Everyone's Dead

Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach. Don't own Inuyasha. That should cover it.

Dorchadas: Gaelic for Darkness

(gaelic) Foai Dorchadas Trath Stops:Under Darkness Time Stops

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Kagome had to admit walking down the clean and well lit hall this didn't seem like much of a hideout. Where were the shadows where someone could surprise you from? The cobwebs... not that she knew if Hueco Mundo had spiders. But the farther they got without triggering a trap the more hopeful she got. That of course was her mistake.

The plate sunk into the floor underneath her left foot and she laughed even as fear shivered down her spine. "Sorry guys, my bad."

Ichigo's face stood out to her the most, it was amused sympathy. The others were just a blur and that was when the walls started moving. The wall to their right started to move in towards them, threatening to squash them. Ichigo yelled the command, "Run!" And just like that Kagome found herself running Ichigo beside her, Nel tucked under his arm. Even as most of her mind focused on dodging the moving walls and new doorways opening and closing; her senses locked in on Orihime she found herself pleased Ichigo's first instinct was to protect the child. It was a beautiful thing.

Landing in a hall where the walls weren't moving Kagome looked back in time to see the wall slam shut behind them. It was her, Ichigo and Nel. On their own, only a few long halls away from Orihime. Ichigo set Nel down and drew his sword and fired a Getsuga-Tenshou at the wall. The wall absorbed it. At least half the walls were sure to be like this. The group was well and truly broken up.

Angry as she was she had to give Naraku credit for being a very smart, evil bastard. First multiple doorways. Second confusingly similar halls. Third traps to break up invaders if they don't split up like you want. It was good, better then anything he'd ever done before if only because it was straight forward.

Closing her eyes she ignored Ichigo's cursing. Ishida and Dondochakka. Rukia and Ashido. Chad was on his own being the slowest it made sense. Ashido probably chose to keep close to Rukia. And Renji with Pesche. They were almost all in twos. Though it probably was better she and Ichigo were with Nel rather then wishing her with Chad. Because for all Kagome disliked Nel, Chad would have a hard enough time taking care of himself much less the child. Not to mention the strange flux of power around the crack in her mask and the sensation of missing power. If she turned out to be a bad guy Kagome and Ichigo would be the ones able to handle the change. "Ichigo calm down Chad's the only one alone and even then the hollows in the area are all about his level. He'll be fine. Rukia's with Ashido they'll handle themselves and take care of each other. Renji... is with Pesche so I'm not sure if it's good or bad. Ishida and Dondochakka are together, they and Renji/Pesche are like only a wall or two apart. They'll catch up with one another. We just need to grab Orihime and get back to them."

She opened her eyes and turned to look at him. His face was frustrated and his eyes almost yellow with anger, but she just stared him down.

Ichigo heaved a sigh, slung his sword over his shoulder and looking at her closely. "You're sure?"

She nodded. "The fast we have her the faster we can help."

Ichigo shut his eyes only to open them a moment later, calm written there for her to see. She smiled, "Good. Now lets run, that Ulquiorra guy is coming."

Running for another ten minutes Kagome was surprised when Ichigo stopped in a large room on the way to Orihime, stopping she turned back around in time to catch Nel. Holding the surprised little girl, she listened to Ichigo explain: "He's still catching up. Go get Orihime and come back. I can probably beat him but I'll need some healing up."

Nodding she went on Nel struggling beneath her arm, feeling around she realized there were two weak Arrancar with Orihime, Ichigo was fighting Ulquiorra, Chad was fighting, Ishida was fighting, Rukia and Ashido were fighting. Renji and Dondochakka were close to some weaker Espada. They were getting bogged down, it would be hard to keep running. Ichigo...

She squeezed Nel to stopping the wailing. "Hush Nel. I want to be by Ichigo's side more then you do but we can do what he asked and be back in time to help."

The little girl sniffled and asked quietly, "Are you sure he'll be okay? Ulquiooro is super strong."

Kagome forced a laugh. "If he's not I'll kill him."

Turning quickly Kagome realized she was almost to Orihime's room, Orihime seemed distressed by the two female Arrancar in there with her. Kagome figured they were taking advantage of the fact Orihime's normal guard was busy. Reaching the door she thought Orihime was behind she threw it open, the two Arrancar turned. She took in their faces and positions relative to Orihime, the one with the pig-tails had clearly was the leader of the two, the blond was waiting her turn. They probably had known each other for a long time, the way their masks matched but were opposite made her wonder if maybe Aizen had experimented with splitting hollows.

Ignoring the way both were drawing their swords and threatening her she looked over Orihime, the girl was frightened and almost in tears but looked unharmed. Knowing the two were weak but not super weak she pulled her mask on.

Orihime flinched and closed her eyes, seeming to try and hide against the wall, but the two girls started yelling. Kagome didn't stop to feel bad, they were in the way and had planned on harming Orihime. Going full speed she cut through the pig-tailed one, the blond had just enough time to pull away frightened before she was on the floor too. Pulling her mask off and to one side, she ignored Nel's impressed noises and spoke to Orihime. "Come on Inoue we need to get back to Ichigo."

Orihime slowly opened her eyes, and flinched again.

It took a second but Kagome realized she was upset by the mask. Dissolving the mask she couldn't stop the word wimp from escaping. "That is exactly why there was never a chance for you and Ichigo."

Orihime's eyes shot open and heat entered her gaze. Her mouth opened and then closed, then opened again. "You... you say that but... you couldn't possibly care about Kurosaki-kun the way I do!"

