Chapter 28

It had to be the way the sun bounced and reflected on his head. It made it look like a huge diamond and she wanted a sugar daddy to give it to her so she could jam it on her finger and stare at it all day. Maybe flash it around for that uptight treasurer to see (that smarmy git).

Or maybe it was the way his ass moved as he swept the front of the shop, side to side, long legs following after like kelp flowing to the waves of the tide. A rear end so tight she wanted to stab some sharp scissors in, just to see if it would pop. There were many things about that rump she'd thought, dreamed and contemplated on, and though she'd grown out of the phase that would make her blush knowing she thought these things, she wasn't quite to the phase to gush them to her friends, and so she merely raised an eyebrow as she watched it move to the beat of her sex drum.

All in all, he was like a half-squished spider--you should back away, holy crap it's probably poisoned or something, but it looks really cool with its legs in that bended shape, and damn if that tattoo on its back doesn't look like its out of some celtic historic museum.

-----

'Regret' was a word that came to Ichigo's mind. But there was something about it that confused him.

Was he, Ichigo, after 'associating' and 'empathizing' with the enemy, experiencing it?

That, he thought grimly, was the mighty question.

It was no cause to alarm that Ichigo had matured a bit since he was 15 years old. More so since his friend had been captured the first time, and bringing around that whole train of thought, Ichigo sighed mentally and pushed onwards. Ichigo had a better sense of purpose, on the whole. He knew what he wanted, as always had been the case before, but now he knew what to do with it.

Before, it had been a matter of 'Bring her back, she's a friend'. Nothing more to add and nothing more to think about. 'Nakama', that had been reason enough.

Now, though very similar, there was a slight difference. Ichigo noticed that his mind wandered further into the realm of thought. No longer was it, 'They are my nakama', but an added on, 'and will remain so.' It seemed nothing special, but for the mind, one small step can make a man.

It meant that Ichigo, once so simple minded, thought more, accepted more, and expected more from himself as well.

He came to save Orihime, not just because he thought of her as a friend, but because he wanted her by his side. He didn't want to feel that hole that everyone would feel if she were gone, and such was the case for any other friend. He hadn't come to save her, strictly speaking, but to bring her home.

He just hadn't counted on this happening.

Regret. It was there, but not because he had slept with Aizen.

It was regret for not being useful, and for losing sight of his goals. And the funny thing was, once he realized that, the thought of what he had to do wasn't so scary anymore.

-----

Regret: to feel sorrow or remorse for an act, fault, disappointment, etc.

Aizen could recite this in every language known and unknown. Not for any particular reason, but as he was a man who'd been on the receiving end of the murdered for many years (quite the understatement) he knew not everyone or everything needed a reason, especially when it came to knowledge.

Regret. A simple concept always involved in the most convoluted of circumstances.

Did a King regret? Yes, often to be sure.

Did a God regret?

...Yes, but not for the past.

-----

The taste of salt was strong as a shocked bite of her tongue caused blood to flow over her taste buds. She brought her fingertips to her lip, lightly pressing on the spot but not bothering to heal or restore it. It was a trifle matter and it barely hurt now.

Her fingertips moved back to the windowsill, her eyes wide enough to reflect the entire moon like a mirror.

She felt it.

That pull on the air, the grip on the earth, that tug on her heart. Four of them, 4 presences, four human presences. The other four accompanying them has spiritual energy plenty, but these, these first four were human. Orihime could almost smell it.

A screech filled the air and she gasped as she bit her tongue again. What could be happening out there?

But most importantly, what was she doing in here?

She turned her back to the window, determination set as her long hair whipped around to rejoin her back. She looked at the door furiously as she approached it

Though it sounded strange, even to her, she had never tried to open the door. Why? Had she accepted her caged fate? Perhaps like a peacock walked to and fro, tail down and colors fading from the lack of pure air and sun. How had she allowed this? A legitimate question, better saved for another time. This drain plug on her freedom had to be removed. Now.

Fingers lined the corners and continued around, searching for a weakness of some kind. There were no locks nor bolts that she could see on the door to prevent it from opening, but there was no way out. Giving up on practical methods, she began banging and pounding, even slamming her whole body into the door, but her efforts here were futile as they were foolish. Hueco Mundo did not give in so easily. Orihime took a calming breath, but her eyes held the same magnitude, no, in fact grew in their resolve. She closed her eyes and grit her teeth, her one last chance at what could be freedom to see what was on the other side of the door.

She clasped her hands, and in one large effort--

She screamed.

-----

Kenpachi didn't give a damn either way, as long as he got to cut someone in half relatively soon. He hoped vaguely that maybe that sexist dude would come around. He didn't actually know what 'sexist' meant, concept-wise. Fighting was fighting, why fight someone to beat them cause they have boobs? Kenpachi's bells jingled in confusion so he let his thoughts drift along somewhere else, that didn't have him brooding so hard (not that he was brooding, he didn't really have the emotional capacity for that).

Sweaty teenagers whipped their weapons around before him, and it seemed a crime not to join in and have some of his own fun.

"But Kenny!" his little companion giggled, "If you kill these hollows there won't be enough for them! They'll die too!" Whether she actually found this idea amusing or whether she was just so accustomed to laughing at everything he said, Kenpachi didn't care. He looked down on his sword, and the thought that he hadn't used it within the last five minutes consumed his mind.

So maybe brooding wasn't completely out of his league.

"Hey, you brats almost finished yet?"

