Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach, not making any money, all that good stuff.

Notes: This is an AU story with some minor but important alterations to the world of Bleach: 1) Orihime is a shinigami, and 2) Ichigo lost more than just his mother to Grand Fisher.

Summary: A powerful half-Hollow boy named Ichigo is now considered a threat to Soul Society. The 13th Division's Rukia and Orihime are sent to destroy him. But nothing about Ichigo is as it seems...

Prologue: Grand Fishing

Kurosaki Ichigo had been a relatively normal boy, until that fateful day. His mother adored him, his father was just plain embarrassing, and his baby sisters were a little annoying, but those were all things he had come to accept as a part of normal life.

He had never really understood why his father's bedtime stories all featured a brave hero defeating an evil monster that no one else could. But afterwards, that, too, made perfect sense.

Because monsters were very much real.

Ichigo and his sisters learned this the hard way, when the family car crashed into an invisible monster. He would later learn that his parents had probably never seen the monster at all: they were killed in the initial impact, crushed beneath the monster's huge bulk and the caved in car roof. Ichigo had escaped with just a small cut on his forehead, but he would never find out if he'd been thrown from the car, or if the monster had pulled him free and then dropped him.

All he knew for sure was that he woke up in time to see the monster devour his little sisters.

It had never escaped Ichigo's notice that Yuzu and Karin were basically brats (Karin especially), but after a stern talk from his mother, he'd since thought of them, reluctantly but consistently, as his own brats, and no one else's. That was what it meant to be a big brother, even if his only rewards were Yuzu's warm hugs and wet kisses.

Yet both Yuzu and Karin screamed for him, as Ichigo stood by helplessly, and watched them die.

He could not be blamed for his fear. Ichigo had just lost his parents, and simultaneously learned that monsters were indeed real, and very frightening. It didn't help that this particular monster was quite sadistic, and went to the trouble of waiting until Ichigo awoke before eating Yuzu and Karin. It wanted Ichigo to suffer; that usually made the meat even sweeter.

What the monster, and even Ichigo, didn't know, was that when Yuzu and Karin died, an important part of Ichigo died with them. And what remained was stronger, hungrier, and far more ruthless than the monster itself.

Ichigo had no clear memories of what happened after that. He only knew that when it was all over, the monster was gone, and Yuzu and Karin had come back to him. They weren't angry or even disappointed that he hadn't protected them. Instead, they clung to him the way they always had, and cried while he held them tight and promised to never leave them.

At first, Ichigo tried to pretend that it was all a bad dream, and that his sisters had never died. But the black-rimmed holes in their bellies and the paleness in their faces told him otherwise...

The Humane Hollow

A Bleach Fanfic by

Nate Grey (XMAN0123-at-aol-dot-com)

Chapter 1: Kurosaki Bonds

"I am sorry about this," Captain Ukitake had said right before he gave her the assignment, "but only your specific talents may bring this to a swift end."

Rukia hadn't questioned it, at first. She had complete trust in her captain, she was the 13th Division's lieutenant, and she was a Kuchiki. She wasn't supposed to question her orders.

Then she read the details, saw the attached photo, and nearly had an emotional breakdown right there in the office.

It was Kaien.

Not really, but it certainly did look like him, and the wound that Rukia had thought closed suddenly ripped itself wide open again.

Why did it have to be the same thing? Another person taken over by a Hollow. Another person she would have to kill. And once again, she would have to take her best friend along to help with the dirty work.

Rukia did her best not to think about such things as she made her way to Captain Ukitake's personal quarters. Due to his prolonged illness, it had been converted into a large hospital room, and was absolutely covered in cushions, for fear that he might collapse and hurt himself.

Of course, that had been before Inoue Orihime was transferred from the 4th Division into the 13th, largely to replace her late older brother, Sora.

Now, Captain Ukitake hardly ever spent any time in his room, and consequently, did not mind Orihime using it as an infirmary. He felt it was the least he could do, considering she had been the one to cure him.

