Title: Turnabout
Rating: T
Bleach and all associated characters, settings, concepts, etc. within this story do not belong to me.
Warning: Getting closer…

Please read and review!

Rukongai: Starrk

Ritoshin was blasted away from his victim so hard he became airborne. He struck the opposite wall of the alley with a harsh *crack*, feeling the wall behind him crunch and crumble from the force of the blow. His victim curled around herself on the ground, arms over her head and face to provide whatever meager protection she could from the new, unknown threat.

As the dust cleared in the center of the alley, the apparent epicenter of the blast, a figure materialized out of the gloom.

A giant wolf formed of black shadow and blue light stood between them in what had been empty space, nearly filling the alley. Its silhouette was illuminated by a nimbus of energy, an eerie electric glow that surrounded it and brightened the previously twilit street. The features of its body blended together, rippling and moving indistinctly almost like liquid as blue lightning chased itself over the surface, settling into consistent streams of flame along its spine, hackles, and ankles.

It was standing with all four legs planted firmly in the direction of the bandit with its head down and eyes closed.

"What…?" Ritoshin rasped, prying himself out of the wall.

As soon as he spoke, the creature's eyes snapped open, fixing unerringly on the bandit. They were the deep blue-grey of tempered steel and fully awake and aware. It stared at him for a moment then growled deep in its throat, baring sharp white teeth. Instead of heeding the warning, the bandit snarled and lashed out with his hook, attempting to spear the wolf through the eye.

It dodged him easily and then took a deep breath. Light sparked over its fur, streams of lightning flowing up its back and flanks to the mouth, where it coalesced into a ball of bright blue energy. By the time the animal had completed its inhale, the ball was the size of a baseball and pulsing steadily, dangerously stronger.

For a split second, everything was still and silent.

Then the ball of energy blasted forward, slamming into Ritoshin's chest and smashing him through the wall of the alley …and the building behind it. The man gave a gurgling cry when the energy hit, cut off by the first impact. By the time he fell to the ground, he was silent and completely still. The wall he'd been standing in front of was reduced to rubble along with the two behind it.

The girl sat on the ground where she'd been thrown, completely stunned and just barely beginning to comprehend that she'd been rescued. When the beast turned towards her, staring down with blue lightning still seeping from between its teeth, she whimpered and cowered, terrified that she'd suffer the same fate as Jalk.

In one step it was hovering above her and when it leaned down, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, expecting to die. For a brief second, she could feel its breath ruffling her hair from mere inches away. There was a slight, rough weight on her forehead- its nose? Then it was gone.

When she opened her eyes, she was alone save for the ominously motionless form of Ritoshin. There was no sign of the wolf or the blue light. Without a second thought, she jumped up, grabbed the stolen pack, and darted away.

The girl fled as fast as she could, for once not even pausing to lament her lack of home and family at the edge of the village. Instead, she made a beeline for the trees beyond the border where she normally spent her nights. She had no explanation for what had taken place in the alley but for now she was more interested in escape. Although she knew the wolf was gone and couldn't see it on her trail, she could sense its presence all around. It wasn't hurting her (not yet), but she knew it could if it wanted to.

Finally reaching the base of her favorite sleeping tree, she paused, panting heavily from exertion, and put her back to its trunk to stare out into the quiet forest.

There was nothing there.

Maybe…it was all her imagination?

After five minutes, she'd begun to calm down and after ten she was feeling silly. Whatever it was, it was gone and so was the - *shudder* - bandit.

"Feh!" Her voice was loud, but it stabilized her, bringing her the rest of the way back to reality. "Pull yourself together, idiot!"

Suddenly, the prickling sensation of being watched raced up the back of her neck and she whirled, expecting to see the wolf.


"Hey, whoever you are! I'm not scared of you! C'mon, show yourself!"

Again, nothing. The feeling of being observed receded slightly and she scowled, bravado gradually returning. There probably wasn't anyone there, but if there WAS then it was scared of a child. So It couldn't be THAT threatening.

