A/N: Wow…Not only did this story get a response, but it got a good response too. It got almost four times as many reviews and almost as many hits as my other story in two days, despite my other story having four chapters and having been out for a year. But then, this story has a more popular focus so I guess it's to be expected.

Sorry if I kept you waiting, as this is the first time anyone's been seriously waiting on my writing. Well on to the chapter I guess.


Chapter 2: The Pariah

12th Division Monitoring Facility in Seireitei

The young shinigami sat in front of his screens; his robes hanging loosely over his scrawny form and his bedraggled hair clinging to his head from sweat as he watched them with rapt attention. All around him in the dark room other shinigami were doing the same at the other monitoring stations arranged row upon row, like bookcases in a library. But for most of them there was nothing much to watch. For him it was quite the opposite. "Sir! You should come look at this" the shinigami called to his commander. As the older shinigami turned from his duty of watching the watchers and walked over the other continued, "Those two reiatsu signatures we picked up in Sector 3074 outside Karakura town…There was a flash of reiatsu from one of them. It overloaded the sensors and we couldn't get anything for a moment. When it cleared one signature was gone and the other is greatly weakened; although the intensity is still 213." He shook his head in astonishment. The being had been weakened to roughly captain level. He had been watching the two reiatsu signatures for a while. They had both appeared some time before and immediately drew the interest of the monitoring station as they were both far greater than a captain's reiatsu, and they completely obscured all the other reiatsu in the area. His commander had set him to watch them while the others returned to their tasks, and he had watched as the two reiatsu rose and fell indicating the battle they were likely having. But this flash clearly signalled the end of the battle. Or so he thought.

As they watched a new reiatsu appeared to replace the one that had vanished. "What is that?" the commander demanded.

"I…I think it's a hollow sir." the lower ranking shinigami stammered.

"A hollow! In Soul Society? Are you sure!"

"Yes, but the signature is similar to the other reiatsu that vanished, although that had clearly been a shinigami's. And this reiatsu…It's weaker than the other two had been, but it's still higher than most captain's…I…I didn't know a hollow could be so powerful." Just then the reiatsu flashed slightly and the reiatsu of the other, weakened, being flickered before another flash wiped it out completely.

"What happened?" The commander demanded again.

"Th…the hollow seems to have wiped out the other…whatever that thing was. It looks like some weaker reiatsu signatures are approaching the scene. We hadn't been able to pick them up before because those two massive signatures had whited everything else out." He turned to his commander, "What should we do?"

The other contemplated for a moment before saying, "I'm going to contact the 2nd division, and have them send a team to investigate. You keep monitoring the situation and contact me if anything changes."

"Yes sir!" The man turned back to his screen. He didn't know what was going on, but it was big. He was just glad he hadn't been sent as part of that team. Who knows what they're going to find.

x

Outside Karakura Town in Soul Society

Standing in front of the demolished cliff face with the dust still drifting down around him Ichigo looked at his friends standing some distance away in a clearing between the battlefield and the tree line as his hollow's words sunk in. In realization he looked at his friends faces again, and he saw the sadness, shock, and…fear in most of their faces. Renji's hand was apprehensively making its way towards the hilt of his zanpakutou. Ichigo quickly focused inside himself and released his hollow form.

A burst of light blue reiatsu engulfed Ichigo's body causing everyone to shield their eyes. When the reiatsu and smoke had cleared Ichigo stood before them, his hollow form gone. But he wasn't back in his shinigami robes, and even his base appearance had changed. His shinigami robes were completely gone now, not even the tattered robes his hollow form had been wearing remained. In their place was a ragged tan coloured jacket, similar to his Bankai jacket but with a torn and tattered hem, over a pair of brown pants with a chain going around the waist over top of the jacket acting as a belt. The cuffs and collar of the jacket were lined with thick brown fur that had small hollow masks entwined throughout. There were also larger hollow masks on the shoulders, elbows and knees of the outfit like armor. Unlike his Bankai jacket this jacket was open at the front, showing the black markings still on the skin of his chest which had lost its albino white color and returned to its usual tanned pigmentation. The claws on his hands and feet were gone, but he was still barefoot. But the clearest change was in his hair and eyes. His hair remained long, as it had been in his hollow form. And his eyes…his eyes were no longer their warm amber color but had turned gold, surrounded by a black sclera…The eyes of a hollow.

