A Black Heart

Sorry for the delay, but I was swallowed up in work and a few games I bought recently (Total War Rome 2, Titanfall, Thief, Diablo 3 RoS, EOS among others), but here I am again with the next chapter. It was a bit annoying seeing this play out, especially when I wrote about three different lines of dialogue for Ichigo alone. I hope you enjoy the line I settled on.

EDIT: Edited the descriptions of his zanpakuto to bring it in line with what I had actually intended.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.

"Normal speech"

'Inner speech/thoughts'

"Kido/Zanpakuto Attacks/Quincy Techniques"

"Zanpakuto speech/Inner Power"

"Hollow speech"

XXX

Chapter 13:

It was a dark, overcast day that Tatsuki awoke to, her eyes blinking groggily as she took in the view of the neighbourhood from her window. As she buried her head back into her pillow and pulled the covers back over her, her mind froze at the feeling of the sheets against her bare skin. It was a rare thing for her to sleep in the nude, most often on those nights when she fantasised over her adopted brother, but she couldn't recall indulging in such fantasies, or disrobing for that matter. When an arm was curled around her waist though, her mind switched to panic stations and she let out an undignified yelp.

"Ssh, you're too loud," Ichigo rumbled sleepily, dragging her body flush against his own heated skin, even as she blushed crimson.

"W-What are you doing in my bed?! Why are you even naked?!" she shrieked, struggling to get out of his grip, only to find herself caged by his powerful arms.

"Firstly…this is my bed," he muttered in her ear, his hot breath sending shivers down her spine. "Second, you know very well why we're like this," he practically purred, his morning wood making contact with her inner thigh as he continued to spoon against her. "And lastly…" he murmured before falling silent.

"I-Ichigo?" she stuttered, wondering why the words had died in his throat. That was until…

"Maybe life is like a ride on the freeway, dodging bullets while you're trying to find your way! Everyone's around, but no one does a damn thing, it brings me down, but I won't let them!" And just like that, her dream was shattered, yelping out loud as she was jolted out of bed by her alarm screaming 'Staring at the Sun' at her. Grumbling from the floor, she reached up and grabbed her phone from under her pillow, killing the alarm and allowing her arm to flop back onto the floor with her.

'That dream was too damn vivid,' she thought, running a hand through her sweat soaked hair and grimacing. Getting to her feet lazily, she yawned as she made her way to the bathroom, stripping off her oversized shirt as she walked. Normally she wouldn't flaunt her body like this, but with the apartment to herself, she relished the freedom it afforded her. Opening the taps and adjusting the water to her preferred temperature, she stripped herself of her silk bottoms, scowling at the evidence of her 'wet dream' on them. 'Great…just great,' she groused, tossing her nightclothes into the hamper and stepping under the spray.

The end of semester prize giving was the start of their term break and unsurprisingly, her brother had stolen the show. Amongst his academic achievements, he was regaled once again for holding the records for the 100m, 400m and 800m sprint, both for his age group and those a few years older than him. She could almost see him competing in the Olympics whenever they came around and if it proved interesting enough to him. He smiled and bowed to their cheers and applause, but she could see that he wasn't as pleased as he should have been. He was never one to not bask in his own glory after all.

But she had brushed it off as she was also honoured for what she considered her greatest accomplishment up to now, being ranked the strongest girl in Japan, in her age group. She had been so pleased that she hadn't even objected when Ichigo slung his arm over her shoulder at the end and dragged her and a few friends to one of the bars he frequented. From there she could only remember snippets of conversation as the drinks flowed freely the entire time, in both hers and his direction. Yet again though, she wondered at the hint of…resignation that was in his eyes, almost as if he was convinced that he wouldn't be able to do this ever again. When their evening had finally drawn to a close, she remembered the warmth that coursed through her body as he was forced to carry her home like a child on his back, teasing her for overindulging so much. Swatting him drunkenly across the back of his head, she mumbled out a retort that caused him to laugh even louder and threaten to leave her and make her find her own way home. Balking at the prospect, she tightened her grip around his neck, daring him to try and leave her.

