“/I am not actually your zanpakuto./” - Zanpakuto talking outside.
:But I’m still a better father than Isshin.: - Zanpakuto talking inside.
It begins as it always does- with the death of Kurosaki Masaki.
In every world, every universe, this is the turning point that lays the foundations of Kurosaki Ichigo. What makes a single human child stand up again and again regardless of their strength. On a rainy day, near the banks of the river, this is that moment. That single moment in which a child mistakes the dead for the living and wakes to find a part of Ichigo’s world is gone.
Kurosaki Ichigo is the firstborn child of Isshin and Masaki, one out of three daughters.
However, in the days after the murder of her mother, this is a fact that is lost to all but a few.
Her father takes one look at her rounded face, the soft waves of orange hair and watery brown eyes and looks away. He does not look back. His gaze skirts over her, focuses behind her and never does that man acknowledge her as his daughter. He retreats to his clinic and does not return.
(And oh, oh, that hurts. That’s painful, because Ichigo has already lost her mother, remembers a time that Isshin doted on her, and now- now- )
Kurosaki Isshin vanishes from the lives of his children.
Ichigo is left to bare the weight of his absence. She musters up all her determination and strives to do all the things her mother did. She uses a stool to reach the stove, the food tastes funny and it’s burnt in some places, but it’s edible. She tries her best to vacuum, mop and dust, but she doesn’t quite manage to reach everywhere. The laundry is easier but she doesn't know where everything goes and she keeps messing up on operating the machines.
Still. Ichigo does her best because Karin and Yuzu need to eat. They need clean clothes for school and sheets to sleep in at night. So Ichigo runs herself ragged but her sisters are taken care of to the best of her ability.
This continues until the groceries run out.
Her father hasn’t shown himself. Sometimes they can hear him moving around in the kitchen late at night. The door to the master bedroom hasn’t opened. Ichigo pushes the betrayal, the frustration and the hurt into her heart and grits her teeth.
She’s reaching the end of her knowledge on how to run the household. She knows the lights, the water and everything works because they pay for it. She doesn’t know when or how. She doesn’t know where to get money.
Ichigo abruptly sits down on the kitchen floor, buries her face into her hands and sobs.
Nine years old, mother is dead, father is gone.
She has Karin and Yuzu depending on her and she has no idea what to do.
Isshin cannot look at her. Because he cannot look at her, he stays away. She doesn’t know what will make that man come back but...she can try.
Ichigo has an idea. She stands up and reaches for the kitchen knives. Only her fingers close around the scissors. A deep, shaking breath, trembling hands carefully wipe at red eyes and Ichigo heads for the bathroom. She drags her stool in front of the counter and steps up so she can she herself in the mirror.
The girl is the mirror is pale, with shadows under her eyes, burns on her fingers and determination blazing in her eyes. Her hands are shaking, one holding a large clump of glossy orange hair, the other awkwardly grasping the blades. She doesn’t hesitate.
When Isshin comes home, he finds two girls and one boy. Isshin pauses, at the short, choppy hair that Misaki never would have cut off. A plain t-shirt and shorts is all Ichigo is wearing. No skirt, no dress. He meets his eldest’s gaze.
He looks away after a moment but he bends down to hug Yuzu and Karin. Life returns to his eyes and things change back to something like normal.
Isshin begins to buy groceries again. He eats in the dining room. He sleeps in the master bedroom. The bills are paid and things settling into a routine. Karin and Yuzu have most of his attention, his affection, but Ichigo gets some too. On the days she wears a hat, when she isn’t a she, but a he.
Ichigo hates it.
It’s not father, never tou-san, it’s Goat-face, it’s kuso oyaji.
But she cannot take care of Karin and Yuzu. She cannot protect them from what only she can see. Because Goat-face is useless and Ichigo is the one who protects their family now.
The dead and the living, she needs to learn the difference between the two. She needs to keep her sisters aware of a dangerous spirit and a harmless one. She needs a way to defend herself from the former. As a boy, Ichigo learns, she can do it easier. Tatsuki is a goal, the person she needs to beat and she does, she does, but Tatsuki helps with the issues that crop up from Ichigo going as a boy now.
Goat-face isn’t going to be the one to sit her down and talk about how much different a boy is from a girl and for that, she needs Tatsuki.
Tatsuki keeps her sanity and remains her only friend in the years following Masaki’s murder.
Especially when Goat-face decides that Ichigo needs to be violently and physically attacked at all hours in the supposed safety of her own home. That man somehow gets it into his head that it is perfectly acceptable and a good thing to lash out with kicks and punches, throws and holds when she walks in the door, or even in the middle of her chores.
It doesn’t take long for Isshin to escalate things. One morning, he bursts into her room as she sleeps, with a shout and lands a heavy fist into her stomach. She knocks him out of her window with a wooden practice sword she keeps by her bed and throws up last night’s dinner.
When Karin and Yuzu bursts into her room, fear painted over their faces, Ichigo is hyperventilating into her comforter, shaking in rage with tears welling in her eyes. That same rage sweeps over Karin’s features and Yuzu looks so hurt. Ichigo grabs them and holds them close and whispers how they’re going to handle this.
Karin has always been loud, violent and strongly opinionated. It’s okay for her to go after Isshin, to call him names and do her best to fight back. As for Yuzu, she’s soft and quiet so Ichigo tells her to play along, to punish Isshin by crying, by lecturing and holding such a disappointed expression that goat-face will feel guilty. She makes sure that her sisters know they can’t do this all the time. Only for meals, or certain circumstances when there’s an opening.
Ichigo hates this. But her sisters understand and mealtimes become something approaching peace as the rest of the time, Isshin wages war against his eldest. She grits her teeth and endures this too.
Time passes as Ichigo gains a reputation in the yakuza, the street thugs, as someone to avoid. Some take it as a challenge. Others a warning to stay away. Regardless, there are always those who think themselves invincible and try out for the dangerous brat with orange hair.
Ichigo gains experience in medical skills.
Ghosts and spirits remain a complicated subject. She can touch them, see them, hear them and the ones she’s met, she’s strong enough to take care of on her own. She hasn’t seen or felt any like the one that murdered her mother, but that is a fear that is always with her and she learns to endure it
Then, one day, Ichigo meets Chad.
This is another turning point in both their lives.
Yasutora Sado. Chad. The dark-skinned foreigner is a virtual giant. Broad shoulders, large fists, long legs and a body defined with muscles. He’s getting the shit beaten out of him when she first lays eyes on him. He doesn’t lift an arm to protect himself so Ichigo does it for him. She talks, there’s something that passes between them and Sado becomes Chad.
He promises. To her and to himself. Chad feels safe. Feels like hers.
Ichigo’s shirt is torn in the fight. She’s bleeding from her head and she’s dizzy. Both from the hit and from fear because people say lots of shit about her and she can usually deal with it, but from this guy? She cannot take something like that from him. This one is special.
He says nothing. He notices, accepts the illusion of her appearance and moves on as something inside her weeps in relief.
Instead, Chad offers to drag her home. She accepts with a smile and an offer of medical aide which he agrees to. She’s going to introduce him to her sisters. Ichigo tells him that and Chad’s lips quirk up in something like happiness.
So they stagger towards the Kurosaki Clinic. Chad is solid, a warm weight that easily supports her aching body and she is happy. Because this boy is accepting her without any explanation, without any hesitation and and Tatsuki is the only one who has ever done anything like this before.
But Tatsuki is one of the only ones who knows the whole story. Her acceptance has always been there. There was never an illusion to dispel, a deception that is all everyone knows. This is more than that.
So Ichigo laughs and chatters at the towering form of her new best friend.
That is, until a voice calls out, harsh and cold with a visible edge of menace in his aura.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Ichigo’s senses thwang against something almost familiar and for an instant her heart lurches in her chest. She doesn’t give clarity to that thing in her head. Instead, she whirls around, Chad by her side already so protective of her.
There’s a boy standing there, about her own age. Glasses, black hair with a bluish tint, lithe and slender with pale skin. His gaze isn’t focused on her, rather on Chad.
There’s a moment of stillness between the three of them.
She’s bleeding, Chad’s bleeding, her clothes are torn, Chad’s are stained with mud and he has an arm around her much smaller form. She can easily see how this boy has taken a single look at them and drawn the wrong conclusions. So, Ichigo steps in, steps forward, easily shifting to draw the boy’s fury and disgust away from Chad. He looks at her with concern and there are shadows in his eyes that look too much like her own.
“It’s alright,” she promises first, watching that cold gaze move to her, even as it lingers over her torn shirt and the blood that still sliding down the side of her face with clinical disinterest. “Chad didn’t hurt me. He helped me, actually. These guys down by the bridge were messin’ with me about my hair and looks, and when I stood up for myself- well.”
Ichigo’s mouth curls, a smile without a shred of amusement and makes a sharp motion at her clothes, the cuts, scuff marks and bruises.
“We had a disagreement,” she explains as some of the tension eases out from the boy’s stance. “Chad saw them when they went after me, and got involved.”
Ichigo can see the subtle relaxing around the boy’s shoulders, and even if Ichigo hadn’t needed it, she’s really glad to see he would have done something if she had. Even though she knows Chad would intimidating to most with his tall and broad figure, the glasses wearing boy, hadn’t even hesitated. What if it had been Yuzu or Karin? What if Chad had been set to hurt her?
