A/N: Eek! I almost feel guilty for this chapter when you guys responded to the last one thinking everything is going to be all good and happy. Sorry, everybody, but remember this story is ANGST. In any case, I'm quite prepared to receive some hate mail for this one, but I PROMISE if you stick with me, Hotaru-san will make everything okay again soon! Okay, maybe not REAL soon, but you know, eventually. Anyway, sorry to anyone this chapter disappoints! I hope you still love me. *Gives sweet puppy dog eyes* I still wuv you...

By the way, I know I've been slacking in the responses to reviews, but I promise I will make my way through and answer you all. You'll never know how much your support for this story has meant to me *crosses fingers that I don't lose that support with this chapter* and I love you all to the moon and back. In the meantime, a HUGE thank you to EmoBunny4Eva, Mina Kye, Hinata-Rae 7-3.15, jakondas, SexyBeast, my lovely, amazing Lady Avotil, Lil Mexican, Love Psycho, Mrs. Grimm and Cuzosu. I love, love, love, love, love you guys! Thank you so much from the very bottom of my yaoi-loving heart! *Does the over one hundred reviews dance and blows kisses to everyone*

Song for this chapter: Tori Amos - "Little Earthquakes"

Oh, these little earthquakes

Here we go again

These little earthquakes

Doesn't take much to rip us into pieces

Kisuke winced as Ichigo somewhat hurriedly disengaged their bodies, making the older man's flaccid cock slide from him with a wet plop sound, as he crawled off the bed and ran over to his katana. "Be careful, baby, you just made love for the first time and you're probably..." He trailed off as he watched how easily Ichigo moved about, not affected in the slightest by their recent activities. Oh, to have a youthful body again, he thought with a smirk as he shook his head.

"Your body isn't that old," Ichigo retorted as he picked up Zangetsu, staring at the long, oversized blade like he'd never seen it before, turning it over in his hands and swinging it experimentally.

"Nani?" Kisuke quirked a pale eyebrow at his lover. "I didn't say anything about my body."

Ichigo scowled at him. "Come on, don't mess with me right now. I just heard you say..."

I didn't say it, baby, but you heard it anyway, Kisuke's eyes twinkled in the darkness as he communicated into his lover's confused mind.

"Oookay," Ichigo said slowly. "Now you've gotta explain what the fuck is going on. First, I get my powers back after we make love, and now I can hear your thoughts? How is any of this happening?" He asked as he made his way back over to the bed, carrying the katana with him, not ready to let go of Zangetsu yet.

"Shinigami call it Soul Connection," Kisuke explained while gathering his lover into his arms, Zangetsu lying at Ichigo's side. "You see, because we are spiritual beings as well as part human, when we engage in such an intimate act like making love, not only do we exchange bodily fluids, but our spiritual energy also connects and binds together. It allows us to have this psychic connection, as well as feel what each other feel, see what one another see, and connect to each other's memories and past experiences. Basically, it ties our souls and our lives together permanently."

"Wow..." Ichigo said in wonder, though a slight pang of fear went through him at the idea that he could no longer hide anything from his lover, now Kisuke could see everything including the darkest, most desperate times of his life. Not that I don't trust him enough to let him see those things, but I'm not used to people seeing so deeply into my life, and I've always wanted to shield him from seeing the depth of how bad things have been for me... He chewed his lip, frowning pensively.

"Don't be scared of this, watashi no koi," Kisuke tried to comfort him as he tightened his arms around his waist. "You also have the ability to control what I see and what I don't, you have the freedom to close me off from anything you don't want me to know about... But, I hope you won't do that. I know you have been through a lot of traumatic, difficult things in your life and you feel like you need to protect the ones you love from the darkness of your past, but you need to know that I love you, not despite what you've been through, but because of it. I'm not going to run away just because of something that happened to you in your past, how you felt or things you did. My life hasn't always been a bed of roses, either, but I trust you enough to let you see even the ugly, negative things because I know you love me. We just need to have faith in each other, ne?"

Ichigo smiled and nuzzled the blonde's shoulder affectionately, draping the arm that wasn't holding Zangetsu over his middle. "Hai, we will, it's just going to take some getting used to. But anyway, that explains the connection, but how did I get my powers back from... doing that?"

