"Oh, HOLLOW Night"
I don't own Bleach but I do own the story in this fic and things that are non-Bleach. All the name of places, historical events and other things mentioned which you don't seem to know IRL, are products of my imagination. Any similarities with the actual thing are purely coincidental.
I believe the anime was able to catch up in the manga, but my fic didn't. Lolz. So in this story, it was the timeline after Soul Society arc but before the Aizen arc. I'm not considering the Bountou arc because that part was just a filler in the anime.
Chapter Four: "Same Person?"
Ichigo was gaping. He didn't know what to do nor how to react. Normally, he would rely for Rukia's support but such action seemed impossible with Rukia, herself, involved in this 'little' scene.
How on earth did this happen? Who did this? Ichigo thought as his eyes fell on the piece of paper.
'My little gift. Hope you like it…
…because I did...while removing the other ones you wore.' He ran the words inside his head once again.
Gift? What gift? Ichigo was so confused inside. While removing the ones I wore? Huh?
In contrast to the puzzled orange-haired teen, a certain petite shinigami began gritting her teeth, for she understood it all well. By all gods, she understood it alright; clear and precise.
That bastard! She thought inwardly. How dare he! Even though, it's just my gigai…it is still the same as my body. How dare he!
At the center of the room, Ichigo stood motionless. He was staring down at Rukia's gigai on his bed. The sexy nightgown it wore was starting to take a toll on him…just little—as a man.
Apparently, Rukia noticed this and quickly jumped between Ichigo and the bed which cut off his view of her almost naked gigai. Her arms went up on both sides as she tried to cover the extent of the sprawled body behind her. Her eyes hissed dangerously towards him that if looks could kill; Ichigo might have been dead by now.
"E-to…" Sweat trickled down his temples at the intensity of Rukia's glare. He didn't know what exactly was going on but it somehow felt like it was his fault. "I didn't do anything." He said.
He was expecting Rukia to reply but instead, someone else spoke, another occupant of the room whom Ichigo had almost forgotten.
"Ichigo…" Isshin remarked in a rather serious tone as his hand fell hard on his son's shoulder which caused the latter to jerk upright.
"P—pops!" Ichigo fumbled. "I…! I can explain!"
His father looked at him intently, and for the first time Ichigo saw themselves as father and son by the way Isshin currently carried himself.
"Ichigo," Isshin started once more. "A man should always take responsibility for his actions. You shouldn't be denying the obvious. There's nothing more painful to a woman when her man denies everything after getting what he wants from her."
"WHAT?" Ichigo almost choked. Seriously, his father wouldn't think that he and Rukia had actually…
Then, Isshin suddenly got teary-eyed. "And to think that this girl seemed so fragile and helpless." He balled his free hand into a fist and shook it in parallel to his trembling yet sympathetic voice.
Both Ichigo's and Rukia's brows twitched.
Fragile? The orange-haired teen thought.
Helpless? The raven-haired shinigami's mind supplemented. Me?
The older man continued. "I was so happy that my son had finally taken a step forward towards becoming a man, but I am utterly disappointed with the 'playing innocent' reaction that you are displaying now."
"Playing innocent?" Ichigo's mind was screaming inside. Hell! I didn't do anything!
"How could you not face this as a man, Ichigo?" His father sobbed. "I am really disappointed." Then, he suddenly turned towards the bed, much to Ichigo's and Rukia's horror. "OH, YOU POOR LITTLE GIRL! COME TO FATHER-IN-LAW'S CONSOLING ARMS!" He lurched forward with his arms wide open.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING YOU PERVERTED OLD MAN!" Ichigo shouted and hurled his father away from the bed which caused Isshin to crash unto Ichigo's closet.
Rukia, on the other hand, collapsed on the bed. She sat and exhaled in relief as Ichigo continued to confront his father. She was glad that Ichigo interrupted in time. She wasn't exactly sure on what she could have done if Isshin's hands reached her gigai. Should she possess her gigai now? But she didn't know how to squirm their way out of this 'little' situation. She would rather cover up for hollow appearances than this awkward scene.
"Just when I thought you are being fatherly." The orange-haired teen mumbled as he stomped towards his father's rundown figure.
"Oh, but I am being fatherly!" Isshin immediately recovered despite the obvious bumps and scratches on his body. "Ichigo, you…" But before he could continue what he was about to say, his hands clutched something. "Hmm?" Isshin blinked and gazed down at the area surrounding him.
Ichigo did a double take. Oh, shit! I threw him inside my closet!
Behind him, Rukia was frantic. Ichigo, you idiot!
Isshin studied the perimeter, more specifically, the "now-exposed" closet of his son due to the broken sliding doors where he had landed earlier. "This is…?" There were personalized things inside—feminine things. His father reached out and revealed an opened bag. Incidentally, something fell from the bag…
…a white bra fell from the bag unto Isshin's lap.
Ichigo almost lost his balance and blushed to death the moment he realized what it was, while Rukia stood with her face completely red from embarrassment.
