Story Arc: Winter War
Characters: Jyuushiro, Isane, Gin, Kira, Iba, Rikichi, Shirogane... and others... (whew)
Rating/Warning: R, violence, language
Word Count: 5020
Summery: Gin's forces go to Ukitake's Mansion to rescue Matsumoto and clear it out. There are a few surprises.
Author's Notes: This is a chapter in the Bleach AU that sophiap, incandescens, and I are writing in, where Aizen won the war in Karakura. It diverges from continuity somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs. "Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters. I make no money from these writings.
Takano Dan blended into the shadows of the forest about him, as easily and silently as the leaves themselves. He had volunteered for the path Gin was most likely to take from Seirentei. The looks he'd gotten from Kuukaku and Ukitake-taichou had measured him, and then they had nodded. He'd been grateful they trusted him with this.
Now he waited patiently in the underbrush for any sign of the reported enemy. The extremely terse message had arrived from Soi Fong's folks a bare hour ago, and they'd all run to their stations. Momo watched the other road, but this was the one that Dan had mined the most thoroughly.
He hoped now that the work wouldn't be wasted.
Birds sang, the forest rustled in the breezes, and the creek chuckled softly to itself in the underbrush. Dan let that all wash through him, let the sounds of the forest itself become a part of his consciousness. When the birds stopped chirping, a squirrel chattered a warning, and the playful yip and snarl of some fox kits at play suddenly stopped, he came alert.
The first thing he felt was their reiatsu, and that surprised him. Dan hadn't ever been that good at sensing reiatsu: he relied more on his physical senses than his spiritual ones. It must be an immense amount of power rolling toward him. The memory of Ukitake Jyuushiro's power rolling forth when they had that blue-haired brat in the room came to him, unbidden. This tasted like at least two people of power equal to that.
Dan swore softly under his breath. He had to get closer to see so that he could warn the others.
First, though, he sent a quick message kidou so that the people in the mansion would know that there was contact.
Then he slipped from shadow to shadow, tree to bush, rock to tufts of high grass and bamboo, and as he moved the pressure grew. When he found it hard to breathe, he stopped and hid.
Now he felt three power signatures, two overwhelming ones and one more modest one. To his horror, one of the big ones and the modest one felt hungry, aching… Hollow. He took a shaking breath. He knew that Gin and Aizen had plenty of Hollows on their side, but they had been discreet about using them in the heart of Seireitei.
It looked like that was about to change.
He ran quiet and quick, but a surprised bellow rang out and one of the big Hollow reiatsu came at him in a burst of flash step. Startled, he flash-stepped away, and then swore as that gave away his reiatsu and a dozen different people with power came after him all at once.
What started as pure panic became reasoned, purposeful, when he saw that his quick direction changes made his pursuers overshoot his turns When he saw which ones overshot by how much, Dan started working the whole crowd toward the kill zone that he and Shiba-sama had set up together.
Dozens of charges were set, not only along the road, but into the fields to either side. Most triggered on pressure, a few triggered on reiatsu, and none of them were clearly marked, but he'd made himself one clear spot in the center, where he could start.
He'd woken up sweating over nightmares where he couldn't tell right from left, east from west, but when he flash-stepped to the center of the field, the tells on the mines seemed as clear as neon signs.
That was until the crowd behind him started landing on them.
Three explosions in quick succession rained dirt, body parts, and various liquids that Dan did not care to identify all around the field, and then two more. He grinned viciously, and seeing one still clear spot, he stepped to it just as an enormous, Hollowed-out reiatsu signature reared its way over the field and sprayed a thick sheet of ice everywhere.
"Shit!" Dan cried out and landed on his ass, sliding right toward where he knew he'd laid one of the mines.
He shunpo'ed again, and found himself sliding toward a different spot further along the ice, but there were no more explosions behind him. When he slid right over the spot he knew should have made him nothing more than a smear of grease on the ground nothing happened.
The string of curses that he spilled would have made his Senior Chief proud. None of the charges were going to work encased in ice. He shunpo'ed again, and stumbled to the edge of the field.
