Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
For every drop of sweat that trailed down on her body, Rukia felt less exhausted and more focused. Her hands tightly gripped the hilt of Sode no Shirayuki as her hardened gaze was directed towards the unthreatening empty space in front of her as if there were someone there, in front of her.
The blade that had been absent from her for quite a while felt so familiar to her hands, a beacon of sanity that helped her walk through the madness that she had caused for herself.
The darkness that lurked within herself was something that she had to control. It could consume her, destroy her, or even worse, take hold over her and claim her body, her soul as its own.
If she let her mind wander, she could hear its whispers, its condescending laugh, its warped voice... The memory of the dark being filled her with revulsion and disgust, and she could not, for the life of her, get its image out of her mind no matter how hard she tried.
A pulse of energy threatening to burst out from within her made her shudder. It felt as if the energy was yearning to get out from the confines of her body, her soul, and to be free.
She could not let that happen.
Her grip on her zanpakutou tightened as she closed her eyes to try and concentrate, to focus and not let the darkness within get out. Sweats began to pour out even more as her ears could caught the sounds of faint laughter that seemed to be mocking her, the sounds that were only audible for her ears, and no one else's.
Fear began to seep into her heart along with a sense of apprehension as the whispers and the noises became louder and louder with each passing second, filling her head with fright.
From beneath her closed eyelids, the blood veins on her eyes were blackened by the influence of the darkness, and it sought her pupils and began to envelop the edges of her eyes like spider webs weaved by the arachnid.
Though her eyes were closed she could feel a heavy presence looming over her, a presence that burdened her, enveloped her, and was essentially a part of her.
Why did she wish for such a thing?
Hearing the echoing laughter of a warped voice of a woman, Rukia knew who to expect if she were to open her eyes and gaze at the figure in front of her.
Steeling herself to not show fear in front of the monstrosity, she opened her eyes and look at the figure that she had birthed.
Although they looked rather similar in terms of facial appearance and body structure, Rukia was certain that no one would mistake the figure in front of Rukia for herself. For one there was the unhealthily, sickly pale skin of the figure. Then, there was her white hair that seemed to reflect light and shine in a way that seemed to serve as an irony, considering the darkness that she's representing.
Along with that, there was her eyes... Yellow iris surrounded in scleras as black as night.
Her smile, one that could be considered as cocky, somewhat arrogant yet endearing was demonic and frightening when it was procured by this pale figure...
Though her resolve wavered slightly at the sight that she loathed with her very being, Rukia kept her footing stable and determined to not let the mere sight of the creature make her back down. She did not want to give the creature the satisfaction.
The mirror image of herself chuckled as she pointed her finger towards her hand... Or to be more precise, on what she was grasping.
Her eyes turned to her zanpakutou, and her eyes widened as she found that she was no longer grasping the beautiful white blade in her hands.
The sound of the devilish image of herself laughing maniacally diverted her attention towards the creature, "You fool... you are truly incapable of recognizing your own self, aren't you?" the white-Rukia asked in a rhetorical manner, "You don't deserve this."
Her eyes widened as she saw the white blade being held by her ivory-skinned counterpart. Her fear returning in full force, she brought her hand up and closed her eyes when the creature charged with her sword at the ready.
Hearing the voice of another person, one that belonged to Renji Abarai, Rukia's eyes abruptly opened. To Renji's eyes, Rukia was sitting in a lotus position with Sode no Shirayuki placed on her lap and her back was facing him, and as such, he didn't see the trail of cold sweat running down from her forehead and into her chin along with the sheer fear that was in her eyes.
"Hey, you told me that this is your day off, why are you here doing Jinzen?" Renji asked, somewhat incredulous that even with her hard-headed, studious personality of hers, she was pushing herself this far to accomplish some hidden goal that she had set for herself.
Incredulity turned into concern when she didn't respond for quite a while. "Hey, what's-"
She interrupted him when she quickly placed her Zanpakutou to its holder, stood up and turned to face Renji with a rather exuberant expression with a couple of sweatdrops trailing down from her forehead, "Uh nothing! Nothing Renji, there's nothing! Hehe... um... what are you doing here?"
Renji didn't ask anything else for a moment, but after a while where he saw her expression just screamed 'Please say something first!', he decided to to do so, "Uh... well, I went to Byakuya-dono's house, but he told me that you've gone somewhere at dawn, so I had been trying to find you. What have you been doing?"
"...Self-training." Rukia answered, somewhat more composed due to the time that Renji had taken to talk, "I know that I've asked Nii-sama for tutors, but it's not enough. At least... it's not enough for me."
"...You know, I've been meaning to ask you... What brought this on?" said the red-colored, pineapple-styled hair Shinigami, "I know that you want to be stronger, but don't you think that you're pushing yourself too hard? What's the reason for all this hard work?"
Renji was a firm believer that no people would work hard for the sake of working hard. That there was always a reason for everything that people do, bad or good, reasonable or not, there was always a reason for the things that people do.
He believed that Rukia was no different. Or, at least he hoped that she was no different. Even Ichigo Kurosaki must've been motivated by Rukia's well-being to gain that much power in such a short time.
Rukia actually fidgeted when she tried to explain why, "It's... it's because I want to, okay? Now! I have to go Renji, see ya!"
"Hey wai- grrmm..." Renji grumbled as Rukia ran past him, her body language indicated that she really didn't want to talk to him about what's troubling her.
On her part, Rukia ran towards Seireitei without any thought on where she would go next. She just felt the need to go away, to invest herself in something that would be able to help her with this problem, and training seemed like a good idea.
But currently, there were no scheduled trainings for her to participate in. After that realization kicked in, she stopped running. She happened to stop right in front of the Seventh Squad Headquarters, though it was largely unnoticed by her, despite the size of the building.
