A/N: I hate to say it but this chapter has a SPOILER. I'm SO sorry. It's just about the basic storyline, though. If you hadn't seen the movie here's a hazy idea and I'm sorry but there's really no way to avoid it and know what is going to happen next...Sorry.
Rated T for insurance.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own most of these characters; they strictly belong to Kubo Tite-kun. Kishu Sorata is my O.C. but I borrowed his name from another anime. I'd like to see if it rings anyone's bells. A character mentioned later in the chapter, Satashi-taichou is a borrowed character from dragonwriter24cmf's First Time (very AWESOME one-shot!) and I hope it's okay I borrow her and if it's not please let me know immediately! I am not selling this product so I will not at any time make any profit for this story. The only time anyone will be paying is for the ink if that person decides to print this piece of work. I will also declare that I borrowed some favorable lines from other televised programs and literature.
Ichigo stood outside of the Squad 4 barracks and stared up at the symbol above the entrance, contemplating what he wanted to say. He had slaved away at the morning chores and fought anxiety all day. He would have been longer but that horrible she-devil actually had a heart today. She smiled at him and took his chores off his hands. "Don't fret, new guy. He'll be fine," she had said before shooing him away.
After a heavy sigh, Ichigo took a deep breath and stepped into the 4th Squad with his chest puffed out. He didn't know where he found the courage to go in but after passing many occupied rooms it began to vanish at a rapid pace. He had wandered the halls for many minutes and still had yet to find Ukitake's room. Doubt began to cloud his mind. Maybe he's already back at his room? Or maybe it's worse...maybe he's still in surgery or whatever they call it here. Maybe he's in Intensive Care? He swallowed a lump in his throat before approaching a young woman with a short but thick braid at the nape of her neck. "Excuse me, but could you direct me to Ukitake's room?"
The woman turned to Ichigo with deep eyes and gave him the smallest smile possible. "Oh, Ukitake-fukutaichou? He's in the back room—his reserved room. I'm sorry, but I can't help you there. He is very limited on guests right now."
"Please, I need to see him!" Ichigo was tempted to go on his hands and knees. "It's of great importance!"
The young woman blinked a couple times. "Oh, you must be the special guest Kyouraku-fukutaichou mentioned of," she said before giving a light smile. "I can direct you to his room but there is no promise of entrance." She then gestured him to follow which he obliged to with thanks. She led him through the maze of hallways and passageways until they came across one near the middle by the back quad. The woman lightly knocked on the wooden paneling with the back of her hand before calling, "Kyouraku-fukutaichou? Ukitake-fukutaichou has another guest."
Crap. Ichigo wanted Kyouraku to be the last person he wanted to see. The last time they exchanged glances was when Kyouraku picked up the unconscious Ukitake and used shunpo to take him away. Before he'd gone the lieutenant gave Ichigo a look similar to that he gave just before the two of them had gone out for drinks just last night. It was a look Ichigo could now say was a threat. And Ichigo did just what Kyouraku had threatened him not to do.
The door to the room slid open very slowly and Kyouraku gave a smile to the young woman as he leaned on the paneling. "Good afternoon, Unohana-fukutaichou. Thank you." She bowed and left Ichigo alone with him. Kyouraku watched Unohana leave before looking to Ichigo, his smile gone and his eyes piercing. "Come in, Kurosaki," he demanded. Ichigo couldn't help but hurry inside.
The room was huge, bigger than Ukitake's room in his own squad. To the side was a bed and a table in the middle, a Go! board atop. In the bed lied Ukitake, white as a ghost. Next to the bed stood a young man with blonde hair in the traditional shihakushou. Ichigo could only see the man's backside as he gently placed Ukitake's hand back to his side on the bed.
"Kurosaki, meet the 6th seat from Squad 2 and high member of the Onmitsukido," Kyouraku started, gesturing towards the turning man next to Ukitake.. "This is-"
"Hat and Clogs?"
"Close but not at all," the young man said as he faced Icigo, his hands in his sleeves across his chest. "I prefer to go by my name, Urahara Keisuke. You must be Kurosaki Ichigo. I've heard a lot about you."
Ichigo looked to Kyouraku wearily before asking, "How much is 'a lot'?"
"Just that you're an amnesiac and re-eally slow in the head." His eyes moved up to the ceiling as if pondering about something. "And obviously delusional. And such curious hair..."
