Chapter 4

My Sassy girl's much ado about nothing part 3

With Ichigo and the gang - 8 pm

Koko looked beyond pleased as her plans to hook up 2-D-kun with that bitter old woman - Misao who else - and from the way those two potential love birds were interacting with each other, it seemed that she couldn't ask for all the pieces falling into place so perfectly. The golden brown haired woman saw her friend animatedly and rather awkwardly trying to make an impression of the already -at least it seemed at the surface - smitten Misao. How this improbable "love at first sight" thing they have going on after only 3 hours with the two of them mostly discussing anything anime or game related was rather a head scratcher but as the saying goes:

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth!" she thought

Even if the events unfolding before her eyes were rather going too fast by "love at first sight" standards - if there were rules to such things….

Still the others were glad that Misao had somehow broken through 2-D-kun's self imposed impenetrable shell. At least, he was making an effort to get to know the older woman better and to help their rather awkward friend along; Koko and the others tried to supply topics that they all could take part in. Ichigo however ended up telling everyone to leave them alone and mind their own business. While the two budding love birds were trying to get to know each other sat at another table, the 4 of them talked amongst themselves on the adjoining one beside them. Koko and Ichigo sat opposite of Chinami and Mitsuo and the 4 of them were looking over the menu. The golden brown haired girl's eyes wondered at the object of her affections and tried to suppress a blush. Trying to be subtle, she scooted a little closer until their thighs touched. When the brooding Ichigo didn't seem to notice their sudden physical contact, Koko sighed in relief. Though it annoyed her simultaneously that he wasn't paying attention to her again! ( Cue gnashing teeth while her friends were too busy looking at the menu. ) Whatever it was that happened on the road on their way to the restaurant has taken his focus and preoccupied his thoughts ever since. So should she be thankful that she's basically violating his personal space in order to be so close to him or curse those bastards that has taken his faculties away and thus ignoring her in the process…

"Neh, Ichigo? What's wrong with you? You've been spacing out all night." Koko asked with a little edge to her voice.

"Huh?"

"Don't huh me!" she replied her eye brows twitching. "You've been distant and haven't talked to anyone since we got here."

Ichigo looked at her and then at the others and finally sighed…

"Sorry, my bad. It's just I got a lot on my plate lately." Ichigo replied. Then he added in his head. "Not that I can tell you guys that some rogue machine-like things are roaming around in the city and I'm trying to figure out what the hell their agenda is or anything like that…."

"If you tell us what's bothering you maybe we could help?" Chinami chimed in.

"Yeah it's the least we can do for what you did for us." Mitsuo added.

Then Two-D-kun and Misao somehow managed to get in on the conversation as well…

"Oh my, is someone bothering you Ichigo?" Misao said narrowing her eyes. "Do you want me to give them a piece of my mind while 2-D-kun pound the stuffing out of them?"

"Yeah who you need us to beat up?" he said comically cracking his knuckles. "You know I got your back brother!"

Ichigo looked at them and sweat dropped. After a few seconds though, he started chuckling and it proved to be infectious enough that everyone around the table started laughing…

"Thanks guys…"

"You were there for us when we most needed you, now it's our turn to help you out if you need it." Koko said seriously.

Ichigo turned to her and smiled. At this, Koko felt her heart skip a beat and for a fleeting moment that it appeared, she knew that rare angelic smile was only meant for her. As much as Koko would like to think that she has schooled her emotions, the others had picked up the subtle exchange between them. What is this they wondered? Did Kaga Koko just tried to hide her blushing face? Was there something going on between these two? It was an intriguing subject worth exploring for all that's involved. Or maybe they WERE indeed just a bunch of nosy busy bodies that Ichigo has accused them of not mere moments ago...

Misao however didn't miss the way the young woman looked at her precious employee. She sighed because she knew that she was already too late to the party and she had an uphill battle to fight in order to win Ichigo's affections. Perhaps, she wasn't meant to be with him and as sad as it was but this was the reality of it all. Then her gaze turned to 2-D-kun and for some reason just looking at him takes her breath away and she felt her cheeks warm from the blood rushing there. Takaya-san wasn't as hot looking as Ichigo - but he was cute - nor did he have his chiseled body though he's getting there since apparently he and his friends trained with the strawberry and he was getting a toned body as a result. He wasn't brave nor could he intimidate bullies and eat them for breakfast, nor could quiet a room with his presence. Misao realized that 2-D-kun wasn't perfect like Ichigo was but she had to admit that he too had his qualities that made him stand out. He was goofy, funny, intelligent, loves video games and anime and despite his short comings, she couldn't help but fall for him…

"So this is love at first sight then?" Misao thought amusedly. "I-I think it's really nice!"

"U-um Kuroda-san are you alright?" 2-D-kun asked.

"Eh, umm yes!" she replied. "Why did you ask?"

"Y-you w-were staring at me for awhile now and you didn't seem to hear me when I called you!"

Misao's entire face turned crimson but it seemed that 2-D-kun's face was flushed as well….

"Man, get a room why don't cha?" Koko called out teasing them.

"Damn Takaya, you just met Misao and you're putting the moves on my boss already!" Ichigo said jokingly. Then his infamous scowl appeared and he nearly growled out the following. "You hurt her though I'll break you understand?"

"I-I w-wouldn't!" he protested.

"I-Ichigo w-whaa..." Misao stuttered.

When Ichigo started chuckling 2-D-kun's breath exploded in relief while the others joined in laughing and the ribbing as well. Misao on the other hand was too embarrassed to say anything and she glared daggers at her friend...

"Dude, you gotta relax man!" Mitsuo said grinning. "How would you expect to perform later if you're a nervous wreck!"

"Oh my, how scandalous 2-D-kun!" Chinami added giggling.

More laughter ensued…

"Ha ha you guys are a bunch damn comedians!" 2-D-kun said sarcastically.

"We only tease you coz we love you!" Koko replied. "Right, Ichigo?"

"Huh, uh yeah!"

So it seemed that his mind was still far away. Then his phone rang….

"Sorry guys I gotta take this…"

Ichigo went to the balcony for some privacy. Five minutes passed and the strawberry's mood seem to have changed as if the burden's of the world have been lifted from his shoulders. Relieved that whatever was worrying him has apparently passed, Koko felt she needed to thank whoever called him to allay what ever worries he obviously had.

"Thank you, mysterious person on the other end of the phone for giving me my Ichigo back!"

Meanwhile…

"Achoo!"

"Bless you!" Tessai said while he patched Yoruichi up.

"Did you call Ichigo?" Yoruichi asked.

"Yes, I just finished talking to him right now!" Urahara replied sniffling.

Apparently, Ichigo's spiritual pressure has spiked to dangerously high levels when Yoruichi explained that he saw her battle with that thing in the skies of Karakura. Urahara wouldn't be surprised that the Substitute probably burned out a few seals stressing over her well being. True to his word though, Ichigo didn't interfere. In the old days, he would have dropped what he was doing and come hell or high water, the strawberry would rush to his friend's rescue even if it killed him literally and several times in fact! They were lucky that he respected Yoruichi's power or any of his friends who fought in wars with him but if he felt that the more vulnerable people needed his help, then no one short of Kami would be able to stop him to be at their side. Either he was that boned headed or he was that selfless. Most of the people who know the strawberry would say the former but in truth and in many ways the latter was more accurate which really gave the true meaning for someone who's name translates to "one who protects."

"Good, he would have been a pest if you didn't call and kept him in the loop with what's going on!" Yoruichi commented. "Geez I swear I don't know what to do with that boy sometimes!"

"What I'm worried about is if all that stress has destroyed his seals…" Urahara wondered.

"Who knows. I could feel his spiritual pressure as far as 5 miles above Karakura. when I was in the middle of battle. I should have been more careful where I fought that thing, dammit!"

"No use crying over spilled milk now. What's done is done."

"So have you figured out how to repair that seal of his yet?" Yoruichi asked.

"I'm afraid that the seal cannot be fixed…."

"What! Why the hell not?" she said urgently. "How is that even possible? Didn't you put a layer of self generating spells on the damn thing?"

"I did. Apparently it wasn't enough or it wouldn't have degraded as badly as it did. Perhaps trying to hold back Ichigo's titanically massive spiritual power was affecting the seals in ways that I couldn't have predicted. Rest assured though, the spells are working. They are slowing the degradation but it will not last long."

"So what are we going to do?"

"I may have something that may help but it's still on the experimental stage. I need a little bit of time to put it all together. It's not a permanent solution but at least it's a stop gap for when I find a permanent one. In the mean time, we're just going to have to keep him from getting into trouble until then."

