Okay, now that I've got my homework and finals out of the way, I can get back into uploading my neglected fanfic.
Title: Long Way to Goodbye IX
Rating: The much beloved T, where characters may swear and possess sexuality, but not so much that I will be banned for posting this.
Summary: Rukia and Ichigo disappeared and, although she tries, Karin has no idea what happened to them. Did Ichigo abandon everyone or did he and Rukia die?
Genre: Once it was a comedy but, at this point, I'm just trying to scare people
It’s been a while, so you may need to re-read the previous chapter to understand what’s happening.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Bleach.
“What the hell…happened here…?”
Confused, Ishida stumbled into the clearing and discovered the bloody aftermath of the clash with Kurosaki. He couldn’t have arrived more than a minute late, but it was already long since over for his friends.
Ishida scanned the surroundings, searching for survivors and any sign of Kurosaki. Only a fraction of moonlight illuminated the area by the riverbank, but he could see well enough to make out the dark crimson staining the grass; darkness hid all else. An unnatural silence engulfed the area; the only sound Ishida could hear was his own heartbeat. Kurosaki’s reiatsu was near, somewhere, but the man was nowhere in sight.
Carefully, Ishida stepped forward so he could try and figure out what happened. Despite his caution, Ishida immediately tripped over something large and bulky—Tessai. The sight of the big man was disturbing; Tessai’s glasses had shattered and his face was barely recognizable. Ishida breathed deeply to calm himself and took a step back. Keeping his cool was not easy, though, when the trees rustled in the wind constantly and it was too dark to see beyond the nearest branches. The Quincy took another step back and his left foot brushed against another limp form. Ishida spun around and was surprised to see Urahara lying in a pool of blood; his right arm was nowhere to be seen. Ishida fought back an immediate urge to gag and looked to his right, away from Urahara’s mutilated body; Ishida soon spotted another shadowed form. He approached it warily. Up close, he recognized the dark-red hair but the bloody gash across the face was brand new. Renji. He didn’t stir as Ishida neared him but Renji’s faint, raspy breathing was audible.
Ishida was startled into alertness by a loud cough. He turned it around and was relieved to see Sado. However, his injuries were disheartening; Sado struggled to stay on his knees while he clutched his right arm. Ishida winced; Sado’s right elbow was bent at a sickening angle.
Ishida hurried over to offer a hand and helped his friend to his feet.
“The others, I think…they’re all alive somehow…though they’re all hurt pretty bad,” Sado muttered, accepting Ishida’s shoulder. “As for me, if I hadn’t trained so much…I don’t know. My arm…” The Mexican grimaced.
Ishida guided him to a tree, which Sado gratefully leaned against it, exhausted. Letting Sado catch his breath for a moment, Ishida gave the riverbank another thorough examination. He realized he may not have accounted for everyone. Shouldn’t Yoruichi be somewhere, too?
Nearby, Kurosaki’s spiritual pressure scuttled back and forth, and was slowly slipping further away. Ishida tensed. Kurosaki isn’t heading towards Inoue-san or his sister, is he? No, he was going the other way. Even so, the thought didn’t make Ishida relax.
Once Sado appeared to be in better shape, Ishida asked, “Are you all right? What happened? Where’s Yoruichi-san?”
“I’m in better shape than I deserve to be,” Sado coughed and gestured towards the unconscious Shinigami, “Renji….provoked Ichigo. Ichigo retaliated…and, despite everything, we weren’t ready. We’d probably be dead if…Yoruichi-san hadn’t distracted Ichigo and gotten him to chase after her. She was the only one who came close to matching his speed.” Sado hung his head and groaned.
Ishida’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, Renji provoked him? I thought Kurosaki left Hueco Mundo in order to kill all of us.”