From the time that Rukia had first met her back in the Rukongai's 78th District, Orihime had undergone a startling transformation. The shy, upbeat girl that had once tagged along after her and Renji was gone. That could only be a good thing, since she wouldn't have lasted long as a shinigami otherwise.

Orihime had found that the only way to keep Rukia, Renji, and Sora in sight was to improve her own abilities, and so she had, with a drive that bordered on fanatical. At first, this only applied to her healing talents, and quite predictably, she was shipped off to the 4th Division. But Captain Unohana had quickly found that this was only one of Orihime's strengths, and after personally training the girl for a decade, recommended her for a transfer. She was politely but firmly turned down, at least until that horrible night that had claimed several promising shinigami, Kaien and Sora among them.

Two weak but clever Hollows had possessed a team of shinigami patrolling in the human world, and slipped into the Seireitei undetected. They systematically murdered every shinigami that stood in their way, growing more powerful each time they took hold of another body. Perhaps it was fate that when Orihime arrived on the scene, Kaien and Sora were the ones under the Hollows' control. Logically, they had assumed that she would be unable to attack them.

The only flaw in their plan was that Orihime hadn't been blind. The two creatures that stood before her that night were barely recognizable as shinigami, much less as any she knew. With writhing tentacles emerging from their faces and arms, they were little more than monsters in her eyes, even if their voices sounded somewhat familiar. She only needed to see the blood soaked into their clothing to know what they were capable, and killed them both with a single attack, not hesitating for a moment.

Afterwards, though, she had been an emotional wreck for nearly a month.

But in that single night, every shinigami present had seen the power of Tsubaki, and knew that Orihime was not just a simple healer. Her transfer was immediately approved, and she was placed in the 13th Division, under the guidance of her best friend.

Really, it had been the best thing for both of them. Orihime was always more focused when a friend was in danger, and Rukia could safely attack in the unrestrained style that she preferred with Orihime supporting her. Their teamwork was nearly flawless, to the point where they only received joint missions now. It wasn't that they couldn't work with anyone else, but their bond went far beyond mere friendship. If Orihime became incapacitated, her Shun Shun Rikka would only follow Rukia's commands. Likewise, Orihime was the only other person that could safely handle Rukia's sword (aside from Captain Hitsugaya, and that was only because he could withstand intense cold).

The lights were off in the infirmary, but Rukia knew that Orihime was inside. She could feel the familiar spiritual pressure, and it was unlikely to be mistaken for any other. Where most spiritual pressure felt like a crushing force, Orihime's had always been more like ripples on a pond, and each of the Shun Shun Rikka had its own distinct ripple within Orihime's overall spiritual pressure.

Rukia slowly slid the infirmary door open, not at all surprised to find Tsubaki blocking the way. Unlike the other Shun Shun Rikka, he needed no partner, and had become so powerful that he could manifest himself and become human-sized, all without Orihime's command. His human form was about seven feet in height, and therefore fairly imposing all on its own.

"So it's just you, Snow Beast," he snorted, glaring at her. "What do you want?"

"Don't start with me, Tsubaki," Rukia snapped, shoving past him. "I would think you'd be glad to have a new mission."

"Yeah? It's about time. I was getting bored, sitting here watching her sleep."

Rukia frowned, gazing at the glowing cocoon at her feet. Inside, she could make out the peaceful form of Orihime. Normally, Orihime only used it on other people or objects, but she had recently begun to use it on herself, either to quickly restore her strength in long battles, or to be able to work long hours with little rest. Personally, Rukia had always thought that actual rest was better, but she also knew that the Shun Shun Rikka were not mindless drones. They would do as Orihime asked, but they would not allow harm to come to her without excellent reason.

"Don't worry, Rukia-san! Shun'o and Ayame are almost done."

Blinking, Rukia looked up as the tiny form of Lily landed on her shoulder. "Did Orihime sleep at all last night?"

