Summary: War brings out the worst in everyone. "Take this. It's a gun and I don't give a damn if you're gonna be squeamish about shooting a man in the head or not. Quite frankly kid, the motherfuckers on the battlefield won't give a damn either." AU
Pairings: Grimmjow/Rukia, Ichigo/Rukia, one-sided Hinamori/Aizen, Nanao/Shunshui, twisted! Gin/Rukia and hints at previous Byakuya/Rukia. Minor Ishida/Orihime (one-sided) and Orihime/Ichigo (one-sided).
Disclaimer: I don't own Epik High, but I own this story. I don't own Bleach, but I own the idea behind this.
Author's Note (Part One): I wanted to try something completely different and Epik High's Flow forced me from my writer's block stage and launched me into this project. I'm putting everything else on the backburner for now while I finish this two-shot. It takes place in a modern warfare scene, something of a mix between a possible World War III scenario and the events of WWII. Expect some gore and plenty of swearing. I'll be drawing some parts of the story from the manga and modifying them to suit my purposes.
"Fuck the government"
–Epik High, Flow
"What the hell do you think you're doing, boy? Get out of the way!" She launches into a roll, narrowly avoiding a grenade as it goes off with a resounding bang. Smoke closes off her vision and her eyes water as she spits debris from her mouth. By the time the air's clean enough for her to see two feet in front of her, she's already up and running for cover, dodging a barrage of bullets.
"He's got my family! I can't just turn around and run!" He shouts back amidst the noisy rattling of bullets smacking into brick walls and glass. She doubles back, grabbing the collar of his shirt and screams into his face, careful to keep them secure under the cover of an old, bent phone booth.
"They're dead, kid. Dead. And if they aren't yet, they'll be dead soon. Save yourself and start running. I've got a weapon on me and you don't. Guess who'll die first between the two of us if you sit on your ass any longer?" She spits blood onto the cement, pulling her helmet (bulletproof only in name) securely over her head and cocks back the trigger of her rifle. A figure moves in between the blur of smoke and gray pollution, substantial for only seconds before her own bullet flies through the air—loudly echoing as it shatters glass and ricochets harmlessly into an alleyway. She turns her head to see if the strange orange-haired idiot from earlier is still with her, and is relieved to see that he's gone. "Hide and seek, asshole. I'll get you soon enough," she hisses from clenched teeth at the unknown enemy before edging carefully out of the safety of the phone booth.
Stop. Turn. Run.
She inhales sharply as three bullets lodge in the side of her body, taking comfort in the fact that the boy is unharmed. He backs away, stunned and more than a little frightened at the sight of her blood spilling all over the place. She twists her face into something between a snarl and a sneer, feeling blood beginning to flood into her mouth. "What part of run did you not get?" She's gasping for breath and his image is fading, but she's got bigger things to worry about—like the boy's imminent death and a waste of her life if he sticks around any longer. "Don't just stand there! You can either run and hope to God that the man who shot me won't get you or you can take my rifle and kill him."
She throws her rifle at his head with surprising strength and watches as he catches it on pure instinct. His face is still astonished and she breathes heavily, knowing that he'll end up dead in the end anyways. "I've--I've never…I mean…" he blabbers incoherently, gesturing wildly at the foreign weapon in his hands.
"Just pull the goddamn trigger at whatever moves and pray that you kill him. It's either you or it's them." She collapses against the wall, half sliding as her body haphazardly slants to the side. The rough bricks dig into the back of her head and her left side has gone completely numb. She closes her eyes and waits for the sound of the boy's body to hit the ground—dead from stupidity. That would make two idiots lying in a puddle of their own blood. How romantic.
A rapid series of shots, something hard slicing open her cheek. A gun clattering against the sidewalk as it skitters past her, a set of heavy boots stopping in front of her. She can't stop the soft moan of pain that escapes her as a pair of rough hands drag her to her feet before throwing her over their shoulders. She wonders briefly if the boy died an easy and painless death or if the bullet's lodged in his stomach, the acid ripping him apart inside out.
"I know you're alive. Your breathing gives it away, Kuchiki Rukia." She cracks open her eyes and sees a broad set of shoulders and a strong chest. A tattoo of a jaguar's head decorates her abductor's bicep and she smells gunpowder and hints of alcohol on his body. "Commander Aizen requested that you be brought to him alive, a bit of a hassle when you were dodging left and right." She tries to say something biting and mocking at him, but the blood spreads thickly across the base of her throat and she can't get a single word out. She settles for flicking open her wrist blade and driving it into his rib cage.
