We don't own Bleach, Kubo Tite does.
Thank you everyone for the patient wait. School and RL has been busy for us and (though I am not sure if it is an excuse or a way to make up for it) Chapter 15 is a long one. Please enjoy, we hope to get 16 to you soon. :MM:
Getting It Right
Chapter 15: Beginning the Death of Tomorrow
How did this happen?
How could this possibly happen?
It had all started when Tatsuki and Chad left for the night calling out to Orihime that they would see the three of them later. Ichigo was instantly confused. It was already late and he couldn't think of what special occasion could possibly be taking place. He closed the door and turned around to ask Orihime that same question, but she was already gone, hiding from him in the kitchen and busying herself with putting away the dishes she and Ichigo had just finished washing and drying.
Ichigo leaned against the doorway into her kitchen and narrowed his eyes, watching her mumble to herself and curse Tatsuki. He smiled for the second time that night. The stress from the impending Soul Society invasion was gone. Maybe Kisuke had overestimated the danger in this dimension. Could it be possible that Byakuya would just leave Rukia alone until her powers came back?
Ichigo had lost the point in time when that mattered. On his worst day it would take Ichigo only a few short minutes to defeat Byakuya and Renji on their best days. Unless it was some unknown unexpected force, Ichigo was sure there was very little he couldn't handle. That thought hit him like a train wreck when he sat down to eat dinner with his makeshift family of friends. While watching his friends laugh and eat around him not twenty minutes ago Ichigo vowed to himself to stop worrying. What his world needed was a dose of laziness and Ichigo was more than willing to reach out and hog it to himself if it meant every night could be like this one.
"What do you think Tatsuki meant when she said she would see us in an hour?" Ichigo asked, making Orihime jump and nearly fumble a plate. Ichigo looked down to clear his face of his smile. He didn't want Inoue to think he was laughing at her, after all.
"I-I don't know… Maybe she wants to do something?"
Ichigo sighed and pushed himself off of the doorway. It took him just two steps to make it to the counter next to the blushing nervous bundle of auburn hair. He hopped up onto the counter, and looked down at her from his new height. Orihime stopped and slowly looked up at him, her eyes big and her cheeks red. Ichigo wondered if his actions and attentiveness these past few hours were sending her down the wrong path. They were just friends and nothing more. Ichigo had too much on his plate to court her and once she found out about him it would be more harm than good if they were together.
Kisuke's words from earlier rang in his ears but, to the vizaard's surprise, didn't anger or scare him. It was merely an uncomfortable feeling of change and dread for the future. After Orihime found out, what would change? How would she learn the truth?
Ichigo couldn't help but let out a sigh. So much for not worrying; he needed to try harder.
"Inoue, you don't have to hide things from me. I live here and we're friends. Something I'm realizing today is that all secrets come out sooner or later. It feels better to be in control of that secret coming out so you might as well say it. It's going to be harder if someone else says it for you."
Orihime nodded, biting her bottom lip as she agreed with Ichigo's words. What happened to all of that confidence she had earlier? It disappeared the moment Ichigo started talking and laughing and enjoying himself truly for the first time in what seemed like months. Did that make him more approachable? No, it made him more adorable and untouchable. And what if the idea of going out made his mood dampen? He didn't like leaving the house because he was afraid of running to him family. He had even been in such a bad mood earlier at the boutique.
"Well…" Orihime could feel Ichigo lean in closer to hear her weak voice. "I… I do have a surprise, but I want to keep it that way until…" She looked up into his confused and worried eyes.
Feeling a new found surge of power pooling in his gaze Orihime nodded her head and gave him that determined face that always made him smile but feel dismay at the same time. The eyes told him he was about to do something he wasn't going to like.
"It's a surprise, and we need to go somewhere, so you need to change. Okay?"
Ichigo didn't know what to do. He hated surprises to be honest. He preferred to know what was going to happen and what to expect. He could come up with a proper plan of action if he knew what was going to happen or if he even had a vague idea.
"Can't you just tell me where we are going?"
"No, that would ruin the surprise. So go change and get ready, okay?" She sang and nearly skipped off towards her room to do what Ichigo could only guess was the same.
How was it that such a simple encounter had him standing amongst the crowd for Don Kanonji's show, again?
They met up by the front door where Orihime told him to put on a blindfold. Ichigo's fight or flight instinct didn't know what to do. He didn't like the idea of not being able to see where they were going and what was going on around them. But Orihime gave him that look that told him he was going to lose and it would only be a waste of time to come up with an excuse or fight her. She would win. So he covered his eyes with the scrap of cloth once they were down the stairs and aloud the girls to guide him. After a thirty minute walk Ichigo heard his first "Bwa-ha-ha!" for the night and his stomach irked forward.
"You've got to be kidding me." Ichigo didn't wait for permission before he pulled off the blindfold and glared around. The girls had led him into a trap. It was the old hospital where Don Kanonji was going to film his show...
"So? What do you think Kurosaki-kun?" Orihime asked, smiling and beaming at him, "This should make the waiting worth it, it's Don Kanonji!"
"Yeah." Ichigo managed to get out, turning to look at Rukia in question. The short Shinigami only returned his confused gaze.
"Are you surprised? I know you haven't watched much TV so I thought you didn't know Don Kononji was going to be here tonight. And I know how much you like his show."
"I didn't know…" Ichigo mumbled, feeling annoyed and frustrated. Hadn't they passed this? He thought that damned concert was like the substitute for having to watch this aggravating bastard.
"Come on, we need to get to the front for the best view." And with that, Orihime pushed the two from behind, making them force their way through the crowd until they were at the front.
Tatsuki spotted them out of a mesh of people, calling out their names and waving like mad. Chad stood stoic beside her, and the last person Ichigo expected to see was beside him. Ishida Uryu pushed up his glasses and only greeted Orihime. He sent a glare towards Ichigo and ignored Rukia altogether.
Tatsuki scooted closer to Ichigo and pulled on his shirt. His mind went through a record of everything he had done that day that needed punishing. Nothing he could think of would result in the punch he dreaded was coming. Instead she moved to speak into his ear over the loud crowd around them.
"You're parents asked me to bring your sisters. I couldn't say no, but when we got here they went off to watch with their friends from school. I just thought I'd let you know in case you see them."
Ichigo stood back up, his face pale. He said a quick word of thanks and scanned the area, the conversation of the girls around him fading away as he looked for two little girls he hadn't seen in far too long. Should he search them out and spend time with them? His parents hadn't come so it was a possibility. But then again, he'd have to hear them cry for him again, he'd have to know he couldn't go home with them or take them home with him.
I would have been better off if she hadn't told me…
Chad laid a hand on his shoulder and brought Ichigo away from his search. The giant didn't say a word, but his silent nod told him he understood. Out of everyone he probably understood the most. Chad had dealt with the dimension jumper after the Kurosaki's banished him, and he was the only one out of all of his friends who knew how far his pain sank into his soul.
"The show is in front of you Kurosaki, not in the crowd."
In other words Chad was the exact opposite to the other super powered teen standing next to him. Ishida only had wild conjecture about Ichigo. And though some of it was close to the truth, the Quincy didn't know about his family situation.
"I was looking for my sisters." Ichigo answered watching the girls talk in their own world, oblivious to the people who cut in and separated them from the male half of their group. He hoped Tatsuki kept what she told him to herself. He didn't want Orihime or Rukia watching him or worrying.
Chad cleared his throat and brought Ichigo back out of his stupor. Ichigo followed suit and cleared his own dry throat before looking back at Ishida who seemed to be watching the girls with as much interest as he had. Ichigo had to wonder why Ishida chose to join their little group tonight. He didn't know much about the Quincy's hobby's other than killing hollows, pissing Shinigami off, and the oddest of them all, sewing. He didn't know if Uryu knew Tatsuki, but seeing as he seemed to keep mostly to himself it seemed unlikely. And yet even with all of the pain the damned four eyed freak put him through, including even the events of yesterday, Ichigo would consider always Ishida Uryu a friend.
The famous quote from Henry V chanted through his head as if his hollow was the one saying it.
"From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother."
Ichigo nodded and agreed. The bond with others formed in battle it is a rare gift few, including himself, had been blessed with. It was not something to be questioned. He had stood on the edge of lava pits with Ishida and seen the man within the man. Ichigo had, had a choice to stay and fight it out with the Quincy and become allies or not.
Never would the shinigami regret his decision.
And yet, he had to ask…
"Why are you even here Ishida?" The Quincy looked up at Ichigo and narrowed his already thin eyes. "Don't tell me you like this hack-job."
"And what about you Kurosaki? Why did you come if you apparently don't like this show?"
"Tragic case of mistaken identity."
"Tragic…" Ishida repeated, with sarcasm. Who are you really Kurosaki Ichigo? If that is your real name… Uryu wanted to scoff at his own paranoid thoughts. He wondered if what he thought was warranted distrust seemed exaggerated to others.
"Hey." Tatsuki said popping up from right next to Ishida, making the Quincy lean away subtly and push up his glasses. "How do you guys think Kanonji is going to make his entrance? He always does something totally crazy."
Uryu cleared his throat and took a step away from the black haired tomboy. In truth she was just as troubling to the Quincy as the orange haired Shinigami was. First she accosted him at school and then demands that they are now nakama. Battle buddies on the fight against the world hiding just out of reach of their own. The fact that she showed up at his door with a ticket –a wasted ticket as he already had one- to Don Kanonji's event tonight told Uryu that she was either too trusting or on to something devious. He couldn't tell either way from straight but he knew distance was paramount while he was figuring it out. Tatsuki had a way of making him feel awkward on his feet.
"If there's money involved, I'll place my bet on jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting in." Ichigo announced, now sitting on the rope separating the crowd from the show. "What do you think Inoue?"
"I don't know." She smiled, looking like she'd calmed down since they arrived and had the best view of the show. "I don't really like this show, so…"
"What? I thought you really liked this show."
"No stupid." Tatsuki cut in. "Orihime doesn't like Kanonji because he takes advantage of spirits to get money."
"Then why are we here? Rukia's only watched his show once, Inoue hates it, and I-"
"You don't like Don Kanonji?" Orihime gasped.
"I…" Ichigo rubbed the back of his neck. "I've grown out of it lately."
"I'm sorry, I dragged you all the way out here." Orihime bowed her head and Ichigo shot up. Was she going to cry? Tatsuki moved closer, clearly she thought the same thing.
"It's fine Inoue really. It's good to be out of the apartment so…"
"It's not that." She smiled weakly, her eyes completely dry. "I just keep thinking you're the same Kurosaki-kun you were when we were kids. It's hard to believe we are all growing up so fast."
"Yeah…" Ichigo sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets kicked a pebble, now feeling more awkward than ever. "If it makes you feel better Ishida loves Don Kanonji."
