A/N: Hey there, dear readers!

Okay, I'll be honest, I haven't been putting off writing this chapter only because I was super busy with school. In fact, I've been on summer vacation for quite some time now.

What have I been doing, you ask? Well, I've been lounging about my house most of the time, watching TV, movies, anime, and cartoons, rereading some books and manga I have, and surfing around the Internet out of sheer boredom. I seriously haven't done much, and I procrastinated on this because I've just been super lazy. :/ I apologize.

Also, I've been revamping the earlier chapters. If you haven't already read my profile, then I'll say that I'm disappointed with the earlier chapters, as in pre-Chapter Thirteen. My writing back then is just…not that good, in my opinion. The style is much too simplistic, and frankly, nearly everyone is OOC to some extent. If you want to reread them, you are more than welcome to. I personally think they sound MUCH better and in-character. Fair warning though: Some chapters may still not be revamped, so please excuse the sloppy writing. I'm revising them as fast as I can….

P.S. The chapter title is a line from the song "Bleeding Out" by Imagine Dragons. Yeah, I haven't been creative with chapter titles lately, but…it's two in the morning here, so I don't give a fuck at the moment….

Disclaimer: Bleach is way too good to be mine. XD

Chapter Seventeen:

Count My Sins

"Kuchiki…I think…everything we have to protect comes down to one thing," Kaien muttered, looking off into the distance.

I remembered this moment. It was another one of those days where my friends and his friends were running late. He always brought up some philosophical topic for us to ponder during this small interval, just to keep up some form of conversation, I guess. One thing I learned about Kaien was that he hated awkward silences, and felt that he always had to fill them with some topic or another.

"One thing?" I found myself asking. It was strange that I was conscious of the fact that this was a memory, and yet having no control over myself within it. "What's that?"

He half-turned his head back with a slight smile. "The heart," he replied, and my own began beating hard in my chest. I knew I had let my crush on him wane after that night, but, here, I couldn't help but feel what I felt back then.

I stared at him incredulously before making a face and grumbling, "What? That's sappy…."

He twisted around and yelled, "Hey! I'm serious!"

He scratched the back of his head, embarrassed, and started over. "Then let me ask you this…Rukia…. Where do you think the heart is?"

I leaned away a little, taken aback by the question. I mean, really, what kind of question was that? It was obvious, wasn't it?

I put a hand over my chest and replied lamely, "It's…um…somewhere around here…I think…."

He smirked and took a few steps toward me. "Well…if you ask me…." He paused and clenched a fist in front of me, as if grabbing onto an invisible cord. "…The heart is right here."

I glanced down in confusion. "Whenever two people grow close…a heart is born between them." His gaze softened. "It isn't inside our bodies. Whenever we care about something…whenever we care about another person…a heart is born…."

My eyes widened and I stiffened. Kaien…cares about me…I thought and felt warm inside.

He let his hand drop and looked away. "If you were born alone in the world…I don't think you could have a heart."

I must've looked puzzled still, so he sat down and continued, "Don't think about it too hard. If your heart longs to be here, then your heart is here. If your heart is here…that is enough reason to be here. But…you see, Rukia…in the future, hopefully the distant future, there's one thing you have to make sure of…."

His expression became deadly serious, so I leaned forward. "You mustn't die alone." He paused then stood up again. "When we die, our bodies turn into dust…almost as if we never existed to begin with…. So what becomes of the heart?"

He stared me straight in the eye with the utmost confidence. "You leave your heart with your friends. That way…your heart lives on in them. That's why, Rukia…you mustn't die alone. Understand, Rukia?"

Just then, he put a gentle hand on my shoulder, smiling down at me. Wait…this isn't a part of the memory…something inside me warned, and the warm feeling was replaced with something much heavier and colder.

"Rukia…I gave you my heart when I died, right?" he questioned, his grip tightening.

I frowned, glancing over at his hand. "Yes…you did…." Where was he going with this?

His hand slid down, sending a shiver down my spine, until it came to rest over my heart. It seemed to pulse louder until it echoed around us. "It's there…right?" he asked and I glanced up at him. He looked pale, even sickly as the clouds gathered overhead. I could smell the rain rolling in.

