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Bleach - One Need Not Be A House [Part 1/2]

Fic for Halloween!

One Need Not Be A House

Summary: Ichigo finds that with or without spirit powers, it's possible to be haunted.
Spoilers: Until Chapter 423, ignores Chapter 424
Rating: T, gen
Warnings for: Emotional instability, blood and gore, mutilation. Also contains scary ghosts. Mentions of death and suicide, no character deaths.
Disclaimer: It’s Kubo Tite’s, not mine, or Chapter 424 wouldn't have jossed this ;_;

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

~Emily Dickinson

part 1 || part 2 || author's notes

Part 1: Material place


There are things to be said for being normal.

In Ichigo’s case, it means getting a smackdown from his dad first thing in the morning. The old man’s elbow connects with Ichigo’s face, but not hard enough that Ichigo can’t return the punch. In fact, Ichigo puts a little more strength into his own punch to remind his dad how it’s done.

“Good shot!” the old man declares. Ichigo can’t tell whether the tears flowing down his dad’s face are tears of joy or pain. “Just a little more – ”

“Sorry, I’ve got to get to school.” Ichigo darts past him and heads down for breakfast. His dad doesn’t follow.

There is an egg on his rice again. This time, Yuzu has decorated it with a smiley face, which is a complete contrast to the look that Karin is shooting him. He ignores her and picks up his chopsticks.

“You gonna eat that?”

“Sure.”

Karin stares. “You know that’s just going to encourage her to include eggs in your breakfast every day.”

“Ok.”

Karin storms off to the living room, supposedly to eat although she only brings her rice with her. That means Ichigo gets to finish his breakfast in relative quiet apart from the TV. Ichigo doesn’t pay attention to it, since it is the news and there are no gas explosions or any unexplained happenings to report. He is supposed to meet Keigo and Mizuiro, which means he has to hurry. He hasn’t even changed yet.

Ichigo manages to successfully dodge his father on the way back to his room and throw on his uniform. He spots Keigo and Mizuiro from his window just as he is getting his last button done, and he dashes down the stairs to meet them. Karin’s too busy sulking in the kitchen to bother about him, so he yells a quick goodbye to Yuzu on the way out.

“Good timing as always!” Keigo says when Ichigo bursts out of the gate to meet them. “How do you do it? You can’t sense us so you must – ”

“Ichigo knows our schedule,” Mizuiro says, saving Ichigo an explanation. “We’re going to be late if we don’t hurry. Right Ichigo?”

“Yeah,” Ichigo agrees. “Ochi-sensei’s been pretty short with me and I don’t want to make her mad.”

“Ochi-sensei? Nah, she likes you. You should have seen what she did to Oshima Reiichi!”

Ichigo already knows about it, but Keigo seems to be having fun with the story so he lets him talk on the way to school. Mizuiro is too busy with his handphone to keep up a conversation anyway. The story takes up most of the trip to school, and Ichigo had gotten used to the sound of Keigo’s voice that he is startled when Keigo breaks off with a shriek. “W-what’s that?”

The ambulance in front of the school gates is unmistakable. The body bag that’s being carried into it is just as unmistakable.

“No way!” Keigo cries out. “I can’t believe we had to see this. I don’t want to walk past that.”

“You don’t have a choice, Asano-san.”

“Why are you being so formal? And you don’t have to bother, you can’t see – ”

Ichigo squares his shoulders and strides past them all – Keigo, Mizuiro, the orderlies and the dead person. It doesn’t matter to him.

He’s left Death behind after all.


Halfway through the lesson, Inoue stuns everyone by running out of the class. This is made even more shocking when Chad runs out after her.

As the classroom bursts out into excited twitters, Ichigo sinks down into his seat, trying to ignore his own embarrassment. He has never noticed this reaction to his escapes from class, but then again he hadn’t paid attention. Did he look as weird running out of class? No wonder people kept talking about how strange he was. It wasn’t something he could have helped anyway; once a Hollow appeared, everyone was in danger.

That’s right; Inoue and Chad were going to fight a Hollow. Hollow…

Ichigo wishes that Chad hadn’t run off so fast – he could have yelled some tips before he left. But now Chad and Inoue were going to face down a Hollow on their own, and he wasn’t sure if there was a shinigami representative for Karakura yet.

Fine. His reputation wasn’t all that great to start with.

Before Ochi-sensei can get the class to quiet down, Ichigo is up and running too. Tossing back a quick apology, he bursts out of the classroom and into an empty corridor.

… He didn’t know Chad and Inoue could run that fast. He can’t sense them either.

On a hunch, he heads for the shoe lockers. Inoue lets out a startled yelp and drops her shoe upon seeing him.

“Kurosaki-kun! Ochi-sensei – ”

“Never mind that.” He sucks in a breath to replenish the air in his lungs. “Just wanted to remind you that you’ve got to break the Hollow’s mask. Not sure if it’ll work without a zanpakutou, but – ”

“Thanks Ichigo,” Chad replies. “But we all have to hurry. You can update us later.”

“Ah. OK.” He watches as Inoue finally gets her shoe on. As they turn to leave, he remembers something. “Oh, and if you see the girl that died this morning, can you tell her to look for a shinigami? I mean, only a shinigami can send her to Soul Society after all.”

