Days of Night

By Wiggles-n-stuff

Chapter 1: Instinct

"Ichigo please stop." Tier asked carefully. The two Hollow stared deeply into each others eyes. Gold into teal, dangerous into cautious. Ichigo moved forward a bit more, slow, predative. His toothy maw opened, a guttural rumble escaping. Tier didn't move, she held her ground against her advancing comrade. While aggression was expected, this level took her by complete surprise, it took all of them by surprise.

"Why are you hesitating Tia?" Ichigo's warped voice asked, almost confused. Harribel was in her Resurrection, her muscles tensed visibly. Her sword twitched up slightly at her right side, but held fast.

"Please calm down Ichigo." She asked again, her voice a bit harder. Ichigo's advancing was forcing her to quickly choose what she should do. The shadowed area they found themselves in was some distance from her new palace. She was stuck between Ichigo and the remains of one of the former palaces.

"Why?" His black masked head tilted slightly to the side. "I'm finally free of restrictions. Free to do things how I want to. This freedom is amazing. Why are you trying to stop me?" He was closer to her now, closer than she willingly let anyone. His right hand shot passed her head, and pressed against wall, cracking it. His mere two inch height advantage was much more imposing as close as he was. His horns were hovering just over her blond messy head of hair.

"Flattering, but you are not yourself. Please stop." Tier's left hand moved up from her side, and carefully rested on his ebony chest, next to the gaping hole in the middle of it. His eyes inside the mask slits narrowed slightly.

"No." His head closed in further towards hers, and a brilliant yellow light erupted from the hand pressed to him. The building exploded apart, and terrain all around them flew away.

Tier buzzed into visibility in the sky above the giant smoke cloud. Her left hand was burnt and torn up badly. Her regeneration kicked in and her wounds started to heal. A bestial roar erupted from the billowing cloud bellow her, which blew outward away from Ichigo. He was lying back on the desert sand, his chest red with blood, and torn to sheds, even parts of bone sticking out. The female Arrancar's eyes slitted further when she saw his deadly injury heal almost instantly, a white foam-like substance covering them.

"That's it! Fight me! Show me your strength! Test my power to protect you all!" Ichigo hopped up to his feet then kicked off the ground. He was on her in the blink of an eye, bringing his clawed right hand down toward her face. Tier parried with Tiburon in her right hand. The large blade slopped Ichigo's claws, and the power struggle resumed.

. . . .

An Hour Earlier

Tier's Chambers

"But...I don't get it? I thought the Hogyoku was sealed away in the Soul Society. Why would they give it to...what did you do?!" Ichigo's tone grew accusing as he stared at the small purple orb in Urahara's hand. Sung-Sun held back a snicker, making sure her twitching lips were hidden behind her sleeve. Kisuke's expression dropped, and his mouth fell open slightly. Tier, who was just as surprised as Ichigo, was looking back and forth from the object that gave her and most of Aizen's Arrancar their new life and powers, and the shop keeper.

She remembered discussing the idea of transforming Ichigo into and Arrancar with the Caballeros Oscuros and the Shop Keeper a day after returning from the Quincy stronghold. However she held little hope in it since the Hogyoku was gone, upon which Urahara told her it was in the Gotei 13's possession. She had even less hope that the Soul Society would allow its use on a Hollow with such power as Kurosaki's. To say this was a pleasant surprise was an understatement. Tier managed to reign in her emotions and keep a mild look of surprise on her face.

"You wound me Ichigo. I'll have you know I went through a lot to get them to let me use this." Kisuke over dramatized his situation with a pout, holding his free hand over his heart.

"Why would they let you use it? Isn't it to dangerous?" Ichigo asked annoyed already.

"True, but this is a one time special circumstance use." Urahara smirked. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what he meant, but Ichigo was still rather skeptical.

"Not that I'm not flattered, but Old Man Yama doesn't seem to be the type to give another Hollow..." Ichigo trailed off for a second. Calling himself a Hollow, finally made it sink in. He was now a Hollow, not just temporary or borrowed, but a full Hollow. He pushed past the emotions welling up in him, looked down to his hands, and continued though. "...more power."

The haunted look in his yellow eyes, wasn't missed by the rest in the room. Tier resisted the urge to place her hand on his shoulder for comfort, instead clenching that hand into a tighter fist.

"Normally you'd be right. However considering your history with them, the change in management, and the risks of not transforming you, it was close to a unanimous decision to use the Hogyoku on you." Ichigo looked up and stared at Kisuke. The last reason mentioned caught his attention.

"Risks?" He asked.

"Hollows are essentially creatures of drive and hunger. Grant it the higher powered Hollows retain their intelligence and some rational. As far as we have been able to surmise you are of the Vasto Lorde class. However, considering your 'unique' transformation process we don't know what side effects will come from your change, especially to your mind." Tier explained, getting Ichigo to look to her. Before he could defend himself Urahara interrupted.

"From what you've told me about your previous transformations, and what the Visoreds told me about your training, your Inner Hollow was particularly violent. You have also stated that it called itself your purest instinct. So putting this all together...well you could potentially be very dangerous without the change into an Arrancar. As you know our friends are very much more human than their counterparts. No offense ladies." Hats n' Clogs added, garnering Ichigo's gaze.

"None taken Mr. Urahara." Sung-Sun said kindly, as Harribel just let the comment roll off her with no reaction. Ichigo let his mind wrap around their words for a few moments. Was he going to become a power hungry monster like his Inner Hollow always seemed to depict. 'Don't worry I'll give you this day, but you best be prepared for what comes next.' The Inner Hollow's words came to the forefront of his mind. He had so little time to contemplate the choice he was given, so little time to think of the consequences and ramifications. 'I don't really feel different though? I'm thinking and acting normally right now, right?' He thought.

"I...I guess, but honestly I don't really feel any different right now." Ichigo let out, once again looking down to his clenching hands. He also looked to his horns that were in the top of his peripherals.

"Now maybe, but you have also just woken up. And then there is the small matter of your...ehem...aesthetics." Kisuke so tactfully mentioned. This caught Ichigo's attention a bit. Honestly he hadn't ever seen what his Hollow form looked like. While it piqued his curiosity, the black horns, and black clawed hands, certainly were a bit disturbing.

"How bad do I look?" Ichigo asked in a sort of sad curiosity.

"Weeeelllll...lets just say I wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley." Kisuke scratched the side of his face, his eyes looking to the ridge of his hat.

"I personally think you look rather, powerful." Sung-Sun said positively, her eyes looking over his black chitinous-looking body. Then her eyes met with Tier's, silently asking for her input. Tier just looked Ichigo over subtly as his attention was on Sung-Sun, who was smiling at him.

"There is nothing wrong with your appearance to me." Harribel said quietly but normally, thankful her collar was high enough and her Mask Fragment was covering her cheeks. Ichigo barely made out what Tier said.

"Thank you, but...if you don't mind, I'd like to see what the damage is. Is there a mirror or something around here somewhere?" Ichigo spoke casually, like nothing was wrong, but inside he was actually anxious to see what he had become.

"Of course. There is a bathroom over there, and a mirror inside." Tier pointed to the room in question.

"Thanks. I'll be right back." Ichigo pulled the sheets off his lower body, and took a moment to look down at his legs. He was dressed in white hakama pants, with his ebony taloned feet poking out the bottom, with red tufts of fur around his ankles. A fleeting curiosity to whom dressed him ran across his mind, but he decided to not ask. He flung his legs over the side of the bed, and tested his feet against the floor, also tensing the muscles in his legs. Wanting to make sure he could actually stand on his own power. The back of his hips felt a bit heavier, but he guessed it was from sleeping for so long.