“So did I…but Ichigo just stood still…Didn’t do anything, at first, it was unnerving as hell,” answered Sado, shaking his head in disbelief. “I’m not really angry at Renji…I can’t believe Ichigo would have done nothing forever. We had to attack him, eventually, but…”
Ishida listened and considered what he should do next. If Sado, Renji, Urahara, Yoruichi and Tessai together could not handle Kurosaki, it was unimaginable that Ishida could stop him alone. At best, he could merely delay the inevitable. No, don’t think about failure, he told himself. Think about Inoue-san and do whatever is necessary. So there was no question in Ishida’s mind about facing down Kurosaki—he had to be stopped or else the Inoue-san and the girl would be targeted. The only problem was the injured Sado and the others here. What to do about them?
“Will you be able to manage by yourself for now?” Ishida glanced at Sado’s useless right arm. “Can you tend to the others for me?”
Sado’s eyes widened in realization. “You can’t mean to…alone…? You can’t!” he argued, standing up. “Let me go—agh!” he winced, holding his right arm and stumbling.
“You can’t fight in that state,” Ishida rolled his eyes. “Besides,” he added, “the other three need immediate attention. And you need to live so you can stop Kurosaki in case I don’t succeed.”
He turned around and faced the direction he came from in the first place.
“Wait, Ishida!” Sado yelled.
“Keep Karin alive! Inoue, too!”
Ishida chuckled softly. “That’s the plan.”
“Sorry,” Ishida pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “I won’t make any promises that I can’t keep.”
Yoruichi ran through the forest faster than was sane to do so in broad daylight, much less in the darkness of night. Branches scraped against her skin as she had less than a split-second to see incoming trees and react; only well-honed reflexes prevented her from a calamitous crash against a trunk. Although her Shunpo was no longer what it once was, Yoruichi was certain she had never moved quicker in her life before this adrenalized flight. Tonight, sheer necessity powered her feet to unprecedented speed.
But it still wasn’t good enough.
Because Ichigo, her former pupil, was inching closer to Yoruichi with every step; her agility was godlike, but his speed was on an even greater level. Sad to say but only pure luck had kept Yoruichi alive so far.
She tried to recall how she got herself into this run-or-die situation—later, if there was a later, she’d probably place all of the blame squarely on Kisuke—but events had spiraled out of control before she could think properly. Ichigo had remaining motionless for so long that it took everyone a moment to realize he’d vanished. That time was all it took for him to cut their numbers in half. Yoruichi heard two stifled screams and suddenly Urahara and Tessai were no longer by her side. Desperately, she braced herself for a blow but, by then, Renji and Chad had already been taken down. Five against one and none could so much as scratch Ichigo. Moreover, Yoruichi had no idea where he was—he moved faster than her eyes could follow. She stood alone, her allies fallen, and felt her body go rigid in defeat; she knew she was defenseless should Ichigo decide to kill her.
So Yoruichi had decided to run away. Not in order to escape death (that much was a given), but because she wanted Ichigo to follow her. She would be a decoy and save the others…assuming they still lived.
Well, Yoruichi got exactly what she wanted and now the monster was in hot pursuit of her. She ran from him in a never-ending, zigzagged circle; a cruel game of tag that could only end in her ruin. His spiritual pressure was so large and all-encompassing in close range that she couldn’t pinpoint where he was; the fear of not knowing his location threatened to crush her before he could catch her.
All she knew was that he was dangerously close behind her. It was a miracle she had evaded him for so long. Then again, perhaps Yoruichi was only surviving because he was toying with her life. That notion sickened her. Regardless, Yoruichi constantly reminded herself that she was buying time for her friends; for every second she outran Ichigo, her friends lived that much longer. And, for now, that thought kept her legs strong and pushed Yoruichi past her limits.
Briefly, she wondered how long her body could last at this rate before breaking down completely.
That reiatsu felt far too familiar to Karin for her liking.
Is that Hollow—Rukia’s killer!—my brother? He couldn’t possibly be that monster, but was he? Trapped behind Orihime’s barrier, Karin was left to ponder the worst-case scenario. She wanted to scream in frustration. Dammit, she had to see the Hollow face-to-face and learn the truth or else her imagination would drive her insane. She had to get past this barrier. So, after Orihime appeared to relax a little, Karin spoke to her.
