As Captain Kuchiki Rukia walked through the streets of Rukongai, she blatantly ignored the whispers of the inhabitants and simply kept walking. She didn't have a particular destination in mind, but today was the anniversary of his disappearance, and she had signed up for Rukongai patrol duties in an attempt to get her mind off it.
Not that it was helping much. Rukongai patrols were generally just routine things: Policing duties in the outer districts, and the recruiting of those with spiritual energy to the Shinigami academy. Policing wasn't difficult mostly because nobody ever committed any crimes when there was a Shinigami about, especially a Shinigami Captain...
She let her gaze wander over the crowd as she walked. Policing was easy, but recruiting was harder simply because the people in these back districts held a general disdain for Shinigami. So she was focused on the recruiting part, since it would force her to think about something other than him...
Sighing, she let her senses take in the auras of the people around her, searching for traces of spiritual energy. To her surprise, she sensed that there appeared to be a fairly large group of people with spiritual energy in the area. She smiled grimly. At least she would have her work cut out for her trying to persuade all of them to join the academy...
She stepped toward the crowd, heading for the area where she could sense the group. The crowd parted for her nervously, whispering to one another, wondering at her. She ignored them and started combing through the crowd for the group.
Abruptly, the direction changed, as if the whole group of people had gone around her all at once. Rukia turned toward the new direction, surprised to see only a few people standing there.
She looked them all over as they stared back at her with wide eyes, obviously intimidated by her captain status. As she examined them, searching for the source of the spiritual energy, they all glanced at one another, beginning to back away from her.
The direction of the spiritual energy shifted again and Rukia realized that the group in front of her wasn't its source. Confused, she turned again. A flash of orange caught her eye and she felt her hopes soar irrationally.
Mentally she slapped herself. It's not him; he's been gone for two years, he's not just randomly going to show up in Rukongai...
Her gaze locked on the individual who had caught her eye. He was a small boy, maybe eight or nine years old, with shoulder-length, messy orange hair. Looking him over, she realized that what she had assumed to be a group of people was actually coming from just this boy... It was rather like...
She mentally shook herself and walked over to him. He stared up at her in awe and slight terror. Kneeling down to his level, she smiled at him, trying not to scare him. "Hi. My name is Kuchiki Rukia."
The boy quickly glanced around him, making sure she really was addressing him before answering in a soft, almost inaudible voice. "Am I in trouble?"
Rukia laughed, shaking her head. "No, don't worry, you're not in trouble. Why would you think that?"
He shifted nervously from one foot to the other. "Usually, when a Shinigami comes, it means someone's in trouble, and they're going to get arrested or killed or something..."
"I understand," Rukia replied with a smile. "I used to be from 78th district, so I know how that goes."
He looked back up at her, his eyes wide. "Someone from Rukongai can become a Shinigami Captain?" he asked softly.
She nodded at him. "Yup, it happens! Have you ever thought about becoming a Shinigami?"
Fearfully, the boy shook his head. "No, I could never be a Shinigami! You'd have to go to the academy and pass a bunch of tests and be really good at swords and stuff, and I'd probably fail at everything!"
Rukia laughed. "Yes, the Shinigami Academy is difficult, but it is easier for those with high spiritual energy, which you definitely have. You do usually have to be a certain age to join the academy, though. How old are you?"
The boy hesitated. "Um... Well, I've been living in Rukongai for about 2 years, but I dunno beyond that. I don't really remember..."
Rukia nodded with understanding. Whenever a soul was sent to Soul Society, one of two things happened. If the soul was young, they kept their physical age, but lost some of their memories of their previous lives. If the soul was older, they usually lost most if not all of their memories, and physically started over to grow up in Rukongai. The general age that people were reset to was about six.
"All right, then... So you're probably about eight years old, give or take a little," she commented. "The Shinigami Academy accepts people eleven and above, so you've got a few years yet before you need to think about it."
"Oh." the boy almost looked disappointed.
Rukia smiled at him, getting to her feet. "Don't worry about it. If you try hard enough, you can learn some control of your spiritual energy before you even enter the academy. That will make learning Kido easier, anyway."
He brightened. "I'll try my best," he promised.
As Rukia began to walk away, she paused. Something about this was bothering her. She glanced back over her shoulder at him. "By the way... What's your name, kid?"
He smiled shyly. "Ichigo. Kurosaki Ichigo."
For a moment, time seemed to freeze. Rukia whirled to face him again. "That's impossible, Ichigo is... You are..."
The boy's eyes widened and he flinched away from her. "D-did I do something wrong?"
Then, logic kicked in. Of course this wasn't the same Ichigo. The name was popular now because of the Ichigo she had known. It made sense that a family in Rukongai would name an orange-haired boy Ichigo...
Still, they even went so far as to give him the same last name, too? She was going to have to talk to this family... Her face set in hard lines as she focused back on the boy in front of her. "Who named you after Kurosaki-taichou?" she demanded.
Confusion mixed with the terror on his face. "What?"
"Who told you that your name was Kurosaki Ichigo?" she rephrased her question irritably.
He frowned, his eyes still widely fixed on her face. "W-well... N-nobody did, it's just my name... I... I think it was my name before I died."
Rukia stared at him in shock. Slowly, she dropped to her knees in front of him, grabbed both of his shoulders, and stared into his eyes. Could it really be...?
He fidgeted uncomfortably, looking away and trying to pull away from her grasp.
"Ano..." It was obvious that he would very much like to be running away from her as fast as he could.
Rukia frowned; she still couldn't tell, not with that expression on his face. "Glare at me for a moment," she directed.
He glanced back up at her, his eyes widening. "What?"
"Make your eyebrows go together; glare at me."
He turned slightly red, but hesitantly did as she asked.
Rukia stared, her mouth falling open a little. "It... it really is you, isn't it?"
Confusion spread across his face again and he opened his mouth to respond, but she didn't give him a chance. Standing, she grabbed a hold of one of his wrists and began dragging him back towards Seireitei. "I've got to find the other captains!"
Kurosaki Ichigo was immensely confused, and more than a little scared. He had just been minding his own business, just trying to survive the day to day life in Rukongai, and suddenly his world was being turned upside down... (Sideways?)
He'd heard the whispers that there was a Shinigami captain walking down the street and he'd been curious, so he had joined the crowd of people watching her pass. Now he was being dragged forcefully down the street by a frantic-looking Shinigami, he had absolutely no idea why, or where they were going, and he wished he had stayed far, far away.
"Where are we going?" he tried wildly.
Unfortunately, the Shinigami appeared to have become selectively deaf to anything he had to say.
Ichigo was particularly surprised when he realized that, without even pausing, she dragged him right through the huge gates into Seireitei. He yelped. "Kuchiki-taichou, I don't think I'm allowed in here!"
She glanced down at him at this, but said nothing, her expression a strange mix of amusement and anticipation.
The 'journey' continued in silence as Ichigo tried desperately to walk fast enough that his arm wouldn't get torn off by the Shinigami's iron death grip. Finally, they ended up at the doors to a large building.
Kuchiki-taichou didn't knock, instead barging right in through the doors, which opened up into a large open room. Inside the room, several people were standing in a line. They turned towards them in surprise at Kuchiki-taichou's abrupt entrance.
"I found him!" Kuchiki-taichou announced dramatically, holding up Ichigo's wrist triumphantly.
There was a long silence. The others in the room glanced around at each other. Ichigo gulped, realizing that each of them wore the white coat that was a symbol of captaincy. He was in a room full of captain level shinigami.
He still had no idea what was going on, but he was becoming more and more sure that he must have done something really bad...
One of the other captains, one wearing a straw hat and a pink haori over the captain coat, spoke for all of them. "You found who, exactly, Rukia-chan?"
"I hope you have a good reason for interrupting us, Kuchiki," another added.
Kuchiki-taichou smiled grimly. "Trust me, I don't care what you were talking about before, you will want to hear this." She dropped his wrist and gently pushed him forward towards the other captains. "Introduce yourself," she instructed him.
With wide eyes, he glanced back at her, rubbing his sore wrist. "A-ano... I really don't understand what's going on, I'm not this important."
