Permanent Disclaimer: This is for the whole series. Bleach, its characters, its plot, EVERYTHING belongs to Kubo Tite and Studio Pierrot. I don't claim to own these, I am merely borrowing the characters and parts of the plot for my own fun. This story in particular is mine. Said story is based off of ideas and a ginormous plot bunny that came about during the Lust Arc in the manga. It grew and grew until it turned into this. Also, the events after Chapter 352 in the manga (save for the revelation of the Vizards' zanpakutou names and powers) do not count in this fic. Even Ulquiorra's death is not the same. Therefore, don't expect me to be incorporating anything pertaining to the plot or characters that occurs after Chapter 352.

This story will have long chapters 90% of the time (by long I mean at least 5-6k words or 12+ pages on a Word document). It will have violence later on, even gore at certain points. It has a crapload of swearing. It will also have some drama and angst and fluff. It has a lot of things. Most of all, this is IchiHime. If that's not your thing, then I might suggest you go because you won't enjoy it much. If it is, and you don't mind any of the other aforementioned warnings, then sit back and enjoy :)

Chapter 1

The awakened bond and its aftermath

In Soul Society, deep within the Rukongai, a town and its residents slept peacefully, hidden from sight and unaware of the turmoil that threatened their home. Somewhere in that town, a candy shop stood a little ways apart from the other buildings. It seemed innocent enough, unless they knew what lay beneath it. If they climbed down a hidden trapdoor, they would find themselves in an enormously large training arena built below the shop.

There, on top of a rock, a black cat sat, waiting patiently beside a large, mustached man and two kids, a red-headed boy and a black-haired girl. They seemingly stared off into space, until suddenly, they came to attention.

Seconds later, a rip could be seen in mid-air. It opened up, and initially there was just empty darkness. In the next instant, a man with a green striped hat and a cane appeared. He waved jovially to the onlookers as he hopped out of the giant rip. "Ah, a welcoming committee! As you can see, we have all returned safe and sound. Well," He quickly glanced to the side, whipping out a fan to cover most of his face and thus veiling his features. "I'm not sure on the 'sound' part for everyone, but… ah, we're back, and that's all that matters!"

'We' referred to him and the six friends that were following behind him. They consisted of a couple of worn out shinigami, two humans, a pensive and injured Quincy, and a substitute shinigami in a state of stupor. One of the shinigami, a tiny woman with dark hair and watchful eyes, was the first to exit the rip, stepping out and landing a little ways from where the fan-wielding Urahara was. The woman, Rukia, looked behind her, watching as the other shinigami, her long time best friend Renji, and the one human, Sado, leapt out after her.

"You two okay?" she asked, her voice calm but laced with concern.

Renji nodded to her, although he rolled his shoulder around a little. "Yeah, save where that Yammy guy punched me." He glanced down at his shoulder and began to rub it. "Could have been a worse hit, but hell if it didn't hurt. He could punch, I'll give him that."

"I'm fine" was all Sado said, but being a man of few words, it was all he needed to say.

The Quincy was the next to jump out, although he landed a bit gingerly. He hadn't been as lucky as the others in Hueco Mundo. He was missing half his left arm and had a nasty stab wound in his abdomen, wrapped around with Inoue's cloak to halt the bleeding. Despite his injuries and the pain he was surely in, he didn't seem at all bothered. He turned around, a concerned frown on his face. "Inoue-san, do you need help with him?" he asked the other human, who was supporting the substitute shinigami.

Since they had begun their trek back from Hueco Mundo, Orihime had insisted on supporting Ichigo, who had been injured from his fight with Ulquiorra and mentally a little out of it. "O-oh no! Thank you Ishida-kun, but I'm about to set him down." The muscles in her arms and back straining beneath the weight, Orihime kept the substitute shinigami standing with his left arm draped over her shoulders.

She had refused everyone's offers of help to carry Ichigo, insisting that she would be able to support him just fine. That, and Ichigo's arm didn't seem to be willing to budge off her shoulders any time soon, although Orihime kept mum about that particular detail. After managing to get them both onto the training grounds, she turned to face her injured friend. "Kurosaki-kun, we're back." When he didn't respond, her face contorted into worry. She gently tugged on the arm he had draped over her shoulders, careful not to hit Zangetsu. "Kurosaki-kun."

Ichigo lifted up his head and blinked a few times as he gazed around the room. "Ah… we're… Urahara's."

"Yup. We made it, Kurosaki-kun," Orihime chirped. "I'll let you rest, and once I heal Ishida-kun's arm-"

"Ishida? What happened… his arm…?" Ichigo swayed on his feet, and Orihime dug her feet into the ground hard to keep him from tilting over.

Orihime's voice lowered. "Ishida-kun lost his arm to Ulquiorra," she explained. "I need to heal it first." Ichigo's injuries were worrying her, but he wasn't missing any limbs like Ishida was. He had to take priority. Then she wanted to check the others to see if they had any injuries she could heal quickly before attending to Ichigo.

"Ulqui…orra… he… where…" At that point, their other friends had turned towards him, surprise and confusion etched onto their faces.

"You defeated him, when you were-" She remembered the brutal fight, and, worried that Ichigo might react badly to learning about what had happened, she thought, Better not say anything about that for now. Orihime cocked her head to the side. "You don't remember, Kurosaki-kun?"

"I doubt he's lost memory of it completely," Urahara said, addressing the group for the first time since he had opened the Garganta to rescue those trapped in Hueco Mundo.

