Chapter 1: Wilting Lily
“It is a little odd, don’t ya think?” Renji said as he landed on a pole and glanced around the city. “Where are we again?” he asked, looking at Rukia.
“Kyoto,” she muttered. “I mean, I get that he’s a seventeen-year-old human, but I can’t imagine him up and disappearing like this with no warning.”
Renji dropped to the ground. “Without his reiatsu I don’t think we’re gonna find ‘im like this. I mean, spending our days off searching the World of the Living for one idiot human.”
“He’s our friend, and you’re worried too, so don’t act like you aren’t,” Rukia sighed as they walked the streets.
After a week, they went back to Soul Society. Renji, Rukia, and several others would often spend their days off trying to find their missing friend. His father and sisters assumed that he’d gone away to get some perspective, to do some soul searching and there wasn’t a reason to worry. Not really. They were all, living and Shinigami, sure he’d just come back soon.
After a month, they really started to worry. It became a Gotei 13 issue because Kurotsuchi-Taichou confirmed that his power was not gone, and that there might be other powers at play around him. Not only his friends, but all Shinigami who were dispatched to the World of the Living were put on alert. Missing persons reports were filed, but his family was told not to be hopeful. He was an adult. If he didn’t want to be found, he wouldn’t be found, they said. Still, they were sure. He just needed time.
After a year, no one knew what to do. There wasn’t anything else to do. Already, every member of the Gotei 13 was aware that the substitute Shinigami, powerless as he was, had disappeared without a trace. Police and authorities had given up on the World of the Living.
After two years, no one looked anymore because they guessed that he just didn’t want to be found. It was as though Ichigo Kurosaki had simply vanished from the face of the World of the Living.
After the sixth year passed with no information, memories were all they had. Then the events transpired that left everyone involved stunned.
“Man, this is a boring detail,” whined the young Shinigami Nomura Matsusuke. This was his first trip to the World of the Living and he was bored to tears already.
Nomura was a small man. He had black hair pulled back away from a severe looking face. He seemed to be a very serious looking individual, but in reality he liked goofing off. However, he wasn’t going to be let off easy because he was being trained today by his Fuku-taichou of the sixth, Renji Abarai.
“Yeah, well, it’s important. Ya think I like training any more than ya like being here?” Renji groused. They were standing atop a building as night descended.
At near midnight both felt a spirit nearby. Renji nodded. “Alright, ready Matsusuke?”
Nomura was happy to be able to do something, even if it was just a Konso. “Abarai-fukutaichou, isn’t it weird that we’ve been here every night for a week running, and there have been no hollows in the area?” he asked as they stopped in front of the building the spirit was in.
Renji blinked. “I…that’s true now that ya mention it. We’ll see what the Taichou says when we get back…but…” He stopped. “That can’t be right,” he muttered.
Nomura looked at him. “What is it?”
Renji shook his head. “Nah, nothin’. Just thought I felt a reiatsu I ain’t felt in a while. Imaginin’ things. Airght, go in and perform the Konso, I’ll wait here, alright?”
Renji leaned back against the building and sighed. That was scary, he thought to himself. To think he was imagining that. Rukia would chide him when he got home tonight for that. His thoughts were interrupted by hearing Nomura shriek inside the building. He reacted on instinct, Zabimaru in Shikai as went into the building to find Nomura standing in a hallway with his back to a door. He looked pale.
“What is it?” Renji asked and then he sensed it. Brief surge, almost not there at all. But it was there.
“It touched my Zanpakutō…it touched it…and I feel like I’ve been drained of almost all my energy… I got away from it, but the spirit, it was…was…” Nomura looked at him. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Talk plain,” Renji said. “What is in there? Did you see the spirit?”
“The spirit is trapped, and whatever it is…is…is…” Nomura looked far more freaked out than Renji liked. “I heard something, I went to look, and when I leaned over to look in the bath, it…it looked at me, and then a hand grabbed my blade…”
“What did it look like?”
“I just saw the eyes…black and gold…it was dark, there’s no lights…” he whispered.
“No…that can’t be…can it?” Renji said and pulled out his communicator. “Inform Kuchiki-taichou that I need backup in the World of the Living. Limiter release requested. Unknown combatant, possibly hollow in origin. No readable reiatsu. Repeat, no reiatsu can be read.”
“We wait?” Nomura asked nervously.
“Yah, we wait. They’ll send a captain, so don’t look so worried. Whatever it is doesn’t seem to want to leave that room, so I think we’re fine,” Renji said and leaned against the wall to wait. Nomura looked at him and then slid down the wall in a faint. Renji checked him and found him alive, just drained of reiatsu. Strange, he thought.
Their wait wasn’t long before Renji sensed someone come through a senkaimon. He smiled. Kyōraku-taichou and Ukitake-taichou. Ukitake’s calm presence, as always was soothing. His white hair was smooth around his shoulders. In opposition, Kyōraku’s bright pink kimono stood out against his white haori. He tipped the hat he always wore at Renji with a lazy grin. They took him seriously, at least. He looked up as both came in.
“Abarai-kun,” Ukitake said with a smile. “What is the situation?”
“Ah, we’ve been on the Osaka detail for a week, been trainin’ Matsusuke. He pointed out we ain’t seen any hollows, and tonight was the first spirit that needed a Konso. But he went in, and he can’t even say what he saw proper, something wrong with the spirit and something creeped him out with black and gold eyes, said it sucked off his power. Then he passed out.”
“Shunsui, you want to enter first?” Ukitake asked. Kyōraku nodded and opened the door, letting the other two follow. He muttered and a light exploded near the ceiling lighting the room.
“What the hell is this?” Renji whispered.
It was a plain room with a low futon against a wall. The center of the room had a tall, iron pillar. Attached to the pillar was a ring. On that ring was a chain that could move around the ring. They could see a door to a small bathroom, and there was a low table with sparse food dishes on it, all gone bad now. The room smelled of death and decay, so this was not a recent death. Next to the pillar, suspended from the rafter, was a human that had hung himself by an electrical cord. That had to have been the source of the spirit. His hands were both stained dark with what looked like blood. On the floor, there were small pools of blood.
The spirit, though, seemed to be shackled to the wall over the futon mattress by his soul chain. Renji had never seen something like that. The chain was melted and looked almost welded into the wall. The spirit was a middle-aged man with thick glasses, black hair, and a pockmarked face, the same as the hanging man. He was standing against the wall his soul chain was attached to, staring blankly ahead. They all heard the rattle of chain in the room, and Renji saw that the chain that ran from the pillar disappeared into the bathroom. Now and then they heard a jingle of the chain.
“Kyōraku-taichou, what would do that to a soul chain?” Renji asked. “Matsusuke said that ‘it’ touched his Zanpakutō and it drained him of power, whatever is in the bathroom.” He gestured toward the bath.
“I know of nothing that can do this,” Kyōraku answered as he walked quietly toward the spirit.
It didn’t seem to acknowledge them. He turned and went to the hanging man and saw there was a note pinned to his chest. He glanced at the others.
“A suicide note. It states, ‘I’ve taken something I should not have. I am sorry, but he was too beautiful for words, and I had to keep him for myself. But the eyes are driving me mad. I hope if he lives, you will end his life. He deserves that much that I could not give.’ This human kept a captive here,” Kyōraku said. “What does it mean, the eyes?”
“No…” Renji said, staring at the futon and then the door where the chain disappeared. “Matsusuke said the eyes were black and gold. You don’t think…”
Ukitake’s intake of breath confirmed that Renji wasn’t the only one to start to come to the conclusion. “That is impossible, for him to be alive and accessing the hollow power without releasing reiatsu?” Ukitake said as he pulled one of his twin Zanpakutō and tapped the forehead of the bound spirit. Instead of passing, though, the spirit screamed horribly as it just evaporated before them.
Ukitake looked at Kyōraku. “It didn’t pass over. Look, the soul chain remained…” Ukitake touched the chain and it disappeared.
“We need to see,” Renji said as he followed the chain from the pillar toward the doorway of the bathroom.
Inside the room, a figured was curled into a ball inside the bathtub covered with what looked like the curtain from the shower. Faint reiatsu pulsed from the form, in an all too familiar sensation. Renji looked over his shoulder at Ukitake who came up and placed a hand on him. Renji nodded as Ukitake moved forward and knelt beside the tub. The figure’s hair had pooled beside his face, long and somewhat dingy looking, but the unmistakable color of orange-red. Ukitake reached down and pushed it off his face and swallowed. He stood up and turned back to Renji.
“Come, we need to get Unohana-taichou,” he said but there was movement behind him.
Renji’s eyes went wide. “Ichigo,” he whispered as he locked eyes on his face as he lifted it over the side of the tub. “What…”
Really, if it hadn’t been for his hair and the familiar if faint reiatsu, he wouldn’t have known who he was. Both of his eyes had been gouged out, leaving open, blank sockets. His face was covered with crusted blood under his eyes. It was obvious the loss of his eyes wasn’t that long ago. His mouth had been sealed with some sort of wire through the top and bottom lips, but it wasn’t recent. The threading was tight enough to dimple the skin. The hollowness of his face was equally appalling. The thick chain attached to a metal collar that appeared to have been welded closed around his neck. It had left deep red rub marks, some of which bled. Considering how thin he was, it was no surprise. He had similar metal cuffs around his wrists, also seemingly welded closed with rings in the sides of them.
It was obvious Ichigo had heard them, as his head tilted to the side and he listened. He moved and gripped the side of the bath with his hands, and Renji could see that his fingers were at odd angles, and the nails were pitch black. He hummed, a strange reverberating sound, and then sighed. He turned away and then turned back and for a second, those empty sockets seemed to glow red, then it faded.
Ukitake tried to stop him, but Renji went forward put his hands on Ichigo’s. First, Ichigo jerked his hands away, the plasticy part of the shower curtain he was wrapped up in crinkling. Then he tilted his head and reached his hand out and put it on Renji’s face, fingers feeling along his jaw and cheek up to his hairline. There, he paused, fingers tracing the shape of his forehead. He tipped his head to the side again, and he touched his own face and shook his head, pushing Renji back, a keening sound starting from his throat.
“Ichigo, it’s me, Renji, remember?” Renji said hopefully. “Let’s get you out of there, come on.”
The reaction wasn’t what he’d hoped for because now he did make a sound they knew was hollow. The glow began in the eye sockets again, red and pulsing until Ukitake reached over Renji to put his fingers to Ichigo’s forehead. He slumped into unconsciousness into the bathtub as the sleeping kido took over.
“What should we do?” Kyōraku said from the door where he had been watching.
“This…” Ukitake began but the door banged open behind them in the outer room.
“Police!” came a call. “Ogawa Kanjiro, if you are present, surrender immediately! We have a warrant for your arrest! Oh shit…” they heard from the next room.
Ukitake pulled Renji to stand and the three stepped into the room to see that four police had entered the room. They’d found the hanging man.
“Well, hell, there’s Ogawa Kanjiro. Hung himself. That makes him look guilty.” The first police officer, a large, tall man felt the hanging man’s arm. “Pretty cold, been two days at least I bet. Got a bit of smell. Call forensics…to…what the fuck does this note mean?”
A smallish woman with a high black ponytail looked at the note. “Look, lieutenant. There’s a chain…” she said and followed it toward the bathroom. “Think they were right?”
“Careful, Yoshi,” the larger man said as he moved with her. She followed the chain toward the tub and Renji wasn’t surprised to hear the muffled scream when she looked in and then ran back out the front covering her mouth.
“Another body?” one of the other two officers asked, a blonde man with a tattoo on his forearm, asked and walked toward the bathroom after the larger officer.
“Call an ambulance. Quickly,” the lieutenant said as he stared into the tub. “His neighbor was right. I’m sure she did hear screaming a couple nights ago.”
“We need to go report,” Ukitake said quietly to Renji. “Stay with him, I’ll take your junior back with us so Unohana can see to him. Don’t let him out of your sight.” Ukitake paused. “If you have to kill him, if the hollow emerges, can you do it?”
Renji nodded. “I can.”
Ukitake and Kyōraku left and Renji stood and watched. Not long passed before paramedics arrived and Ichigo was loaded onto a gurney. Renji kept pace with them, and debated flash stepping along. He sighed. He should stay with him in the ambulance. He flashed inside and sat toward the front and waited as the young paramedic got in after the gurney and began trying to start an IV. It wasn’t working, though, so she set to covering his eyes with bandages. She sat down after she’d done all she could.
To Renji’s surprise, she looked directly at him. “Is he dying? Is that why you’re here, Shinigami?”
Renji blinked. Spiritually aware, no surprise in this occupation. “I hope not, he is a friend.”
“Death gods have friends among us humans?” she asked, her deep brown eyes reflecting pain.
“He is not quite all human,” Renji said quietly. “But he’s been missing for six years, more than. We could not find him no matter how we tried. He has family.”
She nodded. “My name is Hano Saori. What is his name?”
“And how will you explain knowing his name when you reach the hospital?” Renji asked sadly. “I should not tell ya.”
“His family misses him. I can figure out how to tell them without telling them a reaper that only I can see was riding in the ambulance with him,” she said with a smile.
Renji nodded. “I have to stay with him, in case I do have to kill him. But his name is Ichigo Kurosaki.”
“Why would you kill him?” she asked, appearing worried now.
“His power, what he is, might be dangerous. So, I have to watch him. I hope it doesn’t come to that. My wife and I are close with him,” he answered, adjusting the heavy braid of his hair from his shoulder. By the look, Ichigo’s hair was almost as long. Six years. He leaned forward and ran a hand over Ichigo’s hair with a sad look on his features. He jumped out once they were at the hospital.
Renji stayed with him as they finally got IVs and medications into him, the kido thankfully keeping him completely sedated the entire time. Finally, he was placed in a private room, an officer stationed at the door. His hair had been cleaned as had his body. Renji approached and saw they’d put restraints on him, no doubt because of the IV lines and the bandages. They’d removed the wire that had sealed his lips together, but the holes above and below his lips stood out. Renji could tell those had long ago healed. Now, to wait until someone found out who he was. He hoped that the paramedic was good on her word.
Renji heard a voice he hadn’t heard in a long time and looked behind him to see Kisuke Urahara and Isshin Kurosaki both standing at the door staring at him. He smiled at them. A week had passed and he’d spent each day sitting beside Ichigo’s unconscious body and watching as they took him for tests, then returned. He had been ecstatic the day before when a pair of nurses had come in excitedly chatting that their unnamed patient had been identified. One had kissed Ichigo’s head and said, “Hello, Ichigo-kun.”
“Why are you here?” Isshin asked.
“I’m to stay with him until we know for sure about the hollow,” he said and stepped back.
Isshin walked slowly up and put his hand on Ichigo’s shoulder. “He’s skeletal,” he whispered, touching his collarbone. “He…they didn’t tell us what happened yet, they said there was a doctor coming down to talk to us, what do you know, Abarai-san?” he said and looked at Renji.
“I don’t…” he started but the door opened, revealing a woman in a white doctor’s coat. She had long brown hair and kind hazel eyes.
“Dr. Kurosaki, I’m Dr. Yuguchi Yei,” she said and smiled at Isshin. Her eyes passed Renji and rested on Urahara. “And you are?”
“Ah, Kisuke Urahara,” he said and bowed slightly. “A…friend…” he muttered and looked back to Isshin who still stared at Ichigo.
The doctor walked over and looked at the IV stand and sighed. “I’ve got a good deal of respect for a fellow doctor, Dr. Kurosaki. So, I won’t mince words. He’s not in good condition. Severe malnutrition and dehydration aside, he’s severely deficient in vitamin D. There’s damage already. You can see the deformities in his hands, and there are fractures that aren’t healed correctly. I’m recommended extensive surgery on his limbs. Even then, his right leg…it may need amputation. Currently, I can’t guarantee either of his legs below the knee can be saved. The left is in better shape, but there is evidence of splinters of bone. All of his bones are soft and brittle at this point.” She picked up the bandage on his eyes each in turn. “And he won’t ever regain his sight.”
Behind them, there was a knock at the door, and a pair of police officers came in. Renji recognized them as large lieutenant and the smaller woman from the house the day before. “Ah, sorry to interrupt, but the charge nurse said that you were here, Dr. Kurosaki. I’m Lieutenant Asano Shunsho, my partner Yoshi Utamara. We were the first on the scene at the location your son was found last week.”
“Ah, thank you for finding him,” Isshin said, bowing at them, but Renji heard the choked sound to his voice.
“I wanted to explain to you, and the doctor, what we know about what happened. In hopes it helps his treatment.”
The doctor nodded and pulled chairs from the side of the room so they could all sit at the small table. Asano nodded.
“Yoshi and I were put on the Ogawa Kanjiro case almost three years ago. Kanjiro was a thirty-seven-year-old salaryman that worked for a large printing company as a financial officer. His wife passed about five years before this. He was known as a depressed and gloomy man. Interviewing people after his death, we confirmed his obsession with young men. A few of his coworkers said he often hid rather violent yaoi manga and pornography in his desk. What put us onto him was a call to a tip line about an ‘old man’ who would throw parties for young men, for a price allowing them access to his ‘dog’. He was smart, though, and as soon as we were onto him, we lost the leads. We knew something was amiss, but we could never put something on him.” He paused, seeing the pained look on Isshin’s face.
“Sir, I’m sorry but this is only going to get worse from here,” he said with a sigh as he pushed the file over. “This was Kanjiro’s ‘hideout’. He didn’t live there, which was why it was so hard to pin him. He rented this space under an assumed name. The space was set up as a place of confinement. The pillar in the center allowed him to move around he circumference of it. He could just reach the bath and the table that Kanjiro would lay food out for him. The chain used wouldn’t allow him to reach the walls or doors. All the windows were sealed and covered over anyway.”
Isshin flipped through the pictures, not hiding his tears any longer. “I see. He was here the entire time?”
The lieutenant shifted and sighed, pushing another folder over. “Kanjiro regularly videoed things. I captured a few stills from the immense amount of footage he had, just so you might have a timeline of what happened. Significant events, if you will. The first is dated six years and four months ago.”
Renji had come to stand over Isshin’s shoulder to look. The first image was Ichigo alright, he was on his knees, his hands bound behind him, a collar with the chain attacked dropping in front of him. His legs were bound around his knees, forcing him to kneel. He was in street clothes still, his face twisted in fury and he was obviously screaming at him. His eyes were bloodshot and red, though. “We confirmed that Kanjiro was on a business trip to Karakura Town the week before this date, which coincides with his disappearance. We don’t know the details, but it seems that he managed to snatch him then.”
“How?” Isshin whispered. “Ichigo is a fighter, black belt, he can’t be just grabbed by some middle age salaryman,” he said, looking at him.
Yoshi spoke up. “Drugs and surprise can take down even the toughest combatant, Dr. Kurosaki.”
“Would have to have been,” Isshin said.
“The second photo is perhaps a year later. The tape this is from is pretty horrific, but it confirmed the reason we were called in. In the background, Kanjiro could be heard telling the others there that he had to do something to break him properly so he could be a good dog. It…it is a wonder he survived that event at all. All I have to say is that your son is one hell of a fighter. They had ended up smashing both his hands at this event, and by this point Kanjiro was taking regular advantage of him. He didn’t always come back to this place, sometimes leaving him alone for a week at a time, and of course leaving little in the way of food.”
“There’s a steady decline,” Dr. Yei said softly. “The malnutrition, you can see his body starting to consume what little fat and muscle. He left him bound with his calves to his thighs most the time it looks like,” she said as she flipped through them. “That explains the severe damage to his calves and feet.”
“He learned to cope with it, learning to deal with him binding him like that. But as you can see, as he physically declined, his mental state was deteriorating. Anytime others came to the place, Kanjiro would blindfold him, and it became frequent. He treated him less than an animal, calling him a dog, training him through pain to obey his commands no matter how minor. The entire time was about dehumanizing him.”
Isshin stopped on the last photo and stared. “Weird spot, something wrong with that section of the recording that made his eyes look weird,” the lieutenant said. “But it is strange, that kinda thing after Kanjiro said in his suicide note that his eyes were driving him mad.”
Renji, Isshin, and Urahara all knew what that was. He was leaning against the wall on the futon, eyes distant, but the sclera were black and the iris gold. His nails were black. Isshin looked up. “You said he left a suicide note?”
“Yeah,” the police office said and flipped out a copy of it. “It says, ‘I’ve taken something I should not have. I am sorry, but he was too beautiful for words, and I had to keep him for myself. But the eyes are driving me mad. I hope if he lives, you will end his life. He deserves that much that I could not give.’ I mean, weird, right?” He shrugged. “I don’t know but he was pretty fucked up after all the perverse shit he did to him.”
Isshin looked at the doctor. “When can I take him home?”
Dr. Yei frowned deeply. “Dr. Kurosaki, I think it best you leave him here in Osaka, I don’t…”
“He needs to come home. I can arrange for his care. He has sisters, friends. I don’t want him alone here.”
“Of course. I’ll begin the transfer to Karakura General. Anything that we can do here, I’m sure that you will arrange,” Dr. Yei said as she stood. “Should I mark it attention to anyone?”
“Dr. Uryū Ishida,” Isshin said with a sighed. “I’ll let him know the files are coming.”
The doctor left and the two police looked at him. Isshin sighed. “Is there anything else I should know?”
“I wish I had good news. In the last week I watched most of the videos the guy had taken, went through more photo albums than I care to think about. He kept meticulous records of his ‘beautiful dog’. If he used an implement on him, there were photos and video of it. Any time he could, he would take pictures and video. His phone was full of indecent photos of him, as well as charming, cute photos of him.” He sighed. “He used praise, and Dr. Kurosaki, he broke him by the end. We were called to that place when a neighbor heard hysterical screaming a few nights before. I would assume it was when he attacked his eyes.”
“He took his eyes completely? Or is there a chance to save them? I forgot to ask,” Isshin said as he reached for the medical chart. “Oh, I see. They had to remove the remainder of both of them. What did he use?”
