Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
AN: The premise for this story is a different Ichigo going through the events of the Bleach storyline. I aim to make him more cool headed, logical and just generally not a brash teen that rushes mindlessly into things. I would say that he would not become over powered, but then again, in a world where beings redefine landscapes with the swing of a sword, what is overpowered? Anyway, BAMF Ichigo
Ichigo's fingers were white as they tightened on the hilt of his sword. His eyes were disbelieving as he took in the veritable swarm of lesser hollows flooding in from the three portals torn open by the towering long-nosed monsters.
Perhaps sensing his regard – though it was more likely that they sensed the concentration of potent reiatsu on the roof top of the school – the skyscraper sized hollows turned their gazes on the party gathered with Ichigo, and in a few lumbering strides, they all stood side by side, facing down the group from up high.
Brown eyes raking over the towering forms spewing forth tainted hollow reiatsu, Ichigo took in the figures of monsters that had only been vaguely mentioned in one of the books his father had given him.
A mindless hollow comprised of hundreds of hollows all devoured by their own unending hunger and drive to evolve to the next level.
All that the book had mentioned was that if a shinigami below the level of a lieutenant encountered one, said shinigami was to flee at the earliest chance.
Now, they stood facing three of them, alongside an uncountable swarm of lesser, but still dangerous, hollows.
Just as he was about to succumb to the panic that was threatening to swamp him, he paused, actually deciding to observe with more than just his eyes…it saved his life.
Tensing at the subtle but steady rise in reiatsu from the three huge hollows before him, he felt the blood drain from his face as his sharp eyes made out a tiny red orb in front of each of the three hollows' mouths.
Taking a step forward as he deduced what was about to happen, his motion snapped his companions out of their shock, causing Rukia to focus on him, no doubt intending to chastise him for what she perceived was thoughtless haste. Yet, before she could begin, Ichigo's voice cut her off, gaining the attention of everyone else, Ishida in particular,
"Ishida, I know there are issues between us at the moment…things which we will be talking about later…however, at the moment, we need to put that aside and work together."
Seeing the reluctant acceptance in his rival's eyes, he turned back to face the hollows which had almost finished preparing their attack.
Taking in the glowing red orbs aimed at them for the first time, Rukia gasped in horror as she realized what was about to happen. Easily deducing that Ichigo planned to go ahead to face them, she shouted from her position on the floor, struggling to get to her knees as she did so,
"Where do you think you're going, Ichigo?!"
Pausing with his back to the girl who had come to be such a friend to him, he replied calmly,
"I am going to buy us some time."
With those words, and before any of the others could stop him, he pushed off from the floor, leaving a swirl of dust behind him.
Blinking in surprise as their eyes lost track of him for an instant, they all focused on the three Menos Grandes just in time to see Ichigo materialize next to the head of the leftmost of the three hollows seconds before they fired off their charged attack.
As he appeared next to the hollow's head, Ichigo was already in motion.
An instant before the three released their attacks on the group below, his round house kick connected with the side of the leftmost hollow's face, wrenching its head to the side and causing the middle hollow to take the hit at point blank range.
The unexpected attack to its face caused the hollow situated in the middle to misfire its attack, leaving the gathered reiatsu nowhere to go but back to its owner.
With a burst of blinding light and explosion of sound, the middle hollow's attack backfired, forcing the spectators to turn aside lest they be blinded.
Once the light died down, they were able to refocus on the Menos Grandes before them and they were amazed at what they saw.
The hollow in the middle of the trio, having taken the full brunt of the redirected Cero, was left with a severely damaged mask, seemingly seconds away from shattering.
The hollow to its right, having only suffered through the shockwave of the misfired attack – which fortunately caused its own attack to veer of course and even obliterate a group of hollows floating a ways away – got away with a few scuff marks on its otherwise pristine mask.
Not wasting anytime whatsoever, Ichigo was a flurry of black, white, and orange as he attacked the damaged Menos in the middle, effortlessly shattering its already weakened mask.
Back flipping away from the steadily decomposing corpse, he landed next to Urahara who had been keenly observing his actions with an interested gleam in his grey eyes.
Turning to face his friends, who were currently staring at him in silence, he asked,
"So, Ishida, what have you come up with?"
Spluttering in surprise at the sudden question, Ishida rearranged his glasses in a transparent bid to disguise the fact that he was fishing for more time, before his mind finally latched onto a possible approach to dealing with the remaining two Menos Grandes.
Looking up to meet Ichigo's expectant eyes, he replied,
"Well, I'd imagine that if we managed to trip up one of them, then given its massive size, it should be injured enough from the fall for us to capitalize on it and take it out."
Raising an eyebrow in interest at his proposal, Ichigo was about to reply when the overlapping roars of the heretofore forgotten smaller hollows reached the group, causing them to spin in place to face the incoming horde.
Realizing that they would be getting attacked on two fronts very soon, the teens were about to reconsider their plan of attack when the closest wave of hollows abruptly vanished under an unrelenting spray of bullets.
Flinching in shock at the sudden turn of events, the teens focused, not on the perpetually shy black haired girl standing next to the mysterious shopkeeper, but on the massive bandage covered smoking gun geld daintily in a tiny hand.
Turning as one, the bewildered teens met the cheerful face of the blond haired shopkeeper as he waved his fan at them, chirping out,
"Don't worry about the small fry Kurosaki-san; we'll take care of them. You just worry about the other two."
Casting one last befuddled look at the bashful girl, the belligerent red headed boy, the dreadlocked dark skinned man, and the annoyingly perky shopkeeper, the teens decided to ignore them and focus on the more pressing issue at hand.
Tightening his grip on his sword, Ichigo said,
"Rukia, take care of Orihime and the others. Ishida, aim for its face; weaken its mask. Chad, get ready"
Waiting as Rukia agreed, Chad nodded, and Ishida muttered,
"Tch…don't order me around, Kurosaki."
Ichigo once again took off towards the hollow he had kicked in the head, aiming for its feet as it continued its steady approach with its second companion at his side.
Knowing that his timing had to be spot on, he waited for the hollow to take the next step, watching as its leading foot passed the halfway point and its weight began to shift forward in anticipation of transferring to its leading foot.
It was then that he struck.
Slamming a powerful double stomp at the junction of its shin and its foot, Ichigo abruptly halted the movement of its foot, throwing it off balance and causing it trip forward.