Yoruichi grimaced. That's easier said than done as Ichigo - with his deep sense of duty - has been active the last few nights and unfortunately has encountered his fair share of fights with the damn bastards and those encounters were - more often than not - very destructive in nature. If she somehow lessen his burden and thereby reducing the risk of further eroding the protection of his seals, then perhaps Kisuke can find the solution he had in mind. The former Captain can't do it alone, though. Her eyes widened and a smirk widened gradually as she may have solved her happy little helpers problem...

The next day…

Orihime looked a little puzzled when she got the summons from Urahara-san to go to the shop after school. When she arrived there that afternoon, she was surprised when she saw Chad and Ishida-kun and from the looks on their faces they weren't expecting the others either. As they entered through the door, Tessai ushered them to one of the rooms and he told them to sit and to wait for Urahara. When the shop keeper did arrive, the three of them bombarded the former Captain a barrage of nearly incoherent questions. They heard a sharp whistle and fell silent though as Urahara could tell they really wanted to know what's going on from the looks in their eyes…

"Alright kids you will sit still, calm down, and let Urahara speak understand?" Yoruichi said.

They nodded in understanding…

"I will not beat around the bush and I will get to the point. Ichigo is in danger…"

Orihime gasped and Uryu narrowed his eyes while Chad sat quietly but from the way he was gripping the table, he could have crushed the wood in splinters if he exerted more of his strength…

"W-why? Kurosaki-kun has defeated Aizen and Juha Bach did he not?" Orihime whispered.

"Yes he did…" Urahara answered.

"But it seemed a new threat has emerged once again." Yoruichi added.

"Typical. Do you know who is it this time?" Uryu asked pushing his glasses closer.

"We have no clue…" Urahara admitted. "Though that's beside the point, the danger here doesn't lie in the unknown enemy but WHAT will Ichigo do when everything he holds dear is in danger…"

"Kurosaki-kun will be the first one to rush in and fight back…" Orihime murmured.

"That's correct. Kurosaki-san will intervene and we do not doubt that he will indeed go to war on anyone foolish enough to raise their hand against the world. We can't let him do that this time."

"Why not…" Chad rumbled.

"You may not know this but Ichigo became what's known as a Transcendental Being to defeat the Quincy Emperor. In other words, he has achieved a state of being where his enormous power can no longer be measured by this world's standards. Just as 2-D characters cannot affect or interact in our 3-D world, Ichigo has literally became a god or at least close to being one. This makes him stronger than all the Shinigami, Hollow, Quincy, and the Royal Guard combined."

"Anyway Ichigo's power is so enormous that if he returned to his body that it would have been vaporized had he touched it." Yoruichi said.

Orihime and her two friends' eyes widened in surprise by this revelation…

"And his power would have adverse affects on the World of the Living. It might even affect the balance of souls in between worlds. Knowing this I have devised an inhibitor of sorts to contain this power."

"But if you say that Kurosaki-kun's power is sealed, why would he be in danger?" Orihime asked.

"At first the seals held well…" Urahara explained.

"But the constant strain from holding something that enormous is compromising the seal I take it." Uryu deduced.

"Right, I didn't knew at the time how Ichigo's power would affect the seals let alone degrade as them in such an alarming rate." Urahara admitted.

"Still couldn't you have resealed it again with another spell?" Chad replied asking.

Urahara simply shook his head…

"Easier said than done. Mayuri and I took several months to construct Ichigo's seals. To rebuild or even make a permanent solution would take even longer which is time that we don't have."

"So what happens if the seal did break?" Chad dreaded to ask.

"Then there will be devastation unlike anything we will ever see in this world…" Urahara explained ominously.

"Think of it like this. Karakura will nothing more than a large crater in the ground and everything within a 500 mile radius will be destroyed. And that's when it finally breaks and all his power that was held back came rushing forth." Yuroichi added. "Though keep in mind what I said before was the conjectured best case scenario."

"And the worst case scenario?" Uryu asked.

"You don't want to know."

Uryu narrowed his eyes his lips in a grim strait line but agreed that he really didn't want to know…

"Not only that, his super massive spiritual pressure would likely affect every human immediately within his vicinity and perhaps all of humanity eventually and thus Hollows will attack with a ferocity that they are not known for. Imagine having Hollow attacks around the world with the same frequency as Karakura. Need I say more?"

Indeed, such a nightmarish scenario could become the reality if Ichigo's powers were unleashed upon the world. With Soul Society still rebuilding after two costly wars with Aizen and the Quincy, the Gotei 13 would eventually be overwhelmed. And the fact that the imbalance of souls would possibly destabilize reality and perhaps usher in the end of the world. The three friends looked at each other grimly and nodded as if in agreement.

"What do you have us do?" Orihime asked.

"Simple really, you have to prevent Ichigo from exerting any more power than necessary. Until I can find a permanent solution, you three need to keep him out of trouble." Urahara replied. "Or more importantly, to keep trouble from finding him."

"I guess I can take a semester off..." Chad murmured.

"Dammit..." Uryu cursed. "I'm in..."

"And what about you Inoue-san, how about it?" Urahara asked.

Orihime didn't need to say anything as she nodded her head in confirmation...

"Good now that's everyone is on board, we can get things started."

Yoruichi tossed them something which startled the 3 friends. Each of them caught a specific item. Glasses for Uryu while Chad caught some fingerless gloves. The brown haired healer looked fascinatingly at some extra set of pins that were long with a silver star decoration in the middle.

"Anou, what are these for Urahara-san?" Orihime asked curiously.

The enigmatic shop keeper unfurled his favorite fan and covered his mouth as he explained...

"Easy, really. It's to assist you all with a useful disguise..."

"Ok, so what else can it do?" Uryu asked skeptically.

"It suppresses your spiritual pressure as well." Urahara replied.

"Wait we all know Ichigo can't sense a Hollow a mile away even if it flared it's spiritual pressure right in his face!"

"I am well aware that the three of you has exceptional control in sensing and suppressing your spiritual pressure but everything changed when Kurosaki-san evolved and became a Transcendental Being. Not only can he sense every Hollow in the area but he will be able to tell where they're located, how strong they are based on the power of their reiryoku and their distance from his vicinity. After waking up from his little coma, he asked me to help him keep his newly found power."

"Trust me he will know." Yoruichi added. "Even I'm having a hard time sneaking up on him anymore - seal and all!"

Is Ichigo's power that advanced now? Indeed the Substitute Shinigami has come a long way considering a few years ago he couldn't form a ball of reiryoku without it blowing up on his face or exhausting himself from over exertion. That he has pinpoint control is amazing and the potential to get stronger still even more mind boggling!

"How long did it take him to master reiatsu control?" Chad asked.

"Not even 3 days pass and he could already sense reiatsu signatures about several miles away."

"Typical..." Uryu commented.

"So if Kurosaki-kun's reiatsu control that powerful, how can we get past it then?" Orihime asked.

"That's where your little presents come into the picture. Each of them has several layers of spells that were interwoven into the material. Not only will it give you guys a boost of spiritual power temporarily but it will actively suppress your spiritual pressure to nearly 100 percent. So in theory, even if Ichigo did sense you all, it will only be a " temporary" blip on his radar -so to speak- before you disappeared completely."

"Does this radar sense have a weakness?" Uryu asked.

"That's the beauty of these little babies, it suppresses this radar sense completely. From what I understand from studying this ability briefly, Ichigo sends out a "net" of reiautsu in all directions. Anything that hits this "net" will accurately tell him everything. Which brings us to one of the weaknesses that I have observed: he gets all the data from this radar sense all at once. So unless Ichigo focuses on a specific signature, he will never find who or what he's looking for. The idea for these artifacts was to take advantage of this weakness and thus blend in with all the multiple signatures that he's sensing."

"But keep in mind that the minute you stray near within a 100 feet of Ichigo, he will sense you so you have to be careful." Yoruichi added.

They all nodded in agreement...

"As for your items other abilities, I think I'll let you find out for yourselves." Urahara replied. "Besides it will be more fun that way!"

The three friends looked at each other and sweat dropped...

Tokyo - one week later - 6am

Koko got up her bed sweating and wide eyed. When she realized that she was in her room, she relaxed and blew a sigh of relief. After rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she blushed furiously as she remembered the last few seconds of her dream. It might be in a different setting or the time of day. It might take place years later or it might even continue from the previous one from the night before. Regardless of the time and setting, the dream that Koko always ended up the same way - with her on top Kurosaki Ichigo and kissing him. Perhaps it was a cruel reminder from her rather spiteful unconscious that deep down she wanted to do the things her dream self audaciously does all the time. However, she can't seem to do those things in reality due to some random but inopportune interference! It was maddeningly frustrating and since she didn't want ruin her long silky tresses; Koko probably would have pulled them out a long time ago!

