Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or Bleach… or any of its respective characters; they belong to the one and only Hiro Mashima, and the magnificent bastard Tite Kubo. Or their respective copyright owners.
I do own the idea for the fic though.
In Death's Best Interests
Part 1: A Guild's Protector.
(A I.-.-.I Kuroyagi I.-.-.I original fan-fiction story.)
"Why am I here, Getaboushi?" Ichigo groaned in frustration, not liking the shopkeeper's secrecy when he was involved in his plans. Whatever they were, they always spelled trouble for the young man. But this time it seemed serious, not many times was a plan from Urahara Kisuke approved by the Head Captain himself.
Now, they were in Soul Society, in the Court of Pure Souls, walking calmly towards the captain's meeting room located in the First Division barracks, taking their time on purpose as the blond man wanted to talk a few things over with his former student.
"Ah~ Kurosaki-san, you see," He started cheerfully, using his fan to cool himself and hide his amused smile. "I was doing some research with Captain Kurotsuchi in the Dangai," Ichigo had a bad feeling already when the second mad scientist he knew was added to the equation. "And we found out there's…" His grey eyes glinted at the thought of how to say it. "…an anomaly there that has a signature similar to the Soul Reaper's Senkaimon and the Arrancar's Garganta… but we don't know to where it leads."
"Uh? Didn't you send one of your bug-scouts there?" The substitute asked slightly surprised.
"Don't be silly, Kurosaki-san~!" He stopped and turned around with a big smile, laughing mockingly. "Of course! We sent many of them!" His cheerfulness dropped completely, his expression being the one of a calculating person. "But none of them came back, not even a weak signal to tell us if they reached the other side or not, and what their findings were if they had any."
"...W-wait!" Ichigo yelled in shock after the thoughts were processed properly. "You're going to send me! Aren't you?!"
"So quick as always~! Good!" Kisuke restarted his walk, now happy again.
"W-wait a minute, you damn asshole!" The substitute lunged at the blond, both falling on the ground with a vexed Ichigo pulling at the sides of the shopkeeper's face. "You think I'm some kind of lab rat or something?!"
20 minutes later of torture, poor excuses, more torture, and a less than clear explanation.
"This new dimension should be harmless, Kurosaki-san, you don't have to worry about anything." The heavily bruised scientist said after getting his life beaten out of him, rubbing his sore cheek, he wobbly led the way again. "I trust you will find the way to come out of any situation unscathed if there's any trouble."
"Tch, it'd be better if there's no trouble at all." He muttered quietly in response, following him until they both reached the doors to the captain's meeting room. Being that the summoning was for Ichigo alone, Urahara went inside through another gate, standing in position with the rest of the captains for the entrance of the Substitute Soul Reaper of Karakura.
"Kurosaki Ichigo," A gruff voice called from the inside, making the man stand straight in front of the now opening double doors holding the First Division's symbol. "You may enter, now."
"Elfman! Stop!" The cry of the eldest sister echoed in the rocky valley. She was running in between stone formations dodging the restless strikes of her out of control brother, buying time for her youngest sister. Lisanna ran down to the village that hired them to start an evacuation in case things went down for the wizards. "Snap out of it!"
"Tch…" And Ichigo? He was watching the whole deal from afar, with one hand clenched bloodily around Zangetsu's hilt and the other inside his pocket. The three siblings reminded him of his own family, who were now far away in another place, and the closeness the three had. That's why it hurt him to see this, one of them threatening to kill the others just for a bad decision. Without any control of its actions. It painfully reminded him of himself and his Inner Hollow.
He would have jumped down from his position the moment he saw everything start, but, those were the disadvantages of having an ethereal body; you cannot do anything to change the occurrences in the Living's Realm.
"Mira!" The Soul Reaper saw the youngest of them appear in the form of a bird. He was certain she was successful in warning the villagers. Lisanna landed close to her sister, watching carefully at the rampaging beast close by. Both she and her sister were exhausted. Nonetheless, they took defensive positions to fend off their brother until he could take control of his new form. "Is he… still fighting?
Ichigo heard them attentively. The only way for Elfman to stop was by a fight within; he had to defeat the soul of the beast he tried to take over with his own, while someone contains his onslaught from the outside.
'If it's a souls' matter…' He opened the rift to the Bridge, and without an inch of surprise, he found the guy and the beast fighting there for dominance. One could tell without being an expert that Elfman was on the loser's side by now. Ichigo flash stepped in between the fighters, bringing his sword upwards to stop a blow that might have finished off the young Strauss. He didn't flinch; the power behind the punch was lower than his. He only narrowed his eyes at the beast, uncaring of the shocked human behind him. "What's this? You think you're powerful by picking fights with people weaker than you?
"Step aside, human! I have no time for the likes of you!" The beast growled in anger, swinging another punch that got the same result. His growl came out stronger. "Who are you?!"
"Someone you shouldn't mess with." Ichigo swung his sword forward, pushing the fist and beast a few metres away with ease. There was a deathly blue glow in his eyes when he felt something change in the Living's Realm and the Bridge at the same time. Someone was dying. He pointed a finger to the raging beast, a small quantity of his energy gathering at the tip. "Bakudo #1. Sai."
The beast's arms went behind its back, tied tightly to each other and restricting its movements. It growled a few more times, trying hard to break its bindings before disappearing. Ichigo deduced it went into Elfman's consciousness to wait in a dormant state until it was called again. He hoped that by then, the Strauss' only guy would be able to dominate the beast and take over it completely.
"W-what did you do?" Elfman, who found the strength to talk, questioned the man before him. The black clothed man defeated the beast without breaking a sweat while he had troubles from the start; it was surprising on many levels.