Seeing his chance, Ishida firmed his stance and let loose a torrent of blue reishi arrows as the towering hollow began to fall towards a convenient park which was thankfully unoccupied at the moment.
As the hollow fell forward into the rain of arrows, its mask was continuously pelted by an endless stream of arrows, leaving numerous chips, dents, and miniscule cracks in it, all of which, while individually negligible, added up to significantly weaken the hollow's mask.
Just as the hollow was seconds away from crashing into the ground, a pulse of odd reiatsu had Ishida and those still with him turning to notice Chad running to the place where the hollow's head was going to land.
With the group watching on, he launched himself into the air, easily clearing the dozen feet between the ground and the falling hollow, and with their eyes widening in surprise, his right arm erupted in a furious explosion of reiatsu, which cleared to reveal a black and purple colored armor coating it.
With a roar of exertion, he smashed his armored arm into the hollow's mask moments before the pent up reiatsu exploded out of his fist, effortlessly blasting through the Menos' face and out the back of its head.
Chad landed lightly and turned to watch as the defeated hollow dissolved into reiatsu particles.
Sharp silver eyes catalogued Chad's revealed form, gauging his reiatsu and pressing his new signature into his memory.
How interesting, thought Urahara Kisuke, things are really beginning to move forward.
Rukia just managed not to gape at Chad's recent actions, wondering how she had missed such a change in her friend, and – here she flicked a glance at the swiftly returning orange haired teen – how Ichigo had managed to keep this from her.
Ishida, meanwhile, clenched his jaw as he took in the effect of Chad's attack, admonishing himself for failing to notice when Chad's innate reiatsu was unlocked.
Ichigo had a small smirk on his face as he took in the looks on the others' faces once he landed on the roof, with Chad not too far behind him. His smirk only widened when his eyes met Rukia's narrowed ones.
For the moment, they had forgotten about the third Menos.
Yet it had not forgotten about them.
"…Then, that is the judgment of the Central 46. The Shinigami known as Kuchiki Rukia will be retrieved from the world of the living, to face trial for her actions in transferring her powers to the human, Kurosaki Ichigo."
In his position, Ukitake Jūshirō bowed his head in sadness as his sensei pronounced the Council's decision. He felt what little strength he had mustered to attend this meeting fade away in the face of the impending trial of one of his favorite subordinates.
Still, his head came up as the Captain Commander began to speak again, hoping that maybe things would turn out alright.
To his side, Kyōraku Shunsui kept a close eye on his pale haired friend. As soon as they had heard that they would be meeting to talk about the fate of Kuchiki Rukia, Jūshirō had been determined to attend, despite the fact that he had received the news lying on a bed in the Fourth Division. As such, both he and Unohana Retsu had taken up positions on either side of the weakened captain, all protests at the break from protocol having been quelled by Retsu's serene smile.
Now, as their sensei pronounced the girl's fate, he worried that it would be a blow too much for his weakened friend to bear.
Kuchiki Byakuya was as stoic as ever as he heard the Central 46's decision concerning his adoptive sister.
Though his face was fixed in the ever present Kuchiki mask of unshakeable calm, he was conflicted and raging inside…torn apart by two vows he had once made, both now being put in conflict with one another.
I swear, as a Captain of the Gotei 13, to uphold all its Laws and Mandates.
I swear to you Hisana, I will protect your sister.
A little bit of his internal turmoil managed to slip through his iron control, to express itself as a minute tensing of his jaw; a reaction that was only noticed by the Captain Commander who had been watching for one.
As he tuned back into his superior's words, Byakuya wondered what he would do when he faced the inevitable choice between duty to his office, and duty to his family.
The Captain Commander's gravelly voice drew them all out of their thoughts and back to the matter at hand,
"In that case, Sixth Division Captain Kuchiki Byakuya, you and your lieutenant will -"
A sudden beeping noise cut off Yamamoto Shigekuni and from his place at the end of the line, Kurotsuchi Mayuri searched through his pockets for his emergency communicator, valiantly ignoring the bead of sweat making its way down the side of his face as the room's temperature rose steadily at the ire of the dormant volcano in their midst.
Finally finding the blasted device, he made sure to switch it to video mode – it being one of the newest prototypes from his department – so that the inept fool who had interrupted the Captain Commander would face the old man's anger.
Above the palm sized device, a small projection of his third seat's face appeared.
To his credit, Akon didn't pale too much when he came face to face with the most powerful men and women in Soul Society, and only a twitch in his brow and minute strain in his voice gave away his extreme discomfort as he began to speak,
"Sorry for disturbing you Captain, but we have a situation in the World of the Living. Fifteen minutes ago, there was a large incursion of hollows in Karakura Town and -"
Here, the Captain of the Second Division cut him off harshly,
"Why are you only mentioning this now if it happened fifteen minutes ago?"
Swallowing visibly as he faced the pint sized assassin, Akon evenly responded,
"That is because we wanted to make sure our sensors were not malfunctioning…since they were registering the presence of over three hundred moderately powerful hollows."
Silence descended on the room as he delivered the estimate. Reflexively, Kyōraku's hand snapped out to steady his friend as a coughing fit suddenly came upon the white haired captain.
Karakura Town, being one of the Spiritually richest regions in the Human World, had long since been marked as a place of interest by the Gotei 13, and even more so by certain captains in the group: The Third, Fifth, Ninth…and First Division captains.
Akon coughed, indicating that he was not yet done with his report.
"Furthermore, the sensors picked up the presence of Menos…three of them."
It was too much.
Jūshirō swayed in place and collapsed to his knees as his body was wracked by a powerful coughing fit at hearing Akon's news.
With swift and sure hands, Unohana was with him in an instant, hands glowing with healing reiatsu as she combatted the coughs plaguing him.
In seconds, the fit had subsided and, waving off the visible concern of his colleagues, Jūshirō got back to his feet, smiling at Shunsui's worried look.
Yamamoto shifted in his seat, easily garnering everyone's attention as he prepared to respond to the third seat's report, yet he was interrupted once again.
A startled exclamation echoed through the communicator, causing Akon to face off screen for a few seconds, before he refocused on the communicator with his features visibly surprised. His voice, when it came, shook with his disbelief,
"Belay that…now, there is only one Menos left, and about fifty hollows."
The gathered captains stilled for a moment, before the room erupted in a flurry of movement.
