Ichigo knew where he was. His inner world looked like it always did, with the buildings sideways and the sky clear of rain.
A pang of sadness came to him, and he noticed that the clouds started to gather around him.
"Whatcha so sad for King?" smirked a familiar hollow.
"Because I lost you. Both of you. Never thought I would say this, but I would be happy to hear your voices again, even yours Shirosaki."
Ichigo, have you not noticed?
"You didn't even notice that we came back? How mean King!"
"Okay, this has to be a dream. Nel never mentioned sensing my powers coming back."
She didn't want to bring your hopes up in case she was wrong. It appears that this world has reset your soul back to when you were ten, reversing the damage caused by using Mugetsu. Your powers have been coming back steadily since you finally got over your depression of being useless.
Ichigo's eyes widened. His powers had been given back?
"Beats us. All we know is that we remember everything and we woke up right as the rain clouds were goin' away. Took us a while to find out that your powers were being returned by somethin'."
Without warning, a spirit appeared in his world.
Greetings, Ichigo Kurosaki. I must admit, your world is more interesting than most. And it took the combined efforts of several Legendaries to restore your gift. If you help us save this world from those people, you may consider us even.
The being before them looked like some sort of twisted white horse.
"Who are you?"
I am Arceus. Consider yourself lucky that so many of them owe me debts, because it took some doing to restore those powers of yours. Though I must admit, they are the most interesting ones I have ever seen.
"Can I know who to thank for bringing them back?"
Dialga, to reset the body. Victini, for the reserves. Cresselia and Darkrai for the shape of the energy. Zerkrom,Reshiram and Kyurem for the balance of opposing energy. Azelf, Mesprit and Uxle to restore the faith in yourself. Shaymin, to restore the life you had lost. And it took quite a few Unown to put it all together.
Arceus noted his surprise. So many legends came together to save him. And they didn't even know his name.
While Dialga is Master of Time, it did take several months for us to see your soul and agree that it was worth the effort to restore those powers. You truly live up to your name as One Who Protects, Kurosaki Ichigo. Perhaps you can help save this world of ours.
Ichigo bowed to the Pokémon, as did Zangetsu and Shirosaki. It was only because he had brought together all the others that Ichigo had been spared. Without him tying them together, the other two would die.
Arceus vanished as easily as he had appeared. He had delivered the message that he wanted to give. Only time would tell if restoring Ichigo's powers would heal the world...or break it.
Ichigo awoke with a start, wondering if it had all be a dream. Hearing snoring when he had gotten his own room disproved that assumption, since he would recognize Shiro's tone anywhere.
He felt joy as he realized that he would no longer be useless, that he could help his friends and not have to rely solely on his team to fight.
That didn't mean he was ready to head back home and start killing hollows again.
For the first time since he first met Rukia, he had a choice in what to do with his life. He felt a familiar thrill from battling with his Pokémon partners, as he had sparring with Ikkaku, Kenpachi and Renji. And for once the world wasn't at stake, so he could actually enjoy fighting for the sake of fighting.
He lay down and stared at the moon. He felt...content.
Despite the request Arceus made of him, he didn't feel as if the world were on his shoulders alone.
And that made him happy. That he could get strong at his own pace, training Ash to become a good man and helping Nel with her own problems. She was enjoying this world just as much as he was, he could tell. She wasn't being forced to kill, even if she had already made peace with that part of herself.
So yes, Ichigo fully planned to enjoy himself while he figured out what Arceus had asked him to do in return for giving him his powers back. Somehow, he had a bad feeling that it had something to do with the trio of idiots that kept harassing them. Despite being thieves, they weren't actually cruel. They clearly cared about their Pokémon, even if they weren't able to show it on the outside.
Nel was excited. Not only was Ichigo back to his old self, but it was her turn to fight the next Gym Leader, as per the agreement between them.
She could tell Ichigo was back to the way he had been when they first met, and that he was actually happy now. Occasionally he would get an odd look in his eye, as if speaking to someone they couldn't hear, but she knew he was probably talking to his zanpakuto or hollow.
Probably Shirosaki. From what she heard of Zangetsu he wasn't much of a talker to begin with.
Later that night, while they rested in the wild, she posed a question to Ichigo.