Although surprised at his words, Rukia never took her eyes off of Ichigo as she addressed Urahara. "Why do you think that? He has no recollection of it."

"At the moment. If you haven't noticed, he's a little out of it. I think between his injuries and coming back from that form Inoue-san and Ishida-san told us about, he's dazed. Once he's healed and has some rest, he may be able to recall what happened." The shopkeeper averted his eyes over to Ishida and Orihime. Both of them took notice, but it was Ishida who spoke.

"I'm not going to hold him responsible for attacking me. That wasn't Kurosaki there, not entirely." He looked over at Orihime, and stepped towards her to as she began lowering Ichigo to the ground. "Inoue-san, let-"

"Inoue." Kurosaki gripped her shoulder, and Orihime froze in confusion. Ishida did as well, and the others blinked quizzically at Ichigo. "I…"

Orihime smiled that bright, cheerful one she always used to soothe others' worries. "It's okay Kurosaki-kun. You just lie down and rest, and once Ishida-kun is all healed and the others are okay I'll-" She let out a gasp as Ichigo suddenly pulled her towards him. Her eyes widened as she found herself being hugged tightly against him. One arm was trapped against his chest, the other still clutching his side. "Kurosaki-"

"I'm so glad… you're okay." He breathed the words into her shoulder, squeezing her against him before suddenly going limp and collapsing.

"Ichigo! Inoue!" Rukia yelled, running towards the pair.

Orihime heard some of the others shouting and could see out of the corner of her eye Yoruichi, Tessai, Jinta, and Ururu begin to run over. She paid little attention though, too occupied with Ichigo at the moment. She had caught him before he could fall onto the ground, and this time without slamming her head into his.

Rukia reached them first, and helped her settle Ichigo onto the floor. "That idiot, falling down on you like that," she muttered under her breath, but Orihime could see the concern in her eyes.

"Ah, Kurosaki-kun was a lot more tired than I thought. He-" She paused, staring at his unconscious form. He must have been very worried. He wore himself out so much when he went into that form, and fighting Ulquiorra like that. Instead of voicing her thoughts, though, Orihime just shook her head, and smiled. "At least he can rest now," she murmured, continuing to smile gently down at him before she looked up. "Okay, Ishida-kun! You're first!" Orihime said brightly, smiling at Ishida.

Ishida smiled back as he walked over towards her, and as he knelt down a few feet away from Kurosaki, Orihime silently called out Ayame and Shun-ou. They zoomed around Ishida and formed the Soten Kesshun. Ishida immediately sighed in relief and for the first time in hours let himself relax.

As they began the rejection process, Orihime decided on which injuries to heal first. She started with his arm, and as fragments of it began to return, part of Orihime's mind went on auto-pilot as she continued treating his injuries. The rest of her mind began to wander a little, and she thought back over the events that happened after she arrived on top of the dome.

She remembered the horror she felt when she saw Ichigo dangling from Ulquiorra's tail, and when she realized what Ulquiorra planned to do as he coldly told her to watch him die. The way she panicked when she couldn't heal Ichigo, and when Ishida fell and Ichigo was all but seemingly dead, and how she screamed for him… How her heart skipped a beat when he glanced down at her, after that transformation. He hadn't been looking directly at her, but in a way, she could tell he was looking at her with those eyes she couldn't see. Even when Ulquiorra was trying to speak to him, Orihime felt like he was looking at her. If she could see his eyes, she wondered, what would they be trying to tell her?

She remembered when that bloody, vicious battle began. How she had questioned whether it was Ichigo or not who was fighting Ulquiorra. It was his body, his powers, but it wasn't entirely him. It was hard to believe that the kind, compassionate, and protective Ichigo she knew was the one ruthlessly ripping Ulquiorra's limbs off. All of his actions made it seem like it wasn't him at all, but something inside told her otherwise. Even when he tried to carve up Ulquiorra, and after he attacked and tried to kill Ishida, something told her inside it was Ichigo. It had to be, because only Ichigo would have been muttering that he would help her. Underneath that mask and that form, her Kurosaki-kun was there, trying to help her, even though his actions were so vicious and Hollow-like.

The guilt rushed back, nearly making her cringe as she remembered how terrible she felt, how much she wanted to hate herself for being a burden again and causing Ichigo trouble. She had wanted to protect him and the others, she wanted to help. That misfired Cero from Ichigo ended up giving her that chance.


Orihime's head snapped up, nearly colliding with Rukia's in the process. "Oh! Kuchiki-san! I'm so sorry I-"

"It's all right." Rukia smiled, although a little fazed by the collision course with Orihime's head she barely avoided. "Ishida's healed now, if you want to move onto Ichigo."

Orihime looked over, and saw Ishida's arm was back and the wound in his stomach was gone. She dispersed the Soten Kesshun, and the two "fairies" promptly retreated into her hairpin. "Are you guys sure you don't need to be healed?" She asked, glancing between her friends. She scanned them over for any glaringly obvious injuries that needed attention right away.

"Inoue-dono!" Tessai had made it over to them, and beckoned to Ururu and Jinta to bring over the healing supplies. Yoruichi had gone over towards Urahara, who was busy trying to close the Garganta. "I can easily heal these lighter and more superficial wounds the others have received. Please heal Kurosaki-dono until the worst of his wounds are gone, and then rest!"

