[Bleach] Minutes to Midnight 38

Doomsday – Part Three

“Shit.”

The expletive dropped from his lips as Stark slipped into another sonido, backing away from the dangerous women. The fourth division captain was surprisingly spry, not at all like he had expected. When Aizen-sama had given him this assignment, he had anticipated someone a bit older looking. Certainly not this kind-faced and genteel woman, who somehow managed to be absolutely terrifying. And he didn’t have any idea why.

Kind of like his boss in that. Maybe she was his mother or something.

Stark’s feet landed solidly against a rooftop, and he chanced a glance over his shoulder, briefly taking his eyes away from his opponent. He could see Ichigo in the distance, fighting against more odds than any of them could have guessed. Kidoh flew everywhere around him as he flitted to avoid, dust billowing and screening much of his movement. But the kid hadn’t drawn his mask yet, which meant things were still mostly in his favor.

For the moment.

“Are you not interested in battle, Espada-san?” The pleasant query, voice gentle and seemingly kind, sought his attention.

Stark grinned, hands in his pockets as he diverted his gaze back to the matronly woman. “No, I was just here for the walking tour,” he replied.

Attacking the fourth should have been easy; they were healers for Aizen’s sake. He expected a little destruction, no real injuries or damage. Enough to put them out of commission and provide significant distraction. He hadn’t anticipated being met halfway to there by the captain, who had appeared in front of him, thereby becoming a live barrier between him and her division.

He hadn’t stopped retreating since, though Stark loathed to call it that. He preferred something more like “choosing a better plan of attack while moving in a backwards direction” or “withdrawing with style.”

“Oh?” she said with interest, coming to a soft rest on a rooftop near to his. “I didn’t know the fourth division was included.” She smiled ever-so-agreeably, resembling a mild-mannered tiger.

Stark couldn’t find himself ashamed of his slight… apprehension. “Well, I’ve never been good at following directions. My girlfriend says it will be the death of me someday.” He shrugged, flashing further away and closer to where Ichigo was sending a burst of getsuga tenshou into his opponents.

By Aizen, the woman wouldn’t stop following him. Even though he was a fair distance from her division by now.

“She sounds like an intelligent woman.”

“Definitely smarter than me,” Stark agreed as he thought of his lovely Bel, who would probably be very amused by this situation. “And probably more than I deserve. But that’s amore.”

She tipped her head to the side, a very interesting sight with the length of her backwards braid. “Love, Espada-san? I did not think Arrancar were capable of such a thing.”

His exterior remained pleasant, but inside, Stark was just a bit perturbed. It was so like the Shinigami to think like that. As if the Arrancar and the Hollows, contained no emotion at all. That their only desires ran to killing and consuming. And perhaps that seemed true for the lowest classes, who could remember nothing of their former lives and were consumed by their hunger, their madness. But even hunger was an emotion, a desire, a need. As was the faint drive that propelled them to someone they had once loved.

Stark’s eyebrow twitched. “Oh, you’d be surprised what we’re capable of, taichou-san,” he almost-retorted. “We’re more human than you think.” He leapt backwards, now within hearing range of Ichigo and the Soukyoku Hill. “And certainly more so than some of the Shinigami I’ve met.” His friend’s reiatsu was close enough now to wash over him, to spill into his senses with a fresh familiarity.

She smiled, completely unoffended by his statement. “Quite true. Aizen Sousuke is a very disturbed man.”

How she insulted so kindly, Stark didn’t know. But it was a talent he nearly envied.

“The boss has always seemed perfectly fine to me.” His senses tingled and crawled as he was energized by the breadth of reiatsu that had blanketed Seireitei. And his waraji scraped into dust and dirt, right in the midst of a battle. “It’s his special friend you have to watch out for in my opinion. Isn’t that right, amigo?” He skidded to a stop beside Ichigo, though facing an opposite direction.

Fingers curled strongly around the hilt of his zanpakutou, the teen snorted. “The geta-boushi needs to be beaten with that damn fan of his,” he snarled, briefly releasing his sword long enough to wipe blood from his forehead. He sucked in a ragged breath, as though a rib had been broken long before Stark’s arrival.

Amigo! You’re looking a little rough,” the first Espada commented and glanced once at Ichigo before keeping his eyes on his own enemy.

The Vizard squared his shoulders, despite the pain that action must have caused to the gash on his back. “Che. You’re not looking too good yourself.”

The female captain flitted to a rest directly in front of Stark; he eyed her warily.