In front of them, Isshin's aura changed once more. This time, in a more dangerous level as one could almost see the flames rising behind him.
"I--C--H--I--G—O…" His father's eyes shone menacingly at him. "This girl has been staying with you, hasn't she?" Isshin slowly stood up. "For how long had this been going on? How long have you been sleeping together under my roof?"
Rukia cringed at the words 'sleeping together' as Ichigo's hollow side's comment swam back inside her head. 'Don't you sleep in the same room as him whenever you are in the human world?' It echoed within her.
"N-no…Pops!" Ichigo gulped. "It is not what you think!"
"And you still deny your relationship with your girlfriend?" Isshin towered over Ichigo.
"Girl…Girlfriend? No!" Ichigo stepped back. "It's just…it's just…it's…" What the hell was he was supposed to say?
This is getting off-hand. Rukia thought as she closed her eyes. Should I intervene? She gazed at her almost naked gigai on Ichigo's bed.
"Ummm…ummm…" Ichigo looked at Rukia who in return gestured towards her gigai as if saying, 'I'm going in'. He shook his head. No…if Rukia joins us, it may complicate things. He thought. Complicate things with that blasted skimpy nightgown. Ichigo was almost too scared to see what Rukia would look like if she stood up from his bed, completely exposed in broad daylight.
"Ichigo," His father straightened himself from the closet's debris. "I would accept the fact that your hormones had finally gotten to you." Isshin nodded his head seriously.
"Ho—hormones…" Ichigo twitched.
"But a man must take responsibility for his actions!" His father's voice boomed. "Look at the poor thing!" He pointed towards Rukia's gigai. "You probably worked her so much that she is too tired to even be awakened by our voices!"
"WHAT!" Ichigo choked as his face displayed different shades of red. Near him, Rukia's cheeks seemed to be having the same kind of reaction towards Isshin's words.
Do something, Rukia! Rukia scolded herself. Do something! Her body shook as she debated on whether to plunge into her gigai or not.
Meanwhile, Ichigo's mind was in chaos. I can't believe how disastrous for Pops to see all of this. But why the heck was Rukia's gigai wearing that thing anyway? What's going on?
'Hehehe…' A voice within him interrupted his thoughts.
Ichigo heard it and was stunned. It made a chill come up his spine. It was as if someone was smiling and enjoying every part of this whole mumbo jumbo. The confused teen frowned. What was that…just now? Don't tell me it's…
[--an image of a smirking white-faced hollow flashed inside his mind --
With his father's lectures continuing in the background, Ichigo slowly turned his head towards the petite shinigami. Unfortunately, Rukia's attention wasn't focus on him any longer. Sweat trickled down her temples as her body language suggested that she was about to repossess her gigai. Ichigo's eyes widened as he switched his gaze from the girl and then to her unanimated gigai. Time seemed to slow down as he watched the shinigami jump towards the bed.
Ichigo didn't know why but the idea of Rukia coming out in the open like that was causing huge panic inside him. It felt as if he was some kind of culprit that in the end, his body moved beyond his control as the confused and troubled expression was replaced by a determined frown. He moved towards his father in one fast motion, almost undetectable by the naked eye and hit the back of Isshin's neck with three swift pokes by his fingers. On an instant, Isshin lost consciousness and fell on the floor about the same time when Rukia entered her gigai. Ichigo grabbed one of his shirts and immediately threw it at the petite girl's direction to cover her exposed flesh.
After that, neither Ichigo nor Rukia spoke. Everything happened so fast and the only thing that could be heard was the orange-haired teen's heavy breathing as he tried to catch his breath for doing something he wasn't expecting to do. Rukia's midnight eyes were fixed at Isshin's still form on the floor as she clutched Ichigo's shirt around her. She was dumbfounded while sitting on the bed.
"Ichigo…" Rukia finally broke the silence. "…what did you do?" She asked in a shocked tone.
Ichigo's shoulders heaved up and down. "I…" He answered in an almost out of breath manner. "…I'm not sure."
"Did you…just attack your father?" She asked as her vigilant eyes studied the scene.
Ichigo blinked and stared down at his father's motionless form. "Did I?"
"Somewhat." Then, Rukia asked once more. "Was that shunpo?"
"I think so." He replied. "Nothing wrong with shunpo, right?" He slightly chuckled nervously. He bent his head and stared at his hand.
"But what followed after that?" Rukia pointed out. This time, she raised her eyes towards him.
Ichigo's hand slightly shook. "I'm not so sure." He said again.
"God, Ichigo!" Things finally sank in which made Rukia jump out of the bed and crouch in front of Isshin's form. "You just hit the vital points in his neck area." She reached out to touch the old man's pulse and gave a sigh of relief. "He is still breathing. For a moment there I thought you might have overdone it. I didn't know that you are capable of doing something like this." Heck, she saw her brother do it, and even Urahara, but Ichigo? The same feeling aroused within her as that time when Ichigo's hollow performed kidou the night before. Since when did Ichigo know how to do these things?
"What do you mean?" Ichigo's voice was weak, but nevertheless he peered at his father and then to Rukia.
