"Well well, this is an unexpected surprise, Kurosaki Ichigo." Clicking his teeth together, Ichigo swallowed nervously under the stares of the captain's."We did not expect you to recover so soon."
Without Yamamoto's kind word's, he wouldn't be sane at the moment.
"Let us make this quick." Everyone started slightly as Unohanna spoke up. "He still hasn't full recovered from his wounds, and I'd prefer it he return to the sick bay immediately."
"Interesting." Ichigo shuddered as Mayuri tittered to himself, apparently fascinated with his sudden ressurection. "In all my years I've never seen anyone rise from the dead in such a fashion, and certainly not while wearing a hollow mask."
A few of the captain's stiffened at this, but Mayuri paid them no heed.
"Perhaps I could-
"No." Yamamoto cut in sternly. "There will be no experimentation allowed on him."
Captain-commander Yamamoto went through the typical motions of a meeting: addressing new strategies on preparing for Aizen's attack, budgetary constraints, and the eventual replacement of the squad members no longer among them. He then surprised everyone by allowing Captain Mayuri to take the floor.
"Before we left the world of the living," he began, stepping out from his respective spot in line. "My lieutenant and I made a number of interesting discoveries. We stumbled upon Urahara Kisuke, the former captain of my division and head of Soul Society's science department. While a gifted scientist in his own right, his research was limited and showed a great deal of sloppiness. This made rummaging through and deciphering the labels in his laboratory, even for someone as brilliant as myself, more tedious than it shou—"
"Can you hurry this up, you creepy freakin' nutjob?" the always elegant Captain Zaraki interjected. "We don't have all day to listen to you stroke your ego."
"You keep quiet, you idiotic beast!" Mayuri replied, jabbing an excessively long fingernail toward his verbal rival.
A few of the captains sighed at the budding argument; Kurotsuchi Mayuri and Zaraki Kenpachi could always turn every meeting into a shouting contest, Kenpachi usually insulting Mayuri's odd habits and Mayuri retorting by calling Zaraki some sort of brutishly degrading name. Even Ichigo was hoping that Yamamoto would step in soon; he was the only person in the room that could derail these two without getting dragged into the argument themselves. Hell, even the ever-calm Kuchiki Byakuya can get dragged into the fray.
Almost as if on cue, Byakuya began to speak to the other captains in his typical emotionless voice. Ichigo began to zone out the voices, his mind drifting as he glanced over the captains in attendance.
"Gah, what's taking them so long?!"
A massive reaitsu could be felt from the meeting room, occasionally punctuated by loud shouting, and the ever present profanity from an irate Kenpachi Zaraki.
Unused to sitting still for such a long time, Senna fidgeted in her seat. She'd been told to wait outside, before lieutenant Sasakib escorted Ichigo inside, then locked the doors behind him.
"Ahem." The ryoka turned his head as Ukitake began to speak. "Kurosaki. I understand we've asked you a lot over the course of this last month, but please, would mind recounting to us how you and the-
Ichigo scowled at this, and Jushirou immediately corrected himself.
"Ahem. That is, would you explain to us how the two of you met?"
The memory came rushing back to him.
There, in the clearing, gathered, hundreds, no thousands of stark white apparitions, the sole source of color being the small tuft of red sticking out from their foreheads. They were faceless, seemingly without hands or legs, as if they were robed.
Adding to the chaos, another gust of wind, this one in the shape of a cyclone, slammed into the center of the strange apparitions. The two shinigami turned as the sound of a sword being drawn from its sheathe filled the air.
Startled, he could only stare at the strange girl, even as she ruthlessly dispensed of the nameless ghosts. She seemed to dance on the wind itself, pausing only to spiral up into the air with a burst of unseen energy. Shunpo? No wait, this was something else, as she drew her sword...
It was the wind, he realized, as the leaves blew by his face.
But before she could finish the shikai command, Zangetsu slammed into her sword.
"Oi! Whaddya think your doing?! Those things aren't hollows!"
The calm serenity upon her face faded, replaced by a scowl.