She laughed dryly. "You're very important," she assured him. "Introduce yourself."
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Ichigo frowned at her. "Are you sure I'm not in trouble?" he asked in a voice that was far squeakier than he would have preferred. There were 8 captains in the room, and that was a majority, which was enough to convict someone of a huge crime...
"Just introduce yourself!"
Reluctantly, he faced the other captains and bowed, keeping his gaze very firmly on the ground. "Ano... well... I'm... My name is Ichigo...Kurosaki Ichigo, I mean..."
There was dead silence in the room. Ichigo hazarded a glance up. Everyone was staring at him in various states of shock. "... Nice to meet you?" he added hesitantly.
The room exploded as the captains all turned to each other and began talking all at once. Ichigo stared around in wonder. All this because of his name? What was going on?
"Is it really him, Rukia?" One of the captains called to her over the sudden noise. "Are you sure?"
She nodded firmly. "I'm positive."
"How can you be sure?"
A large captain with black spiky hair stepped out of the line, a huge grin spreading over his scarred face. "There's one easy way to tell if it's really him," he said, walking steadily towards them. With one fluid motion, he unsheathed his sword.
Ichigo honestly hadn't thought he could get more scared than he was; turns out, he was wrong. His knees buckled underneath him and he screamed, trying to scoot backwards as fast as he could. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it, please don't kill me!"
Thankfully, every other captain in the room seemed to think that what was happening was a bad thing and several of them grabbed the first by his arms and dragged him back.
"What are you thinking, Kenpachi?" One of them yelled. "He's just a kid! He doesn't even have a sword!"
"But if it really is Ichigo..." Kenpachi whined.
"Whether it's Ichigo or not, you're scaring him out of his mind," the shortest captain in the room observed almost boredly. "Rukia, didn't you explain anything to him? He looks absolutely shell-shocked."
An explanation would be nice, yes, but Ichigo couldn't make himself say the words. Everything about him seemed totally frozen.
Kuchiki-taichou looked defensive. "I thought that bringing him here first was a bigger priority."
The other rolled his eyes and walked over to Ichigo, extending a hand to help him up. Hesitantly, Ichigo took it.
"I'm Hitsugaya," he introduced himself.
"Nice to meet you," Ichigo squeaked automatically.
Hitsugaya-taichou smirked, and then turned to the other captains. "That's Ukitake-san, Kyoraku, Soifon-san, Kenpachi, Unohana-san, and Yamamoto-sou-taichou."
Ichigo gulped again. He hadn't realized the head of the captains was here as well...
Hitsugaya-taichou laughed. "Don't worry, if you really are who we think you are, everyone here is your friend."
Ichigo looked up at him in disbelief. "Even him?" he asked doubtfully, pointing at Kenpachi-taichou.
Kenpachi-taichou grinned at him and Ichigo very quickly looked at the floor. Hitsugaya-taichou smirked again. "Even him." He looked up to address the room as a whole. "So what are we going to do about this?"
"Well, first we still need to confirm that it really is him," Soifon-taichou said reasonably.
Ukitake-taichou nodded. "True. He certainly hasn't been acting much like Kurosaki-san..."
Hitsugaya-taichou snorted. "Put yourself in his shoes. He obviously doesn't have his memories. He doesn't remember any of us, so to him, he was just dragged in front of a bunch of captains for no reason. You'd be scared witless too."
"If you won't let me fight him to test it out, you should at least see if he can release his sword," Kenpachi-taichou suggested. "If he can, one glance at it will tell us. It's not going to change."
"That might work," Ukitake-taichou mused.
Kyoraku-taichou shook his head. "If he's lost his memories, he probably doesn't even know who Zangetsu even is..."
Ichigo perked up at the familiar name. "... Zangetsu? You mean old man Zangetsu?"
Everyone turned to look at him and he flinched again. When nobody spoke, Ichigo hesitantly continued. "He lives in my head. He says he's a sword, but I don't believe him..."
Several of the captains chuckled at this. Kuchiki-taichou grinned triumphantly. "Do you believe me now? I told him nothing."
Unohana-taichou stepped forward and kneeled in front of Ichigo, placing one hand gently on the top of his head. She smiled warmly at him. "Hold still for just a moment, Ichigo." Her voice was gentle and Ichigo nodded.
Briefly, her hand on his head began to glow a light blue and her eyes closed. Ichigo felt a strange tingly warmth flood through his whole body for an instant, then fade. Unohana-taichou opened her eyes and stood.
"I almost don't believe my own reading, but it really is him," she confirmed. "He's completely healthy, if a little hungry, and if it weren't for the fact that he's eight when he's supposed to be twenty eight, I'd say there was nothing wrong with him..."
Hitsugaya-taichou looked down at him. "So exactly how much does he remember?"
"Remember about what?" Ichigo asked in slight exasperation, finally voicing the question he'd been wondering about this whole time.
"Your life before living in Rukongai," Kuchiki-taichou explained briefly. "What can you tell us about that?"
Ichigo hesitated. "Um... not much... a few random things, like some peoples' names, random facts...Like, I know that Renji is really mean, but I don't know who Renji is..."
Yamamoto-sou-taichou finally spoke up for the first time. "I believe we are all in agreement that this boy is, indeed, Kurosaki Ichigo, although he appears to have lost most of his memories. What do you propose we do, then?"
There was silence in the room. Finally, Soifon-taichou spoke up. "Perhaps we could have 12th division take a look at him? We need to figure out what exactly happened to him and whether or not it can be reversed..."
'Oh, no. Stay away from 12th division, Ichigo.' a familiar voice called in his head. 'Don't you remember what happened last time you let those freaks take a look at you?'
"No. In case you hadn't noticed, other me, I apparently don't remember much at all," Ichigo mentally shot back at the white version of himself.
The other him and Zangetsu both had been in his head talking with him occasionally for as long as he could remember, and he'd gotten used to them. The other him had even saved him from getting killed a couple of times, so he trusted them both.
'It was bad.' Zangetsu agreed with the other him. 'Stay away from there.'
"I don't want to go to 12th division," Ichigo stated aloud, causing the captains all to stare at him again. Ichigo frowned defensively. "They do bad things there."
Ukitake-taichou hesitated. "He is right, you know. You remember what Kurotsuchi tried to have done with him before because of the whole Vaizard thing?"
There was a respectful pause, as if for the remembrance for the dead and fallen on the anniversary of some great, horrifically bloody battle. Ichigo was simply confused, though he took comfort in noting that if things got too weird, the other him and Zangetsu both seemed to remember all this stuff they were talking about...
"What if I take him to Urahara instead?" Kuchiki-taichou suggested. "Ichigo would probably feel much more comfortable there, and we could still get closer to figuring out what happened."
The other captains thought about this, and then one by one they all nodded. Yamamoto-sou-taichou spoke again. "All right, so be it. One last thing: keep what you've seen here today quiet. Tell only those who need to know."
Kyoraku-taichou responded, "The last report we had of Kurosaki-kun was "missing in action, presumed dead". If it was to be widely spread that he was back, but like this, it's possible that people would panic."
Kuchiki-taichou frowned. "So what are we going to do with him, then? Keep him in obscurity until he grows up again?"
"To some extent, yes. A 15 year old captain, for example, would be far less panic-inducing than an 8 year old one."
Ichigo frowned at this, but said nothing, trying to piece together all the random information they were throwing around. Supposedly, he used to be a captain himself, and now they wanted to make him be a captain again when he didn't even know what was going on...
"How exactly are you going to prevent people from finding out? He'd be conspicuous just about anywhere in Seireitei, and we're definitely not going to just dump him back in Rukongai..."
"We will figure that out at a later time," Yamamoto-sou-taichou decided. "For now, take him to Urahara Kisuke for further observation. The main goal here will be to get his memories back, if at all possible."
Soifon-taichou nodded. "I'll inform Yoruichi-sama." With that, she disappeared from the room.
Kuchiki-taichou took Ichigo's hand. "Come on. We have to get people to set up the gate in order for you to get through."
Ichigo looked up at her in confusion. "What gate?"
