Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach

Rating T (I guess)

Mini author note:

"Hollow" – normal talking in the outside world and shinigami talking inside inner world

'Hollow' – thinking

'Hollow'– Inner hollow/zanpakutou talking to shinigami while shinigami is in the outside world. Inner hollow/zanpakutou thinking in the inner world.

"Hollow" –Inner hollow/zanpakutou talking inside the inner world.

… – Short pauses that couldn't be described otherwise. (Only when used in an empty line)

A/N: Huge thanks to Zaralann, ShiroHichi891 and flakeshake07 for reviewing. Love to you all.

2nd A/N: I'm happy to say that there are no battle scenes here, put pure, unadulterated character development. Character development... How I missed that word. Feels like a lifetime since I started the Arrancar Invasion event, and now that it's over... Pheeew. Now let's get the story rolling!

O-O-O

When $#! hits the fan

O-O-O

"So... care to explain yourself, Kurosaki-san?" Struggling against the strong binding spell, Shiro snarled at the shopkeeper.

"Let me go, bucket-hat!"

"Ah, no."

He had to fight his rising rage, Shiro knew. It was do or die, and at the moment, dying seemed to be a real possibility. And that would spoil everything, now wouldn't it? He clenched his teeth and tried to lift the kidō barrier off of himself. 'To break or to fake...?'He could hear all but one of his instincts scream for the prior, all but the instinct of survival. And the way Urahara held that cane in his hand hid nothing of the threat it posed to Shiro's wellbeing. 'Fake it is... Shit.' Gathering as much of shinigami powers he could tear out of Ichigo, while at the same time forced his own Hollow presence to a minimum allowed Shiro's lizard-like appearance to melt away, to the point where only his mask still remained in place. The creepy shopkeeper Shiro always dismissed as a low-strength, high-nuisance asshole suddenly became a lot more intimidating, as he glared at the Hollow venomously. He wasn't buying into the disguise.

"Let me go, damnit! What gotten into you, you crazed jerk? !" In response, Urahara began drawing his zanpakutou from the cane. With a scream, Rukia appeared from nowhere, emerging from shunpo and shoving Uhahara away.

"What the hell is the matter with you two? !" She frantically screamed at Uhahara and Tessai, the latter of which suddenly seemed to have gained a profound interest in the dirt on his shoes. Rukia pointed her hand at Grimmjow. "Your enemy is over there!" Uharaha, however, showed no remorse. With fire in her eyes, she positioned herself between him and Shiro, zanpakutou drawn. "What did Ichigo ever do to you Urahara? Except fixing your mistakes! And you... YOU...!" Urahara lowered his sword to a foot above ground, and spoke with a voice as heavy as it was grave.

"Turn around and look at him, Kuchiki-san."

"Why, so that you can use that to get past me?" Her eyes widened in panic, as Uhahara's reiatsu exploded, before dissipating once more.

"Do not forget who I am, Kuchiki-san. I do not need such shameful means to achieve my goals." And then, it was gone, that sense of overbearing doom that was so clearly inscribed in his gaze – Urahara resheathed his zanpakutou. Once more, his smile was that of an ally and friend. "I owe a lot to both of you. I will not attack."

Still suspicious, she allowed herself to slightly lower her sword. She however, was not ready to resheath it. Finally, she slowly looked over her shoulder. With a thud, her zanpakutou fell onto the cero scorched earth. Her scream ceased only once Urahara knocked her out. He gently lowered her limp body to he ground, then kneeled in front of Shiro.

The last thing the Hollow could remember was Urahara's open palm glowing brightly inches from his eyes.

O-O-O

"Ow." Shiro opened his eyes, blinking rapidly to clear the haze from his sight. "Where the hell..." There was no way to tell how long he was out cold. He tried to get up, only to realize powerful restraints held his arms firmly anchored behind his back. He opened his mouth into an 'o', as he realized exactly what was going on. He was in a hole, a ridiculously deep hole, held to the ground by the highest of all kidō spells – back at the place of his birth. And that could spell nothing but trouble. He was pinned to the ground and could barely move a muscle.

"You'll find that struggling is much more of a futile effort than it was last time, Hollow-san." He heard Urahara speak as he entered his field of vision from the right.

"I'm not a Hollow you sonuva bitch!"

"No?" The shopkeeper asked, raising his eyebrows. "Then how come your mask hasn't shattered the moment you lost consciousness? And before you say anything, know that I was there when the original vaizard trained to wield their Hollow powers. Do not lie."

"Well how the hell am I supposed to know? Maybe I'm just different from them! Ever thought of that brainiac?"

