The doors of the gate from Soul Society shut with a resounding finality. Seven figures walked in complete silence toward the ladder at the far end of the Tessai-made cavern.
Their appearance was apparently a surprise to the proprietor of the store since he had not appeared to meet the group when they arrived. They caught him sipping tea while Yoruichi in cat form lay on the table; obviously the two had been interrupted in the middle of a heated conversation, if the expressions on their faces was any indication.
"Ah!" exclaimed Urahara excitedly. "What was the final verdict?"
"You're going to see a lot more of me from now on," said Ichigo evenly. Urahara's grin faltered.
"I'm going to live out the rest of my life in my body as normally as possible."
"You'll still fight hollows though, right?"
"Yeah, it'll be like before Rukia was carted off, juggling school and shinigami stuff."
The mask crumbled again and Ichigo, panting heavily, gazed calmly at the leveled cliff.
'Finally,' he thought.
"Well done Ichigo!!" bubbled Shinji exuberantly. "You've mastered cero, bara, and the gran rey."
"Oomph! Oh! Oh my, I'm sorry! Gah, I'm such… sorry! I'm a klutz!"
"No problem, really," Ichigo stooped to pick up his books needed for his next class. He looked up and was struck dumb by the sight of her. Long black hair tucked behind her ears, porcelain skin, deep, forest green eyes.
"I'm Yashiro Kei, nice to meet you. I'm the principal's new secretary."
"Er, Kurosaki Ichigo. I teach English. Nice to meet you."
Ichigo dipped into his power again, calling on the right amount with his bracelet-induced control.
"Dominator! Mask of flesh and blood. All living beings. Fluttering. That which has the name human! Truth and temperance. Slightly imbed your claws into the walls of innocent dreams. Destructive Art 33! Blue Fireball!!" True to its name, the kidou shot at the rock formation in a blue flash of orb-like flame and a cluster of rock exploded.
"Hmm… not bad for the first try."
"I've seen it shot before, I oughta know how it works." Ichigo sat cross-legged opposite Tessai.
"You have come a long way from your first lesson, but there is still much to learn. Remember…"
"Come on, seriously?! I never would have guessed!"
"It's true. I picked up a Japanese translation one day and I loved it, so I eventually decided to get better at English so I could read his works the way he intended."
"Wow! That must have been hard. I didn't think you have that much of an attention span."
"I'm wounded, really. But anyway, it was worth… it…"
"You know what, Kei? Let's forget about the movie and hang out at the arcade instead?!"
"What? We're way too old for arcades!"
"You're never too old! Come on!"
The hollow's roar slowly faded into the evening noise of downtown Karakura.
Kurosaki Kei pressed her lips gently to Ichigo's and he picked her up and carried her to their new bedroom. He set her down on the edge of the bed and placed his hands on either side of her hips. She pulled his shirt off, and then gasped in shock.
"Ichigo! What happened?!" Reluctant to let the mood go to waste, Ichigo continued removing buttons, but he could hardly ignore her.
"I told you about the car accident I was in as a college student."
"I had no idea it was this bad!"
"It's fine, really." He kissed her insistently, silencing any coherent speech for the rest of the night.
He gripped the medallion tightly in his fist as he knelt before his best friend's altar.
The brute had jumped in front of a car to save a little kid. He would have been fine if the resulting pileup hadn't been so bad the ambulance couldn't make it through.
Five other hands gripped his shoulders, all were silent.
"Okay, really. What's up with today? Is it our anniversary or something?"
"Of course not, but I did get you a present." Ichigo stared at his wife of three years.
"It's not another 'I'll get him a gift so I can use it' present, is it?" Kei didn't bother to respond besides look (cutely, Ichigo thought) exasperated and held out a plain, thin rectangle box with a simple red ribbon wrapped around it.
Ichigo guardedly opened the box and a tee shirt was delicately covered by bright tissue paper. He shook out the black shirt and noted Kei's mischievous face.
