The Twilight Hour – Part Two
“Send squad six and seven to investigate,” Hitsugaya ordered firmly, dark circles lining his eyes. “Report any intruders. Do not engage.”
His twelfth-seat swallowed thickly at the thought of possible intruders but remained stoic. “Yes, Hitsugaya-taichou.”
His head throbbed, and Hitsugaya sighed. “Dismissed.”
The boy, whose name he couldn’t recall at the moment since it was three fucking o’clock in the morning, saluted sharply and scurried away. The rest of the tenth division milled about the courtyard, crisscrossing one another in an attempt to do all that he had ordered. While they were on call, they hadn’t actually expected to respond. Everything was a bit hectic.
Hitsugaya rubbed at his forehead, feeling a migraine develop. “And someone find me Matsumoto!” he shouted to any of his subordinates nearby.
Several paused in the midst of their running, but when they realized he hadn’t officially called any names, they kept moving. He supposed it would have been too much to ask for Matsumoto to have arrived promptly and ready for work the moment the summons had been given.
Hitsugaya sighed again and turned towards his office, half-contemplating finding Matsumoto’s secret stash of sake. The randomly blown up buildings weren’t really of great concern to him. He wasn’t certain it was something to worry about. Likely a drunk Zaraki again or even an unplanned explosion, which happened sometimes given that the twelfth division was run by a moron like Kurotsuchi.
Shutting the door the main office behind him, one hand rubbed at his forehead. By Kami, he was tired. Being short of three captains and the ryouka’s sudden disappearance had everyone on short fuses. He hadn’t planned on being wakened this early in the morning. He knew he would have a full blown migraine soon if he didn’t take care of it now. The captain vaguely remembered the pack of pills Unohana-taichou had given him, which were in his desk. So he trudged towards his office.
In the distance, he could hear the sounds of his subordinates scurrying around. He suspected it would be some time before Matsumoto managed to drag her lazy ass into work. He would berate her, if he thought it would do any good. But it didn’t, so he kept his silence and saved himself another headache.
With yet an audible sigh that sounded too big for his frame, Hitsugaya stepped into his darkened office. Had he turned off the lights when he left? He didn’t remember doing so. In fact–
His thoughts abruptly scattered when he felt the binding spell strike him full force, freezing him in place. Reiatsu trickled through his senses, vaguely familiar. Hitsugaya was unable to put an immediate pin on it, however. Wary and uncertain, he peered into the darkness of his office.
Footsteps slid across the polished wood behind him. Hitsugaya heard the distinct sound of his door sliding shut. He registered the murmur of yet another kidoh and felt a burst of reiatsu different than the other. It was something similar to the kyoumon but far more potent. Someone didn’t want to be disturbed.
Feeling a surge of anger and annoyance, Hitsugaya swept his eyes over his office again. It was then that a form stepped out of the shadows, white clothing clearly denoting his side in their conflict with Aizen. It took only a moment for the captain to recognize the bright orange hair and familiar scowl.
“Kurosaki,” Hitsugaya hissed in a mixture of recognition and surprise, teeth clenched. He was already working up his reiatsu, worming it against the binding that restrained his movements. He would not take this travesty without a fight.
Ichigo arched one brow at the smaller male. “You can still talk,” he commented in an amused tone. “I should have used something stronger.”
Brown eyes flickered past Hitsugaya, catching sight of Gin and Izuru, who stood to either side of the door. With brief nod of Ichigo’s head, Kira stepped forward, yanking Hyourinmaru from Hitsugaya’s back and snapping the pale green sash violently. If he hadn’t been locked in the binding spell, the captain would have stumbled from the sheer force of it.
Ichigo watched the blond’s actions impassively, inwardly stewing in his disgust for the captain he had once considered his ally. Every time he looked at Hitsugaya’s face, he could hear Hanatarou’s voice, telling him of Seireitei’s plans. He could see in those blue-green eyes just what Hitsugaya was willing to do for orders.
Defiant, despite the loss of his zanpakutou, Hitsugaya stared straight back at him. “When the fuck did you learn kidoh?” he demanded. “I didn’t think you were smart enough to figure it out.”
Ichigo had known it would be like this. Hitting Hitsugaya with the binding spell from the outset would render the young Shinigami entirely helpless. He would go down without a fight, without a struggle. He would be defeated without even a chance of drawing Hyourinmaru. It was the same fate that would have been Inoue’s. She wouldn’t have been given a fighting chance either.
“I don’ know,” Gin announced from behind the captain, leaning casually against the wall with his hands tucked into his sleeves. “Ichigo’s pretty clever. Figured out the Shinigami arts within a year. Not even you could manage that one.”