"Oh, um, all right," she replied hesitantly. While Tessai set out with a first aid kit to heal the others, she called out Shun-ou and Ayame again, this time forming the Soten Kesshun over Ichigo. She glanced over his body, taking note of the few serious wounds he had and his all but destroyed shinigami robes. She still couldn't believe how tattered and ripped his robes were. She didn't know how they had gotten that bad, although Ulquiorra was obviously the culprit. Her cheeks became flushed when she realized she had been thinking about his tattered clothes too much, and was staring at his chest for too long. It certainly wasn't bad to look at. On the contrary, for a sixteen year old, Ichigo had nice – okay, he had amazing – abs and muscles. Transfixed and unable to help herself, Orihime kept staring, her flush reddening gradually.

"You have to admit, for such a young kid, he's pretty good looking without a shirt." Orihime nearly jumped in surprise, Yoruichi's voice having caught her off guard. She was sitting next to Orihime, still in her cat form.

When did she get here? Orihime wondered, blinking a few times in surprise. "W – W - Well, I wanted to m-make sure he didn't have any-"

Yoruichi scoffed at her. "Don't be so embarrassed to admit it. Heck, if I was younger and I didn't know Kurosaki the way I do, I'd definitely tap that."

Orihime could feel her face burn from the flush. She snapped her head away from Yoruichi, and fixated her gaze on a rock. She heard someone snort; probably Urahara, and then she heard a sudden burst of laughter. She tore her gaze away from the rock and over to her right. She saw Renji rolling on the floor, his face as red as hers from laughter.

Rukia's expression was a cross between amused and horrified. Her chest shook a little, as if she was laughing, but her mouth was agape. "I… that's just-"

"Disturbing" Chad finished for Rukia, his eyes wide.

"My my, Yoruichi-san." Urahara shifted his eyes over to her. "I had no idea you still entertained those kinds of notions," he teased, hiding his obvious smile behind his fan.

Yoruichi hissed at Urahara. "I'm not that old, Kisuke." Huffing, she turned her head away from him, acting offended as she licked her paw. "Let me remind you that we are the same age and I know you still entertain those 'kinds of notions'. If you think I don't know about the magazines you borrow from Riza, think again."

"I'd really rather not think about Urahara reading porn."

Orihime glanced down and saw Ichigo's eyes were open. "I didn't realize you were awake, Kurosaki-kun! How are you feeling?" she asked, her voice full of concern.

His eyes met hers. "I'm okay. I feel a little off, but I'm all right." He paused, and his expression turned into a worried frown. "Are you okay?"

"I'm just fine! Not hurt at all!" She waved her arms a little, not wanting him to fret over her.

He nodded. "Good, I would never have forgiven my-" His voice trailed, and his eyes widened. "What happened to Ishida?" he asked.

"I'm fine, Kurosaki." Ishida said from behind Orihime. He stood up, and glanced down at Kurosaki over Orihime's shoulder. "Inoue-san already healed me."

Kurosaki's brow furrowed. "Why do I get the feeling you were badly hurt? I…I can't remember." He smacked his hand to his forehead, as if trying to beat the memory out of his brain. "All I remember is getting that hole blown into my chest, and then I heard Inoue scream. That's - that can't be it." He closed his eyes, and for a moment said nothing as he concentrated.

Orihime watched him, though occasionally glanced at Ishida and Yoruichi. She and the Quincy exchanged nervous frowns. She wondered how to tell Ichigo what happened, and she was sure Ishida was worried about the same thing.

Yoruichi, now serious, tapped a paw lightly on the outside of the Soten Kesshun to get Ichigo's attention. "You may be able to remember more after some adequate rest. All of you are exhausted, and there's no telling what's going to happen." She shook her head before Ichigo could open his mouth to speak. "No, rest. The captains are handling the situation in the human world. Don't worry about them either. The captains that were with you in Hueco Mundo will be helping them out once they're healed. But even if they all get into trouble, they have back-up."

The six friends stared at Yoruichi in confusion, and then looked at each other. "Um, back-up?" Orihime asked.

Ichigo suddenly sat up. His earlier confusion was replaced with surprise. "You mean-"

Urahara smiled triumphantly as he finally sealed up the Garganta before looking at the group. "Yes, Shinji-san and the others will be waiting if the Gotei 13 gets overwhelmed," he explained.

Rukia frowned in confusion. "Who are they anyway?" she asked.

"Well, Inoue-san I think has figured it out." Urahara smirked at the knowing look on Orihime's face. "Kurosaki-san certainly knows as well, but perhaps I should fill the rest of you in." He gestured with his fan to the four clueless ones. "I'll tell you all about them, and Inoue-san can fix patching up Kurosaki-san in the meantime. Besides, you'll probably meet them soon."

Resigned, and apparently accepting Urahara was right, Rukia, Renji, Chad, and Uryuu walked over to him. As Urahara began explaining who the Vizards were, Yoruichi addressed the two remaining teenagers. "Inoue, keep healing him but remember not to overdo it. I can already sense your reiatsu weakening. Ichigo, rest. Don't worry about the town or the captains. The Vizards are more than capable of handling things. If you'll excuse me," Yoruichi got up on all four paws, "we'll be having visitors soon."

Without further explanation, she turned around and bounded off for the ladder. Orihime and Ichigo watched as she left, bewildered as to what she meant by "visitors."

"Everyone clear?" Urahara's voice rang out over the room as he finished his explanation. Those who had been listening to his lecture of sorts nodded.

Renji glanced back at Ichigo, a concentrated frown on his face. His eyes narrowed, although not in suspicion, but rather curiosity. "So, it's like what Kuchiki-taichou told us. Ichigo and these Vizards have an inner Hollow that's a part of their powers and connected to their zanpakutou. It's dangerous, but it beefs them up, right?" He turned back to Urahara.

