21 – Light of Heaven 2

Ichigo panicked for a second as he raised his arm as if to try and grab her, but then Bambietta whimpered and drew back a little, awkwardly grabbing the edge of the roof with her hands and collapsing on the roof.

"I can't…I can't…"

Ichigo decided not to wait any longer and quickly ran up then grabbed her to roughly pull her back.

"Huh?!" Bambietta struggled with surprise and then they went tumbling sideways back towards the center of the roof.

"Ichigo…" She said, staring at him with puffy red eyes, lying on the ground flat on her back while Ichigo loomed over her, pinning trapped the two sides of her head with his hands, his legs similarly pinning her waist.

"What the hell are you doing? Bambietta? Why'd you run off like that? Why are you trying to kill yourself? It's not a dream! This is reality," Ichigo said angrily.

"You can let me go, I'm not gonna do it," Bambietta said softly. "There's no way I could do it...not like this..."

The orange haired teen gave her a long look, but relented and lifted his hands.

Bambietta sat back up then turned away from him. "Sorry."

"Just tell me what that was all about? I thought you did a great thing back there…and the painting was great. Why did you react like that?" Ichigo asked.

Bambietta remained silent for a long time, before lowering her head. "I'm no angel. I'm a terrible person, a failure, a liar and a sinner. I only told him what he needed to hear. How can I guide anyone anywhere, when all I can do is destroy things and I can't even do that properly anymore?!"

"I think you did a great job helping him out. Look, no one's perfect. We've all made mistakes. Whatever you might have done in the past, it's all in the past, alright?" said Ichigo.

"But it's not in the past! Everything I told him today is a lie! And that painting, it's all wrong! It's warped! I—I wanted to—pretend, if only for a little while, that I could be a good person, but this is too much—it's as if fate itself is mocking me with what could have been now that it's too late!"

"I don't really understand but so what if you told him a little white lie? It worked, right? He was able to pass on peacefully. Seems like a good deed to me, so what's the problem?" asked Ichigo. "And it's never too late to become a better person. All you have to do is decide that's you want to be."

Bambietta laughed hollowly. Then with a flat voice, she said, "…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He sat upon the throne and said, 'Behold, I make all things new. Write this down, for these words are true and trustworthy.'"

"But the problem is…" Bambietta said, voice just a whisper now. "…they weren't true at all! God is dead…His Spirit is scattered…His Son lies broken…I drank his blood, but it turned still, as lifeless as his own flesh…don't you see? Heaven and eternal life…it was only a dream…a fantasy…and I'm just…a fraud with no wings! The end is already here, and all I can do is wait for oblivion."

"What the hell are you talking about? Wait for oblivion? All this talk about God and heaven, I don't understand it at all, but who cares? You've still got a whole life ahead of you. Don't go throwing that away just because of some religious crap. Uh, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to insult your religion or anything, OK? But life is what you make of it, and you don't need a higher power to tell you what's what."

There was an extremely long silence, when Ichigo was forced to wonder if he had said something wrong. He never had much experience dealing with religion. He was aware of it on some level, but it was just never something that came up much around him.

"A whole life ahead…I wish…" Bambietta said softly. "I'm sick, Ichigo, and I don't know how long I have left. So are all of my…friends and…family. Many of them already died. And I…I've had a dream, you know. Of how I died. How I failed. I don't understand how, or why they would do that to me…! But it was so real, I felt myself dying! It hurt so much! So why…if that was just a dream, why couldn't I wake up from it then?! Why was it so painful even after I died?"

Her voice hitched and an undercurrent of panic could be heard. "But maybe the dream was real and I've already died and this world is the fantasy, and this is some kind of purgatory and because I'm the one that can't move on with my regrets!"

There was a moment of shocked silence. Then Ichigo spoke.

"Hey, if it's a disease, I'm sure we can do something about it! My father runs a clinic, remember? And you haven't met him yet, but my friend Uryu's dad is the director of the General Hospital! He's a world-renowned doctor!" Ichigo exclaimed. "This world is definitely real, and you're still alive!"

But inside, Ichigo couldn't shake off a sudden sense of unease. 'Didn't I also have a dream of my own death? Old Man Gesshokuro, didn't you say that was probably a result of my power? This can't possibly be some kind of purgatory, right? There's no such thing! I did save Rukia and changed the future, didn't I? This isn't just a fantasy, it can't be!'

