"Dr. Kurosaki, I presume?"
Looking up from his research notes, Isshin cocked an eyebrow at the man standing in front of him. Grey hair, yet not a line on his face. Walking with a cane he quite clearly didn't need. Sharp brown eyes, staring over spectacles that fell too low to be needed. Everything matched what he knew about Professor Ozpin. Everything, yes, but for the eyes. Isshin had been expecting a man who was intelligent. A man who was combat hardened and a leader. He knew the type. He had been the type, so long ago. When he was still a Shiba.
This man was different. His eyes held an age to them. An age that he doubted Qrow or anyone else ever really saw. Sure, the man wasn't young. Maybe he could fool someone like Ichigo into not noticing. Isshin had only seen such old eyes on men like Yamamoto. He seriously doubted Ozpin was a Shinigami. However.
He was certainly far, far older than he looked.
"Yeah, that's me." Isshin didn't even bother with the goofy act. He figured there was a time and a place, and this was not it. "Did my idiot of a son do something again?"
Ozpin's lips twitched, ever so slightly. "Perhaps. I confess to not knowing where exactly he and his teammates have run off to, this time."
"Eh, he'll probably be fine." The former Captain shrugged slightly, and crossed his arms over his chest. "So. How did you get past my daughters?"
What was left unsaid, was how Ozpin had gotten so close to him before Isshin had actually noticed him. The Professor simply smiled, and took a seat across from Isshin's desk. Looking over his spectacles, Ozpin examined Isshin. Examined him in a way that reminded the man of Urahara. Not a fond memory. Urahara had always been one to try and unravel a mystery at the expense of others. He would help, but you never did know if his 'help' was altruistic or an experiment of some kind. It was the risk you took. And right now?
Frankly, a lot of Ozpin reminded him of Urahara, the more he thought about it.
"You'll find that I am capable of many things, Dr. Kurosaki." Ozpin produced a cup of coffee from...somewhere. As he sipped at the steaming liquid, he raised a single eyebrow. "As I'm sure you are, as well. I am not as blind as your son may like to believe I am, nor are the other Professors."
Isshin let out a long, deep sigh. He placed his hands on his desk, and leaned over to stare at the man. "Explain."
"What is there to explain, really? Your son has demonstrated abilities that are unheard of. I am not a young man, Dr. Kurosaki. I have seen many Semblances. Many weapons. I have seen what could be called magic."
Ozpin set his coffee down, his old, old eyes staring into Isshin's soul. There was not a hint of humor, nor any levity in that gaze. Nothing but cold pragmatism and the barest tinge of curiosity. Maybe something more, buried deep down.
"I have never witnessed anything like what your son can do. Ichigo is...special, as I'm sure you know. When Qrow contacted me about Summer and explained how you ventured into the Badlands to find her, I knew that more than ever." The Headmaster tapped his cane with a single finger, his lips narrowed in thought. "No first year student can survive in the Badlands. Even a veteran Huntsman would struggle, as Summer demonstrates."
Now, Isshin could have made a blase comment about how he was with the girls and his son. He somehow doubted that would help. Much as his son, there were no records of him on the scrolls of the Academies. Moreover, he got the distinct feeling that Ozpin already knew that. The man would not have come all the way out here, if that were not the case. No. He would only come to the clinic, if he knew his answers. Or if the wanted something directly from the elder Kurosaki.
"I'm going to need to hit Ichigo again," Isshin groaned, throwing his hands up and allowing a bit of his own levity into the situation. He smirked at Ozpin, a bit of a goofy tone coming to his voice. "Looks like you caught us, then. What do you want to know?"
For the first time since arriving, Ozpin legitimately smiled. "Everything you feel comfortable sharing. You will find I have my own interesting information to tell you, as I'm sure you suspect."
And that conversation was how Isshin found himself here, deep in an underground vault. Beneath Beacon itself, of all places. Part of him was mildly annoyed at Ozpin keeping something so ostensibly dangerous and important...beneath a school. That was his fatherly side and his Captain side- the mark of that Captaincy still itching his shoulders after so long -speaking, though. From a purely pragmatic perspective...he understood the logic.
Didn't mean he liked it, though.
"Why'd you ask us about fairy tales, anyway?" Ichigo was walking at the front of the little group, staring at Ozpin as he walked backwards.
The Headmaster smiled slightly, "Two reasons. First, it serves to confirm that you are not from this world, as your Father told me. Second, because every fairy tale has some basis in fact. Some more than others, perhaps, but no legend is truly false."
