A/N: I noticed this when I was re-reading so I could write this story. I've been calling Mizuiro Michiro this whole time for reasons unknown. I can't even remember why I called him Michiro. I think I've been a little bit confused.
Well, first and foremost I must apologise for not updating this story sooner. I've been a bit weird and writing two Yu-Gi-Oh stories and one Naruto story and this one is making me worse. That and I've had a lot of story ideas lately which I've been trying to pen down as fast as possible so I could focus on my four main stories. The fact that I haven't really been interested in Bleach lately is also a problem since this story is about Bleach. I want to finish it, but I know that this will probably be the only Bleach story I will ever write. Much like I'm working on a Sword Art Online/Harry Potter crossover. It's a fun challenge, but I won't do it again once I'm finished.
Anyway, enough about that. Let the mystery continue.
She wasn't there. Suzu had yet to walk through that door all day and she still wasn't there. If it had been anyone else Ichigo wouldn't feel so worried, but Suzu had become a close friend after New Year's. His growing circle of friends seemed suddenly small and fragile without her. Was she sick? Was she hurt? Did she have to go to the hospital? Or was this just being Suzu again? But surely she would have told anyone if she was going away for the day? Even Tatsuki and Orihime looked worried. No, the transfer had not told anyone about today apart from the teacher, who hadn't seemed surprised when he had called Suzu's name and gotten no answer.
After school the girls had almost demanded that they would go around to Suzu's apartment to see if they could do anything to help. Upon arrival, no-one seemed to be inside. They rang the bell a few times and knocked before an elderly woman appeared from the apartment down the hall. "She's not there," the woman said in a raspy old voice. She tapped with her walking stick on the concrete hallway floor as if proving a point. Frowning, Ichigo wondered just what kind of point she was trying to make.
"Do you know when she'll be back?" Tatsuki asked while Orihime bit her lower lip in anxiety. Chad was standing silently next to Ichigo, staring impassively at the elderly woman. He had yet to show any concern to Suzu being missing, but he had followed them to her apartment nonetheless. The gentle giant showed his concern through his actions after all. Keigo and Mizuiro had yet to shut up about being concerned. They seemed quite content with letting the whole of Karakura know just how they were going to help Suzu recover, should she be sick, or save, should she be in trouble. At some point they had even speculated on how they were going to rescue her should she have been kidnapped and held hostage by some evil thugs. At the moment they were trying to peer through the closed and covered window.
The elderly woman tapped with her cane on the hallway floor again and she chuckled softly before turning away from them. "I wouldn't know something like that," she said and she turned her head. "I would be careful if I were you. Bad things come from sticking your nose into other people's business. Patience in a virtue and at the moment it is certainly something you six need to apply."
Keigo and Mizuiro started to sputter a retort but the woman was already walking away. "Wait," Orihime suddenly cried out and stepped forward to follow the woman but Tatsuki stopped her. Orihime turned to her friend, confusion clear on her face.
"It's clear that the woman won't tell us anything else even if we begged her," the raven head said with a small shrug. "Besides we don't even know if she knows anything. She said that Suzu-chan had left, but it was clear that the sensei still expect her to return at some point otherwise he wouldn't have bothered to call out her name in class today. Let's leave a note and go home. Who knows Suzu-chan could turn up again tomorrow."
Tatsuki glanced towards Ichigo for a moment, who shrugged before nodded. Orihime took out her notebook and started to write a message for their missing friend. Chad huffed suddenly, making them all look up at the gentle giant. He was still staring at where the elderly woman had disappeared. "What is it Chad?" Ichigo asked with his permanent frown in place.
Chad remained silent for a few more seconds and they all almost gave up on him speaking his mind when he suddenly frowned. "She smells like cats," Chad stated.
"Sorry," Tatsuki asked sharply and Orihime tilted her head to the side in confusion. Keigo snorted softly behind them and Mizuiro hummed thoughtfully next to his friend. Ichigo felt slightly conflicted. Should it mean something? He remembered Suzu having a bird, though he had never seen it of course, and didn't cats eat birds? But what did that have to do with anything? If the old woman had cats then that didn't mean that Suzu and the elderly woman couldn't get along. They could still be on friendly terms, couldn't they?
"And you're telling us this, because…?" Ichigo asked, confused by his own thoughts.
Chad shrugged his shoulders, remaining silent for a while before turning to the small circle of friends. "Let's go home," the gentle giant said, not even paying attention when Keigo let out an agitated growl and started muttering about how Chad never finished saying what it meant. Mizuiro chuckled before patting his friend on the back. Ichigo let out an irritated sigh before turning to Orihime, who had stopped writing her note.
