Title: Dark Heart Dawning - Chapter Sixteen
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): Kyouyraku, Ukitake, Kurotsuchi, Nemu, Akon, Rin, Urahara, Yoruichi, Ririn, Kuroudo, Noba, Tessai
Disclaimer: Bleach characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others are mine.
Content Warning: AU; Canon/OC pairing
Shunsui sat on the small porch of his private quarters in Squad 8's barracks, drinking sake as he looked out over the well-manicured lawn. He held an old, faded photograph in his hand which wasn't currently busy holding the bottle of his beloved alcoholic beverage, occasionally looking at it and letting out a wistful sigh before taking another hearty drink from the bottle.
"It's not even noon yet," Juushirou said as he walked up to him from across the lawn. "Slow down or you'll be drunk before the captains' meeting this afternoon."
"Getting drunk was kinda the point," Shunsui remarked with a half-smile.
"Is that her?" Juushirou asked, pointing to the photograph in the other man's hand as he came to stand in front of him. Shunsui nodded, handing the picture over to him.
"I can't believe you still carry this with you, Shunsui," he remarked with a light chuckle.
"She was a special girl," Shunsui stated, removing his hat and setting it next to him. Juushirou laughed a bit more heartily as he took a seat on the other side of him on the porch.
"You've said that about every woman you've ever been with," he reminded him, looking the picture over once more. The woman in it was small and fair-skinned, with golden-brown hair that just barely swept the top of her shoulders. Her hair was held back from her face with a ribbon that was nearly the same shade of green as both her eyes and the dress she was wearing as she sat on the hood of a car, a smile gracing her lips which made her entire face light up with joy.
"I mean it about her, though," Shunsui insisted. "That smile of hers was like... a beacon in a world full of darkness."
"I don't believe I've ever heard you waxing poetic about a woman before," Juushirou commented as he handed the photograph back to his friend, mildly surprised.
"Everyone in that damn town was always so serious," Shunsui said as he took the picture back with a sigh. "Even when they were drinking. I suppose they really drank to forget how bad their lives were rather than to have fun. But her... She was always smiling and laughing, even though she had it just about as hard as all the rest of them. Said she refused to let the world get her down."
"You never did tell me her name, you know," Juushirou pointed out to him.
"I didn't?" Shunsui asked, looking at him in surprise. He assumed he had, since they had been best friends for half a millennium. Juushirou shook his head in response, his long white hair falling further into his eyes. "Oh... Well, it was Katja. Katja Yuriev."
"And you think this girl in Kisuke Urahara's care might be some relation of hers?"
"I don't doubt it one bit," Shunsui remarked, stowing the photograph away once more within the underside of the top of his hat. "The girl looks far too much like her not to be."
"Daria," Juushirou corrected.
"The girl's name is Daria," Juushirou informed him. "You know, perhaps you could speak to her and if she is related to your Katja she could arrange a little reunion between the two of you."
Shunsui let out a throaty chuckle. "I sincerely doubt she'd want to see me again, Juushirou."
"Why wouldn't she?" he asked, though he had a very good idea what his answer would be. Knowing Shunsui, he had likely made her all sorts of promises of a future together in order to coerce her into bed with him. Promises he knew he could never keep, especially with a human in the world of the living. Shunsui's eyes met his and his theory was wordlessly confirmed by the expression on his friend's face. Juushirou sighed heavily, closing his own eyes and shaking his head in mild disgust. "You never change, do you?"
"Even if I hadn't made her any promises, it's been nearly fifty years," Shunsui pointed out to him. "How the hell would I explain why I haven't aged any in that amount of time?"
"Hmm, fair point," Juushirou thoughtfully acquiesced. "Oh well, perhaps we'll never know for certain. However, the actual reason I came to see you is because I received word that Captain Kurotsuchi has just about finished his experiments on the samples Urahara sent him."
"Has he, now?" Shunsui drawled as he placed his hat back on top of his head, his interest piqued.
"Shall we go see what he's found out?" Juushirou suggested, standing up. Shunsui nodded in agreement, standing as well, and followed the other man away from the barracks and through the alleyways of the seireitei.
The two of them made their way toward the Department of Research and Development within Squad 12's area, stopping briefly at Squad 10's barracks so that Juushirou could invite Captain Histugaya to join them. The small captain politely refused the offer, saying he had double his normal amount of paperwork to do because his lieutenant had spent far too much time slacking off lately. When they finally reached their destination, they discovered a messily-scrawled note pinned to the outer door, reading: Do not enter on punishment of death. Shunsui merely laughed off the threat and pushed open the door, wandering right into the middle of the research facility with Juushirou close behind him.
"Can't you imbeciles read?" Mayuri sneered at them without turning away from the monitors at the front of the room. He didn't need to look to know who had invaded his sanctuary. Ukitake and Kyouraku always acted like they owned the place since they were two of the oldest and longest-standing captains in the Gotei 13.