"...you told him about where we lived?"
Ichigo had turned to look at his father with that question, his eyes wide with shock. Isshin just grinned at his son.
"Of course! Do you think daddy dressed up like this for no reason?" Isshin gestured down at his uniform, and Engetsu at his waist. He even thrust his chest out a bit. "You aren't that dense, my son!"
"...you told him where we lived?" Ichigo repeated his question dully, blinking very, very slowly.
Isshin just continued to grin, while Ozpin politely coughed from ahead of the father-son pair. Heads turned in the direction of that cough, as the professor gestured at them both. His smile widened, if only slightly, when he looked at Ichigo instead of Isshin.
"You will find that few things escape my notice, Mr. Kurosaki. Your powers least of all." Ozpin's eyes twinkled when Ichigo's jaw dropped, and Isshin couldn't help but guffaw behind him.
He could get amusement out of the situation now, at least!
As for Ozpin, he tapped his cane on the ground a little, smiling softly. "You hid as well as you could, I'm sure. Regardless...your abilities interested me from the moment you began your initiation. I knew they were not a Semblance, though you have fooled your team rather well."
Ichigo grimaced, and scratched the back of his head. His eyes dimly glowed in the faint green light surrounding them. The shadows between the pillars making the vault seem smaller than it was. Claustrophobic, almost.
"I-gah!" Squaring his shoulders, the teenager looked at his father, and then at his Headmaster. His amber eyes narrowing slightly. "I thought I was doing a good job, yeah. Even though everyone keeps trying to make me teach them what I know."
"I'm afraid I may be another one asking that of you," Ozpin raised a hand, and gestured up towards Beacon. Towards the world at large. "Any advantage we can get against the Grimm is an advantage I can hardly say no to. When the Vytal Festival has completed, I am considering asking your father to take a role as a special consultant. You would, of course, assist with the students."
"Dad?" Ichigo turned to his father again, eyes practically begging to be let off the hook.
Isshin would disappoint his son. By grinning and shooting forward to slap him hard on the shoulder in the 'fatherly' way only he could. "Chin up, Ichigo! This is a chance to meet more new friends! Maybe you could even bring some of them over! Though I'd prefer my third daugh-"
Before he could finish his sentence, Isshin found himself in a groaning pile between two pillars, his son's fist smoking. Ichigo's face was redder than a certain Greek-themed girl's hair, as he growled at his father.
"Damnit old man! Stop joking about that!" The orangehead snapped, before turning to look at a chuckling Ozpin. "It's not funny! I don't like Yang like that!"
His father wouldn't miss that chance, moaning pile of limbs or not. "Yang, not Ruby?"
Luckily for the vault, Ozpin cut in again, before Ichigo could murder his father. By clearing his throat, and gesturing down the dimly lit hall, towards a faint blue glow at the end.
"As amusing as this is, I do insist that we remain focused." His words were jovial, yet his eyes were sharp flints reminiscent- again -of Urahara. "There is another reason for bringing you down here...a reason I am afraid that even your father may not be able to help with."
Isshin immediately sobered, climbing to his feet to move over by the other men. Ichigo still glared at him, but he sighed and kept the peace all the same. Ozpin smiled at both of them...a smile that came far short of his eyes. The rhythmic tapping of his cane returned to the deathly silent vault, as he walked over towards that mysterious blue light. Isshin wondered if his son had noticed what he had, and what Ozpin was hiding.
The faint feeling of a soul at the end of the vault.
A soul that felt damaged.
This is more serious than he let on, huh? Isshin sighed softly, reaching a hand up to rub at his eyes. He really hoped Ozpin wasn't expecting a miracle. What I wouldn't give to have Retsu here. Then again, she may have the Grimm worshiping her within a day.
While that mental image was amusing, it didn't do much to help the situation. The tapping of Ozpin's cane came to an end, in front of two grey metal pods. One laying on the ground, in a state of disassembly. The other the source of the blue light.
"You've got to be kidding me..." Ichigo breathed out, whatever annoyance he felt completely forgotten. Isshin couldn't blame his son for that reaction.
For, sitting inside that blue glow, was a young woman. Barely older than Ichigo himself. The woman- a girl, really -was asleep or in a coma, her reiatsu dim and silent. Her dark skin was horribly marred by a scar across her face, one eye completely surrounded by broken tissue and the other little better. The rest of her body, clad only in bandages, seemed fine. Just that scarring over her face.