"Perhaps... Then how about this – why is it that while unconscious, you leaked more Hollow reiatsu than that of a shinigami?"

"I... Maybe the Hollow inside me is stronger that those the Vaizard have. And I had my mask on! It's only natural! Look..." he said, before the pulling out even more of Ichigo's power, while repressing his own as hard as he could. His head began throbbing. The mask on his face disintegrated. "...look me in the eyes! I'm not a Hollow!" He was now speaking in a completely human voice. Urahara shook his head.

"Alright. I am willing to believe you – if you can answer just one simple question for me." They glared at each other, neither looking away. "Why is there a hole in your chest?" Shiro closed his eyes, continuing to lay in silence. Minutes passed, and yet nothing happened. Clearly, he knew, the devil had came to collect – he sure as hell couldn't do anything to stop him – so why wasn't he collecting anything? He opened one eye, only to realize Urahara was sitting some three feet in front of him. His zanpakutou was sheathed and on the ground next to him. Behind Urahara, placed against the wall, he could see Zangetsu's black blade. He closed his eye again.

'What the...?' This time, he opened both eyes and looked straight at the shopkeeper, who only looked at him with the same puzzlement that reflected in Shiro's gaze.

"Odd response..."

"What?"

"To be honest, I had expected that you would at least attempt to transform into your true self once your cover was blown. When I spoke with Kurosaki after he first returned from Soul Society, he said how you were extremely violent and insane beyond help."

"Mhmm... and he committed a ridiculous effort on his side to make sure he was right, right? Well screw you," he turned his head to Tessai, who till then was sitting quietly to his left, maintaining the Kin spell, "and screw you, and Ichigo too while you're at it! You're all so hell-bent on getting rid of me from day one. Why did you bring me here? To watch me beg for my life before you kill me? To see if I would hand Ichigo back to you? Don't hold your breath for either of those. I have my pride, shinigami. Where's yours?"

"Fe-feisty, isn't he, boss?" Tessai said through the strain of maintaining his kidō on maximum output power. Urahara's grin at that moment could have sent shivers down Kenpachi's spine, for sure.

"Indeed he is, Tessai." He leaned forward. "Then how about a deal, oh thou proud Hollow?"

"Like hell."

"Like hell it will be, have no doubt about it. But it will get you out of this jam." The frown on the teen's face deepened. He was listening.

"Well for starters," Urahara said, pulling out his signature fan marked with symbols for 'love' and 'peace', "you should know that Orihime Inoue vanished on her way to the real world while passing through the dangai." The shopkeeper frowned a bit, once he saw that the news held no significance for the teenager. "The Twelfth Division team discovered the remains of her escort half-buried under the Kōryū." Shiro only lifted his eyebrows in a silent question. "It's the sticky stuff that oozes from the walls."Urahara added.

"Ah."

"Yes, well, while we had no idea who had performed the deed itself, the scientists of the Research and Development Institute were able to guarantee that she had not perished due to the Dangai itself – thus concluding-"

"Yawn..." Urahara's eye twitched, but he continued as if nothing happened.

"...concluding that she was taken by an unknown force. In other words, Aizen sent one of his subordinates to capture her."

"Whoa, whoa... Hey, bucket-hat, before you continue further with the bleeding heart routine, can I at least transform, or go back to my human body? Just because I can hold this form for hours at a time doesn't mean it's a piece of cake."

"...you can put your mask on. How does that suit you?" Shiro's mask appeared in an instant.

"That's better." The Hollow said with a sound of satisfaction. "Now, let me see if I got this right? You need me to rescue a damsel in distress?"
"Exactly!" Urahara replied cheerfully, and without a shred of honesty.

"Riiiight..."

"But right it is, Hollow-san!" Okay, now that sneaky look in Urahara's eyes scared the crap out of him. "You will be rescuing Inoue-san. But, it is only fitting that with every arrancar you kill while getting there will make your job that much easier? So! What say you, Hollow-san?" Now it was Shiro's time to flash a wicked grin. Urahara didn't need to see through the Hollow's mask to know that.

"You're saying you're sending me on a suicide run to fight a bunch of badasses? Where do I sign up?"

"Excellent! I knew you had the hero in you, Hollow-san!" 'Hero my ass,' he thought for himself, 'but never mind.' "Oh, and who said anything about sending you into the lion's den alone. And no, they won't know who you truly are. Still feeling up for it? Kurosaki-san once said you loved fighting."

"Love it? Fuck yea! I live for it!"

"Language, Hollow-san. Mind your language – there are children present." With that, he pointed his finger up, but no matter how he tried, Shiro couldn't crane his neck far enough to see who he was talking about. Jinta and Ururu, most likey. The shopkeeper snapped his fingers. "Release him, Tessai."