"I wonder if Zanny or Shiro could come out to play? I mean inner worlds are generally really boring, even if what you said about yours is true."
"...I have no idea. Plus there is the fact that I don't know if I can trust Shiro not to go on a sugar-rush and cause damage and make me pay for it."
Nel giggled, as she could see that happening. From what Ichigo told her of his hollow self, Shiro was like her and Yachiru. Absolute demons when hyper and on copious amounts of sugar.
Ichigo had literally banned all forms of sugar in his inner world from Shirosaki...and any alcohol from Zangetsu who was apparently a very mopy drunk.
The only time he relented on the latter was when Shiro got out of hand and it was the only way Zangetsu would let him use Bankai. Then his sword would get more plastered than Rangiku ever could, pass out, and wake up a week later with the mother of all hangovers and try to kill Shirosaki.
Usually with Ichigo cheering him on, as when Zangetsu gets a hangover, he does too.
"Yes, but eventually your team will have to meet with them, if only so you know they won't freak out."
Ichigo rubbed the back of his head.
"You may be right. How did Yume react to the fact you're a ghost as well?"
"She quickly realized there was a reason why we could understand each other so well. We just match," said Nel happily.
Ichigo had learned quickly that trying to translate what the two were saying was an exercise in futility, and the only thing you would get was a massive headache.
The same went for her other Pokémon. Along the way to Cerulean, Nel had caught three other Pokémon. She now had a Goldeen (where she got that he didn't want to think about...) a Pikachu (female, and Ash's mouse wouldn't even look at her) and a purple rat.
She had named the Pikachu Tia (after the only other female Espada) which had Ichigo snort in amusement, because as far as he could recall, Tia Harribel was a blond, and she was a shark. The Goldeen Nami (apparently Urahara had shown her the One Piece manga) and the Rattata Violet.
They were going to make a side trip to the inventor of the Pokémon storage system, Bill, because Oak had called him twice and not heard a word from the man.
Ichigo was the one to hear the sound of someone screaming for help. A quick look showed him what the problem was.
Somehow Bill had gotten mixed with a Ratatta, and a Fearow was trying to eat him. Ichigo grinned as he used Shun Po to run ahead while Nel used Sonido to keep up.
Ichigo stopped the Fearow from eating the poor scientist, but it was Nel who caught him.
One explanation and trip to the lab later...
Ichigo and Ash pulled the switch, releasing Bill and the poor rat Pokémon that had accidentally wandered in. Ichigo was rather interested in the machine, and since Bill didn't mind allowing him to test it, Ichigo got in one. At least this time there wouldn't be any accidental merging with Pokémon...or so Bill hoped.
He had Ichigo leave his team outside before going in.
Nel pulled the lever down...and there was a flash of light. When it died down, the chamber opposite the one Ichigo climbed in opened to reveal a coughing Ichigo. Bill was about to congratulate him...except the first chamber opened revealing a second Ichigo, only with white hair and golden eyes.
Ichigo stared at his double...and the double stared back in surprise.
"Wha...?" said Bill. This had never happened before.
Ichigo rubbed his head, as if to stave off a migraine.
"Why do I get the feeling that the ones who restored my ability to see human ghosts is behind this...?" he asked to no one in particular. Nel giggled.
"Uh, Ichigo...who is that?" said Ash.
"Meh. The name's Shirosaki kid. I'm HIS other half...the dark one," said the albino.
"Nel, could you hand me the bottle that says Ibuprofen? This is going to take some explaining..." said Ichigo. No way in hell was he about to tell them about Shiro without something for the ensuing migraine!
Once Ichigo gave them a basic explanation, not bothering to go into detail about the fact he was from another world entirely. Once he explained about the problem with split personalities (Shiro was one of the more...outspoken...that he had) he placed the blame on the fact that said 'split personality' had found his chance to be free and had taken it, resulting in two Ichigo.
Shiro was all for that explanation (since it meant Ichigo wouldn't have to tell them why he was already dead and give both of them headaches...plus being a trainer didn't sound half bad) and since he was like a less grumpy Ichigo with white hair, the normal trainers let it drop.
Though he did have to come up with his own team.
One quick call to Urahara (who dropped the news that the annual visit to Masaki's grave was coming up within a week) provided Shirosaki with a new Pokédex like Ichigo's, only white, a new badge case (this one with the symbols of the hollows instead of the Gotei thirteen), and a quick trip to the store provided him with some clothes and a new bag.