The shopkeeper beamed. "Exactly! Although, I'm a tad surprised Kuchiki-taichou told you about that. It was in regards to his fight with Kurosaki-san, no?"

This had Ichigo sitting up in alarm. "He told you about that?" His eyes widened, and he looked ready to faint and lunge for someone's throat at the same time.

Rukia shook her head. "He wasn't doing it to be malicious. He only told us about it as a warning. He was afraid it might happen again, so he wanted somebody on the Karakura team to be prepared." Rukia's gaze lowered to the ground, her violet eyes sad. "I know you and Nii-sama aren't on the best of terms, but he would never be that underhanded. He didn't tell soutaichou, you know."

Ichigo seemed to hesitate, and his brow twitched as he chewed over Rukia's words. When he kept silent, Urahara said, "He could have gotten you into a lot of trouble about it, Kurosaki-san." He pointed a sharp look at Ichigo, accentuated by the shadow covering his face from his hat.

The substitute shinigami scowled, and crossed his arms. He didn't seem willing to swallow his pride, but to everyone's surprise, gave in after a few moments. "Fine," He sighed. "But I did go to the Vizards when the Hollow got out of hand, didn't I?" Looking away from the rest of the group, he turned one brown eye at Urahara. "Even though I get the feeling they resent me or something."

"Why would they resent you?" Orihime asked. Her initial impression of the group was like one big, dysfunctional family that beat each other up but also watched everyone's backs. It baffled her that they would deliberately leave Ichigo out, unless they had yet to accept him.

Urahara sighed, and slowly walked over towards Ichigo and Orihime, his clogs quietly clapping on the dirt ground. He kneeled in front of the two, but trained his eyes on Ichigo as he began to explain. "Understand something: they have been together for a hundred years. Just the eight of them. The three of us," He motioned to himself and Tessai. Yoruichi was obviously the third one, but she was still absent at the moment. "have kept in contact with them, but they've been on their own for the most part. Then you came along. Now," He raised his hand, stopping Ichigo's protest. "I know you didn't ask for this, and to be honest, they need to do some attitude adjusting as well.

"It's still a shock to them, though. A hundred years of just them, and a new kid comes along, copping an attitude which, admit it, you did, and being uncooperative." He smirked in amusement when Ichigo scowled and turned away, annoyed by his words. "That, and I don't think they understand why you hesitate to use your mask. It's been a long time since they've been your age and in your position. Give them a chance, and they may be more willing to give you one."

Ichigo nodded tentatively, and, in yet another surprising moment, didn't raise hell about the remarks about his attitude. He blinked in surprise when the Soten Kesshun dispersed. He looked down at himself, relieved to find his injuries healed and his shihakusho intact. "Thanks, Inoue. I really trashed these."

Orihime nodded. "You got pretty beat up. I'm not sure what got them in that shape. I mean, obviously the fight but-"

"Cero Oscura. I think that's what did most of the damage." He winced slightly at the memory, recalling how much that Cero hurt. Damn Ulquiorra. Speaking of… He glanced between Orihime, Urahara, and then across the room at Ishida. "So, I have to remember on my own what happened? But I can never remember what happens when my Hollow takes over."

The former twelfth division captain beckoned for Tessai. He was there in a flash, and Urahara murmured something in his ear. Tessai nodded, and, taking Jinta and Ururu with him, made for the ladder. "I suppose you have a point. You want to know what happened? You'll have to ask Inoue-san and Ishida-san. I only got a very brief account of what happened." A speculative glance was cast at Inoue. "Which one of you wants to tell him?"

Before Ishida could volunteer, Orihime beat him to the punch and nodded. "I will. It's okay, Ishida-kun," she assured her friend, smiling as she met his gaze. Hers was calm, although a little sad, while his was confused and slightly panicked, "although if I forget something, let me know. I almost wish…" Her voice trailed off as she cautiously peered at Ichigo, "I didn't have to tell you about this, but at the same time, I think you should know. So, I guess the best place to start is when we got up to the dome."

As Orihime recounted the details of one fight that nearly ended in disaster, a similar scene was about to unfold in the human world. The captains and vice-captains of the Gotei 13 who had met Aizen's forces above the fake Karakura Town were losing. Ukitake had long since come to Hitsugaya's aid, but even he was having difficulty against the fierce Halibel. Soi Fon and Oomaeda were having an extremely hard time against Barragan. Even Kyouraku was struggling against Starrk's power.

It wasn't looking good. Komamura was nearly ready to join the fray, and Kira was still trying to heal the four vice-captains who had suffered Allon's wrath. On top of that, the four stranded captains from Hueco Mundo, although no longer trapped, still hadn't arrived.

As for Yamamoto, it seemed he, too, would have to try and help out. His hand was on Ryuujin Jakka, and he made a move towards Soi Fon's fight when, out of the blue, a large blast emanated from where Aizen and his cohorts were.

It surprised everyone, including the Espada. Yamamoto's eyes narrowed as Aizen, Gin, and Tousen stepped out of the now-dissipated fire fortress. Aizen was wearing his usual smirk as he proceeded forward, tailed by the other two former captains.

"I'm not sure if I'm surprised or not," Ukitake murmured.

Hitsugaya, bruised and bloody, frowned from his spot next to Ukitake. "I was wondering if that would really hold him in there. This is going to make things even worse, though."

Yamamoto, saying nothing, took a step forward, beginning to unsheathe his zanpakutou. Aizen was silent as well as he motioned to Gin. With his ever sly smile, the former third division captain pulled out Shinsou and called out its command.

