The next day, Ace skipped school. Nora had called school for him, telling them he was sick. This was partially true. Even though most of his injuries had healed, some still had to be healed. And he had gotten a bit of a fever. So, while Anna was out on the town, protecting it from hollows, Nora and Isane remained with him to heal his wounds and cure his fever. Isane had stayed, since Ace’s final injury had been serious and life threatening. She would remain one more day after this, to make sure Ace was fully healed.
as such, Ace felt bored most of the day. Having nothing better to do, he continued his school work, even though he didn’t have homework. And he played a bit of poker with Isane. Ace would have invited Nora to play along,… but as she was blind, even if she understood the game, she couldn’t see what she played.
after school was over, Tomoya dropped by his house to see how he was doing, as well as to give him the homework assignment. But, since Ace was already done with it, that was no use. Even so, Ace invited Tomoya to come in. as they sat down for tea, Tomoya continued, ‘oh, there’s one more thing. A school dance is coming up. Some sort of ball if you will. In two weeks.’ Nora, who poured their tea, replied, ‘you mean with formal clothing, music, snacks and dancing?’ Tomoya smiled, ‘yup, you got it.’
Ace grinned, ‘so let me guess buddy, you’re planning to invite Makoto, aren’t you?’ Tomoya chuckled shyly, ‘yeah, that was my plan. And you?’ Ace shrugged, ‘not sure yet. Hey, wait a minute,…’ Ace thought for a moment before asking, ‘is it only people from school this is for? Or can we invite someone who doesn’t attend our school?’ Tomoya nodded, ‘sure. but, each person coming has to pay an entrance fee of a 1000 yen. So, if you bring someone with you, you’re gonna have to pay double.’ Ace smiled and Nora asked, ‘did you think of someone Ace?’
Ace nodded, ‘yeah, I think so; Anna.’ Nora smiled, ‘I had a feeling you’d choose her.’ Tomoya grinned, ‘you and your neighbor are rather close huh? Her coming over so much, her training in your dojo. Well I’ll say; good luck.’ Ace nodded and held up his hand, ‘and you with Makoto buddy.’ Tomoya’s grin grew wider and he high fived his friend.
after Tomoya left, Isane, who had sat with them the entire time, invisible to Tomoya, shook her head, ‘you know it’s Anna’s duty to protect Numazu. Asking her for this ball, I’m sure you thought it over, but it would clash with her duties.’ Ace nodded, ‘I realize that. but that doesn’t take away that I’m going to ask her. I’m sure we’ll be able to figure something out.’ Isane smiled, ‘I’m not one to stand in the way of people. I just wanted to make sure you knew.’ Nora smiled, ‘just for that night, I wouldn’t mind taking over Anna’s duties.’ Isane nodded, ‘well, so long as you can handle it, I don’t see a problem.’
that evening, as Anna returned for dinner, Ace sensing her approach, let her inside. Nora had already brought Anna’s Gigai and Anna got in right away. Ace smiled, ‘things sure have changed, haven’t they?’ Anna nodded and sat down at the table, seeing dinner was already prepared, ‘It sure has. In one month time even.’ Nora smiled, ‘I wonder, in the remaining two months we have here, how much more will happen? What else will change?’ Anna shrugged as she served everyone a rice bowl, ‘who knows. I’ve become a better fighter, I’ve become stronger, my spirit energy has grown; I’m more confident. And all thanks to you Ace.’
Ace grinned, ‘all I did was help train you in kendo, I admired your abilities. And now, I’m thankful for being able to help you as a fellow soul reaper.’ Nora had a sip of tea, ‘not much has changed for me. I’ve become somewhat stronger I suppose and my spiritual sense is greater than before. but more than anything, I’m just glad I get to spend all this time with the two of you.’ Ace nodded, ‘when I came to live here on my own, I had never thought my neighbors would have such an influence in my life. but I am thankful for it.’
they gave thanks for the food and started eating. However, where Ace and Nora were talking with smiles on their faces, while Anna also smiled, she felt a bit gloomy inside. The reason for this; Ace. Sure, she was happy she knew him. he was the first person to admire her. he complimented her, he helped her train and in return she had trained him in what she knew. But now, now that Ace had soul reaper powers of his own, he was stronger than her, faster than her. his spirit energy was higher than hers. And what was worse, lieutenants came to train him in the weekend. She closed her eyes and sighed; she was jealous of Ace.
