Author's Introduction: So, seeing several stories floating around with OCs inserted into the Bleach universe, I thought I'd take a crack at it. This is my first story, and it will focus on my OC, Anrak Ushii, and the Arrancar saga as he experiences it, starting slighting before the first apperance of the Arrancar in the anime. I began this story well before the Arrancar Saga was wrapped up in the manga, so it begins deviating from the canon storyline around at Chapter 10 and becomes an AU.

Characters & Pairings: Eventual Neliel (after she's been returned to her true, adult form)xOC with hints of IchigoxRukia much further down the road. My OC stars here, but as far as simple guest appearances…eh, sooner or later, virtually everyone of importance will show up (Renji and Zaraki will probably be the most frequent guests, aside from Neliel when she shows up in Chapter 10).

Warnings: Swearing, occasionally suggestive situations/dialogue, violence, drunken jackassery… I will do my best to keep canon characters from going OOC.

Anyway, on with the story!

The Shadow's Secret

Are we going to walk all night?

Anrak Ushii scowled slightly and ignored the voice in the back of his head. It was day thirty-three of an extended patrol through the outlying woods and countryside of the Rukongai, keeping an eye out for stray Hollows that occasionally found their way into the Soul Society. Thirty days, and only eight hollows to show for it…

Most shinigami found these patrols to be a waste of time, but Anrak rather enjoyed them. There was a certain sense of peace out here in the forest, away from the hustle and daily chores within the Seireitei. The country air was nice and invigorating, and quiet…

Well, are we?

…generally quiet, anyway.

Again he opted to ignore the voice of his zanpaktou, Kage Shitsukoi. He would stop when he was ready, and no amount of nagging from the female blade on his hip would change that.

I am not nagging!

He didn't dignify that with a response.

Anrak turned his thoughts back to the joys of the countryside… Yes, it was pleasant out here, and there was something else these patrols offered him; the freedom to stop suppressing his reiatsu so damn much.

When he'd graduated the academy a hundred and ten years ago, he'd been told that with his strength, he would be lucky to achieve the rank of an eighteenth seat. That had hurt, but he hadn't dared question the wisdom of his instructors, and resigned himself to a life of being mercilessly taunted by his peers for being weak.

And then, he'd met someone who had changed his mind, someone who had helped him rise above his own weakness and taught him new things, and had left him with the courage to keep moving forward even after their last goodbye. He smiled wistfully as he thought of his surrogate "sister," wondering where the ex-Captain was now as he adjusted the leather tekkou armguards he wore, the bracers replicas of the old ones she had gifted to him over a century ago.

After spending his first ten years inside the Seireitei with his squad learning the proverbial ropes, he'd began volunteering for any and every mission that would get him away from his fellow shinigami so that he could train in private with meditation, fighting, and exercise…

He may have been of below-average strength when he'd graduated, but he'd finally found the drive to change all that, and change it he had.

One hundred years worth of training had certainly changed things, that was for sure. No longer was he a simple weakling, although he took great care to supress his reiatsu when in the presence of his peers. He wanted them to keep thinking that nothing had changed…for now, anyway. Eventually, he knew there would be an opportunity to surprise them all, to make everyone take notice and admit they had underestimated him, and that was a day he looked forward to.

A century of training and sojourn missions had given him something else, too; the ability to work towards bankai in secret.

Bankai, the final release of a zanpaktou, was a rare ability requiring a vast ammount of spiritual energy, and it had taken him eighty years of hard work to reach a point where he could possibly achieve it. Even then, it had been hard to force his zanpaktou spirit to materialize for more than a few short minutes, and it had taken him thirteen more years to finally be able to maintain the materialization for a couple of hours.

The training had all been worth it, though, and seven years ago he had finally reached bankai.

It was still imperfect, still wasn't combat-tested, but that would come in time; what mattered was that it was his, and no one could take that achievement away from him.

Had he been in any other squad, volunteering for these extended missions probably wouldn't be an option; too many of the other captains and their vice-captains were by the book with this sort of thing, going through files and sorting out who's turn it was to go on a sojourn. Fortunately, his captain didn't give a damn about doing things by the book, and volunteers meant he could spend more time focusing on the things he found truly important, like fighting. And drinking. And sometimes drinking while fighting. And terrorizing orange-haired ryoka…

He stopped and gazed up at the fat moon glowing brightly in the night sky, yawning as he did so. Given it's position, it was sometime after midnight.

You need sleep, baka.

Yes, "Kagi" as he'd nicknamed his zanpaktou was right; it was time to settle down for the night. He picked a nice spot under a tree and settled down, laying his blade beside him. Sleeping out in the open like this was a bit dangerous for most lower shinigami, but he wasn't too worried. He'd always been a light sleeper and as far as he could tell, Kagi never slept, despite her earlier whining.

It wasn't whining, you fool. I'm only watching out for you.

