Chapter 1. Humans and Spirits
"Ichigo…" A strong voice whispered. "It's time for you to get up."
The orange-haired, brown-eyed seventeen-year-old, sprawled face-down on the blue bed grumbled lowly, refusing to move from his comfortable position.
*Come on, Aibou, if you don't get up oyaji is gonna hit you…again.*
That, at least, was more effective in getting the teenager up; and right in time, at the very moment he began moving his door swung open, allowing an older, black-haired and bearded man to leap inside, leg up to kick the teenager. The boy's instincts took over as he rolled, half stood and then kicked the man on the side, throwing him against a nearby closet door.
"Good morning my son!" The man cried out in a very loud voice.
"Oh…shut up oyaji." The boy half-growled. "It's far too early for your idiocies. Now get the hell out of my room so I can get dressed."
In the end the boy had to practically throw the man out of his room before he had the chance to change from the sweatpants and shirt he slept in and into his high-school uniform.
"Ichi-nii!" He heard a female voice coming from the kitchen. "Breakfast is ready!"
"Ichigo!" Yet another female voice called to him, from the same direction. "If you don't hurry we're all gonna be late to school!"
Those were his sisters, the nearly fifteen-year-old twins: shoulder-length, wavy, chestnut-brown haired and chocolate eyed Yuzu, and mid-back length, straight, black-haired and gray-eyed Karin; they both had a slim built and were more on the petite side, they also had tanned skin, Karin more so than Yuzu.
Ichigo walked by the kitchen, lowly mumbling his thanks as he took the toast and glass of juice Yuzu offered him for breakfast, he practically inhaled it as he walked to the door, leaving the empty glass on a table next to it. Yuzu stepped outside behind him, and Karin was waiting outside for them already.
The dark-haired twin wasn't alone either, with her was Kojima Mizuiro, with his chin-length well-combed dark hair and eyes, dressed in the same high-school uniform as Ichigo, except he was also wearing the vest, fully buttoned. His appearance was that of a cute, handsome gentleman, though everyone who knew him knew of his taste for older women, and the fact that at any given time he'd more than one 'girlfriend'.
"Come on already people, or we're gonna be late!" Karin ordered. "And if I'm late for football training because of you I'll kick your asses so hard you won't be able to walk straight for a week! You hear me?!"
Neither boy reacted to her threats at all, they were too used to them already, it had been like that since Karin had begun walking with them to school, when she first entered junior-high, and it had only gotten worse in high-school. She was so much of a tomboy, and it showed, in the way she spoke, and acted; almost a complete opposite from her twin, whom so many saw as the 'perfect little lady'.
That night the three siblings were making their way home. They stopped by a corner where they knew a girl had died a few years before and Yuzu changed the flowers there, they did the same thing every few days. At least now it was because the flowers dried, and not because some punks would ruin them and break the bottles as they were skating, playing or whatever else. Ichigo used to get into fights with them all the time; Karin too, at times. But after all the years that had passed so many people knew about the Kurosaki siblings that most chose to stay as far away from them as they could.
The Kurosaki Family was known for a few things: their father owned a small clinic, small but still well-respected, and the children would help out there in weekends and vacations; the Kurosaki twins were two of the most beautiful girls in high-school, neither of them were currently dating, mostly because Ichigo hardly allowed anyone close enough to try; also, in a very particular circle, it was known that all three Kurosaki children had the ability to see spirits and communicate with them.
At times one, or all three would talk to the spirits of those who had died, trying to help them find enough peace to move on. And that wasn't everything, there was also the fact that Karin was empathic, her talent had been mostly blocked by herself more than half a decade before, but some emotions still managed to slip through her barriers.
The door opened and Ichigo, like always, was the first to step inside, he raised his arm right in time to block the first kick from his crazy father before he moved his arm enough to take a hold of the man's ankle and throw him against a wall. Once sure the old man wouldn't be getting up immediately Ichigo fully stepped inside, followed by his two sisters.
