Upon meeting him, Shinji can only think there is something utterly familiar about Kurosaki Ichigo.
The guy could pass off as Shiba Kaien returned from the dead if only he dyed his hair black but… But that’s not the only thing.
The scowls for one. The Visored has the distinct feeling it isn’t the first time he’s subjected to them.
The snapping, the barking and the sheer bullheadedness too are so familiar that Shinji expects them.
As if he knew Ichigo before even meeting him.
(He recognizes this in the same way that he’s sure (knows) Ichigo would have refused to kowtow before him had the blond still be a Captain… well…at least not before Shinji would have won the orange-haired substitute Shinigami’s respect.)
It’s weird, and unsettling, and perhaps a bit creepy. And coming from him – who made a habit of creeping out those around him by smiling – that’s an understatement.
The first time he’s alone with the teen, he expects Kaien, or Kukaku, or Ganju, or all three of them, waltzing in from somewhere and slinging an arm over Ichigo’s shoulders before trying, unsuccessfully, to shanghai him into going on adventures with them.
He notices he’s not the only one to expect something from the substitute Shinigami. The other Visored, Hiyori in particular, do as well. But Shinji attributes this behaviour to, well, the whole Visored thing.
He quickly changes his opinion.
Urahara is the first one he sees acting like his old self in front of the teen, like a friend instead of a mentor. Then Yoruichi, followed closely by Ukitake who has such a soft spot for Ichigo it hurts to watch, then Kyoraku who tries to give him sake and even Byakuya slowly begins to talk to him as if Ichigo is older than the Sixth Division Captain.
Isshin does it too, despite the fact that Ichigo is his son. Granted the man doesn’t know how to be a father to the teen but Shinji can’t figure if it’s the ex-Captain’s fault or because of Ichigo’s strange aura of familiarity.
Ichigo has no idea of what’s happening. He doesn’t realise there’s anything strange with the situation and the way some Shinigami treat him.
Ishida, Inoue and Chad begins to notice when it’s clear that Urahara and Yoruichi trust Ichigo without any hesitation.
It’s there in the way they smile; in the way the shopkeeper is a little less guarded, less jaded, when the teen is around; and in the way Yoruichi-san gleefully glomps him without any warning.
Rukia, then Renji, notice when their respective Captains (and brother) begin to interact with the orange-haired Shinigami. They’re stupefied and doesn’t how to react.
Quickly, Ichigo’s friends form a group and try to theorise what’s going on.
Their conclusions are far, extremely far, from the truth.
(“Really Inoue-san, the aliens and kidnapping and robots are a bit too much. And no, I doubt your brother/Captain has a crush on Ichigo, Kuchiki-san, Abarai-san. Half the time we see them together, he looks like he wants to politely strangle Ichigo, not kiss him. Yasutora-san, please, say something sane.”
With no surprise, Ishida is the only voice of reason.)
“It’s heart-breaking, it’s what it is”, Shinji abruptly decides. There’s no reason behind this verdict, no sudden realisation, but the blond knows it’s true.
(His heart hurts.
Sakanade howls and howls and howls and howls without being heard.)
(Whereareyou? Wherewereyou? Whathappenedtoyou?)
No one understands what going on.
Not until Aizen falls and with him his illusions and manipulations.
(It’s irony at its best when Ichigo is the one instrumental to Aizen’s defeat.
A murderer felled by his own victim)
Shiba Kaien had a twin.
A cherished brother younger than him by a few minutes and as dark-haired as his twin.
A snappish brother, stubborn to a fault and utterly disrespectful of anyone who hadn’t earned his respect first before demanding it.
One who joined the Gotei 13 decades before Kaien did.
A brother who had been the Lieutenant of the Fifth Division.
Shinji’s chosen, true, favoured, Lieutenant.
A respected Shinigami whose only fault was to be in the way of Aizen’s path to power.
(No wonder Aizen’s lieutenancy had always felt false.)
Shinji had hated Aizen with a passion since the Hollowfication. He had never though he’d loath him with his whole soul.
They had found Ichigo–
(And fuck, his lieutenant had ended up with the exact same name as his previous one. No wonder he felt so familiar!)
(Maybe it was Isshin’s subconscious way of honouring his nephew...)
Masaki refused all of Isshin’s ideas.
She chose ‘Ichigo’ because as soon as she knew she was pregnant he became the guardian of her soul, the protector, the heart, of her family.)
…Ichigo’s mangled, disfigured and only recognisable by his badge, body at the edge of South Rukongai.