"Make sure to tell Suzu that as well for future reference," he said. Orihime looked at him oddly before nodding and continued to write her short note. "Let's go then."
The most frustrating thing was that after a week of her absence everything seemed to go back to how it used to be. Gangs became active once more. First creating only minor disturbances before steadily escalating into more aggressive vandalism and harassments. Ichigo found them challenging him again, waiting for him after school hours. Chad refused to leave his side and Tatsuki and Orihime made sure to protect themselves. Keigo and Mizuiro stood by him as well, something which would never have happened had Suzu not bonded them in a strange way. They had become a stable and strong group of six, something the gangs had noticed as well.
The other girls in their class had asked about Suzu as well, missing her warm and comforting character. They didn't really fit into their group of six though, but Orihime and Mizuiro were happy to keep them posted. Not that they had anything to tell them. Each day Ichigo, Chad, Tatsuki, Orihime, Keigo or Mizuiro would drop by Suzu's apartment to check if it was still empty. They would always leave a note and things they would receive to pass along from the girls at school. The other boys from their class didn't seem to care as much, but Keigo said that he had heard them speak about Suzu to the girls sometimes.
A week after that the Ghosts returned and even though the gangs seemed to withdraw slightly, seeing the Ghosts again unsettled Ichigo. He glimpsed them first during his long stride home from Suzu's apartment. They seemed to line the road between his house and the flat. He only caught glimpses of them so he couldn't be sure and whenever he tried to get a closer look, the image seemed to shimmer and disappear.
Over the week he glimpsed them more often and before the end of the week, their forms had become as clear as they had always been. What troubled Ichigo most was that Karen had become depressed again. She could see them, or at least sense their presence, again as well. At least this time she had confessed as much to Ichigo, which he was grateful for. Yuzu seemed depressed as well, but more because she could no longer exchange recipes with Suzu. Sure she worried about her twin sister but Ichigo guessed that as long as nothing serious happened, Yuzu would be patient.
It was a month after that, two and a half months after New Year, when the incident happened. He had been walking back from Suzu's apartment when he noticed the fallen offering. Ichigo frowned and slowly turned to look at the group of rebellious teens who were skating around. Maybe he should leave it for now. Suzu's disappearance had drained him off a lot of energy, something he hadn't noticed before tonight.
Usually he would have said something right away, ready to defend those who couldn't do it for themselves. Ichigo felt tired though and a long sigh escaped his lips. He crouched down beside the fallen bottle and flowers, picking them up from the road. "Are you alright?" he quietly asked the dead girl who was hiding behind the street light. She nodded, her chain rattling when she moved slightly. "You really should move on though. It would be a lot more peaceful for you if you went on to Heaven."
"I'm scared," she whispered. "And the nice lady promised that I could stay for a bit longer."
Nice lady? "You spoke with Himura-san?"
The Ghost girl crooked her head and blinked cutely. If it wasn't for the blood streaming down her face which confirmed her dead state, Ichigo could have sworn that he was looking at his sisters when they were young. Something stirred inside of the orange head, an instinct which had numbed when Suzu had left but he had not quite forgotten. "Is she the nice lady with the pretty green eyes?" the dead girl asked.
Ichigo sucked in a sharp breath and suddenly felt a lot more awake. The urge to grab the girl and shake her overwhelmed him, but Ichigo refrained from doing just that. Laughter snapped him out of it. The group of rebellious teens were still skating around the place and vandalizing even more places down the street. The orange head sighed. "I guess it can't be helped."
Standing up, he stretched a little before stepping forward. Some things never changed and even if Suzu had left them, maybe even for good, his need to protect would never waver. He would protect those who could not protect themselves. Like he couldn't protect his mother, he could protect others now. Even if they were little ghost girls.
Even if his heart and body resolved to fight with the group of teens, his head still remained in a daze throughout the whole fight. Why was it so hard to figure out his mind when his heart had already made the decision to continue fighting? Why was it so hard to clear his thoughts when it had been so easy before? Why was his mind clouded by doubt when his heart was so clear in its resolve?
Ichigo growled in frustration even if it sounded to the outside world like he was growling at the remaining teens. They scrambled away, making their apologies as they rushed to get away. When had this whole mess ended? Ichigo turned to look at the setting sun, brushing his clothes as if trying to remove the none-existent dirt and dust.
