Ren-sama's Note:

Everyone, I truly appreciate your support and reviews! OTL I'm truly sorry for killing Juushirou in this fict, too… But believe me, his death is necessary. And you also don't have to compare this fict to the real anime/manga. There might be scenes that can also be found in the anime/manga (since I'm following the flow of the real one, for now at least) and there are scenes that are of my own creation. ˆoˆ


Chapter 11

Isshin and the others told the orange-haired teen about the Hollowfication process that Karin endured just to go and save Rukia. It seemed her power was not as immense as Ichigo's so they had no choice but to wake up her Hollow forcefully even though she was still a living human. It's also the reason why she couldn't fully control it. No, scratch that. At this minute, she probably still didn't even know she had one. She was now making chaos in Seireitei as they spoke.

Shinji grinned at the prospect of training another Vizard. Ichigo shuddered when he saw the expression on the other man's face. He shuddered when he remembered the hell that he went through in that warehouse for the last sixteen days. That's a memory that would forever be etched in his mind, not in fondness but in an almost traumatic way.

Without any word, Isshin hugged him and Ichigo was so surprised that his body immediately acted on reflex and kicked the older man on the wall. He gulped when the wall cracked behind his father. "Ah, Goat-face? Sorry, I was just–"

His words were interrupted when a kick landed on his face and Isshin laughed proudly. "Hah! That's what you get for turning your guard down!" Ichigo stood up menacingly and Shinji's grin became wider. He and the rest of the Vizards were quite amazed of Ichigo's reiatsu and also his prowess. The boy was, in a way, an idiot prodigy. And thus, the first meeting of father and son for over sixteen years turned into a messy brawl of insults and physical fight.

Afterwards, Isshin made Ichigo tell them what happened to him and why he was in the world of the living. And thus, he told them of his life in Rukongai, not in details of course. Everything was just like a report, utterly boring and brief. But his eyes were the ones that betrayed him. His eyes held the anguish, the sorrow, the hatred, the pain, the guilt, and every other emotion that he now felt.

And Isshin saw through him. "So you're Ukitake's adopted son. He's a very good teacher, you know. And a very kind one." Ichigo nodded. "Ukitake was the one who showed me the hang of being a Taichou, the one who guided many of us young Taichous. Whoever killed him surely has a dark reason for doing so."

Ichigo looked up at his father. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Ukitake might have discovered something which he mustn't know of. Or at least, he might be at a wrong place at the wrong time." Isshin mused loudly.

"We also think that way." Shinji voiced. "Ukitake-taichou is not someone who will make other Shinigamis hold a grudge against him. And thus, the only reason for his death was those you've just said. Something's happening in Seireitei right now and I feel that it's something big."

"Make sure to take care of yourself there, Ichigo." Isshin said as he ruffled his son's hair, much to Ichigo's surprise and quiet embarrassment – though not in a negative way. "And make sure to take care of Karin too, if you have time."

"Of course, Oyaji." He smiled a tad, still a little unused to calling someone he just saw a while ago 'father'.

"And Ichigo," Shinji called. "Make sure to remember everything that we've told you. You better not get caught by Seireitei's dogs until the culprit shows himself." The orange-haired teen looked at the blonde and nodded.

Isshin looked at his son once more. If the higher ups could be convinced that Ichigo was indeed responsible for the deaths of two Taichous, it only meant that his son was that powerful now. To be able to have the power to handle two Taichous at the same time... Though he knew that Ichigo never did it, the mere fact that others thought so was enough of a proof that Ichigo was someone who could actually go against two Taichous simultaneously.

"Shall we go then, underground?" Urahara asked as he yawned.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

He could feel the intensity of the fight even from afar. It seemed his sister didn't know how to suppress her reiatsu yet, so much like him when he was younger. But for Karin to be this strong in only two months of training was really amazing. Though he didn't know it was actually Karin's reiatsu, for he had never felt her reiatsu before, he immediately knew it was hers because it was a reiatsu he couldn't recognize. And it was fighting against Renji. And from Renji's reiatsu that felt so utterly anguished and angered, he knew it was the human who made Rukia go through all this. And thus, his sister. His sister whom he didn't even know the face of. And Karin probably wouldn't even recognize him.

