Disclaimer: don't own it
White Moon, Black Sun
Ichigo stood by the concrete floor of his inner world, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk in front of him. Everywhere he looked, the street was barren of even the slightest sign of life.
"Am I really so closed off?" he asked himself, touching the cold concrete. He closed his eyes.
What does a plant need? Sun, warmth, water. Earth to root into. Earth. . . a promise of life, a promise to be more than an unyielding stone.
The roughness under his fingers changed to something softer, more powdery. He opened his eyes. Brown, loamy earth was spreading from his touch until it filled in a patch of ground about twenty feet wide and thirty feet long. Ichigo smiled.
"Well, it's a start."
He went over to where Zangetsu stood on his pole, apparently meditating. Ichigo flopped onto his back, staring idly at the passing clouds. They were having a small break in their training.
"Zangetsu no ossan?"
Zangetsu opened his eyes and looked at Ichigo. "Hmm?"
"Why do you stay in Shikai?"
"I prefer not to be constrained by a pale imitation of what I am," he replied calmly. "Should you choose to seal me, I would obey, however. Your control is enough to do so now."
Ichigo shook his head. "We're equals. I don't want to oppress you."
Zangetsu looked away and smiled.
"Ye lord! Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Inferno and pandemonium, the sea barrier surges, march on to the south! Hadou no sanjuuichi, Shakkahou!"
The sphere of red fire hit the target squarely, blowing it into millions of tiny pieces. Yoruichi watched it, amazed.
"Ichigo, what sort of training did Zangetsu put you through? I didn't think you'd be so proficient."
Ichigo shrugged. It helped that she had finally decided to put some clothes on, he thought. He decided just to show her Zangetsu's lessons, taking his sword off his back. He brought it in front of him.
"Getsuga Tenshou," he said softly. The famous blue crescent exploded from the blade. For a moment, it seemed to streak toward Yoruichi. Calmly, she watched it approach, prepared to flash-step away if it got too close. Suddenly, it stopped mid-air, twisting into a rough cat. It twined around her feet, but didn't come in contact with her. Where its footsteps touched the ground, the dirt blackened. Then it leapt into the air, becoming a tiny sparrow that flew around for a while, then changed into a falcon.
The falcon dived toward the ground, and a second later, the entire room vibrated and shook with an enormous explosion. The dust cleared slowly, revealing a crater three hundred feet wide and several hundred more feet deep. Yoruichi whistled.
Ichigo stared, stunned, at the enormous chasm. "It didn't seem this destructive in my inner world," he said. Yoruichi laughed.
"Of course not. You'd hurt yourself if you did this kind of damage in there. My compliments to Zangetsu. That's one hell of a punch."
Ichigo smiled, patting his sword. "He's one hell of a zanpakutou," he said. He felt Urahara approach, and turned.
"Yare, yare, Kurosaki-san," he said, staring at the hole in the ground. "It's going to take forever to fill that up again."
"Sorry," Ichigo said, embarrassed. "I didn't mean for it to be so big."
"It's quite alright, Kurosaki-san. However, it is getting late."
Ichigo nodded. "It's hard to tell in here."
"Aa," Urahara agreed. "By the way, I finished your order. Would you like me to store it for you?"
"Please," Ichigo said, trying not to sound like an excited schoolgirl. "Thank you, Getaboshi."
Urahara smiled knowingly. "Be sure to test it out soon."
"I will," Ichigo promised.
Ichigo placed one hand on the warm earth of his inner world. He smiled. It was still there. He dug his fingers into the moist soil, enjoying its airy texture.
A plant starts as a seed. . . a promise to continue grow and become something better, to take both rain and sun and transform them into something beautiful.
Nothing seemed to happen, but under his fingers he felt little objects, tiny and round. He removed his hand and peered at the shallow indents left behind. Seeds sat nestled in the depressions. He smiled again and covered them up, then walked back to Zangetsu.
"Hey, ossan, I've got a surprise for you."
Zangetsu cracked open one eye. "Oh?" He already knew about the garden.
Ichigo scratched the back of his head, looking away. "Yeah. Back when I materialized you, I realized how selfish I was for making you stay in here all the time. So, I asked Urahara to make you a gigai of sorts, so that I can show you around Karakura-chou."
Zangetsu stared, surprised at Ichigo. A gigai? For him?
"I. . . thank you, Ichigo."
Ichigo smiled brightly at Zangetsu's thanks. "Do you want to go now? I can go over to Urahara's and we can try it out."
"It would be my pleasure, Ichigo," Zangetsu replied, smiling, and Ichigo beamed.
He pushed himself back into the real world. The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon. Ichigo began to dress, putting on a blood-red shirt and a black jacket, then a pair of slim-fit dark-wash jeans. To the jeans he added a black chain.
He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and scowled at his reflection. There was something missing. As he opened the medicine cabinet to take out the toothpaste, he spotted a roll of thin linen bandages. He grinned, taking the roll out and wrapping the bandages around his hand like a glove, leaving his fingers free. Tearing off and tucking in the end, he returned the roll to the medicine cabinet, then continued to get ready for the day.