She looked up to see the one who greeted her, and to her surprise, it was the not-helmeted figure of one Komamura Sajin, who showed his canine features for the world to see.
His wolf head still freaked her out a bit, but she supposed that compared to a certain mad scientist from the Twelfth Division, Komamura Sajin's looks were more or less harmless, compared to the 'insane clown' vibe that Mayuri Kurotsuchi had and relished in.
"K-Komamura-dono!" Rukia greeted back with a loud voice as she was caught by surprise by the sudden intrusion. "S-sorry, I was... not paying attention." she apologized with a much quieter voice volume.
"It's alright." assured the wolf-like man, "It seems that you are in a hurry Kuchiki-dono. I suggest watching your steps."
"W-will do, Komamura-dono!" Rukia said with a nod.
"Hm. It seems that you are troubled, Kuchiki-dono." remarked Komamura, "Is there something wrong?" he asked, his question showed genuine concern.
"No, no, nothing's wrong Komamura-dono." Rukia answered as she shook her head.
Komamura's eyes narrowed at the way she answered his question. He knew when someone was hiding something, but, he also knew that the right for someone to reveal their secret was theirs and theirs alone. But, he felt the need to impart something to her, as someone who used to keep a secret in the past.
"I do not know what troubles you, Kuchiki-dono, and I will not be as discourteous as to pry, but may I suggest... confiding it to someone, someone whom you can trust?" Komamura began, "While I am not someone whom you should follow, considering what I had kept hidden for years, having a trusted confidante can help you."
Komamura then placed his hand over her shoulder and continued with; "However... should you consider yourself strong enough, the choice to keep your problems to yourself is available. But I am compelled to warn you... Such a path will be hard and can be destructive. Whatever your choice will be, know and consider the consequences, Kuchiki-dono."
He then began to walk away, but not before adding one other thing, "One more thing... I hope whatever it is that troubles you does not concern the safety of Soul Society as a whole. But if so, then... consider confiding it to someone."
With that, the man with the wolf head walked away, leaving Rukia with an answer that she had already decided for this conundrum that had befallen on her.
She was the one who brought this on herself, and so she must be the sole bearer of the burden that followed her decision. Though she knew of the problems that it could cause, she would not let it overwhelm her. She had to learn how to control it.
But who could she ask? After all, something like this would ensure her expulsion from the Thirteenth Squad and Soul Society as a whole.
Urahara Kisuke. The man might be able to give her some assistance, but considering that materialization of Senkaimon is regulated quite strictly, she would need to request a permission to patrol Karakura, which might take days if not weeks, as she had heard that there was another Shinigami who's responsible for that district after her capture.
Not to mention, the mandatory usage of gigai, which might be affected by the alien existence within herself, and it was understandable as to why she was more than slightly worried.
Then an idea struck her as she began to walk towards the location of the Kuchiki manor, 'Maybe Kuukaku-san can help somehow? Even if she doesn't have any method that she could use to send me to the world of the living, she might be able to contact Yoruichi-san, and from there, maybe I can go to Urahara without anyone knowing any better.'
Visiting her would not be that big of a problem, but she was a bit worried that the woman might not have what she needed to smuggle herself out of Soul Society.
The other method is for something big t happen at the world of the living that would make her be sent towards it, but the possibility of the exact circumstance of an event that would do just that was quite improbable.
'That doesn't mean that I should be discouraged though...'
She would need to contact Kuukaku and arrange a meeting, but considering that she had set herself up with some arduous training regiment, it might take a few days for her to be able to meet with the eldest Shiba and talk business, considering that she's quite selective in regards to welcoming people as her guests and that the last time she saw her, Rukia got wind of something about Kuukaku Shiba that really shocked her.
However, she remained adamant to find a way to contact Urahara. And with that set, she quickened her walking pace towards the Kuchiki estate.
A few days later...
Kuukaku Shiba had been ashamed of herself ever since that little incident that led her to mistake Yoruichi's boyfriend for her brother.
He looked so freakishly similar to him, what was she supposed to do in her intoxicated state? She was barely able to control herself as her mind became a puddle of emotions that she could not restrain.
Still... now Yoruichi knew... And that gave her new blackmail materials that she could use from her.
"Grrr...! Can't believe I'm saying this but I have to cut off Sake for a while..." she grumbled to herself as she laid herself flat on the tatami floor of her room.
Ganju had left to go to who knows where, and with her bodyguards outside, that left her alone in the house. Alone, and bored. It was days like these that made her wish something interesting would happen so that she could have something to do, preferably something that piqued her interest and allow herself to have some fun.
'I kinda miss those brats. At least their arrival was something different than these tedious days.' she thought.
She then heard the sound of the sling door being knocked. Sitting herself up, Kuukaku saw through the thin film of the wooden sliding door a figure of a small person on the outside of the door, a woman of short stature and short hair... could it be her?
"Come inside kid, it's not locked."
And entered one Rukia Kuchiki. Her hair had been considerably shortened into a rather boyish bob cut that made her even more tomboyish than before. However, her face would make one think that the hairstyle suited her in a way.
"Kuukaku-dono." Rukia nodded as a form of greeting, "Sorry for intruding. Your bodyguards let me in without trouble, they said that I am... someone who could bother you whenever I want."
"Hm, I did say that didn't I?" Kuukaku asked to herself, as if forgetting that she did, "Never mind that. Anyway, why are you here, kid? Something you want me to do for you?"
Rukia took a seat in front of her and nodded. "Yes. I have been wondering if you know the way to go to the Human world without anybody noticing."
Kuukaku's eyebrows rose up at what the Kuchiki was suggesting. "Is there someone you want to meet on the Human world, kid? To ask me such a thing reminded me about Yoruichi back when she and the others were planning to rescue you and all." her eyes narrowed as she asked; "What are you planning, I wonder?"
