We don't own Bleach, Kubo Tite does.
Hey wnderful readers. It is Coldman9 And MrsMoshae teaming up to make Dualityx2. We will try to update every Friday, so watch out. :MM:
Also, while I enjoy reviews, please try to write more than the one-line "Oh this fic was so good." I know you think it's good, otherwise you wouldn't review, at least comment on a part you liked specifically. Please. :CM9:
Today the sun was shining. The birds sang, the dogs kept to themselves, and traffic was light. It was spring, the time of freedom and fun; the time of love and rebirth. The glory of the weather shined through with every breeze. Over all, it was a peaceful day in Karakura Town, but a peace that had been fought for. Most were blind to the knowledge that there was a fierce battle that took place over their home; a battle that almost saw certain defeat instead of victory. Victory... Victory was not the word the participants of the Winter War would use for it. If one did, they described it as a hollow victory. Sure they had beaten Aizen, killed him, destroyed the Hogyoku; but they had lost as well. Four captains and three vice-captains lost. Leadership of the Soul Society was tough, nobody thought to take advantage of such a sad situation, it would just be too cruel to capitalize on. To fight and destroy a crippled animal would have been pathetic. It was true, that is what Soul Society was, a wounded and crippled animal.
Kurosaki Ichigo sat by the riverside, watching the cool water in the slightly warm spring air. Dragonflies had gotten an early start and were flittering about in the noontime sun. Ichigo's eyes betrayed the truth inside of him. True, he saw the dragonflies, but at the same time his eyes saw nothing. They never did anymore. They were hollow and empty. Some dubbed it a result of such a young boy seeing the horrors of true war. Somehow, though, he knew that wasn't what it was. He had fought before, battle didn't bother him. Loss did. He lost everything. Through victory, he lost it all.
His body was slowly seeping into a ridged relax, having just finished the last of his training with Shinji and Hacchi, the last of the Vizaards. Ichigo had told them of what happened in his fight with Ulquiorra, and when they compared it to what had happened with Tousen and his second release, they began training him again. However, it wasn't like before. Ichigo just couldn't see the point in putting his all into his training, without his friends he didn't see what point his power served anymore. Regardless of how he was feeling, Shinji and Hacchi managed to get him to train. It started with mastering his reiastu, then with becoming in sync with Zangetsu, and eventually he had gained control of his second form, and its power was amazing. With only a few swings of his blade he had managed to utterly destroy Urahara's underground training facility. The creation of a Cero wasn't far behind.
But the thoughts of training led him back to his friends, and the Winter War. How he had no one left to protect. He remembered the surprise at learning his father was a Shinigami, when Urahara and Yoruichi joined the fight, when Aizen fused with the Hogyoku, when he used that power to kill his father and Yoruichi, then Orihime, Uryu, Chad, Rukia, Renji, Byakuya, Kenpachi, Yachiru, Toshiro, Mayuri, Nemu, Peshe, Dondochaka, christ even Nelliel joined the fray. In the end they were all cut down.
Things got blurry after that, although he remembered seeing Gin's surprised face as he fell over dead, and then he somehow managed to severely wound Aizen. He wasn't fully human at the time; he could feel his hollow below the surface. It gave him power, fueled his anger, and reveled at the sight and smell of Aizen's reiastu rich blood pooling over his blade. At that point all who could stand and fight did, but it still wasn't enough. Aizen opened the Senkaimon to the living world to flee, cutting down the Vizaards as they stood in his way, only Shinji and Hacchi had survived the attacks. Ichigo had followed in pursuit, not hearing the cries of his allies as he flew through the gateway to kill Aizen. After all, everything had been his fault.
Even now, Ichigo still didn't understand how Yuzu and Karin could have been awake when all of Karakura was supposed to be asleep. He didn't understand why he wasn't fast enough to keep Aizen from grabbing them. Even now, he couldn't get the look of their dying faces out of his head.
They called him a hero, the man who had killed Aizen and saved the world of the living and Soul Society. Ichigo sure as hell didn't feel like a hero. A hero could have saved everyone. A hero could have kept his family from being slaughtered by a mad genius with a god complex. A hero could have done a lot of things Ichigo wasn't able to do, and here he was now, utterly dead inside. Nothing anyone said eased his guilt, nothing soothed the pain in his heart, and nothing helped. Ichigo didn't fight it. He deserved the pain and ache. Some great protector he turned out to be.
"Ichigo." Called out a familiar voice.
