Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or its characters. I don't own Hell Verse of Bleach or its characters. Damn it. Well, I do own this lil' story. Whew. Also, I don't own the song used in the story - it's Within Temptation's Hand of Sorrow. If you wanna listen to it, go to Youtube.

Summary: Everything was the same... and yet different. The footsteps of the damned shadowing the hero, and hand of sorrow protecting the one it had hurt.

Shout Out: Well, what do you know, my plotdragons hatched into completely new species. Usually, I do crossovers, but as I am curious little munchkin, I regularly peruse manga, especially Bleach and the Hell verse was just my cup of tea. It didn't exactly help I listened to the aforementioned song and found AnHellica's pic on her deviant art account. Look it up, it's titled under 'Beyond the gates of Hell'. Although I took an artist's license to totally rip the original movie apart, there are still some spoilers.

Warnings: Total AU-verse, some spoilers, and oh yeah, Kokuto/Ichigo. Yup, I got a dibs on this pairing - at least in a written verse. /evil grin/. For all ye innocent souls out here, this is SLASH, meaning boy/boy love. If it squicks you, you don't need to read it. You were warned. Oh, and some gore mentioned. Not too much, though. Still here? Well I wish you happy reading, then.

9.4. 2013 :This is BETA-ED VERSION. Also, Thanks to my beta MHB to suffer through the strange formatting. /frowns/. Does anybody else have troubles with receiving too-spaced stories to beta? I don't know why it happened - I used copy-paste feature, but MHB still grumbled that the words were spaced too far away, and I noticed when I got the story back, that the spaces between sentences were different than they were in original. Seems I would have to upload the stories and them send them forward as I used to. /despondent sigh/. Okay, onward on the story.

PS: Also, I owe inspiration to two fabulous vids, Ichigo x Kokuto ( Immortal Love) and Hell Madness (Kokuto and Ichigo). Both of them are on Youtube, under their respective titles. Hail Koku/Ichi madness! /evil grin/. You know you wanna see 'em.

The child without a name grew up to be the hand
To watch you, to shield you or kill on demand
The choice he'd made he could not comprehend
His blood a grim secret they had to command

How much time had passed since he had tried to flee from the Hell once again? How many years - no, it was pointless to count the years in that place of torment and agony. How many times had he been crushed, burned, quartered... as he was punished for his willful attempts to get rid of that place?

He didn't know. All he knew was... time passed in his attempts to fool the guards one way or another, fighting with his fellow inmates, dying and being resurrected and then repeating the cycle. It was a vicious habit that even if he wanted to, he couldn't avoid fulfilling. Oh, of course, once or twice he had the foolish notion to just do nothing, but then he was quartered and broiled in the hell fires and this was a right quick method to cure him of his passive resistance. In this place, which practically reeked with pain and the tortured sounds of the damned were the only music in the graveyard-like plane that was their last resting- or was that un-resting? - place.

His eyes burned from the dull colors - dark grey, black, the fiery colors of hell magma and the red, red red of the liquid called blood.

The left side of his face tightened as he furrowed his eyebrows, hissing slightly the skin stretched uncomfortably over the damaged half of his body.

He barely remembered his life and her...


She was so kind and gentle and he missed her simile terribly, even if he couldn't remember just how she smiled exactly.

He dimly remembered her voice and her soft dove gray eyes, so like and yet unlike his. Her brown hair which was gathered in a heavy braid , tied with a tangerine ribbon with a small bell at the end. He was always amused by her choice of hairstyle, especially when she was younger - she tried to ambush him countless times, but the bell's tiny, crystal ring always betrayed her approach, so more often than not, he was the one that sneaked upon her and scared her a little.

How she pouted when he laughed and teased her...

And her broken and bleeding body on the floor –

He had felt the slickness of his blood-soaked hands when he gently lifted her in his lap - too late to do anything else than to apologize and even then, she shushed him, smiling at him gently...

'You are worth it. Just... be safe... please.'

And then, she died.

The memories later on became a blur, until the moment he attacked the bastards that had done... that to his precious sister. He remembered their terror, their pleas and his own crazed laughter as he killed them.. and the sharp pain when one of the cowards managed to get a lucky shot at him.

He knew he would die... but at least he took the entire horde of fuckers along.

And then... Death.

Hell was... a less than pleasant experience. At first, he was determined to flee as soon as possible, but the traps, sentinels and... damn it, those chains...

He shook his head forcefully. There was no time to ponder about that... freedom was almost at hand and he had to…play his part.

This child.

This naïve, hot-headed, brown-eyed, tangerine-haired baby.

Ichigo Kurosaki.

