Er, this is my first attempt at Bleach Fan fiction. I've been out of the saddle a long, long time as the last piece of fanfic I wrote, I was in college and it's topic was Xena:WP at the height of the series. This will tell some of you just how long it's been and just how old I am. *blush* This story is just a totally indulgent realization of IchiRuki and Ishihime in Hueco Mundo after Ichigo's "upcoming" battle with Ulquiorra. Nothing too explicit, a little language. Please R&R!

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Bleach *sob*--Kubo Tite does, and thank goodness he does it :). I just write the story based on all his hard work while sliently wishing to be sucked into that alternate reality ;) Enjoy!

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Part 1: Oh, Happy Death

Chapter 1

"Ichigo? ICHIGO!" she called out to him, a tiny hint of fear in her voice, while making her way through the white wall of smoke that enveloped the area. The desert air was already harsh and heavy, the rising smoke only adding further insult to her nose and lungs with every breath. Dust and debris clung to the bottom of her black robes, pebbles and sand had gotten into her sandals, but none of that phased her.

"Where is he?" Another voice. "That blast..."

Arriving at the same spot, The Fifth Tower, from their respective battles in Hueco Mundo, Ichigo's nakama fought the Las Exequias so the substitute shinigami could go after Inoue. Just as they dispatched of the band of "extractors," they heard a terrible rumbling.

"Get back!" Ishida Uryuu cried, "it's coming down!"

The great Las Noches was blown apart from within: Ichigo and Ulquiorra's battle had thrown out enough power to take down the fortress.

"No way..." started Rukia, making her way back toward the mountain of pale stone and ash once the quaking ceased.

"Should have made it out of Sekkiseki," Abarai Renji whistled in disbelief.

Thrown a short distance from the pile of rubble was Inoue Orihime, in shock and shivering uncontrollably under her Santen Kesshun shield, which was cracked from the force of the castle's collaspe. Her white robes and thick ginger hair were disheveled and spattered with blood.

They quickly viewed the area for any danger. The Espada, Ulquiorra Schiffer, was nowhere in sight. Ishida flew to Inoue's side as Rukia began calling to Ichigo. Chad began hefting the rocks that made up the mountain of debris, deciding to look for Ichigo there, just in case.

"I'll scan the perimeter," Renji offered to Rukia. Using Shunpo, he disappeared from sight.

Rukia nodded to him and began to search for Ichigo's reiatsu, visualizing spirit threads around her. Normally he was easy to find because he had such terrible control of his spirit power, even when it was weak. This time, she felt nothing. Was he even still here?

Ishida knelt down and checked Inoue to be sure she wasn't injured. Thankfully, none of the blood on her seemed to be hers.

"Are you alright, Inoue-san?" Ishida voiced his concern. She nodded weakly as she lowered her triangular shield. Ishida thought the little sprites born of her power looked solemn and stricken, if that were possible, as they returned to her flower hairpins.

He followed, his voice thick, "Good, I'm happy your not injured, Inoue-san." A slight pause. "Do you know where Kurosaki is?" She had no response and looked stricken at his question. Her eyes betrayed her silence as they moved to the pile of stone, the horror registering in every line of her face and joint in her body. She brought up her trembling hand and pointed a finger towards the bottom of the ruins of Aizen's castle.

The realization hit Ishida like a punch to the stomach from Chad. He stood up abruptly, crying out, "He's under Las Noches!"

Renji heard him and immediately flashed back to the rubble. Ishida saw Rukia searching spirit threads for Ichigo's reiatsu, and not wanting to leave Inoue's side, he did the same to hasten the search. Chad and Renji were now randomly, frantically throwing large chunks of stone in the depserate search for their friend.

Rukia stood completely still while her nakama fumbled about the rubble searching for signs of life--Ichigo's life. The growing sense of dread was suffocating, but the small shinigami refused to let it show. Ichigo, you fool, you better not have gone and gotten yourself killed, she thought.

Images of Ichigo and what they'd been through since they first met in his bedroom so long ago danced through her mind. She remembered every last detail of every moment they ever spent together. How he looked, the words they said, what the weather was like, and how she felt being near him. Rukia cared deeply for the not-so-normal human whose life she changed as much as he changed hers.

She remembered in a flash the bravery he showed not knowing what would happen when he let her run him through with her zanpakutou in the chance it would give him the power to save his family. How he fought against the Grand Fisher for his mother and his pride and how it killed her to stand aside and watch. How he followed her and fought Renji and was almost killed by Nii-sama and the terrible pain she faced when she thought he would die because of her. The look on his face when he showed up in just the nick of time to save her from her execution and the warmth that found it's way to her heart at that moment. How he fought so hard against, well, everyone, to save her life. How he would sacrifice himself over and over for those he cares about.

