The delicacy of beginning is as thin as a single red thread. It all began with a chance encounter during one of Ichigo's after school hours. Because there was a graveyard on the way near his house, he would always take time to pass by it and pay respects. As one who saw the dead as clear as if they were alive, he figured he owed them that much.
It was during one of his usual retribution times that he met the old man. He appeared to be the groundskeeper of the graveyard, which Ichigo saw through immediately. He had met the man who sometimes asked him for help cleaning some of the older graves.
"Who are you?" asked Ichigo.
"The groundskeeper," said the old man. He wiped some sweat off his brow.
"No, you're not. And I know the man who takes care of the grounds, and you are most definitely not him. He was in perfect health last time I saw him too," said Ichigo.
"You're a sharp one, aren't you?" said the old man.
"What's a burning wheel spirit doing tending human graves?" asked Ichigo.
"And you can see my true form. Fascinating. You needn't worry yourself child, I won't be here long. My Mistress is simply doing a job in this area, and I'm scouting for her," said the old man.
"Who could bind a spirit like yourself?" asked Ichigo.
"I can," said a female voice.
Ichigo turned to find...a beautiful girl with the face and figure of a well made doll. Her black hair was straight and very long. She had blood red eyes that seemed to look right into your soul, judging you. She wore a school uniform he wasn't familiar with, as it was completely black save for the collar and tie.
"Who are you?"
"My name...is Enma Ai."
"You're... You're the Hell Girl aren't you? Why are you in my neighborhood?"
"Someone has put in a request. Whether or not they untie the string is up to them," said Ai.
Ichigo looked at her and decided it wasn't his problem.
"It's not my problem unless you come after my family. I just wanted to know who was pretending to be the groundskeeper," said Ichigo, rubbing the back of his head.
"What is the name of your family?"
"They are not the ones targets, or the one who put in the request," said Ai.
"That's good to hear."
Ichigo left after that, heading home for a nice dinner. However his mind would always go back to his meeting with the infamous Hell Girl, and how alone she looked.
She was about his age, yet she looked much older if you looked in her eyes. But that was nothing to how sad those same eyes looked.
He felt sorry for her.
Which was why he kept half an ear on her whereabouts. At least until he met Rukia Kuchiki and became a soul reaper. After that he had no time to look for her.
Ichigo listened to the reports about Lovely Hills. Something about it stank. And then he saw something that almost made his heart stop.
Three people in the background, all with the same tattoo on their chest. One he knew well because he had kept a little attention to Hell Girl rumors.
The bad feeling in his chest grew, as he knew something terrible was about to occur. He watched the news on the residential area with dread. How people were disappearing in mass without warning, in front of several eye witnesses. But no one was saying anything.
Then, one night after the incident with Grand Fisher, Ichigo felt his heart was about to burst. Rukia was sound asleep, and the only thing that would wake her up would be the hollow alarm.
Ichigo knew this had something to do with Ai, the girl he had run into in the graveyard.
Ichigo didn't think. Something told him he needed to go. So he grabbed his bike from the shed and started peddling. By the time Rukia caught up to him, having sensed his spiritual pressure, she knew something was up.
"Ichigo, what are you...?"
"No time to explain. Just hold onto my back until we get there!" said Ichigo, as he slowed down just enough for her to climb onto the two pieces of metal that jutted out from the wheels.
He pedaled even faster, rarely stopping except to get something to drink.
He was almost too late.
"AI!" yelled Ichigo. He jumped off the bike, barely noting Rukia had done the same once she realized he wasn't going to bother stopping.
She could see a young girl in a white kimono, who looked lost. Next to her was a boy, badly beaten.
Ichigo saw red with rage as he kicked and punched his way to them. Several people had broken bones and bruises from the assault.
As soon as he got to Ai and the boy, he beat off the mob and got them out of there, Rukia helping him where she could.
"Ichigo, what the hell is going on? Who is this girl?!" demanded Rukia once they were far enough away. Ichigo was having trouble breathing through the stitch in his side.
"Kid, where's the nearest pay phone?" asked Ichigo.
"About a mile that way. Why?"
"We are going to deal with that mob properly," said Ichigo. No way were the getting away with nearly killing two kids on his watch. He had noticed most of them had the tattoo of the Hell Girl on their chest, meaning they had condemned someone to hell.
He already knew exactly how to spin this.
"This is the police department, what is your emergency?"
"There's some crazy cult in Lovely Hills! I was just riding by when I saw them try to kill two kids as a sacrifice to some demon! You have to hurry, I don't know when they'll find us!" said Ichigo.
"Hold on sir, the police are on their way," said the operator with some urgency.
"Warn the cops that all the cultists have this weird tattoo on their chest and think that a young child is the devil. I don't think any of them are in their right mind anymore," said Ichigo.
About an hour later Ichigo gave his statement and kept Ai with him. For some reason she couldn't remember who she was or why she was there. Since Ichigo was the son of a doctor, he was able to spin that on some drugs that the 'cult' members had given her before the sacrifice. The boy had apparently figured out what Ichigo was doing, because he added some incriminating statements of his own, saying that everyone in Lovely Hills believed he had killed his mother, despite the fact all he had done was pick up the weapon after the fact.
It took them two hours before they were allowed to leave, and by that time Isshin had showed up in the family car, which was only used for long distance journeys.
"Ichigo, just what in god's name were you doing here at this time of night?" asked Isshin.
"Remember how I occasionally volunteer at that graveyard cleaning up the place?"
"I know about that," said Isshin.
"Well a couple of months ago I ran into this suspicious spirit pretending to be the groundskeeper. After I confronted him, I found out he was in the service of another spirit... Hell Girl. Ever since, I've kept a note of where she was. Ever since this mess with Lovely Hills started, I've been getting this really bad feeling. Then a few hours ago I knew something terrible had happened here and that I had to come right away."