He couldn't believe that a foolish baby - well, teenager, but by his perspective, still a baby - held in such a power... power enough to bust into Seireitei, and get out unscathed, and what was more, he contained a Hollow that was more than strong enough to go toe to toe with some of the strongest either in Seireitei or Hueco Mundo.

And now, he acted like a guide to the same foolish kid that wanted to save his sister –

He was surprised how the kid's mask appeared when the boy fired that first Getsuga Tensho - black and red reiatsu - oppressive, dark and malicious, making him faintly surprised just how could the kid's friends could even stand being near kid.

Didn't they know he could devour them?

He sweat dropped as they only asked Ichigo some questions and then moved on, like that little... lapse in the kid's control was nothing more than a buzzing mosquito on a hot summer evening.

Figures. They did. Still, they didn't care.

And it was twice - no, thrice the foolish of them to follow the unstable youth on his crazy mission to rescue the girl. Two Shinigami and one Quincy. Strange company, but who was he to complain?

As long as it all goes to the plan...

And then, he was nearly whacked down by that Kushanada fucker - really, he learned to hate the beasts by his now non-existent heart - and for a moment, he felt a terror and then a strange resignation - and the next moment, there was red and black reiatsu in front of him, roaring towards the Hell Guard, and in almost the same moment, he was picked up and transported to safety.

Even when he was in pain - instant regeneration was a fucking bitch, no matter how useful it could be - he looked into that concerned face, with fierce brown eyes watching him for any additional injuries.

And that gentle touch...

"How are you, Kokuto?"The boy asked him, his eyes simultaneously dark and bright and something in him curled into himself at the question.

How long had it been since someone - anyone- honestly cared how he felt?

He closed his eyes, ignoring the pangs from his right side by the virtue of long practice.

"I'm okay. And how about you, using your mask again?" He inquired, forcing his voice to be normal sounding, but by narrowing of the kid's - Ichigo's eyes, he knew he failed miserably.

"I think I am getting used to it again." Was Ichigo's quick reply, and this time, Kokuto couldn't help a wince as his bones creaked back to their rightful places.

"Wait here, I'll – " Ichigo's voice still held that damned note of concern, as if Kokuto were his best buddy –

"Leave me here!" Kokuto barked out sharply, and holding back a wince at Ichigo's taken aback jerk. He sighed. " In Hell…" He swallowed briefly and then continued "Pain like this is nothing unusual." He explained.

Why the heck was he even explaining himself to the kid anyway?

"Don't care about me."

'Really, don't.' He closed his eyes again, inhaling the rancid scent of old bones, stale reiatsu and sulfur through his nose. "Just think how you are…" He managed to get on his knees. "…going to rescue your sister."

Yet, those black clad arms gently embraced him, and he had to bite his tongue not to jerk away. The pain was now fading away, yet his right hand still held his left shoulder - he never got used to being wounded and damn the dried out skin over his left half of body was chaffed uncomfortably, making him hiss with discomfort as he felt the pieces of shattered bones sliding back to their places and kniting themselves together - like white-hot shards of agony blitzing through his nerves to his brain.

If he could, he would have felt pity for the kid - so naïve and do-goodish it was almost making him sick.

Yet, it surprised, and disgusted him that he answered the kid honestly - not lying about his motives, but answering frankly, with cold, hard truth.

'Just this once.' He thought to himself, and he felt absurdly grateful for those brown eyes not judging him.

He slowly stood up and wearily made some steps away from the boy.

"It's not very convincing coming from me right - a heartless Sinner who's banished to Hell?" His lips involuntarily twisted into a bitter smirk as he trudged onward.

"Kokuto…" Ichigo's voice almost stopped him, but the white-haired man forced himself to continue. It was enough.

It had to be.

After all… he was not selfless enough to be doing this for free.

"If you don't hurry, you'll be letting your friends down." He said instead and a moment later, he heard the hurried steps of his companion behind him.

He's torn between his honor and the true love of his life
He prayed for both but was denied

Just like a puppy, the kid followed him, believing that he was on his side.

Those brown eyes widened as they looked over the Sinners' graveyard.

"No matter where you are there's no such thing as a freedom." Kokuto muttered, his heart twisting in a bitter knot at the thought of this Shinigami puppy in front of him - the one who still had the chance and will to go back, to not be ensnared within those chains….


He closed his eyes.

" Ichigo, promise me something." He muttered softly.

"What is it?" The youth's voice was concerned.

Kokuto inhaled the stale air slowly, and then spoke. "After you save your sister….Release me from Hell."

The freedom from all the endless killing, torment and chains would be… divine.

