Disclaimer: Tite Kubo owns Bleach.
There was a ghost behind him. He was trying to take a test, and there was a ghost behind him. Ichigo was doing his level best to ignore it, but it was just so annoying. It was going on and on about how it had died and how much it really, really, wanted to move on, but couldn't, and really didn't want to go to hell. Even worse than the incessant chatter, however, was the feel of it. It could have been silent and on the other side of the wall, and Ichigo would have still been able to feel the thing on the corners of his awareness. All in all it was causing him serious problems with concentrating on his test. He had no idea how Karin managed to ignore them all the time. Sheer force of will wasn't helping.
After a frankly hellish twenty minutes, the test was finally over. Turning his paper in, Ichigo sighed in relief that the day was finally over. Saying goodbye to his friends, he started heading home, ghost in tow, still muttering about its 'fate'. He only got a block or two before the frustration that the ghost had inspired in him caused him to grab it and drag it into a nearby alley. Once hopefully concealed from the street, and more importantly from the passersby who would doubtless assume that he was utterly insane for talking to and grabbing invisible objects, he threw the ghost against the wall. Not nearly as calm as he would like to be, Ichigo asked the ghost, "What do you want from me?"
"So you can see me? I thought you could. You kept twitching in class, even though you didn't say anything, and there can't possibly be many kids with bright orange hair in this town," the ghost babbled.
"My hair?" Ichigo asked blankly. He normally got comments about his hair from the living, not the dead.
"Yeah, Yumi-chan over by the overpass said that there was a kid with orange hair who could see ghosts. I didn't believe her, but some of the others who hang around the mortuary said that she was telling the truth, so I came to look for you."
"Why?" Ichigo was only half paying attention to the conversation now. Ghosts were recognizing him by his hair now? Was this why Karin was not being bothered by as many ghosts as he was? Just because she had inherited Dad's normal hair color and not some shade of Mom's red? That's just not fair.
"Well I was wondering if you had a way to keep me out of hell?" the ghost said forlornly "I don't really want to go there, but I don't want to stay here either. The older ones talk about the monsters who attack ghosts and drag them away, probably to hell, and I don't want to be another statistic!"
Ignoring the talk of monsters, which was a really common urban legend in the ghost community, Ichigo asked, "How do you expect me to know away to keep ghosts out of hell? I'm just an ordinary high school student."
"Who can see ghosts! I know I wasn't a very good person. I embezzled and cheated on my wife with the bosses secretary, but I really regret it so please, please, save me," the ghost begged awkwardly.
Ichigo just stared at him, before looking around and running out of the alley. He turned left sharply, then jumped a fence to the right. Ghosts like that were the worst kind. Most ghosts were happy to stay around the place where they died, or just wandered around. Those weren't normally a nuisance, and could actually be kind of interesting to talk to, like the young samurai who would talk about the changes in Karakura since he had been alive. That ghost was actually the oldest ghost that Ichigo had personally met. He supposed that most eventually moved on. The second kind just wanted him to do something. Normally that something minor, like sending a letter to relatives or getting them an object of some sort. This could get annoying, but he had actually gotten quite a few interesting experiences out of it, so Ichigo supposed he didn't mind too much. But the ghosts who wanted to move on (or stay here) were the most annoying. He had no idea whatsoever what caused some ghosts to randomly vanish, and probably couldn't do anything about it even if he did. But the ghosts who worried about that were normally the most stubborn and bloody-minded of the lot. The only thing to do with those was to avoid them, and shake them off quickly if they did find you.
Once he was sure that he had lost the ghost, Ichigo slowed down to a more sedate pace. So the ghosts were tracking him by his hair? Maybe he should dye it a more normal color. No, if the school administration and peer pressure hadn't convinced him to dye it before this, no ghost stalkers would either. Still, maybe he should try talking to some of them. If he did them some favors, then maybe they could ward off some of the more zealous ghosts, like that salaryman. He had mentioned Yumi-chan, so that was probably a good place to start.
Yumi was a relatively new ghost. She had died only a few months ago, when an out of control driver had swerved off the road and hit her where she was playing on the sidewalk. She was one of the more cheerful ghosts, and would talk to everyone. Ichigo wandered over to the area that she could normally be found in. She generally stayed around the place where she died, and occasionally went home. Today however, Ichigo found her a couple of blocks away from her normal haunting grounds. Seeing him, the little girl hurried towards him and started babbling, "Oh, Ichigo, what am I going to do? Mom put those out, it was her nice vase that I'm never to touch, and now it's broken and I'll get in trouble, and those guys are mean, and they keep coming around…"
Ichigo sighed and grabbed her shoulder, shaking her a little. "Slow down, and tell me what happened calmly." She took a couple of sobbing breaths before explaining somewhat more coherently. Apparently, a group of delinquents had been hanging around the place her mother put grave markers out for her, and had desecrated the offering. "I'll go take care of them for you," he said scowling. "People should have more respect for the dead."