Ichigo noticed the moment Hitsugaya recognized Gin’s voice. Those eyes widened ever so subtly, and a flare of anger and hatred bloomed across his expression. Hitsugaya’s mouth twisted into something cruel.
“Ichimaru,” the child-captain hissed furiously before his icy gaze returned accusingly to Ichigo. “I should have known you’d fucking run to Aizen.”
On his back, Zangetsu rattled ominously, both ossan and Shirosaki remembering with fury the deeds of the captain. “Well, that was your damn mistake,” Ichigo returned, folding his arms over his chest.
“You lick his sandals with the rest of them?” Hitsugaya sneered, not one to give in without imparting a few words. “Scrape and bow on your knees? Or is it something else he wants from you?”
Ichigo felt the rise of anger inside of him, his face darkening. “You have no idea how much better he is than you,” the Vizard snarled, eyes flashing gold and Hitsugaya’s desk rattling ominously. It was a long moment before he could even reign in his reiatsu enough to hide it again.
“He sides with Hollows.” Hitsugaya sniffed disdainfully, disgust pouring into his expression. “Not even that exile Urahara dared. It makes him lower than dirt.” The boy worked his jaw as if a bad taste had entered his mouth. “I hope both the shitty bastards get what’s coming to them.”
The wave of furious reiatsu that swept through the room made Izuru gasp before Ichigo could put a clamp on it. His eyes didn’t bother flashing, moving straight to gold as Shirosaki snarled and screamed for him to strike the pompous little brat.
In the past few months, Aizen and Urahara had been very good to Ichigo. They were his mentors, almost as fathers to him. He was not going to put up with Hitsugaya insulting them, and he mentally cataloged every one of the captain’s discourtesies, Shirosaki peppering his brain with thoughts as to how he could make the brat pay for each one.
Then, he caught sight of Hitsugaya’s hand twitching. The bastard was fighting against the spell, as if he actually thought he stood a fighting chance. Genius or not, the white-haired pipsqueak was clearly a fool for even believing it for a second.
Ichigo’s eyes flickered past the child-captain towards Gin and Izuru. “How long do you think we have?” he demanded, fingers clenching against his own arms.
Gin shrugged dismissively, though it was clear he was fighting down his own anger. “Fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe more knowing Ran.”
“Long enough,” Ichigo muttered, his tone dangerous. “Do it.”
The smile that stretched across his lover’s face was predatory. Izuru tossed Hyourinmaru to Ichigo, who caught the zanpakutou effortlessly. And then, the former heads of the third division exchanged a glance. A brief nod between them was all that was necessary.
Ichigo set Hyourinmaru on the desk behind him, smirking when he saw Hitsugaya’s eyes follow the movement with evident want. “Don’t you just wish you could have it?” he taunted, raising his hands.
“You bast– urk!”
The curse dropped before Hitsugaya could finish as he was suddenly grabbed and whirled around in the same moment that Ichigo dispelled the kidoh.
Hitsugaya stumbled and then was promptly shoved to the floor, landing harshly on his back. The back of his skull struck the wood with a jarring bang, making his head spin. Izuru’s knee planted itself on Hitsugaya’s chest, restraining his movement. The child-captain coughed and grunted, dizziness assailing him.
Ichigo watched impassively as his lover and the vice-captain drew their zanpakutou and simultaneously slammed the unsealed blades through Hitsugaya’s shoulders. They pinned him to the floor like a butterfly in an insect collector’s case, blood dripping from the wounds to stain the decking beneath him.
Hitsugaya visibly gritted his teeth, face drawing with surprise and pain. “Traitors,” he hissed as Gin rose to his feet, staring at him.
Ichigo stepped forward until he was standing right over Hitsugaya, looking down at the pinned child-captain. “Funny you should say that,” he spat, giving the boy his best Aizen-like mysterious smirk. “Since you were the one who was going to kill Inoue.”
Hitsugaya’s fingers twitched. “I was under orders.”
“Well, so are we,” Gin and Ichigo managed to state in perfect tandem, prompting them to share an amused conspiratorial grin.
Icy eyes flickered to Izuru, narrowing in recognition. “I always knew you were a traitor,” he spat.
The blond’s face tightened, and his lips firmed. A flurry of emotions passed over his face, a dangerous storm of anger and pain before his fingers clenched around the hilt of Wabisuke. Izuru didn’t pause as he abruptly twisted his zanpakutou to the side, ripping the blade through tendons and muscle. He bore down with his knee, leaning his weight on the captain’s chest. The snap of a rib pierced the dark silence of the room.