Everyone else watched him, making sure they were ready should he be unsteady, at least the women were. Kisuke was prepared to watch Ichigo fall face forward, and have a good chuckle about it. Berry Boy pushed off the bed, and stood up finding his legs to be steady enough. One cautionary step was all it took to get him walking. He left the room, with Sung-Sun and Kisuke looking nervously at each other, and Tier watching where Ichigo had gone.

The mirror was large enough to show the top half of his body. Ichigo took in his new form. He looked very much human, aside from the demonic horned skull head, red fur around his neck and hands, huge hole in his chest, and black slightly reflective skin. He ran his clawed fingers over his horns, actually being able to feel his touch from them. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, making sure he wasn't just speaking from behind a mask. He turned and look at how long his hair had grown. And finally he moved his right hand cautiously up to his Hollow hole. The right hand's index and middle finger traced the hole a bit, before slowly going inside. His body twitched involuntarily, and something from behind him came into view. 'No...'

Outside the bathroom, the three others sat silently as Ichigo examined the new him. None were sure exactly what to expect when he came back out, but this wasn't one of them.

"I've got a tail!" He shouted from inside the room. The other three were caught off guard by the sudden loud statement. Then Sung-Sun and Urahara broke out into open laughter, Tier even joined them, albeit more of a chuckle from her. They could hear Ichigo's hakama moving around, as he was frantically trying to spin around to get a better look at his new appendage. It only brought more laughter out of them, until Ichigo emerged holding his tail in his hands. The odd look in his eyes, and expression sent Urahara to the ground, holding his sides. Cyan quickly covered her face in both her sleeves, trying to calm her laughing fit. Tier, actually succeeded in stifling her chuckle, but there was amusement in her eyes when Ichigo looked at her.

"Very funny." Ichigo deadpanned, and let his tail slip from his hands. He was able to move it at will, and he found it rather odd, but cool at the same time. He tested swinging the tail at his command, and watched it moved around him. 'I could get used to this.'

"What do you think of your new body?" Tier asked, after the others' laughter died down to gasps of breath.

'I want to be human again...but...' For some reason he was quickly starting to feel fine with his transformation. He could feel power in it, and it felt good. "It's not bad...it feels," He brought his hand up, and clenched them into fists in front of his gaze. "pretty powerful." There was a sort of growl in his already warped voice as he said the last thing. The others caught this, and a careful worried look passed between them.

"That's all well and good Ichigo, but I believe it is still in all our best interests that you become an Arrancar. I'm sure you wouldn't want to scare your little sisters when you see them next." Kisuke said, trying to get Ichigo back onto the path of the conversation. Ichigo looked over to the Shinigami quickly, his mind registering what he just heard. His thoughts went to his family and human friends. 'Right...I can't face them like this. If I become an Arrancar I can see them again, relatively normal looking.'

"You're...you're right Urahara. I just hope I'll be able to see them at all." Ichigo said. Tier stood up, and crossed her arms under her bust.

"It's not entirely impossible not to, but proper precautions will have to be taken. Shopkeeper, how long till you could set up a transformation pod for the Hogyoku?" She asked Urahara, hoping to be through with all this speculation talk and uncertainty.

"You can call me Urahara, Lady Harribel." Kisuke pleaded with her again, which only gained him a look and no response. "Right, well I have never actually done this before, but I would guess a few hours at most. Why don't I get started, and you can show Ichigo around his new home?" Kisuke smiled and waved to Ichigo, then quickly made to leave. Sung-Sun bowed slightly to him as he left, and Ichigo just gave him a slight unsure wave back.

"My new home huh..." The Hollow teen had another pang of uncertainty. He really couldn't go home anymore could he, at least not permanently. This was really his reality now wasn't it?

"Shall we show you around then?" Tier broke him from his contemplation.

"Wha...oh right. Yeah sure, lets go."

Tier recognized his worry, and figured getting his mind off of it for now was the best idea. Sung-Sun stood up and went to the door, holding it open for the two of them. Ichigo hesitated just a moment and followed Tier out the door, with Sung-Sun falling into step next to him.

. . . .

30 Minutes Later

Ichigo had been fairly unresponsive throughout the tour. That didn't mean he wasn't polite, he at least halfheartedly paid attention. Mostly he was just testing out his new body, most fascinated by the tail flowing behind him. The more time spent thinking on his new body, the more okay he became with it. It was odd to him how quickly he actually adapted and accepted this new form, almost unnerving, but that too passed with more thought. Though he felt a bit out of place here. Mainly because his black body stood out against the continuous white of the palace, so he was quite literally the black sheep in Los Noches.

The two women led him around the living quarters, the throne room, infirmary, entrance to the tunnels, and were currently rounding back to their final stop, his temporary room. They had run across several Arrancars, who had all shown both fear and respect toward the trio. Ichigo couldn't help but notice the fear more than respect toward himself. Yet again, it didn't seem to bother him quite as much.

"This will be where you will be staying until the construction is complete. Its not terribly homey yet, but after the rebuild the rooms will be much nicer." Cyan finished, as she opened the door to the small room. It was a small quarters, not more than 18x18, white walls, a bed, large window, and couch under the window. Ichigo actually tuned into this part, considering this was where he'd be living for now. Movement on the couch diverted their attentions there. Laying down comfortably, with a pillow under her head, was Neliel. She was sleeping soundly, dressed in casual attire. She was wearing the forest green long sleeved turtleneck she was given by Urahara. Along with the formfitting black spandex workout pants that matched Yoruichi's, and two belts draped down her left hip which held her sword in them. Her lips moved a bit, and stretched into a happy little smile, just before her eyes fluttered open slowly.

"Ichi...go. Ichigo! You're up!" Nel was instantly awake once she saw the long feral mane of orange hair. Hopping up to her feet, she halted for a moment, as she finally got a chance to take in the new Ichigo. He barely resembled the teen she had come to like greatly. While his Reiatsu was distinctly his, just more Hollow, his appearance actually frightened her a bit. Her hesitation was evident by her lousy poker face. 'She's scared...I guess I can't blame her. She was frightened of me when I used my mask around her. I must look like a monster now.' Ichigo thought, but he let out a short breath through his non existent nose, and shrugged it off as best as he could.

"Nel what are you doing here?" Ichigo asked, his mask making a questioning look, one of the brow sections lifting slightly. The same question was at the forefront of Tier's mind. She hadn't really kept tabs on any of the other occupants in the palace over the past two weeks, mainly because Ichigo had been her primary concern. Still she was a bit surprised to find the small sea foam green haired Arrancar turned adult in his chambers. Surprise changed to suspicion quickly. Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Something that Sung-Sun picked up on, and smirked at from behind her sleeve.

"I was waiting for you, and I guess I fell asleep. Heehee. It's so good to see you awake Ichigo." Nel dashed her concerns to the side after hearing his voice, even warbled. She almost hopped the two step distance between them, and wrapped her arms around him in a big bear hug. She trapped his arms at his sides with her hug, and slowly started squeezing him tighter. Burying her face in his black skinned shoulder, Ichigo could swear he felt her sobbing silently against him. This effectively took his embarrassment about her prodigious chest pressed against him out of the equation.

"It's good to...to see you too Nel. I'm sorry if I worried you." He breathed out, and managed to move his right forearm up enough to rest his hand on her back. "I'm glad to see you are okay."

"It's all thanks to you Ichigo. You saved us all...I was so worried that you weren't going to wake up." Her happy voice sunk a bit, and he felt her arms tighten around him. Ichigo let out a relaxing breath.

"Well everything is fine now. I'm up and moving again. So you don't have to worry anymore." Ichigo consoled. Nel's hug loosened a bit, and he was grateful. She looked at his face, examining it, and finally let go of him. He sighed closing his eyes, only to have them open when he felt fingers on his horns. His Arrancar friend was running her fingers slowly over his horns, looking almost in awe of them.

"Nel?" He stammered, before she grabbed them full on and yanked his head to the side. "OW! Nel what the hell?" She blinked a few times staring at his horns, and then looked him in the eyes.

