Heaven is a Lie

Shadow of an Echo

A/N sorry about the wait, a lot of personal stuff on top of writers block, but I know where I am going with the story and I have three weeks off work before my next appointment to work on my stories.

Part Two

Your Heaven Is a Lie

"A team must be assembled. The living world is primed for an invasion and we must hold these Arrancar off. Those sent will be working in close quarters with the Substitute Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki." Head Captain Yamamoto laid out his orders to the assembled Captains and Lieutenants.

The number in front of him used to be 25 including his own Lieutenant, now it was just 21. He scanned the waiting faces slowly, some showing more patience than others. His thoughts made up, he finished his appointing, "I would like the Lieutenants from Squad 6 and Squad 10 to go, as well as Officer level representatives from Squad 4 and Squad 11. Captain Unohana, and Captain Zaraki please select your best candidates for this mission, I will leave the final decision in your hands. Captain Ukitake, your squad member Rukia Kuchiki has the most resent experience with the area of the Living World in question, she will also accompany the team. I will appoint one Captain to head this mission, is there any volunteers?" He wasn't expecting a positive response to his last question, asking it out of formality, and was about to name Hitsugaya when one of his flock did speak up shocking most of those present.

"I will go to the Living World," Byakuya spoke clearly, and without hesitation, sounding every inch the noble he was.

Yamamoto contained his surprise at that, asking in an even tone, "That is highly unusual for you, what is your reasoning Captain Kuchiki?"

"My sister nearly died from her last trip to the Living World dealing with Ichigo Kurosaki. I will lead the team and watch over her," Byakuya explained truthfully, knowing the ancient man would catch any lie he tried to use to cover his motivations.

With that decided Yamamoto gave his final orders. "Very well, you have my approval, all Shinigami assigned to this mission will meet here in 24 hours and will leave for the Living World in one group. Captain Kurotsuchi, please have the necessary materials on hand for the power seals, and be here to apply them before the team leaves."

Byakuya left the meeting room calmly, ignoring the curious gazes of his fellow Captains. He knew what he had just done was odd, even for the 13 court guard squads. The Captain of the Sixth willingly sending himself to the Living World? He had just fed the rumor mills for the coming months with a single action.

Nevertheless, he wouldn't take it back, even now when the moment was over. His sister and lieutenant needed to be watched over. Rukia had nearly been executed the last time he let her go into the Living World without him, and Renji was such a hot head he would need someone tough enough to rein him in. His Lieutenant's strength was his weakness, he had bouts of overconfidence that could get him in trouble, especially if Kido was involved at all.

Now he just had to survive the mission without losing his temper, with the combination of people going, he wondered how difficult it would end up being to achieve that objective.

His gigai felt suffocating, he hadn't used one in such a long time the confinement made him feel like he couldn't breathe. The blue jeans and t-shirt Urahara had dressed it in felt stiff and foreign after so long in the same loose clothing. He felt under dressed without his scarf or arm guards; at least he was allowed his Kenseikan.

The hairpieces did garner the occasional odd look, but he ignored them as he walked down the street. He normally avoided being too visible in the daylight hours, preferring to patrol at night when the Arrancar and Hollows were more likely to attack. This was a special occasion though, he was needed, even if he wasn't quite sure what he could do to help yet.

Ichigo had an encounter with the encroaching enemy. An encounter that left him wounded and out of the patrol rotations for a few days at least while his body healed. Rukia had confessed to him her worry for the rash young man, and Byakuya felt it was his duty to check on him for her and see for himself what could be done to improve the situation.

As much as Byakuya didn't want to admit it, they needed Ichigo. He was simply too strong to be taken down in a single skirmish when the real battle was looming on the horizon.

If there was something to spur the Shinigami back into fighting shape, it had to be done, and soon.

The Kurosaki residence was rowdy and alive, that was what Rukia had reported and what Byakuya had been expecting, instead he was met by a subdued brunette girl, probably in her early teens if he had to guess. "Excuse me I need to speak with Ichigo Kurosaki, is he home?" He requested politely, if a bit stiffly.

The girl got a slightly more worried look on her face, "Brother is home, but he hasn't been feeling well. Is it important?"

"I think he needs to hear what I have to say, I will try to be quick and not upset him," Byakuya replied, hoping the girl would let him see Ichigo. He had a little too much pride to be sneaking into windows like a burglar.

She opened the door further and allowed him in, "All right, as long as you're careful. I'm Yuzu by the way, Ichigo's little sister."

"Nice to meet you Yuzu, I will do my best," A little reassurance wouldn't hurt, and he didn't think even his uptight family would get ruffled feathers over him showing a small measure of kindness to a young girl.