“His hands,” Yoshi whispered. “He seemed to lose it suddenly, screaming about his eyes and just went at him. He had a camera mounted at the top of the pillar, that’s where he took most the videos.” She swallowed. “Even then, he tried to get his attention, to be praised, but he drug him into the bathroom and threw him into the tub. When we found him, he’d been in there for three days, but he didn’t move. Kanjiro told him to stay there and not move from the bathtub, then went out and hung himself.”
Isshin nodded. “I think you for all your hard work, officers. Please, would you send the records to me in Karakura Town?”
“Of course, anything we find out. Here’s my card if you have any questions. I hope that you can help him get better,” the lieutenant said with a sad smile.
They left, leaving the three Shinigami alone. Urahara looked at them. “His body won’t last like this. Isshin, we’re going to have to send him to Soul Society and hope that Retsu, Mayuri, and I can do something to stop this degradation. I have a theory,” he muttered as he moved to place his hands over Ichigo’s body. Renji saw the reiatsu pulse around him.
“Isshin, the hollow was trying to escape, he was trying to get them out. I think he was draining power, bit by bit, out of every human that came into physical contact with Ichigo. When he did it, it changed his eyes, and that’s what that human Kanjiro was seeing. He was trying to save him,” he muttered in an almost amazed tone. “Even without power, that spirit knew they were going to die. As strong as Ichigo was, his body was deteriorating too much so he started fighting it with everything. He must have come in contact with a person with reiatsu at some point recently, that would have triggered the hollow spirit being able to gather enough energy to try and come to the surface.”
“What happened to that guy’s spirit though? Kanjiro? The spirit chain was bound to the wall of that place, and it disintegrated when Ukitake-Taichou did the konso,” Renji asked.
“My guess? The hollow had drawn so much of the spirit’s energy, it was doomed already. The chain became attached to that place because it was Kanjiro’s attachment to the world,” Urahara stepped away from Ichigo. “We can see if Orihime can do something with his eyes.”
“We should get him home first,” Isshin said with a sigh. He turned to Renji. “Stay with him. As much as I don’t want to lose my son again, he wouldn’t forgive us if we let that hollow run free.”
Renji nodded, knowing that it was true.
Uryū glanced at the phone. He was in the middle of his second twelve hour shift and it was annoying to be interrupted again and again. “What is it?”
“Sorry, um, Dr. Ishida, there’s a package here from Osaka Medical Center, it says that it is urgent for you to look at it. Says it is regarding an impending patient transfer that is arriving in a few hours,” the nurse answered.
“A what?” he said and took off at a near run. “Why am I getting a patient from Osaka today? Why is the first time I’ve heard of it?”
“I don’t know, Dr. Ishida,” she answered.
“I’m on my way,” he muttered and got to reception to find an electronically locked file box.
He frowned and wondered why they would send medical records by courier. Very rarely were they sent like this, but he supposed the patient had priority? He shook his head and took the box back to his office. He put in his clearance code and the box popped open. He sighed and saw at least four inches worth of files. Who would need this kind…
“What?” he gasped out as he picked up the file on top. “No…” he muttered, but he felt his heart hammering in his chest. He didn’t hear the knock on the door or the cheerful greeting. When the hand dropped on his shoulder he started and found himself looking into Orihime’s gray eyes, now looking concerned.
“Ishida-kun, are you okay? The reception nurse said there was some patient transfer coming and you were worried, what’s going on?” she asked.
Orihime had become a nurse while Uryū was becoming a doctor, and they had also become a couple in that time. “I…I…this can’t be…” he said and handed her the file.
“Kurosaki-kun?” she gasped out.
Another knock at the door and the nurse spoke up outside. “Dr. Ishida, the patient transfer from Osaka has arrived, I’ve put him in a private room as they requested. 3F.”
“Thank you,” he answered and grabbed the file from Orihime and putting it back in the box.
He grabbed the whole box and headed toward the elevator with Orihime following him. They rode in silence until they got to the room where the nurses were moving a body from a gurney onto the bed. Uryū looked up to see Renji standing at the window staring outside in his Shinigami form. Renji turned to look at them and gave them a sad smile while he waited for the other nurse and paramedics to leave.
“Renji?” Uryū said as he shut the door on the room and moved over to the bed where it was Ichigo. “Why…what happened? Where was he?”
Renji snorted and stood beside the bed. “Well, seems like some perverted salaryman from Osaka ran across him about six years and four months ago, decided he was pretty, kidnapped him, and has had him chained up in a room ever since then.”
Uryū’s horrified stare turned from him and back to Ichigo where he lifted the edges of the bandages from his eyes. “His eyes are…gone? What…he’s a skeleton. Orihime, can you help him?” he asked.
“I can see, but I can’t fix anything with him here,” she said as she called the sun sun riki. She frowned. “I don’t…I don’t know if I can fix his eyes, something is stopping me from rejecting any of these injuries, what’s happening? His body…everything is just falling apart…his bones, his muscles…they’re…”
“The other doctor said it was from the severe malnutrition, vitamin D deficiency is bad, and how he had him bound. She thought he might lose his legs below the knee,” Renji said. “I’m sure Isshin will be by later.”
“Has he been conscious?” Uryū asked as he went back to the record box and began looking it over. He would have Orihime take everything down and file it, he guessed.
“Ukitake-Taichou put a sleeping kido on him, and he’s been out since then, but honestly, I think his body is too damaged to stay awake.” Renji sighed. “I’m here in case the hollow emerges. We think it was trying to get enough power to escape.”
“I can’t believe this,” Uryū said. “Six years.”
Chapter 2: Solitary Flowers
Waking up after a nightmare is never something most people enjoy. Waking up after a living nightmare is even worse, especially when that nightmare has become the only reality left to a person. Ichigo’s first thought upon waking was that it was far too warm. Owner never turned on the heat, that was bad. He couldn’t be bad. Dogs and other pets didn’t need to have it. Good boys didn’t complain. He had to be a good boy, that was what he had to be for Owner. And to be a good boy, Owner said to stay in the bathtub until he came back. But he never came, it seemed. His stomach, which was so used to being empty, had begun to ache. He thought it had to do with the taste of blood in his mouth.
Ichigo didn’t know why Owner had gotten angry. His voice hadn’t made sense, but he had pushed him down, pressing fingers into his eyes. That had happened before, but this time, he didn’t stop and as hard as he tried, Ichigo couldn’t stop the screams that escaped. He had tried so hard not to scream. Screaming wasn’t a good boy. Of course, screaming meant the wire. So when he was told to stay in the tub, he did it because he wanted to be a good boy. Good boys listened to their owners. He was a good boy, he was.
Then there was a stranger, but he wasn’t a stranger, he knew him. But no, Owner said forget those things because they didn’t matter. He was confused as he wasn’t in the bathtub now. He was on something soft, but not his futon. Where was he?
He wished Owner hadn’t taken away his eyes because then it wouldn’t be so scary. He tried to move his arm but he couldn’t. Had Owner moved him from the bathtub? Had he tied him down because he hadn’t been a good boy again? Not being able to see was hard, he realized as he just wanted to know where he was. What should he do… He jerked as someone touched his arm.
“Oh!” he heard a new voice, high pitched and grating on his ears. “Kurosaki-kun, you’re awake!” That voice. He knew that voice. Why was he hearing that voice? That was an Old Voice. One he wasn’t allowed to hear. Owner would be angry; Owner would punish him, and he wanted to be a good boy.
“We were getting worried; you slept so long!”
His breath was quickening. He slept a long time? No, where was Owner?
“O-Owner?” he asked. His voice cracked and sounded breathy. He was hoping that Owner was nearby and would come to him. He needed him. Maybe Owner brought him here. But where was he?
“Kurosaki-kun, you’re okay, you’re in the hospital here in Karakura Town away from that awful person you were with. You’re home now,” her voice continued. She sounded happy. Why was she happy? He wasn’t happy. His Owner wasn’t here.
“Owner?” he asked again. He was starting to panic, and he could hear a loud beeping that was growing faster. “Owner!”
“Kurosaki-kun, please, you have to calm down,” he heard her say and he felt her hands. Why were her hands on him? He jerked his arms when she touched him, but the bindings kept him from moving much.
“No, Owner…Owner…” he said as his head started to cloud over. He was getting sleeping again. “Owner…”
Uryū sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. Orihime was crying, of course. Ichigo had finally woke up after being in Karakura General for almost a month. In that time, they’d attempted to stabilize his legs, putting rods and pins into both femurs. It wasn’t healing well, though. His bones were brittle, and even during the surgery, their best surgeon had a hard time even placing the screws to secure the rods. His bones just disintegrated. Every night, though, after the night shift started, Uryū and Orihime would come and Uryū would keep watch while Orihime used her Sun Sun Riki to heal his bones enough that he would be able to stand again. Every night, she exhausted herself before she was finished, not even getting to the point of trying to help his eyes or arms where the bones were ill healed.
“Owner was who he was looking for?” Uryū said, making notes on the file. “That must have been what that perverse bastard made him call him. I’m worried that he’s not going to be able to deal with him being gone.”
“What?” Orihime gasped. “Why would he need that horrible man?”
Uryū sometimes wondered how she got through nursing school. “Stockholm Syndrome, Inoue. You remember that? He was alone for six years. Over six years.”
She seemed to wilt and nodded. “I do, but…if he has that, and he can’t be united with the person he’s attached to, he might end his life…”
“I know, Inoue, I know,” he said and rubbed his hands over his head. “We need to get him out of here into Isshin’s hands so he can go to Soul Society. His body isn’t going to hold up at this rate. Even with what you’re doing.”
“Now that he’s regained consciousness, how long do we have to keep him here?” she asked.
“I can make a case for the best healing with his father, but probably another two weeks at least,” Uryū said with a sigh. “The only time I wish Ryūken was around is when he’s not,” he grumbled as he closed the files. “I’m still a new doctor and I don’t have seniority. It was only Kurosaki-san’s insistence that be his personal attending that allows me to stay on his case. I’m just glad that Kurosaki-san seems to be owed some sort of favor by the director.”
“Knock knock,” came a voice from the doorway. Uryū looked up to see one of his fellows, Dr. Craviston. He, as usual, wore a wide, fake looking smile.
Craviston was in Japan with his wife who was teaching English at the university. He was an English man with a generally unpleasant disposition. He was somewhat less than sensitive with some of the patients though. Technically, he was one of Uryū’s superiors, which annoyed him to no end.
“Dr. Craviston, how are you today?” Uryū said, putting Ichigo’s files to the side.
“Good, I heard your patient woke up today! Congrats, we had a pool going on if he was gonna wake or die, you know,” he said with a smirk.
And that was why Uryū thought he truly hated him. It wasn’t the first time he’d had a pool going for whether a patient would live or die, and the fact that he was doing one on Ichigo was making him incredibly angry. “Well, I’m not surprised that he woke up. Ichigo Kurosaki is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.”
“I’m going down to take a look at him now,” he said and Uryū very nearly snapped at him.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Uryū managed through grit teeth.
“Well, as one of your overlords, I should check in on your patients, or I’m remiss in my duties, eh?” he said and turned to leave. Uryū’s hair on his neck bristled. Overlord. The “joking” reference wasn’t so much a joke to this pompous ass. He really saw himself as better than the younger doctors and residents like Uryū. He wasn’t even Uryū’s direct superior.
Uryū was after him, though. No way he was letting Craviston be alone with Ichigo. Of course, like usual, the man threw open the door loudly.
“Ah, Kurosaki-san!” he announced as he came into the room. Uryū winced because he saw Ichigo flinch at the sound of his voice.
“Dr. Craviston, he has severe PTSD, you can’t yell like that…” Uryū tried.
“Nonsense, a little bit of pep would do your patient good!” he said and Uryū closed his eyes. This was going to be a disaster, he thought as Craviston pulled the restraints off his wrists. “Come now, boy, you’ve been in bed a long time, time to get up and moving.”
Ichigo was obviously starting to panic. Uryū could see his lip quivering and his body was starting to shake as Craviston forced him into a sitting position.
Finally, Icihgo whispered, “Owner?”
“Nonsense, is that old bastard you were with this owner? Well, he’s dead as a doornail, so don’t worry on him,” Craviston had stepped back and was staring at him as he sat and swayed. His feet dangled and Ichigo’s head tilted to the side. “Owner…gone?” he muttered. “No…no…”
“Shall we see if you can stand on your own two feet?” Craviston pulled then and Ichigo’s feet touched the floor for a second before he collapsed to his knees. There was an audible crack as soon as he did.
“Dammit!” Uryū gasped as he moved to put his hands on Ichigo’s shoulders. “You can’t just do that! His bones are brittle!”
“Then he needs to move to strengthen them up, some old school healing!” Craviston said. Uryū glared at him for a second before he got up and pushed him back away from Ichigo.
“Look, you may be an older doctor than me, but you are in no way better. This is my patient, and you are not allowed to just break every restriction I put in place to make sure he stays safe! You need to get out of here and let me handle him. He’s not only my patient, but my friend, and I’ll be damned if I let you bully him like this,” Uryū growled.
Neither doctor noticed that Ichigo had taken crawled away from the bed, managing to slip out into the hallway while they were arguing. Something had broken in his knee, but he didn’t pay attention to it. Pain was something he was used to feeling, so it didn’t bother him that much. He was alone, that man said Owner was dead. Why was Owner dead? He pulled himself to stand at the wall and used it to make his way away from the loud man. He didn’t know where he would go, though. It wasn’t like he could see anything, and he had no idea where he could hide. He needed Owner, but if Owner was gone… Maybe he was lying. What would he do without Owner? He would need a new Owner. He couldn’t be alone. He had to find an Owner if he was dead. He had to have someone take care of him, he had to have someone that would tell him when he was a good boy, and he had to have someone that would punish him when he wasn’t. He didn’t know how to live without Owner anymore. In the back of his mind, he remembered that he used to live without Owner.
He found a door finally, and he followed it into a room, and then another room, but this one was small. He smiled, easing himself to sitting and wrapping his arms around his knees. He’d wait here for Owner. Owner wasn’t dead. Owner couldn’t be dead. He decided that he just couldn’t be dead. Owner would be back. Owner would find him and take him home. He’d be a good boy no matter what from now on for Owner.
Rin was in the hospital because she had cancer. She was seven years old, and her blood made her sick. She was getting better though. She was coming back from the play area when she saw that some of her clothes had fallen out of the closet. She frowned, padding over to it and saw there was a big boy sitting on the floor of her closet. He had long, really pretty orange colored hair, and bandages over his eyes. He was in a big person hospital gown, not one of the fun colored ones like she wore. His knees were pulled to his chest and he rocked a little.
“Why are you in my closet?” she asked as she knelt in front. The boy gasped and looked around even though he couldn’t see through the bandages. Rin could tell he was scared because he was shaking. “It’s okay if you like to be in my closet. There’s room. You want me to sit in there with you so you aren’t lonely?” she asked. He nodded. She slipped in beside him. She could see he was still scared. “Did ya get scared of something?” she asked.
He nodded and put his chin on his knees. “Scared,” he whispered.
She put her arm around his back. She could feel his bones and that wasn’t good, she knew. It meant he was very sick like she had been when her chemo started. “It’s okay to be scared. Are you scared cuz you can’t see no more?” He nodded a little again. “Yeah, that would be scary. Did your eyes get sick?” He shook his head. “Oh, my blood got sick, that’s why I’m here. They’re fixing it, so that’s okay. They’ll fix you too.” She sat there for a minute. “Are your eyes all gone or just sick?”
“Gone,” he said. “All gone. He pulled them out,” he croaked.
Rin looked and saw that he was crying. “You can still cry so that’s good. It isn’t good to not cry, y’know. I don’t have any Otouto, can I be your Oneechan?”
He turned his head toward her and tilted it to the side. “See, big brothers and big sisters, they help you not be scared, that’s what they do, so you need one. So, I’ll be your Oneechan, okay?”
He nodded slowly. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Ichi-Ichigo,” he stammered.
“Don’t talk too much, Ichi, you’ll hurt your voice. It sounds like it is a little bit sick, so that’s okay.” She squeezed him and he leaned against her.
“Now, big sisters are supposed to help their Otouto feel better,” she said and got up, leaving the closet to go get her hair stuff. “So I’m gonna fix your hair up nice for you, okay? Right now, all my hair is gone, so I can’t use my hair bows and brushes, so I’ll use them for you. I’m going to be a good Oneechan for my Otouto.”
Ichigo nodded and sat there as she brushed his long hair, then started braiding pieces of it and decorating it with barrettes, bows, and clips. She hummed as she played with his hair. It was very long and thick, and fell almost to his waist. She was almost half done when a nurse came into the room.
“Rin, why is there an adult patient in here? He needs to go back to his room, now come here, you don’t…” Nurse Chian said as she moved toward the close.
“No, don’t you touch my Otouto! He’s scared and he can’t see nothing. So, I’m taking care of him, so you leave him alone, see, look, he’s shaking,” she said, seeing that he had tilted his head upward and his hands were trembling. “Now, you leave him alone. He’s scared and he needs to be taken care of, so you leave us alone,” she said.
The nurse hesitated but left, leaving Rin with her new little brother. “There, now, she was rude. I’m not done fixing up your hair. Otouto, don’t worry. Oneechan will take care of you. No big meanie grown ups will upset you again while Oneechan is around.”
She finished putting all his hair in braids and clips when she heard a chuckle behind her. She turned around to see a doctor with black hair watching. He had square silver framed glasses. “What do you want? Are you going to scare Otouto too?” she demanded.
“Otouto?” Uryū asked. “Oh, I’m not going to scare him. I guess you’re his Oneesan, huh?”
“I’m his Oneechan. He was hiding and I fixed his hair up so he would feel better. When I usedta have hair, my Oneechan would fix it for me when I was scared or sad,” Rin explained.
She looked at Ichigo and saw that this Doctor didn’t scare him, so she guessed that this wasn’t the bad person that had scared her new little brother.
Uryū came closer and knelt. “It looks very nice, Ichigo. I was worried when I couldn’t find you. I’m sorry Dr. Craviston scared you like that. I talked to the director and he’s being reprimanded. It’s Uryū, do you remember me?” he asked hopefully.
Ichigo tilted his head up slightly and if he had eyes he would have been looking at him. He gave a slight nod. His lip quivered for a second. “Owner?” he finally whispered.
“I’m sorry, but he wasn’t lying about that. The man you called Owner is gone, and I understand that you think you need him, but he was a bad person and he hurt you. But for now, I have a wheelchair to take you back to your room, okay? We can talk about what to do when we’re there.”
“Dr. Uryū, I wanna make sure Otouto is safe in his room, so I’m going too,” Rin told him.
“As any good Oneechan would,” Uryū said, waving Orihime in with the wheelchair. He moved forward and put his hands close to Ichigo. “Ichigo, I’m going to put my hands under your arms and stand you up a little so I can move you to the wheelchair, okay?”
He gave a slight nod and even though Uryū warned him, he flinched as Uryū’s hands slid under his arms. He easily lifted him up and swung him around to sitting. Even knowing how little he weighed, feeling how light he was made Uryū’s heart clench. Uryū knelt and moved the hem of the gown and saw that his knee was turning purple and swelling. It had probably broken. Rin gasped.
“What is that from?” she asked. “Why is he got big bruise there?”
Uryū pulled the hem down and got up to push he chair. “Well, Oneechan Rin, you see your Otouto has very fragile bones right now. They break easily. So earlier he fell on his knee and it probably cracked the bone a little bit. So we need to take him to lie down.”
“Oh,” Rin said. “Okay.”
They got back to the room and Uryū got Ichigo back into the bed and covered up. He seemed to fall asleep almost as soon as his body was on the bed. Uryū looked up at Orihime. “Can you take her back, I don’t want to leave him alone right now.”
Orihime nodded and left with the little girl. She was chatting away about how happy she was to fix her “little brother’s” hair for him. Uryū smiled sadly as he moved his head so he wasn’t lying on any of the barrettes she’d put in his hair. There were probably sixteen barettes, about ten bows, and at least fifteen different colored hair ties in different chunks of his hair. There were some thin braids and some places just tied up to each other. There were probably fifteen or sixteen chunks of hair separated out. He was impressed by the health of it, despite how badly the rest of him had been treated. He had an idea that his “Owner” liked his hair and took care of it.
“Ichigo, I don’t know what to do anymore…” he said and pulled the chair next to the bed. He put his head in his hands and sighed.
Shunsui found Jūshirō by the koi pond, as he expected. The last two weeks, Jūshirō had been out on one of his bouts of sickness. He was finally well enough to be outside again. As usual, the first place he went was the large Koi pond outside his estate. Jūshirō looked up as Shunsui flopped down beside him.
“Shunsui, don’t scare the koi,” he chided with a half smile.
“You look better than when you passed out during the meeting,” he commented.
Jūshirō sighed, nodding. “Yes, that one was a surprise. Have you heard any more about the Ichigo situation since then?”
“He’s woken, according to Renji, but he is struggling. He’s going to be transferred to his father’s care later today, and I wanted to see if you would come with me to retrieve him with Renji. I think that your calm nature might be good for him. Renji, as much as he cares for Ichigo, he might be too loud for him.
Jūshirō agreed with that. Renji might be too excitable if he was allowed to be unsupervised. He sighed. “The young know little control. I suppose it is best that we attend without Rukia-kun as well.”
“Yah, it is true,” Shunsui said with a smirk. “Her love of the young Kurosaki is something that would cause her to be too thoughtless in her approach. Keeping her in Soul Society once knowledge of Ichigo’s discovery was difficult enough as it was.”
Jūshirō and Shunsui to find Renji and Byakuya both waiting at the senkaimon. Renji was pacing but Byakuya of course was stoically standing still with a general look of annoyance at his vice captain.
“Abarai-kun, are you ready for this trip? I believe that Kurosaki-san is awaiting us. Unohana-taichou will have a room prepared no doubt at the fourth division,” Jūshirō said with a slight smile.
“Yeah, wasn’t Rukia coming with you, Ukitake-taichou?” Renji asked, stopping his pacing and looking at him.