"Bitch!" He curses and pulls the weapon out with a sickening slide of metal through tissue and muscle. He kicks it away from him and promptly digs his thumb into her bullet-ridden side, relieved when she stops struggling and fades to unconsciousness. "Fuck, she's more trouble than she's worth, Schiffer. Take her while I get some bandages from the pack to stop the bleeding."
The somber faced man nods in response, arms outstretched robotically. "You were careless," he remarks quietly—mechanically and shifts the petite soldier in his arms. His blue-haired, tattooed partner snarls in anger and rips a piece of bandage wrap with his mouth.
"Who the fuck cares? She's here and she's alive—barely. We're good with the Commander. Did you kill the sad piece of shit that she nearly killed herself for? He nearly cost us our ticket to Aizen's good graces and God knows I can't really afford that right now." He cracks his neck, holstering his handgun and tying the bandage securely around his torso. His steps are heavy and solid as he makes his way through the demolished streets of another Japanese town. "Those rebels are everywhere nowadays, like rats. I don't even see what the hell's so important about this town either. It's practically swarming with people ready to take a bull's eye shot at our heads. Sooner we're out of here, sooner I'll feel better about taking my hand off of the trigger."
"He escaped alive. He managed to kill one of my lieutenants while I was busy trying to locate Kuchiki. It matters little whether he survives or not though, people as useless as him are simply trash to the world." Schiffer's tone is condescending, but in a bland and toneless way that only a Colonel of his ranking can manage. Even Grimmjow wonders how he can manage to be so…boring in the midst of an apocalyptic war. But that's what's so amazing about the emotionless man in the end, the ability to simply not care about human life. Sometimes, Grimmjow feels jealous. He still cares about living and that makes him inferior in battle.
"Rookie luck," Grimmjow spits out, turning an unconcerned face to the chipped sidewalks. "Did ya hear about the newest rumor on their side? Apparently, some Chinese poison expert decided to lend some help to these sad runts. She's supposed to be only a couple miles away. If I got the time, I might want to knock her off. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up saving Aizen the trouble of yet another biological weapon pointing at his headquarters. He was pissed off enough when the Russians found out where we were and decided to drop a not-so-friendly Ebola virus smack dab in the middle of everything. Now imagine the brutish Chinks. They're hella smart and after the Russians, they got the best technology for mass murder."
A disdainful stare is all he receives. The lower ranking colonel of the two frowns defensively and crushes a stray pebble underneath his combat boots. Further down the street, a kid screams in recognition and breaks into tears next to his sister's dead body. Grimmjow pretends he doesn't hear and Ulquiorra doesn't even bother to lift his eyes from the limp body dangling in his grip. "Say…" Grimmjow breaks in thoughtfully, teal eyes glinting with suspicion and intelligence unknown for someone of his background. "Kuchiki Rukia, eh? She isn't related to Kuchiki Byakuya, by any chance is she?"
Kuchiki Byakuya, better known as General Kuchiki to allies and enemies alike. Infamous to his enemies as a sniper who never missed his target and celebrated by his allies for allowing morale to remain above desperately low levels. There were those who whispered that the man was made of pure steel resolve and skill, unblinking as he killed man after man in cold blood. He was also reported to have died in a fortunate accidental nuclear bombing. Aizen had decided to change targets last minute from New York City to Seattle City, catching the illustrious General at the perfect time. Many a Fascist following man had rested easy the night that the death was reported.
"She was his sister. Adopted."
An obscene smile stretches its way across Grimmjow's face as he lets loose a crude laugh. "Sure that isn't just a cover for fucktoy? I mean, she's a bit on the short side, but she looks pretty enough. She's got a nice face."
A look of disgust flashes across the other Colonel's face for a brief second before vanishing into a mask of apathy. "Refrain from making such comments in my presence. They are neither intelligent nor pertinent to the war effort."
Neither of them notices the bruised and battered face peering at them from behind the cover of a trashcan.
-One down, twelve to go-
Those sanctimonious bastards.
Ichigo's fists are clenched by his side and his neck cords bulge against skin. Blood is rushing to his head and the female officer's gun is still in his grip. His family was always sympathetic towards the China-Japan-America-Russian Federation alliance in the brewing war. The fact that his inability to act had cost the life of a girl he didn't even know stings, even in the aftermath of discovering his alive and mostly unharmed father and two sisters. He'd untied them and promised to be back, following the two strange officers who had taken the girl's unconscious body away. Now they were sauntering around his virtually demolished town as if they owned the damn place.
