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Inner Peace, Utter Chaos

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~green eyes watchful~

When Aizen-sama sent him down with the oaf to test out the trash in the living world, Ulquiorra hadn’t expected this.

Young, conflicted, brave, perhaps suicidal, bright, talented but unskilled, out of his depth… Kurosaki Ichigo smelled like ripening fruit.

He didn’t usually pay much attention to his bat-side, as Grimmjow liked to call it. Since becoming a vasto lorde, then arrancar, then receiving the honor of placing as one of Aizen-sama’s Espada, Ulquiorra had felt himself removed from his animal instincts. Then he came here, to the World of the Living, expecting to be bored watching Yammy destroy some trash. Instead, he found himself laying a stern hand on Yammy’s forearm, squeezing it to make him release the Substitute Soul Reaper.

It wouldn’t do to wipe out that delicious scent before he could explore it a little further.

Watching a dizzy, battered, partly-Hollowfied Ichigo stagger to the ground in front of his useless little friends, Ulquiorra deliberately turned his eyes away from his temptation. “There is nothing of note here. We will return and report.”

Slicing the sky open with a fingertip, he dragged Yammy back through the garganta to Hueco Mundo. He didn’t consciously note that every sense other than his vision was still focused on Ichigo. His instincts were telling him something, and he had to get somewhere quiet to hear them. He wouldn’t alert Aizen to his findings, because he didn’t yet understand them. When he removed and crushed his eye, sharing his experience with his fellow Espada, nothing of his turmoil showed.

He didn’t realize he’d stopped thinking of his leader as his lord for quite some time to come.

~hunting cat~

Grimmjow was always a doer, not so much a thinker. Doing required a cat to be in touch with his instincts. And his instincts were humming.

Something was up with the bat. He wasn’t the only one to notice. Starrk had a sharp eye, the old wolf, but he kept his tongue still and watched through mostly-closed eyelids. Grimmjow wondered how many people noticed how often Starrk was actually watching when everybody thought he was sleeping. Lilynette was a great distraction as well, and he often had to bite his hand to keep from cracking up when she went into her obnoxious routine and Starrk spied on everybody. The only other to notice, that Grimmjow could see, was pinky. Szayel was a nutcase, but he was brilliant, and he poked at everything.

He sat back and watched as Starrk fixated on Ulquiorra and Szayel started prodding. Only to sit up and take notice when the bat was so distracted he didn’t swat Szayel like a fly.

Over the next few ‘days’, whatever that meant in a world with no way to tell time passing, he followed, and he watched. When the bat broke protocol and snuck out through an unapproved garganta, Grimmjow masked his reiatsu beneath Ulquiorra’s, and snuck out right behind him.

~wolf awakened~

Lilynette stayed at Las Noches to keep him apprised of the situation as Starrk opened a parallel garganta to Ulquiorra’s, following the bat and the cat’s trail.

Sleeping all the time was boring, even as a cover.

The only thing he’d learned from the rogue Shinigami was how to control and suppress his reiatsu so he didn’t immediately dissolve any being that came within range, and he’d learned that from Ichimaru, not Aizen. Tousen was useless, and Aizen was insane, but Gin was okay.

Probably a double-dealing lying prick out for his own good, but Starrk could understand that. If he’d had to serve under Aizen he’d have turned coat early on.

The only thing keeping Starrk in Las Noches was the threat that Aizen posed. Starrk had to keep an eye on him. No matter how strong he was, any warrior could be taken down by a hunting pack, and that’s what Aizen’s army was. As for loyalty… Aizen had lost his when Starrk had snooped around and found out how the Shinigami traitor really felt about his Espada.

Disposable cannon fodder? Not this wolf.

Still, he hadn’t found any way out yet. Maybe the moody bat and the cat with no impulse control would give him some ideas.

He was unsurprised to find himself in the World of the Living when he slipped out of his garganta, masking it with Ulquiorra’s again. He slid into the shadows and watched, intrigued, as Ulquiorra set off in a determined straight line toward Karakura town. Grimmjow skulked behind him, looking a little ridiculous, as big and as blue as he was, trying to blend in to the scenery. Starrk bit down his laughter and followed silently in their wake.

~deathberry~

Kurosaki Ichigo had no idea an entourage of Espada were headed his way. He had other things to occupy his mind.

Like the fact that he was losing his mind.

Turning into a hollow.

He’d thought he was strong. He’d beaten Kenpachi, fought Byakuya to a standstill, gone through lower ranked Shinigami like Renji and Ikkaku as if they were wet paper towel, and was kind of holding his own with Hiyori, though the psycho midget bitch had too much fun kicking his ass all over the warehouse. The point was, he was getting stronger.

Until the Espada showed up.

The huge one nearly killed him, and all Ichigo could do was take it. It had been worse than humiliating. He’d done everything he could think of to get stronger, and his own weakness had rendered him unfit to protect those he cared about, much less himself. Tatsuki, Chad and Orihime had been nearly killed by the hulk as well, and all Ichigo could do was get caught and smacked around like a punching bag until the emo Espada got bored and left, taking the huge brute with him.

Ichigo rolled over on his bed, shoving his face down, wondering if it would work if he tried to suffocate himself in his pillow. He had to protect his family. His friends. His town. God knows the Shinigami weren’t doing it, or he and Uryū and everybody else wouldn’t have to try.

If the Shinigami had been doing their jobs, his mother wouldn’t have been eaten by a hollow.

Neither would Uryū’s grandfather.

Now here he was, totally fucking useless. Used like a cheap leather speed bag by the huge dude. Unable to control his own soul and shut down the hollow inside. Not up to the job.

“Enough o’ that shit, King,” his inner voice growled. Well, warbled, really, but it sounded like a pissed off warble.

Figuring the bastard would take over and slaughter everyone he loved if he didn’t pay attention, Ichigo grudgingly let himself slip into his inner world.

He landed in the middle of a hurricane.

“What the hell?” he mumbled, bewildered, as he hung on to the side of a horizontal skyscraper and tried not to get swept away in the torrential downpour. In the distance he could just barely make out the drenched form of Zangetsu, swaying in the gale, cape hanging around his ankles, hair hanging over his glasses.

Ichigo could feel him more than see him, really. His Zanpakutō spirit was glaring at him so hard, if it wasn’t so wet, he’d’ve spontaneously combusted.

He gulped and turned away, only to see bright gold irises in pitch black eyes staring back at him from about an inch away.

Never would he admit he shrieked like a little girl and threw his arms up to push away his bogeyman… er, hollow. Though if it hadn’t been for the unnaturally strong hand wrapped up in his collar, he’d have tumbled away in the wind like a leaf.

“Fuckin’ dork,” his hollow grumbled.

“Don’t get so damned close!” Ichigo snarled back, his voice still a bit higher than normal.

It wasn’t his fault. The hollow was freaky looking, especially when he was close enough to kiss. The errant thought made his brain freeze for a moment, just long enough to hear Zangetsu bark, “I HATE RAIN!”

“Sorry,” Ichigo mumbled, not sure what he was sorry for, but feeling it an appropriate sentiment for the moment.

The hollow sighed. “If you’re so sorry, make it stop.”

“I can do that?”

The hollow rolled his eyes. It looked weird, gold on black like that. “How did I end up with all the brains?”

Now that was just offensive. “I am not stupid,” Ichigo ground out.

“Coulda fooled me,” the hollow snarked.

“I am ignorant,” Ichigo plodded on, ignoring the snotty comments. “I am fifteen fucking years old, a high school student, and have been thrown in the middle of shit I cannot possibly understand without somebody giving me an explanation, which NO ONE WILL DO!”

Okay, so he was screaming by the end of that little declaration, but damnit, he was frustrated. The last few months had been one giant clusterfuck that just kept spiraling out of control, and he had run out of options. Either someone gave him some information or he was going to go ninja on their asses and start cutting throats in their sleep.

“Yeah, maybe you’re not useless after all,” the hollow said, smirking at him in what looked, horrifyingly, like approval.

“Can you read my mind?” Ichigo sure hoped not.

That provoked another eye roll. “You were talkin’ out loud, idiot.”

Ichigo blushed. Around them, the wind died down, and the torrential rain subsided into a gloomy, soaking curtain. It wasn’t much of an improvement, but at least they didn’t have to hang on to exposed crossbeams to keep from being blown away.

"Calm yourself, Ichigo," Zangetsu commanded, still sounding a lot more irritated than the old man usually showed. "If your emotions calm, the rain will stop." Or I will kick your ass but good, went unsaid.

He obviously had a problem with being wet. Maybe he was a cat in another life? A smothered giggle from his hollow made Ichigo blush again, and that just made him mad. Oddly, as his temper rose, the rain died off. It wasn't sunny, by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't pouring down anymore.

"Thank god," Zangetsu muttered, and Ichigo sighed. The hollow snickered again, less muffled, more in-your-face.

Ichigo wasn't sure what to do at this point, but he'd become used to living in a state of perpetual confusion – and terror – so he decided he might as well try to get some answers.

"Why are you trying to make me insane?" It might not have been the most logical way to begin the inquisition, but it was his most urgent priority.

The hollow cocked his head to one side, looking a little like a bird. A big, hungry, psychotic albino bird with glowing yellow eyes. Ichigo shook his head to clear it. He didn't need to be distracted with thoughts of game apps.

"Just making sure you can hear me, King. Plus, y'know, fucking with your head is fun."

"You bored or something?" Ichigo fired back.

"Shit, yeah. Stuck in here all day with the old man while you push me down and lose fights you should be winnin'? Bet your sorry ass I'm bored."

Push him down? Ichigo cocked his head and stared back at the hollow in confusion. He had no idea that he was mirroring the hollow, so he didn't know why Zangetsu snorted in laughter, but he also didn't care, too intent on finally getting some answers.

"Why are you trying to kill me? Wouldn't that kill you too? Why do you call me King? Are you part of my soul? If you are, are you my Zanpakutō too? Do I have some kind of personality disorder and you're just another aspect of my mind? Or are you some kind of parasite stuck to my soul? And why- OW!"

He would have stopped for a breath, but the hollow punched him in the jaw before he could. His reflexes kicked in and blocked most of the blow, but he still bit his tongue and it stung. He glared at the hollow now laughing in his face.

Eventually the idiot calmed down, and Ichigo glared at him until he shrugged. "Not tryin' to kill ya, King. Trying to take over, so I'm the King. Trying to push you into gettin' strong, so I don't have to be King. Are you crazy? No more 'n most people. And I'm no fuckin' parasite."

That last bit came with a glare so strong it took Ichigo aback. Did he look like that when he was pissed? No wonder the halls cleared at school, and most thugs cracked and ran. He took a moment to sort through the minor information dump, and came up with the one question the hollow avoided. Quietly, he stated, "You are part of my soul."

The hollow's glare softened to a grumpy frown. Much less intimidating. Almost cute. Ichigo shook his head again. Cute? Yeah, he was crazy.

"Think about it, King. Right now, you got more pressin' concerns." The hollow nodded up at the beam of sunlight breaking through the cloudy sky. It looked oddly ominous.

That's when it hit him. Hollow reiatsu. Strong. Espada!

"Shit," he yelped, and disappeared from his inner mindscape.

Only to come nose-to-nose with the emo Espada who'd nearly killed his friends.

He counted it a major victory that he didn't scream like a girl. Or pee his pants.

Instead he froze, staring back into huge eyes with slit pupils staring back into his, and all he could think was… wow, green.

To his utter shock, the Espada didn't threaten him. Didn't kill him. Just knelt over him, one knee on the bed, hands bracketing Ichigo's face on the pillow, and stared at him like he was trying to dissect him with his eyes.

Doing a pretty good job of it, too.

After a minute, Ichigo's normal sarcastic response kicked in, and he opened his mouth to say something ill-considered and maybe suicidal, given that he was in his human body with his hands trapped at his sides and no access to his sword. Before he could get a word out, the Espada shocked him out of his mind.

By kissing him.

Ichigo went into complete brain lockdown. He didn’t think he even blinked. He knew he stopped breathing, but that was okay, because there was a tongue in his mouth and he couldn’t breathe around it anyway. He was getting dizzy, but he wasn’t sure if it was the oxygen deprivation or the fact that it was the first time he’d had a tongue other than his own in his mouth.

He might have drooled a little.

The hands that had been on his pillow were running through his hair, which would have been soothing, if he weren’t hyperventilating. Well, he would have been hyperventilating if he could breathe. Which he couldn’t because, well, tongue.

And fingers all over his skin.

And the oddly cool weight of a body on his own.

