*Giant ball of fire falls from the sky and slams a crater into the ground. From the flaming hole in the dirt, a lone figure walks out, fire licking at his shoulders and hair.*

Hey y'all. I'm back. Surprised to see me alive and kicking? *Dusts a little fire from his shoulders and hair. Lets out a quiet snort, a burst of fire flowing from his nostrils* Don't be. Silence doesn't always mean gone. Anyway, here's a new chapter of Selfless sacrifices for you all. I know you've all been dying for more. It's less focused on Halibel this chapter, and more on her Fraccion, but noetheless, hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: Bleach isn't mine... but damn, don't I wish it was. Again, enjoy.

When Ichigo woke to his father's wakeup call the next day, and subsequently sent the man out through the window, he was surprised to find that they were still there. He found Apache, Mila, and Sun-Sun sleeping in his closet, while Halibel slept in his bed. He figured that since he was the only one who could see them at this point, he might as well go on as if they weren't there. Considering that he would look crazy trying to interact with something that wasn't there, even to his spiritually aware friends, it was pretty much the best course of action. That in mind, he just headed to the shower.

He received a grand surprise when he stepped out to find Halibel there with him.

Ichigo's reaction was priceless, despite being fairly muted to keep his family from hearing. He sputtered, pointed, and blushed from his hair to his toes before finally managing to get a towel wrapped around his waist. When he managed to find his voice again, he hissed out the question to her as to why she was watching him in the shower.

"I am merely keeping an eye on you, should something go amiss with the receipt of our energies." It was only then that he realized that she'd been doing this every day since she had arrived here. It certainly explained why he'd felt like he was being watched everywhere that he went, save for the toilet. Mortification was not a strong enough word for how he felt after that little realization. It only got worse after he got back to his room.

In the time it had taken him to return, the other three had awoken and were lying in the closet. And he'd come back in only a towel. The only thing that made him take notice of them at all though was when Mila let out a long, appreciative whistle. Only after he slammed the closet shut on them did he hear a muffled, "Oh yeah, that's right. He can see us now." That he managed to get dressed without turning a permanent shade of red was nearly a miracle, especially when he left the room and noticed a small crack in the closet door. Thankfully, no one in his family, not even Karin, noticed anything amiss. So he managed to leave the house and get his sisters to school without much incident. He couldn't help but notice that he had an entourage though.

Walking at his sides and behind him, the four women acted as an escort. Yes, the feeling of being watched definitely made sense now. Now that he could see them though, ignoring them was quite a chore. Combine that with the fact that he was feeling just a little agitated at the thought of them invading his privacy for the last two weeks, and he couldn't help finding himself growing rather frustrated as he thought about it a bit more. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason he felt like hitting something. Instead, he was the one who ended up getting hit.

The slap to the ass was rather unexpected and came out of nowhere. He turned to catch the look of three surprised looking women, and then back forward again. Mila Rose was standing there, grinning a grin that reminded Ichigo of another dark skinned cat that he knew. Feeling frustration boil to the surface as he felt his brows knit together, Ichigo couldn't help but think that this cat likely wasn't as fast as the one that he had become so used to teasing him. Half a second later, Mila took off running with her grin still in place, Ichigo only about half a step behind her.

She never used her Sonido once, and Ichigo managed to keep pace with her almost perfectly. But then, that it wasn't perfect was because Mila didn't stick to a straight line. Free running like a pro, she bounced off walls, over fences and off of trees, moving with all the grace of a cat. And Ichigo followed every move almost perfectly, save for a small slipup here or there. If any of his friends saw him move like that, they would have to wonder when he managed to do a couple of the moves that he pulled off. It didn't take them too long to reach Ichigo's school, where he succeeded in shocking the entirety of the student body.

The school had been doing some construction on the one building since Ichigo had gotten back. Thus, scaffolding had been erected against the side of it. When Mila reached his school, she didn't stop. In fact, she went up. Forgoing standard Arrancar techniques, she went straight for the temporary structure and started jumping from beam to beam, heading for the roof. Ichigo almost didn't even try to follow until she stopped halfway up, and then turned to give him a little teasing wave before going onward. Ichigo barely noticed the tick on his forehead, or when he started to follow after. He just jumped, not even stopping to consider exactly how he was doing it. Beneath him, the population of the student body watched Ichigo jump from beam to beam like a demented grasshopper, his friends included, before he reached the top and disappeared over the edge of the roof.

Over the edge and over again, he found her there waiting with a gleaming grin. Roughly he panted as the blood rushed to starved limbs. He still didn't consider his action and its accomplishment, his senses only on her as she approached. A warm scent tickled his nose as she leaned to him, light breath puffing against his ear as she whispered an appreciation he knew not the origin of.

"You certainly know how to make a girl feel special." Before he could speak, a burst of static and she was gone. He didn't know where, and he didn't consider descending the way he came to search for her.

He ignored questions of how and why from both friend and stranger. Only that he felt like it he says before dismissing them for his own thoughts. He found Mila again later, still smiling from a corner of the classroom. A quick glance around and he found Apache in another corner, Sun-Sun by the door, and Halibel floating outside the window, her arms crossed beneath her breasts and her eyes locked on him. For a better part of the day, his were the same for her.

Now that he could see them, he kept as close an eye them as they did him. Sun-Sun looked bored for the most part, the same with Apache. The major difference between them was that every time he looked at her, Apache looked like she wanted to kick his ass. It earned her a scowl for her troubles. For some reason, Mila looked rather cheery, and gave him a little wave for every look of his own. As for Halibel, she was a statue all day long. However, he did not miss the little way that she tensed every time that Mila gave her little wave.

