If And When We Rise
Chapter 01: Dying With My Song Unsung
'I've got a gun in my hand but that gun won't cock
My finger's on the trigger but that trigger seems locked
And I can't stop staring at the tick tock clock
And even if I could I would never give up
With a vest on my chest and a bullet in my lung
I can't believe I'm dying with my song unsung'
--Streetlight Manifesto, 'Point/Counterpoint'
In all his life Ichigo had never seen anything as physically and mentally disturbing as the monster that had torn through the wall of his house.
It was easily as big as five people, towering over Ichigo's near six feet of height. It was a thing made of contrasts, bone white mask and bruise dark body, short legs with small feet and long arms with table sized hands. One of those hands had been holding Karin when he had ran downstairs after hearing both his sisters scream. His first instinct had been to attack but the monster had tossed Karin aside in favor of him before he could follow through on the impulse. Instead, he was forced to jump to the side to cushion his younger sister's fall.
Now, Ichigo decided as he knelt by Karin's still form, now he could go after it. As he reached for the nearest weapon, a folding chair, he wondered where his father was. Ichigo decided it didn't matter as long as he was getting help.
The monster roared, Ichigo felt more than heard it, and it charged at him. He brought the chair down on its head, doing little more than annoy the beast. In response, it drew back one of its huge hands to strike him. Ichigo saw it coming, but he was too slow and was batted across the room. The walls and furniture blurred as he flew past them but after a feeling of intense pain and a loud snap he blacked out.
Seconds later, Ichigo came to in a mass of rubble. The monster was staring at him like a cat would stare at its prey; he realized that the monster was toying with him. It made a sound that was more like that of a collapsing bridge than a laugh and reached into the rubble and pulled out something horribly familiar.
Ichigo wondered, detachedly, if he was having an out of body experience like those on TV and if he would be snapped back into the him that was being roughly pulled from the wreckage of the wall. The monster's mask seemed to grin as it dropped the body that Ichigo could somehow sense was his physical form. The beast rose to its feet and ambled towards Ichigo who snatched up a chunk of metal that had once been a table leg.
Ichigo was again only just able to see the attack coming and was only barely able to raise the table leg, using it to defend himself with as if it were a sword. The beast came at him again and again, each time he was almost too late to block the blow and often the monster's fist would push into the table leg with so much force that it would knock Ichigo off of his feet. But each time this happened the monster would wait for him to rise to his feet. Ichigo struggled against the beast for what seemed like forever until a cry brought the monster's attention away from Ichigo.
It was Yuzu, who had staggered up the stairs to try to warn Ichigo before passing out. She had, it seemed, woken and stumbled downstairs. Now she was sobbing over her siblings. Karin, who had been roused by Yuzu's shaking and sobbing, sat up and looked over where Ichigo stood, at a standstill with the monster.
"Ichi-nii, is that you?" She asked, just loud enough to hear over the sound of her brother struggling against the monster. "What are you doing?"
Her voice broke the stupor the beast had been in and it leapt away from Ichigo and went after Karin. Almost too late, Ichigo realized what was happening and, fueled by both fear and a protective rage, rushed to defend his sisters.
He moved more quickly than he ever had in his life, it was as if a smothering pressure had been lifted from him. Ichigo couldn't help but smirk at the monster's shocked expression when it realized its jaw was jammed open with the table leg.
"Hey, Bastard, I thought you were after me?" Ichigo said glaring up into the beast's glowing yellow eyes.
"How? You aren't Shinigami…" It said, its voice distorted, but Ichigo didn't think it was because of the table leg wedged in its mouth. It sniffed at him through the mask's nose slits. "But, you almost smell like one…" Then it lunged at him.
Ichigo brought his arms up in a block, bracing himself against the wedged in table leg, he allowed himself to be pushed across the room until they reached the wreckage of the wall. Ichigo pushed off and grabbed two of the remaining table legs, one in each hand. The monster turned for him and as it did he stabbed one of the table legs into its ribcage, just below its shoulder blade.
It screamed garbled profanities, swiping its arm at Ichigo, who tried to leap out of the way but suffered a glancing blow. He was knocked away, though he managed to keep his feet.
"Ichigo!" His father's voice rang out.