"What times are these for children to be getting home?!" Isshin demanded.
"Oh, shut up, oyaji!" Ichigo yelled louder than him. "We're all in high-school now, and seven o' clock is certainly not a healthy curfew for normal teenagers!"
"Ah, but you aren't normal, are you?" Isshin asked in return.
Ichigo just flipped him the finger before stepping away. Really, his father seemed to love to remind them that seeing ghosts wasn't normal, especially since he couldn't do it…or so he always claimed. Did he really think his children were stupid or something? While there was a lot Ichigo didn't know, and wasn't interested in knowing, he was quite sure Isshin wasn't as ignorant of the spirits as he pretended to be. That or the man was just a freak for the way he handled the fact that all three of his children were spiritually aware! Not even Tatsuki had reacted like that at first! And she'd been young enough back then to see it all as a game before the seriousness of the matter hit her!
With a shake of the head at her father's and big brother's antics Yuzu took the containers her sister handed her from the refrigerator and reheated the food. Since getting into high-school, Yuzu made sure to cook dinner either very early or a day earlier so they only had to reheat it when needed. They also bought take-out every so often, so the girl didn't have to cook every day. They knew she liked doing it, she seemed to like doing all the house-duties, but she was a teenager now, and she was supposed to be making her own life, not acting like a little housewife all the time, not anymore.
After dinner, as was usual, each of the teens went to their rooms to make their homework, while their father watched some tv and stayed on alert in case someone came calling to the clinic. It was rare, as everyone knew that it was a family clinic, with only one doctor, and only those who had known Isshin for many years still went to him instead of the big hospital, Karakura General, but still, emergencies happened.
Once done with his homework, Ichigo laid on his bed for a while, he was considering if he should change into his sleeping clothes already. It wasn't the time he usually went to bed yet, but it wasn't like he had anything to do…except…
Making up his mind he got more comfortable in bed, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then focused inwards.
"Ossan?" He asked out loud, without opening his eyes.
*Hello Ichigo.* A serene voice answered him inside his mind.
*Hey aibou!* A second voice, a bit distorted, called as well.
"Hey Shiro." Ichigo greeted the second voice as well.
*Aibou, I want to fight.* The second voice, Shiro, whined in a childish tone. *We haven't been in a good fight for months.*
"Not my fault all the thugs in town fear us so much they won't come anywhere close." Ichigo replied in a deadpan tone. "In any case, it's your own fault, it was you who decided how we dealt with the last two gangs that came at us."
*Hey!* Shiro complained. *We didn't kill anyone!*
"Of course we didn't kill anyone, idiot, if we had we would have gone to jail!" Ichigo hissed. *It's not my fault that they were all a bunch of pussies that…*
*You were calling, Ichigo.* The first voice interrupted the second's tirade.
"Yes ossan." Ichigo agreed. "There's something that's been worrying me."
*About all the spirits you've been seeing lately.* The old man's voice guessed.
"Exactly." Ichigo nodded. "So many more than I used to see in any given week in the past, less of all the same day. And then there are those monsters, I keep seeing them more and more lately. I'm not sure if that's normal."
*You only became aware of hollows two years ago Ichigo.* The old man reminded him. *But I assure you, their existence is fairly common. And since you're seeing different ones, and none more than once, we can suppose they're being dealt with.*
"I just hope it's not Ishida-shishou doing the dealing." Ichigo commented with a sigh. "As much as I respect the man, in any subject other than the way he used to treat Uryuu, I really don't like the way he deals with hollows."
*You cannot blame him for the ways he learnt from his ancestors, ways that were necessary a very long time ago.* The old-man reminded him.
"I know, I know." Ichigo nodded. "Things were awful all those years ago, they were only doing what was needed to protect their own families. I know all that. But couldn't they have found a different way of dealing with things since? I mean, it's been how many years now? And both Ishida-shishou and Uryuu are geniuses, everyone knows that; if others, like my friends and I, can find a way to deal with hollows without fully destroying them, why can't they? Isn't adapting part of human nature?"
