Um, hi everyone. Been a while with this story. Seriously, a long, long while. Two years? More? Something like that.

Gotta be honest with you, though, most of what I have here, I actually wrote shortly after posting the first chapter. A good 82 pages worth, in fact. (a good 30,000 words; almost longer than Hollow Feelings.) And all of it's been sitting around on my hard drive gathering virtual dust for the past two years.

See, usually I write things in order. If you guys don't see the next chapter posted, it's because I don't have anything (or much of anything) written for that story. In this case, though, I decided to just write scenes in whatever order they came to me, which meant that while I had a TON written, I didn't have the next chapter written. And what I did have written wasn't complete either; there were giant gaps in the narrative everywhere which required at least an explanation before I could post anything at all.

Then, of course, there was the problem with me kind of losing interest in writing the story. This... sort of happens when your plans for a story span nearly the whole length of the main character's lifetime. Thanks a lot, Katie.

I tried several things to get this story back up and going again. This included asking for help with my writing, similar to what I did with Familiar Faces. (Thanks to Lizeth for advertising that for me.) That kind of flopped, partially because of my own lack of interest, and partially because only two authors offered to write fill-in scenes for me. (Big thanks to Amiriah and Obi-Quiet for trying, by the way)

Long story short, I quickly found myself with this story on my hard drive gathering dust again. Finally, I had to make the decision to merely go through, add in explanation snippets everywhere so that you'd have an idea of what scenes were supposed to go in between what I have written, and then just post it. Consequently, what you are about to read will largely resemble a patchwork quilt. I apologize for this, and hope you like it anyway.

Oh, and it's a big patchwork quilt, so be warned. It may take a while to read...

Like, a LONG while. I apologize; believe me when I tell you that this chapter has everything I've ever done for this story in it. This includes lots of details about the scenes, about the characters, etc. etc. etc. ... I apologize. I really loved this story once upon a time, I just bit off more than I could chew with it. So I like talking about it.

But, yeah. Between scenes, most of the time, I've included explanations of narrative gaps and some character information. I also have several explanation things at the very end of the chapter: an OC list, wherein I more fully explain my original characters that I've created for this story, and a timeline that I wrote to keep track of all of the events, including short scene summaries.

... This is another reason why this is so long. D=

Oh, and keep in mind, most of this was written WAY before any of my other stories were ever even thought of. This writing predates the entire existence of Hollow Feelings, Day Before Tomorrow, and even Familiar Faces. This stuff's old writing, with old ideas... a lot of the ideas way need revamped, especially with latest chapters of Bleach coming out... But yeah. They're going up as is, just to warn you. (slinks away in shame)

Alright, now to actually get into the story. The next few scenes are ones written by other authors who were helping me fill in my gaps.

The first few scenes were originally written by an author named Amiriah. The section continues directly off of the last scene in my first chapter (which you may want to go back and reread, if you haven't recently. I apologize, but I'll feel silly summarizing it here when I'm already summarizing so much).

After Amiriah wrote the scenes, Obi-Quiet (and I) beta'd it, and then Obi continued on and wrote the scene directly following that. (I'll indicate where).

And I'll let you go to that point before I interrupt with further comments:


.


Dark eyes, staring into his. There was red blood on his hands. It was his own, and Aizen's.

"You've put up quite a fight, Kurosaki. I'm impressed," Aizen said in that apathetic voice of his. He didn't seem affected at all by the large cut in his side. "But I'm afraid I must put this to an end."

His mouth twisted into a smirk, muted by pain. "You can try." Hands gripped Zangetsu's hilt tightly, forming a weak guard.

Aizen smiled coldly. "So be it."

And suddenly he was there, his sword poised to strike. He tried to move, to dodge, to do anything, but his body wouldn't move. Aizen's sword quickly filled his vision and-

"Shiro, wake up!"

In his inner world, Ichigo shot bolt upright. His hands went instinctively towards his forehead, exactly where Aizen's sword had pierced and cursed himself when the pain from that simple touch almost overwhelmed him again.

He felt angry at Aizen for killing him, but even more, he felt angry at himself, for letting Aizen kill him. Aizen had been able to fight, to move-why couldn't he?

Ichigo tried to remember, thinking back. He could feel Shirosaki stirring (albeit reluctantly) but ignored him. Why couldn't he move? He saw the sword coming at him, he could feel his body...what had happened? It seemed blurry, like he was watching an old movie. He couldn't hear very well, and what he remembered feeling seemed muddy.

Angrily, Ichigo swore aloud, and smacked a hand on his face like he usually did when frustrated. Unfortunately, he'd already forgotten about the wound and what it tended to do to him...

'...Oops,' he thought as the world blacked out again.

Suffice it to say, Kurosaki Ichigo would get very little say in the day's events.


"Hey, hey, Shiro, what are you gonna do today?" Akira asked curiously. He sat perched on the unstable arm of the old couch, watching the orange-haired teen with wide eyes.

Shiro groaned and finally conceded to consciousness. As an inner hollow, he hadn't had to wake up and be anywhere or do anything he hadn't wanted to. The habit of not waking up unless he wanted to had seemed to follow him through the purification process.

In other words, he officially hated mornings.

Shiro rolled onto his feet shakily and glanced over at Akira. Surprisingly, he found it easy to smile through the sleepiness that still lingered in his mind. Tired or not, he still seemed able to have a pretty good mood.

Of course, part of that could be the recent discovery that Ichigo had, rather brilliantly, managed to knock himself out...again. This gave Shiro a day full of choices uninfluenced by his more negative half (ironic, seeing as Shiro had been the hollow half). So what would he do?

"I dunno," he managed to mumble. "What are you doing?"

Akira grinned. "I'm gonna play by the river!"

"No you're not," Hanako cut in sternly as she walked into the room carrying a basket full of laundry which she began to hang over some ropes that stretched across the top of the room. "Today you promised you would help out at the shop."

Akira frowned. "No I didn't!" He denied childishly.

Hanako wasn't impressed. "You promised me that if I let you play down by the river yesterday, then you would come and help me today."

"I don't wanna!"

Shiro decided to intercede at this point. "Hey Akira, you wanna be a shinigami right?"

Akira blinked in confusion, but nodded.

Shiro crouched down so that he was at eye level with the youngster. "Well, shinigami don't go back on their promises."

"Really?"

"Yeah, I swear."

The child's face split into a smile. "Well, that means I can't make as many promises, right?"

Shiro blinked, and then furiously tried to backtrack. "No- Akira, that's not the point-"

But Akira was already talking to Hanako. "I'll help you today, but no more promises after!" he said seriously.

Hanako smiled. "Alright, my little shinigami." She took his tiny hand in her own. "But now, there are customers to help."

Shiro stood. Brushing the dirt from his knees, he asked Hanako, "What kind of shop do you run, anyway?"

Hanako glanced back at him. "A hair salon."

He paused, staring at her for a long moment. "There is no way I'm that lucky," he thought with some surprise. He decided to confirm it. "Hey, you wouldn't have any idea how to dye hair, would you?" he asked hopefully.

Hanako smiled. "Of course I do." Then she looked at his orange mess, the smile turning into a frown. "But why? Your hair is such a unique color."

"That's the problem,"Shiro thought dryly. "I just want to try something different," he said out loud.

"Hmm," she eyed him suspiciously, no doubt due to their discussion the night before. "Alright," she said finally and set the now empty basket down. Then she smiled, "I'll do it, but in exchange..."

"Oh no. That look in her eyes can't be good..."


"How are you feeling, Ms. Yamada?" Snip. Brown hair fluttered to the old, wooden floor slowly.

"Very well, thank you." Snip. "My brother's going to be applying to the shinigami academy soon." Snip, snip.

"How exciting!"

THUD.

The two women blinked. Thud?

"Uh oh..." a man's voice from the basement reached them. "No...NO! AAUGH!" CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! "Ah, my foot!"

Oh. Hanako understood. "I apologize, Ms. Yamada. My new assistant is cleaning out our tiny basement. It's full of heavy junk that I could never lift, but he's so strong..."

Ms. Yamada giggled. "Clearly it's not all easy lifting for him."

Hanako smiled. "Clearly."

Akira, who was sweeping the floor, shook his head. "Shiro's bitten off more than he can chew," he said, attempting to sound mature.

The two women laughed.


"Hanako, how did all of that stuff FIT down there?" Shiro asked exasperatedly.

Hanako only smiled slyly and shrugged.

"Seriously,"Shiro thought to himself as he followed her outside with his last load of junk in his arms. "That smile of hers would scare Kenpachi."Dropping the stuff at the base of the heap he'd been building, he leaned heavily against an old desk and let out a sigh, pulling the apple that Hanako had offered to him when his stomach had growled again out of his pocket and biting into it sulkily.

She'd seemed more than a little surprised, and after the meal from the night before, Shiro guessed he didn't really blame her. How often did they come across someone with that much spiritual pressure? Apparently they didn't eat in the mornings...or afternoons. Truthfully, he doubted this apple would suffice, but he wasn't about to impose on her hospitality any more.

Then he eyed her suspiciously. "You sure there wasn't some sort of space distortion kidou down there?"

Hanako looked back at him, amused. "I'm fairly sure someone wouldn't bother with that sort of high level technique in this district."

Shiro pointed indignantly at the rather large pile of junk sitting on the curb of the shop, to which she had just added a few more things. "Do you SEE that mountain of stuff? There is no WAY-"

"Shiro," Hanako placed a hand firmly over his mouth. "Either you stand there ranting to the world, or I dye your hair. Your choice."

Hanako stepped away and walked back to the salon. Shiro followed her, mumbling, "I wasn't ranting..."

Once inside the old but clean shop, Hanako pointed Shiro to a worn chair near a clean bucket of water (apparently they didn't have running water here yet).

"Sit." Shiro sat. He figured she'd go for some chemicals, or at least a comb. Thus when she nodded in satisfaction and stood behind him, he found himself a little uneasy.

"I need you to try and stay still during this. I don't really know what effects this will have on anything other than hair."

Make that very uneasy. Shiro watched in the mirror across from him as Hanako closed her eyes and began to mutter under her breath. Her reiatsu started to fluctuate, and then suddenly dropped. Her hands, placed on either side of his head, glowed briefly, and she moved them through his hair from front to back, making sure she touched everything. And then it was done.

There was no big bang, or flash of light. His hair was bright orange one moment, then with a wave of her hands, snow white the next. Shiro was surprised at the simplicity of it.

But he was more surprised at the fact that Hanako could do something like that. "Was that kidou?" he asked, all uneasiness replaced with curiosity.

Hanako nodded. "I don't have nearly enough reiatsu to become a shinigami, but I do like to experiment with what I have." She and Shiro continued to look at his reflection for a moment. Then she spoke up again. "Okay then, what color?"

"Huh?" Shiro asked, glancing up at her.

"I use this as a base for dying hair. It's actually more permanent than dyes and this way I get a truer color. So, what color would you like?"

Shiro glanced back at himself in the mirror. "Actually, I think I like it like this," he couldn't help but grin. So this is how he'd looked all along? It wasn't exactly easy to find a mirror in their inner world, so he'd never known. He could picture himself with white skin too. No wonder Ichigo had been a little freaked that first time they'd 'met'. He snickered. "It fits my personality better."

Hanako laughed. "Right," she said. "I guess that's that, then."

"Could teach me that?" Shiro pleaded, standing and turning to look at her.

Hanako looked at him solemnly for a moment. Finally she asked him, "Why? I could just retouch it every time your roots began to grow in."

Shiro flushed, and suddenly couldn't meet her gaze. "Well... The thing is..."

"You're not planning on staying with us for much longer, are you?" Her voice was soft.

The new albino's head shot up, face bright red. "I-I don't mean to seem ungrateful or anything—I mean, you've been really nice to me, but..."

"There are things you want to do?"

He nodded, finally meeting her eyes. "You know me pretty well already, don't you?"

She gave him a wry smile. "I can guess."

There was a moment of quiet in the small shop, and in that brief pause Shiro felt that maybe, perhaps he had made his first real friend.

"Whatcha doing?" Akira chose that moment to peak his head through the door. Dirt smudged his nose, and everything from the knee down was soaked.

"Akira!" Hanako exclaimed, rushing over to him. Wiping the dirt from his face, she told him, "I take my eyes off of you for one moment and you escape again!"

Akira pouted. "But I was so bored sweeping! I've been doing it forever..."

"Well, now you have to face the punishment," she frowned down at him. "Shiro needs someone to learn the hair dye kidou on and you seem free..."

"Um," Shiro interjected, "isn't that kind of dangerous? I mean, I've never tried kido before!"

Hanako contemplated the now white-haired boy for a few moments. "You have a point. Let's see what you can do."


[This last scene here is all Obi-Quiet's]

"Well," Hanako said, her surprised voice tinged with awe. "I always have wanted a new paint job..."

"Sorry," Shiro muttered, eyeing the now white corner of the room warily. As he'd figured, even while holding back as much as he could on his reiatsu, a good five feet worth of each wall, the ceiling, the floor, the tables and everything on the tables now looked completely white, like someone had taken bleach to everything.

"No, no that's okay," Hanako said, rubbing the back of her head. "It's just that...um..."

Shiro sighed. "Yeah, I know."

Akira ran by and began inspecting the white floor, his mouth hanging open. Then he turned around with a wide grin splitting his face. "That is totally awesome!" he exclaimed. "You're way powerful! I'll bet you're more powerful than...than..." he paused, obviously thinking it over in his mind. Then the grin returned, full force. "Than that Shinigami captain! Kenpa—er..whatever his name is!"

"Zaraki Kenpachi-taichou," Hanako suggested. Shiro shook his head at the irony.

"Yeah!" Akira nodded. Then he walked up to the former hollow. "Do it again! Do it again!"

Hanako looked over at the other wigs she had brought out. "Well, if you really want to learn it..."

"Maybe this was just a bad idea..." Shiro muttered.

"No, no," Hanako brushed past him with a grin and set a wig on part of the counter that hadn't been whitened. "How about you try it with one hand. Maybe that'll help."


.


All right. Once again, thanks to Amiriah and Obi-Quiet for writing those scenes!

Now, there's a good-sized gap in between this scene and the next scene that I have written. Here's some explanation of those missing scenes.

First off, Shiro does, in fact, learn that kidou spell eventually. He is also taught how to fish by Akira, and in exchange, he does as much work around the house as he can manage. As his hair grows, Hanako advises him not to cut it, so he just ties it back in a (bit of a messy) ponytail, which just keeps getting longer as the story goes along. By the time he leaves here, he has nice, long, white hair (NOT a mullet. XD). That, and the smile perpetually on Shiro's face, makes for a surprisingly workable disguise.

Eventually, though, he does leave, and he wanders around Rukongai, much like Ikkaku and Kenpachi are shown to have done. Shiro has two main goals. One, of course, is to find a good enough fight that he won't be bored. The other is to figure out where Zangetsu went. Both the sword and the old man seem to have vanished.

At one point, while in the middle of some big fight he's managed to get himself into, Shiro finds himself in desperate need of a sword, and abruptly, a sword appears in his hands. He finishes the fight, and then tries to figure out what just happened. He figures out real fast that the sword is actually Zangetsu, though it doesn't look like it. It's big, about the same length that Ichigo's Zangetsu is, but it looks a lot different: it's actually closer to what Ichigo's Bankai looks like, but much bigger. I didn't really have the details of the sword itself worked out, but I did have an explanation for why it was different all created. It's long and complicated, though, and you would probably find it boring, so I'm moving on.

Old man Zangetsu himself is still missing, though.

Finally, Shiro stumbles into a clearing where a large picnic has been set up. He's been eating fish this whole time, when he can actually catch the buggers (I've made my rants about fish before), but whoever set this thing up had a lot of really good food available. Shiro is tempted but cautious. Eventually, the owner of the picnic reveals himself, informing Shiro that he is an Academy Recruiter. He figured the picnic would only lure in those who were actually hungry, so it made for a good spirit energy magnet of sorts for the back Rukongai districts. He invites Shiro to attend the Shinigami Academy. Shiro accepts the offer of food but, still worried about being discovered by anyone searching for him, he says he's not going to attend the Academy.

He continues on in his travels for quite a while... And then we finally have a scene that I actually wrote.


.


"What the...? What in the world is..." Shiro had just stumbled across a valley with something very... strange in it. He stared at the monstrosity below him for a long moment before realizing suddenly what it was. Grinning, he commented aloud to Ichigo. "Well, what do you know... Look what we found..."

Below him, a large statue of a head was sticking out of the ground, its mouth wide open in a snarl and a banner hanging from two locks of its hair. The banner read "Shiba Kukaku," and nestled deep inside the thing's giant mouth was a house.

Shiro shook his head in disbelief. "She never changes, does she?"

'Actually, she changes all the time,' Ichigo corrected dryly. 'That's her problem.'

Shiro laughed. "True. Well, we know Kukaku's here anyway, so Ganju and his gang should be close by." He turned and began walking towards the nearest town.

Ichigo looked confused. 'Why, exactly, are you trying to find Ganju?'

Shiro shook his head. "You'll see."

Truth be told, Shiro was a little worried about what Ichigo's reaction to what he was currently doing was going to be. It had been a long time since he'd been this close to Seireitei, and as soon as Ichigo figured that out, there could be trouble...

As it was, there was going to be trouble anyway. This meeting with Ganju had to take place before anything else could, and Ichigo wasn't going to make that easy...

It was just beginning to get dark when Shiro arrived in the first district town. Fortunately, he didn't have to worry too much about finding Ganju before he had to go back home; tethered outside of the town's main inn were several boars.

Shiro smirked. "I guess he never changes, either."

Ichigo frowned. 'What are you planning on saying to him? Somehow, I don't think 'Hi, nice to see you again' will go over well.'

Shiro laughed at that. "I don't know. I don't particularly care what we talk about. He just needs to notice that I'm here, and not notice that I'm you."

Ichigo got it all of a sudden. 'You're testing your disguise. You're trying to see if you can move closer to Seireitei without my friends noticing.'

"Right in one! Actually, I'd kind of like to move into Seireitei if I can manage it."

With a scowl, Ichigo realized the rest of it. 'You decided to listen to that recruiter guy you ran into, then?"

Shiro laughed again. "Yeah. Seireitei has much better food, for one thing. And it'll be nice to be able to fight hollows again. But it's easier to retreat back to Rukongai from here than it'll be at the Academy, so we'll have to see what Ganju makes of me first."

Ichigo smirked. 'He's going to tear you apart if he recognizes my reiatsu.' He attempted to push closer towards control.

Shiro shoved him back lightly. "Don't forget, Ichigo. You have a very convenient 'off' button that is always within my reach." He tapped Ichigo's forehead to emphasize his point.

The small movement sent a wave of pain through Ichigo's head, and he reluctantly backed off a little, gritting his teeth in frustration. He knew just as well as Shiro did that thanks to his fatal wound, which still hadn't healed properly, Ichigo was laughably easy to knock unconscious.

Frowning, Shiro hoped that the warning would be enough, and he stepped cautiously inside.

The place was fairly crowded. Low tables were placed everywhere, and almost all of them had people sitting on the mats around them, chatting easily with one another. Shiro glanced around and easily spotted Ganju and his gang around one of the tables.

Loudly enough for Ganju to hear, Shiro called out suddenly, "Oi! Who do those boars outside belong to?"

Shiro's question brought chuckles from the surrounding tables, and Ganju exchanged amused smirks with his gang before standing up. "That'd be me. Why? You got a problem with Bonny-chan, kid?"

Shiro grinned, walking over closer so that they could talk without shouting across the room. "You must be Shiba Ganju, then. Am I right?"

Ganju looked surprised for a moment, and then his expression turned smug. "Heard of me, have you?"

"Heard of you?" Shiro put on an excited look. "I've heard rumors of the great Shiba Ganju from all the way in 75th district!"

This stroked Ganju's ego enough to make him really pay attention to the teen in front of him. "Well, of course you've heard of the great Ganju!" he declared, slapping Shiro heartily on the back and offering him a spot to sit at the table. "Here, sit down, kid!"

Shiro grinned, sitting down. "Thanks! Wow, my friends are never going to believe me when I tell them I actually got to meet you. Could I possibly get your autograph?"

'Laying it on thick, are you?' Ichigo grumbled.

Shiro happily ignored him. So far, everything was going really well. He figured the more child-like and awed he seemed, the better his disguise would work.

Ganju grinned right back at him. "Of course you can! Hey, Hawk, get me some paper and a pen for this guy!"

One of Ganju's henchmen scrambled to his feet and ran to start digging through a nearby bag. Ganju returned his attention to Shiro. "Say, what's your name, anyway? You're from 75th district, huh?"

"I'm Shirosaki Thanatos," Shiro answered cheerfully. "Everyone just calls me Shiro, though. And I've been through 75th district, but I mostly just wandered a lot."

"I see. So, you heard rumors of me, eh? What kind of rumors?"

Shiro smirked. "Is it true that you really got to ride a giant bubble into the middle of Seireitei?"

Ganju laughed. "Ride it? Man, I was steering the thing! Wasn't a bubble, though, it was a kidou cannon ball."

"So, you had to use kidou to steer it?" Shiro inquired excitedly. "That must have been hard! I can't get any sort of kidou to work, no matter how hard I try."