Inoue smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach the edges of her mouth. “You’re so kind, Kurosaki-kun. I’ll remember that.” She bows quickly. “I’m off then!”

Chad nods at Ichigo and disappears with her. After their departure, the hallways are quieter than what Ichigo is used to.

Ichigo heads back to class.


Chad and Inoue only return after break, so Ichigo doesn’t get to ask them how it went. Neither of them appears to be injured, which is good. Of course, there is always the possibility that Inoue had healed them before they returned to school. He won’t know until he has talked to them.

Good thing he is meeting Chad after school today. He has some CDs in his bag that he remembers Chad liking, and Chad has promised to bring the demo his band had recorded, too. Ichigo can ask Chad about how their Hollow hunting went while they hang out.

Chad seems to have the same idea, although he has the patience to wait until they are near the school gates. “About earlier…” he begins, once most of the students are out of earshot.

“Yeah, how’d it go?”

Chad considers the question for a while. “It was OK.”

Ichigo shakes his head. “You really have to work on your storytelling, you always skip the exciting parts! So what happened? Did anyone get hurt?”

“No,” is Chad’s reply. “All thanks to you.”

“Me? I didn’t do anything.”

“We only found low level Hollows, but they could have hurt someone if we hadn’t been warned by your substitute shinigami badge.”

“Ah.” Low level Hollows weren’t anything for people with Inoue and Chad’s level of power to worry about. "It’s a good thing that the badge was useful for something. I was starting to think it was useless, since the shinigami representative Imoyama-san didn’t recognise it."

Chad doesn’t reply, which gives Ichigo the niggling feeling that he’s forgotten something. It doesn’t occur to him what it is until they’re almost in sight of the bridge where they usually hang out.

“Chad… you and Inoue both heard the substitute shinigami badge going off, didn’t you?”

“… Yes.”

“But,” Ichigo swallows past the sudden lump in his throat. “But I didn’t hear anything.”

“I guessed that.”

Ichigo can’t match Chad’s calm. “I didn’t even know I brought it to school. I thought Soul Society had taken it back while I was resting for that month.”

Chad doesn’t reply.

The question rushes out before Ichigo can stop it. “Where is it?"

“… I think it’s in your bag.”

Ichigo follows Chad’s gesture and starts rummaging in his bag. Books, CDs, pencil case –

The bag is unsettled by Ichigo’s gait, and everything spills out onto the ground. Ichigo swears, then gives it up as a lost cause. He starts sifting through the things on the ground instead. Book, book, CD, book –

“Are you sure you heard my badge?”

Chad takes a long time to think of a reply, but eventually responds, “Mmm. Could have been a mistake. Sorry.”

Ichigo gives up the search, and lets Chad help put the things back into his bag. He is trying to rearrange the things to fit when he sees Chad’s fingers close around seemingly nothing, then disappear into his pants pocket.

Ichigo goes numb. Then that is washed away by a quick rush of anger. So what if he couldn’t see the badge? It was his and Chad should have told him he was taking it!

He opens his mouth to tell Chad so, but the words falter before he can get them out. The longer he dwells on that thought, the more petty it sounds.

“Do you have everything?” Chad prompts.

Ichigo glances at the ground – nothing that he can see lying outside – and manages a “Yeah, I guess.” He shoulders his bag, and finds the prospect of the afternoon has dimmed. “I just remembered – I’ve got a lot of homework. Think I’ll head home instead.”

Chad keeps quiet. Ichigo takes his silence as agreement and turns away. He doesn’t make it two steps when Chad speaks up, “I’m sorry Ichigo.”

Ichigo doesn’t have to ask what Chad is sorry about, and Ichigo’s own reply comes out quieter than he likes. “Yeah, me too.”

Ichigo heads home.


Ichigo doesn’t expect the kick to his face when he steps into the house. “The hell!” he demands of his old man. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” says the old man, and puts him in a headlock. “Shouldn’t you be out doing what young men your age do? When I was your age – ”

“How many freaking years ago was that? I don’t even think you were a young man in this century!” Ichigo tries to throw him off but doesn’t manage to.

“I was a young man to your mother and that was all that mattered. You, however, have no excuse!”

“Oh yeah? Maybe I though you would be too busy with the clinic to bother me, and that it might be nice to spend a quiet afternoon at home!”

“I bother you? I can show you exactly how bothersome I can be – ”

“I’m trying to do homework,” Yuzu complains from the kitchen, and the old man turns his attention to her.

“My apologies, youngest daughter of my flesh!” As his dad rants about the punishments awaiting Ichigo, Ichigo pries himself free bit by bit, and when he has gotten himself enough slack, he breaks free and dashes into the kitchen. Yuzu is indeed doing her homework there. From the hallway his dad hollers, “Come back here and accept your punishment!”

“No way! I’m not stupid enough to subject myself to torture!”

“U- unfilial son! Ignoring his father's commands! If you don’t come here, I’ll come and get you!”

The threat of her sanctuary being breached causes Yuzu to sigh and go to the doorway. “Don’t you have a clinic to run?” she asks their dad.

When the old man’s sobbing has faded towards the front of the house, Yuzu turns to Ichigo. “Had a long day?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Ichigo goes to the fridge and digs out the orange juice. “Want some?” he asks Yuzu, and when she shakes her head he grabs a glass for himself. “A lot of homework?”

