Series: Winter War
Characters: Hanatarou, Kazeshini, Grimmjow
Rating/Warnings: R for lab nastiness (not explicit)
Word Count: ~6400
Summary: The group in Hueco Mundo go a little further into the corridors. This falls immediately after Ichigo: No Hiding Place
Authors' Notes: This is another chapter in the very dark AU that is being written by incandescens, sophiap, and I. Aizen won the war in Karakura, and this diverges from canon somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs.
"Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."
An Index of all Chapters
37. Ensemble: Haste
38. Ichigo: No Hiding Place
39. Ensemble: Crossfire
Kazeshini paced and hung on tightly to the silk bound hilt of... well... himself.
The Princess looked at the timid Fourth Division mouse. The others watched Madarame and Ise as if they were the last bit of sanity in the room, and Kazeshini could feel blue eyes burrowing into his back.
"What?" Kazeshini spun to confront, and rage beat like a wind-blown bonfire in Kazeshini's chest.
"Nothin'." Grimmjow stared back. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothin'. Just... fuckin' hate...." Kazeshini bit his tongue on the word you, and his mouth tasted bitter with sleeping pills. The damned things worked just fine, and Shuuhei's mind was a limp wet cotton wad steaming in the heat of Kazeshini's fury.
Why the fuck couldn't he have gotten some shinigami soul willing to be everything they could be together? Why the hell did Kazeshini have to watch both their backs? Why was he alone when a freaking Arrancar had...
A howl rose from outside the observation room, a cry of such despair that the hairs on the back of Kazeshini's neck stood up. "The hell?" he bit out and looked up at the display screens.
Ise frowned as Pagally and Sora frantically flipped through controls. "There," she snapped. "Stop."
The flicker halted abruptly to show a hulking shadow.
"Zoom in closer."
The image shrank.
"The other way."
Ikkaku snarled from where he stood across the room.
It was big, whatever the hell it was, and made of patches. Scruffs of fur, angles of white Hollow bone, planes of shining scales, and bulges of bare muscle fitted together in all the wrong ways. It moved powerfully, but with a stutter-halt that might have been pain if it weren't so damned fast. It blurred away.
"There!" Pagally yelped, finger pointing at another screen.
"It's fast." Ayasegawa's musical voice sounded smug, and his slender frame two steps beyond the edge of the crowding shinigami. "Ugly but fast. You want to take it, Ikkaku?"
Ikkaku shifted, his weight rolling forward.
"No." Ise's voice came down as swift as a sword. "Leave it. Let it go by. We'll..."
"No!" It was the timid little medic, suddenly yelping like a kicked dog. "Madoka-san! No!!"
Sure enough, the mangled zombie woman was making her way across the passages toward the horror on the screen. Kazeshini smirked as he heard half a dozen blades click free of their scabbards. The swords' spirits flooded the room with intent and sudden sharp focus. Kazeshini was already unsheathed. It was such a joke.
If only someone would laugh.
The woman kept on walking. The beast growled and crouched. Kazeshini leaned into his expectations of blood and death.
Nothing happened. The thing moved to the freaking side. It watched her continue her way down the corridor with a stillness that reflected fear or respect.
"What the hell?" Ikkaku asked the tense room.
The thing sprang away with another low cry, nails or talons scraping against stone. What horrified Kazeshini more, however, was how Madoka kept going at her mindless pace.
"If it comes on us while we're getting into that next section, I'm takin' it," Grimmjow growled right in Kazeshini's face. "It looks like a good fight."
Kazeshini stomped on the impulse to just cold cock the fucker. He'd gotten Shuuhei and himself through this far, he wasn't going to jeopardize both of them for some stupid blue-eyed idiot. No matter how juicy the fight.
"Go on then," Kazeshini said with silky menace.
Ayasegawa's cool voice suddenly mused. "Hisagi Shuuhei, dear, when in the world did you start to fear dying?"
Naming his full name awoke Shuuhei with a vengeance. Kazeshini panicked and dove into their inner world, the dusty Rukongai streets of Shuuhei's childhood. A sparse village with little water and less food. Abandoned dark forests lay by jagged rocks and dirt paths, so like the place where Muguruma Kensei had been ambushed. The trees, cypress and silver fir, were bigger now, branches tangled together like cutting shadows, but the tops of the evergreens were turning a worrisome brown.
Shuuhei lay by the well at the heart, and he was struggling to sit and awaken.
