Thanks to everyone who viewed, favourited or alerted the last chapter.
This chapter is a bit "choppy", as in it switches between different peoples views during the course of the same event. I've put a line where the peoples views change, but apologies if I have missed one. I hope the chapter makes sense and you all enjoy it!
Warning: Towards the end there is a scene that some may consider gory, although I've tried to make it as least gory as possible. There is also one word later on that some may consider a swear word (I think it falls within the "T" category, but then again my secondary school wasn't the best so I had heard a lot of coarse language by the time I was 13!).
Disclaimer: Still don't own Bleach.
Ichigo awoke with a groan as he realised he was lying on his stomach on some extremely hard and rough terrain. What had happened? Gingerly he moved his arms and legs and was pleased to find them all still intact and moving. In the distance he could hear a screeching sound and in a second he was alert and on his feet as he instantly recognised the noise. It was a hollow, many of them if he was not mistaken.
Looking around he surveyed the scene before him and tried to remember what had happened. There was twisted metal, fires burning, and numerous souls wondering around - some of whom were calling out for loved ones and others just looked as confused as he felt. The last thing he remembered was being on a train, then the train started rocking as the bridge on which they had been crossing started shaking... That's right, he'd been on a train back to Karakura when an earthquake had struck. He glanced up and realised that a portion of the bridge had collapsed and all the evidence pointed to the train having derailed into the ravine. Great! Just what he needed when Yuzu was in labour and he was needed back home! He didn't have time to dwell on the fact that it was unlikely he would be home in time for his new niece or nephew's arrival into the big wide world as he quickly realised that it was unlikely a soul reaper was stationed here in this remote area and it was up to him to protect the souls until assistance from Soul Society arrived, the disaster no doubt having gained their attention.
With the screams of the hollows becoming louder he reached for his Combat Pass but was surprised to find that he was already in his shinigami uniform. Confusion raced through him as to the state of his attire however, he didn't have much time to ponder why he was already in his shingami robes as the first hollow appeared and he instantly drew Zangetsu and headed towards it.
"Do you all understand?" Rukia yelled to her team as she stood in front of the senkaimon barely 9 minutes after being given her orders by Captain Ukitake. Third seat of Division 11, Ikkaku Madarame, stood on the opposite side of her team briefing his team respectively.
"Hai Lieutenant!" her comrades yelled in return.
"Lieutenant Kuchiki, are you ready to go?" Ikkaku yelled to her only a moment later.
"Hai!" she replied "Open the senkaimon!"
Once the doors were open she nodded to Ikkaku who led his team through the doors first. A minute later she followed with her team and they sprinted towards the living world and the site of the disaster.
"Getsuga Tensho!" Ichigo yelled as he swung his zanpakuto taking out three hollows as he did so. Where were his fellow Soul Reapers? Surely news of the earthquake and train crash would have reached Soul Society by now? It felt like an eternity since he had awoken at the crash site and hollows were flocking to the site in droves, not to mention the poor anguished souls from the wreckage who were turning into hollows once they realised what had happened to their bodies and that their human lives had been ended so abruptly. As much as he hated to admit it, he needed back up. He couldn't perform konso's on the remaining souls and protect them from the hollows at the same time.
As if Soul Society had read his mind, seconds later he saw a bright light and a doorway appeared in the sky. He watched as the doors slid open and relief flooded through him as numerous Soul Reapers charged forward. Finally back up had arrived.
"Split up guys and let's have some fun!" came a voice with an almost gleefully maniacal tone, which Ichigo immediately recognised even after all this time.
"Hai!" the group of soul reapers replied in glee as they split up and started chasing hollows immediately.
"Ikkaku!" Ichigo yelled wanting to let his old friend know that he was here too.
The bald headed man turned in surprise at the sound of a voice he hadn't heard in over 20 years. "Ichigo! What are you doing here man?" he yelled.
"Was on the train" Ichigo answered bluntly. "You still in Squad 11?"
"You know it! Got summoned here 10 minutes ago to kill these puny hollows. You still up for the fight?" Ikkaku challenged.