With that thought firmly in place, the green-haired girl secured the pilfered package to her back and clambered into the tree, only stopping once she'd reached her sleeping perch – a broad fork about a third of the way up, big enough to comfortably accommodate her and concealed from passersby by a thick shield of green foliage. Once situated, she immediately felt more secure and able to relax. After a few minutes, the adrenaline high wore off and her limbs began to shake from withdrawal and fatigue. Her stomach growled angrily, reminding her that she hadn't eaten in days.

Remembering the fruits of her labor (and was that only thirty minutes ago?), she yanked the bag around and ripped it open, riffling through the contents enthusiastically.

C'mon, Food… food food…food…Food! Ha, yes!

She pulled a half-full bag of candy out of a side pocket and munched happily (and sparingly) as she portioned the rest of the loot. Most was wrinkled travel clothes but there were two heavy pouches of coins at the very bottom along with the half-empty snack bag. Nothing personal…he must have kept everything else in his clothes. Even without much food, it was a good haul. The items could be useful and if she was careful and nothing got stolen she could pawn them for sustenance later.

Unfortunately, she wasn't much one for 'waiting' and she'd been hoping for instant gratification. In that respect, the bag was a huge disappointment.

Hungry, dissatisfied, and exhausted, she drifted off to sleep.

She opened her eyes to silence.

For a moment, she did not understand. Even at night, Rukongai was never completely quiet – wind, human activity, small creatures in the undergrowth, the creaking of the trees…

But that was absent here.

All around her was stone: walls, floor, and far far above, the ceiling. There was a soft ambient blue glow centered somewhere nearby on floor level; it cast strange shadows and left most of the cavern in inky darkness. When she took an experimental few steps forward, she realized the 'wall' was actually a giant pillar, one of many growing out of the floor and creating a labyrinth of passages.

The sight lit a spark of recognition somewhere deep in the back of her mind.

I must be dreaming. She traced one hand over the stone, eying a bright blue vein of mineral in the rock which tracked down towards the floor and away. Almost unconsciously, she followed.

The thin line gradually widened and brightened as she progressed, becoming imbued with the same blue glow that lit the chamber. But as the light grew more intense, she realized that it was pulsing in slow, regular bursts, like a heartbeat. And that she was getting closer to the source.

Her steps faltered, but she shook it off. This was her dream. She wasn't going to be scared!

Despite her bluster, when the now shining blue stone trailed into the biggest clearing so far, she hesitated. There was something at the other side, something big and breathing that the light was leading her to.

"Hello?" She hated how weak her voice sounded.

It didn't move.



"Hey!" She stomped forward, scowling. If he was going to interrupt her dream, then he'd better not ignore her!

"HEY!" when she was a few meters away, she stumbled to a halt, eyes saucer-wide now that she could see the creature.

The appearance was different, a physical animal rather than light and shadow, but she knew without a doubt that this was the wolf that saved her life.

Fast asleep and lying sprawled on his stomach, he was twice as long as she was tall, bigger than a horse, with dinner-plate sized paws. What she could see of his fur was mostly dark black-brown, but hints of grey and white laced through his legs, hackles, ruff, and face. Flames of blue light, the same color as the stone she'd been following, danced over his coat, painting patterns and seeming to surround him with a soft blue aura.

Entranced, she reached out and tried to touch one of the flames. It tickled against her skin and then dissipated, leaving her with a handful of thick, coarse fur. She ran her fingers through the dark overcoat, burying them deep until she could feel the soft undercoat curling around her fingers.

A deep grumble brought her back to reality and her eyes widened when the beast lifted its head and peered over its shoulder at her.

Shit. It's going to eat me.

But the blue-grey eyes were not those of a wolf…they were human. They blinked and then widened, looking as shocked as she felt. Somehow she wasn't surprised when it spoke.


Recognition. He knew her.

"Is that my name?"

Hope fluttered in her chest. She'd been looking for someone, knew there was something missing…could it be…?

He blinked and nosed her gently, his huge head pushing her back a step, but there was nothing hostile in the gesture and she buried her hands in the fur of his neck with a desperation born from loneliness, overcoming any lingering fear. He didn't pull away and the expression in his eyes was understanding and grateful. Apparently he was lonely too.

"You don't remember?"

"I don't know anything."

