They were below the dome once more, but he could see the night sky above them. Most of the roof was gone now, and the eerie sight of daylight and midnight were disconcerting to the young vizard.

"Wha?" Ichigo blearily opened his eyes, then blinked them shut, open again. The dim orange glow of Orihime's Sonten Kesshun surrounded him, ebbing away the pain and reaitsu loss he had suffered during his battle with Ulquiorra. He had a vague recollection of what he'd done, but when he turned his gaze to find Inoue, he froze.

"Ulquiorra?!"

"Hmph." The cuarta espada, now in his sealed stated eyed the vizard with disdain. "Be silent and let yourself heal, Kurosaki. I no longer have a quarrel with you." That being said, the espada crossed his arms and turned his back to the vizard.

Ichigo glanced up then, and found that his head was in Orihime's lap. Slowly, his face turned a heated red as all the blood rushed straight to his head. At that exact moment, she finished healing him.

"I-Inoue? Hey, are you alright?"Orihime blinked once, then twice, three times before she finally realized he was speaking to her. The tears sprang to her eyes and she couldn't control them as they poured down her face. The next thing he knew she gave him a great big hug.

"Gah!" The vizard yelped as he felt his bones beginning to break.

"Eep!" She blushed, gave a small gasp and released him. "Sorry!"

"Nah, it's alright-

Amber eyes narrowed suddenly as a shot of red flew towards them.

"Orihime!" He shoved her aside at the last moment.

The cero struck him full on, spraying smoke everywhere.

"Kurosaki-kun!"

"Got em!" Loly smirked, with Menoly standing beside her. "Aw, too bad Orihime-chan, I think he's dead!" Ulquiorra scowled at the persistent female's, but before he could draw his sword, or even take a step forward, there was a loud crunching sound.

"..." An eerie hiss worked its way through the fog. Again, Ichigo, emerged unscathed, transformed into the same creature as before. But now, a terrified Menoly was fixated in his sights. Tossing Zangetsu forward, the black blade found its mark in her throat. With a strangled gurgle she fell to the ground, her lifeblood greedily sucked in by the sands.

"Menoly!"

Ichigo grunted but once once, then uncrossed his legs, rising to his feet. He didn't look anywhere but straight, ignoring Rukia and all the others, their surprised, startled stares and the rest. Loly was his next target, and she let out a terrified cry as he turned toward her.

"N-No!"With a shriek, she slapped a bala at him, but Ichigo in turn slapped the hollow bullet aside, its power blasting a hole in the nearby wall."M-Monster!" Loly started back in fear, "Y-You stay away! Stay away from me!" But Ichigo would show no mercy, advancing with his tireless stride.

Without the slightest hint of humanity, he grabbed the arrancar by the face. Immediately, red light flickered between his fingertips, the dull humming silencing her shrieks of pain and protest as the powerful blast worked its way into her skull.

Another crash, and now, Ichigo saw Yammy, fully released, and lumbering towards them.

Slowly, he walked to Orihime, then knelt down before her. Slitted yellow eyes gazed out at her sadly, one hand reaching once more to caress her face. After a moment, he stood up, but she latched onto his arm. He reacted gently, nudging aside Orihime when she tried to stop him. Setting her down, he released her by the hips, and pointed at her, a clear sign to stay put.

"K-Kurosaki-kun wait!"

"Protect. I must protect." He replied insistently to her words, as if this simple phrase said it all. A faint blush rose to her cheeks, and Inoue squirmed slightly, happily. 'Kurosaki-kun....doesn't seem so scary this time...

Taking up Zangetsu, Kurosaki resolutely marched up towards Yammy, the mask eclipsing all signs of fear in the shadows as he glared up at the towering behemoth. He showed no signs of fear, for he, this fearless creature was unafraid.

"OOOOOOOOOH!"

His roar was deafening to everyone else, but the cero espada barely even heard it. With one finger, the arrancar scratched his head and looked about for the noise. There, that little whitish red speck at his feet.

"Huh? What the?" Yammy peered down at the insignificant speck that represented the vizard, then laughed when the hollow raised Tensa Zangetsu towards him, a clear sign of challenge . "What, you wanna go little man?"

"..." Ichigo just glared at him.

"Fine then!" Yammy grinned, frustrated by the boy's silence. "I'll squash you!"

Ichigo didn't budge. Just like before, he'd caught Yammy's fist on the flat of Tensa Zangetsu. But now, he reached forward with one hand, gaining a purchase on the espada's thick skin.

"HA!" Yammy laughed as the vizard's muscles began to bulge and swell with the effort of trying to lift him. "Whaddya gonna do, toss me-WHOA!"

"GRAAAAAAAH!"

Ichigo snarled, tossing Yammy over his shoulder and into a pillar with one monumental effort. All one thousands tons of Yammy Riyalgo fumbled mindlessly in the sands, and still, Ichigo stood there.

"..."

