**** CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM PLEASE ****

Okay everyone! I'm sorry I left you hanging with the last update, but I have quite a few fics to post... and I haven't been working on this one ^^; I'm sorry, I'll try my best to work on it later. As it stands now, I'm working hard to finish my Supernatural fic =) I should probably post another chapter of that tomorrow. Anyway, I don't have much to say in my note. I've been babysitting and haven't been able to get on my laptop... which means no writing. I just hate it when the kids think just because I'm using something they automatically have to use it. It's ridiculous.

Ichi: Sounds familiar. *glares at Shiro*

Shiro: I know, that Jinta is a brat!

Ichi: *face palm* Why did he have to be an immature child mentally?

Grimm: Probably because you're too grown up for your own good.

Ichi: Is there something wrong with that? *growls out threateningly*

Grimm: No, I love you just the way you are. *timid chuckle*

Shiro: ... We givin' Ichi love? I love 'im just the way he is, too! XD

Ichi: *groans in irritation*


Chapter 23

Ichigo wakes with a scream, her hands darting up to her throat in a panic. Rukia and Orihime aren't there, already awake and most likely down getting breakfast. She thanks her luck they didn't stick around until she woke. There's a burning sensation on her shoulder, though she passes it off as phantom pain from her dream. She notices tremors running through her, the fear still fresh in her mind. Shaking it off as best she can, Ichigo crawls from bed and shakily makes her way to the shower. She doesn't know why, but she can still feel the dirt and grime clinging to her body like a second skin.

The water is hot against her, stinging her shoulder and back horribly. Ichigo scrubs her body harshly, wanting nothing more than to wash the dream down the drain with the dirty water. She glances down wistfully, wonder if that could actually happen... and almost screams again. The water isn't dirty or clear, but pinkish with her blood. She doesn't even turn the water off before she's jumping from the tub, eyes dropping to her pajamas left piled on the tile floor. They're stained with crimson around the same places she feels those phantom pains. With an eerie sense of detachment, Ichigo looks into the body length mirror on the door. She moves until she can see a portion of her back, the part on the right where Grimmjow attacked her shoulder. Marring her skin in a patch of irritated red are the marks of his claws and teeth. She trembles at the sight, raising a shaky hand to touch the clotted lines.

"Oh my god," she whispers fearfully. "What the hell is happening to me?"

She mulls over the idea of not telling anyone about her nightmare and the marks left over, yet knows she needs medical attention. The cuts look infected although they're clotted over. With a sigh she can't get out smoothly, Ichigo grabs a towel before searching for her phone. She retreats into the bathroom to huddle in a corner, finding that to be the only safe place for her weary mind... a place where nothing can sneak up on her. Ichigo struggles to dial the only number that pops to mind at the moment, yet eventually presses the call button and holds the cellphone to her ear.

"Hello?" Shuuhei inquires on the other end.

"Shuuhei... I... I need help," Ichigo remarks quietly. "Don't tell anyone, just... come up to my room. I'm in the bathroom."

"Ichigo, what's going on?" he asks in worry.

"Just hurry, okay?"

She doesn't wait for an answer, just hangs up. She knows he'll come, he always does. As she waits, she rests her back against the cool wall and stares into space. It feels good against her wounds, but her mind is sucked back into her nightmare. By the time Shuuhei walks into the bathroom, Ichigo is trembling on the floor again. He kneels beside her and taps her shoulder, gasping when she screams and throws a punch in his direction.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he says. "Are you okay, Ichi?"

"No, damn it, I'm not okay!" she shouts. "I'm supposed to be working on my book, I've been dragged into some weird demonic rebellion, I'm now working for a bunch of sadistic assholes that imprison little girls, and I'm getting wounded by my nightmares! I'm so not okay!"

He can hear the stress in her tone, her voice only getting louder with hysterics the more she talks. Carefully, he hushes her and draws her into a hug. Her skin is still wet, her hair dripping, and it isn't long before the water soaks into his clothes. Shuuhei ignores it, just glad Ichigo is calming down. As he holds her, he notices the angry claw marks in her back. He waits until she stops shaking to mention it, though. When he does, her nightmare spills from her mouth like word vomit.