"I…suppose…" I answered uneasily.

"Good…" he muttered. Suddenly, he plunged his hand into my chest.

I coughed, my blood splattering his sleeve. My vision started to blur as he shifted slightly to grab my heart in his hand. I let out a strangled cry as he wrenched it out of my chest, leaving a gaping hole in my body.

I fell to my knees and stared up at him, but he wasn't Kaien. He was that…imposter masquerading himself as Kaien.

He regarded me coldly before examining my heart, still beating in his gloved hand. He smirked at me, as if he found all of this amusing. "Now, Rukia…I want it back."

I jolted awake. Panicked, I clawed at my chest, struggling for breath. There was a loud rattling noise around me that, at first, I thought was my ears ringing, but I realized after a few seconds that it came from chains attached to metal cuffs around my wrists.

I stared down at them, bewildered, then followed the chains' long trail to see where it led. They were embedded into a white wall behind me and, no matter how hard I tugged, they didn't seem inclined to budge.

I sighed and leaned back against the cool wall. A wave of pain from the back of my neck made me stiffen and I instantly slapped a hand to it with a wince. It hurt even more under my touch, so I figured a bruise had formed there already.

I felt sick as a sudden thought occurred to me. Where's Ichigo? An image of his face, half-covered in a developing Hollow mask, flashed underneath my eyelids…smiling maniacally, then….

I looked up and saw it was that blue-haired Arrancar from before. His hand had pierced through Ichigo's stomach and the Shinigami glanced down in surprise. He made a choking sound and coughed out a pool of blood. Ichigo lifted his head, his wide, dark eyes meeting mine.

"Ichigo!" I whispered, my eyes snapping open. Where was he? I needed to get to him immediately!

I looked around frantically and felt relieved to find him seated next to me, his head bowed and covered in shadow. This was short-lived, however, when I realized that they had dumped him here without giving him any form of medical treatment. He had lost a lot of blood in the time that we were put here.

I cursed heavily and scrambled over to him. Sweat beaded his forehead and his breathing sounded labored. He was alive, but just barely. I had to hurry.

I lifted my hands to his wound and focused my energy on it. I expected my reiatsu to well within me and course through to my palms, but…it didn't. It felt…stunted….

I furrowed my eyebrows and tried again, and again, it felt like my reiatsu was held back. My hands trembled, making my chains clank loudly. Wait…these cuffs…. They were—

"Well, well, well…. Look whose awake…" a familiar voice muttered, sounding amused.

I whipped my head to the source and found the Kaien-look-alike peering at me through a set of bars. I wanted to slap the annoying smirk off of his face, the bastard….

He stepped closer, gripping a bar in his hand. "Oh, Rukia…. If only you and that kid had fallen for my act…things wouldn't have had to get so…messy…" he taunted, his eyes flickering to Ichigo.

I stiffened and spat out, "Bastard…."

He winced a little, though that arrogant smile still stuck to his face. "You're so harsh, Rukia!" he taunted, putting a hand over his heart like it was wounded.

I glared heatedly at him, standing up. "Stop using his voice," I growled, clenching my hands into tight fists.

"His voice?" he wondered. He looked up, pretending to ponder who I could be talking about. "Oh, you mean Shiba Kaien's…." His smile grew when he saw me twitch.

"Who are you…really?" I asked, struggling to hold back the urge to rush after him, screaming.

His eyes gleamed despite the darkness. "Do you really want to know?" he countered.

His hand had a spasm then, as if he had lost control of his fingers. They bent at strange angles before finally settling down. His head jerked violently around with enough force to snap his neck. And yet….

There was a crackling noise and his face appeared to shrink in on itself. I watched in horror as "Kaien" transformed into some ugly…thing with two heads bobbing in some container with red fluid. The number '9' was written on each of the heads neatly.

"We are the Novena Espada…Aaroniero Arruruerie!" the heads announced together.

"Please, do not say anything about our face…. We've heard it all before…" the bottom head said in a squeaky voice.

"So…you're really…not Kaien…" I breathed out.

The tank tilted, giving the impression of curiosity. "You yourself denied us as Shiba Kaien, and yet you still had doubts?" The two heads laughed simultaneously, a hideous sound that rang out in the cell.