Suddenly clear of mind, Ichigo drew a shuddering breath and a cold shiver ran down his spine. Something was about to happen. Something big which would change not only him but everyone he knew. "Thank you Mister!"
The Ghost girl bounced towards him, her hands behind her back and a playful and happy expression lighting up her bloodied face. A small smile appeared unknowingly on Ichigo's face, an expression which hadn't shown itself since the last day he had seen her. "Are you alright now?" he asked softly, crouching down to look the little girl in the eyes. She nodded cheerfully. "That's good. I'll bring some new flowers tomorrow." And he nodded towards the fallen flowers.
She smiled brightly. "Thank you Mister!" And with a last nod she skipped back to her corner. "Now I can rest peacefully tonight."
Ichigo stood and turned into the direction of his home once more. "Just hurry up to Heaven already," he said, raising his hand in farewell. Really, some things didn't need dwelling on.
For some reason it was harder to ignore his father's childish outburst, which made Ichigo kick a little harder than usual. Not that his father seemed to notice the difference. At least Yuzu seemed a little concerned, but only showed it by complaining that the food was getting cold. Ichigo decided to forgo dinner tonight, his stomach in knots as he tried not to think. He heard his sisters and father's voice drifting up the stairs.
"Really you should show a little more concern!" Yuzu's voice came scolding up the stairs at which their father made a strangled sound. "I'll bring him something later."
There was a lot of noise before Isshin's voice drifted up the stairs again. "-Why can't you tell me then?"
"Why would Ichi-nii tell you anything," Karin said in her impassive tone. "Even I wouldn't tell you any of my problems when you behave like a five year old most of the time."
A lot of wailing drifted up the stairs and Ichigo was sure that Isshin was, once more, complaining to his wife's picture. Ichigo rolled his eyes, sighed and turned to face the wall. He wished he could have blocked out Yuzu's scolding and Karin's impassive tones as they spoke about how childish their father could be at times. When everything settled down a little and Ichigo decided that he might as well try to work on his homework for a little while, something else froze him into place.
"I wonder what is troubling him." It was his father, but the man sounded a lot more sincere and mature then he had done in years. It caused Ichigo's insides to squirm uncomfortably and a sudden guilt washed over him. Had he really caused them to worry about him?
"He's been like that ever since Himura-kun disappeared," Yuzu muttered though loud enough for him to hear. "That and the fact that he's been seeing ghosts again just… I think he's trying not to let it worry him but…"
Ichigo tuned out on the conversation, covering his ears with his headphones to block out the noise of his worried family. He swore after his mother died that he would always protect them, protect his family from danger. But didn't that also mean that he would keep strong to not let them worry about him? Why was it so hard to keep Suzu's disappearance from ruling his day? Wasn't he cool and collective Kurosaki Ichigo, feared by the gangs because he and Chad weren't afraid to stand up to them? Where had that Ichigo gone?
"He's still here… somewhere," Ichigo muttered. He shook his head and snorted. "Of course he is, he's me after all." And with that he started on his homework.
She rested herself on the electricity pole, looking out over the town of Karakura. She frowned at the amount of spiritual presences within it. Captain Ukitake had told her that this would be a one month assignment, something easy so she could get used to being assigned to a town. This, however, made her wonder if they knew about the amount of spiritual powers inside this small town.
Rukia sighed, turning herself in the direction of the largest spiritual presence in this town. She touched her katana for a moment, remembering the events from forty years ago. Sometimes, late at night, she could still feel the blood of her former Lieutenant and friend on her hands and dripping down her arms. Tonight the feeling was back again, but this time she felt like she could live with it. Push it back so as not to get distracted. Sode no Shirayuki whispered softly and comfortingly in her heart. She needed to focus so she could get this month over with.
The Shinigami leaped up and followed the trail of the spiritual presence, letting her instincts guide her to the right place. Silently Rukia wondered if anyone had ever encountered such a high spiritual presence outside of Soul Society and she made a mental note to send a Jigokuchou to her Captain about it.
"It's close," Rukia muttered to herself, trying to pinpoint its exact location when suddenly she was pushed from behind. Or rather kicked. "HOW'S THAT FOR CLOSE!" Impossible. The Shinigami turned to look at the human pointing and accusing her of breaking-and-entering. The spiritual presence was certainly largest around here.
"How can you see me?" she asked, feeling completely caught off guard. Never before had she heard of someone powerful enough to see, or even touch, a Shinigami in the Human World. Who was this boy? Or better yet, why was he the source of this immense spiritual presence?
