Someone please tell me... is it more painful to die by the hands of your love who knows nothing? Or is it more painful to live with the blood of your love on your hands, forever wondering what went wrong?

Which is worse?

Tell me, please...


Ichigo remained sitting curled into a ball, his entire body soaked with icy cold rain. Pitiful couldn't even begin to describe his star of being.

So lonely. Just like how her master had been as a child. So very, very sad. The sight pulled at her heart, twisting a knife into it even though she could barely endure the loss of half her entire being already. Her master's beloved needed support. Whereas she had lost half her soul, he had lost half his heart. They were both broken but she was the one with thousands of years of experience to help her get through the loss of a partner. This child... had a meager sixteen years.

The gentle voice called softly again, her own pain evident even as she attempted to ease his.

"Dear child... Do not despair. This was my master's choice. Do not blame yourself for something you could do nothing to stop. He wished for your happiness and health. Please do not let his efforts go to waste."

Some rational part of him understood what she was saying, that Sousuke had planned everything so that he was the only one to die, indicating that he had wanted Ichigo to live and move on because he believed in his ability to keep going forward. But the part of him that was so weak drowned in misery and self-loathing.

Kyoka Suigetsu's slim pale hand reached out to him, her damp shimmering robes decorated with majestic violet flowers swaying in violent gusts of turbulent winds as she hesitated and then retracted her hand.

They were both silent now, drops of pain and grief pelting them with a ferocity that hurt and yet didn't hurt enough. The building they stood upon was smeared with a crusty brown substance but as the rain continued to pour upon it, it slowly began melting into a crimson liquid that slid over the edges of the building and fell into the black abyss below.

He was so terribly tormented by her master's death. And as much as she wished to, she could do nothing to erase his agony. She no longer had the power to draw up beautiful dreams to temporarily shield him from his grisly reality. And she no longer had the power to protect the young guardian her master had so dearly loved enough to die for.

Water that did not belong to the drops falling from the sky slid down her porcelain cheek as she bowed before the two entities that stood behind her new master, their mouths shut but eyes hard.

"Forgive me."

The rain fell harder, almost bruising her skin but she paid little heed to this as she covered her face with her hands and whispered the same words over and over again.

"Forgive me."

A window cracked, joining the many others that had webs of delicate white lines stretched out across obscure glassy surfaces.

"Forgive me for not stopping my master."

The rain continued to poor, an odd red glint in it that made it seem eerily as though it were raining blood.

"Forgive me..."

"How long until he wakes up?"

Unohana closed her eyes briefly before fixing a gentle but stern gaze upon the thirteenth division's soon-to-be-promoted lieutenant as she murmured, "Kuchiki-san, the wounds Kurosaki-kun bears are not something I can heal with my powers. It is up to him to decide when, and perhaps even if, he will awaken."

The elder shinigami hated seeing the look of utter desolation on the younger woman's face. Beside Rukia's small frame, Renji clapped a reassuring hand onto her shoulder and said hoarsely, "He'll wake up Rukia. He just needs some time to pull himself together y'know?" The tired bags under his eyes and his weak grin made it seem like he was trying to convince himself more than her.

Nonetheless, Rukia twitched her lips into a meager smile at him before bowing before the healer and stating in a forced calm voice, "I apologize for bothering you Unohana-taicho. It's just... it's been four days. Ichigo he- he's never stayed down like this for so long and... it's just a bit unnerving."

The wise shinigami smiled slightly in understanding. "I know Kuchiki-san. It bothers me as well and I have known our courageous substitute shinigami for far less time than you two. But as it is, we can do nothing except simply wait."

The two nodded before quietly excusing themselves and leaving. It was painful seeing two normally strong-willed and proud shinigamis walking out with shoulders slumped and reiatsus flickering dully. It was a sight she was becoming accustomed to seeing among several shinigamis. They had won the war and yet for many, it seemed to have been a bitter victory despite the fact no one, save the enemy, had died.

Kaname Tousen, upon his own request, had been slain by Komamura-taicho and Hisagi-fukutaicho. He had give no explanations, no apologies for his actions, but there had been a sense of peace around him when his lieutenant's sword cut him down. His death had been mercifully quick and quiet but it had greatly affected the two who had respected him the most.

