Chapter 34

"Captain, we are having no luck with the barrier." The poor officer barely ducked the clipboard thrown at his head.

"You idiot. I don't want the barrier down! Then he'll escape!" Mayuri rolled his eyes at his incompetent subordinate before pushing another officer away from the central screens. They were lit up with a infrared display of his division. A slow smile crept across his face causing the man who he had pushed aside to flinch away in self preservation and find something on the other side of the room that needed his immediate attention.

"He's in the underground. What a perfect opportunity to test out my new weapons!"

"Um, sir…" the officer who ducked the flying clipboard quailed under the glare but barreled on nonetheless, "do you really think that's a good idea? What if they get out of control?" This time Mayuri didn't miss.

XXX

"Kurosaki has a motive." Toshiro's blunt statement cut off Renji's arguments.

"And that would be?"

Toshiro massaged his forehead with one hand and suddenly felt very tired. They were all staring at him, save Byakuya who was looking off into space apparently bored with the proceedings.

"We are all well aware that Kurosaki is unique. An experimental subject that any scientist would cut off his right arm for."

"Yes, but Kurosaki has made it quite clear that he is not interested in being in any of Mayuri's…experiments." Ukitake's face twisted slightly, betraying just how he felt about these experiments.

"Yes, well, Kurotsuchi seems to have found something to hold over Kurosaki's head." Toshiro faintly wondered how more hadn't seen the manipulations that the twelfth division captain had been putting into motion the last few weeks.

"Nanao's pregnant," he waited the few minutes for that to sink in clearly before adding, "With Kurosaki's child. And Kurotsuchi found out."

"I will kill that man." Every eye turned on the still smiling healer, her tone causing most of them to shudder. Toshiro figured she must have known about the pregnancy and Byakuya and Shunsui had decidedly not surprised expressions on their faces.

"I think you may have to get in line." Shunsui countered cheerfully.

"Wait a second, I don't get it." Kenpachi scratched the back of his head.

Toshiro tried really hard not to sigh in exasperation. He needed as many captains on his side as possible, so with that thought in mind, he kept the annoyance out of his voice. "Kurotsuchi is threatening to go to the Central 46 about Kurosaki's uniqueness and while Kurosaki wouldn't necessarily care- and even with the headache that would cause it could be smoothed over with the fact that he did have a significant hand in helping us with that little battle no one is supposed to talk about-" there was just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, not enough to be outright reprimanded but it did earn him an annoyed glare from Yamamoto, "it would get around that the child could also have this uniqueness, and it wouldn't be a stretch that Kurotsuchi would insist that he observe the child and that the 46 would grant his request."

Before the chatter could get too carried away with that theory, Yamamoto caught their attention with a thud of his cane. "This discussion is pointless. The why is not nearly as important as the how and the how we are going to put a stop to this and take down Kurosaki."

"We can't kill him." Toshiro was happy to hear at least a few murmurs in agreement even as he was currently getting yet another annoyed look from Yamamoto. He had a feeling he would be paying for this insubordination sometime soon, but he put that out of his mind.

"Just because he's your friend…" But Toshiro didn't let Soifon finish her lecture.

"No, you misunderstood me. I don't mean we shouldn't kill him. I mean we probably can't."

XXX

He was bored, plain and simple. He had felt the mysterious rumblings that meant something was going on outside his cage but he didn't know what and if it didn't mean he could get out, he didn't care.

"Yuro…hey are you alive over there?"

Rolling his eyes but moving over to the corner so he could stick a hand through the bars, he flipped his companion off. "What the hell do you want, Sukeru? I was trying to sleep."

"You don't sleep." She responded dryly. Leaning against her own cage wall, she had her back to him so she probably missed his earlier gesture. She turned to look over her shoulder, pushing her stringy black hair out of her face so she could glare at him.

"I could dream…"

"You don't do that either." She snorted at his barely concealed snarl. "What do you think is happening out there?'

Yuro sighed, temper quelled and back to bored. "Hell if I know."

It was only moments later when the small speaker built into the wall between their two cages came to life.

"Yuro, Sukeru, get your asses up. Time for you to earn your keep." With that both cage doors open with a click.

Yuro snorted. "Our keep?" But he kept it low enough that he hoped that the strange speaker didn't catch it. He stiffened as a slight electric current ran through his body. Apparently it had heard him. One hand went up to grab at the wire collar around his neck and he just glared at the dark haired woman currently snickering at him.

"Your mission is to capture -not kill, Yuro- the invader. I want him in relatively one piece, or at least in big enough pieces I can put him back together. Is that understood?"

