Chapter 8: Aftershocks

When Sado came looking for Ichigo he found the desert all around was blasted with long furrows and churned up from battle. Amongst this was Ichigo, bleeding heavily as he tried to pull himself to his feet. Sado hurried forward and helped Ichigo to his feet, putting his shoulder under Ichigo's arm. "What happened?"

"I lost."

The big man just nodded silently. Nothing more needed to be said. Sado helped Ichigo away from the scene of the battle, practically carrying him.

"Where are we going?" Ichigo coughed out.

"Grimmjow. I can't feel him anymore."

Ichigo just nodded in reply. He was worried, but too worn out to get worked up about it.

Once they were both up to it Sado sonidoed them both the rest of the way to where he last sensed Grimmjow.

After a short search, they found Grimmjow in his own battle scarred wasteland. He was lying limp in the sand, unmoving and covered in blood.

"Grimmjow!" Ichigo stumbled to his comrade's side.

"Fucking...Kurosaki...Of course you'd be the one to show up..." Grimmjow's eyes fluttered open and he coughed up some blood and spat it on the sandy ground. Shockingly, the Hollow was still alive. Injuries and the fight had drained his reiatsu, forcing him to leave his resurrection form. His side was torn open and he was bleeding heavily, but he was still managing to hold on; though it was clear it wouldn't be for much longer. "Ex-Shinigami stabs me in the back and another Ex-Shinigami is the one who finds me..."


"Yeah, you're fucking Hollow-Hunting Shinigami buddy turned on me...Big fucking surprise there." Before Ichigo could think of a response Grimmjow chuckled and coughed before saying, "Heh...I'm dying and I didn't even get to kick your ass again."

"No! I'll just get...we can..."

"Hah...Starting to realize it huh? Us rogue Hollows don't have any medics or doctors...No one to call on when we're hurt. We fend for ourselves." He gave a dry chuckle and winced. "And you find a dying Hollow...You eat them."

Ichigo recoiled in surprise. "W-What? What are you talking about!?"

"Uggh you always piss me off Kurosaki...It's what Hollows do...Eat each other. Grow stronger. Now do it."

"B-But..." Ichigo was scrambling. He didn't know what to do. He had come to help Grimmjow. Now Grimmjow was asking him to kill him?

He's right Ichigo.

What do you know! Ichigo growled back at his inner Hollow.

Hah! What do I know? I am a Hollow. I am the embodiment of your Hollow powers you nimrod! And this is what it means to be a Hollow. This is what you did with those Menos you fought earlier. You killed them and absorbed their reiatsu. This fucker is dying anyways, and he's telling you to do it. What more do you need?

I don't know? NOT to be a cannibal? NOT to have to kill my friend? And it was true. Ichigo had been starting to see this violent bastard as a friend. Or at least an ally.

Grimmjow groaned and shuddered in pain. "Whats taking you kid? Do it!"

Well too bad! It may not be what you signed up for, but it is your reality now and you need to learn to deal with it!

Knowing there wasn't much more he could say against his Hollow, Ichigo turned his attention back to Grimmjow.

"Why? Why are you so okay with this? The Grimmjow I know would fight til the end!"

Rolling his eyes Grimmjow said, "There is no way I can fight, or I would." He coughed up another mouthful of blood. "Least I could do is give my strength to the next strongest guy I could find so I could keep fighting through him..."


"Yeah're strong." He grunted in irritation at having to make the admission. "It pissed me off right from the start...First I was disappointed the guy Aizen was afraid of was so weak...But then you came again, stronger. Even beat me! It pissed me off! This guy, not even a Hollow, taking me on and winning with no doubt in his eyes. Heh..." He smirked. "But now you are a Hollow. And weaker than me again...But as much as it pisses me off, I'm dying and you're still alive and able to get stronger.'re like me, even if you won't admit it. You love the fight and want to get stronger...I respect you, even if I do still hate you too...Now hurry up and take my strength! And use it to get even stronger!" After his shout he shuddered and winced, the effort causing pain to shoot through him.

