Characters: Ikkaku/Tatsuki; lots of others
Some time later, Ikkaku peeled off his shirt and sank to the ground, patting Ururu on the head when she handed him a roll of bandages.
Sado had already left, to check on the rest of his friends when the soul reapers limped in. Renji's main concern had been Hitsugaya's company and Rukia, but he had come back after making sure Rukia was alright.
"Are you sure you're both okay? Ikkaku-san doesn't look so happy."
Ikkaku shot him a glare that could strip paint from walls. Renji grimaced, held up both hands in surrender and quickly made an excuse to leave. He might outrank them both now, but it didn't change the fact that he'd been both Yumichika's and Ikkaku's subordinate for the better part of forty years. A promotion five months ago couldn't even begin to wear away all those decades of deferring to them.
As soon as Renji was gone, Ikkaku glanced over at Yumichika and made a face. "So. Today didn't go as planned."
Yumichika's reply dripped acid. Burning, poisonous acid. "I couldn't tell."
Ikkaku prodded at a few livid bruises on his torso and motioned for Yumichika to join him. "Look at that. Couple ribs, at least. I got off easy. Siddown."
Stiffly, "Maybe once I can move my knees again."
Ikkaku let Yumichika use his shoulder to gingerly lower himself to sit beside him and then he started to wrap his arm with one hand and his teeth. He'd done it enough times in Rukongai, with less material, experience and mobility, broken fingers, more badly wounded, without Yumichika, half-conscious...
Yumichika gave him a long look when he tied off the bandage with a little more force than strictly necessary, and held out a hand for the roll. "I'll do the rest of it. At least as long as Tessai-san doesn't interrupt."
"Can't move your knees, but elbows're okay?" Ikkaku raised his arms anyway, so Yumichika could get started on his ribs. He kept his expression carefully blank, but couldn't quite suppress the occasional hiss whenever Yumichika tugged on the bandages. The bones were knitting themselves relatively quickly, but it was tiring and ate up more spiritual energy than Ikkaku could really spare without a healer. Tessai stepped into the training area with a massive first-aid kit and Yumichika gave Ikkaku a look that said, You're on your own, partner; I don't like you that much.
Urahara looked on with a thoughtful sort of expression, then moved off to the side to talk to Captain Hitsugaya. Ikkaku caught Matsumoto's eye once Tessai finished with him and grimaced. "Looks like we're not goin' out tonight."
Matsumoto flashed him a pained sort of smile and went to join her captain.
Tatsuki hit redial on her phone for the third time, and waited for Orihime to pick up. It was usually 'busy', or 'out of area', and Tatsuki understood that to mean that Orihime was in Soul Society. She had correlated timing with Yumichika, and Orihime always picked up her phone. She was physically incapable of ignoring people, and kept it on her in case one of her friends needed her help. The only time she didn't pick up calls was when her phone wasn't receiving signals.
Orihime's reiatsu had disappeared.
Not 'grown so faint as to be nearly undetectable', as it tended to do when she was training in Soul Society. Half the time, Tatsuki could swear she could even pick up the way Orihime's spiritual pressure would flicker, surge and flare, though she figured it was just her imagination.
It had disappeared, and she wasn't picking her up her phone, and her phone was clearly on and no one was picking up, and Orihime never forgot her phone.
Tatsuki sat down on the steps in front of Orihime's house, snarled, called Ichigo (though he rarely picked up anyway, and preferred to return calls, and he had told her he lost his phone a few weeks ago and a brainless airhead like Ichigo would forget to replace his cellphone), hung up when it directed her straight to voicemail and frantically scrolled back through her contacts list.
Every problem has an ass, Tatsuki figured. All you had to do was find out where it was and kick it.
She was having a little trouble.
Ikkaku dragged his phone out of his uniform sleeve when it went off, frowned at the screen, then headed for the exit of Urahara's training area, where they had left their bodies. "I'm goin' out."
"What happened, Ikkaku? I didn't get any orders."
"Is it Tatsuki-chan?"
"What did it say? Is it urgent?"
"Just says, Hey we need ta talk."
Yumichika started to get to his feet, froze when he was barely a few centimeters off the ground, then lowered himself back down. "Looks like I won't be going with you for this. Give me a call if it's important."
Ikkaku's expression was serious and thoughtful (always was, when they have a particularly bad day), but he just shrugged. "Stay here. You shouldn't be runnin' around town anyway."
"You should talk." Yumichika motioned above his own eyebrow, then gestured at Ikkaku. "And you're still bleeding. We'll need to patch up your gigai as soon as you're in it, too."
He wiped a trickle of blood away before it could drip into his eye, then wiped his hands off on his uniform before diving back into the artifical body.
As soon as Tatsuki felt Ikkaku's spiritual pressure melt out of some barrier, she flared her own and turned the phone in her hands while she waited. When he arrived nearly ten minutes later, she stood up to meet him, breezily ignoring the irritated expression on his face. He flashed her the message on his soul phone, tucked it back into a pocket and crossed his arms over his chest. "This better be an emergency."