Kazeshini hit him from behind.
A quick elbow to the back of the head, and Shuuhei slumped. Kazeshini arrowed back to the surface, though he felt like he was going to shatter like steel against stone. He struggled through the murk of his own rage and the feeling that the entire universe was askew, back out to the eyes and brain and hands that could cut.
"What the fuck are you talking about, pretty-boy?" Kazeshini sneered, counting on the fact that time seemed to pass differently inside than out. What he hadn't counted on was the slender man hitting Kazeshini quite so hard.
Kazeshini hit the bank of screens and glass shattered. He bounced up with a roar and ran at Ayasegawa. Steel hissed from sheathes, clashed with sparks, until they were so close the perfume of Ayasegawa's breath filled Kazeshini's nose.
"Boys. Boys. Boys." It took a red-hazed moment for Kazeshini to realize it was Lisa, not Ise, who was pushing her glasses onto her nose and rolling up her sleeves. "Do I have to throw water on you jerks?"
Reiatsu rolled from her in a cold wave, half-Hollow, wholly frightening, and before he knew it, Kazeshini stepped back. Only half a step, but it was still backwards. The only saving grace was that the slender man had retreated as well, ostensibly to push a wind-blown feather back into place.
"Save it for the damned enemy!" Ikkaku roared, pushing between them.
"Hm... now I wonder who is the enemy." Ayasegawa's eyes were cool and narrowed, slipping like an ice dagger between Kazeshini's desperate will and the man he held under consciousness. Kazeshini had to look away.
"Shit, we're making enough noise to scare bull elephants." Grimmjow cracked his knuckles. "Let's go out there and get 'em. Ise, you want cover while you pick that thing with the Princess, right?"
Ise sighed. "Yes. Perhaps..."
"Just split up like before, 'n we'll cover all the ways in. Then you ladies get on it," Grimmjow finished. Kazeshini wondered how anyone could just stand there like that with both Ise and Lisa looking at them like that. Then Kazeshini was terribly thankful they hadn't turned that regard on him.
Kazeshini lost that reassurance when folks started filing out of the observation room, and damn it all to hell if Grimmjow didn't fucking wink at him.
Feeling pleased with himself, Grimmjow swaggered. Hanatarou followed Grimmjow like a trembling shadow. Ikkaku and Yumichika disappeared down the south corridor. Ise, Lisa, and Orihime all headed to the locked door. Ichigo and whatever the hell had taken over Shuuhei went off together down the west corridor, both lost in thought. Grimmjow really hoped those two would get a good fight. They both needed something to knock 'em out of their heads.
Grimmjow playfully contemplated doubling back and jumping 'em just to see much they'd scream, but the prowling presence at the back of his head growled, Pick effective fights rather than tumbling with damned near anything, kitten.
Grimmjow snarled back.
"Not you, mouse," Grimmjow barked. That only seemed to make Hanatarou try to be even smaller.
Treat him like a mouse. Lure him out.
And eat him? Grimmjow thought and got a chuff of humor.
Mice are good at chewing free of traps we'd never see. The presence sounded pensive. There are snares and traps in this place, as cold as the stones that make it.
Grimmjow frowned rather than shiver. "Right," he sighed and tried to think of a conversation subject that would actually interest the little guy. "Sorry 'bout that. You heal, huh? Like the Princess?"
"Uh, no." Hanatarou did, indeed, come out of himself with the question. "She's nothing like us. I have to work with what's there. I heal people by sewing them up, giving them time and room to heal themselves, giving them drugs, patching them together with energy, or even just giving them a part of myself. If the patient wants to heal, and they aren't too badly damaged for me to make a difference, they do."
"And she doesn't?" Grimmjow asked, intrigued. A whirlwind of memory kicked up in the back of Grimmjow's head, snatches of the look on Sado's face, the shock on Shuuhei's. A block of time stood like blank marble around what it felt like when the hunger was filled. Something big lashed its tail and snarled for him to go back, away from the featureless stone.
"No." Hanatarou shook his head vigorously. "Not at all. She just denies it ever happened, and the universe agrees."
Grimmjow feigned disinterest, desperate for the little guy to stop. "Right. So good to go then, huh?"
"I guess. I still feel off-balance, as if I still expect to be hurt, but I'm not, if you know what I mean?"
"No clue, buddy." Grimmjow forced aside memories of days of staggering through a fog of not knowing what the fuck he was anymore.