Rukia quickly waved her hand negatively, "No no no, I'm not planning anything... diabolical or something like that. You were right, I want to meet someone there, someone important. And I believe you know about him too... Urahara Kisuke?"
Kuukaku's lips formed into an 'o', "Oh I see. What you want to do with him? Cutting some sort of deal?"
Rukia hesitated before she tilted her head down, as if afraid of making eye contact with the elder Shiba, "S-something like that, yes." Rukia answered with a stammer.
This made Kuukaku's eyes narrow. She scrutinized Rukia and gauged her expression, to determine what it was that she's hiding and why. Then, she said to the young Kuchiki, "Kid, be honest with me about your intention. I know several ways of getting out of Soul Society without detection, but I'm not going to just give it to ya. I want you to reveal your reason, and you have to be honest with me."
Rukia was silent for a few seconds before she took a deep breath and sighed out loud, as if she just contemplated about whether or not she should reveal her intention. She then looked at Kuukaku's eyes directly with such a pleading gaze and said; "...Fine. I'll tell you my intention... But please, do not reveal this to anyone else."
"Who the hell would listen to me anyway kiddo? Go ahead, tell me, o weary soul, of your plight and wishes, so that I can give you respite and closure."
"...What was that?" Rukia asked after that little sentence.
"Just a little bit of wordplay that I just made up on the fly, how was it?" asked Kuukaku, as if expecting an answer.
"Ah forget it, just tell me what you want."
Rukia quickly answered, not wanting to tarry from telling the woman the reason of her arrival, "I have been infected with something, an affliction, a sickness of some sort, one that only Urahara could treat. And even then I'm not sure that he could cure me of this, but I want to go to him nevertheless."
There was a pregnant pause after what Rukia just revealed to the eldest member of the Shiba family. Then, after what seemed like an hour, Shiba said with utter seriousness, "This affliction of yours... it's not spreadable right? I'm safe right now, right?"
"Y-you're safe, Kuukaku-dono, what I have is not something infectious to other Shinigami... At least I hope so." Rukia said to calm the woman down, "It's just... unique to me. And I need his help, if not his counsel. As mad as he is-"
"He's still goddamn brilliant in what he does." Kuukaku finished it for Rukia with a more... colorful language, "Hm. Alright then, let's talk business, what do I get if I'm willing?"
Rukia knew this part was coming. A part of her wanted to believe that the woman would give her services gratis, but in the case that this happened...
"I would not tell anyone that you harbor incestuous feelings for Kaien-do-"
Kuukaku immediately got to her face with an angry glare and a popped vein on her forehead. Rukia, though remained quiet, struggled to maintain her composure as Kuukaku's expression was one of twisted, unadulterated anger.
Then, after a tense moment, Kuukaku pulled back, and sighed exasperatedly as she rubbed the bridge of her nose in agitation, her cheeks slightly reddened, "A part of me want to drink Sake... But remembering what gave this out in the first place, my mind is now waging a war between the two decisions..." she muttered to herself.
"Haaah... alright, I'll help you kid. See me in a week, I should have your transport ready by then."
"...Can you make it to three days instead?" Ruki asked, bargaining for a quicker time spot.
Kuukaku looked at Rukia, who seemed to be quite sheepish after asking such a question. "Why? This sickness bothering you so much that you can't wait for a week?" she asked of her.
Whatever she wanted to say was cut off when she felt a sharp pain on the middle of her chest that made her collapse to the tatami floor and writhe and groaning in obvious pain.
"H-hey?! What's going on with you?!" Kuukaku shouted out, understandably shocked and concerned after such a display. She grabbed the curling girl by the shoulder and re-aligned her so that she would be lying on her back...
Then what she saw made her eyes widen in shock. On the center of her chest, there was a large black dot, from which her skin was slowly turning into a shade of the whites of the human bone. This was the 'affliction' that she was talking about.
No... not an affliction, not a simple sickness.
'This is a fucking Hollowfication!' Kuukaku screamed inside her head as she saw Rukia's expression. Though her blackening eyes were open, she gathered that Rukia was out for the count if her sweats and lack of 'life' behind her eyes were any indication.
Then, the temperature in the room began to get lower and lower, and somehow, the whitening of her skin was reduced, and the black dot tattoo was shrinking in concordance to the sudden drop in temperature.
It was at this moment where Kuukaku realized that it would do her good to get her to Urahara in less than a week, hell, in less than three days in fact.
She needed to go to Urahara ASAFP.
When Rukia came to consciousness once again, she realized the grimness of what just happened.
She lost control. It wasn't even supposed to be so intrusive and sudden, it was supposed to have some sort of warning, such as a feeling of cold chill dropping on her stomach, or a painful throbbing on her head, especially on the sides of her eyes, perhaps a sudden feeling of tight constriction on her left chest, but that one came out of nowhere.
But most worrying of all, she could hear the sound of faint laughs from the insufferable white woman, mocking her and her efforts.
It was clear that she was beginning to lose this little war of hers. Even with help from the teachers that her brother had set up for her that focused on controlling Reiatsu surges, Rukia had failed in controlling this particular Reiatsu surge.
Though they were successful in other matters, considering that she was facing the Reiatsu of something other than a Shinigami, she supposed that the methods that she had been taught with was not as effective as it could be.
'Damn it all, and I fainted right in front of Kuukaku-dono as well...' she thought to herself as she closed her eyes and placed her right palm over them, 'She must know by now... how the hell am I going to explain this...?'
Before she could lose herself in her thoughts, the sliding door was opened, and there was Kuukaku, who was regarding her with such a scrutinizing gaze. Understandable, considering what she had just seen.