There’s something about him that allows her to relax and infuse some gratitude in her smile. Something she doesn’t want to think about so she puts it out of her mind. She goes for introductions.
“I’m Kurosaki Ichigo, this is Chad-”
“Yasutora Sado,” he interjects mildly.
“-and I’m grateful for your concern…?”
The boy’s body language shifts into something awkward and stiff, as a hand reaches up to shove at his glasses. Something about him abruptly pulls back and Ichigo is left feeling suddenly… Well, she can’t really describe it, just that something is gone.
She doesn’t like it.
“Ishida Uryuu,” the boy introduces himself, before falling silent.
It’s obvious that he’s painfully unfamiliar with social interactions so Ichigo lets her smile grow to a grin and takes a step forward, ignoring the pain, to hold out her hand.
“Nice to meetcha, Uryuu!”
Ishida, now dubbed Uryuu, sputters as his cheeks turn red and makes a sharp motion that brings himself closer to her, a retort on rudeness already rising in his chest. They end up bickering all the way to the Kurosaki Clinic and since goat-face isn’t there, Uryuu offers to help her with her wounds. As it turns out, he’s just as well versed in treating injuries as she is.
Their eyes meet and Ichigo knows her face has softened. Uryuu’s doesn’t quite , but there’s something.
Just like that, there’s another turning point Kurosaki Ichigo’s life. One that doesn’t happen in many universes. It changes their lives for the better, both Ichigo and Uryuu’s. Chad is, as he always is, dragged along, however willingly, in Ichigo’s wake.
It takes some time before Uryuu feels comfortable with either of them. That’s okay with both of them. It’s not a big deal, they’ll just make sure to directly include him. He’s content to lurk on the edges of their space, but usually Ichigo has to go fetch him and forcefully bring him into her spaces.
She introduces him to Tatsuki, who brings an orange headed girl by the name of Inoue Orihime with her. A genuinely sweet girl who has scars on her heart that she recognizes and she readily welcomes her into their little group. Ichigo and Chad managed to pick up two friends on the first day of high school, Mizuiro, a quiet and calculating boy with an edge of darkness she can appreciate, and Keigo a boy that Ichigo finds herself liking even though he’s loud and almost reminds her of goat-face.
She quickly beats into him the importance of consent and tact.
Orihime brings a stalker of her own and Ichigo almost steps in to deal with Honsho Chizuru but Tatsuki handles it with her usual violence and Ichigo is okay to let it be. The redhead has nothing malicious motivating her actions. Just stupidity and a demand for attention. Honestly, she and Keigo should get along like a house on fire, but they actually hate each other guts.
Life goes on and some things get easier and something thing get harder. Ichigo goes her best. Ichigo does his best.
Still, the I-see-dead-people thing goes over so much better with Chad and Uryuu then Isshin when they find out.
Ichigo stumbles across one on a rare day that Uryuu joins her and Chad after school. It’s a little girl that, for a moment, she thinks is Yuzu.
Uryuu trips and almost falls as Chad comes to an abrupt halt. Ichigo doesn’t notice. She’s staring at the blood stained and gore matted hair of the little girl, curled into a ball and weeping for, ‘o nee-chan’ and she…
The broken word leaves her throat raw and it’s horror that colors her tone. Red washes her vision, sound fades away and Ichigo staggers forward towards that tiny spirit with a broken chain hanging from her chest. She doesn’t manage to speak, or even reach out to touch the spirit. Only collapses in front of her, mind blank and body almost numb. The air is thick and heavy and she can’t breathe.
An arm wraps itself around her shoulders and jerks her away. There’s a press of something almost familiar and Ichigo comes back to herself with a sharp gasp. Her fingers spasm and clench in someone else’s school uniform. There’s sweat dripping down her face and she’s shaking. She tries to speak, but all she succeeds in doing is making pathetic noises that hurt .
“Kurosaki. Kurosaki. Ichigo. ”
That’s Uryuu speaking in her ear and Ichigo shutters at the desperate sound of her name.
She manages the first syllable of his name, the rest drowned out by a sob. The next second, another arm slides itself beneath her legs and lifts her up. The angle is awkward, but Ichigo hides her face in Uryuu’s shoulder and tries not to think. Chad is standing behind Uryuu, right in her line of sight, but his gaze is fixed on the spot where she collapsed.
She knows he can’t see anything.
His eyes are darting around that small area and he can’t see anything. She doesn’t want to look at Uryuu. So she doesn’t, she just concentrates on breathing and the very alive sense of her sister she can feel now that she’s looking for it.
Ichigo tunes out the outside world, only aware of Uryuu’s presence curling around her and the looming shape of Chad in front of her eyes.
When they finally stop, Chad steps forward and she hears the jangle of keys. She’s been over to his apartment several times, so she recognizes the feel of his couch and doesn’t resist when Uryuu sets her down. He bends down in front of her a moment later.
He says her name and it’s hesitant in his mouth, but he says it anyway. So Ichigo drags her gaze up to his and holds it. He holds out his hand, the movement allowing a small, silver charm to slip from his sleeve to dangle between them. She doesn’t care, she wouldn’t normally care but-
Her voice is hoarse, her throat dry and her jaw aches from clenching her teeth together for so long.
“My mother had a bracelet just like that.”
It’s past tense and Ichigo knows that Uryuu is aware of her mother’s death. But this time, instead of a genuine, if cold attempt at sympathy, there’s something like understanding and happiness to his expression. She doesn't know what to make of it. Her mouth opens-
Uryuu flicks his wrist and there’s a flare of blue and then the bow of an archer materializes from the charm.
Ichigo’s breath hitches, and without thinking her hand lifts, extending out towards the bow. She pauses right before her hand makes contact, eyes darting to Uryuu, who looks like he’s in pain and so very excited all at the same time. He nods once and Ichigo completes the movement, pressing her fingers and then palm into the bow in his hands. It tingles across her skin, and the feel of it is familiar as a favorite blanket, though she has no true memory of ever having seen anything like this.
“What….” Her voice is rough as she traces the shape of the bow, “What is this?”
She can see Chad standing beside them, and she absently notices that he’s looking in the right direction of the bow, but not quite correctly. Like he can almost see something, or the vague shape of something, but can’t quite make it out.
Still, she sets that aside for later, lifting her eyes to Uryuu, looking for an answer instead.
And so Uryuu lets his bow fade away, and sits down, right there on the floor in front of her. He explains that he is a Quincy , what they are, why they fight, what the charm her mother had carried meant, what that meant for her .
Family. It means family.
“I have two sisters,” Ichigo blurts out, staring with wide eyes at her...her cousin?
“We’re related,” she says instead of a defined word, “You have more family then just me.”
Ishida is looking at her. She suspects his father is the same as Isshin. Or at least something similar. Like recognizes like.
“We’re cousins of some kind, right?”
Family other then Isshin. Family that answered questions she doesn’t have to wonder how to ask and oh. He looks like he’s about to cry just as much as she is. There’s grief in him, as he begins to haltingly tell her of his grandfather- and of Shinigami. But there’s wonder when he holds out his Quincy Cross and Ichigo wraps her fingers around it and pushes... reiatsu into it. Instantly, there’s a bright, vivid flare of blue.
It’s not a bow though, it’s a sword. It slips from her grasp a moment later, disintegrating into the air and she looks up into Uryuu’s startled face.
“Is...Is that normal?” Ichigo has to ask, looking at how startled Uryuu looks in response. She has no idea. She knows spirits, this is beyond her. Ishida is the one with all the answers and he’s her age so he probably doesn’t have them all either.
“I-” Uryuu blinks in surprise at the place her sword had manifested. “I have never seen a Quincy Cross do that before, but there are not many of us left now. I don’t know if any- any before had swords instead of bows. There’s a legend,” he adds, his expression easing into contemplation, “One that my grandfather told me, about a Quincy- one of the first- who used swords, but that’s just a legend, so I don’t know if it’s true or not. There’s also a chance one of the Branch Families used swords, although we can’t be sure if you’re descended from them or not.”
Uryuu seems to shake it off either way, the uncertainty of their connection, before a smile breaks over his face despite the hint of tears in his eyes, and he looks so happy .
Ichigo understands, the warm and pleased feeling of family blooming in her chest, and she smiles back. She is still shaken by the endless instant she had been certain that Yuzu was in front of her, that she had failed to protect her youngest sister, that she had died somehow while Ichigo was away, but she can feel her sister alive and well, and she has family she didn’t know about, and-
And Ichigo is happy . Any family that she can cling to, that she can have , who knows who she is , who accepts her, who looks so happy to be her family...well.
Ichigo craves that. Wants that. Wants it like a burning fire in her gut, and here Uryuu is. Chad’s here and he doesn’t understand but he hasn’t left. Here is exactly what she needs in that moment, and Ichigo can’t help the smile on her face, nor the tears that shine in her own eyes.
And so the world shifts once again, so very different than what would have been.
The first thing Ichigo does, once she’s managed to pull herself somewhat together from the emotional roller coaster she had just suffered is a demand that Uryuu come with her to meet her sisters. Isshin isn’t home, he won’t be for two more nights and thus, this is the perfect time for him to meet new family members.
