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Soul Swap

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1:

 

Ichigo Kurosaki was Kakashi Hatake. Although, he guessed it would be more accurate to say that Kakashi Hatake had once been Ichigo Kurosaki because now he technically wasn’t. Ichigo had never been the type to let the technicalities stop him, however, not even the technicalities that said reborn souls couldn’t remember their past lives. He wasn’t exactly an expert on the topic of rebirth, of course, but he did know what Rukia had told him after all that crap with Uryu had been taken care of.

According to Rukia, after the dearly departed such as herself, well, departed, they were converted into reishi and sent into the Cycle of Rebirth. Thanks to this, the number of souls remained fairly constant; the reborn souls from Soul Society filling the slots in the World of the Living while the World of the Living souls filled the slots in Soul Society. It was a constantly shifting balance of souls and a fragile one at that. It was that balance the quincies had threatened but that wasn’t the important part of the story right now, the important part was this: not only had Ichigo been reborn despite being a human at the time of his death, he’d been reborn somewhere inside of Soul Society with every single scrap of memory intact.

That hot summer day they'd spent staring up at a sky swirled with orange, Rukia had told him that one day, she too would be reborn as someone else, somewhere else. At the time, he remembered wondering if he’d be the same. A human that could turn into a soul reaper. Hah. He should’ve known the end result would be somewhere in between.

Leaning back on his hands, Ichigo stared up at a sky that was blue without a trace of the nostalgic orange in sight. He was somewhere different, in a body that was different, but underneath it all, Ichigo Kurosaki had remained himself somehow. Talk about a mess. Not that he was complaining.

For whatever reasons, be it an undeveloped brain or the world taking pity on him, he hadn’t remembered who he was until this morning. After four years in this body, his past memories had finally decided to douse him with every single thing that had ever happened at precisely three am in the morning. His name was Ichigo Kurosaki, he was sixteen-years-old and he had died with only the cold presence of his killer to keep him company. He’d woken up to that! And though he hated grand emotional displays, he hadn’t been able to stop the tears from falling.

He had died in Hueco Mundo. He had died and he had failed to protect her again, he had failed Orihime again. What had happened to her after that? Was she still there, in Hueco Mundo? Had the others made it out all right? Had they rescued her? It’d been four years since then— Since he’d... Since he’d died. Since he’d been killed. All that crap with Aizen must’ve been over by now. Were they okay?

And what about his sisters? What were Karin and Yuzu up to!? There was no way Goat-Chin could raise them on his own!! Ichigo wouldn’t trust him with a goldfish!!

That settled it. He had to find out what happened! He had to get back to his real family!

Abandoning the koi pond he’d been sitting beside, he stood and gave the surrounding garden a quick once over to be certain he was alone. He didn’t know where he was, but if he made it back to Seireitei and explained the situation, he was sure he could talk them into opening a gateway to the World of the Living. On the off-chance they refused, he could always ask Byakuya for help. After all, the guy still owed Ichigo a solid for knocking that stick out his ass.

Nodding along to his flawless logic, Ichigo focused a burst of spiritual energy into his feet and easily hopped over the fence that encircled the Hatake compound. This was going to be easy!

 

2:

 

It didn’t take long for that man to find him. In fact, Ichigo had barely made it five streets over. He was standing in the entrance of a shopping district by the looks of it. Clothing stores, bookstores, movie posters, stands brimming with food—it’d thrown him for a loop! For starters, he’d thought normal souls couldn’t feel hunger, so why would they have all that food they didn’t need set out? And secondly, since when did Soul Society have movie theaters? He didn’t recall the place being so.... modern, the last time he’d been here. When he’d broken in to rescue Rukia, Soul Society had looked like a place torn right out of his history textbooks, but this village was... well, if he had to put it into words, it was more like a combination of both modern and feudal times.