Gesshokuro did not answer.

And that scared him more than anything else.

'Gesshokuro?! Are you there?! Don't scare me like this!'

Cold sweat dripped down his face.

'This isn't funny…if this is a joke! Come on, tell me this isn't a fantasy! That I changed the future! Old Man! Why aren't you answering?! Can't you hear me?!'

"I actually…already talked to the famous Ishida Ryuken…that was the real reason I was there. I'm sorry, I didn't want to burden you with the truth before…so I just went back to see him afterwards. But he couldn't do anything," Bambietta said glumly.

"Then…there's still—"

"And even if there was a way, it won't matter. They'll soon find out and come to finish what they started centuries ago and wipe us out," Bambietta said, eyes growing distant.

"Wipe you out…?" Ichigo got a horrible sense of foreboding as he listened to Bambietta speak. He shoved down his panic and decided to figure out what was wrong with Gesshokuro later. It might not be related at all, just some communications problems, he told himself.

For now, he needed to focus Bambietta. "Who would do that…?"

But Bambietta didn't seem to hear him, and continued in a deluge of words that seemed like she had been bottling up for some time.

"I didn't come to Karakura because my relatives sent me away, you know. Everyone is hunkering down for a last stand to go out fighting and take as many of the enemy with them as they can, but isn't that stupid? The whole point of fighting is that you don't want to die! So what's the point if there's no way to win and we're just going to die anyways? So I left of my own accord. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm scared of dying painfully in battle surrounded by blood and smelly dead bodies! I'm not scared of dying at all! And I'm not a defeatist or a traitor either! I just didn't want to stay holed up in that miserable city of darkness waiting for everything to crumble around us, hoping for a miracle that will never come. And so I brought my friends out to the beach so we could all see the real sun one last time. Then those idiots went straight back, and I…I'm staying for a while longer. I definitely didn't run away, okay! I just decided that I want to live a little…like a normal person…while I still can!"

There was a long and awkward silence after Bambietta finished with her rant and there was only the sound of her breathing heavily, while Ichigo processed it all, trying to piece together the story.

The picture that Bambietta's words had painted was a grim one, Ichigo thought. It implied that she belonged to a persecuted group, most likely having ties with the spiritual world given her own awareness. She had mentioned being taught about how souls could pass on, which meant that somebody must have taught it to her. It had to have been a militaristic organization too, given that she had expected to fight, perhaps in a sort of guerilla war in which their best tool was secrecy, where they hid in a place where the sun literally didn't shine, probably like a massive underground bunker.

Their enemy must overwhelmingly outclass them, and must have eyes everywhere, that they didn't dare to go outside anywhere for fear of persecution if they were found out.

But something must have changed recently, whether because of this disease or something else, their hiding place would soon be exposed, and they would have no choice but to fight to the bitter end.

Was it even a disease, or something engineered to expedite genocide, if there was something biologically different about Bambietta's people, which may have led them to be persecuted in the first place?

'Shit! This…this could be why I don't remember seeing her at school after the new term started in the other timeline! That means she really might die before the summer's even over! Or did she successfully kill herself?'

But why hadn't he heard of anything like this until now? Bambietta's behavior did not seem at all to be faked to Ichigo, but it was just mind-boggling that something like this could even happen in modern times. Even if it was a part of the spiritual world, who could possibly be the participants in this secret war? Ichigo needed more information.

"You don't need to justify anything to me, Bambietta. I'm not going to judge. All I want to do is help. Who exactly are your…relatives? Who are the enemies after you, and why? I'm a lot stronger than I look, maybe I can do something about them."

She turned away again while standing up. "It…doesn't matter. It's not like I'm going to fight anymore. I shouldn't have even said anything. Just forget about it, okay?"

Ichigo walked over and stood in front of her path again.

"How am I supposed to just ignore something like this?! You're my friend now, Bambietta, and I don't let my friends die! If there's an enemy, then I'll protect you from them! If it's a disease, then I'll find a way to cure it!"

The forlorn girl sighed and walked around Ichigo before coming to a stop suddenly.

"Hey, Ichigo. It's cute that you've truly accepted me as a friend even though we've just met a week ago. And I'm really, very happy about it. But, just let it go, please? I really don't want to die, but…if it's going to happen anyways, then with the rest of the time that I have, I'd rather just…make some happy memories, not desperately look for a solution that doesn't exist. So, even if it's fake and fraudulent…I'll try and live up to that old man's impression of me. I had a lot of fun today, so can we pretend that…that version of me is all real?"