"That's not important now," Ichigo told him sternly, swinging his sword in the space in front of him to open a rift. He motioned for the guy to follow the path inside. "Your sisters need you. Go."
Remembering what he was doing in the first place, Elfman nodded dumbly and ran the best he could to the rift, this one closing when he stepped inside.
"You saw everything, right?" Ichigo asked to the soul standing a few feet away from his spot and the now closed rift, looking over his shoulder to see the young Lisanna covering her mouth with both hands. "I'm sorry for not intervening sooner."
"N-no… it's okay…" She answered weakly, shaking her head a bit to get rid of the shock. "It was something he had to do by himself…"
"He wasn't ready yet," Ichigo shook his head as well, sheathing his sword in its place, its cloths wrapping around it like they should. "He wasn't strong enough to defeat that beast yet, he should have waited a bit more." He turned and faced the girl, walking towards her with short steps to avoid startling her. "You know where you are, don't you?"
The girl nodded slowly. She noticed her state when her eyes clouded and her sister vanished from her sight. She knew that no one would be able to survive a strike like the one she received, without any try to cover oneself, it was obvious.
She was dead.
"No, you're not." Ichigo called her attention from her thoughts, shaking his head again when he caught up to what she was thinking. "But you will be soon, if you don't receive treatment."
"H-how do you know so much? Who are you?" Lisanna asked the man, fear gathering at the pit of her stomach when she imagined who this man in black garments could be.
"I know because I experienced the same in the past," Ichigo answered her nonchalantly, cleaning his right ear with his little finger. The growls of the beast numbed his hearing a bit. "I'm a Soul Reaper." He pointed to the sword resting on his back. "I cleanse souls and send them to the Afterlife."
"…" Lisanna was going to answer him but… suddenly, without warning or Ichigo's knowledge, she disappeared.
'Where did she go?' He questioned inwardly, searching in the Bridge for her presence, not finding it anywhere close or beyond. He returned to the Living's Realm to hear Mirajane telling Elfman that their sister vanished in a flurry of particles, both believing it was a possible way for wizards to die. And so, they let it slide… but Ichigo didn't.
He never saw a wizard dying like that. Souls went to the Bridge and their empty bodies remained where they last were.
'This is strange…' He concluded, leaving the matter for another time. He had more things to do at the moment than following a wild goose chase… like ensuring that what happened today, didn't repeat again.
"Kurosaki Ichigo," Head Captain Yamamoto started, his voice booming inside the meeting room and getting the full attention of the addressed man. "You have been summoned here for matters concerning Soul Society and a threat that remains yet unknown."
"I've been told that…" Ichigo whispered dangerously, sending a death glare towards the grinning blond in one corner of the room.
"Captain Kurotsuchi and former Captain Urahara found an anomaly in the depths of the Dangai, of which we have no records and we want to investigate." He continued, despite the small glares sent here and there. "We would normally send a Soul Reaper belonging to one of the 13 Court Guard Divisions, but we want to avoid such foolishness, for this matter calls for specialized attention, someone with levels reaching or having those of a Captain should be the one to investigate."
"And I'm here because…?" 'I'm not a Captain to begin with, gramps…'
"The 13 Divisions cannot lose a Captain to this anomaly," Komamura explained. "Chaos would erupt in the Divisions if a Captain is lost so selflessly. It took us a lot to return to stability after Aizen's betrayal."
"Not to mention what could happen if our incursion on the other side is misunderstood as a military move," Soi Fon grimly added. "If a Captain finds trouble on the other side and it is related to the 13 Court Guard Divisions, it will start another conflict."
"And that's something we are not looking forward to, Kurosaki-kun." Kyoraku told sternly, reminding the kid of the fierceness of the last war and how everyone was against facing something alike once more.
"Another matter would be the uncertainty of what could be found in the other side," Hitsugaya gave another reason that the others didn't mention. "We need someone that excels in adapting quickly, even under pressure, and that's not something every Captain or Soul Reaper is capable of."
"A quality in which you excel the most, Ichigo-kun." Ukitake smiled at the substitute, seeing him smile in return for the small praise.
"We decided, by listening to these reasons, that sending someone with low relation to the 13 Court Guard Divisions is the best course of action." Yamamoto talked again, this time sounding a bit apologetic. Keyword: a bit. His words reminded Ichigo that he was not part of the organization and his standing as a simple human substitute for a Soul Reaper. "Still, we need someone with power to represent us if we don't find any threats on the other side."
"…uh?" Ichigo tilted his head to a side, having lost the trail of the conversation. All that high and mighty way of talking never really sunk in his head.
"What we are trying to say, Kurosaki-san," Unohana translated for him, seeing his struggle. "You will now be a Soul Reaper, with full responsibilities and loyalties towards Soul Society in its entirety."
"That caught you with your pants down, huh, Ichigo?" Hirako laughed at the boy's astonished face, some others following his lead in small quiet laughs.
"From now on, you will be trained to be a Soul Reaper that can represent our organization in this new dimension," Yamamoto's voice boomed inside the room again, bringing everyone to silence and signaling that the meeting was reaching an end. "A proud Soul Reaper from the 13 Court Guard Divisions."
"So, I'm dead." Makarov concluded simply with his eyes close, sitting crossed legged in the endless ocean. His arms folded and his head lowered in thinking, trying his best to ignore the man standing in front of him.
"No, you're not," Ichigo informed him, seeing his head jerk back up in surprise. "You're only comatose, you lost a lot of your power… until your body recovers your soul is stuck here."
It was true; he lost most of his magic after that surprise attack in Phantom Lord's headquarters.
