Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, I hardly own any clothes of my own, and I wash them with goddamn hand soap.
Author's Note: This is probably the only Author's Note I'll write before a chapter, all of them, if I do keep writing them, will be at the end of each chapter.
Reviews, if any, will be answered directly (I'll try to, at least). And not in the fic itself. I don't have any beta-reader, so all proofreading, what little there is, is done entirely by me.
Can anyone tell just how the hell to use scene breaks? You know, them fancy, unassuming lines that everyone but me seems to know how to use? Thanks.
EDIT: Scene breaks added as of the 12/16/12 update.
Any mistakes that escape my radar, please, for the love of Rukia, point them out for me, don't hesitate to ridicule me as you do so, it can only help me improve.
So, without further ado, I give you, ladies and gentle- Bah, just read
The First Guardian.
Prologue: The Curtain Rises, The Guardian is shown.
Kurosaki Ichigo was a very curious child, always inquisitive, looking for knowledge just for the sake of it. Or well, that' not entirely right, Kurosaki Ichigo's initial reason to embark on a pursuit for knowledge was related to the fact that he was very much a mama's boy.
Masaki Kurosaki, Ichigo's mother, spoiled the kid rotten. She would always be there a few minutes earlier than she predicted Ichigo would wake up in the morning just to make sure he wouldn't be alone at the start of the day. The big smile her son always had for her every single morning was enough for her to get through the day.
Isshin Kurosaki, Ichigo's father, a man just as loving as his wife, considered taking a different approach, and once brought up the idea of spoiling his son just a little bit less so that he would be less dependent on his mother and, in his own opinion "become stronger". Isshin was never quite sure where his wife got the mallet from, but oh boy was sure where he got the bump in his head from.
Years later, and he still felt a bump on the back of his head, covered by his hair enough for it to only be noticeable by feeling for it.
Young Ichigo was unlike many other children in that he had something no other children his age would be able to comprehend, since the ramifications the word itself evoked went far into a philosophical vein that not even Ichigo could accurately describe, but he understood, he knew it gave him a will, he knew this not from his mind, which was a knowledge sponge, but from his heart.
Kurosaki Ichigo had a purpose.
His purpose was one he gave himself, one that he acquired even before he could so much a spell any word, let alone the word 'purpose'.
Young Ichigo wanted to make his mother happy, and nothing made his mother happier than seeing him learn his first few words, his first few steps, the first time he used the toilet, the first time he bathed all by himself, and the first time he chose his own clothes to go out (immensely mismatched, yet Masaki would for years say proudly that her son had never looked more strapping young man than then.)
It went so far as to become a trend, whenever young Ichigo learned something new, his mother would be happy, and Ichigo eventually realized that the more times he acquired (and subsequently proved he had), new knowledge, such as how to properly spell 'plane', or how many hours there were in a day, the more times his mother would smile and praise him for it.
Thus Kurosaki Ichigo became a sponge for knowledge, his brain constantly working to memorize every little thing he would learn to perfection, and subsequently recall with the same quality so that he could relay it to his mother.
When Ichigo was four years old, his mother came to him in the arms of a very happy-looking Isshin, wearing an equally happy smile on her face, and told him of a miracle that was going to happen.
Masaki Kurosaki was pregnant, and Ichigo Kurosaki was going to be a big brother, and while he didn't understand how much that entailed back then, he believed it to be a "a pretty cool thing to call myself", to which Isshin laughed loudly and Masaki joined in her much more reserved, but equally jubilant, laughter.
'Pregnant', it was a new word for Ichigo, and thus a new venue he could use to acquire new knowledge to show to his mother, and thus Ichigo set out in a journey beginning with a fairly innocent word that would end with a sputtering Isshin and an absolutely furious Masaki that would go on to claim Isshin had 'corrupted' her beautiful baby boy.
This also lead to the awkward, yet enlightening (to both parties), and amazingly successful attempt to explain the 'birds and the bees' to a four year old that should not even be old enough to formulate such question in the eloquent manner he did.
Ichigo Kurosaki learned and memorized all there is to know about human reproduction at age four, and his parents learned that their child was quite possibly a genius, if he had understood all of that and asked perfectly valid (and sometimes horribly embarrassing) questions. It was the look on his face as he took it all in, however, that made both parents realize that even as hung up on his mother as he was, their son was far more mature than any kid his age had any right to be.
Masaki Kurosaki, however, did not let the fact that her son was growing up astonishingly fast, or that she was quite bloated (due to her being pregnant with twins, she later learned), deter her from her labor of doting on her son at every little chance she got, and perhaps even more than before so that he wouldn't feel 'displaced' by the oncoming offspring.
The moment that would start a chain of maturity that would define the whole being of Kurosaki Ichigo didn't happen until next year, on the 5th of May, two months before he turned five years old, when after long hours of painful labor (and he understood it had to be that way, having looked into all the information he could about it the previous year), Masaki Kurosaki gave birth to Yuzu and Karin Kurosaki, Ichigo's little sisters. When his father led him to the room where her mother was in their small clinic (seeing as they both refused to go the nearest hospital, each for their own reasons), he was excited, he was about to see what his mother had had growing inside of her for nine months, what had made the whole family wait with great anticipation.
It wasn't quite what he was expecting.
He was, in a single word, disappointed, they were very small, very cute babies, but he frankly didn't see what the whole deal was, and he was about to voice this to his father when he felt something tugging at his index finger. It was a little hand, attached to an equally little arm, coming from the small body of the twin baby closest to him.
Ichigo Kurosaki would never, in all his existence, understand what came through him in that single moment, but he came to the immediate, powerful and doubtless conclusion that he would protect the little beings on the little bed no matter what the cost was, from anyone and anything that would dare try to harm them (and for someone as imaginative as he was, he could think of quite a few things). What closed the deal for him was the look his mother had when he looked at her from where he was standing wide-eyed next to the little bed.
Happiness, joy, and ultimately great pride, was what he could see in his mother's eyes as she gazed at him sleepily from her bed, as if she had been able to hear the vow her son had made that day, and her look conveyed her feeling of approval of it, that her son would protect his little sisters and live up to his name, not 'strawberry' as the more straightforward translation would lead to, but 'First Guardian'.
Ichigo Kurosaki would grow to be a guardian, a protector, someone who would give his all to ensure the safety of his little sisters, who in short time gained a place in his heart equally in size to that of his mother's.
