Summary: The war with Aizen rages on until some of the few left standing against him are the part-human trio of Ichigo, Chad, and Orihime. But the Hogyoku responds to its master's wishes and when Aizen says it'd be better for him if those three never existed—it listens. The Spirit King intervenes and grants them a boon. The three wake up in Soul Society five years before the war.
Pairings: Currently Gen
Notes: Contains post-Aizen spoilers, so the Fullbring and Zangetsu-Quincy stuff, but only up to 542 (the reforging of Zangetsu into two blades). Within the narrative, I use Captain and Lieutenant, but I also use –taichou and –fukutaichou as suffixes in dialogue.
He heard Orihime yell his name and immediately ducked. A second later, "I Reject!" was shouted and Tsubaki shot over his head.
Aizen grunted as Tsubaki hit his arm and managed to slice through a layer of his outer robe. "You'll regret that, flower girl," he said. "I do hate sewing." He brought his Zanpakuto up and slice down.
"Tsubaki!" Orihime cried. The flower piece retreated back to her hairpin, half his leg gone.
Ichigo rushed forward, lifting Zangetsu's two bankai blades over his head and bringing them down in a silent energy surge. Aizen brushed the power aside, but then Ichigo had expected that. A second later, Chad's El Directo hit Aizen's left arm and tore a hole in his bicep.
"Damn brats!" Aizen yelled, swinging in their direction. Ichigo and Chad both jumped back, but it was Orihime's sudden Saten Kesshun shield that saved them from being hit.
The three of them watched Aizen pant. The man had long ago lost his Shinigami looks. His hair was now long and his eyes almost entirely black. He had moth wings protruding from his back—though Ichigo didn't see the point in them considering Shinigami could just walk on air.
Ichigo took the time to glance down at where Rangiku's body lay in two pieces next to the scattered remains of her Captain. He swallowed roughly, his resolve strengthening. He turned a glare back in Aizen's direction and tightened his grip on his swords.
"I recognize that look in your eyes, boy," Aizen said. "It's the look you get just before you become an even larger thorn in my side." His wings spanned out as if to emphasize his annoyance.
Ichigo exchanged a knowing glance with Orihime and Chad. Honestly, Aizen was such a drama queen.
The three of them scattered away as a Kidou blast shot right where they were standing. A powerful drama queen, Ichigo corrected.
"Soul Society is in ruins," Aizen said. "How many Captains are left? Three?"
"Five," Ichigo said, because the remaining Vizard had been reinstated into their former posts several years into this fucking war.
Aizen flipped his hair. "It hardly matters." He looked down at Toushiro's remains. "They'll all fall in the end."
"You won't win!" Orihime shouted. "We won't let you win, Aizen!"
The insane man flashed in her direction and was stopped by Chad, who said nothing aloud. The look in his eyes and the strength of his blow said enough. Ichigo came at Aizen from below, flipping his Hollow mask on effortlessly.
Aizen dodged away from his Getsuga Tenshou, but took a Cero dead center. He flipped backwards, half his outer robe gone. He screamed out in fury and launched his own version of a Cero at Ichigo. Ichigo flipped back out of the way and then grunted as Aizen's sword slashed into his back. Chad shot his La Muerte at Aizen, only to find himself pushed back by a well-placed Kidou net.
"I Reject!" Orihime shouted as Aizen flash-stepped around again. The shield became a prism around the three of them, allowing them a moment's rest.
Aizen didn't even bother trying to break the shield down. They'd fought each other enough times to know the stalemate wasn't going to be permanent and there wasn't a point in him wasting his energy. Ichigo huffed, emotionally drained and rearing to continue fighting.
"You should congratulate yourselves," Aizen said, inspecting his sword as if looking for dents. "It's not often that three humans can stand up against a god."
"You're hardly a god, Aizen," Ichigo said, bored of the monologue already. He readied his dual Zanpakuto. Behind him, Orihime prepared to lower the shield and Chad brought his right arm up to shield her with his left at the ready to strike at a moment's opening.
"Not yet, perhaps," Aizen said. His eyes glinted dangerously. "I already would be if you three weren't still in my way." He grinned, insane and elated. Just like Aizen recognized their emotions so easily, they recognized that look. Ichigo swallowed. Whatever Aizen was about to say was going to hurt. The creature had a way of getting under his skin—under anyone's skin.