“Not really. It’s the same as always but it feels like more.” Catching Ichigo’s eye, she gives him a small smile, restrained yet hopeful. “You could help me with it, if it’s ok with you?”

Ichigo considers this. “Why not?” he agrees, and pulls up a seat. Her smile broadening into a grin, Yuzu slides into her own.


The next morning, Keigo is a lot quieter. Either Mizuiro or Chad must have talked to him – Ichigo doesn’t care either way. It does mean there isn’t much conversation on the way to school, as Keigo keeps half-starting sentences or talking about the weather, to which Mizuiro gives short replies. Ichigo doesn’t have much to say – there is nothing that has happened to him that they don’t already know.

The only major thing that happens is that Keigo and Mizuiro veer past a particular junction. Mizuiro tells Ichigo that he felt like a change, and Ichigo shrugs it off. There is no point in telling them that he has seen the irritating old man at the corner house since grade school, or any of the ghosts along their usual route. They are all harmless Pluses that weren’t in danger of becoming Hollows anytime soon.

Ichigo only wishes it was as quiet at school. The first thing he notices is that a few of the desks are empty. The next thing he notices is that the teacher who walks in isn’t Ochi-sensei.

“Ochi-sensei is held up with some urgent matters for the first two periods, along with some of your classmates,” he tells them.

The class murmurs but doesn’t seem too surprised. Ichigo soon learns why when the guy in front of him whispers from behind the safety of his book to his neighbour. “I heard there was another suicide!”


It is lunchtime, and only Chad and Ichigo can be found on the rooftop.

Ichigo stabs at his rice with his chopsticks as he thinks about where the others could be. They could only be talking about the suicide. It wasn’t as if a death was exciting; it was actually sickening. He didn’t know what they saw in it. Chad at least has the sense not to join them, though Ichigo isn’t sure how he feels about Chad’s choice to join him on the roof. They still haven’t talked about yesterday. They should.

Ichigo stares at the egg atop his rice instead. It has a smiley face.

He wonders where the others could be. The idea of them in some conspiratorial huddle is really starting to piss Ichigo off. Even Ishida is there, and he can’t imagine any situation where Ishida would entertain conversation with Keigo or hell, even Tatsuki of his own free will that would be a good situation.

“Are you OK?’ Chad asks. At the sound of his voice, Ichigo realizes he’s been gripping his chopsticks so tightly that it is surprising they haven’t snapped yet. He forces himself to relax his grip.

“Yeah,” he replies. But when his thoughts veer again to what they could be talking about, Ichigo finds himself gritting his teeth. What the hell. He didn’t survive this long by hiding from things. He puts the cover back on his bento, and stands.

“I’m going to the classroom,” he tells Chad. The hesitation Ichigo sees tells him that Chad probably knows that they are there. “Don’t bother trying to discourage me. I just want to see for myself.”

“Are you sure that’s a good thing?”

“Probably not,” Ichigo admits. “Do you think that’s gonna stop me?”

Chad meets Ichigo’s eyes, and whatever he sees there makes him shake his head in reply. Strangely heartened by Chad’s response, Ichigo heads back to the classroom.

He finds that he’s right. Keigo, Mizuiro, Tatsuki, Ishida… and Tatsuki is yelling at Ishida. Again. “Don’t tell us things that everyone already knows” is her grouse this time. Ishida ignores it in favour of spouting some useless facts about windows and school safety rules. Not that Ichigo is listening.

“What did I tell you about that?” says Tatsuki, cutting off Ishida’s speech with a glare. “Even if it’s true you don’t have to be so cold about it! Ayumi was a person, not ‘just another student’.”

“We are discussing the methods that could have caused a student to fall from a window, which I wanted to tackle logically. However, it appears to offend you.”

“Argh!” Tatsuki throws her hands up. “You better not let Ryou hear you talking like that, or she’ll punch you instead. Ayumi and Ryou are – were – close.”

“I know,” Ishida replies. “Inoue told me. That’s why I want to get to the bottom of this. Two suicides in a row is unusual.”

“But that doesn’t mean it has anything to do with spirits!” Tatsuki says. It’s the first time in days Ichigo has heard the word, which almost makes Ichigo think there should be some fanfare to go along with the event. There isn’t. The discussion continues.

“Everyone I’ve talked mentions they didn’t see the girls,” Mizuiro informs the others. “Before or after what happened. It’ll be hard to find out anything.”

“We still have to try,” Ishida insists.

“Why?” Keigo asks. “This all sounds wrong. It doesn’t sound like the girls would want to talk!”

“Probably not,” Ishida actually agrees. “But Ichigo would probably know better. You can join in the conversation,” he tells Ichigo. Everyone turns to look at Ichigo, all wearing some form of shock on their faces. Ichigo suspects Ishida probably did that for dramatic effect. Ishida being Ishida, he spoils the mood by adding, “You should still be familiar with the ghosts in the town.”

“Ishida!” Tatsuki rounds on him, ready to launch a punch.

Ichigo decides to save Ishida from a black eye, even if he does deserve it. “Don’t bother, he’s got a hard head.” To Ishida he says, “Why are you asking me? You’re the superior reiatsu detector!”

“It’s always good to get a second opinion. I’ve also never made friends with ghosts.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever made friends with anyone,” Ichigo points out. “The only thing I know is that ghosts turn up in the weirdest places.”