Ace looked at her and replied, ‘is something wrong Anna?’ she looked up and got her smile back, ‘no, I’m fine.’ Ace nodded, not believing her. however he smiled back at her and pulled out his deck of cards, ‘how about I show you a little trick I’ve learned; reading cards. Telling what they mean.’ Anna shook her head, ‘no thanks Ace, I’m not really in the mood.’ Ace sighed and put his deck away. he had hoped this trick would get her to open up a little.
after dinner and training and Isane beginning a check-up healing session with Ace, Anna and Nora went back to their own house. As they walked in, Nora asked, ‘has something happened today Anna? During dinner I noticed you weren’t feeling well.’ Anna sighed but tried to make it into a laugh, ‘what are you talking about? I’m fine.’ Nora nodded, ‘if you say so. But keep whatever it is bottled up inside for too long, and it will start to hurt. Just like your family problems.’ Anna looked the other way, slightly angry that Nora had brought that up.
as both women went to bed, Anna couldn’t fall asleep. As such, she left her Gigai and went for a late night patrol through the city. She needed to get rid of these extra feelings. They were putting a burden on her which only slowed her down. She landed atop a building and sat down on the edge. She liked Ace, he was a good neighbor, a greater friend and,… and a better soul reaper than she ever was or would be! She knew, she had given him her soul reaper powers and it had saved her life, Nora’s life and his life. but with all the conditions that followed,… she was feeling like she was second rate. Just like she did when she first came here.
she sighed as she drew her Zanpaktou and put it in her lap. Nora said she had to talk to someone. Maybe she should try talking to her Zanpaktou in Jinzen. Then again; bothering her Zanpaktou to tell it she was jealous, Shokuhinheiki would probably force her out of her inner world for that. or maybe, maybe she was just over thinking things again. she stood up, only to notice a large shadow falling over her. as she turned around, a massive hand knocked her of the building and onto the street.
she felt two of her ribs breaking, one as the hand hit her, the second as she hit the street. She stood up and heard a loud crash. As she looked, she saw the hollow who had attacked her. it was a large hollow with seemingly three different masks, all around its head, with a tuft of red hair springing out on top. It had six arms and two legs. It had a large muscular body and had a hole in its stomach. She stood up and took hold of her Zanpaktou with both her hands.
the hollow rushed forward, swinging all six of its arms and quick succession. She stepped back as she tried to block the incoming punches, but it was not use; her mind wasn’t fully in the fight. She blocked for punches, than got knocked airborne, followed by a punch in her stomach, knocking her into a building. She stepped out of the crashed wall, only to be knocked to the ground by the roaring hollow. She quickly crawled up and turned to face her opponent, only to find a fist headed for her face. in shock, she froze up, before being knocked down again.
she sat up on her knees and watched the hollow approach, she wondered; had it all been for naught? Had she trained all this time, just to be beaten by a normal hollow? The hollow roared with all three of its masks and stormed forward, only to crash into a large spade like shield and be thrown back five meter.
Anna looked around and saw Ace standing there in his soul reaper form, holding one of his playing cards. He was combining his soul reaper powers with his human powers. He smiled, ‘come on Anna. You fought against Ophiuchus. Is this little bit of hollow going to be such a problem?’ she stood up, shook her head and Ace pulled his card back, removing the spade barrier. The hollow howled in frustration and came storming forward once again. she stepped forward, prepared, than flash stepped as she swung her blade, cleaving the hollow’s head in two. As she landed, the hollow was disappearing.
as she sheathed her Zanpaktou, she turned to Ace, ‘what are you doing out so late?’ Ace shrugged, ‘not sure. when I sensed you were leaving so late at night, without there being a hollow out, yet, I wanted to ask you the same thing,… and perhaps something else.’
Anna tilted her head, ‘ask me something else?’ Ace nodded, ‘yeah,… but first things first. What are you doing out so late?’ Anna sighed, ‘I just needed some fresh air and some time to think. You, Ace, are getting what some soul reapers dream of; personal training from lieutenants.’ Ace shrugged, ‘so far only Tenshi has trained me and Isane has treated my wounds.’ Anna nodded, ‘yes, but still; before you became a soul reaper,… I saw you as my equal. Now that you’re a soul reaper, I noticed how you are stronger than I am. You were already better with a sword, you needed some extra lessons on spirit energy. but now,…’ Ace nodded and walked toward her, ‘are you regretting making me a soul reaper?’
Anna shook her head, ‘no, I know I needed to, it was our only hope of surviving that night. But all this special observation, special treatment and training. That along with your power and your abilities. I’m,… jealous of you.’ Ace shook his head, stopping in front of her, ‘there’s no need to be jealous. Because, as I became a soul reaper, my senses increased in power also. And you know what I sense?’ she shook her head before he answered his own question, ‘now that you’re back to full power; you’re just as powerful as I am. Maybe even more powerful.’
Anna shook her head, ‘no I’m not. Physically and spiritually; you’re more powerful.’ Ace gave her a soft wag on the head, ‘would you wake up. I only got this power because of you. I only became this powerful because of your power coming into me. sure, I may have my own abilities in this form, but if not for your power, I wouldn’t be this strong. And, like before; you think too little of yourself.’
Anna looked him in the eyes, ‘what do you mean, I think too little of myself?’ Ace drew his Zanpaktou, ‘I’ll show you. we simply keep our Zanpaktou sealed and fight as hard as we can. The first one to hit the other wins. No need to hold back.’ Anna nodded and drew her Zanpaktou. They took a step back and took their stances. Then they both released their power, letting it fill the air around them. Anna noticed, as she had thought, that Ace’s power was far greater than hers.
