Notes:

Thanks to my beta reader Ink and Blade! (He's also putting together summaries for all the chapters, so once those are done I think I might be done with the fic, and I'll upload it as a standalone chapter at the end, so if someone needs reminders for stuff it'll be there)

Mirrored on Archive of our Own

You could say that they were sent back to the future LOLOLOL I'll stop. It was Aizen, I was super vague and fuck the way aging works in SS it doesn't make any damn sense, so therefore who cares. He was always a sneaky fucker, and now he got to see how much power a full fledged arrancar has.

This chapter is tying together a lot of threads from previous chapters, so I agonized over making it as coherent as possible, thus the lateness, but I did rewrite and delete stuff and chop it up as much as I could to make it as good as I could. I tried to stress things that were important multiple times without being redundant or boring, because we really are in the endgame now, I don't want to confuse anyone too much. I hope ya'll like the end ~

~ Cheat sheet has been updated with current plot points ~

Also who saw that the Thousand-Year Blood War is going to be in Jump Force? I'm both really mad and interested, I'm so conflicted.

Cheat Sheet:

Reiryoku → reiatsu → reishi

die Königin (The Queen)

Aspect: Vengeance, Life

Location: Living World - Geisterwelt (Spirit World)

Physical medium: Die Augen der Königin (The eyes of the Queen)

Ability: Das licht (the light)

Kinder: Quincy (Manipulate reishi)

Quincy host: das Herz der Königin (The heart of the Queen)

Current Host: Kurosaki Ichigo

Previous Host: Adaliz

Conduits: Sternritter

- xxx -

Reiō (Soul King) -Destroyed-

Aspect: Disruption

Location: Souru Sosaeti (Soul Society)

Physical Medium: Crystal

Ability: Kekkai: Held up the frayed edges of Soul Society against the Gods

Sūnyata

Aspect: Emptiness, Void

Location: Souru Sosaeti (Soul Society)

Physical medium: SekkiSeki

Ability: Rejection

Kuriētā: Shinigami

Current Host: Reizei

Previous Host: ?

Conduit: Orihime Inoue

- xxx -

Alteza (High King)

Aspect: Regret, death

Location: Hueco Mundo (Hollow world)

Physical medium: Las manos de Alteza (the hands of the High King)

Ability: La sangre (the blood)

Niños: Hollows (feed off of reishi)

Hollow host: El corazón de Alteza (The heart of Alteza)

Current Host: Kurosaki Ichigo

Previous Hosts: Aizen Sousuke - Mictlāntēcutli

Conduits: Grimmjow, Ulquiorra

Ganbari masu!

Gisei

- xxx -

Kurosaki Ichigo

It quickly became apparent that he and Grimmjow had only been absent from Las Noches for a couple of hours, meaning they had been dumped back in the desert a very short time after they had been sent back in the first place. Once within Las Noches, Ichigo checked that his phone worked.

Miraculously, it did, and he called Kisuke without preamble.

Grimmjow sat heavily near his feet to wait, which was unsettling given how out of character it was. Grimmjow looked as tired as Ichigo felt, and even without broadly advertising it, with next to no reiatsu to speak of, his fraccion was looking to him for protection, and offering some in return.

"Kurosaki-san?" Kisuke questioned.

"Ah, I'm alive." Ichigo said with a sigh. He immediately asked, "How's Inoue?"

"One moment."

It was much less time than that, and he heard a sobbing Inoue in the background fumble with the phone. "Kurosaki-kun! I thought I killed you, You were gone-and what was I going to tell your family? I didn't-"

"Inoue," Kurosaki interrupted. Gently he added, "I'm fine."

There was the sound of the phone changing hands again and a hissed, "Ishida, wait."

"You almost killed her and the most you can muster is a phone call?" Ishida snarled.

Ichigo winced, hearing Inoue talking in the background, but he couldn't make out what she said. "Ishida, if I thought I could apologize in person without Alteza trying to kill her again, I would. It's safer if I stay away."

"It shouldn't have happened in the first place."

"Give me half a second, Ishida, and I'll explain," Ichigo snapped.

There was a few seconds of silence and Kisuke was back, sounding a touch exasperated. "You're on speaker."

Ichigo didn't bother wasting any time. "The Gods react badly to the presence of another God, and for some reason, Alteza's reaction was volatile. Inoue sent us away, back in time to her father."

"How far back?" Kisuke interrupted.

Thinking, Ichigo bothered to try to categorize what he'd seen, he had no idea how far back they'd been thrown "Before the Gotei 13, before Seireitei had a notable presence."

Kisuke provided, "That's well over a thousand years." He sounded a bit grim, and Ichigo heard Inoue ask why that sounded like such a bad thing.

Kisuke explained what Ichigo already feared. "You don't sound panicked," Kisuke told Ichigo. "So I doubt anything in the present is different from when you left. That most likely means that your actions in the past have already been experienced by us. Did you discover anything useful?"

"Notably?" Ichigo said, "Inoue's father, Reizei, is the host for Sunyata."

"Sunyata?" Kisuke mused.

"That's what he called it." Ichigo said.

Kisuke mused, "That connection with Sunyata might explain how she was able to send you so far back. You're certain he's her father?" No doubt coming to the same conclusion Ichigo had.

Recalling how similar their abilities were, Ichigo assured him. "Inoue is definitely his daughter." He threw his hand out in a wide gesture, even if they couldn't see it. "So where is he?"

"You can't sense him?" Ishida asked.

Ichigo was surprised he was paying that close of attention. "I couldn't in the past, not if he didn't want me to, and I doubt I could now." It didn't sit right with him, something about that was deeply wrong.

"Kurosaki," Grimmjow growled. The Espada stood, eyes cast down a dark hallway.

"Yeah, I feel it," Ichigo muttered. "I'm going to have to call you back." Before they could protest, Ichigo flipped the phone shut and slid it back into his pocket.

Grimmjow took a step forward and Ichigo stopped him short with a hand on his shoulder. He didn't need to tell Grimmjow why he didn't want him to fight, but he knew it was infuriating to the Espada to be held back so often. Frankly, this wasn't his fight.

Ulquiorra stood in the dark, looking more like a ghost than an arrancar. The Espada already had his sword drawn, his appearance much more akin to his released state now that he was a conduit for Alteza; His sclera were black, as was his mask fragment, the same as Grimmjow.

To be here at all, the Espada must have sensed an opportunity with Ichigo's low reiatsu. Ulquiorra's timing was shit, comparatively, but Ichigo couldn't think of a better time to deal with this; It wasn't often he found himself so weak.

Against a tactician or a Kido user that relied on pure skill, like say, Kisuke, he would genuinely be at risk. But against a fighter like Ulquiorra that valued mostly pure power, he could handle himself.

Without a word, Ulquiorra buzzed into sonido, the tip of his sword angled directly for the hollow of Ichigo's throat in a fencers jab. Ichigo stepped aside, the blade missing him by inches. Ulquiorra anticipated this, twisting his wrist and following that attack with a sweeping slash meant to behead him.

Drawing the trench knife, Ichigo stepped into sonido to dodge. He put himself directly behind Ulquiorra, his sword grazing the side of the Espada's neck, deep enough to draw blood, but not deep enough to harm. "Dead." Ulquiorra whirled, but Ichigo was already across the room, reishi settling around his feet in a cloud.

Grimmjow took advantage of the lull to get out of the way, watching from the outer edge of the room in silence.

Turning to face Ichigo, Ulquiorra stared, the beginnings of irritation drawing a crease between his brows. He seemed torn between disappointment and confusion.

Ichigo could end it now, or he could make an effort to resolve the situation. He prodded, "You know what I did. You feel it, don't you?"

"You've condemned me to a slow death," Ulquiorra answered flatly. His eyes flicked towards a Grimmjow. "Just like your pet."

Grimmjow growled, "Fuck you," but he didn't move. Progress.

"Interesting choice of words, Ulquiorra," Ichigo said. "It's almost like you find it unappealing." He didn't think Ulquiorra himself had bothered to unravel his own feelings on the matter.

"You're weak," Ulquiorra stated, deflecting.

"Not weak enough for you to overthrow," Ichigo answered. Reiatsu or not, he was confident about that. The gap in their reiatsu was almost nostalgic.

He spun the trench knife between his fingers. "Is it fear that's driving you?" He caught the knife in his palm and continued, "Or would you blame it on instinct?"

Ulquiorra started to walk towards him, "I do not fear death. It's only natural that the weak perish."

Ichigo said, "You're making excuses."

The Espada flashed forward again, and rather than block his attacks, Ichigo used as minimal effort as he could to sidestep, tallying up the number of opportunities he had to kill him. Ulquiorra usually wasn't so sloppy, which led Ichigo to wonder if the arrancar wasn't serious, or if he was actually getting emotional.

He hit Ulquiorra in the lower back with a sharp chop, and the Espada involuntarily doubled over in pain. Ichigo reached around and pulled Ulquiorra upright by the dull edge of the blade against his throat, forcing him off balance. "You think you can kill me?" Ichigo asked. It was a taunt and a serious question.

Ulquiorra grasped the end of the sword to try to pull it away from his throat to no avail. His voice was strained with effort. "I can try."

Ichigo moved his foot forward, around Ulquiorra's shin and pulled back, forcing the arrancar to his knees. Ulquiorra flipped his sword in his hand to trying to reach back and stab the visored with it, but Ichigo caught his wrist before he could get close. Since Ulquiorra didn't make any attempt toward using a cero, Ichigo had to wonder if he was even trying. There was a frantic edge to his actions that didn't seem to be driven by bloodlust.