Breaking through the Orihime’s shield with brute strength was beyond Karin’s abilities and she admitted as much. Moreover, beating her fists against the impenetrable barrier would only be a waste of energy. Somehow, she needed to convince her brother’s friend that letting her by was in everyone’s best interests (you know, because it was). If not the physical barrier, perhaps Karin could take down the emotional one.
“Yes?” Orihime replied cautiously, not meeting Karin’s gaze. “You’re not going to tell me that we should fight that Hollow, are you?”
“No, no!” Not yet. Karin frowned. “Something you said earlier has been bugging me. What did you mean about making a promise to yourself years ago?”
Bashfully, Orihime scratched the back of her ear and smiled awkwardly. “How can I say this with a straight face? Err, I swore to protect you and your sister two years ago. Me and Ishida-kun both did.”
Considering their recent actions, that made perfect sense. Except for one thing. “But why promise that?” Why did Karin and Yuzu need to be guarded so closely?
Nervousness crept into Orihime’s voice. Her guard was cracking. “I’m sorry, Karin-chan, but I can’t answer that.”
“What? Are you kidding me?!” Karin yelled in disbelief. “This is important! That Hollow is doing who-knows-what out there! This is no time for secrets!” She sighed in irritation and calmed herself; the goal here was to work on Orihime’s emotions. “Listen, telling me stupid lies isn’t going to keep me safe.”
Orihime jolted upon hearing Karin’s words and opened her mouth for a second. Yet she quickly snapped her lips shut and glowered at Karin. “I thought you weren’t trying to convince me to let you go after the Hollow,” Orihime muttered, vexed.
Okay, Karin’s ploy failed miserably. That left her with one final option, the one she’d wanted to avoid.
She looked Orihime in the eye and hoped her voice wouldn’t crack as she spoke her greatest fear aloud. “About what Renji said about that Hollow, it’s…” Karin took a deep breath and did her best to ignore the terrifying reiatsu, “It’s Ichigo, isn’t it?”
Orihime paused and her face went ivory. Her expression confirmed the worst. “Yes,” Orihime whispered.
Karin grimaced. After searching for him for so long, learning the whereabouts of her brother could not have been less satisfying for her. So he is a monster, then. That’s why Renji hates my brother. And that was why Orihime, Ishida and Chad refused to tell her the truth.
“Then,” Karin concluded, remembering Renji’s anger, “my brother really is responsible for Rukia’s murder?” She frowned in consternation. Her spoken words somehow made these ideas frighteningly real. Her small hope that Renji was somehow mistaken about Ichigo was slowly being destroyed.
“It’s true: Kurosaki-kun killed her,” Orihime cringed, bothered by her own words. Suddenly, she swallowed, straightened herself out and spoke clearly, “That’s why I’ve been protecting you and Yuzu, to answer your earlier question. This might sound terrible, but Ishida and I suspect that he’s come back here to kill you and your family.”
“What?” Karin gaped, staggered by the implication. “Are you serious?” She was still coming to terms with the notion of her brother being a killer, and hadn’t even considered that he might want her dead. The idea felt completely foreign. That’s probably what Rukia thought, too, a small voice whispered in her head.
“I’m not making this up!” Orihime insisted, a touch of anger in her voice. “Kurosaki-kun isn’t himself anymore. He’s a danger to everyone now!”
Orihime’s words chilled Karin to the core. Trepidation devoured Karin’s insides; the sensation could only be described as pure horror. The familiar reiatsu mocked Karin and reminded of her days long past when she would play with Ichigo. “How could this happen?” Karin asked. “Why would Ichigo ever do something so horrible?” It wasn’t like him at all!
Orihime hesitantly spoke up in her brother’s defense. “Under the circumstances…”
“What circumstances?!” Karin fumed, upset more than anything by the fact her brother’s supposed crimes. “Something isn’t right about this,” she told herself stubbornly.
Orihime shuddered, but said “Calm down, Karin. Now do you see why it is so important for you to stay away from the Hollow, from Kurosaki-kun?”
If the situation hadn’t been so horrible, Karin could have laughed humorlessly. Run from him? She was more convinced than ever that she should see him, no matter how terrifying Ichigo was. As a member of his family, she had a right to be involved in this mess.
