My take on what happens after manga chapter 353 (because it's an absolute crime that no one is paying any attention to heroic, bleeding, handless Ishida. And it would serve Ichigo and Orihime right if this happened.) Ishida's POV. Hints of IshiHime and IchiIshi.

It's not that difficult breaking away.

You know too much about death to believe that it's peaceful – your grandfather's was anything but that – and yet there's a strange sort of comfort to it. It's an oddly familiar feeling and as you pull farther away, you realize it is because you are regaining your distance. This, after all, is what you've always been most intimate with: taking the long view, holding things and people at arm's length, placing yourself so far above and beyond everyone that only an arrow from your heart could ever close that gap.

There won't be any more arrows now – no more cold blue fire burning in your fingers, no more purpose in the tension of your arm and shoulder – and if you feel some small regret at that, it is not enough to keep you here.

Something else is, though. Even as you are trickling away like the last bit of water running from a spilled cup, something snares you, keeps you from pulling up the last small roots that connect you to your life. This sudden restriction shocks you so much that you don't even think to resist. Soul caught, path blocked, you search for a reason, and what you find surprises you even more; that the white tendrils of your spirit threads are caught in a tangle of crimson. Red spirit threads – Shinigami reiraku – are twisting and knotting with your own, snagging them and holding you back. Before you can even wonder who has done this, you hear two voices: one distant, as if calling from a deep tunnel, yelling your name – "Ishida! Ishida!" – and the other closer, disembodied but just as fierce, growling You're not going anywhere, dumbass. Come back, or I swear I'll come after you. If you die on me, I'll never forgive you!

Of course it is Kurosaki. Kurosaki who can never just let anything be. Kurosaki who has to do the impossible. It's not enough that he pulls himself back from the edge of death. He must drag you back as well.

"Inoue! Inoue!" Kurosaki still sounds like he's screaming from the bottom of a well, but even muted by distance his tone is fierce. He sounds angry; but then, Kurosaki almost always sounds angry, so maybe this is something else. Panic? Desperation? You can't tell. You're not really sure of anything except that it bothers you that Kurosaki is yelling at Inoue like that.


"Kurosaki-ku—Ah! Oh—oh no! Ishida-kun! Ishida—Souten Kishun!"

There is no resisting the power that embraces you at those words. You couldn't even if you wanted to, but you don't; you don't want to resist at all. Even though it makes you feel like one of your sewing projects – something tattered that has to be patched, re-stitched, remade – you submit to its warmth without question. You understand this power is leading you back toward pain and uncertainty, but when it takes your hand, you follow like a child.

The voices grow clearer as you are drawn back. Instead of sounding like they are at the bottom of a tunnel, now it's like listening to a conversation in a different part of a traditional house – one with rice paper walls that blur but do not silence words. Even so, you can hear the tears in Inoue-san's voice.

"Ishida-kun, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please come back, Ishida-kun. Please be all right!"

You want to tell Inoue-san to stop apologizing, that there's no need. She sounds so upset, so sad. Is it because of you? You never wanted to make her feel that way.

"What's the matter? Why isn't he waking up?" Kurosaki's voice is loud and irritating, and his manner as uncouth as ever, but then he makes a strange choking sound and curses.

"His hand." Even blurred and distant, Kurosaki's voice is tight with horror. He no longer sounds angry. Instead, he sounds like he might be sick. "Where's his—oh god. Did—did I—?"

"Ah! No, Kurosaki-kun," Inoue assures him. "No, Ulquiorra-san—did that. When Ishida-kun attacked him."

"He attacked Ulquiorra?" Disbelief frays the edges of Kurosaki's words, and you would clench your fists and teeth if you were close enough to your body to feel them. Is it really so hard for the idiot Shinigami to comprehend? "Why did he do that? Why were you two even up here? I told him to protect you!"

"It's my fault." The misery in Inoue-san's voice makes your heart clench. You can't stand to hear her cry, especially not over you. "I made him bring me up here. I wanted—I wanted to make sure you'd be all right. He did it because I asked."

Hearing this is more painful than any of your wounds were. You want to tell her that she shouldn't blame herself, that you would have gone up anyway when you felt that huge reiatsu. Besides, it isn't her fault that you couldn't say 'no' to her.

Kurosaki still sounds confused, like he can't grasp how any of this has happened, and maybe you would be more understanding about that if Inoue-san wasn't so obviously upset. It hurts to hear the self-recrimination in her voice as she tells Kurosaki what happened – how they had watched in horror as the Espada sent a cero through his chest and dropped him, how she had caught him with Santen Keshun, and how Ulquiorra prevented her from healing him.

"That's why Ishida-kun attacked him," Inoue-san sniffs. "When Ulquiorra-san turned away, I ran past him to get to you. Ishida-kun kept attacking him so—so I could heal you. But I couldn't – it wasn't working. Then Ishida-kun got thrown back, and I saw his arm was all bloody, and—his hand was gone. He acted like it didn't even matter. Ishida-kun said not to worry, that he'd already taken drugs for the wound. He told me to take care of you, and then he just—" Tears are drowning Inoue-san's words now so that she can hardly continue, and you want to kick Kurosaki-kun and tell him to say something to comfort her, to get her to stop crying, but he doesn't say anything at all.