He didn't miss his friends watching him either. He wasn't surprised. Given his little stunt that morning, he was surprised that they hadn't tried to corner him and grill him for answers. Chad just watched him, Orihime looked a little concerned every time that she glanced at him, and when he was there, Uryu watched him almost as closely as Halibel did. Despite that, he still managed to get away after school with no troubles, his unseen entourage in tow.

He surprised his family a little bit when he didn't go straight to his room after dinner that night. It was his routine after all, and his dad and sisters had expected it. Instead, he said that he wanted to work off a Yuzu's delicious cooking with a run. He informed them that he'd be back in a while, and to not worry about him too much. He knew that his dad would likely be waiting to attack him as soon as he got in the door, but big surprise there. And then he was off.

He was off like a shot, that is. As soon as the door behind him had closed, Ichigo took off running, out through his gate a second or two later and moving at a rather quick pace down the street. Scattered leaves picked up with the slight stirring of air caused by his movements. He kept his eyes focused forward, but his mind was moving even more quickly than he was at this point.

For him, this run was to be a test. He hadn't paid much attention to what he'd done earlier in the day, if only because he'd occupied his mind with other thoughts. Now though, he was starting to realize that something was truly up, just as he had after the incident at the school. Through his peripheral vision, he could see lights, signs, and background passing by in a blur that was much, much faster than he was used to. Even now, he could see that he was coming up on a park that he knew.

He'd run to this park before. At that time, it'd taken him about ten minutes to get there from his home running at full tilt. Checking his watch when he stopped, he quickly realized that it had only taken him four, and he had barely broken a sweat. There was a minor heat from exertion in his limbs, and his breath came in light pants. 'What the hell is going on?' had just enough time to pass through his head before something in him screamed for him to move. Less than a second later, he leaped just as something impacted where he had been standing a moment prior.

Pulling off a small forward flip in midair (something that he was certain he couldn't pull off before), he landed and pivoted to see Apache standing there in a crouch, her fist to the ground and cracked concrete under her knuckles. She was still wearing that look he'd been on the receiving end of for the better part of the day. Judging from the concrete, it was a good thing that his fighting senses from his time as a Shinigami were still so good. Otherwise, that hit would have likely flattened him.

From the look that he got when her eyes found him again, she wasn't done with him yet. Although, he was completely unsure of just what beef she had with him anyway. Before last night, he'd never even met her before… at least not technically anyway. What? Was she sore over the fact that he had managed to pin her down when they did meet? It was a dream, for God's sake! All in their heads! Who holds a grudge over something like that?

Despite his musings, Ichigo still managed to sidestep the punch that Apache threw at him, his hands on his pockets when he did. Considering that she was an Arrancar, he had thought that she would at least be faster than that. Seriously, he was a human; she should at least be able to hit him or at least scrape his skin in passing, even if she wasn't really trying. He had no idea where it came from, but a certain amount of smugness leaked into him. That smugness showed up in a smirk on his face. She rounded on him again, throwing a few more punches that he managed to dodge pretty easily, hands still in his pockets. He knew she must be holding back, but Jesus, did she really think that he was that lowly of him. Teasing words escaped unbidden from his lips before he even realized.

"C'mon now, you can do better than that, can't you?" His smirk grew a little, dodging a few more strikes. "What's the matter, huh? Apache-chan can't hit the big bad human?" He sidestepped one more time. "You're so fucking slow!" Reaching out a hand, he did something he knew never would have done before.

He slapped her across the ass in passing.

At the light stinging in his palm, Ichigo seemed to come back to himself. His widened almost comically, watching his palm and the pads of his fingers turn a bit pink from the slap. He merely glanced in Apache's direction, his jaw only a little slack at his own actions. She was frozen in place next to him, her back to him. He could see her shaking and he knew that she wasn't angry anymore. She was livid.

The kick hit him in the chest before he could get a word of his defense in in edgewise. He flew from the spot, the breath long gone from his lungs and his ribs screaming in pain, only to come to a wet landing in the park's fountain. The smack of his back on the water's surface didn't hurt nearly as much as the kick to his chest. In fact, it barely even registered as a sting. The large swallow of dirty, chlorinated fountain water registered with his taste buds though.

As soon as his back touched the bottom, Ichigo was up and stranding, water up to his thighs as he coughed to regain his breath and hack out any of the disgusting water from his lungs. He felt at his chest for any broken ribs, his chest hurting with each touch given and breath taken. Feeling around though, he realized the only reason he was hurting was because of a rapidly forming bruise on his skin; there wasn't a busted rib to be felt. He knew there should have been at least one…CERTAIN of it. As an Arrancar, a kick from her should have caved in his chest, if not outright killed him. At first, he felt a brief flare of extreme confusion. However, that brief flare was overcome by a wave of anger. She could have killed him, all over some taunting and a little smack!

He looked up just as he heard her give a shout of rage. He felt like he was about to blow his own top. She was in the air, fist cocked back by her head, descending to strike at him again. Now, being who he is, Ichigo usually wouldn't consider hitting a woman. He was chivalrous like that. But then, there were exceptions to the rule, like Tatsuki or Yoruichi, who chose to pick a fight with him and wanted him to fight back. Seeing red as she descended on him, he was pretty certain that Apache was one of those exceptions.

He cocked his own fist back, actively pulling on his reiatsu reserves. Even if he wasn't a Shinigami anymore, he could at least try to use some of his power to defend himself. He wasn't great with his control, but he still managed to channel some of it to his fist. Just as she came down into his range, his thrust that fist forward and upward, prepared to feel his knuckles slam against Arrancar skin and bone.

He was not prepared for the large torrent of water that erupted from the fountain with his punch.