Kurotsuchi, already knowing what to do, pulled a remote from his robes and hit a button as he joined the other captains in lining up on either side the Captain Commander's chair, with all of them facing the entrance of the meeting room.
For his part, Akon didn't hesitate either as he routed the needed feed from the camera's they had just managed to get into position seconds before.
In the meeting room, the lights dimmed a little bit as a large screen descended in front of the huge doors. From behind the Captain Commander, a projector came on, displaying the feed from the Twelfth Division on the screen.
Silently, the captains watched as the towering form of the last surviving Menos focused on the indistinct figures of a group of people standing on the roof of a building.
The cameras were too far away to make out the details of who the people were, but they could all easily make out the black of a Shinigami's robes.
As they watched on, the Menos Grande began to charge a cero in its mouth, its intent to annihilate the group, clear as day.
Ichigo spun as he heard Rukia gasp in alarm, furiously cursing himself for getting distracted with their victory over two of the Menos Grandes.
As he watched the hollow finish charging the cero, he knew that it was too late to get the others away.
Rushing to the edge of the building, as far away from the others as he could get – which wasn't very far, considering that they were gathered in the center of the roof – he let loose a sharp spike of reiatsu to garner the attention of the hollow.
Rukia screamed as the hollow released the cero straight at Ichigo,
"Run Ichigo, if that attack hits you, not even an atom would remain."
Disregarding her warning, he stood his ground, and a few inches before it would have hit, his broad katana came up with its flat surface facing the attack.
To the group's surprise, the attack connected…and stopped.
The surface around Ichigo cratered as he fought to hold off the power of the Cero.
His knees shook as he strained to keep his sword steady.
Chad, Rukia, and even Ishida, made to move forward before a flutter of green blocked them, revealing the back of the mysterious shopkeeper.
Not one to be deterred, Chad prepared to shoulder past Kisuke, but he was stopped.
With a pulse of reiatsu, the three classmates found themselves on their knees and incapable of moving.
Rukia's eyes widened in surprise as she realized what had just happened.
Chad grunted as he strained to slip the bonds holding him in place, all to no avail.
Ishida clenched his jaw at being helpless in the situation he had brought upon the town by his own actions.
Kisuke's voice was cheery with a sharp undertone as he replied to their silent consternation,
"Now, just watch, I think something interesting is just about to happen."
His words had them refocusing on the now kneeling Ichigo who was bathed in the red light of the hollow's attack.
Wondering at what the annoying shopkeeper meant, their questions were answered as they all began to pick up a steady rise in reiatsu coming from Ichigo.
Where before, Ichigo's reiatsu had been a constant output at about the level of a seventh seat – since he had taken to suppressing it, it was now steadily rising as he struggled against the cero.
Ichigo, for his part, nearly faltered as he felt a part of his soul suddenly surge forward without warning.
He just barely managed to keep a hold of his stance at the unexpected spike in power.
With a slightly panicked voice, as he fought to simultaneously hold the attack off and keep a hold of his own suddenly out of control power, he asked,
"Zangetsu, what the hell is happening?"
From the depths of his soul, his companion replied, voice noticeably strained as he too sought to stabilize their power,
"I don't know Ichigo."
Even as he heard Zangetsu's answer, he was already looking for a solution to the new problem, and he found it, at about the same time as Zangetsu arrived at the same answer.
Moving more in sync than they ever had before, they began to shunt the sudden power surge into the broad katana Ichigo was currently wielding.
Zangetsu worked to smoothen out the turbulent reiatsu and make it accessible to Ichigo, while Ichigo worked to pack it into the sword and keep it from escaping…yet.
With the group, eyes watched as Ichigo's sword began to glow a bright light blue color as he reiatsu continued to rise past the level of a third seat in the Gotei 13.
As he felt the strain vanish from inside him, Ichigo suddenly realized that he had no idea how to proceed with step two of their plan. Before he could panic anew however, he felt Zangetsu's presence surrounding him, steadying him as he prepared to carry out his next action.
Slowly, but surely, Ichigo straightened from his bent position, steadily rising under the pressure of the cero.
With a shout of defiance easily heard over the noise of the red beam of death, he swung his sword, slicing through the hollow's attack, and at the pinnacle of his swing, he let go.
From the outside point of view, it was like a crescent shaped wave of blue energy suddenly exploded from Ichigo's position, effortlessly splitting the cero and slamming into the face of the hollow.
As the Menos reared back from the counterattack, Ichigo leaned forward, and suddenly vanished.
Kisuke's eyes widened as Ichigo flickered out of view, his thoughts incredulous as he realized what he had just seen.
Ichigo reappeared above the hollow, which still had its head thrown back from the back lash of Ichigo's assault, with his sword raised above his head and glowing like it contained the sun…or more aptly, the moon.
With a roar, he swung his blade down, and from its tip, a larger and far more powerful crescent wave of reiatsu erupted, cleaving through its face with ease.
For a moment, the Menos stood there with its face upwards and facing Ichigo, before with a sound like a click, a line appeared in its mask, going from top to bottom down the center.
Slowly, the towering monster began to fall backwards, already dissolving into spirit particles in the face of its defeat.
Panting at his recent ordeal, Ichigo landed heavily on the roof, dropping to one knee in fatigue.
As one, Chad, Rukia, Ishida, and the recently awoken Orihime, all rushed to him, concerned – though almost unnoticeably in Ishida's case – for his wellbeing.
Ichigo was still in the process of assuring them that he was fine, if just a little bit tired, as well as being scolded for his reckless actions, when Urahara and his troupe reached the teens.
With his ever present fan fluttering in front of his face and blatantly ignoring the glares aimed his way from Rukia, Chad, and Ishida, he said,
"Well then, now that that's taken care of, how about to we retire to my shop?"
Back in Soul Society, the captains were all silent as the projector switched off and the screen ascended back into the ceiling.
Without saying anything, they all returned to their previous positions and waited for someone to break the silence.
They didn't have to wait long.
With a surge of eager reiatsu and a chilling grin on his face, the scarred visage of the eleventh division captain leaned forward and his voice echoed in the silent room,
"Interesting…very interesting…I want to fight that kid, it promises to be fun! "
A few of the captains huffed at his unrestrained bloodlust, before another voice sounded out, surprising many of the captains at the identity of the speaker, before they all remembered the issue they had been discussing before the recent events.