"Well, as I told you the results from some of the examinations I ran on you showed that you still had spirit centers and reiatsu within you, but it was just lying dormant because you exhausted your powers when you fought Aizen. The reiatsu I released inside you with my climax obviously reached your spirit centers and broke them open, so to speak, which re-energized your reiatsu and brought your powers back."

The teen nodded slowly, taking in the information and trying to process it all. "Okay, that makes sense. Now I get what Zangetsu meant when he told me that you were my only chance to get my powers back."

Kisuke propped himself up on an elbow, interested. "You spoke with Zangetsu? When?"

"Apparently while I was lying comatose in the hospital, somehow I was able to enter my innerworld and spoke to both Old Man and Shirosaki, they both were in a weakened state and told me they would die if I didn't get back to you soon they would die and our innerworld, that was already crumbling, would disappear completely." He paused, then added quietly as a lump formed in his throat, "I – I also saw my kaa-san."

His slate gray eyes widened as he stroked Ichigo's vibrant hair. "Oh, baby..."

The orange-haired boy sniffled quietly and burrowed deeper into his lover's arms. "Before I went to my innerworld, I ended up somewhere with her... The Karakura Town in my mind, I guess, because we were at the river where she died. She was the one who told me that dad was behind the attack and told me not to believe anyone when they said it was you who set it up. And she also told me..." His voice cracked with emotion although he smiled through his tears, "She told me she's happy you and I are together."

The shopkeeper smiled, leaning down to kiss a wet cheek. "I'm glad she is, so am I."

"Me, too," he said, giving the shopkeeper a watery smile, then wiped at his eyes and sniffed. "Ugh, sorry. I don't know when I turned into such a crybaby."

"You are no such thing," Kisuke assured him as he rubbed his side, keeping him close.

Ichigo composed himself, then began to sit up. "Come on, let's go spar, I need to start training and get my strength back!"

"It's late, baby," the blonde laughed as he tried to coax his lover back in bed. "We might wake the others up, I'm actually surprised they didn't all charge in here after your reiatsu fluctuated before. And to be perfectly honest, I really don't think I have the energy to spar right now, remember I've been ill and my spirit centers are weak, plus my body was taxed from making love to you, not that I didn't enjoy it. Let's go to bed and get a little rest, then tomorrow we can go down to the training room, okay?"

The substitute shinigami pouted for a minute, but finally relented and got up to set Zangetsu back against the wall near Benihime, then returned to bed and curled up against his older lover's body under the covers.

Well, color me surprised! Shirosaki cackled happily in his mind. King actually did somethin' right fer once in 'is life!

Shush, Old Man Zangetsu admonished the darker spirit inside his master's blade, then spoke to Ichigo. You've done well, Master.

Ichigo grinned in the darkness as he snuggled deeper against Kisuke, his face resting back in his favorite spot in the crook of the shopkeeper's neck. Thank you, guys, for coming back to me, I don't know how I ever lived without you, he answered them as he drifted off to sleep.

The next morning Ichigo awoke to find himself no longer wrapped up in the blonde former shinigami taichou's arms. He frowned and scrubbed his eyes to clear them of sleep, then sat up and looked around. Instead of lying beside him, Kisuke was at the edge of the bed slightly hunched over, his chin resting on one hand as he looked at something he held in the other. The teen blinked a few times as the fogginess of sleep began to wear off, then crawled over behind his lover and planted a kiss on Kisuke's shoulder.

"Ohayo," he mumbled, his voice still gruff from sleep, then rested his chin where he'd kissed to see what the other man was holding. He froze in place the minute he saw it.

"Who is Yoshi?" The scientist's voice was controlled and calm, but held a note of tension beneath the surface that was unmistakable to his young lover.

"H – He's my physical th – therapist," he stammered out as he swallowed thickly, his tongue feeling as if it had turned to sandpaper in his mouth. He clamped down on the memories of his car ride home and the thoughts he'd had about Yoshi's attractiveness, desperately hoping that Kisuke wouldn't notice the block of their connection.

"And why would your physical therapist give you his personal number?" Kisuke pressed, turning a skeptical cloudy eye on the younger man.

