A/N: I'm not completely done with editing my other stories but this came to me after reading the last couple of manga chapters and I thought you all might enjoy a little laugh. And yes, this is a one-shot.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.
We've Hit A Little Snag
Along with the usual nine captains, the meeting was doubled and then some by all of the lieutenants and a few other members of various squads who had been influenced by the Hero of Soul Society somehow, and somewhere along the way. The soutaicho sat in his chair, his bushy eyebrows pushed together in a frown.
"Your report?" he barked, mentally swearing that he couldn't have heard right the first time.
"It's as she said, sir. Ichigo won't wake up his senses. His reiatsu is there, we feel it but it's like it's deeply buried. For some reason we just can't get through to him." Renji shifted uncomfortably next to his captain.
"Hmm, seems as if he's unconsciously decided that they cannot exist because he sacrificed them to save us," Kyoraku said. Several other captains nodded, seeing the wisdom of the statement.
"What of his badge? It should reactivate once his reiatsu is at a sufficient level to maintain his Shinigami form." Ukitake frowned openly. He hoped that the young man hadn't done anything foolish like throw it out. He'd explained that something bad could happen if it got into the wrong hands.
"There was no sign of it, Ukitake-taicho," Byakuya said. He had personally searched the boy's room while Rukia and Renji tried to wake Ichigo. They'd thought that the three familiar spiritual pressures would have jarred the ex-substitute Shinigami not only awake but also out of the forced reiatsu sleep he seemed to be in.
"Che, I knew I should have gone with you," Kenpachi said. "I could have got him going again."
"Captain Zaraki, I'm sure that you could have, but we didn't want him to completely freak out. You have that effect on some people, sir," Rukia said. She could just picture how the Kurosaki household would have reacted to Squad Eleven's captain. Karin, whose powers were now almost on par with how her brother's had been, would have gone up the wall, Yuzu no doubt would have fainted, Isshin would have wondered if a fight was going to break out, and Ichigo would have been scared senseless. "Besides, sir, I thought you wanted to fight Ichigo again. He's nowhere near where he was the last time you two had some fun. It's best to just wait until he gets it together."
"True, it wouldn't be fun fighting him when he's weak."
The others around the room sighed in relief. "So we've hit a little snag." Everyone not done sighing turned it into a groan at the soutaicho's words.
"It shouldn't be a problem. A little experiment should thrust Kurosaki back into fighting form." Kurotsuchi held up the finger with the long nail, about to place some projection up.
"Pardon me, sir, but that won't work either. If you take one step near them, Isshin-san will come after you. He won't want his children to become test subjects."
"Kuchiki-san, since you seem to know Kurosaki the best, what do you suggest?" Soi Fon asked in exasperation. The little know-it-all was starting to annoy her.
"We need someone with enough spiritual pressure to shock him but not enough to make him or his family feel threatened. Someone who perhaps has a hint of hollow in it or maybe a lot but someone he knows instinctively isn't going to hurt them. I suggest we ask Neliel-san to go to his house. She helped us during the war and is quite attached to him. If she knows that he's regaining his powers but needs help, I'm sure that she'd be willing."
"We cannot put trust into what Arrancar that are left to see this important task carried out," Yamamoto declared. "This is too delicate an operation."
"Sir, I don't see how we have any other choice. If he doesn't 'wake up' before he leaves for college, he may not regain them again until he dies. The only reason Isshin-san got his back so soon was because of Ichigo." Normally Rukia wouldn't have been so forward but she was concerned. Ichigo was beginning to walk down the same path as he had in junior high. Without something to protect, his personality was starting to sour. His mind set was becoming detached from those around him and she didn't want him to lose the friends that he had.
Toushiro was about to offer to go as he was known to both Karin and Ichigo but a member of Soi Fon's team hesitantly interrupted the meeting to bring them something. The object was passed down first one row of officers then another before stopping in Rukia's hands.
Yamamoto watched the whole thing with interest as the Kuchiki princess went from white to red in a matter of moments. She mumbled an apology to her brother across the room before thrusting the object forward. "I would say, sir, that this is more than a little snag. The idiot lost his Shinigami badge! I could understand how he might misplace it but he lost it!"