"Oh." Disappointment colored the boy's tones.
To Grimmjow's relief, footsteps approached from the direction of the locked door. Lisa appeared around the corner and beckoned before trotting back the way she'd come.
"Looks like we're in."
When the door cracked open, Hanatarou knew, instantly, that there was horror within. The smell that came out was acrid and metallic with old blood, the scent of death overlaying old dust and decay. Hanatarou walked three steps away, gulping down bile. Inoue-chan threw up quietly against a wall, and even the stronger members of the party looked queasy. Hollows went to dust when they died...
"Hanatarou." Madarame-san's tone gritted from between set teeth.
"I know. I know." Wearily, Hanatarou got to his feet. "If there's someone that needs healing..."
"Inoue, get behind me," Ichigo ordered, in no uncertain tones. Quickly Inoue-chan moved behind her protector.
"Everyone just stay here. We'll go in, take care a' what needs takin' care of, and then we'll come out ta get everyone. Right?" Madarame-san glared as if expecting someone to argue with him. No one did, though Jaggerjack-san had a very disrespectful smirk on his face.
Still, it was Jaggerjack-san who said, "Sure."
The blue-haired man leaned broad shoulders against the hallway, the very picture of someone who would wait patiently for weeks. It was Hisagomaru who muttered in the back of Hanatarou's head, Yeah, and then pounce on you and eat you. That wasn't reassuring.
Madarame-san and Ayasegawa-san flanked Hanatarou as he entered the dark confines. That helped. Using an old Fourth Division trick that he'd often used in the tunnels under the Gotei 13, Hanatarou muttered a kido spell for a speck of light that he perched on his shoulder.
Cells lined the walls just beyond the door. Just four cells, two to either side, each with a very public toilet, sink, and bed. In the one on the right were spilled and rotting boxes. When Hanatarou found the courage to look more closely, there were mouldy pastries, cookies, and cakes. That puzzled him with its incongruity. The cell opposite was equally unmade, covers and hard pillow flung every which way, and a few stray white feathers, dirty, tattered, and broken, scattered over the stone floor.
They went in further. The second cell on the right was untouched, iron bed straight and made with tucked corners, everything exact, but all lay under a blanket of thick dust.
The reek came from the last cell on the left. Something that had once been human spilled across the floor in a mess that even the inuring of decades of medical work didn't prevent the bile that rose in his throat. At least there was no sign of life in the scattered form. Nothing to keep it or hold it. Nothing that suffered any more.
The howls Hanatarou could hear through the next door, didn't bode well for that luck holding.
Madarame-san and Ayasegawa-san moved in smooth tandem to crack the seal. The smell was already so bad there was no worse reek. Keening sobs howled from the darkness, but nothing rushed the door. Ayasegawa-san shrugged and slipped through. Madarame-san took one look at Hanatarou's shaking knees, took him by the scuff of the neck, and carried him.
Though the fingers of the hands he put over his face, Hanatarou saw more cages, but smaller. Narrow as a single bed, one had a door that looked like a ripe seed pod, which had burst open and split. Bits of red fur fluttered from the raw edges of ripped metal bars. The gurney inside had been smashed so hard against the far wall it looked like a pancake. In the opposing cell, a white-garbed humanoid howled and wrenched pathetically against restraints that anchored it to a surgical table. A bone skull mask covered the face, but Hanatarou finally lost what little he had in his stomach when he saw what had happened to the rest of it.
Madarame-san screamed a kiai, slashed apart the lock with his zanpakutou. He slammed the cell door open, took two long strides, swung again, and dust flew in the now mercifully quiet air.
"So much for leaving no evidence of our arrival," Ayasegawa-san quipped. Madarame-san growled and flung himself into the next room. Ayasegawa-san followed like a white shadow.
It took Hanatarou considerably longer to find his legs than he liked. As he scrabbled to get up, he realized his hands and feet were leaving trails in thick dust. It had been a while since anyone had come this way, and he shuddered at thinking about just how long that Arrancar had been kept here.
Then Madarame-san and Ayasegawa-san charged back out.
Bewildered, Hanatarou swayed. Everyone crowded into the narrow corridor, and the flood of people bodily carried Hanatarou past the reeking cage, and into...
