Ok people, before this begins, lets clarify a few things (PLEASE ACTUALLY READ THIS!):

1) As I said before, this is a sequel for "Everlasting Bonds" you need to have read that one to understand this one.

2) You'll also need to know at least in general terms what happened in the manga up to chapter 423, and have seen the "Fade to Black" (this isn't absolutely necessary, but helps understand a few things). The Bount arc, ovas and the "Diamond Dust Rebellion" movie are mentioned as well but only in passing, so you don't really need to know much about them. Still, there'll be parts where I'll break canon, even the canon included in the parts I'm actually using for this fic, it cannot be helped.

3) I mentioned before this fic was complicated, that's because I'll technically be telling two stories at the same time, one that happened in the past (you'll only be seeing pieces of that one, a little at the beginning of every chapter), it may seem strange and confusing but eventually you'll understand its importance. Oh, the lyrics in italics will mark what is part of the past and what of the present (the past will be after the first set of lyrics and end before the second); also, for those interested, the song in question is Neverending Story by Within Temptaion. I found it fittting with the story that I will be telling.

4) I took a few liberties in using english/japanese words for both abilities and ranks; this won't be too important, except in the use of a handful of terms, in which the language in which the word is told will show either the importance the person is giving to that title, or how close they are (you'll see it eventually).

5) There'll be a lot more pairings in this fic. Ichiruki remains the main focus, but not the only one, you'll also be seeing Ishihime, ChadTatsu, HitsuKarin, UraYoru, ByaOFC, UkiOFC, KyouNan, and a few others (cannon and non-cannon) I can't show here or I would be ruining the plot.

6) A little warning, I'm being considerably more...liberal, with the cursing in this story. Couldn't help it. Ichigo, and a few others just insisted on talking that way. I'm still keeping this fic as T though, I mean, Kubo did worse in canon. In any case, if you're old enough to watch the anime, you're old enough to read this.

7) Finally, Your questions and doubts will be welcomed, as well as your constructive criticism, even if you just want to say you liked something or disliked something. Also, if I don't answer a particular question that's probably because the answer will be coming in the story itself.

Everlasting Loves

(Sequel to: Everlasting Bonds)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach…something you people should know already if you read the prequel to this fic…if you've read any fic, really. Anyway, here it is, the long promised sequel to "Everlasting Bonds". Hope you enjoy.

Proof of Worth

We're part of a story, part of a tale

We're all on this journey

No one is to stay

Where ever it's going

What is the way?

~Some Time, Some Place~

Soul Society and Hueco Mundo didn't always exist as such; at one point the two were just one world, the Spiritual World, where all souls went after departing from the Living one; Hell was reserved for the demons and creatures that could almost be considered as evil-incarnate, while Heaven was little more than a beautiful dream.

And then things changed; living or dead, it's in the nature of all creatures to fight, whether it be for survival or power; and even just one such being existing will begin a chain of events that once begun just can't be stopped.

That's how the Spiritual Wars began; some called them the Eternal Wars; because the time came when no one had any idea anymore as to when it had begun. People would die and wake up to the war, choose a side and spend their whole afterlife fighting for it, whether it be a day or centuries; it's hard to tell, since no one really cared about measuring time.

Eventually things began changing, as those most proficient in the arts of war began gaining powers of some sort; and then the small groups began banding together according to those powers, until there were only two sides left in the war. Still, that didn't make the war itself end, it continued, for a very long time…

Until they came. No one had any idea where they came from, or where they'd been before, only that they were entirely different from those fighting the war, on both sides, they were much more powerful, and their powers…they were a mix of those used by both teams.

Others tried to do the same thing, mix powers; none succeeded; most died, a few ended up insane, and among those, there were some that ended up attacking warriors of both side in some kind of mad-rage.

And still there they were, the two who held powers from both sides; those that came to know them called them Kimera, in the singular, as if they were just one individual, and they might as well have been, considering that they were never apart.

Soon Kimera were no longer alone, people began following, from both groups, offering their alliances. Those who just wanted the Kimera to chose a side and fight for them were sent away, while those who just wanted the war to end once and for all were welcomed by their side, as friends, as Nakama…

Eventually the war ended, even though neither side truly won, instead they were separated, permanently. With the help of the Nakama, Kimera raised a barrier that divided the Spiritual World in two, leaving each group of warriors on a different side of it. And so Soul Society and Hueco Mundo came to be.