She’d said it before, but Uryuu had put it off every time- sometimes for legitimate reasons, other times because he was shy and awkward no matter what he snapped about it when Ichigo said so. But not this time- Ichigo won’t let him. He’s family , and Ichigo will have him know the twins. Will make sure the girls know there’s someone else they can go to, if Ichigo is ever unavailable for any reason.
Isshin doesn’t need to know. Goat face never needs to know.
Ichigo cannot imagine her mother marrying a man if he did not know who she was. Isshin denying that he can see spirits, okay, if that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter, but if kaa-san was a Quincy, then that means at the least , he was aware of them. That’s an even greater betrayal then his outright avoidance of them after kaa-san’s funeral.
He’s offered no explanations, or reassurances and there is no way, her mother wouldn’t tell Isshin some basics of protecting himself from spirits, or give him or something. Obviously there’s a bracelet which will take energy and manifest a weapon, surely there’s things like that? Which means Isshin left them unprotected, ignorant and doesn’t have an issue with that.
How dare he?
With practiced ease, she boxes up her anger, her rage and the sawning sense of betrayal and shoves it down in the depth of her soul and continues on with her life.
Ichigo says goodbye to Chad, pausing a moment to lay a hand on his chest, quietly and sincerely thanking him before she leaves. An equally quiet sound of acceptance is what she hears as she walks out the door, hand wrapped around her new cousin’s wrist. They’re in this together, she’s not letting him go for anything and their fathers shouldn’t be bothered with this.
Ichigo grits her teeth.
It’s easier to drag Ishida home this time, as Uryuu wants to meet the twins, to meet his family, and while he’s still shy and awkward as always, he’s happy and curious.
When they stand on her porch, when Yuzu opens the door and Ichigo takes a moment to press her hand on top of her head to make sure she’s still okay, she’s alive, Uryuu is by her side, a silent support even as he waits patiently. She drags him inside, calling for Karin and directing them all to the living room before she starts her explanation.
There’s excitement and joy on Yuzu’s face and the barest traces of suspicion on Karin’s before it melts away as Yuzu starts babbling and the tension in Uryuu’s shoulders ease the longer they talk.
Ichigo smiles, watching in contentment as Ishida is accepted in just a few short minutes.
The twins are just excited to see a new family member that accepts their sister as she is, that knows who Kurosaki Ichigo is at her core, and who is willing to fight for and beside her. Ichigo watches with warm eyes and a small smile as the girls chat with Uryuu, who brightens up as the conversation continues. It’s a lovely thing, to watch Uryuu, Karin, and Yuzu light up as Uryuu begins to explain about the Quincies, about their history, their legends, and why they can see spirits. He briefly mentions bad spirits and Ichigo quickly schools her expression because that is a topic that will be discussed more in depth later.
Still, he lets them hold the bracelet and while neither of them manage to manifest anything solid, they both produce lights. At the disappointment, Uryuu promises to give them both basic meditation instructions. His expression is unguarded in this moment and there’s wonder and joy painted all over his face. Ichigo looks on and vows to herself that she will protect this- protect them .
That vow leads her to ask Uryuu to help her work with the Quincy Cross. She still manifests a sword instead of a bow, but Uryuu agrees anyway. He understands how to channel and control his reiatsu much better than Ichigo does, and he works with her on that control first, grumbling the entire time. After she has a better handle on that, he helps her learn to work both with and against someone with a long range weapon. Ichigo has no idea where Uryuu got the second Cross, but she’s thankful when he offers it to her all the same, embarrassed and avoiding looking directly into her eyes.
Usually, after training, Ichigo will pull Uryuu back to her own house, sitting him down at their table and sharing dinner with them. She’ll help Karin or Yuzu with homework, and Uryuu will help the other. They get to know each other better over these dinners and study sessions, and Ichigo is pleased when she finds Uryuu discussing the finer points of sewing with Karin and Yuzu after she had left them alone to make dinner.
That’s also how Uryuu discovers that Ichigo herself is pretty handy with a needle and thread, having learned to help keep her sisters’ clothes in better shape. Yuzu had been the one to make the comment that, ‘ Ichi-nii-san is really good at sewing too, Uryuu-nii! She fixed my dress, see? ’.
If Ichigo somehow finds herself comparing sewing tips, fabrics, and opinions on clothes and the best fabric to make them with Uryuu in spare moments- on the way to school, on the way home, during breaks for training- she’s not really sure how it spirals so far. He’s really not that subtle because he puts Quincy Crosses into literally all of his designs.
Ichigo learns that Uryuu wants to be a fashion designer when he grows up.
That’s when she first hears the name, ‘ Ryuuken ’. Who is apparently Uryuu’s father and dead set on forcing his own career of a doctor onto his son. While denying his son’s heritage as a Quincy, by refusing to teach him or even acknowledge the fact that they are Quincies.
She puts Ryuuken on Isshin’s level and moves on with her life.
Ichigo’s got questions and Uryuu has answers.
She doesn’t have time to pander to their stupidity, she’s too busy fixing the problems they’re ignoring.
Hollows are the answer apparently. Part one of three.
Hollow, Shinigami, Quincy.
Hueco Mundo, Soul Society, the World of the Living.
In hushed whispers, in the quiet of her room, while her sisters are soundly asleep, Ichigo tells Uryuu of her mother’s murder. She tells of the rainy day, the girl-who- wasn’t on the banks of the river and how there was claw marks on Masaki’s back. Her voice shakes as she describes how the blood ran onto her clothes and how it dripped from her hands as she tried to apply pressure to her wounds.
Then she tells him the date.
Uryuu’s pained expression turns stricken and he flinches away from her. Ichigo startles, confused and concerned, as Ishida’s presence shrinks. He speaks before she can and his words have horror rising in her chest.
“June 17th is when my mother suddenly collapsed and slipped into a coma. She died three months later. Ryuuken spent a lot of time cutting into her body, when she died. He couldn’t find a conclusive cause of death. It’s probably got something to do with Quincies.”
Ichigo blanks out.
What. He saw…?
The rage she spends most of her time carefully keeping down, surges up with a vengeance that takes her breath away. She’s okay with it though, because someone needs to be angry about this. She doesn’t know where Ryuuken is at the moment, but considering that he’s older and likely much stronger than her, she’s going to have to wait for several years before she gets to beat the shit out of him.
Probably after she and her sisters have moved out. Uryuu can come live with them. Chad too. Tatsuki’s got good parents, but Ichigo will make sure they have extra futons, just in case. She doesn’t… she doesn’t know about Orihime, only vague rumors of an older brother that died. Tatsuki is the one who looks after her and Ichigo doesn’t need to interfere because Orihime’s in good hands.
That’s fine though. Ichigo has always had a patiently vicious side of herself, instincts that demand blood, and she can wait. She can plot, and plan, and promise herself that when she finally gets to Ryuuken, she’ll make him hurt , make sure he never ever even thinks of Uryuu again, that he regrets what he did. She’s always held her temper on behalf of herself, but for her people? Her friends and family?
Well, her entire school had learned not to touch her friends for a reason, after all.
Good parents are rare and should be treasured. Bad parents should be abandoned just as they abandoned their children.
Ichigo doesn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around Uryuu. She pulls off the comforter to her bed and tucks it carefully into their sides. She doesn’t acknowledge his tears, the wetness that dampens the blanket and he doesn’t mention the ones that are silently rolling down her own cheeks and clenched jaw.
They are used to suffering in silence, after all.
Training continues into the next several weeks.
She can manifest a reishi sword and hold it for about five minutes, but she has to use a Cross.
Uryuu deduces that she has a lot of reiatsu and informs her that meditation is the fix for that. That and holding her sword for longer amounts of time and then changing its shape. Ichigo has no idea how she’s going to do that.
Isshin’s returned. So they have to be careful when they mention Uryuu. She reminds her sisters with pointed looks not to mention the Quincy thing. Karin usually grumbles, and Ichigo knows it because she sees as much as Ichigo herself does, and she sympathizes, but there’s not much she can do. Yuzu is the one who is really okay with not doing anything beyond knowing. She can’t see spirits, only feel them.
Now that Ichigo knows about Hollows, she isn’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Apparently, the Shinigami are supposed to keep their population down. According to Uryuu, the Shinigami are supposed to do a lot of things, starting and ending with protecting , but usually end up ignoring, if not outright destroying. She stays out of sight, out of their way with ease and it’s not something she has to worry about because apparently they’re not here.
So there’s no problems she doesn’t already know how to deal with, or one she can improvise a solution to until one of her regular spirits goes missing.
Ichigo’s been uneasy all day. Uryuu mentions he’ll be patrolling tonight, Chad volunteers to sleepover and both Tatsuki and Orihime peer at her, worry and concern clearly visible on their faces.
Ichigo waves them off.
Uryuu’s been helping her, she’s not useless and she can take care of herself and her siblings. If she needs help, she’ll call them. Besides, she’s gotten these feelings before and they’ve always went away. She convinces herself that she’s making a big deal out of nothing.
The day ends normally.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Ichigo tells herself to relax . Forces herself to leave her sisters as they settle in for the night and goes upstairs. She finishes some homework for tomorrow and reaches for her pajamas.
A Shinigami steps into her room.