Shunsui clapped Renji on his back. “Ah, I think Jūshirō wanted to limit those that come with us on this trip. Ichigo is going to struggle with things as it is.”
Jūshirō nodded as they stepped through the senkaimon, exited near Urahara’s shop. They were met by Urahara, Yoruichi, and Isshin. They approached and Urahara spoke up.
“How do you wish to handle this? He’s…hesitant.”
Jūshirō smiled. “Perhaps I should speak with him before we leave. I think that would help to hear what is going to happen from one of us, don’t you?”
Isshin nodded. “Yeah, please.”
Jūshirō went inside the shop, led by Yoruichi. Isshin watched him go and looked to Shunsui and Renji. Shunsui was surprised to see tears in his eyes.
“Shiba-san, has something happened?” Shunsui asked, stepping closer to him.
“Ah, it isn’t so much anything new. It…the boy that came back isn’t my son and it kills me inside to see him like this,” Isshin said as he glanced toward Urahara and back to the other two Shinigami. “Orihime has been doing her best to heal his bones, but it is a daily thing. I know that Kurotsuchi-taichou had a theory he was working on with Unohana-taichou to help retrieve his Shinigami powers, to help separate his human body from his soul form again. That would at least help the physical problems. But the mental problems are another thing entirely.”
Shunsui nodded. “What would you advise us?”
Shaking his head sadly, Isshin sighed. “I don’t know how to advise you. He spent six weeks in the hospital. Another two with me. And nothing has changed. He would sit where he was placed, and if he was told to stay there, he would stay there, even if…if…” He stopped. “Don’t tell him stay somewhere. Because he will. He’ll sit in the spot you put him in, not moving, even if he wets himself or falls asleep. He won’t move. No matter how hard I tried, he would just follow whatever instruction he was given. Never complaining, never speaking up, never asking for anything. Kyōraku, he won’t ask for food or drink, he won’t tell you when he’s in pain.”
Isshin’s face turned to an even more pained expression. “I broke his arm, accidentally, I didn’t even realize it. His bones are so brittle, and I had helped him move, gripped him too tight and twisted the wrong way. He didn’t say anything and I realized he was bruising. Orihime healed it right away after that, but to endure it quietly…” Isshin breathed in deeply. “I don’t know what to think or do. What that man did to him, I don’t know that it can be undone.”
Inside the shop, Yoruichi led Jūshirō into one of the rooms where they’d put Ichigo to sit and wait. Jūshirō saw a fragile creature seated on a low futon and his heart ached for him. Ichigo looked better than when he’d seen him in the room he’d been held captive in. His face had filled out some, and his collarbones weren’t protruding painfully. He was wearing a plain dark blue yukata and sitting on his knees, hands dangling between his thighs. He wore a fabric band over his eyes, and Jūshirō figured that a sister had put it on him because it was patterned with strawberries. The holes in his lips were still somewhat visible, but they had closed enough that they weren’t as stark. They hadn’t cut his hair, but someone had pulled it back and into a low ponytail that cascaded down his back.
“Ichigo,” Yoruichi said with a sigh as she walked in ahead of Jūshirō. “Please, you need to stop sitting like that,” she said and he turned toward her voice. She placed her hands under his arms and lifted him up until he pulled his legs out from under him. “Your legs can’t handle that kind of stress.”
He nodded, but as he sat again with his feet touching the floor, Jūshirō could tell he was uncomfortable with it. Yoruichi patted his head and to Jūshirō’s interest, he leaned up a little, as though seeking the attention. The praise, he thought to himself. He was seeking praise. The report had said that the man who held him dehumanized him and treated him like an animal, a dog to specific.
“Ukitake-taichou came to take you to Soul Society, Ichigo. They’re going to try and help fix your body so you don’t have to be in pain all the time, and maybe figure out how to give you your sight back. I’ll let him talk to you about the trip,” Yoruichi said and nodded to Jūshirō.
Ichigo didn’t respond, just waited. Jūshirō sat down beside him, flopping down onto the futon. He let out a little gasp at Jūshirō’s close position.
“Hi Ichigo-kun,” Jūshirō said softly and reached over to take his hand. Ichigo let him easily. “Kyōraku-taichou and I came with Abarai-kun to come and get you. Unohana-taichou is going to see about getting your soul form apart from your human body. We think maybe we can help you feel better.”
“I’m fine,” Ichigo said and Jūshirō heard his voice as much hoarser than he expect.
“I don’t think you are fine, Ichigo. I know the you that was before, and I am guessing everyone wants you to be that Ichigo again.”
Ichigo turned toward him, head tilting slightly. Jūshirō sighed. “I understand you can’t be that person anymore, Ichigo. Not after what you’ve been through. I know that most people aren’t going to understand that, but I want you to know that I do understand it. The Ichigo I met before was a different person because he had not been abducted and tortured for six long years. That person no longer exists, and I will do what I can to make sure that others start to realize that.” Jūshirō heard Ichigo swallow and he knew that this was indeed one problem. “You as you are now, you are between the worlds, as though stranded in the Dangai, running from the restrictive current for everything you are. All you were was broken down by a man, a normal human. After saving Soul Society, after standing up to the power of Sōsuke Aizen, a human and his perverse desires broke you down. And that is scary, I know it must be.”
“Can’t go back,” Ichigo said and turned his head away.
“I know you can’t,” Jūshirō said and smiled sadly at him. “I know. So we don’t go back, we go forward. But to that, you need to help us understand what it is that you need to get better.”
“Tell me?” Ichigo asked, turning toward him again.
“I can’t tell you, I know that it would be easier if I could. If I could tell you what you need. If I could say, here, do this and you will move on. But I can’t. Do you know anything that might make this easier for you?” Jūshirō wanted at least some idea. Something that he could do for him.
Jūshirō frowned. “He’s gone, Ichigo. He was a horrible man to do what he did. But his soul…it didn’t even pass to Soul Society.”
“No,” Ichigo said with frustration as he shook his head. “Need Owner.”
“I don’t understand, Ichigo. You need someone to be like that? An Owner?” Jūshirō didn’t think as he spoked, just trying to come up with some way to find out how to help him, but Ichigo nodded. “I don’t know if that can happen.” Ichigo sighed and turned away.
“Go?” he asked. “No one here.”
The statement seemed ambiguous until Jūshirō realized that Ichigo was feeling abandoned by his family, sent away. “They aren’t giving you away, Ichigo. Your father, your friends, you sisters, they want you to get better, but human medicine isn’t helping you. Ichigo, please, understand, this isn’t them giving you up, or leaving you alone. They want to see you helped.”
Ichigo slowly pushed himself to stand, wobbling as he did it. Jūshirō stood beside him, putting an arm around his shoulders as he did. “Alright, let’s get you to Unohana-taichou.”
Jūshirō slowly led him out and saw the look that Shunsui was wearing. That didn’t bode well, he thought as he smiled at them. Renji, rather than being excitable about seeing Ichigo, looked almost ghostly. He was sure he’d hear about their discussion once they returned to the fourth division.
“We’re ready, shall we get to the fourth division?”
Once they arrived in Soul Society, there was interest in them as they walked from the Senkaimon to the fourth. Several times, Shinigami stopped to stare as they passed. Jūshirō kept an arm around Ichigo’s shoulders to keep him steady as they walked. He seemed to be able to move fine as long as he was led. Once inside the fourth, he took him to a room that was separate from the others and helped him sit on the bed. Renji quickly excused himself and Shunsui watched him leave before turning to Jūshirō again.
“If you wish to go, I’ll stay with him until he’s settled,” Jūshirō commented with a smile. He reached up and ran a hand over Ichigo’s head, and he noted the fact he turned his head and pushed against his hand.
“It may be best, my Nanao will be on me about paperwork for the trip to the World of the Living. I leave him with you, sweet Jūshirō,” Shunsui said and nodded. He left and Jūshirō waited a few more minutes until Unohana came to the door.
“Ichigo?” Unohana asked. Ichigo tilted his head and turned toward her voice. “Do you remember me, Unohana-taichou.” Ichigo nodded his head. “Good,” she said. “Let’s look you over,” she said as she helped him lie on his back. Jūshirō was about to leave when Ichigo’s hand patted near him until he grasped Jūshirō’s haori. He clutched it in his fingers. Jūshirō understood, so he took his hand and held it.
Unohana did her diagnostics, both by machine and kido. She then looked him over. “His wounds have been severe. I’m afraid we are going to have to meet him on middle ground, else he’ll never truly recover.”
Jūshirō looked at her. “Middle ground?”
“Somewhere between who he is and who he was,” she explained as she pulled the band off his eyes. “The expectation of him to return to ‘normal’ seems to have been great. I don’t think he can do that, but then, you already realize this, don’t you, Jūshirō?”
Jūshirō nodded. “That is what I was thinking. Shiba-san, the others, they wish to see the Ichigo they once knew again. That is impossible, though.”
“Ichigo,” she said and placed a hand against his cheek. He turned his empty eyes toward her. “I’m going to find some ways to help you heal. But for now, I need to see to a few things. Ukitake-taichou will have to return to his duties, but I’ll be nearby…”
“Not alone,” Ichigo whined in a tearful sounding voice. “Please, not alone.”
Unohana nodded. “Alright. Ichigo, that was brave, to tell us you don’t want to be alone. That was good. I know it was hard since you don’t want to say anything about what you want. Did he hurt you when you asked for things?”
Ichigo nodded. “Good boys don’t ask for things,” he whispered. “Good boys don’t talk. Good boys don’t move when they’re told stay. Good boys listen to Owner. Good boys sit.”
“Ichigo, you are a good boy,” she said. As soon as she said it, Jūshirō saw the reaction. It was like he’d been awarded the best thing in the world. He smiled, his chest rising and falling a bit faster. Unohana looked toward Jūshirō and nodded.
“Ichigo, I’ll tell you what you have to do for me. You have to tell me what you need when you need it. You have to tell me when things hurt. That will be being a good boy for me,” she said and regretted using the programming that human had put in his head, but she needed to do something.
“You’re Owner now?” he asked.
“No, no, Ichigo I’m not going to be Owner. I’m trying to heal you, not hurt you,” Unohana told him.
“That doesn’t hurt,” Ichigo said with a sigh “Being alone hurts.”
Chapter 3: Plucking the Flower
About six and a half years ago
Karakura Town, ~8 pm
“Stop him! He stole my phone!”
Ichigo heard the cry for help and spotted a young kid running away from a middle-aged man in a suit. He sighed and easily tripped the middle schooler, dropping him to the ground. Ichigo reached down and twisted the smartphone out of the kid’s hand.
“Get out of here,” Ichigo growled and pushed him with his foot as he scrambled away. “Idiot.”
Ichigo shook his head and held the phone out to the man. He was a little shorter than Ichigo, with pocked cheeks and heavy glasses. He was a little heavy, but not completely unfit looking. His eyes were big, though, but it might have been the thick glasses. He had that dewy look to his eyes that made him look like he had tears in them. He wore a nice-looking suit, but Ichigo guessed he had to be some sort of businessman. Now he was just staring at him.
“Ah, here, sorry about that, you know these kids, right?” Ichigo said nervously, trying to smile. “He’s just a dumb kid, so I…ah don’t think it would be necessary to call the cops or anything. Probably got dared to do it by a friend. I got it back, so that’s okay, right?”
“Oh, ah, sorry,” the man said and pushed his glasses up his nose with a finger before he took the phone. “I thank you, really, let me repay you!”
“It isn’t necessary, I mean, I just tripped the punk,” Ichigo said, running a hand over his head and thinking he should get home. Pop would have dinner soon.
“Oh no, I can’t allow you to not be rewarded! My life is on my phone! I’m a financial officer for Aikawa Publishing. I’m Kanjiro Ogawa,” he said and bowed deeply to him. “I insist, please come to the hotel I am staying at. There I may at least order a meal for you on my company tab.” He remained bowed and Ichigo sighed.
“Look, my Pop is probably expecting me to get there, and I don’t want to take advantage of your company…” Ichigo tried.
“Please! I must replay you and this is the only way I can! I leave to return to Osaka tomorrow morning. If you come to my room, I can call down and get a service without them knowing that I am not eating it. I will forgo my own meal because I must repay you for your kindness!”
Ichigo saw that passing pedestrians were staring at the guy standing there bent almost double. “Alright, jeeze, stand up, fine! I’ll share your meal, but I won’t take all of it, how’s that? I’ll let you split it with me.” Ichigo frowned and narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously. “And why do we have to go to your room for that? That’s not a normal thing to do when you’re thanking someone,” Ichigo said, rubbing the back of his head as the older man stood up and grinned.
“What is your name, then?” Ogawa said with a blank look.
“Oh, ah, Ichigo Kurosaki.”
“Ah, Kurosaki-san, I know this seems odd, but I since I’m leaving tomorrow and I am out of funds, I have no other way to repay you. I can send you a thank you gift to your home if you prefer, but I must thank you, my conscious won’t allow me to rest otherwise!” he said and Ichigo just wanted him to stop with it. “If you will give me your address, that will be enough for me! I’ll put something in the mail first thing in the morning!”
Ichigo really didn’t want this guy to have his address. What if he showed up and scared the girls? Not only that, then Pop would want to know what he was doing wandering around late at night behind in this part of Karakura. This guy was kind of weird, but nothing he couldn’t handle. Seriously, he may have been without his human powers, but he did know how to defend himself. What was some pudgy salaryman from Osaka going to do to him?
Ichigo had never lost his attitude when he lost his power. Sure, he lacked the powers of a Shinigami, but he still knew how to fight, and his fighting improved since he had learned in Soul Society. He hadn’t told his pop or anyone else, but this wasn’t the first time he’d wandered the back allies in Karakura and caught cutpurses and sent them on their way. He had gotten reckless, that’s what they would say if they knew. He had to do something. He’d been important, for a brief moment, and then it was stripped away leaving him with a gaping hole in his chest. He felt as hollow as any of the Arrancar had been. So, he helped people, at least, that’s what he told himself. He wasn’t really doing it for him. He was doing it to prove he was still worth something as a weak human, and this was the only way he knew how to do it.
“Fine, whatever. Don’t be a creeper or anything,” Ichigo muttered as he followed him out of the short ally he’d caught the thief in down the street to the biggest hotel in Karakura.
The lot was full of cars, then he remembered that there had been something on the news about a small company in Karakura merging into a major Osaka firm. That must have been this guy’s business. He guessed if this guy tried anything it wouldn’t be hard to figure out who he worked for and turn him in. Besides, what could he do to him? Ichigo shook his head at the though. That was a ridiculous thought. Unless this guy was hiding a black belt or something, he doubted he could even come close to Ichigo’s fighting ability.
“Kurosaki-san, I don’t think that would be a problem for a young man like you. Your reflexes were incredibly good the way you stopped that boy! I bet you have a black belt, huh? I’ll have to tell my wife and son when I return home how impressive it was!” he exclaimed. “Tell me, would you take a photo with me for my son? He loves to see people I meet on my business trips, and when I tell him I was saved by a real hero, he will be so excited!”
“I guess,” Ichigo said as Ogawa used the card key to open the room.
Ichigo saw the number was 208. He put his hands into his pockets as they came into the hotel room. As soon as he saw the state it was in, he put most his suspicions aside. There were clothes exploded out of a suitcase, and hanging on the rack were four other business suits. There was a toiletry back opened on the sink that sat outside the bathroom, and he could see his toothbrush and deodorant sitting beside it. If this guy was some sort of creep, he wouldn’t have a hotel room that looked so lived in. He saw that there was a laptop bag opened on the bed and a small laptop sitting on the desk beside it. Yeah, this guy was probably harmless.
Ogawa smiled and turned his phone around and showed Ichigo a picture of himself and a young boy standing with a woman with long, light brown hair and a lovely smile. “They are always waiting for me to come home! This is my wife, Rumiko, and our son Tobei. It was taken last year, but this is my favorite picture. He was eight here. And see, here’s another of Tobei on a horse!”
For fifteen minutes, Ichigo looked at snapshots of Rumiko and Tobei. If he had been leery of this strange man before, now he wasn’t. He seemed to be just a businessman on a trip out of town. He seemed congenial enough, showing off his family like any proud husband and father. Honestly, as happy as he was talking about his family, he reminded Ichigo of his own father talking about his mom. He supposed that might seem a bit odd, connecting his father’s overly affectionate memories of his deceased mother with the way this guy talked about his own wife and son. He shook the brief thought away. Isshin probably talked about him and his sisters like that to other people too. Finally, Ogawa put the phone down and handed Ichigo the menu.
“Please, Kurosaki-san, pick something out and I’ll order it as my mean tonight. Anything! Order sake if you wish!” he said.
“Ah, I’m not twenty yet,” Ichigo said as he looked over the menu and picked a random thing. Whatever it took to get out of here. He was tired of hearing about this guy’s family already.
“Really?” Ogawa asked as he grabbed the phone and placed the order. Ichigo noted he ordered sake. He assumed it was for himself. “You look to be at least twenty!”
“I’m almost eighteen,” Ichigo said as he sat down on the sofa in the room. It seemed his company put him up in a decent sized place. “So yeah, I mean, I have some friends I used to hang out and drink with…in a different place, but there, age wasn’t much of an issue.” It wasn’t like Soul Society checked IDs at their bars.
“Well, I won’t influence you to drink to excess, but I would ask to share one cup with me before you leave?” Ogawa said and put his hands in front of him with palms together and bowing again.
Ichigo sighed. “I guess that’s fine, but I can’t stay long. I really think this is very unnecessary. A simple thank you is sufficient…”
There was a knock and call that the food was there. Ogawa jumped up from where he had been sitting in the side chair and ran to the door. Ichigo sighed. Oh well, it wasn’t like if this bumbling salaryman tried anything he couldn’t knock his ass flat. The guy seemed to know that too, after he saw him bring down that little brat trying to steal his phone. Ogawa came back and sat the covered plate on the table. The hotel was set up like a Western hotel, with sofas and a taller bed instead of a futon, so there was a tall table in front of the sofa. Ichigo uncovered it and split it down the middle, and started picking at one side. It was a simple fried rice and vegetable dish. Ogawa sat the sake bottle down and smiled.
“I have the cups by the sink where I rinsed them last night,” he said and went to get them.
It didn’t dawn on Ichigo then that he had said he used the sake cups the night before; cups, plural. He was too confident that he was right and this guy was just a salaryman with nothing better to do on his last night in a strange town. He was also far too confident in his own abilities to realize how much he had put himself at risk.
Ichigo sighed, putting down the chopsticks after he’d finished the half he’d set aside. He’d been serious that he didn’t want to eat all the guy’s food for the night. Ogawa came back and sat down the empty cups and poured the sake into the two flat cups. Ichigo figured he could tolerate that much alcohol and not have a problem.
“I don’t have a warmer, but this is fine, after all, just one cup, right?” Ogawa said with a smile.
“Yeah, I really need to go, it’s almost nine. I didn’t call my Pop before I came here.”
Then again, Ichigo never called him because he didn’t keep his phone on him when he left like this. Getting a phone call when he was sneaking around was a good way to get noticed and actually get a knife to the guy or even shot. It wasn’t like there were a lot of punks in Karakura, but they were a Tokyo suburb. It was never a sure thing that someone didn’t have a weapon.
“Ah, fine, fine, here,” Ogawa said and passed the flat cup to him. He nodded and Ogawa sipped his cup.
Ichigo was glad he’d spent more than one night in Soul Society drinking Sake with Ikkaku and Renji as he drank the cup of alcohol quickly. Of course, as soon as he did so, he felt the head rush and remembered that had not been his human body at the time. He felt his face flush immediately.
“Oh, wow,” he muttered. “Glad I don’t drive.”
“I think they brought me the stronger one?” Ogawa said as he looked at the bottle. “I wanted the weak one…” he said as he snickered.
Ichigo stood up and nodded to him. “Alright, if you are satisfied with your thanks, I need to go,” he said as he started to walk to the door. “Thank you for the meal, and the…drink.”
Everything started to blur, though and Ichigo felt the world start to spin around him. He stumbled and fell to one knee. He felt Ogawa’s hands on him trying to help him up. Okay, no matter how strong a drink was, there was no way this should happen. He blinked as the world surged around him and his heart began to pound. Wait, had this guy drugged him? No way, he thought. He’d watched him pour the sake, and the dish had been covered when he sat it down. How could he have drugged him?
“Actually, I’m afraid I’m not satisfied at all,” Ogawa said, and Ichigo looked up at him now, his face having changed to something else. The jovial smile was gone, replaced with a near sneer on his lips.
“What…what did y’do t’me…” he muttered. “When…how…”
“Don’t worry, just Rohypnol. I guess you didn’t notice I’d spread the powder in the cup before I poured it. You’re a feisty one, so I gave you a double dose. But I promise, you’ll be fine when it wears off. In fact, you probably won’t remember a thing come morning.” He smiled at him again. “I keep them on me so when I find a pretty young boy like you I can do as I like with,” he said and Ichigo felt the world move as he was being drug toward the bed.
“Don, what…stoppit, ya can’t do as ya like with me…” Ichigo was starting to lose track of the world. It was skipping and now he was staring up at the ceiling and it kept moving. “I’m gonna b’sick,” he said as he grabbed the bed under him.
He felt his head being moved and his was vomiting into a trashcan, Ogawa’s hand threading through his hair but he didn’t have the strength to push it away. Then he was on his back again, and where were his clothes?
“You know, it is a shame to have to drug you, your voice is nice,” Ogawa said as he climbed on the bed and began to stroke Ichigo’s legs. “Actually, you are probably the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. Now that I know this is natural.” Ichigo jerked as he felt his hands touch where they definitely shouldn’t be touching, trailing down his thighs.
“Lemme go, stop…” he tried, but even to his ears, the words were almost nonsense and muttered. He was trying to scream, actually. But what was coming out of his mouth was barely a whisper. He had no strength.
