Arc: Winter War, a dark AU authored by incandescens, sophiap, and I
Character: Hanatarou and others
Rating/Warnings: R for explicit gore and character deaths
Word Count: 2047
Summary: Hanatarou and most of the rest of the Fourth have been taken, by Aizen, to Hueco Mundo. Hanatarou deals with what he finds as best he can.
Author's Note: This is a dark AU where Aizen won the Winter War, Seireitai is occupied, and the Resistance is looking at one last hope. "Nothing is sacred and no one is safe." Thanks to both sophiap and incandescens for the plotting and the beta. It's so much fun to work with you two!
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters. I do not make money from these writings.
Previous Chapter: Nanao: Looking For A Blonde
Hanatarou ducked into an underground passageway rather than meet up with Ichigo, who was trying to pick a fight with a silent Ulquiorra. The mask always threw him. That wasn't the Ichigo he knew, and his heart and head still ached badly after having trusted the young man so much in the sewers under Soul Society.
He trembled as he ran his fingers along the collar about his throat. He should be worried about himself and those still living and suffering with him, not for those he couldn't help.
Poor Sato's head had come off cleanly, and he needed to know how it had been done.
Aizen had come to the quarters that housed what was left of the Fourth, soon after Unohana-taichou had vanished into the desert. The cafeteria had been abuzz with talk about what had happened.
"Do you think we could break out like that?" Sato had whispered excitedly. "She'd be out there, too, and if we could get her back to being sane again, she'd help us, wouldn't she?"
"Unohana-taichou seemed so badly hurt, I don't know if she could," Akari whispered, looking worried. Unohana-taichou's spectacular destruction of an entire wing of Szayel's labs had been in broad daylight. Hanatarou and Akari had been on medic duty, and while they treated several Hollow guards and servants they heard the story from them. Aizen's entrance stopped every breath in the room.
"Dear members of the Fourth Division, I know that some wild rumors have been going around. I am here to quell them," Aizen had intoned with that smile Hanatarou found so very frightening.
"But we saw the huge gaping hole in the walls of the lab, sir," Sato said boldly. "What was that?"
"Just a runaway explosion." Aizen exuded reassurance. "It was nothing to be worried about: not nearly as dangerous as the sands of the desert, now."
"What could happen out there? There's nothing out there!" Sato had stood up, and there were low mutters all about them from the other members of the Fourth.
Hanatarou thought about hiding under the table.
Then he wished he had. There was a low pulse of Aizen's reiatsu. There was something to that man's power that made Hanatarou's gut curl in against itself. Something resonated louder and louder with the throb of that reiatsu, there was a bang, and Sato's head had came cleanly off.
It bounced under the tables.
Akari screamed as blood rained down everywhere.
Hanatarou's first thought was that he had never felt the rain in Hueco Mundo. His second was that now he wished he never had. People stood up hastily and tried to get away as the head rolled under their feet. Sato's body flopped next to him, and he could see bone and muscle twitching.
He'd seen worse. He wasn't sick right then and there, but his heart felt like it was trying to leap from his chest.
"Such a bother. Especially with those collars I had Kurotsuchi put on all of you today." Aizen's voice was bored. "I suspect that that might happen more often in the desert than it would around here, so I shall advise you to be careful. That is all."
He had turned away. Hanatarou had been very careful not to look in his direction. Instead, he'd gone to get Sato's head, and had made sure that it was buried with the poor man's body. Then he went and took a long hot bath that felt like it should have scalded the skin from his bones. That was when he resolved to find the nature of the collars themselves.
Hanatarou had been very careful in his research. No one else would treat Yammi, so he'd volunteered once when Yammi lost a leg to a wild Hollow. He'd put himself in the path of the X-ray when getting ready to see the extent of the break, and made sure the collar was captured on film before switching out the films for Yammi's leg. He'd developed both at the same time to cover the usage of the chemicals, and managed to survive the encounter by cheerfully telling Yammi that Hanatarou would need to be the one to see him in follow-up care. No one else would be able to rebuild the bone correctly.
The X-ray showed a necklet of shaped charges all around the collar and some kind of triggering mechanism at the buckle. Hanatarou showed the film to the other members of the Fourth during one of their meals together.
"That was designed by Kurotsuchi," Akani had said softly, her eyes worried. "You can tell by this mechanism here." She pointed at the picture, the trigger structure stark black against the light. "He used that in the triggers on the internal bombs he put in his own Division members. I remember seeing those when I was trying to heal someone that had just broken a rib in a practice session."
"He's a monster," muttered someone else.
"And he's now got a lab and his own Fraccion," said Hanatarou softly. "I guess this means I have to get into that lab and see if there's any record of how these things are triggered or something."
"Why do you need to know that?" Akari asked puzzled. "You don't want to set them off, to you?"
"No." Hanatarou shook his head. "If we're to escape, to do something for Unohana-taichou, there would be no point to either if he could just blow our heads off. We have to take care of this, first. Then we can get out of here."
Akari's dark eyes studied him quietly. "You really do think we can get out of this, don't you? That there might be an end that isn't just us all being turned Hollow and bowing to Aizen or just moving on to the living world."