"Pull yourself together Koko!" She told herself. "It was only a dream..."

Though reminding herself of that fact made her blush furiously the more. Still she didn't have time to dwell on such things now. She had class in about 2 hours from now and she has to prepare for the day. Koko took a quick shower and picked out an outfit as she brushed her hair. Taking her time, she ended choosing a business suit because being a law student required to dress her best after all. When she was finished with breakfast, she still should have enough time to make it to the 7am train before it got too crowded. When she finished brushing her teeth; Koko grabbed her trench coat, her bag, and walked out. She stepped out the door only to be met by a biting cold wind, she was glad she had her gloves and and a scarf with her. She didn't get halfway down the stairs before Koko got startled when her family limo parked at the curb and the driver got out and held the door for her.

"Yamada-san? What are you doing here?" Koko asked perplexed.

"Why picking you up Koko-sama." the man replied simply.

The window went down and Koko could have sworn her spine turn cold when the bespectacled head of her mother appeared. The golden brown haired woman sweated bullets as a rare visitation from Okaa-san signaled she was threading ominous and dangerous waters going forward…

"Good morning Koko-chan!" Mika said smiling.

Kami was her mother smiling? When did the last time the Kaga matriarch ever cracked a smile if at all? Koko had a sinking feeling that the woman had something diabolical up her sleeve…

"Good morning to you as well, Okaa-san." Koko replied pleasantly. "What is this all about? I got class in 2 hours you know."

"Arah, is that so? Why don't you come in and we'll give you a ride?"

Koko entered and sat opposite her mother. Once she settled down, there was a palpable awkward silence. Though the elephant in the room -or in this case the car - didn't last long as the older woman broke the seeming impasse...

"How have you been Koko-chan?"

"School's isn't too bad and I'm having fun. Studying stinks but a necessary evil. I'm getting good grades. The part time job at the mall is interesting enough..."

"And that boyfriend of yours is keeping you "busy" at night I take it?" Mika interrupted mischievously.

Never would have Koko dream that her mother would say something so - inappropriately scandalous!

"W-whaa..." Koko said blushing.

"Oh my Koko-chan. What did your father and I say about studies being your first priority?" Mika said sternly. Though from the way she was grinning that Koko realized that the woman was teasing her. "Though perhaps I wouldn't mind spoiling my grandchildren!"

"OKAA-SAN!"

Her mother started laughing...

"I don't see what's so amusing about this Mother!" Koko said growling.

"Oh don't get your panties in a wad and stop being such a wet noodle." She replied dismissively. Mika paused for effect and then said. "You ARE using protection at least right?"

The color seemed to have drained from Koko's entire body as her jaw dropped in shock. After a few minutes she recovered enough to reply...

"I can assure you Mother that I am still a virgin." Koko said rather proudly.

"Is that right?"

"Yes I am..."

"Well good for you Koko-chan. Your father and I can at least be proud that you were listening to what we've telling you all these years..."

Koko looked at her half lidded...

"Oh and telling your daughter to technically have unprotected sex is one of those little bits of wisdom I take it?"

"Koko-chan why are you being so cruel to your Mother?" Mika pouted.

"I fell one too many times for those fake crocodile tears so can you please act like an adult for once!"

"Mou, why are being so mean Koko-chan?"

"If you must know, I've in a lot of stress lately with final exams coming up so I'm sorry if my fuse is a little too short." Koko explained.

Koko blinked and sweat dropped as her Mother's face was near hers. The matriarch of the Kaga family looked serious as she scrutinized her puzzled daughter's face. Then her demeanor changed to something perverted and said.

"Oh my, why don't you call your boyfriend and let him take care of your stress?" Mika said snickering suggestively.

Kami, whatever happened to the studiously serious woman she knew growing up? Okaa-san sure was acting strange and it only happened recently. In fact, it was as far back when she wanted to hook her up with some stranger. Koko narrowed her eyes. The woman was clever trying to rattle her cage. It seemed that Mika wasn't giving up even though she told her a thousand times already that she has boyfriend! (FALSE!) What does it take to get it in her thick skull that she was happy with the status quo, dammit! (That's false too and thinking about it was rather aggravating! Ichigo you baka!) Perhaps it was time to introduce the "boyfriend" so the woman could leave her the hell alone!

"I know what you're trying to do Okaa-san and the answer is no! I told you a thousand times that I have someone I like and I'd rather be with him than some stranger!" Koko said seriously.

"I see..."

The car stopped and the driver went around the car and opened the door for her as they arrived at school. Koko murmured her thanks to the man and stepped out the limo. The window opened and the usually stern and respectable woman she knew came back. Whether she should be jumping for joy or she needed to run for the hills was up for debate. The seriousness of her Mother's demeanor made Koko nervous for some reason...

"If you think highly of this boyfriend of yours so much then why don't you invite him to the party your Father and I are hosting at the house this coming Christmas? A month and half notice should be enough time for you to concentrate on your studies and mention the event to him. I'm sure he will have his exams as well. There we will determine whether or not this boyfriend of yours is worth keeping and worthy of you. I look forward to meeting him. Have a good day Koko-chan and your Otou-san gives you his love."

Needless to say, Koko couldn't concentrate in class for the rest of the day...

Lunch time - school cafeteria

"Is it still alive?" Mitsuo commented.

The "it" that the blonde was referring to was Koko who sat staring blankly out in space drained of all color. Chinami was poking her in the cheeks and strangely enough Koko didn't respond in the slightest except for her head moving lifelessly back and forth like an oversized sluggish rag doll. Though the comment certainly snapped her out of her stupor...

"I heard that!" Koko replied growling.

"Good to hear. So what did you do this time?" Mitsuo asked.

"N-nothing….really."

"Nothing my foot. Somehow that sounds preposterous and you wouldn't look like you're a prisoner on her last meal going on death row if you have done "nothing" as you so claimed."

"What's wrong Koko-chan?" Chinami asked. "You can tell us. We won't judge!"

The two of them looked at Koko expectantly. She could tell the Ms. Supersonic was being genuinely truthful while Mitsuo -that ass- could hardly stop the gagging sounds he was making and Chinami covered his mouth and looked at her smiling. The golden brown haired woman sweat dropped. She really wanted to know that badly huh? And where was 2-D-kun in all this? Lo and behold, the said Otaku was at the end of the table giggling like a school girl on too much chocolate. Koko would only assume that the other end of the line was booby woman. Ever since their little blind date last week, 2-D-kun has been inseparable from his phone and talking to Misao every chance he gets. In fact he told her once that they were going to hang out this weekend. Hmm, she's going to have to bum Ichigo to come with her and do a little bit of an "investigation" into their mysterious relationship. That should be fun! Besides it will give her the chance to talk to him about her Mother's umm ultimatum...

Well, figuring that exams were about to start soon, 2-D-kun was probably talking to her as much as possible before they all turn into hermits -figuratively speaking of course- and disappear off the face of the Earth to study. Still Koko was happy from the bottom of her heart that it seemed that 2-D-kun has finally found happiness. Perhaps in many ways she was kinda jealous that those two love birds actually clicked together so easily unlike the object of her affections whose denser than a dumb rock! In fact her door knob probably has more sense than that idiot. ( Grrr, Ichigo you baka!) Anyway perhaps she needed to be a little more obvious and less subtle next time for Ichigo to get the hint...

"Nothing, it's just that something came up and I've been thinking about some stuff." Koko replied. "You don't have to worry because I'll figure it out so..."

"Well that didn't answer much..." Mitsuo commented.

"Quiet you!" Koko replied growling.

Chinami sweat dropped as Mitsuo wriggled around like a worm on a hook as his arms flailed about comically flapping up and down because Koko got him on a head lock while she ground her knuckle on his temple. The three of them stopped as a 2-D-kun laughed out loud for some reason. The three of them observed their lover boy of a friend and then looked at each other and shrugged and listened in on what he was saying. Since it seemed that all eyes were on him, 2-D-kun whispered into the receiver and he had no idea how to bait his friends as revenge for being so damn nosy…

"Misao-chan, my friends are like staring at me…" 2-D-kun whispered.

"Eh, why's that?"

"Dunno, Koko-chan was depressed and suddenly their attention's shifted to me for some reason…"

"Oh Takaya-kun don't worry about them, they're just being nosy!"