The rest of the time was somewhere between an eternity and a flash. Ichigo couldn’t keep track of things, but he remembered pain and panic, but neither helped him. Hands and pain and trying to scream, or even breathe. Then he was being tied with something after he’d been put back in his clothes. His arms were bound one on the other behind his back and his legs were bound calf to thigh. He started to become clearer as the drug wore off and he realized how much he hurt right then. He panted and looked at him, realizing that this guy had just drugged and raped him, and was tying him up now for some reason. Was he going to do it again? Was he going to kill him? Was he going to be found dead in this hotel come morning? He was mortified at the thought of his father and sisters finding out he’d managed to get into a situation like this…
“I’ve done this a few times,” Ogawa explained as he sat down on the bed and stroked Ichigo’s hair. “I can’t resist a pretty boy. My wife and child, they died a couple years ago. Ever since then, these urges are so hard to resist. But now I understand how to resist them. I just need a pet to keep. I think you’ll be perfect for that.”
Ichigo shook his head and started to speak but Ogawa pushed a couple pills into his mouth and held his mouth closed. “Now swallow that.” Ichigo shook his head violently. “Goodness, you’ll need a lot of training. Good thing I know lots of people that like to train naughty doggies like you. He let go and Ichigo spat the pills he’d been trying to make him take onto the bed. “So naughty. Not a good boy.”
“Let me go!” Ichigo tried to yell, but he was still unable to speak loudly.
Ogawa came back and had a pillowcase in his hands. He ripped it apart and then wedged it into Ichigo’s mouth to gag him. He then grabbed a glass from the bathroom full of water and another couple of the pills. He sat the water on the side table of the bed and then yanked Ichigo’s head backward hard. He slid the pills under the gag, and Ichigo tried to push them with his tongue, but they slipped down onto the back of his throat. He breathed through his nose and waited for him to let go. He wasn’t swallowing anything, especially knowing what he was giving him. But then he picked up the water glass and started pouring the water over the cloth. Between the shock and the water trying to go up his nose, he ended up swallowing. Ogawa let go and dropped his head.
Ichigo panted as the world began to go sideways again. Then he was being rolled up in the sheet and he saw the hall through he thin fabric. He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t. Then he heard a click and he was dumped into a trunk that smelled of dampness and rubber.
“Don’t worry, pet. I’ll be leaving in a few hours, so you should sleep through it. Then we’ll be heading to Osaka and the new home I’m setting up for my puppy,” Ogawa said and then the trunk slammed shut. Ichigo felt consciousness slipping away, and he hoped that someone had seen this, that someone would help him. In the back of his mind, though, fear began to grow. What if no one noticed? What if no one looked for him?
What if he was already gone?
After a week, Unohana decided that the only way to deal with Ichigo was going to be on a personal level. She had gotten all the readings that she needed for Kurotsuchi. The second day they found out that they could not have Kurotsuchi around Ichigo without him suffering a near panicked state. In fact, Unohana figured out that there were a lot of Shinigami that Ichigo couldn’t tolerate being around. Despite being completely blind, their voices were enough to trigger panic. So, she’d summoned Jūshirō back to her office. Now they sat at her desk and discussed options.
“I’m not sure I understand what you want me to do?” he asked.
“Your estate is quiet, out of the way, and I think it would do him good to be out of the fourth. The noise is beginning to bother him each day. I believe that his sensitivity to sound is increasing to compensate for his loss of sight,” she said with a gentle smile.
Jūshirō nodded. “What of the plan to separate his soul form?”
“It is going further ahead. We’re anticipating another week before we’re ready to attempt the transfer. The original plan was to use an Zanpakutō imbued with power, but we’re going to have to be a bit gentler with the condition Ichigo is currently in. And I fear that his human body will be unable to handle the power transfer. Then there is the variable of his hollow Zanpakutō. We have no idea how he is going to react.”
“Do you have any advice for dealing with his current state?” Jūshirō asked as he stood up slowly.
Unohana led Jūshirō through the hall and stopped outside the door to his room. “Jūshirō, you have seen that the others want Ichigo to return to ‘normal’. They want him to stop showing the behaviors that they see as deviant. They want him to be independent, antagonistic, and stubborn. They want to reverse what has been done. You know that it is impossible. That would be like reversing your sickness, and returning your hair to black.” She sighed. “It is impossible. We have to deal with the you as you are now, not the boy that that fell sick in the academy. We also must deal with Ichigo as he is now. I will be convening with some of the others about his. I’m afraid that he is going to need someone to take over the position his owner held. I…” She stopped and looked at him seriously.
“I need to know if you would be willing to help him the way he needs, not the way everyone wants.”
Jūshirō stared at her for a moment. Many things ran through his mind, first and foremost the fact that his gut reaction was to tell her yes. “With my sickness, I can’t…”
“You have Shunsui,” she responded, and this time her smile was a knowing one.
“Ah, I…” he stammered. He had no idea why he wouldn’t realize that someone like Unohana wouldn’t know about his and Shunsui’s relationship.
She shook her head. “It is well known, Jūshirō. I have wondered for long years why it is that you both continue to hide the fact you’ve been lovers since the days of the academy.”
Jūshirō felt his cheeks heat up and he glanced away. “I felt that it would cause problems.”
“If you are more comfortable pretending that you do not have a relationship, it is well and good, but if you take on what this, you and Shunsui both are going to have to be more open about what you’re doing, especially with him,” she said softly.
“I don’t understand, wouldn’t one of the younger ones be better suited to this?” he asked, thinking someone like Hisagi or Kira, or even Renji and Rukia might make a better choice.
“Because you have seniority. I also believe that you and Shunsui will do what is right. And I believe your affection for Ichigo runs deep. It that affection were to deepen during your time with him, it might do him good. You are far older than he is, and you can help him navigate this would. You need to understand, there is a chance that once I separate him from his human body, his human body will disintegrate. The power that his Zanpakutō spirit was trying to syphon from other creatures is part of the reason he is so fragile right now.” Unohana sighed and nodded. “Please, the boy needs affection and understanding. Right now, I think you are one of the few people that understands that treating him as he is now, and not treating him as the Ichigo we knew six years ago is the most important thing.”
Jūshirō understood, and felt like an idiot since he had been so obviously transparent in his feelings for those he cared about. He was worried about how Rukia would end up perceiving the whole situation. He sighed and opened the door to the room. Ichigo was sitting on the bed, held down, but as soon as the door opened he looked up at them. He was dressed in a green striped yukata and covered with a gray blanket over his legs. Unohana went over and sighed, picking up his hand. Jūshirō frowned. The whole of his hand had started to purple.
“Ichigo, what happened here?” she asked gently.
“She didn’t mean to,” he whispered, turning toward her voice. “She was crying.”
“Oh, no,” Unohana said and sighed. “Here,” she said and ran her hands over him as she performed the healing. She turned to Jūshirō. “Rukia was supposed to come by this morning. Do you want me to talk to her, or will you?”
Jūshirō sighed. “I’ll see to her.”
“I’m sorry,” Ichigo said quietly. “I made her cry.”
“Oh, Ichigo, no,” Jūshirō said and took his hand gently in his own. “No, it isn’t your fault, no more than it is her fault. You can’t help the condition your body is in any more than she can help that she doesn’t realize how fragile you are right now.”
“Right now?” he asked, looking toward them with his covered eyes. “Not forever?”
“If we can help it, we’re going to try and get your soul form apart, and hopefully, it will not be as fragile as your human body,” Unohana explained. “It will make you a Shinigami again, as well.”
If Jūshirō hadn’t been holding his hand, he might not have felt the tremble that went through him at those words. He didn’t say anything but Jūshirō had an inkling that he feared being a Shinigami again after what had happened to him. He squeezed Ichigo’s hand a little.
“Ichigo, would you be okay with coming to my estate until they can figure out how to help you with your body’s fragility?” Jūshirō asked. He felt Ichigo squeeze his hand a bit and he nodded.
“C-can I?” he whispered.
“It is much quieter there,” Jūshirō said with a smile. “And I have a lovely koi pond. We can sit together and listen to the fish play and feed them. I think that would be nice, don’t you?”
A ghost of a smile twitched at the corners of Ichigo’s lips for a second as he nodded. “Okay. I don’t like being alone,” he mumbled almost inaudibly. “I’m alone here.”
Jūshirō reached up and brushed a gentle hand over Ichigo’s head. At the simple motion, Ichigo turned toward it and seemed to relax. As much as Jūshirō hated to agree that he needed to be treated like a pet, like that awful “Owner” had treated him, it appeared that he needed it. Well, he would have to sit down with Shunsui, but he supposed if Unohana believed that this was the way to deal with the Ichigo in front of them, then that would what they did.
“I won’t let you be alone, Ichigo, I promise. Come on, now, let’s take you home,” Jūshirō spoke before he even realized what he said, and then looked to see Unohana smiling in that knowing way. He sighed, not retracting what he said. It would be his home if he wanted it to be, after all.
Ichigo slid off the bed and Jūshirō took his hand and led him out of the fourth. He heard muttered conversation behind him as he and Unohana walked with him. Some were commenting on Ichigo leaving, others on the fact Jūshirō was taking him, and others mused on what all that meant. As they got outside Unohana looked at Ichigo and then Jūshirō.
“He doesn’t eat well,” she commented, knowing that Ichigo was listening to her. She was looking at him as she spoke anyway. “You may have to work out some other methods to get him to eat a healthy amount.”
Ichigo didn’t say anything but turned his face away from her. “He also hasn’t wanted his hair cut, which is fine, but you will have to help him care for it. It knots very easily.” She nodded and went back in the fourth. Jūshirō tugged gently on his hand and led him to his estate.
It was a bright day, and along the way, they passed several people that Ichigo knew, but none stopped to speak with him. Jūshirō imagined they didn’t know how to approach him. They all wanted him to be the Ichigo they had previously known, and that just was not possible any longer. Jūshirō had a feeling that the hardest things were going to be his friends and their expectations. There was a very good possibility that that version of Ichigo was never going to be real again. Forward, not back, was what Jūshirō knew had to happen.
They arrived at his estate and he saw Kiyone was waiting for him.
“Ukitake-taichou!” she exclaimed, staring at him.
Jūshirō put a finger to his lips gently as he led Ichigo past her and into the house. He stopped. “Please, can you summon Kyōraku-taichou for me? And Rukia-kun as well. I need to speak with her. I’ll be staying for a few days here rather than the division office.”
“Yes, sir, Taichou, sir,” she said and left immediately.
“Ichigo, come, I’ll show you the bedroom. Is it alright to share with me? I’ll put another futon in for you, but I would prefer if you are nearby until you get used to being here,” he asked as he led him to his room. “The koi pond is just outside my door as well. I go out most mornings to feed them,” he said as he slid open the door to take him inside. “Wait here,” he said as he left again to retrieve another futon. He was about to pick it up when he felt hands on his ass where he was bent over. He exhaled.
“Instead of groping me, would you help instead?” he asked as he stood up, turning to glare at Shunsui.
“Ah, my love, you are cruel,” he muttered as he moved and picked up the futon. “But I did not think you would summon me for furniture rearranging…ah…” he muttered as they came into Jūshirō’s room and he saw Ichigo standing just inside the door. Jūshirō sighed. He hadn’t moved an inch once he said to stay there.
“Ichigo, come,” Jūshirō said as he took his hand to sit down on the futon. Ichigo knelt there and looked toward his voice.
“Ukitake-taichou?” came another voice and he looked to see Rukia standing in the doorway, her eyes centered on Ichigo. “You said to come, I’m interrupting…” she said and tried to turn away.
“No, please, Rukia-kun, I summoned you for this reason. Come here, sit down with us,” he said as he sat beside Ichigo. Shunsui leaned against the wall, an amused grin on his lips.
“I-I shouldn’t be here, I…when I…” she stammered, nervously sitting as far away as she could.
“Rukia, you cannot help that you accidentally hurt him when you took his hand. He is fragile, and it is something that will happen quiet often, I fear. His human body breaks easily, but Korotsuchi-taichou and Unohana-taichou are working on figuring out a way to help him. But that wasn’t why I called you.” Jūshirō looked at Shunsui and back at Ichigo. “I need you, and his other friends here, to understand something very clearly. The Ichigo you remember, the one from six years ago is gone.”
Rukia’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand, Ukitake-taichou. He’ll get better, and heal, right? And be back to normal again?”
“Rukia-san,” Shunsui said from where he stood. “You are asking more of Ichigo than he can give you. You are asking an impossible thing for him.”
“I don’t understand, what does that mean, why are you saying that he can’t be normal again? Like he used to be?” she asked, looking at Ichigo now. Ichigo had only ducked his head.
“I…I want to make you happy,” Ichigo whispered. “I want to be who you know, but…I’m not. I can’t be that.”
Jūshirō put his arm around Ichigo’s back and put his hand on his head. The action made him nearly melt back into him. He brushed his hand over his head as he spoke. “What has happened to him has changed him in ways that you cannot erase. He will get better, of course, because the cruelty and hurt is gone, but there are ways that he is no that cannot be changed back quickly or easily. Rukia-kun, he cannot just stop having the needs he has now. To help him, is needs are important to be fulfilled. So, Unohana asked me to take on his care.”
At the statement, Ichigo turned toward him, head tilted up. “You will be…be…”
Jūshirō smiled. “Yes, that is the role that Shunsui and I will take on for you, Ichigo. Because you need it.”
Ichigo’s face colored and he nodded, both hands turning to fists in his lap. “Okay, good.”
“I don’t understand?” Rukia asked, looking between them.
“Kyōraku-taichou and I will become his owners, as he calls it. Until he no longer needs us in that capacity, that’s what need we will fill. He needs a structure, kindness, and rewards for his behaviors to reinforce them. He spent six years living like that, Rukia-kun. Trying to take it all away at once will harm him.” He paused and glanced at Shunsui who winked at him. “And it isn’t like Shunsui doesn’t spend half his nights here anyway,” he muttered the last, looking away as Rukia’s eyes went wide. It wasn’t like everyone wasn’t away of it, but to hear Jūshirō admit it was the surprise. “I wanted you to know so that you might let those that need to know of it, know so that Ichigo will be at peace with this.”
Rukia nodded. “Okay, I don’t really understand, but I will trust him with you both.” She stood and excused herself, leaving them alone.
“So, we will be open, I have waited for this day!” Shunsui said with a glint in his eyes.
“Don’t get any ideas on public displays,” Jūshirō muttered as he gently hugged Ichigo.
“Owner?” he asked Jūshirō.
“Ah, I do not like using the same work for me that he used Ichigo,” Jūshirō said.
Shunsui thought for a second. “Ichigo is using Ōnā for his previous Owner. Perhaps Shujin is a better term for Jūshirō, do you not think so, Ichigo? It means more than such a simple word as the other. It can be used for a husband as well.”
Jūshirō glared at Shunsui but Ichigo nodded. “Shujin Jūshirō.”
“And what of you? He can’t call us both Shujin, that would be confusing,” Jūshirō said with a smirk. “For Shunsui, what do you say to using Omo? It also can be used for a husband, but is a word for owner as well.”
Shunsui smirked. “I like that better. So will that do?”
Ichigo nodded. “Omo and Shujin…” he muttered.
Chapter 4: Pruning A Wildflower
About Six and a half years ago
Ichigo wasn’t sure why he was having trouble breathing at first. He couldn’t think of a reason that he should be struggling to get air in his lungs. Then, cracking his eyes opened, everything started coming back with vivid clarity. He was tied up in a trunk. The car wasn’t moving, but he could hear people now and then outside it. Not only that, but he was in pain, and he felt like his pants were wet. The thought sickened him.
You’ll probably forget by morning.
He growled, but the pillowcase gag muffled the sound. Fucking bastard, how could I forget this?
Ichigo understood conceptually what had happened. He just couldn’t believe it still. He got that he’d been stupid and put himself in this situation. If he hadn’t been so in need of validation that he was still good enough as a human, he wouldn’t have been out wandering Karakura at night looking for muggers and street kids. No, he wholly believed that he deserved this. He’d put himself in danger, and he’d failed to see the threat that was standing right in front of him. Still, why would someone do this to another person?
He’d always known he was playing a dangerous game. He figured he’d just get his ass kicked now and then, maybe get stabbed or something. That was it, after all, he was a guy not some chick. Sure, if Orihime had been running around he would have freaked out. She’d get pushed down by the first guy with questionable morals that saw her. He hadn’t even thought that there were people like this, that went after other guys.
Before he knew it, he felt tears in his eyes. Why the hell was he crying? He wasn’t some girl. Still, he couldn’t stop it, or the cascading feeling of panic that settled on him. He was still in this trunk. No one had caught the guy and now he was in Osaka. Who was going to look for him there? Would anyone look for him? It wasn’t like he’d been very good the last year of communicating his whereabouts. In fact, more than once he’d taken off to Tokyo for a weekend without telling anyone. Shit. It seemed like his need for privacy was going to be his undoing. He dozed after a while and then he heard a click in the lock of the trunk. He turned his head to look behind him. Maybe he could try something. Maybe…
As soon as the trunk opened, Ogawa plunged a syringe into his thigh. Ichigo stared at him for a minute and the familiar head spinning sensation set in. However, this time Ogawa wasn’t alone. There were to other guys with him. One looked about his age, but he had dyed blonde hair and piercings in his nose and ears. The other was younger, but had dyed purple hair and a tattoo covering up the right half of his face.
“Damn Kajiro, look at that. I figured you were fuckin’ with me when you said you did it,” the blonde said. Ichigo struggled, but whatever he’d given him was starting to take a bit of effect.
“How could I not, look at him,” Ogawa said with a smirk. “So pretty, right?”
The shorter and younger one smiled too. “Ojjisan, you sure picked a feisty one. You already had ‘im?”
“Yeah, didn’t mean to take him. Just the usual, took two fuckin’ doses to knock him down enough, though. Kid’s not a slouch. But that’s why I want to break him,” Ogawa said and Ichigo was sure that this was only beginning.
“Let’s get ‘im inside before someone sees us,” The blond said and reached down to grab Ichigo under the arms while Ogawa grabbed his legs. Of course, he struggled, even with the drug he’d been given, he was going to fight them. Who would just go along with this?
“Fuck, I’m glad you found place out of the way,” Ogawa commented as they went in the main door and down a short hallway to a second.
“Used to be a warehouse, then the Yakuza were using it as a safehouse, that’s why there’s two doors coming in, and no windows inside. Perfect for you to hide your boy. Watch the noise though, the house behind here is close enough that if you get too loud, that obasan will hear you,” the shorter one said as the other one and Ogawa dropped Ichigo on a low futon. He landed on his knees and fell forward onto his chest. The position was perhaps the least dignified he could think of. He turned his head toward him.
Ogawa reached over and pulled off the gag and smiled. “Welcome home, pup,” he said with a smirk.
Ichigo could barely move even if he hadn’t been bound, but he snarled at him. “Fuck you, you fucking rapist bastard! Let me go, I’ll tear you apart…fuck…” he said as he dropped his head down to the futon. His head had started spinning.
“Damn,” the blonde said and grabbed Ichigo’s chin, pulling him to an upright position by it. “Yer totally not getting’ yer position, are you?”
Ichigo panted and the spit at him. The blond smirked and wiped his face. “You’ll regret that in a little while. We’re here to help Kajiro break that spirit of yours until you know your place. See, my name is Iho Ogawa, and Kajiro is my older brother. Yeah, I know, handsome thing like me having a pathetic shit for a brother like him, right?” Iho smirked. “But truth is, I’ll do anything for him, especially if it involves helping him with his…problem.”
“I don’t care who you are, fucking let me go,” Ichigo growled, panting and seeing double. This was bad. He wasn’t going to be able to fight them if they did untie him.
“I can’t do that because Kajiro’s habit of drugging and fucking boys is getting to be a problem. He’s almost been caught a couple times, and I can’t have that, y’know? So when he called me this morning on his way from your shitty town, telling me that he found a boy he was gonna keep, I was ecstatic. No more drugging random pretty things when he went on trips and no more chances of him getting caught. Best solution, right?”
“Fuck you both,” Ichigo growled, but there were already tears in his eyes. He wasn’t sure why, either frustration, or anger. Or maybe it was embarrassment. “I’m going to get out of here, and I’ll kill you.”
Iho smirked. “Nah, you won’t. Trust me on that. I told you, I take care of my brother. He may be an idiot and unable to control his dick, but he can’t be caught. He’s a good man out there. A salaryman who lost his wife and son in a horrible car accident. So if he’s a little depressed, no one will notice. But his need to take out his anger on the prettiest boys he can find…well. That was there when he was a kid,” Iho pushed his head back down to the futon. “I used to help him, you know, in high school. Find middle schoolers he could fuck. Surprisingly easy, you know, trick a boy into an empty bathroom, blindfold him, then leaving him crying.”
“You…you’re both sick.” Ichigo couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Iho said with a smirk. “But we’re not tied up like a pretty little present about to be ripped open.”
Iho stood and walked over to speak to Ogawa again who was nodded as he spoke. Ichigo jerked as he felt the shorter one touch his back. “Ojjisan and Senpai are so perverted, aren’t they?” he said as his fingers traced Ichigo’s spine. “But then, so am I.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Ichigo asked, trying to save any semblance of dignity he had.
“Tohaku Kuroba,” he answered as he leaned forward and starting sniffing at the back of Ichigo’s neck. “I’m Senpai’s perfect kohai. I do anything Senpai asks of me.”
“Kuroba, if you want, you can have him first. I have to help Kajiro with the chains. He should be pretty pliant for the next few hours after that dose of valium we gave him,” Iho said from where he stood by the pole in the center of the room.
“Oh, thanks, Senpai,” Kuroba said and now started licking the back of Ichigo’s neck.
“Stop, don’t…please…” Ichigo couldn’t imagine anything worse than this as his hands slipped down the front of his pants.
“Hey, don’t worry, unlike that rude Ojiisan, I’ll make you feel good too before I’m done,” he whispered.
Somehow, that was worse.
“Fuck, hold him still or I’m seriously going to burn the shit out of him,” Iho said as he held the welding torch up.