'And now, to reel the puppy in…' "I want to be reborn. I want to see my sister again." He finished softly, and the kid's eyes softened a fraction with sympathy. "I want to apologize to her."

He startled as the hand landed on his shoulder. "Alright…. If it's within my ability, I will free you." The tangerine-haired ryoka muttered and Kokuto wanted to smile but that sick feeling in his stomach still stayed here…

'Who are you kidding?'

Instead that, he turned away from the teen.

"Let's hurry. Your sister is right behind that hill."

Ichigo then released his shoulder, and Kokuto felt strangely bereft of that fragile human warmth.

"Let's go then."

The youth told him as he began to running up the skulls-and sand-covered hill.

Kokuto watched him for a few moments and then he began to follow the Shinigami puppy.

'Remember, all of this is for freedom.' His inner voice told him.

But why then did he dread the final confrontation so much?

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed
Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind?
So many years have passed, who are the noble and the wise?
Will all our sins be justified?

He followed the ryoka, watching that unique tangerine-colored hair in the dim light of the sickly saffron parody of a cloudy sky.

"YUZU!" The ryoka roared, as he sped up his footsteps, until he was borderline on running and flash-stepping the distance that parted him from his beloved imouto.

And something in Kokuto's chest jolted unpleasantly as he was disregarded like yesterday's news.

'What, did you think he would thank you? Don't fool yourself, Kokuto.' He sneered at himself, but still, those brown eyes captivated him from the moment he had seen the youth change into that beast of a Hollow to thrash the bat-like Arrancar mercilessly, all for the sake of protecting that big-breasted chick.

And in that tiny instant, he had seen freedom.

Those brown eyes haunted his waking hours – he was even more distracted than usual, resulting in more than three near-misses with the Hell Guards, and even his… compatriots were eyeing him strangely.

When he had cobbled up the plan to get out, once and for all…he hadn't counted on the power those fierce brown eyes would weave over him in the instant the young ryoka had confronted him.

'Is it worth it…?'

The question once again gnawed at him, and once again, Kokuto ruthlessly pushed the tiny voice to the back of his mind.

A deal was a deal, after all…

And no matter how much he tried to fool himself, he was neither wise, nor noble enough… even if he wanted to be.

Maybe then…

He shook his head and sped behind the ryoka.

The curse of his powers tormented his life
Obeying the crown was a sinister price
His soul was tortured by love and by pain
He surely would flee but the oath made him stay

'Damn you, Shuren...' Kokuto seethed inwardly, as he watched his old compatriots, now enemies, being revived again. 'That was not the fucking part of the fucking plan!'

Yes, he knew the Sinners could be revived - how could he not, he had gone through the accursed circle himself more than enough times, but for then to be revived so fast...

It was impossible. Or at least, is should have been...

He barely dodged out of the reach of those tentacles, and then he had to deal with the damned energy eater...

"Kokuto!" Ichigo's concerned voice reached his ears.

"A Sinner making friends with a human?" the sickly-sweet voice of the humanized beach-ball sniggered at him, making him snarl. "Tsk, tsk."

Kokuto snarled, furious with himself and with Shuren.

How the fuck could he have been so stupid to actually trust the pompous pyromaniac idiot?

And then, he was in the middle of the fray again, barely defending against the three Sinners.

Whatever Shuren had done to them, it obviously powered up the nuisances and at this rate –

Then, Shuren fired the lance of fire toward Yuzu's cage.

He's torn between his honor and the true love of his life
He prayed for both but was denied

'Being the martyr is a fucking painful job,' Kokuto absentmindedly mused to himself as he listened to Taikon's annoying snigger. "Kokuto!" Ichigo's concerned call once again prompted him to move.

Damn it, caring was such a hassle…

He gritted his teeth as he summoned the sword to himself, along with a now squealing with fright Taikon.

He dumped the human beach ball into the hell magma with relish; he never particularly liked the falsetto bastard, anyway.

"What - !?" Gunjo's incredulous squawk was interrupted as he too was yanked forward.

"It's over!" Kokuto called out grimly, as he stared into the magma, feeling the scorching heat searing his skin as he was falling toward the heated surface.

He had done some very stupid things during his tenure in Hell, but voluntarily falling into a pool of magma was a first, even for him.

Oh, well.


Ichigo's anguished cry echoed in his ears, even as the magma covered him, corroding his flesh and bones with unbearable intensity.

'Why… do you care?'

His last thought vanished under the torrent of agony.

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed
Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind?
So many years have passed, who are the noble and the wise?
Will all our sins be justified?

"How are you doing, Ichigo?"

He saw the form on the ground jerk with surprise and then wince with pain.

Step, step.


He would be free… soon.

Those pained brown eyes looked at him with disbelief.

