You guys read this weeks Bleach chapter? Who knew Kubo had it in him...

And Justice for All

Act I - Enter the Unforgiven

Chapter VI A Life in Chains

Thursday, 21st of April

Ichigo, dressed in an old purple hoodie, T-shirt and jeans, stared at the building before him. The place was falling apart at the seams, though the dull light of dusk didn't do it any kindness as it illuminated the old, rickety two-story shop. The rain had finally died off around an hour ago during dinner, and he'd quickly excused himself afterwards, saying Ikuami-san had him running a late errand or two because he'd missed his entire shift due to detention - school had not been cancelled as the building was given the all clear in the end. In truth, his boss had certainly given him an earful for that one.

Sighing to himself, he rubbed the back of his head with the palm of his hand, the conversation he'd had with the man calling himself Ginjõ earlier still ringing in his ears: "Storm's comin', Kurosaki and it's about time you decide who you're going to take shelter with…" he murmured to himself, echoing the man's words as he turned the Xcution card over and over in his left hand.

Just what the hell is going on in this town right now? He honestly didn't know, but he knew who might. "Might as well get this over with…" Stuffing the card into the pocket of his favourite pair of faded blue jeans, he set off towards the dilapidated old building that was the Urahara Shõten.

Urahara was far from the sanest man he'd ever met, and from what his father had told him about the blond Shinigami's past, he could understand why, to an extent. Whilst it was less than stellar, he'd at least had a reason for everything he did back in the days when Aizen was running amuck. He'd seen them through the worst of it and he owed his former mentor enough to approach him first and try and get some answers before running off to some shady group with a stupid name like Xcution for help.

Sliding the door open, he was greeted with a gruff, "Sorry, but we're closed," from somewhere behind a mountain of boxes. After a moment in which he said nothing, a familiar face popped out from behind the boxes, tilted at an angle so nothing below the chin could be seen, a floating head. "Oh, Kurosaki-san. I didn't realise it was you. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

"Tessai-san," Ichigo nodded in greeting as the giant man pushed himself to his feet, dusting himself off before walking out from behind the boxes and bowing in a more formal greeting. He hasn't changed a bit… the former Visored thought to himself, noting the same rectangular spectacles and handlebar mustache were still very much present. Heck, it looked like he was even wearing the same clothes from seventeen months ago! "I was wondering if Urahara-san was here or not."

"Urahara-dono had a feeling you might be dropping by at some point – he told me to just send you on through to the backroom when you arrived," the former Kido Corps Captain replied with a wiggle of his mustache, adjusting his glasses at the same time. Though something in the man's voice gave away he didn't exactly approve. Of what that was, Ichigo had no idea.

Nonetheless, Ichigo said a polite "Thanks" with a nod, deciding it was something that would be left unanswered form the time being. Without another word passing between the pair, the young man headed for the back of the shop room. He stepped up onto the little platform where Urahara liked to sit on his little cushion during business hours – the cushion concealed the trap door to and underground training arena – and slid through the slightly open door.

Looking around the dimly little corridor, Ichigo was surprised to see that, unlike the outside of the shop, the inside was still well looked after. Ichigo could swear the smell of fresh paint still lingered in the air as he walked towards the back room Urahara was usually found in when not attending to his shop… or putting people through hell underneath the shop. When he was eventually in earshot, the former Visored could make out voices conversing in the backroom, though they were muffled by the door. Wasting little time, he slid the door open when he reached it.

"Ah, Kurosaki-san! A little later than I expected, but nonetheless, you have arrived~" the rather jovial voice of one Urahara Kisuke said in greeting as he walked into the room. The blond shop keeper was sitting on top of a large cushion, a black cat of average size lounging on the low table in front of him. Between them sat a tea set, a saucer of milk and two cups. "Please, do come in."

Ichigo rolled his eyes. He'd already closed the door again and was half way to the table by the time Urahara offered him a seat. "Urahara-san, Yoruichi-san," he greeted formally, seating himself cross-legged opposite his former eccentric mentor. "Rukia," he added, his eyes darting to the side just in time to see the girl's eyes widen in surprise.

Rukia herself was seated on Urahara's right, dressed in her Shinigami garb. This meant she should have been completely invisible to Ichigo. But he could see her, or rather he could make her out like the ghosts he use to encounter before he became a Shinigami the first time; meaning he could partially see through her, though the objects behind her were blurred as a result, like she was some sort of odd lens. That said, he could pick out a few differences from the last time he saw her, like the white fingerless gloves she was wearing or that her now much longer hair was pulled up into a bun, held in place by an expensive-looking white butterfly clip.

