Hey everybody! CZ is back! I'm sorry for the wait. For anyone who cares why, please read the first author's note. Thanks a lot for sending me your comments. I asked for 5, and I got 8! Within the first two days I might add! Thanks again! ON WITH THE SHOW! XD

Disclaimer: I DO NOT own Bleach or any characters. If I did, that stick Yamamoto always carries would go up his a**. At least then he would have a reason for being such a d*** to everyone.

Speech:

"Regular Talk"

"Hollow Talk"

"Important talk"

Thoughts/Important Battle objects or skills

Author's Note!

Still here? Ok then. Basically, I had massive writer's block and procrastination. I could not think of anything good to write, and I got too lazy to think. That is how the first two weeks went. I wanted a vacation, and I got it. However, during that time, I continued to go on my computer. I messed up pretty big when my computer got a virus. Along with that, I've had my computer for more than 6 years now. We all decided that it was time to move on. After saying my goodbyes, I finally got rid of it. So the point is that I do not have a computer at the moment. I wrote this chapter from a library. I had a time limit for every use, so it became spanned across many days. Until I get a replacement computer, I will be having problems posting up. I will continue to work hard so that I can give you the best story I can. It will just take a little longer until further notice.

Please read before reading chapter!

For anyone who wants a lot of action from this chapter, don't bet on it. This chapter is my first attempt at a few things, such as really minor comedy and my very first attempt at a minor fluff. Don't expect much. Flames will be allowed. If you liked this chapter, it would boost my esteem to hear about it.


Both the boy and the hollow stood there for what felt like an eternity. Blood had started to bubble around Zangetsu and drip down Ulquiorra's neck. Said hollow had regained his calm composure, but inside, he felt uneasy at this new predicament.

The two onlookers just stared at their friend in awe. Neither of them had noticed Ichigo's movements at all. Ishida, however, focused more on what his ally had just said.

Arrancar? What is he saying? The Quincy thought to himself. It was at that moment that he realized that the girl beside him had gone silent. Turning to look at her, he noticed that her hands hung loosely at her sides. Sitting up on her knees, the healer was staring at the orange-haired Soul Reaper with tears running down her face. Her skin had turned pale and her lips were parted slightly as if releasing a final breath.

"Inoue-san?" Ishida called out to her. Her only acknowledgement to him was the slightest twitch in her fingers. Her mind seemed to be focused on something else entirely. After a moment, she finally whispered something only he could hear.

"Kurosaki-kun…"

"What do you mean by that, Kurosaki Ichigo?" Ulquiorra asked the question on all of their minds. The humor in Ichigo's face vanished, quickly being replaced with a look of confusion.

He brought his free hand up to his chin in a 'Thinker' posture and seemed to lose focus. Ulquiorra took that chance and tried moving parts of his body. He had taken heavy damage from the hollowfied Ichigo. Most of his vital organs were gone and they weren't coming back. Ulquiorra felt the blade at his throat move very slightly, giving him the opportunity he needed.

Charging up a Lanza, he gripped it tight in his hand and swung free of Ichigo's ensnarement. He turned around, now using the Lanza as a sword, and prepared to strike.

"Were you always this slow?" Ichigo's voice teased from behind. Ulquiorra froze in place and slowly turned his head. Ichigo had his back towards him and stood with his sword lying on his shoulder. The blade stretched out so long that the tip rested on the Arrancar's own shoulder. The young Soul Reaper turned his head sideways as well and gazed back at the fourth Espada with stare of indifference.

Impossible. How did I miss at such a close range? Ulquiorra asked himself. It was at that moment that Ulquiorra finally noticed an empty feeling where his arm was. Taking a quick glance, his eyes widened in shock as he realized his arm was now gone.

"Are you looking for this?" the orangehead asked. Looking back at the Substitute, he felt his unease rise as the Soul Reaper brought his free hand up, now clutching the hollow's severed arm in its fingers. His severed arm was still holding the Lanza within its grasp. Ichigo's indifferent frown transformed into a confident smirk, and he began to shake the arm gently as if he were taunting the Espada. Then, without warning, he threw the arm high into the air.

Ulquiorra stared in silence as the Soul Reaper pulled his blade up from his shoulder and swung. A Getsuga burst from the sword and shot through the air towards the arm. As the attack connected, a green light scattered through the air and a humongous explosion followed. Winds erupted from the blast with such force that the two on looking humans felt their bodies leave the ground. A scream began to form at Orihime's lips, only to be quickly silenced as an arm enclosed around her waist, keeping her from flying off.