"Kurosaki-." The Quincy started in a harsh voice of warning only to be cut off my Tatsuki slapping his back.
"See, Orihime, we have a reason to be here after all. We're going to keep Uryu company." Tatsuki grabbed Orihime's hand, "Come on; let's go find Rukia before the show starts."
"Uryu?" With the girls lost in the crowd, Ichigo raised a brow and looked at Ishida who was again fiddling with his glasses. "You two are on a first name basis?"
"My affairs and how I conduct them are none of your concern."
"No, I get it." Ichigo put up his hands defensively. "I just didn't know you two were so close." Ichigo fought off the smile that threated to claim his lips. If Ishida's answers were any indication, this would be a fun night after all.
"We have spoken a few times." Ishida answered bluntly once again.
"So we don't have a date on the wedding yet?" Ichigo laughed not being able to help himself any longer. Beside him Ishida bunched his wrapped hand into a fist and glared, clearly angered. "Of all the girls in the world you pick the one that can beat up half of Japan."
"I wouldn't say things so lightly Kurosaki, especially when you don't have all of the facts. I don't have all of the facts regarding you for example which is why I haven't brought up until now that fact that you are living with Inoue Orihime, or that it is very clear she has no clue who you are. You seem to treat her with special care, but you push her further away than anyone else. I have held back mentioning the Hollow-like reiatsu that surrounds you and controls your actions. Yes Tatsuki and I are on a first name basis upon her request. But why is it that the woman you have been, in the eyes of the whole city, living with still called Inoue?"
Ichigo took a step back not fully knowing how to process Uryu's outburst. Before his befuddled brain could process it, a mass of fireworks launched into the air exploding and raining red, purple, and golden light down on the busy hospital grounds. Orihime and Rukia owwed and ahed from beside Ichigo telling him the girls returned just in time to see the show. Now sidetracked with Uryu's words on the back burner, he looked up and covered his eyes from the bright explosions over head and said a small prayer that tonight would be quiet and everyone would make it through in one piece.
That's all he wanted. A nice peaceful night. Ichigo looked down at Orihime, gaping up at the flowers bursting in the sky. If not for him, then for her. She needs a normal peaceful night to feel like a real teenage girl.
That wasn't too much to ask for was it?
Ichigo was never a big fan of the Soul King. Maybe that was why the bastard never answered any of his prayers? Kanonji was predictable down to the last muscle movement. Every phrase and stupid over-the-top motion was a mirror of what Ichigo had already experienced.
And then he smelled a bad Spirit.
The same demi hollow that was chained to the hospital shouted and berated Don Kanonji and Ichigo fought not laughing. For a pissed off dead guy, he told it like it was at least. Ichigo looked down at his arm, where Orihime was clutching his shirt sleeve, and glaring at Don Kanonji like the performer was an Arroncar come to take him away. Ichigo smiled slightly then looked to Tatsuki and Ishida both of whom were glaring as well. Ichigo guessed it was easy for the whole group -being as spiritually attuned as they were- to guess what Kanonji planned to do with that staff and the chain in the demi-hollow's chest.
"Tatsuki." The raven haired human turned, her eyes still narrow, "Go find my sisters and make sure they're okay. I am afraid Kanonji is getting too intense for them." Tatsuki looked into Ichigo's eyes and knew instantly that he knew what was about to happen. She looked worried at first, and then a million thoughts flashed through her expression in a millisecond.
"O... Okay Ichigo." Tatsuki took a step back and disappeared into the mob.
Ichigo focused on Ishida, who was watching Tatsuki with a predator's attentiveness.
"Wanna make sure she doesn't get lost?" Ichigo tried not to smile at Ishida's pissed expression.
"She is a capable woman. She doesn't need a baby sitter." Even as he said it Ishida was slowly fading back into the darkness, getting lost in the sea of faces.
Now with just the three shinigami present, Ichigo pulled his battle pass out of his pocket, well aware of Rukia watching him. She did a double take when she saw Ichigo hover his pass behind Orihime's back. A small move would separate Orihime from her body instantly. Her purple eyes looked to Orihime who was both baffled by and fully aware of everything that was happening in front of the camera and completely oblivious to what was happening around her.
"He's going to make a hollow isn't he Rukia?" Orihime asked quietly, Rukia could only guess so that she could hide what she was saying from Ichigo.
The Shinigami noble was about to answer, but was left looking like a fish as Kanonji's cane slammed into the root of the ghost's chain. Orihime jumped, her back tapped the battle pass, sending her soul forward and flipping her over the rope separating her human body from the stage. She landed on her face. Orihime quickly shot up, ignoring her raw nose and turned back to her body. Ichigo was holding her, while Rukia danced around him shouting about how she must have passed out since she was so into the show.
"Rukia! Why did you do that?" Orihime cried out. "Kurosaki-kun is going to think I'm dead!"
She missed Ichigo's small smile.
"I think she just fainted." Ichigo said, way too loud, simply to assure Orihime he didn't think she was gone.
"But how am I going to get back into my body without Kurosaki-kun noticing!"
"Don't worry about that idiot!" Tatsuki yelled from another part of the audience. Orihime did a quick scan, and saw Tatsuki leaning over the rope to her far left. "Look behind you! Concentrate on the ghost and beating the ever-loving-shit out of Kanonji!"
"Aren't you going to help her?" Rukia asked breaking the silence.
They had both moved away from the crowd. Already the battle had been going on for a few minutes, more than enough time for people to forget about the teenage girl who passed out not long before Hell broke loose. Ichigo looked down at his lap were Orihime's head lay, her body resting on the top of the picnic table he sat down on. Gently he brushed hair out of her face and then sighed and brought his attention back to Rukia.
"I did help her. I helped her get into her Shinigami form."
"It hardly sounds like Kagemusha to just sit by and let Orihime get into danger."
Ichigo let out a small laugh. "She doesn't need that kind of help, trust me. The days when she needed us to take on little hollows like this are gone." Ichigo lost his smile as he looked off to the hospital just in time to see an explosion destroy the side, raining rubble down onto the crowd.
"It's our time to sit back and worry. That's our job, at least for now. If everyone does their jobs... everything else will fall into place." Ichigo mumbled feeling at a loss. Was he proud or was he upset she was strong enough to take care of herself? Strong enough to no longer need Kagemusha... Did she even need Kurosaki-kun? Or was he just a leach feeding off the lives of the people he cares about most? Again he found himself lost in worry, but with a quick escape. He was making a difference in one way or another. Parasites only help themselves, and selfish wasn't who he was. Not anymore at least.
Rukia's arms fell to her sides where she left them to hang lifeless, her thoughts leading her down a similar but far more degenerative path.
She knew this was coming, especially after yesterday. Orihime had outgrown her. Rukia knew Orihime would never know her zanpakuto's name. She would never know Shikai or Bankai. Orihime was using borrowed powers, this was very well as strong as she was going to get. The raven haired shinigami looked down at her hands and tried to create a simple ball of reishi. It was a trick, a simple gimmick that she had been able to do since she was a child. Now that task seemed impossible.
She felt disgusted at the fact that she was so weak. The stronger Orihime got the weaker Rukia became. She could almost see the distain on Byakuya's face. She could feel the shackles that they'd slap on her wrists, and see the horror and pain on Orihime's face as she was crushed trying to save her.
Rukia's hands became fists.
How long had she known Orihime, and already she felt closer to her than she did anyone else in the world? Their bond was as strong as sisters, and Rukia would be damned before she let Soul Society get her. That left only one option. Instead of sitting on her thumb waiting for Soul Society to come collect her and take Orihime in, she was going to leave before they knew were Orihime was. The rest would be left to Ichigo.
She gave him a quick glance. He was still watching the battle take place, as best he could from the distance. She gave him a quick bow that he missed and left, hoping beyond hope that she wasn't too late to leave Karakura. With any hope, no one would come after her, until she was long gone.
"So what do you think I should do with her body until she's done? I mean a normal person would take her to the hospital but..." Ichigo looked down to where Rukia was just moments before and saw nothing except air.
It didn't take Ichigo long to figure out where the small trail of Rukia's reiatsu, now almost completely human, was leading him to Orihime's apartment. He tried to smooth down the hair on the back of his neck that was standing on end. It seemed like tonight everything was being thrown for a loop. No one was acting like he was used to them acting. Once again the thought that he fell asleep in a worm-hole that took him into a different dimension than the one his mentor sent him into originally went through his mind, only to be quickly laughed away.
The fact that most everyone he knew was acting like normal people not super-powered shounen-wanna-be's should have made him happy, instead he was worrying. He was going to become an old man too soon if he kept all of this up. He cringed at the idea of being only a teenager, but looking like Zangetsu, or worse yet his father...
He was no longer trying to sense out Rukia as he made his way up to the apartment. It was the best place to look, and he had the feeling he was going to have to bring Rikka with him to heal any little cuts Orihime might have suffered during her fight, so a pit stop at the apartment wasn't such a reach.
Ichigo snapped his head up as he reached the top of the stairs. There was Isshin, standing with his hands in his pockets and a solemn look on his face. Ichigo felt his body tense at his father's presence. What could he want now? Was he looking to get his son's body back?
"What are you-" Ichigo didn't get the chance to finish his question.
If he had been tense before, Ichigo now felt paralyzed as his mother stepped into view from behind Isshin. The memories of what happened when Karin and Yuzu found him, the last time he saw both his parents, it all ran through his head, and Ichigo turned to go. It was cowardly, and he knew it, but he wouldn't be able to stand anymore harsh words from his mother. He took a step back, ready to run.
"Wait, please." There was something in his mother's voice that made him stop. The woman, now looking more petite and frail than ever, came forward just a step and gave Ichigo a better look at the woman he had always dreamed of never loosing. Ichigo frowned and bowed his head. Had she stopped eating? Had a hard time sleeping? It all showed on his mother's face. That was his fault too. "We didn't come to argue with you. We came to talk."
So that was it, they came to yell at him some more. How much torture did these two hope to inflict? His body and reiatsu were stronger than most but it was times like these when Ichigo realized he had little to no coping skills. Years of running away from emotions had neglected to teach him how to deal. And now he was paying for it.
"Yoruichi came to the house yesterday." Isshin started, knowing Masaki was too emotional at the moment to say anything, "She explained a lot of things. Yelled at us a bit too."
"I..." Ichigo started not knowing what or how to finish. "I'll tell her not to bother your family anymore."
"That's not what we came to talk about... She told us about you. About where you came from, and what happened. She felt that there were some things we should know. Thing's we didn't let you tell us in the heat of the moment."
Ichigo clenched his fists, for what reason, he didn't know. Brief anger flashed in him, followed by relief. Relief that maybe now that they knew, they'd understand. He scolded himself for even thinking such a thing.
"You lost us before didn't you Ichigo? All of us. Orihime-chan, Sado-kun, that boy with the glasses, your whole family... they were all dead weren't they?" Masaki asked, taking a step towards her son.