What frightened Dan the most was that he'd felt that reiatsu signature before, he knew the shape and feel of that cold power.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," Dan chanted as he finally just ran straight for the mansion, as fast as he could go. He'd found Hitsugaya-taichou, but he'd been turned Hollow and was on Gin's leash.
After all the last-minute planning had been done, and everyone given their assignments, Jyuushiro used old campaign tactics to sleep before the enemy arrived from Seireitei. He thought about beaches and waves taking him away, and ended up in his interior world with Sōgyo no Kotowari. The sword spirit had taken on their more childish forms, and the three of them curled up for a nap on the warm sandy beaches of their home, with Jyuushiro's Captain's coat as a blanket, his sleeves as a pillow beneath their heads.
When the alarm sounded for first contact, he awoke feeling rested and alert, calmed by the sea.
Isane's light, quick footsteps approached his door along the hallway, and she was quickly by his side: together they got him situated in his wheelchair, and she wheeled him into the library, settling him behind the desk. Then she surprised him by bringing in a tray with a steaming pot of water and tea leaves.
"Tea?" he asked, his eyebrows going up.
She smiled back. "There's always time for tea."
When Jyuushiro sipped the clear golden brew, and smelled the fragrance coming off the liquor, he had to agree. It calmed him, centered him, allowed him the space to wrap his reiatsu about himself, as they had planned. No need to set up a beacon of his power. He gave Isane a clear smile back, even as he felt Takano Dan's frantic reiatsu homing in on their location.
"Ready?" Jyuushiro asked.
"Ready," Isane said, something firming in her stance, her expression.
Takano landed on the rotting balcony, making it protest and groan under his weight before he made a last, panting shunpo step into the room, and to Jyuushiro's feet. He simply collapsed, his horror and fear palpable against his usual military bearing and exactness.
"Hitsu... Hitsugaya...." he panted out, between painfully hard breaths.
"You've found Hitsugaya-taichou?" Jyuushiro sat up, hope coming alive once more.
"No! NO..." Takano nearly wailed the last word and then caught his breath and his bearing. "Gin has Hitsugaya-taichou as a Hollow."
"Hollow?" Jyuushiro didn't slump: he sat there, and rather than consider the horror, he turned his mind to how to deal with it.
"Using ice to stifle mines... don't know how to get... the explosions to work."
Jyuushiro's and Isane's eyes met over the panting, despairing man. Isane took a shaking breath and then she nodded at Jyuushiro. I'll do it. He nodded back. "Go," he whispered.
Takano looked around wildly. "She can't take them by herself!"
"Can you help her?" Jyuushiro asked, and saw the man suddenly pull himself completely back together again. The power of a respected authority asking for something specific and a companion in need. Jyuushiro sometimes wished he didn't understand quite so well the strings he pulled to get his men to run into death for him.
"Yes. I'll have to, won't I?" Takano panted. At Jyuushiro's nod he vanished in the same direction Isane had gone.
Jyuushiro sighed and rested his eyes against the heels of his hands. Then he settled, and sent the kidou message out to Momo, Shirogani, and Iba to expect a Hollowed Hitsugaya in Gin's company.
Isane dashed back along the path they'd set up, and felt Takano catching up to her from behind. She didn't slow, but followed the line of explosives from the mansion toward a shining field of ice. Takano had invited Kuukaku and Isane along for a tour of his methods when he'd laid the field, so she was very clear on where he'd laid charges and where he hadn't. The plan won both their approval.
She stopped well before they reached the field: the reiatsu signatures confirmed what Takano said. This was going to be bad. Ice covered all the physical triggers.
She heard a muffled thud. That must have been one of the reiatsu-triggered mines, but the ice could be used to direct the blasts away from their targets. The only way the explosions could work now would be if they were strong enough or directed through a small enough area to actually break the ice.
Nearly all the charges they had were non-directional: they would explode in all directions, scattering shell and debris up from the ground. They would be useless against the thick coating of ice.
The field itself shone with ice, but the strings of explosives they'd set along the road and in the grounds to either side of the road beyond the field were still free and available to them.
Isane considered shield and blocking kidou spells, and finally settled on the simple repulsion field Number Eight. It would take less reiatsu to invoke, could be done simply and quickly by Takano, and she could do many of them at once if she held the structure of the spell in her mind.