The shirt read: World's Greatest Dad!
Ichigo and Kei walked into their home, arms around each other. Isshin glanced up from his game of 'Knock-'em-down' with five year old Yachiru and saw the barely restrained grief in their faces. Yachiru noticed her parents had walked in as well. She bounded up to them and grabbed their clothes in tiny fists.
"Where's my new baby?" she questioned innocently as she tugged on the cloth in her hands. Ichigo tightened his arms around Kei as she weakened.
Kei choked out, "Your baby brother isn't coming home, honey."
"Well, I'd say it's about time, Ishida. What took you so long?"
"I had to learn how to cook. I don't care what other people say, I wouldn't survive married life if I didn't."
Mizuiro stood ceremoniously from his seat at the circular table. "I now recognize all members to be accounted for. We may—whoa!"
"Sit down and order! Seriously, stop hanging around Keigo so much. I wouldn't think that after all these years of exposure you would start to succumb to his idiocy," deadpanned Tatsuki.
"Hey! I have a sense of humor, thank you very much! And besides, didn't you hear?"
"What? Hear what?" Ignored by everyone Keigo began to make desperate shushing motions with wildly flinging arms.
"Keigo's finally got a girl!!"
"Is this that sense of humor you were talking about, 'cause that's not funny."
"Hey!!" Keigo huffed indignantly. "At least I'm in a steady relationship, unlike some people I know."
"I'm stable; I just have more that one." Miziuro stated smugly in his own defense.
Tatsuki spoke her peace as well. "And I've never really cared about all that romantic junk anyway."
Ichigo, silent until then, got a mischievous glint in his eyes. "But really Mizuiro, you should brush up on your material."
"Your think so?"
He felt a strong jolt of excitement, trepidation, and fear travel down his spine and land in a sickening knot in his stomach as Kei watched him expectantly. The memories of the shinigami in the hospital room taking his baby away wouldn't leave his head clear enough to answer his patiently waiting wife. Ichigo swallowed thickly against his constricted throat, and Kei reached to grip his hands in her own.
The ex-shinigami glanced up and perceived Kei's own fear, but also her desire and her hope.
"Okay," he whispered. "Okay."
The childrens' screams rang through the whole house with a ten year old Yachiru and a three year old Taka quickly following. Isshin scooped them up as soon as they reached him.
"My babies! My darling grandchildren!" The now old (but no less eccentric) man nearly toppled over from the sudden weight. Sixty-one years old was just about too old to be exercising like this, but he would never complain.
"They're all yours, Pops."
"Yes, yes, enjoy yourselves, why are you still here? Wait, what number is it this year?"
"Thirteen years," was barely spoken before Isshin was at that same wall poster, but this time with a giggling Yachiru on his back (a familiar ache beat in time with Ichigo's heart) and an upside down Taka in his arms.
"Oh, Masaki! My boy has been a husband for thirteen years!!" Taka started squealing in breathless delight.
Ichigo and Kei glanced at each other and the telepathy that came with so many years of marriage told them now was the time to make a smooth escape.
"I really can see ghosts, Dad! And so can Taka!"
"I believe you, no need to get defensive." Yachiru blinked in surprise at her father's cool acceptance. She had expected at least a little skepticism.
"It runs in the family."
Ichigo stared at the stiff teen in front of him shamelessly. The poor boy fidgeted on the edge of the chair, looked at his watch.
"She'll be down soon," smiled Kei sympathetically.
Ichigo narrowly glanced at his wife, a hint of betrayal in his eyes, then turned back to the boy.
"I want her home by ten."
"Yes, sir." A nervous gulp accompanied the words.
"Dad, are you harassing my date again?!"
"Not at all. We were just having a heart-to-heart."
"How can you possibly be dying?! You are dead! Aren't you in a gigai?"