"Hell yeah! Who do you think has been slaying all these hollows waiting for your lazy asses to show up?" Ichigo responded with a smirk "But we need some guys on the ground, the dead passengers are turning into hollows almost as fast as I'm killing 'em" he informed his comrade seriously.
"Already taken care of" Ikkaku yelled back over the screams of the hollows. "Lieutenant Kuchiki is on her way".
"Rukia's coming?" Ichigo stated in surprise, his heart leaping in his chest at the sound of her name.
"Yeah. Squad 13 are following and are in charge of perfoming konso" Ikkaku replied with frustration, eager to get on with killing the numerous hollows. "Now are you ready to fight, Kurosaki?" he yelled, pleasure evident in his voice.
"Yeah" he replied distractedly as thoughts of Rukia plagued his thoughts.
"Then let's go!" Ikkaku yelled.
Ichigo paused for a second as butterflies started fluttering in his stomach and his heart continued to beat rapidly in his chest at the thought of seeing Rukia again after all this time. However, he didn't have time to ponder her arrival any further as seconds later he saw a hollow flying towards him from the corner of his eye and he quickly turned to face it as he swung Zengetsu.
Rukia sprinted through the senkaimon as her team followed her. From the reports they had received the train crash had been a nasty one and there where hundreds of casualties, she just hoped they could get there in time to save as many souls as possible. From experience she knew that many of the souls involved in a horrific accident, such as this, were at risk of turning into hollows from the anguished they experienced from dying so suddenly and unexpectedly. Her squads presence were needed to provide reassurance at this difficult time to hopefully provide some comfort and peace to the affected souls. It was only when the souls had calmed down and somewhat accepted what had happened to them that a konso could be performed.
Bursting through the senkaimon into the late evening sky she gasped at the site that greeted her. It could only be described as complete and utter destruction and it took all her training as a Kuchiki not to let the shock appear on her face.
Twisted metal of what was now an unrecognisable train was strewn all around and fires from the wreckage lit up the early evening sky and scorched the ground beneath. It appeared the emergency services had not yet reached the remote location, not that there was anything they could do for the poor passengers now, and the stench of death filled the air. From what she could tell few people had survived the crash and there were hundreds of confused and angry souls wondering the area. As a result of this the Division 11 soul reapers were already hard at work as they battled the endless streams of hollows that had invaded the area and she knew that tonight was not going to a pleasant one, she hoped their casualties would be kept to a minimum.
But now was not the time to get emotional though as there was a job to be done. Fixing her face into a stoic look of pure concentration that even her brother would be proud of, she turned her head around to look over her shoulder as she yelled at her colleagues:
"Remember, the souls on the ground need us. Leave the fighting to Squad 11, we need to perform as many konsos as we can to get these souls over to Soul Society as quickly and as safely as we can and to stop drawing hollows to this area. Understand?"
"Hai!" came the reply of her eager comrades and she watched as they split into their allocated teams and spread among the victims of the train wreckage. She was just about to join them as she saw the last team land when a voice from behind her gained her attention.
Rukia gasped and turned around, immediately seeing an orange and black streak flash by her. "Ichigo!" she exclaimed in a whisper, her heart immediately speeding up. Why was he here? Why hadn't either herself or Ikkau been briefed on this?
Ichigo swung Zengetsu yet again and watched with relief as another hollow was destroyed. Breathing heavily he turned round and his eyes widened as he saw who was before him.
"Rukia?" he whispered, his heart rate once again increasing and a small smile fell upon his lips as he rushed towards her, something that was against every battle technique he had learnt yet he couldn't stop himself moving forwards. She had changed a lot over the past 20 years. Her dark hair was now long and cut into choppy layers that currently swirled around her in the wind, although it comforted him to see that stubborn strand in the middle of her forehead remained. She had filled out too since the last time he had seen her and she now had definite curves and a fuller bust.
Rukia watched in awe as the orange haired Soul Reaper made his way towards her, her limbs suddenly feeling like jelly and her breathing increasing. Time had been good to Ichigo. His bright orange hair was still the same ridiculous colour, but it was slightly longer and wilder given him an edgy look. He had crinkles in the corners of his eyes and two deep verticle lines were starting to form in his forehead, no doubt the result of the amount of time he spent scowling. His shoulders were broader, he seemed taller, and he still seemed as toned and fit as when she had last seen him.
