"Save me."

It was a small, broken whisper. Cold like winter breeze. Thin like paper, flat like monochrome colors.

"…save me."

Long lashes lifted.

No, no, no, no, no…

Thin hands with frail, long fingers went up to clutch at long, straight, auburn strands. The skin revealed by the white sleeve of a robe was marble white, thin like onionskin. Blue veins were visible, branching like tiny spider webs.

No, no, no, no…

There were eyes staring down at her, faces in malicious leers, lips in disgusted curls. And whispers that sounded like screams.

She covered her ears to block the sounds. But the screams echoed inside her head, shrieking, mocking.

No, no, no, no, no…

Knees fell, hitting the cold tiled floor.

Save me…

Save me…

Grays started to fade. Terror met beauty. Innocence struggled. She trembled, a mini-earthquake. Nausea hit again, but she fought. She struggled. She held on and she… no, no, no—

Eyes shut, a tear rolled down.

Kurosaki-kun…

His name was a comfort.

But it didn't last long.

Somebody screamed. Somebody laughed. Swords were being drawn sharply. Orders were barked. A commotion began as a spiritual pressure spiked and spiraled, and it was black and very cold.

Another scream.

And after that scream, everything went silent.

Then, it began.

…fade to red, to black, to dust, and to void.

It was unnerving, the sound of echoes – the sound of his own echoes. It was an empty hallway, stark white that it was almost depressing.

It is depressing.

That's why he hated it here.

Running footsteps echoed in the hallway. The echoes were empty, hollow. The corridor was long, wide, high and white – so white it was almost blinding. But this isn't heaven. This, no, no… Not a haven.

A prison with white halls.

He continued running. Shadows danced across the walls as he passed like thunder.

Save me.

Ichigo felt his heart clench.

Save me.

He started to hate echoes. Especially if they were made of her voice.

Her voice was not supposed to be that empty. That hollow.

Kurosaki-kun.

This particular echo, from the depth of his memories, whispered by the wind, was gentle and calming. His pace quickened, his brows furrowed deeper, and his eyes were flashing ambers behind the unruly locks of orange. Zangetsu was strapped behind him securely. It was a heavy weapon, but he didn't mind. His pace continued to accelerate. Dust kicked up as his feet slammed down.

SAVE ME!

Ichigo's footsteps faltered, and eventually, he halted abruptly, looking up with a deep, horrified frown. His amber eyes, which flashed violently, were slightly wide, astounded. What the fuck! For a moment there, he felt her reiatsu explode fiercely, blanketing the place, almost making him fall to his knees. His brown gaze dropped to his knees.

I'm… trembling?

His fists clenched, jaw grinding.

What… what the fuck is going on?

He lifted his gaze.

At the end of the hallway was large two-door entrance. Two figures in black were standing in front of the massive doors. He swallowed, ground his molars and the furrow between his brows deepened. He shut his eyes tightly, his fists trembling as veins popped out from his arm muscles and neck as he gritted his teeth, breathing shallow.

His eyes opened, dark and hard. He remembered her face and her eyes.

Kurosaki-kun.

He remembered her smile.

"Inoue."

This is Central 46.

"Rukia! Renji!"

The two soul reapers turned around to face Ichigo. The substitute skidded to a halt in front of them. "Ichigo…" Rukia murmured, perturbed. "What… what are you doing here?" Ichigo gave her a look of deep venom.

"What the fuck? You think I'll just fucking let you take Inoue?!" he snapped with force that Rukia visibly flinched and even stepped back as though she was hit. "You guys know nothing of gratitude!"

Renji bristled, seeing the look Rukia had. "Hey! You punk—"

"Shut up."

Renji twitched, recoiling at the sharp tone and sharper stare.

Amber eyes swung back to stare at the massive doors. "Open the goddamned door."

The redhead recovered. "What?! Are you crazy?! This is Central 46! You just can't barge in and make a ruckus! Hitsugaya-taichou, Ukitake-taichou and Unohana-taichou are inside, negotiating!"

Ichigo narrowed his flashing amber eyes, jaw grinding. "Open the fucking doors or I'll fucking blast them open."