Looking down at the arm, she moved her gaze upward and found strands of hair on her shoulder that were not her own. Taking a desperately needed breath, she turned her head as far back as she could. The first thing she noticed was the wild mane of bright orange hair that was whipping around the person's face, hiding it from view. Only for the briefest of moments did she find a set of chocolate brown eyes that were boring into her. She felt the color in her skin return tenfold as her cheeks began burning red.

"Are you ok, Inoue?" The person spoke out in the familiar low voice that teased her in her dreams. Her heart began to hammer against her ribcage in a way that only occurred around this person.

"Would you like to pull me down now Kurosaki?" another familiar voice almost screamed, breaking Orihime's trance. Both orangeheads' heads spun towards the voice and found Ishida at the end of Ichigo's other hand; the Soul Reaper's fingers wrapped tightly around theQuincy's ankle to keep him from flying away. The boy stared at his companion for a moment before a smile etched onto his face.

"Sure thing Uryuu," Ichigo declared. Bringing his arms back towards his body, he pulled the already flustered Orihime closer into his bare chest, causing her to redden even further. With his other arm, he swung it outward, resulting in Ishida crashing into the ground face first. Orihime felt her body jump at the sound of skin connecting with cement. The wind finally subsided and the world grew silent.

Both teenagers stared at their ally lying on the ground, looking for any indication of movement. Ichigo used his foot and began poking at the boy on the ground. It only took a second before the Quincy jumped up and glaring at the Soul Reaper through a pair of cracked glasses.

"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR!" Uryuu demanded. The orangehead raised an eyebrow and frowned at his friend.

"What? You asked me to put you down; so I did," he stated matter-of-factly. Ishida's face turned almost as red as Orihime's, who was just staring at the boy who was still holding her.

"I COULD HAVE DIED!" the Quincy continued to yell. At that sentence, the Substitute's frown transformed into an innocent grin.

"But you didn't, and that's all that really matters. No thanks will be necessary. Just remember that the almighty Quincy was saved by a disgusting and lowly Soul Reaper," Ichigo said in rebuttal. Ishida almost turned purple as he tried to speak again, only to be cut off by a soft voice.

"Um," Orihime muttered. Both boys turned to look at the girl who was still trapped in Ichigo's grasp. She had a confused and empty look on her face as she stared into the eyes of the Substitute. "Are you…really Kurosaki-kun?"

The boy holding her did not say anything for a moment; only scanned her face for any specific emotion. Seeming to get the answer he wanted his features became gentle as he continued to stare. "Yeah. I'm back, Inoue."

Said girl felt more tears fall from her eyes as she cuddled as close as she could to his chest; hope now filling her entire being. "Kurosaki-kun…" Neither boy said anything as she wrapped her small arms around his body, coming to a rest on his shoulder blades. In her mind, nothing could ruin this moment. Unfortunately, someone found a way.

"I will ask you once again, Kurosaki Ichigo," Ulquiorra finally spoke up behind her. The young healer had forgotten that he was there, watching all of them with that indifferent glare. She didn't dare turn her head to look at him. She felt she could continue to be safe in her love's arms. "What did you mean by calling yourself an Arrancar?"

At that question, the auburn haired girl froze in place. A chill went up her spine as she remembered what Ichigo had said earlier.

"Ichigo Kurosaki. Arrancar."

Orihime brought her head back up and stared at the boy holding her. Half his face was hidden in a veil of long, brightly colored hair. The remaining half of his face that was shown was staring at the Espada with an unreadable emotion. She lowered her gaze to his chest and felt an indescribable terror cascade over her body. Lying in the center of his chest, the large crater from before was still there. Her heart jumped into her throat as she continued to stare. Her body subconsciously began to shake as she looked upward towards Ichigo's face.

"K-kurosaki-kun?" Her voice came out as a plea, begging him to look at her. Ichigo seemed to ignore her if he heard. Instead, he put both of his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away from him as gently as he could. Finally, he turned his gaze towards her and gave her a saddened smile.

"Listen up Inoue," the boy started. "I need you to heal Uryuu. Make sure he gets his hand back. Whether you run away or put up Santen Keshu is up to you. Just make sure you're not close enough to get hurt."

The healer had no idea what to say. She looked over his face, trying to find something in his expression that would tell he was joking. It was at that moment that she noticed that something white was sitting on the right side of his head, behind his temple. She squinted her eyes to get a closer look. Realization struck her hard as she discovered what it was. A fragment of his mask lay on his head, right above his orange locks. The hole in the center of it turned out to be the right eye of a hollow mask. The black lines scrolling across it was proof enough of that it was a memento from his other form. As if it weren't bad enough, the right eye also had an attachment to it. It didn't take a genius to figure out that is was one of his hollow form's horns, now snapped halfway, leaving what looked like a broken blade on his head.

