A/N: I don't really have much to say here, other than thank you all for your support! I've had a lot of really nice reviews so far.
Description: Reboot of my fic Alphas and Betas. "Ichigo has matured as a Human, he's obtained the pinnacle of Shinigami powers, but growing up as a Hollow brings new surprises. And a new threat on the horizon does not bode well for the Visored and his mate."
Warnings: Alpha/Beta Dynamics, Mpreg, Pregnancy, Polyamory, Bigotry, Prejudice, more to be added later
Pairings: GrimmIchi, RenBya, UlquiHime, KarinToshi, and others in the backgroundDisclaimer:
Bleach is, of course, (c) Kubo-sensei because if we owned it there would be more Yaoi, less dying, and other characters would be the focus of the story.
2 – Death
"I'm really sorry, Sado-san." Rukia sighed. "I just don't know why he isn't here. Even if certain idiots took him to Soul Society when they shouldn't have—"
"—it doesn't excuse him not welcoming you home."
The pint-sized Shinigami didn't even acknowledge that her childhood friend had said anything. She sipped at her drink and leaned against the wall of the Shoten, enjoying the night air alongside the party's guest of honor. The worry for their missing friend pinched the place between her brows, but she was trying not to let it show. Tonight was supposed to be about Chad, not Ichigo. No matter how strangely the substitute Shinigami had been behaving lately.
Downstairs in the not-so-secret training ground, Orihime and Jackie were introducing the Usual Crowd, minus Renji, to beer pong, which the busty ginger had picked up during her semester overseas. A loud shout of triumph meant either someone had scored well, or Kira had managed to get the ball into Rangiku's ample cleavage. Whichever it was, Renji pouted towards the ladder. It wasn't his fault Ichigo took off and couldn't be found. If anything it was Yumichika's, but was he out there keeping watch with them? No! He was inside with the others, watching Ikkaku get drunk and planning to get himself laid.
The redhead scowled at his almost sister. Damn her fist! It was a wonder he wasn't suffering from brain damage with as often as she smacked him! She hadn't been as liberal with it before he'd started dating her brother.
"It won't be long now." Chad broke into their thoughts, seemingly amused by the way both jumped.
"Are you sure, Sado?" Renji asked, picking up on the unspoken half of that comment.
Rukia blinked for a moment, wondering when her best friend had learned how to read people so well. Then she coughed, "You shouldn't be alone while you're waiting for him though, what if he shows up when you leave to grab a drink or something?"
"Or something." Chad rumbled with a reassuring smile.
Renji nudged her, a teasing light in his eyes, "C'mon, Ru. Bet I can bounce that ball into Hime-chan's shirt with my eyes closed."
"You'll do nothing of the sort! Oh my God, Renji!" Rukia chased him into the Shoten, outraged at the implications and blushing furiously at the mental image.
Consequently Chad was left alone. He smiled after them, sipping his own beer. His eyes lifted to the roof and he saluted the shadowed figure with the bottle.
They didn't need words for the big man to know his friend welcomed him home, and the friend knew his absence would only be felt by those who had lost that level of synchronization with him. Like the people that had practically abandoned him after he lost his powers.
When he allowed himself to think about it, it boiled his blood. During his time of service they had easily found every excuse in the book to visit him. Snatching up the Geta-boshi's gigai left and right to barge into his school, demand his help, and all without giving a damn whether he actually had time to do so or not. All that had changed after Mugetsu, and trapping Aizen. He had waited for them; helping Kisuke around the shop, hanging out with the Visored—half out of the hope that their reiatsu would help, and half because he needed the contact for reasons he didn't like to examine too closely—and when Chad introduced him to the Fullbringers… Well, he'd gotten tired of waiting.
They could have looked into using a gigai to keep in contact, like they always had before, or spoken through someone who could see spirits. Hell, he wasn't picky, he'd have been content with letters. He might even have finally learned how to use the butterfly system.
But none of them had.
Two years and not a one of the friends he'd made in Soul Society made any concentrated effort to keep in contact with him. It made him bitter sometimes, he knew that, but it was hard to remember anyone cared beyond the exiles and the Shinigami rejects when they were the only people outside of his family that made an effort.