Ichigo feels stupid, telling them things they already know. He can’t believe that talking to them feels even worse than being on the roof, knowing that they were discussing things without him. “You go after your ghosts,” Ichigo advises them. “I got better things to do.”

“Ichigo!” Keigo calls out, but Ichigo finds that ignoring him is a lot easier than walking back. Anywhere else but here sounds good.

Ichigo lets his feet bring him where they want to, and finds himself outside in the school grounds. Most of the spots beneath the trees are taken by students and their lunches, but there are some free spots here and there. Like this one that is quiet and empty; the small shrine on one side ensures that. Ichigo flops down beneath the tree. Closing his eyes and listening to the silence is nice. Here he doesn’t have to think about friends who do things without him.

That doesn’t stop him from thinking about other things. He had – forgotten what not having power felt like. When he could only see spirits, he couldn’t do anything to stop them from disappearing. Now, he doesn’t even know when they disappear.

Ichigo lets his head fall back against the tree trunk. “My powers… I can’t do anything about it,” he tells himself to make the thought go away.

He stays under the tree until the bell rings. On the way back to class, Ichigo makes sure to throw out at least half of his lunch in the nearest dustbin. He doesn’t want to make Yuzu upset.


Ichigo would have cut classes, but the idea of Ochi-sensei talking to his dad isn’t one that he likes, so he makes himself stay through the second half of school. On hindsight, it isn’t such a great choice, because it means Tatsuki can corner Ichigo at the end of school. “I don’t believe you don’t care about the ghosts,” she says, hands on her hips.

Ichigo is never going to get used to Tatsuki talking like she knows what Ichigo is thinking, or mentioning spirits as if she has known about them all her life. It is just weird. As it is, he can’t help staring at Tatsuki before turning away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I saw the look you gave Ishida. You want to help.”

“No I don’t.”

“You can help, even if – ”

“I said I don’t.”

“You’re a liar.”

“Stop it. That’s not true.”

“Haven’t you learnt anything from the War?” she yells, despite the other students trying not to stare at them. “Or do I have to put your head through another window?”

“It’s nothing like that!” Ichigo bursts out.

“It exactly like that! You’re just too stubborn to admit it!”

“It’s not!” he shoots back. “I don’t see why you should care anyway! You go ahead and do whatever you want to do. I’ve always done things my way!”

He really hates Tatsuki looking at him like she can read his mind.

“Ichigo. Everything you did during the War – you didn’t have to do it alone.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“If you had told us – ”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it!”

Tatsuki’s hands ball into fists. Ichigo’s do the same. The homeroom isn’t a dojo or a training ground, but if she wants a fight she will get one. Tatsuki has always made it clear that she can take any shit he hands out, and he’s not in the mood for the crap she’s dishing out.

Apparently Tatsuki’s mind reading skills extend to that, because she only holds her glare for a second longer, then unclenches her fists. “If you change your mind, we’re always here if you want to talk about it. We’re your friends.”

“I don’t need to,” Ichigo insists. Tatsuki just shakes her head, and walks away to leave Ichigo alone.

Just as he wanted.


“If you want to mope, quit doing it at home.”

“Who said I was moping?” Ichigo turns to Karin, who has invited herself into his room. “How many times have I said to knock before you come in?”

Karin ignores him. “No one has to tell me you’re moping, I can see it. It’s making Yuzu upset.”

“I’m not moping.”

“Right.”

“I’m just doing my homework.”

“By staring at it?”

“I wasn’t! How would you know? You weren’t in the room.”

Karin eyes him with suspicion. “You don’t have to bite my head off. I’m just telling you to stop making Yuzu upset.” She waves at him. “Not talking to you until you stop denying things. See you.”

“Hey!” he calls out to her, but she has left as quickly as she came. He turns back to his books for a minute, then tosses down his pen. Karin was right – he has been staring at the same page for the last ten minutes.

He heads to the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. He catches sight of his reflection in the mirror over the sink, and frowns at it. Where was the downcast look that everyone kept talking about? Maybe his frown was a little tighter than usual, and his face a little paler. His eyes were a bit tired too.

Yeah, he was tired, that was it.

He wipes his face with a towel, then catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. It hasn’t followed his movements, still stuck in the same pose that he had earlier. He grips the sink, trying to figure out whether his mind is playing tricks on him. He should have switched on the light; in the dim glow from the small window, the eyes of his frozen reflection look weird.

Then his reflection grins at him and he tightens his grip on the sink. “You!”

“Hello… partner,” says Ichigo’s Hollow. Other than his black and white eyes and the grin on his face, he still looks sickeningly like Ichigo's reflection, which makes a sick sort of sense that Ichigo hates.

Shoving his dislike aside, he confronts it. “You disappeared! You were gone, along with all my powers!”

“You? Kill me?” The Hollow in the mirror cocks his head. Ichigo finds his own following suit, and has to stop himself. He isn't going to be controlled again. “I decline.”

“But- but you were merged with Zangetsu, and he told me that after I used Mugetsu my powers would disappear!”

“I AM Zangetsu!”

“Then how can you be here? I can’t even see spirits anymore! And I can see you just fine!”

“There's only one answer: INSTINCT!”

“Instinct?” Ichigo laughs, although it comes out bitter and brittle. The Hollow titters along. “What instinct? The instinct to seek out battles? I can’t fight anymore!”