"I knew this would happen! I told you you can't trust that demon," Shuuhei frowns. "Shiro is a rotten person, him haunting you has finally gone too far. I'm gonna put an end to this, once and for all!"

"No, Shuuhei, it wasn't Shiro's doing," Ichigo sighs in exasperation. "It had a completely different feel to it. It was so much more malevolent, the wolf in my dream was pure evil. Shiro was always more playful in his haunting."

"Whatever," the raven sighs. "Come on, I'll take you to Rangiku so she can mend you."

He grabs a bag and throws in some clothes, hurrying to his own room to pick his trench coat off the floor. Ichigo hasn't moved an inch since he stepped out. With a sigh, he wraps her in the coat and lifts her into his arms. With the bag hanging on a shoulder and Ichigo tucked close to him, Shuuhei hurries to the elevator. They manage to get past the small restaurant without alerting their friends, something Ichigo is thankful for, and then he's calling a car from the facility. Any other time they would just walk, but she's lost a lot of blood and it would look strange for him to be carrying an injured female through the streets.

The car takes them directly to the asylum, passing the gates and stopping outside the old cemetery on the grounds. Shuuhei thanks the driver and lifts Ichigo out of the backseat, hurrying toward the large crypt in the center of the headstones. The orangette's sight is blurry at best, her head resting on Shuuhei's shoulder as he tries not to jostle her. She watches the car drive off, leaving them stranded in the cemetery.

"We're almost there, Ichigo, just hang on," the raven murmurs.

He stops in front of the crypt, moving a stone and tapping some buttons. Ichigo can hear them beeping with each touch, the fake door, a locked iron gate over smooth cement, opening with a swish of air before they're moving downward. Shuuhei's feet clang loudly on the metal stairwell, Ichigo groaning at the noise killing her eardrums. When they reach the bottom, she can hear the tell-tale beeping of a keypad again. She closes her eyes to the light that assaults her orbs. Her ears picking up a deafening sound of absolute silence.

It's far too quiet for her liking, the whispers of the past reaching out to strangle her mind. She chances opening her eyes, catching the spirits from the accident going about their day. Their images flicker like an old movie, their forms all over the place. When Shuuhei takes a shortcut through the demon halls, Ichigo can see a few images pacing the empty cells... it makes her stomach turn.

Shuuhei notes how her eyes travel the area, a slight glaze over them. It's not new to him, he knows she's seeing spirits. He just isn't sure that's a good thing for her at the moment. He shifts her so he can hold her with one arm, reaching for his back pocket to pull out his phone.

"Close your eyes for now, Ichigo," he murmurs before someone picks up on the other end of the phone. "Hey, Renji, I need a favor. Don't freak out, but I need you to clean up some blood in Ichigo's bathroom."

"What?"

"Don't mention it to Rukia or the others, okay? I have Ichigo at the facility right now, I'm taking her to Rangiku. I just... I need you to get rid of the blood so no one asks any questions. I'll explain everything later."

"Dude, I'm not touching her blood," Renji comments in disgust. "That's fucking nasty!"

"She's not on her period, you dip shit!" Shuuhei hisses. "She's injured."

Ichigo gives him a weak hit for the comment, promising herself to hit him harder later. As it is, he would be more bothered by a fly. The raven finishes his conversation, tucking away his phone and turning into the medical wing. He lies Ichigo on a cot and starts shouting for Rangiku, who wanders in at the noise.

"... Let me guess, the accident prone psychic has gotten hurt again," she mutters with a tone crossed between sarcasm and bitterness.

"It's not like..."

"Oh my god, what happened?" she asks in a panic when she sees her state.

Shuuhei immediately tells her what Ichigo told him, that's really all he can tell her. As he goes through the story, Rangiku cleans up Ichigo's injuries. She doesn't seem surprised at all that these wounds were from a nightmare, which the orange head can only guess it's because it happens often in the facility. As Shuuhei finish up, Doctor Motsumoto is pulling out a needle and stitches. She carefully begins sewing up the deeper gashes on Ichigo's back, not stopping to say a word until she reaches the neck wound. To her surprise, it's nothing but an angry red burn covered in blood. She wipes the blood from it, taking in the burn studiously. It's in the shape of a smeared paw print, the skin slightly raised upon her slender throat. It'll be red for a while, but when it heals completely it'll be nothing more than a spot the size of a nickle. No doubt it'll hardly be noticeable, just a faded patch of skin with a silvery sheen. She sets it aside for now, bandaging Ichigo's back with care.

