The basic theme is war and changes. Or, more accurately, Ichigo and his friends during the Arancar/Shinigami war. Several years into it, in fact. Things changed. People changed. And not always for the better.
This is, obviously, a future fic and AU, since it splits form the Hueco Mundo trip onwards.
Warning: Pairings here might be a little bit unusual, and I'm not talking about yaoi - I don't write yaoi in any way, shape or form. Nor will I ever. So no yaoi here. But still, some people will propably scream bloody murder. And I can say that Hinamori fans shouldn't read it. It not only has Hitsugaya/Matsumoto pairing but also the portrayal of Hinamori and her actions in this fic are less than pleasant.
Consider yourself warned.
AN: For some reason the version that went to the site was the unedited one. Sorry for that. This is the version that was meant to be here. Second Chapter will be also edited, since it is also the draft version. Just a mistake.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. Sad, I know.
Her hands shook as she gripped her zanpakuto tighter. It was not from fear. Fear stopped meaning anything long ago. So did carnage, bodies of the fallen comrades and stench of of hollow reiatsu that enfluged the battlefield like a cloud of poisonous smoke.
She was tired. All she wanted to do was to lean on her weapon and rest. She didn't ask much. Just a minute. Just so she could catch her breath and collect the meager scraps that remained of her spiritual power after the prolonged skirmish that turned to be a bona fide battle.
'This wasn't supposed to be like this.' she thought bitterly, though she didn't know is she thought that about the mess that the mission had became or her own life.
'Not like this at all.'
She took a precious second to sweep the battlefield with her weary eyes.
The small force sent here was routine for such an assignment. Find the small breach from Hueco Mundo, assess the damage, contain and seal the barrier.
The Onmitsukido already scouted the area, the mission was deemed safe enough so that only a small detachment had been sent.
Nobody expected the low level arrancar to appear. It was, in itself, an impossibility. A breach of that size allowed only certain amount of spiritual power to pass through, only the lower level hollows.
Nobody expected a Gillian to simply send a cero through the breach. Nobody expected several arrancar, low level, incomplete but still arrancar, to aid the suicidical endeavor. Some died passing through unstable barrier. Some were mangled beyond belief. But those that survived were more than enough.
They sent a call for help, of course. But it was futile, she knew. Seireitei was too far away, and the closest force avaliable was having a hell of a time battling several high level arrancar that deserted the Hueco Mundo's new regime and were desperate to break into living world at any cost.
They were alone. No one would come. They were going to die.
They all knew it.
But still, they were shinigami. Theirs was a sacred duty. Any hollow killed meant less chaos in the living world, less souls consumed, more lives saved.
So they grit their teeth, released their zanpakutos and spat the devil in the eye.
And fought. Fought like demons, like possessed madmen Zaraki Kenpachi would be proud of.
And they died. In droves.
She almost laughed at that. Commander, indeed. She was barely a ninth seat, but after the hollows cut through them, she was the only officer left alive. So she was commander now. Her. The little, mousy Kanzuki Rin, the shy waif from the academy lost in a world she had never suspected even existed.
"What is it, Isamu?" she asked tiredly
"The hollows managed to break through our left flank." Said the young shinigami. At any given time, he would be panicking and sweating bullets, but the battle took it's toll on them all. His usually boisterous manner was subdued and calm. That cocksure grin he usually wore while bullying the mousy little Kanzuki into making his homework during the academy days was also gone.
"This soon?" she raised an eyebrow "Hasty little bastards. Must be hungry like hell." This was a catastrophe. Without anyone guarding their left flank, they were wide open and they both knew that. It was just a matter of time before the hollows exploited that weakness. And when they did, they were going to strike. They were going to come in force to slaughter them all and feast upon their souls.
But damned if she would sell her life cheap.
"Well, if they want a snack, they'll find that the price is higher than they would like. And we'll collect." She said, standing straighter by sheer force of will
He flashed her a small grin.
"Aye, commander." he said hefting his shikai, a long spear "That we will."
"Let's not keep our guests of honor waiting then..." she muttered, Ikezumi warming in her hand, the small embers gathering on the blade again.
'This is it, old friend. You have brought me this far and it has been a hell of a ride. Thank you.' she thought caressing the edge fondly.
The zapakuto's blood red blade vibrated under her touch, the burning ash that could turn enemies into cinder gently warming her hand in reassurance.
There were times when she cursed the weapon, cursed it's very existence as she cried, as she was forced to fight and see her comrades die one after another. Ikezumi was the very reason she had been taken from her comfortable life as Toudai student, taken from her family and thrown headfirst into a bloody, violent war. Being one of those rare souls to manifest the zanpakuto while still alive, she really didn't have much choice in leaving the living world behind for service to Seireitei.
Usually the Gotei 13 would wait for her death before recruiting, but those were dire times. Every soldier counted. And so, Kanzuki Rin, the shy bookworm became Kanzuki Rin, a supernatural warrior in a brutal war.
But as she caressed the Ikezumi, she was surprised that, despite the approaching death, she didn't mind. She saved lives, she met some great people and had seen wonders she never even suspected existed in her short time as a shinigami. And Ikezumi, the spirit of burning ash that lent his might at her call, had been the greatest wonder of all.