“Me? When I’ve been accompanied by this beautiful woman?” the Arrancar asked with a pointed gesture.

She clucked her tongue at him. “Such a flatterer. And what would your girlfriend say?” Unohana asked, reaching for her zanpakutou and slowly drawing it from its sheath.

“She’s likely to agree. Bel has an eye for beauty,” Stark replied and shifted his gaze to Ichigo, exchanging looks with the kid. “Shall we dance, amigo?” His hand dropped to his own blade.

Ichigo reached for his face, breaking into a feral grin as his opponents began to gather around their position. “I thought you’d never ask,” he growled, voice taking on the Hollow echo as white accumulated around his fingers. His reiatsu surged, growing stronger with red and black, and entangled with the fierce outpouring of Stark’s own.

– – –

“–Sougyo no Kotowari!”

The air filled with the scent of storms and thunder rumbled ominously, even above the harsh smell of burning and the thick incense of dust and ash. The wind whipped around the area as though in a frenzy, slapping at their skin and setting the debris to rustling. And Gin’s skin prickled like the feeling right before lightning struck.

He whistled, awed by the power that Ukitake could command, despite his illness. “That never ceases ta impress,” he commented with lifted brows. “But ya wanna see somethin’ really cool?”

The older man was only half-looking at him, full concentration centered on the captain-commander, who regarded the both of them impassively. Something a bit like betrayal reflected in his eyes. Nevertheless, Ukitake inclined his head, humoring Gin.

Smirking to himself, mostly because he knew it would surprise the hell out of the old bastard, the Vizard reached up, hand covering his face. White began to gather along his fingertips, highlighted by streaks of red and blue around the edges and eye sockets of his face. And when he dropped his hand, his Hollow’s mask was in full view.

It resembled a fox but only in the vaguest sense. A wide, large-toothed grin tapered to a point over his chin, and the eyes were slitted, an outpouring of bright blue in the depths. The streaks of color lined the ridges of where his cheekbones would have been. And a set of pointed, boned ears topped the crest of his mask.

Snickering to himself as power surged through his veins, Gin watched as Ukitake did an actual double-take. Looking once, then promptly looking again, mouth dropping in total surprise. Funny, Gin had never seen anyone actually do that before.

Yamamoto, however, was far less impressed. “So you’ve fallen this far, Ichimaru?” he all but grunted, peeling his aged eyes open and gesturing to the bone-white mask that covered Gin’s face. “To be expected from Rukongai trash.”

Gin’s eyes flashed angrily; his reiatsu spiked and swirled around him. “Resortin’ ta name callin’ now?” he demanded, his voice that chilling Hollow echo, which always served to make the Shinigami shudder. “Bit juvenile, doncha think? Fer someone wit’ yer advanced age.”

“Now, now, children,” Ukitake inserted in all seriousness, having got over his brief moment of absolute surprise. “Let’s not get distracted from the matter at hand. We must not disappoint Sousuke, after all.” Above them, clouds whirled and gathered together as he flexed his grip on Sougyo no Kotowari.

Gin snickered. “Aizen-taichou has his mind on other things at th’ moment,” he replied, not as infuriated by Yamamoto’s comment as he would have expected of himself. Perhaps Ichigo’s words were finally starting to sink in.

Grinning, the ex-captain abruptly snapped forward, crossing the distance between he and the old man within a split-second, hoping to catch him off guard. He practically disappeared as he shot across the street, his speed in his Hollow form surpassing even Ichigo’s.

However, he hadn’t judged the distance well enough. The old man barely flinched as he swung his blade, causing a massive wall of flame to spring up between himself and Gin. The Vizard had to abruptly dodge to the side in a burst of shunpo to avoid, only to watch as a gigantic tidal-wall of water slammed into the captain-commander. It crashed over him, splashing enough liquid that a touch of it dampened Gin’s hakama.

Yamamoto began to sizzle, steam rising around him and filling the area with a thick, heavy mist. The fire was completely gone, lending the air a lovely scent of scorching. Gin couldn’t help but laugh and point at the old bastard’s soggy state, noting that Ukitake looked rather pleased himself. Hell, Gin hadn’t even known that Jyuu-chan’s zanpakutou could do that.

He was suddenly reminded of a commercial he had seen when he was in the living world. “Ya know what they say when ya play with fire,” Gin taunted in a sing-song manner as the old man’s reiatsu started to rise again, likely to dry himself off.

