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Two-Tails

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     Ichigo liked to play in the long grasses and weeds that edged the wide trails the humans made through the woods. He liked to climb and jump and brush his tail through the plants. His mother often told him to stay away from there but humans didn't come by as often as she would suggest and he was small and good at hiding.

     One day, when he was digging through some of the weeds and chewing on some of the stems he heard a high human voice and froze, working his ears around to locate it and wondering what it was doing. Just as he noticed which direction the sound had come from the human wandered into view, a smaller female one with dark hair was kicking something. Before he could decide on how to hide the human kicked the thing hard and it whizzed through the grass only inches from him, scaring him.

     "Karin! Dad's not going to buy you another ball if you lose the one he just got for you!" Another voice called and another little female human caught up to the first.

     With a huff of breath the dark haired one waved the other on ahead. "I'll find it, just go and I'll catch up."

     The human started rummaging in the grass, and Ichigo squirmed backward, out of the weeds and into the deeper trees. He wondered how long the human would look and kept backing away as she came farther into the woods. As he maneuvered away from the human he spotted the ball that she was looking for, hidden deep between two rocks, they were too close together for a big human to reach into.

     Ichigo knew she wouldn't be able to get it back, so he slipped inside and nosed at the thing. It smelled odd, and was as big as he was, but he kind of wanted to play with it. It wasn't his though, and the human wanted it back, so he nudged it forward and then pushed harder to get it out past the rocks.

     He had stopped paying attention to the human, he realized suddenly, when a shadow fell over him as he emerged from the rocks. Looking up startled, he crouched down behind the ball and peered up at the human that was staring at him. It didn't move, and bravely Ichigo headbutted the ball toward the human before darting back into the rocks to hide.

     Ichigo watched from his hiding space as the human picked up the ball and inspected it, then waved it's paw at him and turned to leave the woods. Over it's shoulder it called something. "Thanks for the help Mr. Fox!"

     Relieved, Ichigo crept out and shook himself, feeling silly for being scared of that nice little human. Curious now, he darted through the woods and peeked out down the path where the human was steadily disappearing. Excited, Ichigo ducked back and followed the human, keeping himself hidden in the grass and trees. He wondered where the humans were going and what they were doing and what that ball thing was for.

     When he reached a more open stretch of the path the sunlight was almost blinding, and he didn't see what was happening, but his sense of smell caught on immediately and his muscles locked in fear. He could smell blood. The excitement of his morning disappeared as he whimpered quietly, eyes adjusting to the light until he could see what was happening.

     In the clear area the two little humans were on their knees, hugging each other while above them stood a much taller male human with brown hair. The smell of blood was coming from a male human laying on the ground behind the tall human, and Ichigo could smell death. Fearfully he noticed that even farther behind was a six legged demon with numerous tentacles that seemed to be waiting on the tall human. Demon's didn't listen to humans though, Ichigo couldn't help wondering how the tall human was controlling it and not being eaten himself.

     "Shiba Isshin's daughters, what a fortuitous meeting this is. I don't even have to arrange an encounter to get my hands on them, they've come right to me." The tall human said.

     The demon crept closer, sweeping right over the dying man. "Can I eat them?"

     "No no, just grab them, we will take them back with us. There are tests I want to run." The tall man told the demon.

     Ichigo was scared, wondering why the little humans were just staring up at the man as though they didn't see him when the demon was getting closer. The demon was going to get them, and a human that could tell a demon what to do was as bad as a demon, whatever he wanted with the little humans would be very bad.

     Not thinking clearly, Ichigo suddenly darted out of his hiding place and bit the demon's reaching tentacle, then hopped up into the dark haired girl's lap and bit her arm. With a yelp that almost sounded like a fox's the girl jerked back and blinked, looking around. Suddenly awoken she grabbed the other human's arm and jerked her up, dragging her back down the path and away. Ichigo was relieved, they were escaping, and then he remembered the ones behind him.

     His heart beat fast and hard in his chest, his whole body shuddering with the force, as he slowly turned. Backing away with tentative steps he looked up at the man and the demon, ears flat to his head and tail tucked between his legs.