"Urahara's shop is in the real world," she explained to him, leading him out of the room. "While we're waiting for the gate to get set up, I'll try and explain all this to you."
"Is there a particular reason you're babysitting, Rukia-san?" Hanatarou looked somewhat amused as Rukia led Ichigo into one of fourth division's large cafeterias.
She glanced at him as she passed. "There is, but it's classified. Could you get him something to eat, Hanatarou?"
He looked puzzled at the classified bit, but nodded amiably. "Sure." He hurried off.
Rukia pulled Ichigo to a small table in a corner and they sat at either side of it. Ichigo had to sit on his feet in order to have his head above the edge of the table, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Okay," Rukia began. "I guess I'll just tell you everything I remember from since I first met you..." she pulled out her sketchbook and a pencil.
Ichigo looked at it warily. "They're not all going to be bunnies, are they?"
Rukia stared. "You remember the sketchbook, but not me?"
He blinked at her. "What?"
"Never mind." She sighed. If he remembered her drawings enough to insult them, she should probably not draw this; she didn't want to have to hit a kid... She put her sketchbook away.
"Okay, when you were about fifteen..." She stopped suddenly, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Ichigo; that just seems weird to say that to an eight year old..."
He smirked slightly. "It feels weird to hear it, too. How about you just tell me the story of Kurosaki Ichigo, and I'll just pretend you're talking about another Ichigo?"
Rukia smiled. "All right. When Ichigo was about fifteen, living in the real world, his family was attacked by a hollow. I was the shinigami on duty in his town, at the time, so I tried to defend him. I got injured, so the only option left was for me to lend him my shinigami powers."
Ichigo frowned. "Isn't that illegal?"
"Yes, but at the time, I didn't think it would matter. Once the hollow was gone, my powers would fade from him, and everything would go back to normal... Except that for some reason, he accidentally took them all, and they didn't come back to me. So for a few months, I went to his school with him, and he took care of my shinigami duties. Eventually, though, Soul Society found out what I'd done. They sent a captain and a vice captain with orders to arrest me and kill him."
Ichigo's eyes widened a bit. "Did they kill him, then?"
"Well, they thought they did. Byakuya-niisama destroyed his spiritual energy and the shinigami powers I'd given him. I let them take me to Soul Society, hoping that by doing so, they would at least let him live. They did, and he was rescued by Urahara."
"The same Urahara we're going to go see?" Ichigo asked.
Rukia nodded. "Right. Urahara gave Ichigo special training that gave him his own shinigami powers rather than just borrowing mine, and Ichigo broke into Soul Society along with a few of his friends to come rescue me from execution."
"Wow... Didn't he get stopped by the captains?"
"They tried to stop him, but he refused to stop." Rukia shook her head. "He beat Kenpachi, which is why he tried to fight you. He beat Renji, who was a vice captain at the time. He even learned Bankai and defeated Byakuya-niisama. He was really powerful."
Hanatarou showed up then with a tray of food and set it in front of Ichigo. Ichigo stared at it for a long moment before eating hungrily. Hanatarou smiled and turned to Rukia. "Are you telling him about Ichigo-san?"
Rukia smiled, rubbing the back of her head. "Yeah, kind of."
Hanatarou grinned, sitting at the table next to Rukia and turning to Ichigo. "Ichigo-san was really great. I first met him when he broke in to save Rukia-san. He actually kidnapped me and tried to hold me hostage, but it didn't work because the 11th squad guys don't like me."
Ichigo giggled, listening intently while still eating. "But you became friends with him?"
Hanatarou nodded with a laugh. "I also wanted to rescue Rukia-san, so I continued following Ichigo-san around and I healed him whenever he got hurt while fighting."
Ichigo stopped eating and looked up at Hanatarou with a look of concentration on his face. "Your sword heals people when you hit them with it, doesn't it?"
Hanatarou blinked at him. "Er, yeah actually, it does." Rukia shot Ichigo a warning glance. He wisely went back to his food.
Rukia went back to her explanation. "Anyway... Unfortunately, what none of us knew at the time was that three of the Shinigami Captains were traitors: Aizen, Ichimaru, and Tousen. They had killed the entire office of 46 and were relaying false messages to the rest of the shinigami, constantly moving up my execution date and trying to prevent Ichigo from rescuing me."
"Well, it turns out that Urahara had used me as a hiding place for a really powerful artifact called the Hougyoku without telling me. Aizen was trying to get his hands on it, and the only way he could see to do that was to destroy my body. Obviously, that didn't work; Ichigo saved me. But it was a near thing, and Aizen managed to get a hold of the Hougyoku anyway. He and the other traitors escaped to Hueco Mundo and began forming an army of Arrancar."
Ichigo frowned. "Arrancar?"
"Shinigami/Hollow hybrids. They're created when a hollow removes its mask and gains shinigami powers. There's also another kind of Shinigami/Hollow hybrid called a Vaizard, when a shinigami gains hollow powers. And it turns out that part of the reason Ichigo was so powerful was that the training Urahara gave him actually turned him into a Vaizard."
"He could use hollow powers?" Ichigo asked in slight wonder.
Rukia shook her head. "Only after he defeated the hollow in his mind. Before that, it kept trying to take control of him and destroy everything. Once he took care of that, though, he was fine."
Ichigo frowned at this, but said nothing, so she continued.
"Anyway, while we were all training to fight against Aizen, he kidnapped one of Ichigo's friends, Inoue Orihime. You can imagine he wasn't too pleased. So he and a few others broke into Hueco Mundo to go rescue her."
"He rescued lots of people, didn't he?" Ichigo mused.
Hanatarou grinned. "Yeah, he did. It's why lots of people liked him."
"Oh." Ichigo looked down at his tray and sighed. Rukia realized with a small smile that it was empty.
Hanatarou realized this as well and laughed, getting quickly to his feet. "I'll go get you some more food," he said, grabbing the tray.
Ichigo immediately brightened. "Thanks!" Hanatarou bowed and left.
Rukia waited until he was out of earshot before turning to Ichigo again. "Does any of this sound familiar to you at all?" she asked him.
Slowly, Ichigo shook his head. "Nope. I wish it was, though, Ichigo sounds pretty cool," he laughed.
She sighed. "I guess I should have expected as much. How did you know about Hanatarou's sword, though?"
Ichigo shrugged. "Names and random facts just click sometimes. I just suddenly knew that Hanatarou's sword heals, and you called him Hanatarou, so..."
Rukia frowned. "I see. Well, try to keep the observations to yourself. We don't want people figuring out who you are..."
"Kay..." Ichigo pouted. "So what happened next? Did Ichigo save Inoue?"
Rukia nodded and continued her narrative. "Yes. At first, we weren't doing too hot, but Yamamoto sent in a few captains after us to help, and then we did okay. We managed to rescue Inoue, we damaged the Hougyoku, and took out quite a few Espada, who were the top Arrancar. Then we went back to Soul Society. After that, everyone trained hard for the next major attack. During this time, Yamamoto decided that we desperately needed to fill the holes that the traitors had left so that we could effectively use all of our divisions again. So Renji, Ichigo, and I were made captains over divisions 3, 5, and 9."
"So Ichigo's been a captain since he was 15?" Ichigo asked in slight awe.
"Well, he was 17 by the time he was officially named a captain, but yes," Rukia confirmed. "Actually, a lot of people were opposed to his becoming a captain, since he was technically still alive in the real world. But nobody else really qualified for the position, except Ikkaku, and he wouldn't take it. I barely qualified for captain, myself, actually. I only learned Bankai during our rescue trip."
"Oh. So did Ichigo kick Aizen's butt?"
Rukia shook her head in amusement. "Well, yes. It was another year before our next attack on Hueco Mundo, though, and even with all that training, it still took most of the captains to bring him and the other traitors down... None of us got out of that battle uninjured, and Ichigo was probably the worst off out of all of us, but we all eventually recovered. Then we all had to readjust to non-wartime situations."
Hanatarou reappeared then, placing another tray of food in front of Ichigo and jumping back into the conversation. "That was a bit difficult, after the huge battles we'd been through. Quite a few people then thought that Ichigo-san should step down from the captaincy and go back to living his life in the real world."
