Author's Notes: Just like with 9, this one was a struggle, had to write and rewrite the same bits over and over, and although it's not quite what I wanted it to be I decided to post it anyway, if I messed with it any more I'd end up scrapping the entire thing, so it's best for me to put it out there and try and make up for short comings with future chapters.
Thanks again to everyone who's been expressing interest in the story even after the stupidly long break, and thanks as always to Von Doomsatan for hassling me to finish it every night.
It was late when the Senkai reopened, late enough for most of the light to have faded and dark enough for the light of the tunnel to cast the street in quite artistic relief.
It was a picturesque scene deserving of being put to canvas, but like all paintings it had it's own version of the drunken critic that spoils it by vomiting on the canvas and passing out in the gallery.
In this case the 'drunken critic' was Kuchiki Rukia, the vomit was a badly off-key song, and the passing out was yet to come.
"Shooooow meee the waaaay to goooo hooooome, i'm tiiiired and I wanna go to beeeed. I had a cocktail of drugs about an hoooour agoooo and it's gone right to my-"
Ah... There's the passing out.
Ichiko struggled to support a heavily sedated Rukia as she slouched on her shoulder and muttered incoherently. It was an odd state of affairs but considering the volatile mood Rukia had been in before, dragging her around was much more preferable to more of Ichiko's internal organs being badly bruised.
"Oh man... why did Unohana have to give you so many mood stabilizers?" Ichiko took a minute to jiggle the limp Shinigami into a more comfortable position, but Rukia squirmed at the mention of the 4th Captain and growled in a slurred manner, making her sound like a broken washing machine.
"Daaaaamn that... Unohana..." she grumbled while attempting to shake her fist, "Next time... i'll.... i'll...."
"Ah... that was why..." Ichiko was reminded of the rage Rukia got into when Unohana accused her of being jealous of Ichiko's boobs. It'd taken seven Shinigami to hold her down, and poor Hanataro had received a broken nose while trying to administer an injection.
"Geez... if only you could get that angry during a fight I wouldn't have to keep saving your non-existent ass."
"I've been told I have a rather nice arse!" Rukia protested at the ground.
"Really? Who was so lacking in taste to make that statement?" Ichiko thought it was worth having some fun with Rukia's inability to distinguish insults.
"Renji! That's who."
"Pfft... figures... he thinks Zabimaru has a nice arse."
"Zabimaru DOES have a nice arse!"
"Okay, you're definitely in loopy land right now." Ichiko picked up Rukia and threw her over her shoulder in a fireman's carry. There was no way she was going to be able to walk on her own, "Lets get you home before you start confessing anything you'll regret, or before you think the trees are talking to you."
"The sky has a mouth!" She was beginning to sound like a hippy from Woodstock, "It's so beauuuuutifuuuul!"
"Really? Uh-huh, that's nice." this was going to be a long walk home. Ichiko was tired, both physically and mentally and really wasn't in the mood for this shit thanks to having her last hope for change being shot down by the Bill Nye of Soul Society.
"Are you listening?!" Rukia feebly elbowed Ichiko in the head. Not hard enough to hurt but enough to annoy. It looked like humouring her was the only way to get a semi-peaceful journey home.
"Yeah yeah... Mouth in the sky... what's it saying?"
Ichiko suddenly stopped and turned her head.
"It said panties!" Rukia sounded very sure of herself despite the drugs, "Listen!"
Ichiko listened carefully, wondering why her stomach was doing flip-flops at such a simple word as 'Panties'. The shopping trip hadn't affected her that bad had it?
Ichiko listened for a long moment before she finally heard the familiar sound of Styrofoam being rubbed and torn. It was the sound of reality being forced aside, and she knew even before she looked up that a gargant had opened and a hollow was coming out.
Ichiko's eyes slowly turned upwards towards the tear, and what she saw froze the blood in her veins.
"I-It can't be..." she stammered feebly.
"PANTIEEEES!" the Hollow bellowed as it spotted the two women and dropped down with a earth shaking thud in front of them.