Finished with his morning routine, he left for Urahara Shouten, thinking nothing of skipping school. He went inside, immediately heading toward the back room.
Urahara slinked into view. "Ah! Kurosaki-san! What can I do for you today?"
"I'd like to test out my order," Ichigo said. Urahara smiled brightly.
"Right this way!" he said, leading Ichigo into the room filled with odd, long wooden boxes. He opened one casket-like crate, and Ichigo's breath caught in his throat as he saw the still body of Zangetsu lying there, looking oddly fragile and helpless. He mentally shook himself, remembering that Zangetsu was perfectly fine in his inner world.
"I'll be in the front," Urahara said, hiding his face with his fan. He left the storage room.
Here goes nothing, he thought to himself, using his badge to once again emerge from his own body. He lifted Zangetsu off his back, guiding the zanpakutou into the real world.
Zangetsu appeared, tall and imposing, in the small room. Ichigo couldn't help but compare the pale corpse-like gigai in the crate to the real thing, and found the gigai extremely lacking.
Zangetsu walked over to the crate, peering in. He kneeled down, his coat fluttering around him, and reached out to touch his copy's flesh. His fingers passed through. Startled, he withdrew them, then surveyed the gigai once more and lowered himself into the fake body.
It was still for a long second, and then the man's eyes snapped open. He raised himself out of the box as Ichigo sighed in relief.
"How is it?" asked Ichigo.
"Strange," Zangetsu said, staring at his palms. He opened and closed one hand, getting used to controlling the kishi body.
For the first time, Ichigo noticed what Zangetsu was wearing: a black, fitted suit and tie with a grey shirt. A white handkerchief peeped out of his front pocket.
"You, um, look good," Ichigo said awkwardly. Zangetsu looked down at his clothes, furrowing his brows, then looked back at Ichigo.
"Thank you," he murmured.
Ichigo felt a blush creep up his neck. "Er, shall we be going, then?"
Zangetsu nodded. Ichigo smiled slightly and showed the way the way to the front room, where they found Urahara lounging and idly fanning himself. He looked up as they drew closer.
"My, my! I can see why Ichigo speaks so highly of you," Urahara said, hiding a smirk with his fan as he watched Ichigo redden even more. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Zangetsu-san."
"The pleasure is mine," replied the zanpakutou, bowing at the man who had done so much for his wielder.
"Will you two be leaving, then?" Urahara asked.
Ichigo nodded. "Thank you very much, Urahara-san, for making the gigai," he said sincerely. He, too, bowed
"No problem!" Urahara replied brightly. "Anything for such a regular customer!"
"See you later, then, Sandle-hat," Ichigo said, leading Zangetsu into the bright outdoors. Ichigo squinted at the sun.
"It's a nice day," he observed, walking at a leisurely pace toward the center of town.
"Aa," Zangetsu agreed, looking around. Ichigo smiled.
"It's my favorite time of the year," he admitted. "Before the summer rains."
The two of them were quite a sight: one man, toweringly tall and thin, dressed in formal attire, watching the world with wonder, and one teenager, short in comparison, with a shock of orange hair and more casually dressed, his relaxed movements at odds with the scowl on his face.
Something brushed against Zangetsu's shoulder. He turned to look. It was a cluster of pale purple flowers. He could smell their heady fragrance, and as he looked around, he realized the bush he was next to was filled with them.
Ichigo turned around to see why he had stopped, and his breath caught in his throat as he watched Zangetsu gaze at the lilacs, fascinated. The zanpakutou brought one hand up to touch the tiny, delicate flowers. He looked so… amazed at the plant, as though he could hardly believe it could exist.
"What are these?" he asked, bringing the flower to his nose and inhaling deeply.
"Lilacs," Ichigo answered. He broke off a cluster of them from a branch nearer to him, then presented it to Zangetsu. "Here."
Zangetsu took the stem from him and smiled. "Thank you, Ichigo." He put the flower in his suit pocket.
Ichigo felt his cheeks warm again. He looked away, muttering a quick, "You're welcome."
They resumed their walk, and Ichigo turned to the left, then walked toward a small, tucked away restaurant.
"I'm glad this place is still here," he told Zangetsu. "Mom and I used to come here all the time, but…"
Zangetsu nodded. Ichigo pushed the door and held it open for Zangetsu, who thanked him and entered. The restaurant was a cozy place, decorated with soft browns and deep reds. Ichigo lead Zangetsu to a table by a window that looked out to a tiny, well-tended herb garden. The other tables were empty. Ichigo frowned.
"When ever Okaa-san and I came here, it was always crowded…"
A short, elderly woman approached their table, a smile on her kind, wrinkled face. She set a pair of water glasses on their table.
"Welcome to my humble restaurant. What can I get you two today?"
"Ah, the usual, I think, Obaa-san."
The old woman's eyes widened. "Why, if it isn't..! Ichigo-kun, how you've grown!"
