[Bleach] The Butterfly Effect 01

Chapter One – The Strength That Protects

“Ichi-nii! Wake up or you’re going to be late! Asano-kun’s already waiting for you!”

With a groan, Ichigo rolled over in his bed, Yuzu’s voice prodding him out of his doze. He had woken at the sound of his alarm but had wanted a few more precious moments of sleep. Staying up late the night before to study – and taking out that pesky Hollow along the way – left him feeling exhausted.

“Ichi-nii!” Fists hit his door loudly, no doubt Karin’s handiwork.

“Karin!” Yuzu chastised, her voice audible even on the other side of the door. “You shouldn’t hit it so hard…”

“I’m getting up!” he called back loudly before Karin came storming in and gave him a wake-up kick as she was sometimes fond of doing. He didn’t know why she had turned out so violent.

They were his younger sisters. Wasn’t he supposed to be doing the protecting and looking after? Instead, it was the other way around. Yuzu enjoyed playing the mother, especially when she dragged Ururu into helping her. Dad thought it was amusing and encouraged her, calling Yuzu his precious little helper. Even though it was really Tessai-san who did most of the housework and cooking.

Grumbling under his breath, Ichigo hauled himself out of bed, biting back on another yawn. One hand idly scratched at his bare stomach as he stumbled across the floor to his closet. Regrettably, there was no time for a shower today. He’d have to make do with a quick rinse after gym or something.

Ichigo threw a hand over his hair as he fumbled through his preparations for the day still feeling the effects of accrued fatigue. He shoved the remnants of his homework into his schoolbag as he pulled socks over his feet and stumbled into a pair of pants. Wearing a uniform for school was such a pain, but one he’d learned to deal with. It wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

Throughout the house, he could hear the familiar noises of the day starting, even as he searched for a clean undershirt. The floor was rumbling faintly, one of his dad’s experiments probably approaching critical mass again. No doubt Yuzu was putting the finishing touches on their bento as Tessai-san whipped up breakfast for all of them next to her. He could hear Karin arguing with Jinta over who got to use the bathroom next, while Ururu beat them all by sliding inside first.

And dad was certainly overseeing this all as he perched at the breakfast table and peered blearily into a cup of tea that was brewed by Tessai and not himself; everyone knew that dad’s tea could clean up a paint spill. It was that toxic. He would be missing his usual ugly hat, but only until he realized it wasn’t on his head. Then, there would be a frantic search for the horrid accessory, which would likely continue until right before all the kids headed out the door to school. When they arrived home later that day, it would be back in its proper position, perched on top of his head.

Really, every day was pretty much the same.

Fighting back a yawn, Ichigo snatched his gikongan – the one thing he could never do without – off his desk and slipped it into his pocket. There was a clink as it knocked into his cell phone, desperately in need of charging. He rarely used the damn thing and only carried it because Yuzu and Ururu worried.

Ichigo couldn’t argue because he understood. His little sister had lost her parents in a single moment and very nearly lost him as well. That she would have nightmares of the rest of her family disappearing in the blink of an eye was understandable. Ichigo sympathized.

There was a thump down the hall as Karin knocked Jinta out of the way – again and like always – and rushed into the bathroom after Ururu meekly popped out. Unlike the others, Ururu and Jinta were schooled at home and taught by Tessai, but that didn’t stop them from joining the morning rush for readiness. Ichigo understood why they couldn’t exactly attend regular school. It would be hard to explain their existence to the officials when they weren’t on any registry. Not to mention the fact that they didn’t seem to age. It came from being not exactly human.

Then again, Ichigo wasn’t entirely sure what to call himself.

As he slid into his button-up school shirt, he noticed the scar on his arm. White and nearly faded after the years but still present. It would never vanish completely, just like the memories. Always serving to remind him of that one precise moment where everything had changed. When he had lost his birth parents, his mother and Isshin, and his consummate humanity all in one fell stroke.

Finishing the last button, Ichigo grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He opened his door just in time to prevent Ururu from knocking gently on it, reminding him again that Keigo was waiting. Even after Ichigo had moved, Keigo and Mizuiru still came to his house first, despite the fact that it was out of the way. He didn’t quite get it.

Ichigo gently patted the quiet girl on the head. “Thanks, Ururu. I know,” he assured her as he shifted the weight of his book bag on his back. “See you later.”

“Have fun at school.” She beamed up at him, even as she lifted hands to quickly smooth her hair back into place.