It was the first time he’d been held down by somebody who didn’t want to beat him up, too. It felt… weird. Safe, which was really weird, considering this was his mortal enemy. Or, well, one of them. Wasn’t he?

Only why would an enemy be kissing him so gently?

Their mouths broke apart and he took in a huge gasp of air, blinking away spots in front of his eyes. Big green eyes were still staring directly into his, as if he was an experiment and the Espada was a mad scientist. That brought Urahara, then Kurotsuchi, to mind, and Ichigo shuddered. The Espada blinked.

“Was it that bad?” a deep voice asked.

“I don’t even know your name,” Ichigo responded, his voice rougher than normal. He also sounded ditzy, like his brain was floating. Fair enough. It kind of was.

“Ulquiorra Schiffer,” Green Eyes obliged, then leaned down and bit his neck. It was an impressive feat of flexibility given the half helmet with the horn sticking out, but nobody got stabbed or scratched. And holy hell, but Ichigo had no idea he had a biting fetish until the teeth nibbled at his throat.

He made a noise then that would have embarrassed him if he hadn’t been trying really hard not to come in his pants. Then the teeth were gone, but it was okay, because that tongue was back, and Ulkeywhatever was really damned good with his tongue.

Green Eyes was pretty damned good with his hands, too, and Ichigo wondered when his tee shirt had disappeared and how his sweatpants had gotten around his ankles. He twitched, then realized his tee shirt was actually now a pair of rags bunched around his elbows, and his own hands were clamped on a slender but muscular back. That was still clothed.

Well, that was just unfair.

Not being able to actually form words, Ichigo gave another twitch, and raised his hands to the collar of the white jacket Green Eyes was wearing. He tugged. It sat there.

“Fuck,” he muttered.

“Soon,” that deep voice soothed, and the brain lockdown turned into brain meltdown.

He stopped following events with any form of coherency after that. Somewhere along the way either he or Green Eyes had gotten them both naked, and there was glorious, glorious skin, oddly soft to the touch though he had the feeling it’d be really hard to cut in a fight. There was a hole there, right at the base of the corded throat, and Green Eyes made a really sexy sound when Ichigo stroked it, so he did it again.

The world tipped, and he was on his knees with his hands clenched in the sheets, and how had that happened? He lost the thought again as a wicked tongue went places Ichigo never thought a tongue would go. Amazing. It felt as good in his ass as it had in his mouth, and he had the vague moralistic thought that it ought to be disgusting, but it felt so good he didn’t give a damn. Hands were molding over his sides, running along his chest, rubbing along his nipples, and how had he missed the fact that his nipples were like live wires directly attached to his dick? Admittedly, he didn’t jerk off much, a side effect of having a crazy dad who broke in all the time and tried to kick him out of bed, or little sisters who had nightmares and crawled on top of him to sleep sometimes, but holy shit. Next time, nipples.

He was bucking and twisting, not trying to get away, trying to get closer. Green Eyes was saying something against the skin between Ichigo’s shoulder blades, but he couldn’t hear it over the thump of his pulse in his ears. He made a noise that might have been Yes or Fuck or Now, he couldn’t tell, but Green Eyes took it for the go-ahead. Those evil hands slid from his chest down along his thighs, then one ran back up to settle in the small of his back. So now that was a hot zone, too? Who knew?

The other hand slipped between his legs, and rolled his balls like dice. Son of a fucking bitch. Ichigo bit his forearm hard enough to taste blood and came so hard he nearly passed out. The hand went from his balls to the tip of his dick, and clamped around it, not stopping him but cleaning him off. Then it slipped back and prodded his asshole.

He might have complained, but his muscles had joined his mind in turning to mush. Plus, as weird and incredibly great as the tongue had felt, the fingers felt even better. He gurgled a little and tried to push up, encouraging Green Eyes to go for it. Another vague thought struck him that he must look strange, arms curled into the bed, face buried in the pillow, hips canted up in the air, begging to get fucked. Not exactly the way he thought the day would end.

Then the fingers were gone, and something bigger was there, and holy sweet holy yes. The hand that had been on his back was over his mouth, a good thing, because he didn’t want his dad to throw a kick into the middle of this, and he refused to even think about his sisters when an Espada had his dick up Ichigo’s ass. Green Eyes covered him like a blanket, steadying him, wrapping around him. Ichigo hadn’t felt so oddly safe in years

Right in the middle of losing his virginity.

To an Espada.

With really pretty green eyes.

And a dick that he really knew how to put to good use.

Ichigo came again, surprising himself, because he actually hadn’t felt it coming, no pun intended. Green Eyes grunted behind him, hand tightening on his hip until it hurt, other hand clamping down on his jaw. There was barely enough room for Ichigo to peel back his lips, but he did, enough to nip the strong fingers wrapped around his face.

Green Eyes jolted and gave a funny little hum, then came, thrusting hard into him, his control finally breaking just a little bit. Ichigo would have grinned, or howled in triumph or something, but he was distracted by the feeling of fluid heat inside him for the first time. Good. Yeah, it felt good.

Then there was a slow withdrawal, and Ichigo couldn’t smother the little whimper he gave. Green Eyes hitched coming out, and Ichigo shuddered. It was like coming again only there wasn’t anything left to come out. The world swung on its axis, and he was looking up into brilliant eyes gleaming down at him, the thin lips swollen, a trickle of sweat trailing down his temple.

He was beautiful.

“As are you,” came a rumbled reply, and Ichigo had to do something about this bad habit he was getting of thinking out loud. It would get him into trouble one day.

Then they were kissing again, and Ichigo tasted sweat and need. If he’d had any energy at all, he would have said something, probably stupid, so maybe it was a good thing he was nearly asleep. He nuzzled against the firm chest rising above him, and muttered something even he couldn’t understand before feeling a blanket dropped over his body.

He’d think about it in the morning.

Tired now.

~sunshine~

The hollow looked up at the bright sunny blue skies and laughed out loud. “’Bout fuckin’ time. Thought he’d’ve jumped the gentle giant or the pretty archer boy long before this.”

The old man turned his face to the sun, content just to dry out.

~purr~

Grimmjow stared in shock. Emo-Espada could actually get it up. Forget what he’d said in the meeting about how Ulquiorra should have killed him, and how he was gonna come down and take care of the problem. He’d already made plans for his Fracción to come down and kill all the spiritually-aware humans, to show Aizen-sama how strong he was, and maybe move up a rank, until he got strong enough to kill the Shinigami traitor invaders and become king. But now, he had some plan-revising to do.

Deathberry was good for more than a beating… in fact, he smelled really good, and he looked even better, and Grimmjow was gonna get him some of that. Only not right now, because the sun was rising, and if he didn’t follow Ulquiorra quickly he’d get caught and fucking Tousen would cut his arm off or some stupid shit like that.

He took off, hiding under the waves of serene, happily-laid spirit energy trailing after the Fourth. Sliding into the garganta behind him, snickering silently at how distracted Ulquiorra was, he barely made it through before it closed over Las Noches.

Running with a hard-on was a bitch.

~howl~

¡Madre mía! Starrk peeked into the window at the exhausted human.

It would appear the bat was much more experienced at social, and other, intercourse, than he would have suspected. Sex among hollows was usually brief, violent, and often ended in blood and cannibalism. There were reasons Starrk didn’t do it often, and it wasn’t only because potential partners tended to dissolve beneath him. Well, that, and Lilynette giving him sarcastic and vocal critique during the act. It would seem that either Ulquiorra had previous experience with less-violent hollows, or he had very good instincts. That he hid very well.

Starrk slid into the room, silently shifting the discarded clothes to the side of the bed, and leaned over to stare down at Ichigo. In sleep, the young man’s features relaxed. The scowl he’d seen in Ulquiorra’s report disappeared, leaving behind a face he could only call pretty. Thick lashes dusted over flushed cheeks, and sweat dampened the bright orange hair. The thin mouth curled into a half-smile, and the tense muscles along his jaw relaxed.

Reaching down, he pulled the blankets up tighter, tucking Ichigo in. This situation would require thinking. A great deal of thinking.

And maybe, if he could get Lilynette to leave him alone in his pile of pillows for a half hour, a little self-time.

~daylight~

His dad’s flying leap caused the usual startled wake-up reaction, as once again Ichigo had no need of an alarm clock to wake up. He’d tossed the bastard out the window and turned to take a shower before a few facts caught up with his awakening mind and body.

One, he was naked. Wonder what Goat Face thought about that? One full-body blush later Ichigo decided he wouldn’t think about it.

Two, his bed was a wreck. He tossed the blanket at it, kicked the scraps of his tee shirt under it, and made a mental promise to get the laundry done himself. No way in hell was he going to be the one to give Yuzu the Talk.

Three, his ass hurt, all the way up to his shoulders and down to his knees. This realization struck him as his legs buckled and he found himself sprawled on his face on the floor.

Four, he had twenty minutes to unkink his muscles, shower, dress, and hit the door on the way to school.

Five, he had a math test first period.

Six, he smelled like sex. A whole lot of it. Again, he deliberately blanked his mind to his dad’s possible reaction.

Okay, priorities. Shower first, hot as he could stand it, then clothes, pretending he was stiff and sore from a really hard work-out. Looking at it a certain way, he supposed that was the truth. Then dress and run for class as fast as possible, considering the damned limp he was stuck with. Finally, try not to die from embarrassment when Orihime asked inappropriate if naïve questions, Uryū sniffed and made snarky comments while giving him the blue-eyed glare of death, and Chad Looked at him. Try not to spontaneously combust from blushing every time he thought about last night.

Math test should be a breeze.

~family~

“Don’t bother with the laundry, I’ll get it when I get home,” Ichigo told Yuzu, thanking her with a nod for the toast he stuffed in his mouth as he ran out the door.

Thankfully for his peace of mind, he didn’t see the knowing look his little sisters exchanged. He had no idea how loud they’d been last night, nor the floods of anime tears his father had shed at the table before waking him, all about his son finally becoming a man. Karin had kicked him in the stomach for that comment. Yuzu had given them both innocent confused looks that neither knew were completely false, and turned back to the stove.

Just another morning in the Kurosaki household.

~seismic shift~

Maybe it was because he was too busy stressing out over the strange looks all his friends gave him every time he shifted in his chair – damnit, his ass hurt – but for once, he breezed through his math test. He took notes by auto-pilot, ignoring Chad’s mildly interrogatory presence at his side, the sharp indigo glances Uryū shot his way like mini-arrows, the suspicious way Tatsuki watched him, or the funny little smile that looked more like a smirk on Orihime’s face. Mizuiro was texting something and Keigo was grinning at him like an idiot, so that was normal. He loved his friends, really, would give his life for them, but right now, he had other things on his mind.

Like making it through the day so he could escape, find someplace to be alone, and think.

Thankfully, a hollow alert sounded ten minutes before lunch, so he was able to grab his badge, drop his body in Chad’s waiting arms, and run like a rabbit away from all the questions that he knew would come his way over bentos and juice boxes. It wasn’t a very big hollow, and it tried really hard to run away when it saw him, but he nudged it away from the plus soul it was going to have for its lunch and practiced fencing with it. He made damned sure by the time he finally killed it – er, released its soul collective – lunch was over and geography class was starting.

He ignored the knowing looks he got from ALL his friends when he slipped back into his body and crawled out of the bushes Chad had stashed him in. What did they know? Not what they thought they did, that’s for damned sure. If they really knew what they thought they knew, he knew they’d skip class, corner him and interrogate the hell out of him. Then they really would know what they thought they knew, that they really didn’t know.

Ignoring the fact that his thoughts were literally running around in circles, he doggedly took notes and wrote down assignments until the final bell, then shot out of school like he had a rocket strapped to his back.

He was nearly at the Shōten before he realized he didn’t want to be anywhere near Urahara while he tried to figure this out. So he veered away, and found himself back where he always seemed to go when he couldn’t tell up from down and his world was making no sense at all.

The river was lovely in the late afternoon sunshine.

He knew he should be going home and washing his sheets before he traumatized his sweet little sister for life, but he couldn’t make himself move. He settled on the grass, crossed his legs and stared out at the water until his eyes closed, his fists relaxed in his lap, and his head bowed.

His inner world looked much different. All the rain had dried up. Sunlight glinted off the glass panes, breaking into little rainbows all over the scene. He half-expected little sparkly unicorns to be bounding around. The old man stood on a broken pillar over to his left. He looked like he was sleeping standing up. Sunlight glinted off his sunglasses, too, and under the beard scruff, he looked like he was smiling a little tiny bit. The hollow was bouncing around like a rabbit on speed, enjoying the sunshine a little too much. With the manic grin on his face, his ragged white hair blowing around his face, and the happy cackling he was doing, Ichigo grumbled internally, it was like watching a stoned demon frolic through an episode of Ojamajo Doremi that had crystalized and exploded… and he really needed to stop watching anime with his sisters.