"K-Kuukaku-dono..." Rukia responded weakly as she sat up from the bed that was provided to her by the Shiba matriarch, "I'm... I'm so sorry, I..."
"What are you sorry for?" Kuukaku asked, her hand on her hip, "Are you sorry that you didn't tell me the exact 'affliction' that you have or are you sorry that you didn't tell me that it had gotten so bad that it could make you faint at any given moment and could potentially turn you into a Hollow?"
Her question conveyed her anger. But more than that, it conveyed her concern. However, Rukia did not know whether it was a concern over her well-being or concern over the threat that she represented, being a Shinigami who possessed a part Hollow within her.
"You know that this type of 'sickness' could get you booted out of Gotei 13, Seireitei and Rukongai, right? Basically, the Soul Society would be kind enough if they chose to kick you out, at worst, they either kill you or lock you up for experimentation, especially possible when that freakshow from the 12th Division is concerned." Kuukaku stated to her.
Rukia didn't need to be told that, but Kuukaku's statement hurt nonetheless, and she was right.
"That's why I've arranged little this and that so that you can leave Soul Society a day from now."
At this, Rukia looked at Kuukaku with surprise apparent in her eyes. However, Kuukaku's expression remained the same as it was before. "It's not out of the kindness of my heart, kid, it's out of necessity. Urahara better have some method in 'curing' you. However, what are you going to tell your brother? You think you can trust him with this kind of information? Even in Rukongai, nobles have an infamous reputation of being snooty, and considering what Yoruichi told me about your brother Byakuya, he becomes one of the worst of them."
Though she wouldn't go as far as to call her brother as snooty, Rukia would have to agree that she needed to tell her brother something to justify her leaving Seireitei for a while.
She knew that he had some assumption about her troubled state. Her brother had tried to ask her as to what was troubling her yesterday, but she dodged the questions, and since then, he never asked again, perhaps for the sake of respecting her privacy.
The possibility made her feel guilty. She should be trusting her brother, not to be worried over telling this to him.
But on the other hand, the argument held some weight. After all, her brother is supposed to be devoted to the Kuchiki clan, and she was not that important in the scheme of things compared to it. Being the head of the clan, it would be burdening his mind further that she had placed herself in this predicament through a simple wish...
"I wish I were stronger than this..."
She still remembered the echoes of her mind as if it happened just yesterday. When the object that had been inside of her inadvertently heard her thoughts as it was being pulled out of her, it listened and acted. But what it gave to her was greatly burdening her, and now, she required the help of the man who had placed the terrifying thing within her in the first place, to try and figure out a cure for this... 'affliction'.
'...But should I tell him...?' she wondered to herself, uncertain as to what to do.
Kuukaku sighed seeing the sight of Rukia's uncertainty. Such a decision was not to be considered lightly, but judging by the look on her face, Kuukaku realized just how much Rukia was troubled by what she had to do. "Look, I know it's not easy. But you gotta tell him kid... If not, then the problem that the guy Ichigo had resolved would happen all over again."
She knew that. She knew that perfectly. This was something that she had to do...
Hopefully, he would understand... No...
He had to.
One day later, night time...
Byakuya Kuchiki was a person who had learned the virtue of adhering to his family first and foremost, before anything else. He was taught by a supposed human who infiltrated Seireitei and took the matters of Rukia's execution into his own hands and succeeded in saving her.
A noble being taught by a rebel was something that would make the ancestors of Kuchiki clan roll in their graves, that was for certain, but Ichigo Kurosaki spoke wisdom in his words.
Rukia was worth the trouble for him, and he had his reasons. While he, who did not need any reason to come to her defense did not do so simply because he was concerned more about the clan than the sister of his beloved wife.
And so, when she requested that he assigned some tutors for her, he agreed almost immediately. This newfound drive of hers confused him somewhat, but he supposed that one's desire to improve oneself should not be suppressed.
He had questioned the tutors that he had assigned on her progress, and they told him that though she was quite promising and very driven, they said that it seemed that there was something that troubled her so.
From the moment she was inducted into the Kuchiki clan, Rukia had learned to keep her opinions and thoughts inside of her head and would rarely reveal that to anyone, let alone him, the one whom he knew that she had some problems in being open with.
Byakuya had an idea as to why she was quite... hesitant to approach him the way she would approach Renji or the Ichigo boy. It involved her place of origin, which was Rukongai.
He came from Seireitei, a Highborn, a scion of the Four Great Noble Family in Soul Society. She saw him not just as a brother, but a holder of an unattainable position in the political realm of Soul Society, and therefore, someone that she could not be casual to.
Even when she requested him for tutors, he could see how afraid she was in the prospect of just asking him in the most polite manner, with the bowing, the formal way of speech and all. It took her all to come to him and request such a thing, and so he agreed.
That was why when she requested to have a talk to him again this time, a day after she went to Kuukaku Shiba in a want for something to be done by the well-known woman in Rukongai, he knew that something was up.
He accepted, willing to hear what she was going to say.
And in the end of it all, he once again, found himself at a loss for words.
She cast her head down, unwilling and afraid to meet the gaze of her brother. After what she had told him, how could she look him straight in the eye? As if the fallout during her trial wasn't enough now she's bringing this to his table.
The time between when the explanation started and ended was approximately five seconds, which consisted of her saying...
"I have a Hollow inside of me and I want to go to the Human world to meet Kisuke Urahara and sort this all out."
Though she said it in an abrupt, quick manner, she was certain that her brother got her message. After all, the silence was the most prominent clue that he did, for it was deliberately done and was so tense for her to experience.
"I assume you have arranged... a method with which you wish to get out? From Kuukaku Shiba in Rukongai I assume?" asked her brother, his tone of voice seemed the same as before.
