A/N: Skip the italicized bits if you don't want to hear Stark's rather broken perceptions of his body's time in the 12th division.
Stark's awareness slipped from his body, whirled around his dark inner thoughts, and tried desperately to hide from the persistent light of his partner trying to find him.
He was not entirely successful at blocking her out.
Hazy images, seen through tear filled eyes that were not his own, spiked through the arrancar's mind. Vibrant orange hair smelling of home covered a face, while strong arms held a tiny writhing body tightly to a warm chest.
"They're hurting him! They're hurting us!" Tore through the air in a high pitched wail of pain. "He's pushing me away, but I won't let him feel this alone! I can't! That would hurt us worse!"
Slightly clawed fingers combed over the screamer's back, before gently wiping the tears from hot cheeks.
"We'll find him," a warbling threat growled out using the guide of a voice. "Don't worry, don't worry. I will find him and I will kill them."
Stark flinched back from his partner's pain, even as he wished to offer her comfort and to feel the comfort lavished upon her second hand. He wandered too close to his body and had to block out the mindless screams issuing from its mouth.
BURNING BOILING BUBBLING his hierro fizzling away into slag that dRiP DrIp dRiPped to the bile painted floor- mad joyous cackling as the captain's knives and needles could finally make his experiment WRITHE
The tenuous concept of time the arrancar held shattered as his consciousness wavered between emotional and physical agony.
"Lilinette, go to the Vizards." The sharp command anchored Stark's awareness.
He could feel fingers that were not his own curl into fists tight enough to bruise. "What? No! I want to fight!"
Up above predatorily yellow eyes softened behind a sharply grinning porcelain mask. "This isn't just about your protection, this is a very important mission."
"Really?" Child like belief sparked behind his partner's heart.
"Yes, you're the only one who knows where their hideout is. I need you to explain to them what happened, so they don't think I broke my word and decided to attack Soul Society."
Rage flared. "Send someone else. I'm going to save Stark!"
"Lilinette, please. You've met them before, they are more likely to trust your word. Besides," he patted her head, reptilian claws rasping against the bone mask. "Stark would kill me if I let anything happen to you. And I wouldn't forgive myself either."
She sniffed, scowling thunderously, but nodded. "Fine, I'll do the stupid mission."
Relief coursed through the elder hollow's soul at his other half backing down. He didn't want her to see-
RED RED RED his mask ripped ToOtH by fAnG out of his ThRoAt then compared to the bone fragments tOrN free from his MoUtH CHOKING HEAVING CAN'T MOVE
"Listen to me!" Ichigo's echoing voice roared across the desolate courtyards of Las Noches, silencing the writhing multitudes of hollows to his will.
He watches through eyes placed high away from the scene, as if perched atop a pillar. The orange haired man seems bigger, wilder, his black aura dwarfing the two former shinigami standing stone faced on his left. A blonde woman wearing white with a shark like smile covering the bottom half of her face stood to his right with Uliquiorra.
"The shinigami took one of us prisoner with no just cause!" The snarl dripped with more blood thirsty ire than Stark ever recalled hearing from his friend's voice. "I am no tyrant, I will force none of you to fight. But those of you who wish to fight for their king FOLLOW ME!"
The mob of hollows roared, squealed, hissed and squawked, with great animalistic whoops and war cries thundering from the assembled arrancar.
Lilinette trembled, excitement racing from her heart straight to her partner. 'Don't worry, Stark, we're coming!'
'No,' thought the wolf's trickling consciousness, 'No, I'm not worth the trouble! They'll come for me, and I'l have disappointed my friend by causing the war he didn't want! That would hurt more than-'
monitoring how long it takes REGROWING BONES HURTS MORE THAN HE REMEMBERED the marrow spills from his third new set of carples into needles and tubes for further study VOCAL CORDS TORN OUT SO HE CAN'T EVEN HOWL
Blinding fury tints the world red as tiny fangs gnash in agitation.