Ganju beamed importantly. "Nah, it was easy for me! Would have been even easier if the idiots I was with weren't bickering with each other, but we ended up exactly where we'd meant to!"

"Really? I heard that everyone wound up in spots all over Seireitei! So, that was planned?"

"Uh..." Ganju hesitated, but he recovered quickly. "Of course! How do you think we managed to rescue the Kuchiki girl so easily?"

Shiro grinned. "That's so cool! You all worked together to rescue her!"

"Yup! Well, except that Chad, Inoue, and Ishida were all captured after a while. Then, I was nearly killed by Kuchiki Byakuya, and eventually, Ichigo had to save all our butts." Ganju laughed, shaking his head.

Shiro paused for a moment, watching both Ganju and Ichigo carefully. This was it; Ganju was thinking about Ichigo, so if he was going to recognize Shiro at all, it would be now. "You mean Kurosaki Ichigo, right?" he pressed it.

Ganju nodded solemnly. "Yeah. Good kid. Taught me a lot about what it means to be a good person. We'll all miss him."

Ichigo chose that moment to make a quick dive for control, trying to force his spirit energy up high enough to be noticed. Shiro grabbed him and held him back, feeling dismayed when he realized that his spirit energy was fluctuating with the struggle.

"Knock it off, Ichigo!" Shiro cried desperately.

Ichigo ignored him, still trying to regain control. 'Ganju!' he tried to yell aloud.

Seeing no other choice, Shiro brought one hand down sharply on the back of Ichigo's head, knocking him out cold and sending him back into the mental world. Quickly, he opened his eyes and glanced around to see if anyone had noticed.

Ganju was frowning at him. "Hey, you okay, kid? Your reiatsu was doing some pretty crazy stuff for a minute there. Turning kinda purple-ish..."

"Uh, y-yeah, I'm fine," Shiro stammered. "Just kinda, I mean, it happens sometimes..."

Ganju's frown deepened. "You ever think about joining the Shinigami Academy, kid?"

Shiro blinked, amazed that the topic wasn't back on Ichigo again. "Uh... Thought about it once..."

"You should," Ganju told him. "The Shinigami aren't bad people, and they can teach you to control your spirit energy much easier than learning on your own."

"I thought..." Shiro hesitated for a moment. "I heard you didn't like the Shinigami..."

Ganju waved his hand at Shiro, dismissing the comment. "Nah, for a long time I didn't, but Ichigo showed me otherwise. Trust me, they're good, and they're good at what they do. They can make sure your reiatsu doesn't try to get away from you like that again."

Shiro grinned. "Sounds great," he said, feeling relieved. Ganju had brought up Ichigo again, and he still hadn't made the connection... More confident now, he pushed it again. "You think if I try hard enough, I could become as good a shinigami as Kurosaki Ichigo?"

Ganju gave him an amused half-smile and he answered sarcastically. "Sure, kid."

Inwardly, Shiro laughed. Obviously, problems with Ichigo aside, he could definitely pass himself off at the Academy as Shirosaki Thanatos with no problems.

Now he just had to figure out a polite way to end the conversation and get out of there...

"Well, I guess I should be going. It's getting kind of late, and I should probably-"

Ganju interrupted him, his eyes suddenly wide. "Late? Hawk, what time is it?"

Hawk was apparently still trying to find paper and a pen from Ganju's earlier request, because he was still digging in the bag. At Ganju's question, he looked up in shock, turning pale. "What? Oh, no. It's, uh..." He scrambled to find a clock.

One of the other gang members answered for him, his voice a panicked squeak. "I-it's already seven thirty!"

Ganju shot to his feet. "Seven thirty? Oh, man, why didn't you people set the alarms? Neesan is going to skin us all alive!" By this point, he was already halfway out the door.

Shiro watched in amusement as they all scrambled out of the building, clamoring noisily onto their boars and riding off without another word to him.

Well, he regretted having to knock Ichigo out again in order to do this, but other than that, this meeting couldn't have gone better. Next step, the Shinigami Academy...


(Shinigami Academy: Year One)


Shiro glanced around the large entryway of the building he had just entered and walked slowly up to the front desk, only mildly comforted by the familiar weight of Zangetsu on his back.

The lady sitting at the desk noticed him approaching and looked up at him politely. "Can I help you?" she asked.

Shiro nodded, swallowing. "I was told that the Academy was accepting new students now... I, uh..."

The lady smiled at him and dug through a drawer, pulling out a few sheets of paper. "We are. You've been told that there is an entrance exam, correct?"

Shiro nodded again. "Yeah. I'm here to take the test."

"Good. Can I get your name, please?" Her hands hovered over her computer keyboard as she waited for his answer.

"Shirosaki Thanatos," Shiro replied. He spelled it out for her.

The receptionist entered the name in her computer, and then wrote it on the top of a sheet of paper, which she then handed to him. "You'll need to show that to the teachers who are monitoring the different sections of the test. After you've completed it, they'll sign to show that you took that section. Now, follow me," she said, getting up from the desk and striding down the hall.

Shiro quickly followed her, stuffing the paper into his bag. "How many different sections are there?" he asked.

"There are three tests," she explained to him as she walked. "There is a written test, a test to see if you have enough spirit energy to become a shinigami, and a test of sword fighting skills."

Looking somewhat worried, Shiro just nodded. She smiled at him. "Don't worry, most of these are merely placement exams, to see what classes you should be put into."

Shiro nodded yet again, the worried look not fading.

As they walked, the receptionist began explaining procedure. "You'll have to wait outside the door here. Every ten minutes, we have a passing period, so that people entering and exiting the room don't disturb the test takers as often. When you go in, the teacher there will give you your test. Go ahead and take your time on the test; there's no time limit. When you finish, wait for the next passing period and then give the test to the teacher. He'll sign your paper there and show you where to go for the next test."

Shiro nodded again, beginning to feel a bit like a bobble-head doll.

There were a few other people waiting outside the door to the classroom that Shiro was being led to. The receptionist left him there, and the small group stood awkwardly in silence.

As Shiro was standing there, he suddenly heard a low groan from within the mental world as Ichigo finally stirred for the first time in a few days. Shiro brightened slightly. "Oh, good, you're awake again."

'... I hate you,' came the slow, heated response. 'I hate you so much.'

With a small frown, Shiro closed his eyes so that he could see Ichigo in his mind. He had pushed himself up to a sitting position, his knees pulled up to his chin, glaring sullenly at nothing since Shiro wasn't in the mental world to be glared at.

Shiro sighed, realizing that he was referring to what had happened with Ganju. "Sorry."

'Sorry?' Ichigo spat incredulously. 'You rip my life away from me again, and all you can say is sorry?'

Shiro gave him a half-smile. "You say that as if anything I could say right now would make all of this better."

Ichigo made a dismissive noise, still glaring at nothing.

"Were you honestly expecting me to do anything else? You didn't exactly give me many options, Ichigo. I told you that I'd hit you if you tried anything, and I'm not exactly going to let you take over and ruin my life just so that you can have your own back."

Ichigo scowled. 'Were you expecting me to do anything else? I'm not going to just sit and do nothing when a chance to go home appears. I haven't given up yet.'

That made Shiro smile. "Good."

Ichigo groaned, burying his face in his arms. 'Just leave me alone.'

For a moment, Shiro considered that, but eventually he decided to take another shot at cheering him up a little instead. "Look, Ichigo... If there was a way where we could both just live our own lives, I'd take it. Trust me, I know how you feel right now."

It didn't work; Ichigo's anger flared up again. 'Oh, really? How exactly?"

Shiro raised an eyebrow. "You did this to me, too, you know."

There was a short pause, and then Ichigo mumbled, 'That was different...'

"Not much." Shiro shook his head. "Ichigo, I hate keeping you down there like that just as much as you hate being there, but since my only alternative right now is to put myself back into your position, you get to deal with this."

Ichigo just ignored him, which didn't make Shiro feel any better. Outwardly, he heard a door open and guessed with a sigh that it was time for the test to begin.

"Fine. I guess I was right the first time; nothing I say is going to make you feel any better. If you'll excuse me, I have a test to take." He opened his eyes again and focused on his surroundings.

A man was propping the door to the classroom open and waving them all in. Shiro pushed off from where he'd been leaning against the wall and followed the rest of the applicants inside.

The room itself was obviously a classroom, with many desks lined up in rows facing a chalk board and a teacher's desk at the front of the room. The man at the door was probably the teacher, then.

Shiro smiled as he noticed that the surroundings had piqued Ichigo's interest enough that he'd pulled himself out of the mental world to look around himself. 'Where are you?'

"The Shinigami Academy, actually," Shiro answered. "About to take the entrance exams."

'I thought those tests didn't start for a few days...'

Shiro rolled his eyes a little. "You've been out for a few days. Your convenient 'off' button is missing a 'back on' button. Here." He sent Ichigo a few memories of what he'd been doing during that time. Ichigo went quiet, watching them with a frown.

The teacher was passing each applicant a thin packet of papers and a pencil as they walked past him into the room. Shiro took his and was about to go sit down when the teacher stopped him with a raised hand.

Shiro almost panicked, wondering what he'd done, but the teacher merely pointed to a set of shelves on one wall. These shelves were mostly empty, but a few of them held swords of various sizes.

He gave the teacher a relieved grin and removed Zangetsu from his back. The teacher had only been pointing out that the sword on his back wasn't going to work with these desks.

Zangetsu was too big to actually fit on the shelves, so Shiro merely leaned it up against the edge and went to go take a seat. Dropping into the seat heavily, he sighed, trying to calm himself again.

Ichigo was watching him suspiciously. 'Hang on. Are you actually nervous about getting in? With that spirit energy, they're not exactly going to turn you away.'

"No, but they might turn me in," Shiro stated dryly. "My spirit energy is different than yours, but the sheer amount of it that we have is pretty unique to you..."

'Oh.' Ichigo smirked, suddenly smug. 'Well, good.'

Shiro rolled his eyes with a grin. "You sure cheered up fast all of a sudden. Don't mess this up for me, Ichigo."

'As if I could,' Ichigo grumbled.

Shiro shrugged and finally opened up the packet, taking a look at the contents.

The test itself seemed to be pretty simple. It was actually more of a personal survey than a test, although it did have a few common sense and basic math questions. It was obviously designed to get background information about the applicant while testing their ability to read and write, as well as other basic skills.

Shiro quickly filled out his answers, being as vague as possible on the questions that asked about his life prior to coming here. The rest of the test was easy compared to that.

He was able to finish quickly. He waited until the door was opened to admit more people before he stood, grabbed his sword, and went up to hand the test and the sheet of paper from before to the teacher.

The man looked it over briefly before adding the test to a stack of packets on his desk, jotting a quick signature on the paper and handing it back to him. Then, he opened the door and pointed him down the hall to a door that was standing propped open. "The next part of the test is in there. Good luck," he said quietly.

Shiro nodded and followed his directions.

The next room contained a circular track, on which several people were already walking. There was a row of cabinets along one wall and a woman was standing near the edge of them, leaning up against them to watch the people go around the track.

When she spotted Shiro coming in, she smiled. "You here to take the test?" she called.

"Yup," Shiro replied automatically. He gave her the sheet of paper with a nervous grin. "What do I do?"

The woman glanced down at his name on the paper, and then set it aside for later. She opened one of the cabinets and pulled out a wrist band of some sort, handing it to Shiro. "Here. This test's pretty simple. Just put this on and start walking around the track. When this light on the side of it turns on, stop, take it off, and wait for me on the edge."

Shiro nodded and slipped it on. "What does it do?"

"It drains your spirit energy a little at a time. The more energy you have, the faster the bracelet will collect it. There's a timer inside that will tell us how fast it filled up, and we can calculate how much spirit energy you have based on that," the woman explained.

"Oh. Okay." Shiro frowned at it. "Uh... what happens if-"

The light on the wrist band suddenly turned on, emitted a high pitched shriek for a half second, and then shorted out. Shiro quickly took the wrist band off and handed it back to the woman. "Sorry!" he apologized.

She stared at it in wonder. "Huh. It's never done that before."

Shiro bit his lip nervously. "Sorry," he said again. Inwardly, Ichigo cracked up.

"It's not your fault," the woman reassured him. "Probably just faulty equipment. I'll go get another one."

Shiro shook his head, smiling slightly. "It'll just break, too," he warned.

"Don't be silly," she said, opening up the cupboard again and getting out another wrist band. She examined it carefully to make sure it was working properly, and then handed it to Shiro.

Shiro hesitated for a moment before putting it on. "It's going to break," he repeated slowly.

She shook her head and gestured at the walking track. "That was just a fluke," she said confidently. "Don't worry about it. Go ahead and start."

"I don't know... It might just-"

The light turned on. Shiro quickly tried to yank the wrist band off, but he was too late; the light flickered, squealed, and shorted out just like the last one. Sheepishly, he handed the wrist band back to the woman. "Sorry."

She stared, first at it, then up at him. After a long pause, she spoke. "Well."

"... I... um..."

She shook her head in slight disbelief. "You actually overloaded it."

"Er... yeah, that happens..." Shiro glanced away. Ichigo was laughing at the expression on the woman's face and Shiro was unable to suppress a grin. He would have been laughing too if this wasn't about to get him into trouble.

The woman stared at him a while longer, and then, slowly, she smiled. "Well. Shirosaki-san, was it?"

Shiro nodded.

"All right, Shirosaki. My name's Inokuchi Makoto. I teach some first year Kidou classes, so you'll probably be with me."

"I haven't been accepted, yet," Shiro protested. "I haven't even taken the third test yet..."

Inokuchi shook her head. "Don't worry about that. With that kind of spirit energy..."

"I don't have much control over it," Shiro admitted quickly. "It's not that special."

She just laughed at him. "You're too modest for your own good." She reached down and picked up the paper again, signing it quickly with a flourish and handing it back to him. "There you go. The next test is through that door there, and out in the field. And don't let Kozue-san scare you. Despite first impressions, she's nice."

"Okay," Shiro grinned, letting himself relax a little. No alarms hit or authorities notified... So far, so good. He'd just have to see what happened with the next part...

He went out the door and immediately spotted the small grass field that the last teacher had mentioned.

On the field, two people were sparring with wooden practice swords, while a small group of applicants watched, well out of their way on the sidelines. Shiro frowned as he approached, watching the spar.

One of the two was obviously the teacher. She was far older than any of the surrounding people, and she bore deep scars across her face and along what was visible of her arms beneath her uniform. Her expression was hard, calculating, and, most of all, bored as she easily blocked each attempt by the girl in front of her to hit her.

She was, in a single word, intimidating. Not nearly as much as, say, Kenpachi, but more than Shiro had expected would be in a teacher.

As Shiro went to stand by the others in the group of onlookers, five boys and two girls, he caught a bit of their low conversation.

"Maybe we'd better rethink this. This lady looks like she'd cut off an arm if we tick her off too bad. Maybe we should wait for a different tester...?"

"You're a coward."

"I'm not worried about the exam. I just hope I don't end up in her class."

"I've heard of her before," one boy mentioned, watching the fight. "She used to be in eleventh division before she came here to teach."

Shiro blinked in surprise. "They send people from the Gotei 13 to be teachers at the Academy?"

The other boy gave him a strange look. "Yeah, duh. Where else would they get someone who knows how zanpakutous work?"

"Oh. Right." Shiro gave him a sheepish grin, and then went back to watching the test, frowning to himself. "I'd forgotten about that. I hope none of the teachers know me."

Ichigo didn't care. 'Not like it'd matter. Ganju didn't recognize you,' he grumbled apathetically.

Shiro shrugged slightly. "Well, if you'd smile more..." he teased good-naturedly.

The teacher had apparently decided that she was done with the current test. The girl, totally exhausted by this point, handed her a sheet of paper and she signed it quickly, giving it back. "Take it back up to the front desk. They'll tell you where to go next."

"Yes, sensei," the girl gasped. She left the field as quickly as possible.

Once she was clear, the teacher walked up to the line of onlookers, looking them over with fierce disapproval on her face. The look deepened when she noticed that a few of them, Shiro included, had a sword with them.

"Better get introductions out of the way. My name is Kozue Tanpopo. I teach several zanpakutou classes here at the Academy."

There were a few murmurs of quiet greeting that were silenced quickly with a stern look.

She continued. "I see that a few of you brought weapons with you, perhaps trying to raise my opinion of your fighting abilities. I'll tell you right now, I am not impressed. I will judge your abilities through battle, and not through whatever frivolous accessories you have."

Shiro frowned, but didn't say anything. Even Ichigo seemed somewhat put off by her comment. Zangetsu wasn't frivolous...

"This test is just what you've seen already. A short one on one battle with me. I'm not going to bother talking to you before hand. Trust me, I'll be able to tell if you've had previous training. We'll be using these bokken here, so go ahead and put your excess baggage over on that sword rack there," she said dryly.

Those with swords hesitated for a moment, and then began grudgingly trooping towards the sword rack. Once again, Shiro's sword didn't look like it would fit in any of the slots, so he removed it from his back, intending to just lean it up against the side.

"Hang on a second. You. What's your name?"

Shiro glanced up at the teacher and was surprised to realize that she was looking at him, waiting for a response. "Me?"

"Yes, you. Name?"

"Shirosaki Thanatos," Shiro answered quickly.

She examined him closely. "That sword belongs to you?"

Shiro nodded slowly, his mouth dry. Why had she singled him out? She had noted herself that he wasn't the only one here with a sword...

"Where did you get it?"

He wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Um... Well, it just kind of... uh... appeared, I guess."

Abruptly, the teacher's expression lit up and she almost skipped over to him. "Can I see it?" Without waiting for a response, she lightly tugged Zangetsu out of his hands and began looking it over meticulously.

"Umm... What...?"

"How long have you had it?" she inquired brightly, her mood completely opposite from before.

"Uh..."

"How long have you had it released? It's a permanent release zanpakutou, right? What's its name? Any Kido abilities?"

She fired questions at him so fast that Shiro didn't actually have to answer any of them. Instead he stood there awkwardly, staring at the teacher with his mouth hanging slightly open. The other applicants had similar expressions, glancing between the two of them in wonder.

"She could tell that it was a zanpakutou and not just a regular sword. None of the other swords here are actually zanpakutous," Shiro realized a little too late.

Ichigo smirked. 'What are you going to tell people that its name is?' he taunted. 'People will know the name Zangetsu.'

Shiro hadn't thought about that either... He'd have to come up with something, fast. He watched the teacher with growing panic and tried to turn her attention away from himself. "Um... S-shouldn't you be testing people?" he asked wildly.

The teacher nodded amiably. "Oh, I am. And you definitely pass. May I see your paper so I can sign you off?"

The rest of the group broke out in low whispers and Shiro's mouth fell open even further than it was before. "I what? But I didn't even-"

The teacher gave him a very serious look, handing him back his sword. "Shirosaki, maybe you didn't know this, but it is very rare for a person to come to the Academy with an actual manifested zanpakutou."

"But..."

"And the last time a person came to the Academy with a sword that had already been released," she continued, "was over twenty years ago, when the current Captain of 10th division, Hitsugaya Toushiro came through. He was called a prodigy for it."

Shiro gaped. This was bad. "But..."

"This test here was mostly to determine which zanpakutou class to put you in. With a released zanpakutou, I know exactly where to place you."

Her expression changed from serious back to cheerful and she reached out toward him. "Don't worry, you won't miss out on sparring with me. But that should wait till the first day of class. So, may I see your paper?"

Wordlessly, Shiro pulled the paper out of his bag and handed it to her. There were whispers all around him from the others.

'So much for not standing out,' Ichigo snickered at him.

Shiro was beginning to panic, trying to think fast. "I... It's... I mean... But, I didn't do anything! I-I'm no captain, prodigy, whatever! I was just trying to survive, and the sword appeared! I'm nothing special!"

The teacher laughed. "And modest, too. Well, we'll find out in class." She read over the paper he'd given her and smiled to herself. "Ah, Inokuchi wants you in her class too, I see. Can't let her have all the fun!"

She quickly signed the paper and gave it back to him. A little confused at her comment, Shiro looked down at it and noticed for the first time that the teachers had left notes beside their signatures.

The first teacher had only written, "No remedial courses needed."

The second, Inokuchi, had noted, "Very high spirit energy, will be hard to control. I want this one with me!"

And this teacher, Kozue, had added, "Advanced class. Dibs!" along with a large smiley face.

Shiro stared up at her, his eyes wide. "But..."

She interrupted him before he could get any further. "Now, you go take that back up to the front desk. They'll make all your arrangements for you."

"But..." he tried again.

"Go!"

He went, ignoring the stares of jealousy and awe that the other applicants were giving him.

"This is bad, this is bad, this is bad," he repeated to himself, walking quickly and clutching the paper in one hand. "This is bad..."

'Knock it off,' Ichigo complained with a smirk. 'That's annoying.'

"I should just forget it now," Shiro worried, ignoring Ichigo."I should just go back to Rukongai. This was such a bad idea. It's going to get me caught..."