Ichigo tried to smile and ended up with a sheepish grin. As he raised a hand to the back of his head he said awkwardly, "Hey guys…"

His friends' reactions to this sudden change varied. Renji immediately shouted, "It is Ichigo!" But he still seemed confused, and while his hand did move away from his zanpakutou's hilt, it didn't move far.

Rukia hit Renji in the side of the head. "That's what I said idiot." But despite her violent behaviour, Ichigo could see that while she was slightly confused by his change in appearance, she was mostly just relieved he was okay.

Like Rukia, Sado seemed relieved now that he could see Ichigo's face and confirm that it was still him. He didn't show any signs of confusion, fear, or even surprise at the changes. Ichigo was back, and that was all that Sado cared about. To him, everything was fine now.

Ishida and Orihime responded a little differently. Ishida seemed relieved, but he was still wary and tense seeing Ichigo's new look. He had felt first hand what Ichigo's hollow could do. Orihime wasn't as frightened as she had been before Ichigo dropped his hollow form, but she could see his eyes and recognized the markings on his chest. She stopped moving away, and tried to look happy, but Ichigo could see the fear that was still in her eyes and he noticed that she wouldn't move any closer.

But it was Urahara's reaction that intrigued Ichigo the most. At first he had seemed relieved when he saw Ichigo drop the hollow form, but he quickly became serious and anxious again. Seeing Urahara scanning the surrounding area anxiously as though expecting something, Ichigo looked himself as he asked, "What's wrong Urahara-san?"

His attention back on Ichigo, Urahara responded in his seldom heard serious tone. "I found your father on the way here and he told me what you were going to do, and I tried to get here soon enough to stop you but I was too late." His tone turned sad as he finished.

"But I'm okay. I beat Aizen. What's the problem?"

Urahara stared off into the trees as he replied, "The Final Getsuga Tenshou. Your father didn't understand what he was doing when he taught you. As you may have guessed your father's zanpakutou is similar to yours in its abilities, and as such he had the Final Getsuga Tenshou as well. But unlike you he was only ever a shinigami; a powerful one yes, but still just a shinigami." He paused and turned to look Ichigo in his new hollow eyes before continuing. "But circumstances were different for you. You had hollow powers as well as shinigami powers. Clearly you've already realized the result of this. When you used that ability, rather than reverting to a regular human soul with no abilities as your father did when he used it, you were still left with your hollow powers. I realized this even if your father didn't and I tried to get here in time to stop you from using it but I was too late. I knew your hollow would likely take over your body when the power balance shifted. I hadn't expected you to be able to fight him off in your weakened state." Urahara paused again and nodded in respect. "Congratulations on that by the way. Not many would have been able to do that." He glanced around the battlefield and finished, "Not many would be able accomplish any of the things you've done today."

Exasperated Ichigo nearly shouted, "But I beat my hollow! So what's wrong? Get to the point! Why are you so worried? Why do look like your expecting something bad to happen?"

As if on cue there was a dark blur and a shinigami dressed as a ninja appeared crouched in front of Ichigo, swinging a ninjato up to decapitate him. But Ichigo quickly leaned back on reflex and shot out his hand and grabbed the blade of the sword. As the shinigami's eyes widened in surprise Ichigo kicked him in the chest, sending him rocketing into some of the trees at the edge of the clearing, leaving Ichigo still holding the shinigami's sword. While Ichigo flipped the ninjato around so he was holding it by the hilt there were some more dark blurs and nineteen more of the ninja appeared in the trees and on the rocks surrounding them. Sado immediately dropped his crutch and walked unsteadily over to stand next to Ichigo, activating his Brazo Derecha de Gigante1 as he did.

"That's why." Urahara answered dryly.

One of the ninja shinigami took a couple steps forward, pointed at Ichigo, and said "We are here to kill or, if possible, capture the hollow. If the rest of you aren't going to help then stay out of our way."

As Ichigo stared at the ninja in amazement Urahara reached to tilt his hat, before remembering he'd lost it, and smirked, saying "As I expected. The 2nd Division's Stealth Force was sent to investigate when they detected your hollow reiatsu. They had probably been monitoring the area closely since you started fighting Aizen."

Now angered, Ichigo shouted at the Stealth Force squad leader, "But I'm not a hollow!" Then he pointed at the dark circle where the markings on his chest converged and continued, "Look I don't even have a hollow hole!" Everyone, including his friends leaned in to look when he said that, and saw that it was in fact true. The dark circle was simply part of the markings.