"Oh, yes. This was just a precaution. Orihime sensed that she would need to be at full strength. I think she knew about the mission."

"How can that be? I only just received our orders myself!"

Lily frowned. "I think it might be our fault. Orihime might be gaining some of our powers herself. This isn't the first time her predictions have come true. Instead of reversing time, like Shun'o and Ayame do, she can see forward into it. It's not that surprising, really, but it was something none of us expected."

"And you don't think these increased sessions might be responsible?" Rukia asked.

"Even if they were, Rukia-san, it's another way we can protect her. We couldn't just stop. What if there's something she needs to know in advance?"

Rukia hated that Lily and Shun'o always seemed to make more sense than her, and being corrected by a fairy even once was humiliating enough. "So you're certain she'll be ready for the mission?"

Lily nodded. "We'll be done any minute now!"

Kurosaki Ichigo was not a typical teenager in many respects.

There was the fact that he was an orphan, and had been since he lost his family in a tragic car accident as a child. Curiously, though, several of Ichigo's classmates had lost their families under similar circumstances, so he was one of several orphans at Karakura High School.

Also, Ichigo happened to be on a first name basis with every orphan in his class. They also all happened to live in his house for the sake of convenience: they were not all friends, exactly, but as they had no other companions to depend on, they learned to depend on each other.

Within Karakura High School, however, Ichigo's reputation, and that of his companions, was a bit more ominous.

Quite simply, Ichigo was considered a gang leader by every staff member, and received perfect scores in every class out of sheer fear of what he might do in retaliation. No one had ever actually SEEN Ichigo or his companions attack someone... and that perhaps was most frightening of all. Their gang was known as the Kurosaki Family, despite Ichigo being the only actual living Kurosaki.

Ichigo's right-hand man was actually a girl: Arisawa Tatsuki. She was the only girl in Karakura Town that could safely walk home alone at night: the one time she had encountered a mugger, he'd been found the next morning, bruised to the point that he was barely recognizable by his dental records.

The gang's enforcer was Sado Yasutora, more commonly known as Chad. At least, as the largest member, people assumed he was the enforcer. Actually, though, Chad was the least violent person in the group, although it was still a very bad idea to get into a fight with him.

Ishida Uryu was the gang's spokesperson by default, but also because he was good at it. Ichigo and Chad weren't big talkers, and Tatsuki usually talked (and cursed) entirely too much. Uryu, however, always knew exactly what to say at any given moment. He had a certain talent for appearing completely non-threatening, even if he happened to be doing something as intimidating as clutching a bloody butcher knife at the moment.

Despite not considering themselves a gang, the Kurosaki Family did share some of the same characteristics. They were on a first name basis with many police officers, and while none of them had ever been arrested, Ichigo and Tatsuki had both been brought in for questioning concerning destruction of public property many times. The evidence could never quite connect them to the crimes, however, as most of the damage was on such a grand scale that it was simply humanly impossible.

And no one could ever quite explain the bleak, oppressive aura that seemed to surround the Kurosaki home, but nearly everyone could sense it, and kept their distance. Most people assumed that there had to be evil inside the house, but it was actually more along the lines of typical teen boredom and the occasional fight over who was supposed to wash the dishes on a given night.

Whatever else they might have been, the Kurosaki Family was just that: a family of four. They in no way replaced the family that Ichigo had lost, but they made the pain and loneliness a bit more bearable.

Kurotsuchi Mayuri was not a man that was easily impressed, but the Hollows based in Karakura Town impressed him.

They were a unique collection of talents, so rare and mysterious that he was this close to sending Nemu to obtain a sample. But based on the data he'd gathered so far, there would've been no point. The best way to gauge the group's power was to challenge them directly. Nemu couldn't do that alone, and sending more than one shinigami to the world of the living would draw too much attention.