He came from the senkai gate, not needing any guide because he already had the Hell Butterfly that Kenpachi gave him that night. The gate had just closed behind him and the intense air filled with reiatsu and spirit particles was a welcoming change from the world that almost had none of it, except when he was inside the Vizards' hideout.

"Remember not to let anyone know you're there, Ichigo." Shinji's voice echoed in his mind as he descended onto soft earth quietly. At first, he wanted to tell his close friends that he was back, to at least make them less worried. But Shinji insisted that he did not, saying that he didn't know who the culprit was, making it just about any high ranking member of Gotei 13, and it was dangerous to involve others too. And thus, he entered Seireitei quietly.

He saw that Jidanbou wasn't at the gate and knew that the huge guy must've been defeated. He was able to enter without any unnecessary trouble because the barrier could recognize his reiatsu, though he chose to hide not only his reiatsu but also his entire presence.

He immediately shunpo'd towards the forest beside the Sokyouku Hill and sat on one of the branches, highly guarded and making use of his sensing skills. It was hard to feel the outsiders because of too much reiatsu in the air. There were many commotions in different parts of Seireitei and he knew they were still fighting even now.

His heart dropped when he felt Renji's reiatsu disappeared. He immediately shook his head and tried to feel it harder. And there it was. The redhead's reiatsu was so weak but it was there, he's alive. He sighed in relief before he shunpo'd to the part of the forest where there would be no one to see him. He looked at the trees and thick bushes and knew that he had never been in this area before in the entire two months and some days that he was in Seireitei.

He wandered around for some minutes before he found a cave that highly resembled Urahara's basement. He remembered how he stared at Urahara when the latter said they would go underground and the man laughed at him. That hat and clogs was annoying.

He looked around and found out that indeed, it was the same structure as Urahara's basement. Well, the guy was the previous 12th Division Taichou so he might have been here before. Ichigo surveyed the area for any reiatsu, a trace of it or anything like that, but there's nothing to feel. It seemed the cave had not been occupied for some years now, maybe even decades. He immediately saw a small hot spring from the far side and let himself relax in the warm water.

'Never let your guard down, King.' Shiro said from inside his mind before the Hollow materialized in front of him. Ichigo was still not used to seeing Shiro out so it made his eyes widen for a moment. It was like looking in the mirror, though monochrome for Shiro was pure white and black in color.

Zangetsu also materialized but he didn't join in the bath. "I think that that hot spring is made to treat injuries."

Ichigo nodded. "Yeah, I can feel my body relaxing. It's much too nice, this feeling."

"Hah! You know what, King?" Shiro said as he made himself comfortable in the water. "We can make this place our own palace, and no one would dare disturb us here. Those Shinigamis would know that–"

"Idiot, we're here to clear my name, not to conquer a cave." He yawned as he felt himself drifting into slumber.

"Tch." He barely heard Shiro's dissent but he knew that it was the Hollow's own way of saying 'You're right.'

He was much powered up when he next woke up and he knew he was in the hot spring for more than an hour because his fingers and toes were pale and the skin looked like that of an old man's skin because it was soaked in the water for much too long.

Both Shiro and Zangetsu were not in their materialized form anymore too. After he dressed up, he wore the black Shihakusho that Shinigami normally wore, he decided to explore more of the cave. It was so huge, quiet, and calm. And he could hardly feel the reiatsu of other Shinigamis from the outside. Thus, it made this cave both a good hideout and a bad one. If it could block the reiatsus coming from the outside, it also meant that no one outside would know that he was here. Thus, the good reason. But it also meant that he would hardly know if someone was near or was about to enter, and it would be too late to hide if they entered the cave. Thus, the bad one.

'Who are you?' Ichigo stopped in his tracks when he heard the voice. At first he thought it came from his head, but then the voice was different. It wasn't Zangetsu's or even Shiro's.

"Is there someone here?" He voiced quietly, not really wanting anyone to know that he was there. No one answered though.

"Did you two hear that voice?" He asked his head instead.

'Voice?' Shiro answered. 'I didn't hear anything, King.'

"Oh." He shook his head. He must have been imagining things.

And without any warning, Zangetsu materialized in front of Ichigo, sword pointing at the teen.

'Oy, Ichigo. I think you pissed Zangetsu somehow. He looks pretty serious to me.' Shiro said from inside Ichigo's head. Ichigo stared at Zangetsu's materialized form for a while before he found his voice.