Kagome felt a nasty smirk cross her lips, her dislike of the fainting flower rising. "You say I couldn't care as much as you do about a man who has done things people I would have died for didn't?

Orihime's open lips flapped helplessly for a minute, but Nel interrupted; " 'Gome Itsygo is still fighting Ulquiooro."

Mentally Kagome blinked, she had sort of forgotten that. For a second. "Right. I'll call a truce Inoue for now. You healed me, I'll make sure you get out of Hueco Mundo and we will be even."

The girl pursed her lips before saying, "I didn't heal you because I wanted you to owe me."

Kagome shrugged. "I'm not rescuing you because you healed me either. Leaving you here with Aizen would be wrong."

Something ashamed crossed the other girl's face and Kagome having been the wistful one could guess what she had been thinking. Orihime hadn't healed her because it was the right thing to do, she had healed her to win points with Ichigo. She laughed, she couldn't stop herself. Irony. It ruled her life. "It's not a contest child."

The girl's face twitched, and settled into rebellious lines. "I'm not a child."

Kagome on one hand knew they were the same age, she also knew this girl lived alone having lost her brother who had been the only parent she had known. But she had lost everyone, she had killed, she was so much older in soul. Her mother had told her when she was younger she was an old soul; which was a western term since having a new soul would be strange, but now she knew what her mother had meant. She had come into the world ready to fix the wrongs Kikyo had left in her wake. The problem was she had messed up a bit along the way.

"Maybe you are more grown up then the girls at school, even Tatsuki but you are a child to me. You have lost a brother, your only family, but everyone I lived with for so many years is dead. My friends, the man I loved, my mother, my grandfather, my brother and even my cat. And you girl, have never killed anyone. You are inexperienced compared to me."

There was silence as the chit took in all she had said, but Kagome didn't see any denial in her face, Orihime accepted what she had said, to a point. Nel broke the silence again, "Now can we go help Itsygo?"

Kagome let go of her anger towards the girl and realized while she had been talking Ichigo had been taking a beating. "Come on."

Leaving the room she felt the girl hurry after her, settling into a jog she reached out her senses and realized rather quickly everyone but her was fighting. Sado was fighting one of the Arrancar she had noticed near him, it seemed to be an even-ish match up, Sado was a little stronger. Rukia and Ashido were with one she couldn't tell if they were fighting or not, both of them felt angry and they had been fighting earlier. Ishida was fighting Dondochakka was hiding nearby, Renji had killed one. He and Pesche were heading for Ishida and Dondochakka. She had Orihime... Ichigo's power flared across her senses dazing her. Then she realized it was dying out. He was dying.

For a moment she stopped running and didn't answer the other girl's question, Kagome knew she was afraid. Ichigo couldn't die. He couldn't leave her. He wasn't allowed to die. Fear and anger at war in her heart she didn't answer Orihime's demands, she just grabbed the girl's wrist and yanked her along at top speeds, Nel's shrieks were mere background noise.

The halls they flew down were dark blurs, there were only two things Kagome cared about, Ichigo's fading presence and the fact she hadn't been aware he'd been in so much trouble. Why hadn't she noticed? And for what? Trying to scare a child who wished she could come between them? Kikyo was a dark presence in her thoughts, the despair the woman represented pressed closer.

If Orihime couldn't heal him Kagome wasn't sure what she was going to end up doing. But it wasn't good.

The room Ichigo had sent her on from was a wreck, pillars broken, the wall was gone, the floor cracked and some sunlight peeking through the big hole in the roof and wall. Kagome knew the sunlight wasn't natural but it didn't matter; Ichigo was just outside. Yanking the girls she was holding along she found Ichigo laying on his back, eyes and expression blank, a hole through his chest.

Dropping the girls she felt cold, Ichigo had seemed sure he could win. He hadn't sent her along like Inuyasha had, he'd done it and said he would still be there.

Tears welled and Kagome couldn't stop herself from wondering if that was what Inuyasha had looked like. "Heal him."

Inoue jolted, and spun away from where she had been sobbing over Ichigo.

Kagome ached, she had failed him. She hadn't paid attention. She should have gotten back in plenty of time to help him. But a little bit of jealousy distracted her and she let him die. The fear in Orihime's expression made her realize the pain in her chest wasn't just emotional. Looking down she saw a small hole growing. Distantly she realized it was a hollow hole, Kikyo's hollow hole. But she knew if Ichigo didn't revive it would become her hole. Her lost heart. Ichigo and her had been tied together. Their souls had been tied together.

Touching the hole, hiding it from view she spoke to the girl. "Heal him now."

She heard the dual tone in her voice and knew the answer to what she would do if Ichigo didn't pull through, she would become a hollow. The girl turned back to Ichigo, still pale and crying but Orihime kept an eye on her, the girl seemed to have realized she wasn't safe at the moment.

Kagome hoped the girl could bring herself to kill her if she couldn't heal Ichigo, Kagome kinda considered living long enough to kill Naraku but she didn't want to think of going home without him. He was home.

""Why didn't I figure that out sooner?""

Kikyo and Shikon were curiously silent. Kagome stared down at Ichigo, she hadn't realized she had stepped closer. Orihime was doing her best, sweat was crawling down her temple and her face already pale from the trauma of seeing Ichigo like this, had whitened further.

She had told him she loved him, she had admired a dozen different things about him, she had done a hundred little things. But in the end she had been the one who ignored the full bond. They had been linked. The only two hybrids in existence as far as she knew and she didn't let him in. Not really. Ichigo always knew if she was hurt or upset, fighting or sleeping. She could go reach out and guess what he was doing but she had never felt for the bond inside. Not until it was gone.