“Must protect,” his Hollow chants. “Must protect. Must protect.”

Ichigo stares in disbelief. “T-that’s not what you want. That’s what I want! You just wanted to hurt others.”

“I want to protect... a mountain-load of people.”

“Shut up!”

“If I cannot protect by just extending my hand,” the reflection in the mirror says. “I want a blade so I reach in front of them.”

Ichigo tries to look away, but he can't - his Hollow is still looking at him. Whatever control he had earlier is gone, and as long as his Hollow is looking back he has to keep his eyes on the mirror. His fingers strain on the sink but his hands can’t pull free.

"I am shinigami."

“Shut up!” Ichigo shouts back, using the only option open to him. “Don’t keep quoting my own thoughts at me! I’m normal now, you hear? I don’t do that anymore!”

“Just surviving is meaningless. Fighting just for the sake of it is meaningless.” The Hollow leans in, as if trying to get close to Ichigo. Ichigo tries to lean back, he really tries, but he finds himself leaning in too. “The only thing I want to do is WIN!”

“I GAVE UP MY POWER,” Ichigo yells at it. “I GAVE UP MY POWER IN ORDER TO WIN.”

“Advance!” his Hollow advises. “Never stop! If you retreat, you will age. Be afraid, and you’ll die.”

Ichigo shakes his head. Or his Hollow does - he doesn't know who moved first. Was his movement returning? “Easy for you to say. My spirit powers have pretty much run out. I don’t even know how you’re here.”

His Hollow ignores him. “I want to become strong… otherwise I won’t be able to face mom.”

That does it. Ichigo wrestles back control and manages to tear his hands off the sink, though they settle into fists at his sides. “I don’t have time for this. You’re just part of my imagination.” Saying this seems to break whatever power his reflection had; he is able to force his eyes away from it and make himself walk to the door without looking back.

He is almost there when he hears his Hollow say, “You might be imagining me, partner, but you’re not imagining your desire to protect. And you’re not as helpless as you think you are.”

Ichigo whips back to look at the mirror, but it hangs empty in the bathroom.


The walk to school the next day isn't just filled with Keigo's stories. Instead, Ichigo keeps hearing snippets of conversations that he isn't a part of. It’s like channel surfing, except Ichigo only gets random words and has no control over what he hears. Good thing that both Keigo and Mizuiro don’t seem to want to talk about yesterday, because Ichigo might not be able to focus on whatever they say. Keigo seems to have a more important story to tell anyway.

“So I was minding my own business – ” Keigo is saying.

“Good morning!” another voice chirps.

“ – hanging out at the – ”

“I really hate being stuck here,” a deeper voice grumbles.

“ – they have this really cool game – ”

“Hey Mister!”

“ – spaceships that shoot lasers! Yeah!”

“Why have you been ignoring us?”

“ – new and NO ONE WAS PLAYING IT! It was there, available! WAITING FOR ME TO SHOW OFF MY SKILLS!”

“I really liked the toy you got me the last time.”

“But then MY SISTER calls and says she has to have her snacks on time, or else she’ll tell on me! Because I’m not supposed to be at the arcade!”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to spend my afterlife with you either!”

Mizuiro breaks through the noise. “You look distracted,” he says to Ichigo.

“Aah?” Ichigo turns his attention fully to them. “Nah, just thinking.”

“If I’m boring you, you can just say so! I won’t get hurt,” says Keigo, in the long-suffering tones of someone who will.

“Had a rough night,” Ichigo explains. As he says that, the image of white eyes flashes through his mind again. He pushes it down using the method that he used on his Hollow the last time, though he meets with no resistance in his own mind.

Keigo heaves a sigh of relief. “That’s good. You have no idea how hard it is to be entertaining! Your comment alone inspires me to greater levels of confidence!”

“Really?”

“It’s no fun when you reply like that…”

“Do you want to tell us what’s on your mind?” Mizuiro asks.

Ichigo is reminded of what Tatsuki said to him yesterday. What was with everyone and their idea that he needed to talk? Then again, his friends can see spirits now; they could tell him whether the voices that he is hearing belong to any ghosts.

Just surviving is meaningless.

Ichigo has to suppress a shudder as he recalls his conversation with his mirror last night. He can still remember yelling at it...

“I’m normal now, you hear?”

He’s better off not talking. “It’s nothing,” he tells them, and pretends he doesn’t see how disappointed they look. There is no conversation between the three of them for the rest of the journey.

Around them, the disembodied voices continue their chatter.


Between ignoring random voices and the disappointed looks Keigo and Mizuiro keep shooting him during class, Ichigo manages to forget his books in the lab. To make things worse, he doesn’t remember until after school is out. Well, better late than never. If he heads to the labs now, he might be able to find them.

“Don’t go there!”

Ichigo is ready to chalk it up to one of the voices he has been hearing all day when a classmate runs up to him. She looks pretty serious about her warning.

“Ah, you’re one of Inoue’s friends right?”

“I’m Ogawa Michiru,” she says, with the long-suffering tone that many of Ichigo’s classmates use to remind him of their names. At least she isn’t berating him about his bad memory.

“Is there something wrong?”

“You look like you’re heading to the labs. It’s… not a good place to go now.”