The shock showed on Apache's face when the water slammed into her, enveloping her and sending her back to slam into a concrete wall fifty feet away. As it had with her fist, the concrete cracked under her back with the force that she hit, the water seeping into the cracks as it pounded her into the stone. When the water was spent, Apache fell to the dirt, soaked from tip to toe and coughing up chlorine. The words on her lips could only be "What the fuck?!"

Back in the fountain Ichigo could only stare, even more open mouthed than he had been before. Had that really just happened? He looked at his fist, then quickly to the fountain. The amount of water had definitely gone down. It had been at his thighs before, but was now down to his knees. He looked back at a stumbling Apache and the soaked patches of earth and rock. It had definitely happened. Why? Better question. HOW?!

So absorbed in his thoughts was he that he fell over backwards in surprise when Halibel appeared on the fountain wall, re-soaking himself in chlorination. He didn't take nearly as long to regain himself this time before he calmed, sitting in the water and staring up at Halibel, grumbling a bit under his breath. She crouched down and he took the offered hand that he was given. Good thing nobody else was around the park, because it would have been rather odd that he was being pulled to his feet by thin air.

When he was back on his feet, he found himself staring into those cool green eyes, slightly obscured by brilliantly blonde eyelashes. They had the same look that he had seen in them the night before. Admiration. He'd thought he'd been seeing things before, but now he was certain of it. It was a look that he wasn't used to getting, and he was truly uncertain of where it came from. He felt a light touch from a gloved hand at the side of his face, fingers tangling in his hair. That light touch turned into a light stroke of the skin, pulling along water droplets clinging to the individual strands of hair.

"It seems…" she said slowly, pulling away the hand and holding it up for him to see. Several large drops were floating before the palm of her hand, forming into a small ball of liquid to float and spin about the ends of her fingertips. "…that I was right to keep watching you, Ichigo-san."

Ichigo watched the floating ball of water for a moment before he looked at her again. "That was you that did that?" There was a minute tilt of her head to indicate confusion and curiosity. "I mean are you the one who did that to Apache?" Halibel glanced back at the still soaked Apache, grumbling as a snickering Mila-Rose helped her to her feet.

Turning emerald back to Ichigo, she spoke, "I will admit that I do hold power over water. However, it was not I that did that." Her head turned to him fully. "It was you."

Ichigo stood stock still for a moment before he began to sputter a bit. "How? How the hell could it have been me? You just said that it was your power!"

Halibel nodded. "Indeed it is." She pulled him up onto the fountain's wall with her as she stood, showing that her fit form was more than just good looking. As she stepped down onto grass, Ichigo following, she said, "However, you must remember, Ichigo-san, that you have been a recipient of our energies, our power, for a decent amount of time as a means to help restore your lost Shinigami status." She crossed her arms under her breasts and turned back towards him. "Though it was truly unexpected on our part, it seems that the continued donation of our energies has also caused a bleed-over of our abilities as well."

At that piece of surmised news, Ichigo wasn't exactly sure how he should have felt about it. Should he be angry? Confused? Shocked? All of them were pretty good options. He'd experienced power transferal before, but only basic ability, a general switch. He'd never received anyone's personal ability before. This was a first. Despite everything he should have been feeling at this point, and his previous outburst, his response to this was oddly out of character.

He placed his left arm across his chest so his right elbow was resting on his palm, with a loosely closed hand in front of his face. The only sound he made was a muffled "hmmm" as a thoughtful look came to his face.

"I'll kill you!"

He leaned to the side, Apache's fist passing right by his head. He did a small spin in place, a hand coming up to catch the back of Apache's head and push down. He pushed her face into the grass and ground his knee into her back to keep her in place. He raised his eyebrow a small fraction and said, "You're rather persistent, aren't you."

"You fucking slapped my ass!" Apache's reply came out rather muffled. Ichigo briefly wondered how the grass tasted for her.

"If you're going to act like a petulant child, then maybe I should do it again for good measure," was his immediate reply to her words. His eyebrows were raised, but his expression was rather flat, and it didn't change at all for any word he said. His eyebrow did raise a bit when Mila-Rose pressed up against his back, and Apache let out an 'oof' from the added weight.

"Oh my, now that was unexpected." Mila gave a little chuckle as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Ichigo glanced back at her grinning face. "That ass-slap you gave earlier is something I would expect from me. Same with that response you just gave her."

"Actually," Sun-Sun spoke up from next to them, a hand over her mouth, "that remark about her being a 'petulant child' sounds like something that I would say." She leaned down to look at him more closely, billowy sleeve still at her lips and a thin jade eyebrow risen.

"His reactions are all things that I have come to expect from each of you." With the calm statement, Halibel easily drew all attention back to her, Ichigo's included. She stepped closer to the little group and bent at the waist to look Ichigo in the eyes again. Looking closely, the two of them stayed rather still for several more long moments. Those moments only came to an end when Ichigo raised an orange brow and gave an annoyed 'what?'

Halibel did not bother to respond, instead bringing up a gloved hand to cup his chin. She slowly turned his head to the left and then the right, as if inspecting him. His normal scowl returned, but he kept his eyes trained on her. Said scowl receded just a bit when she started to speak again.

"I do apologize, Ichigo-san." She kept her hand on his chin, but her grip loosened, and her touch became light, almost intimate. "I had only hoped to restore your lost power, but I had not expected our energy to resonate as strongly with you as it has." She looked him in in the eye again. "It is something I have only seen in some Hollows." That one got him interested.

"What do you mean?"