"I… I couldn't stop him." Ichigo said, staring at the ground, "I did everything I could, and I couldn't stop him from killing them. I lost everyone."
"So Kisuke, the one who trained you in your world, told you to come here so that you could try again, and be happy." Isshin stated more than asked. He had heard the story, and had his answers. And his son wasn't in the right state to tell them both the tale.
"I didn't know what else to do." Isshin and Masaki could hear how their son's voice cracking, "I was alone. And then Urahara told me he had a way so that I could have you all back. I wanted you all back so bad I jumped in and didn't look back."
Silence pressed down on the three. Ichigo could only watch the floor, he didn't dare look up. After so long, so much secrecy and deception, he wouldn't deny it felt a little good to bare the whole truth to his parents. They could hate him for the rest of their lives; he deserved it for what he'd done. He just wanted them to understand, they didn't have to accept him, just understand that he didn't see any other way for him to keep living. That he just wanted the people he cared for more than himself back.
The sound of footsteps echoed loudly as Masaki walked forward. Isshin stayed behind, knowing full well that she wouldn't come to any harm with Ichigo. The mother of three gently reached out and grabbed his left arm. The teenage Vizard finally looked up as he felt his mother's small hand come to rest on his chin, raising his eyes up to meet hers.
"You must have been in so much pain." She said quietly, "You went through so much turmoil, came here, and we took the only thing you wanted away from you. The only thing you wanted was us, your family and friends; the people you lost, and we just ripped that from your fingers."
Ichigo watched in awe as tears started to roll down Masaki's cheeks. This couldn't be real, there was no way this was actually happening.
"We are sorry Ichigo." Ichigo was shocked as Masaki wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a hug, "I was so angry I didn't stop and think, I didn't give you a chance to tell your story. I wanted my son back, and all this time I was only pushing you away."
Ichigo felt his breath catch in his throat, and a burning came to his eyes. This was real, it wasn't a dream. His parents were really here, really apologizing. His shaky arms wrapped around Masaki as the tears started to flow freely from his eyes. Isshin watched on, feeling warmth fill his heart at the sight. It was familiar, and at the same time it was so new.
"I'm so sorry Ichigo." Masaki wept on, "Can you ever forgive this foolish mother of yours?"
Ichigo's only response was the grip onto her tighter as he started to sob.
Isshin waited until the two had calmed down, wiping a stray tear from his eyes. Masaki cried but whispered the words of comfort she knew, used to comforting a crying Ichigo. The words seemed to have the opposite effect. She guessed as a boy who hadn't heard her whisper them since he was so young, it was only reasonable that her consoling words would make his crying worse. Eventually the two Kurosaki's tears dried up, and they pulled away.
"I'm sorr-" Ichigo said, his voice still cracked.
"Don't do it, Ichigo, don't apologize. Kurosaki's don't apologize, they fix things. That's why I left the apologizing to Masaki. Since neither of us have apologies to say, I have something to say myself..." Isshin said, stepping forward and wrapping an arm around Masaki's shoulders, "We came to take you back home." The words stunned Ichigo like before, "Your family misses you son. We need you back home, with us."
"I..." a solemn look came to Ichigo's face, making his parents worried, "I can't."
"Why not!" Masaki stepped forward, "Ichigo, you're our son, we want you with us. There's still some work to do and I know it will take us a while to get used to one another, but we can be a family."
"There's nothing to get used to mom. I am Ichigo, I am the same son, you don't need to treat me differently and you don't have to see me differently. You need to understand that before I can come home..."
"You don't want to come home because of... because of me?" Masaki asked, her voice nearing tears again.
"It's not that. I would never refuse to come home because of something ridiculous like that. I want to go back, more than anything. I want to wake up to the old man's sneak attacks again. I want to go down to breakfast and see you all smiling. I want to go home and smell dinner and see life in the house instead of it being empty. But..." Ichigo's eyes drifted to the side, to Orihime's door, "The time is coming for Soul Society to make their move. They'll take Rukia. If I went back, Inoue would be left here, all alone. The only selfish thing I wanted was to have all my friends and family back. I have that now, so I'm not going to be selfish anymore."
Both the elder Kurosaki's shared a small smile with each other, Ichigo obliviously looking at the doorway. Yoruichi had been right, Ichigo did indeed have feelings for the auburn girl. In fact, they were sure the major deciding factor for Ichigo to choose to go through the gateway he did was because of Orihime. Though neither the cat nor Ichigo had said or most likely would ever say it if the two parents were right.
"We understand Ichigo." Masaki said, walking forward and giving her son a small hug before she made her way down the stairs. Trying to hide her tears of both happiness and pain, she didn't turn to meet his eye as she added, "Your room will be waiting for you when you want to come back home, or if you need to pick anything up. And maybe... you could at least come home for dinner? You're sisters miss you almost as much as I do..."
The orange haired teen gave his mother a nod, not really knowing what to say. Everything seemed to be coming together too nicely. Discretely Ichigo bit the inside of his cheek, both the pain and the taste of blood told him it was not a dream or hypnotic spell. It could only mean that God was building up the tension elsewhere. Soon it would spill over into his life and cause tragedy. The worst parts of his life always seemed to follow the best.
Ichigo watched her go, barely dodging his father's fist as it tried to connect with the back of his head. Ichigo growled as his father laughed, slinging an arm around Ichigo's shoulders and pulling him into a half hug.
"I love you, and I am sorry." Isshin whispered to Ichigo, making the teen's eyes water again.
"I thought Kurosaki's never apologized." Ichigo mumbled, wrapping an arm slightly around his father. Enough to count and feel like an embrace, but not enough to make him feel awkward. He never even hugged his old man when he was alive.
"That's just what we tell our women." Isshin laughed again and pulled back, putting a comfortable distance between them.
"Your rules are stupid old man." Ichigo mumbled, bowing his head and blinking away the tears. Again Isshin chuckled.
"That's my son." He said proudly, poking his finger into Ichigo's chest, "What does your name mean?"
"To protect one thing." Ichigo answered.
"That's right." Isshin turned away from Ichigo, following his wife down the stairs, "So you protect that girl with everything you have Ichigo. Don't let any harm come to her. Keep your promise." As his parents reached the turn, about to leave Ichigo's sight, Isshin turned around again, "Kurosaki's don't break their promises."
Rukia finished pinning her letter. It was one solid and crisp fold and a small hint on the top to let Orihime know which of her roommates wrote the letter. Rukia looked down at her wrist. A simple bracelet won by Orihime at a school festival. The auburn haired princess had one that matched, but had it draped over her the frame of her brother's picture. "So I'll never lose it.", she had said. Rukia struggled to try and pull the band off in hopes of completely separating them. But the symbol of their friendship and bond refused to budge.
The strong woman let out a whimper and slammed her palms into her eyes, trying her hardest to prevent any tears from falling down. She was too emotional and to connected to this world. She should have never let any of this happen. Kuchiki Rukia was such a fool.
She reached over to the lamp sitting on Orihime's desk and flicked the light off. She wanted the darkness and greeted it as a way to make an exit. As a Shinigami she lived and worked in the shadows. But now the darkness seemed so damned lonely. She turned and frowned at the crack of light seeping out from the door to Ichigo's room. Her first thought was a very human one, that Ichigo was wasting electricity. Then she remembered back to his hollow's quick actions pertaining the closet door. Logic took over, clouding her emotions and pushing her forward to investigate.
Since she was a dead woman anyway, Rukia slowly slid the door open, expecting to see a pair of black and gold eyes staring at her, and then feeling a sword through her stomach. But the room was empty with just the light on his desk on, shining out towards the closet. Slowly and uneasy, Rukia walked to the door and slid it open.
Rukia gasped and took a step back. Her violet eyes scanning over one white board and then another. There were five in all set up and seemingly color coordinated. Names popped out at her the most. Ukitaki Joshiro, Hitsuguya Toshiro, Renji Abarai, and even her adoptive brother were among the nearly dozens of names and events listed all over the dry erase boards. She landed her gaze on the center board where Ichigo had a web graph surrounding words that made her eyes nearly leave her skull and her breath nearly leave her chest.
Kill Sousuke Aizen
Ichigo returned his father's smile before he turned around to head into the apartment. Despite his constant protests, Orihime had gotten him a key for the apartment. He quietly slipped the key into the lock and turned, noticing the lack of any resistance. Someone had already unlocked the door.
Ichigo stepped inside quietly. The entire home was dark, except for a small, dim light that came from his guest bedroom. He walked inside, Orihime's own desk, which was usually organized and clean, had a folded up note resting on it. Ichigo stopped dead in his tracks, he recognized that note, with the stupid bunny face on it telling whoever was reading to get rid of the 'B's in the note.
"Ichigo..." Rukia's voice snapped Ichigo from his shock. Ichigo tore his eyes away from the note to see Rukia. She was acting like she had earlier that day, when she told him Orihime loved him. Like she was preparing to say goodbye for good.
"Promise me, promise you will take care of Orihime." Rukia stood in her usual serious pose, her arms crossed and her stare firm.
"Just promise me, okay? I know I have trusted you with her before and I know, even if you don't, that you care about her in some way, but I need to know, if anything happens..."
Ichigo crossed the distance to her in a moment, leaning down and putting his hands on her shoulders.
"Rukia, tell me what's wrong." He bent down to look her in the eyes. "If you're in trouble tell me so I can fix it."
"But will you do the same for Orihime?"
"What kind of dumb question is that?" Ichigo snapped, his patience running thin. "Of course I would! I would do anything to protect Inoue. I would do the same for you too Rukia. You just have to..."
Rukia took a step back and out of Ichigo's grasp. "I do not want you to, nor do I need you to protect me. I need you to be there for Orihime. She won't understand. I don't know how, but i know you know what's going to happen. I won't ask you to tell me how you know it. I don't want to know. Just promise me. I need to hear you say the words."
"I promise on my whole being that I will protect Inoue."
Rukia noticeably relaxed and sighed, as if a whole weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She could see the truth in Ichigo's eyes, he would protect Orihime from what was coming. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a device Ichigo had never seen before. It looked almost like the glove she used to use on him a long time ago, except the black cloth only covered the bottom portion of her hand. In the lowest place of her palm, a strange screw protruded out.
"I am sorry Ichigo, but I can't have you following me."
Ichigo shouted in shocked question as Rukia launched herself forward ramming the weird screw into his chest. His world faded to black.
Rukia winced as Ichigo fell back limply. The impact of his body hitting the floor shook the room. It would worry Orihime to come home and find an unconscious Ichigo on her floor, but Rukia didn't have the strength needed to lift up such a heavy load. With a final look to the note under the lamp, Rukia pulled off the glove and put it in her pocket. She stepped over Ichigo as she made her way out of the apartment. She just had one more thing to do.