A lot could change in four years, he had figured, taking in the signs advertising different foods and products, the dirt path and the crowd of people up ahead, some dressed in kimonos, others wearing clothes so normal he did a double-take. Now that he thought about it, even his clothes were semi-normal; a dark form-fitting shirt with a turtleneck collar and even darker shorts. It was weird but almost normal.

He was tugging on the stuffy collar of his shirt when a shout came from behind him.

“Kakashi!!”

Pale skin, dark clothes, a short ponytail that was bushy and bleached of color, Ichigo relaxed. ‘Dad’, his mind seemed to supply, but Ichigo stubbornly rejected the notion. He already had a father, and this man sure as hell wasn’t it. Despite that, he was in Bushytail’s arms before he could run let alone process that the man had picked him up.

“How did you get all the way out here!?”

Ichigo blinked, once, twice, disoriented by his sudden change of gravity. Then came the annoyance. “I walked,” he said, pushing away from Bushytail’s chest to scowl at him more effectively. “How else would I get all the way out here? You think I just crawled all the way from the compound?”

Bushytail stared at him as though he’d grown another head.

Ichigo realized his mistake a second too late. Four-year-olds weren’t supposed to be this well-versed in the art of being a smartass.

A beat passed, two, three, Bushytail gave him a wry grin. “I take it the compound is getting a little stuffy for you, then.”

“Somethin’ like that,” Ichigo muttered, dropping his scowl off to the side.

“Care to tell me what you were doing out here then?”

“No.”

“Kakashi...”

Dad or not, Ichigo recognized that tone. He was in trouble. “‘M not doin’ nothin’.”

A sigh. “I suppose this was a long time coming. I can’t keep you locked up in the house forever. I just figured with you being such a quiet kid, I’d have a bit more time.”

Ichigo frowned. What was he getting at?

Bushytail set Ichigo down with such care, it was kind of touching. Then he dropped into a crouch so that they were face-to-face. “Kakashi, I know you’re still too young to understand but you can’t go off on your own without telling me. I’ve made too many enemies over the years, enemies that could very well target you in order to get to me.”

And in came the guilt. Ichigo may not see this man as his dad, but this man certainly saw Ichigo as his son. He must’ve been terrified when he’d noticed Ichigo was missing.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, meaning every word.

Didn’t mean he’d given up on finding his way home though.

Bushytail’s expression softened and he pulled Ichigo into his chest, arms wrapping around him in a way his real dad had stopped doing after he’d entered Junior High. It was awkward being hugged so lovingly by a relative stranger, but again, the child in him registered this man as ‘dad’, and melted into the embrace without his permission, even allowing Bushytail to scoop him up into his arms once more.

“When you get a little older, I can start taking you to the park, but for now, please have patience with this father of yours.”

Ichigo humored that with a grunt. He’d never been known for his patience.

 

3:

 

If anybody asked Ichigo who his mother was, he’d say Misaki Kurosaki hands down. Ichigo had loved his mother. He’d loved her so much that losing her had crushed his entire view of the world. He’d sworn off crying and become sullen, stopped taking other people’s crap (something that resulted in more fistfights than he cared to count). Losing his mother had been a life-altering moment for Ichigo, so he wasn’t quite sure what he should be feeling right now, watching as Bushytail paid his respects to the woman who’d given birth to him.

She’d already been long gone by the time Ichigo’s memories had resurfaced. According to Bushytail, she’d died during labor.

Ichigo may not consider her his mother, but he visited her every birthday all the same, burning incense with Bushytail and wishing her well. He owed the woman that’d given him life again that much.

As he did every year, Bushytail knelt in front of her grave with his hands clasped in prayer. He never cried during these visits. He never frowned and he never glared. Ichigo got the feeling Bushytail was trying to be strong for him, the same way Ichigo had once been strong for his sisters. But still. It couldn’t have been easy for him. That’s why Ichigo always tried to give him space on this day, saying a quick prayer for the woman before backing away and waiting for Bushytail.

After a while, Bushytail stood and offered him a hand. “So, Kakashi, what would you like to eat?”