His hands shake from where they are gripping the gun too tight, inexperienced fingers periodically squeezing the trigger before releasing once more. He could take a shot right now, right with the black haired officer's head turned away from him. He could take a shot and rely on luck to carry the bullet through the man's brain. "Move, move." He whispers harshly to his arm in the shadows of the tin trashcan. He has to shoot now before they're gone to a place where he can't follow. Stiff and unyielding, his arm remains unmoving at his side. The gun falls to the floor, his hands burying themselves in his dusky orange hair. Desperation tastes bitter on his tongue, almost as bitter as the gunpowder invading his lungs and his blood with every passing moment.
"You want to get her back, huh?"
He jumps, whirling around fully ready to pick up the gun and shoot. He's scared out of his wits, wondering when the next hydrogen bomb will go off, or if it will go off right now in his hometown. His heart hammers furiously away at his ribcage and his breath comes out in short, hyperventilating breaths. The speaker is smiling in a knowing way, wry and cynical, twinkling eyes peering out from beneath a curtain of dirty, blond hair. He looks like the type of man on the streets from time to time, whistling a tune from the old patriotic days, throwing crumbs for the birds at a park to peck at. The army uniform looks completely out of place on the stranger's lazy frame, contrasting sharply with a striped top hat sitting placidly on the crown of his head. "I…what?" He asks, bewildered by the grenades strapped securely to the visible part of a vest.
"You want to get her back." No longer a question, just a simple and flat statement. He extends a hand forward, mottled and stained with charcoal and acids. "Name's Urahara. I'm what they call a demoted four-star general. Those two guys that took the girl away are Sixth Colonel Grimmjow Jeagerjacques and Fourth Colonel Ulquiorra Schiffer. I noticed you wanted to shoot the latter, but your arm didn't move. It seems like your instincts are sharper than your mind. You wouldn't have lived another minute if you'd decided to take your potshot at Schiffer. Even I wouldn't have aimed at him, and I'm a full-fledged army officer." Urahara shrugs casually, propping his own rifle by his leg and scratching thoughtfully at his chin. "That girl who saved your scrawny ass is Kuchiki Rukia. She's kind of important to the Allied Forces, so I'll help you get her back. You owe her after all."
"How?" Desperation. Pleading. He's never hated himself more than in that one moment of begging for information that only a stranger has. Don't trust. Can't trust. No allies. Fight for yourself.
A crooked grin, a strange flash of uncertainty replaced by a guarded smile once again. "First, you need to learn how to kill a man with your bare hands. Then, I'll show you fifty ways to shoot a gun. That rifle she gave you? It's the best model there is right now, even better than my own. In the next ten days, it's going to become your best friend and a part of your soul. You lose it on the battlefield, and you'll be signing your own death warrant. You got anyone willing to help you out? This isn't a one-man job."
"There's a girl, but she can't stand violence. She'll probably be only good for patching wounds and stopping massive bleeding. I've got two other guys that might be helpful though. Should I see if I can find them?" It's a dumb question, Ichigo knows. And from the mocking expression on Urahara's face, the other man knows it too. He trips over his own words in an attempt to say something else, latch onto some other subject so he can forget the fact that he's just killed his very first person. The guilt will come later and so will the trauma, but there's simply no time right now to stop and think about it. A part of him hopes that there will never be any time to think of his actions. "When and where should I find you?"
"You won't be finding me, kid. I'll be finding you." Urahara yawns widely, jaws cracking before raising a hand into a lazy salute. "Try not to get yourself killed in between tonight and tomorrow morning, alright?"
Ichigo nods his assent, feeling much like a child in a party exclusively for adults. His hands reach out for Rukia's rifle, pure white but scratched in some areas. Unthinkingly, he rips a part of his shirt off to wipe the marks off of the weapon. He knows the absurdity of the situation is amazing. He knows that to any sane person, he looks like a psychologically traumatized patient freshly escaped from a mental facility—blinded and dazzled by reality. Shoulders hunched with an unspeakable burden, he turns his gaze away from the dirty path where his savior was last seen in the hands of the enemy and trudges back to his father and two sisters. He's a soldier now, and soldiers don't belong in society.
"Sir, we're losing, are we not?" Nanao's voice is crystalline clear, her hands precise as they handle the fine instruments of her lab. She isn't wearing the customary protective suit and the only thing standing between her and the deadliest strain of Ebola on earth is a pair of latex gloves. She knows she should be more careful; Ebola Zaire after all, has a mortality rate of ninety percent. Highly contagious and as bloody as it is painful, she knows better than to handle it without anything short of a full-fledged HAZ-MAT suit. But the days are growing steadily bleaker and despite Supreme Commander Yamamoto's constant attempts to raise morale, she knows what's happening. They are losing and their only hope is the miniscule and nearly invisible strain of Ebola carefully cradled in her hands. She's past caring about simple things like human lives by now.
