A/N: And we're back! Its been a little while, but 2014 is still kicking my ass. Thanks to all of you who have been encouraging, patient, and reading...except for the one guest reviewer who believes that my prioritizing of real life over fan fiction is an indication that I don't care about my readers. Not really one to go on rants and such, but that is just annoying, as well as insulting. The overwhelming majority of you guys/gals are amazing, and I thank you for being patient with me.

As promised, here is chapter 19, and as promised...it's going to be intense. For those of you who aren't keen on violence and such, the majority of this chapter is NOT for you. Just fair warning. It was my first full battle scene, so hopefully you all enjoy!

You know the drill...Read, Review, but most of all, ENJOY!

Savagely ripping one arm free, he slowly fought and began to try to drag himself up to his feet. Once he had made it to one knee, he looked around at the worried faces in front of him, and with labored, layered breathing, he snarled, "I…know what…I am. I…am no one's…posterboy. I…am no one's pawn."

As he continued to slowly shatter the binds that held him, he met Yoruichi's worried gaze. "I…am nobody's secret! I am…I AM…"

"Worthless, hollow-tainted scum that is disgracing the Gotei 13, the Seireitei, and the entire Soul Society," an arrogant voice called out. The entire group turned around to see Noburu walking up with a large group of men in onmitsukido gear behind him.

Silence so sharp that one could hear a pin drop settled over the area, but was instantly shattered by a cataclysmic eruption of reiatsu from where Ichigo knelt.

Chapter 19

The sudden, overwhelming wave of pressure bore down on all present, sending most to a knee, even forcing the Soutaichou to widen his eyes. Protesting stone could be heard as it was ripped apart, and drowned out the labored breathing of most. The glass and wood of the surrounding buildings could be heard shattering as they were crushed beneath the force.

A high-pitched sound of metal squealing and shattering brought the attention of all gathered to Ichigo, who was now standing as he had destroyed the multiple kido bindings that had slowed him. Surrounded by a swirling cloud of blue reiatsu, his glowing eyes and furious gaze gave him the appearance of a demonic wraith.

However, the group was surprised as Ichigo roughly grabbed his right arm, at which point the oppressive spiritual pressure that was pressing down upon the area disappeared just as quickly as it had come. With the reiatsu gone, all present were stunned—not at the fact that Ichigo was now growling and stalking menacingly towards the newly arrived Noburu—but that he had compressed all of his reiatsu before doing so.

Their surprise grew, as another wave of reiatsu suddenly flared and white liquid shot out from his eyes, quickly falling back over his head. As Ichigo struggled to keep his footing, the ground beneath him began to groan under the sharp bursts of pressure.

Staggering, he quickly reached up to his face and ripped the forming mask off. "No, not yet," he snarled through clenched teeth. After watching him viciously fight it as it happened two more times, the newly arrived Noburu spoke again.

"Do you see?! This tainted fool cannot even control himself! This is what you have put your trust in, giving the sacred office of taichou. This is what you allow to reside within the Seireitei!", he said in a disgusted tone, getting murmurs of agreement from the men behind him and drawing furious stares from the captains in front of him.

The moment he finished speaking, another sharp spike of reiatsu flooded the area as they heard a grunt from Ichigo in between his heavy breathing, followed by a series of sharp cracks. Turning back, everyone tensed as suddenly, Ichigo's face was half covered by a white, striped mask that revealed a black eye with a gold iris.

He was panting, and looking at some unseen point in the distance, ignoring the groaning stone below them as it finally strained so much that it began breaking and shifting beneath the massive pressure that was being released. Another stream of white fluid burst from his shoulder, covering his left arm. Grunting in effort, he quickly used his right to rip the newly formed shell off. Yet, Ichigo paused as his gaze finally found Noburu.

Before he could move, a different wave of reiatsu, as well as a gravelly shout of "Bakudo number ninety-nine, Restrict!' rang out, accompanied by large black straps that fell on the partially-masked Ichigo, driving him to the ground as iron shafts pinned the spiritual fabric in place. Everyone, even the one being bound, turned and looked at the now open-eyed Yamamoto with his hands in a peculiar position.

"Kurosaki-taichou, you must control yourself at once! Allow us to investigate these accusations and allegations that you have brought against this man. Your claims are of the most severe nature, and we must hear all sides of the…", Yamamoto said, maintaining his high level of spiritual pressure.

However, he was interrupted by yet another heavy pulse of reiatsu and a crazed bellow from a voice that both was—and wasn't—Ichigo's, "WHAT IS THERE TO INVESTIGATE?! I CAN SMELL NEL'S BLOOD ON HIM FROM HERE, AND RUKIA'S ON THE OTHER FUCKER! LET ME OUT! I WILL END THEM I'LL RIP THEM TO PIECES AND DEVOUR THEIR SOULS!"

Turning his head to look down at his captive body, the distorted voice continued, "AND YOU, WHY WON'T YOU RELEASE US?! THESE BINDS ARE NOTHING! THEY CAN'T STOP US! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! WHY WON'T YOU USE EVERY BIT OF IT TO KILL THESE BASTARDS?!"

"SHUT UP!", Ichigo's voice shouted back as it broke through the distortion, followed by several powerful head-buts to the ground, shattering a part of the semi-formed mask after each sentence. "YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHY! I DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHAT YOU WANT, I GET THEM FIRST! NO POWERS, NO BANKAI, NOTHING UNTIL I GET MY OWN BARE HANDS ON THEM! THEY CAME AFTER ME. MY FRIENDS, MY FAMILY, MY LOVE. I AM GOING TO TEAR THEM APART MYSELF, IN EVERY FORM OF MYSELF! IF, AND ONLY IF, THERE IS ANYTHING LEFT WHEN I AM FINISHED…THEN YOU CAN HAVE THEM, GOT IT?!"

The look of shock that crossed Ichigo's masked section of face would normally have made several present laugh, however the look quickly melted into a sadistic smile and glowing eyes. His king was deadly serious, and would be destroying those who dared to test him, soon. This was the side of Ichigo that the spirit had always wanted to reveal, and the elation at seeing his king's bloodlust was the only feeling that could supersede his own.

Growling excitedly, he replied, "Now that's more like it. It's nice to get a reminder as to why I call you the king. You had better leave me a taste, though…" he said as the mask began to fade back into Ichigo.

Turning his gaze up to Yamamoto, Ichigo became eerily calm and said, "Soutaichou Yamamoto, release me, or I will release myself. Shiro was right…I can smell the blood still on him. The investigation is over, as Noburu is covered in evidence of his attempts to murder my squad and loved ones. He is going to die, of that you can be sure. Kaito as well. I will not let this go…ever."

"Kurosaki-taichou, I understand your anger, and…"

"This is outrageous! How dare you accuse me, you filthy…", Noburu started, cutting off Yamamoto's reply, only to be interrupted himself by the blade held by a narrow-eyed Byakuya Kuchiki being pointed at him.

"Noburu Omaeda, you will explain your actions, and your purpose here…now. You have been accused of attacking not only the arrancar, which are under Kuchiki protection, but a noble clan itself, as well as a squad of the Gotei 13. One in which my sister is a part of, and was gravely injured. Speak quickly, before I risk Kurosaki's wrath by taking your head myself."

"Kuchiki-taichou, you will lower your blade," Yamamoto growled. Turning to the fuming Noburu, he regained control of the situation as he continued, "And you will not interrupt me, boy. The question stands: What is your response to these allegations? What is your purpose in arriving in this fashion?"

Ignoring the now struggling brat on the ground, as well as his now consistently rising reiatsu, Noburu lifted his chin and said, "It is utter nonsense. He only accuses me of these things because Lady Shihoin chose me over him. His arrogance and jealousy obviously know no bounds, as he thought he could accuse me in such a manner. As for my purpose…"

Now turning to face the man who had started to give off a reddish glow as he struggled—seemingly successfully—against his bonds, Noburu reached into his haori as he scoffed, "As for my purpose here, I would have thought that to be obvious. I am here to put an end to the humiliation of the Gotei 13. I am here to cleanse the Seireitei of the filth that now pervades it. I am here…to challenge Ichigo Kurosaki to a trial by combat for the position of squad five taichou."

Hearing several sharp intakes of breath from the group before him, he smirked deviously as he opened what seemed to be a small box in his hands. "I will kill him, ending the corruption of his illustrious post," he said, pausing to flick his wrist in a dismissive manner, sending the small box skidding across the stone until it was in front of the bound shinigami, "as well as end his pathetic attempts to interfere with my marriage."

The waves of reiatsu immediately came to a stop as all focus fell onto the small box that lay open on the ground. Shining up from the dark material was a large diamond, clear for all to see, and the gasps heard made clear that many of the captains gathered were instantly aware of what was going on.

Ichigo was finding it hard to breathe. He had been so solely focused on reigning in his reiatsu, on keeping his powers restrained until he had gotten a chance to draw Noburu's blood with his bare hands, that he had been caught completely by surprise as he saw his mother's ring—and all that it symbolized— tossed in his face as if it were a mere trinket. The red haze and metallic taste he now closely associated with his deepest rage were quickly resurfacing, trying desperately to override his sense of restraint.

"You stole…my mother's ring…", he breathed in a quiet, ragged voice. Flexing his muscles, and gathering his reiatsu, he was about to make the Soutaichou's bakudo look like tissue paper until he felt a massive wave of very familiar reiatsu flood the area.

Blinking, his attention was drawn from the ring to Yoruichi, who was kneeling slightly away from him with tears filling her eyes and an enraged look on her face.

XXXXXX

Yoruichi was having a difficult time not using her own hands to drive both Kaito and Noburu into the ground. Her feline senses had picked up the scent of blood on both men, and it was only because she believed that Ichigo deserved his chance for vengeance at them that she held back from destroying both of them right then and there.

She was only slightly surprised at how things had changed so quickly. The moment that Noburu had grabbed her arm the other day, she had known that the man she had loved so long ago was no more. He had died that fateful night, and she couldn't even spare the pity that she had held for what she had done to him.

To be honest, she was not the same Yoruichi. She had changed, grown, and moved on. True, she may have been momentarily overcome by the deception and use of her past against her, but no longer. This Noburu, this monster, was someone that needed to be put down. His lust for the power he would have gained through their marriage had pushed him to…this, but she could only find it within herself to worry for the man that she truly loved.

Seeing Ichigo bound and roaring on the ground tore deeply at her heart. She had been a part of what hurt him so deeply, and she was struggling to not be overcome by her grief. The words Ichigo had been trying to say when he had broke off their kiss, as well as the ones he had completed when he had struggled against the weaker bonds, continuously echoed in her mind.

'I don't want to always have to be your se…'

'I am nobody's secret!'

These words looped in her thoughts, drowning out whatever it was that Noburu was rambling about. Ichigo didn't want to be her secret? She had never meant to make him feel like that. Her only concern had been protecting him from the viciousness and nonsense that came with noble life.

Yoruichi had dedicated almost every waking moment outside of her duties to spend with him. She had given him her love, her heart. She was slightly confused, as Ichigo's problem seemed to have nothing to do with what had happened…

However, her thoughts were violently jarred away from Ichigo's words as she heard the smug bastard say, "as well as end his pathetic attempts to interfere with my marriage."

The moment he stopped speaking, she saw a small box being flung at Ichigo's face. 'Wait…isn't that what Kaito handed him when I saw them outside of the barracks?'

Seeing the astonished look the orange haired shinigami was giving the small box, her gaze turned as wellto the small item, causing her heart to skip a beat as she heard Ichigo mutter "You stole…my mother's ring…".

The world stopped for Yoruichi.

'No…Oh dear Kami, please…'

An engagement ring. His mother's engagement ring. The gravity of that phrase was not lost on her, and her mind instantly recalled what Rukia had almost said at her house.

'Especially when he was about to…'

Especially when he was about to propose to her with his mother's ring.

Yoruichi felt sick again, guilt eating at her voraciously, yet she couldn't move. Frozen in anger, shame, pain and…longing…she felt hot tears stream down her face as so many things that had happened and had been said since that horrible night began to make sense.

"Are you crying because you're sad again?! I thought that we went over this!", Juryoku snapped from within her mind.