Ichigo thought it over for a moment. “Mentaiko karashi.”

An amused snort. “Again?”

Ichigo scowled up at him. “You’re the one who asked me what I wanted!”

“I didn’t say no,” Bushytail said, raising a hand in placating gesture while the other engulfed Ichigo’s much smaller one.

“Sweet!”

 

4:

 

Admittedly, it took Ichigo longer than he was proud of to realize he wasn’t in the Rukongai. Actually, he didn’t think he was anywhere near it. He’d read a lot of books since “waking up”, and not a single one had mentioned anything about souls or hollows, nor had he seen any soul reapers running around. Again, he was inconsolable. How was he supposed to get home if he couldn’t find Seireitei? That place was freaking gigantic!! How could it be this hard!?

He’d even tried asking Bushytail about it, but all he’d gotten were confused looks and explanations that made no sense. His last attempt had gone like this:

 

“Yo, Bushytail, which District are we in?”

 

Bushytail had glanced away from the training post he’d been chucking kunai at for the past hour and a half, pale skin damp with sweat. “District?”

 

Ichigo had given his legs one last swing before hopping off the engawa and padding over to him. “Yeah.”

 

“No, Kakashi, I think the word you’re looking for is ‘village’, and we live in Konohagakure.”

 

“Kono-what? Where’s that at!?”

 

After that, Bushytail had abandoned his training in favor of sitting Ichigo down with some kiddy book listing all the different “hidden villages” scattered throughout the land. Even taught him a song to remember them by. When Ichigo caught himself humming it later, he was not happy. In fact, he was the exact opposite of happy.

He was pissed he was stuck in some foreign part of Soul Society, pissed he couldn’t leave it—Bushytail always keeping track of his whereabouts, especially when he ventured outside—and most of all, he was pissed that he’d died. It wasn’t fair. He’d been here for five years. Five. Years. He still couldn’t believe it.

He’d only been sixteen. Sixteen. He’d had a family waiting for him! He’d his whole life ahead of him, how could Hat-and-Clogs just let him go like that!? Why hadn’t he tried harder to stop him!? Had he even tried at all!!?

Wait. Wait, no!! What was he thinking!!? He didn’t regret trying to save Orihime!! She was his friend, there was no way he’d regret trying to help her!! He didn’t!! He... He didn’t.

He didn’t right?

Bushytail found him sitting by the koi pond that afternoon with his head buried in his knees and his arms wrapped around his legs a little too tight. Ichigo had been so lost in his own head he hadn’t noticed Bushytail until after the man had grabbed his shoulder, and therefore he’d reacted to someone invading his personal space the usual way: he lashed out with a fist.

Bushytail caught it with ease.

“Nice reflexes,” he’d said, pride oozing off him as he moved Ichigo’s tiny fist away from his nose.

He sounded so much like Goat-Chin in that moment Ichigo wanted to scream. Instead, he breathed out, “Did you want something?”

Bushytail didn’t bat an eyelash at his tone, didn’t seem to notice it. “Yes, I do.”

Ichigo sat up straighter. That wasn’t like him. Bushytail was usually incredibly observant, he’d never had any trouble picking up on Ichigo’s moods despite his best attempts to hide them. He’d even noticed Ichigo’s aversion to mirrors—awful silver hair in place of orange, stupid pale skin in place of tan, disgustingly delicate features, eyes as dark as coal, a damn mole —and had gone out of his way to buy Ichigo a mask that covered his face from the nose down. For him to miss such an obvious thing... something must’ve happened. Was someone attacking the village? Was it Aizen!?

And yet. When Bushytail moved, it wasn’t to knock him out of harm’s way or warn him of danger, it was to offer him a kunai.

Ichigo tensed furiously at the sight of the blade, memories of clanging swords and bloody battlefields threatening to suffocate him.

Bushytail missed that as well, his too wide smile having caused his eyes to crinkle shut. “I figured it was about time we start your training.”

Wait. What training? Why would Ichigo be training!? Bushytail had never told him they’d be training!