Shaking the thoughts from his head, Ichigo nodded at the salute. Then the Fullbringer ducked inside, leaving the now-restored substitute Shinigami to enjoy his solitude. It wasn't long after that the cry of a Hollow rent the night sky, and Zangetsu was in his hand before he'd even touched the ground.
The transition from pill to body left a certain Mod Soul scrabbling for the apex of the shop's roof to avoid falling. "OI! BASTARD! You can't just go shoving me in your pocket every time you wanna-" Kon cut himself off, muttering, "The Hell have you been up to, Ichigo…"
He felt drained and exhausted, and he knew it wasn't him! It came from the hybrid's body. The joints ached and the skin felt sensitive and clammy. Copper sat heavily on the tongue, like the taste of a broken fever. It was all he could do just to hold on, hidden behind the rise of the shop in case the Adjuchas got away from his counterpart. It was unlikely, granted, but for once in his egotistical life, Kon wasn't so sure he could handle it on his own. Not with the way their body was affected by Ichigo's illness. All he could hope to do was peer over the roof and watch the fight, hoping Ichigo wasn't so weakened that he needed help.
Because that was what the Mod Soul found most odd… the sickness followed the redhead's soul.
Below, the rest of the party didn't take notice of the other-worldly intruder until a wave of reiatsu flared across them all so hot that it evaporated all of the alcohol in the Shoten. Including what was floating about in people's bloodstreams. Shunsui and Rangiku hadn't been that sober in years! And they couldn't say they appreciated the sensation.
"What is it? Arrancar back for more?" The captain of the Eighth flash stepped outside to join Yoruichi in the yard.
"You could say something like that, Shun."
Most of the others weren't far behind, and by the time she answered they were all gathered in the empty space in front of Kisuke's shop. Her mouth was set in a hard line and her attention was focused on a children's park just down the road a bit from where they stood.
Or rather she was focused on the air above the park.
Another roar had the whole group grabbing at their weapons. Chad's Devil Fist flared into life in the same breath as Ishida's bow and a round of steel slid free of their sheaths from the visiting Shinigami. Not one or two Adjuchas-class Hollows but a whole half dozen had emerged over the city. All of them were trained on the man that had been the topic of earlier conversation as he darted from Hollow to Hollow, cleansing each with a vicious cleave of his daito.
"Why is he in bankai? They're not even Menos." The Quincy scowled.
"Kon!" Kisuke called, sounding more serious than usual, "How long?"
The Mod Soul squeaked and tumbled down from his hiding place. "It's been an hour!" He whined, "I'm exhausted…"
The shopkeeper gave his signature smile, a hand on his hat, "Maybe if you ask really nicely Rukia-chan will let you snuggle with her in your sleep."
"OI!" The midget Shinigami fumed, "Don't just make these decisions on your own, Geta-boshi!"
Kon looked pleadingly to her, and she started shaking her head even before the words formed on his borrowed lips. Kisuke's giggle had her whipping back around towards him, murder on her face, only to find the dirty blond racing off down the road. She wasn't but a breath behind him, in spite of knowing she'd never catch him. So she turned her attention to aiding Ichigo.
At her inspiration, and Kyouraku's nod as ranking officer, the team fanned out to cover the impromptu invasion of Hollows across the whole town. They worked in pairs, as luring the Adjuchas away from the vibrant hybrid proved to be surprisingly difficult even for the captain-class Shinigami among them. When they were still coming after half an hour's work, none of the berry's allies were surprised that he donned his mask; the second wave of reiatsu just as hot and sobering as the first.
Fortunately, it also paralyzed the Adjuchas such that it was only a matter of seconds before they were all cleansed and sent on their way. Much to the Shinigami's relief.
As suddenly as it came, the whole thing was over. Ichigo's impossible reiatsu dissipated like a heatwave before an Autumn rain. Not having seemed to move from where he'd pulled on his mask, the redhead appeared to be utterly drained, his aura banked so far that the less sensitive members of the party actually had a hard time spotting him as he began to fall out of the sky.
Yoruichi snatched him up and brought him back to the Shoten unconscious.
"Quickly now, back into his body!" Kisuke bustled Kon into one of the back rooms along with the other two, but something was very wrong.
As soon as Kon had returned to the lion plushie, and Ichigo was laid down, the twenty-one year old started to convulse. His head snapped back, mouth open and foaming at the corners. Yoruichi and Kisuke dove on him to keep him from thrashing off of the futon.
