AN: Err...hi guys? Sorry I've been so MIA in regards to fics lately. Lack of time, coupled with lack of muse equals...very little typing done. Speaking of my muse, that is where this comes from. Remember White Sun? I have finally acknowledged I wrote myself into a corner and will never be able to finish that fic. So, I decided to scrap my version and let Ron finish his. Instead, I will use the same overall idea (the challenge I received) in a new storyline. I hope you all enjoy what I came up with...especially considering I pulled a literal all-nighter to finish the thing...
Ichigo…Ichigo…can you hear my voice?
The soft voice seeming to whisper in his ear awoke Ichigo Kurosaki from a restless slumber. But what he wasn't expecting was to see nothing in front of him but a blinding snow-storm. Of course, why would he expect to see that? He lived in the middle of Japan, and last he saw it was a clear starless night outside his window. Speaking of which…he wasn't even in his bed anymore.
"What the hell?" Ichigo blurted out, quickly getting to his feet.
But when he stood up, the teen nearly went sliding off of…a window? What the hell was going on? Did Rukia stick him on a building somewhere in the mountains somehow? And more importantly…how was he standing on a building sideways? And then there was the fact that despite all the snow raging around him…he didn't fell cold. If anything, what should have been biting wind felt like…a blanket, was the only way he could describe it.
Carefully trying to avoid falling over, Ichigo turned around in a circle. As far as his eyes could see, there was nothing but blinding snow and shadowy shapes of skyscrapers in the distance. He was starting to wonder if this was some seriously messed up nightmare or something by this point.
Note to self…tell Yuzu not to make the orange chicken again… Ichigo thought to himself, rationalizing it as his sisters normally excellent cooking hitting a bump and giving him a weird dream.
"It isn't a dream Ichigo," that soft, melodious voice rang in his ear again.
Ichigo spun around, skidding on the ice somewhat. He narrowly avoided falling face first on the window, and after recovering, looked up to see the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. The woman had long pale hair, with part of it tied up in a bun on the back of her head. She was wearing a pale white kimono, with a blue sash at her waist. And an elegant hand was concealing her mouth as it looked like she was barely concealing laughter.
"Who are you?" Ichigo shouted at the woman, "And stop laughing!"
The woman removed her hand, revealing a gleaming smile directed at an irate Ichigo.
"I apologize, but how you reacted was quite entertaining. As to who I am…I am *****" the woman said, though it seemed like earmuffs had been placed on Ichigo's ears when she said her name.
The teen tilted his head to the side, "Eh? I didn't catch your name."
The woman looked a bit downcast on hearing that, and the snow picked up a bit, "I suppose I shouldn't have expected you to. After all, this is not truly my home."
Now Ichigo was really confused, "This isn't your home? Then what the hell is it?"
The woman sighed slightly, before carefully sitting down. Ichigo hesitantly followed suit, and found that the snow piled around him didn't melt, or feel cold. Just like the storm, it felt nice against his body. Keeping his attention on the woman, Ichigo awaited some sort of explanation for where exactly he was.
The woman seemed to wear a small smile as she started to talk, "I know you don't recognize where we are Ichigo. But this place, this cityscape, should be more familiar to you than to me. This is your Inner World, the deepest part of your soul."
Ichigo just gave her an odd look, "Eh?"
"I know you're smarter than that Ichigo. Does this seem like any dream you've had before? And if it did…why is it so familiar to you? Look…really look…at the city. Tell me what you feel."
Ichigo still thought this was some crazy dream, but he did as the woman said. He stood back up, and started to look back into the raging snowstorm. At first, it just looked the same as before, nothing but a raging mass of white with shadowy buildings. But as Ichigo looked at it, he started to see it in a different light. He felt at home here, and it seemed extremely familiar to him, though by all rights it shouldn't. And he wasn't even sure why it felt so familiar to him.
"It feels familiar, like I've been here before," Ichigo said, turning back to the woman, "Assuming this really is inside my soul…who are you? And how are you here?"