"They are really on there, aren't they?" She said in child-like wonder. Ichigo felt a bead of sweat roll down his mask.

"Yeah, they're real, and hurt when you yank on them. Please stop." He heard Sung-Sun snicker behind him.

"Sorry." Nel said, but hadn't relinquished her grip.

"What's so funny Sung-Sun?" Ichigo asked, putting his hands over Nel's and carefully prying her off.

"Oh nothing really. But it's quite amusing to see you manhandled so easily." The olive haired Fraccion chuckled. Ichigo deadpanned, and turned around to try and plead his case.

"Hey, that's not..." He was cut off when his tail was poked by a finger. His mouth froze mid sentence, and then closed silently. Looking behind him, Nel was squatting, and staring in fascination at his new appendage. Sung-Sun didn't even attempt to hide her snickering this time. Tier was observing the exchange with less amusement. She didn't quite know why she was slightly off put by Nel's familiarization of Ichigo. Still she silently watched as Nel continued to poke at, and then run a hand over his tail.

"Nel..." Ichigo said discomfort rising.

"Mm hmm." She hummed, her eyes glued to his tail and sparkling in wonderment.

"Can you please stop touching my tail?" He could feel her every touch. Her soft warm hand ran over his smooth tail. The feeling was oddly nice, but way to embarrassing to him. He wasn't sure if he could blush anymore, but he was certainly feeling it.

"But...Ichi it's so large and smooth." Ichigo about choked. Sung-Sun's snickering evolved into squeaks, as she valiantly tried to restrain her laughter. Tier even felt a tinge come back to her cheeks.

"Neliel I think your making Ichigo..." Harribel started.

"Tier you gotta feel his tail. It's so hard and muscle-y." Nel took hold of his tail, and raised it up toward the Hollow Queen. Tier's eyes shot open, and her blush grew past her fragment. Ichigo's mouth shot open, and he quickly spun in place. He grabbed his tail, and held it in his arms to his chest.

"NEL!" He shouted totally aghast at the woman. He was sure there was a blush on his mask now, considering how hot his face was burning.

"BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!" Sung-Sun's resolve snapped and she bent forward, holding her sides. Here was an incredibly powerful, demonic looking Hollow, holding his tail like a frightened child from an almost completely naive woman. It was just to much.

"What? Your tail is so cute." Nel said looking up at Ichigo with puppy dog eyes. Ichigo's eye twitched violently in its socket.

"Thanksforthetour. Icantakeitfromhere. Seeyoualllater, bye!" Ichigo just about pushed the three women out of his room. Nel came flying out in a confused fetal position. Sung-Sun followed suit, only laughing uncontrollably. Tier had her head down, trying to hide the crimson on her face, and walked out by herself. She looked up to Ichigo before he closed the door.

"If you need anything come find us." She said, and he nodded once to her.

"Thanks." The door closed, and the girls were left out in the hall.

With Ichigo

After closing the door, Ichigo leaned forward. Using his left arm as a support, he held himself against it. He let out a long breath as his head fell down. "Now what Ichigo?" He asked himself in a deflated voice. Pushing off the wall, Ichigo moved to the only window in the room. He stopped to look out to the nighttime desert. It wasn't a terrible view, especially considering this was the land of Hollows, but it was something he knew he'd have to get used to. He lost himself in the scene outside for a few minutes. Then his mind started to go over all the questions he hadn't asked the others.

'Is there anyway I can have a normal life anymore? Even if I become an Arrancar will my friends accept me? Zangetsu, are you really gone?' The last question brought him out of his contemplation. He did a quick scan of himself and the room. His sword was nowhere to be found. "How come I didn't notice Zanget...my sword missing before?" He asked aloud, and thinking back on it he felt like it was with him the entire time. He knew he used the newly white blade against the Quincy leader. Was his sword lost along with it's Zanpakuto Spirit? 'But that doesn't make sense. I had it in my hands...unless...it was lost after I completely absorbed Zangetsu's power.'

Ichigo felt that that was probably what most likely happened, but he wanted to make sure. Urged on by this he moved to the door. "Hopefully after Hats n' Clogs changes me, I can start to sort things out."

'But do you really need to?' His voice echoed in his head, as if a second him was speaking. This thought came to the forefront of his mind.

'What do you mean?' Ichigo decided to see where this internal conversation would lead, as he stepped out into the hall.

'Right now you have no restrictions on your power. You can grow even more so now that you have this freedom. The stronger you are, the easier to protect those you care for.'

'But what's the point of growing stronger if I can't be with those I care about?'

'You've become a monster. They will see you as such. Didn't you see the way Nel hesitated?'

'I...But becoming an Arrancar will fix that. I'll look mostly normal again.'

'They've seen you for the monster you are. Do you really think they'll forget that with a simple face lift? Besides Nel is a Hollow, if she can't accept you how do you think the others will react? You can fight without restrictions in this body, and can grow infinitely stronger. You can fight for them, and protect them from the shadows.'

Ichigo paused mid stride after that. He was standing next to a large window, and turned to look out at the sands, his eyes slightly muddled.

"I really can't go back to being a human can I?" Again he raised his hand to his face, and clenched it.

'They know you are a Hollow now. It wouldn't matter if you looked like them.'

'It really didn't matter to me, why would...'

'They followed you, fought alongside you. Does that mean they view Hollows the same as you? Would the Soul Society hesitate to kill you now?'

'They let Kisuke borrow the Hogyoku to change me. They must be worried about me.'

'Worried about controlling you maybe. If you become an Arrancar your power to protect can be defeated. They can keep tabs on you, stop you from saving those you care for. But what if you grow in power...' The voice trailed off, leaving the question for Ichigo to think on. His eyes grew a bit more hazy than before. He turned from the desert view, and started walking.

'Then they can't stop me from protecting everyone...'

'And in this form you can.'

'But...they wouldn't...'

'Do you want to take that risk?' The voice grew sterner.

'I...I want to protect those I care about...' Ichigo's inner voice started to waver.

'Then why are you hesitating?' Ichigo's steps grew quicker, turning into a determined stride. His Reiatsu started to leak out.

Loly and Menoly rounded the corner ahead of Ichigo. Both were carrying several boxes, and both halted once they saw the dark figure moving toward them. Loly had been to visit Ichigo once during his rest, but several times she asked about his condition. She hadn't seen the full extent of Ichigo's Hollow transformation, only his face as he rested in bed. She was awestruck at his entirety now. He looked so much more powerful and dangerous now. Something she had already found intriguing, but now that he was one of them, it was that much more appealing to her.

Menoly had usually accompanied her 'sister' when Loly asked about Ichigo or went to visit him. She had, on her own, checked on him and Harribel once, when she delivered some food to the Queen. Ichigo's new appearance was imposing, but she remembered the teen who had trained alongside and fought with them. He was kind and strong, determined and resolute, but now...he seemed off. The Reiatsu he was producing was dark, menacing. Something was wrong.

"Well well look who finally came to." Loly said as Ichigo drew closer. She was trying to keep her intrigue passive around him.

"It's good to see you awake Ichigo." Menoly added. Ichigo stopped in front of them, his height towering over the two smaller teens. His dark Reiatsu washed over them, causing both to be alert.

"Where is the old man?" Ichigo asked neutrally. His hazy eyes staring at the two.

"Old man?" Loly asked cautiously, she could feel sweat start to form on her brow. This Ichigo was considerably imposing, something definitely was up.

"Kisuke? Where is Kisuke?" Ichigo asked again, his voice taking an edge.

"Oh...um, we didn't know he was here." The blond Arrancar replied. She shrunk back from the ebony Hollow a smidge. While Ichigo had grown close to her, even to the point where Menoly would call him a friend, this Ichigo scared her.