"Did he?" Ichigo wondered, speaking with his mouth full.
"Like Ichigo would ever listen to anybody but himself," Rukia snorted. "No. Just to spite them, he started alternating his time between Soul Society and the real world. Not only did he maintain all of his captain duties, but he also managed to graduate first from high school, despite missing most of his sophomore year, and then from college as well. Nobody could really complain, then."
Hanatarou shook his head. "Except for the Vaizard thing."
Rukia scowled. "Ah, right. Many people were opposed to letting a Vaizard be captain. After the whole 12th division fiasco, though, it was generally agreed that since it wasn't his fault he was a Vaizard, he should be allowed to stay captain as long as he didn't use his hollow powers."
"Ichigo-san also refused to wear the usual captain's cloak, which made quite a few people upset," Hanatarou remembered.
Now Rukia grinned. "He claimed it was because it 'messed up his Bankai outfit', but I'm pretty sure it was because he didn't like people judging him by his captain status. He never was one to brag, except when he was actually fighting..."
Ichigo grinned. "He sounds nice," he commented. "Ooh, pretty!"
The second comment didn't make much sense to the other two at first, but then Rukia realized that he was pointing at a black Hell Butterfly that was headed towards them. Quickly, she turned and held out a finger for it to land on.
"Kuchiki Rukia-taichou, the gate is ready to go whenever you are," was the recorded message. Then the butterfly flew off again.
Rukia frowned. "Not enough time to tell you everything else, then. I'll just skip ahead to the part where this all applies to you, then."
"Ichigo-san's story applies to him? And you're going to the real world, Rukia-san?" Hanatarou looked confused.
Rukia turned to him in surprise, biting back a curse. "Ah, I forgot you were here. Sorry, Hanatarou, that's classified information. I don't mean to be rude, but could I finish talking to him alone?"
Hanatarou looked apologetic. "Of course. Sorry, Rukia-san!" He hurriedly left.
Ichigo watched him go, looking disappointed. "He was nice. If he was friends with me before, why can't we tell him?"
Rukia shook her head. "Because if we told everybody who was friends with you, everybody in Soul Society would know."
"Anyway. Two years ago, there was a large fire at a hospital in the real world. Ichigo had been there at the time, so of course his saving people thing kicked in. He rescued a lot of people from the fire, but went back into the building one too many times. It had become unstable, and it literally fell apart on top of him."
Ichigo's eyes widened. "Was he okay?"
"Technically," Rukia sighed. "We managed to get him out of there, but only his shinigami form. His real body, along with those of the two kids he'd been carrying, had been crushed and burned to death..."
Ichigo winced. "Ow."
"I can imagine. Though, again, Ichigo himself was fine. He was more upset that he hadn't been able to save those kids. We gave them a soul burial, then Ichigo opened himself up a gate back to Soul Society, figuring he'd just have to be captain full time, now. That's when things went wrong."
Rukia looked at him. "That's kind of what we're hoping you can tell us. Basically, he entered the gate in the real world, but never got to Soul Society. Nobody could figure it out; we searched everywhere for him: the real world, Soul Society, including Rukongai, we even tried Hueco Mundo. But he was nowhere to be found. Months later, the search was finally called off, and it was generally assumed he was dead. Until I found you."
Ichigo contemplated this for a long moment before shaking his head slowly. "I don't remember any of that..."
"Well, that's what we're going to Urahara's for," Rukia replied with false cheeriness. She stood and held out her hand, indicating that he should follow her. He glanced at his tray, which was still half full of food. She smirked wryly. "Take it with you. Come on."
Happily, he picked up the tray in one hand and followed her out the doors and toward where the gate had been set up.
Back in the cafeteria, Hanatarou watched them leave curiously. He didn't want to pry into classified information or anything, but he couldn't help but wonder... A mysterious orange-haired child with a connection to Ichigo? Could that mean...?
Hanatarou frowned. "I didn't know Ichigo-san ever liked anyone that way..." He wished he'd gotten the kid's name...
Kon, Rinrin, Claude, and Nova were all peeking into a doorway in the back of Urahara's shop, trying to figure out why there was a short, orange-haired kid wandering around by himself and wondering whether they should actually do something about it.
He didn't seem to be causing any trouble; in fact, he treated the boxes and things on the shelves as if they would shock him if he touched them. Instead, he was simply wandering, looking around at everything in interest.
"Who's the kid?" Rinrin hissed to the others.
Kon glared at her. "Like we know any more than you do, idiot! We noticed him the same time you did!"
"Shut up, Kon!"
"What's he doing back here?" Kon asked, ignoring her and returning his attention to the boy.
Claude shrugged, rubbing the brim of his hat contemplatively. "Kids are generally highly curious, so if the door to the back of the shop was open, he could have simply wandered in."
"Except that Urahara-san places pretty powerful barriers on the rooms back here that only let certain people through," Rinrin noted irritably. "How did he get back here?"
Claude opened his mouth to offer an explanation, one finger raised in the air pointedly. He stayed like that for a moment, then slumped. "No idea."
"You're helpful," Kon shot at him. "What should we do about it? Where's Urahara?"
"I don't know. Talking with a customer, I think."
Nova quietly pointed out the boy's clothing. "He's from Rukongai."
"You're right... That's odd, how would that happen?" Kon mused.
Rinrin frowned at him. "Stupid, obviously a shinigami had to have brought him here. That's probably who Urahara's talking with right now."
"If that's so, then none of us should be the ones to take him back to them," Claude noted. "We don't want any unnecessary attention from Soul Society on us..."
"Still, maybe we should at least ask the kid who he is," Rinrin suggested.
"Sure, you do that," Kon rolled his eyes, folding his arms. "Just don't make me do it; me and kids don't really mix."
"You say that as if any of us and kids really mix," Claude pointed out.
Nova interrupted them quietly. "He found our plush forms."
The other three all whirled to face the doorway again, looking in. The boy had, indeed, stumbled upon the low shelf where the four plush toys sat and was looking at them curiously. Slowly, he reached out and picked up the stuffed lion, turning it over in his hands.
Kon fumed. "Oh, no you don't..." He stormed into the room, announcing his presence with a terse, "Put it back, kid."
Immediately, the plush was back on the shelf and the kid was staring up at him in shock, his hands in the air. "I didn't take anything!"
Kon scowled at him. "Sure, you didn't. Only someone with a guilty conscious says stuff like that. How'd you get back here, anyway?"
The kid shifted uneasily, probably knowing he really wasn't supposed to be there. "I'm sorry. Urahara-san and Kuchiki-taichou were talking, and it was boring, and the door was open, so..."
Kon's mouth fell open slightly. "Byakuya's here?"
The kid looked confused. "Bya...kuya? No, I meant Kuchiki Rukia-taichou..."
Kon blinked, then smiled. "Ah, Rukia-neesan! That makes more sense. Why did Neesan bring you here?"
He hesitated, then cautiously asked, "You know Kuchiki-taichou? Doesn't she get mad when you call her that?"
Kon laughed. "Only when I try to hug her. Rukia-neesan doesn't much like the fancy titles, just so you know. Her brother is also a captain, so if you call them both Kuchiki-taichou, things get confusing."
The boy nodded quickly. "Kay." He looked up at Kon curiously. "You have orange hair, just like me..."
Kon scowled at him, running one hand distractedly through his neatly trimmed orange hair. "Yeah, you've got Ichigo and Urahara to blame for that one."
For some reason, this caught the boy's interest. "Really? What'd Ichigo do to your hair?"
"He existed." Kon said shortly. Several years before Ichigo's disappearance, Kon had insisted that Urahara make him a gigai so that the other mod souls wouldn't have that advantage over him whenever Ichigo actually had to use his body. Urahara had insisted on the orange hair, since apparently 'nothing else would look right.' Kon was still ticked off about that...
Suddenly he noted the lack of honorifics added to the name. "Hang on; you add taichou to Rukia's name, but nothing to Ichigo's? Did you know him or something?"
The boy frowned nervously, apparently unsure how to answer this. "Ano... maybe? I kind of don't remember..."
"I see... Is that why Neesan brought you here?" Kon frowned at him.