At first the woman didn't answer. She just stood up, and raised a hand. Ichigo was wondering what was going to happen, before a simple blade appeared in the woman's hand. It was a standard, if a bit small, katana with a square guard and a red grip. But the more Ichigo looked at the blade, the more familiar it got.
"Wait…that's Rukia's Zanpakuto! How did you get that?" the teen shouted.
The woman smiled again, "I'm glad you recognize the blade Ichigo. However, it isn't proper to call a lady by her job description."
Ichigo wasn't quite sure what the woman meant by that, "Now what are you blabbering about?"
"This blade is not Rukia Kuchiki's Zanpakuto. I am," the woman said, holding up a hand before Ichigo could say anything, "All Zanpakuto are an extension of the wielders soul. We have unique names, and manifest in different ways. That is why you could not hear my name…I am not your Zanpakuto. Though I will admit I was hoping you would be able to hear it with how long I have been in here."
"Not my Zanpakuto? I have one?" Ichigo asked, assuming for now that the woman was telling the truth and he wasn't just dreaming this up.
"Yes. He is still sleeping, just as most of your own power is," the woman said, "All Rukia and myself did was awaken your own powers Ichigo. It is only a matter of time till they fully awaken and push me out."
If Ichigo didn't know better, he would say the woman looked sad at that idea. Which would be odd…if she was really, somehow, Rukia's Zanpakuto…wouldn't she want to go back?
"You don't seem happy about that," Ichigo pointed out.
"I'm surprised you can read my emotions so well Ichigo," the woman said with a faint smile, "But the truth of the matter is I am so lonely in Rukia's inner world. Ever since Kaien Shiba, her former Lieutenant, died, she hasn't spent time with me. She…she's lonely herself, and doesn't know how to relate to me anymore."
Ichigo could relate to that. It sounded like how he had acted when his mother had died. Though if he hadn't heard it from Rukia's Zanpakuto, he wouldn't have believed it. After all, it was hard to relate the energetic midget he knew with a depressed loner like he had been after his mother's death.
"But…" Ichigo started, before he heard some noise in the background.
"It would appear our time is up. I have a warning for you Ichigo…defeating that Menos will get Soul Society's attention. They will send someone for Rukia…be prepared for that," the woman said.
"Wait!" Ichigo shouted, before everything faded into a white light.
"GOOOOODDD MORNING ICHIGOOOO!" Isshin Kurosaki yelled, expecting to nail his son with a flying kick.
What he wasn't expecting was Ichigo already up, casually opening the window and watching as his father flew outside. Ichigo shook his head slightly, before getting ready for school. He toned out his father's shouts of 'what a cruel son!', thinking more on his 'dream'. Ichigo still wasn't fully convinced what he had experienced was real though.
"Your father should know better by now," Rukia commented lightly, breaking Ichigo from his thoughts.
The petite Shinigami was standing outside the door of his closet, giving Ichigo an odd look. It was clear she could tell something was on his mind. But the question was, should Ichigo tell her he had a midnight conversation with the spirit of her sword, in his own soul?
"Hey Rukia," Ichigo asked, "Do you Shinigami name your swords?"
Rukia gave him an even odder look, "We don't name them. They are born with their names…why do you ask?"
Ichigo shrugged, "Just curious. Some cultures name their swords, so I was wondering if you did the same."
Rukia looked distinctly skeptical of that, but she brushed it off and jumped out the window. Ichigo sighed, and looked out the window she had just jumped through. Rukia had just confirmed at least part of what he had experienced. Question was now…how much of it was real, and how much a dream?
"Not a dream Ichigo," that voice rang in his ear again.
Ichigo shook slightly from the shock, "You can still talk to me?!"
"Barely…I don't have the strength to do it for long. And you can talk to me with your thoughts, so you look less crazy," the woman said, sounding slightly labored in doing so.
Ichigo's ever present scowl got a bit deeper, both out of frustration and concern. Frustration that the woman made him sound like an idiot, concern that she sounded so weak.
"You sure you're okay? You sound weak," Ichigo asked.
"Like I said, it takes a lot of energy to talk to you like this. Don't worry about me; just keep an eye out for Shinigami. They will come for Rukia," the woman replied.