"Don't be daft, son. When you first met Rukia, remember her gigai would have drained her reiryoku until she was human again. I provided Kisuke's reason for a test drive of the first model." He continued after his words met silence. "For future reference: despite Kisuke's brilliance, the first wasn't perfect. Instead of draining away my power in the process of making me human, like Rukia, the gigai merely trapped the majority of my power in the new flesh. Consequently, the process made my reiryoku genetic and the source of all your power in turn."
"… So you're going to die. Again."
"Eh, it's not so bad. At least I know where I'm going!"
"I'm sorry, son."
"Taka!! What happened to you?!" The startled and panicked cry from Kei was ripped from her when she saw her youngest kicking off his shoes at the front door.
"Fell off the curb," he muttered through gritted teeth, and swiftly ascended the steps to the second floor.
Ichigo walked in from the kitchen and made a snap a decision. He put his hand on Kei's shoulder and held her back from following.
"He looks horrible, Ichigo!"
"I'll take care of him," he said swiftly, and went to locate the first aid box in their bathroom. After the short detour, Ichigo knocked on his son's bedroom door politely before letting himself in.
He closed the door before turning to size up Taka's visible injuries. A rapidly bruising right eye, cheekbone, and lower lip were the only bruises decorating his face. Shallow cuts accompanied his lip and the eyebrow above the coloring eye. A bleeding fist resting on the mattress next to thigh illustrated the teen's self-defense.
Taka looked down at his crossed legs. His father crossed the room in a brisk manner reminiscent of his sisters' efficiency in his father's old clinic. Sitting on the bed next to Taka, Ichigo opened the first aid and opened a roll of gauze and an antiseptic wipe before catching the teen's chin to turn him to face the impending treatment.
Ichigo made small talk while he cleaned up the blood. "It's the hair, right? I had the same problem when I was your age. Some wannabe thug named Ooshima had the balls to say I was copying his bad dye job." He continued with tales of his teen years to distract his son.
"No trouble breathing, abdominal pain, anything?" A brief shake of Taka's head reassured Ichigo that no internal injuries had been dealt to his son. After inspecting his hand for broken bones and when the last butterfly bandage had been applied, Ichigo sat back and considered.
"You're not mad or anything?"
"Hardly. That'd be a bit hypocritical on my part, wouldn't it?" A brief pause. "I can teach you to fight back, if you want."
Taka shot an incredulous look at his father before smirking smugly. "You? Teach me?"
"Hey, give your old man some credit. I know a few moves."
"… Could you really? I've never seen you fight… I wouldn't want to hurt you or anything."
"Duly noted. We start tomorrow after school."
"Grandparents, huh?" Kei snaked her arms around her husband contentedly. They lay in bed after hearing the big news of the day. Ichigo ran his fingers through her hair and stared at the ceiling.
"Were getting old, Ichigo," Kei whispered.
"Well, Takeshi, it's good to know orange isn't fading out," said a grinning Ichigo. He held his newly-born great-grandson in his arms. He continued to murmur encouragements and advice for the coming years to the sleeping baby.
Kei opened her eyes and looked around. 'I never realized I sleep-walk…' She saw her bedroom as it usually was, and she was standing next to her side of the bed.
One look down told her she wasn't sleepwalking.
Her hand shaking, Kei reached for her lying form, unnaturally still, next to Ichigo. She phased through her body without a rustled breeze to show for her effort. Trying hard not to panic now she attempted the movement again, with the same results. She took pride in the fact she hadn't screamed her head off. This time she reached for Ichigo and she jerked in surprise when her hand bumped against his chest.
She shook him gently, albeit somewhat frantically and he mumbled. Kei jostled him again and called his name, the instinct to whisper in the dark of the night driving her to not talk aloud despite the fact no one would hear her now.
Let Ichigo hear her, please…
Her sleepy husband cracked an eye open and was immediately wide awake at the sight of her.
"Ichigo…" she said in a quivering voice.