Halibel let go of his chin and stood up straight once again. "While it is an uncommon occurrence, I have seen I have seen cases where the energies of a devoured Hollow have resonated so alarmingly with its devourer that their powers have transferred." Her arms crossed again, and Ichigo's eyes diverted for just a moment before going back to Halibel's face. 'In your case though Ichigo-san, not only have our abilities transferred, but you seem to have picked up some of our personality traits and habits." She nodded lightly towards her Fraccion. "I have so far seen the manifestation of Sun-Sun's habits, Mila-Rose's taunting attitude…"

"GET THE HELL OFF OF ME!" Apache had finally had enough of the taste of dirt, as she pushed Mila and Ichigo off her back, and nearly hit Sun-Sun when the bluenette shot to her feet. She spun around, her face holding murder when she found Ichigo, still against Mila-Rose with her arms around his neck. Before she could lunge at him, Halibel grasped her collar and hoisted the irate girl off her feet.

"However, I have yet to see anything you may have inherited from Apache, save for some of her natural speed." She held the girl back with ease, even for all her struggling. "That is, unless you have taken on her quick temper." Apache struggled for another moment before Halibel turned an eye on her. "Apache, you will stop now, or I will make you."

As if she were a puppet whose strings had just been cut, Apache immediately stilled and looked at Halibel. Only when she stilled did her mistress put her down. She almost looked like a child who was about to be punished by a parent. Judging from the scowl on Halibel's face, he was pretty sure that was the case, especially since Apache couldn't look the busty woman in the eye.

"Why did you attack Ichigo-san, Apache?" It could be seen that Apache had stiffened just a little bit at the question, and if anything, she shrunk in on herself a little more. It seemed that Ichigo was the only one who really noticed, but he could have sworn that he saw her cheeks color just a bit. Regardless, she did not speak. Halibel stepped closer to her subordinate. "Look at me Apache." She reached out and grasped Apache's chin as she had Ichigo's, and turned her head. Even face to face, her eyes stayed diverted. "Why did you do it?" The silence that followed went uninterrupted for a short while, save for the quiet chirping of the crickets in the background and the breathing of the five present. It was very clear to them all that Apache was not going to answer, or rather did not want to answer. It was Ichigo that finally brought an end to the quiet.

"Halibel-san, forget it." Emerald orbs turned on him as he stood up, Mila-Rose following. When he was up, he crossed his arms. "She's not gonna talk. Besides, it's starting to cool down out here, and I'd rather not be out here when it gets cool and I'm soaked through."

Halibel considered his words for a moment before letting go of Apache, who still wouldn't look at her mistress. Halibel turned to Ichigo and gave a little bow of her head. "Ichigo-san, please, allow me to apologize. I was unaware of Apache's intentions, and I should have intercepted my subordinate sooner." She came out of that bow. "I assure you, she will be punished for her actions against you." When she said this, Ichigo did not miss the look that came to Apache's face.

"You don't have to worry about it, Halibel-san." His bruised ribs and diaphragm wanted him to say differently. There was also a little piece of him that felt rather satisfied at hearing those words. He didn't normally take pleasure in the suffering of others though. It must have been another aspect he picked up. Maybe from Mila-Rose…

"Forgive me for saying so, Ichigo-san, but I will not." She glanced back at Apache, who looked rather apprehensive. "We came here to restore your power to you. Even if Apache does not like it, I would see it done. To attack you is to go against my wishes, to which she has sworn her loyalty." Her eyes came back to Ichigo. "You should not worry for her well-being though, Ichigo-san. Her punishment shall not be overly harsh or painful. It shall just be something that she finds unpleasant, something rather fitting." Ichigo noticed her eyes going from to Apache and back again, and he felt a foreboding chill go up his spine.

"Halibel-san… what exactly did you have in mind?" It was an apprehensive question, and for good reason. He could almost swear that he saw a glint of mischief in her eyes.

"To be honest, Ichigo-san, I was thinking about making her your Shadow."

Ichigo's mind stopped and restarted at that. His Shadow? As in, his protector, who would follow his orders as they were given, and follow him anywhere he went?

Needless to say, Apache wasn't truly happy with that development "You've gotta be joking!"

"No, I am not joking Apache." There was a tone of finality to her voice that made the girl flinch. "From this point onward, you are going to be Ichigo-san's Shadow. You will watch him and provide for his needs until as he requires until I say otherwise. This order is not negotiable." Apache looked rather crestfallen at that.

"And Ichigo-san, if you are worried about Apache following you into the bath, then your worries are unfounded." Ichigo would have breathed a sigh of relief. It was scary that she could pretty much read his thoughts regarding this, but he was a bit relieved. Or he would have been, if not for what she said next. "From what I have seen so far, you are far better equipped than any man I have ever laid eyes on. You should be proud."

That did not make Ichigo feel any better. Not at all. The way he flushed would have given Orihime a run for her money. He was certain there was steam rising from his clothes. All the while, Mila had yet to stop laughing at the whole situation, and even Sun-Sun had let out a light titter.

Somehow, Ichigo doubted there was anything that he could say to change Halibel's mind. And as he thought about it, even if he tried and someone came by, he would look the fool talking to nothing but the air even to someone spiritually aware. With that in mind, he started for home, especially since it was starting to get colder. He looked back to see them all following him again, Halibel and Sun-Sun as stoic as before, and Mila-Rose still chuckling at a sour looking Apache. He caught her eye, and her look turned a bit sourer and more than just a little upset. For the rest of the walk though, everything was quiet.

Ichigo was so ready for his father when he got in the door that he barely paid any attention when he backhanded the man into the nearest wall. Of course, Yuzu put up a fuss at seeing that he was soaked from head to toe, and Karin good-naturedly called him a baka when he said that he fell into the fountain on his run to the park. He was immediately pushed to the stairs by his youngest baby sister, saying that he needed to get out of his wet clothes and into a bath before he caught a cold. He didn't argue because he knew she'd be upset otherwise. He did receive a pleasant surprise when he got to the bath though.