There she went with that warning again. If Rukia's own sword was this considered about it, Ichigo was going to take the warning seriously. So as he packed his stuff, he made sure to go looking for Kon. The Mod-Soul protested at being popped out of his body, but Ichigo didn't have time for them.
Once he had pocketed the pill, Ichigo set out for school. As he walked along the sidewalks, he carefully kept an eye on the sky. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but who knew how long it would last. He was paying so much attention to the sky, he didn't notice when he reached the school. Until his 'friend' Keigo Asano decided to barge into his line of sight anyway.
"ICHIGOOO!" Keigo shouted, only to receive an elbow to his face.
"Morning Keigo," Ichigo replied, heading into the school where he felt at least somewhat secure.
The day went by fairly normally for Ichigo, though he noticed that Rukia was just as warily watching the skies as he was. It seemed like she didn't notice him doing it though, which showed that her Zanpakuto knew what it was talking about. After class ended, the two Shinigami, full and substitute, stood in the setting sun outside the school.
"Ichigo…I…" Rukia started, before stopping and fidgeting with her bag.
"Don't worry about it Rukia, I'll protect you like always," Ichigo said, giving his best guess as to what was worrying her. And if the way she shot her head up was any indication, he had hit the nail on the head.
"Wha?" Rukia asked quite eloquently, all things considered.
Ichigo just shrugged in response, "I can only assume that the Big Guy yesterday wasn't a normal occurrence. If your home has any brains they're probably sending someone to take you back."
Rukia still looked off balance, "You are likely right Ichigo…but how did you guess that? And I won't let you try and stop them."
"Lucky guess?" Ichigo tried, but just got a frown in response, "It makes sense. I doubt giving me your powers was a good thing, and taking Big Guy down probably drew a lot of attention on me. And what makes you think I'll just let them take you Rukia? Without even trying to explain why you had to give me your powers?"
Rukia looked ready to argue, but just sighed instead. She knew better than to try and convince Ichigo otherwise. She would just have to be more stealthy in her plan to sneak out of his house that night.
"Fine, we'll do this your way Ichigo," Rukia said, setting off for the Kurosaki Clinic.
Ichigo warily followed her. He knew that had been too easy, but he was just going to have to keep a close eye on Rukia now. What neither of them noticed was a slight twist in the air above the town. A glowing gateway appeared, depositing two Shinigami.
One was tall with spiky red hair held up in an oddly shaped pony-tail. The other was equally tall, though his hair was straight and black. Both of them looked to be on a mission, as the redhead pulled out a piece of paper and unfurled it.
"Capture mission…take Rukia Kuchiki of Squad 13, dead or alive," the Shinigami read, "Seems a bit harsh to me."
His companion said nothing, merely stood in place. The redhead sighed slightly, before joining his Captain. The two of them would wait until Rukia showed herself, which she was bound to do at some point. Both of them knew the young Kuchiki better than anyone, and they knew it was only a matter of time till she ran from whatever human had taken her powers.
It was in her noble blood after all. Consorting with a human…inconceivable. She would come running back to the Soul Society the moment she sensed the pair. They were sure of it.
"Rukia! I swear…I leave her alone for 15 freaking minutes while I take a shower and she runs off on me…" Ichigo complained to himself as he ran along in his soul-form, "RUKIA!"
Ichigo didn't know when exactly Rukia had left, or how she had snuck out without him or her Zanpakuto noticing. All he did know was that he had to find her before her comrades did. Or he would probably never see her again, and her Zanpakuto had made quite clear that was A. Bad. Thing.
"Ichigo…I don't know what will happen if we are separated from Rukia for an extended period of time. Your power continues to grow, but it is highly unstable with me in here. It is entirely possible that either it absorbs me, or I absorb it and become YOUR Zanpakuto. We cannot let that happen," the woman reminded him.
"I know…trust me," Ichigo replied, speeding up his running pace.