Rukia bit her lip, almost shaking at Ichigo's blatant display of hostility. He was calm, so calm that it scared her. She gulped and opened her mouth to speak but Ichigo snarled.

"Don't. Don't fucking say a word."

The woman clamped her mouth close, heart thudding violently.

"I didn't save her so that you can treat her like shit and throw her to jail! I didn't save her to let her rot in here! I told you, didn't I? Stay the fuck away from Inoue! But I trusted you, Rukia!" He sneered, her name like a curse. "But it was you who brought her here! I know we have attitude issues but I never considered you as a backstabber!"

Rukia flinched, severely hurt at his words. "Ichigo—"

"I saved Inoue to make her free!" Ichigo continued. He didn't need his sword to hurt Rukia, and maybe Renji. The words and the look in his eyes were fatal enough to hurt. "To free her from her nightmare! But all of you… brought another nightmare for her suffer from!" Amber eyes almost turned red in anger. "What happened to nakama, huh?" he snarled. "Bullshit."

Renji pressed his teeth together, clenching his fists.

"I'm… I'm sorry, I-Ichigo! I was tricked! We thought—"

"Shut up." He hissed coldly, his glare chilly and empty. "Open these doors."

"But—"

There was a piercing scream of "Kurosaki-kun!" coming from behind the doors, followed by chilling silence. They turned to the doors all at the same time with hanging jaws and wide terrified eyes. The scream… sent a cold shiver down their spines.

"That's…" Ichigo's heart lurched. "That's Inoue!" He yelled, his eyes wide. "Damn… Damn it! Open the door!"

Rukia and Renji remained motionless, gaping at the doors.

"Move aside, assholes!" He spat venomously, panic settling in the pit of his stomach, making him sick.

"Ichigo—" Rukia started but Renji grabbed the front of her robes and shoved her back. At the same time, Ichigo unleashed a frightening blast of reiatsu, scalding Renji who hissed out a curse. Bandages unfurled, revealing Zangetsu as Ichigo ripped it off his back. With a vicious roar, he blasted the doors apart. Rukia stumbled back and hit a wall hard that stars exploded from the back of her eyes, while Renji clutched his face where he was scalded.

"Inoue!" Ichigo hollered, running inside the chamber, sweeping the smoke aside with his hand and zanpakuto.

The two soul reapers recovered; Rukia scrambled back to her feet, hurrying after Ichigo. Renji cursed and followed her. The smoke slowly dissipated as the three swept their arms, trying to see past the cloud. They arrived inside the vast, dark room with raised seats, and a pungent smell greeted them. Instantly, their faces twisted as they flinched back, disgusted at the smell.

Dread gripped Ichigo's heart, paralyzing his breathing as he recognized the smell.

This smells like… Rukia's violet eyes widened. Blood?! Her eyes swept around and down the circular room and they bulged with pure horror. "N-No…"

Renji gulped uncharacteristically, a bead of sweat trickling from his temple to his jaw. He thought he had seen all types of gore. Living a long life fed him a variety of pictures about life. Gore was one of them. "F-Fuck…" he turned slightly to the side, his stomach flipping. From the other side of Ichigo, Rukia fell to her knees and vomited violently. Listening to the sounds of gagging, Renji wanted to throw up as well. He steeled his resolve and stomach, managing to talk despite his discomfort.

"W-What the f-fuck." The vice captain wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "What the fuck happened here?! And t-that's…" His eyes widened, bulging as he recognized a body part.

Something with long, white hair.

Rukia had noticed it as well.

"…U…U…" She started in a trembling voice, eyes tearing. "U…Uki… Ukitake-taichou?" Her voice cracked at the end of the name. A tear fell on her cheek.

Renji glanced at the dark-haired shinigami quickly.

"Rukia…"

Her eyelids dropped shut as more tears fell.

It was the long silver hair that gave Ukitake's identity away, for his body was not in one piece. His head was not connected to his neck. It lay facedown approximately ten feet away from his body. A large portion of his chest was missing and his left leg was nowhere in sight. However, Ukitake-taichou wasn't the only casualty. Limbs, blood, visceral organs and torn white fabrics scattered across the floor. Among the torn bodies were Hitsugaya's. He was the most unrecognizable, but like Ukitake, it was his hair that gave his identity away. Nothing solid was left of him. Unohana's corpse was the luckiest. Her head was cleanly cut off.