A quiet office with good lighting containing a single desk with an extra reading lamp, neat bookshelves along one wall, a comfortable couch, and several tables. Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the surface of the desk. Alcoves with trophies and art work filled a second wall. The third was taken up with an enormous white board, filled with graceful handwriting, working diagrams, and annotations in the symbols of kido.
Everywhere people moved, dust hung in the air. Hanatarou sneezed, violently, once and then twice. That seemed to set off Inoue-chan, Ichigo, and Ayasegawa-san. There was the sound of ripping cloth, and Lisa tied a piece of her sleeve about her face.
"I'm soooo not breathing Hollow dust," Lisa growled.
Hastily other members of the party did the same.
"Look for anything useful," Ise-fukutaichou ordered, and they scattered.
Hanatarou approached the library, thinking that books couldn't be too bad; however, when he started reading the titles on the shelves - Spiritual Anatomy for Dissection, Soul Grafting, and Practical Methods of Torture -- he started rethinking his assumptions.
A rolling bang of a file cabinet caught Hanatarou's attention. Ise-fukutaichou and Lisa-san stood together, their heads bent towards each other over sheaves of papers, expressions nearly identical in their concentration. Hisagi-san stood to one side, holding a notebook. Hanatarou gravitated towards their quiet interest, glancing down at notes written in a hand almost too perfect to be real. Madarame-san shouldered his way to the table, and Hanatarou could feel his breath on Hanatarou's shoulder as they read the laboratory notebook that lay open in the center.
Test subject Red has responded energetically to the treatments, far more quickly than White did. The amount of active resistance Red showed exceeded that of White, but those actions didn't seem to lengthen the transformation time to final form. There was a significant improvement over the attempt on the Flower subject, but there is regression from how the conversion worked on the Cricket.
The results are encouraging, but hardly as successful as I had hoped. There are issues with the mechanisms guiding the actions of the transformed Red subject. While it is able to show some creative initiative in its actions, it seems unable to obey with the alacrity of the maintenance servants. White's inability to process beyond simple commands has been improved upon, however, the procedure still needs honing.
Below that were diagrams on how to splice Hollow spirit energy into a gifted soul, using the Hogyoku. The graphics made Hanatarou dizzy with horror at the implications.
"What the hell are these?" Madarame-san asked, sounding exasperated.
"They look like Aizen's personal notes," Ise-fukutaichou bit out, and she looked as sick as Hanatarou felt.
"I still haven't found Hacchi in these, I don't think," Lisa shuffled through more pages. "But I think Flower is Unohana..."
"He wore a flowered coat," Ise-fukutaichou whispered. "And in his hair."
Lisa frowned and shook her head. "There is no references to gender, so there's no way to know."
"What about that thing in the hallway," Madarame-san growled. "Anything we can use against it when we have to go back out there?"
Wood smashed and splintered, and all heads whipped towards Jaggerjack-san, who was winding up for another blow, as torn pages whipped about him, and ruined books rained down from the half-smashed bookshelf.
"Stop that!" Ise-fukutaichou ordered. "Why on earth are you destroying things?"
"How the else're we gonna get into this cabinet?" Jaggerjack-san sounded peevish.
"This cabinet," Jaggerjack-san took a step forward, one hand grasped the back board of the bookshelf he'd already broken, and he pulled. There was a scream of wood and nails coming undone, books cascaded to the floor, and a gaping hole showed up behind the bookcase. Jaggerjack-san growled in triumph. "See! It damned well echoed when I thumped it."
Ayasegawa-san reached into the desk, and the whole bookcase rumbled and tried to swing out into the room. Jaggerjack-san yelped, but displaced books, a smashed shelf, and the now-crooked frame of the bookshelf itself prevented it from moving more than a few degrees.
"There was a switch, idiot," Ayasegawa-san drawled. "You didn't have to smash it."
"Who are you calling--" Jaggerjack-san put his hand on his sword.
Madarame-san slammed into Jaggerjack-san, and for an instant, Hanatarou wondered if it wouldn't be wisest to just hide under the desk, but after a flash of blue eyes into narrowed ones, both stood down.
"What's in there?" Kurosaki-san climbed over the wreckage, found the edge of the bookshelf, and pulled it open another foot with ease. He slipped through the crack. "Oh. It's zanpakutou. A buncha them."
"Don't fucking touch 'em!" Kazeshini yelped, as everyone tried to fit into the closet at once.
"What do you think we are, stupid?" Grimmjow growled.