The moment her feet hit the pavement, Rukia burst out into a run. It hadn't been too long since they left she knew they had been here, she could hear them from inside the apartment... and after a minute of running, Rukia finally caught up to Isshin and Masaki.
The couple turned at the voice, surprised to see Rukia panting slightly as she came to a stop in front of them.
"Hello." Masaki greeted hesitantly, "You're Orihime-chan's cousin, right?"
"I'm not Orihime's cousin, and I'm pretty sure the both of you know that already." Although Rukia was resting her hands on her knees trying to regain a steady breath she gave the pair a stern look.
Isshin quickly stepped forward, putting himself between Rukia and Masaki. Masaki watched Rukia with a worried look, wondering what was happening. Rukia straightened her posture as she started into Isshin's also stern gaze.
"I knew, Masaki didn't." Isshin clarified. "It's been twenty years, but it wasn't so hard for me to remember a name like Kuchiki."
"You mean she's not Orihime-chan's cousin?" Masaki asked.
"My name is Kuchiki Rukia, of Division 13 of the Soul Society."
Masaki let out a small gasp and grabbed onto Isshin's hand. She knew what Soul Society was, Isshin had explained everything to her, and also told her that he had left it behind to be with her. In her mind the Soul Society was the enemy. That much was clear to anyone who saw the way she pushed away her son, simply thinking he was from the land where the dead fight malevolent masked monsters. She knew that in the eyes of the Shinigami, Isshin was a fugitive, and should they ever find him, he would be dragged back to receive his punishment.
"What does Soul Society want with me after all this time? Isshin asked, his face setting into a scowl.
"Nothing." Rukia stated, getting confused looks from the two, "I haven't informed Soul Society of you. I'm here out of personal curiosity."
Isshin watched the short Shinigami in front of him carefully. Despite her size, he could tell she was strong, even without powers. However, he could also tell she wasn't lying, what reason would she have? If she had informed her captain of him, he would be facing an entire platoon of Shinigami instead of one. Gradually, Isshin relaxed, Masaki taking the silent cue to let out her held breath, though she didn't take her eyes off Rukia.
"What do you want to know?" Isshin asked.
"Who are you?" Rukia asked, narrowing her eyes.
Isshin straightened, suddenly appearing regal and powerful, "Former Captain, Kurosaki Isshin." He answered.
Rukia's eyes shot open at the information. A Shinigami of captain level hiding in Karakura? The cracks in the mystery of Ichigo's own power and its strength were slowly filling in.
"How could you possibly hide for so long?" she asked in shock.
Isshin gave her a small grin, "It's rather hard to find a Shinigami when everyone thinks he's lost all his powers."
"Why would you-." Rukia stopped her question, her eyes finding Masaki, "...I see." Isshin gave her a small nod, letting Rukia know she was right. He had given up all his power to be with the woman he loved.
"I'm assuming this is about Ichigo." Isshin brought her back to the point.
"You kicked him out of your home because he's a Shinigami." Rukia returned to her stern gaze, "Why?"
"I promised my wife that our children would never have to live in the world we vowed to leave behind. When they were born, we had any and all power they possessed locked away."
"Then how did he become a Shinigami?" Rukia asked, eyes wide.
"That's his story to tell, not ours."
Silence settled over the three as Rukia stared Isshin down. The man had a will to match his son's; she wasn't going to get any more information out of him about the subject. Rukia nodded, He would need that strength to do what she asked of them. She only wished and hoped that Ichigo would listen to reason. Listen to the parents he loved.
"Um, excuse me." Masaki piped up from behind Isshin, "But why are you only confronting us about this now?"
Though she didn't uncross her arms, Rukia's stance relaxed.
"I committed a grave crime, I gave my Shinigami powers to Orihime. After what happened yesterday, they'd have to be insane to not send a group over here to investigate. Even if I hid, they'd find me, so I'm giving myself up."
"You're hoping that they'll be happy enough with you that they won't go looking for Orihime-chan." Isshin finished. "It's a long shot, but the idea holds merit."
"Why?" Masaki asked, worry in her voice, "What do they want with Orihime-chan?"
"Don't worry about that." Rukia said, giving the woman a small smile, "I told her to hide herself until this blows over. And I made Ichigo promise to keep her safe. She'll be fine, but I need you two to do something for me."
"And what is that?" Isshin asked, not quite trusting the short Shinigami.
"I have the feeling that Ichigo is going to come after me. I want you to stop him when he tries."
He fell to his knees and then on to his hands, already comfortable with the horizontal world.
"Damnit!" Ichigo cursed and punched the hard surface of glass, creating a spider web of cracks across the surface. "I should have known she was going to do something stupid like that!"
"Yes, you should have." His hollow chided back, and knelt down so he could meet eyes with his king. "But now is hardly the time to think about what should have been obvious to you at the time. It's time to get out of here and save the damned idiot so we can kill her later, king."
"Ichigo's attempts to leave have already done damage to his psyche. Since his mind has been unstable today, it is going to do more damage if he continues to push." Zangetsu said as a matter of fact as he stood on his poll and scanned the buildings eyeing cracked walls and shattered windows. It looked like Ichigo had been through a battle. But then he had, all day he had been battling with memories. Even nearly peaceful memories like that of watching Don Kanonji could cause Ichigo to remember painful memories he had buried within these building and walls. Every memory was painful, a battle that broke a part of his inner world apart, and took what felt like eternities to fix.
"Fucking pansy is living in the past." The white copy growled, stabbing his sword into the building a hair's breadth from slicing into Ichigo's hand. The King curled his hand into a fist, it seemed that neither the Hollow nor the Human were in the mood for games. "I should just take over the body for you. I can guarantee that that fucking midget will learn her lesson and those two shinigami she's running from will never come back here again."
"You're not taking over." Ichigo growled, and grabbed onto Zangetsu, shattering the blade like it was glass.
"That's the thing I don't get Ichigo we agreed to be partners, two souls merged to control one body, yet here you are calling all of the shots, I'm thinking it's about time I got to call the shots."
"There will be none of that." Zangetsu boomed, "Neither Ichigo or you are going to take over this body."
"Finally going to rebel Zany-boy?" Hollow growled and almost sounded excited. "You picked a really bad time."
"The device Kuchiki used sent Ichigo into his mind. He is now a secondary soul like you and I. The device is called Tamashī Fukyō, it was designed to push prisoners into their own worlds for transportation. It supplements the Shinigami's consciousness with a blank space..."
"In other worlds it took over my body, but left no one to drive." Ichigo stood up and swung his arm, slamming it into a building almost touching the skyscraper he was standing on.
"How do you get out when I'm king?" The hollow asked, his voice calm and almost scary as he hit a point of reason.
"What?" Ichigo turned to face the hollow. His face, excuse the eyes, was an exact match to his own, making the vizaard almost want to shiver.
"Let's do what we do best king." the hollow's face relaxed and an evil glint hit his eyes. "Take the fuck over."
"Rukia!" Orihime called out into her dark apartment, "Kurosaki-kun! Are you two here?"
The only greeting she received was silence. Orihime bit her bottom lip nervously; Ichigo had been acting odd ever since he met the girls to pick a kimono out for her. Now both he and Rukia disappeared while she was dealing with a hollow at Don Kanonji's show. The auburn Shinigami walked into her apartment, her eyes adjusting and catching the light seeping in from Ichigo's room. The apartment was too dark to see much of anything, except a head of orange hair, glowing in the faint light.
Orihime rushed over, kneeling down beside the boy and checking him over. He looked like he'd been knocked conscious, sprawled out on the ground with his arms spread out. If it weren't for the gentle movements of his chest, Orihime would have thought he was dead. After a few moments of looking him over, Orihime left and brought a pillow from his room, at least wanting his head to be on something soft when he woke up. She paused looking at his closet with the door wide open. Five dirty but blank white boards were propped up for the world to see. The substitute shook off the weird sight, and hurried back into the living room to prop up her roommate's head.
When she finished, Orihime stood and took a quick inventory of the living room, nothing was missing, so it wasn't a robbery. But there was a single piece of paper resting on her normally clean desk, with a drawing that could only have been done by Rukia. Orihime snatched up the letter, it being her only key to knowing what was going on.
She had to keep running, running faster so she could get out of Karakura. The longer she stayed in this town the longer Soul Society had to pin point her. Every second she stayed in this town the longer Orihime would be in danger. In Rukia's mind, she saw all of her memories, good and bad, with Orihime. A tear escaped her eye.
The longer she stayed the longer Ichigo, Arasawa, Sado, the Kurosaki's... all of them were in danger because of her. All of them in one way or another shared some sort of memory with her. She had formed hearts with each of them. She had done the worst and she had put targets on all of their backs. She suddenly wished that Kaien and his lovely wife, the woman who was once Rukia's best friend had been wrong. But she knew that hope was in vain.
The bond she had made with all of the human's here was never going to leave her. She could never break these types of heart. She couldn't throw them away. Because of those bonds every step became harder and harder to make.
The air changed and the temperature dropped, making Rukia catch of glimpse of her breath. She paused in mid run and watched her breath fill the air around her, before the atmosphere normalized once again. To a normal human, it was a freak change in temperature, a quick breeze that gave them a subtle chill. But Rukia was no idiot. She knew what she had just experienced.
Rukia froze at the voice; she could feel the combined pressure of both a captain and a vice-captain behind her. Slowly, she turned around. In the sky, with the moon behind them, stood Squad 5 Captain, Aizen Sousuke and his Vice-Captain Hinamori Momo. The two slowly descended to the ground, and Rukia had to fight the urge to run with every moment.
"Thank you for not running; this will make it much easier for all of us." Aizen spoke, his voice calm and cool.
"Running wouldn't have helped." Rukia answered, hesitantly taking a step forward. She could feel the first droplet of sweat trickle down her brow, showing her nervousness.
"No, I'm afraid not." Aizen turned to Momo, "Hinamori, please restrain Kuchiki-san."
"Yes, Aizen-taichou." Hinamori responded, stepping forward, her hands held ready to cast the kido spell. The Vice-captain gave a polite bow and a quiet sorry, showing her respect, despite the current situation.
"Restrain?" Rukia took a quick step back.
"Simply protocol Kuchiki-san." Aizen reassured his glasses only emphasizing his kind eyes. "Please don't resist."
Not that she even had the chance, in a split second it was over. Hinamori had extended her hand, not even needing to speak the spell to cast it. Chains made of light shot from her outstretched hand, closing the distance and wrapping tightly around Rukia.
"Now, Kuchiki." Aizen walked forward, coming to stop in front of the captive. He looked down, his eyes boring into hers, "Where is the human that you gave your powers to?"
Rukia's blood went cold, and her heart rate quickened. Sousuke Aizen pushed his glasses up to better see his captive. Lights from the street flashed into the lenses, and when his eyes were visible again Rukia took a step back. His eyes seemed different somehow. It was in a way impossible to explain coherently. Three words flashed into Rukia's mind, making her quiver.