"There," she sighs. "All done. I want to keep you here, though. You'll need some blood, you've lost too much. Have you always had that strange burn on your neck?"

"... What strange burn?" Ichigo asks with a slight slur.

"I'll take that as a no," Rangiku sighs. "Shuuhei, watch her until I get back. I have to retrieve some blood packs..."

"You mean those?"

She turns in the direction of his gaze, shocked to see a couple packs already laid out on the table. Without thinking on it too much, she picks one up to check the blood type. There's no type on the bag, no name from a donor, and she's about to leave to retrieve another. There's an angry howling wind that bursts through the windows, slamming the shutters loudly. The door slams shut and locks.

"Uh... I think that's the right type," Shuuhei comments a bit stunned.

"I'm not putting unknown blood into my patient!" Rangiku hisses.

"Rangiku, you've been accompanied by a spirit," Shuuhei sighs. "She's very good at her job, always makes sure you have exactly what you need when you need it. Trust her, okay? She knows that's she's doing."

Rangiku is hesitant for a moment, eying the packet in her hand warily. Finally, she sighs in relent and starts an IV for Ichigo. The orangette watches with drooping eyelids and a distant gaze, forcing herself to stay conscious as the needle goes into her arm. She can't feel a thing, it's all like some weird dream she's yet to wake from. Shuuhei sits in a chair close to the bed, his face looking drawn and worn from worry. At this moment, he looks much older than he is.

"Thank you, Rangiku," she whispers.

The woman gives her a slight smile, warmer than anything Ichigo's ever seen from her before, and then moves away. She can hear her footfalls retreating from the room as she closes her eyes. Sleep doesn't hit her immediately. She listens to Shuuhei's breathing as it slows and evens out in rest, she can hear the spirit of the doctor that inhabits this place humming peaceably besides her, and a strong smell of wildflowers surrounds her... even though she knows there are no flowers in the ward. Just as she's about to scream from the lack of sleep, a familiar hand runs through her hair gently. Shiro is there. Maybe not physically, but his presence is there in spirit. Ichigo sighs in relief, the soothing action helping her slip into the arms of slumber.

She doesn't know what woke her, but she knows it's nearing noon. She hasn't a clue how she knows that, she just does. Like a voice is whispering the time to her, as though chiding her for sleeping so long. She yawns and stretches, glancing over to see Shuuhei still snoozing in the chair. He'll be sore when he wakes, but right now he looks so beaten Ichigo can't help but let him sleep. She finds that the IV is gone from her arm, leaving only an itchy spot from the irritation of a needle. She's not lightheaded anymore, which tells her Rangiku finished her treatment and her blood levels are back to normal. Ichigo needs to stretch her legs, though, so she quietly slips from the bed and pulls out the duffel Shuuhei brought. She pulls on a pair of torn jeans and a black band tee, covering her arms with a plaid button up shirt and slipping fuzzy boots onto her cold feet. She exits the room and heads through the halls.

The halls are still as cold as ice, still as sterile as a hospital, and they still reek of bleach and cleaner. She's becoming used to the smell, though she wishes she were anything but. As she moves through the halls, faded images of spirits patrol the lengths. She greets them as they pass, knowing they can't see her and feeling better with her attempt. When a spirit is lost in their last hours, they're nothing but an echo really. They see and hear what happened that day, nothing past that.

It doesn't take her long to find that her feet are carrying her toward the demon halls, her need to check on Shiro dimming in comparison to her curiosity about Yorouchi Shihoin. She must've been something special if her father never dated again. When she reaches the hall, however, she goes straight to the open and vacated cells. Within them are the spirits of strangers, each with something about them that screams inhuman. There's a man with a pair of bat wings, a woman with a long slender dragon's tail, and a small girl with horns. She greets them carefully, asking how they are and if she can do anything to make them a bit more content... the answers received were less than grateful and far more hostile.