"If only," Aizen continued, "you three had died as easily as that other human friend of yours. What was his name again? The Quincy?"
"Uryuu," Orihime murmured.
"Ishida Uryuu," Ichigo said louder. "And you will never speak of him again." He pulled down his Hollow mask over his face. Inside him, his Zanpakuto—the combined Tensa Zangetsu—began to cuss angrily. Ever since the power he'd thought was Zangetsu and the real Zangetsu that was also his inner Hollow had combined, he'd noticed they seemed to switch off in terms of personality depending on the situation. Now was definitely a time when the Hollow part was in charge. He couldn't imagine the Old Man cursing like that.
"I hate that look," Aizen murmured again. "All three of you, honestly." He flipped his hair back and readied his Zanpakuto. He sneered. "It would be so much easier if you'd never been born."
"Fat chance!" Ichigo said, surging forward just as Orihime dropped her shield.
Aizen's Zanpakuto met his two and in a blinding flash of black and white, they both exploded backward. Ichigo felt Chad catch both him and Orihime.
The last thing he heard before his world fell away was Tensa Zangetsu's cry ringing clear in his head.
"This will not do," a booming voice said.
Ichigo woke with a start. He grasped out with a desperate hand and connected with the outstretched hand of Orihime. Both of them were still cradled in Chad's large arms.
"Wha–?" Ichigo asked, but his words were lost in the rushing ambient noise. It was like static—but not. It made his head feel fuzzy.
"Aizen Sousuke has gone too far," the voice continued. "To use my crown jewel so is an atrocity."
"Please, sir, who are you? What's going on?" Orihime asked, her voice frightened and just barely audible in the static. Though Ichigo could feel both her and Chad, he couldn't see them at all. It was beginning to honestly frighten him.
"You may be named princess, little one, but I am the King," the voice answered.
"The Spirit King," Chad murmured.
There was another wave of static, as if in agreement.
"You said Aizen used your crown jewel?" Ichigo frowned. "The Hogyoku?"
"Nothing can be invented that does not already exist," the Spirit King said. "I commend Urahara Kisuke for his ingenuity. Only once before has one of my personal assets been taken from my realm to yours."
Ichigo winced. That booming voice was almost too much to listen. That, combined with the strange static, made him want to just sink back in the oblivion he'd come from.
"Are we dead?" Orihime asked.
Ichigo felt Chad flinch. He closed his eyes. There wasn't any other explanation for why they'd be talking to the Spirit King, was there?
"Yes," the Spirit King said. "And no."
"What do you mean?" Ichigo asked, not even stopping to make his tone more respectful. Since when had he ever shown that much respect for authority figures? Respect was earned, after all.
"My crown jewel abides by the wishes of its master. He wished you three had never been born. My children, he erased your very selves from existence entirely."
"What?" Ichigo sat up straighter, though it hardly mattered in this strange static world. "I don't get it."
"Your mother, Kurosaki Ichigo, only had two twin girls before her death."
"But the reason she died was to save me from Grand Fisher!" Ichigo protested. "If I'd never existed then she- she should–" Chad's arm came to wrap around him. Later, Ichigo would appreciate the support, but at that moment all he could think about was the knot in his gut and the scratching at the back of his throat.
"Your existences he erased, but even my jewel can not change what is already fated. Kurosaki Masaki, Inoue Sora, and Oscar Joaquin de la Rosa still left the land of the living in a similar fashion as you know happened, even without the existence of their son, sister, and grandson."
Ichigo felt Orihime's hand tighten around his. He squeezed her fingers back, his heart heavy.
"What about everything else?" Orihime asked. "The war with Aizen?"
"In that, things will change," the Spirit King agreed. "The deaths of Shinigami are more easily shifted in the realm of fate."
"But not of humans? Ishida will still–"
"Ishida Uryuu is fated to change at nineteen. Change through death or otherwise depends on the actions of others."
"Maybe he won't die then," Ichigo murmured. "Since I didn't drag him into a Shinigami war."
"Don't be an idiot," Orihime told him. "Uryuu-kun… he died fighting by your side. Fighting along with all of us. That's what he wanted."