When Ichigo Kurosaki turned seven, seeing as neither he nor his family were too keen on big parties, they decided to make it a small celebration just for the five of them, and so they went to a park to spend the day.
Young Ichigo was sitting on a picnic table, listening to their parents arguing about which one of them forgot to bring the napkins (Isshin, in case you needed to know), when he witnessed something that made his blood boil, perhaps for the first time in his short life.
His sisters where happily playing in the sandbox, when another girl, obviously two years older than them if her size was any indication, decided that she liked Yuzu's pink (with little white and orange butterflies on it) bracelet and wanted it for herself, so she took it and left a surprised-looking and about to cry Yuzu Kurosaki lying on the sandbox.
Ichigo calmed himself down before he did anything, he was far older than the other girl and going there furious would just make her scared, all he wanted was to make her see that what she did was wrong and that he should give back his sister's bracelet, so he approached her.
"Hey, that's not right." Ichigo spoke to the offending girl, who just turned from admiring the bracelet in slight surprise. "You took my little sister's bracelet, and made her cry, it's not nice to take things that aren't yours." The little girl looked like she was about to answer, but before she did, Ichigo felt himself get shoved into the sandbox behind him.
"And what are you going to do about it, you orange punk?" Ichigo heard a voice that really made his ears hurt, not for how loud it was, but the tone bothered him greatly and made him want to shove something down its owner's throat. He looked up from his seated position and saw a boy about his age, with features much like that of the girl who stole his sister's bracelet, standing between him and said girl with an imperious look on his face. "If my little sister wants your stupid little sister's stupid bracelet, then my little sister gets it, got it, punk?" Ichigo felt himself, strangely enough, amused. This other kid fancied himself a good big brother, letting his sister get away with anything, without realizing that he was probably harming her chances of being a good person.
But then the fact that the other boy had called his Yuzu stupid registered and all amusement fled from his mind.
"Did you just call my little sister stupid?" Ichigo said as he slowly got up and out of the sandbox while slowly brushing the sand from his pants. The other kid looked as if the wind had left his sails, he didn't expect the orange-haired boy to take offense to that of all things, he expected him to be offended by the shove, or perhaps the fact that he was stopping him from getting the bracelet back. It was even more unnerving for him that the carrot-top didn't even seem angry at all.
Seem, alright, Ichigo was smoldering in rage on the inside, he could forgive the other girl's transgression because she didn't know better, and the fact that this moron standing in front of him was doing as he was just further proved that notion. But said moron had deliberately insulted Ichigo Kurosaki's little sister, and Ichigo Kurosaki was not about to take that and just lie down.
"I asked you a question, you fat moron, answer it." Ichigo said without even looking up from his shoes which he was still cleaning of any sand that fell from his pants onto them.
"W-what?" The other boy said, it was all that came to his mind, the whole situation was too foreign and he just didn't know how to respond to it.
"So aside from being fat, ugly, and overall idiotic, you're also deaf? Jeez, life sure dealt you a tough hand." Ichigo replied in all calmness, but as he looked up, the other kid realized that the carrot-top was indeed affected by his actions, if the fear that the unbridled fury reflected on Ichigo's eyes was any indication, this did not deter him from further decreasing his chances of proving himself lacking of self-preservation instincts.
"What did you say you punk?" The kid yelled at Ichigo who just raised an eyebrow and answered. "So you are deaf! I'm sorry but-" He didn't have time to answer as the other, larger kid, threw himself at him with a scream of rage and landed them both on the sandbox.
Ichigo's mind worked a million miles an hour, not because the older kid was on top of him and had just punched his face twice, but because it was the same sandbox that his little sisters were playing at.
He could not have this possible danger anywhere near his little sisters.
Ichigo's mind engaged into 'protect at all costs' mode and immediately shoved the larger kid off him and to the side, got up as fast as his body let him and, with strength he didn't know he possessed, grabbed the fat kid and threw him out of the sandbox and five feet away from it.
The other kid apparently just got madder because of this, and tried to come at him once more, but for Ichigo, it seemed a lot slower than first time, his mind was working faster than it ever had before, so he crouched under the punch the other kid threw at his face and delivered a massive uppercut to the other boy's chin, effectively throwing him two feet away and landing him on his back, too dazed to do anything.
The rest of that day was a bit of a blur to Ichigo, perhaps because of the adrenaline coursing through him, or perhaps because he ignored the rest of it, as his parents discussed the whole event with the other children's parents, and he was all smiles as he watched his little sisters resume their play in the sandbox, with Yuzu happily sporting her pink bracelet once again.
After much coaxing from Isshin, Masaki finally gave into the idea of letting Ichigo learn martial arts to defend himself. Masaki argued that Ichigo would get hurt during class; Isshin told her that it would all be worth it if their son learned to defend himself, and so he wouldn't get hurt like he did when facing that other boy in the park.
This was when Ichigo made his first friend, and strangely enough, it was a girl.
Tatsuki Arisawa was the very definition of tomboy, she was rude for a girl and despised any and all activities girls her age engaged in, she could not understand how they could consider fun playing with dolls and pretending to make tea ceremonies. She took delight on being able to beat up boys who thought themselves stronger than her and capable of winning a fight just because they were boys and she was a girl.
It made it much sweeter when she took them down, she felt.
He routine of beating up all boys of her age group (never any girls, they all outright refused to fight Tatsuki), came to a halt the day Kurosaki Ichigo became her opponent.
At first he struck her as arrogant, always looking serious and holding his head high, she figured taking him down would be just as easy as taking down all the other boys was. He was a rookie, to top that, so he would be easy pickings.
That was until she saw his eyes.
The moment Tatsuki saw the raw purpose, something she could not understand, in Ichigo's eyes, she couldn't help but be on guard. This boy gave off a vibe that made her want to take him seriously, she feared that if she didn't she would be the left on the ground.
Ichigo Kurosaki had one more purpose in his life, if he got stronger, he could finish fights faster, he could use his strength to better protect what he wanted to protect, his little sisters wouldn't even get close to a source of danger as they were that day in the park, he would be able to be the First Guardian he desired to be.
The match ended in a draw, with both of them knocking the air out of each other and their Sensei finishing the fight there.