Do it.

"Do it!"

Ichigo steeled himself. He needed the strength. Grimmjow wanted him to. They were Hollow.

This was his reality now.

He looked down at Grimmjow and let his Hollow instincts surge forth. As he drew his hand back, Grimmjow smiled.

"Thank you, Ichi-"

Grimmjow didn't get to finish as Ichigo's hand shot forward and buried itself up to the wrist in Grimmjow's chest. His eyes rolled back and he went limp as Ichigo squeezed and twisted his hand.

Ichigo felt Grimmjow's reiatsu. He let his reiatsu seep into Grimmjow and pull the other Hollow's reiatsu into himself. As he consumed Grimmjow's reiatsu the corpse seemed to disintegrate into spirit particles and flow into Ichigo.

Soon enough it was done. No trace of Grimmjow remained but a blood stain on the ground. Ichigo stood and assessed himself. He felt stronger than he had since becoming a Hollow. His injuries from his fight with Byakuya were fully healed and his reiatsu restored, and then some. He was strong again. His confidence in his abilities had skyrocketed. He could face Byakuya again...and beat him. He could beat all of them.

"Ichigo." A hand dropped on his shoulder.

The voice and touch snapped him from his reverie and he spun to face them.

Sado stared down Ichigo stoically. He had stood and watched the entire encounter silently and without response.

"We need to go find Starrk and Lilynette."

Ichigo blinked. Sado's words brought him back to himself and he remembered what they were doing. "R-Right. Sorry." He closed his eyes and cast out his senses, finding their reiatsu a fair distance away. It was weak.


"I found them. Lets go." He sonidoed toward the signature and Sado followed, barely keeping up.


A short time later, they found Lilynette. Starrk and Sasikabe lay on the ground before her. She was crouched over Sasikabe with her sword pressed against his neck.

"I should kill him. I should kill him for what he did."

Ichigo saw drops falling onto Sasikabe's uniform and saw Lilynette's arms shaking. He suddenly realized...she was crying. "Lilynette?"

"He almost killed Starrk!"

What, this guy did? Didn't we kick his ass once? How did he take down a guy like Starrk?

Guess he was hiding how strong he really was...

Well I'm fucking honoured he decided to share it for our sake.

"We can't just kill him like this. In battle is one thing, but he's defenceless now!" Ichigo said, pushing aside his confusion for another time.

"What would Starrk want?" Sado spoke up, surprising his friend. Lilynette turned to him, her eyes wet. She was surprised as well, but more at his words than the fact he spoke.

"Starrk...he...He wouldn't kill someone like this..." She sighed and withdrew her sword, letting it hang at her side. Looking down at her unconscious partner she said, "He hates killing people in fights even. He would never kill someone like this..."

Ichigo sighed and relaxed once he realized she wasn't going to kill the shinigami. Sado just gave an approving nod. It had been a surprise to hear Sado speak up like that suddenly, but Ichigo was grateful. He didn't know if he could have convinced her to stand down himself.

The girl turned to frown at the other two. "So what do you think we should do with him then?"

"Huh?" Ichigo looked back at her in surprise.

"We can't just leave him here. He'l come after us again."

Ichigo thought for a moment and sighed. "We'll take him as a prisoner. Maybe we can use him as a bargaining chip or something."

Sado's eyebrows raised but he said nothing.

As he began hefting Sasikabe onto his back Ichigo said, "Sado, grab Starrk and lets go. We should be gone bef-"

"Supa Speed!"

A blur crashed into Ichigo's back and knocked him to the ground before anyone could react. Sado and Lilynette prepared for combat, but froze when they realized who the attacker was.



He looked up at the young girl lying on him and smiling goofily under her mess of green hair and her broken rams head skullcap. "What are you doing here? Where did you come from? Where are your...brothers?"

"Petthe thaid he thenthed Itsygo tho Nel came running to thee you. They're following ri-" Nel looked back and her face fell. "Oh no, where are they? They're lotht!"