"One mistake, one slight slip and you could have paralyzed him permanently!" The raven-haired girl exclaimed.
"WHAT!" He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"What do you mean, 'What'?" Rukia glared at him. "You're the one who did it. Don't you know the risks of doing a technique like that? And to think that you did it to your own father!"
"I…" Ichigo's face was stricken. "…I didn't know."
"What?" It was Rukia's turn to react.
"I didn't know." Ichigo repeated and stared down at his fingers.
The petite girl gaped in disbelief. "You didn't know? But your father could have been a vegetable for the rest of his life. How could you be so reckless?"
Ichigo didn't answer.
"Ichigo!" Rukia shouted demandingly.
"I DON'T KNOW OKAY!" Ichigo snapped and quickly strode out of the room, leaving the petite girl gaping.
Once he stepped outside his room, he shut the door behind him and let himself slide down towards the floor. He covered his face with his hands and bent forward as he sat quietly but he was breathing hard as he contemplated.
What have I done? Ichigo kept asking himself. What did…I do just now?
On an instant, a pair of creepy white eyes dashed inside his consciousness like a flare of blinding light which made Ichigo's body jolt with lingering electricity.
"Shit." He cursed as he violently shook his head. He seemed to have lost the equilibrium of his body as he attempted to stand up but only ended leaning against the wall since his body swayed horribly. He raked his orange hair and tried to breathe normally, trying to clear his mind, only to experience another distinct flash of someone laughing tauntingly.
"Damn you." Ichigo muttered under his breath but the laughter continued within him. "It's morning already." He exclaimed. "Go away."
But the provocative sneer danced inside him which made Ichigo clutch his head. "Go away." He helplessly murmured. "Leave me alone." His surroundings started to spin around him, that before he knew it, he lost his footing and dropped face down on the floor with a loud thud. He couldn't move neither a muscle nor call for help as his senses started leaving him little by little.
He did manage, though, to hear someone calling his name from behind.
"Ichigo!" Worry and shock enveloped Rukia's voice as she burst out of his room.
She seemed to be saying something but Ichigo could no longer make it out as his eyes drooped and everything went black.
Rukia stared at the two adjacent doors. The right one catered a knocked out middle-aged man while the other accommodated an unconscious teen who suddenly fainted in the hallway. It took her some time to place both father and son to their respective beds after giving them emergency treatment. The task wasn't easy considering that she was still wearing the skimpy nightgown.
The petite girl fumed at the thought of the little gift Ichigo's hollow left for her.
"That bastard." She balled her fist as she glanced at the wall clock. Ten hours till sun down. "He'd better be prepared." She stomped left. She stomped right. "I don't care if he is supposed to be someone dangerous. I'll show him how lethal a Kuchiki can be." Dark aura surrounded Rukia as she became engrossed in entertaining various thoughts.
[---Insert Rukia thought cloud here with her chibi self lowering Ichigo's chibi hollow down a hungry mob of ants--
"No…no…not good. It is still Ichigo's body after all." Rukia gritted her teeth. "Damn." She walked towards the front of Ichigo's room and stared at the closed door, then eventually sighed. "What's going on inside you, Ichigo?" She ran her hand on the closed door. The petite girl couldn't explain it, but the orange-haired teen started acting weird after 'silencing' his own father, then suddenly collapsing due to exhaustion.
It was due to exhaustion, right?
Though a part of her pointed out that Ichigo seemed fine while he was confronting his father with their little mess, her study of his unconscious body suggested that he may have exerted himself too much, thus, causing his physical state to give away. He was, after all, up for twenty-four hours straight. A human body could only sustain to a certain degree. And who knew what his hollow side had been up to the whole night.
Rukia had gotten irritated once more at the thought of the cheeky hollow. "I hardly call acquiring a nightgown something that would exert too much energy. Urgh!" She sharply turned around while clutching Ichigo's white shirt around her. She calmed down a bit when she realized that Ichigo threw his school uniform towards her in the middle of the commotion. "I should really change back to normal clothes."
She eyed her surroundings for a moment. It was almost nine and she knew that an hour from now, workers might be arriving to fix the living room. What was she going to do? Greet them when they knock? Seriously, why do these things have to happen?
"And why the heck is soul society being so quiet!" She frustratingly exclaimed as she shook her cell phone which was supposedly her only link back to her division.
But wasn't she supposed to be glad that soul society wasn't checking up on her? After all, how would she explain what 'exactly' happened the night before? Ichigo's hollow was utterly unpredictable and seemed to have harbored a very disturbing reasoning.
"Anything that belongs to Ichigo is also mine."
She recalled him saying.
"Emotions are the very foundation of my strength; Ichigo's and mine. You'd be surprise at the intensity of these hidden feelings Ichigo has inside."
Hidden feelings? Rukia began to ask inwardly. What feelings?
"…The very thing which seemed to have fueled my existence."
Is Ichigo hiding something? The question finally danced inside her mind.