He hadn't of course; until they had finally reached their apartment and he dumped her onto her own bed and began stripping her of her shoes and socks.

"You're such a lightweight Tatsuki," he chuckled, tossing her socks over his shoulder and wrestling to get her under the covers.

"Am…not…" she mumbled, snuggling deeper into the depths of her pillow, even as he continued to chuckle.

"Sure, whatever you say," he muttered, his expression softening as he took in her content expression. She had expected him to bid her goodnight and leave to his own room, but the feeling of him sitting down next to her piqued her curiosity and she fought to stay awake a little longer. It was when he began to run his fingers through her hair that she was startled, her tired eyes staring at him with all the surprise they could muster.

"Ichigo?" she asked, his affection and the small nuances from earlier causing her to worry.

"I'm sorry to keep you awake," he mumbled, continuing to stroke her hair, "but I'm going away for a few days in the morning and I doubt that you'll be awake to see me off."

"Where?"

"A small training camp. I found a guy that can help me perfect my form," he said with a smile that never reached his eyes. "I'll be gone for about ten days."

Wanting to press him on the lie, she found she couldn't as the alcohol finally overcame her, sending her speeding along to peaceful oblivion. "Be safe," she muttered as her eyes fluttered shut.

"No promises…" he whispered back, planting a brief kiss to her forehead, before tucking the covers around her and shutting the door behind him.

And true to his word, he was gone the next morning, an envelope filled with cash left in her underwear draw so that she wouldn't need to worry about groceries at the very least, though she silently promised revenge for his audacity to dare touch her unmentionables. Now three days later, she was…troubled by how much she missed him. "What have you gotten yourself into this time Ichigo…" she whispered, sinking down to the shower floor, uncaring as the water continued to cascade down on her, as she rested her head on her knees.

XXX

Said teen though, was probably wondering the same thing as he lay panting face down in the dirt, sweat beading his forehead while his arms were bound behind him. When he had submitted to Kisuke's plan, he was in no way prepared for the pain that he was about to go through.

The first step to regaining his soul reaper powers was simple, move around in his soul form. Not too hard considering his soul was already used to being ejected from his physical body all the time, but the lack of power certainly strained him now. In order to help him shake off the sense of fatigue, he was told that he was going to spar against one of Kisuke's helpers, a little girl with black pigtails named Ururu.

Scoffing at the shop owner, he only just managed to dodge the girl's first punch, the force of it cutting his cheek slightly. Stunned at her strength, he was quickly sent flying as she pressed her attack. Their bout was brought to an end though when in his zealous state, he palmed a fist sized rock near him and smashed it into the diminutive girl's face as she lifted him up by his collar. Chuckling at the faint dribble of blood that flowed down her face, he was soon silenced as she began to pummel him into oblivion, the beat down only coming to an end when Kisuke intervened.

Now here he lay, at the bottom of a pit his chain of fate cut and his arms bound and told to emerge with his powers, or become a hollow. 'Sure why not and while I'm at it, I'll discover the cure for cancer and put an end to world hunger,' he thought bitterly, rolling onto his back and staring up at the sky. When he'd first been tossed into this hole, he'd spent a good fifteen minutes just staring at the walls, before labelling the task impossible without the use of his arms and thus something else had to be done.

That something hit him like a freight train as he felt a searing pain in his chest, originating from his Chain of Fate. When he looked down at it, he saw that the individual links had spawned several tiny mouths and they were cannibalising one another. Even after they fed, he was struck by sense of lethargy and could do no more than lay down and endure.

Now after who knows how many hours and numerous bouts of pain, he was exhausted and dismayed. 'Everything that he's done, from the pummelling to this impossible task…it's all to throw me deeper into despair isn't?' he thought, remembering that those who bore some great sadness, or died a violent death most often went on to become hollows. 'Beat me to a pulp and then dump me in a hole impossible to scale. Then leave me to endure the crippling pain as my soul eats away at itself. It's almost like he wants me to become a hollow…' he thought with a hint of amusement.

He was interrupted from his musings by the sound of feet sliding across the dirt. Looking up, he could see Jinta sliding down with his arms laden with food. Feeling his mouth water slightly at the prospect of food, Ichigo watched him set it down just out of his limited reach.