And that was it. One moment, Shiro was lying flat on his belly, only being able to move his head – and the next he was free, springing to his feet. Before anyone could react, he sonido-ed behind Urahara's back. When the sleazy merchant looked over his shoulder, he felt Zangetsu's cold blade pressed against his neck.

"Oh, my..." There was no trace of worry in his voice. "What happened to your pride, Hollow-san? Won't you hold up your end of the bargain?" With a 'che' the Hollow resheathed the massive cleaver and put it on his back.

"It's right where I left it. Don't worry, I'll do my part. But what's in it for me – after this is over?"

"One week head start?"

"A month."

"Two weeks from the moment the girl steps back into the real world. Take it or leave it." Urahara said with a confident smile while stretching out his arm for a handshake. Shiro took his hand.

"Deal." They shook on it, and let go of each other. "Hold it. I still have a handful of questions."

"Shoot."

"Grimmjow," he started counting on his fingers, "Rukia, and what happened after I blacked out?"

"I believe I will explain the ordeal of Kuchiki-san first. On our way to intercept you, she demanded to know exactly what had happened to you. I may have inavertably informed her of the high possibility that you have lost control of your Hollow powers, and that the Kurosaki Ichigo she knew no longer existed."

"Aand your brain was... where exactly when you made that decision?"

"Ahem, as I was saying... after that, Tessai and myself went on ahead since we could reach you faster." His smile quickly turned apologetic. "I also may have failed to properly inform her of the manner in which the Hollow powers of vaizard manifest themselves."

"Greeeat... Not only is she now traumatized, but she's traumatized by something that shouldn't have traumatized her in the first place... smooth bucket-hat. Real smooth."

"An unfortunate circumstance that may yet work in our benefit, Hollow-san."

"And how is that exactly? Thanks to you Mr. Blunder, Isshin now won't let me get within one mile of the house! How are you to fix that?"

"Simple. No one will tell him."

"Ha! You..." Shiro broke off into a maniacal fit of laughter. "You didn't tell him his son was a Hollow! This is hilarious! Wait till Ichigo hears this!" In a moment, Urahara's eyes flashed dangerously, and Shiro knew he spoke too much. But then, Urahara smiled and the moment past.

"Now, if you will follow me out of this hole, I will fill you in on the rest of what was happening."

O-O-O

"You're kidding, right?" Shiro asked in bewilderment. His mask was gone once again. They were sitting at Urahara's table, just like Ichigo and Rukia used to do with their friends whenever they would come to the shopkeeper, sipping his over-sugared tea. "All you can tell me about the arrancar that bailed out Grimmjow was that he was tall, had long brown hair, a mask fragment for a necklace. And that he fired a bucketload of ceros at you before disappearing along with Grimmjow through a garganta?"

"Well, yes, there's that... Also, the arrancar you called Grimmjow ran off the battlefield holding his sword-clenching fist in his teeth."

"Hold on!" Shiro said raising his hand while his lips stretched into a grin. "Committing image to memory... lol."

"Glad I could amuse you. As far as the rest of it went, Yoruichi managed to successfully capture Yammy, and he's already been handed over to the Research and Development Institute yesterday." Shiro shuddered at the thought of it, and thanked whatever lucky star he was born under that that wasn't him. "The espada, as Aizen has taken a liking to calling them, are currently down two members, with the sexta and diez espada gone, and the previous sexta Grimmjow disabilitated at least temporarely-"

"Temporarily?"

"Inoue-san."

"Ah... That's good. I get a rematch after all." Urahara frowned.

"If I may, Hollow-san, referring to you as that feels really awkward."

"Hugh?"

"Your name, Hollow-san?

"Don't have one," the Hollow quickly replied, "never cared long enough to get one." But in the back of his head he could hear a memory of a little girl's voice.

(Flashback)

"Oi, Shiro-nii, your food's getting cold!"

(End flashback)

Karin... It was doable, was it not? "If you need a name, then call me Shiro. It's better than the alternative."

Urahara raised his finger in question. "Hichigo?" Shiro's eye twitched.

TWACK!

"Bingo." He walked out of the room, noticing his human body positioned next to the exit. It seemed almost as if it was sleeping. Shiro stepped inside and walked out of the shop.

O-O-O

Once Urahara was alone once again, having Shiro leave for home, the door to the room they were previously in slid open. A short blond girl walked inside.

"Ah, wasn't that great? Just like old times, ne... Hiyori-chan?"

"Peachy..." Before Urahara could even blink, his face had a close encounter of the third kind with the girl's sandal. "Why the hell did you let him just go you idiot? ! What if he runs away to Hueco Mundo? Kensei's in a hospital because of him!"