A split second in which she has to react and Ichigo goes for ignorance and anger. She already has an image as a delinquiet, as someone who won’t hesitate to deal out violence, so she’ll play into that part a little more. She starts with shock, with confusion and moves swiftly onto anger. The Shinigami ignores her. The anger becomes a little more real and whoops, Ichigo ends up kicking her and wide violet eyes turn to meet narrowed brown.
This is the turning point that completely changes her life. This is the moment everything begins.
A Hollow attacks. Goat-face is useless , Yuzu and Karin almost die and the Shinigami takes a hit for her, barely hesitates and then- and then -
She says her name is Kuchiki Rukia. She says, shove my sword into your heart if you want to protect your sisters. There’s resolve burning in her eye and Ichigo willingly lets her stab her through her heart, hell, Ichigo’s hands are on the blade . Something…. fills? Unlocks, clicks, something stretches and builds and she doesn’t understand but there’s power that feels more like purpose. There’s a massive sword in her hands, she’s draped in black, just as a Shinigami and the- Rukia is looking at her in astonishment and Ichigo pushes her power into the sword and swings.
There’s a name, a word, a phrase on the tip of her tongue but it won’t come out, but it doesn’t matter because the world turns the blue-white of a Quincy’s arrow and the Hollow screams.
She kills the Hollow.
Uryuu’s gonna be pissed, but her sisters live.
Unfortunately, goat-face is still breathing, but you can’t have everything.
Uryuu finds out the next day.
His fury is born of fear and grief so Ichigo weathers it as best she can. Then she drags him, Chad and Tatsuki to the rooftop. Orihime ends up tagging along and just like that, Ichigo tells them everything that happened. Rukia arrives a bit too late to stop her and Ichigo spends several seconds preventing her from using some suspicious cylinder that she says will take care of the issue.
(- how dare she threaten what is mine? )
Uryuu manifests his bow in the middle of her yelling and everyone can see at least the outline.
Chad’s been working on seeing and it’s clear that everyone there has at least some sensitivity to reiatsu. It eases something in Ichigo’s chest when she is believed so quickly. Tatsuki and Chad had already known about the powers that came with seeing spirits, but all this stuff about souls and Shinigami is brand new.
Things settle into an almost comfortable flow of conversation.
Ichigo tells the story of last night truthfully and she can see how Uryuu relaxes the tiniest bit when she says that Rukia took a direct hit to save her. That Rukia willingly gave up her powers to Ichigo to protect three humans and she can see the moment that the Shinigami’s face shifts to confusion that she doesn’t know what Quincies are.
Uryuu doesn’t enlighten her, but he tentatively accepts her presence. Then he demands to see her Shinigami form.
Rukia helpfully shoves her out of her body, which almost crumples to the ground, but Chad catches automatically. Uryuu takes one look at the massive, unwieldy sword that sticks up from the sheath on her back and laughs. He manages to regain his composure long enough to explain just how ridiculous Ichigo looks to their group, which are mostly bemused and bewildered.
Rukia then graciously permits her friends to leave with their memories intact while she explains why Ichigo needs to take over her duties as Karakura’s Shinigami.
Oh, hell no.
( Yuzu, Karin, Uryuu, Chad, Orihime, Tatsuki- too many people too many directions, they are mine! They come first! )
Obviously, during her attempts to convince Ichigo otherwise, Rukia finds out he is a she very quickly. She’s living in her closet , so really it was only a matter of time.
Rukia pauses. Her gaze lingers and something like confusion paints itself on her expression. Then she reevaluates. She asks for pronouns and Ichigo closes her eyes to hold back the sting of tears. It’s acceptance and there’s not a demand for answers or explanations. Rukia’s had the right reaction to the wrong conclusion, but she doesn’t… Ichigo can’t find a way to explain, doesn’t know how.
“I’m a girl,” she says quietly, inwardly cringing at the vagueness. “But I need to be a boy, so call me he/him.”
She can instantly see that Rukia doesn’t understand. Souls are different from flesh and bone. She’s too far removed from the Living World and as far as she’s concerned, this is just another thing like the juice box. There’s a quiet calculation on her eyes though and Ichigo dreads the day she manages to ask her why. Doesn’t want her to find out, honestly, Rukia doesn’t need to know.
Rukia squirrels herself away in her closet and refuses to leave, stating that the ‘suspicious shopkeeper’ is a pervert. With that kind of concerning statement, she finds herself relenting almost immediately.
That’s the first time Ichigo hears of Urahara Kisuke.
Or doesn’t. She just does whatever she wants. She wants to protect people so she does. She ends up wanting to help Rukia out, so she does.
She meets the ‘suspicious shopkeeper’ who looks at her like he knows her every secret, who she can’t help but massively respect because her instincts scream this is a dangerous man and he manages to portray a piece of himself that appears entirely harmless. He’s entirely clever and much too calculating for Ichigo to feel comfortable around him.
But his merchandise is necessary- an artificial soul that will inhabit her body so she can do things in her soul form without anyone not in the know wondering at her absence? Sign her up- so Ichigo follows Rukia in and ends up watching Urahara’s performance, it takes two seconds for her to dub him ‘Getaboushi’. It amuses him, she thinks, judging by that quicksilver flash in gray eyes. It also paints a certain picture of her in his mid. He’s using the same tactics so she’s entitled to her own. But there are other things that draw her attention and this man doesn’t reek of malice or greed so she sets that aside.
Just because she’s only fifteen doesn’t mean she’s stupid, doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the danger, the secrecy. She’s been the only responsible adult for her sisters for years. Just because this is a different game, doesn’t mean it’s not in the same ballpark. This is a responsibility she’s not trained for, doesn’t understand and one she shouldn’t have, but she’s the only option because everyone qualified doesn’t know, doesn’t care or has their head stuffed so far up their ass they can’t see anything but their own shit.
Besides, all those questions that still don’t have answers are getting put on the backburner because there’s other things demanding her attention and lives are at stake. Well, she’s always operated better under pressure.
Then the artificial soul goes on strike and demands freedom. He’s perverted and confused that a ‘ pretty nee-san’ is pretending to be a guy, although thankfully he didn’t notice right in the middle of class while trying to hit on Orihime. Still, she gets her body back, names the soul ‘Kon’ and stuffs him into a stuffed lion. She explains things a bit more carefully to him, about goat-face and how she needs him to protect her sisters and in exchange, she’ll allow him as much freedom as she can give him.
He accepts that easily enough and she introduces Kon-in-her-body to her sisters and warns them not to remark on any differences unless goat-face specifically asks .
(He won’t. He’s ignoring all the strangeness with a single-minded attention that, were it anything else, she would admire. That coward. )
She shows them both the lion body he’ll be using while she’s not running around as a Shinigami and tells them to be careful around goat-face.
Things work out, even if Ichigo’s starting to get a sinking feeling on what Soul Society is really like if they really find no problem with massacring entire groups of people.
Orihime’s brother turns into a Hollow and almost kills her. Ichigo saves her, but she will never remove the sight of her body sprawled bonelessly on the floor from her mind. More Hollows are apparently stalking her spirits and eating them when able. Then the Hollow that killed her mother shows up on the anniversary of her death and Ichigo fails to kill it.
Uryuu had to pull her out of the emotional blackhole that resulted from that. So did Rukia, surprisingly, who then shared a deeply personal story about a man named Shiba Kaien. A story that ended with a sincere, genuine and exasperatedly fond-
“ You remind me of him.”
Ichigo breathes deep and wonders when gratitude for giving her the power to save her sisters becomes a respect and affection that slots her into a space in her heart without warning or even notice.
So their group of in-the-know people, now consists of Uryuu, Chad, Tatsuki, Orihime and Rukia, plus her sisters, even if they’re only aware of the basic details. Uryuu steps up with her training, throwing more complicated control exercises to her, along with Rukia’s more distinctly Shinigami method. Even if they don’t quite drop the we’re-related bomb on her, she’s respecting their relationship. Even if Uryuu and Rukia do get into spats on how a Shinigami should be trained with Uryuu’s rebuttal on half-Shinigami.
Tatsuki, Orihime and Chad evolve into actually seeing Plus souls and Hollows, but Ichigo can’t help but wonder if they’ll develop their own powers, she certainly hopes so. Life goes on and they all settle into their roles as the school year continues.
And then Uryuu does something truly stupid and breaks Hollow bait at their school. In Karakura. The town with a shit ton of Hollows and not a single stationed Shinigami.
He doesn’t do it on purpose , of course, but the fact of the matter is that Uryuu brought Hollow bait to school and then broke it, on accident, yes, but he still broke it .
(Ichigo never, ever lets him forget it, never lets him live this down, afterwards when everyone comes out alive and whole, if with a new respect for Hollows and the danger they represent.)
So Uryuu, Rukia and Ichigo spend half the day running around town killing Hollows and generally nitpicking at each other. She gets Chad to go pick Karin up from soccer practice, Tatsuki and Orihime to stay with the people who linger at school and she tells Yuzu very firmly to stay home and don’t go outside.
Damn goat-face and his timing! He’s out of town from something and or other and Ichigo needs to look into storing reiatsu into objects to provide some protection- maybe Getaboushi will have something? Talisman? Amulets? Wards??
Worrying about something she can’t control isn’t doing her any favors, especially as time goes on and there are more and more Hollows showing up. She’s learning how much power to put into a sword swing to generate a slash with wide reach and longer lasting. Uryuu’s winning though, by sheer versatility and quantity of his arrows, but Ichigo’s catching up.