"We came to check on the progress of your experiments, Captain Kurotsuchi," Juushirou politely explained, earning himself a glare of contempt. The head of the research department kept glaring at him until he leveled a gaze of his own at him, behind which the other man could sense the immense power the sickly captain actually possessed.
"Tch, very well," Mayuri conceded. "Report, underlings!"
"We have fully analyzed the reishi of the sample taken from the creature killed by Lieutenant Renji Abarai in the world of the living," answered Rin Tsubokura, his eyes glued to a glowing monitor in front of him. "In addition, we have compared the final analysis with that of the imprint taken by Kisuke Urahara of the subject's reiatsu."
"And what did you find?" Shunsui prompted.
"Both samples contained similar properties," Rin announced, attention still fixed on the screen before him as he brought up a pair of diagrams on one of the overhead monitors. "As you can see, it's not an exact match... but there are several key likenesses between the two."
Half a dozen different sections on the two diagrams shown on the overhead monitor lit up as he spoke, moving to the side to mirror one another and further emphasize their similarities.
"Interesting," Juushirou mused, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder what that means?"
"Additionally," Akon continued, standing behind Rin and looking over his shoulder, "we have just discovered another unusual property within the girl's reiatsu."
"Shut up, you nitwit!" Mayuri ordered, hands clenched angrily at his sides. It was too late, however, as both of the other captains had turned their attention fully toward the horned researcher.
"What sort of properties are we talkin' about here?" Shunsui asked.
"Do not tell them any more!" Mayuri ordered.
"If you don't tell us, I'm sure Yoruichi Shihouin will once you've given her your full report," Juushirou informed him, causing the other man to growl menacingly for a moment before giving up his argument.
"Fine, tell them," he spat before turning on his heel and stalking over to where his lieutenant had quietly been at work on another computer the entire time.
"Go ahead, Rin," Akon instructed, placing a reassuring hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"Right," Rin began, sounding a bit nervous. "It seems her reiatsu contains similar properties to that of a shinigami, as well."
"What are you saying?" Shunsui asked, blinking a few times as the information sunk in. "What, exactly, does that mean?"
"It's likely that she could have latent shinigami powers," Akon replied, turning to address him. "Much like we believe Ichigo Kurosaki did before he even came upon Rukia Kuchiki."
"But how could she have shinigami powers if she's human?" Juushirou wondered.
"She is not human," Nemu responded in a flat, emotionless voice. "The spirit ribbon she possesses is not white. It is black."
"That's right," Juushirou mused. "I remember you mentioning something about that before, Captain Kurotsuchi. But what does that mean?"
"That's what we're trying to find out," Mayuri snapped at him over his shoulder before returning his attention to the monitor where Nemu was working. Juushirou and Shunsui wandered over to where they were, standing slightly behind the other captain as they viewed the text that was quickly scrolling across the screen.
"Can she actually read all that?" Shunsui asked, pointing to the rapidly-changing words.
"Nemu possesses the ability to read close to one million words per minute," Mayrui stated proudly.
"Is this what I think it is?" Juushirou asked, pointing to the monitor.
"If you think that I have hacked into the Daireishokairo, then yes," Mauryi responded. "It was a necessary task in order to determine the exact origins of those creatures and the girl."
"And what have you found?" Shunsui questioned him, averting his eyes from the screen as the speed at which the words were flying by began to make him feel sick to his stomach.
"Nothing, yet," Mayuri answered, sounding quite annoyed. "Not a single file containing information about dark reiatsu or black spirit ribbons."
"Mayuri-sama," Nemu addressed her captain, and the three men turned their attention to the monitor before her once more.
"What is it, Nemu?" Mayuri asked, leaning over her shoulder to get a better look when he noticed the words on the screen had come to a standstill.
"I have located a file marked as classified information," she blandly announced. "How shall I proceed?"
"Decrypt it, you imbecile!" he instructed, smacking her hard up the back of her head. "You should know to leave no stone unturned in this search."
"Understood," Nemu responded as she set to the task, not even so much as blinking at the verbal or physical abuse bestowed upon her by her 'father.'
The three captains watched as she quickly worked, her fingers flying across the keys so rapidly that a normal human couldn't hope to ever be able to keep up. As they waited, Juushirou looked over at his best friend and found him with his hat pulled low to hide his face, one arm crossed over his chest while the other hand rested at his chin. To those who didn't know any better, it would seem as though he was starting to nod off, but Juushirou knew that look Shunsui was lost in deep thought.
"What's on your mind?" he asked him quietly, grateful for the fact that Mayuri was too busy berating his lieutenant to take notice of their conversation.
"That black spirit ribbon means she's not human or a shinigami," Shunsui muttered.
"So what do you think it means?" Juushirou asked, continuing to keep his voice down.