'No', Yoruichi thought. These tears were not tears of sadness, nor even of guilt. The tears streaming down her face were of rage. Pure, undiluted, uninhibited fury. Fury at herself. Fury at Kaito. Fury at Noburu.

They would pay. They would suffer for trying to come between her and the love of her life. They would feel unimaginable pain for just a glimpse at what she and her Ichigo had suffered. While Ichigo deserved their lives, they would know the wrath of the Goddess of Flash…of a heartbroken woman.

Turning, she felt, rather than saw, the crackling white reiatsu that was building within her and around her as she closed her eyes in pain at the sight of the small box in front of the face of the man she loved.

'How dare they use his heart…our love…as a weapon! How dare they use such a precious token as a tool to hurt him?! HOW DARE THEY USE ME TO PUT HIM THROUGH SO MUCH PAIN?!'

The very air was becoming heavy as she flashed up to the smirking Noburu and savagely backhanded him to the ground. Kneeling near him, she continued her assault, brutally punching him as quickly and as hard as she could until Kyoraku and Komamura were finally able to pull her off of him.

"YOU BASTARD! YOU MURDERER! WE WILL NEVER BE MARRIED! YOU WON'T BE ALIVE TO SEE THE SUN RISE AGAIN, MUCH LESS MARRY ANYONE!", she screamed from the powerful hold that their hands created. After a few moments, she finally stopped struggling, giving Noburu her most loathing, pain-promising glare instead.

Taking a deep breath, her voice came back in a much softer, yet more ominous tone. "The only reason I do not complete what I had left unfinished all those years ago and kill you now, is that Ichigo is going to accept your challenge. You had best begin to pray that he leaves enough of you to reenter the reincarnation cycle, as you deserve everything he is going to do to you and more."

Standing and raising an eyebrow, the dark haired man wiped blood off of his face as he smirked and said, "Always so dramatic. I guess playing the hollow's whore can do that to you. I am more than capable of handling this brat. He may have tremendous power, but make no mistake…he will die by my hand. And you, my dear Yoruichi, will learn that you cannot simply brush off the laws of your clan."

Attention quickly shifted back to Ichigo, as his reiatsu flared and finished destroying the bindings that held him, as well as the ground and structures within range of him. Standing tall, he took a deep breath, exhaling slowly through his nose before bringing his glare back to the the now snarling Noburu.

"You disgusting creature, using your hollow essence to power yourself? It's disgraceful. I look forward to removing your sense of importance, along with your head."

All the man received in return was a deep, layered, sadistic chuckle as Ichigo's eyes began to bleed to black and his hands curled into claw like grips. Slowly stalking forward, Ichigo suddenly stopped as two blades appeared at his neck.

"You have til the moment I finish speaking to remove your blades, or I remove your hands and feed them to Shiro," he said as he tensed, ready to destroy anyone or anything that tried to keep him from Noburu. There was no more 'Golden Boy of the Seireitei.' There was no more selfless martyr for the massses. Ichigo's blood burned in his veins, his instinct screaming for the release that it had been denied for so long.

Before he could deliver on his threat, a familiar voice grunted, "You're gonna get your chance at him, son. The offer was made, and it's easy to guess that you accepted, but right now your squad needs you more. He can wait a few more hours, but they need your help now. They need their captain."

Stepping in front of his wide-eyed son, Isshin Kurosaki placed one hand on his shoulder—while keeping his blade in place—and said, "And I think your squad deserves to be able to see when their captain fights for them, don't you?"

"I must agree with your father on this one, Ichigo," Urahara said quietly from behind the second blade. "It would be best to make sure that your squad are all receiving the care they need. While you were the target, they were caught in the crossfire, and I am sure that they would love to stand by their captain as he defends them."

As if he hadn't heard them, Ichigo began to step forward again. There was no way that the smug bastard in front of him was getting away in one piece. However, instead of the blade he was expecting, his father's face filled his line of sight. Coming to a stop, Ichigo growled, "Get out of my…"

He was cut off, however, as his attention was drawn to his father's now outstretched hand—or rather to the box resting on that hand. Speaking in a low voice, the elder Kurosaki said, "Don't forget just what you're fighting for, son. They attacked more than just you, they attacked everyone and everything you hold dear…"

Closing the lid of the box and tucking into his haori, Isshin continued, "It's not just revenge that you're fighting for, Ichigo. Our honor, your pride, your heart, those who follow you, your family—all aspects of it— You're fighting for all of us son, just as you always have. Let us stand by you, to support you. You're not alone in this."

Hearing his father's words, Ichigo was conflicted. Flicking his gaze over to the abnormally serious shopkeeper who was nodding solemnly in agreement, he felt the gravity of what was said warring with what was just beyond his grasp. Noburu was so close! Only a few more steps and the bastard would be at his mercy, trapped in his grasp. Yet…he knew that they were right. His squad, the arrancars, and his family had been in terrible shape when he had left them earlier, and they needed him now.

"There is a time for the hell that you're going to unleash, son, I promise. Just give it a few hours. Plus," Isshin added in a lower voice, "that old cliche about revenge being a dish best served cold…there's something to it. When I met Grand Fisher, I have to say that I am glad that I was calm and collected. Made it easier to focus on what I had to do, and gave me the opportunity to claim that moment and say 'I did it.' Instead of an impulse, or an act of passion, it was my moment of vengeance for everything he had done to our family."

Growling loudly in frustration as he couldn't help but agree, Ichigo turned to Yamamoto as he pointed a finger at Noburu, "He is mine. Today. They both are. I don't care if I have to tear the whole damned Soul Society apart, their heads are mine before the day is done. It doesn't matter if I fight them separately, or at the same time, or even all of the fucking onmitsukido at once…they will die."

Grunting in acknowledgement, the calmed Soutaichou replied, "I will take that as your acceptance of his challenge. Ichigo Kurosaki and Noburu Omaeda, you will both report to Sokyoku Hill in three hours' time. Kurosaki-taichou, should you fail to appear, your position as captain of squad five will be forfeit. Omaeda, you fail to appear and your life is forfeit."

Seeing both of the men turn a glare onto each other, they each nodded in agreement before turning and stalking away. Yet, having heard the young captain's words, the Soutaichou looked around for the one who had been brought here. Seeing no one but captains around, he grunted to himself.

'This will not end well. Surely he knows that he will be hunted to the ends of every dimension…'

Looking to the still restrained Shihoin princess, Yamamoto asked her, "I see that we have lost your prisoner. It seems that Noburu's entrance served as a sufficient distraction for him to escape."

Looking around, Yoruichi couldn't say that she was surprised. Kaito was a well trained former soldier, however, she was not worried about losing him, and the cruel smile on her face supported that thought. "After this battle, I will find him and serve justice accordingly. There is no place in which he will be able to hide from me."

Noticing that Ichigo had been pulled away by many of the captains, and that Noburu had left with the group he had arrived with, Kyoraku lightly squeezed Yoruichi's arm and asked in an amused tone, "Now, if I let you go, are you gonna be a good kitty? I think its safe to say that you've realized Ichigo gets first shot at these guys."

Turning and raising a brow, Yoruichi said, "And just when have I ever been a 'good kitty'? To answer your real question…no, I am not going after them now. Ichigo does deserve the first shot at them, and I will support him in whatever he chooses to do, and however he chooses to do it."

Nodding, both Kyoraku and Kommamura let go of her arms, both turning and walking away.

After being released by both captains, Yoruichi turned to leave in the direction that Ichigo had gone. Before she could get far, a large hand clamped down firmly on her shoulder. Turning quickly, the violet haired flash goddess was about to all but remove the hand gripping her until she found herself face to face with a stern looking Isshin Kurosaki.

"You're going to support him in whatever he chooses to do, and however he chooses to do it, huh?", he asked gruffly.

Meeting his gaze, Yoruichi answered firmly, "Yes. I know I messed things up, Isshin, but I am going to make them right. Ichigo is the love of my life, and I will fight til my last breath to prove my love to him and win him back."

Unexpectedly, a massive smile broke out on the elder Kurosaki's face as he now swung his arm over the smaller woman's shoulders and started walking. "Now that's more like it! Come, future daughter of mine, it is time for a family discussion before the big showdown. I trust you know what that means…"

Pausing mid step, Yoruichi couldn't help the small shudder that crawled up her spine as realization dawned on her. She had been forced to face many things since her actions had torn her life apart, but there was one that she hadn't faced in longer than she cared to admit…

'Kukaku'

XXXXXX

Squad Five Barracks

As Ichigo arrived at the smoldering ruins of what were his barracks, his fury paused in the wake of his worry. Seeing people still being carried out, he realized that the damage was far more devastating than he had initially realized.

At the entrance, he saw Kiyomi directing the many shinigami who were moving in and out of the wreckage. She was currently talking to a group who were helping some who had been caught in the blasts to walk, "Take them to Squad Four. Unohana-taichou said that she has more than enough room for our people. We've gotten the most seriously wounded there, but we still have plenty that are hurt, so take them and come get more."

Walking up to her, Ichigo asked, "Kiyomi, what's the current status?"

"Kurosaki-taichou!", she exclaimed, turning to face him. She looked frazzled, yet she answered, "Nine confirmed dead. I still haven't gotten the total of how many are wounded, but several were incapacitated beyond what can be healed and will not be able to continue serving. I've coordinated with Unohana-taichou, Hitsugaya-taichou, as well as the lieutenants of most of the squads. Abarai-fukutaichou went to the Shiba house to retrieve the arrancar and any wounded."

Closing his eyes, Ichigo ran his hand through his hair. 'Nine dead. Nine of my squad killed over some fucking powerplay, and even more were crippled beyond healing. I am glad that I came to check on these guys, but I swear…I am going to destroy those two men. I am going to break them down and make them feel every ounce of this grief…I swear it…'

Opening his eyes, he said, "Ok. Carry on with what you're doing. It looks like things are wrapping up, but I want you to make sure that everyone is secured within the next hour. In three hours' time, we will be going to Sokyoku Hill where I will finish this for good. For now, I'll help get our guys to squad four."

XXXXXX

Kukaku's House

Walking with Isshin down the long stairway in her oldest friend's house, Yoruichi felt a sense of dread with every step. Seeing the damaged walls, scorched floors, and the occasional body lying on the floor, she knew that the woman was going to be in a very unpleasant mood. Add in the arrival of the woman who broke her cousin's heart and hadn't had the guts to come see her…

This was going to probably hurt as bad as her reunion with Juryoku.

'I know she's tough, but let's not get too carried away', the inner spirit said in a haughty tone. 'I think I kicked your ass pretty thoroughly, if I do say so myself!'

Before Yoruichi could reply, the sound of yelling rang out through the hallways.

"I don't give a shit what that strawberry said, I don't need a damn bodyguard in my own damn house or on the way to Unohana's place! If anything, I'd have to protect you, so get the hell out of my way before I blow your ass up!"

Pinching the bridge of her nose, the violet haired woman knew that Kukaku was feeling very…energetic…at the moment, which would not equal a pleasant trip for her. Her musing was interrupted by a flustered and cursing Renji stumbling into the corridor that she and Isshin were walking down.

"Crazy ass family! Ichigo, his girlfriend, his cousins, they're all out of their damn mi—", his muttering was suddenly cut off as he froze before walking into Yoruichi.

Her brow raised as the lieutenant's eyes went wide in fear and he began to stammer, "I mean…not crazy! You're just…dammit…I mean…"

Isshin started chuckling, yet before she could respond to the worried man in front of her, a booming voice shouted, "YORUICHI SHIHOIN! I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE, SO GET YOUR BONY ASS IN HERE NOW AND TAKE WHAT YOU'VE GOT COMING LIKE A WOMAN!"

Isshin's chuckling turned to full blown laughter at the indignant look on the violet haired woman's face, and the already nervous lieutenant quickly shifted into terrified at the building snarl on her lips. Shooing Renji out of the way, she stormed into the room and yelled back, "WHO IN THE HELL'S ASS ARE YOU CALLING BONY?! DON'T BE JEALOUS JUST BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE THOSE SAGGY—SHIT!'