*Sometimes humans are too set on their ways to adapt.* The old man said wisely. *It's the very same reason why your father hasn't spoken to you yet about the potential you have, and you haven't confronted him about the matter either. You're both too comfortable with your lives to risk ruining it all by opening that particular can of worms.*
"Well, in our case I don't think it affects us that much." Ichigo commented, though a bit unsure now. "I still have you, even if I know there's much you're not telling, Shiro the same thing. And I think, if he hasn't told me yet, there must be a reason. If I were to insist on it…it would be like when all those people used to insist that I talked about my mother's death, when all I wanted was to wallow in my own misery. True, it did help to talk about it, eventually, to someone I trusted, not the bunch of idiots that call themselves doctors and would have never understood what they were dealing with."
*They're used to dealing with humans in different conditions of stress, including the stress caused by a child who just lost his mother.*
"True, but I doubt very much they ever had a child who lost their mother in the very particular way I did. I thought I killed her Ossan! No matter what anyone else told me, what other explanation could there be for the two of us to be the only ones there, her to have screamed and then be dead on top of me? I blacked out, and I knew not what was going on. It wasn't until I began seeing those monsters that I realized what really happened that night."
*True, your case might have been different, but your pain was the same. And you needed someone to help you deal with it…*
"My friends helped me just fine. It might have taken me a long time, but I'm over it now."
*You know it's not over yet aibou.* Shiro interrupted the conversation. *It won't be until we find the bastard who did it and kill him for it.*
"We will, Shiro, we will, eventually." Ichigo reassured him in a strong tone. "But I'm not going to go hunting for him, I'm not going to leave my sisters, or my friends, vulnerable while I go hunting a monster I don't even remember the face of. When the time comes, we'll handle it, and that'll be it. Understood?"
*Fine, I don't exactly like it, but I see your point.* Shiro agreed. *Just make sure that when the time does come, you give me the chance to fight him as well.* his voice was very low as he added the last part. *She was my mother too…*
The truth was, Ichigo and Shiro had been together so long they considered each other as brothers, twins even; it was for that reason that Shiro had come to see Yuzu and Karin as his own sisters, and both Isshin and Masaki as his parents. What had happened to Masaki…it angered both boys, made them both want revenge, but not even the more bloodthirsty Shiro was willing to leave the twins alone and vulnerable to go hunting for the monster responsible.
The old man's voice calling both teenagers at the same time surprised them a lot.
*Change is coming.* The old man informed them. *You…we all have to be ready.*
Ichigo was about to demand a more in-depth explanation, even knowing it was unlikely he would get it, the old man liked being cryptic like that, when suddenly something else called his attention, a black butterfly that fluttered into his room…through the closed window.
Ichigo blinked a couple of times in contemplation, only to straighten up instantly the moment he saw the black clad figure that stepped into his room, through the same closed window, after the black butterfly that was still fluttering there.
"It is near…" The newcomer whispered.
"Hey!" Ichigo called. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
He had a pretty good idea that, whoever the girl was, she wasn't alive, considering she just walked through glass, and her clothes weren't very modern, but aside from that he had no idea; still that didn't change the fact that he really, really disliked being ignored. Which is why the orange-haired took a hold of her shoulder, forcefully spinning her around to face him.
"I asked who the hell you think you are?" Ichigo demanded hotly.
"You…you can see me?" The girl truly seemed shocked at that fact. "And you touched me?"
Her eyes were fixed on his hand on her shoulder until he removed it.
"Of course I can see you!" Ichigo snapped at her. "Newsflash girl, I can see spirits, and I'm not the only one either. Now, moving on, Who The Hell Are You?"
He was getting pissed off quite fast, spirits had stopped trying to invade his personal space years before, when they realized how angry he got over that, instead they went looking either for him or the girls in the lower floor, or in the hallway at most, never their rooms.