After running for a few more minutes, even Ichigo's rather horrid reiatsu sensory abilities began to pick up something in front of him. Quickly ducking out of sight, he saw a tall Shinigami, taller even than Ichigo himself, standing in front of Rukia. Said girl was holding her arm, and Ichigo could see blood dripping through her fingers and down her face. That made him angrier than he had been expecting, thinking thoughts along the line of 'how dare he hurt Rukia!'
Of course, it was nothing compared to what his friend's Zanpakuto was thinking though.
"RENJI ABARAI HOW DARE YOU HURT RUKIA!" the woman practically screeched in Ichigo's head.
Shaking his head slightly, Ichigo asked the obvious question, "You know him?"
Even if he couldn't see her, Ichigo could feel the struggle that the woman went through to calm herself, "That is Renji Abarai. He was Rukia's best friend for years. This must be some karmic joke…making him be the one to take Rukia in…"
Ichigo frowned at that, but he knew that he couldn't let Renji take Rukia. But Ichigo had been so focused on Rukia, that he didn't notice Uryu laying on the ground in a pool of blood. When he did notice, Ichigo saw Renji raise his blade to bring it down on the helpless Quincy.
He never had the chance though, as Ichigo brought his own supersized Zanpakuto down on the ground where Renji had been standing, making a decent sized crater. Renji had dodged however, and was now sitting on a fence staring curiously at Ichigo.
"A Shinigami? What Squad are you from kid?" Renji asked, assuming Ichigo was from his own people, attack or no attack.
Ichigo just stood up and balanced his…no Rukia's…blade on his shoulders, "I'm not from one of your Squads. Not that I would want to be either Abarai, if they make you attack your best friend like that."
Both Renji and Rukia shot shocked looks at Ichigo at that sentence. Renji for fairly obvious reasons, Rukia because she couldn't believe her ears. She had never told Ichigo about Renji…ever. How could he know about him?
"So you know me eh Carrot Top? If you aren't a member of the Gotei 13…you must be the human who stole Rukia's powers. Explains that monster of a Zanpakuto you're using too," Renji taunted, "After all, only a novice would let their power leak out that much."
Ichigo's eye twitched, and the woman's twitched in unison inside his inner world. But before either could react, Renji was on top of Ichigo, swinging his standard sized Katana at a speed that Ichigo was hard-pressed to match. The most he could do was bring his oversized blade up and use its sheer size to keep Renji from hitting any parts of his body.
Eventually the redhead jumped back, and Ichigo saw this as an opening. He swung his blade forward, but instead of hitting Renji, the redhead flipped over Ichigo's head, his silver blade a blur as it carved into the teens shoulder. Ichigo collapsed to his knees, putting a hand to the bleeding wound.
As for Renji, he stood up slowly behind Ichigo, not even winded, "Honestly kid, not only is your sword ridiculously oversized, you don't even know how to use the thing. You could never hope to touch a true Shinigami lik…"
Before Renji could finish though, he felt a sharp pain on his chin. When he reached a hand up, he felt blood flowing down it, as Ichigo stood up with a pain filled grin on his face. He was still holding his shoulder with one hand, but the other hand was gripping the Zanpakuto in it, a small amount of blood on the blade.
"I'm sorry, you were saying something about not being able to touch you?" Ichigo cockily shot back.
"Why you lit…" Renji started, before the man that Ichigo hadn't noticed until now interrupted him.
Turning his head, Ichigo saw a tall man with long black hair. He didn't recognize him, but Rukia's Zanpakuto certainly did. He felt actual…fear…from her for the first time.
"Byakuya Kuchiki…why did they send him too…" the woman said, the fear filling her voice.
Ichigo didn't know what to say to that, until the man's last name registered, "Wait…Kuchiki? He's related to Rukia?"
The woman nodded even if Ichigo couldn't see it, "Her adoptive brother…it is thanks to him that Rukia is in the Kuchiki Clan in the first place. But why would they send both him and Renji to take her back. Were they hoping that she would willingly go back with her best friend and brother as escorts?"
Ichigo was going to reply, but Renji got his attention again.
"Hey, carrot top! What's the name of your Zanpakuto?!" the redhead shouted.
"I don't know. I'm using Rukia's Zanpakuto, not my own," Ichigo shot back.
