Blurb: Being a Quincy and flatsharing with a Vasto Lorde and a stalker shinigami sent on a mission to purify said hollow is not good for your health. Being forced to carry out said shinigami's duties is not fun, either. Having said Vasto Lorde attempt to use puppy-dog eyes to persuade you to keep an Adjuchas in your apartment... well, that's just plain disturbing.
A/N: In which things are... different. There's a minorly better, semi-sarcastic description of this on my profile if you want to read it.
The cover image is not Ichigo's puppy-dog face. It's just I can't draw on a computer to save my life. (I may make another attempt, though.)
In advance warning, much of this story is written in third person, from various characters' perspectives. As a result, what is witnessed by each character may be different to what another person would see, so please take what you read as happening with a slight pinch of salt. Despite any (deliberate) foreshadowing that may occur, none of the characters are psychic!
Well... not really. *cough*
Pairings: Nothing major, although you can see Ichi/Uryuu if you squint a bit. Onesided Uryuu/Orihime, also onesided Mizuiro/Keigo and onesided Chizuru/everything!vaguely!female. Pretty much as canon, in other words...
Edit (14/06/2012): Third pass. Smoothed out some slightly awkward-looking phrases you probably didn't notice.
Uryuu Ishida stepped into his apartment, letting his schoolbag slip off his shoulder in the hallway. It wasn't a particularly extravagant apartment, but was reasonably sized if nothing else, big enough for two people to live in quite comfortably.
"Kurosaki?" he called, shutting the door behind him.
Probably still out somewhere. He isn't usually back until I am.
Nonetheless, there was still a faint twinge of worry that perhaps Ichigo had left for good, lost himself completely, been eaten, a shinigami –
He clamped down on the fear. No. Kurosaki isn't that weak.
Fridge status: missing one pack of minced steak. Washing up: done, also cooking, apparently, given the pot currently on the stove. That was a good sign. Moving into his room and glancing down at the books on the desk, he noticed Ichigo had apparently been leafing through one or two of his old Quincy texts. Whether or not he'd actually be able to use the techniques was an entirely different matter... but then, he'd been perfectly capable of hiding his own reiatsu to such an extent that even Uryuu had difficulty detecting if Kurosaki was in the apartment or not.
Which was just as well, really.
He turned round, startled.
"When did you get back?"
Kurosaki shrugged. "About two hours ago. Did some reading. Stuff. You know."
"You could have put the books back." Uryuu turned to the desk and began unloading his school books, as the other grinned.
"If I did that, you wouldn't have anything left to do round here, would you?"
He frowned. "Why is the drawer open?" I swear I locked it this morning...
Ichigo shifted awkwardly. "...You did. Lock it, I mean," he added at the startled expression on the other's face. "But I needed something to practice on, right?"
"Practice what?" Uryuu asked suspiciously.
"My lock picking skills. Obviously."
He raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware you had lock picking skills." A second thought occurred to him. "Where did you get the picks from in the first place?" I know for certain I don't leave mine around the house. Having a bored Ichigo Kurosaki break into someone's house doesn't really bear thinking about... not that he would do such a thing.
Ichigo scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "Well... there was some guy who broke into the apartment when you were out."
"What!" he exclaimed, aghast. "Why didn't you mention that? What did they steal?"
"Nothing. Obviously. Guy shat himself and ran off. Didn't even take his stuff away with him. There was a rucksack with a wallet and stuff, and a set of lock picks he was using to break in. And it wasn't stealing!" he protested weakly. "He was trying to nick our stuff in the first place anyway, so..."
"What did you do to him?"
"I just scratched him a little. A cat could've inflicted worse injuries."
"...why don't I believe you?" muttered Uryuu, before moving back to the door and opening it.
There were two drops of blood on the floor just outside the apartment.
"See?" Ichigo noted jubilantly.
Uryuu pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Oh, and by the way," he added offhandedly as Uryuu stepped back into the apartment, shutting the door behind him, "I need to return that wallet."
"It wasn't his?"
"Nope. There's an ID card in there, so unless 'he' was actually a 'she', I don't think so. Belongs to Mizuho Asano, apparently. Beef ramen?"
"Fine." He settled down to a geography assignment as Ichigo made his way to the kitchen.