"Like you're one to talk." Ichigo crossed his arms. He knew Urahara was obviously a shinigami before coming to the World of the Living but he never really thought about it before. It was weird seeing him here in a shihakushou and looking so young. Then something clicked in his head. "Wait, Squad 2? I thought he was a member of Squad 12, the experimenting squad, right?"
The two conscious seats looked at Ichigo with confused interest.
Crap, maybe I'm mistaken...Ichigo scrambled for another train of thought. "Nevermind. What are you doing here, Urahara?"
The 6th seat shifted slightly and looked at Ichigo with a skeptical, shadowed eye before stating, "I was double-checking the injury in his hand. Wasn't sure if that might have meddled with his condition. I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'experimenting squad' but I just came out of curiosity. It doesn't seem to have any affect but I'll take some of his DNA back to my squad and see what I can configure. If you'll please excuse me," he said as he bowed and then left the room without another word.
Ichigo watched him go and tried to shake the awkwardness off his shoulders. He then looked to Kyouraku who was dipping a small cloth into a basin before folding it over Ukitake/s fevered brow. "I think it's about time," Kyouraku started, looking away from his friend to Ichigo, "you tell me what you can before you cause too much more trouble here. Don't give me that face. I'm not an idiot; I know when Jyuushirou is lying."
Ichigo closed his eyes in defeat. This guy's intelligence was threatening to know it was Ichigo's fault that dragged Ukitake out to the fields that night. "Alright. There's not much I can tell you though, I can't recall anything. I just remember walking across the bridge when something showed up out of nowhere and sucked me in. Next thing I know, I'm out on that battlefield just a few days ago." He sighed in his own confusion. He hated being in the dark, especially when it involved himself.
Kyouraku brushed a hand through Ukitake's hair before taking a seat next to the bed, leaning back heavily into it as he listened. He scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Is there any importance to that bridge? Something that could have happened years before? Like a curse of some sorts?"
Ichigo shook his head. "No, the bridge is only a couple decades old."
"Hmmm..." Kyouraku took a drink from a cup that Ichigo didn't see him obtain filled with what Ichigo could only assume was sake. "How about you? Has anything happened to you on that bridge?"
"Well, now that I think about it," Ichigo said as he cupped his chin in his hand. He had to be careful on his phrasing to not leak too much information. "Have you heard of the Valley of Screams?"
"I have. It appears in the Gangai Precipice World if I'm not mistaken. That is a rare occurrence, though. Are you saying that happened recently in your time?" Kyouraku took several more drinks between sentences, not seeming to stop.
"Just the night before, I believe. My memory on the whole thing is rather hazy."
"As it should be."
Ichigo rattled his brain to try and remember more but there seemed to be a type of wall in his head preventing him from remember something. That something made him worry. "I recall Ruk-a shinigami telling me something like that. I recall having to find the Shinenju and taking it to the Valley of Screams but not much else."
Kyouraku leaned forward in his chair to get a better look at the substitute. "Where was the entrance to the Valley of Screams?"
"Hm...Wait a minute."
"Let me guess, it was under the bridge?" Kyouraku leaned back into his chair again. "This is all rather confusing."
"I just remembered something!" Ichigo almost snapped his fingers in recollection. "From a high point-of-view I could see through to the Soul Society from the World of the Living. Like a lens where the Valley of Screams entrance was."
"Okay, we got pieces to a picture but we're not sure how to put them together. Or if the pictures come together at all. We have to wonder what part of that information leads you to here and now."
"It seems," a familiar voice from outside the room caught their attention as Urahara returned inside the room. "That Kurosaki here remembered something from that time in or leading to the Valley of Screams. All of the Seireitei's records say that whatever one experiences in that time is forgotten shortly afterwords but something inside you may want you to remember. Perhaps, while you were on that bridge, something in your mind-or heart for that matter-called out for something; an answer maybe. And in that call you found a rip. And in that rip you found answers. Or what should become answers. I assume that whenever you find whatever answers you're looking for that rip will come again and take you back home. This is all in theory, of course."
Ichigo was about to comment but Kyouraku beat him to the punch. "Urahara, that was rather rude of you to eavesdrop like that. What is it you used to hide your presence?" He smiled but Ichigo could hear the bitterness behind his words.
"Absolutely nothing. Perhaps it was your drunken stupor that hid me from your senses, Kyouraku-fukutaichou." Urahara wasn't being rude, just blunt with a lazy smile. "I wish I had known about your presence earlier, Kurosaki Ichigo. All the things we could learn from you would be fascinating. What time are you from again?"