I can't lose him, she thought. Still a bit weak even after Isane healed her wounds from fighting the Novena Espada, where she very nearly died herself, she reached out further with all her heart and mind, feeling for any trace of Ichigo's reiatsu.

Ishida, the Quincy who always made a point to remind his friends he was better than everyone at sensing reiatsu, tried with all his might to sense his friend, as well. With his brow furrowed and hands clenched in effort, he summoned threads of spirit power around him, desperately searching for Ichigo's. After what felt like days combing through countless ribbons, he stopped, allowing the ribbons around him to rain on the ground before they disappeared. Ishida knew being so close to Ichigo he should have felt something. He pushed his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. It wasn't there.

Sighing heavily, Ishida walked slowly to Chad and silently put his hand on his friend's shoulder with enough weight to make the large man stop hurling boulders. Chad instantly registered what that meant. The large man's shoulders slouched as his knees gave way on him, and he knelt with his head bowed in front of the ruins. Inoue's eyes brimmed with tears as Renji coaxed himself to sit on the pile of white rocks that kept them from finding Ichigo's body.

"I couldn't help him!" Inoue sobbed as the tears flowed freely down her pale cheeks to the harsh, unforgiving ground of Hueco Mundo. She shivered uncontrollably and brought her arms around herself to stop herself from shaking. "Kurosaki-kun came for me... a--and Ulquiorra... they both fell... Kurosaki-kun!"

Rukia didn't move, resolute. She saw Ishida go to Chad and heard the words Inoue choked out, but none of that mattered. She was determined to sense even a shred of his reiatsu. Her face was scrunched with effort, her pink lips a thin line as Ishida calmly walked over to where she stood.

"Stop." He held her wrist gently but firmly to get her full attention, to make her realize their friend was dead. "He's gone, Rukia-san."

At his words, Rukia ripped her hand from Ishida, and it went to her chest as if she'd been run through with a zanpakutou. Wordlessly, a picture of sheer defiance and determination, she dug in her heels, closed her violet eyes tight and looked for Ichigo's reiatsu again. Her heart would know if he was gone, wouldn't it? Stubborn as ever, Rukia fought back the sobs that were threatening to surface and break the facade of her hardened, cool exterior. All the while while her mind was screaming, He can't be dead. He's not dead. Dammit, Ichigo, where are you?

A tiny flicker, like the candle's flame just before it's snuffed out. Rukia's heart skipped a beat, her eyes flew open and she thrust out her hand, picking a hopelessly thin and frayed red thread out of the air, barely a wisp. It looked as if it would crumble to pieces in her hand. Without a word, she ran toward what she sensed.

No one else moved, too stunned to even breathe. She crossed in front of a bewildered Renji.

"Get up!" Rukia pulled him up with all her might and started to climb the stones while yanking Renji behind her by the front of his robes.

"Ichigo!" she called fervently as she tried to find the exact location of what she felt in the mass of fallen stone.

"Please don't let that reiatsu fade," she mumbled as she glided her way up the remnants of Las Noches.

The flurry of action brought Chad, Ishida and Inoue to their senses and they began to follow Rukia's lead. They shouted his name, waiting for some kind of response.

The small Shinigami's large eyes widened as she stepped on a massive boulder. "Here!" she shouted.

Chad pulled Rukia off the mountainous stone, reiatsu flaring, and let out a scream of effort as he picked up the entire rock and threw it clear across the landscape. Some of the smaller stones caved into the gaping hole left by the enormous rock, but the bones of the once great castle stood firm, forming a sort of crater. The sight at the center of the hole was enough to twist Rukia's gut and make her feel faint.

"Ichigo," she whispered. Zangetsu was lying next to him, shattered in what seemed a million pieces, and the pure white floor beneath the orange-haired Shinigami was turning a terrible shade of red and black.

Rukia immediately flashed down to where Ichigo lay. Outwardly, she took in the scene calmly, the epitome of stoic, as a Shinigami should when seeing a fallen comrade; however, her heart screamed "No," over and over again. He looked so small, so fragile lying on the floor before her. It was nothing like the Ichigo she knew, with his amazing strength in battle and passion for his friends. She was still clutching his spirit thread in her hand, and she knelt down next to him, taking in how dire the situation was. His eyes were wide open, staring into nowhere, the blood oozing from every inch of him was gathering in a puddle, and he didn't seem to be breathing. Rukia silently bent over him, placing her cheek next to his slighly parted lips, hoping to feel any movement of air. Nothing. With a swift shift of her head, Rukia's ear rested on Ichigo's mangled chest over his heart. There was no sound.