Gin whirled midair, reversing his course and aiming for the captain-commander once more. He put on a burst of speed, flitting forward and disappearing, only to abruptly reappear directly in front of the old man.

“Someone gets burned,” he hissed and swung Shinsou down so quickly that the bastard barely had enough time to bring up Ryuujin Jakka. Their zanpakutou met and the force of Gin’s blow was enough to drive the captain-commander back a few paces, grunting under the impact.

And all Gin could think was that this was the man who had ordered his lover’s execution. Without a second thought. Because of a possible threat. And his fury soared, his Hollow cackling in agreement. Gin pressed forward and wondered if Aizen-taichou would mind too terribly if he ripped the old bastard a new one.

Yamamoto’s eyes widened for the fraction of a second under the new onslaught, but before Gin could press his advantage, he caught something from the corner of his gaze. Something searing at him from a distance. A ball of reiatsu similar to kidoh. And it was coming fast. He jerked away to avoid the sphere, it sizzling past him, and then had to abruptly dart to the side as Ryuujin Jakka came singing towards his head.

Gin felt the heat of the blade seconds before it was intercepted by Ukitake’s twin zanpakutou. Reiatsu crackled and popped as the blades of mentor and student crashed together, opposing forces clashing.

Taking a breath, Gin momentarily drew his eyes away from their combined swords and fell back a pace. He searched for his attacker and found little Hinamori Momo perched on a nearby rooftop, looking like death warmed over. Twice. Her eyes were sunken and lined with dark-circles, skin ashen and dry. Her shihakushou hung from her already slight frame, and honestly, Gin wasn’t sure how she was breathing. Much less standing.

You,” she hissed raggedly, chest heaving from the exertion of crossing the whole of Seireitei to join their fight. “I’ve been looking for you.”

The question of whether or not she still blamed him for… well, everything was pretty much confirmed. Hinamori-chan was still off her blasted rocker, and lucky Gin got to deal with the fallout. Oh, goody. All he needed now was a zombie Hitsugaya to finish out the tableau.

“Here, I am, Momo-chan. Catch me if ya can.” His grip on Shinsou strengthened.

In the background, he could hear the clashing of Jyuushiro and Yamamoto. Student and mentor were holding nothing back.

Hinamori screeched at him, a piercing sound of agony. “I hate you, bastard,” she wailed and leapt at him with Tobiume raised high. It had probably not been the best idea to taunt her, but Gin couldn’t help himself.

He easily evaded her swings. “Aizen-taichou sends his love,” he remarked, even more surprised that she could stand considering the weight of the reiatsu in the area. Both Yamamoto and Ukitake were impressive on their own, and adding his Hollow-edged pressure made it stifling.

Then again, her insanity might have been giving her an unnatural strength. Not to mention her zanpakutou was fire-based. Perhaps that gave her an edge in withstanding Yamamoto’s Ryuujin Jakka.

Her eyes widened, and she shrieked at him, nearly ear-splitting. No words. Just incoherent rage and pain. Her attacks came fiercer, more edged with fury. He easily batted away the blind strikes, but she was desperate, and she was crazed. Relentlessly throwing herself at him time and time again.

“A little help would be appreciated, Gin!” Ukitake called out from somewhere behind him, a faint cough following the request as the ringing sound of metal meeting metal echoed. There was a grinding and a scrape, followed by an earth-rattling explosion.

“Kinda busy myself,” he shouted back, lips firming as he returned Hinamori’s slash with a strike of his own, driving her back several paces. “But it’ll just take a minute. Unless ya wanna switch?”

He didn’t hear the captain’s response as Hinamori shrieked again, his comments apparently only serving to piss her off further. She slashed with Tobiume and followed it with a strange kidoh that Gin had to twist to avoid. It flew past him, crashing into a building and decimating it. That might have stung a bit.

Annoyed and tired of toying with the girl, Gin had had enough. He pulled on his Hollow abilities and flared his reiatsu, holding nothing back. It was as if an anvil or something heavier had struck Hinamori in the chest, and she abruptly crumpled to her knees and gasped desperately for breath. Tobiume fell from nerveless fingers, clattering to the ground.

Flashing his reiatsu once more, Hinamori abruptly collapsed, fingers scraping at a piece of stone but unable to find purchase. It must have felt as though a giant had landed atop her, what with the pressure being placed on her body. It would be some time before the weakened girl would recover from that.