Ignoring her, again, he shut his eyes and cleared his mind of all thoughts. Within moments, he was sound asleep…and found himself standing in a clearing with a few lifeless sakura trees whose naked branches clawed at the sky, reaching upwards for the pale full moon that illuminated the dreary landscape. He groaned, knowing that Kagi had pulled him into her little world, as she was prone to do any time he ignored her too much.

The good news was he was still asleep and getting the rest he needed, and this was very much like a lucid dream in that respect.

The bad news was that this was usually the preamble to an argument.

As he expected, a lithe female form stepped out of the darkness and glared daggers at him, her arms folded over her chest angrily. Her raven-colored shoulder-length hair was tied back in a ponytail, her surprisingly bright blue eyes, so much brighter than his own, spoke volumes at the moment, though her lips said nothing. Her clothing, a sleeveless top and hakama pants, seemed to be made out of the very shadows of the night. Had she been a real woman and not so bossy, she might have been attractive, even though there was an unsettling black aura that clung to her constantly.

"Why the hell do you ignore me so much?" she demanded.

Oh, great. Here we go again…

"Why do you nag me so much?"

She curled one of her delicate-looking hands into a fist as if she wanted to hit him, but she remained still, maintaining the distance between them.

"Like I said, baka, I'm just looking out for you. That's my job."

Wow, she practically growled that one. So hostile…

He'd been communicating with his zanpaktou for nearly a century now, and he still didn't understand her. Sometimes she was excessively bossy and demanding, other times almost affectionate, and always, always, short-tempered.

He didn't understand why he had Kage Shitsukoi, the Unrelenting Shadow, as his blade. A zanpaktou was supposed to be a manifestation of the owner's soul, or a portion of it, and yet he couldn't understand why he was stuck with a moody woman who loved the dark, while he personally preferred nice, sunny days and blue skies.

He suspected she had the answers, and though he'd been trying to get them for decades, she always refused. She was the most stubborn and infuriating creature he'd ever known.

It annoyed him to no end, but he couldn't hate her…though he had certainly tried to a couple of times.

Despite their many arguments, despite her knowing full well he had actually tried to foster hatred for her, she had never once abandoned him or forsaken his call to battle, and he was well aware that other zanpaktou were not quite as loyal to their masters, sometimes refusing to come to their aide. His own captain's sword, for example; hell, as far as Anrak knew, his captain still didn't even know his blade's name…

"And I will never forsake you." she said, meeting his eyes. In this world, it didn't matter if he said anything aloud or not; it was her world in here, her rules, and she knew everything he thought.

Uneasy silence filled the air between them as he glared at her, stewing in anger. He hated it when she intruded on his personal thoughts, and she knew it.

"You're never going to be happy until you know about me, are you?" she asked finally, her usually haughty voice strangely quiet.

"That's a stupid question, even for you." he spat back at her irritably.

Yeah, that got a response.

In no time, she had crossed the distance between them and punched him square in the face. He staggered backwards, hands instinctively going for his nose to check for blood, though there was none, and in truth, he wasn't hurt in the slightest.

"What the hell was that for?"

"For being an ass." she sneered.

For a moment, they stood glaring at each other again before she sighed and turned away.

"It broke her heart, you know…" she started slowly.

What the holy hell was she babbling about now?

"Who's heart? What are you talking about?"

"…you don't remember your life in the world of the living, do you?"

"You know I don't. Hell, I don't know of anyone who does." he answered, a knot forming in his stomach. It looked as if he might finally get his answers, but something in her voice and in the way she stood told him that he probably wouldn't like what was coming.

"You two were so good together, so happy… When she died, you took it hard, too hard… But she wasn't gone, not yet. She didn't cross over like she should have, couldn't while she was still worried about you, so she stayed behind to watch over you, and it broke her heart to see you shut yourself away from the world and turn to self-loathing. crying yourself to sleep every night for two weeks straight..."

Yeah, he definitely didn't like how this story was going. He wasn't prone to that kind of behavior now, and it surprised him to hear that he had ever been so…weak, for lack of a better word.

"The days stretched on…and still she stayed behind and watched you, despite what it was doing to her. You couldn't see spirits yet, couldn't hear her calling to you… You had finally begun to stop crying when her strained heart just couldn't take it anymore…"

"She became a hollow, didn't she?" he asked quietly. He still didn't know who "she" was, still couldn't remember a damn thing being told to him, but it was the only logical conclusion.

Kagi nodded at him, a sad look in her eyes.

"She fought the hunger at first, of course… But sooner or later, the hunger always wins out… She attacked you, intent on devouring you whole. She bit into your shoulder as you struggled against her, and that's when you finally saw her, though you didn't recognize her anymore, only the monster that she had become."

Unconsciously, his right hand went up to hold his left shoulder. Was that why it would sometimes ache at random, a phantom pain left over from a life he couldn't remember, a life that came to an end some one hundred and eighty years ago?