"Don't answer that," Kyouraku ordered as he jumped to his feet. "Urahara, you know you shouldn't tamper with time."
Urahara simply ignored him and kept an eye on Ichigo. "You know, with your power you could advance our knowledge tenfold. You might even save lives. Has any horrible tragedies happened between this time and yours?"
Kyouraku's face was mere inches from Urahara's now. He threw a hand behind him to Ichigo as he said, "Ignore him, Kurosaki."
Ichigo felt like one of those kids in those sitcoms where the child is stuck watching the parents argue about him. Urahara's questions seemed endless and Kyouraku's anger seemed limitless.
"Did you ever think, Kyoruaku-fukutaichou, that this young man may tell us if Ukitake-fukutaichou dies in the near future?"
Kyouraku was silenced. The room grew heavy. Ichigo wanted to tell him but...he can't cross that line. He was told not to tell of the future and Kyouraku couldn't just ask after forcing Ichigo to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he just looked down to the ground, biting his lip.
"I've thought of asking that question many a time, Urahara. It kills me to not know."
"Then why don't you ask," Urahara asked with an evil grin.
"Because I can't!"
There was a knock on the paneling outside the room before anything got real out of hand. It was the young woman from before. Unohana, Ichigo recalled, came into the room with a shadowed expression. "I'll have to request you all to leave now. You've molested the silence policy and our patients are trying to rest." Her voice was soft and caring but they could all feel the heavy threat behind it all. "Out. Even you, Kyouraku-fukutaichou."
Kyouraku started to protest but the look he received made him cave in. He took one last long look to Ukitake before he retreated out of the room. "Fine," he said under his breath.
Urahara kept staring at Ichigo through his bangs as he, too, left the room. Ichigo lingered as long as he could until the daggers from the female lieutenant dug too deep for him to stand. As Ichigo began to leave the room, he looked to Unohana and begged, "Please take care of him."
She nodded in response. "We shall do the most we are capable of."
Urahara returned to his squad to start analyzing the strip of DNA and Kyouraku went towards the edge of the Seireitei to do perimeters with his squad but not before grabbing Ichigo by the arm and dragging him along. "Kishu has enough to worry about and we can't have you wondering about on your own," was his excuse.
Now, Ichigo stood within Kyouraku's line of sight as they walked through the forest grounds. Anger was flowing through the substitute as he observed the trees around them. Not at Kyouraku or Urahara but himself. Guilt rattled his mind, making him think back to Ukitake lying in that bed. He kicked at a tuft of grass wondering how he could do that to a friend. He was right there! How could he just stand there and watch Ukitake slip right out of his hands like that?
"Look, Kurosaki," Ichigo heard Kyouraku call just before the man wrapped his arms over his shoulders. "Many have been in your shoes. You can't let it bother you so much. Ukitake-fukutaichou has endured much worse. You just happened to be the one around when disaster struck."
Ichigo didn't look up to the lieutenant as he spoke. He kept his eyes on the grass as he said, "What's wrong with him?"
Another sigh. "His health was cursed since his 'birth.' It's affected him inside and out but none of us have been able to detect exactly was it is. I believe Satashi-taichou referred to it as lung-rot many a time but we all know it's more than just that."
It was Ichigo's turn to sigh. "Damn it." He was silent after that and Kyouraku slipped his arm off him and sluggishly walked away. "Hey, Kyouraku?" He waited for the other man to turn to him before continuing. "I'm sorry."
Kyouraku looked at him with a blank stare for a second before smiling. "You're okay, Kurosaki." He was about to say more but a little black butterfly showed up and fluttered in his face. Ichigo watched as the lieutenant lifted a hand and let the beautifully Gothic butterfly perch itself on his index finger. A few seconds passed and the butterfly fluttered away. "Hm..." Kyouraku scratched at the back of his neck as if nervous.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Ichigo stepped up closer to Kyouraku.
"That was Urahara's personal report on Ukitake-fukutaichou's DNA strip. He found a foreign substance after deep analyzation. He said it's something we might want to be wary of. You can't do this to me, Jyuu..." Ichigo could just barely catch the last sentence he said under his breath.
Ichigo's head whipped around so fast his neck went sore as he watched a comrade of Kyouraku come charging their way. They didn't need to ask why the guy called his attention. A hollow the size of a train rose from the woods, sending trees flying in all directions. "It's the original," Ichigo could hear Kyouraku say and couldn't help but feel a wave of adrenaline pump through him. He grabbed at Zangetsu and charged forward, leaving Kyouraku behind to give a Hell Butterfly orders to call for more squads.
