The morning of his one hundred birthday, Shiba Yasuo wakes up and knows for certain, that today was going to be a bad day.
It is the day of his coming of age ceremony, which meant that people from all over Soul Society would be coming later that evening to congratulate the newest member of the Shiba clan.
Yasuo was not looking forward to it.
Because Shiba Yasuo was not a new soul. He had been born in Soul Society, born to Shiba Haruhi and Shiba Hachidori but he had retained his memories from his past life.
Or more like,
To make sure he broke every single truth in existence, Kurosaki Ichigo had not been reincarnated properly.
With the mind of a sixteen-year-old, he had to spend the following decades learning to use his new soft, tiny body while going crazy of boredom. He didn’t know whose fault it was, but he was not above going to complain despite him being over a hundred years old.
But because he remembered, because Yasuo was Ichigo, he still bore the hideous resentment. A sense of betrayal, his soul being torn to shreds, of sacrifices too big, of fear too grand enveloped him at nights, kept him up. Woke him up amidst screams of blood and pain.
But he would wake up, and in that dazed sense, he would feel his zanpakuto, he would feel Zangetsu, even though the name didn’t fit as well, even though he couldn’t hear his voice…
He was there.
He wasn’t alone.
The soft murmur of whispered nonsense that he can only begin to hear soothes him more effectively than people, familiar strangers, flocking to his room before he learned to keep quiet.
Zangetsu had returned to him, and it was only a matter of time for him to hear him again.
Without Aizen on the horizon, time was something he finally had.
The black-haired Ichigo sighs to himself and decides to dress up and face the day now, so he could claim to being tired earlier and get away from the certain pandemonium.
Not because he thought anyone would recognize him, but rather the Shibas were inherently feisty and Ichigo wasn’t keen on finding out how they behaved with a party as big as this.
He might have been just a child in body and barely more in mind, but a war did funny things to your subconscious.
Ichigo had been forced to be an adult since he was nine and he got his mother killed, but going to war had just made him a jaded man.
And even though back then he had agreed, he had accepted his fate…
That didn’t mean he was happy about what had happened.
That didn’t mean he forgot what was done to him.
And so, if he so much as looked at his former friends, comrades, he was pretty sure he would punch them.
That was just another reason why he had never sought them out. He was living a new life; it was his chance of living a life the way he actually wanted. So what if he retained his memories? He could learn to ignore them.
He could get his chance at a new life.
And whoever tried to bring Kurosaki Ichigo back would be stabbed, no joke.
He was done playing hero.
“Who’s my favorite baby boy?” Ganju croons as he suffocates Ichigo-Yasuo in yet another hug. Ichigo scrambles to get away to no avail, and he o once more caught in his now-uncle’s unforgiving embrace.
“Get off me, Ganju! How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that?” Ichigo complains finally prying himself away as Ganju loosened his grip on him. Ichigo stumbled back, his slender spindly teenage body not working with him the way that it should and he bumped into someone else.
“Stop messing around, both of you. Yasuo. I know you already act like a grumpy old man but this is your coming of age ceremony so I expect you to behave. As you know, the Shihoin and Kuchiki clan heads are my friends, but that doesn’t mean that their clans are to be treated with the same familiarity. Same goes for the captains that will be coming as well.” Shiba Kuukaku, clan head and now-aunt spoke, voice firm but not unkind.
“Yes, I know, Kuukaku-nee-sama. Please stop treating me like a child.”
“We’ll see how you behave yourself today.”
The woman is older than Ichigo remembers, more solemn, more serious. More tired.
Age and pain had finally mellowed her out.
Ichigo-Yasuo huffed, scowling briefly before relenting to the child he was supposed to be and hugged his surprised aunt.
He separated with an embarrassed scoff, he straightened out his clothes and stood straight. “I’ll make you proud.”
Kuukaku and Ganju smile. “We know you will. Go show them what a Shiba is made of!”
Shiba Yasuo strides out.
Soul Society should watch out. He was back and ready to take the world by storm.
His heart started hammering in his chest as he was first greeted by the captains of the Gotei 13– even Kyouraku had been able to assist, despite Lisa and Nanao’s probable complaints.
Ichigo is scared at first, but even though he is still a Shiba, and even though it hasn’t been all that long since he died, nobody seemed to recognize him.
Ichigo isn’t too sure what to think of that.
He should be relieved, and he is relieved but…
He didn’t think he looked different enough for not even one of them to do a double take.
That is until the current captain for the 13th squad greets him and he feels horrible at the initial pang of sadness that washes over her face.
“Congratulations, Yasuo-dono. As always it is good to see another member of the marvelous Shiba clan become a part of society. If there’s ever anything you need, don’t hesitate to come looking for me.”
Ichigo says, “Likewise. If there’s anything I can do for you, just say the word.”
Rukia looks at him a bit endearingly, a bit condescending and Ichigo is immediately reminded of the fact that he was nothing but a child now.
Not for the first time he flounders with a suffocating feeling of unease of can’t you depend on me, but he manages to school his features, to shake himself and remind himself that if he wanted people to trust him and depend on him, he’d need to prove himself.
Just as he had done once, all those years ago.
Yasuo scowls. “Just you wait. I’ll join the academy and you won’t be looking at me like that again.”
The captain is surprised, but Yasuo doesn’t back down. He stares on, defiant and so sure of himself Rukia eventually nods her head.
“I’m sure you’ll make a fine Shinigami.”