Urahara looked for a moment and muttered, "Interesting…" before mentally shaking himself and returning to the task at hand. He turned to the squad leader and said, "I am Urahara Kisuke, and this boy is the Substitute Shinigami Kurosaki Ichigo. He has just defeated the traitor Aizen Sosuke, as you could confirm with the people who were monitoring this area, and at great cost to himself."

The look of shock that crossed the squad leaders face, as well as the faces of everyone in his squad, showed that they had clearly heard of Ichigo and that what Urahara said fit with the report they had got. But the squad leader quickly recovered and said, "That doesn't make a difference! A hollow reiatsu was detected and we were sent to investigate." The shinigami paused and pointed at Ichigo. "Kurosaki Ichigo or not the reiatsu is coming from him, and therefore we must bring him back with us or kill him. That is our orders! After that the captains will decide what is to be done with him. And I won't be told what to do by a criminal like yourself Urahara Kisuke!"

"That's ridiculous!" Everyone turned to Rukia as she walked over to stand next to Ichigo, on the opposite side from Sado. "Ichigo just risked his life fighting and defeating Aizen to save everyone! You should be thanking him, not this!" Ichigo looked at her in amazement; surprised that she would stand up for him like this.

The man replied angrily, "I will not be talked down to by an unseated officer! As I have said, we have our orders. Now you will come with us Kurosaki Ichigo, or you should prepare to fight." Then he put his hand on the hilt of his ninjato and looked at Ichigo, waiting for him to decide.

Rukia looked over her shoulder and called for support, "Renji!"

Renji just shrugged in reply and said, "He should just go with them I guess. I don't see why not."

Ichigo stepped forward, about to agree to go with them, when Urahara put out his hand stopping him. "It makes sense for the 2nd Division to be sent to investigate something like this, but it is unfortunate. Shinigami from almost any other division, save the 1st, would likely have been more lenient. But, as well as their Stealth Forces, the 2nd Division is also known for their discipline and strict carrying out of orders. Also because of Soifon they particularly don't like me."

Puzzled, Ichigo said, "So I should just go with them then."

"When Aizen made Shinji and the others into the Visored a hundred years ago, the Captain Commander and the Central 46 decreed that they would immediately be disposed of and I would be imprisoned. And if it weren't for Yoruichi that would have happened. The only reason they named you a substitute shinigami instead of killing you for being a Visored, as well as a rogue shinigami, was because the role you played in exposing Aizen, and the potential you had for brining him down. But now, not only are you no longer useful but you have also lost your shinigami powers becoming in their eyes, no longer an abomination but a full hollow." Seeing Ichigo about to protest Urahara added, "Whether you are or not. You use hollow powers, and are in a sense part hollow. That is enough for them. If the Captain Commander doesn't order your immediate execution, then you will be given to Captain Kurotsuchi which would be even worse."

They all looked at Urahara in shock. After a few moments Ichigo sighed and said, "I guess I don't have a choice then." He turned to the shinigami squad who had been waiting for him to decide and raised his stolen ninjato, getting into a battle stance for the fight he knew was coming.

Seeing that he had decided the squad leader nodded gravely at Ichigo, acknowledging his decision, before turning to one of his squad members and saying, "Tanaka, report back to Seireitei explaining what has happened."

"Yes Fukuzawa-sama." The squad member replied before shunpoing away.

Seeing Rukia and Sado taking battle stances on either side of him Ichigo turned to his friends and said, "No. You're injured. I can handle myself. And I can't ask you to betray Soul Society for me Rukia."

Sado just nodded and took a few steps back, while Rukia said, "Are you sure about this Ichigo?"

"I'm not about to walk to my death after all that's happened." While Rukia reluctantly stepped back as well, Ichigo saw Urahara still standing calmly to the side, not having taken a battle stance or looking nervous at all, and he said questioningly, "Urahara-san?"

Urahara just smiled at him and said, "Oh I think you can handle yourself, like you said. After all you need to test your new powers!"

So Ichigo turned back to the squad of shinigami and took his stance, and seeing him ready for battle the squad leader Fukuzawa said, "Are you sure about this?" Ichigo just nodded in response. Fukuzawa sighed and signalled to the rest of his squad. Then all at once they attacked.