Things start to blur together in an adrenaline fueled rush of faster, faster, faster until something cracks and shatters and something rains down all around her, turning the air thick and heavy.
The sky splits in two, that humble- or was it suspicious?- shopkeeper apparently picks up her friends- who have awakened powers of their own, to her relief- and apparently there are giant Hollows that want to eat them all and she still doesn’t see any Shinigami. She’s running out of options and Getaboushi looks like he wants to see what she’s capable of rather than quickly resolving the situation.
Obviously, he’s dangerous and fully able to do something because if you can afford to be a power on your own against a military dictatorship with zero hesitation on wiping out an entire people, then you’re highly likely to be a force to be reckoned with and how dare he. That rage, she breaths in and out, raises her sword and uses it.
Ichigo kills a very tall Hollow called a Menos with a white, pointy mask. Her cousin helps, but their fumbling barely dents it until she gets her sword into it. Until she fills her body with her reiatsu and jumps , until she screaming out her rage, her fear and exhaustion that’s clinging to her body and cuts it in half. She wobbles when she lands and when she can’t recover, can’t straighten up and walk, Uryuu catches her, holds her close and whispers, ‘ I’ve got you, you did it, we’re safe, I’m sorry, I’ve got you.’
Then she sleeps for two days remarkably undisturbed as Yuzu tearfully tells goat-face Ichigo got sick, that’s she on her period, it’s bad , and Isshin doesn’t question it, doesn’t mention the look of disdain Karin gives him behind Yuzu’s back.
Uryuu swings by at night, Chad ends up escorting her sisters to school and everything ends up being pretty okay. Orihime and Tatsuki organize a get well soon card the whole class signs and when Ichigo wakes up, she manages some gratitude towards Getaboushi.
No one died, most of her friends have powers of their own and she got some valuable learning experience. If she failed, it’s entirely possible Urahara Kisuke would have stepped in. After all, there’s got to be a reason why there aren’t any Shinigami stationed in this town, right?
She’s okay, this is okay, everything is pretty much okay.
Rukia is an idiot and nothing is okay.
Ichigo gets her ass kicked, her sword broken, her best friend taken and two shiny new scars on her chest and stomach. Memories are fuzzy. She knows she fought. Uryuu was there. Rukia left.
The redhead was Abarai Renji and she defeated him. He was strong, but she was stronger.
She lost in the end though, as the dark haired man Rukia called ‘ nii-sama’ dismissed her as weak and then proceeded to finish what his lieutenant couldn’t. There was no way that man, Kuchiki Byakuya, didn’t notice her gender. Ichigo saw the moment his gaze swept over her, paused, and something in his reiatsu shifted. He probably labeled it as something insignificant. She was projecting as male . Rukia referred to her as he, him and the redhead did the same.
Soul Society was organized. Implied military. There would be reports.
There was a good chance she would be listed as male in those reports. Rukia had indicated that this wasn’t a big deal in Soul Society then in the World of the Living, even if she had mistaken the circumstances of Ichigo’s deception. Something about souls and flesh and it was vague, but Ichigo got the gist.
So when she woke, with her chest bandaged, with Getaboushi staring at her with an unreadable look that he quickly hid behind a paper fan, Ichigo inwardly swore and added another name to the list. Orihime mentioned healing powers, but considering how badly Captain Shitty Brother injured her- especially going by the weird feeling in her reiatsu, she probably wouldn’t have been able to fix that kind of damage.
Besides, she was still learning how to manifest her fairies on demand and whatever Captain Shitty Brother did to her was precise, intentional and deliberate. Regardless of the invasion of privacy, Urahara Kisuke just saved her life.
She still scowls at him, watching as he turns away, sheepish and over dramatic in his apology. Ichigo only breathes through the lingering pain, gaze fixated on him. Expectant. She doesn't have to wait long, it barely takes five minutes before he’s turning back around, his tone serious, even if his mouth is hidden behind that fan and all she can see of him in his eyes, staring down at her.
He offers to train her, to go save Rukia and honestly, if she wasn’t intending to ask the very same thing of him, the whole situation would set off every single alarm bell, poke at her instincts and generally warn her to stay away.
But she knows he is a Shinigami, or at least connected to Soul Society, to the Gotei 13. Although he’s on his own, he is currently outside of Seireitei, unbound by their rules and operating as he pleased. Urahara Kisuke has his own agenda, but he’s hot an enemy, in fact, he’s leaning towards an ally. Albeit an entirely suspicious, if not convenient one. It doesn’t matter, he’s offering help, when no one else is either aware of or acknowledging the problem.
If Soul Society will execute Rukia for giving her the power to save her life and to save the lives of her family , then Ichigo wonders exactly what Urahara Kisuke did to either leave or kicked out. And maybe if it was something he didn’t do. Or even something he did that was right, but disapproved of.
Regardless, she squares her shoulders, agrees and promptly grabs her cell phone and stands up to walk out the door.
Of course, she’s stopped and Getaboushi doesn’t let her go until he’s loaned her some clothes, but Ichigo needs to get her friends together, needs to talk this out, to make some sort of plan of action. It takes a while, even with the convenience of a group chat, but school’s skipped, they’re all gathered at Orihime’s home and Ichigo lays it all out, the entire mess.
Ichigo meets Uryuu’s eyes, watches as Chad stands taller and Orihime holds up her fists, determination written all over their faces. Tatsuki’s quiet for a moment, clearly acknowledging her broken arm and Orihime’s shameful face. She can see, but no powers have manifested, which means her human abilities aren’t going to be enough. Tatsuki doesn’t hesitate to promise to look after Yuzu and Karin, to make excuses for the rest of them and to make sure that Isshin and Ryuuken won’t be notified that anything is out of the ordinary.
Their willingness to follow Ichigo to the afterlife is humbling. She doesn’t want to let them go. Orihime and Chad can summon their powers on demand, but they can’t hold them for long. Considering Uryuu is the only one of them with any kind of formal training, she thinks they’re doing great, but if Urahara’s gonna train her , she’s gonna get some training for everyone else too.
She doesn’t tell them no, doesn’t deny them their freedom of choices and insteads stands and half smiles.
“Well, I guess we’d better tell Urahara-san.”
She agrees to training, whatever that entails she doesn’t know, but she’s already decided not to regret her decision. She argues for someone to train with Orihime and Chad and Urahara-san agrees. They already aware that Uryuu’s going off on his own after sneaking some family journals from his father’s house and the only Shinigami Uryuu trusted in any degree is being held prisoner for saving Ichigo’s life, so he wouldn’t agree to any training a Shinigami, former or no.
Ichigo takes a step forward, entirely aware of the trust she’s putting in this random person. She accepts that this suspicious and dangerous man is going to be manipulating her soul to achieve power. That he’s familiar enough with the process to do it with confidence. That he has information he’s not sharing and an agenda of his own that she has no idea about, but Rukia is going to die if she doesn’t go through with this and that’s not going to happen. Training to go to Seireitei, to invade a military state made up of people who live for centuries and have sentient swords- in no way is this a rational and sane plan but she’s going anyway.
(Later, this will be referred to as ‘Pulling an Ichigo’ or ‘The Ichigo Method’, when the plan is to fight overwhelming odds with insane and irrational plans that shouldn’t work, but will, for some inexplicable reason.
Ichigo would argue, but, well…. she can’t. She still complains.)
Someone’s gotta do something and she’s gonna do it.
She holds on to this even when Getaboushi cuts her soul chain and throws her into a deep, dark hole.
Ichigo’s gonna kick his ass as soon as she gets out. She swears this on her very soul.
There are two people in her… her inner world?
One is a boy, modeled after her, but colored in white, his eyes gold on black. He is herself, looking through a distorted mirror. He is everything she isn’t, everything she is.
The other is a middle age man, clothed in a flowing coat of crimson so dark it may as well have been black, calm with a neutral expression on his face, half hidden by sunglasses.
“: Yo! It’s about time ya got here. Things’re fallin’ apart all o’er th’place.:”
Ichigo blinks slowly and deliberately. She turns her gaze to the old man.
There’s… there’s an expression she’s never seen on any adult’s face. It’s directed towards her even as he stands unmoving on the sideways buildings. It’s… it’s...
That’s pride he’s looking at her with. It’s tucked away in the corners of his mouth, in the lines of his eyes, but it’s there. Pride, affection and oh. He’s looking at her like Isshin never has.
Her breath catches, even as something inside her weeps .
“Are you… are you two my zanpakuto?”
There’s a short, startled pause as the two glance at each other. Gold eyes slide back over to her as the old man lifts his head, something weighted settling over her shoulders. Something in here…. has changed, in a deep and meaningful way, but she has no idea what.
“: Got it in one! ‘Though, thin’s won’t beh tha’ easy!:” Her gender opposite double grins wide, feral and gleeful as he leans forward, as if sharing a secret. There’s rage and bloodlust shining in his eyes.
Ichigo has a startling moment of clarity, a line from a book Tatsuki shoved at her about dealing with emotions. Something about how pushing down fear, rage and all those negative emotions builds up over time until they can no longer be contained.
It clicks in her head.