Time had stopped at the bottom of the chasm for Rukia, although it only took her mere seconds to confirm the worst. Her body felt like it was moving through cement as she lifted her head. Rukia searched Ichigo's face, her eyes searing into him as if she could will him awake with all her might. The blood from his gaping chest wound was smeared on her cheek, in her hair. Her hands had bathed in the blood pooling next to his body: so many painful reminders of reality adorned her now to try to deny the scene.

She looked down to the thread in her hand. It was barely an inch long now, withering away with each passing second. The small Shinigami stood in defiance. With her blood-stained hands clenched at her sides, she swore to herself right there that he would survive. Her next thought made her dizzy and queasy and afraid and resolute and fullfilled as only this particular thought could.

I love him.

In an instant, she was gone.

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"I'm happy you're not injured, Inoue-san," he had said.

Happy? Ishida Uryuu was so much more than just happy at finding Inoue alive and uninjured. He was positively euphoric. While he was making his way to the Fifth Tower, he searched for her spiritual pressure. Ishida could feel her first, that warm, sweet reiatsu she exuded, but he needed to see her to prove to himself she was alright. He thought his heart would burst at when he could finally see her in the distance.

Inoue.

As he approached her, he could see the blood that adorned her clothing. Was she injured? Did she get hurt in the collapse of the castle? Did that bastard Ulquiorra harm her? There was a sour taste in his mouth, and his heart seemed to want to leap into his throat. He looked her up and down, his eyes burning, scanning for any kind of injury. To his relief, there wasn't a scratch on her.

She really doesn't get hurt, does she? he thought to himself, remembering how Inoue always touts how hale and hearty she is when anyone inquires as to her well-being. The blood on her was from someone else, hopefully only from the Espada Ichigo was fighting. He could breathe again once he was sure she wasn't bleeding, but it tormented him that she had to experience anything involving bloodshed. The haunted, traumatized look on her face, in her whole posture, was enough to break him. He wanted to pick her up and hold her to him and never let go. Ever.

He wouldn't though, because he was a coward deep down, afraid she wouldn't return the love he felt for her. She loved Kurosaki. Kurosaki, who was completely oblivious to her. Kurosaki, who was so obviously in love with Rukia. He, Uryuu, would love her, cherish her, worship the ground she walked on, but she was totally oblivous to him. Why couldn't she see?

Love is blind. He chuckled to himself and pushed his rectangular lenses higher onto the bridge of his nose (it would irk him to know he only did this when some emotion struck him).

He searched for Ichigo's spiritual pressure and couldn't find it. Not even the slightest trace. Kurosaki was dead.

He saw how Inoue took the news, and it ripped his heart from his chest. He hated to see her hurting, but he couldn't go to her, not yet, because it was extremely important to get Rukia to understand: she was still looking for him.

He tried to get her to stop her fruitless search for Ichigo, but Rukia continued despite his insistence he was dead. Even though she was showing a strong front, the look in her eyes as she pulled away from him told Ishida everything: Rukia loved Kurosaki. Ishida had always suspected, but now it was confirmed. He realized had to let her find out for herself, so he didn't pursue the issue when she didn't let up, which was a good thing because Rukia had found his reiatsu and proved to Ishida his bragging rights on sensing reiatsu may be revoked.

It also proved to him love is stronger than anything else in existence.

Then they found him. Kurosaki was in pretty bad shape. Oh, let's not sugar coat it, he looked like he'd been through a meat grinder. If he had come into his father's hospital looking like that, they probably wouldn't even try to revive him--DOA. Ishida couldn't feel his reiatsu and gave him up for dead, so that was already not a good sign, but now he could also make out his zanpakutou. That thing had gone through a shredder. Really not good. He glanced at Inoue to see how she was doing.

Her small, delicate hands were balled up into fists, resting at the base of her throat. Her eyes had lost their sparkle and her body quivered. She looked down at the shinigami in wretched horror. It tore at his heart to see her this way. Afraid and hesitant, but needing to protect and comfort her just the same, Ishida put his hands on Inoue's arms just below her shoulders. He would always be there for her, no matter how she felt for him. No matter that she could kill him and bring him back to life again in one glance, with one word from her lips.

Rukia returned to where they stood and whisked Inoue right out of his grasp and flashed away. He shook his head. He was doomed to love her from afar. It was better that way.