Summary: "A lone tear ran down his cheek. He'd done it. He was back, back before it had all begun. Back when they were all still alive. This time, though, Aizen would be crushed before he could destroy everything." When all hope is lost, Ichigo goes back in time.
Warnings: Slight AU: Bleach canon occurred when Ichigo was 18, not 15, because I needed Karin to be older, and the twins are only 3 years younger than him.
This "hey" is spoken speech, and this 'oi!' is thoughts. Speech of Zanpakutô spirits and Shiro is respectively in italics, bold italics and bold.
Kurosaki Clinic, Karakura Town.
Karakura town was a quiet town. Sure, it had its share of strange happenings, people disappearing, people dying mysteriously, explosions without any visible cause, but in the end, it was quite normal. In a normal house by a normal clinic, a boy was asleep in one of the rooms on the second floor. He had bright orange hair, a lean but muscled body, tan skin and strong features which, by day, were usually set in a deep scowl. By night, however, he seemed to relax, though this changed suddenly as his eyes began rolling under his closed eyelids.
Suddenly, he sat up with a gasp, sweat running down his face and under the collar of his shirt, limbs trembling and eyes wildly scanning the room for any threat. Slowly, his breathing deepened until it was back to a more normal rhythm, and he swung his legs over the edge of the bed before resting his elbows on his thighs and running his hands through his hair shakily. Again, he cast a look around the room.
Everything was how he remembered it. The empty closet on the left, his desk, covered in pens, notebooks and textbooks, the two rock bands posters on the walls on his right. The curtains fluttering slowly by the open window. He allowed himself a single moment of emotion as a lone tear ran down his cheek. He had done it. He was back in time. Back when it had all begun. Back when they were all still alive. Back when Aizen's plans could still be crushed in the bud.
He closed his eyes, trying to reign in his emotions, and spread out his senses. His sisters were asleep in the next room, their reiatsu weak and peaceful for Yuzu, stronger but still calm, pulsing with the regularity of sleeping people for Karin. They were both unscathed, and fourteen again. His father was in his room downstairs, it was a convenient arrangement if his services as a doctor where needed in the middle of the night. Ichigo could feel it, the way his powers were on the verge of overwhelming the restraint of his gigai. It wouldn't be long now before he got Engetsu back, and he most likely already could see and interact with spirits.
Knowing that he couldn't allow anyone to sense his new reiatsu, Ichigo reigned his power in tightly and sealed it with a black choker and matching leather armbands he'd been given in his time in prevision of this. He would need to keep his cover. Maybe even act as if nothing was different. Aizen had said he'd been watching him since his birth, so he would need to throw off his suspicions, act like he didn't bother with spirits. He wouldn't get involved with the Shinigami. He paused at that, stood up. He stood slightly shorter than he remembered, but that was no issue. He could feel the familiar presence of the three spirits of his inner world, and sent them a silent wave of warmth and affection, to which they immediately responded in kind.
It was amazing, how close he'd grown to them when two of them had been his enemies at first, while the first he had barely any relationship with except when he truly needed help in battle. They had truly accepted each other now, become one single soul even though they could still communicate like separate beings and materialize whenever they wished it. In the future, theirs had been a relationship admired and respected by all, he had sometimes been asked to go give lectures at the Academy on Zanpakutô communication whenever he wasn't off to one battlefield or another, but that had stopped when it had been destroyed as well as a good part of the Seireitei.
It was on that sorrowful day that Kisuke had finally opened up about the mysterious device he'd been working on so furiously for the past year, and told him what he hoped for. And so it was that in the middle of a darkness which seemed to have no end, they had found a tiny glimmer of hope.
He couldn't afford to get involved in Shinigami business. Rukia would stick with him, hindering his movements as it was out of the question for him to tell her all that he knew. She didn't know him, was still quite stuck-up and attached to the rules, there was no way she would believe him instead of reporting the weird human with oddly-high spiritual pressure who had dangerous knowledge of the inner workings of the Soul Society. He would become an outlaw, and there was no time for that. Aizen couldn't know about him. He had to consider him as harmless and focus on someone else. He turned his attention to the strongest reiatsu signature in the house for now.
He shot a glance at the calendar. His meeting with Rukia would only occur on the next day. Or would have. As it was, he still had a night of sleep before he would have to start orchestrating the biggest play the world have ever seen. Where Aizen had been the puppeteer, he would be the one holding the strings this time. The three worlds would be his chessboard, and all belligerents his pawns. He only had to decide what to do with them.
He let his eyes slide shut.
For now, he could sleep in peace.