"Hmm... they've been tainted by the abuse in this place," Ichigo muses as she backs away from the last cell. "I don't blame their hostility, but it'll make it more difficult to help them on their way. I should talk to Grimmjow about them later."

She peeks in Shiro's window to find nothing but blackness. She can hear him snoring though, knowing he's asleep and backing away so she won't accidentally wake him. She retreats to Yorouchi's door, hesitating before unlocking it. Inside the room, the woman with dark skin and purple locks is sitting on her righted bed. She's staring at the door, a heated look of pure fury still swimming in her eyes. When Ichigo timidly steps into the room, the temperature drops drastically and she can see her breath plume from her lips. She went from fall to winter so quickly and Yorouchi never even batted an eye. Ichigo pushes aside the urge to let her teeth chatter, closing the door behind her.

"Yorouchi Shihoin?" she says quietly.

The woman is visibly stunned at the sound of her name, said so friendly and almost conversationally. It's been a long time since anyone spoke to her like an equal. Ichigo can see the surprise and resists stepping closer to allow the woman time to get used to her presence. Finally, golden eyes regard Ichigo and those lips painted with frost part.

"How do you know me?" she asks curiously. "We've never met, which means you've never set foot in this place before now."

"My father has dog-tags like those," Ichigo says with a point. "They have your name on them... he used to tell me about you when I was little. I'm Ichigo Urahara, Kisuke Urahara's daughter. Can I ask... what do your dog-tags say?"

"... Micheal Kalapos," Yorouchi states in a breathless tone. "You're Micheal's daughter?"

"Well... I guess so. I think he changed his name. At least, that's the impression I've been getting the further along my little trip I get."

Yoroushi is still for a long while, and then beckons Ichigo to come closer to her. She does so, letting her eyes travel about the room listlessly. Chunks of ice lie thick upon the walls, icicles hanging from the ceiling, and snow lies upon the floor. Ichigo shivers slightly, sitting on a chair Yorouchi lifts from the floor and sets upright. At this distance, the orangette can see a shimmering outline of a snowflake in Yorouchi's abnormal eyes. It's fascinating and difficult to look away from, though she manages with enough willpower.

"Why do they keep it so cold in here?" Ichigo inquires.

"I keep it this way," the demon remarks. "Snow demons like the cold, it's comforting for them. When they're emotions are unstable or very powerful, sometimes they'll freeze things around them. Mine have been unstable for many years now... I miss Micheal so very much."

"He misses you, too," Ichigo says quietly. "He has nightmares every night and I catch him crying sometimes when he thinks no one else can see him. He's never dated another... I actually thought he was gay for along while."

Yorouchi laughs at that, a barking laughter bereft of the containment one might expect from a woman. She's a tomboy, Ichigo can see that easily. Her presence is commanding and full of life, a true leader. The orange head can't help but smile at her joy, as contagious as it is.

"Is that how he's been doing?" she asks once she's settled. "He always used to tell me he couldn't live without me... I though he was trying to be a romantic idiot. So... is he really that bad?"

"He's okay," Ichigo smiles. "During the day, you'd think he were a child on a sugar-high. He teaches college classes in writing, he's a favorite teacher of near everyone. I never tell him, though, because his head will get too big. He's on his way here, he was worried about me. I wonder if he'll come back to see you!"

"No!" Yorouchi says quickly. "No, you mustn't tell him. You have to promise me you won't tell him I'm still alive, that I'm still here. If he comes back to this place, he'll never get away again!"

Her voice is filled with urgency, her eyes alight with fear and panic. Ichigo realizes suddenly that Yorouchi never wanted Kisuke to return that night, wanted him to get away and never look back. The thought confuses her and it shows within her amber orbs. The hand on her forearm, grasping tightly in her anxiety, is frigid to the touch... but holds a hidden warmth that chases away the numbness of ice. Ichigo promises not to tell and the grasp is relaxed in relief.

"What happened that night?" Ichigo wonders. "I mean, dad told me a bit... but I'm almost positive he's not telling me everything."

"I'm sorry, Ichigo, but that story is far too long."