Humans have souls. This is a fact.
Most people are unable to see these souls when separated from their physical containers. This, too, is a fact.
It is also a fact that Uryuu Ishida is not one of these people.
Souls are capable of taking many forms. In general, they take the form of the physical body they inhabited previously to their death, and have a tendency to wander when free of their physical body. These souls have chains attached to their chests, which break away, given time.
Most people are fortunate, in a way, that they encounter the black-clad shinigami whose task it is to send on or purify souls before their soul chain corrodes away completely.
Ichigo Kurosaki is not one of these people.
Had one told Uryuu Ishida, as a young child, that he would, in the future, be flat-sharing with a hollow, he would probably have vehemently objected to such an idea. The thought of a Quincy cohabiting with a hollow was as patently ludicrous as that of living together with a shinigami – who, after all, would willingly stay with a creature that had caused the near-complete destruction of their own race?
Nonetheless, on a warm summer evening, he was rather surprised to encounter a young boy of about his age with bright orange hair, crying by the side of the road.
"Who are you?" he asked politely.
The soul looked up, eyes red from crying. "Ichigo."
"Are you okay?"
The boy shook his head silently. "It ate my mommy. I tried to get help, but no-one listened, they couldn't hear me... Why?"
He'd followed the living boy home, falling asleep next to him as Uryuu hugged the other boy to comfort him, insofar as such a thing was possible. By the time they had woken up, the two of them had been securely chained together, much to the ire of Ryuuken Ishida.
Words had been had. Ryuuken had eventually relented on the matter after much shouting (on Uryuu's part), crying (mainly when Ichigo was told to leave) and icy glares (courtesy of Ishida Senior). He'd given up, since any attempts to split the soul chain had resulted in resounding failure and considerable pain for Ichigo. Causing unnecessary suffering to the boy was hardly his aim, after all.
Uryuu's life had continued, and, in a way, so had Ichigo's. The other restrained himself, in general, from talking in public unless absolutely necessary, as it was rather difficult for Uryuu to reply most of the time without getting some very strange looks for talking to himself. Both had grown up, although the Quincy had thought it odd that a soul could age at the same rate. The fact that the chain was beginning to pull away from Ichigo's chest did not escape him, either, despite the fact that the other hid the pain quite well.
The precise moment the chain came completely free always eluded Uryuu's memory. Maybe he didn't want to remember; perhaps he'd simply been asleep, although the sound of the screams of a demi-hollow in the final stages weren't exactly something anyone with any spiritual awareness could sleep through. Either way, by the time he'd woken up in the morning, the other was missing. There were no traces of shinigami around (as if Ryuuken would permit such a thing in his household), and Ichigo was unable to leave Uryuu. That left only one option.
At that point, Uryuu was almost fourteen. His father had noted the conspicuous absence of plus hovering at his shoulder.
He'd made the polite request that he leave the Ishida household for pastures new. Move out. Get a job. An apartment. Spread his wings a little.
As well as the unspoken sentence: I will be targeted.
The man had responded with a curt nod and an indifferent, "If you want your freedom so badly, you can have it."
A week later, he'd found an apartment, moved the majority of his stuff out, but there was still a conspicuous absence in his mind.
There was a garganta tearing open to reveal an odd, blockish creature and he didn't have time to think, just leave a fraction of a second's hesitation.
Could it be him? I don't want to destroy his soul -
And then the second hollow appeared, the one whose garganta he'd missed. This one was mainly fur and horns and claws, some odd amalgam of bison and bear.
That... has to be the crappiest luck in history.
Both hollows roared at him, the more animalistic of the two making a quick lunge for him.
He dodged, forming his bow in his hand -
And there was that damned hesitation again.
Where the hell are the shinigami?
This was about the time the third hollow turned up.
I am royally screwed, he thought, just as the third hollow - the white reptilian-looking one - crouched, a high-speed blur moving past him and tearing into the other hollows.
Uryuu stared, managing to forget every single rule of being a Quincy in one moment: do not get close, do not look at the target, do not stay still, do not hesitate.
The attack was brutal, swift, merciless and efficient as the smaller hollow clawed the other two apart. It didn't take particularly long before their spiritual forms disintegrated, breaking down into their components.