Tatsuki felt she should be ashamed, she was this kid's senior by three years! Yet she could not help but feel an immense respect for the eyes that kept looking at her with great purpose even when their owner was holding his stomach and gasping for breath. He was fast because he had a drive that gave his very movement an unstoppable momentum, and strong because he his muscles gave everything they could so that Ichigo could accomplish his objective.
Later that day, a little after class was dismissed, she approached the kid who apparently had decided to stay for longer so he could practice kicks on sandbag.
"Hey, Kurosaki!" Ichigo turned around at the sound of the girl's voice. "Huh? Oh, you're that girl, Arisawa, right?" He responded while turning back to the sandbag.
"Hey, at least look at me while I'm talking! Don't you know it's disrespectful to turn your back on someone you're talking to?" Tatsuki pretended to be angry at him, just to see how he would respond to it.
"What do you want?" Well, that was unexpected. This boy intrigued her, so she decided to stop fooling around and just go straight to the point. "What were you thinking about when we sparred? You looked at me as if I was your worst enemy or something." That last part occurred to her just then, she wondered if perhaps she had offended the boy at some point and couldn't remember it.
"I have to give it my all." The boy answered between kicks, and Tatsuki just had another question pop into her head. "What for?" The answer came immediately, almost as if he had waited for the question.
Tatsuki couldn't even feel embarrassed by the confused "huh?" that came out of her mouth, which would have been comical to any outsider when coupled with her dumbfounded face.
Ichigo stopped his kicks and turned to look at her, once more the look in his eyes catching her off guard. "If I give it my all, I get a lot stronger, and if I get stronger, I can face bigger dangers without losing, by doing that, I can protect what I want to protect better than I could otherwise."
"Like, your family? Or do you want to protect everyone? Like a superhero or something?
Ichigo closed his eyes in thought, he had never really given much thought to his need to protect, was it just his sisters he wanted to safeguard? Well, yes, more than anything in the world, what about other people? He imagined himself in a situation that placed him in front of some stranger, someone helpless, but that he was in a position to give aid to. He didn't need to think much longer. "I want to protect everything I can protect. Everyone I am in possibility to help, I will. And if I can't help, then I'll become even stronger to make it possible."
The girl wasn't sure exactly what came over her when she asked her next question.
Ichigo apparently didn't think it a strange question, and just smiled while keeping his fierce gaze trained on her face.
"Yes, even you."
With that, Ichigo turned back to the sand bag and started delivering kicks with his other leg, while Tatsuki couldn't help but feel awe when faced with the purpose of Kurosaki Ichigo.
This boy, who she had only met a couple of hours prior, had suddenly become the person she respected the most in the whole world.
He also became her first, and best, friend.
When Kurosaki Ichigo turned eight years old, he spoke to his mother of an older woman who was sitting across from them in the park, as his family was having a picnic under a cherry tree. He felt the need to mention the elderly lady to his mother because she seemed to have a chain coming out of her chest, and connecting her to the tree she was sitting in front of.
Masaki turned around to see what lady he was talking about, and came to the realization that Ichigo, just like his father and herself, could see ghosts.
That was another slightly awkward conversation with Ichigo, in which all previous knowledge of life and death that Ichigo accumulated since the moment he could spell either word was called into question.
Ichigo now knew that some people, or well, their souls, stayed on earth after they died, either because their emotions wouldn't let them go or they had some unfinished business.
Ichigo could tell there was something else they, or more specifically, his father, wasn't telling him, but the whole situation was new to him so he couldn't be sure.
"But the old lady looks so sad, mom, maybe she doesn't want to be here anymore but she can't go? Can we do anything to help her, mom?" Masaki couldn't help but smile at her son's heart of gold, so she called Isshin over from where he was pretending to be dead while Karin kicked him in the side while laughing and told her what just happened.
Isshin smiled warmly at his son and spoke to his wife "Let me handle this." Masaki nodded while smiling warmly once more at her son, who looked at his father questioningly as he took his hand and went walking slowly to where the elderly lady was chained to a tree.
"Do you mind if we sit here ma'am?" Isshin told the ghost of the old woman who looked sufficiently surprised that anyone could see her let alone speak to her.
"My my, what a couple of strapping men we have here. Of course I don't mind the company, come sit with me and talk to good ole' lady Shima, dohohoho!" The old lady spoke in a tone only a loving grandmother could use after years of raising children and grandchildren, followed by an honest laugh.
That day, Ichigo, for the first time in his eight years, felt like crying for someone else, the old lady was waiting for her husband, she told them that the morning that she died, she had told her husband that she would wait for him in that very tree for their yearly picnic in celebration of the founding of their book store. She had, as usual, awakened before her husband did and left him a note where she said where she would be and that everything would be ready when he got there.
During the walk to their usual spot in the park, a thief came at her with a knife, and told her to give him everything of value she had. The scare was too much for her old heart of seventy years to handle, and the subsequent stroke made her death rather swift, if a bit painful. But she ended up getting to the where she had told her husband she would be at so that he would not be worried about her, the old coot.
This happened forty years ago.
Ichigo didn't have the heart to tell her of all the grim possibilities his mind came up with, from the obvious one that her husband was dead and probably moved on by now, to the far more depressing one that her husband had probably died in his sleep that one morning.
It was with heavy hearts that both of the male Kurosaki family members that they went back to their girls.
Ichigo went back to the park the day after, to see if the old lady wanted company once again. It was to his great relief that he found that the old lady was no longer there, and had now moved on. The day before was the last time Kurosaki Ichigo saw Old Lady Shima.
Isshin Kurosaki, however saw her one more time.
The day that would forever change the lives of the people in the Kurosaki household was July 17th; two days after young Ichigo turned nine years old.
They were out having yet another family picnic, as was now custom for them all, two days later than usual due to the fact that the Kurosaki clinic had been overwhelmed with patients in the past week.
Ichigo was about to help picking up their supplies when he noticed something the silhouette of a young girl falling into the nearby river, which was going stronger than it usually did.
Ichigo's first thought was, rather than telling his parents about it, to run after the girl and do anything in his hands to help her.
The rest is a horrible blur, even for Isshin, who managed to see it all, and the story told afterwards would be different than the reality Ichigo managed to glimpse at in all his curiosity.
But no matter whose version of the events you paid attention to, the end result could not be changed. Masaki Kurosaki, loving wife and mother of three, had died.
People (including Ichigo) would be told that Ichigo had nearly drowned, and that his mother, in saving him, drowned herself. It wasn't an unbelievable story for anyone who knew Masaki Kurosaki, she was a mother everyone had no doubts would do just that.
