Arc: Twin Souls
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Summary: In which the boys figure out what it is that they could and really should be doing, and Daisuke figures out the boys might well be the death of him.
Author's Notes: Whew! Thank you all for sticking with me on this very very long ride. Many thanks to incandescens's unceasing support, betaing skills, and knowledge of the Bleach Universe.
Standard Disclaimers: I do not own Bleach or its characters, nor do I make any money from these writings.
The first chapter.
<< The Previous Chapter: Ch. 36 -- Reflections
"Now. How the hell do we hit him?"
"You don't," Espejo said, his blade flashing forward as quickly as a snake. "I hit you."
Jyuushiro blocked. One moment, he was standing at the ready, and the next, Sogyo no Kotowari was in the way, steel singing on steel. Jyuushiro felt the initial force of the strike, the killing intent hot and heavy behind it, but then it vanished. There was no shock, no hit. It felt like a hawk snatching a bird from the sky or a pond swallowing a thrown rock. One moment it was there, and in the next moment it was not.
Light winked along the silver tags from the blocking left blade to the right. Jyuushiro watched, fascinated as the light followed the string of tags: blink, blink, blink...
Aim me at him. The sword in his left hand shivered under his grip like the tiller of a ship caught in a sudden gust. Aim me!
Jyuushiro pointed the shining tip at Espejo, who bared white teeth.
Strike with me! Strike!
Jyuushiro lunged, and out of the Sogyo no Kotowari rushed the adjucha's own killing intent. It led Jyuushiro's blade and sliced through Espejo's reiatsu like a fishing knife through pale belly. Espejo's eyes widened, his jaw dropped in surprise, and the returned power sliced into his side and flung him against a pillar of rock like a loose-limbed puppet. He bounced off and fell down. Three breaths later, he groaned, rolled over, and came up on to his hands and knees.
"What the hell was that?" Shunsui asked, sounding incredulous. "What did you do?"
"I don't know!" Jyuushiro said. "It just... happened."
Espejo spat a curse and then launched himself at Jyuushiro. "No one hits me! How dare you hit me!?"
Jyuushiro spun out of the way, ducked another swing, and kept moving backwards while his mind worked furiously.
"You hurt me!" Espejo screamed in frustration. His slender body suddenly bulged, bulked and grew. Hundreds of faces swam on the bone-white surface of his skin, faces distorted with anger, rage, fear or horror. Limbs and claws waved in all directions. "You hurt me. I will kill you!"
Jyuushiro put his swords up. Black scimitars with silver edges came up too, on the periphery of Jyuushiro's vision.
"Not if we kill you first," Shunsui muttered, and Jyuushiro grinned.
The thing charged them both, and Shunsui and Jyuushiro went to either side of it. Ducking and dodging the blades as best as he was able, Jyuushiro, remembering how the left blade had hurt the thing, slashed at it with that sword.
"Reflejan!" the many mouths now cried, and Jyuushiro's blood went cold when he heard a ring of steel on steel and Shunsui grunted in pain.
"Shit," Shunsui said, and the pain in his voice made Jyuushiro's gut clench. "He's still cutting us with our own power."
"Our power," Jyuushiro whispered. "Oh."
Espejo roared, and Jyuushiro was hard pressed to keep the teeth and claws off himself without stabbing back in return. One edge slashed across Jyuushiro's upper arm, and another whipped so close to his face that even though he drew back reflexively, he felt skin catch and tear.
"What?" Shunsui called back. "What do you mean by 'Oh?'"
"He hits us with our power. Not his own," Jyuushiro said, and was abruptly buried under an avalanche of gnashing teeth, flailing limbs, and wild wide eyes. He cried out, trapped.
"Shit shit shit shit shit!" Shunsui chanted and just put his shoulder into the white mass, ignored how bright teeth gnawed on his hair, and shoved with all his might.
"Reflejan!" the thing cried out again.
To Shunsui's utter relief, Jyuushiro shot out from under the mass.