The two stoic shinigamis were dealing with their loss privately but it was clear that it was taking its toll on them. A very alarmed Kira-fukutaicho had burst into her office the other day with a collapsed Hisagi-fukutaicho in his arms and it had taken only a quick check-up to see that he had over-worked himself on top of dealing with abnormal levels of stress.

On a significantly brighter note, Hinamori-fukutaicho had handled Aizen's end surprisingly well. She had shed only one night's worth of tears in the fourth division before she animatedly began socializing with Hitsugaya-taicho who still had not quite gotten over the loss of his first shinigami friend and lieutenant.

Unfortunately, her improving state was one of very few. Things were in disarray in Seireitei and Unohana knew that it would be quite a while until things settled down again. Central 46 was demanding answers to clarify the details of what had transpired, the divisions were still in battle-ready mode and were thus, frightening the latest wave of new recruits from the academy, and promotions lay ahead in the near future amidst the chaos of paperwork and lingering sadness.

And through it all, their young hero's eyes remained shut, his ears deaf to the concerned voices of the people waiting for him to awaken.

Unohana was not a fool. She knew what someone who went through their first kill behaved like. Entering a coma-like state with reiatsu writhing and twisting as though in great pain to the point that even her own naturally soothing reiatsu did nothing to help was not normal. No, Kurosaki Ichigo was behaving much like Kuchiki Rukia had after she had slain Shiba-fukutaicho many, many years ago. For all that she had claimed and denied, a small part of the Kuchiki clan's princess had felt more than simple admiration for the gallant lieutenant.

And for all the speculation of what had been happening in Hueco Mundo during Kurosaki-kun's absence, Unohana knew only one plausible theory that best explained the current state of the distressed young man.

It made the fact that they had drawn him into their issues that much more tragic.

Resting a smooth hand on his cheek, Unohana murmured, "Kurosaki-kun, please... wake up. Your friends are greatly worried about you. They refuse to rest properly until they have seen that you are well. I know you are hurt, unimaginably so, but there are still people here who love you and whom you care deeply for in turn."

She received no response, not that she had been expecting one in the first place. Sighing softly, the healer stood from the chair beside his bed, exiting the room and closing the door behind her with a quiet thud.

Ichigo continued to sleep.

"He must wake up."

An indelicate snort. "Tell me somethin' we don't already know."

"They are worried about him hollow."

Golden irises surrounded by obsidian black glared at her as his white lips curled into a condescending sneer. "Not enough t' keep 'im outta their shit illusion bitch."

As the two spirits hissed and spat at each other like territorial cats, Zangetsu cast a glance at their master and partner who still had not moved from his spot of misery. Thoroughly drenched robes clung to Ichigo's slumped frame and for a moment, Zangetsu could truly see the child his master once, and still in some ways, was.

The elderly spirit loathed seeing his powerful and strong-willed partner so vulnerable.

Gliding silently across a couple chipped buildings away from the squabbling duo who had had the decency to fight out of Ichigo's hearing range, Zangetsu slowed to a stop when he was beside his partner's curled wet form. He hesitated before speaking, assessing what words would most likely be the most beneficial given the situation.

Anger, betrayal, frustration... they were emotions he could gauge accurately and respond to with ease. Sadness, grief, and loss were unfortunately not quite as simple. Converting weakness into power was something that anyone could do provided they had enough determination to do so. Turning such profound grief into strength was something he wasn't sure could even be done properly.

But he would try. For Ichigo's sake, he would try to guide him back to being the person he once was even if his partner didn't want to. Because no matter the anguish and pain he had to face, Ichigo would always be a protector and to allow him to fall into a pit of weakness and self-pity would be the equivalent of Zangetsu abandoning him.

And that was something Zangetsu refused to do no matter the consequences.


Said person didn't even twitch.


Zangetsu felt as if there was another barrier between them, blocking his voice from reaching Ichigo. It was far too similar to how disconnected they had been when Ichigo first obtained his powers. In some ways, it angered Zangetsu. In others, it frightened him.


His voice had hardened without his intent but at the very least, Ichigo's shoulders flinched imperceptibly. That meant he was listening. Good.

"Ichigo how long do you intend to stay like this?"

The rain poured down even harder than before.

"Are you bringing that man back to life while you grieve in here?"

Ichigo didn't respond again but Zangetsu knew that was part of it. The building they were on contained some of Ichigo's memories. Memories of deep brown eyes and warm smiles and ghostly touches that he would never get again. Memories of crimson red spilling onto the ground and tainting his hands and blade with their rich, cruel color.