Young Ichigo, however, knew better than that.
The death of what was no doubt the center of the Kurosaki family affected each of its members in different ways.
Isshin Kurosaki, having lost his wife meant the end of any romantic life he could ever have, Masaki was his one and only, there would never be another in his heart, and felt proud to show this fact by making an enormous poster of his wife that he put on the living room of their home, a picture of Masaki smiling at the camera looking every bit as beautiful as she always was with the letters "Masaki Forever" evidencing Isshin's feelings on the matter. He had to take a more active role in raising their children, albeit with a different approach than that of Masaki's.
After all, if he tried to replace her in any way, he'd never be able to forgive himself.
Karin Kurosaki, the twin that resembled more her father (Physically so, everyone doubted there would ever be someone like Isshin), became cold, or well, colder than usual. She was always a girl with a strong character, and the defense mechanism that her mind came up with was to not show anything and bottle it up inside, show no weakness and eventually, perhaps, the pain would go away.
Yuzu Kurosaki, the twin who looked much more like her mother, and the one everyone was sure would suffer the greatest shock of the two, was, to everyone's amazement, the one who took over her mother's duties around the house. She would make sure her father would be up in time to open up the clinic or go to whichever appointment he had, she cleaned around the house and made sure that everyone had their meals in time.
For Ichigo Kurosaki, the change was perhaps the most extreme. He didn't show much outwards (Other than what had apparently become a permanent scowl on his face), but on the inside, Ichigo's mind and heart were in enormous turmoil, half because he had, in his little mind, failed.
Failed to protect someone he loved, failed to see the danger approaching, and failed when he put someone else in a danger that was, by his own stupidity, his.
The other half was troubled by what he had seen and heard, his father believed Ichigo had bought the story he had given everyone else, but Ichigo had seen what happened, and heard what was said afterwards in his mother's funeral.
The last day that Kurosaki Ichigo cried.
His father was talking to some odd people he had never seen before, presumably old friends of his coming to give him their condolences, but their grim faces spoke of something else, and Ichigo's brain, carefully tuned to search or knowledge, forced him to place his attention on them.
The first one, a tall, thin man with strangely gray hair (strange because he seemed far too young to have lost hair coloration), wearing glasses and a face that said he didn't really want to be there, but stayed because he felt it was necessary.
Ichigo felt it too; he could tell it meant a lot for his father that he was there.
The second one was probably the strangest (and perhaps most intriguing) of the group. He was a tall man with pale blond hair that somehow managed to look as serious as the situation demanded, and at the same time look every bit as eccentric as anyone could be.
Who wears geta sandals coupled with a suit anyways? The bucket hat looked kind of cool, though.
The third, and last person of the trio of unknowns, was a dark skinned lady with purple hair and yellow eyes, Ichigo took note of her strange features and the fact that she seemed even more uncomfortable in the clothes she was wearing than the geta-wearing man.
They were having a quiet conversation with his father, and Ichigo couldn't help but eavesdrop, this seemed relevant to what he needed to know at the moment.
"How are you holding up, old friend?" The geta-wearing man asked, and Ichigo felt it was a stupid question, but then again, what does one say to a man who just lost the love of his life?
"As well as I can be, Kisuke." Now he had a name to add to the hat and the geta, Ichigo just needed to listen more closely in order to learn all he could about the people his father apparently knew very well, yet he had never heard of before.
"If there's anything we can do, let us know, okay?" Now it was the lady's voice offering her support, and Ichigo felt more than heard that the woman was honest, he was a very perceptive kid.
"I want to know where that Hollow is." Ichigo had to struggle not to wince, he had never before heard his father speak in such a severe tone, his father suddenly looked and felt like a man with a purpose, someone people would rather not get in the bad side of.
Ichigo's respect for the goofy man went up a couple of notches.
"So it was a Hollow." Now the man with the glasses and the early-silver hair spoke, in a rich, yet cold and unlike the others, not comforting at all tone.
Hollow, that was another word Ichigo needed to look into, was that the name of that, that creature, the thing that fooled him and took away his mother? All he could remember was a horrible laugh and a white mask. But now he had a name to put to it, and he would now investigate whatever he could about it, after all, if he knew what he was facing, he would be able to fight it in a more efficient manner.
He could not risk that creature coming back to take more away from him, he would not allow that thing to harm his sisters or anyone else he cared for. He would ruthlessly annihilate the monster, for that's what it was, if it ever dared show its pale mask again.
But first, he needed more information.
"It was a Hollow, apparently its initial target was Ichigo, perhaps because of Ichigo's strong Reiryoku, or perhaps because he seemed like easy pickings, but it fooled my son and Masaki paid the price. I want to know everything you can tell me about it, Kisuke, I will find it and I will destroy it to bring peace to Masaki's soul."
"It's been a long time since I last saw you with a purpose, is that your Shinigami side surfacing?" Spoke the man with the glasses and the regal arrogance. Ichigo wasn't sure he liked the man's tone, but he couldn't ponder it long before the word 'Shinigami' came to him. What was that? Why did he call his father that? And just what did this man know about his father that Ichigo didn't?
"This is the side of a man who lost his other half, Ryuuken, and if I so much as hear you've been using your Quincy powers to exterminate even the smallest Hollow around, so help me I am going to kill you."
Once again, Ichigo was taken aback by this new side of his father, but he couldn't help but like it.
"I haven't used them in years, you old fool… but I guess I understand where you're coming from, don't worry, I won't risk destroying your wife's soul." His mother's soul? What happened to her?
"The Hollow ate Masaki's soul; I will find it, destroy him and release her soul so that she can move on." Another surprise for Ichigo, apparently this creature – this 'Hollow' fed on souls, and it had taken his mother's soul; and in order to save her, it had to be destroyed, but not by the hand of this Ryuuken person and his 'Quincy' powers, or her soul would be destroyed.
Ichigo had so much to look into afterwards.
Ichigo decided that if he wanted information, he couldn't look for it using conventional means, this was, after all, territory that obviously no one else in history (normal history, anyways) could know anything about.
So he looked into the most obvious source of information, his goofy and oblivious father.