Yuro went to say something, but Sukeru leaped on her partner and covered his mouth with her hand. If the idiot got himself killed she would be down in this hole with nobody to annoy. "Of course," she replied towards the speaker sweetly, meanwhile dragging Yuro towards the open archway that lead out of their 'room'.

XXX

"Shit." The low curse caused Ichigo to slam to a stop and press the earpiece deeper into his ear. He wasn't sure if he had been meant to hear that or not but it nevertheless made his blood run cold. The stone corridor seemed to constrict around him.

"What?" he asked anxiously.

"I'm sorry Ichigo." The apology was soft spoken and made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Urahara didn't apologize until after he sent you through hell and you were safely back. The fact that he was apologizing now made Ichigo realize that he didn't think he'd be coming back.

He swallowed thickly before asking, "What is it?" He was already scanning his immediate area for enemies and was surprised to feel spiritual pressures that didn't feel whole or hollow, they just were. "What are they?" he amended his question.

XXX

He was keeping to the shadows, his signature suppressed, watching the chaos around him. No one paid him any mind, after all he wasn't a seated officer.

He had to admit the large white dome was fascinating. He wished he could get a closer look and see just what Urahara had created. Because, of course he knew this must be a product of Urahara's genius.

This whole debacle was throwing quite a kink in his plans. For one, he wanted to be the one to kill off the twelfth division captain. For another, Kurosaki was probably going to get himself either killed or locked up, neither which served his purposes in the least.

"You could have been great," He muttered towards the white dome, "What a waste."

XXX

"They are an experiment I pulled the plug on years and years ago. Apparently someone decided to continue on without me." There was a sharp edge to Urahara's voice. "Hollows are attracted to souls with high spiritual pressure, we were trying to mold a mod soul, a warrior, that would not attract hollows. Unfortunately, the experiments all ended in failure. We couldn't get the balance exactly right in anything that wasn't inanimate. My cloak was a slight upside to the overall failure of the project."

"Hm. So how do I fight them?" Ichigo wasn't really interested in the history. He could feel them approaching. "And why can I feel them if you said the whole point was so that they didn't attract any attention?" His hand went to the hilt of Zangetsu.

"Every living thing gives off some signal. They, however give off nothing more than that of a power source, such as a generator or even fire. That was why I didn't notice them right away." Ichigo could hear the echo of keys through his earpiece. "I didn't notice until they started moving. In an enclosed space you are definitely at a disadvantage. I think you're best bet is to get somewhere less confined."

"Right, I'll get right on that." he replied dryly. Ichigo missed Urahara's reply as two figures seemed to suddenly melt out of the shadows fifteen feet from his position.

The one on the right was distinctly female with stringy black hair falling in her face. The other was male, his ash colored hair sticking out from his head in a fashion that lent him an insane air. Both were clothed in simple grey clothes and were barefooted with zanpakuto belted at their waist. From the little skin Ichigo could see on their arms and faces, he noticed they were marked with strange black designs.

"This is him?" the male scratched the back of his head and yawned. "Seems kinda puny."

His partner smacked the back of his head and hissed, "Are you complaining? We'll just have to play around a bit to make it last." She shot Ichigo a predatory smile. "After all, we should thank you. We haven't been out in a while."

"Hm." Keeping an eye on his opponents he gripped his zanpakuto with one hand and pulled the cloak from around his shoulders. No use masking his signature now if they already knew where he was.

"Maybe this will be interesting." He stood more to attention, obviously noting the rise in Ichigo's spiritual pressure.

"Less confined space?" Ichigo muttered to himself. He eyed the ceiling and sighed. "You know, for once…just once…I wish a plan would go as planned." With that the world exploded outwards.

XXX

"Explain yourself." Toshiro prided himself in not flinching at the sudden steel in his superior's voice. He also wondered if Byakuya or Renji would throw themselves in the fire with him.

"The hollow that resides within him," Byakuya spoke up before Toshiro could formulate an adequate response. "During the last battle, he evolved. He was mortally wounded and we thought that his fight was over when…"

A large explosion caught their attention and cut off whatever Byakuya was going to say. A flurry of movement and every captain was on the balcony and watched in shock as the white dome that encompassed the twelfth division started to fall apart. Moving in flash steps they crossed the large distance between first and twelfth in record time; time enough to see three figures fly out of the smoking wreckage.

Ichigo's distinct hair caught every eye, but what was more troubling as he faced off against the two unknown opponents was the hollow taint creeping into his signature.

AN: it's choppy, I know…it's how it wanted to be written *shrug* And I went a bit crazy with the ellipsis and the italics but, oh well :/ at least you didn't have to wait 6 months, right? ;)

Hugs,

chica