Author's Note: So, I finally got permission from Fullmetal Wetback to adopt his Not Another Bleach Fic, the title of which I'm keeping because...well, because it's such a good title. Those familiar to the story will notice a few changes, those who are unfamiliar will not.
Regardless, the story will follow Bleach canon loosely, using the original NABF story as a guideline. However, this does not mean my version will be a carbon copy. While I love the story to death and am a huge fan, there were a few discrepancies, which I will do my best to rectify without creating a hundred more in its place.
I think that's all.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything which already belongs to someone else. That's not how the world works, unfortunately.
Warnings: This story will have major spoilers throughout, so if you haven't already read the most recent manga chapters (as of this posting, it's 536: Everything But The Rain OP.9), or don't care, then I would suggest leaving now and returning when you have gotten up to speed. Watch your step, because the swear-words will fly freely throughout the story, similar to the original. Blood and gore will also abound, and I think that's about it. You have been warned.
Chapter 1: The One Who Protects
"Really, Mom, I was this close to beating Tatsuki today!" the young boy insisted, punching out restlessly. He looked up at his mother, brown eyes searching beneath his bright orange hair. "You believe me, right?"
Kurosaki Masaki smiled reassuringly at her son, snaking an arm around his shoulder and pulling him closer to her, and back beneath the umbrella she was using to ward off the driving rain. "Of course I do, Ichigo," she told him. "But you know, it isn't shameful to lose to a more skilled opponent."
"But she's not more skilled!" Ichigo retorted grumpily. "Her technique's all sloppy, and she barely aims her kicks! It's just that she's..." He paused, and Masaki gazed curiously at the boy's expression. He looked nervous, and almost...jealous.
"She's stronger than me, okay?" Ichigo grumbled. "It's 'cause she's been training longer than me, I know it." This said more to himself than anything. "Maybe if I train to be faster, then she won't be able to hit me!" Ichigo looked back up at his mother with a wide grin. "Brute strength is worth nothing if she can't hit me, right?"
Masaki returned the grin mischievously. Using speed to outclass a more physically-powerful opponent is a very Quincy-like tactic, she thought. Isshin might be disappointed if he's ever had any notions that our children might be pureblood shinigami. They are still human, after all.
As she listened to her first-born child chatter on about how he was going to finally beat his sparring partner, Masaki reflected on the past decade fondly, more to stave off the gloomy moods that stormy days always inflicted on her spirit. Sometimes, she still wondered at it; it was like one of those forbidden-romance novels she'd read as a little girl, like Romeo and Juliet. A high-born Quincy and a shinigami captain, brought together through mutual sacrifice, and bound by love. Yes, love and three beautiful, sometimes rambunctious children. If they were the cost of losing all the power of a master Quincy, then Masaki would gladly pay it, time and again, and she was sure that Isshin felt the same way.
And if Kisuke's hypotheses were correct (which they usually were), their kids were on their way to becoming pretty powerful in their own right. Ichigo himself was accumulating quite a respectable amount of reiatsu. Even if she couldn't access the reishi in the air, she could still feel it all around her, and while it wasn't much, the pressure her son's spirit exuded was definitely on the radar, and could only grow with time.
Maybe it had something to do with the karate lessons Ichigo had been taking since he was four? Five years of that would definitely strengthen his body, and Soken-ojisan always espoused that a strong body meant a strong spirit. Soon, she would try and teach Ichigo how to feel reishi in the air, and maybe then Kisuke could pass down the Crosses he'd made to counteract the total destruction of a soul-body. Who knew? Maybe Ryu-chan could bring little Uryu-bo and they could learn to be the next generation of Quincy together.
So lost in her thoughts was she that Masaki failed to notice Ichigo yelling until he took off into the sheets of rain, sliding down the grassy embankment of the Karasu River, heading right for-
Masaki froze for just a bare second, right as a lightning bolt lit up the sky. The small figure, a girl in a rain poncho, was obviously what Ichigo had seen. But his spiritual awareness hadn't developed to the point that he could see what his mother did; the angler-like lure that attached the blank form to the monstrous creature. It's body was large and furry, with bird-like appendages and an oval mask bearing a horrific grin.
Training kicking in instinctively, Masaki's mind caught up to her body as her feet touched down on the level ground of the river's bank, pounding across the slick grass with the sure footing of someone who never really forgot rain-soaked battles in the dark. One hand rose, fingers crooked as if holding a tiny bow while her thumb drew back an invisible string.
The former Quincy almost sobbed when no reishi coalesced in her hand to create a deadly arrow, ready to incinerate the Hollow who dared contemplate harming her child, and she realized instantly that she wouldn't be able to stop the monster from taking a meal. And in the next instant, Masaki's adrenaline-fueled brain came up with, and executed the same plan thousands of distressed mothers had done throughout history.