If Renji noticed Ichigo saying he had his own, it was pushed under anger at the rest of Ichigo's sentence, "Not only do you take her power…but you took her Zanpakuto and are using it against us? Well then…let me show you my blade. Roar, Zabimaru!"
With that shout, Renji's standard katana started to glow a bright red, before it started to morph its shape. Where it had once been an average blade, it was now a segmented monstrosity, aiming right at Ichigo. Before the teen could react, Renji had launched himself into the air.
Ichigo brought his blade up, expecting to block a downward swing from his enemy. But Renji instead swung his blade forward, the weapon splitting into bladed segments. Ichigo wasn't expecting this, and the segments carved into his uninjured shoulder, and along the back end of his blade.
Ichigo felt sharp, rending pain as the blade tore through his shoulder, leaving a massive bloody gash. His blade clattered to the ground, before Ichigo himself fell to his knees. The teen was in shock, both mentally and physically. No Hollow short of Grand Fisher had ever defeated him so effortlessly. And even the monster that had murdered his mother had more trouble than this.
As Ichigo tried to regain his wits, Renji began to taunt him again, "Told you that you never stood a chance kid. A Zanpakuto changes according to the power of its wielder. How do you like mine?"
Ichigo didn't answer of course, if he was even capable of answering at this point. Rukia though, was staring in dismay at her two friends. One she had known almost her whole life, but had attacked her, Uryu, and now Ichigo. Leaving all of them with various degrees of injuries. And the other…who had saved her life on more occasions then she cared to count. And had been hurt trying to save her once again.
Ichigo…thank you for at least trying. But I won't let you kill yourself trying to save me. Run Ichigo… "RUN" Rukia shouted, jumping onto Renji's arm, and distracting the redhead.
"What are you doing Rukia?! You're just making things worse!" Renji shouted, trying to toss Rukia off his arm.
"Run Ichigo, run far away from here!" Rukia shouted again, trying to talk some sense into Ichigo.
But Ichigo heard neither of them. He heard nothing except for roaring wind, and felt nothing except snow on his face.
"I'm back in here?" the teen asked, seeing that he was on the building again.
"Yes you are Ichigo. I am sorry I couldn't do more to help you," the woman said, appearing behind him.
Ichigo turned around and gave her a serious look, "Don't blame yourself. I wasn't expecting his Zanpakuto to do that."
The woman merely shook her head, "Nonetheless, I should have been able to do more. Ichigo…I can attempt to tell you my name again. But if you hear it…I have no idea what will happen. I may become bonded to your soul and overtake your own Zanpakuto, essentially killing him in his sleep. Or I may destroy your soul's balance…and God only knows what that would do. Do you want to take the risk? My power is enough to defeat Renji…but I don't know what it will do to you."
Ichigo thought over what she had said. The risk to his body and soul were immense. There was no denying that fact. However…he couldn't bring himself to care. He knew he was dead anyway if he couldn't defeat Renji, and so was Rukia. So with a fierce scowl etched on his face, Ichigo looked into the blue eyes of the woman in front of him.
"Do it," he said curtly.
The woman nodded just as curtly, "My name is…"
While Ichigo was having this internal discussion, Renji had finally managed to throw Rukia off his arm. He turned to Ichigo, just in time to see the teen pick up his discarded blade. Renji let a feral grin onto his face at that. He loved the thrill of battle, and it looked like Ichigo wasn't out for the count quite yet.
"Looks like you still have some fight in you after all kid. Good…it's no fun slaughtering a helpless enemy. Come at me, and die with your blade swinging," Renji said, raising Zabimaru.
However, he almost didn't hear the word Ichigo spoke under his breath. Rukia however, heard it quite clearly. And she let out a gasp of shock at what she heard.
"Dance," Ichigo said softly, as a flare of white reiatsu flashed around his body, tangling in brilliant streams of light that pushed Renji back slightly, "Sode no Shirayuki!"
When the light cleared, Ichigo was no longer holding the oversized katana that had become so familiar to Rukia. Instead, it was an even more familiar blade, her Shikai. The only difference was the length of the blade, and the ribbon. The blade was nearly the length of Ichigo's old sword, and the ribbon wrapped around his arm.