"Didn't Toshiro kill you?!" She looked the Hollow up and down and then quirked an eyebrow, "Oh you've got to be kidding me... who the hell made you an Arrancar?!" Ichiko moved back slowly towards cover, so she could put Rukia somewhere safe and get ready to fight.
"Shiro-chaaaan didn't kill the pervy Hollow," chimed in Rukia, "He hurt it, but it ran away before he could finish it off."
"Great..." Ichiko put Rukia behind a corner of the intersection they were at and drew Zangetsu. She dropped into the fighting stance that Matsumoto had shown her briefly and tried to remember the tips she gave her. In the short while that she had been able to practice the new fighting style, she had been able to find a way to return most of the weight to her strikes that had been taken by the need to alter her grip and movements.
"You're going down this time for sure. I'm not as unprepared as last time."
"Aizen-sama gave me a bigga bag and took my mask off, so I can carry more swwwwwwweet panties and mmmmmmm sniff dem all da betta!" the Panty Thief Arrancar licked its lips obscenely with its freshly regrown tongue and got ready to strike with its long, spindly fingers.
Ichiko struck first, running forward between the Arrancar's hands before it could try to grab her and aimed a lateral slice at the Hollow's stomach, but the monster was quick and shot out its tongue at the nearest building, and used it like a winch to drag itself away from the sweeping arc of Zangetsu.
The Thief pushed off of the building as soon as it reached it, launching itself in whirling mass of grasping digits at Ichiko, but she managed to bat the hands apart with her blade and brought the blade back down in a diagonal cut across it's mask, but it kicked off the ground and back into the air like some kind of gigantic frog, making the tip of Zangetsu barely nick the smooth white of the remaining jaw of its mask.
"Damnit! Make this easy on yourself and keep still!" yelled the redhead as she jumped high into the air, following her adversary with an upwards stroke that she knew wouldn't connect, but would drive it downwards, and right on cue it shifted and leapt down towards the street, closely followed by a blue-white flash of light and a cry of 'Getsuga Tensho!', but the blast missed and instead just carved a deep gouge in the road surface, and the monster disappeared from sight in the resulting cloud of debris.
"Damn it! Why are my reactions so slow! I'm faster than this!" Ichiko had to admit that her limbs felt heavier than usual, and it wasn't down to fatigue generated by a long and annoying day. She had been through worse and still fought better, but now she felt like weights had been attached to her limbs, and even her mouth felt sluggish as she had shouted the name of her attack.
"Hey there, partner. What's the problem?"
The voice seemed to come from all around her, but she knew it was just in her head.
"You!" she hissed through gritted teeth.
"What's wrong? Not pleased to hear from me again? You look like you're having some problems fighting. Maybe you should let ME take over for a while!"
"T-The hell I will!" so that was it, her inner Hollow was slowing her down, like she had during her first encounter with the Espada at the crater. She had nearly gotten Ichiko killed that day for the sake of amusement and making a point. This was definitely not a good time for her to try the same thing again.
"Now that creates a real problem," Hichiko snickered, "Because I'm really in the mood for some fun, and you being a party pooper isn't helping."
"Can't you get your jollies some other way?" there was a flash of movement in the corner of Ichiko's eye and she turned to face it just in time to see the Panty Thief leaping towards her with arms out stretched with an easy to exploit opening just perfect for a killing stroke.
Just another moment and she'd finish off the freak.
"I've got an idea! Why don't I let this guy... 'get you in the mood'. Maybe you'll be more inclined to play after he's had his way! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"
The previous weight of Ichiko's limbs was nothing compared to what she felt now. It was as if she had chains attached to her limbs and each one had one of the protection squads hauling it against her movements.
"D-Damn it!" she stammered as she fought to get Zangetsu up in time. Her chance for a strike was gone, all she could hope for now was to block the worst of the blow.
The Arrancar slammed into Ichiko with considerable force, and dropped her from the sky like a bird at a hunt.
Ichiko struggled to move but couldn't stand, she felt as if an elephant was stood on her chest, holding her down in the small crater that had been formed in the road from her impact.