"Shall I demonstrate? …One of Ichigo's most innermost desires…"
Rukia felt her cheeks grew hot. She could still vividly remember how Ichigo's hollow's mouth became so close to hers that if the impossibility of the notion wasn't present, she could have sworn that the crazy hollow was going to…
…was going to… She repeated to herself and squeezed her eyes shut.
"NO!" Rukia suddenly burst out loud as she countered her own logic. "There is no way, NO ABSOLUTE way that hollow is going to do what I think he was about to do." She briskly paced here and there as she stubbornly fought the obvious. "There is no way that Ichigo would even have that kind of 'innermost desire'. No sir, not to me he won't have that desire." She laughed nervously and grasped the knob of Ichigo's door. "Our relationship is completely platonic. COMPLETELY PLATONIC, you hear!"
She stomped back inside Ichigo's room and closed the door behind her. Her eyes glanced over the sleeping teen. Even in his sleep, Ichigo had a frown etched on his forehead that Rukia couldn't help but to wonder if he was really getting some rest.
"Murder intent probably and most likely since human is prone to it." She murmured as she strode towards her things which were now scattered everywhere, no thanks to Ichigo's Dad.
"Good thing Kon isn't here." She rubbed her temples.
[--insert past scene of Kon limply drowned in tears as Yuzu dragged him as they left for camp --
Rukia could almost imagine the perverted stuffed animal peeking from the closet as Ichigo's hollow undressed her gigai. Upon thinking about it, her face grew hot once more and her arms automatically wrapped herself in a jolt.
Forget about Kon, what about what Ichigo's hollow saw?
Rukia's face was all red as she squeezed her eyes shut and screamed.
"DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU TO HELL!"
A mixture of fury, embarrassment and shyness overcame her as she gritted her teeth. Furious because she felt harassed and taken advantage of; embarrassed that the blasted hollow had seen all of her which would greatly contribute to shyness.
Shyness because it was the first time her body was seen by a guy, to that extent.
Shyness because she was not really that all proud of her physique. Not exactly something like what Matsumoto Rangiku has.
Shyness…because it was Ichigo who had seen it.
Rukia shook her head. "Get a grip. That hollow isn't Ichigo. Definitely NOT him." She opened her eyes and looked at the sleeping teen on the bed who didn't even stir even though she had been very loud. "Not him…" She whispered.
"He and I are the same. We are one person."
The crazy white hollow's words echoed within her.
"… given Ichigo's and my current situation, it is only right to say that he is me…and I am him."
Rukia's shoulder's drooped down. A sunken feeling overtook her. It was obvious that Ichigo and his hollow's consciousness were different. Ichigo doesn't have any memory of what his hollow side does, so how could they be the same person?
She knew this and shouldn't worry. So what if the cocky hollow saw everything? It was not like he was another human being. A hollow was just a hollow and nothing more. Defeat them and that would be it. They would permanently disappear.
Somehow this notion wasn't calming Rukia's nerves. It was confusing how her logic was being overruled by her instinct. Something within her kept telling her that this was more than meets the eye. Kurosaki Ichigo was not a normal human. Later on, they all found out that as a shinigami, he was not normal either. And now, as a hollow, he was starting to turn out quite different. Insanely different. Sure he possessed characteristics the same as any hollow would…
…berserk, violent, blood-thirsty, and destructive.
Twisted but it was definitely there. A mind that could analyze, a body that could execute techniques which required more than physical strength, a personality which was slowly getting more dominant than Ichigo's.
"Just what are you exactly?" Rukia murmured.
She thought she had finally got it all down. If there was anyone who would know Ichigo more, she was confident that she would be that person. Though, she had met him not so long ago compared to Tatsuki and Inoue, but after all the things they had gone through, she believed she had seen many sides of Kurosaki Ichigo more than anyone else had.
"Or so I thought." She eyed the teen in question who was still very much in deep slumber.
Every shinigami that became a hollow never came back to their sane self, nor did their hollow side act like how Ichigo's hollow had been acting.
"If it was like any other hollow, I would have been dead by now." She deduced to herself. As much as she hated to admit, she wasn't exactly someone that could be considered as powerful. Her zanpakutou was nowhere near the possibility of being in a released state nor was she a ranked officer. Although after the incident in Soul Society, it became evident that her older brother, Kuchiki Byakuya, had been hindering her promotion, being herself today she doesn't have confidence that she could take on enemies Ichigo and Renji had been fighting. She was above average in kidou but kidou wasn't enough to own the battlefield. Even Hinamori Momo had been clever enough to incorporate her zanpakutou with kidou, being someone who greatly excelled in the art; hence, making her land to fuku-taichou position.
Although, many told Rukia that all was not lost, considering her ordeal which hampered her growth, she was advised to take things slowly and recuperate. Ukitake-taichou was confident that she would eventually discover her true skills and thus, release the power of her zanpakutou.
This notion made the petite shinigami irritated.