"Zangetsu-ojii-san?" He called. "Is there something wrong?"

"Fight me, Ichigo." He voiced solemnly. Of course, Zangetsu was not one of the calmest zanpakutou alive if he would shout out his warning. And thus, without any word, Ichigo was forced to block a Getsuga Tenshou from Zangetsu's sword.

"Zangetsu!" Ichigo shouted from beyond the little rocks and dusts that erupted because of the attack. "What's wrong with you?"

"Fight me." Zangetsu simply said before he attacked again. Zangetsu was swift and his attacks were powerful, but Ichigo had not trained with him for nothing. He immediately attacked and blurted out the move before he could even think about it.

"Getsuga Tenshou!" He made a swift slicing motion, but much to his surprise and shock, nothing happened.

'I think you're in a big problem there, King.' Shiro voiced inside his head. The Hollow was also thoughtful as to why Zangetsu suddenly acted so strangely. They were having a conversation in Ichigo's inner world when Zangetsu suddenly stopped and disappeared, and after that was the voice that Ichigo said he heard. Could they be connected?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"She goes by the name of Karin Kurosaki and we currently don't have any lead on her whereabouts. Her friends are also making as much trouble as possible and we still don't know what their motives are. The whole 11th Squad was annihilated and there are also seated officers from other Divisions resting in Unohana-taichou's barracks. Aside form that, Abarai-fukutaichou has been defeated and is now inside the prison, as ordered by Kuchiki-taichou." Rangiku reported.

Toshirou sighed. "Do you think it has something to do with Ukitake-taichou's son?"

"Ichigo?" Rangiku asked. "Why?"

"Kurosaki vanished in his cell seventeen days ago and we still haven't found him. There are reports saying that he escaped into the living world. And then after ten days that he was gone, these ryokas invaded Seireitei and are causing us so much trouble since then. Not to mention that their leader's surname and Kurosaki's are the same."

"It might just be a coincident, Taichou." Rangiku answered solemnly. "I… I don't believe that Ichigo killed Ukitake-taichou, Taichou." Toshirou looked up at her. "I mean, sure Ichigo has the power and the strength, but that doesn't mean he's the only one who could've done that. And he's not the type to do something so horrible. I've only known him for a short time but I know that Ichigo is not someone who will harm his Chichi just to keep his secret."

"Matsumoto," Toshirou could feel his headache again. "Leave that ordeal to the ones who need to take care of it. What we need to deal with right now is the fact that these ryokas seem to have a purpose. We need to find out what it is."

"Well, Ikkaku said that the girl named Karin Kurosaki asked him where the prisoner named Rukia Kuchiki was being imprisoned in. So… it might be their goal."

Toshirou could suddenly feel his veins of annoyance showing. "Matsumoto, if you know that much from the start… why didn't you just tell me earlier?"

Rangiku made a cute face. "But Taichou, it's fun to make you think!"

"Matsumoto!" He shouted just before Rangiku shunpo'd away from the office. He sighed before he decided to take a walk. His office was suffocating. And besides, it's not as if he had to do anything in the office anyway, not when there were so much reiatsus fighting everywhere.

He shunpo'd towards the Sokyouku Hill just for the sake of it and his eyes widened at what he saw. The woman, she seemed in her twenties, wore a black Shihakusho and she had a long sword with spikes as edge, like a saw. Her sword was similar to Renji's when in Shikai but only with more teeth, and small ones.

She turned to him and Toshirou couldn't help but feel that her reiatsu was somehow similar to Ichigo's, though a lot weaker than the orange-haired male's. "Are you a Taichou?" She asked. Her dark eyes gleamed in determination and resolve as she pointed her long sword in his direction. She had a shoulder-length straight raven hair that gleamed under the sun as she moved into position. Her eyes were sharp but they were nevertheless charming. Toshirou's left eye twitched when he thought of that.

Karin knew that the person in front of her was much stronger than he looked. Even though the teen looked like an aloof and cool male, she was sure that the guy had a very astonishing air about him. There was something about the guy that seemed to draw her in. Not to mention that the male was handsome and strong. She sighed inwardly when she suddenly thought of her opponent like that. It wasn't everyday that she thought of someone as cool and handsome. Or rather, it might have been the first time she thought of someone else as handsome. Not even her own father.