All the while, Yoruichi was staring at him in awe, still lying on the table in her cat form whilst Rukia spluttered in shock, trying to find words. Urahara on the other hand, merely smiled at him, cooling himself by waving his stupid fan. "As expected of you, Kurosaki-san~! Though I must admit, you're a little ahead of my expectations at this point… I really should be used to it by now, shouldn't I?" The shop keeper chuckled to himself, ignoring the glare Ichigo quickly pinned him with.

"You knew this would happen eventually?" he demanded as his eyes went wide, his original reason for coming to Urahara completely forgotten. Then again, if he could weasel some straight answers about his renewed ability to see the otherworld again from Urahara, it wouldn't matter.

"Well of course, Kurosaki-san. I am Urahara Kisuke, after all. I know everything – apparently." The former Captain's reply was glib, and he was all smiles as his gaze flicked to Rukia over the top of his fan. Ichigo quickly realised this was probably a dig at something Rukia had said earlier, given she was now glaring at Urahara too. Meanwhile, Yoruichi just grumbled to herself in exasperation, though in her cat form, it came out more like a purr. "But yes, I did expect such a development. Though I honestly didn't expect to have to confront you over this matter for another year at least. I thought you would be trying to wrangle answers from me concerning… certain activities of late in Karakura Town."

"Yeah, that's part of why I'm here," Ichigo said stiffly, his eyes narrowed. Part of him couldn't help but feel like Urahara did not want to have this conversation – or at least discuss his returned abilities. "How'd you know this was gonna happen to me, anyway?" He wasn't going to let the man run away from this conversation so easily. He'd get his answers and then some, even if he had to lean across the table and shake them out of the eccentric Shinigami inventor.

"Indeed," Rukia put in, looking just as pleased as Ichigo with this latest revelation. "None of your reports to the Captain-Commander, Captain Hitsugaya or the one you gave me when I arrived mentioned anything about Ichigo's powers returning." Tõshirõ…? Ichigo honestly didn't know what exactly the tiny Captain had to do with this conversation, but part of him suspected it had to do with the Material World Corps. Rukia had previously mentioned that maybe he was the one unlucky enough to be in charge of it all.

"Because he's not regaining his powers," Urahara said in his own defense, though neither Ichigo nor Rukia missed the man's amused tone. From her spot down on the tabletop, Yoruichi let out a fake laugh, rolling her golden eyes as she pawed with the empty saucer which had contained some milk for her. "More accurately, he's not regaining his powers in the way you might think."

"Explain it so we might follow, Urahara," Rukia ordered curtly, her patience waning. Ichigo could understand to some extent: Urahara did always like to draw out important details and throw in extra ones or edit things out as it suited him. But today hadn't been pleasant in the least, so dealing with the man's usual antics really wasn't going to help anyone.

'Make no mistake, Ichigo – I respect Urahara Kisuke, yes. Do I trust him? After what he's done, I'll never trust him.' He recalled Rukia's words from back then, and he couldn't help but feel that they were deeply justified. But at the same time, the blond Shinigami was the only one with the answers. He had no choice but to trust the man would come through for him on some level or another. Urahara owed him that much.

"The Reset Principle." Urahara's voice suddenly became oddly solemn. He even folded his fan and placed it down on the table, intertwining his hands. "Understand, Kurosaki-san, I have always known you would someday regain your ability to see spirits after using the Final Getsuga Tenshō. I kept this from you because I honestly did, at the time, believe that you still desired some sense of normalcy after the loss of your powers. I believed that your ability to see spirits would return in time and if you wanted to find a way to get rid of the ability once more, I would be able to assist you. If not, well, no harm done."

"Gee, thanks," Ichigo sneered, wondering just when exactly Geta-Bõshi thought he'd earned the right to make that kind of decision for him. "I should have known from the start this could happen. I've been freaking out the past few weeks because I kept hearing ghosts I couldn't see. They were just voices in my head, for all I knew. I thought I was going insane!"

"As I said, I didn't expect your ability to perceive our world would return so quickly." Urahara raised his hands in mock surrender, though his smile never did quite disappear under Ichigo's stern gaze.

"Any idea what caused it to return at such a rapid pace, Kisuke?" Yoruichi asked, vision suddenly fixed on her old childhood friend.