"Don't say things like that. You make it seem like there's no hope left for us." Shunsui sounds tired, an observation only further solidified by the dark shadows flickering under his eyes. Wrinkles from laughter have molded themselves into ones of sheer exhaustion instead.
"Kuchiki Rukia was taken two hours ago, if intelligence is to be believed. The Chinese Infiltration Corps' leader, Soi Fong, doubts that a ransom or a note will be posted. They have taken our Queen and our King is sure to follow." She carefully maneuvers the small Ebola specimen back into its petri dish with a pair of tweezers as she speaks, her words somber and stark all at once.
"So intelligent, aren't you, my dear Nanao." Shunsui smiles with a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, pushing a lock of greasy and unwashed hair away from his eyes. The scratched helmet on his head topples heavily on his head and falls to the floor, startling the both of them. "But we don't even have a King yet. Old man Yamamoto can't count as the king on our side and the Russians are busy holding back the French offensive with China. They seem to have forgotten about this part of the world and the German forces sweeping up and down Japan."
She coughs lightly, bringing a hand to her forehead, wiping away a trickle of sweat. The room grows silently stifling and she wonders why it feels as if her insides are on fire. It's probably just exhaustion, she muses to herself and avoids meeting Shunsui's concerned gaze. "The sample's been prepared, you might want to let me handle it from here on out. It's not properly contained and I don't want to risk anyone's life on this besides mine, General." She coughs again, wet and sick, panic overloading her senses like an excess of perfume—suffocating and all consuming.
"Nanao…" There's knowledge lurking in his eyes, knowledge of a terrible kind, such as the one that Adam and Eve gained when they partook from the apple tree of sin. He doesn't voice it though, the words dying (like embers, like flickering flames, dry and insignificant) in the back of his throat. He musters a smile, wavering and shimmering like an ill-cast mirage in the dim lighting of the room. "Alright. I got it."
She strikes a sharp salute, perfectly aligned at a thirty-degree angle with her glistening forehead. She clicks the heels of her shoes together and turns, ready to unleash a horror yet unknown to mankind upon the world. Her mind is spinning with questions of morality and sanity and bits and pieces of self-mockery. She trembles and puts one foot in front of the other, swaying unsteadily as the room seems to grow absolutely unbearably hot. This is wrong, she doesn't need any angel to tell her that. But this is a world war and it isn't as if any of them will live to see tomorrow in the end, anyways. What does it matter if a country's population is wiped out through nuclear warfare or a biological contamination? She adjusts her glasses shakily, the lenses shining ominously as the world's map stares back at her—targets blinking bright red.
Sometimes, Eighth Colonel Nanao Ise wishes that the world could rewind itself back to a time of fragile peace and tangible delusions.
"General, do you think that it is right for me to dictate the fate of millions of lives?" Her hand rests against the doorway, steadying her as she fights for the ever-present control she needs to—she has to—have.
"You know it's unfair to ask questions like that during a war, dear Nanao."
She smiles, feeling the fever sear itself into her forehead and coughs again. "Of course, how silly of me."
Chad is used to living without a roof over his head. It's one of the few good things that come with being born into poverty. Sitting on the concrete sidewalk with his back scraping the surface of the hard brick, he smiles and enjoys every single breath he takes. Above, high above the floating mass of death and turmoil and pollution from weapons and missiles, Chad knows that there will be a clear blue sky.
Next to him, Ishida frowns in displeasure at his dirty and torn outfit. He doesn't bother to lift his eyes to the sky, knowing that only a gray canvas awaits him there. Cynical and aloof even until the very end, he sits, prim in his posture. They make for an odd picture together, sitting side by side. Where Chad is muscularly built by nature, Ishida is slim and almost effeminate. Where Chad reigns in silence, Ishida speaks in a language of analysis and cold-hard facts.
They both wonder if they will live to see tomorrow.
"Chad! Ishida!" Their heads turn as one, weary eyes focusing on a distant figure running pell-mell through the war-zone. It's a figure they both recognize and both feel some semblance of hope take root again within their exhausted, teenage bodies. It's a terrible thought to have, Ishida knows, to think that a good friend of yours is dead and to just let them go like that. Perhaps what's even more disgusting is to think that they are lucky to be dead while you wander listlessly in a murdered city of souls. They are not really human anymore, merely dry husks that breathe and speak without a semblance of heart or emotion. He feels that the gears of war are grinding his bones into finely powdered poison. Nauseating. Sickening. War. War. War. He supposes it is mankind's punishment in the end.