"I am a Shinigami." The girl stated in a very serious voice.
Ichigo just furrowed his brow, he'd never before seen a Shinigami, but then again, until two years before he'd never seen a hollow either, and even after he'd first met the Ishidas, he hadn't known about the whole Quincy-mess until much later. He'd known shinigami existed of course, but it was like knowing secret agencies existed; you heard about them, saw them in the movies, but you never saw them, so you might not really believe in them all the time. Though, as he heard the girl explain all about shinigami, their duties, pluses, hollows... a few things began making sense, in a way.
*Ossan? Shiro?* Ichigo called into his mind. *You hearing any of this?*
But there was no answer, it wasn't exactly as if they were gone, there was an instinct inside of Ichigo that told him they were still there, but it was as if something…some metaphysical veil-thing were blocking them from him.
"Ok, lets say I believe you." Ichigo declared as he sat back down on his bed. "What are you doing in my house, inside my room?"
The girl blinked, she seemed actually surprised that he'd believed her just like that.
"You, you actually believed all that?" She asked.
"I've seen hollows before." Ichigo explained simply. "Every once in a while, only in passing, and never the same one twice. Guess if you shinigami purify them, that's the reason. I had never before seen one like you, though, not sure if the others have…"
Of course he was not going to tell her the Ishidas most definitely had, and the attitude they both had in regards to the whole race. It's not like it mattered.
"Others?" The girl seemed even more surprised by that.
"My friends." Ichigo clarified. "Most of them can see spirits, just like I do, even if most don't see them as clearly. My sisters can see them and touch them as well."
"I had never known of humans to be able to do that, less of all so many of them." The girl declared in obvious awe.
"For us it's not that strange." Ichigo shrugged. "Some of us have been able to see them our whole lives, or at least most of them." He shook his head. "But you still haven't answered my original question, why are you here?"
"I'm on a mission." The girl answered honestly. "After a hollow I sensed earlier today?"
"A hollow?!" Ichigo jumped onto his feet immediately. "You mean one of those monsters is in the area right now? They why are you here and not out there hunting it?!"
"I've been having trouble sensing it since I entered the neighborhood…" The girl explained as she furrowed her brow. "It's like there's something in the air, something that dampens my senses, as well as my own power…"
"If that is true…Karin! Yuzu!" Ichigo cried out as he hurried to the door.
"Wait!" The girl turned after him. "You cannot get your human family involved in this matter. It's not like there's anything any of you will be able to do!"
Seeing that he was completely ignoring her, the girl raised an arm in his direction and called:
"Bakudou # 1, Sai!"
Before he even knew what was going on Ichigo found himself crashing against the ground, right before his door, his arms forcefully pulled against his back by some invisible force.
"What the hell is this?!" Ichigo cried out, frustrated. "Hey! Shinigami! Undo this, whatever it is! I have to go check up on my sisters!"
"Stop moving, there's nothing you can do anyway." She began telling him.
She was going to say something else when a female scream interrupted him.
"That was one of my sisters!" Ichigo cried out.
He began trying even more frantically to get free from his bonds, but physical strength didn't seem to be enough.
The shinigami girl opened Ichigo's door, right in time for them both to see the auburn-haired twin collapse just a couple of feet away from it, she was panting, and looked hurt, the sight made Ichigo begin moving even more frantically.
Ichigo could barely hear her voice, and still, it was so broken he felt his blood go cold.
"Good, it hasn't gotten here." Yuzu continued. "Ichi-nii…y-you gotta…you gotta help Karin-chan…th-there's one of those monsters down there…it hurt tou-san…Karin-chan…she's trying to stop it, but it's so big…Ichi-nii…Y-You gotta save Karin-chan!"
That was enough. In a second Ichigo threw caution to the kind, his reiatsu began climbing at a very fast rate, and before the shinigami girl actually had the chance to ask what was going on, the invisible binds holding him broke.
