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A Strawberry Grows in Middle Earth

Chapter 2

Several hours later found the Last Alliance victorious but still Elrond was worried. Isildur had kept the One Ring after cutting it from Sauron's hand. That alone was enough to make him nervous but what really got to him was the fact that he could not find the orange haired boy, Ichigo. The elf lord had lost track of the teen during the battle and had yet to find him. Walking through the makeshift camp Elrond searched for any sign of the boy but found none. Just as he was about to give up he passed the area that the healers had taken over as their own. From within the tent he heard a voice cursing in a strange language, one he did not know at all. Deciding to take a closer look the brunette walked over to the tent and stepped inside.

There, sitting on one of the benches as a healer wrapped a length of bandages around his torso was Ichigo. The orange haired teen's upper body had been stripped of his strange black and white clothing so that the healer could access all of his wounds. Elrond faintly wondered how the boy was even still conscious, what with the sheer volume of his injuries. From what he could see it looked like the teen had taken on Sauron himself!

His whole upper body was mottled with dark bruises and cuts. The worst of it, however was the giant bruise on his side. There were puncture wounds to go along with it that the healers had actually had to stitch together just to keep the teen from bleeding out. Now one of the elven healers was tightly wrapping bandages around Ichigo's torso. It was the tightness of the wrapping that had the teen cursing, not pain from his injuries. Elrond shook his head and stepped farther into the tent.

"Ichigo," he called softly trying to subtly get the teen's attention.

Brown eyes opened slowly and quickly focused on the brunette. Ichigo looked a little confused for a second before recognition sparked in his eyes. He smiled brightly at the elf before flinching as the healer tied off the bandages. Elrond chuckled softly at the death glare the teen leveled at the blond she-elf, sending the woman scurrying.

"Are you well, Ichigo?" Elrond asked walking over to the teen.

"Yeah, I'm alright," he replied grabbing his shirts, shooting a look at the elf. "I'm sorry, but what's your name again? I don't think I caught it earlier."

Elrond laughed again and shook his head, "I am Elrond, Lord of Rivendell and I did not get the chance to introduce myself earlier so there was nothing to 'catch'."

"Oh, OK then," Ichigo said shrugging back into his shirts.

They stood there awkwardly for a few seconds as Ichigo finished getting dressed. After tying the knot on the front of his clothing the teen looked up at the elf. There was a question in his eyes and the brunette just smiled, waving for the teen to follow him as he headed for the door. There was a slight scramble as the teen hurriedly grabbed his weapons and followed the elf back out into the sun.

-3rd person Ichigo POV-

Grabbing both of Zangetsu's blades Ichigo scrambled after the man. As he walked back outside he swung the longer blade over his shoulder, feeling the heavy weapon settle easily back into its natural place against his back while the other rested easily on his hip. He could feel the man, Elrond his mind supplied, watching him with interest as he did. Looking over at the man he gave the brunette a raised eyebrow.

"How do you keep your weapons attached if you don't have sheaths for them?" he asked tilting his head to the side a bit and showing off his pointed ears again.

"Honestly? I have no idea. I'm so used to just sticking them there and having them stay that I've never really thought about it," Ichigo replied with a shrug before squinting slightly at the man. "This may sound really rude and all, but, why do you have pointed ears? Is it some kind of costume or something?"

Elrond just blinked at him for a few seconds before laughing. Ichigo gave the man a disgruntled look as he folded his arms across his chest. Come to think of it, several of the other people he had seen also had pointed ears. At least a third of the army, to be specific, while another third were short bearded men and women. Ichigo knew that he really shouldn't be questioning it, what with everything he'd seen and all, but he couldn't help it. The whole thing was so surprising that he had to ask.

Finally Elrond calmed down enough to answer the teen, "Simple, I am an elf. Well, half elf, but still all elves have pointed ears."

"Oh… What about the short people with the beards? What are they?" Ichigo asked eyebrows knitting together slightly.

"Dwarves… Wait, how can you not know about the major races of Middle Earth?" Elrond asked.

"Middle Earth? What the hell is that? I'm from the country of Japan on planet Earth and there are no such things as elves and dwarves there. What's going on here?" Ichigo asked looking decidedly like a caged animal.

"Calm yourself. I am certain that there is a plausible explanation for all of this, Ichigo, but you need to calm down so that we can figure it out," Elrond said calmly holding his hands out in a placating gesture.

Ichigo just stared at Elrond for a few seconds, his whole body as stiff as a board. Several seconds passed before he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Finally, he opened his eyes and nodded at the brunette. Elrond gave him a nod as well as a gentle smile before leading him over to one of the quieter areas of the makeshift camp. Once there both men sat down slowly. Ichigo was still worried about what was going on but he allowed Elrond to ask him a few questions about what happened. The teen explained to the best of his ability before asking if he could have a few minutes alone. Elrond nodded and stood gracefully, saying something about needing to check on his people. Ichigo nodded and watched him walk away before grabbing both of Zangetsu's blades. Setting them both across his lap the teen closed his eyes and allowed himself to be pulled into his inner world.

-Ichigo's inner world-

When he opened his eyes again he was sitting on the side of a tall glass paneled building. Standing slowly the orange haired Soul Reaper looked around. Spotting a flash of black and white he took off after it. As he came around the corner he saw both Zangetsu's talking. Stopping Ichigo took a few seconds to actually process what he was seeing. His white doppelgänger was actually having a civil conversation with his Quincy manifestation. Shaking his head quickly Ichigo stepped closer to the pair.