Ichigo scowled, knowing that he stood a much better chance at getting his life back if Shiro stayed at the Academy, and obviously realizing that Shiro was about to take that chance away. 'Sure,' he said sarcastically, trying to persuade him otherwise.'Go back. Are you crazy? Rukongai was terrible. You were cold, tired, and hungry all the time, and bored on top of that.'

Shiro shook his head distractedly. "I'll just have to deal with that. Better to be bored than dead."

'So much for you always being the positive one of the two of us,' Ichigo muttered.

Shiro started to argue with this, but he suddenly came to a halt, thinking about it. Slowly, a smile spread across his face, and then he laughed. "You know, for once, you're actually right." He laughed again. "I guess we're trading off being negative today. I forgot, that was your job."

Ichigo rolled his eyes. 'Thanks,' he said sarcastically.

Shiro grinned. "Right. So, think positive." He took a deep breath and began walking again. "Even if they do send someone from the Gotei 13 to investigate the new 'prodigy', they're not going to instantly think it's you. We were hanging out in Rukongai long enough that they won't necessarily connect you disappearing with me showing up here."

'Mmhmm,' Ichigo agreed grudgingly. 'Though Ishida might."

Shiro shrugged. "They're not going to tell Ishida about a prodigy at the Academy. It's not any of his business."

Ichigo made a noncommittal noise.

"So, if they do send someone from the Gotei 13," Shiro continued, feeling better about this, "It probably won't be anyone important, and so they aren't going to be someone who would have known you. I'm going to stand out from everyone here at least a little; I won't be able to help it. But as long as I only do well enough to just progress normally with the rest of the class, they won't really notice me."

Ichigo had tuned him out by now, not wanting to listen to all his reasons why his friends wouldn't find him here. Shiro noticed this and fell silent.

Soon, he reached the entrance room where he had first arrived. Walking up to the desk, he handed the sheet of paper to the receptionist. "I finished the tests..."

The receptionist looked over the paper, one eyebrow raised. "I see. All right then, I'll enter this in the computer and get you a room assignment."

Shiro nodded, and she turned away from him to begin typing.

"Okay, did you bring anything with you that you need help transporting to your dorm room?" she asked him after a moment.

Shiro glanced down at himself. "I only have what I'm carrying," he said with a smirk. "I think I can handle that."

"Good for you," she said, obviously used to snarky answers to her questions. She stood, opened a drawer behind her, and pulled out a small envelope, which she handed to Shiro. "All right, you'll be in room number 352. This is your key. Don't lose it."

"I won't."

"Good. So far, there's only one other boy in that room, but it's a dorm for four, so you'll eventually have two other roommates as space fills up. Everyone in your room will have all the same classes together. You'll be given schedules within the next few days. I'll send for someone to take you to the dorms now, and after that, they'll show you around campus."

With a quick nod, Shiro went to sit in a nearby chair to wait for his guide.

Eventually, a boy in his late teens entered the room. Glancing around, he quickly spotted Shiro and headed over to him. "Hi. You're Shirosaki?" the boy asked.

Shiro nodded, getting to his feet. "Call me Shiro. And you are?"

"Kentaro," he answered. "But you probably don't need to remember that. I'm in third year, so we won't see each other much. I'm just showing newbies around the academy today."

"Oh. Cool."

Kentaro led him out of the building. After a while of walking, they came to an area that looked like an apartment complex and started climbing stairs.

When they reached room #352, Shiro shook the key out of the small envelope he'd been given and used it to open the door.

It opened straight into a medium sized living room, furnished with two short couches, two large chairs, a table with several fold out chairs, and a desk. A hallway opposite the door led to what looked like a bathroom and two bedrooms. The door to one of the bedrooms was closed.

Kentaro glanced around. "Oi! Anyone here?"

Footsteps sounded quickly from behind the bedroom door and it opened, revealing a excited-looking boy about Shiro's age who was already wearing the grey-blue and white Academy uniform. "Yeah, I'm here. You guys my room mates?"

"Not me. Just this one," Kentaro explained. "This is Shirosaki."

"Nice to meet you," Shiro said cheerfully. "Everyone just calls me Shiro."

The boy grinned. "Nice to meet you too. I'm Hachiro. Guess we'll be seeing a lot of each other, huh? Got anything you need help with moving in?"

"Nope," Shiro answered. "I'm from Rukongai. I don't have much."

Hachiro laughed. "I know what you mean. I'm from Rukongai, too. West Fugai district. How about you?"

"I wandered a lot," Shiro replied. "Didn't really have any one place I lived. Never learned the names for them, either. What district is Fugai?"

"Sixth," Hachiro clarified. "So, you wandered, huh? What districts did you stay in most?"

Kentaro cut in. "You guys can get better acquainted later. Shirosaki, if there's anything you want to drop off here, do that now. I'll go ahead and give you a tour of the campus."

Hachiro grinned. "I just got dropped off here a while ago, myself, and I think my guide kinda forgot about me. I'd like to come too, if you don't mind."

"Sure. Shirosaki?"

"Sounds good to me. I've just got this bag, and my sword." Shiro hesitated a moment. "Um, which room should I put them in?"

Hachiro pointed him towards the bedroom to the left. "That one there's empty. I've got my stuff in the one on the right. There are academy uniforms in the dressers, but you can change later."

"Okay." Shiro went in, looking around. There were two beds, with low dressers at the ends of each. The wall at the head of the beds held a large window, making the empty room look at least a little cheerier than it might have.

Shiro arbitrarily picked the bed furthest from the door and dropped his bag and Zangetsu onto it. Then he went back out to the living room. "Okay, I'm ready."

"Great." Kentaro opened the door and they all stepped out. "All right, first I'll take you guys down to the-"

"Hey! Hey!" Another boy was running down the hall towards them with a big grin on his face, waving a key in the air above his head. He was wearing the usual Rukongai clothing, and in his other hand, he was carrying a medium-sized backpack. A short sword was sheathed at his waist. "Shirosaki! Shirosaki, wait!"

Shiro stared, wondering how he knew his name. "Um..."

The boy caught up with them and bent over, breathing hard for a moment. When he'd caught his breath, he grinned up at Shiro. "Hey, Shirosaki! Room 352, right?"

Shiro blinked. "Uh... Yeah... Do I know you?"

"You do now!" the boy said excitedly. "I'm Shirada Ryuichi. You can just call me Ryuichi. I'm going to be your new roommate!" He held up the key he'd been waving triumphantly.

"Oh. Okay. How did you know my-"

Ryuichi was already pushing past him into the apartment. "So, you guys are taking a tour of campus? I'll come with. I haven't seen it yet either. Which bedroom did you pick, Shirosaki?"

Shiro mutely pointed at the door on the left, and Ryuichi opened it, dumping his bag and sword on the bed that Shiro hadn't taken.

After glancing around the room for a moment, looking satisfied, Ryuichi turned back towards the others, who were still standing in the doorway, staring at him. "Okay, let's go!" he said, striding past them out the door again.

"W-wait! How do you know my name?" Shiro asked in confusion.

Ryuichi grinned at him. "I watched your 'test' with Kozue-sensei. That was so awesome! I was next in line to get my test, and afterwards I ran to get my room assignment so I could ask to be your room mate."

Shiro was immediately embarrassed. "Oh. You didn't have to... I mean... I'm not..."

Hachiro looked interested. "Kozue-sensei was the teacher who was doing the sword stuff, right? What happened during the test?"

"Nothing," Shiro said quickly.

"Exactly!" Ryuichi said triumphantly. "He didn't even have to take the test! The teacher took one look at him and said, 'you pass!' It was awesome!"

Kentaro was impressed. "You had Kozue for a tester and something like that happened? What's so special about you?"

"Nothing," Shiro said again forcefully. "It's not that big of a-"

"It's cause he's got an actual zanpakutou," Ryuichi explained excitedly. "Released it himself while he was still in Rukongai. Right, Shirosaki?"

Shiro frowned. "On accident," he clarified. "It's not that big of a deal."

The others didn't seem to think so. Kentaro was watching him in awe. "That's amazing. You know, there are people in my third year class who haven't released their swords yet..."

Shiro was beginning to feel uncomfortable under their stares. "I know. Kozue-sensei said something like that. But honestly, I didn't really do anything..."

"Does it do anything cool?" Kentaro asked.

"No, it's just a sword." Shiro shrugged. "It might do other stuff, I guess, but..."

"What's its-"

Ryuichi grabbed one of Shiro's arms suddenly and began pulling him along. "Come on, let's go do that tour! I wanna know where the cafeteria is! I'm starving."

Kentaro seemed to shake himself out of the daze he'd fallen into and he hurried to the front of the group to lead the way again. "Right. Sorry. It's close by; we can go there first if you like..."

"Sounds great!"

Shiro wasn't sure whether to be annoyed at this boy who was going to be his roommate for bringing up the test again, or grateful to him for having a short attention span. All he knew was that he had better figure out what he was going to call his sword pretty quickly, or he'd be in trouble...


.Author Notes Time


(First Day of School scene; Also, the nurse scene)

Eh, the first day of school scene never got written because it's kind of boring. Necessary, but boring. The nurse scene was basically just that they have to get physical examinations to make sure they're healthy while they're in school... and the nurse quickly discovers that Shiro has scars from wounds that obviously went all the way through him right where Byakuya hit Ichigo on his chain deep and soul sleep. With those wounds, it should be impossible for Shiro to have any spirit energy at all. So that's kind of awkward.

If you want to know more about Shiro's roommates, (or about any of the original characters, really) I have, as I mentioned before, made an OC list with character descriptions that I put at the end of this. I'll provide enough explanation as we go so that you're not totally confused, though. Short explanation here is, Ryuichi is kind of crazy and loves coming up with bizarre theories, and Hachiro likes to hit him.

By the way, Shiro ultimately decides not to call his "new" sword anything. He claims to still be trying to figure out the sword's name, and that it just sort of released by itself at one point while he was in Rukongai. Tries to blow it off the way Kenpachi explains his sword. "It's not "released" because it was never sealed in the first place. It's just always at full power". etc. This... sort of works for a while...


.


(Several months after the first day of school...)

There was no sound more annoying and violence-inducing at this entire academy than that of the generic alarm clocks in the dorm rooms.

Shiro blearily reached up and hit the clock as hard as he could. This succeeded in making the noise stop. Vaguely, he made a mental note that Ryuichi seemed to have gotten up and left for breakfast already, and then he buried himself back under the blankets again.

Ichigo mentally scowled. The main reason he hated Shiro's alarm clock was that it always woke him up too, and he wasn't as quick to fall back asleep as Shiro was for some reason. And he didn't actually have to be awake.

'Not that I care, but you're going to miss breakfast again,' Ichigo warned.

Shiro just mumbled sleepily at him in response.

Ichigo sighed, rolling his eyes. 'Whatever. But no complaining about it later; I won't listen to you.'

"If you're so worried about it, then you go," Shiro said, his voice tinged with sleepy irritation. "You're obviously more awake than I am..."

Ichigo was about to reply to this, but he suddenly stopped. '... Wait, are you serious?'

Shiro nodded absently, still very much focused on staying asleep as long as possible.

There was a long moment where Ichigo hesitated. Then he decided he'd better make sure. 'You're really serious?'

"Mmhmm..."

'... Positive?'

With a small growl of frustration, Shiro glared at him and shoved him into control with so much force that Ichigo pitched forward and fell off the bed with a cry, twisted up hopelessly in the blankets.

"Go to class. Take notes. Don't blow my cover. Don't wake me up." With that, Shiro retreated into the mental world to go back to sleep.

Ichigo lay on the floor for a long time, just breathing heavily, trying to figure out what had just happened and what exactly he was going to do about it.

Finally, he detangled himself from Shiro's blankets, marveling at his sudden ability to actually move. Once he was free of the blankets, he continued to sit there, looking down at one hand as he clenched and unclenched it.

He was in control again, he was moving. Shiro suddenly wasn't even there, much less keeping him from doing anything.

Ichigo contemplated this for a moment. He could use this to his advantage.

If he could possibly raise his reiatsu enough for anyone who knew him to notice... maybe going to Bankai would be enough... And if it wasn't, he could use the speed to get to the central parts of Seireitei and just get to where his friends were that way.

Actually, all he really needed to do was to turn his hair back to normal somehow and tell people who he really was. Even if they didn't believe him, it still might get his friends suspicious enough to come check things out...

And then what? Ichigo hesitated. Shiro was still stronger than he was. No matter what happened, Shiro would figure out what was happening far faster than his friends could arrive, and in that time, he could not only put him in a world of hurt, but also totally nullify his efforts...

And then Ichigo would bet that he'd never be given a chance like this again. He clenched his hands into fists again, still strangely intrigued by the sensation of moving on his own.

No. If he ever came in close contact with someone he knew, then he'd risk it. For now, though... Right now, he had too much to lose.

Slowly, he got to his feet and picked up the blankets, tossing them in a heap onto the bed. He hesitated a moment, then sighed and actually made the bed properly.

This completed, he turned to the closet and got out one of the blue and white academy uniforms. Smiling a little at the texture of the fabric, he got changed, dropping the pajamas he'd been wearing into Shiro's laundry bin.

Finally, he went to the mirror, scowling a little at the sight of long, white hair instead of his normal short, spiky orange. He grabbed a hairbrush and got it into some semblance of order before using one of Shiro's hair bands to tie it back.

He was still examining his reflection critically when Shiro's roommate suddenly burst into the room. "Shiro, wake up! You're going to be-" he stopped when he spotted Ichigo. "Oh, good, you're up. Come on, you missed breakfast, and if we don't hurry we're going to be late for class."

"Right." Ichigo turned and grabbed Shiro's bag, slinging it over one shoulder. "I'm ready."

Ryuichi was giving him a strange look. "Is... something wrong, Shiro?"

Ichigo blinked, then shook his head. "No, I'm fine. Why?"

"You just don't seem like you're in a good mood," Ryuichi answered slowly. "And... did you actually make your bed?"

Ichigo shrugged, then pushed past him out of the room. "Come on. We're going to be late, remember?"

Ryuichi watched him suspiciously for a moment before what he was saying sunk in. "Oh, right!" He grabbed his own bag and ran after him. They joined their other dorm mate in the living room, and then they all went out the door, heading for class.

As they walked, Ichigo frowned, trying to remember what class Shiro had first. He was pretty sure it was Kido Theory, though he wasn't positive. It was a good thing everyone in his dorm had all the same classes, or he'd be in trouble.

Their other dorm mate, whose name Ichigo couldn't remember, suddenly asked, "What's up, Shiro? You seem down today."

Ichigo blinked up at him. Why did everyone keep...

He got it suddenly; Shiro smiled almost all the time, so now everyone thought there was something wrong with him. He shook his head and forced a smile. "I'm fine. Just tired, I guess."

Ryuichi and the other boy took this as a valid excuse, and a different conversation was started up. At first, Ichigo kept the smile on his face, but he let it drop back into his normal expression after a while. There was no point in smiling all the time.

Soon enough, they made it to class. Ichigo had been right: it was Kido class. There weren't any assigned seats in this particular class, Ichigo remembered, so he just sat at a desk near Shiro's roommates and other friends and got out Shiro's notebook and a pencil.

Ichigo was saved from having to input anything to the conversation that Shiro's friends were having by the teacher walking in and starting class.

He flipped through the notebook, trying to find the next blank page. Before he found one, though, he stopped, staring at the pages. Slowly, he mouthed the word 'sideways.'

Sideways. Why were all of Shiro's notes written as though it was a flipbook instead of a notebook? A result of living in a sideways world, perhaps? He hoped he wouldn't start developing oddities like this.

Ichigo scowled and turned it onto its side so that he could actually read the notes.

As he read, another question occurred to him. He'd been paying attention during Shiro's classes, so he didn't really need the notes... but if he'd been paying attention, why hadn't he noticed Shiro's odd note-taking habit before?

Well, that one was obvious. While he found the class interesting, he usually ignored what Shiro himself was doing, because it reminded him that he wasn't doing it. He supposed he should pay more attention in the future, especially if Shiro was going to be doing this more often.

Ichigo realized that the teacher had started writing on the board, so he quickly turned to a fresh page and started writing it down, keeping the notebook oriented on its side so that he wouldn't mess up Shiro's notes, even though it bugged him.

"You're right handed today." Ryuichi, who was sitting at the desk next to his, had leaned over and was watching him carefully. He spoke in a whisper. "You usually take notes with your left hand."

Ichigo blinked at him and looked down at his pencil, held in his right hand. Then he shrugged. "I felt like being different today," he whispered back, continuing to take notes and feeling annoyed at Shiro's ambidextrousness.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"I won't be if you keep asking me that stupid question!" Ichigo hissed. "I'm trying to take notes; Kido's hard enough without distractions!"

Ryuichi's eyes were wide and he backed off. "All right, all right, sorry. Yeesh..."

Ichigo sighed. "Sorry. I'm just... just a little off today. I'm fine." He turned and went back to copying down what was on the board.

Ryuichi glanced over at his other friends with raised eyebrows and an I-told-you-so expression, then also went back to his notes.

Ichigo scowled slightly. If Shiro's friends got too suspicious, Shiro probably wouldn't let him do this anymore.

He'd have to do something about it after class. Right now, he was having enough trouble just trying to figure out how all this Kido garbledegook made any sense.


Shiro woke up a few classes later, as Ichigo was heading out the doors towards the Zanpakutou training class. As soon as Ichigo felt him stir, he froze, causing Shiro's friends to pause and glance back at him with strange looks.

He forced a nervous smile and continued walking. His attention, however, was focused inward.

"What time is it?" Shiro asked with a yawn.

'... about 12:30.'

Shiro thought about this for a moment. "You heading for sword class, then?"

Ichigo nodded slowly. His mind was racing with excuses to stay out. He knew Shiro would want to take control back now, there'd be no reason for him not to, but he didn't want to go back just yet. He'd only just gotten to be in control again, he hadn't been able to do anything yet, he-

"Okay, you do that, then," Shiro said suddenly.

Ichigo almost stopped walking again in his surprise. 'Do what?'

Shiro grinned at him. "Zanpakutou class, obviously. You do that, then I'll take it from there."

Ichigo felt relief flood through him, but he couldn't help also feeling confused and a little suspicious. '...Why are you doing this?'

"Doing what?" Shiro asked innocently. "I'm using my resources. I don't really feel like going to classes today, and because I've got you, I don't have to."

Ichigo frowned. 'That's bull. Taking notes for classes I can see, but there's no way you don't want to go to zanpakutou class.'

"I can't just be nice sometimes?"

'... I never was to you... There's got to be some reason you're doing this.'

Shiro just shrugged. "All right, if you can't accept that I'd just let you go out of the goodness of my heart, then I suppose you can think of it as payment of sorts. I can't just make you do only boring stuff all the time or you won't do it anymore."

Ichigo contemplated this, not sure whether to accept this answer or not.

"Ichigo, when someone gives you a gift, you're not supposed to ask why," Shiro said with some irritation. Then he smirked. "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."

Ichigo scowled at the idiom. 'Now you're making fun of me.'

Shiro laughed, but he spoke seriously. "Wonder about my motives all you like, Ichigo. Just know that I do have both of our best interests in mind, here. Go."

Ichigo hesitated a moment, thinking about this. Then he smiled. All right, so Shiro was being nice. Shiro was right; he should quit wasting time wondering about it and actually do something with it.

He ran to catch up to Shiro's friends, who had stopped at the edge of the field where class was held to wait for him.

"You sure you're okay, Shiro?" one of them asked him yet again.

Ryuichi gave the other boy a warning glance, wary of Ichigo's earlier reaction to this question, but Ichigo just laughed a little. "Don't worry about me, I'm fine."

Ryuichi glared at him. "Oh sure, you snap at me, but he gets off easy!"

Ichigo shrugged. "Sorry, Ryuichi. It was Kido class early in the morning; I think I'm allowed to be a little irritable then."

The others laughed and offered their agreement.

"Okay, everyone! Do your basic stretches, then pair up with your usual sparring partners for a few minutes." The teacher had arrived, and she immediately issued orders to the class.

Ichigo began the stretches along with everyone else, unable to suppress a feeling of joy once again at simply being able to move. He almost felt like getting up and just running, just for the sake of doing it.

He almost laughed aloud when he realized that this was probably how Kon had felt when Ichigo had first given the mod-soul his body. He suddenly couldn't blame him for leaping around, making a spectacle of himself; he almost wanted to do the same now.

He never thought he'd ever sympathize with Kon, of all people...

As soon as Ichigo completed all the stretches, he jogged over and grabbed one of the provided wooden practice swords. He moved to an open area, then he glanced around at everyone, frowning again. 'Which one is my sparring partner again?'

"That one there, with the short, black hair," Shiro said helpfully.

Ichigo jumped slightly, having completely forgotten that Shiro was still there watching. He hesitated, not sure what to do.

Shiro sighed. "Are you going to freeze up like that every time I say something to you? Relax, I'm not doing anything."

Ichigo frowned, forcing himself to relax, ignore Shiro, and return his attention to what he was doing.

His sparring partner was coming towards him with a grin. "You ready, Shiro?"

Ichigo forced a grin back, falling into one of the starting stances Shiro had been taught. "Sure. Let's go!"

The other boy matched his stance. For a long moment, neither of them moved. Then Ichigo jumped forward and the sparring match began.