"How pitiful!" one head scoffed in a deep voice.

"However…" the head with the higher-pitched voice added.

"The recognition you felt was not an illusion…" they informed me at the same time. The top head rose and pressed itself against the glass.

A portion of the tank began to bubble and a face—Kaien's face, I realized with horror—began to emerge from the mask.

In a matter of minutes, the Espada looked exactly like Kaien again. He smirked at my expression. "You think my power is one of transformation?" he wondered, tilting his head.

I narrowed my eyes. "Isn't it?"

"No. You should know better…being a Shinigami. Or rather, half a Shinigami. You reek of humans…."

"I don't understand…" I muttered.

His smirk grew. "I am the only Gillian among the Espadas, Aizen-sama's ten strongest warriors."

I twitched, recognizing the term Gillian. But…Ichigo had told me that those Menos, while challenging to those under taichou-class, were nothing but foot soldiers compared to their higher ranks. Not a really impressive choice, on Aizen's part….

"So?" I questioned, feeling a flicker of satisfaction when his eye twitched in irritation.

He gripped the bars in both of his hands. "A Gillian doesn't possess the abilities necessary to be an Espada. And yet I am one. I was given the number nine. Do you know why that is?"

He clenched the bars tighter in his hands and a huge leer broke out on his face. "It's because I am the only Arrancar with unlimited evolutionary potential! My spiritual entity fusion ability originally belonged to Metastacia whom Shiba Kaien fought!"

Something he had said before echoed in the back of my mind. "That night, when I died, my soul disintegrated and I was transported to Hueco Mundo, the empty world where Hollows reside. The Hollow that possessed me happened to be one of Aizen's experiments. When it was destroyed, it was sent back to Hueco Mundo to be reconstituted. It was designed that way."

"And when Metastacia's rotting spiritual body was returned to Hueco Mundo, I consumed it and took its powers!" he shouted gleefully. His eyes shone with a manic glow.

I stiffened. "You…ate it…?!"

"That's right." He let go of the bars and started slipping off the glove on his left hand. He tossed the thing away dramatically and revealed a revolting creature with creeping tentacles and a mouth dead in the center of its being. It made sickening slimy noises as it wiggled around.

"My power is called Glotonería. It's the ability to consume dead Hollows and take their reiryoku and abilities. I acquired this power by eating Metastacia who possessed Shiba Kaien!"


"That's right! This is Shiba Kaien's spiritual body! It contains all his thoughts, all his experiences! They're in here exactly as they happened! I merely read and acted upon those memories!"

I ran towards him in a murderous rage. The chains could only go so far, however, and I struggled desperately against them, ignoring the biting pain forming around my wrists.

His hysteric laughter rang in my ears, only fueling my anger. "That face…. Your fury is beautiful. Yet your eyes say differently." He put a hand over his face, snickering. He then pointed at me and asked, "You're terrified, aren't you?"

I stopped then, staring at him in bewilderment. "…What…?" I breathed out.

"I hope you haven't forgotten…Rukia. This is Shiba Kaien's spiritual body…. Just how do you think it ended up here in the first place?" he taunted, smiling cruelly at me.

His words were like a devastating blow to my chest. A wave of dizziness overcame me and my vision spun. Before I realized what happened, I was on my knees.

Another bout of laughter. "How pathetically predictable. I just push you a little and you completely fall apart…" he sneered.

I bowed my head, clenching my hands into fists before hugging myself, willing myself not to cry. This is all my fault…. I'm sorry…Kaien…. Because I killed you…your body fell into the hands of the Hollows…. That night…I killed you to save my own life. Yet…I kept telling myself that because I'd recovered your body, I'd saved you somehow…. But…now it seems like that wasn't the case.

"Tch, no reaction? How bor—"

"Aaroniero-sama…" a female voice cut in.

I glanced up and saw a woman with dark blue hair standing behind the Espada, who seemed surprised by her sudden appearance. She held a tray of what looked like medical supplies in her hands.

"What? What do you want?" he snapped, turning to fully face her.

Her eyes flickered to his left hand and she grimaced. "Aizen-sama wishes for me to heal the orange-haired Shinigami…" she said.

