Arc: Winter War
Characters: Isshin, Ryuuken, Yoruichi
Rating/Warnings: PG for plenty of violence.
Word Count: 4000
Summary: Yoruichi, Ryuuken, and Isshin face the opener of the gate over the hospital.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters, nor do I make any money from these writings.
Author's Notes: This is a chapter in the dark Bleach AU that sophiap and incandescens and I are writing. In this AU Aizen won the war in Karakura, and it diverges from canon somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs. "Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."
All the Chapters
45. Nanao: Dark Songs
46. Ensemble: Making War
47. Ensemble: Tactics
"One last thing..." Yoruichi did what Isshin hadn't dared to do for months. She stood squarely in front of Ryuuken and lifted the man's chin, so that she could look eye-to-eye at him. "Ryuuken..."
"You address me far too intimately, shinigami."
Isshin bit his lower lip and saw Yoruichi frown. "Former." Ryuuken snorted. Yorichi let it slide. "Ishida-san, then. Please. Don't let yourself be known to the Arrancar, until we've lured him out, and if you can, take the surprise shot."
Ryuuken's slight smile was as cold as the ice in his hair. "As honorable as any Captain that reported to that deceitful old fire dragon of yours..."
Yoruichi took a breath.
Ryuuken speared the hesitation, "... but, yes. I shall do as you ask, oh ex-Captain of the Secret Division."
Yoruichi's sour look faded when she glanced over at Isshin, and he nodded his approval of her tactics. She nodded and stepped up to the parapet.
Isshin had never been a particularly contemplative man. The right thing to do was always right in front of him, so he did it. It was a family trait, he knew. Kaien, Kuukaku, and Ganju were no better than he was at holding back. Regret wasn't a strong suit either, though he knew his heart ached when he thought of Kaien and ached deeper, now, when he thought of Tatsuki-chan. He wasn't good at shying away from hurt, either, so he thought about Ichigo, what it would mean to lose the child he'd raised from a laughing armful into the unruly, resentful, powerful young man who'd gone off to fight for those he loved. Engetsu's heat flickered against his palm when grief, rage, and loss wrapped around Isshin's heart.
Ishida Ryuuken's glasses were half-covered in snow, but they glinted when the administrator looked at Isshin. He'd always been more sensitive than Isshin to reiatsu. Let Ryuuken believe that Isshin grieved; it was close enough. The cold, empty gaze turned back down to the Hollows that were beginning to pick themselves up from where they'd screamed and writhed from their transformation.
Shihouin Yoruichi had told Isshin, alone, that Uryuu was dead, and while she'd said that there was hope for Ichigo, what she hadn't said could have filled oceans. Isshin held no illusions about what Aizen might have done to his son. Some might say that Ryuuken had the better end of the deal; if Uryuu had passed on, then no one could hurt him anymore. But Shibas were also a notoriously optimistic clan. Better alive and kicking than finished and done. Waves of heat rose from Engetsu's blade.
Isshin shifted, grip tightening, weight beginning to fall forward. He saw Yoruichi take a breath to speak the last number.
He leaped for the fray.
Instinct and training took over. Yoruichi's reiatsu was as monstrous as his own, and she did not get in his way. They cut through the swath of struggling, newly-created Hollows like scythes through wheat, sending the ragged tag-end souls on as quickly and cleanly as possible. Isshin had never gotten exactly how it was Yoruichi could send souls on without even the appearance of her zanpakutou, but he wasn't going to quibble now about that.
All he cared about was that they were leaving this battlefield and going on to somewhere better.
A Hollow roared and tried to bite Isshin's head off. Isshin placed the point of Engetsu where it would enter the roof of its mouth and let the Hollow do the work of impaling itself on his sword. The creature blew to dust. These were just small fry. A distraction while the main event pulsed in the sky above. The portal was growing.
Hollows began to pour out, pushing the hapless new Hollows toward them. Yoruichi spun, bounding about like a cat let loose amid a pen full of crickets, each pounce and hit followed by a puff of dust. There was something odd about how she moved, but Isshin didn't have the attention to figure out exactly what it was. She was holding her own, that was enough.
