A/N: Sorry it took so long! And even more sorries if I wasn't able to reply to your reviews! I'm not allowed to use the internet because of my bad grades. So as I write the next chapters my mother will think they are essays. Ahehe. Oh, and I'm unable to edit my chapters too. Is that just me? It's getting on my nerves.
Something else. I was given my deadline for my doujinshi and, well, first thing that came to my mind when I saw my deadline: 'Ohsnap. Looks like my art's gonna look like rushed pieces of...' Yes. So I won't have time to work on the new chapter for a while. So sorry! On top of that I have my Military Ball coming up and I might go to China during Spring Break. Ugh, I need to brush up on my Chinese. (Such a hard language. English is harder though.) Anyway, it's going to be a slow update and I'm going to apologize beforehand. SORRY!
And thank you to all my readers and reviewers! You guys help out so much when it comes to writing these chapters.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tite Kubo's Bleach. Speaking of Bleach, haven't the recent manga chapters been kick-ass?
A punch to his face sent the orange haired boy toppling from his seat and on to the 6th squad office's floor. He had offered to help Renji with his work but… distraction. It was every where. Especially with Hitsugaya on his mind. And here he was now, his face getting acquainted with the hard floor. For some strange reason it smelled like mustard.
"What the hell, Renji?!" Ichigo twisted himself around to a sitting position and glared ferociously at the red-haired fukutaichou. With the back of his hand Ichigo wiped at his nose to make sure it wasn't bleeding. Punches to the face usually had that effect.
The equally stubborn fukutaichou leaned forward to shoot a glare that matched Ichigo's own. If twins were acknowledged only by their personalities, then they would be a pair. "Quit daydreaming and start working! If Kuchiki-taichou comes in and sees us slacking off then he'd…" Renji shuddered at the thought and began attacking a blank paper with a brush. He didn't think he'd have to finish the sentence in order for Ichigo to get the idea.
Grumbling softly, Ichigo reseated himself and tried his best to follow along. But calligraphy brushes really weren't his ideal choice of writing material and the kanji characters he was supposed to be printing looked more like deranged stick-figures. It had been a mistake to offer help. Ichigo had to get out of there. "Damn it!" Throwing down his brush he hurriedly bolted for the exit. "Ah, sorry, Renji! I need to use the bathroom!" He was out the door in a flash.
Instantly, the red-haired shinigami was on his feet and shouting after the lazy substitute shinigami. "Do you think I'm stupid, Ichigo?! The bathroom isn't even that way, dumb ass!"
To his surprise Ichigo's face popped back into view. "Hey, Renji. Where do you think Toushirou is right now?"
The 6th squad fukutaichou raised a tattooed eyebrow in response. "Eh? Hitsugaya-taichou? What do you need him for?" How unexpected.
Ichigo huffed and crossed him arms, sending the fukutaichou a look that clearly read that it was none of his business. Renji shrugged; there was nothing he could lose. Wait, yes there was. But Ichigo wasn't much help in the first place. Work would flow faster if the human left.
"… Hitsugaya-taichou should be in his office. But these days you can't really know since he's always—"
"Okay! Gotcha, Renji, thanks! Later!" And with a small wave of good-bye, Ichigo was off once again, leaving a confused fukutaichou blinking and wanting to chase after the orange haired human to ask why he was suddenly looking for the young taichou. But he couldn't. Kuchiki Byakuya was due back any minute now and if he walked into the office to find barely any work done then there would be hell.
"10th squad, 10th squad, 10th squad…" Ichigo muttered as he jogged through the rows of buildings. He had to be close. A few minutes ago he had passed by 11th squad and pretty much had to sneak his way past. Zaraki Kenpachi still wanted a fight.
"Aha!" He found the building… or to be exact, buildings. Which one was the office? Sure there were labels that marked the area but that meant he had to check every single one of them. He could always try to find Hitsugaya by searching for his reiatsu…
Ichigo concentrated and tried to pinpoint the taichou's location. But it was difficult since he was terrible when it came to the reiatsu things. Not to mention thousands of other shinigami reiatsu made it tough to sort through. But Ichigo continued to try and his effort was rewarded when he narrowed it down to Hitsugaya's reiatsu. So the white haired shinigami was close by. Ichigo wasted no time in tracking him down like a bloodhound.
He came upon a building that was located further away from the rest. There wasn't time to think about that though, as he slid open the door and slipped inside. It was plain and had little furnishing. There was a small writing desk against a wall and futon lay on the tatami flooring. That was strange. It was late in the morning and the futon mat hadn't been put away. Wait a minute. Renji had said that Hitsugaya would be at his office. So where was this?
"His room…?" Ichigo murmured to himself as he looked around. No, it was too plain and Hitsugaya was a taichou. Didn't taichous get luxurious and large rooms or something?