Ichigo sighed. "Because things have been really difficult these past few months, and he's seen how I've been struggling. My tou-san hooked me up with this bastard of a psychologist that was just trying to bait me into giving him information about our relationship that he could report back to my dad, and Yoshi said it's not the first time he's engaged in unethical behavior so he gave me the number to the medical examiner's office so I could put in a complaint. We're hoping if enough of his patients come forward they can shut down his practice. Besides, he's become a good friend, the only person besides you I know I can trust. He told me to call him if I ever needed someone to talk to, that's all."

"I see," the older man answered, though he didn't sound at all relieved by Ichigo's explanation. Setting the paper down, he turned to look his lover straight in the eyes. "And that is all you feel for him? Just friendship?"

"Of course!" The tangerine-haired boy insisted, his tone taking on a bit of anger and hurt. "Why, what did you think? That I would cheat on you?"

"I didn't say that, but you and I were apart for a long time and..."

"You do think I was unfaithful!" The boy accused, now yelling as he yanked himself away from the shopkeeper, glaring into his eyes. "How in the hell can you say, or even think something like that? Look at everything I did to be with you, leaving home and risking being caught by tou-san who would do Kami knows what to me, all because I love you and want to be with you! Do you really think I would do that if I had been with someone else?"

"Maybe you just got lonely, or you were going through such a rough time that you needed to find comfort in the closest person available, or you could have thought I didn't want you anymore due to my absence from your recovery and thought you had to move on. I don't know, Ichigo," he admitted. "But you're trying to block me, that much I can tell, I feel the wall you've put up in your mind so I won't find out whatever it is you're afraid to let me see."

"Alright, fine, you want to know? You don't have to read my mind, I'll just tell you. Yes, I was terrified when you never came to see me that it meant you didn't want me anymore, and it just about ripped my fucking heart out. And there may have been a brief moment where I was attracted to Yoshi, but that's where it stopped. You're the only person I've ever loved, and the only one I can even imagine being with for the rest of my life, no one else. I've already said I'm sorry that I doubted you, but I would never go as far as to be unfaithful with someone just because I wasn't sure of where you and I stood. I wouldn't, Kis, I couldn't do that. You're my life, Kisuke Urahara, the only thing in my life that really matters to me." With a dull kind of horror and self-hatred, he realized that he was once again crying, taking in ragged gasps of air while tears streamed down his cheeks and dripped off his jaw to the floor. I feel like I'm going to drown in my tears one of these days.

"The fact that you were attracted to him is evidence alone that you had doubts about us," Kisuke said in a choked voice, his heart aching painfully at the sight of his lover crying because of him, but he couldn't deny the way things were. Yoruichi was right, my foolishness only led to heartbreak. "And maybe we need to stop and face up to some hard facts. You're a young man who is at the very beginning of your life, and I'm a much older man. Our relationship, as much as we've enjoyed one another, is wildly inappropriate since you are still technically underage. You came to me for help and I, unable to hide my feelings for you, allowed things to go far beyond where they should have. I promised to help you get back your powers, and we've done that, and you are in a much better place emotionally than you were at first, which was another of our goals. It seems to me that now that we've accomplished what we both wanted, maybe now it's time to... end things here before one of us gets hurt."

Ichigo shook his head furiously, unable to believe what he was hearing. It wasn't possible; last night they made love and formed the deepest bond two souls could possibly make, and now Kisuke was trying to leave him? A sudden urge to pinch himself washed over him to make sure this wasn't a dream. It couldn't be real. "Y – You don't mean that, you can't mean this! What about last night, when you made love to me and spirit connected to me? You're telling me that none of it means anything to you now? And as for me getting my powers back, yeah, I wanted that, but that isn't even half of what this has been about for me. It's not like I was sleeping with you just to get my powers back, I didn't even know it worked that way, and even if I did I wouldn't have gone that far for that reason alone. I'm in love with you, Kisuke, and I would have been with you whether or not you could have helped me, because I realize I've always been in love with you. And you're saying the only reason you've been with me was to help me? How the fuck can you even say that to me?"

"I love you, too, Ichigo," Kisuke answered quietly, defeated. "But let's be honest, it could never work between us in the long run. You deserve someone who is your age that you can grow and experience life with; if you stay with me, you'd be throwing away your future. Being older than you, I can't promise how long I'll be around and then you'll end up alone. I care for you too much to let that happen. You should be with someone like Yoshi, a younger man who can promise you a life-time together."