Tightening his grip, Ichigo reached into Ulquiorra's soul, a bit unsettled by how much easier it was than he remembered. Either Ulquiorra's link to him through la sangre made that easier, or his own tie to Alteza was stronger. Rather than linger on why, Ichigo focused on the arrancar in his grasp.

The tight ball of emotions wound around Ulquiorra's heart was coming undone, and they were a tangled mess. Ichigo wasn't surprised Ulquiorra's actions appeared to be increasingly erratic, it was nothing but a reflection of the state of his heart.

Ulquiorra noticed the intrusion into his soul, demanding, "What are you doing?"

Ichigo let him go, putting some distance between them for his arrancar's sake. Ulquiorra got to his feet and faced him again, eyes slightly narrowed, but now he was less impulsive.

It was, in a way, Ichigo's fault for loosening the knot, even if it was Ulquiorra himself that was worrying frayed threads until they came undone. Ichigo had started it, and he had a responsibility to finish it, or at the very least deal with it. Ulquiorra wasn't going to be able to ball those feelings back up, not when he kept indulging them out of desperation.

Ichigo answered, "You're afraid, you can't hide that from me. You despise it."

Ulquiorra's tone suggested there was no other way to confront his fear than to outright reject it. "Fear is a weakness, why would I desire to keep it?"

He wasn't denying it, which was a start. Ichigo said, "Overcoming fear is what makes you stronger. Even you value strength, don't you?"

Ulquiorra asked, "I should believe fear made you stronger?"

"It kept me alive. You wanted to know why people fight so hard to live; you have your answer, Ulquiorra. Fear can easily lead to despair, or anger, but that's on you. Killing me won't resolve what you're feeling."

"You infected me with these irrational feelings. Why should I let that go?"

"Every hollow desires a heart, you're no different, I only hastened the inevitable. Gaining your segunda etapa, you accepted your heart, but all you accepted was your despair, and you were left incomplete. Am I wrong?" No response, but Ichigo felt his heart, he knew he was right. "Would you have preferred to feel nothing?"

"Perhaps I would," Ulquiorra answered.

Ichigo hesitated, deciding on a course of action. He laid out his choices, and none were preferable, but ignoring Ulquiorra wasn't a feasible solution. "I could kill you, if that's what you want?"

Ulquiorra's brows creased, as if this outcome hadn't occurred to him.

"Does that scare you?" Ichigo asked, his eyes falling to Ulquiorra's hand, to the way his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword.

Ulquiorra repeated, "I do not fear death."

Ichigo moved too quickly for Ulquiorra to track, his sword angled to slash his chest. Ulquiorra blocked most of it at the last second on instinct alone, but Ichigo's sword still shrieked off the end of the katana and cut deeply into his shoulder.

The Espada whirled, ignoring the pain to continue to attack, the slash healing as he did. Ichigo parried his strikes with ease, but that didn't mean his onslaught wasn't impressive. Once upon a time, Ulquiorra had nearly killed him.

Twisting out of the way of a downward slash, Ichigo cut him again, deeply through his side. It healed just as quickly, but it was an annoyance the Espada would eventually need to deal with. Ulquiorra had never been as fast as Grimmjow, not without the use of his wings, and the Espada's strength still wasn't enough to rival his own.

Keeping up that pattern, Ichigo quickly wore Ulquiorra down, until his clothes were more red than white. The more he bled, the more Ichigo noticed the arrancar's attitude shifting. That desperation in his actions only increased, even if he didn't react to the pain. Ichigo noticed he was getting faster, increasingly more invested in deflecting his attacks.

Sweeping his arm around his neck, Ichigo used his momentum to throw Ulquiorra into the ground. That earned him a quick second to stab through Ulquiorra's shoulder and into the ground, disabling his right arm entirely. Ulquiorra's eyes flashed with fury, which was a slight bit more than nothing. Ichigo leaned down and hissed, "Liar."

Ichigo twisted the blade embedded in his arm, preventing it from healing and threatening to remove it entirely. Ulquiorra spoke, his voice edged with a growl. "Enclose, Murciélago. Segunda Etapa."

Power erupted around them in a wave of heavy, dark green reiatsu. It was oppressive and heavy with bloodlust, but there was more than that, there was a spark of anger and a will to survive Ichigo hadn't ever felt before.

If Ulquiorra was jumping straight into his second release, he was finally taking this seriously. Ichigo didn't move, waiting for Ulquiorra to forcefully take back his life.

A black, taloned hand shot forward and grasped his face, straining to shove him back. Without the reiatsu to back his hierro, Ulquiorra's claws sunk in deep.

Ichigo flickered back, watching as Ulquiorra pulled himself to his feet, his injuries healing even as he did. Spreading his arms, Ulquiorra formed a bright green javelin of power between his hands, then grasped it, energy crackling beneath his palm.

Mindful of Grimmjow's position in the room behind him, Ichigo flashed forward and jumped, making himself a target above Ulquiorra. The Espada took the bait, launching his javelin. Ichigo held his hand out, a streak of la sangre hungrily devouring his attack. Surprise flashed across Ulquiorra's face, but it didn't last. Ulquiorra crouched, spreading his wings to fly.

Before Ulquiorra could act, Ichigo blurred out of Ulquiorra's range of sight and reappeared behind him, still too fast for the arrancar to track. Ichigo looped an arm around his neck, getting him into a headlock. Ulquiorra's tail whipped around to try to loop around Ichigo's throat, but he stepped on it, pinning it in place. One hand tugged at Ichigo's arm, and with the other the arrancar formed another javelin of power.

Ichigo asked a leading question. "You can't win, why resist?"

Ulquiorra froze, his actions coming to a grinding halt. "I do not know."

Ichigo sensed Starrk close to Grimmjow. He shot him a look, urging them both not to intervene; his reiatsu might be abysmally low, but he was more than capable of handling a single arrancar. For the moment, Starrk observed, but from the level his reiatsu hovered at, he was prepared to act.

Ichigo could feel the tension in Ulquiorra. He didn't want to kill him, but if this confusion over his own existence persisted, he would. If it took extremes to get the arrancar to use his instincts and his heart, that's what he would do.

Eyes on that javelin of energy crackling at his side, Ichigo tried to predict if Ulquiorra intended to use it. If the arrancar was feeling particularly nihilistic, he could just blow them both up, which Ichigo really hoped he wouldn't do. Personally, his high speed regeneration would save him, but he wasn't alone in las Noches, and containing an explosion of reiatsu within la sangre would be trickier than deflecting the javelin itself. Ichigo decided to appeal to his instincts. "You want to survive."

The arrancar looked back at him in his peripheral, yellow eyes blazing with a fire Ichigo couldn't recall ever seeing there before. "Yes. Why?"

It was fucking sad that Ulquiorra didn't understand, and Ichigo wasn't sure how to answer. "That's what happens when you find a reason to live."

"Is that what this is?"

"If having a heart wasn't worth it," Ichigo said, "you would have let me kill you." He let Ulquiorra go, but was just as prepared to fight as before. "Most are driven to find a purpose, you're not unique in your desperation."

Ulquiorra turned to face him. "You think I'm desperate?"

"You put your life on the line, I call that desperate." His eyes slid to the javelin in his hand, then back. "Now that I've proven my point," His voice carried a steel edge of warning. "Stand down."

For a moment, Ulquiorra did nothing, and his expression betrayed nothing. Ichigo took a step forward, close enough that if he reached out, he could touch him. "I won't ask again." He couldn't save everyone, but he wouldn't sacrifice the many for the one. He couldn't do it, not when he had a responsibility towards these arrancar.

Ulquiorra came to a decision, twisting his wrist and shattering the javelin in his hand, absorbing his reiatsu back. He fell out of resurreccion, sheathing his sword at his side, and Ichigo allowed himself to relax, just a touch.

Ichigo asked, "How do you feel?"

"Do you need to ask?"

"I try not to pry," Ichigo answered. Unless he felt it was necessary, and he was trying his hardest not to slide down that slippery slope. It was hard enough sorting out his own emotions, he didn't need to feel anyone else's.

Either Ulquiorra didn't give a damn about privacy, or he didn't understand, but he answered the question. "If you're asking if I'm feeling violent, I'm not."

Deciphering that wasn't a lie, Ichigo could live with that answer. He jerked his head to the side and ordered, "Then go."

Ulquiorra leveled a look at Starrk, thoughtful, then left the way he came, in no particular rush. If Ichigo thought he would be able to relax around Ulquiorra, he wouldn't have sent him away. Now more than before, he would rather keep an eye on the Espada.

Turning to the pair, Ichigo crossed over to Grimmjow and Starrk so they wouldn't be shouting at each other. Starrk asked, "Where's Harribel?"

After a moment to reacquaint himself with where he'd left off, Ichigo responded, "Still in Soul Society."

Starrk frowned, "You left her behind? What happened?"

No doubt he was referring to how weak he was. It was one of the first times it had happened, at least in any way any arrancar would notice.

Ichigo wasn't sure where to start, a frown drawing his lips down. He glanced at Grimmjow, and the Espada grimaced and growled, "Yer on your own, Kurosaki."

"We got sent back in time," Ichigo said. Starrk's brows shot up in surprise. "Then sent back to the present. Let's just say our presence was unwanted." He stared intently at Starrk, and the Espada tensed. "I need you to go in my place to Soul Society."

Starrk's brows creased in confusion, glancing at Grimmjow. "But what about-"

"Not an option," Ichigo cut him off. "Grimmjow's power is as weak as mine, I'm not going to put either of us in that position. I promised I wouldn't make you do anything, you can refuse if you wish, but there's no one else I trust that's strong enough."