"Outta my way, dumbass!" With that being said, she shoved her sword forward, inserting her foot into his face, then kicking off with suprising force. Stunned, Ichigo could only spit a curse as his body slammed into the ground.
"Bitch!" He spit up at her, leaping back to his face. "You stepped on my face!"
"Hmph." Unimpeded, the mysterious soul reaper continued to twirl on the airborn leaves, beginning her earnest chant once more. "Bring forth the twilight," a golden light consuming her arms, then traveling the entire length of her sword, from hilt to blade.
With a flash of light, her zanpaktou extended, growing into a long Khakkhara, that is, a monk's staff. As Ichigo looked on, a tunnel of wind erupted from the staff, clearing out a wave of the ghosts with but a single sweep.
As if sensing the danger, the remaining creatures tried to flee, only for another wall of wind, this one a tornado, to wipe them away. A triumphant laugh escaping her lips, the girl continued to pivot herself, obliterating wave after wave of the fleeing beasts.
And as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
"Yeah, I guess." Ichigo shrugged. "But what's that, these Blanks I mean, got to do with me and Senna?"
Toshirou turned aside slightly, a small frown tugging at his visage.
A small smile pulled at the wrinkles on Yamamoto's face. "Kurosaki Ichigo, think for a moment. You are already informed of the present situation, so do you think why we have called you here?"
"Nope." The newbie vizard shrugged. "Not a clue."
"Imbecile." Mayuri sighed to himself with a shake of his head. "Must we really do this?
"What?" Ichigo frowned, uncertain, ill at ease. "Do what?"
"In regards to you recent...hollowfication." The tension leapt several notches when Sajin Komamura dared to elaborate on the matter. "You see, you are not the first to find yourself in this...situation."
"Eh?" Ichigo scratched the back of his head.
"Kurosaki." Soi fon, captain of the second division, picked up where the fox faced captain had left off, and she, unlike Sajin, was much more stern in her opinion of the matter. "You know what we think of hollows."
"!!" His hand flew to the hilt of Zangetsu.
"However." Byakuya proved to be the voice of reason in the chaos, his slate colored eyes betraying nothing as he directed his words towards the former ryoka. "I believe head captain Yamamoto still has something to say on that matter."
"Indeed I do." The first captain rapped his cane against the floor now, motioning for silence. Ichigo didn't draw his sword, but, still wary, neither did he uncurl his fingers from the hilt.
"Kurosaki Ichigo. You have illegally aqcuired hollow powers, defended a fugitive from the law, and raised your sword against the Soul Society. Yet you show no remorse for your actions." Ichigo scowled, and made to draw.
The vizard paused "But what?" Zangetsu was partway out of the cloth now, but Yamamoto didn't seem too concerned with the impending threat on his life. "We will be willing to grant you full pardon, and the one known as Senna, under one condition."
"And that is?"
"Do you see the three empty spaces beside you, Kurosaki?"Yamamoto leaned forward slightly, his squinted eyes peering at the young soul reaper before him, amused at his dense nature. "We are in need of capable officers to fill the gap left behind by captains' Ichimaru, Sosuke, and Tousen. Furthermore, we are sorely lacking in talented shinigami, such as yourself, to fill those positions. Surely you understand that which I speak of?"
"Eh?" Ichigo started in surprise.
"Correct. Captain Ukitake had volunteered to take Senna as his lieutenant, granted that you fill one of the position's left by Sosuke Aizen." Ichigo didn't reply as Yamamoto promised the two of them Soul Society's protection, whilst assuring that Ichigo could carry on his normal life, as would Senna, if so she chose. He couldn't reply, for his jaw had hit the floor.
Shunsui Kyoraku smiled lightly, tipping his hat forward.
"So whaddya say?"
Ichigo finally found his voice, only to look away.
"Simply put, we admire your resolve."
"...Fine." He muttered, hoping this was the right decision. "I'll do it." There were a few muffled congratulations as the captains' filed out. Shunsui Kyoraku patted the boy's shoulder and smiled gently at the perplexed ryoka, apparently still caught up in the aftermath of his decision.
"Welcome to the thirteen court guard squads, Ichigo-kun."
Next time: Tying up lose ends.