"R-really now?" The old man started to wonder the possibilities of haunting some hot springs now that he was a ghost, but he was not an idiot, he heard the part saying he was stuck on that endless void until his body was ready to receive him again. Makarov let out a long sigh, looking at the patiently waiting man in front of him. Ichigo had all the time in the world, so he let the Master sort out his thoughts as much as he wanted. "Who are you, boy? I never saw you in my previous times in this place."
"Oh, about that," Ichigo scratched his cheek, remembering this was the first time he ever talked with the Master of the guild he was watching over. "I'm a Soul Reaper, I watch over souls in this world."
"…" Makarov's words were lost in the blankness of his mind when he heard who the man was. "R-r-r-r-reaper?!" He bowed down repeatedly. "I-I-I'm sorry for addressing you so informally, Reaper-sama!"
"Don't be formal, gramps, I'm not older than you…" His words shocked the man to the core. Again.
"N-not older than me? How old are you?"
"Uh? Well… when I came here, I was 21," He counted the years in his mind, looking up in wonder. He didn't age a single bit ever since he arrived so it was hard to keep track, even if he wandered through the Realm of the Living continuously. "So now I should be 28? Tch! I don't know! Each day here is so long that's a pain to remember!"
"21… 28…" Makarov repeated in some sort of daze. He could not believe it; Death, the guardian of the paths to the Afterlife, younger than him?! "Y-you must be trying to joke with this poor old man… aren't you?"
He was met with silence and a blank stare as an answer.
"You're serious?!" Ichigo nodded, covering his ears from the loud shout.
"Of course I'm serious! I don't lie!" Ichigo yelled back, feeling annoyed by the lack of trust. He never told people his age, and this was one of his reasons, they wouldn't be able to believe it. No matter the age or wisdom. For these people, Death should be as old as time itself. And that was true, but not in this case. "Besides! What's wrong with me being young?! You think I don't cut it for the job or something?!"
"No no no no! P-please! I didn't mean anything with it!" Makarov blabbered nervously, not wanting to have Death's anger over him. "It is just… odd… for someone so young to be on such a high role."
"…" Ichigo stared at the man quietly, his narrowing eyes making the old Master sweat bullets in nervousness, until the Soul Reaper sighed and shook his head, rubbing his head with a hand to lower his frustration. "I know what you mean, gramps, but there's no other to take the job…" He looked at the bottom of the ocean with sadness, imagining the many faces he had not seen for years. "…I'm the only one here, the only one for this job."
The Guild Master didn't fail to notice the depressed tone in the man's voice.
"I'm the only Soul Reaper in this world," Ichigo continued, sticking his chest out and hitting it with one his hands to act coolly despite his obvious sadness. "I'm the only one for this job."
Makarov noticed then, he wasn't lying about his young age. 'Such a heavy burden… placed upon such unprepared shoulders…' Nodding slowly, the old man sat on the floor again, trying to change the topic but not before saying something more. "I will believe you then, if you're the only one for the job, I can only wish you the best of luck."
"..." Ichigo stared again before letting a smile creep up to his face. "Thanks, old man, you might not believe it but that means a lot…"
"I know," He turned his gaze to the surroundings; he could change the topic now to something else. "How do you work here? Do you sense the souls when they come?"
"Yes, I was trained for that." Ichigo answered, sitting as well. "I can't do much if I fail to notice where the souls are in this place, so I was trained to do that, the faster I get it done, the faster those souls can carry on."
"Yes, they don't go to a Heaven or Hell in here…" Ichigo tried his best to phrase it. "Souls see their pasts, present and futures when they die… a sort of last reprieve before their souls come here, and they remain here until they believe they are ready to return."
"To the Realm of the Living," Ichigo smiled again, it was a relief when he found out the workings of that world. "Souls linger in this Bridge until they are ready to be reborn in the Living's Realm."
That saved him from organizing a new Soul Society there.
"Yeah, when I arrived, I saw that many lingered in this place, waiting for either Heaven or Hell," He pointed to the sword on his back. "I only accelerate the process. I talk with them, make them see what's keeping them back and later send them to their new life… or Afterlife; however you want to call it."
"So, there's no Heaven or Hell here then?"
"Oh, there is," Ichigo pointed to the sun above and the depths below them. "There you have them…"
"But you said they don't go to Heaven or Hell here…" Makarov repeated what he heard earlier, thinking that maybe the man got his mind tangled up.
"I did?" Ichigo look in surprise, he shook his head and explained again. "Sorry, what I said is true but I explained it wrong…" He motioned for the ocean around them. "Souls here are divided in 3 groups for what I got to see: Illuminates, Strays and Sinners."
He counted with his fingers, first one pointing to the sun above.
"Illuminates are souls that did more good than evil in the world, they are sent straight up after seeing the fruits of their hard work. Instead of being granted the chance to return, they are gifted with a better place."
He pointed to the depths of the ocean.
"Sinners are souls that did more evil than good, obviously, they are sent straight down after reviving their wrongdoings… in the flesh of their victims." Ichigo grimaced, having witnessed a few souls that went to the depths. It was as bad of a sight as the gates of Hell in his world. "They are not granted revival or Heaven; they are condemned to feel the pain they caused for eternity."
And lastly, he motioned to the ocean around them.
"And here is where the Strays come. They are souls that didn't do much of evil or good, they are unclassified… in this world's judgement. They remain here, waiting for the moment to be reborn again, back from the start." He pointed a finger to Makarov. "There are also souls that come here when they are on the verge of dying, they have what it's call a 'revelation' and later return… that varies with each soul, one can return a few hours after being on the verge or remain here for years… whatever, they stay here and that's the point."
"But you help them, to accelerate the process." Makarov talked again after hearing this shocking explanation of the inner workings of the Afterlife.
"That's right." Ichigo nodded and walked forward towards Makarov, feeling a thug from the Realm of the Living that was calling for the Master's soul. He brought his sword from his sheath and tapped the confused old man's forehead with the butt of it, seeing him disappear in small bright particles of light. "Sorry to cut the chat, but those guys down there need you."