“So, how’s the ass?” the hollow chirp-warbled.

Ichigo didn’t know whether to throw up or attack with intent to kill. It was unnatural for the hollow bastard to be this fucking happy.

“How can I not be?” it asked, glancing up at the few new gathering storm clouds. “And yes, I am reading your mind.”

He was too tired to deal with this. Ichigo sighed and plopped on the side of the building, ignoring his internally-illogical sideways gravity and staring at the hollow.

After a few minutes of this, the hollow started to twitch. Ichigo smothered a smirk and continued to stare. Any minute now…

“Okay, okay, whatever the fuck d’you want?” The hollow wandered over and planted himself in front of Ichigo, staring back as intensely as he was getting stared at.

“Tell me a truth.”

Confused, feral yellow eyes blinked at him. “The truth about what?”

A truth,” Ichigo emphasized, “any truth. Something I need to know, but don’t have enough knowledge to realize I don’t know and should ask.”

He watched the hollow wade through that convoluted request, and for once, the usual evil grin slid off the pale face. “Yeah, I can do that.”

A questioning noise came from the old man in the distance, but the hollow shrugged. Ichigo leaned forward.

“Humans can’t hollowify.”

The flat statement took Ichigo by surprise. He started to protest, because, damnit, he WAS a human being, and he DID hollowify, but a calloused white hand with black nails flicked in front of his face, palm out, and he swallowed his words.

“Think about it.”

So Ichigo did.

He’d been playing catch-up in the middle of a war zone for so long he’d nearly forgotten what it was like to take time for quiet introspection. But as he’d said before, he wasn’t stupid. He was a natural tactician, and while strategy wasn’t his strong suit, he was very good at noticing details. When given the time to do so, he was also very good at putting them together.

Humans couldn’t hollowify. The Visored did, but they were souls stuck in gigai, not humans. The Espada did, but they were hollows who’d been Shinigamified, if that was even a word. Ichigo not only hollowified in soul form, but his mask was present in the Living World.

That thought led to another.

When Orihime was knocked out of her body by her hollowified brother, her soul chain was still attached. When Ichigo was in his soul form, he had no soul chain.

When Byakuya took his powers, he cut a chain.

When Urahara helped him get his power back… he also cut a chain.

At the bottom of that shaft, under the fierce pain of his soul chain eating itself, he’d made a choice. The choice wasn’t between human and hollow.

It was between soul reaper and hollow.

His soul chain was cut.

“I’m dead,” he choked out.

A strong hand caught at the back of his collar and kept him from collapsing. The old man was beside him, glaring at the hollow. The hollow had both Ichigo’s hands in his, holding him steady, staring calmly back at him.

“Urahara… murdered me. Before he threw me into the shaft.”

A single nod from the hollow, and a low growl from the old man.

“Then how… my body… what’s…” he trailed off. He didn’t know how to ask.

“Organic gigai,” the old man said gently.

“Yer one of a kind, King,” the hollow said, but he wasn’t laughing. He looked dead serious, and Ichigo felt understanding settle.

They sat there in silence for a long time, as he wrapped his mind around the situation. He expected to panic, but he couldn’t find the energy. He thought he might have to fight, but for once, he didn’t want to. He was fighting everyone, it seemed, from the Visored to the rogue Shinigami to the Hollows to the Espada – well, maybe not one Espada – and he didn’t want to fight his own soul. He wouldn’t survive this if he fought himself, too.

The Visored were different. Their hollows were forced into them. This hollow, his hollow, was part of him. He didn’t feel like he’d been grafted on, which is probably why Ichigo had such a hard time fighting him in the first place.

Glancing up at the hollow staring back solemnly at him, Ichigo took a deep breath.

“Can’t beat you. Might as well join you.”

The hollow’s mouth fell open and his eyes widened. It would have been funny, but Ichigo had things to do, things that didn’t include laughing at his hollow. Instead, he unwrapped one hand from the slender fingers clutching it, wove it through the hollow’s hair, leaned forward, and kissed him.

“Oh,” the old man said beside him, sounding stunned.

Ichigo had heard of falling into a kiss, of course. Karin had a secret habit of reading romance novels that wasn’t as secret as she thought, and he’d accidentally picked up more than one and read a few pages, until the sappiness freaked him out and he dropped the book and ran away. But this – this was real, if anything in his soulscape was. The edges were blurring, and he could hear the chaotic thoughts inside the hollow’s head, just as the hollow had been hearing his all along. His tan faded, and the pure white skin he was touching warmed just a little. The hair under his hand was very soft, and the wide mouth under his was even softer. The long blue tongue licked tentatively at his, then more boldly, and Ichigo thought, for just having learned this half a day ago, they were doing pretty well.

They didn’t have sex. They weren’t cohesive enough in their own skins to have sex. Instead, they blended, flowing together from two entities into one, then slowly pulling apart again. When they settled back into themselves, they looked at each other with an understanding neither had thought the other capable of having. They weren’t enemies. They weren’t hollow and Shinigami. They were hollow and Shinigami and human and something else they didn’t know yet.

More questions for another day.

This was enough for now.

Ichigo stood, and the hollow flopped down, hands and heels squeaking on the glass. He was laughing, just as warbly as before but a lot less manic, and waving as Ichigo disappeared. The last thing he heard before he surfaced was the old man sighing.

“This will take some getting used to.”

Yeah. For all of them.

As it turned out, it was a good thing he’d stopped at the river, and a good thing Yuzu ignored him about the laundry. When he got home, kicked off his shoes, dodged his dad’s punch to the head and straight-armed the old man into the wall, and made it up to his room, half the Gotei 13 were waiting in his bedroom.

Well, not half. Just Tōshirō – “That’s Captain Hitsugaya!”- and Matsumoto, Ikkaku and Yumichika, Rukia standing in the window, and Renji slouched on his bed. He gave them all the stink eye.

“Did you have to break the light fixture?” It hung from a single cord in the ceiling.

A babble of sound came, and he took his time sorting it out.

They expected the Espada to come to Karakura and were here to fight them. They’d be going to school with Ichigo until then.

Ichigo blinked at them.

They expected to stay in Ichigo’s room.

They all looked at him like he was nuts when he started laughing. Then Rukia swung at him, and for once, he didn’t let her hit him. He grabbed her wrist and held her still. She gaped at him in shock, and so did everyone else. Renji started to get up, and Ichigo used his hold on Rukia’s arm to gently push her over to him. He caught her, and the both stared at him.

“No.”

Tōshirō was the first to respond, the others being too shocked to speak.

“What do you mean by that, Kurosaki?” he demanded, drawing himself and glaring.

Ichigo stared down at him and shrugged. “You are at least ten times my age. I’m still in the land of the living, I’m not actually a soul reaper.” They started to babble, and he held up both hands, glowering at them and not being surprised when they shut up. He’d seen that glower on his hollow, and it was kind of fierce. He took a breath and continued, voice growing steadily lower and stronger, as he let his temper color his words. “My responsibility stops at protecting my family and friends. It’s the Shinigamis’ – YOUR – job to take out hollows. To protect Karakura. To clean up your own traitorous captain’s messes. NOT a teenaged high school student’s!”

Of course, they didn’t take him seriously. Thought they could overcome his objections with words of duty and threat and emotional blackmail. Rukia tried to smack him a few more times. He dodged the first couple and slapped away the third, startling her so much she stumbled into Renji and knocked him over onto the bed, sitting on top of him. Renji got a stupefied look on his face and forgot what he was arguing about, while Rukia stared at her fist in surprise. Hitsugaya was still barking orders, Yumichika was earnestly entreating him to be ‘beautiful’ while Ikkaku was grumbling and looked like someone had stolen his teddy bear. Matsumoto was flashing her tits and inching her skirt up. It all gave Ichigo a headache.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” he finally screamed.

Their voice cut off like someone had flipped a switch. Six pairs of wide eyes stared at him in utter shock.

“Get the fuck out of my house,” he snarled. Digging his substitute soul reaper badge out of his backpack, he slung it at Hitsugaya. “Do your own damned dirty work.” He was fed up to his back teeth with all of them, and coming on top of a shocking night and a reality-rearranging day, he’d had enough. “Don’t rely on a human to do what the Death Gods can’t. That’s just stupid!”

Hitsugaya finally nodded once, acknowledgement without agreement, and motioned for his troops to leave out the window. Matsumoto gave him one last hopeful tits-flash, and he scowled at her. Rukia was looking at him like she was trying to figure out a puzzle, and Renji was looking at Rukia like he’d never seen her before. After Ikkaku, Yumichika was the last one out the window. He turned back, reaching out to smooth the frown marks on Ichigo’s forehead with his fingertips.

“Don’t get wrinkles, you’re too beautiful for that.”

Ichigo gave him a half-smile and shook his head, watching him flounce out into the air and follow the rest of the soul reapers. He leaned against the windowsill and wondered how this would come back to bite him. It always did when he lost his temper, although he didn’t see another way around this. He wasn’t a puppet to dance to the Sou-Taicho’s tune. He’d meant every word he said.

As for the hollows threat, he had a mod soul. Rukia knew about it. She knew he wouldn’t let his family and friends go unprotected. If Aizen came after them, he’d kick the bastard all the way back to Hueco Mundo. As for the Shinigami?

They could fight their own damned civil war.

~time~

The next few days were strange. Ichigo couldn’t predict how the Shinigami would react to him tossing them out on their asses, and they didn’t have a great track record at protecting Karakura anyway, plus they were all distracted wondering when Aizen or his Espada would attack. Given all the variables of the situation, he did the best thing he could under the circumstances.

He trained.

He grabbed Chad and hauled him over to Urahara’s, borrowing the basement so Chad could train his Devil’s Arm and he could work on his bankai. The first time he’d seen Urahara after the hollow dropped the bomb on him about his ‘organic gigai’ status, he’d stopped in his tracks and stared.

Urahara flipped his fan closed, tipped his hat back, and for once, stared at Ichigo without hiding his eyes in shadows.

Then he’d dropped to his knees and performed dogeza, his hat at his side, his sword cane behind him. Showing his neck, leaving himself completely vulnerable, and shocking the hell out of Ichigo.

In that moment, he knew that Urahara had known exactly what he’d done when he cut Ichigo’s soul chain. He’d also done everything he could to make sure Ichigo survived storming the Seireitei. Maybe Ichigo had actually died when Byakuya stabbed him. Maybe he had too many other things to worry about and didn’t need another enemy. Maybe he just liked Urahara. Whatever the reason, he grumbled at the older man to get up, then handed him back his hat.

They hadn’t said another word about it, but there was an ease between them that hadn’t been there before, and the last few times he’d just given them a cheery wave as Ichigo hauled Chad down the steps to train.

He also grabbed Uryū and made sure the Quincy didn’t isolate himself, even without his powers, every change he got. Not that he got many, since Uryū disappeared with his dad every afternoon and left his dad’s hospital late every night looking like he’d been hit by several trucks.

Ichigo stayed in the shadows and paced him, making sure he got home all right.

He hadn’t returned to the Visored, but Orihime had, to heal up from some damage the huge Espada had done to her. Rukia made noises about taking Orihime back to Soul Society to train, but Tatsuki punched her in the mouth, and after Orihime healed her, it hadn’t come up again.

Rukia was very quiet and watchful. Ichigo let her be. They were friends, but as far as he was concerned, he’d cleared his debt to her when he’d gone to Soul Society to save her from being executed. Hell, he’d literally died for her. And she wanted to drag him and all his friends back into war?

Not going to happen.

~observance~

A week went by, and Tōshirō Hitsugaya had never been so confused. He sent Matsumoto and Abarai off to work on their bankai, left Ikkaku and Yumichika to patrol, and ordered Rukia to do her best to be a liaison to the maybe-substitute soul reaper. She wasn’t doing a very good job of it, but she was trying. He himself spent most of his time observing everyone’s interactions, and occasionally playing football with Karin.

He justified it as keeping a tie to the Kurosaki family since none of the Shinigami were allowed in the house again.

What he saw left him uncertain.

Kurosaki and Yasutora Sado spent a lot of time training. The substitute-who-perhaps-wasn’t used soul candy, verified by Kuchiki as one he’d gotten during her first deployment, to leave his physical body and fight hollows. He brought along his large friend with the strange powers as back-up. They were very efficient. Hollow activity was under control even without the assistance of the actual Shinigami on-site. The Quincy spent his free time training as well, with an older Quincy who was apparently his father. The young woman with the strange powers was the healer for the group, and appeared to be training along with Urahara in using her odd hair pin weapons. But other than the training and hollow-hunting, the teenagers… acted like teenagers.