The missing touch of his soul left her cold and empty, hollow so to speak.

Nel was still crying from her place next to Orihime, the golden barrier Kagome remembered working so well on her own wounds seemed to be having no effect and Kagome felt herself loosing hope.

Orihime

The dense malevolent Reiatsu rising from Kurosaki-kun's chest was fighting her Soten Kisshun, it was worrisome. Who had done this to him? Glancing at Higurashi-san out of the corner of her eye she felt fear seeing the hole in the girl's chest had widened. But even as she felt fear something else was growing in her.

She knew she had been jealous of the girl since the day Kurosaki-kun had first met her. How could she not be? Kurosaki had looked at her in a way she'd never seen before. Then the girl had done so many things, little things. Just the way she had suddenly gone from an outsider to part of all her friends' lives. Tatsuki had been taught how to use her powers by her. Chad was friendly with her. Ishida kept her secrets. Chizuru even. Now that she knew the girl was Urahara's daughter it made a bit more sense. The girl had been aware of the war and everyone's powers, she had chosen to become involved. Higurashi was even friends with Matsumoto. She just seemed everywhere at once.

But if she had sensed what girl was feeling, normally it was anger. The rest the time she was just a black hole. Nothing. That was normally how she knew she was there, she was a black spot, a empty place that shouldn't be so empty.

How could she be good for Kurosaki-kun?

She couldn't be.

He had fought so hard for Higurashi-san that day when Aizen came. He'd been so concerned when she was hurt at the end of it. Her envy was only surpassed by her fear. The girl was so strong, but so dark, anger and hatred. Then that awful mask. But what had scared her more then the super strong rage she had felt was the fact Kurosaki-kun pulled his darker self out for her sake.

He was so warm, and normally his power calmed her, even when he was fighting. But to feel his darkness...

He left her trembling. It made her think of how her brother had seemed from behind his mask that awful night.

Then the girl had the nerve to taunt her with that very fact, the fact she could fear him.

It had been unbearable.

But seeing her like this for his sake, maybe Kurosaki-kun wasn't the only one willing to throw himself away for the other.

The girl had yanked her so hard Orihime had been frightened, was someone chasing them? But when they reached the wrecked room she knew it had been for his sake. Seeing him there, laying on the sand, clothes torn, covered in blood that great big hole going through his chest. Her heart had broke, he couldn't be dead, throwing herself down she couldn't stop her sobs.

But when she had heard nothing from the other girl something darker in herself had said; 'see she doesn't care as much as I do'. Even the strange child hollow had been crying louder. But peeking back she saw the other girl frozen, sheet white, tears silently running down her cheeks. That was when she remember Higurashi-san had lost her friends before. She had lost everyone before.

Orihime had turned back to Ichigo feeling guilty, the only other person Higurashi-san had was her father. She was friends with everyone but the people she had real bonds with were Kurosaki-kun and Urahara-san.

But then the girl had spoken, the strange overlap of her voice made her look at the other girl properly. That was when she realized Higurashi really was white, and rather then one scar on her cheek it was starting to look like she had three and something pink like the center of her mask was forming on her forehead. Bewildered she had let her eyes drop to the other girl's chest where she saw what she was looking for, a hole center of her chest going all the way through.

At first it was only a finger wide but it was getting wider.

"Heal him now."

The girl had hidden the hole, as if she was embarrassed by the growing hole, but the duel tone was becoming stronger. That was when it sunk in, Kurosaki-kun was happy when the girl was happy, but this girl was just as dependent on him being well. Commanding Shun'o and Ayame, she sat and focused on him getting well, but it wasn't just for herself any more.

Kagome

Just as she was ready to turn away, just as she was ready to sink into the depths of despair and never come back the black power rising from Ichigo's chest stopped. And with something that almost felt like a snap the hole going through him vanished. That was when she realized the snap had been her hole closing in time with his. Relief brought a smile to her face and she fell to her knees like a puppet with it's strings cut. Orihime let out something like a sigh and Nel stopped wailing.

Hope and relief mingled with joy and happiness and all of them washed over her. It was a stark contrast to the anger and despair consuming her not thirty seconds before. Ichigo was gonna live. Flopping back on the shattered marble chunk behind her Kagome realized for the first time she was getting tired. More then knowing she hadn't eaten in eight or hours, but more to do with the fact she had been running at high speeds and fighting most of that. She had killed four Arrancar and dozens of lower level hollows and an equal number of Gillian. Not to mention she had never been in her body using her powers for this long. It was a good thing her body had adjusted as well as it had to being used. Tetsusaiga pressed into her low back strangely, Shikon was pressing into her shoulder, laying on her swords was a dumb idea.

But the tiredness she was feeling made her wonder just a little if she wouldn't have been a little better off leaving her body at home. But thinking about the dangers of leaving her body under a battle field she knew she had made the right choice, her dad's shop would be a target, leaving him something to protect bigger then her little kitten seemed unwise. It might make him do something foolish. Ichigo had given his body to Kon she had nothing like that.

That was when she realized someone... Brom was coming. Hopping to her feet she had just enough time to see him entering from the way she and Ichigo had come from the first time. The scratchy noise told her he had been using sonido. That was why she had only just noticed him. Hands on her swords she wasn't sure what to make of it when he smiled at her.

"Good, you're healing him already."

Blinking she glanced back, Ichigo looked like he was a few seconds away from waking. She put it together. "You want to fight Ichigo."