"I really don't know," Shunsui replied, lifting his head up to look at the other man with a hint of worry in his eyes. Juushirou gave him a reassuring smile, knowing that he was skirting around another issue by choosing to focus on the girl's spirit ribbon rather than the fact that her reiatsu had properties similar to those of a shinigami.
"The encryption has been broken," Nemu announced.
"And what does the file say?" Mayuri prompted in a condescending tone of voice.
Shunsui and Juushirou stepped closer to where they were in order to get a better look at the monitor themselves. Mayuri glanced at them and rolled his eyes, wondering why such idiotic old farts had so much interest in what was going on in the world of the living. Not just this time, but every other time something happened there they inevitably ended up in his lab, getting in his way and bothering him to no end.
"What the...?" Shunsui said, blinking in confusion.
"Well, this is certainly interesting," Juushirou remarked, raising an eyebrow.
Mayuri's jaw clenched and he began to grind his teeth as he stared angrily at the message in bold red letters flashing across the screen.
Kisuke sat in the back room of his shop, sipping tea as he, Tessai, and Yoruichi quietly discussed the findings of Mayuri and his squad. Yoruichi had once more grown overly paranoid at the news that Daria's reiatsu shared several key elements with the dark creatures that had been tormenting her. The last week she'd taken to following her around in her feline form everywhere she went, and he hypothesized that by the end of the month she'd be following her around in human form in anticipation of having to fight her.
Sighing heavily, he crossed his arms over his chest, his hands disappearing within his sleeves. Mayuri still hadn't been able to discover a cause or reason for Daria having an unusually-colored spirit ribbon. They had decrypted the file they had located within the Daireishokairo concerning the phenomenon, only to find yet another encryption lock on the document. So far, they had decoded thirty-seven different cryptograms each one slightly more difficult to crack than the next and still had nothing to show for it. It begged the question: What were the top leaders of Soul Society so desperate to hide?
"I told you she couldn't be trusted," Yoruichi repeated. She'd said the exact same words several times a day since Kisuke relayed the news he had received from Juushirou Ukitake an unusual source considering he only ever really had contact with the Department of Research and Development, and even then the messages were typically relayed through Yoruichi, Renji, or Rukia. Apparently, though, Mayuri had planned to keep the information to himself until he could provide a full report... which was taking much longer than expected due to the snag they'd run into.
"We still don't know that for sure, Yoruichi-san," he argued. A part of him still wanted to believe that Daria was of no threat to them, even though all signs were beginning to point to her favor rather than his own. Ukitake had also informed him that they had discovered Daria may have latent shinigami powers, and he had told Tessai and Yoruichi that, as well. She had replied by saying that Aizen had shinigami powers, too, not-so-subtly suggesting that Daria could be in league with him as she had originally thought.
Sighing once more, he looked up at the ceiling. They were seated almost directly under Ururu's room, which Daria was currently cleaning. He and Tessai had told her numerous times that she didn't need to do anything around the house, but she had insisted on taking on some of the chores as much out of obligation to her hosts as due to the restlessness she was feeling from being cooped up in the house all day nearly every day for the past month and a half. He closed his eyes and concentrated on her presence, trying desperately to sense whether or not she had any malicious intentions toward them. A loud thudding noise from above followed by a scream caught his attention, though, and his eyes flew open as he jumped to his feet and ran upstairs with both Tessai and Yoruichi in his wake.
"What's wrong?" he asked as he stormed into Ururu's room and found Daria sitting on the floor, looking terrified. She silently pointed in front of her and he followed her line of sight to a shelf just inside the door. Sitting upon the shelf were three plushies, two of which were trembling slightly while the third remained motionless but still appeared to be frightened.
Yoruichi sighed angrily. "I told you three not to alert her of your presence."
"We-We're sorry," the pink plushie in the middle replied. "She sneezed and I said 'gesundheit.' It was an automatic reaction."
"What are they?" Daria asked, her voice shaking a bit. "Are they possessed or something?"
"They're mod souls," Kisuke explained, going over and offering her hand, then pulling her to her feet when he took it. "Remember those little green pills that Rukia and Renji took? Sort of like them, only they each have an individual personality and possess special powers that are useful in combat."
"But... they're stuffed animals," Daria pointed out. "How well could they really perform in combat?"
"We have our own gigai, you know," the little bird on the right end said, sounding insulted.
"Yes," the turtle on the opposite end said.
"We just prefer to be in this form while staying here at the shop," the rabbit in the middle added.
"Speak for yourself!" the bird replied, smacking the rabbit up the back of the head with one wing and sending him toppling forward onto the floor.
"Now, now, Ririn," Kisuke addressed the infuriated bird. "I know you don't like being locked into that stuffed toy, but you don't have to take it out on Kuroudo."
"They all have names, too?" Daria asked, still a bit in shock.