Kazeshini stayed back, as people queued up to go into the tiny space with their hands covered with their uniform or what remained of their sleeves. Kazeshini had to stay back, because the swords they brought out had been too long separated from their people. Even in their sheaths, they knew, and knowing, they grieved or raged.
It was Kurosaki who brought out Senbonzakura. The lavender wrapping glowed against the black and bronze of the simple, squared off, open-frame tsuba. The shining white sheath bore the brown imprint of a hand wrapped about it. Ise set up a stand by the desk, and the kid set the sheathed blade down into it like a baby into a cradle. Only Kazeshini could see the samurai spirit trying, over and over, to kill itself, and he had to look away.
The problem was that Kazeshini looked right into the beady eyes of Madarame, who came out of the niche with naked pieces of notched, chipped, and broken steel in his bare hands. The battered thing still had bandages wrapping the hilt, but it was in more than a dozen pieces. There was no telling if some were missing or not, but Madarame held them all tenderly, even as a random edge opened skin in bloody lines along palm or fingers. Gently Madarame deposited the shards and slivers on a piece of cloth Ayasegawa had laid out on the desk. Wordless gibberings of rage spilled from the pieces of a shattered soul, and the acid of it etched the very air.
Grimmjow came next, lips pursed, hands balancing a blade sheathed in burgundy with a pink hilt. A long cord hung from one end and incongruous wheels spun idly from the tip of the sheath. The flower tsuba was still open, but all Kazeshini could feel from that blade was a deathly languor, a slumber from which there was no reason to awake.
Ise was standing next to Kazeshini. Ise couldn't have gone into that closet any more than he could have. Together, they watched Lisa came out with one sword in each fist. The daisho's hilts were wrapped in dark blue, the rectangular tsuba still graced with sakura blossoms, and the blades sheathed in traditional black. Katen Kyoukotsu was the worst of them all. Weakened by separation beyond all reasonable limits for a sword spirit, the damned pirate lady, rather than worrying about herself or her companion or her partner soul, looked at Kazeshini instead, and shook her head. Now, is that any way to grow with your Shinigami, Kazeshini? Stop fucking around, boy, get off your freaking high horse and stop making an ass of yourself.
But that was when that mealy-mouthed medic brought out a far, far too familiar blade. It lay sheathed in black, hilt wrapped in orange silk, with a teardrop-shaped tsuba. Light came through the drops ringing the hilt, and a ring dangled off the tip on the same side as the edge.
"Suzumushi," Kazeshini whispered. This sword was why Hisagi was so weak. This sword was the origin of Kazeshini's troubles with his person. It should have died with Tousen, should have died with its original owner, yet, twice, it had come back. "Thought you were gone, you bitch."
The cricket spirit of the sword stirred and turned its blind head toward Kazeshini.
"What do you mean?" Ise suddenly yanked herself out of her grief to focus all her attention on Kazeshini
Slender arms slipped around Kazeshini's borrowed body and grabbed him in a neck lock. "Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my Shuuhei?" Yumichika purred possessively into Kazeshini's ear.
Shuuhei woke up, swinging.
"What the fuck?" Shuuhei spat as he struggled for consciousness. The room tilted and blurred. Shuuhei had to fight to stay on his feet, keep his eyes open, and swallow against a dry, metallic tasting mouth. "Shit. What the hell did you give me?"
"Oh, there you are," Yumichika chirped. "I'd know that reiatsu anywhere!"
"Huh?" Shuuhei wished he could make a more coherent response. He attempted to shrug off whatever it was on his shoulders, holding back his arms, and locked onto his neck. It didn't budge. He was so freaking tired. Murky and muddy memories swirled. He was supposed to be fighting, wasn't he? Nemu wasn't running around trying to kill everyone anymore, there were just people standing there staring at him. And the room... "Where the hell are we? What the fuck did you do to me?!"
Suddenly Ise had her fists wrapped in the lapels of Shuuhei's uniform, for all that she was so small, she was powerful. Her reiatsu beat at Shuuhei and made Yumichika release his hold and step back. Ise picked Shuuhei up and shook him. "What did you mean by saying 'I thought you were gone, bitch'?"
"I didn't say that!" Shuuhei panicked, fogged brain scrambling to find any reason he'd say something that idiotically suicidal to Nanao.
A slap burned Shuuhei's cheek and echoed through the room.
Ise drew her hand back for another, and Yumichika caught her wrist. "It wasn't him," Yumichika said, and Shuuhei really didn't want to make sense of that statement, but something surged under the fog of his scattered mind.