Yumi giggled quietly. "You only say that because you can see us, you know."
"No I don't."
There were a group of five delinquent thugs, along with an overturned flower vase. It was clear that it had been knocked over by the one who was trying to go tricks on a skateboard. Ichigo stretched out his leg and tripped the idiot, calling the attention of the other idiots to him. They attempted to menace him, asking if he wanted to die, until he kicked one of the in the face, hard enough to send him to his knees in pain. The others were looking apprehensive, and he kicked down another before drawing their attention to Yumi's vase. After all, discipline doesn't do anything unless the idiots know what they did wrong.
Scowling, Ichigo asked the kid who appeared to have the worst hygiene of the lot what he thought the vase was. Apparently he was slightly smarter than he looked, because he figured out that it was a grave offering without any hints from Ichigo. Still, that gained him absolutely no mercy, and he went down with another kick to the face. The other two crowded around their fallen brother, and Ichigo asked them the million dollar question, with a look of very calm rage "Why is the vase knocked over?" These two were even more stupid than stinky, because they actually had to think for a long moment before realizing that they had knocked it over. This called for a bit of a show.
"Well than you'd better apologized to her," Ichigo said, pointing to Yumi. Ichigo made a little mental twist, and channeled her forward. This was something that he had learned to do by accident, but if he concentrated on a ghost in a certain odd way, it was possible to make other people see them. He didn't do it very often, if only because the little old lady who lived three doors down was convinced that he was the next great spiritual medium and he didn't want to add any more fuel to that fire if he could help it. (Also, there was something really emotionally upsetting about showing ghosts to the people who they cared for in life). Still, this was harmless, and as the thugs ran away screaming apologies, very, very satisfying.
"I think we scared them enough that they won't come back," he told Yumi. "Sorry about using you like that." Ghost that he channeled often complained that it almost kindof hurt, which Ichigo supposed made sense. They weren't supposed to be seen by the living, after all.
"No, I asked you to help. Thanks. I think I can rest quietly now." The ghost smiled at him.
Ichigo casually waved goodbye, walking towards home.
Opening the door, he was greeted with a flying kick to the face by his father, screaming, "YOU'RE LATE!" Ichigo blearily wondered from the floor if his father knew that he had kicked several people in the face today or if this was just karma. "What do you think this you are, a delinquent? You know that dinner is at seven every night!" His father stood in a position of self-righteousness, lab coat billowing out behind him.
Rubbing his aching head, Ichigo jumped up to defend himself from both his father's attacks and his words. "Is that any way to greet someone who was helping to put a ghost to rest?" he shouted, dodging his father's fist.
"There can be no excuses for disrupting the order of this house. Prepare to pay. Especially as you are now bragging about your ability to see spirits." Isshin moved forward, landing a hit. Behind them, Karin and Yuzu were eating peacefully, like this was an everyday occurrence. To be fair, it actually was. At least Yuzu halfheartedly attempted to end the fight before being distracted by Karin's request for leftovers.
"Shut up! I didn't ask to see them!" Seriously, his father was weird. Why would you want to see ghosts? They were a lot of trouble. Fighting loose of his father's grasp, Ichigo yelled in righteous indignation, "The rules of this house are too strict! What kind of parent expects a highschool student home at seven every night?" Confident of his victory, Ichigo went to get food from Yuzu.
His youngest sister looked at him, or more specifically, the area behind him. "Ichigo, you've got another one." Ichigo turned, to learn that she was right. The salaryman who he thought he had lost earlier appeared to have found him, and was now hovering behind his left shoulder.
"You! When did you?" The ghost looked absolutely terrified (probably from the fight) and didn't answer. "It's always like this! I get rid of you guys over and over and there are always more."
Yuzu and Karin, as unsympathetic to his plight as always, went back to their conversation. Yuzu (like Dad) could barely see ghosts, and for some reason were slightly (or not so slightly) envious. Karin could see them very clearly, and knew the pain of having ghosts follow you around, although she was very good at not acknowledging them. You would think that she would understand his position, but no. She was always plotting ways to profit on his gift. Apparently, people could make good money as mediums even if they were false. If that was the case, she figured, then what about Ichigo who was a real medium? She was always planning séances. She was just telling them about her latest idea (Karakura Ghost Picnic- Frolic with Ghosts in the Winds of Summer) when Isshin tackled him. Again.
This was the absolute last straw, and throwing his father off, Ichigo announced that he was going to bed. Suiting action to words, he headed up, trailing the salaryman ghost behind him.
Next Time: Introducing Rukia and Ichigo's First Hollow