“For what?” He choked out, managing to cast the kunai a suspicious look despite how the sight of it made him burn.

Bushytail’s smile faltered. “You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

It took a while for Bushytail’s confusion to fade, and when it did, it was replaced by the kind of fascinated horror he’d expect from someone that had just clapped eyes on Kukaku’s newest home. “Kakashi, you really don’t know what I do for a living!?”

“Uh. No?”

“We’re Hatake!! We’re a clan of shinobi!!”

Ichigo, to his credit, only freaked out a little. “We’re— We’re what!? We’re shinobi!? What the hell!?”

Or maybe not.

“Language!” Bushytail chided, though the reaction was purely reflexive at this point.

Scooting away a good foot or two, Ichigo jabbed a finger at him. “But— But wait, wait, if we’re some kind of great shinobi clan, then where’re all the rest of the members at!?”

The look Bushytail gave him was equal parts fond and sad.

Being on the receiving end of such a look was sobering if nothing else. Ichigo lowered his hand.

“They’re dead, Kakashi.... Tell you what, ask me a couple years from now, and I’ll tell you all about the gruesome history of our clan. But for now, let’s say we get you started on your kunai throwing.”

It wasn’t a question. Ichigo could tell that much.

“Also, we need to work on your observational skills. I knew you were dense, son, but it seems I’ve underestimated to what extent.”

“Oh. Right... Wait a minute, are you calling me stupid!!?”

“Ah, you’re improving already.”

 

5:

 

Ichigo had always been a fast learner. Or so he’d been told. To him, his growth rate was normal. Figuring out Getsuga Tenshou? It’d taken a couple fights but he’d pulled it off in the end. Learning bankai in two weeks? Rough but doable. He hadn’t known the average soul reaper spent years just trying to achieve their shikai, if they ever managed to achieve it at all. He hadn’t known bankai was sacred, hadn’t known it was so much rarer.

Ikkaku was the one who told him in the end, and even after that, Ichigo hadn’t thought much of it. He’d been like this his entire life and no one had ever cared before. Well. No one until now, that is.

Bushytail watched as Ichigo’s kunai thunked into the bullseye for the tenth time in a row without missing, satisfaction radiating off him in waves nearly as bright and brilliant as the sun itself. “Good, you’re doing good, Kakashi! I’m proud of you. I’d say you’re ready to advance to shuriken.”

At the praise, Ichigo smiled despite himself.

 

6:

 

“Kakashi,” Bushytail said, kneeling down to place his hands over Ichigo’s small shoulders.

Ichigo looked up at him expectantly.

“I’ll be away for at least a week this time. You’ll be good while I’m gone, won’t you?”

Ichigo didn’t appreciate being treated like he was helpless. Bushytail noticed this—he always noticed, damn it—mirth dancing around his crinkled eyes and a hand moving to ruffle Ichigo’s unruly silver hair.

He swatted it aside irritably. “It’s not like this is the first time you’ve left. I’ll be fine.”

Five, though he may seem, Ichigo was technically in his early twenties. That may be younger than Bushytail but it was old enough for him to take care of himself!

With a low chuckle, Bushytail pulled away. “An old friend should be dropping by to check in on you now and then. Consider yourself lucky—if I wasn’t so confident in your ability to care for yourself, I’d be having him stay here with you, and none of us would want that, now would we?”

Having spent months with Rukia in his closet, Ichigo couldn’t care less where Bushytail’s friend stayed, so long as it wasn’t in his room. Not that he was complaining about the misguided consideration. Less supervision would make his research easier.

Bushytail opened the door, allowing for a triangle of light to bleed into the otherwise dark hallway. The light highlighted his broad shoulders and the points of his spiky hair, making them almost seem to glow, and as he cast Ichigo one last warm smile, Ichigo felt an equally warm feeling stir in his chest. For a not-dad, he had to admit, Bushytail was pretty okay.

“Be safe.”

