Brushing off the last of the clingy kidou ropes as he eyed the holes in Byakuya's clothes from the Hyapporankan rods, Juushirou had to admit he was impressed. Three kidou spells in less than that number of minutes, all of decent level, of which two had been carried out with Nijuu Eishou. He was also fairly sure he had sensed the younger Kuchiki cast a barrier, but if she had, she had already released it again by the time the smoke cleared completely. Rukia had been practicing quite religiously, it seemed. Under different circumstances, he would have expressed his pride at his subordinate's skill.

Given the circumstances, praise would have to wait.

Scanning the area for the reiatsu of the Hollow, he had to hold back a few expletives. Gone. Just as he'd expected.

"Kuchiki-san, would you care to explain your actions just now?" Juushirou asked sternly, brushing the last sparks of reiryoku from his clothes.

Rukia swallowed, even paler than was normal for Kuchiki, but she straightened resolutely. "Sir, I would like to report a case of a Hollow who retained his human mind." She met his eyes with firm resolve, despite the trembling of her hands. "I merely acted to keep you from harming an innocent soul."

That… was so outlandish that Juushirou had to pinch the bridge of his nose to suppress the faint throbbing that started to rear its head behind his eyes. He tried to remain reasonable. "Kuchiki-san, while I would otherwise would be willing to trust your judgement, no such case has ever been recorded in our history, indicating that such a thing is not possible. I'm afraid you've been badly misled."

Anger flashed through her eyes, a similar spitfire-attitude her brother was once known for. Juushirou felt his headache grow from mere possibility to certainty.

That, and a bout of fever was simmering beneath his skin, but that hardly mattered in the face of Kuchiki's compromised mental state.

And how badly compromised she showed in her very behaviour. This was not mere mind control. Hollows with that kind of ability were rare, but he had seen a few cases during his long tenure. She didn't act like someone under a Hollow's thrall. She wasn't emotionless like a puppet nor did she move like one who wasn't in command of her body. And she also did not behave erratically in a reflection of the Hollow's character. She was too much like herself and was too visibly aware of the deep pit she was digging for herself.

"Ichigo isn't a monster," she said vehemently, hands clenching into fists at her sides.

Ah yes, that was the name for the Gotei Thirteen's newest headache. She had mentioned it before. And… Ichigo? Juushirou just knew that name was going to cause problems and he resolved to head off any attempts to have that name spelled as 'strawberry' as early as possible. Even though the armour was red enough to justify such a moniker. This creature was too dangerous not to be taken seriously. Giving it a mockery of a name would blind the more naïve Shinigami to the true danger it posed. The creature's lack of a significant reiatsu signature was already deceptive enough. There was no need to borrow trouble.

"As much as I would like to believe you, there's only evidence of the contrary-"

"What evidence?! He wasn't doing anything!" Frustration and defiance screamed from every line of her body, and Juushirou had the feeling that if they weren't Captains Rukia wouldn't even try to restrain her volume. "We were talking just now! You know, like normal people. We walked right past dozens of Humans, and he didn't even so much as twitch his claws. And just now Nii-sama was the one who attacked, not him! I have been watching him for days and he never-"

"That's enough, Rukia," Byakuya snapped. Rukia flinched, and her brother visibly reigned in his temper. "You will accompany Ukitake-taichou and me back to Seireitei, where you will submit to a mental evaluation from Unohana-taichou," he said sternly. "She will make sure to put an end to this nonsense."

"It isn't nonsense-"

With a sigh Juushirou stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. She twitched, but a wary look aside she didn't shy away. How convenient. "Forgive me, Kuchiki-san," he murmured, carefully shaping energy so it would remain invisible and unnoticeable, lest he would startle her into doing something foolish. Well, something else foolish.

She dropped like a stone.

He caught her suddenly limp body, controlling her fall. Laid a hand on her forehead to see if he could find some trace of the Hollow's thrall. He answered Byakuya's startled look with an apologetic smile. "In these cases I've always found it is better not to argue too much. It never seems to help."

"I was not aware you were this skilled in kaidou," Byakuya remarked.

"Out of necessity, mostly," Juushirou admitted. "But sometimes it comes in handy."

Byakuya nodded, acknowledging that point. A tiny frown creased the skin between his eyebrows as he regarded his sister. "I shall carry her," he declared.