From behind her, Ichigo saw many tears falling down on the ground as she spoke, and grew resolute.

'Even if she says that, I'll definitely find a way. I can just go talk to Ryuken tomorrow if she doesn't want to tell me. I better say something to stop her from thinking so badly about herself though,' he thought to himself.

"There's no need to pretend, it is real. You're not a fraud. I've never even thought about going through that much effort to help a ghost pass on until today, even though I've been able to see them for fifteen years. The fact that you did, regardless of anything else, shows that you're a better person than me and you can definitely be like the angel in that painting!"

Bambietta wiped her eyes with her free sleeve. "Thank you, Ichigo. Let's head to the festival before it's over. Please don't tell anyone else about my condition, though."

"Fine. I won't," Ichigo grumbled out.

O O O

They'd gone back to get the painting first, then took another quick detour to Bambietta's residence between joining up with their friends, so she could put away the painting, since it was embarrassing to carry around a portrait of herself like that.

Ichigo plastered a weak smile on his face as they approached their friends, trying to pretend everything was fine as Bambietta asked him to.

"Ah, Ichigo! What the hell are you doing, it's almost over! Why're you so damn late?!" Keigo shouted at Ichigo.

Bambietta waved, sauntering over to where Keigo and the rest of their friends were. "Don't be upset with Ichigo, Keigo. I got lost in the city and Ichigo was able to help me find the way here. So it was my fault!"

"Eh?! Bambietta-chan, you made it! I thought you turned down my invitation! My heart was in despair!" Keigo clutched his chest in an exaggerated motion with the other hand reaching out to her.

"Eh? Tatsuki, what the hell happened to your arm?! Did one of your opponents in karate break it?" Ichigo shouted as he noticed his childhood friend's cast.

"Actually, my arm broke after I got hit by a car when I was grabbing some soda. I had to fight the semifinals with my left arm because of it. And if it weren't for this injury I'd have won the whole championship for sure, but I ended up getting second place," said Tatsuki, referring to the karate competition at the National Sports Conference which she'd left the beach trip early for. "So who's this, anyway?" She asked, looking at the unfamiliar new face.

"Oh, this is Bambietta!" Orihime introduced cheerfully. "She played a bunch of volleyball with us after you left, Tatsuki. She's a foreigner so she's used to using first names with everyone."

"Thanks Orihime. Nice to meet you, Tatsuki. It's amazing that you got 2nd place with a broken arm. I'm shocked that a competition would even allow you to continue participating with an injury like that," said Bambietta.

"Yeah, they didn't really want me to, but I showed them I was strong enough to fight anyways. You'll find that in Japan you can get away with a lot if you try hard enough to persuade people," said Tatsuki, thinking of how she threatened the referee by raising him off the floor by the cuff with one hand. "Speaking of Japan, your Japanese is really good."

"Well, I actually…"

Mizuiro whispered something to Keigo, which led him to grabbing Ichigo's shoulders with bloodshot eyes and a crazed expression, taking his attention away from the conversation between the girls.

"Ichiiigooo! You definitely took Bambietta-chan here after a long detour, didn't you?! That's why you're so damn late! You must have been with her for hours, going around the city like a date! You already have Inoue-san and Kuchiki-san, why couldn't you leave Bambietta-chan for meeeeeeee!? Aren't you satisfied with two girls?!"

"Woah, woah, chill out! First of all, I don't have any girls, and certainly not Inoue or Rukia. And second, it was nothing like that! We just ran into some trouble on the way," said Ichigo. "Had to help out an old man with some things."

"Oh sure, Ichigo. How exactly did you bump into Bambietta anyways?" Mizuiro asked with a sly expression.

"She just texted me to find her," said Ichigo.

"Whaaaat?!" Keigo shook Ichigo madly. "You exchanged numbers with her too! I thought I was the only one! And why did she text you and not me?! Arghh! You always get the hot girls, damn it!"

Chad came over to separate Keigo from Ichigo, while Rukia slid beside him. Keigo went back to Mizuiro and the two of them went over to join the girls' conversation.

"You look a bit suspicious, Ichigo," said Rukia, being well-versed in fake expressions. "What was up with that fake smile earlier?"