Had she the chance to make over, she would have done the same in a heart beat. She wouldn't give up Ikezumi's fury and fiery growl for anything in the world or beyond.
She was Kanzuki Rin. Shinigami, the ninth seat of Ninth Division and she was damn proud of it.
'Our souls, hard yet firm Our power, tearing the mountains Our swords, splitting the water Our names, reaching the villa'
She smiled, hearing the crackling, fiery voice of her zanpakuto reciting the verses. Like that time so long ago when the spirit made of burning embers, larger than life, sound of raging fire in his voice spoke for the first time to the scared girl attacked by something that shouldn't exist.
She didn't understand it then. But she did now.
"Only one among us may stand under the heaven. Such is... the swords man's creed." She whispered, finishing the riddle and giving the crimson edge one last touch.
'You have grown. I am proud to walk with you.'
She smiled. Against the odds, carnage and inevitable death. She smiled, letting the fiery power burn in her for one, last time.
Barely a second later, a cero burst through the Demon Art barrier.
'Shall we?' She thought with a grin only suicidical madmen or warriors backed into a corner but refusing to give up were capable of.
And the embers turned into the bonfire, the slow burn exploded with crimson rage.
"Bleed and burn, Ikezumi!" She growled letting her zanpakuto spit a deadly cascade of burning ash, incinerating first attacker and badly wounding those behind him.
She stabbed Ikezumi into the ground, rising a fiery ring that consumed another foolish hollow that tried to step around her.
"Come, trash! Come and BURN!" She spat, letting loose another deadly torrent of fiery embers from her blade.
Next minutes turned into chaos of fire, power and blood, as shinigami and hollows died. She didn't have time to think, she barely had time to breath, to let her ash loose on the attackers, to block the claws, to avoid the jaws. She didn't have time to so much as assist the shinigami around her. She was to busy bleeding and making others bleed and burn.
It was endless.
For every hollow burned by her ash, another two took it's place. And with every burst of ash, every swing of her zanpakuto, hell - even breath - her reiatsu waned.
And then, the fiery flakes died. The ash cooled. The crimson edge turned dull grey.
A blow brought her to her knees, fiery barrier that defended her no longer present.
She refused to close her eyes as the clawed appendage fell, but her eyes were to blurry with exhaustion to so much as glare defiantly or even see clearly.
But she heard the sound of ripping flesh. Felt the liquid that must have been blood.
'So... that's it...' She thought sluggishly 'Funny... it doesn't hurt at all...
She blinked, trying to get rid of the blood that coated here eyes and saw black.
And two strips of white, one higher than the other. And orange.
'What...?' she thought dumbly, focusing her tired eyes
And there it was.
The obi tied messily over standard gi and hakama, swaying gently along with long, white scarf tied around the neck. The messy hair almost glowing gold in the setting sun.
And the edged monstrosity that was longer than she was tall.
The monstrosity that was swung with lightning speed and inhuman precision, cutting her attacker in half in one, effortless move.
The orange haired shinigami turned his head slightly, allowing her to see the two pools of blue, glowing with reiatsu so potent that even in her exhausted state, even with poisonous hollow reiatsu suffocating the air she could feel it clearly.
"Reinforcements." He said with a grin and then he vanished, his shunpo too fast for her to follow.
Only then, her exhausted mind caught with her.
The giant sword swung with effortless skill... The long, white scarf, rumored to be given by a noble Kuchiki clan head... The distinctive golden hair... The awesome speed and outrageous power...
Her eyes widened steadily as the surrounding hollows, arrancar included suddenly started to bleed, cut in half en masse or simply exploded in gore all around her from unseen cuts.
She had heard the stories about the rankless shinigami, a boy turned death god just before the War. The boy who defeated such powerhouses like Abarai Renji or legendary Kuchiki Byakuya after months - MONTHS - of wielding a Zanpakuto.
Everybody did at some point.
About the legendary speed, battle prowess worthy of a demon and unbelievable power that made the young man equal of any captain level shinigami, despite the gap in age. She dismissed them as tall tales, stories blown out of proportion by others.
Now... Now as she watched a small army of hollows defeated... No. SLAUGHTERED with seconds, she decided that whatever had been told about Kurosaki Ichigo didn't embellish the facts one bit. If anything, it didn't do him justice.
The young shinigami, no older than her, maybe even YOUNGER, if stories were to be believed, was a one man army. Unstoppable force that torn through hollows like a battering ram.
With the last hollow exterminated, Kurosaki Ichigo reappeared from his shunpo, the giant zanpakuto balanced on his arm, aura of power swirling around him, making him look like some fierce god of war straight from the legends of old. As her vision started to blur, exhaustion catching up with her at last, she felt a strong arm catch her, blue eyes last thing she would see before waking up in Fourth Division's infirmary.
Unknowingly to her, that day, the battle, her acceptance of status of shinigami and a blonde man wielding the awesome power would change her forever. She would survive the war. She would thrive on it, learn from it and go forward with an unwavering determination and willpower that legends were made of, refusing to lay down her sword and go back to her mundane life after the war was over.