Juushirou allowed him without complaint. He had to admit he was starting to feel quite awful, and he did not wish to risk accidentally dropping Rukia. Dizzy spells were all too common when his illness was flaring up like this.

With a sigh he rose and drew his Zanpakutou. Better to get all of them home quickly. He would have to fill in Kisuke on what happened at a later point. Right now he was not feeling up to making a detour.

With a chime, the senkaimon opened. Seconds later, all that remained of their presence were a few monochrome fibres of shredded fabric and wild patterns painted in cherry-red on the pavement.

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

"How curious," Retsu said softly, glowing hand resting on Rukia's forehead.

"Would you care to explain that remark, Unohana-taichou?" Byakuya asked stiffly from where he was standing near the door. Juushirou himself was seated in a comfortable chair with a cup of soup and his usual medicine, which he was taking with a faint grimace. It tasted unpleasant even after the many centuries he'd had to get used to it.

Retsu folded her hands, looking endlessly serene in spite of their current dilemma. "I can find no trace of the ability you spoke of," she explained. "No Hollow energy is twisting her mind. No energy at all, in fact. There is only her own. If you had not told me how she behaved before, I would not be able to guess there is anything wrong with her."

"Nothing at all?" Juushirou questioned with a frown.

"Not a single thing. She seemed to have suffered some injuries recently, but those are expertly healed and would not explain her behaviour in any case." Retsu herself seemed as puzzled by this as they were, though it might be hard to tell if you didn't know her.

Juushirou hated mysteries like these. They never seemed to end well. "I have the feeling we are going to regret reporting this," he sighed.

Byakuya looked scandalized. "It is our duty to report creatures like that Hollow," he pointed out. "If we do not eliminate that Hollow soon all Shinigami will be in danger."

"I am aware. Still, it might have been better if we waited with our report until we could determine more about the methods it used to influence your sister, Kuchiki-taichou," Juushirou said placatingly. "Since our original assumptions seem to be incorrect. Faulty information is just as dangerous as ignorance."

Byakuya's mouth tightened into a thin line but he inclined his head, conceding that point. He directed an inquiring look at Retsu.

Retsu sighed. "Unfortunately, I can offer you no solution. I do not know how a Hollow managed to twist Kuchiki-san's beliefs to such a degree. She was convinced the Hollow was innocent?"

"She stated so rather explicitly," Juushirou confirmed, just slightly wryly. Under different circumstances he would have found her fervent defence endearing, reminding him a bit too much of several other spirited youngsters he'd had the misfortune to have to argue with. It was chilling, the kind of thing this Hollow had achieved in the time Kuchiki had been away from home.

"Curious," Retsu said again. Thought for a while, a small frown creasing her brow. "Kuchiki-taichou, Ukitake-taichou, how likely do you think it is that the Hollow convinced her solely with words and actions?"

"Highly unlikely," Juushirou answered promptly.

"My sister knows her duty. She would not betray the Gotei Thirteen," Byakuya added disapprovingly.

Retsu nodded slowly, in a way that made dread sink in Juushirou's chest.

"I see," was all she said.

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

So Ichi-nii won't be home for a while?" Karin questioned.

Jinta nodded vigorously. "Yeah. He was gonna make a run for it. Can't blame him. Not with Captains on his tail."

Yuzu nodded to herself. "So we just need to pretend to be normal," she mused as she stirred the miso she was preparing for dinner. She paused for a moment, anxiously biting her lip. "Do you think Onii-chan will be okay?" she asked in a small voice.

"Yeah, 'course he will," Jinta said confidently. "Ichigo is badass and Shinigami can't make garganta. Bet he slipped right through their fingers. He's sneaky like that."

Yuzu smiled tremulously, but nodded in agreement. "He is, isn't he?"

"You bet he is," Karin assured her comfortingly as she slung an arm around her sister's shoulders, though she herself was just as worried. "Hey, you think we should let the others know? Maybe one of them can stay over. You know how Ichi-nii gets when we're alone at home."

"Sure! I'll give them a call!" Yuzu agreed with forced cheer. "Can you watch the food for a moment?"

"Leave it to me," Karin replied. After checking the pans for a moment, she leaned against the kitchen counter and sighed. "Wish we weren't so dependent," she grumbled, mostly to herself.

"What?" Jinta asked.

"When it comes to Hollows," Karin elaborated. "Ichi-nii's always worrying about us. Sometimes I wish we could handle them ourselves."

"Then ya should learn. Shouldn't be too hard for ya," Jinta pointed out. "Me and Ururu managed just fine."