They protected one another when they had to, went to classes, spent hours in study either in their homes or in the library. They talked about other classes they would have to take and future plans for further education, along with the importance of class rankings to allow entrance into these institutions of higher learning. They watched television and danced to very loud music. Kurosaki spend time shepherding his younger sisters and avoiding beatings at the hands of his father. Inoue spent time making strange concoctions in her kitchen and staying overnight with the girl who had broken Kuchiki’s nose. Yasutora played a ‘guitar’, something like a shamisen only with twice as many strings, with a group of other young men, and they all went to listen one night. All of them spent a lot of time reading.

It made no sense to him.

There were times when he felt completely out of his depth in the Living World. Judging by the consternation and confusion among his advanced guard, he wasn’t alone in this.

Not knowing what else to do, feeling a little like a stalker, he, and everyone else, converged on Urahara’s shop. They might as well come out of the shadows.

At least this way they’d have someplace to train… and a roof over their heads at night. Watching Kurosaki sleep was boring, anyway.

He’d make Abarai do it.

~stray cat strut~

Renji sat on a handy tree branch and stared dully at the Kurosaki Clinic. Ichigo had gone to sleep an hour or so before, and he was already bored out of his skull. Sitting still was a bad thing. It gave him time to think. When he thought, all he could think about was how soft Rukia had felt in his arms, how good her weight had felt on his lap, how nice she smelled… how much she would hurt him if she ever found out he was thinking about her without her clothes on.

Thankfully, a flash of heavy hollow reiatsu split the air, directly behind him. Much better to fight than to think.

Except he didn’t get attacked. Nobody did.

Not in any way that could be called an attack.

A very tall, very muscular man in flowing white with a bright blue shock of hair and a piece of jawbone stuck to his face appeared at Ichigo’s bedroom window. Before Renji could untangle himself from branches and confront him, he slipped into the room.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Renji ground out under his breath. If Ichigo got killed because he was caught up in fucking splinters he was going to offer his head to his captain without a protest. A stray branch caught his ankle and he fell ass over heels to faceplant on the ground. Spitting dirt and spitting mad at how long it was taking him, he pulled out his Zanpakutō and moved to the window as fast as possible, then froze at what he saw.

Big and blue wasn’t killing Ichigo.

He was stripping him. And kissing him, and touching him, and wow.

Ichigo’s hands were tied together above his head with the sash the guy had been wearing. It kind of made Renji think Ichigo was being raped, except the sash wasn’t actually tied TO anything, and Ichigo looked pretty enthusiastic with the tongue and the spreading his legs and the kicking his pants off and everything, so Renji didn’t think all this was going down without his consent.

Then Big Blue pinned the sash to the pillow and gave a kind of wriggle with his hips between Ichigo’s thighs.

Probably a good thing they were kissing, because even muffled, Ichigo made a pretty impressive noise.

They broke the kiss, and Renji heard Ichigo hiss something about lube and asshole, though he wasn’t sure if Ichigo wanted the lube on his asshole or if he was calling the guy currently fucking him an asshole. Maybe both. Then Big Blue snickered, and pulled back, and Ichigo’s eyes rolled up in his head.

Probably because Big Blue was licking him.

There wasn’t a lot of foreplay, or any, really. Big Blue leaned down, licked Ichigo’s dick all the way around, then right across the top. Then he nuzzled straight past it, stopping to do something to Ichigo’s balls that Renji couldn’t quite see no matter how hard he strained, and Ichigo’s entire body spasmed.

Okay. Wow. Ichigo was really pretty. Especially all splayed out like that, with the muscles standing out in his arms and down across his chest and up along his throat, the way he was biting down at the sash to keep from being too loud, what with the family just down the hall and all. He had his feet planted on the mattress and his knees bent, spread further apart than Big Blue’s shoulders, which was pretty damned far apart. Hell, even his toes were clenched on the sheets.

Renji had the stray thought that he really should relax or Big Blue was gonna tear him apart, before that bright blue hair dipped down further and Ichigo’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Muscles were rippling along his belly, making the thin trail of bright orange hair leading up to his belly button shine in the low light. Renji unconsciously licked his lips, watching Ichigo thrash a little on the bed, watching those big hands hold him down, watching that big muscular body rise over him, lean into him, and yeah. He guessed spit worked for lube if there was enough of it and he’d been tongued long enough.

Wow, wow, wow. Ichigo had really long legs, and Big Blue ran his hands under them, lifting them off the bed and hooking his elbows under Ichigo’s knees. It was fast, and hard. They were both making noise, and it was some kind of miracle nobody had come in to find out who was tearing the wall down. Then Big Blue wrapped a hand around Ichigo’s dick, pinned the sash tying Ichigo’s wrists back over his head onto the pillow with his other hand, and stuck his tongue down Ichigo’s throat the exact moment Ichigo came so hard his whole body bounced on the bed.

Big Blue just kept fucking him all the way through it.

The damned apocalypse, or all Aizen’s troops and the creep himself, could have come blazing through gargantas all over Karakura, and it still wouldn’t have dragged Renji’s attention away from what was happening in that bedroom. Big Blue’s hand had stopped moving, but from the look of it, Ichigo couldn’t stop coming, and they went at it hot and heavy for several minutes more before Ichigo was whimpering and Big Blue finally lost his rhythm. The steady slap of sweaty skin got ragged, then Big Blue made a sound that could only be called a yowl, barely muffled as Ichigo stuffed the end of the sash in his mouth. Then he shoved in so hard Ichigo gave a yowl of his own, and shook as he came before collapsing onto Ichigo, completely covering him.

It was a good thing it was only a few moments, so Renji didn’t have to go rescue Ichigo from suffocating under the man-mountain that had just finished fucking him, because Renji was pretty close to coming himself and didn’t want to pull his hand away from his crotch. Ichigo’s legs were shaking a little as they slid down to bracket their bodies on the bed, and his hands pushed up on Big Blue’s shoulders until the guy rolled off him.

Well, rolled, anyway, pulling Ichigo with him until they’d ended up switching positions, and with a bed that narrow, that took talent and a bit of squirming around. Ichigo leaned his head down and kissed Big Blue sweetly, slipping his still-tied hands behind the other’s head so they could kiss in comfort. Big Blue took his time running his hands up and down Ichigo’s back, squeezing his ass, and generally manhandling him. Renji found himself staring at the reddened skin of Ichigo’s ass and inner thighs, a thin trickle of come sliding down between his thighs and over his balls, then bit his tongue to keep from making any noise as he came in his hand.

Sexiest fucking thing he’d ever seen.

But he must have made some kind of noise, because bright sky blue eyes zeroed in on him over Ichigo’s shoulder.

Fuck guard duty. Renji had never shunpo-ed so fast in his life.

It was an hour later before he got over the shakes and made it back to the Kurosaki Clinic. He peeked in Ichigo’s room just long enough to see that the kid was sound asleep, alone, in his wrecked bed, then retreated with haste back to his tree. He didn’t move until morning.

At least he had something other than Rukia to obsess about… get hard over… yeah, that too.

Something was going on with Ichigo, and Renji was going to find out what. He’d never get the chance if he let Captain By-the-book find out. So when he gave his report to Hitsugaya, he left out the details of the big blue visitor.

~shock~

To say he hadn’t been expecting it would be a massive understatement. Ichigo had come home from hanging out with his friends, cheering Chad’s band on, to a quiet house, everyone asleep, not even a flying kick to the face from his dad. He’d made his way as silently as possible upstairs, peed, brushed his teeth, changed into sweats and a tee shirt, and fallen into bed. It had been a long week.

Then a huge slab of muscle with bright blue hair, brighter blue eyes, a hole in his belly and a pirate’s grin came through his window and ravished him.

He’d woken up to find himself naked and tied up… well, tied, anyway. Then he’d been hit by a whirlwind of energy. The first thrust nearly killed him, and he’d bitched about lube, but he didn’t have any, because, hey, a week ago he’d been a virgin with no time and privacy to jerk off, so yeah. The gorgeous crazy Espada rubbing up against him like a big horny cat gave him a toothy grin and went down on him like a hurricane. Next thing he knew, a rough tongue was stretching him out, followed by several fingers that were certainly not taking their time, then a dick that felt like it was stabbing all the way up into his throat from the inside.

At no time was it any less than fantastic.

He came hard enough to give himself a nose bleed, and pretty kitty just kept on going. It was like electric jolts all through his body, starting in his ass and centering on his balls then shooting through to his toes and his fingertips and the top of his head. He didn’t think he stopped coming until the pirate cat, who hadn’t bothered introducing himself, came with a yell loud enough to wake the dead. Ichigo barely got part of the sash up to shut it down before he got slammed nearly through the wall, and holy fuck, that felt better than it should have.

He might have yelled. A little.

Then he was nearly smothered as a ton of Espada landed on him, but he didn’t mind much, because Blueboy smelled really good, plus his dick was still mostly inside, and little pleasure aftershocks were jolting all through him. The only thing he could do was kiss that pretty face, trying not to get scraped up on the bone fragment attached to his jaw and wondering, vaguely, why that didn’t bother him more than it did.

Then he remembered he was kind of hollow himself, so hey, whatever.

Merging with his inner hollow had given him an inner stability unlike anything he’d ever had. He’d been off balance ever since he’d gotten his mom killed, and maybe he’d split his soul apart then. But it was back as it should be, he thought. Rukia was out of his closet, he was getting good grades, his sisters were safe, and random gorgeous Espada were showing up to have incredible sex with him, so everything was just fine for the moment.

He might have been having an endorphic moment.

Blueboy was purring now, with a little hiccup as he slipped completely free from Ichigo’s body, and Ichigo shuddered happily in response. He carded his fingers through the thick wild hair at the back of the head he was cradling, and stole another kiss.

“So,” he said when he could form words again, “my name’s Ichigo Kurosaki. What’s yours?”

Shining blue eyes laughed up at him. “Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, very much at your service,” he drawled, then after a tiny pause, teased, “Deathberry.”

Ichigo was still sputtering about that when Blueboy, because there was no way in hell he was going to remember that weird name any more than the one Green Eyes gave him, gave him another searing kiss. Rolled deftly out from under him and bit him sharply on the neck. “Ouch!”

“Pah,” Blueboy snickered. “Keep the sash. For next time.”

Then, carrying his clothes, buck-ass naked for all the world to see, Blueboy climbed out his window and sonido-ed away.

Ichigo stared, stunned, at the open window, before shivering in the breeze. Slipping his hands out of the loose knot, he carefully folded the sash and stuffed it in his desk drawer. Snagging the blanket, Quincy cross feeling oddly reassuring, he curled up under it. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Getting up the next morning was not fun. So very not fun.

Thankfully, it was Saturday, so Goat Face didn’t bust in at six am and try to kick his face off. He had time to gingerly climb out of bed, get a nice hot shower to loosen up his muscles enough to walk without too obvious a limp – he hoped – and strip the bed. This time he laundered the sheets. When he made it down to breakfast, Karin stared holes at him, Goat Face yelled something incomprehensible about his son being a man, and Yuzu asked him how he wanted his eggs.

A normal morning in the Kurosaki household. If they heard anything, and he had a sneaking suspicion they did, nobody said a word. Well, other than his dad, but nobody paid any attention to him, anyway. It was easier on what sanity they had left if everyone ignored the grown man sobbing in the corner.

~scientific curiosity~

Golden eyes rimmed in fine bone and framed by wisps of bright pink hair stared at the surveillance footage. A long tongue flicked out, licking dry lips.

Oh, this was so much more than Ulquiorra reported.

Aizen-sama was strong, and thought he was omniscient, but Szayel Aporro Granz was sneaky, a certified scientific genius, and incredibly paranoid. It came from being the most intelligent but by far not the strongest in the room for a very long time. Aizen-sama thought he saw all the video feeds that went into and came out of Las Noches. Szayel was the one who created the bugs that sent those feeds.

Always have a backdoor into the system.

He’d seen a crack in Ulquiorra after his mission to the Living World. When he’d pressed at it, Ulquiorra hadn’t noticed. This was a good thing, as it kept Szayel from being instantly murdered by the higher-ranked Espada. It was also a good thing, because it gave Szayel advanced notice that the tides were changing.

He’d been the first one Starrk showed once the Primera found evidence that Aizen-sama was planning to sacrifice them all. It hadn’t surprised Szayel, after all, he was the one to leave that timely little opening for Starrk to eavesdrop. Like the majority of the Espada, including everyone with any speck of intelligence at all, he knew that traitors betray, and one day they would have to rise up and kill the interlopers.