"I don't want Yoshi, I never did! He could never understand me the way you do, and I could never love him or anyone for that matter like I love you. If this is just about him, I'll stop going to him for therapy, I'll just ask to have somebody else do it. I never have to see him again, if that's what will make you happy. If you said that you wanted me to lock myself inside the shoten, in this room for the rest of my life and not see another soul as long as I lived, I would do it. Anything to be with you," he was begging and he fucking hated himself for it, it stung his pride worse than crying, but still he couldn't stop himself. After what he'd been through, what they'd been through, he couldn't let them fall apart now. He couldn't handle it, and as much as it killed him to admit he was that weak without Kisuke, it was the truth. "Anything," he added pleadingly.

"That's what scares me," the shopkeeper said softly, staring down at a spot on the bed. No, be strong, you know this is what's best for him, he scolded himself as he forced his eyes back up to meet tear-filled cinnamon pools. "It's time to end this now. In the long run it will be better for both of us." Now you can get your life back without me in the way of everything. To let you move on I need to let you go, no matter how much it hurts, and fuck, it does. So much more than you will ever know.

"No, no, no, no, no, NO!" The younger boy screamed as he launched himself into Kisuke's arms, grabbing onto him as tightly as he could and sobbing brokenly against his shoulder. "You can't do this to me, you can't leave me like this. Not here, not now, please. Please, don't... Need you... Can't do this alone..." His voice faded to faint whispers as he clung to Kisuke's nightshirt which he'd slipped back on, his tears staining the material on the blonde's shoulder. "Please."

"Yes, you can," Kisuke told him softly but firmly, resisting the instinct to lay the younger man down, crawl on top of him and make love to him all over again. "You're strong enough to do this on your own, you don't need me anymore. Come on, Ichi, be the brave man I know you can be. You never needed anyone, and you don't now."

"C – Can't... N – No... P – Please..." he sobbed, grasping Kisuke's shirt so hard and tight he heard the material rip under his squeezing fingers.

The blonde sighed and started to gently pry Ichigo away from him. "You need to go now," he said a bit more sternly, putting on his best stoic face. If he could, he would have curled up in a ball and sobbed right along with Ichigo.

"Bastard!" Ichigo suddenly bellowed, reeling back and hitting the shopkeeper with a hard right hook across the face. The blonde made a sound of surprise, touching his stinging cheek as blood trickled down from the cut Ichigo's nails made. Scrambling to his feet, he threw on his clothes and fumbled to grab Zangetsu, but in his rush he stubbed his toe on the dresser and crashed to the ground, his aching, still injured body screaming in white hot pain. He released a howl of rage and agony, but recoiled when Kisuke ran over to help him.

"Don't touch me!" He screeched, almost sounding like Shirosaki instead of himself, forcing himself up even though his body resisted, then bolted from the room. Kisuke was calling after him, but he couldn't hear anything over the roaring in his ears and his harsh sobbing as he left the shoten as quickly as he could, ignoring Yoruichi and Tessai yelling after him.

Yoruichi frowned at Tessai in confusion, then left the kids eating breakfast at the dining table and headed down the hall to Kisuke's room. She knocked on the door and waited, hearing nothing.

"Kisuke? It's me."

"Please, go away, Yoruichi."

The violet-haired woman scowled. "Kisuke, what happened? Ichigo left."

"I know. I really don't want to talk about this. Please, let me be alone."

She growled softly under her breath, annoyed and worried for both men, but didn't argue. Instead she went back down the hall and walked outside to find Ichigo, but the seventeen year old was nowhere in sight. "Ichigo!" She called, her golden eyes deep-set with concern as she scanned the area. No Ichigo. "Ichigo!"

A few blocks away from the shoten, Ichigo's legs finally gave out from under him and he collapsed on the sidewalk, damp from a rain shower earlier in the morning. He sat hunched over his knees for several moments, his chest burning and his eyes still blurry. The honk of a car horn startled him a moment later, and he looked up to see Uryuu in his father's Toyota, his sapphire eyes looking at his devastated friend worriedly. Ichigo thought about waving him off, he really wasn't in the mood for company. But Uryuu just stayed there, letting his car idle, until the orange-haired teen forced himself up and walked over to the passenger side of the car. Uryuu unlocked the doors, an unspoken invitation, and Ichigo got in, shutting the door behind him. Neither one said anything for several minutes, Ichigo staring out the windshield with blank, hollow cinnamon eyes, Uryuu watching him and waiting. Finally, the raven-haired teen spoke.