It had taken such power for the Kimera and the Nakama to split the worlds that as soon as it was done they fell into a state of stasis; in which they remained for a very long time.

When they woke up, the world had changed.

Soul Society was no longer a barren wasteland in which groups came together to live in caves or ditches. Instead it looked like a human country, separated in districts and organized. At the very center of it were those who, during the war, had proven to be the best with the powers they had manifested. They all received the Kimera and the Nakama as what they were: Heroes. The group's help and input was asked in regards to bettering the training for those less experienced in the ways of war, and in the organization of everything.

It was the birth of a new world, something that seemed closer to the dream humans used to have of Heaven than what the Spiritual World had once been.

But it wasn't really perfect, as the Heroes could see soon enough, not everyone liked the fact that it was those with special powers that gave the orders, especially when their numbers were so small when compared to those who didn't. Another war couldn't be risked, not after everything that had happened with the other one, not when they were just getting on their feet, so when it was proposed that the Kimera became the Highest authority, and exercised enough of it to bring order, they accepted.

King and Queen, that's what everyone began calling them: the Spirit King and his Queen; with the Nakama as their court. They didn't like it, not really, the title and protocol seemed to serve only to disconnect them from everyone else, those they'd fought to protect. But they knew it was necessary, so it was allowed.

After a while, a few years according to the counting of time they were now doing, there were enough people trained in the special, spiritual powers, to form an army. The King and Queen, being pacifists deep down, thought having an army was just calling for trouble, but even their closest Nakama agreed that it was necessary. Even with Hueco Mundo and Soul Society separated, the Warriors from the other side were powerful, and if they ever found the way to cross over, they needed to be prepared. Especially when so many of those who lived in the Soul Society had stopped being warriors right after the barrier had been raised, leaving only those with special abilities to fight if there was ever the need.

Shinigami, was the name they'd given themselves, a few of the warriors who still retained memories of the Living World knew what that word meant, it was part of one of the many legends one of the human societies had, one which spoke about Death-Gods. It seemed presumptuous, for anyone to claim that title, especially ones who still weren't the strongest ones around, no one could be as strong as the King and Queen, or even their Court; but then again, with their positions such a thing was supposed to be evident.

So the name stayed, and the Shinigami were soon organized in several Squads, according to their duties. The Queen and King had forbidden them to ever try and cross into Hueco Mundo, such attempts would only manage to weaken the barrier that had been raised. Still, there were some among the Shinigami for whom it wasn't enough the duty to protect, they wanted to fight, they had been part of a war for so long they didn't know any other way to live.

A solution was found for them, as they learnt through some new residents that while the Warriors from the other side couldn't get to theirs, they'd somehow found a way to get to the Living World, and were fighting there, against individuals that had no knowledge of other worlds, that had no way to protect themselves. So it was agreed that Shinigami would be regularly sent to the Living World to fight against those other Warriors; soon they even had a name for them, one that would justify their fighting against them, even against those few that seemed to cross into the mortal plane just out of curiosity and no ill-intent. The Shinigami then began calling the other warriors: Hollows.

The King, Queen and their Court knew that a moment would come where that new stage of the war would become as natural to everyone as the previous one had been; in the end they hadn't managed to stop the war, only change its rules. But they didn't have time to worry about that, for another situation had been brought to their attention.

Soul Society was in peril once again, and this time in an unexpected way: due to their own King and Queen. They were Kimera, they were creatures that mixed the powers of the now dubbed Shinigami and Hollow…such great power…it was dangerous.

When they had created the barrier, the groups on each side had created a balance, since the natures of each of their powers were so different. It was the reason why no one else seemed to be able to hold such powers, they were too different to be controlled; and yet somehow the Kimera managed, but they were the only ones. The problem now was that the reality they had created upon separating the Spiritual World in two could no longer hold them, their power was affecting the balance, their mere presence was just too much.