The shinigami girl was sure she'd never before been as shocked as in that moment, but before she had the chance to ask how what she'd just witnessed was possible, the young man had rushed past her and down the stairs, and even with him no longer in the same hallway as her, the whole place was still coated in his reiatsu, a reiatsu so powerful she could hardly stay on her feet, and the shinigami had a feeling that even that was only possible thanks to the adrenaline that had been running through her veins since the very first shock the human boy had given her when he touched her shoulder.
Ichigo was calling for the old man out loud even as he rushed down the stairs, taking several at a time, it caused him to nearly fall down half the stairs but he didn't care, his family needed him, he cared about nothing but helping them.
As soon as he reached the floor he could see there was a huge hole in the side of the house, and from it he could see the hollow, two or three stories high, standing in two legs, and it was holding onto Karin, a bat broken nearby. It was obvious to Ichigo that his sister had tried to use the bat as a weapon and had failed.
"Karin!" Ichigo cried out as he rushed out through the hole.
The shinigami girl finally followed Ichigo, arriving downstairs in time to see him stand in front of the hollow, yelling at it to let go of his sister.
"Ossan, if you want to teach me some lesson, right now isn't really the best time!" Ichigo yelled to the being in his head. "Shiro! Someone! I need help! Karin is being hurt!"
Nothing, his head remained absolutely silent.
Frustrated that his partners weren't helping him Ichigo tried to focus as much as he could before kicking the hollow's leg with all his strength, it was really the only part of the creature in his reach, and he needed to hurt it somehow before it crushed Karin.
The hollow barely took notice of Ichigo's attack, he was losing control way too fast and wasn't focusing enough for his kicks and punches to be truly effective.
The shinigami girl jumped at the same time the hollow moved to finally attack the boy, she cut deep into its arm with a katana, enough that the creature's hand opened, finally letting go of the black-haired girl it had been holding.
Ichigo jumped just in time to catch Karin before she hit the ground.
Ichigo barely had enough thought to check his sister fast to make sure her soul was still where it belonged. Otherwise he was going to get beyond frantic, he was going to get homicidal.
He deposited his unconscious sister inside what was left of their home, in a spot where he believed she would be safe enough and then went back outside.
"Where are your allies when you need them?" Ichigo muttered.
But of course, that was his area, Karin and him were supposed to be enough, and really, in the two years they'd known about hollows they'd only had to fight them a handful of times, and most of the times the creatures had ran away as soon as they realized the humans could fight them directly. The only ones who had ever destroyed hollows were the Ishidas.
"Ossan…Shiro…" The boy called again. "I would really appreciate one of you giving me a hand right about now…before we all end up dead!"
His brief moment of distraction as he argued with himself, or tried arguing with those inside his mind, gave the hollow the chance to attack him directly. By the time Ichigo had realized this he no longer had a chance to move, all he could do was brace himself for the coming pain, he'd been hurt by a hollow before, though they'd mostly been minor wounds, he was sure it wasn't going to be good.
'I only hope that, even if I die, someone will be able to stop this monster.' Ichigo thought.
He didn't close his eyes, if death was coming he would face it right on.
Only it didn't come, because in the last moment the shinigami girl was standing right before him, she was holding her katana up, but that hadn't stop the hollows jaws from injuring her, badly. As soon as the monster let go the shinigami dropped to her knees, a huge injury across her torso, and she was bleeding a lot.
"Shinigami!" Ichigo cried out in shock.
He hadn't been expecting that at all, it was one thing to learn the girl was a warrior tasked with fighting those monsters, and another very different for her to take a direct wound from said monster to protect him.
"You idiot…" The shinigami growled at him as she collapsed. "How can you get distracted when you have a 15 feet tall monster standing in front of you?!"
"I'm sorry…" He whispered.
He really couldn't explain to her that he had been screaming at voices inside his own head, not without making her think he was insane…or was he? If so then he'd been very much insane for many years now.