"I…" Stark started, then stopped, as if uncertain how to argue, or if he wanted to argue at all. "I don't think I'm qualified for that."

Grimmjow burst out laughing, a boisterous, mocking laugh Ichigo knew was directed at him. Ichigo let him laugh, scowling at him, and said, "I wouldn't exactly call myself qualified either, and to be honest, you'll probably do a much better job."

Grimmjow caught his breath and snarked, "Probably? Definitely. I doubt Starrk will come back having destroyed half of Seireitei after killing the Soutaicho."

"Yes, I fucked up, I remember," growled Ichigo. To Starrk he said, "You're collected, and I don't expect Soul Society will try to kill or capture you, but if they try, you're strong."

Starrk listened, looking between the two, and said, "You want me to take Lilynette."

"I do," Ichigo confirmed.

A frown soured Starrk's expression, looking in her direction. "What about Neliel?"

"You're still the better choice. You're stronger, and more level headed than Neiliel. I don't trust her to be impartial."

"Impartial?" Starrk questioned.

"She's a pacifist at heart, but she's always been fond of vengeance. The shinigami hurt someone very close to her heart. If I don't need to put her in that position, I won't." She was close to Candice, enough so that Ichigo didn't think facing the people involved in the Quincy genocide would be wise. Neliel might be able to handle it, but he didn't want to be the one to ask her to.

Without breaking eye contact, Starrk said, "I'll go."

Taking a moment to be sure he meant that, Ichigo nodded and looked to Grimmjow. "Bring Lilynette."

"Why am I always the fucking messenger?" Grimmjow grumbled, but he complained while he started off to do it.

"Because you're here." Ichigo answered. He remembered something and turned, calling after him. "And do me a favor and hang around Nel or your fraccion until you're back up to speed."

"Who the fuck do you think I am?!" Grimmjow shouted back. From his tone, Ichigo thought he would still do it, and he hoped he would, he knew Grimmjow still had his share of enemies in las Noches.

Turning to face Starrk, Ichigo said, "Sit. There's a lot to catch you up to speed on."

- xxx -

Coyote Starrk

Starrk didn't think any about of verbal warnings or mental preparations could prepare him for being pulled through la sangre. Ichigo did it so effortlessly, he made it look easy. Distress didn't even being to cover it, it felt like his soul was being turned inside out, and on top of his anxiety over Lilynette, it wasn't a pretty combination. He got a solid grip on Lilynette's arm to keep her on her feet, but she still heaved like she was going to throw up.

Ichigo warned him he was going to be throwing him into a room full of captains, but it still wasn't pleasant to find himself feeling twisted and sick in a room full of potential threats. He managed to keep up a front of composure, and supported Lilynette while she worked through hers.

Harribel caught his eyes from across the room, a flicker of concern hidden there. Starrk gave her a slight shake of his head, then locked eyes with the man he assumed was the soutaichou, Kyoraku. "Who might you be?" Kyoraku asked.

He didn't sound overly concerned with the fact a bunch of darkness just dropped an Espada in his meeting room, so maybe it was just a relief to find he wasn't facing Ichigo.

"My name is Starrk. This is Lilynette."

"Is she okay?" A white haired man asked. Starrk searched for his name in his memory. Ukitake.

"She will be," Starrk answered. A creep with warpaint that looked like a hollow muttered something about weaker hollows being more susceptible to la sangre. Starrk didn't like being figured out, so he carried on. "Ichigo can't be here, so I came in his place."

Kyoraku said, "We can wait,"

"I believe this is somewhat urgent," Starrk said. He asked, "Which of you is Unohana?"

A woman stepped forward, eyes narrowed in suspicion and a lack of patience. "You have business with me?"

"Just a question," Starrk said. He set Lilynette on her feet and left a hand on her shoulder. She trembled under his touch, but he could sense her pain, she would live. While it was deeply unpleasant, much of it was mental, and it was slowly wearing off. Looking to Unohana, he relayed Ichigo's question. "Where is Reizei?"

She blinked, "Excuse me?" Then she frowned, staring at him a long moment, as if working out if this was some sort of trap. "I don't know anyone named Reizei, you must be mistaken."

Starrk studied her, searching for a lie, and the longer the silence dragged, the more apparent it became that she was telling the truth.

Unohana said, "You think I would lie?"

"If you aren't lying," Starrk said, "That could be…" He recalled what Ichigo said, and decided to tone it down. "Very bad." Ichigo hadn't told him to lie about that, he wanted him to be as upfront as he thought he should be.

Kyoraku asked, "What does that mean?"

"It means your host is alive, but none of you remember him."

Shock spread across the room in a variety of reactions, from sudden piqued interest, to a stiffening of their spines, Hearing that they might have a way to defend against Kurosaki couldn't possibly come as bad new to them, but they were instantly suspicious. "What sort of proof do you have?" Soifon asked.

Starrk answered, "His daughter infiltrated Soul Society."

For a moment, Kyoraku said nothing, scanning his memories, and then his eyes widened. "The human girl? Orihime-san?"

Mayuri chimed in. "Her powers were very...interesting," To Starrk it sounded like he was begrudgingly admitting she was strong, but he didn't have any idea of what her power could be.

"How do you know she's his daughter? She's human," Kyoraku said.

Harribel looked unsettled by this new information, but didn't give away that it was. She drifted closer to Starrk, standing on Lilynette's other side. Lilynette's eased considerably, not that she would admit it. She wasn't a fighter, she was a weapon, and that was a big difference.

Starrk stole Ichigo's euphemism and said, "Alteza isn't fond of her. She's connected in some way to Sunyata, likely in a way very similar to Grimmjow."

"Sunyata?" Kyoraku frowned, searching his memory for something that probably wasn't there. "That's its name?"

It made sense that they wouldn't know. Without a host as an intermediary like Ichigo, there was no way to even know they existed. Well, outside of collapse of the system. Starrk answered simply, "Apparently."

It was so familiar, Starrk had tuned out the howling and whispers in the backdrop of Seireitei, but in the resulting silence, he noticed. It was even more haunting to hear them in a place they should not be.

Kyoraku started, "The girl…"

Starrk anticipated Kyoraku's question and said, "If you want to speak with Orihime, right now she's with Urahara Kisuke." Starrk pulled out the phone Ichigo had given him, and while Ichigo had been reluctant to hand anything at all over to Mayuri, he hadn't seen a way around it.

Starrk crossed over to the new soutaichou and handed it to him, saying, "They're expecting a call, Kisuke wanted you to know its a receptor for...uh, a screen?"

Mayuri grumbled, "Of course it is."

Kyoraku's eyes catching the tattoo on his hand as he took the phone, conversationally asking, "What does the number mean?"

Starrk turned his hand and looked down at the one, having forgotten he wasn't wearing gloves to cover it. He hadn't been in some time. Kyoraku added, "Grimmjow had a six."

Starrk answered, "Aizen gave us numbers according to our strength." From the look on Kyoraku's face, he must have been wondering why they hadn't seen much of him if he was so strong. "They don't mean anything anymore." He still loathed his strength, despite having learned to curb it. He changed the subject before he was forced to linger on anything else that made him uneasy. "I was told to warn you to be aware this is new to her, she's a bit shaken."

Kyoraku asked, "What do you mean?"

"She didn't know until about an hour ago," Starrk said. He might not know this girl, but he pitied her, and she was important to Ichigo. He wasn't sure when the hybrid's wants became important to him, but they had.

After Kurosaki's brief phone call explaining the situation to Orihime, he'd schooled her on omitting the truth. For one reason or another, Ichigo didn't want the shinigami to know he had been to the past. At least at the moment.

Kyoraku handed the phone over to Mayuri, and the shinigami looked it over with a strange combination of disgust and fascination. Turning away, Mayuri leaned outside the door to the meeting room and barked orders to whoever was outside. Returning to the room, he began tapping away at the buttons, muttering away, lost in his thoughts.

Before the silence could stretch too long, Soifon said, "Does Kurosaki care so little, that he won't show himself?" Kyoraku shot her a disapproving look, but she wasn't cowed. Starrk knew now why Kurosaki had labeled her the petite bitch. It seemed the hatred was mutual.

Starrk answered, "Perhaps you don't know how he is. He does everything himself, he despises relying on others." Harribel shot him a look, not too keen on revealing any more of that weakness, but it was a fairly broad statement, and he wasn't dumb enough to go into detail.

"I noticed," Kyoraku said. "I have full confidence that if he could be here, he would." From the look on his face, Starrk could see the shinigami trying to fill in the blanks. If Kurosaki wasn't present, something must have been keeping him away, and nothing short of disaster could keep Kurosaki from doing what he wanted.

Kyoraku continued, his eyes shifting to Harribel. "Maybe one day we'll have a foundation of trust." It seemed he was implying that he knew they would have their lies and their secrets, and at the moment, he didn't expect anything less.

Harribel answered coldly. "One day." But not today, and everyone present seemed to expect it.

The air of this meeting was largely informal, with captains scattered at random in the room. Hell, one big looking guy with an eyepatch was even asleep against the wall. In the lull while they waited, some captains exchanged words, and for the most part, seemed a touch bored, but that didn't mean the tension wasn't thick enough to cut through.

Starrk loathed it. It reminded him of Aizen, of ranks and wars and things he could care less about. He couldn't imagine a time when it wouldn't be like this, it wasn't a gap easily bridged. Shinigami and hollows might not be so different, but there was an animosity in the air Starrk could nearly taste. If he didn't need to be there, he wouldn't be.

