Title: Dark Heart Dawning - Chapter Eighteen
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, Ichigo, Rukia, Renji, Tessai, Yoruichi, Orihime, Ururu, Chad, Uryuu, Daria Novikov (OC), Mullin (OC)
Disclaimer: Bleach characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others are mine.
Content Warning: AU; Canon/OC pairing
Daria stood outside the Urahara Shop, hesitating. Kisuke had told her to go back, that she would be safe there, but she was still nervous about going back inside. Yoruichi was in there, after all, and the woman hadn't exactly sounded like she wanted her there. Daria had known that of all the residents of the house, the other woman was her least biggest fan, but she had heard an even more caustic tone of voice than normal coming from her the last time she'd been in that house. That was why she was so wary about going back inside: She didn't want to have to deal with the stress of facing her on top of everything else that was going on at that moment.
"Hey, Daria!" called a cheerful voice behind her. Daria turned around to find Orihime and Ichigo walking toward her, hand-in-hand, the young woman smiling and waving in greeting while her companion looked embarrassed to have been caught together with her.
"Hello, Orihime," Daria greeted in return, "Ichigo."
"You remembered my name!" Orihime said, beaming.
"Of course," Daria replied, nodding. "So, when did you two get together?" she added, gesturing toward their hands.
"Huh?" Orihime said, looking confused, then glanced down and blushed as she slowly released her grip on Ichigo's hand. "Oh... We're not dating or anything. I guess I was just so excited when I ran into Ichigo that I grabbed his hand."
"I see," Daria remarked, unable to keep a small smile from creeping across her lips at the way Ichigo was being unusually quiet. She'd seen the boy a few times at the Urahara Shop since the day she first met him, and each time he'd been loud and talkative a lot like Renji, now that she thought about it.
"Urahara said he had some sort of big news to tell everyone," he finally managed to say, scratching the back of his head with the hand Orihime had just been holding onto. "Any idea what's going on?"
They seem to think I'm some sort of demon? Daria thought, doing her best to smile in spite of the current situation.
"I think he'd better tell you, himself," she told them, fidgeting a bit. "I'm not really sure what's going on."
It wasn't an out-and-out lie, but she didn't exactly feel comfortable telling them what was going on when she wasn't entirely sure herself what that conversation she'd stumbled upon had been all about.
"Are you okay?" Ichigo asked, his eyes narrowed slightly as he observed her seemingly nervous behavior.
"I'm fine," she lied again, forcing another smile. "Why don't we head inside? I'm sure Tessai's made some tea for everyone."
Orihime nodded in agreement and Daria made her way inside while they both followed. She wasn't at all surprised to find that she'd been right about Tessai waiting for them with a fresh pot of tea. He was a good host, after all, always doing his utmost to take care of whoever happened to stop by for a visit. Renji was also sitting at the table, and to her surprise Rukia was already there, seated at his side. Yoruichi had taken off, though, but her cat was curled up on the pillow Kisuke had been sitting on before. Her absence caused Daria to relax a bit, since it looked like she wouldn't have to deal with a confrontation with the other woman, after all.
"Here, Miss Daria," Tessai said as he stood and brought a steaming cup of tea over to her. "Drink this. It will help you relax."
"Is it drugged or something?" Daria asked warily as she took the cup from him.
"Not at all," he assured her. "It's a special herbal blend that the boss and I came up with."
Daria quietly thanked him and took a seat at the table on the other side of Renji, who scooted closer to Rukia when she sat down. Ichigo sat on the opposite side of her, and she wondered if he had done so in order to make it easier for them to restrain her, then she remembered that he didn't even know why Kisuke had called him to the shop.
"The others should be arriving shortly," Tessai announced as he remained standing. "Can I get either of you anything to eat?"
"Ooh!" Orihime exclaimed, waving her hand about in the air like a student eager to answer a question in class. "Do you have any more of those jam buns?"
"I believe so, yes," Tessai replied with a nod.
"I'll have some of those, then," she told him. "With ketchup."
Ichigo cringed and Rukia made a slight choking noise when Orihime placed her order. Tessai asked if anyone else wanted anything, but they all passed, slightly repulsed by the young woman's odd sense of taste. He nodded once more before disappearing to the kitchen to retrieve the treats, and both Uryuu and Chad arrived during his absence. The bespectacled boy voiced his own confusion over why they had all been asked to gather there when Ichigo asked if they knew what was going on, while his companion merely grunted as they both sat down at the table.