"I was told to rest but assigning me in the mortal world again doesn't exactly count as resting." She pointed out as if someone could actually hear her. "Much less facing an ultimately dangerous hollow." She released herself from her own hug and stomped towards Ichigo's bed. "How can I recover and train if you recklessly plunged yourself into another pinch!" She placed a hand on her hip and pointed the other towards the teen's sleeping form. "You're lucky you mean so much to me! If it was another person, I wouldn't have bothered!" Then, she realized that what she said could be easily misunderstood. "In a friendly manner, that is." She added. "And nothing more!"
Rukia scowled and stomped back towards the closet. She started collecting her things and refused to analyze Ichigo's hollow any further. She was tired and the damned nightgown was nowhere near comfortable.
"Why do women wear this kind of clothes anyway?" She muttered under her breath as she briskly stuffed her things inside her bag. "I would rather sleep in a yukata than this."
Then as she continued picking up her discarded things, her eyes fell on something caught in the debris. It was the note Ichigo's hollow left on top of her gigai that morning. She examined the piece of paper and even marveled at the fact that the hollow could actually write. In that moment, an idea struck Rukia.
"Of course! Why didn't I think of this sooner instead of pouting all morning?" She quickly grabbed Ichigo's school bag and fished out one of his notebooks.
She turned the page and placed Ichigo's hollow's note beside one of Ichigo's scribbling, determined to compare the two. It was said that no two people share the same handwriting. Near, yes, but exactly the same, no. It would be as reliable as fingerprint; only, it would be harder to distinguish especially if it was done by a skillful forger, but it was something an expert could tell.
"And I think I really need an expert's help on this one." Rukia remarked. "They look completely the same to me."
Indeed, the two handwritings do look alike. Could Ichigo's hollow be telling the truth after all? About him and Ichigo being one person? The raven-haired girl shook her head.
"No. There must be some difference." She nodded to herself. "These just need to be examined thoroughly." Surely, if the handwritings were different then this would greatly prove that the hollow was wrong, and that he and Ichigo were truly two separate entities.
Rukia's hold on the notebook tightened with her eyes full of determination. If that would be the case then she would be able to throw this argument back at the crazy hollow. Her face reflected raw triumph as a smile crept on her lips. "Kekeke…" She almost sounded abominable at her newly found counter.
Overall, something as small couldn't really be considered as a counter, but at least she had something underneath her sleeves to pull. It was better than nothing.
Then again, a small voice within her momentarily halted her moment of glee.
The plan could backfire at her. What if the tests concluded that the two handwritings were indeed the same? Would this mean that Ichigo and the crazy hollow were truly the one person?
"If that would be the case…" Rukia's brow twitched. "…then Ichigo would have some explaining to do."
She glanced back at the teen's notebook and the piece of paper from the white hollow. "I must get this for Nemu to examine back in Soul Society as soon as possible." And with a determined nod, she stuffed both in her bag and stepped out of Ichigo's room. "But first I need to find a place to safely store my gigai…far far away from that perverted hollow's clutches."
It was late in the afternoon by the time Ichigo woke up. After a little disorientation, he tried retracing his steps on what happened the last time. With this, he could safely assume that he lost consciousness and eventually drifted off into a deep yet dreamless sleep after he stepped out of his room. For the past few days, his slumber had been hallowed and blank. It was as if a pure black mantel enveloped him throughout his sleep. He wasn't comfortable with it and often times he would still wake up exhausted as if he didn't close his eyes at all. During these moments Ichigo would find himself cursing Urahara, but then again, it was he who had placed himself in this predicament. The striped-hat merchant was only trying to accommodate his requests. He was warned, yet he still accepted it.
"Be a man, Ichigo, and face the consequences." He had told himself many times ever since the first transformation.
As he surveyed his room, everything was a total mess. The debris of his closet were scattered everywhere but as soon as Ichigo got up, he noticed that Rukia's things were no longer there. This didn't surprise him. He was counting on it after what happened that morning.
"Why the heck was Rukia's gigai wearing that?" He muttered to himself as he started clearing the mess and tried fixing his closet doors. His frown was ever deeper as he stood at the very area where he threw Isshin which on that instant sent him back to reality. "Shoot! How is Pops?" Worry flashed in his eyes.
He bolted out and checked one room to another. He didn't have to look for long since he found Isshin lying peacefully on his own bed. Trust Rukia to even bother placing them both to their respective rooms.
"Pops!" Ichigo exclaimed and kneeled at the side of the bed.
Isshin was still unconscious which greatly alarmed Ichigo.
"Oi…Pops! Wake up! Pops!" He began to rock Isshin to get some reaction but there was none. Cold sweat started to trickle down Ichigo's neck as horror became evident in his eyes.
Don't tell me… He started to panic inwardly. I really did overdo it. Did I paralyze him? Just exactly did I do anyway? He was back to his previous question.
Morbid thoughts and disturbing conclusions filled Ichigo's head. He felt his world go round and round as worst case scenarios hastily swam his mind.
What if he doesn't wake up?
What if he'll stay like this forever?
What if he did wake up and found out that he couldn't move his body?
What will Yuzu and Karin say?
No matter how immature Pops is, he is still our father.
How can I do this to my own family?