While they waited, Harribel looked to him and asked, "¿Dónde está Kurosaki?" Starrk assumed the Spanish was just to offer at least some veil of privacy. Nothing she asked would be particularly revealing, but even in an empty room, Starrk assumed they would have eyes and ears on them.

Starrk answered, "En las Noches. Está cansado y frustrado," he lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, "pero está bien."

That answer seemed to satisfy her, so he turned his attention back to Lilynette. He put his hand on her head. "¿Te sientes mejor?"

She swat at his hand and huffed, "Vete a tomar por culo, estoy bien." A smile tugged at his lips, pleased she was feeling well enough to show some attitude.

The scientist looked up from the phone and commented dryly, "I wasn't aware there were child arrancar."

"I'm not a child!" Lilynette snarled.

Mayuri quipped back sarcastically, "My mistake."

A captain near the back wall spoke up. "Your reiatsu is similar; you blur together."

Starrk stared at him, surprised he noticed, but then again, it made sense to him that someone blind would have sharp insight into reiatsu. He saw no reason to hide it, despite the shame he now carried along with that fact. "Lilynette and I were originally one soul."

Mayuri's brows shot up in interest. "Are you? How did that come to occur?"

Starrk deemed that to be far too much interest, and Lilynette had the same idea, but a different approach. She snapped, "None of your fucking business, clown."

A fox-like shinigami near the door sniggered and Starrk tried not to roll his eyes. Package deal, but hell if she was just as diplomatic as Grimmjow. Some of the tension was undercut by her attitude, so Starrk didn't feel too much regret for anything that might leave her mouth.

Harribel bit back a sigh as she covered for Lilynette. "I'll apologize in advance for anything she says."

A sharp blush dusted Lilynette's otherwise pale face. She was slowly getting some color back, but la sangre had sucked a lot of the life out of her,

Mayuri grumbled, "She has the insults of a child."

"How about you come over here and say that to my-" Starrk clasped a hand over her mouth and chastised, "Puedes sostener tu lengua por diez minutos, por favor."

He let her go and Lilynette folded her arms with a soft growl. "El comenzó."

No one got to continue their bickering, the doors opened and a handful of shinigami brought in a screen, and an assortment of technology Starrk could only remember seeing around Szayel.

They set it up without so much as a second glance to those present, with the arrancar moving to the right, and the shinigami giving them their space.

Kyoraku asked, "This will work?"

Mayuri reluctantly admitted, "If that man is anything like I remember, it would be laughable to suggest it wouldn't." Kyoraku ended his questioning there, and once Mayuri had the phone hooked up via wires, he dialed it.

There was static for a moment, and then it flickered into clarity. A man in green sat cross-legged in front of two younger people, a cat draped over his shoulders. He toyed with a fan and flashed a fake looking smile. "Ah Mayuri-san! I knew you would figure it out. Although, that took a bit longer than I expected."

Mayuri muttered, "I was hoping I'd never see you again."

A girl sat on her knees to Kisuke's left, shoulders tight, hands bunched in her skirt, beside the Quincy, Ishida. Starrk remembered him well enough, but he'd never seen nor heard of the girl before. Kurosaki was very protective of his friends, so to never have seen her, she must be something special.

Urahara shifted and gestured to the girl. "You wished to speak with Orihime-san?"

The girl looked nervous, her eyes red and her cheeks flushed like she'd recently been in tears, but she sat up straight and held herself with a stubborn sort of confidence.

Kyoraku stood closest, dipping in a semi-formal bow. "I wish we were meeting under better circumstances, Orihime-kun, I don't believe we ever met. My name is Kyoraku. You met my predecessor, Yamamoto soutaichou."

Orihime returned the greeting with a dip over her head and said, "I don't think we ever did. I heard about him this morning. You have my condolences."

Despite feeling neutral on the subject, Starrk didn't think he could have managed any sort of sympathy for the man. Kyoraku accepted her polite words with a small bit of surprise, either not expecting her to know, or care. Orihime continued, "What can I do for you?"

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't want to tangle you in our affairs, but it seems we're past that," Kyoraku said. "It's been brought to my attention that you're the daughter of a shinigami, a man who is the host for the God of Soul Society."

She stiffened, but nodded in agreement. "That's what they tell me."

"Might I ask how you discovered this?"

She immediately shot a look to Ishida and he took her hand, something unspoken passing between them. "I touched Kurosaki-kun's hand." She worried her lip and said, "I could hear the whispers, that-that howling, and no one else could. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was wrong. The more I used my power, the louder it became. I didn't tell anyone, I'm sorry...Touching Kurosaki made it so much worse." Her voice dropped to a whisper, but her words still carried. "it feels like they can see me..."

There was a ripple of unease among all of them, and Starrk knew it must be his imagination, but it felt like the whispers in the air grew louder. Tears gathered in her eyes again, and Kyoraku's tone took a softer edge. "It's okay, this isn't something I would expect any human to ever deal with. Can you elaborate?"

She shifted, uncomfortable with the subject, and said, "Kurosaki-san left the living world and the feeling faded, but it hasn't gone away."

Kisuke explained further, "Alteza and die Konigin have her marked as a threat, but with their host out of arm's length, the Gods can't harm her."

She chose her next words very carefully. "There's something else, it's silent, it's so different from the voices. It's something just out of sight, something that feels like it's standing right behind me, but I can never see. It feels like it's looking back at them. Through me." She tightened her fingers in his skirt, a shudder in her shoulders.

Starrk hadn't ever heard Kurosaki describe the Gods, but after seconds being in contact with la sangre, and hearing this girl talk about them, he never wanted to be the focus of their attention.

She bit back the threat of tears and held up something in her hands, something turquesa and flowerlike. "It started with these."

Kyoraku asked, "What are they?"

"Hair clips. My brother gave them to me years ago," she shook her head, "but I don't know where he got them. I've been told they're a lot like a shinigami's Zanpakuto." She let out a small, humorless laugh that sounded more like a choked sob. "I guess they're from my father."

Even without knowing her, the despair in her voice sounded unnatural.

Giving her a moment to gather herself, Kisuke explained why Ichigo was absent in more detail. "Kurosaki is currently in Hueco Mundo; his connection with Alteza is stronger than his connection to die Konigin, but even stepping foot in the living world would be a risk to Orihime-san. Soul Society would be the world where the Gods are weakest."

"I see." Kyoraku paused,reaching up to run his fingers along the stubble of his jaw in thought. He looked back to the screen and asked Orihime. "Would you be willing to come to Soul Society again?"

Ishida's hand noticeably tightened on hers enough that she winced, shooting him a placating look. The Quincy still looked far from happy, his eyes lingering on Mayuri in particular in extreme disapproval.

Kyoraku added, "As a guest. We won't force you, and I wouldn't ask you to come alone, but it appears to be the safest place for you. You would have the protection of the entirety of the Gotei 13."

"I'll go." Orihime said without preamble.

Ishida openly argued, "You think they won't just use you to find your-"

"I'm going," she snapped, startling Ishida enough that he stopped. She continued more gently. "I've caused a lot of problems for people. If I can help, it's only right that I should." To Kyoraku she asked, "When?"

Kyoraku said, "I would tell you as soon as possible, but we need time to prepare, and it's late, you should get some rest. Tomorrow we can organize how and where."

Urahara interjected. "I can send Orihime-san. Tell me where and when." For some reason, that information seemed to raise tension on the side of the shinigami. Urahara scoffed, "Don't be so surprised. I'm exiled, not idle. Where can you meet her?"

Kyoraku got over his shock and answered, "The West gate. I'll leave when up to you. We'll be waiting."

Urahara ended the call there, and Starrk immediately wanted to leave. Harribel voiced that concern before he got a chance. "You're right, it's late, and it would be much appreciated if you would escort us out so we can circumvent having to use la sangre."

Mayuri hummed. "Yes, it does seem unpleasant. You would think it wouldn't be, given you're hollow."

Lilynette growled, "Feels worse for shinigami. I'd like to see you try it without puking."

Starrk let that slide and reached out to take the phone from Mayuri. The shinigami seemed unwilling to part with it, but Ichigo made sure to emphasize not letting the creep keep it. Starrk took it and pocketed it while Kyoraku said, "Soifon will see you out."

A fact Soifon seemed she was both looking forward to, and upset about. She frowned, but did her duty without complaint, leaving Starrk to count the seconds until they were gone. He actually missed the reiatsu thick calm of Hueco Mundo, and while he didn't regret coming here in Ichigo's place, he'd rather not be there at all.

- xxx -

Kurosaki Ichigo

The moment he sent Starrk off with Lilynette, he sat and dropped into his inner world. Grimmjow decided to stick around, and Neliel felt obligated, so he felt guarded enough to turn his focus inward.

He wouldn't call it chaos in his inner world, but it was...different. It felt like he was seeing his inner world before die Konigin. The dark sand still roiled dangerously, rising and falling, weathering the edges of the buildings in his mind, but the buildings had sunk much deeper, or the sank had risen higher. Even the howling was distant, overwhelmed by whispers. Ichigo wondered if it should disturb him that he didn't find it altogether unpleasant.

Zangetsu spoke from just behind his shoulder. "Well, ya ain't dead."

"What did Alteza do?" Ichigo asked. He felt relatively good, but that didn't mean much of a damn anymore, and his inner spirits had more insight into this than he did.

There was a weariness in his hollow's voice Ichigo wasn't sure he understood, or could ever understand. "Sapped all our power, flushed das licht right outta you, and left even more of that fucker behind." Disgust crept into his tone. "There's less an' less of you in here every day."

"Don't remind me."

"I got nothin' but reminders!" Zangetsu roared.