"I didn't know what to do." Inoue-san is weeping now, and you want to tell her Don't cry, please don't cry but you still can't feel your mouth, your limbs, anything at all. "I couldn't heal you, and I thought Ulquiorra-san was going to kill Ishida-kun, and I just didn't know what to do anymore so I—called out to you."

"You—called me?" Kurosaki's words are softer than they have been. He sounds very young when he says that; like a boy, instead of the brash young warrior you know. "You called me, and I—?"

"Yes," Inoue-san admits. "When you stood up, I didn't really know if that was you. Even though you'd been lying there only a moment before, there was something so dark and heavy around you that—I couldn't tell. Then you called your sword right into your hand and swung it down and—it was like a storm blew me backwards. I thought I was going to fly off the dome," Inoue-san tries to laugh, "but Ishida-kun—he caught me. Even though he was hurt, even with only one hand—he protected me."

There's an odd timbre to Inoue-san's sweet voice as she says this; almost as if by remembering, she is seeing it again for the first time.

"What happened?" Kurosaki asks quietly. "Did I—did I really attack him? Was I the one who stabbed Zangetsu through him?" When she doesn't answer immediately, he adds, "Inoue, I have to know."

"Ishida-kun was trying to stop you," Inoue-san tells him, trying to hold her voice steady. "You defeated Ulquiorra-san. There were only—pieces of him left. You were about to cut off his head, but Ishida-kun stopped you. He grabbed your wrist and told you that was enough. He said—if you kept on, you weren't going to be human any more. That's—that's when—."

"I stabbed him," Kurosaki finishes. The words are spiritless, almost a drone, and for some reason that upsets you more than anything else, even Inoue-san's tears. Really, the two of them acting this way is more than you can bear, and you begin to struggle for the ability to respond, to say something.

Before, it didn't hurt. At first you'd been too numb, and then too disconnected. Only your thoughts had been painful – your memories, your regrets. Now, it's different. You come back to yourself with a jarring lurch, like a boat bumping up against its dock, and you gasp because your insides are being twisted and the nerves in your hand feel like electric fire.

Wait—your hand?

Merely opening your eyes takes a concerted effort. Part of you thinks it might be better not to look, but you shove the uncertainty back and pry your lids apart, blinking once, twice. You are surrounded by a golden glow, by a warmth that reminds you of the first bright day of early summer, and somehow you don't mind the discomfort as your body is repaired. Turning your head slightly, you raise your left arm and stare at the hand reforming on your once-mangled wrist. It seems insubstantial at first, even as you watch it solidifies. You turn it back and forth, flexing your fingers, astonished at its return.

"He moved!" Kurosaki's voice, too loud as usual, but at least he doesn't sound like a husk of himself this time. "Inoue, he moved! The wound is closing!"

There are blurry shapes behind the golden shield, and when you study them, Kurosaki's and Inoue's faces become clear. Kurosaki looks worn and a little haunted, and Inoue's face is streaked with tears.

"Ishida-kun." When she sees you looking back at her, she breathes your name like a sigh of relief and smiles. It makes your chest feel funny when she does this, and at first you think it's because of the healing, because she's putting you back together, but then you realize it's just because she's looking at you.

Really looking at you.

There was something you were going to tell her when the right moment came, and you see your left hand reaching up and toward her. Your fingertips press against the healing shield, unable to go any farther.

"Inoue-san," you whisper, your throat creaking, feeling like you haven't spoken in years. "I'm glad you're all right."

Tears are wetting her lashes and starting to run down her face again, but Inoue-san's smile does not waver.

"Thank you, Ishida-kun," she tells you. "Thank you for protecting me. For coming back to us."

"For not dying," Kurosaki grunts.

You turn your head to see him crouched beside you, leaning as close as the Souten Kishun will allow. Kurosaki's brow is furrowed like it always is, and he's wearing his trademark scowl, but his eyes are like open wounds. There's so much behind them that your gut clenches when you look at him, and it isn't an echo of the sword wound but something deeper. You know what he's seeing when he stares at you, and it pisses you off.

"What's with that look?" you demand.

"What look?" Kurosaki snaps back.

"That expression. You look like some kid whose dog just got run over."

The spark of irritation that flares in his eyes eclipses the pain and self-doubt for a moment, but the angry retort you expect doesn't come. Instead, one side of his mouth quirks up in what is almost a wry grin.

"Selling yourself kind of short there, aren't you, Rover?"

You open your mouth, but you're so stunned by this unexpected display of wit that you can't think of a response. You stare at Kurosaki through the golden haze of Souten Keshun, remembering the tug of crimson spirit threads and seeing something deeper in his eyes. If you die, I'll never forgive you.

"Moron," is all you can finally manage to say.

"Dumbass," he tosses out.

"Idiot," you fire back, trying to push up on your elbows.

"Kurosaki-kun, stop it," Inoue-san tells him before he can say anything else. "Ishida-kun, please lie still. I haven't finished healing you yet."

"Yeah, do what Inoue says, Ishida," Kurosaki directs, trying to get the last word in.

"I would have anyway," you snort, not letting him have it. Really, as soon as Inoue-san finishes healing you, you're tempted to try out your left fist on Kurosaki's jaw.

"Thank you, Ishida-kun," Inoue-san sighs when you settle back and close your eyes.

"Yeah," Kurosaki echoes quietly, almost under his breath. Maybe he doesn't mean for you to hear him. "What she said."

You could say something, but you don't.

This time you let him have the final word.