The elder Kurosaki and red haired fukutaichou had to dive out of the way as Yoruichi came flying back out of the room in a cloud of smoke, crashing loudly into the wall where they had just been standing. A much calmer, almost mocking voice came from the smoke that was pouring through the doorway, "I dare you to finish that sentence, Kitty. You can be mad all you want about how you're pretty much a washboard, compared to me, but don't go makin' shit up! I'd hate to have to bend you over my knee and spank you…if Ichigo didn't deserve a go at you first, that is…"

Coughing from the dust and smoke that she had inhaled, as the Shiba head had hit her with a stout kido, Yoruichi growled, "Yeah, I know I fucked it all up, Kukaku." Coming face to face with the scowling woman, she saw the same scowl that seemed to be a family trait for the Shiba clan.

Before she could speak, Kukaku held her hand up and said, "Save it. You've got a lot to go through first, in particular…HOW THE HELL CAN YOU HAVE BEEN BANGING MY COUSIN AND NOT TELL ME ABOUT IT?!"

Covering his mouth to try and stifle the laughter, Isshin stood back and allowed the two women to catch up. They would need everything to be out in the open before the conversation that he needed to start could take place.

XXXXXX

Squad Five Barracks, Ichigo's Office

Covered in blood and frustrated, Ichigo fought hard to keep from raking his nails down his face. The past few hours had been the most infuriatingly straining that he had ever experienced in his entire life.

Helping with the efforts to get his squad members care, making preparations for those that had lost their lives, surveying the massive damage to their living quarters, hearing Yoruichi's words on a loop, seeing the smug smile on both Kaito's and Noburu's faces…

"Ugh, dammit!", he growled, rubbing his temples to try and quell the massive headache that had been coming on. His entire being was still tensed, not even close to being tired. Ichigo was ready for the battle that was coming soon. He was ready to take out every single drop of blood, groan of pain, and loss of life on the two men that had brought them about.

"I told you he would be taking this all on his own shoulders," a rough voice said from behind him. The voice was accompanied by a bit of shuffling, and Ichigo turned to the door to see a large group of shinigami and…arrancar?

Rukia was in the front of the group, her arm in a sling and a bandage on her head. Surrounding her were the Visoreds, as well as Grimmjow and the rest of the arrancar envoy. Seeing her injuries, Ichigo's anger flared, and his eagerness for the battle to come was starting to bleed through.

Wondering why she was out of the medical ward, as well as why Shinji and Grimmjow had gone against his direct orders, Ichigo asked, "What are you all doing here? Rukia, you should be getting treatment and rest, and you two," he said, pointing at the two men he had ordered to stay at his cousin's, "There had better be a damn good reason that you're here, as I made it perfectly clear that you were to wait for me."

Before anyone could speak again, a loud cry of "ITSYGO!" rang out as a small blur flew across the room and into Ichigo's arms. "Kuku got really mad! Nel's new family uses a lot of bad words! She told us that we had to come find you because she had something to do."

Speaking up, Shinji said, "She made a pretty strong case, Ichigo. Let's just leave it at that."

Turning to look at him more closely, Ichigo saw singe marks on his face, as well as on Grimmjow's, who was standing next to him. Sighing, he knew that they were telling the truth. "Kukaku lit you two up, huh? She did the same to me when I broke her pipe the first time I met her. That kido hurts like hell."

"Tch, hers was bad enough," Grimmjow said. Nodding to Nel, he said, "When this one heard that we were supposed to go find you, but I didn't want her to go, she shot one of her damn cero's in my face."

Ichigo looked down to the little arrancar in his arms, unable to stop the small smile that broke through at the innocent look on her face. "Did you get him good, Nel?"

Still donning the innocent look, she began to climb up to his shoulder as she replied, "Grimmy and Shinny tried to keep Nel from coming to daddy Itsygo, but Nel really wanted to come. Nel had to use her cero to make Grimmy and Shinny listen."

Though he was still dealing with all of the emotions that had been building, Ichigo could not stop the snort that came after hearing Nel try to say 'Shinji'. He couldn't laugh fully though, as he knew that he had to tell his friends, the ones he was protecting, the truth about what was to come. Apprehension filled him as he anticipated their reactions, but he would not lie...not to them.

Looking at the group, he said, "Kukaku can be…persuasive, I'll give you that. Ok, well, it's getting close to time, so I better tell you what's going on. I don't know any other way to tell you except to say that Noburu challenged me to a trial by combat for my position as captain, and as you can imagine…I accepted. You should also be aware that Kaito is going to die. I don't care if he jumps into the fight or not, they are both going down."

Running his hand through his hair, he added, "You should also know…", pausing for a second, Ichigo tried to choose his words carefully in the wake of the cold rage that could not be suppressed. "You should know that this won't be an execution. I am going to beat them. I am going to break them. I am going to tear them into pieces while they are still breathing, and then I will kill them. I say this as a warning for you. I am not turning into a murderer, but they are going to pay the price for what they've done…for what they've tried to take."

He wasn't sure what he had expected, yet the response from the group caught him by surprise. "Good! Hell yeah! Damn right!" and other exclamations rang out as the group enthusiastically agreed with his acceptance.

Noticing his surprise, Rukia walked forward to where he was standing. Gently raising her foot, she quickly kicked him in the shin. "Stop looking so surprised, dumbass. Did you really think that we weren't going to be behind you in this? You're our captain, our friend. The Shiba's are my friends too, the arrancar are under our protection, and I've already had a 'heart-to-heart with Yoruichi. These men have proven that they're lower than beasts. They need to be put down, and you are the one who has to do it. We are behind you every step of the way, Ichigo. And don't worry, we'd never let you become a monster."

Seeing the looks on the faces all around him, Ichigo could only nod once. Kensei then spoke up, "Cap, we—including the arrancar—are going to be supporting you from the sidelines tonight. They're coming after all of us, not just you, so we've got a plan on how we're gonna show a unified front."

XXXXXX

Kukaku's House

Sitting against opposite walls, Yoruichi and Kukaku both attempted to catch their breath.

The Shiba leader's questioning had quickly turned to violence, as she was not happy with any of the answers that she had received. Her queries had ranged from why Yoruichi chose Ichigo, to more angry wonderings as to why she had been kept in the dark.

Of course, Isshin had been hit with a kido as well when trying to keep his laughter reigned in. Kukaku had decided that she was still upset with him for hiding the fact that she had been kept from her family for so long, which led to a brief brawl between the trio, finally relenting after several minutes.

"You two..pant…are assholes," she said between breathes, staring at the pair. Isshin was crumpled next to Yoruichi, not quite sitting against the wall, yet she knew he'd be fine. He and his hard headed son always were.

"I've been getting that a lot, lately," Yoruichi said, having caught her breath.

Groaning as he brought himself up into a sitting position, Isshin grumbled, "You two are always so damn violent. I don't see why you can't just be handsome peacekeepers like myself."

The two women present simply rolled their eyes at the nonsense the man was rambling about, yet Kukaku—who wasn't finished with the discussion— asked, "Isshin, what is your take on all of this? Aren't you pissed about what happened?"

Popping his neck, the elder Kurosaki sighed and met his niece's gaze. "I wasn't happy when it all went down, I have to say. I'll never be able to get the way he looked out of my head. But, " he paused, looking at the shamefaced woman next to him.

Nudging her shoulder with his hand, Isshin continued, "But, I think she's finally starting to use her head. I remember the days, decades ago, when she tried to cope with what had happened, and I know that she never truly faced it. I think that she finally has, though, and has something important she wants to say."

As all attention shifted to Yoruichi, she raised her head and met the gaze of the man next to her. "Isshin, I am sorr—OW!"

A loud smacking sound pierced the silence, followed by an annoyed, "Enough of the damn apologies, Yoru! You made me a promise just a little while ago, now show us how you're going to make it right!"

Narrowing her eyes in irritation at being slapped in the head, Yoruichi growled, "I told you, I am going to support Ichigo in whatever he chooses. I am going to prove to him that I still love him, that I want him only. "

Another loud smacking sound echoed throughout the room again, yet before the violet-haired woman could erupt in anger, Isshin continued in a solemn voice, "Yoruichi Shihoin, do you realize what it is that you're saying…what you're agreeing to? Do you understand what is actually needed?"

Pausing for just a moment, the elder Kurosaki continued, "And as far as you supporting his choices, is that really what you think he needs? Look at his life since his mother died. Ichigo has chosen to literally give his life for his friends and family in every manner possible. He has chosen them above himself every single time. Do you think he needs someone cheering him on, supporting those decisions?"

Looking slightly confused, Yoruichi couldn't answer. Turning to Kukaku, she saw that she Shiba woman was glaring at her intensely, as if testing her resolve. Speaking up, she said, "I didn't keep it a secret because I was ashamed. I didn't want him to have to face all of the politics, all of the hell he's had to face. I wanted to love and support him without any interference or pressure on him."

Both faces around her softened. Pinching the bridge of her nose, Kukaku groaned, "When will you two learn to stop keeping secrets from him? Do you realize how much shit could have been avoided if you'd just told him the truth? How many more times does he have to prove that he can handle it? Both of you need to pull your heads out of your asses and realize that he's a man now."

Sighing, Isshin couldn't argue with his niece. He had been keeping secrets from Ichigo for a long time. He had never wanted this life for him, rather he had wanted to protect his family, yet it seemed that fate had other ideas. The elder knew that there were even more secrets that would have to be revealed, but he would have to focus on the matter at hand. Forcing his grief down, he turned to his friend and continued.

"Come on, Yoruichi, think about it. Ichigo doesn't need someone to support him, he needs someone to choose him. My boy has been attacked and called upon far too many times because of his power, his heritage, and his choices. Everyone wants something from him, yet nobody has wanted him. He needs someone to openly choose Ichigo Kurosaki, the man, not the warrior."

Seeing her open her mouth to speak, Isshin held up his hand to stop her, "Think before you answer. Do you realize what is going to happen today? Ichigo is going to kill him. Kill him. My son is going to intentionally end another man's life in order to protect others. Not just any man, though, but your former love. Are you able to live with that?"

Yoruichi knew that this was going to be brought up. She had made peace with the fact that the battle to come was going to happen, and that Noburu was going to die. The goddess of flash had made her decision, and she was not going to turn on Ichigo simply because he had to respond to threats and attacks made against him. Giving a brief nod, she showed that she had understood the question and its implications.

Pausing again, Isshin reached into his haori, removing the box he had picked up not too long ago. Holding it out for his friend to grab, he softly continued, "And as far as his heart, he needs you to claim him as yours, Yoruichi, and you as his. He would never ask for it, but he needs someone to put his heart first. Is that what you're going to do? How are you going to make this right?"

Speaking up, Kukaku said, "What are you going to do, Yoruichi? Neither of us are going to accept anything half-assed, so you better be sure about what you're going to say before you even think about opening your mouth."

Yoruichi was stunned as she stared at the box in Isshin's hand. The answer that she had been searching for had been staring her in the face the whole time. All of Ichigo's frustrations in their relationship, his hatred of their secrecy, his anger earlier that day…

It all made sense.

She knew that he would likely not be able to articulate what his true issue was, but his father and cousin were right…he needed to be chosen. Ichigo Kurosaki needed to be 'worth it'. Worth the risks, worth the work, worth the commitment required by love. He needed to be shown that he—as the man he was— held value, the utmost value, and that his heart was treasured.

Gently grabbing the box, she gently lifted the lid and stroked the beautiful jewel within. A small smirk developing, she thought to herself, 'I think I know a way that I can prove to him that he is truly wanted, that he is loved above all others…'

Turning to the other two in the room, she quickly explained her idea, and felt her stomach tighten in excitement at the smiles that bloomed on their faces.

XXXXXX

Sokyoku Hill

Noburu was getting impatient. He had come to the field early to prepare for the battle, yet now that he was ready, he was eager to begin. A large crowd, arguably the majority of the Seireitei, had gathered in anticipation for the battle, and the onmitsukido operative was eager to claim his place within Soul Society.

Glancing at the crowd, he noticed that all of the Gotei 13 had arrived, as well as many nobles that he recognized. Elders from every clan, including the Shihoin clan, were present, and Noburu felt his irritation rise when he saw both Amaya and her husband standing near the front of the crowd,

Waiting on the dusty hill, Noburu felt a dark wave of reiatsu approaching and watched as the crowd suddenly began to part. Hearing gasps and other commotion, he shifted his position to get a better view. When the gathered people had finally separated, he was slightly stunned, and greatly angered at the view he was greeted with.

