voice from before was back again. Renji growled mentally and tried shutting it out once again.

Tatsuki yawned a little. Yeah… it seemed plausible enough. She could work on that idea tomorrow and get some sleep in the mean time. "Mm… Guess you could be right. I'm going to sleep now… Night."

"Bout' time," Renji muttered. "Night." He half expected Tatsuki to come up with a retort, but all was quiet for a minute.

A few moments later, however, he heard a familiar female voice that was clouded with sleep say, "Mm… R-Renji…? Thanks for… saving… me…"

Renji smiled to himself at the use of his given name. It was probably an unconscious move on Tatsuki's part, but it was definitely a good sign. And when the annoying voice heartily agreed, he didn't bother shutting it out.

When the redhead finally fell asleep, there was a contented smile on his face.


Sorry for the long wait. I was... distracted by other things. The next chapter will be the epilogue. It's just a short little story; I'm not inclined to attempt long ones yet. Hope you enjoyed this chapter!

carzla