Ren-sama's Note:

I really blush every time I read all of your reviews. It makes my heart swell with much gladness and I sincerely thank you for supporting me. I appreciate it so much that you find time to leave some comments before exiting the page. Thank you very much!

For those who think that I make Ichigo too girly with all the feminine adjectives… well, I apologize, but I kind of like describing him in such a way. (I know he's masculine and all, which will be proven in some chapters up ahead, but…) I still want him to appear as the uke that he is. (Yep, sorry but an uke for me is always described as such.) ˆoˆ

And for those who are confused with the time span, Ichigo is 9 years old when he died. He spent the first 8 years in the care of his baa-chan. Then his baa-chan died, and Juushirou and Kaien found him. Kaien taught him many things and became his older brother for another 8 years before the said man died too. (Basically, it has already been sixteen years since he died, making him 25 years old by now, though his appearance remained that of an eighteen year old.)

Also, only a handful of Shinigamis know about Ichigo's real surname and the teen's preference to be called as such. Byakuya only knew because Juushirou is his mentor. So please don't be confused if other Shinigamis call Ichigo 'Ukitake' while others call him 'Kurosaki'. Other questions will be answered in some of the chapters ahead. I don't want to spoil anything so please be patient. ˆoˆ

Anyway, here's the next chapter. Enjoy!



Chapter 9

For two weeks now, Ichigo had always found himself sparring with either Renji or Kenpachi every afternoon in the clearing at the outskirt of the 78th District of Rukongai. Sometimes, both were present – the other watching while the other sparred against him. Sometimes it's Ichigo and Renji against Kenpachi or Kenpachi and Renji against Ichigo. Of course, there's no way Renji would go against Ichigo and Kenpachi at the same time. It's suicide if he did that. He couldn't even beat Ichigo on his own and then he would try to beat him while also fighting against Kenpachi? That's preposterous, if not totally insane.

Ichigo could feel his blood warming at the prospect of fighting now and he thought that Kenpachi's attitude was rubbing off on him. Even Shiro and Zangetsu seemed satisfied every time he came home from a fight. Lately, because he was so busy fighting and making friends with Renji and Kenpachi, and even Yachiru, his inner world rains lesser and lesser. Zangetsu even said that Ichigo should start practicing with his two opponents using kidou. Of course, Renji and Kenpachi hated it every time Ichigo would use kidou against them because they both sucked at it. They could only dodge or block the spells using their swords; in Kenpachi's case, using his muscled body when the kidou was just a lower digit.

Kenpachi and Ichigo never talked about Aizen when Renji was present. Not that they felt Renji wouldn't keep his mouth shut. They just both felt, without having to explicitly say it, that they didn't want Renji involved in something that might be proven dangerous. Yachiru never joined in their conversation about Aizen too. She just listened sometimes but she was more inclined to watch a butterfly flew around them than join in.

And now, Kenpachi and Ichigo both sat in the shade of a huge tree as they both watched Renji practice with his kidou in the clearing. They just finished their trio sparring and Renji wanted to at least have leverage against Ichigo or Kenpachi by practicing his kidou skills.

"So, Ichigo, did Aizen harass you again?" Kenpachi grinned, though Ichigo could sense the seriousness in his tone. The taichou's voice was quiet, probably so Renji wouldn't hear their conversation. They watched as Yachiru scolded Renji for sucking at kidou before she showed him again how it was done. It was a cute scene, watching Renji get flustered every time Yachiru would kick his face and tell him that his stance was wrong, or his incantation was wrong. She was in full teaching mode and Renji in student mode.

"Yesterday, he cornered me and asked me again if I changed my mind about the Division thing." Ichigo sighed as he answered just as quietly. "He's getting way too troublesome, Kenpachi, so much so that it feels like he really wants me under his wing no matter what."

Kenpachi didn't answer for a while. He shifted in his seat before he voiced, "I initially thought that Aizen-taichou and Ichimaru-taichou were nemesis, at least until I saw both of them hovering over you in that forest one afternoon two weeks ago." He snorted. "I bet they're planning something massive if they're planning on recruiting you in their Division."