As cold and unapproachable as ever, Kuchiki Byakuya said,
"With your permission, Captain Commander, I will leave to retrieve the Shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia…and deal with the human, Kurosaki Ichigo, if necessary."
Wondering at how he could be so detached when they were discussing his own sister, the captains focused on the Captain Commander, awaiting his response in light of the recent revelations.
Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni was old; this was common knowledge.
Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni was powerful; this too was common knowledge.
Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni was weary; now this…was not common knowledge.
For a thousand years he had led the forces of the Gotei 13, and in all that time, he had learnt as he had aged; he had grown both in power and in understanding to become the man he was today.
He had watched wars come and go; watched enemies rise and fall – often with screams of pain as the fires of creation turned them to ash before him.
He had witnessed as Soul Society turned from the lawless land it was, to the great city it had become, filled with many burgeoning talented guardians of the afterlife.
Yet, it was not enough.
For the past few decades – centuries even, Soul Society had been suffering from an ailment that he knew not how to solve.
One could argue that it was inevitable, that their society, where to be middle aged was to be centuries old, would progress slowly; lacking the drive that the more short lived mortals had on account of their significantly shorter life spans.
Regardless of the reason, the Soul Society as a whole had ceased to progress. The same kinds of people had been in power for decades, doing the same kinds of thing. Nowadays, the only form of progress whatsoever happened in the Twelfth Division, and only because its Captain was too abnormal to care about constraining himself to the traditional norms of the society – in that, he was similar to his predecessor.
For centuries, they had lived by the rigid rules set over a millennium ago, stuck in their traditions and failing to advance significantly as the rest of the worlds around them did.
With thoughts of Soul Society's state in mind, the slumbering dragon that was the captain commander wondered if it was such a bad thing that this human child, this Kurosaki Ichigo, had appeared.
Furthermore – and here, his eyes, hidden behind his slitted gaze, rested unnoticeably on three of his captains.
Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni was old, this was common knowledge…but he was not, and had never been, stupid.
A century ago, when a handful of some of his most powerful subordinates had been taken out in a distasteful hollowfication experiment, he had stood before the Central 46 and had listened as they ordered him to dispatch a squad to take care of the 'abominations'.
He had complied.
It was not his fault that, at the time, the top members of the Stealth and Assassination squad had been sore from an impromptu evaluation he had performed personally mere hours before the order had been given.
Naturally, he had been forced to send those that were able to carry out the orders; the fresh recruits and relatively mediocre members of the stealth force.
It was not his fault that they had failed to track down their targets.
Decades later, when a promising young captain from the Shiba clan had gone missing in the same town where they had lost all traces of the hollowfied captains and their accomplices, he had declined to dispatch anyone from the Onmitsukidō.
He had stood stoically as the members of the Central 46 had loudly objected his decision, wondering just what he had been up to.
With his captains lined up behind him, he had merely replied,
"Since this seems to be a matter of utmost importance, and recalling the results of dispatching a squad 80 years ago to that same town, I have decided to send two of my own captains."
And so, under the disbelieving and shocked gazes of the Central 46, Kyōraku and Jūshirō had bowed to their sensei and swiftly departed for Karakura Town.
The council had been unable to argue with two of Soul Society's oldest and most powerful captains handling the issue.
When the two had returned and told the Council that Shiba Isshin had died in battle, he had merely moved on and found a replacement for the absent captain of the Tenth Division.
Now, he considered what he had just learnt.
He knew in the depths of his ancient heart that things were about to become hectic in the nearby future, and his instincts, two millennia in the making, told him that the human child would be at its center.
All that remained was to determine if the boy could handle it.
In the depths of his soul, his eternal companion, half asleep as it had been for the past two centuries since it had last needed to be awake to face a formidable foe, considered the thoughts running through his head.
Ryūjin Jakka, in the core of the volcano in which he slumbered, rumbled his agreement; for too long had they lain dormant, and now, in the twilight of their years, it was time to remind these youngsters – one last time – of what it meant to wield the fires of creation.
The Captain Commander made his decision, and around him, the gathered captains started in surprise at his one worded response to Kuchiki Byakuya's statement,
Ichigo waved to Chad and Inoue as the two teens made their way to their respective houses, with Chad opting to walk Inoue back to her house first.
Turning from them, he hurried in the other direction to catch up with the sable haired slender figure of Ishida Uryū, suppressing an amused smile at his classmate's exasperated huff.
Walking beside the teen, he wondered how to begin the conversation he wanted to have; the one that they needed to have.
"I heard about the war between the Quincies and the Shinigami. I can -"
However, Ishida's voice cut him off,
"I don't care about what happened 200 years ago. In fact, I believe that the Shinigami were right in their actions."
Now, Ichigo was confused; if Ishida's hatred of Shinigami did not stem from the nigh annihilation of his race, then from where did it come?
Before he could voice his confusion, Ishida continued, slowing down his pace as he delved into memories of times since past,
"Not all Quincies were against what the Shinigami did, you know. There was one pureblooded Quincy in particular who believed that the Shinigami and Quincy should work together. He even devised strategies whereby the Quincies would be the first response to hollow attacks, saving civilians and buying time for the Shinigami to arrive to purify the hollows; that way, the balance of souls would be preserved while innocent lives would be saved. Yet, time and time again, his suggestions were rejected by the Shinigami, always with the reason that the Quincies were not needed."
Ishida paused in his story as he waited for Ichigo to digest what he had just said. Knowing that the orange haired teen would not yet be able to understand the root of his hatred, he continued,
"Then, a few years ago, this Quincy was surrounded by abnormally huge and powerful hollows. He fought as best as he could, but he was old, and after two hours, the Shinigami finally arrived to find his dead body…the dead body of Ishida Sōken, my mentor and grandfather."
Ichigo's eyes widened as he heard those bitter last words, knowing better than most the hatred and pain that could grow from the unfair loss of a loved one.
He kept silent as he continued to walk with his fellow classmate, wondering at what to say to help Ishida like his first sensei had helped him all those years ago.
Finally, after feeling Zangetsu's steady reassurance, he began to speak, knowing that although it didn't seem like it, Ishida was focused on his words,
"My mother was killed by a hollow…"
And so, he told Ishida about his own loss, about the pain and anger and sadness he had felt; worsened by the knowledge that his mother had died to save him. He mentioned how he had only recently realized that she had lost her life to a hollow.