"Ha!" Shunsui barked out. "It worked!"
Espejo let loose a liquid string of words that had the cadence of curses and invocations, and Shunsui smirked. Then the thing came at him, its single blade swung at him faster than Shunsui had ever seen a blade come at him before.
To Shunsui's surprise, Katen Kyokotsu met it straight on. Both blades came up to block the strike. The impact rippled the air about them and shook the ground hard enough to loosen a sheet of rock from the roof and send it crashing to the floor of the cave. Shards whistled about them and one struck Shunsui's arm with stinging force.
"Shit," Shunsui whispered. He would never have been able to do that before.
Together we are stronger and faster, brother. Katen Kyokotsu was clearer in Shunsui's head. He could see both sides of her leaning in, engaged, eager and hopeful. Do you really want to hit him hard?
I do, but I'll be damned if I hit Jyuushiro with the backwash of the strike, Shunsui answered. His training, his body took care of the cascade of ripostes and follow-up blows that Espejo rained down on him.
Jyuushiro and his zanpakutou can take care of themselves. Hell, we might even help them do what they did again, if we hit the Hollow hard enough. He said that our energy can't hit it, but when he returns its reflected shit back at it...
That made sense. That was what Jyuushiro had been talking about. Espejo reflects our blows, but somehow Jyuushiro had slung what it gave back at it and had hurt it badly. Let's go.
All right, little brother. Let's play a game.
Bright laughter at the way the world worked filled Shunsui until he grinned, found his footing, and planted his stance deep into the stone.
"A game? What game?" Shunsui asked.
Espejo took advantage of Shunsui's divided attention to swipe at Shunsui's forward leg. Shunsui used the back of Kyokotsu, the bigger blade, to block the flicker of steel. The two swords felt different in his hands. The one in his right was still bigger and heavier, and swung like his customary daito; the one in his left, for all that it looked no different, felt lighter and faster in the same way his shoto had always felt.
"Game?" Jyuushiro asked from behind Shunsui.
Game. Life's a game. There are rules and winners and losers, and those who can risk it all. Let's start with the Color Game! Katen Kyokotsu sang the name, and suddenly Shunsui saw the way it had to work.
"Game," Shunsui stated softly and opened up more distance between himself and Espejo. Jyuushiro seemed amenable to Shunsui's madness, moving with him.
The Hollow cocked his head to listen.
"The Color Game," Shunsui said. The story of the game unrolled in his mind as he spoke it. "Name a color: the color of what you wish to hit. If you're wearing it, the more you wear, the more damage you'll do to me, and the less you wear the less damage you'll do. The enhancement also applies to what I can do to you."
"You mean, what you'll do to your partner," Espejo said.
Shunsui felt Katen Kyokotsu chuckle. Or so he thinks. Yes, your Jyuushiro and those fishy swords will take care of him. If we hit him with everything we've got...
"Yes," Jyuushiro whispered, and the certainty in his voice was exactly like when he'd been on the whipping cross. "Do it, Shunsui."
Shunsui sang out to the Hollow, "Maybe you should start with Black, Espejo, see what happens first, huh?"
"As if I'd be such a coward," Espejo sneered. "I call White!"
The air sang with power at the words. The decision was made, and everything snapped into place. Shunsui watched every twitch, nuance, and blink of his inhuman opponent. Even without a body that was like other men, the thing had to have tells. There were still muscles and breath, heartbeat and eyes attached to the will that confronted him. Thoughts could not cross a mind without moving the face or body, and emotions could not brew without a tremor of the hand.
The scene imprinted itself on Shunsui's eye. Lit by the fiery will of Indra, the stones threw stark black shadows. The myriad shades of gray laced the pillars and walls around them. Every writhing limb, open mouth, and blinking eye on his opponent was turned toward him, and when the eyes narrowed, the mouths tightened, and the fists closed, Shunsui knew what was coming.
Shunsui took a deep breath, relaxed, and waited.