"Oh, baby," Ichigo whispered and reached for her. He held her to him as he climbed out of the bed and moved to the living room. He sat on the couch and held her tightly as she cried into his chest.
Once tears had dried and Kei had settled down enough for a conversation, she didn't hesitate to quiz Ichigo. "How are you able to see me, or hear me, or touch me? The kids can see ghosts, but you never even hinted that you could as well."
"I… It's a long story."
She looked at him as if he was the stupidest male in the world. "I think I have more than enough time to listen to a long story." Thoroughly chastised, Ichigo told her everything about the guarded secrets of his life: Rukia, Soul Society, his struggle with his hollow, his exile, everything.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Kei asked in a flat voice, her anger given away by her effort to keep her voice even.
"I guess… I… I didn't think you'd believe me, for one. Besides, that's all in my past. You were my future and I've never been one to dwell."
"But… all this time!!"
"Please, you have to understand. In my mind I chose the lesser, and safer, of two evils. I either lied to you," at that Ichigo winced at the callous word, "or I told you and inevitably drew you into the trouble that always follows. I could never do that to you or our family." Kei was silent as she fingered the chain bracelet on his wrist. She noted the gold medallion hanging from where the necklace was threaded through the links.
"S-so this, and your scars, are your past?" Ichigo didn't answer, let her think. "I'm so sorry."
At this Ichigo blinked his surprise. "What for?"
"For everything you've had to go through!! When I get to Soul Society I'm gonna give them a piece of my mind!" Ichigo sputtered for a minute before falling silent. He enveloped her in another hug.
"I have never regretted my actions, even when I decided to hide the spiritual aspect of my past. Never doubt that. I love you more than life, you know that?"
"Of course. So tell me more about this Rukia person. I rather like her."
"Trust me, kid, you don't want to 'stay here like me.' It's boring," Before Takeshi could say anything else, Ichigo stamped his forehead and with a flash of light the boy was gone.
So this is the tedious part, huh?" Ichigo confirmed dully. Urahara nodded once, and Ichigo continued.
"I've trained in hakudo and zanjustu until I could best you and Ururu-chan. I can whoop Tessai-san at kidou and I catch Yoruichi playing tag. My hollow powers are perfectly mastered, including rapid regeneration at will." He sighed and glanced at the shop owner. "Anything else you can turn me into?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Hmph. I'm gonna talk to Zangetsu and think up some new tricks."
"The basement is always open!" Ichigo waved without turning around to acknowledge the words and disappeared down the hole in the floor.
Urahara waved his fan idly, deep in thought about the troubles haunting Soul Society.
Ichigo didn't seem to hold any anger towards the spirit world any longer, but the ex-taichou believed Ichigo had become skilled at hiding any emotion related to that place.
Sometimes he could see the betrayal lurking behind his eyes, but it was hidden, or smothered, quickly. Ichigo knew it would do no good, so he buried it deep.
Urahara thought maybe for later use.
Well, from what was being reported lately from Soul Society, that anger may have a conduit to exhaust itself. Either way, Ichigo would start to see more shinigami approaching. Not officially, of course.
Ururu set a steaming cup of tea in front of him and the manager ruffled her hair. She blushed cutely and walked out again, grabbing the broom on her way.
It would be a long wait, but eventually Soul Society would come to Ichigo for assistance if they couldn't handle the problem.
Ichigo wouldn't have to be bored for long.
Now, for the AN of DOOM!!!
Hello again everyone!! I'm back for the sequel to Calm After the Storm!! As you can see, this is an interlude/intermission for the years that I didn't cover for in between CAtS and its sequel, Contagion.
FYI: the story itself is just over 2,900, a bit long for a mere prologue –scoff-, which is why I didn't call it that.