It took time, but eventually a decision was reached, the Kimera could no longer remain in Soul Society, the only way to be sure that the fabric of existence wouldn't rip by their mere presence was if they were to move into another plane, a pocket of reality that would exist in a middle point between Hueco Mundo and Soul Society.

The King and Queen agreed, after all, everything they had done up to that point had been to help protect everyone; and if they were told that to do that they needed to abandon their world, they would do it too. But the Nakama wouldn't let them leave alone, in the long time since the group had come together they had come to see each other as family, and as such they would remain, they would all be leaving.

The leader of the Shinigami thought it would be better to make a spectacle of the situation, he wove a story about the King and his court moving into a different plane which was supposed to be True Heaven, something only a handful of chosen ones could reach, something all the Shinigami would aspire to, even if it was unlikely most of them would ever see it.

So it was done. The Kimera, the Nakama and the Court moved to another dimension, some of them leaving their own families behind, families who in the times to come would gain power, would be considered as noble, simply because of a decision one of their founders made, to sacrifice everything for friendship and loyalty.

And the leader of the Shinigami gained power, with the Kimera and their Court gone he was the most powerful individual in Soul Society; a position he believed himself to be deserving of. He, like so many other Shinigami, lived for the war, and was against the peace-keeping attitudes the King and Queen had, with them gone Soul Society became his to command. And with the rules that had been implemented, he knew that nothing short of the end of the world would ever bring the Kimera back…yes, Soul Society had become his, all his.

We're part of a story, part of a tale

Sometimes beautiful and sometimes insane

No one remembers how it began.

The raven-black haired, amethyst-eyed lieutenant of the 13th Squad of the Gotei, Kuchiki Rukia, was having lunch with one of her best-friends: the red-haired, cinnamon-eyed captain of the 3rd Squad: Abarai Renji. She had just finished explaining to him the reason why, despite the fact that her beloved had gotten to Soul Society almost a year before, and the two had been officially engaged since that day, they had yet to marry.

"Let me see if I understand this." Renji told her when she was done. "You and Ichigo are already engaged, your brother approves the match and has made it impossible for the Elders' complaints to stop you; and still you haven't married."

Rukia nodded.

"And that's not all." Renji continued. "We, everyone who matters really, knows Ichigo is powerful enough to be a captain, he's even more powerful than most captains; yet instead of acting like an official shinigami, he's chosen to go to the Academy."

Rukia nodded once again.

"That's insane!" Renji cried out.

"That's Ichigo." Rukia reminded him with a faint smile.

"In this case it's the same thing." Renji insisted.

"Come on Renji, you must have heard the talking, how most people don't believe him to be worthy." Rukia said, this time with a hint of annoyance. "They keep whispering, about how unworthy Ichigo is of marrying a noble…" she huffed. "As if they even cared that I'm a Kuchiki! Of course, there's the fact that they hate me being one, if they could they would use this as an excuse to finally cast me from the family. But even when that fiasco with Aizen and my almost-execution happened, not even that was enough for them to send me packing; not that anything stopped them from expressing their extreme displeasure at me and the 'black mark' I had done on the Kuchiki name."

"Your brother will never allow it." Renji shook his head.

"No he won't." Rukia nodded. "And even though the Elders hate it when things don't go their way; they would never dare act against my brother."

"But, I don't understand, Ichigo is a noble." Renji practically hissed. "From a family of a high standing, for what little I know. What are they complaining about then?"

"They don't know that."

"What? Why? Are you two purposefully making things all the more complicated?"

"It's not that. You should know Ichigo by now, he wants the Elders to accept our marriage, not because of who his father is, but because of who He is!" she sighed tiredly. "It's the same thing with regards to him being a shinigami. It doesn't matter how many captains, lieutenants and other high officers know him to be powerful, to be capable; the average shinigami has never seen him in action, they just know him as the ryoka, or as the betrothed-of-Kuchiki; they think he's being offered things just because of who I am. He doesn't want that, he wants to prove he earned the right to it, that he deserves to be an official shinigami."

"Hence going to the Academy, with a bunch of wet-nosed brats who haven't the slightest idea of how the world really works."

"Renji…we were two of those 'wet-nosed' brats at some point, remember?"