Ichigo turned to face him, brows drawn tight. What could he say? They both saw what happened to Aizen...Mictlan. They knew what waited for them at the end of this road. It might be a long road, if they were lucky, but there would be an end.

Ichigo said, "Aren't you always the one that stresses to live in the present? Whatever happened to that?"

"That changed when a couple of monsters started eating your soul."

"And what would you have me do about it?" Ichigo asked.

Zangetsu took a step closer and snarled, "I wouldn't have you give up."

"I haven't." He didn't think he had, but where did he start? There was nothing to fight. "Not gonna lie, Zangetsu, this doesn't look good…" He looked up, or was it down? The sky was dark in his world again, the burnt sunlight die Konigin cast through his forgotten city was suspiciously absent. "But it feels good."

Zangetsu begrudgingly admitted, "We can't feel what you can, we wouldn't know."

"You do, you know what it's like to be self assured in your own power. And that's the trap, isn't it?" His memories of Mictlan were visceral and fresh. He didn't want to become that, he wouldn't trade his sanity for power.

He shuddered, pointedly turning away from the sand, but it was everywhere. The memory of those hands sinking into his very soul, his mind, was too sharp, shredding his thoughts like knives. All he wanted was to forget.

His hand closed around the hilt of his sword before he realized he'd reached for it. It was a heavy comfort, even in his mind, and he knew it was the only comfort Zangetsu ever got; that he was needed, necessary, and wanted.

Ichigo let out a breath, forcing those fears aside and focused on more pressing ones. He said, "Something changed when I touched Orihime, Alteza and die Konigin both want her gone. Badly."

"How do you know this isn't always what happens when a host gets too close? I don't remember good things happening when you touched Reizei."

His hollow wasn't wrong, but it didn't feel right either. Ichigo frowned, thoughtful. "It was a bit different in the past, Alteza was distant, misplaced. I don't think Alteza reacted like this around die Konigin. If anything, it was an uncomfortable mix of being repelled from it and wanting to devour it."

Obsidian sand crept up the edge of the building, getting close enough to Zangetsu's feet that he took a few subconscious steps back. His hollow said, "The only time you were in contact with her you both wanted to rip each others throat out. Would you even be able to tell the difference?"

Ichigo thought about that, looking back at the churning dark, and decided. "Yes. This is different. It feels...desperate, and that doesn't add up."

"What makes you say that?" Zangetsu asked.

"Alteza reacted to protect me from die Konigin in the past. It wouldn't even let me near Mictlan's grave until there was a greater threat from Adaliz. In the face of a God with greater strength, it chose to defend."

"So it makes sense it would go for the throat of the weaker God…" Zangetsu trailed off at Ichigo's expression and demanded, "Why doesn't that make sense?"

"The Gods aren't reacting as if Sunyata is weaker, they're not going for the throat, they're lashing out as if they're in their death throes. The last time Alteza took control, it was to remove that piece of its core, the Hogyoku, from this time. Orihime caused a lot of damage in a relatively short window, and once Alteza and die Konigin have a target, they do everything in their power to destroy it."

A fact he was trying his hardest to ignore. He remembered the nightmares, the loss of control all too sharply. Instead this time, the sword wasn't angled towards his own heart, but that of a friend. Ichigo continued, "That speaks to an advantage on Sunyata's part, not weakness."

"But their God is gone, how is that possible?"

"I don't know," Ichigo stressed. "If Reizei can completely disappear from my senses...maybe Sunyata isn't gone."

"Why would they disappear, what advantage is there if Sunyata is winning?"

Ichigo frowned. "It wouldn't have always been that way." He gestured at his soul. "What enemy is there to fight in here? Nothing. Fucking nothing. I just sit here and watch it happen. If Sunyata isn't there, how do the Gods stop it?"

Zangetsu bared his teeth, scowling out at his mind. "Well shit."

- xxx -

Coyote Starrk

Regurgitating everything Ichigo had told him to Harribel while they were in the garganta, they parted ways they were in Hueco Mundo. She went off to call a meeting with the arrancar, and he left to find Ichigo. She would have preferred Ichigo do it, or at the very least speak to him first, but the more time passed with arrancar wondering why their King had basically no reiatsu left, the more antsy the group would become.

He returned to find the visored sitting on the ground, legs crossed and not quite meditating. Grimmjow leaned against the wall a few feet away, talking, or arguing with Neliel; it was so difficult to tell the difference.

Once he was close enough, Starrk said, "That shinigami, Reizei? No one remembered him."

Ichigo frowned. "No one? You're sure?"

Starrk tossed Ichigo the phone back and said, "I'd like to think I can sniff out a liar, and I don't think they were lying. Could he have maybe gone by a different name?"

"I don't think so," Ichigo said. He looked unsettled, asking, "What about Orihime?"

"Kisuke is going to send her tomorrow, like you said." Starrk couldn't say he felt bad for manipulating the shinigami, they'd done it plenty to them, it only felt just. He didn't think that was why Ichigo was doing it, but Starrk certainly didn't feel the need to complain.

Ichigo toyed with the phone in his hand, eyes cast someplace distant. He caught his thoughts drifting and looked back at Starrk. "Thank you. You didn't need to do that."

Starrk answered, "Your King, isn't that what Kings do? Give orders?"

"It wasn't an order."

"It could have been. I almost refused." That wasn't true, but he could pretend.

Ichigo snorted. "And if I have to force you to act on threat of death than I'd be a shitty King."

Starrk smirked. "Bragging?"

Ichigo scoffed. "Hardly."

And that was true. Ichigo had earned his loyalty.

- xxx -

Kurosaki Ichigo

Starrk decided to stay as a deterrent to any frisky arrancar looking to make their way up in the world. He was better at hiding his reiatsu, but it still hovered around him in a heavy cloak, suffocating lesser hollows. It was as good as shutting and locking the door as any other level of security. Arrancar knew to avoid Starrk.

Grimmjow was still trying to ignore Neliel and her questions, but ultimately kept arguing with her, and Stark laid back to nap when Lilynette joined into the argument, tuning them out. It was nice to see the two together again, even if it resulted in the surrounding area becoming two decibels louder.

Ichigo stepped far enough away from his huddled group of arrancar that he wouldn't be competing for auditory input and pulled up Kisuke's number. He dialed, and this time when the shinigami picked up, it sounded like he was alone.

Kisuke spoke first, confirmed Ichigo's thoughts. "I moved to my lab, Inoue is reasonably distressed. I'm not sure if you heard, but she's been hearing Alteza and die Konigin for some time now."

That was news, Ichigo hadn't know that, at all. "Shit. Why didn't she tell anyone?" He realized that was a stupid question even as he asked it. "You know what," He let out a slow exhale, feeling the crushing weight of guilt If he hadn't distanced himself so much...no regrets. "Nevermind."

Kisuke gave him a moment to rearrange his thoughts, then he asked, "Would you mind continuing where you left off?"

Ichigo walled off his heart to that news, jumping back into the thick of it. "First of all, none of the shinigami remember Inoue's father, but they should, he was a member of the Gotei 13. I saw it."

There was a long pause as Kisuke worked out the implications of that statement. "You think he altered their memory?"

Ichigo said, "Sunyata rejects, as if it never was. How hard would it be to reject a memory?"

"Is that a genuine question?" Kisuke asked. When Ichigo didn't answer, Kisuke carried on. "Completely erasing memories in a shinigami is very hard...but...with the aid of a God...yes, it's possible."

"I don't know if Reizei ever got around to wiping Mictlan's memory, but at the moment when I was sent back, Reizei wasn't strong enough to face him, he was actively running away. If he tried to go after Mictlan, it would have just ended in his death."

"They fought?" Kisuke asked, perplexed.

"Uh…" Ichigo realized he had a lot he hadn't explained. "Let me start at the beginning."

An hour later and Ichigo had vomited everything of importance he could think of. Kisuke was silent through most of it, only occasionally asking probing questions. At the end of it he asked, "Can you explain to me your connection to Grimmjow?"

He hadn't expected that question, shooting a glance over at the arrancar. Grimmjow noticed the attention, but was too far away to listen in, so it just resulted in an annoyed scowl. "He's like a filter; I pulled his soul into mine through Alteza. Inside Alteza is the impression of every host before me, of every hollow I turn into an arrancar. He's a hollow, he's naturally suited to forcing other souls down to stay dominant, so his soul prevents those vestiges from reaching my soul. I'm not a natural hollow, I can't do it unconsciously."

"Ah," Kisuke said, "That explains the psychopathic tendencies."

"I wasn't that bad, was I?"

"You were," Kisuke said flatly.

Ichigo carried on, deciding maybe Grimmjow's tension around him was very, very justified. "At the same time, he slows down the erosion of my soul by Alteza. His very presence in my soul helps by sharing the burden." He added bitterly, "After that time jump, we're both years ahead of where we should be."

"How much time do you think you have left?"

It was a depressing question, and one Ichigo wasn't so sure he could answer. "I'm not sure. That depends on how my soul equalizes once die Konigin recovers. Grimmjow though…" He glanced at the arrancar again, well aware the arrancar could feel his numbed heart twist. He was responsible for that, he was running out of time. Grimmjow knew he was a source of stress, and from the look on his face as he glared back at him, he despised it.

Kisuke said, "If I had known beforehand-"

"None of this is on you, Kisuke." There was no sense lingering on it. There was no changing it, not at the moment.

Granting Ichigo an out, Kisuke attempted to summarize instead. "Alteza sent you back to the present, and the resulting volume of power it needed took a toll."