The entire room listened to her rant and came to a silent unanimous decision. Raising his hand, Toushiro tried to calm her down. "I suggest, Kuchiki, that you go once more and try to talk some sense into him. Perhaps a gigai is in order, however. And as this needs to be returned to him as soon as possible, it would be a good idea to take care of two things at once."
"Indeed, and you always seemed to make him understand better than we do." Byakuya held back a sigh, hoping that his sister's show of temper didn't get back to the clan elders. They had been remarking on how wonderfully calm she'd been of late.
"I would gladly accept the mission," Rukia said, waiting for the soutaicho to allow the use of a gigai. If she got the opportunity, she'd beat Ichigo until she got through to him.
"That is an infinitely better choice than to send an Arrancar to the real world. You may go, Kuchiki-san," Yamamoto decided. The meeting was dismissed and the officers stayed out of her way while Rukia made a hasty retreat to the Senkaimon.
"Ah, young love," Kyoraku said while coming abreast of Ukitake and Byakuya. The younger captain glared at the older man.
"I do feel she is the best person for this," Ukitake said, not agreeing with his friend for the sake of peace but of the same opinion. Rukia and Ichigo had a connection that went beyond that of student and teacher.
"Hn, she is a Kuchiki princess. There is no future with the Kurosaki boy."
"So you say, Byakuya-kun but we should not underestimate their bond." The noble knew that as well as the two elder captains but they didn't need to remind him of that fact. There would be plenty of time to worry about it if Ichigo Kurosaki ever woke up.
Rukia stepped out of Urahara's shop and adjusted the skirt on her uniform. It brought back memories and she hoped that she'd once again have the opportunity to really use it. While she wanted to go ream Ichigo a new one immediately, she first had to make some visits that were long overdue. Tucking the badge firmly into her school bag, she took off for Inoue's. The flying flower wielding girl had been a good friend and she deserved to see Rukia now that she was allowed some time in the Living World.
She was surprised to find Ishida there as well and felt that it must be a sign of good things to come that she could renew two friendships at once. "Ishida, Inoue. I apologize for not coming sooner." She bowed humbly, only to be engulfed in one of Orihime's hugs.
"Kuchiki-san, I'm so glad to see you!"
"And I you."
"It has been awhile, Kuchiki-san," the Quincy allowed although he had sensed her on her last visit. "I trust I am not being executed for killing too many Hollows."
"No, why would you ask such a thing?"
"I am afraid the Shinigami sent in your place has not been doing a good job."
"Ah, well, it's just as well then that Ichigo will soon have his powers back." Rukia saw their surprised faces and smiled. "Neither of you have sensed his reiatsu yet? Perhaps that is why he can't hear me. If you see Chad, will you tell him I said hello? As much as I would like to stop by his place and chat, he's not much of a conversationalist and I really have to go beat some sense into Ichigo."
"By all means," Ishida said, smiling. He would like to be a fly on the wall for that encounter but he'd just have to hear about it from someone else later. No doubt it would prove interesting.
"Thank you. If all goes well, I'll see both of you in school tomorrow."
"Should we stay nearby in case Kurosaki needs Inoue to heal him?"
"No, I can use my kido to do that if need be." Waving goodbye, Rukia was in a much calmer mood than she'd been after the meeting.
The Kurosaki house and clinic were just as she remembered. Knowing that Ichigo would not be home yet because of some job or club, Rukia went into the clinic where she was sure Isshin would be. Karin met her in the room and the normally stoic young girl teared up. "Rukia-san."
"It's been a long time, Karin-chan. I'm sorry that I couldn't visit sooner." They had often talked in the month it had taken Ichigo to wake up after the war and Rukia had explained that she would have to leave them because there was no longer a need for her here. She figured that the explanation was now what was allowing the other budding Kurosaki Shinigami-to-be to let her in their home without a problem.
"It's all right, you told us that you wouldn't be able to. I've sensed you around though. Is this because of Ichi-nii?"
"Yeah, his reiatsu is returning but if we don't get him fully functional before he leaves for college, I'm afraid that he might not get it back until he dies. We'd rather have him a Shinigami before that."
"I think he'd like that. He's starting to become a bit of a punk again."