Convinced she was down for the count, Gin retracted the escaping tendrils of his spiritual pressure and abandoned Hinamori’s gasping form. Ukitake was being driven back by the captain-commander, the searing heat of Ryuujin Jakka a difficult obstacle. Using a burst of shunpo, Gin dove eagerly back into the fight; his Hollow cackled in glee. Shinsou streaked through the air, slashing down at the old bastard and forcing him to block.

Gin grinned and laughed, cocking his head at Ukitake. “See? Told ya I’d be quick.”

“Much obliged,” Jyuushiro replied as he favored one shoulder but not quite bleeding. His comment was accompanied by a warning cough, and he felt the familiar weakness of his body flaring again. Best to make this quick then.

Gin grinned and threw himself at Yamamoto, clashing blades with the captain-commander. The meeting of the two zanpakutou produced a sparking of heat and power, the old man rumbling from the effort of it. The captain-commander summoned more of his searing flame, strong enough to incinerate a normal Shinigami in an instant. Jyuushiro and Gin could survive the heat, though it blistered at their skin and struggled to suck the water from their eyes. But Jyuushiro firmed his lips and called on Sougyo no Kotowari once more, letting the fresh wave of water splash over them, soaking the clothes of all three fighters.

“Enough,” he rasped, finding his breath more difficult to catch as his reiatsu wavered. “Time and time again, sensei, I will counter your fire.”

Yamamoto was unrelenting however, wind and power whipping around him as the clouds continued to darken. “We shall see, Jyuushiro, which of us has the stronger body in the end.”

Jyuushiro wasn’t sure if he should take that as an insult, if the comment should bother him. Especially since it was the utter truth. The captain-commander was an old man, but his body’s strength still outpaced Jyuushiro’s own.

Kitsune-bi,” Gin suddenly hissed in that terrible Hollow echo of his.

Jyuushiro watched as an odd and blue not-flame, like no kidoh he’d ever seen before, curled from the man’s long fingertips. It formed the body of a fox – mouth opened and baring fangs – before throwing itself at Yamamoto, growing larger with each passing second.

Gin’s reiatsu spiked, and then, the spell tried to enclose its mouth around the captain-commander’s head. Yamamoto flitted backwards, the edge of the kidoh catching on his arm and biting into flesh. Blood welled immediately before the spectral fox vanished, Gin suddenly appearing in its wake.

Two blades met and clashed once more, Gin muttering something under his breath that Jyuushiro could not catch. He darted forward with the intent to aid the Vizard when his lungs felt as if they were exploding in his chest. He doubled over, hacking up blood. Gin noticed his moment of weakness and placed himself between Yamamoto and him, driving the old bastard back and giving Ukitake room.

He would have thanked the man had he the breath to do so. As it were, Jyuushiro forced himself to temporarily drop out of the battle, head spinning as he spilled blood over his fingers. The taste of the copper was sharp on his tongue. Funny, he would have thought that he’d be used to the bitter flavor by now.

Struggling to breathe, Jyuushiro pulled out a handkerchief and covered his mouth, breathing in the medicine packed into the strong fibers. It sometimes helped to quell his spells. His chest ached as several more coughs broke their way free. His fingers spasmed around Sougyo no Kotowari.

As he lowered the square of cloth, the medicine working its way into his lungs, Jyuushiro’s eyes widened. Hinamori had woken from her reiatsu-induced stupor, lurching to her feet once more. Murderous rage brightened her dead gaze, directed solely at Gin’s unguarded back. And Jyuushiro knew that she didn’t care that the attack would have been dishonorable.

Despite his own pain, Jyuushiro knew that he couldn’t allow her to take Gin’s life. Masking his coughs, he flitted to intercept her. A quick shunpo slid his body between her and her target, but his lungs threatened to revolt on him. And as his eyes teared up, he tried to remain the wall between Hinamori and Gin.

The young lady snarled at him, sounding more beast than human. “Out of my way!”

He belatedly realized that she didn’t even recognize him anymore. Not for his position or for his superiority. She couldn’t even tell that he was obviously stronger than her.

“Hinamori-chan, you don’t know what you are doing. You’re not yourself,” he said gently, as kindly as possible.

Her face twisted into something ugly, unrelenting in the face of his logic. She thrust out her hand, a kidoh flying from her fingertips without an incantation of any sort. It was significantly weakened as a result, and Jyuushiro easily batted it aside and sent the twisted ball of ice and lightning careening off to the side.

“Please, stop.”