"W-hy?" The youth choked out.

Step, step. Then halt.

Yank out the sword, making the Shinigami yelp out with pain.

Just like a puppy.

"Oh, shut up, it's just a small cut." Kokuto sneered out derisively. Really… what a wuss. And to think that wuss was his card out of here…. Pathetic.

He looked into those pained brown eyes as he forced himself to not feel anything.

"Why are you doing this?" Ichigo asked, the youth's voice almost breathless with pain. Well, yeah, having a curved sword yanked out of his heart could to that to a human.

"Because this was my plan. You just had the misfortune of being the main player in it." He replied indifferently as he stabbed the sword near the Shinigami's head, slicing away some of those tangerine strands.

"And your… sister. Was that a lie, too?" Ichigo asked, his eyes hardening as he glared at the white-haired Sinner.

"No. She's dead. I killed the fuckers who had done this – " Kokuto snarled wildly at the memories. "And I got in Hell. I didn't get to be with her!" He growled out in a half-shout. "Do you even know how is to live in Hell, being devoured by Hell Guard whenever you think you are at the brink of freedom and then be reborn - to wear those damned chains?" Kokuto hissed out, as he raised his arm, fingers clenching the black bandages around his head.


Dark brown eyes widened with horror as Kokuto smirked maliciously, the burnt side of his face a grimace of terrible glee.

"Didn't I say you will be revived if you die here in hell?"

A wet schplop and hiss turned both of their attention to the glob of magma. Hissing hatefully, Kokuto ripped his sword out of the ground and strode to the moaning and groaning mess.


"What a nuisance - why wouldn't you stay dead for a couple of minutes?" he snarled at the writhing mass that tried to reform into human shape. He was aware that Ichigo was staring at him with horrified disbelief, but right now, he wasn't in a mood to feel charitable.

Fuck that, he never was in the mood to feel charitable – that Shinigami puppy was just a lapse in his judgment.

Whack, whack, whack, stomp.

The blobbed form subsided… for now.

Then, he turned to the ryoka puppy, a demented grin on his face. "Come on, you said you would free me. Didn't you promise me?"

The battle was glorious. Ichigo's friends were particularly useful in enticing the ryoka puppy's fury, and he was so close, so very close to being freed, but then that red-haired bastard just had to interfere and somehow manage to escape with his puppy!

Kokuto's scream of rage echoed through Hell.

All that planning and… Nothing!

He disregarded a small part in his soul that scrabbled for the puppy - he rationalized he needed the ryoka only for severing the chains, and nothing more….and that was it.



Glaring at the unrepentant red-haired nuisance, he tried to tuck away the memory of ryoka puppy's face, so peaceful, and dare he say… ethereal as he was lifted from hell in a blue halo of reiatsu and long locks of tangerine hair.

Something in his chest twitched painfully at the thought he would never, ever see the pu - him. He ignored the twitch in favor of clobbering the baboon of a Shinigami into unconsciousness.

Please forgive me for the sorrow, for leaving you in fear
For the dreams we had to silence, that's all they'll ever be
Still I'll be the hand that serves you
Though you'll not see that it is me

'Is that how it ends?' He asked himself that question once again. ' For me to be chained, to be left behind-' And then, the blast of golden reiatsu enveloped him, forcing him to shield his eyes as not to be temporarily blinded from the glow. For a moment, he felt afraid tha he would… what? Die?

But - he had died a thousand times over –

The golden blast, no matter how powerful it was - and it was powerful, more so than anything he had felt. Except of that malicious black and red reiatsu, but it did…nothing.


"Ichigo!" He heard the baboon Shinigami call out, but Kokuto was more concerned with how to stay on his own feet.

That blast was –

He screeched to a halt and then blinked.

He was… still alive?

"What have you done!?" The Quincy's roar made him blink dumbly. Why was the… Quincy… so scared? Concerned?

And then, he felt it.

Or better, the lack of it.

His left wrist was… free. His chest was… Free.

He blinked dumbly as he disbelievingly touched the skin where those damnable chains were being pulled through, only to discover smooth skin here.

"I'm free?" He asked, dumbfounded.

The ryoka didn't answer.

Kokuto watched the tangerine-haired teen turn away.

"Ichigo!" The bunny-obsessed girl called after him, her voice just as lost and confused as Kokuto felt right now.

"Let's go."

Everyone stilled.

"W - What are you talking about?" The baboon - no, Renji spluttered out. "Are you telling me you will let him – "He jabbed into Kokuto's direction - "Just walk off scot-free after all he had done?"

Kokuto tensed.

"Yeah." The single word left all four of them gawping - Kokuto was no exception to that rule.

