Chapter One: INFERNO
For Kurosaki Yuzu, everything had changed after Hell. She'd been in dangerous situations before, despite how Ichigo fought to protect her, but Hell was... it was something else entirely. Even ten years later, her dreams were still filled with lakes of bubbling lava, of twisted white bones, binding chains, and inescapable cages, of pain and horror, death and betrayal, and stinking smoke that burned straight through her with every gasping breath she took, a fiery torment in her very soul.
Those first few years after were the hardest. She only remembered fragments of Hell, disjointed and jagged, but it was enough to nearly destroy her– her night terrors and strangled midnight screams rivalled Ichigo's, and Ichigo had fought in two wars and a handful of uprisings and rebellions before his eighteenth birthday.
Her mind was... scarred, to put it bluntly; she was still Kurosaki Yuzu, she was still kind and gentle and loving, but she'd gained a quiet edge of sadism. Her smiles were still sweet, but sometimes they were sweet like poison, and her sense of justice became entwined with an urge to ensure the wicked were punished (because she'd certainly started to find punishment quite appealing... and as she grew older, she found it quite appealing in very different ways, growing her nails long and filing them sharp because she liked to see the marks she left on her boyfriends and girlfriends, liked to watch their faces twist into something less like pleasure, and more like pain. Mortifyingly enough, it had been Kisuke-oji, her honorary uncle, who'd discretely brought sadomasochism to her attention, but he'd been right, of course, he usually was, and Yuzu had certainly found the lifestyle a healthy way to channel her urges).
Another significant change to her life after Hell was that dead were never hidden from her again; no, from Hell onward she saw them as sharp and clear as her brother. In fact, she could see further, even; could see the dark taint of the damned, the ones destined for Hell– she'd been a denizen there long enough to recognise her own.
The aftermath of Hell had also seen her finally reaching out for help to learn how to defend herself, to fight. Surprising everyone who knew her except for her twin, Ichigo and Kisuke-oji, she went to Ryuuken-ojisan and asked to be taught what her mother knew. Ryuuken-ojisan had been silent a long moment before agreeing. It took years for Yuzu to be able to manipulate reishi effectively, but she stubbornly persisted until she could use Blut Vene and Blut Arterie and shape Reishi into her weapon of choice– not a sword, or a bow, a soccer ball, or even a pan, spatula or kitchen knife, as the bets had been laid; no, the weapon that came most naturally to Yuzu were chains.
It made sense, to her. She'd never lost her Togabito chains, after her little visit 'downstairs'– or, as Karin had called them, her Hell Chains. The Hell Chains were... very potent weapons, to say the least. Appearing as if stabbed clean through her wrists when she manifested them, the Hell Chains were, at their core, pieces of Hell that had found a home within her soul; they hurt people, crippled them even when used on living humans, Shinigami, Arrancar, and Hollows alike. While Yuzu preferred to use her reishi-chains to fight, her Hell Chains were an extremely (and gloriously) effective last resort.
When Ichigo had first realised just how determined she was to be able to defend herself, her brother had taken her to the dojo he'd belonged to with Tatsuki and signed her up for Japanese kick-boxing classes. Yuzu, who had lacked any athletic ability at the time, had struggled at the beginning, but as months crept into years she began to excel, just as her brother and sister had before her. It became widely known to everyone in the Non-Living worlds that the Kurosaki siblings were fucking terrifying to piss off– and people weren't sure what scared them most; Ichigo's hard scowls, Karin's toothy grins, or Yuzu's sweet smiles. The Kurosakis were dangerous, deadly, feared, and loyal. Nobody dared touch any of them, not when it risked bringing the wrath of the other two and their many allies down on the dead man walking who tried.
And Yuzu; well, Yuzu finally began to... not heal, precisely, some things just couldn't be healed from, and Hell was one of them, but in the way of kintsugi, the cracks in her psyche left by her experiences were filled in with seams of silver and gold, making her whole once more. The end product was significantly different from that which had come before, but Yuzu was all the more lovely for it– as many would agree (university really was an amazing time for exploration, not to mention her ability to curb-stomp her opponents had drawn the interest of Yachiru, a pink-haired menace of a shinigami who was insane but very pretty and also quite good at curb-stomping her opponents. Even Ichigo had been horrified when they started dating, albeit in an open relationship. Yuzu was just happy to learn so many new ways to stab people and crush her opponents to pulp despite usually being so much smaller).
