Author's note: Question. Do you guys want to see a fic that centres on Vandular and the other hollows? It would be OC centric although it would follow Bleach cannon and the main characters would definitely show up. ^_^ Oh, and this fic is definitely winding down. Only more more chapter and it'll just be tying up loose ends.
Ichigo took a deep breath as he stepped into the heavenly realm for the first time.
Then he stopped in shock and near awe. The heavenly realm was similar to Soul Society, which he had only seen briefly. But it was also more. The sky was bluer, the trees were greener. He felt like he was stepping into an idealized dream, a place too perfect to actually exist. A feeling of wellness filled him, followed by the wrongness that permeated everything. That reminded him of why he was here and he continued walking.
Then stopped as Grimmjow reacted with a gasp and nearly dropped Tigre. Ichigo smiled and turned to watch all the reactions.
They varied quite a lot. Shiro was almost as shocked as Grimmjow, staring at the place with wide eyes. Violetta winced a little at the sting to her souls but otherwise took it in stride, her arms full of little baby. Rin gasped and stopped dead, her tail between her legs and her head tilted back as she looked at the sky in astonishment. Vandular just calmly glanced around before nodding slightly. Ichigo looked at his father for a moment. With the illumination of the sun, he could really see the brilliant colors for the first time. His father's hair was brown on the edges, with a ruff of gold running down the centre. His mask had no real markings, but his curling, upswept horns were interesting and his bat like ears were pierced and decorated with golden hoops and studs. Vandular's hollow hole was at the base of his throat and black lines fanned out from it, like jagged lightning bolts.
"Mami! You're really red!" Shiro said in surprise as Rin laughed. Ichigo glanced at her and blinked in surprise. He'd always known her hair was red, of course, but now it practically glowed. Her mask had a small red teardrop on the left side, red lines on the right and she had ruffs of red fur on her wrists and ankles. The sundress she wore was yellow with little pink flowers, a peculiar contrast. She flicked her flexible, fox-like ears before reaching up and gripping a lock of her hair, examining the shade. Vandular chuckled softly, sliding behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist. She leaned back against him happily.
"It's beautiful." Van said before nuzzling her. Rin returned the affection, bone scraping across bone. As they did that, Suisen and Bonito took to the air, squealing with joy at this new and beautiful place. "…Pups." Van sighed as he let go of Rin and took to the air, easily corralling the two escapees. "Shall we continue?" He said as he landed, his arms full of children. Ichigo nodded.
"Right." He could sense the impatience of their escorts. Everyone was desperate to see if Gin was correct about his parentage. They made their way to the throne room and Gin and Tosen were waiting for them there. Ichigo paused, taking a moment to examine it.
It was definitely worth a second look. Even badly damaged by combat, the beauty of the room practically glowed. One whole wall was nothing but windows, letting in the sun. The other wall was delicate paintings depicting the landscape and people of… the Living World? Soul Society? It was hard to say. There were soaring mountains, verdant hills and rolling grasslands. Tiny figures that were people crossed the pictures. Unfortunately, a large section had been destroyed, along with the wall. There were wall fixtures made of a very pretty golden metal, hung with delicately painted paper lanterns. Only a few had survived, though, and one was covered in dried blood.
None of that bothered the hollows. They had all seen much worse in Hueco Mundo. The throne claimed their attention although it wasn't that impressive. Ichigo was surprised to see that it was just a chair, not particularly ornate or even interesting. But there had to be more to it. Taking a deep breath he stepped forward, walking confidently to the Soul King's throne. Then he turned around and seated himself.
Oh! His exclamation was soundless as he lost any awareness of his body. It felt like his mind was exploding, seeing the vastness of the three worlds. And he could immediately see how disjointed they were. The Soul King had an extremely important job, and that was correcting any imbalances and preventing them from going too far. Right now everything was careening completely out of control.