"But why? He kidnapped Yuzu, he stabbed you with that sword of his – " Quincy was working himself in a fine rage, Kokuto noted to himself absentmindedly.

"I promised. Besides – "The ryoka turned, his brown eyes catching the astonished gray ones of a Sinner. "Revenge would solve nothing."

"But he is a Sinner!" Renji roared out into the ryoka's face. "He had been chained down here for a damned good reason!"

"He had someone to protect too." Ichigo said simply as he began to walk away. "Let's get out of there."

"Old man Yama won't be very happy with you, you know that?" Renji asked quietly, earning an incredulous snort from the Quincy. "Ya think?" The white-clad youth snarked back, pushing his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. "Last time was already bad enough. Personally, I think Kurosaki has masochistic tendencies."

The Shinigami-slash-Hell Will jerked back at the snark. "I. Do. Not!" He barked back, brown eyes glaring at the Quincy who now fiddled with the small charm on his wrist nonchalantly.

"Do keep telling yourself that, and maybe someday it will become true." Renji grinned teasingly, making Ichigo scowl at him. "So… Can I be here when you tell him you let him loose?"

"You just want a good show." Rukia sniffled disdainfully. "But count me in."

"Whaa – "Brown eyes widened with surprise. "You midget traitor!"

Violet eyes narrowed dangerously. "Start running, Ichi-berry."

Yelping, Ichigo did just that, with his friends running behind him, leaving Kokuto standing on the ground… alone.

He lifted a black-clad arm as to reach – to stop them – him - but then, he slowly let it fall.

He could have gone out with them… he was free at last.

Hadn't he wished, longed for that particular moment? Hadn't he dreamed for it a thousand a million times?

Yet now…

Where would he have gone now? He had been so long in Hell he knew it like the back of his hand.

Who would he go to now?

Slowly, he knelled on the permanently scorched ground as he looked toward the forms that ran further and further away, the white golden glints and wild tangerine mane easily indicating the ryoka puppy.

No. Not puppy.


"Kurosaki Ichigo." Kokuto muttered to himself softly as his lips curled into a barely there smile, filled with wonder.

"What an unusual person you are."

And for once he wished, he would have been included into those chains - no, bonds, that tied the mis-matched group together to the stubborn, tangerine-haired youth.

He heard the chains rattle as they approached him, hungry to ensnare their prey again, and drag it to the deepest pit of Hell to eternal torment.

Kokuto closed his eyes as the chains leapt forward, biting into his flesh again.

For once, he accepted their weight, welcomed it even, the only thing he was in his mind were fierce brown eyes with golden highlights.

This new dream of his… would never be realized.

But oh, how he wished…

His body was being jerked into ground with tremendous speed, crushing his bones in process.

Let the punishment begin.

He had gone through his daily routine as if the happenings of the past months were naught but a dream. And they would have been dreams, if it weren't for Ishida regularly cutting the classes for Hollow exterminating, if Orihime hadn't have looked at him with that special look of her – sad and compassionate, and if Chad wasn't still recuperating from the latest heist of Aizen's….

It was over.

Everything was over.

He had sacrificed his powers to stop the monster the former Captain of the Fifth Division had become, and wondered –

If he still had his powers, would he have had become just like him? The last state, Getsuuga Tenshou was… formidable, above everything he had seen or experienced but…

It was a lonely existence.

Ichigo sighed as he walked back home, with the sun setting down slowly. He didn't have much to do - he had been mostly caught up with schoolwork, as he had nothing better to do to escape the terrible emptiness in his chest.

Heck, he would have welcomed back even Shiro, although his Hollow was pain in the ass above any other proverbial pain in the ass. And wasn't it a shock when he discovered that Hollow was a part of his Zanpakuto…he had gotten a chewing out and a half from Tensa for his mopey behavior, though. But in the end, all three of them had pulled through… as always.

Only now, he was alone.

He closed his eyes as he enjoyed the warm gust of wind that ruffled his hair, unaware of the grey eye that watched him.

It was strange, that new existence of his.

He had expected to be in Hell for the rest of his miserable part of eternity, but… something changed.

Somehow, he had gotten a second chance, along with chains.

Only now, those chains weren't attached in the depths of Hell, but rather one special person.

He was still clad in his normal clothes – black trousers and bandanna, and a white sleeveless striped shirt with a black sash around his waist. His right hand held a curved sword, while on the wrist of his left rested a manacle with some chain links that jangled once in a while. Only this time, the previously black and red chains were more of a deep bronze hue.

He had been chewed through and spit out unceremoniously - he didn't know the time, but rest assured, he didn't even have anything to measure the time by, so it was a moot point.