Ichigo greets and nods and listens to the dozen people talking, and congratulating him for simply getting older and sooner rather than later, his energy is all but spent and he drags his feet over to his clan head to announce he was going back, when yet another presence invades his peripheral.
Sparks fly in his mind’s eye, as his memories of the last time he had seen Shihoin Yoruichi came back to him.
The busty female grins at seeing him, completely unaware of his more than grim thoughts, as she made her way to him with her entourage doing their best to keep up with her.
By her right side, young Yuuchirou smiles and trips over himself as he tried speaking to everyone at once in his excitement.
By her left…
“Oh, Yasu-bou, so nice to see you!” Yoruichi says, dragging Ichigo back into another back-breaking hug. Ichigo grunts as he tried getting her off him and when he finally does, he ends up staring up at a very familiar man.
“I brought my advisor with me, come say hi, Kisuke.”
Kisuke’s eyes widen, before his poker face is on and Ichigo doesn’t know what to make out of it.
“Ah,” he finally says. Distantly, Ichigo is aware that he still looks as disheveled as always, with the same clothes as all those years ago, even with the darned bucket hat. Curiously he somehow looked younger shaved. “Certainly the Shiba blood runs strong within you.”
“What’s that mean?” Yasuo replies and it’s as much of a warning as he can give.
Kisuke’s smile slips off. “Nothing at all. Congratulations on coming of age, Shiba-san. I expect great things of you once you join the academy.”
Ichigo doesn’t think.
He just slams his fist against his nose, satisfied at hearing it crack under him.
(“What did you do this time?” Yoruichi asks nonchalantly as Kisuke tried staunching the flow of blood.
Kisuke threw her a sullen glance before he righted his nose and let his reiatsu soothe the pain away. )
Shiba Yasuo regretted a lot of stuff.
Some rather insignificant regrets of his new life, most were burdens of his past life but now he had gone and punched a man so high above his current station, despite him being a noble, that he was in deep trouble, probably.
Yoruichi of course didn’t hold it against him. As neither did anyone else but an aggravated Kuukaku who proceeded to break his nose as well. But despite that, and despite making Yasuo apologize to Urahara Kisuke, nobody seemed to care much about the abuse Kisuke was subjected to.
Yasuo’s lips became a thin line.
He thought he had made sure this indifference to others would be gone.
He had thought he had done so.
Had his presence, his influence been so light and forgettable they had returned to their previous selves as soon as he was out of their lives?
Instead, he reared all of his one-sixty-six centimeters to stand in front of Kisuke, fire burning in his eyes.
He would do so again.
Again and again until these idiots learned.
That friends weren’t just for a while, they were to stand by your side through thick and thin, through whatever may come.
But one needed to respect themselves first.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I punched you?” Yasuo exclaims the moment he returns to the man to apologize, decorum nonexistent, his swollen nose making his face look less refined and worse off than Kisuke’s seeing as he had already healed himself.
Kisuke blinks in that mildly confused way of his, defaulting to his smiling persona when he didn’t know how to proceed.
“Pardon me, Shiba-san. I don’t think there was much of a reason. I don’t believe we have met.”
It hurts him way more than it should, but Yasuo keeps his face impassive before nodding jerkily. Keeping his hand under his control unless he punched him again. “Right,” he says. “I’m just tired. But I’m sorry for taking it out on you. It was uncalled for.”
Kisuke ducks his head, tilting his ever-present hat down. “Apology accepted. I understand that kids your age have a lot on their minds.”
Yasuo can’t be sure, but he could swear he could see the stupid old man grinning ever so slightly as he inevitably bristled at those words.
He might be short, but he was not a kid!
“Well, at least you’re fighting back.” He returns, smiling with too much teeth as Kisuke’s face went far too slack, too void of emotions as his eyes searched him. He frowned slightly –probably at finding nothing amiss.
Kisuke then returns the smile, much more politely as he extended a hand for a handshake. “My, it seems like you’ll be an interesting individual, Shiba Yasuo-san.”
“That’s how I like to keep it.” Yasuo grins and grips him tight.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
Shiba Hanabi –his mother–glared at him back in the privacy of their home. Yasuo was sitting in the kitchen, nursing an ice wrap to his nose. “Who told you it was okay to punch people, Yasu-kun? And Yoruichi-dono’s advisor, no less! You’re lucky the man wasn’t offended! What an impression you’re leaving at your coming of age ceremony, young man!” The woman continued to admonish him, spitting fire from her eyes and tongue.
Yasuo cringed, before Ichigo shrugged, tired. “It was nothing, okay? Slip of mind, didn’t notice. I’m sorry.”
“A sorry won’t cut it, Yasu-kun. They might have forgiven you easily, but that was a slight to his honor, and it was wholly unprovoked.” She stopped cold, gripping him so suddenly and forcefully Ichigo almost jumped back. He does end up dropping the ice to the hard ground. “It was unprovoked, right? He didn’t do anything inappropriate? Yasu-kun what did he tell you?”
“That’s too much of a one-eighty, woman!” Ichigo said, trying to take weight off the subject. Seeing that he had failed at that and at loosening her grasp on his purpling hand, he hurriedly tacked on, “of course not! He didn’t do anything to me, I don’t- don’t even know the guy!”
And when Ichigo thought this was all over, his mother crosses her arms over her chest. “Because you’ll be working as his aide as an apology.”
Yasuo is so shocked he forgets to close his mouth.
Kisuke doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. He stares, opens and closes his mouth and then just polite-smiles.