Kill Sousuke Aizen.
'Ichigo... what do you know?'
Orihime read the letter through one more time. The puzzle hadn't been hard, but the message was what worried her. Rukia was leaving and didn't want anyone to follow her, and Orihime was supposed to lay low until whatever was happening blew over?
Orihime didn't understand, everything was supposed to be okay now. She, Kagemusha, and Ishida had defeated the swarm of hollows that attacked the town; Ichigo was getting back to his normal self. He had even smiled like his old self at dinner. Now something was happening with Rukia, and she was just supposed to stay hidden while her mentor and friend disappeared?
Orihime placed the note back on the table and looked around for the mod soul. The kindly little doll didn't run into the room, as she was prone to do whenever called by Orihime or Rukia. Orihime waited a minute, but still there was no sign of the little mod soul. Then it occurred to her, if Rukia didn't want Orihime following, she had probably hid Rikka to keep Orihime from being able to follow. Suddenly Orihime regretted rejoining her body.
What can I do now?
"You appear in need of some assistance Inoue-san."
Orihime turned the voice, surprised to see a man balancing on the open window sill in her living room. His green and white striped had was pulled down, shadowing the top half of his face except for his eyes. The man she had seen nearly a dozen times, but never truly met, looked more suspicious than normal reclined against the window sill.
"Y-you!" Orihime cried in surprise.
"Indeed." Urahara said, slipping out of the window to stand in front of Orihime, "But we'll have time to get better acquainted later. Right now, you need to get to Kuchiki-san." He raised the cane in his hand, "And I can assist with that."
Orihime looked at the base of his cane, the same skull that covered Rukia's glove stared straight at her. Still hesitant she gave a skeptical look to Urahara.
"That is unless you want to lay low as Kuchiki-san advised. But I think we both know that's not what you want to do." Urahara smiled, and Orihime gave him a defiant look.
It seemed a little Kurosaki-san had rubbed off on the beauty. Urahara looked to the unconscious boy. Let's hope he rubbed off more than just a sour expression... she's going to need all she can get...
Shadows cast on the streets and walls of a land lost in time. Somewhere a little girl peaks out the door to the shack she calls home, only to be ripped away from the entrance by her makeshift mother. The door slammed just as the last shadow passed by their home.
The dark visitors paused at the edge, where dirty land touched a higher class of ghost. Eyes that took on the job of a watchdog spied the group, never taking a watchful gaze off of the leader of the trespassers. Said foggy figure turned, it's wide and eerie smile reaching the guard. Brown eyes widened and then narrowed in rebellion against the shocking sight of his discovery.
Out of the darkness that surrounded him, a hand as hard as stone appeared and grabbed his shoulder. The watchdog turned and gasped at the perpetrator, just as a hand slammed down on his jaw, knocking the wind out of him. The shadows took their chance. No longer being followed or watched they slipped away, blending into the dead of night.
In another part of the world, unreachable by all but one, another shadow stood on the edge of an abyss, staring down wondering what would happen if he jumped. Where was the bottom? The shadow gulped and moved back into the light of confidence, making his orange hair shine.
"Okay." Ichigo gulped, "So..." he took that step forward again and looked over the side. He had done this before, he remembered. His hollow had taken over durning training, it had been an accidental lapse in control, but Ichigo remembered using this to gain back his control. "This should work..."
"You're confidence is reassuring." His hollow sly remark was followed by a peek of his own. The white copy frowned.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of heights." Ichigo joked, feeling his heart quicken. He wondered if he was mocking himself more than his hollow.
"I ain't afraid of heights... Being stuck in the body of a vegetable leaves a nasty taste though."
"Ichigo's idea holds merit. To jolt yourself awake, and give the presence in control a rush of vertigo." Zangetsu turned to the hollow and narrowed his eyes. "It worked with you."
"Yeah but the second King hits one of the buildings bellow, and flattens out like a damned pancake, you'll regret agreein' to his retar-"
"Stop it." Ichigo growled. "I made this choice, and if I don't disappear when I get close to a building, just... I don't know... catch me."
"You say it like I'd have a choice." The hollow replied.
Ichigo took another look down. The toes of his shoes dangled over the edge of the building. He closed his eyes and turned around. It seemed easier to lean back than to plunge head first into the depths of his inner world. He met eyes with his inner hollow who almost looked worried in a certain light. The expression disappeared as if he knew he'd been caught.
"You're a moron."
"That's why I'm King." Ichigo smiled and closed his eyes.
With a slow tilt his weight slipped off the edge and gravity took over pulling him down into the sky. As Ichigo fell backward Zangetsu's eyes shot up and searched the sky.
It wouldn't be long before there was rain.
"Your silence is commendable Kuchiki Rukia." Aizen's voice sent a chill down Rukia's spine, "However, this will only make things more difficult for yourself."
The proverbial tale of the Serpent in the Garden buzzed through her mind as the captain of Division 5 knelt down to meet her eye. His glasses seemed to hide a warm meaning behind his eyes, and without them, the Shinigami lost without her powers believed that Aizen's eyes would only look dead. He offered out his hand, the offering of an invisible poisonous apple that would send her out of the Soul King's good graces and into a whirlpool of suffering.
If Rukia could have stepped back out of his reach, she would have.
"If you were to tell us who and where they are, then the Soul Society may be lenient towards you both. After all it was only a mere human you gave your powers to, they could not have known better. And you Rukia, you have your brother waiting for you."
Rukia's eyes opened wide in shock. Her throat went dry. Byakyua? Could he really help her and Orihime? The Kuchiki's were powerful, and had enough clout, but her older brother didn't seem like he was capable of breaking any rules… Except the rule to never marry or adopt the lower class citizens. Which he did… for her.
Imagines and memories of her times with her brother, both rare and far between as they were, resonated in her soul, while Aizen's words echoed off of empty cave wall in her heart. Slowly Rukia bowed her head.
"I understand." Rukia replied, refusing to say anything more.
"Good." Aizen drawled, "Now where-."
"I understand, Aizen-Taichou, however," Rukia raised her head and glared into glass covered eyes. "I won't tell you."
If he was shocked by her growl of resolve, he didn't show it. Instead, he stood up to his full height, an expression akin to the words "what a pity" that seemed itched into his brow.
"Very well then." Aizen nodded, "Hinamori, please take Kuchiki-san back to Soul Society, I shall find and deal with the human."
Hinamori quickly pulled on the chains, holding Rukia in place as the short noble began to struggle. The vice-captain had to work to keep her face neutral. She had received the same orders her captain had; find and apprehend Kuchiki Rukia and eliminate the human with her Shinigami powers. From the ex-noble's reaction, the human meant a lot to her.
"Kuchiki-san please try not to struggle." Hinamori's gentle and innocent voice cried, next to Rukia's ear. "Aizen-Taichou only wants to help you and he isn't going to hurt your human friend. You have to understand we have orders, but Aizen-Taichou is kind and I am sure what he says is true."
"And what if I told you I didn't know?" Rukia's voice quivered. "What would you do if I told you she was warned, and that she-."
"That she isn't human?" Aizen finished. "You're time here may have clouded your senses Kuchiki-san. It's embedded into a human's nature to propel one's self into danger."
"Not this human." She growled through clenched teeth. "I know by now she has read my warning. This is that last place she would be."
Dust blasted into the air, separating Rukia and the fifth division lieutenant away from the four eyed captain. The impact was heavy, but the speed of the object was slow enough to give Rukia enough of a glimpse to feel her throat go dry. Aizen took a breath, and watched the figure, cloaked in Whinigami robes along with brilliant colored hair. Quickly he calculated how surprised he should act over her appearance, but chose to remain stoic.
As the dust settled Rukia tried to move forward, but Hinamori pulled her back, undoubtedly uncomfortable by the amount of reiatsu leaking from their guest. Rukia was used to it, Orihime's grand entrance and her blatant disregard for her own safety was what the noble was far more concerned about.
Orihime stood to her full length. To Rukia she looked short standing next to Aizen, who still hadn't shown any reaction to the human's entrance. Calmly, as if completely unaware of what was going on with the three Shinigami, the auburn haired princess lifted her feet, one at a time, and patted their sore bottoms.
"I am glad you taught me how to walk in the sky, but a lesson on landing would have been good too." Orihime spoke with a straight face, still looking at her sock and sandal covered feet.
"It appears we've run into some luck." Aizen commented, carefully watching as Orihime finished her self-check before paying them any mind, "The human has come to us."
"Orihime." Rukia whispered quietly to herself, watching the scene with horror, "No! I told you to stay hidden! Why didn't you listen to me!"
"You're in trouble Rukia." The way Orihime said it, it made Rukia stop any struggling, as if she was stating a simple fact, "You're my friend, how could you think that I wouldn't do everything I can to help you when you're in trouble? So just stay still for a few moments Rukia." Finally, Orihime looked up, giving Rukia a reassuring smile, "Don't worry, everything's going to be okay."
"You're quite confident in your skills." Aizen stated, making Rukia's blood run cold again.
Orihime turned a hard gaze onto the captain. So this was the problem Rukia had told her to hide from, two other Shinigami come to take her back to Soul Society?
"Let Rukia go." She demanded.
"I'm afraid I can't do that. We have our orders: 'Apprehend the fugitive Kuchiki Rukia and eliminate the human responsible for the loss of her powers.'" Aizen regarded Orihime for another moment before he turned and walked back to where Rukia and Hinamori stood, "Hinamori, hand control of the binding kido to me please, I'd like you to deal with the human."
"Of course Aizen-taichou." She nodded.
Rukia could only stand still as she watched Hinamori extend her hand out, the kido switching from her hands to Aizen's. With Rukia secure again the lieutenant carefully walked forward, drawing her zanpakutou. Orihime watched and reciprocated, drawing her own blade and stepping forward.
"My name is Hinamori Momo, the lieutenant of the 5th Division of the Gotei 13."
"I'm Inoue Orihime, high school student and friend to Rukia. I want to ask you again to give her back to me, please."
"I'm sorry, but we have our orders."
Momo's reply was the only warning Orihime had before the short lieutenant shot forward, years of training guiding her blade as she brought it down at the auburn haired girl. Orihime raised her own sword. The blades clashed with a burst of sparks, the spiritual metals grinding against each other.
Orihime pushed back and jumped away, dashing forward the moment her feet touched the ground again. Momo blocked Orihime's flurry of attacks as they came. The human girl was fast, she'd give her that, months of fighting hollows must have trained her well. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to touch the trained Shinigami, and Orihime could only watch as Hinamori knocked her strikes away.
Orihime didn't even see Hinamori slip past her barrage of strikes, but she felt the pain of the lieutenant's blade cutting through her side.
The human gasped, and held her side with her free hand as Hinamori slowly walked towards her.