His first Pokémon? A Ghastly. The playful ghost absolutely adored his new trainer.
Ichigo paused on his way to Pallet town. Now that he had his shinigami abilities back, and Shiro had a body of his own to play in (he was taking the direct route to scare Urahara, after he got his new Ghastly to evolve anyway) he didn't have to worry about his hollow acting up.
Ash and the others would wait for him before challenging Lt. Surge, since Saffron city was close for some reason. Well, they would wait until Ichigo before leaving at any rate.
Shiro had opted to train on his own, so he could explore without Ichigo to stop him.
Ichigo had a better idea, and told him to go find Tatsuki. He was sure she could keep him in line until they met up at Cinnabar Island, and she would probably appreciate the company.
Ichigo stepped through the portal with Shiro (after saying hi to Oak and nearly giving the poor man a heart attack from seeing two Ichigo) and stretched.
Urahara was waiting for him. Ichigo grinned, then released Kenpachi.
"Kenpachi, sick 'em," said Ichigo smirking.
"AIIIEEE!" was the sound heard from the basement. Tessai and Yoruichi looked down to find...some sort of hellhound biting Urahara on the ass and not letting go. Needless to say the shapeshifter was highly amused.
"Welcome back Ichigo! I suppose this is Shiro then?" she called down, before coming down the ladder.
"Yup. He's agreed to play nice and not cause any trouble that might be pinned on me, and in exchange I leave him alone."
"You going to introduce him to your sisters?"
"Karin already knows about my shinigami duties, and I'm sure Yuzu would love to have another brother. Besides, this insures he will protect them in case things go terribly wrong."
"Meh, so long as Isshin doesn't try to get rid of me we should get along fine," said Shiro.
"ICHI-NII!" shouted Yuzu, tackling her brother. Karin was the one to notice the second Ichigo.
"Who are you?"
"Shirosaki. You know those hollows that roam the town trying to eat people? I'm the hollow version of Ichigo."
"So you're basically Shiro-nii?" said Yuzu. Shiro was in a special gigai, so she could see him.
"You're not going to eat us are you?"
"And risk Ichigo getting pissed and forcing me to go back until hell freezes over? No thank you!" said Shiro.
Isshin immediately accepted Shirosaki, and promptly started making a racket about how he had two sons now. Ichigo and Shiro booted him in the head to make him shut up.
"Which reminds me...I come bearing presents," said Ichigo. He had captured a few Pokémon for his sisters to protect them. Apparently Pokémon attacks could hurt hollows, as long as they could damage ghost types anyway.
Karin immediately loved her new Growlithe, who she named Mamoru. And Yuzu was charmed by her Jigglypuff. Ichigo had made sure that the thing knew Bite just in case.
"Want to meet the others?" said Ichigo.
Kenpachi, Emeth (who was now a Graveler) and Shirosaki's Ghastly Cassie came out.
He would have named it Casper, but apparently it was female. So Cassie.
"I have another one, but it's too big for the clinic," said Ichigo.
"COOL!" said Karin.
Ichigo knocked on the door of Orihime's apartment. She opened it looking rather tired.
"Uh, hi Orihime. What happened to you?"
"Urahara miscalculated on the return trip. I'm glad to see you looking better Ichigo," said Orihime with a yawn.
Ichigo dropped a Pokéball in her hand. It had her pins on it.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Open it. Toss it in the air and see," said Ichigo.
Orihime tossed it on the couch, and it popped open.
She was wide awake now.
"You actually brought me a Clefairy?" she said with delight.
"I asked one if it wouldn't mind being partnered with a good friend of mine, and that one agreed to it. Know where I can find Uryu? I have one for him too," asked Ichigo.
"Hospital. Ask his father, because last I checked he wasn't allowed any visitors. He had a harder time than I did on the way back."
Ichigo was trying not to laugh at the look Uryu shot him when he saw his Pokémon.
Ichigo had caught an Abra right before leaving Bill's house, and immediately thought of Uryu. It looked so much like a doll that it was unlikely Uryu's dad would get rid of it. He had yet to catch one that he knew Chad would like. Personally he was leaning towards a Grass starter...like Turtwig or Chikorita.