As soon as Ichigo sat down to wash his hair, he felt eyes staring at his back. He looked back, and somehow he was unsurprised to find Apache there with him. She was stony faced, but he could see the distaste in her eyes. He let out a sigh.

"You know, you don't have to be here. You can go if you want." Apache froze completely at his words. Nothing moved, not even her eyes as she stared into his. She just kept staring back before she slumped a bit, shutting those dual colored orbs.

"I can't go anywhere, you dumbass." She sounded like she wanted to spit. But then she grumbled, her eyes opening and shifting to the right. "Halibel-sama said I have to join you in here and keep an eye on you." She turned her head away from him. "So suck it up and deal with it. I don't have a fucking choice."

"Bullshit." The words escaped from his mouth before he could even consider stopping them. He didn't miss the way that she bristled at the accusation, but she didn't move other than that, keeping herself turned away from him. He turned back to the faucet, filling the bucket at his feet with water to rinse out the shampoo. "You have a fucking choice." He dumped the water over his head. "You just refuse to exercise that choice because Halibel-san is the one-"


Ichigo stopped talking at the interruption and glanced back at her. She was looking at him again, and her scowl was a bit more pronounced. "What?"

"Halibel-sama is my mistress' proper title…" Apache stated it like a fact. "…and a lowly human like yourself should show her the proper respect that she deserves by calling her as such."

Ichigo only raised a brow at that and turned away. "If Halibel-SAN objects to what I call her, then she can tell me herself." He glanced back at her. Her scowl was still in place, but he didn't miss the little twitch in her one brow. She wanted to argue with him, but she was holding back. He had no idea why. It wasn't like anyone would actually hear her. "Besides, what do you care what I call her?"

The stare down between them lasted for another moment before Apache growled out, "I care because Halibel-sama is trying to restore your powers by giving you her own. You should consider it an honor that she would do such a thing for you. You, a lowly human turned Shinigami, who shouldn't even be equal to the dirt beneath her feet."

Okay, now he was starting to get annoyed with this girl. A tic appeared on his brow. Normally he wouldn't give a damn what people said about him, but something in him was telling him to retaliate. "And that just burns you up, doesn't it Apache-chan?" He was up and off the stool, standing in front of her, a grin spread across his features. "Does it make lil' Apache-chan angry that her mistress would pick little old me for something so special?" Even as he said the words, he knew they didn't sound like something he would normally say. He didn't taunt people, but somehow, it felt… right to talk to Apache like this.

He moved to the side to avoid the punch he had expected, his eyes closed and a smug smirk on his lips. He opened on eye to look at her. She still looked angry, but he only held up a finger, waving it from side to side in a tsk tsk manner. "Now, now Apache-chan, what would Halibel-san say if she knew you tried that again? I bet she'd give you a good spanking." His smirk grew at the blush that stained Apache's cheeks. "Oh my, you're blushing. Did you like that thought? Is that why you call her mistress? Do you want her to punish you?" His scowl came back and it was joined by a devious grin that would have made Shinji proud. "I didn't think you were such a pervert, lil' Apache-chan."

The anger on Apache's face gave way to a fair amount of shock, before shifting to a scowl and grin of her own. He noticed the tic mark appear on her forehead. "Why you magnificent bastard," she said through grit teeth, "you call me a pervert when you're the one standing there with your dick out." She shut her eyes, one hand on her hips and the other waving in front of her face. She still had that same grin on her face, and the same tic on her forehead. "You're gonna scar these maiden eyes, making me look at such a tiny thing."

"Scar these maiden eyes?" A snort of disbelief came with that sentence. "I don't see any maidens around here that can be scarred." He leaned forward, a hand on his own hips, and the other poking at Apache's sternum, another cocky grin on his lips. "All I see here is the little pervert-girl who followed me into the bath. Did you wanna see me that badly, huh Doe-chan?"

Oh, we were name calling now? Well, two could play that game. "In your dreams, Berry Boy." She grinned at the new tic that joined his first. "I wouldn't be here if Halibel-sama hadn't asked me to."

"Oh, she asked you? I thought she ordered you." Apache's eyes widened when she realized her little slip of the tongue. Ichigo just gained a satisfied little grin as he called her a pervert in a little sing-song voice. Apache wasn't about to give up though.

"Strawberry." Ichigo just shot one right back at her.

"Road kill."

"Carrot top."

"Pervy deer."

"Eat me."

"Not without dinner first. Besides, I don't really like venison."

After that last one, Apache jumped at him, and Ichigo only moved to the side, tripping her up so that she went face first in the bathtub. She disappeared under the surface for a moment before she resurfaced, sputtering and coughing up bath water. He had to admit that all of that had felt pretty good. It was only after that thought hit him that he shook his head, coming to the more normal part of his senses. That wasn't who he was. It wasn't in his nature to needlessly do something like that to someone. That in mind, he held out a hand for her so he could help her out of the furo. "Gomen," he said quietly, looking a bit sheepish,

Apache looked at the hand for a minute straight, angry scowl in place. She finally took the offered hand. Grudgingly, stubbornly, like it was the last thing she wanted to do, but she took it nonetheless. She also took the towel he offered after he helped her out of the tub. She dried off as best she could and tossed it back at him before she left, literally, through the door. He just watched her go, and let out a tired sounding sigh after she was gone. At least now maybe he could enjoy his bath in peace. Had he been outside the bath, he might have been privy to the new conversation that was going on.

"Well, it looks like you had a good time in there."

Apache fumed a little when Mila-Rose opened her mouth to talk. "Fuck off, Mila-Rose. Just fuck off. I'm not in the mood."