"They took Stark," Lilinette spat in the Kurosaki boy's face. "Mugetsu tried talking! He sent the shinigami letters- he even tried to go to soul society himself, but they locked him out! We're not going to war, we're getting Stark back!"
The teen backed up, hands raided against the feral wolf pup. "I only meant-"
The arrancar leapt, teeth aimed for the self proclaimed human's throat. A strong arm looped around the girl's middle, halting her brief flight.
"Woah there little puppy," Shinji's silky voice crooned. "Don't pay any attention to the brat, he's just too used to stoping every enemy attempting to invade Soul Society. Rather hypocritical if you ask me."
The girl struggled in the blonde's arms, still spitting fire at her prey. "He said he was going to stop Mugetsu! I'll kill him!"
"Is that right?" Shinju shifted to glaze apathetically at the teen, who quailed appropriately. "Hm. Don't worry, if he tries to run off, we'll stop him. Stark is our friend too, and we owe Mugetsu a great debt."
ringing silence THUMP so loud it hurts THUMP at least all limbs THUMP are accounted for THUMP if much more tender THUMP than usual THUMP how strange THUMP that they've allowed him to heal THUMP though that meant THUMP that they would be returning soon THUMP - CRASH!
"You know, when I asked you not to start a fight, I didn't mean that you should let yourself be captured."
Stark opened his eyes blearily.
The sharp smile of Ichigo's mask greeted him, though the eyes underneath looked relieved.
"Didn't want...to," he panted between his pounding headache, "...cause...trouble..."
Ichigo sighed fondly. "Whatever, let's go." He crouched down and started picking the black creatures from his arms. They exploded upon coming into contact with his skin.
"These are like the thing Kenpachi has," he muttered flicking gore from his hand in disgust. "Guess I had too much reitsu for them to eat." His hand knocked against the collar. "There's not even a key for this thing! Even Rukia's had a key!"
An explosion outside brought him back to the present. Ichigo huffed and threw Stark over his shoulder.
"Whatever, we can get that thing off when we get back to Las Noches."
A tiny spark of indignation, which probably came from Lilinette, wanted to protest being carried, however Stark did not feel capable of ambulating in any fashion given his current condition.
The orange haired man leapt lightly over the smashed remains of the twelfth devision. Between the debris Stark could see splashes of red and limbs, but his friend paid no mind to the corpses, so Stark did not either, beyond a small flame of vengeful content.
In the distance Kaien's released form whirled around with reckless abandon, grasping as many of the shinigami's zanpakuto as she could to disable their powers.
A pale haired man in a white robe kept drawing near to fire off bolts of light, despite his swords hanging useless at his waist. "Miyako please, stop this!" he was shouting. "Kaien wouldn't want you to do this!"
"I'm not Miyako!" she shouted huffily, dodging the kido in such a way that it struck one of the lower ranking seats behind her. "And I'm pretty sure this is exactly what Kaien wants!"
Ichigo continued past the fight, not sparing more than a glance to ensure his secretary's continued wellbeing.
The masked man made it thirty more steps, before a pair of fire haired teenagers flew to block his path. The younger of the two blanched upon seeing Ichigo gently carrying Stark. His sword lowered, as if this was not the fight he had expected to fall into.
Kurosaki looked practically green when his eyes fell on the arrancar. "Stark-san? Oh kami..."
The boy turned to the red headed shinigami by his side. "Renji, did you know this was happening? Tell me!"
The lieutenant, judging by his uniform, shook his head, looking vaguely ill at the visible blood staining the arrancar's tender skin.
Ichigo eyed the two apathetically. His yellow eyes flicked to the teen. Stark thought he could detect a faint tenseness in his friend's muscles as he surveyed the boy.
A sharp shout signaled the arrival of another squad of dark robed figures brandishing swords. Growling displeasure rumbled through the hollow king's chest, but before he could shift Stark in his arms to grab his sword, Kurosaki stepped forward.
"You get him out of here," the orange haired shinigami said. "I'll handle these guys."
Renji spluttered. "Ichigo, how could you! Traitor!"
