Alright, here is the fourth chapter. Long overdue... I beat myself up abut the tardiness at the end. You can go peruse it if you so wish.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything Bleach-related.


Ichigo opened his eyes to see that the arm of the Hollow he was fighting earlier just about to hit him. 'What? Did really no time pass in my inner world?' He closed his eyes, resigned to getting stabbed at last by this persistent Hollow.

"Sing, Benihime!"

Ichigo's eyes snapped open as a crimson barrier sprung into existence right in front of his face. The Hollow's claws glanced off of the barrier. Surprised, the Hollow turned around, only to have a zanpakuto appear through its mask. The Hollow disintegrated quickly, not even having time to utter a scream.

Ichigo blink rapidly as the barrier disappeared. If a Blood Mist Shield was here, then Urahara must be as well. A cane whacking him in the side of the head a moment later confirmed his suspicions.

"What the hell, Urahara!? What was that for?"

"Oh, I'm just making sure you're alive."

"Well, I'm alive, so calm down," Ichigo mumbled as he dusted himself off and stood up. He winced at the pain his hand was in.

"So, I assume you finally have your powers back?" Urahara asked casually, fanning himself slowly.

Ichigo froze. "How would you even know that?"

"Oh, it was nothing. If you have no reiatsu, the Hollows would not target you," Urahara lied smoothly. He did not know that his method had not caused Ichigo to regain spiritual awareness.

Ichigo thought that Urahara already knew that he was regaining his powers. However, he did not want to reveal that he had Kyoka Suigetsu within his inner world so soon after Aizen had nearly ruined Soul Society. There would definitely be misconceptions about her just because she was Aizen's zanpakuto. Ah, yes. She used to be Aizen's zanpakuto, but no more. Ichigo smiled at the thought, and then quickly hid it. He did not want Urahara to notice anything strange about him.

Urahara saw a funny expression upon Ichigo's face, so he prompted him. "Well?"

"Fine. I do not have my powers back, but at the same time I do."

"What do you mean by that?"

Ichigo brushed off the question. "Eh, you'll see sooner or later."

Urahara sighed. "Fair enough. I bid you a good day."

Ichigo nodded, and then walked away without a farewell. Tessai flash-stepped next to Urahara.

"Did you sense that?" He asked worriedly.

"Yes, I did. There is something strange about Ichigo's reiatsu."

.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.

Meanwhile, Ichigo walked back to his house with no intention of returning to school. He held his right hand very gingerly. Although he was not injured within his inner world, the injuries from the Hollow had not disappeared.

Tsk. You should have let me heal your injuries.

"Hey! I can hear you speaking, Kyoka," Ichigo observed aloud.

Yes. Why are you so surprised? Did I not speak to you before? Kyoka replied drily, though her voice was affectionate due to Ichigo's use of the more familiar form of her name.

When Ichigo did not have a response, Kyoka added, You might want to not say things out loud when speaking to me. People will think you are crazy in the head.

'Well, you're the one in my head. What does that say about you?' Ichigo shot back, no longer saying the words out loud.

Why you...! Kyoka exclaimed, affronted, You need to learn some manners!

'Alright, sorry Kyoka,' Ichigo sighed.

It is of no matter, Kyoka sniffed.

'Then why'd you make a big deal out of it?'

Ichigo, it's only an expression. It means 'apology accepted', Kyoka explained exasperatedly. But that's not important. You need to... She hesitated.

Ichigo urged her to finish. 'Yes? What do I need to do?'

There was a lengthy silence before Kyoka responded. I want you here with me, face to face, when we discuss this. She refused to say any more.

.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.

Upon trying to open the door to his house with his left hand, Ichigo swore loudly. Isshin opened the door to find Ichigo almost kneeling in pain.

"Ichigo! How are you!?"

"Dad, can you not see that I messed up my hand!"

"I can see that, but how are you besides the hand?" Isshin laughed goofily.

Ichigo clenched his teeth. "Just snap the fingers back in place, alright? I don't have time for this."

Isshin raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what's the hurry? We both know that you're not going back to school."

Ichigo, who was about to say that he was going back to school, quickly thought up another reply. "I was actually going to sleep for a bit. You know, I get tired sometimes," Ichigo lied lamely.

Isshin sighed at Ichigo's terrible excuse. "You could at least try to say something more believable."

"Okay, I'll try next time! Just fix my hand!"

Isshin did just so.

"Ah! That hurt!"

"What did you expect? And that was a girly scream, Ichigo."

"Shut up!"

.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.