Ichigo immediately started on correcting things. He instinctively knew what to do. He needed to push these souls over here, clean up the Blanks a little – there was no time for a memory rosary to form – take care of this…
Ichigo woke from his reverie to see that his father was asleep on the floor of the throne room and it was dark outside. The throne room had been cleaned up a bit, too. All the bloodstains had been removed and the damaged fixtures were gone although they had not been replaced.
"Papi!" He stood from the throne, stretching as Vandular woke with a snort. To his surprise he wasn't sore at all. Sitting for that long should have been painful. "How long has it been?" He asked, expecting to hear that it had been around eight hours. That was probably the length –
"Three days." Ichigo gaped at his father and Van chuckled softly. "Why else would I be the only one here? We've been keeping shifts, waiting for you to awaken."
"Oh." Ichigo swallowed hard before shaking his head. "How is…" He started to ask but then realized that he knew. If he concentrated, he could see what everyone else was doing at this moment. Grimm, Shiro and the children were all sleeping. Ichigo smiled as he saw little Tigre snoring softly. Barragan was awake and sitting in the gardens, looking at the stars. Gin and Tosen were both asleep, along with Byakuya and a few other shinigami he really didn't know. He blinked to see that Vandular was regarding him with interest.
"I see you are learning to control your new gifts." He observed and Ichigo nodded. That was a good way to put it. This was all very new to him. Although… if the Soul King could see things like this, how had Aizen successfully plotted against him? The answer came easily, provided by visions of the past. The Soul King could see anything but he was not omniscient. He needed to know where to look. By the time Aizen's treachery had become clear he'd gained the hogyoku and used it to block any attempt at celestial spying. Ichigo winced to himself as he realized how insanely powerful that little cube had been. He was glad it was gone.
"Well, we shouldn't wake everyone up. I'll keep working until dawn." He said and Vandular nodded before lying down again on the floor, resting his chin on his hands and crossing his legs together. Ichigo smiled to himself, reminded of an overgrown hound. Although no dog had ever had wings or horns. Seating himself on the chair he fell into his reverie again, but not so deeply.
He wanted to be aware when everyone woke up.
The next day began rather formally.
Vandular had spread word that Ichigo had awoken and several shinigami and prominent nobles began arriving. Frowning, Ichigo realized that the 'door' to the King's realm was still wide open. Sighing to himself, he decided to seal it later. After the terrifying scare they'd all had, no one was about to assassinate him. Barragan, Tosen and Gin were all there as well, although they were receiving plenty of dislike and some out and out hatred. Ichigo frowned to himself as he regarded the events of the past and the motivations of those involved. The throne let him see such things.
The shinigami and nobles paused as they entered the throne room and Ichigo smiled to himself as he saw their trepidation. He knew why they were hesitating. The throne had changed to suit him, as it did for every occupant. His version was cold, smooth stone, beautifully carved with images of life in Hueco Mundo. Mostly scenes of hunting, and the top of the throne held the crescent moon, looking down on her lost and lonely children. Ichigo was just glad the throne was stone and not bone. That was the only other building material he knew.
The other thing giving the soul reapers pause was his relatives. Shiro was standing to one side and everyone knew him for the hollow who had slain Yamamoto. He'd abandoned his Espada clothing for a black and white yukata, but it really didn't help much. To his other side was Vandular, arguably even more impressive than his son in his full bone. The only thing that made him approachable at all was the children. Suisen and Bonito chose that moment to run through the room, playing a game of chase with Tigre trying to crawl after them. Grimmjow's warm chuckle filled the room as he caught up the baby, gently getting him out of the way and making him giggle. Shiro laughed as Vandular easily brought the other children to heel, gently telling them to go play in the gardens. The windows could slide open and soon they were outside, but those moments broke the tension in the air and the shinigami approached him before bowing to the throne.
"Greetings, Shiba Ichigo." Byakuya was the one to speak. As a prominent noble and a taichou, he was arguably the highest ranked person in this room… well, aside from the Soul King. Ichigo nodded.
"Greetings, Kuchiki Byakuya. Please forgive me if I offend. I am not yet studied in shinigami courtesies." He'd decided beforehand to make that apology. Gin and Tosen's lessons hadn't included things like bowing and tea ceremonies. They'd been too busy training warriors to fight. Byakuya made a small gesture of negation, indicating it was of no importance.