His plea was met without another spell, this time a vague attempt at binding. He easily sidestepped, a small cough slipping past his lips. He winced at the coppery taste of blood that filled his mouth and recognized the exertion he was placing on his body. But he couldn’t stop now. There were too many he was fighting for, including Shunsui’s strained reiatsu.

“I won’t.” Hinamori growled at him, eyes crazed and bloodshot. “I won’t until that bastard’s dead. Until he’s in pieces.”

Jyuushiro was shocked by the malice in her voice, remembering a softly smiling girl who had once held so many dreams. He wondered how she had become this, how she had let her grief and obsession completely override all sense of rationality. And he wished he knew how to save her before she destroyed herself entirely.

He shook his head, hating that it had come to this. “Hinamori-chan, you must–”

His words abruptly broke into a fit of coughing, and it felt as if his lungs were splitting, entire chest on fire. He fought to cover his mouth with one hand as he tried to focus on the young woman, only to have his eyes widen in abject shock.

A wash of heat smacked into him, preceding the wall of flame that was speeding their direction with no regard to anything else. Yamamoto’s flame.

And Jyuushiro didn’t think; he simply reacted.

In spite of the weakness of his limbs and the agony of his body, he threw himself frontwards and crashed headlong into Hinamori. The two of them went flying backwards and a fair distance away. Immediately, their bodies flew apart, but that didn’t stop their motion as they continued to skid down, slamming into obstacles in the form of ruined buildings. Jyuushiro felt his entire body snap as he crashed heavily into debris. Something snagged on his leg, biting deeply into the flesh. Had he the breath, he would have cried out. As it were, he couldn’t stop coughing long enough as spots danced in his vision.

Several agonizing moments later, he finally came to a stop, slamming forcefully into the side of a wall. Jyuushiro allowed himself to lay there for several long minutes, groaning and trying to focus his vision. Through sheer force of will, he had managed to keep hold on one of his zanpakutou, dragging the other along with him. It was a miracle he hadn’t stabbed himself with the blade.

He heard the clashing of blades in the distance, felt clashing reiatsu, and knew that Gin and Yamamoto were still fighting somewhere above him. The heat of the captain-commander’s attack had passed harmlessly by him and hopefully by Hinamori-chan as well.

Hinamori-chan.

Jyuushiro forced his body to move and hauled himself to his feet. He took short and careful breaths, trying not to disturb his already weakened lungs. He wiped carefully at his lips and found his feet, though one didn’t set so well. The injury would cause him to limp; he could already feel the blood streaming down the leg of his hakama.

Scanning the ground, he searched for the poor girl and sent out strings of reiatsu to feel for her. He saw her before he felt her, spying a clump of black fabric resting against another section of wall. Jyuushiro wondered what sort of structure had once been here, his tired mind unable to remember.

“Hinamori-chan?” he queried aloud as he picked his way across the ground and he neared her unmoving form.

She didn’t respond, and Jyuushiro couldn’t sense her.

A feeling of unease gradually began to grow, insides filling with frost. Her eyes were closed, head turned his direction, but she didn’t stir when he called her name again. And then, Jyuushiro’s breath vanished, catching in his throat and locking up his lungs. He dropped to his knees, horrified.

It wasn’t just a wall that had stopped her momentum. It was a wall and several spikes of debris, made of both wood and stone. They stuck out from her chest and stomach, glistening grotesquely with a crimson stain.

Jyuushiro couldn’t feel her reiatsu because it was no longer present.

She was dead. He had killed her.

Nausea crept up into his throat, warring with the pressing urge to cough, and Jyuushiro felt his body shaking. His eyes burned with moisture. It would be a lie if he claimed that he hadn’t killed before, but he also hadn’t sought Hinamori’s life. The poor girl had just been confused and distraught. He had wanted to help her, not mow her down.

He reached out, as if in a daze, only to feel the faintest tug on his senses. As though something was pulling on his body. Silence covered him like a blanket as he gently brushed her hair from her face, and the world seemed to abruptly white out around him, cutting off his vision. Everything vanished, even his ability to sense reiatsu.

And then, Jyuushiro was falling.

– – –

“Are you done yet?” Kisuke demanded, back pressed against Sousuke’s as he watched the reiatsu clashing everywhere over Seireitei.

The sense of battle was so thick that his veins practically thrummed with it. Half of the city lay in ruins already, a smoking ruin with numerous casualties on both side. If it weren’t for that, Kisuke was certain they would have been discovered. But Ichigo and Gin were doing a great job of creating enough chaos for a distraction. And Kisuke was effectively shielding both his and Sousuke’s reiatsu.