Tessai returned shortly, carrying a tray full of pastries with a bottle of ketchup balancing on the corner, and had just taken his own seat once more when they heard the front door of the shop open again. Ichigo turned his head to see who it was, though he knew it had to be Urahara since everyone else was already present. To his surprise, the shopkeeper wasn't alone.
"Don't try anything," he warned as he pushed a red-headed man ahead of him and closed the shop door behind them. The man was bound by some sort of kidou spell, and nearly lost his balance as he was forcefully led through the shop toward the back room.
Daria stiffened when the two of them entered the room, and Ichigo turned to find her staring at the man with a mixture of shock and fear in her eyes. He was about to ask her what was wrong when she suddenly jumped up from her seat and backed away from the two men who had just entered, stopping only because she ended up with her back against the far wall of the room.
"What is he doing here?" she asked, her eyes still locked on the stranger.
"He said if I brought him here to you, he'd explain everything," Kisuke replied, keeping a firm grip on the other man's arm.
"What's there to explain?" she wondered, her voice rising in anger. "He killed my mother, Kisuke!"
"No, Daria," Mullin argued, shaking his head. "I--"
"How the hell do you know my name?" she asked, cutting him off.
"I knew your father," he told her. "Please, just allow me to explain."
He took a step toward her and found the edge of Kisuke's sword pressed firmly against his throat. Swallowing nervously, he stepped back and looked down at the floor with a sigh, his eyes falling closed.
"Get him out of here," Daria demanded. "I don't want to hear a damn word he has to say."
She turned on her heel and began making her way out of the room, and Mullin began speaking to her in Russian. Kisuke didn't know what he was saying to her, but she had stopped dead in her tracks after the first few words left his mouth. He listened closely to what was being said, trying to figure out from his tone if it was a threat or not, and he suddenly recognized what the man was saying to her. He still didn't know what it meant, but he had heard Daria singing those very same words to herself on numerous occasions since she first came to live at his shop.
Daria turned back to them once Mullin had stopped speaking, her eyes full of tears, and Kisuke had to stop himself from going to her and asking what was wrong. Instead, he tightened his grip on Mullin's arm even more, pressing Benihime's blade against his throat once again. Whatever he'd said had upset Daria greatly, and if she ordered him to kill the man because of it he probably wouldn't hesitate to do so. The girl had been through more than enough pain in her life and didn't deserve some twisted psycho taunting her to the point of tears.
"How do you know that poem?" she asked him quietly.
"Your father was never very good at putting his feelings into words," Mullin replied, ignoring the pain being caused by the renewed grip his captor had on him. "I helped him write that poem for your mother."
"And why should I believe that? How do I know you're not lying?"
Mullin looked around the room at those present, his eyes lighting up with recognition when he noticed Tessai was seated at the table.
"Tessai," he said, nodding toward the large man and returning his attention to Daria. "Tessai can vouch for me."
"You know him?" Kisuke asked his longtime friend, who looked confused at the man's insistence that he could provide a good word for him.
"I've never seen him before in my life," Tessai stated.
"We've never met," Mullin told him, shaking his head a bit. "But Leonard told me all about you. He said you were the most talented expert at the demon arts he'd seen in nearly three thousand years."
"Leonard..." Daria repeated the name quietly, her eyes going wide.
"What relationship do you have with Leonard?" Tessai asked, narrowing his eyes slightly at the smaller man.
"I was his apprentice."
Tessai sat for a moment, thinking, then regarded the man carefully once more.
"Yes," Mullin said, smiling gratefully. "You do remember."
"He mentioned you a few times," Tessai said, nodding. "But I was under the impression that you were unable to cross the dimensional lines. That was why you didn't accompany him for my training."
"He stripped me of my powers," Mullin explained, turning his attention back to Daria. "He gave me a human form so that I could watch over you and your mother. He wanted me to keep both of you safe, but I failed. I didn't see the signs until it was too late, and by the time I got there... She was already gone, Daria. I couldn't save her. I'm so sorry."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Daria asked in a shaky voice, wrapping her arms around herself and backing away from him toward the hallway. "Turned you human? Crossing dimensional lines? My father..."
"Your father was Leonard, High Magus of the Black Arts and Third Demon Lord of the Underworld," Mullin told her. Daria shook her head, denying the information.
"My father was Leonard Novikov, a good man. He did not practice black magic and he most certainly was not a... a demon."
"If I may," Uryuu interrupted, raising a hand to draw their attention to him. "I must say that I believe him."