The hollow turned. Now it wasn't moving quite so quickly, he could see it more clearly; red markings covering most of its body and half the mask in an odd pattern. Bright crimson tufts of fur decorated its ankles, and there, clearly visible, was that bright colour that would always, always be Kurosaki's.
His voice caught in his throat.
Hollows target those who were close to their primary soul in life. The words of his sensei echoed through his head.
It made its way towards him as he lowered the bow slightly.
Right now I'd give all my Quincy powers for a zanpakuto...
He flinched as the hollow reached him, tensed to run. It lowered its head, rubbing it contently against his body in a manner strongly reminiscent of a domestic cat and narrowly avoiding snaring his clothing in one of the horns on the mask. Something that might have been a purr rumbled from its throat, like the sound of an engine gently ticking over.
"Ichigo?" he asked tentatively.
The hollow nuzzled him.
He sighed, and ran a hand through the long mane of orange hair.
"You're going to be the death of me one of these days, Kurosaki..."
Ichigo hummed to himself while switching on the kettle.
It had felt like an age ago that he'd died. He'd kept most of his memories of his previous life, although there were some things he'd forgotten (the colour of his mother's eyes, what Yuzu's favourite colour had been) that had frustrated him. And he'd gained memories, some of them extremely unpleasant.
Being without Uryuu hurt in a way it had never done before; the first time he'd tried waiting in the other's apartment as a newly-born hollow, he'd lasted approximately ten minutes before being frustrated at what seemed to him as a ridiculously long time.
However, even then he'd retained enough of his original intelligence to realise that to break into the school would be an extremely bad idea. Instead, he'd spent most of his time trying to evolve in Hueco Mundo, since there seemed very little else to do and the hunger burnt at his belly almost all the time.
Becoming an adjuchas had been a considerable improvement.
Uryuu had been surprised that his appearance had changed, if relieved. It was easier to communicate as an adjuchas, as well as being rather less unwieldy trying to fit in the apartment; for one thing, his original form had taken up approximately three-quarters of the free space in the apartment. And adjucha were governed rather less by instinct, even if they were still almost entirely animalistic in appearance.
Then it had taken over two months of what seemed like almost unending torment; hunting down hollow after hollow after hollow until he thought that he might lose himself in the voices of the souls he devoured, that the evolution was impossible and that he was striving for a dream that would never happen. Normal hollows may never sleep, not even for a minute, for fear that they will die at the hands of another or that they will fall into the darkness, devolving to become mindless creatures once more, and Ichigo had worked tirelessly lest he drown in the minds of others.
But oh, it was worth it, even though Uryuu shouted at him until his throat was sore afterwards.
He briefly wondered what to do about the bag, before deciding to drop the wallet off at the woman's house later. Trying to find the would-be burglar again wouldn't be worth the effort.
Asano, Asano, Asano... wasn't that name familiar from somewhere? Oh yeah... wasn't there that guy Keigo who goes to school with Ishida? Maybe his sister...
Somewhere in Soul Society, in the darkness, a little red flashing light was set off.
A shadowy figure approached a keyboard, before tapping in a long and complicated series of keystrokes.
A screen was brought up, revealing a map complete with teeny-tiny moving dots and figures upon it, superimposed upon a background that was shades of crimson.
A long fingernail trailed across the map, coming to rest at a figure currently at the location where the red was deepest.
The noise was silenced once more.
The figure stared at the screen, before its mouth split into a wide grin.
"You've been delegated to Karakura Town for the time being. There are some strange readings we've been having there that we're not entirely sure of, but the area is one spirit mile in diameter, so there shouldn't be too much difficulty."
Rukia looked down at the cityscape of the Living World, and hesitated, just for a fraction of a second, before stepping out into the night.
Ichigo stopped in front of the door, wallet in hand, as his tail flicked from side to side.
On one hand, it would be the right thing to do, but on the other... Keigo, the brother, had above-ordinary reiatsu, and Ichigo suspected he'd been seen by the teenager once.
He dropped it on the doormat, and then pressed the bell carefully, making sure not to put a hole through it by accident.
The door opened.
Keigo looked around for the person responsible for pressing the doorbell, and drew a complete blank.