He had been spat out above Karakura - ahh, nostalgic memories of one puppyish fireball of a ryoka shaking him by the shirt and demanding to say where his sister was being taken to - and luckily for him, it was night. Of course, day would be good as well, but he really didn't have the patience to deal with the evil ball of light called sun right now.

So thanks to whomever let him out for the small mercies.

That was three months ago.

Reluctantly, he had searched for Ichigo, only to discover that the ryoka was not a ryoka anymore, but an ordinary soul, just like any other.

And damn it, didn't that heckle him unlike anything…

However, Ichigo being an… ordinary… soul, didn't really stop Hollows from trying to hone in on him. Most of the times, Ichigo's Quincy friend dealt with them – he had to be careful as not to let the archer sense him and damn his reiatsu reserves, they were a pain in the ass to conceal - if nothing else, staying in Hell equipped its residents with a rather high and dense quality of Reiryoku, meaning he didn't have any trouble with disposing of the random Hollows that tried to make Ichigo their snack. And the fools though that Ichigo would have been safe just because he was a plus now… he snorted. Figures what they knew.

However, he became rather proficient with wielding a sword and especially his chains. Nothing like some scuffles to keep oneself in shape.

He had accompanied Ichigo everywhere. The morning episodes with the ex-ryoka's father were especially amusing, although he had a hunch that the old goat knew something.

His heart gave a pang when he watched Ichigo communicating with his sisters, making him a little ashamed of his actions still.

Ichigo's friends were a colorful bunch and even if some of them were … weird. A violent girl, Tatsuki, and that fool, Mizuiro. Chad was kind of quiet, but loyal, and the air-headed girl with healing powers, Orihime, with the stuffy Quincy named Ishida. And yet, somehow they just… clicked together, courtesy of one tangerine-haired, short-tempered and overly protective little berry.

He laughed at their little mishaps and misadventures, especially when some punks dared to search out the eldest Kurosaki child as to take revenge on him for one of their bunch.

Those little fools.

The nights were quiet though - it seemed that the Hollows were finally learning to not disturb him and by proxy, his unknowing charge.

Most of the time, he lounged on the windowsill, and when the night became colder, he sneaked into Ichigo's room and claimed the bed, much to Kon's almost heart attack.

The little lion plushy was brave in defending his… master, for the lack of the better word, but the mod soul had nothing on one of the most dangerous Hell residents, so they came to an agreement - Kon would keep his mouth shut and Kokuto would not dump him into Yuzu's room, or even worse, in a boy's changing room.

Although Kon did eye him strangely when he curled against Ichigo at night when the ex-ryoka was in a deep sleep. Though that had a benefit of Ichigo having a dreamless sleep, so Kon wisely stayed silent. He didn't have a wish to tempt the fate in the shape of an extremely mercurial ex-Sinner, after all.

And if Kon saw the single visible eye glinting with an unnamed emotions when the …guest… looked at the unaware tangerine-haired youth, it was dismissed as a mirage of light.

Because - well, Ichigo liked boobs. Right?

And the guest was as… boob-less as they came.

Kon was a good boy - and he deserved some booby time, damn it!

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed
Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind?
So many years have passed, who are the noble and the wise?
Will all our sins be justified?

Juhabach was a tough opponent to deal with. However, as tough as he had been, he had nothing on teamed up Ichigo, and Kokuto. Even Aizen was wary of the ex-Hell resident, and that said much for the usually unflappable genius- but with Ichigo and Kokuto having the same pool of reiatsu… well, you get the picture.

They discovered that the chain effectively bound the two of them together and enabled them to share their reserves of reiatsu between the two of them. Mayuri nearly got a heart attack when he found out that Kokuto was a true-blue Sinner and wanted to get the man to become his extra special experiment specimen - obviously Yamamoto had kept the information about Ichigo letting out a Sinner for himself, as not to get the Central 46 and Seireitei in panic. However, Kokuto had shown his… disinclination quite forcefully, finally convincing the face-painted Captain of the futility of his efforts.

"Was it worth it?" Kokuto finally asked as they looked over the sunset from the Soukyoku Hill they were sitting upon.

Both he and Ichigo had managed to escape the festive celebrations and neither of them was willing to deal with either fangirls or the overly rowdy idiots that they called allies. Especially Grimmjow and Kenpachi. Ichigo shuddered. Now that was an unholy duo if there ever existed any. Both of the bastards were as bloodthirsty and competitive as they came, and most of the time, the recipient of their gleeful bloodlust was either Kokuto or Ichigo. They shuddered to think what would happen if the two of them ganged up on either of them simultaneously. They had enough of fighting for a very, very long time, thank you very much!