Ichigo's opponent was actually fairly good for this level. He left only a few large openings in his defense, and he kept his offence up enough to halfway make up for them.

He was obviously no match at all for someone of Ichigo's skill, but Ichigo made sure to hold back enough to give the kid half a chance at hitting him now and then. He had to be careful not to blow Shiro's cover, after all...

Ichigo's sword nearly sang through the air as he fought, and he began to slip out of the practiced movements that Shiro had been taught, and into his old fighting styles. He felt thrilled to be able to actually fight again for once, even if he wasn't able to fight all out. He hadn't felt this alive since... Well, since before he'd died.

He was so absorbed with his spar that he almost didn't notice something large and grey flying at him from the behind. As it was, he only had time enough to turn halfway towards it in surprise before it hit him on the side of the head, knocking him to the ground and causing him to see stars. His old headache burst to life again and he winced, pressing one hand against his forehead to try and stop it.

"Why, look, Shirosaki! Your old friend wanted to come say hi!" the zanpakutou teacher called out to him cheerfully. "Why don't you train with him for a while?"

Ichigo groaned. So that's what he'd been hit with: Mr. Sandbag. Obviously, the teacher thought he was fighting a bit too roughly, and had dealt out her usual punishment.

"Ha, you got Mr. Sandbagged," Shiro laughed.

'Like you've never had it happen to you!' Ichigo returned with annoyance. Glancing over at his sparring partner, he was a bit surprised to see him sitting on the ground, rubbing red hands, completely out of breath.

"Sorry. You okay?" Ichigo apologized.

The other boy grinned at him and gave him a thumbs up. "Yup, I'm good! Man, Shiro, training with you is never dull!"

Ichigo smiled shakily, then got to his feet, retrieving his wooden sword and the big grey sandbag that had been thrown at his head.

Thankfully, there were only a few more minutes left of sparring, so he only had to endure the embarrassment of trying to hit the sandbag without splitting it open for a short time before the teacher called everyone together so that she could demonstrate a few techniques.

The rest of the class went fairly quickly after that. Ichigo remained somewhat jumpy, unable to completely shake the paranoid reaction from having Shiro continuing to watch him, but he was eventually able to calm down enough to work through the moves properly.

By the time zanpakutou class was over, Ichigo was happily tired out. He jogged back over to the rack where the wooden swords were kept and returned his to it, then headed back over to Shiro's friends so that they could head to the next class together.

They'd gotten about halfway to the class when Ichigo hesitated again. 'Um... aren't you...?'

Shiro groaned. "Are you kidding? Next class is practical Kido. You do it."

Ichigo almost laughed at this. 'Your grade is going to suffer if I attempt your Kido,' he warned.

"I don't think my Kido grade can go any lower than it already is," Shiro lamented.

Ichigo didn't bother arguing this any longer. If it meant he didn't have to go back yet... And he had wanted to try his hand at this Kido stuff anyway...

He entered the large room where the practical Kido lessons had been taking place in and immediately turned to the wall of labeled cubbies on the side of the room where those in the class who needed spirit energy repressors stored them between classes.

Ryuichi had come in ahead of him and got to the row of cubbies before him, first pulling out his own and then grabbing Shiro's and tossing them to Ichigo.

"Thanks," Ichigo said automatically, slipping them on. He grimaced at the strange feeling of his reiatsu being pulled from him, but he shook it off, going over to where everyone else was lining up in their usual spots.

The Kido teacher ("Inokuchi-sensei", Shiro reminded him) arrived then, carrying a small armload of equipment.

"Okay, people, you know the drill. Basic warm-ups while I finish setting up the room for the lesson."

Ichigo sat down and closed his eyes, beginning his first attempt to push his spirit energy into a semblance of control so that he could force it into the ball of energy that his classmates around him were now forming. This wasn't something that he could just copy from what Shiro did; it wasn't an observable physical process, but a mental one that he'd have to figure out himself...

It was at the same time easier than he thought it would be, and more difficult. It obeyed him well enough as he tried to pull it all together, but the moment he reached out to grab more and order it too, the first bunch escaped from him.

Presently, he could hear Inokuchi-sensei making her way down the line of students, checking on each of them and he frowned, ignoring the distraction of her voice and trying harder to make his spirit energy do what he wanted it to do.

"Good. A little loose there, focus it a little more. You're good. Good. Good." She paused for a moment, then, "What the...? Shirosaki?"

It took Ichigo a moment and a slight nudge from Shiro to realize that she was talking to him and he opened his eyes, releasing his spirit energy and looking up at her. She was watching him worriedly. "What?"

"Are you feeling all right?" she asked, reaching down and placing the back of her hand on his forehead.

A flash of pain shot through Ichigo's head again at the contact and he involuntarily flinched away from her hand. He tried to cover this by smiling nervously at her. "Feeling all right? Yeah, I'm fine..."

The teacher hesitated, frowning. "I don't think so, Shirosaki. I don't think I've ever seen this before; you'd better go to the nurse and get this checked out."

Ichigo frowned as well, trying to resist reaching up and rubbing his head. "Get what checked out? I'm fine," he insisted again.

"You honestly haven't noticed a change of any sort?" she asked, examining him closely.

"No. Why would I? What's there to notice?" Now Ichigo was confused. She was being really insistent about this... He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary that he knew of...

"Shirosaki, your spiritual energy has completely changed color," she pointed out to him. "And not just color, but texture too. It's almost a different energy signature; like a different person..."

Ichigo's eyes widened slightly. 'Right. I forgot about that.'

Shiro nearly choked. "Oh, man! Your spirit energy is blue; mine's red! Stupid of me... Now what? I can't just take over now! She'll notice!"

Ryuichi and Shiro's other friends were watching him curiously, obviously noticing the difference now that it had been pointed out. Ichigo stammered for a moment, not sure what to say. "I.. I haven't noticed any difference, no..."

"I'm sending you to the nurse," the teacher said again. "Go quickly, and don't skip out on this. I'm going to want a report back from her as soon as possible."

Ichigo nodded, got up, and left the room before she could assign anyone to escort him there. As an afterthought, he pulled the annoying spirit energy repressors off, stuffing them in a pocket so that he wouldn't have to deal with them.

When they were a good distance from the classroom, Shiro spoke up again, calming down now that they were away from everyone. "Fast thinking. Thanks, Ichigo. I'll take it from here... Hopefully we'll be able to pass this off as some sort of fluke..."

Reluctantly, Ichigo released control and Shiro continued down the hallway towards the school's medical center.

The nurse was doing paperwork when Shiro walked in, but she looked up as he entered. "Ah, hello again, Shiro." She paused, then, with some humor, added, "Didn't bring anyone with you today?"

Shiro laughed slightly. "No, thankfully. Not this time." Usually, when he was sent here during this time of day, it was because he'd accidentally messed up a Kido spell and gotten multiple people hurt.

The nurse got right to business. "All right, what's wrong then?"

"Nothing," Shiro said truthfully. "Inokuchi-sensei said something was weird with my spirit energy, so she sent me to get it looked at. But I haven't noticed anything..."

The nurse frowned. "Okay, I'll check you over real quick." She stood and walked over to him. Shiro closed his eyes and she placed her hand on top of his head, running some basic diagnostics.

A moment later she stepped back from him and Shiro opened his eyes again.

"I'm not sure. Nothing appears to be any different than usual..." she mused, looking him over. "Yet, Inokuchi-san isn't usually one to send people to me for no reason. I'll have to talk with her. I'll take you back to class."

Shiro nodded amiably, and turned and exited the medical center again, followed by the nurse.

They reentered the classroom. The nurse went to the front of the room to talk with the teacher, and Shiro wandered back over to where his friends were at.

"What happened?" Ryuichi asked curiously.

Shiro shrugged. "Nothing. Nurse couldn't find anything wrong; that's why she's talking to Inokuchi-sensei now..."

"So it... fixed itself while you were on your way to the nurse?" his other roommate asked.

Shiro shrugged again. "I suppose. I didn't even notice there was anything wrong with it, to be honest, so I guess it makes sense I wouldn't notice it going back normal..."

"Inokuchi-sensei was right, though, Shiro. Your reiatsu had completely changed color," Ryuichi pointed out. "How do you not notice something like that?"

Shiro grinned. "I guess I'm just unique."


Another Author Note


Okay, the next scene that's supposed to go here is one that I've dubbed "The Overload Scene." Basically, Shiro's spirit energy suppressors for his kido class give out on him and suddenly drain his spirit energy way too much. This triggers the same kind of "overload" that Ichigo had while fighting that Menos with Ishida, except that this time there's no Quincy to help him un-overload. The teacher tries her best to help him, but he just has SO much spirit energy, she can't really do much. And Zangetsu (the person) still hasn't showed up yet, they're not really sure where he is, and they figure out the hard way that this means no Getsuga Tenshou blasts. So they can't even do that to ease the overload.

Finally, Ichigo figures out that when he was in control, Shiro was a part of Zangetsu, but now that Shiro's in control, he's a part of Zangetsu, so Zangetsu is actually inside him somehow. So in a moment of desperation, he basically figures out how to act as Zangetsu so that Shiro can fire Getsuga Tenshou again, and that makes it so that he can stop the overload.

You can tell why I never got around to writing it. XD It's really complicated. But anyway, the result of that was basically a stronger trust between the two of them. Now they've both saved each others' lives a few times.


.


(About 6 months after Ichigo's funeral)

"Shiro, wake up..."

Shiro groaned and rolled over, pulling the blankets over his head. Abruptly, they were yanked off of his bed and he groaned again, peering blearily up at Ryuichi, who was grinning at him.

Glancing over at the clock, Shiro rubbed his eyes. "Ryuichi, it is way too early to be conscious for a Saturday. What do you want?"

"We've been given leave to explore Seireitei for the day," Ryuichi explained excitedly. "They've got a ton of cool shops and things, and we can go just about wherever we want. Come on, Shiro!"

Shiro blinked slowly at him. "And you couldn't just let me sleep for, like, an hour longer?"

"Shiro, it's ten o'clock already!" Ryuichi complained. "We have to be back here by curfew! Come on, let's go! Hachiro and I are both ready already!"

'Just get up, Shiro,' Ichigo complained sleepily.

Shiro yawned. "All right, all right." He got up and grabbed his blankets back from Ryuichi, tossing them in a heap back down on the bed. Then he slowly started getting ready.

Ryuichi grinned at him and started to leave the room. "If you're not out here in the next five minutes, I'm going to assume you went back to sleep and I'll be back with cold water," he warned on his way out.

Shiro laughed. "All right, all right!"

He hurried, but as it was, he barely made it before Ryuichi came back with a bucket. Opening the door, he ran into him in the hallway.

Hurriedly, Ryuichi ditched the bucket. "All right! Come on! To Seireitei!" He headed quickly for the door. Hachiro, who'd been waiting in the living room, followed closely behind him.

"No breakfast?" Shiro complained, following them out the door and realizing that they were headed the wrong direction for the cafeteria.

"We'll get breakfast while we're there," Ryuichi reasoned. "They've got some awesome stuff there."

Shiro sighed.

At the school's main entrance, the three met up with a few of their other friends who were also taking advantage of the free day they had. Together, they spent the morning wandering around the rich city and taking in the sights.

After they'd stopped for lunch, Ryuichi suggested going up to Soukyoku hill to look at the memorials.

Hachiro frowned at him. "Why do you keep saying you wanna go up there?" he asked.

"Because it's cool!" Ryuichi returned. "It's like, one of those things that everybody says they want to visit at least once before they die. Like Paris, or Rome. Only here the stuff's actually cool!"

Shiro smirked. "What, a bunch of names carved into stone?"

"But they're famous names!" Ryuichi reasoned. "And anyway, I wanna see the place where Kurosaki Ichigo's buried!"

"You know he's not really buried there, right?" one of their other friends remarked. "They say nobody was able to find his body."

"Actually, I heard it disintegrated," Shiro commented.

"No way. That'd be weird."

Ryuichi grinned. "Yeah, I know he's not actually there," he replied. "That's what's so cool! It's the start of the whole Ghost of Kurosaki Ichigo thing!"

Shiro rolled his eyes. "Well, I'll go up with you to see it if nobody else will."

"See? Shiro agrees with me!"

"I never said that," Shiro grinned. "Agreeing with you is dangerous. I just want to go see the memorials."

"Hey..."

"Fine, then. Race you to the stairs!" Hachiro called out. Abruptly, they all took off running.

They all reached the bottom at about the same time, (Shiro pretending to be as tired as the others) and paused for breath for a moment before heading up the incredibly long stairway.

When they reached the top, they were a bit surprised to see that they weren't the only ones up there. The whole area was mostly deserted, except for the lines of grave markers and the stone slabs that were the memorials for the winter war. But near one particular grave, one with flowers placed everywhere, a young woman stood, talking to herself.

She glanced up at them when she realized that she was no longer alone and Shiro gasped softly as he and Ichigo recognized her at the same time. 'It's Inoue.'

Shiro braced himself for an attempt by Ichigo to take control, but to his surprise, Ichigo didn't move. Instead he just continued to watch through Shiro's eyes, a look of pained indecision on his face.

Inoue turned quickly back to the grave, placed what looked like a bundle of envelopes beneath several flowers, and then began to walk away.

"W-wait!" Ryuichi called out. "We didn't mean to interrupt anything. We can go somewhere else if you want."

As Inoue turned to look at them, Shiro tried to move inconspicuously so that one of his friends was between the two of them. Inoue smiled at Ryuichi. "That's all right. I was done anyway. I was just dropping off some letters I'd written."

"Letters?" Ryuichi frowned. "Who picks up letters at a memorial?"

Hachiro hit him. "Letters for the dead, you moron," he hissed.

"Oh, right. S-sorry." Ryuichi apologized.

"Don't mind him," Hachiro grinned at Inoue. "He's not trying to be disrespectful, he just doesn't pay attention to words before they come out of his mouth."

Inoue laughed. "That's okay. Neither do I, most of the time." She noted their uniforms then. "Oh, are you from the Academy?"

"Yup!" Ryuichi grinned. "We got a free day off, and I wanted to come pay respects to the war heroes and stuff, so I dragged my friends along with me."

Inoue's smile dimmed slightly. "Ah. I see. Well, it's a nice day for it..." She sighed, her eyes gaining a far off look. "It smells like Kurosaki-kun today."

The others all glanced around at each other in confusion of her comment, and Shiro attempted to hide himself further behind his friends. "I didn't know she could smell you!"

Inoue seemed to suddenly remember what she was doing and she smiled at them again. "Well, it was nice to meet you all. I should be heading back now. My friends are waiting for me." She began walking down the long staircase.

"Wait, what's your name?" Ryuichi wanted to know.

She smiled back at them. "Inoue Orihime," she answered. And then, she was gone.

Shiro's friends stood in shock at the name, realizing too late that they'd just been talking with one of the old Ryoka.

After a long silence, Hachiro spoke. "Nobody will ever believe us," he noted in monotone. The others nodded silently, their eyes still wide.

Shiro wasn't really paying attention, instead mentally watching Ichigo. Throughout the short exchange with Inoue, Ichigo had looked as though he was right on the edge of forcing control and running to her, but for some reason, he'd held himself back. And Shiro was having trouble figuring out why.

"I don't get it. You were always saying that if you ever got close to someone you knew, that you'd do everything you could to go back... Why...?"

But Ichigo wasn't speaking to him. Now that Inoue was gone, he had retreated further into his mind; not far enough to be totally out of contact with the outside world, but enough to give Shiro space.

"That was so cool!" Ryuichi breathed, breaking the silence. The others looked at him and he grinned, saying it again louder. "That was so cool! Guys, that was Inoue Orihime!"

[This scene is supposed to be part of the same scene as the next one, but I haven't connected them together yet. I wrote the scene below first because it was actually part of a dream I had once. o.O Like, I dreamed that I was watching a movie of my own story. ... Oh, like it's never happened to you.]


Shiro waited until his friends had wandered a few gravestones down, and then he walked up to the large central memorial, looking over all the names engraved in the stone.

Most of the names, he didn't recognize. Lower ranked shinigami that Ichigo had never had the chance to meet.

Occasionally, a name would jump out at them suddenly. A guy they'd known from 11th, and that one 4th division girl. That one shinigami who'd shown them around 10th division's offices briefly. And he recognized that name too, but he wasn't sure exactly from where...

And, of course, the name at the very top of the list written in large, fancy script was very familiar to them: Kurosaki Ichigo.

Shiro frowned and made his way over to Ichigo's gravestone. It was, of course, covered in flowers and ribbons, almost so that you couldn't even see the stone, and the block meant for burning incense was filled with the sticks, many of which were still burning. Here and there, one of Ichigo's friends had placed pictures of themselves and him in among the flowers.

For a long moment, Shiro stood there, looking over it all, and observing Ichigo's reactions. Finally, he decided that Ichigo wouldn't do anything rash and he sighed, releasing control and gently pushing Ichigo out.

Ichigo barely reacted to the shift in control. He took a deep breath and reached out slowly, lightly touching a photograph that was placed in the center of everything. It depicted him standing with Inoue, Ishida, Chad, Rukia, and Renji, all posing goofily for the camera.

With a solemn look on his face, Ichigo fought hard to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. 'I guess it'll never be like that again...'

"I'm sorry." Shiro's voice was soft, his sentiments unexpected.

Ichigo let out a short, bitter laugh. "Not sorry enough to let me go back, though, right?"

Shiro said nothing.

With a sigh, Ichigo shook his head, trying to ignore the dull ache in his heart and the lump in his throat.

Finally, he spoke again. "It's not a bad life, though. I still get to have friends, to learn new things, and to become stronger. I don't have to worry about all of the day-to-day stuff, cause that's your job. Really, it's less like the slavery I thought it would be, and more like... like a permanent vacation, or retirement, or something."

A single tear escaped and ran down his face. "I do miss my old friends, and my family. You've no idea how hard it was to do nothing while Inoue was right there... I miss living my old life. But strangely, I am happy this way."

He paused, taking a long, shuddering breath. "You asked why, before? It's because, what kind of life would I have lived? I've always hated standing out. Living as Kurosaki Ichigo, it's not like my life ever would have gone back to the way it was anyway. Living as you means not having to deal with being famous... Here, I am anonymous."

"Anonymity can be lonely," Shiro said slowly, "if it means giving up your friends..."

Ichigo didn't have a response to this. He let his hand drop from the photo and rest back at his side; then he gave control back to Shiro, heading back into the mental world.

Shiro gently held on to him, not letting him leave just yet. Reaching down, he pushed some of the flowers on the gravestone off to the side, revealing a bundle of letters; the same ones they'd seen Inoue placing there earlier.

Ichigo watched curiously. 'What are you doing?'

"These belong to you," Shiro said simply, picking them up and putting them in an inside pocket of his academy uniform.

Ichigo protested this. 'Those... But they're...! You're not supposed to take letters meant for the dead!'

"They're letters that Inoue left for you, Ichigo. The least you can do is read them," Shiro replied matter-of-factly. "In fact, the polite thing to do with letters is to answer them."

Ichigo stared. 'You... You'd let me do that?'

Shiro grinned, turning and walking away from the gravestone to go find his friends. "As long as there's no mention of Shirosaki Thanatos in them, sure."

'... Why?'

"Now you're the one asking why!" Shiro laughed. "It's because, I know how I'd feel in your position. You can have your 'permanent vacation,' Ichigo. But this way, you don't have to give up everything to have it."

Ichigo was silent for a long time before he spoke again. 'Thanks.'

Shiro shrugged it off with a smile. "What are partners for?"


Dear Kurosaki-kun,

It's only been a few days since the battle with Aizen ended the winter war, but already it feels like ages. Everyone's been busy, trying to rebuild, trying to put everything back together. Trying to make plans for things that can't go back together again.

I think that if I stop being busy, I'll think myself into crazy, so I'm trying not to stop. Maybe getting my thoughts down on paper will help, so I hope you don't mind if I rant in this letter a bit... Well, of course you won't mind, I mean, you won't ever get this letter, you're

Kurosaki-kun, I always knew that there was a possibility that not all of us would make it through all of this. I always knew that, and yet, I never let myself think about it. I never thought that I'd never be able to say anything to you again. I never thought

I miss you, Kurosaki-kun.

I think everyone is recovering all right. Kuchiki-san and some of the others had some pretty serious injuries, but they're doing okay now. They'll probably even be able to attend the funeral later this week.

Kuchiki-san is really broken up about all this. I am too, to be honest. The others probably are, too, but they're better at hiding it, I think. It's going to be really hard for all of us to go back to the way things were before without you. I

I just re-read my last paragraph and had the odd mental image of Byakuya-san sobbing, so I should clarify that I meant Rukia-san, of course.

There's going to be a funeral in the real world too, right before the big one in Soul Society. We debated just letting Kon continue to be you, but your family very firmly said no. Urahara-san is making a gigai for him, and your dad says he can stay at your house.

We told Karin-chan and Yuzu-chan about you being a shinigami, and what happened... Yuzu-chan took the news really hard, but the one I'm really worried about is Karin-chan. I don't think she's said a word to me aside from Hello since then... I think Kuchiki-san is going to take them to Soul Society after the funeral in the real world so that they can go to the one there.