"W...we've been busy. If...if you couldn't tell." Loly hesitantly told him. She wanted to avert her gaze, for fear that her fear was showing in her eyes. But much like a deer in the headlights she was slightly frozen in place.

Ichigo's line of sight went slowly from Menoly to Loly. Both were obviously anxious, and in the pig tailed girl's case frightened. 'See even they are afraid of you.' The second Ichigo voice said in his mind. "I guess I'll find him on my own then." The young man held back little annoyance, as he looked ahead and proceeded down the hall again.

Loly and Menoly carefully watched him leave, and round the corner before they looked at each other.

"We need to warn Lady Harribel. Something is up with Ichigo, let's go Menoly." Loly whispered to her friend, before both set their boxes down and ran down the adjoining corridor. They knew if they Sonido'ed they would appear suspicious.

Ichigo stepped back around the corner he disappeared down. His glossed over eyes hardening slightly, before he followed the two girls at a slower pace.

With Tier

"It's so good to see him awake." Nel commented as she walked next to Tier. After leaving Ichigo's room, Tier decided to check in with Mila Rose and Apacci. Seeing as they had basically been handling her responsibilities while she was preoccupied with Ichigo, she figured it was time to relieve them. Nel tagged along, and Sung-Sun followed up the rear as usual.

Tier hummed softly in agreement, her head mostly somewhere else. While she was glad the teen was awake, she was still unsure about his condition. Almost the entire tour he was forcing himself to keep responding to the places they showed, and the things that happened there. While not unexpected, he became more thoughtful and less responsive the more time he was up. They had all figured he would take the transition pretty tough to swallow, but the brooding was worrisome. Being a former Vasto Lorde herself she understood how much mental restraint it took to reign in the baser instincts. Ichigo's current mindset wasn't the healthiest for combating those impulses. Tier feared that he may just fall into his instinct, especially considering what she heard about his Inner Hollow's behavior. 'I'll check up on the girls, and then return to his side until the Hogyoku is ready.'

"Lady Harribel? You awake in there?" Neliel asked waving a hand in front of Harribel's thoughtful face. Tier shook her head slightly, and blinked her eyes a few times, coming out of her musings.

"My apologies Neliel. What were you saying?" Tier asked simply out of courtesy, her teal eyes resting on Nel.

"Nel is fine Lady Harribel. I was saying is Ichigo going to be alright?" Tier was caught off guard by Nel's serious face and question. Obviously this happy, slightly bubbly woman, was more in tune than she gave her credit for. It probably helped Nel knew more about Ichigo than Tier had.

"He should be. The Shopkeeper has procured the Hogyoku, and should be ready to transform Kurosaki into an Arrancar soon. Then all he'll need is time to come to terms with what has happened." Tier stated, choosing to believe in her own words. Nel gave her a smile, and went back to walking along side Tier with her hands clasped behind her back.

"That's good to hear. I don't want to see Ichigo hurt anymore than he already is." Tier gave Nel a side long glance. The woman next to her had more interaction with Ichigo, and was easily on friendlier terms with him, if the earlier display was anything to go by. So why did she feel off put by those actions earlier.

"Neither do I." Tier responded softly.

"The poor boy has been through so much already. Given up so much for those he cares about, he deserves some peace for a change." Sung-Sun spoke up. Tier mentally agreed. Giving his powers up to stop Aizen. Then regaining them, only to come to the aid of their enemies, and then have the life he knew permanently changed in that fight. 'Hopefully here he can find that peace. We owe him that much. I just hope I can help...' Tier felt awkward admitting that last part. She did want to help him find that peace, but why was it so weird to actually admit it? It was for another time though, as they approached the council chambers.

Loud voices were arguing from just beyond the doors. When Harribel pushed open the large doors, the two occupants stopped their disagreement immediately.

"Lady Harribel, you're here!" Apacci straitened up from her braced position over the table. She looked pleasantly surprised to see her friend and Queen up.

"Mistress, it is good to see you." Mila Rose added, as she quickly stood up from the chair she was in across the table from Emilou. Both the women gave Harribel a bow, which she waved off.

"It is good to see you as well ladies. Thank you for taking charge in my absence." Tier stopped at the entrance end of the long table, with Nel and Sung-Sun standing behind her.

"Of course Lady Harribel. It was the least we could do." Apacci stressed to her.

"Does this mean that Ichigo is awake?" The tallest Arrancar in the room asked. Mila Rose had been worried about Ichigo's recovery nearly as much as Loly and Nel. Apacci just rolled her eyes at Franceska's almost immediate question.

"Yes. Kurosaki is awake, and we are awaiting the Shopkeeper's readying of the Hogyoku." The brown skinned amazon's eyes lit up a bit. Apacci again rolled her eyes at her companion's pretty noticeable actions, this time letting out a sigh.

"We didn't even know he was here. But that is good news." Emilou said, as she sat down in the chair next to her. "So what's the plan..."

"Lady Harribel, we might have a problem." Loly's voice cut into Appaci's question. She and Menoly appeared at the doorway, both looked worried.

"What is it?" Tier asked, almost immediately tensing up. She really hoped it wasn't what she thought it...

"It's Ichigo. He's not acting normally." Menoly said this time.

"How so?" Nel asked, growing fearful as soon as Ichigo's name was brought up.

"He's exuding a dangerous Reiatsu, and looking for that old guy Kisuke." Loly said quickly. Then each of the women felt a Reiatsu cover them, just before Ichigo himself appeared behind the two at the door via Sonido.

"Speaking of Kisuke, where is he?" Ichigo's already warbled voice had taken on a much more hollow tone. Loly and Menoly spun on a dime, and quickly backed up a few steps, fear and surprise in their expressions. Tier turned slower, much more calm than most the rest. As she did she noticed Nel's normally peaceful face, had taken on a shadow of dread.

"He's getting the Hogyoku ready." The Queen said neutrally. When her eyes met with his, she saw the dull gloss they had. She still held onto the hope that he hadn't completely given in to the Hollow side yet. 'Maybe I can talk him down.'

"I know that Tia, what I want to know is where." There were a few raised brows at his informality, and incorrect usage of Harribel's name.

"That is no way to talk to Lady Harribel..." Apacci's shout was silenced when Tier raised her hand in front of the woman. The Reiatsu exuded from Ichigo was growing, as his patience seemed to wane.

"Why do you want to see him? I'm sure he is busy preparing." Tier used a calm tone.

"I was thinking, and came to the conclusion that I like this form. I have power like this. Why put a cap on it? I can grow strong enough to protect everyone like this. I don't need to become an Arrancar." Ichigo raised his hands, open palms up, as he spoke. When he ended he curled both hands into fists. The women all felt a shiver go down their spines, as the dark surge of aura that came off of him as he did this. Tier and Nel held the best poker faces though.

"We agreed earlier that the change into an Arrancar was the best thing for you. Remember the consequences? What about the Soul Society? What about your family?" Tier took a few steps forward, putting her directly in front of the Hollow teen. She made no move to reach out to him aside from her words. Nel stayed close to the Queen.

"I won't cause the Soul Society any problems, if they leave me alone. And my family...they'll only see me as a monster. So why not protect them from the shadows where I belong?" Ichigo's voice grew harsher as he said this. He was starting to lose his cool, and the others realized it.

"Ichigo, no one sees you as a monster." Nel interjected. Ichigo's eyes shot to her, and raised a finger toward her.

"You're lying Nel! I know why you paused when you saw me again. You fear me, fear what I've become, a monster." The green haired girl reeled back a bit as her own words were turned against her. She bit her lower lip slightly.

"Ichigo I didn't mean it like that."

"Kurosaki, your judgment is being clouded by your Hollow side. You need to calm down, and try to suppress it." Tier used a firmer tone, bringing attention back to her.

"Why suppress it? I finally have the freedom to do what I want." Ichigo's tail tensed behind him, and his eyes narrowed in the mask slits.

