Ichigo comes through the gate at Aizen like a freight train. Aizen tries to monolog, but Ichigo plants a palm in his face and forces him away from potential bystander damage. Karakura’s going to have enough trouble rebuilding after this, he really doesn’t want to smash more of it to soothe Aizen’s massive ego.
Still, the entire time they’re fighting and bantering and Aizen’s morphing into some kind of weird-ass butterfly, purple sparkles and all, Ichigo can’t help but wonder… why him? He’s fifteen years old. The good guys, if you can call them that given that they’re all for throwing a fifteen year old at a monster (now a white, fluttery monster, but still, a monster they can’t beat), are all… really damned old. When it comes down to it, this is a Shinigami civil war, and Ichigo’s not sure how a human got stuck in the middle of it.
He really needs to learn to look before he leaps. Ishida tells him this all the time.
Nevertheless, as his zanpakutō levels another mountain and Aizen takes the credit for it, he wonders. Why should he have to sacrifice himself? Is he getting set up, yet again? And what’s all this with his dad? Who apparently is a Shinigami and never mentioned it?
Bastard. He could really have used some insight, some understanding, maybe a damned hint or two when he was running around town fighting Hollows and talking to ghosts. He has thought he was insane for years. Then he finds out his dad knows all about it. Gives the man a change to come clean. And what does he get?
His mind drifts to his final conversation with Tensa in his inner world, as Aizen cackles and molts, or whatever he’s doing. Tensa hadn’t looked angry.
He’d looked devastated. Why?
It hits him like a brick.
If he does this… if he does what all the Shinigami who can’t fight their own battles despite centuries of experience want, he’ll sacrifice Tensa.
He know life isn’t fair. He has known that since his mom was murdered in front of his eyes and he survived. But this goes beyond fairness.
There is always another way.
Aizen’s is blathering something about his eminence or whatever, and Ichigo doesn’t think. He just moves.
Zangetsu is buried to the hilt between Aizen’s sparkly purple eyes. The spinning ball in the crazy man’s chest convulses, and Ichigo gets light-headed as he feels something trying to suck away all his power. He fights as he always does, with everything in him, only he’s not fighting for himself. He shows the same bull-headed tenacity he always does when he’s fighting for his friends, because he’s fighting for Tensa, and he will win because he has to win.
It’s gruesome. The wound gushes blood and white ichor, closing around the shaft of his sword even as he twists it to keep trying to kill the monster. Aizen drops his own blade and wraps his hands around Ichigo’s sword, screaming and cursing, trying to claw it out of his face with as much strength as Ichigo is trying to drive it through his head. It’s a stalemate that just keeps grinding on until Urahara’s voice cuts through Aizen’s screams and Ichigo’s panting breath.
“Not exactly how I expected you to distract him, but, hey, whatever works,” the shopkeeper says. Then kido rains from the heavens, wraps around Aizen like mummy wrappings, and the monster finally shuts up.
Ichigo barely gets his sword free before Aizen is imprisoned. Then he tries to stand up. Falls flat on his face. Wakes up a week later in a bed in his dad’s clinic, and is unutterably relieved to hear Tensa’s voice whispering ‘thank you’ in his mind.
The next month is weird. His dad acts like nothing has changed, but this time when he sends a kick at Ichigo’s head as he leaves his bedroom in the morning, Ichigo flips him, not through the window, but through the wall. Maybe if he has to pay to fix the building enough times, he’ll stop trying to kick his son’s head off.
Hope springs eternal.
Chad spends most of his time hovering around Ichigo, almost as if he’s afraid he’ll lose his friend if he doesn’t keep watch. Ichigo finds it strangely comforting. Yuzu and Karin have no idea he nearly died to avert the apocalypse, and he’s going to keep it that way. His dad avoids the truth, avoids his eyes, and avoids anything approaching honest conversation, so, yeah, the usual. Orihime and Rukia go out and come out, and Ichigo thinks he should feel more blind-sided by that than he does. Instead, he shadows Ishida, who seems pretty off-kilter about the whole thing. Ichigo can’t figure out if it’s because Ishida had a thing for Orihime or if he’s thinking naughty girl-on-girl thoughts.
It never occurs to him that Ishida is more shocked that Rukia isn’t with Ichigo, and is wondering if maybe now, he has a chance.
He also doesn’t notice that Ishida is shadowing him just as much as Ichigo is shadowing Ishida, if not more.
He doesn’t say anything. But he laughs sometimes, and that confuses everybody.
A few months later, and the boys do what the inept Shinigami apparently can’t. The hollows come regularly. Ishida wounds them, Chad beats them down, and Ichigo purifies them. They make a great tag-team, but something’s off with Ishida. He’s quieter than usual, and he doesn’t go into entertaining rants like he used to. Ichigo considers asking him about it, but sounds like a dork even inside his own head, so he does what he can to cheer the guy up.
“Want to spar?”
“Want to study? We’ve got that calculus test Tuesday, and I could use your help.”
His grades have never been higher. But Ishida relaxes a little, even asks for his help with their World Literature essay. Ichigo leans back against the wall, smiling slightly at his best friend and his maybe one day if he’s lucky boyfriend, and thinks, life is better than it has been in years.
Then Ishida comes back from training looking like he has been run over by a truck, a truck with spikes on its wheels, and Ichigo wants to kill something.
The next time Ishida goes to train, Ichigo follows him.
