Amazingly, Rukia’s opponent is also still alive. When Ichigo sees him, laying there on the floor, the shock is enough to stop him dead in his tracks, and for the briefest of moments he forgets the urgency of getting to Rukia. Luckily, Inoue does not; he can already see the glow of her healing out of the corner of his eye.
The man on the floor has Ichigo’s face. Ichigo suspects he knows something of who this man is. No one has ever directly told him about Shiba Kaien, but he’s picked up bits and pieces here and there. There was someone who looked like him. Rukia has never forgiven herself for her vice-captain’s death. Ganju blamed Rukia for the death of his brother. Captain Ukitake did a double take at seeing Ichigo’s face. No one has ever explained to him, but the pieces are all there, if one bothers to notice. And looking at this face, so much like his own, Ichigo knows there is no one else this man can be.
Kaien’s eyes open, as if they can feel Ichigo staring at them. The figure on the floor gasps, lips opening and closing in an attempt to speak. Ichigo moves close enough to hear.
“Tell Kuchiki… tell her I’m sorry. I wanted… I thought maybe… I tried to stay dominant…” He gasps again. “I couldn’t hold…”
Ichigo can feel the last bit of reiatsu glimmer and fade. As it slips away, so does that face which is the mirror image of his own. In its place it leaves a grotesque amalgamation of heads and eyes, not quite hollow and not quite human. Ichigo watches as the face of Arroniro reasserts itself, forces himself to look at it long and hard, until the image of it is burned into his mind.
This, he tells himself, memorizing each plane, each crevice in front of him, This is what I will not become.