"Tessai! He's burning up! We need ice!" the cat woman shouted.
"And somebody get Shinji!" Kisuke added, working a tongue depressor between the younger man's teeth.
Most of the onlookers sequestered themselves in the Shoten's dining/living room around the low table they always used for meetings. Renji went for the Visored pack leader and Orihime made tea since Tessai was in the room with Ichigo. Shunsui sent a Hell butterfly to Unohana, apprising her of the situation, while Rangiku and Hisagi returned to Seireitei to report what had happened with the Hollows and to get more booze. The strawberry blonde was sure they were all going to need it before the night was over. And all the while the sounds coming from Ichigo's room were not hopeful.
Something had to be significantly wrong for Kisuke to curse like that.
The relief brought on by the arrival of the Visoreds was short-lived as everything dissolved into further chaos. Sheer luck and Shinji's gut instinct had brought Hachigen along when Renji showed up, and the Visored leader was immediately grateful for the foresight. He hauled Kisuke out of Ichigo's room to make space for the large kido master, and spun the shopkeeper in the direction of his living room with a whispered order in the younger blond's ear. The Usual Crowd, Captain Kyouraku, and the rest of Chad's welcome home party were then bustled down into the training ground by a much frazzled Kisuke, who tried to bolt away again immediately after the last was off the ladder. Ichigo was in trouble and they needed to heal him. Quickly.
Just before an outcropping of rock, Orihime planted her feet and glared, "What about my Fullbring?! I've helped Unohana-san many times since the Winter War, won't that do anything for Kurosaki-kun!?"
The look of tired worry on the shopkeeper's face floored her, but his concise words were worse. "At this point, Hime-chan, you'd only kill him faster."
"K-k-kill?" Her voice wavered and instantly Rukia was there, wrapping her arms around the other woman's waist and pulling her away.
"C'mon, Ori, let's let them work. Trust Urahara-san and the others. They know what they're doing. Don't worry. Everything will work out fine…" Her voice trailed off as they rejoined Chad and Uryuu.
A short while later, Kira leaned over, a hand on Orihime's shoulder, "If you have a shield that absorbs reiatsu, now would be the time to use it. I don't like the feel of Tessai-san's kido."
The ginger-haired woman only had a moment to react before everything went to Hell.
Her shield popped out, larger than it had ever been when she was a teen, and encapsulated the whole group of them in an orange bubble while the world around them exploded into a billion tiny shards of burning atoms. She nearly screamed at the pull against her fairies, the whole bubble slipping several inches forward, but almost as soon as it began, the buffeting winds fell. Orihime opened her eyes, unaware of when she'd closed them, to find Momo and Kira to either side of her, a pale blue fabric-like kido stretched across the front of her Fullbring shield. The three exchanged a glance of solidarity, standing firm against the draw of gravity outside of their safe zone. Another lurch brought Rukia and Yumichika's hands into the mix, then Chad, Renji, and Ikkaku, because they couldn't help with securing the kido for fear of the whole bubble blowing up, braced themselves against the back to keep it from moving any further forward. The three big men were like anchors, their weapons solid enough to create corners in the kido bubble that only strengthened Santen Kesshun's natural triangular shape.
Just as Jackie and Riruka were beginning to work out how safe everyone would be inside Riruka's Fullbring, there came a tap on the outside of the bubble that drew their attention.
"Hime-chan," Kisuke's voice was breathless, "you can rest now. Momo-chan and Kira-kun as well."
The opaque energy disappeared almost immediately, but what greeted them looked like the epicenter of a supernova.
Above them, the Shoten was in ruins. The shop itself had been vaporized, exposing the training ground to the pre-dawn sky without a single cloud to be seen for miles in any direction. All around the rocks and ground were scorched, toasted to charcoal.
Signs of other kido, with a lingering signature from both Hachigen and Tessai, were littered all about the impact zone. Between the two kido masters, they'd been able to contain the explosion of pure power, at least for the most part. From the way the air crackled around them it was clear that had any of them been directly exposed to it, they would have been consumed by it.