“You are me,” Ichigo says with all the certainty she feels right now, one of those instinctive illogical leaps she makes sometimes during training, the ones that make Uryuu impressed and annoyed all at once, because it makes no sense that Ichigo had understood before she should have or without all information available, but she did .
She shifted her gaze to meet both their eyes. “You are both me and a part of me. What I hide,” pale skin, pale clothes, dark, burning eyes , bloodlust running through his veins, “What I want, ” a middle aged man, stern, gaze fixed on her and already so proud that it hurts.
The old man smiles and steps closer, reaching out a hand. Ichigo freezes into stillness, but he only lays it on her cheek, gently pulling her close enough to tap his forehead against hers. Tears spring to her eyes, but before she can say anything, he moves. In a quick motion, he shoves her off the building, into the crumpling boxes that are disappearing into nothingness.
“: Go find us, Ichigo:”
“:Ya bettah hurry, Queen! Yer on ah time limit!:”
It’s a test, a challenge so Ichigo does.
Anything for them.
She’s standing, there’s sunlight, Getaboushi is there, Tessai-san is there but she cannot see.
There’s two new presences blooming in her head and she hears the murmur of voices. She wants to stay there, to listen to the deep tones of the old man, but the other is urging her to fight, laughter ringing out in her mind.
Reiatsu is sharpening, wary, cautious, regretful and her hands curl tightly over the hilts in her hand. They have no blades, but then again, she cannot see. There is a weight on her head. A mask? Horns? Something. She swings the hilt up and breaks the hardened material over her face and pulls it off in one easy move. It disintegrates in her hands, settles into her veins and she lifts her eyes to lock onto a shadowed gaze.
Relief , there in the corners of his eyes, in the twist of his mouth.
Well. She’ll forgive him for that. After she kicks his ass.
“Getaboushi,” Ichigo speaks pleasantly, her expression light and scowl free for once.
The remaining tension about the man shifts, lightens and eases, yet still remains present . He stands to his feet, his own lips stretching into a smile as his fan comes up with a thwap.
“Well done! Lesson Two: Cleared!”
Ichigo stares at him as he just stands there with a stupid smile on his face. He’s doing that deliberately. On purpose. She fantasizes about stomping over and hitting him . But she stays where she is. Exhaustion is dragging at her bones but she’s going to make an impression before she passes out.
“Shut up,” she says in a conversational tone, border lined with polite hostility. “I swore when I got out of that hole, I was going to kill you.”
Urahara sobers up, lowering his fan, gaining an edge to his gaze. The faintest hints of bloodlust curl possessively around his form, but she ignores that. Asshole.
“Well, then that’s fine. With that spirit, we’ll go right into lesson three!”
Ichigo can feel her entire face twitch. Urahara-san moves along with the instructions, a wide smile stretching his lips.
“Lesson three doesn’t have a time limit,” Getaboushi explains grandly before reaching up to point at his hat, “If you can use your zanpakuto to knock off my hat-”
That word, that one that used to sit at the tip of her tongue, she speaks it with glee, relishing the way it feels like power lingering on her lips.
“ Zangetsu. ”
There’s a burst of reiatsu, bright, vivid and blue and it’s so similar to when Uryuu first handed her the Quincy Cross. Her reiatsu whooshes out of her, kicking up a storm and she can feel as weight is added to her hilts. Two swords, one, the larger of the two, is black with a line of space on the top, extending halfway from the hilt. The other one is smaller, more of an oversized knife, and also black. They fit comfortably in her palms.
She waits until the light dies down, until Getaboushi is in the middle of his congratulatory speech, saying something about two swords, how unusual, Kurosaki-san , but she’s not paying attention to what he’s saying. Her reiatsu builds swiftly in her chest. She cuts in sharply, her own expression curving into a smile that’s devoid of any real humor.
“Sorry, Urahara-san. You should dodge.”
A reaction. There’s confusion, shock- he’s alarmed and oh. She’s going to remember this forever. Ichigo casually swings the blade in her right hand and the reishi swirls around and condenses . Up her sword goes and down.
Annnd there’s the panic. She can hear him calling out- “ Awaken, Benihime!” -she can see a glimmer of red in a sea of blue. Even though she’s just swung an awful lot of reiatsu at Urahara-san, she’s confident he’ll dodge it, so she doesn’t worry much about it.
Sleep drags at her, and she sways for a second. She’s still using reiatsu. She hasn’t seen Getaboushi yet. She wants to see him.
The light dies down, the ground stops shaking and Urahara-san stands, hat gone, with surprise clearly visible on his face. His sword is unsheathed in his hand, held in a defensive position and there’s a red shield, broken and cracked that has managed to protect him. Barely. There’s a trickle of blood trailing down his face, so thin she almost doesn’t see it with her blurry vision.
Urahara-san’s hat floats down to rest at his feet, a rather large wedge sliced clean out of it. It’s the first time Ichigo has seen the man without his customary hat and she is going to treasure this moment forever.
Her strength leaves her and she crumples. She’s on her knees, resting on the larger half of Zangetsu, barely clinging to consciousness. Ichigo is only vaguely aware of her surroundings, but she can still hear the pleased murmur of Getaboushi’s voice.
“I never thought you would do it in one swing,” Urahara says as geta clack against the ground as he draws nearer. “Two swords, Kurosaki-san? You really are a frightening child.”
That’s when her consciousness slides away even as the man announces, gleefully-
“ Lesson three- clear!”
A week later, with their training all complete- or rather all the training they could pack into ten short days- they all meet up, one last time before their departure.
Tatsuki’s arm has healed some with Orihime’s help, but she still hasn’t manifested any powers. Plus they need someone to stay behind and manage things, to keep an eye on Ichigo’s sisters, to keep their affairs in order so they still have classes to attend and houses to return to when they get back. God knows that goat-face is barely able to do any normal household care on his own.
Truthfully, she should feel something, on how easily Tatsuki takes the wad of cash she gives her to pay bills, buy groceries and anything else Yuzu and Karin will want when they’re gone, as soon as Ichigo brings up their father. She uses her father as a reason why a very capable fighter should play parent when the actual parent is present and accounted for and it works.
She can’t muster whatever emotion should go along with that, there are important things to be done, a life to save so she tucks it away and moves on.
( the boy laughs and swears to draw blood, break bone and consume and the old man is a silent, supportive presence and Ichigo leans into that without hesitation)
Orihime says her goodbyes to the only tie she has, their shared best and first friend. They all take the time to watch the fireworks together. Ichigo even manages to catch a glimpse of a familiar black cat out of the corner of her eyes, the trainer that Urahara-san got for Chad and Orihime. She waves. The cat raises a paw and melts into the shadows in between the spaces of colors.
They sit there, watching as reds, golds and oranges burst across the night sky, simply enjoying the moment’s peace before their fight begins.
They say their goodbyes and part ways to prepare for whatever Urahara’s signal is, returning to their homes and preparing for their absence. None of them know exactly how long it’ll take to rescue Rukia, after all. In Ichigo’s case, she tells her sisters, informs them that Tatsuki will be by to do all the things Ichigo does and says nothing to Goat-face. She suspects Uryuu will leave without informing Ryuuken, merely sending in some sort of notice to the school, as she has done. Serves the man right. Both of them.
Tatsuki will take care of the rest, she can handle it and they won’t have to worry.
When one o’clock rolls around, Ichigo opens her window to allow a swiftly moving object to splatter blood all over her wall like a fucking murder scene, what the absolute hell, Getaboushi?!
Her pale, male half is snickering in her head.
Ichigo spits out a vicious demand for silence and the laughter fades almost immediately. She takes a moment to quietly seethe before she grabs her stuff and books it out the window.
Thus begins the first step of an invasion that will go down in Seireitei’s history books as one of the most influential events in their history. As well as the introduction of a few of the most influential people of this century. The dead will remember them, even if only a handful of the living will.
Ichigo almost fights her way through a gate guarded by a giant, with three teenagers and a talking cat. Two purely human humans, one Quincy, one Quincy-Shinigami hybrid and one talking cat. Against a giant, guarding a gate.
Ichigo has only been in Soul Society for an hour and already she’s exhausted. Still, she fights the giant, wins, fights the vaguely fox-like Shinigami no matter how empty his blade is and she stays while Orihime puts the giant’s arm back on. On one hand, she’s entirely impressed with how far Orihime’s abilities have come in a little over a week, on the other, she hates that Orihime’s hands are covered in blood barely an hour into this.
Still, she’s happy when she manages to heal the giant and that’s all Ichigo could hope for.
That’s when things get ugly.
Some guy shows up on a hog of all things, crashes through the door, insults her specifically because she’s a Shinigami - which, excuse him, she’s not- insults her hair (which is when she punches him) declares himself a bunch of self-proclaimed things she really doesn’t pay much attention to, which she then declares him hopeless with a casual wave of her hand.
That’s when he pauses. His eyes widen and he stares at her. Cold slides up her spine, and for a moment, she feels the familiar rage crawl up her throat.
He’s not looking at her , he’s looking at whoever she reminds him of. And it’s not her.
That’s when he lunges for her. Which she is fine with because that gives her an excuse to take a moment to gather herself, curled on the ground before she swings her leg up to plant a foot in his face. Hard enough to hurt , but not kill him.
The fight evolves from there.
