Title: Dark Heart Dawning - Chapter Four
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: Kurotsuchi, Ukitake, Kyouraku, Unohana, Yamamoto, Yoruchi, Urahara
Disclaimer: Bleach characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others are mine.
Content Warning: AU; Canon/OC pairing; modsoul plushies (from Bount arc)
"Ahh... Thank you all for coming."
Mayuri Kurotsuchi, Captain of Squad 12 and Head of the Department of Research and Development, sat in his usual chair before the various monitors in his dark office, grinning like a Cheshire cat with his white hands steepled before him. His gold eyes moved slowly from one person to the next as they stood before him, wondering why she had asked him to question these, of all people. He supposed it was because they had served the longest as captains within the Gotei 13, but he sincerely doubted a single one of them would be of any real help. Kyouraku was a drunkard who spent more time chasing women and napping than he did doing any actual work. Ukitake was sick so often that it would probably be more beneficial to speak to his subordinates than to him. Unohana was from Squad 4 useless, the whole lot of them... The only one who might be able to glean some information on the situation was the Captain-Commander.
"What is it you have asked us to come here for?" Ukitake asked in that slightly-raspy, yet somehow haughty-sounding tone of voice of his that annoyed Mayuri so much.
"The four of you have served the longest as captains in the Gotei 13," he informed the group.
"Well over 200 years, a piece," Kyouraku bragged, causing Mayuri's eye to twitch involuntarily. How a man that idiotic had managed to stay a captain so long, he'd never know. Probably some sort of favoritism on the Captain-Commander's part.
"As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted," he continued, shooting a pointed glare at the flamboyantly-dressed captain. "There have been some interesting developments in the world of the living, and I have been requested to look into them by Yoruichi Shihouin."
He fell silent for several long moments after that, allowing the information to sink in for them. The looks on their faces gradually changed from ones of calm confusion to looks of well-concealed worry and fear.
Good, he thought, grinning even more. They've got the picture.
"As you no doubt have finally realized, this may mean that Aizen has already returned to full power. I have been sent a document detailing a first-person account relayed by Ichigo Kurosaki to Kisuke Urahara concerning the unexplained appearance of a new type of spiritual being. However, just because that brat doesn't know what he had been put up against doesn't mean we have no idea what these creatures may be... And that is where you all come in."
He swiftly turned back toward the computer terminal, his fingers flying over the keys as he kept speaking.
"I have entered the data based on the description given by Kurosaki, and have come up with a preliminary model of what these creatures probably look like," he announced seconds before a picture popped up on the main screen above his head.
Unohana gasped softly at the sight before them. The creature looked almost like a human that had been burned beyond recognition, and it possessed glowing red eyes and a snout full of razor-sharp teeth which Mayuri had played up a bit by adding some bloody drool in order to achieve an even more menacing and evil effect.
"Behold!" he announced, throwing his arms up into the air as he cackled. He had no information on the creature in his data banks, but just the knowledge that there was something out there he had yet to come across and experiment on was enough to make him giddy with excitement.
"What the hell is that thing?" Kyouraku drawled, his upper lip curled a bit in disgust.
"I do not know," Ukitake replied quietly.
"What about you, Yama-jii?" Kyouraku asked the Captain-Commander. "You're the oldest one here. This thing look at all familiar to you?"
The Captain-Commander made a thoughtful sound deep in his throat, then remained quiet as he pondered the situation. The other three captains watched him expectantly, wondering if perhaps he did know what they were going up against.
"I'm sorry, but I cannot recall ever seeing something such as that before," he finally said after a lengthy amount of meditation. "In all my years as a shinigami, I have never witnessed an attack by such a monstrosity."
"That is not all," Mayuri told them, still facing his terminal. He hit a button and another image came up on the overhead screen: A picture of a young woman, apparently sleeping.
"This picture was taken by Lieutenant Renji Abarai of Squad 6," he informed the group. "The girl you see here was present at the hollow attack during which those creatures first appeared. The hollow managed to injure her rather severely, but she was saved by Kurosaki and healed by Tessai Tsukabishi. She is currently unconscious and regaining her strength at the Urahara Shop."
Ukitake secretively cast a glance to his right, taking in his best friend's reaction to this latest development. Kyouraku was unblinkingly staring at the picture, his mouth slightly agape. Ukitake nudged him gently in the arm, careful not to let the rest of the captains notice the interaction, and the other man quickly pulled himself together and was once again the perfect picture of laid-back contentment.
"What does she have to do with this, Mayuri-san?" Unohana inquired, her sapphire eyes moving back and forth between the picture of the girl and the one of the unusual creature.
"According to Yoruichi's report, her reiatsu is unlike anything she has ever experienced in her life," Mayuri stated, sounding a bit bored. "She said, and I quote, 'It feels like there's this subtly dark, foreboding presence lurking beneath her skin'. Also, she mentioned that the Quincy boy was able to see this young woman's spirit ribbon, and instead of it being the usual white of a human, it was black."