This stash of memories was both a precious container of things lost as well as a curse that punished him by reminding him over and over again why they were gone in the first place.

It was an intoxicating drug of pleasure and pain that blatantly told Zangetsu that this was something that couldn't continue to go on.

"So in order to satisfy yourself, you will simply abandon everyone else you hold dear?"

That particular statement garnered a noticeable flinch and though he knew his words would be harsh, Zangetsu grimly plowed on.

"Do their feelings for you truly mean so little to you? While you sit here, wallowing in your misery, they are doing everything in their power to help you. The shinigamis have lied to their superiors, withholding information about the vaizards, the sexta espada, and your powers. Should their lies ever be exposed, more than just your life will be in danger. Will you let their efforts be in vain?"

He hated to use the guilt card on someone who was already being eaten away by it but it was the only way to motivate Ichigo. His concern for others would always come before his own desires. That was what made his partner so well-loved. It was also what made his partner suffer so much. A part of Zangetsu wished Ichigo would be a tad bit more selfish. Selflessness was good but only up to a certain point. Ichigo had long since crossed that line, fighting battles he really should have never needed to fight in but fighting them all the same because he would never turn his back on those he wanted to protect.

Yes, Ichigo could do with being more selfish. But not in this case. This was something he couldn't be self-indulgent about. Zangetsu could deal with letting his partner grieve for his losses. Sadness was an important and precious emotion, especially for people who were constantly surrounded by death and violence. It made them stronger, made them appreciate the value of those around them which in turn compelled them to get stronger to protect those people.

What he absolutely could not do was let the grieving destroy Ichigo.

"Your human friends have been healed and are waiting to return home with you" He hadn't wanted to use his final card but it was the only sure-fire way to get Ichigo to stand.

"Your family is waiting for you to return."

For a moment, Ichigo was motionless. But slowly, his head lifted from where it had been buried in the crook of his arm on top of his knees. He looked like a mess. Pale, wet, and utterly miserable were the best words to describe his face. But his red-rimmed eyes were the absolute worst. Never had Zangetsu seen such anguished sadness, especially on the face of someone as fortified as Ichigo.

He could almost feel the sharp daggers crushing and slashing at his heart in the same manner Ichigo probably felt only his partner was undoubtedly feeling far worse. The rain did him no justice. It was highly likely that the torrent lashing down upon them simply could not be strong enough to match the emotions Ichigo felt without destroying his inner world.

But Ichigo couldn't be coddled. Zangetsu knew the difference between helping someone and simply offering them pretty words that meant little to nothing. His partner didn't need a pity party. He needed his guidance, as his partner and mentor, to pull him back to his feet.

Zangetsu offered an aged and wrinkled hand.

He would always pull Ichigo back up, no matter what was weighing him down. Because he cared far too much to let go of the hand that reluctantly reached up and grasped his.

Two days later...

Urahara sipped a cup of tea, momentarily reveling in the delicious taste that could only be found in Ukitake's private garden. Beside him, Yoruichi was downing riceball after riceball as though she hadn't eaten in days. Both were sprawled on wooden chairs supplied by the fourth division looking for all the world as if they had just returned from a drinking session though they had yet to drink even a sip of alcohol.

Despite the playful couple's antics, their attention was fixed on Ichigo who, to the joy of friends and the private relief of many others, had awoken yesterday. If any of Ichigo's visitors had been caught off guard by the weariness and emotional pain reflected in every part of his body, they wisely hadn't mentioned it, choosing instead to repeatedly ask him how he was feeling or regaling him with words of gratitude and praise. There were even shinigamis he didn't know, fresh recruits from the academy who were desperate to see the hero of the battle against the evil Aizen Sousuke. The tired young man had dealt with several visitors before Unohana had scared them all away to let the poor vaizard get some more rest.

Urahara and Yoruichi had visited briefly then but they had booked the entire afternoon today in order to have a clearly needed conversation with their student that they hadn't had the time to have the other day.

"Ya sure know how to worry all o' us enough to turn us into a bunch o' panickin' headless chickens Ichigo."

Yoruichi's rich, silky voice elicited what was probably supposed to be a small smile that looked more like a very subtle twitch of Ichigo's lips.