Whether it was Orihime's Fullbring that gave her the knowledge or her experience with kido and reiatsu manipulation working with the Fourth, the young woman was able to read the story of what had happened in the scars left behind. She paced the length of the burn mark tracing it with her eyes and unconsciously holding her arms around her ribs. The way the rocks crumbled and the air felt stale reminded her of her time in Hueco Mundo, causing shivers to run down her spine, and she chewed on her lip, barely aware that anyone was talking nearby.
"…thought when it rebounded on the shield like that it was going to break through." Kyouraku was frowning at Shinji.
Hachi responded, "We're very lucky that it collapsed in on itself."
"If it hadn't, we wouldn't be standing here having this conversation, Hachi. It's likely it would have burned through the fabric of reality the way it was going. It's a wonder you and Tessai don't have reaction headaches." The pack leader sounded worried, and his body language screamed that he wanted to inspect the other Visored but was holding himself back because of the situation.
The pink-haired man shook his head, "We have Inoue-san to thank for that. Somehow her shield was more supportive than ours was draining us. I only wish it would have had the same effect on Ichigo-san."
"Yes, well, it would have gone faster and easier if the Fourth had been here on time." Yoruichi groused, only to be pulled away from where the others were discussing things by a hand on her elbow.
Ikkaku picked up where she'd left off, "So there was nothin' ya could do fer him?"
"His body was the focal point of the whole singularity, Madarame-kun." Tessai spoke for the first time.
Yumichika sniffed. "Such a beautiful word for such an ugly situation."
Renji growled and rolled his eyes, "So what're ya sayin'?"
"Put simply," Kira joined them, and drew the rest of the party-goers' attention, "if we wanted to save Ichigo's body, we would have had to do something before the fight with the Adjuchas. By the time anybody tried to do anything, he was already dead. This whole thing was his body catching up to that fact."
At that moment the Senkaimon opened on the other side of the training ground. Iemura gave a wave at them, and the permanent residents of Soul Society made a hasty farewell so they could clear the Dangai before the EMTs had to transport Ichigo's unconscious soul form through it. It left the Visoreds, the Fullbringers, and the Quincy standing near to where the bubble had been feeling uncomfortable and caught somewhere between relief that it was over, and grieving for their Nakama.
Off to the side, Kisuke shoved a bundle of clothing and Kon's stuffed lion toy into Yoruichi's arms. Somehow, miraculously, all of it was still intact, in spite of the reiatsu flames that had been hot enough to burn through the former captain's personal kido wards. The Shihoin clan leader gaped at him, but he didn't give her time to actually say anything. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, his eyes darting to the Visored pack leader, then flashed off to follow his student through the transient world.
"There's no doubt about it now." Shinji sucked on his teeth after the Senkaimon closed. "It's what we figured was going to happen."
Yoruichi frowned down at the bundle in her arms, clutching it tighter to her chest. "You're sure they can handle the…"
"Kensei was the captain of his division before I was promoted." The blond man cut her off. "He's senior Alpha."
"But…" She seemed reluctant now that Kisuke was beyond her ability to contact.
"We've had practice at this you know. Trust me, Yoru."
"I do! We just don't have any examples quite that strong is all. Berry's got reiatsu wells deep enough to hold a kido for twenty years before burnout. That's without his mastery of bankai."
"Which takes a hundred years."
"Exactly!" The cat woman sounded half proud and half terrified. "Can you even imagine one that strong? Even yours isn't!"
"I suspect that's exactly why his soul made it through everything in the first place."
Scowling at her fellow exile, Yoruichi allowed that information to roll around in her head for a while, gently rocking from foot to foot as though she was impatient to be off. Gold eyes scanned the room. There were too few people left to just take off, she needed a distraction.
As though she'd read the darker woman's thoughts, Orihime dared to step closer, "So… Kurosaki-kun is…?"
"Dead. Yes, Hime-chan." Shinji supplied, turning to gather the rest of them to him. He sucked his teeth when a sigh of relief went through most of them, "We ain't out of the woods yet. He's still gotta wake up."
"Yeah, but between Hime-chan and your Unohana, he's liable to do it, ain't he?" Jackie asked, leaning a little closer to Chad.
He smiled down at her reassuringly, and that cleared any insecurity she might have had, making her cross her arms under her breasts and draw her spine up straight again. She hadn't been worried, nope, not at all. Behind her, the larger man merely smiled a little more broadly.