"Understandable. We wish to discuss the reorganization of the Soul King's realm and what your edicts will be." Ichigo frowned slightly before the throne provided him with some understanding. Most Soul Kings, when they first ascended, made several proclamations. They could range from important things to making their own birthday a holiday. Ichigo smiled to himself at the thought. He didn't know his own birthday so that concern was moot.
"I have only one edict. As long as the arrancar remain in Hueco Mundo, they are to be left in peace." He said firmly and Byakuya nodded as one of the nobles behind him looked like he'd sucked on a lemon. The rest of the shinigami took it in stride. They'd probably been expecting that from him. "If they leave Hueco Mundo, you may take whatever actions you wish." He wasn't going to help anyone who decided to leave the sands. They were taking their chances. "As for the organization of my court… Tosen Kaname." He said firmly and the shinigami stepped forward and bowed, his face serene. "I can see all the things you have done and I see why you did them. I don't really understand all of it – in Hueco Mundo, the only law that exists is what you make – but I can see you wanted to make a difference. Would you be willing to join me here and try to bring justice to the world?" He knew that was a lot to promise, but during his second reverie he'd had time to explore the past. Tosen bowed again, more deeply this time.
"I would be honored." He said and there were suddenly several horrified protests. Byakuya quickly took over, speaking over the others.
"Your majesty, you would accept this murderer into your court?" He said, his voice carrying condemnation. There were murmurs of agreement from the other nobles and shinigami but Ichigo laughed, a sharp, bitter sound.
"You say that to me? To a member of the Shiba clan?" He said harshly and the Kuchiki noble had the decency to look down. There was a sudden wave of discomfort in the other nobles as they realized the hypocrisy involved. There was confusion and curiosity from the hollows, arrancar and some of the shinigami, though. "When I was communing with the throne, the very first thing I did after the worlds were stabilized was look up the history of my mother and father. Listen and I will tell you the story." He said for the benefit of those who didn't know. This was important.
"A long time ago, there was a beautiful princess." Ichigo said, remembering the image the throne had given him of his mother. "Her name was Masaki and she was the daughter of the Soul King's brother. One of the king's guards at the time was a man named Shiba Isshin. They met when she was young and over several years, they fell in love." Ichigo smiled as the scenes of the past flashed through his mind. His father had been very silly sometimes but his mother had loved every moment of it. "It would have been a decent match but my grandfather decided he wanted something better, in terms of power. So he betrothed her to a member of the Shihoin clan." At the time they had definitely been a cut above the Shiba clan. "He didn't care about her feelings. She was a daughter, an object to be used as he saw fit." He said with an edge of harshness. Barragan's expression didn't flicker but several of the others showed discomfort. Hollows weren't exactly free of sexism – individual attitudes dated to their living days – but on a whole, all that mattered to them was strength. The thought of treating a daughter differently than a son would sit oddly with them. "In her pain and grief, she fell into the arms of the man she loved and he comforted her, creating me."
"She tried to hide the pregnancy. Their plan was for her to give birth to me in secret and Isshin would rush me to his kinsmen. The long betrothal period helped, but it wasn't much of a plan and they were caught just after she gave birth." Ichigo said, his eyes darkening as the scene of blood and pain ran through his mind. "My grandfather ordered my mother's death and sent his men to hunt down my father. They would have killed me as well, if fate had not intervened." Ichigo nodded at Vandular and his adoptive father nodded back. He was listening to the story with an air of great solemnity. Then he looked back at the nobles.
"All of that I might be able to forgive. The Soul King had no opportunity to stop his brother, my grandfather. But I cannot forgive him for what happened next." He said, his voice like iron. "He allowed my grandfather to engage in a vendetta against the Shiba clan. Over the next ten years, they were almost wiped out. There are only a few survivors, living as peasants in the Rukongai and hiding their name." From the surprise on a few faces, they hadn't been aware of that. Ichigo wasn't surprised, the Shiba clan had gone deeply underground. "And the Soul King did nothing!"