She waved his apology off, a coco-colored hand ruffling his orange locks affectionately despite his slight scowl of displeasure as she said lightly, "Y'know I was just teasin'." Her cat-like golden eyes stared intently at him as she then asked, "You holdin' up okay?" She knew he wasn't okay, that he was from being okay, but she did want to know if he was handling everything as best as he could. Ichigo broke away from her gaze, choosing to look down at his lap where his hands were idly playing with his blanket. Pausing, he shuddered a bit before hastily stuffing them under the warm linen as he muttered, "I don't need to be stuck in bed anymore."

They both knew that wasn't what she meant and his actions told them more than enough that his healing process was shaky at best. Yoruichi pursed her lips together but didn't push the issue. Instead, she glanced at Urahara before leaning in closer and murmuring quietly, "Shinji wanted us to pass on a message to ya."

Pleased that she had his eyes meeting hers again albeit warily, she continued, "He's sorry he couldn't be here to help ya through this but we're lucky enough as it is that the captains left their involvement in the battle out o' their report. He said not to worry 'bout the kitty. They took 'im in an' they promised to keep 'im potty-trained since you won't be able to." Ichigo's smile managed to at least look like a grimace this time. It was a minor improvement from the slight twitch of lips they had been getting since yesterday.

"Shinji also says to take care o' yourself and that even if ya don't see each other again, yer still a part o' their family."

Finally, Ichigo graced them with something that bore the greatest resemblance to a tiny smile but it was soon gone, disappearing as quickly as if it had never existed in the first place. It was slightly disheartening to say the least.

They sat in a semi-uncomfortable silence for a while. Ichigo had withdrawn into himself again, his gaze resolutely fixed on anywhere but where his hands were hidden until he finally settled with looking outside his window at the lines of rooftops of Seireitei's buildings. He could see shinigamis running back and forth, responding to or shouting out orders and though it was chaotic, there was an underlying feeling of lightness and socialness.

The sight was both familiar and yet foreign. He had spent the past few days and nights reliving his private affair with his lover beneath the dark skies of the empty and lifeless world of Hueco Mundo that seeing the much more lively Seireitei was a bit unnerving.

He missed Sousuke's calm attitude and composure already.

"What did they do with So- with his body?"

His barely audible inquiry was answered by Urahara, his sudden change in wording going unmentioned. "His sword was confiscated by Soifon-taicho's division where they're trying -with minimal luck- to figure out why his zanpakuto is no different than an ordinary katana." The shopkeepers sounded mildly intrigued by this but then said in complete seriousness, "His body is being held in the twelfth division's barracks however Mayuri-san has been strictly forbidden from even so much as looking at his body."

His reassurance relieved some of the tension that had stiffened Ichigo's shoulders. Swallowing past the guilt that still threatened to strangle him, Ichigo looked at his mentor with conflicting eyes as he asked hesitantly, "Can I...?" The shopkeeper hated the crestfallen look on his face when he shook his head and replied, "Unfortunately, only the soutaicho and members of the Central 46 are allowed into his holding room."

Jaw clenching for a moment, Ichigo looked back out the window as he asked in a tight voice, "Why didn't you tell me about the new Central 46?" He missed the slightly embarrassed expressions on the two exiled shinigamis' faces as Yoruichi said apologetically, "Honestly Ichigo, it slipped our minds. When the kitty brought ya to the shop, we were more concerned about healin' ya an' seein' if you were willin' to fight in the war still. Then you disappeared to train with the vaizards and we got occupied with explainin' things to some people and deflectin' the attention of the rest. An' then the war rolled around and we were fighting' an' then we were gonna let the three new captains take over the fight for a while so e could pull you over to talk, see if we could somehow salvage the situation even at that point, but Aizen pulled that illusion stunt o' his an' before we knew it, everything' was over."

She stared intently at him, eyes and voice attempting to communicate the absolute truth of her words as she said, "I know those just sound like excuses but we really didn't mean to hide their existence from ya."

He was obviously still somewhat angry but most of his heat had disappeared at her admission. For the two craftiest shinigamis he knew to have forgotten something so important meant that they had been really distressed by his condition and then by fabricating reasons behind his absent presence to the shinigamis, and then from fighting for the same people who had so easily discarded them many years ago. It was hard to stay mad at people who, at the time, only had his best interests and concern for those involved in the war in mind.

But still...

He just didn't understand why things had gone the way they did. Yes, the new Central 46 was undoubtedly the same prejudiced and idiotic morons its predecessor was and Sousuke had probably only meant to protect him an their secret affair from their judging glares but...

