Title: Dark Heart Dawning - Chapter Twelve
Summary: With Aizen on the mend following the Winter War, all seemed peaceful in Karakura Town... Until a new type of enemy arrived and reared its ugly head. It all started with the arrival of a woman...
Pairings: Urahara/OC; Renji/Rukia; Ichigo/Orihime; implied Yoruichi/Soifon
Characters (This Chapter): Urahara, Renji, Tessai, Ururu, Jinta, Daria Novikov (OC)
Disclaimer: Bleach characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others are mine.
Content Warning: AU; Canon/OC pairing; angsty Urahara
Ururu hummed to herself as she swept the floor of the shop the way she always did in the afternoon, wondering how she'd managed to let Jinta talk her into taking over his turn to clean this time. They were supposed to take turns with their chores, alternating days according to a schedule Tessai had written up and taped to the refrigerator in the kitchen, but somehow she always ended up being the one to do the cleaning while Jinta merely sat around and watched or pretended he was some sort of baseball hero.
Seeing an empty wrapper on the floor, she paused in her sweeping and bent down to pick up the piece of paper, then let out a sharp cry as she was struck in the back of the head by Jinta's fist.
"What are you doing?" the redheaded boy demanded, standing behind her with his hands on his hips in a superior manner. "You better not be slacking off."
"I was just picking up this piece of paper, Jinta," Ururu explained meekly, holding up the wrapper for him to see.
"Hey, that's a wrapper from one of our products," Jinta remarked, snatching the paper out of her hand. "Don't tell me you've been sneaking treats from the store without the boss' permission."
"No, Jinta," Ururu insisted, snaking her head. "I would never do something like that."
"Yeah, you're right," Jinta agreed, frowning as if he was disappointed that she hadn't been the culprit. "I'll bet it was that damn moocher who ate it."
"You really should be nicer to Mr. Renji," Ururu told him. "He's a lot bigger and stronger than you."
"I can take that punk on, any day," Jinta stated proudly, puffing out his chest. "Just let him try. I'll whack him so hard he'll wake up next year!"
Ururu giggled, covering her mouth with one hand, and Jinta turned his attention toward her, glaring.
"Are you laughing at me?" he asked, his mouth set in a tight scowl.
"N-No, Jinta," Ururu stuttered, struggling to bring her laughter under control. "Of course not."
"You are!" Jinta yelled, pouncing on her. Ururu ducked, trying to avoid him, but he managed to wrap his arm around her, holding her back against him as he forcefully dug his knuckles into the top of her head.
"Ow! Jinta, stop! I'm sorry!" she cried out, tears springing to her eyes as he continued his assault, laughing maniacally.
The laughter died suddenly in his throat when he felt a large hand close around the collar of his shirt, lifting him up into the air until his legs dangled several feet off the ground. Swallowing nervously, he turned his head and found Tessai's dark eyes boring into his, the glare of the sunlight reflecting off his glasses making him seem all the more menacing.
"Jinta," he said, his deep voice stern. "Why aren't you doing your chores?"
"I-I was just punishing Ururu for slacking off," the boy replied, his voice breaking slightly.
"But it is your turn to sweep the shop, not hers," Tessai reminded him.
"Yes, sir," Jinta immediately agreed, nodding his head fervently. "Of course! Right away, sir!"
He squirmed until Tessai set him back on his feet, then snatched the broom from Ururu's hands and quickly began sweeping up the shop, laughing nervously. Ururu merely watched him for a while, a small smile tugging at her lips, then she turned her attention toward Tessai and bowed to him in thanks.
"Thank you, Mr. Tessai," she told him.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, keeping an eye on Jinta to make sure he was still sweeping.
"I'm fine," she assured him, nodding.
"Does he always act that way?"
Ururu blinked and looked around the large man to find Daria leaning in the doorway leading to the back room of the shop. She hadn't even known the woman was there until she spoke.