"It did, our reiatsu was just high enough to keep us alive. Alteza sucked a big chunk of power out of the desert too. Our reiatsu is coming back, but slowly."

"That sounds unpleasant." Kisuke said.

"I don't recommend it," Ichigo said dryly.

Kisuke asked, "Can Grimmjow use la sangre, or draw on the God's power in any way?"

"No," Ichigo answered. "Why?"

Kisuke asked the question so Ichigo could come to the same conclusion he had. "Why could Orihime-san?"

That was a good question, one he already should have asked himself. Ichigo slapped a hand over his face in exasperated annoyance. "Fuck, it's so obvious, why didn't I notice?"

Kisuke chided, "It's hard to notice things when you're too close, and that's without mentioning getting your soul ripped up."

Ichigo didn't take that to be much consolation, but he answered Kisuke's question. "Inoue would be able to use Sunyata's power if her father put a piece of his soul in her."

Kisuke made a sharp sound of realization and filled in the blanks in a flat voice. "Her hair clips."

"Yeah, her hair clips." Ichigo agreed.

"What would that do to the integrity of her soul? What purpose does that serve to do that to her?" Kisuke didn't ask in sympathy, but from the cold distance of the scientist he was.

"I'm not sure, I've never done it, or felt the need," Ichigo said, his voice slipping into sarcasm, "but I don't think he did it out of the kindness of his heart."

There was a pause, then Kisuke asked, "Is it too late to take her hair clips from her?"

Ichigo felt his stomach sink in realization. "If she can hear Alteza and die Konigin, there's no point, it's too late."

"Wouldn't it make it worse to leave them in her possession?" Ichigo didn't answer, and after a moment, Kisuke guessed why. "You want to use her as bait."

- xxx -

Kisuke called him the moment Orihime stepped into his handmade senkaimon. Ichigo wasn't sure he trusted how stable that was, but Kisuke was sending Orihime with Ishida and Yoruichi, she wasn't going to be alone.

With Orihime safely out of Alteza's reach, he stepped through la sangre into Kisuke's sitting room.

He knew the shinigami was expecting him, but he could still see the sudden tension in his shoulders, the wariness in his eyes. Ichigo tried not to sigh. "If I could turn it off, I would. You know I won't hurt you."

Kisuke looked caught, then shrugged stiffly. "Instinct is a powerful thing, Kurosaki-san. Where's your shadow?"

"Grimmjow? In las Noches, his reiatsu is still too low." Ichigo tensed, head snapping towards the front of the shop. "You didn't." They weren't alone.

"I didn't," Kisuke emphasised. "Your sisters insisted, and your father is chaperoning."

"Only you could have told them I'd be here," Ichigo accused.

"True," Kisuke said. "They pressed, and I didn't lie."

Ichigo felt a flicker of panic, gesturing to his chest, as if it wasn't already clear he looked like a hollow. "They can't see me like this," he hissed.

"A word of advice?" Kisuke started, and he didn't pause to let Ichigo answer his rhetorical question. "They can, and they want to. Karin stops by every day. She doesn't always come in, sometimes she just walks straight by, but she never misses a day."

He didn't know that, how would he? He wasn't there.

"Don't beat yourself up over it," Kisuke said. "But they're right there. There's no sense hiding this part of you from them, not now."

"I scare you," Ichigo pointed out.

"Yes, because I'm not family."

Ichigo frowned. "Close enough, Kisuke." The man stared at him a moment, trying to judge if he meant that, but must have given up with how hard it was to gauge emotion when he was hollowfied.

Kisuke was no more comfortable than Ichigo was when it came to divulging real emotion. He shrugged it off, toying with the cane in his hand. "Did you really want to miss out on this chance?"

The silence stretched while Kisuke waited for a real answer. Ichigo didn't want to give him one, but he was being confronted with a choice, one he needed his heart to make, and it was just barely within his grasp. His family was within arms reach, but if he refused to see them, they wouldn't.

"Fine," Ichigo finally muttered, making sure Kisuke knew how irritated he was about it. He sat, because if he didn't, he was going to run. His only consolation was that his hollow didn't call him a coward out loud.

Very few things had ever scared him so much as judgement from the people he loved. He still remembered the look of abject fear on Orihime's face when she'd seen him like this. She thought he was a monster, and she hadn't been wrong.

Knowing he was a monster was one thing, seeing proof was another.

Kisuke left briefly to get his family, and Ichigo wasn't sure he managed to keep breathing.

Either Kisuke briefed his sisters before they walked in, or he gave them some kind of warning, because they weren't overly shocked to see that he looked different. Karin stood just in front of Yuzu, fear in their eyes, but that was more than that. This wasn't the abject terror he'd seen in Inoue, this was just shock and unease that they would be stupid to ignore. He was family, but their instincts were good, they recognized he was a predator.

Ichigo met Isshin's eyes just for a heartbeat, unsure exactly what emotion he was seeing there, but his father clearly wasn't pleased.

Karin, unsurprisingly, broached the space between them first. She played it off like she wasn't scared, but it was almost impossible to hide that from his instincts. Ichigo stayed at his place on the floor, legs crossed, deciding he was less frightening when he wasn't looming over them. While Karin crossed the room he started lamely, "I know I haven't-"

"Isn't this a bit much?" Karin cut him off, poking the end of a horn.

Ichigo blinked in surprise at the sudden question, then made a face. "It's not like I got to choose."

Yuzu was right behind her, leaning around her with a gasp, reaching out with a finger for the chasm in his chest. "Is that real? Doesn't that hurt?" He caught her hand before she got too close, but she was already preoccupied with his hair, squealing in delight. "Your hair is so long! Like mom's, I'm so jealous."

Ichigo protested, "I'm not a girl." He was just glad he couldn't blush, this was more embarrassing than stressful. He suddenly wondered what he was worried about to begin with, he could practically feel the smugness radiating off of Kisuke.

Yuzu had circled around behind him, something he noted had his father tensing. He was acting like he'd let a couple of kittens into a cage with a wolf. To Isshin's credit, he wasn't far off, but Ichigo was keeping himself in check. He shot his father a look he hoped was reassuring, but what distracted when he felt Yuzu's hands in his hair. He looked over his shoulder. "What are you doing?"

"Braiding it," she answered, her voice steely with focus. He didn't have the heart to tell her not to, so he sat there and took it.

Karin was still preoccupied with his horns, asking, "What are they for?"

Ichigo snarked, "I dunno, what are horns usually for?"

She ignored him, thoughtful. "So you're part bull? Makes sense."

"What the hell does that mean?" Ichigo snapped.

Kisuke answered her, the smug bastard not quite able to bite back a smirk. "Horns sometimes help focus a cero."

"Oh," Karin nodded like she understood, but it was clear that she didn't. Without warning, she lifted up a foot to kick him in the face. He saw it coming a mile away, but he wasn't sure why she was kicking him, so he let her do it. He winced when her foot connected even if it didn't hurt, it was still a foot in the face.

"What did I say not to do," Isshin snapped.

"And I said you were wrong!" Karin shouted over her shoulder.

Yuzu sunk a little lower behind Ichigo's shoulders and said, "Please don't fight."

Clearly he was involved in an ongoing argument about him but not including him, and it was getting annoying. Karin hadn't removed her foot either, so he removed it for her, taking her foot in his hand and shoving her just off balance enough that when he let her go she had to hop. Even then she still fell on her ass, shouting in annoyance, "Ow!"

"Says the girl that just kicked me in the face. What the fuck was that for?" Ichigo demanded.

Karin lurched to her feet, pointing at Isshin, but she kept shouting at Ichigo. "He won't shut up about how you could hurt us, and I say he's wrong." She whirled to face their father and shouted, "Nothing happened!"

Well, that explained that. Ichigo wasn't surprised, even if it stung to know his father just about expected him to be violent.

Isshin finally got a word in edgewise. "The first thing you do is tempt fate. You're human and he's-"

"Ichigo!" Karin finished. "He wouldn't hurt us." Her shoulders were squared like she wanted to fight, and Ichigo felt a stab of guilt. How many arguments had he been the center of without even realizing it? There was a weary feeling of repetition in their words, like they'd done this time and time again.

Yuzu added meekly, "He's still Ichigo."

Kisuke had put himself in the hall, but he stayed close because he had to; Ichigo was there to do business, not socialize, this was just a perk.

In the resulting silence, Ichigo sighed, too overdramatically to be fully serious. He turned his eyes on his father, leaning forward on his knees. "There's nothing to fight about. If it's on my terms, there's nothing that could make me hurt them."

"And if it isn't on your terms?" Isshin felt the need to remind him. "Your life isn't yours anymore."

Ouch. Ichigo conceded that with a tilt of his head. "It isn't, for many reasons, but Yuzu and Karin come first. Always. I wouldn't let them this close if I wasn't in control."

"And how do you know for sure?" Isshin watched him with narrowed eyes. Ichigo couldn't imagine how skeptical Isshin would have been if he'd seen him at his worst.

Karin ground out. "It isn't up to you."

Ichigo wasn't going to argue it one way for the other. He asked, "So what was it?" What line did he cross, what did his father deem to be too dangerous?

Isshin didn't answer. If his father wasn't going to, then he was still trying to protect his sister's image of the brother they remembered, and Ichigo couldn't say if it was for the sake of all his children, or just Yuzu and Karin. Instead, he said, "You can't even drop out of hollowfication."

That was mostly true, and Ichigo could see what point he was trying to make. He was forced to concede. "I can't. Not currently."

Isshin steeled his heart, Ichigo saw the distance in his eyes as he answered, "I trust my son, not whatever it is in you."

Karin protested, "Oyaji!"