Walking with their heads held high, Ichigo was leading the team of Visoreds onto the hill. However, what caused all of the disturbance was the fact that all of them were wearing fearsome, striped hollow masks, their heavy reiatsu pressing down on the area.

When they finally came to a stop, the onmitsukido operative noticed that even a heavily bandaged Rukia Kuchiki had come to witness the battle, and had markings on her face that matched Ichigo's. Kukaku Shiba was also there, as well as the arrancar and two other men, one of which Noburu recognized from when he had carried Ichigo off of the balcony, and the other…

'Kisuke Urahara, you bastard,', he growled in his mind. Looking behind them, it looked as if most of his squad had turned up as well. 'It doesn't matter. There's no way that his arrogance would let them interfere.'

The group slowly fanned out, lining up behind the orange haired man. Seeing the look of pure hatred on his face, Noburu smirked as he knew that he could probably quickly send him into a fury and distract him from the fight.

XXXXXX

Standing across from Noburu on the familiar battleground, Ichigo fought to keep himself in place while he waited for Yamamoto to give the signal. He wanted blood. He wanted screams. Ichigo wanted this man to feel every ounce of pain that he had caused to the young shinigami, as well as those connected to him.

Ichigo's struggle became even more arduous, as his opponent began to call out loudly, grandstanding to the crowd that had gathered and said, "I see that you are quite eager to cross this distance and simply kill me, Kurosaki. So much for protecting life, eh? Those hollow instincts must be driving your violent tendencies! How can you claim to be a captain—a protector of the Seireitei—with such repulsive, untamed blood in your veins?"

'Does he think that I am just going to walk over there and put a sword through him? After everything that he's done, he thinks he is just going to get a simple death?'

After a moment of silence, loud, full laughter rang out across the sandy expanse. Everyone in attendance looked in concern at the orange haired shinigami that was now heartily laughing, propping himself on his knee to keep his balance.

'Really…simply kill you? Violent tendencies? Untamed? You have no idea what you are talking about, do you?'

Standing tall once more, Ichigo imperiously pointed a finger at the scoffing challenger. Speaking again, all laughter was gone as he snarled, "Noburu, my instincts are going to lead me to do much more than simply kill you. I am going to beat you. I am going to break your body over and over. I am going to extract, from your body and from your mind, every single ounce of pain that you've brought to the ones I love, every drop of blood, and every scream. Then, when you're a mere breath away from dying, I'll finally kill you. You picked the wrong man to mess with, and the price is your life."

Gasps and murmurs emerged from the crowd at the declaration that they had just heard. The audience that had gathered to watch began to get restless as they saw the ground beneath Ichigo's feet begin to crumble and disintegrate from the pressure emanating from below his stance. Leaning forward and bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet, Ichigo continued to build up the pressure of his reiatsu within his legs. Hearing Yamamoto slam his cane onto the ground, he smiled.

Finally, it was time.

"Ichigo Kurosaki, you have been challenged to a trial by combat for your position as Captain of the Fifth Division by Noburu Omaeda. This battle is one to the death, or surrender. Begin!"

The word had not fully left the Soutaichou's lips when Ichigo released the pressure building in his feet, effectively launching him across the dusty hill to where his challenger stood. Moving at a blinding speed, and drawing back, Ichigo quickly snapped his arm forward, pushing every fiber of his being into the strike and connecting his fist with the side of Noburu's face.

The hit landed before the man knew what was happening, and produced a loud and satisfying crunch, signifying the breaking of a bone, as well as forcefully sending the raven haired challenger spinning to the ground several yards away.

Standing there for a moment, Ichigo breathed deeply and savored the feeling that he had after finally getting his hands on the man who had brought so much hell into his life. Looking down, he saw Noburu lying facedown, his hands at his face and producing a soft green glow.

'Medical kido. Looks like it was a good shot after all.'

Holding up his own hand, he quickly noticed the throbbing pain that was shooting up his arm. It appeared that his strike had been so strong that he had broken many of the bones in his hand. Ichigo quickly noticed his opponent getting to his feet, so—gritting his teeth—, he grinned sadistically at the man who stood there rubbing his newly healed jaw.

"It seems that you are fond of sucker-punches. I suppose that is to be expected of one such as you," said man spat.

"It's good to know that you can do healing kido," Ichigo said through his teeth. Holding up his hand, he let Noburu watch as his hollow regeneration quickly healed the breaks in the bones. Continuing on in his mind with, now with a fierce look, he thought, "That means that you'll be conscious for most of what I am going to do to you."

Rushing forward, Ichigo again swung his fist at Noburu's face. Now aware of the speed and intention of the orange haired hybrid, the special ops soldier ducked, quickly kicking a leg out to counter the movement.

Catching the younger shinigami by surprise, he was able to sweep his legs out from under him, sending him to the ground in a satisfying thud. Capitalizing on his momentum, Noburu quickly moved to where Ichigo's head had hit and grabbed a stone from the ground.

Smirking at the position that he was now in, Noburu felt a flash of the same thrill that he had sensed when attacking the arrancar. Remembering the scene, he decided to force the brat to take one last mental shot. "I'm going to make you cry and bleed just as much as that little bitch-child arrancar that you brought here did, as I imagine your head would take a few strikes before you died. She was a messy bleeder, but let's see if we can make you scream 'Itsygo' as loudly as she did."

Raising the stone to try and smash it through the skull that had caused him such grief, the raven haired man put as much strength into the strike as he could.

His eyes widened in surprise, however, as he felt his arm halt all progress when the stone he was grasping was mere inches from the face below. Feeling a pinching sensation, Noburu looked to see that Ichigo had caught his arm, and was using his vice-like grip to pull him down to the ground.

Landing face first from the unexpected counter, he noticed that the hybrid had rolled at the same time that he had fallen, coming up behind him to put a sharp knee into his back while still gripping the held arm tightly. Pinned to the ground, Noburu heard a low growl that was only broken by a deep pant, followed by his opponent deviously chuckling while saying, "Take a deep breath you piece of shit…you're going to need it."

Before he could ask what in the hell the boy was talking about, he heard a grunt, followed by a sickening snap. Instantly understanding the need for breath, Noburu cried out in pain as his arm was roughly snapped in half. Coughing in between his yells, as he was deeply inhaling the dust from where his face was pressed into the ground, he heard that same dark sound again.

"I think he had an interesting idea, king. Is that really as loud as he can scream? Let's try again…" , Shiro said, his excitement bleeding through. This time, the raven haired man gasping on the ground was given a second before he heard a loud pop, as well as a fresh wave of pain as his arm was viciously jerked from it's socket.

"Looks like Shiro was right, you can get louder. I hear that my teacher already beat you within an inch of your life before, which seemed to have caused all of this shit…so what makes you think that you'd have a chance against me?", Ichigo snarled, unable to stop the shiver up his spine at the sounds of the screams from the man below him.

This man had no idea what he had unleashed. There would be no pity. There would be no mercy. Noburu and Kaito had pushed Ichigo to the point of actual bloodlust, and they were now going to reap every single agonizing consequence of their actions.

'You threaten my Nel? You make her bleed, make her cry, and then try to taunt me with that?! You really must have no idea who you're dealing with,' he pondered, raising himself up and lifting his knee out of the back of the man below him. However, he quickly put all of that weight back onto that knee as he came back down as hard as he could.

Hearing the snapping of several ribs, Ichigo grabbed Noburu by his hair, dragging his head up until his neck was straining. He wanted fear. He wanted this man terrified of what was coming, so he added, "You are going to face so many versions of hell, tonight. I hope you have made peace with any demons that you've had before now, because you've pushed the worst of them too far…and now I'm pushing back."

Shoving the head in his hand to the ground, Ichigo stood up and backed away from the gasping and moaning man on the ground. 'Get up, Noburu. I am nowhere near done with you, so get your pathetic self up and heal your arm. You won't last long with only one, and I haven't broken you near what you've earned.'

Lying on the ground and trying to catch his breath, Noburu was stunned at how this fight had gone so far. The brat was using little to no reiatsu, yet was literally crushing him in hand to hand combat.

'So that bitch taught him how to fight, I see. I have to heal and release. I wanted to wait, but it seems that I have no choice. He should be smug, while he can. The tide of this fight will soon turn.'

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Noburu rolled away from Ichigo, quickly activating his healing kido. After healing his ribs, and starting on his arm, he heard one of the boy's squad call out, "How long is this going to take?! Kami, I know you screamed like a little girl, but weren't you onmitsukido? I thought you guys were supposed to be tough. Whenever Cap'n gets his hands on him, I hope that Kaito isn't as much of a whiny bitch as you."

Finishing the healing as best he could, Noburu scowled as he flashed back several paces, drawing his zanpakuto. Pointing the tip at his opponent, he said, "Gloat while you can, hollows. This battle is about to change, and I look forward to wiping those smirk off of your faces. Toru, Raifu dorobō (take, life thief)

Seeing the katana quickly evolve into a small tanto, Ichigo noticed that the blade had a nasty looking curve. In appearance, it was a deep black color, so sharp that the edge of the blade glistened brightly and whistled through the air as it was moved. Raising a brow, he reached behind his head, grabbing the hilt of Zangetsu.

'I really hope that his blade can do more than it looks capable of, or else this isn't going to last long at all.'

The moment Ichigo thoughts concluded, Noburu disappeared in a flash of shunpo. Reappearing directly in front of him, the darker haired man jabbed the short dagger-like blade at Ichigo's abdomen. Raising the broadside of his blade, Ichigo was able to block the strike, only for Noburu to disappear in another shunpo.

Seconds later, Ichigo was forced to turn around and block another strike. This trend continued to play out the same way. Strike, shunpo, strike, shunpo. Ichigo knew that he could catch him, but he didn't want to play chase, he wanted more of a brawl. He was holding back so much of his power, just for the chance of using his hands again. Getting frustrated, he released a few links of his seal, bringing his reiatsu to the normal level of his shikai.

Sensing another strike coming, he swung Zangetsu's massive blade in a low half-circle. Feeling contact, he looked up to see that Noburu had just barely caught the edge of the large sword with his own, however the impact quickly sent the raven haired man tumbling.

"Is this what you meant when you said the battle would change? Basically, he's just kicking your ass with his blade now...", Isshin taunted from the sides, his son's mind and inner spirits now obviously fully warmed up and craving more. More blood. More screams.

Noburu was again becoming frustrated. He had obviously underestimated the younger shinigami. Still, all intelligence gathered had said that he was no longer any more threat than the other captains, that he had lost all of his near god-like powers.

'Yoruichi must have trained him well. Fine, let's see how he adapts...'

Flashing away to put some distance between them, he came to a stop and raised his hand, saying, "Hado number 33, Sokatsui!"

Growling at the distance attack, Ichigo again released more links before batting the kido away with his blade. Tensing, he quickly flashed to where Noburu was standing, slashing his blade with a strong swing. Hitting nothing, Ichigo looked to see that his challenger had shunpoed away, this time coming to a stop and shouting, "Hado number 63, Raikoho!"

Ichigo caught the attack with Zangetsu, holding it in place before dispelling it with his own reiatsu. Flashing again, he once more caught nothing but air just in time to hear, "Hado number 73, Soren Sokatsui!"

This time, one of the pair of large, blue orbs of energy connected with Ichigo's shoulder, creating a burning sensation, but not doing much damage. The method currently being used against him was maddening. Ichigo didn't want to chase this prick around, however, an idea struck him, and he felt the corners of his mouth turn up.

"Stop running around and fight me, you coward," he said in an excited growl.

Setting his feet, Ichigo released the strip of cloth from Zangetsu's hilt, holding the end of it in his left hand. Looking at his now-still opponent, he quickly smirked before flicking his right wrist, causing the massive cleaver to begin spinning over his shoulder incredibly fast. His smirk widened as he saw the now large eyes of the man across from him.

"Here I come,'", was all that he growled before launching the blade. The resulting impact sent a massive cloud of dust into the sky. Turning, he saw that Noburu now stood in a different spot, his breathing slightly increased.

"Huh, it looks like you missed...", Shiro said in an amused tone. "Looks like you need some moving target practice." Watching Ichigo begin to spin the blade once more, his king quickly launched it at the new location.