However, the 13th Division's current mission would go a long way in confirming Mayuri's suspicions. He had detailed files on both Rukia and Orihime, having "liberated" them from the 4th Division some time ago, and then only long enough to make copies and return the originals before anyone noticed. He was certain that Rukia and Orihime would, at the very least, force out the true potential of the Hollows before they were killed in the process. There was just no way that two shinigami could overcome these four Hollows.

A Quincy who fired black arrows faster than the eye could track.

A human who could somehow throw the totality of her strength into every single blow.

Another human with power so massive that he could only be mere steps away from becoming a Menos Grande.

And a Hollow who defied all known logic by remaining visibly human, even as his Hollow powers grew in ways that should have been impossible. The data even indicated that the others had only gained or adapted their gifts because of his subconscious influence. Beyond that, he was even able to slow down the transformation of other souls into Hollows by sheer force of will. This Hollow had the power to change reality itself, his power was so enormous.

Mayuri wanted that power for himself, even if it meant ripping it out of Ichigo's chest with his own two hands. He'd certainly done messier, more difficult things, after all.

Alone in his room, Ichigo sat down on the windowsill and closed his eyes, pressing his face against the cool glass. He could hear Uryu and Tatsuki downstairs, their voices raised. Probably they'd gotten into yet another argument about something petty. Chad would no doubt settle the dispute as only he could. Sure enough, a loud thump followed, and then there was silence.

Ichigo smiled faintly, and when he opened his eyes, his little sister's face was hovering just inches from his own.

The sight never failed to remind him of how different she looked now, because Yuzu had always been the baby of the family. Her eyes seemed larger now, and a bit sunken in, as if her true face were concealed beneath a human-like mask. Anyone else might be disgusted, but to Ichigo, she was as adorable as the day she'd come home from the hospital.

"Hey, Yuzu-chan," he said calmly, watching as she settled on his leg and cuddled against his chest. For some reason, she and Karin were all about physical contact now. There was always a certain chill around them, and Ichigo knew on some level that this was because they no longer gave off body heat. He had plenty to spare, so it didn't bother him at all.

"Hi, Ichi-nii," she murmured softly, clutching at his chest.

"Where's Karin?"

"Sleeping," Yuzu replied simply.

It was one of those evasive answers that Ichigo never bothered to question. He assumed that there were some things about the undead that the living just weren't ever meant to know. Otherwise, he was certain Yuzu wouldn't have kept the information from him. After all, if they couldn't trust him, who else was there?

"You guys felt it, too?" he guessed. Karin was not the type to be overly emotional, but she only strayed from Yuzu's side now when building up her strength for something major.

Yuzu nodded into his chest. "Something's coming. Coming for you, Ichi-nii. Or maybe for me and Karin." She clutched him a little tighter. "You won't let it separate us, will you?"

"Don't be silly," Ichigo replied, wrapping his arms around her and resting his chin on her head. "It'll be the three of us, forever. I promised you that, remember?"

"Sometimes I forget," Yuzu admitted softly. "Like when I'm scared. Or if Karin isn't there to remind me."

"Why don't you stay here tonight, so you don't forget?" he offered. Honestly, it was more because he didn't want her to leave. Even if she was already dead, and he had already failed in his duty to protect her, Ichigo was unable to just turn off the brotherly instinct to never let Yuzu out of his sight for long. Aside from that, he genuinely missed her and Karin sleeping down the hall from him, even if that was now Tatsuki's room.

"Your friends won't mind?"

"They wouldn't be my friends if they did," Ichigo replied firmly. In a softer tone, he added, "Please stay, Yuzu-chan. I don't want you to go."

Yuzu looked as if she didn't want to leave, either, but she finally shook her head. "I'm sorry, Ichi-nii. But I have to go get Karin first. I promise I'll bring her back with me, though. She shouldn't be by herself for too long."

He nodded, knowing what she was thinking. Karin had been growing more and more aggressive, even with Yuzu's calming influence. It was something neither of them could explain, but Ichigo thought he knew more about what was happening to Karin. The same thing had happened to him, after all, except he was still alive. Sometimes, that worried him more than he cared to admit.