Rukia gulped, finding the current silence to be more of a constricting thing than the one before, "Y-yes..."
"What has she arranged for you?"
"I...I will be able to leave tomorrow. She, she knows about my... condition."
"How did this came to be?" he asked, his voice still calm but laced with concern over her.
And so she told him, of the Hougyoku, of her wish that the object decided to grant, of how there was a twisted mirror version of herself within her now. This was explained concisely and coherently, just the way she knew he preferred. And at the end of it all, there was only one thing that he asked her, one thing only.
"Why am I not the first person you seek to discuss this with?"
Now that was a troublesome question. Why indeed. To do such a thing implied many things about what she thought of him, all of it was unpleasant to consider, and all but one of them were false.
"I was... scared, Nii-sama." was her answer.
She shook her head, no, that was not the reason for her fear, "No... I was scared of... what you will decide to do with me..."
Rukia kept herself from crying. This was it, she had bared it all to him, and now she just had to wait for her brother to give her his verdict, and from there either she would be imprisoned and executed or she would be allowed to go.
There was a moment of silence that stretched on for tens of minutes before finally, Byakuya answered.
"You sure she'll come here?"
"Can't say for sure, Yoruichi." Kuukaku said as much to her old friend as they were sitting side-by-side at the spot where Yoruichi and Ichigo's friends used her cannon to infiltrate Seireitei, "The girl wanted to tell the stuck-up Kuchiki boy about her condition, so I can't say if she would ended up coming here or not."
In the aftermath of Aizen's treachery, she only visited Byakuya once, and it wasn't exactly as if she was invited by him, but through their conversation, she saw that the boy's attitude has considerably improved ever since Ichigo 'fought' him.
"Hm, I trust him." she said, "I think he'll let his sister go for now, he's a changed man you know."
"We'll see." Kuukaku said, not thoroughly convinced. Then, she smirked and said, "Speaking of a person that has changed, how's the love life?" she asked, wanting to know of how both of them were like right saw Yoruichi grinning widely as a light blush adorned her beautiful face, "Well..." the dark-skinned Shinigami began as she stretched her arms, as if finding them to be rather stiff, "Let's just say that he doesn't disappoint."
"Have you two fucked each other yet?" leave it for the oldest Shiba to be rather blunt in asking such a question.
"Oh yeah." Yoruichi answered with a wider smile, as if that was possible, "I won't say the sex were dreamy, but they were fucking satisfying as hell on all accounts." she elaborated, "Still can't believe that he had been a total virgin before."
"Struck a talented one, did ya?"
"You won't believe it." at this, Yoruichi's smile turned rather mischievous, "Actually, now that I think about it, with Ichigo's look and all-"
"Okay, stop it!" Kuukaku just had had enough with her attraction being mentioned almost every time, "Enough, alright? It's not enough that you found out about my feelings but you had to make fun of it too?"
Yoruichi actually felt bad for that. Maybe it was because of the euphoria of remembering the action coming to her mind, but she should've known better and treat it seriously, "I'm sorry."
Kuukaku sighed in indignation before her expression softened, "So... is he really like him?"
It took Yoruichi a moment to ponder the right answer to give to her, "Yeah actually." Yoruichi answered right after she decided to tell her the truth, "It's as if he's his reincarnation actually."
Now Yoruichi found Kuukaku sulking. Full-on, pouting-face sulking, and she couldn't help but to smirk at the sudden bout of uncharacteristic behavior from her friend, "Jealous, Kuukaku?"
"..." the silence and the look that she gave her, with the pouty lips and annoyed glare were all the answer that she wanted to know.
They were alerted to the sounds of approaching footsteps, quick were the steps, a person who was in quite a hurry no doubt, a person who wanted to escape the area for what Yoruichi and Kuukaku knew to be a good reason.
Rukia Kuchiki was panting, as if she had just escaped a tiring chase done by several people seeking to kill her. On her person, she only carried a rather ragged-looking cloak and cowl that made her look just a tad suspicious.
"You look like you're ready to go." Yoruichi remarked with an amused smile.
Initially, it was quite a surprise for the petite girl to see the Shihouin woman, but it subdued when she realized who was the one ally that Kuukaku had that could illegally send someone to and from Soul Society without the knowledge of the Gotei 13.
"Yoruichi-dono. I... I came as fast as I could after I told Nii-sama."
"How did Byakuya take it?" Yoruichi asked as she stood up and patted her butt a few times to wipe away some of the dusts there.
"...He allowed me to go." Rukia answered, her voice bordering between sadness and happiness, "He didn't... well, he took it better than I thought, but..." her lips trembled a bit and she took a deep breath before she said, "I'm prepared to go."
Byakuya was taking a risk in letting her go. Her situation was just too dangerous, for her to stay longer, the 'attacks' that Kuukaku had seen before might happen in a greater frequency, which meant greater risks in being found out and subjected to either punishment, execution or brutal experimentation. He must've realized that, and so he decided to allow her to go.
Yoruichi looked at Rukia, and she knew that it must be as hard for her as it was for Byakuya-boy. Despite the fact that he had grown frigid cold from the days where he would be really incensed with just her presence, Byakuya was once as fiery as Ichigo, and she had no doubt that he still had compassion deep in his heart, encased in the ice that he had decided to make around himself.
Sending his sister away, the sister of his beloved wife away because of her acquired condition would sadden him greatly, this was something that Yoruichi knew. Perhaps he took it as hard as his sister, whom she noticed was playing strong through her expression, but her true sentiment was shown through the nigh-imperceptible shaking of her lips and fingers and how her eyes began to glisten due to the tears that was being held.
So she decided to not pry further. It's hard enough for the girl already. "Alright, well... Let us go."