Because the blade of fate now had a wielder.
Kurosaki Isshin was a smart man. Of course, he acted like a fool most of the time, putting up a goofy façade as he assaulted his son, cried to an oversized memorial poster of his late wife and was overprotective of his daughters though his children made no secret that they thought he was horribly perverted, but his actions had an objective. As an ex-shinigami captain, he knew what horrors roamed the world of the Living, and that his children, as the progeny of a powerful spiritual being, would obviously attract Hollows with their above average reiatsu levels.
The one who worried him most was Ichigo, who'd been able to see spirits ever since he was very small, and it was actually what had caused the death of his mother at the claws of Grand Fisher. The once smiling boy had never been the same after that, believing everything was his fault, and after countless reassurances by his sisters and father that it was not, had stopped mentioning it. Deep in his heart, though, Isshin knew that the boy had never believed them, but just stopped saying what he truly thought because he knew they would deny it. Ichigo had a lot of potential, and would doubtlessly become a Shinigami upon his death. But Aizen, Isshin knew, might want to use him before that, and so he subtly trained him by keeping him on his toes with carefully orchestrated assaults at any time.
Karin was next in line. With Ichigo's ever leaking spiritual pressure, her natural talent was vastly enhanced, and though she refused to "believe" in them, she could see ghosts just as much as her elder brother. He knew that Ichigo would never let her get involved in dangerous events, though, and so trained her to a lesser extent, making sure she knew how to defend herself and sending her to attend karate lessons at the local dojo –just as Ichigo once had. She had become good friends with Tatsuki as a result, as the older girl was somewhat like a mentor to her, and consequently with Inoue Orihime, Tatsuki's best friend, whose crush on Ichigo was notorious and obvious to anyone who wasn't the boy himself.
Yuzu, though she had enough spiritual pressure to see a blurred outline, couldn't really see or hear them, and was therefore the safest in the family apart from himself, considering that he was starting to get his powers back, but currently only had enough to attract Hollows, not to fend them off. It was a dangerous, precarious situation, but it would soon change, and in the meantime, he was stuck with reigning in as much of his spiritual pressure as possible.
He was already up and eating when Ichigo came into the kitchen, but stopped with his spoon halfway to his mouth as he took in the form of his eldest son. Something had changed. He watched as the young man walked in, ruffling his sisters' hair much to Karin's disgruntlement ("I'm fifteen, not five, for God's sake!") and Yuzu's delight ("Good morning, Ichi-nii! Did you sleep well?") before helping himself to the food somewhat shakily and taking a seat across from his father, who merely watched him with narrowed eyes.
"What's the matter, Goat-face? Finally realized that you should act as a grown-up instead of an immature four-year-old?"
Isshin jerked at the taunt and immediately flew off to Masaki's poster, flailing his arms dramatically and crying rivers over how mean his children were when Karin emitted a less than ladylike snort. Finally, he went back to the table to finish his meal, trying to pinpoint what had changed. There was something new in the way Ichigo walked, he noticed soon after. His gait was more of a stalk, as if he were a predator, and he made not a sound as he moved across the room to get another helping of rice. It was almost unreal. He could barely believe it. His eyes followed his son's retreating back as he exited the room to get ready for school with a short goodbye.
It was only when Ichigo had left the house and he could feel no difference in the air that he noticed: the boy had pretty much no reiatsu.
The girl with the pink-striped white shirt was at the same spot she'd been the first time around, but this time, he didn't run towards the Hollow when he heard it. Instead, he let things happen the way they would have had he not been there, and just let out a tiny burst of reiatsu to distract the Hollow before firmly bottling it up again with an iron-grip. As expected, the Hollow, which had turned away from the little girl to follow his delicious-smelling soul, stopped a few miles away, and Ichigo just made his way to school.
His friends, he noticed as he clamped down his emotions to resist the horrible urge to gather them all close to him, lock them up somewhere and never let them out of his sight ever again, already had reiatsu of their own, and so he tried to let his own trickle out in the same amounts if not a little more than before so that Karin had the help he'd had when he'd broken into Soul Society. Apart from the fact that his sister would be the one to fight the battles that had originally been his, he wanted to keep the timeline exactly the same as it had been, so that Aizen wouldn't change his plans and escape. This time, as soon as he lifted a finger, the traitor would be neutralized without even knowing what had hit him.