Distracted, Ichigo looked up and saw Isshin as well as an unfamiliar white haired man. "Old man? What are you doing here?"
"Watch out!" Isshin shouted as the monster took advantage of his son's distraction, bringing its hand down nearly on top of Ichigo, who was barely able to raise the table leg to block in time. The monster didn't give up though and kept pushing, locking the two into another stalemate.
"Old man," Ichigo said with effort from under the beast's fist, "get Karin and Yuzu outta here! I'll hold this thing off!"
"No, Ichigo, you've got to—" Isshin began but was interrupted when the white haired man grabbed his shoulder. "What, Ryuuken?"
"His chain has been severed." Ryuuken said simply, gesturing towards Ichigo. When Ichigo glanced down he saw a slim length of silver chain dangling from his chest. Isshin noticed the chain as well and almost immediately became downcast.
"There is a Shinigami on the way as well." Ryuuken continued bending down to pick up Yuzu and Karin, both too scared to protest. "You cannot run the risk that they might recognize you."
"You're right," Isshin sighed, "thank you." He then stooped to pick up his son's body.
"Don't thank me," Ryuuken said, adjusting his glasses, "I am just repaying a debt, nothing more." That said he turned and left, carrying Ichigo's sisters with him.
"I'll see you later, then. Don't lose, Ichigo." Isshin said sadly and, with a last look at Ichigo, left bearing the body of his son.
The monster took another chance as Ichigo mutely watched his father leave, swiping out with its free hand. Ichigo was sent flying once more into the pile of debris. Only, this time he didn't land safely.
As the monster approached, all Ichigo was aware of was the terrible throbbing pain in his stomach. He looked down and saw a strip of metal protruding from his gut. It held him in place as the beast raised its arm, a triumphant look on its mask.
'I'm going to die…' Ichigo thought as he watched the monster's arm swing down as if it were in slow motion. Then, he thought, 'I don't want to die.'
Time seemed to stop.
"Then fight. Cast aside your fear. Stand up and win."
At the time, Ichigo didn't wonder where the voice had come from, it had spoken the truth, and, as he stood wrenching the metal from his gut, the monster began moving. It didn't matter to Ichigo; he was full of his own reiatsu, floating high on waves of his own making, as his eyes glowed blue.
The fight was finished quickly. Ichigo darted away from the attack and then back in while the monster was still recovering its lost balance. Ichigo gave it no chance to recover and punched the beast square in the center of its mask. He grinned as he saw and heard the cracks form across the mask's white surface.
But as the monster's mask crumbled, Ichigo was overcome by a sense of bone deep exhaustion. He sunk to the floor clutching his wounded stomach, bleeding only slightly when blood should have flowed all too freely from it.
Kuchiki Rukia bowed at the waist as she entered Ukitake Taichou's office to give her report on her mission to the Real World.
"I have returned from my mission, Taichou." She said.
"Welcome back, Kuchiki." Ukitake said as if he hadn't already noticed her reiatsu. "Did anything of interest happen?"
Rukia knew that he knew something had happened, if nothing had she wouldn't have had to give her report in person, but both she and Ukitake had to comply with the formalities.
He motioned for her to continue.
"As you know Taichou, my mission was a simple purification. I was to purify a group of Hollows that had recently emerged into the Real World under a time limit of three days. The mission went well until I had purified all but the last Hollow.
"Its signal had become fuzzy and I was unable to confirm its location. I was barely able to sense it by myself. Regardless, I followed it, and, as I neared it, its pressure became more and more confused. I had almost reached the Hollow when its reiatsu completely disappeared. I checked my reiphone and it reported the Hollow as purified. I was suspicious, so I checked the place where the purification was recorded.
"It was a human building, a clinic I think, and it was badly damaged. There were no humans in the wreckage, I assume they were either consumed or they escaped. There was a soul in the building's remains. He was unconscious and bleeding from an odd wound on his stomach."
"How was it odd?" Ukitake asked, openly interested.
"It was… off."Rukia said slowly as she thought of how to explain it. "It was a very deep wound, as if the soul had been run through, but, I'm not sure how else to say it, it wasn't bleeding enough. The only way I can explain it is that the wound was somehow plugged. I was unsure of my ability to heal such a wound so I took the soul to the fourth division."