Ichigo merely nodded and continued down the hall, nearly walking into utter madness. Sure enough, his father was at the table, watching his tea steam and yawning widely. He always woke to join them for breakfast, even if he immediately took a nap afterwards. Dad claimed that morning time was family time and left it at that. At the moment, he was not only missing his hat but his usual haori as well. Tessai was in the process of setting plates out on the table as Karin and Jinta tumbled into the kitchen just behind Ichigo, pushing by him.

“Morning,” Ichigo said generally as he twisted to avoid them.

“Eat something, Ichi-nii,” Yuzu replied back, deftly tying the bows over the bento. She had quickly adapted into this role, even if it wasn’t necessary. Ichigo suspected it was her way of coping, taking care of her family in their mother’s place.

“Don’t have time,” Ichigo responded and perfectly timed his steps to grab a piece of toast as it popped out of the toaster. “Gotta go.” He shoved a corner of the bread into his mouth, foregoing his usual layer of butter, as he headed to the door. Keigo tended to get antsy the longer he waited, and that was never fun to deal with.

Yuzu hurried to catch up to him, even as their father yawned loudly.

“Out late again?” he called after Ichigo, idly flipping a page of his paper and finally reaching for his cup. He looked tired and must have been up late himself, working on his most recent and strange invention.

“Something like that,” Ichigo returned, pausing at the door to slide his feet into his shoes.

Yuzu chose that moment to thrust his bento at him, grinning brightly. “I made your favorite today,” she informed him as Ichigo accepted the box and carefully stowed it in his bag.

Ichigo smiled softly at his sister. “Thanks. You should hurry, too. You guys shouldn’t be late either.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t!” Karin shouted from the kitchen, words a bit muffled due to the breakfast she was shoveling in at a breakneck speed. “Bye, Ichi-nii!”

After another round of farewells, Ichigo was finally free to pull open the door and step out into the cool morning. No doubt the day would warm up quickly, however. He wasn’t worried about catching a cold. And sure enough, both Keigo and Mizuiro were waiting for him just past the stoop, the former crouching down and poking disinterestedly at a lone stalk of grass.

“Ah, my hat!” was the last thing Ichigo heard before the door closed behind him. He shook his head and wondered why he hadn’t completely lost his sanity at this point.


A simple dodge was all it took to avoid Keigo’s overly enthusiastic greeting. He walked right by the other teen’s twitching form as he tripped over his own legs and crashed to the ground. His bag launched into the air, only to land directly on his head. Keigo groaned.

“Morning, Mizuiro,” Ichigo mumbled around his mouthful of toast, dropping some bread crumbs to the ground. It crunched as he took another bite.

“Good morning, Ichigo,” Keigo’s better half returned, idly munching on his own breakfast. This morning it was one of those fruit and granola cereal bars that Ichigo thought were pretty disgusting. “Did you finish that assignment?”

Ichigo scowled, thinking none-too-happily of the pages of vocabulary he’d forced himself to do before crashing last night. Imagine vocabulary at his age. It was ridiculous!

“Yeah,” he replied, idly scratching a hand over his arm. “Aren’t we too old for that stuff?”

“Totally!” Keigo interjected, leaping to his feet as though he hadn’t been rejected and springing up on Ichigo’s other side. “That’s why I didn’t do it. Ha ha!”

He continued to babble, but Ichigo only half-listened. He’d learned long ago that it was safer for his sanity if he only paid attention to Keigo every once in a while. The other teen had a habit of going off on long, unrelated tangents. Or spouting nonsense about the next busty female to walk into a room. He really was a strange kid.

Nothing truly out of the ordinary occurred on the walk to school. He thought he saw a flutter of black wings, a jigokuchou perhaps. But Ichigo was quickly distracted by the brief shiver of negative reiatsu and the distant roar of a Hollow; it was beyond his capacity to assist at the moment, however. No doubt by the time he arrived, the resident Shinigami would have already dispatched it. Even so, he’d kept his senses locked on the beast until he was certain it had been cleansed.

He’d seen the Shinigami before, enough to know that she was a woman, but that was about it. He’d made it a point not to cross paths with her since his existence would be rather difficult to explain. And he didn’t want his dad to be found either or for something to happen to Ururu and Jinta. So Ichigo purposefully avoided the woman’s vicinity. It was better that way. And he’d learned to be careful that she didn’t track him down either. He was sure that she was aware someone else was out there destroying Hollows – Ishida was guilty of that too – but so long as she didn’t trace it all to him, it was good.