It was supposed to be an easy mission, one meant to ease their new third seat (fucking Aizen) into their ranks.
(In hindsight some of the injuries had looked like they’d been dealt from behind.
They had buried him, mourned him and then…
They had forgotten him.
(Shinji had refused to name a second-in-command so soon after Ichigo’s, his friend, death.)
(Aizen had wanted the power afforded to a Lieutenant and he hadn’t been willing to wait or to ingratiate himself to Shinji or the rest of the Fifth Division.
Casting illusions was second nature to him thanks to his Zanpakuto.
Making everyone forget about Shiba Ichigo had been taxing: he had needed to modify the Shiba family registry, all of them, hide the grave and cast illusions over the records, the reports and the memories of everyone in the Gotei 13. Then a few days later, once he had recovered, over the rest of Seireitei.
He erased all the memories of those in Seireitei first because they were the most likely to raise suspicion over the strange disappearance of the second heir of the Shiba Clan from their minds. After, one by one, he casts his illusions over each Districts of the Rukongai, on the off chance that someone had once heard of Shiba Ichigo.
And then, finally, one last illusion over his own Academy records: one that stated his nomination to Lieutenant upon graduation. It had been taxing, but so worth it in his opinion.)
(Sakanade was an illusion-based Zanpakuto, too. This simple fact helped protect in part the mind of her wielder. Not entirely, never enough when it came to Aizen’s mastery of illusions, but enough to raise alarm bells.)
Shiba Ichigo had been an Academy student for one year when he had met for the first time a newly-promoted-to-Captain and too-cocky-for-his-own-good Hirako Shinji.
Where others had seen a respected Shinigami and been ready to bow and compliment in the hopes to gain favours, Ichigo had seen someone in need of both a trusted partner and a much-needed reality check.
He had then promptly delivered the later.
It was friendship at first roundhouse kick.
That same first night, the Shiba had welcomed their new honorary family member.
Shinji, Ichigo learns quickly, is an attention-seeking little brat, with a creepy smile full of teeth and, occasionally, a murder pout.
(He managed to have Kukaku at his beck and call for two days straight before she caught on just by pouting at her with doleful eyes.
Ichigo isn’t sure if he should be impressed or terrified. He settles on terrified when the consequent Kukaku-explosion almost blows up the entire Shiba Compound.
Shinji made sure from then on to always stay on the woman’s good side.)
It isn’t long before he becomes the young Shiba’s best friend.
(Soul Society looks on their relationship with slowly mounting horror and trepidation.
There is going to be chaos.)
(But it’s good chaos; one that brings change and renewal in its wake.)
He’s named Lieutenant of the Fifth as soon as he graduates. If it wasn’t for his perfect record (his only black marks are his Kido grades which are average at best) and the fact that he knows Shinji fought over him with other Captains, he would’ve accused the blond of favouritism and promptly refused.
He’s glad he didn’t.
(The Fifth becomes home away from home.
His siblings, both older and younger, squat his office from time to time.
Kukaku gets into spectacular screaming matches with Shinji which usually ends up with the two trying to drink each other under the table.
Ganju takes an interest into Kido, the more explosive the better, and the blond Captain teaches him a nifty trick that transforms everything the youngest Shiba touches into sand.
Kaien met Captain Ukitake.)
At least Shinji keeps up with his paperwork and other duties unlike Captain Kyoraku. And it’s Shinji; Ichigo already knows how to make him tick by the time he graduates.
(And if Ichigo isn’t enough to keep him concentrated, Hiyori is never far.
Neither are her trusted sandals.)
Better for him to be under the command of someone he both knows and respects.
Had the Captain of the Eleventh managed to win the bid over him (there was a literal bid; Ichigo was livid when he heard of it) he would have defected without a second thought. At least Shinji won’t try to force him to do something that goes against his moral code, or force him to respect anyone just because of their ranks, titles or names.
(Captain Kuchiki’s face, when Ichigo promptly ignored him in favour of his much more interesting firebrand of a grandson, had been something of legends.
At least that’s what Shinji said.
When he stopped rolling on the floor laughing his ass off, that is.)
His twin has just been named Lieutenant of the Thirteenth (Ukitake is a good, loyal, Captain; Kaein is in good hands) when the Fifth welcomes its own genius: one Aizen Sousuke.
Shinji doesn’t like him. Neither does Ichigo; there’s something…off about the prodigy.
But his record is spotless and the young Shiba isn’t in the habit of judging before knowing someone.