Before Karin could voice her renewed desire to see Ichigo, Orihime gasped “He’s moving again! Not towards us, but this means…Oh no, Ishida-kun and the others!”
True enough, that spiritual pressure was on the move. This meant then night had more victims. Was he searching for Karin’s soul now?
“Karin-chan,” Orihime grabbed her arm, “we need to leave. Now!”
“No, I’m going after him—hey, don’t just pull me that way! Hey! Stop! Not again, argh!”
Karin’s protests were futile. Orihime dragged her away with a surprisingly firm grip.
Karin decided to assume a dignified silence. She could accept running away from Ichigo, even if he’d killed Rukia. He was powerful and dangerous. Karin wasn’t totally foolish; she believed she needed to confront him, but she couldn’t deny that she was afraid to do so.
But you know what? Assuming that Orihime was telling the truth, Karin didn’t see how it would do any good to flee from him. If he’s coming after me, there is no way anyone can stop him.
Ishida scoured Karakura, trying to find Inoue-san and Karin. Normally, it would have been easy to track their reiatsu, but Kurosaki’s immense spiritual pressure had distorted Ishida’s sixth sense. He had only his speed and his wits to rely on tonight. Desperately, Ishida prayed he would not be too late again.
Honestly, he wished he hadn’t left Inoue-san’s side to begin with, but what else could he have done? He hadn’t wanted Inoue-san or Karin to see the battle against Kurosaki. Now both were in grave danger because he’d left them alone.
Ishida clenched his fists, remembering how this incident started:
Many images were vivid in his memory but one scene from the past haunted him above all others. No, that memory was not from the stupid venture into Hueco Mundo when Kurosaki lost to Ulquiorra and went berserk. Nor was it the sight of Kurosaki being stabbed by Gin and becoming a Hollow permanently in the false Karakura. What Ishida remembered every night was the nightmare of Kurosaki killing Rukia:
In the severed world between Soul Society and Hueco Mundo, Ishida, Inoue-San, Kurosaki, Rukia, Renji, Sado and Hirako joined together to finish Aizen after the disaster in Fake Karakura. There, they defeated Gin and cornered Aizen. Somehow, impossibly, Kurosaki maintained some semblance of sanity in his Hollowfied form in Rukia’s presence, and the group took advantage of this—despite some misgivings. But they figured only the sheer brute strength of Kurosaki’s Hollow could overcome Aizen’s Shikai, and they were desperate.
The plan worked. Aizen was soon the only enemy left; victory seemed imminent. Sure enough, they won the fight. In fact, winning was the easy part, as Ichigo cut down an Aizen that seemed to offer little resistance while his friends watched from a safe distance.
Then chaos ensued.
Upon killing Aizen, Kurosaki abruptly roared and lost control. He betrayed his friends and attacked everyone in sight. All Ishida recalled of the fight was a flash of light as Inoue blocked one of Ichigo’s strikes, and the sound of steel ripping through the air. Then the world went black. Ishida’s next memory was coming to beside Sado and Renji, who had also been defeated in an instant. Aizen’s corpse was nearby, whereas Ichigo had disappeared along with Hirako. Separated from the others, Ishida saw Inoue-san sobbing into Rukia’s limp and bloody body. There had been no need to ask Inoue-san, the only one of them to witness everything, who was responsible for Rukia’s death.
That day, Ishida swore to do everything in his power to prevent Inoue-san from crying over the death of a friend again. Moreover, he refused to allow Rukia’s fate befall her. So Ishida agreed to help her guard Yuzu and Karin when Inoue-san abruptly vowed to protect Kurosaki’s sisters in case a certain Hollow returned to Karakura. As a result, Ishida spent more time alone with Inoue-san than he had deemed possible. He cherished the previous two years of his life.
But the waking dream ended now. In a moment, Ishida would face death in the form of Ichigo Kurosaki. Could he survive a second time? Ishida doubted any amount of fortune could help him against that overwhelming spiritual pressure. Nonetheless, Ishida would make his final stand. He braced himself, worrying more about Inoue-san’s life than his own.