Ichigo glanced at the man who sat beside him. His tall frame was clothed in deep blue shirt that was similar to his white one, with a black sash wrapped around his stomach. Other than his shirt, none of his clothing had been changed. His white hair poked out of the black bandages carelessly, a little longer than when he had last seen the man. His skin was still pale and his chest was wrapped with some bandages - taking Juhabach's shot at point-blank range left some…. painful reminders on his body, but Ichigo also didn't get off scot-free, what with his stomach and right leg wrappings.

"Why wouldn't it be?" He counter-questioned back as he looked toward the sun. "Your sister is alright, isn't she?"

Kokuto snorted. That had been a shock of epic proportions, discovering that his sister was now living in Soul Society, and working as a Shingami in the Fourth Division. Even if she didn't exactly remember Kokuto, she still scolded him and dragged him into the hospital to take care of his wounds, much to Ichigo's mirthful amusement. Truly, Mikoto was one fireball of a little sister, reminding him of Karin.

Kami help them if the two of them meet….

"Right. Still… you got to admit trouble follows you like little puppies. "The single eye watched the faintly scowling youth mirthfully. "May I remind you that you were also one of the so-called troubles?" Ichigo snapped back, making Kokuto roll his eyes. "You still blame me for my persuasion methods, I see." Kokuto said dryly, as he looked at the bright evening sky, leaning back on his arms.

"Persuasion …!" Ichigo spluttered. "And you using that oversized fancy knife to spear me on it was a love tap?"

Kokuto smirked. "Maa, maa, you said it, so it's so. Wanna have a repeat?" He smirked wickedly as Ichigo spluttered out denials. Ichigo finally wised up as Kokuto laughed with amusement at his predicament,

"You are a bastard." Ichigo growled out, but without real heat in his voice.

"Aa." Kokuto agreed dryly. "Well, it was an exciting couple of months nonetheless. "

They sat in a comfortable silence for a couple of moments.

"So… What will you do now?" Kokuto finally asked him, making Ichigo hum thoughtfully.

"Graduate. Then sit the National Exams and try to get into good medical college. You?" He asked back, prompting Kokuto to look at him.

"What, me?" Kokuto asked, confused.

"Yeah, you." Ichigo rolled his eyes heavenward with exasperation. "You could stay in Seireitei or go to Hueco Mundo or whatever. So, what will you do?"

Kokuto blinked, honestly taken aback. "I never really thought about it," he admitted honestly. "In hell there wasn't much time to plan for 'happily ever after'," he made a mocking air quotes lazily. " And when I was let out…well…" he shrugged. "There's nothing much for a ghost to do outside, y'know?"

Ichigo agreed with a small nod. Kokuto watched the ryoka closing his eyes. Ichigo was clothed in the standard Shinigami uniform, with some modifications - the half-collar and his lower arms were protected by arm guards with strange blueish veins on the black surface.

Ichigo's hair was longer now, reaching the middle of his back in a tangerine waterfall of strands, reminding Kokuto of that ethereal form swathed within the blue light of Hell kido.

"Well, if you want, Hat' n Clogs could help you with your gigai problem," Ichigo offered to him quietly, making Kokuto's heart strangely warm at his thoughtfulness.

"Maybe I will take him up on the offer." Kokuto hummed to himself thoughtfully.

"Oi, Kokuto… Why did you follow me?" Kokuto blinked with confusion at Ichigo's sudden question.

"What do you mean?" He asked, honestly perplexed.

The ryoka's eyelids revealed brown eyes with faint golden highlights, making the ex-Sinner's heart thump just a bit harder.

"When you had been freed, you didn't come with us. And then, half a year later, you were protecting me though you could do whatever you wanted. Hell - with Hollows in Karakura, you could have easily learned Garganta and goone to Hueco Mundo! Or even Seireitei… so why?"

Kokuto paused and blinked owlishly. "Really, I could?" He asked, dumfounded. "Huh. I never thought of it like that."

Ichigo stared. "You serious?" He asked baffled as he turned completely to look at the taller man.

"Uh, yeah. Besides, at first I had enough work to persuade the idiots to get you in Hell, then you, and then I was busy staying alive - somehow," he added dryly, " And one night I was spat out above Karakura town. So naturally I just had to see just what were you doing. Imagine my surprise when you didn't see me… I was insulted, really," he finished with a dry humor.

"Still, that doesn't explain why you followed me. " Ichigo insisted stubbornly.

Kokuto snorted. "You are still hung on this. Fine. I was bored, okay?"

Ichigo sweat dropped. "Figures. So was it you who scared Kon into being good, huh?"