He thought about this for a moment. "I dunno if I'm supposed to tell anyone. Rukia-taichou says I'm confi... confiden..." he turned slightly red. "Secret."
"Really?" Now Kon was interested. "What's your name, kid?"
"What's yours?" he shot back.
Kon smirked at him. "Going to play it that way, huh? Fine, I'm Kon. But you can call me Kon-sama."
The kid wrinkled his nose at him. "Yeah right. Why would I call a teenager sama?"
"Because I'm awesome, that's why! Besides, I'm older than you!"
"As far as you know!" the kid smirked.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Secret!" he stuck his tongue out at him.
"So you're just a nameless, ageless, annoying, orange-haired kid, then?" Kon scowled at him.
The boy smirked back. "And you're just an irritating, perverted mod-soul. So?"
Kon froze. "How did you know that?"
Abruptly, the boy's smug look disappeared, replaced by sincere confusion and apprehension. "Know what?"
"You called me a mod-soul!" Kon accused. "How do you even know what a mod-soul is?"
His features went blank as he thought about this. "I... I don't know what a mod-soul is. I'm sorry; I don't know why I called you that." He ducked his head in embarrassment. "I think I might have known someone else named Kon once...?"
Kon looked him over suspiciously. "Kon isn't exactly a popular name. I certainly don't know any other Kons..." That and he could count the number of people who knew about mod-souls on two hands...
The boy shrugged slightly, looking somewhat miserable. "I'm sorry, I don't know... I remember random stuff when I'm not paying attention, but when I try to remember, it doesn't work."
Kon frowned at him. "That's really odd."
The boy nodded. There was an awkward silence for a moment before the kid decided to break it with a random topic change. "So what are those?" he asked, pointing at the shelf that held the four plush forms.
"... They're stuffed animals."
The kid gave him a strange look. "Well, I figured that... I meant, why did you get mad at me for touching them?"
"I don't care about most of them. Just the one that's mine," Kon said indignantly.
"Oh." he grinned. "A teenager has a stuffed animal?"
"Hey, watch it, kid. Note that it's on a shelf." Kon scowled at him. "Just don't touch it."
"Or else. Just don't touch it," Kon repeated. The kid smiled mischievously. The inevitable occurred. A chase ensued around the small room.
"Give it back, brat!"
Rinrin, Claude, and Nova were no help whatsoever, instead standing at the doorway laughing at Kon's misfortune.
Thus, when Rukia walked on the scene a moment later, she found, to her great amusement, Kon and the kid in a fierce tug of war match with the stuffed lion.
"Let go, you're going to rip it!"
"Then you let go!"
"You let go, brat!"
Rukia cleared her throat, catching both of their attentions. The kid immediately dropped the stuffed lion, causing Kon to fall to the floor in surprise. After a brief moment of confusion, Kon recovered and launched himself happily at Rukia. "Neeeeesaaaaaaan!!"
Abruptly, Kon found himself on the floor, Rukia's foot on the back of his head pressing his face into the carpet. His next words were muffled. "So cruel, Neesan!"
She smirked at him. "You haven't changed a bit, Kon." She turned her attention to the kid, who was observing Kon's situation with wide-eyed curiosity. "Urahara would like to talk with you for a while."
The kid nodded and silently left the room, giving Kon one last backwards glance before heading back to the main shop.
Rukia removed her foot from Kon's head, letting him get up again. "What were you doing?" she asked with obvious amusement.
Kon scowled. "What do you think? The brat stole me; I had to get me back!"
"It sure took you a while to catch him, mister super-enhanced leg strength!" Rinrin teased as the other three mod-souls entered the room.
"Maybe you didn't notice, idiot, but the kid was using shunpo." Kon deadpanned. "What eight year old Rukongai kid can use shunpo?!"
Rukia smirked. "A very special eight year old Rukongai kid."
Kon rolled his eyes. "Confidential, right? That's what he said."
"We were told only to inform those who needed to know." Rukia confirmed. "But considering he might be spending much of his time around here, the four of you should be told. Again, though, tell no one else."
Kon looked up in interest. "You're actually going to tell us?"
"Mmhmm." Rukia turned away, folding her arms and looking smug. "So how did you like your first conversation with Kurosaki Ichigo in two years?"
All four mod-souls gaped at her. One by one, things began to click in Kon's head. Orange hair, allowed through the shop's barriers, didn't use honorifics with Ichigo's name, knows about mod-souls, uses shunpo...
Kon stood. "I'm going to kill him."
Ichigo and Urahara were seated at a low table, Urahara examining the boy across from him with interest. "Tell me as much as you remember from your life before Rukongai."
Ichigo frowned at him. "Absolutely nothing, at least when I try to remember. When I'm not paying attention to it, random facts pop up. Like, I accidentally called Kon a mod-soul earlier, but I've no idea what that is..."
Urahara nodded, thinking this over. "What about when you first arrived in Rukongai?"
"Dunno. I was confused at first, but people just told me that losing most or all of your memories when coming to Rukongai is normal." Ichigo said.
"That is true," Urahara mused. "When a soul comes to Soul Society, young souls are left how they are and they lose little to none of their memories, while older souls are reset to approximately six. The older they were, the less they remember their previous lives..."
"If you knew that, then why is everyone so surprised that I'm little?" Ichigo asked, confused.
Urahara shook his head. "You had come to Soul Society before. Not only that, you were a captain who came to and from Soul Society often. Technically, when you became a shinigami, your physical body died and you simply possessed it after that. So I suppose we all assumed that since you didn't get reset every time you came to Soul Society before, that you had no real connection to your body anymore and therefore wouldn't be reset when returning to Soul Society after its death..."
"Oh. Then why-"
Ichigo's question was interrupted by a slight commotion outside the door leading to the back room, followed by Kon bursting through the door, Rukia-taichou close behind him. "Kon, don't!"
Kon ignored her, pointing at Ichigo. "Are you really Ichigo?" he demanded.
Ichigo scowled at him. "How am I supposed to answer that?" he wanted to know. "What would you do if someone randomly came up to you and said, 'Are you really Kon'?"
Kon let out a noise of irritation. "You know what I mean, brat. Are you really that Ichigo?"
"So everyone keeps telling me," Ichigo rolled his eyes.
"Then why didn't you-"
Without warning, the main door to the shop slammed open and something large launched itself at Ichigo's head, emitting a loud scream. Caught completely off guard, Ichigo instinctively dodged to one side, grabbed a hold of the thing's legs, and slammed it forcefully into the ground.
It was at that point that Ichigo realized that the thing was a person.
"Eight years old, and I still have nothing left to teach you!" The man sobbed happily.
Ichigo stared at him. "Who are you?"
This made the man sob harder, this time not so happily. "Waaah! My only son has forgotten me!!"
Two girls entered the shop, one of them looking irritated. Hitting the old man over the head, she yelled, "Knock it off, you knew he wouldn't remember you!"
He bawled. "Why must my daughter be so violent? Nobody has any respect for me any more!"
"Nobody ever had any respect for you!" the girl shot at him, twitching.
The other girl turned to Ichigo apologetically. "Don't mind them. I'm Yuzu. This is Karin. We're your sisters. And that's our dad."
Ichigo stared around at all of them. He didn't know a single one of them, but apparently, this was his family...
Quietly, he asked, "Is he always this crazy, or just right now?"
Karin scowled. "He's always this crazy," she confirmed. "And sometimes worse."
"Hey, I can be very serious at times," his dad protested.
Urahara interrupted the argument before it could begin. "So how much were you three told?"
"Not much," Karin said with a frown. "Just, 'hey, your older brother was found, except that he's now your little brother, and he doesn't remember anything.' So nothing informative. What happened?"
Urahara began explaining his theory that Ichigo had been reset. Ichigo turned back to where Kon had been standing, only to realize that the teen was no longer there, or in fact anywhere in the room.
Looking around curiously, he tugged on Rukia-taichou's sleeve. "Where'd Kon go?" he whispered so as not to interrupt the other conversation.
Rukia-taichou smirked. "He left in a hurry. He's scared of Yuzu."