"What?" Daria asked, looking at him in disbelief. "You're actually buying this garbage?"
"I do not know if you are aware of this," Uryuu continued, undeterred by her anger, "but each living being possesses what is known as a spirit ribbon. In essence, it is that being's spiritual energy compressed into a thread tying it to the universe. They're colored differently depending upon the species of the being: humans are white, shinigami are red. Yours, however, is black. As is this man's."
"Are you saying they're both demons?" Ichigo asked, trying to follow everything that had been said thus far.
"If that's what a black spirit ribbon means, then yes," Uryuu answered.
"And according to the information we received from Captain Ukitake, that is exactly what it means," Tessai commented.
Kisuke watched Daria closely, concerned about how she was taking all of this. She merely stood just inside the doorway of the room, staring blankly at the floor before her as if in shock.
"Daria?" he called her name and she looked up at him. He could see in her eyes just how lost and confused she was feeling at that moment, the way she was desperately trying to deny what they were saying to herself while a part of her seemed to know it was all true.
"Your necklace, Daria," Mullin said, struggling against his bounds to reach up and pull aside his shirt and show her the symbol burned into his skin. "We wear the same mark. Your father's mark."
Daria reached up with one hand and pulled her necklace from inside her shirt, holding the large emerald that hung from the chain in the palm of her hand and staring at the symbol etched into it.
"Doesn't it seem strange that you've been wearing that since you were a baby, yet it has always fit you perfectly?" Mullin asked her. "Or that you've never been able to bring yourself to take it off, not even for a moment?
"It's not just a necklace, Daria," he told her. "It's a spell. Your father placed it upon you in order to protect you from his enemies."
"Enough," Daria said quietly, closing her hand into a fist around the medallion. "I've heard enough."
She turned and walked out of the room, heading upstairs, and Kisuke stepped away from Mullin to follow her, pausing in the doorway and turning to the others.
"You can release him from the binding spell, but keep an eye on him," he instructed them. "I'm still not entirely sure we can trust him, yet."
"Yes, boss," Tessai replied, standing from his seat and going over to undo the kidou that was binding Mullin.
Kisuke went upstairs and to Daria's room, finding the door open. He stepped inside, resting Benihime against the wall just inside the door, and crossed the room to where she was kneeling before the small altar she had set up for her parents.
"I knew," she said quietly as he knelt next to her.
"You did?" he asked her just as quietly, surprised.
Daria nodded. "I didn't know what, exactly, but I knew there was something... different. About me, about my father."
Kisuke didn't say anything. He merely reached out and stroked her hair in the same comforting manner he had that night in his room after she'd had the nightmare about her mother's murder. Daria leaned into his touch, sighing a bit and closing her eyes.
"When I was eight years old," she continued speaking, her eyes still closed, "I heard my mother and my grandmother talking late one night. My grandmother was saying something about how I should be told the truth, and my mother was arguing with her, saying that I wasn't old enough to understand and that it might scare me. Nana Katja told her I had a right to know who my father really was, what he was and what I was, but my mother insisted that it wasn't the right time."
She sighed again, a bit more heavily, and turned to look at him, her eyes still full of unshed tears.
"I didn't ask what they had been talking about, because I didn't want to get in trouble for being up past my bedtime and eavesdropping. Honestly, I'd forgotten about that night entirely until just now. Kisuke... What am I? Am I really a demon?"
Kisuke sighed and wrapped his hand gently around the back of her head, pulling her forward until their foreheads were touching. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on her reiatsu. He could feel that darkness deep within her, churning around, but his gut still told him she wasn't dangerous in spite of it.
"I don't know, Daria," he said quietly after a moment, shaking his head a bit, his eyes still closed. "But don't worry about it, okay? We'll figure it out. And as long as you're here, I promise I won't let anything happen to you."
Daria nodded and let her head fall down onto his shoulder, her arms wrapping around him and holding onto him almost desperately as she struggled with her newfound identity. Kisuke held her close, allowing her whatever comfort he could give in this situation, and pressed a gentle kiss to her temple. She raised her head slightly to look at him after he kissed her, and it was all he could do to prevent himself from giving her a proper kiss. She was already going through enough emotional and mental turmoil without him adding to it by further complicating their relationship.
"Are you going to be alright?" he asked her, brushing a stray lock of hair back from her face.
"I think so," Daria said, nodding and sitting back up, putting some distance between them once more. "I'd like to stay up here for a bit, though, if you don't mind. Sort through some things."