Especially when there were dozens of the things coming at him. Isshin saw up close the living bone and layered fascia of wet-looking masks. Most of the creatures were dressed in white, but with blade-thin black slashes in sets of three down their fronts and black lines rayed out from their eyes. That wasn't a sign that Kurotsuchi used, so these probably belonged to the Arrancar that was coming, and were disgusting enough that they were probably some kind of lab experiment. He cut through them as well. They weren't quite as easy as the confused new Hollows, but they weren't even a workout.
Pink. He caught a glimpse of pink for just a second before the reiatsu rolled over him like waves of cloying perfume: sweet unto sickness, rich unto rot. Isshin gagged, eyes watering, but deliberately kept both hands on his zanpakutou. Yoruichi paused too, her headlong rampage suspended in mid-air. She stood up in the air as easily as on the ground, showing off her Captain-level powers.
Isshin sighed and deliberately stepped up to be level with her and the pink-haired slender man, who had slipped through the portal behind the ravening horde. The edges of the opening coruscated with bright pink, blue, and silver energy as if announcing the entrance of some magical girl.
Isshin couldn't help it, he snorted.
The elegantly tall Arrancar stiffened and tossed his pink hair, deliberately curving his back and cocking one hip.
Isshin started giggling. Sure the reiatsu off the guy was nasty and huge to boot, but... "Wooo, man, you're way too pretty to fight!"
A scream of rage ripped across the two city blocks between them, and the guy's killing intent tried to freeze Isshin's blood in his veins. Isshin only laughed harder. Fighting adrenaline never got in the way of a good hoot, and from past experience, the laughter would clear Isshin's head enough to see the real threat.
"You ignorant, howling ape! You're no match for me! Fornicaras, Susure!"
Isshin watched, disbelieving, when the damned fool took his sword and swallowed it.
"What the fuck?" he murmured.
Yoruichi shook her head at Isshin.
The guy swelled and grew. The dark markings surrounded his eyes like the eyes of some of those Hollows coming out with him. There were purple ornaments hanging off of him, gray branches grew from his back like the bones of wings, nails turned into purple claws, and his legs turned into...
"Are those tentacles?" Isshin asked. "Really?"
"You have got to be kidding," Isshin insisted. "Hey, Mister! You need some help!"
Yoruichi's eyelid twitched.
"We're fighting a freaking hentai self-fornicating Arrancar?" Isshin asked her, disbelieving and loud enough for the whole city block.
Szayel's shriek ripped shingles from the roof under Isshin.
"Nicely done, enraging an opponent should help," Yoruichi said, conversationally. "Look out."
And the fucking Arrancar started spurting black liquid everywhere. Yoruichi flashed away, Isshin leaped from where he'd been standing, but the stuff fell like black rain. He worked his way toward the school roof and felt the liquid hit his black robes and it burned where it touched him. Bodies started to grow wherever the droplets touched, and to Isshin's shock, they looked like him. Isshin wondered, idly, if the tales about the Goddess of Flashstep being able to dodge every drop of a thunderstorm were true, when he saw Yoruichi explode into visibility inside Szayel's distance and land a kick that should have knocked the idiot into next week. Instead, one slender wrist blocked Yoruichi's foot without so much as a shudder.
"I've studied you," Szayel said softly, and Isshin felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck at the Arrancar's tone. "And I've made enhancements."
A Sonido sounded, and Yorichi went flying through her doubles and some Hollows before smacking into a wall hundreds of yards away. So she hadn't dodged quite quickly enough. Isshin noted that the doubles didn't react nearly as quickly as Yoruichi herself or Isshin. They only looked alike.
Remembering Yoruichi's instructions to Ryuuken and her warning to stay the fuck away from touching the pink guy, Isshin ran in the opposite direction Yoruichi had been thrust, trusting her sense of strategy and her ability to get up after taking a fall. Behind him, he heard the wall falling into debris, the drop of rock and wood and other unmistakable sounds of destruction. Good girl, taking the wall apart.
"You fool!" Yoruichi's tone rang out, and Isshin wasn't even tempted to look. "You can only prepare for what you have seen, and neither of us has shown the weak what we can truly do."
"Then by all means..." Szayel turned toward her, and Isshin had to just shake his head in approval at Yoruichi's abilities to gain the enemy's attentions. "Show me. I'm curious what inferior beings such as yourself can..."
