Heart of the Sword
Arriving to an Empty Place
Beta'd by Arwen and Unsane Chibi
'When I'm alone, tomorrow feels far away.
And I must go over still into the darkness of dawn.'
--'Heart of the Sword-Yoake Mae' T.M. Revolution
Roughly one-hundred and fifty years after the Winter War.
'Where am I?' He thought as soon as he was conscious enough to. His brows furrowed when he realized what he'd thought.
"Goddamned cliché." He muttered as he hauled himself up off of the dusty road he'd been laying on. "Wait a second… shit. Who am I?"
'Kurosaki Ichigo.' The thought came to his head moments after he'd asked his question aloud. Then, instants later, 'Also, Shugorei.' What he found odd was that both felt like his own thoughts, like things he knew, but he hadn't known them until he'd asked. It was as if he'd forgotten them but had somehow brought the facts back into remembrance. The name 'Kurosaki Ichigo' seemed more familiar, so he decided to go by that.
Ichigo dusted himself off and looked at his surroundings. He was just inside the entry gate of a large walled-in compound of buildings. The buildings were built in the traditional style; Ichigo knew this but had no idea what it meant other than that the buildings weren't modern. All of the buildings were raised about three feet off of the ground on thick wooden posts, and some of these posts continued up to form the vertical frame for the rooms of the buildings. The rooms were walled in with simple sliding shoji screen doors.
The road he was on continued deeper into the compound and, as there was no reason not to, Ichigo followed it. It split as it went and Ichigo followed whichever path caught his attention. After a few minutes the path ended at a building that overlooked a pond. Ichigo hauled himself up onto it and wandered to the side that faced the pond. He leaned on the railing and looked down into it. The water was preternaturally still, and, as he gazed into it, Ichigo realized that there were no fish in it, there were no water-skaters on it, and there were no birds or damselflies above it.
"Weird," Ichigo said, breaking the unnatural silence, "it's almost like I'm the only one here."
There was no response other than more unnatural silence.
'I am alone…' Ichigo realized and just as soon knew that he was right.
Sighing despondently, he looked down into the still pond and saw his reflection.
Instead of a formal kimono, or even Shihakusho, as the setting almost demanded, Ichigo was wearing a slim fitting shirt and pair of jeans. Combined with his bright orange hair he looked like anachronism personified.
"This just keeps getting stranger." Ichigo said quietly. He turned, struck by a sudden curiosity, and stared at the closed shoji door. Half expecting it to be filled with modern furniture, Ichigo slid the door open only to be greeted by darkness. He glanced around almost guiltily even though he knew there was no one else here other than him, but, within a minute of opening the door, he'd entered the room.
For the first few seconds he was inside it, the room was completely dark, but, after a sudden flash, Ichigo was greeted by a highly improbable scene.
He was laying on his back staring up at a clear blue sky; there was a dull ache in his stomach. Ichigo tried to get up and move around, but his body seemed to be somehow disconnected from his mind.
"Get up, Yuudai." Ichigo heard a stern voice command.
'Who in the hell is Yuudai?'
Then the entire sky tilted. Ichigo was disoriented until he realized that he was moving, somehow, without even trying to. When he regained his senses Ichigo took in as much as his fixed field of vision allowed. He was standing in an open practice field, for kendo, apparently, as the person standing opposite him was holding a wooden bokken and he could feel the hilt of what he assumed was another bokken in his palm.
"Now, we will continue until you get it right." The same stern voice said, and Ichigo realized that it was the man opposite him who was speaking. He seemed familiar to Ichigo.
"Yes, Father." Ichigo felt himself say, but the voice wasn't his.
Ichigo had no time to think on what that meant because as soon as he had spoken the man had blurred into motion. His body (or Yuudai's, Ichigo wasn't sure at that point) moved without his will, bringing the bokken up to block the incoming strike.
The block was successful and for a moment Ichigo felt a vague, distant sense of triumph. At least until he felt the tip of Yuudai's Father's bokken touch the small of his back.