"Yes! Sixty years ago! I would like to believe we've learnt a thing or two since. But lets be honest Rukia, we'd really no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we first entered the Academy. Ichigo…he's the exact opposite, he's already been through a war, he's the hero of the Winter War! The savior of Soul Society…of all the Worlds really!"

"You know that, I know that, and the highest ranking officers; but most of the average shinigami don't. They know we won the Winter War, they know the traitors were defeated, that peace returned; but they have no idea who was responsible for that." She smiled slightly. "I think Ichigo actually likes that, the anonymity I mean. And he believes that if he goes through the Academy everyone will see he is a capable shinigami."

"At least he doesn't plan to be there for all six years."

"No, he'll finish in a few months, a little less than a year. And even then he's holding back a lot, so as not to call too much attention."

"I thought he would actually have trouble with Kidou, but you said he's doing fine…"

"Well, he did have about eight years or so of theoretical knowledge…"

"You mean you were training him all those years!"

"Not precisely training him since, you know, he didn't really have his powers. But we did talk about the future, how he wanted to be an official shinigami, and for that he would need kidou, and the theory; so I taught him everything I knew. He may have never used a kidou spell before last autumn, but he's long known all the chants and the theory behind them. He only has trouble using the lower-level ones, his power is still too great to control."

Renji shook his head with a sigh; he should really have been expecting something like that; after all, this was Ichigo they were talking about!

He was about to say something else when suddenly he noticed a change in his oldest friend, like some sort of dark grey aura (nearly black) that was enveloping her. She blinked a few times and he could see how one of her eyes began shifting, the usually white sclera turning black, while the bright violet iris changed to yellow.

"Rukia!" Renji cried out in shock.

Rukia didn't reply to him, instead bringing a hand to her temple, the same side as her changing eye, at the same time as a few locks of her raven-black hair began lightening in color, ever so slowly going through several shades of grey until settling in an ashen tone.

"Dammit, not now…" He heard her whisper in a very low tone.

Renji watched in confusion and at least slight-fear as Rukia's half-closed eyes seemed to glaze over, her reiryouku began shifting almost violently, between the usual shinigami aura and the more darker one that was enveloping her; one of her hands was still on her temple, while the other was holding onto something tightly, something connected to a length of red-ribbon around her neck, the redhead had seen the ribbon a few times before, but had no idea what may be attached to it.

It took several minutes, but finally Rukia's reiryouku stopped fluctuating, all her hair went back to its natural raven-black, and when her eyes opened fully, both were back to their usual bright-violet; except the expression in them wasn't as easy and carefree as it had been before, instead it was serious and guarded.

"Rukia," Renji called her, almost carefully. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Rukia tried to dismiss what had happened.

"Fine, do you have any idea how you looked just a second ago?" Renji almost snapped.

"I know, lighter hair, a yellow and black eye, and the dark aura." Rukia enlisted with almost unnatural calmness. "It's normal, considering the circumstances."

"Normal?" Renji's patience, which wasn't very much to begin with, was running thin. "And what circumstances are you talking about?"

"You know Ichigo and I are connected, you were there when Nii-sama explained it." Rukia reminded him as she began walking away.

"Yes." Renji nodded. "Red-string-something…What does that have to do with anything?"

"Akai-ito, the red string of fate." Rukia corrected him. "Ichigo's soul and my own are connected, it's how we met during the years he had no reiryouku, how he knew when I was in danger, and how I knew it the moment he died. If I hadn't known, if I hadn't gotten there in time he would have totally disappeared…and I…well, we're not actually sure how that would have affected me. The point is, we're still connected; in fact, it's even stronger now that we're both spirits and in the same plane."

"So, what just happened now, was because of Ichigo." Renji deduced.

"Yes," Rukia nodded. "He's mad…no, that's an understatement, he's beyond furious. So much he nearly went Espada on those around him just now. What you saw was a way to deal with his excess of power, by siphoning it into me. We've done it before, like during that fight on North Rukongai last month…"

"When you used that new power?" Renji inquired, very interested now.

"It wasn't a new power, nor was it mine." Rukia pointed out, turning to him briefly. "It was Ichigo's…Getsuga Tensho."