"How in the world couldn't it have been him?" Ise sounded as bewildered as Shuuhei felt. "He was standing here the whole time!"
Yumichika shook his head. "This reiatsu tastes like Shuuhei. It's damned confused and drugged to boot, but underneath, the savor of him was as disciplined as the running of a full wolf pack under the moon, willing and almost wanting to die for what it protects. That other thing was bitterly afraid of dying."
The room reeled about Shuuhei, and he felt his legs give out. Instead of hitting the floor, he dangled in Ise's grip. Rage and frustration roiled through Shuuhei's soul, and he recognized the flavor of it: Kazeshini.
Shuuhei dove into his inner world.
He landed on fragrant needles, thick on the forest floor. Hinoki cypress and silver fir, arborvitae and spruce, all crowded close, dark and dank and cold. The night sky was overcast, with no moon or stars. A storm brewed to the east, with lightning and the low rumble of thunder, and it was warm here, as warm as mid-summer. On careful and soundless feet, Shuuhei padded closer to the wood, and he saw that trees were dying. Branches rose bare to the sky. It was unseemly for evergreens to be so naked.
In the shadows, two red eyes gleamed.
Tired, confused, bewildered, Shuuhei stuck to the ground, rather than attacking his zanpakutou. Usually Kazeshini wouldn't listen until they beat each other to a pulp, but this time Shuuhei just couldn't get the energy or conviction.
"Kazeshini? Come down here," Shuuhei called out.
To Shuuhei's shock and surprise, Kazeshini leaped out of the darkness and landed awkwardly in front of Shuuhei, tail lashing from side to side. "Hey."
"Hey." For a long moment, they stared at each other.
"About that..." "What is..."
They both stopped.
"I don't know how it got so fucked up," Kazeshini confessed to the ground. "Thought it had ta be easier than the crazy-assed guilty screwed up knot you got us inta, but..."
Shuuhei couldn't think of a thing to say to that. It had been truly fucked up, and just trying to think of all the ways made his sore shoulders tense. The whole weight of trying to see which way was right when everything was wrong in Hueco Mundo, the horror at whom he'd had to kill, the last lost shreds honor or pride he might have had, and the rage that attended all of it so that he wouldn't just collapse all fell on Shuuhei again. He staggered and realized just what Kazeshini had bought him, even if it was for just a little while.
Kazeshini looked at Shuuhei worriedly. Shuuhei hadn't known that Kazeshini could look worried, but the spirit's ears were back and brows drawn, and suddenly Shuuhei realized he didn't have to talk.
"But...?" Shuuhei prompted, almost gently, and saw something give in Kazeshini. The posture of the black beast relaxed, uncoiled from some inner hurt.
"But some of it's all fuckin' harder'n I thought it'd be," Kazeshini growled and his ears flicked forward and then back again. "The killin's easy when they're comin' at us. But you didn't see her just lyin' there helpless and begging, soul ripped away, and the damned blue-assed panther made me choose." The black beast shuddered. "And the freakin' insect's back."
"Tousen-taichou?" Shuuhei whispered, without much hope at all.
"Still dead and good riddance." Kazeshini flinched even as he said it.
Shuuhei unclenched his fist. "Right. But his sword still exists, and its spirit is alive?"
"Can you get it to tell us what happened?"
"I can't." Kazeshini looked Shuuhei in the eye. "You know I can't."
Shuuhei refused to look into those red eyes. "Why the fuck not?"
"She hates me 'cause I kill people, Shuuhei. It's what I'm made to do." Kazeshini's voice dripped with sarcasm. "You keep forgettin', you idiot."
Shuuhei shook his head. Pieces fell into place, and Shuuhei suddenly knew why he was missing time. Kazeshini had taken over. Worse yet, it wasn't really Kazeshini's fault. It was Shuuhei's.
"I can't forget." The hot memory of one of the Nemu's blood flowing over his fist flooded over Shuuhei. He'd drawn to block, not strike. "Can't forget a part of my soul can do nothing but destroy," Shuuhei said softly. "And I can't forgive myself for being weak enough to let you do it."
Shuuhei attacked. His blade was out before he'd even finished his sentence. Kazeshini threw itself bodily to the side before bounding back with teeth and claws reaching for Shuuhei. A line of fire ripped and skipped along Shuuhei's arm, side, cheek, even as he felt his sword bit into Kazeshini's ribs, hip, and shoulder. The ensuing chaos was good, felt right. The first fight that felt that way in what seemed an eternity.