Isshin cut the side of his forearm, spilling blood onto the blade of Engetsu. He dodged one swipe by a sun-eyed double and tumbled forward to escape the pouncing punch of a faux-Yoruichi. They weren't even as fast as the Nemu duplicates. What was this about villains always making piss-poor copies of people?
His blade ignited, and Isshin concentrated on pushing everything he had into it. Engetsu blazed high. Yoruichi yowled. Isshin whirled and hoped to hell that Ryuuken was watching and hadn't either fallen asleep or just given up on them both.
"Getsuga Tensho!" Isshin cried, and brought Engetsu down with both arms. Light cut the air, blasted into the ground, cut through dozens and dozens of duplicates and minions as if they were nothing more than chaff, blowing them in all directions. Dust clouds rose in the aftermath, and when they all cleared away, a handful of figures were all that were left in a crater that glowed.
Sadly, one of them was the tentacle-winged crazy who was smiling at him.
"Is that all?" Szayel asked with a lilt.
A bolt of lightning cracked the air with a sizzling snap of ozone. Ryuuken's shot went right for Szayel's heart. The dammed Arrancar held up one hand and the spirit arrow disappeared into nothing.
"I have studied a Quincy unto death," Szayel said contemplatively. "My defenses are unparalleled against your stupid spirit arrows." A slow sneer curled one thin lip, when Szayel's gaze went up to where Ryuuken stood on the edge of the roof. "Maybe you know my subject?"
Duplicates dropped from tentacle wings. They were all slender boys with flat cut hair, glasses, and spike-ringed eyes.
"Oh, shit," Isshin whispered to himself and flash-stepped away from Szayel as fast as he could go.
Ryuuken saw Uryuu's doubles drop and stumble toward him, horrible parodies of his one son, truly the last of the Quincy line.
He'd thought the world too cold and felt the irony when the whole world flashed into a pyre with his rage. He yanked reishi from all of existence, seeing duplicates, Hollows, even the borders of Szayel's gate fray and unravel toward him. Hirenkyaku brought Ryuuken close enough to see the whites of Szayel's eyes.
Ryuuken destroyed all of existence around him with every ounce of energy at his disposal. There was no counting the arrows he fired. Out of the corner of his eye Ryuuken saw the flying heels of Isshin's sandals going over the edge of the roof. The slip of a shadow woman was nowhere to be seen. The building below him and Szayel collapsed in a satisfying boom, becoming a sliding, cratering pit of dust and shards. The duplicates blew away into shadows against the cracking, parting concrete. The figure standing in the heart of Ryuuken's fires flickered, flared, and to Ryuuken's disbelief, stood firm.
When Ryuuken's vision cleared, Szayel sneered. The pink tips of his hair were singed, and soot smudged the white under the eye with many legs around it.
"See?" Szayel said. "You can't touch me. I, on the other hand...."
Szayel had slid two feet of cloudy layered zanpakutou into Ryuuken so quickly Ryuuken didn't think he'd have noticed if not for how cold the steel felt. He swallowed a cough, and Szayel smiled and with a jerk pulled the sword up and to the side. It felt like strings through his body had been cut, and Ryuuken collapsed as blood flew from his mouth. Ryuuken had to use his bow as a crutch to catch himself before his body fell to the ground.
Szayel's wings swayed when he brought his sword up to take off Ryuuken's bowed head, but then Isshin's reiatsu flared. Isshin's zanpakutou was wreathed in flames, and point-blank, Isshin shot the edge, both physical and spiritual, through Szayel's side and up and through, snapping the ribs of Szayel's narrow chest. Ryuuken could see the edges of pink bone.
Szayel grunted, convulsed in effort, and while Isshin's sword was still stuck in Szayel's body, thrust talons into Isshin's gut. To Ryuuken's horror, Szayel staggered against Isshin and wrapped his wings around Isshin and forced his tentacles in after.
"I will not die," Szayel snarled. "I can never die."
The strands pulsed, and Isshin screamed. Ryuuken staggered toward him, not sure of what to do.