Why the extreme measures he had taken?

Why kill people he cared about just to make him hate him?

Why make him want to kill him at all?

Why did one of them have to live and the other perish?

Ichigo hated how, in the end, he still didn't understand Sousuke as well as he felt he should have. It felt like he was betraying the man in some way and he wished, more than ever before, that he had done something differently. Or at the very least, somehow get a better grasp of who his lover had been.


Snapping out of his thoughts and struggling to focus on the shopkeeper when he said his name, Ichigo was surprised when the other man scooted closer and conspiratorially slipped a small indigo book onto his lap. It was old and slightly frayed with a thin layer of dust sticking to parts of it. Looking at it with muddle befuddlement, Ichigo hesitantly pulled his hands out from beneath his covers to lift the slim book up.

"Thanks I guess but... what is it Urahara-san?"

He made to open it but the enigmatic man stopped him. Smiling secretively, Urahara said, "It's one of the records from Soul Society's special library chambers. Technically, no one but those granted with special permission can go in and absolutely no one is allowed to take something out but well..." His smile became impish with mischief.

"If the intruder is too fast to be seen, then they can't complain. We also may or may not have fiddled with security a tiny bit~"

Ichigo's lips twitched into an amused smile weakly before he frowned again and said pointedly, "But that doesn't really tell me what it is." Yoruichi tapped an elegant coco finger on the book's faded front cover page as she said softly, "Its a record book of notable individuals. Every outstanding shinigami gets put into one of the many volumes they've got stored in there. There is a photo of their face and then a complete listing of the person's accomplishments and abilities along with a brief biography." Her gaze met his, a twinkle in her eyes.

"Every person who's been able to become a captain is inside there. This particular volume contains all thirteen original captains before a certain three deserted."

Eyes widening, Ichigo vaguely felt Urahara's hands guide his into opening the book to one particular page and for a moment, he couldn't breathe. Faintly, he felt Kyoka Suigetsu stir in the recesses of his mind, her unbridled joy seeping into his as they stared down at a painfully precious sight.

There, on the smooth off-white page, was Sousuke. He had those dorky huge glasses on and that awful fake smile plastered to his face and a barely noticeable calculating gleam in his eyes but it was Sousuke. Lightly touching the image with his fingertips as though it would shatter if he pressed any harder, words could not even begin to describe Ichigo's gratitude.

This was the only concrete image he had of Sousuke. Hueco Mundo hadn't had any cameras and everything that had transpired made finding a camera the last thing on his mind. He had had only memories and dreams and nightmares to rely on in order to see Sousuke's face.

But not anymore.

Looking back up at his mentors, Ichigo struggled to form the right words but in the end, settled for a pitiful, "Thank you." It felt far too weak, too insignificant, to truly represent the magnitude of his gratitude but the two older shinigamis gave him identical pleased looks. They understood what he was trying to convey.

Looking back down, he traced the familiar contours of Sousuke's face, wishing so very desperately that he could touch the actual thing but finding small satisfaction in just the picture alone. This was as close to Sousuke as he could get aside from the ring dangling from his neck and for now, it was enough.

He read through the description beneath, amused when he noticed the switch from the elegant author's writing to the messy scrawl of Urahara as the shopkeeper had taken the liberty of adding things about Sousuke that Soul Society hadn't known at the time. His writing was far more personal than the detached author and it was strange but not wholly unpleasant to learn about the man he loved through the eyes of another who regarded Sousuke as more of a rival in intellect than anything else.

Emotion was welling up inside him, threatening to become tears but he forced them away. Instead, he took a deep breath and murmured, "I'm not okay. I won't be for a really long time. I can't even look at my hands without seeing his blood on them... but I'll try. That's what this is really about right?"

Urahara feigned hurt, clasping a hand to his chest as though mortally wounded before saying in a sing-song voice, "I have no idea what you mean~" Shaking his head in mild amusement, Ichigo looked at the two exiled shinigamis and wondered briefly if this was what it was like to have parental figures: people who the could talk to about any and all sorts of things without having to worry about being judged. The two were hardly role-model material but they had helped him grow up in ways no one else had and for that, he was eternally grateful. His hands curled around the edges of the book. They said, with careless laughs, to just rip out the pages he wanted so that people wouldn't realize they were down one less record book in their catacombs.