That night, he stayed downstairs to watch TV with his sisters even as he felt Fishbone's reiatsu get closer. Karin had gone up to her room. Another familiar reiatsu had his throat closing up with emotion, and it took all his impressive willpower to just let himself be knocked around and crash through the kitchen table before staying down, feigning unconsciousness, even as all he wanted was to get up and hug her tightly when she appeared, all clad in black with her faithful Sode no Shizayuki at her side, before taking the hit that was meant for Karin.
"Give me the Zanpakutô, Shinigami."
"It's not 'Shinigami.' It's Kuchiki Rukia."
"Nice to meet you, Kuchiki Rukia. My name is Kurosaki Karin."
There was a flash of light, before out of the corner of his eye, Ichigo saw Karin defeat the Hollow and collapse under the sudden strain. Urahara stepped in from the shadows and helped put them all to bed, before leaving with Rukia to give her that gigai. The one which contained the Hogyoku and would stop her from regaining her powers. He clenched his fists at that, but stayed passive. As always in this reality.
Karin's behavior changed slightly after the incident with the Hollow. Isshin had been surprised when it was her instead of Ichigo who'd come into contact with the Shinigami girl, but he'd let it go. She was now dealing with the Hollows in Karakura with the help of Rukia, who would come over from time to time and, he suspected, actually slept in her closet. He said nothing and watched, noticing the small oddities in Ichigo's behavior that he couldn't explain. The sudden absence of noticeable reiatsu, the ease with which he'd been knocked out during the attack, the way his demeanor had changed… his eyes.
His eyes, far too dark, far too old compared to what they'd been only days ago. He seemed to zone out at random times, and when he did, a strange look would cross his face, twisting his features in a mask of hideous agony whenever he thought nobody was looking. It was as though he was remembering something horrible, and somehow, Isshin found himself torn between an unexplainable need never to know and the understandable curiosity about what had happened to change his son so much. He was worried too, but he didn't know what to do.
And so, he did the only thing he could think of: he went to Urahara's.
It had been a long time since he'd seen Kisuke, but he was pretty sure he'd be welcomed anyway. Masaki's death had been a hard blow, and he'd blamed himself and his secrets for quite some time, still did, and especially the stupid decision to seal his powers which had stopped him from rescuing his wife from death, and his son from trauma. He missed Ichigo's smile, his brilliance and open kindness, his laugh. Ichigo never laughed, now less than ever. He stopped in front of the store and watched Jinta bully Ururu with a sad smile on his face. And then, Ichigo's heart-wrenching sorrowful face flashed across his eyes, and he stepped forward. The kids immediately saluted and brought him to the shop-keeper, who was having tea with Tessai.
They caught up around tea, before the blonde put his cup down and looked up, grey eyes serious for once.
"So, Isshin, what brought you here?"
"Straight to the point, I see." Isshin said, then sighed as he, too, put down his still half-full cup. "It's Ichigo."
Urahara raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, I was quite surprised to see that Karin-chan was the one to receive Kuchiki Rukia's powers."
"That's what I don't understand. Right the day before, he was normal. And then, when he came down for breakfast that morning, he was… different."
"Different? Different how?"
Isshin rubbed his hand over his chin.
"It's as if he's never had more reiatsu than Yuzu, yet, I'm positive he was always the most spiritually aware of the three. Then, there's the way he walks: it's completely silent, not a single sound. He's calmer somehow, almost nonchalant when I jump him. If I didn't know better, I'd say he can feel me before seeing me. And then…" He trailed off, looking at nothing in particular.
"And then?" Urahara prompted gently.
"His eyes." Isshin whispered. "He has the eyes of someone who's seen so many horrors that…" He choked. "He has the eyes of a veteran, someone who's been through very painful events, someone who doesn't fear much because they've already seen it all. It's…" His voice broke, but he continued anyway. "And then, there's the way he stares off when he thinks nobody's looking, and he suddenly looks so very, very sad… You'd think all he held dear had died around him." He took a deep breath. "I don't know what to make of it, Kisuke. I don't even know if he's still my son. I just know that I have to find out what the problem is, but he'll never open up to me."
Urahara had listened intently, touched by his friend's obvious distress. Isshin was usually a very easy-going man, not much could upset him to such a point, but to see him like this made it obvious that whatever was happening to Ichigo, it was clearly very important. He thanked Tessai as the bulky man came to refill the teapot with warm liquid, then turned back to the ex-captain and asked for details. After failing to pick up on Grand Fisher's presence in the World of the Living all those years ago, the least he could do was try with all his might to find out what the problem was with his friend's son.