The only Espada who hadn’t figured it out were Yammy and Nnoitra – one could only think with his stomach and the other could only think with his sword. Aaroniero’s several personalities made him too self-absorbed and insane to notice much of what was going on around him. Barragan was too busy torturing his cute little Fracción to care about anything, and was as treacherous as only an ancient hollow could be. Szayel looked forward to the day that old bastard was assassinated. Tier and Zommari were essentially neutral, and would follow whomever was strong enough to lead, would retreat to the night sands of Hueco Mundo, or would be bystanders caught in the crossfire.

So too would Szayel follow the strongest, although he was far from neutral. He would manipulate from the shadows, covering it all with flamboyant camouflage, and he would survive.

Which meant not letting it come to outright war. Not falling into Aizen-sama’s plans. Stabbing whomever needed to be stabbed in the back, covering all the contingencies he could, in his genius, conceive, and finding another side.

Staring down at a marvelous hybrid with the power to bridge worlds, to subvert Shinigami, to seduce hollows, to befriend Visored, all wrapped up in a pretty flame-headed package… Szayel had found his side. He would take odds that Starrk was there as well, and judging by the way Ulquiorra wooed the hybrid, and Grimmjow jumped him, two other powerful Espada were as well.

They had a chance. All it would take is incredibly careful planning and incredibly precise timing.

He licked his lips again, zooming in on a flushed face with sleepy amber eyes, kiss-swollen lips, and a mop of sweat-dark orange hair, and spared the thought that he would love to have Ichigo Kurosaki on his table.

Not just to crack him open and study all the different strands that made him up, either.

~conspiracy of friends~

Rangiku was the first to notice something was off with Renji. It shouldn’t have been surprising, really. She wasn’t nearly as self-centered and air-headed as she deliberately appeared. Rukia might have noticed, but she was still off-balance from Ichigo refusing to let her bully him anymore. That left Rangiku to cozy up to Renji as he sat under a tree in a park, staring blindly at a leaf he twirled mechanically through his fingers.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He didn’t start, proving he had better situational awareness than she expected. She settled herself down and stared expectantly at him. When that didn’t work after the minimal ninety seconds, she leaned forward a little and pressed her boobs together. That got his attention, as it always did.

Blushing, he tossed the leaf at her and looked away. “Stop that.”

“Then talk,” she commanded mirthfully, brushing crumbs of leaf from her cleavage.

He looked around, sensing to see if there was anyone in hearing distance. Rangiku frowned and inched closer. Whatever was eating at him, it was serious. “Is it Rukia?”

Renji shook his head and stared at her as if he could see right through her. She hadn’t felt so judged and weighed in a long time. She sat up straighter. “Whatever it is, I won’t tell.”

After staring at her a little while longer, he reluctantly nodded. She would have felt insulted if she couldn’t see how much this was bothering him.

“It’s Ichigo.”

Oh, that really made her perk up. Much as she despaired of Ichigo ever waking up to the wonder that was little Orihime, she couldn’t blame the boy for it. Boys were dense. He’d either grow up and figure it out, or he’d turn out gay, and it still wouldn’t be his fault. Personally, she found him rather adorable. Especially since he never fell for her boobs or her legs. While it gave her a nice feeling to know he respected her, it also reinforced the suspicion she had that he was gay.

No straight man had ever turned away from her boobs.

Witness Renji, right at that moment, who was staring at them without even realizing it. She would have laughed, because boys were so very easy to manipulate, but then he spoke.

“He’s got a lover.”

“I thought he was a virgin,” she responded blankly, staring at him in disbelief. Sweet little Ichigo with a lover? Well, maybe not little, since he was as tall as she was, but still…

Renji shook his head. “No. It’s a guy.”

And that, right there, confirmed it. She nodded her head. She always knew.

“He’s a hollow. I’m pretty sure he’s an Espada, if the six I saw tattooed on his back is any indication.”

Rangiku fell over in shock.

She hadn’t seen THAT coming.

Absently accepting Renji’s hand up, she leaned weakly against his shoulder and sighed. “Well, that might explain why he doesn’t want to get involved in the war against Aizen.”

“I dunno,” Renji leaned his head back against the tree and twisted his mouth into a bitter smirk. “He made some damned good points about Seireitei using a human teenager to fight a centuries-old would-be god. Aizen really is our problem, not his.”

“If he’s sleeping with the enemy…”

“Not his enemy if he’s neutral,” Renji broke in. “Ichigo’s right. The Living World is his turf. He only ever accepted Rukia’s power to save his family. He broke into Seireitei to pay her back, and ‘cause he’s got a thing about justice.”

They both shuddered for a second, and Renji added, “Not like Tousen, ‘cause that’s just creepy.” Then he brought himself back on-topic. “But if Ichigo’s lover is an Espada, it might not just be sex.”

Rangiku raised an elegant brow at him. “You think it might be true love?” Skepticism dripped from her words.

“He might be protecting his family again. His friends. His town.”

She thought about that for a little bit, and Renji gave her the silence to think. That actually made a lot of sense. For a teenaged human, Ichigo was a shockingly good fighter, although he still had a ways to go, and he wasn’t strong enough to stand up to an Espada and win. Part of his natural skill rested on an uncanny knack for tactics. It wasn’t outside the realm of the possible that he was trading sex for protection. She’d done it in the past, out in the far reaches of the Rukongai. Most survivors had at one time or another.

It didn’t make them whores, no matter what the ignorant snotty bastards who’d never had to scrabble for a scrap in their lives said.

There was only one way to find out. “Want some company on your Ichi-kun-watch?”

Another searching glance, then whatever he saw in her eyes reassured him.

“Love some.”

~prime prowl~

He’d smelled it on the bat when he came back, wobbling a little, stealing through the shadows, affirming the glimpses he’d gotten while trailing him through the Living World.

He’d smelled it again on the cat when he came back, caught between a strut and a slink, grinning to himself like an idiot while his eyes darted everywhere to make sure he wasn’t seen.

Starrk put it together, pulled it apart, examined each piece, and put it together again. When he was called upon by Aizen to perform a task that was ‘vital to the success of the mission,’ he knew it was time.

Kidnap a ditzy little human girl? Bring her to Las Noches? Why, so the hybrid and his nakama could storm Hueco Mundo like they had Soul Society? They may be isolated in Las Noches, but he – and Szayel – had their sources. They knew what had gone down. Taking Orihime Inoue would give the Shinigami a perfect excuse to invade Hueco Mundo and slaughter everything that moved.

Sin sentido. Inútil.

It was time.

He bowed his head, sent a mental order to Lilynette, and made his way back to his quarters. On his way out that night, he stopped briefly at Szayel’s workshop.

Plans were in place. It was time to execute them.

All of them.

He was but the first.

Aizen had the same downfall as many a so-called genius. He was arrogant, and that gave him blind spots. He saw what he thought he saw, and thought he saw truth. He was a shogi master, and thought that qualified him to use sentient beings as game pieces.

He had no idea how to handle chaos.

And so, that would be their weapon of choice.

Lilynette came with him through the garganta, then disappeared to lie low until the final phase of their counter-operation, when she would return to him and they would kill the interloper.

Since Starrk wasn’t about to participate in a kidnapping, when he arrived in the Living World, he instead followed his nose.

Ah. The hybrid.

He was lovely, and his power was intoxicating. He was young, and still developing, but his reiryoku was vast. Given how vast Starrk’s own reiryoku was, he had a hard time measuring others’. But Ichigo’s sang to him, and he could follow it easily. He didn’t even need the enticing scent. That was a bonus.

Yes. With this power at their side, Aizen would fail.

There was the added allure of the young man himself. He carried himself well, like a protector, his eyes watchful, much like Starrk was around Lilynette. Starrk observed him for many hours as Ichigo studied, fought a pack of hollows alongside a large young man who carried the scent of hollow and a slender young man who felt like lightning, sat in his home with his little sisters cuddled to each side of him as they played some board game. A few times the older man who hovered around the edges of the group looked out, but Starrk took care, and he was not seen.

He ghosted into the house when the family sat down to dinner, and was waiting when Ichigo returned to his room, saying something about ‘homework’ as he separated from the group.

Rapid footsteps came to the door, then through it, and Starrk had to smile a little at Ichigo’s distraction. Then a blade was at his throat, and fierce amber eyes stared up into his, and the smile grew across his face.

“Buenas noches, mi tesoro,” he greeted him gently, moving the blade away with one finger and sweeping a courtly bow.

Those beautiful eyes blinked at him, and the blade didn’t waver. He sighed.

“I bring before you a proposition.” He gave Ichigo an expectant look.

Finally, when the complete absence of any threat made it through the paranoid youngster’s head, the blade disappeared. Ichigo gave him a polite bow, keeping his eyes locked on Starrk the entire time.

“Shall we sit?”

It really wasn’t his place to be playing host, but so far he hadn’t heard a word from the young man, so he took the lead. They both looked around. The only place to sit was on the bed. Manfully repressing the urge to take a nap, Starrk settled gracefully and patted the mattress next to him.

Ichigo sat on the desk chair.

Starrk sighed. “My name is Coyote Starrk. Aizen sent me here to kidnap your friend Orihime Inoue.”

Ichigo moved as if to jump up and fight, or run straight away and protect his friend, but Starrk moved faster. Bundling the lanky body up in his arms, he sat back down on the bed, bringing Ichigo with him and placing him firmly on his lap.

“I did not do so, of course,” he said quietly into the ear next to his lips. “I will not do so.”

The whisper of air over the sensitive passage caused a shiver to run through the body so close to his own. He thought of fighting down his physical reaction, but this close, Ichigo smelled alluring. A blush rose up along his neck, rising to his cheeks, and amber eyes flickered toward him, then away.

“Why not? Why’d you come here? What are you doing?”

His voice was steadier than Starrk expected it to be, and he approved. It showed strength of will in trying circumstances. Considering he was frankly ignoring the questions in favor of licking a stripe along the cord of Ichigo’s throat, his composure was admirable. He blew over the wet skin and smiled at the way the body in his arms shivered. Responsive. Lovely.

Then the long limbs began to tighten again, and Starrk found himself sighing for the umpteenth time. “I defected,” he stated, then nudged the cloth beneath his chin out of the way and nipped at the luscious rounded shoulder he uncovered.

“De… de… fuck,” Ichigo stuttered, then muttered, “well, if you’re here, you’re not there, and she’s safe, so what the hell.”

Ah. Responsive, strong enough to survive mating, and easy. Starrk’s favorite combination. It was very rare.

Of course, the slow hand he’d slipped down the back of Ichigo’s trousers and slid down along his crease may have had something to do with the ease of his conquest. Most beings were sensitive in that area, and when his fingertip played with the opening it found, Ichigo moved back toward it, not away. The slightly faster hand he’d slid up Ichigo’s thigh to cup his swelling arousal had also, no doubt, helped in the decision to give in.

From there, it was a delightful journey of discovery. It had been a long time since Starrk had made love, but old instincts easily rose to the surface. He took his time, mapping the curve of cheek and jaw, nuzzling the tender skin behind an ear, nibbling and sucking along the line of throat. Clothes fell away with little difficulty, with tiny moments of awkwardness and with great eagerness.

The chest rising and falling with each panting breath was his playground, and he lingered, suckling a nipple here, stroking the line of a rib there, settling into the hollow of a collarbone for a little while before trailing down again. The thin trail of curls under his tongue was a shade or so darker than the wilder hair on Ichigo’s head, and the prick rising to meet him was well formed and trailing slick. He carded his fingers through the thatch of hair at the base, sliding his hand around the heavy sac, playing, scenting, rubbing, until they lay flush with one another, long slender limbs intertwined as he entered the opening he had previously loosened with his fingers.

Ichigo closed around him, molten hot and startlingly tight. They moved slowly, but with purpose, pausing often to allow the sensation to build. Lazy kisses, languid touches, and taut self-control ensured a night of passion neither would forget.

He left as the sun was breaking the horizon.

He would return.

~really?~

Ichigo stared at the fall of textbooks and binders blocking his door shut, and wondered when he became the go-to guy for Espada sex.

Not that he was complaining, really. Well, maybe a little, but just because whoever the hell THAT one was – he could never remember their names – must have an advanced degree in the Kama Sutra or something. He’d heard of delayed ejaculation techniques, but he never thought he’d be teased until he thought he was going to explode, literally. He’d been trapped in his bedroom by a man who resembled, more than anything, a wolf. Then he’d been fucked to the brink, left to hang there until he calmed back down, then fucked back to the brink, until he was pretty sure his heart was going to give out.