Ichigo figured that if his father had had a past life involving all those things he had learned, there must be some evidence of it somewhere, so he took every little chance he was left at home taking care of the twins to look through his father's things, from his underwear drawer to under the bed, he didn't turn up anything until he accidentally slipped on sweaty sock (Yuzu had yet to pick up his room that day, his father was pretty much lost without her), and landed painfully on his left elbow.
He didn't bother to spend much time registering the pain; he had heard a hollow sound where his elbow hit the floor.
He ran out to the kitchen to get a knife, which he easily slipped underneath the unnoticeably loose floor board, and revealed its hidden contents.
It was a bunch of papers, he noted with disappointment, though he wasn't quite sure what he was expecting, but then he saw one of the words he had promised himself to look into, written in a plain-looking book partially buried beneath the scrolls and papers.
Shinōureijutsuin (Spiritual Arts Academy)
Academy for Shinigami.
Shinigami. That word again, was it something you studied for? He didn't think it actually meant that those who referred to themselves by that name were actually Death Gods; maybe it was a cult thing? The idea of his goofy, moronic and laid-back father being a god nearly made double over in laughter.
Then he remembered how he was during the funeral.
Perhaps it was something serious, and deserved looking into, and the source of information was right before him. So he got to reading and committing every single word to memory.
It seemed, at first, like a work of fiction, an encyclopedia for imaginary things and subjects, but then he saw the scribbling, the hand-written notes with a calligraphy that could belong to Isshin Kurosaki, very few could write as bad as he did and even fewer could decipher it.
Maybe it's a doctor thing.
Things like 'it works better when you point two fingers instead of three at the end of the incantation' and 'not looking underneath the Hollow's mask is made a rule because there's some very ugly people out there' written with in his father's characteristic hieroglyphs made him realize that this was the real deal, that everything here was true and that his father knew all about it.
From then on he kept reading, every time his father was out of the house he'd sneak into his room and commit more things to memory, he learned that his father was a Shinigami, a Death God, he learned about, and made sure to memorize, all that there was written about the four disciplines of the Shinigami, how Shinigami did their jobs, what Hollows were, what a Plus was, the Gotei 13, the Soul Society (which he now knew was the Afterlife), the Seireitei, and a wide array of different terms and subjects that he was pretty sure no one else (on the Human World, at least) had the slightest idea about.
He stumbled upon a word that apparently defined him, but it was surrounded by a terrible lack of info or background research that nearly drove him mad.
A Pureblood, it seemed, was the child of a Shinigami, born with Shinigami powers.
Ichigo now knew what Reiryoku was, and if his father's word was anything to go by, he had a lot of it. So if he had a high Spiritual Energy, and was the child of a Shinigami (he still couldn't quite wrap his head around that), then he fit that definition, too.
It was several months before Ichigo finished going through everything his father apparently didn't want him to know, and he wasn't quite sure how to feel about that.
On one hand, he felt he it was his right to know all of this, being what he was.
On the other hand, his newfound respect for his father, a Shinigami that had apparently abandoned everything so that he could marry a human woman he fell in love with, his mother, kept him from getting angry about it.
If his father had anything to say about it, he would tell him eventually, and if not, well, he figured he had his reasons, and Ichigo could respect that.
Ichigo now had the tools (or knowledge of them, at least) to prepare himself for what he sure was to come, he now had the means to make himself stronger.
He meditated and used all the exercises that Shinigami students used in the academy to access their power, in order to gain access to his own, so that he could use it to become a better protector.
He quit his Karate classes, he already felt he knew enough and he had memorized all there was to know about the hand-to-hand combat discipline of the Shinigami, Hakuda, and he would train himself on that.
Tatsuki was absolutely pissed off when Ichigo didn't give her a straight answer as to why he quit, but she finally chalked it up to the loss of his mother, she saw how much Ichigo loved her, and she was, in her opinion, the most beautiful and greatest mother she had ever seen.
The time previously spent learning Karate was spent learning Hakuda and using what little Reiryoku the kid of nine years had gained to learn and train in the Shinigami discipline of movement or agility, Hohō.
His father was led to believe he had a really clumsy son, as Ichigo would constantly show up with signs that he had smashed against walls or fallen down flights of stairs.
He could use the extremely advanced form of battle in combination with his newfound ability to move over a hundred feet in the blink of an eye to quickly neutralize any threat, though he had yet to find anything worth using either of his new powers on.
The discipline that later got him hooked was the one that resembled magic much like the one seen on his little sisters' storybooks and on fictional Television shows, Kidō, or the 'demon way'.
He had an enormous list of spells memorized, their incantations and effects easily accessible with the perfect recall of his trained mind, but he could only miserably scratch the surface of each of the ways of Kidō.
Bakudō, or the 'way of binding' seemed mostly inaccessible to him, it seemed his mindset just didn't fit into the psychological template necessary for binding spells, so performing even the lowest, level one spell was an exercise in futility.
That didn't mean he didn't memorize ways to destroy or undo bindings that would be set upon him, not that he thought that would ever happen, but just in case, you could never be prepared enough.
Perhaps he was a little bit paranoid.
Hadō, the 'way of destruction' class of Kidō, was one he couldn't wait to try out, and a soon as he felt he was ready, he chose the first two spells he felt would be the most useful to him.
The first, Byakurai, the pale lightning, was chosen or its simplicity, in that it could be used really fast due to its lack of incantation (not really, but the page he read on it had the incantation all covered in ink with a hand-written side note saying 'completely useless string of words, not required, trust me – U. K.' with a calligraphy he couldn't recognize), and when Ichigo first shot a ray of lightning that hit someone's fence, realized for the first time that this was even more proof than shunpō (the flash step, his fast movement technique) had been that all he had read about was real, and that he was now acquiring new power.
The second technique he chose was apparently placed quite a few levels higher than the pale lightning was, it being a level four technique, and this one being number thirty-three, and he felt it was necessary to learn it because it was straightforward enough as well as powerful, and he needed all the power he could get
"Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws. Hadō #33: Sōkatsui!"
The fact that it had a ridiculously awesome incantation had nothing to do with it. Nope, not at all.
Hey, he was nine; he was allowed to feel cool and awesome.
The last part of the Kidō arts, the Way of Healing, apparently didn't heavy anything in the way of spells; it was more of a mindset, a process in which the healer first replenished the Reiatsu of the patient, and then used it in conjunction with the healer's own to will the body to heal.