Maybe, just maybe, one day he would add “dad” at the end of it. For Bushytail’s sake, of course.

 

7:

 

If someone was to walk into the Hatake clan’s normally pristine study, they’d have thought a storm had swept through it. Books of every size lay scattered across the room, some having landed neatly on their spines, others not so lucky. The antique maps the Hatake family were so proud of had been strewn across the floor as the sole occupant of the room pored over them, angrily ripping pages out of his notebook whenever something failed to meet his expectations. Most of his notebook had befallen this tragic fate.

Ichigo wanted to scream. His research was turning up nothing. Nothing!

He knew he was somewhere in Soul Society—he had to be!! There was nowhere like this in the World of the Living! This didn’t make any sense! Not unless... No. No, that wasn’t possible. Seireitei was here!! It had to be! He just wasn’t looking hard enough!

Tearing another book from the shelf beside him, he slammed it onto the floor and began flipping through it only to chuck it at the wall a minute later when it bore no results. Grabbed another. Repeated the process.

Why wasn’t he finding anything!? Why did no one know what Seireitei was!? Why wasn’t there a single shred of information concerning it!? It was so frustrating!!

Giving up for the day, he buried his face in his hands. He just wanted to go home!

 

8:

 

Ichigo dreamt of breaking bones and horrid screams. His breaking bones. His horrid screams. A crescent of a smile towered over him, and somewhere in the darkness that had swallowed him whole, he could hear the sound of someone crying. Her crying.

The dream shifts, and suddenly he’s dangling in the air with a strong cord wrapped around his throat. Chips of green ice observe him impassively right before a beam of light tears through his chest. Skin, muscle, bone, the light turns everything it touches to dust and he falls, falls, falls. This time, she screams.

Even after waking up, her desperate pleas continue to ring inside his ears. 'Kurosaki-kun!!' His body feels weightless as he jerks upright and clutches at his heaving chest. 'Please don't die!!' It was still there, he had to remind himself. 'Don't leave me all alone!!' He wasn’t in Hueco Mundo.

He sat there for a while, staring at his shuriken patterned sheets while he tried to get his breathing under control. He couldn’t. An image of her tear-streaked cheeks filled his mind and his fingers clawed into the sheets, bunching the fabric up in his hands.

He’d failed her. He’d failed her, he’d failed everyone and now he was alone and everyone was gone and— and—

In a burst of movement, he threw his blanket off and barreled into the hallway. He didn’t want to think about this!! He only slowed his pace out of habit when he neared the kitchen, ears straining for the telltale sounds of Bushytail bustling about in the kitchen. He knew the possibility of Bushytail having returned early was slim to none but he couldn’t help it, he needed a distraction. He wasn’t expecting to actually hear anything. The clanking of dishes and the swssh of running water had his heart skipping a beat.

Bushytail was home!? Already!? Screw walking!! Bolting for the kitchen, he slid into the doorway on socked feet and came to an abrupt stop when he found the back of someone that was very much not Bushytail. Ichigo reacted appropriately.

“AAH!! Take this burglar!!”

“Wha—!?”

The sharp sound of kunai being deflected rang throughout the small space, soon followed by the thunks of them whacking into the floor. The blond lowered the spatula he’d used to bat the kunai aside, and Ichigo noticed, belatedly, that it was covered in bubbles. Wait. Why was some weirdo washing dishes in his kitchen? Who breaks into someone’s house just to clean it? That didn’t make any sense.

“Hey hey now, those are some pretty dangerous weapons you got there kid. And attacking your guests? Now that’s just rude.”

That wasn’t the blond talking. Scowling, Ichigo followed the voice to the kitchen table, where some old dude was sitting and drinking sake. Not at the table though. On the table.

“Guests?”

“Huh? Didn’t your old man tell you? He blackmailed me into checking up on you.”

“He did what?”

Thinking back on it, Bushytail had mentioned asking a friend to stop by, hadn’t he? Ah, whatever.