"None of us regret it," Chad agreed.
Ichigo shook his head, but didn't say anything.
"What now?" Orihime asked after the moment's pause. "Will we be reborn as souls in Rukongai?"
"Not that there's much of Rukongai left," Ichigo added for her.
"No." The Spirit King's voice seemed, if possible, even louder and more all encompassing then before. "I will grant you three a boon."
"A boon?" Chad repeated.
"A chance to save your Shinigami, Vizard, and Arrancar friends. I only require one thing."
"What?" Ichigo asked, daring himself to hope.
"Return my crown jewel to me."
"How?" Orihime asked softly.
"Destroy it, and it will return to me."
"We can't destroy it. Kisuke tried for a century and never figured out how!" Ichigo protested.
"You shall figure it out. Good luck, my once and again children."
The booming voiced echoed all around them, repeating those words again and again. The static strengthened, pulling at Ichigo's skin. He heard Orihime scream. He tried to yell for her, but his voice was missing.
The world flashed a blinding white and then a deep black—then everyone and everything was just emptiness.
Ichigo's eyes snapped open. He rolled over, feeling the familiar Reiatsu of his two closest friends nearby.
Chad was already struggling to sit up and he pulled Ichigo close without saying a word. Orihime opened her eyes a moment later, letting out a soft "oh!" as she did so. She curled up against Chad's chest and looked at Ichigo.
All three of them wore basic yukata. Orihime's was yellow, Chad's was burgundy, and Ichigo's was dark blue. They were all barefoot.
Ichigo looked around. They were in a forest clearing. He couldn't sense anyone else nearby. He looked back at his friends. "I think we're in Soul Society."
Chad and Orihime nodded. They'd all become very adept at noticing the differences between the worlds and Soul Society had a very different feel from the human world and from Hueco Mundo.
"The Spirit King," Orihime murmured.
"You remember that too?" Ichigo looked up at the clear sky. "Guess that means I'm not crazy." He looked around. "Zangetsu is missing." He frowned. He didn't like being weaponless.
"Let's go explore," Orihime said. "Figure out where we are."
Chad picked them both up easily and set them all on their feet. "This way," he said, and began walking. Ichigo and Orihime followed behind him.
They reached the outskirts of civilization and soon after realized where they were. The southern District 78 of Rukongai, Inuzuri, had been destroyed fairly early into the war. It was where Rukia and Renji had grown up, after all, and even though neither of them claimed to have fond memories of the place they'd both been distraught when the district had been demolished.
Inuzuri was still standing, though, and bustling. Ichigo frowned. The Spirit King had said they'd be able to save all their Shinigami friends. The only thing that made sense…. He stopped by the nearest vendor. "Hey, do you know where Abarai Renji is?" he asked bluntly.
"Abarai Renji?" the old man peered up at Ichigo. "The Shinigami? 'E was one of ours, you know."
Ichigo exchanged a glance with Chad and Orihime. "He's a lieutenant now, isn't he?"
"Abarai-fukutaichou? No I think I would have heard of that. Last I heard, he was sixth seat in the Eleventh Division." The old man huffed. "It's been thirty something years since he left us and he hasn't come back once. Damn Shinigami. Even the ones from the districts don't look back once they've gone up."
Ichigo scowled, about to defend his friend, but Chad steered him away with a simple thanks to the old man. The large twenty-year old pushed Ichigo to an abandoned alley. Ichigo settled down, looking from him to Orihime.
"We're in the past," he stated. "Not too far though. Renji became Byakuya's Lieutenant a month before we first met him in the human world, right? He said that was like forty years after he gradated from the Academy."
Orihime frowned. "Rukia-chan said it was forty years after she became a Kuchiki, but Renji-kun graduated a couple years after that."
Ichigo looked up to the sky as he thought. "My cousin died fifteen years before we went to Soul Society for the first time. Around the same time, Ichimaru Gin became Captain of the Third with Kira as his Lieutenant and Hinamori became Aizen's Lieutenant."
Chad nodded and stepped away, motioning for Ichigo and Orihime to stay where they were. They waited, trusting their companion. Chad returned ten minutes later with bread for them.