"Don't worry," Makarov stood up and extended a hand forward to shake. "I'm glad to have met you, I wish you the best in your job."
"Just try to keep those guys from doing stupid things and you'll help me a lot more." Ichigo shook the hand with his own, seeing the man vanish completely before his eyes. Makarov will not remember that encounter unless he returns to the Bridge, but it was a nice chat in the end. He turned around and stared at the endlessness to his left. He sighed. "Seems like I'll have my hands full today."
"And so!" Urahara cheered loudly to the Soul Reapers assembled around him, annoying most of them. A month passed since the naming of his former student as a full-fledged Soul Reaper, and now was the moment of truth, the moment where he'll do the duty he was ordered to fulfill. "Here you have it! The mysterious anomaly that leads to another dimension!"
"Cut it out, Getaboushi!" Ichigo yelled first, winning over Yoruichi in kicking the weird scientist out of his annoying behavior. "Get to explaining before I get bored!"
"Ahaha… Kurosaki-san, always in a rush…" The blond man laughed the pain off, rubbing his sore back the best he could before straightening himself to explain. "This anomaly here is what I was looking for ever since I learned of Hueco Mundo's existence. If there was another dimension besides Soul Society and the Living World, then the existence of even more dimensions was possible-!"
"Urahara Kisuke," Byakuya's voice echoed coldly down the scientist's spine, expressing everyone's feelings with his seemingly calm words. "I suggest you hurry with your explanation of this anomaly."
"No one understands the thrill of this…" Urahara cried silently behind his fan, he shut it and pointed at the opened rift with it. "Basically, this leads to another dimension, one unknown to us. It is not Hueco Mundo, Soul Society or the Living World." His eyes darkened. Even if it was thrilling to know of a new dimension, all thrill died down when he discovered he couldn't get more information of it before sending someone there. "It's a brand new place, so different that the signals from our scouts don't have a way to reach us after crossing the gate leading there."
This was a wild bet.
"Ichigo," He addressed his former student, taking off his hat, he walked forward and laid a hand on the man's shoulder. "Be careful, we don't know what you can find there or if you can return once you cross the gate."
"I know, Urahara-san, you told me already."
"I'm serious, Ichigo, you'll be on your own once you step inside." With those last words, he stepped aside and let someone else bid farewell to the orange-haired man.
"You better watch yourself, Ichigo," Renji stepped to his side…
"We'll not be there to save your sorry ass…" Rukia was standing on the other, both watching the rift with caution.
"Who said I'll need your help?" He told them dryly, not liking the idea of saying words like those as if he wasn't going to return. But he wasn't going to make a sad one either. "I'm worried about you guys needing mine!"
"What?!" Renji head locked him while Rukia kneed his gut, the combo surprising the former substitute. "Who needs an idiot like you?!"
After a good 2 on 1 wrestling match, they dusted themselves and stood straight before each other. Ichigo smiled appreciatively at them, thanking their attitude on that moment. If the parting was a sad one, his will might have crumbled before he even had crossed the rift.
Stepping back with the rest of the farewell committee, they let the others give their own farewell.
"Remember, Kurosaki-san, concentration is the key." Unohana said; she was the one to teach him Healing Kido. She was a kind, patient and scary teacher in Ichigo's opinion.
"Same here, dumbass, don't go blasting your head off." Hirako snickered; he taught him Hado and Bakudo. He had the time of his lifetime at seeing the young man blowing up at each try he had or when binding himself accidentally.
"Keep your power suppressed if you don't want to harm those around you." Hitsugaya taught him control over his Spiritual Power, but failed when trying to force Zangetsu into a sealed state.
"Stealth when you arrive is essential; you don't know who is friend or foe." Soi Fon and Yoruichi; the ways of the Secret Mobile Corps, thing in which he excelled thanks to his speed.
"Don't lower your guard at every feint, don't let taunts get you… you know the drill" Kensei; he polished his hand-to-hand skills, not that they needed much improvement to begin with.
"Don't get involved unless you see it plausible, see and hear everything before taking part in a conflict." Ukitake; he taught him a thing or two about how to be a good representative of Soul Society.
"Call us when you arrive~! I'll miss you, Kurosaki-san!" Urahara cried loudly, waving his fan in a good-bye fashion. Several groaned or shook their heads at his antics.
Ichigo just nodded.
"Thanks…" He turned around and faced the rift.
It was now or never.
He casted one final glance towards those behind him, smiling gratefully to them.
"See you later, guys…"
And he stepped into the rift.
Ichigo woke up with a start, eyes darting open, mouth panting slightly.
Those damned memories were haunting his dreams again.
Bringing a hand to his face, he cleaned the sweat from his forehead before looking around.
Again he saw the endless ocean in the middle of nowhere, in which he could look up and find the bright sun on the surface, look down and see the blackness of the depths below while he stood in between the two.
It reminded him of the state in which his soul was in when despair was consuming him, just before the last fight against Aizen several years ago. But this time it was different. This wasn't his inner world…
…but something else entirely.
'I wish I could return…' He thought grimly, running a hand through his short spiky hair, the feeling of it against his skin telling him that he wasn't dreaming, that he was still 'alive' in some way. Straightening his posture in the ocean, he looked left and right, stretched a bit and started to explore the space again, as he did every day ever since he set that objective for himself.
Looking for missing souls in this Bridge was his duty. And as a Soul Reaper, he was going to send them to the Afterlife before they turned to something worse than wandering souls.
Even if something like that never happened ever since he arrived.