"That," Kagi said, "was when the Quincy appeared. A Quincy doesn't purify a hollow so it can go to the Soul Society; they just destroy it. The arrow pierced her chest from behind…and it tore straight through you, too."

She paused for a second, letting the weight of the revelation sink in.

He'd been killed by a Quincy, of all things…

"You, having been a normal person and not a hollow, died and went straight to the Soul Society. She was utterly destroyed, except for a small fragment of her being that mixed in with your very core as your soul departed your mortal shell and the world of the living."

"You." he said, eyeing her. She gave a small, sad smile and nodded.

"You always had the potential to be a shinigami buried deep inside you, and you always had a zanpaktou spirit, but that small fragment of her soul changed me and made me into something different; I wasn't always Kage Shitsukoi, the Unrelenting Shadow."

"The darkness is my fault." he said bluntly. Kagi's blue eyes blinked in shock and she shook her head vehemently.

"Don't say that. Don't even think it. You couldn't have possibly known what your mourning was doing to her, or what it would end up doing to us. But it's not just that that keeps me this way; your own shadow feelings, the pains and fears and regrets that you try to hide from the world affect me, too. That's natural, though, so don't feel guilty about it; those feelings are, after all, part of what makes me…me."

"That doesn't sound like you." he said softly, referring to her almost gentle tone as she reassured him. That earned him a sharp, angry glare that would make most men quiver in their boots. How fortuitous it was that Anrak wasn't most men.

"Is this better?" she shot back sarcastically, eyes flashing dangerously.

He didn't bother to try and answer before she continued speaking.

"I am an amalgamation of her remains, the hollow, and you. She, in life, was never as…aggressive as I am."

That explained a lot, really; the remnant of the hollow combined with his own hidden 'shadow feelings' made her aggressive and dark, and this other women whom he still couldn't remember explained the occasional tenderness…and why she had yet to forsake him no matter how angry they were with one another.

"She never gave up on you, and neither will I. And I will never let you give up on yourself, either." said Kagi firmly, her tone just daring him to argue the point with her, almost like she was itching for a fight. Hell, knowing her, she probably was

"You were her strength in life, now, in death, she…I am your strength. No matter how 'bitchy' you may think I am…I do love you, just as she did."

His sword just told him that she loved him. Wow, this was…awkward. Briefly, he wondered if any of the other shinigami had ever experienced similar awkwardness while conversing with their blades. Kagi looked at him and sighed, apparently deciding some clarification was in order.

He had nothing to come back with. Really, what could one say to that? Thank you? Maybe, but at this point, that would seem like a pretty weak and pathetic gesture. Not knowing what else he could say, or more to the point, what he should say, he kept silent.

Anrak had always known he'd get the answer as to why he was stuck with such a dark blade eventually, but he never expected the answer to be this.

He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected, but this damn sure wasn't it.

Briefly, he wondered what his zanpaktou would have been had he died under different circumstances, what Kagi used to be before she became Kage Shitsukoi…

Lost in his thoughts, he hadn't noticed that she had stepped closer to him again and was now caressing his face gently, tenderly, the way a lover would. She embraced him lovingly, and gave a single, almost playful, nip at his earlobe.

"Time to wake up, baka…" she affectionately whispered into his ear.

His eyes shot open and found himself still lying underneath the tree, his blade resting in the soft grass beside him, with the morning sun already in the sky. Suppressing a yawn, he stood up and returned the sword to it's rightful place on his hip. He ran a hand through his light brown hair as he gazed at the sun, estimating by it's position that it was around seven in the morning, possibly as late as seven-thirty.

Hell butterfly, his zanpaktou mused.

He glanced towards the direction of the Seireitei, and, sure enough, there was a hell butterfly fluttering towards him. He held out a hand, letting the delicate insect land on an outstretched finger as Kagi translated it's silent message for him.

To all errant shinigami, by order of Head-Captain Yamamoto you are to abort your current assignments, return to the Seireitei, and report to your respective captains at once. War is coming.

With that, the tiny hell butterfly fluttered off, perhaps looking for it's next recipient.

"War is coming," the message had said…

Aizen, hissed Kagi, her voice containing more than a little venom at the mention of the traitor's name.

Anrak nodded in silent agreement with her sentiment. After Aizen's betrayal and departure of the Seireitei several months earlier, everyone had known a war was coming. For old man Yamamoto to be recalling all shinigami now surely meant the time was close, very close.

He was a bit nervous about the prospect of war, momentarily doubting himself and how far he'd progressed in the past century. Aizen did nothing halfway, which meant this would be a hard-fought war with many casualties. Would he end up as one of them? Was he truly strong enough for this?

Baka, of course we are. I told you, I will never give up on you, and I'll never let you give up, either. We will fight, Aizen will pay for his crimes, and we will make everyone know just how wrong they are about us!

He couldn't help but smile at the fierce reassurance, and he could imagine Kagi wanted nothing more than to slap him in the back of his head for daring to have any doubts.

"Hai, Kagi. Let's get going, then."