The underground room of Urahara's Shoten was bustling with high reiatsu beings. There was loud talking and a few curse words coming from the mouth of one irritated orange haired shinigami. The dust from the ground had been kicked up from their presence and was presently beginning to settle.
Rukia was the first to make her move as she took out her Chappy dispenser and popped a familiar candy shaped pill. In too short of a time she had separated from her gigai and Chappy had taken over her all-together unworkable temporary form. Once Chappy regained control of the body she took full responsibility to attack the seemingly idle Ichigo in his nonchalant stance against a rock in the corner. He didn't even know what had hit him.
"Hello!" She grabbed his head and smacked it against the ground.
"Dammit!" Ichigo barely made out before she pushed him down again. "What the hell are you?"
"Ichigo, what are you doing?" Rukia asked as she looked to him. She looked as though he were slightly disturbing to her, though he didn't really matter to her either way.
"What is on me? It's like Kon, but you." He was pushed down again.
"It's Chappy," Rukia corrected him. "It's what I wanted to get for you but Urahara got the wrong thing," she sighed.
"You mean you wanted this thing to be inside of my body?" Ichigo looked up to Chappy as she laughed manically.
"Yes," she looked to Chappy. "Chappy, let him up." Chappy looked to Rukia for a moment before nodding once and standing. Ichigo growled and stood. Rukia unsheathed her katana and looked to it for a moment before speaking the words that she had spoken so many times before, "Mai, Sode no Shirayuki." Her zanpakuto changed to a beautiful pure white. A white ribbon grew from the end. The most beautiful ice based zanpakuto in the Soul Society.
Orihime watched Ichigo as he glanced to Chappy once more suspiciously. She merely waved with one hand and giggled. Orihime sighed sadly, then shook her head slightly. She had to think about practicing right now. This was sparring, she couldn't spend her time moping. She held her hands up to her hairpins and spoke with purpose, "Tsubaki!"
Tsubaki appeared and looked to her. "What woman?"
"We're going to spar, Tsubaki."
"Count me in." He nodded.
Nel looked to Orihime as Tsubaki flew beside her. She wondered what it would be like to have such an interesting power. Such a power that it would cause her to be captured by Aizen. She looked down to her zanpakuto. She began to wonder if she was ordinary having such a thing as a zanpakuto. She unsheathed her zanpakuto and looked to it.
"What's wrong?" Ichigo walked to Nel. "You look worried."
"Do you think I'm ordinary?" Nel turned to him suddenly. She had a look of concern on her face. She had never seemed this way to him before. She had always tried to stay strong in front of him, a leader.
"Ordinary?" Ichigo thought about it for a moment. "No, I don't think you are. You were the tres espada. That automatically makes you special. You're an amazing fighter."
"Are you trying to say something about yourself here?" Nel smiled knowingly.
"I'm serious," Ichigo ignored her. "You don't have to worry about being ordinary, you've set yourself apart." He wasn't sure where this was coming from but he wanted to snuff it out. Maybe she was starting to feel this way because she had been away from Hueco Mundo for so long but he didn't want her to feel this way for some reason.
Nel looked down to her zanpakuto. She held it up a bit. "Special," she repeated his word. "Thanks."
"It's true," he repeated.
Ichigo walked away from Nel and looked down to Kon who was sitting down on a rock. Kon stared at him. "I don't want to do this," he said in an annoyed voice.
"Well I'm sure as hell not getting one of those Chappy things," Ichigo pointed to Chappy who was still smiling at him from a rock. She was sitting cross legged and putting her hair in pigtails.
"Fine!" Kon spoke in a high pitched tone. "Pull my soul from my body all you like!" He opened his mouth and Ichigo shoved his hand down Kon's throat as soon as his sentence was over. When he had the pill in his hand he made a soft sound of disgust then swallowed it. Soon his gigai separated from his hollow form and Kon was in his gigai.
Kon pointed at him. "I was expecting you to give me a few more moments of notice!" he spoke angrily.
"Don't complain," Ichigo took his katana off of his back and began walking towards the group. When he walked up everyone had their weapons ready.
As they were talking Urahara walked towards the group. "This is certainly unusual. Um…who let you in here?"
Everyone ignored his second question and smiled. Nel spoke. "We haven't gotten to practice in a while and Ichigo wanted to stab something."
"Then I take that as my cue to leave," Urahara turned around.
"Who fights who?" Rukia asked. Everyone was silent for a moment as they considered her question. Finally someone broke the silence.
"Orihime fights Ichigo," Nel said, matter-of-factly. "I've always wanted to spar with you, Rukia. Now's my chance." Orihime's eyes were wide as she looked at Zangetsu, glinting black and silver under the lights of the large underground room. She grabbed a hold of Nel's arm. Nel smiled. "Let's go." She walked away with Rukia.
Ichigo walked away a few feet and turned back around. "I don't think I've even seen your powers. That's…Tsubaki?"