Hanatarou nodded fiercely. "Yes, I do."
She sighed. "You're the only one I think who does, but all right, I'll help you. I think this is what you need to look for..."
So here he was, creeping through the tunnels that went under and throughout Hueco Mundo. The Fourth Division had mapped the tunnels, as was their way, just as they'd figured out the tunnels under Soul Society. Hanatarou skirted around the place below where Rukia-sama had finally died by Kuchiki-sama's hand, as the Captain had once promised so fiercely and had, in the end, so reluctantly made true. He stopped a moment to simply remember her, keenly feeling the loss of her quiet courage.
At least she was safe, now.
He wouldn't let himself rejoice in having seen Kuchiki-sama take his own life afterward, as the anguish had been plain even behind that marble façade.
He moved on toward Kurotsuchi's labs. It was early morning, and he slipped in through the maintenance entrance from the tunnels. He procured one of the cleaning carts, and half-heartedly mopped his way through the mostly deserted building. A Nemu swayed by on high heels and in a too-tight skirt, clipboard in hand, nodding to him pleasantly. He nodded back.
It wouldn't do to show too much enthusiasm or speed when going by the enclosures for the test subjects. He couldn't help shivering, though, at the sounds he heard as he went by on the way to Kurotsuchi's personal office. He looked in a doorway and then hurriedly away from the sight of another Nemu in surgical scrubs working away at something on a surgical table.
He suppressed the urge to gag and kept going.
The door to the office was firmly closed and locked. He tried the cleaner's skeleton key, and to his surprise it fit in the keyhole and turned smoothly. He went in, and automatically emptied the trash can into the container on the cleaning cart. He began sweeping, but started badly as keening rose from a solid cage in the corner of the office.
"I'm... I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said softly as he approached the solid-walled cage.
Something hit the inside of that wall hard, with snarling and a scrabbling of claws, and Hanatarou fell on his butt trying to get away.
When he could breathe again, he got up, and was startled again by a Nemu wrapped in nothing but a sheet who blinked at him sleepily.
"You are early, cleaner," she said in her uninflected voice.
He gave a nervous half-bow and looked at his feet.
She gave a quiet hm. "You are not like the other one, are you?"
Hanatarou had no idea whom she was talking about, so he simply shook his head in agreement.
"Good. I do not need another delay before getting back to my research duties. I will get out of your way." The sheet fell to the floor and Hanatarou looked away, blushing madly, as she walked to her clothing and put the pieces on, ignoring the soft sounds of anger and distress still coming from the cage.
He automatically began sweeping again, and she walked out when he was halfway done. There were so many Nemu about now that he was uncertain of how to address them, so he tried not to. The thing in the cage thumped hard against the side as it settled again, and Hanatarou was only thankful that the Hollow-feeling reiatsu coming from it was unfamiliar to him.
There were three monitors lined up next to each other on the desk, and when Hanatarou touched the keyboard before them, they all flickered on. Dozens of shells popped open with command prompts. Hanatarou looked at them in dismay at first, but then he sat down and began clicking on thing, delving into the histories of each screen before trying a few commands. Soon he was wandering through the directories of files, grateful that for all that Kurotsuchi might be as crazy as a rabid bat, he was logical about organizing his data.
He found the projects directories, and went to earlier dates, until he saw one named "leashes.prj". He looked through the text notes, especially the one marked "trgnts.txt", and then sat there for a very long moment.
Hanatarou put the prompt back to the top of the directory tree, cleaned up the log, and pushed the little crescent moon button at the top of the keyboard, and all the screens went dark.
There was whimpering from the cage.
Hanatarou said softly, "I know what you feel like."
Then he thoroughly dusted the cabinets, bookcases, and desk, swept the rest of the floor, and then put everything neatly away on the cart.
He made his way back to the cart holding area, and back out through the maintenance shafts.
Hanatarou thought frantically as he walked through the shafts, down among the caves threading through the heart of the underground, and there he suddenly stopped.
He laid his forehead against the cool stone, hands up on the walls. He couldn't sense any reiatsu here, none at all. The place behind that wall even the Fourth was not allowed to go, where the cleaning and maintenance were done only by those already Hollowed. There were rumors that high-powered folks were being kept amid Sekkiseki stone, in cells designed to drain the soul powers of those contained within. No one knew, though. No one knew anything.
Suddenly there was a bestial howl that echoed among the rocks, and Hanatarou scrambled to his feet. He walked quickly along the way back to the hallways of the palace, sighing in relief as the howl sounded again further away. His reiatsu was low enough that he could slip by, but he was now glad that he hadn't brought anyone else with him.
He tugged lightly at the collar about his throat, careful to stay away from the clasp that locked it into place. Hanatarou sighed. Well, at least there was the possibility now. He hadn't had that before, and if someone did come up with a plan to try and have the whole of the Fourth Division escape, they would simply have to add another step.
Hanatarou walked up into sunlight that didn't warm him at all, and headed back to the barracks, not sure what in the world or who might come up with something that could get all the Fourth to try.