Ichigo blinked, glancing over at his sister. There was nothing particularly threatening about her... In fact, of everybody here, she seemed to be the least scary... He turned back to Rukia-taichou. "Why?"
"I'll explain later," she promised.
Urahara finished his explanation. "So the main problem is that little to no research has been done on exactly how people lose their memories when they're reset. If it was a total memory wipe, then there's really nothing we can do. However, if it simply blocks access to memories, we just have to figure out how to remove the block."
"Considering he can still remember random facts about things, it's likely the memories are just blocked," Rukia-taichou commented.
Urahara nodded. "Even then, though, it's still possible that some of his memories got wiped... It'll be impossible to tell how many until we figure out how to remove the block."
"How are we going to do that if nobody's ever done research on memories before?" Karin complained.
"Trial and error," Urahara said. "One thing that may be important to note is that Kurosaki-san has always typically performed best under pressure. He does things because he has to, not because he wants to. Likewise, he now appears to have the most access to what little memory he has whenever he's not thinking about it, especially when he needs it."
Rukia-taichou nodded. "Like suddenly remembering how to shunpo," she commented.
Ichigo blinked at her. "What's shunpo?"
"The moving really fast thing."
Urahara nodded. "Which proves that, again, he doesn't exactly remember how to do things, or what they're called; he just does them."
"That's not necessarily because of this memory problem, though," Rukia-taichou pointed out. "When he was first learning this stuff, he did the exact same thing. He just did stuff suddenly, like standing on air, or sensing spirit threads, and even his Getsuga Tenshou attack, and then he learned the names and techniques later..."
Yuzu frowned. "Doesn't that mean that he might actually not remember things, and that he'll have to be retaught everything?"
Urahara shook his head. "No, he does keep remembering random information about people. Again, that means that at least some of his memories are still in there somewhere. It's just a matter of finding out how many of them, and how to get them."
"So what do you plan on doing?" Ichigo's dad wanted to know.
"Well, I do want to know how much of his shinigami abilities he has retained. Obviously, asking him about them won't help, because if he tries to think about it, they'll be blocked. So for now I'm just wanting to set up some targets in the underground training area, give him a sword, and see what he does with it," Urahara suggested.
Rukia-taichou nodded. "I'm all right with that, as long there's no actual battles with people. Kenpachi tried that earlier and it didn't work so well."
Ichigo turned slightly red. "Well, he was big." he defended himself. "And scary. And a captain."
Rukia-taichou laughed. "True. But don't let any of the captains scare you. To be honest, I think you could probably still beat most of them even like this."
Ichigo looked doubtful at this.
Urahara smiled. "Well, we'll soon see. Follow me, everyone!" He stood, heading for the back of the shop. Ichigo waited for Rukia-taichou to get up first, and then followed after her. In one of the back rooms, there was a trapdoor that apparently led down to a large basement of some sort.
When they all reached the bottom of the ladder, Ichigo was able to get a good look at the new surroundings. He knew that he should probably be shocked at just how big it was, especially since the ceiling to the place seemed to have been painted even, but Urahara yelling about how surprising it was made him somewhat less inclined to say anything about it.
"Nova!" Urahara called suddenly. A moment later, a ninja-like red-haired boy appeared in a red light. "Could you set up some targets for Ichigo?"
Nova nodded, disappearing again. Red light flashed several times around the large training area, and in their wake, large red and white hollow-shaped targets were left. Ichigo blinked, trying to figure out who Nova was and how the targets were getting there. He decided not to ask.
"Okay, Ichigo," Urahara said cheerfully. He produced a sword from seemingly nowhere and handed it to the boy, hilt first. "For now, just go knock down as many of the targets as you can."
Ichigo looked dubiously at the sword, which felt unfamiliar in his hands. Unsteadily, he gave it an experimental swing, then looked it over. "Whose sword is this?"
"It's just a nameless zanpakutou," Urahara answered. "They're given to University students to use before they reach Shikai."
"Oh. It's too light," Ichigo complained.
Urahara nodded. "Understandable that you would think that, Ichigo, but you'll be using that one until you can release your own again. Go ahead and knock down some targets."
"Okay..." Ichigo was feeling very self conscious trying something he'd never done before in front of a whole bunch of people who probably expected him to do it perfectly, but he took a deep breath and tried to ignore them.
Slowly, he approached the nearest target and swung at it. He'd swung too hard. The sword knocked the target down, then ricocheted back and he nearly dropped it in surprise. Ducking his head in embarrassment, he glared at it.
"It's too light!" He called back to Urahara again.
"Then summon yours!" Urahara said cheerfully.
Now Ichigo glared at him. "How?"
"Don't think about it, just do it!"
"That's really helpful," Ichigo complained. He turned to the next target and used the fast step that Rukia-taichou called shunpo to get up close to it, swinging the nameless sword at it.
Once again, he overbalanced, almost falling over completely. Growling in irritation, he dug the blade of the sword into the ground and left it there. "I want my sword!"
Mentally, he felt the old man smile at him. 'Then say my name!'
"Zangetsu!" Ichigo cried, holding his hands out as if gripping a hilt. Immediately, it materialized there; a giant sword, way taller than he was, with a black blade, no hand guard, and a white hilt wrap.
Now Ichigo really did fall over; The sudden weight of the sword caught him off balance, and he tipped. Turning red from embarrassment, Ichigo slowly picked himself up off the ground, hauling Zangetsu up with both hands and laying it at a resting position over one shoulder.
He turned back to face Urahara and the others. They were looking at him and his sword with varying degrees of surprise and amusement.
"I didn't expect him to get it so fast," Karin commented.
Yuzu hid a grin behind one hand. "I kind of expected the sword to get a little smaller, though. He can barely lift it!"
Urahara smiled widely. "Actually, I think it did get smaller. There's only so much smaller a sword like that can get, you know..."
Ichigo scowled at them. "You're making fun of me," he accused.
They all hurriedly exclaimed that they weren't. It wasn't a good idea to tick off an eight year old with a giant sword...
"On the contrary, Ichigo, we are glad to see you remember this," Urahara assured him. "Now we just have to see how far your memories of your sword extend. Knock down a few targets."
Ichigo nodded firmly. Zangetsu was quite a bit heavier than he'd expected, but it was his sword, and he would get used to it. He turned and flash stepped at the nearest target, slicing it cleanly in half. He overbalanced slightly from the weight, but quickly caught himself and jumped at the next target.
One down. And another. And another. Slowly, with each target, his balance improved as he got used to the weight of the sword.
Finally, there was only one target left, perched way up on one of the tallest boulders in the room. Ichigo scowled at it. Climbing up to it would be difficult, and as far as he could tell, shunpo only worked horizontally, not vertically...
He lifted Zangetsu high above his head, still focused on the target high above him. Well, if he couldn't get to it, he'd blast it down instead. He swung the sword down hard, focusing energy on the blade.
It was a bit of an overkill. The wave of energy cut through not only the target, but most of the boulder it had been sitting on, going straight through it and taking out a boulder in the distance behind it too. Ichigo frowned to himself, staring down at his sword. "Wow... I didn't know I could do that..."
Urahara clapped. "He remembers his Getsuga Tenshou attack, too. Very nice. And he's still standing, which means his reiatsu level hasn't gone down from what it used to be."
"Getsuga Tenshou?" Ichigo asked, still staring at the mass damage he had just caused. "Is that what it's called?"
"Yup!" Urahara looked pleased, waving his white fan at him. "Come back over here; I'll get Nova to set up some more difficult targets for you."
Ichigo laid Zangetsu across his shoulder, trying not to stumble under the weight, and walked back over. "More difficult, how?"
"I was thinking of some moving targets, actually," Urahara answered amiably. Nova nodded and vanished in a cloud of red.
While Nova set up the targets, Urahara turned to Rukia-taichou. "Rukia-san, I have a request."
She looked at him suspiciously. "You want to try actually fighting with him, right?"
"I can't think of a better way to see if he still has his Bankai," Urahara confirmed. "He does the things he remembers whenever he needs to, and there's no way he would need his Bankai to knock down targets, no matter how fast I get them moving."