"So this young girl is..."
"She was Hell Girl. I think something happened to her."
Isshin sighed. First it was the soul reaper in his son's closet, and now Hell Girl. He didn't do things by halves.
"Since she can been seen by humans, I suppose we could let her stay. But you're grounded for a month mister! And if you want new tires for your bike you'll have to pay for it out of your allowance!" said Isshin.
"Fair enough," said Ichigo.
"Everyone, I would like you to meet your new classmate. Come in please!"
Ai walked in wearing the Karakura High uniform. It looked good on her.
Ai sat next to Ichigo, since it was on Isshin's recommendations.
Because of her memory loss, it was best to keep her close to Ichigo, because he was someone she remembered.
For some reason, Ai remembered Ichigo even after her memory was deliberately erased of her companions.
Ichigo believed this was because he had not met her as Hell Girl, but as Enma Ai.
Of course Ichigo's friends were quick to note that Ichigo had little trouble remembering her name.
Ai saw the hollows gathering, though she didn't understand the significance of it until she watched Tatsuki try to defend Orihime.
"Orihime! Tatsuki!" she cried.
"Ai-chan, can you see them too?" asked Tatsuki.
"I can see some sort of seed monster on the wall," said Ai.
The Hollow sneered and shot a seed at Ai, intending to take her over. Ai flinched, holding up her arms in a cross position to block it. Before the seed could attach, a black flame like night appeared incinerating it.
"Did you feel that?"
"It's her...she's alive!"
"There's too much interference. I can't get a lock. But...I do have a direction."
"She's in Japan...and somewhere near Tokyo from I can tell."
"Let's go...she needs us."
Ai stayed close to Orihime while Tatsuki tried and failed to stop the monster. She still had that strange black flame, but it would only show up to defend her and not Orihime.
There was a sudden blast of power and the hair pins Orihime had became fairies.
Orihime was able to take out the hollow, but they had to leave Tatsuki behind.
"Who would have expected that Ichigo-kun would befriend the infamous Hell Girl?" said Urahara.
"You...know me?" asked Ai. Even now she had trouble remembering her past.
"I know of you."
"Ai-chan is Hell Girl?" said Orihime.
"She was Hell Girl. Due to a certain event a month ago, Ai-chan has been removed from duty and her memories erased. Because of that, she is little more than a spiritually aware human," said Urahara.
After this, he would try to train her and Ichigo to use their natural powers.
"Now you have a choice. Either take a step into this world...or go back to the one you once lived in," said Urahara. Ichigo went after the Menos with an oversized sword.
"I...I don't know what to choose. Ever since Ichigo saved me, I have been lost."
"Ai-chan..." said Orihime.
"I will follow his decision. If Ichigo chooses to remain a soul reaper after Kuchiki-san is gone, then I shall join this world of yours," said Ai.
"I as well," said Chad.
"Give me time to think," said Orihime.
Someone called the clinic a few hours after Rukia vanished. Ai was the one to answer it.
"Kurosaki Clinic, Ai speaking," she answered.
"Hello Ai-chan! Could you tell Isshin that Ichigo will be home tomorrow? It seems he bit off more than he could chew earlier and it might take him a while to wake up."
"Who is this?"
"I believe Ichigo-kun calls me Hat-and-Clogs. Just tell him Kisuke has his son, he'll understand," said the other person on the phone.
Ai hung up and told Isshin the message.
"I better call this in," he said.
"What is going on?" asked Ai.
"It will depend on Ichigo. Whether he regains his powers or becomes human will be entirely up to him. What about you, Ai-chan? Will you learn how to use your powers or will you remain a human girl?"
"I...I don't know. I wouldn't know the first thing about how to use that black flame for myself..." said Ai. She looked so...lost.
"Don't worry! Even if you did somehow master that black flame you are still welcome here!" said Isshin.
Ai smiled at him. He was one of the few who had accepted her so openly.
"I've found her. She's in Karakura...and she's living with a former Soul Reaper."
"How did she get all the way there? It's three miles from where she was last seen!"
"I believe I know. There was a boy in Karakura who recognized me for what I was as soon as he saw me. He might have heard about the Lovely Hills incident and realized she was in danger. This might be a good thing..."
"If she is with that boy, then her spiritual pressure will increase. Not to mention that with him around, her spirit might be hidden from the spider."
"Yeah, but what if the Soul Society picks up on her? We can't let them send her back to Hell..."
"Then we'll just have to come up with something. Either way she's safer in Karakura than she ever was around us without her memories."
Ai was with Ichigo...in a manner of speaking. Her best friend was in a deep pit trying to regain his powers. Unfortunately the only one who could teach Ai anything was Tessai, and he was busy keeping Ichigo under control for the moment.
However that didn't mean Urahara couldn't help Ai in the meantime.
"So...your memories were taken because you refused to take an innocent to Hell."
Ai nodded. With every day she was around Ichigo, her memories of her past were slowly coming back. The first and foremost was the reason for her current condition.
After the incident, most of her powers as Hell Girl were sealed or stripped, leaving her little more than a spiritually aware human. Aside from the black flames, she could barely defend herself. Ichigo hid her from the Soul Society, as well as raised her powers past what they could have been,
Urahara planned to help her learn how to use soul reaper powers, since they were the closest they could get with her own sealed.
Which meant she would be learning kido from Tessai once Ichigo was back to normal. He would have put her through the same training as Ichigo, except he didn't want to be on someone's radar. Her spirit form was the Hell Girl, and without her powers she was helpless if attacked.
"Let's get started, shall we?" grinned Urahara. This was going to be fun!