"The Day Before Tomorrow"
"Hey, is that... Oi! Oi, Urahara! I think I found something!"
"Over here! It's got a bunch of rock piled on it, though! Chad, you here?"
"Ow! Kurosaki-kun, where are you?"
"I'm over here. You're close. Careful, the concrete's broken everywhere, so watch your step."
"That would have been nice to know about a second ago..."
"Ichigo was right. There's a door under here."
"Great, thanks Chad. Can you open it?"
Stone ground against metal as a door was shoved open, pushing aside a pile of rubble. An opening in the floor was revealed, which led down into a darkness even more complete than the one that the harried group was currently standing in.
Hesitantly, they all glanced around at each other, barely able to make out each others' forms as it was.
They were a pretty ragtag group. Ichigo, Rukia, Urahara, Chad, and Inoue had all been traveling for several hours in almost complete darkness, and that was just the walking they'd been doing that night.
The streets they ran along were all torn to shreds wherever they went, though whether that was from the shockwave of the King's Key or from the constant fighting that had been taking place since then was anyone's guess. Whatever the reason, it was hard for Chad and Inoue to find good footing, so travel had been slow.
"Think we could chance some Kido this time?" Rukia asked hesitantly. None of them wanted to chance being seen, either by the Arrancar or by Soul Society's forces, otherwise this entire journey might have been for nothing.
Urahara looked thoughtful. "For light, you mean? Hard to tell. Go down the passage a short ways and try it; I'll tell you if I can see anything from above..."
Rukia did as he suggested, stumbling down the broken stone stairway as best as she was able in the increasing darkness. When she thought she was down far enough, she began to mutter the incantation for the shot of red fire, forming it in her hands to create a lantern of sorts for them to see by.
The light blinded them all for a moment before Rukia hurriedly dimmed it. Urahara peered into the distance until he decided that the light wasn't escaping the room below to the torn landscape above. "Go. Tell me if you find anything."
Ichigo glared at him, the light of Rukia's Kido casting dark shadows across his face and making the look even more menacing. "Are you actually going to tell us what we're looking for now?"
"It's a device that will help us against Aizen." Urahara waved him off, his tone purposefully vague as he continued past him down the stairs. "I hope."
Ichigo rolled his eyes, following him. "A device. Very descriptive. How are we supposed to help you find anything if we don't know what it looks like?"
Urahara thought about this for a second as he summoned his own lamp like Rukia's. "It's just hard to describe, is all. It's been almost 40 years since I left it here, and who knows what the collapse of the building did to it... It should be a low, round platform, with several pillars around it..."
Inoue's eyes were wide. "What is it?"
"It's..." Urahara hesitated. "Well, it's actually really dangerous, and I don't even know if it will work..."
"But what is it?" Rukia asked in frustration. "You've dragged us all here, and you won't even tell us-"
Urahara interrupted her, ducking underneath an arch formed by several fallen rocks and wandering off to a separate area of the underground room. "It's a time machine, all right? I don't want too many people to know about it, I've no idea exactly how, or even if, I can fix it, and it was really flakey even when I was first working on it. This is dangerous."
Ichigo scoffed. "Urahara, after everything you've put us through, we've learned to expect dangerous by now."
"A time machine?" Rukia stared at him. "You've had a time machine lying around, and you never used it for anything?"
Urahara shook his head. "No, no, no. See, it doesn't really work. The one time I tried to use it, it took about half of my total spirit energy, almost killed me, and only brought me back in time about three days."
"Three days?" Rukia's voice was tight now. "You risked all of our lives to bring us out here, and all you're going to give us is three days? Urahara, Renji was killed a week ago. Soul Society turned on us a month ago, and Aizen attacked four months ago. Three days won't do anything!"
Urahara turned to her, about to respond, when Chad suddenly interrupted. "Guys, I think I found it."
Immediately, Urahara hurried over to him, trying to peer through the cracks in the rock to see what he had found. "Yes! Yes, that's it! Sado-san, can you move all this without bringing more of the ceiling down?"
Chad frowned up at the rock, and then nodded. "Sure. Give me a minute."
"Urahara, three days is-"
Urahara waved her off, moving into the gaps between rocks as soon as Chad had them cleared away. "I think that the more spirit energy you put into it, the further it'll bring you back. Just as long as I can make some adjustments to it..."
Ichigo folded his arms with a scowl. "You want me to use it," he stated.
Urahara nodded amiably. "I believe that you are the only person who could use it. Don't worry, I'll make sure it'll work."
Ichigo didn't sound very convinced. "Sure. How?"
"I'll use it first."
Inoue frowned at him. "Urahara-san, didn't you say it almost killed you before?"