Rukia-taichou shook her head. "There's no reason for him to need Bankai right now," she reminded him. "Even if you want to see if he still has it. I don't want to force too many things on him at once. It was bad enough the first time you trained him."
"What if you were the one sparring with him?" Urahara asked. "You've trained with him before, you know him well enough to tell when he's reaching his limits, right?"
She sighed. "Not really. He never really had limits before."
"But you would know better than anyone else," Urahara reasoned.
"That's really not my call to make. I don't want to force this on him."
Ichigo looked from one to the other before speaking up suddenly. "I want to remember. It's obvious to me that you're telling the truth about who I used to be. Otherwise there'd be no way I could do all this shinigami type stuff without learning it... So I want to remember as much as I can." He swallowed hard and continued stubbornly. "Even if it means fighting, I want to remember."
He could feel old man Zangetsu's approval at this. The other him almost seemed to be sulking, for some reason... He'd have to ask him about it later...
Rukia-taichou watched him carefully, then sighed, smiling slightly. "You never change. You're always so stubborn, Strawberry."
Ichigo scowled at her. "Don't call me that, Midget."
Karin and Yuzu both cracked up. Ichigo eyes widened and he turned red as he realized just how he had automatically reacted to her sudden comment.
Rukia-taichou looked shocked for a moment, then smirked, laughing slightly. "Sorry, Ichigo, that one's not going to work any more." She placed a hand on his head to demonstrate just how much taller she was than him.
He turned even more red. "Sorry."
She shook her head, still laughing. "No, no. It's not bad, it's just... You always called me that before, but it sounds weird coming from such a small you. It's cute."
He scowled again. "I'm not cute," he insisted. All three girls just grinned.
Isshin clapped his son hard on the back suddenly, almost making him fall over. "Sorry, son, but it's true. You are cute."
Ichigo's scowl deepened.
Urahara smiled widely, hiding half of his face behind his fan. "Well, let's get back to work. Ichigo, see if you can hit the moving targets that Nova set up, and when you're done with that, you and Rukia-san can have a short sparring match."
Ichigo nodded and stalked sullenly off, still irritated at the cute comments.
The targets appeared to be hung at intervals on three moving conveyer belts around the large room.
Ichigo didn't feel like figuring out how to knock them all down the right way, so instead he simply raised Zangetsu high in the air and brought it down in a slash. "Getsuga Tenshou!"
The resulting blue wave of energy blasted through the whole first row of targets, then doubled around and cut through the next, then the next before dying out.
Ichigo scowled. He'd missed one. Flash-stepping towards it, he easily sliced it in two before turning back to the group. "Not cute," he emphasized.
They readily agreed, but they were all hiding smiles.
Urahara clapped. "All right, then," he exclaimed cheerfully. "Rukia-san, are you ready?"
Rukia-taichou frowned and drew her sword. Ichigo looked nervous, but he determinedly lifted Zangetsu in preparation. "I'm ready!" he called.
There was a moment of brief hesitation, then Rukia-taichou nodded. The two of them leapt towards each other, and the match began.
Urahara whistled in appreciation as Rukia slowly pulled herself up off the ground. He helped her up, then turned and grinned at the orange-haired boy, who was now currently curled up on the ground, fast asleep, holding Zangetsu protectively.
"He held his own fairly well, I'd say!" Urahara said happily.
Rukia frowned, breathing hard. "At first, I held back because I didn't want to hurt him..."
"He sure didn't let you hold back, though, did he?" Isshin said proudly, scooping his sleeping son into his arms. Urahara smiled and, carefully prying the sword from the boy's strong grip, gave him a certain small plush toy to hold instead. Ichigo sighed in his sleep and cuddled the stuffed lion.
"I almost forgot I was fighting a child," Rukia admitted, wiping her brow in exhaustion. "It was just like training with him, before..."
Yuzu grinned. "He looks so cute in that outfit," she gushed.
Rukia laughed. "I never thought I'd hear someone describe his Bankai outfit as being cute, and yet I have to admit, you're right..."
"I'm just glad it's been proven that he still has his Bankai," Urahara mentioned. "That probably means he still has his Vaizard abilities, too. Though there's no good way to test that, and I wouldn't force it on him anyway..."
Now Rukia hesitated. "So have you come up with a plan for getting his memories back, yet?"
Urahara shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure. The plans we make really depend on how exactly his memory is functioning at the moment. I think I have that fairly well figured out, if you'd care to hear it, but it's kind of a long explanation."
Rukia nodded. "Let's go up to the shop first." The rest agreed with this and they all climbed up the ladder, Isshin still carrying Ichigo carefully with one arm.
After placing Ichigo on a futon in a back room, everyone convened around Urahara's table and awaited his explanation.
"All right. How much do you know about how memory works?" Urahara asked.
"Not much," Rukia admitted. "It's never exactly been a necessary thing to know."
Urahara nodded. "Okay, then I'll start with some basics. Every person has two kinds of memory; short term memory and long term memory.
"Ichigo's short term memory is working fine, so we don't really need to go into that. Long term memory is what we're mainly going to focus on here. It is divided into two parts: declarative memory and implicit memory.
"Implicit memory is anything you remember unconsciously, without thinking about it. Part of this is procedural memories, or memories of how to do things."
Yuzu frowned. "So, you mean things like how to walk, how to speak, how to write..."
"Exactly," Urahara nodded in agreement. "Even complicated things, like how to activate your sword abilities. Anything you can do without having to think about each individual step. It can also include habits; stances you take while fighting-"
"Or, apparently, instinctive reactions to insults," Rukia mentioned with some amusement.
"Right. Instinct is a good description of it, really." Urahara smiled. "Now, as you've just noted, Ichigo's implicit memories seem to have been completely unaffected. He still remembers how to walk, talk, how to use shunpo and other abilities; and he still retains other certain habits. He may not know why he does these things, or how and when he learned them, but he does remember them, and can do them—if he doesn't think about them."
Karin thought about this for a moment, then asked a question. "All right, so that means that the part that's messed up for him is the other part of long term memory that you mentioned?"
Urahara nodded again. "Right. The Declarative memory—or conscious memory—is further divided into two parts: semantic memories and episodic memories."
Yuzu sighed. "And then it gets complicated again!" she complained.
He smiled understandingly. "The human psyche is a complex thing, Yuzu-chan. I'm sorry; I'm trying to make this as simple as I can."
"I know," she sighed again. "Karin-chan, are you understanding this?"
Karin nodded. "For the most part. So, okay, two parts of the second part of long term memory. What are they?"
Urahara nodded and continued. "Semantic memories are your memories of facts. Tokyo is the capital of Japan; Yamamoto is the sou-taichou of the Gotei 13, and so on."
"But this part of his memory still works too, doesn't it?" Rukia put in, one eyebrow raised. "He remembered that Kon was a mod soul and other various things..."
"Well, Ichigo's memories of facts from his previous life are obviously still there, but he can't access them readily. It's as if a filter of some sort is in place there, blocking most, but letting some through..." Urahara explained.
The others nodded and waited for him to continue.
"Now, the worst part of the block seems to be in Ichigo's episodic memory—the memory of events. Ichigo's episodic memories are either completely blocked, or completely wiped. Either way, he has no access to them. It's possible that the problem here, and in his memory of facts, are both caused by the same thing, but that's just a guess."
Urahara paused for a moment. "So, those are the basic facts of this problem. Any questions?"
Karin spoke up. "What does this mean for Ichi-nii?"
"A good question," Urahara returned. "I've a few ideas, but I'd like input. Suggestions, anyone?"
"We need to figure out how to remove this block on his memories, obviously," Rukia mused.
Urahara shook his head. "Not necessarily. We don't really want to remove it all at once."
Rukia blinked at him. "Why not?"
"See, here's where things get a little shaky. Ichigo has lost his past memories, but he still has the ability to form new memories and can readily access them; there is no filter or block of any kind, and so he remembers clearly not only every event that has happened to him since he arrived in Rukongai, but also every fact about his old life that he's been told or that gets through the filter. It's almost as if his mind has formed a new portion of long term memory altogether, a second Declarative section."
Karin frowned. "Okay. So?"
