A/N: So, let's see here...that leaves 3 more to go? Yeah, I think it'll be three more chapters. Thank you for your patience! I had a few exams and then spring break, so I took the time to do what amounted to basically nothing.


He spent the morning with Orihime. It was more than a pleasant change from the attentions of Aizen or the unusually intense stares of Ichimaru. Not that he managed to escape the staring here, Ulquiorra, the ever-present silent sentinel, stood in the corner of Orihime's room, green eyes trained on the two of them.

Somehow, that, too, was pleasant. Bright green eyes and red hair defiantly existing against the never-ending white backdrop of Las Noches.

The small talk had ended. The silence was comfortable, for Ichigo, but he could see Orihime squirm in her seat.

"You...you haven't asked about them since," she said, finally, nervously.

Ichigo hoped he could pretend that he didn't hear her. Them. His friends. Their friends.

"You need to know."

"I..." his word died in his throat. I don't want to, not yet, I can't handle it—Orihime, not yet, please please please

"I can't do this anymore!" He thought it came from him. He blinked through the sudden haze of unshed tears, anger buzzing in the back of his head. Orihime's hands were tightly clenched, eyes shimmering with tears.

"I can't keep doing this, I-Ichigo. I don't want to. I don't want to keep seeing you like this. It hurts."

He stood up, a swift motion, knocking his chair back on the floor. Orihime flinched. Ichigo rushed out of the room, blood rushing through his ears. He heard Orihime's muffled voice call for him as he aimlessly stomped through the halls, uncaring and unseeing of any obstacles.

It hurts for her? How do you think I feel? I hate this! I'm the one who can't keep doing this! Why, why? Why me?

His head throbbed. Abruptly, he stopped, crouching down, his hands threaded through orange spikes. The anger in his veins scared him; it was a force that shook his entire body, sprouting seeds of fear that blossomed into terror. Awash in the intensity of it, he felt his breath quicken, unable to figure out how to calm himself.

Aizen was there, looming over him.

Aizen.

Focus.

A simple goal; that was always enough for Ichigo. With a deep, shaky, breath, Ichigo raised a hand up to the man.

"S-sousuke...hold me."