"I thought you might be getting hungry down here, so here's a nice tasty treat for you," he said with a somewhat mocking grin, shoving his hands into his pockets as he stared down at him.

"Me? Hungry? Pfft, what a joke kid. If this chain is a sign of me becoming a hollow, then you'd best look again. There's at least a third of it left. Plenty of time in my mind."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised at how clueless you are down here, considering that you don't have a watch to help you, but your time is almost up. You've been down here almost three days…"

"You're lying," Ichigo mumbled, his eyes widening in fear.

"Am I? We did set an alarm for when 72 hours passes; let's just wait for it to ring shall we?" As he spoke though, they both came aware of a faint ringing coming from above them. "Well looks like I was right after all," Jinta said with a smirk, as he began to scale the shaft.

"Wait! Where are you going?" Ichigo screamed after him.

Pausing in his ascent, Jinta looked down on him with a scowl. "I know you're new to this, but when you turn…it's not going to be safe to be around you. I'm just staying out of the way until I'm told otherwise."

"What do you…GRAH!" he cried out, doubling over as the pain returned tenfold, making him scream in agony. Looking down at what remained of his chain; his eyes widened in fear as each link grew a mouth and began to tear into one another, before leaving a gaping black hole in the middle of his chest. Panting from the bout, his screams were muffled as a copious amount of fluid began to pour from his heart, eyes and mouth consuming him.

"And so it begins," Kisuke whispered from above him, closing his eyes as he felt his plan begin to take motion.

XXX

Feeling the pain die away, Ichigo opened his eyes and found himself standing amidst the desolate landscape from three days ago.

"Welcome back…my King," a voice he recognised spoke, causing him to spin on his heel to face them.

"I wish I could say the same," he muttered. "I don't even know where here is…"

"Tsk, tsk, I would have thought that you would have figured it out by now. This is your inner world, the representation of your soul and all its hopes, dreams and fears."

"My hopes and dreams? This place looks more like what I would imagine Hell to be," he muttered under his breath, his hand idly rubbing at where his Chain of Fate used to be. "Maybe you've taken one too many blows to the head if that's what you believe."

"While I would love to stand here and argue with you over the matter, we have bigger things to deal with," she replied, a smirk on her face as the ground between the two of them groaned and began to crack open, before a roaring geyser of magma exploded out of it.

Dodging out of the spray with a yelp, Ichigo floundered as he found himself teetering on the edge of the island he was standing on, the magma below him bubbling ominously. Hearing the creak of metal in the distance, he could spy the wrought iron gates that held people prisoner crumbling away, allowing their charges to run free. It was just his luck that they all seemed to be charging towards him.

"The hollowfication that you are undergoing is causing your inner world to fall apart at the seams. Your only hope is to find my power and claim it, only then will you be able to save yourself."

"And I'm supposed to do this how? I don't even know where to begin?" To his annoyance and frustration, she only seemed to laugh at his question.

"I'll forgive you for sounding so pathetic just this once since you are under so much stress, but as for where my power is…it lives within one of those poor souls charging at you at this very moment. I suggest you kill them…before they kill you." As she finished speaking, the first wave of prisoners descended upon him, a teenager with a dislocated jaw and part of his skull missing at the lead. Turning to face them, he was greeted by a lead pipe connecting with his cheek, sending him sprawling backwards. Dazed, he rolled back on instinct as the pipe struck where he had been moments ago and kicked his legs out, catching his assailant and bringing them down to his level. Before his attacker could recover, he yanked the pipe out if his hands and brought it down with bone splintering force on his skull, shattering it into countless fragments. Seeing this, the rest of his would be attackers faltered in their steps and began to slowly encircle him.

"So its kills or be killed…" he muttered under his breath, spitting out a mouthful of blood and watching it hiss and evaporate as it touched the ground. "Story of my entire fucking life," he muttered, just as the horde charged him once more.

XXX

Outside his inner world, Kisuke, Jinta and Ururu watched as Tessai struggled to keep Ichigo bound at the bottom of the shaft, his hollowfication causing his binds to snap and break, even as he let loose the watery howl of a hollow and stood up.