Tatsuki could see the outline of bandages through Ikkaku's shirt, but she had more important things to worry about at the moment. "Where's Orihime?"
Ikkaku took a second to make a cursory check over Karakura. "She's in Soul Society."
"Where the hell else would she be?"
Tatsuki gestured vaguely. "I can always sense Orihime. Even when she's in Soul Society, and even when she's in—Okinawa or something. I can't sense her at all anymore. She's just gone."
"That's—hold on." Ikkaku reached for his phone again and dialed up Yumichika. Captain Hitsugaya had more authority, but Yumichika was the one who held onto direct communication back to Seireitei. He heard a click, and then-
"It's me. You know where Orihime-chan is?"
"She's in Soul Society, isn't she? And if not, she'll have gotten back a few hours ago."
"Check. Rukia-chan and Urahara. See if anyone saw her leave Soul Society."
"I'll need a few minutes."
Ikkaku hung up, but held onto the phone. A few minutes of silence passed and Tatsuki glanced at his hand, then his face, then his hand again and shifted nervously in place. Ikkaku rolled his eyes and clamped a hand down on her shoulder to make her stop fidgeting. "Just wait. If she were dead, we'd still be able to find her soul."
Tatsuki didn't think she needed to remind him that that wasn't fucking comforting at all when she saw him wince, and decided he might have figured it out just as he said it. "I don't like waiting."
"I know you d—there it is." Ikkaku backed up a few steps and turned away from Tatsuki to take the call. It came a lot faster than he'd expected, but Yumichika was pretty damn efficient when he knew exactly who to call. "Yumichika?"
"She's gone, Ikkaku. I talked to Kuchiki Rukia, Urahara-san and Captain Ukitake. Captain Ukitake saw her step into the gate, but Urahara-san never saw her step out. Of course, he was busy with us, but Renji was in the training area, too. Commander Yamamoto's been alerted and we're to attend an emergency meeting in four hours at Orihime-chan's house." Yumichika paused for a second to let that sink in, and then sighed a bit. "Check her room. Her escorts arrived just after I made the call and they say she's either dead or kidnapped."
Ikkaku rubbed his eyes and dragged a hand down his face. "Shit. When everyone was caught up with the hollows? I'll get back to ya if we find anything."
"I'll have more details soon. There's a possibility she's alright, but the chances aren't high. Her ability makes her useful to Aizen, though. You're still with Tatsuki-chan?"
Yumichika paused. Then, "We'll probably be called back in the morning."
"I'll see you soon."
Ikkaku hung up, and Tatsuki promptly invaded his personal space. "What happened?"
"I just told you that! Tell me what happened."
"I had to confirm. And no one knows. They're still tryin' to figure it out." He squeezed her shoulder and nudged her back in the direction of her house. "Go home. I'm gonna check her room."
"I'll go with you."
"Didn't you hear me say, 'Go home'?"
Tatsuki tried the door, glanced around when she found it locked and then stepped off the stoop to get a window open. She motioned for Ikkaku to stay where he was, climbed in and a few seconds later, had the door open. "I know Orihime's room better than you do, anyway."
Yumichika's voice was strained, but thoughtful. "So she had time to leave a note."
"Just directions about takin' care of the house. Might be something, might be nothin'. Might be from earlier."
"Might be something. Urahara-san says to check it over for anything you might've missed."
Tatsuki waved a hand in Ikkaku's face, then pointed at the bottom corner of the page. It was written in English, so Ikkaku just shrugged and gave her a questioning look.
"It says 'goodbye'. I mean, there's more, but that's the part that matters."
Ikkaku covered the mouthpiece to swear, then put the phone back to his ear. "Yumichika, she had time ta leave a note."
"I'll pass it on. Anything else?"
"Pretty much flipped the place over, there's nothin' else. Can't even pick up a fresh trace'a reiatsu."
"I'll see you soon, Ikkaku."
Tatsuki waited for Ikkaku to hang up, set the notebook back on the table they had found it on and headed for the door out of Orihime's room. "What'd they say?"
He followed her down the stairs, then back onto the sidewalk. He didn't really want to lie, but sometimes it was just part of the job. Besides, the less Tatsuki had to worry until the situation blew over, the better. "Still got no idea what the hell happened."
"Are you gonna tell me when you find out?"
Ikkaku frowned. "Probably not. She's most likely still alive."
Tatsuki scowled back but didn't jab him in the chest. She could do it later when he wasn't recovering from some fight she had missed out on, but she did draw herself up and try to make him look her in the face. "I want to know. I don't care if it's good or bad, but I gotta know."
"Give me one good reason. Give me one good reason and I'll let it go."
Ikkaku looked at her impassively. "I tell you an' you'll do somethin' stupid. I'll get in trouble an' you'll be in trouble an' then there's nothin' either of us'll be able to do. We'll handle it."