"And your name is…?" He asked eyeing the guy floating before him, this one wearing a pair of torn pants, a sash around his waist, an eye patch and turban, there was also a metal jaw hanging from the sides of his mouth that gave him a robotic look in his opinion. He didn't look older than him but his eyes told a different story.
"Simon." The man answered slightly surprised to see someone there and the landscape around him, nothing but water was what his eye could see. "Who are you? Where am I?"
"…" Ichigo stared at the man, quirking an eyebrow in wonder. For what he could tell, the man already knew who he was and where they were at the moment… did he want a confirmation of his fears? Shrugging, he motioned with his hand to the surrounding ocean, "I don't clearly know where we are… but it is a bridge to the Afterlife," the hand rested on his chest. "And I'm a Soul Reaper."
"Soul Reaper?" Simon asked quietly, receiving a nod.
"That's right, you're dead." He told him plainly, believing he could discard the safe approach since the man knew of his state. But when the Simon's eye widened, Ichigo immediately regretted telling the news so quickly and tactlessly. "W-what? Don't tell me you didn't know."
"N-no… I knew," Simon found it hard to talk. Then, those visions from his past, his present and how the future will go without him was a sign that he was dead? He should have seen it coming. No one ever survived Gerard's Altair and he wasn't going to be an exception. "I… just find it hard to believe."
"I get you," Ichigo nodded sympathetically. A bit calmed after his rookie's mistake. "But this's how things are…"
"How much time do I have left?"
"Time?" The Soul Reaper stared at the man with confusion. No one ever asked him that. 'And here I thought he was going to ask me to send him back…' "You have all the time you want, but if you want to move on to the Afterlife…" He rested a hand on his sword. '…does he know that his body is in no condition of taking his soul back?' "…tell me and I'll make it faster."
Simon thought about it for a second, his memories haunting his mind again, the visions wanting to replay again around him. He shook them off, not wanting to see them ever again. It was like a bad movie. It was enough. He saw what he needed to see, now was the time for a fresh start… a new life with new chances. He nodded in the end.
After cleansing the soul of the man, Ichigo wandered a bit more, feeling already annoyed for not finding anything more than the normal souls that didn't want to leave the Living's plane in peaceful terms. He changed his course to his main concern in that world.
'Those idiots will surely give me some work to do…' He thought sourly, an eye already twitching when he felt a presence in the spot where the last place in which those guys were and the Bridge, connected. Where he found that man of turban and metal jaw whose name he couldn't remember.
Hurrying in his steps, Ichigo noticed when the scenery changed from the endless ocean to something more different and even less cheerful.
It was his first time stepping into someone's memories and possible future.
He now stood in that town where the brats resided, a rainy day over him, and several of those people standing below in front of a mighty gravestone. He grunted and narrowed his eyes, watching the whole scene of this possible future before acknowledging the presence of the spirit witnessing its own funeral from above the gathered people.
He grew tired of this woman. Just like his midget friend back in his dimension, she took everything to the extreme when it came to the people she cares about, and that never settled well with him. Not only because that gave him more jobs to do, but also because it reminded him of himself when younger. Not thinking, rushing. 'Protect' being the only word in his mind…
…reckless beyond the limits.
"Idiot," Ichigo said coldly to the scarlet-haired woman crying at the sight of her own funeral and grieving friends, the woman slowly looking up, withdrawing her hands from her face to see him with some shock. She was not expecting someone else to be there. Besides, the guy didn't look familiar to her. "You weren't supposed to die today."
"W-who are you?" Erza Scarlet asked in between muffled sobs, her eyes taking note of the black clothes worn by the orange-haired man and the cleaver-like sword hanging on his back.
It was her first time seeing him. He never got to her in time to talk and send her back to the Living's Realm by himself.
Her eyes widened when a thought crossed her mind. She was dead, seeing her past, present and the future related to her. If that was right, then this man in black garments was... "Y-you... are you the Reaper?"
The man did a double take at the question, staring in wonder for a bit before snorting loudly. He waved a hand and shook his head many times to dispel her worries and fear, straightening himself to speak. "Yes and no. I'm a 'Reaper' but not the one that 'harvests' souls," His eyes hardened, his pride as a Soul Reaper kicking in. "I'm the one that 'guides' souls to the Afterlife."
Erza set her mind into thinking again, coming up with a new thought. "You're an angel then..."
The man groaned loudly at the second failed try, shaking his head in annoyance this time. "Negative, again, I'm a 'Soul Reaper'!" He yelled with a fist on his stuck out chest. "Angels don't do this job..." He tried to explain, half lying. "…they are busy with other stuff."
After all, there is a 'Hell' and 'Demons' in his world.
He never saw an Angel in all his time as a Soul Reaper, but there's a possibility that 'Heaven' exists as well... even if in his mind Soul Society was the closest thing to Heaven he ever saw.
"I... see..." Erza muttered quietly, the vision of her funeral vanishing and letting her float on a seemingly endless and empty ocean again. A bright sun shone over what looked like the surface, not blinding her, it allowed her to see her surroundings. A few metres to her right, the orange-haired man floated with his hands resting behind his head, his eyes looking at the sun above the endless sea. She noticed that now he had a reproachful face on him, the scowl he had when initially presenting himself to her still in place and slightly more pronounced than before. "What is this place?"
"Truthfully, I don't know for sure," His eyes wandered around for a bit, feeling the same aura on that place as the one in the tunnel that connects the realms in his dimension. That same tunnel being the one to bring him to this new dimension in which he now was. "It's a space between the world of the Living and the Afterlife... a bridge..."
Ichigo sighed with his eyes closed; it was tiring to be explaining the workings of that place to every soul he finds.