Ichigo stood up and the woman embraced him. He patted her back, grinning apologetically at Zangetsu.
"I think you've shrunk, Obaa-san. There's no way I've grown an inch since I've seen you," he joked. The woman laughed.
"That must be it," she replied, her eyes moist as she looked up at the man she last saw as a nine-year-old. "It is good to see you. And who is this handsome young man you've brought me?" She looked over at Zangetsu.
Ichigo smiled. "Obaa-san, this is Zangetsu. He's a good friend of mine, and I'm showing him around town. Zangetsu, this is an old friend of my mother's, Tanaka-san."
"Not too old, I hope!" Tanaka said, smiling and nodding her head at the imposing man. "It's pleasure to meet you, Zangetsu-san."
"The pleasure is mine," Zangetsu replied, bowing in return.
She beamed at the two of them. "Well! You said the usual, right, Ichigo-kun? Let's see if I still remember." She hurried to the kitchens.
"Obaa-san makes the best karashi mentaiko," Ichigo told Zangetsu, "and chocolate cake, too."
"Karashi mentaiko?" Zangetsu asked.
Ichigo furrowed his brows. "It's pollock eggs, but marinated and spicy." He shrugged. "It tastes better than it sounds. You'll see."
"Chocolate is like the—" Zangetsu thought back, "—ice cream you gave me, isn't it?"
"Kind of," Ichigo replied. "They put chocolate in the ice cream to give it flavor. Cake is a lot different, though. It's warm and soft, like bread, but they're both sweet." He smiled. "Maybe we can stop by a candy store and you can try a chocolate bar."
Zangetsu smiled back.
Ichigo looked outside the window, admiring the quiet beauty of the herbs. He listed off their names, which his mother had taught him long ago: lavender, rosemary, thyme, basil, sage. Ivy twined itself around the white picket fence on the far side of the garden.
"Zangetsu," he said, breaking the silence. "You told me back then, when Muramasa brainwashed you, that you had nothing left to teach me…but you are teaching me more."
"It was the truth at that time," Zangetsu replied.
Ichigo turned to look at him "What do you mean?"
"Our relationship has improved since then, Ichigo. Our trust has grown. As a result, we are more powerful, and this power allows me to create more techniques." The sun glinted off his sunglasses. "If you were even slightly weaker, Ichigo, the Gestuga Tenshou blade would burn you just as it does its surroundings. I am not to be handled by someone weak, as you well know."
"Aa," Ichigo replied. He grinned. "You made sure I'll never forget."
"Good," Zangetsu said, a wry twist in his lips.
Tanaka bustled in, a large plate of the pink, strange-looking mentaiko in one hand and a tray with two bowls of rice and chopsticks in the other. She set them on their table and beamed at her guests.
"The cake is still in the oven, but it will be done soon. Enjoy!" She left to greet a customer who had just walked in.
Ichigo's mouth watered. "Itadakimasu," he said, taking a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Zangetsu copied him. Ichigo used his chopsticks to put some of the mentaiko in his bowl, then began to eat.
Zangetsu stared at his chopsticks in silent confusion. "Ichigo, how do you…?"
Ichigo looked up from his meal. "You don't know how to use chopsticks?" he asked incredulously. Zangetsu narrowed his eyes.
"How would I?"
Ichigo shrugged. "I guess it kind of makes sense that you don't." He scooted his chair closer to Zangetsu and put his hands on the table in front of them to demonstrate. "You have to hold the first one like this, with your thumb and two fingers, and the other one like this…"
Zangetsu raised a questioning eyebrow. Ichigo sighed. He was a terrible teacher.
Deciding to use a different method of teaching, Ichigo took a hold of Zangetsu's hand. He moved his calloused fingers into the proper position.
"Like that, see? And you just move the top one to pick something up."
Zangetsu picked up a small clump of rice, slowly bringing it to his lips. Ichigo smiled encouragingly as he managed to deposit the food into his mouth.
"In time, you'll get better," Ichigo reassured him, and Zangetsu nodded, picking up another piece.
Ichigo checked on his inner-world garden, praying that the seeds had not disappeared. He gasped and smiled as he checked the soil; in a circle about the diameter of his hand, little sprouts were poking their heads above the dirt. They were only about half an inch high, but lively and green. He checked the soil, and it was warm and damp. Satisfied with his progress, he turned to leave, only to stop as a bit of pale purple caught his eye. He walked towards it.
It was the lilac stem he had given Zangetsu, slightly wilted but heavily fragrant. Its end was firmly planted in the ground, with a little mound of dirt around it. Ichigo knelt next to it and gently touched the delicate flowers, seeing exactly what must have happened. He didn't know how the flower got into his inner world, but he was sure that if he were to inspect Zangetsu's hands, he would find traces of dirt and the scent of lilacs.
The gesture was almost painful; how desperately the zanpakutou craved a bit of nature! For Zangetsu's sake, he willed the plant to take root. Turning away, he surfaced back into the real world, not noticing how the lilac's wilt had suddenly disappeared.