The dark skinned Arrancar smirked at her. "That is correct, that is also why I held him back while Tia went after you. I knew very well he would come for you. But since you all came for the other girl everything still worked out. The only problem was that Ulquiorra got involved before I could get away."

To Kagome's surprise the one who protested wasn't Nel who seemed to know an awful lot about the Espada but Orihime.

"NO! You can't let Kurosaki-kun fight him Higurashi!"

Kagome turned and surveyed the younger girl. The poor naive thing. "Why ever not? The moment Ichigo is awake and realizes he's here, he'll want to fight."

"No he won't! "Kurosaki-kun's not like that!"

She couldn't stop the giggle, she really couldn't help it. It probably was the fatigue. "First of all girl; Ichigo came here knowing damn well we'd have to fight; meaning killing would happen. Reducing Aizen's numbers now means less he can come at us later with. Second you heard the man admit to being the reason Ichigo couldn't help me against Espada Tres. You know how hurt I was because of it. Finally Ichigo has fought this guy several times, I'm sure he wants to know who is stronger."

That was when her favorite voice added his two cents. "That's about it Orihime. I'd like the chance the fight Brom, he's always had the upper hand in keeping me distracted."

Orihime chewed her lip while looking down at Ichigo, Kagome felt a surge of irritation. She really wished she was alone so she could beat him over the head for dying on her. But she also wanted to cry on him for scaring her so much, not to mention he probably needed to know what had happened the moment he was gone. If she died he would likely do the exact same thing.

Orihime finally nodded seeing Ichigo's intense face. The glow of the healing grew stronger and Ichigo's power level started to get back into normal levels, the burns vanishing.

That was when with an unnatural speed Ulquiorra came back, standing on the sands looking over the five of them his green eyes cold but angry some how. "Brom why are you letting them heal him?"

Brom smirked and appeared in front of the other Espada. "Because you aren't the only one who wants to test him. You killed him far too quickly Quarto."

"You don't have the right to endanger Aizen-sama's plans like this."

Brom laughed, it was a strangely cheery sound from a dark monster like him. "Aizen is a poor master to choose, I fight for myself and no one else."

Kagome couldn't see the dark Arrancar's face but the way his head tilted told her he was weighing the other hollow and finding him wanting.

"Someone like you should understand that."

Then in a blindingly fast movement he shoved something through the other hollow's hole. Then in a couple of seconds dark square bands enclosed him in a box and he was gone.

"So what did you do to him - and is it permanent?"

The dark hollow moved to stand next to her over Ichigo before answering: "That was something Aizen gave every Espada to punish underlings, on someone like Ulquiorra he's only going to be gone an hour or two. Long enough for us to have that fight."

Ichigo had sat up now and his clothes were regenerating. He looked mildly worried to have Brom standing next to her but the hollow made no move against her.

Orihime decided to ask Ichigo a question. "You'll promise to be careful right?"

Ichigo snorted, then sighed. "Orihime I'm going to win this fight and then we'll leave. But I think you know this is the opposite of careful."

His eyes lifted up from his friend's tearful and worried gaze to met her eyes, to her confusion she could feel his regard for her. He was asking her to take of Orihime and Nel while he was busy, he was asking her to be careful, to keep looking out for their other friends, to take the chance to rest, and to be strong for him. It was all jumbled up, it was just a feeling and she found herself wondering if that was what he felt from her all the time. If so why was she feeling this now?

Before long he was completely better and moving further out over the sands Brom a step behind him. Kagome looked over the other two girls, Nel was crying, Orihime looked winded but was catching her breath. "Inoue when you feel up to it put a shield up, the two of them are powerful enough we could get caught in a crossfire."

Orihime bobbed her head in apparent agreement, and Kagome went back to trying to understand why she felt so much closer to Ichigo. That was when she realized that moment after he'd died and she'd lost any sense of his warmth she had opened herself up completely to him. She had been fighting the soul bonding until that moment because she didn't think he could care for her the way she did him. Never mind that meant she was fighting what had come so easily to him.

He'd always known what to do to help her and she'd fought accepting it. She had always fought it. ""I'm an idiot.""

"That is something obvious."

""Kikyo? Where did you go?""

"You despaired dumb-ass, you were turning into a hollow. Loosing all reason, I was being eaten away just like Shikon."

""Shikon?""

"Yes Kagome."

""Is this going to be a problem?""

"I don't know Kagome, will you give up? Will you let that boy's death stop you from ending Aizen?"

Kagome though about Shikon's question, the two of them were right Ichigo would be angry with her if she told him for a moment she'd wanted to die. He'd want her to kill Aizen at the very least to protect his sisters for him. ""No. I won't. If Ichigo falls again I will do it for him.""

"Then the answer is no."

"Good answer dumb-ass. If you fail like that again we will become mindless and probably end up serving him."

""What the heck are you talking about?""

"Why do hollows follow him?"

Kagome understood what Kikyo was talking about, she already knew odds weren't good if she tried to kill Aizen on her own, if she lost the ability to plan, to reason. She would obey the strongest thing around. Aizen.

Ichigo went to Bankai and Kagome realized Brom was twirling his sword, before saying something she couldn't make out. Blackness flared about him, it was different then Ichigo's tainted hollow powers this was the absence of light. To her concern she realized Brom in his released state was more then an equal for Ichigo with his mask on, and he wasn't wearing it yet.

The blackness dripped away and she saw Ichigo was facing Brom, his bird mask had turned into a proper helmet covering his whole head, the beak sticking out over his nose. The skull had also turned from the black bone to a bleached ivory contrasting with the black hair flowing out from under it and the warm chocolate of his skin.