After he had done so and Yoruichi returned the book, he talked to them for a while longer, relaxing in their comforting presences until Unohana slipped in and asked if he wanted to rest. The scary gleam in her eyes stated she had no qualms about 'gently persuading' the two shinigamis to leave if he needed sleep.

As the two grown up shinigamis cowered behind their chairs, Ichigo shook his head and said, "Actually Unohana-san, I was wondering if... if I could go home in a couple days." Shrinking back slightly in case she slipped into scary demon mode to keep him in bed, he blinked in surprise when she simply smiled and said amiably, "If that is what you want Kurosaki-kun, then you may. I believe the Human World may be the best place for you to fully recover. Soul Society unfortunately does not hold many happy memories for you."

Looking at the wise healer, Ichigo shook his head. "That's not true Unohana-san. I'm... really grateful to you guys. There are lots of things that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't met Rukia and then all of you. It's just... I want to see my sisters and my dad again. I wanted to see the others before I go so..."

Nodding in understanding, Unohana turned a bit as she said, "Then I will inform the soutaicho of your request," before she exited the room as quietly as she had entered.

Ichigo had noticed Urahara stiffen slightly at the mention of his dad and he was about to ask what that was about when his door banged open and Renji, Rukia, Ishida, and Chado came into the room. They swiftly began bombarding him with questions that he hastily tried to answer before they settled down and began talking animatedly about things he had missed: Rukia's promotion, a proper telling of the three new captains and the Central 46, the amount of paperwork that they had needed to do and still had to do, homework he had missed, and more.

He didn't notice Urahara and Yoruichi slipping sneakily out the door.

His return home was postponed for a significantly longer time than he had initially planned since after he was discharged from the fourth division, he was dragged left and right by people to visit and attend parties. He never really could work up the effort to make real smiles but only those who knew him well noticed and they mercifully didn't comment. Rukia had smacked him on the shoulder, told him to take as long as he needed to get through whatever he was struggling with so long as he came to her if he needed help, and then proceeded to drag him off to another gathering of his friends.

He had also taken a personal day to let himself come to terms with things and to try to force himself to get his act together to keep moving forward. Zangetsu silently promised his full support and though Shiro threatened him, the hollow's malice was far more mellow. Communicating with each other briefly during the unpredictable days spent in Hueco Mundo had bridged some of the gaps in their relationship though Shiro insisted otherwise. And Kyoka Suigetsu had spent the rest of that day telling him about her master in quiet, wistful tones.

By the time he was ready to leave, he was tired of, but internally happy, for the constant attention and presence of his friends; and he now felt he understood, at least a little bit more than before, that he knew who his lover had been. The former had prevented him from wallowing in despair, the latter had allowed him to address some internal issues with the guidance of his spirits. It was, more or less, the best way he could have coped with his loss.

It wouldn't be until the day when he and Ishida and Chado were saying their goodbyes at the mouth of the senkaimon that he vaguely recalled Urahara's strange behavior regarding his dad.

And it wouldn't be until several days after he returned home to see a teary Yuzu, a relieved Karin, and a idiotic happy Isshin sporting a mostly healed black eye that he learned that everything in his life was far from returning to normal.

That winter, it was cold and dreary and the weather did little to improve as days passed. Snow fell, blanketing the world in pearly whiteness and for a while, Ichigo had nightmares of that white being stained by red.

It had been a normal day, a week and a half after he returned home. Karin and Yuzu had gone out, leaving just him and Isshin in the house. He had been pulled away from gazing forlornly at the picture of Sousuke he had hidden in one of his favorite Shakespeare books, ironically Romeo and Juliet, when his dad had called him downstairs where he had been met with an unusually serious Isshin.

"Ichigo... we need to talk."

And just like that, the illusion that he lived a perfectly normal life with a relatively normal family was completely and utterly destroyed.

Several people arranged themselves in various postures before the single chair in the room where one person sat. The bright screen of a phone resting on the chair's arm barely illuminated the features of his face, its light not strong enough to penetrate the darkness of the room. Deep, purple eyes stared piercingly at everyone present behind the faint glow as he asked in a deceptively quiet manner, "The boy is gone?"

A voice crackled on the other end. "Yeah. I doubt he'll be back in Soul Society anytime soon."

Luscious lips curled into a smirk as a voluptuous woman murmured silkily in a husky, throaty voice, "Then shall we begin the first stage of the plan?"