It never seizes to amaze him how hearing a woman addressing him by his given name is something he needed to get used to. Ever since his declaration - 3-D women sucks, 2-D women rules - he never would have imagined that a real live woman would actually take interest in him. Misao was a nerd's dream come true. She was beautiful, smart, had the right curves at the right places and most importantly, she is versed in the ways of the otaku culture as she too was a fan herself. They would talk hours on end with just about anything anime or manga related. In fact, they were in a middle of a discussion of what she thought of the ending of Evangelion meant. Or pondered the themes of Full Metal Alchemist and what made it resonate with the audience. Or talked about at length the pseudo-science behind Steins gate. In the end they were having fun and that's what all really mattered. Having the same hobbies were well and good, though he wondered if there were anything else they both have in common. He'll find out this weekend. Now how to get his friends out of hair for a moment...

"They're still looking. This is kinda embarrassing really."

"Ok, say exactly what I'm going to say and hopefully they'll quit."

Misao whispered and 2-D-kun couldn't help his cheeks turning crimson...

"I-I can't say that!"

"Aww common, please!" Misao replied blushing.

Two-D-kun sighed...

"H-hey b-baby..." he began.

"You're going to have to be firmer and you gotta be louder than that!"

"Hey baby why don't you and I go somewhere and do something dangerous!"

In a span of a few seconds, several things happened simultaneously that made 2-D-kun's life un-necessarily complicated. For one, unbeknownst to all the people in the cafeteria, Ichigo waltzed in -his smaller Zanpakuto in hand - chasing a Hollow. With the unseen chaos in their midst, it seemed that an especially strong wind nearly ripped off the doors and blew the windows as hunter and hunted passed by. In that moment, startled by the unexpected ruckus, 2-D-kun's grip on his phone slipped as he heard Misao's laughter and he tried to clumsily catch the thing, juggling it all the while. He fumbled it a couple of times and when he did catch it in hand, 2-D-kun didn't realize that he so happened to push the speaker button on his phone. This was when Misao decided to reply to her suggested attempts of flirtation….

"Oh my, I love it when you talk dirty to me Takaya-kun!" Misao replied sassily. "Though I hope you're ready when I rock your world!"

Two-D-kun blushed but he went along with it…

"That is if you can keep up with me though!" 2-D-kun fired back grinning.

"Is that right?"

"I…"

Two-D-kun stopped and looked at his friends for a moment and sweat dropped. He witnessed, Chinami spit her drink and was coughing uncontrollably while Koko stopped harassing Mitsuo long enough to look at him in shock and see the color from her drain out (again) while his other friend's eyes widened for a second before he grinned and gave the resident Otaku a big thumb's up! He then turned around and saw various people either grinning or blushing depending on gender. Unseen, when Ichigo realized what happened and identified who the people were, he temporarily stopped to look at 2-D-kun and was rather impressed that he and Misao's relationship has gone that far in such a short time. Then he realized that his query was getting away with a shake of his head and a last glance towards Koko, he vanished in shunpo and then drove his Zanpakuto in Hollow's mask a few blocks later.

"Hey what's wrong?" Misao asked worriedly. "Don't tell me we're on the speaker phone and everyone heard all that…"

"Unfortunately, they did just that…"

Two-D-kun looked at his phone and pressed the button so he could talk to her again in private. He stood up, said goodbye to his friends, and casually walked out with the dignity of a thoroughly embarrassed man. The ones who were left on the table looked at each other in bewilderment as 2-D-kun started running for some reason and was so busy juggling his phone and books that he ran into a post and actually bowed to it in apology. They looked at each other again and sweat dropped...

"Did I just hear that?" Chinami asked.

"Apparently so…" Mitsuo replied blandly.

"That was like soo cool!"

Mitsuo had to agree….

"So what did you think of that Koko-chan?" Chinami turned asked her friend.

When Chinami looked at Koko who didn't respond, the salmon haired woman sweat dropped as said friend was still in her comical stupor turning paler by the second….

"Eh, what happened to Koko-chan?"

"She's gonna be alright, she just had a shock of her life that's all…" Mitsuo replied blandly.

Well she hoped that Koko will snap out of it sometime before they all went back to class. They did have exams to study for after all!

Some time later...

"I didn't know he had it in him..." Ichigo commented chuckling.

"It was kinda shocking actually. I think I just lost precious seconds of my life witnessing it..." Koko said horrified.

Ichigo and Koko were at a restaurant hanging out as per their custom after classes. They've been doing it out of habit for so long now that it has been ingrained into their routines. It gave the golden brown haired woman a venue to vent over the "trials and tribulations" of her day while Ichigo listened intently. Koko did notice that Ichigo seemed distracted and would have been more annoyed with him if not for the fact that the Substitute was chuckling and smiled at her as she related that bizarre incident in the cafeteria. Still even though he was looking at her and giving her all the attention that a gentleman should give a lady, a part of the strawberry was still far away it seemed. Ichigo had that sexy brooding thing going on that made her want to drool. Her woman's intuition was screaming at her that something was wrong but she couldn't pin point what was causing it…

"Neh, Ichigo. Are you ok?"

"Hmm?"

"I said, are you ok?" Koko patiently answered. "You look a little distracted and you've been like that for a couple of days now…"

"Oh what to say to her without you looking like you've lost it to the looney bin, Ichigo!" The Substitute thought.

Indeed, Ichigo was distracted. On top of the job -which wasn't so bad - and his studies at the university, the strawberry never felt more mentally burdened. However, those were of the normal and the mundane that everyone felt everyday. Being a Substitute Shinigami added that ordinary life complicates matters and he thought Superman had issues! Still being a student by day and hunting Hollows at night made everything dicey. It's not that he couldn't handle the matter nor was it difficult in the least. It was because he promised himself that he wouldn't involve Koko in the supernatural and he very well can't blurt out loud that he has started actively patrolling at night hunting Hollows and looking out for those strange creatures that attacked him now can't he? Speaking of which, it was strange that Yoruichi hadn't contacted him in days. Perhaps that was the reason he was distracted so much. He didn't mean to worry considering Yoruichi's considerable strength but worry he does and it was driving him nuts. It was almost like she was avoiding the issue or maybe she was hiding something from him. But the 100 thousand yen question was what was she hiding and more importantly why? Ichigo narrowed his eyes as he knew there was definitely something wrong...

"I-Ichigo...?"

Koko sweat dropped as Ichigo fumed at an imaginary opponent and gnashing his teeth comically. She tried to get his attention but he was too busy giving a death glare at the wall which ironically enough had a patch that looked a little too pale from all unwanted attention - that is, if walls ever became self conscious. So in a bold move on her part, Koko closed in on his face while she deliberately unbuttoned her top so that he'll notice her lacy black bra. Embarrassed beyond belief, she snapped her fingers right in front of his face while she stared at him blushing and called his name. When Ichigo finally went back to reality, he noticed Koko's beautiful face hovering in front his own and then his eyes so happened to wonder down and got an eye full of cleavage and lacy bra. Seeing all that, Ichigo's cheeks rivaled even the color of his own hair and reacted in typical fashion...

"GAAAHH! What the hell are you doing?" Ichigo asked nervously.

"Gee shout out and let the world know why don't-cha!" Koko replied grinning.

"Will you please button your shirt up! I can see your bra dammit!"

"Well you were too distracted in La-la Land to notice me so I had to go to some extreme measures to get your attention!" Koko commented. "Do I have your attention now?"

"Yes dammit!" Ichigo growled still seeing through the gaps of his fingers covering his face.

"Why Ichigo you naughty little doggy!" Koko said seductively. "So are you going to take responsibility for making me feel soo…dirty?"

Ichigo didn't really respond as he was too busy trying not to hyperventilate while Koko giggled at his expense. Perhaps thinking too much of the supernatural made him lapse into old habits and makes him forget that he's really not in high school anymore. Though it was rather embarrassing, Ichigo didn't really mind all the teasing. It never seizes to amaze him how the golden brown haired woman before him always manage to keep him off guard with her weird antics. Interestingly enough he never noticed that she had closed the gap between them and are now face to face. He never managed to pinpoint why exactly but Ichigo finds that Koko's impish smile seemed to ease his worries whenever they're together. Whether it's because of her eccentric personality or she's just great company, the Substitute had to admit that she was fun to be with. Sure he can say that about his friends - maybe with the exception of Keigo - but it was more personal with Koko. He finds that he can be himself around her. The fact that he kept some things even with his friends from Karakura and yet on the other hand, he feels compelled to tell Koko what's in his mind - and vice versa - attests to how close the two them have gotten in such a short time.