"S-Stop this!" she stammered, "This isn't the time for your games! You'll get us killed!"
"Ooooh no I won't, I know you'll have to give into me eventually, and when you do I won't be so easy to shake from the saddle as last time, cowboy!" The insane laughter made Ichiko sick to her stomach as she looked up at the Arrancar towering over her, ready to do it's worst.
"So what'll it be? Keep your pride but let this thing do the dirty with you? Or save your womanhood and let me paint the streets with its BLOOD?!"
"I won't give in...!" Ichiko's reply was feeble as her arms refused to move so much as an inch. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't lift her zanpakuto, and the Panty Thief was salivating profusely in anticipation as its long fingers began to slowly open up her already very revealing kimono.
"Mmmmm you still smell frrrrrrresh!"
"No...! Not like this!" Ichiko had never felt so afraid in her life. She was trapped between a rock and a hard place, both as bad as each other and she was about to be crushed between them.
Her salvation arrived not a moment too soon, and it arrived in the form of a flutter of shining pink.
The Panty Thief howled in pain as the hand that was probing Ichiko's kimono exploded into thousands of time fragments, and the beast reeled back as it sought out the location of its new assailant.
"Wot is dis?! Who dere?!" it raged as it's exposed brow furrowed in anger. It's answer was a flash of steel across its other arm, severing the limp clean off, but before it could howl again another strike cut it clean down the centre of its mask.
Ichiko followed the line of the strike downwards and caught sight of a figure in a white hoari as it sheathed its blade.
"Hmph!" grumbled Hichiko from the recesses of her mind, "Looks like my fun is over for now... but don't think you're rid of me... you WILL be mine..."
Slowly the weight lifted from Ichiko's limbs, but she didn't move, instead she laid still trying to catch her breath as her chest became lighter, and watched her saviour as he turned towards her.
"B-Byakuya?!" she stammered in exhaustion, noticing the distinctive hairpiece and neck scarf of the stern faced Taicho.
Byakuya ignored her, much to Ichiko's chagrin and instead walked past her to check on Rukia, who had been too out of it to help, and despite the danger of the last few minutes was happily talking to a moth that was fluttering near by.
"Are you alright?" Byakuya asked his sister as he knelt beside her with an uncharacteristic look of concern on his face.
"Niiiii-samaaaaa!" she said cheerfully as the moth landed on her upturned palm.
He wasn't sure if she was talking to him or the moth.
"I'm fiiiiiine, I'm fiiiiine. It's good to see you again." Byakuya raised an eyebrow as Rukia began making kissing noises at the moth.
"You don't sound fine. What happened to yo....u..." Rukia ate the moth. Byakuya looked mortified.
Byakuya turned his eye to Ichiko with a venomous look that she couldn't help but feel was designed especially for her. He seemed to pull it out whenever they met, which not surprisingly was whenever she and Rukia got into trouble together.
"What have you do to her?" he intoned dangerously, "I saw you leaving the 4th Division together, what did you do to her?"
"Wha-? Me? I didn't do anything! Captain Unohana gave her the sedative. Don't be so quick to point the finger!" Ichiko shifted in the rubble of the crater to try and get up but didn't succeed.
"Oh, and I'm fine too, thanks for asking." she added sarcastically.
"You're not from my squad so your well-being is none of my concern." he said flatly, and Ichiko couldn't help but think that he wouldn't have cared even if she was from the 6th.
"Who are you and what squad are you from? No one other than Rukia and that reprobate Kurosaki were authorised to go through the Senkai, I'll be sure to report your unauthorised absence to your Captain." he seemed to be taking too much pleasure from the prospect of seeing an underling be punished. Was this his way of protecting Rukia? If it was Ichiko hoped he would go back to not giving a shit.
Rukia suddenly sat up and laughed heartily like that idiot ghost hunter and clapped her brother on the shoulder in a way she never would have dreamed of doing if she had been in possession of her wits.
"Oh Nii-sama, that IS that reprobate Kurosaki-chan!" she slurred cheerily before flopping back down.