"It was his brothers' right, as one of the royal clan and a powerful noble." Byakuya said calmly and Ichigo took a deep breath, calming himself before nodded.
"As it is my right to accept Kaname Tosen as one of my royal court." He agreed and the Kuchiki noble nodded his understanding and acceptance. There was a leaden silence from the others but none of them dared contradict him when the truth of the matter had been laid bare. "Now, Gin." Ichigo turned his attention to the other renegade shinigami and the man gave him a fox like smile, not intimidated in the least. "I can see what motivated you… and I'm sorry. I can't give you what you want." He said softly and Gin nodded, unsurprised.
"Yar, yar. It was destroyed with the hogyoku?" He asked and Ichigo nodded sadly. Gin had wanted the lost piece of Rangiku's soul. Aizen had stolen a part of it from her, just like many other shinigami, to make his half of the hogyoku. "So there's nothin' to be done?" He said wistfully and Ichigo shook his head.
"Actually, there is something. It will take a while and Rangiku might have to stay in the King's court for a year or more, but I think I can make a 'patch' for her soul." He offered and Gin looked intrigued. "Eventually her soul will heal and if the patch takes well enough, she'll be capable of bankai. I can't promise that though." Right now, Matsumoto would never achieve bankai. It required an intact soul. "You can stay until that's finished, but afterwards… would you even want to stay?" He had a feeling Gin wouldn't care for the King's court. Sure enough, he shook his head.
"Nah. I think I'll go to Hueco Mundo, see how the arrancar are doin'. Barragan's said I can be his advisor. Should be fun, eh?" He said with a smile and Ichigo laughed as the King of Hueco Mundo just looked stoic.
"It will definitely be interesting! Now, have you decided who will succeed the late Soutaichou?" They went into more details then and Ichigo got a good idea of how things were faring before he began appointing a few members of the nobility to his court. He didn't know any of them but the throne let him get a reasonable idea of their motivations and personalities. He also began putting together a new Zero squad. He didn't want to take any of the taichou – they had a lot of work to do – so he accepted Byakuya's recommendation. Abarai Renji would be the first member and the new taichou of the Zero squad. Ichigo wondered how he would react when he found out about the promotion. He was a fukutaichou at the moment, but he had achieved bankai recently. Kyoraku was going to succeed Yamamoto as Soutaichou. That surprised Ichigo slightly but the older man was stronger than Byakuya and probably capable of great things when he tried.
Eventually, everything was settled and most of the nobles returned to Soul Society. Ichigo kept the 'door' to his existence open. There would be too many people coming and going now to close it, but he planned to do so when the week was out. Then he looked up as a clawed hand touched his shoulder.
"Do you wish us to stay, Ichigo?" Vandular asked and Ichigo nodded. It was the strangest thing in the world, but they'd discovered that the fruits of the Soul King's garden were perfect hollow food. They were impregnated with the reishi of the King's dimension and gave both substance and powerful reiatsu. All the hollows were eating them although Rin, Violetta and the children ate the most. He wasn't worried about running out though. The orchards were vast, beautiful things.
"If you could. Papi, would you be one of my advisors?" He asked, looking at the vasto lorde with some worry. He wasn't sure Van would accept. He considered it a moment, his bone covered head tilted thoughtfully. Then he nodded.
"I want to see what is going to happen." He said and Ichigo smiled. That did sound like his papi. "And I don't want to leave the two of you alone again. You seem to get into endless trouble." Vandular sounded a little pained and Ichigo scowled.
"Oi! As if we asked Aizen to show up." He said jokingly and Van laughed, a low, warm chuckle. "Oh, that reminds me… can you tell Barragan I need to get Szayel up here? I keep forgetting." There was just so much to do, it was making his head spin. "I should start taking notes." Then he wouldn't be forgetting details. Van flicked his ears, mildly confused.