Urahara had never thought that he would ever regret creating something in his life. He was of the belief that inventions were supposed to be something that benefit everyone involved in its creation and the ones to whom it was intended to.
But the Hogyoku was a regret of his, one that seemed to be haunting him, even now. The news of Rukia Kuchiki actually being turned into a Shinigami-Hollow hybrid due to her brief interaction with the Hogyoku during the time when it was being taken out was rending for him to hear.
She was not supposed to be involved further in this, she was not supposed to become another Vizard and might be ending up as an exile in the human world for the rest of her life as her new existence.
But, like all things in life, sometimes the worst case scenario happened because of something that was not foreseen. He did not foresee the possibility that she would wish to be stronger when the Hogyoku was in the process of being extracted out from within her.
Such an act made Hogyoku react and grant her wish, in a way that he doubted she wanted it to.
'Now I have become death. Destroyer of worlds.' the quote came unbidden to his mind. He should not have made the Hogyoku in the first place just to sate his own ego. He should not have made something that had brought on disastrous results that affected those who did not deserve the fate that had befell them.
As the makeshift Senkaimon that he once used to send Ichigo and his friends was activated once again due to the arrival of the two from the other side, Urahara was accompanied by Tessai, Jinta and Ururu who were waiting in front of the massive dimensional gate that he had modified a bit to conceal its energy output a bit better.
From the gate, two people came out, Yoruichi and the young Kuchiki girl, whose expression showed her melancholic disposition regarding her current status. She had just been saved from an unruly execution, and now she had to live as a Vizard, a practical outcast from Seireitei.
She might be hoping that there was a way out of this, but considering the state of existence that her Vizard kin had to get used to for a long time in which he thought up and tried every possible way to return them to normal only to come up with nothing, Urahara wasn't sure if he could do what she wanted.
Still, he could help her controlling the Hollow side, of that he was certain.
"Kuchiki-san, pleasure to meet you again." Urahara said with an easy smile that she had always been irritated with.
However, irritation was not the emotion that came to her this time. She was just numbed, from everything that this affliction of hers brought to her life. "Kisuke." she greeted back with a slight nod, "To be honest, I didn't think that I'd actually meet you again. Especially not in a situation where I have to rely on you for assistance again." she grumbled.
Using his bucket hat to shadow his eyes a bit, the mad scientist chuckled, "Well, fate has a twisted sense of humor, Kuchiki-san and it has a way of ensuring it keeps itself amused." he responded in a rather cryptic manner, "So... with how you are now, I think we'll just perform some test on you before you rest, the rest can be started tomorrow."
"Why tomorrow?" Rukia questioned, "Why can't we just start as soon as we can? I want this... this thing inside of me gone as fast as possible." she said in an anxious tone of voice.
"You are sweating, emotionally compromised and no doubt physically and mentally tired." Yoruichi said sternly, "This problem isn't going to be solved in just a day, kid. But nevertheless, we're here to help you... accustomed to this."
"Accustomed?" that was the wrong thing to say, "Accustomed?! I don't want that thing to stay!" she said before she pointed to Urahara, "I want you to help me get rid of this... this... Hollow! Accustomed my ass! Do you think I want to-"
"It's not the matter of what you want or don't." Urahara said in a stern voice that she had never heard before, chilling her bones with how he spoke, "It's about what I can do, and even that is pretty limited. This is not the first time such a thing has happened, and you are certainly not the first person to possess a Hollow inside of you."
That was something that she didn't expect, as evidenced by how she was struck into silence and widened eyes. "I'm not..." her words came out with a pause, "I'm not the first?" she asked.
After a moment of silence, Urahara decided to finish the conversation by saying: "We'll talk more after you're rested. You deserve to know more, but not today. Everything needs to be prepared first."
Waking up came as easy as it ever was for him when the sunlight of the barely peeking sun on the horizon pierced through the window of her bedroom.
And it was also as easy as it ever was for him to use the momentum of his father's leap to throw him back and out of his room. In fact, it had been much easier for him to do so ever since his power was augmented multiple times.
"Good morning dad." he said as usual before he began his daily routine. Not to mention the fact that he rarely felt tired. His physical body was affected by the increase of his spiritual power as a Hybrid, and in essence, it made him slightly superhuman in human form.
It had been a rather interesting couple of days since he welcomed another one of his human friend to this strange world of Shinigami and Hollows. He had known Tatsuki as a strong, hot-headed and stubborn person who would face her problems head on with no regards for her own safety because that was who she was.
It came to no surprise to him that she would endure hellish empowerment event like he suffered from the mad scientist when he first regain his Shinigami powers back. They were similar to one another, and knowing that, Ichigo knew Satsuki would grit her teeth and bear what was to come.
However, what really surprised him was how far she was willing to go. The method for her to gain power similar to that of Chad's and Orihime's was to empty her Reiatsu reserve through combat and for Ichigo to flood it back to full in one go once she reached her breaking point, a crude, somewhat savage method to gain power, but she merely said...
"Go ahead. I'll endure this."
She was not cocky or overconfident when she said so. She was a bit afraid, but her resolve masked it quite well. It seemed that both of them were more alike to one another than he first thought, because when it came to protecting someone, she turned out to be as stubborn as he was.
When it was finished, Tatsuki had been bed-ridden for eighteen hours, teetering between consciousness and death and somewhat incapable of moving her limbs and speak coherently, so Ichigo made sure that her parents were informed of something so that they're not worried and to ensure that she's alright, he visited her every few hours during school.
On the afternoon of second day, she finally regained control of her body and her supernatural ability began to manifest. If Chad had his arms and Orihime had her fairy-like spirits, then Tatsuki possessed a black-colored liquid/cloud shadow that seemed to act similar as some kind of a neurally-controlled nanites.