"I'm not a shinigami!" the teen frowned. "And what happened to Stark-san was wrong, and you know it Renji! It's even worse that what they did to Rukia!"
"He's a hollow!" the shinigami protested.
"That doesn't matter! He didn't do anything wrong!"
Kurosaki flung an energy beam at the lieutenant, destroying the building he and the approaching reinforcements stood on, and throwing up a large cloud of debris and smoke.
"Thank you," Mugetsu's warped voice cut through the arguing pair. His eyes fixed on his young counterpart. "I know you have friends in the shinigami, so thank you."
The teen flushed. "Don't mention it."
Stark could sense his friend's suppressed laughter. "In any case, if you need help, or if your family needs protection, tell me."
"You don't-" the teen protested, but Mugetsu cut him off.
"I do not offer out of obligation to repay a debt, but because I want to."
By this time the dust had settled, revealing the rumbled shinigami coughing atop the ruble.
Mugetsu gave one last nod to the teen, before flashing away towards the boarder of the Rugonkai. Once past the massive wall surrounding the inner circle, he gently thrust Stark into the arms of an arrancar with bird skull mask on her head. She reverently bowed, before fluttering through a garganta.
Stark's awareness failed him again as darkness encroached upon the edges of his vision. His last conscious memory was of being gently laid in a bed and the bird-like arrancar clucking over his wounds, then blissful sleep.
He didn't remember much of the next few months clearly, as he recovered from his ordeal. Stark suffered severe reitsu depletion, and his hierro was still regrowing, causing his skin to prickle and bleed at the slightest rough contact. The man found himself drifting away from his body too often for his liking and slipping through time too quickly while he was meant to be awake.
Even Lilinette was unable to reach him during some of his worse catatonic episodes, but together the duo navigated the shared space of their minds to eventually find each other.
Visitors migrated to his bedside in a constant stream, only to be pecked away by the bird-masked hollow, Stark learned had been assigned as his personal medic. Most were arrancar he didn't know, who kept their heads bowed while reverently murmuring what an honor it was to meet 'the heart of the king's anger'.
Lilinette, who had been plastered to his side since before he awoke, explained how Ichigo snapped when she returned alone from Soul Society. The arrancar took their leader's terrifying anger as a sign that he had been telling the truth about promising to protect them. Even Harribel was impressed by the young man, and allied herself to his kingdom without further prompting, or so the little girl said.
Mugetsu himself arrived once Stark's condition was stable, and he was able to mentally anchor himself in his body to stay conscious for an appropriate length of time. The hollow king, mask removed for the first time in an age, clutched his friend's scared hand. The intensity of his grip could have bruised, if the man wasn't consciously being gentle.
His eyes, once gold, were now a solid poisonous yellow. Small bone like protrusions spiked from under his black clothing around his shoulders like armor. His pale skin held the stiff sand paper like roughness of hierro, and his fingernails had morphed into sharp white claws. Mugetsu looked worn out, as if he had been pushed through a crucible and burned away some much missed part of himself.
"I can never make up for what I have done," the king breathed, head bowed low. Lilinette crooned and wriggled her way into the his lap for a hug. Mugetsu's free arm wrapped around her protectively.
"There there, don't be sad," she said, childishly patting the man's back. "We're ok. We got Stark back."
The older arrancar lowered his eyes.
"It's my fault for putting you in that situation and for thinking that the shinigami would be..." he trailed off. Carefully the king set the little girl back on the bed and bent his brow to the floor in a submissive bow. "I am sorry for putting you into that situation. I know better now, and I won't let them touch you again."
Lilinette made a pained noise in the back of her throat and turned to Stark beseechingly. "Don't," he said, voice still faint from abuse. "Don't bow to us. You are our friend, our first friend. We would do anything you asked. You don't have to apologize, this was my fault I-"
"Stark," the commanding tone cut through the hollow's words. "Stark, no. You do not owe me anything!" Yellow eyes bore into blue. "You were my first friend in this place too. I owe you more than I could ever repay."