"Think about it. Each of those two sections, new and old, contains a completely different set of memories, and Ichigo has formed different personalities around each memory set that conform to how he has viewed the world.
"In his old set of memories, he was a fighter who didn't like authority, because of how he had been raised. In his new memories, he spent two years growing up in Rukongai, where he learned to fear the Shinigami, among various other things. Hence, his personality, while still being recognizably Ichigo due to his habits and instincts from before, was modified to fit his new perceptions.
"Because of this, even if we could lift the block on his first set of Declarative memories all at once, we wouldn't want to. The two personalities he's developed from each set of memories would clash with each other and fight for control. The sudden barrage of 28 years worth of memories in a single sitting would also be hugely damaging to his psyche. Between the two effects, he could potentially go insane."
Karin sighed. "That's a comforting thought."
Rukia shook her head in confusion. "So if we're not going to get rid of the block, then how...?"
"You misunderstand," Urahara said. "We do need to lift the block somehow."
Yuzu blinked. "But you just said it would make him..."
Urahara shook his head. "If the block lifts a little at a time, he should be fine. His old memories can slowly add themselves to his new ones, and he can cope with them little by little; his new personality can modify itself back to his old one."
"So, how do we go about removing the block just a little at a time, then?" Isshin asked seriously.
"Well, for one thing, we need to keep him somewhere familiar to him. The more new memories he establishes here, the less he will focus on his old memories, and he may end up forgetting them entirely. We need to keep him in familiar places and situations, with familiar people, to try and force his mind to try to connect to his older memories."
"You're sure that will work?" Karin asked dubiously.
"It's been working already," Urahara pointed out. "Random facts from before keep leaking through the block as he is reminded of them. When they do, they add themselves to his new memories."
Rukia frowned. "So we keep him around the places he knew? That's easier said than done. Staying in the real world is out of the question. He's a spirit now, and even if he got a gigai, people would ask questions."
Urahara nodded. "That's the main problem I've run into. Even in Soul Society, you can't take him to the parts of Seireitei that he spent the most time in. He's too young to blend in among the Shinigami, and the sou-taichou told you to keep him low profile."
"I wouldn't say that living in the real world is out of the question for him," Isshin put in indignantly. "I raised him once, I can do it again. I can't think of a more familiar place for him than home."
Rukia shook her head. "And then what? Send him to school? Familiar people more than familiar places would be more important, and all of his friends in the real world have changed in two years. Soul Society would be more stable for him."
"Urahara just said you won't be able to have him in familiar places in Soul Society!" Isshin argued. "His friends there won't have changed, perhaps, but he wouldn't be able to spend time with them. There, he'll be in an unfamiliar place and with unfamiliar people!"
"Not necessarily," Yuzu pointed out. "If he were living in Soul Society, you could at least take him on trips into Seireitei occasionally to talk to people. You couldn't do that as easily if he was staying here."
Karin nodded agreement. "And anyway, here might not be so familiar for him anyway. He hadn't been living with dad anymore before he disappeared, and Yuzu-chan and I moved out too, so staying with dad without us would be unfamiliar to him."
Isshin burst into fake tears. "My daughters are rejecting me again!"
Karin hit him. "We're just talking logic, you idiot! Soul Society's better for him!"
"What if he were to live in the Kuchiki household?" Urahara suggested suddenly, a look of contemplation on his face.
Rukia looked shocked. "Wait, what? Byakuya-niisama would never approve; he's never liked Ichigo."
"But it would make a good cover story," Urahara pointed out thoughtfully. "Captain Kuchiki Rukia, distraught on the anniversary of Kurosaki Ichigo's disappearance, finds an orange-haired child in Rukongai and decides to take him in, in memory of Ichigo."
Rukia scowled at the suggestion. "Byakuya-niisama would never approve," she repeated.
Urahara smiled. "I'll talk him into it," he promised. "What do you think about it?"
"I..." Rukia hesitated. "I'm not sure. I guess it would work, and I'm certainly not opposed to having him around..."
Karin smirked. "Maybe you could get him temporarily adopted into the Kuchiki clan, even. It'd help his cover story; then you could take him into Seireitei to interact with people under the premise of training him to be a Kuchiki."
"That's a little too far," Rukia protested. "Byakuya-niisama definitely wouldn't approve, and neither would the rest of the Kuchiki elders."
"But wouldn't it be cool?" Yuzu giggled. "He'd be Kuchiki Ichigo for a while."
Rukia groaned, just imagining what Byakuya's reaction to the suggestion might be.
Urahara grinned, flipping open his ever present white fan. "Well, we don't need to decide all this now. For now, though, you should probably take him back to Soul Society. There's really nothing else I can do for him here. Even if Byakuya-san doesn't approve in the long run, you can at least take him there for tonight, correct?"
"I suppose," Rukia relented.
"Then it's agreed!" Urahara exclaimed. Isshin pouted in a corner.
Rukia sighed. "All right, then. I'll go get Ichigo." She stood and headed for the back room where they'd left him.
She walked in on an odd yet amusing sight. Ichigo, still fast asleep, was refusing to let go of the plushie that Urahara had given him, as Kon strained to pull it out of his grip.
"I don't think he's going to let go," Rukia noted, laughing.
Kon let out a cry of irritation, releasing the plushie and scowling at Ichigo. "How did he get that again?" he demanded.
"Shhh, don't wake him up," Rukia directed. "Urahara gave it to him."
Kon growled. "That no good... Why does he always do this to me?!"
Rukia laughed again. "Ichigo, or Urahara?"
"Both!" Kon sighed. "What happened to him, anyway? I couldn't make out everything you guys were talking about from out here..."
"Urahara thinks he got reset," Rukia said simply, not feeling like explaining fully. "I'll have someone send your plushie back here tomorrow; I'm taking him back to Soul Society now."
Kon blinked. "He's not staying here? I thought you said..."
Rukia shook her head. "We've decided that he's going to be staying in Soul Society. We'll probably bring him back here occasionally, though, since Urahara will undoubtedly be coming up with things to try to get his memory back."
"...Oh. So that stuff he was saying before, that he couldn't remember things... He was being serious, he wasn't just messing with me?"
Kon frowned. "Now I kinda feel bad for yelling at him."
Rukia just laughed again. "Except that you know that if he did have his memories, he probably would have said it just to mess with you."
"True." Kon glared at the boy, but then sighed and shook his head in amusement. "It's just hard to believe it's really him. I mean, two years, and then suddenly this?"
"I know what you mean," Rukia said, also sighing as she looked down at Ichigo. She leaned down and picked the boy up carefully, trying not to wake him up. He mumbled something in his sleep and instinctively nestled closer to her.
Kon smirked at him. "I never knew Ichigo when he was this small; it's just odd to see him doing... well, cute little kid things."
Rukia laughed softly and nodded. "I'll see you later, Kon."
Kon nodded. "Sure. Bye, Neesan."
Rukia smiled and turned to leave the room. Kon hesitated, then spoke up again. "Rukia?"
Rukia looked back with a questioning look.
"... Let the kid keep the plushie," Kon said reluctantly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "It's really his anyway, and maybe it'll, you know, help a little..."
She laughed a little. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Thanks, Kon."
Kon shrugged and waved her off. Rukia smiled again and left the room, going back to the main shop.
There, Ichigo's family said their brief—and in Isshin's case emotional—goodbyes, and then Rukia opened up a gate back to Soul Society.
Daricio: ... ooookay... First off, this is definitely a one-shot. XD Sorry. The characters are really undeveloped, the backstory is incredibly shaky, and frankly, I'm kind of sick of working on it. XD
I actually started writing this random plotbunny shortly after finishing the first chapter to Feeling Hollow, to give you an idea of how long it's been sitting here collecting dust. So, yeah, that's why I'm going to be focusing more on one of my other plotbunnies, which should be up soon. Maybe.
Thanks to Bakageta, who acted as my betareader for this story, since my regular beta seems to have disappeared... Sorry, B/k! I'm going to have Bakageta beta my other story too, but I'm not going to post it up till I get your input too, so hurry back from where ever it is you disappeared to!
And one final note: Quickedit is evil and horrible and needs to die. XP Stupid dividers...