A/N: A baker's dozen to thank for reviews: megasayangoku, mermaidangel23, darklover, dragonlord1337, shie0917, curio cherry, Lalaith Quetzalli, Azraelean, Dragon and Sword Master, Sashu, okami11235, Iceflame55, and Shiso no Kitsune. And thank you to everyone who put this or its author on their lists. This is a bit of a cliff hanger but it does lead into an as yet unnamed (and unwritten) sequel so you can hold back the flames. Honestly, I'm not going to leave you dangling for long.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.
Saying I Will
A year after Rukia returned to him, Ichigo still couldn't believe how much had changed. His powers, fully restored, were never taken for granted and he continued to train to strengthen them. Zangetsu had seen fit to teach him a new attack, figuring that if he had another under his belt, he would never have to use Mugetsu ever again. Hichigo was as annoying as ever, attempting to take over his body at least once a month and being squarely defeated each time.
It didn't bother the orange haired royal much anymore, using the experience to hone his techniques while Rukia was away in the Soul Society with her own duties. Having attained her bankai and released from her brother's objections, the petite Shinigami was given the unenviable position as lieutenant of her squad. While she had been unsure of her ability to take her mentor's place, others were just glad there was now someone between the third seats and their captain.
Being of the rank of fukutaicho might have put her in the way of more dangerous missions but as far as Ichigo could see, having to put up with Kiyone and Sentarou everyday put her in far more peril than a Hollow hunt in the wilds of the Rukongai. The copious amounts of paperwork that seemed to magically grow on her desk every time he visited didn't help. When he managed to get away from his own duties and class work, she always seemed ready to tear her hair out because the two adjuncts appeared to be driving her crazy.
After the first time he'd teased her about possibly going bald, he never did it again. He didn't want her to "share" her pain with him.
Standing at the top of Soukyoku Hill, Ichigo Kurosaki gazed out over the city that he would some day have the power to rule over. He knew that it wouldn't be easy and that some would protest but the daiko knew things had to change. Central Forty-Six had already complained loud and long about his desire to take control but in order to ensure that no one was ever executed unjustly, the laws and traditions could not stay as they were.
It was his desire that long before his sisters or his children ever set foot in the Seireitei there would be no reason for them to worry about how they'd attained their powers, if they ever did.
"I will swear on my soul," he whispered, remembering the vow he'd taken when he'd come to rescue Rukia from Aizen's plan. Turning, he smiled lightly as he caught sight of his friends from the Gotei Thirteen.
"You're really going to shake things up here, aren't you, Kurosaki?" Toushiro sighed, scratching the back of his head.
"It'd be boring otherwise," Ikkaku said, lifting his Zanpakutou onto his shoulder.
"Yay, Kenny will be able to have fun all the time!" Yachiru said from on top of her subordinate's head.
"Yeah, I guess I will, Toushiro," Ichigo answered, ignoring the young girl's statement. If he never fought Kenpachi again, it would be just fine with him. "And I expect as my friends, that you'll all help me."
He got several grins in return, reiatsus rising in a vow of their own.
"We will," they chorused.
"It's a promise," he returned.
The sun set on the group standing on a site that had seen many battles; the old hill now a place where a bright future was planned. There was much to be done before any of it could be accomplished but for once there was no need to rush. The future stretched out in brilliant line, no longer the circle Fate had made it.
A sword of power had broken the wheel that had once turned and there was no telling what would happen now.
A group rushed through the forest in the district of Kusajishi, led by a slender man of average height. They had just taken on a gang that had been plaguing the residents of a nearby settlement and hadn't wanted to wait around to find out if any more people were going to show up to avenge their comrades.
"Hey, Bull, look here," one member said, stopping to catch his breath. Pointing to a dense outcropping of tree roots, the man brought his leader's attention to the sight of a woman in ragged clothing curled up at the tree's base. There were several cuts on her body and her hair was dulled by at least several days of dirt and grease. When they tried to approach her, she flinched, letting them all know that she had been attacked.
"Komae, lend me your haori." Daiji Hirasago placed the clothing over the woman, trying to appear as harmless as possible. "You're safe now," he said softly, not wanting to frighten her any more than she already was.
"Where am I?" the female whispered, her chocolate eyes pleading with him for answers.
"You're in the Soul Society, ma'am. Have you just died?"
"No… Was eaten by a Hollow; a Shinigami purified it…" came the answer. "I found myself wandering and was attacked. I don't know how long ago that was. I'm sorry, but do you have anything to eat?"
The Bull of Kusajishi blinked and turned to the other male in his party. "Max, go find something for this nice woman. Ellie, take her to the nearby stream and get her washed up." Helping the woman to her feet, he tried another smile. "You're safe now. The Bull of Kusajishi won't let anything happen to you. May I ask your name?" The woman, who had started to follow Ellie, smiled softly, her eyes lighting up for the first time since she'd been attacked in the World of the Living.
"My name is Masaki Kurosaki."
Daiji watched the woman walk away, the name ringing a vague bell of some kind. "Huh, that name sounds familiar. Oh, well, it'll come to me in time, I guess."
The self-proclaimed Bull had no idea that he had just rescued the one woman everyone would soon be looking for.
A/N: And that's the end of "Saying I Will." I hope you all enjoyed it and will stick around for the sequel. As I don't know what the name of it will be yet, those of you who want to read it will either have to put me on an "Author Alert," (if you haven't already) or keep checking my profile. As soon as I name it and have written the first chapter, I'll post it there for sure.