He grinned up in their direction, giving her a thumbs up. "That's what you're here for."
She gave him an alarmed look and made as if to walk towards him, but Rukia stopped her with a shake of her head. Inoue's frown deepened.
For a long time, Urahara tinkered with his machine, occasionally calling out instructions to the others to bring him certain tools, or to hold a light up so that he could see.
Finally, he proclaimed it ready, flipping on several switches on the sides of the pillars. Lights all along the sides began to flicker on and the whole thing began to hum.
Urahara looked nervous at the amount of noise it was making. "Okay. So, we need to-"
Suddenly, his reiatsu dropped dramatically and he cut himself off with a startled noise, stumbling forward and almost falling. With cries of surprise, the others all reached out to steady him.
"Urahara-san, are you all right?" Inoue exclaimed worriedly. "What happened?"
Unexpectedly, Urahara grinned at her. "What time is it?"
Rukia pulled out her beat up cell phone to peer at the time. "2:34..."
Urahara nodded, waving everyone off of him. "Okay! Ichigo, your turn, then. The machine works."
Ichigo scowled at him. "Hey, wait a minute. How do you-"
"I don't have to wait a minute," Urahara laughed. "I just used it. We checked the time right before I did. It was 2:39. It doesn't bring all of you back, nothing physical, it just takes you back to being your old self."
Understandably, the others all looked at him as if he were crazy.
Finally, Rukia came up with a response. "If you went through it before, shouldn't we make sure you go through it now so that there's no paradox?"
Urahara shook his head impatiently. "No, no, no. It takes you back to your old self. No paradox. If you sent me through it now, I'd just end up with even lower reiatsu, plus triple memories of it being 2:34 instead of double memories. Anything can be changed."
"What will happen to us, then?" Rukia asked with a frown. "To our current timeline, I mean?"
"It'll be rewritten. Only Kurosaki-san will remember this timeline, just as, right now, only I remember sending me back in a few minutes," Urahara explained with a grin. "Kurosaki-san, let's do this quick, before Aizen senses the spirit energy from this thing."
Ichigo still looked unsure, but he stepped forward. "Okay... What do I have to do?"
Urahara ushered him onto the platform, looking over the machine one more time to make sure everything was in place. "See this bit here? When I say go, put as much spirit energy as you can into it. The more the better."
Ichigo nodded, placing one hand on the panel that Urahara had indicated.
"Now, once you start putting energy into it, don't stop until you don't think you can take it any more. And don't put in more than that! You do not want to kill yourself the moment you get there!" Urahara continued to instruct him. "I have no idea how far back this will take you, but as long as it's within the last 40 years, I'll know what it is. Try to get a message to me somehow. Just mention time travel, and if I don't believe you, just show me this place."
Ichigo looked nervous all of a sudden. "40 years? Urahara, I'm not that old. If I'm going back to my past self..."
"I doubt that even you have enough spirit energy to go that far back," Urahara reassured him. "I suspect it'll only be, at most, a year or so. Now, once you stop feeding it energy, you'll feel a strange, floating feeling, and then a sort of... being slammed back down, I guess. Unless something goes wrong, it shouldn't hurt much..."
"Much," Ichigo grumbled. "Fine, fine, I'm ready."
Urahara nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Then, Kurosaki-san... Good luck."
Ichigo smirked. "Sure. Rukia, Inoue, Chad... See ya then!"
Ichigo began to pour in spirit energy, squeezing his eyes shut so that he could concentrate on it harder. The whole machine began to vibrate, the humming growing louder and louder as Ichigo put more energy into it.
The shaking grew worse and worse, but Ichigo's eyes remained firmly closed, his body and the sword sheathed on his back both beginning to glow blue from the amount of reiatsu he was calling up.
Urahara began to look worried. "Shaking too hard," he muttered to himself. "I don't dare touch it at this point, though..."
Rukia gave him an alarmed look. "Is that bad?"
"Could be. Be on your guard," Urahara said darkly. They all returned their attention back to Ichigo, watching him intently.
Almost an entire minute went by where it seemed like none of them could breathe, watching, waiting.
"Kurosaki-san! The machine can't take it!" Urahara finally cried out in a panic. "Release!"
Ichigo's eyes flew open, his reiatsu flared up around him, and then everything on the platform was engulfed in blue and red light as the machine almost seemed to explode.
Everyone yelled, dropping to their knees and covering their heads with both arms. Smoke and small debris swirled through the air again, blocking out even the light from their makeshift Kido lanterns.
"Kurosaki-kun!" Inoue screamed.
And then, there was silence.
Finally, the dust began to settle a little. "Everyone all right?" Urahara called with a cough.