Renji looked between Ichigo and Rukia, seemingly at a loss as to what was happening. That was until Ichigo launched at him anyway. Renji barely brought Zabimaru up in time to block the fierce attack. And faster than he could follow, Ichigo shot past him, and this time Renji wasn't able to block.
He felt the icy bite of Shirayuki cutting through his shoulder, and spun around trying to track Ichigo despite that. However, the teen was moving at a speed that even Renji would be hard pressed to match, without his limiter.
"What's the matter Renji? Can't keep up anymore?" Ichigo taunted this time, "I thought you were oh so superior to me!"
With that shout, Ichigo lunched forward and swung Shirayuki up towards Renji's face. The redhead barely managed to intersect his own blade in time, and the impact of the blow knocked him back. When Renji finally skidded to a halt, his mask shattered, leaving a bloody scrape where it had cracked. The pure force behind Ichigo's blow had knocked Zabmiaru into Renji's face, shattering the mask.
And Ichigo wasn't finished either, as he jumped up above Renji, ready to make a finishing blow.
"It's over Renji!" Ichigo shouted, Renji not being able to move under the crushing power of Ichigo's reiatsu.
But instead of cutting into Renji, Ichigo ended up holding a stump of the white blade he had been using. Accompanying that was a mental scream of pain from Shirayuki. Looking around to figure out what had happened, Ichigo saw Byakuya Kuchiki holding half of the elegant white blade in his hand.
"What…how did he do that…without even…" Ichigo couldn't believe his eyes.
But as he saw Byakuya drop the shattered blade, and move towards his own weapon, Ichigo spun around fully, determined to fight even with the stump of a blade in his hands. But Byakuya vanished from sight, or at least from Ichigo's sight.
Shirayuki perfectly saw Byakuya move, and knew what was coming. So with a muttered apology for Ichigo's still dormant Zanpakuto, she took control over specific muscles on Ichigo's body, and moved it ever so slightly to the side. Even Byakuya didn't notice the change, as he drove his blade into Ichigo's back.
Shiryuki's timely intervention meant that Byakuya missed his intended target by the barest of margins. Knowing that such a simple ruse wouldn't work, Shirayuki started to suppress both her own power, and Ichigo's, even though it pained her to do so. She only left enough out to twitch the teen's body once more when Byakuya went for his second strike.
With that done, the female spirit receded from view. Ichigo would need her help still, and she couldn't afford for herself or his power to be spotted. Thus, she missed the drama unfolding around the group. Ichigo however, was fully lucid.
"Don't think I'm dead yet…and who do I look like?" Ichigo asked, biting out the words past the immense pain in his chest as he grabbed Byakuya's robe.
The Noble sent a disdainful glare down on Ichigo, "If you want to keep that hand, I would suggest you let go boy."
Ichigo just coughed slightly before grinning, "I'm sorry…I can't hear you. What did you say?"
Byakuya looked ready to go through on his threat, before Rukia ran forward and kicked Ichigo's hand out of the way. Ichigo looked shocked by this, but Rukia refused to look him in the eyes.
"Come on brother…I will go back with you to Soul Society. This human will soon die, and I have seen the error of my ways," Rukia said in an emotionless tone.
"Rukia…why…" Ichigo started, before Renji stepped on top of him.
"Give it up kid, you'll just die quicker moving around like that. Just be quiet and you might survive to live a normal life," Renji said, before walking up to the departing group.
"And don't follow me Ichigo…or I'll…I'll…I'll never be able to forgive you!" Rukia added, as a glowing gate opened in front of the group. The last thing Ichigo saw was Rukia's tear streaked face as the gate closed on it.
That sight nearly broke the young man, as he screamed his frustrations at the heavens. That used up most of his remaining energy…and Ichigo started to slowly fade away. He didn't even notice a man walking up to kneel next to him…
Thoughts? Comments? Should I just shoot my muse and get a new one? I do hope you all enjoyed it though...I did put a LOT of work into making this the best I could...