"Takano, can you do two Seki spells, placed like this?" Quickly she formed the spell with her fist, and slapped it down under a nearby, physically triggered mine. She saw Takano flinch as her hand moved so near the triggering mechanism, but that wasn't to be helped. "... and this." Another shaping shield, stronger than mere physical ice, and with two of them to direct the force up...
He nodded. "I can."
"Let's get these done, then, and while we don't have enough reiatsu triggers..."
"... I could trigger these by hand," Takano volunteered, pulling two balls of twine from the sleeves of his uniform. "Just tie a string to a support under each plate, add a rock on top, and pull the string when the time comes?"
"That's fast enough, I think," Isane said. "Let's go."
Shield, shield, stick with string, and rock. Shield, shield, stick with string, and rock. The sequence sped up as she got more familiar with the exact height she needed. Strings trailed from them both.
The mad reiatsu got closer. Finally, they bundled the few dozen strings together for Takano under a tree.
"Go, go, go," Takano urged her as they neared the end of the trail.
"You have it?" she said, feeling worried: it seemed like there were more that needed to be done than could be in the time they had left.
"If you get the shields on these three, yes. I'll have it," he said, sounding strangely forceful.
Then she realized what Takano was doing. "You're going to trigger these last ones yourself, aren't you?"
He looked at her. "Well, you have to protect Ukitake-taichou. No?"
She looked back and found tears flooding her eyes. Isane hugged him, hard. "You'll..."
"Hey, who knows, I might be able to get them going at the right time, and get out of here using flash-step. I'm pretty fast. If not, well I needed to get back to living," he said with a frown, but she saw that his eyes were wet as well, even though he followed with a laugh. "You ladies are just too crazy for me. Besides..." Takano added with a grin. "I want to see these work."
Isane nodded, saluted him and accepted Takano's formal return of the salute.
Then she ran. When the explosions began, she didn't look back.
Gin watched his men be blown into bits even while they were on the ice with nothing but a slit-eyed stare. The brat's icing technique had done good on the field, but as they made their way toward the mansion it was comin' clear that the bastards knew he'd be after his sweet Rangiku-chan.
Somehow they knew, and they were holdin' her in that house so that he'd come and die.
The hell he would. There were ways... the Academy had taught him more than just techniques for killing. There were reasons he was a Captain, for Heaven's sake.
He motioned Rudobon over. The big Arrancar bent his head to listen, his thick horns coming far too close to Gin's face.
"Take them Tower of Penitence guards with ya, and yer own squad too, and go 'round behind that mansion. If they try'n run with Rangiku-chan, kill 'em and bring her back to me. We'll go 'round front and see ya inside."
Rudobon gave him a low bow, released his zanpakutou and created his squad about him. The dozen hooded guards shifted their long spears and formed up behind them. The orders were given, and the group started off down the path they were standing on.
Explosions boomed about them. Some screamed. Four of the men blew apart.
A sliver of ice sliced Gin's cheek, and he frowned as he touched his cheek and found red on his fingers.
The timing on the explosions . . . it wasn't as if they were being set off by contact, the timing was too long after they'd come near the point where the explosives were laid. There was some other kind of control.
And once they were well off the path, no more explosions happened. So they had only so many explosives. Gin could deal with that: just sacrifice enough people, and he would have a clear path to his Rangiku-chan.
"Tsk... the waste of it all. Izuru, come here, sugar."
Izuru came to him, blue eyes shining.
"You take the rest of these folks, and go on in the front door. Rescue Rangiku-chan for me, right?"
Izuru's eyes stilled for just a moment and then the boy bowed gracefully to Gin. "Thank you, sir. I shall do my best."
"My good Izuru." Gin stroked the blond hair and saw the shiver that worked its way through the slender form. He smiled.
"Sir, could you.... have him add another coat of ice on the way to the front door? I'd rather... rather not have to sacrifice people to get there, I'll have more to kill the ones inside," Izuru said with an adorably bloody smile.