"How'd you get this?" Ichigo asked. "We don't have any money."
"Lifted some heavy things," Chad said. "The lady said she didn't need to eat anyway." He took a bite out of his small piece of bread before saying, "Ichimaru-taichou took over Third ten years ago."
"Five years before it all starts," Orihime murmured. She ate her own bread, not even grimacing at how stale it was.
Ichigo ate his own bread. It had been a long time since he'd had a proper meal. Not since Karakura had been destroyed and they'd had to hole up in the old Central 46 building as a fort.
"It's still early January," Chad told them. "The lady said it was unusually warm for this time of year."
Ichigo frowned and finished off his bread. He chewed slowly and swallowed.
"We should become Shinigami."
"But I'm not–" Orihime began.
"You are," Ichigo said. "Ever since we woke up, I noticed. The two of you… you feel different. We're not human anymore. We're souls like the rest. You still have Reiatsu, so that means you can become a Shinigami now."
Orihime looked down at her own hands and then reached up to her hair. "My hairpins are missing."
Chad pressed a hand to her shoulder and looked at Ichigo. "You can't be Kurosaki."
Ichigo knew Chad well enough to know he meant Ichigo's name, not that he wasn't actually himself. "Why not? My dad took my mom's last name and it's not like anyone knows Kurosaki Isshin was once Shiba Isshin."
"But they might find out, Ichi-kun," Orihime said. "Better to be safe about it."
Ichigo frowned. "What name should I say then?"
Chad looked at Orihime. She straightened her back and stepped forward. "Take my name. Be an Inoue."
Ichigo stared. "I swear, Orihime, if that was a marriage proposal–"
Orihime wacked him on the head. "Idiot. You know I haven't had a crush on you since I was sixteen." She huffed. "You're a brother to me, Ichi-kun. You and Chad, but the two of us look most alike."
"No one will question you being siblings," Chad stated.
Ichigo looked at Orihime, at the determination in her eyes and the way her hands were clenched. "I can't replace Sora."
"And I can't replace Karin and Yuzu."
Ichigo's shoulder dropped and he smiled. "Okay, 'Hime. I'll be your older brother too."
Orihime hugged him tightly. "Okay, Ichi-nii."
Chad watched them for a moment, until Ichigo huffed and gestured for him to join them. "You too, Chad."
Chad wrapped his arms around both of them and rested his chin on Ichigo's head. They didn't disentangle themselves for another ten minutes, but by then they were all feeling a little stronger.
"Okay," Ichigo said. "Let's go find some Shinigami then and get into the Academy. We can figure everything else out later."
Luckily, the first Shinigami they found were a pair of unranked men from the Seventh Division who were happy to inform them that anyone was allowed to take the entrance exam for Shin'ou Academy as many times as they wanted. Only those with enough Reiatsu could pass, they explained, but sometimes a person's Reiatsu grew with age. Hisgai-fukutaichou failed twice, one of them remarked, but when he did finally pass he was put in Class One—the Advanced Class.
Shin'ou Academy was located within the walls of Seireitei, but the entrance exam was proctored from dawn to dusk just outside the eastern gate. Ichigo, Chad, and Orihime had woken up fairly early in the morning, but by the time they got there, it was almost dusk.
The Shinigami proctoring the exam was a no-nonsense type from Division Twelve. She had thick glasses and wore her dark hair in a bun. "You've come to take the exam?" she asked.
"Yup," Ichigo said.
"My name is Fukui Natsumi. I'm ranked fifteenth seat in the Twelfth Division and am in charge of analyzing all potential Academy members," she explained. It sounded rehearsed, like she said the same thing multiple times during the day. "Who's first?"
Chad stepped forward. They'd decided on the way that Ichigo should go last since he was the strongest among them and had to make sure to tone it down so as not to overpower the exam.
"Name?" Fukui asked, not even seeming fazed by Chad's appearance. Ichigo supposed there were larger and darker skinned men in Gotei 13.
"Sado Yasutora," Chad stated.
Fukui wrote it down on her clipboard and then led Chad into the next room.
Ichigo waited with one arm wrapped around Orihime's shoulders. Chad came out about fifteen minutes later. Orihime stepped forward and Chad came to stand in her place beside Ichigo.