"Hey! Zangetsu! Old Man!" he called using the name he originally called the manifestation when they first met.

"Ichigo," the dark haired man said quietly with a nod.

"King! Glad yar back!" Zangetsu called grinning like the mad man he was.

Shaking his head he approached the two spirits, fighting to keep a smile from his face. Thankfully both seemed to understand his use of the differentiation between their names. It was necessary especially after Ichigo had made the claim that they were both "Zangetsu" and not two separate entities. Zangetsu dragged him back out of his thoughts by slinging an arm across his shoulders. Ichigo had to suppress a shudder at the feeling. He still wasn't used to the fact that his doppelgänger wasn't trying to kill him anymore.

"So what's up, King? Ya haven't come ta see us in a while. Sumthin' must be up if ya decided ta come and see us like this," he said flashing his "twin" a smile.

"Shiro, be nice," the manifestation chided lightly stepping forward as well.

Ichigo smiled before sighing, "There is something wrong you two. Some how we've been dumped into another world and I don't mean somewhere in the Soul Society or Hell. I mean a whole new world that I've never heard of."

That had both spirits looking at each other, uncertain. Zangetsu let his arm slip from Ichigo's shoulders as he stepped back a bit. He actually looked a little worried and that made Ichigo nervous. The Zanpakuto spirit hardly ever got nervous, to see him like that was scary. Hell, even the old man looked worried!

"Guys" Ichigo asked softly feeling very off kilter.

"Don't worry too much, Ichigo. We will figure this all out. You just concentrate on surviving whatever this new world throws at you. I will try and do some research by attempting to connect with any lost souls here alright?" the manifestation said placing a hand on the teen's shoulder.

"Yeah, OK. That sounds good. Thanks, Old Man," Ichigo said managing a smile.

"You are welcome, Ichi. Oh, call me 'Zan' if you don't mind. It's what he calls me when we talk," Zan said with a smile as he pointed at Zangetsu. "Also I think it might be a good time to go back to the real world. There's some one waiting for you."

"Alright," Ichigo smiled. "I'll talk to you guys later then."

Both spirits nodded and Ichigo let himself fade from his inner world.

Dropping back into his body Ichigo could feel two pairs of eyes on him. Opening his eyes he was met with Elrond's worried face and another elf, one that he vaguely recognized as someone he saved during the fight. The blond elf also looked a little worried, but his face showed a little more irritation than worry. Blinking slowly Ichigo shook his head slightly to clear away to the rest of the slight fog in his mind before speaking.

"Is something wrong?" he asked, tilting his head to the side a bit.

"Nothing is wrong per say but I was a little worried. You were not breathing so I feared that your wounds had taken a greater toll on you than was first apparent," Elrond said relaxing just a little.

"I wasn't breathing?" Ichigo just looked at him for a few seconds before smiling and shaking his head. "Sorry about that. I was just talking to Zangetsu. I'm used to people around me knowing about it so I just did what I normally did. Sorry about that. As for my wounds, I've had far worse than this. Trust me on that, this is nothing."

"As you say…" the brunette trailed off as the blond at his side spoke up.

"You were talking to 'Zangetsu'? What is 'Zangetsu'?" he asked leaning forward a bit.

"My swords. 'Zangetsu' is their names. Thought I call the shorter blade 'Zan' while the longer is actually 'Zangetsu'. They are spirits that live in the blades and are part of my soul. And I'm sorry, but who are you?" Ichigo said giving the blond elf a confused look.

"Apologies, I am Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. You saved me from a troll," the blond, Thranduil, replied his face pinching slightly at the memory.

Ichigo just nodded before looking at Elrond, "Did you need something from me, Elrond?"

The brunette blinked at the lack of honorifics but smiled none the less, "Yes. I had a question for you. You can say no, but I just thought I should ask anyway."

"OK, shoot. What's your question?" Ichigo said giving the elf his undivided attention.

"I was wondering if, for the duration of your stay in Middle Earth, if you would consider staying in Rivendell either as my adopted son or simply as a resident," Elrond said a slightly nervous look in his eye. "As I said before you can say no. I just though that you would rather have a place that you can call your own while you are with us."

Ichigo blinked for a few seconds, processing. He could feel Zangetsu and Zan in the back of his head talking. Zan seemed to think the whole thing was a good idea but Zangetsu was a little more worried about it. Ichigo listened to them bicker for a few seconds before speaking up.

Would staying in Rivendell make it easier to gather information, Zan? he asked causing both spirits to focus on him.

It would. I would have access to a library which would definitely make things considerably easier. the manifestation replied quickly.

Ya can't be serious, King! What about yar family back home? Zangetsu said voice sharp.

Don't you think I am worrying about them, Zangetsu? Would you rather I wander this world totally clueless or have a save base of operations where we can actually use things to figure out what we're up against? Ichigo shot back.

That had the Zanpakuto shutting up and retreating while Zan spoke up, I do believe you have an answer to give, Ichigo.

Blinking quickly Ichigo refocused on Elrond. Again the elf had a worried look on his face but Ichigo was quick to smile at him.

"Sure. I'll stay with you in Rivendell and I'm cool with either the whole adoption thing or just being a resident. Just let me know before you start telling people what you think, OK?" Ichigo said with a smirk.

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