Said young man felt perfectly fine at the moment. He was sitting in class, thinking about what the next course of action should be. He could see Ishida's dark head at the front of the class, feel the proud hum of his reiatsu, the awakening spiritual pressures of his friends nearby, Karin's two floors down with Rukia's nearby, and smiled to himself. Everything was going well. Today, they would fight for Shibata Yuuichi's soul and send that despicable Hollow to Hell before sending the poor soul on to Soul Society. He snorted as he remembered what Rukia had told the boy before performing Konso. He hadn't known at the time, but she of all people was of course aware that Soul Society was mostly a terrible place to be. Rukongai was filled with vermin, the spiritually aware were forced to steal to survive, and people from the higher districts were looked down upon by those from the lower districts, the Shinigamis and the nobility.
Soul Society wasn't a peaceful afterlife. It was another life, with its struggles, its pains and its horrors. This one, however, was eternal, and if you died, you either became part of the Hollow who devoured you, or got reincarnated. The horror.
Ichigo jumped slightly as Tatsuki nudged him, hand instinctively searching for a Zanpakutô which wasn't there.
'Relax, Aibou. Everythin's fine.'
He nodded slightly to himself, though Tatsuki obviously took it for her as she went back to her notebook with a sigh, and turned back to his so as not to appear distracted.
'You know we are here if you wish to talk, Ichigo.' His Zanpakutô deep voice echoed in his mind, and he inwardly gave a soft smile.
'Thank you, Zangetsu.'
They fell silent for a while, before Shiro spoke up again.
'This is really boring, isn't it?'
Ichigo acquiesced. 'Yep. Can't do anything about it, though. Sorry, Shiro, but until Aizen unmasks himself, then we can't do a thing.'
'We should still take a few precautions.' Zangetsu advised. 'Did you think about what you should do with the Vizards and the Arrancars?'
'If everything goes well, the Arrancars won't get the chance to step in, so I don't think there's a need to go and try to convince them to go against Aizen. What's more, they wouldn't believe me.' He paused as he felt them nod. 'As for the Vizards, I'm not sure. I don't think I should involve them either. They wouldn't be much use anyway.'
Again, they nodded.
'He escaped through the Negación last time, so we'll need to neutralize that.' He paused. "Though a lot of things happened between his arrival on Sokyoku Hill and their departure. What do you think?' he directed that last question at the third spirit in his mind, who had per his usual demeanor, stayed quiet and attentively listened to everything that was being said.
'If as much time passed before he left as your memories show, you will have no problem preventing his escape. You should warn Gin, though.'
'Yeah, thanks. Are you three alright, by the way? I know this time-travel thing can be somewhat… shocking.' He chuckled softly, eliciting a cackle from Shiro, an indulgent smile from Zangetsu and a gentle look on his third counterpart's face.
'We're fine, Aibou. Not everyone's a pussy like ya.'
A vein ticked on the hybrid's temple, but he refrained from shouting in the middle of class. And so started one of the numerous daily arguments between the Shinigami and the Hollow while in the background, two Zanpakutôs listened with growing amusement.
It took all his restraint not to go after Grand Fisher when he finally showed up. In the end, as soon as they were back, he left the clinic in a hurry, not minding the rain, and ran as quickly as he could to the place where his mother had died. Standing there, looking at the tumultuous water, he then tilted his head back before punching the ground with as much force as he could muster with his reiatsu limited and in this body. The blow still left a small crater, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"The fucker escaped!" He roared out, feeling more furious than he ever had before except for a few select occasions, a fair number of those being when he'd come face to face with the traitor. "The fucker escaped!" He yelled again. He need to let off some steam. He felt like he would explode any moment now. His reiatsu was bubbling inside of him, demanding to be released, and it had been too long since he'd gotten any real training, a good fight, the opportunity to go all out. He couldn't go to Urahara's, though, obviously, and Hueco Mundo would be a bad idea considering that such a massive explosion of reiatsu would undoubtedly attract Aizen's attention. Same with Soul Society, and he certainly didn't need an entire army tracking him down to execute him like a rabid dog or experiment on him like a guinea pig.
In other words, he was stuck. Unless…
There was somewhere he could go, as they certainly had strong enough barriers to mask his reiatsu, but he doubted they would just accept to let him train if he asked nicely. Hiyori, for one, would just try to fight him, and Shinji and the others would want to know who the hell he was if he wasn't with Soul Society. A tingling feeling in his hand made him look down. The leather armbands were starting to loosen under the building pressure, and he knew he didn't have much time. Like it or not, he had to release his reiatsu now, or he would be discovered. And boy, would that be bad.
Glancing about, he checked that there wasn't anyone around then vanished in a flash of Shindo, a new technique made of a mixture of Sonido and Shunpo that he'd created during the war.