Yasuo is already thinking he’d be spared, when he catches the tilt in his lips and the damning words fall “Well then, a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I expect you’ll be of great help to me.”
Yasuo scowled from behind his mother and Kisuke returned a mischievous grin.
(He’s not sure if it’s fear or anger what curls in his stomach.)
He’s not sure he’ll be able to do this.
But he doesn’t have a choice. Not really.
Yasuo breathes in to calm his nerves before dashing to the Second Division at his fastest shunpo.
He just needed not to punch him again and everything would be okay.
(In his heart, Ichigo is still furious and sad and angry and wants to scream and punch the man until he apologizes or finds an excuses, until he explains, why.)
“Oh, you really did come.”
With those first words, Urahara Kisuke greets him and Yasuo just grits his teeth and stands straight, at attention.
“Yes,” –not Kisuke, not Urahara, don’t be so casual, he doesn’t deserve it–“ Urahara-san. My mother might have made the decision, but it is on my honor and my word as a Shiba to make do with my promises.”
‘Not like you would know the first thing about honor.’
Kisuke barely looks up from whatever document he was reading. “What a noble man. Well then, shall we begin?”
The beginning, as most things in life, is rocky.
Yasuo comes in at the established hour, because he’s a noble and he’s polite. Kisuke is nowhere to be seen.
Yasuo doesn’t really have anything else to do, so he waits some. He gets restless, begins to pace. He walks over to the bookshelf inside Kisuke’s office and is sad and not, to see it unchanged. The same forgotten missions, reports, the same books he had once entertained. Ichigo looks away from the gifts and pulled out some of his formerly favorite books.
They’re old and crinkled and well-read, probably because of their age. It wasn’t likely that anyone else had even gone near that particular bookshelf after his death.
He reads a chapter. Two. Three.
Yasuo looks up from his reading as his vision began to grow fuzzy.
It is dark outside.
The man had not appeared.
The teenager can’t help but throw his book across the office, letting it slam against the opposite door.
He picks it up. He leaves.
He continues to come. Relentlessly, incessantly. Every time, without fail, his office would be empty, void.
It infuriated him, but for some reason he was there the following morning, and the next and the next.
He doesn’t know why he does this.
This is the perfect chance to continue avoiding everyone he once knew.
This is the perfect chance to carry on with his new life without the worry of being dragged back.
But even if he owes him nothing, even if this man had been ultimately and unrepentantly responsible for his death…
It hurts him to see him so isolated.
Besides, he had already given his word.
So he persists, coming day after day reading the dozen books on his bookshelf, eventually bringing his own.
His bullheadedness is rewarded the third week.
“Shiba-san, don’t you have anything better to do?” Kisuke said with no greeting, no other words as he materialized by the open door.
Yasuo scowled. “I gave you my word. And to my mother. You will not be the reason I break my word.”
Not again. Wants to slip from his lips, but instead presses against his chest, hurting, painful.
Kisuke stares at him, uncharacteristically somber.
“That wouldn’t be good, now would it?” He simply says before walking off.
Yasuo doesn’t chase him. But the next day, Kisuke is finally there, waiting for him.
“Alright, Shiba-san. Here’s the first assignment.”
Yasuo, the errand boy.
That’s the title he now bore, apparently. Yasuo grumbles under his breath as he carries stacks and stacks of never-ending reports and files from one barrack to another, from Kisuke to Yoruichi, from anyone who needed to buy a fucking messaging pigeon or a phone.
But he hadn’t complained and he had done it to the best of his abilities even if at the end of the day he was tired and sore and pissed.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Kisuke to notice and offer him a new type of job.
He still had to handle papers, but now Kisuke sent him on actual errands, to the store, to the other barracks…
To the forest, to Rukongai.
Yasuo complied with every single errand, every single whisper of a mission, growing excited as the petitions grew in complexity. In difficulty.
Eventually one day he would catch himself smiling silly as he ducked under a burly arm and punched the living daylights out of the thug. The tiny man then sprinted towards the doubly-stolen bounty of several kidou scrolls and he would be gone the very next second.
Yasuo dumped them triumphantly atop Kisuke’s desk. The man blinked in surprise.
“Where did you find this?”
“You sent me for it.”
“Shiba-san. I think I told you only to find the location and report back to me.”
“That’s a ridiculous request. That’s why I went ahead and got it.”
“Shiba-san, if anything ever happens to you, your clan will have my head.”
“Good thing that I’m too good to have anything happen to me.”
Kisuke actually rolls his eyes.
Ichigo had not forgotten.
He had not forgotten the betrayal, the pain.
But it was so easy to don the guise of the clueless Yasuo and pretend everything was alright. That his curt, borderline-rude behavior was his normal, instead of specifically aimed at Kisuke.
He wants to ask.
He wants to ask and delude himself that it had been a mistake, a miscalculation.
That these people hadn’t looked at a fifteen-year-old boy and thought martyr.
Maybe it would be best to bury Kurosaki Ichigo, and just carry on with his life.
And if they ever dared offer the broken crown to him again, he would say no.
“Alright.” Kisuke says, all-suffering, out of the blue as Yasuo lounged in his office–having finished his newest errand under the time limit Kisuke had set. “I concede the point.”
Yasuo looks up from picking the grim out of his nails. “What now?”
Kisuke rests both of his hands on his desk to stand up. “I must say I am impressed with your prowess. You have handled everything with exceeding ability, even though you should restrain your hate a little more. You are a noble, even if you’re not the heir, you still must be able to be politically correct with people that piss you off.”