Not once did it occur to Ishida that Inoue-san would cry uncontrollably if Kurosaki murdered him.
Inside the forested park by the river, the inevitable finally occurred: Yoruichi’s legs suddenly collapsed underneath her and she collided roughly into the hard, dirt-packed ground. Limits could only be surpassed so much, and not even Yoruichi’s willpower could force her to move a step further.
A second after her fall, the boy Yoruichi had once mentored descended upon her. Her eyes widened as something sharp ripped through her stomach. Then darkness came.
Renji opened his eyes and regretted doing so immediately; upon gaining consciousness, he experienced the full force of a blinding headache. Pain dominated his sensations. His thoughts were jumbled, and memory failed him momentarily. How did this happen to him again?
He hadn’t grown stronger in the slightest since his failure in the rift between Soul Society and Hueco Mundo—the time he let Rukia die. Everyone else had been against the idea of exploiting Ichigo’s Hollow form until Renji foolishly said they could trust Ichigo. He convinced them that Ichigo would never hurt his friends. He paid dearly for that vote of confidence.
After the tragedy, Renji cursed himself for permitting Ichigo to remain a monster; it was his fault that Rukia had been murdered. He hated himself for believing in Ichigo’s goodness, for not stopping that bastard from killing Rukia, for being unable to sacrifice his life for Rukia’s. But he had been too weak. In fact, to his surprise, Rukia had actually fared better than he had against the berserk Ichigo. That might have been Renji’s imagination, though, as it took Ichigo only a few seconds to knock out Renji.
His head throbbed and Renji returned to the present. Yes, he’d failed a second time. He’d refused to let Captain Unohana or Inoue remove his scars and had worn them like a badge of honour, and for what? Because of his inadequacy, history would repeat itself—Ichigo would murder again. Renji had been willing to die by Ichigo’s hands, but had only been humiliated again by being given another chance to live.
That pity, as he saw it, from the bastard infuriated Renji enough to overpower the urge to lose consciousness. Why couldn’t he have shown Rukia any mercy?! Agony lanced through his every muscle and his head pounded, but Renji persisted and forced himself to sit up. The world came into focus and he noticed for the first time that he was bandaged. Furthermore, he wasn’t alone; Urahara and Tessai were similarly bound up beside him, still unconscious. How much time had passed since the fight? Who had treated their wounds?
It dawned on Renji that Chad and Yoruichi were missing. One of the two had likely patched him up, but where was either of them now? He couldn’t sense their spiritual pressure. Were they dead? His headache grew worse; thinking was too difficult. More importantly, he could sense Ichigo’s terrible reiatsu; it was moving somewhere at an impossible speed—the bastard was still at large, evidently.
Awkwardly, Renji stood up but, with his weak legs, he promptly fell to the ground.
That small voice inside Renji told him to lie where he was and rest, urging him to give up on his vengeance. Angrily, he stood again and ignored the voice. Renji took a clumsy step forward and then another; if he collapsed again, he would crawl if necessary. He would not stop until either he or Ichigo burned in hell.
Without speaking to each other, Karin and Orihime ran through the streets of Karakura. Karin soon came to the conclusion that running was stupid, but she kept the opinion to herself. Clouds now hid the moon, making the night darker than ever. The humidity was so dense it felt as though they swam around street corners. The city was much too quiet. Cars were parked on the street, motionless. Apparently, the regular townspeople could sense the hostility enveloping Karakura.
Behind them, the source of the hostility was quickly gaining on them.
She’d been a hundred-percent correct about her brother being unstoppable. About a minute ago, his reiatsu suddenly charged towards them at a speed which shocked Karin. It didn’t matter how far she and Orihime went; they’d never get away from him at this rate.
Karin couldn’t keep silent anymore. “We need to face him, Orihime.”
“We can’t! We’ll lose. Kurosaki-kun can’t be defeated,” Orihime said without slowing down.
“In case you didn’t notice, Orihime, we can’t outrun him, either,” she argued, ignoring her own fear. “We’re just wasting our energy right now.”