"…t-the captains… the whole…" Renji mumbled shakily, "…Central 46!? How… how did these happen?! Who did these!?!"

Ichigo had other concern. Forcing himself to stay focus and ignore the blood and gore, he looked for her, his heart pounding so hard that it started to hurt. He can feel his heartbeat in his throat and ears.

Oh… god.

His hands trembled.

"Inoue."

W-what… is this feeling?!

Rukia thought with cold horror. She could not stop shaking and it was cold. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to breathe but she smelled blood and another urge to throw up nearly had her hurling again.

Pale and sweating, she looked up to Ichigo, the back of her hand on her mouth.

"I-Ichigo…" she began breathlessly, "Inoue… where is Inoue?"

He had frozen, unmoving but from her angle, Rukia can see his intense gaze, intense but terrified.

Please… please – don't let it be… not her! Not –

"Inoue."

Rukia blinked. Confused, she followed his gaze. Renji did, too.

A white bundle was on the floor, in the middle of blood and gore.

Their eyes widened as the white bundle moved.

Rukia felt a violent shudder shake her spine.

The bundle lifted its head.

The three flinched.

Wide, large, gray eyes stared back at them.

Again, she wondered – what is this feeling?! – as Rukia whispered Orihime's name. "I…Inoue…?"

Gray eyes remained staring. And Rukia knew that look – that frighteningly blank look – will haunt her in her nightmares for the rest of her life. Those eyes looked through her – through them, and Rukia felt bile rose to her throat. She wanted to forget that look, the look that scared her enough to vomit again.

Ichigo vaguely heard Rukia. He understood her terror.

He felt it as well, only more. Ichigo felt something tender gnawing inside him. At the same time, he felt raw fear.

The gray eyes blinked.

"Kurosaki-kun."

Ichigo jerked, jolting back to life. His heart burst.

"Inoue!"

She was in the middle of a ghastly picture of horror. So delicate, so pure in the middle of pooling blood.

His name in her delicate, paper-thin voice beckoned him to her.

Ignoring the morbid display of gore, he flew to her, like a hero, dropping Zangetsu as he kneeled in front of her. Large hands took her shoulders, lifting her body slightly off the floor. Her legs were folded under her weight as she sat on her calves. She was wearing a white robe – which was blood-soaked, a fact that he forcefully ignored – that resembled the one that Rukia wore during her imprisonment.

"Inoue! Are you okay? Are you hurt?!"

Her face was marble-white and unstained by blood. "Kurosaki-kun…" Her voice thinned and dropped at the 'kun'.

"Yeah, it's me!" His amber eyes widened as Orihime lifted her hands. They were saturated in blood, from her wrists to her fingertips. As she raised her hands, blood trickled down to her forearms.

"You… you're here. You came." Her voice was very soft. Like her hair.

"Inoue…"

"Kurosaki-kun came…" Her bloodied hands clutched at the front of his robe.

His grip on her shoulders tightened. "Of course, I will!" Ichigo growled. One of his hands went up to cup her cheek, tilting her face up. "Are you okay? Answer me, Inoue!" Unblinkingly, she lifted her eyelashes, revealing her eyes. Ichigo felt his insides caved in again at her blank gray irises. He shook her lightly. "Inoue!"

"I'm… I'm scared." She whispered softly.

Ichigo's scowl deepened as he unconsciously rubbed his thumb in circular motions over her cheekbone in an attempt to soothe her fear. "It's alright. I'm here. I'm going to take you home, okay?" He replied. "It's going to be okay."

"I'm…" Her empty gaze was starting to unnerve Ichigo. He could not see himself in those usually vibrant eyes. He tried to lock eyes with her. And he did, but her stare went through him.

It hurt. It was numbing that it surprised him.

But he dismissed it.

"Let's go, Inoue." He moved his hands to her arms to lift her to her feet.

"…monster."

His eyebrows snapped together, movements ceasing. "What?"

"Am… I… Am I a monster?"