Ganju talks some more, he pulls a sword, Ichigo only has her smaller one so Chad throws the larger blade- Inari’s blessings on him- and they clash, not quite on equal terms because Ichigo is so far above this man. But, then he goes a thing and there’s a weird sink thing with sand and all the while, he just keeps running his mouth. Frankly, Ichigo’s just getting more angry at the sheer nerve of this guy.
They end up in a fist fight, because of course they do.
And then, right before she curbstomps his face into the ground, he bails, along with all his other minions. Running away on their hogs. Because apparently that is a valid method of transportation in the Rukongai.
...Ichigo is absolutely furious.
How dare he.
It doesn’t end there.
The talking cat- Ichigo has been informed his- her? name is Yoruichi - leads them to Shiba Kukaku. Shiba, as in Shiba Kaien? She almost asks, but then they’re shown to a room and introduced to Shiba Kukaku. Who is terrifyingly familiar and oh , Ichigo doesn’t want to think about the implications. None of the rapid fire scenarios that leap to the forefront of her mind are good. Blessedly, conveniently , Ganju shows up and she lunges for that distraction with open hands. She doesn’t want to deal with this.
Shiba Kukaku tries to pull some kind of intimidation shit on her, but Ichigo just bares her teeth. She doesn’t say anything, but she meets the woman’s eyes and quite firmly ignores all the little things that are adding up in her head. There is a moment, when Shiba Kukaku decides something along the same lines and she eases back. Her gaze never directly meets hers again and Ichigo isn’t thinking about it.
Things move forward rather quickly after that. Training with a crystal ball, a canon, fireworks, and even some awkward bonding followed by some help from her maybe cousin. There are several moments that she can ask about family members. Ask if Kaien was the only Shinigami in the Shiba family. If there was an Isshin.
Ichigo keeps her mouth shut. If Uryuu’s going to be her only acknowledged cousin, she can live with that. This is all fucking goat-face’s fault anyway.
She focuses on the manipulation of her reiatsu- she is endlessly thankful for the previous work Uryuu had done with her-and once she gets that down with minimal damage, they’re all loaded up in a canon and shot out with themselves as the canon ball.
The things she’s deliberately not thinking about come back with such a vengeance, she finds herself understanding a possible reason for goat-face’s disconnect from reality. That’s only one of her issues with him, but this does explain things.
Fifty percent of Isshin’s behavior makes so much more sense if he was raised alongside these people. Sixty if she considers that this most likely went on for literal centuries . If all Shiba’s are loud, boisterous, prone to violence people. She’s not going to forgive him with the sudden clarity. But it’s still nice to know the reasons behind some of his stupidity and ignorance.
It’s really because he’s stupid and ignorant.
So, Kukaku shoots them off to Seireitei, where Rukia awaits her execution and Ichigo is probably going to have to fight a whole lot of people to get to her.
Her lips stretch into a smile and in her Inner World, the action is mimicked by a pale boy wielding two swords.
They’re immediately separated.
She can tell Orihime and Uryuu are together. Chad’s on his own, same as the talking cat, Yoruichi-san. She’s stuck with Ganju. She tries to avoid asking. But the words slip out anyway and when he answers, she half wishes she would have kept her mouth shut.
“Any other Shinigami? Besides my brother, there was my uncle. Shiba Isshin was the Tenth Division Captain. He died on a mission to the Living World almost twenty years ago, though. He was the Clan Head after Kaien. Nee-chan’s got the title now. Not that it means much these days,” is what he murmurs bitterly at the end.
Ichigo doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t ask, doesn’t question, Ichigo doesn’t speak. In her head, the boy screams in rage she can’t bring herself to voice.
Barely a minute after, they run into two men, Ikkaku and Yumichika, they call each other. Ichigo shoves away that information, bares her teeth and raises her swords. The one with feathers goes after Ganju and Ichigo stays to fight Ikkaku.
She likes him, even if he’s stalling and his antics are ridiculous. So she doesn’t fight to kill him, only to defeat him. He’s an interesting person and she knows he’s holding back. It doesn't bother her because she is too. She cuts him down without hesitation and saves his life the same way.
They’re friends after that, both of them with ‘ichi’ in their names.
Zaraki Kenpachi, he tells her and she understands.
Things progress faster. She fights Renji again, he demands a promise she readily gives. Hanataro heals her underneath Seireitei, in the sewers and she softens at his kindness. When he wakes up and he pulls out the mask, she pauses. Because, that looks like a Hollow’s mask.
Her twin laughs in her head and Ichigo blinks, quietly coming to an abrupt realization. She thanks him, sincere in her gratitude. There’s something like surprise in the noise he makes and this time, she’s the one who laughs. What else would be a physical representation of all her rage, her love of fighting, of the blood pounding in her ears and the blood that splatters on the ground? Of course it’s a Hollow.
But he’s hers.
Time goes by and she ends up fighting Zaraki Kenpachi.
Never, in her entire life, has she ever fought someone like that. It’s terrifying and exhilarating, and crippling and about a million other emotions she can’t quite put into words. In her head, her Hollow howls, screams and laughs as her reiatsu turns darker and sometimes that laughter comes from her own mouth. When she falls, the world abruptly fades to gray and the old man isn’t inside her head, he’s outside, telling her to stand.
He believes in her, he’s controlling her reiatsu in ways she’s never done, he’s over her shoulder, whispering in her ear, pride thick in his voice. Ichigo raises her sword and lunges forward. There’s blue all around her, on her skin, shining in her eyes, glimmering on her sword and she laughs in tune to the boy in her head.
She wins. Even though halfway through the fight she senses Chad fighting and falling during his own fight, dimmed but not extinguished, so she only panics a little. That distraction cost her, and she doesn’t have anything like Ikkaku, nothing to stop the flow of blood.
Her twin mocks her for bleeding in the first place, saying that hierro is much better. She doesn't know what the hell that is, but she manages a retort that if he wants her to use a technique he knows, and she doesn’t, he’s going to have to teach her.
He does. Whatever the old man did to stop the bleeding, it’s wearing off. The hierro makes her skin unbreakable and she doesn’t quite manage to get it, only enough that when Kenpachi scores a hit, there’s only a thin line of blood.
Regardless of the help, of the new things she’s learning, she can’t last much longer and that fucker’s apparently been holding back because holy hell, that’s a lot of reiatsu that eyepatch was eating. So Ichigo hauls her tired, aching body up and takes one last swing. One that she puts her everything into. Zaraki Kenpachi does the same. That’s when she falls.
But she wins.
When she loses consciousness, she can feel herself laying on a rooftop in the sun, can feel how the old man murmurs in her ear, fingers carding through her hair. She feels safe, protected, even as the boy laughs in the distance.
Ichigo wakes with her wounds tended to and her reiatsu already replenishing itself. A familiar cat saunters up, mischief and exasperation in their voice, already talking, talking, talking and Ichigo doesn’t have time for this.
When Yoruichi-san turns into a very catlike woman, shoves her down and tells her to save Rukia she needs to learn bankai in three days, Ichigo switches gears. She’s got a goal now. Steps to achieve her endgame. She learns that names have meaning and power and anime actually had it right, which…. okay. She learns of her attacks, how to call them with a name, a title, a description. How she can use her Hollow power to make it black and red, or her Shinigami powers to make it blue.
Ichigo doesn't get a chance to experiment with her Quincy powers, because that’s after she heads off, not fully healed from that fight with Ikakku’s captain, to go fight Renji’s captain . Which, in hindsight, yes, that was stupid, but she got to reassure Rukia, and got a glimpse of her Shitty Brother’s abilities, and…
...and she watches at the white haired captain stares at her like it hurts . There’s pain and longing and she doesn’t see much more, between him hunching into himself, coughing violently, and focusing on the fight with Kuchiki Byakuya.
Ichigo is going to tentatively label him as a maybe ally.
Ukitake Juushiro. The Captain of the Thirteenth Division. Rukia’s division. The same division that had a Shiba Kaien as a second-in-command.
There’s an opening he might take, if push comes to shove. There’s a chance, if things work out, but Ichigo can’t depend on him right now. Still, she manages to hold her own until Yoruichi shows up and knocks her unconscious.
Okay, maybe she can understand, because yeah, that was pretty reckless of her, but Rukia was in danger. Still, learning how to flash step, to shunpo is great and Ichigo throws herself into that wholeheartedly. No one is ever going to be fast enough to shove a sword through her, twice , without her seeing it in time to dodge ever again.
When Ichigo finishes her training, when Renji’s come and gone, and boy, wasn’t that a surprise? That their fight knocks some sense into his head? Still, she already kicked his ass so she can forgive him for the whole taking-Rukia thing. When she gets her bankai, and goes to save Rukia, she’s pleased when she watches Ukitake-san and another captain destroy the Sokyoku with an artifact bearing the Shihoin symbol, a match to the one that’s on the cloak pin she’s wearing.
Even the captains recognize something is wrong with this entire situation. Kenpachi couldn’t care less, but these two , understand well enough and they’re doing something about it.
Good for them, allies confirmed.
On the other hand, she has a more personal problem.
So far, she’s made it through Seireitei with only a handful of people discovering her gender. But that still more people who know Ichigo is a she then there has ever been in her entire life.