"Inoue Orihime," she stated and followed Fukui into the next room.
"I passed," Chad said. "Test was in all four areas."
"Zanjutsu, Hakuda, Hohou, and Kidou?" Ichigo double-checked.
Ichigo frowned. "Shouldn't be too bad then." Kidou couldn't be done without some Reiatsu, which was probably how they tested that. Hohou was just agility at this point since he doubted Fukui would expect them to know Shunpo. Hakuda was hand-to-hand fighting and Zanjutsu was sword fighting. He'd never been good at Kidou, so he'd just have to tone down his reflexes.
Orihime returned with a smile on her face. "Success!" She gave them both a thumbs up.
Ichigo ruffled her hair and stepped forward. "Inoue Ichigo," he said, making sure to use his new last name.
Fukui led him back. "Are you as good at Kidou as your sister?" she asked. "She's a natural."
"Eh, probably not," Ichigo said, scratching his cheek.
Fukui shrugged. "We'll test your agility first. See how fast you can sprint from this end of the room to the other end and back." She pulled out a stopwatch, which was probably the most technological thing Ichigo had seen in Soul Society. To be expected of Division Twelve, he supposed.
Ichigo ran, making sure to not use Shunpo but otherwise not cutting back on his speed. He'd always been pretty fast, after all.
He regretted that decision as second later as he saw Fukui's face. She cleared her throat and wrote down his time without comment. "We'll spar next. I don't expect you to win. Just try your best. Hand-to-hand first."
Ichigo stepped into the center of the room and fell into a fighting stance. He blocked Fukui's first couple of kicks and then reminded himself to be less good. He let the next kick land, but shot a couple punches her way. He winced as one punch hit and knocked Fukui back several feet. She straightened her glasses. "That's enough. Grab a practice sword."
Ichigo looked to the row of wooden swords and grabbed the largest one there—which was still much smaller than he was used to. He turned back to Fukui, who was holding her own wooden sword.
Her eyes glinted, which was the only warning Ichigo got before she rushed at him. He responded instinctively, easily disarming her. He scowled as he realized he'd brought his sword up to her throat in the next second. He quickly stepped away.
"Interesting," Fukui murmured. "Last, we'll test your Reiatsu with a Kidou spell. You'll try the lowest level spell, Sai. Attempt to lock my arms behind my back." She told him the incantation.
Ichigo grimaced. He had a bad feeling about this. He held his hands out and repeated the incantation.
There was a minor explosion and they both were thrown backwards.
"Sorry," Ichigo said, getting to his feet. He reached forward and held out a hand for Fukui. She took it, looking less annoyed and more fascinated. "Bring in your sister and friend," she said. "You've all passed."
Ichigo stuck his head outside and called Chad and Orihime in. The three of them came back in to find Fukui rummaging in the back storage space. She returned with three piles, handing one to each of them.
"All three of you passed your exam," she stated, retrieving her clipboard. "You chose a good time to take it. The new school year starts in three days. Students are currently on their winter break, but they're allowed to start returning to their dormitories tomorrow."
"So we'll be kicked out over breaks?" Ichigo asked.
Fukui nodded. "It's the way of things. Judging by your state of dress, I assume you three are from an outer district?"
"Seventy-eight," Orihime said. "Southern."
Fukui grimaced. "There are hostels you can sleep in over the four breaks in this eastern District One. There are four breaks during the academic year, separating the year into four terms. Term One runs from mid-January until mid-April, upon which there's a ten-day spring break. Then Term Two runs another three months, then the ten-day summer break, then Term Three, ten-day autumn break, and finally Term Four with the ten-day winter break we are currently in."
Ichigo hadn't known all that. To be fair, he really didn't know a lot about Shin'ou Academy at all.
"Students from Rukongai are allowed to help out in the first three districts during their off-time and breaks to earn money," Fukui went on. "This isn't required, however, as food and other necessities are provided during the school year. What I've handed each of you is two sets of your school uniform. Most students wear theirs all the time, though it's only required during classes. Those two sets are your only pairs. Should you damage them, it's up to you to repair them. It's also up to you to wash them. Extra sets can be bought at the school store for a modest fee should you need it. The socks and sandals have the same policy."