Byakuya stayed silent for a while, evidently trying to summarise whether she was talking complete bollocks or if the sentence had had a hidden meaning, but when he looked up with a cocked brow at the prone red head who still lay in the crater, he noticed the similarities and the look of bafflement turned into an expression usually reserved for when one man walks in on another man dancing around in women's underwear.
Ichiko could have refuted the fact, she could have told Byakuya that Rukia was completely delusional and that she just happened to look like Ichigo and was no real relation, god knows Byakuya was one of the last people she wanted to know about her predicament, but as she opened her mouth she realised that he was beyond convincing, and so she ended up blurting out something that at the time seemed like something that really needed to be cleared up.
"I didn't have an operation!"
A while later all three of them were back at the Kurosaki house hold, which thankfully was empty. Her father had agreed to cover the night shift at the hospital and her sisters had gone to their friends houses for the night, leaving the three Shinigami to suffer through their uncomfortable silence in relative peace.
Byakuya had originally only come along to carry the still insensible Rukia due to Ichiko being too beat up and tired to carry her, but he had ended up declaring that he was to spend the night in the 'quaint' house. He didn't say why but to Ichiko it was rather clear. Byakuya was possibly the only person to consider the fact that even though Ichiko's body had become that of a girl, his mind was still that of a boy, and as such he was still subject to the temptation of an inebriated woman sleeping in the same room, although nothing could have been further from Ichiko's mind even if she still had the equipment to take full advantage of the situation.
One thing that had surprised Ichiko was that despite being an over-privileged noble and aware that Ichiko was really a boy, he had taken the chivalrous route and volunteered to sleep on the floor instead of booting Ichiko out of her bed and claiming it for himself, but despite the apparent selflessness of this it still couldn't cover over one very disturbing fact.
Ichiko had a very very very old half-naked man sleeping in the same room as her.
She wasn't sure if it would have been considered even worse if he had been a guy with a very very very old half-naked man sleeping in the same room as her, but either way this situation was loaded with potential danger like a truck stop sandwich... or a truck stop in general.
Ichiko had provided as many of the essentials for a stay over as she could, a futon, a toothbrush, and even a pair of her fathers pyjamas which Byakuya had stared at for several minutes as if expecting Ichiko to burst out laughing and say 'only joking' before handing him something suitable to wear, but when a punchline didn't materialise he accepted them without another word and went into the bathroom while Ichiko got herself ready for bed. Rukia had simply been deposited onto her bed as all attempts to undress her had resulting in varying degrees of flailing and accusations of a sexual nature. Ichiko was forced to admit that Byakuya's reaction had been funny as hell when Rukia suggested a game of hide the sausage. He'd never let her live that one down.
It was some time past midnight and Ichiko was still awake, her mind refused to shut down despite feeling like dead weight right now, and the dull ache in her limbs had faded to a blissful numbness but still her body was active as if expecting an attack from an unseen but somehow sensed predator.
Ichiko wished the unseen predator could have been a metaphor and nothing more, but it was real, it was a cancer inside of her that clawed at the casing of her mind, breaking that seal of sanity that kept it in check.
"What's the matter, Partner? Can't sleep?" Ichiko didn't reply to the monochrome presence within her mind, "I don't blame ya, must've been quite a blow to your confidence not being able to take down a pathetic excuse for a hollow like that one today. I'd be laying awake feeling sorry for myself too if it happened to me." Still she said nothing.
"You just don't get it do you? You can't win against me. Every time you use your bankai, every time you draw on Zangetsu's strength you make it easier for me to get control of you. Every time you build up the strength to cut your enemy you cut yourself. Every time you burn their bodies with Getsuga Tensho you burn away your self-control... and I'll climb through those holes. I'll tear open your wounds, I'll lap at the blood and I'll keep feeding and tearing until there's nothing of left except for me!"
"I won't let you..." Ichiko whispered to the ceiling, more to try and convince herself than the Hollow within.