"None whatsoever, Yoruichi," he answered, turning his attention to her and giving her a puzzled look. Bullshit! Ichigo roared to himself. He didn't even need to see the dirty look Yoruichi was giving Urahara to tell that the former Captain was lying through his teeth. If something had caused him to be able to see the dead again at a faster rate, then Urahara would know damn well what it was that doing it, or have a theory about it which was most likely correct. "But please tell me, Kurosaki-san," he continued, "how well can you see Kuchiki-san just now?"

Steering the conversation away again, Ichigo noted, grousing to himself. He would find out what Urahara wanted to avoid talking about. But right now, he needed to get as many straight answers as he could whilst Urahara was willing to give them. He'd come back to the stuff the former Captain wanted to avoid later. "She's kinda like how I used to see a standard ghost," he explained. "I can see her, but I can still see through her. It's the same with other ghosts. They've been fading in and out of my vision for the past day or so, and I've been hearing them on and off for the past two weeks or so."

"Any recurring chest pain you'd like to mention, too?" Urahara asked oh-so-casually, his usual goofy smile returning full force as Ichigo himself almost did a double take at the sudden question. How does he know about my heartburn? "It's not medical, Kurosaki-san," he said, as though reading Ichigo's mind. "It's your Chain of Fate repairing itself."

"Eh?" Ichigo blanched, looking about as lost as he felt with the current thread of conversation. "You severed that thing before you threw my ass down that damn shaft and made me a Visored!" Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed Rukia's expression go from puzzled to shocked, and she gave Urahara an astonished, questioning gaze. Never did tell her the exact details behind regaining my powers…

"That's why it's called the Reset Principle," Urahara said, cupping his chin in thought, "though a Shinigami in the service of the Gotei Thirteen hasn't, on record at least, used the final technique of their Zanpakutõ in a good thousand years or so, so I wasable to track down files relating to their use of the technique and its after effects."

"So all Zanpakutõ have their own final technique, not just 'ol man Zangetsu?" Ichigo questioned, slightly intrigued. He knew his old man's Zanpakutõ could utilize the technique, but he thought that was just because both of them could use the standard Getsuga Tenshõ.

"Yes, each Zanpakutõ has a final ability much like the Final Getsuga Tenshõyou and your father have utilized in the past," the blond Shinigami explained. "Completing Jinzenand being able to use said technique is actually what one needs to do in order to be eligible for promotion to Zero Division. But we're getting off topic, so as I was saying: any past use of the technique has of course been limited to Shinigami. So you're a unique case, Ichigo, as instead of losing your power and returning to Rukongai due to no longer being able to serve as a Shinigami, you were actually returned to a living body."

"It's like a blown fuse," Rukia murmured, more to herself than anyone else. But Ichigo didn't miss that Urahara was actually rather impressed with that deduction, smiling as he sent a slight nod of agreement in the petite girl's direction.

"Putting it simply, yes," Urahara stated, drawing all eyes back on him. "When the fuse goes in a household appliance, you replace it with a new one. When I had Tessai sever your Chain of Fate, Kurosaki-san, we, metaphorically speaking, blew your fuse. After you used the Final Getsuga Tenshõand we placed you back in your body, we replaced that busted fuse with a new one. Your Chain of Fate repairing itself and binding you back to your body once again is the part where the plug is screwed back together properly. But using the Final Getsuga Tenshõ and returning to your body, you have basically been reset you to how you were prior to having Kuchiki–sans powers first introduced into your system.

"Of course, your Chain of Fate has been repairing itself at an accelerated rate, for whatever reason, and as a result, you have actually been feeling the process in your daily life. Had this not happened, you wouldn't have even noticed it happening at all and you would have just woken up one day, completely spiritually aware. But as well as causing you daily pain, the accelerated repair of your Chain seems to have had added side effects concerning your ability to see and hear the dead. Given the current rate of repair and your ability to see Kuchiki-san, I believe your Chain will be fully repaired before the end of next week. Most likely sooner."

Ichigo just nodded slowly, trying to swallow all of the information his former mentor was imparting to him. Hanging his head, he ruffled his hair as he tried to decided what to do with everything he'd been told. "You said I wasn't regaining my powers… what do you mean by that? I can see the dead again, maybe–"

"Ichigo," Rukia cut him off before he could finish his question, and when he turned to look at her he could clearly see her pained expression. "Your Chain of Fate being repaired means you are very much alive again. Very much human."