Standing in the shadows of a telephone pole, Kurosaki Isshin stared morosely at the spot where his son had been a mere second ago and wondered how that could have happened.
He stood in the deserted street, watching the crumbling façade of the abandoned warehouse, feeling the powerful barriers which carefully warded it against Shinigami and Hollows alike, but it wasn't a problem for him as he was neither and both. Closing his eyes, he reveled in the familiar warmth of Hachi's reiatsu, almost basking in the feel of it as the last time he'd seen the tall Kido Master, he'd been nothing more than a smoldering corpse at Aizen's feet, his body horribly mutilated by the hordes of mutated Arrancars the traitor had let loose on him. He, Kensei, Mashiro and Love had fought valiantly and to the last, only to end up in bloody pieces on the ground.
He steeled himself, amber eyes taking on a determined glint as he squared his shoulders. They weren't dead anymore. They were alive now, and the ever increasing pain of his body reminded him that he needed their help. Sighing to himself at the thought of the upcoming confrontation, he walked forward, grimacing as every step made his limbs scream in agony, reiatsu pulsing angrily in this container too weak for the vast power he wielded. At this rate, he would collapse before he could make it out of his body or even talk the Vizards into allowing him to use their training grounds.
The barrier hummed as it scanned him and he allowed Shiro's reiatsu to rise to the surface and mingle with his own before passing the door. It slammed shut behind him but he didn't pay it any mind, instead choosing to look up and at the eight individuals perched on the crumbled floors of the warehouse.
"Who the hell are you?" Hiyori yelled, Zanpakutô already unsheathed. The others didn't move, but all had one hand on the hilt of their own weapons, ready to draw. His breath caught in his throat as his eyes rested over Rose's elegant form. After finding his lover's disfigured corpse, the Vizard had gone on a rampage, throwing himself into one battle after another without care for his safety. In the end, he'd died with a smile on his face, Love's name on his lips and Aizen's blade stuck through his heart. Ichigo was the one who'd found him, and brought him back to Soul Society to be buried with the other Vizards, knowing that he'd finally managed to get what he wanted: death in battle. It was the only thing he'd been able to consider after losing the love of his life and Ichigo couldn't blame him, though he'd grieved for him as he had for the others. They were, after all, family. And he'd lost them all.
A wave of pain pulsed through his body and he gritted his teeth together, briefly scrunching his eyes shut as he waited for it to pass. Up on her perch, Hiyori got annoyed and made to attack, but stopped as Shinji put a calming hand on her arm.
Looking down, she noticed the same thing that the other Vizards had been looking at with deep frowns: the kid seemed to be in excruciating pain and trying to gather his composure back. Nodding for her to stay there, Shinji gracefully got down from his perch and stepped towards the stranger.
"Oi, kid, what's your problem?"
Glowing amber eyes looked up, but at Hachi instead of him.
"As many layers… as you can… please… Hachi."
They were taken aback at his knowledge of their names, but as he moaned another throaty "please" and fell to his knees, Shinji just nodded at the pink-haired giant. Instantly, he clapped his hands and started incanting, before announcing it was done.
"Gi… Gikon!" The kid gasped again, and Lisa darted forward with the emergency red glove on her hand, slamming it on his forehead. His body slumped to the ground before she took it up to safety, and they watched as the kid, no, man, because though the body was young, the soul was at least five years older, practically ripped off the black choker and armbands he had on. Instantly, his reiatsu leapt free, crushing them all to the ground under its immense pressure. They shared flabbergasted looks as his body slowly stopped twitching. It was unbelievable that this kid had just sent them to their knees with only his spiritual pressure. Such power was so rare they were pretty sure the last person with a similar amount had been Aizen Sôsuke, and even then, they weren't sure he could mimic such an effortless wave of crushing might.
After a while, they found that the stranger had been gradually reigning in his reiatsu and stood back up, slowly approaching the now motionless body lying on the cold ground.
"Oi." Shinji poked him with the tip of his shoe. "You alive in here?"
There was a groan and they tensed, before suddenly, his eyes snapped open. Mashiro jerked. Amber eyes swept over them all, drinking up their features like a starved man, only warmth and recognition in there, and they stiffened even more. Who the hell was this guy?