This continued for several minutes. Ichigo found himself, as well as his inner spirits, chuckling as he watched Noburu scamper around in efforts to avoid being skewered by the massive blade.

However, the novelty of this 'game' soon began to wear thin. Only half hearted kido attacks were coming in return, and the young hybrid felt that he had played chase enough. The initial bloodlust that Ichigo had felt had only grown, and it was demanding satisfaction. Unable to forget Rukia and Nel's weak voices, their blood, his dead squad members…Ichigo knew that he was only getting started with the hell he was raining down.

Stretching his feelings, he sensed where his 'prey' was moving to, and smiled. Using shunpo, he rocketed himself forward, launching the blade as well when he saw the raven haired man moving away from him. Seeing the man duck just enough to allow the sword to fly past him, Ichigo, in a moment of sheer inspiration, moved and yanked the cloth towards himself as hard as he could.

The results were just what he had wanted.

As the blade quickly changed direction, Noburu had no chance to avoid it as the width of the blade just beyond the hilt caught him on the shoulder, allowing himself to be savagely pulled to the ground at the orange haired boy's feet. Looking up, he felt a slight chill at the nearly deranged look on his opponent's face. Acting on instinct, he launched a foot out to try and force the hybrid to fall again.

"Too slow," were the only words muttered before his leg was stopped. He barely saw the leg he was aiming for raise up and come flying down upon his own, and he heard the snap before he felt the pain. Yet again, the boy had brutally broken his limb, this time his upper leg.

Gritting his teeth in a futile attempt to contain his scream, Noburu finally saw the opening he had so desperately been searching for. Faster than should have been possible, he swiped his dagger-like blade across the thigh of his opponent, scoring a significant gash and causing the younger shinigami to step back, freeing the now mangled leg.

Though concentrating all of his energies on quickly healing his now-shattered leg, Noburu sneered through the pain as he heard the hollow-tainted boy say, "It's about damn time you started to hold up your end of the fight."

Feeling a large surge of energy suddenly wash over him, Noburu made much shorter work of healing his leg than he thought possible. Coming to his feet, he barely raised his blade in time to block the massive cleaver that was flying at his side, yet it was not enough to prevent him from being sent tumbling yet again.

Kneeling in the place he had just landed, the special forces fighter prepared himself for the oncoming attack, knowing that a critical chance had arrived. As he watched Ichigo flash towards him, Noburu suddenly rolled forward, coming into a tense crouch at the same moment that his opponent arrived. He used the momentum from his roll, carrying himself forward as he reached out and quickly made a pair of cuts on both the front and back of Ichigo's leg.

Feeling pleased at the grunts of discomfort that he heard, Noburu felt yet another heavy surge of energy. However, the surge stopped just as quickly as it had started when the young hybrid's eyes shifted colors and he began to speak in a layered cadence, "You're smiling after a few little cuts? I hope you enjoyed that."

Though quite frustrated at the boy's incredibly fast regeneration capabilities, Noburu couldn't help the chuckle that came at the taunt. "I certainly did, fool. I think you will be changing your tune after I enjoy more—OOF!"

His retort was cut off, as Ichigo flashed forward and planted a fist directly into his abdomen, forcing the air from the challenger's lungs. However, instead of being sent flying backwards, Noburu crumpled over the arm still pressed into his stomach, absorbing as much as he could while taking the opportunity to score several slices across the leg and mid section that he was now so close to.

After being unceremoniously dropped to the ground, he rolled away from the now chuckling boy. Looking up in aggravation, the onmitsukido soldier was yet again met with frustration at the brevity of his opponent's injuries. 'I must cause more lasting damage! I cannot sustain this trading blow for blow for long. It is time to get truly serious about this fight.'

Coming back to his feet, Noburu wasted no time as he held out his blade and muttered, "Bankai" After an impressive wave of reiatsu, the dust finally settled over the area, revealing the same man standing, yet the blade he was holding was slightly different. No longer a definable shape, the blade now appeared to be made of a black mist, as if a shadow were struggling to maintain a specific shape.

"Eien no inochi dorobō" (Eternal thief of life), the man said, a devious smirk now crossing his lips.

Raising an eyebrow, Ichigo wasted no words as he flashed forward, swinging his massive blade forward with both hands. He was quickly surprised, though, as Noburu met his swing with his own blade. Ichigo's surprise increased, because as the blades met, the shadow-like substance of the small dagger shot forth small tendrils across Zangetsu to his arm, causing several gashes to open up on his left arm where they made contact.

'Neat trick,' he growled inwardly as Noburu looked on with a smug expression. Focusing his reiatsu onto the wounds, Shiro spoke within his mind.

"Something is wrong, King. The wounds aren't reacting to regeneration as they should. Looks like that little knife of his can keep them open. Makes sense, given what it's abilities are."

Zangetsu, however, was of a different mindset.

'I grow tired of trading these petty nicks and cuts. It seems that your opponent likes to make fast cuts and slices, Ichigo. Shall we enlighten him on what true bankai speed is?'

Noticing the rising reiatsu within his opponent, Ichigo felt a maniacal grin spreading across his face. 'I agree. It looks like it's time to have a little fun, Zangetsu.'

"Now you're talking," Ichigo replied excitedly as he pointed the long blade at Noburu. Flexing his right arm, more links began to disappear, and his reiatsu began to weigh on the area. "Bankai! Tensa Zangetsu", he whispered as he massive wave of dust that had been created settled.

Flashing forward at a much faster speed, Ichigo nearly caught his challenger unaware as his blade was blocked just before severing Noburu's arm. Yet again, the raven haired man's blade shot tendrils forward, creating numerous, small gashes up the length of Ichigo's arm.

After a few more strikes, Ichigo flashed back several meters, staring at Noburu with the same crazed grin. As he had suspected, none of his wounds were healing, and numerous small trickles of blood seeped down his arms. "Your blade is interesting, I'll give it that. Now that I've given you a chance to hit me, though, it's time to show you how to really make some cuts. Try not to move too much, as I don't want to chop off something important...just yet."

The moment he finished speaking, Ichigo disappeared. Noburu searched all around him, slashing his blade while trying to find evidence of the boy's location, yet…he was nowhere to be seen. He felt wind shifting around him, creating an itching sensation on his skin, but he saw only infinitesimal glimpses of black and orange flashing around him.

Not even a minute later, Ichigo appeared in front of him, just out of arms reach and smirking. Opening his mouth to mock the boy's efforts, the sound that emerged was a strangled cry as his mind registered sharp pain and blood suddenly erupted from what felt like every inch of his body. Looking down at his arms, Noburu realized that the itching sensation had been hundreds of small cuts in his skin.

"And that is how you make a cut…or two," Ichigo said as he smiled dangerously. "Don't cry too much, though. This is still me not fighting seriously."

'You haven't even begun to pay for what you did to my squad, my family, to the arrancar, or to my relationship with Yoruichi. We'll get to that in a minute. Right now, I am just showing you that every level of myself is capable of tearing you apart.'

Once again, Ichigo disappeared. Raising his reiatsu as high as he possibly could, Noburu began to occasionally meet the boy's blade, scoring a few hits with each connection, yet the ratio was incredibly disproportionate. Fortunately, he felt a constant surge of energy, restoring his body from the unending string of wounds that were being inflicted and allowing him to continue fighting.

In a stroke of luck, Noburu was able to score a large gash across Ichigo's abdomen at the same time that he received a crushing blow from a fist to his face. Tumbling backwards, he felt the stream of energy grow stronger, making short work of healing him.

Coming to his feet, he eyed the orange haired mutant and scoffed, "Surely you've realized by now that you can't outlast me? I mean, even an idiot such as yourself must have come to see that every cut my blade makes creates a wound that is impossible to heal. Have you thought about why that is? My blade's special ability forces your reiatsu into your blood. Every drop of blood that I draw from you releases that reiatsu, transferring it to me. Even with your disgusting hollow powers that you have been using, the most that you can do is match me. Do you see? Even with that horrendous mask of yours, you would never be able to outlast me, as I will simply take your power from you…just as I will with everything else you hold dear. Face it, Ichigo Kurosaki, even with your hybrid capabiltites, you cannot defeat me. You are simply a beast with a mask that reflects the scum within."

The silence that settled over the entire hill was more tense than any could imagine, yet it was suddenly broken by…laughter?

Everyone present turned to look at the now hysterically laughing captain of squad five. Bent double, Ichigo was holding himself up by putting his hands on his knees, trying to control his amusement. While he wasn't exactly eager to talk to this man, Ichigo couldn't pass up the opportunity to clarify the situation.

"Hollow powers? You mean this power?", he said as he swiped his hand across his face.

"Noburu, this has just been me warming up. I haven't even shown you half of my power, as I have held back my bankai. Don't you get it? I figured out your blade's ability long ago, and I've been letting you cut me. How else could you have survived this long? I let you draw my blood for the simple purpose of prolonging my time to break you."

Though stunned by the claims the boy had just made, Noburu knew that he must be lying. He had felt the reiatsu from when the hollow-hybrids had entered, and knew that Ichigo was near his limit of power. Repulsion clear on his face, he snarled, "Of course that is what I am referring to! I can feel your reiatsu from here. You can lie about your powers all you like, it really does not matter. No matter how high you can go, I can always go higher."

Now with a much different, far more sadistic, laugh, the black and gold eyed Ichigo casually tossed the mask to the ground and growled, "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that."

'It seems that you are unsure about my powers, my true abilities and nature. It is time to correct your assumptions. Actually, it's funny you should say that my mask reflects what is within. I just hope you survive long enough for me to feel that you've gotten what you deserve. Prepare yourself, Noburu Omaeda. Your end begins now,' Ichigo thought.

Holding his blade horizontally in front of him, Ichigo stared at the man in front of him, feeling his, Zangetsu's and Shiro's cold fury triggering each and every fiber of his being. Releasing much more of his seal, crushing waves of black reiatsu began swirling around him, completely destroying the landscape beneath him. Soon, all that could be seen was an occasional glimpse of black and gold eyes, as well as a fierce scowl.

Nearly all who had gathered, even captains, showed signs of serious strain beneath what felt to be a colossal ocean of spiritual pressure that engulfed the area. The reiatsu was heavy, full of violent intent, and no eye could be pulled away from the man in the middle, who could only be seen in flashes and breaks in the swirling tempest. However, a voice soon broke through the roar before the pressure exploded to unimaginable heights…

"Reflect the beast within, Shiroi-Kyo". (White Mirror)

XXXXXX

Yoruichi stared in tense fury as she watched the battle progress. Every time Ichigo's skin was broken, every time he lost blood, her rage further consumed her mind. She had known of Noburu's zanpakuto, yet could not say that she was concerned for Ichigo. Knowing what had been done to him, to those that he loved, she knew that there was no force in heaven or earth that could quell the hell that was going to be unleashed.

However, her tension was also from wariness. Kaito had escaped, yes, yet his best hope of surviving was by Ichigo's death. 'Or so he thinks,' she pondered venomously. Noburu had challenged Ichigo, so she could not interfere, else Ichigo would forfeit his position.

But…

Kaito was fair game. The man had been the orchestrating force behind the nightmare that had been unleashed upon hers and Ichigo's lives. He had deceived, murdered, mutilated, and attempted genocide, all in the quest for political power and petty vengeance.

Yoruichi was certain that he would make an appearance. There was no way that he would trust Noburu to finish this important of a task, so she was waiting for the moment he revealed himself. 'I must confess, I am thrilled by the notion that Kaito will receive punishment similar to that of Noburu. There will be no mercy, no hesitation. Only this time, I will be delivering it.'

Her attention was drawn, though, as she heard Ichigo's laughter and words to the raven haired man, as well as what sounded like a release call…

Feeling the massive wave of pressure, her eyes widened as she turned and saw a form rise that she had only seen once before. However, her focus was once again pulled as she felt a faint pulse of reiatsu. Turning her head, she saw that her hunch had been correct.

Seeing Kaito sneaking around the edge of the crowd gathered, a now grinning Yoruichi released her shikai and quickly followed.

XXXXXX

Noburu stood in begrudging amazement at the scene before him. Seeing the boy so carelessly throw his mask to the ground, as well as make the claims that he did, destroyed the bravado that his earlier words carried.

'He was letting me cut him? He claims to have only been playing with me?'