Despite his late morning, they made it to the school on time for homeroom, saving all three from being counted as tardy. Keigo launched himself at Chad, the tall, half-Mexican enduring the aggressive embrace with the same patience in which he endured everything else. He tipped his head at Ichigo, who returned the gesture. And then, Chad shifted to pry Keigo’s stupid self off and tell Mizuiro that he’d done the homework, too.

Continuing further in, Ichigo greeted Tatsuki with a wave and received one in return. She was too busy to talk, however, in the midst of drop-kicking Chizuru away from Inoue again. It was like some sort of comedy act the three of them couldn’t resist performing each day.

For Ichigo, it was normality. It was something he came to expect, just like Yuzu’s bento and Keigo’s outrageous greetings. It was the familiarity of every day, something that helped ground him when his mind sought to remind him of that rainy afternoon six years ago.

“Your efforts at punctuality are meager at best as always, Kurosaki.”

And that cold and formal tone would be none other than Ishida. Dropping his bag down beside his desk, Ichigo slid into his seat and tossed the arrogant Quincy an annoyed scowl.

“Good morning to you, too,” he grumbled in return, not quite up for his usual spar and banter with the other boy.

Ishida reached up with a slim finger, sliding his glasses further up his nose so that the light made the lenses gleam menacingly. He really liked doing that. Maybe he thought it was intimidating or something.

“Like I would waste my breath on greeting a Shinigami,” the Quincy muttered under his breath with a distinct sniff. He folded his book closed with a quiet sound, stashing it away in his desk.

At the front of the room, their teacher strode in with a half-harried look as usual. The bell chose that moment to ring, causing the other students to hurry back to their desks, preparing to suffer another day of higher learning.

Ichigo rolled his eyes, leaning down to grab one of the notebooks from his bag and snapping it onto his desk. He and Ishida were reluctant acquaintances at best. They weren’t exactly friends, but they weren’t exactly enemies either.

It had all started when the bespectacled boy had wandered up to Ichigo years ago and said simply, “I know what you are.” At the time, Ichigo himself had barely understood what happened to him. His dad had tried to explain, but it was hard for his nine-year-old, grief-stricken mind to grasp. Ishida had put it in simpler terms.

He’d also spent the next several hours telling Ichigo about what it meant to be a Quincy and how important it was. Going on and on about how much he hated Shinigami and why… blah, blah, blah. It lasted long enough that Ichigo had just yelled at him about not caring because none of the past mattered to him. He hadn’t been there. It wasn’t his fault, and he didn’t have anything to do with it. He shouldn’t have to bear the burden or responsibility of something he couldn’t have helped.

Ever since then, they were reluctant friends of a sort. At any rate, they kept each other’s secrets. Ishida was the only one outside of his family who knew what Ichigo really was. What he did at night and the abilities he carried. He was also the only one who knew the truth about what had happened to Ichigo’s parents. It was an unspoken yet cherished bond.

And Ichigo would stab his eye out with Zangetsu before he would admit that aloud.

“All right. All right, pipe down,” Ochi-sensei demanded at the front of the class, waving one hand to get their attention. “Got some announcements for you guys.”

There was a chorus of groans throughout the room, though the class obediently settled. The morning hustle and bustle quieted, leaving plenty of room for Ochi-sensei to start speaking. It didn’t seem important to Ichigo, so he tuned her out and propped his head on the desk. He held a pen in one hand, just in case, and waited for something noteworthy to catch his attention. But his eyes were drawn to the window, the sky outside a dull grey. It looked like it was going to rain later. And he hadn’t brought an umbrella.

Ichigo really hated the rain. It made him remember.

There was a shudder, and then, the entire rock exploded into bits, sending a heavy cloud of dust and debris into the air. Ichigo panted, letting the tip of his zanpakutou rest against the ground as he wiped at a bead of sweat on his brow. That boulder was pretty well decimated at this point. He was getting a bit tired of training against rocks though.

He wondered if he could convince his dad to spar with him a bit. Or maybe Yoruichi-san would swing by for a visit, and he could bribe her into doing it. Sometimes, she was willing to break her retirement to go a few rounds with him. Though if he wasn’t careful, Tessai-san would get wind of his boredom and start teaching the higher levels of kidoh again. And Ichigo wasn’t that bored.