"Kurosaki, don't do this." Tier quickly moved into a defensive stance, her hand on Tiburon's hilt. Nel and the other Arrancar went for their weapons as well.

"I'm staying like this. But please, try and stop me. It'll be good to see where my limit is." His Reiatsu exploded, a black vortex of energy spiraling around him and flowing outward. It crashed violently into the purple and golden auras of Neliel and Tier. The walls in the room and hall cracked and dented away. Ichigo bolted forward, connecting his clawed right hand against Tiburon's blade. She held him at bay in a power struggle, until a hard forward kick from Nel sent him through the wall to Tier's right.

Having put a good amount of power behind the attack, Nel was a bit worried she may have actually hurt him. His roar from beyond the broken wall quickly brought her out of it.

"Find the Shopkeeper, and tell him we need the Hogyoku ready now." Tier ordered calmly. "We'll keep Kurosaki occupied, but hurry." Tier Sonido'ed from sight, followed by Nel. The Tres Bestias, Loly and Menoly shared a quick glance, before all buzzed out of sight. The mad race against time was on.

"Ichigo snap out of it!" Nel shouted, as she ducked left, avoiding a claw swipe from the black Hollow. He continued his momentum, and caught her in the stomach with his thick tail. Slamming her into the wall behind her, he quickly reversed direction, and caught Tier's right wrist in his hand. She had come up behind him, and tried to ram her hilt into his head. He pulled her forward, and swung his left hand at her back.

Tier couldn't respond fast enough and had four new claw gouges in her back, shredding part of her jacket in the process. She cringed in pain, but held back her cry of agony. Still holding her arm he pulled down after the slash, and sent her to the floor. She rolled as soon as she hit the floor, avoiding Ichigo's foot stomping on her.

"Ichigo!" Nel called. Bringing his head to the side over his right shoulder, he saw Nel's Gamuza, slashing horizontally toward his back. In a burst of speed he bent forward, the blade missing him totally. His tail lashed up, aiming to wrap around her ankle. Tier's right leg snapped sideways kicking Ichigo's in the head, and sending him again through a wall.

"Neliel we need to get him out in the open." Tier said as both women quickly collected themselves.

"Right!" Nel nodded, before craning her head back slightly. The moment's reprieve was over as Ichigo rushed out of the newly created hole toward them. The green haired woman swung her head forward and opened her mouth. A violet beam spewed forth, engulfing everything directly in front of her. A giant hole, piercing all the way through the palace and out into the night sky now lay before them. Before collateral damage became a thought, the women buzzed from sight, and out into Hueco Mundo.

Ichigo flew away from the palace, a stream of smoke trailing him. Flipping mid air he skidded to a halt on condensed Reishi. Tier and Nel were right on his heels, and appeared right as he stopped. Letting loose a primal roar, Ichigo's power jumped drastically. Both his opponents had to force themselves from flinching. His Reiatsu would just keep climbing the longer they waited, so Tier charged forward.

"Cero!" Swinging her sword before her, a massive stream of golden energy. Ichigo brought his left hand forward, and caught the entirety of the blast, skidding back on solidified air Reishi. His claws sunk into the energy, and with a powerful swipe right, clenching his hand into a fist, he broke the attack into hundreds of smaller more harmless beams. The destroyed attack rained down upon the desert below. The black Vasto Lorde let loose a battle cry, which was cut off when his left arm wouldn't move.

Nel had his left wrist trapped in her hand and yanked him down, while pulling herself up over his right arm. She brought her left knee up, and rammed it into the right side of his head. In that moment of daze she solidified her stance in the air, and yanked his body around, as she spun right. She let go and launched him to the desert floor below. Both she and Tier Sonido'ed from the sky.

Ichigo stood up from the sandy crater, only for him to crouch low. Nel's right kick missed his torso when he ducked, and Tier's right elbow struck only air, where his head just was. A flash of realization came over their faces, before both quickly looked down. A black tail wrapped around Nel's balancing left leg, and a black fist slammed backward into Tier's solar plexus. Tier's head lurched forward, as spittle escaped her open mouth. In that same second Ichigo spun backward to the right, sweeping the former Tres off her foot, and throwing her into the Hollow Queen, rocketing both away from him. Both women skipped over the hard sand a few times, like stones off of water, before rolling to a stop. They had regained their balance from years of fighting experience, and rolled into kneeling defensive stances.

"Stop going easy on me ladies. I really need to test this body out." His black Reiatsu shot into the sky once again, easily bringing his power over what either of his opponent's were capable of in their unreleased forms. The Hollow teen stepped out of the crater, already having a mostly formed black and white outlined Cero formed between his horns. Ichigo stepped forward, solidly sinking his right foot into place and roared as he launched the death ball.

Tier spun her sword in her hand, ready to call out her Resurrecction, when Nel step directly in front of the blast. The green haired woman leaned forward and opened her mouth. Ichigo's Cero stopped just short of hitting her, and quickly began sinking away into her mouth. Nel's aura shot up around her, traces of black inside the pink, just before she closed her mouth. The traces vanished from her Reiatsu, and she opened her mouth once again, her Cero Double emerging, ready to be fired back. The older Tres Espada, was visibly fighting to keep the Cero from exploding right in her face. Tier's eyes shot open suddenly, and she lunged forward to push Nel out of the way.

The ebony Hollow buzzed into sight right in front of the expanding attack, another Cero formed in between his horns. Nel saw this but was frozen in place, trying desperately to control the mixture of his and her Ceros. Ichigo launched the Cero point blank at Nel's. A tornado of colored aura's and sand erupted up from them, with the sand around being turned into glass for some distance. One body flew out of the smoke and dust. Nel was charred, and her beautiful hair was singed horribly. Streaming smoke, she bounced off the ground nearly a half mile away, before starting her uncontrolled roll. A moment later a spike of smoke jutted out toward Nel's trajectory, but nothing came out of it.

Tier was shielding her body from the destruction, unable to reach Neliel in time. Her head was tucked behind her crossed arms, as she was launched away. Her clothing was torn horribly, leaving her front exposed flesh reddened from the explosion. She couldn't feel her predecessor's Reiatsu, but felt Ichigo's Sonido from the cloud they were in. Flipping mid air, Tier dug her feet into the air, and stopped herself. She coughed a few times before following as fast as she could. Bringing Tiburon in front of her as she moved.

"Destroy: Tiburon!" She shouted as she Sonido'ed forward, a spiral of water whipping around her, before vanishing.

Nel whimpered painfully, trying her best to stay conscious. She was laying back down in the sand, a mound built up on her right side, where she dug into it when she stopped. The front half of her body was charred, and ripped open in places. Even if her regeneration had kicked in it was a lot of damaged and pain to push through. She was so weak she couldn't even call out her Resurrecction to heal herself. She heard the dull thump of feet on sand, and strained to open her eyes. Black clawed feet, with red tufts of hair greeted her. Her eyes drunkenly moved further up to see Ichigo rearing his right hand up, readying a strike.

"I..ich...gooo..." Her insanely dry lips cracked, blood welling up on them.

Ichigo's arm froze mid thrust, his speared hand stopping well from it's target. The glazed eyes in his mask sockets quivered, and he pulled himself back a step, and then another. It was plain to see he was fighting something inside him. 'No..no this isn't right. I'm meant to protect them, not kill them.' His voice broke through the murk in his head. 'How is this protecting those I care for!? I nearly killed Nel!' His inner voice grew stronger, pushing valiantly against his Hollow's short sighted instinct.

The side of a huge white pata slashed into the black Hollow's right arm. "La Gota!" Harribel called as she struck her weapon against Ichigo, with the combined force of hitting him while just coming out of Sonido. Highly pressurized water that formed and curved out in a slicing motion, added to the bone shattering blunt force behind it, dispatching the Hollow teen away from them at sonic speeds. He was nearly out of sight before she felt him crash into some ruins, said ruins collapsing upon him.