"You blocked the first strike," Yuudai's Father said clinically, "but you failed to consider the possibility of a second. That is why 'Senka' is such a powerful technique. That is all for today, you may go, Yuudai."
Ichigo watched through eyes that weren't his as the man set the bokken down and left. He felt a mix of emotions: pride, resentment, anger, but most of all the feeling of I-disappointed-Father-again; and they were all distant like the triumph he had felt when Yuudai had blocked his father's first strike. It was like the feelings belonged to someone else, and he was just an observer.
Then there was a flash of movement and sound. When he could see again, Ichigo was inside a building, from what he could see of its interior it was likely very similar to the buildings that were in the compound he'd been in previously. The room itself was sparse furniture wise, but seemed very lived in.
His eyes panned the room until they landed on a woman who was kneeling comfortably in front of a low table. Her back was facing towards him and she seemed to be writing something.
"Mother?" Ichigo felt himself question, still unwillingly and in Yuudai's voice.
The woman turned and Ichigo got a good look at her. She had the same air of familiarity around her as Yuudai's father had in addition to radiating a sense of peacefulness and love. Her hair was long and dark, strangely braided around her neck so that the thick rope of hair flowed down in front of her.
"What is it, Yuudai-kun?"
"I've finished my Zanjutsu practice for the day."
"Good," Yuudai's Mother said, smiling, "do you want to practice your calligraphy?"
A thought skimmed across Ichigo's consciousness; something about not fun, do I have to? But he caught the look Yuudai's Mother sent him.
'Scary Lady…' Ichigo thought.
He settled down next to her and began to slowly scribe kanji onto the cream colored rice paper in front of him. It was very quiet and occasionally Yuudai's mother would look up from her own writing to gently correct an error. Ichigo's vision blurred again, and when he could see once more it was night and there were lit candles spaced about the room.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Yuudai's Mother, who was still at his side, asked.
"Nothing happened." Yuudai said quietly.
'Bullshit.' Ichigo barely knew the kid, and even he could tell something was up. It also helped that he was present for what he thought was the cause. 'If she goes along with that she's an idiot.'
"It seems like quite a lot of nothing."
Yuudai remained quiet, and the world in front of Ichigo blurred once again.
Now, he was hidden in a bush, peering out between the leaves. Beyond the bush there was a field filled with people, Shinigami Ichigo's mind whispered, dressed in Shihakusho. All of them were moving as one, copying the motions of a short figure who stood several hundred feet away from where Yuudai, with Ichigo inside him being taken along for the ride, was hiding.
Yuudai sat still, watching the drilling Shinigami intently. Ichigo wished he would do something, he could feel Yuudai's muscles cramping. Infuriatingly though, he couldn't do anything.
Hours later the instructor finished and the Shinigami left the open field. The instructor however walked straight to the bushes that Yuudai was hiding in.
"You didn't think I wouldn't find you, Yuudai?" The instructor asked as she stood in front of the bush.
She was even more familiar than Yuudai's Father and Mother had been, a deep heart aching sort of familiar. Ichigo himself felt torn inside, he remembered her, he remembered arguing with her, he remembered fighting with her and for her, but he couldn't remember who she was. He looked through Yuudai's eyes and saw a woman who was only slightly shorter than Yuudai, who had beautiful blue eyes, and who had night-black hair and his soul ached with vague feelings; feelings of there-she-is, it-worked-thank-god, and she's-still-alive. But Ichigo could tell they were his own feelings, coming from where ever his real self was.
"No, I knew you'd find me Rukia-oba."
"Then why did you waste all that ti—did you just call me Aunt Rukia?"
"Of course not!" Yuudai said with false innocence.
"You brat. I ought to beat you unconscious and drag you back to Nii-sama."
"But if I did that then you wouldn't get the chance to talk to me. That is why you bothered to sneak away from the manor and into Seireitei, right?"
"Yeah." Yuudai said, and Ichigo could feel his guilt.
"Then let's go to my quarters."
Ichigo's vision blurred again and then he was sitting in another sparse room across from Rukia who was sitting at a desk shuffling papers around.