A spark of hunger burst to life in his stomach, and Ichigo straightened. It was probably time he headed upstairs anyway. As he dissolved his shikai, sliding Zangetsu back into his sheath, Ichigo flitted towards the massive ladder. It had surprised him the first time he’d been shown the huge underground space beneath the shouten. Now, it was just commonplace to him. His father was really strange.

A burst of shunpo later and Ichigo was climbing out of the basement, shihakushou clinging to him stickily. He realized that he would need a bath, even as he pondered if Yuzu and Karin had gotten home yet. A quick scan of the present reiatsu answered that question for him; they hadn’t.

Faintly golden eyes flickered to the clock on the wall, and Ichigo frowned. It was pretty late. Later than he thought it was. After dark. They were usually home by now.

Rolling one shoulder, which was stiff from swinging Zangetsu’s weight for the last couple of hours, Ichigo padded down the hall. Above him, he could hear the sound of the sky rumbling. The storm from earlier threatened to pour down again. He hoped his sisters came home soon; he didn’t want them caught in it.

Ahead of him, Tessai-san emerged from one of the storage rooms, poring over a supply book but looking up as Ichigo approached. “Are you injured, Ichigo?” he asked, noticing that the teen was now massaging the sore shoulder.

Ichigo shook his head. “Nothing a warm shower won’t fix. You haven’t heard from Yuzu or Karin?”

Tessai-san tapped the end of the pen against his chin as he considered. “Yuzu mentioned something about going to the park after school. I think Karin went with her.”

No doubt to protect their sweetly naïve sibling. Ichigo nodded in thanks and continued down the corridor, heading to his room where he would reclaim his body from the temporary soul. He hadn’t gotten but a few steps when the edge of his senses rattled with the distinct sensation of Hollow. And it was close.

A bad feeling, not unlike dread, settled in Ichigo’s stomach. The possibility that the Hollow was after his sisters was slim but not improbable. Karin could see them, which was a plus. But Yuzu only had vague feelings. And neither of them had any way to protect themselves from the hungry creatures.

Ichigo knew that he couldn’t just let this one slide. Not that he planned on doing so anyway. Worried, he hurried from his house and quickly leapt up to the nearest rooftop. It would be the quickest way to cross the city. The sky was dark above him, both with the threat of an oncoming storm and the just descended nightfall. As he flitted across Karakura, the sense of apprehension grew thicker until he felt his pulse race.

Ichigo trusted his instincts. He was certain they were in danger. A curse fell from his lips as he put in an extra burst of speed, even if it tired him out. He’d already lost his first parents; he was not going to lose his sister as well. Ichigo had promised to protect them. He would not break that vow.

Within seconds, the park was in sight. Ichigo wasted no time in drawing Zangetsu, calling to the forefront of his mind the easiest kidoh to throw. A sharp leap took him down to ground level with him crashing through a few tree branches before hitting dirt. The soil squished beneath his waraji. And then, he darted forward, able to feel his sisters now. Karin especially. She was angry… and scared. But there was another presence.

That Shinigami. The one who was supposed to patrol Karakura. And she was doing her job for once. Though he supposed he couldn’t blame her if taking care of all the Hollows in Karakura-chou – an unusual number as his dad had explained – was a bit difficult for one person. If she were fighting that Hollow, then everything was going to be fine. But just in case… just in case, he would check out the situation.

Ichigo burst out from under the trees just as a Hollow’s roar echoed through the air, making a chill race up his spine. He gawked at the sight of the huge creature. It wasn’t the first of its kind that he had seen, but it was definitely bigger than normal. A Huge Hollow. Maybe even close to Menos level. With claws already stained by blood and a massive mouth that was capable of swallowing him whole. He’d seen its kind before. Not that smart but definitely a nuisance.

His fingers tightened around Zangetsu as he searched for his sisters, finally finding them huddled together near a bench. Karin was throwing rocks at the Hollow, while Yuzu was cradling her head with blood streaming from a cut. Anger immediately struck Ichigo, and he moved without thinking, bursting into the clearing with his zanpakutou raised.

Hadoh no san-juu ichi, Shakkahou!” A burst of flame splattered against the side of the Hollow, burning its chalky-white skin.

The Hollow roared in agony and swung out with one meaty arm, smacking claws against the slim form of the Shinigami. The black-clad woman went flying backwards and snapped harshly against a tree. Her head struck with a solid thunk, and she slid down the trunk, blood dripping from multiple wounds.