"You're not dead yet... just... in the way..." He carefully explained to her, trying to be somewhat positive, he kept a cautious approach in delivering the news after the awkward situation with the turban guy. Not many like the idea of being dead. But then, he remembered, his reason for meeting her there when he had the chance. His reproachful expression returned and it was directed at her. She flinched at the intensity in his brown eyes.
"And that's what I wanted to talk with you!" He shifted in his position, pointing an accusing finger at her. "Why are you so eager to die every goddamn time?!" He rested his hands on his waist, his scowl now a frown. "I know you care a lot about them and all, but throwing yourself away isn't the answer to everything, you know?!"
"Y-you don't understand…!" Erza tried to argue but his narrowing eyes shut her down before anything more could come out her mouth.
"I have followed your adventures enough to understand perfectly, and believe me," His eyes flickered with old memories. "I did my fair share of stupidity to know that no one wants their friends to die for them!" The Soul Reaper bellowed to the Knight, half his power leaking out of control and pressuring the woman before it came back into control. "You must stop. No one is happy if someone has to die to save them!" The man concluded in one final shout, calming down after it to look at the frightened woman with his normal scowl. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Erza took a moment to recompose herself and collect her jumbling thoughts. What she heard. This man has been watching over her for a long time to understand what she went through and how he came to these conclusions he was yelling now to her. She felt immensely ashamed. Death itself was telling her the same thing her friends had been trying to make her understand for the past years, in a less than subtle way, of course, but in a way she could comprehend at last.
And what truly shamed her; she had to die for him to tell her about the wrong in her actions.
She opened her mouth after the long silence, breathing out the right words this time.
"I… I do." She gave him a small nod and grateful smile, appreciating his concern in things that –in her opinion- were not supposed to be of Death's interests. "I must not die for my friends… I must live for them…"
Ichigo threw his arms up in the air, feeling all anxiety vanishing with her words.
"Now she gets it!" He laughed at his own outburst, ignoring her visible embarrassment. He laughed at how much it took him to make the Knight realize the error of her ways. But now she truly grasped the meaning of fighting to protect one's friends. "And just in time also!" He smiled while drawing his sword from his back, the cloth surrounding it untangling itself to let the edge of the blade shine with the sun's light. He nodded to himself and moved forward, completely startling her with his actions.
"W-what are you doing?!" Erza cried in slight fear, knowing she didn't have a way to defend herself at the moment. She did her best to float in the opposite direction, away from the approaching Soul Reaper who was now grinning in amusement.
"Relax! Geez!" Ichigo stopped halfway, rolling his eyes in annoyance, how many times was he misinterpreted in these situations? He lost the count after fifty-something. "I'm not going to send you to 'Heaven' just yet…" He gave her a reassuring smirk. "…there are many things for you to do before that."
Restarting his movements, he continued until he was standing in front of the still distrusting woman.
He raised his sword and rested the dull side of the blade on his shoulder, his smirk turning to a smile when he felt her soul being called to the Realm of the Living by that annoying teammate of hers. "There's someone besides me who wants you alive…"
"Uh?" She looked at the man's eyes with confusion, not feeling her soul being called as he was able to feel.
"Not many can cheat 'Death', you know? But this guy is a pain… so I'll let him win this time." With a quick movement, he tapped her forehead with the butt of his sword, leaving a bright mark on the spot and a more confused woman behind. "Time to go back."
"T-to go back…? W-where…?" She repeated slowly, noticing small particles of light floating around her. She looked down to see her legs and feet starting to disappear and turn into those same particles that she initially saw. Her eyes widened, her head jerked back up to look at the orange-haired man with obvious fear. "W-where am I going?!"
"Home." He smiled fondly, snorting quietly at her dumbstruck face. "With your friends…"
Shaking her head off of its shock, she looked down again and saw that half her body had already vanished. She was going back to her friends and guild. Her vision wouldn't come true. She was going back!
She wiped the tears falling from her left eye, smiling gratefully to the Soul Reaper.
"I… I don't know what to say…" Erza noticed that her shoulders where starting to disappear as well, time was running low. "I'm grateful of your kindness, Soul Reaper-san…"
She bowed her head a bit in gratitude, making the man chuckle at her politeness.
"The name's Ichigo, and be sure, Erza Scarlet, I'll watch over your guild and friends…" His smile dropped. "But if you happen to come here one more time…"
He left the threat hanging in the air, hearing her gulp down at the thought of actually dying the next time.
She flinched and nodded repeatedly, not wanting to anger the man again.
"I'll be sure to follow your words to the letter… Ichigo." The man smiled at the parting words, watching her soul disappear completely, going back to its rightful place into her body and realm. To her friends and family in the guild she calls 'home'.
And so, sheathing his sword, he walked a few steps to continue his work…
…but he found another soul in his way.
Ichigo groaned loudly at what he was seeing, another soul to be cleansed. 'Dammit! Is there a parade today or something?!' He looked at the scenes flashing before this new soul he was facing, noticing instantly that they were the other side of the story he just saw from the woman he sent back recently.
"W-what is this…?" Gerard Fernandez asked in pure cluelessness, not relating himself to the events flashing around him. He had blue hair, olive eyes and a strange tattoo over his right eye. His clothes were some of the kind Ichigo had almost never seen, being the class of garments worn by experienced or veteran fighters among the wizards.
But focusing on the moment, Ichigo rushed forward when he noticed Gerard breaking down. His mind was trying to understand the meaning of these images in front of him and it was failing miserably. "What is this?!"
"H-hey! Get a grip of yourself!" The Soul Reaper held the man by the shoulders, trying to stop him from doing harm to himself.
"I-I d-didn't do any of this…!" Getting tired of the constant shaking and screaming, Ichigo let Gerard go, casting an inquisitive eye over the man's memories, he got to know what was making him so agitated.