Both of his hands were on her face now, cradling her head. "You are not a monster." He hissed firmly, brown eyes hard and at the same time, tender. "You're not."

Her thin eyebrows slanted. "Kurosaki-kun… It's not my fault… It's not my fault…"

"Shh." Ichigo unconsciously leaned closer to her face. "It's okay. We're going home, Inoue."

"But…" she blinked slowly, her lashes long and thick, reminding him of big-eyed dolls Yuzu had when she was younger. "They… they…" she clutched his kimono tighter and their faces inched closer. "…tried to touch me, Kurosaki-kun."

Ichigo forced down a swallow.

"They called me a monster. They… they… So, I… I…"

He felt a cold shudder stiffening his spine and freezing his heart with dread. "You…" He began in a shaky whisper, eyes wide as he stared into her eyes. Another gulp, another shudder as he forced himself to continue, "What did you do… Inoue?"

"I…"

His heart was pounding painfully; it made breathing difficult.

"They touched me… They… Kurosaki-kun… they won't let go. They… they wanted to kill me… I… I…"

He paled as realization set in.

"I'm so s-scared… I'm so scared…"

With a pained look in his burning eyes, Ichigo started, "Did you… Inoue…"

"Am… I a monster…? Kurosaki-kun, tell me."

Ichigo squeezed his eyes shut, teeth grinding. "Inoue…"

"Kurosaki-kun…"

Opening his eyes, with large hands, he cupped her face. He opened his mouth to say something but his throat hurt. The pain constricted his throat and he pressed their foreheads together, his thumbs rubbing her cheeks.

"You're not a monster, Inoue." He whispered hoarsely.

When she smiled, Ichigo was filled with tenderness. He was overflowing with tenderness and it was so fucking painful to breathe that he wanted to tear his chest open. It was painful. It was difficult to hold back his feelings and hide, hide, hide. With bared anguish, Ichigo looked into her so-dull gray eyes – so frighteningly blank, so frighteningly innocent.

What a frightening beauty of a girl who held his world in her fingertips.

He tried – so hard – to smile as he whispered, "It's going to be okay, Inoue."

Rapid footsteps arrived.

"I will make it okay. We're going home." Heartbroken at her blank stare, Ichigo closed his eyes.

Footsteps stopped. Brown eyes opened and stared into dull, gray eyes determinedly.

"I will protect you."

"H-Hitsugaya-t-taichou?!"

"Matsumoto-fukutaichou, no! Stay back!"

"O-Orihime-chan?!"

"No… No… Unohana-taichou!?"

"Juushiro…"

"Stay back!"

"What happened here? Abarai-fukutaichou. Kuchiki."

"…"

"Niisama…"

"The entire Central 46?! And three… captains… What the hell happened here?!"

Renji stepped forward, drawing his zanpakuto. "Ichigo."

The noise quieted down. Renji can feel Rukia's stare. He swallowed with difficulty, his mouth dry.

Below, the substitute didn't look up, still clutching the girl's face in his hands.

"ICHIGO, DAMN IT!" The redhead roared and Zabimaru released itself.

Rukia cried out, "Renji, don't!" The rest of the Gotei 13 released their soul cutters as well, except from her. "Renji, stop –"

"Surrender." Renji's voice was quiet. And trembling. "Hand her over." Rukia's gaze dropped from the back of his head to his sword arm. Zabimaru was shaking.

Renji…

"Damn it, Ichigo! Surrender or –" Renji stopped as Ichigo stood up after picking up his zanpakuto. The shinigami waited with bated breath.

The silence shattered.

"Bankai."

There was a burst of violent wind and they lifted their hands to shield their eyes. When the wind died down, they saw a black crescent-shaped form of reiatsu tore upwards.

Renji's eyes widened in recognition, "That's –"

"Getsuga Tenshou!"

The attack ravaged the ceiling and a hole appeared. Debris fell and dust scattered, fogging the chamber.