Her power was a derivation of his black fire, and though it was much less destructive, it was easy to control and she was more than excited to have a power that could be both offensive and defensive.
She named it Reikage (Spirit Shadow). Very simplistic, but straight to the point, mirroring her very personality. Indeed, she didn't care for the fact that it didn't look as pretty as Orihime's Shun Shun Rikka, all she cared about was how she could use her power to be of some use for Ichigo, to help him in his fight should the situation arose.
Her power was created upon her desire to become useful, and that might have had some influence regarding how versatile her power was. Reikage could be used both offensively and defensively and with a thought, she could change its form into anything, and she mainly used it to create armor for herself and some variety of weapons.
Using her armor, she could augment her physical capabilities and prevent herself from getting injured. The weapons created from the black substance were almost as strong as a named Zanpakutou and her knowledge of weapons was the only limit to what she could use in a battlefield.
Thanks to him having a unique Reiatsu, she had become strong enough to perhaps fight against a 3rd Seat Shinigami if not a Lieutenant. Her minimum amount of training was compensated by her sheer power and talent, reminding him of himself when he first set out as a Substitute Shinigami, all brash, powerful and confident, but nevertheless, inexperienced.
As he finished his breakfast and exited the house, he was met with his childhood friend once again.
Tatsuki's body was wrapped with bandages and band-aids due to the harsh regimen of training that she received. She even had some small scars on her face, which were covered by band-aids located on the bridge of her nose, her left cheek and her chin while the ones that had already faded somewhat were left exposed.
Still, she did not grumble in indignity, she took it head on with a cocky smile on her face, the same smile that she was showing off to him now, "Morning." she greeted.
She had been coming over every morning for the past few days now just to walk with him to school and ask for some tips regarding her new powers or about Soul Society and Hueco Mundo along the way. It was like their elementary school time all over again, except in place of Karate or football, they talked about the strange supernatural world that they were inhabiting now.
"Morning. Good to see you not as nearly dead as yesterday." he cheekily remarked as he got closer.
Tatsuki scoffed at his remark before she lightly punched him in the arm, not to hurt him but to not hurt herself in the process, "I heal fast now, remember? Thanks to you." she said with a smirk.
"Don't forget that it contributes to the steadily increasing difficulty of your training." he added.
"Ah, who cares about that? It's a small price to pay." she waved it off, though she was a bit winded with how the trainings were increased in scale and difficulty due to her acquired restoration process, she didn't let that slow her down.
Despite the relatively short time, she managed to become quite strong. Even Chad had to fight against her to increase his skills in using his deadly shield arm.
Even Uryuu, who reserved some doubts regarding Tatsuki's choice, was impressed by her skill and determination. Though Ichigo sensed that he was a bit envious due to his own powerlessness, he was glad that there's one more person who could fight.
Uryuu's condition was unfortunate, and his eventual restoration was something that Ichigo sought to accelerate somehow. He had an idea, but everytime he tried to bring the topic up, he would get evasive.
Today would be different he vowed. He needed to test Orihime's restoration ability on him, see if she could restore his former Quincy powers.
Midway of their walk to school, they were joined by Orihime. "Good morning Kurosaki-kun! Tatsuki-chan!" she greeted them in her usual, bubbly energetic way.
He had talked to her about his idea, and unsurprisingly, she was more than willing to help. All they required was Uryuu's consent, and if he did not want to, then maybe Ichigo had to perform extreme measures to try and... persuade him to take the treatment.
"Morning Ino-" he was stopped when Tatsuki elbowed him in the ribs and glared at him, making him clear his throat before saying; "Morning, Orihime."
Then, the raven-haired girl looked pointedly at her blushing friend, as if encouraging her to say something, and then, after a few seconds of silence, she said; "G-good morning, I-Ichigo-kun..." she said, not really looking at his eyes.
It was something that Tatsuki encouraged them to do, calling each other by their first names. "You two've known each other for long enough to call each other with first names, don't you think?" were her words of encouragement.
His past self would just cave into her demand after a few attempts, but now, he saw it for what it really was: An attempt to try and make Orihime closer to him for... some reason that escaped him, at least initially. Still, close friends call each other by their first names, so he didn't really cave in, he simply agreed with Tatsuki.
However, when he started to notice how she blushed rather blissfully everytime she called him by his first name, he realized the reason as to why.
And that confused him. He's involved with Yoruichi, and he's quite pleased and comfortable with his relationship though he still kept it as a relatively secret thing from other people.
Orihime was sweet, in a girl next door fashion, and he would be lying if he said he didn't like her or did not find her endearing. But he would have to talk about it with her sometime, that he's not exactly available.
The thought of her heart-broken face was something that made him hesitate for days. But what reall made him think, was Yoruichi's thought during their bedtalk.
"I think you should tell her. Then, offer her something that she wouldn't refuse. I'll be there to help, just tell me when."
He was not innocent, he had... some ideas as to what she meant, but he was just too... boggled by that. She said to take time and let it simmer in his mind, and he did, and somehow, someway, perhaps through the influence of his Hollow self who was a pervert, he... warmed up to the idea.
Looking over at the ditzy, innocent-looking girl at his side for quite some time with a contemplative silence made him feel both awkward and excited at the idea of Yoruichi's... proposal.
"...I-is there something on my face Ichigo-kun?" Orihime asked after a few seconds of him looking at her, her cheeks inflamed red.
"No, I was just... lost in thought while looking at you. Sorry." he said apologetically, speaking the truth.
What he said could be interpreted as a flirting words, which was what she translated it as and it made her blush more furiously.
So they walked side by side with Ichigo in the middle, a blushing schoolgirl, a long-haired, delinquent-looking schoolboy and a tomboyish schoolgirl who was giving him strange looks after what he said to the orange-haired girl at his side.