"Hurry back," Ichigo sighed, giving Yuzu a final squeeze.

"I will," she promised, pressing her cool, soft lips against his chin in a tender kiss. Then she simply faded right before his eyes, her slight weight vanishing from his knee.

Ichigo closed his eyes tightly, counted to ten, and looked at the window again.

He was not at all surprised to see that half of his face was hidden in shadow, with one beady, golden eye glaring back at him. That was happening more and more often, especially when his sisters were around. Ichigo still had no idea if it was really there, as it only showed up in reflective surfaces, and none of his friends had ever commented on it.

"You shouldn't have let her go," the dark half hissed at him. "The shinigami are coming, and they won't care that she's your baby sister. All they'll see is a Hollow, and then they'll kill what's left of her soul."

"That won't happen," Ichigo swore angrily. "I won't let it."

"Yeah," the dark half said in an approving tone that was almost a purr. "That's what I like to hear. We'll take care of them, just like we did the first freak that threatened what was ours. But this time, the only deaths will be on their side. Because you need to kill them. It's the only way we'll get strong enough to protect the girls, and stop them from changing. You have to be the top dog. That's all there is to it."

"Whatever it takes to keep them safe and with me," Ichigo agreed, clenching his fists. "Just tell me what I need to do to kill these... shinigami."

"Oh, that part's easy," the dark half chuckled. "They're not so different from the everyday Hollows you've dealt with, except they'll be stronger and faster. Plus they'll look human, but don't let that throw you. What they can do to your sisters is so much worse than what a Hollow could..."

Ichigo narrowed his eyes as his reflection return to normal. He stormed out of his bedroom, taking the steps two at a time. He very nearly ran into Chad, who was on his way up.

"Get the others. We're going hunting tonight."

Chad blinked, the only sign that he instantly agreed. "More Hollows?" he asked absently.

"No," Ichigo replied, his eyes glinting with malice. "Better."

"Captain Unohana? Orihime is asking to see you."

"Is she?" Captain Unohana murmured, glancing back at her lieutenant. "I'd have thought she and Rukia would be on their way by now." The healer looked down at her current patient. "It's up to you."

"I don't mind," Hinamori replied with a smile. "I haven't seen her in ages."

"Very well. Show her in, please, Isane."

A moment later, Isane returned with Orihime, who froze at the sight before her.

"Oh, Momo-chan, your arm!"

"It's not as bad as it looks," Hinamori said quickly, though she was obviously doing her best not to look at the damage. "Well, it looked a lot worse before I came in here, anyway. And you don't have to lecture me on being careful, I got enough of that from Toshiro."

"You should take a good look, Orihime," Unohana said quietly. "That way, I won't have to warn you to be careful in the world of the living. Lieutenant Hinamori was lucky that she had a good team with her."

"How did it happen?" Orihime asked, unable to stop herself from reaching over to rub Hinamori's back reassuringly.

Hinamori sighed. "I got distracted, and a Hollow wanted to find out if I tasted good. I'm more embarrassed than anything else."

"Captain, do you think I could-?"

"No, Orihime," Unohana replied firmly. "Save your strength for your mission. I think I can look after my patient just fine."

Orihime blushed. "I-I meant no disrespect, Captain."

Unohana smiled kindly. "I know you didn't. But you two were selected for this mission for a reason, and you need to keep that in mind. Rukia's life may depend on it at some point, so I would prefer that you have all the strength that you need then."

"Well, if either of you does get bitten, we can always compare our scars later," Hinamori added with a small smile.

Unohana shook her head. "Please, Hinamori, don't encourage her."

Although she was reluctant to admit it, Tatsuki had never really been the leader type. Ichigo was always the one that plunged headfirst into things, and she usually just got dragged along for the ride, either out of loyalty or boredom. Besides, Ichigo was never far from a good fight, and Tatsuki liked to fight.