"You were the cause of those deaths, huh?" The orange-haired man remembered when those souls came his way, all hell-bent on revenge towards this man, for they did nothing to him and he eliminated them anyway. He felt some rage after knowing this truth, but, the man here didn't acknowledge anything of that… it was like someone else forced him to do it.
An immediate resemblance of what happened between Aizen and Soul Society came to the Soul Reaper's mind, making enough of his anger vanish to give Gerard a helping hand. He couldn't change his past… but he could make sure the man changes his future. 'I can't have him here… the memories will break his soul completely if I leave him until someone calls him back.' He looked around one last time, frowning again at some of the memories. 'Shit… I don't know if I'm doing the right thing… but I can't let him suffer for something he didn't do!'
"Tell me," Ichigo started after the guy calmed down a notch, obtaining his immediate attention. "You care for her, don't you?" He pointed to the memory of that scarlet-haired woman that kept on repeating in his memories, and that Ichigo himself sent back to the Realm of the Living a moment prior to this meeting. The man of blue hair nodded with uncertainty. "Then atone for what you did by getting her forgiveness."
"S-she won't forgive me," The man muttered hollowly. "I did…" Ichigo grabbed him by the collar of his suit, bringing him face to face to let him see his narrowed eyes and scowl. They were 'calmly' telling him to remain quiet and listen or else.
"I'm not giving you a choice in the matter," Ichigo reached for the sword on his back, tapping the man's forehead with the butt of its hilt. "Her name is Erza…" He saw the man starting to disappear. 'Wait a sec… how many Erza's are out there?!' Thinking fast, he gave the man a clue to find her. "…her last name, you know it?"
"N-no?" He heard him say in between shivers; Gerard was unnerved at the sight of his body turning to small particles of light but managed to concentrate on the black-clothed man talking to him.
"You gave it to her, remember?" He thought back on the memories, trying his best to say the same words of that moment. "Scarlet, just like her hair, so you don't forget it."
When he said that, the man's eyes widened, another feeling that wasn't fear and cluelessness flickering in his eyes, giving them some of their original light before he left the Bridge completely. He was returning to the Realm of the Living and his comatose body while Ichigo let out a sigh, scratching the back of his head lazily with his free hand.
"Great, first time in days I've got to actually talk with someone and the chat lasted a few minutes…" 'And it's not like I'm getting paid to be a psychiatrist or anything either…' He turned to his right, putting his sword back where it belongs after giving a vertical slash in front of him, opening a rift that excluded light from its inside. "…still…" He stepped inside, smiling faintly at the memory of these meetings he had today. "…It was nice."
The rift closed behind him.
Time passed quickly, days became weeks, weeks became months.
He continued to watch over those annoying wizards, groaning in frustration every time they fought. Strong opponents were always at their doorstep, each one stronger than the last, and all of them bent on destroying them. He lost count of how many times he had to keep the Dragon Slayer from dying, intercede before the Spirit King to help the Celestial Spirit wizard when she was at the edge, or lend some of his energy to the Ice Alchemist when he was running thin.
Luckily, the Re-quip wizard learned her lesson and she kept herself away from doing rash things… a few counted times.
But then, the other members of that guild were the same, 'All of them have a death wish…' he concluded after seeing them confront another guild of wizards, qualified as the strongest in between the evil ones. Each one of them faced their opponents to the last breath, not giving up an inch of ground, even when the situation was going to the worst possible outcome.
The Master appeared before him again; asking for the Soul Reaper's state of things ever since their last meeting.
The older Strauss came for the first time; Ichigo had the time of his lifetime when explaining how he had no control over what happened to her little sister.
The Iron Dragon Slayer wrestled with him for a good time before Ichigo got annoyed and sent him back.
The Strauss' only guy and his partner came as well; the guy having no memory of Ichigo whatsoever while the woman criticized his choice of clothing.
The Fire Dragon Slayer was a special case; Ichigo took time to explain why he should not push himself to the limits when he was fighting together with his friends.
The Knight came again; she was willing to let go this time, feeling that her role in her guild and world was over. Ichigo didn't do or say anything. He reserved himself to only frown in disappointment. He knew she was going to get her 'Revelation' and return to the fight.
Pitifully, whatever Ichigo told to the souls in the Bridge was to remain there, they would have no recollection of those talks after going back to the Living's Realm.
But he kept on watching over them, the whole time, until the Black Dragon of the Apocalypse showed up.
He stared quietly at the place where the island called Tenrou once stood, now only another portion of water in the seas of that world. He didn't feel their presences in 'The Bridge' so they were still alive…
…or turned into the epitome of any person that couldn't fulfill its wishes when alive; Hollows.
"Oh! Another spirit!" His head turned at breakneck speed to its right, seeing a small girl of blond wavy hair floating above the same sea in which he was now. She didn't look old; in fact, he bet she had the appearance of a teenager in between 12 or 15 years old.
But only that, a front to hide the truth, her soul felt as the ones from Soul Society, older than what they look.
"Who are you?" He asked trying not to sound rude. He always had a soft spot for kids, especially little girls.
"No one too special. You see, I'm just another soul lingering in this world." She said brightly, smiling to the orange-haired man, she disregarded his shocked expression at being referred to as 'another soul' and not 'The Reaper' as many called him ever since he arrived. "I should ask you, who are you? And why were you watching over the members of the guild I founded, without doing anything to help them directly?"
Of course he helped them. He was there the whole time. When the Council's ship exploded, he made sure to keep as many of its passengers alive. When the fights on the island started, he gave a portion of his power to the tree dominating the island, enough for it to protect them and keep them from reaching Death's doors completely. At least until it was uprooted and everyone lost its protecting powers.