"Wha…" Renji stopped altogether, shocked.

Rukia stopped walking too, they had almost reached the Kuchiki Estate by then anyway, and Ichigo wasn't there yet; probably wouldn't be for a few minutes, not until he could walk among shinigami without making them all go nuts thinking an Espada had invaded Seireitei. Which, all in all, meant she had at least a few minutes to explain things better to Renji; beginning with what had happened on that patrol a month before.


Rukia had just finished her paperwork for the day when a lower-seat had rushed in in a panic.

"Kuchiki-fukutaichou!" He cried out as soon as he was inside the building.

Instincts born of months fighting at the frontlines of war had Rukia jumping over her desk and with Shirayuki unsheathed and already in shikai in a matter of seconds, she reached the door of her office at the same time the younger shinigami reached it, making it so he almost ended up spearing himself on her sword; would have if it hadn't been, yet again, due to her instincts.

For a handful of seconds the shinigami stood there, gaping at her sword and her posture, he obviously hadn't been expecting such a reaction from her. No matter how many times they heard that she'd participated in the Winter War, that she'd fought and even defeated Espada on her own, most people couldn't help but see a small and fragile-looking young woman.

It was at such times that she complained about the fact that so many shinigami were never really in the Winter War. Yes, they were fortunate not to end up traumatized, or dead; but how was she supposed to lead a division that kept seeing her as a weak and useless pseudo-noble?

"You were looking for me." She spoke in a cold voice. "I supposed it was an emergency."

The officer flinched but she ignored that, she couldn't help the tone of her voice; she'd to block her feelings when in battle, it was the only way to handle it at times (like when the enemy decided to use the image of a man you admired so much against you…)

"Right!" The officer got his bearings back. "There's an emergency Kuchiki-taichou, North Rukongai, district 47, at least half a dozen hollows were spotted a few minutes ago; I was told by fifth-seat Yashio to come get you, it seems one or two of them might be Adjuchas…"

Rukia didn't need hear anymore, there was no way any shinigami below lieutenant, or those few who had fought in the war, could be expected to stand against an adjuchas. Even a fifth seat like Yashio had no hope of doing much more than buying some time, she just hoped it would be enough for her to get there.


She arrived to the 47th District of North Rukongai just in time to save Yashio from a hit that would have definitely killed him; he was badly injured already, but Rukia supposed he had a good chance of surviving. She guessed that the rest of the patrol must have dealt with the other hollows, because there only seemed to be the one adjuchas left. Luck seemed to be on her side. In any case she decided to get rid of it right away and went straight to battle it.

She went straight to Shirayuki's third dance; knowing that it wasn't the time to be flashy or try and show off, the sooner she got rid of the hollow the better.

She managed to almost immediately freeze and break off one of the adjuchas's arm; but it seemed to be for nothing when it began regenerating; it took him a while, but it was done.

Rukia should have known it wouldn't be that easy.

A few minutes later she felt a spark in the back of her mind; she guessed Ichigo must be having free-period or meditation class because he'd just connected with her; there was also the chance that he just didn't care enough about his current class and preferred to check up on her, especially since he must have obviously felt the moment she went into battle.

It was he who first sensed the other black presence approaching her, since she was too busy with the enemy in front of her.


The scream was directly in her soul, and enough to make instinct take over as she practically disappeared from the spot she had been in a fraction of a second before, reappearing several yards away, sword at the ready; it still took a few seconds for her conscious mind to realize the change in circumstances, the fact that she now had two enemies to deal with instead of one, and if she didn't hurry Yoshio could either end up losing too much blood or being attacked by one of the hollows while she busied herself with the other…

'If I could only attack, and hopefully destroy both of them with one attack…' Rukia complained to herself.

But she knew that not even her strongest attack was capable of such a feat; maybe in Bankai, but she needed authorization from the soutaichou to call on such power during times of peace, and there just wasn't enough time!

*You do…have the power…*

It took a few seconds for Rukia to hear the voice, and realize who it belonged to.

"Ichigo?" She called out-loud, momentarily confused.

*I'm inside you…midget…* Ichigo replied to her. *Hope you…value the effort…Talking to you like this…not the easiest thing I…I've ever done.*

'What do you mean I do have the power?' Rukia went back to the matter at hand.