"I am sorry it had to come to this Inoue-san. I am sure that if you'd stop fighting, then we-."
"No," Orihime stood strong, no longer caring about her side or the feeling of warm blood seeping down her side. With both hands on her sword she glared the shinigami down with as much determination as she could muster. "I can't let you."
Momo's sighed in reply and shot forward, her zanpakuto ready to slice through flesh.
Suddenly Orihime found herself on the defensive, and just barely keeping herself standing under the strength of the attacks coming her way. This was different than any hollow she had fought. True, there were some that had intelligence, but even then they were still relying on brute strength and instinct to take them through the fight. This was a foe that knew what she was doing, and was still holding back.
Her new wound was bleeding, and her strength was quickly fading under Hinamori's unrelenting strikes.
"You are very strong." Hinamori commented, stopping her barrage and putting some distance between her and Orihime,"What's you're zanpauto's name?"
"Name?" Orihime didn't take her eyes off the short girl, even when she was acting so kind, instead she held up her sword higher to see both the girl and the sharp blade. "I didn't know you could name them. Was I supposed to?"
Momo's eyes went wide at Orihime's innocent remark. The human was strong and had so much pressure behind her movements… how could she not know the name of her sword.
"I think it's best you give up now, Inoue-san. You have skills, but you should understand now that there's a difference in our powers. You're just a human; you could never equal me in a fight. Please just give up now, you'll make it less painful on yoursel-"
Hinamori was left quiet as Orihime quickly closed the distance between them, stretching out her blade and leaving a long cut across her cheek. Orihime kept her blade in place, held against Momo's neck.
"You were saying?" She asked.
Momo slowly brought her free hand up, leaving a long smear as she wiped the blood from her cheek with the back of her hand. Neither girl moved as Momo inspected the blood on left smeared on the pale skin on her knuckles, surprised that such a greenhorn could even get such a hit on her. It was disappointing the human girl would never get a chance to train at the Academy.
"I'm sorry." Hinamori spoke quietly, looking at Orihime with pity, "But you were warned. What happens now is the result of your choices and actions."
There was a slight flash as light reflected off Hinamori's blade before it was stabbed into Orihime's shoulder.
Orihime screamed as she felt the blade in her shoulder twist and change form; another, smaller, blade buried itself into her arm as well. She opened her eyes against the pain, taking in the sword's new form. Hinamori's eyes were hard as the blade began to glow with a pink light.
Pain erupted through Orihime's shoulder as she was sent flying back. The world was blurred around her as she was sent rolling across the ground, coming to a stop several feet away from the three other Shinigami. Hinamori lowered her blade slowly, watching the auburn girl drop her sword to reach up and grab her shoulder. Her attack had blasted the sleeve of her shihakushou to pieces, small fragments of the fabric settling on the ground around her. The shoulder itself was in bad shape, the stab wound widened and deepened by her zanpakutou's attack, along with the burns from a spiritual attack at such close range, it was a miracle the girl still had an arm.
"I warned you." Momo said, "Fighting hollows for two months doesn't even begin to equal the training I've been through. You'd barely pass as a rookie Shinigami, you don't even know your zanpakutou's name."
"Damnit Orihime, RUN!" Rukia screamed, desperately pulling against her restraints. She couldn't watch this, she couldn't watch her friend die in some hopeless attempt to save her. Why wouldn't Orihime just listen to her?
"I'm afraid that's no longer an option." Aizen's smooth voice rang through Rukia, "Her chance to run away from this was forfeit the moment she appeared before us." He regarded the Kuchiki captive for a moment before returning his attention back to the two in front of him, "Hinamori, the girl is proving to be troublesome. I think it best you just end it now."
The lieutenant nodded, her face set as she prepared to follow her captain's order. Rukia began struggling against her restraints, trying anything to pull free. She had to stop this; she had to stop another friend from dying. The only reason this was happening was because of her, because she hadn't thought her actions through enough. And she had knocked the only person that could help them unconscious.
For all the yelling, the struggling, and the fact that the woman who was about to kill her was slowly walking towards her, Orihime couldn't hear a thing. Everything was blurred and muddled, incoherent. All she could do was lie on the ground, gripping her shoulder. Was this how it was going to end for her? At the hands of Shinigami come to take Rukia away to who-knew-what fate?
"What are you doing?" spoke a soft, female voice.
Orihime blinked in surprise, now she was hearing voices.
"You have the power to beat them."
If she had the power then where was it? What was it that separated her from the two Shinigami there?
"It's locked away. Trapped beneath power that isn't yours. Trapped with me."
Then how was she supposed to get to it?
"Reach for it, Orihime. Reach for me, I'm here. I want to help you."
And then everything slowed down. Orihime could see Hinamori, still walking towards her, but so much slower than before. As if the world had been put on slow-motion. And then she could feel it, the power she needed. It was rising up, pushing its way to the surface, reaching out for her. Orihime closed her eyes and focused on it, reached for it.
"Who are you?" she asked the voice.
There was a long pause of silence, "You still can't hear my name." the voice sounded sad, "But that doesn't matter right now. You'll hear it, soon enough."
Orihime could feel the power in her grasp; it was there, so close. She could even feel the presence of the mysterious voice, as if the woman was standing beside her, watching her. But she wasn't surprised they were there at all, like she was only just now noticing someone who had been beside her, her entire life.
"I have been here your entire life."
And there it was. The power she needed. Orihime could feel it racing through her being, coursing through her veins, a part of her and yet at the same time something completely new. She felt stronger, her shoulder and side didn't hurt anymore.
"I can do this." Orihime thought, opening her eyes.
A gentle rain fell from a sky barely reachable from the cover of the long green trees. The sound of raindrops echoed throughout the vast bamboo forest, the drops creating never ending ripples on the water that served as the ground in the twisted world a young pale woman had been left alone to wander since her mistress hurdled her into the spirit of another.
Sode no Shiraiyuki carefully made her way through the eternal river of trees, her eyes forward as she found the person she was looking for, a lone figure sitting on a rock sticking out of the water below their feet. Despite the umbrella tipped back to hide most of their appearance, it was most definitely female.
"You seem worried Shiraiyuki." A calm but childish voice whispered out to her guest.
Sode no Shiraiyuki stopped, surprised the person before her had managed to discover her. Then again, this was her world, not Shiraiyuki's. With a sigh, she made her way over to the figure on the rock, taking a seat so that their backs were to each other. After a moment the other woman lifted the umbrella higher, bringing Shiraiyuki under the cover as well. Not that either needed an umbrella in a world where the rain didn't make you wet.
"I thought you only shared your umbrella with-." Shiraiyuki spoke.
"I share it with anyone who needs it." The umbrella covered girl replied, cutting Shiraiyuki off, not wanting to hear the name of the person she missed to dearly. "That just mostly happens to be him. You know how grouchy he gets when he's caught in the rain."
The two women shared a small laugh at the image of a grumpy dark clothed boy, soaked from head to toe. This was what had made the last two months easy for Shiraiyuki, the company. Orihime was a skilled Shinigami, and she would have been proud to be the auburn girl's zanpakutou, but that role was already taken by the girl behind her, lightly humming a tune as she watched the rain. Shirayuki missed her clear snow covered valley, where the snow always crunched and no matter where you walk, you can never see where you had been.
"What do you think will happen to me?" Shiraiyuki asked, breaking the serenity of the area.
"Won't you just return to Kuchiki-san?"
"I'm not sure. She has become so weak these last two months, I'm not even sure if she still has any Shinigami powers left."
"Don't worry Shiraiyuki-san." A comforting hand was placed on the icy zanpakutou's shoulder, "I'm sure everything will be alright. After all, you are her power. You just need a way to get back into her heart."
"I hope so." Shiraiyuki turned, her light blue eyes meeting a set hued crimson, "For both our sakes, Amanogawa."
Hinamori stopped, staring wide eyed at the sight before her. She was briefly aware of the wind whipping up around her, but she couldn't take her eyes off Orihime.
The auburn girl was expelling more reiatsu than seemed possible, the energy swirling around her as she stood, picking her sword up, and turned to face her opponent again. Hinamori barely raised her blade in time to block as Orihime shot towards her. The blades ground against each other, but Orihime had the advantage, and pushed back, sending Hinamori into a street light. The metal pole rang, and the lieutenant pushed herself to her feet shakily.
"How did you do that?" She asked in mixed awe and surprise.
"I'm not sure." Orihime answered, standing ready to fight, her eyes glowing gold.
The two exchanged a hard look before they threw themselves at each other. Every strike Momo made, Orihime blocked, but for every strike Orihime threw at her, she felt as if her arms were close to breaking. How could a human be this strong, even with borrowed Shinigami powers? Sparks ignited every time their swords clashed, briefly lighting up the night.
Rukia could only watch in shock. How could Orihime have called up that sort of power? True, she knew the auburn had a lot; the fact was obvious since the incident with the Menos. But that had been wild and uncontrolled, nothing like the tempered reiatsu she was using now.
Aizen watched on, hiding his amusement behind a calm demeanor. Urahara Kisuke was a fool, to have such a perfect specimen at his disposal and not capitalizing on it. The Inoue girl was new with her Shinigami powers, and he honestly hadn't expected her to get this far. Hinamori was doing her best but was slowly losing the fight. She had always been such a weak willed girl.
Orihime had the full advantage now, keeping up a barrage of attacks that had the lieutenant backing up, losing ground against an unexpected opponent. She looked down, seeing the cracks forming along Tobiume's blade. Even her zanpakutou was relenting under the onslaught. Orihime swung her blade, pushing Tobiume out of the way, leaving Hinamori wide open. The lieutenant couldn't do anything as she felt the Substitute Shinigami's blade cut across her, throwing her back until she hit the railing along the sidewalk.
Everything entered slow motion again. Hinamori lying injured against the railing, no strength to even raise her blade in defense. Orihime shooting over the ground, her blade high and ready to finish the fight. Momo could only watch as Orihime reached her, the blade falling.
A yellow tendril shot out, wrapping itself around the sword. Orihime didn't have the chance to look and see Aizen's free hand holding the other end of the kido. She didn't even know what was happening before he pulled the end of the kido rope.
But she did see as the spell tightened, shattering her sword.
A strange calm settled over the area, no one daring to even breathe. Orihime turned, looking at the calm and quiet man holding Rukia captive. His hand was still stretched out towards her, the faint crackling of yellow sparks just finishing. Was it him? Was he the one who had just effortlessly broken her sword?
"Bakudo 62: Hyapporankan." His voice was low and quiet, and yet so loud.
She didn't even see them coming.
"No! Orihime!" Rukia yelled, pulling against the chains again.
Orihime seemed frozen in time, standing there looking shocked, two rods going through her chest. She could make out blood on the ends sticking out of Orihime's back. Why didn't the girl just listen to her? Why didn't she stay hidden?