A scarring that, even behind the pod, screamed Grimm. The darkness on a completely different level from a random monster in the forest.
"I assume that neither of you know of the Maidens, correct?" Ozpin's tired voice broke the silence.
Isshin continued to stare at the poor girl in the pod, "Four seasons, magic, old wizard. Yeah, I know. Yuzu loved that story."
For his part, Ichigo blinked at his father, "Wait, what? Why didn't you say anything before?!"
Without an answer from his father, the teenager sighed heavily and clenched a fist in his school uniform. His own energy was a roiling tsunami of uncontrolled anger and helplessness. The feeling of seeing someone hurt, and knowing he couldn't do a damn thing to help them. A knowledge that all the power he had was useless.
The elder Shinigami knew it well, even if he didn't look at his son. Ichigo...was always like that. He couldn't keep a lid on his powers when he got emotional, and he hated seeing someone hurt.
"This does simplify things," Ozpin continued in the silent vault, tiredly reaching a hand up to rub at his face. The old man pushed his spectacles up a bit, his eyes flicking between the girl in the pod and the two Shinigami across from him. "I'm afraid that the tale of the Maidens is all too true. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Four girls with powers that can be called magic."
No response came to those words. Ichigo continued to stew in place, trying to get a handle on his emotions. Isshin merely stepped past the Headmaster, reaching a hand out to touch the pod. An intense sadness radiating out from him.
She's barely older than my son. And someone tried to kill her, leaving her like this. This wasn't a Grimm.
Not once breaking his gaze, the old Captain spoke softly and wearily. "She's one of them, isn't she?"
The Headmaster nodded slightly, barely inclining his head. "Indeed. Her name is Amber and she was, is, the Fall Maiden. I'm afraid that you cannot speak to her, however. The pod is the only thing keeping her alive."
Isshin didn't need to be told that. He could see that. The technology was unfamiliar, but the concept was the same. Amber, the poor girl, was basically hooked up to high-tech life support equipment. It was the same as any hospital, except for the fact the girl was completely alone. Locked away in a vault beneath a school full of happy kids. Most coma patients could at least register something going on, even if they couldn't react to it. With her apparently healthy body and scarred face, could Amber realize she was all alone?
The doctor felt sick at the thought.
Pulling his hand from the pod, he turned to Ozpin and asked the obvious question. "What happened?"
For the first time since he had met him, the Professor reached up and pulled his spectacles from his face. The man looked every bit remorseful, when he spoke. "I am not entirely sure. Qrow was escorting her, when he was called away for a mission. Amber was assaulted while he was away and her powers..."
"Someone tried to steal them."
Ozpin nodded, sighing deeply. "Yes. The process was interrupted by Qrow's actions, however, it left Amber as you see her now. Her very soul is damaged, torn in two by whatever attacked her. The pod is keeping her alive, nothing more, nothing less. It cannot heal her. She is beyond our ability to heal."
A sudden crack interrupted the two men. Brown eyes shifted, looking over at Ichigo. The teenager had been silent since Ozpin had mentioned the Maidens. Silent, but not forgotten or ignoring the events around him. All around him, the floor of the vault was cracked from the roiling blue energy suffusing his body. Isshin grimaced. Ozpin raised a curious eyebrow.
And Ichigo ground out a simple question. "Who? Who did this to her?"
"I have my suspicions," Ozpin answered softly. He shook his head, looking at Amber with a remorseful expression on his face. "However, I have no definitive proof. For now, all we can do is what is being done. Protect her, here, where none can find her."
"You aren't going to go after them?!" Ichigo practically vibrated in place, consumed with the desire to track down whoever had hurt this girl.
It was just who the boy was. He wanted to protect everyone in front of him. And he saw a girl barely his elder, with her soul torn in two. And there wasn't anything he could do to help her, or to find the person who did it. Was it any surprise he was acting like this?
Not to his father.
"Ichigo, calm down." Isshin didn't bother with the goofy act, placing a soft hand on his son's shoulder after walking to him. Ichigo tensed, and at least calmed down a little bit. His father, not smiling in the slightest, turned to look at Ozpin. "You want us to try and heal her."
It wasn't a question.
Ozpin nodded, knowing that fact. "From what you told me about your Zanpakutō and your other abilities, yes. I am hopeful you can stabilize Amber's soul, though we may still not be able to save her. Not with the Maiden powers torn in two as they are."