The glade where Ishida trains is gorgeous. Lush grass, clear water, a rushing waterfall.
Some old guy with an attitude who’s trying to kill him.
Ichigo moves so fast he leaves an afterimage. Ishida is behind him and a damned volley of arrows is bouncing off his zanpakutō. Finally the old bastard stops. Ishida steps up beside him.
Looks like Ishida isn’t the last Quincy after all. The old guy who will soon die if Ichigo has any say in it is an unfamiliar Quincy, a tall white-haired man with glasses, a bow shimmering at his side. At his side, Ishida shifts, but remains silent.
“Aim that thing at me and I’ll kill you,” Ichigo warns, voice low and deadly. The man scoffs.
“He’s quite serious, Ryuuken,” Ishida says, his own voice cold as ice.
Ichigo glances at him. “You know this guy?”
Ishida shrugs one shoulder and nonchalantly repositions his glasses on his nose. “He’s my father.” He honestly doesn’t sound like he cares.
“Your dad?” Ichigo is startled.
“We’re not close.” Understatement.
“So,” Ichigo drawls, glancing from one slender, still figure to the other. “You, uh, don’t mind if I kill him?”
There’s a rather long silence, during which the now-named Ryuuken glares at Ishida. Finally, Ishida decides. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
“Shit,” Ichigo shakes his head. “Isshin is a lying, abusive coward, but I wouldn’t want him dead.”
He can practically feel two pairs of eyes boring into him. Does this Ryuuken know his dad, somehow? It’s Ichigo’s turn to shrug.
“He at least tries to take care of the girls. And he doesn’t beat on them.” He takes a breath. “If he had, I’d already have killed him.”
A choked sound comes from behind them. Ichigo whirls to face the threat, while Ishida automatically covers his back, his own shimmering bow coming out to meet Ryuuken’s threat.
“Is that really how you see me?” Isshin comes out from the trees. He sounds appalled.
“You’ve been attacking me-“
“Training!” Isshin interjects. Ichigo speaks over him.
“Since I was ten years old. Beating me unconscious on a regular basis isn’t training. It’s abuse.”
“It was for your own good. You just had to toughen up, then I wouldn’t win all the time!”
Ichigo gives him a flat stare. “Yeah. That works. Blame the victim.”
“You’re not a victim! You’re a hero! My training made you that way!” Isshin sounds so sure of himself. Even proud.
Ichigo manages not to laugh in his face, but his tone is bitter when he responds, “I won despite you. I thought I was nuts for years while you lied to my face about everything from ghosts to who you really were. When I finally did see you as a Shinigami, in the middle of a fight for my life, you head-butted me off the side of a building.”
“Well, you were just standing there like an idiot. I had to get you back in the fight.”
An incredulous snort, then Ichigo turns his back to him. “Fuck you.” He stares back at Ryuuken. “Are you going to attack me, too?”
Ryuuken shakes his head, then sneers at Ishida, “Put that away. You couldn’t hit me if you tried.”
Ishida makes a sound that Ichigo is pretty sure would be a growl if the other boy could unclench his jaw far enough to let it out. Instinctively protecting his friend, he has his zanpakutō at Ryuuken’s gut before the man can move.
“Shut the fuck up and go away,” he snarls.
“Ichigo,” Isshin says from somewhere behind him.
“You, too,” he tosses over his shoulder.
Ryuuken sweeps them both with an unreadable look, then gives an audible sniff, turns his back to them and walks away. A moment later, he can feel Isshin’s presence fade as well. He swings his sword back into place on his back and turns to Ishida.
Ishida stares after Ryuuken’s retreating back. “No doubt he’ll cancel my lease as soon as the bank opens tomorrow."
“Chad’s got room," he says. "Want to move in with us?”
“If you’re certain it wouldn’t be an imposition,” Ishida trails off, shaking his hand as his bow dissipates into tiny blue particles before disappearing completely.
“No problem. We have to take care of each other.” Ichigo glances first toward where Ryuuken walked off, then over his shoulder to the stand of trees covering his own father’s retreat. “Not like anybody else is.”
“As it has always been,” Ishida sighs. “Ever since my grandfather died.”
“I haven’t had a home since my Mom died,” Ichigo says softly. “On guard all the time at home, waiting for Dad to kick me in the head or punch me through a wall. On guard all the time away from home, fighting assholes who get on me because of my hair or my reputation or me standing up for ghosts. Gets old. Got old, a long time ago.”
Walking beside him, Ishida nods and sighs. “I was never good enough. I never will be. I used to care, I think. Until Grandfather was murdered and Ryuuken didn’t care. I think my heart died then.”
“Nah,” Ichigo contradicts him gently. “You care. You just save it for people who deserve it. Like Orihime, or Chad.” Even softer, “Or those who need it. Like me.”
They don’t speak for the rest of the long walk to Chad’s apartment, but it’s an easy silence. For once, they’re in harmony with one another, having come to an understanding deeper than either can, or wants to, express aloud.
Chad greets them at the door, taking in Ichigo’s exhaustion and Ishida’s hopefulness in one comprehensive look. He gestures them inside, and as the door shuts quietly, for the first time in years, both boys feel like they’re safe, at home.
Three young men from very different backgrounds, more alike than not, who live through the same pain, find family in each other. It’s things like this, that save the world.
Until the Shinigami screw it up. Again.