"Neliel are you okay?" Tier asked calmly, not taking her eyes off of the direction Ichigo was sent. If the situation was less serious she would have stopped everything to help her sister Arrancar, but Ichigo was still incredibly dangerous.

"Tia...he's... ..fighting it..." Nel struggled to stay awake, while something in Tier felt relived. She was afraid Ichigo had fallen totally into the Hollow condition. Nel's words were a balm to that fear. That still didn't mean this was over.

"Neliel, stay here and heal. I'll try and bring him back." Tier said softly before her form blurred and vanished.

"Pleh..please save him..." Nel breathed out, before letting herself fall into unconsciousness.

Not even halfway to him, Tier felt his Reiatsu skyrocket again. 'His power is nearing what it was when he broke the Quincy barrier. If it goes any higher I won't be able to stop him. I have to try and bring him back.' Harribel needed to get through to him, and stall till the Hogyoku could transform him. She wasn't even sure if the Captain Commander of the Soul Society would be able to quell a fully powered and unrestricted Vasto Lorde Ichigo. She would not let her savior be resigned to that fate, not when he went through so much for her and her kind.

Violently Tier was ripped from her resolve and her Sonido. Ichigo's speed was terrifying. He intercepted her, and grabbed her by the throat as she was still in her Sonido. The next thing she knew she was tossed over the moonlit sand, and slammed into a ruin wall. When she looked up he was only a few steps away from her. Her highly honed senses barely registered his movement in that second of time.

"Ichigo please stop." Tier asked carefully. The two Hollow stared deeply into each others eyes. Gold into teal, dangerous into cautious. Ichigo moved forward a bit more, slow, predative. His toothy maw opened, a guttural rumble escaping. Tier didn't move, she held her ground against her advancing comrade. While aggression was expected, this level took her by complete surprise, it took all of them by surprise.

"Why are you hesitating Tia?" Ichigo's warped voice asked, almost confused. Harribel was in her Resurrection, her muscles tensed visibly. Her sword twitched up slightly at her right side, but held fast.

"Please calm down Ichigo." She asked again, her voice a bit harder. Ichigo's advancing was forcing her to quickly choose what she should do. The shadowed area they found themselves in was some distance from her new palace. She was stuck between Ichigo and the remains of one of the former palaces.

"Why?" His black masked head tilted slightly to the side. "I'm finally free of restrictions. Free to do things how I want to. This freedom is amazing. Why are you trying to stop me?" He was closer to her now, closer than she willingly let anyone. His right hand shot passed her head, and pressed against wall, cracking it. His mere two inch height advantage was much more imposing as close as he was. His horns were hovering just over her blond messy head of hair.

"Flattering, but you are not yourself. Please stop." Tier's left hand moved up from her side, and carefully rested on his ebony chest, next to the gaping hole in the middle of it. His eyes inside the mask slits narrowed slightly.

"No." His head closed in further towards hers, and a brilliant yellow light erupted from the hand pressed to him. The building exploded apart, and terrain all around them flew away.

Tier buzzed into visibility in the sky above the giant smoke cloud. Her left hand was burnt and torn up badly. Her regeneration kicked in and her wounds started to heal. A bestial roar erupted from the billowing cloud bellow her, which blew outward away from Ichigo. He was lying back on the desert sand, his chest red with blood, and torn to sheds, even parts of bone sticking out. The female Arrancar's eyes slitted further when she saw his deadly injury heal almost instantly, a white foam-like substance covering them.

"That's it! Fight me! Show me your strength! Test my power to protect you all!" Ichigo hopped up to his feet then kicked off the ground. He was on her in the blink of an eye, bringing his clawed right hand down toward her face. Tier parried with Tiburon in her right hand. The large blade slopped Ichigo's claws, and the power struggle resumed.

"Ichigo listen to yourself! Is this how you want to protect everyone, by beating them into submission?!" She shouted to him, and for a moment he hesitated in his attack. Harribel took that moment, and slipped above him with Sonido. She brought her right heel down to the top of his head, only to kick through the night air. Ichigo's hand wrapped around the back of her neck, claws digging into her tanned flesh. With a warped roar, he launched the two of them toward the ground below.

Tier couldn't speak, her throat was being crushed, as they hurtled toward the sand. She swung her right elbow back, only to have it caught with his right hand and pulled back. The Vasto Lorde wrapped his tail around her left leg, and put his feet against the small of her back. Just before reaching the ground, his feet shoved her down with all his strength. He disconnected from her, and she smashed into the ground almost faster than could be seen. A spire of sand reached toward the sky, and then rained back down into the hole created.

Dazed from the impact, Tier tried to push off the ground, but felt her right arm wrenched downward along with her weapon. Ichigo stepped on arm at her elbow, trapping it to the sand. Tier let out a pained yelp. The towering black being above her, stared down into her half buried face.

"You're holding out on me." Ichigo mocked, as Tier's eyes sharpened. "Nel was holding back, and look what happened to her. This isn't helping me at all to protect you." Harribel let go of her pata, and quickly pulled her arm back, yanking it out from under his foot. Ichigo had to take a step back, but she was already in a crouch in front of him. Shooting her left arm forward, and holding an already formed ball of water, she called out "Tombra Marina.". A tornado of scalding water engulfed the Hollow from point blank range. She felt him inside the attack, and whipped her arm up, and then down. The waterspout followed suit. The long snake-like vortex turned skyward, and as quickly aimed it's entrapped quarry down to the ground. Ichigo's roar was barely audible over the surging water, and completely snuffed out when his body was driven into the ground. The burning water was cut off on Harribel's end, but it continued to drive against Ichigo, until it ran out.

Knowing this wasn't nearly enough to keep him down, Tier took to the sky again. She at least had some distance now, and brought her right thumb to her teeth. She bit into her flesh, tearing apart her Heirro, and letting a trickle of blood free. She rubbed the blood into her palm, and aimed it at the receding spout, and Ichigo underneath. A golden ball of energy manifested there, then the blood in her palm slipped into it. Lightning-like tendrils sprouted from the attack, and a crimson outline encased it. She had prepared her attack, yet she couldn't bring herself to launching it. Her Tombra Marina would be gone in a moment, and he would be back up, capable of avoiding her Gran Rey Cero (Grand King Zero). Why was she hesitating, was she still holding out for that glimmer of hope. Yes, she saw sparks of resistance in Ichigo. No, she didn't want to believe she would have to put down her rescuer. She must though, for the safety of her friends and allies.

"Ichigo, I'm sorry." Tier said in a strained whisper. Right as her previous attack finished, she spotted his glistening black body, steam streaming off of him, and his black marred with more red than usual. Ichigo found her quickly, and saw what she had created. He only saw the attack once before, when Grimmjow had fired it against him. It was nowhere near as powerful or destructive as the one Harribel had. Not even Ulquiorra's Cero Oscuras (Dark Zero) had this magnitude of destruction. The sheer difference in the power between the third and fourth Espada's was akin to a mountain and molehill. If any of the top three Espada had used this technique in the Winter War, Ichigo was almost sure that Aizen would have won.

He could stop it, his need to grow stronger urging him on to. She was an hurtle that would be beaten to be protected. So why was she hesitating? Ichigo wanted to bank on that brief opportunity, but before he could enter Sonido, segmented centipede-like appendages wrapped around his body, trapping his arms to his side. Immediately his still healing body began to feel an even more excruciating burning. His Heirro was being melted through by the secretion of the tiny legs on the arms. His mouth shot open, and he let loose a painful scream as the acid melted into him. He surged his Reiatsu, and pushed outward with all his might, ripping the arms apart and off of him. His torso and arms had crimson acid burns over them. He spun around in time to see the top of Menoly's blond hair, slip out of his bottom peripheral. The next thing he felt was her vibrating blade cutting deep into his right leg, followed by another of her blades tearing into the back of his left calf, before buzzing away.