With a scream, Shuuhei used a two-handed overhead stroke try and split Kazeshini in two. It hit, but Kazeshini dodged, and the edge sliced into in its shoulder instead of its head, and Kazeshini's fangs closed on Shuuhei's throat. Pulse staggering, breath heaving, muscles locked into the fight, Shuuhei looked Kazeshini in its red eyes and found tears and agony where he expected rage.
The black beast coughed and growled, mouth opening. Shuuhei could feel the teeth sliding from his neck, and he gasped at the acid pain of it. When he pulled back, yanking his blade free of something hanging onto it, Kazeshini flinched, and Shuuhei saw the havoc wrecked by his own will and arm on the midnight hide and the ruby flesh underneath.
"Goddammit... for such a weakling you..." Kazeshini hissed, staggered, and fell heavily to the loam. "Shit, I give," it whispered in a hoarse voice. "Now get the fuck out of here before they kill us both."
Shuuhei opened his eyes to find himself on his knees, slumped before Ise. Her fist was still on his uniform, but she wasn't dangling him like some child's toy.
"Who are you?" she growled.
"I am myself," Shuuhei said, and the reality of that came crashing back down on his head.
Yumichika gave a giggle that sent chills down Shuuhei's spine as he remembered Yumichika taking him out when Aizen first showed his true colors. The damned reiatsu-sucker was practically drooling on Shuuhei's collar.
"Who were you earlier?" Yumichika purred.
"Fuck off." Shuuhei did his best to stand up on his own two feet. His damned knees weren't working the way they were supposed to, and Shuuhei's head felt like it was being gripped in a vice, but he got up anyway and tried to hide the shaking.
Squaring his shoulders, Shuuhei looked Ise right in those damned reflective glasses and told the absolute truth. "Ise-fukutaichou, I was not speaking for your ears, earlier. My apologies for any misunderstandings."
"Who were you talkin' to?" Grimmjow came up from the side, and Shuuhei wanted to curse.
"Suzumushi." To Shuuhei's surprise, it was Ise who answered. She spoke slowly, as if she were thinking about every word she said. "I heard you say her name, but didn't connect it until now."
The blade lay there, in its sheath, on the desk. Shuuhei didn't see anything alive about it at all, but tentatively he nodded at Ise's statement, hoping that would be enough.
"Why'n hell would he talk to that?" Ikkaku asked, voice rough.
"He didn't," Yumichika said flatly. "Who was it, Shuuhei?"
"How do you know it wasn't me, Yumichika. You told everyone why you know?" Shuuhei challenged in a rush to direct attention away from himself.
Ikkaku's nostrils flared.
Yumichika paled but tossed his hair in a casual motion. "I know how Shuuhei's reiatsu tastes, that's all."
Ikkaku frowned, and Shuuhei's hopes fell.
"Oh. That." Ise pushed up her glasses. Then she sighed. "That's... taking us away from the crux of the problem. Hisagi, what should we do with you, if you can't keep control of yourself?"
"Kill him?" Grimmjow offered casually.
It did not reassure Shuuhei when the only ones who glared at Grimmjow were Orihime and Hanatarou.
"What if Aizen's created something that takes over Hisagi and uses him to murder us? Who killed Ogidou and Iemura, Hisagi?" Lisa asked.
The headache intensified as everyone looked at him, other than Hanatarou. The damned kid took two steps further away. "Shit. I killed Ogidou?"
"Well, that makes it pretty damned clear," Ikkaku casually clicked his sword from his sheath.
"No. No, it's not." To Shuuhei's surprise, it was Hanatarou who spoke up. The kid's soft voice said, "Ogidou was trying to kill him, for Iemura's sake. And if it was this something else, it was acting in defence, but... it did kill Ogidou."
"And almost killed me," Ise added in far too clear a voice for that statement. "Now that I see you, Hisagi, and have had the difference pointed out to me, someone with a different reiatsu threw your sickles to kill Harribel, no?"
"I..." Shuuhei closed his eyes and tried to think through that sequence and couldn't come up with it. Kazeshini, a constant voice in his head for the last several months, was not there, and he suddenly realized just how many gaps he relied on the zanpakutou to fill. It was stupid to think of Kazeshini as one of Aizen's flunkies, wasn't it? "It... it was my zanpakutou, not something Aizen made."