Yasuo’s features are carved from stone.
“Although I don’t think I was offensive enough for you to behave like that.” Kisuke continues to say, voice as mild as ever but his eyes as sharp as a blade. Ichigo is undeterred.
“Maybe I don’t like people that let other walk all over them. How about that?”
Kisuke blinks, hostility forgotten as his curiosity wins over him. “While extremely noble of you, I don’t see why you would want to help someone such as myself. Or even, why.”
Yasuo shrugs. “I’m weird. I saw that nobody jumped in your defense after breaking your nose, so you qualify.”
“Because of course you understand the inner workings of their minds better than I do.” Kisuke replies, arching a pale eyebrow.
Yasuo opens his mouth, but the words falter. He looks down. “I don’t. I-“
What was he doing?
Did he really want to get mixed up with him?
Had he learned nothing?
That if he so much as tried to help, if he extended a helping hand…
They would drag him to the depths of hell again.
“Look. I can’t stand people that can’t stand for themselves. That’s it.” He says, daring the world to contradict him. Kisuke stares some more before finally relenting.
“So was this whole aide thing your setup?” Kisuke waves a hand as a vague gesture to the whole situation and can’t help but smile as Yasuo’s cheeks redden.
“Anyway,” Yasuo says clearing his throat. “If you want me gone from your life you better learn to defend yourself.”
For some reason, there is silence.
Yasuo looks up to see the hooded gaze of Kisuke.
“Right then. You’re dismissed.”
He wants to stay, keep talking, understand what was that look for, why was he acting like that when Kisuke glares at him with eyes glowing with reiatsu and the little man bows and takes his leave.
Yasuo avoids going to his office for a couple days. He continues training, honing his skills. He keeps meditating, fighting against that thick fog that swamped his inner world. Zangetsu calls him, and Ichigo continues searching for him.
Next time Kuukaku decides to ditch her job and go over to the Second to snatch Yoruichi to go drinking, Yasuo also sneaks off his lessons and joins her in her impromptu visit. The woman arches an eyebrow at his feeble excuses that his lessons were done early, but simply tells him not to cause much trouble hands him a tower of papers half his size as punishment and they both head off.
Yasuo wobbles to Yoruichi’s desk, too preoccupied with keeping that last paper on the top from escaping to notice someone getting close and lifting up half of his papers.
Ichigo is so startled he almost drops his stack, but he stared up in quiet surprise at seeing the very aggravating blond he had come looking for. The man looks even more tired than usual, as he nods cordially and walks off to leave the papers he had grabbed.
Yasuo hurries up after him and after the papers are off their hands Kisuke sighs and turns to him. “So? Are you going to insist?”
“As many times as it takes,” Yasuo, Ichigo promises, picking up the conversation as if they had never stopped. The man lifts a hand to rub against his absent shadow of a beard and simply walks off with a quick nod of his head for Yasuo to follow him.
They both bow and give Yoruichi and Kuukaku parting words before leaving. As they disappear past the door, Yasuo’s arms prickle and he knows that both women are intent on their actions.
Kisuke tries to rub his absent beard again, and sighs. “I commend you for being such a noble boy, Shiba-san, but I do not require your assistance. I also think you have more than made up for the offense to my person, so I think this is a good opportunity for you to stop coming.”
Yasuo just blinks.
Wasn’t this what he wanted?
This way there would be no need for him to interact with the asshole that had sent him to the slaughterhouse with a smile on his face.
“Right, I-“ Yasuo starts, a knot on his throat. “I’m… “ He looks up at the shaven, but tired man in front of him and briefly his mask breaks. For just one second his eyebrows knit, a grimace extends over his face.
But then Yasuo takes the reigns and his face is as smooth as paper. “Objectively speaking, have I been a bother to you? Have my errands not been useful?”
It wasn’t that he wasn’t angry.
But more than anything, what he wanted to know what why. Had things really happened like that? Had he really meant nothing to these people?
Kisuke would never find out he was Yasuo. But he could use his position to find out more information.
(All just fucking excuses in the face of death.)
“Why do you want to continue working for me?”
Kisuke thinks it through.
“Only if you don’t try to help me again.”
“Shiba-san, I don’t have any more work to do for you. At least… no more work for someone not in the gotei.”
Yasuo’s eyebrows lifted. Was he suggesting…?
“So? Can you recommend me someone?”
“It’s alright if you don’t pass on the first time, Yasu-kun. I know you’re cocky because you have a good control over your reiatsu but the entrance exam is so much more than that.”
Ichigo listens to his mother prattle on, but he’s more focused on the looming building in front of him.
“I won’t fail.” He tells her, mind more focused on the starting chapter in his life. If he walked in there, if he applied for the academy there would be no backing down.
It was returning to a world of combat, of swords and blood. Of comrades and bonds.
His reiatsu spiked, thrumming anxious energy throughout his body.
He could hardly wait.
The written portion was a piece of cake. As was the reiatsu proficiency test.
When he was sat down for the interview, the man stared down at him, looking only at his baby-face and his short stature.
Yasuo smiled sweetly before doing his best verbal smack down to date.
He was admitted with flying colors.
For his placement tests, he was examined thoroughly, much to his delight and relief.
He had complained a long time ago how weak and defenseless recently-graduated academy students were. Perhaps, hopefully, this was a sign that the standards for graduating were higher.
As were the chances of surviving.