"Of course I can see you," the boy said, crossing his arms in defiance and frown in place. "Why shouldn't I be able to see you?"
So the child had never before seen one of her kind. "Because I am Shinigami." Should she have expected a more shocked reaction of some kind? Maybe a bit more of an awed expression to make her feel a little bit better. All he did was look at her with an expressionless look and, what seemed to be, a permanent frown. Suddenly Rukia recognised him as the boy from town, when that Hollow had attacked. "Very well, I will tell you a little bit more."
As the Shinigami continued to tell this strange boy about her kind and Soul Society, she was sure that she could feel the spiritual pressure inside of him building. It was almost as if he was getting annoyed or angry, causing his spiritual powers to multiply. Unfortunately she couldn't read his reaction as he sat there in his chair, listening to her explanation of why she was in his room.
"I see," he spoke suddenly and Rukia felt relief sweep through her. He seemed to understand. "So you came from this Soul Society place to vanquish an evil spirit?" Rukia nodded, relief shining through. "That makes… NO SENSE AT ALL!"
"Of course it does," she quickly countered. "How can you believe in Ghosts but not believe in the existence of Shinigami? How else would they be able to cross over or saved from being eaten by a Hollow?"
"Of course I believe in Ghosts," he said impassively. "I've seen them before after all." This was news to Rukia. A human who could see Ghosts? "But I've never seen a Shinigami before. I don't believe in something I cannot see."
Was this kid for real? "But I'm standing right in front of you!" she said, her eyes slightly narrowing as she looked up at him. Why was this boy so tall? Look at him with his orange hair acting all high and mighty.
"I admit that you aren't human," he said, peering down at her. By the Gods he annoyed her already. "But go play Shinigami somewhere else, got it kid?"
Kid? He called her a kid? She was at least two hundred or so years older than him and he had the audacity to call her a kid? Rukia knocked his hand away and positioned herself. "You just had to say that," she growled. "Way of Binding number 1." And she touched his chest. "Sai!"
With great satisfaction she watched the brat as he was pressed to the ground, his hands behind his back and groaning in discomfort. "That will teach you to call me kid." Watching his squirm in discomfort she explained the Way of the Demon to him with a sly smirk on her face. "And while I'm here." She unsheathed her sword and while the look of fear on his face was slightly funny to look at, she still had her duty. She placed the hilt of her sword on the lingering Soul's forehead.
Sometimes things just happened the way they did and while she continued to explain Soul Society to this brat, she couldn't help but wonder if it had all been the work of the Gods. Damn her pride as a Shinigami and her duty to her elder brother. Had she been anyone else she would probably not have been side tracked at all by this boy. Experiencing his power of numbing her senses and breaking her spell in order to save his sisters was something worth witnessing though.
"No wait," Rukia called out to him as the orange head positioned himself in front of the Hollow and for a moment her mind recalled the events of forty years ago once more. "You don't know what you're doing! Stop!"
Her katana may have worked its way between the Hollow's upped front teeth, but unfortunately she hadn't been able to stop the blow completely. Teeth both up and down had worked their way into her stomach and shoulder. She tried, she really did, to push herself away with minimal damage to herself, but the teeth in her shoulder were just in too far. Pushing up her right arm, the katana manoeuvred so she could slid open most of the Hollow's mask. It moved back, momentarily stunned by the action but already regaining its bearings.
"F-fool," she muttered, turning so she could sit upright and look at the boy she had just saved. "Did you really think it would have left your family alone if you sacrificed your soul?"
The boy looked too stunned to show any other emotion besides shame. "I'm sorry," he whispered in a half broken voice. "I just wanted…"
Rukia sighed and finally succeeded into pushing herself up against the road block. "Never mind that now," the Shinigami said with a grimace. "There is no point. I am too injured to continue fighting. It's only a matter of time before we are all eaten."
He genuinely looked miserable. What if…? He had already shown that he could break her Kidou and that he was powerful enough to confuse her senses. If she could give him half of her powers… but it was forbidden. Surely she ought not too. But what choice did she have? "Kid," she muttered, snapping him out of his miserable daze. "Do you want to safe your family?"
"Of course," he snapped, brown eyes alight with new hope. "Is there a way? Please tell me!"
Rukia hesitated slightly, knowing full well that she could get into serious trouble if this would work. "There is a way," she said, bowing her head to look at her bloodied sword. She hoped that everyone would forgive her for this. "Or should I say there is only one way."