“Ichi-nii!” Karin called out, noticing her brother’s presence. She waved frantically in his direction. “Help her!”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” he shouted back, already running to put himself between the Hollow and his sisters. Not that it was necessary.

The second the breadth of his reiatsu filled the clearing, the Hollow turned its entire focus to him. A long tongue licked its massive teeth hungrily, and it growled low in its throat. Disgust crawled over Ichigo’s body, mind helpfully recalling the gravelly, mocking voice of the Hollow that had killed his mother and Isshin. The gleam of hunger in that creature’s eyes matched the one before him.

Clenching his teeth to shake away the past, Ichigo lifted Zangetsu and charged. He leaped into the air to avoid a harsh swipe of its claw, the sharpened talon whistling as it cleaved empty space. The Hollow roared in aggravation as Ichigo rose above it, the tip of his blade already gleaming black and red.

It had tried to eat his sisters. It made Yuzu cry and bleed, made that look of fear enter Karin’s eyes, even after she had vowed to become strong. He didn’t want to waste time playing with this monster. He wanted it defeated. He wanted it dead.

His reiatsu spiked around him, eyes gleaming a stark silver as he drew on Zangetsu’s power. “Getsuga tenshou!” With a fierce swing, a harsh array of reiatsu poured from his zanpakutou, careening towards the Hollow.

The creature cried out, its roar rattling the ground as it batted futilely towards Ichigo. There was a second where the attack seemed to envelop its body in tendrils of red and black before the entire world shuddered, and the Hollow dissolved under the force of Ichigo’s reiatsu. Within seconds, nothing remained but the faint aftertaste of fear and regret. And hunger, always the hunger.

Panting a little, his shoulder twinging at the harsh swing, Ichigo landed softly on his feet. He grimaced as he sheathed Zangetsu, rubbing fingers over the aching muscle. His arm had never quite been the same after the Grand Fisher – as his dad had named that Hollow – nearly ripped it from the socket. It hurt at the oddest times, like now for instance.

Two forms suddenly slammed into him from behind, arms wrapped solidly around his waist.

“Ichi-nii!” his sisters cried out in tandem. Yuzu pressed her face to his side even as Karin looked up at him, determination battling with the fright that had struck her.

“You guys okay?” Ichigo kneeled to hug them tighter. His precious family, his dear sisters. And so close to losing them to another Hollow.

Karin seemed fine, if a little dirtied. But Yuzu’s forehead was still bleeding. Ichigo frowned, looking intently at the wound as his free hand searched for a handkerchief. He usually carried something for the occasional injuries he suffered. He carefully dabbed at the cut and was relieved to find that it was smaller than it initially appeared. Head wounds really did bleed more than others.

Yuzu sniffled loudly and rubbed at her eyes, trying to show the same strength as her twin. “She saved us,” the girl explained, gesturing towards the Shinigami, who hadn’t moved.

“I didn’t know that thing would show up,” Karin added with anger filling her tone. Not at the creature, however, but with herself. “I couldn’t do anything.” Her hands curled into small fists at her side, trembling from the force of her emotions.

Sighing, Ichigo left the handkerchief in Yuzu’s care, his sister wisely keeping it pressed to the injury. Tessai-san would have to heal it later. Ichigo would attempt it himself, but he didn’t trust his abilities for something that delicate. He hadn’t taken to his lessons in healing as well as those in swordsmanship and combat.

“Dad’s sure you’ll get powers soon, Karin,” he assured his little sister, slowly rising to his feet. He patted her head, despite the annoyed look she tossed him. “Don’t rush into it.”

Her hands lifted, clamping down on her hat to keep it from shifting around. “I know, I know. That’s not the point.” Her frown deepened. “If I had my own powers, I could protect myself and Yuzu.”

My, didn’t that sound familiar. Sometimes, Ichigo worried that he was having too much of an influence on her. He was the elder brother. It was supposed to be he who protected them. Yet, oftentimes, he felt it really was the other way around.

“You have to help her,” Yuzu interjected, lower lip trembling as she pressed the cloth to her forehead. “Shinigami-san protected us. She was hurt for our sake.”

Raking a hand through his hair, Ichigo resisted the urge to sigh. He really didn’t need to make contact with the woman, but Yuzu was right. If she was still alive, then Ichigo couldn’t just leave her to lay there and die. He owed her.