Ichigo looked down at his blue and white uniform, then at Chad's identical uniform, and then at Orihime's red version. He turned back to Fukui.
"Students on average gradate from the Academy in six years. You're all first year students now and all of you have qualified for Class One, the advanced class. Inoue Orihime-san, your Kidou was done perfectly and your hand-to-hand fighting was very good, but your agility and sword skills were lacking. Sado-san, your hand-to-hand was also excellent and your sword fighting was decent, but your agility was average for a man your size and your Kidou failed to completely restrain me. Inoue Ichigo-san, your reflexes were extremely high and, like your companions, you obviously have experience fighting. However, your Kidou completely failed. Likely, you will struggle with controlling your Reiatsu in the future."
Ichigo sighed as Orihime giggled. If only Fukui knew.
"You'll all be in homeroom class 1-A under Onabara Gengorou. I've given you each your schedules. They are currently identical, as it is for every first year advanced student. Over time, you'll personalize your schedule depending on your competency in certain areas and what electives you wish to take. There are six levels for the main subjects, those being Hohou, Zanjutsu, Hakuda, and Kidou. Once you have passed level six in at least two of those and level three in the other two, you are eligible to graduate. Additionally, you must pass at least two levels in History, Mathematics, and Organizational Skills."
Fukui adjusted her glasses. "Also included in your pile is your room assignment and key. The dormitories are organized randomly and you will keep your same room for as long as you are an Academy student. I've placed you three in one of the two bedroom suites. Whether, Inoue Ichigo-san, you want to share a room with your sister, or with your male friend is up to you."
"Thank you, Fukui-sama," Orihime said. "You've been very kind and helpful."
Fukui huffed. "I am simply doing my job, Inoue-san. Now, the last item you need is your Asauchi." She handed each of them a simple sword. "You will learn in your Zanjutsu class the theory of how to call upon your Zanpakuto spirit, though you may not learn your Zanpakuto's name for many years even after you graduate." She placed a hand on the sword strapped to her hip. "Any questions?"
Ichigo and Chad shook their heads and Orihime smiled. "I think we understand, Fukui-sama."
"Very well then. You may move into your new dorm starting at dawn tomorrow. The welcoming ceremony for first year students will be two evenings from now." She smiled, her gaze lingering on Ichigo in that fascinated way that made him nervous. "Good luck."
They left quickly and headed away. Ichigo stopped them in a clearing at the edge of District 2. It felt empty and he let himself relax slightly. He set down his bundle of stuff except the sword and watched as Orihime and Chad did the same.
Ichigo frowned at his Asauchi.
"You're thinking about Nimaiya-san, aren't you?" Orihime said.
Ichigo nodded. He'd told Chad and Orihime about the strange swordsmith he and Renji had met about a year ago when the former Captain-Commander had been killed by Aizen. It was at that time when he'd learned that Zangetsu was actually the manifestation of the Quincy powers he'd inherited from his mother. What's more, the real Zangetsu was also the Hollow inside him. Ever since then, the two had combined to become a single Zangetsu—his full power.
"Ouetsu reforged Zangetsu into two blades for me," Ichigo said. "I wonder if, when I unseal him, Zangetsu will still be like that, or if he'll be the single blade I used to have."
"So see," Chad said. When Ichigo looked at him, he shrugged. "You already know how to unseal your Zanpakuto, Ichigo. You probably shouldn't let anyone else know yet, but you can test it now."
"Hold on," Orihime said. "Let me see if I can still…." She held her arms out. "Shun Shun Rikka, I Reject!"
Ichigo let his mouth drop open a bit as Orihime's Asauchi glowed and reappeared as two large flowers on her head. A second later, several petals flashed out and formed a barrier around them.
"Oh," Orihime said. "I didn't think… I just wanted to put up a barrier so no one would sense your Reiatsu when you released Zangetsu."
Ichigo nodded. Orihime had done some experimenting with Hachi on the nature of her shields and had discovered that she could actually make barriers that blocked sounds, sights, smells, and Reiatsu if she wanted. It was good that she'd thought to put up that last barrier. His Reiatsu was far above even most of the captains. It would attract attention.