Orihime came to a stop, and they rested against the wall of a random convenience store. Karin was grateful for this opportunity to catch her breath; all she’d done today was run, it seemed like.
All the while, that reiatsu steadily drew closer to them. After she and Orihime stopped running, he slowed his pace. To draw out the suspense, Karin figured. Wonderful.
After a minute where nothing happened, Karin began to second-guess her decision to wait for her brother and face him head-on. It’s like waiting to die, she thought grimly. It couldn’t be long until her brother’s Hollow chanced upon them. He’s close.
Just when waiting for him became nearly unbearable for Karin and Orihime, they heard footsteps. Alarmed, they were relieved to see a familiar face about to walk across the street.
“Ishida-kun!” Orihime exclaimed happily. “You’re all right!”
The white knight was similarly relieved. He sighed, “I made it in time…”
Before Orihime could run over to him, though, a shadow flew behind Ishida.
“Ishida, behind you!” Karin shouted in alarm.
Transfixed, she stared at the dark form. Was that her brother? On the other side of the road, he was too far away to describe clearly. Still, that creature was the source of the dark reiatsu: it had to be her brother.
Ishida turned around in surprise, “What…?”
His voice gave out as the Hollow slashed him down in a fluid motion. Ishida’s blood splattered against the street while Karin and Orihime watched helplessly. From where she stood, Karin couldn’t tell if the Quincy was conscious or dead.
“Uryuu!” Orihime cried out, reaching a hand out towards the fallen Quincy before recalling who stood behind her—Karin. Her legs shook, but Orihime stood between Karin and Ichigo, ready to risk her own life.
The Hollow didn’t glance to check if Ishida was dead or not; his attention was fixated on Karin. A black mask covered his face but there was no doubt that his expression, were it visible, would have conveyed as little emotion as the mask. That alone made Karin momentarily doubt that this could be her brother.
He began to walk towards Karin. In his presence, all notions of fighting vanished; deep down, she hadn’t believed he could have become so corrupted. As he got closer, his features became clear. He wore torn black robes that resembled those of a Shinigami. His form was manlike, but he had long hair? Is it really Ichigo? That spiritual pressure had to belong to her brother, however, it was so familiar.
“Th-this time I’ll stop you,” Orihime stuttered. Her confidence grew and and she declared, “I’m not the love-struck idiot I used to be!”
A semi-transparent barrier appeared around Orihime and Karin, separating them from the Hollow. He paused, as if deliberating on how to proceed. Then he raised his sword and slashed at the shield. It shattered instantly and he continued walking. Orihime, weakened by the barrier’s destruction, fell to her knees—she had tried to defend Karin without success.
Her brother’s Hollow stood in front Orihime.
“No, Kurosaki-kun, I had hoped you were—”
He put a hand on her shoulder and flung Orihime aside, not bothering to use his sword. Karin’s eye flirted to the side and she saw Orihime bounce off the pavement and roll out of sight. Her eyes darted back to the one who had ruthlessly crushed Orihime.
No one stood between him and Karin now. She wondered if it was accurate to call him a Hollow. Aside from the mask and deathly pale skin, he looked almost human to her eyes. Aside from the mask, the long hair, and the sickening hole in his chest, everything about him was recognizable to Karin. Oh god. Those arms were Ichigo’s; they had caressed her when she was in danger many years ago. The shoulders were his, too; Karin remembered begging him for piggy-back rides. And the pale hands belonged to Ichigo—only Karin had never felt as though those hands wanted to strangle her neck before tonight.
Calling him a Hollow felt wrong to Karin. Ichigo was something far worse now.
His mouth opened and he rasped, “Protect…protect…”
She scrambled backwards, trying to get away, disbelieving. What the hell kind of a sick reunion was this? He moved closer to her, dispelling all of Karin’s attempts to deny this was happening. Karin sensed that he recognized her and her heart stopped. Orihime had told her the truth for once, and Karin desperately wished that the woman had been wrong.
But no amount of praying could change the morbid reality before her.
Her brother wanted to kill her.