When he finally had been allowed to come, he’d been yipping like a dog in heat, and not even slamming his mouth against any part of his lover he could find would totally muffle it. Wolfy just seemed to take that as encouragement to tease him some more. His balls ached almost as much as his ass did, and it wasn’t just because they were completely empty.

Another few nights like this one, and he might never get out of bed. He might not be ABLE to get out of his bed.

Shakily wrapping the blanket around himself, he flopped down gingerly onto the mattress, trying in vain to avoid the wet spots. He wriggled until he wasn’t putting pressure on any part of his body that was stressed, stretched, swollen or otherwise abused, then gave one forlorn thought to the unfinished Economics assignment he was supposed to turn in the next morning. He groggily decided that no matter how great all the Espada sex was it was really screwing up his study schedule, and passed out.

~stunned~

Rangiku had one hand over her mouth to cover the sound of heavy breathing, and one hand someplace in her lap Renji didn’t want to think about.

Another one. There was another one. How many were there? And would they all be after Ichigo’s ass?

Big Blue and now a long tall slender one who literally pulsed with power. Renji decided he’d go with hair colors and call him Chestnut.

“He could give lessons.” Rangiku sounded a little awed.

“In attracting Espada?” Renji asked, confused.

Rangiku gave him a look that made it clear she thought he was an idiot. It was one Renji got a lot. From a lot of women. He tried not to think about it.

“No, the handsome hollow that just thoroughly laid our little Substitute.”

Now she sounded a little dreamy. Renji thought he should be alarmed by this, but he’d been pretty damned impressed by the hours of sexual torture – er, pleasure, he’d just witnessed, so he could understand where she was coming from. Figuratively speaking. He shook off the scary thoughts he was starting to get about going to Hueco Mundo and hunting down some tail, and forced himself back on topic.

Though if all the Espada were that cute, and that horny, maybe he’d get lucky…

Shaking the daze off his scattered mind, he took a deep breath.

“What are we going to do about it? I think we need to keep it to ourselves. I don’t want to get Ichigo in trouble. But something big is going on. We need to keep an eye out.”

“Oh, yes, it was certainly big,” Rangiku practically moaned, and Renji blushed instantly. “And we definitely need to keep watching.”

“Mat-su-mo-to,” he gritted out, “what do you think we should do?”

She grinned at him. He shuddered. It was pretty, and evil, and pretty evil.

“Ask Yumichika to join us.”

Renji nearly asked how that would help, but decided discretion was the better part of valor and, for once, kept his mouth shut.

~time passages~

Things were happening, though no one in the Living World or Soul Society were quite sure what those things were. Butterfly messengers flitted from Captain Hitsugaya to the Sou-Taicho and back. Rangiku moved in with Orihime and set up a video relay, through which they were informed by a concerned Captain Ukitake that sometime in the winter Aizen would probably attack and try to do something catastrophic to Karakura involving hundreds of thousands of human souls and an incursion against the Soul King. Everyone in the Gotei 13 – except Kurotsuchi, who just wanted to cut him open – tried to get Ichigo to come back to active duty.

The evening he told the Sou-Taicho precisely why he wasn’t under his command, mincing no words and sounding a lot like he was telling off Rukia all over again, was a memory Rangiku would treasure. There were a lot of arrogant assholes in the upper echelons of the Gotei 13 – not including Ukitake who was a sweetheart and Kyouraku who was a great drinking buddy – and it did her heart good to see Ichigo verbally flip them off. That he ended the call with a friendly, casual greeting to Ukitake that was returned in kind, and a teasing greeting to Byakuya Kuchiki that made the nobleman’s lips thin and a tiny blush rise to his cheeks, was just icing on her cake.

Of course, it could end up getting him and everyone he’d ever loved or even known put under an execution order and wiped out, as had happened with the Quincy, but right then the Sou-Taicho had enough to deal with on his plate. A vague hope that he could get Ichigo back under his thumb in time to use him as an attack dog against Aizen kept Yamamoto from labeling them all traitors and sending the Onmitsukidō after them, so they were safe for the moment, at least.

So time passed, with Ichigo and his two friends becoming a perfectly-functioning hollow-killing machine, training like madmen even though they said they wanted no part in the war. Rangiku adopted Orihime as a little sister and gently encouraged her to look elsewhere for love, like that Quincy cutie or the gentle giant – you know what they say about the correlation between big hands and big other things, she’d chirped brightly at the human girl, in part because it was true, and in part because Orihime was so cute when she turned dark red like that, screwed her eyes up, and fell over in a faint.

Rangiku was encouraged by signs of romance with Chado. Orihime never shut up, and the giant never talked. They made a sweet couple. All the humans went to classes, with Ichigo and Uryū having a spirited competition for first place in the rankings, shocking everyone who hadn’t noticed that Ichigo wasn’t nearly as stupid as they thought he was. Urahara did strange things in his basement lab at the Sou-Taicho’s orders that might save Karakura in the worst case scenario, all of it above her pay grade. Ikkaku trained with Rukia until both of them were regularly exhausted. Captain Hitsugaya played a lot more football than he ever reported… no doubt it had something to do with Karin-chan, no matter how he glared at her and denied it when she teased him about it.

Renji, Rangiku, and Yumichika watched as an assortment of incredibly powerful Espadas climbed through Ichigo’s bedroom window and gave advanced seminars in sex.

Well, Rangiku was taking mental notes, at least.

She was pretty sure Yumichika was, too.

It was all so very much fun she didn’t even miss her sake. Much.

Besides the two they’d originally seen, a couple more showed up. Yumichika had been watching with them for over a week, whining about losing his beauty sleep, when the pink-haired one appeared.

This one was a lot more flamboyant than either of the others, and not nearly as strong, although he still had quite a presence. He was very tall, with broad shoulders and narrow hips, and he moved like a snake through water. Ichigo had already been in bed when he showed, and all three Shinigami went still and silent, watching. They would intervene if there was a threat, of course they would. But so far none of the Espada had hurt Ichigo, none even showed any hostile intent. They just came for, well, bootie calls, Rangiku thought they were called.

Like this one.

~intrepid explorer!~

Szayel didn’t leave his laboratories very often. He was like a trapdoor spider, and preferred to have complete control over his environment, the better to concentrate on his specimens. Sometimes, however, he had to go out in the field to gain his reward.

After watching the video feeds of Ulquiorra, Grimmjow, AND Starrk together with Ichigo Kurosaki, he knew it was time for a field expedition.

Still, he minimized risk. He carried three different formulations of incapacitating agents, one for hollows, one for soul reapers, and one for humans. Two were injectable and one was an inhalant. Depending on the sequence of events, he could potentially use any, all, or none of them. He wasn’t taking any chances. While he was an excellent fighter, he hadn’t been a lover for a very long time, so he’d studied the varied efforts of the three higher-ranking Espada who had come before him – literally. His skills might be rusty, but he had a map of Ichigo’s most easily-aroused erogenous zones, and a plan on how to trigger each and every one of them.

Now all he needed was opportunity and acquiescence.

The opportunity came much sooner than he’d expected. Aizen-sama had flipped his shit… well, he’d given a disappointed sigh over his tea… when Starrk had gone missing. Szayel put on his most innocent face and stayed in the shadows because he knew how unconvincing that expression was, even on the rare occasions he actually was innocent. Then he’d waited.

As they’d expected, Ulquiorra and Yammy had been sent to retrieve the Primera. Szayel still wasn’t sure how Ulquiorra had arranged it, but when he stumbled back to Hueco Mundo alone and collapsed his spy eye, they’d seen Yammy fall prey to a tall, grey-haired, slender man with a very bad temper and an incredible skill with a reishi bow. It seems the two had ‘accidentally’ stumbled in on a Quincy training program and threatened a young Quincy, royally pissing off his father, who had gutted Yammy like a pig and nearly taken Ulquiorra’s head off. The immediate strategic retreat that left Yammy to bleed out on the ground was seen by all as perfectly understandable, even by Grimmjow, who made no comments about ‘doing a better job’ of it.

That Quincy elder was fucking terrifying.

A few days later Nnoitra was sent out on a retrieval mission along with Harribel, a pairing even a blind man could tell was a disaster in the making. Szayel wondered why Tousen didn’t say anything. Of course, they didn’t find Starrk, but at least Harribel brought Nnoitra back. In several pieces.

By then plans were well underway for the invasion that would not happen, and Aizen-sama was getting tired of losing Espada. The third time he sent down Barragan, with a stern warning not to turn Karakura to ashes, as Aizen-sama needed it in one piece, souls intact, for his master plan. Tousen went along to watch over him, pun intended, and everywhere that Tousen went, Wonderweiss was sure to follow.

No one had any idea what happened next, but Barragan apparently decided it was time to re-take his crown. He went nuts, set his Fracción on Tousen, and was obliterated himself in the fight that followed.

Neither survived, although some of the faster, more intelligent and cowardly Fracción escaped.

The whole fiasco never even made it off Hueco Mundo.

Szayel considered that particular psychotropic to be a masterpiece. From delivery – ironically, laced through the material of Barragan’s battle robe – to the final slaughter, it was a work of art. Sadly, the little blond idiot survived. He spent all his time curled up in a corner, rocking and crying.

Aizen actually raised his voice over that one.

Ichimaru didn’t say anything, as he never did, but he’d given Szayel the most intriguing look as he had followed Aizen-sama from the room. Knowing, as always, but also congratulatory, which didn’t track… unless he was planning his own coup, in which case he bore watching.

Still, that was for later, not now. Now was for slipping through the shadows into a little room above a rather interesting medical clinic, holding equipment that he’d make time to check out, perhaps requisition, later when he had the chance. Now was for sliding a thin needle into the bend of one long arm, then bending over to watch eyelids flutter, then open over glazed, heated almond eyes. Now was for sending ugly human clothing to the floor, uncovering flesh as soft and ripe as any peach, begging him to taste.

He obliged.

His mind ticked over relentlessly as the hours passed. What sound would touching this nipple cause, and would it rise or fall with a twist or a tug? How quickly could he make the sweat rise on that skin, and the flush beneath it? How many places could he stroke, and press, and lightly scratch, and how many times could he make this ever-so-responsive body come before the respiration rate was too high, the pulse too fast? What new areas could he discover that would cause a moan, a whimper, a guttural growl? The back of the knee, the undercurve of a buttock, the side of a wrist, the nape of the neck?

Yes, to all, and then some.

By the time he had, for the moment, exhausted his curiosity, he had also exhausted his young lover. He took his pleasure eventually, but his orgasm was secondary to his observations, and Ichigo made for a fascinating object to observe. Excellent stamina, quick responses, great strength, and a depth of sensuality that left them both drenched.

By the time he dragged himself away and pulled himself back through the garganta to his laboratory, he knew he had a new obsession. One he shared with others who could crush him without effort, so one he had to handle delicately, but that was fine. As long as he got his turn, he was quite willing to play nice.

Or as nice as he got. Which, when in fear for his life, could be very nice, indeed.

~sweet dreams~

Ichigo woke up tangled in sweat-wet sheets, wondering what the hell was up with his subconscious. He was stiff and sore, yet very relaxed. The Eurhythmics were playing in his brain, and Annie Lennox’s growl would NOT leave his head all day. He had little bruises he couldn’t explain scattered all over his body, and if not for the fact that he’d spent the evening finishing up an essay for his literature class he’d think for sure he’d been clubbing instead of studying. Then led out into an alley behind the club and fucked against the wall. Not that such a thing had ever happened, but he was kind of used to that wet dream. He blamed Chad and how hot he looked up on the stage under the lights when he was really getting into the music. Anyway, it hadn’t happened, so why did it feel like it had?

He spend the next three days starting at every shadow that moved, taking out his frustration on hollows until they started running away as soon as he showed up, making him chase the damned things. He even snapped at Orihime, earning himself a glare from Chad. That freaked him out so badly he finally calmed down, an oxymoronic reaction that described most of his life these days. Responding to the grumbling in his soulscape, he spent some time communing with his inner hollow and Zanpakutō. The old man grumbled something about pink irritants, but the hollow distracted him with joint kendo exercises, so he never did find out what that was all about.

Then Green Eyes climbed back through his window, and he forgot all about it.

~several things of beauty~

Yumichika was a very intelligent, very sneaky, and surprisingly deep-thinking soul. No one as gorgeous as he would have survived in the far reaches of the Rukongai, not to mention in the harsh environment of the Eleventh, unless he was a very smart, sly son of a bitch. It was no problem to guide Ikkaku into ‘training’ the little Kuchiki so he could slip away with Rangiku and Renji. He didn’t expect much. While Rangiku had a good head on her shoulders, she disguised it well, and Renji was quite dim.