Ichigo had no idea why they hadn’t just knocked him out if they were going to do something like this. He had a feeling it was to make sure he knew what they were doing. What they were doing was welding a metal collar around his neck. They were doing it bit by bit, and it burned like his whole neck was on fire. Luckily, it wasn’t very wide. He ended up passing out before they were done.
When he came back to consciousness, his wrists, ankles, and neck were all on fire. He rolled his head to the side to see where his arm was lying they’d put a metal ring around his wrist. All around it, the skin was blistered, and he imagined both his ankles and neck were in the same state. Who the hell uses a welding torch on something against a person’s skin. He felt drugged, though and for that he was glad. At least he was a little numb. He didn’t even really notice the fact that they’d taken his clothes. He was in far too much pain. The world faded out.
Whispered voices. “…too much…”
Blackness swallowed him and he was floating for a while. He came back to the world when water was being poured into his mouth. He was thirsty, so thirsty, as he tried to grab at the source, but his arms were stuck. He gulped it and felt his eyes come unstuck. He was looking up at a familiar bespectacled face. Ogawa. He didn’t have the strength to even say something, he just stared at him.
“Ah, there you are, my pup,” he said gently and sat the cup down. Ichigo realized he was lying on his lap and Ogawa was holding his head in his arm. “You slept for a long time, but that’s okay. Iho got a bit carried away with his plan. I really didn’t think it was necessary to weld them closed, but he doesn’t listen well. You’re fine now, the fever passed last night. I took off work to take care of you, even,” he said as he stroked his head.
“P-please…I wanna go home,” Ichigo finally managed. “I won’t…I won’t tell anyone…just please…”
“I’m sorry, but I’m your Owner now, so you’ll have to realize, this is your home now. Tell me, are you going to be a good boy for me?” Ogawa asked.
Ichigo didn’t want to do anything this bastard said. What was this, acting like he was caring for him and loving him. He shook his head. “Fuck off,” he whispered hoarsely. “I’m not doing anything you say.”
“Ah, I was afraid of that. Too much spirit.” Ogawa slid his head off his lap and stood up. “I’ve left a few things on the table, with the new chain, you should be able to reach the toilet and bath as well. And don’t try screaming, either. The obasan that lives in the back has gone for the summer. There’s no one there or anywhere around here that will help you even if you scream. I’ll give you a week, pup. Then we’ll see how you feel.”
He just walked out and left. Ichigo gasped and managed to get to his hands and knees. He hadn’t been bound at his hands, but he guessed the weakness had been why he struggled with moving. He crawled as far as he could go in any direction, and found he couldn’t get to a wall or a door at all. He could get into the bathroom and barely could climb into the bath. He did just that, turning on the shower, finding to his displeasure, there was no hot water. There was also no plug for the tub. He still grabbed the sponge and washed as much as he could. He felt filthy everywhere, and his body hurt so much. Had that guy done it to him while he was unconscious? It certainly felt that way as he touched below. Sore, he moaned as he leaned against the side of the tub. He used his foot to shut it off. Maybe if he drowned he would go over to Soul Society. But there was no plug to hold the water anyway.
It was sudden and hit him hard as he started to sob, hands clutching the side of the tub. He couldn’t stop it, the tears and just kept coming out of him. When he was done, he just sat there and panted, eventually succumbing and falling asleep like that. The last thought before he slept was to wonder how long he’d be gone.
A week, it turned out, was how long Ogawa was gone the first time. Ichigo had run out of food after the third day, and spent the rest only drinking water. By the time he came back on the seventh day, he was sure he was simply going to starve to death before he came back. He was curled on the futon, clutching the sheets against his chest when the door opened. Despite his attempts to not look happy, he couldn’t help his happiness at not being alone.
“Ah, well, look, I think the pup is happy to see his Owner,” Ogawa said and Ichigo felt his heart sink because he wasn’t alone. Iho and Kuroba were with him, as were several other people.
“Yeah, well, leave a dog alone and they’ll wag their tail for anyone,” Iho said as he walked over and grabbed the covers Ichigo was tucked under.
“What… are you doing here?” he asked, trying to sound like he was angry.
“Training, of course, don’t you know, all good dogs need training?” Iho said as he knelt and grabbed Ichigo’s hands. He snapped the clips on the wrist cuffs into each other with a loud clicking sound. “Now the question is, how trained are you so far?”
Ichigo narrowed his eyes at him and growled. “Fuck you. I’m no one’s dog.”
Iho smiled. “Kajiro, your dog still has a bad habit of growling at people. We’re gonna have to beat that outta him, aren’t we?”
Ogawa chuckled from where he stood near the pole. “Well, give me time to turn it on.”
Ichigo frowned, looking up and realizing that there was a small camera at the top of the pole his chain was attached to, and it pointed right at the spot where the futon was. He was going to record whatever was about to happen. That didn’t bode well.
Then he was being pulled out of the corner he’d crouched in and shoved down on his stomach while Iho wrapped a rope around his waist and then used the rings on the ankle cuffs to tie his calves to his thighs.
“Stop,” he cried as someone grabbed his hair and wrenched his head up. He was looking at a man with thin, pink framed glasses and a missing right canine tooth.
“Damn, Iho, he’s cute. Not a fuckin’ girl-boy either. Good job, Kajiro-kun, you found an actual man, not a child, I’m proud of you,” he snarled. “Looks like he’s gonna take some work to break.”
Ichigo didn’t expect the smack of something slapping into his back as he cried out. They laughed as he craned his neck to see that Iho had his belt and was using it to beat his back. After almost fifteen minutes, he was struggling to breath. He couldn’t stop the tears from the sheer mortification.
“Well, that made him a bit more docile,” Iho said. “I’m exhausted, though. You boys have some fun while I decide how to punish him again.”
The one with the pink glasses chuckled as he flipped him onto his back, his hands clutched in front of his chest numbly. He gasped as he back hit the futon, but soon, his worry wasn’t his back. It took forever, at least to Ichigo it felt like forever, but he really felt like his sanity was going to break. Finally Iho spoke up.
“Enough, time to try something new,” Iho reached into his bag and then came toward him. He was holding a hairbrush. He smirked as he pulled him to sit on his knees then pushed him forward. Honestly, he couldn’t move, but he was still surprised when he began striking his ass with the back of the brush again and again. He had no idea how long passed, but when he came back around, Ichigo saw blood dripping off the brush when he dropped it to the floor.
“He’s tough, Senpai,” the short Kuroba said. “Most the time they pass out halfway through.”
“Hmm, yeah, he’s going to be fun to break,” Iho said with a smirk. “All yours again boys, if you want, I’m done.”
Ichigo found the strength to scream again that he didn’t know he had.
It had been a long time. He wasn’t sure how long, but if he’d known it had been nearly a year, he probably wouldn’t have been surprised. It felt like longer. Iho and his bunch came less and less frequently as time went on, but then, Ichigo had stopped fighting as much. He was mostly without food, which really drained his strength away most the time. Ogawa left him noodles on the table now and then, and if he was lucky, he’d leave with his hands untied and he could hold the bowl. If he wasn’t lucky, he had to eat like a dog. He wanted him to be a dog, so it was appropriate. Still, mostly his hunger was gone. He’d gotten so used to that state that it was beginning to feel normal. Even when he did leave food, Ichigo could only eat a small bit of it without feeling sick.
Ogawa would come to him two or three nights a week, and if he was lucky, he would just lay down and sleep on the futon with him. He’d gotten used to his treatment, and it no longer left him doubled over in pain. He used the belt and the brush on him when he wasn’t a “good boy”, and Ichigo wondered how long he was going to stay human. He’d already forgotten what it was like outside this room.
The dreams nearly killed him, because he dreamed of Soul Society. Those days he’d wake up and sob in the shower. He didn’t want Ogawa to know, of course. Still, those memories were pieces of his past, and he was clinging to them for everything he was.
If he held on, just a little longer, maybe he’d be found. Time passed, and he fought, was punished, then he would repeat. One afternoon, Ogawa came home with a dog collar and buckled it onto him, but it had a square box attached at the side. He smiled and held up a remote. He pressed it and Ichigo’s body spasmed. When he came back he stared at him, realizing it was a shock collar.
“When you say what you shouldn’t, actually, if you talk at all, you’ll get this. Dogs don’t talk.”
“But you can’t…” he started only to arch his back as the thing zapped him again.
Ogawa glared at him. “Dogs don’t speak unless they’re told to. Shocks are for dogs that bark.”
Ichigo nodded to him and swallowed against the rising bile in his throat. Ogawa leaned over and ruffled his hair. “Good boy, see I’ll praise you if you’re a good boy.”
It took three months before Ichigo stopped trying to speak. The hardest had been when Iho’s group came again, and every time he cried out in pain, every time he’d make any noise, he’d shock him. And of course, Iho striped his back raw until he passed out completely.
Rukia sat across from Renji at the ramen place and stared at her bowl. Renji looked up from his own finally and spoke up. He couldn’t take this anymore. They had all come out tonight together, a weekly night when some of the younger Shinigami would get together and have dinner and a few drinks. Kira, Hisagi, Ikkaku, and Yumichika had come tonight along with Renji and Rukia. Renji didn’t know exactly what Rukia’s problem was, but she had been almost silent the entire time.
“Rukia, what the hell is going on?” he asked her. Considering that they’d officially been married for two years now, the fact that she hadn’t confided in him was bothering him.
Everyone looked up, and slowly Rukia did too. “I’m sorry, I’m not good company tonight. I should go home, Renji. I’m spoiling the mood for everyone.”
“Nonsense, Rukia-kun, tell us, what is on your mind?” Yumichika, who sat beside her, said and put his arm around her. “You’ve been in the dumps for a while, and today it seems worse.”
Rukia nodded. “I…well, they moved Ichigo out of the fourth today,” she said and glanced up at Renji. She knew he was aware of the transfer. “But they moved him to stay at Ukitake-taichou’s estate.”
The others all seemed surprised at that. “Why wouldn’t they leave him at the fourth?” Ikkaku asked as he sipped his sake. “Seems that what you said, with him being so fragile, that would be best.”
“It isn’t that; I mean that isn’t what bothers me. What bothers me is that person is someone I don’t know,” she said with a sigh. She looked at Renji. “He’s no better than when you found him. I went to see him today at the fourth. He’s so fragile, his hand…I broke his hand, Renji. Just by taking it. How can anyone live like that?”
Renji nodded. “I know, it seems hard to accept, but Ukitake-taichou will care for him until they can figure out how to get his soul form separated from his body.”
Kira shook his head. “I overheard Isane earlier. They don’t think his body will survive the process. That hollow Zanpakutō spirit of his, I guess it was trying to escape or do something to help them, but it was draining energy around it. But doing that, through the human body, it did something. That human damaged him, but his spirit was also at fault for the damage. Between the two, his human body is just like glass.”
Rukia reached up and wiped some tears away. “But, the worst thing is what Ukitake-taichou and Kyōraku-taichou said.”
“What?” Renji asked, sipping his own sake.
“They said…that the Ichigo we knew is gone and we have to accept it. That he won’t come back no matter how much we want him to come back. That asking that of Ichigo is unfair because it is impossible.” Rukia picked up the rare cup of sake she never really drank.
“What does that mean?” Hisagi asked with a frown. “That he’s gone? I guess I don’t understand really what’s happened. He was abducted and held prisoner by some human, right? That whole time he was missing?”
“More than that,” Renji said, swirling the drink in his cup. The silence stretched for a few minutes. “I…I kind of found him, with Ukitake-taichou.”
“What?” Kira said. “You said that you were keeping an eye on him, you didn’t mention you were there when they found him?”
Renji nodded. “It was horrible. I know you heard he’s blinded now, the guy that had him, his Owner as he called him, had gouged out his eyes, told him to stay in the bath, and then went out and hung himself.”
“That’s awful. How did you find him?” Ikkaku asked, downing another cup of sake.
“The bastard’s spirit was hanging around. Bunch of things but it was odd, so I called for help. But he’d been there three days, in that same spot, because that guy told him to stay there. He would have stayed there until he starved. Lucky for us, the police were after the guy and came in. Guess when the guy put out Ichigo’s eyes, he got loud, and a neighbor complained, then when there was a smell from the dead body…” he paused.
“They’re his owners.” Rukia almost whispered.
“Huh?” Renji asked, frowning. “What’s that mean?”
“Ukitake-taichou and Kyōraku-taichou. He needs owners. He needs them so that’s what they’re doing, helping him by taking care of him in that way.” Rukia ran a hand over her head. “I get that he needs it, but I still just want the old Ichigo back.”
“You must eat,” Jūshirō said with more than a little exasperation. Ichigo was sitting at the kotatsu with him. He was covered with the attached blanket, because Ichigo seemed to be cold all the time. He’d given him a bowl of plain noodles, but he wouldn’t seem to eat more than a couple bites. Even without sight, he’d been able to navigate eating and drinking well. But only a tiny bit. Jūshirō was growing tired already and was about to give up when the door slid open and Shunsui came in.
“Oh, dinner?” he asked as he sat down beside Ichigo. Ichigo turned toward him with a blank expression.
“He won’t eat,” Jūshirō said with a sigh. “Unohana warned me, but this is far more frustrating than I expected.”
“Ah, you just need to help him, Jūshirō-kun,” Shunsui said and took the bowl.
Ichigo waited, head down. Beside him Shunsui picked out some of the noodles and leaned in close to him. “Now open,” Shunsui said gently. Ichigo opened his mouth and let him put the noodles into it, looking a bit surprised since he couldn’t see what Shunsui was doing. He ate it and when he swallowed Shunsui had some more ready. “Not done, Ichi-kun, come now,” he said as he continued until the bowl was empty. Shunsui picked up the napkin from the table and patted Ichigo’s mouth. “There now, was that so hard?”
Ichigo shook his head but just seemed to stare at Shunsui who glanced at Jūshirō. Even though his eyes were useless, he still turned toward people as if he could see them. Shunsui then reached up and patted Ichigo’s head gently. “Ah, such a good job, Ichi-kun. You are such a good boy to eat for me,” he said and both Shunsui and Jūshirō saw the change. His face positively lit and he turned into Shunsui’s hand. Shunsui took the opportunity to put an arm around him and slide him onto his lap. Ichigo gasped a little but found himself with both Shunsui’s arms wrapped around him. Shunsui adjusted the kotatsu’s cover over his lap and looked at Jūshirō.
“I think our Ichi-kun likes to be praised a lot, don’t you?” Shunsui asked. Ichigo had ducked his head and Jūshirō could see the pink tinging his cheeks below the band the covered his eyes.
“He does. Ichigo, why is it you don’t like to speak?” Jūshirō asked, frowning.
Ichigo turned his head upward. Even without seeing his eyes, Jūshirō could see the discomfort that came across him. Finally, he swallowed. “Dogs can’t speak,” he whispered finally, putting his hand against his neck where a square shaped scar stood out. “Shocks are for dogs that bark.”
Shunsui gave Jūshirō a look that spoke volumes. “Oh, Ichi-kun, you will never be shocked for talking to us. That old Owner was so mean and mistreated you, sweet Ichi-kun. You did not need to be shocked for speaking,” he said as he put his chin on Ichigo’s shoulder and clutched him tighter. “You are so important to us, you must know this. You are ours to take care of, remember?”
“And I have to insist that you forget that other owner’s rules. We’re your Shujin and Omo now, right?” Jūshirō asked and locked eyes with Shunsui. “So, his rules don’t matter, only our rules. So we shall have new rules.”
Ichigo nodded. “What…new rules?”
Shunsui smiled. “Well, for one rule, you should speak when you need something, always. Never keep it to yourself if you are in pain, hungry, thirsty, or even if you need comfort. Keeping that from us is a way to make us very sad.”
Ichigo nodded. “I…can try. I don’t know how anymore,” he said nervously. “If I mess up, will…what…”
“Shh, now,” Shunsui said, running a hand over his head. “You won’t mess up, and we’ll help you remember, okay?”
Jūshirō realized what he was fearing. “Ichigo, when you messed up or got in trouble, what did he do?”
Ichigo turned his head away. “Um.”
“Ichi-kun,” Shunsui said and turned his face toward him, stroking his chin. “You realize that we won’t hurt you, right? Even if you describe what he did, we will not harm you in any way. Shocking you for speaking, that was horrible. And hurting you in any way, no that will never happen.”
Ichigo nodded. “He…he and the other one used a belt,” he whispered.
“The other one?” Shunsui asked.
“Why would he hit you with a belt?” Shunsui asked, still stroking Ichigo’s cheek.
“If I resisted…” he said.
“Resisted?” Jūshirō asked with a frown. “Resisted what?”
Ichigo shook his head and turned away. Jūshirō could see the dampness spreading over the white cloth. “Ichigo, why are you crying?”
“I didn’t like to do those things to them. But they made me, and sometimes there were so many,” he whispered.
“What things, Ichi-kun?” Shunsui asked, squeezing him again.
Ichigo ducked his head again. “Dogs service their masters’ needs.”
“Service…” Jūshirō said and then his eyes widened. “Oh, Ichigo,” he whispered. “He made you do things like that. Of course, he would do such a thing with a young man as lovely as you are…”
Ichigo’s head came up and he turned toward Jūshirō, face turning red again. “I didn’t want to do it with them. They were mean and hurt me and I didn’t love them. But it was wrong and now…I can’t do…I’m not…”
“Hush,” Shunsui said, picking up Ichigo’s hand and kissing the back of it. “That Owner was terrible to not take care of you. To make you services others, to make you do things you detested, that is not right. That is the wrong way to treat someone.”
There was a long silence. “I…need to know the rules.” Ichigo was trembling, Shunsui noticed.
“Well, other than telling us your needs, I think another rule is that you should stay close to us for the time being. Then another should be that you have to eat your meals and sleep properly.” Jūshirō looked thoughtful and continued. “You must always tell us if there is something you don’t wish to do when we ask it of you.”
“I want to do whatever Shujin and Omo ask of me,” Ichigo said quietly.
“I don’t want you to do things you do not wish to do, like the other Owner made you do, Ichigo. If is something you dislike, I want you to tell us. Please,” Jūshirō said, beginning to feel exasperated. Perhaps it was because his chest was beginning to feel heavy again.
“Do…does Omo and Shujin want to be serviced?” he asked finally.
“Serviced, Ichi-kun, are you speaking about sexual services? Like your other Owner forced you to do?” Shunsui asked with a deep sigh.
Ichigo nodded and Jūshirō sighed to match his partner. “Ichigo, we’re not going to ask that of you. That is not what we are taking care of your for. It is not something that we need for you to do. You will never be asked for such a thing.”
“But…but if I want to do so?” Ichigo asked in a trembling voice. “B-because Omo and Shujin aren’t like Owner. And I want to make Omo and Shujin happy however I can.”
Shunsui kissed the side of Ichigo’s head. “Ichi-kun, you make us happy just being here. But I think that is quiet enough for tonight. Let us lie down together and sleep. Yes?”
Jūshirō nodded, standing and heading to the futon. He was already dressed in his yukata for sleep. He looked at Shunsui. “His night yukata is laid in the bathroom; your extra is in there as well.”
Shunsui nodded and led Ichigo to the bathroom where he helped him undress and got him into the clean yukata. He removed his hat and hung it on the hook nearby, followed by his kimono and his kusodo and haori. He folded his hakama, and slipped into the yukata. Ichigo stood silently while he dressed, head down.
“Come, Ichi-kun, time for you to rest, and us,” he said as he entwined fingers with him.
He led him where Jūshirō had already gotten under the covers. Shunsui helped him slip into the middle, then he crawled in beside him. Shunsui slipped one hand down and pulled out the hairtie to relase Ichigo’s hair. He’d brush it come morning, he thought to himself. Jūshirō rolled to face Ichigo and Shunsui did the same on the other side. Ichigo rolled toward Jūshirō and the white hiared captain slipped an arm under his head. Shunsui reached up and took Jūshirō’s hand while he moved to spoon himself behind Ichigo’s body.
“His body is so cold,” Shunsui commented as he got settled with his other arm over Ichigo’s waist.
“I know, that is why I turned to kotatsu on for him today, but he doesn’t complain,” he said. Both realized that he was already fast asleep seconds after lying down. Shunsui squeezed Jūshirō’s hand where he’d interlaced them.
“He expects to be punished for everything,” Shunsui commented.
“But we gave him rules. Perhaps that will help,” Jūshirō said with a sigh as he felt sleep coming to claim him.
“Good night, Jūshirō-kun, my love.”
“Good night,” Jūshirō responded.
Somehow, they felt like they now held the world between them.
Chapter 5: A Stunted Bloom
About five years ago
Ichigo had gotten used to the expectations. There was really nothing that happened that he wasn’t already prepared for. Perhaps a year or more passed before anything really changed at all. Then, something happened that made everything so much worse in Ichigo’s world.
“You’re way too lenient, Nii-san,” Iho told Ogawa.
Iho took out a pack of cigarettes, something that Ichigo hadn’t seen before.
Iho tapped the box and then looked over at where Ichigo was huddled into his corner, watching everyone around him. Iho had brought his “crew” by again. So far, there were three of them, and they were in the dining table area drinking sake and loudly playing cards. Iho had pulled Ogawa into the other room to talk to him. He smirked.
“Time for the dog to learn some tricks,” he said as he came toward Ichigo and grabbed his arm, dragging him to the limit of his chain and forcing him to kneel there. He was just at the edge of the table. “So the dog is going to learn a new trick tonight, boys. Ashtray.”
Ichigo’s eyes widened as he saw Ogawa standing nearby, looking like he wasn’t sure of this idea. Iho came over and lifted Ichigo’s arms to put his hands palms up in a cupping shape. He then lit his cigarette and sucked down a bit before tapping it on the edge of Ichigo’s hands, dropping the hot ash into his hands. Ichigo flinched but he didn’t move, too afraid of what he was going to do. He leaned over and put his face even with Ichigo’s.
“You move those hands, I’ll beat you until you can’t stand, then use your face to put out the cigarettes. Understand, dog?” Iho snarled at him.