Your dad already knew about the shinigami stuff for some reason, but nobody's really explained that one to me. Something about Urahara-san, I think...

I really miss you...

Everybody's been asking bunches of questions that I'm not sure how to answer. People in Soul Society want details about the fight with Aizen, people at home just want details of anything I can tell them.

We told Tatsuki-chan, Keigo-san, and Mizuiro-san about the shinigami stuff. They'd seen a bunch of it anyway, (did you know that Ikkaku-san was staying at Keigo-san's house?), so we figured they should know. Everyone else, though, I'm just not sure what to say to them when they ask me what happened...

I almost wish I were Sado-kun, so that I'd have an excuse not to say anything to anyone if I didn't want to.

Sado-kun hasn't gone back to school yet, though. I've seen him around, so I think he's okay, but I guess school's just not on his mind right now. Ishida-kun and I are both back in school, but I don't think he's able to concentrate on schoolwork any more than I am, and that's saying something.

I'm not really sure what else to say. I never was very good at letter writing. It'd be easier if I could just say this stuff, but I'm thinking about this too fast to really write it out properly, so I just have to hope it still makes sense. Do you think there are phones to the afterlife? Well, After-afterlife, I suppose...

I really really miss you, Kurosaki-kun...


Dear Kurosaki-kun,

Why did you run? Why were you there? How were you there? Why did you run? And not just ran, but ran, not even Yoruichi could

Why would you run? Why How would you come back, and then disappear again?

I first thought my eyes were playing tricks on me again, they've been doing that the past couple of days, it's been very disappointing, and then you were there, and Kuchiki-san started yelling, and Ishida-kun dropped the casket, and everything was crazy, but you were there and then you ran away

Why?

It almost makes me say that it wasn't really you, that it was all a horrible, horrible joke, but Kurosaki-kun, it felt like you, he spoke like you, his reiatsu was definitely yours, but then he ran.

It feels better to write it that way, Kurosaki-kun. He ran away from us, not you, why would you ever

Why did you run?

This letter is probably weird. I can't seem to think in a straight line today, for obvious reasons... I can't seem to do anything but write the same line over and over. Why. Why. Why. Why.

I'd better just stop writing now, this isn't helping me calm down like I'd hoped it would. I'm going to go find Kuchiki-san...

~Orihime


Dear Kurosaki-kun,

They're looking for you now. Or, they're looking for the one who looked like you, anyway.

It's all anyone ever talks about now, seems like. Where would he have gone, he probably wouldn't go there, he could be hiding in these districts, he's probably in the lower districts so he can get food, could he possibly be in the real world by now, and the questions go on.

I just want to know why they're bothering. If it's not you and the whole thing was a prank, then there's no point in looking, unless I suppose to punish whoever did it... And if it was you, then... well, you ran, you don't want us to look for you.

But then why show up at all if you don't want us to look? I suppose that's why people are looking, then.

I haven't seen Sado-kun for a while. He went to go look. We think he's probably somewhere in West Rukongai, but we're not sure. Hopefully, he'll come back soon.

I don't know if this was better or worse for him in the long run. On the one hand, for the first few days before he disappeared, he was actually talking with everyone. As much as Sado-kun ever talks, anyway. On the other, though, once this whole "find the Ghost of Kurosaki Ichigo" thing runs out of steam...

I don't know.

Karin-chan's doing better, though. Instead of not talking at all, she's been ranting to whoever will listen about her "stupid idiot of a brother"... Kon's been the one that mostly listens to her. He's surprisingly patient, and I think it's really helped Karin-chan.

He's rather jumpy, though. Spooks every time Yuzu comes in the room. We haven't figured out why yet. Funny, though.

Your dad's been spending a lot of time just pacing back and forth all the time. I think he wants to go help look too, but he can't get through the gate into Soul Society. So he paces instead.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm actually at your house right now. I kind of had a little bit of a breakdown, and they told me I shouldn't be living by myself at a time like this, so your dad is letting me stay with Karin-chan and Yuzu-chan.

Actually, your house has been attracting lots of visitors lately, both from around here and from the shinigami. It's become almost a base of operations, it's even got it's own underground training grounds like at Urahara's shop.

Well, smaller than Urahara's, but still. I didn't know you had a training grounds underneath your house.

Hirako-san and Hiyori-san stopped by yesterday, wanting to know if the rumors they'd heard were true. None of the Vaizard can get into Soul Society either, but they gave me a number to call if we found anything. They say they have their own theories on what happened, but they won't say what those theories are.

But that's okay, though. I don't think I could stand to listen to any more theories.

People keep bringing food to your family. I guess they don't get that you didn't do the cooking around here, so they think your family needs it or something.

When Oniichan died, people brought me food too, but that was because I couldn't cook, so I did need it. I think Yuzu-chan's getting restless, though. It's not polite to refuse food, so she hasn't needed to cook for a while. Yuzu-chan is happier when she cooks. I hope people stop bringing food soon...

I'm running out of stuff to talk about, and I think I need to focus on something else for a while. I'll write more soon.

~Orihime


Dear Kurosaki-kun,

It's been about three months now since you died. It doesn't seem like it's been that long. It doesn't seem like it's been that short.

Things around here have seemed to gained back some semblance of a normal rhythm again. Sado-kun, Ishida-kun, Tatsuki-chan, Kon and I hang out together at school, then we head back home to study, do homework, just hang out.

Home is your house, of course. Your dad kept himself busy for a while adding an extension to the house so that Sado-kun, Kon and I could all have enough room to live here. There's even a guest room for if shinigami need to stay briefly.

I'm not really sure why he went to all the effort, but I'm grateful to him. Karin-chan, Yuzu-chan, Sado-kun, and even Kon have kept me sane, I think.

We figured out why Kon was afraid of Yuzu-chan. Apparently, it had something to do with a certain plush toy by the name of Postaf. They're on much better terms now, though Kon's still jumpy around her.

Your room's still about the same as it was before. Sometimes it gets used for an extra guest room for when multiple people are over. But mostly, it's just the room we all kind of hang out in together.

We all miss you...

Kon's going to school with us now, by the way. He started last week. He was put into different classes than the rest of us, but he seems to be okay with that, and we can still hang out at lunch and stuff. Yuzu-chan had fun helping him get ready for his first day. (That's when we figured out why he was scared of her, actually)

So the PE teacher started a new after school archery club. Everyone except Sado-kun decided to join, and Ishida-kun's been giving us pointers. I think I'm getting better. Ishida-kun's advice helps.

Strangely enough, to his annoyance, he's not the best archer in the club, but only because he can't use his spirit bow. The school equipment doesn't fit him quite right, and he's not used to the automatic release, so it throws his aim off. After everyone else leaves, Ishida-kun hits the bulls eye with his bow, just to prove he still can.

Kon wants to try out for the track team too, but Urahara-san says he should wait until he learns to run slow. He is coming with Ishida-kun and me to sewing club after archery, but I'm not really sure why. I don't think he actually likes sewing much... Although, he did have a lot of fun at the school dance on Saturday. I never knew Kon could dance.

Sado-kun and I are both having trouble paying your dad rent. We tried just giving it to him, and he wouldn't accept it, so we've been leaving it strategically around the house in small amounts for him to find. Hopefully, he won't catch on...

Every other week or so, I've been taking trips to Soul Society. While I'm there, I visit people, help out in 4th division a little, and deliver my letters.

Kuchiki-san seems to be doing better. Ukitake-san finally convinced Byakuya-san to let her get a seated position. She's 7th seat now, and Ukitake-san is trying to convince her to accept a higher seat, maybe even vice captain. I think she wants the position, but she worries too much about how well she'll do. If you were here, you'd probably make her take the position.

I wish that you were here...

~Orihime


Dear Kurosaki-kun,

Got some pretty interesting things to mention for this week's letter. Lots of stuff's been going on here...

First off, Kon finally convinced Urahara-san to let him join the track team. As I've mentioned, he's been practicing a really long time, learning to keep track of the time as he ran so he could know if he was going too fast, but he's finally got it down. Urahara-san told him he was allowed to break the school's top record if he wanted to, but not the Olympic or world records, and if he broke any records at all, he needed to be really tired afterwards.

The coach was a bit skeptical at first to let him on the team so late in the season, but he wasn't too hard to convince after he'd seen Kon run. Kon had to stop coming to sewing in order to go to practice, but I don't think he minds much.

Everybody's doing pretty well in Archery now. My aim has improved a lot, although Tatsuki-chan's is better. Ishida-kun's finally getting used to the equipment, but I can still hit better than him sometimes, which is funny and usually involves a lot of luck on my part.

Your dad finally agreed to let me help him out in the clinic with Karin-chan and Yuzu-chan, so now I don't feel so bad for not being able to pay rent. He doesn't let Sado-kun help with much, though, beyond heavy lifting, so he's still stuck trying to secretively pay him.

Kon doesn't bother trying to pay rent. I asked him about it once, and he said he just figures that when someone says "Don't pay me anything," that they mean it. And he says your dad owes it to him for making him keep secrets from you.

Ishida-kun got the top score on mid-terms again. I'm not sure how he manages it. I mean, we missed a whole bunch of school at the beginning of the year, he missed more school than I did, and yet he still managed to score well on the tests and get his grades back up.

I scored okay on the tests, I got number 5, but my grades are still suffering... Hopefully the next term's scores will bring that up again...

Speaking of Ishida-kun, he asked me out the other day. I was surprised, of course, but I told him yes. So he's going to take me to a restaurant he knows on Friday...

Kurosaki-kun, I'm really not sure what to think about this... I mean, I like Ishida-kun just fine... And Tatsuki-chan approves of him... (She didn't throw desks at him or anything, like she did when Kon asked me out...)

I just had no idea that he felt that way about me. I'm not really sure I feel the same... I mean, I haven't had all that much time to think about it yet. Ishida-kun is a good friend, and I have gotten to know him pretty well since we got back to school, since we're both in sewing and he's helping me with archery, and he is definitely a good friend. It just...

Kurosaki-kun, I liked you for so long, and I never actually said it to you while you were actually awake, but I did, and it just seems... almost wrong to like Ishida-kun too, but I do, and it's weird to actually admit that, but I guess it's right...

So, I guess I'll just go on the date, and we'll see what happens from there... I do hope it turns out all right... I mean... It seems mean to say something like that in a letter to you, of all people, but, I don't know, I'm really not sure what I'm feeling here, it's all kind of confused right now...

New topic. So, the other day, I was talking with Tatsuki-chan, and I mentioned these letters... She looked worried and told me I should stop writing them. She said I have to move on, and that my writing letters every week like this after almost six months isn't good for me...

I have been moving on, though. I'm not exactly in denial of what happened. Writing letters to you just makes me feel better. Like keeping a journal, except I have an actual audience so it makes me focus. Well, not actual audience, but you know...

I tried to tell Tatsuki-chan that I was okay, but she still doesn't really want me to keep writing. I think I'm still going to, though. I mean, well, obviously, or I wouldn't be writing this letter.

It'd just be weird to stop at this point... Maybe eventually, but not any time soon...

Anyway, I have to go now. I'll write more later.

~Orihime


Dear Inoue,

First off, I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt any of you, and trust me when I say that if I could have come back I would have. And sorry for taking so long to respond to your letters. I hadn't known you were writing them.

I'm really sorry about what happened at the funeral. Again, I never meant to make you upset. I hadn't really been thinking clearly at the time, for obvious reasons, but it was really selfish of me to do that to you.

To answer the question you're probably asking, yes, I really am alive. I'm not really sure how it works, so don't ask me to try to explain it. All I know is that I was out for a long time, and when I woke up, I had a massive headache...

And yes, I was there at my own funeral. That is possibly one of the most ironic things ever, I know, but that really was me. I'm sorry that I ran. I... I had to. I'll probably never be able to explain to you or to anyone else why exactly I had to, but I did. I hope you can forgive me for it, even without that explanation.

I can't really say much about what I've been doing this whole time. And I can't really say why for that either... I realize how lame that sounds, but there's really no other way of putting it.

You thought you were bad at writing letters, Inoue, but I'm probably worse. Sorry.

Just know that you don't really have to worry about me. I'm doing fine, and I'm pretty happy. I miss all of you, though. Thanks for writing these letters to me. You've no idea how much it means to me to hear news of home.

Even if some of that news is kind of unexpected. What's the deal with my dad, now? How'd he know about the shinigami stuff already? I didn't know I had an underground training grounds under my house, either. I wonder how long that's been there.

So you and Chad are both staying at my house? Sounds like that's working out well for you. I'm glad. At least something good has come from all this.

Good luck trying to pay my dad anything, though. He's surprisingly sharp against ploys like that when he's got his mind made up. Tell Chad to just give the money to Yuzu. She's the one who does the shopping.

I never would have imagined Kon going to school, especially after what happened the first time. What does his gigai look like? Don't you have to fill out a ton of forms to get registered for school? I imagine Urahara helped with those. What family name is he using?

I am not at all surprised by him trying out for track. Or him making the team. I'm not even surprised about the sewing club. He never changes, does he?

You know, I think I would pay money to see you kick Ishida's butt at archery. His reaction would be priceless.

And speaking of Ishida, good luck with that date. I hope it works out between you two. You'd have to send me a picture, but I imagine you'd make a cute couple.

Say hello to the Vaizard for me. Tell them I said thanks.

And tell Rukia to quit worrying and accept the stupid position already. I don't care how high it is, she deserves it. You'll have to do your Ichigo scowl impression while giving her the message, though, or it won't work right.

Tell Karin that I'm sorry for being such a stupid big brother. And tell Yuzu not to worry about me. The food here isn't nearly as good as hers, but I am getting plenty to eat.

Tell dad that it's really odd to wake up to an alarm clock in the morning. He'll get what I mean. ... He better not be doing that to Chad or Kon, that would just be weird.

Inoue, thanks again for your letters. I'm glad to hear that everything is going well for you. I miss you all a lot and I wish I could talk with you.

Please keep writing to me. I'll try to respond as often and as soon as I can.

Thank you

-Ichigo


"Guys! Guys! He responded! He responded!" The conversation that the group was having was interrupted by what sounded like Inoue yelling as she ran down the hallway. A moment later, the door burst open and she leapt into the room, waving around an envelope. "He responded!"

Everyone in the room, Rukia, Renji, Chad, Kon, and Ishida, glanced around at each other with raised eyebrows, all wondering what she was talking about.

"Inoue, who responded to what, now?" Rukia finally asked.

"Kurosaki-kun! He, I, but he, I mean," Inoue stopped stammering and simply shook her head, opening the envelope and removing a letter. "Look! He told me to say stuff to you guys, too!"

She cleared her throat, then scowled in a very Ichigo-like way, folding her arms and reading from the letter. "Rukia! Quit worrying and accept the stupid position, already! I don't care how high it is, you deserve it!"

Rukia coughed, trying to hold back laughter. "Was that...?"

Renji did laugh. "Was that supposed to be an Ichigo impersonation?"

Inoue grinned, dancing across the room to sit in one of the chairs. "Exactly! That's what I'm trying to say! It's Kurosaki-kun!"

"He would say something like that," Rukia admitted with a small smile, rubbing the back of her head.

"He did say that!" Inoue emphasized, waving the letter again. "See? 'Tell Rukia to quit worrying and accept the stupid position already. I don't care how'-"

Renji stood, crossing the room and attempting to grab the letter from her. "Wait, you're serious? You're trying to tell us that you got a letter from Ichigo?"

Inoue grinned again, nodding hard. "Yes! You all know I've been writing letters, and leaving them on his grave, right? Well, today I went to leave another one, and the rest were gone, and this was here instead!"

Rukia hesitated, glancing at Renji. Ishida adjusted his glasses uncertainly. Finally, Chad sighed and said what they were all thinking, "Inoue... It's probably a fake."

"Yeah, there's no way..." Kon frowned, trying to think of a good way of saying this. "I mean, Ichigo died, Orihime-san. We all saw it happen."

"Then how do you explain what happened at the funeral?" Inoue exclaimed with agitation. "Everyone, I know it's really from him! It says things that he would say. It's in his handwriting!"

"Inoue..." Rukia went to stand beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "We already decided a long time ago that what happened at the funeral was a cruel joke. This couldn't possibly be-"

Now Inoue was almost in tears. "But it is, Kuchiki-san!"

"There's no way of proving that!"

"It smells like Kurosaki-kun!" she cried. "It really is from him, there's no way to imitate that!"

The others were silent for a long time, not really sure what to say about this. Finally, curiosity got the better of them. "What does the letter say, Inoue-san?" Ishida asked slowly.

Smiling shakily, Inoue read them the letter from the beginning.

When she was finished, she grinned at them again. "See, it's even got stuff in it that only Kurosaki-kun would say! Advice about Yuzu-chan, making fun of Ishida-kun, yelling at Kuchiki-san, mentions of how his dad used to wake him up in the morning, that's stuff that only Kurosaki-kun would know!"

Renji took the letter from her and looked it over himself, frowning. "But how is it possible?"

"I don't know! He said there," she pointed to a line of the letter, "that he wasn't sure what happened either."

Rukia shook her head. "I don't believe it. If Ichigo really had been there, he would have stayed. I can't see a single reason for him not to."

"'If I could have come back I would have'," Ishida read from the letter over Renji's shoulder. "'I had to run'... 'I can't say why'... and then at the end, 'I wish I could talk to you.' That sounds to me like somebody's stopping him from coming back somehow."

"True. If he can get all the way to Soukyoku Hill to leave a letter like that, then why not just visit us himself if he wants to talk with us?" Kon wondered. "Definitely suspicious."

Inoue shook her head. "I don't really care why he didn't come back, at this point. This proves that he's still alive!"

Ishida took the letter from Renji and began examining the paper itself. "Inoue-san, can I see the envelope it came in?"

She blinked at him and handed it to him. "Why?"

"If we can figure out what kind of paper they're made of, then maybe we can tell where the paper and envelope were made. If we can tell where they were made..."

"Then we can track down Ichigo," Rukia finished for him.

Ishida nodded, frowning. "I can't really tell much just from looking, but I can see that the envelope at least was probably made somewhere in Seireitei."

"Seireitei!"

"How do you know, Ishida-kun?" Inoue asked curiously.

"It's not machine-made, so it's not from the real world," Ishida explained. "And it's not from Rukongai either; it's too well-made for that."

Renji shook his head. "So he's been right under our noses this whole time?"

Ishida frowned. "I'm not saying that Kurosaki has actually been living in Seireitei; at least not the entire time. It's possible that he waited until the searching stopped and then went there."

"So we don't know if he's actually in Seireitei right now, but we do know that he got the envelope from there," Kon concluded.

"Right."

"So what do we do now?" Rukia asked.

Ishida thought about this. "Well, if we can get Urahara-san to analyze the paper..."

Renji nodded. "Right. There's only so many places in Seireitei that make paper, so we can probably figure out at least the general area of where he is, and then we can search that area..."

"Unless he went out of his way to get the paper from a different spot from where he's actually staying so that we wouldn't be able to track him down," Ishida mentioned.

Kon scoffed. "Are you kidding? This is Ichigo we're talking about. He's not that smart."

"This isn't Kurosaki we're talking about!" Ishida shot back harshly. "Even if he really did write that letter, somebody is obviously keeping him away from us! Whoever that is, they might be smart enough to try to throw us off!"

This brought everyone to silence.

"...Ishida-kun... I don't think he's being held against his will," Inoue said softly. "He said in his letter that he was happy..."

"Anyone could have made him write that," Ishida pointed out. "I don't mean to sound pessimistic about this, but we have to consider all the possibilities here."

Chad frowned. "Ichigo would not have written a letter against his will. He is too stubborn for that."

Ishida gave a long sigh. "You're probably right. Kurosaki is stubborn. However, because he's so stubborn, I can't think why he would stay away from us if he didn't want to. Either this letter is fake, which Inoue-san has assured us it's not, or he's being forced not to come back."

"Kurosaki-kun isn't being held against his will," Inoue said again. "He must have some reason for not coming back. He wouldn't tell us if he thought it'd be dangerous for us. He obviously doesn't want us looking for him, he just wants to keep in contact."

Rukia scowled. "Inoue, I can't just let this go. Whether he wants me to or not, I am going to look for him."

"I'm looking too," Ishida agreed firmly.

"Same here," Renji nodded.

Chad also nodded his agreement.

"I'd help out too, except that I don't want to stay in Soul Society any longer than I need to," Kon added. "So anything I can do from the real world, I will."

Inoue sighed. "I guess I'm outnumbered. So what are you going to do, then?"

"First off, we're going to want to borrow that letter from you," Ishida said. "We'll just have to hope that he didn't get the paper from somewhere other than the area he was staying, since this is our only lead. To make sure, we can also analyze the ink he used and try to see if he got that from the same area as the paper. After that, we can search. Actually, there's something I want you to do too, Inoue-san."

Inoue frowned. "What?"

"Keep writing back to him. The more letters he writes in response, the more chance we have of him revealing where he is and what he's been doing this whole time."

Hesitantly, she nodded. "I was going to do that anyway. He asked me to."


"Shiro! Hey, Shiro, look!"

As Shiro wandered blearily up to the table where his room mates were both sitting for breakfast, Ryuichi shoved a large sheet of paper in his face. Blinking slowly, he pushed it away from him so that he could actually see it.