He looked much the same still holding his sword.

Kagome felt a sense of unease. Every Arrancar she had fought released and lost their sword. It didn't stay the same.

That was when the feel of their power washed out over them, Nel started to cry louder worried for Ichigo, Orihime sunk her nails into her arms as she hugged herself, going white with fear. The heavy feel of Ichigo and Brom's powers was strong but the chill from Brom's was strange, it brought to mind all those moment's anyone's ever had when they feel fear while it's dark. The feeling of going up or down stairs in the dark and missing a step. The moment you think for a split second you're not alone when it's dark. The eerie feeling like something is almost touching you.

Kagome knew then whatever Brom's power was it was different from any of the hollows they'd fought so far. "Orihime put a shield up."

The girl nodded and put her hands out, the triangle appeared, a glowing window to watch the fight through.

Ichigo

Ichigo had to say his plan for killing Ulquiorra hadn't gone the way he planned but it could have been worse. Kagome at least had held up her end of the bargain and brought Orihime to heal him up. Sure, she had to bring him back from the dead but he was still back and ready for another fight.

Waking he'd realized quickly for one thing Ulquiorra had actually killed him. Two: Kagome had manage to rescue Orihime. Three: Nel had cried on him at some point. Four: Brom was here to fight him as soon as he was healed. Five: Orihime didn't want him to fight but Kagome wanted him to kick ass. He sorta wished Kagome hadn't talked down to Orihime the way she had but he got that she sometimes lost her patience with Rukia's rudeness and Orihime's naivete.

When the words he over heard were "... Ichigo came here knowing damn well we'd have to fight - meaning killing would happen. Reducing Aizen's numbers now means less he can come at us later with. Second you heard the man admit to being the reason Ichigo couldn't help me against Espada Tres. You know how hurt I was because of it. Finally Ichigo has fought this guy several times, I'm sure he wants to know who is stronger."

It surprised him how Kagome could articulate what he was feeling about things, because she was right bottom line was he did want to fight Brom and see who would win. He had been glad when his two cents quieted Orihime's protests, it meant that much sooner he could win and they could go track down the others.

But while setting out to fight Brom far away from the girls Ichigo found himself a little confused; not about why he was fighting Brom, that was easy. But why Brom was fighting him? Landing in the sand he looked to his enemy and waited.

Brom smiled at him, but it wasn't nice, it was something sarcastic and the tone was something more. "Being polite are you?"

The way Brom asked made him think Brom was going to turn this in to a game. "Not really, I may want to kick your ass but I don't understand why you're here."

"Working for Aizen or fighting you?"

"Both or either, take your pick."

Brom laughed, and then slowly drew his sword. "You know why the Espada serve that bastard, don't you?"

Ichigo frowned, "Not really."

"Because he is not afraid and more importantly, offers them a way to become tough enough to surpass their fears."

Ichigo stared and found himself thinking it over, some of it made sense Aizen could kill them, there for didn't fear them but surpass their own fears? "I still don't get it, what does a hollow as strong as a Adjuchas fear?"

Brom smirked and shook his head slowly. "You really don't pay attention. Hollows who've gained a personality or power always fear loosing it. To regression or to a stronger opponent. Aizen offered a way to reach past that, giving us these new powers."

Ichigo took that in. It made sense, he was thankful to have met Rukia and to have learned a way to protect his family, a Hollow was only the dark side of the same coin. "But that doesn't explain why you've been after me."

Brom laughed loudly. "You kid. What person of a strength like yours doesn't want to test themselves? To grow even better? I want to see which one of us is better."

He flung his arm out holding his sword straight out from his body. Ichigo knew Brom was releasing for the first time, lifting Zangetsu quickly he called out Bankai a moment before Brom said: "Answer my call Dorchadas!"

Ichigo felt his Bankai covering him but the spray of Darkness from Brom was startling, it was like a swirl of water or feathers that was pitch black, no light, no color just black. It slipped away and reveled Brom standing across from his clothes much the same but the raven skull that was Brom's mask had grown: becoming a helmet covering the top of his head and allowing his eyes to match up with the eye sockets as well as bleached the bone white. His dark hair and skin striking against the bone mask, the bird beak almost hiding his mouth.

Then he noticed Brom still had his sword, he had fought many Arrancar and none of them still held a sword. He felt a chill, Ulquiorra had only released his sword to flatten him quickly, the half helmet becoming a full one and he could call green lances, and Ulquiorra was number four. In spite of the fact Ichigo could have swore Ulquiorra was the strongest. Was Brom stronger or was Ulquiorra? "What number are you?"

Brom snickered from under his beak, "What does it matter? The number doesn't show my true strength, I have refused to give Aizen my loyalty."

"Then...?"

Brom sighed realizing he wanted to know and understand. "I am the new Segunda to replace the one your girly killed, but I am stronger then the Primera and the Cero. I suspect I am not the only one hiding my true power but I want to fight the one everyone expects to kill Aizen."

Ichigo denied it without thinking, "I'm not that strong or..."

Brom cut him off. "You and the girl are the only ones who has not seen Aizen's Shikai and have Bankai, you also have shown an incredible growth rate. You or the girl will be the one to do it."

Ichigo didn't reply but didn't deny Brom's points, now thinking about it, that made sense because as a fighting force the Thirteen Court Guard Squads had their hands tied in regards to Aizen.

"Now Ichigo Kurosaki fight me with all you have or I will defeat you and take both girls back to Aizen."