"I'm okay," Chad got to his feet, dusting himself off.
"Ichigo?" Rukia was close to hysterics, raising her light high and forcing it brighter. "Ichigo, are you okay?"
There was no response from the direction of the platform, but Ichigo's dark form could be seen standing on it, his head bowed and the light from Rukia's Kido throwing strange shadows across what could be seen of his face.
Then, suddenly, his eyes opened and he looked up at them with a maniacal grin. Everyone gasped and Rukia had to stifle a scream. Ichigo's hollow mask was forming slowly across his face, his eyes gold and black, glinting maliciously.
Ichigo laughed, his voice heavily distorted, and he focused on Urahara. "Ha! Now, you've done it!" he cried happily. "If you weren't totally screwed before, you sure are now!"
"Kurosaki-kun?" Inoue asked in a wavering voice.
He smirked at her. "The King ain't here any more. Totally, absolutely gone! Great job, Urahara-san!" Bending his knees to fall into a crouch, he reached over his shoulder and grabbed Zangetsu's hilt. "Now you all get to play with me!"
With that, he lunged at Urahara, unsheathing Zangetsu as he swung it forward. With a grim expression, Urahara unsheathed Benihime and blocked the incoming blow. Undeterred, Ichigo swung again, laughing insanely.
"Ichigo! NO!" Rukia screamed.
At that, Ichigo redirected his attack, rounding on Rukia threateningly. "There's nothing you can do about this now, Rukia-chan! It's over!" He ran at her, but Urahara flash stepped between the two of them, blocking his attack again.
"Run! All of you, run!" Urahara yelled.
Ichigo cackled madly again. "Run all you like! Where will you go? Back to Soul Society, who rejected you? Back to the Vaizard, who will kill you for this? Or straight into Aizen's forces? You have no hope now, morons!"
"Go!" Urahara urged again. Rukia and Inoue remained frozen, but Chad grabbed them, throwing them on his shoulders and running without another word.
As soon as they were out of sight, Urahara shoved hard against Ichigo's blade to force some distance between them. "Awake, Benihime..."
Ichigo grinned. "Do you really have the guts to kill me, Urahara-san? After all you've already done to me?"
Urahara's eyes were shaded, revealing absolutely no emotion. "I do."
With a joyful cry of battle, Ichigo attacked.
And then, suddenly, everything changed.
Both of them froze as, all around them, the scenery began to shift and blur. Fallen rocks became tables set up with a myriad of science equipment. Broken concrete merged to become a clean, tiled floor and plain white walls. Faint light shone in through a newly recreated stairway, which led back up to the beautifully constructed building above it.
Urahara abruptly found himself falling through darkness, with flashes of colors and pictures flying past all around him in a whirlwind of confusion.
"Kurosaki-san went back!" Urahara crowed in triumph. "He changed something! Everything's changing!"
Faster and faster the images came now, with Urahara only able to catch glimpses as they went by.
Scenes from his own past: Renji, lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, and Rukia in tears, hovering over him; Ichigo and his friends huddling together over a campfire, trying to find something to laugh about as they told stories of the way things used to be; Everyone running for their lives as Soul Society's forces broke their way past Hachi's barriers and invaded their hiding place; Aizen's cold smirk as he watched over the destruction of Karakura town...
Scenes from a past that would soon come to be his: Rukia slamming a photograph down on the counter of the Urahara shop, demanding an explanation for something depicted there; Inoue, Chad, Rukia, and Renji, walking warily together with a group of Shinigami through the halls of Las Noches; Tatsuki punching through a hollow's mask under the careful observation of Yoruichi; Ichigo, his hollow mask pulled up on top of his head to reveal a satisfied smirk, and his uniform cut sleeveless to show off a very familiar tattoo...
Then, what had passed was no longer there and what would pass replaced it. The world formed solid around him once again, and life continued as if it had never stopped or changed at all.
When Ichigo's world stopped spinning, it was with a harsh and painful jolt. He stumbled forward and instinctively jammed the sword he was holding point down into the ground to steady himself.
Sword? He hadn't had Zangetsu in his hands a split second ago, he was sure. And anyway, looking down at this strangely shaped thing, this wasn't Zangetsu...
Breathing heavily, feeling absolutely exhausted all of a sudden, Ichigo could do nothing more than just stand there, staring in confusion at his own hands on this sword's hilt.
That was, until he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, coming at him fast and glinting in the light. His reaction was immediate; he yanked the sword out of the ground, turned, and blocked the incoming attack. Metal clashed against metal, and Ichigo froze as he caught a glimpse of his opponent.
"Old man Zangetsu?" he blurted in surprise. "W-what?"