Ichigo nodded once, knowing better than to speak. Nodding was the only acceptable answer, because there was no telling them no anyway. Nodding just meant that he knew and accepted his task, and that was all there was to it.
At first, the “ashtray” duty wasn’t too bad. All four of them smoked, and would tap their ash into his hands. But then, they started to finish their cigarettes and began to put them out on his hands. He tried his best, he really did, not to move but it was so painful to have them crush them out. That first night, he ended up beaten unconscious, and woke up with burns on his face to match those on his hands. Iho never threatened anything he didn’t follow up on. Ichigo figured out that Iho and his friends would come on the weekends. The next weekend, the scene was repeated, but this time, Ichigo managed to last almost all night before he broke down and couldn’t hold still any longer. The scene was repeated from the last week, until three weeks later, he could sit on his knees, hands cupped, and able to accept whatever they did, even leaving burning cigarettes laying on his palms. He could smell the odor of his own skin burning, but he knew it was nothing compared to having his face and chest used in the same manner. His chest was healing from last week.
Then, another weekend some time later-time didn’t seem to matter to Ichigo’s brain any longer-Iho came back and said he’d been to a new club, one that dealt with pets and dogs. He said he’d seen them use silent hand signals to instruct their servants and that he liked that idea. So it began then for Ichigo to learn the hand signs of what to do without words.
“We don’t have to worry about some,” Iho muttered as he looked at the printed sheet he had. “Undress won’t be needed…”
“Here, Kanjiro, get your stupid ass over here, watch, and do what I do,” Iho said. He pointed one finger up. “Attention. Now, dumb dog, that means you get up on your knees and look at your owner, or whoever giving you the signal, got it?”
Ogawa was very excited over the silent signals. He seemed to enjoy them a lot, and Ichigo knew that he was going to be humiliated by them. Over the next few weeks, he was taught many others that were apparently “common” and then, he learned the signals for his tricks as Iho called them. Cupped hands meant he had to perform his “ashtray trick” though it wasn’t really a trick, more of a duty.
Not long after, Iho decided Ichigo needed more tricks. He needed to be able to fetch, so that became a new, and horribly humiliating game, where they would throw things, usually a sex toy of some sort, and Ichigo would have to retrieve it with his mouth while he crawled on all fours. That had become another essential thing from day to day: that he remain on all fours at all times. Then, if he was unlucky, the thing he retrieved would be used mercilessly upon him. He began to hate their “games”.
The hand signals were strict and soon if he messed up on any of them, he’d be beaten with the belt or the brush. He noticed that they never used anything that was special to punish him with; it was always something that could be found around a normal house. Ogawa would use newspapers, magazines, or anything he had at hand to slap him. More than once, for no other reason than Ogawa had a bad day at his job, Ichigo would find himself beaten to the point the paper or magazine was completely shredded and dripping blood from the fury with which he used it on him. Generally, it was his back that took the brunt of it, but not always.
Always, though, the signals. The ones that Ogawa used were so different from those his brother enjoyed. Ogawa wanted services. He wanted Ichigo to suck him, or he wanted to use Ichigo to sate himself. A closed fist meant to service him by sucking him off, and a circle made with the hand meant to lie down to be used. Eventually, there was no thought to the motions, they just became second nature. Anything becomes second nature after nearly five years of repetition.
Iho came less and less as time went on, as it seemed his interest began to fade with time. This caused arguments between Iho and Ogawa. Ogawa would get angry and yell after Iho left, then beat Ichigo until he couldn’t stand. The worst nights came after the worst fights. Ichigo began to expect pain when they argued.
One evening, after a long and rough fight between the brothers, and Ichigo lay with a bleeding back, Ogawa smiled and petted his head.
“Dogs that service are the best ones, you know. And just so you know, if you are ever without use, if you ever stop being useful, I’ll throw you way, out to the world, and you’ll be alone.”
Everything became rote, by memory and nothing else. He followed the hand signals. He did what he was told. And inside his soul, something burned hot now and then. His mind was so centered on the current situation, though, he didn’t dare give that burning sensation any thought. Now and then, a near incapacitating vertigo would overcome him, but he made every effort not to let it bother him. He had to ignore such a thing. That wasn’t a concern. Being a good dog for his owner was his only concern, his only path to survival. That, in the end, was what everything was about. It was all a path to survival.
As he curled into a ball beside Ogawa, he wondered at how he had become violent lately. Ichigo by this point, six years down his path as being nothing more than this man’s dog, couldn’t really remember what it was like to not be like this. He had become comfortable, even, in this existence. He knew what to expect. He knew consequences. But then, lately, his owner had become odd and been unpredictable. He would show up at random times angry, or crying, or excited. There was no way for Ichigo to know how to act around him. Some days he did nothing but fall into the futon with Ichigo and sob. Other days, he would come in and began beating him until he was gasping for breath on the floor. And still other days, he would bring him treats, telling him what a good dog he was for putting up with him so well. Ichigo didn’t know what to think, he just huddled into his corner and waited.
Then, the dark night came. The night that everything that Ichigo knew was shattered.
Ichigo had been asleep when the inner door banged open and Ogawa had come into the room, stumbling slightly. He had been drinking with some work friends. This was not an unusual occurrence lately. Iho and his buddies hadn’t been there in months, and honestly, it had been nearly peaceful for Ichigo. Something, though, was off tonight as Ogawa wandered about the place and muttered. Ichigo watched desperately for some sign, a signal, anything, but nothing came. He didn’t do anything he usually did.
Ichigo felt the dizziness wash over him and the world seemed to fade out for a second. Lately, that sensation had become frightening. It started out as a burning, a yearning in his soul, but now, something burned. He yelped when the world came to clarity and Ogawa had his hands around his neck shaking him.
“What the fuck was that?” he screamed in Ichigo’s face.
Ichigo gasped because he couldn’t answer even if he wanted to with his fingers digging in underneath the welded metal collar around his neck. He was clutching to his throat and Ichigo was beginning to see some black patches and felt spittle spraying his face. He was incensed and completely uncontrolled right then. It was scary for the first time in a long time.
“You are some sort of freak, those eyes, those eyes that haunt my dreams!” he screamed and slammed Ichigo’s head into the floor several times until the dizziness came back, though this time it wasn’t because of whatever burning sensation there was inside of him. “I’ll kill it, whatever it is!” he screamed, and Ichigo almost cried out as he started pressing his thumbs into his eyes.
There was no sensation, really, just a strange popping feeling and there was a blinding flash of light. The strange, oozing sensation as he felt something down his face as the world spun into complete darkness. But something made Ogawa scream, and Ichigo didn’t realize that he screamed as well because his fingers were still digging into the sockets of his eyes and that did hurt.
Something slammed into his head and he was being drug now, skittering his hands and knees on the floor for purchase. He felt the thump as he was dumped over the edge and into the bathtub.
“Stay, dog. You stay there.”
Ichigo didn’t dare move, he just curled into a ball into the side of the tub and panted. He didn’t move to wash his face, he didn’t move to do anything except “stay” as he’d been told. He said to stay. Stay was all he could do. Stay, that was it. Stay. No matter what, he had to stay. Even after the hunger came. He moved only to drink from the water, and then he moved the shower curtain over him because it got cold as though the chilly night was pressing in on him. He didn’t know time, and he slept some of it. Then, he was touching a familiar face and it scared him more than anything in the world. What would owner say?
“We cannot even consider that!” Jūshirō hissed loudly at Shunsui.
“Why not? You heard his heart last night. He wishes to be able to please us, and that means doing…” Shunsui trailed off when he saw that Ichigo was kneeling near the door listening to them argue. He gave Jūshirō a look and went and knelt beside him. He reached a hand out and caressed his head. “Oh, hello, Ichi-kun.”
“Sh-Shujin, you are fighting with Omo?” he whispered in his hoarse voice.
“Just silly nonsense, right, Jūshirō-kun?” Shunsui said with a smile, glancing at Jūshirō. Jūshirō, to his credit, made an effort to smile. He found himself unable to do so effectively.
“Nothing important, Ichigo, I promise, pet,” he said as he came forward, leaning over and ruffling his hair. “You should be asleep still. It is early yet.”
Ichigo nodded and turned to crawl back to the bed. Jūshirō turned and hissed at Shunsui. “You are too loud. This is not over. He is not going to be expected to do something like that. That defeats the whole purpose of what we are doing with him. He’s been sexually abused. We are not going to reinforce that part of what that man did to him. He had other people rape him, Shunsui. How can you even suggest such a thing, knowing that?”
Shunsui sighed, and neither of them noticed that Ichigo had returned to the partially opened door. When Shunsui had slid it closed, it had popped open a little. “Jūshirō-kun, listen to what I am saying. He needs to make his own choices, and we said at the beginning that this might go down that path. I’m not saying we should force anything on him, of course. But what of his own desires as he starts to find them? We cannot just ignore that part of him. He is going to have feelings of a sexual nature, and he needs to know they are not bad, even after what he’s been through,” Shunsui was doing a good job of keeping his voice down.
Jūshirō growled under his breath and shook his head, coughing for a second before looking at him. “Why don’t you take him to the koi pond, for a while. He’s been cooped up inside the house all this time,” he said, heaving a breath again.
“Are you having an episode?” Shunsui asked, frowning deeply at him.
“No, just a bit of a cough, please, I’m fine. He needs to get outside a bit. Be careful with his brittle bones,” Jūshirō commented as he turned and went into the other part of the house.
Shunsui sighed, seeing the door was cracked and he could see Ichigo’s form still on the other side. He swallowed, kneeling down before the door and sliding it open. Ichigo was kneeling on the other side and looked upward with his covered eyes.
“Ichi-kun, let’s go outside for a while,” Shunsui said as he reached out for Ichigo’s hand.
Ichigo felt for Shunsui’s hand and then stood up slowly beside him. He wanted to go to his hands and knees all the time, Shunsui noted. He frowned but led him down the step off the deck and to the small koi pond where he helped him sit down. Shunsui fished around in his kimono pocket for his tobacco and rolled a rare cigarette for himself. It wasn’t a consistent habit, but one he picked up long ago. Now and then, it was nice to smoke one when he was away from Jūshirō. No matter what the frail man said, he knew an episode of his illness was coming on him. He struck a match and inhaled the rich, heady smoke.
“Shujin?” he heard from beside him and glanced over to see that Ichigo had moved to sit on his knees and held his hands in front of him.
“Ichi-kun?” he asked, noting that his hands were trembling. He leaned closer and looked at his hands and it was with sudden clarity he realized something. Those weren’t just any scars on his palms, no, with the other damage to him, they hadn’t realized it. He looked at the cigarette in his hand and Ichigo’s cupped hands and he came to the crushing realization why he was suddenly sitting that way.
“I…want to serve you, Shujin, please.”
“Ichi-kun,” Shunsui was feeling exasperated, even though it was in no way Ichigo’s fault that this was happening. It was the argument with Jūshirō, and now this. “I won’t use your hands as an ashtray. That’s what they did, isn’t it?”
“I have to be useful,” Ichigo said and Shunsui heard the waver to his voice. “I have to be useful, or else, or else…”
“Ichigo, what is the or else? What happens if you aren’t useful?” Shunsui asked, dragging off the cigarette and tapping the ash away from them. “What is the worst thing that happens if you are not useful?”
Ichigo’s hands trembled heavily now. “I’ll be thrown away, thrown out without an Owner,” he whispered, slipping back into the same word he’d used before. “I won’t know what to do if I’m not told.”
Shunsui nodded, understanding at least a little why Ichigo felt this need to have a purpose. “Ichigo, I am not going to use you like he did. Or like the others he had come and use you. You are worth more than that.”
“But I need to serve someone!” Ichigo’s voice was stronger than it had been before and for that Shunsui was glad to hear. That meant that he was starting to speak for himself, and that was a monumental task. Even if the reason he was speaking for himself was to tell him that he needed to be instructed. It was something, though.
“I understand that you are looking for ways to be useful, and I understand that that horrible man made you feel like you had to be useful to him. But that is gone, Ichigo. You aren’t required to do those things any longer. You are independent of that life now, Ichigo. And you will never have to do the things he made you do before again. You get to choose.”
There was a long silence and Ichigo dropped his hands to his lap. “What if I want to choose to serve someone?”
This had been the exact thing that Shunsui had been trying to discuss with Jūshirō. “Ichi-kun, I don’t want you to make a choice like that until you’ve healed.”
“When is that, that?” Ichigo hoarsely whispered. “When they take my soul out of my body and I can see again? If I can see again?”
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Shunsui said with a sigh as he sucked another drag from the cigarette and blew the smoke into the air above his head. “I wish I did know.”
“I know the things that go on, even without eyes, I know,” Ichigo muttered, reaching up and touching the cloth that covered his eyes. “I didn’t miss them, my eyes, when he gouged them out. I did scream, I know I did because it did hurt a lot. But still, I wasn’t scared of being blind. I was scared of being left alone again. I…needed him, no matter how he hurt me, I needed him,” he said with a choked sound to his voice. “Why?”
“Why did you need him?” Shunsui wondered as surprised by the question as Ichigo himself was. “Why do we need anyone, Ichigo?” he asked with a heavy sigh.
Kisuke sat and stared at the things he’d compiled before he headed to Soul Society. He looked up as Uryū came into the tearoom.
“Ishida-kun,” he said without looking up. “Are you going to check on Ichigo before we start the procedure to separate his soul form?”
Uryū nodded as he sat down, watching as Kisuke shuffled the papers back into the file folder and handed them to Uryū. “I’m taking those with me to help with his treatment. He’s been remanded into Shunsui and Jūshirō’s care. Unohana-taichou thought that he would do well at Jūshirō’s estate. After tomorrow, he may regain his sight, which would be a boon for everyone. Him blind in this condition is difficult on everyone."
“What is this?” Uryū asked, flipping through the pages.
“I did some investigation of my own, well, I gained access to the investigation the police have done. Surprisingly, they were efficient,” Kisuke said as he sipped his tea.
“This says that they’ve arrested Kanjiro’s brother, Iho, and several others that they confirmed identity via the videos that were taken. There have been seven other arrests. This guy got eight other people to do these things to Ichigo? This is sick…” Uryū whispered and looked at Kisuke with a horrified expression. “This says that they literally trained him to be a dog. With a shock collar and everything.”
Kisuke nodded and pulled out a paper. “This officer condensed the events down to this one neat listing. To think, six years of torture, all on one piece of paper,” he said and held it up and sighed.
“Do I want to know what all that piece of paper says?” Uryū pondered but looked at Kisuke expectantly. He did want to know.
“Victim was kidnapped and subjected to use of date rape drug. Multiple instances of sexual assault over the period of captivity. Events transpired that can only be described as sexual torture and physical and emotional abuse. Victim was bound often and with little regard to his well-being. Victim was often beaten with various implements. Implements: hair brush, papers, newspapers, magazines, belts, wooden spoons, bare hand. Victim was forced to remain chained to a central pole. Victim was often left without food for periods of up to four days at a time. Victim was tortured with other objects. Shock collars were used on the victim. Victim was taught hand signals and to do ‘tricks’ for spectators. Victim was forced to use hands as a receptacle for cigarettes and ash.” Kisuke stopped. He wiped tears away from his own eyes. “Ah, sorry, Uryū. It is hard to read this about someone like Ichigo. “Victim was forced to service those who came to see him in a sexual manner. It is obvious through the viewing of the evidence tapes that the perpetrators were grooming the victim to become a human ‘dog’ for their amusement. Many of the things that were done to the victim were to this end. Victim learned command signals and command words such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and ‘fetch’. Each command was associated with painful repercussions for the victim if it was not followed through on.”
“Did the ones they arrested have any remorse for what they’d done?” Uryū asked, staring at his own hands.
“None,” Kisuke said with a sigh. “They were proud to have gotten away with it for so long,” Kisuke said as he stood up. Uryū followed him as they left together to go to Soul Society.
Jūshirō couldn’t find Ichigo, and that was going to be a problem. “Kiyone! Kiyone!” he called, looking around for his vice. Where had that brat gone?
Kiyone came through the doorway leading Kisuke and Uryū. Jūshirō looked up and smiled wanly. “Ah, hi, um, I’m looking for Ichigo, if you want to help me find him,” he said, pausing to cough for a minute. “I think something earlier might have scared him, and he went to find a place to hide,” Jūshirō said as he opened a closet and peeked inside.
“You lost him?” Uryū inquired, but then remembered he’d lost Ichigo once as well in the hospital. “Yeah, he’s good at sneaking away when you’re doing other things,” he muttered as he started looking around as well.
The three began searching the estate. As they went to a new room, Jūshirō glanced at them. “Why are you here today?”
“Tomorrow is the test, to separate Ichigo’s soul form, Uryū and I came to check on Ichigo before things happen tomorrow,” Kisuke said as they came into the kitchen. Kisuke tilted his head to the side and saw the fabric caught in the pantry door. He gestured toward the door.
Jūshirō sighed and dropped down before he opened it. He slowly pulled open the door to find Ichigo huddled in the small space under the bottom shelf. “Ichigo,” he whispered.
“Omo?” Ichigo asked as he lifted his head a little.
“Come out of there, please,” he murmured as he put an arm out and pushed a little as he crawled out of it. He moved out and sat on his knees again. “And stop sitting on your knees, that has to hurt so much.”
Ichigo looked down with his sightless eyes and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “Someone is here.”
“He’s good at smells,” Jūshirō said as he glanced at the others. “Um, yes, Uryū and Kusuke came to see you before they do the soul form separation tomorrow.”
“Can I service them?” Ichigo asked and tilted his head to the side.
“No, you aren’t doing that,” Jūshirō said with a sigh as he stood up.
“But if Omo won’t let me service him and Shujin, what use can I be?” Ichigo asked, dropping his head down and looking defeated completely.
Jūshirō coughed again and Ichigo’s head snapped to look toward him. He stood up slowly and sighed. “Ah, he wants to be useful.”
“I’ve seen the police reports,” Kisuke said with a strained smile at Jūshirō. “I’ve been doing some of my own research. I followed what was happening. They arrested eight others in Ichigo’s case. Luckily, the excuse that he isn’t fit to stand trial has been enough to keep them from trying to get him to do anything to do with the case. That much has been good, considering the condition that he’s in still.”
“Rukia is mad at me,” Ichigo commented, looking away from them all with his sightless eyes.
“Why would Rukia be mad?” Kisuke said, surprised by that thought.
“Because I’m not who I used to be,” Ichigo responded and sighed. He reached up and touched his eyes again. “I never can be who I used to be again. They turned me into something else.”
Uryū winced because he knew exactly what it was that was causing that. He moved over and placed a gentle hand on Ichigo’s back. “Ichigo, you are always going to be you, that’s enough. She may be a little mad right now, but she isn’t really mad at you, just at what has happened, you know?”
Ichigo nodded. “I guess,” he said in a very dejected voice.
Kisuke pulled Jūshirō to the side. “Why is he hiding from you?”
“Not from me, just…” Jūshirō sighed and glanced at Ichigo and back to Kisuke. “Shunsui has been wanting to let him do some of the things he wants to do, the sexual things. He says that if we prohibit them, that Ichigo will feel like we’re saying they’re bad things, when they were only bad because he didn’t have a choice. But I don’t think he’s ready,” Jūshirō grumbled.
“That’s not an easy line to draw,” Kisuke said with a concerned look. “To know where he is making his choices and where it is just his conditioning…”
“Will he ever make his own choices?” Jūshirō asked.
“I don’t know for sure,” Kisuke said with a sigh.
After Kisuke and Uryū left, Jūshirō got Ichigo ready for bed. The next day was going to be a busy, and stressful day for everyone.
Chapter 6: Budding
Jūshirō woke first the next morning to find Ichigo wasn’t in the futon with him. At first, he panicked a little, then realized he was still in the room, just over a little bit. He was seated on his knees again and just staring off into the distance.
“Ichigo?” he called, and he turned toward him with his sightless eyes.
“Yes, Shujin?” he answered.
“What are you doing?” he asked, sighing.
“Nothing,” he said and crawled on his hands and knees back over to him and sat down before him.
Jūshirō wished he knew the best way to handle the whole situation. He thought that today would be a good test to see what could be done with him if the power infusion worked a second time as it had before with Rukia. He knew that one way or another, they would be further ahead than they had been. He just hoped that it wasn’t too much for Ichigo to become a Shinigami once more.
“Ichigo, today they’ll be trying to give you your powers back, in the hopes that your soul form will be more stable than your human body. Are you ready?” he asked, placing a hand against Ichigo’s cheek, finding it cool once more.
He nodded. “Yes, Shujin.”
“Come, let’s get over to the fourth where we’ll be trying this. Kurotsuchi-taichou and Unohana-taichou have worked very hard on this project for a while now. So, whatever comes of it, know that we’re trying everything we can to help you,” Jūshirō stood and helped Ichigo to stand. He was still unsteady on his feet, Jūshirō noted. He held to his hand as gently as he possibly could while still holding onto him.
They walked slowly to the fourth division and gained quite a few stares along the way as they went. People were curious, and at that moment, Jūshirō was glad Ichigo couldn’t see. Though, he did seem to be capable of sensing the people who came close to him. They arrived just as Shunsui was getting there.
“Jūshirō,” Shunsui said. “Ichi-kun,” he put a hand on Ichigo’s shoulder as he spoke.
“I think we are ready for this,” Jūshirō said as they went into the fourth to find Unohana.
They came to her office to find her sitting behind her desk with Isane and looked up as they approached. She smiled and stood up, coming over and putting a hand on Ichigo’s shoulder.
“Ichigo. Today we will see if we can’t return your sight to you,” Unohana said gently.
Ichigo nodded in acknowledgement. “I know. Shujin and Omo told me.”
“Shujin and Omo?” she asked, arching a brow at the two of them.
“He insists on calling us his owners so those are they words we chose for him to use instead of what he called that other man,” Jūshirō explained, still holding to Ichigo’s hand.
Unohana smiled and patted his arm lightly. “Let’s go into the exam room and see what we can do for him.”
