Hey everybody! CZ here. This is my first story, so go easy on me. If not... go buy a kid's meal.

Disclaimer: I DO NOT own Bleach or any characters. If I did, Yoroichi would have a lot more screen time.

Speech:

"Regular Talk"

"Hollow Talk"

"Important talk"

Thoughts/Important Battle objects or skills


"Help me Kurosaki-Kun!"

Orihime's cry pieced through the haze Ichigo was currently fighting through. He opened his eyes a crack and saw her Santen Kesshun surrounding him. His body wouldn't move as he tried to get up.

She's calling me. I can hear her. Ichigo's thoughts all felt jumbled around, but this he was certain of. With what little strength he had, he willed his body to move, only to be denied again.

Stand up. He continued to try. Nothing wanted to move for him. His mind cried out to move, but his body would still reject the thought. The battle between Ulquiorra and Uryuu continued raging on before him. Ishida desperately fought with his remaining hand while Ulquiorra stood still and deflected all of his attacks. Ulquiorra glanced at Ichigo for a brief moment, eyes filled with only one saying: You will all die here. Without a second glance, he twisted his body in a full arc. His tail latched onto Ishida's leg and sent him flying through the air, landing at the edge of the pillar they stood on. At the same time, Ulquiorra brought out one more Lanza Del Relampagueo and launched it towards Orihime.

Orihime stares at the oncoming attack with shattered hope. She lowered her head and let the tears fall freely as she reached out for Ichigo. "Please…please save me…Kurosaki-Kun."

One final thought crossed Ichigo's mind as he blacked out once again.

I WILL PROTECT HER…

0~0

Ichigo's eyes shot open and turned in every direction, only to find a familiar world of endless skyscrapers. Only something was different this time. The skyscrapers that once held strong structures in this world now looked withered and decayed. The once deep blue sky that reined over this world was now an empty black. No stars twinkled in the emptiness, although a light seemed to be coming from somewhere. That was when he noticed it; dim lights were glowing from every window on the skyscrapers. A chill that never appeared before in this world now encased Ichigo in an invisible, icy cloak.

"Doesn't feel too good, does it?" Ichigo pulled a 180 and stared the owner of the voice. Sitting in front of him was without a doubt his inner hollow. Leaning against the white Zangetsu blade, the hollow stared at Ichigo with a look of absolute rage. "Then again, no one ever said that comfort awaits them at Death's Door..."

"You screwed up, big time Ichigo," the hollow continued without waiting for a reply. "When I gave you my power," the other Ichigo slowly stood and emphasized every word along the way, "I told you to make good use of it."

For some reason, Ichigo could not say anything. Along with the chill that surrounded him, the hollow's blazing gaze made his body rigidly fight against itself to do anything but listen and watch the inner being. The black Tensa Zangetsu in his hands seemed weighed down by cement blocks. His instincts told him to fight, but his body would not follow the commands.

The hollow stood tall in front of Ichigo, pure bloodlust radiating off of his body. He took one step forward and the sky lit up for a moment. Ichigo instinctively lifted his arm against the light and was rewarded with a sharp object ripping through his abdomen. He felt the blood rise towards his mouth, but held it in, until his body was pushed backwards as a fist slammed into his face. Ichigo spewed the blood from his mouth and gasped for air. He opened his eyes wide and focused back onto the hollow in front of him.

"I gave you my strength," the hollow seemed to pick up a playful tone as he vanished and reappeared next to Ichigo. He didn't even have time to move as the inner being grabbed the hilt of the white Zangetsu and ripped it out of Ichigo's body. The spell over Ichigo's body broke at once and he sprang into action. Using Shunpo, he jumped behind the hollow and swung for his head. Without looking, the hollow brought his arm back and blocked the attack with his own blade. He turned his head sideways and gave Ichigo a smirk. The hollow gripped Ichigo's other arm and flipped him over his head, leaving Ichigo in a crosshanded lock, having a stare down with the hollow. The smirk quickly turned into a frown as the hollow screamed out, "SO WHY THE HELL ARE WE DEAD! GETSUGA TENSO!"

The blade began glowing in the hollow's hand. The raw Spiritual Pressure emitting off of it seemed to suck Ichigo deeper into the grip lock he was currently in. Within seconds, Ichigo was engulfed inside of the Getsuga Tensho. As the attack faded, Ichigo now stood all alone, a large gash now dripping blood from his chest.

"Don't think I'm gonna go easy on you this time," the cool voice spoke out right near his ear. Ichigo tried to turn around, only to feel his entire chest blow out. He looked ahead of himself once more, now finding the hollow pointing at him from a distance, a Cero now dissipating from his hand. Ichigo was surprised that his hollow knew Cero, but was even more surprised by the gaping hole in his chest that identically resembled the one Ulquiorra gave him. Ichigo stared down at the hole for a moment before he noticed that he was still standing. After all, his chest was just blown out again! But oddly enough, no blood began to fall from the hole and no pain filled Ichigo's remaining body. Instead, he only felt a deep emptiness.

Ichigo shoved his Zangetsu into the ground and stood tall, checking every part to make sure he wasn't dreaming. He then glared at the hollow in front of him, who was now looking away from Ichigo.

"'Why don't I feel any pain? Why is this world like this? What happened to Old Man Zangetsu?' That's what you're thinking, right?" the hollow asked. It wasn't really a question; it was a statement. Ichigo opened his mouth, only to have the hollow use Sonido and jump directly in front of him. "The reason for all of that is simple," the hollow pointed towards the hole in Ichigo's chest before adding, "You already died, and everything died with you. This world, Zangetsu…and me."

"…," Ichigo had no idea what to say to that. The hollow stayed silent for a long time before looking at Ichigo again. Ichigo in turn noticed that the hollow had changed as well. His hair was grown out to the small of his back, and in the center of his chest nestled the all too familiar hole of a hollow. His yellow eyes stared out at Ichigo in rage, disbelief, and… sorrow?

"You failed…," the hollow gave a sarcastic smile and snickered, "the King failed disastrously, and the horse is forced to suffer as well." With another Sonido, the hollow ended up sitting back on the ground, leaning against the white Zangetsu once more.

"The reason you are still here is because you died." Ichigo got lost at this point, and the hollow chuckled before continuing.

"You are at the crossroads of death. The line between human and spirit. This is where you go before you officially separate from your body and live on as a Spirit. Since we are still here, even after all that damage you've taken, that stubborn will of yours is trying to get us back." The hollow paused for a moment to let Ichigo soak this in before he continued.

"The real question is, what did you think happens now? You lost to Ulquiorra. Heh, that Battle Instinct of yours isn't all that great, is it Ichigo? Even if you beat him now, you would still have three others you have to deal with, each stronger than him. The way I see it, there is only one way that you can beat all of them..." The hollow let the words hang in the air before he gave Ichigo a look of absolute excitement. His mouth twisted back into a sly grin as he held out his hand to Ichigo.

"Become an Arrancar, Kurosaki Ichigo…"