An annoyed huff cut the hollow off. "Fine, you would do anything I ask? Then next time you can see me making a bad decision or being an unfit ruler, you whack me over the back of the head. All right?"
Stark looked beseechingly at Lilinette, who shrugged. He looked back at his friend, hesitated, then nodded, throat strangely tight.
"Good." A weary smile curled the corners of Mugetsu's mouth.
A soft knock ended the moment. The bird-skulled nurse peaked her beak into the room. "Mugetsu-sama, the patient need his rest."
"Thank you Robin-san, I'll leave now." Standing, the king donned his white striped mask. With one final hug to Lilinette and a nod to Stark, he left the infirmary.
The soul reapers took the Stark's rescue as a declaration of war, and several strange fluctuations in the air on the boarders of Las Noches signaled that not all of the twelfth division's research had been destroyed. Mugestu relegated Szayel, to monitor the situation and create machinery to counter the shinigami's attempt at creating a portal into Hueco Mundo.
A large portion of the arrancar were screaming for war as well, and it took Mugetsu roaring himself hoarse at the hollows to prevent them from attempting a frontal assault while the shinigami were weak.
Currently Las Noches, in difference to Mugetsu's favored 'defend don't strike' philosophy, was stocking for war, with unused rooms being filled with supplies and a re-fitting of the army.
Though the new system reflected the old with espada in charge of a collection of fraccion, Mugetsu entrusted each of espada with certain duties pertaining to the running of Las Noches.
Szayelaporro, with the strict instructions to not experiment on anyone under sever penalty, was kept in charge of the numerous labs in the basement. His less moral tendencies were curbed when ordered to find solutions to specific challenging problems, such as 'how do we stop the shinigami's artificial garganta generator?' and 'the twelfth division, while destroyed and with their captain thoroughly splattered (along with his creepy extra brain), still will be a bitch to fight. Find a way to stop them.'
Hollow's did not have much understanding of training, as fighting for them was very much a kill or die kind of scenario. Therefore, Kaien found himself three assistants to man the paperwork, and spent his remaining time turning the unorganized rabble into something of a working militia.
"It's not much different than what I used to do as a lieutenant," he chuckled while visiting Stark in his bed. "Though hollows are less team work oriented fighters than shinigami. the hardest part is getting them to remember to not accidentally cero the guys on our side in some flashy attack."
Kaien often included Grimmjow in on his exercises, giving him half of the army to command to see if he could teach the hollow some strategy.
"He lost most of his fraccion during the assault of Soul Society, but the guy was a good leader to them, from what I saw," the former-shinigami confided. "He cares about his people, in his own way, which is important when you're sending them into battle."
Harribel, as a leader in her own right, was not technically under Mugetsu's command. However, she took it upon herself to intervene whenever two parties with differing political ideals attempted to start a row.
Uliquorra seemed to have assigned himself as Mugetsu's right hand, and could often be seen performing miscellaneous errands for his king, or helping to sort through piles of paperwork.
Gin was...Gin. Which meant whenever he opened his mouth with information no one could figure out how he knew, Mugetsu listened, despite the sour expression it left on the orange haired man's face.
Then there were the Visords, who had claimed the destroyed throne room as their own and resisted all attempts of the resident arrancars to shoo them away to somewhere less important, like very stubborn vermin.
"Eh, we have to make sure the shinigami don't try to take back our second favorite arrancar," Shinji smirked, leaning against the hospital wall.
"Second?" Stark asked, despite himself.
The blonde shrugged. "Lilinette-chan is very persuasive."
Barragan's splinter faction had lost some support when Mugetsu's successful assault on Soul Society came out. In retaliation, the death-like hollow is his kingdom further in the desert, most likely to gather strength to lay siege to Las Noches.
When Stark pointed this out (finally well enough to make short trips around the palace)Mugetsu shrugged.
"They can try," he huffed from behind a wall of paperwork.
Kaien then appeared with another armload of things to be signed, effectively cutting off any further conversation.