Ichigo barely flinched as Hitsugaya groaned, his body jerking. The bastard’s face paled considerably, until he was whiter than a sheet. Sweat began gathering on his shoulder as more blood dampened the wood beneath Ichigo’s feet.
Even still, Hitsugaya couldn’t resist a jab because child or not, he was still a captain of the Gotei 13. Pinned and beaten, at the hands of those who held much anger towards him, he refused to beg for his life or simply die without ever having spoken.
He coughed, fingers twitching. “Brave now that your precious taichou’s back,” Hitsugaya snarled, managing defiance. He sneered. “You weren’t so courageous when you were crying to Yamamoto about not betraying anyone.”
Hitsugaya’s words were enough of a reminder for Ichigo. He believed that out of the three of them, perhaps Izuru had the most justification for this. While he despised Hitsugaya for what he was going to do to Inoue, the boy-captain had been under orders. What he had put Izuru through was pure maliciousness, borne from feelings of inadequacy that he’d had no right to force upon Izuru.
Ichigo imagined that his lover’s vice-captain had quite a lot of anger right now. And though he looked calm and thoughtful, a rage was brewing behind those gentle eyes. A fury that Hitsugaya was not going to live through. And the bastard knew it.
Izuru’s face twisted again, but it was Gin who actually responded, his smiling lips for once pulled into an eerie frown. He stepped forward, one foot casually finding Hitsugaya’s hand beneath his sandals. He gave no warning, merely stepped on the first finger. A very audible crunch echoed. He snapped the digit, ground it beneath his heel and watched as Hitsugaya gasped.
“I’d be careful what ya say there, little taichou-san,” Gin warned in an almost cheery voice, very casually grinding his heel against the next finger with a satisfying snap. “We might think ya don’t like us.” He twisted his heel down on the third finger, crunching the bones beneath his sandal. The smile on Gin’s face didn’t change at all as he cheerily added, “And we came all the way from Izuru’s house just to chat with ya.” Finger four was now a mangled mess beneath his foot with the last phrase, until Hitsugaya’s hand was twisted and gnarled.
The brat paled until his face was nearly translucent, sweat dotting his forehead and lip bleeding with the effort needed to hold back his cries of pain. “You could have saved yourself the trouble,” he growled, sucking in a breath, “and just fucking died right there.”
“Ya know ya should watch your language, little taichou-san,” Gin chided, bending and putting one hand on his zanpakutou. He joggled Shinsou for good measure, enjoying each flinch the action procured. “Didn’t yer grandmother teach ya manners?”
Ichigo snorted, one foot toeing at white hair playfully. “Obviously not,” he countered. “If she’s not dead already, she’d probably keel over from shame if she knew the truth.”
Indignation flashed in blue-green eyes as Hitsugaya’s face twisted in a new kind of fury. One that had nothing to do with the pain and everything to do with insult.
“Oh?” Ichigo tilted his head to the side as he noticed the look. “Did we make the little dragon angry?” He crouched down, elbows balanced on his knees. “This should cheer you up.”
He glanced towards the former third division leaders, and in silent understanding, they released their zanpakutou and backed away. Ichigo smirked and charged up a kidoh to his fingers, watching as the power crackled and sparkled. Something inside of him cackled at the look of wariness on Hitsugaya’s face before he ever so calmly placed the tip of his finger to Shinsou.
“Byakurai,” Ichigo hissed, forcing his reiatsu into the spell.
Lightning crashed through his fingers and directly into the sword. He watched as it traveled down the metal length and surged into the boy-captain’s body, causing him to jerk. A muffled groan escaped Hitsugaya’s lips, but the spell wasn’t complete yet. It traveled the short length of his body and found Wabisuke, climbing up the metal, only to expel itself out the hilt. The kidoh surged upwards and blasted against the ceiling, causing it to char and smoke. The three men were suitably impressed, Gin whistling in approval as he looked at the blackened ceiling.
Izuru hummed thoughtfully, hand on his chin. “I never thought to use kidoh in such a manner.”
“Why, Ichigo,” Gin chirped proudly, completely ignoring Hitsugaya’s pained twitching. “You’ve been practicing. I didn’t expect it ta do tha’. Did ya know it would?”
Ichigo shrugged, offhandedly inspecting his fingernails. “I got the idea from the geta-boushi. Thought I might try it out.”
His lover chuckled in amusement. “Let me try,” he requested, and then waited until Ichigo stepped back to press a finger to Shinsou. “Byakurai!” the former captain hissed, his kidoh slightly more powerful than Ichigo’s had been.