Sometimes all the rules he had to follow grated on his nerves, but he pushed the slight irritation away as Yuzu led him to Ichigo's room. A short exchange ensued, and soon he was allowed inside the simple bedroom, and left alone with the recently defeated warrior.

When Ichigo saw who entered his room, he attempted to scramble upright to cover the fact he had been spread out on the bed wearing nothing but loose shorts and bandages, but soon fell back with a soft groan of pain. "What do you want Byakuya?" He asked warily, ending his attempts to appear more dignified. It was bad enough he was defeated, now he had to face the icy Captain on top of that, he was definitely not having a good day.

"You have first hand information about our new enemy, I need to hear what happened," Byakuya didn't comment on the use of his full name yet, he would give the obviously injured man a little leeway, but he doubted his patience would hold for long on the issue.

"Two Arrancar arrived on the edge of town, they attacked humans first before I knew they had arrived, by the time I got there Chad and Orihime were already injured. We fought, I lost, they went back to Heuco Mundo. Orihime was too injured to heal us, so Urahara did what he could, and now you're here." Ichigo explained shortly, turning his head and staring out the window so he wouldn't have to face the Captain while he admitted his defeat.

Byakuya glanced around the small room, and finding the only chair, settled in gracefully as this might take a bit to get the full story worked out of him, "That isn't all the information I need. What were the Arrancar's abilities? Their power level? Were you fighting in Shikai or Bankai? Did they say anything, or did anything else unusual happen in the fight?" It was a lot of questions, but he needed the answers.

Ichigo stared out the window and recounted the encounter with Ulquiorra and Yammy, using as little inflection as he could get away with. The images of Tatsuki, Orihime, and Chad beaten and unconscious wouldn't leave his head, the rage he felt at seeing their defeat paled in comparison to the shame that overcame him at his inability to protect them. He was the strongest, the protector, it was up to him to keep his friends and neighbors safe, and he had failed.

Byakuya watched all this pass across his face even as he took in the information being relayed. Ichigo might not let much pass into his voice, but his eyes told the whole story. He never could keep everything to himself, his eyes told the story of his pain to anyone who thought to look for it.

He understood pain, so he went with the lesser emotion he saw, "You are afraid of something, not of the Arrancar; something else. What has you concerned?" He noticed the flash of fear and reluctance at certain points in the story, Kurosaki wasn't afraid of the intruders, he was afraid of his own power and Byakuya just had to find out why.

"You fought me, you should know," Ichigo eventually admitted, not liking being forced into a corner, but while he was a Substitute Shinigami he was subject to the rules of the Seireitei, and right now Byakuya was the highest ranked Officer in the vicinity, he didn't have a choice but to respond.

"I have an idea, but I want to hear it from you," Of course Byakuya remembered the creature that had momentarily overtaken Kurosaki during their fight.

An angry growl, almost so quiet Byakuya didn't catch it, but finally Ichigo spit it out. "There is a dangerous part of myself. If I get too worked up he tries to break free, and unlike me, he wont hesitate to kill."

The Captain had been expecting something like that, "Do you even know what it is?" If Kurosaki didn't know what he was fighting against, he didn't have a chance of beating it.

"I think so, but I am not sure," Ichigo wasn't quite willing to admit the reason he was alive was because he fought off the Hollowfication process, and unfortunately he didn't think he was completely successful.

Byakuya shook his head, silky black strands moving against the smooth cotton of his shirt, "You do know, you just don't want to tell me."

"How do you know that?" Ichigo challenged.

A slightly raised eyebrow, "I am a Captain of the Seireitei, do you honestly think this is the first time someone has attempted to lie to me? Better liars than you have tried, and they failed just the same as you. It would be better for you in the long run to simply tell me the truth, my other means of finding answers are not nearly so pleasant." He threatened vaguely, hoping he wouldn't be called on it. Ichigo had beaten him when he had full access to his power, here with the limiter on his skin he wouldn't win even if the creature in Kurosaki stayed dormant, he hoped the boy didn't know that though.

Ichigo let out a defeated laugh, talking evenly as he responded, "You might as well know, it is mostly your fault anyway. If you had just killed me this wouldn't have happened, but no, you had to be cruel. You severed my soul chain, which admittedly would have killed me, but Kisuke got there first. You do know what happens to Souls that are unattached to this world right? The remaining links encroach slowly back to where the chain connects to your soul, when it hits your chest the soul becomes a Hollow. The only way to avoid becoming a Hollow, is to become a Soul Reaper, which I was able to do. I didn't manage it until my chain was already gone, fortunately for me instead of the Hollow hole appearing first, my mask started forming. When I climbed out of the pit Kisuke had thrown me into I had my Zanpakuto, a Shihakusho, and my mask. I tried to get rid of the mask, but it kept coming back. It followed me around the whole time I was in Soul Society, if it weren't for the mask Renji would have killed me by the way, and when I fought you, I felt something else stir and come forward. I think part of me has become a Hollow, I can almost control him, but he fights me every time there is a battle. I don't know what will happen if I lose."