A blur whipped into the tangle of bodies, and Yoruichi appeared, arms and shoulders glowing with power, and the force of her unarmed strike blew Ryuuken back, tumbling him to the ground. Something snapped, and Ryuuken's pain abruptly ended. Ryuuken knew that wasn't a good sign. He managed to get his head up enough to see that all that was left of Szayel was a blackened stump, and that Yoruichi had crumpled beside Isshin, cradling her left arm close to her body and biting her lower lip until it bled.
There was only silence and the gasping grunts of Ryuuken's own forced breathing and the bubbling of his blood through what must have been a hole in his lung. For a long moment, Ryuuken listened, and something like relief loosened his limbs when there were no other sounds. They were done. He could die.
Then Isshin screamed. The big man thrashed, arched, body twisting in agony.
Ryuuken closed his eyes. They could take care of it. Isshin and Yoruichi were beyond capable.
Yoruchi, however, had rolled toward him, clear of Isshin's drumming heels and flailing fists.
"What is it?" Ryuuken asked the snow-white sky.
"There's something in him," Yoruichi spat.
Ryuuken remembered the pulsing of the thick strands going into Isshin. "Can't you just punch it out?"
"Not without killing him."
Ryuuken nodded. "It's probably entangled in his guts."
Yoruichi propped herself up on an arm. Ryuuken could see the irises of her golden eyes. Her pupils were tiny, tight, and he wondered if she was drugged as well as unhappy with what she was seeing. She bit her lower lip and nodded. "Probably."
"I shall triumph!" A tiny voice shrilled from within Isshin. "I will be reborn!"
Ryuuken imagined that it even sounded like the skinny Arrancar. He sighed and reached into a back pocket for three silver vials. He hated using the things. They reminded him of Uryuu, but with his body this broken, it was necessary. And this near to the end of all things, it wouldn't really matter if he broke a rule or two.
He opened the vials, spilled the liquid into his mouth, and the reishi felt hot against his tongue, warming Ryuuken through like sunlight on thaw.
"Ahh..." Ryuuken said quietly, and using the spiritual energy, he spun threads through the air and pulled his disobedient body up by them. Ransotengai would have to do. He still couldn't feel anything from the waist down, but he could place his legs and feet into the stance he needed. "Pick him up, Shihouin-sama. Keep him still."
Yoruichi snorted, but did as Ryuuken asked. She used her right arm to pick Isshin up by the scruff of the neck; her left hand and arm were still curled protectively against her chest. Isshin thrashed again, but she shook him like a terrier shaking a rat. Isshin yelped in protest.
"Be still, or I'll kill you," Ryuuken said, and saw Isshin's bloodshot eyes roll toward him. Whatever it was that Isshin saw caused his eyes to widen and show whites, and Isshin froze in Yoruichi's grasp.
Ryuuken pulled his bow from the air, no, truly from the threads of energy that surrounded him. The blowback of the Arrancar's first death, the wisps of soul left after Isshin had smashed Hollow and doubles alike, the curling tendrils that rose from Yoruichi's slender form. He pulled them all to him.
"Hey," she said, and he smiled his slight smile and loosed the ones from her. She shrugged them into herself. Suddenly, Ryuuken could see that her left arm and hand were dying, the blackening of vitality withdrawing from the poisoned limb.
"You should get that seen to," he said.
Isshin twitched in Yoruichi's hold, his entire body quivering in pain as the thing within his guts started grabbing more of him, sucking in his soul and life energy the way Ryuuken pulled it from the very air.
Yoruichi's mouth turned wry. "You're one to talk. You need to get it out of him. Now."
Ryuuken raised one eyebrow, but before Yoruichi could throw herself on him, snarling, he did what he'd done all his life. He pulled the string of his bow.
The accuracy of a bowman is like unto that of a swordsman. It's not in the thinking and over thinking, not in the planning of the attack. It's not in the aiming or posturing or even really in the eye or hand. It's in the body, the soul, stamped in, molded in by hours, years, decades of doing the same thing over and over and over again with exactly the same motion and seeing the arrow fly true. It's doing it under pressure, under fire, in pain, and running through a gamut of emotions that would pay the salaries of ten thousand psychiatrists.