She took the killing blow for her child, relinquishing her hold on the mortal coil so her son's grip would remain sure and safe. It was almost ironic, she reflected through the haze of pain. This Hollow had gotten her almost in the exact same place that other one had, so many years ago on a night not so very different from this one. Her breath hitched, even as she assessed the damage. Rib-cage shattered, left lung punctured, rotator cuff broken to pieces...this is it.
Very quickly, the pain receded as her head became lighter, lighter than the clouds above as they emptied themselves of the heavy moisture. So many thoughts raced across her mind's eye, but most of them went along the lines of: Isshin, I'm so sorry I won't be there for you. Or, Yuzu, Karin, Ichigo, forgive me for abandoning you so early.
"Mom?" From so very far away, it seemed, she felt something squirming out from beneath her, even as she felt her soul, her self, fading away. Gathering up all the strength that she could from her dying body, Masaki raised her hand to her son's face and smiled trying to focus on his beautiful face.
"I'm sorry, Ichigo," she croaked out, forcing her lungs to expand one last time, and breathed out with her final breath, "I love you."
"Oomph!" Three, two, one...
Tatsuki blinked when she didn't hear the sound of a blubbering child, then snapped out of her fighting trance and remembered that her favorite punching bag hadn't come to practice again. Instead, it was Hondo's butt whom she'd handed on a silver platter, and, really, that was nothing to brag about.
Truthfully, she liked sparring with the orange-haired boy because he was good at karate, and though she'd never admit it to anyone (including herself), Tatsuki knew that Ichigo was a much more technical fighter than she was, and the only reason she won all their bouts was because she was stronger. And it surely wasn't her fault that he was a little wuss.
But above all that, she had come to see Kurosaki Ichigo as a friend over the past five years, a commodity which the dark-haired girl didn't have very much of. Not many kids wanted to hang out with her, after all. The boys didn't like the fact that she could beat them up with two hands tied behind her back, and the girls only wanted to play with dolls and dresses and who could even begin to form proper katas in something so billowy and in-the-way?
Ichigo, however, was different. He didn't hold the fact that she knocked him on his backside on an almost daily basis against her (even if he griped about it and analyzed their bouts blow-for-blow afterward), and he didn't think she was weird for not liking the things girls were supposed to like either. He accepted her for who and what she was, and that was really all that mattered, in the little nine-year-old's mind.
Which was why Tatsuki was concerned for her friend. It had been a devastating blow when the teacher at school had come in to explain Ichigo's absence and the reasons behind it, and not one Tatsuki could block. It had hurt a surprising amount when it had sunk in; Masaki could bring a smile to her sparring partner's face instantly, but the woman could also do the same for her most of the time. To realize that she would never see her friend's wonderful mother again had caused Tatsuki to cry in her bed for a whole night, and she didn't let go of her mother for days afterward, fearing she might disappear as well.
The worst part by far, however, had been when Ichigo had stayed gone, and Tatsuki hadn't seen her best (only) friend in weeks. He didn't show up at the dojo, he ditched school all the time, and whenever she and her mom went to the Kurosaki house, the only thing they were greeted by was the heart-rending image of Isshin, with eyes as desolate and bleak as a bottomless pit, cradling Karin and Yuzu while they bawled their hearts out for their mother.
So that day, after practices were over, and she'd beaten Hondo into the ground several more times to vent her frustration, Tatsuki struck out for where she thought Ichigo might be after phoning her mom to explain her intentions.
When she got to the Karasu Embankment, she hesitated on the bridge overlooking the spot Masaki had died. There he was, pacing along the river's bank restlessly, glancing around every once in a while as if looking for something.
His mother's ghost, a part of her mind supplied. Ichigo always insisted that he could see the spirits of the dead, and even though Tatsuki didn't believe there was a lick of truth in his stories, Ichigo himself obviously did believe them, if the frantic gleam to his eyes was anything to go by. Tatsuki watched her friend for a long time, the shadows growing longer as the sun set behind the horizon, and when he wasn't walking around the same spot, wearing a groove in the grass, he was crouching at the water's edge looking into the rushing river morosely.
Finally, after a long internal debate, Tatsuki made her way down to him, stopping just a foot away from where he'd sat down to rest his legs. She opened her mouth, and only then realized that she didn't have any idea about what to say to her grieving friend. So instead, she just crouched down next to him, hoping that she was offering that 'silent support' her mom had talked about. They sat together in the growing darkness for what had to be an hour before he said anything.
"Go away, Arisawa," Ichigo grunted. His voice was croaky and hollow, like someone banging a canteen with a rock. That didn't stop her from firing up immediately at the slight. He'd actually used her familial name! They'd never even really used honorifics to begin with, and it seemed almost a given that they were on a first-name basis from pretty much the get-go, so that hurt more than she'd like to admit.
"What's your problem!?" she snapped, jumping to her feet and pointing down at him haughtily. "I sat out here for-forever with you, and you repay me by telling me to get lost? I don't think so!"