"Boss I'm at my limit," Tessai shouted up at them. "I am now switching to suppression measures. First Song, Shiryu." Stabbing his hands into the ground, he caused a wave of white spiritual fabric to burst from the ground and envelop Ichigo. "Second Song, Hyakurensan." A hundred metal bolts soon joined them, causing Ichigo to resemble a pin cushion. "This is the end! Final Song, Bankin Taiho." A massive grey cube formed in the air above the shaft and began to plummet towards him. A second before the cube touched him though; Kisuke noticed a flicker of light originating from a tear in the cloth around Ichigo. Without a word of warning, he yanked Jinta and Ururu back, shielding them with his body as the shaft was engulfed in a pillar of light.

XXX

'I should have known,' Ichigo thought with a grimace as he stared at the corpse kneeling before him, the corpse of the first man he had killed. As he continued to stare, the man's flesh seemed to melt away, revealing an obsidian hilt wrapped in crimson cloth.

"Well it took you long enough, now pull me out! The bastards are getting ready to kill you outside!"

Wasting little time, Ichigo followed her instructions, his fingers wrapping around the hilt and heaving it out with a mighty tug. He couldn't relish the moment though, as the world was covered in a golden light, dazing him.

XXX

As the light finally began to die away, Ururu and Jinta cautiously peered around Kisuke as he continued to shield them. The shopkeeper himself seemed unfazed though and calmly stood up, peering into a cloud of dust in the distance.

"Where'd he go?" Jinta asked in slight confusion, unable to get a fix on Ichigo's location with all the latent reishi in the air. Feeling himself being shoved away, he yelped in indignation and turned on Kisuke, only to fall silent at the sight in front of him.

Kisuke had drawn his blade from his cane and was using it to hold back Ichigo's own, the teen uttering a garbled growl from behind a bone-white mask. "You know…if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were trying to kill me," he chuckled, pressing forward and forcing Kisuke to slide back a bit. "But then again, I don't have a use to you unless I'm dead right?"

Despite the questions pose to him though, Kisuke calmly parried his attack, sending the teen leaping backwards lest he lose his head. "It seems as if you're all fired up. Very well then, it's time we began with Test 3, you are now required to knock my hat off with your zanpakuto."

"And now you're ignoring me, you really are beginning to piss me off, you know that?" he cursed, charging back in.

XXX

"Tch, what an idiot," a woman chuckled, her white hair fluttering in the breeze. Feeling a presence behind her, she smirked and turned to face them. "Well, well. What do we have here? Finally decided to come out of the shadows and talk to me, eh old man?" she asked, watching as a middle aged man with long brown hair, yellowish sunglasses and a ragged black cloak appeared before her.

"You got to him first…" he muttered, a scowl on his face as he stared down at the woman in front of him.

"Of course I did, after all…a Queen should always be at her King's side. Why? Are you jealous that he chose me over you?"

"You've kept me isolated and away from him, so I fail to see where the choice was made to choose you over me."

"Yes I suppose that is true. Tell me, do you remember what I told you when we first met? When you asked what I planned to do? I told you that a hollow's nature is to follow the strongest and I will wholeheartedly agree that our King is stronger. But over time I began to wonder…why should I carry the King in to battle? Why can't I battle alongside him?" she asked as she began to circle him, her smirk becoming a feral grin. "You decided that in all your infinite wisdom that you will stand in the light while I am to sulk in the dark. Well guess what, I don't think so," she finished, a flame erupting in her hand, writhing and twisting into the shape of a katana.

"If you are planning to be difficult…so be it," the man grumbled, forming his own light blue blade out of reishi. As he swung it at her though, he was surprised when she completely ignored his attack and allowed it to connect with her neck. Narrowing his eyes, he was disturbed to see he hadn't even scratched her.