Toshirou sighed before he unsheathed his zanpakutou. He was glad that she immediately thought he was a taichou though. It would be a war if she asked why a little high school kid was in the place. "Souten ni Zase, Hyourinmaru."

And in another second, the surge of two clashing reiatsus that seemed to be calling out to one another could be felt throughout Seireitei.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ichigo sat in a seiza in the middle of the cave. His eyes were closed and he had a very relaxed posture. His fight yesterday against Zangetsu only gave him another thing to think about, but he couldn't have that. He used kidou against Zangetsu and the man, it looked, had come to realize what he was doing and apologized. Shiro laughed at Zangetsu's strange act but Ichigo was more worried than anything.

Zangetsu assured him that he was fine now. That he just heard a voice, and before he realized it, he was already fighting Ichigo. The teen readily forgave his zanpakutou of course. And now, the three of them were thinking of how to expose the culprit that killed his chichi. It was kind of hard to do what with all the commotions going on. And on top of that, he needed to rescue Rukia too, though he would give the credit of doing that to Karin who had steeled her resolve to go here and do so.

'So, what do you think we should do, King?' Shiro asked. He hated thinking because he only lived based from instinct. 'You know that we can't just go around the place because everyone is on high alert.'

'Maybe that's what we need.' Zangetsu voiced. 'A distraction, for everyone's eyes to be on something else.'

Ichigo smiled. Zangetsu was a genius. "I think that might actually work, though what shall we do?"

'Shall we sneak to the place where your chichi was killed and investigate the reiatsus there?' Shiro suggested.

'That won't work, Shiro.' Zangetsu countered. 'By now, there will be so many reiatsu registers in that place because of the commotion. And we won't know who among them is the real culprit and who just happened to fight in the place.'

'I have something, a plan.' Shiro grinned and Ichigo was sure it wouldn't be too good. 'You just come out and let them chase after you. I'm sure the culprit will be thrilled to see you right now.' The last statement had a hint of sarcasm in it.

Ichigo wanted to think that it made sense, though it was very dangerous. And before the culprit could find him, the rest of the Gotei 13 would do too. He sighed. Planning about what he should do was way harder than the harsh training from Shinji and the others that he endured while whining.

'I hate thinking! Why can't we just kill them all!?' Shiro suggested this time. And Ichigo was sure it was not a mere joke anymore. That's how far Shiro would go just to not think.

"You don't have to think about a plan, you know." Ichigo said as he too felt that it was quite tiring to think of a plan. No wonder it was hard to be a Taichou. Juushirou always appeared so composed as he commanded his officers on what they should do everyday, and he didn't think that it was this hard when no one was advising you. Wait, advising?

'You have a person in mind?' Shiro asked.

'I don't think it's wise to seek advice from just anyone.' Zangetsu voiced. 'You still don't know who you can trust, Ichigo. I believe that the culprit will show himself sooner or later so we just have to wait a little more.' The two others agreed, one glad that he didn't have to think, and one frustrated that he thought of nothing.

The next day, Ichigo came out of the cave and was surprised that the reiatsu belonging to his sister was fighting on par with Kenpachi. In another area, a ryoka lost to Shunsui and it seemed to distract Karin a lot. The ryoka must be important to her. After some intense reiatsu battle, both Karin and Kenpachi lost their consciousness it seemed, because both of their reiatsus plummeted to the ground one after the other. As usual, he could feel the happiness in Kenpachi's reiatsu even though he lost consciousness in the end.

Ichigo neared the edge of the forest and heard some unseated officers talking to one another, not even realizing that there was already another presence following them.

"I heard Hitsugaya-taichou lost! And Zaraki-taichou's reiatsu just disappeared!" One of them said in a fury. "Damn those ryokas! If I saw one of them, I'd surely–"

"Lose too." His companion added. The other one growled. "If the Taichous can't win, then there's no way unseated officers like us can win, you know."

"Hey, do you know the rumors?" The third Shinigami said. "It seems those ryokas actually went here to rescue the criminal Rukia Kuchiki."

"Speaking of Rukia Kuchiki, she'll be executed in about five days, right?" The second Shinigami asked and the other two nodded. "I heard Kuchiki-taichou made sure she'll be executed."