Karin scoffed. "Yeah, but according to Hat'n Clogs we won't be able to do anything until we're dead."

Jinta scratched his head. "Why not? Ya seem powerful enough, for a girl."

Karin punched him in the shoulder with a scowl, before crossing her arms. "Because our powers lean too strongly towards Shinigami, and we will have to sever our Chain of Fate before we can use them."

Jinta scowled back, rubbing his arm. "Why don't ya then? Can't be too hard to get rid of that chain. The old man could come up with something for sure to get ya your power! Prob'ly wouldn't even hurt that much, if ya give him a bit of time. Tis not like ya can't get a gigai after."

"Because Ichi-nii would flip," Karin said, defeated and just a little angry. "You have no idea how badly. He already doesn't like the idea of the others putting themselves in danger, and he isn't half as protective of them as he is of us. He'd drive himself crazy with worry."

She glared darkly at nothing in particular. It wasn't that she did not understand where her brother was coming from. She did. They had already lost too much and come too close to losing each other, to ever be comfortable with their siblings putting themselves into danger. It was worse for their brother because Yuzu and her were only eleven, but if Ichigo wouldn't starve otherwise, Karin and Yuzu would have long ago banded together to make him quit going after other Hollows. They would have made him listen.

Ichigo might have been the one who died, but if he had been anyone else, anyone else at all, the loss would have been as real for him as it would have been for the twins. If they hadn't been able to see ghosts he would have been doomed to the kind of loneliness that could drive even the mildest person into insanity. If Ichigo hadn't somehow managed to keep himself from tipping over the edge of sanity into the madness that claimed all other Hollows….

Karin couldn't bear thinking about what could have happened if things had just been a little bit different.

She bowed her head, letting her hair hide her expression, nails digging into her arms. "… I hate that I can't do anything," she hissed.

Jinta looked incredibly uncomfortable. He awkwardly patted her on the shoulder, floundering for something to say that wouldn't get his face kicked in. "Well… maybe ya can ask the old man for some kind of weapon? He's good at those. He made a really cool bat for me, bet he could rig something up for ya two," he offered tentatively. Then he pulled a more serious face, for once proving that he was actually older than he looked. "But really, ya shouldn't worry about Ichigo. Ya know he'll come out just fine. He's way too strong and sneaky not to."

The corners of Karin's lips lifted a little. "Yeah, you're probably right."

When Yuzu returned with a smile that was no longer entirely fake and the message that the others were coming over, Karin managed to give a similar smile in return.

Maybe they would ask Urahara for a weapon, she thought to herself, and damn their brother's objections. Maybe now they were a bit older Ichigo would see it was only sensible that they could defend themselves.

Though maybe she shouldn't tell him they wanted to protect him too. Ichigo had a thing about being their defender, not the other way around. Better to leave that as a surprise.

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

"What?" hissed Juushirou. "Sir, please tell me you're joking."

"We do not joke about these things, Captain Ukitake. Surely you remember our laws. Siding with Hollows, no matter the reason, is treason," the primary spokesperson of the Central 46 stated firmly. "No exceptions. Only one punishment. She will submit to Seireitei's laws."

No. It was a cold, chilling thought. He was sure everyone in the room felt his spike of reiatsu. The sudden tension cramped up his lungs, his illness provoked by the slightest things as always when he was already running a fever, but it was a distant, unimportant thing in the face of this… this atrocity. He had seen and reluctantly carried out many a foolish judgement, but this one, this one he wouldn't allow.

"Kuchiki was brainwashed and manipulated," he argued, forcing down a handful of coughs that threatened to climb up his throat. "Surely the law allows an exemption for circumstances beyond her control?"

"Do not speak nonsense, Captain Ukitake," one of the hidden elders said, shuffling what sounded like a small stack of papers. "There is no proof of such. Captain Unohana herself declared that she could not find any trace of tampering. There are no loopholes. No excuses. Our judgement stands. Tomorrow she will be brought to the Senzaikyuu to await her execution."

"But sir-!" Juushirou didn't manage to finish his sentence because his lungs decided to rebel at that moment. Central 46 ruthlessly used his momentary weakness.

"Defending a treacherous criminal disgraces your station. You will desist now, Captain Ukitake. We will not be swayed. Meeting dismissed!"