Ichigo was getting drowned with horrible thoughts as he remembered Rukia's words that morning about the technique he used that he couldn't help but to shout exasperatedly.
"NO!" Ichigo remarked out loud.
"NO!" Isshin shouted as well which immediately halted whatever Ichigo was thinking.
"NOOOoooooo!" Isshin exclaimed once more as he suddenly bolted to sitting position with extended arms as if reaching for something but with eyes closed. "Give me back my pancake, Yuzu!"
"Ha?" Ichigo's mouth dropped open.
Isshin continued squirming. "No! No! Yuzu don't be so mean. Papa is only joking!"
Whatever worry Ichigo had been thinking completely evaporated as his father sleep-talked again and again. Irritation replaced his previous expression as he bald his fists with a nerve popping out of his temple.
"YOU OLD IDIOT! HOW CAN YOU DREAM ABOUT PANCAKES AT THIS TIME!" Ichigo hurled a punch straight at Isshin's cheek which threw him right smack to the wall.
---sfx: crash to the wall with bits of cement falling down to the floor---
Isshin's form was embedded to the wall with his hands twitching. On the other hand, Ichigo stood up and turned around.
"Hmph!" He remarked annoyed. "It was stupid worrying about you." He grumbled and placed his hands inside his pockets as he started to walk out of his father's room.
This seemed to have brought Isshin back to life. From the wall, he was instantly standing up with no trace of debris at all and rubbing his cheeks. "I think a mosquito bit me while I was sleeping." He casually said.
This irritated Ichigo some more.
"Oh, Ichigo…you're here." Isshin said as he noticed his son's presence for the first time.
Ichigo refused to look back, he just continued to walk. "Yeah. Yeah."
Isshin blinked for a moment then frowned. "What am I doing here anyway?"
Ichigo halted his steps. Shoot! I was engrossed with his condition that I completely forgot about the incident this morning! He slowly turned his head towards Isshin. His father was deep in thought and frowning. Not good. He has to think of something.
"We were talking in the roof and I told you about moving some things to your room…then…hmmm…" Isshin tried to remember.
"Uh…yeah…" Ichigo became nervous. How the hell was he going to escape this one? He couldn't just do that technique, could he? No…He pushed the thought away. He couldn't even remember what exactly he did, more or less doing it again. And even if he did, he couldn't keep doing that to his own father. He was going to take Rukia's word for it.
"Hmmmm…" Isshin's frown deepened. "I was climbing down the ladder…then…hmmmm…"
"Then?" The orange-haired teen waited anxiously.
"I FELL!" Isshin's face brightened. "That must be it! I fell! Hahahaha!"
"You fell?" Ichigo wasn't sure if he was hearing it right.
"Well…I couldn't remember anything after that, so I figured I must have fallen down the ladder." Isshin replied thoughtfully.
Ichigo was silent for a moment but immediately perked up as his father's deduction finally sank in. "Ha! Ha! You're right, Pops, you fell!" He reached towards his father and patted the older man's shoulders. "It was quite a fall. I was actually worried. Ha! Ha!" He laughed nervously.
"Really?" Isshin had suddenly become teary-eyed. "My beloved son was actually worried about his father?" The tears doubled. "I'm so happy!" He grabbed Ichigo in one very…extremely tight hug.
---sfx: Ichigo's bones cracking---
"I-get-it—al—ready...Now---let-me-g-o…Pops." Ichigo managed to say in between cracks of his rib cage. "Y-ou're—goi—ng-to-ki---ill—me."
"Oh, sorry." Isshin calmly released his son.
Ichigo was out of breath but it wasn't only because of the bone-breaking hug but also due to his mind racing. Was it all a coincidence that Pops didn't remember anything? He asked himself. Or that technique somehow contributed with it? It was also possible that Rukia did her memory replacement thing, but if that was the case then Isshin should have had a weird recollection in place of what really happened. Yet instead, his father deduced that he might have fallen since he couldn't remember anything.
Just what it is you did, Kurosaki Ichigo. Ichigo found himself frowning deeper once more.
"Goodness! What time is it?" Isshin looked at his watch. "Haaaah! It's late afternoon!"
"Yeah, we've been asleep for a while." Ichigo replied.
"We?" His father cocked a brow. "Does this mean you weren't able to talk to the workers when I blacked out?"
"Err…sorta. I fell asleep, too. Guess I was exhausted with all the commotion." Half-true, Ichigo thought.
"Haaaaaaaaa?" Isshin remarked loudly. "Your stamina didn't hold out with such a little thing? Even your nerves? I'm disappointed, Ichigo. Where did all those years of training I've given you go to?"
"Years of training?"
Isshin started boxing and kicking the air. "Yes, my utterly physical training."
"You mean hitting me as you please for the past few years." He replied monotonously.
"You should be glad that I took the time to do it."
"Yeah, yeah whatever. I'll go get some lunch ready." Ichigo ignored whatever ramblings his father continued to say and proceeded to go downstairs.
"Are you really going to be okay in the kitchen?" Isshin's doubtful tone called out to Ichigo.