As Ichigo charged through the woods towards the screeching Hollow, he could hear the Squad 6 members reminding the others to avoid the pods. The Hollow screeched again which drew Ichigo's attention to it's centipede-like body. It looked nothing more than a bunch of huge, black beads on a string leading to a white mask that spat out pods at an amazing speed. Each 'bead' had it's own set of legs which made it easy to slither through the forest.
Ichigo charged farther and farther into the forest until he couldn't see the Hollow anymore but he could hear the squad members screaming and the Hollow screeching. It seemed a good distance away so when a giant white mask was beelining towards him he was caught off guard. His arms shook when the Hollow crashed into his Zanpacuto that he was just barely able to defend himself with, having the blade vertically meet with its teeth.
"Hey, ugly," Ichigo greeted, trying his best to push back the beast. "I have a LOT to get off my back right now and I'd think you'd make a great punching bag." He grinned as he sidestepped to his left, letting the Hollow tip away and rush off but Ichigo wouldn't let him get away easy. The substitute horizontally swung his blade and slashed it across every leg that tried to rush itself past. He was able to chop away three before the Hollow turned around in a rage of pain. "Come again, I dare ya!" Ichigo drew his sword up high for another swing for the Hollow's face.
Then, he heard the sound of a gunshot. This time it didn't go slow motion. He didn't have time to think of what that meant and what was darting straight for him. This time, though, Ichigo didn't need help. Using shunpo, he was just barely able to jump out of the way, the pod just grazing his pant leg. He stumbled to his knees a few yards away and turned towards the Hollow as he held the rip. "Damn."
From behind him Kyouraku said, "Be careful. If you get struck that Hollow can control you."
"I know." Ichigo stood. "And we need to kill it before it divides again."
As if on cue, the Hollow lifted itself up on its hind legs and curled its torso high up into the air and screeched its highest and loudest. Ichigo watched in horror as things began to attach themselves to the Hollow. Things of numerous sizes that seemed to fly up out of nowhere. Ichigo squinted his eyes to try and get a better look and saw that they were tons of littler Hollows—all of which were similar to the one Ukitake had taken to his friend. "Dammit, no."
"It's rejuvenating itself," Kyouraku growled as he stepped past Ichigo.
The body on the Hollow began to bubble and seem to curl under the skin. Before their very eyes they saw the chopped off legs form again as if new.
As both men kept their eyes on the Hollow they could hear others screaming in the background behind them towards the Seireitei. "I think some of the men have been taken over," Kyouraku said depressingly angry. "I don't think it could get much worse."
Ichigo gave an overexagerating sigh. "Aw, NEVER say that! Once you say that the story ALWAYS worsens!"
Kyouraku turned to look at Ichigo, confused. "What?"
His response was Ichigo's widened eyes, looking past Kyouraku's shoulder as he said in a whisper, "Oh no..."
Hesitant, Kyouraku turned back around to follow Ichigo's gaze and his heart dropped to his stomach. "No...Jyuushiro..."
To be continued...
A/N: And that's that. Sorry it's shorter than I'd like but I didn't want to put too much into this chapter and have a very short next chapter. Um...there's a part pretty early in this chapter where I claim a bridge is somewhat knew. I really have NO idea. But it looked pretty modern so I think it's safe to assume it's not that old of a bridge. And then I claim that that was the same bridge his mother died nearby but I really have NO idea. Japan looks the same everywhere. Or so it did. Power to Japan! Btw, I'm not trying to bash Urahara—I highly admire him—but I think back when he was younger he might be the arrogant prick-type. We know him as the lesson-learned man in the series but who he was before then is a mystery to all except Kubo Tite-kun. Okay, after I had written this chapter I did some research on Urahara and learned MANY things I did not know. I was never aware Kubo Tite-kun covered his passed so when I stumbled on that information I was all like, WHOA! Though, because of what I learned I had to change a lot of things I was rather happy with. T-T I'm sorry if Urahara seems OOC, completely out of place in this scene and everything just seems off. I'm sorry. That was my ignorance—I have yet to finish the anime. The Bounts seasons put me into a rebellious age...I tried to make it that Urahara does his own experiments simply out of curiosity even though he's a member of Squad 2. I'm sorry if it's all confusing.