And when the time came, when Ikezumi burned brighter that the sun, her will stronger than the Seireitei walls, she would step forward to become one of the youngest captains Gotei 13 ever had.
One of the best to come in centuries, as well. A shinigami whose name was written in the chronicles of Gotei 13 among such legends like Hitsugaya Toshiro, Kuchiki Byakuya or Soi Fong.
And always in her mind there would a visage of the blond man, the living incarnation of war and power, pushing her further, keeping her resolve burning strong and bright. To fight to the end. To fight to the last breath. To never, EVER, give up.
"Watch where you're going ya..." The burly young shinigami looked at the large zanpakuto and blinding white of the scarf and paled.
"Please forgive me, Kurosaki-sama!" He said hastily, almost scraping the floor with his topknot as he all but kowtowed to the young man "I sincerely meant nothing by it! I promise never to make that mistake again!
Even the three other shinigami, all carrying themselves in cocksure manner only young fighters were capable of, apologized profusely all the while glaring daggers at their companion, before fleeing the small establishment.
"What the hell...?" muttered Ichigo in confusion, before shrugging and resuming his walk until he reached the familiar alcove.
As always, Hitsugaya was already there, first to arrive. And, as always, he glared at Ichigo as he took off his sampakuto and cracked his neck in relief, sitting down for the first time in several hours.
"You're LATE." The young tenth division captain growled "AGAIN."
"Eh, don't sweat it, man." He waved his hand lazily "We had a scuffle with the Deserters and then I had to bail a squad that got in over it's head at 521."
Teenager's white eyebrows shot up.
"You've been to 521?" He asked with interest
Ichigo nodded, waving at the barmaid for the usual.
"Yeah, Yoruichi-san had one of her 'feelings' " He made quotation marks with his hands, rolling his eyes "So she asked me to investigate. Turned out she was right. Some smart ass arrancar had the bright idea to use a cero at the unstable crack in the Wall. Some even managed to get through, damn me if I know how."
"WHAT?!" Toshiro almost stood up
"Damn. Well that's not of the good." Muttered the young captain with the frown.
"No arguing here, man." Ichigo sighed.
"Have you told Nemu?" asked Hitsugaya.
"Yeah. Last I had seen her, she had been running around with several egg heads from Tech Institute and trying to ascertain the situation. She still doesn't know if that was one time deal and some freak coincidence or not. She promised to get back to me once she did, though." Ichigo chuckled, seating himself comfortably "She was so mad that she was almost spitting nails and her reiatsu was nearly in the visible spectrum. The tech heads looked scared shitless and I don't blame them. Poor bastards. Nemu can be scarier than her old man ever was when she gets like that."
Toshiro shook his head in amazement.
Sure, since the death of her 'father', the young 12th division captain and Director of Institute of Technology allowed herself more expression, but she was still a very stoic person. Actually, unless you knew her well, like Ichigo did, she seemed identical to how she used to be. Part of it might be the fact she allowed only a few people inside her emotional defenses, like Ichigo or, oddly enough, Matsumoto.
'Speaking of the devil...' Hitsugaya thought, spying the familiar blonde mane and cleveage with a smirk.
As always, Matsumoto left the swath of drooling patrons, not a few of them women as she cheerfully... bounced to their usual alcove.
Accompanying her, in a far more subdued manner, was the lithe, black haired figure of Soi Fong.
Without a word, Toshiro poured sake, the best money could buy, sat in a more... stable manner and carefully loosed his haori with a long suffering sigh.
Accidentally suffocating was SO not on his 'to do' list.
Ichigo watched the young captain with a knowing grin.
"Not a WORD, Kurosaki." Hissed the teenager "Not. A. GODDAMN. WORD."
"Sure, sure. Whatever." Ichigo snorted, still grinning
And then, as always when the sake and white haired captain were in sight in such combination, there was a squeal.
"Yo hoo! Taichooo!"
And there was a blonde. And squeezing. And breasts. No, let me show it right. There were BREASTS.
The world, and most importantly certain white haired captain who just got a faceful of cleavage of the gods, knew that Matsumoto Rankigu had arrived.
In a well practiced manner, not even wavering despite being blinded by sight and touch that most Seireitei would kill for, Toshiro reached for the saucer he had just poured and placed in the vicinity of Rankigu's mouth.
As if by magic, the BREASTS ceased their merciless assault and Toshiro was free to breathe, even if the blonde bombshell still leaned into him, balancing on his knees as she drank. Oddly enough, the small difference in height still present between the young captain and his leuitenant was almost invisible when Matsumoto melted into him like that.
Soi Fong took her place next to Ichigo in far more sedate manner, shaking her head slightly.
"No matter how many times I have seen it, it's still one of the oddest and most entertaining things I have witnessed." She said.
"Really?" Ichigo poured her a saucer of sake which she accepted gracefully "I still can't get over the fact that she still calls him 'captain' even after work. If she calls him that in private... Makes for an interesting dynamic, don't ya think?
Soi Fong stared at him, before downing a cup of sake with a blush.
"Pervert." She muttered.
Ichigo laughed, not ceasing even when she slammed his arm in outrage.
Toshiro's glare only made him laugh harder.