Ichigo felt his resolve harden, he knew on one level Brom said that so he really wouldn't hold back, but at the same time Brom didn't care one way or another about Kagome and Orihime so he might actually take them back to Aizen if he lost. He couldn't afford to lose, and besides he could feel Kagome demanding he win.

Kagome

Kagome watched Ichigo and Brom lunge at each other with dazzling speed, the first strike sent both of them stumbling off course. The second saw them locking swords and pushing on one another, Ichigo broke this lock by using Getsuga-Tenshou Brom stepped out of the way and with one sweep of his sword caught Ichigo across the shoulder. Kagome flinched at the phantom pain and followed Ichigo's logic to the conclusion to win this he needed his mask.

He pulled it on and Kagome couldn't hear what Brom said to him, but impression she got from the feel of his soul was that he was getting serious now. They started to hack at each other and she lost sight of them in the plumes of sand the force of their clashes was sending up. Then she heard a whimper, looking she saw Nel was watching with a great deal concern and Orihime was the one who'd made the sound. The fear on her face made it clear she had noticed Ichigo's mask.

Kagome wasn't sure if she was angry or outraged. "He's still him you know."

Orihime turned to look at her and seemed momentarily confused. "But he..."

"He's human, he gets angry, he feels pain, you upset me because you deny part of what it is to be human. You don't want to face the fact life hurts, you want sunshine and roses all the time!"

Orihime flinched.

Kagome tossed her head but a sneer was on her lips, "I want you get angry at me. I insult you all the time, I took the man you love. Get angry."

The girl turned her face but Kagome could see the conflict there, the girl was angry but she was suppressing it. It infuriated her. Stomping she didn't fail to notice Ichigo had taken a small wound to his left side above the hip bone. "Inoue you have the ability to change things, your power is to reverse things that have already happened. If you wanted Ichigo you would have tried to undo him falling for me."

The chit's eyes flew wide and for the first time she responded. "I WOULD NOT!"

Smirking now Kagome asked the obvious question, "Why not?"

Her lip trembled and the girl confronted what was in her heart. "Because he's chosen you."

Kagome barely could hear what the girl said, but decided to be mean. "Say that again I couldn't hear you."

"Because... because Kurosaki-kun chose you."

Kagome felt all her fury drain away with that acknowledgement, she took a couple deep breaths. If the girl could accept that she could be nice. "I've chosen him too."

Orihime nodded her tears running over. Kagome let her sense of sympathy take over, she had longed to comfort the girl with a couple good words of advice but she had always been upset by the passive resentment. Using a softer tone she spoke up kindly now; "I once told you he never would have dated you because you can be afraid of him. It's mean, he wouldn't hurt you but still you tremble."

The girl across from her looked down to her hands and both of them could see the tiny tremors, shaking her hands. She frowned and then announced; "I don't mean to be."

"But you are and if he could see it he would be hurt."

Nel spoke up for the first time, "What's Broom doing?"

Kagome took a moment before she understood the kid meant Brom and turned to look: He and Ichigo stood ten feet or so apart and the Arrancar had his sword raised and on the point blackness was collecting, it looked like black feathers floating down to gather there. The mass grew and until it reached critical mass and then Brom threw it at Ichigo. The blackness covered him and she feared for a moment he was wounded but she felt no pain, rather it seemed to have formed a barrier hiding the fight from her, Orihime and Nel.

Ichigo

Brom was smiling, it was a little unnerving but he could almost understand. He was fighting someone who hid behind a Byakuya type personality when really he was a free spirit, someone like him... actually watching his grin grow as his blood splattered the sand feet below them, probably Kenpachi.

Brom stood and ran a free hand over the slash in his upper chest, just under the collar bone. He looked content. "I was right to test myself against you. My Hierro is not the strongest or anything but it's tough and you can cut right through it. My speed is good, my cero is one of the better ones. My Resurrection is one of the more interesting in my opinion."

"Why do you say that?"

It a seemingly random manner he elaborated. "Did you know that the ten Espada all stand for an aspect of death?"

"Sort of."

"The former second held the position of time, time defeats all, even him. I too, as Segunda represent time or also known as aging."

"What do you mean?" Even as he asked Ichigo noticed with each stroke of his hand the wound he'd given Brom was fading and he could make out some dark Reiatsu between Brom's fingers. Then he thrust his sword skyward and on the tip blackness shaped like feathers drifted down to mass in a ball.

He wasn't afraid but he didn't know what the attack Brom was charging would do, he figured his best bet would be to stop it. Swinging Zangetsu back he fed power into his sword getting ready to throw a huge Getsuga-Tenshou. But comparing the building power in his sword against Brom's he had the sinking feeling it wasn't going to work. Brom had the head start and was strong enough to continue the attack, ignoring a small Getsuga-Tenshou.

"Foai Dorchadas-"

"Getsuga-!"

Ichigo swung his sword, the familiar red black trailing behind his swing in the normal crescent, but the black at the tip of Brom's sword was big enough to block out most of the sky in front of him. He was too slow.

" -Trath Stops!"

The black bubble exploded and even as he finished his attack he was blinded, surrounded by darkness. He couldn't see, he couldn't feel Brom's presence any more, Orihime, Chad, all the friends he could normally feel vanished. Even to feel Kagome he had to reach inwards rather than being able to just feel it.

"Do you understand why I apply as time?"

The words came from every where at once, from the left, from the right, from behind and in front. It was mind boggling, this absence, this black hole swallowed almost everything. Even time. "You can't tell time in the dark, a minute might go by and feel like hours, or the opposite might be true."