"Ichigo, word was that you were dead. We tried to locate your house, but it was completely wrecked and we didn't think anyone survived." Ishida doesn't mention the envy that had coiled deep in his stomach at the thought of the peace that rested after death. He doesn't mention the quiet acceptance of his mind or the lack of any sorrow for just another perceived casualty of war. There are some things that Ichigo simply doesn't need to know.
"I would be dead right now." Ichigo answers somberly, the white rifle in his hands gleaming innocently in the rays of light filtering through the gaps of the polluted and dying sky. "A soldier, some girl…she saved me. She took three bullets for me and I just stood by, completely useless as those bastards took her away. I'm not going to stay down anymore like a dog ready to be put down. And I don't care if I die in the end with a bullet through my head. I'm going to join the army and I'm going to find that girl and get her back." It's the first trace of life that Ishida has seen in his friend for a long, long time, and he can't help the soft smile that curves his lips.
"You'll die out there." He points out, always the rational thinker in their little group.
There's a pause as Chad stares moodily at the ground and Ichigo scratches his head thoughtfully, awkwardly. "At least I'll die fighting. I owe the girl one and I'll get her back. No one deserves to die in the hands of an enemy."
"Poignant," Ishida remarks calmly, gloved fingers pushing up eyeglasses that are cracked from one too many close calls. But he doesn't mind, it means he's still alive, not quite dead yet in a world spiraling towards an absolutely magnificent apocalyptical end. He doesn't mind, even if the spider web crack blocks his view of Ichigo's naïve and boyish face. "Why are you telling us this?"
"Because I can't do this alone. I know you hate violence and I don't know if Chad's willing to walk through fire for some faceless girl. But I'm going to ask you guys because there's no one else who'll be able to back me up like you guys do." He breathes in, breathes out, watching the dust particles trace obscure patterns in the air. "A former general saw what happened and volunteered to help train us starting tomorrow."
"If he's a former general, than why didn't he help the two of you out?"
Neck cords bulging, anger rising and simmering, fingers clenching around whitewashed metal and steel. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm this rising tide. "Because, the people that took her away were colonels in Aizen's army. Even if he'd tried to help, he probably would've died and she would've been taken anyways."
"Tomorrow then," Ishida mutters, flexing his fingers from within the seamless fabric of his gloves. "This had better be worth it."
"You know I will follow you, Ichigo." Chad answers, voice gravelly and pitched unbelievably low. "But Orihime will want to come as well, you know how she hates to be separated from you."
"She won't be fighting. She's too soft for that and she'll only get hurt in the end. I'll ask her as soon as possible though, we'll need someone to help us medically."
Seven miles away from them, a trembling brown-haired girl stares into the muzzle of a gun, perfectly ready to die.
-Two down, eleven to go-
Byakuya's hands are warm as they apply an icepack to her aching and throbbing head. She murmurs something and he shifts away, always the picture of the stoic leader of men. Her eyes flutter open, eyelashes quivering like the delicate wings of swallowtail butterflies by lamplight at night. Her throat is parched and her voice is anything but sweet and soothing when she speaks, but she knows he doesn't care. He doesn't love her for her looks or feminine ways after all. He loves her for her spirit and the way she always plows forward in battle, head held high and death in her eyes.
"Byakuya…how long?" She asks, her body protesting as she shifts into a sitting position.
"Long enough. You were out for close to a week. The bullet wound wasn't carefully treated for, so you contracted an infection." He pauses, taking in the closed doors of the room and the way her eyes glimmer with the lingering effects of a ravaging fever. "I was worried." It's a difficult thing to admit, especially for a man of such pride, especially for a prominent General thrust into the chokehold of war. "I have to go to Seattle City soon. There's a spy who's been targeted and the longer he stays alive, the harder it will be for us to win."
Five months. The third world war had been going on for five months and it still didn't show any signs of stopping. Privately, Rukia thinks that this war is one that won't end until all life is completely wiped out. "I see," she comments, fingers tapping idly at the bandages wrapping around her arm. And she does see, she sees and understands what no else does: why Byakuya fights so hard and why he sacrifices himself on the battlefield. For every kiss they share, for every burning touch, for every kind word and soft vows of love, he feels the need to balance his sins with his actions. What they have between them is worse than wrong; it is an unforgivable crime against humanity. It is a rigged scale they play with, the balance always tipping towards 'Hell' rather than 'Heaven', always towards 'evil' rather than 'good.' For every shot fired by his hands (her hands), for every enemy to hit the ground choking on his spit and blood, they are paying part of their soul to feed an illicit love.