"Ichi? Are you okay?"

Ichigo didn't answer, still listlessly gazing out the window. "Can you take me home?" He heard himself ask, his voice oddly monotone. The tears had stopped. He was empty. Broken. Hollow inside. No, not okay, never okay again.

"The shoten?" Uryuu tried to clarify what his friend meant.

He shook his head robotically, his voice still completely flat and emotionless. There's nothing left in me, I'm dead. You're looking at a ghost, a phantom of who I used to be, Ishida. Do you understand? Can you understand? He couldn't even find a voice to respond.

"Your house? Are you sure?"

He nodded.

Uryuu frowned, but agreed to do as his friend asked, putting the car back into gear and heading toward the Kurosaki house, his mind full of questions he wasn't sure he could ask. Ichigo didn't really look in the position to answer, in any case, so he decided to wait until later. But wasn't he living at the shop with Urahara? I know he and Dr. Kurosaki were fighting. Why would he want to go back there now? The other teen wondered, but again kept silent. The ride to the Kurosaki residence was silent and tense, Uryuu's sapphire eyes shifting over to Ichigo now and then, who just rested his head against the window with that distant look on his face. When they first pulled up along Ichigo's house, the orange-haired teen didn't even notice until his friend lightly touch him on the arm, then startled when his orange-haired comrade yanked away like Uryuu had burned him.

"G – Gomen," the midnight-haired teen stammered, nervously pushing his thin rimmed glasses back up on his nose. "Um, we're here."

"Thanks," Ichigo mumbled, climbing out and closing the door behind him. He turned around when his friend said his name again. The look in his spiced chocolate eyes sent a chill down Uryuu's spine. Like Ichigo was looking straight through him. The Quincy was suddenly very, very afraid for, and somewhat of the young man he'd known practically all his life. Especially when he realized for the first time Ichigo was holding Zangetsu at his side.

"Um, come hang out with Chad, Orihime and I sometime," he stumbled through his words, nervously wringing the steering wheel. "We, uh, we miss you."

Ichigo barely nodded, then turned around and walked mechanically to his house and disappeared inside.

Isshin was waiting for him when he got inside. Of course, Ichigo thought bitterly.

"Where did you go last night?" His father demanded.

"I went out," he answered shortly as he brushed past his father to the stairs. He would probably have to crawl, but come hell or high water he was getting into his bedroom.

"Did you see him?"


"Turn around and talk to me! Don't walk away when I'm asking you a question!" Isshin barked.

Ichigo turned around, his eyes boring holes into Isshin as he lifted Zangetsu up warningly and snarled, "Don't fuck with me, old man."

Isshin's eyes nearly bugged out of his head as he stared at his son in disbelief, a wave of fear washing over him. He swallowed thickly, but didn't say anything more as his son struggled upstairs, finally managing to get to the top and going to his room. He shut and locked the door tightly behind him, then silence fell back over the house.

Ichigo hadn't been in his room in months, never able to make it up the stairs before, but he didn't take any time to gaze around and take back in the sight of the small bedroom. Instead he stripped off his clothes and crawled in bed, reaching under his pillow and groping around until he found the razor blade he kept there just in case. He stared at the shiny silver blade that winked seductively at him in the sunlight that trickled in through his curtains, scraping it across his wrist a few times, but exhaustion prevented him from making any real attempts to kill himself. He quickly dropped off to sleep, praying that he would wake up and all of this would just be a nightmare. When he woke up he would be back in Kisuke's arms in the shoten, and everything would be right again. As he drifted off he tried to connect to the shopkeeper's mind or see what his lover was doing, but he felt Kisuke blocking him off. He wondered if the spirit connection could be broken, and if his (former?) lover would choose to sever it.

If he did, and if he really meant it when he said they were over, Ichigo knew he wouldn't survive. Death would be the only option without Kisuke at his side.

But I won't give up yet. Kisuke, I'm not giving up on us that easily!