His kidou was much better this time around, but there was still something lacking within him, something behind that fog where Zangetsu called him, but that wasn’t an impediment.
His shunpo was obviously deficient, and would continue being so until his body finally stopped growing and he grew used to it.
Zanjutsu didn’t need thoughts. Didn’t need awkwardness.
It was sheer muscle memory, it was a dance he had never stopped ever since he was 15, and he was called Kurosaki Ichigo.
He wasn’t as good as he wanted to be, he wasn’t as good as he should be, but he was good. All those imbalances were corrected on the go, as he weaved and cleaved the air just perfectly. What he lacked in experience he made up with skill, what he lacked in reach and height he made up with being obnoxiously sneaky and with very powerful legs.
Since he had done both the admission and the placement tests, back to back, it wasn’t until he was posed for fifth year that he was finally given his asauchi.
Ichigo was breathing fast as he slowly took hold of it.
He was expecting something, a warp of reiatsu, a flash of energy, a getsuga tenshou.
For his voice to be back.
His hand closed around the hilt without fanfare and Zangetsu’s voice continued to call him, incessantly, far-away.
It hurts him way more than he cared to admit, but since people were watching him, he just sucked it all up, cleared his throat and followed his tutor to his new dorms.
Time, give it time.
He’ll come back, just give it time.
Classes are interesting and boring at the same time.
There are things he had never known–he had never had the time to learn– but even though it had been over a hundred years ago, he still expected exhausting and condensed lessons.
Instead, he was explained every single detail, every single step and walked through every single doubt he might have.
It was odd.
And of course, since he was now the new baby-faced Shiba genius, people both loved his reputation and hated his guts.
He didn’t care.
Or well, he didn’t care until they dissed his mother.
There was a lot of blood spilt that day.
But they learned.
At least, his classes are easy enough he has time to spare to run whatever useless errand Kisuke wanted him to do.
Even if they were in the middle of the night and Ichigo was supposed to have a curfew.
Sneaking out began losing its luster the easier it became, but at least the errands were entertaining at the very least.
Although sometimes bordering on “if-his-mother-finds-out-he’s-doing-this-Kisuke-is-very-much-dead”.
Before they get too dangerous, Kisuke hauls him away one day and gives him seals. Some that would self-activate if his reiatsu grew too weak. Others for him to use should he need a quick explosive, a diversion.
Yasuo accepts them. But now he can’t ignore, “why are you doing this?”
Kisuke looks up briefly from the belt he was finishing. “You have been forced into my path without me having a say in this, but I am responsible for your wellbeing. Both as a noble and a young man, you’re very important.”
Kisuke blinks, “you are alive, Shiba-san. Do I need another reason to watch out for the Shiba’s newest pride and joy?”
Ichigo can’t believe his ears. He’s not sure if he wants to laugh hysterically or cry until his eyes bleed.
He had not done it to get repaid, or compensated but…
“Would it have killed you to say that you cared?”
Or did you just never care?
Shiba Yasuo-Ichigo leaves and doesn’t return.
Yasuo continued with his life as per normal, except for his daily visits to the Second Division. In his new free time, he couldn’t help but think what he had managed to get out of the secretive ex-shopkeeper.
It wasn’t much but he now knew that at least he felt guilty over his death. The shopkeeper had been the one responsible for his death not to be broadcast, for him not to be announced the martyr. The hero.
Kisuke doesn’t answer why. He says, “you wouldn’t understand.” With contempt in his face and Yasuo let the subject drop.
This is not enough; it wouldn’t be enough until he faced him but…
He can’t push right now without seeming suspicious.
And it was not like he would be returning anytime soon.
Or at least, that was his plan.
No matter what life he was living, destiny liked to prove him wrong time and time again.
“You are an idiot.” Kisuke says as Yasuo stumbles inside his office, looking pale as death and dripping both blood and a black substance onto the clean floor. The young man is gasping for breath, seemingly two wrong breaths from choking on thin air, but still has the presence of mind to smile briefly as if he wanted to crack a joke.
His legs spasm, but Kisuke is there to catch him before he falls. He spends barely a second to marvel how nobody seemed to have seen the injured boy coming in– but then he is too focused on lowering Yasuo on his back and tearing his shirt off.
There’s a thin cut on his ribs, that would normally not cause much alarm if not for the fact that blood poured endlessly from it, a black substance bubbling merrily along with his blood.
Assassination. His mind whispers, as he wipes the black gunk as best as he can to get a better view of the wound itself. He removes as much as he can, as much as he dares, until no more comes out of the wound. Kisuke follows that with closing the wound with a quick kaido. He examines the black substance staining everything and he determines the nature of the poison.
Soaked in blood, the man hurries to his desk, pulls open the bottom drawer and ignores the illusion of more paperwork as he blindly reaches for a vial of antidote.
As the antidote courses through his body, fortunately working, Yasuo would say, “sorry… you had to see this.”
Kisuke snorts, humorlessly.
The teen is asleep on his couch, covered in a blanket Kisuke had to go steal from the Second’s barracks, sweaty and pale and tired but very much alive.
Kisuke has finished cleaning off all evidence of the assassination attempt, changed his own clothes and was staring at the sleeping Shiba from his desk.
Memories of a younger and older teen sleeping across him, bathed in his own blood comes back to him and Kisuke is hard-pressed not to heave.
Could he seek redemption with this boy?