"I would like to say, 'don't worry about it'." The shinigami mumbled as she struggled to sit up in the sidewalk, a lamppost at her back. "Unfortunately I am no longer able to fight the hollow. Now all of us can only wait until we become its food."
Inside his mind, Ichigo was cursing. Where were his friends? Shouldn't they find it suspicious that the hollow hadn't been purified yet? Shouldn't one of the Ishidas have sensed just how low his sisters' reiatsu was already? Why were they still the only ones fighting the monster?
"Do you want to save your family?"
That question, that absolutely unexpected question coming from mouth of the shinigami bleeding a foot or so away from him called him complete attention in an instant.
"Is there a way to help them?" he turned directly at her immediately. "Tell me!"
"There is a way…" The shinigami suddenly shook her head. "No, to be exact, there is Only One Way." with great effort she raised her katana at him. "You…must become a shinigami!"
"What…What are you saying?" He was in shock.
Until that moment Ichigo hadn't known it was possible for anyone to become a shinigami. He was alive for god's sake! Was the shinigami girl crazy?
"Pierce your heart with this zanpakutou." The girl told him, still holding her katana. "And I will lend you half of my shinigami power. That way you will get the power of a shinigami temporarily, and will be capable of fighting that hollow…" she made a pause before adding: "I don't know if it'll work out, I don't know if you'll even survive this. I hope that due to your particularly high reiatsu, you'll have a chance. In any case, either you'll become a shinigami or you will die, or we will all die actually. There is no other way."
"Ossan? Shiro?" Ichigo called once more under his breath.
He really wished they would answer him, he could have used their power in the last several minutes, and he would feel much better if he had their council for what he was about to do. Because he knew what needed to be done, the shinigami had said it after all, it was the only way to make sure they wouldn't all die…
"I really hope that this isn't a mistake…" Ichigo whispered to himself. "And if it is…Ossan, Shiro, I'm sorry…"
The orange-haired squared his shoulders at the same time he went to stand right in front of the bleeding shinigami, he extended his hand to touch her katana.
"Give me your sword, shinigami!" He declared strongly. "Lets give this plan of yours a try."
"It's not 'Shinigami'." The girl informed him with a small smirk. "It's Kuchiki Rukia."
"I see…I'm Kurosaki Ichigo." He returned the courtesy. "Lets pray this doesn't become the last greeting for both of us."
Sending a last silent prayer, that even if it didn't work his family would make it out of the mess, Ichigo helped the shinigami…Kuchiki Rukia, take better hold of her sword and without a word more ran it through his own chest.
He didn't even feel any pain, instead all he was conscious of was the explosion of power that seemed to be centered inside of him. An instant later he felt so light, as if he could jump 20 feet or more with no effort at all, or maybe even fly…
What happened the next few seconds was more instinctive than conscious, even as he raised the sword he was now carrying and used it to, piece by piece, bring the hollow down. He didn't seem to notice its size, or weight, or the fact that he was wearing an attire similar to the one the girl had been wearing before; the same girl who was now wearing a white yukata…
"Realize the mistake of messing with my family, fish-face!" Ichigo yelled at the creature once he regained some semblance of self.
He didn't wait anymore, rushing the monster, katana held high, and then brought it down with enough force to split it from the top of its mask to the very end of its body. The hollow didn't even get the chance to try and evade.
Ichigo was feeling a great high after the kill, as if with that new power he were capable of anything; a small part of him kept wondering how long that would last, and what kind of consequences there would be for him wielding that power, but the bigger part of him couldn't bring himself to care, not when he'd just managed to destroy the creature that had dared threaten him and his family.
The high didn't last too much, soon enough he felt the strength leaving his muscles way too fast, and in a matter of a few seconds his legs would no longer hold him, causing him to fall, first on his knees, and then face-down, in the middle of the street. A corner of his mind wondered if, after surviving that awful monster, he was going to be run over by a car. And it also wondered about something else, yet again, the consequences of what happened that night. Something told him that, one way or another, his life was going to change…drastically.