"It seems as if you were unaware…" she muttered, reaching up to grab his blade with her bare hand. "We are both gifts of his mother, one sealed away by his father's sacrifice, the other lying dormant until it is time to be awakened. But of the two of us…I woke up first!" she screamed, impaling him with her own flaming blade. Twisting the blade, she relished it as the spirit coughed in agony, specks of blood splattering over her face, before he began to dissolve into dust. "Now be a good horse and go to sleep, I'll call you when I need you." Feeling a tremor course through Ichigo's inner world, she sighed and dismissed the blade in her hand. "And here I was thinking I'd get a break…"

XXX

Outside his inner world Ichigo was panting heavily, while sweat ran down his face in rivulets. Dodging to the side as the shopkeeper stabbed at him, he winced as he felt the blade cut through the mask and into his cheek. Rolling to the side, he came to a stop on bended knee, staring back at the man with a look of loathing.

"You've gone surprisingly quiet…I guess your mouth could talk big, but you certainly couldn't back it up," Kisuke said as he stood completely calm and unmarked. "You asked if I was trying to kill you, but if I told you the truth, would it matter? Would you try harder? I doubt it since you're already reached your limit. Would you give up? Doubtful, especially considering what I know of you. So why does it matter?" Walking towards the teenager, Kisuke came to a stop in front of him, a grim expression on his face.

"But I'll answer you anyway. Yes I will kill you here, in order to prevent you from getting killed when you invade the Seireitei, the capital of the Soul Society and Headquarters of the Gotei 13. Do you really think that they won't hesitate to kill you Ichigo? Do you think you've seen the true extent of their powers simply because you know a bit of kido, or know how to swing a zanpakuto like a madman? Allow me to truly educate you on their power…"

Dazed and confused at his words, Ichigo felt a sense of dread settle over him as the shopkeeper acquired a slight red glow and an eerie silence settled on the area. "Awaken, Benihime," he whispered, causing his blade to morph from its cane state into a long deadly looking blade with a razor tip and crimson string at the bottom of the hilt. While its appearance wasn't that intimidating, a renewed sense of dread returned, stealing Ichigo's breath away.

"You're still speechless, but I suppose it's only natural after seeing a zanpakuto released for the first time. This is why I said that you have no idea what you're up against. A soul reaper that does not know the name of his zanpakuto, doesn't stand a chance of even beating a Lieutenant, let alone a Captain. I'm afraid to say that since we've reached this point and you've shown no improvement, it'll be in your best interest if you die, here and now," he commented, before taking a swipe at him and demolishing the pillar of earth behind him.

'This is insane,' Ichigo thought, watching the top half of his mask crumble away, revealing his eyes wide with fright. 'How is it that simply knowing a name can give him so much power? How do they even have a name in the first place?' Dodging backwards, he grunted as their blades clashed together in a shower of sparks. Despite his earlier ability to at least hold Kisuke's blows back, the strength behind the attack this time was leagues ahead of it and he slowly found his blade inching closer and closer to his face, until finally he crumbled and cried out as he felt the blade slice into his face, from his forehead right down to his lip.

Rolling around in agony as his vision was bathed in red, he could just make out Kisuke's blade again aiming to decapitate him. Acting on instinct, he dodged it by a hairsbreadth, feeling the air pressure generated by the swing wash over him. 'I can't, I just can't do this,' he thought in despair, fleeing blindly away from his impending execution. He barely made it more than a few metres though, before he felt the back of his shihakusho being pulled back, sweeping him off his feet onto the hard, unforgiving ground. Raising his blade, he barely caught Kisuke's in time, gritting his teeth at the immense strain he was under once again. 'If you have a fucking name, tell me it already! We're about to die and if you're who I think you are, now's not the time to be playing games and staying silent!'

"You're so bossy. Lucky for you I like bossy," a familiar voice mocked him, just as time seemed to slow to a crawl, before coming to a complete stop and the woman from his inner world appeared before him. "He's really done a number on you, hasn't he?" she said soothingly, tracing her finger along the cut to his face. Holding it up, she grinned at him before sucking on her finger sensually, much to his disbelief. "Mmm, tasty."

"So you're my zanpakuto."

"Well I'm certainly not your mother now am I? So tell me, are you calling for me?"

"I would…but someone has been ignoring me whenever I asked for their name," he muttered, stumbling to his feet.