The one with the glasses and dorky cape scoffed at him, "Look at the holes!" He did some fancy move causing a bunch of arrows to fly form his arrow, and barely missed the girl who wished she was a boy.

"Watchit Uryu!" she called while slicing the neck of a hollow before her. Kenpachi would have stopped to admire the fact she could do this while not even looking, if he hadn't instead used that energy to sigh at his boredom.

And here he'd come to relieve the boredom. He wondered if that jackass Byakuya planned this.

"Chad, to the left!" Byakuya's sister shouted to the big oaf on the right. Kenpachi had been eyeing him for awhile now, but seeing his skills before him, he kind of lost interest. Size didn't always matter, and here, it was exactly he case.

"How about I hold them while they kill them?" Kenpachi suggested. The redhead with the excessive tattoos frowned, and Kenpachi fought the urge--his only fight within the last ten minutes, he wasn't going to lose--to sucker punch him.

He looked around for a moment to see if pigs were flying, but instead just got some kind of butterfly hollow. Close enough.

"Sir, I don't think you could hold back your bloodlust. That might make it hard for these guys to complete the job of killing the hollow."

Kenpachi muttered some oaths under his breath and watched the scene before him.

"How long is this gonna be?" he asked. He did not whine.

"Less than 24 hours. That's the maximum." replied The Jackass's sister.

"24 hours?! We don't have 24 minutes!" Kenpachi bellowed. "Get off your ass and kill those Motherfuckers!" There was a slight upbeat in pace, but altogether too slow for Kenpachi.

"I'm afraid we just have to wait them out sir." The redhead said. "With any luck, we'll get some human formed hollows out here and that'll speed up the process."

A light, though very low wattage and out of use, popped into Kenpachi's mind. He stood, grinning, and unsheathed his sword.

"Kenny?"

"Sir?"

The smile grew longer and wider, spreading out to cut his face in half and he gave a little chuckle of glee. The redhead and The Jackass's sister looked to each other, not knowing whether to be scared or just pissed.

"What say we I just go and 'make things easier' then?"

"...What do you have in mind Captain?"

Kenpachi looked down on the Luitenant, and Renji swore he saw those eyes gleam with some kind of sick, adulterated light.

"I'll bring some hollows here. Make it easier. Yeah?" His laughter was already spreading around the dunes like an oncoming sandstorm, and Renji relaxed as his fists hardened.

It wasn't the worst idea.

And as a Luitenant, he wasn't really in position or argue. Might as well let the crazy man loose somewhere else than around them. He looked to Rukia for approval and she rolled her eyes in consent, going back to shouting warnings and advices to her team.

"Yessir, it's a great idea."

"Thought so myself."

Yachiru laughed and jumped up and down on her Captain's shoulder.

"Let's go kick some ass!" she shouted sweetly.

"Yes." Kenpachi grinned. "Let's." He took off and away from his party, heading to the white castle above the sand, hardly waiting to wipe its facade with the blood his sword would spew.

-----

Ichigo dressed himself quickly and stood silently before his zanpakuto. He was sending his apologies to his friend, for forgetting his duty and his mission. His feet his the ground harder than normal, and Ichigo wondered just what kind of burden he'd put on himself, for following through with the night's events.

He didn't regret it, but he would move on, he would continue, not as a Patty Hearst, not as a victim siding with his enemy, but as an opponent. He would continue down the path he knew was his, as a substitute shinigami following the guidance of the Soul Society.

Hueco Mundo did not gain another pawn through him.

He was Kurosaki Ichigo, an enemy and a foe.

And Aizen was to be killed, stopped at any method. He was a dangerous man that was trying to bring about the destruction of the Soul Society, the world, and his world. Ichigo wouldn't adapt to his new environment, he would stick to the old, he would be loyal, faithful, and true to his life.

Kurosaki Ichigo was Kurosaki Ichigo. The Protector.

He opened his eyes, staring down the room once more with a finality that wasn't to be argued with. The bed sheets were still mussed and stained, neither man having the care enough to fix them. The lights were still dimmed and Ichigo wasn't necessarily reluctant to recall through memory the feel of hot breath against his neck, calloused hands against his shoulders. The air hung about him tentively, reminding him there could never be a reply of the night before, that once he left it would be all over.

But he'd found his path, and he would walk it.

"Leaving, Ichigo?" called the man still sitting in the bed.

Ichigo paused, staring at the man's figure and nodding the affirmative. "Yeah."

"I see." Aizen didn't lean back, or sigh, or even move significantly. The only movement came from his eyes, and a slight tug as his mouth. But he said nothing.

Ichigo exhaled and nodded once more, before turning around grasping the door handle. He turned it with no effort and left the room leaving the door to shut quietly behind him.

Aizen looked at the door and leaned back against the bedhead.

It had been a gamble, it had been his queerest bet, but it had been worth it. Though he was still one Kurosaki Ichigo short of his army, this trial was over.

Now what was left was to clean up the mess.


Author's Note:

D.

O.

N.

E.

WHAT DOES THAT SPELL? DONE!

I am done with this chapter, and apologize PROFUSELY AND SINCERELY for taking so long I DO plan on finishing this to the end, but updates will become less oft, though hopefully never again (ha! pun) so long as this one. The ending is coming to a close! I've got some plot twists coming, so hold your breath and come for the ride!

But I might take this opportnity to note, that Happy Endings are not in my vocabulary. It shall be very unsatisfying, with a touch of hope.

I love hope. :D

Thank you for reading!