And there was the flagpole, with a dark-haired spirit in a familiar long coat standing atop it. Amber lenses shaded his eyes, but there was no mistaking that smirk for anything but what it was.
Come and fight me. If you dare.
With a wordless scream, Ichigo attacked.
He didn’t know where the sword in his hand had come from, though Loki’s training categorized it as longsword, decent weight, I can use it. He didn’t know how the spirit had suddenly raised a matching blade to meet it. He didn’t know what fighting in the middle of his soul – his soul, for crying out loud, nothing else was supposed to be in here! – might do to him.
He didn’t care.
Rukia’s in danger. My family, my friends – they’re all in danger. I need to fight the Hollows. I need to fight-!
Stab and parry and thrust, damn this guy was good–
For the second time in as many months, steel slid through his heart.
“I am sorry.” The dark spirit stepped closer, right hand still gripping the hilt even as his left reached for Ichigo’s suddenly empty fingers. “It seemed the quickest way.”
“Ichigo! Think!” The fingers wrapping his on the hilt were warm. “How can I cut you with your own blade?”
But it was the sword he’d held. He knew it. How?
“Why did you come here?” The spirit’s voice was urgent as the blood staining Ichigo’s t-shirt. “Why are you fighting? Who do you need to find, to stand at Rukia’s side?”
Not who, Ichigo tried to gasp. My power’s all messed up, or Fenris could be out there… I need to find-
The center of his soul. A spirit who’d been calling him for years. His sword.
“Pull me out, Ichigo.” Strong fingers, where his own were weakening. “You must do this. Live. Fight. Protect. Draw me, and cleave the sky asunder!”