Still despite his willingness to slowly open himself to her, Ichigo certainly didn't tell her everything! He just can't casually blurt out that oh he's a Shinigami and that - as part of his job description - he hunts 10 foot evil spirits on a nightly basis, kick bad guy asses, and was someone who saved the world (twice) and still have time for her to hang out and pull his hair out from all the studying! Perhaps she deserves the truth and he will have to tell her someday but the strawberry knew Koko wasn't ready to take on the supernatural or that the concept of the Afterlife wasn't what everyone imagined it to be and that yes there was one. It is not something he wants her to get involved in and if Ichigo had his way then she will be ignorant of those facts - for her own good but right now that wasn't the issue. He looked at her and Ichigo felt something that he couldn't understand and since she's here now, the Substitute might as well unload all this stuff and confront it head on. Thus Kurosaki Ichigo did something opposite of what he was thinking mere moments ago and it's especially what Koko would not expect him to do…

"Dammit I'm going to regret this..." Ichigo mused. "But it's gonna be funny as hell though...I think!"

"Now I gotta see this!" Zangetsu said chuckling. "Who would have thought ya finally got the guts to tell how you really feel about the Queen eh King?"

"Shut it you!"

All Ichigo got in reply was his cacophonous laughter in his head. Still his Zanpakuto spirit did made a valid point: how does he feel about Koko? The Substitute knew he was taking a big risk and thoughts of uncertainty plagued his already weary mind:

Kami what would the old man, his friends, and his sisters would think about all this? That was a rhetorical question of course…

Would she look at him any differently if he told her about his side job as Substitute Shinigami?

Would he be able to protect her from all the assholes he deal with as a result of said side job?

What if it didn't work out between them?

What if she doesn't feel same or interested in the least?

Ichigo had to scoff at that thought considering even a retarded rock could tell how strongly she was coming on to him! Still he knew that it he was doing this half cocked and probably going about this the wrong way but how was this any different from past? He did it when he saved Rukia from execution. Or the day he rushed to Orihime's rescue when she got abducted and held prisoner in Hueco Mundo. He shunpo'd as fast as he could - without hesitation - to Soul Society's rescue after the Quincy's devastating ambush. How was telling her how he feels - whatever it was - about her any different other than the tiny little detail that he has never done it before?

"It doesn't matter, it's now or never Ichigo!"

Koko's perspective….

Koko wasn't sure what was going on as her brain just came screeching to a halt. She remembered leaning towards her favorite strawberry and teasing him all the while for spacing out and not paying attention to her. Then suddenly she saw him lean in and she could have sworn that at that moment everything just stopped or in a state of slow motion. A part of her was shouting out and jumping in glee that the idiot finally made a move on her. However the other half was rather cautious considering that they were in this very same situation -several times the last she counted- where they were about to kiss and something stupid happened that naturally ruined their moment. Oh how there were many a times that she screeched like a furious banshee and screamed bloody murder. Or the time when her friends looked at her like she lost her damned mind as she ground and comically gnashed her teeth while she tore the punching bag with her bare hands but they had no idea what the hell happened and what triggered he fury so much. Or that one time she was on a colorful swearing spree that would made even a hardened pirate blush. She was so mad that day that an expletive was heard every three words and she probably broke a record saying "fudge" (which rhymed with duck) in a long-winded tirade! Her friends avoided her the entire day until they all got stupid drunk that night. Fun times...

Still Ichigo kept going and was determined to get what he wanted. She knew then that he wouldn't stop and a part of her got scared and Banri flashed before her eyes.

"No this isn't right!" Koko shouted internally. "We're only pretending, dammit!"

Koko wanted to stop and she really did but the desire to taste those lips before her was far too tempting to pass up! Still the slight hesitation on her part was noticed so instead of finally getting what she wanted the most, Ichigo kissed her on the forehead instead. The Substitute saw that same sadness in her eyes and despite her reassurance that she's okay, apparently she still not over whatever it was that's bothering her.

"I'm sorry..."

"I-it's okay...

"You wanna talk about it?" Ichigo asked.

Koko shook her head and then she replied...

"I-I'm not ready yet but I promise I'll tell you okay?"

Ichigo could do nothing but nod. After an awkward silence Ichigo reached out and gently pulled her cheek and shaking her head from side to side...

"Come on woman,cheer up!"

"Will shoo p'ease sthap phulling on mwai fwace!" Koko said annoyed.

After shaking her a few times, a large tick mark appeared over her head and she started slapping his hand away. She gave him her most intimidating glare but she ended up pouting as it didn't affect him in the least. Ichigo kept laughing at her but it seemed that it was contagious enough and she too joined him...

"You ok now..."

"Yes thank you Ichigo for...understanding..."

"It's no big deal."

Awkward silence...

"So...you were trying to steal a kiss from me good sir?" Koko asked grinning.

Ichigo realized what he just did and his eyes widened like saucers. He tried to brush it off but his body betrayed him when he started blushing…

"I-I don't know what you're talking about ma'am!" Ichigo denied.

Koko giggled. She observed him for a bit and suddenly realization dawned on her. Did this mean that he liked her too? So she wasn't the only one who feels this way? Is there hope for them after all? Wait so what the hell happened to the "we're only pretending" mantra? But if there is a possibility of them being together existed, then what did she have to lose? So many questions swirled around the beautiful golden brown haired woman's head that it made her dizzy just thinking about it.

"So do we have a "thing" going on between us?" Koko asked curiously.

"Oh it's called a "thing" now?" Ichigo replied amused.

"Then what do you call it smart ass?"

"Geez you don't need to get snippy!" Ichigo replied with a straight face.

Koko glared at him while Ichigo sweat dropped. Then the Substitute sighed. He instinctively held her hands on the table and looked at her seriously. Upon doing so, Koko blushed furiously but his gaze mesmerized her enough that she didn't let go nor break eye contact. She felt a little better when his face too was as crimson as her own. She perked her ears as she sensed that Ichigo was about to say something important….

"Look I don't know what to do nor do I claim to know. Let's just take it slow and steady and let's see where this "thing" will take us, agreed?"

Koko didn't answer as she nearly suffocated him from an unexpected embrace that unfortunately cut off his air. After flailing his arms with futility, the rather ecstatic woman finally let him go and fired several questions in rapid succession...

"When are you gonna ask me out?"

"We're out now aren't we?" Ichigo simply replied.

"Idiot. I want you to ask me for real so we can celebrate anniversaries and do lovey dovey stuff!"

"I'm going to have to get back to you on that..."

Koko was too amped up to be annoyed so she ignored that comment. Next question...

"So are we still pretending?"

"I don't think so." Ichigo replied. "So let me ask you the same question then. "Are we still pretending?"

"Nope!" Koko said enthusiastically.

"Well I'm glad!"

"Well I'm glad that you're glad!"

The two of them laughed. After they both calmed down a bit...

"So...are we a couple now?" Koko inquired.

"I don't know yet. But I do know is that I want us to get there one day and I want to spend my time with you..." Ichigo said.

"Aww you're so sweet!"

"I but humbly try, my dear!"

They stared at each other for a moment...

"Well this "thing" definitely saved me from an annoyance!" Koko suddenly blurted out.

"What do you mean?"

"My mom wanted to invite my "boyfriend" to the Christmas party at my house. I was going to tell you before you sprang that bomb on me. Not that I'm complaining about it of course.!"

"Really and when were you going to tell me?"

"Oh don't be such a wet noodle! And you were the one complaining about lying to my parents about "us." Technically I'm not lying anymore if we're together now, right?" Koko said a matter of factly.

Ichigo had to admit as much as Koko was trying to engineer the biggest scam to dupe her parents into believing that she indeed have someone that she's seeing, the two of them hooking up for real would save her (and him) 5 tons worth of headaches. Not to mention that nagging feeling of guilt whenever she boasted about a boyfriend that really didn't exist can be put to rest. Now there's a distinct possibility that she wasn't really lying after all...

"I guess that saves you from having to wear that horrendous wig!" Koko said laughing. "Kami that thing really looked horrible on you!"

"You were the one who suggested me to wear it woman!" Ichigo growled.

"Oh yeah my bad, ha, ha, ha." She replied sheepishly.

Ichigo's brows twitched...

"Aww common, don't be like that. You know you liked cosplaying!" Koko said.

"Just as much as turning on a stomach pump."

Koko giggled and slapped him playfully on the shoulder...

"Besides I had fun spending all that time with you..." She said blushing.

One, two, three: awwww!

"Yeah I guess I had fun doing all that stuff...with you" Ichigo said begrudgingly.

"Oh stop pretending that you didn't like it." Koko replied. "I know that you know that you had fun! Just admit it!"

There was a pregnant pause...

"So the question remains Kaga-san." Ichigo began.

"And what is that, Kurosaki-san?" Koko asked curiously.

