A/N: I'm afraid I've left my dear original alone for far too long. I can't seem to write for much else it seems and I've spot so many errors that I simply must re-write this. Overall, it all felt too rushed and I suppose it's excused for being a first fic, but there's nothing wrong with improving now is there? So this time I'm taking some more time in trying to make it more presentable. Whether I've improved or not I will leave it up to you to decide. The audience, or readers, are always the judge.
Story was originally published: Dec 5, 2011.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Chapter I: Loneliness
Muramasa stared at the young man in front him. His chest was heaving for breath and his body ached with a horrible pain. In the back of his mind he could hear the soft whispering of the hollow inside him and the want to give in crept up in him. He was tired and exhausted, but all of that meant nothing. Compared to the substitute Shinigami, he was only half of what he used to be. Without Kouga he was just a sword and even now he was using hollows to strengthen himself; to keep himself alive. He staggered onto his feet as he prepared for another onslaught, using his blade to block against the other. Sparks flew for but a second until he was shoved off of the platform and plummeted into another.
Edges of jagged stone stabbed at him painfully as he landed on the base of the next pillar. Blood trickled slowly from his head from the collision, but still he refused to give in. Muramasa reached at a corner of the ruined stone and tried to get back up, but just as he had lifted his head to glare at Ichigo, the top section of the pillar crumbled. The whole structure rumbled and shook violently as it fell over and shoved Muramasa below the surface of the deep ocean. He should have known this would happen eventually.
Kouga had disowned him as a weapon, a partner, and stabbed him. Death was his only option if his own Master had abandoned him. He had known, but he could not let go of their once strong bond. Though Kouga was not a part of the Kuchiki Family by blood, he was still recognized for his own power. He was admired and feared for the ability to manipulate others; had it not been for a single misunderstanding none of this would have ever happened. He would still be alive, he would still be good and working harder than any other shinigami. He would still have him, a Zanpakutou. Now, though, he was forever gone along with his corrupted, begrudging soul.
Heavy amounts of crimson liquid mingled with the water as debris weighed down upon him. He gasped out a breath of bubbles before finally relenting to the oppressive burden. Through half-lidded eyes he stared at the blurred colors of white, blue and red, allowing the approaching time of his end to sink in.
'Where did I go wrong?' he wondered silently. His hand twitched as he descended deeper into the depths of the cold sea. 'Kouga...'
There was a muffled shout of his name and he faintly wondered if his voice was heard only to have another hand pull him away. Even as his world continued to crumble inside the pocket of reishi, a weight had lifted itself from him. All that he knew would be gone soon along with his life that had suffered far too long to comprehend. Before he knew it, he was lying atop grass with an arm propping him up and a hand clutching onto his own. His sight was almost completely gone and his conscience was slipping as well. The strength he held for centuries had all but left him.
Footsteps approached the two; Rukia and Orihime both stared at the sight before them. Ichigo's face was soft, but grim as he watched the life begin to slip away from the Zanpakutou spirit.
"Muramasa-san?" Orihime whispered as she knelt beside him. His hand was still in Ichigo's grasp, but it was loose and without its own support. His eyes, she could see, were clouded and filled with sorrow and regret despite its tranquil gaze. A man without hope; that's what he looked like to her. "Kurosaki-kun, do you... Do you think we can help him?" she asked with a hand already reaching towards one of her hairpins.
"That is not possible."
The sudden reply made the two turn their heads. Standing tall before them was none other then Byakuya Kuchiki. His gaze was stern and cold as he stared at the Zapakutou lying near death on the ground. "Without Kouga, a Shinigami, there is no other way for him to survive."
Orihime looked back down at Muramasa and placed a hand on his cold cheek. Without warning a drop of water fell from the sky and landed at the corner of his closed eyes. She had half a mind to simply use her powers to try and save him, but even she knew it wouldn't be enough. It wasn't until his body began to glow a light purple that Orihime began to panic. Her eyes darted to and fro when they suddenly landed on Zangetsu. "W-what if I become his Shinigami?" she suggested softly. "I mean if Kurosaki-kun was able to..."
Rain began to pour down as her voice trailed off. The soft shuffling of approaching feet was suffocated as Byakuya looked down at her. Even as the light that was Muramasa began to grow brighter, he waited for her to continue on.
"Wouldn't it be okay... Just to give him one more chance?" she wondered out loud.
"You, a human who should have no part of this, want to save him?"
She only nodded her head furiously at him, startling both Ichigo and Rukia who could gawk at them. "Please?" she whispered, watching as his body was beginning to become transparent. Slowly. the light engulfed him and morphed him back into his original sealed state. The blade that was known as Muramasa looked as if it were crafted in glass and gleaming with the color of lavender. Before anything else could occur, Byakuya quickly snatched the frail blade from the air and stabbed it through Orihime's chest.