Ichigo smirked. "They can't have me. Chichi is way in need of subordinates than them."

"Anyway, Ichigo, it's good that you can control your temper in front of him. It'll get you in trouble if you ever fight back against him. Even if you're strong enough to beat him, you will not want to have all the other Taichous on your tail."

Ichigo shivered having to think about that. "Yeah, if everyone is as strong as you, Kenpachi, then I think I might want to endure his constantly annoying presence for now." Kenpachi grinned at the obvious compliment.

"Anyway, I can't see anything peculiar in him." Kenpachi said. "It's either he doesn't have any ulterior motive in killing that Shinigami or even his recruitment of you, or that he's rather good at hiding it." Ichigo nodded in assent just as Renji's face met Yachiru's waraji once again.

After that, they went to some pub in Rukongai and Kenpachi immediately received some stares from the people because of his haori. Renji and Kenpachi drank sake while Ichigo and Yachiru drank juice, much to Ichigo's embarrassment because Renji couldn't help but tease him.

"So, why can't you drink, Ichigo?" Renji couldn't help but ask. "Aside from the fact that Ukitake-taichou forbids you."

Ichigo scratched the back of his head, tousling his spiky hair even more, before he answered. "Because I can't hold my liquor. And when I'm drunk, I loss control of my reiatsu and… Well, you know how my full power feels, Renji."

Renji held back a shiver. He had only watched Ichigo and Kenpachi go all out twice and he never wanted to experience the immense pressure again. He was just a spectator but it felt like he was choking from the killing intent so thick he could almost touch it in the air. Ichigo's reiatsu was normally warm and bright (not that he could fully feel it what with all the suppressing that Ichigo unconsciously did), but when he fought, it turned really dark and deadly, like it was someone else's.

"Remind me to not let a single drop of alcohol touch your drink or food." Renji said before he added, "Any suggestion as to what we should do in case you 'accidentally' drank alcohol?"

Ichigo narrowed his eyes before he answered. "Knock me out." Renji grinned. Well, that was easy, though only if Ichigo wouldn't get too serious and start a fight.

Kenpachi ordered something extremely delicious and Renji ordered something extremely cheap. The difference in their wage was so vast that Renji wanted to cry on Ichigo's shoulder just then. Ichigo didn't work, but he sometimes helped in the 13th Division's paperwork or helped Ikkaku train some newbie in the 11th Division, or sometimes even helped in Renji's paperwork, without Byakuya's knowledge of course. He remembered the one time that Byakuya caught them and he wouldn't forget it.

"Ichigo, are you sure you want to help?" Renji asked, though he was already giving Ichigo the papers that just needed some stamping. Ichigo nodded before he accepted them.

Both sat in a seiza in Renji's office while the huge stack of papers lay before them. After several minutes of working, the door slammed open and both men looked up to see Byakuya eyeing them both coldly.

"What are you doing here, Ichigo Kurosaki?" He asked in the coldest tone possible. "You do not belong here. You better get out before I call Ukitake-taichou about your actions."

Ichigo scowled at him. "Just so you know, Byakuya. I'm not annoying Renji or anything like that. I'm here to help him with paperwork." And he stood up smugly.

Renji's eyes widened when he saw Byakuya's eyes narrowed in silent anger. He immediately grabbed Ichigo's arm and shouted. "Run, Ichigo!"

"Huh?" But before Renji could answer, both of them heard the quiet voice that spoke of two deadly words.

"Chire, Senbonzakura." And Ichigo shunpo'd away from the Division with all his might. After that, the two of them made sure not to make Ichigo help, at least not in the office.

Yes, it seemed Byakuya was still angry at the teen when Ichigo acted so rudely towards him that night in the street of Rukongai.