(Shinji had been the exception, not the rule)
And so, young Aizen is named the third seat of the Fifth.
It’s the worst mistake in the history of ever.
(Mind bogged down by illusions of trust and partnership, Ichigo never saw the first blow coming.)
The rest, as they said, is history.
Kurosaki Ichigo is not in any state to deal with reincarnation and past lives. For one thing, he doesn’t remember.
That’s the thing with being reincarnated: all previous memories are erased.
For another, he’s losing his powers and with it the ability to see spirits; something he had been able to do since he was born.
And for one final thing: he’s also losing two thirds of his soul. Because that’s what Shiro and Zangetsu are.
And everyone around him are either busy celebrating the end of the war or dealing with long forgotten memories to even wonder about the emotional repercussions loosing parts of one’s soul can have on a Human’s psyche.
Let alone on a teenager’s psyche.
Fifteen years old should not participate in a war. Never.
It’s not like anyone cared.
Not that Ichigo would have been inclined to listen; he wouldn’t have left his friends fend for themselves. And from the moment Inoue was taken well… He wouldn’t have been able to sit down, wait and do nothing anyway.
(His unwillingness to abandon his friends; something Aizen was, unfortunately, entirely aware of.
He wanted a toy, a plaything, someone powerful and moulded by his hands to test his augmented power on.
He got more than he bargained on.
And he never realised this Ichigo was so similar to another Ichigo. He never realised that by influencing Kurosaki Ichigo’s life he was attempting to revive the memory of Shiba Ichigo. (He never knew of how close he came to that.)
Maybe there was some sort of regret, of guilt, at slaying an opponent from behind.
Or maybe it was just the megalomaniac talking; wanting to watch the betrayal in the eyes of his victim as life fade from them.
All in all, his manipulations cause his (quite spectacular) loss.
By the time anyone (Shinji and Kisuke and Yoruichi and Isshin and– oh Kami! Kukaku and Ganju must be going ballistic in Soul Society) feels cognisant enough to go (run) check on Ichigo, the teen has already left the battlefield for his house and beloved sisters.
When they catch up with him – he bulldozed with his fading power through the barrier separating Fake Karakura Town from the real one – he’s collapsed in one of the kitchen’s chair, barely awake.
Yuzu is fretting over him and Karin turns to scowl at them (and– wow! That’s an Ichigo-scowl if Shinji ever saw one and, from the collective flinch from behind him, he’s not the only one to think so).
(The moment Karin spies her father wearing the black uniform characteristic of a Shinigami and the Zanpakuto at his side, she goes ballistic.
She takes after Kukaku, despite never having met her.
Shinji takes note to stay on her good side.)
Unsurprisingly, Captain Unohana beats them to the punch and takes charge of the situation with a truly terrifying smile and gentle hands.
Shinji hides a wince when he remembers she always had a soft spot for the Shiba twins. They were among the few not to object too much before going to the fourth when injured. Kami knew the blond himself was dragged there often enough by his Lieutenant!
(It hurts to remember. It hurts even more so to remember loosing such a constant in his life, to remember forgetting about Ichigo from one day to another.
The blond Visored loathed Aizen from the deepest, darkest, most hateful part of his soul and profoundly wished to be able to kill the bastard. But he couldn’t. Because despite his wish to stab the cowardly fucker deader than dead, a dead Shinigami’s soul went directly to the circle of reincarnation.
And Shinji wanted to crush his soul, not send him on his merry way to a new life.
Too bad the Sogyoku was destroyed during Ichigo’s mad dash through Seireitei to rescue the Kuchiki girl or else Shinji would have gleefully used it to erase that cowardly insect’s soul from existence.
Ah! The freaky sparkly purple butterfly made so much more sense now! A beautiful exterior to hide the disgusting worm on the inside and the ephemerality of his power was just the cherry on top.)
He’s feeling pole-axed and out of his depth. He just got his best friend back after, unwillingly, forgetting him and now he’s losing him. Again!
Not like he should worry; Yoruichi is shaking Kisuke by the lapels of his top and shouting at him to move his ass or else!
For his part the shopkeeper looks like he’s already thinking of something. What, Shinji doesn’t have a clue, but he hopes it’s a goddam miracle.
He thinks that, after those last awful decades, they deserve it.
In the meantime, he needs a plan of action.
A missive from the Captain-Commander turns out to be just what he needed.
Captain-Commander Yamamoto doesn’t even try to forbid his troops from contacting Kurosaki Ichigo when the teen loses his power.