"Well seeing as Soi Fong uses her fists on you to make a point... Now THAT is a real interesting dynamic." Matsumoto drawled lazily, saucer balanced in one hand, other absently toying with Toshiro's wild mane, her chin on his arm.
It was Ichigo's turn to glare.
Soi Fong tried to pretend she wasn't there by time honored tactic of hiding behind her cup.
"Messing with the mistress of quips and witty come-backs... I expected you of all people to know better, strawberry." Tsked the teenager with a smirk
"It's not STRAWBERRY, goddamit." Ichigo scowled.
"Suuuure." Matsumoto smirked, taking a long sip without care in the world "Sure it isn't. We believe you."
"It isn't!" growled the young shinigami substitute fiercely
"Awww!" Matsumoto pinched his cheek "You look SO adorable when you pout. Almost as adorable as taicho used to when he got all indignant like that!"
Said captain's eyebrow twitched, vein visible.
"MATSUMOTO!" He gritted out.
"You see what I mean?" Rankigu said to Soi Fong with a chuckle, waving her arm airily before touching her captain's face tenderly, leaning to whisper in his ear.
"Oh don't worry, taicho. Your pout is still number one to me... Like everything else about you." She said huskily, her hot breath making afwul things to his composure as he fought to keep the blush from his face.
Matsumoto noticed the signs and smirked that small, unholy smirk that spelled trouble.
"Oh damn... Here they go again..." Muttered Ichigo, though he was unable keep a grin off his face. The rigid, obsessively hardcase and workaholic Hitsugaya getting bent out of shape by Matsumoto's little touches, kisses and seemingly innocent comments that usually turned to be rather... racy once you were 'in the know' was entertaining like nothing else. Though he didn't go as ballistic anymore as he used to when Rankigu all but waged an all out war of seduction when he was younger, it was still quality entertainment.
Soi Fong, despite her feverent denial, also waited with anticipation for the famous Rankigu-Toshiro interaction. It was like the car crash from a living world she had witnessed once. You just couldn't help but watch in fascination, despite knowing the outcome. And though she wouldn't admit it at a gunpoint, Rankigu was an EXCLELLENT teacher.
Not that SHE, of all people, would use such... methods. Any such notion was ridiculous.
Ichigo felt a momentary touch of dread that passed quickly, leaving strangely ominous feeling. He ignored it. There was nothing to worry about, after all.
Matsumoto breathed into her Taichou's earlobe gently.
Then she slowly, sensually, licked his ear.
Hitsugaya, for the lack of better word, froze, before melting into the seat.
"Mmmm... That's a lot better... I hate it when you're stiff like that. " Muttered Rankigu, nearly purring as she settled on her perch, ie Hitsugaya, more comfortably.
"Evil woman." Said the young captain with a scowl, through he was unable to keep the small, silly grin that kept tugging at his lips before he smirked.
"I thought you liked me all stiff." He said flippantly.
Rankigu almost spat her sake as she looked at Toshiro with wide eyes.
Ichigo whistled slowly.
"Whoa... Shrimp grew some claws!" He said in amazement "When did THAT happen?"
"Indeed." Soi Fong nodded sagely before saluting her fellow captain with a saucer of sake "Good for him." She said, leaning her lithe body into a more comfortable position. That her head practically nestled itself on Ichigo's arm if you watched from a right angle was pure coincidence of course.
And it certainly didn't mean a thing that she was drinking from his cup in slow, measured manner, savoring each drop like it was some kind of exquisite nectar. From the exact same spot his lips met the edge moments before.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned his head to his companion, only to meet the half lidded eyes.
His eyebrows shot up.
Soi Fong smirked.
Yes, Matsumoto Rankigu was an excellent teacher.
He could have flash stepped in here in matter of seconds, but that would be wrong. So he walked through the long lane without resorting to the supernatural, even by shinigami standards, speed he was capable of.
When he walked up to the small alley, full of cherry trees in full bloom, Byakuya was already there, kneeling by the twin graves.
Ichigo would bet that the noble was there long before he was awake.
He had, after all, twice the reason for coming here.
He took off Zangetsu, laying on the patch of grass right next to elegant form of Senbonzakura. He knelt by the grave, whispering a short prayer with closed eyes, before opening them again.
It was odd how the two men so fundamentally different like night and day looked so similar, kneeling by the graves in the exact same manner, near identical scarves on their necks.
Byakuya stood up.
"Come by the main compound when you finish." He said before bowing to the graves and taking off, Senbonzakura in hand.
Ichigo nodded, before turning to the grave and taking a long breath.
He had a lot to say, after all. He always did.
It was ironic, in a way. When the War, for that what it was - THE WAR - started, with it's rampant destruction and carnage, he fully expected to die.
He was on the front lines since day one, he risked his neck day in and day out while struggling with his hollow side.
And for all his power, his 'legendary' fighting prowess, he was still a kid. Still had holes. Still was only human. A substitute shinigami. Even if Yoruichi-san, who had taken on herself the burden of being his mentor, teacher, leader and older sister all at once - for which he was eternally grateful - worked both of them to the bone to patch the holes he had as a shinigami. Brute power and luck was pretty much all he had.
But he was Kurosaki Ichigo. Give up didn't exist in his vocabulary. So he walked forward. He freaking RAN.