'No way.' Rukia blinked in surprise. "This is...Ichigo?"

"He...threw that big lug?!" Renji could not believe his eyes, and the sight had rendered Sado speechless, as with Uryuu.

"Uh?" Ichigo turned to Orihime as if for permission to go after Yammy. Orihime could see his desire was contrite this time. Perhaps it had been the same before, but she'd been too afraid to see it.

He just wanted to protect her.

"O-Okay." She nodded, clasped her hands and silently prayed for his safety. "G-Go ahead and get him, Kurosaki-kun."

"Uh." The beast huffed once in confirmed satisfaction, clenched its hand into a fist, and picked Zangetsu back out of the ground. "UH!" Louder this time, a cry of glee as it swept its weapon outward, ready for battle.

With one last glance over its shoulder, it loosed a battle cry and with that bonechilling scream,charged Yammy, who had just now righted himself. "Why you?!" Leaping over the brute's massive fist, sprinting up the length of his arm with relative ease, Ichigo trailed Zangetsu behind him, carving deep into Yammy's flesh.

Riyalgo roared in fury, lashing out at the bug, but Ichigo's speed, coupled with Yammy's size, worked to the espada's disadvantage.

Finally, it found its target.

The head.

With an elated cackle, it vaulted over Yammy's arm, landing squarely on the espada's forehead. Raising Zangetsu high, the hollow struck, once, twice, three times, its blade somehow penetrating the arrancars thick skin of steel on the final strike.

"OOOOOOH!"

A kuroi getsuga leapt from the blade and into the opening he had created. Yammy stiffened, then screamed in agony as the energy fang wreaked havoc inside his head, rebounding off the walls of his skull to strike the brain.

"GYRRAAAH!" He shrieked, swatting the unprepared Ichigo aside, clawing at his impact was bone shattering, and Ichigo was thrown into the unforgiving sands, falling with a loud crack, rebounding, then going entirely limp. "What have you done! " He roared, blood leaking from his ears, then his eyes as the treacherous swathe's of energy did their deadly work.

"Kurosaki-kun!" Orihime raced to where he lay, hoping, praying that he was alright, that he would survive, just as he always did. The prognosis wasn't good, she knew that right away, just by looking at his ribs. "Kurosaki-kun!"

No, oh god no!

He couldn't...no he couldn't be dead!

Slowly, the hollow transformation faded away. With a mighty crash, Yammy fell to the ground, dead, but no one seemed to notice his death. Tears brimmed in the violet grey eyes of Inoue Orihime, who tenderly reached down to cup the face of her beloved. Softly, quietly, she began to sob, refusing to admit that he was dead, that he was gone, that he wasn't coming back.

"No....you can't....

Tenderly, shakily, she lowered her head to whisper something into his ear. Nothing. Nervously, trembling with the effort, she brought her face close, closer still. 'I love you' Then with one final, monumental effort, her lips to his. 'I love you so much, Kurosaki-kun.' A small, golden glow suddenly came from her hairpins, illuminating her body. She started in surprise as that same glow poured into Ichigo.

'Don't die.' She begged silently, pulling away, opening her eyes. 'Please don't die.'

--

Soft.

Ba-dump.

Something soft was pressed to his lips, someone was breathing air, life back into his body. Ichigo stirred once, twice, then made a face, scrunching up his nose, as if he had to sneeze, but was unable to do.

Ba-dump.

A hand, gently stroking his hair, then...

Inoue?

"Gah." Air rushed into his lungs, and Ichigo's eyes burst open with a small sigh. Startled, Inoue pushed her face away from his. There was surprise in his eyes, confusion, but he seemed to understand that something had happened again while he was out.

A bleary smile crossed his lips.

"Hey, Orihime. I heard you. You...were calling me, right?"

"K-Kurosaki-kun...Orihime remained still for a moment, trembling, unable to move."Hey," Ichigo displayed some concern at this, leaning up on his elbows to support himself. "Did something happen? Is everybody alright?" She managed a shaky nod. "Y-Yes everyone's f-fine, but I-you-um-I....It was too much, all of this, all these emotions, it was too much to proccess at once.

He'd died twice already, and come back both times. Small, snifling hiccups escaped her lips and the tears still streamed down her face. Tears of relief, sadness, fear, all mingled into that one solitary moment. It was too much to bear. The dam burst. "WAAAAAAAH!"

Poor Orihime, she burst into tears, threw her arms around him and held tight. Ichigo panicked, but didn't let go, for when he tried to, Orihime held him tighter. Eventually he just gave up and tried, in his own, clumsy, naieve way, to calm her down, with 'Take it easy! I'm alright!' and so on.

"Interesting." Ulquiorra remarked, glancing at Yammy's prone form and the marking on Ichigo's left shoulder. If he didn't know better that had to be, was a tattoo forming on his skin right there, an espada tattoo. "Very interesting, Kurosaki Ichigo."

Next time: Controling the power, and trying to understand a girl's emotions.