It was the morning newspaper. Shiro sat down by Ryuichi and gave him a confused look. "What about it?"

"Read the front headline!"

Shiro glanced back down at the paper and actually read the words that were printed across the top of the page.

Abruptly, he was very awake, as if somebody had dumped ice water on him. "'The Ghost of Kurosaki Ichigo Returns'?" he read aloud.

"Isn't it cool?" Ryuichi grinned. "Apparently, he's started leaving letters for people! The old Ryoka are all trying to track down where he is, and according to this map here," he jabbed at a map on the front page, "he's hiding out somewhere around here!"

Shiro frowned. "How do they know? Did he leave a return address or something?"

"Dunno. It's written in the article there, but it was all science-y and technical and I didn't get it. But think about it, Shiro! If he's hiding somewhere around here, he could be going to this school!"

Shiro wasn't listening to him anymore by this point. Skimming through the article, he finally came across Ishida Uryuu's reasoning behind the searches.

"The paper? They're tracking us through the paper we used?" he wondered incredulously. "Ishida's more resourceful than I first figured..."

'Good thing we didn't use any of the school stationary,' Ichigo commented dryly.

Shiro frowned. "We'll just have to make sure that the next letter we send will be on a different kind of paper, I guess."

'And how do you plan on going about that?'

"... I'll figure something out."

"Shiro? Come on, wouldn't it be cool?" Ryuichi prodded, trying to get a response from his friend.

Shiro nodded absently. "Sure. Cool."

"Maybe he's going to the school in disguise, and we've actually met him before! That would be so awesome!"

Shiro smiled up at Ryuichi. "Sure. Awesome. Not likely though. Not with your luck."

Ryuichi sighed sadly. "True."

"Besides, it's pretty much impossible that he'd be here, Ryuichi," Hachiro commented. "I mean, he's a ghost, right? He's dead."

Shiro nodded. "True. It's probably all some hoax. Kurosaki Ichigo is dead."

Ryuichi became indignant. "If he's dead, then why are people still looking for him? Hmm?"

Shiro smirked. "I dunno. Why are people still looking for Elvis?"

"El-who?"

"You've never heard of Elvis?" Hachiro asked incredulously. "The King of Rock and Roll?"

Ryuichi shrugged. "I've heard that he was some famous singer, but that's about it. What's he have to do with Kurosaki Ichigo? Did they know each other?"

Shiro laughed. "Doubtful. No, see, a long time ago, Elvis's music in the real world was so popular that after he died, people kept claiming that they saw him; that he was still alive."

"People would even dress up as him. Elvis impersonators, trying to convince everyone that the King was still alive. There are still people who don't know if he's actually dead or not," Hachiro added.

Ryuichi frowned. "Is he?"

"How should we know?" Shiro smirked.

Ryuichi thought about this for a long moment. "I bet he actually died, but then hung around as an earthbound spirit," he theorized. "That's why people kept seeing him afterwards."

Hachiro shrugged. "Whatever..."

"And then, watching his fans pretending he was still alive, of course he'd try to stay around for as long as possible." Ryuichi started really getting into it. "Until, of course, eventually he'd become a hollow. But of course he'd have lots of spiritual energy, so he'd probably become a really big, powerful hollow!"

Shiro blinked. "Why would he have lots of spiritual energy?"

Ryuichi frowned. "Well, he was really popular and famous, right? Even if he didn't have a ton of spiritual energy before, doesn't that sort of thing kind of give you bonus points after you die?"

"I don't think so," Hachiro said bluntly.

"Well, I think it does!" Ryuichi returned. "So anyway, he becomes this really powerful hollow and goes around wreaking destruction before finally going to Hueco Mundo, where he uses his huge amounts of power to bring the other hollows to their knees!"

Hachiro rolled his eyes. "How? Sing them to death?"

"Sure! It could be his special hollow power!" Ryuichi reasoned.

"Ryuichi..."

Ryuichi continued on. "And then, eventually he runs into Aizen Sousuke, who sees his great power, and uses his what-cha-call-it hybrid making thing on him. And he's SO powerful, that Aizen makes him an Espada!"

Shiro shook his head with a smile. "Oh, really?"

"Yeah!"

"Which one?"

Ryuichi thought about this for a moment. "Let's see... Probably not the first Espada... He was famous, but probably not that famous... But not as bad as the tenth one, he was pathetic. So... Fourth?"

Shiro snorted. "Ulquiorra?"

"Sure! Why not?"

"... Ryuichi, Ulquiorra Schiffer was not the King of Rock and Roll."

Ryuichi pouted. "You don't know that. He might have been."

Shiro sighed, smirking.

In his head, Ichigo was cracking up. 'Well, at least he stopped talking about me,' he pointed out, grinning.

"True. All right, so let's think. Where are we going to get the paper for your next letter?"

'First things first, as soon as we get a day off, we're going back to Soukyoku hill. If Ishida's going this far to try and find me, then Inoue probably replied to my letter.'

Shiro grinned. "Wait for a day off? You kidding? I can shunpo there in about five minutes with Bankai. I'll go check real quick after classes."

'... Thanks.'

"No problem. This letters thing is kind of fun..."


Another Author Note


Ahaha, this "letters thing" is so much fun. It's actually what started one of the things I mentioned in my List-of-stuff-that-would-happen last chapter, that being, "Adventures with Soi Fon's ninjas and a box."

See, Ishida's idea of tracking Ichigo down, capturing him, making him talk... went way way overboard at some point. It started when someone had the brilliant idea of just placing a guard of some sort to watch the memorial, to see if they couldn't ambush Ichigo when he came to pick up or drop off letters. Ichigo, of course, spotted the guard a mile away and just used Bankai to move fast enough that the guard never saw him there. When the Ryoka realized what he'd done, they requested help from Soi-Fon's ninjas. They're a little harder to sneak past.

So Ichigo makes an attempt at getting his letters, and nearly gets caught. But not quite, so Soi-Fon ups the security. She's only doing this because it's good training for her ninjas. Ichigo has to keep coming up with more and more elaborate ways to basically steal his own letters from the ninjas. He and Shiro mostly keep doing it because it's good training for them, too. XD And also, because it's fun.

Inoue gets annoyed at not being able to get any letters to Ichigo anymore, so she makes them all promise to stop guarding the memorial, so she can leave her letters there. They agree, but by then, the rest of the Ryoka, as well as Isshin, Karin, and Yuzu, have been writing Ichigo letters, too, so now those letters get used as 'bait' instead.

Eventually, security gets tight enough that Ichigo has major problems trying to get to them. Really elaborate set-ups in specially created trap-rooms (put together by a combined effort from Ishida and Urahara) just to try to get Ichigo. And so the stack of letters he's trying to grab gets big enough as people add to it that they start putting them into a cardboard box.

Of course, eventually, rumor gets out that the ghost of Kurosaki Ichigo is trying to steal a mysterious box from Soi Fon's ninjas. But the media doesn't really know what's inside the box. Ryuichi goes wild with his theories. XD

The whole thing basically becomes a game, to see if Ichigo (well, and Shiro helps) can get the box of letters, answer said letters, and drop off his responses to people, all without getting caught.

Eventually, kids keep daring each other to try to go after the box. They always end up getting caught, obviously, but a bunch of them start this thing where they leave stickers with their names on them on the ground at the furthest spot they're able to get to before getting caught. Ichigo thought that was a great idea, and made his own Kurosaki Ichigo stickers, which he'd also leave at the spot closest to the box he was able to get before having to retreat. This infuriates Soi Fon. XD Especially when she nearly caught him once, and when he slipped by her right at the last second, he stuck one of his stickers on the back of her haori as he passed. Oh, man, was she mad.

... So, yeah. That is the mysterious box. It's so much fun. We stuck a rubix cube lock on one of the doors at one point.

But anyway...

That's actually everything from Shiro's first year at the academy. *glances briefly over it all again* whew. That's a lot.

You may think that my next section is going to be a scene from his second year, ne? Nope. Third year? Nah. Fourth year? yyyyeeeeaannope. When? Eh heh...


(Seventh year)


[... Yeah, huge jump here. I have a ton of stuff planned for all of Shiro's other years at school, but this is all that I actually have written XD Yay, fight scene!

Don't worry; at the end, I have included a timeline of planned events, so you can see all the stuff that happens in between. You don't really need to know much more than you already do to understand this scene, though, so read on:]

"All right everyone, gather together!" the Zanpakutou teacher called out, walking onto the training field followed by a boy they'd never seen before. When they'd done as she asked, she introduced the boy to them. "This is Hiroto Tsuzuke. He used to be in the class just below yours, and he got moved up to our advanced class."

The class looked him over skeptically, each murmuring a polite nice-to-meet-you to the newcomer. Low whispers started in the back, and moved throughout the class, and Shiro couldn't blame them.

It was already two weeks into the new year, and this was the 7th year, anyway. It would be nearly impossible for this kid to catch up if he'd been in the normal classes all this time.

The new kid, Hiroto, grinned at them all. "Nice to meet you all! I hope to do well!" He bowed low.

Shiro watched him with one eyebrow raised. He didn't seem particularly strong. His stance wasn't that of a warrior, and the sealed zanpakutou at his side was small; no longer than his forearm. The only thing about him that didn't fit this first impression was the arrogant, confident smirk on his face as he sized them all up.

Kozue-sensei smiled approvingly. "Okay! Everyone start your usual stretches and exercises! I've been helping Hiroto-kun adjust to his new schedule, so I need to go get some supplies. When you're done with your exercises, just wait for me to return."

The class complied readily, spreading out to do their beginning stretches. Kozue-san turned and left.

They finished the stretches and retrieved their wooden practice swords from the rack, leaving their actual zanpakutous in their places and spreading back out to start the practice exercises they'd been taught.

Halfway though this, the new kid decided to make an annoyance of himself.

Sighing loudly and draping his wooden sword across his shoulders boredly, he sat down on the grass. "I can't believe you're still doing stuff like this in an advanced class! You're actually still learning stuff from this lady?"

Everyone in the class glared at him and someone spoke up. "These are just basic warm-ups, dummy. You learn them in first year, and all the classes do them."

Hiroto rolled his eyes. "Not the warm-ups...Kozue-san's been telling me the kind of stuff you're working on. Didn't say anything to her, of course, but the stuff you're learning is child's play. I can't believe the school didn't just graduate me. Instead I have to take this stupid class for one more year."

Ryuichi scowled, speaking without thinking. "You're quite the arrogant little prick, aren't you?"

Hiroto grinned. "You don't look much like one to be throwing insults around," he retorted. "If I had to guess, I'd say that you're probably the one who has to learn the most from this baby class."

"Hey, I'd watch what I said if I were you," Ryuichi warned dangerously.

"Why?" Hiroto shrugged with boredom. "You say that as if I should be afraid of any of you. I'm headed for the top when I'm out of here; you weaklings are nothing to me. Especially not you."

Ryuichi frowned. "You wait till class starts. We'll see who's stronger then."

Hiroto laughed. "Class? You've gotta be kidding me." He got to his feet and pointed his wooden sword at Ryuichi. "You want to challenge my strength, you fight me right here, right now. I'll be happy to wipe the floor with you."

"Yeah right." Ryuichi scoffed. "That's a good way to get yourself expelled. Why does everyone just assume I'm an idiot?"

Shiro smirked, unable to resist answering the question. "Well..."

Ryuichi glared at him, already knowing what his friend was about to say. "Not a word, Shiro."

Shiro laughed, then went back to the training exercises that they were all supposed to be doing. The tension in the air had been broken, and many of the other students followed suit, watching Hiroto closely, but letting the matter drop.

Unfortunately, Hiroto decided not to leave it at that, resuming his previous bored stance. "Great. I'm to be stuck in a stupid basic class with a bunch of cowardly weaklings for a whole year. I'm so glad I wasn't put in this group to begin with."

This earned him several glares, but nobody bothered doing anything about it.

Hiroto scowled, slightly annoyed, and he continued. "And this teacher! What's up with her, anyway? She looks like a hollow tried to eat her and decided it didn't like her and spit her back out! Total monstrosity! And I've heard rumors about her drawing smileys on everything, what the heck's with that? Is she crazy or something?"

Now most of the class had stopped what they were doing to glare at him. Insulting them was one thing; insulting the teacher was another. Hiroto looked almost triumphant and kept going.

"And violent on top of that! I heard she's only here teaching cause she got kicked out of 11th squad for attacking people for no reason."

Someone scoffed. "You've got your facts messed up. Kicked out of 11th for too much fighting?"

"Prove me wrong!" Hiroto dared. "I also heard she once hit a kid with a sandbag so hard his sword passed out."

Shiro laughed. "That wasn't exactly Kozue-sensei's fault."

"And how would you know, Whitey?" demanded Hiroto.

"Actually, it's 'Shiro', but you're close," Shiro corrected him with a grin. "And I know, cause I'm the one it happened to."

Hiroto laughed. "Oh, really? So it's true, then? And you're all still in a class with a freak teacher like that?"

Shiro shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Kozue-sensei is an excellent teacher, and the incident you're referring to would have happened no matter who'd hit me."

"Okay, so you've just got a pathetic sword, then?" Hiroto smirked. "Now I'm really wondering what you're doing in this so-called advanced class."

Shiro just grinned back. "Mostly kicking the butts of punks like you," he said.

"Oh, really? Care to give me a demonstration?" Hiroto readied his wooden sword.

Shiro watched him for a moment, then simply turned his back on him and continued the training exercises. "No."

"What?"

"You've obviously been trying to provoke everyone in this class into fighting you since you first got here. And while you've definitely succeeded in making everyone hate your guts, I don't think you're even worth fighting."

The rest of the class laughed in agreement at this.

Hiroto grit his teeth, his hands tightening on the hilt. For a long moment, he stood like that, and then he sighed loudly. Throwing the wooden sword down to the ground, he unsheathed his actual zanpakutou. "I hate having to resort to this, but you've asked for it now!"

With no further warning, he leapt at Shiro, aiming the sword at his head.

Caught off guard by the sudden attack, Shiro whirled, hitting the flat of the zanpakutou with his practice sword and knocking it aside. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

Hiroto just grinned, not at all surprised by Shiro's reaction, and attacked again. Shiro ducked out of the way, stuck trying to defend himself against an actual zanpakutou with just his wooden sword.

"Shiro!" Ryuichi had run to grab his own zanpakutou, and now he jumped in between the two of them. Metal screeched against metal as the two blades met. "Get your sword. He's gone nuts!"

Hiroto laughed, swinging his sword at Ryuichi, who blocked easily and countered.

By this point, everyone in the class had retrieved their zanpakutous, and they stood off to the side, waiting for a point where they could jump in and help. They didn't have much training in group fighting, so these were going to have to be one-on-one battles.

At first, Ryuichi had a clear advantage. While the two of them both wielded short swords, Ryuichi's was longer and his fighting style was more wild, forcing Hiroto to keep his distance as they fought.

Eventually, Hiroto started moving in closer, trying to use his smaller size and greater speed to find gaps in Ryuichi's defense. He wasn't too successful with this, and a few of Ryuichi's blows got past Hiroto's own defense, leaving him with long, shallow cuts on both arms, which he ignored.

Ryuichi had mostly sparred against opponents with longer swords than his, though, and he soon found it increasingly difficult to block these high-speed closer range attacks.

Hiroto attacked from the side, and Ryuichi was slow to block, managing to avoid injury from this blow, but leaving himself wide open for the next attack. Hiroto took full advantage of this, carving a deep wound across Ryuichi's shoulder.

Ryuichi cried out in pain, but didn't lose his focus. Getting his sword underneath Hiroto's, he quickly pushed away, putting distance between the two of them.

Hiroto leapt at him again, but Shiro took that moment to jump back in, blocking Hiroto's sword with his own. Hiroto grinned at him. "So the giant zanpakutou there was yours, was it? This should be fun!"

Shiro glared at Hiroto, shoving against his sword hard and forcing some distance between them. "Fun? Is that what this is all about?"

Hiroto just laughed, raising his sword high and running forward to get in close again, trying to slip under Shiro's defenses.

Shiro grit his teeth and blocked him, keeping him back with a fast, wide swing. Hiroto lightly jumped around him and attacked from the side, expecting Shiro's speed to be slower due to having a much bigger sword.

He was wrong; Shiro turned and blocked again, then countered swiftly, scoring a hit on Hiroto's shoulder. Hiroto jumped back in surprise, readying his sword again, and then he grinned at Shiro.

"You're a lot faster than you look, Whitey," he commented. "Your sword must be made of cardboard or something!"

"That so?" Shiro smiled amiably. "Looks like my 'cardboard' sword gave you quite a paper cut, huh?"

Hiroto shrugged, glancing down at the cut and then smirking at Shiro. "This is nothing. All right! I'm ready for your speed, now! Let's see how fast you can go!" He ran towards Shiro again.

With a smirk, Shiro blocked his attack yet again, matching Hiroto's speed as best as he could without being obvious that he wasn't going as fast as he really could.

Shiro really wanted to just beat this guy quickly, but he had noted that Ryuichi, as good as he was with a sword, had been struggling against him. Defeating this guy too fast would make people wonder, so Shiro forced himself to hold back.

Just as long as he could beat him before the teacher came back and stopped the fight...

When Hiroto realized that he couldn't get past Shiro's defenses, he grinned. "Dodge this!" Quickly, he flash stepped under Shiro's sword and swung.

Shiro wasn't there anymore, having instinctively flash stepped back out of the way.

Hiroto laughed, obviously pleased, and flash stepped at him again without giving him time to recover.

Shiro was surprised, but he could have blocked it or flashed stepped again if he had wanted to. Instead, he purposefully moved just barely too slow, still trying to give the illusion of not being experienced with this. Hiroto's sword cut into his side.

Ignoring the wound, Shiro used several quick flash steps to move around Hiroto and attack. The two of them exchanged several blindingly fast sword blows before jumping apart again.

The rest of the class was in shock. The cut on Shiro's side was obviously shallow, but it was still a wound, and they'd never seen him get hurt like that before; it was generally agreed that Shiro was blade-proof. It was an indication of just how hard Hiroto was actually fighting against him that his attacks had actually managed to cut him.

"What's taking Kozue-sensei so long to get back?" Ryuichi muttered, not taking his eyes off of Shiro and Hiroto, who had resumed fighting, using flash step in combination with most of their moves.

"Someone go find her," Hachiro directed the class in general, his eyes wide. "And get the nurse too!"

Nobody moved; they were all staring, transfixed, as the two fighters became faster. And faster. And faster.

Ryuichi blinked, then shook his head quickly in disbelief. "Am I the only one who can't see them anymore?"

One of the other students squinted, a look of concentration on his face as his gaze moved rapidly around the area. "I... I think Shiro's still winning... I think..."

A splash of blood scattered across the grass suddenly as one of them landed a blow on the other.

The reaction among the rest of the class was immediate. "Right, going now!" A large group of students took off towards the teacher's office.

It was a short trip to Kozue-san's office, but it seemed to take forever to get there today. Hachiro, who reached the door first, slammed into it and pounded several times on it with his fist. "Kozue-sensei!"

Unexpectedly, the door opened immediately, causing the boy and several others behind him to go tumbling into the room. Kozue-san stood there with an amused expression on her face.

"What happened?" she asked calmly.

The students all started speaking at once, and she held up both hands to stop them. "Hachiro, you were here first, you speak."

Hachiro swallowed hard. "That new kid's crazy or something! He attacked us! Ryuichi got cut up! And Shiro's hurt!"

Kozue-san nodded at each of these statements knowingly, but paused at the last one. "He cut Shiro?"

They all began talking again, but she was no longer paying attention to them.

She turned and addressed another person in the room that they hadn't noticed before, a girl dressed in shinigami robes, wearing a pack that was emblazoned with the symbol of the fourth squad.

"Well, I guess I'll need your help on this one after all. Looks like Hiroto-kun's fighting too roughly again."

The girl nodded, pushing past the confused students and into the hallway. "I assumed he would be."

"Come on, let's go," Kozue-san said cheerfully. Apparently in no hurry at all, she and the fourth squad girl started heading toward the training field, leaving the dazed students behind to stare.

Finally, one of the students ran after them. "Why are you so calm about this?" he demanded. "This isn't just a spar, that new kid's gunna kill somebody!" The other students also began talking loudly, voicing their opinions as well.

"Do you want us to go help, or do you want explanations?" the fourth squad girl asked loudly over their protests. "We know what we're doing, don't worry."

The students all wisely stopped talking, simply following after the two of them in silent confusion.

As they got close enough to the training field to see what was going on, Kozue-san frowned. "Hiroto even released his sword? That reckless..."

She trailed off as Shiro and Hiroto dropped out of the flash steps. Those unable to keep up with the quick movements of shunpo could suddenly see them again.

Both fighters were covered with blood. Cuts, both deep and shallow, crisscrossed their arms and torsos, though neither of them seemed to be paying much attention to the wounds.

Shiro made a quick dash forward. The two swords collided again. Sparks flew between them as the blades were pressed together, and then Hiroto's sword was twisted out of his hand from the force. A swift kick was enough to send the shocked Hiroto flying onto his back in the dirt.