"Hmmm... Didn't think of that one... Damn, and I just managed to stop my nose from bleeding..."

"That's bull and you know it! Why'd you just let him walk away like that after everything?"

Urahara smiled, saying nothing in response, busy simply sipping his tea and smiling sneakily. He nearly swallowed his cup when Hiyori smacked him on the back of the head with her sandal.

"Damn, Hiyori~caaan! Why did you do that~!"

"Shut up, you're annoying." She smiled nostalgically, and Urahara returned her smile. "Just like old times indeed. Guess we can let him walk for now. But you better not lose him out of your sight!"

O-O-O

It was dark.

Very, VERY dark. And spooky. AND creepy. She did not like where she was one bit.

"Hello!" She called out, hoping that someone would hear her. She tried to open the only door that lead to the room she was in, but it appeared locked. "Hello!" She could clearly see there was light on the other side of the door. When it suddenly opened, she was knocked back on her butt.
"Ow, ouchie, ow... owie..." She then noticed the man standing on the doorstep, holding a silver tray with food and water. He wore a white uniform. His skin was ashened, and his hair was the colour of lampblack.

And he wore a bone like helmet that spread over half of his head, not covering his face, and had a horn. For the teenage girl, it didn't take long to put two and two together.

"You're one of the guys that tried to kill Tatsuki-chan!" The arrancar raised his eyebrow.

"I am Ulquiorra Cifer. Consider yourself a prisoner of Aizen-sama. It is by his grace only, that you were allowed to live... where the two shinigami were not." The edges of the girl's eyes watered. "Your tears are meaningless. Do not attempt to escape. The power you wield is even more meaningless."

"Are... are you the one who brought me here?" She asked, managing to hold it together.

"No. If it were me, I would have ensured that the Soul Society consider you traitor." Ulquiorra pointed his thumb over his shoulder, at a figure of a tall man. "Instead, it was him."

"Neee... Ulquiorra... Why did you bring me here again?" The other man complained, that yawned. "You could have waited till I woke up on my own, you know."

"And wait for how long?" Ulquiorra asked rhetorically. "You were the one to capture her. Aizen-sama assigned you as her guardian." The tall, brown haired arrancar yawned again.

"And I outrank you, so I passed the honors to you." He paused and rubbed his forehead. "Besides, I'm bad with responsibilities. I'd probably forget to feed her, and she would die. 'Sides, you love this sortta thing, don't you?"

"Starrk..." Ulquiorra named him warningly. The other man simply rolled his eyes.

"Um, S-Starrk-san?" He looked over to the frightened girl.

"What is it?"

"Thank you for not making my friends believe I betrayed them, Strarrk-san." She thanked him with a meek voice.

"Yeah, whatever. Setting all that up would've taken too long anyways." He waved his hand dismissively. "Besides, I promised Lilynette I'd take her to the amusement park."

Ulquiorra looked at him slightly surprised.

"You deviated from the mission?"

"...You never heard that last part."

The cuatro espada shrugged. "The job was done in the end. I will not report this to Aizen-sama."

Despite the gravity of her situation, Orihime smiled a bit. After all seeing someone who was probably the most powerful person she had ever met sigh a genuine sigh of relief was too funny. And she needed every drop of positiveness if she was to survive.

O-O-O

It was late Saturday morning when Shiro finally got home.

"Nii-chan!" Yuzu screamed in delight, dropping what she was doing as soon as she saw her brother walk inside the house, and immediately ran up to him and jumped to hug him.

"Hey, hey! Don't get all the dough from your hands on me!" She immediately let go.

"Sorry, Nii-chan..." Shiro immediately pulled her back into a hug. "Missed you too kiddo." Karin poked her head through the door of the living room. She was wearing a white undershirt and a black shorts. A half eaten pretzel hung from her mouth.

"Hey, how're ya doing, Shiro-nii?"

"Yo, Karin! Aren't you cold in that? It ain't summer no more, remember?"

"Whatever, goat-face pays the heating, I don't care. Not like I'm going out today anyhow." She went back into the room.

"What's up with her...?"

"She's been like this for three days now, Nii-chan. Karin-chan's boyfirend left her."

"DID NOT!" They heard coming from the room. "AND HE WASN'T MY BOYFIREND!" Shiro seemed puzzled for a second.

'Boyfriend... but, she's like, twelve!'

'Eleven' Zangetsu mentally corrected him.

'That's worse, right?'

"..."

His face grew more serious (but not by much). "Who am I killing?"

"You don't mean that literally, nii-chan... His name is Heita... or was it Ryohei... or Kei... or..."