He put his hand to his hip. "Why?" he wondered, sounding impatient.

"My master was not ordered to bring him in critically injured," she replied. "Aizen-sama wanted him in healthy condition, not with a hole in his stomach. He is being punished for it as we speak."

Master? Is she talking about that blue-haired Arrancar?

"Is he going to die?" the Espada inquired with a curious amusement.

She set her jaw. "Go see for yourself, pig."

Aaroniero grabbed her by the collar then, but she didn't seem fazed by it. "Listen, bitch. You are nothing but a Fracción to a pathetic, one-armed cretin. You do not have the authority to ever speak to me that way." As an insult to injury, he smacked the tray out of her hands, scattering supplies everywhere.

She bent down to pick them up and he kicked at a roll of gauze out of the way just as she reached for it. "Have fun picking this up," he teased and walked off, guffawing smugly.

The gauze slipped through the bars and hit one of my knees, tipping over. I watched as it whirled a little in place before settling down.

The cell door opened with a harsh screech, making me look up again. The girl had piled the supplies messily back onto the tray. She seemed more than a little irritated with her encounter with the Espada.

We made eye-contact for a few seconds before she glanced away, quickly scooping up the gauze from near me. I watched as she went over to Ichigo, who still was slumped against the wall, just like I found him when I woke up. She knelt down next to him and placed the tray beside her. She reached for his gi and lifted his arm, attempting to take it off of him.

Startled, I asked, "What are you doing?"

She glanced at me in surprise, pausing her work. "I need to get this off of him in order to reach his wound." She hesitated, then, seeming to think of something, gestured me over. I obliged, still watching her warily. A portion of what looked like a wolf's skull clung to the back left side of her head, a sharp, white ear sticking up out of it.

"After I get this off, would it be alright if I rest his head on your lap? I need him to lie down to treat him properly…" she asked, clasping her hands together in her lap.

I was taken aback by her request but nodded. She bowed her head then went back to carefully removing the bloodstained gi off of Ichigo. Her eyes widened when she got a good look at the wound.

"Is it bad?" I dared ask.

She shook her head in disbelief. "No…it's…shallower than I thought it would be…." She gulped then looked over at me. "Grimmjow said he stabbed him through the stomach…" she muttered to herself, covering her mouth with a hand.

"Yes…he did…" I affirmed and furrowed my eyebrows.

She continued to stare at it for a few seconds before muttering, "…This doesn't even look like he pierced through the muscle…."

My eyes widened. "What?"

The Arrancar carefully shifted Ichigo so he could lie on his back, his head resting on my lap. I could feel his body heat wash over me and I tensed.

Now I could see what she meant. There was still a considerable chunk of flesh missing, but it looked more like a rough scrape than a stab wound. The muscle underneath seemed raw and defined. Red streaks spread around it like an ugly blossom, and some green liquid leaked from it.

She sucked in her breath. "This is bad…." She put a hand to his forehead, ignoring the beads of sweat that clung onto her. She scowled. "His wound is infected…."

She snatched a small towel off the tray and offered it to me. "Wipe the sweat off of him. It should help to cool him off a little."

I did as I was told, gently dabbing his forehead and ignoring the urge to reel back from the heat he radiated. He must've contracted a fever from the infection….

The Arrancar pulled another towel from the tray then shut her eyes, as if concentrating. I could sense her reiatsu flickering a little then, suddenly, a very thin sheet of ice crept down the cloth.

When she opened her eyes again, I noticed that her irises were glimmering white before fading back to their original color. She tightened her grip on the cloth, hovering over his injury uncertainly. The ice was already beginning to melt and seep into the towel.

She bit her lip and looked over at me. "Could you please…hold him down?"

I stared at her, furrowing my eyebrows. "…Why?" I asked. "He's not going to fight you. Look at the condition he's in."

She set her jaw and gazed at me steadily. "He might when I start cleaning the wound." She said this almost like it was some sort of challenge.

I set the towel aside with a scowl and leaned forward to wrap my arms around him, pinning him down as best as I could. His body heat made beads of sweat form on my forehead, despite the cool air wafting in the cell.