"He's as cruel and heartless as always." They all agreed as they continued walking, shivering just at the thought of the cold Taichou.

Ichigo didn't follow them anymore. He wanted to punch that bastard Byakuya on the face for making Rukia's life so difficult, and then when she did something like this, he would just abandon her and even try to make sure she's killed? That bastard needed some ass-kicking.

'Let your sister do that, Ichigo.' Zangetsu said. The teen was about to argue because he personally knew how powerful and talented the Kuchiki heir but Zangetsu interjected immediately. 'Have fate in her ability and power, Ichigo. She is not alone in her fight. I'm sure she can defeat Byakuya on her own and save Rukia. The one thing you need to do is find the culprit that might make everything harder for them.'

"I know." He voiced quietly.

Ichigo went back to the cave again and thought. Even though it pained him, he tried to think about the night that both Aizen and Juushirou died. When he lashed out at Aizen, he felt that both their reiatsus surged. And then he left the place with Aizen unharmed and went home. His father came out after that and then he was found dead. Was it Gin who did it then? It's a possibility. Gin was the sole person who knew Ichigo didn't do anything to Aizen and that he left immediately after that. Could Gin be the one who killed both his chichi and Aizen in one go? But Gin, according to Rangiku, was way younger than both Aizen and Juushirou. There was no way he was far stronger than those two combined. Something was definitely missing…

'Maybe that Gin person is the one you need to confront.' Shiro suggested again after a while. 'Maybe he's the one who holds the answer to your questions, Ichigo.'

'I think I agree with Shiro, though be careful, Ichigo. If Gin is indeed the one who killed two powerful Taichous in one go, then you might be in trouble.' Zangetsu added.

"There's also the possibility that Gin has nothing to do with it." He answered to the both of them. "Remember that they reported there's no sign of any reiatsu other than Chichi's, mine, and Aizen's. Even if Ichimaru is strong, there's no way he won't release at least a little reiatsu if he were to fight two Taichous at once. And there's something more that's bothering me." He sighed. "Chichi's reiatsu wasn't able to fully enter a battle mode. He died with only using a little reiatsu. It seemed he was shocked at something… maybe…"

'Maybe your father, your real father I mean, is right.' Shiro said. 'Maybe your chichi did see something he shouldn't have. Something that shocked him thoroughly… And in his shock, the enemy was immediately able to kill him.'

Ichigo grinned, though not the usual warm grin, but a calm and cool one. And it was not because of the topic about his chichi either. "And I thought you hate thinking, Shiro." Shiro snorted before he grinned too.

'Let's wait for a little while.' Zangetsu voiced.

The orange-haired teen went out of the cave after some hours of bathing. And he was glad that he did when a woman with long violet hair ponytailed at the back and a woman with short raven hair arrived and entered the cave. The ryokas…

Ichigo bit his lower lip. He was sure they would be able to sense his reiatsu in there. But hours passed and still not one of the two came out. Ichigo sighed as he left the place and went to the edge of the forested area again.

It was harder to see the forest at night but his good reflex prevented him from ever tripping on a branch or any uneven ground. The moon hung in the sky and it shed a dim light that helped the teen make out his surroundings.

It seemed Mayuri Kurotsuchi just lost against a ryoka whose reiatsu felt neither Shinigami nor simply human. It was new to Ichigo and he couldn't register what kind of reiatsu it was.

"It's a Quincy's." A voice from behind him made Ichigo jump. He narrowed his eyes on the woman that disappeared into the cave earlier. "I felt your reiatsu all over the cave, boy. You might be used to making it almost absent but you can't deceive me."

"You're one of the ryokas." Ichigo said, still eyeing the woman. The woman looked powerful, not to mention that she had a very cunning air around her.

"I'm Yoruichi Shihouin." She grinned. "You won't tell our location to anyone, will you?" Ichigo's eyebrows creased at the mention of the name of one of the four noble houses. So this important-looking person was a noble too, huh.

"I don't have any intention of joining your little chaos-making, though I will not let anyone know as long as you don't tell a soul about me too, not even the ryoka with you." He answered and Yoruichi squinted her eyes.

"You somehow look familiar." She mused aloud.

"…Ichigo Kurosaki, ring any bells?" He held back the urge to smirk or even grin when the woman's normally playful feature turned shocked and wide-eyed. She blinked several times before she grinned.