The Captain-Commander's eyes almost imperceptibly opened briefly upon hearing this news, but a moment later he had recomposed himself and tapped his walking stick on the ground before him in order to draw the attention of the others to him. Even Mayuri swiveled around in his chair in order to see what the head of the Gotei 13 had to say.
"This is not the work of Sousuke Aizen," he stated confidently. "I do not know what this girl may be capable of, however, so please inform Miss Shihouin to keep a close watch on her at all times once she has regained consciousness."
"Understood," Mayuri replied, then turned back to his terminal and began tapping away frantically at the keys in order to relay the message as soon as possible.
"Let us go, then, and leave Captain Kurotsuchi to his work," the Captain-Commander suggested, turning and walking out of the room. Captain Unohana followed closely behind, head bowed respectfully as she traveled in the old man's wake. The remaining two captains lingered behind them, and Ukitake waited until they were far enough away from Mayuri's lab to be out of earshot of any devices he might have set up for eavesdropping on those around him before turning to address his companion.
"Are you alright, my friend?" he asked, sounding concerned.
"It was like seeing a ghost," Kyouraku remarked, his own voice unusually quiet. He stopped walking and closed his eyes, sighing heavily.
A picture formed in his mind, this one entirely different from the one they had just seen. A girl with shoulder-length light brown hair held back by a pale blue ribbon smiled shyly at him, a blush gracing her fair cheeks. He could still hear her laughter, even now, ringing in his ears like the sweetest music that had ever been written. And those eyes...
Kyouraku sighed again and opened his eyes, then kept walking toward his division's grounds, in desperate need of a drink. The girl's eyes had been closed in that picture, but he was willing to bet an entire year's pay that when she opened them, they would be green.
Yoruichi stared at the girl's sleeping face as she sat on her chest in her feline form, tail wrapped neatly around her legs and eyes narrowed almost viciously. She had received the response from Mayuri Kurotsuchi nearly an hour ago, and had been none too pleased with what Captain-Commander Yamamoto had to say about the situation at hand. Normally, she would have been relieved and even happy to hear that he didn't think Aizen was behind the appearance of the girl or those strange creatures Ichigo had seen, but a part of her still felt like something wasn't right with this picture. In fact, Yamamoto's message in itself had been rather contradictory: "Don't worry, but do keep an eye on her every move, just in case."
"Hey, watch it!" came a high-pitched female voice in a loud whisper outside the room.
"Sorry," replied a foppish male voice, speaking rather loudly.
"Shh!" scolded the first voice again. "You want us to get caught?"
Yoruichi turned her head and watched the bedroom door intently. Everything remained silent for a while, and then the door slid open a few inches, very slowly. A moment later three small heads poked around the edge of the door, one on top of another: A green turtle head, a square-shaped pink head that looked like some sort of rabbit designed by someone on acid, and a bird's head with a curl of orange hair and a blue bonnet.
"What are you three doing here?" Yoruichi asked them, sounding rather menacing with her deep, masculine cat voice.
"Uh..." the bird said, blinking rapidly as she tried to quickly come up with an excuse for their intrusion. "We... We just wanted to see what all the commotion around here lately has been about, that's all."
"It has been rather boring around here since the end of the last battle," the rabbit added.
"Un," the turtle grunted in agreement, nodding.
Yoruichi continued to stare the three of them down, hoping that maybe she could intimidate them into leaving, but they just looked so pathetic standing there, desperate for a way to feel useful again. She figured she could stand to take pity on them at least for a little while.
"Well don't just stand there," she told them, "get in here if you want to have a look."
Ririn and Kuroudo cheered as they rushed into the room, with Noba following silently at a slower pace. The two of them immediately hopped up onto the girl's chest for a better look, nearly knocking Yoruichi off in the process, and leaned over to closely examine the girl's face while Noba calmly sat down on the floor above her head.
"What, this is it?" Ririn exclaimed, sounding disappointed. "It's just some girl. I thought I heard something about some weird monster."
"That was what Ichigo said, yes," Kuroudo assured her. "Some sort of evil, black monster with red eyes."
"Don't tell me you three were eavesdropping, again," Yoruichi growled at them, knowing that that was the only way they could have possibly overheard Ichigo telling Kisuke about the strange creatures he had encountered.
"Not intentionally," Kuroudo replied, turning his pink head to address the feline. "We were snooping around Urahara's room and heard someone coming, so we had to hide in the closet."
"Kuroudo!" Ririn scolded him, beating him over the head with one of her wings. "You idiot! Why did you tell her that?"
"I'm sorry!" Kuroudo whimpered, shaking in terror. "Please don't eat me, Yoruichi!"
"So did you guys find anything interesting?" Yoruichi asked, surprising them both.
"Not really," Noba answered, his voice as monotonous as ever.