A sudden sound caused Ichigo to whirl around. Observant Ichigo wasn't observant enough. There had been another door that had led to another section of the building. And at the door, standing with a startled look on his face, was the taichou Ichigo had been looking for.
"Kurosaki, this is a surprise." Hitsugaya recovered quickly and regained his composed look once more. He straightened out his captain's haori and took a step forward, sliding the door closed behind him. "What brings you here?"
It was then that Ichigo realized he was trespassing and that he really didn't have a reason for coming at all. He hadn't seen Hitsugaya in… almost two days. So he had wanted to check in on him and make sure everything was okay. News traveled fast and Ichigo had been told of the white haired prodigy's strange behaviors. The substitute shinigami had instantly remembered Hueco Mundo and had decided to confront Hitsugaya about it once more. How he was going to start, he had no idea.
"Well…" Ichigo began, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. He needed to come up with something and fast! The little taichou didn't look too happy. Come to think of it, Hitsugaya looked like he was trying to seem pissed. Ichigo didn't really know why, but it was like Hitsugaya was actually glad to see him.
This was perfect. Now he would be able to ask Hitsugaya with no problem!
Or Ichigo could be terribly wrong and find himself frozen to the floor.
"Nice place!" It was a try. "I came to… to check it out and… uh, what do you do here? I mean… there's not much inside so…" So what? Ichigo coughed uneasily. Why was it that he was always blabbering nonsense when it came to the young taichou?
"I come here when I want peace and quiet." Hitsugaya moved towards the exit and slid the door open. "Now if you would please leave, Kurosaki." The white haired boy motioned to the door, excusing the substitute shinigami.
Even though it was clear that Hitsugaya wanted him to leave, Ichigo was a bit surprised when he noticed the hesitance in the young taichou's eyes.
But Ichigo wasn't going to be shaken off that easily. "Toushirou, what's going on?" He blurted and then inwardly flinched when Hitsugaya's icy glare was directed at him.
"What do you mean?" Hitsugaya's voice was surprisingly calm but Ichigo was able to detect the icy chill that lined his words.
Ichigo wasted no time in explaining. He had to get through with it. "Everyone's been telling me that you're not the same anymore! Even I noticed when we met that time at the meeting. And now you're hiding out in some building? Toushirou, this doesn't have anything to do with Hueco Mundo, does it?"
An eerie silence settled itself inside the room and Ichigo suddenly dreaded Hitsugaya's reaction. His next words were barely above a whisper. "You swore you'd forget about it."
Ichigo pushed down his unease and continued to stand tall. "That was before I realized how badly it's been affecting you."
Hitsugaya's eyes flashed threateningly. But Ichigo wasn't going to back down, not anymore. He was going to find out once and for all what had happened. Even if it meant a couple of bruises or injuries. Thank goodness Hitsugaya didn't have Hyourinmaru strapped on him. Ichigo wasn't sure if he would have been able to confront the taichou then.
"Toushirou, your body might be back in Soul Society, but your mind it's… still in Hueco Mundo. Tell it to come back! Let me know what's bothering you!"
Those turquoise eyes widened in disbelief. "And why should my 'mind' come back from there? We're being sent back anyway!" Hitsugaya's voice practically dripped venom as he bitterly spat out his response. "Kurosaki, doesn't it bother you? We struggled and fought to get out of that damned place and for what? To get our wounds treated and then shoved back in?" The white haired taichou's reiatsu was becoming more and more dangerous by the second.
Ichigo had to take a step back and away from the overpowering flow of reiatsu. So this was what the problem was… no, there was more. He could tell. Hitsugaya wouldn't lose his cool just because he didn't want to go back into battle. Ichigo would have to provoke him. "So you don't want to go back, huh? Just gonna stand around here and be a coward?" Ichigo was aware of the fury that crept into Hitsugaya's features. "Are you so scared that you'd hold back and run away from a fight? I know that's not you!"
"… Shut up." The soft tone Hitsugaya used immediately stopped Ichigo. The prodigy's eyes were focused on the substitute shinigami and at the same time, onto some far away place. For a minute, Ichigo thought the proud taichou was going to break down in tears. But nothing of the sort happened. "You don't know, Kurosaki." Hitsugaya inhaled shakily and quickly looked away.
Ichigo slowly walked forward, cautiously eyeing the young taichou just in case. "Then help me know." He murmured as he stopped a few feet from Hitsugaya. "I can't promise you I'd understand but…" The substitute shinigami self-consciously reached out to gently grasp Histugaya's chin and slowly tilt his head up so that they could be face to face. It was a pretty bold move but Ichigo wanted Hitsugaya to see he meant his words. "… I can listen."