Menoly may not have been the strongest fighter, and her passive nature only reinforced this, but her blades were unique. No matter the durability of the object, Heirro, or Reishi, with enough preparation and vibration she could cut through it all. The only problem is she wasn't strong enough to usually stand up in a one on one with an expectant opponent. This was where the vanishing dome over the rest of the girls came into play. Sung-Sun's Muda (Molting) technique had effectively hid herself, Loly, Menoly, Mila Rose, Apacci, and a recovering Nel, from Ichigo, who had been solely focused on Tier. All but Nel were in their Resurreccion forms too.

Ichigo's Reiatsu broke apart as he fell to a knee, his legs momentarily immobile. Tier never saw them coming either. How had Sung-Sun's ability escaped even her? Even more incredible was that their combined teamwork had dropped Ichigo, even temporarily. It amazed her at her Fraccion and subordinate's progress. Her pride was quickly pushed away, as she saw the black Hollow's instant regeneration kicking in. She still had the Gran Rey Cero in her hand, but the others showing up put them in danger. 'What can I do!?' Her voice shouted in her head.

Before she could act, Mila Rose and Apacci Sonido'ed forward tackling Ichigo before he could regain his footing. Franceska arm barred his neck with her left arm, and in the same motion slipped around his back and put him in a choke hold. Her right arm slipped under his right armpit, and she pulled it against the arm around his neck. Using her height she bent backward, unbalancing him. Emilou went right for his right arm, wrapping her arms around it from behind, and pulling it back. Ichigo's tail moved to wind around the tall dark skinned Arrancar, when two vibrating blades sunk through it, and pulled it back. Menoly had her reverse blades dug in from the top and side, and was digging herself into the sand, using what strength she had to keep the tail from moving. And before his left arm could think of moving it was wrapped up completely by one of Loly's arms, after she appeared to his nine-o-clock.

The Hollow Queen couldn't help but stare. This all happened in a few seconds, and all with such precision. She knew her Fraccion excelled at fighting together, but this was on a whole new level. They had effectively pinned Ichigo, but for what, and for how long. She felt Ichigo's Reiatsu erupt again with a roar, and knew even their combined strength wouldn't hold him.

Then she saw a hand appear out of thin air in front of the frenzied Hollow. The Hollow Concealing Cloak whipped back, finally appearing as Urahara's form became visible. What happened next was incredibly brief. Ichigo's body froze, almost as in a last attempt at control, Urahara shoved his hand forward the Hogyoku in it, at Ichigo's chest. The Hollow's roar died instantly, as his black body suddenly cracked like glass. The women holding him scattered just before the black skin shattered and flew off of him with the excess Reiatsu he had. A cloud of sand was whipped up with the release, but died away quickly.

Finally all present observed a very human looking Ichigo on his knees, before he fell forward onto Kisuke's awaiting shoulder. Urahara pulled off his cloak and wrapped it around Ichigo, looking up to Tier. He gave the Hollow ruler a smile and nod, which she exhaustively returned. Harribel quickly aimed her Cero toward the sky and released it. It traveled well out of harms way, finally exploding in the upper atmosphere in a bright orange explosion.

Harribel let out a very weary breath, and descended to her fellow Arrancar and the Shopkeeper.

"I'm sorry..." Were the first words out of Ichigo's mouth, before his body slacked, and he passed out.

. . . .

An Hour Later

Ichigo woke up for the second time that day. With a groan he pushed himself up into a sitting position. Cupping his aching head in his right hand, he attempted to steady his blurred vision.

"I'm glad to see you are awake. How are you feeling?" Tier voice came from next to him. Ichigo groggily turned his head to her. Once again she was right there at his bedside.

"Tia..." He started before being interrupted.

"Her name is Tier. Idiot must still be out of it." Apacci scoffed, bringing Ichigo's attention to her sitting in a chair across the room from the foot of his bed.

"Shhh...Let him gain his bearings before you start with that vulgar mouth of yours." Sung-Sun admonished her fellow Faccion. She was standing behind Harribel. She was giving Apacci an annoyed look from behind her sleeve. The heterochromatic Arrancar looked like she was going to shout something back, but Mila Rose's arm swept in front of her, cutting her off.

"She's right Apacci, let him wake up some more before you go off on him. For crying out loud, your bedside manner is horrible." Mila Rose said half seriously, half insult. Apacci was out of her chair and ready to fire back an insult, when again she was interrupted.

"We all know you are worried about him Miss Apacci. There is no need to hide it." Urahara jumped in, with his fan over his face. Even in his hazed state Ichigo noticed the similarities in humor between Hat's n Clogs and Sung-Sun. Kisuke was at a desk on the other side of the bed, housing several monitors and equipment. Apacci's face flushed in rage and embarrassment, her left eye twitching, before she stormed out of the room without another word. Her fellow Fraccion and Kisuke shared a few laughs. Ichigo would have joined them in a chuckle, if not for what he saw next.

As Ichigo turned to look Kisuke's way he saw the bed next to his was occupied as well. He recognized the cascading sea foam green locks as Nel's. She was sleeping peacefully, and looking much less worse for wear than when he saw her last. That was when everything came flooding back to him. His fall into madness, attacking everyone under the guise of protection, nearly killing Nel, and ready to do the same to Tia. His eyes grew wide in horror, horror at himself and what he did. Tier and Kisuke noticed this, and the former reached out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, no hesitation this time. He flinched at her touch, but looked her way anyway. He could only meet her eyes for a second before casting them to the bedsheets. His hands gripping the sheets tightly.

"Now don't you even start thinking like that Berry-Chan." The old man said, not even attempting to hide the insult behind inflections. If one thing got Ichigo's attention, even in his self pitying state of mind, it was his cutesy nicknames. Ichigo's face darkened slightly, and he whipped around meeting a closed fan poked between his eyes.

"Ow!" Immediately the Arracnar teen removed his hands from their death grip, and came to cover his face. His expression went immediately to annoyed. "What the hell you..." Ichigo was about to go off into a string of choice words, before Kisuke bonked him on the forehead with the fan again. The thing he didn't realize was the tension in the room had changed for the better.

"Enough sulking already. That's what put you here in the first place." The teen's anger slipped away as his shoulders slumped slightly. Hat's n Clog's fan opened up over his face again before he continued. "Ichigo you can't blame yourself for what you did. You let things get to you again, and that let your Hollow instincts mostly take over." But it wasn't enough, and Ichigo was about to fire back at him.

"Kurosaki, what he speaks is the truth." Tier interrupted this time. She still had her hand on his shoulder, which he noticed when he turned to face her. Her eyes reflected just as much seriousness as the Shinigami's. Her voice held a commanding tone, which he was almost compelled to listen to without interrupting.

"But I...I..."

"You must understand Kurosaki, for all of your strength and power, you weren't given the time to acclimate to becoming a Hollow. The rest of us," She waved her free hand to the other Arrancar in the room. "...have had a lifetime to come to terms with our natures, and be able to control our instincts." Ichigo's eyes went to each awake women in the room. Sung-Sun gave him a closed eyed nod, with a smile beyond her sleeve. Mila Rose gave him a reassuring smile. Even Harribel's eyes reflected a steady assurance.

"Your circumstances are outstandingly different than our own. We anticipated some complications with your transformation. The Shopkeeper had informed us of your personality, about how you take everything upon yourself, and we expected something like this to happen. Yet, you still managed to hold yourself back, even in your violent moments. You kept yourself when it mattered most. You stopped from delivering the final blow to Neliel. You have a strong will, but you hadn't been given the time needed to come to terms with everything that happened." Tier explained. Ichigo was caught on her words.