"But I was alive before and I still had my Shinigami powers!" Ichigo pointed out, looking back and forth between Rukia and Urahara, hoping one of them had some sort of answer for him.

"Well, technicallyspeaking, by decree of Soul Society, your Chain of Fate had been severed – you were in all accounts dead in the eyes of the law of Soul Society," Urahara butted in, picking up his old fan and pointing it at Ichigo. "Something else you've done that no one else has achieved before: a severed Chain of Fate with a still usable human body. Though whether you actually were dead or not is something even I can't fully answer."

"I'm sorry, Ichigo, but there isn't… there isn't a way to return your powers to you this time," Rukia murmured as she hung her head in apology, not wanting to look him in the eye.

"Actually, there is," Yoruichi piped up, reminding everyone of her presence. "Ichigo, you have to understand this: the fact your farther is a Shinigami has nothing to do with the fact you were able to become one yourself. The only real direct influence that had on you was allowing you to see ghosts whilst you were alive. The fact you were able to become Shinigami is proof that you were one in a previous life, that you'd drawn that part of your soul out before in the past. It was just lingering below the surface waiting for your death before it emerged again, and it might have actually had an effect on your inability to hear Zangetsu prior to Kisuke restoring your powers to you. But the point is this: when a normal Shinigami uses the final technique, they merely lose their Reiatsu by sacrificing it all to perform one last unstoppable attack. But that Reiatsu slowly returns over time, with patience and a bit of training. That's why Kisuke calls it the Reset Principle."

"Meaning that you can regain your powers and return to your status as a Shinigami, but only when you die properly this time," Urahara finished for her. "As long as your Chain of Fate keeps you bound to life, you cannot regain your powers."

"So, I have to die; for real this time…?" Ichigo's voice cracked as he spoke, thecolourvisibly draining from his face. Okay, forget what they said earlier being hard to take in, this is just… His throat suddenly went dry. He tried to speak, but it was like his voice had run off somewhere. He wanted to help Rukia, he wanted to be able to protect his friends again, but he couldn't just let himself die. How could he do that to everyone? To Yuzu and Karin…?

"If you wanted to regain your powers in this instance, yes," Urahara said as he tucked his fan back up his sleeve. Pulling off his hat, he ran a hand through his hair. "I have been doing some research into whether or not I could offer you an alternate solution if you wanted one when the time came for you to make the decision, but I've been coming up short for the most part. I did have a new solution that I thought might be promising, but current events have dragged me away from my research to assist with more important matters."

"More important matters? Like looking into whatever attacked the school today?" Ichigo asked, looking up from the spot in front him he'd suddenly found so interesting.

"Correct," Urahara announced as he plopped his hat back down on his head. "It would seem that a few–"

"Urahara," Rukia snapped, looking genuinely angry with the shopkeeper now, "Orders have forbidden Ichigo and his friends from becoming involved in this matter. You of all people should know this."

"Your orders prevent you from discussing recent events with Kurosaki-san and his friends. I on the other hand have no such orders, do I?" Urahara replied in a sing-song voice, watching with an amused smile as Rukia fumbled for words to counter his argument. Eventually admitting defeat, she growled and folded her arms over her chest. Her glare seemed to warn the former Captain not to go into too much detail. Nodding his understanding, Urahara turned back to Ichigo.

"For the past few weeks," he said, "there has been absolutely zero Hollow activity within Karakura Town and several strange Reiatsus have been appearing all over town before disappearing and reappearing every few days or so. It is our belief that these Reiatsus belong to Sinners escaped from Hell."

"Eh? Sinner? Like that Shrieker guy that I set to Hell that one time?" He didn't miss Rukia's slight shiver at the name, and he honestly couldn't blame her. Those were not memories he wasn't particularly fond of, either. Urahara, on the other hand, seemed rather intrigued. Whilst he was aware that Ichigo had indeed defeated the Hollow named Shrieker, he hadn't been told thatlittle detail.

"Now who leaves out important information?" Urahara chuckled, eyes flitting to Ichigo.

"It didn't seem important at the time," Rukia rebuked in her own defense. And Ichigo had to agree with her. The incident with Shrieker had been the only time during his stint as a Shinigami in which he'd encountered anything to do with Hell. After they'd banished Shrieker, Rukia had given him a little information; very little, seeing as she knew almost nothing about Hell herself and according to her, few people did.

