A/N: Title idea from CrimsonDarkness. He thought out the 'yakusoku' part, and I added the 'shitara'. Enjoy!
.disclaimer. Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite.
"She's… What?" His eyes bugged out of his head at this new revelation. Rukia nodded to him slowly, just as surprised as he was.
Ichigo and Rukia had gathered at Orihime's apartment, along with Hitsugaya and Rangiku, as the Head Captain Yamamoto had requested it. He specifically requested those four, as they were assumed to be the ones closest to the auburn-haired healer.
Ichigo swallowed thickly as he remembered the last time he'd been here, it was when Orihime was dubbed a traitor. The only difference was that Orihime was here, and she was currently sitting on a nearby chair. She looked at the floor ashamed, with glossy eyes and unshed tears.
"Orihime Inoue is the Royal Key," Yamamoto's voice bellowed out, "and Aizen will want to get her back again, to gain her power." Ichigo couldn't help but feel his heart drop upon hearing that Aizen wanted her back. He shuddered at the thought. He'd never, ever, let her be forced away again. No matter how many lifetimes it took.
"I'm not going to let Inoue get taken away again…" was Ichigo's response, "She's already been taken once, I'm not letting that sick bastard kidnap her again." Yamamoto only raised his eyebrows in response to the Substitute Shinigami's bold statement. His sudden, but repetitive assurance had only made him more curious if he was actually willing to take on that task.
"You're willing to stay by that promise, Ichigo Kurosaki?" He questioned, opening a single eye. Ichigo scowled at the head captain and his hands curled into a tight fist.
"Inoue's my friend. I'll do whatever it takes to protect her," he pledged once more. Orihime's heart both fluttered, and dropped at the same time. She felt a brief feeling of happiness upon the fact that he'd protect her; that he cared for her wellbeing. But that happiness was soon overcome by the guilt and fear of being a burden to the one she loved.
"Kurosaki-kun…" her voice barely squeaked out, and she could feel the tears threatening to fall. 'Are they tears of happiness? Or despair?' His scowl melted off his face as he looked at her for a short moment. He quickly resumed to look at the monstrosity of a screen positioned against the wall, also feeling guilt in his heart.
"Then I'm going to assign you a very important task. This is one only you can do," the head captain spoke boldly to the group. "You must be willing to give your life if needed." Ichigo's scowl only returned, with twice as much anger imbedded in it.
"I'm not taking any damn orders from you, even more so if I could die from it. Plus, you're the one who called Inoue a traitor."
"The task involves Orihime Inoue, and you told me you'd protect her at all costs," his voice lowered, now holding some anger as well. "You still wish to refuse?" Ichigo's body tensed up, and again, he swallowed thickly. There was no way he could refuse. He felt he needed to protect her, even if it did mean giving up his life.
"You are to watch Orihime Inoue for three days. Be her 'bodyguard', if you prefer the term," he started to explain the situation. "We will send a specific representative on our side to go see the Soul King, and we will determine what action should be taken after careful discussion." Ichigo's eyebrows raised, and Orihime hugged her body close. She had already been explained the situation, and to her, the choices were as bad as life or death.
"What kind of action?" the tone in Ichigo's voice rose. Rukia stepped to his side, and touched his shoulder gently. As Orihime saw her do this, she couldn't help but feel somewhat jealous, even though she knew that those feelings tore her up inside.
"Ichigo… In three days, there will be one out of two choices that'll be decided. The first is that the Royal Key will be extracted from her body," she spoke softly, starting to frown. "Unfortunately…"
She paused before continuing. "Inoue most likely will lose her powers, since it's assumed that the Key is what's fueling most of her reiatsu. The worst it could get is that…" She paused hesitantly again, until Ichigo scowled harder at her, trying to get her to finish.
"The Key could be what's providing her life support entirely. If we removed it entirely, she could…" Rukia stopped, not wanting to finish completely. Yamamoto sighed and finished for her.
"Orihime Inoue could potentially die." Ichigo's body tensed up, sending out a sharp spike in his reiatsu.
"And you're just okay with Inoue possibly dying??" he yelled to the head captain, as Rukia sorrowfully stepped away from him. "We finally managed to get her back, and you're accepting the fact that her life is stable because of that damn Key?!-"
"Ichigo Kurosaki! Calm yourself," Yamamoto's voice yelled out over his. "That is merely one of the two choices the Soul King and Soul Society could make." He looked at him intensely before continuing. "The second choice, however, could be possibly worse for you. We will do what we think is necessary for the good of Soul Society."
"What's this damn second option?"
"Orihime Inoue will go to the Royal Realm and carry out her duties there." Ichigo felt a wave of relief wash over him. "But, you, nor anyone else, will be allowed to see her, ever again." The feeling of pain quickly returned, and that really set him off.
"And you didn't ask Inoue about this??" he fumed, turning his gaze to her small body on the chair, which quickly made his anger subside. She was crying silently, still focusing her head on the floor. He barely heard her mutter, "I'm s-sorry Kurosaki-kun… I'm so sorry…" 'It wasn't her fault, dammit, why is she apologizing?'
"She knows her current position. Now, are you willing to take on the task?" Yamamoto's voice rang out throughout the crowded room, bringing Ichigo's attention back to the screen. "You will protect Orihime Inoue with your life, for three days, until a decision is made?" Ichigo's fist tightened up more, but he looked over to her once more. This time, her eyes met his, filled with hurt, sadness, and guilt.