Hitsugaya lunged towards Shinsou's path and could see from the corner of his eye Soi-Fon attempting to do the same. However, both were blocked by Halibel and Barragan, respectively. Hitsugaya cursed as his sword met hers. While he was trying to fight off Halibel, Ukitake took the opportunity to try and get to the commander-general.

Despite Shinsou's speed, Yamamoto deflected it easily, and continued to do so as the elongated blade kept coming at him again and again. As Shinsou made another turn at Yamamoto, the elder captain suddenly pressed Ryuujin against the blade. "Burn all of creation, Ryuujin Jakka!" With a great burst of fire, Ryuujin was in its shikai. The blade, burning brightly in a sheath of flame, shot fire out, and the flames traveled down along Shinsou's blade. It was fast, and Ichimaru barely had time to drop his zanpakutou before the fire reached the sword grip. Yamamoto stepped back, preparing for another attack when suddenly, Aizen appeared behind him.

Hitsugaya's eyes widened, and he only had time to yell "Soutaichou!" before the attack commenced.

"Hadou #90, Kurohitsugi."

In a flash, Yamamoto was encased in the same black coffin like structure Komamura had been subjected to months earlier on the execution hill. As the kidou spell did its work, Yamamoto collapsed, his body torn up and covered in blood.

Aizen stepped around from behind Yamamoto, shaking his head. "Even you were fooled by the hypnosis powers of Kyoka Suigetsu." He indicated with his hand the fake him that was still standing with Gin and Tousen. "I suppose I could make some long-winded speech exulting your demise," He smirked, and pointed a fingertip at Yamamoto, "but in homage to your brevity, I'll be brief: good-bye, Yamamoto-soutaichou, and good-bye to your institution that is the Gotei 13." He began to charge a kidou spell.

Every captain leapt at Aizen, but four of them were barred by Espada. The other was too far away to be able to make it in time.


Aizen may have been a superior fighter, and a quick one, but even he didn't see the Cero that was blasted at him. He barely had time to get out of the way as the Cero rocketed towards him, narrowly dodging the large explosion that followed. When the dust cleared, Aizen looked at where Yamamoto had been, and his eyes narrowed dangerously. Sensing new reiatsu, he glanced over towards the buildings, and for a brief second, his eyes widened as he took in the sight of all eight Vizards.

Kensei pushed back his Hollow mask and glanced over at Shinji. The former fifth division captain was crouching in front of the badly injured commander-general, whom he had saved from Aizen while Kensei fired the Cero. For a moment, Shinji was focused on something in his hand. He quickly pocketed it and turned to Kensei. "That was a wicked shot, Kensei," Shinji commented, grinning slightly at him.

Ukitake and Kyouraku stared in surprise. "S - Shinji?" Ukitake shook his head in disbelief. "You're all alive!"

Shinji grinned. "What, ya think we imploded or somethin'? We've been alive and kicking the entire time." He glanced around him and shook his head. "Looks like the captains Urahara bailed outta Hueco Mundo still haven't gotten here." He rolled his eyes dramatically. "Slackers."

Kyouraku raised a brow. "He got them out of there?" he asked, although his eyes were on Riza, his vice-captain whom he hadn't seen in a century.

She nodded. "Two of them from what we heard are beat up, but they're free at least. Shinji," She glanced over at him, "what now?"

He smirked. "It's obvious, ain't it? But, first things first. Hachi," he began, looking up at the large kidou expert, "can you take care of Yama-jii and make sure the God-wannabe over there," He motioned towards Aizen, who stood some feet away, unscathed but looking very unhappy, "and everyone else don't get to 'im?"

"Yes. I'll put up a barrier and see what I can do about these wounds." Hachi stepped forward, kneeling by Yamamoto. The others quickly got out of his way and with a clap of his hands, a boxed barrier was around him and Yamamoto.

Hitsugaya eyed the Vizards warily as they stepped forward. "Who are you?" he asked.

Hiyori glared at Hitsugaya and took a threatening step towards him. "What do you mean 'who are you?' We came here, saving your soutaichou's ass and- oomph!"

Shinji clamped a hand over her mouth, laughing nervously. "Don't mind her." He shot a warning look at Hiyori before he let go of her mouth. "As for who we are, well, you'll see, eh?" He glanced over at his shoulders, "Now, as for everyone else," Shinji unsheathed his zanpakutou, "pick an opponent and help take 'em down."

By the time Orihime had gotten to the part about the battle on the dome where Ichigo's Cero was misfired, Rukia and Renji were looking contemplative, while Ichigo was absolutely horrified.

Orihime stopped to take a breath. When she was about to continue, she caught the worried glance the vice-captain and his best friend exchanged. "What's wrong, Abarai-san and Kuchiki-san?"

Rukia snapped her gaze away from Renji and aimed it hesitantly at Orihime. She opened her mouth, closed it, and then finally decided to speak again. "The description of that Hollow form you gave us, it doesn't match the one Nii-sama provided. You see, the one that fought Nii-sama talked, for one thing." Rukia placed her hand over her right eye. "It had a Hollow mask too, but only here, over this part of the face. Its eyes were black and yellow, and the outfit was the same as Ichigo's."

Renji nodded, and carried on from where Rukia left off. "Taichou said the abilities were enhanced, and he had a hell of a time trying to keep up, but nothing about Ceros being fired." Renji winced. "We're not dealing with the same thing here."