"Sir," Shunsui tried to protest, stepping forward from his position as spectator. "Surely you will not condemn an innocent-"

The judges of the Central 46 gave him no room. The voice of their spokesperson was laced with steel and impatience as he said, "The same goes for you, Captain Kyouraku. Continue to obstruct Seireitei's justice and we will have to judge you as complicit in Kuchiki Rukia's crime. Now leave us. We of the Central 46 have more important things to discuss than a petty criminal."

For a moment, Juushirou felt the overwhelming urge to unleash Shikai on a few deserving old heads. He clenched his hands into fists to keep them from inching towards his Zanpakutou.

A sympathetic sigh rumbled next to him. "Come on, Ukitake, let's get you back in bed, huh?" his friend said placatingly, gently leading him out when he tried to stay and argue further. Juushirou went with ill grace. Byakuya followed them out, face a blank mask that did nothing to conceal how shock had leached what little colour he had from his skin.

Juushirou allowed Shunsui to guide him to a bench just outside where he could ride out the worst of his coughs. Neither man joined him. Shunsui instead chose to occupy the wall, while Byakuya stared out on the rest of Seireitei without really seeing anything.

"One does wonder," Shunsui said conversationally, "why you did not help just now."

Beneath the emotionless charade, Byakuya looked painfully conflicted and indecisive. "… The Central 46 have made their decision," he answered quietly. "I do not have the right to question it."

Juushirou scoffed, and promptly let out another string of coughs. "Who… else will… if not us?"

"… It is not my place," Byakuya insisted, aimless as if trying to convince himself more than them. "Their wisdom has led Seireitei well, all these centuries."

"Hm, one can argue that both the Gotei Thirteen and the Noble Clans are partly responsible for that," Shunsui said, for all appearances completely at ease. But the way he used his hat to disguise his expression a bit more than usual betrayed him. "As we have the position and power to question them the duty to call them out on their errors falls to us, and Juushirou and I have always tried our best to fulfil that duty. No matter how much it displeases them to hear that they are not infallible."

Not that it always worked, Juushirou thought fuzzily. Like today. Like that cursed day a hundred years ago. But even knowing the chance of success was low, they had to try.

Byakuya did not deign to give that a response. Maybe he didn't have one. Though both Captains could see that the conflict beneath his false calm had grown.

Shunsui sighed. "… At least think about it, will you? You won't be able to take your choice back once you have allowed the sentence to be carried out."

Byakuya's head dipped almost unnoticeably, not so much as in a polite show of gratitude as in resignation. "… I will keep that in mind."

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

Predictably, Unohana was not pleased with him once she caught hold of him. Juushirou had not expected her to be. Sneaking out when she was trying to provide him with the best care she could was hardly the polite thing to do. But Juushirou had not dared to miss Central's judgement when he had been summoned to testify so unexpectedly soon, fearing what conclusions they might draw when they called him to court barely a day after he and Byakuya had retrieved Kuchiki Rukia. The speed at which they had started her trial had been alarming all on its own.

Not that it had done any good. The only positive this day had been that Central had denied Captain Kurotsuchi's request to 'examine' his young subordinate. Juushirou had rejected that request before, but he supposed he should not be surprised that Kurotsuchi would try to pursue the subject any way he could. That man's curiosity was relentless.

At least Byakuya had backed him up on that.

Why in the Worlds Byakuya had not supported him when he tried to head off Rukia's execution, Juushirou could not phantom. He suspected Clan politics were at fault, but he could not imagine something that would make the boy who had fought his elders for his wife refrain from facing them for his sister. The whole thing was giving him a headache.

He blinked when his personal denreishinki rang, and buried the urge to groan. Only Shinigami out on assignment in the Human World should have that number, and were strictly informed only to call it in dire emergencies. He did not think he was up for one of those now.

But despite his misgivings, he couldn't in good conscience leave one of his own people hanging just because he was not feeling his best. With a quiet sigh he answered the call.

"Hello?"

His lips twitched when he heard the cheerful and utterly unapologetic greeting on the other side.

"Kisuke-kun, you do realize this is supposed to be an emergency number?" he asked dryly.

"Of course I do! But you never called, you didn't even write… what if you were lying in the gutter somewhere?"

"I am confident that if that was actually the case, calling me would not be your first reaction. You have too many sensors not to notice whatever event would have landed me there," he replied.

"Fair enough…. But anyway, don't tell me you forgot your promise!"