"Will you still have fun with me even long after we resolved the status of our really complicated and nebulous relationship?"

"Did you have to ask?" Koko thought out she replied. "Nothing would make me happier and I'll be glad to..."

Ichigo smiled at her and Koko knowing that he doesn't do the smiling thing so often that she knew it was genuine...

"Hah! Take that you fat sow!"

The Substitute sweat dropped as he saw Koko grin mischievously and flashing out victory signs. He shook his head, though despite his misgivings earlier that he wanted to keep her safe, his feelings -whatever they were - for her won out. He sighed but resolved himself to protect her even if it caused him his life. So in the end, did he regret the events that unfolded before him this evening?

"No but I want know where this roller coaster will take us though.…"

Ichigo listened as he and Koko talked the rest of the night away...

Meanwhile somewhere in the city….

The last Hollow vanished into particles of light as Chad's arm returned to normal. He was currently at the roof top of one of the buildings in Akibahara. The entire week has been frantic game of hide and seek to say the least. On top of taking care of the growing Hollow problem in Tokyo so that Ichigo wouldn't the have to lift a finger and thus risking damaging his seals in a confrontation; they had to make sure their cover wasn't blown or heaven forbid -Ichigo finds out that they were spying on him on orders. That scenario would have been rather unpleasant...

"It's done. How is it on your end?" Chad murmured on the mic dangling on his ear.

"I'm about done here too." Uryu replied. "Did you check up on Orihime? I haven't heard from her in awhile."

"I'm on my way to her right now."

Chad arrived at the rendezvous point and the Giant saw the healer sipping some tea while she was observing the restaurant right across the street. Orihime was bundled inside her jacket and a scarf was tied around obscuring her beautiful face. She looked comical in a way looking like an overstuffed marshmallow. Once in awhile she would look right across the street observing her query. Chad quirked an eyebrow as a melancholy got it's depressing claws on her. She sighed as she discretely pointed right across the street. The Giant's eyes widened as he noticed something that he didn't quite expect in a million years - Ichigo smiling as he engaged a woman! Chad looked at Orihime but she shook her head and gave him the faintest of smiles. Then she said...

"You know, I've been watching them for awhile and I have never seen Kurosaki-kun so happy before. With Ichigo who had always put his friends first or the fact that he selflessly came to Soul Society's rescue time and again. I think he deserves this as a reward for the things he has done for us..."

"Orihime, I'm sorry..."

Chad -from what he knew of the situation courtesy of Tatsuki of course - knew that Orihime had a crush on his best friend but was far too shy to take the initiative and admit her feelings for him. Now from the looks of things, the healer wouldn't be able to get her chance to unload the baggage she's been carrying since middle school considering the way the strawberry was interacting with the woman. Knowing Orihime, she's going to end up letting this go...

"It's okay, Sado-kun, it cannot be helped. I might be able to reject reality but even I can't very well control how Kurosaki-kun feels. A-as long as I can fight by his side and heal his body so that he could continue protecting us, then I will be satisfied..."

"But what about your happiness?" Chad thought.

"That's very noble of you Orihime." Uryu commented. "I'm surprised though that Ichigo was able to find someone who would put up with his crap!"

"Be nice..." Orihime chided.

Chad heard as well as all three of them are in communication with each other at all times. At least the comments made the healer smile somewhat...

They then stopped the chatter as they literally felt the Substitute leave the restaurant. Even with his power buried underneath several layers of spells to suppress it, they all felt it move like an imposing behemoth. They had all week to get use to that feeling and even then it was still intimidating to say the least. It was the first time that Chad and Orihime saw the golden brown haired woman who claimed Ichigo's muscular arm and held it tightly.

"Wow she's so pretty..." Orihime commented.

Chad had to admit that Orihime was right. The woman was indeed a beauty. She has an air of sophistication about her as far as he can tell. From the way she walked tall to the elegant way she moved, this woman was obviously born from a high class family. That she wasn't intimidated of his best friend's outward appearance and seemed to genuinely liked his company spoke volumes of her motivations. The Giant shook his head. He wasn't surprised at all that this beautiful woman would be attracted to the Substitute Shinigami. Hell if he wasn't so dense, Ichigo would have probably hooked up with any of their mutual friends by now - that's including women representing Shinigami,Hollow, Vizard, and human. Still he has never seen the strawberry so happy before and Chad knew after what Ichigo had to go through: from training through hell and literally dying to get stronger, to fighting wars -at a young age - that didn't have anything to do with him, and through the death of his beloved Mother, there is no one who deserves a break or a little bit of happiness more that he does. Here's hoping that the peace that surrounds his life lasts a little longer...

Sometime later...

Chad and Orihime shadowed Ichigo and his lady friend until they arrived at what seemed to be the woman's apartment. They were standing right in front of her door as they chatted. A comment by the strawberry made the woman giggle and this side of their comrade and friend took them for a loop. Did Ichigo just made a joke and the woman actually found it funny enough that he got her crying in stitches? Perhaps going away to college and living alone has done him some good and it shows. The Giant looked down on Orihime and noted that she looked a little depressed but she was trying to be strong but failing at it miserably. Perhaps it wasn't a good idea burdening her with this assignment considering her feelings for him but she insisted upon taking up the challenge. Chad won't pretend he knows anything about what she's feeling but as her friend he needed to be there for her. Trying not to be awkward, he patted the healer on the shoulder and after awhile he left it there for a moment and gently squeezed her in comfort. She was startled by the gesture and looked up at him in appreciation. Then that tender moment was interrupted as they felt a massive spiritual pressure enveloped the area like a blanket. The two of them visibly tensed and when the pressure increased even more, the healer all but buckled and fell to the ground. If it wasn't for him catching her, she would have been kissing the pavement at this moment.

They already knew that -even if Ichigo's powers were sealed - he would have felt that deliberate display of power. As the strawberry gave the woman a hug and kissed her on the cheek in farewell, the Substitute was already looking at the direction of the disturbance. As soon as the woman entered her apartment, Ichigo walked a block. Without hesitation, he popped a pill in his mouth and his Shinigami form was expelled from his body. The Giant heard him instruct the mod-soul possessed body to go strait home. As the mod soul jumped high into air and vanished into the night, Ichigo casually walked and disappeared as well.

"Chad what's Ichigo doing here?" Uryu asked. "I was about to engage the enemy before he showed up!"

"Where are you?"

"I'm 10 blocks north from your location."

"How can he have arrived there so quickly?" Chad thought.

He looked at Orihime and by the look of her expression, she was thinking the same thing. Now that Ichigo has freed himself from the confines of his body; Chad could already pinpoint his location, his enormous spiritual pressure serving as a beacon. Even with his power sealed up as it was his power output was still equivalent to that of a mid-level Captain at its peak to as low as the Gotei 13's strongest Lieutenant. Well at least that was Ichigo's strength a week ago. Now however, the Substitute Shinigami is on par to when he first used his Bankai against Byakuya Kuchiki. He can only shudder imaging how potent his power would be unsealed and the fact that the strawberry is only using Shikai. Would he even need to use Bankai at all if he was this powerful already? Now that the group was gathered within the vicinity, the tension in the became thick with anticipation. It was too late for them to prevent this inevitable confrontation, hopefully Ichigo will come out of this relatively unscathed. Then the entire field on the edge of town was swallowed by an enormous explosion...

Well maybe not...

When they arrived, they had to brace themselves as gale force winds dispersed the flames and put them out immediately. They saw Ichigo with the massive blade of his Zanpakuto pointing downward apparently extinguishing the equivalent power of several 5,000 lbs. bombs with but a mere swing of his sword. No one was surprised that the Substitute Shinigami hardly had a scratch on him except for some soot on his face. He always was the more resilient one of the group and for Ichigo to shrug that attack like it was nothing as if that was a surprise...

Still they knew that they can't let him take another hit like that before it starts affecting his seals. They can already feel his reiatsu spike as one of the spells burned away and disintegrated to light particles. However the enemy continued to be elusive until a disembodied voice filled the night...

"Why do you not show me your true power Kurosaki Ichigo?"

"Who are you?" Ichigo shouted. "What the hell do you want?"

"The judgement of Soul Society has begun..."

Okay that was cryptic...

"The judgement of Soul Society?" Ichigo asked. "What the hell does that mean? And what does any of that have to do with you attacking the World of the Living?"

"We must must judge those who are worthy for they will usher in the new world order! Rejoice Kurosaki Ichigo, you have been among the chosen to spear head this holy undertaking!"

"And if I refuse?"

"Then you are to be neutralized...permanently!"

"You can try!" Ichigo growled.

"So be it. Though the Collective will not be pleased..."