"You are not the first," Byakuya informed him, with his suspicions confirmed he could do more for Kurosaki. "When I was very young, we lost several Captains and Lieutenants in one night, I overheard my Grandfather telling the family heads what had happened. They had been partially Hollowfied, just like you were, and they were ordered destroyed. They escaped with the help of three other Captains, they live somewhere in the Living World, but they hide well."

"So if Soul Society found out about me I would be executed? Guess I only have until you file your report before I die." A statement like that should not have been spoken so matter of factly, the emotional void Kurosaki was prone to reminded Byakuya a bit of his own shut down after Hisana's death. He knew that was no way to live.

"Who said I was going to include this in a report?" Byakuya questioned.

"You always uphold the rules, something like this, I doubt you would let it slide." Ichigo pointed out.

"I don't always. You taught me that. I owe you a debt for protecting my sister when I didn't, I will not include this in any report on one condition." The Captain was willing to compromise, but only so far, he did owe Ichigo a rather big debt.

Ichigo was wary of accepting this outright, "What is the condition?"

"You must prove to me you have your Hollow under control. Show me that, and I will keep this out of the formal reports." Byakuya informed him. He had a double motive here, yes he wanted to make sure Kurosaki wasn't a threat, but if Ichigo gained control over his Hollow he would be even stronger and they would need that strength for the coming battle.

Ichigo let out a small sigh, "And how exactly do you suggest I do that?"

"Simple, track down the original Visoreds, learn from them." Byakuya hadn't expected to have to spell it out for him, but he would if he needed to.

Another humorless laugh, "And how do I find them? I suck at sensing Spirit Pressure, if Soul Society couldn't find them, how do you expect me to?"

"Your mentor honestly didn't tell you why he was exiled?" He was surprised at that, figuring Urahara would at least let his student know that much, but a secret that big had to be shared carefully.

"No, are you going to tell me?" Ichigo asked curiously.

"Kisuke Urahara, Tessai Tsukabishi, and Yoruichi Shihouin were the three Captains responsible for breaking the condemned Officers out of Soul Society, and what's more Urahara was the one charged for the crime. Though with the recent developments I have my doubts. With Aizen's power revealed I went through the old trial transcripts that mentioned his name, and Kisuke's did. He insisted it was Aizen's doing that created the Hollowfied officers, but the Lieutenant was seen working in the Seireitei at the same time as the incident was occurring and was cleared. If he could fake his death so thoroughly then it would be a simple thing to have a project wonder the Seireitei while he fought with Urahara." Byakuya theorized.

Out of all that, Ichigo had one question, "How did you find those transcripts? They couldn't be easy to find."

"It was easy for me, the Sixth squad is the one that collects and catalogs the transcripts, while the Second squad enforces the rules we keep the histories. Why do you think I am so driven by the rules? I have always been raised to uphold and honor them. My Grandfather was Captain of the Sixth before me, and he raised me." Ichigo had revealed so much to him, it was time to repay it with a little personal information of his own.

"I think I need to visit a certain shop. Someone has a lot to answer for." Ichigo finally replied.

"I will go with you, if he attempts to avoid talking, I can force him. He doesn't want to be reported any more than the Visoreds do." Byakuya decided.

"Give me a few moments to change, the sooner we take care of this the better, if you would like Yuzu could probably use some company. Dad is working late in the Clinic and Karin has soccer practice." Ichigo didn't like how much time his youngest sister spent alone, and despite their problems, he trusted Byakuya around her.

"She seems like a good girl, I wouldn't mind speaking more with her," Byakuya admitted, he did like children, he just wasn't used to showing emotion to anyone.

With that Ichigo pulled himself painfully off the bed, and Byakuya left the room to give him some privacy. He found the girl who let him in the house in the kitchen; she had cooked a meal, but was eating alone. "Oh hello, have you eaten yet? I made enough if you would like to join me you can." She offered, quickly getting up and retrieving another set of dishes while waiting for his answer.

Even Byakuya didn't have the heart to refuse her, "I wouldn't mind a little food, and Ichigo will be down in a few minutes. He agreed some fresh air would be good for him, we will be going out for a walk later." He settled gracefully into a chair at the table, where she had already laid out the dishes she retrieved.