Her smile is sad and Ichigo knows whatever happened was life-changing and possibly scarring. Though she doesn't want to, Ichigo lets it go. Yorouchi lifts a hand to play with Ichigo's hair, trying her best to flatten the bedhead she never took care of herself. The orange head chuckles at the frustrated look on the demon's face. A thought occurs to her, and she smiles widely.

"Can I ask you about Shiro?" she wonders. "I'm going to find his twin, they shouldn't be apart... family is important."

"... That's a noble quest, to be certain... but it's best they stay apart," Yorouchi frowns. "I know it's difficult for you to understand, but it's true. Demons can only be born separately, one at a time, there are no twins. Should twins be found, one is always human. They would eventually harm one another, maybe even kill each other."

"Surely there are exceptions! There are exceptions to everything!" Ichigo gasps.

Yorouchi taps her chin in thought, a playful smirk on her lips. Ichigo doesn't know if she's trying to humor her or get her hopes up, but either way she's never been patient type. It must be easy to read upon her face, as the dark-skinned woman laughs before shaking her head. The orangette tilts her head in question, confused at the change of mood.

"You looked just like your father at that moment!" Yorouchi laughs brightly. "He always got this look on his face, a cross between being pissed off and something that looked like he was bloated! Every time he got impatient, he pulled out that look! It's just as funny on your face!"

Ichigo raises a brow, yet can't help chuckling in response. Shuuhei used to tell her that same thing. The distraction soon has Yorouchi fighting back tears, though not in humor. The reminder of her love only reminded her of her loss. Ichigo moves to sit beside her, ignoring the cold to give her a hug and attempt her hand at comfort. A quiet ping sounds, something hard hitting the cold cement floor, and Ichigo looks down. Yorouchi is crying tear-shape drops of ice. Though it strikes Ichigo as weird, she continues to rub the woman's back until she calms down. Her features are schooled into a serious and hard expression, all playfulness lost for the moment.

"There's only one exception that I've heard of," she sighs out wearily. "It's an extremely rare occurrence, though, hasn't happened in over two million years. There has to be perfect conditions, many stipulations have to be met... it's practically impossible."

"Can you tell me more?" Ichigo asks as her awe tints her tone.

"Unfortunately, it's about time for you to go, honey," Yorouchi remarks. "Every one will be getting off lunch break soon and you'll be in trouble if they find you in here with me. We'll talk again some other time, okay?"

Ichigo nods and stands up, looking back at the snow demon with a warm smile. It pains her to leave the other there in such a cold place... and she's not talking about the ice. Sure that makes it cold, but the hard cement and obvious prison cell d├ęcor are far colder in her opinion. From all the stories Kisuke told her growing up, this is like finding her long lost mother only to let her go again. Ichigo takes a steadying breath and promises herself she'll be back, exiting the cell and closing the door. The screech of the metal and the click of the lock seem so final to her that it makes her stomach queasy.


Too much snow, too much snow. Not that I like going outside anyway, but really... I certainly don't like not having the option to go outside =( Okay, random question... How many of you have those grandmothers/mothers that stand at the window giving orders or directions to people that can't hear them? MIne does and it's so freaking annoying. I think she talks just to hear herself talk, which would be cool if she could even hear. I know that doesn't sound very nice, but as I said before... I'm snowed in and can't get away from it. She lives with us, so it's a 24/7 thing and I don't get any sleep because her room is next to mine and she keeps her tv on really loud all night.

Ichi: I don't get much sleep either. I have this voice in the back of my head that doesn't want to be ignored...

Shiro: Really? I haven' seen nobody insider yer head 'cept Zangetsu. Is the old man botherin' ya?

Ichi: *bangs head against wall repeatedly* The simplest clue, the simplest clue and he just can't pick it up. T^T

Shiro: Is he botherin' ya now? I could go tell 'im ta leave ya 'lone fer a bit if ya want. Do ya wan' me ta? Ichi? Hey, Ichi, ain't ya gonna answer me?

Ichi: Make it stop!

Shiro: Ya got it! I'll be right back, just gotta go tell the old man ta shut it! Don' want Ichi gettin' a headache. *disappears to mindscape*

Grimm: *pats Ichi on shoulder* I would say I know your pain... but I'm far too lucky to. ;p