Rukia fought the tears in her eyes, trying to keep a clear line of sight on her friend. Orihime didn't deserve this; she didn't deserve any of this. She didn't deserve to have her life ended prematurely at the hands of someone like Aizen. She deserved to live a long and happy life, with Ichigo, just like she wanted.
'And it's all my fault.' Rukia thought.
The sound metal hitting the ground brought everything back, and suddenly Orihime was on her knees, staring down at the rods running her through, her broken sword lying on the ground. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't move, all she could do was stare down as she felt her blood begin to seep out of the wounds. And suddenly the rods were gone, and with them, all her strength. Orihime fell forward, her blood beginning to pool around her from the gaping wounds left.
"Are you alright, Hinamori?" Aizen asked.
"Y-yes, Aizen-taichou." She responded, pulled out of her stupor. She had thought she was going to die. Actually die, at the hands of the girl on the ground. And yet, she couldn't find the feeling of relief she knew she should have. Instead, all she could feel was remorse. Remorse for the girl on the ground, about to die. Remorse for Rukia, bound by Aizen, unable to help her friend in her last moments. So she stood silently, making her way to her captain.
"Then please take control of the kido." Aizen didn't even wait as he handed the end of the chains in his hand back to her, stepping forward towards Orihime, "It's a shame things had to end this way."
Orihime could only lift her head to see him drawing his zanpakutou. The blade shined in the glow of the street light, and Orihime knew he was going to end her life there. His pace was torturously slow, each step seemed to take an eternity until he was standing over her. He raised his blade, and Orihime closed her eyes.
A burst of wind rustled her hair accompanied by the sound of feet in straw sandals meeting the pavement. Aizen only stared blankly at the tanned hand with knuckles white grasped the blade of his sword. The hand of an orange haired Shinigami.
Ichigo wanted to smile. Deep down he knew that the feeling of Aizen's blade gripped in his hand made him feel indomitable. Then his body felt Orihime's reiatsu. She felt so weak, frail, on the edge of her life. It was enough to make Ichigo forget the definition of smile let alone how to accomplish the act. Ichigo locked eyes with Aizen, trying his best to channel every ounce of hatred in his being into his now golden glowing eyes.
"No!" Rukia gasped, but was helpless to even take a step forward as Hinamori's binding spell gripped her body tighter. Ichigo didn't reply, but his reiatsu flared as Captain Aizen's hand tightened around the handle of Kyōka Suigetsu.
"Run, you have to run away. Take Orihime and go! It doesn't matter how strong you think you are, he's a Captain. You can't possibly believe you can defeat him!"
Ichigo remained silent, but his eyes narrowed telling Rukia he didn't approve of her assessment of his power.
The sound of metal splitting wasn't heard until after the tip of Kyōka Suigetsu stabbed into the dirt. The speed of Ichigo's movements excelled what Rukia's eye could see, and resonance followed like an explosion. Had he nearly broken the sound barrier? Rukia had to be hearing things. Ichigo was strong, he knew bankai and had helped Orihime defeat a Menos Grande, but this was not viable. To catch a Captain's blade and break the spiritually enhanced metal barehanded, it was too grandiose. There wasn't a soul in existence that was that strong, was there?
Aizen remained stoic as he looked at the remaining quarter of his Zanpakuto. Then his eyes went back to the mere child in front of him with glowing yellow eyes. His physical appearance was not lost on the man. This shinigami standing in front of him was Kurosaki Ichigo. The problem was, Kurosaki Ichigo had died months ago, and was certainly not a shinigami. Then there were his eyes, golden and eerie, like those of a hollow. The boy before him had peaked his interest when he grabbed Kyōka Suigetsu mid swing with his bare hand, stopping the death strike on his defenseless victim. Now with his new found observations, the boy was more than a mere curiosity. Aizen mulled over the possibilities of just how the child came to be where and who he was for a millisecond before smiling at the only possible conclusion.
"It was quite nice of you to join us Kurosaki Ichigo, but I believe you have broken my sword. Did you deem that doing so would stop your friend from dying?"
"Aizen-Taichou!" Hinamori cried in shock, looking both nervous and in awe in her Captain's presence. "You know this Shinigami?"
"I only know him from a report listing 15 years ago, a report about the child of a rogue ex- shinigami captain and his human wife. A male child with bright orange hair. Kurosaki Ichigo is that child. Aren't you?" There was a moment of silence as Ichigo remained mute. "And for that matter you are also the mysterious cloaked Shinigami that whispered rumors are spreading of."
Ichigo's attendance remained hauntingly quiet as he slowly drew Zangetsu. The sound of the sharp metal against the edge of the sheath sounded loud, as if the force being applied to the edge was greater than it was intended to be. The sound and movement were torturously slow, building up an unseen tension to the point where Rukia felt it boiling over in herself and nearly begged for it to be finished before she started to burst. Then the Zanpakuto was free. With a heavy and quick swing Ichigo extended his hand, allowing Zangetsu, now in Shikai, to be seen in its full length. The gray ribbon wrapped around the handle refused to dangle and hit the ground. Instead it blew around, flying in an unfelt wind created by Ichigo's presence.
"Taichou!" Hinamori shouted, as her hand flew to grasp her own sword. She would die for her Captain, no matter how many times she was sliced and stabbed. It was her job and duty to fight to protect Aizen Sousuke until her body stopped working and she lay still and lifeless.
Aizen raised his hand, calling his brainwashed lieutenant to a halt. He turned his head to her, allowing him to look her in the eye while still watching his new threat.
"Please don't concern yourself, Hinamori. Perhaps you should return to Soul Society with Kuchiki Rukia. I will be right behind you once I finish up."
"I can't obey that order, sir!" She shouted, "I can't leave you by yourself."
"Neither of you can leave." Ichigo's voice finally graced them. It was calm and monotonic, but held an incomprehensible echo. "Not until I know which one of you did that to Inoue."
"Kurosaki-kun..." Orihime whispered out through her pain. Everything was so blurry and slow, even the voices of the Shinigami come to capture Rukia and end her life seemed to slow down in Orihime's fuzzy mind. Despite the incredibly slowed pace Orihime immediately recognized the sound of Kurosaki Ichigo. Her hazy eyesight didn't hide the intensity of his bright orange hair or diminish the feeling of superiority he held when in this form. She clenched her jaw tight against the pain and her own agony. She knew of course that Ichigo was Kagemusha. How long had she known before she finally saw him clearly yesterday in the park?
It was the night at the concert when Orihime first started to piece their identities together. After that she filled herself with doubts, knowing that the hopeless Ichigo she had grown up knowing couldn't have been what she was suggesting. Then there was the night fighting Grand Fischer when she knew she had thought wrong. But his words, both to her as Kagemusha and as he held her weeping body on the couch told her that Kagemusha and Kurosaki Ichigo were the same. He didn't want her to know so she told him she didn't.
To be truthful she didn't want to know at all. She had this idea of how her life was going to play out. With her and Ichigo in love with a family that lived in a nice house, the kids would go to a nice school, and their fridge would be covered in report cards and stick figure art. And all the while Orihime would protect her love from the pain in the world. She once thought she wanted to marry someone who knew about pain and loss, so they would understand each other. When she saw the pain in Ichigo's eyes, she only wanted to save him from it. Protecting Ichigo was all she wanted to do. But all along he had been protecting her. She couldn't bare it, so she let herself ignore it and always treated Kagemusha and Kurosaki as different people.
She didn't want to be the one being protected all of the time. What use were her powers if they couldn't do anything for her except make her a bigger target? In her foggy mind she gave herself a new resolve. She would be the bigger target now. She would protect and save Ichigo by forcing the captain to attack her instead, she just needed him to realize how much trouble he was in now.
"Kuro-saki-kun." She groaned, "You... need to... run."
"Don't talk Inoue." Ichigo eased his voice slightly as he told her his command. Still he couldn't face the dread in his heart enough to force himself to look at her and give her even the smallest reassuring smile. If he saw her, really looked at her, Ichigo knew without a doubt that the city would be in danger from not only his reiatsu spiking beyond the level normal humans could stand, but he would lose what control he had over himself and kill not only Aizen, but anyone else who so much as met his glance.
"I am going to end this as quickly as possible."
"So you wish to find out which of us hurt the shinigami lying on the ground bloodied behind you? Will you try to kill the culprit and let the other live?"
"No." Ichigo replied to Aizen's words meant to make him slip up. The wrap of his clothe audibly snapped around him at the force his reiatsu was placing on the air. "No matter who injured Inoue, I plan on ending your life Aizen Sousuke." Ichigo's eyes roamed from Aizen's cold eyes to Hinamori's
"I just need to know how much more blood I'll need to spill to fix this."
"I cannot have you attacking Hinamori. For that matter alone, I will take full responsibility for the girl's injuries."
The orange haired half shinigami didn't react the way the seasoned captain expected. Instead of attacking or fighting and demanding the truth, his eyebrows furrowed deeper, showing the first signs of any real emotion. The harsh reiatsu around Ichigo began to lose opacity and turn black. It swirled around him creating a circle of power at his feet. Threads of the black energy reached out and waved around them, creating ribbons flowing out like feelers inspecting his environment. Hinamori backed up as one slid between herself and her Kuchiki captive. Aizen stood unfazed, inspecting the dark reiatsu material as it passed him by.
Rukia stood there amazed at the energy Ichigo was just able to expel without difficulty. Each black current took an exponential amount of energy to create. Ichigo wasn't winded or strained. He held no appearance of even forcing the anomaly to occur. Contrary to the hate and madness in Ichigo's eyes, he looked completely at peace and in control.
"That's quite a power you have."
"Shut up!" Ichigo spat venom in his words.
"What makes you want to kill me so greatly?"
Ichigo glared at the man whose evil deeds haunted his dreams. He couldn't tell the man the things he had done in another man's universe. For that matter Ichigo choked down the bile at the thought that had been pressing on his mind since arriving. He couldn't kill Aizen without evidence. That evidence of his crimes was what was going to stop Soul Society from tracking him down as public enemy number one, and every one of his friends and allies following closely behind him on the hit list. Knuckles clenched and palm raw against Zangetsu, Ichigo struggled with himself. Reason was hard to hold onto when the man that slaughtered your family and friends stood before you without the power to defend himself.
Ichigo had the power to end Aizen's life before his godlike rein could begin –before he killed anyone, before the Soul Society fell into complete shambles-. He had the power and strength and, Jesus, he wanted to use it. His inner hollow bellowed plan after plan on what they could do if they killed Aizen now. What the two of them could accomplish and prevent together if they were to push Zangetu just a little further and slice through Aizen, only to watch him bleed to death and gasp for air. He would struggle and beg for Ichigo to kill him and end it humanly, like an animal hit on the side of the road. But Ichigo would refuse. He wanted Aizen to know what it was like to die long and painfully.