That's it, brother. The voice was that of his soul. The one that knew that it was better to wait, to hesitate, until they were sure. Until they knew beyond a doubt when commitment had to be made.
Espejo leaped for them. Dozens of legs appeared on the bottom of the mass of horror, all jumping in concert. Shunsui waited and saw the minute flinch to the left, away from Jyuushiro, when Jyuushiro brought both of his swords up to ready. Then the adjucha was in mid-air, arms raising its sword so that it could smash Shunsui's head open like a melon.
In that split second, Shunsui danced to the right, whirling about like a meditating dervish, neither sword raised to defend, but both committed to a side strike powered by the momentum of his own body. All three of them cried their kiai together. Instead of trying to aim for any specific spot, Shunsui let his senses take over. When the adjucha flinched away, twisting in mid-air, Shunsui's reflexes followed.
It was a good thing Jyuushiro knew exactly how Shunsui fought, that when Shunsui decided to strike, it would be an all-committed strike. Jyuushiro dropped his left sword, put both hands on the hilt of his right, and used both hands and the back of his right blade to block the doubled blow.
The initial impact promised to send Jyuushiro across the entire cave, but then there was the negation, the swallowing up of all the offered power. The tags burst into eye-searing flares of light, the cord glowing between them when they lit.
Quickly, Jyuushiro grabbed the dangling hilt of his left sword. The adjucha snarled at Jyuushiro and sprang, various jaws gaping and dozens of claws swept wide. Jyuushiro swung at Espejo's center of mass.
Two blades roared forth, with black spines and silver edges, twinning Jyuushiro's left blade. Jyuushiro now dropped his right blade and used both hands on the left. When their twin souls struck the monster, they ripped through Espejo's immense reiatsu and slashed a gaping diagonal across the collected chaos of body parts.
Espejo screamed from all its mouths and dropped. The burgeoning blob of its body deflated like a burst bladder. It dwindled into the slender youth they'd faced at first, lying in a spray of blood.
Shunsui reached the youth first, kneeling by Espejo to press two fingers to his throat.
"He's alive," Shunsui said, and Jyuushiro heard both wonder and pain in Shunsui's voice.
The slender Hollow twitched, coughed, and opened his eyes. "What do you want of me?"
Shunsui ignored them and picked Espejo up by the lapels. "You promised us a name and the agreement."
"Kuchiki..." Espejo spat out between bloodied teeth. "And Ryuu."
Jyuushiro and Shunsui stared at each other in blank horror. Then Jyuushiro landed by the two of them, grabbed Shunsui's wrists and shook the adjucha himself.
"Full names. Not just clans. That will set the whole world to war."
Espejo bubbled a laugh. "The moon child is wise... Kuchiki Ren promised us rich hunting, though Ryuu Hinata is not adverse to a soul lost here or there."
"And the agreement?"
"We hunt, but only where they say," Espejo sighed. "They also give us plans, ways and means to reach more souls for feeding."
"Why are you answering so readily?" Shunsui asked.
"Because you beat me." Espejo blinked up at them. "You own me now, and can keep me to suffer or cleanse me."
"Can you tell the others to stop doing what Ren says?"
Espejo laughed, and then coughed up more than even Jyuushiro was comfortable seeing. When the spasms stopped the adjucha shook his head. "I... I can tell them... I was defeated... You were much stronger... than they said..."
Jyuushiro watched Shunsui shift his grip gently. "Do that, please," Shunsui said.
"Please?" The grin on the creature was terrible.
"I'll cleanse you either way," Shunsui said, laying Espejo slowly onto the stone floor and lifted the larger of his two scimitars. "But I'd like it if you'd do us that favor."
A frown wrinkled Espejo's smooth brow. "Favor... you'll cleanse me... even if I don't...?"
Shunsui nodded, and there was a resolve to him that Jyuushiro hadn't seen before.