She led them to a room with monitors which Kurotsuchi stood behind, watching as they came in. He would stay quiet since he caused panic in Ichigo before. He didn’t look happy about it though as he worked behind the monitoring devices. Unohana led Jūshirō and Ichigo to the exam bed and indicated Ichigo should sit down.
“Now, originally, we were going to do this the same way as it happened before. When an empowered Zanpakutō pierces his body, it should reignite the Shinigami core inside of him. We know the power is still there, only drained. So, we’re going to give it something to feed off of.” Unohana put a gentle hand on Ichigo’s arm. “This, of course, is complicated by his condition. But we may be able to pull his soul form from his broken human body. Then, it may be up to Urahara to construct a Gigai for him to use instead of his human body if it is destroyed in this process. Or it maybe possible to augment his human body in some fashion.”
Jūshirō still held his hand loosely. “Do you wish to hear anymore about what they are going to do?”
Ichigo just shook his head. Jūshirō nodded and let go of his hand. Ichigo reached for him again, but Unohana pushed his hands down on his lap.
“We’ll begin,” she told them and retrieved the Zanpakutō that they had worked so hard on.
Jūshirō and Shunsui turned and stepped outside of the room. Luckily, the room had glass around it so they could see inside. They looked up to see that Urahara had come to watch as well.
“This is taking a great chance,” Urahara stated as he looked in the room. “I hope this goes well.”
“He will be better if you can restore his sight.” Jūshirō was certain of that fact.
Inside the room, Unohana was standing beside the bed and waiting for Kurotsuchi to give her the go ahead. They could hear everything through the open door. Jūshirō looked over at Urahara.
“Will his father be coming to watch?” he asked.
“No, I’m his eyes. He is with his daughters and dealing with the human details. It seems that soon he will be required to make some sort of appearance, so his body or his Gigai will have to be made stable.” He stared through the window for a moment. “I think I can do something to his human body, augment it with aspects of a Gigai.”
“Augment it?” Shunsui asked as they watched the events begin to unfold.
“Ichigo,” Unohana said. “I’m going to pierce you with a Zanpakutō that we’ve created. It should infuse you with power and your reiatsu should return in full.”
Unohana nodded toward Kurotsuchi who returned the nod. She pressed the blade to his chest and carefully pushed it forward. The room flooded with familiar reiatsu almost immediately. There was a smoky screen that appeared around him, and as that faded, Ichigo sat there, returned to his shihakuso, looking very woozy where he sat.
“It worked,” Urahara murmured beside them, sounding almost surprised.
Ichigo fell back onto the bed, his human body still fragile. Unohana used a glove and pushed his soul form from his body, separating the two of them. The Ichigo that wore a shihakuso again blinked and Jūshirō saw that his eyes were black and gold instead of brown. Unohana put her hand against Ichigo’s face.
“Can you see, Ichigo?” she asked quietly.
He just nodded with eyes wide. He looked next to him where his human body laid. He then looked over toward the window and locked his eyes on Jūshirō and Shunsui. Both of them entered the room and looked at him.
“Ichigo?” Jūshirō said softly. “How do you feel?”
“Better. Not so weak,” he answered, staring at Jūshirō with his unsettling eyes. He blinked and closed them. “But Owner took away my sight. I shouldn’t have it…”
“Shouldn’t have it?” Shunsui asked and sighed deeply.
“Oh, Ichigo,” Jūshirō whispered and put a hand on Ichigo’s shoulder.
Unohana sighed and glanced over to Kurotsuchi. “Are his readings stable?”
“Everything appears normal,” he answered, causing Ichigo’s eyes to open and he stared at him for a second before he closed them again.
Urahara began to examine his human body. “I can’t restore his eyes in his human body, with or without Inoue’s help. I’m afraid that he’ll have to cope with that in the World of the Living. As far as the rest, I might have some ways to bolster the bone structure.”
Ichigo held his head down and Jūshirō put a hand on his back. He noticed that he looked somewhat different in his shihakuso. He put his hands in his lap and looked to not know what to do with himself.
“Having his sight back will make things a bit easier on everyone,” Shunsui said hopefully.
“Is there any reason behind the coloration difference?” Jūshirō asked as he rubbed Ichigo’s back slowly.
Unohana approached and tilted Ichigo’s head up. “Open your eyes for me again.”
Ichigo complied, opening his eyes and showing the strange black and gold coloration that normally could be seen under his mask. It was a little unsettling to look at him like that. His body had carried with it scars from his human body, though they appeared somewhat less visible on his soul form. Unohana looked him over and cast a kido on him and shook her head.
“I can find no reason for it other than appearance,” she told them as she let his chin go. He immediately looked down and closed his eyes again. “You should take him back and let him rest. Urahara will take care of his human body. I can find no reason to keep him here.”
Jūshirō nodded, moving his hand from Ichigo’s back and taking his hand instead. “Are you ready to go back?”
“Yes, please,” he said quietly as he hopped off the bed, glancing at his human body before he left the room with Jūshirō leading the way.
Shunsui stayed in the room with Unohana and Urahara, though as Jūshirō and Ichigo left. He watched them go, seeing how easily Ichigo clung to Jūshirō. He could tell that his companion was growing more attached to Ichigo day by day despite the frustrations.
“Unohana-taichou, what do you think of his progress so far?” Shunsui asked, stepping closer to his body and looking at it. The scars on his face stood out now that he was not in the body.
She sighed, looking at the body with a kind glance. “I think he is doing as well as can be expected. What do you think of his progress?”
Shunsui was silent a few seconds. “I think that he has a long way to go.”
Urahara walked over and cast a kido over the body. “I’ll see what I can do for his body. I’m actually surprised it survived having his powers returned to it. I will inform Isshin that we have accomplished our task of restoring and separating his soul form from his body. He will likely be coming to visit in the next few days.”
“Does he know of the arrangement with Jūshirō to watch over him?” Shunsui asked. “He also should know about how we’ve had to take on the ‘owner’ role for him, so it does not surprise him.”
“I’ll inform him of everything when I see him tonight,” Urahara assured.
Shunsui nodded his head toward Unohana and Urahara and headed out of the room. He wanted to go to help Jūshirō with Ichigo as much as he could, especially knowing that his father would be coming to see him soon. They would have to prepare him for such a visit. He only hoped that he fared well enough with it.
Ichigo clutched at Jūshirō’s hand tightly as they walked back to his home. He kept his eyes closed, feeling strange about having sight back after he had just gotten used to not having it. He supposed if he ever went back to the World of the Living, he would have to cope with being blind there. At least he hoped he could cope with it. He wasn’t sure now what he could cope with.
He should still be without his sight. Owner had taken it away, after all. He wasn’t meant to have things that Owner took away anymore. But Shujin and Omo were glad he could see once more. His eyes apparently looked wrong, so he would just keep his eyes closed so he didn’t have to deal with the outside world. He would just follow Shujin back to where he was staying. Was it a home? Could he call it that? He wasn’t sure.
He sensed they were nearing the estate. He looked up quickly, taking in the place with his eyes quickly before closing them again. He was led into the house and once more, opened his eyes to take in the world around him inside the house before he averted his gaze back down and closed his eyes again.
“Ichigo?” Jūshirō’s voice pierced his darkness. He couldn’t look at him. Good boys didn’t look at Owner. “Please, Ichigo, look up?”
He picked his head up and opened his eyes for Jūshirō. He saw the white-haired captain smiling gently at him. He stole glances around the room before his eyes settled on his face. He had such a kind face.
“Would you like to go see the koi?” he asked.
Ichigo took a quick breath. Seeing the koi would be nice. He hadn’t seen them yet, but he had liked the times when Shunsui and Jūshirō had taken him out to the pond. He nodded slowly and Jūshirō beaconed him to follow. He walked behind him, following him through the house until they were outside. It was beautiful, Ichigo realized. It had been almost seven years now since he’d been outside, and now he was surrounded by trees and a sparkling pond. As they approached, the koi could be heard splashing about in the pond.
Jūshirō knelt by the edge and motioned Ichigo to come sit by him. Ichigo dropped to his knees beside him and looked into the pond.
“They’re so much bigger than I thought,” he said in a low voice.
He was mesmerized by the movement of the fish in the pond. They danced below the surface of the water in a smooth dance. His eyes followed their moves so intensely that he didn’t notice Jūshirō watching him carefully. The way the water cradled the orange and white fish was drawing every bit of his attention. He leaned forward and put his hand in the water. Immediately, one of the koi came up and nibbled at his wiggling fingers. He huffed a breath and smiled a little.
“They’re very tame and friendly,” Jūshirō said from beside him. “Do you like them?”
Ichigo nodded and continued trailing his fingers in the water. “They’re beautiful.”
As he watched them, he wondered if he could live like this, without Owner. He still felt like he needed to be told what to do, and he wanted to be of use to both his Shujin and Omo. He would find ways to be useful, especially now that he had his sight again. He would do things for them, and show them how much he appreciated them and how they were taking care of him. The hadn’t thrown him away yet even though he hadn’t been very useful yet. Now, he would be, though. He needed to make them understand that he was willing to do whatever it took to keep them happy.
Urahara waited in the tea room for Isshin to get there. He had brought Ichigo’s body back with him and been working on doing something to help with his bone structure. There wasn’t a whole lot he could do to a human body, but he could try to help him out as much as he could. He looked up as he heard someone come into the shop.
“Kisuke,” Isshin said as he came in and sat down.
“Isshin, how are you today?” Urahara asked as he adjusted his hat a little.
“As well as I can be. How did the procedure go?” Urahara saw that he was just going to get right to the point it seemed.
He put down his cup of tea and sighed. “The procedure worked and his soul form was successfully separated from his human body. I’ve been able to do some work on his human body to help with the bone structure, but there’s not much I can do that wouldn’t be obvious to others. He’ll need to come back and be in that body at least some of the time,” he explained.
“Was his sight returned?” Isshin asked, watching as Urahara poured another cup of tea for him.
“In his soul form, yes, though his eyes are the black sclera and gold iris that he normally has under the vizard mask.” Urahara sighed, taking his hat off for a second to scratch the top of his head thoughtfully. “It may have something to do with the way the hollow part of him was trying to syphon power off creatures around him.”
“I see. I will go to see him soon, but he’ll have to come home to talk to the police again soon. I’ve arranged a day next week for that.” Isshin took the tea and sipped it without much thought.
“There is something you should know about his progress,” Urahara began. “Ukitake-san and Kyroku-san have taken over his care.”
“He’s no longer in the fourth?” Isshin looked at him with an arched brow.
“Unohana-san thought that him being somewhere calmer like Ukitake-san’s estate would best help with his healing. She seems to think that it has helped so far. At the fourth, he was alone, which was detrimental to his progress.” Urahara didn’t know how Isshin would take the next part. “But also, he has taken to calling them Shujin and Omo.”
Isshin blinked rapidly for a second. “Why is he calling them that?”
“He wanted to have an ‘owner’ again. It was more of a need. They’re trying to deprogram the training that was beaten into him over the last six years, but reversing it is difficult.” Urahara sighed and sipped his tea again to give Isshin time to absorb what he was saying. “Ichigo needs the structure right now. Taking it away causes him too much stress and anxiety.”
Putting the teacup down, Isshin’s face was inscrutable. “So, what manner of relationship do they have with him?”
Urahara was worried that the question might come up. “So far, it is a matter of providing structure to his world. He follows the rules they set and listens to their words.”
“How he is going to learn to live without commands when someone is still commanding him?” Isshin said with a frown.
Urahara sat his own teacup down and put his hands on the table. “They don’t ‘command’ him. They are simply providing an environment that he can exist without stress and anxiety so he can heal.”
Isshin looked unsure but he nodded. “If you believe it is necessary, I won’t say anything against it when I visit him. Are there any other things I should know?”
“He is your son more than anything, and you need to remember that. No matter how different he may be from the Ichigo we used to know, he is still Ichigo. He still has some of those traits, most buried deep inside out of necessity over the last six years.” Urahara knew that this was the hardest part of the whole situation for Isshin. “Your son is still there. He just is a different person now.”
“When he comes back to talk to the police, how do you think he’ll do?” Isshin asked, spinning the teacup between his hands.
“It may be difficult for him to go back to his human body after he’s gotten used to being able to see again in Soul Society.” He paused and tapped the side of his cup.
Isshin nodded sadly. “It is a good thing his sisters are out on their own now. I can get away with them not seeing him. I think that it would be too much for Kon to handle.”
“Yes, I doubt Kon would be able to act like Ichigo as he is now at all. It is better this way even if we do not have Kon as a substitute for Ichigo.” Urahara paused again, thinking for a moment. “Do you think the human police will need much from him?”
“I don’t know,” Isshin admitted. “They just said they needed to speak to him about the case against the perpetrators. I was hoping that the video would be evidence enough for them, but they are attempting to make the claim that everything was consensual, and Kanjiro lost his mind and killed himself at the end.”
“How can they claim that was consensual?” Urahara asked, truly surprised.
“According to them, everything was done agreed upon ahead of time. They have to prove that it wasn’t in order for them to be convicted,” Isshin said sadly. “He may have to testify at court as well.”
Urahara didn’t like that prospect at all. “To stand up in court? I don’t know if he will be able to do that, especially in his condition now.”
Isshin sighed, running a hand over his head. “He has to be able to tell them what happened. That’s probably what the meeting with him will be about. The police will see how he tolerates talking about what happened.”
“No matter what, this will be hard on him.” Urahara knew that even just coming back to the World of the Living was going to be difficult on him.
Isshin stood up. “I’ll be back tomorrow to visit him. I’ll see you then.” He turned and left, leaving Urahara alone with his thoughts.
Visiting Ichigo in Soul Society was something that Isshin was looking forward to in some ways, and not in others. He knew that his son was in there somewhere, he only had to find him. At least that was how he felt about the situation. He walked between the worlds and thought about the reasons he was making this visit to him. He came out and was met by Rukia.
“Rukia,” he said kindly. “How are you?”
“I’m well. I came to take you to Ukitake-taichou’s estate so you can see him. I, um, haven’t been to see him in a week or so I’m not sure how he’s doing this time,” she told him as they walked through the Serietei. “I’ve been busy with division work lately.”
Isshin understood. There was a part of him that didn’t want to see Ichigo either. He couldn’t let that part of him ruin his chances with his son, though. He may have been different, but he was still his son no matter what.
Rukia knocked at the door. It was answered quickly by the white-haired captain. “Shiba-san,” he said with a soft smile. “Come in. Ichigo is at the kotatsu.”
He led Isshin into the house, toward the room with the kotatsu sitting in it. Ichigo was seated at the side, eyes closed and still. Jūshirō approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Ichigo, your father has come to see you,” Jūshirō explained.
Ichigo turned his head toward his voice and blinked his eyes. Isshin was taken aback a little by the strange appearance they had without the mask. He looked up at Isshin for a short time before he lowered his head again and seemed to be staring at his hands.
Jūshirō sighed and sat down beside him, taking one of his hands. “Ichigo. You can talk to your father, can’t you?”
His voice was quiet when he spoke. “If Shujin wants.”
Isshin moved forward and took up a spot at the kotatsu. Jūshirō sighed in apparent exasperation. “Ichigo, that’s up to you. I can’t tell you what to do all the time.”
“It’s okay,” Isshin tried with a soft smile. “I came to see him; however he is.”
Ichigo looked up, locking his odd colored eyes on Isshin for the briefest of seconds before looking back down toward his hands. He looked better than he had looked in his human body. His body wasn’t emaciated like in the human world.
“I’m glad they were able to restore your powers, Ichigo,” Isshin said. “I see that you seem to be doing better than the last time I saw you. Have you done anything special since you started staying with Ukitake-taichou?”
“I like the koi.” His voice was just barely above a whisper. It hurt Isshin’s heart to hear him like this but he kept his face from showing it.
“He does have a nice koi pond,” Isshin agreed. “Do you go visit it often?”
“I can see them now,” Ichigo looked up briefly before he looked down again. “They’re pretty.”
Isshin smiled. “Um, I came today to tell you that next week, the police need to see you.”
Now, Ichigo’s head did come up, and he stared at Isshin with wide eyes. “Go back?”
“Just for a day, if even that,” Isshin assured. “The police are trying to keep the men who did this to you locked up, but they’re trying to say things were all consensual. So, they need you to tell them it wasn’t.”
“Consensual?” Ichigo echoed, just staring at Isshin still.
“That will be hard on him right now,” Jūshirō said from beside him as Ichigo clutched at his hand. “We cannot go with him in Gigai, there would be too many questions.”
Isshin nodded. “I thought if he needed it, you could stay with him in soul form. I know that he has come to rely on your presence.”
Ichigo turned toward Jūshirō with a frantic look on his face. “You will stay with me?”
Jūshirō smiled at him and put a hand on his head. Ichigo turned into his hand and closed his eyes. “Of course, if that is what you want.”
Isshin began to understand what Urahara was talking about with the connection that Ichigo had made with Jūshirō. He regretted that he couldn’t be that person for Ichigo, but perhaps it was better this way. At least here in Soul Society, he didn’t have to deal with thing from the human world. He forced a smile and tried again to talk to him.
“They will just ask you to tell them what happened. What did happen, Ichigo? Can you tell me before you talk to the police?” Isshin thought it might help to practice this ahead of time.
Ichigo stared at him again. Jūshirō spoke up, squeezing his hand tightly. “It would be a good idea.”
He took his other hand and put it on Jūshirō’s hand. “Okay.”
“Just tell me in your own words what happened, starting six years ago,” Isshin told him.
“Um,” he stammered to start. “I-I don’t remember clearly anymore.”
“Just do your best,” Jūshirō encouraged.
Ichigo nodded slowly. “Ah, I saved his phone from being stolen. He-he invited me to drink sake… Then everything gets blurry. I was tied up, I remember. I couldn’t get away from him. He took me to our room. He told me I was going to be his pet. There were others, his brother and they were to be serviced like Owner however they wanted.” He swallowed and looked down.
“That’s very good,” Jūshirō said, reaching out and petting his head again.
“I’m sure they’ll ask specific questions,” Isshin sighed, knowing that while that was a good short summary but they’d need more. The way Ichigo was clutching Jūshirō’s hand, he didn’t think he could tolerate any more. “But that’s enough for today.”
Ichigo stared at his hands again, eyes closed now, breathing heavily. Isshin moved to stand up and resisted the urge to reach out to him. He instead kept his distance. “Ichigo, I’ll go now. I’ll be back next week to take you to the World of the Living for the meeting. I hope you have a good day. I love you, son.”
Ichigo looked up at him, still clinging to Jūshirō’s hand. “I love you,” he whispered and looked down immediately.
Isshin left the house, holding his tears until he was outside. He stood outside and broke down. Luckily, he was alone, so no one saw his breakdown. He just had to let it out somehow. He finally leaned back against the door, panting. He heard someone nearby and looked up to find Rukia had come to retrieve him. He was grateful that she had given him time.
“Are you ready to go back?” she asked him tentatively from the side of the house.
“I am,” he answered and wiped his eyes once more. “Time to go home.”
Chapter 7: Struggling to Bloom
Ichigo opened his eyes in his inner world for the first time since he regained his powers. As he expected, it was raining. He sat up on the side of the building and looked around for Shiro or Zangetsu. It didn’t take long for both of them to appear out of the rain.
“Ichigo,” Shiro said as he came over and knelt beside him. “You’re back to being a Shinigami again,” he reached for Ichigo’s face and gently touched him. It was a strange gesture coming from such a normally violent entity.
“I’m not a Shinigami,” Ichigo whispered. “I can’t be that right now.”
“But you are,” Zangetsu said from his position now on a flag pole that stuck up out of the water.
Ichigo shook his head and then put his hands over it. “I can’t do it. I just have to be me alone.”
“You’re also not alone,” Shiro told him as he ran a hand over his head softly.
Ichigo looked up at Shiro and sighed. “I’m messed up in here,” he whispered and poked at his temple. “What happened changed me so much, I’m not who I used to be…”
“Of course, it changed you, King. You spent six years basically being tortured by that stupid fucking human. I wish I could have gotten my hands on him just once,” Shiro spoke with a great deal of venom to his voice.
“What were you doing?” Ichigo asked, dropping his hands to his lap. “What did you do to make him go crazy finally?”
Shiro sat down heavily beside him and sighed. “I was trying to get us help. I was trying to draw off power from anyone that was there, so we could get free from him. Anything to get you out of there.”
“So, you remember what happened, too?” he said as Shiro put an arm around his back.
“Yeah,” he responded, squeezing him gently. “I remember it. Clearly.”
“What do I do with these feelings inside me?” he sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I can’t live without someone there to tell me how to live, not anymore… I can’t stand on my own two feet. I can’t do this alone. I can’t be what they all expect me to be. I can’t-”
“Shh,” Shiro started. “You can do this. You have help, use it. Lean on Ukitake and Kyōraku. Take their offer of safety.”
“How do I ever recover from this?” he asked, staring up at the sky where rain fell heavier now than before.
“You take time,” Shiro told him. “You take as much time as you need.”
“How much time do I need?” he asked, looking at his white copy and meeting those strange eyes.
“I don’t know. Only time will tell how much it will take. But you’ll never be the person that existed before, and they’ll just have to accept that,” Shiro sighed and patted his back gently.
Ichigo licked his lips thoughtfully and sighed. “I can’t be what everyone wants, and they’ll have to accept that.”
“Eventually they’ll get it,” Shiro assured. “It may take them a while.”
Dropping his hands in his lap, he splashed in the water that came up about an inch on the sideways skyscraper. “Was I too weak? Is that why he broke me down like this?”
“You were strong enough to survive, even if you had to do what he wanted and had to listen to them to keep from being killed. You weren’t weak at all.” Zangetsu offered from his position.
Ichigo nodded again. “Shujin and Omo try to understand.”
“They understand better than anyone else what you are now. Let them into your heart and maybe it will heal somewhat,” Shiro said softly. “They are trying to help you, and they can if you let them. They’ve already managed to give your powers back to you and give you your sight back while in soul form.”