"The sire of the pups? Why?" He asked and Ichigo hesitated. Vandular might not like it, but…
"I'm pretty sure I can put his old primary personality back into control. And Suisen and Bonito could use their sire." He said softly and Van looked very surprised. He flicked his ears thoughtfully before speaking.
"A small disturbance in the way of things, but it was an artificial change to begin with. I will fetch him, if you wish." He said and Ichigo relaxed. He'd been afraid his sire would think it was wrong. "Oh… but before I do that. Ichigo, there is something I want to ask." That clawed hand clasped his shoulder again and Ichigo looked at his sire curiously. "Your sire, the shinigami I devoured so long ago… can you bring him out for a moment?" Van's voice was soft and compassionate. "I think he should see the marvel his son has become."
"Papi." Ichigo whispered, touched by the request. It was a huge thing for any hollow, giving up control that way. Normally they would never allow it. "I'll make sure you come back afterwards." He pledged. That was the terror all hollows would feel at the thought, the fear that they would never return. Vandular nodded as Ichigo gently set his hand on that bone mask and sought out a single soul.
"Huh?" Vandular's body blinked as Ichigo lowered his hand and waited, his heart in his throat. What would his real sire think – "AH! What am I doing here?!" Ichigo blinked as the hollow in front of him suddenly spun around, looking over the throne room frantically. "No! My Ichigo, I… wait. I was in Hueco Mundo… I… wait, what am I?!" He was staring at his hands now, seeing the bones. He glanced over his shoulder to see the wings and Ichigo couldn't help but laugh. "AH! Who are you?!" He turned and pointed, clearly freaking out. Ichigo forced back the laughter and just smiled. The shinigami soul was clearly very confused.
"I'm Ichigo." He said simply and saw the black and gold eyes widen in shock. "You did it, father. You got me to safety… Vandular raised me with his son. It's a long story but I'm the Soul King now." He said and watched the hollow look overwhelmed. He couldn't see any facial expressions, of course, but the way he laid his wings back…
"Ichigo?" Isshin whispered and Ichigo noticed how different his voice sounded. He really didn't sound like Van at all. "My son!" Arms were suddenly around him, hugging him so tightly that Ichigo yelped.
"Ow! Papi! You're really strong!" He pleaded with the hollow who suddenly didn't know his own strength and the arms loosened. Then Isshin pulled back, hands on his shoulders as he looked into his face.
"My Ichigo. Masaki would be so proud of you." He sounded almost drunk with happiness and Ichigo smiled again. "I – I can't stay very long, can I?" Isshin glanced over his hollow body again and Ichigo shook his head.
"No. I'm sorry, but it wouldn't be fair to Van." He said softly. Vandular was giving a lot just allowing this. He wasn't going to trade one father for another. His real sire sighed softly before nodding and letting go of his shoulders. "You'll sleep, until my other papi finally passes on." That would happen eventually. Vandular was already becoming old and Ichigo had the feeling he would eventually desire to re-enter the cycle of rebirth. Not yet – he was still enjoying life – but someday, it would happen. Isshin nodded.
"I understand and I'm very grateful to him. I love you, Ichigo." He said and they hugged again, this time gently. Ichigo sniffed, feeling tears rising. He'd never imagined that meeting his real sire, the man he'd only heard about, would affect him so much. There were tears on the hollow's bone mask too.
"I love you papi." He said softly before giving Vandular back control. The hollow staggered for a moment, held up by his son's arms. Ichigo let him go and his papi reached up, brushing away a few errant tears.
"I see that was a powerful experience." He observed and Ichigo nodded, wiping his face. It definitely had been. "Do you want me to send you Grimmjow and Shiro?" He asked and Ichigo shook his head.
"No, I'll go to them." He could see them in his mind's eye. They were in the gardens, encouraging Tigre to crawl. Suisen and Bonito were there too, flying through the trees and pausing to sample the cherries. "Thank you papi." He said and Vandular waved it away.
"It was the least I could do." He said and Ichigo smiled before going through the sliding windows and entering the garden.
He wanted to spend time with his family.