Even if he had ultimately failed Ichigo…
His attention is drawn back to the boy as he begins to mumble in his sleep, his eyes flickering wildly in his sleep. The teen begins moving, jerking away from something in his dreamscape. Kisuke stares in mild concern as the boy begins to scream, his features distorted in hopeless anguish and he reaches for something in front of him, as if trying to grasp something and-
Gasping for breath, Yasuo woke up, wide eyes panicked and mouth still open. He looks around, agitated and confused and when he catches sight of Kisuke he’s already on his unsteady feet.
Recognition floods his face–and for some reason a stream of anger as well.
“Are you quite alright?” Kisuke offers in the dead silence and Yasuo starts.
“I-uh-yeah… that… just a nightmare.”
“And what about the poison? Do you feel well enough already?”
“Yeah, sorry. They sneaked up on me. “
“Dunno. Didn’t get the chance to see their faces.”
“More than one?”
Yasuo rubs at his face and Kisuke wants to tell him that he has no right to look this tired. This old.
“Yes. Two. Don’t worry about it, they were probably targeting me for being a Shiba rather than for one of your errands.” Yasuo says, with a half-shrug. Kisuke nods, still looking oddly somber.
“Shiba-san, I will have to ask you to go home now. I’ll have someone escort you there.”
Yasuo frowns as reflex. He opens his mouth and seems to think better of it. He nods and looks away. “Yeah, that makes sense.” He begins to walk away with only the smallest wobble.
“Do you perchance remember your past life?”
Yasuo stops moving. “What are you…” He sighs, lets his shoulders bow. “Is it that obvious?”
Anomaly. Kisuke’s mind whispers. Don’t pry, a little voice that sounds painfully like Ichigo begs.
Kisuke closes his eyes.
“In that case, my condolences.”
Yasuo leaves without another word.
(It’s not even two days later that Kisuke shows up at his compound and shows him two sketches of the very same men that had targeted him. Kisuke asks him if they were familiar and that they had already been dealt with. Yasuo is too surprised to ask why.)
Ichigo decides to spend his energies on his studies rather than on useless anger or resentment and it’s thanks to that, that Zangetsu finally returns to his life.
He’s alone in the courtyard, having been meditating long enough for everyone to leave him alone and he can feel it.
He’s there, he’s there, Ichi-Yasuo can feel him, the veil is lifting, the sky is torn asunder as a name fit to rip through reality burst from his soul and Yasuo screams out, in defiance to everything-
“Come forth, ZANGETSU!”
There is not a sound to be heard, there is nothing but quiet for a few brief fractions of a second.
Yasuo’s figure disappears in a burst of energy, tangible visible reiatsu that shots to the sky in a thunderous ray, parting the clouds and clearing the day-
Yasuo can’t breathe, elated-
He can’t breathe-
Time is stopping, everything darkens- pain
Something dark and ugly surged from the pure source of energy that is Zangetsu and threatens to swallow him whole.
Yasuo is screaming and choking and he feels someone –Zangetsu– grab his face.
“It’s alright, Yasuo.” He says in a sweet voice; unlike anything he has ever heard. He looks at him through tears and he’s surprised at the new form Zangetsu bears.
He doesn’t look like an old man any longer.
He doesn’t look like him anymore.
But despite hollow-bone dripping down his smile, his eyes, the man looks serene.
“You know what this is. You can control it, as you did before.”
Zangetsu now looks like the moon. Yasuo thinks before everything blacks out.
You knew my name but not yours, Yasuo. It is time to part with Kurosaki Ichigo.
It is time for peace.
Yasuo wakes up.
He blinks tiredly up at the ceiling and immediately catches sight of none other than Urahara Kisuke and Unohana Retsu, both of whom were apparently arguing in quiet whispers. Yasuo is silent, but still the both of them turn to him almost immediately.
“Ah, Shiba-san! Welcome back!” Kisuke says with a cheer that is grating. “Pray tell, when did you become a Vizard?”
Kisuke nods as if confirming something. “Ah, you must know about the reinstated captains and vice-captains, right? They are Shinigami who have gained Hollow powers and-“
“You think that’s what happened to me?” Yasuo interrupts, sounding as innocent as he’s not. Kisuke falters and Unohana wants to frown.
“Well, frankly I’m not too sure. Unless someone else sealed or restrained your hollow, I don’t know how you didn’t die.”
Yasuo massages his chin, feeling sore and tired. “Well, I don’t know. Being sturdy, I guess? Man did it hurt.”
“So nobody deliberately put that hollow in you?”
“As far as I’m concerned, no.”
“Not conclusive but will have to do for now.” Kisuke says, eyes distant. By his side, Unohana stares from one man to the other.
“I sure hope you will not slack on this endeavor.” Unohana says mildly, her eyes like daggers that cut through Kisuke like a blade. With those warning words, she bows to them both before taking her leave.
Kisuke walks up to him.
“Shiba Yasuo-san, you have gained a very powerful but very dangerous weapon. I strongly suggest you get yourself a good teacher. Unless you want to risk death. Due to your circumstances, I shall go ahead and recommend you to Shinji-san as you already know each other.”
Yasuo rubs at his arms, suddenly cold. “Why can’t you?”
“I am not a vizard, Shiba-san.”
“You probably know as much as they do. Maybe more.”
“You flatter me.”
Yasuo sighs, his shoulders weighing centuries. “I somehow don’t think that’s a compliment.”
Shinji agrees to oversee his Vizard initiation, but insist that Kisuke has to be there in case anything went wrong.
The blond’s brilliant plan was to force Yasuo under the hollowification until he managed to stay in control. Worst thing was that Kisuke agreed that that was the best course of action.