     "Well well. What do we have here? A little kitsune all on it's own? That was very brave of you, wasn't it, helping those humans." The tall man was smirking down at him, the demon behind him looming and curling it's tentacles. "Metastacia, catch that two-tails, alive. I haven't seen such a young one with more than one tail before."

     Ichigo panicked, darting back for the trees, not even having time to mull over the words 'two-tails' and realize that he had earned a second tail. Before he could make it into the trees a tentacle wrapped around him and he was lifted off his feet with a terrified yip. In a flash of bright red fur another fox's teeth were biting the demon's tentacle, this time however the teeth broke through the flesh and tore a chunk away, and Ichigo fell to the ground.

     His mother snarled as she flared all five of her tails out and faced the man and his demon. Ichigo backed away until he was hidden in the trees and watched in terror as his mother fought the demon while the human stepped back and watched. His mother bit and scratched and set the demon on fire, but then the demon created waters that doused the flames and its tentacles coiled around her and Ichigo trembled at the sight of his mother being squeezed tighter and tighter.

     "Ichigo run!" His mother barked as she struggled to escape the tentacles, but Ichigo was frozen by the crunching sound that came next, and the sound his mother made.

     "I-chi-go... ru-n..." His mother said again, blood on her muzzle and eyes rolling to stare in his direction.

     Scared, Ichigo did as he was told before he realized that his mother wasn't, couldn't follow him. Terrified, he kept running, trying not to cry. He raced through the trees faster than he ever had before and yipped again in fear when trees crashed behind him and a tentacle slammed into the ground just next to him. He ran and ran and ran until it was dark and he didn't know where he was and the sounds of demons behind him disappeared.

     Dragging his feet and his tails through the dirt Ichigo stumbled along, head hanging, until he couldn't go any farther. He collapsed into the dirt in a long line of bright orange fur, ears drooping and paws bleeding and two tails still against the ground behind him. He fell asleep unguarded and listening to the wind rustling leaves all around him, too exhausted to feel the fear of being alone and exposed.

***

     He could sense demons in his forest, and Ichimaru Gin knew exactly who they belonged to. Aizen Sosuke, the Soul Reaper that had harmed his human friend. He had warned that man before about stepping into his territory, and Gin was furious to realize that the man seemed to think that his warnings didn't extend to his minions. His scowl was quickly replaced by his usual smile as he left his shrine and wandered into the trees, he would destroy the demons then, and Aizen would learn his lesson or he wouldn't but Gin wasn't going to tolerate these trespasses.

     He came upon the demon as it was reaching for something through the narrowly spaced trees, a small scrap of bright fur that was clearly visible in the darkness, and Gin quickly carved his blade through the white masked face. He ignored the demon as it dissipated back into black ash and evaporated into the aether that had spawned it and stepped into the tiny space between the trees. The scrap of fur was a fox, tiny and young, but already with a second tail.

     Gin scowled to himself again briefly. 'So Aizen is after kitsune now?' He wondered, his nine tails twitching with his anger.

     Setting the thought aside for a time when it would be more useful, Gin crouched down over the little kitsune, taking in it's bloodied paws. The boy had run a long way, trying to escape the demons he was sure, and had collapsed finally in exhaustion. Unacceptable, such treatment befalling a fellow kitsune in his own territory. Carefully, Gin's long fingers scooped the boy up and supported him carefully as he returned to his shrine.

     When he arrived Shinso greeted him at the door and peered with interest at the little one he was holding. "That tail is new. How long do you think he's had it?" The three-tailed grey fox asked.

     "I expect he got it just in time for Aizen to see and send his demons after him." Gin was rather sure of that, as it would be a rather large coincidence if the boy's receipt of a second tail had nothing at all to do with his encounter with Aizen. Gin wondered just how foolishly brave the boy must be to have helped someone that Aizen was after.

     Shaking off the thoughts for later he and Shinso went deeper into the shrine and collected pillows and fabrics and coiled it all together into a bed for the boy where Gin placed him gently on the warm cushion. The boy curled into himself, still shaking even in his sleep, and Shinso started grooming him and cleaning his paws.