“Knock next time,” Ichigo growled with an annoyed glare at both of them. “And don’t just sit on the table.”

“What!? Don’t you remember who I am!?”

“Sorry, I don’t.” Ichigo turned away from the geezer, causing him to squawk in offense. “And who’re you exactly?”

The blond he’d scowled at only smiled and though he appeared to be the same age Ichigo had been when... Well, Ichigo knew not to trust it. Physical age meant little in Soul Society. There was no telling how old the guy might actually be.

“My name’s Minato Namikaze. That rude old man is my former sensei, Jiraiya.” Minato proceeded to offer him a half-bow that caused several soap suds from the spatula to drip onto the floor. “I’m sorry for the intrusion, Hatake-chan.”

“Hey!”

Despite the awful way his day had started, Ichigo couldn’t help but crack a grin. He liked Minato. “Just call me Kakashi. And knock it out with that ‘chan’ crap, got it?”

With a nod, Minato rinsed the spatula off and began to scrub it dry with a towel. “I was just about to prepare breakfast for the three of us, would you like to help, Kakashi-kun?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah, sure.”

He didn’t think it possible, but Minato’s smile grew wider.

 

9:

 

“You know, you’ve got pretty good aim for a kid,” the old dude remarked around a mouthful of egg-on-rice. “Pretty crummy deduction skills though, I gotta say.”

“Gee, thanks a ton. J... J..” What was it again? “Jirichio.”

“IT’S JIRAIYA!!”

 

10:

 

When Bushytail finally came home, Ichigo greeted him the classic Kurosaki way: with a dropkick. The man deflected with such speed and grace, Ichigo barely saw him move, snagging Ichigo by the wrist just as fast and holding him up so that they were face-to-face. Ambushing a shinobi probably wasn’t the brightest idea he’d ever had, but what could he say? He’d missed Bushytail.

Grinning despite the shock of being batted off so effortlessly, Ichigo said, “Welcome back!”

Bushytail scowled. “Jiraiya, what exactly have you been teaching my son?”

“I didn’t teach him anything!” Jiraiya denied from the doorway of the kitchen.

Ichigo thoroughly enjoyed the disbelieving look Bushytail shot Jiraiya.

Turning his attention to Ichigo, Bushytail’s hardened scowl melted. “Hi, Kakashi, did you have fun with Minato-kun?”

“Yeah!”

“What about me!!?”

“Hmm? Did you say something, Jiraiya?”

 

11:

 

“That kid of yours is weird, Sakumo.”

Ichigo hesitated over his next step. Peering around the corner, his eyes found a rectangle of light near the end of the hallway, the dimly lit kitchen a beacon in comparison to the rest of the compound.

He could hear Bushytail snort. “Because he’s not impressed by your yelling? Well, I hate to break this to you old friend but no one is.”

“Hey! The ladies love my enthusiastic spirit, it’s one of my best characteristics!” This was met with a clunk he could only assume was a cup being slammed down. Jiraiya’s voice lowered. “Besides I was referring more to that behavior of his. Damn brat doesn’t act like any five-year-old I’ve ever seen.”

“Language,” Bushytail chided. “And how many five-year-olds do you even know?”

“Plenty.”

“So just Kakashi then.”

“Don’t dodge the subject, Sakumo. You expect me to believe the ‘great White Fang’ hasn’t noticed something so glaringly obvious?”

For several heartbeats, no one spoke. Ichigo swallowed thickly, a shaking hand latching onto the side-table pressed against the wall. He pulled his foot back, placing it softly beside the other.

A brash sigh. “What do you expect? He’s my son. It only makes sense he’d be a little...”

Silence. Ichigo could only assume he was gesturing.

“The son of a genius is a genius, you mean.”

Ichigo scowled. He was no genius. A fast learner, sure, but not a genius. The only reason Ichigo was advanced for a five-year-old, was because he wasn’t one. He was twenty and had attended school for most of his past life—of course he knew things. He’d be more concerned if he didn’t.