"Oh please, you don't have the strength! You're a coward! I was going to take things slow, take my time in tearing you apart, but I can't stand to see such a shit excuse for a Shinigami moping around! So I'm gonna start coming for you quicker, not just week by week, but day by day, hour by hour, and in no time you'll be mine!" the Hollow chuckled lightly, making the jovial expression sound like the last exhalations of a drowning child.
"Don't believe me? Maybe I should demonstrate how easy you are to control."
"What are you going to do? Stop me fighting again?" Ichiko furrowed her brow as she spoke aloud, the memories of her ruined battles came flooding back and she felt sickened for being driven so low when her friends needed to be defended.
There was that horrible laugh again.
"Stop you fighting? Why would I wait for you to get into another scrap when I can have just as much fun here?!"
Ichiko tried to think what her Hollow could mean. Was she going to attack Byakuya again? Was she going to try and settle her old score? Or maybe Hichiko would go after the defenceless Rukia.
"Not quite." the Hollow laughed as it read her every thought, and gave her one of its own.
Ichiko's eyes opened wide in horror as it revealed its plan in a single image.
"I am!" suddenly Ichiko's limbs became leaden as they had before, her entire body felt as if it would be crushed under its own weight, but a moment later the weight lifted completely and she felt as though the ties had been cut completely allowing her to float away from her body yet remain within it.
She fought to grasp the mental controls to her body, but Hichiko threw her away and slumped into the proverbial driver's seat.
Byakuya had slipped into a peaceful sleep despite being in a room with someone he didn't completely trust, but all concerns were washed away as wonderful dreams of a better time filled his mind.
It was a beautiful summer's evening, the heat of the day was diminishing as the sun began to dip towards the horizon and he and his wife sat together in the garden of his home drinking tea and simply enjoying each other's company.
They talked little but the silence was not uncomfortable, and as the sun dropped out of the sight and the servants lit the lamps in the garden Byakuya held Hisana in an affectionate and loving embrace that was for her and her alone.
Hisana looked up at her husband with a glimmer in her eyes that spoke of a thousand promises of pleasure, not a single one of which he could refuse, and without a word he picked her up and carried her to their bedroom.
Many would think that Byakuya was against such lude actions, even if they were performed in the name of love, but Byakuya, like many nobles, was only opposed to them being talked about openly or shown around. What happened behind closed doors was his own business, and when it came to Hisana a lot happened behind closed doors.
This dream was one of his favourites, a mix of memory and fantasy, small details had been glazed over to make the scene perfect and every moment was an eternity of bliss... but something was wrong this time.
The first oddity was Hisana's touch, it some how... felt real this time, the next was that even though her hands moved to his shoulders the sensation of her touch stayed on his chest. The feeling of nails lightly being traced along the lines of his well toned chest, and down onto his abs was so pleasant, yet distracting too. His mind began to stir, and reluctantly his mind drifted away from the dream as it sought to locate the origin of this pleasurable touch.
Byakuya stretched a little as he slowly began to wake and moaned the name of his wife lightly, and eventually opened his eyes.
A woman sat straddling his waist, her hands teasing his torso tenderly as she planted tender kisses along his muscular chest.
"Hisana... that feels wonderful..." he mumbled with a sigh and gently stroked her hair... her short hair... Byakuya slowly looked down... her short orange hair...
Kuchiki-Taicho was afraid of no man, but this woman turned his blood cold in terror.
"K-KUROSAKI!?" he blurted in shock.
"Come on Byakuya-cha~n, forget about your dear wife. She's gone, but I'm here, and I can give you everything she can't. I can do things to you she never could."
Byakuya flinched as Kurosaki looked up at him and grinned a grin that was filled with a thousand promises of forbidden pleasure, not a single one of which didn't terrify him.
He looked at her eyes and saw the familiar black orbs with their piercing yellow irises and flinched.
"You! You're not Kurosaki! You're-!" finally he recovered from his shock and quickly scrambled out from underneath her until he was trapped up against the wall behind him.
"What does it matter who I am when what I am is so much more interesting. And what I am is a girl who need a strong man like you to make her feel like a real woman!"