Kokuto flushed with mortification as he scratched his left cheek sheepishly. "Uh… Guilty as charged. "

"And I wondered just why the damned plushy bemoaned the lack of boobs." Ichigo commented, making Kokuto choke on air with shock.

"Wha - he told you!?"The white-haired man yelped out incredulously, as his eyes flew to the youth's face.

"Why yes," Ichigo said sarcastically, making Kokuto slump with relief. "But no, I overheard him bewailing his cruel fate, but as he is a boobs-obsessed idiot, I didn't pay him much mind."

"Definitely giving him an one-way trip to men's changing room later," Kokuto muttered to himself quietly.

Ichigo snorted with humor. "Well, you have my blessings. " His faint smile made Kokuto's mood better almost instantly. Still…

"Well, there's also Rukia's wedding…" Ichigo mentioned flippantly, making Kokuto's stubborn heart unwittingly jump again.

"Ah. That too," Kokuto agreed. "Though, how did Abarai convince her brother…" He cocked his head. "And how did you know that?"

Ichigo snorted. "Oh, please. Pineapple-head had his eyes on her since the very beginning. You should have seen his face when I threw her to him when we went to save her." Kokuto quirked his visible eyebrow at the ryoka's flippant voice." Oh, the Battle of Soukyoku Hill? I heard something about it when I passed lecturing hall two days ago."

"What?" Ichigo choked out, sitting bolt upright. "You heard where what!?" He spluttered his brown eyes wide with panic and surprise.

"Oh? Didn't you know you are a famous person now, Ichi?" Kokuto teased him, a wide grin on his face.

"Shut it, you S&M freak," Ichigo growled back, his cheeks flushed with a mortified blush. "Go play with your chains somewhere."

"Ooh, that hurt," Kokuto pretended to be mortally wounded at heart. "I may never recover from that grievous insult to my tender heart."

"The only thing that hurts is your oversized ego. You know that I am right, so quit pretending to be innocent, 'cause you aren't!" Ichigo growled at him, agitated.

"Right, right," Kokuto agreed easily. "But really, with the amount of trouble you have caused you really shoulda have expected to finish in the history books sooner than later. Especially after that fiasco with Aizen." He shrugged flippantly, dismissing Ichigo's half-hearted glare easily.

"Shut it, you." Ichigo muttered at him petulantly, prompting Kokuto to gently smile at him.

They were sitting side by side, their swords beside them, both of them black, only Ichigo's was a slender katana, while Kokuto's was his uniquely curved sword.

"Hey, Ichigo. Would you mind if I roomed with you?" The white-haired man asked quietly.

"Mm. No. Though, wouldn't you rather stay with your sister?" Ichigo hummed back thoughtfully.

Kokuto twitched. Really, the brat was too oblivious for his own good. "Hell, no. She's my sister and I love her, but she has her own life. And I would rather stay far, far away from Mayuri's creepy places."

Ichigo paused for a moment, clearly taken aback. "Mayuri's creepy places? Eww, need a brain bleach now. Seriously, Kokuto, couldn't you simply say Mayuri's labs?" he complained, making Kokuto snicker at his sickened face.

"And where would be a fun if I had done so?" Kokuto teased back, grinning mischievously.

"You are evil." Ichigo grumbled petulantly as he flopped on his back.

"You found out that only now?" Kokuto asked him mock-sternly as he shook his head. "What a pity."

"Be good, or you won't be rooming with me." Ichigo lifted a stern finger, mock-frowning at him.

"Too late, you already agreed." Kokuto volleyed back impishly, prompting Ichigo to groan good-naturedly. "Maybe I should just room with Chad, he is a lot less troublesome than you."

Kokuto's spine stiffened. "Oh, hell no. You do that and I will make your life a living hell."

Dark tangerine colored eyebrows quirked up inquisitively. "Oh yeah?" Ichigo asked, curious what his battle partner could come up with.

Kokuto nodded. "Heading Grimmjow and Kenpachi your way ring any bells?"

He watched the berry pale almost pasty white. "You wouldn't." Ichigo choked out, those brown eyes wide with horror.

"Want to bet?" He asked idly as he toyed with a grass-blade.

"Fine." Ichigo huffed with defeat. "You win."

"Knew you would see it my way," Kokuto smirked at the youth a trace of affection in his glance. He fidgeted a little wanting to ask the ryoka something important.

Something he had carried in his heart since Ichigo had freed him from his chains.

'But maybe,' Kokuto concluded to himself as he looked at Ichigo's peaceful face, 'it could wait for just a little longer.'

He laid down beside the tangerine-haired youth, looking at the slowly darkening sky.

After all, they had all the time in the world.

/The End/