"Of course we have names!" the bird stated, jumping down from the shelf to stand next to the rabbit, who was pulling himself to his feet. "I'm Ririn. This is Kuroudo, and that's Noba."
"Pleased to meet you," the turtle said, bowing slightly as he stood up on the shelf.
"Does this mean we can stop hiding now?" Kuroudo asked, looking hopefully at Kisuke.
"I'm not really sure why Yoruichi-san insisted on you three keeping a low profile, in the first place," Kisuke stated, giving the woman a questioning look.
"She said it was for the best," Ririn replied with a shrug. "That we shouldn't reveal all our secrets to her."
"And is this everything, now?" Daria asked, addressing Kisuke as her gaze flickered momentarily toward Yoruichi. "Or are there more surprises I should know about?"
"Well, actually-" Kuroudo began, but quickly stopped talking when Yoruichi narrowed her golden eyes at him in a threatening way.
"Actually... what?" Daria prompted, looking from the stuffed toy to Yoruichi, then back to Kisuke. "Kisuke, what else are you keeping from me?"
"Well," he began, reaching up with one hand to scratch the back of his head. "You see, Yoruichi-san here is-"
"Kisuke, don't you dare," Yoruichi warned. He looked over at her, the hand at the back of his head moving to the top of his hat and pulling it a bit lower to shield his eyes as he turned his attention back to Daria.
"She likes the ladies," he told her in a somewhat suggestive tone of voice. "And I daresay she's taken a keen interest in you." Both of the statements were true, but Daria had no way of knowing they weren't at all connected, and Yoruichi was able to keep her transformation ability a secret.
"I already knew that," Daria said, her cheeks tinging pink as she averted her eyes from the other woman. "The first part, anyway. And while I must say that I'm flattered about her being interested in me, I... sort of already have my eye on someone."
Kisuke blinked when her eyes shifted to him for a brief moment, a shy smile crossing her lips. He'd been mostly avoiding her since the night she spent in his room, deciding to heed Yoruichi's warnings until he could finally put her mind at ease about the girl. He expected that she would be annoyed with him for avoiding her after he'd been so nice to her while he would forget about the feelings he had been developing toward her, but now found that the exact opposite seemed to be true in both cases. He'd had to stop himself numerous times from going into her room to check on her and see how thing were and if she had been having any more nightmares. Mostly because he knew that if she said she had, he would likely offer to let her sleep in his bed with him and he knew if that happened, things were likely to progress out of control.
"That's a very nice necklace you have there, Miss Daria," Tessai remarked, gesturing toward the amulet which had fallen from within her shirt when she fell back onto the floor. Kisuke shook himself free of the lecherous thoughts that were threatening to enter his mind and turned to find her staring at the necklace as she held the emerald in the palm of her hand.
"Why is it that everyone's so interested in my necklace?" she wondered. "First Ururu and Kisuke and now you, Tessai. I don't get it. It's not that pretty."
"But it is rather unusual to see an uncut gemstone such as that," Tessai pointed out, reaching out with one of his large hands. "May I?"
"Sure," Daria replied with a shrug, going over to him and allowing him to examine the pendant. He stared silently at the symbol etched into the surface of the emerald, then gently returned it to its proper place, bowing slightly.
"Thank you. If you'll excuse me, I must go begin preparations for dinner."
Kisuke and Yoruichi exchanged a look as he left the room, both knowing he had at least an hour before he needed to begin working on their evening meal.
"Kisuke?" Yoruichi prompted, taking a step in the direction of the stairs, then stopping to wait for him. The curious cat inside her was itching to find out what was up with Tessai, but she wasn't about to leave him there alone with Daria. Even with the three mod souls present, it was hard to say what might happen in her absence.
"Are you alright now?" Kisuke asked Daria, placing a comforting hand on her upper arm as he moved to stand next to her, pushing his hat up a fraction of an inch with his other hand. Daria turned her head and looked up into his shaded grey eyes, nodding and smiling a bit once more.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she assured him. "I'll get used to these three."
"So, um... Can we stop hiding?" Kuroudo asked hopefully once more, never having received a proper response the last time he asked the question.
"Sure," Kisuke answered, prompting the two more exuberant plushies to cheer. "I see no reason for you to not be about the house as you were before. Just don't give Daria here a hard time, okay? She's our guest."
"You got it," the three of them called in unison as Kisuke turned and left the room, following Yoruichi downstairs.
They found Tessai sitting in the back room of the store once more, arms crossed over his broad chest and head bowed slightly with his eyes closed.
"That symbol," he stated before they could ask him what was wrong.
"What about it?" Kisuke asked, still standing just inside the doorway, his friend's words having stopped both him and Yoruichi in their tracks.
Tessai let out a deep sigh and raised his head, opening his eyes to look at the two of them.
"I know what it means."