"Orihime!" Ichigo instinctively grabbed her shoulder only to feel her move away from him.
The sword that was stabbed through her heart illuminated brightly and sank further inside her even as Byakuya had let go. Before Ichigo or anyone else could utter another word, Orihime's body fell with a dull thud against the cool wet ground. Pushed further away from it was the same Orihime with the exception of her clothing. Black robes no different than Rukia's replaced her normal outfit and a familiar weapon sat in the place where a normal Zanpakutou would usually be seen. A look of pure shock overcame her as she stared back at the Captain, unable to say a thing as she stared at her own body lying on the ground.
Her heart was beating erratically against her chest as she stared at Ichigo with wide eyes. He mirrored her own look as he stammered to try and ask if she was alright. She was almost certain everyone within sight was gawking at her at what had just transpired. Orihime Inoue had become a Shinigami; albeit she was most likely a Substitute, she was one nonetheless.
"Are you okay?" Rukia asked, kneeling beside her friend as her brother walked silently away to prepare for what was next to come.
"I-I feel fine..." she murmured softly. Chad and Uryu soon trotted over to them to assess the situation.
"Are you sure you don't feel any different than before?" Uryu questioned, taking the liberty of picking up her fallen body. "Nothing at all?"
"Well, nothing else feels any different aside from... This..." her hand gingerly touched the rough handle of the sheathed sword. Though it now looked to belong to her, she felt reluctant to withdraw the blade and look for any confirmation that it was really there. The weight was all that she could rely on and it was actually quite heavy against her waist.
"So this must mean that Muramasa is now Inoue's weapon."
"How can we be sure she's safe with him?" Chad inquired.
They all looked at Ichigo expectantly, but he was still in the process of sinking everything in. Orihime had just become what he had become; both with the same reason of protecting someone, but it was slightly off. He had done it for his family and she had done it for a complete stranger. Seeing that he was still trying to gather his thoughts, Rukia decided to take it upon herself to answer.
"A Zanpakutou wouldn't kill their own Shinigami if at least they valued their own existence. If I had to guess, I would assume that Muramasa is recovering quietly in his...er... Orihime's inner world. Everyone's inner world is different, just like their Zanpakutou, so now that Orihime is his Shinigami, it might have altered his quite a bit. As for what he might plan for later when he's all healed up, we won't know."
"What do you mean by that?"
Another hand landed softly on Orihime's other shoulder as a much livelier voice chimed in. "It means that there's not exactly a guarantee that Muramasa here is willing to comply with us." Standing behind the small group was none other than Captain Shunsui and Captain Ukitake. Walking behind them were Katen Kyokotsu and Sogyo no Kotowari; their expressions completely neutral, but being slightly wary of Orihime for adopting the dreadful sword.
"I hate to crash the party, but I'm afraid Miss Inoue will have to come with us back to Soul Society to report back to Old man Yama."
"Please don't worry, we'll make certain she isn't harmed by anything during her stay."
Though they had insisted they come along with their friend, the two stressed that they would be needed in helping out with the cleaning up of stray hollows involved in the fight. Defeated in that regard, they suggested at least one of them accompany her and that was easily given away to Ichigo.
Still rather stunned by what had just happened, he managed to at least gather his wits to go along with them. As the doors leading them to their destination opened, they promised to watch over Orihime's physical body while they were away with Rukia having a few Mod Pills to use as well.
The journey over there was rather silent, which wasn't so bothersome since Orihime was fixated with the sword resting against her side. Though it was heavy and potentially dangerous she felt a little relieved that it was still intact and despite not having any other evidence she knew that Muramasa was still around. The blade was quiet, but it was very much alive.
"Listen," Ichigo whispered beside her. "I'm not entirely sure that Muramasa is completely safe, but unless he proves otherwise I'll help you out." He gave her a small smile for reassurance, but she could see the uneasiness in his eyes about the uncertain matter. Regardless, she felt grateful that he would be beside her.
"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun. But I'm sure Muramasa won't do anything else anymore. I know I can't exactly hold any truth to that, but I just feel that way." she giggled a little at her reasoning. "Maybe they'll understand, just like how Kuchiki-san's Nii-sama understood."
"In any case," the male sighed, running a hand through his hair. "We should get ready. This will most likely be a Captain's meeting we're attending." Just as he said, the large double doors leading to a vast room was opened, however, only Orihime was permitted entrance.
"We know that you helped us out big time, Kurosaki, but this discussion involves only Inoue-san."