The raven haired man felt the stirrings of fury begin to break through his shock. The boy was clearly mocking him…right? He would never have doubted his assumption before, yet the massive wave of pressure that was steadily growing made him wonder just what this hybrid truly was. Not only that, but his words couldn't truly be taken as arrogance. The rage…the bloodlust contained in that voice was not one of taunting, but of promise, of conviction.

'The reports claimed that he had lost his powers…there is no way that he could have regained such a high level…'

Yet, the proof was in front of him. Seeing the vortex of dust and ominous black reiatsu provided little opportunity to see just what was happening within, only a deafening roar and towering pillar of power. An occasional peek at a black eye was all he was afforded, yet he could not help the thrill of apprehension that lit his nerves as he heard a deep growl cut through the roar and say, "Reflect the beast within, Shiroi-Kyo".

As soon as the words were uttered, the pressure on the area multiplied exponentially. Streaks of deep crimson began to swirl with the furious black waves that encircled the…being. However, a deep boom, accompanied by a sharp rumble within the very ground itself, seemed to pause the swirling. The clouds themselves were broken apart as a sharp whistling sound cut through the air, revealing Ichigo Kurosaki.

Noburu could not stop the involuntary step back at the beast that emerged from the clouds of reiatsu. Standing tall, unmoving, was a demon straight from the depths of Hell. Stark white skin, interrupted only by intricate, glistening tribal markings covered the boy from head to toe. A startling, fierce mask stared with empty black sockets, shadowed slightly by a pair of what were surely devastating horns.

As the wind billowed around the monster, long strands of bright orange hair whipped around him, the only movement at all. After a moment of only the wind creating any sound, the stillness was broken by the sharp sound of static and the disappearance of the creature.

In less time than Noburu's mind could process, the special operations soldier found himself face to face with the demon. Frozen in shock, he found himself staring into the deep black markings on the mask of the being in front of him. They were surprisingly reflective, giving him a glance at the look of horror that now marred his face. Before he could regain his bearings, the same deep voice growled, the sound sending a wave of adrenalin throughout his body.

The moment he heard the sound stop, Noburu felt a strong, broad pressure connect with his face, while all pressure on his feet disappeared. Direction lost all meaning, as he felt the world hurtle by him while his eyes could only register a blur of colors, yet he quickly found himself making heavy, repeated contact with the rough ground.

After a moment of severe disorientation, he shook his head to try and clear the sharp ringing in his ears. Looking up, the challenger realized that he had been thrown the entire distance of Sokyoku hill, as the creature was still standing far away in the distance. Opening his mouth to speak, he was cut off by another sharp burst of static and the reappearance of the fearsome hollow mere inches from his face.

Noburu Omaeda had faced many horrors in the line of duty. The worst of hollows, humans, shinigami and others had been a near constant in his tours within the world of the living. Yet, nothing could have prepared him for the shiver of fear that he felt traverse his spine when a white hand roughly palmed his face, leaving space between the fingers for him to see through.

However, that shiver evolved into an icy grip around his mind and heart as the hand lifted his entire body by his face and brought it to the fearsome mask attached to it. After a moment of silence, the same, haunting voice spoke again.

"Make no mistake, Noburu, it's still me. Zangetsu may cut you, and Shiro may break you, but in reality…it's all me. I am the one who is breaking you down. I am the one who is using every aspect of myself to introduce you to true fear. I tried to fight it, but you've pushed me to my breaking point, now it's time to face the success of your efforts."

As the voice finished, Noburu found himself again in motion, this time being thrown into the ground much more sharply. His tumbles were now met with sharp cracks as bone snapped against the unmoving ground. This process repeated itself, as each time he stilled, the same hand would pick him back up and send him crashing back into the ground.

At one point, Noburu tried to fight back, thrusting his blade at the masked face. This proved to be a mistake, as a shockingly white hand loosely caught his wrist, quickly followed by a series of snaps when the hand became a fist…without relinquishing the grip on the wrist. A choked scream was all that could be mustered before he found himself flying again.

When it had happened more times than he could count, the man looked up in a daze from his position on the ground. His breath came in short gasps as he felt his ribs—as well as many other bones— had been shattered. His head felt every point of impact that it had encountered, and his body could not heal itself as all of his opponent's wounds had seemingly been healed by the release.

Shifting his eyes, he met the blank gaze of the boy's mask. Hearing a low growl, his head began to clear as he saw his opponent stop walking towards him and reach for his face. Noburu's eyes widened in shock at what was happening.

'He's retracting his Resurrecion?!'

Yet again, indignant fury welled up at the insult. This…creature…was essentially saying that he didn't need much of his power to defeat him! His thoughts were halted as a hand roughly grabbed his hair and brought his view to still black and gold eyes.

"Still want to try and make me bleed and scream as much as Nel did? You still think that it was a good idea to attack my family, my squad? Are you still glad that you tried to interfere with my love? WHY DIDN'T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE?! DO YOU SEE HOW STUPID IT WAS TO COME NEAR MY LIFE?! ARE YOU BEGINNING TO SEE THAT YOU THREW AWAY YOUR LIFE FOR NOTHING?! TELL ME! I WANT TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT YOU…"

The tirade was suddenly cut off mid-sentence as another wave of reiatsu crashed over the area. Turning his head, Noburu saw a body flying much the same as he assumed that he had, followed by an almost indistinguishable flash of color. When the body had settled, Noburu's eyes widened as he saw Kaito in a crumpled heap with a silver-handed Yoruichi standing above him, looking like a true angel of death.

Ichigo spoke again, this time in a voice conveying interest, "Looks like Kaito is going to be dying with you…how fitting."

XXXXXX

Moments Before…

Yoruichi blended in with the crowd, using their rapt attention at the battle taking place, she was able to maneuver herself quite close to where Kaito had paused, staring at the battle as well. When she was a mere arms length behind him, she shifted Juryoku's form around her hand and closed it into a blunt, hardened fist.

"Not looking so good for your pawn, is it Kaito?", she asked with a sadistic glee. The tension that she sensed within the man spoke volumes of the unease and fear he was feeling. It was clear that neither man had expected Ichigo to have regained such power, and the thought was far more pleasing to her than she had thought possible.

Dodging the swift strike that flashed as the man turned, Yoruichi planted her feet and launched herself fist-first into the wide-eyed face in front of her. As she watched the man tumble end over end into the middle of the battleground, she quickly flashed forward and stood over him, as if daring him to move.

"You didn't actually think that you could make it here without catching my attention, did you? You did save me a lot of time in hunting you down."

Standing and noticing that the no longer hollowfied Ichigo had returned his attention to battering Noburu, Kaito raised his blade and muttered, 'Anbaransu, kage no ejji '(Unbalance, Edge of Shadow). Watching as his blade shifted to a simple, dull grey, Kaito shifted into a battle ready stance, facing Yoruichi. "It's time to depose our princess," he growled.

Smirking, Yoruichi shifted her hands again, this time into glistening, dagger-like extensions. Not wasting any words, she flashed forward while keeping a firm gaze on the newly released blade. Raring back to strike, she felt a disturbing heat bloom across her midsection as her hand just barely missed Kaito's torso.

Once her opponent had flashed away, the flash goddess looked down to see a somewhat shallow cut across her abdomen begin bleeding onto her shirt. 'What the…'

Her thoughts were interrupted as she saw Kaito flash towards her, drawing his blade back to strike. Raising her hand to intercept the blow, she was shocked to feel another burst of warmth begin to spread over her thigh.

Seeing the man prepare to attack again, the former captain felt her instincts propel her forward, her hands close together as they shot towards the chest in front of her. Making contact, she quickly dragged her hands wide, leaving bloody gashes through the cloth and tissue. Seeing his blade still coming, she held both hands up to use her blade's ability to deflect.

Yet again, she was unable to stop the strike as another slice opened up on her arm, causing her to gasp softly. Shunpoing back, she quickly studied the grinning man in front of her.

"Quite interesting, isn't it?", Kaito sneered. "No matter your speed, no matter your prowess, you are no match for my zanpakuto's special ability. I have no fear in explaining it to you, as knowledge cannot increase your chances of successfully defending yourself. My zanpakuto is illusion based. Being within range of it renders your reflexes useless, as it distorts your sense of time. When I strike, my blade may be seconds ahead of what you see, or slightly behind. You can never guess, nor can you counter. Your ridiculous title as 'Goddess of Flash' is quite useless against me."

Raising an eyebrow, Yoruichi had to admit that it was an impressive power. Her zanpakuto's power was truly powerful, but timing was critical to her success. With this removed, as well as her general sense of timing, she would have little to rely on aside from shunko, yet there was no way in hell that she was backing down from this fight.

However, her patience had completely evaporated. Her desire to drag out the abuse, as Ichigo was currently doing, was losing to the desire to destroy the smirking man in front of her. "I see. I suppose it is time then to show you the true distance between us. I don't know what you and Noburu were thinking, challenging both Ichigo and myself, but your deaths will prove it to be the most idiotic decision you could have made."

Crossing her hands in front of her, Yoruichi slightly bowed her head and growled, "Bankai". The moment her voice stopped, a towering cloud of white reiatsu enveloped her. Quickly dying down, the settling dust revealed the unleashed combination of zanpakuto and wielder.

All motion on the battleground ceased immediately after, and Yoruichi turned to see the dumbstruck Ichigo staring at her. Sending a quick smirk and wink his way, she turned her attention to Kaito and disappeared in the soft swish of a shunpo.

XXXXXX

Ichigo watched in angry satisfaction as Noburu was again sent flying across the dusty expanse. The wheezing and coughing that he was hearing from the beaten down man only served to infuriate him and his spirits, whose rage was blurring into his own. Why the hell did this weak excuse for a shinigami try to tear his life apart in the delusion that Ichigo could ever be defeated by the likes of him?

"Don't you even think about dying on me yet. I've still got plenty of screams and blood to take from you before I'll let you die," he growled. The bloodlust that had been accumulating-for what felt like ages- continued to flood his mind. Looking over at his squad, the sight of their bandaged bodies served only to increase his fury.

His senses, due to his hollow nature, were so highly tuned that he could pick up the scent of blood from wounds that hadn't been fully healed. Now that he had grown more closely aligned with Shiro and Zangetsu than ever consciously done before, aside from the Final Getsuga Tensho, thoughts, ideas and techniques were flooding his mind and increasing his eagerness for battle.

Preparing to retrieve the beaten man, Ichigo paused and stiffened as he heard a quiet gasp. Turning, he saw Yoruichi standing with several cuts on her body. His anger quickly spiking, Ichigo was about to intervene when he heard her reply to Kaito's words.

Unable to turn his attention away, he watched in fascination as the violet-haired goddess of his dreams quietly growled 'bankai'. After seeing the dust settle, Ichigo felt his mouth drop open. Standing in the middle of the field was Yoruichi in an outfit closely resembling what she wore against Aizen.

What basically amounted to a tightly fitting one-piece swimsuit was paired with thigh high black leggings and sleeves on her arms that went up to her biceps. However, as Ichigo's eyes involuntarily raked over the beautiful sight before him, he noticed that there were jet black bracers and greaves on her forearms and shins that seemed to flow down onto her hands and feet.

Still focused solely on the beauty, Ichigo's cold fury was only briefly interrupted as the woman he loved turned to him, smirking and winking at him before disappearing in a flash. So entranced was he, that he was caught completely by surprise by a sharp scratch across his side. Turning, he saw that Noburu had taken advantage of his distraction and scored a quick slice on his body.

Though it was a very shallow cut, thanks to his still massive release of power, Ichigo noticed an instant effect on the man as color returned to his skin and his breathing noticeably eased. Unable to contain the smile that formed, Ichigo sonidoed towards the man, gripping him by his throat and blade-wielding wrist.

"Now would you look at that? It looks like he's still got a little spark left. Let's see what we can do about that, King," Shiro purred.

Preparing to launch him once more, Ichigo stopped when he heard voices calling out across the battleground. Turning, he saw Kaito kneeling and breathing heavily as Yoruichi stood across from him, a savage snarl on her face as she snapped at him, "You're never going to touch my future husband! If you try again, I will rip your arms off and beat you with them. If that doesn't work, I will do the same with your legs. He is mine, and I will destroy anything or anyone that ever tries to harm him."