Uryu was no leader, either, and out of their group, he was the one that Tatsuki liked the least. He was a jerk, he talked too much, and he always seemed to know everything that she didn't. But all that aside, he thought himself a gentleman, and on the night that Tatsuki had first discovered her powers, he had been there to convince her that she wasn't a monster. For that, she would tolerate him and count him among her friends.

But she certainly didn't have to like it when she drew patrol duty with him.

For once, though, Uryu was being rather quiet as they both sat on the roof of Karakura High School. They had been staring into the night sky for close to two hours now with no results, and Tatsuki needed some way to pass the time.

"Hey, Uryu. You were the only one that seemed to know anything when Ichigo first mentioned this shinigami. What are they like?"

Uryu blinked and lowered the telescope he'd been peering through. "They were once the mortal enemies of my kind. But that was a long time ago, and I'd be surprised if any of them could recognize a Quincy on sight anymore. Their work in itself is noble enough, but it's the people that do the work that I find fault with."

"So you hate them?" Tatsuki asked.

"I have no love for them, and I have no problem treating them the way we normally treat Hollows. At least Hollows are honest in their cruelty."

Tatsuki frowned. "And they'll really try to hurt Yuzu and Karin?"

"I don't know if 'hurt' is quite the right word," Uryu said slowly. "But I do know that a shinigami would separate them from Ichigo, and that is all that we need to know. It would be best if... oh, excuse me for a moment."

She looked up as Uryu drew back his arm, his lips thinning into a slight frown as black energy crackled between his fingertips. The arrow was only visible for an instant before it flew from his fingers.

There was a muted explosion in the distance, followed by a dying roar, and then silence.

Then a stream of blood red particles rushed towards them, coating Uryu's body in a sickly crimson aura for a few seconds.

"It would be best," he continued as the aura faded, "if you thought of shinigami only as our enemies. It would make things simpler."

"I guess," she murmured.

Uryu started to say something else, but paused when he noticed a shadow moving behind Tatsuki's head.

Noticing the direction of his gaze, she waved off his concern and closed her eyes, silently channeling every bit of her spiritual energy into her left fist, and then driving it into the face of the Hollow that had snuck up behind her.

The explosion that followed was by no means muted, and made Uryu exceedingly glad that Hollows did not explode into blood and gore when defeated in such a manner. He understood and accepted that Tatsuki had yet to learn any other way to attack, but it was a bit annoying that he went through earplugs so quickly.

"Hmm. That was a little one," Tatsuki noted as the blood red particles surrounded her fist. "Hardly even worth the effort. At this rate, we'll never get anywhere near Ichigo's level."

"Sometimes, I think that's a good thing, Tatsuki."

There were many things that Chad didn't understand.

The unspoken bond between he and Ichigo grew stonger every day. He suspected that it had to do with the number of Hollows they had each absorbed. At their first meeting, Chad had mistaken Ichigo for the strongest Hollow he'd ever sensed. Even now, he had never felt a presence stronger than Ichigo, so he was confident in his friend's ability to handle anything.

But Ichigo's shape never seemed to change all that much. Yet each time Chad used his powers, it took everything he had to keep his human form. He always worried what he might become, if he ever lost control. But Ichigo had promised over and over again that no matter how much Chad changed, they would remain friends. Ichigo never promised things lightly, so Chad chose to believe in him.

The only thing Chad knew for sure about his "other" shape was that the arms on it were enormous. That, and for some reason, each time he started to change, Kurosaki Karin appeared before him. She was drawn to that form as he had been drawn to Ichigo. But where Chad was content to simply call Ichigo his friend and be around him, Karin was only satisfied by perching on Chad's shoulder, regardless of what he was doing at the moment. Even when he slept, she would curl up next to him, her head resting against his arm.

There was really no explaining her behavior around him. Unlike Yuzu, Karin rarely used words anymore, relying mostly on growls to speak. Chad knew it was because she was further along in her transformation, just like he was. Her face was always deathly pale, and often her feet disappeared entirely, forcing her to glide more than she walked.