Ichigo immediately jumped some distance to the side; dodging a good portion of his attackers and distancing himself from his friends so they wouldn't get dragged into the fight. He parried and blocked a few who hadn't been fooled by his dodge. Then, during a brief respite, he lifted his left hand up to his face and, drawing on his reiatsu, he scratched downwards with his fingers curled like claws, and…nothing happened. No mask. But he couldn't give in to his confusion as the shinigami renewed their assault.

As Ichigo fought off the shinigami, slashing one across the chest and throwing another into a tree, he heard a voice chuckle in the back of his head. Still trying to use your old powers Ichigo?

Ichigo was having trouble responding and focusing on his battle, but after parrying and blocking a few more he managed to reply, But I thought I still had my hollow powers!

You do, but not like that ye' idiot. That's how the Visored use their power. Have you ever seen a hollow or even an arrancar form a mask to strengthen their power? Of course not!

Ichigo jumped up into a tree to get away from the shinigami for a moment to think and reply to his hollow. But they have a mask already I don't! he huffed.

Yeah, but your powers work a little differently now. In this form your powers are– But then a few of the shinigami attacked again and Ichigo had to focus on fighting them off so his hollow just said, Ah screw it! If I keep talking now you'll just get distracted and die. If you live through this I'll explain it later.

Wait wha– Then a sword nearly skewered him through the eye so he brought his mind back to the fight. He hated to say it but his hollow was right. He'd worry about that stuff later; otherwise he'd get himself killed. He parried the shinigami who had nearly stabbed him in the eye before slamming his palm into his chest knocking him back. Four others rushed him. He dodged the first two, blocked the third with the ninjato in his right hand, and grabbed the blade of the last one before head-butting him into the ground. Then he turned back to the third attacker whom he had locked blades with and he twisted his blade so the other's was knocked to the side and he drove his own blade into the man's stomach up to the hilt, so the blood stained tip stuck out his back. As the man fell Ichigo marvelled at how ruthless he had been. He was losing himself in the fight. He heard a dark chuckle in the back of his mind, but he couldn't dwell on it as the two who he had dodged swung at him again. Ichigo ducked under their blades, and came back up inside their guard upper-cutting each of them under the jaw with a palm strike, knocking them into the air. They were out before they hit the ground. Twelve left.

Ichigo paused and scanned the battlefield for the rest of his opponents. He immediately saw that four were coming from either side of him in an attempt to flank him. But where are the other four? Then he looked up and saw them weaving a kido spell above him. He dodged towards one of the groups flanking him just as the stone pillars fell where he had been a moment before. Realizing he didn't have a weapon he instead grabbed the first two by their front of their kosode and slammed them together, knocking them unconscious before flipping over them toward the other two. As he came down intending to kick them, one stabbed up toward him causing him to dodge to the side. As he moved past the blade Ichigo grabbed the shinigami's wrist and jerked it so that he stabbed his partner. He then twisted the wrist so that the blade dug in deeper making the impaled shinigami cough up blood, and the other's wrist broke making him cry out in pain. Eight left.

After picking up one of the fallen shinigami's ninjato he turned to find the last eight were all going to attack at once. In response Ichigo smiled and roared at them before charging forward. They all levelled their swords at him, only for him to jump over and land behind them. As he landed he spun and slashed one across the back; spraying blood over the ground. Seven. Another turned and tried to stab him. Ichigo moved to the side just enough for the blade to miss him. Then he grabbed the shinigami's arm and used the momentum from her thrust to pull her forward into the blade of Ichigo's ninjato. Six. Leaving his blade in his last opponent Ichigo turned to the find another turning toward him. Ichigo shot his fist forward and punched him in the jaw. The man's head whipped back and Ichigo heard a crack. Five.

By now the last five had turned around. Ichigo could see the fear in their eyes, but he was lost in the battle and he didn't care. He dove at the nearest two and grabbed them by the necks; slamming them into the ground and forming two small craters. Four, Three. The numbers resounded through his head, barely carrying meaning anymore. Another swung down at him as he stood but Ichigo caught his arm before the blade reached him. He then yanked the arm forward, tearing it off at the elbow, before kicking the shinigami in the chest so that he was launched away. Two. Ichigo tossed the severed arm to the side as he turned to find his next opponent standing a few feet to the side frozen in a fear; his sword held before him and a look of horror in his eyes. Ichigo jumped forward and knocked the blade to the side with his left hand as his right went to punch the shinigami in the chest. As his fist came down he gathered his power and unintentionally fired a bala into the shinigami's chest along with his fist. The shinigami was launched into the ground so hard it formed a crater; breaking most of the bones in his chest and crushing a few of his organ causing him to cough up a large amount of blood. One.