And then, at age twenty-three, just as she was nearing the end of her undergraduate degree and was about to begin her residency as a doctor under Ryuuken-ojisan, Yuzu went for a walk during a break between lectures to enjoy the fresh winter air and chat to Karin on the phone about her twin's recent engagement to Toshirou-kun when, to the immense horror and utter rage of everyone who knew her, Kurosaki Yuzu disappeared.
While her brother, sister and all their allies started tearing the Living and Non-Living worlds apart looking for her, Yuzu woke up in a rather cliche underground laboratory with, to quote Ichigo, "that clown-faced bastard" Kurotsuchi grinning triumphantly down at her. Her clothes were gone, and she was restrained to some sort of altered surgical operating table in a room that stank of old blood, death and the sharp scent of harsh cleaning chemicals.
Drugs had blocked her off from her spiritual energy and left her body weak and unresponsive and her mind foggy, reducing her to the helplessness of a pinned butterfly, unable to escape the devastatingly effective restraints– because they were effective, horrifyingly so. Part of her hair had been shaved away and her head was bolted down so tightly to the operating table that she couldn't move it an inch– thick bands of metal ran over her forehead, another over her neck like some perversion of a neck-brace, and a thick strap pulled across her mouth and chin. More restraints had her arms pulled away from her body, metal bands trapping her wrists and her upper arms. Her legs were restrained in a similar manner, spread apart in a Y-shape, with a set of metal bands around her ankles and just above her knee. Her torso was restrained by a final thick band, this one over her stomach. There were also nasogastric tubes up her nose, an IV line in her arm and catheters inserted to deal with her waste. She'd never felt so exposed, trapped, vulnerable, violated and horrifyingly helpless in her life, not even in a cage in Hell.
She spent the first few weeks of her captivity (or possibly longer– it was hard to keep track of the time) drugged out of her mind, which was probably a blessing considering the scarring on her body that suggested Kurotsuchi had opened her up more than once to look at her insides. She didn't remember the invasive surgeries, not really, but that didn't subtract from the fear and violation she felt. She was never released from the restraints, with Kurotsuchi washing her after she'd passed out, whether from blood-loss or from the drugs. She'd wake up clean, but as if she'd never been released from the operating table at all. She half wondered, in her more lucid moments, if maybe she hadn't been, if maybe her captor had just tipped buckets of water over her. She hoped that was it. She couldn't bear the idea of Kurotsuchi bathing her, of his hands on her flesh. Her body was so numbed from the drugs that she couldn't tell if there was any... violation, and she could only desperately hope that the mad scientist retained at least some dregs of morals, or that his scientific sensibilities held him above such 'weaknesses' of the flesh.
She wasn't quite sure where Kurotsuchi had stashed her away, only that it wasn't in Soul Society and he seemed convinced that nobody would find her there, and that nobody had any idea he was the one that had taken her. Considering he was still breathing, Yuzu suspected he might be right too. But as smart as Kurotsuchi was, he had overlooked one thing– it had been years now since Yuzu had needed someone to play the hero for her; she was the sister of Ichigo and Karin, the daughter of Masaki and the honorary niece of Kisuke and Ryuuken; she was a Kurosaki and she would save herself.
Yuzu suspected that entire months had passed with her as a prisoner before she finally got the chance she'd been waiting for, but her memories were confused and blurred, and she had enough presence of mind to understand that her perception of time was completely off. She didn't particularly care for the specifics anyway– in her opinion, even a single second in Kurotsuchi's possession was a second too long– and whenever she was actually aware enough to make note of time passing, most of her attention was focused on more important things. And eventually, just like she knew he would, just like she'd been waiting and biding her time for during her more lucid moments, Kurotsuchi made a mistake.
The mad scientist either missed a dosage of the drugs he'd been using that kept her cut off from her ability to access spiritual energy, or perhaps her body had just built up a tolerance to their presence, enough to diminish the effects. Yuzu really didn't care, and wasn't about to waste the opportunity on anything but escape, and when Kurotsuchi next leaned over her, scalpel in hand, she promptly sent a Hell Chain burrowing straight through his chest, to where his black, rotten heart supposedly beat, the Hell-forged links shredding their way through his torso, through flesh, ribs, lungs, heart and his spinal cord before tearing out the bastard's back. Kurotsuchi spent his last brief few moments alive suffering unimaginable torment and screaming before she used her Chain to rip, almost tearing the clown-faced bastard in half, splattering the surroundings with blood, bone shards, and mutilated chunks of flesh and steaming organs.