Zangetsu swinging, shunpo dipping the world in molasses and reiatsu singing with power as his hollow howled with glee.
Battle after battle, conflict after conflict...
And then there was Hueco Mundo. And the War REALLY started. Things have changed.
It took sheer, dumb luck and Ishida's sacrifice to survive. If not for Chad, overloaded with reiatsu, Ishida's parting gift, suddenly developing his own equivalent of shunpo in sheer desperation, they would have died.
HE would have died. It took Fourth Division nearly a week to put him back together. It took him a month to so much as move normally.
But it was good. It opened his eyes. Made him think. Sharpened his will into a sword as sharp as Zangetsu.
There was a momentary lull in the war. Aizen's resources took a considerable blow, after all. Ichigo knew that he had some time.
Contrary to expectations, he didn't rush. He didn't run. He had patiently waited until Unohana declared him fully recovered, took his zanpakuto - sealed to prevent his escape - and went to find the person he trusted the most and considered his mentor.
Yoruichi's training had been brutal.
Savage in a way that made Urahara's little training session or even his Vaizard training look very tame in comparison.
Urahara was a scientist. A powerful shinigami, but still a scientist. Yoruichi was a warrior from the family of warriors. Born and bred for centuries to excel on the battlefield.
And she was a prodigal talent that appeared once in a blue moon.
She asked questions, she carefully gauged his strength in every possible way, dismantled his style and power to the most basic components and had a good look at his strengths and weaknesses in every possible way, including his hollow side.
And then she crushed him. Shattered him. Pounded him into an unrecognizable paste and remade him from ground up without mercy or remorse.
Basic Kido for reiatsu management. Hakudo for power. Zanjutsu for precision. Hoho for speed.
All this in most efficient, brutal way possible. Every kido spell he had learned had been burned into his body, every hakuda technique had it's own set of bruises and he stopped counting cuts he received from zanjutsu lessons.
Hoho was a nightmare. Ichigo had gotten to know just why Yoruichi was known as the Goddess of the Flash. Intimately. Painfully.
It might seem excessive at first glance but Yoruichi judged him well. Ichigo was the ultimate hands on type. He learned best under pressure, under duress and through the firsthand experience.
So she gave him all of those. In spades.
She shaped him, sculpted him and molded him, turning brute force into precise tool, raw power into a tightly controlled energy. She showed him how to use his savage instincts to the fullest, while refining them on every level. With each spell, each punch, each cut, she turned a powerful, somewhat ungaingly brawler into a warrior.
He was like a hammer before, all power and blunt force.
When Yoruichi finished with him, he was a sword. Sharp. Deadly. Precise.
A living weapon.
Byakuya, perceptive as always, knew from the first glance what his friends dimly suspected.
He looked at him without a word and nodded, before walking away.
He had never called him 'brat' anymore.
Byakuya had, Ichigo noticed during the years of their friendship, a unique talent. It wasn't his prodigal skill with the sword, his minboggling speed that only several people - Ichigo included - could equal, it wasn't his inhuman reiryoku control.
Byakuya could turn even most mundane or stupid thing into an example of poise, grace and aristocratic refinement.
Even slurping on the straw from a nearly empty juice carton. Carton that was now, after the trading with Living World became troublesome, made by Kuchiki ran enterprise. One that, against all odds, brought considerable profits. Not that Byakuya cared. He would have his juice in the carton if he had to walk through Hueco Mundo daily to get it.
Of that Ichigo was sure.
The scarf, Rukia's scarf, Ichigo now wore was a prime example.
The white Kuchiki heirloom was unique and expensive beyond belief. It had been made by a master in the centuries past and there was nothing even approaching it's quality. It was, in a way, a symbol of Kuchiki heir, passed from one head of the family to the next. Then Byakuya decided that Rukia should wear the scarf. But since he was the clan head, it would be against the tradition to just give it to her.
So Kuchiki Byakuya, in his calm, logical way decided to have a new, near identical one made. That it was, by all rights, impossible didn't bother him one bit.
Ichigo often thought that in his own way, Byakuya was one of the most terryfingly illogical, unpredictable people he knew.
He snorted, sipping his own juice.
Byakuya raised one sculpted eyebrow.
"Just thinking... How weird the world is an' all." Ichigo muttered.
Byakuya took another carton and stabbed the straw at a perfect angle.
Duck. Swipe. Backhand. Kick.
Kick. Knife hand to the sternum.
And the flash strafe.
Over a hundred meters in one strafe step.
He was getting better.
Only he wasn't good enough.
The wings of pure energy shattered the ground, sang in the air and turned genius into a being of pure speed.
Not a goddess.
But fast enough.
No zanpakuto. No Bankai.
Service not avaliable.
Please leave a message after the tone.
This was Hakuda.
This was her realm.
But POWER was his.
And some times... It was all about power.
Roar of displaced air as the power danced in tightening spiral, more and more and more and more...
Her eyes widened.
This was almost a double amount needed for her Shunko. Almost.
Air screamed. Power danced with flakes of lightning that lit at random. Vibrating, laughing, howling.
Point of ignition. Flash point.