"I see." She nodded. "Wanna visit your younger sister? She's a beauty too, you know."

He shook his head. "No, you don't have to tell her about me. I'm here for a different reason and I don't want her involved, not that I can make her not involved though. Is she resting right now?"

"Yes, she's been fighting Ugetsu ever since earlier." She said, and seeing the confused look on Ichigo's facxe, added, "Ugetsu is her zanpakutou."

"So you're making her achieve Bankai in just three days." It's not a question and Yoruichi grinned again.

"You're quite knowledgeable, Ichigo." She said. "I won't ask why you're here. I won't tell her too. But you better make sure not to go against her. She's pretty powerful."

"I'll try to remember that." He nodded, though there was a hint of playfulness in his tone.

"But I'm surprised you remember." Yoruichi looked thoughtful.

"I don't." Ichigo shook his head. "Goat-face told me about her. Though I know I have a sister, I don't know who she is, not her name, not her face and certainly not her reiatsu." She looked like she wanted to ask more but decided against it. She left him after a while and he used that time to take the most needed slumber.

The sun was already up in the sky when he woke up. His back ached a little because of his sleeping position. He was sitting on the ground while leaning on the trunk of a huge tree and his head was hanging. He stood up and yawned.

"How's your sleep, Ichigo?" He sharply turned when he heard the voice, but then he relaxed when he recognized it.

"Yoruichi." He called and the woman jumped from the branch that she was perched on and stood in front of him. He could see that her smile was strained. "Is there something wrong?"

She sighed. "I believe in Karin. I really do. That's the only reason why I let her do that training. But I feel that–"

"If the mentor lost faith in the student, then the student will feel bad even if she succeeds." Ichigo said as he swung his huge sword over his shoulder. He already knew what Yoruichi was talking about. Shinji never lost hope in him until the last second and he was grateful for that. Because Shinji believed that he could do it, he really made sure to do it. "You have to believe in Karin."

She smiled, not her usual cunning smile but a kind one. "Of course, who said I don't believe in her?" The corner of his lips twitched into a smile, though that's the best smile he could do. Then Yoruichi's expression became serious once more and Ichigo's scowl returned just at the prospect of receiving a bad news. "Ichigo, Rukia's execution is tomorrow morning. I know it's rude of me to ask for your help to rescue her but…"

"Rukia is my friend." He answered. "I want to help in her rescue too. And I will, as long as the thing I need to do doesn't get in the way."

Yoruichi looked expectantly at him. Ichigo sighed. He knew that Yoruichi trusted him enough to ask for his help and they might actually help in finding the culprit. He knew it might be considered being weak because he was relying on someone, but he needed information. And these outsiders might have it. "Two Taichous were killed the day after Rukia arrived here. If you might know something, please tell me. I need to know who the culprit is."

"You mean Aizen-taichou and Ukitake-taichou." She said, and Ichigo was starting to have the feeling that Yoruichi was not just a normal noble. "They were killed and were both pinned on the wall of a building just opposite each other and everyone believed that it was Ukitake-taichou's son who killed him." Yoruichi looked at Ichigo's somewhat hard and cold gaze, and she immediately connected the bits and pieces. "You're Ukitake-taichou's son."

Ichigo's intense gaze didn't lessen. "Yes. I want to clear my name and mourn Chichi properly. But before I can do that, I have to know who the culprit is."

"You want to avenge him." Yoruichi could see clearly the deep anguish and hatred intricately intermingling in Ichigo's chocolate eyes. They were dark and shadowy, answering Yoruichi's question without uttering a word. The woman sighed. "I can't tell you to stop because it's not my place. But revenge won't do you any good, Ichigo. It won't make you feel better."

"It will." He answered immediately. "I will make sure that it will." And then his expression changed. "But Goat-face also told me to take care of Karin so I will somehow lend a hand tomorrow, especially since all of the Taichous, even the soutaichou, will be there." She seemed satisfied, if only a little, and she left him after a while to see how Karin was doing.

'So you finally admitted that you will avenge your chichi.' Shiro said inside his head. 'You always say that you want to clear your name and rescue Rukia, and capture the culprit that killed your chichi. But the one thing you want to do the most is to kill the Shinigami who did it.' Ichigo closed his eyes as his Hollow continued to rant on.