She had but to think the question, as Ichigo was the one making the effort to reach her and not the other way around.

'You know none of Shirayuki's dances can deal the kind of damage I need to deal at once for the plan to work.' Rukia insisted.

*No, Shirayuki doesn't…but Zangetsu does.* Ichigo replied.

'Zangetsu? But…?' Rukia had no idea what he was talking about.

*Come on midget, think…* Ichigo berated her jokingly. *Remember, the akai-ito…What's mine is yours…quite literally…Zangetsu is as much a part of my soul as he's of yours…same of Shirayuki and…well, everyone inside us …use his power…the old-man says it's alright…*

'How do I do this?' She asked, already raising her sword to prepare.

*Just focus on what Zangetsu's power…looks and feels like…* Ichigo instructed. *The old-man says…he says the rest should come to you…Good luck midget.*

With that the conversation ended, Ichigo would need all his focus to let his own power connect to Rukia so she could channel it through her own zanpakutou, while Rukia then would have to try and control that power enough to actually attack; not an easy thing to achieve definitely, he'd to wonder if such a thing had even been attempted before.

Rukia too focused, she could feel it the moment Zangetsu's powers were poured into her soul; it took a great effort on her part, but she was able to gather all that power and shoot it from the blade of her own zanpakutou, in the direction of the two suddenly frozen adjuchas.

As comical as the sight might have been to an uninjured onlooker, the adjuchas hadn't been frozen through ice, but fear; the moment they felt the female shinigami's power skyrocket they knew they had chosen the wrong place to feed; and yet, it was already too late to back down.

The blue fang of energy to come out of Shirayuki's blade was a shade or two lighter than when sent by Zangetsu; but that didn't lessen it's power any as it reached the two adjuchas; destroying one and seriously wounding the other.

Rukia cursed under her breath, as powerful as her soulmate may be, she just couldn't control an attack that wasn't her own, especially since it contained a power she wasn't used to having to handle. While both Zangetsu and Shiro had given her a 'helping hand' of sorts at different points during the time they had taken refuge in her soul, it was nothing compared to what had just been attempted.

It was certainly lucky that Renji had made his appearance right then, having been on his way to visit Rukia and hearing the panicked officer mumbling about the attack; the redhead released his own zanpakutou and used it to finish the remaining hollow in no time at all.

"Rukia!" He cried out as soon as he was done with the enemy. "Are you alright?"

"Just fine." She answered, even as she fell to her knees in exhaustion.

Renji went almost crazy at the tired expression in her face, she hadn't looked like that since the Winter War; but she just ignored him, instead focusing on recovering enough to get back on her feet. She knew Ichigo would be ditching classes as soon as he could and she hoped to meet him in her office and not the middle of Rukongai, it wouldn't do to seem weak after all the effort she'd put in proving she could be as strong as him and any of their other nakama.

*I know you're strong…* He heard Ichigo whisper in the back of her mind. *And even if you weren't I couldn't possibly love you any less…See you in your office midget.*

Rukia couldn't help but blush. It was so strange; how Ichigo could appear so cool, almost cold and detached most of the time; and yet it also seemed to come so natural to him to say he loved her, at least when not in public, then he became inexplicably shy. But then again, so did she, the thought came to mind as she reached into the front of her kosode, for the small heart-pendants only she knew were there, while a few people had seen the red silk ribbon at some point or another, to none had she shown what hung from it, it was her best kept secret as well as her most precious possession.

'Love you too, strawberry.' She sent back.

***End of Flashback***

Renji remained in silence for a while, as he processed the fact that Rukia, his life-long friend, was capable of using someone else's power, and in such an effective way too.

"So, you don't have a hollow or anything?" Renji wanted to confirm.

"It depends on what you consider 'having a hollow'." Rukia answered.

Renji's eyes widened at the implications.

"No, I don't have a split personality that threatens to take over me at any given time." Rukia elaborated. "But I do have the access to some, most, of the hollow abilities, much like Ichigo does, if I use too much then my eyes and hair change like you saw a few minutes ago, except that there's no mask, unless I call for it, and even then it's not complete." She sighed. "I think it was something to be expected, really. After all, I had the Hougyoku inside of me for months, and even if that wasn't enough, Shiro resided in my soul for nine years, and even before and after that, my soul has been bound to Ichigo."