Orihime nodded. She wasn't sure by the tone of Ichigo's voice if he was truly interested in her powers or not. She wished she could tell. Tsubaki's arms were crossed as he looked to Ichigo. "Who's this joker?"
"Tsubaki!" Orihime whispered, "This is Kurosaki-kun," she whispered lower, "don't hurt him."
"Then why are we sparring!" Tsubaki turned back to her and flew over, grabbing her hair, pulling it up, high so she cried out, "Honestly, woman, where is your-"
Ichigo was over to them in a heartbeat, tearing him away from Orihime without hurting her. Tsubaki struggled and yelled a bit then was shook and looked Ichigo in the eyes. "Not good to do something like that to someone you're supposed to be protecting is it?" He spoke carefully.
Tsubaki's eyes were wide for a moment. Then he shook his head a bit. "No." Ichigo let Tsubaki go and he continued to fly then went back to Orihime and whispered into her ear as Ichigo walked away. "He's scary; I thought he was supposed to be nice."
Orihime laughed, nervously. "Yeah…it's a long story." She was surprised by Ichigo. She wasn't sure what to think of him anymore. He was frightening, though she was glad that he would come to her rescue. She just didn't like the sight of him like that.
"So, fairy. You're supposed to protect her?" Ichigo talked loudly, as if Tsubaki couldn't hear because he was so small.
"I can hear you jerk!" Tsubaki shook his hand at him. "And yes!"
"Then kill me." Ichigo held his arms out, leaving his chest wide open.
"Ichigo-kun!" Orihime held a hand up to her mouth. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. What was he doing?
"Let me kill him," Tsubaki crouched down, ready to spring.
"I couldn't!" Orihime looked to Tsubaki.
"You have to use some real killing intent, woman!" Tsubaki turned back to her. "You can't fire me off haphazardly. Let me really attack him, he's strong!"
"Attack, Orihime. Kill me." Ichigo smiled. "You can always bring me back." His smile grew wider.
"Oh…" Orihime sounded so unsure. Then a look of determination flashed across her face. "Tsubaki!" She yelled, pointing towards Ichigo.
Tsubaki flashed across the air toward Ichigo. Ichigo looked toward him as he crashed into his chest and fell to the ground. Ichigo looked to the ground where he lay. He knelt over and looked down at him. "Are you okay?"
Tsubaki slowly stood. "I'm fine." His ego wounded, he flew back to Orihime and quietly yelled at her so that Ichigo couldn't attack him for it again.
"Woman!" He grabbed her face in his hands and whispered loudly. "That was the lowest killing intent I've ever seen! I didn't even cut his skin!" He pointed back to Ichigo. "I didn't even nick his clothing!"
"Yes you did!" Orihime nodded and pointed to him, her words muddled due to Tsubaki holding her face in his hands. "Look, Kurosaki-kun's inspecting his ripped clothing!"
Ichigo looked down to his uniform which had been ripped across the chest. "Hey, fairy, you ruined my uniform!"
"Damn straight I did!" Tsubaki looked back to him. "You just wait! You'll die the next go!" He laughed loudly.
"Not likely," Ichigo rested the tip of his zanpakuto on the ground. "Sorry, but you're just not strong enough."
Orihime's eyes widened. Not strong enough? The words rung in her ears. Her power wasn't strong enough? Her eyes narrowed. She whispered to Tsubaki, "Tsubaki."
"Attack." She spoke quickly.
"Damn straight." He flew across the air lightning quick and pierced through Ichigo's skin, flying out the other side.
Ichigo's eyes widened. He looked down. Orihime brought a hand up to her mouth and took in a deep breath. "Kurosaki-kun!" She ran to him and Tsubaki flew to her, triumphant. "I'm sorry!" She stopped in front of him and inspected the tiny wound. "I've hurt you!"
"It's a mortal wound, Orihime, I might not make it." He laughed. "But I'm surprised he actually made it through my hierro. You must have had some serious intent."
"Well, you said my powers weren't enough." She looked embarrassed. "I was…defending my honor."
Tsubaki narrowed his eyes at Ichigo. "What were you saying about our power not being enough?"
"I misspoke." Ichigo raised a hand. "I might die if I don't get help soon. I feel faint." He just stood there.
"You're a horrible liar, Ichigo-kun." Orihime crossed her arms. Then she looked down to his chest. There was blood seeping from the wound. She laughed, once, then looked very worried. "I've made you bleed!"
"I really can't get another hollow uniform, this is my last one." Ichigo held his hand down to the blood on his Espada uniform. "What have you done?" He glared at her.
She flinched. "I'm…sorry."
He smiled. "No big deal."
"Why are you scary one minute and not the next!" Orihime turned around. "You make no sense to me."
"And you make no sense to me, so we're even, human." He leaned over so he was face to face with Tsubaki. "Good show little one."