The teen was even surprised that Yachiru seemed to be close to Byakuya and even called the man Byakushi every time they talked about him. He also learned from Renji many things about the man, small things and big things; that Byakuya was relatively cold to everyone, not just to Ichigo; that the man never smiled nor even show any emotion other than smoldering coldness and iciness that was accompanied by harsh words and deep apathy; that Byakuya never liked sweet things and hated drinking coffee; that he liked his tea without adding anything to it; that he liked overly nutritious foods and hated imbalance in diet; that he hated it when Ichigo called him by name, so familiarly, and without any honorifics as if they were friends. Byakuya felt that it was pure insult and insolence to be called so familiarly by a kid as if they were equals. And that Byakuya was so orderly in everything he did, like a machine, unfeeling and mechanical in everything; that Byakuya valued pride and honor of the Kuchiki clan and Soul Society over everything else. The man basically lived through valuing and preserving his clan's pride and dignity.

And that, despite the honor and pride of the Kuchiki clan that ran through his veins like blood, Byakuya had a wife named Hisana who died because of an illness. Their relationship was ostracized by everyone because Hisana was a distant cousin. She even looked strikingly like Rukia. Even though they were in Soul Society and they were nobles, incest was still a taboo subject for everyone. The Kuchiki pride suffered because of it and the Kuchiki heir turned icier and more stoic and aloof because of it – the shame of the clan and the pain of losing his wife. And thus, the current Byakuya.

And yet, that current Byakuya whom everyone stayed away from wasn't even able to make a certain pink-haired kid stay away, much to Ichigo's silent amusement every time Yachiru spoke of her visits in Byakuya's office.

"Ichi!" Yachiru spoke and the teen turned to look at her. She held out a small pouch and Ichigo blinked. "It's your reward for always sparring with Kenny."

He accepted it and smiled when he saw the candies and lollipops inside. For Yachiru to give up her candies and lollipop was unheard of. He thanked Yachiru before he opened one candy and tossed it into his mouth.

"Hey, Ichigo." Renji called. "There's a rumor that says Aizen-taichou wants you to join in his Squad. And that you keep on refusing his proposal because you think that you want to be a Captain in 13th Squad like Ukitake-taichou is."

"What?" Ichigo immediately answered. "I'm refusing his proposal because I have no intention of ever being a Shinigami!" He sighed in exasperation because sometimes the rumors were the trouble themselves and not the incident concerning them. "Who would want to have so much paperwork anyway?"

"I don't do any of the Captain's paperwork." Kenpachi answered and both Ichigo and Renji looked at him, both amazed and incredulous at the same time.

"I do everything for Kenny!" Yachiru chirped, and immediately Ichigo feared the future of the 11th Squad. "But sometimes baldy or Yumi-chan helps." Renji couldn't help but smirked at the nickname she came up for Ikkaku. If the guy found out, he'd definitely run amok. The one thing Ikkaku didn't like was to be called that.

Ichigo watched as Renji emptied his second bottle of sake. Kenpachi already finished his third but it didn't look like he was affected at all. Yachiru happily ate her meal and Ichigo couldn't help but feel that these Shinigami weren't that bad after all, except Aizen of course. And Gin, since the guy was basically the brunette's right-hand man.

When they said goodbye to one another and Ichigo had made it home, he couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, when he was older, then he might join the Shinigamis. But he refused to go to Shinigami Academy. He knew that he was denying Zangetsu's, and his, identity, as Shiro said it. But he still didn't want to be directly involved in the Shinigami business. He didn't want to see a Hollow attacking a comrade, or any Hollow at all.

'Hey, if you don't want to see a Hollow, then make sure to break all the mirrors in front of you so you'll not see yourself.' Shiro smirked. Ichigo couldn't see him but the teen knew that his Hollow was smirking just from the sound of his distorted voice. He fought back a growl. He wasn't a full Hollow, just half. He sat in a seiza and poured himself a tea. The sun was setting and Juushirou would come home any minute now.

By now, he already knew that he was a unique entity. That's why he had a very unique reiatsu and a Hollow inside him together with a zanpakutou ever since birth. In one of his visits in Seireitei Library just for the sake of it, he came across to the process of Hollowfication. It's a book about experiments. When he asked Juushirou about it, the older male told him of a hundred year old story about Hollowfication process.