"Funny, that sounds familiar," Yoruichi quipped, looking up from her spot on the table to smirk at Urahara, who had taken to hiding behind his fan and whistling to himself. Ichigo just glared at him. "But, Ichigo," she said, tone becoming serious, "I would advise you to be cautious over the next few days. There is little information about Sinners on record. If one did indeed attack the school, it might be they're targeting spiritually aware humans. I think it would be the best choice for you and you friends if you were at least aware of what might be after you."

After me, more like… Ichigo thought, but he nodded at Yoruichi's instruction nonetheless. It couldn't be a coincidence that the strange thing in black robes he'd seen the night before was what attacked the school that morning. At least he now knew whatit was that was following him. Or Tatsuki…he suddenly realised that both times he'd seen that thing, Tatsuki had been the only other person present on both occasions, if unconscious the first time. A terrifying thought crossed through his mind. Could it be after Tatsuki…?

"Why would it be after one of us?" Ichigo forced out, trying to keep up a façade of casual curiosity whilst he dug for more information. If that Sinner thing really was targeting Tatsuki and not him, he needed to know why it had chosen her of all people.

"Impossible to say for sure," Urahara mused casually. His voice was cheerful as usual, but Ichigo could see his former mentor staring at him intently from behind the shadow cast by his hat. His eyes were hard and serious, almost as if he was staring right into the depths of Ichigo's mind. "There's too little confirmed information on Hell or its inhabitants, and what we do have is from long before the Gotei Thirteen was founded… back when the Shinigami were known as the Royal Court Guardsmen.

"They may be like Hollows in that they feed off stronger sources of Reiatsu to strengthen themselves; or it might possibly be some sort of sport – hunt the spiritually aware to test themselves." The shopkeeper clicked his fan shut before tapping it against his stubble-coated chin. "It's why the Captains are on edge. There's not been an on record escape from Hell in nearly two thousand five hundred years and all information pertaining to the crisis that ensued has been… lost."

The way Urahara said 'lost' told everyone present that he was well aware that the information he had been mentioned was anything but lost. It had been destroyed, possibly hidden on purpose. But either alternative left Ichigo with a bad feeling in his gut. Just what could have happened back then with a bunch of escaped Sinners that scared someone badly enough to go such lengths to hide all mention of it? There's definitely a lot more going on here than even Urahara-san knows… Which in itself was a scary concept. Not to mention the explanation had done nothing to ease his nerves as to what might happen over the next few days.

"I wanna help out," he said after a moment's thought. There was no way he was going to sit around and let his nerves get the better of him whilst who-knows-what went down around him without him even knowing about it.

"Impossible," Rukia stated before anyone else could say anything. And that was the end of it. Urahara never made any attempts to argue on his behalf and Yoruichi just turned to give him a pitying look. He'd never felt so abandoned, betrayed and helpless all at the same time. And he couldn't fight this, not this time.

So Ichigo just hung his head, pushing himself up from his sitting positioning and turning for the door. "Fine," he said, looking back over his shoulder, "I'll pass along everything you told me tomorrow at school, let everyone know what's going on and to watch their backs just in case." Urahara and Yoruichi both nodded, almost in sync whilst Rukia clambered to her own feet.

"It's late, Ichigo," she said. "I'll make sure you get home safe." He just nodded, stuffing his hands into his pockets. His fingers tightened around a small rectangle. The card that Ginjõ guy gave me… he realised. And in a moment, his mind was made up. Ginjõ had warned him he couldn't trust Urahara to come through for him. Guess he was right. But that wasn't the question anymore. Could he trust this Ginjõ guy to help him any more than Urahara could? Just what did he want in return and would it be worth it?

He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he almost missed Urahara calling on him. "Ichigo." The use of his given name caught his attention; he'd never once heard Urahara address him by it. "When you understand, come back and see me again; only then will you be ready."

Ichigo just stared at him, utterly confused. That made no sense whatsoever… and when he chanced a glance at Rukia, who was standing next to him, he found the look on her face said she agreed with him. But Urahara just smiled again, waving them off with an all-too-feminine flick of his wrist. He gave a stiff nod back. He had no idea what Urahara had meant, but he had a queasy feeling he'd figure it out soon.

Either way, he needed to get home. It was late, and he had an important phone call to make.

And another chapter down, so close to where things start picking up now, I promise. This chapter contains a little speculation on my part concerning what it takes to be a Zero and a little tying together of some information that was dropped in earlier chapters, be more of that in the next few chapters, too. Anyways, I'll see you guys all next week with chapter seven, until then, don't forget to be awesome~!