"I'm not little!" Tsubaki roared back. The roar was sadly little.
"Alright, Orihime. Now I want to attack you." Ichigo took his zanpakuto in his hand. "Ready?"
"What?" Orihime turned around, surprised. "But…"
"We're sparring, aren't we?" He gripped his zanpakuto and disappeared.
Orihime's eyes widened as Ichigo appeared in front of her. "Santen Kesshun!" She held her hands up and the barrier protected her from his attack.
He looked at her from the other side of it, his zanpakuto still up against the barrier. "How often do you really fight, Orihime?"
"I…don't think that's any of your business," she looked away.
"Have you ever killed anyone?" He looked serious, stepping away.
"I've killed hollows," she answered. "I'm ready to protect myself."
"If I attacked you and really tried to kill you, would you be prepared to kill me?" He stared intently into her eyes.
She looked away. "No."
He sighed. "Why not?"
"I can't tell you, you'll get mad at me." Her shun shun rikka disappeared.
"Here." Ichigo walked forward and placed his zanpakuto in her hands. Her eyes widened.
"It's too heavy." She had a difficult time holding it up.
"Hmm…" he thought for a moment. "Just a moment." He disappeared.
"Ichigo-kun?" she spoke into the nothingness of the room. Tsubaki looked around and found nothing but Rukia and Nel sparring on the other side of the room. After a few moments Ichigo appeared again with a katana in his hand.
"Urahara lent this to you. You can't completely destroy it." He set it in her hands. "Now, fight me."
"Oh, come on, I'm never this nice to you. Take advantage of it." He turned around for a moment to walked a bit away then turned back around. When he did he looked to Tsubaki. "You're not needed anymore fairy."
"Hey!" Tsubaki flew forward a bit.
"Tsubaki," Orihime held her hand up to her hair pins and he flew to them. She sighed and held the katana firmly in her hand. "Alright. I'll try it out."
"You should. You do want to be in the Gotei 13 someday don't you?" He smiled.
Orihime's eyes widened a fraction. She hadn't thought of that. She didn't know why she hadn't thought of it, really. She pictured herself just as she had been; in the Soul Society wearing a kimono, only this time really belonging. In a squad with a real seat. She smiled a bit. Her brother would be proud.
"That makes you smile." Ichigo smiled patronizingly. "How sweet, I've made you smile."
"Shut up Ichigo." Orihime turned to him. Ichigo smiled more. Then Orihime's eyes widened and the grip on her katana loosened. "I mean, yeah."
"Talk of the future gets you thinking," Ichigo pointed out. "Does it make you think about the past?"
"So what if it does?" Orihime asked carefully. "Is there anything wrong with that?"
Ichigo laughed slightly and rested the tip of Zangetsu on the ground, leaning against it. "So everything in the world brings you back to your poor dead brother?"
Orihime's eyes narrowed a fraction. "You're being hateful." She couldn't understand why Ichigo was doing this all of the sudden. She knew that Ichigo had been cruel in the past but she didn't think that he would go this far. She didn't really want to know how much further he would go either.
Ichigo laughed again "Hateful? Orihime do you even know what I am? I am hatred. It's more a part of me than anything else."
"That's not true." Orihime shook her head. "You're just letting hatred be a part of you. It's your choice."
Ichigo's face was full of hatred as he looked at Orihime and she was having a difficult time standing it but she had to. She stood still and bore it. She watched Ichigo as he stood in front of her and stared, silently.
"So what?" He raised a hand, finally, his angry expression never dropping. "I'm just supposed to 'choose' to be happy?"
Orihime took in a deep breath as if she were saying the answer she was about to give had been given a lot of thought beforehand. Then she looked up and him and nodded.
"Yes, Ichigo-kun. You have to make that choice to live a fulfilling life." She looked away for a moment. "You're not always happy, I'll admit that. But you're not always full of hatred either. There has to be a balance." She tried to smile back at him.
Slowly his expression turned from anger to uncertainty. He shook his head and looked up at the ceiling. "All I know is hatred. How am I supposed to go away from that?"
"You once did," Orihime pointed out. "You once lived a life full of friendship and love. You could go back to that life at any moment. We're all waiting for you."
Ichigo looked up to the ceiling. After a few moments he looked to her. "I'm leaving." Orihime's eyes were downcast. Ichigo turned around and began to leave. As he walked away he stopped for a moment. "You can call me that again."
"What?" she asked.
"That annoying name. You can call me that again. Though I don't know why it's better, first name basis is more familiar." He kept walking.
Orihime smiled wide and nodded. "Okay, Kurosaki-kun!"
"You don't have to say it all of the time," he called out as he climbed the ladder.
Orihime walked to Rukia and Nel and the three talked. They continued to spar for a while in the large, open room, the dust and the rocks moving through the air as they fought.
Ichigo left Urahara's Shoten with Orihime's words in his mind.