Ichigo didn't have a reply as he sensed someone behind him...

"How the hell did that bastard sneak up on me?"

Ichigo knew he was going to get hit and the resulting wounds will not be pretty. Trying to minimize date and was about to react when someone shouted from out of nowhere...

"ICHIGO DUCK!"

Instinctively he did as he was told and Ichigo heard a sickening crunch and felt a shock wave coming from presumably where his opponent's face got hammered. His misshapen opponent flew up in an arc and crashed landed about half a mile from his location in a large plume of smoke and debris. When he got up, he saw Yoruichi retracting the leg that she used to punt kick the enemy, grinning all the while. Perhaps the Substitute should have been glad that his former sensei was okay but that didn't erase the fact she went incognito and disappeared on him for days.

"Where the hell have you been?"

"Oh my, is that how you address your favorite teacher?" Yoruichi said grinning.

Yoruichi laughed as Ichigo scoffed at her remark….

"No time to talk…"

Indeed a trail of smoke emerged from the plume and an eerie crimson glow brightened the night sky...

"Cero."

Both of them vanished in shunpo as the energy projectile slammed into the area where they were moments ago and exploded into a shouldering hell.

"Shihoin Yoruichi has appeared and this Unit-15 will not be able to match her speed…" The creature said. "And Kurosaki Ichigo is far stronger than we realize."

A pause…

"I see…then perhaps this the right time as any to see if the "Shinigami" protocol is operational…"

After an eerie glow, the entity known as Unit-15 landed on the crater waiting…

Ichigo and Yoruichi reappeared about a several hundred yards away from the crater…

"Hey is it me or it's suddenly getting cold all of a sudden?" Ichigo asked.

"Well it is Fall you know. It's just your imagination." Yoruichi replied skeptically.

Ichigo's eyebrow quirked when the breath she used to say those words came out as smoke. Even more bizarre, ominous clouds began gather and cover the otherwise clear sky. The temperature still rapidly went down as frost began to cover the grass and a chill wind that blew threatened to freeze the blood in their veins. Then a massive influx of spiritual pressure flooded the area and it came from the crater where the creature waited. The Substitute didn't have time to contemplate what the hell was going on as he sensed danger and instinctively followed his former mentor up in the air where their eyes widened as the ground seemed to have frozen over.

"I was hoping that attack could have taken you both out but no matter…" Unit-15 said from behind them. "…I will win regardless!"

Yoruichi hoped that Chad and the others have retreated for this opponent is beyond even them to handle. The enemy she had disposed in the passed few weeks were quite frankly cannon fodder in her opinion and it reflected their power. This creature was exhibiting spiritual pressure equal to that of a mid-level Captain! She didn't know how but it seemed that the enemy has somehow evolved and adapted in such a short time. The former 2nd Division Captain narrowed her eyes, she didn't like this one bit. She glanced at her favorite student and although his spiritual pressure was stable, Yoruichi can already feel his power getting stronger with every seal that burned away.

Though the longer Ichigo stays here, the more risk his seals will burn away from the brutal fight that will surely ensue. She has to end this quickly then. Before Ichigo could react, Yoruichi grabbed him by the head and threw him as hard as she could, several hundred miles away.

"I'm sorry Ichigo but this is for your own good!" Yoruichi thought grimly. Then she spoke to her mic. "I hope you kids have retreated!"

"We did that as soon as we felt that thing's spiritual pressure fluctuated, Yoruichi-san." Uryu responded. "Did you need any assistance?"

"No, this thing is unpredictable and therefore dangerous!"

"B-but Yoruichi-san!" Orihime protested.

"No buts! You were all there when we fought these things and they were easy to defeat then. Now they have somehow evolved and we don't know what it's capable of now. I will not throw away your lives, dammit!"

"Understood…" Chad responded.

"But I do need your assistance though."

"With what exactly?" Uryu asked.

"I need for you to let me know when Ichigo gets here." Yoruichi said chuckling. "I did just toss him away to get him out of the fight and if anything I will be focusing to defeat this thing before he gets here and get involved…"

The former 2nd Division Captain then shunpo'd to evade a massive arc of ice that the creature attacked her with. That technique. She could have sworn that she's seen it before but can't remember at the moment. As she reappeared a few yards back, Yoruichi had to retreat again as she saw an ice dragon coming her way...

"That bastard is somehow mimicking Captain Hitsugaya's techniques!"

And for the third time, she ended up using utsusemi as the creature somehow tracked her down and used ryusenka. Her clone immediately flash froze as a large chunk of ice exploded covering nearly 200 yards and as high as 10 story building. Yoruichi reappeared far away from the block of ice brushing away frost on jacket…

"Tsk, that was too close…."

"Yoruichi-san, Kurosaki-kun is coming…"

Indeed she can already feel his power coming this way Then the unthinkable happened for she felt the strawberry's power spiked so much that it was hard to breathe…

"It can't be, THAT idiot…"

"What's happening Yoruichi-san?"Orihime asked worriedly. "Kursosaki-kun is still so far away but I can feel his spiritual pressure and I feel that I'm suffocating like it's a sweltering humid summer day."

"As an emergency measure, Uruhara has granted Ichigo the power to deliberately break the seal to access 20 percent of his strength. At that level, his power is equal to what he wielded when he finally defeated Grimmjow!"

"But I don't remember his spiritual pressure this oppressive!"

"Think about it, Ichigo has fought and killed these things easily enough but not without consequence! At the rate the damage he was absorbing from all the fights he's involved in the last few days and thus destroying seals one spell at a time, he's actually much closer to 32 percent…"

"That's not good is it?"Chad asked rhetorically.

"No it's not. Ichigo's power will assuredly begin to affect the people and the environment around him. Even worse, his soul will damage his body if he returns to it."

"That idiot…"Uryu commented.

"Is there anything we can do to help him, Yoruichi-san?"Orihime asked nearly sobbing.

"All we can do is our best to keep him out of more trouble…" Yoruichig replied. "I suggest you kids leave because this will get ugly real soon…"

Yoruichi was about to say something more but she felt an attack from behind and was about to do some more evasive maneuvers but she never got the chance to as Ichigo reappeared behind her caught the massive Cero and crushed it with his left hand. The former 2nd Division Captain sighed but smiled nonetheless…

"Thanks, I owe you one Ichigo."

"Dammit Yoruichi what the hell did you do that for?" Ichigo growled.

"Oh so I can keep you out of trouble but somehow it always find you anyway."

"That's not the point dammit!"

"Of course it's the point, you know that you are now leaking power equivalent to the old Captain-general's Shikai, right? How can you be so careless?"

"I'm trying to help you!"

"I'm a big girl Ichigo. I can damn well take care of myself and fight my own battles!"

Both of them vanished as a the creature slammed it's reformed massive fist and thereby reducing the entire area to rubble as ground cracked and exploded upward from the tremendous blow. Reappearing a several yards away, they noted how that oversized arm twisted and reformed back into a normal one.

"Huh, that's interesting..." Yoruichi commented.

Ichigo wasn't able to comment as their opponent dashed towards them and attacked relentlessly.

"Dammit it moves too fast for something so damned big!"

Indeed the being known as Unit-15 was able to keep the two of them on their toes. This one seemed to be a specialized entity considering that it was able keep up with them and surprisingly was holding up on its own as the ones he defeated in the past were quite assuredly cannon fodder. If anything these "Units" were the equivalents of the Captains, the Espada, and the Sternritters and it showed. Though it seemed that their strength goes beyond the limits of even the most powerful of each of these factions. Then again, Ichigo was hamstrung from the beginning...

The two of them matched it's speed and the trio were nothing more than blurs as random concussive shock waves shattered the landscape. Unit -15 kicked Ichigo away that sent him flying for several miles. A large plume of smoke appeared on the horizon...

"Ichigo!"

Then Yoruichi felt it from behind...

"Dammit how the hell did it get behind me so fast!"

Too late for a counter-attack, the former 2nd Division Captain was swallowed by a mass of twisted metal and debris and subsequently detached ed from Unit -13's arm and began to bury itself into the ground. As it's arm regenerated, it was sent flying as Ichigo rammed it from behind with the force of several runaway freight trains. The shock wave breaks the ground to rubble and it rocketed off the ground rapidly gaining for altitude . Then to follow up his advantage, he fired a massive Getsuga as the sky vanished in a blanket of white as it hit and an earth shattering explosion ensued. With too much momentum going against it, Unit -15 ate up the entire energy projectile. When the fireworks finally subsided, Ichigo wasn't surprised that it was still standing - albeit even if it has sustained severe damage from the titanic blast.