Mila-Rose blinked twice before letting out a snort. "Jeez, you don't need to be such a bitch. So he got you a little bit wet." Considering that Apache's clothes were completely soaked, her words may have been a bit of an understatement. "And he wouldn't have even done that if you hadn't decided to antagonize him, so your bitch at me when your bad mood is your own damn fault."

"It's my fault?!" Apache's face would have burned if she looked any angrier. "He's the one who basically threw me in the fucking tub!"

"And was he the one who made you attack him earlier?" Mila accused. Apache shut up immediately. "What? Did you expect him to put up with your bullshit after that little stunt? I'm amazed that he didn't slug you in the face after that kick in the chest you gave him."

"He slapped my ass!"

"So what? I've done it before and you never tried to kill me for it." Mila crossed her arms and scowled lightly. "And that's not what set you off either. You were trying to hit him before he did that anyway." Mila put on a small frown to go with her scowl. "Just what were you hoping to accomplish, Apache?"

Apache would only growl at that. "It's none of your business, Mila-Rose."

"Wrong, Apache." Mila-Rose faced Apache and pressed a finger hard against the deer girl's sternum. "It became my business when you decided to do something to Halibel-sama's chosen, to go against her will." Mila poked Apache in the chest for good measure, and made sure that her fellow Fraccion member felt it. "It's not your place to make decisions for your mistress. If she wants Kurosaki Ichigo, then you are to see to it that she wholeheartedly gets what she desires."

"Mila-Rose, are you listening to the crap spewing from your mouth?!" It was a good thing that nobody in the house aside from Ichigo could hear them, because that shout would have attracted everyone's attention. "You can't really believe what you're saying! Fucking hell, he is not worthy of Halibel-sama's attention! He's our enemy! He's human! He's a weakling! He…! He's…!"

"He's not you?"

The accusation made Apache fall very quiet and very still. She met Mil-Rose's eyes, and then found herself looking anywhere but there. Despite how the two of them acted towards one another, Apache knew that Mila-Rose was someone that she could truly call her best friend. And the thing about best friends…they always had at least an inkling of what it was that the other was thinking. And with that one tiny question, Mila-Rose had hit the nail on the head. However, she had only hit it. She had yet to truly pound it down.

The two of them stood there for several minutes, Mila standing there quietly while Apache continued to stare at the ground. She was caught, and she knew it for a fact. She was waiting for it all to start coming. The laughter, the teasing, the berating words to tell her how foolish she was for even considering the notion that Halibel-sama would want anything to do with her in a light beyond that of the master and servant. She would not care what was said. She did not care what was said.

But then…nothing was said. Mila-Rose did not so much as utter a peep. Silence reigned between the two of them, and nothing interrupted the two of them. Apache finally worked up the nerve to look back up and look her fellow Fraccion in the face. Cool green looked back at her, impassive the only word that could describe the look on her face. Apache wasn't sure what that look meant for her, but it did not stay as Mila's lips turned upward into a sad little smile. Apache only stared quietly, her head tilting down lightly when she felt the hand press lightly against the top of her head. Mila's next words rang with the blaring clarity of a bell in her ears.

"We swore ourselves to her, Apache." Mila-Rose's words sounded somber, a hint of nostalgia in her voice. "She brought us together, gave us a home. She gave us protection from those that would harm us. We swore ourselves to her in thanks for what she did for us." Apache did not speak, Mila's hand lightly stroking her head. "Even as dysfunctional as we were, and as we are, we're a family. Even Aizen could not change that." Mila's hand stilled. "Family or not though, Halibel-sama is still our leader. As our leader, when she has anything in her sights that she desires, then it is our job to sit back and make sure that she gets what she wants." Mila-Rose removed her hand from Apache's hair, placing it on her hip. "And while you may not like it Apache, this is one of those moments. So just shut up and deal."

Apache didn't really look put out by those words. If anything, she looked slightly more annoyed. A little snort escaped from her nostrils. However, unlike her normal behavior, she did not give a retort to Mila-Rose and start their usual tirade. Instead, she walked away with only another small huff. Mila-Rose watched her go quietly until she turned the corner towards Ichigo's room. Only after she disappeared from view did Mila-Rose let out a breath that she had been holding. She was glad to see her fellow Fraccion go. Now she wouldn't have to call Apache out on her bullshit.

She her attitude and the way she acted at times, Mila-Rose was not stupid. And she did not miss little details. She knew that Apache did not swing for the other team. While he may have had a piss poor personality, Grimmjow had been a fairly attractive, well-built Arrancar. Apache had not failed to notice this either, because when she thought that no one had been looking, Mila-Rose noticed the little glances the deer girl had taken of the blue panther's body. His well-toned abs and steely buttocks had been her most frequent targets. No, Apache was definitely not gay.

So then, why lie about something like that? There was no sense in it. Sure, it was obvious that Apache didn't like the boy, but going as far to say it was because attracted to their mistress was pushing things a little bit too far. But then, it wasn't Mila's business, was it? Apache could lie her little ass off all she liked. Mila-Rose wouldn't question it. Until she decided to tell, Apache was entitled to her secrets, just like anyone else was. For the moment though, Apache was shirking on Halibel's request of keeping an eye on Ichigo.

…Then again, she herself was to be keeping an eye on Apache so that a repeat of Apache's earlier stunt did not occur. Now that Apache had left, Mila-Rose could just keep an eye on Ichigo instead, and not have to worry about the middle women doing anything to Ichigo. It was with that thought in mind that Mila-Rose stepped through the doorway.

Ichigo must have finished washing up after Apache had left, because he was sitting in the tub, his head resting against the wall behind it. He looked quite relaxed as she walked up to the side of the tub. His scowl was gone, and he almost looked like he was asleep. That idea flew out the window when he spoke up.