"So..?" Rukia asked from her place at the desk.
There was a long pause before Yuudai spoke.
"I'm not sure if father loves me."
Rukia's eyes widened and she stood and sat next to Yuudai.
"He does love you." She said, putting a comforting arm around Yuudai's shoulders. "Nii-sama is… not very good at showing his feelings to others. I spent years trying to measure up to his standards, trying to keep him from regretting his decision to adopt me, before I realized that I didn't need to. I already had a place in his heart, first as his former wife's sister, then as his own sister.
"You are his son, Yuudai. There is no doubt in my heart that he loves you."
"Okay." Yuudai sighed. "I just wish he would show it more, like Mother."
Rukia smirked. "The Great Head of the Noble Kuchiki Clan, show emotions? Preposterous!"
The scene blurred once more and now Ichigo found himself in a classroom. The thin woman teacher at the front was in the middle of asking a question when Ichigo became aware.
"…tell me the best way to slay a Hollow? Koubai-kun?"
"With a sword." A boy across the classroom answered bluntly.
"Err… well, yes that's true. But I want to know the best technique. Does anyone know?"
"Idiots…" Yuudai grumbled quietly before raising his hand and answering. "The best way is to approach the hollow from behind and slice its head before it notices you."
"Correct. Thank you, Kuchiki-kun."
Yuudai showed no outward reaction to the teacher's praise, but inside Ichigo could feel him bubbling with pride and superiority.
'I don't like where he's headed.' Ichigo thought as the scenery blurred yet again. 'He keeps this up and he'll end up as arrogant as Byakuya with a matching stick up his ass.' But then Ichigo's thoughts halted, confused. 'Who is Byakuya?'
This time the blurring didn't stop, nothing came out of the endless field of colors except for fragments of words and voices. It was these that bought Ichigo out of his introspection.
"…sure that's him? He looks kinda wimpy, I don't think he could be from such a great…"
"…love you so, so much! I was wondering if you'd go out with…"
"…you've let your guard down again, Yuudai."
"…can trust that your Father loves you, and if you can't do that, then trust me when I say that he…"
"…another fight? Yuudai, you're lucky I'm the Fourth Division's Captain, any other mother would leave these to heal on their…"
"…such a prick! I don't know what I ever saw in…"
"…'im? Yeah, he's th' Kuchiki brat. I think he's th' most spoiled…"
"I wish I could be half as good as him. Maybe then I'd be able to actually get a seat in…"
"…early graduation? Yes, with his grades it seems likely, but what that would do to his psyche? I can't…"
"…must remember that the Noble House of Kuchiki is above nearly all others. It is of upmost importance that you behave as your position demands. Do you understand, Yuudai-kun?"
The voices kept coming, but through sheer force of will Ichigo managed to close his eyes to the swirling colors. Once he'd done that it was laughably easy for him to bring his hands up to block his ears. Minutes later he opened his eyes again and found himself lying on his back on the porch of the building next to the pond in the empty compound. Ichigo sat up and looked over at the shoji that he'd opened. It had closed itself somehow while he was… unconscious, maybe?
"What the hell was all that?" Ichigo asked aloud. As before the answer rose to his consciousness as soon as he asked.
'Memories of He-who-wields-me.'
"What?!" Ichigo stood and shouted. "No one wields me! I'm not a weapon!" But his own words rang false in the core of his being. Maybe he wasn't a weapon once but now his soul all but screamed to him that he was.
"Then what am I?" He asked the air fully expecting an answer. He got one.
'I'm a Sword-soul, a Zanpakuto.'
"Huh!?" Ichigo was shocked beyond words.
The porch and pond were both fairly secluded from the pathways of the compound so the boy on them didn't notice Ichigo. Actually, Ichigo realized, the boy on the pathway probably wasn't a boy. He looked almost seventeen, but the way he moved was stiff and awkward and made him seem like a boy playing at being grown up. He was wearing blue hakama and a white gi with blue stripes running down its sleeves. Ichigo recognized it as the male Shinigami Academy uniform, though he'd never actually seen one.