"Jinta is always rough-housing with me," Ururu told her. Daria made a thoughtful sound and stepped forward until she was standing next to Tessai, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched the young boy scurry around the shop, a smile slowly forming on her face.
"Ururu, do you know why little boys pick on girls?" she asked the girl, loud enough so that Jinta would be sure to hear her.
"No," Ururu replied, shaking her head.
"They pick on girls because they like them and they don't know how to express their feelings."
Jinta froze when her words reached his ears, his entire face turning the same color as his hair.
"Tha-That's not true!" he stammered, his blush deepening even more each second. "I don't like her!"
"Are you sure Jinta?" Daria teased him as she walked over to where he was standing. "By the way you're blushing, I'd say you were madly in love with her."
She bent down and pinched his cheek, grinning at him, and he slapped her hand away before sprinting off in the direction of his bedroom, leaving her laughing in his wake. Tessai also allowed himself to chuckle a bit, placing a large hand on top of Ururu's head and gently mussing her hair.
"Do you really think he likes me, Miss Daria?" the girl asked, her eyes wide in shock at the revelation.
"Maybe," Daria told her, shrugging. "But I know one thing's for sure: He'll definitely think twice before the next time he teases you."
Daria winked at Ururu and she giggled in response, skipping over to where Jinta had dropped the broom in his haste to get out of the room, and resumed the sweeping where he had left off. She knew it was really his duty to do the cleaning, but she didn't like to leave things unfinished and her responsible nature wouldn't allow her to just let the remainder of the store be left unswept.
"So what are you planning to do today, Miss Daria?" Tessai asked as she sat down at the back of the store with a sigh.
"Nothing, I guess," she replied, sounding bored. "Same as every other day I've been here."
Over a week had passed since she first came to stay at the Urahara Shop, and each day had been as uneventful as the one before it. Kisuke had been locked up in his workshop all week, so she hadn't seen or heard from him since the day she took his breakfast to him which was probably a good thing, considering what had happened between them that morning. Thankfully, she hadn't seen Yoruichi since then, either, but that cat of hers always seemed to be following her around, watching her. She had offered to help with the household chores, saying she didn't want to just stay there without earning her keep, but Tessai had insisted that she was their guest and there was no need for her to do anything. That had ticked off Renji, who grumbled about how Jinta always made him do things around the house even when he was busy with his shinigami duties.
"Say, where's Renji?" she asked once she realized she hadn't seen the redhead all morning.
"He's out patrolling," Kisuke stated as he stepped out of the back room, coming to stand beside where she was sitting. "Someone has to keep an eye out for hollows while Ichigo is in school, after all."
"Have you completed your research, Urahara-dono?" Tessai asked as Kisuke took a seat next to Daria, pulling out his fan and flicking it open.
"Not quite," he replied, lazily fanning himself. "I still need some more materials. Daria, would you be so kind as to go into town and get them for me?"
Daria turned toward him, blinking in surprise. "But I... Those things..."
"Don't look so worried," Kisuke told her, chuckling. "Ichigo and the others have been looking for them all week and have found no signs of them anywhere. There hasn't been any activity from the hollows, either, so I think it's safe to say you'll be alright going out for an hour or so."
Daria gave him a skeptical look, then turned to Tessai. The large man nodded, silently assuring her that Kisuke knew what he was talking about, and she stood up with a sigh.
"Fine," she conceded. "It'll be good to get out of the house, anyway. What do you need?"
"Here," Kisuke said, pulling a folded piece of paper out of the sleeve of his overcoat. "Everything I require is written on there."
Daria unfolded the piece of paper and looked the list over, raising an eyebrow.
"This is a grocery list," she pointed out, flipping the list over so Kisuke could see what was written on the page.
"Of course!" he said, nodding as he snapped his fan shut and pointed it at her. "You can't expect me to continue to work on an empty stomach, can you?"