"That's fair," Ichigo said. He couldn't blame his father. It felt unfair, but it was the only compromise Isshin's heart could take.

"How is that fair?" Karin demanded, hands balled into fists.

It was Ichigo's turn not to answer. He slowly got to his feet, mostly for Isshin's benefit, and twisted to look down at Yuzu. He held a hand out and didn't just help her up, he lifted her by her hand and set her on her feet.

Isshin asked, "So why are you here?" His eyes sild to Kisuke, and the ex-captain looked away, tugging on the brim of his hat. "Kisuke didn't tell you we'd be here, and that isn't like him."

Ichigo could have sighed. Figured the man would throw him into the deep end and leave him to struggle, and figured his father would know. Glancing to Yuzu and Karin, he decided not to fully censor his answer. "He didn't. He thought I should see you, in case this goes south."

His family tensed, taking that to be very bad news.

Isshin asked, "In case what goes south?"

"I'm waiting. I can't sense Inoue in the dangai, but Kisuke can tell me when she's in Soul Society."

Isshin asked, "You can't wait in Soul Society? Nothing's stopped you from going before."

Ichigo glanced to Karin again, realizing this was just about the nail in the coffin. He sighed and said, "I can't risk getting close to her."

"Why?" Isshin pressed.

"I…" He paused, deciding that was wrong. "Alteza tried to kill her."

His father's eyes widened "And you want me to trust you with your sisters?"

Ichigo expected as much, he tried not to let that sting, but it still hurt. He said, "The circumstances are different."

"How?" Isshin argued, "She's a human girl, just like your sisters."

Ichigo winced, pushing his hair back from his face. His hand caught on the loose braid Yuzu started and he stopped, leaving it be. He avoided looking at his sister's now, but he could feel their eyes on him, hanging on his every word. If anything changed their opinion if him, this would be it. "She isn't. Her soul contains a sizeable portion of Sunyata, the shinigami God."

That stopped Isshin short, eyes wide. "You found it?"

"Yes and no. Her father is a shinigami, it's host, and he's clearly still alive. I sent Orihime to Soul Society in the hopes of both protecting her and drawing him out. She was a passive participant before, and now she isn't. I can't imagine Reizei will ignore her any more. If he needs her, the threat is too high." If not...he could be putting her life on the line for nothing.

Karin asked quietly, "You used her as bait?"

Ichigo closed his eyes through a sigh. "Yes."

"Does she know?" Karin asked.

Ichigo hesitated, then said, "Not really." That answer unsettled her, and he knew it would. He tried not to let it get to him. Sometimes he had to do things he didn't want to do, but he couldn't think of a better way, especially with Ishida around.

Isshin ignored that and said, "Draw him out for what?" From his tone, his father was already connecting the dots, but he wanted to know for sure.

Glancing to Kisuke, then back, Ichigo said, "That depends...we have a theory." Once he'd spilled everything to Kisuke, they both came to the same conclusion. Ichigo's fears were slowly confirmed, piece by piece, and the truth settled in his stomach about as well as lye. "I've seen what happens when a host gets greedy, when they take too much power. It destroys them from the inside out, until they're nothing but a shadow."

Karin asked, "Why does there need to be a host at all?"

Ichigo could hear the frustration in her voice, her anger at the thing that stole her brother away. He reached out and ruffled her hair, earning him an embarrassed flush as she duked to escape his hand. He hated it too, but he didn't want her to worry for him or see him as nothing but a victim of circumstance.

He answered, "The Gods can't act directly in the world without a host. They can indirectly influence their given world, but they can't influence another God's territory at all, not without a host."

Kisuke added, "Their existence is complicated. The Gods are in a place between and outside of our worlds, but we're still contained within theirs."

Yuzu fidgeted and said, "I'm not sure I understand, but the Gods are why you don't come see us anymore, right?"

Ichigo tried not to wince. "That's the long and short of it."

Tears gathered in her eyes. "You hate it."

Ichigo felt his heart, no matter how distance, falter at the sight of those tears. Yuzu was always perceptive, she only feigned ignorance to try to keep everyone happy, and it was failing her. He crouched before her and said, "Hey, don't cry, not for me." He forced a smile, but it wasn't a false one. "You're right, I hate it," he admitted, "but it's necessary, and it keeps you safe."

Yuzu sniffed, then fell into his chest in a tight embrace. He could feel Isshin's conflict in his silence, but he said nothing to stop her. He let her cry, no less happy about it than before, but he knew she needed it. He held her and kept talking, aware he was losing time. "The amount of power I siphon from Alteza or die Konigin is directly dependent on how quickly and how much power I can handle. Mictlan and Adaliz both circumvented this by giving up more and more of their soul in exchange for containing more power in their body on reserve."

Isshin came to the same conclusion Ichigo had. "You think this host did the same thing? Wouldn't that kill him?"

"Not right away, it isn't like flipping a switch, it's gradual. The same thing is happening to me, but in a passive way, because I'm not facilitating it. No one outside of a host can sense the Gods, so it's hard to judge when Sunyata disappeared. It probably didn't happen all at once, but the creation of the Soul King is a notable marker."

"The Soul King...that you destroyed," Isshin pointed out.

Ichigo loosened his grip on Yuzu when she leaned back, wiping the tears from her face. He dismissed Isshin's comment and said, "It needed to be, there would be no more Quincy if I didn't." He carried on, "When I met Reizei, he acted like the other hosts, desperate to protect their world. He's letting Soul Society fall to ruin, he has been for decades. I don't understand his motivation, and that makes him unpredictable. The one thing we have over him is his daughter."

Isshin questioned, "You met him? When?"

Ichigo shook his head. "It doesn't matter, and it's a long story, but the point of this is to kill him."

Isshin asked, "Why?"

Ichigo dodged the question. "Because I think the alternative is that he kills me."

Isshin narrowed his eyes. "Your reiatsu is abysmal, why take this risk?"

"I don't think I have a choice," Ichigo stressed. He glanced back over to Kisuke, and the shinigami shook his head. He looked back at his father and said, "I'm running out of time, but it was nice to see you."

"Nice," Karin hissed, finally breaking her silence. "It's nice?! You could die!"

Yuzu pushed away just so she could look him in the eye. She said, "Why do you have to go?"

He straightened, steeling his resolve. "I might be using Inoue as bait, but I'm also doing this to try to save her. She's a target for Alteza and die Konigin now, Reizei won't ignore that." He was hoping he wouldn't, and hoping he would, but there was no sense voicing those insecurities. There might not be a better chance to lure him out.

Even if Alteza didn't take control, and even if somehow Alteza wouldn't drag Ichigo into the Living World, eventually die Konigin would equalize in his soul, and the same problem would present itself. He remembered all too well what it was like to lose control to the Gods and frankly, he was terrified, for her and for himself. He'd made a point not to sleep, just in case Alteza took control. Just in case.

Maybe he was a coward for that, but if Yuzu could pick up on that, then he wasn't hiding it as well as he hoped.

At the same time, he was objectively weak, and he thought Reizei would know that. This could just be a trap to lure him into Soul Society. Two birds with one stone, or in this case, hosts. Reizei had been there all this time. Maybe he had hoped Adaliz and Mictlan would destroy themselves, but now Ichigo had taken both of their place. Of everyone alive in the present, Reizei knew the timeline best. It was entirely possible he was waiting for the moment Orihime sent him back, fingers crossed Ichigo died in the past. That not being the case, now he was weak, and trapped between a rock and a hard place.

If it turned out to be a trap, then what else was he good for than running straight into those traps and demolishing them?

"Shitty logic, King."

'As if we've ever had the upper hand.'

Ichigo saw the first sign of real fear in his fathers eyes, and he wished he hadn't. Isshin said, "Son, this is suicide." If there was more time, Ichigo knew his father wouldn't have dared say that in front Yuzu and Karin, but there was no time left for tact.

This was why he hated shit like this. There was guilt and pain and regret, and even dulled by the distance from his heart, it was still unpleasant. Ichigo forced a smile. "That doesn't sound like you, oyaji."

"Ichigo," Isshin insisted.

Ichigo's smile faltered at the waver in his father's voice. He knew this was Isshin's nightmare, watching his son put himself closer and closer to death, and he hated that he had to do it to him. "There's no one else, I'm sorry."

"Ichigo," Kisuke spoke urgently from the corner.

Karin grabbed his arm, saying nothing, but the tears in her eyes showed all that she couldn't say. It hit him like a punch in the gut. He smiled at her and said, "Be brave. I'll win."

"I don't care about that," Karin cried, "promise to come back!"

That was one thing he couldn't promise. He gave her a sad smile and pulled her into a hug. She didn't resist, she melted against him with a muffled sob. He felt Yuzu wrap her arms around him from behind, and he let them have that moment. He refused to believe this was goodbye, but if it was...he wouldn't take this from them.

Ichigo met Isshin's eyes, unprepared for the naked fear and pain he saw reflected there. In that moment he wasn't a shinigami, or a doctor, he was just his father.

This time when Ichigo smiled, it was real, and skewed by sadness. "Wish me luck. I'm going to need it."

Without another word, he pulled himself through la sangre to Soul Society. He didn't think his heart would be able to take it.

- xxx -

Orihime Inoue

Every step Inoue took in the dangai felt stiff and heavy. This was for the best, wasn't? So why did she feel nothing but dread? It wasn't that she was missing school, or that she was leaving Tatsuki and Chad and her friends behind, but that she was going closer to the thing haunting her soul. Even Yoruichi was quiet, sneaking glances at her from the corner of her eye.