Nothing can be gained without first losing something of equal value.
She is dying. He is dying. And the knowledge that they will die together emboldens her to step forward into a barrage of machine guns during battle.
How could she have known back then that he wouldn't be returning, or that she would have no way of following him?
Hand pressed to a scarred heart, lungs furiously pumping oxygen to blood that is rushing, swirling, running somewhere. Eyes wide open now, pain screaming in her mind, a flood of memories passing before her. Something wet and sticky is running down her left side.
"Moving that much probably won't do any good for your side, girl." She turns to the speaker and has no trouble connecting his rough, bored expression with the same guy she'd knifed earlier on. "Staring at me dumbly probably won't help you either. I don't die that easily and your cheap shot didn't have any power behind it anyways." He pushes himself off of the wall of the blank room and strolls casually towards her, callused hands thrust in his pockets and a cigarette trailing smoke out of the corner of his mouth.
"Who the hell are you?" She demands, watching as her words seem to echo emptily back at her. She hates this room, so white with its hints of purity, so devoid of life, of soul. How dare it remain intact when she's already lost her hometown and her only family? Her fingers twitch for a rifle that is no longer by her side, a sudden impulse to damage this pristine room taking over her.
"None of your damn business. I'm just the guy with the dumb luck to pull the short straw of the bunch. Trust me, I'd rather be putting some ally of yours out of their misery than here talking to you." He eyes her critically for a moment and huffs, tossing the cigarette from his mouth to the floor and crushing it with the heel of his right combat boot. It leaves a black, smudged mark on the otherwise white floor and she finds herself silently thanking him. Even if he is the enemy. "You've opened your wounds again. God, can't you do anything right? You run and dodge when all we're trying to do is capture you alive. You almost get yourself killed while saving some runt. Heroic, but fucking stupid, by the way. And after an hour of stitching you up, you up and ruin my handiwork in just a couple of seconds. Dammit girl, you're way more trouble than you're worth."
"Hey, bastard." She hisses, fingers tightening around the bed sheets. "You were the one who shot me first, three times too. Overkill, much?"
He leans forward, roughened fingers tilting her head up in an almost violent contest of wills. She recoils from the scent of blood, sweat, gunpowder, and an overwhelming amount of cigarette smoke that seems to be deeply woven into his body. She recoils from his touch, neither gentle nor kind, but purely carnal and angry. She rejects him and his intense teal eyes, his tattooed body, and the gun resting in his other hand. "Look, bitch. If you're going to point fingers at people, at least have the decency to point them at the right people. I didn't even fire a single shot—at you or that dumbass kid you were protecting. It was one-hundred-percent Schiffer quality. Damn good quality too, considering he got you three times in the arm."
"I'm honored," her sarcasm drips effortlessly from her dagger sharp tongue. "I should have him autograph those bullets and sell it on ebay for three thousand dollars apiece."
"You're crazy. Now take off your shirt."
"Excuse me?" She shrieks, her right hand balling into a fist.
He laughs, a grating sound and not all too pleasant. "Chill, Kuchiki. I need to take a look at how much damage you've managed to cause yourself by reopening your wounds. Besides, I don't go for girls like you. Don't flatter yourself by thinking you're the least bit desirable. So you can either remove the shirt nicely or I can bring out my switchblade and cut it away from your body. Either way, you're not bleeding to death on my watch."
She knows he's right. He knows he's right too from the way his gloating smirk is slowly taking over his face. "Tch." In one, fluid motion, the shirt is on the floor and her scarred and bruised torso is bared to the world. "Make it quick," she snaps, to hide the discomfort of being dissected underneath his knowing gaze.
"You won't be going anywhere and neither will I. We've got all the time in the world." He replies calmly, fingers carefully (almost gently?) unwrapping the blood-soaked bandages.
Time, something she's never had enough of before. And now, stuck in an isolated room with an arrogant bastard for company, Rukia wonders what she can do with so much time on her hands.
"You might as well tell me your name. It's only fair since you know mine and your partner in crime incapacitated me." She breaks the silence of her thoughts and watches him expectantly as he mutters a string of derogatory comments about her from underneath his breath.
"Sixth Colonel Grimmjow Jeagerjacques at your service. Now will you shut up and let me fix your bleeding issue?"
She smirks, purposefully shifting away from him.
"Hitler was such a weak-minded man, wouldn't you agree with me…Gin?" Aizen's smile is serene and contemplative, the type of subtle curve associated with dreamy, bookish scholars. But the crazy and near maniacal glint in his eyes serve as Nature's warning to the world of the killer lying within—the wolf in sheep's skin.