"I'm just going to reheat some things. It's not like I'm going to cook anyway." Ichigo grumbled and went on ahead. Besides…I still feel guilty about everything. His eyes softened. This is the least thing I can do.
After half an hour of grueling on Yuzu's reheating instructions, Ichigo and Isshin were finally able to eat a late yet decent lunch. His father contacted the workers and rescheduled everything for tomorrow. Ichigo silently prayed that things would go well the next morning. It was not good having outsiders lurking around their house with him in his 'little' condition. The repairs in the living room should be done as quickly as possible. He should think of a counter measure, something that wouldn't involve Rukia out in the open. Ichigo hasn't seen the petite shinigami since that morning and he was sure she must be reporting to Soul Society by this time. He could still recall Rukia's furious face. He knew he didn't do anything to get her upset but somehow it felt like it was really his fault. No matter what he does, he couldn't get rid of the feeling.
"By the way, Ichigo…" Isshin suddenly spoke up as he turned the TV on.
"Hmmm?" The orange-haired teen replied absent-mindedly while chewing his food.
"I had this crazy dream earlier." His father continued.
"Crazy dream about pancakes." Ichigo replied annoyed.
"Ha! Ha! That, too." Isshin cheerfully remarked. "But that was something that happened at the end of my dream."
"Really now." Ichigo said uninterested.
A wide smile started to creep on Isshin's face. His eyes were twinkling as he picked up a spoon and pointed towards his son. "Come to think of it, I don't think it is that crazy."
Mischief was all over Isshin's façade as he made sure to see what his son's reaction would be once he spilled everything.
"I dreamt that you eloped with a girl and have been living with her for quite some time now!" Isshin finally said which made Ichigo choke on his food.
His father continued as Ichigo grabbed a glass of water. "Hahaha! It was really something! In my dream I caught you sleeping with her!"
"WHAT?" Ichigo was finally able to swallow properly.
"Yes!" Isshin remarked happily. "It was some sight. I didn't exactly catch you doing it…"
By this time, Ichigo's face was beginning to turn ted.
"…but I do catch her sleeping on your bed wearing a very skimpy nightgown." Isshin nodded his head.
Ichigo didn't know how to react in this particular situation.
"But I got angry because you've kept it from me." His father's shoulders fell. "Something this important you were able to hide from your old man?"
Don't tell me he is actually remembering it? Ichigo wondered to himself.
Isshin's happy expression was replaced by a sorrowful one as he stood up and leaned across the table with his face inches away from Ichigo's. "How could you do this, Ichigo?" Tears threatened to fall from his eyes. "How could you leave me out? I would gladly accept any woman you'll love. The life of my future grandchild depends on it!"
"Yes!" Isshin clasped his son's hand. "How long will make your old man wait? When I am going to see my grandchild? I'm not getting any younger, you know."
"I AM ONLY FIFTEEN! How could you ask something like that!" Ichigo retorted.
"But at the rate you are going, I doubt if women will come flying towards your direction." Isshin replied with a very serious expression on his face. He crossed his arms as he sat back on his seat. "They would only end up running away from you with that scary face." His father looked at him thoughtfully. "Why don't you smile once in a while?"
"I do smile!"
"But not without that intense frown." Isshin motioned to the area between his eyes.
"This is how I am and this is how I will ever be." Ichigo retorted.
"I don't recall you smiling that way to your mother before."
Upon saying this, Ichigo looked down on his plate silently. Isshin immediately realized his mistake. "I'm sorry. That was way out of the line."
Ichigo looked away.
"Well then!" Isshin perked up once again. "I don't mind if you bring home a grandchild for me from now on. Ha! Ha! Ha!" One heavy hand landed on Ichigo's head and ruffled the orange hair, almost making Ichigo's face land on the half-empty bowl of soup in front of him.
This seemed to bring Ichigo back to his old self. "Stop asking for stupid things!"
"Asking for a grandchild is not stupid." His father grinned as he stood up to place his soiled plates in the sink.
"It is if you are asking a highschooler!" But alas, Ichigo's qualms were sent to the oblivion as Isshin appeared to be whistling and not listening to him any longer.
"Che!" Ichigo stood as well and began to clear his area. What a troublesome father. He thought, then on reflex gave a quick glance at the area where his mother's picture used to hang. Smile like that, huh? He closed his eyes. I think I already forgot how to do that.
"Say Ichigo, could you turn up the TV. I want to hear the news." His father called out.
"Ah." He picked up the remote and turned up the volume.
Late afternoon local news became evident as father and son went by to do their small chores. They were all common; traffic accident, law debate by government officials, housing projects approved. They were things that came passing through Ichigo's one ear then out the next. So with a bored expression, he went to the fridge and opened a can of soda.
"Nothing's new, Pops. Same 'ol same 'ol." He drank from the can and was about to change the channel when something unbelievable came up in the news.
"Theft in a lingerie shop in Nagasaki Prefecture was reported last night."