Suddenly Ichigo felt something slam into his back. He turned and found the last shinigami, Fukuzawa, standing behind him with fear in his eyes. And the tip of his blade was pressed into Ichigo's back…but it hadn't pierced the skin. He could see the man straining but the blade wouldn't go in. Ichigo smiled and turned, knocking the blade to the side, before slamming his hand through the man's chest and out his back. Fukuzawa coughed up blood onto Ichigo's arm sticking out of his chest before saying one word through the blood and pain. "Monster…" Then Ichigo pulled his blood soaked arm back out of the man and let him fall to the ground dead. Zero.

As his last opponent hit the ground an unnatural silence fell over the clearing. Ichigo turned to find his friends standing just beyond the edge of the battlefield. But when he turned to them and they saw his blood spattered form Orihime gasped and stumbled back, the pain and fear again clear in her eyes. Ishida moved protectively in front of her, directing his cold gaze towards Ichigo. His friends' expressions seemed much as they had been when they thought him a hollow. But rather than confused Renji now seemed horrified, and Sado was completely impassive. Standing amongst the carnage gazing into the faces of his friends Ichigo slowly came back to himself. As he did his face crumpled and he fell to his knees with his head bowed as the realization of what he had done hit him. He stayed there without moving, his long hair hanging forward covering his face.

Rukia immediately ran to his side shouting with concern, "Ichigo!"

When she began running over Renji shouted, "Rukia don't!" trying to call her back, but she ignored him.

As she reached Ichigo's side Rukia fell to her knees beside him and said more softly, "Ichigo." When he didn't respond she began checking to see if he had been injured, since he was covered in blood. After she had been fruitlessly checking him for injuries for a few moments she heard him mumble something, but she couldn't understand what he said and just kept searching.

"It's not my blood." he said louder so she would hear him. At his words Rukia froze; her hands in the middle of searching his chest for wounds. She could hear the pain, sadness, and…self-hatred in his words. Rukia had never thought she would ever see Ichigo like this. Then he turned his head toward her and his hair fell away from his face so his black and gold hollow eyes bored into her violet ones, and she saw that he was…crying. She could only remember having ever seen him cry once before; when he visited his mother's grave, and during the fight with the Grand Fisher that followed. "I killed them Rukia. I fought them, and I killed them, and I…I enjoyed it. I'm a monster." Then he hung his head, his hair falling to cover his face again.

While Rukia was looking to Ichigo everyone else watched the pair of them. Renji stood with his hand on the hilt of his zanpakutou watching intently; still unsure of this new Ichigo and wanting to make sure Rukia didn't get hurt, but not wanting to interrupt them. As Orihime stood staring at Rukia and Ichigo stunned by everything that had happened and not sure how to respond, Ishida spoke. "Inoue-san."

But she didn't hear him and continued to stand, oblivious. It was only after he had said her name a couple more times that she finally realized he was talking and turned to answer him. "Y-yes Ishida-kun?"

"Those shinigami. You should do what you can for them." Ishida said, gesturing at the squad of shinigami strewn over the battlefield.

Orihime looked over, her eyes widening as she just realized how badly injured they were and that she should heal them. She stuttered out, "R-right…O-okay," before rushing over.

Ichigo had been talking so quietly that it was likely Rukia was the only one who could hear him, and she replied sternly but just as quietly. "They attacked you and you had to defend yourself. And you…you're not used to your new power yet, or the effect it has on you."

"I killed them!"

Rukia knelt there for a moment thinking, before standing up and…punching him in the top of the head. Renji immediately tightened his hand on his zanpakutou and took a step closer, thinking Ichigo might attack her. But Ichigo just looked up at her with wide eyes, surprised. "This is not the Ichigo I know! Not because you fought brutally, or because you killed your enemies, but because your sitting here feeling sorry for yourself! You shouldn't hate yourself for what you've done. You should stand up and fight. Take control of yourself and not allow yourself to be overtaken like that again." Then she turned her back on him and crossed her arms; facing into the woods so no one could see her face, and the concern that was so clearly written there.