Espejo blinked in surprise and the slender body relaxed against the stones. "You're strange. I like you... but you're strange." He closed his eyes and moved his slender fingers in a pattern that reminded Jyuushiro of a kido spell. A red flare of light welled out from him like ripples spreading across water. "Done. Now," Espejo's voice took on a note of imperiousness, "let me go."
Shunsui nodded, laid the strong curve of Katen Kyokotsu's edge, just above the tsuba, against Espejo's smooth mask. Katen Kyokotsu began murmur funeral poetry in the back of Shunsui's head. Using one hand on the hilt, the other on the sword's spine, Shunsui pushed the blade into bone. The mask splintered and the boy beneath blew away into dust.
Miles away, Daisuke fought beside the woman he'd once loved and wondered what he was going to do if he survived the experience.
Snowflakes fell in flurries of white, and if Daisuke squinted he couldn't quite tell the difference between the flakes and the Hollows that swarmed around them. The adjucha on the hillside stood out like a beacon of reiatsu, and Daisuke watched it carefully while the entire Academy contingent struggled to keep up with the nobles. He knew that he stood out on the battlefield with equal brilliance since the release of his shikai.
"They're moving faster," Fong said under her breath.
Daisuke nodded in agreement.
Kuchiki Ren charged another cluster of Hollows. He was, at least, going in the direction of the Shiba Estates, but he wasn't looking back to see if the students could keep up. For some reason neither Kuchiki Ren nor Ryuu Hinata had released their zanpakutou. It seemed very suspicious in the light of Fong's spoken thoughts.
Especially since, without the nobles' zanpakutou released, but with Daisuke's Takekaze released for shikai, Daisuke was the brightest soul on the battlefield. The adjucha was making its way right toward him, Fong, and the students.
"Get everyone to keep up with the clans," Daisuke said, turning.
"You're going to..." Fong startled Daisuke with a punch in the shoulder. "Idiot men. You're nearly as bad as your students."
"Thank you, I think." Daisuke gave Fong a small shove in the right direction. "Go on."
Fong made an unimpressed sound, but she left, running to where the students hauled Yamamoto's helpless body after the rest of the noble warriors. He watched them recede, until he had to turn and deal with all the Hollows who were converging on his reiatsu.
Daisuke got down to the business of his life, killing people so that the ones he wanted to protect could live. Takekaze's ribbon flowed, while the naginata dipped, slashed, and scythed through the Hollows like mowing through grass. It was hot, heavy work, but a task that he and Takekaze were well suited to do. This wasn't a rear-guard action, because the main body was wading deeper into the field of Hollows; but it felt good to do his utmost to clear this part of the battlefield.
The pinpoint bright presence of the adjucha came closer. Even while fighting, Daisuke's reiatsu senses were trained on it, the way he might watch a wolf lurking at the edge of a clearing.
When it made its rush, Daisuke was ready for it.
What he wasn't ready for was his memories punching him in the gut. Suddenly aware of how alone he was, in the midst of his enemies, the physical terror of the last time he was left on a field fell on him. Suffocating horror, the helplessness of being buried in clinging dirt, and the stench of rotting bodies all around him, meat that used to be the people he'd loved, whom he'd protected and who had fought for him. Surrounded by the ruin of his past, Daisuke faced a star-bright intensity of utter killing intent. Daisuke wavered, lowering the butt end of Takekaze onto the dirt.
Gardener... you're free to fight. You must fight this!
"I know...I know..." Daisuke whispered, trying to breathe around the agony that wasn't real. He knew that the feelings weren't really what mattered, but he couldn't move. The cold ghost of memory clung about him and slowed his limbs like deep drifting snow.
Takekaze snarled in frustration. You have me. I'm here, Gardener, you asked for my help and you damned well better...
A knife sang through the air and sank into the adjucha's shoulder. Red blood bloomed around the silver blade. The adjucha screamed, yanked the knife out, threw it into the rocks at the foot of the mountain, and it came on faster.
"Idiot," Fong crowed. "I knew it!"