About a hundred years ago, a forbidden experiment occurred in Seireitei. The culprit was named Kisuke Urahara, the former 12th Squad Taichou, and he was vanished to the living world as punishment for his crimes. And his crime: the forbidden Hollowfication, the process of turning a Shinigami into a Hollow to acquire both powers; and he turned nine Shinigamis, four Taichous and five fukutaichous. He was sentenced together with his crime accomplice Tessai Tsukabishi, the Kidou Corps Chief then, for the experimentation. Some said that those Shinigamis that were experimented by them, now called the Vizards, lived in the human world up until now, still holding a grudge against Soul Society that they were so readily thrown away just because they had Hollows inside their bodies now.

And one of those fukutaichous' name was Masaki.

Ichigo walked outside the house and into the dojo in the backyard. So he was partly human, partly Hollow, and partly Shinigami when he was alive. And now though, he didn't know if the part human was still there. But he still considered himself a Vizard even though he didn't enter the apparently agonizing process of hollowfication.

He learned the story because of his insistence and because Juushirou made him promise not to tell anyone about it. It seemed that even now, those who were in position back then never mentioned that story.

He sighed as he lay on his back in his dojo. He was startled when Zangetsu materialized beside him that he jolted up. "Z-Zangetsu!" He exclaimed in surprise. "Y-You're…"

"You've been training for over eight years now, Ichigo." Zangetsu said monotonously. "And even though you're young, your reiatsu is already taichou-class. The immensity of it already enables me to materialize outside your inner world."

Ichigo blinked as he slowly relaxed. "But… don't zanpakutou only materialize when the Shinigami has already achieved, or at least close to achieving, what they call the 'Bankai'? I don't even have a Shikai."

"Your zanpakutou has always been in Shikai form, Ichigo. As for the Bankai," He closed his eyes. "I already said that you've been training for the last eight years now. You're close to achieving it."

"Oh." Ichigo looked amazed before he grinned. "How do I achieve it, Zangetsu?"

Zangetsu opened his eyes and looked at Ichigo with his intense gaze behind the glasses. "You will have to defeat me in a fight and force me into submission."

Ichigo felt his chest tightened just as his grin vanished. "But…" Somehow, the fact that Zangetsu so easily talked about submission didn't sit well him. Ichigo treated both Shiro and Zangetsu not just as his powers but his companions in his inner world. He treated them as friends, friends that quietly supported him in his growth and in his battles.

"You will have to fight me, or you'll never grow stronger." Zangetsu voiced before he disappeared. 'Like I said, comes with great power a great responsibility. You need not rush things, Ichigo. Once you think you're ready to come and face me, then we will fight.'

Ichigo thought about it as he lay down on the wooden floor again. It was his wish to protect those whom he cherished. Miyako once told him that if he wanted to cherish someone, he had to be strong enough to protect them. He initially took the wrong meaning of those words and felt that if he was weak, he had no right to cherish anyone. But then Kaien corrected him and told him that all he had to do was be strong. And that's all there was to it.

Kaien and Miyako were now dead, but their memories would forever retain in his mind. If he wanted to cherish someone, he should be strong enough to protect them. Right now, the number of his cherished people was slowly but gradually increasing. And he feared that he wasn't strong enough to protect them yet. And he had to have the strength and the will, and the power, to do so.

'The only one you need to protect is yourself, King.' Shiro said in his mind.

"I want to protect them, Shiro." Ichigo answered. Since he was alone anyway, he knew that he could just answer loudly.

'Those people can protect themselves, you know. Not to mention that there are other people who cherish them and are willing to protect them too. You don't have to act so martyr and protect them all. Because if that happens, who will protect you, King?'

Ichigo was about to form a retort when he realized he didn't have one. Of course, he would like to protect all of them: Juushirou, Renji, Rukia, and the others, and maybe Kenpachi and Yachiru too, even if the brash taichou wouldn't like it. But if his power would be used to protect them, then there would be no one to protect him. "I know… I just… don't want to lose someone precious to me anymore…"

"Ichigo-kun?" Ichigo turned to the door and saw Juushirou peering from it. "Are you talking to someone?"

"No, just talking to myself." He smiled before he realized that it was already dark outside. The two of them walked towards the dining area and had their dinner quietly but comfortably.