"We're Shinigami now," Chad said, studying the larger hairpins nestled on each side of her head. "Your Shun Shun Rikka aren't a Fullbring anymore—they're your Zanpakuto."
"They look different," Ichigo said. The flower petals, upon closer inspection, looked like small blades. "You try too, Chad."
Chad nodded and lifted his arms up, his Asauchi clasped in them. "Brazo Derecha de Gigante," he intoned.
A second later the sword glowed a darker color than Orihime's had. It flowed across his right arm. Unlike his old Brazo Derecha de Gigante, the Zanpakuto looked less like a part of his arm and more like a piece of armor sitting on top of it. It was still magenta-stripped, but the black was more like black metal and less like hardened skin.
"That'll stand out," Ichigo remarked.
"No, it's like Soi Fon-taichou's Zanpakuto!" Orihime said, smiling.
"True," Ichigo said. "I suppose Soul Society has seen weirder Zanpakuto." He scratched his cheek. "I bet your bankai form is Brazo Izquierda del Diablo."
Chad stared at him.
Ichigo flushed and crossed his arms. "Shut up. Not everyone can be bilingual."
"Trilingual," Chad said.
Ichigo huffed. He'd forgotten that Chad had gotten the best grades in their school in English.
"Your turn, Ichi-nii!" Orihime said. "I don't think I can hold this barrier much longer."
Ichigo nodded and held his Asauchi up. "Zangetsu!" he called.
The voice of his inner Zanpakuto flipped on as if it'd been muted. The sword separated into two. Both swords thickened, but his left sword shortened and the right one lengthened. Both swords were stripped half black, half white.
'Why'd you have to wake us up?' Zangetsu said, referring to himself in the multiple as always. 'Your crappy inner world is all sideways and boring still. Can't you put some trees in here?'
'Sorry,' Ichigo thought back, smiling. 'How do I seal you back up?'
'Tch, you should know how,' Zangetsu told him.
Ichigo frowned and concentrated on quieting his Reiatsu. A minute later, Zangetsu was sealed back into a single sword. He looked up to notice Chad had also sealed up his Zanpakuto. He nodded to Orihime and watched as she lowered her arms and immediately the hairpin Zanpakuto reverted back to a sword.
"I guess they're not Asauchi anymore," Ichigo murmured. He studied his Zanpakuto. The hilt was black. He grimaced and ruffled in the supplies Fukui gave them for a set of bandages to wrap around it. "This isn't going to remain hidden for too much longer."
Chad shook his head. His sealed Zanpakuto looked fairly standard, though it seemed a little thicker. Hopefully people would just attribute that to being given a larger Asuachi because of his size. Similarly, Orihime's was shorter and thinner and the bandages on the hilt were done in six solid stripes.
"We have five years," Orihime said. "We can't graduate in six."
"Two," Chad said. "Ichigo can graduate in one, but we should plan for two."
"I'll try to hold back and do two as well," Ichigo said. "I mean, we need at least two years of History and I honestly don't know the history of Soul Society, so that's fine. Spending two years in the Academy makes it so we're not super awesome geniuses like Toushiro, but it'll still give us three years in Gotei 13 before everything starts."
Orihime nodded. "We'll all graduate together, then, two winters from now." She sat down and sighed.
Ichigo let himself fall ungracefully to the ground. He sprawled out on his back and looked up at the moonlit sky. "I can't believe we're here," he murmured. The 'in the past' was unspoken.
Chad lay down next to him. "Yeah."
"We can do a lot of good," Orihime said. "Save everyone. Rukia-chan and Renji-kun and everyone else."
Ichigo nodded and closed his eyes. He wouldn't let the war get as bad as it had been. "I'll stop Aizen," he murmured. "I'll kill him before he can hurt everyone again."
Orihime smacked his shoulder and Chad punched his arm. Ichigo opened his eyes and scowled at them. "What?"
"Don't be an idiot, Ichi-nii," Orihime said.
"We're here with you," Chad added.
Orihime nodded. "You don't have to do it alone."
Ichigo blinked and stared at them and then he smiled. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks guys."
Orihime huffed and curled back up by his side. "Together."
Chad pressed his arm against Ichigo's other side and grunted in agreement.
Ichigo nodded and let himself fall asleep with those two pressed against him.