There was a red flame marking across his left eye, she realized, starting at the center of his forehead with the flames extending to the base of his ear. The longer she spent in his presence, the more familiar he felt.

"…Oh. You don't remember me?" There was such sadness and loss in those words that so mirrored what she'd felt over the past few months that she hated to disappoint him, but…



"You remember me? Lilynette…is that my name?"

He blinked and nodded. "Lilynette Gingerbuck."

She sat down hard, relief making her lightheaded. She'd never really known what she was searching for but the feeling of having found it was intense. And she knew he was telling the truth, she could feel it in her heart.

"Yeah…yeah, that's it! My name is Lilynette." She tested it on her tongue and smiled. "Lilynette."

"You really didn't remember." His voice was thoughtful.

"Nope." She grinned at the wolf, then cocked her head. "What's your name?"

"It's…" His voice faded away, as if he was suddenly speaking under water. All she could hear was a series of garbled, indistinct syllables, even though he was still right next to her.

She stared at him, confused. "What?"

"My name is-." The same thing happened.

She scowled. "If you don't want me to know, then just say it!"

His ears drooped slightly and he gave a low sigh. "I did say it. If you couldn't hear it…" He shrugged. "Maybe it's because you don't remember anything."

"Oh." An awkward silence fell. She suddenly felt bad; he knew her (had he been waiting, like she had?), but she didn't even remember him.

"Are you alright?" he broke the silence to nose at her again, searching for wounds.

"Eh?" she pushed his nose away with an embarrassed scowl. "I'm fine! I can take care of myself."

His mouth turned down in a frown. "Hn. Then who was that man when I first appeared?"

Her bravado immediately failed and she curled closer to his side, burying both hands in his fur. In this place with the wolf, the real world felt so far away…for a moment, she'd forgotten.

"You saved me." She whispered.

"Mhm. Are you alright?"

"Yeah." She realized her tugging must be hurting him and let go, petting the fur back into place and refusing to look him in the eye. "Did you…Is the bandit…dead?"

He shrugged. "Probably."

She wasn't sure how to take that. He'd killed someone. But she was no stranger to death and he had done it to protect her. Besides, whatever moral objection she might have had was buried in a rush of intense relief: that monster was gone, for good. It said a lot that she was talking about the man rather than the wolf.

Speaking of which…the creature observed her changing expression with placid, mournful eyes. "I won't hurt you."

"I'm not scared!" She was surprised to find that she meant it; despite his fearsome appearance, she felt safer in his presence than she ever had in the real world.

"I never said you were."

"Hmph." She flounced back with a huff. Gaze redirected, she found herself staring out into the stone pillars. "What is this place?"

"It's your mind."



"Huh." She leaned back, using his side as a pillow and gazing up towards the ceiling, trying to fathom the darker corners. This was her mind? After a moment of staring, her eyes unfocused and she yawned.

The wolf yawned in response and laid his head down; she could feel his breathing slow and his heartbeat even out. It didn't feel dismissive or insulting; rather, it was comforting. She relaxed, unconsciously matching his breathing pattern and slowly slipping into a deep sleep, reveling in the feeling of being not alone.

When she opened her eyes in the real world the next day, she felt warm and happy, refreshed and complete. She was still hungry but the need for family and the feeling of being bereft had faded.

The wolf was still there, a comforting presence in the back of her mind.

Starrk didn't understand what had happened. One moment he was insubstantial and exhausted; donating the last of his energy (and life) to making sure Lilynette survived safely. He'd expected to cease to exist and he'd thought it worked.

The next moment (or what seemed like it) he was being rudely woken up, inundated with Lilynette's terror and the certainty that he was needed. There was never any question of ignoring it, even though his mind was still muddled and barely coherent. With a thought of intent, as natural as breathing, he was by her side and facing down her attacker.

It was his younger half's drastically changed appearance that reminded him of what had happened and her reaction clued him in that something even more significant than physical traits and species had changed.

She didn't know him.

He tried to touch her to make sure she was okay and remind her of their connection, but as soon as they came in contact whatever he'd done to manifest undid itself and he found himself standing in a cavern with tendrils of light racing through the stone under his paws and slowly illuminating the massive chamber.