When he spoke about the encounter with Grand Fisher, he noticed Ishida tensing out of the corner of his eyes.
Halting, since it seemed that they had arrived at their destination, Ichigo locked eyes with Ishida and said,
"So, I know what it means to hate the ones that took a loved one from you; what it means to let yourself get lost in that pain, grief, and hatred. Yet, remember that that isn't what they would want for us. My mother wanted me to never stop smiling, to live each day with no regrets, and to always cherish the good times I shared with her. Uryū, when we lose love ones, it is not our job to hate on their behalf; it is our job to smile for them, to make others happy for them…to live for them."
For a few seconds, both teens were motionless as their gazes remained locked, Ichigo's words echoing in the space between them, before Ishida adjusted his glasses and quietly replied,
"Tch…I must have sunk low indeed to warrant a lecture from you, Shi…Ichigo."
Smiling at his new friend – even if the bespectacled teen would furiously deny such a friendship, Ichigo merely let loose soft laughter before spinning on his heels and making to leave, waving over his shoulder and calling out,
"Eat lunch with us tomorrow, eh Ishida?"
Not replying to his invitation, Ishida made his way inside his family's mansion, all the while knowing but not acknowledging that he was looking forward to the next day.
Upstairs, a pair of cool blue eyes hidden behind frameless glasses tracked the orange haired teen as he made his way back home.
Turning from the window, Ishida Ryūken wondered about the recent mess his son had been involved in; somehow Isshin, I know this is your fault.
Rukia slowed her furious pace to a crawl as she took a moment to catch her breath. Turning back, she heaved a sigh of relief once she noticed that she had distanced herself quite a bit from the Kurosaki household; she just hoped that it would be enough.
Sighting a bench a few feet away, she made her way to it and slumped down in fatigue.
All that was left was the wait.
As she sat huddled in the cool night air, she couldn't do anything to stem the tide of memories that flashed before her eyes.
Times spent enjoying being part of a group as she hadn't been in a long time; not since their group from Inuzuri had been split up.
Yet, here, amongst a group of teenagers, she had found people who hadn't cared that her last name was Kuchiki; they had treated her as one of them nonetheless.
Even now, she couldn't find it in her heart to be upset over the teasing she had had to endure that morning about a possible relationship with Ichigo. Being able to have such a carefree discussion in the first place was a treasure she would never take for granted.
Now, with a somewhat heavy heart, she prepared herself for what was about to come. Knowing her brother, she held no delusions that her punishment – for there was most assuredly going to be one – would be lessened on account of the fact that she was a noble.
She resigned herself to going back to the place where she had never really belonged; where people were too blinded by her name to see the girl that had been suffocating under the weight of such expectations.
Now that she knew what life might have been like if things were different, she realized that she wasn't about to return home…she was leaving it.
All of a sudden, she felt eyes on her, and slowly, so slowly she might as well have been still, she raised her eyes to meet the cold gray eyes staring back at her.
Many things registered at once in her mind:
First was the white robe signifying the rank of the person before her
Second was the fact that, though the person was standing a handful of feet away, only her eyes were able to register the newcomer's presence
Third and final was the realization that she hadn't needed to raise her head too far to lock eyes with the figure standing there, even though she was seated on a bench.
These three points coalesced in her mind to produce the identity of the person sent to retrieve her, and with a shiver of dread and something like terror, she put a name to the face.
Captain of the Second Division and Commander-in-Chief of the Onmitsukidō, Suí-Fēng
Ichigo halted in his doorway as his sharp brown eyes took in the absence of his usual companion. His eyes slid closed in pained realization as he easily deduced the reason behind said absence.
Continuing into the room, he put down the plate of food he had been carrying and collapsed bonelessly into his chair, all the while thinking to himself,
I guess it's time.
After the events of the previous day with the attacking Menos Grandes, Ichigo and Rukia had talked about the possibility that someone would be sent to retrieve her in the near future.
Though she had tried to dance around the issue, Ichigo had pressed until she had divulged that she would likely be treated as a criminal from the get go.
Translating that to mean that she might get roughed up in the process of being retrieved Ichigo had tried but failed to hide the murderous resolve in his eyes – his intention to interfere in her retrieval as clear as day.
Rukia had argued and fought with him, until he had finally capitulated when she had mentioned that his actions might bring the attention of the Soul Society on his friends and family.
Now, he sat and wondered if he was doing the right thing. At the beginning, he had resolved that he would do all that he could to see to it that his sisters were kept as far away from the supernatural world as possible.
Now, that decision was being tested by a friendship he had not foreseen himself developing with the Shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia.
His internal conflict raged on, no end to his turmoil insight, until his senses suddenly registered a disturbance.
No, not quite a disturbance in the night's partial serenity; more like a disturbing serenity.
The air seemed to have stilled and he couldn't perceive any of the usual sounds that served as proof that Karakura Town was still alive at night.
The sudden lull lasted for an eternal second, before it was shattered as a powerful curtain of subtle reiatsu descended upon the entire town.
In his room, Ichigo's breath hitched in his throat as his senses registered the surge of power.
Now, most high ranking Shinigami were easily capable of preventing their reiatsu signatures from being sensed by most, and even more so when the people in question were simple humans.
Yet, one fact that only the captains and a few others knew was that when traveling from Soul Society to the human world, merely hiding one's reiatsu was not enough.
The Soul Society, being a purely spiritual world, possessed something that the human world lacked – background reiatsu.
This reiatsu, which permeates every single particle in soul society, has become so commonplace over the millennia that no one there actually notices it.
It is much like a person born and raised in New York who slowly but surely becomes desensitized to the sound of car horns and people's voices, until they just never notice it anymore.
Yet, if a native from an isolated and underdeveloped region of the world arrived in New York, said person would pick up on all the sounds around them.
In a similar vein, the background reiatsu, which was ignored by Shinigami but noticed by sensitive humans, had a habit of bleeding through the Senkaimon whenever it was opened. This bleed off made it virtually impossible for a Shinigami – or hollow even – to sneak into the human world without the notice of spiritually sensitive humans.
Of course, it was theoretically possible to make a Senkaimon that negated such effects, but the secrets of such a method had been lost from the Soul Society along with their inventor, some hundred and ten years previous.
Now, the surge of pure reiatsu bleeding into Karakura Town alerted Ichigo to the arrival of the Shinigami sent to apprehend Rukia.