"I'm sorry," Daisuke whispered, so quietly he knew she couldn't hear it. The wave of guilt and relief spilled into tears, but he spread his stance and knew the strength of the earth under his feet again. She was here and in danger.
Daisuke swung, still half-blinded by the water in his eyes. A jolt followed by the slide of a blade entering flesh and a screech of pain rewarded his efforts.
He furiously dashed the back of one hand across his eyes. His naginata was lodged in the ribs of the adjucha. This close, Daisuke could see that the Hollow used to be a woman, and she was clawing and biting at the shaft, struggling to get free of the big flat blade. Daisuke obliged her, yanking backwards, hearing a crack when Takekaze swung away. The adjucha leaped back, blood spilling, snarling imprecations with every breath, and then she came at him, darts of darkness spreading from one open palm.
A bright kido shield went up in front of him. The darts slammed into it, shaking it, cracking it in two places, but the darts bounced and dropped to the ground. Fong held her hands up, keeping the shield in place.
"Did you have a plan?" she asked conversationally.
"Hit her until she goes away?" Daisuke suggested weakly. He struggled to get his breathing under control. Having Fong there was doing wonders, but it still took time.
"For a supposed tactics and strategy teacher, you're damned unimaginative," Fong shot back.
"Old Man Yamamoto is the instructor. I'm just the gardener." Daisuke said with a laugh that did much to chase off his terror. "How about: I'll distract her, you get your knife and stab her in the back?"
Sudden terror engulfed Daisuke again as he thought about Fong leaving him for the knife. She could die trying, and then he'd be alone again. He fought off the thought like fighting off a Hollow on his back. Enough. He was going to trust her abilities even if it killed him.
"Straightforward and not at all subtle. So like you, Gardener..." The fondness of Fong's tone made Daisuke gulp around a lump in his throat.
"Go," he said.
And Fong was off like an arrow from a bow for the cliff base.
Daisuke looked at the adjucha, aimed for the staring mask, and commanded, "Takekaze, Wind Strike!"
He swung. Brilliant spring green light sprang from the tip in a straight line before him. The adjucha reacted swiftly enough to turn aside. Her blade was aimed for Daisuke's middle, but she was late, a split second too late.
Takekaze's light fell on her shoulder instead of her head, but the force of Takekaze's hit staggered her and split the earth behind her. Daisuke watched the adjucha's shoulder part and the edge of her sword veer from true. The adjucha's knees buckled. When her wobbling sword met Daisuke's side, it hit him with the flat, not the edge.
"Serro, rasga!" The adjucha cried, and pain ripped through Daisuke's side.
"Damn you, Gardener!" Fong screamed and jumped onto the Hollow's back, blade to white throat...
... and Daisuke dropped into his inner world.
His walled garden was white with snow. A wet, sodden snow with big fat flakes, already dripping from the branches of the trees and the leaves of the bamboo.
"That's my girl," Daisuke said and dropped onto the damp cold ground.
Takekaze bent over him, her pine green eyes wide. Her traditional robes with their bamboo pattern in all the greens of a growing world swung in an unseen wind that fanned her grass green hair. All around her was a mountain grove of bamboo, so thick there was no sunlight on the ground, and the wind rustled the leaves.
"I won't tell her you said that," she said with a smile.
"You'll have to live and tell your little ant yourself."
Sui Ma Yi meant smashing ant. It was Fong's code name in the House of Godly Gears. The thought of having to tell Fong that he'd used such a phrase for her was daunting. "That was a very deep cut on top of all the damage that was done in the caves."
"It was, but not too deep for you to live a while longer."
Daisuke digested that even his zanpakutou spirit felt that he might be dying. Fong's cry echoed in his ears. He could not leave her alone to face that thing. "What do I need to do?"
Takekaze laughed. "Does it seem amenable to talking?"
"No!" Daisuke blinked at his zanpakutou. "Then with force."
Takekaze nodded grimly. "You've hurt it badly already. The little ant is holding her own, but it will not be for long."
"She has power."
"You knew that from the start."