Ichigo sat quietly on his bed, trying to concentrate in order to reach into his inner world as he had done during his training in the Dangai. Soon, he found himself falling through the air into the familiar cracked glass of his inner world. This time he was prepared, so he landed with some gracefulness. Breathing a sigh of relief, he brushed himself off of the ground and looked around.

"Hey Kyoka! Where are you?"

Right here.

Ichigo turned to find the blade of Kyoka Suigetsu pressed against his neck. "Whoa, calm down. What's going on?"

Kyoka sighed and her zanpakuto disappeared. As you just saw, anyone can easily kill you. In your spiritually unaware state, you are weaker than a Shinigami academy student. At least they can cast kido spells.

"Well, I never needed to use kido before," Ichigo mumbled, annoyed that Kyoka just brought up his weak point.

Your arrogance portrays you as an amateur.

"Kenpachi never uses kido. He just fights with brute force, and he almost always wins anyway."

Do not hold him in high regard. You were able to defeat him once, no? If he chose to learn kido, you would not be here now. Also, you bring up a good point. I am sure that Zangetsu pointed out Kenpachi's lack of communication with his zanpakuto. Did you ever hear her mourning? Her keening silence saddens me. You should do well not to take after Kenpachi, or I will be very displeased.

"Her? Kenpachi has a female sword spirit?

Ah, forgive me. I forget that you cannot sense such things. Yes, Zaraki Kenpachi's zanpakuto is female. She has a very peculiar ability, and if he were to bond with her, his power would be frightening indeed.

"Wait, are you trying to make a point?"

Well, I had been hoping that I would not need to say it outright. Kyoka sighed. But yes. In order for you to advance and continue to protect, you will need to accept me as your zanpakuto. Kyoka murmured sadly. Do you know what this means?

Ichigo asked confusedly, 'Are you not already my zanpakuto?'

No. For me to belong to you, you and I need to have an agreement. You will have to accept me as a part of your soul.

"When I finally got through to Zangetsu, he never mentioned anything about acceptance or whatnot."

Kyoka took on a patronizing tone. Well, Zangetsu happened to be the zanpakuto you were born with. I happen to not be. Her voice became solemn. Herein lays the problem. I am here while Zangetsu is not. You can either choose to wait for Zangetsu, or you can accept me as your zanpakuto.

Ichigo remained silent for a few moments. "You know, I had already given up ever meeting Zangetsu again the moment my power began to fade. I never did believe that I would get my spiritual power back."

So you have already accepted this as your choice?

It was difficult for Ichigo to tell her how he felt. "I don't know. Although I know Zangetsu will not be back anytime soon, he will be back eventually, and I feel as though I am betraying him."

Kyoka bowed her head. I see. If that is your answer, I shall take my leave. She turned away from Ichigo, head bowed.

"Wait, what will happen to you?" Ichigo protested.

Kyoka did not turn back, merely whispering, Who knows? Maybe I'll eventually fade away as your soul begins to reject me. But it is of little consequence. I do not belong here to begin with—

"Stop."

Kyoka's voice faltered at Ichigo's commanding tone. Yes?

"Don't say those things to yourself." Ichigo's voice was soft but strong. "You know that I want my power back because I want to protect those who are close to me. And who is closer to me than you, who are already a part of my soul?" Ichigo gave a genuine smile, one that had not emerged since he lost his spiritual power all those months ago.

Kyoka finally turned to face Ichigo. Do you really mean what you said?

"Of course. Please, allow me to be your partner from now on, Kyoka!"

Very well. Let us commence, Kyoka replied more cheerfully than before, with a smile hidden in her voice.

Kyoka held out her hand, her fingers reaching out towards Ichigo. Instinctually, Ichigo raised his hand up as well. The moment their fingers touched, an intense light burst from their point of contact.

Ichigo stumbled back and cursed as streaks burst through his vision. When he recovered his sight, the first thing he noticed was that Kyoka had vanished. In her place was a woman about his age who was so excruciatingly beautiful it was almost painful to look upon her. She looked very much like Kyoka, but her appearance changed subtly and drastically at the same time. Her body was healthier and suppler than Kyoka's. Her hair extended down the length of her back, and it took on a reddish tint. Unlike before, she now had two bangs of hair framing the sides of her face. The rest lay tucked behind her ears. She became a few inches shorter, and her eyes were now a pale blue color, and they were very different from trying eyes of Kyoka. Whereas Kyoka gave off a sort of determination, this woman had eyes that radiated an aura of good cheer. Her smile lit up her face and surrounded her with a cozy joy that seemed infectious, and her sheer, white, trailing dress augmented this comforting effect.