"You managed to get him to come out of his room? I was so worried about him, Karin and Ichigo are the same, they never say anything when they are hurting. It upsets Dad and I, we can't help them if they won't let us." She complained quietly while serving a small portion of rice and stew for him. She would get Ichigo's plate ready when he came down, she wanted the meal to be warm for him.

Byakuya wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, but he had to try. "I don't know Karin, but Ichigo is the type to take care of everyone else, he wouldn't want you to worry about him."

"I wish he would realize that letting us take care of him would make us worry less. He has been hurting for so long, I just want to help." She pressed, not hearing the footsteps coming down from Ichigo's room.

His soothing voice washed over her, and she had to hold back tears, "You do help me Yuzu. Karin, Dad, and you, all three of you help me every day. You took over for mom when the rest of us were still a mess, you made sure we ate, had clean clothes, and even forced dad into the shower more than once. You were so little, you should never have had to take that on." Yes, Ichigo knew Byakuya was listening, but he didn't care, his sister was more important than his ego.

She launched herself into his arms, and even with the pain of his injuries he held her tightly, "I did what I had to. You saw her die, Karin and I only remember her a little bit, and they are all good memories. You saw her death, and Dad had to deal with the aftermath, don't think Karin and I don't know what that meant. Taking care of you was nothing compared to what you saw."

"You should hate me, all of you, it is my fault she died. The thing that killed her was after me, she wouldn't have died if it weren't for me." Ichigo couldn't say that any louder than whisper, but the words carried to the Shinigami Captain sitting at the table unsure of what to do.

"Kurosaki, it wasn't your fault. Death would have found her had you been there or not. She left her legacy in the family she created, don't dishonor her memory by drowning in the grief of her death when it would be better to celebrate her life." The pain of Hisana's death was like a wound that refused to close, he understood the consuming power of grief, but Ichigo's mother had left something precious behind, and Kurosaki needed to see that.

"We never blamed you Ichigo, the only one who did was you." Yuzu agreed, realizing the man that had come to see her brother was a lot more than he appeared. She couldn't see spirits like her sister and brother could, but she could sense the living, and this one was very odd. He had a presence so bright she could barely look directly at him, but at the same time, it was constrained and contained in his body, as if it was caged. She had seen something similar, but not quite to that extent, in the girl Ichigo had ran into at their mother's grave.

"You don't know the whole story, it really was me," Ichigo insisted, hating himself for so long, he refused to change that opinion. He was right and he knew it.

"She might not, but I do, let me repeat. It was not your fault." Byakuya spoke a little more forcibly, if he could only get through to him he might keep Ichigo from feeling as much pain as he had.

"Oh, and how do you know?" Ichigo demanded.

"Rukia," He replied shortly. "She told me, to explain why you would think my wound was your fault. You carry far too much guilt, it isn't good for your soul."

"What would you know about it?" Ichigo shot back angrily, holding onto his sister a little tighter, she allowed it knowing he was being forced to work through something old and painful.

"Do you know why the Kuchiki family adopted Rukia?" He asked quietly.

"No, I didn't get to talk to her about it." Ichigo admitted, wondering where this was going, he still hadn't let go of Yuzu.

"She wasn't my sister, I think you know that, she was my wife's. Hisana was always searching for something in the Rukon districts, she would never tell me what it was she was looking for, but just about every day she would take a walk and try to find whatever it was. She grew ill, very ill, and finally could no longer continue her search on her own. She at last confided in me, about the sister she was forced to leave behind. Rukia was that girl. I did not find her until after Hisana died, so I lied and told her I adopted her because they looked similar, I didn't tell her she was related to Hisana until that day on Sokyoku hill. I watched my wife die, and was unable to do anything to ease her passing, I couldn't even do that one thing she wanted most, to be reunited with her sister. I know grief, and I know pain, don't let it consume you, not while you have your family here with you." It hurt to say it all, but he knew Ichigo's darkest secrets, it was time to return some of the trust he hadn't even known was given.

"Ichigo, brother, whatever you need to do to help yourself over this, go do it. We will be here when you get back, be careful and take care of yourself for us." Yuzu told him, holding him a bit tighter before letting go.

He felt her warmth leave him and it hurt, he had forgotten what it felt like to just hug his little sister. He had closed himself down so far while he was grieving he never thought how it would affect them. "I will try Yuzu, I will do what I can to be here for you and Karin, and dad." Ichigo promised.

"Good," She responded, "But before you go, come eat your dinner before it gets cold."

Ichigo treated her to a rare smile at the expected comment, and the three unlikely companions sat down to the meal she had prepared. He hadn't missed what Byakuya said, or that Yuzu seemed to know there was far more going on than he had told the family, but for now he wasn't ready to confront it.