"So how long is she gonna be like this?" Ririn wondered, stretching out and laying on her stomach on top of the girl's chest, propping her oversized bird head in her hands and kicking her boot-clad feet languidly through the air.
"It will probably be another day before she's fully recovered," Yoruichi told her, hopping off of her perch that was now being taken over by the two loudmouthed plushies and instead sitting on the floor near Noba.
"Is she going to be staying here?" Kuroudo asked a bit hopefully. He would never admit it to the others, but he had thoroughly enjoyed being in the company of a pretty girl while assigned as Orihime's personal 'bodyguard'.
"Not if I have anything to do with it," Yoruichi mumbled under her breath, then spoke more loudly so that they could hear.
"Actually, that hasn't been decided, yet. I'm sure Kisuke will want to make sure she's going to be alright before sending her home, though, so she'll be here for at least a few days. However..."
She put an intentionally strong emphasis on that word, letting them know in her tone that what she was about to say was not to be ignored by any of them, or else they would face severe punishment. She waited until they had all turned their attention fully toward her, then began wagging her tail in a threatening manner as she spoke.
"Once she is awake, the three of you are to make sure you do not alert her of your existence. I will also refrain from speaking while in this form whenever I am in her presence. The less secrets she knows about all of us, the better."
"Geez, paranoid much?" Ririn retorted, earning herself a death glare from Yoruichi. "Alright, alright. We promise we'll behave like brainless stuffed animals when she's around. Right, guys?"
"Promise," Kuroudo said, placing one of his long ears over his heart and the other up in the air as if swearing to a solemn oath.
"Okay," Noba agreed, as well.
"But..." Ririn began, her voice oozing with sweetness, "if you need someone to guard her until she wakes up, we'd be happy to help. We don't get tired nearly as fast as humans do, plus we still have our powers and we can use them in case she tries anything funny."
"Not going to happen," Yoruichi immediately shot down the idea.
"Fine," Ririn grumbled, folding her wings before her and resting her chin upon them as she continued watching the girl's face, pouting slightly.
The four of them sat silently for a long time, and Yoruichi closed her eyes as she marveled at the quiet. Usually, when the three of them were around, there was nothing but constant noise mostly because of Ririn and Kuroudo, since Noba rarely spoke at all. She wondered if maybe they were practicing for when the girl finally woke up, and hoped that they took her orders seriously. Even if the girl wasn't dangerous, Yoruichi knew that being confronted with three 'live' stuffed animals and a talking cat could cause a lot of mental damage to someone who wasn't used to dealing with paranormal things on a daily basis.
Suddenly, the two plushies sitting on top of the girl jumped and let out small noises of surprise. Yoruichi opened her eyes and regarded them curiously, seeing that Ririn had pulled herself up so she was sitting on her knees and pointing a wing at the girl while Kuroudo had covered his mouth with both of his ears as one would with their hands when shocked.
"What is it?" Yoruichi asked, padding around to the girl's side and hopping back up onto her stomach so she could poke her head between the two of them and see whatever they were looking at.
"I think she's waking up!" Ririn whispered. The three of them leaned closer to the girl's face as Noba stood from where he was sitting above her head and also leaned forward to get a better look. For a moment, it seemed as though they might have just imagined it, but then the girl moaned softly, scrunching her face up a bit.
"You three, get out of here," Yoruichi ordered in a harsh whisper. "And go tell Kisuke she's waking up."
"Roger!" the three of them replied in unison, Ririn and Kuroudo saluting her before they all scrambled out of the room and went looking for Urahara in order to relay Yoruichi's message.
Meanwhile, Yoruichi repositioned herself to her previous stance atop the girl's chest, tail neatly tucked around her legs, and put on her best 'curious kitty' expression as she waited for the young woman to fully regain consciousness.
It didn't take long, and after a minute or so she finally cracked open her eyes, then squeezed them shut almost immediately as they were assaulted by the bright light overhead. With a sigh, she lifted one of her hands to shield her face before fully opening her eyes and lifting her head slightly to find a black cat sitting on top of her, watching her with its head tilted to one side. She blinked a few times, then lowered her hand from her forehead and stroked the cat, earning a content purr as she muttered something in a language unfamiliar to Yoruichi's ears.
Kisuke walked into the room a moment later and stopped dead in his tracks, the confusion on his face largely concealed within the shadows of his hat. Grey-green eyes turned toward him, frightened and confused, and she pulled the comforter up high to cover herself up to her chin.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you," he assured her, slowly approaching her and kneeling down next to her. He nudged his hat up in order to let her better see his face, and gave her a kind smile to help ease her nerves. After a moment, she slowly lowered the comforter once more and smiled back at him.
"My name is Kisuke Urahara," he introduced himself, placing a hand upon his chest and giving her a polite bow. "May I ask what yours is?"
"Daria," the girl replied. "Daria Novikov."