'Ichigo, that woman is right. There is no satisfaction in revenge.' Zangetsu said.

'Don't be a killjoy, Zangetsu!' Shiro exclaimed. 'You know the thirst for blood that Ichigo feels cannot be quenched until he killed that criminal! And besides, it'll be good to finally enjoy killing someone.'

"Don't be an idiot, Shiro." Ichigo answered, eyes still closed. "There's no way I can clear my name if I kill the person who did it. If I kill him, there's no way he can tell everyone else that it wasn't me but him who was the culprit."

'And don't assume that he's male, Ichigo. It might lead you to false evidence and conclusion.' Zangetsu said. Shiro snickered and Ichigo sighed again.

'Anyway, are you sure you would want to go help free that girl from execution tomorrow? Everyone will be there, you know.' Shiro said after a while. 'Don't think that you can easily escape if you appear in front of them, especially in front of that old man Soutaichou. You won't get your revenge if you're caught, right?'

"Let's just see what will happen." He finally answered after some thoughts.

He waited in the outskirt of the forest the whole day and once again tried to hear some news from the Shinigamis passing by. He heard many things from them – from the news of the ryokas' capture, except Karin Kurosaki, to the news of Rukia's execution tomorrow morning. He then thought of Byakuya and how the noble must be feeling.

"He must be happy now, for doing his best to dig a hole to bury Rukia in." He thought as he gritted his teeth hard in bitterness. He looked at the setting sun, not even bothering to think that it was beautiful now.

'Ichigo.' Zangetsu voiced. The zanpakutou didn't say it but the teen knew that the sword was expressing his concern for him.

'Shall we greet him tomorrow, King? Since he gave you so much heartache?' Shiro suggested with a grin.

"What do you mean heartache? Don't you mean headache?" The teen scowled at his Hollow's diction. It was strange even to his ears.

And just as he was about to voice his comment out loud for the sake of it, he immediately stopped when he sensed the all too familiar reiatsu in the air not too far away from him. Ichigo hid himself in one of the tree branches and made sure that his reiatsu couldn't be felt by anyone.

'Speaking of the devil.' Shiro voiced inside his mind and Ichigo thought how literally the pun was. They saw Byakuya taking a stroll. 'His conscience must be killing him.'

"If he even has something like that." Ichigo thought. He watched as the noble walked alone, seemingly deep in thought if he couldn't even feel Ichigo's barely concealed urge to cut him for doing something so horrible to his own sister.

And yet, the moment he saw Byakuya's eyes, Ichigo's mind stopped working. Even if it was for a second, he clearly saw it. He saw the tears that stained the noble's cold cheeks. Byakuya continued on his way as if nothing happened, wiping his cheeks so subtly. The teen blinked several times before he was able to come up with a conclusion. Byakuya was shedding tears… for Rukia? He continued to stand on one of the trees' branches, too stunned to even walk away.

'It seems he has it after all, that conscience thing.' Shiro voiced quietly, and Ichigo couldn't help but agree. He sighed as he wondered how Byakuya must be feeling right now. And he knew that he really has to stop the execution tomorrow. At all cost.

Night came too quickly and he couldn't help but feel nervous regarding tomorrow. Not the kind of nervousness that made his knees weak. But the kind of nervousness that came from anticipation. He wanted to rescue Rukia and find his chichi's killer soon. And after that… And after that, maybe he'd try living… in Rukongai maybe… Maybe he'd return to his old house, his house that was full of Kaien and Juushirou's memories that it would haunt him in his sleep every night. He had not mourned his chichi's death yet. He was sure to break after all this was over. He just hoped there was someone who would try to at least free him from the chains of anguish and pain that had bound his very being.

He had always known that if he wanted to cherish someone, he had to be someone capable of protecting that person. He had always known the words and yet he'd somehow always overlooked their meaning. Right now, he'd make sure not to cherish anyone like that again. Never again would he cherish someone so deeply…

He looked up at the moon that night and swore it.

And morning came all too quickly.




Ren-sama's Note:

I once again apologize for the lack of ByaIchi goodness. These parts are necessary for my plans… So please don't think I'm going nowhere with this. But don't you worry. I promise to give you something nice in the next chapter (though it's up to you on how to take that)! Please Review? ˆoˆ