Urahara looked puzzled, his chin resting on his hand. "No, definitely not. This wasn't the typical event of the inner Hollow taking over. The form that appeared on the dome was something else entirely. It seems more like the Hollow…" Urahara didn't finish his sentence. He suddenly was too busy looking at Ichigo. "Kurosaki-san?"

That Ichigo had been horrified and disgusted with what happened was expected. The others also expected him not to be able to remember what happened for some time. However, the sudden realization on his face proved otherwise. "I remember."

Urahara nodded. "Tell us what happened."

Ichigo closed his eyes, and let his mind drift back as he verbally recalled what he had experienced.

It had felt like he was a spectator in his own body. Watching but unable to do anything. He wasn't entirely sure what was happening. His shinigami powers and his Hollow powers were at their peak and acting together, all at once, though his Hollow powers were doing most of the work. His Hollow was on a rampage, attacking anyone that dared to interfere, anyone except Orihime. Everything he was doing, all his thoughts and actions had been riveted on the sole purpose of getting rid of everything that could be deemed as a threat to her safety.

"Help… Help you. I will help you." It wasn't just him or his Hollow saying it. It was both of them; it was their combined instinct, some primal part of them that was saying it.

After Ichigo had misfired the Cero, Ulquiorra had been sent flying back. Whatever base impulse it was, it spurred Ichigo to take action and kill the dratted Espada. He summoned Tensa Zangetsu once again, ignoring Ishida's sound of protest as he went to charge at his opponent.

Orihime stopped him. One of her small, delicate hands was gripping the one holding his sword, and another was sprawled across his chest, pushing back on him. "Kurosaki-kun, stop."

The conflicting wants and desires inside of him and all the raging emotions stopped in that moment when that kind voice spoke to him. He remembered turning around and seeing Orihime, a scared yet determined look on her face. Everything inside him went calm.

"I'm sorry," she spoke as tears streamed down her cheeks, "I'm sorry you went into this form to help me. I'm so sorry, Kurosaki-kun. Please, the fight's over. Stop before someone else gets hurt, and so you don't have to keep doing this to yourself." Her head bowed as her eyes squeezed shut.

"Stop. I'll stop."

She looked up at him in surprise, and even the conscious part of Ichigo had been surprised too. The part of him that was driving this form hadn't listened to a word he had said. Orihime seemed to be in control. Tensa Zangetsu fell from his hand. Clutching Orihime's hand gently in his, he guided their hands to his mask. He gripped it. Orihime blinked, and then nodded in understanding. "All right. One... two… three!"

It took a lot of strength from both of them, but finally the mask ripped off. As the mask broke, he collapsed. He heard Orihime calling out for him in worry. For a few seconds he couldn't move, speak, or do anything. In his mind, he was hung in a limbo, unable to recede into his subconscious or gain control.

It was all just a big blur from there. There were intervals where he was able to do something, but it was difficult, and he felt like he was moving in a fog, until he eventually passed out.

"Then I woke up here, hearing Yoruichi saying something about Riza's magazines." He ignored Urahara as he hid his face behind his fan, feigning innocence. He felt more inclined to watch for Orihime's reaction. "Does that sound right to you?"

She nodded. "Yes, that's what happened." Like before on the dome, her head lowered, and her eyes were cast downward. "Kurosaki-kun, I'm so sorry. I just… I screamed because I was desperate and-"

Not knowing what else to do, Ichigo placed his hand over Orihime's, which were clasped tightly on her lap. "Inoue. You didn't do this to me, I did it for you." He smiled, hoping it was encouraging. "When you were trying to heal me, you were calling out to me, weren't you?" When she didn't say anything, he continued, still wearing a smile. "I remember you kept saying my name, and asking 'what should I do?' You had so much faith in me, even though I didn't deserve it, and you've saved me so many times I - I had to protect you. I wanted to, and so did my Hollow, I think. I know we both reacted to you and…" He trailed off, and suddenly frowned when Orihime's expression became something akin to horror. "What?"

She mumbled something incoherent. Before anyone could ask, she shook her head, pressing a hand to her forehead. "Kurosaki-kun, I," She looked back at him, "I never said that out loud. I kept thinking 'Kurosaki-kun' and I kept thinking, 'what should I do?' I never actually said it."

A stunned silence fell over the group. Eyes went wide and a few mouths dropped as everyone wore a similar blank expression.

Renji opened his mouth, and pointed a shaking finger at Ichigo. "You… Inoue… minds? What?"

Ishida tried to regain his composure, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Despite his attempts, his bewildered eyes showed what he really felt. He glanced over at Urahara and raised an eyebrow in question.

The man in his sights shook his head. "I've never heard of that happening before. It's got me quite curious but, for the time being, also quite stumped."

A clamor of voices disrupted them, coming from the direction of the ladder. Urahara sighed, putting his fan away. "We are most definitely going to be coming back to this. I believe Shinji-san and the other Vizards would be very interested in hearing this story. For now, we have some guests to entertain."

Before anyone could ask, the trapdoor opened, and scrambling down the ladder was Tatsuki, followed by Mizuiro and Keigo.

Orihime's head spun around, and her eyes widened in surprise. "T-Tatsuki-chan?"

Still climbing down the ladder, Tatsuki turned her head in Orihime's direction. "Orihime! Are you all right?" she called out to her friend.