Zangetsu merely gave him a level look, raising the sword he was holding to attack again.
Abruptly, there was a release of spirit energy and Zangetsu's form disappeared, replaced by a familiar white doll and Zangetsu's usual sword form.
"Ichigo, what happened?" a voice called from off to one side. Ichigo turned, his eyes wide, to find Yoruichi coming towards him, looking concerned.
He stared, not answering her question. It had been a while since he'd seen Yoruichi. She and Soifon had been off on a mission of some sort for Urahara for the past month, and they had only heard brief reports from them every now and then. To see her here, looking much less worse for wear than any of them had been in a long time, was a surprising sight.
She was frowning at him, now. "Ichigo, your reiatsu just plummeted for no reason. What. Happened."
Ichigo opened his mouth to respond, and then closed it again, looking around in sudden confusion. "Uh... Wait, where are we?"
It looked familiar. A wide open space with a blue sky; rugged terrain that occasionally had the worn look of battle around it; and strange swords of every shape protruding from the rocks every few feet.
His comment brought surprise to Yoruichi's face, and she flash stepped to his side, placing the back of one hand on his forehead and closing her eyes as she ran a quick diagnostics spell over him. As she did so, Ichigo looked down at himself.
To his surprise, he was covered in a fair number of injuries, far more than he'd had just a minute ago, he was sure. Bandages covered most of his midsection to almost halfway up his chest, and almost every bit of skin he could see had cuts, scrapes, and bruises somewhere. As Yoruichi stood performing her healing Kido whatever, he could feel a trickle of blood running down the side of his face.
Ichigo frowned. Urahara's machine hadn't hurt him this badly when it had exploded, had it? He was sure that he would have remembered receiving the large wounds that covered him, especially whatever it was that had happened to his stomach, which was aching suddenly.
"How are you feeling?" Yoruichi asked, dropping her hand and forcing him to look up at her.
Ichigo blinked at the question. "Tired," he answered truthfully. "Yoruichi, what's going on?"
"I'm not sure." Yoruichi bit her lower lip in confusion. "Did you do anything just now that was different than how you've been training?"
Ichigo paused, and then shook his head unsurely. "Um... Training? I haven't been..."
His eyes widened suddenly as his surroundings finally clicked with him. This was Soul Society. He was in Soul Society, in Urahara's hidden training grounds. The swords scattered everywhere were pieces of Zangetsu, of himself, set up just like they had been for his Bankai training.
Ichigo sat down abruptly. "Bankai training?" he mumbled in disbelief. "I've gotta be dreaming."
"Ichigo?" Yoruichi knelt beside him, snapping her fingers in his face to make him look up at her again. "Stay with me here. What happened?"
"I... I don't know. Why are we-"
His question was cut off by a sudden explosion from above, and both of them flinched, whirling to face the opening to the training grounds.
"Ha! I thought I'd find you here, Ichigo!" a familiar voice called smugly.
Ichigo's eyes widened as a certain red-head dropped down to their level and began walking towards him, his released sword laid across his shoulder and a smirk on his face.
"R-Renji..." Ichigo whispered.
This was impossible. Totally impossible. Renji was dead. He'd watched him die, helpless to do anything about it. The guilt he'd felt over that night had been haunting him since then. The only way Renji could be alive would be...
Urahara's machine... had worked? If Ichigo hadn't already been sitting, he definitely would have crumpled to the ground then.
It had worked. This didn't just look like his Bankai training, this was his Bankai training. Then had become now!
Renji was alive! Aizen hadn't attacked yet! He had gone back far enough, he had a second chance now!
Restraining the urge to yell with joy, Ichigo settled for grinning at his best friend. "Yo, Renji. It's good to see you."
AUUUUUGH THE PLOT BUNNIES WHY DO THEY EAT MY SOOOOOUUUUL???
I'm trying to do my schoolwork! Honestly, I am! But random stuff like this keeps popping up and demanding me to write it, and I'm too much of a wimp to say no...
Yeah, the only reason this one is actually short is because this is just kind of a teaser chapter, to see what kind of response I get, so I can figure out whether or not I want to write the whole thing. I've got plenty of ideas, it's just that if I wrote it, it would become so looooong... T.T Your opinions are appreciated!
I actually have art for this story posted on my deviantArt account. XD But the picture itself is kind of a huge spoiler, so don't go look at it if you don't want to know where I'm going with this. XD
A huge thanks to B/k for betaing this for me, even though I finished writing it while she was still working on betaing Hollow Feelings. XD I'm terrible. Thank you!
And Hollow Feelings should be posted up soon!
Oh, one final note: this story, like my others, will have no pairings. Just friendships. =D
Anyway, please tell me what you think!