No one would notice what was happening until it was too late.

He felt the rumble of Sousuke’s voice against his spine. “Patience is a virtue, my dear,” his friend replied, tone carrying an edge of strain.

The shopkeeper twisted his jaw, Benihime rather impatient in his grasp. It had been so long since she had fought, and she wanted very much to be out there with the others.

“Things are getting rather intense out there,” Kisuke reminded the soon-to-be king. He winced as a familiar reiatsu suddenly vanished. “We’ve already lost Grimmjow.”

There was a moment of silence before Sousuke replied, his own reiatsu simmering beneath the surface, rattling at its cage. “Once I am king, there will be no more need to mourn,” he declared, and from the corner of his eyes, Kisuke could see Sousuke’s expression firm with resolve.

“You’re assuming that the world picks you,” he retorted logically. “Personally, my money is on Ichigo. Someone out there has to be looking out for him.”

Sousuke sucked in a breath of aggravation, though whether because of Kisuke or his current attempts at opening the gate the shopkeeper was uncertain.

“So long as it’s not you,” Sousuke snarked.

“Mah, you wound me,” Kisuke teased and lifted a hand to press it briefly over his chest. “My heart, it bleeds. I thought you loved me.”

Eyebrow twitching, Sousuke’s mouth opened to respond, but their senses suddenly sang with the feeling of vanishing reiatsu. Two very familiar signatures, near to both their hearts. Kisuke felt his stomach clench as he swallowed thickly. Nel-chan and Ulquiorra had both fallen.

“Sousuke–”

“I know,” the lord and master of Hueco Mundo cut off testily, gritting his teeth. “I know.”

The shopkeeper shifted uncomfortably, the warmth of Sousuke’s back against his a small reassurance. “Some of the others aren’t far behind.” His brow furrowed beneath the shading of his favorite hat as he concentrated. “Shunsui won’t last much longer.”

“He’s always been a stubborn man.” Sousuke sounded greatly fatigued.

The reiatsu necessary to use the key was quite substantial, and not even the great Aizen Sousuke could use it without repercussions. Kisuke could only hope that it wouldn’t kill him.

But that was Sousuke’s choice to make and his chance to take. He didn’t dare try to stop him. He could only watch his dearest friend’s back and lend his support. Kisuke absolutely hated feeling this powerless.

“It must run in the family,” the blond replied, licking his lips as he watched the horizon, and the evidence of fierce battle that lingered in the skies over Seireitei. “I’m sure Gin would agree.”

Sousuke snorted, his power curling close around his body and thrumming gently across his skin. Even Kisuke could feel it against his own. “I’m sure he has his mind on other things.”

“Like Ichigo,” the shopkeeper helpfully supplied, thinking fondly of the two and their enviable relationship. “The old man. Jyuu-chan. His toothbrush. Yeah, Shunsui’s pretty far down the list.” His lightheartedness helped with the apprehension and the worry.

Kisuke knew he was partially babbling and that his talking betrayed him, but he couldn’t find it in him to care. This was one of those pivotal moments. So much rested on right now, so many lives. They couldn’t afford for Sousuke to fail.

He trusted this man, just as so many others did. They all believed that he would find the path to heaven and to the throne. Otherwise, none of them would be fighting right now, risking their lives for his ideals.

Beyond Kisuke’s sight, he felt Gin’s reiatsu flare brightly, simmering with the dark energies of his Hollow. And Ichigo and Stark promptly followed suit, bathing all of Soul Society in the force of their combined energies. Ichigo was already in bankai, and now, he was relying on his Hollow? Things were quickly sliding downhill.

Fingers tightly curled around Benihime, so much so that his knuckles were white. “Sousuke,” he urged, wanting to impress upon his dearest friend the urgency of the situation.

There was the faintest of clicks, like a key sliding into a lock. And then, Sousuke straightened, his back fully against Kisuke.

“Done,” he declared satisfactorily.

Kisuke felt it, pulling on his senses, drowning out all semblance of sight and sound until he was covered in absolute white. His body was being tugged in all directions, and he received the vaguest sense of a Garganta… but only a distant cousin of one. He felt Sousuke shift behind him, turning to catch his eye.

And the last thing he saw before his vision blanked out completely was Aizen Sousuke’s triumphant smile.

 

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