That was what the whole school saw as the entered the school. Ichigo Kurosaki, the newly-dubbed Yakuza of the school due to his hair, his new persona and reputation of being a... fun bad guy.
At times like these, he's really annoyed by how immature his similarly-aged schoolmates could be. Sure, it seemed as if he's transformed significantly in such a short time, but it was not-
...Yeah, maybe it was somewhat appropriate for them to have some sort of reaction, even if he thought that it was somewhat overblown.
They then went to their classroom to let their time in school go on as usual, Keigo was bothering him as usual, but he merely pushed him away to have a sense of calmness in this routine that he had found as tedious.
It was a sickness of some kind, getting drowsy by the normality around him. At some degree, he felt human again with following every normal routine that he had followed before he even became a Shinigami, but now he felt wanting for more.
Having so much power on your fingertips would change you it seemed. He longed for the excitement of battle, -the work of his Hollow side no doubt-, but he had enough self-control to prevent himself from going on a rampage like Kenpachi and was able to distract himself from the thought of his desire for more.
Still, that did not mean he can't completely ignore it. Tatsuki, Orihime, Chad and Uryuu began to notice this as well, how he's beginning to slip away.
He needed to assure them that he wasn't going away, at least not anytime soon, hopefully at least. The hour of that guy's arrival from another world was getting closer, and to be completely honest, he was waiting rather impatiently for that to happen.
Damn it, he really needed to get his primal side of himself to calm down. He needed to-
Time for action. However, he was beaten to the punch by Tatsuki, who raised her hand immediately after she heard it and said to the teacher; "Sensei, I gotta go to the infirmary, I'm having cramps."
Contrary to what she said as her excuse, she ran out of the class, ignoring the teacher's protest.
Urahara had said to her that she should put her training to practice, and that meant eradicating Hollows. This was not her first rodeo, but she hadn't been long in the business as of yet and still required a lot of practice, so he decided to let her be.
Though he did notice Uryuu's disgruntled expression when his sight went past him.
Time went on for about five minutes before he felt a pulse of Reiatsu that he recognized. It came from his left, down some levels from where he was, he turned his head to look outside the window and found a figure standing on the tracks down below who was looking at him rather intently.
He got the message. They needed to talk, something had come up. He looked around him for a bit, and Orihime, Chad and Uryuu were looking at him with quizzical expression on their faces.
As he ran out, he yelled to the teacher, "Sorry, gotta run, I gotta pee!" and ignored his reply. He already got the outline of what he was teaching anyway, he could ask Chad for notes if he wanted to.
This was far more important.
He found her away from the track, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed and her expression was neutral. "What's going on Yoruichi?" he asked, "What happened? Is there something wrong?"
She smiled slightly at that. He didn't need for her to tell him something was wrong, he knew immediately from the way she carried herself. "Something's wrong, yeah, but not with me. Leave your body here, we need to get to Urahara immediately."
There was a sense of urgency in her voice, and quickly, Ichigo looked around for a bit and went for the nearest spot to hide his body in and stepped out from it in his Hybrid form. "I'm guessing someone I know is there now?" she wouldn't just call him if it didn't involve him in some way.
Grimacing at his insight, she answered; "Yeah. And she's not in good condition right now."
His eyes widened in realization as to who was in trouble and quickly he said to her, "Explain it to me on the way, come on." Yoruichi nodded and together, they vanished.
"Keep her steady Tessai, she's fighting the influence and it's not doing her much good!"
Chained and imprisoned just like Ichigo once was, the writhing, growling, grinning form of the ice monster in front of him proved to be a challenge. Was it because of the direct influence of the Hogyoku that made her much stronger? His mistake will always haunt him in many ways it seemed.
"Hah! This will not hold me for long!"
The scariest thing was, despite the fact that he was certain that Kuchiki Rukia was fighting inside of this monster, it was powerful enough to relay its message from Rukia's physical body. It could speak. Though feral, it was not mindless.
Her skin and hair was white as snow, but the white of one of her eyes had turned black as night and on that side, her iris had turned into sinister yellow. The fogs of her breath froze her surroundings and from where she was forced to knelt, the ground had been turned to ice. Her nails were black, her fangs were pronounced, and there was a hole that was beginning to form on her chest.
The monster winced, the girl inside of it was still fighting, and she was not letting up.
"Kuchiki-san! If you can listen to me, keep fighting! We're doing the best we can to-"
"Grrrraaaaaaaaaah!" it yelled as it released a wave of encroaching frost that froze everything on its path.
Instinctively, Urahara drew his Zanpakutou and cried out; "Nake, Benihime!"
A shield of crimson energy formed in front of him and shielded him from the freezing effect of its Reiatsu. Cold the training room had become, and after a second he realized he made a mistake.
Just as he caught a glimpse of Tessai's frozen body, his neck was grasped by the Hollow side of one Rukia Kuchiki, brought forth by him when it heard about the procedure that would subdue it and let her control it just like what he did to those who became the Vizard.
"It's not within your power to give her the authority over me." Hollow Rukia said coldly before it threw him far away from it. Then, when he landed, it said; "She-
"-need to earn it!" her Hollow self yelled at her with so much rancor in her warped voice.
Battered, bruised, tired and armed with the Asauchi that she first got before she met Sode no Shirayuki, Rukia fought not to win, but to keep herself standing and fight.
"And right now, you don't deserve an iota of the power that you've received."
As she stared at her sword, her beautiful white sword, grasped by the twisted mirror of her self in front of her, she tried to hope, to keep on fighting...
But despair was enclosing her, threatening to swallow her whole.
Blackness began to consume her vision...
To be continued...
Sorry for the cliffhanger folks, see ya at the next chapter!