Cover art "Who I Am" by KziraLee
This is my first attempt in the bleach universe. Please let me know if I get something horribly wrong. The story is completely AU and will involve my favorite crack ship yet - Ulquihime.
Chapter 1 - Prologue
He was dying. Of this he was sure. Even as his legs and arm began to grow back his powers of regeneration could not restore the missing organs blown away from his lower torso. It was over. He had been defeated by this human hollow. He almost wished that the Quincy hadn't interfered. A swift death would have been preferable to this. He could feel his body wasting away. Soon it would be over, and he would become nothing more than ash scattered by the wind.
Turning to the woman he asked her if she was afraid of him. Her eyes said more than her simple words could convey. No, she did not fear him. It seemed as if she felt something even worse; pity. It was in that moment, his body more ash than flesh and bone, that he began to understand. He reached out his hand to her, but as she moved to grasp his, his vision clouded. Her touch was lost as his body disintegrated and he faded from existence.
Orihime stood in stunned silence. Her hand extended. The hand she had reached for was gone. All that remained was swirling ash, and then nothing. He was gone. This Espada, her keeper while in Hueco Mundo had disappeared before her eyes.
Her body felt numb. Her emotions dulled by the horrific battle she had just witnessed. Kurosaki-kun; she had relied on him to save her, and her dependence on him made him into something more terrifying than even Ulquiorra. It was her fault. All that had happened in Hueco Mundo had been because of her. She was strong. She had trained hard while in the Soul Society. Still she had relied on Kurosaki to save her. It was her pleading that had awakened the horrible monster that he had become, her fault that he had turned into a merciless beast, her fault that he had turned on Ishida, impaling her friend with his zanpakuto.
"Inoue!" Kurosaki yelled from somewhere behind her. "Inoue, Ishida needs you. Please, I think he's dying."
She turned to look at her friends. Kurosaki knelt beside Uryu, his eyes wide and pleading. She noticed his hands pressing on Ishida's stomach. Blood soaked the Quincy's clothing. Ishida was barely conscious, his breathing shallow.
"Ishida-kun", she cried as she ran to where he lay. She reached out to her friend, "Sōten Kisshun, I reject."
The healing shield encompassed his body. She concentrated as Ishida's injuries began to heal. His breathing became more relaxed, and his eyes began to open.
"Inoue", he rasped.
"I'm right here Ishida-kun. Just lie still." She replied. Her voice was scratchy from the tears that she couldn't seem to stop from falling.
She noticed his hand that had been cut clean off by Ulquiorra had begun to grow back. Uryu began to flex the fingers on his hand. A slight smile graced his lips. With wonder in his voice he said softly, "Is there anything that you can't do Inoue?"
His simple question gave her pause. What were the limits of her powers? Aizen had said that her abilities challenged that of the gods. She had restored Grimmjow's arm, even after it had been turned to ash, and now she was restoring Ishida's hand as well. She rejected reality, and created it anew.
Under her care Ishida's wounds healed. She released him from the healing barrier and rose to her feet. She looked to Kurosaki. He stood panting. His body was covered in blood and dirt, but she knew that he was going to be okay. His body had regenerated on its own. His wounds had healed, and even though Ulquiorra had planned to lop off his arm, the Espada had not had the strength do it.
She turned to the space where the Cuatro Espada had stood moments before. I can reject reality, she thought. I can create it anew under my terms. If that was true then wouldn't it be possible to bring him back from nothing?
She walked slowly over to where she had reached out for him. Staring into the nothingness she said softly, "This is all my fault. I should have stood tall. I should have been stronger."
"Inoue, are you alright." Kurosaki had come up behind her. His voice a whisper in her ear.
"I have brought this about. This is because of my weakness." She voiced her fears aloud.
"No, Inoue, this is not your fault. This is because of Aizen and the monsters that he created."
"What about you Kurosaki-kun? Who created you? It was my pleading that turned you into… into that…" She couldn't finish. It was too much to think of her beloved Ichigo becoming that horrifying beast.
"It is my responsibly to contain my inner hollow." He replied sternly.
"But I pleaded with you to help me. You would never have changed if it wasn't for me."
"No Inoue! I promised to protect you, and I let my inner hollow surface in order to do that. I lost complete control. I am sorry that you had to witness that, but it is a part of who I am."
"No!" she covered her ears at his statement. "You are not like them. You are human."
Removing her hands from her ears he turned her face him. "Inoue, humans are flawed creatures. We are capable of great good, but also great evil. It is that struggle that defines us. In our hearts we must choose to do good, and we must reject evil, or it will overwhelm us."
"Like it almost did to you." She cried.
Silently he bowed his head. She regretted her words instantly. She reached out to touch his face timidly, but pulled her hand back at the last second. "I am sorry, Kurosaki-kun."
"But you're right. I almost lost myself. I couldn't even distinguish my friends from my enemies. I tried to kill Uryu."
"To protect me." She whispered.
"I promised to keep you safe."
"At the cost of your humanity!" she yelled. Then stepping back she stared again into the space where Ulquiorra had vanished. "You almost lost your soul. You were no different than any other hollow. You had become just like him."
"He and I are nothing alike." Ichigo spat out.
"The only thing that separated you in the end was your humanity." She said in a hushed voice. Even softer she continued, "Maybe it would have been different… in the end I think he was beginning to understand…"
"Inoue?" Ichigo asked.
Ignoring him she reached out again to the space where Ulquiorra had last stood. She had brought Ichigo back from the brink of madness; maybe she could give the Espada the same chance.
Nothingness. It was utterly complete. He no longer existed. He was gone, and then in an instant he felt life. It was hard to put into words. The sheer terror of it all overwhelmed him. For the first time in many years he felt fear. As his body began to reform he understood that for a time he had been gone; his body nothing more than ash scattered amongst the sand of Hueco Mundo.
As a human he had believed in an afterlife, but as a hollow he had realized that that no longer existed for him. This was his afterlife. He would continue to consume souls in order to live. If not, then he would die, and that death brought about the possibility of nonexistence. And for a time that nonexistence had become a reality. Now, though he felt life again, but this was different. He couldn't explain it, but somehow this was not the life he remembered.
Around him he could hear voices. Kurosaki was yelling about something. What was it? He couldn't quite make it out. And then his ears formed completely and the noise became words.
"Inoue, what are you doing? Have you lost it completely?"
No reply met the Shinigami's questions. Still the teen rattled on. Ulquiorra could not completely understand what was happening, but he had an idea of what might be going own. The woman was trying to bring him back to life. She was a fool. Her humanity once again proved her weakness. Did she not realize that as soon as he was able he would destroy her friend once and for all?
He inhaled deeply as his lungs formed completely. He was alive again. Slowly he opened his eyes and it was then that he began to realize why he had felt so odd earlier. His vision was not quite the same, nor was his body. Reaching for his chest he touched the space where his hollow hole should have been, but his hand only met flesh.
No! She couldn't have done such a thing. Had Aizen been correct in his assessment of her? Were her powers equal to a god? He turned and looked at her.
Anger laced his words as he asked, "Woman what have you done?"