“Why? The labs looked fine when we had class there today.”

“… You didn’t see anything?”

“What was there?”

Ogawa looks as if she is regretting her words with each minute. “N-nothing. Just be careful.”

Ichigo is reminded of his younger self, giving warnings that he couldn’t explain before he learned that just because ghosts looked scary didn’t mean they were dangerous. At least, as long as they weren’t Hollows. “Did you see a ghost?” he demands.

His guess is confirmed when Ogawa looks both surprised and relieved. “I think so,” she admits. “I saw a dark shadow, and Ryou said she saw something too. It didn’t look… solid.”

Ichigo doesn’t recall any of Inoue’s friends having any reiatsu from when he was able to sense it. If they were able to see a vague outline, it must be a simple spirit. “Ah,” he says. “Thanks for the tip.”

Ogawa actually grabs his sleeve to stop him from going. “Don’t!” she yelps. “What if it’s the ghost of Ayumi or the other girl who died?”

The possibility stops Ichigo in his tracks. “You mean one of the girls who committed suicide?” he asks.

Ogawa nods. Ichigo turns this new fact over in his head. If it really was the spirit of either girl who killed herself, Ishida and the others would like to know. But there was nothing to stop him from checking it out. He was starting to hear spirits again, wasn’t he? And if he couldn’t find anything, well, that was no loss to anyone.

He turns towards the labs, which startles Ogawa. “You’re still going in?” she asks nervously.

“I’m not scared of ghosts,” Ichigo tells her. Ogawa goes pale at his statement. “Thanks for the warning.” She still doesn’t move. “What is it now?”

“I’ll just stand here in case anything goes wrong!” she replies. It looks like the last thing she wants to do – her mouth is in a thin unhappy line, and her fingers are twisted together so tightly that her knuckles have gone white. “I can go for help if you don’t come out again.”

Ichigo shrugs. “Suit yourself.

The corridor is empty, and the labs are dark because there are no more classes here for the day. Although the place is familiar, seeing it so empty gives it a mysterious feel. He can’t help the vague feeling that he should be seeing someone there.

Ogawa yanks him out of his thoughts by asking from her end of the corridor, “What are you looking for?”

“Just some books.”

Ogawa nods, but her silence doesn’t last another five minutes, when she yelps, “What’s that?”

Ichigo follows her gaze, and is disappointed when he doesn’t see anything. “… It’s OK,” Ogawa declares after a pause. "Just get your books and go back.”

Ichigo nods and quickens his pace. Just as he reaches the right lab she freezes, eyes transfixed on something in the distance. “It’s there isn’t it?” Ichigo asks.

“It’s all black and it moves so fast… and it doesn’t walk!”

“It won’t hurt you,” Ichigo tries to reassure her. “That’s why you’re standing somewhere safe, right?”

“But it’s dead. And it could be anywhere, just watching and waiting…”

“It’s just looking, isn’t it? Leave it alone, it’ll be alri- ”

Something in one of the labs crashes to the ground.

All the remaining colour drains from Ogawa’s face. “T-that’s the spirit isn’t it? Why is it b-breaking stuff?”

Ichigo opens the door of the lab where the sound came from. The light from the corridor glints off the glass shards on the ground. Something overturned a whole tray of beakers.

“Kurosaki, please go.”

“You go first,” Ichigo says. “I’ve got to find out what it is.”

“No!” Ogawa says. The horror is clear on her face.

“It could hurt someone else – I better stop it before it gets worse.”

“But - !”

“It’s OK, I know what I’m doing.” Taking in Ogawa’s wide eyes and trembling frame, he says again, “You should go.”

“But – ”

“Go! Didn’t you say you wanted to get help if something went wrong? Get help! Just don’t stay here!”

Ogawa flees. Ichigo looks back to the broken beakers on the ground and the darkened lab. Time to find out if he has been hearing things.

He steps in.

It’s crazy not being able to sense anything. He can’t tell the instant he steps into the lab whether or not there is anything there. So he strains the last sense he suspects he has: his hearing.

The first thing he realizes is that the lab is quiet. Then he has to amend that thought: it is filled with useless noises – the drip of a tap, the humming of machines – but not human noises. Deciding that switching on the light would make too much noise, he goes farther into the lab to check if there are spirit noises.

The next thing he realizes is that it is pretty hard to be quiet when you are human. His sneakers scuff against the floor. The door creaks when he pushes it open. But it is easy to be quiet if you are a spirit; although if the ghost knocked down the beakers, it could be anywhere else by now. Straining his ears doesn’t get him anything.

“Where are you?” he demands, and immediately feels stupid. If the spirit meant him harm, of course it wouldn’t answer, not when he was helpless –

He shakes the thought off and strains his senses again. Maybe his power isn’t returning. Maybe he hasn’t been hearing ghosts all this while.

He decides to move instead, and begins to walk around the deserted lab. Silent racks of equipment greet him. It feels empty, but Ichigo knows better than that. Just because something can’t be seen doesn’t mean it isn’t there. He has plenty of experience with that.

When he accidentally shifts a chair, there is a simultaneous clink of glassware. Ichigo freezes, trying to hear if anything else has shifted after the noise he has made. All is still.

“I know you’re there!” he tries.