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

Ichigo continued the routine of fighting with Renji and/or Kenpachi for the next several days while Zangetsu materialized some nights and talked to him, leaving Shiro alone in their inner world. Not that the Hollow minded that there's no one who would scold him to not do this or that.

And after over a week, the orange-haired teen realized that Renji was becoming really restless. It was afternoon and the two of them were in Rukongai. Kenpachi couldn't make it because the taichou had to finish a paperwork that Yachiru messed up badly because of her handwriting, not that there would be any improvement if it was Kenpachi's handwriting on that paper.

Ichigo and Renji sparred for a while before the teen realized that Renji's mind was somewhere else and not even a good amount of fighting could clear his head of it.

"So, what's bothering you that you can't even concentrate in our fight?" Ichigo asked as they stayed under the shade of a tree.

Renji sighed. "Rukia." He closed his eyes and let the pain show on his feature. "It's been over two months now. And Central 46 already issued a search for her. It's been reported that she gave her Shinigami powers to a human and lost all of it. It's a crime, Ichigo. And I'm going to arrest her together with Kuchiki-taichou tonight."

Ichigo stiffened at that. "Why is that a crime again?"

"It's in the same page as abuse of power, or something like that." Renji answered quietly. "And it's also connected to disrupting the flow of energy in souls, which is very important. For her to do that even though she knew it's illegal… And on top of that, staying in the living world for over a month… There are too many charges against her, and I don't know if I can do anything about it, Ichigo. I want to help her, I really do…"

"I'll tell Chichi later, though I know he probably already knows." Ichigo said as he patted Renji's shoulder. "Don't worry, it'll be alright. Her nii-sama will surely do something about it."

"I hope so." Renji answered. "But I still don't want her to be imprisoned for some years just because of that damned human." He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. "I hate humans."

Ichigo couldn't do anything but let Renji feel that he felt the same about Rukia's situation, though he had nothing against humans in general. It's true that he had not seen her in the last four years, but that didn't mean that she meant lesser to him now. Ichigo still remembered her bright blue eyes and her silky soft raven hair. She might have been more serious in the last four years that he had last seen her but her smile and laugh were still genuine and incredibly warm. She was still very important to him. She was one of his first friends in Soul Society after all, one of the two who survived with him and lived. He might not feel the same feeling for her as Renji did, but he loved Rukia just as much as a best friend would.

He just hoped that Byakuya was not as apathetic as he looked, and that he would side with her sister and defend her from Court 46's wrath.

After several minutes of comfortable silence, Renji finally said goodbye, saying he still had to prepare for his departure, and Ichigo hoped that everything would be alright for his friends.

The next morning, the news that Rukia was already captured, that she was currently held imprisoned was known to everyone, and Ichigo didn't waste time to go and visit her. But apparently, only those with titles or high ranks were allowed to go and see her. And Ichigo was refused a pass.

"Ichigo-kun, you know that's not possible." Juushirou answered patiently. Ichigo had wanted him to at least go and see Rukia in the teen's place.

"Why?" Ichigo asked and he's like a pouting child about to go in a tantrum.

"Simply because I'm her taichou." He answered. "I know how you feel, Ichigo. The helplessness and everything, but we will only make it hard for her if we go to her side now. And I'm not allowed to see her because I'm her Taichou. I'm practically on her side, even if what she did is wrong." Ichigo gritted his teeth before he left without a word. Juushirou sighed as he looked down on his paperwork again.

Ichigo could understand Juushirou's point. He wasn't angry at his chichi, not at all. He was just angry at the goddamn rule and everything that concerned it. He wanted to know where Renji was but he didn't want to go to 6th Division and risk seeing Byakuya there.

And thus, he waited for another day. But when it was suddenly announced that Rukia would be executed after 25 days in Sokyouku Hill, Ichigo immediately wanted to know all the details from Renji.

He thought that maybe Renji, or even Kenpachi, would go to the clearing and train. But he was alone when he got there and he felt thorough disappointment. He really wished that everything would turn out fine for Rukia. He wished that he could do something, do something right for his friends. He wished his friends would be alright in the end, though it was a bleak wish.