"Thanks." He said at last, slowly rising to his feet. When he wasn't gasping in pain, he had a low voice, warm and soothing, but it was still too early to relax, especially considering the fact that he was a completely unknown factor. A fluttering of white got their attention, and they realized that he was wearing a fitting captain's haori over a thin black skin-tight turtleneck, black combat pants and black combat boots. His hands were encased in fingerless leather gloves, and there was a silk black scarf wrapped around his neck. Two Zanpakutôs were strapped to his back, one with black and red hilt wrapping and a black sheath, and the other with purple hilt wrapping and a crimson sheath. The guy's orange hair was now streaked with white and brown and hung to his shoulders, eyes full of a wisdom none should ever display at such a young age, though it was true that Shinigami's appearances tended to be deceiving.
"Who are you?"
Disturbingly knowing eyes swept over them all again, and when they came to rest on Shinji, he was stricken by the pure affection, the pure relief and kindness, all mixed with deep, deep sorrow in his gaze.
"My name is Kurosaki Ichigo. I mean you no harm. I swear it on my power."
They gaped at that.
"Kurosaki? Any relation to Isshin?" Lisa asked carefully.
He nodded. "His son."
"How's that possible?" Kensei said distrustfully. "And how the hell are you wearing a captain's haori?"
They all paused at that.
"I know of your relationship with Soul Society. You shouldn't worry, though. As of now, they don't even know I exist."
"Then how do you explain the uniform?"
'Tell 'em, Aibou. They'll go to Urahara or worse, your father if ya don't.'
'I agree with Shiro.'
Anticipating the question, his second Zanpakutô answered calmly. 'I agree. Their support would be immensely helpful.'
Ichigo sighed. "Very well, then." He turned back to the Vizards and straightened up, unconsciously adopting a ready military pose which had them all gaping.
"I'm from the future. We were losing the war. Aizen managed to create mutated Arrancars whose power defied imagination, and our men were getting crushed like flies. Those whom they couldn't fell, Aizen destroyed himself. He was unstoppable. So Kisuke created this machine which used reiatsu to send me back in time before it all began. I would keep my powers, knowledge and memory so that I could nip his plans in the bud. It's been going well so far, but I'm still waiting for the time he drops the mask."
They stared when he finished, examining his face for any hint of treachery, humor or anything alike. But there wasn't. He only looked sincere, and his story actually explained so much! Like the fact that his soul seemed to have years on his body, his eyes held the haunted look of war veterans, his demeanor was that of a predator, the Soul Society didn't know him yet his power was immense and…
"How come you've got two Zanpakutô?" Love asked brusquely.
Tan fingers came to brush against the hilt of the purple Zanpakutô in a loving caress before he let his hand drop back to his side as the Vizards tensed again.
"He chose to bind himself to me. I'm glad he did." He said with a soft smile, eyes slightly glazed over.
Hiyori snorted. "I bet you do. More power's always good for something."
"No." He corrected brutally, all warmth suddenly gone from his eyes. "No, that's not it at all. He was born from another's soul, but he" he spat the word like it was poison "chose to abuse and reject him instead of seeing him for the wonderful person he is. I'm glad he chose to bind himself to me, because now, he can finally see what a Zanpakutô can be when their soul resonates with their Shinigami's."
Passion. There was so much passion in his words, and as if in echo, his Zanpakutôs started humming, purple and red-lined black reiatsu gently pulsing around the hilts, thin tendrils of power gently reaching out to caress his face and wrap around his body as if in a hug before slowly retreating and fading away. He looked far more relaxed after that, and closed his eyes briefly, obviously communicating with them, before turning back to the group.
"So, how did you know us?"
He smiled. "You helped me with a… problem, of mine."
"You're like us?" Mashiro blurted out, much to Kensei's exasperation.
"I was, yes."
"What do you mean, was?" Kensei was suspicious again. Ichigo sighed.
"Shiro and I made a deal. We decided that it was better to ally ourselves if we wanted to get stronger, and I can even let him out for extended periods of time if I want to."
"Actually, he means if I want to." A new voice said, and they jumped as they discovered an albino double of the man standing across from them leaning against the wall. Ichigo looked annoyed for a second.
"Aren't you supposed to be sleeping, or something?"
"I'm bored, nothin's been happenin' lately." Ichigo scoffed.
"I almost died. Again. Isn't that enough?"
"Hell, no! Ya were containin' so much reiatsu ya almost made yar body implode, doesn't mean we had fun in there, ya know! Buildings crumblin' and all, not much ta do!"
Golden on black met amber on white for a second as an unspoken message passed between them, and Shiro nodded.
"It's okay, Aibou. We're all alive and whole, that's all that counts."
Ichigo smiled. "How are the others?"
"Okay. Mura's a little shaken, but he'll be fine."
The young man looked immensely relieved.