Rukia would have agreed but Isshin came out of the back at that point and spotted her. "My third daughter! There you are! It's been ever so long since you were home." When the two girls did nothing but stare at him, he became serious. "I wondered if you would come in a gigai to see him. Ichigo said he's been having weird dreams."
"Most likely his subconscious mind is letting him hear us while asleep but the rest of him is suppressing the knowledge somehow or for some reason." Feeling around in her bag, she pulled out the badge. "The baka lost it," she said in way of explanation.
"Ichi-nii," Karin sighed, shaking her head.
"Now, now, boys his age lose things. We just have to be glad that it made its way back to the Soul Society and not into some villain's hands. Why don't you go upstairs and get comfortable? Yuzu is making dinner."
"Thank you, Isshin-san, I will. When will Ichigo be home?"
"Not until about eight. Don't worry, I won't tell him you're here."
"I do want to surprise him."
Ichigo came into the house, dropping his shoes where they fell and slipping on the house shoes half-heartedly. "I'm home," he announced, not expecting an answer. Yuzu and Karin waved from the couch while his father was no where to be found. Trudging up to his room, the orange haired teen flung his bag onto his chair and slumped onto his bed. "I'm exhausted, Rukia," he said unknowingly. If he ever became aware of how many times he actually said her name in a week he'd be shocked.
"That's what you get for trying to do a job you're totally unsuitable for," came her answer. Thinking it the same mental response he always heard in his head, the teen kept on talking without opening his eyes.
"Yeah, well, I'm not a Shinigami daiko anymore and I never got paid for that anyway."
"A situation we're happy to rectify," Rukia said, waiting to see how long it took him to cotton on to the fact that her voice was not coming from his memories.
"Really, and just how much does an unseated officer of no squad get paid these days?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Ichigo. We'd never insult you by not giving you a seat and you'd be part of my squad, as I am the one who brought you into our world. With the exchange rate, I suppose you'd still make enough to live on your own during college rather than in a dorm."
The conversation was not taking its usual turn. By this point she was calling him an idiot and making snooty remarks about how he shouldn't expect payment until he was dead and had joined the rank and file for real. "This is starting to sound really odd," he said opening his eyes at last. Sitting in the closet, Yuzu's pajamas on like usual sat Rukia. "Rukia?" he asked tentatively.
"Ah, so now you're awake. We bring in a captain, a lieutenant and myself and you think you're dreaming. Now that I'm sitting here in a gigai, you think you're having a hallucination. I'm real, idiot," she said with some affection.
"Rukia, what are you doing here? I thought that you wouldn't be able to actually visit anymore."
"I wasn't going to be able to visit but it seems as if someone started leaking reiatsu again. Not much mind you, just enough to get everyone's hopes up. When your father and Urahara confirmed it, Yamamoto-soutaicho decided that your powers needed to be woken up as quickly as possible."
"I don't have any powers left. Zangetsu said I'd lose them. He never said I'd get them back."
"Your father once lost his too and because you were spewing out reiatsu like water before, he regained them. I think that because of Karin and your father's abilities, yours are recovering. A lot slower perhaps, but recovering all the same. However, the soutaicho wants you to be able to wield Zangetsu again before you leave for college."
"I'm only moving across town."
"Still, if you don't before you leave home you may not get them back before you die for real. It would be a real pain to have to search all over the Rukongai for you if we had to send you to the Soul Society via a hell butterfly."
Ichigo conceded her the point, remembering the vastness of the outer parts of Soul Society and that had been just the section he'd been to. Standing, he approached her cautiously, afraid to believe that what she was saying was real. "I'm really getting my powers back?"
"Yes, you're really getting your powers back." Reaching out, he touched her face, letting the silky strains of her hair brush against the back of his hand. Rukia brought up her small hand and flattened it over his larger one. "If you would just wake up."
"I'm awake," he said, his cocky grin the one that she loved making an appearance after over a year. Ichigo tried to search out her reiatsu but was still unable to feel it when awake. "I don't suppose they'd let you stab me with Sode no Shirayuki again."
"No," she whispered, watching his head come closer to hers. He'd gotten even taller in the year and more that she'd been away. Before she'd watched him from a distance or when he was laying down so she hadn't noticed the subtle change.
"Guess we'll just have to wait, midget."