The thing was, he forgot to wish about that for himself.

He trained some more in the clearing because it felt good to him to let his reiatsu all out. The rage, pain, sorrow, hopelessness all intermingled in his reiatsu and he knew there would be injuries if one ever came too near to feel his spiritual pressure. It was hard to do, keeping his immensely disturbed reiatsu all inside him and try to look like everything was fine. He decided to return to Seireitei when it was already dark enough and he was sure that Juushirou would already be home. He hadn't talked to Juushirou since the incident yesterday morning and he knew he was making Juushirou feel bad. He decided that he would apologize tonight and then he would plan to rescue Rukia one way or another. He just didn't know where to go after that, not that he was confident about his ability to escape together with a criminal that was about to be executed.

He decided to shunpo from building to building and felt the damp night air on his sweat-slicked skin. He turned around a corner and was surprised to have Aizen waiting for him there. Actually, he wasn't about to stop until Gin made that move.

"Shoot em dead, Shinsou." An elongated sword immediately attacked Ichigo out of nowhere and though he was able to dodge it, he completely stopped in his tracks and was forced in Aizen and Gin's company.

"Yo, Ichigo!" Gin greeted while grinning as if he didn't just attacked the teen.

"Why did you do that!?" Ichigo was particularly irked at this moment and he wasn't sure if he could withstand Aizen's presence right now. Hell, he didn't even know if he could stand suppressing his reiatsu with Aizen just a few meters away, looking smug when he reacted like that.

"Well, you won't stop and would simply pass us by if I didn't do something like that so I did it." Gin simply answered as if trying to pierce his sword into another person was just natural if he wanted them to stop in their tracks.

Ichigo was about to retaliate when Aizen started walking towards him. "My, my, Ichigo. It seems you're particularly irked this evening. Is it about Rukia Kuchiki and her execution?"

Ichigo felt his body stiffened in silent fury. Aizen talked about it as if he was talking about the weather and not a Shinigami's life. And then, in his mind he remembered how Aizen maintained his smile though he just killed another Shinigami.

"You can't do anything about Rukia Kuchiki, you know. She's fated to die at Sokyouku Hill 25 days from now." Aizen said coolly and Ichigo clenched his fists. "All we have to do is make sure not to have the same poor soul like her again. It's utter foolishness if she thinks that she'll get away from her crime just because she's a Kuchiki."

Gin watched as Ichigo's reiatsu started to surge. It was incredibly immense. Aizen's plan was working. It seemed this boy was so easily fooled like everybody else. Just a little more and the plan would be perfect.

"Rukia does not think of using her family name just to get away from her crime." Ichigo's voice was barely steady. She was the most humble noble he had ever met, not to mention the kindest. He was fuming so much that he felt he might attack Aizen if he didn't walk away from the place.

"But it doesn't change the fact that her foolishness got her into this mess. Now, because of her, the Kuchiki clan will have to endure another humiliation. It's heartbreaking to be humiliated, you know. Much more heartbreaking than getting executed. If I may say, I think that she deserves her punishment."

And that was the last straw. Ichigo immediately vanished from his position and appeared just in front of Aizen within seconds as his sword clashed against the Taichou's. He knew he shouldn't be doing this, that it would ruin Juushirou's credibility. But he couldn't help but feel satisfaction at the fact that he was able to at least act, if not voice, his dissent and his rage about Aizen's words.

They clashed swords for a minute before Ichigo realized that both their reiatsus were no longer suppressed and he cursed under his breath. He would be scolded by his chichi when he got home. He immediately stopped and moved away. "Screw your rules, Aizen. Rukia doesn't deserve to die." And with that, he left the two Taichous who were disturbingly looking satisfied at the outcome of everything, especially Aizen.

He went home and met the pained eyes of his chichi who was currently seating in seiza in their living room. He sat in front of his guardian and looked at Juushirou directly. "I apologize for my behavior yesterday morning, Chichi."