"Ichigo!" Renji hollered, gritting his teeth. Dust and smoke dissipated and they found Ichigo standing in the middle of the carnage, Orihime in his arm. Her white, bloodied robe was a sharp contrast to Ichigo's black bankai outfit. Her arms were hooked around Ichigo's neck, her face buried in the area between his neck and shoulder. His arm was wrapped tightly around her body, keeping her body pressed up against him, her feet dangling off the ground.

"Ichigo… Inoue…" Rukia murmured, wide-eyed. She could not see his eyes from her angle. She saw his grip tightened around the auburn-haired girl, and Rukia's eyes widened more in comprehension.

Don't tell me…!!

"What the…!"

The soul reapers gaped in surprise as Ichigo launched himself in the air.

"Oi!"

"Don't let them get away!" Soi Fon barked. Instinctively, Renji bellowed a command.

"Roar, Zabimaru!" The segmented sword lengthened, piercing the air. Rukia gawked in horror, watching as Zabimaru raced across the ceiling and reached Ichigo. "Renji… stop!" But Ichigo simply spun once and placed Zangetsu between Orihime and Zabimaru. The tip of Zabimaru and the black blade met with a crash and, to Renji's shock, upon impact, Zabimaru broke into separate segments.

Shit! Renji tried to read Ichigo's lips.

Getsuga…

"…oh fuck."

"…TENSHOU!"

"Damn it!" Renji threw himself on top of Rukia as Getsuga Tenshou hit the floor. The chamber shook on its foundation, and the walls and ceiling gave away at the fierce force of the attack. Renji angrily pushed a thick chunk of a wall off his back before bellowing, "ICHIGO, YOU BASTARD!" and jumping back to his feet, looking up. The orange-haired substitute landed on a floating chunk of rubble and looked back at them over Orihime's auburn head. Rukia and Renji froze at the look in Ichigo's eyes.

such…

As fast as it happened, Ichigo looked away and flash-stepped, disappearing in a blur.

"Quick! Close the Senkaimon! Lock up Soul Society!" Soi Fon ordered harshly, disappearing as well as she employed shunpo. The rest of Gotei 13 followed, leaving Renji and Rukia alone together inside the destroyed Central 46. The silence was oppressive.

"Did you see it?" asked Rukia softly. Renji pressed his teeth together. "I said… Did you see it, Renji?!"

Angry, he turned to face her. "So what?!" he shot back. Rukia lifted her head, and Renji swallowed, looking away.

"Renji…"

"…I know."

I can fucking handle rage, discrimination, rejection.

His grip tightened around the hilt of Zabimaru.

But damn you, Ichigo! How fucking dare you to look at me with those eyes!

"Damn it."

Senkaimon locked up successfully.

But Gotei 13 didn't know that under the tutelage of the Flash Goddess, Kurosaki Ichigo will obtain speed greater than of Kuchiki Byakuya.

Ichigo and Orihime arrived and it was near midnight in the human world. Quickly, Ichigo launched himself up in the air, Inoue in his arm. Her arms clung to his neck, while his arm kept her body close to his. He paused at the top of a pole, flash-stepped and appeared on a roof. He looked down at Inoue's head. She looked okay, but the pungent smell of blood clung to her. His nose wrinkled in discomfort.

His hold on her body tightened; buildings, telephones lines, and poles blurred around them as they traveled. He decided to bring her home – at his home. He paused in mid-leap when he heard her murmur something. He stopped at a rooftop and lowered Zangetsu so that he can bend more properly. He cradled her between his thighs, running a large hand over her hair.

"Kurosaki-kun."

Frowning, he replied. "Hey…" He cupped her face, looking down to her hair. "It's alright. You're safe."

Slowly, she pulled away from him, but her hands remained on his shoulders. She lifted her chin, and Ichigo tried to lock eyes with hers. He failed, and like before, her stare was blank. She was looking through him and it didn't feel right.

"I feel… cold."

"Okay. Just hang in there. We'll be at my house in five minutes." He drew her closer. "Just hold onto me. Don't let go."

He watched her bite her bottom lip, her forehead wrinkling. Her fingers curled and fisted, gripping his robe.

Ichigo frowned, suddenly apprehensive.

"What's wrong?"

She hummed.

"Inoue?"

Her damp lips parted. "K-Kurosaki-kun… I… Why…"

"What?"