Ichigo opened his eyes, not having realized he had closed them and covered them with the bottoms of his palms as he grabbed and pulled his hair. The memories were painful, but he deserved that pain, he deserved so much worse for failing to protect everyone.
"Hey." The same voice was closer now, and a hand was put on Ichigo's shoulder. He looked up to see Shinji standing over him, his face expressionless.
"What do you want Shinji?" Ichigo asked, his face going to his usual scowl, but his eyes were still empty and his voice held none of its former vigor or energy.
"Urahara wants to see you." He said passively, then walked off to lead the way to the shop.
Ichigo stood and followed, not really caring what the shop owner wanted but not about to just walk off as he might have once been tempted to do.
Everyone was suffering right now. After putting everything back to how it had been and returning to the living world, he had learned that Urahara and Yoruichi had been quite an intimate pair. What was worse, she had been pregnant. Urahara hadn't only lost a lover; he'd lost a family to Aizen. Urahara hadn't seen anyone in the months since, so this was rather surprising, if Ichigo had been able to still feel surprise. He didn't really feel much of anything anymore.
Eventually they came to the small shop set in the back of some buildings. The two nodded to Ururu and Jinta as they went through the front doors, the pair sweeping out front, Jinta not goofing off for the first time Ichigo had seen. Everyone was suffering.
Shinji led Ichigo back into their usual meeting room. A large round table sat in the middle of the room, but only two pillows sat on the floor for seats. Shinji and Ichigo sat as they waited for Urahara, a wait that wasn't all that long. As he walked in, Ichigo saw how the man had let himself go. His usual hat was gone, revealing his blonde shaggy hair and extremely tired eyes. His usual green jacket was gone and his clothes were dirty and disheveled, like he had been living and sleeping in them ever since. He looked at the ground as he entered, and not even his usual goofy grin would grace his face. He wasn't the only one to let his appearance slip.
Ichigo had let his hair grow out to reach the base of his neck. His bangs, which were always long, now reached his nose in some strands. Months of training and battling not only his inner hollow, but Shinji as well made Ichigo's body stronger. He had grown a few inches taller, and his posture helped give him an almost regal look. What changed the most though, were Ichigo's eyes. The eyes that were once strong and full of resolve, were no longer shining as such. They were dead and lifeless.
"Hello Kurosaki-san." He said plainly as he took a seat, "I'm sure you're wondering why I asked you here."
"Sort of." Ichigo answered shortly.
"Well . . . I'm pretty sure I have some good news for you."
One of Ichigo's eyebrows rose at the sentence, "Good news?" he asked hesitantly, "You have good news?" his voice was becoming more venomous as he continued, "What the hell makes you think that any news now is good?" Ichigo was now glaring at the man, "There's nothing good anymore! Everyone's dead!"
"I don't need reminding, Kurosaki." Urahara said bitterly, snapping Ichigo out of his sadness induced rage.
"I . . . I'm sorry." Ichigo apologized, hanging his head in shame.
"Don't worry about it." The shop owner said, putting the outburst behind him, "I have some news for you Ichigo. However, I have a story that must come first."
Ichigo raised his head up. What was Urahara getting at now?
"I knew your father before he met Masaki-san. We were good friends, actually. So naturally I was his best man at the wedding. Then, when you were born years later, I was honored when they selected me to be your godfather." Ichigo's eyes widened at the information, "I've been making sure things have been okay for you since Isshin's death, but even so I know I've also been failing you as a godparent." Ichigo looked up and into Urahara's eyes, "You're in pain Ichigo, deep, torturing, unending pain. And it hurts me even more to see you like this." Urahara paused for effect, "So I've decided to send you somewhere better."
Ichigo had no idea what the hell Urahara was saying. Send him somewhere better, as in away? Was he sending Ichigo to another city, another country? How was that going to make things better!
"Follow me." Urahara stood up and led the pair further into the back before Ichigo could open his mouth.
Ichigo stood and followed Shinji again. It surprised Ichigo that they wound up heading down to the destroyed training grounds. But when they arrived he was even more surprised. A small area had been cleared of all the rubble Ichigo had created in his second Hollow form and in its place stood a large gate. It looked like the Senkai gate, but it was covered with all different markings and designs, even the ground around it was covered with them.
"Urahara, what is this?" Ichigo asked in awe, but with suspicion too.
"This, Kurosaki-san, is the gateway to where I'm sending you." Urahara stopped in front of the gate and looked back at Ichigo.
"And where are you sending me?" Ichigo asked, ready to make a run for the ladder back up.