"I'm not going to have a single moment of privacy as long as you're all here, am I?" The tone of his voice was that of calm resignation. He opened his eyes to look at her. The scowl came back a little, but not as deep as it had been before. He didn't bother trying to cover himself up either. That little fact brought a raised eyebrow and a little smirk to Mila's face.

"Honestly…no. Probably not." That one made Ichigo's scowl intensify just a little bit more. Now he looked more like they'd come to expect him to. "You don't seem too worried about it, though." That got a raised brow from him while she took a seat on the edge of the tub. She glanced at the water. It was a little cloudy, but she could make out a pretty distinct shape to his body just beneath the surface. "I mean, you're not even trying to cover yourself up like you did this morning." She turned her eyes back to his face, sly grin in place. "It's almost like you want me to look."

Ichigo turned such a heavy shade of red that Mila was a little surprised the water hadn't started boiling yet. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh, turning his flushed face away from her. He sounded a little annoyed when he spoke. "You've already seen me naked, right?" He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She had a rather light, pleased looking smile on her face. He heaved in another breath and let out another sigh. "That's what I thought. If that's the case, then my nudity is a moot point."

"True," Mila quipped, crossing her arms as she sat up straight. She still had that pleased smile on her lips. "Halibel-sama was right though. You really should be proud of that thing." If she had been looking at him, she would have seen him turn that dangerous shade of red again.

"And here I thought I'd only have to worry about Halibel-san coming in with me," he grumbled.

"Sorry," Mila quipped. "However, Halibel-sama is not here at the moment. Otherwise, she'd be the one here with you instead on me." She glanced over her shoulder at him. "She did want Apache to keep an eye on you while she was gone, but since she stormed out of here, I took over."

Ichigo stopped at that. "Halibel-san isn't here?" Mila glanced at him again, predicting the unasked question.

"She needed to go back to Hueco Mundo for a little bit. We may be trying to restore your powers to you, berry boy…" She almost chuckled when he scowled at the little nickname. "…but even we need to eat every now and then." She stopped speaking, and she saw his mind start working behind those amber eyes of his. A moment later, he scowled a little bit, and then seemed to stiffen up. She knew the question before he even asked it.

"Have you been eating the Hollows in town too?" He should have seen that before. His powers were on the rise. He should have been a walking target, but so far, there had been nothing to indicate any Hollows anywhere near him, save for these four.

"Yes, but you can put your mind at ease. We haven't even touched any of the other spirits in this town." Mila said, her look and voice solemn. "We may have to eat souls, but we are not the mindless monsters that most Hollows start out as. We are in control of our hunger." She let out a quiet 'hmph' as a small smile. "Besides, better to eat the ones that would cause harm, rather than the ones just trying to pass on, right?"

Ichigo stared at her for a few moments, at a loss for anything to say. In fact, he was feeling a fair amount of shame. These women were trying to help him. Why would he accuse them of something that they likely knew would severely upset him as a Shinigami? They had probably even considered him figuring out that they were the reason a Hollow had yet to come after him, and his reaction when they did tell him that they were eating the other Hollows in his town. They hadn't caused any trouble for him yet, so why would they do something they might know would upset him. He was an idiot.

He found himself looking away from her. "Gomen," he said quietly. "I assumed too much." Mila-Rose's response was to grin a little and rub her hand through his hair.

"Don't worry about it. You were a Shinigami. I'd have been a little surprised if you hadn't assumed something like that." She took her hand away and turned from him, folding her arms at her chest. "Shows that you're a good guy as well, considering that you have no real connections to any of the souls wandering this town." She smirked. "Halibel-sama chose well."

Ichigo wasn't sure what to say to that, so he quietly spoke up. "Thanks."

The two of them fell into a calm silence. Ichigo sat quietly as he soaked, while Mila sat on the edge of the tub, her back to him. Neither gave any indication of discomfort, though Mila-Rose did shift a bit in her seat. However, it was an intentional move on her part, and she could not help the small, satisfied smirk that played on her lips when she heard a sudden, but calm, intake of breath. That smirk grew a little bit as she turned her head just enough to glance at Ichigo's face.

His eyes were not trained to the ceiling as they had been before, nor were they trained towards any of the walls nearby. She shifted in her seat again, and was rewarded with the sight of a faint blush to his cheeks. She was unsurprised by his wandering eyes, even a little flattered by them. Her smirk turned into a mischievous smile. She had seen him naked already…

Ichigo nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand settle over his own on the edge of the tub. His face pointed to Mila's, where he found that mischievous smile waiting for him. "Naughty boy," she sing-songed to him, "what were you looking at just now?" He could swear that her smile was growing, in width and mischief. "Was it something good?"

He was caught. And he knew it. He swallowed air and fought down a blush, having enough decency to look at least a fair bit ashamed of himself. He did not look away from her though, preparing to take any lumps that she might send his way. However, he was a little surprised when the fingers of the hand over his own began to draw little lines over his skin. She even let out a little giggle.

"Did you expect me to be angry, Ichigo-kun?" Her hand left his and continued drawing little lines over his skin, slowly moving up the length of his forearm. Goosebumps erupted in the wake of the light caress left by her fingers. He felt himself swallow again, to bring moisture back to his throat. "Honestly, it's kind of flattering. It means you find me sexually appealing, no?" She moved a little closer, lifting his hand off of the tub's edge and setting it in her lap, positioning his hand so that his fingers touched the bare skin just above her beltline. To say he was a little surprised was putting it lightly. If he turned any darker red, he could have probably been seen from space. Both missed how the water in the tub began to bubble and steam ridiculously. None of this stopped Mila's hands. Not the one over his hand in her lap, or the one caressing his upper arm and shoulder.