"Wow." Was all Rose could say at the sight of the obviously sane Hollow, and they found themselves agreeing. "How the hell?"
"I told you. Compromise. It's the best option, and you'll only grow stronger."
They looked at each other, then nodded determinedly.
"Why did you come here, though?" Mashiro enquired curiously.
"Well, as you could see, I wasn't really in the best of shapes. As Shiro said, my body couldn't bear my power, especially given that I've been restraining it ever since I came back to the past. Wouldn't want to alert Aizen that something's not as it should be. Anyway, I needed somewhere to release my reiatsu without drawing any unwanted attention, and the only place I could think of with strong enough wards was here." He smiled at Hachi. "Thanks, by the way."
They stayed silent for a while.
"I guess I'll be going back for now. My father's already suspicious, no need to give him more reasons to think something's wrong with me."
"You mean he doesn't know?" Shinji asked, surprised.
"Obviously not. Neither does Urahara, so please refrain from telling them anything. I'll be back as soon as possible so that I can help with your Hollows." And just like that, he vanished, followed by his albino counterpart. But right as he turned his back on them, they saw the simple character of a Chinese number one on the back of his haori. For the umpteenth time this day, they found themselves gaping in shock.
Kurosaki Clinic, Karakura Town.
Two months later.
Kurosaki Karin cursed. It had been two months since she'd met the Shinigami Kuchiki Rukia and been given the power to protect the family, and she liked to think that the two of them had developed a solid friendship and a good partnership, despite their earlier difficulty to get along considering that the Substitute had strongly asserted her absolute refusal to believe in ghosts. Now, though, she didn't have much choice as she was forced to go about purifying Hollows day and night, while still going to school, doing homework and keeping up appearances for her family's sake.
As she gazed down at the small note, she cursed again.
For certain reasons, I am going away. Don't try to find me and don't worry about me. Burn this letter once you read it. And, if possible, hide yourself for a little while.
She reached out for Kon, but then hesitated. What if she couldn't find her? Surely, having back-up would be best if she wanted to find her quickly. She gazed at the wall separating her bedroom from her brother's, then shook her head. Ichigo had changed lately. Though he tried to hide it, she could see he had something on his mind, something important, and she had kept him away from the Shinigami's secret for a reason. If everything ever blew up in her face, she didn't want him involved. Leading him out in the dark to search for a missing girl he'd barely ever met was only going to confuse him and endanger him. Nodding her head decisively, she ruffled through Kon's mouth, ignoring his muffled protests, and popped the gikon in her mouth, dashing through the window as soon as she was in soul form.
On the other side of the wall, Ichigo sighed. The game was starting, and he had no choice but to let his sister get left to die on the pavement of a deserted street in the middle of the night. She had to get stronger, there was no other option, for he couldn't reveal himself, and were he to fail stopping Aizen, then she would have to be able to fight against the Espada. Without an inner Hollow, she wouldn't be up to the challenge, and it would be the end. He could watch, though, and make sure things didn't degenerate or change compared to the first time around. Quickly popping the Mod-Soul Shinji had managed to get him by telling Urahara he'd lost his into his mouth, he stretched his limbs, arching his back with a relieved sigh as he got all his mobility back, and turned to his body.
"Stay here, act like me and don't make a fuss. If someone comes in, act like you're asleep."
He nodded at the Mod-Soul and jumped through the window, disappearing into the night in a flash of Shunpo. He liked to change flash-stepping techniques from time to time, usually keeping Shindo as an ace up his sleeve to throw off his opponent, though it hadn't been of much use against Aizen whom he'd taken to fight using that only, considering how fast both of them were. Yoruichi had once said that his technique, that only he could use, was a testimony to the true beauty of Hoho and that she was proud of him. She'd died six months later in Kisuke's arms, pain etched on her beautiful face and blood seeping through her tattered clothes into the blonde's. The shop-keeper had never been the same after that, burying himself in work and experimenting day in day out to make the time-machine.
Urahara Kisuke had given his life to activate the device, one more death on the man he liked to call his star-pupil's conscience, though he'd insisted to send Ichigo. Because Ichigo was more powerful, because Ichigo had fought against Aizen more times than any of them, because Ichigo was their only hope. But the hybrid had known, deep in his heart, that Kisuke no longer wished to live. The machine completed and functional, a powerful warrior sent back to make everything right again, the love of his life killed by his mortal enemy, he had nothing left to live for. And giving his reiatsu would kill him while still giving him time to utterly destroy the machine and all of his research. Aizen would never ever know what had happened, and even if he did, he would never be able to construct such a device before years had passed, and by then, it would be too late.