The Arrancar took a deep breath then pressed the damp towel beside the wound. I felt Ichigo twitch under me and I glanced at his face to see if he was waking up. His eyes flew open and he suddenly arched his back with a gurgled cry. I held onto him tightly, but he kept thrashing around. He kicked the tray of medical supplies, slamming it against the wall, and his chains rattled noisily as he struggled.

My ears pricked up when I heard the Arrancar girl gasp and I spared a few seconds to look over. My eyes widened when I saw Ichigo's wound and the area around it begin to boil. Some white froth had sprouted from the wound and started spreading across it.

After just a few seconds, it completely enveloped the wound and solidified. He relaxed afterwards, breathing heavily. I reached a shaking hand to it but it shattered before I could touch it. I drew my hand away and watched with bated breath as the pieces flashed and turned into reishi, scattering in the air. His wound was now completely healed.

I immediately turned back to Ichigo with a strangled gasp. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. His left eye was black with a yellow iris, but this quickly faded back to its normal color. I caressed his face in a hand and whispered, "Ichigo…."

His eyes slid over to me and he slurred, his voice hoarse, "R…Rukia?"

I nodded and continuously smoothed his hair back, though it just kept stubbornly popping back into place. "Yes…I'm here…. It's okay…."

There was rustling next to us followed by loud crashes, so I glanced up curiously. The Arrancar girl was tossing the supplies back on the tray, looking cross. She dropped the tray next to Ichigo and scooped what looked like some elastic band off of it, tying it around his arm calmly.

She poured a bottle of…something onto a cotton ball and rubbed the bend in his arm with it. There was more clattering as she placed the bottle back on the tray and moved some tools away with her fingers to reach for a syringe.

I stiffened and growled, a little too loudly, "What is that?"

She paused, staring at me bewilderedly. "…Antibiotics…. It'll help with the infection."

I got a better view of it and realized that it was full of a transparent liquid, not the thick, green stuff from that memory I had of this place. I exhaled slowly through my nose, calming down.

The Arrancar girl stared at me for a few more seconds before experimentally tapping the bend in Ichigo's arm. She paused, seeming to feel something, then stuck the needle through slowly.

He winced a little, his fingers curling towards his palm. He relaxed them only after she removed the syringe and placed a small Band-Aid on his arm.

She picked up the tray in one hand and stood up. "I'll be back…. I need to get a few more things…."

Before she could leave, I blurted out, "Do you have any pain killers? Or anything that would reduce his fever?"

She looked back in surprise. After a few seconds, she hesitantly replied, "We do, but…for his case, it won't be much help…."

I furrowed my eyebrows. "Why not?"

"You see, the pain killer he needs is ibuprofen and, while it intercepts the nerves to lessen the pain, it also thins the blood flow. With his infection, it's best to leave him be so the antibiotics can work at it," she replied.

"Then…can't you make some ice or something for him to eat?" I requested.

Her mouth quirked up in a small smile before she turned away. "I need to get a bowl for that first…" she muttered and left us in the cell.

I looked down at Ichigo again and he stared back wearily. "…What happened?" he wondered, furrowing his eyebrows a little.

I glanced at where his wound had been only moments earlier. Tentatively, I reached over and pressed on it lightly. He flinched and drew my hand back quickly, looking over at him.

"You were stabbed…" I muttered.

He looked confused, so I decided to explain what happened to us. I even told him about his wound healing on its own. He was surprised by that and absently put his hand over where the wound had been.

After I finished, Ichigo said, "We have to get out of here…." He propped his elbows under him, grunting as he tried pushing himself up urgently.


He let out a pained gasp and fell against my lap again. He groaned, frustrated. He pressed his palms against his eyes and swore incessantly—about his fever, about his weakness, about his failure to protect me.

I cupped his face in a hand and he faltered. He removed his hands from his eyes and looked over at me miserably. "Rukia—"

"It's not your fault…." I swallowed back the lump in my throat. "It's mine…."

"I hope you haven't forgotten…Rukia. This is Shiba Kaien's spiritual body…. Just how do you think it ended up here in the first place?"

He wrapped his hand around mine and looked me straight in the eye. My eyes widened and I looked away. "Stop…. Don't look at me that way…. You know it's true…."