"I guess we will," she agreed, his lips brushing against her own. Kissing him was a new experience but she hadn't thought twice about allowing him the liberty. It didn't feel like he was taking anything that he needed to ask for anyway.
"Rukia," he breathed. Some part of him crystallized and became whole again. Touching her, kissing her felt real and right. He could actually believe that she was here. Ichigo moved his arms around her to pick her up and would have brought her to his bed had his sister not interrupted.
"Ichi-nii," Yuzu started but came to a stop when she saw the two in an embrace. "Oh, I'm sorry. I was going to ask if you were hungry but I suppose I can figure out the answer for myself." Giggling, the younger twin twirled out the door to go share the news.
"She's going to tell the old man," Ichigo groused. "It's times like these that I wish I could just transform into a Shinigami and leave."
"Times like these? Have you kissed many girls since I've been gone?" Rukia asked, jealousy snaking through her.
"Don't be an idiot, Rukia; of course not. I haven't kissed anyone but you, ever. You know what I mean. Hollow hunting was always preferable to having to put up with my dad's antics."
"That reminds me of something. You lost your badge! How could you be so irresponsible as to lose your badge and not even report it?"
"How was I supposed to do that? I can't see Shinigami without a gigai, remember? And you can't honestly believe I'd trust news like that to what's-his-name. Besides, what's the big deal, it doesn't work anymore, right?"
"Of course it still works! It's just tuned to your reiatsu. As soon as it's built up to a level that can sustain your Shinigami form, the badge will start letting you know when hollows appear. If you happen to have it when that happens. It'll still work even if it's not in your possession. So where did you leave it, baka?" Rukia huffed, missing the intimacy of the moment before.
"I think it fell out of my bag when I helped that guy the other week. I went back to look for it but never found it. Maybe he took it with him. Guess we'll just have to look for it when I get my powers…" Ichigo cut off the rest of his sentence when the badge was shoved roughly into his chest just before a right hook met his jaw. His shins were the next casualty, then his ribs. "Rukia!"
"That's the least of what you deserve. Ukitake-taicho told you something bad could happen if you weren't careful with it. You wouldn't want disembodied spirits walking around, would you? It's a good thing that the person you helped was one of Soi Fon-taicho's people. He brought it to us today."
"Really? I don't remember seeing him before."
"You wouldn't. He was sent here when your sister's spiritual pressure started to spike and he stayed until he was sure yours was too." Sighing, Rukia hopped back into the closet. She was about close the door when a large, and still callused hand stopped her.
"I missed you, midget." Wrapping his arms around her, the orange haired almost Shinigami buried his nose in her hair.
Relenting, and not truly mad at him anymore, Rukia returned his hug. "I missed you too, idiot. Now go to bed and let me sleep. Convincing a roomful of people that you needed special attention is tough."
"I bet. Rukia," he started, letting her crawl into the bed she'd made.
"The rain has stopped again."
"Good, now maybe you can hear Zangetsu when he tries to talk to you."
"Maybe." He shut the closet door and picked up his things to go take a shower. "Night, Rukia."
Two figures, one in black, the other in white stepped out into the open and shook off the residual rain drops. The younger scowled, not liking the torrential downpour his world had been for the last year and a half. "The female Shinigami's back," he spat, squeezing out his jacket.
"Indeed, just in time too. Were it to rain anymore, I do not think he could have recovered."
"You're just as surprised as I am that we're still here." Hichigo ran a hand through his spiky hair and sighed. "That boy better learn to hold a sword again real soon. I'm bored."
"Patience, child, is a virtue. It is going to be a long time before he's at a level where he can wield our power again."
"Yeah, well, at least it's stopped raining. I think I was starting to grow gills."
"That would have proven most troublesome for our young friend."
"Ah, what's one more snag in a long line of snags that is the life of Ichigo Kurosaki?"
Zangetsu took his time answering, gazing up at the brilliant sun. "You may have a point, Hichigo. An uncomplicated path would not have been 'normal' for him."
"And if anyone needs proof, I have a seven mile deep sea of water they can have to demonstrate what 'normal' did to him." The hollow was disgusted that "King" had ever thought that he wanted to be like those that didn't see ghosts or not be the town's protector.
"Calm down, I will try to reach him now that the rain has stopped."
"I can always try," the younger spirit offered.
"We want him to wake up not freak out."