Kisuke nodded in understanding. He knew very well how she felt. He'd spent countless hours alone just thinking about his situation on numerous occasions, even back when he was still living in Soul Society. Sometimes people just needed that time alone to sort through their thoughts and feelings. A part of him wanted to bring her back down so she could hear what else Mullin might have to say, but he respected her need for solitude at the moment, and so he reluctantly released her from his embrace and stood from his seat on the floor, pulling his hat down firmly on top of his head.
"Take as much time as you need," he told her. "I'll keep Mullin here so you can talk to him once you're ready. I'm sure you'll have questions for him."
Daria nodded slightly, turning back to the altar before her. "Thank you."
Kisuke watched her silently for a moment before leaving the room, grabbing Benihime on his way out and closing the door behind him so she could have some privacy. With a sigh, he returned downstairs and found the others sitting quietly around the table, regarding their new guest with varying degrees of apprehension.
"Is Daria alright?" Orihime asked as he took a seat with them at the table, as concerned for the well-being of others as she always was.
"She'll be fine," Kisuke assured them. "She just needs a little time for this all to sink in."
"So... Daria's a demon?" Ichigo asked a bit awkwardly.
"Half-demon," Mullin corrected. "Her mother was human."
"But she looks so normal," Rukia remarked. "You'd think she'd have horns or something."
"You wouldn't have known her father was a demon, either, just by looking at him," Tessai told her.
"Yeah, I've seen his picture and he looked like any normal guy," Ichigo said, recalling the picture of her parents he'd seen in her apartment.
"That was one of Leonard's gifts," Mullin said, smiling almost proudly. "He was able to completely take a human form. It's a testament to his skills with the black arts that he could do so."
"So he didn't normally look like that?" Ichigo asked.
"No," Mullin replied, shaking his head. "In the Underworld, a demon will always be in demon form. The energies there prevent us from taking on any sort of human characteristics."
"Not to seem rude or anything," Uryuu stated, adjusting his glasses slightly, "but why should we even trust you? Especially if you're a demon."
Mullin let out a light chuckle. "I assume you're thinking that demons are all about evil and destruction, yes?"
"Well, that seems to be the general theme where they're concerned, yes," Uryuu replied.
"That is one of the biggest misconceptions ever," Mullin corrected him. "Demons are no more evil than humans. Granted, there are those who walk a less virtuous path... But you have that with pretty much any sort of living being humans and shinigami, as well. I blame the religious zealots of the world for distorting our image so badly."
"But if you're not evil, then how come I could feel so much darkness coming from Daria?" Renji asked. "It felt like I was being drowned in it."
"We may not be evil by nature, but there is still darkness within us," Mullin told him,chuckling. "We hail from the Underworld, after all. It's not a very pleasant place."
"So if you're not evil, and you don't believe in death and destruction of all, then what do you believe in?" Ichigo wondered.
"I'm sure you all know of shinigami, yes?" Mullin asked, waiting for them all to nod. "Well, the shinigami were once known as the balancers of the universe."
"Right," Rukia said. "They make sure there's a constant balance between the number of souls in Soul Society and the world of the living."
"Precisely," Mullin said with a nod. "In the same vein, demons have their own job to perform in the scheme of the universe. We're known as the punishers. It is our job to punish those who commit unforgivable acts during their time in the world of the living. Often times, we subject them to the same acts that landed them with us, in the first place. For instance, a murderer might be killed over and over again while a rapist would be violated in the same way as his victims. It's not exactly a pleasant job, but someone has to do it."
"Might I ask a question of you, Mullin?" Kisuke requested. The other man turned to him, silently waiting for him to continue. "I noticed you referred to Daria's father as the Third Demon Lord. What does that mean, exactly?"
"Just what it sounds like," Mullin answered. "There's a certain hierarchy of power in the Underworld. The King sits at the top, of course, followed by his ten Demon Lords."
"Great, another group of ten," Ichigo grumbled, recalling how there had also been ten Espada in Aizen's forces.
"Are they ranked by power?" Rukia asked, ignoring Ichigo's outburst.
"Not exactly," Mullin told her, shaking his head. "There is a differentiation of power between the ranks, but... Well, for example: The First Demon Lord is actually weaker than the Second Demon Lord. The Second is the strongest of the ten and commands the forces the the King's armies, while the First is essentially the King's right hand and most loyal supporter. The Third has always been the High Magus, while the Tenth is the Grand Seer."
"So each of them has a specific job?" Orihime asked, curious.