"Kurosaki seems to be master of the impossible." Uryuu sniffed, adjusting his glasses to cover his own emotions. "He's never let us down before, so I see little reason to doubt him now."
"Here here!" Riruka lifted her wine cooler and deliberately clinked it against one of the rocks that was still standing, determined to get the mood away from sober. "Let's take the rest of this party back to Xcution and finish welcoming Sado home! When Ichi wakes up, he can join us, and until then, we'll just party without him!"
The others murmured their agreements, even if they weren't quite as enthusiastic, and followed the pink-haired Fullbringer in flash stepping out of the former training ground.
With their departure, Shinji nodded discreetly to Yoruichi. The stealth mistress took off with her bundle. Only those who had reason to suspect something was being hidden noticed the dark woman slip away. It was Uryuu that saw the bundle move, and Chad that heard it coo. Being the last ones to flash step where the ladder used to be, the Fullbringer and the Quincy exchanged a look, but neither actually said anything out loud.
It was impossible after all.
For one, Ichigo was biologically male. They both knew that from gym class when they were in high school. And for another, even if they ignored the previous fact, to be that size would have made it at least six months old! Someone would have noticed! Freaky Shinigami nonsense or not!
At the very least Kisuke…
Uryuu raised his eyebrow at the empty place where the Senkaimon had been.
An uncertain scowl was Chad's response.
No, there was no way. All Yoruichi had in her arms was Kon and some clothing. She was probably off to tell Ichigo's father what had happened in better detail than the retired captain could have sensed. That was all.
Both young men nodded once in agreement of their silent conversation. Shinigami hybrid or not there was no way Ichigo could have been pregnant.
Inside Ichigo's mindscape a desert wind whipped the buildings, cracking the glass from the sheer heat involved. The redhead himself collapsed onto his elbows and knees, his hands over his ears to block out his own screaming. It felt like being barbequed alive.
Clawing at his face, the Visored drove himself across the surface of the glass windows with the singular purpose of rending his right cheek open. He cried out, blood dripping into his eye, and from somewhere near his stomach reiatsu exploded in all directions. The windows surrounding him vaporized, fractured instantly into dust and left him clinging to the steel framework for dear life. Again he screamed, falling, unaware of anything beyond the pain and heat.
And then it stopped.
Severed like the plug had been pulled, everything stopped. The temperature was gone. The buildings. The wind. The pain. Everything. Just gone.
Ichigo drifted into that void of peace. His eyes closed and it was a bit like floating. He couldn't exactly tell up from down, or back from front, but he didn't really need to either. Nothing seemed to matter at the moment and he could feel his reiatsu growing, slowly refilling his immense reserves. Which somehow he knew instinctively had been drained completely by something. What that was he couldn't put a finger on; it felt a bit like the kind of memory that one has of their birth. Logically he knew it had happened, but the details of it were obscured, out of focus no matter how hard he concentrated on it. All he could get was that it was there, and Old Man Zangetsu rumbled soft murmurs of reassurance.
The fact that his words weren't clear spoke to just how badly the Thing had drained him. Reaching out for either soul spirit brought disturbingly quiet mumbles from the bow and the sensation of deep slumber from the mask.
If Ichigo had possessed even an ounce more energy at that moment, he might have actually been worried about the inner Hollow, but as it was the Thing had exhausted all three of them. So the hybrid drifted; half-awake and randomly poking his other selves for how well they were healing from the Thing.
For a time the feeling of sleep was all he got. He couldn't tell if it was a long time, but he rather figured if he was poking too often, his horse would get irritated with him. The Hollow never did though. So Ichigo kept periodically pulsing his reiatsu at him in the hopes of a new response…
It took weeks until anything changed, and Kisuke kept watch, monitoring his reiatsu levels with the kind of scrutiny rarely given to actual people. Every couple of days Orihime came to use her fairies on the comatose Visored. It kept him from losing muscle mass or brain tissue, and prevented bed sores. The reishi-dense atmosphere of Unohana's intensive care unit took care of the rest. Compared to Living World coma patients, Ichigo wouldn't have to fight through any of the normal after-effects of having been asleep for so long. And in that regard he was incredibly lucky.
Now if only he would wake up…
A/N 2: Also y'all over here should know the Ao3 version has chapter art! I'll link 'em on my profile.