Brom laughed, and it was close to a happy laugh. "You pick it up quickly Kurosaki, I like that. But that's not all. Here in this place, time really does obey me. That's how I closed my wound and how I do this."

The last word was hissed in his left ear but at the same time he felt a sword skim his back, and another sword stab through his upper right arm. The surprise and pain made him gasp and he felt fear reaching for his will, this guy controlled time here. But even as he thought that, Kagome saved him. She had told him about how she and her friends had defeated a monster capable of stopping time. It could be done. He just had to figure out how.

"Then finish me, if your power is so almighty." Ichigo focused inward both on Kagome and what she'd taught him about how to reach out and touch souls to find them rather then looking for power.

The dry chuckle in his ear had him reacting on instinct, and he felt his blade cut through nothing but air. The darkness surrounding him was so absolute it was playing tricks on his eyes, white dots floated by and dark shadows he could almost mistake as Brom jumped about in wild flickers. He had to close his eyes and use what Kagome taught him or this was going to lead him down the road of panic.

That was when Cero burned across his chest, it wasn't meant to finish him but torment him. Brom was testing him, seeing if he could push him into despair... just like Ulquiorra. Falling back it felt like he hit the sand, but he couldn't be sure. Getting back to his feet he did his best to ignore the sharp pain of the burns.

"Cero..."

The word echoed from all around him, but when he wasn't knocked back down by another blast he figured it was Brom messing with him by naming the attack that he'd already hit him with.

"What's the point to all of this Brom? You think I'd give up because it's dark? Because you mess my perception of time? Never."

The sensation of Brom's blade sinking into his shoulder was a sharp ache, the worst part of it was it seemed to last forever. The normally quick and sudden pain being drawn out to what felt like years, yet at the same time he couldn't move. He was frozen in time while Brom cut him.

"Are you sure about that?"

The laughing whisper hissed over his ear and just like that Brom let time return to normal, he spun lashing out with a Getsuga-Tenshou. But even as he went to release it he could feel Brom's grip trying to trap the power back in the sword. Trying to stop it. Trying to turn back time. Slowly he felt his attack die away like it hadn't happened in the first place.

Why had Brom done that? To prove he could or...

Bom laid into him, six or seven quick slashes opened his back, his shirt hung in tatters. Stumbling he felt disconnected. He had almost grasped Brom's weakness. What was it? How would he beat Brom?

"Pay attention." Brom growled and kicked his feet out from under him.

The fact it seemed so sudden and he had no time to react told him Brom had control enough to hold him in time but not effect himself even with contact... Climbing to his feet he found himself stuck on the fact Brom didn't want him recklessly throwing attacks around.

Cero burned his cut back and flung him to his knees. Letting the force spin him around he tried to throw another Getsuga-Tenshou and again he felt Brom's power clamp down and force the attack to be undone. Brom's power looked like an orb when it formed, that implied his time control only worked in it and that like any bubble it could be popped.

"I didn't think the power gap between us was so big." Brom sounded disappointed.

"You," Ichigo swallowed, the taste of blood strong in his mouth. "And Ulquiorra seem stuck on that idea. The idea..."

He stood and was angry with himself for swaying just a little. "Of power gaps. What does it matter? From day one I have been fighting things beyond me, things I didn't understand or that were stronger than me. IT MEANS NOTHING!"

He forced his mask to repair it's self without using his hand, something he'd seen Kagome do but never managed himself. Then he wordlessly fed Zangetsu his power, right away he could feel the cold grasp Brom's darkness trying to drain the power off. His theory set, he let it force it back and in the sudden absences the time about him felt different. That was when he called out his attack and forced his attack to form as fast as it could.

Stuck in a power tug-a-war Brom's voice showed no sign of the pure effort he knew the man was using to stop him.

"If you don't believe in power gaps. If you won't let a stronger enemy stop you. Then what do you believe? In that wounded bird of girl? What could possibly be strong enough to make up for your weaknesses?"

Ichigo didn't stop to think about his answer he could almost feel his Hollow speaking with him. "I believe I have the will to reach beyond all obstacles and protect the ones I love! I will never let someone else decide my FATE!"

The grip on the half formed Getsuga-Tenshou didn't loosen a bit but for a moment there was silence and time seemed to stretch on. The sword slowly sunk into his stomach, the sharp but cold metal slid slowly, like the time had slowed but Brom's voice still seemed at normal perception.

"So you wouldn't give up even if everyone you brought with you had died? Even if I told you right now outside of here they are dying one by one."

Ichigo felt desperate, the effort of keeping the Getsuga-Tenshou going was pulling at him, the wounds were slowing him and now Brom was calmly informing him that the time going on outside was more than enough to let the other Arrancar pick his friends off one by one. Clamping down he forced the fear aside and focused on his attack and trying to find Brom's soul.

The attack cutting into his stomach was still happening, time almost stopped, but his mind could move even if his body couldn't. Reaching inward he let the skills Kagome taught him work. It took a long time but Brom was almost helping him by freezing time. Then he found him standing in that moment of time just to his left Brom's sword still stabbing him. That burning into his mind Ichigo put his will to killing Brom.

The battle for control of the Getsuga-Tenshou swung in his favor and he pulled himself off Brom's blade. The torn flesh screaming at him, he swung Zangetsu upwards while pivoting to face Brom, the bubble of darkness was torn open, so he built a second one and focused on gutting Brom.