Hichiko crawled towards him on her hands and knees looking like a tigress stalking her prey, and as she got close she placed her finger on Byakuya's lips then slowly slid it down towards the waist band of his pants.
Byakuya panicked, his usual cool and calculating mind malfunctioned and he struck out on instinct, pushing Hichiko away as hard as she could.
She stumbled to her feet and hit the cupboard behind, but all she did was smile and giggle as he scrambled up the wall he was sat against.
"Wanna play rough, eh? Just the way I like it!" the possessed red-head leapt at Byakuya as he weighed his options.
He could pop a soul pill and attack her, but he knew that if he did it would become a fight where he would be forced to kill Kurosaki, and this time Kurosaki was not an intruder to be eliminated. He could try using Kido but he wasn't sure if a spell would be strong enough to stop the Hollow infested girl, and he definitely didn't have enough time to recite the full incantation, so that left Byakuya with one option.
Hichiko was within arm's reach and was laughing manically when Byakuya went for the emergency option and swung his foot upwards as hard as he could.
The blackness drained from Ichiko's eyes as she stopped dead in her tracks, her face drained of all colour too, and as Byakuya removed his foot from between Kurosaki's legs she dropped to her knee's whimpering.
"T-Thanks...!" she squeaked as she shivered in pain.
Byakuya stayed pressed against the wall for a few moments, unsure if this was a trick or if Kurosaki had really managed to regain control, but when she didn't move to try and grab him again he slowly knelt down and helped her back up onto her bed.
"I...wasn't sure if that worked on women." he said, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Oh... it works just fine..." Ichiko said wiping the tears from her eyes and fighting down the urge to vomit.
After Ichiko had regained feeling in her lower half and Byakuya had reasserted his iceman like façade they looked at each other uneasily, unsure how to address what had just happened.
"I'm... sorry..." Byakuya managed after a bit of an internal struggle.
Ichiko was a bit too distracted by what had happened to show surprise at his almost human show of regret.
"Me too..." she muttered in reply, not wanting to look him in the eye.
"How often does this happen?" Byakuya asked while looking towards his sister who despite the commotion hadn't stirred at all, and lay spread eagle on her bed snoring softly.
"More often since the Arrancar showed up..."
"You need to deal with it." he said sternly.
"Then try harder!" the burst of aggression from the 6th Captain caught Ichiko's attention and she turned to look at him and saw a look of deep concern on his face, but it wasn't for her, it was for Rukia, "I don't know what it is that you're struggling with, but you're losing, it's clear to see. Even when we first fought it took everything you had to regain control, and this time I had to literally beat it out of you. You need to find a way to control your problem or get rid of it... because as long as it runs loose Rukia will be in trouble. And I won't let your cowardice put her in danger."
Ichiko wanted to snap back at him, say that it wasn't cowardice, say that he had control, but it was all a lie. Byakuya was right, she was losing and it was putting everyone around her in danger. The last thing Soul Society or Karakura needed right now was an enemy within.
"Yeah..." was all she managed to say.
"Go, Ichiko... go and find a way to control this thing else where. I'll take care of things here, nothing will happen to your friends while Captain Hitsugaya and I are around. You're too much of a danger right now."
Ichiko got up off her bed and walked to her bedroom door, she didn't say anything but Byakuya's words had cut deep and she knew everything he said was true, but as if he knew he had been too harsh Byakuya spoke again before she could leave.
"As much as I hate to say it, you're strong, and stubborn. Even a reprobate like you should be able to beat this thing."
Ichiko raised an eyebrow, unsure if she was meant to be grateful or angry for that comment, but nodded all the same.
"One last thing." the Captain said after a little hesitation. Ichiko turned to look at him and for a moment it looked as if he was about to wish her good luck.
"Yes?" she urged quietly. He stood with his mouth open for a minute before looking away and reasserting his usual derogatory expression.
"You should probably get dressed before you leave."
Ichiko stared at him in puzzlement for a moment then followed his line of sight downwards when he gazed at her out of the corner of his eye.
"Son of a-!" she threw her arms around her chest when she finally realised that she'd been topless all this time.