"Somewhere where all your friends and family are still alive and well."
Ichigo's eyes shot completely open at the announcement. A place where all his friends were all alive and well? Where Yuzu, Karin, and Isshin were alive as well? How was that even possible? Just what was Urahara planning?
"There's more than one world, you know, Kurosaki-san." Urahara's sudden comment drew Ichigo's attention away from his thoughts, "Every choice you've ever made has led to an alternate world being created where the choice you didn't pick happened. And then there's the worlds where things are entirely different altogether. A Multiverse if you would, where each and every person you know here lives there as well. Only they could be different by way of the events that take place in their universe. Seeing you so full of pain has pushed me to look towards those other worlds, Kurosaki." Ichigo finally noticed that Hacchi and Tessai were on either side of the gate, "I've spent the last month sifting through all the worlds until I found one that I knew you'd find quite suitable."
Ichigo watched as the doors of the gate swung open, with a gust of wind and dust, revealing what seemed like a window to another place. The image switched every few seconds between his friends, his family, and him, all doing different things and at random ages and times. Ichigo could only gawk at the scene before him in wide eyed amazement. Shinji noticed and smiled. That one little ray of hope had given Ichigo's eyes a gentle splash of life. It wasn't a lot, but it was there.
"The main difference between this world and our own is that instead of you possessing immense reiastu, Inoue-san does. With that, she is the one Kuchiki-san turns into a Shinigami, instead of you." Urahara looked back at Ichigo with a grim expression, "But you know Inoue isn't made to fight. When she goes to save Kuchiki-san, she winds up getting killed herself. And what's more, a month before you start high school, you're killed."
A scene in the gate shows Ichigo lying on a street, a car driving away and him dead.
"Cut down in your prime, what a shame." Shinji mumbled from the side. Ichigo gave him an angered sideways glance.
"You have a narrow window Kurosaki. You can go to that world and make that body your own, take the dead Ichigo's place, and have your life back. You can help Inoue-san when she rescues Rukia, stop their Aizen, and live the life you deserve." Urahara looked back at Ichigo with a small smile.
"Why just me?" Ichigo asked, wiping the smile from Urahara's face, "Why is it that I'm the only one to go through this gate?"
Urahara looked uncomfortable. He kept looking from Ichigo, back to the gate.
"There are rules to this Kurosaki." He said solemnly, "Only one person may leave our world and go to another."
"Why me then?" Ichigo looked at Urahara with a serious expression, "You have a chance to be with Yoruichi again, why use this on me?"
"Heh." Urahara's grin appeared again. He reached up his hand and placed it on his head like he had done so many times before. The movement looked odd without his trademark hat. "Opening the gate isn't easy Ichigo. I need Tessai and Hacchi to maintain the gate, but its power source is another matter altogether." Suddenly he raised his Zanpakuto, "I'll be using all of my power to open the gate Kurosaki, after that I won't be a Shinigami anymore. Besides, I'm an old man."
As he turned to the gate, Ichigo had an idea what Urahara was talking about. Not only was he over a century old, but had experienced far more than any person should. He was tired.
"I've lived a long time Kurosaki. But you're still young. You deserve this, so just take it." Urahara started walking toward the gate, his Zanpakuto changing into its Shikai form without him saying anything, "I'm opening the way, and it's your choice to go through or not." As he stopped in front of the gate he tossed two things over his back.
Ichigo caught the items and looked at them. He recognized his battle pass, it was familiar against his hand, but the other seemed like a bracelet with the same skull markings on it.
"The bracelet is something for you when you take to your Shinigami form. I know you won't just let Inoue-san deal with things until Kuchiki-san gets taken. While you're wearing that, if you approach her, she won't be able to recognize you, even if you're looking directly at her."
Ichigo looked down at the items for a moment, and then slapped the battle pass against his chest. He flew out of his body in his Shinigami form, still holding the bracelet. Ordinarily he'd rush to stop his falling body, but this time he wasn't returning to it, so he just let it fall. His Shinigami form was different now, instead of a giant Zangetsu on his back, during his training Ichigo had changed its form to a regular Zanpakuto that he could wear on his waist, the guard displayed a similar pattern to that of his Bankai, but each of the four points connected, and shined with the look of polished silver.
"It's been good knowing you Ichigo." Shinji smiled as the boy walked forward towards the gate. Ichigo turned briefly and gave the former captain a small smile.
"Okay then, let's begin!" Urahara yelled, and in one fluid motion he stabbed Benihime into the images floating inside the gate.