This last part was hard, astonishingly so, but not impossible as Bakudō had been, it just required a lot of experimentation on his part, seeing as he had an enormous amount of Spiritual Energy and, as a few birds could attest to, he usually overwhelmed his 'patients' and ended up killing them instead.
You couldn't wipe the triumphant smile off his face with a bulldozer the day he healed half a dozen cats without any accidents.
The year Ichigo had turned eleven, he started skipping school in order to focus more on his training, and he had wanted for over one year to learn the last of the disciplines of the Shinigami, Zanjutsu, the swordsmanship discipline.
Shinigami, he had learned, had a sword as their primary weapon, and it wasn't just any sword.
The Zanpakutō, the soul-cutter sword, was a weapon that took form guided by the Shinigami's soul, it was sentient, and it required intense training, sometimes spanning decades, for a Shinigami to be able to commute with the soul of his blade.
Ichigo had learned of the Zanpakutō's releases, and was immediately hooked on the subject. Unfortunately, he saw no way of acquiring one for himself, seeing as one had to actually become a Shinigami to get one.
Ichigo was walking back home from not going to school (and avoiding a definitely irate Tatsuki, who was now his schoolmate), when he suddenly felt like slapping himself silly.
He did, and then realized he must have really looked silly, so all in all, he succeeded.
He didn't have to become a Shinigami, he WAS a Shinigami, a Pureblood, he didn't have an Asauchi, the first sword all Shinigami are given, that later would become attuned to its wielder's soul, becoming a fully alive Zanpakutō, taking the form that fits the user's spirit most.
But being a Shinigami meant that somewhere, deep inside of him, rested the potential to create a sword, and while he could not give it a form, he could try to communicate with it, help it mature, so that when the time to wield it came, and he WAS sure it would, the process would go along much more smoothly.
This was troublesome, he already didn't have enough time to dedicate to all of his skills, unless he dropped from school altogether, something that his father would absolutely forbid, and that Tatsuki would probably tear him a new ass hole over.
Ichigo Kurosaki skipped school a lot, anyone who went to school with him could tell you that, but the school staff didn't call his father to talk about it because his absence did not reflect on his grades, much to their bafflement.
Ichigo Kurosaki was a sponge for all sorts of knowledge, had perfect memory recall, and was absolutely terrified of what Tatsuki would do if he started failing at school.
Not that he thought she could do anything to him, but he had learned over the years of knowing her that a pissed off human female was a force no amount of knowledge could properly prepare him for.
Oh yeah, she was also the second strongest girl in all of Japan, so there's that, too.
She proved this constantly and proudly by beating up anyone who dared to touch her best female friend, Inoue Orihime.
Orihime was… an interesting girl, to say the least, he had met her the year before in the Kurosaki clinic, not that you could call that a meeting, seeing as she was crying her eyes out as her brother died in a bed.
Ichigo didn't see Orihime Inoue again until a few months later, when Tatsuki introduced them both and told him of her story.
Kurosaki Ichigo now felt respect for a man he didn't even know, because the man was too much like him. He took his little sister and fled from their abusive, drunken father and prostitute mother, took the first job he could find and cheapest apartment he could afford and proceeded to raise Orihime, then three years of age, all by himself. And if the good-hearted young lady that Orihime turned out to be was any indication, he did a damn fine job.
Ichigo was pretty damn sure that if he was placed in the same situation as Sora Inoue, he would have done the exact same thing.
Then he couldn't help but feel for the kindred soul, he had died and left behind his sister, unable to protect her any longer, and if Ichigo had been in the same situation, he would have wanted someone else to take his position and take care of his little sister.
Ichigo didn't even need to think about what he wanted to do then, he just stood up from where he and the two girls were sitting at, walked to the portrait of one Sora Inoue, placed on the little shrine where Orihime prayed for her brother every single day, bowed to the portrait and spoke "Sora-san! You don't need to worry anymore! From now on, I will take care of Orihime! You can rest easy knowing that although I'll never replace you, I will do all in my power to protect Inoue from now on!"
Tatsuki was astonished, yet she was smiling by the end of Ichigo's declaration. She didn't know why she was surprised anymore, Ichigo was, after all, a guardian. She got up and bowed next to Ichigo "So will I, Sora-san! I will make sure Orihime-chan is safe from now, and will forever be at her side as her best friend as long as she takes me!"
Orihime was in tears by the end of it all, and all she could was walk over and hug both her best friend and the self-proclaimed protector as she cried in happiness
Ichigo decided that since skipping school was most definitely out of the question, he would stop his training in Hadō, as he felt himself proficient enough in the few spells he had learned, he'd keep focusing on the Healing Arts, as he didn't want to risk hurting someone he loved while healing them.
His Hadō time would now be spent meditating; trying to reach into his own soul, looking for what he was sure was in there.
It was five months later when, during one of his sessions, he felt more than heard the voice reaching out for him.
It was a faint whisper, with no discernible tone, no detectable pitch to discern a gender, but it was there, and Ichigo was all too eager to answer back.
"That is indeed, my name, pleased to meet you. What's your name?"
"I… I don't know. Do I have a name?"
"You're the one supposed to tell me that, you know."
The voice fell silent for a second, and Ichigo could now feel it with more clarity, as if its presence had now become more real than the whisper he heard before.
"I see, but how is a new born supposed to know its own name? All an infant can do is wait for guidance, but that's not possible in my case, as I am stuck with you."
Did… Did a fragment of his own soul just call him insufficient? He wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel then, well, he could settle on insulted, but he was leaning more towards horrified, since this was pretty much a part of himself calling him inadequate.
"Now you're just going on a tangent, I meant to say that I only know as much as you do, since I haven't had time to truly analyze my own existence."
Oh. Okay, he could live with that.
What now? What do you talk to yourself about anyways? That sounded like the most pointless conversation ever.
"I'll eventually create my own ego, I am, in fact , well on my way to do just that, I wouldn't be able to tell you whether I'm a man or woman though, not without first gaining a physical form. As for my name, well, it's actually right here."
"So what is it?"
"I have no idea."
Ichigo vehemently refused to admit to himself that the first word that came to mind was a mixture of 'what' and 'blurb'.
"It's useless to lie to yourself, you know."
"Won't stop me from trying. And just what do you mean you have no idea? You have your name right there!"
"No, I don't."
"Will you just stop that?"
"That, where you just keep giving me half the answer and set me up for the next question, it's annoying and I don't like it."
"You like doing it all the time."