Gin took Hitsugaya's leash and yanked. The ragged, broken-feathered Hollowfied shinigami fell heavily at Gin's feet. Low guttural sounds came from the small figure, but there were no recognizable words. Aizen's people hadn't been kind in their work converting this one, and some part of Gin shuddered, some part of him glad that he had never fought as hard as Hitsugaya had fought Aizen's will.
Could take the heart right out of a person...
"Right. You..." Gin said softly. "Go cover the way from here to that big house in ice again."
What had once been Hitsugaya rose drunkenly into the air, and sprayed ice in another thick glittering coating over everything between their group and the house.
When Kira led the way across the thicker shell there was a muffled thud, and the ice screamed and crackled as it bowed up into a lump. It happened again, and all of Kira's people started scrambling back toward Gin's group.
Gin narrowed his perceptions, looking for some power that was triggering the damned things. He suddenly felt a specific reiatsu, tasting of deep ocean: not quite like Jyuushiro's, as it was thinner, colder, edged with death. That reiatsu pop, pop, pop, pop, popped. Then five charges went off in a row. The first bent and cracked the double layer of ice, the second blew it wider, and the quick succession of the final three raised the ice like some falling wave.
The slowest of Kira's people died under the crushing weight of ice.
The pop of that particular reiatsu happened again, arrowing toward the mansion. Gin pointed, and snarled, "Git that fucker with the reiatsu!"
Kira's blue eyes went wide, and he disappeared in a chord of sonido headed right toward the other signature. His people followed.
Gin smiled. It was that or be left with him.
Now gentle, he took Hitsugaya's leash and followed the mad scramble that followed straight-backed Kira into the den.
Kira jumped blind.
He stumbled over the rolling limbs of his own men, and didn't stop even as he left bloody footprints on the shattered ice.
The hunger within him gnawed ferociously at his guts, and he wished he'd been able to bring some of his snacks with him. He wanted... wanted....
What did he want?
Right. He wanted Gin-sama's approval, his love, to please him in all this. He had to go into that mansion and kill everyone there...
No. Not everyone.
Who did Gin-sama want not-killed?
Oh, right. Matsumoto-fukutaichou. What did Gin-sama need her for?
Gin-sama had him. He didn't need some big-breasted, laughing red-head when he had obedient Izuru!! But...
But Gin-sama said he loved Izuru. He'd said, My good Izuru. Kira shuddered in pleasure at the memory. Izuru was his one and only pet. Rangiku would never stand for being called pet, would she? Unless...
Unless Gin-sama sent her off to Aizen to do to her what he'd done to Izuru.
Kira shuddered, shuddered hard, something in him crying out and shaking him like a caged bird throwing itself against the bars.
Gin-sama said he loved Rangiku, wanted her safe, wanted her with him, not with the traitors. And he trusted Izuru to do what needed to be done. Gin-sama trusted him, but... what if he didn't love him as much as he loved Rangiku? What if Gin-sama was sending him to his death for her?
The image of his men being crushed under the ice slowed Kira's footsteps. His own thoughts, the gnawing in his gut slowing him down. He wasn't going to die for her. And if she died...
So Kira slowed to a walk from all the voices in his head.
And when he reached the front door, he didn't open it. He wasn't going to die for her. He might die for Gin-sama, but not for her.
Instead of going in, he motioned some of his people forward, and simply said, "I need you and you to go in to see what I have to face when we get in."
Both men looked back at Gin-sama, who smiled and waved from where he stood, a good hundred yards away. Kira simply nodded, acknowledging the fact that if the road were booby-trapped, the door probably was too.
"Can we try the window?" one asked.
"Certainly," Kira said, and then he motioned the rest of his people off the front porch and entry way. They moved away with alacrity, and Kira stood and watched as one of the two smashed a pane of the window to the right. It shattered, and the first one peeled away all the shards, while the other wrapped his sleeves about his hands before he climbed over the jagged sill.
Cautiously, the climber put one foot on the floor inside, and then stepped inside.
Kira found that he was holding his breath. He started to let it out when the entire front of the building lit with fire and thunder.
The man by the window didn't have a chance. When thousands of slivers of glass went through a human body, there wasn't much left.
A third of Kira's people ran back toward Gin-sama. Gin-sama's wrath be damned, they weren't going to face that.