Yoruichi named it. He created it. And now she saw it.
She smirked, Shunko's wings blooming into full power around her lithe form.
Momentary lightning swept him, touching his eyes, coloring it with brilliant madness of power, of speed and force of spirit.
She smirked and blurred, even to him.
The battle was joined.
He stretched luxuriously, the steaming water a bliss on his tired muscles.
He almost froze when a cool hand traced the line of bruises before relaxing, feeling the familiar reiatsu.
"You leave your right side slightly open."
"I know. I usually use Zangetsu so I sometimes forget in heat of hand to hand battle."
"Heat of battle...is it?" He could feel the smirk in her voice.
"Yeah. So it is."
Her hands vanished for a few seconds before he could feel an odd, oily feeling spreading over his back. It stung lightly.
"Oh do sit still." She groused "Honestly. You get nearly ripped in half and it's okay. A little bit salve and you're all prissy."
"Prissy?" He said incredously "PRISSY?!"
Soi Fong smirked slightly, rubbing the salve to his back.
He was so easy to rile up sometimes. She could see why Matsumoto did it to Hitsugaya.
It was fun.
'Speaking of fun...'
Her smirk got wider and her hands got... creative.
Ichigo had no chance. No chance at all.
In her office the bronze skinned, golden eyed newly reinstated Commander of Seireitei's Special Forces felt sudden urge to break out good sake and wave victory fans.
'What. The. Hell?'
It was fifth time in last three days alone, goddamit!
The house was small. One room. Futon. Kitchen.
If it wasn't absolutely essential, it wasn't there.
Hell, spartan as she was, Soi Fong had more things than he had.
Not like he spent a lot of time there, anyway.
Propably why they arranged it to be at HER home, the bastards.
Ichigo tried to relax. Not like he could do anything about it.
Ikakku. With a disturbing grin that looked disturbingly like 'better you then me' grin as he sat before him.
Hanataro. Who for once looked solemn instead of meek and apolegtic. And it had to be special, since the medic turned warrior was propably changed the most by the war.
And that Kanzuki Rin that he had saved a few weeks ago. Why was she here, anyway?
Ikkaku fought a smirk as he coughed, coming to a fore.
"Kurosaki Ichigo. Substitute shinigami, representative of 13th division assigned to Onmitsukido under direct command of Her Excellency Shihouin Yorichi-sama. You are hearby stripped of your status as substitute shinigami, all of it's privileges and duties effective immideatly. Return your badge."
Ichigo almost stood up in outrage until Yoruichi gave him 'the LOOK'.
With a glare, he took off his badge, sliding it over to Ikkaku, who gave it to Hanataro.
Trying, and failing miserably, to remain solemn, Ikkaku took out an ornate envelope. Breaking the Gotei 13 official seals, he coughed out, before speaking.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, you are hereby officially inducted into ranks of Gotei 13 to the full extent and assigned to Onmitsukido under the command of Her Excellency Shihouin Yoruichi-sama, the Commander of Onmitsukido and given rank-equivalent of Third Seat and the Special Response Battalion Commander. Effective immideatly. Gotei 13 expects you to fulfill your duties diligently and with honor. Congratulations. So ordered by the Supreme Commander of Seireitei Armed Forces and Gotei 13 Commander-General, his Excellency Yamamoto Genryusai Shigekuni and the Supreme Commander of Onmitsukido and Director of Intelligence her excellency Shihouin Yoruichi-sama. Such was given, such was ordered and such it will be."
Ichigo could feel his heart sinking as he watched his mentor smirk. He had no doubt that her devious mind was already rubbing hands in glee with a mad internal cackle.
Soi Fong's face was utterly expressionless, but her eyes had a glint he had learned to recognize as pride.
Those two, both involved and, at one time, commanding the Onmitsukido, he could understand. But what the hell were Toshiro and Byakuya doing here? And he doubted they came to Shihouin Family Compound just to chat.
And why the hell was Yoruichi in her official Clan Robes instead of her skimpy Special Forces uniform or her usual orange jacket and leggins?
'Something is wrong here.' He thought, shifting uneasily.
Yoruichi stepped forward, taking out the Shihouin Family heirloom, the deadly Ginsen, Silver Warfan.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, disciple of Shihouin and Onmitsukido Third Seat. Kneel before your Commander and Family Head." She intoned, her tone official to the core.
'Excuse me?' He thought dumbly, but followed Yoruichi's orders with ease of the long ingrained habit
"Those who follow must listen. Those who order must speak. Those who fight must have courage. Those who lead must have wisdom. Those who win must have strength. Who shall come forth?"
The tone was official, the words ceremonial.
'What the HELL is going on here?'
"I shall." Toshiro came forward, solemn and grim.
"Who are you to come and speak?" asked Yoruichi
"I am Hitsugaya Toshiro, Wielder of Hyorinmaru, captain of Tenth Division of Gotei 13 that defends the Seireitei and all within it." Replied the youth calmly.
"You are indeed worthy to speak." Yoruichi nodded. "For whom shall you speak?"
"I speak for myself and I speak for Tenth Division of Gotei 13 on behalf of the one who stands before you." He said, his words as ceremonial as Yoruichi's.