Ikkaku, who may or may not tell Yumichika, Hanataro the medic who treated her and the one she swore to secrecy, plus Renji and last, but not least Kenpachi.
She gets the feeling that they won’t be mentioning that to anyone. A bit of trust, shared in the battles she’s won against them. But as she throws Rukia to Renji, as she takes down three lieutenants, the largest liability hurtles towards her, sword poised for another quick strike and no . Ichigo turns and grabs her primary blade, bringing it up to defend against Byakuya’s strike. Ichigo allows for a single moment of smug taunting before she out her smaller blade and shoves it into his stomach.
Let him die a noble death, if he’s so concerned with honor, with duty.
She misses, drawing a deep, red line across his stomach as he dodges to the side, eyes widening.
But only just.
So begins their fight.
She uses Getsuga Tenshou, with only her larger blade. She waits until Byakuya’s pulled his bankai before she uses Getsuga Jujisho. Still, she makes him push her before she pulls out her own bankai. Captain Shitty Brother flat out tells her it’s small and pathetic and then goes on some spiel on her mocking their traditions, trampling on their pride and honor and yes. Yes, she is because they are so desperate to execute someone who was saving lives and doing their job , which is protecting people from Hollows, in case you’ve forgotten. Ichigo is absolutely going to break every law, trample on their honor and spit on their traditions if this is what it means.
She tells him so and watches as an actual emotion fills his expression. It’s anger and well, Ichigo can spit in his face too.
She’s got her own Bankai, never mind what Rukia’s shitty brother believes.
Or rather, stage one of her bankai. Both the old man and the Hollow boy flat out told her she wasn’t ready to handle the pressure of a full bankai. She was too young, too new, too inexperienced in her powers. So they compromised.
Byakuya is fast. So she gets a fast bankai. One that takes all her reiatsu, all the power she doesn’t yet know how to use and compresses it into a daito in her right hand and a shoto in her left. This time, instead of one color, her daito gets mostly black with a single line of white. Her smaller sword only changes shape.
The look on Kuchiki Byakuya’s face is another memory that she’s going to treasure. Also forever.
She doesn’t need to be careful fighting him as he already knows about her gender. No one’s around, they’re alone and she can let loose. She’s massively inexperienced with her bankai as well. So she goes all out. And she wins. With some help from Zangetsu, both her pale double and the old man. A mask forms over her face when Zangetsu is the one to help, and her reiatsu bleeds black edged in red. He keeps up a steady stream of profanities and advice disguised as insults and her limbs move mostly under her own power.
When the fight is over, Byakuya gives her the reason why he’s dead set on executing his sister , and she doesn’t hesitate to shove it in his face how shitty a reason it is and that he could have tried to change the law instead of blindly following it. Like sheep.
He walks away.
Take that, you noble prick.
Ichigo shouts her victory to the skies, triumphant and exhilarate. She feels familiar reiatsu scitter across her senses and turns around. Her friends are there. Everyone safe and sound. Her legs give out and Orihime rushes over with a cry, calling out the name of her fairies and begins to heal her. Orihime’s expression is filled with determination and concentration so Ichigo shifts to take in everyone.
They’ve got bandages, scraps and bruises, but everyone looks okay. Uryuu’s reiatsu is a bit wonky, but… well, once they get out of here with Rukia, they can sit down and talk because with that look on his face, this is probably going to end up being a thing. Still, Ichigo beams, sunshine bright at all of them. Chad, Ganju, Uryuu, Orihime and...whoever the hell that is? She brushes it off. Her bandages cover her chest well enough and she clothes shifted with her bankai.
Still, once Ichigo manages to stand up without aid, they quickly depart, making their way down the execution mountain to meet up with Renji and figure out their next step. Orihime and Uryuu quickly fill her in on some of the important things, like the people they’ve met and the shaky situation consisting of the murder of a captain, which was apparently blamed on them.
That just sends cold shivers up her spine so she quickly picks up her pace. They need to grab Rukia and Renji and get out, like right now. The situation has yet ot be resolved because everyone is scattered right now, fighting different fractions, one of which is Ichigo’s, the other two being the Shinigami and then whatever the hell is going on with the murder of a captain. She sincerely hopes there’s not a fourth or a fifth.
There’s nothing Ichigo can do at the moment, besides escape, maybe some kind of blackmail could be used to some advantage? Calling for a proper trial or something.
That’s when everything goes to shit.
There’s a sound, then a voice in her head, only it’s not in her head, it’s just... through her head? But the run down this woman gives on the entire situation is enlightening and Ichigo’s got an idea this probably runs much deeper then just this thing with Rukia. Still.
That’s a name that she will forever remember as long as she lives.
There’s a sharp bloom of reiatsu above them and that’s, that’s Renji. Isane, the voice echoing in their heads says…. says. Ichigo tears off in the fastest shunpo she’s capable of, back to the top of the mountain, barely pausing to shout instructions, only to arrive just in time to catch that man’s sword. It doesn’t matter because Aizen cuts Renji down, he cuts her down. He does so with an ease that infuriates her . Her Hollow is screaming in her head, swearing and Ichigo is on the ground and everything hurts and she can’t feel her legs.
: Hush, hush, don’t move, keep still, I’ve got you, Ichigo.:
The old man is rumbling against her ear and her bleeding stops, and the pain eases as her skin hardens and Ichigo curls her fists in the bloodstained dirt.
: You can’t move, if you move you will die. Your sisters will mourn, your friends and you will end, here and who will protect them? You will stay down until Orihime gets here, there will be another day, just not today.:
Ichigo can only watch.
Aizen goes for Rukia, Aizen is still talking and... and Urahara Kisuke. Of course it was. Brilliant and stupid, arrogant and inquisitive, of course it’s Urahara Kisuke. But, Getaboushi wouldn’t-
Aizen’s hand turns green and scaly and Ichigo hopes she’s right about this, even as a hole forms in the middle of Rukia’s very soul. He reaches inside, fingers closing around a small bauble and draws it out, glimmering in the light and oh.
She was right. Getaboushi wouldn’t make something to reveal a hiding place that would damage it so it couldn’t be used again. What better hiding place for an object or extreme power then a person and what better spot to hide something then an unknowing one you could move around without anyone the wiser, let alone the person you keep it in?
Rukia’s powers never recovered from that night, after that she just ran around in the gigai Urahara gave her. Instead, they all seemed to drain away and Ichigo closes her eyes and breaths deep, despite the pool of blood she lies in and the scent of iron that fills her nose.
Intentionally or side effect? Both? Was it to disguise it, or destroy it?
She can already hear the screams in her head and frankly, this is something she’s going to have to deal with later because there seem to be a shitload of things she’s entirely unaware of. Shock. She could have used this information two weeks ago.
Ichigo bites back the surge of emotions, grits her teeth and screams futilely as Aizen Sousuke goes for Rukia, now that his objective has been completed, as that Shinigami holds her up like a piece of meat and then the fox man comes and puts his hand on his sword- NO!
Okay, maybe not a shitty brother, just a stupid one. But, that blade is entirely too close to his heart and he’s not… Byakuya saves Rukia , even if it renders him unable to fight more, and in actual danger of dying , but that’s apparently not enough because Aizen still wants to kill them and Ichigo is useless!
Half a second later, Shiba Kukaku shows up on the shoulder of a giant, followed by more people, who have finally got their asses in gear and all recognize the very real and present threat and Ichigo’s own people are about to show up too so all that’s left to do is keep still and watch.
Aizen delivers a grand speech, the man can’t shut up, all smooth and confident words and a gentle expression on his face. He looks half empty and the loneliness that reeks from his blade still unsettles her, enough that Ichigo suspects he’s half mad and just faking at being put together.
Things don’t play out well though, because apparently the Shinigami completely underestimate Aizen and now everyone is watching as the sky splits open. This is enough to give Ichigo flashbacks, holy shit, that’s a lot of Menos peering over the edges of the space between dimensions. There’s a sudden burst of orange light that falls down to encase Aizen, fox man and the blind guy who is entirely deluded about what justice is. Which means, all three depart from the Soul Society in a manner as entirely dramatic as their entrance and Aizen’s entire speech.
Ichigo hates him.
She’s going to fight him and she’s going to wipe that smug look off his face.
With her fists.
She swears it.
And then she’s going to rub it into all these Shinigami’s faces that she was the one to bring him down because obviously this is a wake up call for them that they desperately needed.
Oh, look, there’s her people and Orihime is already calling forth her entirely awesome powers of bullshit healing and Ichigo can pass out now...
Ichigo wakes up very quickly because Orihime literally rejects every single wound Aizen gave her and she can sit up now.
In the meantime, Hanataro’s Division shows up. It’s a very busy and efficient operation as medics disperse among the wounded. However, as they already have Orihime and Ichigo is the only one in their group that’s injured enough to require more healing, they leave them alone. Which is fine because Hanataro’s not among them and Ichigo doesn’t trust any of them. Chad and Uryuu stand as a guard over both of them while Orihime concentrates on her work.
Still, as Ichigo’s eyes slide shut again, she thinks they did pretty good for their first invasion. Comprised of four teenagers with newly discovered powers, one random shrub of moderate usefulness (who is- might be her cousin), and a cat that is actually a Shinigami known as the ‘ Goddess of Flash’ , against a people like Byakuya and Kenpachi?
Ichigo thinks they did alright.