Orihime nodded shakily as Tatsuki jumped down the rest of the way and began running over to the group. Tatsuki covered the distance in seconds, and was quickly kneeling in front of Orihime, her chest heaving slightly as she tried to catch her breath. "Tatsuki-chan, why are you-"

"That guy," Tatsuki pointed to Urahara, "told us everything. We followed Ichigo here last night, and we saw them go into that Gre-gar… that big rip. Clogs-san there spotted us. I didn't - I wanted to know where you were and what was going on, so he told us everything that's happened." Tatsuki lifted her head, and Orihime was shocked to find tears brimming in her best friend's eyes. "I was scared sick when I found out you had been kidnapped by these Hollow people, and I couldn't even go after you."

By then, Mizuiro and Keigo caught up to them, trailed by Yoruichi. "Everyone all right? Mizuiro asked.

Ichigo, who had been as surprised as Orihime had been about the trio's arrival, nodded at Mizuiro. "Yeah. We got a little beat up, but we're all right."

Keigo waved his arms around. "I can't believe you guys have these powers and can go around, beating up these bad guys and rescuing Inoue-san and-" Keigo pouted, crossing his arms. "I'm jealous!"

Ishida shook his head. "It's nothing to be jealous of. We might have them, but you wouldn't believe the responsibility that comes with it and the injuries we've sustained as a result." When Keigo just raised an eyebrow, Ishida sighed. "Do you really want to know, or you just don't believe me?" He crossed his arms and tilted his head back slightly. "Let me recollect. I had my left arm chopped off and my stomach blown out. I've also been stabbed in the stomach and been knocked around numerous times. Kurosaki has been stabbed and slashed countless times, along with taking a high-energy Cero and having a hole blown in his chest. I can only-"

Renji placed a hand on Ishida's shoulder. "I think he gets it. He's turning a little green."

Keigo certainly was. His eyes were widened, and his face went from pale to green in just seconds. He looked away and nodded. "Okay, maybe not."

Tatsuki looked mortified, glancing uneasily at Ichigo. "How are you still alive then? I don't see a hole."

Ichigo squeezed Orihime's hands, which he was still holding. "Rejection. Inoue has the ability to reject events, like wounds received. The reason a lot of us aren't crippled or dead is because of her."

Tatsuki grinned proudly while ruffling Orihime's hair. "You gotta show me these powers sometime." She scooted closer to Orihime. "So, who wants to tell me what happened in this Hooie Mondo place?"

Orihime blinked twice, and then laughed. "Oh! Do you mean Hueco Mundo?" she asked.

Tatsuki rolled her eyes. "Yeah, whatever. The place you were taken to." She gestured with her hands. "Come on, I wanna know how they got you outta there and see what we're all up against."

Ichigo shrugged his shoulders. "Powerful Hollows that have no qualms about ripping you to shreds. But in the end, we took down… uh, how many of them?"

"Six Espada," Rukia said, "between us and the captains that helped. Plus various Privaron Espada and Arrancar, from what I heard."

Mizuiro tilted his head. "That's a big chunk out of this Aizen guy's army, right?"

"Quite. And it was tiring to do so." Urahara stood up, and gestured at the six who had come from Hueco Mundo with his fan. "They need their rest. You three," He then pointed to the newly arrived humans, "are more than welcome to stay and chat, but I ask that all of you get some rest soon. There's another battle going on in the human world right now, and I need an update on that as well. Have a good night everyone, and yes," He nodded at Renji and Rukia, "I will let you know in the morning what happened."

Urahara walked away with Yoruichi, leaving the nine friends alone in the training grounds. Mizuiro and Keigo joined the others on the floor, and conversation started back up. For another hour or so, the three humans asked numerous questions, ranging from things about Soul Society and the Gotei 13 to the powers the others wielded. The six fighters had a few questions as well, but decided to wait until morning to ask.

Eventually, they all tired out, especially the ones who had returned from Hueco Mundo. They all climbed up the ladder, and they found futons and blankets waiting for them in one of the shop's spare rooms.

Orihime felt like she was dragging her feet as she walked towards a futon. She all but dropped to her knees and crawled beneath the covers. She pried off her sandals and tossed them aside before pulling the covers over her. Her head hit the pillow, and was tempted to just pass out as she plucked out her hairpins and set them aside.

She saw a pair of sandaled feet at the futon next to hers, and her face reddened when she discovered it was Ichigo. He yanked off his sandals before laying Zangetsu on the other side of his bed. He crawled under the blanket and turned until he was facing Orihime. He smiled gently at her. "Are you okay?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Pretty tired, too. Oh, um, Kurosaki-kun?"

"Yeah?" She saw his eyes start to drift shut.

Her eyes were getting heavy as well and she struggled to stay awake. "Thank you. For rescuing me. I wanted to protect everyone, but all of you came for me anyway. Thank you so much."

Ichigo stifled a yawn and nodded sleepily. "Wasn't gonna leave you there. You're…"

Orihime was asleep before she could hear what he was going to say, much to her later chagrin.

Late that night, as the young schoolmates and shinigami slept, Urahara walked outside and squinted slightly in the darkness. He was a few streets away from his shop, sitting on a park bench as he waited. Yoruichi, now in her human form, waited with him as well. A few minutes passed. Then the former second squad captain suddenly tapped Urahara's arm when she spotted movement. "Down there." She nodded at an alleyway.

Urahara pushed his hat back a little, and smirked as eight people walked towards them. "Welcome back!" he greeted cheerily, waving to them. "I hope it went well?"

Under a streetlamp, the Vizards appeared from the dark. Their clothes were ripped and bandages covered them, but they were alive. Shinji grinned and twirled his zanpakutou in his hand. "Quite well."

Yoruichi and Urahara nodded, but it was she who spoke first. "So, how many were taken down?"