“Even taking that into account, don’t you think he’s still a bit off? He talks like he’s an adult.”

Ichigo would certainly hope so.

“What are you suggesting?” Bushytail sounded tired.

Ichigo frowned.

“I don’t know yet.”

Bushytail’s exhaustion seemed to infect him, and Ichigo retreated, giving up on his nightly run to the bathroom altogether. Bushytail found him a couple hours later sitting with his legs dangling off the engawa.

Leaning against a wooden beam, he crossed his arms over chest and stuffed his hands inside the sleeves of his silver kimono. “Jiraiya’s a bit paranoid,” Bushytail said. “But he means well.”

Ichigo looked away. Of course he’d noticed him. Should’ve figured.

“I guess. Not gonna lecture me for eavesdropping?”

Feet padding closer, Bushytail stopped beside him. “I wouldn’t be much of a ‘shinobi-parent’ if I did that. I’m actually rather impressed, Jiraiya may have been drunk at the time, but the fact still remains he didn’t notice your presence.”

Huh. Morals really were different here, weren’t they? Goat-Chin would’ve given him a hard smack upside the head for pulling something like that. A hypocritical one considering the man’s own tendency to eavesdrop, but a hard one all the same.

Ichigo tugged his knees into his chest at the thought of his family, the longing he never seemed able to adjust to rearing its ugly head.

Though it was dark, Bushytail noticed. He always noticed. “You know,” he said softly. “You can tell me anything. You do know that, right?”

Ichigo wasn’t sure about that. If he told Bushytail he had memories of a past life, would he really believe him? Would Bushytail believe him if he told the man about soul reapers and hollows, about Seireitei and everything Ichigo had gone through to protect his friends? Everything he’d given up? Ichigo already knew the answer. Of course he wouldn’t. Hell, he hadn’t believed it at first either, not even when Rukia, a living, breathing soul reaper had shown up in his room. If he told Bushytail the truth, he’d probably send him off to the looney bin.

“I just wanna get stronger,” Ichigo answered. It wasn’t a lie so why did he feel guilty?

Bushytail smiled. “I see. That’s a sensible wish, but can I ask why?”

“I wanna protect.”

“Protect? Who do you want to protect Kakashi?”

Ichigo thought about his friends, thought about their loyalty. He thought about his family, thought about Yuzu humming as she stirred a pot of soup, about Karin ignoring Goat-Chin, about the way Goat-Chin would throw himself onto their mother’s memorial poster sobbing every time without fail. Then he thought about Bushytail, about the serene smile he always seemed to wear while sipping tea, about his pleased looks whenever Ichigo mastered something new.

“Everyone.”

After all, he couldn’t just pick and choose his precious people. They were all important to him. Every last one of them.

“I want to protect them all.”

If Bushytail found his words odd, he didn’t comment on it, something Ichigo appreciated. He only leaned back on his hands and stared up at the inky sky that was dotted with stars. “If that’s what you truly want, then how would you feel about enrolling in the Academy this coming fall? You’d be a bit younger than the average student, but I’d say your ability is already up to par.”

Ichigo couldn’t help it, his mouth fell open. “Huh!? No way!! Is— Is that allowed!?”

Bushytail had already discussed the Academy with him numerous times, and though he had zero interest in becoming a shinobi, he’d figured it would be the best way for him to continue his search for Seireitei. Being a shinobi would take him all around the world, and if he didn’t find Seireitei in the process, surely he’d at least find a clue to lead him there.

“Is that a ‘no way’ as in you don’t want to enroll or—”

“No!! I want to!! Enroll me!!”

The teasing glint in Bushytail’s eyes remained but a glimmer of pride joined it. “I’ll have to talk to the Hokage about you taking the entrance exam, but... I’ll see what I can do.”

 

12:

 

A week later, Bushytail returned from another mission with the widest grin Ichigo had ever seen him wear and a letter of permission from the Sandaime himself. Thus began Ichigo’s life at the Academy.