Even in the middle of battle time seem to stand still for the soul reaper and substitute soul reaper as they met again after several decades apart.
"Hi" she whispered, a soft smile on her face.
"Hi" he answered in return, suddenly in awe of the beautiful woman that stood before him.
Substitute soul reaper stared at soul reaper for what felt like an eternity, neither knowing what to say or do, both seemingly oblivious to their surroundings and aware of the heightened tension that was growing between them. A screeching sound filled the air breaking their reverie and immediately the warm expressions vanished from both their faces.
"We have work to do baka!" Rukia exclaimed to Ichigo as she clipped his head with her hand, her expression now one of flustered annoyance.
"What was that for?" Ichigo yelled in frustration after the petite soul reaper who was now heading towards the ground below him. Damn that midget could hit hard!
"If you have to ask than you're more of an idiot than I thought!" Rukia yelled back at him "Now start working!"
With a heavy sigh Ichigo once again raised his zanpaktou and started chasing after the screeching hollow that had just broken up his and Rukia's moment, one thought clear in his head. That hollow was going to pay for interrupting his reunion with Rukia.
Rukia placed the hilt of her zanpakuto on the forehead of what appeared to be the last of the train crash victims and watched with relief, and a hint of sadness, as the soul headed towards Soul Society. The last soul had been a small child who had been hiding under some wreckage waiting for her parents to find her and it had taken all of Rukia's acting abilities and kindness to get her to come out from the wreckage and allow her to perform the konso.
She had no idea how long Squad 11 and Squad 13 had been there, but the sky was now pitch black and she was exhausted. The mission had been physically and mentally exhausting as her team had chased after the wandering souls, gently told them what had happened, explained they were going to a better place, and performed the konso. She simply could not wait to get home, her body ached, she was hot and sweaty from the fires that still burned, and she was exhausted from having to perform so many konsos. The emergency services had still not arrived, given the ruggedness of the area and the remote location, and anyone who had survived the crash had died hours ago and was now safely in Soul Society.
"What shall we do now Lieutenant?" one of her subordinates asked her as her team surrounded her.
Turning she looked up at the sky and realised that there were only a few hollows left, which Squad 11 and Ichigo were handling with ease.
"Return to the barracks and get some rest. I'll expect your reports on my desk by the end of tomorrow" she replied kindly, the weariness evident in her voice.
"Hai Lieutenant" they replied and she watched as they headed towards the senkaimon to return to Soul Society. She decided she would stay a little while longer just in case they had missed any of the souls of the train crash victims.
Using the last of her strength she shunpoed to Ikkaku who was stood observing his team as the last of the hollows were destroyed.
"I've sent my team back" she informed her combat partner "We've performed konso on all the souls we can find, but I'll stick around a while longer in case there are any we've missed. Need some help?"
"Nah Lieutenant, Squad 11 has this. I think we should only be another hour or so. Those souls having crossed over seems to have stopped the flow of hollows to this area and we're just checking the area now to make sure there are none left." Ikkaku advised her in a businesslike tone.
"Did you lose anyone?" Rukia asked seriously.
Ikkaku glanced at her "A few injured, but I've already sent them to Squad 4 for treatment" he informed her "You?"
"We were lucky. A few twisted ankles due to the rocky terrain but otherwise we're all ok" Rukia informed him in the same serious tone.
"Were there any survivors?" Ikkaku questionned as he nodded to the scene of destruction below.
"No" Rukia answered simply, sadness creeping into her voice.
An awkward moment passed between them before Ikkaku spoke again "So, Ichigo's here, huh?"
Rukia mind started whirling again as she thought about her earlier meeting with the substitute soul reaper and she wondered once again why she had not been briefed about him being at the scene "Hey Ikkaku, did you know about Ichigo being here?" she asked him, mild confusion evident in her voice.
Ikkaku shot her a surprised look before his brows knit together in confusion and concentration "Come to mention it, Kenpachi didn't mention anything about Ichigo being here and I'm sure if he'd have known Ichigo was here he would have handled this situation himself" he replied with a gleeful smile.