So without thinking, aiming only so much as he ever did, Ryuuken smoothly pulled and fired in the blink of Yoruichi's eye. The shining shaft slid through the air and into Isshin's gut, pushing, punching, cutting into the thickest part of the writhing bulge that distended the abdominal walls. Ryuuken willed the energy higher, the momentum to dislodge and remove, much as he'd done when Uryuu had been blocked. And out the other side of Isshin shot a mewling, writhing thing, slimed with blood and worse.
Yoruichi shouted a kiai that echoed against the hospital walls, the right side of her body blazing. She fell on the thing and blasted it into cinders and a charred mark on the sidewalk. The reaction to her power sent her spinning to her left. She landed with a thud, but Ryuuken saw her shake herself off and get up again. She would be all right.
Isshin had fallen to his knees. His reactions had allowed him to catch himself with his zanpakutou, the tip of Engetsu sank deep into concrete, but Ryuuken's friend was up and a going concern, now.
Ryuuken cut the strings of his own will and crumpled to the sidewalk. He rolled his upper body so that he could see the whitened sky.
"Ryuuken!" Isshin's shout sounded horrified.
"What?" Ryuuken asked quietly.
Isshin crawled over to Ryuuken, his big hands starting to straighten Ryuuken's twisted body, probing at Ryuuken's back.
"Don't!" Ryuuken snapped. "Stop wasting your energy, Isshin."
"Your girls. You have to go save your girls." Ryuuken saw the wisps of smoke coming from the direction of Urahara's shoten. There was an explosion to punctuate the silence. "You can't save me. I know what these injuries are, Isshin. I'm not some stupid teenager who has no idea how far he's gone beyond his abilities. I know."
"You..." Isshin choked. Ryuuken suddenly realized that, as always, Isshin would never do the right thing for himself or for Ryuuken's sake. Of course.
"Save Masaki's daughters," Ryuuken whispered, and this time he had to close his eyes. He couldn't look at the man who'd rescued and taken the woman Ryuuken had always loved. "Fuck you, shinigami." Even Ryuuken couldn't tell if he aimed that arrow at Isshin or all of Soul Society. "Go. Save what's left of her."
Isshin made a sound of pain, worse than any of the cries the Arrancar had twisted out of his guts. At that Ryuuken had to open his eyes again, to witness as the stubborn bastard got up off the ground. His head was lowered like a wounded bull's, and he glared down at Ryuuken.
"I won't forget you."
You should. Ryuuken couldn't be quite that cruel, not now. He felt the warmth of his blood seeping against the whole of his shoulders and back. He was dying. He could be free of this life, free of his grief for his child, free of the demands of the Quincy, and finally free of all his obligations to this stupid, courageous, crazy man standing over him. Ryuuken was finally free to speak as he truly wished.
"Thank you, Shiba Isshin." It was worth the effort it took, just to see the look on Isshin's face. "Hold me kindly in your thoughts, but stop trying to save me when I don't want you to. Go save the ones you love."
"Let me be, old friend. You know as well as I do how stubborn I can get."
Isshin snorted. Ryuuken smiled. "Go."
Ryuuken watched Isshin leap for the tops of the buildings in the direction of his children, and Yoruichi curling her arm close to her body as she followed, not letting Isshin see her hurt.
"Idiots," Ryuuken murmured to the winter sky. "All of them. Letting their lives be taken over so."
His lower body was utterly numb, without pain or feeling, and the blessed cold was spreading. Alone now, he could face the fact that he'd been walking this path ever since Uryuu had disappeared. His son was gone, there really was nothing left to live for, certainly not the money he'd gone to such pains to pursue. Being Quincy had only ever filled him with disgust, and now he would take the very last of the Quincy powers into the grave with him. He would end the line.
Snow fell silently. Ghosts slowly crept out of hiding places in the shadows. Whiteness covered the still street, shrouding all the scorch marks, sprays of gore, and cracked divots. The body that lay there relaxed, hands opening to the tiny crystals, which melted at first, then stuck, and then covered Ryuuken in a blanket of purest white.
A slender, impeccably suited ghost rose.
"Damn it," Ryuuken said, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Where is a shinigami when you need one?"
The Next Chapter: Ikkaku, Yumichika, Lisa: Use Me While You Can