The faintest hint of a blush appeared on Hitsugaya's cheeks as he stared up at Ichigo. The contact was too much and he hastily backed away, freeing himself from Ichigo's hold. His eyes drifted to the floor as Hitsugaya tried to clear his mind and figure out what had just happened.
"… Okay." Hitsugaya breathed in and nodded. "Okay, I'll… tell you." He raised his head to confidently gaze back at Ichigo's face. This was where he would let go.
So he spent the next few minutes explaining the gory details and remembering the merciless ambush. It was a struggle for Hitsugaya to admit to sending his subordinates into a hopeless battle. And then watching as one by one, they all fell onto the bloodstained sand. He described the meeting with Ichimaru Gin perfectly, as if it had happened only a day ago. It was forever embedded into his memories.
Then Hitsugaya recalled his choice, his humiliation, and his mistake. The young prodigy admitted that it was his fault and choked on his words when he told Ichigo about the last two shinigami and their deaths. It was like reliving the moment as Hitsugaya went through what had happened. But he reminded himself that it was time to let go of it all. And that was what he was trying to do.
"… And then I found you, Kurosaki. The rest you already know." Hitsugaya finished and glanced up at the human hesitantly.
Ichigo's eyes were wide with sympathy and the young taichou felt his heart lurch. "Kurosaki, don't tell anyone." Hitsugaya felt uncomfortable as he pleaded with the orange haired boy. But he couldn't let the news leak out. "Promise me that you'll keep it a secret."
The look on Ichigo's face was doubtful as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. But the desperate look on Hitsugaya's face made up Ichigo's mind. "Yeah, I promise. Don't worry about it, Toushirou." He smiled reassuringly and watched as the tense taichou loosened up in relief. At least he had gotten the story out from Hitsugaya. Ichigo hoped that would be good enough to help boost the taichou's spirit a bit.
But the little taichou looked even more dejected than ever and Ichigo wanted so badly to just comfort him. "Hey, Toushirou? Everything gonna be okay, now?"
Hitsugaya glanced out the open door for a moment before shaking his head. "Kurosaki… I never wanted to be… a shinigami."
Ichigo was stunned by the sudden confession. "What are you talking about?" He scrunched up his eyebrows in confusion. Where had this come from?
Dim and saddened eyes turned to the human. Of course he didn't know. "I became a shinigami in order to protect Hinamori and… to make sure I didn't accidentally kill my grandmother. But now…"
Grandmother? Hinamori? It was true. People learned new things every day. Ichigo hadn't known about any grandmother of Hitsugaya's. As for this 'Hinamori' person, he had been told that the two had been childhood friends. "Are you feeling alright?" He was growing concerned about the swift change of subject.
"I don't want to be a shinigami anymore." Hitsugaya stated quietly. "There's no reason for me to stay as one."
Ichigo did a double-take. "What?!" Had he heard correctly? Hitsugaya Toushirou the 10th squad taichou, child prodigy, and boy genius, didn't want to be a shinigami? "You're acting crazy, Toushirou. Of course there's a reason! What about everyone you care about? Rangiku-san…" His voice faltered when he saw the young taichou shake his head.
"All I ever cause Matsumoto is concern, Hinamori is confined in some place so she doesn't loose it at the name of 'Aizen', and Hyourinmaru…" Hitsugaya closed his eyes. "… Hyourinmaru is in some kind of trouble and I don't even know what to do."
Ichigo hated to see Hitsugaya in such a condition. So he resolved to fix it. "You didn't mention me." He murmured and, with a nervous cough, took Hitsugaya's hand in his. The prodigy's eyes shot back open and he stared at their intertwined hands. There was a brief moment of silence.
Okay, so far so good. Hitsugaya hadn't made an attempt to pull away so that had to be a positive sign. "If you really need a reason to stay a shinigami then…" Ichigo smiled warmly at the smaller boy. "… Your reason can be me. Let's watch each other's backs and, well, I dunno. Look out for one another, I guess." Pathetic attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. "What do you say?"
What was he supposed to say? Ichigo was holding his hand, looking at him, smiling at him, asking him something that Hitsugaya's brain was still slowly processing, and just… he felt overwhelmed. No, why these feelings? Why now? Why Kurosaki Ichigo?
"Y-Yeah." Hitsugaya managed to reply. He couldn't express his current emotions. There were too many ups and downs. But the biggest one nagged at him and gave Hitsugaya the helpless feeling he so detested.
Ichigo was alive. Hitsugaya wasn't.
It was as simple as that, but complicated beyond words.
A/N: ack. This chapter was a little personal. And so I've decided to dedicate it to a certain someone.
Rest in peace, Matthew.
If I had been a better 'Ichigo' would you still be around?
Miss you much, idiot.