Rukia pondered the situation further, her brow furrowed in concentration. "I'll be on the ground if you need me Madarame" she informed him distractedly as she floated back towards the horrific scene before her.
"All clear Ikkaku" Ichigo informed his comrade as he finished checking the forest at the top of the ravine for hollows. "Need anything else?"
Ikkaku turned towards the substitute soul reaper "Nah, we're all done. You were the last one out there so I sent the rest of the squad back, it's only Kuchiki down there now"
Ichigo frowned in concern "Captain or Lieutenant?" he asked hesitantly.
Ikkaku laughed at the slightly fearful expression on Ichigo's face "Lieutenant you pussy. Still not getting on with the Captain of Division 6 I see?"
Ichigo simply scowled in return and increased his reitsu to let his fellow soul reaper know his feelings on the subject of Byakuya Kuchiki.
"Alright man, gees!" Ikkaku returned still laughing. Suddenly his expression turned sombre as he remembered something that Ichigo had said earlier popped into his head. "You were on that train?" he asked Ichigo, suddenly serious.
"Yeah" Ichigo answered quietly as he looked down at the crash site before him. Damn it was going to be hard for him to find his body down there. "Well, I supposed I better go and say goodbye to Rukia before she goes back to Soul Society. It was good seeing you man!" Ichigo said as he shunpoed away to find Rukia.
He didn't hear Ikkaku calling out behind him.
Rukia stared at the ground before her breathing heavily as it took all her self-control to not start crying. It had taken her the best part of an hour to find what she had been looking for and ever since finding it she had just simply stared at what she had found. Now she had found it, she didn't have a clue what to do with it.
"Oi, Rukia!" she heard a familiar voice call from behind her and panic flooded through her.
"Ichigo!" she exclaimed as she turned around and faced the orange haired man, her heart once again beating faster as he approached her.
"Kinda crazy tonight, huh?" he replied awkwardly as his hand ran through his hair, a gesture Rukia knew that Ichigo only did when he was nervous.
Earlier tonight when they had first met she had noticed this... tension between them that had never existed before. She didn't know what it was or why it was suddenly there, but her hands had felt sweaty, her heart had beat faster, and her breathing had increased, and now that Ichigo was in front of her again the same tension was building again and she was experiencing the same physical reactions. His warm brown eyes burned into hers and she found herself at a loss for words. What was happening to her? Did not seeing him for 20 years really have this effect on her? She continued to stare into his eyes, and although his eyes swirled with emotions, the one she was hoping to see wasn't there.
"Ichigo..." she began again, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Hey, what's up?" he asked, suddenly noticing Rukia's wide eyes rimmed with tears and the slightly panicked look on her face. He'd never seen that look on her face and it worried him somewhat "I haven't changed that much have I?" he asked with a rueful grin.
Rukia stood frozen to the spot, no amount of training could have prepared her for this situation and she didn't know what to do. The longer she stared into his face, the more flushed it became with anger. This had not been how she had envisioned that first meeting going. Her mouth opened and closed but no words came out. When she didn't respond after almost a minute Ichigo's grin turned into an angry scowl.
"You don't want to talk after almost 20 years? Fine! But please can you help me find my body so that I can get back into it?" he snapped as he went to move past her.
"Ichigo wait!" she exclaimed stepping in front of him to try and block him from the site behind her. Alas her 4 foot 8 inch stature was nothing compared to Ichigo's 6ft+ physique and he easier looked over her head to what was behind her. She closed her eyes before slowly opening them and looking up at Ichigo hesitantly. His mouth hung open slightly and his face had paled significantly.
"I...I'm sorry Ichigo" she said remorsefully.
Ichigo stayed at the body that was in front of him - his body. He looked quite peaceful in all actuality, like he was sleeping. Except he knew that he wasn't by the large piece of metal that had pretty much cut his body in two at the waist. Strangely though, there wasn't much blood or gore, just a body practically severed in two.
"I'm...dead?" he whispered.
"I'm so sorry Ichigo" Rukia spoke softly beside him, resting her hand on his shoulder in an effort to offer him some comfort "There were no survivors - including you."