Daisuke blinked and shook his head. "No, I d-" Then he remembered exactly how Sui Ma Yi's kisses had felt, even through her black silk mask. The spark between them had been more than mutual attraction, the first surges of love. They'd known how the other felt from the beginning, known how to respond to each other more than people should have been able to without sensing reiatsu. "Oh..."
"Oh, indeed," Takekaze sighed. "Gardener, will you do it for her?"
Daisuke frowned at his zanpakutou spirit. "Do what?"
Takekaze made an exasperated sound. "You know exactly what. We've been working on it for the last two decades."
"It." Daisuke raised one eyebrow. "Tell me. What is this it?"
"Mastering me, Gardener." Her tone was as patient. "You've been fighting with me for twenty years: it's past time you truly mastered me. That's the only way I can think of to get you healed. Release me in bankai and you will have everything you and your little ant need."
Sword hilts sprouted from stalk and rock, ground and hillock.
"Come, Gardener, fight me as you've never fought before..." Takekaze urged, and attacked.
Daisuke dodged, surprised, resisting the reflex. This was his friend and companion of decades, the one being who was always with him, and he'd always so hated to be alone. Asking Takekaze for help for shikai had been easy. This...
"All growing is painful, Gardener," she said, whirling and coming at him again. "But if you don't do this, you'll die and your little ant will die with you. Come. Find my weakness, and in it you will find your strength."
Daisuke thought once again of Fong's desperate cry, how she'd sprung to his rescue against a foe that outmatched her a thousand to one. He couldn't fight this fight for himself. "It has to be for her."
"Well, enough, Gardener. We know how you work, so... come at me," Takekaze said, and beckoned to him. "For her."
Fong Jin Wei hated this. She hated seeing Daisuke fall, hated jumping in to save him. She especially hated having to deal directly with the damned Hollow. All her instincts screamed that the adjucha was going to kill her, eat her, and spit out her bones.
Luckily, the Hollow was injured. Less luckily, Daisuke was bleeding into a pool of blood and lying there looking more dead than alive.
She screamed and tried to rip the adjucha's throat out. The Hollow grabbed Fong's knife arm and used it to throw Fong. Fong tumbled, caught a glimpse of the horizon. That was enough for her to launch a shunpo jump in mid-air. She screamed as she came down, cutting off the cry when she hit the ground. She immediately shunpo jumped again, aiming to land behind the adjucha. The Hollow turned to face the scream, so Fong got her position and stuck her dagger deep into the juncture between shoulder and neck. Unhappily for Fong, the adjucha whirled around, wrenching the handle from her hand.
As hurt as the Hollow was, instead of using the sword she had been waving around, the Hollow jumped on Fong with claws and teeth. The weight of the adjucha drove the breath from Fong, and she would have screamed right in its face if she could have: instead, she settled for slamming the heel of her hand into its masked face. The adjucha reared back, her claws lashing at Fong's face and slamming into her jaw, and the edges of the world darkened.
Fong expected to die, expected the Hollow to follow through and just finish her. Instead, Daisuke's familiar voice called out, "Bankai. Thousand Leaves Cut the Wind!"
There was a flash of brilliant green light, and an enormous depth of reiatsu suddenly pressed her to the ground. The Hollow jumped off of her to face the new threat, and Fong could see that the threat was, indeed, Daisuke - but he was transformed. The naginata in his hands dissolved into narrow bamboo leaves, thousands of them with gleaming edges. They danced and whirled about Fong and the Hollow with a rustling so immense it sounded like a wind storm through a forest of bamboo. The adjucha crouched low, eyes wide, watching the whirling wall of green. Fong felt like a squashed mouse, suddenly ignored by the cat because a dog has strolled into view from around a corner.
Daisuke was dressed now like a gardener, with a green cloth tied over his hair, an apron of blue over a hakama of earth brown. His hands were gloved with dirt-crusted leather, and his boots mired with the rich loam.