It followed the same path as the spell before, blasting to the ceiling by the end and causing it to smoke faintly. The air crackled with reiatsu.
Hitsugaya spasmed, choking on his next breath. “Bastards,” he spat, biting his bottom lip until a trail of blood ran down his chin. The fingers of his unbroken hand clenched into a fist, knees drawing up as if he was going to make an attempt to break free.
But with three sets of eyes on him, someone was bound to notice. Ichigo idly tossed a binding spell on the twitching brat. The glare he received when Hitsugaya’s movements locked up amused something inside of him.
“No escapin’ now,” Gin chided. “We’ve not had our fun yet.”
Ichigo turned towards Izuru. “Anything you’d like to try?” he offered, knowing that of all of them, Kira had the most anger and the most reason.
Izuru considered it, face perfectly blank. Ichigo knew the moment an idea had come to him by the glint in his eyes, something devious and perfectly suitable. He and Gin stepped back as Kira reached forward and jerked out Wabisuke, wiping the blood on the tip on Hitsugaya’s haori.
Holding his zanpakutou loosely in his right hand, Izuru reached forward and toed aside Hitsugaya’s haori and shihakushou, baring a pale chest.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Hitsugaya demanded, his tone trying and failing to sound indignant. Instead, it held the faintest edges of fear.
Ichigo wrinkled his nose. “Not that,” he replied, able to guess what the little captain’s fear had been. “What kind of freaks do you think we are?”
Beside him, Izuru squared his jaw. “Besides, who’d want a nasty, little runt like you?” he questioned rhetorically. “Omote o agero,” he muttered, releasing Wabisuke. There was a pulse of reiatsu as his zanpakutou elongated and changed shape, curving into the familiar hook of his shikai.
Izuru raised Wabisuke, reveled briefly in the flash of uncertainty he caught in Hitsugaya’s eyes, and then slashed across the boy-captain’s bare skin. He struck twice, crisscrossing the mark each time. Hitsugaya grunted as a heavy weight settled on his chest, equal to someone like Kuchiki Byakuya planted atop him. The worst of the feeling, however, was dissipated by Hitsugaya’s reiatsu. Not that it mattered. Izuru was far from through.
Shaking his head, Gin inserted, “Yeah. I’m not into kiddies.” He added with a salacious smirk towards his lover. “At least, not ones tha’ look like kiddies. Ne, Ichigo?”
A slim hand snaked out, thin fingers cupping Ichigo’s neck and tugging the younger Vizard towards him. Ichigo’s hand slipped around Gin’s waist as their lips met in a steamy kiss. It was brief, only serving to surprise their victim.
Hitsugaya’s eyes widened. “So that’s the price of your loyalty, Kurosaki?” he demanded, voice tight from the weight of his chest. “Doesn’t surprise me that Ichimaru would whore himself out.”
It was an insult he should not have spoken.
Izuru’s lips twisted in feral anger and he slashed Wabisuke twice more, crisscrossing Hitsugaya’s chest. The boy-captain’s breath rushed out of him in a loud gasp, and by the wheezing in his throat, it was evident he was having difficulty capturing another. It must have felt as if Komamura was standing on him, every rib straining under the pressure. The snapped bone from before dug into his soft organs, and Hitsugaya hissed, his face covered in a sheen of sweat and painted in a red flush. From the part in his robes, they could see his flesh rapidly bruising, purple and scarlet, blood vessels bursting under the immense pressure.
Blinking, Gin looked up at his vice-captain. “I didn’t know Wabisuke could do that.”
Izuru smirked, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “He can do all sorts of things.”
Below them, Hitsugaya gasped and struggled to draw in a breath. “Oh?” he wheezed, face scrunched with pain but still somehow finding his stubborn pride. “Did that strike a nerve?” he taunted. “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?”
Izuru’s fingers tightened around Wabisuke as Ichigo moved forward, something dangerous flitting across his face. Hitsugaya plowed on, refusing to beg for his life or die like a dog. His eyes flickered to Ichigo, meeting the former substitute’s gaze.
“Like taking Aizen’s dirty seconds, Kurosaki?” he mocked, chest rattling as he spat up blood, the projectile falling sadly short of its mark. “And if rumors are to be believed, Aizen’s not the only one. It’s the one thing Ichimaru seems to be good at.”
His words lashed through the room like a whip of stinging reiatsu. Gin visibly recoiled, face drawing tight with a bevy of emotions that were usually so well hidden. Izuru lifted his zanpakutou, but Ichigo thrust a hand in the vice-captain’s direction, halting him. His eyes had gone entirely hollow, black and gold overtaking the brown until there was nothing but Shirosaki glinting from their depths.