"You're now implying that I like bothering myself, and I can think of several dozen things that are just wrong about that."
"Off the top of your head? Impressive."
"You knew that already."
"Just… just answer the question, please."
"My name is, to put it bluntly, being held hostage by your soul. Even though it acknowledges me, it refuses to tell me what I am without first becoming something worth naming."
"So basically, until you get an actual form, you don't get a name?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"I'll just call you Sword, how's that?"
"Good enough, I guess."
"Say, how do you think I'd look with long hair?"
Ichigo resumed his Hadō training the day after finally commuting with his sword, even if it wasn't a sword… yet.
Sword could analyze things just as fast as Ichigo could, and eventually developed its own personality and quirks, which made it a perfect sounding board for Ichigo's ideas.
This helped a lot in his training, as he now had someone who could confirm the stupidity of most of what he tried. Of course, Ichigo knew when he was about to do something stupid, but having someone else tell him so helped, too.
It was still not quite enough to stop him from trying, though.
"You can't fly, Ichigo."
"You can't phase through walls, Ichigo."
"You can't read minds, Ichigo."
"You can't use the Force to trick people into buying you things, Ichigo. The Force doesn't even exist."
"You can't stay up all night today, you have exams coming up soon and you have to be on your best."
The disembodied, genderless voice could be quite the nagging mother-hen sometimes, but Ichigo would not have it any other way.
The first time Ichigo felt a Hollow, it was on his way back home a year after meeting Sword.
He wasn't quite sure what the presence coupled with the empty feeling that came from a couple of miles away was, but he was sure it would be a chance to test his abilities.
So he ran, and halfway remembered he could use Shunpō to get there faster.
Then he saw it, humanoid body, about five times an adult person's size, red and black, short legs that seemed more fitted to jump around than walk, with two fingers on each foot, it's arms were long enough to reach the floor and had hands with sharp-looking claws instead of fingers, it had that mask, the Mask that all hollows have, and this one seemed to have its mouth permanently open, with a huge tongue reaching nearly four feet down coming out of it, it seemed to be sniffing the air before Ichigo got into its field of view, and then it focused entirely on him.
"Interesting, that there would be a human child with such a strong Spiritual Energy in this little town."
Ichigo raised an eyebrow, the creature was apparently capable of sniffing his Reiryoku, and used said sense of smell to find its prey, and he had read that Hollows could detect Spiritual Energies to feed on, but he didn't know they actually smelled them. Or was it just this one Hollow that did it that way?
"It must be my lucky day! The boy just wandered in here! Right into my grasp!"
"You talk too much."
"Why is it always the deaf ones? I said you talk too much."
"You can see me? Well, that's a surprise! No human should be able to do that, yet here you are."
"So you thought you were talking to yourself? That's a sign of mental instability, you know."
Ichigo heard a snort coming from Sword "Yeah yeah, I'm not one to talk."
"It doesn't make any difference! I'll devour your soul and add your power to my own!"
The Hollow then leaped at the boy, opening its huge maw and intending to devour Ichigo, and the ground beneath him, in one huge bite.
It only succeeded in half its endeavor.
"For those strong-looking legs of yours, you're pretty slow."
The Hollow turned around while spitting a mouthful of dirt and gravel, and looked at the kid who was now standing where the Hollow used to be.
"This has already gone on long enough, I trained to end these fights fast, and so, Hadō #4: Byakurai!" Ichigo pointed his right hand's index and middle fingers directly at the face of the Hollow, which howled in pain as white lightning struck its mask.
It was clearly not enough, Ichigo noted, as the Hollow's mask had yet to break entirely, even if it was damaged, so he followed it with a Shunpō to put himself in front and above of the Hollow's face, where he now threw a quick three punches, the last one strongest of them all, all aimed at the fissure that the pale lightning had left in the creature's mask.
The creature gave out another howl as its mask, and the head behind it, crumbled beneath the strength of Ichigo's combo.
"S-Shinigami?" Was the last thing the creature said, in a voice showing surprise and slight fear, before it fell apart completely.
Kurosaki Ichigo stood before the place where the Hollow had been standing moments before it was destroyed. His mind in turmoil, as the implications of what he just did struck him.
"I destroyed that Hollow, Sword."
"Destroyed, Sword, not purified, destroyed its soul and any other souls that it may have consumed."
"Sword, how am I supposed to fight an enemy I'm supposed to actually save if I don't have the Zanpakutō's ability to purify souls?" He was growing desperate, suddenly, all he had trained for became useless, and everything he had worked so hard for disappeared before his eyes.
"… There could be a way."
Ichigo held his breath, and waited for Sword to elaborate, it was ten seconds, then twenty, and then, genderless laughter.
"You're an asshole."
"I just love riling you up, Ichigo. You make it so easy sometimes."
"Just tell me already!"
"The power you need, I have it, we just need to figure out a way for me to give it to you without having to go through the whole giving me a form thing, though if we could get to that, I'd be thankful."
"Don't worry, you'll have a form, I swear. But we need a more immediate solution, we have no guarantees that what happened today won't repeat itself before we have time to make you into an actual Zanpakutō"
"I am a Zanpakutō."
"You know exactly what I mean, you nimrod."
"Let's go home, we'll meditate on that there, it's getting pretty late."
Following Sword's advice, he headed back home and brainstormed harder than he ever had before, this was now an all or nothing situation, everything he was now, everything he hoped to be, would hinge on this moment.
"You're quite a dramatic kid, aren't you?"
"You even grew your hair to look more like an epic hero, what's next, a bandanna and a white armour?"
"Oh god, you were planning on that weren't you?"
"Start thinking of a solution already!"
"I already found one."
"I want to say I hate you, I really want to, but the implications of me hating myself terrify me too much to do it."
"So we need a medium."
"Like… 'I can see your future' kind of medium or 'I can see dead people' kind?"
"A medium to channel my power through, you moron, I could just try to give you my power directly, but that would be too taxing for me, it's a miracle I can even exist as I am, I'd rather not risk my feeble existence doing something foolhardy."
"We could use Ofuda, channel your power through them, throw it at a dying hollow, and purify its soul."
"That's… that's actually a good idea, but I won't be able to channel my power through more than one item, and Ofuda are absurdly fragile. I also can't shake the feeling that you got this from a manga."
Ichigo refused to acknowledge the whole manga thing (it was true), so he started to wrack his brain thinking about just what he could use to channel his power through.