Another male, short in stature but in possession of a great maturity, said sharply, "Not yet. We need to wait until Soul Society returns to a state of complete peace. Two or three years should suffice but no earlier than that." The woman shrugged carelessly but beside her, a childish voice rang out sullenly, "No fair! I don't wanna wait that long! I wanna play now!"

Someone pet her head on the head soothingly before saying quietly, "Patience. You can wait just a little bit longer." Robes swished as she adjusted a bundle in her arms while the child pouted and grumbled, "You can say that 'cause you're not the one still hiding."

Through the phone, the man spoke up again, his voice tinged with amusement, "We're gonna need ya t' come back soon by th' way. Yer 'headache' is startin' t' send yer lieutenant into a panic an' I think he's gonna run t' the fourth division soon."

Sighing, Nigami tossed her long blue hair back before straightening up, letting the white bundle in her arms unfold. "Tell Kira-san I just need another hour and then I'll be fine. I will be back by in Soul Society by then." Slipping her captain's cloak back on, she added after a moment of speculation, "When do you intend to begin Sagi?"

There was a moment where the faint sound of static was the only thing that could be heard before he replied casually, "I'm gonna start the game in two years. Just a li'l thing, nothin' major. An' then eventually, it'll all build up into somethin' more on it's own and that's when the rest o' ya can begin t' make yer own moves."

Collective sighs were heard throughout the room before the voluptuous woman asked lightly, "And our master's soul?"

They could practically hear the grin from the other side of the line.

"Central 46 has it nice an' hidden away from sight. Nobody's gonna notice when it vanishes sometime in the next couple o' years." Pausing, he then added, "We might be in a wee bit o' trouble if he still has some o' his memories when he wakes up though. Should I do anythin' about that?"

The question was directed at their temporary leader who, up until that point, hadn't spoken a word except for his initial question. Fingers deftly toying with the hilt of his blade, the man ordered crisply, "Take whatever measures you deem necessary Sagi. Just make sure it does nothing to impede our goals."

Sagi gave a cheerful "Yes sir!" before he addressed their final issue.

"And what of the boy?"

The man gripped his blade. "Keep an eye on him. We will be needing his power soon." He paused and then added, "Ah, just a moment, I think I have a rather... beneficial idea." His handsome face twisted into a wicked smirk.

"If we play our cards right, the boy will give us what we want with little trouble. And then," the room thrummed with dark ominous power, "we will finally claim all three worlds and rule them with our master."

Sagi chuckled before saying lightly, "Whatever floats yer boat Leader-san~ Imma gonna return to my work before Hisa-tan flips out again an' gets his ass sent to the fourth division again. I'll be in touch~" The line went dead and the faint beeping sounds from it echoed loudly in the quiet, restless room.

Just a little while longer.

Two more insignificant years of waiting and then they would finally be able to make their move. The humans were weak, the hollows lost and broken. They would take the next step and annihilate the shinigamis, the last obstacle that still stood between them and their goals. And then Soul Society, Hueco Mundo, and the Human World would all be within their grasp. The situation was ideal, the chess pieces almost in their places.

The shinigamis were foolish to think their worries were over after the Winter War.

Things were far from finished.

The end was only just beginning.


A/N: And that marks the end of True Wish! I will probably not start working on the sequel until 2013 begins (assuming the world still exists by that point) since I predict I will be very busy with school work and I want to take some time to work on my other stories.

The sequel will be much more different since it will involve significantly more characters than TW and there will be a greater variety of relationships and characters explored throughout it. It will be long, it will be hard T^T I hope people are interested and that all my wonderful readers are looking forward to it~ (wishful thinking but a writer can dream). I will vehemently refuse to answer any questions regarding it since I don't want to ruin anything (or say something I might change later) but I will post some mini-previews of the sequel on my profile if you want to check those out.

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to read this! It is my first completed multi-chapter fanfic and I feel an incredible amount of happiness (and a healthy dose of pride) that it was so well-received. I've worked out certain chinks (such as my inability to judge chapter lengths) and I've still got to work on others (like regularly updating). But thank you to all of you who put up with my inexperience and who took the liberty to review, favorite it, criticize it, etc~

I enjoyed reading each and every email I received that notified me of new readers or new reviews. Without them, I may not have been able to pull through with writing this.

Okay, I'm done babbling now. Again, thank you for reading True Wish and I hope you check out the sequel!

~Diamond Snowflake