Yasuo glared at both of them before following through as he always did.
He had not told a soul he had already managed to unseal his zanpakuto and there’s no way he would tell these sketchy bastards, but he still condensed his reiatsu into his blade as if he were going to, which would somehow trigger his hollow and not even two seconds later, Yasuo would be thrashing in the ground, unable to breathe.
Shinji would bark orders from a distance, telling him to keep calm, stay in control, “he’s not stronger than you, don’t let him win!”
Ichigo at first thinks that it’s hilarious, because of course he didn’t want to lose control, who would want to lose control. But the closer he gets to the brink, the easier his emotions blend with his hollow’s anger and he’s not sure who’s really the angry one.
Several relapses later, Yasuo was panting on the ground, sweat covering him from head to toes. “I think,” he rasped out, voice hoarse. “I know what’s the problem.”
“Care to enlighten me?”
“I’m not strong enough.”
Kisuke was silent. Then, “I do not follow.”
“My zanpakuto is wild. Half of him already knows and accepts me. This hollow is the other half that wants a trial by blood to listen to me or what-the-fuck-ever.”
“Oh, are you going to unseal your zanpakuto?”
Yasuo closes his eyes briefly. “Nah. Can’t do that now.”
The day he gains control over his hollow, is the day he finally loses control of it.
Yasuo had had a grueling day, what with his classes picking up speed and his daily attempt at getting his hollow under control.
His class had been dragged on a mock mission out in Rukongai, where they were divided in teams and sent out to patrol a relatively normal section of district five.
Yasuo doesn’t encounter any trouble but he hears a hollow shriek.
He doesn’t think. He doesn’t make a rational decision.
Ichigo rotates on one foot and pushes off with his Shihoin-taught shunpo.
He’s gone before his instructor can try and stop him.
He slams into the hollow before he has time to stop, sending it back from the Shinigami he had been about to eat, Ichigo is about to ask if they’re okay when his gaze drops.
On the ground, between the hollow and the injured Shinigami lay a body.
Ichigo snaps. He draws Zangetsu and before he gets the chance to call out his name, his hollow roars in anger and rises and engulfs him whole in rage.
Ichigo hollers, a call so primal and powerful the hollow cowers.
For a brief seconds, the world itself lies still, as if in anticipation.
Kisuke is the one to find him.
He walks closer, without saying anything, as he takes in the blood, the corpse of the hollow, so big it hadn’t quite finished dissolving.
The body of a small child no older than twenty.
Yasuo sitting by the remains of both, drenched in blood from head to toes and looking morosely at the other child.
Kisuke takes it all in and simply whispers. “Let’s go home, Yasuo-san.”
“Urahara-san,” Yasuo returns. He looks tired and drained and not at all like the child he is. “I need to get stronger.”
“You are getting-“
“No. This is not enough.”
Kisuke doesn’t let him finish. He lifts a limp Yasuo from the ground, moving him around so he could carry him on his back. He can feel little fists clinging to his shoulders. In direct contrast with the blood seeping into his clothes. “Yasuo-san, be careful what you wish for.”
“I think I know this better than you.” Ichigo allows himself the words.
Kisuke doesn’t pry, he doesn’t stop. He just hums, “that’s because you do not know me, Yasuo-san.”
There’s a story there, Yasuo knows.
He thinks it’s related to him.
But wasn’t that just preposterous?
Yasuo asks him not to take him to his compound just yet and Kisuke complies with a gentleness that unsettles him.
Yasuo rubs his face again, feeling the years he had lived in both lives weighing down on him. “Why are you so kind today, Urahara-san?”
Kisuke just smiles sadly and doesn’t answer.
Yasuo get written up for “ditching” his team, but given how sore and tired he was and that he would not get investigated further like this, he didn’t really care. He was appointed a punishment, staying late after classes were done to sweep the courtyard.
Yasuo squinted at the directive that had come give him his punishment.
A little odd.
Ichigo was suspicious.
But Yasuo simply nodded and agreed.
As it turns out, his gut feeling was right.
It had been a lousy attempt at taking his life.
Well it would have been lousy if he hadn’t been as tired, as drained.
If he had been Kurosaki Ichigo, the monster hybrid.
But he was just Shiba Yasuo.
He fights the first, the second. He avoids the third and tries to flee.
Dozens of men appear then, blocking out the moonlight and Yasuo isn’t fast enough, isn’t strong enough and a sword slips under his guard and slices his ribs.
At this rate he would have to unseal Zangetsu and hope his hollow would not slaughter everyone.
Yasuo winces and his step falters.
A sword runs him through.
Ichigo knows it missed all vital organs, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel like he’s been torn apart and he screams in pain and doubles over. Angry, he turns around and stabs the culprit through the heart.
He attempts to flee again and when he sees the inevitable flash of a byakurai heading his way Yasuo can’t help but close his eyes.
A soft voice mutters, “Nake, Benihime.”
An achingly familiar shield of red clouds his vision and intercepts the attack, Yasuo can see someone in his peripheral and despite knowing who it is, despite sorely wanting to stare at him, he knows he doesn’t have the time to spare.
Yasuo takes to the sky to get away from them, painting his surroundings red with his blood.
Again, he misses a step.
Instead of freezing, Yasuo throws himself forward even if he didn’t sense anyone coming and instead he hears someone gasp in pain.
Ichigo turns around, Zangetsu ready to block and his eyes widen.
For a long second it doesn’t compute.