     Gin turned away and let his awareness slide to the long path that led up to his shrine. Someone was approaching, and he knew very well who it was. In a flash he was at the entrance, and striding down the path to meet the enemy before he could wander any farther into his territory.

     "I've warned you about trespassing Aizen." Gin threatened with a smile, his nine tails giving nothing away of his feelings.

     "Why, I'm only here to apologize for the demon's that wandered into your neck of the woods, they were a bit overzealous and didn't mind the lines I told them not to cross." Aizen said confidently as he placed the covered basket he'd been holding on the ground between them.

     "Keep your gifts Aizen." Gin hissed, not wanting anything from the poisonous fiend. He knew very well that they were tainted in one way or another. "I know well why you're here, the little fox is mine and you have no claim on him."

     "Little fox? Ah, the orange one. I remember him from earlier today." Aizen never lost his smile as they spoke.

     "You won't be touching him again." Gin declared, knowing that it was yet to be seen if he could enforce such a decree.

     "Oh he doesn't have enough tails to make him worth a hunt, I did try to snatch him when he was with that five-tails, but now that he has your protection he's more trouble than he is worth." Aizen agreed readily, easily, as if he didn't mind making the concession.

     Another lesson learned for Aizen then, Gin had shown his protective nature and Aizen knew now that he would defend the young ones. Gin kept his face set in his usual mask anyway, no need to teach him any more today. No, of greater concern was the five-tails. The boy's parent, obviously, and Aizen must have taken or killed them if he was assuming that Gin was now the boy's guardian. More tails he may have, but be it five tails or one Gin would not stand in the way of a parental claim, so Aizen had taken the boy's family.

     Well, that was just one more reason for Gin to challenge the arrogant Soul Reaper, when the time came that is. Someday the man would pay for everything he had done, and Gin would be there to help make it happen, he was certain of that.

***

     "Oh but he's so cute!" Were the first words that Ichigo heard as he awoke. His head was clouded and heavy, and his whole body felt weighted down with fatigue.

     He was laying on something soft though, softer than anything he was used to, grass and his mother's fur. His mind shied away from that thought and his paws worked unconsciously against the soft thing.

     "Hey! I think he's awake!" The same voice said again, and Ichigo blinked his eyes open tiredly, taking in the blurred sight of a female human wearing black. She had something pink wrapped around her neck and long blonde hair. She was smiling, and her nose was only a few inches from his own face.

     "Let tha boy alone, Ran. He's restin'." Said another voice, and Ichigo couldn't see him but he knew from the sense of power under the words that the male voice belonged to a fox.

     Determination won out over weariness and Ichigo pushed himself to his feet, though his paws sank deep into the soft thing he'd been laying on and he had trouble keeping his legs strait. Looking around Ichigo took in the sight of a shrine, and finally found the source of the male voice. A man, tall and with silver hair and nine silver tails, was leaning against a red column and watching the human. He had a large smile on his face but his squinted eyes opened and blue flicked over to land on Ichigo for a moment.

     Ichigo's knees collapsed suddenly and he fell with an "oof" back onto the soft thing, ears and tails twitching with embarrassment. 'Tails?' Ichigo wondered suddenly. Struggling to curl around himself in the softness all around him Ichigo finally caught sight of two orange tail tips behind him. He had two tails. He was a two-tailed fox.

     "Oh, he's being cute again! Gin~ I want to pet him!" The human whined, but she didn't touch him, at least she understood manners. Still, Ichigo was scared, and alone. He couldn't help it, he stretched his nose out and touched the human's cheek, surprising her and Gin the nine-tails.

     "Does that mean I can pet you?" She said with wide eyes, and Ichigo nodded, ears still flat. She wasn't his mother, but she was nice and pretty like his mother and the nine-tails trusted her, so he let himself be lulled back to sleep by her gentle fingertips combing through his fur.

     He was too sleepy to think today, he would wake up tomorrow, or maybe the next day. He would be sad then, right now he just wanted to sleep.