Ichigo rolled his eyes and patted her on the head. "It's okay Nel, I'm sure they'll catch up. Hey...can you do your healing thing on Starrk over there?"

Her worry seemed to evaporate when set this new task. "Okey Itsygo!" She hurried over to where Starrk lay and stood over him, while Lilynette watched her warily. Nel stuck her whole hand in her mouth and reached back, gagging a little. She then grasped her uvula and immediately vomited up onto Starrk.

A moment later his eyes opened and he shot up to a seated position before grasping his chest, groaning, and falling back. Lilynette's eyes lit up in relief when she saw him revive, but her expression turned to annoyance when he lay down again. She stomped over and kicked him in the ribs.

"Hey, stop lazing about and get up!"

He shot up and stayed up this time. "Aaah, what are you doing you brat!?"

As the two argued, Nel watched in wonder. After a moment Ichigo cut in, drawing their attention.

"Alright we gotta get going now. They're probably regrouping now too. They could be here any second."

The others' expressions turned serious again and they nodded. Nel still stood confused so Ichigo picked her up and held her under his arm.

"Huh, whath goin on Itsygo? Whoth they?"

"I'll explain later."

Ichigo sonidoed away without another word. Sado picked up Sasikabe and followed, along with Starrk and Lilynette.


Hisagi's eyes flickered open and a pale face with a wide grin faded into view a few inches away.

"Ah, you're awake."

"Gyah!" He scrambled back in surprise. Kurotsuchi turned his head toward him, still leaning over where Hisagi had been lying, a smoking bottle in hand.

Getting his bearings, the Vice-Captain looked around. Nemu stood impassively nearby, along with another ragged looking shinigami he didn't recognize. As he tried to stand, he groaned as a soreness all over his body made itself known. He pushed through it and pulled himself to his feet. He hadn't felt it before with the adrenaline, but that giant was strong.

"Who are you?" He asked.

The man in the tattered robes replied. "Kano Ashido. Patrol Corps."

Hisagi nodded. "Vice Captain Hisai Shuhei of the 9th division. Weren't you one of those we found with Kurosaki?"

"I ran into Ichigo and his companions when they came here before. I noticed there was something different about him this time, but I helped him anyways. Once I saw he had allied with Hollow my doubts increased. I switched sides during the battle and helped defeat on of the Arrancar. I look forward to returning to Soul Society; I have been here far too long." His voice trailed off at the end and he looked into the distance, under the sand toward the Menos forest where his friends lay.

"Yes, we will return once we have the subject." Kurotsuchi said as he strolled over. "Speaking of, I sense my colleague returning. With good news I hope."

Byakuya shunpoed into view a few metres away, still bleeding from his wounds.

"Captain Kuchiki!" Hisagi exclaimed.

"You don't have the body? I will be needing it for my research. Nemu, go retrieve it."

But before she could comply, Byakuya spoke up.

"The boy escaped."

Kurotsuchi frowned. "That is not like you Captain. Perhaps you are losing your edge." He shrugged. "No matter, we will simply find him again and take him then. Make ready to leave."

"Do you forget your place Captain Kurotsuchi? Captain Commander Yamamoto put me in charge of this expedition. We will regroup with Vice Captain Sasikabe and then rest and recuperate before resuming the chase."

The other captain scowled and spoke through his teeth. "As you wish. Nemu, go det-"

Byakuya cut him off. "Vice Captain Kurotsuchi, find Vice Captain Sasikabe and bring him back here or determine his status and report back."

Nemu nodded and shunpoed away. Her Captain fumed, but said nothing.

Hisagi came over and directed Captain Kuchiki to sit on a nearby rock so he could begin healing his injuries.

"I told you Dondo, Nel-Sama went the other way."

"No, she went this way, don'tcha know!"

The shinigami all turned to see the newcomers come over a nearby dune. The two groups stared at each other for a moment.

"Oh no."