Stark yawned and laid back against the pillar he currently was napping beside. Lilinette had run off with Nel. He could feel her mischievous joy burbling in the back of his mind, and made a point to tell Gin to stop giving the dangerous duo candy. He yawned again, and decided that informing the silver shinigami was not worth the effort of finding him, before shutting his eyes.
Strange how full of people his life had become.
So Ichigo's changed appearance follows this logic: His final Mugestu form (the one he got to before the Karakura battle before facing Aizen) was meant to be him absorbing his hollow and shinigami/whatever power. However, he seems to fight only as a shinigami. Here, Ichigo had to get in touch with his repressed hollow powers and instincts, hence the change in appearance. The change was brought on via a combination of anger at his friend's kidnaping, disgust at him being the one who sent him there, unholy rage at all things shinigami related, and a need to be even stronger to take on soul society and the arrancar's unrest. Or at least that's how I see it. More news as the story progresses.
As someone pointed out in the reviews, I have been heavily hinting at a war, haven't I? Guess this means I have to write a sequel now. Eventually. Maybe.
Ugg, graduate school, a place where scholastic masochists gather together to suffer.
I'm ending this here, because this story was about Stark getting what he wanted; a friend. If I do write a sequel, it will most likely be from a different perspective. I was thinking Harribel or Gin, because they have a lot of introspective potential. Again, no promises.
I am not actually qualified to write a sequel, as I stopped following Bleach after Aizen turned into a butterfly. If I did write a sequel, it would be AU with no execution or quincy or whatever.
If anyone wants to write a sequel, please feel free. I'll even PM you the notes I've got for this and ideas I had.
A/N: Yeah, I know the last chapter had Stark basically doing nothing and getting captured... re-reading that I know it does not make sense. Originally I had planned a quick fight scene where 12th captain somehow traps Stark, who then tells Lilinette to escape instead of attack. But, well, I'm kind of too lazy to go back and fix the scene.
A/N: Loved your review btw. Let's try to do this in a semblance of order...
Ichigo in cannon seems to be almost incapable of descriminating against people without reason, evidenced by his easy acceptance of Nel, even though she is an arrancar. He seems to expect the people around him to hold similar non-judgmental opinions, as seen where he doesn't think twice about how Rukia or Renji would treat Nel. I always took this to be very naive of his character. To me, Ichigo is so non-discriminatory that he forgets that other people do descriminate against others without cause.
Soul Society is over reacting because, from their perspective, there is a very real possibility that someone stronger than Aizen just took over Aizen's forces and plans to attack them.
They don't know that Mugetsu is Ichigo. Ichigo has told no one his identity other than Stark, Lilinette, and Kaien, because he doesn't want to involve his younger self or family. So, Mugetsu might be friendly with people in Sould Society, but the don't know him. He's also not the same person he once was that they would know, so they probably would not recognize him at once even if he did take off his mask.
Yes, misunderstandings will inevitably occur. In the sequel if I ever write it. Or if someone else wants to write a sequel, please throw in lots of misunderstandings. I'll give you what little collection of notes I've tossed around on it.
I just love what you said here: "If this current action or story is going to be about stripping Ichigo's naiveness in regards to soul society you're setting it up very well. Rather an interesting way of writing a story actually. Most time travel or similar stories have Ichigo merge back into soul society or the human world in one form or another. To place Ichigo in a situation where he is now placed in a position where he is considered a threat, possible threat or wary acquaintance by all of his once allies is rather an interesting way of doing things. I'm curious as to where you will go with this."
Thanks, I'm curious what will happen as well. In the age old words of Toni Morrison, 'If you want to read a story and it doesn't exist, you must write it yourself.' That's what started me writing this story actually. Maybe I'll write a sequel...maybe not. IDK how the future will go.
Dammit, I'm writing this aren't I.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Pack Mentality, told from Harribel's perspective. Will not be a new story, just a continuation on here. Don't know when it will happen or how long it will be, but it's coming.