"Hey Yuzu! Don't just go and name all my friends, damnit!" Karin yelled out form the room.

Shiro grabbed Yuzu by the shoulders. "So which one of them is it?"

"I... I'm not sure..."

"That's it. I'm killing all of them." More for himself than for the girls, he then added: "But where will I hide more bodies...?" The moment he opened the door to leave outside, he heard Karin run out of the room and jumping on him to stop him from leaving. As they both hit to the ground outside – Shiro face-first, and Karin right on top of him – the white haired teen began laughing like crazy.

"Damnit, Shiro-baka! Why are you listening to Yuzu's wild stories, when she always exaggerates anyway! ?"

"T'is fun to?"

The girl smiled, realizing her brother was teasing her. "You're insufferable when you get a sense of humor, Shiro-baka."

"I try my best. Being crazy helps a lot." The girl's smile broadened.

"You're the craziest out there. Until goat-face comes home. Then you're just small fish again." She got off him and walked to the still open door of the house, where Yuzu stood with that half worried, half amused smile on her face. "Let's get inside. It ain't summer no more, Shiro-nii. I'm cold."

Shiro smirked and muttered something profane, then got up and went inside after her. From behind the closed door, their voices could still be heard.

"So... why were you feeling down anyways?" asked the teen.

"My coach said my kick got weaker..."

The door of the house opened.

"Shiro-baka!"

And the cycle of teasing began again.

O-O-O

End of chapter 11

O-O-O

A/N: Haha... I can't remember when was the last time I had this much fun writing a chapter. And no fight scenes anywhere! (I really exhausted my imagination with them over the last several chapters.) So, how did you like Shiro's family time? It was something I wanted to do from the beginning, but until now managed to squeeze only a single short scene where he was with his sisters until now. Originally meant to give Kensei a more physical appearance in this chapter, but instead he's only referenced by Hiyori. Either way, you now know what happened to him. I believe you already guessed who bailed Grimmjow out of his tight spot. When I wrote Shiro's line: "Committing image to memory." I laughed so hard I had to stop writing (kept hitting the wrong keys all the time). Guess it's only appropriate to apologize the chapter is slightly shorter than what I normally write. Maybe an 'extra' would help?

O-O-O

Extra

O-O-O

His mind was splitting. He opened his eyes, but the whole world looked like the ink stains the shrinks used. Through dry lips, Ichigo whispered his question.

"Where am I?"

"You are within your world, Ichigo?" He knew that voice. "Where else would you be?"

"Zangetsu? Where are you?"

"Right here Ichigo." The teen realized that he was lying down. His head was lifted off the ground.

"Wha..." He looked up, his vision slightly clearing. Zangetsu's worry-filled face loomed above his. "Wait a minute..." Zangetsu was sitting on the ground, holding Icigo's head in his lap. With his arms, he held the teen's head firmly by the temples. "What the hell do you think you're doing old man? !" He started to struggle to get back on his feet, but Zangetsu held him by the head firmly in hands.

"Rest, Ichigo. Your mind is wounded."

"Wha..."

"When the subjugated form is torn from control, grievous damage is inflicted onto the mind of that person." Zangetsu sighed. With corners of his eyes, Ichigo could he the old man's palms glowing from the same energy he always associated with the Getsuga Tenshō. "I expected him to be more gentle. I misjudged him."

"Who, the Hollow?"

"Yes. Especially considering how he knew firsthand what the effects would be. After all, he experienced these same devastating injuries to his mind every time you tore off his mask from your face."

"I didn't know that hurt him." His voice sounded as if he was apologizing.

"Would you have acted otherwise had you known?"

"Otherwise?" Ichigo spoke slowly. "I don't know. Maybe. Not if there was no other way." Ichigo tried to get up, but blinding pain flooded his mind, and he collapsed back onto Zangetsu's lap.

"Rest, Ichigo." Delirious, Ichigo groaned and mumbled.

"Let me sleep in today dad, it's Saturday..." The glow on the old man's palms intensified.

"Rest, and know no fear, Ichigo. You shall not lose yourself on this day, or any day other." His harsh gaze softened as he watched his young wielder fall asleep. "For this world shall protect you."

O-O-O

End of extra

Hope you had fun kids! That's it from me this time! For the end I should add that I don't expect this story to last for more than 5-6 more chapters. After that I will move on and publish the "Book two - Dark Destiny" (title may vary slightly), the rough drafts of which are already completed (not sure I used the right word there. Meant to say I have the entire plot worked out more or less in detail and now only have to get to writing).

Reviews are nice... (and I'm an addict.) See you all next time!

~KuroiTori-sama