Promise? Oh. "I'm afraid I did," he admitted honestly. "We encountered a bit more trouble than we expected."

Kisuke made an inquiring noise.

With a sigh Juushirou recount the tale, from the Hollow's escape and Rukia's damning behaviour, up to and including Central's unreasonable decision. At least he could be sure Kisuke and he shared a similar view on this.

"My, that isn't good," was Kisuke's opinion. From his tone of voice Juushirou suspected he was grimacing. "Sounds like a real mess."

"It is," Juushirou admitted with a sigh, recognizing the very real hint of worry in Kisuke's voice with fondness. It was kind of Kisuke to still be concerned about other Shinigami in spite of his many misgivings with Seireitei. It was a shame the Gotei 13 lost him. "Not in the least because I just can't understand Kuchiki Byakuya."

"The worst kind of delusions are the ones you can't just gather proof against to shove into someone's face to prove them wrong. Nobles are good at being stubborn about stupid things. It's a pride thing."

Despite everything, Juushirou chuckled. "Don't let Yoruichi-chan hear that one."

"Wouldn't matter, she came up with it herself," Kisuke replied cheerfully. "She was definitely talking from experience."

"Hm, I do have to wonder under what circumstances she said that."

"Please," Kisuke said dismissively. "She was only a little tipsy. She has admitted to worse when sober."

Juushirou smiled. "I'm sure she did," he said noncommittally. He coughed softly, feeling the aching itch of worse rising in his chest. "Was there anything else you needed to know?"

"Nah, nothing that can't wait. You go get better, Juushirou-san. Let me know when the noble brat sees sense."

"I will," he promised as he pressed a handkerchief over his mouth to smother the worst of his coughing. "Goodbye, Kisuke-kun."

"Bye senpai! Say hi to your pet drunk for me!"

Juushirou chuckled despite the pain. "I will tell him," he promised. "Please give my regards to Yoruichi-chan and Tessai-kun."

"Will do!" was the last cheerful promise before the line went dead.

Juushirou smiled to himself as he dropped his denreishinki on his nightstand. Thank the Kami that had not been an actual emergency.

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

When Kisuke ended the call he took the liberty to swear long and heartfelt.

He had so hoped it wouldn't come to this. Hoped that some unknown event would turn the tide in their favour, even though he knew better than to count on good fortune. But even when having taken the possibility into account, it was still disheartening to learn how quickly their opponents had pounced on the young Kuchiki, like wolves on a baby deer.

"Okay, that sounds bad. Don't tell me we have an unpleasant emergency to deal with."

"Might as well be," he admitted. He sighed deeply. "Let's just say it seems several people drew some very faulty conclusions, and we will likely have to deal with the fallout."

"Tell me about it," Yoruichi ordered calmly.

"The wise and honoured Central 46 have judged Kuchiki Rukia's case," Kisuke stated in a dull monotone, imitating a formal Inner Court Troup member. His attempt to mock the government of Seireitei fell flat in the face of the quiet anger that permeated his voice.

"You know I do not like it when you start like that?" Yoruichi remarked absently. "You never seem to have something pleasant to tell when you do."

Kisuke gave her a wan smile, trying for cheerful and failing rather spectacularly.

"I don't really like that smile either. Just give me the bad news already."

"They have ordered her execution," he stated bluntly. "With the Sokyouku."

"… Do you plan on telling Ichigo?" Yoruichi asked with the kind of ponderous calm that for her passed as trepidation.

"I'm not sure I wish to know what his reaction will be when I don't and he discovers what's going on anyway."

Yoruichi shot him a knowing look. "U-huh. And he's still an Adjuchas. Better to let him get it out of his system before he gets another power-upgrade, is it not?" she added dryly.

This time Kisuke's smile was a bit more real. "Well, of course. I prefer to stay in one piece when I tell him he can't go save her."

XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX(xxxx)XXX

Ichigo would freely admit he was worried sick as he waited in Hueco Mundo for news from Rukia. He had left her in an awful situation.

Should have just dragged her along, he thought glumly as he munched on the remains of a lone Adjuchas unfortunate enough to cross his path. She would be safe then. Safer, at least, than she was with a couple of Shinigami who had seen her help a Hollow.

Swallowing the last bite, he quickly moved on. If he sat still for too long he would think too much on the whole damn situation, and he had already done that more than enough. Any more and he would abandon all common sense and return to Karakura without waiting for the all-clear from Hat'n Clogs. His friends would be mad at him if he did that when he had no idea where the Shinigami Captains were at the moment. He expected them to have gone back to Soul Society when they could not find him, but he could not be sure.