"Nagasaki?" Ichigo eyed the announcer. "Why would people from Kurakara be interested in something which happened all the way from Kyushu? This isn't exactly a national network." He took another sip of his drink, prepared to switch the channel any moment now.
[the news report continued
"It was no ordinary theft or rather it was a peculiar theft when the thief was only interested in getting one item from the shop. What's more is that the thief was reported to be a very scary character carrying a huge life-size blade on his back which greatly alarmed the people inside the shop. Here is a still capture from the surveillance camera."
This made Ichigo spray soda from his mouth towards the television set.
Before him a still image of his white hollow self was smiling insanely towards the surveillance camera as if it knew what the thing really was.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Ichigo dropped his drink, uncaring if it spills all over the floor, and grasped the television set. He stared at the mirror image of himself except for the white face, irises and crazy grin.
The image shrunk towards the right side of the screen and the newscaster became evident once again.
"According to the saleslady who attended to this person, it wanted the new lingerie in the window display. The saleslady, not exactly sure of the scary character's motives asked what size it would like to have. The shop owner, however, was alarmed at the huge sword it carried on its back that she immediately contacted the police."
Ichigo was gaping. Lingerie…
[---image of the sexy nightgown Rukia's gigai was wearing that morning flashed inside his mind. ---
"What the hell? Ichigo, the TV is dripping wet!" Isshin's voice brought Ichigo back to reality.
"Wha…what?" He replied absent-mindedly, then finally realizing that Isshin was pacing towards his direction. "Oh!" Ichigo quickly rubbed his sleeve on top of the television set to get rid of hazardous liquid that might penetrate the electronic device and at the same time, to block his father's view of the news report. His hollow side might be all-white but they still have the same face.
"While this was happening in the background, the character dressed in all white demanded the saleslady to give him the smallest size available. But apparently, the saleslady needed more information to accommodate his request…"
"Oi Ichigo, what are you doing over there?" Isshin was looking at him, bewildered at his son's sudden weird body language.
"Um, ah, nothing!" Ichigo quickly pulled the plug of the television set before his father hears more of the news report or worse, see the image capture from the surveillance camera.
"What the?" Isshin was startled at his son's brisk action.
Without looking at his father, Ichigo grabbed the TV and plunged outside.
"I think I sprayed too much soda! It is better not to use it for a while and let it dry off outside!" He replied to his father as he scampered out of their house, leaving Isshin wondering what exactly happened just then.
Once outside, Ichigo was panting. He held the TV tight in his arms with his face pressed on it. Images started flashing inside his head one after another in a fast rhythm.
…that morning with Rukia's gigai on his bed.
…the lingerie it was wearing.
…his face close to Rukia's at sunrise on the rooftop.
…his hands touching something.
"W-we…need your girlfriend's measurements, Sir." A scared-looking lady wearing the shop's uniform asked. "It is…that kind…of nightwear." She looked as if she was going to faint.
But Ichigo only heard a snicker in reply; that one familiar crazy chuckle which he dreaded ever since they went back from Soul Society.
The orange-haired teen was silent for a moment. His head was bent as he let the sun drown him. He paced towards the front of their family clinic and slowly placed the TV down on the ground as he, himself, crouched near their gate. His hands flew on his head and grabbed it hard. He bent forward, his face flushed as he shut his eyes. He continued to be in this position for quite some time until finally…
…in a whisper, he spoke.
He gritted his teeth and almost pounded his head on the ground. "Damn it." He cursed.
Somewhere at the slanted world inside Ichigo, a white hollow laid in relaxation on one of the buildings. He had his head propped up one hand while he swung his white zanggetsu casually by the white ribbon on the hilt. The same mad grin was carved on his face together with the white irises of his eyes which greatly reflected craziness and violence.
He seemed to be looking at a mirror which was showing someone's feet with orange hair covering most of the view.
"One hour to go till sunset." He said with a never ending smile. "Tick-Tack Tick-Tack…Ichigo." And with this, he insanely laughed which echoed all throughout the slanted world, making the windows of the buildings shake in synchronization.
To be continued…
Finally! I was able to update this. To be honest, this chapter had been three fourths finished for quite some time now. But for some odd and unfortunate reasons, it kept being held up from getting updated. Anyway, to all you Bleach fans who like this fic and would like this to get updated faster, since using a poll is a bit overruled considering that my other readers from other fandom/stories always win, we've come up a new scheme. My thread in Gaia Online (url found in my profile) had hit one hundred pages and I've given the privilege to the one hundredth page first poster to choose which fic gets updated next. It was suggested by the regulars to do this and to continue doing it every 10 pages. Hence, not only will it promote activity within the thread, it would give chance for people who like to read other anime fics (namely Bleach and Gakuen Alice) to get their favorite story updated.
As of today, July 14, 2007, it is currently in page 108. Two more pages to go before it hits 110. After uploading this, I'm hurriedly going to write 'Inc's next chapter since it was first poster of page 100 requested. I hope before the thread reaches page 110. I'll be able to accommodate that poster's request.
That would be all.
R and R Onegai Shimasu!