Ichigo lowered further, balancing one arm on his knee and glaring down at Hitsugaya with evident hatred. “Someone doesn’t know when to shut up,” he murmured coolly, voice taking on a Hollow echo that sent a shiver down the bastard’s back.
He jabbed two fingers of his free hand into the hole Wabisuke had left behind, burying both to the third knuckle. He locked gazes with the boy-captain as he scraped the digits inside, causing fresh blood to flow. Hitsugaya winced, trying to cringe away from the pain, but Ichigo refused to let him, curling his fingers into the wound and holding him in place.
Hitsugaya squirmed, breath coming in sharp pants as agony wracked his body. Ichigo played around for a good minute, watching blood seep onto the floor before he removed his hands, scarlet fluid dribbling free. Hitsugaya’s eyes blearily watched the movement of his fingers as he traced them across the boy’s face, leaving a garish streak across his cheek.
“Hmm,” Ichigo rasped, drawing his fingers to his lips and licking the blood from them in a lewd manner. “A tasty little taichou,” he commented, his free hand tracing over Hitsugaya’s face. “Are you entirely sure you want to go there?” he asked, eyes flashing again and nails scraping down a pale cheek.
Fear was pulsing from the pinned captain in waves, giving Ichigo no small amount of pleasure. His entire body had stiffened, but Hitsugaya said nothing.
Ichigo smirked. “Thought so,” he echoed, patting Hitsugaya in a patronizing manner. He licked the last few drops of blood from his fingers, noticing every hitch in Hitsugaya’s breathing.
Certain he had gotten his point across, Ichigo rose to his feet, eyes on his lover. Gin had taken a few steps back, face flushed and hands clenched at his sides. Hurt simmered in his reiatsu, something beneath the surface that no one but Ichigo would probably notice. There was the barest tremble to his body, the only indication of his fluxing emotions.
It wasn’t hard for Ichigo to guess why. It wasn’t that Gin hadn’t ever heard the rumors or that they were something new, but it was different when they were thrown in his face. Ichigo was aware enough of only some of what his lover had suffered through, but he could assume the rest. It wasn’t pretty. And he didn’t believe any of it for a second.
Gin noticed his approach but didn’t say anything. Ichigo reached up, cupping the man’s face and drawing it towards him.
“Hey,” he whispered, voice still containing the ghostly echo, before he pulled his lover in for a kiss. It was both gentle and reassuring, his tongue sliding across Gin’s lips and his reiatsu attempting to radiate calm.
The former captain relaxed, returning the kiss with equal fervor. Ichigo noticed the moment his hands unclenched. He considered it a victory.
With a parting nip that promised a return to affection later, Ichigo pulled back. “Love you,” he added with a cocky grin.
He watched as his lover’s face split into a genuine grin, eyes slitting open and revealing irises that had gone black and luminescent blue in his anger.
Like a man with a death wish, Hitsugaya’s voice ruined the moment. “Fuckin’… pathetic,” he wheezed on the end of a sneer.
It was the last he would have a chance to say. Izuru swung at the bastard’s chest, creating a thin line of blood and at the same time doubling the pressure on his ribs. The sound of bones creaking and cracking filled the room, Hitsugaya’s mouth falling open in a gurgling gasp.
“That one was loud,” Gin commented, considerably cheerier than before. “The little taichou-san probably can’t take much more. If it weren’t for his reiatsu, he’d be dead already.”
Ichigo snorted. “Then let’s just end it,” he stated coldly, dropping his hand from Gin’s face and whirling back towards Hitsugaya. “I can’t stand to look at him anymore.”
He grabbed Shinsou, jerking it out of Hitsugaya’s shoulder without warning. Blood flecked from the tip of the blade, spattering the floor in a garish plop. Zangetsu thrummed uneasily on his back, and Ichigo’s fingers curled around Shinsou’s hilt. He held the zanpakutou over Hitsugaya, poised to strike.
Eyes that once belonged to a friend and ally looked up at him defiantly. Hitsugaya would not beg for his life. Ichigo didn’t want him to.
Ichigo could feel the fury rattling inside of him, could hear Shirosaki’s encouraging hisses. He hated Hitsugaya; he really did. He wanted to see the boy-captain bleed, to show him what it truly meant to betray, but… he couldn’t. His stomach clenched at the thought because Ichigo had never honestly killed before. Had never taken anyone’s life. And though he wanted Hitsugaya’s death, he balked.