"Leave her alone," Daisuke barked. Killing intent flooded from his sturdy frame, and the adjucha stiffened and slowly straightened up to standing.
"Who are you?" the adjucha asked. "I was not told that one of such power would oppose me and mine."
"Told?!" Fong tried to get up, groaned against their combined reiatsu, and fell down again.
Daisuke ignored her and spread his stance. "I am Uekiya Daisuke, and I stand against you. Who are you?"
The female hollow took a breath to answer, but suddenly a red ripple of light appeared, fluttering to her ear like a blood-colored butterfly. The adjucha cocked her head, listened, as close as she was, Fong had no choice but to hear as well.
A male voice, calm and cool, spoke from the thing of light. "We have been betrayed. I was set against those who were far stronger than advertised, to die for nothing... break this agreement. It is nothing but a human trap."
The butterfly dissipated. The adjucha threw back her head and startled Fong by screaming at the sky.
Going to all fours like some cornered beast, the adjucha snarled at Daisuke. "I am no one. Nothing of consequence to you anymore. I have another that I must revenge myself and mine upon."
Daisuke bowed to the Hollow, and Fong was never more relieved in her life when his bankai blew out like a candle. He simply stood and watched while the adjucha bounded toward the knot of students and nobles.
"What the hell?" Fong asked.
He smiled at her, and it struck her all over again how sweet his smiles could be. Instead of answering her with words, he surprised her by bending to kiss her gently. Then, worse yet, instead of answering her, he gave her a hand up. "Let's go."
Fong got to her wobbly feet and followed him, dreading the thought of going back through the Hollow horde again, but the adjucha's passage seemed to confuse and disorganize the entire field of Hollows. They were scattering.
On the edges of the crowd, the Hollows who were furthest from the reiatsu users were drifting off like aimless sheep. Those closer to the students were still drawn by the richness of reiatsu, but the hollows were attacking in uncoordinated rushes. Any sort of resistance caused the hollows to back away or be cleansed. One charged Daisuke. He watched it approach, and at the very last instant slammed Takekaze into its mask. The Hollow blew into dust.
"What's going on?" Fong asked, though she had a feeling she knew.
"They're breaking up," Daisuke said with satisfaction, then staggered and let Fong catch his weight on her shoulders. She started to really worry when he leaned on her. "I wonder what those children have done to that adjucha's companion?"
Kuchiki Ren's bankai flared, a flower of white light tipped in red that spread all around him. Fong heard Ren's voice snap a command that echoed through the pass. The flower snapped shut, and hundreds of Hollow signatures, along with that of the adjucha, vanished as if they had never been.
"Well." Fong blinked at the empty space. "I wonder if she knew that he could do that?"
"I doubt it. She was treating me as if I were the strongest on the battlefield, so he may well have hidden that from her. Though now, for everyone else, he's the hero."
"Shit. We're the only witnesses to his betrayal?" Fong could feel a headache coming on.
Daisuke nodded. "You know what that means, if he knows we know."
"We're dead, if we don't have protection."
"Then he can't know until we do."
Fong frowned, thinking. "Was that why you walked away from everyone to face it?"
"He couldn't hear what it said to us," Daisuke said soberly. "And in any case, his clearing the battlefield the way he has should make getting back to the Shiba Estate easier for everyone."
That was when Fong realized that her side, the one pressed against Daisuke's faltering weight, was warm and wet. He staggered again, and she managed to catch him in his fall, to ease him to the earth.
"You can't die!" she yelled at him, and was relieved when his eyes opened to look at her.
"I wouldn't dare. You have to... get me home." The thin thread of his voice drifted to her. "But this... better cover... he'll think... she killed me... and then went... for him."
"Damn you and your maze of tactics."
"I am... an instructor..." he breathed and relaxed, eyes closing.
Holding her panic firmly in hand, Fong pressed her fingers against his pulse. It was firm, steady, and she sagged.
"All right, Gardener," she said, and let herself finally cry against his unconscious form. "You win. Damn you. You win."
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