“Leave me alone!” someone bursts out, right next to his ear. The sudden slap of sound sends Ichigo reeling backwards into a cupboard, which rattles from the impact. “Leave me alone!” the voice demands again. “I have to hide!”

“Wait! Hide from what? Who are you?” Ichigo calls back. All he gets in reply is the slam of the door he came in from, cutting off the light from the corridor. “The hell? You didn’t have to close the door on me! This spooky thing isn’t funny, you hear?”

There is a rustle near him. He lunges for it and almost grabs something that slips away from him. He tries again. There is a strange buzzing coming from another direction, but he ignores it. Now that the ghost is moving and the lights are off, he can hear the noise it is making and catch it. He can!

The ghost flits by Ichigo again. This time he manages to grab onto it, though it feels amorphous in his hands.

Several things happen at once. The ghost starts to slide through Ichigo’s fingers like sand. Ichigo tries to get a better grip, but is distracted when the door is flung open again, blinding him with sudden light. From a completely different direction, the thing making the buzzing sound tackles him.

He reaches back to get his attacker off him. This ghost feels just as fuzzy as the first one, but it isn’t trying to run away, which makes it a lot easier to grapple with it. Strangely he can’t hear this ghost at all – all he can hear is indistinctive buzzing. “Get off,” he grits out. When it doesn’t he shouts, “I said get off!”

In response, the ghost hits him in the head, and then Ichigo feels something wrap around his arms and force them behind his back. He crashes to the ground.

This feels familiar…

“Rukia!” he hollers, trying to throw off the Way of Binding. “Rukia is that you??”

The buzzing starts up again. It sounds irritated, but that's all Ichigo can figure out. It is like a badly tuned radio, only Ichigo can't turn the dial on his hearing.

"I can't hear you, so stop complaining!" he tells her. The buzzing stops, and then a weight akin to that of a foot settles on his back. "Cut it out! Let me go!"

He gets a short sharp buzz in response, and the weight on his back doesn't let up. He considers throwing her, but isn't quite sure how to do it without flailing around and looking stupid.

"Kurosaki-kun?" He glances up to see Inoue there. She looks like she has run a long way at top speed to get here. "Kuchiki-san?"

He was right! Being right almost makes him ok with being trussed up on the floor like a chicken. Even Inoue looks absurdly relieved. "Thank goodness you weren't actually in danger," she says.

Rukia seems to buzz a retort to her, and steps off Ichigo to talk to Inoue. Ichigo is happy enough with this change that he almost forgives them having a conversation while he’s trussed up. Besides, Inoue looks happier than she has in a while. But Inoue's smile changes to a stern look at Ichigo. "I heard from Kuchiki-san and Michiru that you've been going after ghosts."

Many things occur to Ichigo, but he is not going to admit to Inoue anything that could make her angry while he was all tied up. Inoue had been trained in martial arts by Tatsuki after all. He settles for, "I was there, what did you expect me to do?”

"That's very dangerous! You haven't recovered yet - what if you met a Hollow? Good thing that Kuchiki-san stopped you before you could hurt yourself."

"Being tied up by her is supposed to be a good thing?" Ichigo mutters to himself.

"She was trying to talk to one of the spirits in the school before you scared it off. Kuchiki-san says if you keep this up she'll just leave you here." Rukia interjects, and Inoue seems disconcerted by the contents of the buzz. "Kuchiki-san!" she exclaims. "I can't say that!" Another burst of speech. "Uh. She also - uh - has terrible consequences planned!"

"Right. Should be easy, since I can't see you at all."

Inoue goes back to being stern. "She's getting a gigai from Urahara. You'll be able to see her then."

“Oh.” Ichigo tries to figure out if that revelation makes him feel stupid, but it seems he is mostly relieved. "That's good." Something occurs to him. "Wait, Ogawa can see shinigami?"

Inoue gives an uncertain laugh. All her cheer seems to have disappeared. "I guess? She did tell me that you and Kuchiki-san were here..."

"Aah."

The restraints on Ichigo's arms are released, and Rukia tugs on his wrist. He lets himself be helped up. Inoue keeps near to him too, ready to help.

"You can hear now," Inoue says. "That's a good thing isn't it? That means you will recover."

"Yeah," Ichigo says. The touch on his wrist is light and insubstantial. "I guess so."


It’s been a while since Ichigo last saw Rukia in a gigai. It’s weird.

When he first met Rukia she was in a gigai all the time, since she was trying to get her spirit form to recover. Then she used another one when she first returned from Soul Society. That was around the same time that she brought Pyon, too. Since he can only guess who it is by looking, Ichigo can’t tell the difference at first.

Then Rukia frowns at him, and Ichigo feels a profound sense of relief. It’s Rukia. Good thing it isn’t Pyon; his arm still hurts on rainy nights.

“What’s with that look?” is the first clear sentence he gets out of her.

“It’s nice to see you, too,” he shoots back. She studies him a moment more, then cracks a grin.

“Weren’t expecting me, were you?”

Hell no. Out loud, Ichigo says. “I thought you’d be busy with Soul Society.”

At the mention of Soul Society, Rukia turns pensive. “Soul Society is rebuilding and its people are recovering. It will be a long time before everything is as it was again.” She dwells on this thought a moment, before shaking it off and returning to herself. “But there is always time for friends. Did you think we would just leave without caring about the consequences?”

“I’m not shinigami anymore,” he points out. “Why would Soul Society let you bother about me?”