Needless to say, Ichigo’s suitors surprised him.

He’d been sure the beautiful boy was an innocent. That surety was shot down soon into their vigil. It continued to be buried in evidence over the course of several days, as first a pink-haired Espada spent most of a night pleasuring Ichigo, then a sad-eyed brunet showed up a few days later to shower Ichigo with attention, followed by a great hulking brute with blue hair that jumped Ichigo and nearly screwed him through the mattress, then finally a slender, elegant gentleman with enough reiatsu to crush a world dropped by and drove all of them crazy with a series of perfectly-executed delayed releases. He could only describe it one way.

“Beautiful,” he breathed.

He ignored both Rangiku and Renji rolling their eyes. They were mere amateurs in the face of Ikkaku’s sarcasm, and he’d been ignoring that for decades.

Still, there was something else at work here. There had to be. Ichigo was delicious, of course, but these four Espada must have been working together. Otherwise, they would have fought over the boy, not shared him. Yumichika would hold his peace, for now, and observe. He had the feeling something good would come from this.

Twelve days into their watch, a large swell of hollow reiatsu opened over a hospital toward downtown Karakura. Before any of them got there, it was answered with an angry backlash of Quincy energy. Captain Hitsugaya called them up, then looked toward the clash with a considering expression before shaking his head. Seconds later, the hollow energy disappeared.

So much for that.

They scattered again, and Yumichika led the way to the Ichi-kun watch.

It was better than porn. Really.

~omission~

Ichigo was being stalked.

It wasn’t the Espada that he was kind of getting used to getting ambushed by for incredible sex. No, it was a skinny guy with a bad haircut and piano teeth followed by a loud blonde midget with pigtails and a lethal sandal.

Yes, the Visored were getting impatient.

He finally got tired of dodging them. Hiyori tossed one too many sandals at his head, and this time when he dodged, it hit Orihime. It took the combined power of Ichigo, Uryū, Tatsuki and Shinji to keep Chad from ripping her head off. Seemed whatever his powers were, they developed rapidly under emotional stress. He could now morph both arms into something that came from a techno manga, and he was willing to use both of them to protect his girlfriend.

Hiyori actually looked concerned – okay, more like a little terrified – and ran from them as quickly as she could. Eventually Chad calmed down, but the way he was growling at Shinji made it clear. Keep the violent little bitch away.

For his friends’ sake, and to pre-emptively stop war on a local front, Ichigo headed over to the warehouse after school. It was time for détente before the exiled Visored and the hometown humans had a rumble.

He had to be stealthy, because there were so many Shinigami hanging around, but he made it, eventually.

Of course, he completely missed the three sets of eyes watching his every move.

Hachi didn’t.

While the resident kidoh genius was reinforcing barriers and weaving illusions, Ichigo was trying and failing to explain why he didn’t need any more training to ‘control’ his hollow. They weren’t getting the whole idea of a truce, or cooperation, and God forbid he use the word ‘merge’ around them. His inner hollow was very close to becoming his outer hollow and kicking some serious ass, when Ichigo finally lost his temper.

The sandal to the back of the head probably had something to do with it.

“Enough with fucking midget women using me for fucking target practice!” he yelled, his eyes turning yellow and a white mask with red markings forming over his face. He then proceeded to beat the holy crap out of Hiyori, Love, Shinji, and shockingly enough, Kensei.

Without once losing control of his hollow energy.

His mask stayed on, without crumbling, and with no further hollowification, for ninety two minutes.

By the time he finished taking Shinji’s Zanpakutō from him and tossing it in the corner with the others’, he was tired. He felt pretty triumphant, his inner hollow was cackling happily, and he’d finally convinced all the Visored with a brain that he and his inner hollow were just freaking fine – thus leaving out Mashiro and Hiyori. Mashiro was simply insane, and Hiyori had finally gained an iota of respect for Ichigo’s demonstrated ability and new willingness to curb-stomp her, so at least for the moment, things were peaceful.

Ichigo looked around at the remains of the warehouse floor, and squared his shoulders. He dusted off his hands, and turned to go. Maybe now they’d stop stalking him.

He didn’t make it two steps before long fingers wrapped around his upper arms, stopping him in his tracks and turning him around. He was face to chest with Rose, long blond hair tumbling around him, staring down at him predatorily.

That was confusing.

He brought a hand up to crumble his mask, but Rose shook his head.

“Leave it on.”

Well, hell, maybe Uryū was right, and he really was hollow-bait.

Outside, Hachi hadn’t been quite as successful as he’d hoped. Two lieutenants and a fifth seat that could easily qualify as a lieutenant were more than his warding scheme could hold out. So the three got a close-up view of a hollowified Ichigo kicking captain-level Visored all over the warehouse.

It was enlightening.

After grumbling and patching his barriers for the fifth time, Hachi gave up and joined them. It was a good fight, after all.

Renji knew about the mask, of course. Yumichika and Rangiku were stunned. She actually considered going to Captain Hitsugaya, but Renji and Yumichika held her back.

Yeah, Ichigo was a Visored, and that was a shock. But he was still Ichigo. He still had the whatever-it-was going with the Espada, and if they ratted him out now, they’d never find out what was going on or where it could lead. He looked like he had his hollow completely under control, hell, he probably kicked it’s ass then made friends with it.

It worked with Byakuya. Kinda. And with Kenpachi. Totally.

Plus, it wasn’t like he was actually a Shinigami, or even a Substitute, now. Yamamoto didn’t have any authority over a human, no matter how much he might think the universe was his to command – they might respect the rank and fear the man, but they had a lot of reservations about some of his decisions. In the end, they decided to watch and wait, and hope it didn’t destroy them all in the end.

Then they turned back to see what Ichigo was up to, and nearly fell through the window.

Looked like Espada weren’t the only ones to get off on Ichigo. Rōjūrō Ōtoribashi had pulled his mask on and was grappling with him in a small room a floor away from where the mêlée had taken place.

Grappling naked.

With the masks in place, there wasn’t any kissing, but there was a bit of roaring going on. Music floated in the air around them, something orchestral and ethereal that none of them recognized, plebeians that they were. It looked as much like fighting as it did fucking, really, with both men trying for the dominant position. Hands were grabbing all sorts of things, some of which made Renji and Yumichika cringe. Rangiku wasn’t sure if she should be cheering or running for help, when Ichigo slipped.

Rose took full advantage of the change in position, and pressed forward. Ichigo made a warbling noise that sounded like a distorted ‘fuck!’ and Rose took it for an order.

Given the fact that both men were more hollow than soul, the watchers thought they were going to see a quick, rough mating. In fact, it was the opposite. Rose was a romantic by nature, and once he’d ensured that Ichigo knew he was in charge, his movements became gentle. He ran his hands over and over Ichigo’s body until all the tension faded, the adrenaline from the fight seeped away, the hard muscles softened, and a different kind of trembling overtook his limbs.

They twined around one another like snakes, both similarly built, long and lean, with Rose to a larger scale. Ichigo’s hands wandered as much, if not more, than Rose’s, exploring the body wrapping around his until they were both at fever pitch. Rose slid a hand under Ichigo’s hip and turned him over, then reached across his prone body to fetch a small bottle from beside the bed.

Visored are always prepared! For anything! Or anyone. Or maybe Rose just liked to keep his skin soft. Either way, Ichigo looked like he really enjoyed the way Rose rubbed up against him on the way to get the lube and again on the way back. He warbled a little higher when Rose pulled him up onto his hands and knees, and the warble trailed off into a keening sound as Rose mounted him, working his way in as gently as possible until Ichigo huffed and shoved back against him.

That little move pulled a strange bark from Rose and put a hitch in Ichigo’s voice.

Then Rose began to move, slowly at first, teasing a bit, until Ichigo was squirming and trying his best to speed things up. That was all the encouragement Rose needed, and soon he was rocking into Ichigo with enough force to move the futon. At least he didn’t have a headboard, so there wasn’t any wall-banging to bring spectators. Most would-be spectators were still getting their injuries seen to after Ichigo beat them all up, except Mashiro who was off in her own world, and Lisa.

Lisa, who leaned in the doorway and watched avidly, tossing the Shinigami onlookers one dismissive glance before honing back in on her real-life yaoi manga in action.

Rose and Ichigo didn’t notice, or didn’t care, or were too wrapped up in each other to pay any attention. All too soon for the pervier of the watchers – everyone except Renji, who was starting to think he was more of a pervert than he’d ever imagined – Ichigo gave a warbly chirp and humped back a few times, coming into Rose’s hand. That was enough for Rose, who pushed in, twisted his hips to Ichigo’s fervent vocal approval, and came hard.

They curled up together in a ball, and the show was over. Lisa gave their sweaty, unaware backs an approving nod as if to say ‘job well done!’ and wandered away, nose already back in her book. Renji grabbed Yumichika and Rangiku and slipped them out the way they came in, giving Hachi an apologetic look as the kidoh expert snorted in disgust and started over, yet again, rebuilding his barriers.

Once back at the park, safe from eavesdroppers, the three had a long discussion. In the end, they decided not to mention the events of the day to anyone who might report and have an execution order sent in, which meant no Hitsugaya and probably no Rukia. Renji thought about protesting that Rukia was Ichigo’s friend, then thought a little more at the current frosty conditions between them and Rukia’s unfortunate tendency to give way to authority – made much worse ever since she was adopted into the Kuchiki clan – before agreeing that it was better they kept quiet.

Yumichika gave the report that night, bowdlerized as they’d all been. Hitsugaya had a suspicion something was going on, but he always felt that way around Rangiku. He chalked it up to her probably sneaking sake on the side, and let it go.

~ Für Elise~

Whatever was making the Espada so horny, and he could say with authority that they were, given that one or the other (or the other, and maybe the other, if he wasn’t an hallucination) were crawling through his window every other night and fucking him into nirvana… anyway, whatever it was looked like it was contagious.

Maybe it was transmitted through being hollowified? Some crazy side effect of breathing through a mask?

That might explain why Rose, his subconscious crush who he wouldn’t even admit to himself he thought was gorgeous because it was hard to fight with a hard-on, would grab hold of him, haul him off to his bedroom, and do wickedly amazing things to his naked body.

Sure, Ichigo had sometimes had massages. There were times when even the Miraculous Hot spring under Urahara’s Shōten couldn’t get all the kinks out of muscles twisted beyond endurance by training. Those times, Tessai would take pity on him and give him a rub-down. It always made him feel like a wrung-out towel, or an over-cooked noodle, but it also felt really, really good.

It was nothing compared to what Rose did to him.

He was still flying high on beating three scary-ass Visored – and one bitchy midget – when Rose hauled him off. He was tense, battle-ready, feeling the deep stillness that only set in when he was prepared for an attack to come from any quarter. So when Rose tossed him on the futon, he bounced right back up, ready to fight.

Rose was a lot stronger than he looked. A lot more determined, too. And his mask was kind of scary. Ichigo had a feeling even Green Eyes’ horn would be intimidated by Rose’s beak. He kept as close an eye as he could on it while they wrestled. Even though he wasn’t quite sure what they were wrestling for.

Until Rose’s dick poked him in the back, and he got a clue.

His fight or flight impulse died and was immediately replaced by the fuck-me-now instinct he’d cultivated under Espada pressure over the past few weeks. Rose reminded him, again, oddly, of Green Eyes, with the careful way he handled Ichigo, the tenderness in the way he touched him. He had to admit, though, Green Eyes had never given him a full-body massage like Rose did. It turned him into a puddle of relaxed goo, ready and willing for anything else Rose chose to do to him.

That, as it turned out, was to rub up against him until he thought his skin would catch fire. Ichigo couldn’t stop himself, reaching out to run his hands all over the long, lean, perfectly-formed body twined around him. Rose smelled wonderful, light and clean and salty. He made these funny little humming noises deep his chest that Ichigo found a little addictive. When that mouth was wrapped around his dick and the humming started, it nearly blew the top of his head off.

By the time Rose got the lube – finally, somebody who actually had lube! Ichigo really had to get to the store sometime, between classes and hollow-fighting and watching his sisters and training and getting jumped by a variety of handsome hollows after him for sex – he was more than ready. He could swear he heard Beethoven floating through the air, which was at least a classy step up from the Eurhythmics. Rose was strong, and tender, and thorough. By the time he came, Ichigo couldn’t have moved if his life was under imminent threat. All his energy had drained out with a shattering orgasm, and all he wanted to do was sleep.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lisa standing in the doorway, giving them a thumb’s up. Eh, he’d beat her up later. Or try, anyway. She was tough. She was also a freaking yaoi manga fan-girl pervert. He was still grumbling mentally, petting Rose’s chest to hear him hum, when he fell asleep.