Daria rolled her eyes and held out her hand toward him, palm-up. Kisuke leaned over her hand, looking at it quizzically for a moment before raising his gaze to hers.
"You don't expect me to pay for it, do you?" she asked. "After all, you made me quit my job, remember?"
"Ah, of course not," Kisuke replied, straightening his posture and snapping his fingers. Tessai brought forward a small metal lock-box and opened the lid, producing a stack of bills from inside and holding them out toward her.
"I'm not sure I even want to know how you made this money," Daria said as she took the bills from Tessai's hand, counting out a few before placing the rest back into the lock-box.
"Are you suggesting that we obtained our financial security by ill-gotten gains?" Kisuke asked, once more opening his fan and hiding his face behind it.
"I haven't seen a single customer enter this shop since I got here," Daria pointed out. "You got this money somehow. I'm just saying I don't want to know how."
She looked down at the list in her hands and mentally calculated how much the requested ingredients would cost, then recounted the amount of money she had taken. Satisfied that it would be sufficient to cover the costs, she nodded to herself and wandered back into the house to grab her jacket and slip on her shoes.
"I'll be back soon," she called over her shoulder as she left the store, tucking the money into her jacket pocket.
"Take care!" Kisuke cheerfully called after her, waving with his fan. The smile fell from his face as soon as she closed the door behind her, and he turned his attention toward Tessai.
"I thank you for not trying to go in her place, Tessai-san," he said, his expression serious.
"I figured you had a reason for sending her, instead of asking me to go," the larger man replied.
"I do," Kisuke told him, smirking a bit. "Hopefully, Renji isn't slacking off somewhere. I would hate for the girl to end up injured again."
Daria sighed as she shifted the bag of groceries she was carrying in her arms, brushing some hair that had come loose from her ponytail out of her eyes. She had been nervous at first about going out alone, but thankfully she hadn't come across any hollows or those other creatures during her trip to the market. Only a few more minutes, and she would once more be back within the safe confines of the Urahara Shop.
She hated being trapped there, but she was relieved that she had finally found a place where she didn't have to worry about what was on the other side of the door when she came home. She would never admit that to Kisuke, though. It would likely go to his head and cause him to be even more insufferable. She could just imagine him hanging all over her, flirtatiously insisting that he was her 'hero' and Yoruichi standing nearby, giving her a deadly glare.
A shudder ran down her spine. The idea of being faced with Yoruichi again after their last confrontation filled her with cold dread. Her arm was still marked with finger-shaped bruises where the other woman had grabbed her after catching her and Kisuke in that compromising position. He'd provided a believable excuse, but she was sure the woman didn't really buy it even if she did let her go. Part of her wondered if that was why she hadn't seen the other woman since that morning. Perhaps she and Kisuke had had a particularly nasty fight and then Yoruichi had taken off.
The shudder ran down her spine once more, and Daria stopped walking as she realized it wasn't being caused by the memory of Yoruichi's stony glare. She remained completely still, listening carefully to her surroundings. A cool breeze blew in her direction, bringing with it the scent of death, and then she heard it: the unmistakable sound of a hollow roaring nearby. She knew she should get the hell out of there, and that she could probably make it back to the shop before the hollow made it to her current location, but it was as though her feet were cemented into place.
"Look out!" Renji called, running up behind her. Daria quickly stepped out of the way as he sprinted past her, his sword at the ready, and gasped softly when it came into contact with a hollow that she swore hadn't been in front of her only a moment before.
"You're good," the hollow said, holding Renji's sword in its fist. "I thought I had perfectly hidden my presence."
"Then you don't know who you're dealing with," Renji replied, grinning.
"You're right, I don't," the hollow said, sounding bored. "Care to enlighten me?"
"I am Renji Abarai, Lieutenant of Squad 6 and your personal executioner."
The hollow threw back its head and laughed heartily, causing Renji's grin to widen even more.
"Something funny?" he asked.