Upon noticing her new appearance, Ichigo mused, 'I could tuck her under my chin perfectly.' Ichigo's eyes widened at this thought. He mentally shook his head and tried to steer his thoughts away from that direction. He failed miserably in that aspect. He did not know what happened, but he could not deny that this woman was even more beautiful than Kyoka.

With an uncertain smile, Ichigo tentatively asked, "Excuse me, but who are you?"

She grinned widely, finding amusement in his confusion. What are you talking about? she said as she strode towards him.

Ichigo shuffled backward, slightly self-conscious as this veritable goddess approached him. "I, um... You see... Well, someone named Kyoka just... I mean, her name is Kyoka Suigetsu. She just agreed..." He hesitated for a moment, blushing, realizing how strange he sounded. "She just agreed to share her soul with mine."

Aww... That sounds so romantic! the woman chuckled. Ichigo, I am Kyoka.

Ichigo's jaw dropped through the glass floor. "You're Kyoka? How?

Kyoka shrugged and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. I take the form of whatever my wielder wants the most, she explained, I am the embodiment of the one whom you subconsciously lust for and desire.

"That's dangerous," Ichigo muttered.

Kyoka cocked her head. -In what way?-

"Well, you said so yourself. Everything about you lures me in," Ichigo replied automatically, then shut his mouth, shocked that he actually said that.

It seems that what you say is true. I doubt you have the courage to say that to a girl, unless your inhibitions are lowered. Kyoka chuckled. Do you mean dangerous like this?

She stepped closer to Ichigo, who tried to back away, and flipped her hair towards his face. Ichigo was unprepared and immediately took a deep breath... And was assaulted by Kyoka's scent. It was fair to say that he lost himself. Her scent was tempting, alluring, enticing, seductive, provocative, and everything in between. It percolated through his brain and shut down his other senses, so all he could focus on was the powerful perfume of Kyoka.

As quickly as it came, it faded. Ichigo blinked dazedly and stammered, "Don't do that again."

I don't know, it's rather fun to see your reaction, she remarked casually. Her sword materialized in her hand. Look, Ichigo. See how I have changed!

Ichigo leaned forward and noticed with a start that the hilt of Kyoka Suigetsu had changed into a green version of that of Tensa Zangetsu. Instead of the previous plain hexagon, it was now in the shape of the swastika. [1]

Kyoka winked at Ichigo. I think I look better than I did before.

"I agree," said Ichigo, then looked away in self-consciously when he realized that he had not only meant the sword.

Kyoka understood the double meaning of his words, and her light tinkling laughter sounded through Ichigo's inner world. I am glad you see me as such! She placed Kyoka Suigetsu in Ichigo's hands and slowly ran her fingers up the flat of the blade.

When Ichigo's hand gripped the handle of Kyoka Suigetsu, he felt a tingle of energy run up his arm, as if the sword was excited by his touch. Ichigo saw the warmness in her eyes as she watched him holding her blade, and he felt blessed to be given a second chance to fulfill his purpose in life.

"Thank you, Kyoka, for accepting me. I promise to learn to understand you and wield you well," he vowed.

Kyoka stepped forward and lifted her hand from the blade. Her hand rose to brush gently across Ichigo's cheek. He was so unprepared he even forgot to blush. No. Thank you— she glanced up at the undulating sky —for calming the waves, she finished contentedly.


[1] The symbol for swastika in Japanese is the word for ban, as in bankai (the ban release). It's not pronounced as it might in English and I'm not sure how to describe what it sounds like in English... But anyway, in case you didn't know, the swastika looks like the "Nazi symbol." It actually means peace in many cultures, but the Nazi party just so happened to use it. It looks like this - 卍 - If you do not see anything between these arrows, then the site screwed up the formatting.

And here it is. The fourth chapter. The long awaited fourth chapter. The long overdue fourth chapter. The (in my opinion) fourth chapter not worth the wait... Sigh. I had written four fifths of the a few days after the third chapter, and then life shoved me through a figurative drier filled with stress and disappointment. I promised myself that I would finish for Christmas. Then I promised myself that I would finish for the New Year. Then I promised myself that I would finish yesterday. And then I finished today, which is rather pathetic. By now, I expect I've lost most of my faithful readers and reviewers for the first three chapters, and I've probably disappointed those who remain. I apologize for everything. Thanks to the sudden rise in followers and favorites yesterday, without which I probably would still be without a finished chapter, I have finally completed this chapter. Although I probably don't deserve it, please review. You will make me happy. Thank you.