Yuzu passed out from exhaustion immediately after, but the next time she woke it was to an even clearer head, nearly full access to her spiritual energy– reishi, reiatsu, and her Hell Chains– and Kurotsuchi's corpse slumped on the floor. Not that she actually saw the corpse until after she'd used her reishi-chains to rip away her restraints then immediately tried to sit up, despite the way her head spun and protested at the abrupt motion. Her body atempted resisting her attempts to move it, her muscles all stiff and atrophied from the extended disuse, but she pushed herself onwards regardless, made herself sit, then slide off the table and onto her feet, clutching the table for support when her legs nearly gave out underneath her. She ripped out the nasogastric tubes, uncaring of the dull tearing pain it caused in her sinuses, or the wet trails of blood that leaked out in their wake, followed by the IV and then the catheters, though she at least had the presence of mind to force her badly trembling hands to be far more careful when removing the latter, not wanting to cause any permanent damage to her body through careless haste, despite her desperation to be free.
She then barely managed to take three steps before she tripped over Kurotsuchi's close-to-bisected corpse, crashing to the ground where her body stubbornly refused to assist her in standing up again. Steeling herself, Yuzu stubbornly decided if she couldn't run or even walk, then she'd just have to fucking crawl. And so crawl she did.
The moment she'd dragged herself out of the laboratory that had been her prison for far too long, she actually teared up and would probably have started crying if that wasn't the moment that she found out Kurotsuchi wasn't working alone– and the last thing Central 46 wanted was for Yuzu to escape and reveal what had been done to her and by who to her brother. Adrenaline lent Yuzu strength she didn't even realise she had, helping her to stand and then remain upright as she staggered wildly through the facility, dodging attacks while lashing out with both her reishi-chains and her Hell Chains, the Hell-tainted forged links of her soul tearing through flesh and bone and leaving bisected corpses in her wake as the white walls were painted red with blood.
The laboratory of a mad scientist, however, was one of the worst possible places to fight any sort of battle, because collateral damage in a battle was inevitable and one never knew what sort of insane contraptions a mad scientist had laying around. In this case, Yuzu's frail, battered body was sent crashing back by one of her attackers into an experiment Kurotsuchi had labelled years ago as 'too unstable to use, but too interesting to destroy', and it proved its instability when the wave of her attacker's offensive kido that had sent her crashing into it was enough to set it off with an ominous electronic whine as gears started whirring.
The building energy was intense enough to cause Yuzu's her ears to start bleeding as she tried and failed to move off the machine, to force herself away, only for the enormous and still growing pressure to cause the whole underground laboratory to start collapsing around them. The Central 46 minion who'd accidentally activated the bloody thing in the first place ignored the shaking and rumbling around them long enough to drive his Zanpakutou through her chest, but it was the last mistake he ever made. The release of spiritual energy caused by the death of Yuzu's human body and subsequent awakening as a shinigami fed the machine the last of the energy it needed to rip the very fabric of reality before the energy build up proved too much and the machine exploded into an inferno, taking the minion and the laboratory with it.
At the very same time as Kurotsuchi's hidden Central 46-funded laboratory exploded, killing everyone inside, Yuzu found herself gasping her way back into awareness in an entirely new universe with an entirely new second set of memories inside her head while laid out flat on wet grass as her ears rang in the aftermath of a nitroglycerin explosion to her face.
The four young children she was surrounded by were laughing and jeering, the blond among them shouting something as explosions smoked and crackled at his hands, but Yuzu ignored all of that, too busy gasping for breath with a ribcage that thankfully didn't have a huge fucking length of sharpened steel driven through it, which wasn't how she last remembered it being. She spent hours laying there in the grass, quickly abandoned by the four horrible children, her aching head struggling to make sense of what was going on, of what had happened to her.
A policeman found her there, though she was still in shock at that point and didn't really notice, only vaguely aware of her too-small body being lifted by gentle hands, so different from the clinical, impersonal, invasive hands that had been touching her since her abduction. The policeman immediately called for an ambulance and stayed with her the entire ride to the hospital, talking to her in a low, kind voice, the unending stream of words not something she really took in, but found comfort in the sound of anyway.
Midoriya Inko, who had been the one to contact the police when her son failed to return home after school, met them at the hospital, the plump, green-haired woman crying out in horror at the sight of Yuzu. Yuzu just stared with confusion at the woman her new memories informed her was her mother, and the accompanying shock of that new, alien awareness of the woman's identity did not make for a smooth transition into her new life as Midoriya Izuku, but honestly, Yuzu doubted such a thing could actually have been possible.