Instantly, Shiro stood over him, one foot on his chest, his sword pointed at Hiroto's throat. "Give up?" he asked, breathing hard.

Hiroto's eyes were wide and he made a low noise of surprise in the back of his throat, but other than that, he said nothing.

"Shirosaki!" Kozue-san called out, a definite tone of shock now in her voice.

Shiro glanced up at them and quickly took several steps back away from Hiroto, letting his sword drop to the ground beside him. Looking nervous, he brought both hands up defensively. "He attacked me first! Ask anybody!"

Kozue-san paid him no attention, hurrying to Hiroto's side and checking him over quickly. "Are you all right?"

Hiroto groaned. "No. My pride will never be the same again."

"But your humor is alive and kicking, so you must be fine," Kozue-san remarked dryly. She offered him an arm up, and reluctantly, he took it.

The fourth squad girl had her pack open by this point and she wordlessly began cleaning the nearest wounds she could get to. Hiroto hissed in pain and tried to wave her away. "Leave me 'lone, I'm fine."

She glared at him and obediently went to start treating Shiro's wounds instead. Shiro was confused enough that he simply let her.

"So, how many of them jumped you, Hiroto-kun?" Kozue-san asked, a sudden twinkle in her eye.

Hiroto groaned again. "None of them. Kozue, your class this year is the most level-headed group I've ever encountered."

Kozue-san laughed. "Why, thank you! I tried so hard to make things difficult this year."

"Gee, thanks." Hiroto rolled his eyes. "I should have known. Remind me to return the favor sometime."

"Nah, I'll just let you owe me ice-cream or something," she returned cheerfully.

Ryuichi suddenly couldn't take it anymore. "Hang on! Hang on! Hold it!"

The two of them both turned to him, Hiroto with a glare and Kozue-san with an amused expression. "Yes?"

"What in the world is going on here?" Ryuichi exclaimed exasperatedly. "This kid comes in, insults us, insults you, then forces us to fight him, and your reaction is to stand there and chat with him like old friends?"

Kozue-san and Hiroto glanced at each other. Kozue-san smirked. "True, my poor class is still confused. Hiroto-kun, I introduced you earlier; it's only fair you introduce yourself now. I suggest you do it quickly, before they get irritated enough to gang up on you again."

"They didn't gang up on me before, is the problem," Hiroto grumbled, rubbing one of his shoulders and wincing as he brushed against a cut.

"It makes me so happy to hear you say that," Kozue-san giggled. "From what I can see, you fought just two of my students, and they have less wounds combined than you do!"

Hiroto groaned again. "Shut up, don't remind me."

"Go on, tell them who you are!"

With a scowl, Hiroto turned to face the class. "My name is Hiroto Tsuzuke; seated officer in 11th squad in the Gotei 13; I'm an Academy Recruiter. It's my job to test the students here and see if any of you are good enough for the Zaraki squad. And I have to say, this is the first time I've ever been defeated by a student."

There was a moment of silence, and then the class exploded into excited chattering. Shiro's eyes widened as he let this new information sink in. Abruptly, he sank to his knees on the ground, startling the fourth squad girl.

A seated officer in the Gotei 13? That was not a position that was earned lightly; that meant this guy was really powerful. And from 11th division, Kenpachi's division, the Gotei 13's main fighting division... Even worse...

And never been beaten by an academy student, that meant people were going to look into this; he was going to get found out... And even if he didn't get found out, it was Kenpachi's division.

"Whoa, Shiro, you okay?" somebody asked him. Shiro wasn't sure who it was, and he didn't much care at this point.

He was so screwed...

"Not responding to questions... Kozue, I'm taking him down to the medical center," the fourth squad girl reported. "He needs treated for blood loss and shock."

"Good idea. Ryuichi, go with them and get your shoulder looked at."

"Kay." Ryuichi sounded distracted, as he was obviously more concerned for his roommate than he was for himself. He helped the fourth squad girl lift Shiro back up to his feet and hung on to one of his arms to keep him steady. "Shiro, are you okay?"

Shiro didn't really have an answer to that question, so he just started walking. His eyes were unfocused, and he wasn't really paying attention to where he was going, merely letting the other two lead him in the right direction.

"Hey, Shiro! Ryuichi!" Hiroto called out suddenly. Shiro blinked and glanced back over his shoulder. Hiroto was grinning. "Great job! Looking forward to seeing you both in eleventh!"

Shiro felt his heart sink further and he looked suddenly down, simply watching the ground move past as he walked.

He was so, so screwed...


[I mention this later in my OC list, but I should probably mention now that Kenji is a roommate of Shiro's who doesn't actually show up until Shiro's third year. But, you know, he's here now, so... yeah. For more info on him, see the later list. Also, "Kuroi" is Kenji's name for Ichigo. He doesn't know it's Ichigo, but he does know Shiro has a split personality. ... Oh, and to make things clear: None of his roommates know that he's actually Ichigo. Shiro being Ichigo in disguise is one of Ryuichi's wild theories that they all joke around about sometimes, but none of them take it seriously.]

"What in the world happened to you?" Kenji leapt to his feet and stared at Shiro as he, Ryuichi, and Hachiro came into the apartment. "You look like you got hit by a blender!"

Shiro said nothing, instead going over and lowering himself carefully onto one of the living room's couches, moving slowly so as not to disturb the bandages that were now covering most of his upper body.

Ryuichi, his shoulder also bandaged up, went and flopped into a chair. "I dunno, not so much a blender, as... like... I dunno, one of those barbeque fork things?"

Hachiro snorted. "Sure, if you can call a curved, double-bladed short sword a barbeque fork."

"Well, whatever. So it's more like he got hit by..." Ryuichi thought about this for a moment.

"A paper shredder?" Hachiro suggested.

Ryuichi snapped his fingers. "Right! Or, like, one of those things you use to take staples out of stuff."

Kenji stared. "What happened?" he repeated. "Are you okay, Shiro?"

There was no response from the white-haired boy, and Ryuichi sighed. "We've been trying to get him to talk to us since that fight got over. He hasn't said a word... The nurse says he's okay, aside from the cuts, obviously, so we're not really sure what's up..."

"What fight?" Kenji asked. "During your Zanpakutou class?"

Ryuichi nodded. "Yeah. There was this recruiter from eleventh squad in our class today, only he didn't tell us he was a recruiter. He just started fighting us when the teacher left."

Kenji's eyes widened. "Shiro's like this because he was fighting a guy from eleventh squad?"

"That's not the crazy part," Hachiro added. "The best part is that right as the teacher was coming to break up the fight cause they were both hurt really bad, Shiro actually won."

"Wooooow..." Kenji stared at them all. "So, wait. He won, and yet he's... depressed about this?"

Ryuichi shrugged. "Apparently," he answered. "He does this sometimes, though. I haven't seen him so down since they told him he was accepted to the Academy."

Kenji frowned at Shiro, examining him closely. "Well, it's not Kuroi..."

Shiro opened his eyes and scowled at them. "Hey, I'm allowed to be down sometimes without being Kuroi..." he finally spoke up, speaking quietly. "I have my reasons..."

"He speaks! It's a miracle!" Ryuichi exclaimed, gesturing widely with both arms. A moment later, he winced, holding his wounded shoulder. "Ow..."

Kenji smirked slightly, then turned back to Shiro. "Shiro, if you're down like this after something like that, then I'll have to be down after accomplishing something like a level 90 Kido spell. And I don't think I can do that."

"What, the level 90 Kido spell, or the being sad afterwards?" Ryuichi quipped.

"Yes." Kenji, Ryuichi, and Hachiro laughed, and even Shiro smiled a bit before sighing and closing his eyes again.

Kenji frowned at him again. "Shiro, seriously, what's up?"

"I'm going to die," Shiro said slowly, in a monotone voice, not opening his eyes.

Ryuichi smirked. "You're already dead," he said in the same tone just as slowly. "That's what Soul Society is."

"Ha, ha, you're hilarious. I'm serious here; I'm going to die."

Hachiro shook his head in disbelief. "Shiro, you're talking crazy talk. The nurse just checked you out; you'll be fine."

Shiro opened his eyes and shot a glare at him. "That's not what I meant. That guy wasn't just some random guy in the Gotei 13; he's a seated officer from eleventh squad."

Ryuichi nodded slowly. "Yeah, we know. That's why it's so awesome that you managed to beat him."

"You realize that all the squads in the Gotei 13 are going to be offering you seated positions?" Hachiro pointed out. "You're pretty much set, now!"

Shiro groaned, shaking his head. "You don't get it. He's from eleventh division! The main fighting division!"

"... So?"

"So, everyone in eleventh division seeks out battles for fun! When one of them gets defeated, the seat above them automatically wants to find the one who beat him to see if they can get a good fight out of it!" Shiro explained slowly. "They're going to keep coming at me one by one, each stronger than the last. Eventually, I'm going to come across one that I can't beat, and then I'm going to die!"

There was a long pause.

"Huh. You have a point," Ryuichi mused.

Shiro groaned again.

Kenji frowned. "If they really want you in their division, they're not going to kill you, Shiro..." He hesitated a moment, then added, "Right?"

"You'd think so," Shiro said dryly. "But they really like to fight, and surviving a loss is ultimate dishonor, so their fights are usually to the death."

Hachiro shook his head. "That's not true. That recruiter wasn't trying to kill you."

"Well, no, of course not." Shiro rolled his eyes. "That'd defeat the purpose of recruiting. However, usually, the students don't beat the recruiter. The other division members are not going to be interested in recruiting me, but in fighting me for fun."

"But..." Kenji hesitated. "But they can't just attack Academy students, can they? There's gotta be some rule against stuff like that."

"Even if there is," Ryuichi mentioned thoughtfully, "they'd probably ignore it. They're not much for rules in that division."

Shiro nodded grimly, closing his eyes again with a sigh. "Hence, no matter what I do, I'm going to die."

"Unless you spend the entire rest of your life living in a hole somewhere," Ryuichi suggested cheerfully.

"No, they'd find him eventually," Hachiro pointed out. "You can't hide that much spirit energy."

"Well, if we could somehow send him to the real world..."

"How, exactly?"

"True. Guess we'll have to figure out a way to send him to go live on the moon, then."

"You guys, you're not helping," Shiro complained.

Kenji pondered for a moment, trying to come up with actual solutions to this problem. "If we tell the teachers about this, one of them's bound to help, right?"

Shiro sighed. "Even if they did, I doubt that'd stop the higher seated officers. They have more power and authority than the teachers do, I think..."

"Well... What if we hired you a bodyguard? I bet if we pooled our money we could manage it..."

Ryuichi rolled his eyes. "Are you kidding? The only body guard in the world who'd be able to keep all of eleventh division off of him would be Kurosaki I—Ow!" He rubbed his head and glared at Hachiro. "That wasn't even an accusation this time!"

"Sorry," Hachiro grinned at him. "Reflex."

Ryuichi seethed. "So, what? You hit me every time you hear the name Kurosa—Ow!"

"Nope, just when you say it," Hachiro laughed.

Shiro smirked. "So if we want you to just hit Ryuichi endlessly, all we have to do is record him trying to say Kurosaki Ichigo, and put it on a loop?"

Hachiro thought about this for a moment. "Probably."

"Why is it only when I say Kuro—Gah!" Ryuichi dodged out of the way this time, falling out of the chair and landing painfully on his shoulder. "Owww..."

Shiro laughed. "What have you learned?"

Ryuichi pouted. "Don't say Kurosaki I—OW!"

"You walked right into that one."

"What if we were to set up some really complex signaling system around the school, so that every time there was an eleventh squad person in the area, we could, I dunno, change your hair color, put a fake mustache on you, and hide you somewhere?" Kenji suggested, having been continuing to think about this while the others argued.

Shiro frowned at him. "Change my hair color? To what, exactly? Back to my natural color?"

Kenji smirked. "Are you kidding? Nothing screams 'I'm a target, hit me' like bright orange hair."

"True," Shiro sighed.

Ryuichi grinned. "Yeah, one minute they'd be looking for Shiro, and the next they'd be after Kurosaki Ichi—OW!"

"Hey, you got pretty close that time," Kenji commented, hiding a smile.

"Yeah, Hachiro, you're getting slow. Hit him faster."

"Sorry, he was way over there..."

Ryuichi mock pouted. "You're all so horrible to me..."

Shiro laughed, but then sighed, closing his eyes again. "But seriously, what am I going to do, guys?"

The rest of them fell silent, pondering this. No one could really come up with a good answer.

'Well... Even if we can't stop eleventh division from sending people at us, it doesn't really matter,' Ichigo said solemnly. 'Beating them will probably break your cover, but... Well, you've been Shirosaki Thanatos for almost seven years now... Maybe they won't make you come back...'

Shiro shook his head slightly. "This is your friends we're talking about, Ichigo. If they find out you're here, they're not going to just let it go... And even if they did, it'd be awkward around them from then on..."

Ichigo sighed. 'Shiro, you're making it rain in here, and coming from you, that's bizarre.'

"Well, sorry," Shiro rolled his eyes.

'Who cares what they think? You're not Kurosaki Ichigo, and even if they do find out I'm here, nothing they do can change that. I mean, obviously it'd be better if they didn't find out, but even if they do, so what?'

Shiro smiled a little. "Wow, this is backwards. You trying to cheer me up?"

'Hey, I don't like getting wet!' Ichigo protested. 'And anyway, your friends are getting worried.'

Shiro glanced over at his room mates, who were all sitting solemnly in various locations around the room. He let out a slow breath. "You're right; we can work through this..."

"I guess I'll just avoid them as best as I can," he said out loud, forcing a smile. They all looked up at him and he continued with a laugh. "They like to fight, but they also hate cowards. Maybe once they realize I'm running from them, they'll get annoyed with me enough to leave me alone."

The others laughed nervously. Ryuichi shook his head. "Shiro, you're no coward."

Shiro grinned. "Then I'll have to make them think I am! What do you think, maybe if I spend my time hiding behind you guys every time one of them shows up...?"

"Hey, now you're just trying to use us as human shields," Hachiro protested. They all laughed.

"Well, I'll figure something out," Shiro said optimistically. "At the very least, I know I'm not going down without a fight... Literally..."


.


All righty then. So, I actually have a few more "seventh year" scenes halfway written, but both of them are completely pointless, and really suck. So I've decided to just leave it at that.

So, at this point, you've now seen all of the actual scenes I've written. But there's SO much more about this story that HASN'T been written.

First, I'm going to give you guys my list of OC's, and then I'll give you my overall timeline (starting with year three of the academy, since I've already given you the rundown of everything before that). And then maybe we'll finally be done with this monster...


Okay, list of OCs used in Divided By Zero with basic information. Listed in order of introduction. Some of this will be stuff I've mentioned previously.

Rukongai people

Akira and Hanako: Akira's the little boy who helped Shiro with his shunpo fish problem, and Hanako is his mother. Well, "mother"; you know how families go in Rukongai.

Akira doesn't really have much personality beyond being a hyper kid who takes to Shiro like he's his new best friend. He's the one who originally starts calling him Shiro.

Shiro's actually lucky to have run into Hanako, because she tends to like taking in kids who have some spirit energy, so that they can help her out. She earns money running a hair salon, or what passes for one in Rukongai. She doesn't have enough spirit energy herself to attend the Shinigami Academy, but she has enough that she was able to manipulate it a little bit, just experimenting on her own. She has a few different kidou-like hair techniques that she's developed besides the usual hair cutting, including the white hair dye one.

Her main personality is that while she is protective of the children in her care, she is very trusting. When Shiro tells her that he needs to change his appearance so that the Shinigami quit chasing him, she dyes his hair white, tells him to start growing it out long, and slowly starts teaching him how to use the spell himself. This has problems all it's own due to Shiro's general anti-kidou problems, but eventually he gets the hang of it. And meanwhile, Akira teaches him how to fish. In exchange, Shiro helps with everyday chores, both at the house and helping in the salon. Works out well for everybody, and when he decides to leave, they're sad to see him go.

The Academy Recruiter: Well, we never really came up with even a name for this guy, but I figured I should mention him anyway, since he is an OC. I already kind of explained him earlier, but he's the guy who wanders around Rukongai with a wagon full of food, figuring that the best way to locate people with spirit energy in a place with little to no food was to set up random picnics everywhere and see who is tempted by it. Those with no spirit energy won't care about it; they'll ignore it. Those with spirit energy will get hungry.

Shiro's Academy Teachers

Kozue Tanpopo: Tanpopo actually means Dandelion. Kozue is tough as nails, having earned her way to a pretty high 11th squad seat before deciding to go beat on Academy students for a living. She's a ruthless fighter, and her discipline is strict.

However, she's also happy and bubbly, loves to draw smiley faces and flowers on things, and gives everyone in the class party hats and throws confetti around to celebrate whenever she has pop quizzes. She also has a friendly rivalry with Shiro's kidou teacher, Inokuchi, and they often prank each other.

She has a lot of fun with her teaching job, often coming up with very creative ways to teach new techniques, and to dole out (sometimes very ironic) punishments for misbehavior. One example is Mr. Sandbag, which she uses to teach restraint and control of strength. Hit the sandbag as hard as you can without it splitting open and "dying". She's drawn a face on the bag.

Kozue does not release her sword very often, for much the same reason as Yumichika: it has a kidou ability. She's not nearly as worried about it as other 11th squad members, though, and she makes sure her students know her abilities. Frankly, you do not want to be hit by her released sword, but not because it causes pain. Her sword releases a swarm of hallucinogenic bees, which literally cause her opponent to become incredibly high if stung. It's not a pretty sight. (I'm pretty sure we had a name for her zanpakutou at one point, but we can't seem to remember it now.)

Kozue is Shiro's zanpakutou teacher all seven years of his Academy time. She keeps pushing him to graduate early, but he refuses. By his fourth or fifth year, the only thing he's doing in zanpakutou classes is helping teach the other students, and occasionally sparring with her, 'never quite managing to beat her'. (When Shiro defeats the 11th squad recruiter, it confirms that he's been holding back on her, and she demands he fight her full strength. He doesn't, of course, but she's very persistent after that.)

Inokuchi Makoto: Inokuchi is Shiro's kidou teacher all the way through the academy. This is mostly because, completely opposite of his outstanding abilities in zanpakutou class, Shiro starts in one of the lowest kidou classes at the academy, only moving up very slowly, and Inokuchi is one of the most patient kidou teachers you'll ever find. She's also very precise and no-nonsense about the way she teaches. (You kind of have to be when you're teaching something like kidou.)

As seen in the scene with Ichigo's first day out, Inokuchi is very observant, being the first teacher to notice the weird changes in Shiro's spiritual energy. From that time on, she keeps quiet tabs on him, kind of collaborating with the school nurse on the subject occasionally. Nobody's ever really quite sure what's up with the way Shiro's spirit energy works, but Inokuchi's careful observations help in keeping track of it all, at least.

Inokuchi and Kozue, as I've said, are pretty big rivals, having become that way through teaching together at the school, but underneath that, they really are good friends. Their teaching styles are wildly different, and so they're always trying to prove to each other that their way works better. So, whenever her students show up for class with party hats on and confetti strewn everywhere, she is not amused. Outwardly.

We never came up with a zanpakutou for Inokuchi, since it was unlikely to ever come up.

A fun note about both teachers' names: Originally, Shiro had more roommates than he does now, till we shrunk his six person dorm down to a four person dorm to attempt to eliminate characters that we'd need to come up with personalities for. But before we did that, we had already come up with names for the other two roommates. When we got rid of them, we didn't want to just dump the names. So we gave them to the teachers. Kozue and Makoto were originally going to be two more roommates. Just a random note.

The School Nurse:

This is another character who plays a pretty big role in the story who we never came up with any information about. She's important purely because of her observations of Shiro's various oddities through his academy years. So, for example, noticing the scars that should technically make Shiro unable to have spirit energy at all, and also that his spirit energy often changes color at random intervals. It's mostly just perplexing to her, especially when even weirder stuff like Ichigo getting knocked unconscious happens.

At several points, she gets confused by it enough that she calls upon some of her old 4th squad colleagues to come take a look at Shiro. Strangely enough, though, Shiro couldn't be found anywhere when Hanatarou was part of this group; though that only happens once, so you know, just a coincidence.

Shiro has other teachers for his other classes, of course. Various history classes, footwork classes, hand-to-hand stuff, and he might even have a different teacher for his kidou theory class than he does for practical kidou depending on the year he's in; though that's debatable. And eventually he actually helps teach some of the zanpakutou classes, helping out the teachers there. But we haven't come up with any specifics for these other classes, or the teachers he takes them with.

Shiro's Roommates

Yamada Hachiro: Hachiro is the epitome of generic-ness. We came up with him last, so by the time we got around to creating a personality for him, I had kind of gotten sick of making OC's, so he ended up not having much of a personality, or an interesting backstory. As a result, we awarded him the generic family name Yamada, one of Japan's most common family names.

Rather boringly, Hachiro grew up in Rukongai, but he was up in 7th district, so it was reasonably civilized. The only interesting thing about where Hachiro lived is that I stuck him in West Fugai, the same district where, 100 years ago, several captains were turned forcibly into hollows. He doesn't know this, though, or care. All he knows is that in a forested area of his district, there's this random tile floor...