With that foreknowledge, he closed his eyes, centered himself, and cast his senses out towards the disturbance.
Once he detected the energy of the newcomers – having somehow overlooked them twice – he focused on them, trying to get a reading from his home.
Observing the weaker of the two, he felt a surge of relief as he noted that he could easily take whoever said Shinigami was.
Turning to the second, and far more powerful, signature, he swallowed as he noted that they were at a level just below him. In terms of raw power, he knew he would lose against the two of them together, but he felt that maybe, somehow, he would be able to pull a win, if he just foc –
Abruptly, all his thoughts were scattered across the wind as the owner of the second signature reached out for him.
Ichigo was suddenly sitting ramrod straight in his chair, face pale with a cold sweat on his brow.
The feeling tap-dancing up and down his spine was much akin to standing with one's back to a darkened room in which dwelled a black mamba; an elaborate but apt description.
So powerful was the feeling that he fully believed, with the same certainty that he believed the sun would rise tomorrow, that there was a knife at his throat, resting against his jugular and just waiting for a moment to strike.
Just as he was about to succumb to the feelings of terror bearing down on his mind, a surge of protective and powerful reiatsu erupted from the depths of his soul, sweeping aside the curtain of fear and despair that had settled around him.
With a gasp, Ichigo slipped out of his chair and onto the floor, fighting to regain his breath as the hold of the powerful and vicious reiatsu was broken.
He wondered how he could have been so wrong.
What he had just experienced had revealed one fact to him: The power that he had been sensing had been a mere fraction of what the person actually wielded – something like a fifth of the total.
Running a quick estimation through his head, he concluded that what he had been sensing could only have been a captain and a lieutenant.
It was with that realization that he recalled a mention in his books of captains having so much power that a portion of it was sealed off whenever they went to the human world, in order to prevent their power from interacting too much with the Living World.
Now, he realized the folly of his earlier thoughts. As it was, he might still be able to protect Rukia from the lieutenant, but giving the fabled prowess of a captain level opponent, he knew that even if he pulled out all the stops – which would just make Soul Society more suspicious – he would still lose to the captain's vastly superior skill and experience.
Still, even as he realized that, he realized the seriousness of the issue if they were sending a captain and lieutenant to retrieve Rukia.
Once more, he felt as though he were balanced on the edge of a knife, damnation on either side of him.
Then suddenly, he sensed something that made the decision for him.
Suí-Fēng blinked as the person she was focusing on suddenly vanished from her senses.
Coming back to herself, she took in the strained form of her vice-captain and the currently kneeling form of Kuchiki Rukia.
Realizing that her reiatsu had slipped as she searched for the person that had dared poke at her, she reined in her power, noticing but not caring about the way that Kuchiki gasped in relief and began struggling to her feet.
Making a mental note of the direction in which the nuisance was, she turned her full attention on the Kuchiki girl, and found herself grudgingly admiring the way the girl steadily met her eyes, despite the carefully hidden fear that she could read in her demeanor.
Stepping forward, she made sure that her voice was the frosty authoritative tone that she had been forced to learn when Yor – when she had taken up the mantle of command, and she demanded,
"Where is the human you gave your powers to, Kuchiki?"
Rukia's jaw tensed as the coolly asked question echoed in the air around them. Closing her eyes to gather her resolve, she responded, keeping her tone respectful but not deferent,
"The human is of no concern. The transferred powers are already fading, and in a few days, the person will be back to normal."
The diminutive Captain merely raised an eyebrow at the girl's nerve. Letting a sardonically amused smile cross her face, she said,
"Let me rephrase that…where is Kurosaki Ichigo?"
Rukia struggled not to react as the captain casually used Ichigo's name, revealing to her the depth of the knowledge Soul Society had about the matter at hand.
Cursing herself for being an optimistic fool, she realized that she had harbored some hope that Soul Society would not have taken the issue seriously.
Now she knew how unreasonable that hope had been.
Swallowing down her despair, she refocused on the dangerous woman before her, and just as she moved to respond, she heard footsteps nearby and a voice that had her paling in sudden worry and fear,
"You are out late…Kuchiki-san."
Turning slowly, hoping and praying that she was wrong, she locked eyes with the ever calm orbs of Yasutora Sado.
Quickly, Rukia opened her mouth to speak; hoping to prevent things from escalating rapidly, but it was too late.
Like watching a pile-up on a busy highway, Rukia could only look on as Chad's eyes slid from her to land on the small captain standing behind her.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw the captain tense as she realized that the human could see her, and then to make matters worse, her hand casually came to rest on the handle of her zanpakutō.
Chad struggled back to his feet as he watched his battered and bruised enemy do the same.
They had been fighting for the past thirty minutes and already, Chad was nearly out of energy, though he took comfort in the fact that his opponent wasn't faring any better.
Seconds after it had become clear to the Second Division Captain that Chad could see her and her lieutenant, and that he had no intention of letting them take Rukia, the lieutenant in question had been ordered to attack him.
Obviously expecting an easy battle against the seemingly human teen, Marechiyo Ōmaeda had lunged for the dark skinned teenager with his sword prepared to slash across Chad's chest.
He had cut through air.
He was not a lieutenant for nothing though, and as such, he had already been in the process of recovering from being thrown off balance before Chad retaliated.
He was, however, too late.
For the first time in his relatively pampered life, Marechiyo Ōmaeda had his nose broken.
Suí-Fēng blinked in surprise as her lieutenant crashed at her feet, howling in pain at his broken and bleeding nose.
Suddenly getting irritated, she ruthlessly kicked him to snap him to attention and bit out,
"Ōmaeda, what the hell do you think you are doing?"
Getting back to his feet, her lieutenant whined back in a nasal tone,
"But sir, he just -"
Paling as his captain narrowed her eyes at him and began to reach for her sword, he promptly spun to face his opponent and charged back into battle.
Rukia, having seen Chad's performance against the Menos Grande from before, wasn't as surprised as the Second Division Captain, though much like the cold hearted assassin, she fully expected Chad to lose the battle.
As she opened her mouth to warn Chad off, the charging lieutenant suddenly blurred out of view, vanishing as he utilized Shunpo.
Materializing behind the teen, Ōmaeda swung at Chad's back, certain that his hit would connect.
For that assumption, he got his nose re-broken.