But that didn't matter to Chad. He hadn't known Karin when she was alive, but when she was near him, he felt complete. It was more than just friendship, or having a constant companion. He would sacrifice himself in an instant, if it might save her from further pain.

Chad had no idea what the shinigami wanted from them. He only knew that if they threatened Ichigo's family, he would show no mercy.

Rukia and Orihime had only been in the human world for a moment when they were approached by a small girl named Ururu, with greater spiritual pressure than most lieutenants in the Gotei 13. Rukia was immediately suspicious, but Orihime, who was often an excellent judge of character, thought they should trust her. Rukia's wariness only grew when the girl led them to a store with the following sign out front: "Urahara's Shinigami Shop: Half Off Everything for 1st and 2nd Seats!"

Urahara was an infamous traitor to the Soul Society, so Rukia was amazed that he would approach them so willingly. But she understood why, the moment she laid eyes on his cane. She could sense the raw power of his zanpakuto within, and knew he had nothing to fear from them.

"I'm glad you decided to visit me," Urahara told them while his assistants served tea. "I suspect there is a great deal your superiors failed to tell you about the Hollows you will encounter here."

"What would a traitor like you know about it?" Rukia demanded.

Urahara smiled and sipped his tea. "I know they're expecting you, and if you rush into this without listening to my warning, you will die. Neither of you can defeat Kurosaki Ichigo. His friends will only make an impossible task even more so. If you insist on facing him, I would suggest taking a few of my little helpers along. With them, at least, you might be able to retreat without losing any limbs."

"Is he really so powerful?" Orihime asked in awe.

"Yes, but that isn't the point," Urahara continued. "What's really dangerous is his determination. Under different circumstances, he might've become a Captain-level shinigami by now. But as things stand, you're on a suicide mission."

"And why would you care what happens to us?" Rukia asked slowly.

"With every Hollow they defeat and absorb, Ichigo and his friends get much stronger. I don't even want to think about what a lieutenant and a Captain-level shinigami might do for them."

Rukia frowned as Orihime shyly looked at the floor. There was a great deal of controversy as to how powerful Orihime truly was, but most agreed that Tsubaki's ability to manifest himself, especially without permission, placed Orihime far closer to achieving Bankai than Rukia. Most shinigami were generally smart enough not to say so in Rukia's presence, though.

"So, do you still plan to engage them?" Urahara asked calmly. "For a small fee, I might be inclined to describe how you died to the Soul Society."

"I've heard enough," Rukia spat. "We do not need or want your help, traitor."

Urahara chuckled to himself, reaching over to lightly stroke the black cat lounging at his side. "Tell Bya-kun that Yoruichi sends her regards."

Rukia's mouth dropped open in shock before she snapped it shut in her fury and stormed from the room.

Orihime quickly bowed to Urahara before hurrying after her friend.

"It's a shame they're going to be cut down in their prime," Urahara sighed. "And I really do think Ichigo might be too difficult to manipulate afterwards."

"Don't be so sure," the cat murmured, raising its head. "I don't think Ichigo will kill them. That is, something won't allow him to. He can be ruthless, but even now, he still possesses his heart. Rukia and Orihime don't understand that, but they will in time."

"You're way too optimistic, Yoruichi. Rukia's mouth will get her in trouble, and Orihime will be too reluctant to kill Ichigo. They'll both be dead by morning."

End of Part 1.


Just a lil' note about Orihime's powers here: they're largely the same, with the exception that Tsubaki now serves as her zanpakuto (since he's the only fairy that actually attacks). So when not in use, he appears as a sheathed sword, instead of a hairpin.

Rukia's more forceful and impulsive here partially because she's a lieutenant, but also because she's determined to look after Orihime, who can also be rather impulsive.

Don't expect anyone close to Ichigo to have the same limitations as normal Hollows, simply because nobody close to Ichigo ever stays limited for very long.