The images became disrupted and faded away, like a reflection rippling away in the waves of a pool of water. What was left was a liquid darkness. The surface began wave and ripple back and forth until it started swirling into a sideways whirlpool. Benihime had disappeared completely, and it looked like something was sucking the life out of Urahara. The symbols and designs on the gate began to glow as energy poured from Tessai and Hacchi to keep it open. Ichigo took a deep breath and started forward.
"You'd have been a great father Urahara." Ichigo said as he passed the man, before diving head first into the whirlpool.
The gateway stayed open for several minutes, hopefully giving Ichigo enough time to get across. Urahara had to be truthful, he had no idea how much time Ichigo would need to get to the other world, or if he even needed any time at all. So in the end they kept it open for as long as they could. When Tessai and Hacchi ran out of energy the symbols and designs stopped glowing and the doors to the gate slammed shut, pushing Urahara back a few feet, like a child's rag doll being tossed away.
After the doors shut, the gate started to disintegrate into sand. Bit by bit it changed, began deconstructing, and eroded away until there was nothing left but a large pile of smooth grainy sand.
Shinji walked up and grabbed Urahara, who was struggling to breathe on the floor. If Ichigo had been able to see him he would have said he really did look like an old man then, his face was incredibly strained and void of all color. The bags under his eyes had grown and nearly absorbed his pale eyes. Even through his clothes, Shinji could feel how cold Kisuke's skin had become.
"That was a dumb move Kisuke." Shinji said harshly, "Using your own reiastu to power the thing."
"I wasn't lying . . . when I said . . . it's the only thing . . . that would work." Urahara's voice strained, "I wanted him . . . to go on . . . without worries or guilt."
"Just who said you could play the noble sacrifice all of a sudden?" Shinji asked with a grin that Urahara returned.
"Do you think . . . I'll find her . . . in the next life?" Urahara asked, his breathing becoming more and more shallow.
"I don't think anything could keep you and Yoruichi apart."
Urahara grinned one last time, his breathing becoming close to nothing. As he took in one last breath, he closed his eyes.
Urahara Kisuke died with a smile.
The gateway had looked like a whirlpool, and to Ichigo it felt like a whirlpool too. He could hear voices, far and near, muffled and clear, going in and out as he ran through the confusing darkness. Lights and colors would appear in the black, getting mixed in with the rest. Some blended together, and some broke apart into two different colors. If Ichigo had to say anything he'd describe it as beautiful and creepy at the same time.
Suddenly the swirling increased and it felt like he was being shot forward. Everything blended together in his eyes, so fast and so different he couldn't comprehend much, just the feeling of leaving and being moved. Finally there was a bright flash of light and he was hurled outside, into a raining sky. Ichigo was aware that he was falling and noticed that the portal Urahara had opened had done so in the sky above Karakura Town. He stopped in the air, floating on the area's dense reishi, and looked around, he had to find his "new" body and get to it quickly.
He remembered what he had seen in the gateway before it had opened and noticed a familiar street sign. He looked around and found that he was above downtown; he cursed and flash-stepped as fast as he could over to the accident.
When he arrived it was just like he had seen in the gateway. This world's Ichigo was lying dead on the ground, and the car was driving off at a fast pace in the distance. When he landed on the ground to get a better look, Ichigo was a bit dismayed at the condition of the body. The left arm was twisted back in an awkward fashion, the right arm was broken and the bone was peeking out of the skin, blood was flowing out of the mouth and it was lying sideways on the street.
"Here I thought Kon wrecked my body. This is insane..."
Ichigo looked around for the soul, it should have been somewhere nearby, he had just died after all. But after looking and sensing around he couldn't find it. Then Urahara's words rang through his head, he'd only have a short amount of time where this new body would accept him. But as Ichigo looked down he was hesitant, it was in such a mangled and gnarly state, and could he even live in that body? There was a few seconds of hesitation before he threw caution to the wind, picked up his new body, and put himself inside it.
The first thing he felt was intense cold, he was standing in the rain and completely soaked after all. The second thing that occurred to him was an intense and blinding pain all over him. Hind sight was, the body had just been hit by a car, of course it would be in pain! But what really made him uncomfortable was the sound of cracking as he sat up, it was more than normal and he had been careful not to move anything too far out of the norm. Eventually the pain lessened and Ichigo had to look at himself. He checked the left arm and saw that it was inserting itself back into his normal position; his right arm's bone was going back into the arm and healing as well.