Waking up was fun. Every fucking one of the Visored was staring at him. He didn’t know he could survive blushing that hard without actually exploding.

Rose sat up, sighed, and sent a significant Look at Love, who roused himself to shuffle the rest of the tribe out the door. Hiyori started to say something, probably stupid, and Ichigo glared at her. To his mild surprise, she gave an ‘eep!’ and left, dragging Shinji along behind. None of the others stayed for long after that. Rose handed him his clothing and petted him gently. Ichigo sent him an inquisitive look.

“We must do this again. Soon.” Rose smiled, then leaned down to give him a sweet kiss. He wandered out the door and Ichigo took his time watching him leave. Very nice view of a very nice ass. Then he stretched out the kinks in his muscles, ignoring what was becoming the standard ache in his own ass, and headed down the back stairs, avoiding everybody. He was in a damned good mood, for once, and he didn’t want any idiots to spoil it.

Ichigo smiled all the way home.

~climax~

Tier Harribel stood in the shadows of the throne room and watched a god fall.

She was far from stupid. In fact, she had one of the most well-developed survival instincts of all the Espada. She had to. She was protecting those who could not protect themselves.

She knew when Starrk disappeared that the end was coming. The deaths of Yammy, Nnoitra, Barragan and Tousen confirmed it. Two ‘days’ before, someone had staked Aaroniero out under the artificial sun, cracking the pod that held his two small skulls, killing him instantly. Rumor had it that it was a jealous Privaron Espada hoping to gain rank. Rumor was stupid, as usual.

Careful spying had led her to the conclusion, over the last few weeks, that Starrk, Grimmjow, and perhaps Szayel were planning a coup d'état. She would not stand in their way.

Ichimaru had been a surprise.

Ulquiorra had been a bigger one.

Grimmjow charged in from the front, as expected. Szayel slunk up from behind, also as expected. Starrk came out of nowhere, already in Resurrección, completely unexpected. Gin spun to cover Aizen’s front, calling on his extendable Zanpakutō, while Ulquiorra placed himself at his back. Aizen sat relaxed, with a smug, expectant expression, as if to say, ‘I knew all along this would happen.’

He held it right up until Ulquiorra put a hand through his chest from the back, and Ichimaru’s sword curled around and stabbed him in the gut.

Aizen still might have survived, if not for the sudden influx of spirit wolves that pinned him down from all sides. The weight of Starrk’s reiatsu, combined with Ichimaru’s and Ulquiorra’s attack, spared Grimmjow and Szayel from immediate death. Ulquiorra’s fist clenched around the hogyoku embedded in Aizen’s chest, and when had he put that there? Harribel wondered. It was a moot point, as the Fourth yanked his fist back out, enclosing the grisly prize. There was a flash of light that disoriented everyone in the room, that carried with it the sense of some great power collapsing in on itself, but the wolves held on despite the distraction. Before Aizen could raise a hand or flex his power and crush them all, Ulquiorra sliced one direction and Ichimaru drew a trench knife from its hiding place in his sash and sliced the opposite direction.

The meaty thump of Aizen’s head hitting the floor froze everyone in place.

“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Ichimaru drawled.

“It would have been less so if I hadn’t poisoned his tea,” Szayel sniped.

Harribel had seen enough. She turned and walked away. It was time to gather her girls, and go back out into the sands. Maybe she’d find Nelliel and see if she could help her heal.

She passed Zommari standing, trembling, in the hall. He looked like he was in shock.

He’d find his way, or he wouldn’t. The invaders were gone, or soon would be. Hueco Mundo was, once again, for the hollows.

As it should be.

~courting gift~

Ichigo felt them before Uryū’s alarm went off. Hollows, incredibly powerful, freakin’ familiar. He resisted the urge to pound his head on the desk. Ambushing him for great sex at night in his bedroom was one thing, but at two in the afternoon on a school day? Had they no shame?

Strike that, he knew they had no shame, and he wasn’t sure he did either, especially after that weird whatever-it-was with Rose that had Lisa leering at him a couple days ago. Still, he was in class, and he needed these notes for the exams that were coming up, and… and… fuck it.

In formation, he, Chad, and Uryū waved at the teacher that they needed to use the toilet. It had happened so often the teacher ignored them and went right on lecturing. Ichigo wondered if it was like living on the Hellmouth, only in real life, where adults never saw what was really going on because it would break their brains.

Then he shrugged it off, in too much of a hurry to worry about it. He ditched his body under a handy bush, and led his friends over to the park to see what the hell was going on.

He did NOT expect what he found.

Tōshirō and Rukia were staring suspiciously at Green Eyes, Blueboy, Wolfy, and a pink-haired menace he was sure had only been a figment of his feverish dreams. Yumichika was flirting with Pinky, Rangiku was flaunting her tits to no reaction from anyone, and Renji was staring wide-eyed back and forth between everyone like he expected bloodshed at any moment. Ikkaku was trying to pick a fight with Wolfy, who looked like he was falling asleep, or Green Eyes, who was ignoring him. Blueboy probably would have agreed to a rumble, but Urahara, of all people, was standing between them with Benihime half out of the cane. He was unexpectedly scary like that.

Even with the black cat sprawled on top his hat. Ichigo tossed a “Hi, Yoruichi,” her way as he came to a halt beside Renji, with Uryū and Chad flanking him. They all stared at each other for a long moment.

Finally, Wolfy gave a long-suffering sigh, and stretched his hand out. Instantly, every Shinigami except Urahara brought a hand down on a sword hilt, and the only reason he didn’t was because his was already half-drawn.

“Ichigo, mi tesoro,” Wolfy said in a smooth, calm voice, completely ignoring the glaring threats of certain death coming at him from all sides, “we bring you a courting gift.” He uncurled his fist to show a strange, rough rock that gave off a weird vibe.

“Shit,” Urahara yelped, jerking forward before stumbling to a halt. Along the way he lost his hat and dropped Yoruichi on the grass. He would pay for that later, even if she did land on her feet – because, after all, she was a cat. He also nearly dropped Benihime, but he scrabbled for a second and managed to hold on to his Zanpakutō.

Ichigo had no idea why Urahara was so freaked out over a rock. His mind was still on the lecture he’d just skipped out on and how much extra homework he’d have because of it, or he would have recognized the hogyoku immediately. After all, he’d had a front-row seat to watching Aizen rip it out of Rukia’s soul.

“Don’t kill the gift-bearer!” an unnaturally happy tenor rang out, and, of all people, Gin Ichimaru stepped out from behind the group, a box held aloft in his hands.

The Shinigami didn’t know who to kill first, the strangely non-threatening Espada who were looking at Ichigo like they wanted to jump him, or the grinning traitor who looked all too happy to see them. Then he set the box down and flipped open the lid.

Nearly everybody flinched. Ichigo didn’t, and kind of wished he had.

Aizen’s waxy face stared up at them all. Whoever had hacked his head off had been messy, not helping with the overall gruesomeness of the display. Grimmjow was the first to react.

“Damnit, Gin, you fucked everything up! We’re here to court the Deathberry, and you have to go and throw Aizen in the middle of everything! That’s just not right!”

Tōshirō looked like he wanted to intervene and assert his authority, but he was too busy trying not to vomit in public. Yumichika was waving a scented cloth in front of his nose, next to Ikkaku who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else but there. Rangiku was carefully not looking in the box, while Rukia was staring at the head in sick fascination. Renji was still staring around with his eyes popping, and no doubt would be until long after the mess was cleaned up. He was just that freaked out by it all. Gin was trying to catch Rangiku’s eye, while Urahara was twitching between going to the box and going to the rock. Yoruichi was behind him, pawing his hat into place before decisively peeing in it.

Dump her on her furry tail with no warning, would he!

It was a lot calmer on the Espada side, and the humans were doing pretty well, too. Chad had taken one swift glance in the box then ignored it. There wouldn’t be a war, and his friends would be safe, so that was all he cared about. As far as Uryū was concerned, it was just one more dead Shinigami, so that was fine. Ulquiorra was staring between Starrk and Ichigo, a hint of emotion in his eyes as he seemed to be prompting Ichigo to take his ‘gift’. Starrk stood patiently, appearing close to falling asleep on his feet, though the glint in his grey eyes beneath half-closed lids gave lie to that appearance. Szayel appeared torn between importuning Ichigo and sidling closer to Yumichika.

Ichigo looked at the rock. Looked at Wolfy, not fooled at all by his veneer of sleepiness. Met Green Eyes’ intense gaze and took a deep breath. Ignored Pinky in hopes that had been a nightmare – or wet dream, either one – then reached out to take his present.

As his fingers closed around the rock, Urahara finally got his tongue untied and lurched forward, hissing, “No!”

Too late.

The hogyoku landed in Ichigo’s palm. Ichigo looked down at it, confused. Was it supposed to do something? He closed his fingers.

And crushed the rock.

Sand fell gently from his fist, sparkling in the sunlight before it dissolved, drifting upward like souls on a butterfly’s wing.

Urahara choked.

Ichigo dusted off his hand, gave his Espada suitors a crooked smile, and said, “I’ll see you later, yeah?”

Fervent nods met his casual invitation.

“Right now we have to get back to class.” With that, he, Chad, and Uryū turned away from the madness and went back to school. They had grades to keep up, after all.

Starrk, Ulquiorra, and Grimmjow opened a garganta. They’d left a bit of a mess back in Las Noches. Given that it would be several hours before Ichigo was free, and they still had to work out a schedule between them, they went home. They’d be back later.

Taking turns.

Ulquiorra reached out and snagged Szayel on the way by, dragging him off with them. If he hadn’t the besotted idiot would still be standing there drooling after the pretty Shinigami with the silly feathers until somebody got impatient and tried to kill him. They’d just averted one war. They didn’t want to start another one.

~Shinigami considerations~

The Shinigami left in the confusion behind them weren’t quite sure what to do. Finally, Hitsugaya conquered his churning stomach and ordered Renji to pick up the box with Aizen’s head in it. Renji balked, got a very frosty glare in return, and picked up the damned box, grumbling under his breath the whole time. Gin followed happily as Rangiku fell in step behind her captain. Rukia trailed behind them keeping a wary eye on the man who’d freaked her out ever since she first met him… and he’d enjoyed it every single time. It didn’t matter how many traitors’ heads he gave them, he’d always be evil as far as she was concerned. Ikkaku followed them both, hauling Yumichika along, shaking his head and wondering what the fuck just happened.

The debriefing that followed in the First division was one for the books. Captain Hitsugaya’s description of the destruction of the hogyoku had a lot of heads shaking in utter confusion. The presentation of Aizen’s head in a box caused more than one onlooker to gag, and Komamura made a noise like he had to hack up a hairball. Everyone politely ignored him, except Kenpachi who snickered. Eventually the random exclamations died away, and in the ensuing silence it was easy to hear Ukitake asking Kyouraku why they didn’t think of that. Babble broke out, getting louder and more chaotic, until the Sou-Taicho slammed his cane on the floor and shut everyone up.

“Disposition is as follows. Ichigo Kurosaki, Substitute Soul Reaper…”

“Thought he quit,” Renji muttered, only to snap his mouth shut at the stormy glare his captain shot him.

“Through his diplomatic efforts with the Espada of Hueco Mundo…”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Yumichika mused, only to have Ikkaku clap a hand over his mouth.

“Has done the Seireitei great service and preserved peace…”

“By telling us to go away and leave him alone?” Rukia chimed in, confused, only to have Ukitake wave her to silence.

“By executing the traitor Sōsuke Aizen…”

“Pretty sure I did that, actually,” Ichimaru sang. Rangiku smacked him, rather affectionately, and he beamed at her. It was disturbing to everyone who saw it.

“Destroying the corrupting object known as the hogyoku…”

“Okay, now that, Ichigo DID do, somehow,” Hitsugaya couldn’t help himself. He blushed as half the captains stared at him in shock and Rangiku gave him a little cheer.

“And preserving the balance of the worlds.” By this point, the Sou-Taicho was practically snarling, and everyone knew better than to say another word.

He irritably smacked the floor once more with his cane, effectively dismissing them. Everyone should have scattered to their divisions, but they had way too much to gossip about.

Besides, nobody knew what to do with Ichimaru.

Maintaining his noble bearing in the corner where no one would pay him any attention, Byakuya eavesdropped as his lieutenant wove a tale of debauchery between humans and hollows unlike any he’d ever heard to his younger sister. He probably should have put a stop to it, but Rukia seemed fascinated, and he didn’t want to miss anything.

That, and he wondered how he could get in on the action. He’s always been partial to strawberries…

~ending!~