"…is there… a… a…"

"Inoue? What's wrong?"

"…My chest…" she whispered. Her hands lowered to the collar of her white robe, leaving bloodstains on the cloth. "I… feel weird." She inhaled shakily. "So cold… And empty…"

Ichigo's gaze averted and lowered to her collar. The deep vee of her robe exposed a large amount of cleavage. His frown deepened, however, when he noticed something strange, something black, something round peeking from the collar that slowly parted due to Orihime's insistent tugs, exposing more skin, her nipples in danger of showing.

"Why… Why do I feel so…" She swallowed. "…Empty?" Her lips trembled. Ichigo looked up and watched her mouth formed the word. "…Hollow?"

Ichigo pushed the collar open, exposing the valley between the girl's abundant breasts.

Ichigo's world fell apart.

There was a perfect round hole in the middle of Orihime's chest, right in between her breasts.

"Kurosaki-kun."

Instead of pulling away, his grip on the collar tightened.

"N-No… not you…" He whispered brokenly, brown eyes bulging, flashing bright, violent amber. "Not you, Inoue… No… No… NO!!"

He started to shake her.

"…Kurosaki-kun."

At the sound of her voice, the force of his forceful handling diminished and Ichigo's shoulders slumped, his head dropped, hiding his face and his grip loosened. Still slumping, his hands fell away lifelessly.

"No… no… not you… not you… oh god." He started to shake uncontrollably. Trembling large hands rose to cover his face. "Oh god. Oh god. Not you."

"Kurosaki-kun…"

He remained flaccid, clutching his face as he rocked back and forth, whispering, no, no, no, not you… not you…

"…I'm… Kurosaki-kun, I'm scared."

He stopped rocking.

"Kurosaki-kun… Kurosaki-kun… I'm scared."

When he lifted his face from his hands, he saw her reaching out with her small hands. Her robe was parted in the middle, her skin… oh her silky skin so pale under the moonlight with that hole in the middle, a hole… a hole… a…

Hollow.

"Why… Why is there… a h-ho –"

Her voice was shaking, but her eyes remained blank, blind.

"…a hole in my chest?"

He shoved a fist to his mouth.

"I…I… I'm s-scared."

Ichigo closed his eyes, body slumping in defeat, horror, despair.

"I'm scared."

Her hands reached his chest.

"Please… Please, help m-me."

He opened his eyes and watched the caramel-haired girl looked up to him with her blank, gray eyes. Gently, he cupped her face with both hands and he saw her smile faintly, rubbing her cheek against his right palm. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers, wanting to speak but unable to do so. There was a painful lump in his throat, and it was cruel, it was burning, it was painful.

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun… A-are you scared too?"

He closed his eyes and without thinking, he leaned down and kissed her lips. It was a soft, long lingering kiss between two pairs of lips.

She didn't respond. But he didn't mind.

He tried not to mind.

"I will protect you…" He opened his eyes, a determined, fierce glint shining in those depths of amber and brown.

"Orihime."

"I will protect you."

If his eyes remained fierce, then his voice started to crumble.

"I will protect you."

He kissed her cheek.

"Kurosaki-kun…"

"Shh…" He murmured against her cheek. "It's alright. It's going to be alright."

He shook.

"It's going to be alright… It's going…"

He shook harder.

"…to… be…"

His fingers clutched her face tightly, tighter than before.

"…alright."

Desperately, he kissed her mouth, moving his lips on top of her cold, unresponsive ones with brusque need. He pulled her face closer, pressing his lips harder against hers. His mouth claimed the entirety of Orihime's lips, his tongue sinking deeply between her teeth. When he pulled away, he was panting.

"I will protect you." He breathed in her parted, damp lips.

"…forever."

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun, why is there a hole in my chest?"

"It's nothing, Orihime. Don't worry about it."

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun, why is there a hole in my chest?"

"…does it hurt?"

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun, why is there a hole in my chest?"

"…"

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun, why is there a hole in my chest?"

"I love you."

She turned to him, facing him fully. He smiled at her, the skin around his eyes crinkling. She smiled back. And Ichigo's eyes softened.

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun, why is there a hole in my chest?"