Rukia’s grin disappears.

She follows it up with a punch.

Ichigo reels, then manages a “What was that for?”

“Renji said to punch you for him if it looked like you were moping.”

“Yeah? What – You punched me again!”

“That was from me,” says Rukia, shaking out her fingers. “Your head is as hard as ever,” she adds in a grumble.

“Why’d you have to hit me so hard then?”

“I wouldn’t have to hit you if you weren’t so busy being stupid!”

“What’s so stupid about facts?”

It’s then that Inoue walks in. “Oh no!” she exclaims, when she sees the two of them glowering at each other. “Kurosaki-kun, what did you do?”

“H-hey! How could you assume it was me?”

But Rukia has gone to sidle up to Inoue and link arms with her. “Let’s go for ice cream,” Rukia says to her.

“Uh,” Inoue looks between Ichigo and Rukia. “Kurosaki-kun too?"

“I don’t eat ice cream with hard-headed people.”

“I’m not hard-headed!”

“What do you think, Inoue?”

“Kurosaki-kun’s one of the most hard-headed people I know!” is her immediate reply. “But it’s a good thing, really. Like having a permanent helmet, so you’ll always be protected!”

“I don’t need a permanent helmet, and I’m not hard-headed,” Ichigo tells them, but Rukia is already dragging Inoue off.

“See you Kurosaki-kun!” Rukia simpers. “Have fun moping!”

“Don’t use that voice! And I’m not moping!” he calls after them, but they have left.

Rukia must have enjoyed her ice cream; she doesn’t turn up at Ichigo’s house that night. Ichigo even checks his closet to make sure of that.


Rukia’s weirdness is contagious.

That’s the only reason Ichigo can think of to explain everyone’s weird treatment of him. It starts on the way to school, where he is greeted by “Woooo-woooo-wooo!”

“I know it’s you, Keigo.”

“Yes! That means your spirit sense is returning – you can tell the difference between me and a ghost!”

“Yes, ghosts don’t make such awful sounds.”

“Please don’t say that…” Keigo complains. But his disappointment passes quickly. “At least you know the difference! Right, Mizuiro?”

Mizuiro smiles briefly at them, and then goes back to his phone.

At school, Chad too comes and hovers at Ichigo’s shoulder for a full minute. It is only when Ichigo asks him what is wrong that he rumbles, “Heard you got your spirit powers back.”

Ichigo wonders whether it was Rukia or Inoue who told Chad this. If it was Rukia, he was going to warn her to mind her own business. “Yeah.”

“Congratulations.”

“… yeah, thanks.”

As if that wasn’t weird enough, later on Ichigo does hear the substitute shinigami badge go off,. It almost startles him out of his seat. He then has to try not to stare too hard as Chad runs out of the classroom with Inoue. As they run off, the shrill cries of “Hollow!” from the badge trail behind them.

Ishida is by far the worst. “I hope you understand now that there was nothing to worry about.”

Ichigo has learned to deal with Ishida’s sudden declarations over the time that he has known him. “How would you know what I was worrying about?’

“I did lose my powers for a while,” Ishida reminds him. “From the moment I made the decision to put on the Quincy glove, I was always aware that the possibility might arise where I would be forced to take it off, which would make me lose my powers. In order to be prepared for such a day, I saved containers of processed reiatsu so that I would be protected from spirits, even if my own ability to draw reiatsu was limited.”

Ichigo didn’t know that last part, but he tries not to show how interested he is. “So?” he prompts.

“To put it in simple words that even you would understand, Kurosaki - what I am saying is that no matter how unexpected a decision is, when it’s a major decision such as losing your powers, it’s only natural for a person to put in contingencies to live with such an action. In your case, it is the restoration of your powers arising from exposure to high reiatsu individuals such as your friends. That is why I said you should have known that the day would come when your powers would start to return.”

“I didn’t plan for shit,” Ichigo blurts out. “I didn’t even think my powers were ever going to come back. I’m not a planner like you – I just wanted to get rid of Aizen.”

Ishida is unfazed by Ichigo’s statement. “So you mentally prepared yourself,” Ishida replied. “Now things are better than you expected. Are you saying you’re disappointed with this development, Kurosaki? Would you rather have no powers at all?”

Ichigo has to admit, “No.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear,” Ishida says. Ichigo doesn’t see how the answer is good enough, but since it gets Ishida to go away Ichigo is fine with that.

Only Tatsuki doesn’t bother talking to Ichigo about this, though Ichigo sometimes catches her staring at him with a furrowed brow. That’s ok; it makes her the only normal one out of the group.


part 1 || part 2 || author's notes

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sophiap
Oct. 31st, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like this! I can imagine Ichigo having a very hard time dealing with his loss of powers, especially if the others still have them. The way you show him as feeling (and being) shut out of what's going on is especially painful, in a good way.

The mystery regarding the suicides is intriguing as well.

Also, I feel your pain at getting jossed. I have something that I'll have to post as an AU due to recent chapters. Ah, well.

Now on to the next part!
raynos
Nov. 1st, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
YAY! I was a bit nervous that his friends were too mean, but with your comment I see I didn't have to worry.

Heh, I think almost the whole fandom is jossed - post-Winter War was a very popular setting for fics. (it felt so far away just a few weeks ago!)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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