Ichigo continued to stare at her back for a few seconds before lowering his head and allowing a small smile to creep across his face. "Thank you. Rukia." Rukia stiffened at his words but he didn't notice. As he stood up he gave the group a small grin. They could tell it was a bit forced and he was still troubled, but he wouldn't let it get to him. He could fight through this.

"So you're back with us then Kurosaki-san?" Urahara said with a small smirk, speaking up for the first time since Ichigo's battle.

"Yeah. Sorry about that Urahara-san."

"You better be!" Rukia snapped as she turned back to the group. She spoke harshly, but the corner of her mouth was quirked up in a small smile.

Urahara smiled in amusement at that before saying calmly, "No apologies necessary Kurosaki-san. But Kuchiki-san is right, in that the only thing for it is to move forward and vow to not let it happen again." Then some seriousness returning he continued, "But now as you may have noticed there is a bit of a problem."

"Oh you mean Soul Society wanting me dead?" Ichigo replied sarcastically. "Well what do you recommend we do?"

Urahara smiled and put up his finger in that 'I have an idea sort of way'. "I have already been thinking it through since I found out you were going to use the Final Getsuga Tenshou just in case. As I see it, while you are their main target they may still come after myself or your family in an attempt to find out where you are or draw you out. So it would be best if Tessai and myself took your family and went into hiding."

A little confused but still following along Ichigo asked, "What about me?"

"If you were to come with us, not only would it give them only one target but due to your large reiatsu, inability to hide it, and its hollow signature you would be very easy to find and it would put your family at risk. So I was thinking that you should go somewhere else. Somewhere outside Soul Society's territory, where they don't go often. Somewhere they aren't likely to follow. Somewhere where you will be safe and may even find allies.

"You don't mean–" Rukia began.

"Yes. Hueco Muendo."

Ichigo was shocked that Urahara would suggest this. "Are you insane!"

"Probably."

"I just went there and fought their strongest people! I died twice! I barely got out! And you want me to go back!"

"Yes." Urahara said simply, still smiling. "Your reiatsu is most similar to a hollow's now so it would be hardest to find you there, as you could blend in. It is vast and unmapped so a search would be very difficult. It is normally difficult for any non-hollow to get there. Although I understand Kurosutchi-san managed to create a Garganta with a similar method to mine, but it should still be some time before he perfects that. But lastly, and possibly most important; you may be able to find allies there to help you."

"What do you mean I could find allies there? Last time everything that moved tried to kill me! And from what I hear hollows even cannibalize each other most of the time!"

"Ah, but now that your part hollow the more intelligent ones such as the Adjuchas, Vasto Lorde, and Arrancar will be much less likely to attack you. Furthermore with Aizen gone they will be scattered and without leadership." Then his smile widened and he added, "And anyways I hear you already made some friends there!"

Ichigo looked at him sceptically. "You don't mean Nel and her gang?"

"See you already have a starting point!"

"You can't be serious!" Ichigo stared at him incredulously, but Urahara just continued smiling. Ichigo sighed. "I guess you're right. There's not really anywhere else I could go after all." Then a thought struck him and he asked suddenly, "But how am I going to get there? I doubt we could just go back and use the one at your shop."

Urahara's eyes sparkled with interest and he said, "Well actually, you should be able to open a Garganta yourself now! Go ahead try!" Then Urahara stared at Ichigo in anticipation.

Ichigo looked at his hand in wonder. He had to admit he was at least curious about this himself. "But how?"

Urahara thought for a moment before saying, "Close your eyes." Ichigo followed along on the shopkeeper's instructions as he went through them. "Hold out your hand in front of you and cup it as though your about to grab a curtain and sweep it aside. Now feel out with your mind and try and bring an image of Hueco Muendo to your mind." Ichigo imagined the desert area just outside the walls of Las Noches. "Then once you have the image fixed in your mind pull your hand from one side to the other as though you were sweeping aside the curtain."

Ichigo did as instructed and his fingertips tingled, and it felt to him as though he had pushed aside something solid. Then hearing a gasp he opened his eyes. And before him was a black cut in the air that was the trademark of the Garganta. "I…I did it." Ichigo said in wonder.

Urahara clapped his hands together and grinned like a kid at Christmas. "Excellent!"