Kira gave a single glance back at his boss, and saw Gin-sama already giving Hitsugaya the signal to cut them all down. The screaming behind him was far worse than the flickering flames and silence before him. The two dozen people left crowded in close to him.
"Careful... careful..." he murmured. "There might be more."
They hung back, and he walked into the front foyer, which now looked like a scene from hell. The skeleton of the climber gaped, charred, still ragged, with strips of fire hanging off him. Shards of marble and ivory lay everywhere. The twin sweeping staircases to either side of the entry way had collapsed into piles of rubble, and there was no other way up that Kira could see.
He sensed the reiatsu Gin-sama had pointed out after the explosions, and two other signatures up there, muffled and dim. Kira closed his eyes, and tried, very hard to sense other signatures. Two others skip, skip, jumped towards him. one further back than the other. Could that be Momo? For an instant something howled in the back of his head, and he stiffened, remembering his orders.
Then one muffled reiatsu suddenly flared clear, a good half mile from the house, but bright and clear and strong despite the distance. Kira recognized Iba. A handful of smaller powers came to bear as well. Probably the mansion's rear guard facing the two squads that had gone with Rudobon.
It seemed that Gin-sama was right to send people to the back.
Rangiku's lazy-cat reiatsu was nowhere that he could sense, but the three upstairs... one might be her. Nothing else seemed strong enough, and the moving ones were too mobile for a wounded woman.
Kira flash-stepped up onto the ragged platform that had once anchored the staircases from above, and let his men follow as they could.
"Aaaaahhhh!!!" Rikichi screamed as he charged his first enemy.
Iba heard the boy yelp as the guard with a spear faded to the side, but Rikichi managed to get a block into place before the other man's edge struck at him. The extra leverage of the spear, however, nearly knocked him off his feet.
Shirogane took four rapid steps. Her sword licked out and back into her scabbard before Iba could hobble forward, and the Tower guard fell in a spray of blood. The other seven guards drew back. The Arrancar with a squad of like-looking Hollows stepped back as well.
Shirogane bought Iba's squad time.
Iba swore and barked, "Rikichi! Suzuki! Yoshino! Taguchi, get your people fucking inside the circle! Kuroda! Damn it! All of you form up! Don't scatter like headless chickens! You goddamned idiots get your shit together and kill them!"
His kids suddenly woke up at Iba's fury. They ducked, dodged, and finally got into place where they could watch each other's backs. The wounded huddled in the middle, on the ground, less likely to get hurt but now completely immobile. The attacking guards brandished their spears, which had a real reach advantage over the swords they carried.
"Suzuki! Kuroda! Get some length! Shit for brains! They're gonna try and lure you out by poking at you until you charge 'em. Don't fucking give them the opportunity! Right?"
The chorus of "Right!" and "Yes, sir!" let him breathe again, and Iba released his zanpakutou with a snarl. The small tanto grew into his falchion state, and the pick growing at the end glinted brightly. The two he'd called on had pole arm shikai, and they followed suit.
Shirogane glanced at him, and nodded. She stayed outside their neat circle, so that she could close with their enemy as she was able; but she stayed close enough that they could guard her back. Too far into them, and she would have no defense.
The Hollows lined up on one side: the seven remaining guards ranged back on the other, their spears up. They braced to attack.
Iba used his arm to keep hold of his crutch: he couldn't move worth a shit, but he could...
He caught the spear head that flashed at him on the edge of his sword, and the weight of the falchion brought the head of it all the way around in a sweeping circular parry so fast that it snapped the head off the spear with the weight and strength of his steel.
The crutch supported his weight, his other knee and leg compensating for most of the motion, but when the momentum took him over the center of the crutch, he staggered, landed on his bad knee and nearly fell before he could move the base of the crutch to widen his stance.
Another spear point flashed toward him. Next to him, Suzuki screamed, and used the emotional force behind the scream to block the spear away from both of them with her naginata. The other spearmen attacked all at once. Shirogane closed in on the most eager of them, getting so close they couldn't get their spear heads far enough back to even threaten her. The man she attacked died before he even hit the ground, the next one's life bubbled away from an opened throat, but the third managed to use the distance between himself and his comrade to get his spear back far enough that he could stab at her.