Stunned at the words, Ichigo couldn't help the thrill of hope that shot through him. Looking to the man in his arms, he quickly and savagely slammed the challenger into the ground, distractedly mumbling, "Stay put. I'll deal with you in a minute."

XXXXXX

Yoruichi's heart began to race as she noticed Ichigo turning his attention to her battle. She had seen his reaction to her bankai, and she could tell—even with his being in the midst of a battle-that his attention was on her. His body language showed that she had broken through his rage, even if it was only momentarily.

'This is our chance to prove where we stand, to show our resolve. Let's show Ichi-kun what 'Goddess of Flash' truly means,' Juryoku purred in her mind. Having been silent in awe of the raw beauty that was Ichigo's unbridled fury, the zanpakuto spirit was eager to show why both she and her wielder had always been feared and respected.

Yoruichi couldn't agree more. Isshin had been right, Ichigo didn't need someone to stand for him, nor to stand behind him…he needed a partner to stand with him. The violet haired shinigami was going to prove to her love that she could and would fight alongside him, as well as stand up for them.

Turning her attention back to the crouching Kaito, she quickly unleashed the full force of her reiatsu activating her shunko and allowing it to flow throughout her limbs. The pressure was incredible, swirling with wisps of white reiatsu and destroying the landscape around her. Seeing him regain his ready stance, the former captain gained a small, cruel smile. "Get ready, Kaito…you're about to see why I am still the head of the Shihoin Clan."

Even before she had finished speaking, the former onmitsukido man was in motion, drawing his blade back for a swing. As he brought it forward, Yoruichi simply raised her hand, motioning as if she were swatting away a fly.

Kaito's face showed extreme shock as the arm that held his blade flew backwards. Remembering what Noburu had said about the powers of her zanpakuto, he decided to attempt a quick kick to her legs, hopefully causing her to lose her balance.

Yet, as he raised his leg, he noticed that she was doing the same. Kicking out, he watched her leg raise to meet his...and then his move quickly in the opposite direction. Losing his balance, Kaito's arm flailed out in an attempt to catch himself, yet Yoruichi was waiting. She quickly flicked her wrist, launching the arm away from its original course and sending the man spinning to the dirt.

"Juryoku changes the momentum of any physical attack," she said with a smirk. "Neither your power, nor your zanpakuto is anywhere close to strong enough to interfere."

Gaining his bearings mere meters away, Kaito finally made it to his feet and shunpoed away. Gathering a ball of energy in his palm, he snarled, "Don't get so cocky! Hado number 63, Raikoho!"

The growled spell immediately turned into a shouted curse as the man saw Yoruichi-who had suddenly appeared inches away-raise her hand, pushing it towards him. His eyes widened in horror as his outstretched hand began to be quickly forced back to his face. Unable to stop the energy flowing through him, he was caught in a massive blast from the spell.

Kaito groaned in pain as he forcefully struck the ground. After a moment, he heard chuckling as Yoruichi said, "Juryoku saw that as a physical attack. Also, she wanted someone who could actually feel your pitiful attacks to be the one to experience it."

Before he could get up, the weakened man felt a pair of hands roughly grab his haori, dragging him upright. "Get up, Kaito. You haven't suffered nearly enough to pay for what you've done," the furious woman snarled as she released her grip on his clothing and pushed him back.

Noticing he was within an arm's reach of her, he quickly thrust his blade at the golden eyed woman, attempting to catch her off guard. He instantly came to the realization that she had been prepared for this, as she pushed her palm towards him with obvious zeal. The sickening cracks were heard before his shouts of pain, as she had forced his arm back in the same direction it had come, snapping his elbow the wrong way and pushing his arm out of socket.

Not pausing, Yoruichi jumped and spun, catching Kaito in the face with one of her greaves and sending him tumbling back towards the crowd. Appearing where he had landed, she grabbed his wounded arm, pulling him up as he screamed in agony. Once on his feet, she couldn't help but raise a brow as he paused between pained bellows and shouted, "NOW!"

Her brow soon joined the other in a furious scowl as she felt a sharp pain on her arm. Turning, she saw several men in black uniforms appearing from within the crowd. "You coward, you have to get these men killed as well?"

Sighing, she was about to turn and engage the newly arrived soldiers when she felt a rise in Ichigo's reiatsu from across the battlefield. Knowing that she had less than seconds to react, she pointed in his direction and closed her fist. Looking to where the large flash of lighting had just struck, she saw Ichigo paused.

In any other scenario, she would have laughed at the expression that she saw on his face at the moment, however she knew that now wasn't the time. "NO! They are mine, Ichigo! They attacked my heart too! You are not to interfere, or I'll break off one of those horns you just had and shove it up your ass! Now hurry up and take care of Noburu, because I wasn't finished with what I was telling you earlier!"

Returning her attention to the men now surrounding her, Yoruichi felt her chest warm and tighten when she heard low chuckling from where Ichigo stood. Smiling, she surveyed her situation, eyes widening in surprise at the tactics the men were using.

They were circling her, trying to trap her. Trap her. Had she not been so eager to fight, she would have laughed at the absurdity of the notion. As it was, she felt her eagerness grow.

Maintaining her maximum output of reiatsu, the violet haired goddess growled in excitement before disappearing. Countless swish's were joined by variety of sounds. Slaps, cracks, dings, tears and screams erupted from the area as she continued to move.

Flashing to one man, she repelled his slash, forcing his arm to swing the blade into the man next to him. Grabbing both, she flung them away from the crowd and towards the edge of the hill.

Appearing in front of another, Yoruichi grabbed the wrist of the arm trying to stab her, twisting it and forcing the man to stab his own foot. Seeing his other arm coming around to try and throw a knife at her, she viciously kicked at it, forcing the arm to fly back the way it had come and dislocate his shoulder. Catching him in the ribs with a powerful kick, she sent him tumbling after the first two.

This trend continued until finally it was only Kaito left, who stood ready. Seeing that he had healed his arm, Yoruichi wasted no time and disappeared again, only to reappear seconds later. The man in front of her suddenly crumpled, his head jerking to his left as blood flew from his mouth, his arms were bent at unnatural angles, and his right leg was also turned in a direction that was impossible to do with a body that was whole.

Walking up and roughly grabbing a handful of his hair and using it to bring his face to hers, Yoruichi shouted, "DO YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU COME AFTER ME?!" Lowering her voice to a deathly whisper, she growled, "To attack Ichigo is to attack me. His family is my family. His love is my love. You tried to come in-between something that you could never understand, but will cost you your life. I hope you're satisfied."

After a moment of gasping and agonized moaning, the man looked up with a hateful expression and opened his mouth to speak.

XXXXXX

Ichigo was fighting the wave of emotions coursing through him. His fury and bloodlust was now in conflict with the way that Yoruichi was making him feel. Her loud declarations, her intensity and brutality in battle, her bossiness…it was all the real her…his Yoruichi. He understood what she meant by her wanting to finish telling him what she had been before, and he could not help the bloom of hope that had made a home within his chest, nor the inevitable wave of apprehension…of fear.

As Ichigo watched in fascination, he sensed Noburu beginning to move. 'He must have gained some form of regeneration from taking my reiatsu.'

Feeling a strong wave of irritation at the blatant dismissal of his order and distraction from what he truly wanted to see, as well as the anger of knowing that it was his own powers keeping this man alive, Ichigo knew he would have to force the man to stay in place. However, his quickly proved to be nothing compared to Shiro's and Zangetsu's fury.

"There's no fucking way that you're keeping me out of this! No more leashes, no more holding back!", the spirit bellowed in his mind, forcing as much reiatsu output as possible.

'Though he does not deserve our full power, we deserve to finish him as one, Ichigo," the voice of Zangetsu said in agreement, equalling the force with his own.

Ichigo couldn't argue with them. Not this time. Feeling the pure rage coming from both of his spirits, as well as his own heart, he embraced the surge of power, relishing in the look of fear that once again crossed Noburu's face as his reiatsu climbed even higher than before when he added his own to his spirits'. The landscape began to crumble once more as streams of white fluid burst from Ichigo, falling back and covering his body, again revealing the fearsome form of his Resurreccion.

Appearing in front of the man who was trying to move, Ichigo looked down at him between the points of his horns. Snarling, he grabbed Zangetsu's blade, stepped on Noburu's chest and viciously stabbed it through the man's shoulder and into the ground, causing him to howl in pain.

"I told you to stay put."

Not wasting another moment, he turned back to the pair that stood a short distance away. The thrill he had felt moments earlier was short lived, however, as Kaito looked up and snarled, "You think that the tainted beast would still want you? After you proved yourself to be the whore I always knew you to be, you think that he would even touch such a filthy slut? You're out of your—AAACK!"

In the briefest of moments, Ichigo essentially appeared several meters away from where Yoruichi stood with Kaito's face in his grasp, his fingers digging into the jaw muscles of the yellow-eyed man and forcing his mouth open.

"I warned you what would happen, should you ever disrespect Yoruichi that way again," he growled from beneath his mask. His other hand moving almost imperceptibly fast, the cries from Noburu were soon surpassed by another series of pain-filled screams. As everyone gathered looked, blood began pouring out of the captive man's mouth.

When Ichigo held his free hand up, the reason for the screams and blood became chillingly obvious. The startling contrast of pink and red against stark white showed that the hand held Kaito's tongue. Flicking his wrist, Ichigo tossed the appendage onto the ground.

Even Kaito and Noburu stared in horrified awe at the cold and calm manner in which Ichigo had removed and discarded the offending part.

Dropping his captive, Ichigo turned to face Yoruichi, however his attention was caught by a growing reiatsu and muttered words. Looking to the source, he saw that Noburu had gotten loose and was flashing over a small area of dirt, occasionally dragging his blade into the dirt.

Feeling the man's reiatsu grow, he watched as several onmitsukido members rose from places where they had obviously hidden themselves beneath the dirt of the landscape.

'Now that is interesting. Gotta give it to him, that was a pretty good…'

All thoughts paused, though, as he heard the last bits of what Noburu was muttering in-between shunpoes. "Unite! swish Repulse! swish Fill with soil and know your own powerlessness!"

'Does he really think that this will work against…'

Again, Ichigo's thoughts were interrupted as he saw that he was not the target of this particular attack. Seeing Noburu's finger point at where Yoruichi now stood, his mind screamed in defiance as he moved purely on instinct when he heard the shout, "HADO NUMBER 90, KUROHITSUGI!"

Ichigo arrived at Yoruichi's side at the moment that the familiar sinister black box began to take shape. Knowing that time had run out, he quickly enveloped her as best he could, using his body to cover every inch of hers possible. Hearing a loud boom that signaled the box's full enclosure, countless blades of kido energy slammed into the pair. Increasing his reiatsu output, Ichigo deflected all of them with his hierro. However, he heard a small hiss of pain from Yoruichi, and he knew that she had been hit by at least one of the spears.

Flaring his power, Ichigo quickly shattered the box around them. Once again exposed to daylight, he began to earnestly check over the violet haired woman in his arms, trying to ascertain her condition.

Before he could fully do so, he felt a quickly approaching presence. Turning, he found that he was just in time to feel a sharp blade piercing the skin from his shoulder down to his hip. However, before the blade had exited his body, Ichigo quickly and tightly gripped the arm that held it in a crushing grip. Using his free hand, he reached out, grabbing and dragging the man's face to his own.

"You just refuse to learn, don't you? You try to take Yoruichi from my heart, and now you try to take her from my life? The only reason I didn't kill you when you kissed her was because I thought she had chosen you. Now that we know the truth, how do you think an attempt on her life is going to end for you? Don't worry…I have an answer for you and for everything you've done…"

Savagely throwing the man in front of him by his face, Ichigo sent Noburu barreling across the hill and into Kaito, knocking them both to the ground in a heap of limbs near where Yoruichi had thrown the men who had attacked her. Screams once more pierced the air as they stilled, and gasps from the crowd soon emerged as they saw the men separating themselves.

Bent over and bellowing, Noburu was clutching his shoulder to try to stem the heavy flow of blood that was staining and dripping from his haori. Confused, the gasps increased as the crowd looked and saw that the raven haired man's arm was still held tightly in Ichigo's grasp. However, faster than a blink, the bodiless arm rocketed across the battleground, striking the rising Kaito in the chest and sending him to the ground again.