The image glorified it so much in Ichigo's mind, Zangetsu's bout of reason, to hold back or even force the Captain to incriminate himself, was lost. Ichigo was going to make his fantasy a reality. And he wanted Aizen to know how much he wanted this to happen.
"You won't answer?" Aizen mused, "Fair enough, madmen rarely find reason in their deeds, although…" the serpent extended his hand toward the strand of power flowing beside him. The reiatsu burned his hand in a deep crimson flame. He pulled back slowly and observed his hand, crisp to the wrist. "It's a curiosity of mine, how you became in possession of both Shinigami and Hollow powers."
"With any luck you won't live long enough to find out."
"You truly believe you can defeat me so quickly?" Aizen smirked at Ichigo's hubris claim.
"No." Ichigo adjusted his sword pointing the tip between the captain's eyes. "I plan to kill you slowly and painfully. I promise you will have enough time between my strikes to feel the pain of every cut and feel every drop of blood I rip from you."
"Kurosaki-kun?" Orihime gasped, she couldn't imagine Ichigo ever speaking like that. Was it her fault? Because she failed to win her fight? Orihime choked on the pressure and distain in her loves voice. What had happened to her Ichigo? He had changed from stoic savior to feral demon. All because of her failure.
"Inoue, don't talk." Ichigo growled through clenched teeth. "Don't do anything until I'm done. I'll take you to Rikka myself. Once I'm done here-. "
"She is gravely injured Kurosaki. She may not last much longer without proper care. Yet you chose to stand and refuse her that aid?"
"Don't put me on the same level as you, you bastard!" Ichigo yelled, losing his control as he felt the black oil seep into his vision. "Inoue isn't-."
"The gap in our power is too vast for you to breach." Ichigo flinched at the words that echoed his every fear. It took near madness and despair to defeat him before. How much more of himself will he surrender to defeat Aizen twice? "The time it would take for you to gain a molecule of ground against me, your friend will have long since passed."
Ichigo flinched again and was helpless as his desolation took over. His focus slipped from Aizen to Zangetsu, the large sword shaking from Ichigo's lack of confidence. His hollow growled and demanded blood. Now it wasn't the matter of wanting to spill Aizen's blood, it was the matter of Ichigo's past staring him down.
It was coming back, all do to the captain's cool voice whispering into his ear. Ichigo knew. He knew this was a tactic in the demon's bag of tricks, but he had never mentally prepared for it. He never wanted anyone to get hurt, to be used against him. Shakily Ichigo turned his head and watched Orihime take shallow breathes. The pool of her blood flowed towards her lips, and Ichigo was instantly filled with images of the beautiful woman drowning in her own blood. He saw her as a death by his hands, covered in red and gasping for breath as she still found the strength to stay with him longer. His eyes went wide in horror.
Aizen remained stoic as a shockwave seemed to hit the area and all of the Shinigami boy's reiatsu disappeared. Kurosaki dropped his sword to his side and bowed his head. Such a weak fool he was, to allow a mere weakling like Inoue Orihime to stop him from his goals. But still, the once cloaked shinigami had just expelled more energy than the reports deemed possible for him. Then there was the undeniable presence of hollow reiatsu within him. Once he returned to Soul Society, he would research what he had seen. Aizen hoped he would see the boy again. With the determination he felt, he knew Ichigo was far from becoming a memory.
"Hinamori, will you open the Senkimon, please?" Aizen's request was laced with the sounds of his victory.
"Y-yes Aizen-Taichou." Hinamori drew her sword and stabbed the tip into an invisible barrier. The doors into Soul Society opened and the lieutenant gently pulled Rukia into the glowing pathway.
The look in the noble's violet eyes broke the gentle vice-captain's heart. They showed the horror and heartache of leaving and the desperation for her friends to live. Kuchiki Rukia looked like she had been stabbed through the chest and was slowly dying.
Aizen turned to follow them both into the Senkimon, when a soft voice spoke his name. His feet inches from the edge of the gate, the captain turned and gave Ichigo his attention once again. The boy still had his head bowed, blocking his face, but his shoulders seemed higher and straighter.
"Until yesterday, I was wearing a veil, created for me by Urahara Kisuke. The veil came in the form of a bracelet that fed of my reiatsu to work. It hid my identity from my friends and controlled the output of my reiatsu. If I used too much or lost the slightest bit of control it would stop functioning. This made it impossible for me to fight at my full potential. By the time the first hollow was sent down to Karakura, I was so used to wearing it, I didn't notice its effect on my powers or how it dampened my senses until it no longer worked.
"Urahara Kisuke, eh?" Aizen's grin turned into a contemplative frown. "You are giving away your hand, Shinigami."
"I'm not." Ichigo held his head up high and glowered at Aizen. Somehow a new found power was hidden behind his eyes, causing them to glow a dark blue. "I was telling you so you wouldn't underestimate me. The power you saw before…" Ichigo grabbed Zangetsu tightly and stabbed the tip of his trusted blade into the asphalt. "Was less than half of my real strength!"
A tornado of wind picked up, throwing both Hinamori and Rukia further into the senkimon. Aizen held his ground but wasn't quick enough to hold back the appearance of shock on his face as the gust expelled from the orange haired half-human. The gust flew back in, like an explosion, but concentrated on the edge of Ichigo's blade, slowly the gust merged into the same midnight blue tone that was reflecting in the shinigami's eyes.
"I'm letting you live for no other reason than because I want Inoue to live." The boy placed his other hand on the edge of the cleaver like blade, a few inches away from the hand griping the handle. "I will be coming to get Rukia back, so you can guarantee I will see you again. And when I do, I want to make sure you remember every time you look in the mirror… Kurosaki Ichigo is going to kill you!"
A blast of reiatsu erupted from the Zangetsu, and straight at Aizen Sousuke. The light blinded the two women who were saved by the post of the Senikmon gate. Azien wasn't as lucky. Smoke covered the entrance and hid the captain from his dedicated subordinate. Hinamori gasped and shot forward, wanting to save her captain from the attack the strange shinigami shot at Aizen-Taichou. As she arrived at the edge of the gate and the World of the Living, a stumbling figure backed up into the Dungai.
The vice-captain instantly grabbed the handle to her Zanpakuto, expecting nothing more than a fight to the death. The smoke came off the man in waves, exposing his captain's haori coat. She instantly recognized him and released her blade.
Aizen stumbled back, his body slumped forward as the gate closed, cutting off the flow of smoke into the precipice trail. The light got dark, but after decades of training, their eyes adjusted in time to see the handle and broken blade of Kyōka Suigetsu hit the ground. Aizen's blood trailed behind dripping on the ground and splattering over the handle of the damaged Zanpakuto.
"Aizen-taichou!" Hinamori screamed, her heart palpitating.
"Go." Aizen groaned.
"No Aizen-Taichou, I can't"
"Hinamori." Aizen turned to look at his vice-captain giving her a full glimpse of his ghastly injuries.
His face was sliced down the middle and his glasses were missing. The gentle warrior lost her breath and took a step closer. The gash seemed to nearly split Aizen down the middle from his forehead to his stomach where the injury seemed the worst. The man looked so different from the calm and noble hearted man Hinamori loved. He looked vulnerable and volatile all at the same time.
Aizen clutched his face, covering his once godlike perfect appearance and demanded once again his subordinate leave him. She sounded as weak and pathetic as she always did to him when she silently agreed to give him time to himself. She left with the Hogyoku, leaving him with just a Jigokuchō to save him from being rejected by the Dungai. He waited controlling his breathing and rethinking the events of the evening as he listened to Hinamori's slow moving steps.
He replayed the expression on Kurosaki Ichigo's face. The power that hit him head on and at such close range it should have killed him. His nearly decimated Zanpakuto was all that saved him from the full force of the teen boys attack. Then there was the child's immense power and unmistakable hollow like presence.
Was that it? Was that the evolutionary leap he was looking for? All along, Urahara had it hidden from him, and left him to believe that Inoue Orihime was as great as the evolution would reach?
A twisted smile met his bloodied lips, as he repeated Ichigo's name like a prayer never to be forgotten. Slowly his stiff shoulders began to relax and then shake as a quiet rumble began in his chest. The captain couldn't hold back anymore. Letting go of his wounds Aizen stood up to his full height and laughed.
Ichigo stood silently as he watched the Senkimon close. And finally, the sky released the rain it had been holding.
He had let Aizen go.
The man who haunted his nightmares, who was single-handedly responsible for the death of his friends, and of his family, had been right there in front of him, and Ichigo just let him go. His hollow was screaming at him, condemning his stupidity and yelling at him to open the gate himself and finish the monster off. Zangetsu was quiet, but Ichigo could feel a respect and admiration coming from the old man.
With a swing of the blade, Ichigo returned Zangetsu to his simple form, and sheathed the blade. He couldn't dwell on Aizen now, not when Orihime needed his help. He could feel the girl's eyes still on him, watching him. He took a deep breath and turned around.
"Kurosaki-kun." She said quietly, barely staying conscious.
"Don't talk Inoue." He said gently, kneeling down and scooping the girl into his arms, trying to keep her out of the rain as much as possible.
"Rukia will be fine." He interrupted, "They won't do anything for a while. Just focus on getting better for now. We'll save her together, I promise."
Ichigo stood, careful not to move her too much. He needed to heal her, or get her to Rikka, but first he needed to get her out of the rain. He was doing what he could, but they were both quickly getting soaked.
"Yeah." Ichigo couldn't bring himself to look at her, he'd lied to her, he'd deceived her, and now she knew, "I'll explain it to you later Inoue, but right now I need to get you some help."
All was quiet once again until Orihime pointed weakly towards the handle and chucks of metal on the ground.
"He broke my sword." She whined, almost making Ichigo find that smile.
"We'll just have to get you a new one then." He replied pulling her a bit closer.
Ichigo looked down, her eyes were closed and if it hadn't been for the gaping wounds in her chest, he would have thought she was sleeping. She was so peaceful a still, with all of the blood soaking her clothes he couldn't help his hand from touching her cheek. It was cold and damp, but still held an alive warmth.
"Inoue…" Ichigo whispered, the girl slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him with as much strength as she could muster. "You're… you're not going to leave me alone, are you?" He half joked, not wanting her injuries to be worse than he thought, and God he couldn't handle her dying in his arms. Not again.
"I don't think I could, even if I wanted to." She whispered back, closing her eyes again against the pain and fatigue.
"How did I know I'd find you here, Kurosaki-san?"
Ichigo didn't move as Urahara walked forward, Yoruichi standing on his shoulder and Tessai a few feet behind them. For once, Ichigo didn't feel annoyance at the shop keeper's sudden appearance. His mind a whirlwind of emotions and he felt tired just thinking about it, but most of all he knew the eccentric man would offer him what he needed at the moment.
"Just shut up and take me to your shop." He answered.
"Of course." Urahara turned around, "We have some very busy days coming."