"My problem?" Anger laced his voice, which was something new to Tatsuki; Ichigo rarely ever got really angry, and that venom in his tone left little doubt. "My problem is that I got my mom killed!" He rose to his feet and jabbed at the ground beneath his feet. "Right here, right at this spot, is where she died, and it was my fault!"
She saw the whites of his eyes redden as if he were about to cry, but nothing happened afterward. No tears left to shed, she thought worriedly. "Ichigo..." Tatsuki whispered softly, more curious than ever about the circumstances surrounding that lovely woman's death.
Abruptly, Ichigo stiffened in embarrassment and shame, then turned and started pacing again. "Just leave me alone, Tatsuki," he spat out thickly.
Instead of listening to him (because who did he think he was to give her orders?), Tatsuki marched up to him, spun him around, and did what her mom always did when she was feeling down, wrapping him up in a big hug. And maybe she was squeezing a little too tight, but he didn't seem to really mind. Really, he didn't even struggle that much before his head dropped to her shoulder and moisture began bleeding through her shirt.
"It's my fault," he said in a muffled voice trembling with despair. "She's dead because of me."
"My dad's dead, too." Tatsuki was surprised that had slipped out; she didn't like talking of her deceased parent all that much. Ichigo seemed surprised, too, judging by how his head shot up and wide amber eyes bored into sorrowful blue ones. "He died when I was really young, and I get sad thinking about it because I can't remember him. Just a smile and warmth. But...I...I just want you to know that you're not alone, okay? I'm here if you need someone to talk to. I was worried when you stopped coming to school, and I know your family is, too."
Ichigo suddenly looked like he'd been punched in the gut (and Tatsuki was very familiar with that expression on his face). "Yuzu, Karin," he whispered. "I've been such a jerk!"
And then, without warning, Ichigo raced off, and a startled Tatsuki could do nothing but chase after him, hollering about how inconsiderate he was. In her haste, she nearly tripped over a black cat who'd been skulking around and spat out a hurried apology to it without thinking.
But when she finally reached the Kurosaki family's home a scant minute after Ichigo made it there, Tatsuki opened the door to find Ichigo looking up at his father with unshed tears in his eyes and Isshin staring back.
"I'm sorry," Ichigo said softly as his bottom lip began to wobble. "I'm sorry..." And even as Ichigo began to cry, Isshin gathered him up in a tight embrace, rubbing his back reassuringly
"You have nothing to apologize for, Ichigo," Isshin replied firmly. "Your mother loved you, and in the end it was her decision to keep you safe. It was not your fault, remember that."
"But I couldn't protect her," sobbed Ichigo. "That's why you named me 'Ichigo', to protect, and I couldn't do it...I..."
"Then get stronger, my son," Isshin told him, pulling back slightly to look Ichigo in the eyes, placing his hands on his shoulders to command the boy's attention. "Get stronger so you can protect the ones you care for." And it might have been Tatsuki's imagination, but Isshin looked like he knew a thing or two about being strong for just a moment.
Ichigo used his sleeve to wipe at his face, sniffing a bit, then nodded to his father once, a sharp, jerky motion, and turned to Tatsuki. And in his eyes, she saw something she'd never seen before. She didn't know what it was, but it made a shiver crawl up her spine just seeing it. "I need your help to get stronger, Tatsuki."
It was then that she knew what it was that had caught in her friend's spirit. It was the drive and determination to see his loved ones safe, and if he needed her help, then that's what she'd give.
And suddenly, his name made more sense to her, and she resolved to stop making fun of it.
After-Action Report: So that was the first chapter of the rebooted version of Not Another Bleach Fic. I hope it was up to the high standards Fullmetal Wetback set, and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. I'm going to try and do some world-building with this fic that the original author didn't. Not that I have anything against it, but FW never really got into what sort of training Ichigo went through with the Shoten crew or how Chad and Orihime got their powers. So the next few chapters will deal with some training, and meeting the Princess and the Giant. Then, and only then, will we get to the Agent of the Shinigami arc which kicks off canon Bleach and all the fun that it is associated with.
Also, I used some foreign terms, and I realize that not everyone is familiar with them, so I have included a small reference guide.
-Ojisan: uncle, or older man. In this case, Masaki is using it to refer to her uncle.
-Chan: term of endearment. In this case, Masaki uses it to refer to her cousin.
-Bo: cutesy term of endearment, simplified version of -bozu (which is the English equivalent of calling a child 'squirt'). In this case, Masaki uses it to refer to her cousin's son.
kata: a series of martial arts movements, more commonly referred to as forms.
If I missed any, let me know.
And as always, I beg that you review. It's really the only thing a fanfiction writer cares about. Favorites and follows might boost the ego, but it's the reviews that really get me happy. And when I'm happy, I write more. Yeah. Think about it.