"Think, Ichigo. It has to be durable, small, practical and preferably something you can throw."
"Don't forget cool and original."
"Yes, strawberry, cool and original."
"Did you just mock both my name and my hair at the same time?"
"I don't know, did I?"
"I'm just saying this because you could end up having the same hair, and odds are you will, being a part of me and everything, and then I'll make you think back on this and mock you endlessly about it."
The idea they finally came up with, was a metallic, card-shaped weapon, with the words 'Torn' and 'Card' written on either side.
"I don't understand the name."
"Torn Card sounds pretty cool."
"Can you even accurately throw a card?"
And so the next couple of weeks were spent practicing how to accurately hit anything from a reasonable distance, he made sure to train in a different backyard each day though, he didn't want to make a mess of his own home, after all.
"You're a little bit of a jerk."
"I like you."
The time to test the Torn Card came sooner than expected, as apparently someone spread the word that a Hollow had been killed by a Spiritually Strong being in Karakura town, and other Hollows came along to feast on a snack they didn't actually think could kill them.
Ichigo disposed of them quickly enough, and each of them were properly purified by the Torn Card, and for the first time since he taught his little sisters to do well, everything, he felt an immense sense of accomplishment.
We skip forward a few years, a couple of days after Ichigo's sisters turned eleven years old, and fifteen-year-old Kurosaki Ichigo just could not believe his horrid luck.
"I can't believe how horrid my luck is."
"Stop running and start thinking, use the area to your advantage, you know it better than those Hollows. Running will just tire you out faster."
These weren't your run-of-the-mill Hollows, of which he could eliminate half a dozen without much trouble, these monsters apparently knew someone strong was around the place, and came with a group of ten, stronger than usual Hollows.
Ichigo could outrun them all any time of the day, but he worried what they would do if he just left them to their own business, so he just led them on while thinking just what the hell he could do to take them out without getting himself killed first.
He turned a corner, and headed in the direction of an abandoned warehouse, it used to belong to a construction company that left town because there just wasn't enough business.
"If they had waited a couple of years, they'd have more business than anyone, what with Hollows constantly messing up the place. Gas explosions my ass."
"Do you even have an ass?"
"Think, you moron! We can't die as we are, we still have much left to do."
As soon as he entered the warehouse, he jumped behind the farthest crates from the entrance and hid in the shadows, breathing deeply and focusing on hiding his presence. He had only just recently managed to turn off the eternally open faucet that his body was when it came to Reiatsu, it helped when sneaking up on Hollows, and as he had read, he was less likely to have weird stuff happening to people around him if they were affected by his presence. He could swear Tatsuki could see ghosts, or at least feel them, and Ichigo wasn't sure if he wanted to keep her away from the crazy world he lived in, or help her along so that's he could be better prepared in case of anything happening.
The Hollows came into the warehouse, completely tearing apart it's heavy, bulky metallic door, started sniffing around, around the middle of the place.
This was exactly what he needed.
"Hadō #33: Sōkatsui!"
He went without the incantation because he wanted to catch them off guard, so his spell was weaker than it would have normally been.
That did not in any way, shape, or form, mean that it was weak.
An enormous ball of condensed blue fire and destruction crashed down into the whole area that the Hollows were at, and Ichigo didn't even wait for the smoke to settle down to jump into the middle of the fray and start throwing the Torn Card to purify the horribly mauled Hollows.
"I feel bad, I can actually make them look uglier."
He finished the last of them by jumping at it as it tried to crawl out of the warehouse.
"That's all nine of them."
He dusted his pants and walked out of the warehouse wondering just how late he was-
He first heard the sound of slicing flesh, then saw the spurt of blood, then noticed the scythe-like blade coming out of the left side of his stomach.
The pain registered last.
He bit back a pained scream as he looked back at the mantis-like Hollow that was apparently smart enough to wait for Ichigo to come out. It looked like it was about to gloat, perhaps going on a rant about how he was smarter than the rest, and how he would feast on his Reiatsu.
Ichigo had heard it all too many times before, and the blade currently piercing him just added to his fury.
He jumped ahead, painfully taking the scythe blade out of his stomach, holding his middle section as his life fluid painted the ground under his feet. He looked up to the eyes of the beast, and the beast itself only knew two things from that moment on.
Fear like no Hollow had ever felt before, and horrible, excruciating pain as Ichigo flash stepped around it and with a mighty yank, pulled its arm off its socket.
Ichigo examined the bladed arm for a second, then used it to cut in half the Hollow in front of him, then, with one last swing, cut in half the Hollow's mask as its top half fell, separated from its legs.
He almost didn't think to use the Torn Card, but hey, he may be angry as all hells, but it was his job.
For good measure, he jumped at the falling Hollow and punched it's face in as he held the Torn Card in his fist, and the Hollow could do nothing else than disappear as it was purified.
Adrenaline rush dying, Ichigo fell to his knee, holding his badly bleeding torso.
"You got careless."
"Start healing, moron, this would be a shitty way to die."
Ichigo agreed wholeheartedly and started trying to heal himself, something he knew he wouldn't be able to accomplish, at least not entirely, but he could at least stop the internal bleeding and slow down the blood loss until he actually healed himself properly.
"I'll have to sneak back home again. Grab some bandages, patch myself up and listen to dad go on about how it is sacrilege to miss dinner time in the Kurosaki household, all while in horrible pain. I love my life."
"It's your entire fault."
He picked himself up, and feeling safe enough to do Shunpō without leaving a mean streak of blood behind, he went back home and did exactly as he planned.
That night, as he lay in bed recovering both his depleted Reiatsu and his health, he felt a strange presence sneaking into his room.
Tonight, once again, everything would change.
Aaaaaand that's a wrap. So what do you think? It's probably a bit longish for a prologue, but I wanted to introduce you to this Ichigo in one act, and the ideas to develop his character into the one I envisioned for this fic just kept coming.
I'm surprised I'm actually writing anything, I usually get a truckload of ideas but I never get anything done, but this one just seemed to scream at me, it threatened to drive me absolutely friggin' crazy unless I typed it down and published it. (It probably did)
Don't expect all chapters to be equally as long as this one, while I do write a lot, I'll sometimes feel it's the right moment to end a chapter, so I'll do just that.
So leave me a review or whatever, if you managed to get through all fifteen-friggin-kay words.
- Flameal out.