A small part of his mind monitored Lilynette, making sure she was still safe and trying to figure out where she was and what was going on, but since she was no longer in distress he was mostly concerned with where he was. The sense of his other half was strong all around him, more than if he'd been standing right next to her, and there was a strange…unreality to the setting. He could feel the larger world beyond the darkness, something concrete and real happening just beyond the reach of his senses.

It didn't take long for him to put two and two together (combined with what he'd sensed while being recombined and reborn), and realize he was confined within Lilynette's soul.


Well, okay. He could live with that.

As he traversed the stone floors, watching with mild interest as blue light bloomed from the stone beneath his feet, lighting up giant pillars and occasionally revealing bare branches overhead, he realized there was something very familiar about the setting. If you took out the blue veins in the rock and the light they contained and added hungry moaning in the distance alongside hundreds of hunger-maddened hollows, it would be identical to the Menos Forest.

Which meant...even though Lilynette had lost her memories, some aspect of her time as a hollow remained in her subconscious. It was both reassuring (maybe her memories of him were still there somewhere) and worrying (he'd sacrificed everything so that she would have a fresh start). However, there was nothing he could do about it now.

When she visited him in her dreams, he was glad to see her. It was a harsh blow when she didn't recognize him or know his name, (they'd been everything to each other for so long, and she didn't remember a second of it) but her welcome warmed his heart (he had a heart now; his hollow hole was gone). Her personality was still the same and he knew her drive to succeed and grow would serve her well.

It wasn't the way he'd expected, but his endeavor had been successful.

His partner woke up the next morning in the real world, away from his side where she'd fallen asleep, and immediately scrambled to see if he was still there. In response, he sent her a wave of reassurance through their bond and felt her settle down, a lightness to her mind that hadn't been there the night before.

He was nothing if not easygoing and adaptable. If Lilynette was happy, he was satisfied.

The next couple months saw a drastic change in Lilynette's fortune.

Having a companion that wouldn't (and couldn't) leave decreased the desperation that had been driving her to such lengths to find family. In fact, the wolf's presence slotted so neatly into the empty hole in her soul that she began to question whether she even wanted anyone else. Especially since so many of the other citizens of Rukongai had shunned her when she needed their help and ignored her when she was in distress. (The wolf hadn't. He was willing to help her no matter what!)

And he was a stabilizing presence, too. When she tried to take stupid risks (which she'd done plenty of times before), he spoke up and made her face the potential consequences. If she got in trouble, he helped her keep her head straight and get out safely. He was smart, calm, and rational, but not domineering or controlling. She could do without his laziness (nine times out of ten, she had to wake him up to talk to him) but since he was in her head, most of the time she couldn't even tell (and as such didn't care) what he was doing.

With him at her back, she finally began to get a handle on her new life. She was still hungry but most of her other problems had faded.

Food was now the big issue and there was nothing the wolf could do to help. It took a week and a half before Lilynette summoned enough bravery to return to Kiko's bar and face its clientele (more bandits) but eventually her growling stomach forced her back to work. The lesson she'd learned from the encounter with Ritoshin never left her mind and Lilynette was much more careful with her targets; she kept a whether eye out for any other bandit 'lords'. Because theft was still her only source of food and income, she devoted herself full time to figuring out how to become the best petty crook in the district (if she had been better in the past, Jalk never would have caught her, and if she GOT better, no one would catch her in the future). She taught herself (with a little advice from her wolf) to pick the best marks, make the quietest approach, grab the loot before the other thieves, outrun and outsmart pursuers, etc.

Over the next couple of months, her days settled into a comfortable routine and began to blend together. As she slowly became more adept at her vocation, food became easier to acquire and her greatest worry evolved from 'starving' to 'boredom'. When she could feed herself on only two or three marks a day, she was left with plenty of free time and nothing to fill it. Even the wolf was useless in that regard; he either talked about things she didn't care about or slept. He was a great listener, but she didn't have anything interesting to say either.

And then a shinigami wandered into District 62.


Lilynette eyed the black-clad traveler with keen interest from her usual scouting perch in the shadows. She didn't recognize the clothes, but a uniform meant a job which meant wages which meant food.