"No, just those four, actually. The others take whatever jobs the King gives them. Mostly, they're the ones who oversee the punishment of the unjust souls who come our way. And it's hard to tell where they rank amongst each other, according to strength. They're pretty much on par with one another, in that respect, but they each have unique abilities which could give them an advantage in certain situations."
"Just one more question," Kisuke said, holding up a finger. "What, exactly, were you sent to protect Daria and her mother from?"
Mullin sighed heavily, closing his eyes as his shoulders slumped in a defeated manner.
"There was a revolt shortly after Daria was born," he said after a moment, his voice quiet and full of regret. "Several of the Demon Lords decided to band together with the intent of taking on the King and showing him they had more power than him by doing the one thing he refused to do."
"And what might that be?" Kisuke asked.
"You're not saying..." Tessai stated, his eyes beginning to go wide.
"I'm afraid so," Mullin replied, looking across the table at the large man.
"What?" Kisuke wondered, looking back and forth between the two of them. "Tessai?"
"They're going to attempt to rule the world of the living," Tessai said grimly.
"I thought you said demons weren't evil?" Ichigo asked.
"Now, now, Ichigo," Kisuke tried to calm the young man. "Just like Mullin said, there's always a few bad apples in every bunch."
"Like Aizen and his lackeys in Soul Society," Renji pointed out before turning his attention to Mullin, as well. "So how many Demon Lords we talking about in this revolt?"
"Seven," Mullin replied.
"Seven?" Ichigo exclaimed loudly. "That's almost all of them!"
"I am aware of that," Mullin said with a weary sigh. "Honestly, I can't believe Alocer was able to convince them all to do it. Especially the Grand Seer. He's always been a pacifist."
"Who's Alocer?" Chad asked, saying his first words since arriving at the shop.
"The Second Demon Lord," Mullin told him.
"Wait, so... Let me see if I got this straight," Ichigo said, sounding angry. "There's a revolt going on in the Underworld, with nearly all of the Demon Lords involved in trying to take over mankind, and it's being led by the one who's in charge of all the armies of hell?"
"Not quite," Mullin said, seeming a bit reluctant to correct him.
"Where am I wrong?" the substitute shinigami asked in a demanding voice.
"They're not in the Underworld any more," Mullin admitted. "They're here, in the world of the living."
"What the..." Ichigo stuttered in shock.
"How?" Renji asked, just as surprised.
"I thought it wasn't possible," Orihime said, confused.
"Are they all human now, too?" Rukia asked, recalling that Mullin himself shouldn't have been able to cross the dimensional line, either.
"It's a complicated manner," Mullin told them, holding up his hands to silence them as they all began speaking at once. "One that links directly to Daria and the death of her father. I would rather not discuss it without her here."
"Think she's up to hearing about all this, Urahara?" Ichigo asked the shopkeeper. He had noticed how shaken up Daria was before, and realized she probably needed some time to come to terms with everything she had just learned, but he was anxious to find out exactly what was going on and how bad things were going to get.
"I don't know," Kisuke replied, shaking his head. "She's probably asleep right now, judging by the way the level of her reiatsu has gone down as we've been talking here. I'd hate to wake her, after all she's been through today, but... She deserves to know the truth, about everything."
He sat quietly for a moment and contemplated whether it was worth upsetting her any further or if they should wait until morning before bombarding her with all this additional information about her lineage. Deciding that maybe it would be best to get things out of the way, he tuned toward the doorway of the back room and called for Ururu.
"Yes, Mr. Kisuke?" Ururu asked, stepping into the doorway the instant she'd been called, Jinta at her side.
"I take it you two heard everything we've been talking about?" he asked. The small girl blushed and the boy looked a bit sheepish, both of them embarrassed that he'd caught them snooping. "Not to worry, I'm not angry. I was hoping you could go and check on Daria for me. Ask her if she's feeling up to hearing about her father. If she's too tired, let her sleep, though."
He had decided it would be best if Daria got to make the decision herself whether or not they continued the conversation. It was her life and her family they were discussing, after all.
"Right away," Ururu replied, bowing slightly before heading upstairs to check on Daria. A minute later she called frantically for someone to come upstairs.
Kisuke leapt to his feet and bolted out of the room, his heart hammering in his chest as he became filled with a sudden sense of dread. There was another reason her reiatsu could have been dropping off the way it had been, but he hadn't thought she was in a fragile enough state to do something as drastic as taking her own life. When he reached the hallway outside Daria's room, he found Ururu standing by the bed in the center of the floor, pointing to the open window.
Daria had left.