He’ll have a mutiny on his hands if he even tries to think of that particular idea.
Kukaku and Ganju desert Soul Society without asking first and commandeer the Kurosaki’s guestroom and two gigai from Urahara.
No amount of pleading will make them budge from Ichigo’s side.
Learning about new Human chemicals and explosives is just a plus.
Shinji takes back his captaincy of the Fifth, promptly names Ichigo as his co-Lieutenant with Hinamori and then transfers his office to the Living World.
One look at his smile and no one even attempt to stop him.
Karin and Yuzu suddenly have more family members than they know what to do with. But they’re nice. And they’re not as crazy as their father.
Yuzu just loves that nowadays the house is always full.
Karin isn’t feeling any inclination to begin to forgive her father for lying to them their whole life. Kukaku, who takes no shit from no-one and especially not from Isshin, becomes her new role-model.
(Everyone else is properly terrified.)
Isshin deals with his daughter’s animosity towards him with good grace. He tries to be a bit less exuberant. It helps that he now knows why his feelings towards his son were so strange and more fond than fatherly.
Rukia and Renji come and go from Soul Society and the Living World each time they have a free moment. Byakuya follows silently sometimes.
Ukitake drops off to check on the reincarnation of his Lieutenant’s twin. Kyouraku is not far behind, usually hassled by a newly-returned-to-lieutenancy Lisa.
Toshiro comes and goes, accompanied by Rangiku, to talk with his ex-Captain and puzzles over the fact that the boisterous man managed to find a woman willing to marry him and give him children. That one of said children is Kurosaki Ichigo barely surprises him.
Rangiku falls in love over Yuzu’s adorableness and immediately takes her under her wing.
Some of the Visored go back to the Gotei 13.
Those who don’t have a captaincy or a lieutenancy to return to consider either staying as liaison in the Living World or forming their own Division, whether the Gotei 13 or Central 46 agree with them or not.
(Since none of them want to deal with paperwork, the idea of a Fourteenth Division – while fun – is quickly shelved.
Shinji keeps it close to his hands. He has plans for the Fourteenth.)
To the older generation Kurosaki Ichigo being the reincarnation of Shiba Ichigo is at once a surprise and an evidence. The whole “let’s invade Soul Society to save our friend” fiasco should have alerted them. Those who knew him as Shiba Ichigo on a personal level get a bit clingy, though. Those who knew and knows him as both Shiba Ichigo and Kurosaki Ichigo become downright possessive.
(The Fullbringers stand no chance.)
The younger generation doesn’t care, that fact just makes Ichigo’s legend grows. The Godslayer, indeed.
Yoruichi continues to harass Kisuke and Ichigo in turns; the first so that he finds quickly a solution to the reiatsu loss; and the second so that he keeps up with his training.
Kisuke doesn’t say anything (even when he wants to tease her on her one-upon-a-time childish crush on the Shiba twins) and tests theory after theory. He finds one that works.
Ichigo is a bit bewildered by all that activities around his house nowadays. All the Shinigami (including his father, and isn’t that a kick to the teeth?) keep silent but the teen knows there’s something going on.
He tries to forget about it.
Curiosity got him into this mess in the first place.
Losing his power is hard; losing two thirds of his soul is even harder and, sometimes, he can barely breathe when he reaches for his Zanpakuto or Hollow and find nothing.
But he’s not alone. His family gained three new members practically overnight and Yoruichi-san and Hat-and-Clogs are never far.
His friends attend school with him and, even if he can’t follow on Hollow hunts, he’s here for them when they come back tired and sometimes injured.
His Shinigami friends, and even some he’s not really close to, drop by when they have time, just to talk or to spar.
That’s all that matter.
When a born Shinigami dies and gets reincarnated as a Human, they lose all their memories of their previous life.
The thing is: they are reincarnated in the Human world from the same family they were first born in.
Far back into Kurosaki Masaki’s family tree there is a many-time-great-grandfather who, upon his death, found himself young again and in Soul Society. He founded the Shiba clan.
His Human descendants went on to have their own families and descendants, one branch eventually marrying a Quincy which leads directly to Masaki and her three children.
(Somewhere among her many distant cousins, there is a young man named Kaien.)
Those reincarnations, upon their Human’s death, have a very slight chance, one in a zillion, to remember both their Shinigami and Human lives…
And well, whether as a Kurosaki or a Shiba, Ichigo always had a strange relationship with luck… and with his high reiatsu…