"What the hell?" Ichigo asked quietly as his new body finished healing itself.
He stood up carefully, not wanting anything else to go wrong and stretched; it felt just like his normal body. Then again, what had he expected, a tail? As he took a step forward he felt the battle pass and bracelet jingle together in his pocket, luckily those had made it with him.
"Guess I should go home?" Ichigo asked himself uncertainly, he had nowhere else to go and it seemed like a logical choice. So he guided himself through the streets until he came to the familiar Kurosaki Clinic, looking just like the one Ichigo had left behind.
Ichigo stepped inside and was greeted by warmth and the smell of something delicious cooking. How long had it been since he walked into his house and smelled food? He had lived for the past few months on only readymade food and microwave dinners. He carefully removed his shoes at the door and stepped inside. The teenaged Vizaard immediately spotted Karin on the couch watching TV. His father was nowhere to be seen, but undoubtedly planning something. When he looked at the kitchen Ichigo was shocked to see not only Yuzu, but another person standing there helping with the dinner. As he got closer he saw the person had her back to him, he could safely tell it was a woman, and she had long hair, roughly the same color as his.
"Oni-chan, what happened!" Yuzu shouted suddenly, drawing everyone's attention.
Ichigo's eyes widened in the most surprise he'd had yet. Yuzu's question was completely forgotten as the adult in the kitchen turned her worried, motherly eyes on him. But motherly eyes suited her; she was Masaki Kurosaki after all. Ichigo could only stare at his mother, not even hearing Yuzu and Karin as they looked over his soaked, battered, and rather dirty clothes.
"Hmm, what?" he asked, shoving all the emotions that wanted to surface down and dealing with the matter at hand.
"I asked what happened." Yuzu cried out, concern showing in her young face, "You're soaked, your clothes are dirty, and it looks like something ran you over."
"This?" Ichigo looked down at himself, "I was . . . uh . . . clipped by a car. Knocked me to the ground and just drove off."
"Are you okay Ichigo?" His mother's voice sang out, practically music to his ears as Masaki quickly left the kitchen and stood in front of him.
"Y-Yeah, I'm fine." Ichigo managed to get out, not knowing how to take the concern and worry from his mother. In truth this was new to him; he had no idea how to react. He sometimes wondered if he'd turn out differently if his mother had lived, and now he was going to find out.
"!" came a loud, annoying, familiar voice.
Ichigo leaned back instinctually and his father's flying foot missed his head. Still acting on instinct he grabbed that same foot and sent his father's face into the floor. Annoyance was the first thing that shot through his head, of all the things that had to be the same why did one have to be his father?
"Wow, that was brilliant my son." Isshin said from the floor, "Have you been training while I wasn't looking?"
"Dear, leave Ichigo be for now, he was just clipped by a car and who knows how badly injured he could be." Masaki's voice called out.
"I'm fine . . . mom." Ichigo was surprised at the last word; he never thought he'd actually say that word again to his own mother.
"Car?" Isshin was suddenly on his feet and examining Ichigo closely, "What the hell are drivers thinking these days? Are you okay son?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Ichigo said firmly, stepping out of the small circle his family had formed around him. He needed room so he could process it all. He took another step back and almost tripped on the puddle that had formed around his ankles. "I'm going to my room to dry off and change okay?" he didn't wait for a reply and shot up the stairs to his room.
Much to the substitute shinigami's comfort, his room was the exact same as the one he had left. Ichigo closed the door to his dark room and leaned back against the wooden barrier. He had taken Urahara up on his offer but the reality of what he had said was just now setting in. His family was really alive here. It wasn't just the family he lost to Aizen. His father, Karin, Yuzu... It was Masaki too. His mother was alive. He kept repeating the words like a mantra in his mind, waiting for it to fully sink in. Ichigo began slowly sliding to the ground until he was in a sitting position, a smile forming on his face.
He had them back, all of them. With them back he had his life back. It occurred to him, not just them but his friends too, and after he stopped Aizen he'd be on good terms with Soul Society as well. Maybe Urahara was in this world as well, and Yoruichi. The Vizzards, Don Kanoji, All of the people he shared his powers with and fought to protect... they would all be alive.
Ichigo didn't stop the tears as they came to his face. He had a new life with all his friends now, and a second chance to do things right. He brushed off the tears from his eyes, his eyebrows furrowed and hazel eyes glared across his room. He would do things right. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his combat pass. Ichigo's eyes bore into the eyes of the engraved skull. He would not fail. This time, he would get it right.