Ichigo shook his head as he landed on top of a shadowed phone pole, both ends of his scarf fluttering slightly before settling down as he wrapped it around the lower part of his face. He checked that his reiatsu was entirely cloaked, then focused back on the scene unfolding down on the street. Ishida was lying in a pool of his own blood, grocery bag a few feet away from him, and Rukia was frozen in place by her brother's reiatsu. Said noble was watching Renji fight Karin emotionlessly, haori nowhere in sight as silver eyes analyzed the newcomer carefully .
Ichigo's breath caught in his throat as memories threatened to overwhelm him, choke him and drag him far, far away from the world of the sane.
"I'm sorry. So sorry…"
Rapidly paling lips stretched into a strained smile, tears running down the face leaning over him and falling on pale skin. Long, elegant fingers rose up to brush against his cheek and came away wet. He tightened his grip on the fallen body.
"Do not cry. It wasn't your fault."
"I should have been here."
The man in his arms shook his head painfully.
"Even with all the power in the world… you can't save everyone… I fought to the last… died a warrior…"
"Listen to me… Dying a honorable death… Dying in your arms… Knowing I will be remembered… It's more than I could ever… have hoped for."
He was openly crying now, but the silver pools were dry.
"I only wish… I had more time with you."
Trembling tan fingers pushed back an inky strand sticky with blood with infinite care and tenderness.
"I love you. Always."
"I know." Pale eyelids slid shut. "I love you too… Forever."
His hand fell back down to his side, pale skin stained with crimson red, and the survivors of the raid watched with tears in their eyes as the Hero of the Winter War lost yet another loved one and howled his loss to the moon before burying his tear-stained face in the crook of the neck of Kuchiki Byakuya, late Clan Head of the Kuchikis and Captain of the Sixth Division.
The night Kurosaki Ichigo lost his lover was also the night he lost hope.
A single tear ran down his cheek and he balled his hands into fists, drinking in the aristocratic features of the noble, relishing in the strong pulse of his restrained reiatsu, the calm fluttering of his scarf in the summer breeze, the way passing cars lighted him up even though the drivers couldn't see him. Kuchiki Byakuya didn't know him anymore, he realized with a sharp jolt of pain as the man unsheathed his Zanpakutô and Karin started falling, her sword broken in two and her Saketsu and Hakusui severed. Rukia ran forward, screaming Karin's name, before Renji beat some sense into her, and they stepped through the Senkaimon after the short Shinigami had forbidden the Substitute from following her.
Ichigo snorted. As if any Kurosaki would just lie down and take orders from a midget like her. Never in hell. Unlike him, he noticed as the Senkaimon gate closed, Karin lost consciousness as soon as Rukia left her field of sight, and he took the opportunity to flash-step closer and make sure she would live until Urahara arrived. He then checked on Ishida, whose wounds were nowhere near the gravity of Karin's, and nodded to himself. Everything was fine. He sunk back into the shadows just in time to see Urahara step up to Karin's body with an umbrella, before getting Tessai to pick up both her and the fallen Quincy.
Five minutes later, the street was deserted again, and silent except for the quiet pitter-patter of raindrops on the pavement and the fading sound of wooden sandals clacking against the asphalt.
Urahara Shop, Karakura Town.
Five days later.
"How's it coming?"
"She's regained her power, with an addition." Isshin face darkened at that, and Urahara continued. "It'll be alright, Isshin. Your daughter's a strong one."
"Yeah, they all are." He paused. "Speaking of my kids, did you notice anything?"
The shop-keeper carefully put down his cup of tea in front of him.
"I would have bet there was someone else where I found Karin. But I couldn't be sure. Whoever they were, they were a master at concealing reiatsu."
"So you didn't see anything?"
"That's too bad."
"Whoever it is, I'm pretty sure they'll reveal themselves when the time comes. Until then, the only thing we can do is wait." Urahara said wisely, prompting a nod from Isshin.
"Shinji came by a few weeks ago."
"He did? How are they?"
"Fine, apparently, though our blonde friend seems to have turned forgetful in his old days." Urahara hinted subtly. "He asked for a new Gikongan as he'd lost his."
Isshin raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"Shinji, lose his Gikon? That's new. And even then, couldn't he just borrow one of the others'?"
The blonde shrugged nonchalantly. Isshin narrowed his eyes.
"You think our stranger contacted them?"
"There was a hint of darkness in his reiatsu, it was very weak and I couldn't really analyze it as he hid it very quickly, but… I think he might be a Vizard."Part 2