In almost every situation, Hachiro is kind of the strong silent type. He mostly resorts to violence to get his point across, but he's cool and level-headed, so his violence is just brute strength, not anger or a love of fighting. In a lot of ways, he's kind of like a smaller, more talkative Chad.

His zanpakutou, however, is anything but generic. For one thing, when he releases it, it becomes a pocket knife. This could almost be laughable, since who uses a pocket knife in combat? Except that the different items on the pocket knife open out into different full-sized weapons. The main blade is a broadsword. The smaller one is a short sword. In the slot on the side where they usually stick a toothpick, he can pull out a ten-foot pole. The main almost useless one is those collapsible scissors that come in some pocketknives. His gives him a full-sized pair of scissors. Granted, they're strong, sharp scissors that could double as wire cutters if he really needed them to in a place like this, but still. He has some other weapons and abilities that he's able to unlock as he trains, but those are his basic things.

We even went so far as to create a further-camping-themed personification for Hachiro's sword, although that would never have actually even come up in the story. (We were really bored). The short explanation of his sword's personification, then, is this: Don't talk to bears in tennis shoes. It can and does talk to you, but you do not talk to it.

... Yeah, we were really, really bored. Hachiro's zanpakutou is mostly just silly.

Shidara Ryuichi: The first of my two most favorite OCs for this story. His name came from that of the lead performer of an awesome Japanese drumming group that came to our school my second semester called Shidara. It was a really epic show, and we were able to use the Romanized names on the program to steal quite a few names for various uses. (Inokuchi, incidentally, was the name of one of the producers of the show).

Ryuichi is hyper, easily excitable, and just in general way more childlike than he has any right to be considering he looks Shiro's age, grown up in Soul Society where aging is slower. He has the tendency to take pretty much everything to a wild extreme, much to the amusement and/or embarrassment of those around him.

He grew up in the back districts of Rukongai. The really back, really bad districts. He claims that he actually remembers how he originally died (A white, painful flash of light later revealed to have been the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima), but considering the stories he comes up with, that's questionable. One of his earliest memories from Rukongai is wandering through the site of a horrible slaughter, being attacked by someone, and grabbing a sword off of one of the dead guys around him in order to defend himself. Since then, he just fought to survive, eventually stumbling across an academy recruiter, who got him safe passage to the academy. It has been theorized that Ryuichi's crazy stories and theories about everything, as well as his hyper happy-go-lucky nature was originally a defense mechanism to keep himself from going insane in those bad conditions. It has also been theorized that Ryuichi merely did go insane (though they're usually just joking).

The sword that Ryuichi picked up in Rukongai stays with him all through the academy, even though he is also given the standard Asauchi. Eventually, when he learns to release his sword, it's the Rukongai blade that changes into his zanpakutou, so obviously he gets to keep it. Naturally, he's thrilled about this.

Like many of our created zanpakutous, Ryuichi's sword doesn't currently have a name, due to me being too lazy to decide on one. However, as can be seen during the seventh year recruiter fight, I did come up with an actual sword for him to use, though not really very descriptive: a short sword. It doesn't have any kidou abilities beyond just being in general stronger and easier to work with than the sword's original form.

I think that at one point we were going to give him some sort of shockwave ability dealing with sound or earth or something, but we were unsure whether or not to give it to him. Not all swords have kidou effects, and his is definitely mostly just brute force rather than kidou. But the shockwaves through the earth idea just sounded cool. Maybe it's something he learns to do later.

Several ideas were created for the personification of Ryuichi's sword, but no one particular one was ever settled on. I think it might have been something like a young woman who yelled at him a lot for being perverted.

Definitely the most memorable thing about Ryuichi is his wild theories. It doesn't take much for him to go off on something, and once he starts, there's no stopping him, no matter how much of his new theory is based entirely in nonsense. It wouldn't be so bad, except that he then defends these theories stubbornly, refusing to give up on them for as long as he keeps remembering them (meaning years). Some of the craziest include his strong belief that Ulquiorra Schiffer was the King of Rock and Roll (as you've seen), and his belief that aliens have invaded. Or the one that if you travel till you hit the outer wall of 80th district, there's nothing out there but empty, white space with floating, black dots. Or the insane theory that Shiro is actually Kurosaki Ichigo attending the academy in disguise.

And yeah, Ryuichi is, to some extent, my stereotypical Ichigo's-roommate-who-has-a-huge-obsession-with-Kurosaki-Ichigo-and-doesn't-know-that-his-roommate-actually-is-him. Though, with Ryuichi, it's a little different just because Ryuichi easily has obsessions about just about anything and everything. In fact, because of this, instead of Shiro's similarities to Kurosaki Ichigo being his downfall, they are merely laughed off as "just another one of Ryuichi's stupid theories". Very useful.

Shiro does eventually admit to Ryuichi that he really is Kurosaki Ichigo, a few nights before graduation, purely because he knows that even if Ryuichi doesn't keep it quiet, nobody will take him seriously anyway. Ryuichi, totally thrilled about this, goes to breakfast the next morning and attempts to announce it to the world. Shiro pretends to have absolutely no idea what Ryuichi is talking about, resulting in, well... Ryuichi making a fool of himself again in a highly embarrassing manner.

Kenji: His name is Kenji. Just Kenji. And he has one of the most complicated backstories I've ever come up with for someone. So hang on, this'll take a bit.

When he was a very small child (old enough to walk, but only just barely) growing up in the living world, he died. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But he didn't get a soul burial right away, because he didn't get found by a Shinigami. A child that small is so easily overlooked.

So his earliest memories are of wandering the streets, wondering why nobody could see him except the scary monsters. He grew to understand the people around him purely through observation, but nobody ever talked to him, never called him by any name, so he never spoke, and didn't have a name. As a ghost, he didn't physically grow older, but mentally he did, and he continued to learn many things by watching the people around him.

One day, there was a hollow attack in the area. He managed to get himself hidden so that he wasn't in danger, but then there was a Shinigami fighting the hollow. This was very scary, so he didn't come out, but he watched as the Shinigami used kidou along with his sword to fight. He was fascinated by this, and as soon as the hollow had been killed and the Shinigami had left, he began to experiment, trying to see if he could make balls of energy to blow stuff up, too. His attempts were small and feeble, but they worked.

The next time there was a hollow in the area, he decided to try out his new ability, to fight the hollow the way the Shinigami had. This ultimately resulted in the Shinigami having to save him from said hollow, but thankfully, this also meant that he could be given a soul burial. The Shinigami, however, had seen his attempts at kidou and was impressed by them. Someone so young and so utterly self-taught using kidou, any kidou, at this point? So instead of giving him a normal soul burial, the Shinigami escorts him personally to Soul Society, and then makes sure he goes to the 1st district of Rukongai so that he can easily enter the academy.

While talking to the Shinigami, it was discovered that he didn't have a name. The Shinigami jokingly told him, "You can borrow mine till you get your own. It's Kenji."

Since that day, Kenji's been training hard, his ultimate goal being to one day become a Shinigami, to find the original Kenji, and "give him his name back", once he'd earned his own name.

So, yeah. Kenji is a really small kid, though obviously he's grown a lot since then. He's very quiet at first, doesn't talk a whole lot till he's more comfortable with the idea. Not shy, just quiet. And he has a lot of strange habits that arose from being 'raised' as an invisible, intangible ghost. Like sometimes walking into walls. Or staring at people.

He's not nearly as bad now as when he first got to Rukongai, though, which made it a good thing he'd stayed with a Rukongai family for a while, instead of just going straight to the academy. At that point, academy life would have been terrifying for him.

Actually, the original Kenji wanted him to have gone straight to the academy, but he didn't have time to make sure he actually got there, instead just making sure he was given a first district number and sending him off, figuring he'd find him later and help him the rest of the way then. Little Kenji, however, wandered off, not realizing he needed to 'check in' to his new district anywhere in order to be found again. So when the original Kenji came back to check up on him, he couldn't find little Kenji anywhere.

Kenji was found by a Rukongai family, though, so he did all right. He was raised the rest of the way in Rukongai, where he became a much more normal person, aside from his occasional quirks.

But he never stopped experimenting with his spirit energy, always getting better and better at taking it and shaping it in whatever form he wanted. Rukia and Renji's spirit energy balls? Bah. Kenji makes spirit energy bunnies to amuse himself. And eventually, this started earning him money, doing requests for people and, as he got older, putting on mini-puppet shows with it.

In this way, Kenji quickly became an entertainer, a crowd pleaser. He's good at reading people, because he's always observed them, and now he can use that to his advantage.

Eventually, someone of some influence with the academy stumbled across one of his puppet shows and hurried him to the academy to put his natural talent with kidou to a better use. Right then, without waiting for the next semester.

With abilities like that, there was no way they were going to put him into beginner kidou courses, and unlike Shiro, Kenji has no problem with being bumped up several years or with graduating early. So, he was placed in the third year kidou classes.

The main problem with this was that he was definitely not ready to be put into advanced classes for, well, just about anything else. He'd never held a sword before the admission tests, he knew absolutely nothing about history, and on top of all that, he had never formally been taught to read or write, so that made the textbooks hard to get through. He can read, but not very well, and definitely not fast. So, basically, they put him in all of the general basic classes, plus a remedial reading/writing class, but then a super-advanced kidou class. Really weird schedule.

The next problem was where to house him. Because he came in late in the year, in the middle of a semester, all of the housing for incoming students was full. Furthermore, he had his really weird schedule, making it hard to set him up according to that as well. Since Shiro and the rest of his apartment had an open bed, already had different schedules (due to advanced zanpakutou classes), and would be sharing Kenji's third-year kidou class, Kenji was sent there.

Within the first few weeks that Kenji is there, he quickly observes just how horrible Shiro is at kidou, and also gets a few displays of how good he is at swordplay. So, he proposes a trade. He helps Shiro with his kidou homework, and Shiro helps him learn how to use a sword.

He discovers quite a bit about Shiro, actually. Again, very observant. For one thing, he notices that whenever Shiro's spirit energy goes through bizarre shifts, so does his personality. He starts calling one of the personalities "Shiro" and the other one "Kuroi", which kind of freaks Shiro out at first. Pretty quickly, Shiro has to admit to his roommates that he does, in fact, have a split personality. He's not telling them why, of course, but still.

Kenji also discovers the fact that Shiro uses a kidou spell to change his hair color. Being a whiz at kidou, he... plays with it. First he figures out the counter-spell, to undo whatever's been changed by the spell. He thereby discovers Shiro's natural hair color (Oh, Ryuichi has so much fun with that). Then he figures out how to use it to dye other colors. Which he uses to dye Hachiro's and Ryuichi's hair bizarre colors. And to paint the whole school pink at the end of their seventh year.

Which reminds me: Beware of Kenji; he does enjoy pranking people.

Kenji eventually improves in his sword fighting, about as quickly as Shiro improves in kidou. Which is to say, very slowly, and not much. He does finally manage to release it in Shiro's seventh year, where it is revealed to be a really big boomerang, full of various kidou effects, of course. It's largely wind-based, but it also has the ability to become invisible while Kenji's not currently holding it.

Shiro jokes that the boomerang thing makes sense: During their first attempts at zanpakutou tutoring lessons, Kenji constantly lost his grip on the hilt, resulting in the blade flying across the courtyard at almost every strike.

The personification of Kenji's sword is a phoenix made of air; nearly invisible unless you're looking for it. (Man, wouldn't that have been a bugger in the zanpakutou arc?)

We had a name for Kenji's sword at one point, but I can no longer find or remember it.

Ultimately, Kenji does figure out exactly who Shiro is. Not that it... actually ends up mattering too much. Kenji's good at keeping secrets, and it doesn't affect their relationship at all. Particularly since he only finds out less than a few days before graduation (the day after Shiro tells Ryuichi that he was right all along, actually), and then Shiro goes to the Gotei 13 while Kenji goes to Kido Corps.

Others

Hiroto Tsuzuke: The 11th squad recruiter. Friends with Kozue, though it's never really been established whether this is because they were comrades in the actual squad together, or if they've just gotten to know each other because Hiroto visits the school each year for his recruiting. Probably a little of both.

Hiroto's sealed sword is just a short sword. When he releases it, it becomes... Well, it's hard to describe. It's a short, curved blade, but there's actually two blades side by side coming from the hilt, the flats of the blades parallel to each other, with a thin gap between them. Ryuichi mentions that it's like one of those things you use to take staples out of stuff. No kidou abilities, obviously.

Obviously, Hiroto is a skilled actor on top of his fighting abilities, and he actually is able to use that in his normal fights as well as in fooling academy students every year. His opponents look at him and think he has no idea how to fight, and he then proceeds to kick their butts.

Because Hiroto is a lot stronger than he originally appears, and in fact, is a lot stronger than he even admits to the students at the end of the fight. Not only is he a seated officer in 11th squad, he's actually 7th seat in 11th squad. Which means that above him, now wanting a good fight from Shiro, is their 6th seat. And when Shiro defeats him, the 5th seat, Yumichika, wants a piece of him. Shiro didn't recognize the other two, so didn't know what seat they were, but he definitely recognizes Yumichika. And knows that if he defeats him, he's going to end up with Ikkaku problems, followed swiftly by Kenpachi problems. Yeah, at that point, Shiro runs.

Anyway, that's all there is to Hiroto.

Shiro's Gotei 13 Captain: We have very little information on him other than Shiro chose to join his squad purely because he's a new captain that Ichigo previously hadn't known. I don't even remember which division we actually put him in charge of.

We had a few random ideas about him realizing that Shiro didn't like being promoted, and therefore tricking Shiro into signing things he didn't know he was signing in order to make him a vice captain.

Okay, I'm pretty sure that I've listed all of the OC's I use now. Now here's that timeline.


Year Three: (I was planning on only writing stuff that happens in the odd years of the academy, just to make things a bit simpler for myself)

-Kenji arrives.

-Tutoring. Shiro helps Kenji, Kenji helps Shiro.

-Happy Birthdays. Kenji decided that since none of them could remember their birthdays (except for Shiro, but he's not telling), that they should all just pick random days to celebrate their lives. So whenever one of them does something of particular achievement, or when they nearly escape dying, or whatever, they have a birthday party.

-Boxes. Basically, just a few scenes with the kids daring each other to go after Soi Fon's boxes, or some scenes showing some of Ichigo's attempts at getting it. These are, as previously mentioned, a lot of fun.

Year Five:

-Yuzu arrives. Yes, Kurosaki Yuzu. When Shiro's a few weeks into his fifth year, Ichigo gets a letter from Inoue telling him that Yuzu is sick. Really sick. Terminally sick. They take her to normal hospitals, to Ryuuken's hospital, and even to Urahara, but even Kidou can't do much for some illnesses. In the end, the only thing the Shinigami can really do for her is to escort her to Soul Society so that she doesn't get reset/get memory loss. (And at the time we were planning this, that's when the discussion that ultimately led to Familiar Faces began.)

So anyway, they take her to the Shinigami Academy. She doesn't have a huge amount of spirit energy, especially compared to her other family members, but she has enough to get by in the academy, and that makes it so that she doesn't have to live in Rukongai. Kenji actually gets a minor crush on her (She's about 15 or 16 by this point). Of course, Ryuichi wants details about Kurosaki Ichigo, and Shiro is very big-brotherly towards her (for obvious reasons, though not so obvious to her), so she becomes friends with the group. She finds Shiro familiar, but mostly just likes that they're all so friendly to her.

-Notes and bullying. Ichigo leaving Yuzu notes, and 'taking care' of bullies for her, and whatnot. Trying not to make it too obvious that he's actually staying at the academy; tries to make it appear that he's just checking in on her sometimes.

-New textbooks in History class. A short scene where they get new textbooks and Shiro realizes that they heavily edited the events of the Winter War to make the Shinigami and the Gotei 13 sound better. Omitting mentions of the Vaizard, mostly, at least of their nature. This was inspired by the fact that nobody seems to know what actually happened with Urahara 100 years ago, saying that he was exiled because of the gigai he'd made rather than the whole Vaizard thing. (Granted, the actual reason for that is probably something along the lines of them not having history classes at the academy, but oh well.)

-Anniversary and Hair dye. On the anniversary of the Winter War, the students of the school hold a "Ryoka look-alike contest", with Yuzu as the judge for the Ichigo look-alikes. Shiro's friends force him to join the Ichigo Look-alike contest against his will. (They've found out Shiro's natural hair color by this point). He places third. XD Mostly because he refuses to cut his hair for some strange reason.

-Awkward scenes between Yuzu and Shiro... Oh boy. Yuzu gets a crush on Shiro. For obvious reasons, this is very, very awkward and so does not happen. He feels really bad about having to be the one who breaks her heart. (smack forehead)

Year Seven:

-Recruitment scenes (The ones I wrote already)

-11th squad fights, including an encounter with Yumichika that ultimately results in Shiro having to run for his life and ending up in 4th division's barracks to hide. Unohana intervenes, making Yumichika leave Shiro alone under pain of... whatever it is that makes Unohana so scary. XD Privately, she informs Shiro that she knows who he is, because of examining his medical records, but promises that she won't tell anyone.

-Pink! All right, I actually explained this scene near the end of Kenji's character description. It's the elaborate turn-the-whole-school-bright-pink senior prank. This scene exists purely for humor.

-Kenji's Q&A. Ah, this one. This is one of the scenes that I have partially written already that turned out sounding terrible enough that my pride would be wounded in showing it off. Basically, though, Kenji has started figuring stuff out about Shiro, and Shiro decides to let him ask him questions till he figures it out the rest of the way.

-Shiro and Ichigo graduate. Which is mostly funny just because somebody pulled an extra senior prank by including the name "Kurosaki Ichigo" in the list of names of graduating seventh years that was being read off at the ceremony.

After the Academy

When Shiro graduated from the Academy, he was immediately accepted into the Gotei 13, obviously. He specifically turned down requests from captains Ichigo used to know, so that really left only 3, 5, and 9. ... No, wait, not 3 either; Renji got promoted to captain. I forget which division Shiro actually picks. It was just whichever of the two of them that offered him the worst seat pick. (Trying to lay low, remember?)

So because of this, he has a pretty terrible seating when he first starts out. He is seated, because everyone was offering him seated positions after that stunt with the 11th squad, but just not very high. However, he is quickly promoted when his captain sees his potential, to a much better seat, and eventually, his captain tells him that he has been requested for a vice captain position. Shiro protests this, but his captain figures he just has a fear of success (as he's heard from so many others), so he tricks Shiro into signing the paperwork.

Shiro's not happy when all of his stuff gets moved into 3rd division's barracks, where he is to start his new vice-captain position, working directly under one Abarai Renji.

It turns out not to be so bad. The disguise holds up, a little to Shiro's astonishment, and he slowly starts to relax, becoming friends with Renji, and also with the other vice-captains, including Abarai Rukia. ... (cough, shifty eyes). As he becomes better friends with them, he's even introduced to the remaining old Ryoka: Sado Yasutora, Ishida Orihime, and Ishida Uryuu. And the Ishida family's adorable dressed-in-way-too-many-frills son. (Cough, cough, shifty eyes, cough)

(On a random note... I'm really bad at writing romance, but if I weren't... Gotta admit, those are two of the pairings I'm likely to go for. Well, also IchiRuki, but can't really pull that one off this story, for obvious reasons. I like other pairings, too, but those are my favorite. It's just kind of sad that IshiHime doesn't really stand a chance of happening with Ichigo still in the picture...)

ANYWAY. (cough)

So Shiro's mostly thinking it's really weird to be working with his old friends when they have no idea who he is, but he's pretty happy about life in general now.

And then, one night, Ichigo manages to actually get a hold of Soi Fon's box and, not wanting to bring it back to the place where they've been staying, he takes it to 3rd division's offices. It's late, there's nobody there, so he opens it up and starts writing responses. This works just fine, right up until Renji suddenly happens to come barging in and spots him.

Shiro immediately starts gathering everything up and putting it back in the box before Renji can see exactly what it is, but he's a little too late, and Renji grabs one of the envelopes. At first, Renji's just amazed that Shiro, of all people, has somehow managed to get past Soi Fon's ninjas... and then he realizes that Shiro was actually writing out responses... in Ichigo's handwriting. (Shiro's is slightly different because he writes left-handed.)

Yeah, at that point, Shiro's kind of screwed. Either he lies and tells them he's been forging Ichigo's letters for seven some-odd years, or he admits to Renji who he really is. And of course, if Renji knows, they'll all hear about it...

... I've been told that if I simply tell you my planned ending, that I will be boring. So instead, I'm going to pretend that this is like a cliffhanger, and just leave it there for you to wonder. =D

I really hope I haven't bored all of you to tears yet. D= I mean, this is a really gigantically long dump of information. But now I bet you can see why I never actually finished this story.

Well, here's hoping that you still like me after this. Eheheheheh... If fancy strikes me, I may still go back and write in some of those in-between scenes. Maybe. I really, really like this story and hate to see it just die like it's done, but I have so many other projects and this one's so big...

Again, I apologize profusely. Thanks so much for putting up with me for so long! I'ma get back to work on Feeling Hollow and Day Before Tomorrow now.

Farewell 'till the next time I update something!

-Daricio