"What do you mean, it's just a good day. Great fireworks. Everything's just fine and dandy!" Ichigo said aggressively and forced out another smile.

Rukia backed away from his creepy mix of frown and smile. "Uh-huh. Just fine and dandy, huh?"

"Yes, exactly!" Ichigo nodded fast.

"Okay then…whatever you say," said Rukia.

"You don't have to take on all the burdens alone, Ichigo. We promised to fight for each other, didn't we?" Chad asked with a solemn tone. "No matter what the enemy, I will fight by your side, even if I must learn a new way to fight."

After watching Ichigo for a while, Orihime built up her courage and came over as well. "I want to help too, Kurosaki-kun. Even if it's only a little bit, I have the power to fight now, so I want to make the most of it."

The teenager whose life now seemed to revolve around spiritual affairs considered both of his friends closely, then Ichigo smiled for real. "You know what, you guys are right. Chad, we did make that promise, and Inoue, you can do a lot more than a little if you put your mind to it. Thanks, I'm proud to have friends like you two."

'Maybe Inoue's power can help Bambietta if other methods of healing don't work. The number of things I need to protect seems to be growing constantly, and the problems just keep getting bigger. I was a fool to think that I could do it all myself,' he thought.

"Hey, Rukia. Nevermind what I said this morning. If you're up for it…then go ahead and train them," he said.

Rukia looked surprised, but then looked at Chad and Orihime who both held expressions of determination, and nodded.

O O O

A/N: New clues appear...is everything really the same?

DarthGhengis: Ichigo is just as confused, but he'll be investigating soon.

A Polite Guest: Haha!

iyfan635: That is correct. But even for Shikai, if it gets destroyed it cannot be repaired so quickly for normal Shinigami. It needs to be repaired by releasing Bankai or slowly over time in sealed mode if they haven't achieved Bankai. Renji's Bankai when it was destroyed the first time was incomplete, so it could be repaired once he achieved the true Bankai. Though obviously that's the in-story explanation, it could also be that Kubo changed it.

Antex-The Legendary Zoroark: Yep, it's something like that, as revealed in this chapter. But it seems like she kept only the most traumatic ones D:

Emrys Akayuki: She remembers a bit. And yes, the Quincies aren't trapped here, they can come out whenever they want using a sun gate assuming they have permission.

XenoLucifer: She just happens to be a convenient character with a good reason to be in Karakura for my setting.

MurderMA: No idea, didn't play the games.

EricFreak: I've always found Konso suspicious, so I'm exploring the implications further here.

Guest: Every time Ichigo's been fully hollowfied, it's been out of control. I'm not talking about having a mask on, but when they are fully Hollowfied, like when the Vizard made Ichigo fight Shiro in their internal world, or the Ulqiuorra fight.

HopelessRomantic183: Lot of things will go differently in the next retrieval mission, but Isshin wouldn't be able to recover his power that quickly. The seal was broken around the same time in canon, and it still took him months to power up again. About ancestry, IDK, it'll come up eventually but won't matter much until the "Shiba clan" actually has power behind them again, if ever. Ginjo and Tsukishima were kind of weird, not sure how they kept their memories after getting sent to Soul Society.

Silvermist66: Yes it would be difficult for Ichigo to join the Quincy side with how they operate, regardless of their objective. Something would have to radically change...There are many characters in every faction that might be amenable to adjusting their loyalties or did in canon. As for being the rescuee...maybe it'll happen.

DragonHeart64: In canon, it's unlikely that anybody would have been able to do anything about it. The plan was for them to use Ichigo's "dead" body if they lost the war against Yhwach. Even if Ichigo wasn't dead or Yhwach was defeated, it would be possible for the Zero Division and Kyoraku to cover it up, they just need Ichigo to be grievously injured/KIA. Most people have no way to access the Soul King dimension.

GHETTOKINGKAI: Well now he can use whichever power he wants. The restricts and conflicts may be a bit convoluted, but I think it's important for there to be drawbacks and negative power interactions. More powers, especially redundant ones with similar effects, isn't always better.

Binge Reader: He wanted to convince Rukia to trust him. Ichigo's not the kind of guy that would conceal this while keeping her with him against her will and no proper explanation.

MojoBlack: Too bad Ichigo's gonna have a hard time keeping his friends sidelined, whether because they are needed or they just insist on helping.