"You know, that makes me wonder something." Renji interrupted that line of thought quite suddenly. "How long have you and Ichigo been bound?"

"For as long as we know…" Rukia answered immediately. "How can you expect us to really know? We've been conscious of this bond for almost a decade, since that time when no one remembered me but him…before that it never occurred to us. Though, I do remember Ichigo saying that he had the impression we had been bound for a very long time, maybe lifetimes even…Who knows? Right now neither do I know, or care, we are bound, we love each other, we're going to be together for as long as our strength allows, that's enough for both of us."

Renji didn't answer to that; he'd rarely seen such passion in his oldest friend; and if he thought about it he realized that the orange-haired man was always involved. At some point he may have believed himself in love with Rukia; but he'd long since realized that while he did love her, he wasn't in love with her; she was a sister to him, someone to cherish and protect, but not the person he would consider his other half. He hadn't really met such a person yet.

Before anything else could be said Renji felt briefly as if the air had been violently pushed out of his lungs, just a fraction of a second before he found Ichigo standing right beside them. A few strands of his hair looked white, his brown irises seemed to have yellow rings around them and he was a bit too pale to be healthy; other than that, and the huge amount of compressed reiatsu that enveloped him, everything seemed to be in order.

What surprised Renji the most was that, while he was having a bit of trouble standing in such close proximity with the orange-haired man without ending up breathless or passed out; Rukia seemed to be having no problem at all, she even went as far as pulling him to her in a tight embrace, and her expression showed no reaction from the strong reiatsu. It made the redhead wonder if it was related to their being bonded, or if maybe his oldest friend was that strong, stronger than he imagined possible.

"Ichigo, shh…calm down, it's alright, everything's alright." She whispered into his ear.

She was trying to convey peace and calmness, though inside, Rukia was anything but; she'd never seen her beloved like that, never had he allowed himself to seem vulnerable before anyone but her, and their 'tenants'. And while he wasn't being that expressive, Renji knew Ichigo enough to realize something was bothering the younger man.

"Why did we do it, Luna?" Ichigo asked out of the blue. "Why did we save such corrupted individuals? Such a fucked up world?"

"Not everyone is like that." Rukia reminded him softly. "You need to remember that, Sol. Besides, it's not like you and I, or any of our friends, fought for them, not really, we fought for each other, to protect those we care for; to give everyone a better future…"

"What kind of future can there be when all they keep of the past is lies?" Ichigo demanded.

It took all Rukia had not to flinch; while she was used to his temper, he had never been like that to her, not when he was being serious anyway; it made her worry about what may have happened even more. Only something really bad could have affected her beloved so much…

"Is this what we fought so hard for?" Ichigo commented, morosely. "Is this world what we sacrificed so much of our existence for? Is anything even worth it?"

"S…Ichigo…" Rukia gasped.

She really didn't know what to say, while she'd had her pessimistic 'episodes' in the past, he'd always been the one to get her back to the right path, he'd always been so full of conviction, of strength, of hope…all that seemed to be gone now, and she didn't know how to help him, didn't know if there was even a way to; and that scared her, more than anything had before…

Hello, just so you know, chapters in this fic will be much longer than in the prequel. Thus far, this is actually the shortest one I've written for this. Other than that detail, not much more to say for the time being, I said most of it during the initial notes, which, if you haven't read please go do it now, it'll make some of the things I'm doing a bit more comprehensible.

So, all that's left is the teaser, here goes:

"What happened in the Winter War, what really happened, is confidential." Renji explained. "No one but those who survived it are to know the truth of it."

"The truth…" Suddenly Rukia understood. "The humans' involvement…The ryoka invasion…"

"Is just that." Renji confirmed. "As far as everyone but those of us who were there and survived the final battle know, the ryoka were expelled from Soul Society after the traitors revealed themselves, and that was it."

All that and more coming next week (or earlier, depends on the reviews and my time) in: Lies, Truths and Secrets

Ja ne!