"Those aren't good reasons." Tatsuki immediately recognized the signs of Being Shut Out (Again). For her own good, or because they thought they could handle a situation involving Orihime better than she could. "And what else am I supposed to do, then?"
"Wait. Do what you can. Keep an eye on your classmates. Trust Ichigo. What do you want me to say?" Ikkaku's expression was the coldest Tatsuki had ever seen it—she could feel it in his spiritual pressure, too. "We'll handle it. Or Ichigo will, an' the rest of us're gonna keep sitting around bein' useless for a while."
Tatsuki didn't think that patrolling and cleansing hollows all the time was 'being useless'—at least he was occupied—but Ikkaku clearly did. And he hated it. Even she could guess that it was all just filler to keep him and Yumichika busy and out of trouble until they were needed. "You're an optimist, aren't you."
"Whatever happens, happens. Soul Society's gonna do everything it can. Ichigo, too." He paused, looked away, and then sighed. "An' you kids don't need to get involved."
"Thanks. I appreciate your concern. Obviously I can't take care of myself when it matters."
He shrugged. "Someday, ya might, but die now an' all that potential ain't gonna mean shit."
"So what are you gonna do?"
"Wait for orders."
"Yeah, right." A whole slew of emotions flashed across Tatsuki's face—worried, thoughtful, hesitant, maybe just a little bit sad, then resigned. She kept her expression carefully schooled in a fight, but out of one, Tatsuki hadn't had much practice. She bit her lip, looked at her feet and hooked her thumbs in her pockets. "When you go... I. Still barely know how to fight with a weapon."
"You've got time to learn."
"You're gonna finish teaching me, right? So... be careful."
Ikkaku decided that it would be a good time to dodge making any promises about what he would and wouldn't do once he left. He wasn't even sure he'd get out of the war alive, or if he'd come back to Karakura if he did. He didn't know how to make this girl fucking understand without saying it outright, but it was unlucky to say that sort of stuff out loud. His reply was noncommittal, and exactly the sort of indecisive statement he usually avoided at all costs, but—"We'll see."
She got it, though. Tatsuki understood, nodded—then, plaintively, "And if you do die, you better kick loads of ass going down."
Something twisted painfully in his chest, but Ikkaku's lips pulled back almost automatically into a sharp smile. "Who do you think you're talkin' to?"
Tatsuki motioned for Ikkaku to lean down so she could mutter, "Thanks, for everything," in his ear. Just before he straightened up, Tatsuki kissed him lightly on the cheek, then backed off, refusing to look at him until her face stopped being flushed.
Ikkaku fought mightily to suppress any surprise in his voice, but even he thought he sounded a little too soft to be himself. "... hey, no problem."
"And tell Ayasegawa-"
"'S alright to call him Yumichika, you know."
When she finally looked back up at him, Ikkaku caught a determined, confident flash in her expression. "I'm not letting any of you—you or Ichigo or any of your shinigami friends—off the hook, and I might do something drastic if Orihime isn't back by tomorrow. And I think you don't think I can do anything when I can. But I'm glad I met you guys... and I'll take care of things back here."
Ikkaku dropped his hand onto her head and ruffled her hair. "I'll walk you back."
Tatsuki caught his wrist and scowled. "And I'm going after Ichigo."
"Don't. You'll just get pissed off."
"If Orihime isn't back by tomorrow morning, I'm going after Ichigo."
He realized belatedly that nothing he could say would make a difference and sighed. "It's not gonna help. An' don't tell him I told ya anything."
"It might help. I can help."
Ikkaku shut his eyes and stepped back a bit to scan Karakura Town for Ichigo. Recovering from his fight with an Espada, still—Rukia and his sisters were with him. If there was one thing Ichigo didn't need, it was his friends demanding explanations from him, but it wasn't as if there was anything Ikkaku could've done about that, except to try and intercept the trainwreck before it hit. "You're just gonna start a fight."
"I'm thinking about it."
Tatsuki looked torn for a second, but Ikkaku squeezed the back of her neck and she forgot to argue in favor of punching him on the shoulder. Tatsuki started walking, anyway. A few minutes later, she nagged Ikkaku to go home until he finally agreed, and took off. He glanced back, met her eyes and grinned, then slapped the wall as he turned the corner. Tatsuki dropped into an easy crouch to stretch her legs, straightened up and started to run. Back home or around the block a few times, she didn't know. Just somewhere, to do something.
It didn't sound or feel like a goodbye, even though Tatsuki knew it was. But he'd be back, someday—or he won't.
Tatsuki had a hell of a bruise on her hip (and shoulder, and wrist, and legs and back of her head), a missing best friend, two new friends who wanted her to get stronger just as badly as she wanted to be stronger (who would be pissed as hell if she got herself dead before then), and a few tough decisions to make.
It wasn't a bad deal.