A single tear managed to spill down her face before Ichigo's hand stopped it at her cheek. She turned her gaze back to his face and found the warm brown eyes she adored staring back. "I am going to repeat what I said to you before," he muttered only loud enough for her to hear. He brought both hands up to cup her cheeks. Ichigo only followed instinct as he began running his thumbs over her cheeks. Orihime couldn't help but feel her cheeks warm up at his touch. So many thoughts were swimming through her head; each ready to burst open and confuse her already unstable mind.

"You're safe now. I know I don't have the right to say that when I look like this. But I'll say it anyway. You're safe now," Ichigo recited word for word from right before the battle with Grimmjow. Orihime's eyes widened at the recollection. Before she could say anything, he brushed her aside, only to have her wrist caught. She broke her gaze from the Soul Reaper-now Arrancar-and found Ishida staring at her.

His eyes seemed sad, as if pitying her. He took a firm grasp of her wrist before looking over at Ichigo. The Quincy and Ex-Soul Reaper stood and stared at the other, each expressing a different emotion.

"Make sure you survive this time," Ishida said without emotion. The orange haired Arrancar nodded once before turning back towards the Espada. Uryuu began to tug Orihime away from the battlefield with great effort. The auburn haired maiden kept her eyes on the Substitute as she was dragged away. A light breeze blew up, causing his hair to shift enough so that she could see his hole from behind. From the back, she could clearly make out the horn and the red mane that erupted from his neck. As she continued to look at her love, dread filled her heart with the truth she dared to ignore.

0~0

"Are you ready to tell me what you meant, Kurosaki Ichigo?" Ulquiorra asked, now having regenerated another arm. Ichigo glared at the hollow before him with sadness once again.

"You're the one who gave me the hole," he stated as he pointed at the crater in his chest. "I thought that would be enough for you to guess the truth."

The Espada narrowed his eyes for the briefest of moments, but Ichigo noticed anyway. He pulled Zangetsu from his back and sunk it into the ground in front of him. He sighed loudly and ran a hand through his long locks. "Look, whether or not you believe me is all up to you. That's not going to change the facts. I know you're almost done."

The Espada's eyes widened; no longer hiding any emotion. "You are right. I know I will not survive this battle, no matter the outcome. However," the Espada broke off as he lowered his body so that all his limbs were planted on the ground. "I am still strong enough to kill you before that happens."

Ichigo shut his eyes and thought of his inner hollow. He remembered how the inner being burst into sand during their battle. "I had to sacrifice something in order to get another chance." The inner being slowly faded from his mind, but was quickly replaced by all his friends and family, each of them smiling at him. His eyes shot open and he grabbed the wrappings of Zangetsu. He pulled of the fabric, causing the blade to pop out of the ground. He began to swing the material around, causing the blade to whirl around in the air like the blades of a saw. The fabric wrapped around his arm soon afterwards, causing the blade to finally stop and for the hilt to land in his hand. "I don't plan on wasting it."

Neither of them made a move. Ichigo shut his eyes and breathed slowly. Behind his eyelids, Orihime smiled at him and stretched out a hand to him. A single sentence echoed through his mind. I will protect her.

Ulquiorra noticed when Ichigo shut his eyes. Pushing back on his legs and stretching out his wings, he rocketed towards the younger Arrancar. His hands came together in a clap, charging up another Lanza.

In Ichigo's mind, more hands began to stretch out towards him. In moments, the hands became connected to his family, each welcoming him warmly. More hands stretched out, each coming from a friend from school or from Soul Society. A bright light burst through his mind and each of them vanished. Only one hand remained. The hand stretched out seemed more faded compared to the others, but a warmth filled this one like no other. A kind face wrapped in bright locks of hair smiled at him and whispered, Ichigo, my little protector.*

Ichigo's eyes burst open and he brought his blade up as a shield in front of him. Ulquiorra had just finished charging up and jumped off the ground. He was now soaring down towards the new Arrancar, detest clearly written on his face. Remembering the final face, Ichigo prepared for the blow and screamed out.

"I WILL PROTECT THEM!"


Author's Note

Finally! I finally finished the fourth chapter! During the final paragraphs of the chapter, I used * to symbolize something I may have to explain. And here it is.

*In this chapter, someone called Ichigo their 'little protector.' I am not sure if I got it exactly right, but to anyone who is a Bleach Head like myself, it should be clear that it is Ichigo's mother. Ichigo would always cry as a kid, but would smile around his mother no matter what. His mother told him that his name meant 'Protector,' causing him to want to protect everything...including a certain doll a hollow used as a lure.

Ichigo's mom (seriously, someone get me a name):

R.I.P.