Now if only Hat'n Clogs hurried up and let him know he could go home….

Impatient, he prowled the sands of Hueco Mundo, looking for another victim to devour. He needed to take his mind off of things and catching up with his hunting was a good way to do that. It was slightly risky, venturing into an area of Hueco Mundo that he hadn't explored all that much yet when he was so distracted, but at the moment the risk seemed inconsequential compared to the risks Rukia had taken to help him escape.

Hunt and kill, hunt and kill. After a time it became a bit monotonous. Most Adjuchas just did not expect anyone to conceal their reiatsu as effectively as Ichigo could. And they did not expect his level of stealth either. Most Hollows did not have the patience to learn how to move unseen in a world as empty as Hueco Mundo. The fights were short, dirty, and frantic. Ichigo had gotten very good at dominating the short-lived scuffles.

Another whiff of reiatsu, and Ichigo crouched low as he silently made his way to the top of the dune, taking care to let the sandy crest hide him from the Hollows he could sense on the other side. For a moment he paused to narrow down on their exact position. Odd, they almost seemed to be standing guard for something. Maybe an entrance to a lair? That would be fortunate…

"-really? Aizen-sama won't be here for such a long time?" a barely audible voice asked.

"No. But after this the Shinigami business should be settled. About time too. The older Numeros have become real menaces, and the Espada aren't much better."

Ichigo stilled, listening carefully. In his worry for Rukia he had mistaken the reiatsu signatures for normal Hollows, but now he was paying attention he could feel that they were instead Arrancar. Kisuke always was curious about what the Arrancar were up to. Especially those who worked for the mysterious Shinigami.

"-will happen after that?"

"Apparently he's going to move to Hueco Mundo."

"What, permanently?" was the almost dismayed cry.

"Yeah-"

Ichigo stepped back, needing some time to process this new information. If the Shinigami were going to stay here… well damn, that would have consequences all right. Ichigo's hunting would get a lot more difficult. He had felt each of the three of them try to approach him a couple of times already. There was a good chance they would continue to do so once they were living here permanently. Could it be that he soon would no longer be able to hunt freely anymore?

A silent buzzing rattled against his spine, a sign that Urahara was finally trying to contact him. Quickly, Ichigo relocated to a more private patch of sand, out of earshot from the group of gossiping Arrancar.

Somewhat distracted, he answered the call he had been waiting for, claws digging through his mane to press the only button on Urahara's little device. "Hey Hat'n Clogs," he greeted softly, "fun bit of news: I just overheard a group of Arrancar saying something is going to happen on the side of the Shinigami that come here. Something big. Once it's over they expect him to come and stay here. Do you know anything about that?"

There was a moment of silence from the other side. "… Hello Kurosaki-kun. That is very interesting. Let's just say, we too have received some signals that things are starting to move."

"Oh?" Ichigo inquired, absently scanning his surroundings. Urahara would never let him live it down if he allowed something to sneak up on him.

"Hm, yes. You better return to the Shop so we can discuss everything. For just this once Tessai has given you permission to make a garganta in the hallway."

Beneath his mask, Ichigo's eyebrow jumped for his hairline. "Honestly? Okay, I'm really getting worried now, Urahara-san. Tsukabishi-san hates it when I make garganta indoors. Are the Shinigami still around or something?"

A soft chuckle echoed over the line. "I am well aware, Kurosaki-kun, and no, the Captains have left. With young lady Kuchiki, I might add. Unfortunately we cannot be sure they are not still closely monitoring the area, hence Tessai's unusual generosity." A short pause."I assume I can tell him to put on the tea then?"

Ichigo snorted. "Yeah, yeah, you cagey bastard. Go ahead. I'll come over. Go make sure no one's standing in the hallway when I'm coming through."

"Rest assured, Kurosaki-kun, you won't trample anyone if you come through in the next ten minutes."

"Okay, see you in a moment then."

"Indeed."

With an almost inaudible click the little device ended the transmission. For a moment, Ichigo stared into the distance with a sinking feeling in his chest. Then he turned and opened a garganta.


I know that canon does not mention a law about siding with Hollows, but given that a good chunk of Seireitei's population made Hollow-slaying their job, I'm sure it is in their lawbooks somewhere.

Kaidou = healing kidou