Shirogane spun to the side, the spear head going by her, and her blade rasped along the handle, guiding her in for an overhand strike that sounded like a cleaver going into a ripe melon.
Taguchi and Kuroda threw up.
Suzuki, on her recovery from the block, took an arm off the spearman Iba had disarmed. Shirogane finished him from where she stood.
Then four of the dozen Hollows charged.
Rikichi reacted, more in trained reflex than anything, and he kiai'ed with force this time, and struck, both hands snapping forward right through the Hollow's mask, just before its blade reached him. Suzuki found her footing, and swung her naginata all the way around, the wickedly sharp blade on the end of the pole arm slicing through the mask of two of the charging Hollows.
Iba recovered enough footing so that when the last Hollow charged him, sword raised, Iba could swing his longer falchion so that it hit the Hollow in the head just as it started to bring its sword down. Iba swore as the strengthless, dead arms simply continued their motion, as his sword stuck for just an instant in the bone mask. He moved to the side, flinching when the sword should have hit him in the shoulder, but the Hollow blew away to dust and ash.
Kuroda recovered, spitting to clear his mouth. He stepped up, swung a block against a spear thrust, and skewered the attacker through the gut with his ji. Then there were only two spearmen and the eight Hollows that hadn't moved, yet.
The big Arrancar with the horns cocked his head and another twenty Hollows appeared. The spearmen stepped back as Shirogane sighed.
"I fucking hate cookie-cutter Hollows," Iba grunted. Shirogane laughed. His kids glanced at her in surprise.
The Hollows charged.
Isane cried out when Takano staggered into the library. Small slashes covered his body from head to toe, the blood soaked ribbons of his robe fluttered as he moved, and blood dripped relentlessly from his angular limbs. Jyuushiro saw the boy grin at Isane, and saw her still under it.
"Not now, healer," Takano said between panting breaths. "I'm still moving fine... nothing vital got hit, just... stings like hell." He collapsed behind Jyuushiro's desk.
Jyuushiro nodded, glad that Takano had found some measure of solidity amid explosions and action. Jyuushiro himself still felt shaken by the explosion in the front entrance, and rather than show that, he asked, "How many are left?"
"Two squads to the back... behind some Arrancar. Two to the front behind Kira... he sacrificed two to the front foyer... a cold play..." A pause and Takano caught his breath. "Kira feels... Hollow too, sir. Ichimaru and Hit... Hitsugaya are waiting out of range. So..."
"So you've lured Kira's squads directly up here so that they wouldn't disturb..."
Takano nodded tiredly. "Right. We need those to stay intact until Ichimaru actually gets here." He shook his head. "I hope... I really hope we don't have to use them all on Hitsugaya just to..." He dropped his head into his hands, smearing his own blood around. "I don't like this, sir."
"None of us do," Jyuushiro said dryly. "It's hard enough to kill an enemy one is supposed to hate. To kill someone we respect and love that is being forced against us? That's... that's supposed to be nigh on impossible, Takano. That’s why Aizen is changing our friends."
He sighed, and looked up at Isane, who looked entirely lost within her own memories and thoughts, so deeply in pain that he reached out to touch her arm. She started even as they both felt Momo's fiery comet path toward them.
Momo appeared just inside the balcony, her dark eyes wide. "'Shiro?" she breathed and then blinked, and, under Jyuushiro's sympathetic look, she hardened and shook her head. "Sorry, sir."
"There's something else you should know. I only told you about Hitsugaya, as that was all that I knew at that point," Jyuushiro said quietly.
Momo's eyes grew wide, as a pained, shackled reiatsu as hungry and empty as that of a Hollow suddenly approached the library door.
"Shit," breathed Takano.
That was when the door was thrown back, and Kira's slender, blond figure stepped into the library. He was liberally streaked with blood, and his blue eyes were as pale as a mid-winter sky. In the flickering light of the fires behind him, when he turned to face them, Jyuushiro saw for an instant an eyeshield of bone white and the shadow of the firelight through his chest.
Kira looked around, frowned and asked, "Where is Matsumoto? I've come to kill her."