I numbered the sections to tell what they were easier, which won't be the case in later chapters, there were simply too many here. Here are some of my thoughts and theories on certain sections that I thought you would like to hear more about:
Any section about his training – I think that Urahara wouldn't allow the original bracelet to be left on. It would be too dangerous for Ichigo, since his reiryoku would be completely bound, so I figure he would make a copycat that Ichigo could take off, and automatically let a miniscule amount (still a good amount at this point) of his power through so that he could defend himself if the situation is dire. This new bracelet and the cavern being the ultimate hiding place for an exile's training (remember Ichigo was never found while training for his bankai in the Soul Society version, why would the copy be any less awesome?!) could allow Ichigo to train in peace.
The bracelet – This is a pet peeve of mine… Ichigo isn't bad at sensing reiatsu at all!!! For goodness sake, he could sense the little boy half overlapped in a parakeet body, remember?! The problem with Ichigo's control is how difficult it is to control the huge amount of it. This is a common theme in manga: Naruto has all that stamina, but hardly any control over his charka. This is the same deal with Ichigo. The new bracelet, while binding his reiryoku, gives him a smaller amount to work with, thus helping him develop his control when he is training. The old would never have let him develop his control if it stayed the same level.
2 – I think that after Ichigo got serious about Kei he finally decided to let Soul Society do it's job and could finally let go of all the baggage that came with his exile. It was still a good nine years before he could bury his anger. Hunting hollows would have been an outlet until then, and by proxy, snubbing shinigami by getting to the hollows quicker. He didn't want to drag Kei into his dangerous second life like Orihime and Tatsuki and all the others were.
6 – For those of you that don't remember or didn't read it, Ichigo's bio in the manga stated that the person he looks up to is William Shakespeare… well, I figure, how can you look up to the man without knowing any of his work, and then I took it to the next level and made William the reason he teaches English. Ooh, trivia for all the folks still reading: William means 'protector,' which I thought was cool. And in the spirit of names, Chad means 'warrior.' How's that for irony, huh?
7 – My theory on scars: If the scars of the battle for Rukia (when Ichigo got the crap beat out of him) showed on Ichigo after he had taken the pills Urahara gave him, then all other scars he had gotten would show up as well with the exception of the injuries Orihime's power 'heals'. She doesn't really heal, as Ulquiorra says, but she only rejects the injuries altogether, as if they never happened. So no scars.
10 and 13 – I wanted to break up the happy life a little bit, because not all lives are good. As you see, Ichigo's had a normal life (which I think helped him to deal with the exile and thoughts as to what would happen to him) and let's face it, no life is perfect. Yachiru's birth was rough, but the newborn had complications afterwards as well, which led to his death.
18 – I think this section really shows how much Ichigo loves and understands his family. He cleans Taka up without judging and listens and offers help instead of scolding right off the bat.
21 – I made Kei purposefully a little like Rukia, which is a lot more apparent here, only because Ichigo bonded so well with her. I think there could have been romance between Ichigo and Rukia if there hadn't been such an age difference… not to mention the dead factor.
24 – This happens right before Contagion picks up in the first chapter. I added it in for more of a smooth transition into present time.
Here's a time line for all of you who are a little curious as to how this all ties together:
Ichigo's 16 – Chapter 9 of CAtS
17 – training for kidou
21 – training for vaizard stuff
25 – meet Kei (26)
27 – marry Kei
29 – Chad's funeral
30 – Yachiru is born
32 – Ishida and Orihime marry
35 – second child dies
37 – Taka is born
40 – 13 year anniversary
49 – Isshin dies (70, Ichigo born - 21)
59 – grandparent (Yachiru – 29)
85 – great-grandparent/ Takeshi is born
89 – Kei dies
91 – Ichigo dies/ chat with Urahara
99 – Takeshi dies (13)/ CAtS Epilogue
113 – 'Contagion' begins
So that's all for this prologue/intermission/interlude thingy. I hope that answers some of the lasting questions from CAtS. Any others, please review.
You know what, review anyway!!!!
Oh, hey, the disclaimer: Don't own it. I'm not nearly brilliant enough and I can't draw worth squat… -pout-