Swallowing thickly, Ichigo’s fingers tightened until they were white-knuckled, the room silent and carrying the faint odor of burned wood. He didn’t know how long he stood there, poised on the edge of a decision, but with a shuddering breath, his shoulders finally collapsed.
His hand dropped to his side, Shinsou dangling loosely from his grip. “I can’t do it,” Ichigo muttered, nausea rolling in his belly as Shirosaki finally bled from his eyes, leaving him tired and worn.
Gin’s fingers tickled at his palm as he reclaimed his zanpakutou. But it was Kira who actually broke the silence after his admission.
“That’s okay,” Izuru said, gaze locked on Hitsugaya, “because I can.”
There was no pause of thought for Izuru. Wabisuke rose and fell in one last swipe, quick and efficient, across Hitsugaya’s chest. An audible crunch and crack echoed through the room, the boy-captain’s ribs finally exploding under the pressure. Hitsugaya’s eyes widened as he coughed up a spurt of blood, the last hint of reiatsu glint dimming from his eyes in a matter of seconds.
Gin wrinkled his nose. “Ew,” he muttered, stepping back from the spatter of blood that tried to claim his hakama.
Ichigo looked at Hitsugaya for a second more, face entirely unreadable before he whirled towards the door. He broke through Gin’s sealing kidoh without a pause in his steps and was gone, door sliding shut behind him.
Watching his exit, Kira wiped the spurt of blood from his zanpakutou on Hitsugaya’s haori and returned Wabisuke to his sheath. “Is he going to be all right?” Izuru asked, catching his captain’s gaze.
Sliding Shinsou back into his sheath as well, Gin nodded. “What ’bout you?”
Izuru’s eyes shifted back to Hitsugaya, lying prone on the floor as blood pooled around his body, staining his captain’s haori. “Not yet,” he said harshly, face twisting with anger and an echoing sense of discontent. “It’s not enough. For everything… It’s just not enough.” He fell silent then, unable to express the continuous shifting of emotions inside of him.
Gin watched his lieutenant, understanding him perfectly, even without the words.
“I think you’d better hurry, ma’am,” the seventh-seat informed her, practically breathless as he trotted at her side. “Hitsugaya-taichou seemed angry.”
Matsumoto rolled her eyes, barely repressing a yawn. “Taichou’s always angry,” she commented with a dismissive wave of her hand. “What else is new?” Fingers tugged at her shihakushou, trying to get it to shift into proper position.
The seventh-seat stuttered, obviously at a loss, “B-but–”
Pausing in the midst of her stride, Rangiku whirled on the man, a smile painting her lips. “Do me a favor, hmm? Bring some tea to the taichou? It might calm him down.” She winked flirtatiously, amused as he flushed a deep crimson and mumbled out some sort of agreement before darting away.
Matsumoto chuckled to herself. Terrorizing the lower seats never got old. So what if she was thirty minutes late for the summons? That was good for her. Hitsugaya-taichou would understand. It wasn’t like she hadn’t heard the warning clanks or the announcement of a fire, but chalking it up to Kurotsuchi again, she had figured it was something that could be handled in the morning. But only until the lower seat had knocked on her door unceasingly, forcing her to rise from a hangover-induced stupor. Whose bright idea was it for double-duty anyway? It was about time Yamamoto-soutaichou assigned new captains because the extra shifts were getting ridiculous.
Flicking her hair over her shoulder, Rangiku briefly raked her eyes over the tenth division courtyard. It was deserted, everyone having scurried off to do their duties as they had been ordered.
Che, amateurs. They’d learn eventually.
Sliding open the door the tenth division headquarters, Matsumoto stepped inside and shut it behind her. It was dark, the usual lights left off. She frowned, thinking it odd. Perhaps Hitsugaya-taichou had a headache. Sometimes, he turned off the lights when he did, and she didn’t mind since it meant she could sleep and ignore her paperwork. Her nose twitched, and there was a strong scent in the air, something metallic. But her somewhat alcohol-fogged mind couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
No one greeted her. Pouting since she hadn’t been acknowledged for deigning to show up to work, Matsumoto strode to her captain’s door. She rapped her fist against the paneling.
“Hitsugaya-taichou?” she sang. “Your lovable fukutaichou has shown up for work!”
Still, no response. She concentrated and felt trickles of his reiatsu inside. It felt weird though, kind of shadowy, like an echo. Matsumoto frowned, a tiny thread of unease curling inside of her, though she couldn’t fathom why. She reached forward, sliding the door to her captain’s office open. Normally, he would have said something by now, but maybe he was asleep. She practically grinned at that one. It would be perfect to catch him napping at his desk.