Juushirou sighed. "It's alright. I'm sorry too. If only I can do something about it without breaking the rules…" Ichigo looked down. It seemed he would never like how Seireitei operated. These rules were truly suffocating for someone like him. "And Ichigo, I felt your reiatsu earlier together with Aizen-taichou's. Did you two have a fight?"

He nodded. "Sorry, I was angry because he said that Rukia deserves her death punishment. And I attacked him…"

Juushirou's eyes narrowed. "Aizen said something like that?"

"Yes, his reason was that she humiliates not only her noble clan but Seireitei's rules as well." Ichigo clenched his fists again. "I'm sorry, Chichi. It might bring you some trouble… I don't want to apologize to him though…"

Juushirou stood up from his seat and sat beside Ichigo before he ruffled Ichigo's hair. "Don't worry about it. Have you eaten, son?"

He smiled a tad. "Not yet."

Juushirou smiled. "I'll bring the food. Wait here." Ichigo nodded as he watched Juushirou stood up and disappeared into the kitchen. He could see how the toll of losing another subordinate was taking its effect on him. Juushirou looked more tired than usual and his expression was pained.

After that, they both ate in silence. Juushirou coughed a few times but Ichigo was quick in giving him water. They finished their supper fast and Ichigo watched as his chichi drank his medicine. He couldn't help but feel dread. He felt like something would be gone wrong. There was something nagging at his heart and it was clenching in a very painful way.

Juushirou saw the pain in his son's eyes and immediately knew that whatever Aizen said to Ichigo made his son totally vulnerable. He would have to talk to Aizen, not tomorrow but now. He stood up and was surprised to see that Ichigo looked scared all of a sudden. "Ichigo-kun, what's wrong?"

Ichigo couldn't help it. He couldn't help but feel that something bad would happen. "Nothing… Maybe I was just tired. I'll try to relax in the dojo." Juushirou ruffled his hair again and the man smiled at him.

"You've really grown, Ichigo-kun. I'm glad to be your parent." He said and the feeling of dread immediately sky-rocketed inside the teen.

Juushirou was about to get ready to leave the house when he was surprised to have Ichigo hugged him from behind. He immediately blushed because Ichigo wasn't someone to show physical affection.

"Chichi, don't go anywhere, okay?" He mumbled. He feared that Juushirou would go somewhere and he was afraid for reasons he didn't know why.

Juushirou turned around and kissed his son's head. "Of course, son."

After that, Ichigo went to the dojo to relax his mind and his emotion. The events were taking a toll on him as well, even if he admitted it or not. He felt tired and he was restless. He lay on his back and willed himself to relax.

'Yo, King.' Ichigo looked at his Hollow counterpart and he knew that he was dragged to his inner world again. And it was raining.

'Ichigo, do you know of intuition?' Zangetsu asked so suddenly.

"Ah, yeah, I guess. Instinct, right? Or something like that." He answered.

'Ichigo, I think that your intuition is warning you that something is about to happen. Something that can make the rain in your inner world turn into storm.' Zangetsu voiced and suddenly Ichigo didn't feel like relaxing anymore.

"What do you mean, Zangetsu-ojii-san?" He stood up as he looked in between Zangetsu and Shiro.

'He means, King, that you better stay close to your loved ones because there–' Ichigo didn't wait for him to finish anymore. He willed himself to leave his inner world and went back to the house, only to find that Juushirou wasn't there anymore. Oh, God…

And the feeling of dread escalated even more. "Chichi!?" He shunpo'd outside and tried his best to trace any reiatsu that belonged to his chichi, and when he felt it, he didn't waste time to follow the trail. The place he was tracing was near the meeting hall and he was sure this was the place he last saw Aizen. His fear grew. And in just a second, he almost fell on his knees when he felt his father's reiatsu dropped into nothingness.

He immediately shunpo'd to the place and what he saw made his eyes wide and his heart stop.

"C-Chichi..?" The voice didn't feel like it came from him. It sounded so far away and so eerie to be his. Not far from him, an anguished pitiful shriek broke the night's silence and he knew who the voice belonged to.




Ren-sama's Note:

(*sigh*) Another chapter without ByaIchi goodness. But please have patience…

And yeah, I know. It keeps getting worse before it gets better. Please review?