“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered and moved towards the spot where the Shinigami had fallen.

As he approached, he noticed that she was still breathing. She was injured but nothing seemed to be life-threatening. A few deep slices here and there, blood soaking both the ground and her shihakushou. But she was a Shinigami; it wasn’t quite enough to kill her. No doubt it was pretty damn painful though.

Ichigo crouched, shifting a bit so that the grey sunlight could fall on her face. For the first time, he was able to see the woman up close, and damn but she was a tiny thing. Barely bigger than his sisters. Maybe not even that. And she fought Hollows? She seemed far too delicate for this type of work with her pale skin and slender frame. It was like imagining Yuzu wielding Zangetsu on the battlefield.

“Hey,” he grunted, reaching down to gently tap the unconscious female on the cheek. “You still alive?”

She groaned, body twitching. One outstretched hand reached for her zanpakutou, just beyond her fingertips. Her eyelids fluttered, and then, dark blue eyes were attempting to focus. It was obvious she was having some difficulty. She sucked in a shuddery breath, startled at the sight of him.

“Kaien-dono?” the girl murmured weakly. But her eyes closed again, twitching fingers falling abruptly still.

Who the fuck was Kaien?

But Ichigo tossed the thought aside. It wasn’t important. She was obviously hallucinating due to the attack.

Ichigo twisted his jaw. “Hey! You! Don’t die here,” he growled in annoyance, giving her shoulder a shake. It was almost scary how tiny she was.

She didn’t wake again, however, no matter how much he shook her. And another poke to the cheek did nothing. The smell of blood in the air was now rather pungent. Though he could clearly see her chest rise and fall, it was obvious that medical attention was a necessity. She wouldn’t wake again without it.

“Shit.” This was really not what he needed right now.

Rising to his feet with a heavy sigh, Ichigo reached down and picked up the woman – well, girl really. It was what she resembled more. In one smooth motion, he had the unconscious Shinigami slung over his shoulder. She barely weighed more than one of his sisters, so it was an easy enough task. He tried not to think about the blood that was probably going to seep into his shihakushou. Oh well, he needed a bath anyway.

“Is she going to die?” Yuzu asked worriedly, twisting the red-stained cloth in her hands. Her large eyes shimmered with oncoming tears, ever concerned towards others.

Judging by the rattle of breath against his back, Ichigo didn’t think so. “Not if I can help it,” he answered because he honestly couldn’t tell Yuzu no. Those damn wobbly eyes were like secret weapons. No matter what she asked, he couldn’t deny her.

He had no choice but to take the injured Shinigami back to the shouten. He couldn’t just let her die. And his conscience couldn’t justify leaving her, hoping that her fellows would find her in time. Their father wouldn’t be overly thrilled, but he’d help. Ichigo could only hope that she wouldn’t ask too many questions. Or even better, they could heal her, toss her out, and never have to explain anything.

Ichigo scooped up the girl’s zanpakutou and slid it into the sheath for her. It would be easier to carry that way. Especially since he was going to grab Karin and Yuzu, too. After what happened, he’ll be damned if he was going to leave the two of them to find their own way home. So he reached down and tossed Karin over his other shoulder. She protested loudly but settled down once he had her situated.

“Not leaving you here,” he explained succinctly and reached for Yuzu, tucking her under his arm. The other he saved for steadying the unconscious girl.

Above him, the sky rumbled once more before deciding it was tired of simply threatening. With a sharp burst of lightning, careening across the clouds, they opened up, spilling rain down onto the hapless group of four. And every one of them without an umbrella.

Ichigo groaned. He’d have to hurry. He couldn’t have his sisters get sick. And he doubted the rain would help the Shinigami either. He flinched as the cold water dropped onto his head, immediately slicking down his hair and slithering down the back of his shihakushou. A preemptive shower.

“You’re overprotective,” Karin grumbled, tipping her head to the side and knocking into his with her own. But she held on anyway, her fingers tightly wrapped into his shihakushou. “Now hurry up. It’s raining.”

Ichigo, however, didn’t bristle at the comment. It might have been a tad bit true. But he’d already lost so much; he wasn’t about to lose his precious sisters, too.

Rolling his eyes, Ichigo checked that his burdens were secured and then shifted into shunpo. It was much faster than running, and by now, his sisters were used to it.

And then, they were on their way home.


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