Her eyes met with more darkness, only a thin trickle from the window in the form of moonlight giving her any illumination. She could barely make out her captain sitting in his normal chair.
“Taichou, why’re you just sitting in the dark?” Matsumoto asked, one hand sliding across the wall towards the light switch.
There was a click as she flicked it on.
In the midst of dressing, Kenpachi nearly snapped his obi in half when the piercing scream ripped through the night, echoing loudly enough to be heard in Hueco Mundo. It made his skin crawl and his back curl as it reverberated inside of him. His head whipped around, gaze focusing on the tenth division, which was somewhere outside his far wall.
The shriek abruptly cut off. And then, there was silence again, a terrible, uncomfortable silence that made his stomach churn. It was enough to make him hurry in dressing, throwing on the rest of his clothes and grabbing his haori and zanpakutou before heading outside. He hadn’t even had a chance to put his hair up in the spikes, only pausing briefly to grab his eyepatch.
He wasn’t the only one to have heard, others looking around in confusion. But Kenpachi was probably the only one who had identified the source. Next door, in the tenth division. He strode quickly to the main office, noticing the lack of lower seats in the courtyard and the gaping doors of the headquarters.
There were Shinigami in the doorway, all trying to press their way inside. Kenpachi frowned, eyes narrowing. He shoved his way between them.
“Get outta the way,” he demanded gruffly, pushing aside a few, even as they backed away with horrified expressions on their faces.
Uneasiness joined the feeling of wrongness. He could hear the sound of retching, caught sight of some the younger members being comforted by their fellows in corners.
“What the hell’s goin’ on?” Kenpachi demanded, sweeping his gaze over them.
No one answered. Instead, he was met with a few vague points towards the captain’s office. The door was wide open, more people milling and blocking the path.
Frowning, Kenpachi shoved his way through the crowd, pushing them to the side and ordering them to stay with a firm glare. They melted out of the way; from fear or respect, he didn’t care. He elbowed one kid out of the doorway, where he stood with eyes wide and mouth open in frozen shock.
And then, the smell hit him, sharp and bitter. Freshly spilled blood. And lots of it. The first indication that something was seriously wrong. Kenpachi turned back toward the others before he even got a good look.
“Stay back,” he ordered and grabbed the kid nearest to him, the one who looked the most collected. “Get the old fart,” he commanded and then pointed to another. “Go get the fourth division.”
They nodded but didn’t move.
The two jumped and scurried away, sandals slapping against the floor. Kenpachi swept his one-eyed glare over the rest of the room, eyeing those remaining. They received his silent message and stepped back further, some even leaving the outer office entirely. Certain that he would be left alone, Kenpachi turned his attention to the open door where he had just managed to catch sight of a prone body lying on the ground. Auburn curls identified the form as Matsumoto on a glance. Her head was in a pool of blood. Kenpachi’s eye widened as he lifted his gaze to the rest of the room.
“Oh, fuck me,” he muttered, swallowing heavily and stepping further inside.
The room was painted a garish crimson, blood spattering the walls and the floor. Some of it still carried the slickness of being fresh, while smaller splatters had already dried. Kenpachi crouched to check Matsumoto’s condition, finding that she was alive and uninjured, likely just unconscious. However, he couldn’t help but lift his eyes back to the room and catalog all of the horrific details.
Something had scorched the ceiling twice, mixing the smell of copper with that of burned wood and ash. It looked as if someone had finger-painted with blood everywhere, leaving streaks and idle doodles. On the back wall, behind Hitsugaya’s desk, words were scrawled in capital letters.
“Traitor!” practically screamed at him. And off to the side in a smaller, more scribbled script, “Orihime-chan sends her love.”
But worse of all, the thing that truly churned his gut, was the sight of the tenth division captain. His body, for judging by the blood in the room and Matsumoto’s unharmed state Kenpachi assumed he was dead, was sitting in his chair at his desk. As if nothing was out of the ordinary. He was even upright, though that might have had something to do with the fact that his sword was jabbed through his shoulder and driven into the seat behind him, keeping him vertical.
Empty blue-green eyes were open and staring at his doorway. Blood spattered the pale face, and Kenpachi could see two holes, one in either shoulder. The front of the captain’s robes were gaping, giving him a glimpse of terribly bruised flesh beneath. It all spoke of torture, making him realize that there was more to the situation than he knew. Something that went beyond a little revenge and a little death.
Kenpachi felt a sinking sensation in his stomach as he rose to his feet, bothered by the violence that had nothing to do with a good battle and everything to do with retaliation.