Which meant a target.

And judging by the road-weary expression and tired eyes, an easy one.

She was wrong.

"So…what's your name?" The older woman smiled tiredly at her and Lilynette, perched nervously across the table (sans loot) where she'd been directed after being caught just eyed her in disbelief, trying not to flinch when her ex-target's hand brushed against the katana at her side.


"Your name?"


"Hello, Lilynette. I'm Mitsu."


"Yes, well, nice to meet you." Mitsu's smile became strained as the little thief simply stared blankly, but she continued regardless. "Do you live here?"


"Oh good! Maybe you'll be able to help me." So far her recruitment drive had been fruitless and she didn't have much hope that this (her last stop) would be any different, but maybe…

"Yeah?" The girl's eyes sharpened and narrowed. "What'll ya give me?"

A true child of Rukongai. Bribes were the currency of the road out here. Unfortunately, Mitsu didn't have much left to trade after her long journey from Sereitei. She emptied the contents of her pockets on the table with little enthusiasm; besides her cheap trail mix (it kept her full and fit even if it didn't taste very good), all she had left were two bronze coins, not nearly enough to pay an informant.

"Food! I want the food." Lilynette nearly yelped.

"Really?" the shinigami's eyebrows jumped in surprise. Food was really only useful to shinigami and souls with high reiatsu…oh. Oh!

This time, her smile was more genuine. "Of course. How 'bout we share?"


The green-haired child immediately dug in, ripping open the bag and pouring half of the contents into her mouth at once. It was tragic to see someone so young forced to go hungry, but the reaction sealed Mitsu's decision.

"Lilynette, have you ever heard of the Spiritual Arts Academy?"

"Mph?" Mouth full of trail mix and cheeks puffed out like a squirrel, Lilynette just eyed her critically.

"It's also known as the Shinigami Academy. The classes cover a variety of subjects ranging from reading and writing to kido and swordsmanship. Qualifying applicants are well taken care of, provided with housing, clothing, books, food…"

The girl blinked and gave a heavy swallow, then turned a speculative look on her benefactor.

"I'm listening."

"HEY! Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey-!"

Starrk groaned at the rude wake up call, feeling Lilynette bouncing on his back. Some things never changed.



He mumbled and closed his eyes.

"I'm going to be a shinigami!"

Slate blue eyes snapped back open, suddenly wide awake with an expression fixed somewhere between bewildered and horrified.


Author's Notes:

Now: "G'bye Jalk!"

And good riddance. Originally I was going to leave him alive because Starrk doesn't like killing, but considering what the bandit tried to do to Lilynette, I think he'd make an exception.

Unfortunately, I found yet another role that no canon characters could fill. So, say hello to Mitsu! I've no idea if she'll appear again. Chances are not, but it's possible. I wrote a series of introductory/profile paragraphs for her but cut them from the final draft of the chapter because they were unnecessary to the plot. All you really need to know is that she's a recruiter looking for Rukongai souls with high reiatsu to become shinigami.

This is probably the last chapter that will be in Lilynette's POV. From here on out, the story is going to shift to follow Starrk's trials and tribulations as a zanpakuto. Next chapter, we'll finally start running into named characters and joining the plot of Muramasa's arc.

(Also, please let me know if you see any formatting errors. FFnet is randomly deleting spaces and line breaks again.)

Reviewer Questions:

Question: Starrk's a wolf? What gives?
Answer: Many zanpakuto appear as animals or drastically modified humans in their non-zanpakuto-arc forms. Once Muramasa 'releases' them, they take on a more human appearance which is referred to as their 'true forms'. It's all very sketchy and loose with canon. I'll discuss it more in depth when Starrk is learning about his abilities.

Question: Why couldn't Lilynette hear Starrk's name?
Answer: Because she hasn't unlocked her zanpakuto yet. If you recall the meetings between Zangetsu & Ichigo and Hyorinmaru & Toshiro, learning the name of your sword is a big deal and rarely comes easily.

Please Review & let me know what you think!

Reviews are a great source of encouragement and inspiration – I'm always happy to hear your input!