The corners of my eyes began to sting, so I blinked rapidly and glanced up, exhaling slowly. "I ran to that imposter because I was so happy to see Kaien alive. I thought because he was there, my sin would be forgiven."

I shut my eyes tightly. "I was so blind, Ichigo! I didn't sense that he was not the man he said he was, didn't want to think otherwise. And because of what I did all those years ago, I've practically handed over Kaien's soul to that…that…disgusting Arrancar! He's using his spiritual body because I was a coward and killed Kaien that night!"

I drew my hand away. I didn't deserve to be comforted, much less by Ichigo.

He grunted, so I opened my eyes to see what he was doing. He had propped his elbows under him again, straining to get himself up again. I put a hand on his shoulder, trying to force him to lie down. He shrugged my hand off and sat up, facing away from me.

My gaze dropped to my lap. I see…. He understands then. I don't blame him for acting this way….

Suddenly, I felt his hand curl under my chin and force my head up a little. Before I could ask what he was doing, he lightly pressed his lips against mine. He lingered there for a few seconds before pulling back and staring straight at me. The light in Ichigo's eyes wasn't angry, but kind…understanding even.

"It's not your fault, Rukia. You can't think that…. I don't blame you, and I'm sure as hell Kaien wouldn't blame you either. That night…you did what you had to do. You're not a coward. You were trying to save him that night. That's why you went back, Rukia. It wasn't some selfish act that made you want to do it. Kaien saw that. And that is why he entrusted you with his heart."

My eyes widened. Ichigo….

I bowed my head until it came to rest against his chest, closing my eyes. I didn't even realize I was trembling until he wrapped his arms around me feebly, burying his face in my hair. I didn't return the hug.

A familiar reiatsu appeared near us and Ichigo let go, glancing up in surprise. I turned around and spotted the Arrancar girl holding a small, metal bowl full of ice and a thin cup.

She looked mildly puzzled as she approached us. "Here…. This should help with the fever…. I also brought you some water if you wanted some." She was looking at me.

I smiled and muttered, "Thank you…."

Her eyes widened and she looked away. "You're welcome…."

Just as she stood up, I asked, "Why does Aizen want us healthy? What does he plan to do with us?"

She glanced back, her expression pained. "…I don't know. But it's not good…." And with that, she left us alone, locking the cell behind her.

I immediately grabbed the bowl of ice and offered it to Ichigo. He took it wordlessly but, instead of eating some, he just stared at it.

"Eat. It'll help cool down the fever…" I said.

He frowned but did as I asked. After eating a third of the bowl, he set it aside and rested back against the cool wall with a sigh.

I leaned against him, staring around the cell wearily. "How are we going to get out of here, Ichigo?" I wondered.

"We improvise…a lot…" he joked, though I could tell it was half-hearted.

"What do we do about these cuffs? They block our reiatsu…."

Before he could answer, another familiar reiatsu appeared next to us. I knew who it was before he spoke. I scowled, glaring over at him.

That same, chilling smile was stretched across his face as he peered at us through the bars. "Aw, how cute…. 's a shame I gotta intarupt yer moment, but Aizen-sama wants ta see ya both…" Ichimaru Gin stated, his grin growing wider.

A/N: *has numerous bag and dark circles under my eyes* F-Finally! It's…It's finished! ;A;

I struggled so much to finish this chapter and it's super late right now. XP I'm tired…. I'm so sorry for the long wait, dear readers. I hope that this chapter is good enough for you guys…. There was some fluff, tons of angst, and even fluffy angst. XD

HUGE THANK YOU TO MY MOM (even though she's never going to read this XD)! She helped me so much with the medical stuff for this chapter that it's basically like she wrote a third of it without even knowing. XDDD Love you, Mom. :P

The unnamed Arrancar girl is actually an OC of mine from my fic, A Frozen Requiem (Oh look, more self-advertising XD). Her name is Mori Miyuki. Take a look at that fic too if you like. :3

As always, please leave a review to let me know what you guys think! :) I appreciate each one I get!

On a side note, Forgotten has received over a hundred reviews! 8D THANK YOU READERS SO MUCH! I can't even begin to express how much this means to me…. Really, I feel so honored. X3