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1 - Death and Strawberry
"Ichigo…my son…I'm sorry…" The body of a man covered in dark substance disintegrated with a final whisper along the broken pieces of Zangetsu.
His face was frozen in shock, but his divine eyes with four irises gazed upon him with endless pity, before his reiatsu and body completely disappeared, engulfed by the blast of Getsuga Tenshou.
"…but not you…even if…rewrite…" The voice of the dying man fluttered in the wind, even as white light engulfed everything.
Images flashed through Ichigo's mind, splintered memories of another time, another life, another world.
O O O
Five men surrounded him with artifacts of great power.
One mirror sword forged by himself with his own soul's power, entrusted to his subordinate, now stabbed into his heart.
"You will be the lynchpin, Spirit King-sama."
His body was sealed.
His eyes were covered.
His limbs were torn.
His brain was extracted.
His heart was shattered.
His broken remnant was enshrined and the other pieces scattered.
A ritual was performed and his soul and the world was split with the power of the Almighty.
One became three, connected only by a precipice and a void of chaotic nothing.
The sleeping god dreamed a million years bound in the chains of fate, his agony masked by the illusion of undeath.
O O O
The grinning face of a bald man covered his vision.
"Rejoice, Ichigo! You have saved the world. The Great Families have all agreed that you deserve to be the new Spirit King," he said jovially, raising his arms in a grand gesture.
Ichigo shook in a mad frenzy, and tried to say something back, but found himself unable.
His body had been covered in seals, his limbs were each nailed to the end of a five pointed cross.
A sword of mirrors was stabbed into his heart.
Then all he knew was unimaginable pain.
An unearthly scream erupted from his lungs.
O O O
"UraHarRa KIsUKe!" The man in white crystalline robes with lights piercing his chest and neck screamed. "You possess such a great intellect, why do you not act?! How can you let yourself be ruled by a thing like that?!" His black sclera made him look insane, but if there were another three irises if would look no different than the eyes of the man who called Ichigo son.
"A thing like that? You mean the Spirit King?" The man named Urahara Kisuke replied calmly. "I see. So you've seen it. Without the Spirit King's existence, Soul Society would be rent asunder. The 'Spirit King' is the 'lynchpin'. If that lynchpin is lost, then things would simply crumble away."
His words did little to calm down the man who was now increasingly engulfed in spears of light.
"That's just the way the world is," Urahara said with finality.
O O O
He watched helplessly as she walked away with the two soul reapers.
"Don't move! Don't…even try…to move one step from there!" Rukia stood before him with her back to him.
"R-rukia…!" He managed to get out.
"If you try to follow me…" she turned to face him with tearful eyes. "I'll never forgive you! You're going to die anyway, so conserve your energy and try to linger on just a little longer…"
When they finally went through the Senkaimon, he felt his fingers clench and his whole body shake with rage and despair.
He had come to protect her, yet once again, it was him who was helped.
An unearthly scream erupted from his lungs.
"Ichigo! Ichigo! What's wrong?!" Gentle but strong hands held him as a familiar voice entered his ears.
His eyes flew open as he grabbed onto those hands.
The face of his saviour looked back at him with deep worry.
"Rukia…Rukia!" He whispered loudly as he couldn't believe his sight, and pulled her into a desperate hug.
Rukia was shocked, but hearing him call out her name repeatedly in broken sobs, she could only hold him tightly to give him comfort.
"It's alright…I'm here, Ichigo," she whispered softly in return.
"You can't leave…you absolutely can't! No matter what…I won't let them take you!"
The words coming out of his mouth sent a jolt of alarm down her spine.
"W-what? I'm not going anywhere, Ichigo. It was just a nightmare, everything will be alright," She mumbled back. Inside, she was panicking. Did Ichigo figure out why that Onmitsukudo member was here earlier that day?
The minutes passed, with only Ichigo's heavy breathing and shaking to break the silence.
The images that flashed through Ichigo's mind were so vivid, so real, it felt like he had lived them personally, even though there was no way that could be possible, because he remembered the events before he went to sleep even more clearly.
He knew without a doubt that it had been his mother's death anniversary, and he had fought Grand Fisher after finding out that his mother's death wasn't natural after all.
The memories of the future were growing further away as if it was all just a dream, with the memories farthest into the future disappearing until only bits and pieces were left.
But within the haze, there were memories that were seared into his mind as if the memory was alive, refusing to let him forget.
The man with the divine eyes. Zangetsu, his zanpaktou. The Spirit King, and the horrifying ritual they did to him. The grinning chief of the Zero Division. Aizen Sosuke and the Hougyoku.
The closer memories of Rukia and the invasion of Soul Society and Hueco Mundo were much stronger, and he desperately clung onto them just as he clung onto her.
He didn't understand what he had seen, but it felt so real he couldn't dismiss them as just dreams.
If they truly were of the future, then he needed to remember.
He needed that knowledge.
To prepare and protect.
"Ichigo, are you alright now?" Rukia's voice took him out of his rushing thoughts.
He slowly detached himself from her, and stared as if trying to confirm that she was real.
"Yeah…I think I'm fine now. Thanks, Rukia," he said with a cracking voice.
"Idiot, it's obvious that you're not! You almost woke up your whole family with that scream!" Rukia said with a frown.
"If it was obvious, then why'd you ask me, midget!"
She smiled as her eyes softened. "That's better."
Ichigo huffed, but there was no real anger behind it.
"Hey Ichigo, you know I'll listen if you want to talk about it," she said with uncharacteristic gentleness.
Her eyes met his again, but they looked troubled, as if he was struggling to decide.
"It was nothing…just a bad nightmare. It doesn't matter, I won't let something like that happen," he said, his voice gaining strength at the end.