"That would be a problem," she said with a sigh as she continued to toy with his wound. "Very well then I think you'll be able to hear it now, my name is…" she whispered, leaning closer until she was breathing into his ear. When he heard her name, a sense of…rightness seemed to resonate within him on hearing it and strangely enough, he wasn't worried anymore. If he died, he died, but at least he'd be taking the bastard with him now.

Unaware of the silent conversation happening between the two, Kisuke continued to press his attack, a small part of him feeling a hint of remorse over his actions. To his surprise, his blade was suddenly stopped and slowly but surely, Ichigo was pushing him back.

"Ignite…Zangetsu," Ichigo whispered under his breath, just loud enough for Kisuke to hear. It was only thanks to his decades as a member of the stealth forces that he was able to dodge the inferno that burst forth from Ichigo, the brilliant white flames spiralling out of control as they climbed to the very roof of the underground training centre. Even from there spot of relative safety several metres away, Tessai, Ururu and Jinta were forced to shield their eyes from the brilliant radiance in front of them.

As the light began to die down, Kisuke's ears pricked up to the sound of hysterical laughter, originating from within the inferno. Frowning he gazed through narrow eyes at the blaze in front of him as a pair of flaming white claws emerged from it, crushing several stones under their immense weight with ease and scorching the ground from the immense heat they radiated. As the inferno began to recede, it revealed the immense behemoth hidden within. Its body was over thirty feet tall with a wingspan the size of half a football field, its muscular front and back legs showing that it could crush anything below them with ease. What made it even more frightening though was that it seemed to be composed entirely of fire, the flares along its body waxing and waning evenly. Even as Kisuke stared up at it, a pair of poisonous yellow eyes stared back at him, while a tail of writhing flame flicked to and fro in an almost playful manner. And there nestled between its front legs stood Ichigo with a twisted grin on his blood-stained face.

"Well what do you think; it's a lot more…flashy than yours isn't it? I can't help but feel that she's a bit too visible for my liking though," he said, his fingers tightening around the hilt of pristine white dagger held in his hand. "But you know what…now's not the time to debate this. Now, now's the time to play. After you, Zangetsu," he commanded, causing the dragon to rise up on its haunches and unleash an earth-shattering roar, before leaping towards her prey.

Leaping back, Kisuke's mind was split between analysing the unique zanpakuto in front of him and dodging its fierce attacks. Noticing that the dragon did not explode on contact with the ground where he had been, he was quick to conclude that it was not in any way like a certain Captain's ice dragon in terms of shape or power. Seeing it unfurl its wings and leap up into the air after him, he sent a crimson energy blast at it, frowning as the two collided in an explosion, blowing him back. Searching the area for Ichigo, he was surprised as the dragon charged at him once more, half its face sheared away from his attack. Summoning his Blood Mist Shield, he grimaced as he was forced back even further by the force of the dragon striking the shield. 'Well it's certainly far more robust than Captain Hitsugaya's zanpakuto,' he thought idly, stiffening as he felt someone grab his shoulder. Turning to look over it, he was stunned to find Ichigo grinning down at him, his blade aflame like a beacon in the darkest night. Twisting his body to block the attack, Ichigo swung his blade down, consuming them both in a similar white inferno from earlier.

As the fire and smoke began to clear away, Tessai and the children were finally able to see the results of the battle. Lying face down on the molten ground from a combination of exhaustion and blood loss was Ichigo, while Kisuke stood behind a multi-layered crimson barrier, staring forlornly at the ashen remains of his hat. "Now this…this is a problem," he muttered, running a tired hand through his hair. "I wasn't expecting you to have an elemental type zanpakuto; in fact this might mean we need to change the plan now. Well, we'll work something else out in the end, but for now, lesson three…cleared," he muttered, taking in the molten ground around him and how it barely seemed to faze the teen.

XXX

An annoying chapter to write, but at last I've revealed what I plan to do to his zanpakuto and I really do plan to have fun with it.

To those whose opinions I asked for, thank you and even if I'm not going with your thoughts, you helped me to at least iron out the kinks I had in my thoughts. Till next time boys and girls.