“Just what the hell is going on?” he demanded out loud.
But there was no one to respond to his query, just the silence and stillness of death.
Shunsui yawned, covering his mouth with his hand and reaching up with the other to hold his straw hat in place. It was so quiet out this early in the morning, barring the strange warning clanks he had heard earlier. The sun hadn’t even risen yet, but it would soon, bringing with it dawn. The perfect time for Shunsui to crawl back into bed.
He had been at the fourth division, visiting his Jyuu-chan, who’d had an attack recently. He hadn’t planned on leaving, but his best buddy had insisted. Shunsui never could deny him anything, even what seemed to be an unreasonable request.
Fatigue had settled into the eighth division captain’s bones, but he wasn’t going to lie down until he at least returned to his own bed. Then a short nap before returning the fourth. Perhaps he could convince Jyuu-chan to eat some of those sugared plums he liked so much.
From the corner of his eyes, he caught movement. Shunsui paused, following the motion. It was an odd place for random Shinigami to be about, a shortcut through a back alley that few knew about. There was a flutter of white above him, and he blinked, lifting his gaze.
There on the roof of the building in front of Shunsui stood two forms, dressed in slim white with hints of black. One even had shockingly orange hair and a rather familiar sword, possibly a large zanpakutou.
Was that Kurosaki-kun? They had been looking for him for two seasons now. And who was that with him?
Shunsui peered at the other, fingers scratching over his chin. And a second later, he was positively stunned, certain he had to be mistaken. Tall, silver-hair, unnaturally thin… was that Ichimaru Gin?
He looked again. Nope. They didn’t change at all. And appeared to be talking. He watched as the figure-who-might-be-Ichimaru gestured to something in the distance. The other-figure-who-was-possibly-Kurosaki-kun nodded and lifted his hands. Shunsui felt a spike of reiatsu in the air, controlled and powerful and uncomfortably familiar, before he witnessed a kidoh spell burst from the-figure-who-was-Kurosaki-kun.
It sailed out of his line of sight, but he heard the explosion that resulted and caught sight of a burst of flame streaking into the sky from somewhere beyond the roof. He didn’t know what they had destroyed, but considering Shunsui was still near the fourth, it had to belong to them.
He was further shocked when he caught sight of what appeared to be Ichimaru Gin kissing Kurosaki Ichigo. And even from a distance, he could tell it wasn’t entirely chaste. And where were Ichimaru’s hands going? Hell, he could practically feel the heat of their steamy embrace, and it had nothing to do with whatever they had just blown up.
But how and why?
It made no sense. One was a traitor; the other had been missing. And now, they both were here. Together. Blowing shit up. And kissing! Shunsui would have sworn he was drunk if it weren’t for the fact that he knew he was sober.
All these years he had denied he drank too much. For the first time ever, Shunsui might have been willing to admit he had a problem.
They traded several more kisses and gropes, which made something flutter strangely in Shunsui’s belly, before they flitted out of his sight. By then, it was too late for him to even think of doing something.
Without another word, Shunsui promptly turned around and walked right back to the fourth division. He needed Jyuu-chan’s rationality. And a very strong drink.
“How long do you think he’ll be there?” Izuru asked as Gin and Ichigo finally caught up to him. From the corner of his eyes, he could see the fourth division main storehouse burning.
Ichigo shrugged. “Who cares?” he muttered, flitting ahead and forcing the two to hop from roof to roof to keep up.
Gin, however, grinned. “Rangiku will find him ‘for long.” The look on his face was purely devious.
“If I remember correctly, the soutaichou is next?” Izuru questioned, a light flush staining his cheeks as he recalled the list he had briefly glanced over.
“His house, ta be accurate,” Gin corrected, amusement filtering through as both younger men flushed, though for different reasons.
Ichigo shook his head. “Pervert,” he accused with a note of fondness.
“What makes you think the soutaichou won’t be home?” Izuru posed, face darkening in thought.
“With that explosion?” Ichigo inserted. “I doubt he’ll be returning home anytime soon. Especially after they find Hitsugaya.”
Ichigo paused, drawing to a halt on one of the higher rooftops and sweeping his eyes over Seireitei. He could see from this height that the first building he had set ablaze was already smoldering, and the second was already in the process of being extinguished. It wouldn’t be long before someone found the brat either. Still, none of it seemed to faze him. He felt justified in it, Shirosaki cackling at the destruction.
“What’re ya lookin’ at?” Gin asked, stopping beside him.
Ichigo shook his head. “Nothing. Let’s go.”