Then, looking at the black crack and remembering his time in the hollow world Ichigo filled with apprehension again. This was only furthered when Rukia asked him, "Are you sure about this Ichigo?"

Ichigo swallowed and then smiled at her before replying. "Well it doesn't look like I have much of a choice."

Then her tough look came back and Rukia said, "Well be careful idiot. Like you said, you can't just walk to your death after all that's happened. And Renji and I will talk to the captains and try to get them to change their minds and stop hunting you." Then she turned and shouted, "Right Renji!"

Surprised and a little scared by her outburst he just said, "Yeah of course we will." But he wasn't even entirely sure what he was agreeing to. Rukia just gave a sinister smile in response before turning back to Ichigo.

Then Sado stepped forward and spoke, surprising everyone. "I'm coming with you." He paused and looked Ichigo in the eye. "We made a promise to fight each other. To watch each other's backs. I can't just let you go there alone."

Ichigo smiled at Sado and nodded. "Alright. I'll feel better knowing you're there to watch my back." Then he turned to Ishida and Orihime. "What are you going to do?"

Ishida answered first, still looking at Ichigo warily. "I will stay here and watch over Karakura town. Just because your gone it doesn't mean the hollows will leave too shiniga-." But then he paused mid word, before continuing in a slower and colder tone. "I guess that word doesn't apply to you anymore though does it? Well good luck Kurosaki."

Ichigo's smile faded a little at Ishida's words. He could tell the quincy didn't trust him anymore, and he couldn't blame him. He sighed before looking over at Orihime. "Inoue?"

She looked back at him from the man she was healing and stuttered, "I-I'm going stay here with Ishida-kun…uh K-Kurosaki-kun." Then she gave him a faint smile before pulling herself back to her healing.

Ichigo looked back over at Sado and said, "I guess we better get going then." Sado just nodded and they stepped over to stand in front of the yawning Garganta.

Urahara spoke up as they prepared to leave. "I will try and contact you as soon as we have reached my safe-house, and I will keep you updated if anything happens Kurosaki-san."

"Thanks Urahara-san. I owe you one." Ichigo replied gratefully.

But Urahara just waved it off. "You owe me nothing. After what you have done here today you owe no one anything, but everyone in fact owes you everything; even if some can't see it. It is the least I could do."

Ichigo nodded to him in gratitude. Then he looked towards Karakura town, where his sisters lay asleep and his father lay unconscious; he looked at Ishida, Orihime, and the bodies of the men he had killed; lastly he looked at Rukia and smiled, to which she smiled back. Then he looked back to the dark gash of the Garganta, and filled with mixed feelings he stepped through.

Sado prepared to go through after him but paused at the last moment and turned to Rukia. "I've known Ichigo a long time, and I will follow him anywhere and do anything for him. But you can do something for him that I could never do. Thank you Rukia." Then he turned back and followed his best-friend into the abyss.

Rukia stood with tears trailing down her cheeks as she watched the tear close on the two bravest men she had ever known.


A/N: I hope I made up for the lateness of the chapter with the fact that this chapter is nearly double the length of the last one! But again sorry for the lateness for those of you who were waiting. Things have been hectic for both me and my Beta so…yeah.

Speaking of my Beta, I again thank her for her assistance in improving and editing the chapter where possible. Again, my Beta is MisplacedSanity and I recommend you check out her stories if you're enjoying this one.

I forgot to mention this last time, but I am in my first year of University, and so I have been, and will be quite busy. So I can't guarantee regular updates, or even updates often. It may only be once a month or even later. Could be sooner than once a month, but I wouldn't count on it. I can guarantee that unless I die I will be continuing to write. So if you're willing to bear with me and wait then that's awesome and I hope you continue to enjoy the story. I just thought it would only be fair to give warning. My exams are also going to be happening over the next month, and while I will need to study, it also means classes have stopped so I may have more time to write as well; but again, no guarantees. Cross your fingers. But either way, the more you review the more I will try and update sooner.

So again, review and tell me what you think about the story. Where you think it might be going, any suggestions, mistakes I missed, etc. And feel free to check out my other story too. I could use some more feedback. Also, since Ichigo is heading to Hueco Muendo I may be introducing some OCs. But as I haven't thought about it much yet I am open to ideas and you can feel free to send me some characters if you like. There's no guarantee I'll use them, but it's up to you if you want to send them or not. Hope to hear from ya! Until next time then.