Brom seemed surprised and caught his attack on his bloody sword, the darkness started to close in and Ichigo knew he needed to finish this quick. He couldn't take that many hits again before breaking out. Breaking free of the dead lock he slashed at him from the side the expected red-black energy trailing behind cutting into Brom's darkness before slamming against the sword protecting Brom's side.

The sparks flew as he let Brom parry and hammered away at him doing his best to keep a consistent Getsuga-Tenshou in his blade. The force of his and Brom's Reiatsu was shredding the veil Brom had used to get so many hits in. But Ichigo could feel his own body failing him, he'd taken all those hits, he was bleeding, and Brom was still doing his best to slow time around him.

Ichigo focused his mind on sensing Brom knowing the odds were good Brom could still use time well enough to trick his eyes even if his little time bubble was popped, spinning he let his eyes fall shut. Kagome could do it, she had taught him, it was time to use it.

Catching the blade he cut upwards forcing the Brom's sword out of the way, the tip of Zangetsu caught skin, smirking he felt proud, but just because he could fight with his eyes shut didn't change the fact Brom was holding him off.

With the next seven strikes he cut Brom three more times, but he could feel this simply wasn't doing enough damage. In the game of stamina at the moment Brom would win hands down. The only way he could probably guarantee a winning hit would be to take another hit himself. From then on he was looking for the right moment, the contest of Reiatsu went on, his cuts shredding the veil of darkness and Brom trying to force it back up enough to control all of time in the bubble.

The Brom was off balance and Ichigo knew this was it,his eyes flew open and taking a hand off Zangetsu he guided Brom's blade up to his shoulder while driving Zangetsu through Brom's stomach, it looked like he might have caught the left kidney. But the pain in his shoulder froze him, both him and Brom.

They stood still for a heartbeat, Brom twisted his sword while trying to back away. Knowing this was his chance to do a lot of damage he followed with a step while twisting his blade up and to the right, across the spine, lung, bottom of the heart and out under the armpit. Brom stood gasping, blood pouring down his front and from his mouth, his face and eyes blank. Brom's pain blinded eyes looked up at him and Ichigo wondered what do, Brom told him to kill him, but sword still in him or not, Brom didn't seem like he could move very fast at all. It felt wrong to smite him.

A chuckle escaped and to his surprise, Brom smoothly pulled his sword out of his shoulder, staggering he landed roughly in the sands. Ichigo followed him unsure whether he should be ready for Brom to attack him or if it was done. Brom stayed bent over, his breath rasping, blood continuing to stain the sands. Ichigo knew he had to be healing himself since Zangetsu went all the way through and he'd severed his spine. The question was, had Brom had enough?

Soon blood stopped dripping and Brom straightened, black edged the wound in his chest shrunk even as blood still covered his chin and his breathing rasped but he had a smug grin on his face. "I'm..." He paused to gasp for air. "Glad you proved me... right."

"Right about what?"

Brom laughed, and quickly started coughing up blood. He calmed himself and looked up at his puzzled face only to cracked up again.

"Okay you can stop, I don't want to know."

Brom's head bobbed from where he was staring at the ground hands bracing himself on his knees. Straightening he went on. "I have fought many but that is the most someone has ever pushed my control over time. I am glad to have fought you Ichigo Kurosaki."

"Does this mean you're done?"

"Yeah, I'm done with you kid."

Ichigo scowled at that, he'd just almost cut him in half and suddenly he's kid? He didn't get Brom at all, first he seemed like Byakuya, then Urahara, then Kenpachi, and there at the end for a moment he thought he sounded a bit like his dad having one of his cool moments. This Arrancar was nuts. Totally around the bend.

Brom swung his sword up and then rested it against his shoulder, his wound was now gone and even the fabric had been repaired, and the blood faded from it. Turning his back to him he took a couple of steps before theatrically turning around and with would be casualness said, "Kid, you should know one release isn't it for all Arrancar either."

Ichigo felt for a second his mind was blank, '…one release isn't it for all Arrancar either...' If that meant what he was thinking, Brom hadn't gone all out on him... if Brom who he'd compared to Ulquiorra hadn't gone all out on him had Ulquiorra? Looking at Brom he started to ask why he hadn't gone all out when Brom just smirked and flashed away in a high level Sonido.

Stunned Ichigo stood there, if Brom wanted to fight him why not go all out? He didn't get it, not really. Kagome startled him out of it by appearing behind him dragging Nel and Orihime. Turning he looked at the three girls, part of him wanted to tell Kagome what he'd just learned but another part of him wanted to keep it quiet.

That was when he felt Chad fall, his eyes went wide and his gaze met Kagome's, she had felt it too. In silent agreement he grabbed Orihime, while Kagome grabbed Nel, then they started towards Chad.

So this is where I start trying to make excuses for why it's been a year. I have lots, three original story ideas that could make me money. Dozenish fanfiction ideas, one of which I'm almost done with called Kiss My Cold Lips, Kagome/Ichigo in the Warm Bodies universe. Oh and I've been ill like a hundred days of the year so far, it doesn't help me with my writing when I'm not just running a fever sick, or coughing but like too sick to think sick.

So this is when I tell every single one of you who reviewed or PMed me YOU are the reason I managed to finish this chapter while sick. Every single one of you kept this story alive, so even if it takes another year (which I hope it doesn't) don't give up! Don't let me give up. So many good stories are given up and I don't want this to be one of them. This story has let me grow so much as a writer it's one of the reasons I even feel like I could write a good enough original story to see it published. So thank you for reading.

This is also the first post I intend to post a second time after catching a few more errors.