The silver fan opened, sweeping the room gracefully.
"Will anybody else come forth?"
"I shall." Byakuya's voice cut the air like knife
"Who are you to come and speak?"
Byakuya seemed to grow, to loom over the room like an ivory tower for a moment.
"I am Kuchiki Byakuya, Master of Senbonzakura, Head of Kuchiki Family, captain of Sixth division of Gotei 13 that defends Seireitei and within it."
"Yoruichi nodded, like she did with Toshiro earlier.
"You are indeed worthy to speak. For whom shall you speak?"
"I speak for myself. I speak for Kuchuki Family. I speak for Sixth Division of Gotei 13 on behalf of the one that stands before you.
The fan swept yet again.
"Will anybody else come forth?"
"I shall." Just like with Toshiro and Byakuya, Soi Fong's voice was deeply solemn and ceremonial.
"Who are you to come and speak?"
"I am Soi Fong who was known as Shao Rin, Disciple of Shihouin, wielder of Suzumebachi, mistress of Shunko and captain of Second Division of Gotei 13 that defends Seireitei and all within it."
The words were measured and sure.
"Disciple of Shihouin, shall you speak and stand for the one who is before me?" Yoruichi asked solemnly
"I shall." came the quick reply.
"Shall you spill your life's blood for his cause?"
"Shall you pledge your fist, sword and life for his?"
"To the last breath and beyond, unwavering and unflinching, I shall."
Yoruichi's eyes widened in surprise for a moment, before a glint of understanding appeared in them as her quick mind connected the dots.
She nodded slowly.
"Then indeed, you are worthy to speak. For whom shall you speak?"
"I speak for myself. I speak for the Second Division. I speak for the one before you and on his behalf." said Soi Fong, her gaze hard Yoruichi nodded solemnly.
"So you speak, so it shall be." She intoned. She snapped the Ginsen shut and with a graceful, sinous move slid out of her outer robes.
At the same time, what he always thought was a wall, slid open, revealing large, open space.
All present in the room vacated the area hastily as Yoruichi started circling her pupil, her eyes hard, her grace predatory.
"Can you listen or are you deaf? Can you speak or are you mute? Do you have courage, or are you a coward? Do you possess wisdom or are you a fool? Do you have the power to win or are you a weakling? I shall see it for myself with my own hands. Rise. Rise and SHOW ME!" She roared entering shunpo almost too fast for him to react.
He flash stepped back as the ground he was standing one just seconds ago exploded.
If she had connected, he would have died for sure.
His eyes widened.
This was no sparring match. If he lost, If he faltered... She would KILL him.
There was only one response to that.
The roar of high density reiatsu was dwarfed by sudden explosion and Ichigo cursed as he saw the dust fall, confirming what his senses had felt a moment before.
Four wings of pure reiatsu pulsed wildly and she looked him straight in the eye, her golden eyes torches of awe inspiring power and burning resolve.
But he also had them. The resolve. The power. He had them both.
He grabbed his right arm without hesitation, Zangetsu pointing at his mentor.
"Ban...KAI!" He spat through gritted teeth, feeling his humongous reiatsu reserves explode outwards and compress at the same time, brining forth the Tensa Zangetsu and it's inhuman, even by Shinigami standards, speed.
He lunged at her, sending the Getsuga Tenshou to herald his blows. She batted away the high density energy pulse with bare arms and countered his swing in the middle, shortening the distance.
Their collective reiatsu exploded as they exchanged flurry of blows, defying every law that was about limits to such things like speed or raw force.
Earth exploded, stones were cut and sand vaporized in orgy of violence and power.
Two blurs backed away,
Ichigo was breathing hard, his hakama torn in several places, gash on his brow bleeding.
Yoruichi wasn't unscatched, but in a considerably better shape.
'God... I've almost forgotten just how freaking fast and powerful she is!' Ichigo thought with a scowl, wiping away the blood
"Going against my Tensa Zangetsu barehanded... You areally are something else, Yurichi-shishiou." he said with a smile "But this fight... Is mine!" He allowed the white mask to form as his reiryoku twisted wildly with dark glee and he lunged with Zangetsu...only to be blocked by an outstretched arm.
'WHAT?!' his eyes widened under the mask as an impossibly fast fist struck him like battering ram, sending him flying. 'Fast! Faster than me! Much faster!' Ichigo thought dumbly 'Nobody has that kind of speed...! NOBODY!'
He stared at his mentor and almost felt his jaw drop.
Instead of four, there were eight currents pulsing with unrestrained energy and obvious glee.
Yoruichi smirked, making a "come hither" gesture.
'I'm fucked.' Ichigo though calmly staring at the woman who was about to inflict an unimaginable amount of pain on him in a next few seconds.
'Ah, to hell with it...' he shrugged, hefting Zangetsu and grinning as the black lightning of his Hollow-version Hakkaten arced through him.
"That's it! That's the stuff!" Yoruichi grinned like a loon "Come on, Ichigo! Let's go WILD!"
And so, with the crackle of lightning, the howl of reiatsu and displaced air, they did.
Hanataro's skills came in handy as the medic took care of any more serious wounds. Most of them on Ichigo.