"Dunno what yer talkin' 'bout, Commander." Gin drawls out, heavily accented words clinking as they fall from his mouth in a steady flow of deceit. First General of the German forces and Japanese-German, Ichimaru was the type of man who fought for one side because a coin flip had chanced to fall heads instead of tails. "Hitler was pretty strong, ya? He took on France, Britain, and Russia and managed to smash 'em all. America was jus' cheatin'."
"Child's play," Aizen waves his hand dismissively, one hand cupping his chin in imitation of The Thinker statue. "Hitler was a slave to his childhood and it showed in the way he used valuable resources and time rounding up the Jews, gypsies, and Slavic people when he could've just earned their support in the first place. The genocide could've been delayed until after the war and things would've been less messy. But because of his abusive Jewish father, he chose to kill his own chances at victory. Pathetic."
"Did he not suicide as well?" Tousen's cultured voice joins the conversation easily, just as his slim form slips into a seat at the conference table. Blinded since birth, Second General Tousen was considered by Aizen to be the one of the most pivotal figures of World War Three in turning the tide against the rebel allies. Formerly Ninth General of the Allied Forces, Aizen had succeeded in turning the illustrious general traitor a little over a month ago. The knowledge of how he did it still brought an illusive smile to his lips.
"Correct, Kaname. He shot his lover first before taking his own life. Once again, a weak action. A leader must be able to admit defeat graciously, by either being executed by the victors or through death on the battlefield. But I digress…the past is merely the past. No more and certainly no less." Clearing his throat, Aizen traces a finger over the rim of a wineglass, eyes fixating on Tousen's sightless stare. "How is our captive doing? According to Colonel Schiffer, she was in grave condition when she was brought here."
"Jeagerjacques has reported that her condition has stabilized. She should be ready for interrogation in three days. Until then, I have made it quite clear to him that he is to attend to her. Speaking of which, I have yet to actually see the reasoning behind her capture. You have been very loose with your explanation, Commander."
"He's jus' bein' Aizen, Tousen. No need to get all tickled 'bout it," Gin drawls out slowly, stretching long, pale limbs before standing up.
"Where are you going, Gin?" Aizen's voice is carefully neutral, the words said with his usual deliberation. It is during times like these that Gin wonders what about the man still scares him, still holds him superior over the rest. The serpentine-like man laughs his usual laugh and smiles the usual smile, all the while knowing that both can be seen through by his Commander. The thought is frightening and reassuring all at once.
"No where. Somewhere. I'll be visitin' Kuchiki, if ya don't mind."
"Of course, of course. Report back to me as soon as you're done. And Gin? Feel free to do with her as you please, I need only for her mind to be intact. Anything else is fair game." Tousen fixes a sharp stare at where he knows his leader is seated at the front of the table, a protest raised on his lips. But the silence he receives and the almost cold feeling creeping into the conference room steals his words and he says nothing, frowning in disapproval instead.
Gin's smile is frightening in its intensity and he utters a hollow laughter as he leaves the room, steps silent against the tiled floor of the hallway. "Gotcha." He has never seen her before and imagines her face to be stony silent like her adopted brother's unwavering expression. He thinks she must be tall and commanding, long black hair trailing behind her like some Empress of the Feudal Days. She should be like ice, his mind whispers, sharp and cutting, but completely breakable. He imagines it will be fun to tear her apart in every single way possible. But as he opens the door to her temporary room, his smile falters for only a second.
She is nothing like ice.
"General Ichimaru." Grimmjow gets up from his position by her side and salutes, his eyes warning the girl on the bed to stay silent. "What do you want?"
"Nuttin' much. I jus' wanted to stop by an' say hello to our resident sleepin' beauty." Piercing eyes take in the Colonel's almost flustered expression and the laughter seemingly locked within Kuchiki's crystalline, violet eyes. Interesting, Gin thinks. How absolutely interesting. But it's only a theory in his head and he says nothing, does nothing to them yet. "So…"
"She needs her rest," Grimmjow interrupts, standing his ground even as the white-haired general lifts an eyebrow in surprise at the sudden outburst. "She was shot three times and she reopened her wounds about twenty minutes ago. If you want to question her, I would suggest waiting for another day or two," he clarifies.
A smile, long fingers drumming against the wall, and a sudden, sharp gasp from Rukia as she feels the room closing in on her. "Who said I wanted ta ask her questions? I jus' came for some fun, on Commander Aizen's orders o' course." Grimmjow's flat expression twists into a cross between a snarl of hatred and a grimace at the name used. "Get outta here, Colonel. I'll be done with her in a couple minutes. Call it a favor, I thought ya didn't want ta be in here with her. Has somethin' changed?"