“But my human body is blinded still,” Ichigo pointed out. “I’ll spend more time in Soul Society because of that.”
“So, what? You spend more time in Soul Society. You have people to take care of you there. People that are caring and might be able to love you,” Shiro told him seriously. “What’s in the human world that you need to be there for?”
“My father, my sisters, and my friends…” he said as he looked up at the sky again.
“But they all have their own lives now after six years. What could you do in the World of the Living? Nothing, so it’s better if you just stay with Ukitake and Kyōraku.” Shiro seemed sure of this idea.
Ichigo swallowed and sighed. “But I’m a burden on them…”
“You are not. Just let them in, and you will see,” Shiro said as he sat there in the rain.
Reaching upward to the sky, Ichigo sighed again. “It is so fleeting, the times when I am able to say what is on my mind. In here, it’s different. I can talk to you because you’re me in a way. Out there, my tongue sticks and my throat locks up when I even think of talking. My eyes won’t raise and I’m so far from what I used to be.”
“You’ll get there,” Shiro assured him, looking up into the rain with him.
“I’ll try,” he whispered and faded from sight.
Ichigo woke up slowly. He felt warm and remembered that he had gone to sleep with Jūshirō the night before. He blinked sleepily as he came awake and nuzzled into the warm body next to him. He had to admit, it was nice waking up and not being alone. Even if he still had a need for these people to be his Shujin and Omo. He was going to be alright, maybe. He felt like he was a burden on them, still.
“You awake, Ichigo?” Jūshirō asked, sitting up as he too woke.
“Yes,” he answered, still clinging to Jūshirō’s body. It was warm and nice, and he didn’t really want to let him go. He grasped him around the waist and laid his head in Jūshirō’s lap.
“Did you dream something bad?” Jūshirō asked as he petted his head gently.
Ichigo shook his head against Jūshirō’s lap. “My inner world,” he finally said.
“Ah, you visited it for the first time since you regained your power. How did you find things?” Jūshirō asked as he continued to pet through Ichigo’s hair. It was still long and really in need of some kind of cut.
“It’s raining,” he whispered, knowing that wouldn’t mean anything to Jūshirō really. But it was the fact of what was happening in there.
Jūshirō nodded. “Is that a bad thing for you?”
“It means I’m sad,” he admitted as he turned his head into Jūshirō’s hand.
They were both quiet for a few minutes, just sitting there in silence. To be honest, Ichigo could have been like that for hours, laying with his head nuzzled into Jūshirō’s stomach and having his hair petted like that. It was quiet and relaxing. He didn’t want to move but he knew that they couldn’t stay like this forever.
“We should get up and go about the day. I really need to go over to the division office and check on things. Would you be okay going with me?” Jūshirō asked as he sat there, still petting his head. He paused but Ichigo nuzzled into his stomach again. “Ah, as much as I would like to stay here, the day waits for no one.”
Ichigo reluctantly sat up, wishing for just a few more minutes before they left. He would go with Jūshirō, because it was what he wanted. He knew at the back of his mind that he couldn’t keep him from his duties forever. He got up slowly as Jūshirō went to dress himself. Ichigo sighed, sitting there on the futon. He looked out the doorway and wished he could go see the koi again. He liked the koi a lot, but he hadn’t told Jūshirō or Shunsui. He hadn’t voiced much of what he felt so far, and despite the fact that he knew these weren’t Owner, he couldn’t say the things he wanted.
Good boys don’t talk.
Shocks are for dogs that bark.
He shivered with remembered pain. He noticed that his soul form seemed to have no constant pain in it. He supposed that was good, though a bit hard to get used to. He expected things to hurt when he did them. He had no idea how long he sat there, staring outside.
“Ichigo?” Jūshirō’s gentle voice.
He turned to look at him, realizing that he was ready to leave, and he hadn’t moved. He got to his feet an pulled the yukata tight around him. He supposed he should wear his shihakuso, but he glanced at it, wary.
“You don’t have to wear it yet if you aren’t ready,” Jūshirō said as he walked over where he was standing by the futon still. “Just wear that yukata if you like.”
Ichigo swallowed and nodded his head. He would do what was asked of him, because he had to do that. He fought with the thoughts in his mind that tried to assail him. He feared what would happen if he said something about his wants or desires. He didn’t know how to put them into words anymore.
Jūshirō led them out of the house toward the division office. Ichigo followed a couple paces behind him, close enough to see him when he put his eyes down to look at the ground. He heard other people walk by and he knew some of them stopped, but he didn’t look up. When Jūshirō led him through to his office, Ichigo felt a little trepidation. Here was a new place that he had to get used to again. His breath sped up and he reached for Jūshirō without thinking.
“Are you alright?” Jūshirō’s voice piercing the haze that surrounded him.
Again, he just nodded, still staring at the ground. But now he had a hold of Jūshirō’s hand and it was okay because he wasn’t alone.
“Come, sit down over here,” Jūshirō pulled him toward a couch near his desk.
Ichigo nodded again as he sat down and pulled his legs up beside himself and looked up at Jūshirō. He put a hand on his shoulder for a brief second before going over to his own desk to look over paperwork. He eventually tired of sitting that way and moved to sit flat on the sofa this time. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He glanced over to see Jūshirō was seemingly busy for the moment, so he leaned over on the couch and put his arms under his head. He didn’t intend to fall asleep, but he ended up dozing off.
He awoke to hear talking around him and someone touching his head. He probably would have woken up completely if it hadn’t been for the person stroking his hair. Instead he stayed semi-asleep for a few minutes until he finally could make out the voices around him.
“…with the division personnel,” Shunsui’s voice near his head.
“I’m sure the sou-taichou will be amenable to that, oh, I think he’s waking up,” Jūshirō’s voice was further away.
Ichigo blinked sleepily but didn’t really want to move. He slowly sat up though, yawning as he did so. “Omo?” he asked, looking over at Shunsui.
“Ah, yes, Ichi-kun, did you have a good nap?” he asked, smiling at him.
He nodded, feeling somewhat better after having slept a little more. Jūshirō came over and sat down beside him. “I’m glad. I got so busy, I didn’t notice you’d fallen asleep at first.”
Ichigo just smiled a bit and looked around the room. It didn’t seem that much later. Shunsui reached out and took Ichigo’s hand and rubbed his thumb across the palm, causing Ichigo to look at him curiously.
“Ah, sweet Jūshirō is done for the day. He can’t overtax himself too much right now after he had an episode so recently,” Shunsui said, still holding to Ichigo’s hand.
“I told you, I’m fine now,” Jūshirō was obviously exasperated by Shunsui’s hovering.
“Of course, you are,” Shunsui stood up, pulling Ichigo to his feet. “But that’s needless here nor there, as you are done for the day, so we can return home with him.”
Ichigo nodded again. He wanted to go to the koi pond. Could he make such a request, though? He didn’t know but he wanted to try at least.
“Sh-Shujin?” he asked tentatively, looking at Jūshirō where he still sat.
“What is it? Do you need something?” Jūshirō asked, tilting his head to the side.
“Um, could we, uh, go see the koi again?” he managed to say. Immediately he felt like he’d done something wrong already. It wasn’t even a second between speaking the words and expecting to be punished for them. He looked away, twisting his hands together. “Never mind,” he whispered, not looking at either of them.
Jūshirō stood up and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You like to visit the koi pond?”
He nodded, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. He felt his face flush slightly.
“Of course, Ichigo, we can go as soon as we get back,” Jūshirō’s voice was soft, but strong like usual. It wasn’t like Owner’s voice, which so often was harsh and yelled at him. It comforted him in a way.
He found himself nearly walking evenly with Jūshirō as they headed back. Shunsui had come with them and was walking a little ways behind him. He wanted to see the koi again, and maybe Jūshirō would let him feed them. He hoped so. They passed people along the way, and as usual, Ichigo garnered attention, but this time it didn’t bother him. He wanted to get back to visit the pond again.
“Why don’t you and Shunsui go on out, and I’ll get some food for them,” Jūshirō said as they entered the house.
Ichigo nodded again, almost bouncing from foot to foot. He didn’t notice Shunsui’s smile as they walked back out to the pond. Ichigo immediately dropped to his knees at the side and looked for the colorful fish to come to him. He put his hand in the water, wiggling his fingers as they came up to him. He smiled, happy that the koi seemed to be so friendly. He looked over and saw that Shunsui had laid back on his elbows and was looking up at the sky.
“Here we are,” Jūshirō knelt beside Ichigo and held a small bowl of fish food.
Ichigo took a pellet from the bowl and held it in the water. He huffed a breath as the fish tickled his fingers when it took the food from him.
“This is why they are so tame,” Jūshirō said as he dropped a couple of the pellets into the water. The fish immediately scarfed up the pellets. “They know that if they see people, they’re going to be fed.”
“They’re so beautiful,” Ichigo breathed out before he could stop himself. He gasped and looked at Jūshirō as though he were going to do something because he spoke. He knew that Jūshirō and Shunsui wouldn’t hurt him for speaking, but he couldn’t help the immediate reactions he still had.
“They are,” Jūshirō agreed with a soft smile. Ichigo felt his stomach do a flip at the sight. He felt his face flush a little and turned his attention back to the fish.
They sat there for nearly an hour, feeding and watching the koi. Shunsui, while he didn’t play with the fish, watched them both as he laid back on the ground. He would occasionally adjust his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes. Ichigo finally sat back and smiled at Jūshirō.
“Okay, we can go back inside,” Ichigo told him.
“Alright, come back in, we’ll have something for dinner. Shunsui will join us.” Jūshirō got up and reached a hand out for Ichigo to take. Ichigo took his hand and was led back toward the house, leaving Shunsui apparently asleep by the pond.
“Shouldn’t we wake him?” he asked as they went into the house.
“Ah, he’ll sleep for a few minutes and then he’ll be in. He always falls asleep by the pond,” Jūshirō assured him.
Ichigo didn’t know what to do with himself now. He watched as Jūshirō went into the kitchen to fix something for them to eat. He stood where he’d stopped and waited. He resisted the strong urge to sit on his knees and just stood there instead. Jūshirō seemed to notice Ichigo’s discomfort, though. He came over and put a hand on his back.
“Come, sit. You don’t have to stand there,” Jūshirō told him as he ushered him to the kotatsu. “Sit down, and we’ll eat soon.”
Ichigo did as he was told, glad to be given some direction. He waited quietly until he looked up to see Shunsui come in, stretching his arms over his head and yawning. He saw Ichigo at the kotatsu and smiled, coming over to sit down himself.
“How are you feeling?” Shunsui asked.
“Okay,” Ichigo answered, feeling the need to put his eyes down and away from Shunsui’s face. He tried to resist it but in the end, he lowered his eyes to stare at Shunsui’s hands.
Shunsui didn’t say anything about it, though, only waited patiently for Jūshirō to bring out whatever he had put together for dinner. Jūshirō came out with a pot and nodded toward Shunsui, who got up and retrieved dishes. Ichigo didn’t know what to do again, but he stayed still, staring at the top of the kotatsu.
“Here you are, Ichigo,” Jūshirō said as he sat the bowl in front of him. He swallowed and thought it smelled really good. “Please, eat.”
Ichigo tentatively picked up the spoon and started to eat a little of the soup that Jūshirō had put together. He saw them both watching him and knew that they would want him to eat well. He felt better now, and eating wasn’t such a chore anymore. In soul form, he felt little hunger still, but he didn’t want to make Jūshirō or Shunsui unhappy by not eating.
“Tomorrow, you’ll come to my division,” Shunsui said as they finished up.
Ichigo wasn’t sure what to think about that, but he knew he’d do whatever his Shujin and Omo told him to do.
The morning of the meeting, Jūshirō woke before Ichigo. He was nervous for him, because he had no idea how Ichigo would do meeting these police in the World of the Living. He was glad that he was going with them, to at least be near enough to talk to Ichigo should he need it. He had a feeling he would need it.
Over the last week, they had steadily gotten him to start talking more, but he didn’t talk about what happened yet. He still nodded to everything he was asked to do, and Jūshirō had a feeling that habit would be one that was hard for him to break. Today would be a true test of how far he had come in that amount of time.
He woke him up gently and he blinked at him sleepily. Jūshirō smiled and nodded to him.
“Time for us to go to the World of the Living,” he explained.
Ichigo had a look of sheer panic cross his face for a second before he got it under control. “Yes, Shujin,” he whispered and got dressed in a clean yukata.
They arrived at Urahara’s place in short order. They were met by Isshin and Urahara.
“Come, let’s get you into your human body for today,” Isshin said as he put a hand on Ichigo’s shoulder. Ichigo flinched a little at the motion but nodded slowly as they walked into the shoten.
Ichigo stared for a minute at his body and then looked over toward Jūshirō and Isshin who waited nearby. “I wish I could see,” he whispered before he settled into his body. He sat up and Jūshirō took one of his hands to help him get off the table.
Isshin had gotten a wheelchair to use for Ichigo. It was the easiest way to deal with his condition of not being able to see as well as the problem with his bones being so brittle. Jūshirō followed him to the car. Isshin helped Ichigo get into the car and Jūshirō got in the backseat. Ichigo was quiet all the way to the police station. Isshin got out and helped Ichigo get out and back into the wheelchair. Jūshirō stayed with them as Isshin navigated the station. They were taken back to a conference room and seated. Isshin sat beside Ichigo, and Jūshirō stood behind him. He put his hands on Ichigo’s shoulders.
Ichigo sat with his head down and kept his hands in his lap. A few moments later, two men came into the room wearing suits. They seated themselves on the opposite side of the table and laid down files in front of them.
“We’re waiting for Dr. Ishida and Dr. Oyama to arrive,” the first of the men said. “I’m Captain Sekane, and this is Lieutenant Shiraki. We’re going to be recording everything that is said in this room and it can be used in the trial if there is one.” He had short black hair in an undercut style with hard brown eyes. He wasn’t that imposing in build, but he certainly made up for it with his severe expressions.
Lieutenant Shiraki, on the other hand, had a gentle looking face with light brown hair framing it. His eyes were kind looking, Jūshirō decided. They waited a while longer until there was a knock at the door. The door was opened to reveal Uryū and a tall, thin woman with dark hair tied up in a bun on her head. She had striking blue eyes behind a pair of purple rimmed glasses. She took a seat at the end of the table, while Uryū sat down beside Isshin. He glanced at Jūshirō but didn’t look for very long.
“Alright, let’s begin.” Captain Sekane pressed a button on a panel just inside the door and came to sit down. “This is official interview with Ichigo Kurosaki against Iho Ogawa and others. For the record, can you state your name?”
Isshin patted Ichigo’s arm. “That’s you,” he said quietly.
“Um, I-Ichigo Kurosaki.” He looked up from where he was sitting toward the man that was speaking even if he couldn’t see him.
“Ichigo, can you please tell us what occurred with Kanjiro Ogawa,” Captain Sekane asked.
Ichigo swallowed convulsively for a second until Jūshirō leaned down and spoke to him. “You can do this. Just tell them what you remember.”
“I-I was w-walking down an alley. I stopped a kid from stealing Owner’s phone-”
“Owner? Who is that?” Sekane interrupted.
“K-k-Kanjiro Ogawa,” Ichigo stammered, already off because he’d been stopped in the middle of his thought.
“Why were you in that alley?” Sekane asked as he stared across at Ichigo.
“I w-was walking around. I liked to take walks at n-night.” Ichigo was tensing already. Jūshirō put light pressure on his shoulders to assure him he was there.
“Please, continue.” Sekane had a notepad and was taking notes as Ichigo spoke.
“He wanted to thank me. I-I went with him to his room because he wanted to g-give me his meal for the evening. He showed me family pictures and wanted to have a c-cup of sake, I remember. Th-then, when I tried to leave, I got dizzy and fell down. I can’t remember much for a while, I just remember him putting his hands on me and not being able to stop him…” Ichigo trailed off and Jūshirō could tell his breathing had sped up.
“Did he say anything to you?” Sekane asked as he made notes.
“I don’t remember clearly, it’s all a blur until I woke up and he had tied me up and put me in his trunk.”
Sekane nodded. “Alright, so you’re saying that Kanjiro Ogawa drugged you and then abducted you from the Karakura Town hotel, correct?”
Ichigo nodded his head. Isshin whispered to him. “You have to speak out loud, Ichigo.”
“So, you deny the claim that the abduction was a planned event done with your permission?” he asked.
Ichigo tilted his head to the side and seemed to stare at the captain. “Yes. I did not want to go with him.”
“Had you ever seen Kanjiro Ogawa before that day?” Sekane wanted to know.
“No,” Ichigo answered. He swallowed hard and Jūshirō knew that he was quickly reaching his limit already.
“What do you remember after you woke up in the trunk of Kanjiro Ogawa’s car?” Sekane continued, writing notes as he went.
“H-he and his brother opened the trunk and s-said that Owner liked to drug young men and…and…” Ichigo stopped, breath rapid by this point.
“And what?” Sekane prompted without looking up.
“And r-r-rape th-them. He said that it was his bad habit.” Ichigo’s hands were twisting together and Jūshirō would have given anything to grab his hand. Instead, Isshin reached over and took one of his hands.
“So, his brother was there. Were they alone?” he asked.
“N-no…there was another person there, another b-boy.” Ichigo noisily swallowed again. He had started to tremble a little.
“Easy, Ichigo. You’re doing wonderful, alright? You’re doing such a good job,” Jūshirō told him as he squeezed his shoulders.
“Alright, is that all that you remember from the first night?” Sekane asked as he looked up and stared at Ichigo.
“N-n-no, I remember they carried me into the room where I was chained to a pole. They had given me something that made me weak and dizzy,” Ichigo clutched Isshin’s hand tightly. “He-he said that I was his p-pet now, a dog for him to use as he wanted.”
Sekane made a note. “Then, can you tell me what that means?”
Ichigo swallowed again. “I don’t understand.”
“You said he was going to ‘use’ you as he wanted. What does that mean?” Sekane looked up with his serious face and again Jūshirō was glad Ichigo couldn’t see. This man looked like he was questioning everything.
“Um…uh…” Ichigo stammered, going a shade or two paler as he sat there. “T-to service him.”
“What does ‘service’ mean? I need you to be specific.”
Ichigo looked slightly panicked. He grabbed both hands onto Isshin’s one hand and his breath was heavy and noisy. “To have s-sex w-with them.”
“Did this happen often?”
“Y-yes.” Ichigo still clutched at Isshin’s hand.
“Did you, at any time, consent to having sexual relations or being treated as a ‘dog’?” Sekane still jotted down notes as he sat there.
Ichigo shook his head hard. “No, never.”
“Did Kanjiro Ogawa ever say why he was keeping you chained in that room?” Sekane looked up to stare at Ichigo.
Ichigo shook his head. “He never said m-more than just he wanted a pet.”
Sekane was quiet for a moment as he put down more notes on the pad of paper. He then looked over at Uryū. “Dr. Ishida, do you corroborate that the injuries that Ichigo sustained were severe?”
Uryū nodded. “I stand by the assessments in the medical records.”
“Do you have anything you want to add, Ichigo?” Sekane asked as he put down his pen on the pad he was writing on.
Ichigo clutched at Isshin’s hand again. “I-I didn’t want anything that happened. I-I w-was forced into it. I j-just wanted to go home.”
“Dr. Oyama, do you have anything you want to add to things?” Sekane asked, looking over to the tall woman who sat at the end of the table.
“I’ve been over the medical files including the psychiatric evaluations for the case. The damage done to Ichigo’s mental state was severe as well. It was quite obvious he had endured multiple traumas. He has been diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder. It is likely he will never be a fully functional adult,” she said. “What was done to him was extreme. The idea that anything that happened to him was consensual is ridiculous. I go on the record stating that.”
Jūshirō smiled because at least he had someone that was backing him up in the situation. He still felt him trembling through his hands where they rested on his back. “Just breathe, Ichigo. We’ll go home soon.”
Ichigo nodded his head, clutching still at Isshin’s hand. Sekane looked back over to him. “That will be enough for today. We’ll call you if we have any further questions.”
Isshin stood up, letting go of Ichigo’s hand and pushed him back out the door with Jūshirō following him. As soon as they got outside the room, the tension seemed to snap like a rubber band, and Ichigo gasped and began to rock back and forth in his seat. Isshin moved around the front and knelt there.
“Ichigo?” he asked, putting both hands on his knees as Ichigo covered his sightless eyes with his hands. “Come on, son. Let’s get you out of here.” He patted his knees and went back around to push him out of the police station. He quickly got him in the car and buckled in while Jūshirō got in the back.
“Do you want to go back to our house or to Soul Society?” Isshin asked carefully.
“S-soul S-Society. I need-need to go back there. I n-need…” Ichigo crossed his arms over his chest and held himself tightly.
Isshin nodded, looking a little sad but drove them to Urahara’s. Jūshirō had thought he’d want to return to Soul Society. Once there, Isshin helped Ichigo walk back to the shoten where he was soon separated from his body once more. Isshin put his hands on Ichigo’s arms and caught his eyes.
“Son, you can be wherever you want. So, I understand that Soul Society is the best place for you right now. At least there, you can have your sight back.” He pulled Ichigo forward and kissed his forehead. “Be well, my son,” he said quietly.
Jūshirō opened the way back to Soul Society, holding Ichigo’s hand in his. He’d gone completely quiet, something that Jūshirō hated to see. They had worked so hard to get him to a point where he could speak with relative freedom. He only hoped this event didn’t set him back to the beginning. They made it back to the estate and Jūshirō turned to him.
“Let’s feed the koi today,” he said and Ichigo just nodded, waiting as Jūshirō retrieved the pellets for the koi.
He led him out to the pond and was happy to see that he immediately put a hand in the water to attract the fish to him. They sat there in silence for a while as he fed the different koi by hand, not moving to get up. Jūshirō just let him do as he wanted because this was something he knew he liked.
“You know, Ichigo, when you’re ready to talk about the things that happened, we’ll listen to you. You don’t have to keep it all inside,” Jūshirō didn’t know what else to say.
Ichigo merely nodded, continuing to feed the koi silently.