"Jeez..." he muttered. "Sis, do you have to scare off everyone who comes round?"
"Did I hear you say something rude about your older sister?"
"Nothing!" he shouted quickly, just as she appeared at his shoulder.
"...what's this?" He reached down, picking up the wallet. "Sis, did you leave your wallet on the porch or something?"
"Some asshole nicked my wallet earlier! If only I had a big strong muscly boyfriend – " Mizuho cut off her rambling to stare at the object in Keigo's hands. "Where was that?"
"I just picked it up. Someone left it on the porch." Keigo stepped outside properly, checking the street.
Crouching just above, Ichigo let out a silent sigh of relief.
"They must have gone already..."
"I... someone rescued my wallet?" That's really romantic! But kind of creepy that somebody knew how to find me... nonetheless... maybe I've got a secret admirer! Maybe he's bald!
Keigo glanced back into the street, and did a double-take at the little piece of paper fluttering down in front of his nose as his sister rambled about bald boyfriends. He caught it in his hand.
A hastily-scratched note read I am not a secret admirer, I do not wish to date your sister and I am not bald. Sorry.
He stared up. A flash of white and orange caught his eye for a fraction of a second, before he blinked and decided he must be imagining things.
Keigo closed the door again.
Crouched on the roof, Ichigo let out a breath. That might have been close... but then again, he didn't really want having Keigo's sister searching for her secret admirer in order to have kids with him. He wasn't even sure it was anatomically possible for hollows to have children, and really didn't want to find out.
A doorway opened.
Rukia inspected her immediate surroundings as the Senkaimon slid shut behind her. From the look of things, she was standing in someone's apartment. There were traces of hollow all over, which confused her; how could the room still be perfectly intact if a hollow had attacked here? They tended to leave more mess, and besides, there was no sign of a victim. The only moving thing in the room was the human currently tapping on some strange kind of device that looked as if it might have come from 12th Division, had the division ever felt inclined to make their devices look cool... no, the tapping made words come up on the... something that was in front of the tapping device. Or maybe they were part of the same thing –
"Do you generally break into other people's apartments?"
At first, she thought the human was talking to the strange device, before he swivelled on his chair to glare at her.
She blinked, suddenly uncertain.
"Well, shinigami?" he snapped harshly.
Rukia suddenly found her voice again. "You... you can see me?"
...how? He's a human! No human should have enough spiritual pressure to -
Suddenly, her eyes widened. No wonder there are traces of hollow in this apartment... it's been stalking him! Lying in wait to strike and feed on his soul... he has an abnormal amount of spiritual pressure... but why can't he sense it? Or maybe, she thought, suddenly horrified, the hollow hasn't come through yet and the reiatsu is leaking through from the hollow opening a portal into the Living World right now -
"You," she said curtly, taking control of the situation.
The teenager - no more than a boy, really - raised an eyebrow. "You've finally decided to leave, then?"
She glowered at him. "While I would love the opportunity to argue with you further, unfortunately, I'm more concerned with saving your life right now. Show a little respect."
His face paled slightly, but he managed to regain his composure.
"Oh really," he replied sardonically. "And what, exactly, do I need saving from?"
Rukia growled inwardly. She did not have the patience to deal with this rude boy who was probably about a sixth of her age, if that. "A bad spirit has probably been stalking you as its prey, given the traces around your apartment. I am a shinigami, someone who fights those spirits. And you need to leave this apartment. Now."
"You really expect me to believe that?"
Alright, that was enough. Human or no human, he had irritated her enough for the time being.
"Bakudo #1: Sai!"
The kido was perfectly calibrated and aimed. Unfortunately, she hadn't calculated for the fact that the boy might dodge. He was surprisingly fast for a human. As a result, the spell went out the window instead.
Or maybe... maybe the boy has the hollow riding in his soul.
Her thoughts treacherously slid back to that night.
Sode no Shirayuki slick, wet with his blood, the metallic scent of crimson taint –
"Shinigami. Get out of my apartment now, before I make you." His eyes glittered angrily behind the glasses.
No... If he were a hollow, he would have almost certainly struck first and answered questions later. But then... how did he know about the word shinigami before I even mentioned it? Unless he's seen them before?
Rukia felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Something was seriously wrong here.