Without giving his actions much thought, Ichigo flash-stepped in front of the boy. Now that he was closer Ichigo could see more of the boy's features. Both his thick, tied-back black hair and grey brown eyes reminded Ichigo of the man and woman Yuudai's memories had labeled Father and Mother. Ichigo made the easy assumption that the boy and Yuudai were one and the same.
"You are my Zanpakuto?" Yuudai asked suspiciously.
"Yeah." Ichigo answered, scowling. He could already tell he didn't like his wielder any more than he liked the idea of being wielded.
"My name is Kuchiki Yuudai."
"Yeah, I already figured that out."
There was a stretch of silence before Yuudai spoke again.
"Are you sure you're my Zanpakuto?"
"It's just… you don't seem very…"
Ichigo nearly burst out laughing. Nearly.
"I guess your soul's not as 'magnificent' as you thought then." Ichigo said once he was sure he wouldn't laugh.
There was more silence.
"So, are you going to tell me your name?" Yuudai asked.
"Why should I?" Ichigo retorted, crossing his arms. "You haven't done anything for me."
"W-what!?" Yuudai was very obviously affronted. "I told you my name!"
"I already knew it." Ichigo responded casually.
"If you tell me your name I can graduate Academy! I can get into a division! I can go to the Living World and fight hollows!"
"Good for you, but what's in it for me?"
Yuudai was silent. He'd obviously never thought that his Zanpakuto would have any wants other than his own and he had no clue as to what he could offer.
"Tell you what," Ichigo said, "if you listen to me, if you let me watch, and if you let me fight alongside you, I'll tell you my name. Deal?" Ichigo held out his hand.
"Yes." Yuudai said and grasped Ichigo's hand in his own.
"Good. It's too damn lonely here." Ichigo let go of Yuudai's hand
"So, your name?"
For a moment Ichigo didn't know how to answer. He knew 'Ichigo' wasn't the name Yuudai needed, though it was very close. Then he remembered the other name that had come to him when he'd first woken.
"Shugorei." Ichigo answered. "And to release me: Sakebi, Shugorei.
"Thank you." Yuudai said, bowing.
"So, what's going on outside?" Ichigo asked while looking up at the sky.
"I'm sparring with Father." Yuudai said simply.
"You better get back to it then." Ichigo said and when he looked down from the sky, Yuudai was gone.
Translations, Notes, and Info
-gi- The shirt/top half of both the Academy Uniform and the Shihakusho
-hakama- The pants/bottom half of both the Academy Uniform and the Shihakusho
-oba- Aunt. I used it as an honorific and I'm not quite sure if that's okay...
-Sakebi, Shugorei- Shout, Guardian Spirit. I got this from an online translator, if I've mangled it please tell me and I will gladly change it.
-Senka- the favorite technique of Kuchiki Byakuya, it is, basically, a flash step combined with a spin that allows the user to strike quickly from the front and back. In canon it is used to destroy Ichigo's saketsu chain and hakusui soul sleep.
-Shihakusho- The Shinigami uniform
-shoji screen doors- a sliding door that is basically a frame of wood around paper. Found mostly in traditional Japanese homes
-Yuudai- Can be read as 'great hero'. I got this from a wonderful name site called behindthename (dot) com.
-Zanpakuto- The Shinigami's sword. Translated as 'Soul Slayer' in the English Dub
I've had this idea for awhile, and to me it seemed like a silly impossible thing to write and I never considered sharing it. But then I read Daricio's 'Divided by Zero' which, if I'd thought of it, would also go into the silly impossible idea pile in my head. So I ended up writing this. I believe it can stand as a oneshot, but I also have a bit of plotline roughed out. I can continue it if you guys want me to. If no one wants me to continue then I guess this is my happy little stand alone silly idea.
PLEASE REVIEW. I have ANONYMOUS REVIEWS ENABLED so you have no excuse. If you want to tell me whether to continue or not and how you liked this fic, please review.