Kisuke, getting stabbed? By some nameless grunt?
Yasuo and Ichigo both howl in rage, flecks of blood escaping his lips, and with just the smallest hesitance, sparing a second to mourn his new life, he whispers back. “Pierce the heavens, Zangetsu.”
Kisuke’s eyes widen, as he forgets about anything and everything not related to that name.
“Ichigo?” He whispers.
“GETSUGA TENSHO!” Yasuo calls for the first time and not, sending out a blast of pure white energy, with an edge of red that catches five, ten, more grunts. They fall like flies without wings, without making a sound as Yasuo dashes towards Kisuke who can’t seem to realize he is still being impaled, staring wide-eyed at him.
But it’s okay, because Yasuo is finally back in full strength to take care of him. He stabs Zangetsu through the one behind Kisuke and then, in a motion very familiar and bizarre, he blasts a cero at the other man coming up from below.
His hollow roars inside his mind, but now it is greeting him, accepting him as the King once again.
Yasuo howls back, elated, high on power and he can feel his wounds healing again and with a dismissive flick of his hand, he sends out another white-red getsuga tensho hurtling across the grounds.
And then he’s being tackled out of the air and he barely has the presence of mind not to stab the man –Kisuke, it was Kisuke– hurtling him out of the sky.
Yasuo is breathing hard, as he reels in his hollow and he’s trembling in excitement and fear and trepidation and-
Kisuke lets him go.
He looks frightened.
Yasuo stares up at him.
“My name,” he starts. Voice firm and condemning. “Is Shiba Yasuo.”
Kisuke smiles weakly. “Yes, I just-“
“In my past life, I was known as Kurosaki Ichigo.”
Kisuke flinches as if hit and looks to the ground.
Yasuo waits for him to say something. For his curiosity to spike, to questions to pour.
Instead, the man takes off his hat and in one fluid movement, he kneels, hands on the floor, bowing his forehead to the ground.
Yasuo is stunned.
“I,” Kisuke begins, voice thick and muffled. “Am sorry for being unable to save you.”
Kisuke doesn’t move, doesn’t react as the small pool of red begins to grow.
“Why?” He asks, tired and sad.
“I swore I wouldn’t let you walk that path alone. I swore that I wouldn’t let you die. And… but…”
“Lying, even now?” Yasuo says, harsh and cold. Kisuke’s hands tighten. “Before the end, I was told your grand masterplan. The great plan of having a child born to a Quincy and a Shinigami and grooming him into the perfect weapon-!”
“Yes. That was the plan at the beginning.” Kisuke says and it is as if he’s choking on his words. “But, Ichigo, I swear on my life. I swear on Benihime, that those ideas were discarded. Those plans were modified. You weren’t… I swore I wouldn’t let you die.” Kisuke gulps. “And yet- and yet…”
Yasuo doesn’t know what to say. What to do. In the end, all he manages to say is. “You’re bleeding.”
Kisuke doesn’t move. Doesn’t acknowledge it.
Yasuo drops to his knees, grabs his shoulders. “Oi, you’re… you’re bleeding.”
“I cannot redeem myself, Ichigo-san. But please… issue your punishment. My atonement. What can I do…?”
Fat tears roll down Yasuo’s face. Between a sob and the next, he lowers his head to press his forehead against his head.
“You fucking idiot. I already forgave you. I forgave you even before knowing this. I just… I just wanted to hear…
He has to stop to gulp and sniff.
“To know that I mattered.”
Kisuke slams his head against Yasuo’s with how fast he moved but before Yasuo can clutch at his forehead, he’s being embraced, his small frame enveloped fully by the bigger man.
“Ichigo-san… Yasuo-san you matter so much. You matter to your family, to your friends, to your acquaintances. You are alive and you matter.”
“You didn’t let my name live on.”
“You didn’t deserve to die a martyr. You didn’t deserve to be remembered as the sacrificial lamb!” Kisuke says vehemently, and even though he makes no sound, Yasuo knows he’s crying too. “I’m… I’m sorry if I…”
“No, it’s okay. Did… did my friends…”
“All remembered you. They all visit you on your birthday. They go to your grave and… have a picnic.”
Yasuo chuckles, feeling the snot running down his face. “That’s great.”
“Are you… are you going to tell them?”
“Yeah. I’m…” Yasuo sighs. “I’m done being mad. I’m… I’m back. I was given a second chance and I… I don’t want to miss it.” Yasuo laughs. “Gotta honor this new name as well.”
“You knew my name?”
“…Is it that surprising?”
“A little… Kisuke, uh, Urahara-san. I’m sorry, but I can’t… I need time. To process everything.”
“Kisuke is fine. Please.” Kisuke tilts his head to touch Yasuo’s. “And I’ll redeem myself. Time and time again until you’re ready to forgive me. Until I have repented for my misgivings. For my mistakes.”
“It isn’t that big of a-“
“My mistakes cost you your life. I refuse to make light of-“
“Kisuke. I had time to brood and stew over this. It is time I forgave you. You should too.”
“I don’t really-“
“If you say you don’t deserve to, I will punch you in that hole.”
Kisuke laughs and Ichigo feels a little lighter.
“Well then, maybe I should get this checked out before you have to carry me.”
They separate and finally Kisuke takes care of the slowly bleeding hole in his abdomen. Still looking at his glowing hands, he mumbles. “Thank you, Yasuo-san. For coming back. For being at my side again.”
Yasuo’s smile lightens up the space.