Everyone but the Knight, who kept on fighting until she eventually won…
"Sorry to stop your line of memories…" He was brought back to the present by a young voice; the girl was now standing at eye level with him, giving him a blank stare. "…but you didn't answer my question."
"My name is Ichigo, Kurosaki Ichigo," He gave a curt nod, scratching his scalp while his senses tried to discern if this little spirit before him was a threat to him or the world. She had power, he noticed by her eyes alone. That and the fact she was a soul in the Living's Realm was enough to guarantee him that she had a power rivaling his own, if not more. "Can you tell me your name…?"
"My name is Mavis Vermillion," She said after a long pause, her smile returning full force. "Founder and First Master of Fairy Tail, now, can I ask why are you in this world?"
"U-uh?" The question caught him by surprise. Not many noticed that he wasn't from that dimension.
The Spirit King because he was the ruler of all spirits, he noticed it instantly because he never saw him in the eons he had of life.
Some other spirits around the world because they never saw a Soul Reaper in the first place.
And now this girl, called Mavis, noticed it with a single glance.
Scratch "power rivaling his own"; she was way stronger than him.
He let out a sigh, crossing his arms over his chest in a relax position. "How did you notice?"
"I'm a spirit too, and I never saw anyone like you." She started to explain, pacing around him with a thoughtful expression. "You have a great power inside you and inside that blade on your back, there's also some darker power I never felt before in the depths of your soul, wanting to break free." She stopped and looked at him in the eyes, ignoring his baffled face. She even noticed the presence of his Zanpakuto's spirit and his Inner Hollow? "Your soul, that blade and the being within you, they are linked, and they all form your soul… that's… strange."
"Strange?" He shook his head quickly, scowling deeper at this girl that seemed to know more than what she gave out. Just like that annoying shopkeeper of his dimension. "How so?"
"All the people in this world have their energy stored at the centre of their beings, some even have a second one that grants them even greater powers." Her pacing returned. "That's called 'magic' in this world, as you may know, and it is what gives wizards the fuel for their spells."
"Can you hurry, shorty?" He asked tiredly, rolling his eyes when she pouted at being mocked by her stature.
"In resume, while everyone's magic and body are separated, you," Mavis stared at him. "You are composed of magic, every bit of your being, even the garments you are wearing and the sword you are carrying on your back… that's what tipped me as odd."
"I still don't see anything wrong, shorty…" Ichigo moved from the place, reappearing in the blink of an eye atop the last spot where the island once stood, with his senses concentrating again to feel any trace from the people that disappeared just a few moments ago. '…just where the hell did they go?!'
"There it is again," Mavis appeared next to him, looking at him as if he was some class of weird specimen. "You didn't use only your power to move faster, or even stand over this very sea; you are mixing both, your power and the one around this area to do what you want."
"Yeah, yeah, if you are done with your yapping about my origin, can you help me look for those guys?" He asked slightly annoyed, he didn't like it when the spirits of that dimension started to go all curious about him, and he wasn't going to take a liking to it now. There were pressing matters at hand.
"You mean the Third and its guild?" She asked with a tilted head, snickering after she got a nod from the man. "They are fine, I assure you."
"Really, huh?" He looked at the bottoms of the sea in deep concentration, not feeling a bunch of presences but a massive one at distances not a single human could reach. She was right somehow, they were fine. Ichigo let out a sigh of relief. He would have to wait for whatever was protecting them to end and let them come out before attempting to check their state.
"They are inside one of the lost spells of my guild," Mavis started to explain, moving a few steps away from the place. "Its effects should run out in 7 years, if I'm not mistaken."
"…" Having heard enough, the Soul Reaper shoved his hands inside his pockets. "That's good."
"What are you going to do now?" She asked a bit curious, her eyes looking in the distance at the source of an ancient evil that was the reason for the fights in her guild's sacred ground.
"There are still some of those guys in that place," Ichigo told her referring to Magnolia and the guild now left without its core members. "I guess I'll look after them while the 7 years pass…"
And he disappeared in the sound of a whisper, leaving Mavis alone with her thoughts while he reflected on what happened when he arrived to that dimension.
7 years ago…
To be continued
(A/N: I still have my own personal touch with cliff-hangers, don't you think? *grins*
I hope you enjoyed this "little" one-shot. I would like to thank my Beta-reader, Epic Ebi, for getting me into the world of crossovers and his assistance in making this story presentable for all of you. He did an amazing job correcting my mistakes (My many mistakes) and brainstorming with me to exploit all the possibilities that this story has. Thing that, unfortunately, I cannot put in on a single one-shot. It'll be too long for anyone to read.
Plus, I want to see the reactions this story gets from the readers (You guys) before attempting to write something related to a pairing or something else. I'm fairly new to crossovers after all, please, forgive that. I will give my best to present something better the next time if this gets some positive feedback.
And I'll do it in the form of one-shots with pairings involved. This is where you (The readers) enter. I have in my profile a poll to decide about which pairing should I do for the next time and also the plots to follow down below my bio. Whichever the chosen one, it'll follow right after the end of this story, but it will explain how the girl fell for Ichigo and this one later acknowledges it. Expect a few things from this particular one-shot to change in those stories; for the sake of coherence, of course.
Again. I thank Epic Ebi for presenting me the interesting side of writing crossovers, his help in the development of this story and his patient in teaching me some proper English. I really need to improve a lot. A last request, check his story "Flames of Cleansing", it's awesome in its own right. If you don't... I'll think bad of you. *sweatdrops*
See you all later.
A/N: Edit 10/22/12. So, the story will have a continuation. I'm working on it already and I expect it to be ready for this weekend at most. Until then, the voting will continue. After all, this story is a general one focused on Friendship and the canon of FT. The pairings will come after I finish with this and get more comfortable with the ways of writing crossovers. Please, be patient.)