The crowd began to murmur as the pair of men tried to rise once more, as both had been floored by the addition of all of the other soldiers that Noburu had hidden. Soon, though, the gasps, cries, and screams were all drowned out as Ichigo let loose a mighty roar.

He had had enough.

"King, it's time to use it," Shiro said, gaining a grunt of agreement from Zangetsu and reminding Ichigo of a conversation that had taken place between them quite recently.

Ichigo had to agree. The two men were obviously not getting the message. He had beaten them, broken them, and torn them apart, yet they still tried to fight...to take more from him. Looking on in rage, he snarled, "You wanted to play dirty, right? You wanted to push me, and drive me crazy? And now, you want to play with pretty lights, huh? I am sick of this, and now…now its my turn."

Crouching protectively in front of Yoruichi, Ichigo followed Shiro's guidance as he raised his fingertips to the wound on his chest. Covering his hands in his own blood, he raised them up to his horns, covering a large portion of them. Raising his reiatsu to even more incredible heights, a deep crimson ball of energy began to build between the tips.

Looking across at the two men who had so callously and brutally attacked every aspect of his life, Ichigo said quietly, "It's time. I didn't want it to come to this, but I will always protect those I love…"

Drawing on every ounce of anger, hatred, and pain, Ichigo forced his reiatsu outwards and proclaimed, "Grand Rey Cero…"

The resulting explosion could be felt in every corner of the Seireitei.

XXXXXX

Yoruichi stood in awe of the sheer destruction that scarred the face of Sokyoku Hill. She had seen some devastating attacks before, yet she had never witnessed anything like what Ichigo had just done. The crimson explosion had swallowed the entire end of the hill, extending far into the distance. The heat from the blast made breathing a near impossibility, and the roar it created made those present have to cover their ears.

As the massive cloud of dust began to settle, she saw the outline of Ichigo facing where he had sent the monstrous blast. Still in his hollow form, his long hair was billowing in the wind as he stood silently watching the aftereffects. Walking up to him, Yoruichi noticed him begin to slowly walk forward as well, towards where Noburu and Kaito had stood.

She knew that this would be an incredibly tense moment for him, so she decided to simply follow him at a slight distance.

Yoruichi almost threw this plan out the window, however, when she heard her love pause and sigh. Following his gaze, her stomach tightened at the sight. Lying in an unnatural position, what was left of Kaito's body rested at Ichigo's feet. The cero had mutilated and charred the man's corpse so badly that it was barely recognizable.

Looking back up at her former pupil, her heart began to clench as she watched his shoulders slump.

XXXXXX

Ichigo sighed as he took in the devastation he had wrought. Looking down to the ground, he saw what remained of both Kaito, and the men he had brought with him. Even knowing that their deaths were going to occur, it didn't make it any easier to see the aftermath of his attack.

'All of these men dead, all because of their hate…because of their lust for power. I have no idea how I am going to deal with all of this…'

His thoughts were interrupted by a cough. Looking down, his eyes widened in disbelief as he saw Noburu twitch slightly on the ground as he continued to try and clear his lungs. The man's body was charred, and his arm still missing, but he was alive.

Ichigo couldn't stop the anger that coursed through him. This man…this murdering bastard…was able to live after that?! Why could it not finally be over? Why did he have to continue to deal with this?

Arriving at where the man lay twitching and coughing, the hollowfied captain bent down and grabbed the slowly healing skin of the man's neck. Jerking him up, Ichigo brought the badly burned face to his own, yet couldn't speak as the coughing soon turned to strained, intermittent laughter. Wondering if the man had truly lost his mind, his thoughts were immediately answered by the wheezing Noburu.

"I told you…you worthless…hollow. You can't…kill…me. I…will always…outlast you. I'll heal…and come back… to finish your…family."

Gripping tighter, Ichigo could only growl, "How?"

Instead of a response, Ichigo sensed Noburu's remaining arm weakly raise towards his body. About to stop him, his eyes widened in surprise as he felt a blade being pulled from his midsection…where he had stopped the last attack.

His zanpakuto, Ichigo thought. The man had left his zanpakuto embedded in the orange-haired man's abdomen, thus giving him enough power to survive the attack. Extending his free hand, Zangetsu's blade came whistling into his grip. This was going to end, once and for all. He couldn't decide, though, if he was going to simply kill him, or follow one of Shiro's more…emphatic…suggestions. Raising his arm, he prepared to strike the final blow.

Turning his attention back to the face in front of him, Ichigo paused as he felt his fury begin to change. Though slowly regenerating, Noburu looked barely able to move, much less fight. His skin had been so severely burned that it seemed as if Ichigo were looking at raw muscle. Even the broken laughter sounded agonizingly painful.

Disgust began to take over Ichigo's mind. Why was he about to do this? To protect? No, at this point, he couldn't still claim that. Sure, Noburu had made yet another threat, but there was simply no way for him to follow through. Even if he healed, he would be imprisoned for his crimes. Kaito and the others had died in combat, yes through an overwhelming attack, but they had been continuing the fight.

Also, Ichigo knew that he had defended his position. The rules of the trial by combat had been satisfied, as Noburu had been beaten literally within an inch of his life, and still was clearly incapacitated. Sighing again, he knew that this was no longer protecting. Were he to end Noburu's life in this moment, it would be a deed he could never take back. Though he knew he was justified, Ichigo knew that he would never be able to truly look any that he loved in the eye again, should he take this last step.

"Die on your own, you bastard. You're not worth my blade."

With that, Ichigo dropped the man into a heap on the ground, then turned and began to walk away.

Within a few steps, he came face to face with an stone-faced Yoruichi, walking forward.

Seeing her eyes widen yet again, he paused as she began to run toward him and her arm quickly raised and shot forward. Confused, Ichigo was about to ask what she was doing until he heard a squelch, followed by a deep grunt from right behind him.

He turned, stunned to see Noburu on his knees, the man's arm holding his own blade as it sat buried in his chest. His eyes were wide in shock, yet they quickly faded and the raven haired man fell lifelessly back to the ground.

"You're never going to hurt him, or anyone else, again," she growled.

Swiftly returning his gaze back to Yoruichi, he saw that her hand was still outstretched, yet her gaze had returned to his own. The expression on her face showed an awestruck Yoruichi, still in her bankai form and staring at him with wide eyes. He could see endless questions building just behind her lips, as well as a tension in her stance.

It was eerily similar to how Orihime had looked at him during his battle with Grimmjow. This look, from Yoruichi, was more than he could bear at the moment. After all that had just happened, he couldn't stay and face what that look really meant.

As he interpreted her look as fear, he met her gaze and quietly said, "I'm sorry you had to do that. Thank you for protecting me right there, but I never meant for you to have to face this…killing him, seeing me…like this. Not quite a form you were expecting, huh? I meant what I said, Yoruichi…I am no one's secret. That's why I showed every side of myself today. This is just as much a part of me as my shinigami powers. I will never hide who I am, nor will I hide any part of my life. I will always love you, but I won't live a life where I'm a secret, nor will I live with my partner afraid of me. Goodbye, Yoruichi."

Leaving his fearsome form intact, Ichigo slowly turned and began to walk away, towards the crowd that had gathered to witness his battle. The entire area was silent, aside from his footsteps, yet the silence was quickly shattered by a loud clap of thunder as a massive bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of his feet.

"Ichigo Kurosaki, don't you dare say something like that and walk away from me without giving me a chance to speak!", the violet haired woman screamed.

Turning quickly, Ichigo found himself facing her just in time to get a kido-powered punch to the stomach. Bending over at the strike, he felt her hands grip his horns and pull him off of his feet, slamming him to the ground below.

Quickly regaining his bearings, he found that Yoruichi was straddling his waist as he laid there, her hand drawn back and taking the shape of a blunt object. "Do I look scared to you? I did what I just did to protect you. I would do it again in an instant", she whispered threateningly.

However, as quickly as she had attacked, her face softened and she brought both of her now-normal hands to his face. "Ichigo…my Ichigo…I'm so sorry for what I did. I swear, I never meant to hurt you…I never meant to betray you like that. I still can't fully explain it, but I take full responsibility for what I did."

Once again, tears gathered in her eyes as she stared into the mask of the man she loved. As she opened her mouth to speak, a growl came forth, "But don't you ever, ever, think that I am afraid of you. You may have surprised me with such a powerful attack, but you are the man I love more than my own life, and I could never be scared of you. I love every aspect of you, and every detail. This mask is not an evil side of you, its just another part. I swear to you, Ichigo Kurosaki, I love you and want you exactly as you are. Please forgive me…give me a chance to prove to you that I want you…forever…"

Pulling him to his feet, Yoruichi placed her arms around his neck. Her eyes took on a fierce look, and she peeked over at the massive, onlooking crowd as she continued, "And let me prove to you that you are no secret…"

Before he could say anything, she leaned up and pressed her lips firmly against his mask.

XXXXXX

Ichigo couldn't even begin to think clearly. This day had taken every possible turn, and now it had taken the most confusing one of all. Yoruichi was kissing his mask?! Not his former mask, but his true one with horns, empty sockets and fierce overall change.

'What about the way she was looking at me? Everything about it said fear, but she just said that she wants me forever...what in the hell am I supposed to do?'

"You could either man up and respond to her, or just shut up and let me enjoy finally getting some action," Shiro responded.

"Ichigo, it is time for you to choose whether or not you want to continue your relationship with Yoruichi. Do you forgive her for what she did? If so, this is your chance to move forward," Zangetsu supplied as Yoruichi finished her kiss with a small smacking noise.

Looking down at the big, golden eyes that had been the reason for his reentry into this world, Ichigo knew that they were right. Reaching up, he lifted his mask to reveal his face, followed quickly by him retracting his release. As he stood there, he stared into the eyes of the woman he loved, and was about to speak when a loud shout could be heard across the hill…

"WILL YOU HURRY UP AND KISS HER?! YOU'RE MAKING THE KUROSAKI MEN LOOK BAD WITH THAT KIND OF WEAK-ASS ACTION! DO YOU NEED DADDY TO COME SHOW YOU HOW IT'S DONE?!"

Groaning, Ichigo reached up and pinched his nose. Leave it to his father to ruin any moment. However, hearing a small chuckle, he opened his eyes and looked down to the smiling Yoruichi. "He is insane. Yoruichi, what is it that you want? You say you want forever…and you discovered what 'forever' means to me. I can't go back to how things were. I loved falling in love with you, and I love being with you…but I won't go back to being a secret."

Looking up at Ichigo, Yoruichi raised a brow and asked, "I thought I was clear before, but I see that I will have to show you again…" Not giving him a chance to respond, she pulled his head down and once more fiercely pressed her lips to his. Sensing his shock, she used her tongue to try to get him to respond, which he finally did.

The silence that had fallen over the crowd suddenly erupted as Isshin, the Visoreds, Kukaku and the rest of Squad five began to cheer at the top of their lungs. Even though he knew that there would be repercussions to face with the Shihoin clan, Ichigo couldn't find it within him to care at the moment. However, his thoughts were interrupted as his father decided to ruin the moment, once again.

"WHOOO! NOW HURRY UP AND MAKE ME SOME GRANDKIDS!"

Releasing Yoruichi's lips, Ichigo turned and shouted, "SHUT UP, YOU CRAZY OLD GOAT! WHAT IN THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM?!"

Before he could continue, Ichigo felt the woman in front of him softly grab his hand and pull his attention to her. Looking back to her, Ichigo saw her face strained with worry.

"What is it?", he asked, apprehension once again gripping him. However, it instantly shifted to sheer shock when he looked at her free hand. A small box was open in her palm, revealing a familiar jewel.

Taking in a deep, shuddering breath, Yoruichi looked Ichigo in the eye and said, "Ichigo Kurosaki, I love you. I choose you...for all of eternity, Ichigo, I choose you. My body, mind, and soul are yours for all eternity. I ask…", she began, pausing to take another shaky breath.

Continuing, she said, "I ask that you accept that. I'm asking you to forgive me, to love me, to be mine and let me prove—every day of our existence—that you are my soulmate."

Pausing once more, she placed the box in his hand as she slowly slid to one knee.

"Ichigo, I am asking you to marry me."