Hiyori glanced up at Shinji. Strangely, she wasn't trying to wipe the grin off his face like she normally would. In fact, she seemed a little smug too. Shinji looked up at Urahara and said, "All of them."

Yoruichi stepped back in surprise, and even Urahara looked shocked. "As in, everyone? Aizen included?"

"Well," Shinji looked up at the dark sky innocently, "Ichimaru and Tousen got away, but they'll be caught shortly, I imagine. But yes, Aizen is dead." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a dark, spherical object. "Got this off his corpse."

Urahara was silent as he stepped forward and reached out his hand. Shinji dropped the Hougyoku into his hand, and for the first time in many years, Urahara felt fully and immensely relieved. "It's over, then."

The head Vizard nodded. "Can't believe it either, to be honest. Feelin' a little smug, but I'm mainly just shocked. Not sure how we did it." He scratched his head, tilting his hat over in the process. "Just kinda happened." He shook his head. "No point in gloatin'. How's Ichigo and the rest of the suicide squad who went into Hueco Mundo?"

It was Urahara's turn to look a little smug, although for an entirely different reason, as his fan once again was whipped out and open in front of his face as he pocketed the Hougyoku. "Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that. Something interesting happened."

"INOUE!" Ichigo sat up suddenly in his futon, his hand reaching for Zangetsu. His body was tense, ready to strike, and his eyes were wide and wild as he scanned the room. When he realized there was nothing around worth being alarmed over, he sighed. "Just a nightmare."

However, his shout had woken up Orihime. She was sitting up and staring at him worriedly. "Kurosaki-kun?" she whispered.

Ichigo glanced at her and immediately felt guilty for waking her up. His eyes softened, and his body relaxed. "Sorry, Inoue. Bad dream. You should get some sleep."

She merely shook her head and moved a little closer to Ichigo. "I will then. What happened?" she asked, her brown eyes slightly wide as she regarded him.

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, before his mouth closed in a firm line. His eyes locked onto the floor, and he seemed unwilling to answer her. He could sense her eyes on him, patient and unwavering. It didn't take long for his resolve to crack and for him to look her in the eyes, brown to brown. "It was about you."

Orihime nodded, putting a finger to her lips in thought. "Did something bad happen?"

"Sort of." He glanced away uneasily. "I mean, yeah, I think." His messy hair was ruffled even more as he ran a hand through it in frustration. "It was just odd. There were these people around you that kept changing faces, going from Aizen to Ulquiorra to Grimmjow, and they just kept switching. They were leading you away, and you - you looked so sad, but just went with them, saying 'This is my place, even if I never see you again'. It was just," He shook his head, and then let it rest in his hands, "horrible."

"I'm not going anywhere."

Her soft voice was comforting. Ichigo forced himself to relax. It had been just a dream, nothing more. He couldn't shake off the sick feeling that settled into his stomach, however. I'm just on edge because of her kidnapping. We need to make sure Aizen isn't going to come back for her. "I know. Still paranoid, I guess." Unfortunately, the vivid images of the nightmare and the paranoia were keeping him up, and he was wide awake. "You should get some sleep. I'll try to rest again once I'm settled down."

Instead of listening, Orihime pushed herself closer to Ichigo, bringing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them. "I'll stay up with you. Besides-"

A loud snore ripped across the room, and Ichigo scowled comically as he looked for the source. "Keigo…" he muttered under his breath.

Orihime giggled quietly into her hand, glancing over her shoulder at Keigo, who was sprawled over his futon. "Looks like we'll both be up for a bit. I don't mind, though." Her smile was as kind as her tone as she gazed back at Ichigo.

He half-smiled in return and sat with her, enveloped in companionable silence, which was only broken on occasion by Keigo's snoring.

Urahara was pacing back and forth in the street, a hand to his chin. "Obviously they have some kind of bond, but I can't figure out what it is or why it's there or…" He paused, and raised an eyebrow at Shinji. "Are you listening?"

"Sorry. You lost me at the part where he read her mind." Shinji's expression was blank. It was matched by the faces around him. Hiyori's mouth had dropped, Hachi was flabbergasted, and the others wore looks ranging from surprise to outright shock. "Okay, Kisuke, I'll be blunt here: what the fuck?"

Urahara shrugged. "I'm just as gob smacked as you are. But, he swore he heard her and she swore she only thought it. She got into trouble and called out for him; he heard her, so did his Hollow, and thus the new form came about." He leaned his weight against his cane and glanced casually at Shinji. "It has something to do with his Hollow, obviously, but even the Hollow was… affected by this."

Rose scratched his head. "We've dealt with inner Hollows for a century now. They're swayed by our moods, our wants, our desires, and our feelings. They're a dark side of each person, but they're still a part of that person. If the Hollow is being affected by Inoue-san, then obviously she affects Ichigo's entire being. Of course," He shrugged elegantly, "how and why she does is a mystery."

Hiyori sighed in annoyance. "I guess we gotta deal with those two and figure it out, right?"

"Aw, why do we have to do it?" Mashiro whined.

Kensei made a sound that could only be described as a growl. "Shut up, Mashiro. Because it has something to do with his inner Hollow and it could cause a problem."

"And a human's connected to it." Shinji wiped a hand over his face. "This is weird, but we'll talk to them about it. I wanna see this form of his and try and get a feel for what's happening."

Urahara nodded. "In the morning. They're all at the shop, resting. Let's walk and talk back to the shop." He motioned to the others, and all ten of them began strolling down the road. "There's a lot of work ahead, and we need to start as soon as possible."