"Wait, you can't expect me to leave her." he argued harshly. The two Captains shared an unhappy look.
"Look we understand what you mean, kid; but rules are rules and we have to abide by them. I promise you nothing will happen to her."
To ensure that he would stay and wait, both Katen Kyokotsu and Sogyo no Kotowari lingered to keep things in check. Orihime took an uncomfortable glance back at him, but managed to show him a smile.
"It'll be okay, Kurosaki-kun. I'll be back soon." though her words were spoken confidently, Ichigo couldn't help the uneasiness that was welling up in him. He only managed to murmur a quite "Okay..." before the doors closed in front of him.
Inside the large room almost every Captain was present save for a few who stayed behind in Karakura Town to clean up with the others. Up ahead though, stood Genryusei Yamamoto who calmly awaited Orihime's arrival; his expression neutral as she stood at the very center. He cleared his throat softly as she took her place.
"Inoue Orihime... I've heard now seen with my own eyes that you have become a Subtitute Shinigami in behalf of keeping our enemy, Muramasa, as your chosen Zanpakutou. I must ask you now, are you absolutely aware of what sort of weapon you hold in your possession?"
After what she had witnessed in the fight between him and Ichigo, Muramasa's power was very much evident. Yamamoto, however, was still apprehensive of her answer.
"Truthfully, I do not find it suitable to leave the sword in your hands. A once proud member of the Kuchiki Family could not handle the power that sword held, how am I to expect a human girl would be any different? Furthermore, having been able to have a new Shinigami is nothing short of abnormal, but I'm afraid that it holds no guarantees that it will prevent the chaos he has caused in these past hours. The only safest conclusion for one like him is to erase his existence altogether."
Her head lowered at his words. She understood that what Muramasa had done was inexcusable, but death was not something she'd wish upon even her enemies. Now, since Muramasa was now in her hands it was that much harder on her. Kouga had done something horrible to Muramasa and yet despite his cruelty, he still wanted to fight alongside him. She wouldn't abandon him, not after all he'd been through already. Tension in the room though, had grown heavy in her silence and so voicing her thoughts on the matter wasn't going to be easy.
"Excuse me, but why not think a little bit more into this. Now, I'm not siding with the guy on this, but maybe Muramasa could be an essential weapon against Aizen in the war. The Arrancars also wield Zanpakutous as well; the concept of his powers may also apply to them just as they had on ours." Shunsui added.
He regarded his words for a moment before shaking his head. "I see your point and know where you are getting at, but I will not risk it. There is no matter of trust between either of us nor does it seem that Muramasa has any trust in us. In regards to you Miss Inoue, only you would be able to know."
"But if I haven't got the chance to know Muramasa, then how would I ever know. I'm sure Muramasa can regain trust if you'll allow him more time. He could be good again if given one chance."
There was a silent hush of murmurs washing over the room, but none of what Orihime could hear were very positive. The Zanpakutou standing beside their respective Masters were all silent in the matter. Yamamoto's expression hadn't changed either; it seemed as though none were willing to offer any assistance at all.
"Ahem. If I may Head Captain; Inoue-san seems to have grown rather attached to her Zanpakutou. However, I also understand that his powers are a bit of a problem concerning Soul Society, but might I suggest we simply seal away his abilities to materialize? Without that asset, he wouldn't be able to operate on his own nor would Inoue-san be able to draw her weapon."
As all eyes were currently set on Unohana of the Fourth Division, Yamamoto took a little time to thoroughly think over her suggestion. Past knowledge state that Orihime herself has never been much of an offensive fighter, but was more of a healer than anything. He didn't like the fact that Muramasa would still be present, but around a more positive soul could potentially influence him the same.
"Hmm, Captain Kurotsuchi am I correct in assuming you'd be able to create something powerful enough to bound a Zanpakutou of his caliber?"
Said Captain looked almost offended. "Of course I can. In fact I already know just what to use."
"Fine, Miss Inoue, it seems we have reached an agreement of sorts. Captain Kuchiki will be your escort until the device is complete, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir." the question was more towards the Captain than it was to her. Everything was all said and done, but to her it didn't exactly feel like an accomplishment. Looking down at the emblem of his sword she whispered softly, "I'm sorry, Muramasa-san."
A/N: So this time, my focus is to get development through all this as well as have all characters in character and make it (hopefully) better. To all those that have favorited and /or followed the story previously, I apologize sincerely! You don't have to re-read everything, but it is strongly advised if you want to understand whats going on, plus I can't exactly upload everything in one go, so this is going to take quite some time to get back up. I apologize once again, but I think I can say that I'm satisfied with how this came out.
The next chapter is sure to be up soon to those interested!