Isshin had the feeling he wasn't being told everything. Even so? He didn't care. His eyes drifted to the girl in the pod. To Amber, silent and near death. He would be damned if he let an innocent girl die like that. He was a doctor. He was a Captain, former or not. If anyone could keep her alive and repair the damage to her soul...well. He was the only one who could do it, in the whole of Remnant.
Though the question remained.
What about her Maiden powers?
"Anyone have any idea what's going on?" Yang spoke up first, when they all felt the rise in Ichigo's energy.
It was kind of hard to not notice it, really! Ruby felt like she was being pushed down by a giant hand, which was odd. Ichigo's energy was suffocating sometimes, but it normally felt like a nice blanket. Warm and inviting and nice and kind and-
Fighting down a flush to her cheeks, the team leader cleared her throat a bit. Her sister, and Weiss and Blake, turned to look at her. They all felt it too, of course. Weiss better than anyone. Ichigo's Aura, shooting out from somewhere. With a very angry feeling to it, of all things. Why would he be angry? Angry enough to spread his energy that far too! Aura wasn't easy to make do that!
They were probably lucky he hadn't taught anyone else how to do it.
"If I had to guess," Blake was the next to speak up, her voice thoughtful. Beneath her bow, her ears lay flat against her head out of worry. "The Headmaster told him something he didn't want to hear."
Yang snorted, "Or his father is being stupid again."
All of the girls, even Weiss, giggled a bit at that. Though Weiss accompanied it by a roll of her eyes, "His father is stupid. I doubt he is that stupid."
"Nah, you didn't spend a few days with him. His father is totally that stupid." Yang chuckled a bit, though her eyes were still narrowed in thought. Maybe a little frustration. "I'm still not happy with him."
The 'him' in question wasn't Isshin Kurosaki. Even Ruby knew that.
"Come on sis, Ichigo didn't mean it!"
Yang grumbled, "He totally did."
"Did not!" Ruby crossed her arms, and stuck her tongue out at her sister.
Before Yang could continue, or Ruby could jump in, both sisters were distracted by the sound of a palm hitting a face. Joined by a sigh of resignation from Weiss, who shook her head inside her palm. Her ponytail shifting with the motion. "You two are such children."
"No we aren't!" Ruby immediately protested.
Her sister agreed, "Yeah!"
That the two of them were visibly pouting, with Ruby stomping her foot into the ground? Yeah. It didn't help their case any. Weiss only sighed and muttered something about wishing she was with adults. Blake just smiled and shook her head in clear amusement. Though, she was still frowning slightly and her ears were still twitching. The feeling from Ichigo had hardly gone away.
No amount of joking at the sister's expense would change that.
I'm actually a bit worried. Ichigo doesn't act like this. It's a bit scary!
Ruby never worried that her friend would hurt her or her teammates. She had known from the moment she first met Ichigo on the airship that he was a big softy. He looked scary and his power was scary, but he wouldn't hurt a fly. Unless it hurt someone else first, and even then he wanted to talk first. It was who he was! So she knew that he was okay and that she and her team was okay.
She was just worried about what upset him so much.
"He'll tell us whenever he gets back," Blake finally spoke up again, with a heavy sigh. She looked down at the ground, her arms wrapped around her torso. "He always does."
Blake knew that better than anyone. Considering how Ichigo had wormed answers out of her.
Weiss nodded in agreement, "Exactly. Sitting here is just wasting time."
Yang and Ruby shared a look, both sisters more worried than they would otherwise admit. That said...
"Let's start planning the dance, then!" Ruby plastered a smile on her face, dramatically pointing in the direction of the dance hall. "Come on ladies, let's make it the best dance ever!"
What was left unsaid, was the fact they wouldn't know what was happening in Ozpin's office, until and unless Ichigo told them...
AN: With the revival of Snow (if in a new form) and my Madoka muse, along with V6... (man, V6) here we are. That, and tons upon tons upon tons upon tons
(I'm still in shock)
upon tons of people asking for this. I forced my muse to cooperate and get something together. I'm not even going to try to make any guarantees, of course. Hopefully she keeps cooperating, but I don't know. For now, I'm going to get going while the going is good.
Don't expect extremely quick updates, though. The stuff I post on SV (Sufficient Velocity) is still my main focus nowadays.
Assuming that anyone still trusts me after life kicked my muse for this into the gutter for so long.