"Just that a puny little shinigami such as yourself thinks he can defeat someone such as me with that pathetic sword."
"You're right," Renji said. "I almost forgot... Howl, Zabimaru!"
The hollow's triumphant laughter died off as the sword in its hand transformed into its shikai state, and Renji let out a slight grunt of exertion as he used his reiatsu to extend the segments and sent the end of the blade crashing into the hollow's head. Caught by surprise, the hollow released its grip on the sword and Renji brought his hand down in a sharp movement which caused his whip-like weapon to arc and slice through the dumbfounded creature.
"That was too easy," he said confidently as he resealed his zanpakutou's power and placed the katana back into its sheath. Daria agreed. That hollow had been defeated entirely too easy, and despite the fact that it was now disintegrating into the air, she could still feel that chill at the base of her spine.
"Renji, look out!" she called as she saw the three dark creatures pounce onto him from above. Renji looked up, his hand going back to the hilt of his sword, and pulled out his zanpakutou just in time to slice through one of them before it sank its teeth into his face. The attack left him wide open, however, and the other two managed to overpower him and wrestle him to the ground.
"Stop it!" Daria yelled, dropping the bag of groceries and running toward where Renji had fallen. She knew she couldn't take them on her own, but hoped that maybe she could distract them enough so that Renji could once more gain the upper hand and defeat them.
One of the creatures turned to look at her, its glowing red eyes causing her to stop dead in her tracks. It continued staring at her, growling in the back of its throat, its head tilted to one side as if it was actually considering what she had said.
"Leave him alone," she told it, her voice quiet and afraid. She knew that if those things came after her, she probably wouldn't be able to get away fast enough to avoid being injured, but she had survived a brush with death once already and had faith that Tessai would be able to heal her a second time as long as she didn't end up dead for her trouble.
The black creature tilted its head more, then bent low to the ground. Daria thought it was about to attack, but then it turned to the other creature that was holding Renji down and made another strange, growling noise. Then, suddenly, both of the creatures let Renji go and took off running down a dark alley. Daria remained frozen to the spot for a moment, marveling at what had just happened, then continued over to Renji and knelt next to him as he sat up, groaning.
"Are you alright?" she asked, looking him over. He didn't seem to be injured at all, merely dazed, and he shook his head as if he had just come to after passing out.
"What the hell just happened?" he asked in return, looking at her. "Are you alright, Daria? I tried to fight off those things, but their presence just knocked me dead on my ass."
"What are you talking about, Renji?" Daria wondered. "What do you mean about 'their presence'?"
"You mean you didn't feel that?"
"Feel what?" Daria asked him, confused.
"Nothing, just forget it," he insisted, pulling himself to his feet and brushing the dirt off his clothes. He then pulled a small glass vile from within the folds of his shihakushou and pulled the stopper out of it, bending down to collect some of the black ooze that was left behind by the creature he had killed before it could completely disappear into the ground. Satisfied with the sample, he recapped the vial and stashed it away once more before standing and heading toward the groceries Daria had dropped.
"Come on, let's get back to the shop," he told her, picking up the few items that had fallen out of the bag and placing them back inside before lifting the sack up to carry it for her. "Kisuke will be wanting this sample right away."
"Kisuke..." Daria said his name under her breath and mentally replayed what had just happened, as well as everything he had told her before about hollows.
"Dammit," she swore, standing from her kneeling position and turning toward Renji, her eyes narrowed angrily. "This was a setup, wasn't it? He knew I would be attacked again if I went outside, didn't he?"
"I, uh..." Renji muttered, scratching the back of his head with his free hand and shrugging. "I don't know. All he told me was to be on the lookout for one of those black creatures and to get a sample of one after I'd killed it."
"I'm going to kill him," Daria growled, turning on her heel and storming off in the direction of the Urahara Shop. Renji watched her silently for a moment before following her, wondering if perhaps he should be genuinely afraid for the former captain's life.