"Why?" Ukitake asked.
"W-well… the entire incident was very odd, if a Hollow disappears on its own then it is because it has retreated to Hueco Mundo, not because it was purified. I checked the official records and that Hollow is listed as being purified… I thought that, were he saved, that boy could be able to tell us what happened, His reiatsu is very high for a human, he could have seen what happened before he was killed."
"Any other reasons?" He had noticed that Rukia had fidgeted during nearly the entire course of her explanation.
"Ah—He, well… He closely resembles Shiba-Fukutaichou…"
"Ukitake-Taichou, I'm surprised you weren't here earlier." Unohana Retsu said as she entered her patient's room.
"He looks almost the same…" Ukitake said, not turning from the unknown soul lying on the bed before him.
"He does." Unohana agreed. "But Ukitake, it is highly unlikely that Kaien-kun has reincarnated so soon."
"I know, but…"
"Just because he looks similar doesn't mean he is the same, for all we know he could be the reincarnation of some other Shiba."
Ukitake nodded. "It's hard seeing his face again."
"I know." Unohana said, her family, though not as important, had been closely associated with the Shiba. The loss of Kaien may not have hurt her as badly as it had others, but she had still wept for him.
"What's going to happen to him?" Ukitake wondered.
"When he wakes it's likely he'll be questioned, but after that he'll go to the Academy."
"Keep an eye on him for me, please, Ukitake. When he came in he was coated in hollow reiatsu, it's mostly gone now, but it should have vanished completely by now."
"Really?" Ukitake asked. "I can't feel anything ."
Unohana sighed, "Most likely I can only feel it because of my familiarity with reiatsu diagnosis."
"I'll watch over him, don't worry."
On the whole, Ichigo thought, death was nothing like he'd thought it would be. No wings, no halos, no white dresses, it seemed that death was pretty much like life.
He wasn't quite sure what to make of the whole thing.
When he'd woken a woman called Unohana Retsu had explained everything to him, that he was dead, that most likely he'd been killed by a Hollow, and a myriad of other details that he had no idea about, but, by the way Retsu had explained them, were commonplace to her. All the new information had sent his mind spinning. After that she'd given him some hot tea and informed him that someone would be around in about an hour to ask a few questions.
An hour had passed and his teacup sat empty on his bedside table.
Death, he thought, was full of the unexpected. This was demonstrated by the young looking kid standing a few feet away from his bed.
"You're here to ask questions, right?" Ichigo asked, skeptically.
"Yes." The boy replied. "My name is Captain Hitsugaya Toushirou."
"I'm Kurosaki Ichigo."
"I know." Hitsugaya said after a pause and a twitch.
Ichigo sat up in his bed, raising himself up to Hitsugaya's eye level. The boy twitched again.
"Do you remember what happened?" Hitsugaya asked after a long pause.
"Some of it. I remember the monster and trying to fight it, and I remember getting beaten badly, but other than that nothing." Ichigo half-lied. His father somehow had a past with these Shinigami, the kind that wasn't good; he didn't want to inadvertently cause them to go after the Old Man, regardless of how he'd acted. However, and this was something that really bothered Ichigo, after his father and Ryuuken left, his memory became almost completely blank. There were bits of memory, seeing a pole running him through and hearing a voice, but nothing he could make sense of. It frustrated him greatly.
"So you don't remember who killed the Hollow?" The boy-captain pressed.
"You're sure of this?"
"Fine then," Hitsugaya said turning to leave, "but if you ever remember anything about the incident, you are to tell one of the Gotei Thirteen's Captains. Anyone will do, though I'd advise against the Twelfth Division's." He left, shutting the room's door behind him.
When he was gone Ichigo looked up at the ceiling and wondered what would happen next.
This is most definetly the longest chapter I've ever written!
It even ended up being longer than I originally planned, but fairies possessed my fingers and made me write more. How nice of them.
My one request is that you leave a review. I accept anonymous reviews so you have no excuse. How soon I resume work on this depends on the response I get. I don't mind if you copy paste 'Wonderful' or 'Good Job' just let me know if you like what I'm doing.