Rukia gave him a long look. "It sounded like more than just any normal nightmare. I could feel your spirit pressure going wild. You didn't wake up either when I tried to snap you out of it."
He wanted to share everything with her, but he didn't want to burden her with all that knowledge just yet.
There was so much pain, so much suffering, and he didn't even understand it fully yet.
But was it really the future? How could he check?
"I…Rukia. When was the last time you were supposed to report back to Soul Society?"
He saw her freeze at his words, exposing that which she wanted to hide from him.
"I…don't have to report back yet," she said stiffly. "Not for another month."
"Rukia, please. I'm not that stupid. That guy from today…he said you committed a serious crime. That's why he was trying to take you back," Ichigo said with a fierce expression, hands gripped tightly onto her shoulders.
"Wh-what are you talking about? He was just messing with me. He left us alone in the end, didn't he?"
"It's against the law to give your powers to a human, isn't it? It's considered treason, and the penalty is death."
Her eyes widened as she whispered weakly. "How did you know that?"
"I saw it in a dream," he said. "I don't know how or why…but it was so real. Your brother came with his vice-captain to take you back. Kuchiki Byakuya and Abarai Renji."
Rukia gasped and looked at him with complete disbelief. "T-that's impossible! How can you know those names?"
"I defeated Renji even after he released Zabimaru, but Byakuya got me. He destroyed my Saketsu and Hakusui, removing my Shinigami powers. In the end…you went with them to keep me alive just a little longer." His hands were shaking again, their iron grip digging into Rukia's skin.
"It happened one month from now. But I'm not going to let them take you! I'll train and get strong enough to defeat them!"
"Ichigo, you can't…it's impossible. There's no way you can get strong enough to defeat a captain in such a short time. And even if you did, it wouldn't end there. They'll just send more. Just forget about me and hide yourself. If you don't try to fight them, they won't be able to find you," Rukia said, tears welling already in her eyes.
"Shut up! I don't care! There's no way I'm going to just let you die. It doesn't matter how many people they send. Even if I have to fight all of Soul Society, I'm going to save you!"
There was a long moment of silence, before Rukia gave him a smile, and pushed his hands off of her. "Thank you, Ichigo. If you're sure about this, then we have a lot of training ahead. You should get some sleep."
Ichigo nodded. "I am sure."
Then she stood up and turned around, only for Ichigo's hand to grab onto her wrist and pull her back hard.
She yelped as she fell backwards into his embrace.
"You think you can fool me with that creepy fake smile? You're planning to run off by yourself and turn yourself in as soon as I fall asleep, aren't you? That's what you did in my dream. I'm not going to fall for that again." He pulled her down onto the bed with him, and kept his arms wrapped around her.
She turned her head with a glare that showed her angry red face. "You idiot! What do you think you're doing?"
"You're going to sleep right here, where I can be sure you aren't going anywhere," he said glaring back.
She huffed and turned back around, facing away from him, but she stopped struggling. "Fine. Idiot."
The two of them were still for a long time, but Ichigo had too many thoughts on his mind to go to sleep.
He kept his eyes open, looking at the back of Rukia's head, trying to process everything he saw in his dreams.
Everything up to the end of somewhere around the end of the year was still fresh in his mind, but the memories from after he lost his Shinigami powers with the Final Getsuga Tenshou were hazy and barely comprehensible.
He remembered bits and pieces of some other kind of power he learned before he regained his Shinigami powers, then a war involving Quincies, but it was extremely confusing. How could there even be a war with Quincies when Ishida was the last one?
Eventually, he gave up trying to remember the visions that far into the future, and focused back on Rukia and what was coming in the next few months.
He whispered again to Rukia. "That wasn't the only thing I saw in my dreams, you know? I did save you, even though I had to break into Seireitei to do it. You think it's impossible, but I learned Shikai in just ten days before the break-in, then I learned Bankai in two and a half days just in time to stop your execution. I even beat Byakuya the second time I met him. He didn't believe it either, and thought I was faking my Bankai, but I beat him even when he was using Senbonzakura Kageyoshi. That's how I strong I got. And now that I've seen my Bankai in my dreams, I'm pretty sure I'll achieve it even faster."
There was another long silence. Ichigo thought Rukia might have fallen asleep, but then suddenly she responded with a whisper.
"That's ridiculous…but if it's you, with that ridiculously huge zanpaktou, maybe you can do it…"
"I can. So just shut up and let me protect you."
Satisfied, Ichigo shut his eyes.
O O O
A city of skyscrapers, jutting sideways.
A familiar scene, even though he had never been here before.
A familiar man, standing on a flagpole, was waiting for him.
Dressed in a dark cloak and wearing sunglasses, the spirit looked at him with assessing eyes.
"Old Man Zangetsu!" He shouted with a mixture of disbelief and relief. "I knew it! They weren't just dreams!"
"Dreams?" Zangetsu titled his head quizzically. "And what did you call me?"
Ichigo was taken aback at his reaction. "You…you don't remember?"
"I don't know what you mean, Ichigo. You shouldn't be able to see me, let alone know that name."
"What? Why? You're my zanpaktou spirit! Why wouldn't I be able to see you?"
A sharp feminine voice came from behind him. "Because you've been using me all this time, Ichigo."
He turned around with widened eyes.
A woman in a white dress floated in the air.
Beautiful silver hair draped down from her head, a large ribbon in the shape of wings was on her back, with smaller thin ribbons floating around as if dancing in the wind. But there was a blur to her features, as if he couldn't fully see her.
Even so, he could tell.
It was the most beautiful zanpaktou spirit he'd ever laid eyes on.