Ace shook his head, ‘what did I just say about not holding back? I sense you have way more power than that.’ Anna didn’t understand that, she was releasing all the power she had within herself. She shook her head, ‘this is my full power!’ Ace shook his head, still sensing more power within her. maybe it was because she had given him her power as a soul reaper, but he felt a bond with her. ‘I still sense you have more power, enough to match me.’
Anna tried to unleash more power, but no extra power came out. She sighed and looked down, giving Ace both a clue and an idea, ‘oh I see. So that’s how it is!’ she looked up, just in time to see his attack. she blocked him, but was pushed back. Ace swung his blade at her again, ‘why are you afraid to unleash more power? Do you doubt you could handle it?!’ Anna blocked him and was pushed back further, ‘if I had more power, I would use it! than no one would look down on me!’
Ace rushed forward, continuing to brutally attack her, forcing her to defend herself with all she had. Ace made sure his attacks were precise and strong, ‘so now it’s back to that again! daddy and grandpa looking down on you because you can’t measure up to them! is that what’s keeping you down?!’ that was what made Anna snap and she lashed back with her blade, stopping her defense and going on the offense, ‘what would you know about it?! you’ve never been stuck in anyone’s shadow! No one ever expected you to be powerful! No one wanted you to be powerful! And when you turned out weak, no one gave you the cold shoulder because of it!’
Ace blocked all her attacks, pushed her back and locked blades with her, ‘even if that were the case! Even if I was stuck in someone’s shadow, knew people had high expectations of me, knew people expected me to be powerful and even if I got the cold shoulder because I was weak; I WOULDN’T CARE!’ he pushed her back and started lashing out with strong and precise strikes, ‘I’m my own person! I do what I want because I want to do it! not because anyone else told me to! I can be myself, because I want to. And if someone else wants me to be someone else for some silly reason like high hopes and expectations; screw them!’
Anna blocked his every strike and lashed back against him, ‘maybe that’s how it works for a human like you! a class clown with a high IQ who’s good at small talk and homework and kendo! It’s different for me, a girl from a strong family, who’s not particularly good at anything!’ they locked blades again and Ace replied, ‘the reason you think yourself weak is because you’re holding yourself back! Because of your family and their obsession with their strong family lineage, putting you in the shadow of your father and grandfather’s power and achievement from a young age; they wouldn’t let you be yourself, because they wanted you to be like them!’ he pushed her into the air, before kicking her higher.
she stopped herself, saw Ace jump into the sky and replied, as tears came to her eyes, ‘my parents wouldn’t let me be myself. Other than my cooking, they wanted me to be like father. Strong and confident. They hammered that into me!’ she attacked him again and they clashing continued. Ace shook his head, ‘no parent has the right to force someone to be something they’re not. Children are full of potential. Nurturing that potential is good. But forming and forcing it is wrong!’
both of them jumped back, before flash stepping forward. Ace pushed her back with all his might, ‘if with everything that has happened, losing my parents to a hollow, moving, living on my own, transferring to a new school, learning about spirit energy, me becoming a soul reaper, fighting and cleansing my own parents, I can still be myself; why can’t you?!’ he pushed her away and tears streamed over her face;… she didn’t have an answer for this. Ace smiled, ‘just let go, let all of that parental oppression slide off of you. let it wash away, let those shadows be evaporated by light; your light. Be yourself, be free and; don’t let anything hold you back!’
as she cried, a smile came to her face. and along with that, a massive bust of spirit energy erupted from within her, filling the night sky. And with this increase in power, she attacked. She didn’t know how much higher her power would or could go. But she would unleash as much of it as she could. She and Ace clashed again, exchanging blows with the other. Her crying stopped and her smiling mouth started to laugh. First softly, than louder in enjoyment.
after five more minutes of battle, both of them were slightly exhausted, both having fought their hardest. They decided to call it a draw; also because a few hollows had come after their high spirit energy. this had stopped their fight and they had taken down the hollows in a few swift moves. As they returned home, Anna wished Ace a good night with a smile, but then stopped, and turned to him, ‘before our fight, you said you wanted to ask me something else. What is it?’ Ace nodded, ‘yeah, that. well you see; my school is having a dance in two weeks. I was wondering; would you be my date for that night?’
Anna was completely shocked by the sudden question. Ace smiled, ‘I don’t need your answer tonight. Just think it over and tell me when you’re ready.’ She nodded and he wished her a good night before going inside himself. She sighed and went back into her own house and stepped into her Gigai. As she lay down, she noticed how much her power had increased. It was even greater than her father’s power. And Ace had sensed it within her. more than that, he had gotten her to release that power, be herself, get rid of the self doubt that held back that power.
she smiled, she was so lucky to have met Ace when she did. And he had asked her to this dance. She knew she had her duties. But she had a suspicion she could work around that little obstacle.