"So...what, that's it? I'm cured? You can really just go back to the way things were? I attacked you, hurt you, almost killed Nel. How can you be so accepting of a monster?" Ichigo pleaded. Every fiber of his being wanted to believe her words, but his guilt just couldn't accept it was that easy.

"Ichigo, we were all monsters at some point. Do you still see us as such?" Mila Rose asked. She crossed her arms over her chest, and looked a bit hurt.

"Of course not..." Ichigo started flustered.

"And we don't see you as such either." Sung-Sun finished. For once she didn't have her sleeve in front of her face. She needed to emphasize how serious they were, and held her hands in front of her near her waist.

"The thing you are not getting is, power or appearance don't make you a monster. It's what you do with that power that defines you. Think about it, even Shinigami can be considered monstrous. Take Kenpachi Zaraki for instance." Kisuke said sagely. Ichigo's eyes widened remembering how he saw Zaraki. It was true Zaraki was a monster, but he was still a person, just like the Arrancar. "Even I am seen as such because of things I've done. And now you are probably considered the greatest threat in both the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo, but you are still you. You just need to realize that even monsters are people, and as long as you are who you've always been, it shouldn't matter."

"Old Hat Man is right, Ichi." Nel's weak voice caught all by surprise, and everyone looked to her. She was smiling happily toward him. "If you can see through your prejudices about us, even seeing us as equals, why aren't we allowed to do the same? You just need to not be so rough with me. I may be a masochist, but that hurt." She tiredly joked. A joke that made the rest deadpan, and a sweat drop come to their faces. Ichigo was the exception, he began to softly chuckle, which built into a laugh. Tears even came to the edges of his eyes.

Unsure what would cause Ichigo to do this the group stared in confusion, except Kisuke who just let out a sigh and smiled.

"Ne...Nel...you shouldn't...haha...say things...hahaha like that." Ichigo couldn't help the relief he felt at that moment. 'They don't see me as a monster. I'm just a person to them, like they are to me. How could I have not realized that. Thank you everyone, for accepting me.' Ichigo's mind finally started to clear of the haze. His worry was leaving, it would always be there, but for now he felt content, accepted.

After a good long minute Ichigo finally settled his laughter, and sighed happily. Once again the atmosphere in the room lightened, relaxing to the point that their worry could be put to rest for now. "Sorry 'bout that everybody, and thank you." He said simply to everyone in the room.

"Of course Kurosaki. Despite your methods to attaining your goal, it was still all for protecting those you care about, including us. That should speak volumes about you. Now I'll leave you to rest. Ladies let us depart." Tier said, a small smile hidden behind her collar. She stood up, and made her way to the infirmary's entrance, as did her remaining Fraccion. "And I don't believe aesthetics will be a problem anymore either." Everybody in the room froze at her parting words. Her Fraccion especially took what she said in amazement, stopping in place. Even though she said it in a matter of fact way, it wasn't like her to be that complementary. Ichigo's cheeks grew warm, and Urahara let loose a wave of laughs.

Mila Rose blinked dumbfounded a few times, her cheeks also gaining a blush, before going after the Hollow Queen. Sung-Sun took a much less subtle approach, and flashed the new Arrancar a coy smirk before she left.

Outside the entrance the three passed a wide eyed and tinted cheeked Loly, holding an assortment of male Arrancar clothing to her chest. She was pressed back against the wall next to the doorway, and looked very much flustered. Menoly was on the other side or the doorway, snickering at Loly's reaction to Harribel's parting words. She too was holding an assortment of clothing meant for their newest resident.

"Looks like you have some competition." Sung-Sun said teasingly quiet as she walked past the twin tailed girl. This only made the young Hollow woman's blush deepen.

"Sh...shut up!" Loly replied hastily.

. . . .

Back In The Infirmary

Ichigo was looking over his hands and bare chest while sitting in the bed. His body had obviously returned to being as close to human as he once was. The only differences were the mask fragment adorning his head, the lower back length of his orange hair, and the Hollow Hole dead center in the middle of his chest. His mask fragment was his right horn, the point aimed further down toward his jaw line. Attached to that was a headband going around his head before falling under his hair on the left side, and also a small piece coming around the front of his face on the left. That small piece started at his temple, and branched off in two points. One curved over where his left eyebrow was, ending in a downcast point. The second came up in an arc around the bottom of his eye in a small upturned curved point. The bottom part extended into a part of the upper teeth from his mask. The entire fragment was white, except for black section on the teeth and black line down the center of his horn. A small fortune to him was that his horn was tilted enough that he could turn his head to the right, and his horn wouldn't catch on his shoulder.

"She's not wrong Ichigo, you look just like you did...except for the horn of course." Nel's smile grew toothy. She was sitting up in her bed as well, with Urahara tapping away on the holographic computer in between them.

"Yeah, but I kind feel a bit embarrassed with just my pants on." Ichigo blushed a bit while saying that. He found out he still had the same Hakama on as before, which relived him greatly. Almost as if on cue Menoly came in through the doorway, followed by a shy looking Loly.

"We brought you some clothing Ichigo." The blond Arrancar said, as she set the clothing on an empty table. "How are you feeling?"

"Thanks you two, and I'm feeling...much more like myself." He gave them a grateful smile, which caused Loly's cheeks to darken. Menoly glanced at her sister before she nodded to Ichigo.

"Well it figures we'd have to beat that into you." Loly announced loudly, setting the clothes down, and putting his hands on her hips smirking at him mockingly.

"Yeah...thanks for that too. You guys certainly surprised me. I can still feel a tingling on my chest where your acid got me Loly. You've gotten pretty strong." Ichigo said nonchalantly, which caused Loly to stiffen momentarily. Her mocking smile grew larger, as did the red on her cheeks. She threw her right arm up and pointed at him.

"And don't you forget it. If you screw up again expect another ass kicking." She challenged him.

"Heh heh, yeah well I'll be counting on you then Loly." He replied with a defiant smirk of his own. Loly felt a bolt go through her, and quickly decided it was best to leave before her the red on her face betrayed her.

"Anyways, hurry up and get out of here, there's still a lot of work to do around here. You wouldn't leave it all to us girls would you?" She made sure her back was to him as she walked to the entrance, Menoly giggling in tow.

"Of course not." Ichigo waved them off, only receiving one from Menoly before they exited.

"Ladies man." Kisuke chirped in, his fan over his face again.

"Well he is pretty cute." Nel added with a big smile.

"Oh come on you guys." Ichigo groaned, as his shoulders slumped in embarrassment.

"Oh yeah, this is yours." Urahara spun in his chair, getting up and crossing over to a table near the corner. Picking something large up he spun around. There in his both hands was a huge black sword wrapped in white cloth. Ichigo instantly recognized the blade, and suddenly felt whole again.

CHAPTER 1 END

A/N: I'M SO SORRY IT TOOK SO LONG FOR THIS TO COME OUT! I really am. I actually had half of this done halfway through November, but I was knee deep in my other story and then the holidays hit me hard. Heck I had to tie up my muse and keep her in the room with me to finish this. Not that I didn't want to, just that the motivation to write was lost for the holiday season.

Anyways, so here is the first chapter of the continuation of A Hollow Queen's Dark Knight. I hope you enjoyed it. I was really fighting myself over whether I thought Ichigo's descent into madness worked out well or not. Thanks to a friend on here, NH, who pre-read this, I was finally able to let it out. So what did you think? I have several story ideas set up for the coming chapters, and a story arc coming later, but you'll have to be patient with me. I got so involved in my other story, cause it just flowed so well, that I put this on the back burner. Thus I cannot guarantee steady updates, however (fingers crossed) if motivation returns I should have a chapter out once a month between this and my other stories. That is the best I can give you.

Aside from that I hope you liked it. The next chapter will find us back in the Soul Society after some time to settle, and maybe a surprise guest. So until then thanks for reading.

~Wiggles