"Why do you still resist your Destiny, Kurosaki Ichigo? Know that all resistance is futile for I will regenerate no matter how hard you try. At your current level, you will exhaust your vaunted vast spiritual reservoir if you keep fighting!"

"Like hell I'll join you!" Ichigo growled. Then he smirked and said. "Who says that I'm already done?"

In doing so Ichigo's spiritual pressure blanketed the entire area like a vast ocean. Seals visibly appeared on his bracelets and vanished into particles as the Substitute deliberately broke them. A crater began to form from under his feet and the ground around him shattered and chunks of rock and debris floated into the air and disintegrated to atoms. His body glowed like an incandescent light bulb as raw power crackled like lightning.

"CERO OSCURAS!"

Unit-15 immediately attacked as a super massive Cero barreled toward The Substitute Shinigami but Ichigo instinctively and instantaneously countered with his smaller Zanpakuto which ignited with blue reiryoku. Now-a-days, the strawberry didn't need to swing his sword to release a Getsuga as a flick of a wrist sufficed but then again this was an unusual circumstance and he couldn't afford to hold back. Thus with a mighty overhand swing and with his sword humming with raw spiritual energy, Ichigo released an even larger energy projectile that overwhelmed Unit-15's Cero with ease.

"Impossible!"

It was swallowed by an earth shattering explosion that decimated the surrounding area. It was a good thing that Ichigo had foresight to anticipate that this battle will be massively destructive and maneuvered the fight several miles away from Karakura. When the thick smoke finally cleared, The Substitute narrowed his eyes as another one of those damn Units has blocked his Getsuga and has protected it's comrade from certain destruction. Though this one had a more definite humanoid shape and its armored shell a far more smoother streamlined exterior than the ones that Ichigo fought in the past...

"Unit-24 what are you doing here?" Unit-15 asked. "I had this fight well in hand…"

A deeper robotic voice answered…

"I highly doubt it." Unit-24 replied.

"Then help me end his threat here and now and be done with it."

"I think not. Your job was to observe Kurosaki Ichigo not attack him, Unit-15." Unit-24 said. "The Collective was not pleased of your actions."

Ichigo didn't waste time and attacked the two but to his mild surprise, the one that called itself Unit-24 caught Ichigo's Getsuga infused Zanpakuto with its hand. Still Ichigo didn't give up...

"GETSUGA TENSHO!"

The Getsuga swallowed the two Units in a massive explosion. Ichigo broke through Unit-24's iron grip and got away as he reappeared several yards away to observe the damage he caused or lack thereof. Still the Substitute knew it wasn't enough as the smoke cleared. Being restrained like he was, the Substitute wasn't surprised at all that there was not a scratch against the enemy.

"Have to be wary of this one…"

"I do not know what provoked that attack but as you can see Kurosaki Ichigo, your efforts are futile…" Unit-24 said.

"Oh no…I have yet begun to fight!"

Several more spells burned away and Ichigo's spiritual pressure crushed the surrounding landscape to rubble. At this time his power was equal to that of Captain-General Yamamoto in Bankai. It showed as the very air became so suffocating that the air seemed to visibly warp from the sheer force of Ichigo's Shikai - or at least 40 percent of it's restrained strength.

"Hmm, it seemed that I have underestimated your strength yet again, Kurosaki Ichigo." Unit-24 commented. Its head turned towards Unit 15 and said. "Come Unit-15, the Collective wants an explanation of your irrational actions. You better hope that it finds that your logic behind disobeying orders are satisfactory…"

The two Units vanished. Ichigo was about to give chase but Yoruichi stopped him.

"Let them go Ichigo, it's over!"

"For now…"

What a mess this situation became. The enemy was clearly getting stronger and they have successfully forced Ichigo to tap into his power to keep up with them as a result. Now Yoruichi has to figure out how to restraint it once again. She glanced at his bracelets and blew a sigh of relief as it seemed to be intact though the former Second Division Captain noticed that large swats of the metal was blank symbolizing that those spells were spent. Wracking her brain for a solution, she didn't even time to ponder about one before Kisuke himself and another guest appeared. All three of them had to exert their own spiritual pressures in order to counteract Ichigo's power and as the portly Vizard erected the barriers that oppressive weight vanished immediately.

"I figured as much…" Urahara commented.

"Urahara-san what are you doing here?" Ichigo asked surprised.

"My instruments went haywire when your spiritual pressure spiked a few minutes ago. And from look of things you have burned through several layers spells didn't you?"

Ichigo was embarrassed enough that he scratch led the back of his head...

"You're lucky that Hachi here was around for a visit or we would have been in a pickle!" Urahara commented. "So what happened anyway?"

Ichigo murmured his thanks to the portly Vizard who nodded in appreciation. Though the strawberry wondered why the did he look rather pale for some reason. Yoruichi on the other hand, briefed the shopkeeper of the events that transpired during the night. As Urahara listened, he took something out of his robes and looked at Hachi so that he can open a small window within the barrier to toss something at the Substitute who caught the box with an outstretched hand. The strawberry looked at it in mild curiosity and his eyes looked towards hat-n-clogs for an explanation...

"Here wrap these around your arms."

"Why? What is this stuff..."

Inside the box was what looked like a roll of bandages. He took them out and noticed a mouth with a set of sharp teeth on the other side. He was caught off guard and almost dropped the roll all together...

"What the hell is this?"

"Remember Kenpachi's eyepatch? This I'd kinda the same concept except that it looks like a bandage. We needed something to help suppress your power quickly and since you would look a little silly with eyepatch, I was able to fast track this thing. Put it on and tell me how you feel."

Ichigo looked at him incredulously and then the bandage. (What the hell, did it just snapped at him?)

"Oh Ichigo don't be such a silly goose. It won't hurt you! It will just suck out your reiryoku so that you maintain a normal spiritual pressure." Urahara explained.

"I guess..."

The Substitute reluctantly wrapped it around his arm. Urahara then tossed him another one and repeated the same thing with his other one. Hachi then removed the barrier and seemed very relieved that he has done so. The crushing and oppressive spiritual pressure that should have escaped now felt like that of the strongest Lieutenant.

"How do you feel?" Urahara asked.

"Other than something's sucking on my arms, I don't feel any different." Ichigo replied.

"Good keep those on at all times. It should help suppress your power. And..."

"It won't vaporize your body when you return to it." Yoruichi said blandly. Then in a teasing manner. "What would I say to that cute girlfriend of yours if you suddenly up and died?"

"Hou...I see!" Urahara said while he unfurled his fan. "Congratulations. I do hope that Yoruichi and I are invited to the wedding? Isn't that right Hachi?"

"Indeed, I hope that Shinji, myself, and the others are invited as well!" Hachi added.

"Ha ha. You guys are so fricken hilarious!"

"Who said we weren't?" Yoruichi replied. "Though I am quite serious about being your darling children's Godmother. That desire hasn't changed..."

Ichigo turned several shades of crimson and hastily said his goodbyes and left in shunpo. The three of them laughed at his expense for a little bit and after awhile...

"Is he going to be alright?" Yoruichi asked.

"The bandages should last him for awhile. I made sure that they're strong and sturdy because I knew he won't be able to keep his nose out of trouble for long." Urahara replied. He then turned to Hachi "Good thing you arrived at the shop when you did and helped us containing Ichigo's power.

"It was good thing that he put those inhibitor bandages on or I wouldn't have lasted for long and his sheer power would have broken down my barriers and I would have been forced to use my mask to keep them up..."

Yoruichi and Urahara looked at each other in surprise. It was far more serious that they have realized and until this latest crisis under control they won't be able to stabilize Ichigo's spiritual power so that he can live a somewhat of a normal person.

"So do you have news of how Soul Society is faring?" Yoruichi asked.

"I think we should go to the shop and continue this discussion there..." Urahara suggested. "It looks like he's about to fall over his face..."

Indeed Hachi did look a little pale around the gills and sweating rather profusely. They agreed and they all disappeared in shunpo...

to be continued...

A/N Sorry for the wait. Bleach DxD is half way done. This was farther along so I figured I might as well publish this one at least.

- Doing a one shot crossover between Bleach and Gate starring our favorite Demi-Goddess Rory Mercury...lol

-Thinking of ending some stories and rewriting others...proper endings mind you for my older stories...dunno which ones yet but I know 3 of those rewrites will be Fiance, Bleach to Vampire, and Bleach DxD...I figured since I know Rosario and Highschool DxD a little better, then story flow and character development will be better...I'm also thinking of doing shorter chapters so there's consistent updates...So the eternal debate between short vs. long chapters continues...lol

-Anyway what did you think of the chapter...read and review as usual

-Well kiddies that's it for now until next time...