Ikkaku's sword clicked back into its sheath, and Shuuhei dared to open his eyes. Grimmjow looked worried of all things. Ichigo was frowning and looking away. Ise now had her eyes closed, and Lisa was just thoughtful. That scared Shuuhei more than anything else.
"Aizen been messin' with zanpakutou," Grimmjow offered with a nod at the neat rack of evidence. "Who says he didn't jigger yours?"
"I say," Shuuhei found it remarkably easy to glare into the turquoise blue eyes. If Grimmjow killed him it would at least be quick. "I never let him out of my sight."
"But if your zanpakutou was controlling you, how much of that would you know? You don't even remember Ogidou." Ise said far too reasonably.
"Are y'all losing track of the fact that none of you trusted Hisagi to start?" Yumichika mused, his musical voice pensive. "And you probably shouldn't be trusting him, or Lisa dearest, Grimmy, or me either. And yet here we are..."
Ise was holding her forehead in her hand. "This is so..."
"Fucked up?" Ikkaku drawled. "Yeah. From the goddamned start. You can see if crazy boy is fucked up, right?"
"Uhm. When his zanpakutou is in ascendance, yes." Ise was now looking over her glasses at Ikkaku.
"Then stick with him. Yell if he goes. Then we'll whack him or make him talk." Ikkaku's beady eyes pinned Shuuhei where he stood. "This one we trust as little as we did before. Right?"
"Well, that sounds as reasonable as possible. And I'll hand off to Yumichika, I guess, if I must busy myself with other tasks, yes?"
"Yes, ma'am," Yumichika said gracefully.
Knowing that his erstwhile crew wasn't going to just kill him, Shuuhei decided the floor would be a good place to be, and he sat down before he fell down. The whole room swayed, and he closed his eyes for just a minute.
Hanatarou crouched by the unconscious Hisagi and checked to make sure that the man was still breathing. He was, and the pulse under Hanatarou's fingers was strong. Given how many pills the man had taken, Hanatarou was still amazed he was alive, much less breathing and awake. The others gathered about.
"Where are we going next?" Inoue-chan asked softly. "Aizen's not here, we can't kill him where he isn't, so where else could he be?"
"Maybe there's another place," Ichigo answered, scratching at his orange mop of hair.
"Why do you think that?" Hanatarou asked in a voice that wavered more than he liked.
"Well, there isn't anything alive here, and that girl babbled about taking care of more people wasn't she?" Ichigo asked. "Mighta been one here to take care of, but not people, so there's gotta be something else."
Everyone stared at Ichigo.
"But isn't that scary thing running around where that lady went?" Orihime asked.
There was a rustle of motion and Ikkaku, Yumichika, Grimmjow, and Ichigo all laid hands on their hilts. That made Hanatarou remember back in the observation room, when all of them had done that on seeing the thing.
"Oh! It didn't bother Madoka!" Hanatarou said, hopefully. "Maybe it has orders to not kill or injure the caretakers?"
"So we wait for her?" Grimmjow asked, looking confused. "Or you gonna try'n make like a zombie medic?"
Hanatarou's hands went up in reflexive defence. "No, no... not me. But... maybe if we walk with her we won't have to fight or raise an alarm."
"That sounds wise," Ise said absentmindedly. Her hands were on Suzumushi's hilt. "I think we'll take these with us. Don't want to leave them here, laying out for anyone to find."
"No. We don't." Ikkaku bit out, rolling the pieces of Zaraki's sword into a piece of cloth. "Got this one."
Lisa had Kyouraku's blades in her belt. Yumichika carried Yachiru's blade. Ichigo ended up with Kuchiki's.
"Hoshibana, if you can hear us..." Ise tried uncertainly.
Hoshibana's voice sounded clearly in mid-air. "Yes, Ise-fukutaichou?"
"Where is Madoka?"
"She seems to be circuiting between the kitchens, housecleaning, laundry, these offices, your location, and one other place. It is a regular rotation, probably three circuits during the day. She should be nearing your location in twenty minutes."
"Thank you, Hoshibana. I appreciate you listening in on us as well, it will help keep us informed."
"Aye, sir. We'll keep monitoring. There is still no sign of Aizen or his officers."
"All right, everyone," Ise said. "Search these rooms for anything we can use. We'll be leaving soon."
They all scattered.
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