"You found it?" came a grave voice behind them.
Rukia nodded as Ikkaku approached them "You figured it out?" she asked her co-mission leader sombrely.
Ikkaku nodded. "Before he came down here we were talking and I thought there was something different about him. Then I remembered he said earlier that he was on the train and you reported there were no survivors so..." he left the sentence drift off.
Both soul reapers stared at the substitute as he stared in disbelief at his own body.
"NO! This can't be happening!" Ichigo exclaimed suddenly "Yuzu's in labour! I'm going to have a new niece or nephew, I need to get to my family, they need me. I can't die! Not now, not tonight!" he yelled as he tried to get back into his body.
Both Rukia and Ikkaku grabbed Ichigo's arms as they tried to restrain him.
"Ichigo! It's no use. Your body is gone, you can't get back inside!" Rukia exclaimed as gently as she could.
"NO!" Ichigo cried again and lunged for his body.
"Look down man!" Ikkaku yelled beside him causing Ichigo to turn his angry stare on him.
"Is that a joke!" he yelled at Ikkaku as he jerked his arm out of Rukia's strong grip and grabbed a fist full of Ikkaku uniform "Don't you think I can see what's down there?! It's me! Or what used to be me!"
"Ichigo" came a soft calm voice beside him, and once again he felt Rukia's hand on his shoulder which calmed him immediately. "He didn't mean to look at you, he meant look at your uniform"
Ichigo immediately dropped Ikkaku and looked down at his uniform to see what Rukia was talking about. "My strap? It's gone!" he exclaimed in confusion.
"Exactly Ichigo. You're no longer a substitute soul reaper, like it or not, tonight you became a full soul reaper" Rukia informed him gently yet forcefully.
Ichigo gulped as the realisation hit him: he was dead.
He barely had time to process the fact before his brain went into overdrive. Would Yuzu be ok? Would Karin still be able to go on her football tour? Who would control his father if he wasn't there? If he was a fully fledged soul reaper would he be living in the Soul Society full time? Did that mean he'd be allocated to a division? Would he get to live in the Seireitei?
"Do...do you need to perform a konso?" he whispered.
Rukia and Ikkaku looked at each other. Truth was, Ichigo was currently their only substitute soul reaper and no one had ever considered what would happen when he died, Soul Society assuming they would have a good few decades to figure it out. He'd survived so much that it seemed inconceivable that something in the human world would kill him. Soul Society had not considered such natural phenomenon as earthquakes and human disasters like train crashes as something that would kill the all powerful Ichigo Kurosaki, yet that's exactly what had happened.
"I...I don't know" Rukia replied softly "This is kind of unchartered territory" she admitted honestly.
The trio stood in silence taking in the scene around them, no one quite sure what to do. As if from nowhere a hell butterfly appeared and both Rukia's and Ikkaku's brow crumpled as the butterfly floated between them. It was highly unusual for a hell butterfly to come to the human world, in fact, neither could remember the situation happening before. If it happened at all it was only when a Captain was present in the human world, certainly not a Lieutenant and a Third Seat. It was only then that both Ikkaku and Rukia realised Ichigo had never received a hell butterfly before.
"Ichigo" Rukia prompted softly startling Ichigo and causing him to look at her "It's for you" she said as she nodded toward the dark creature.
Ichigo brow crinkled in concentration as he realised that for the first time in his life, well his new permanent soul reaper life, he could actually hear the hell butterfly calling his name. Hesitantly he raised his finger up and the tiny creature landed. Ichigo's eyes widened as he received the message and he realised that tonight was going to be a long night...
So human Ichigo is dead and Rukia and Ichigo have met again. Hope you enjoyed it and let me know what you think.
NB: There might not be an update next week as not only is it my Nan's birthday, but my Dad informed me today that he is coming next weekend to decorate my bathroom and help me assemble some furniture so I might not have time to write/edit/post depending on the state of my flat. (Before you all think I'm completely spoilt, my Dad used to be a paint sprayer and considers paint rollers the devil incarnate to the paint industry and apparently I don't paint correctly with a brush so it's easier if I let him do it...)