Gripping the hilt of her katana more firmly she turned it towards him, a hard look in her eyes. "You must become a Shinigami!" She ignored his momentarily expression of surprise. "I cannot fight the Hollow, but I can give you half of my powers. You will temporarily receive my powers, giving us a chance against the Hollow. There is a possibility that it could fail, but you have already showed that you have a strong soul. If this fails, we could all die!"
It took a moment for the boy to gather his wits before he looked her straight in the eyes. "What do I have to do?"
Rukia couldn't help but admire his courage and she gestured towards her Zanpakutou. "This Ghost cutter will be placed over your heart and I will infuse you with my Dark Force."
He balled his fists and a new resolve shone in his brown eyes. "Give me your sword Soul Reaper. Let's try this."
If she hadn't felt so proud of his at that moment, Rukia would have scolded him for calling her Zanpakutou a sword. "Not Soul Reaper," she said with a small smile. "My name is Kuchiki Rukia."
The Hollow reawakened, gathered his bearings and zeroed in on them. It was now or never. "Good to meet you Kuchiki Rukia," the boy said, grabbing her Zanpakutou with both hands. "I'm Kurosaki Ichigo. Let's pray that this won't be our last meeting."
And with that she stabbed him through the heart. "WAIT!" someone cried out, but Rukia could already feel her powers being transferred. With a blinding flash of white light and the overwhelming sense that someone was ripping out all of her powers, Rukia was sure she was falling. A strong hand steadied her and Rukia looked up to see a familiar figure standing next to her. "Oh bugger all, I was too late!"
The woman widely known throughout Soul Society as Amaterasu sighed and looked down on her, her bright green eyes twinkling in the moonlight. "I will kill Shunsui when I get the chance." Something barked next to the woman and Rukia looked down to see a dog standing next to her, waggling its tail in obvious amusement. "Shut it you," Amaterasu said to the dog who continued to waggle its tail. "It's not funny."
Rukia felt confused. "It's that… wait never mind. Why are you here?"
Amaterasu watching Ichigo as he cut the Hollow in two, successfully sending it to its resting place. Her green eyes looked pensive but the rest of her face betrayed nothing of what was actually going on in her mind. Her haori wasn't like the other captain's. Instead of the usual white, it was coloured in red, orange and yellows. Her midnight black hair was flowing elegantly down her back but held out of her face by ornamental pins. Rukia was sure that they were decorated with flowers and feathers. Instead of the usual black Shihakushō Amaterasu was wearing a rather stylish, if not short, yukata. Her pale, ivory skin lit up in the moonlight and she was wearing a pair of wooden geta. She held no obvious weapons, but the woman radiated power.
The moment Ichigo dropped down from his fight against the Hollow, Amaterasu smiled down at the Shinigami. "To fix this mess," she said in a calming tone. "Let's heal you and then Urahara can get you a nice Gigai. We'll talk about your stay here after I take care of him." And she nodded towards Ichigo.
"Wait," Rukia said, panicking at the sudden thought that Amaterasu was going to kill Ichigo because he had taken all of her powers. "It was my fault really. Please don't punish Kurosaki-san because of something I did."
The elegant woman raised an eyebrow, before smiling reassuringly. "Don't worry," she said bending down to heal Rukia's wound while the dog wandered over to the fallen boy. "I won't hurt him. That would be counterproductive after all." The dog barked and the sound of wooden sandals filled the air. Amaterasu turned to roll her eyes at the dog before looking at the man who had appeared before them. "Ah Urahara, just in time."
"My, my Yuri-sama," the man said, a smile playing on his face. "It seems I'm not the only one who is interested in the events of tonight."
Amaterasu rolled her sparkling green eyes again and Rukia wondered if Yuri was her real name. "Please take care of Rukia-chan, Urahara. I'll put our new friend to bed." The dog barked again and the powerful woman let out an irritated sigh. "Really, I don't need your input now, thank you. Let's move. We have a lot to discuss tonight." And she moved to pick up Ichigo.
When Amaterasu had disappeared into the house, Urahara moved over to help Rukia stand. "May I ask how you know Amaterasu-sama?" she asked softly, trying to ignore her white Shihakushō.
Urahara chuckled and stirred them in the direction he had come from. "That is a long story, Kuchiki-san. Now let's go home before she arrives so I can get you a nice Gigai."
A/N: I know, finally! It may have taken me about three months to start this chapter, but it took me three days to write. I hope you liked it. Sorry again for the wait and I hope that I will be able to write the next chapter before the end of the month. No promises though, sorry. This will also probably be the only time I will write in Rukia's perspective. I may chance to other characters at some point but for now I haven't got a clue.