A clatter of metal nearby. Her eyes flickered over to the door, then back at the apparent teenager.
Apparently this apartment had another occupant.
Whatever lay in the next room, though, had no human reiatsu. It had no reiatsu she could detect at all.
And that terrified her. If it was the hollow – which was looking more and more likely – then it was almost certainly a Menos Grande, one of the more powerful hollows. Not Gillian – too bulky, stupid, lumbering and obvious. One of those wouldn't even fit in this entire apartment block. An adjuchas seemed more likely. That she might be able to handle with her shikai, just about, or at least occupy it for long enough for backup to arrive.
If it were one of the fabled Vasto Lorde... she and the boy were both royally screwed.
The sound might just be coincidence, her hopeful half suggested.
Of course, there's always the possibility he was playing host to the hollow and was the source of the reiatsu in the first place, chipped in her fatalistic half with unnecessary cheeriness.
She reached down for the communication device –
He lunged at her, catching her by surprise and causing the device to clatter against the floor. He grabbed it before smashing it against the floor, breaking it.
Rukia stared at him, disbelieving.
"You utter – "
"I won't let you call for backup, shinigami." His eyes were cold. "Leave. Now. This is the last time I will ask. If you don't, I won't hesitate to kill you."
And now she felt the darker taint to his reiatsu, pressing against her will.
I can't leave him like this... the hollow has suppressed the boy's soul entirely. It's the only possible explanation for the reiatsu around here and the intact body.
For the sake of the human he was before... I will purify it.
Rukia focused, hard. If this was going to work, she needed the element of surprise.
The boy began focusing reishi into a solid form. Apparently he wasn't waiting for a response.
Now! Bakudo #1: Sai!
Taken by surprise by the unvocalised kido, the boy was paralysed, breaking his concentration and providing a split-second's worth of opportunity.
"Bakudo #4: Hainawa!"
The bright-yellow rope of light wound its way around the teen's body, binding him tightly and forcing him to the ground –
– which was about the time that the door opened, revealing a humanoid hollow with two plates carefully balanced on a tray.
Gold eyes glanced at the scene with interest.
"...wow. I didn't know you were into bondage sessions with shinigami, Ishida." His voice - no, she corrected herself, the hollow's voice - was remarkably human. And that could only be bad.
"S-shut up!" The boy's face was now bright red as he glowered up at the hollow.
The hollow's gaze shifted to her. "Hi. I don't remember Ishida mentioning a girlfriend, particularly not a shinigami, but – "
There are two of them?
In one swift movement, Rukia drew the blade. "Dance, Sode no Shirayuki."
" - then I guess - "
"Ichigo, you idiot, GET OUT!" the teen yelled from his position on the floor.
Too late, Rukia thought grimly.
"Tsugi no mai: Hakuren!"
A giant wave of ice exploded forth, engulfing the pair and flash-freezing their bodies, as well as everything else in the apartment.
"That wasn't very nice," came the mild voice of the hollow through the mist. "You killed dinner."
And with a harsh buzz, the hollow was behind her, its bladed tail suddenly at her throat, nicking it slightly.
Rukia's vision began to blur as she slumped slightly into the hollow's ice-coated arms, its tail unwinding from around her neck.
"Sorry," was the last thing she heard before she succumbed to unconsciousness. "This shouldn't hurt too much."
And then... nothing.
What is he trying to protect? she wondered. Her eyes flickered to the door.
A clatter of metal.
Whatever lay in the next room had no human reiatsu. It had no reiatsu she could detect, at all.
And that terrified her. If it was the hollow - which was looking more and more likely - then it was almost certainly a Menos Grande. Not Gillian - too bulky, lumbering and obvious. One of those wouldn't even fit in this entire apartment block. An adjuchas seemed more likely. That she might be able to handle with her shikai, just about, or at least occupy it for long enough for backup to arrive.
If it were one of the fabled Vasto Lorde... she and the boy were both royally screwed.
I must be insanely idiotic or suicidal. Possibly both... maybe I'm turning into Renji.
With one swift movement, she yanked the door open, revealing a hallway, before drawing Sode no Shirayuki and wrenching open the door behind which lay the source of the noise, thrusting her zanpakuto at it.
"...why are you trying to attack my washing machine?"