Stumbling back in combination pain and shock, the lieutenant of the Second Division blinked stupidly at the tensed teen that was still in his finishing stance.
Gritting his teeth as his tolerance finally hit its limit, he twirled his blade and snarled out,
With flash of light and a pulse of reiatsu, his sword transformed into a huge flail like weapon.
Flicking his hand he launched the spiked ball at Chad whose eyes had widened at the transformation of the weapon.
Snapping out of his shock, Chad prepared to dodge when he remembered that Rukia was currently standing behind him and would be in the path of the weapon.
Swiftly switching tactics, he stepped forward, clenched his feet and punched, all the while intoning,
"Brazo Derecho Del Gigante" (Right Arm of the Giant)
As the spectators watched on, his arm vanished under a flare of blue spiritual energy, only to be revealed in its new armored glory.
With a boom, his fist connected with the spiked ball heading his way, and for a second, they were at a stalemate.
Now, while it is true that Chad had spent quite some time training with his best friend, one should not forget that his opponent was a lieutenant and also one of the commanders of the Onmitsukidō.
That said, it was also true that said lieutenant only had access to a fifth of his total power.
The outcome was certain.
A snap suddenly echoed through the air as Ōmaeda watched on with disbelieving eyes as cracks spider webbed from the point where Chad's fist met his weapon.
Hastily pulling back his weapon, he surged reiatsu down its chain, fixing up the cracks.
As he turned back to his opponent, he was brutally reminded of why he shouldn't take his eyes off a fight.
Chad's armored fist glowed blue as it ploughed through the hastily raised guard of the man he was fighting, launching him away. Without warning, his eyes widened in pain as the spiked ball slammed into his gut, also launching him away.
Getting back his bearings as he crashed into the floor, he just managed to roll out of the way of a powerful ground stump from the recovered lieutenant.
Smoothly rolling back to his feet, he charged back in to battle.
Back in the present, he panted as he carefully watched his opponent, waiting for any telling twitches.
Peripherally, he was aware that both Rukia and the white clad woman were observing him with slightly disbelieving looks in their eyes – obviously, neither of them had expected him to hold his own so well.
Suddenly, just as his opponent was tensing up for another attack, the white clad woman sighed and said,
"Stand down Ōmaeda…that's enough."
Blinking at his captain for a moment, he eventually heeded her words, and pulled back, massaging his bruised ribs where he had suffered a full powered punch earlier.
Chad, knowing that the game had just changed, turned his gaze on the small woman who was calmly staring back at him.
His eyes never left her form, so he was able to perceive a brief flicker of white, before he was forced to his knees by a sudden spinning kick to his abdomen.
Before he could marshal his defenses, a powerful blow slammed into his head and with stars now making up more than three-quarters of his vision, he collapsed forward onto the floor in a dazed stupor.
Suí-Fēng coolly examined the laid out teen for a few seconds, and then smoothly drew her sword.
Ignoring the Kuchiki girl's gasp of horror, she prepared to dispose of the human trash, when her eyes widened as she suddenly leaped away from her position, narrowly avoiding the broad katana that sliced into the ground where she had been standing mere moments before.
Landing lightly on her feet, Suí-Fēng took a moment to observe the newcomer, easily recognizing him from his orange hair and huge sword.
Fixing him with a chilly look, she spoke,
"Kurosaki Ichigo…you are, Kurosaki Ichigo aren't you?"
Ichigo didn't bother to respond, he was trying valiantly to keep himself from viciously attacking the woman who had ruthlessly put down his friend – knowing that a cool head would serve him better than not.
Kneeling down next to his best friend, he felt for a pulse, and allowed some of the tension to seep out from his body once he confirmed that Chad had merely been knocked unconscious.
Getting back to his feet, he let his suddenly frigid gaze land on the short captain standing in front of him, his quick mind, cataloguing all that he was seeing.
Suí-Fēng observed the teen standing before her. She felt some measure of incredulity at the amount of spiritual pressure she was sensing from said teen, but she didn't let that stop her; she was a captain of the Gotei 13, a human child was a bug in comparison.
Ichigo, watching her closely, noticed the moment his opponent committed to a course of action.
With a flicker, Suí-Fēng vanished in a blazing fast Shunpo, causing both Rukia and Ōmaeda to lose sight of her for an instant.
A clang had them focusing on Ichigo to find his broad katana blocking a would-be fatal thrust aimed at his heart.
Even as Suí-Fēng's eyes widened in surprise, Ichigo's left hand was already on a course to knife into her exposed throat.
Flipping backwards and just barely dodging the counter attack, Suí-Fēng found herself rapidly revising her opinion of the orange haired boy before her.
Narrowing her eyes at him, she noticed the subtle tension in his muscles and prepared herself.
Like a shot, Ichigo was off, bridging the distance between them in the blink of an eye.
With an ease that belied the weight and size of his sword, he swung at Suí-Fēng intending to cleave her in two.
As the captain's sword deflected the attack, Ichigo was already shifting into another stance, his motions fluid and deadly.
Rukia felt her jaw drop as her eyes strained to keep up with the flashes of white, black, and orange before her.
Her mind was blown.
Sure, the Second Division Captain was not using her full power at the moment, but the fact that Ichigo – who had only been a Shinigami for two months – was able to keep up with her, left her speechless.
Ōmaeda was confused.
The sight before his eyes was threatening to shatter all his preconceived notions.
He had read the reports, and he knew that Ichigo was merely a human teen – a child for all intents and purposes. Yet here he was, crossing blades with his captain even as she flickered about in her signature stealthy Shunpo.
It was impossible, but as they say, seeing is believing.
Ichigo deflected another thrust which had been aimed at his head, having already figured out that his opponent favored fatal piercing attacks.
There was no doubt, his foe was worthy of her rank as captain, yet, one simple fact ensured that he was holding his own.
Zangetsu was far better.
Having gotten used to battling with an opponent who was heads above him, Ichigo found that he was easily able to keep up with his opponent, and even execute a few moves that had her hard pressed to dodge.
They had been going at it for almost half an hour and he could still go for hours more – having beefed up his stamina by daily four hour long sessions with the taskmaster that was his older companion.
Speaking of Zangetsu, from his position on the tallest building in Ichigo's inner world, Zangetsu observed his wielder's first true battle…and he was pleased.