Thankfully, Yoruichi stopped before things got too serious, so both of them were still in more or less good shape.
Yoruichi had vanished into the main baths, but not before ordering Ichigo to clean up and come back to the patio as fast as he could.
He hissed, feeling the hot water washing over his open cuts.
He stiffened before relaxing.
"Goddamit, I swear you are going to give me a hear attack some day. Can't you make some noise at least once in a while? Or flare your reiatsu?" He muttered as slim, naked form of Soi Fong became visible through the steam, a jar of familiar salve in hand.
"You know, if this continues, people might think you're my nurse." He joked
She looked at him, her face unredeable, then she knelt by the huge tub and looked at him stoically for a moment.
Carefully, almost daintily, she put the salve away, before forcefully grabbing his hair with both hands and lunging forwards like an attacking cobra.
"WH-MPhhh...!" Ichigo stopped struggling as she kissed him fiercely for a few moments and relaxed
'Geeez... I'll NEVER figure her out.' He thought absently, before drawing her to the tub without breaking the lip lock and concentrating fully on what he was doing.
He frowned, looking around.
The small room was conspicuously empty.
'Okay... Where the HELL are my clothes?' he thought suspiciously before he spied a carefully arranged stack of clot.
His eyes widened as he reached for the outer layer.
There was no mistaking it.
Those were the Shihouin robes with the full family crest. And not the servant type, either. Those were the hellishly expensive ones with the inner layer capable of serving as the Onmitsukido uniform, similar to the ones Yoruichi herself wore during her official functions as the Family head and Onmitsukido Commander.
And they were obviously his size. And intended for him, as his scarf - the only thing left of his clothes - was there.
'Okay. Now I'm oficially lost. What the FUCK is going on?!'
"Kurosaki Ichigo. You have completed all of the trials set before you. The Trial of Spirt. The Trial of Judgment. The Trial of Courage and, finally, the Trial of Power." Yoruichi smiled, presenting him with a copy of her Ginsen "Congratulations. I am proud of you, Ichigo."
Ichigo stared at the ornamental, but fully functional weapon in his hands in numb shock.
He knew what that was and he knew it's significance. Soi Fong had a similar (though not identical, since each was made for an individual wielder) on her desk. It was her most prized possession. It was a rare weapon, spirit device and a symbol, proclaiming him a friend and ally of Shihouin Family. It was... well, priceless.
During the time Shihouin family existed, only nine were made for non-family members. His was the tenth.
He looked at his mentor before nodding.
His "Thank you" came out a strangled rasp, but nobody - not even Ikakku - laughed.
Slowly, carefully, he opened his fan.
And hissed the air in rapidly in surprise.
On the surface was the unmistakable Shihouin family crest in all of it's ancient glory.
He looked at Yoruichi, not trusting his voice.
Her eyes were laughing.
"Welcome to the family... Shihouin Kurosaki Ichigo." She said with a grin.
He just nodded dumbly and she patted his hand, like one would small kid.
"Never had siblings, but you qualify... brat." She said with a smirk
He was too shocked to protest.
Which was a bad thing, since it might let him avoid what came next.
"Shihouin Kurosaki Ichigo, Onmitsukido Third Seat, commander of Special Response Battalion. You are hereby called to serve Seireitei. You have met with the approval of captains of Gotei 13 and are hereby accepted as worthy of fulfilling the duties of the Captain of the Fifth Division of Gotei 13. Effective immideatly. We await your appointment of the Vice Captain no later than a month after your nomination.
Congratulations on your promotion.
Such is ordered and signed by the Supreme Commander of Seireitei Armed Forces and Gotei 13 Commander-General, his Excellency Yamamoto Genryusai Shigekuni. Such was given, such was ordered and such it will be."
Byakuya's bland, dispassionate monotone could be as well commenting on the weather or complimenting food.
'SHIHOUIN Kurosaki Ichigo?!' His eyebrow started to twitch as he stared at the letter that effectively CHAINED him to Seireitei 'Those sneaky, underhanded...! They KNEW!
Yoruichi smirked and gave him an enthusiastic 'V for Victory'.
He wanted to growl, to throw a hissy fit but... It was bound to happen sooner or later. At least he didn't need to crawl through ranks the normal way. And Soi Fong looked happy.
Well, as happy as she ever got when they weren't alone.
'At least I know why Ikkaku is laughing like an idiot now.' He thought with a scowl, looking at the 11th division shinigami rolling on the ground.
Hakuda: shinigami hand-to-hand combat used by Yoruichi and Soi Fong.
Shunpo: lit. flash step - the extreme speed that looks almost like a teleport that Ichigo and Byakuya are so fond of using.
Zanjutsu: swordsmanship. Shinigami combat arts with the sword.
Hoho: footwork. Shunpo is part of this art.
Kido: demon arts. Spells used by the shinigami.
Shunko: lit. 'flash cry'. Mix of hoho and kido created by Yoruichi, it is extreme level of power and speed comparable (maybe even eclipsing) the bankai. Absurdly powerful, extremely fast and very dangerous. Both Yoruichi and Soi Fong know it.
Hakkaten: lit. 'point of ignition' or 'flash point'. Ichigo's overly wasteful version of Shunko.