"Tell me Ichigo-kun…Would it be the same if my mistress were here instead of me?" The red of his skin receded a bit, and his eyebrows rose lightly. His jaw went slack for a moment and then clacked back together. She must have found his reaction cute or funny, because she giggled. "C'mon now, be honest with me. Would it?" Ichigo stared at her for a brief moment and then turned away from her, staring at the wall next to the tub. She kept her eyes on him, even feeling the fingers at her stomach slowly moving back and forth.

"Yes." Ichigo's head flopped over from the one shoulder to the other so he was looking at her again. "Why do you want to know?"

"Well…" Mila bit her lip, but only for a moment. "Ichigo-kun, since you can see and hear us now… Did you hear the conversation between Apache and me before I joined you?"

"I heard a little bit," he said calmly. "Something about how it's your job to make sure that Halibel-san gets what she wants."

"And what she wants is you," Mila said, lightly squeezing the hand in her lap while her other moved from his shoulder to his collarbone. "That in mind, I wanted to see if might find her attractive physically."

"By getting close to me like this?" Ichigo's brow raised high again. "There's something that you aren't telling me here, Mila-Rose."

"Caught that, did you? You're more perceptive than I took you for." He was fairly certain that she was calling him dense with that comment, but he let it slide. "You're right though." The hand on his collarbone moved to grasp the underside of his chin. "I am also hoping that Halibel-sama will make a move to gain your attention."

Ichigo couldn't help but give a little snort, reaching up and moving Mila's hand from his face while he leaned forward to stand up. He pulled the plug and stepped out of the tub. He didn't miss the smirk on his face when he stepped out of the tub. He could feel her eyes on him. "I think the whole thing where she opened up her shirt while she straddled my lap was a pretty good move on her part, don't you?" He grabbed a towel off the shelf, only to pause in drying his hair as he felt a finger move slowly along the length of his shoulders.

"That was purely for explanatory purposes; to show you what we, what she, did to escape the hunger." Ichigo could hear the remembrance in her words, and her finger beginning to trace over his spine. He ignored it in favor of drying the water from his body. "But that is all it was: an explanation." Ichigo stopped moving as Mila-Rose leaned in close, pressing herself against his back. He stiffened when her hands circled him, the one going to his chest and the other resting on his thigh. He could not see the saddened look on her face.

"Life in Hueco Mundo does not allow time for someone to experience emotions to their fullest." She leaned into Ichigo's shoulder, burying her nose in his neck. "It has been a very long time since any of us have felt anything close to affection. And for Halibel-sama, it has been even longer. So long that she barely knows how to act on her emotions anymore." Ichigo felt a drop of moisture hit his skin. He swallowed, but did not speak. "She has been there for us… Apache, Sun-Sun, and I… for longer than any of us were ever worthy. She sacrificed for us so that we may live, not just physically, but emotionally as well." She took her hands from him and turned him around. He took the moment to wrap himself in his towel as she placed her hands on his shoulder.

"I want to help Halibel-sama. I want to repay her for everything she's done for me." She met Ichigo's eyes and smiled. "And if that means helping her get the one that she's set her sights on, then I'm gonna do it."

Ichigo kept the stare with her, holding his towel in place, and only looked away after a moment when he reached up to scratch his nose and blush a bit. "No offense Mila-Rose, but…" He let out a breath. "You don't seem to be taking me into consideration. I've only known Halibel for a little bit, and even then, I…" He licked his lips. "I don't even know if I feel the same way yet."

"Ah, but you just said the magic word. You said yet. It means that you do feel at least something." Mila grinned a mile wide. "All that time with her in your dreams, even if she didn't have a human form, must have been good for something." She patted him on the head lightly and continued to grin. "Just get to know her a little bit more. I'm sure you'll feel something eventually."

"You sound so sure of that," he muttered. Her response was to pat him on the cheek.

"You know what they say about love and mysterious ways. We'll just have to see how things go." She continued to smile, even as she grabbed him by the arm not holding his towel and pulled him to the door. "Now come on. You need to get your sleep, and it's my turn to contribute tonight."

"Yeah, yeah." He removed his hand from her grip and followed her out. "By the way, what was with the slap on the ass this morning? Your first step in this process?"

Mila-Rose looked a little sly when she glanced back at him. "Yes… and I kind of wanted to see just how you'd react… and just how fit you were." Mila gave him a little wink. "Nice and firm, by the way."

"Fuck you," he scoffed in a whisper.


"Damn it," he growled quietly. "I walked right into that one." Mila-Rose simply shook her head and grinned bigger. It was infectious, because Ichigo was soon doing it too. He even gave a little chuckle.

The rest of the night was fairly calm… Calm, considering his new company, that is. Sun-Sun was fairly calm and quiet, enjoying one of the books from his shelf. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Great book. Apache gave him dirty stare's most of the night, but she enjoyed the music that he put on just the same. And he and Mila-Rose were having a fairly good time getting on Apache's nerves, thus the dirty stares. He finally went off to bed, Mila-Rose joining him as she placed a glowing orange-tipped finger between his lips. He fell into a calm sleep, smelling the dry grasses and feeling the savannah sun on his skin. It was a good way to end the evening.

And all throughout the night, calm yellow eyes watched his window from a distance, a black tail calmly twitching for every moment watched.

And that's that. Things are brewing, and it looks like someone is keeping an eye on Ichigo. Wonder why... don't all of you? Hope you all enjoyed the new installment. And to all of you who want Panther King, relax. It'll come in it's own good time, so stop pestering me about it. Don't make me blow fireballs at all of your asses. I'll do it, I swear! I'm crazy and delusional!

That said, I'll catch you all later. Bed beckons me, and I gotta get to work in the morning. See you Space Cowboys! Bye for now! SnK.