This impudent Shinigami had dared attempt to crush his partner under a wave of despair and fear, he would not tolerate it; he would shatter her pride and rend her into pieces.
Unknowingly, a small yet bloodthirsty smile appeared on the spirit's regal features, making him seem like one of the warrior kings of old.
Suí-Fēng flipped back onto her feet as she recovered from being sent flying by a powerful sweep of her opponent's blade.
She was getting confused, and consequently, perilously close to reverting to her default reaction to perplexing things – that of stinging them to death.
That a non-captain would stand up to the might of a captain of the Gotei 13 left her stunned.
That said person was a human teenager just compounded the problem.
Taking advantage of the brief lull in battle, she considered the orange haired Shinigami before her, trying to figure him out.
Why…why is he going so far for a girl he has only known for two months? This doesn't make sense!
Deciding to question him, she asked,
"Kurosaki Ichigo…why do you persist? Why do you fight so hard for someone you don't even know?"
Scowling at the woman before him, Ichigo bit out,
"What do you mean by that? Do you expect me to just stand aside while you harm my friends? Chad? Rukia? Don't be stupid, only scum would do that."
Rukia felt warmth in her heart as she heard Ichigo's answer. She had already known the kind of person he was and that he considered her a friend, but to hear him confirm it made her unreasonably happy; it really drove home the fact that he had accepted her.
Without even meaning to, she had begun to feel hope that Ichigo would actually succeed against the Second Division Captain.
Said captain's next action dashed that hope to pieces.
The sudden silence that had descended on the group after Ichigo's words was abruptly shattered as a maelstrom of powerful reiatsu exploded out of the diminutive captain's form.
Gasping for air, Rukia collapsed to her knees with a thud.
Ichigo, managing to throw off the weight of Suí-Fēng's reiatsu, watched her like a hawk, hoping to get some warning of her intended action before she carried it out.
He did get it, and then he wished that he hadn't.
Because he had been locking gazes with her, he noticed when her gaze flicked behind him.
With his face paling in horrified realization, he took off blurring across the ground, hoping to get there before her lieutenant did.
He made it, just barely.
With a clang, his sword deflected the thrust aimed for Chad's still unconscious body, but before he could relax, his muscles locked as he felt a soul tearing pain so intense that even though it lasted for a fraction of a second, it felt like an eternity.
Rukia clasped her hands to her mouth to stifle her cry of dismay as Ichigo's back erupted in a shower of blood from being stabbed by the small captain…twice.
Realizing that he had just been had, Ichigo dropped to his knees as his strength rapidly began to fail. Choking on the sudden pain from the assault he had been unable to block, he pitched forwards and collapsed in a rapidly expanding pool of blood.
As his vision began to darken, he heard hurried footsteps as Rukia ran towards him, and he struggled to form words, trying to keep her away from the cold killer who was suddenly standing over him.
Rukia slid to a halt as Captain Suí-Fēng materialized next to Ichigo's prone body, with her sword raised to deliver the killing stroke.
Flinging her hands forward in denial, she cried out,
"No! Please stop!"
Suí-Fēng, cold and efficient until the end, swung her zanpakutō towards the teen's neck.
Almost as if in slow motion, Rukia watched the blade meet Ichigo's skin, begin to dig in, and then stop after a fraction of an inch.
Completely frozen in place, not even daring to breathe, Suí-Fēng strained to confirm if she had really –
With jerky movements, her head turned to the side only for her to lock gazes with a black cat innocently sitting not too far away and cleaning its paw as it regally observed the scene before it.
Frozen, the diminutive captain watched as the cat got to its feet, and with a flick of its tail, sauntered off.
Watching until the cat had vanished from sight – after confirming with her senses that it was just a cat, she then turned her steely gaze unto the barely conscious teen at her feet.
Absently, she noticed that the Kuchiki was tensed as though she still expected her to end the boy's life.
Thinking about it for a moment – and observing the boy with her senses, she slid her sword into its sheath and spun around to leave; she had not missed her intended targets…the boy would die in a few hours…and he would do so as a normal human.
"Come, Ōmaeda, Kuchiki…we are leaving."
Jumping at the suddenly barked order and somewhat unexpected turn of events, her lieutenant quickly moved to her side, while Rukia stood still, watching the growing puddle of blood below Ichigo.
Feeling a subtle spike in lethal reiatsu, she quickly refocused on the captain whose back was to her.
Casting one more glance at Ichigo, and with tears now freely trailing down her face, she hurried to follow the captain into the Senkaimon, sparing a second to softly say,
"I am sorry…Ichigo...goodbye."
As the doors of the Senkaimon closed behind her, she threw one last glance back and nearly gasped as her eyes locked with furiously blazing brown orbs, shining with one unmistakable message,
Wait for me…I'll definitely come for you.
Ichigo felt cold as more of his life liquid pooled on the ground.
He wasn't worried about that though; now that the captain was gone, he could feel a quickly approaching familiar reiatsu at the edge of his senses, and he knew that no matter how annoying he considered Ichigo, Ishida would help when he got there.
What he was worried about was the sudden hollow feeling in the depths of his soul, and the absence of the steady presence of his soul companion.
Seeing blackness beginning to creep into the edge of his vision, Ichigo felt the borrowed energy that had existed in his core for over two months rapidly diminishing, making the ache of Zangetsu's absence even more noticeable.
As the last of his energy slipped away, he called out into his soul,
"Zangetsu…where are you?...Zangetsu?...Zan...ge…"
And he slipped into true unconsciousness, never getting a response.
Well then…I'm glad I was able to get this out in time for Christmas…and Merry Christmas to you guys, awesome readers that you are.
So, a few notes for this chapter.
First, things are really picking up…and some of the changes I am making are becoming more noticeable. I have made the 12th division more on top of their stuff…I understand that on a whole, Soul Society is technologically behind the Living World…but…I have plans…
Secondly, Yamamoto is not going to be some rigid traditionalist who can't adapt to the times. Everyone knows that when it comes to warriors, it is the ones who have lived to a ripe old age that you should fear the most.
Thirdly...I included a few crumbs about some very important stuff, like Zangetsu's character, and Ichigo's hollow...so, as before, go back and read the chapter if you feel like you missed the clues.
Finally…forgive any appalling grammar mistakes…it is 3:30am and I have spent the past five hours crunching out the last 4k words of this chapter…
Please leave a comment if you can. Thank you for taking the time to read and review my story.