The way everyone looked at her, it was like she was a bomb with a hidden timer. There was less fear, but it was similar to the way people looked at Kurosaki. Now she understood why he looked so lonely.

She tried to explain it to Ishida. The creeping terror, the fear that her soul wasn't her own anymore. He didn't understand, he was having a hard enough time coming to terms with the fact she was also a shinigami. He'd tried to cut himself off from all of that, and now he was pulled back into it again.

They stepped foot outside of the dangai onto a paved path just before the gate surrounding Seireitei. The whispers and howls were suddenly louder, and Inoue found her hand tightening on Ishida's. "Can you hear that?"

He squeezed her hand back and assured her. "Yes."

There were five shinigami before the gate waiting for them. Two were captains, and the other three were lieutenants. She knew Renji and Byakuya, but she only knew Soifon by name, and her lieutenant by sight.

A chill raced up Inoue's spine and she lurched back from Ishida, snapping, "Don't touch me!" She didn't see anything, but every nerve in her body screamed 'danger.'

Yoruichi took ahold of Ishida's shoulder and demanded answers. "Inoue."

A slow, impressed whistle just behind her made Inoue stiffen, eyes widening in fear. "Impressive, musume. That should have severed his arm."

She slowly turned, and saw nothing but a ripple in space, a distortion of something that should not be.

"Inoue!" Ishida shouted. His voice was close, loud, so why did it feel so far away?

"Stay back," she said. She sucked in a sharp breath as it slowly shimmered into a tighter form, something more resembling a person. His eyes stared into her, and through her, making her take a small step back. He sighed. "Tsk, be still, or you might lose some fingers."

The captains moved to attack, she could hear them shout their sword release, and without looking he raised his hand.

She spun and screamed, "No!"

She heard him snap, and Soifon was gone. Just...gone, like she never was.

Inoue gasped, tears gathering in her eyes, and her father spoke to the shinigami without fear. "Stay where you are." They stopped short, but held their swords ready, the shock on their face visible even from where she stood.

Inoue asked, voice trembling, "What do you want?"

Darkness swirled in her vision, and Ichigo was suddenly before her. Inoue had never seen that look in his eyes before. There was violence and murder there, something she thought, for a moment, was directed at her. She hadn't ever seen that look in his eyes before, but once she realized he was looking just over her shoulder, it filled her with a small sense of hope.

She heard real joy in his voice, lingering on every syllable as if he could taste them. "It's been a while, Kurosaki Ichigo."

Kurosaki answered blithely, "Feels like it was only yesterday."

Her father grabbed her arm, startling a sob out of her. That emptiness she felt was suddenly magnified, and she couldn't do anything but tremble in the presence of something colossal, and within it a silence so immense, she would have screamed to break it, if her voice had any strength left to scream. Her legs buckled, but his grip on her arm was like iron.

Her father laughed and said, "Nothing forces a soul to evolve faster than the fear of termination. I can thank you for that, Kurosaki. Or should I thank God?" He laughed, like such a thing was unthinkable.

He took the hair clips from her hair, and it cascaded down into her face, obscuring her vision. He crushed them in his hand, turning them into dust.

"Give Inoue to me," Kurosaki snarled.

"Or what?" Reizei drawled. "Or what, Kurosaki, OR WHAT?!" His scream made Inoue flinch, her eyes locked on Kurosaki's. "Or what?" he said it again, this time much softer.

HELP ME. She screamed the words in her heart, words she was too terrified to say. How was that fair to beg for help from a problem she was at the center of? The one thing she had, that she wanted to use to drag herself up from being such a burden, and it wasn't hers.

Ichigo drew both swords, and Reizei let him. The visored held them out before him and said simply. "Bankai." His reiatsu flooded the area, heavy and dark, but it wasn't enough. Inoue felt the monster inside her father, awake in his soul, in hers. It wasn't enough.

Reizei mused, "I never got to thank you for saving my life. Where do you want to die, Kurosaki? I can grant you that."

Ichigo ignored him and said, "I thought by now your brains would be nothing but mush, you're surprisingly coherent."

Inoue could practically hear Reizei's smile. "Thank you for noticing, but you can thank my daughter for that. Her mind is so painfully normal, it brought back all sorts of emotions and motivation."

One of the captains acted, flower petals surging in her vision. They stopped short of Reizei, on a shield none of them could see. Inoue felt it, it was there, a gap in space, just as she felt the energy surge up Byakuya's arm, denying his wrist, his bones, his flesh.

She threw her hand out, past the shield Reizei had erected, and screamed, "I REJECT!"

Her shield clashed with Reizei's, fighting to undo the reality Reizei wanted. Byakuya was left standing whole, but only just.

Reizei let her have that victory, she felt it in the lack of resistance. His tone was eerily devoid of emotion. "It doesn't matter."

Her father let her go, and while she was unsure why, she didn't waste the opportunity. She staggered, then threw herself at Ishida, collapsing into his arms. Reizei said, "They say death is the great equalizer…"

Ichigo disappeared from her line of sight, and a sudden shockwave of power sent her and Ishida sliding back into Yoruichi's shins. She squeezed her eyes shut, sensing the clash behind her, but the monster in her soul didn't waver.

"We both know that's a load of shit!" Reizei shouted.

Suddenly space tore, and she and Ishida were thrown down into sand. Darkness enveloped her vision, so pure and definite she thought for an instant she'd gone blind. All she could hear was the desperate gasp of her breath, shallow and fast like a hunted thing. It didn't sound like her at all, it couldn't be her, she sounded so small.

Ishida held her, his breath clashing against hers in quick pants. She pushed herself upright off what felt like broken glass against her palms, but hissed like sand.

Reizei's voice fell flat in the dark. "Really, Kurosaki? I am Sunyata, it makes no difference where we are, within the dreams of Gods or outside of them, I will annihilate you."

In her soul, Sunyata felt almost...eager. She gagged, twisting in Ishida's arms to throw up. It kept getting worse, it spread like ice, an ache that crept into her soul, a violation of a place no one was meant to go, and it pulled her towards oblivion with the disregard of a force of nature.

"Inoue?" Ishida ventured softly.

Reizei chuckled, and purred, "Take heart, in the void, there is no such thing as fair, or good, or evil. The one cold truth is entropy. It's a long, painful road, our universe has only just gotten started."

Inoue heard her father's feet slide against sand, moving closer to Kurosaki. There was a need present in his voice that shook Inoue to her core. "I can end it."

Inoue reached up for Ishida's face, her fingers sliding up over his jaw to his cheek. She whispered, "Ishida, he's using me, he needs me."

Kurosaki's voice was cold and distant. "I'll wake them up."

Reizei's tone was flippant. "Do it, it doesn't matter."

Ishida reached up for her face, his hand pressing her hair to her cheek. It tickled her skin, she was surprised she noticed when her soul was in such agony. Ishida murmured, "No, no, no, Inoue, don't ask, please don't ask."

"Shhh, listen." She reached up around to the back of his head, his skin damp with sweat. "Ishida, he needs my soul, he's using it for that thing, that monster. He needs me for my mind, I have a living soul."

"No, no, no, Kurosaki will kill him." The desperation weighing down his voice broke her heart, tears streaking down her face.

Her father was right, none of this was fair.

"He won't." Her voice broke even as she said it. "I know Kurosaki can feel it too, Sunyata is here, its in me, Ishida, and I'm not going to be me. Do you understand?"

She could feel the ripple of power as Ichigo defended against Reizei, but she tuned it out. Ishida whispered, "Inoue...I can't."

"You can," she promised gently, her voice losing strength as her tears fell. She nodded, convincing both of them. "You can."

Her hands trembled as she took his hand in hers. Ichigo couldn't win without help, he couldn't do it if Reizei had another soul to take the damage for him.

She lifted Ishida's hand to her heart, forcing an edge of resolve into her voice. She was terrified, but she kept it from her voice. "Please, Ishida."

His hand shook, cold against her skin. What she was asking of him wasn't fair, but she felt her opportunity slipping away. Ishida was only there by chance, Reizei was occupied with Ichigo. There wouldn't be another chance. She tasted salt when she spoke. "Do it."

- xxx -

Translations:

¿Dónde está kurosaki? : Where is Kurosaki?

En las Noches. Está cansado y frustrado, pero está bien. : In las Noches. He's tired and frustrated, but he's fine.

¿Te sientes mejor? : Feeling better?

Vete a tomar por culo, estoy bien : Fuck off, I'm fine

Puedes sostener tu lengua por diez minutos, por favor : can you hold your tongue for ten minutes, please.

El comenzó : He started it

Oyaji: old man

Musume: daughter

I forgot about Tousen lololol An Orihime almost accidently is a character now oooooops

Because I like things to make sense, the reason Ichigo can cut through Ulquiorra's hierro with low reiatsu is because he might have less of it, but his reiatsu is still inherently denser. Therefore Ichigo can still cut Ulquiorra, and Ulquiorra would have a shot at cutting Ichigo so long as Ichigo's reiatsu is that low. Also fairly certain his high speed regen is only for his final release, the same way Ichigo wouldn't have high speed regen just with a mask.

Who else remembered that Mictlan's mask fragment was black? *le gasp* foreshadowing or some shit i tried.

Thanks for reading!

Current Espada Ranking

King Strawberry

Fraccion: Grimmjow, Nelliel

0 - Harribel

1 - Ulquiorra

2 - Starrk & Lilynette

3 - Grimmjow

4 - Zommari

5 - Szayelaporro Granz

6 - Shawlong

7 - Cyan, Mila Rose, Apacci (Quimera Parca: Ayon)

8 - Yylfordt Granz

9 - Edrad Liones

10 - Pesche