Grimmjow levels a stare of pure loathing at the smiling man and turns to walk out of the room, muscles bunching in his back from too much tension. "No, nothing's changed. I just didn't want you to be subjected to her annoying presence. Thank you…sir." There's a world of sarcasm and brittle mockery in the last word he says, a subtle jab at Gin's background and his attitude. No sane man on Earth, after all, would ever associate the First General with the title of 'sir.' The door closes behind him, heavy footsteps echoing from outside the walls as the Colonel leaves.
"And who do I have the pleasure of meeting?" Rukia asks, eyes flashing in a mixture of fear, loathing, and apathy.
For a moment, Gin feels disappointment. She is nothing like her adopted brother, as different from him as the moon is from the sun. Her attitude is one of eternal defiance, short and carelessly cropped hair only reflecting that personality, and there is no mask of polite disinterest on her face—only her emotions, raw and open. She wears her heart on her sleeve, he thinks and feels the thrill of the game coming back. With fire, he can be hurt. With fire, he can burn with her. She won't break easily, if at all, he knows. In the end, she may very well break him, but it only fuels his desire to try. And with those thoughts in mind, he answers her question. "I'm Aizen's right-hand man, First General Ichimaru Gin. Tell me, how is your brother doin'?"
She knows he knows that Kuchiki Byakuya is dead. She knows he's feigning ignorance to make those wounds fester from where they rest in her heart. She knows he's far more cunning than any other man she's ever met and that he is here to crush her—one way or another. Yet even with that knowledge, she can't help the sharp pain that flares through her at the mention of what she had—what she could've had. "Shut up. He's doing far better than you will ever do, in life or in death."
"Ah, that's right. He died, didn't he? Terribly sorry, how could I've forgotten? After all, I was the one who told Aizen to target Seattle City."
"You fucking bastard." Rukia throws off the sheets, thankful that Grimmjow had asked her to put on her shirt minutes before this bastard walked into her life. Her anger greater than any amount of pain possible, she stands, feet firm against the cold marble floor. "I swear to God, if it's the last thing I do…I'll kill you. When I'm done with you, they won't be able to find a single piece of you let alone be able to bury you."
"Violent, aren't cha?"
"You don't know even half of it," she retorts, all righteous anger and burning fire. He wonders if she knows that this fire of hers will kill herself in the end.
"How was he, in the end? Do you know if he called out your name as his body was burnt into ashes? Or was he cursing you for being alive?"
"Get the fuck out, Ichimaru." Grimmjow's figure is suddenly in between the two of them, hands pushing Rukia back onto the bed even as he spits in the General's face. "That's low—even for a slimy bastard like you. Aizen's calling for his bitch, casualty reports are in for the day. In the northwest corner, Yammi's finally kicked the goddamn bucket and it seems like the Allied Forces lost a Colonel." Insensitive to the suddenly ashen face of the female soldier behind him, the irate man continues on, wanting nothing more than to slam his fist into the bastard's face. "Abarai Renji, Sixth Colonel, and reportedly Former General Kuchiki's second-in-command. Seems like he was killed by friendly fire."
Gin smiles and memorizes the pale and nearly lifeless face staring back at him from the bed. "You don't say…how fascinatin'. Well, I'll be leavin' now. Ya might wanna up that recovery date, she looks like she's 'bout ta faint."
"Abarai…" she murmurs and sees nothing but red.
-Four down, nine to go-
Morning crawls on trembling legs over the sky and Ichigo is there to greet it, with a rifle in one hand and the remnants of burnt toast in the other. His eyes are shadowed with the look of a hunted man and his eyes feel as if they have been frozen into a permanently open position. Ishida coughs delicately next to him and Chad is as silent as the dead from his position on the floor, legs sprawled and eyes closed in peace. He doesn't know how to break the news to the other two, doesn't know if he even wants to break the news to them at all. Some things, after all, are better left unsaid. But he has an obligation to tell them and he knows this like he knows his name is Kurosaki Ichigo.
Ishida's reaction is violent in its motion, his neck snapping rigidly upright. "How?" He demands, teeth grinding harshly against one another. "Who would do that to her?"
"She did it to herself." And the truth is horrifying to the bedraggled group of three, passing like an arrow—a bullet through their minds. Ichigo still finds himself reeling from the image painted into his head, seared into the back of his eyelids. "I found the gun in her hands. No one else could've done that."
Her pretty, cheery face plastered in bits and pieces on the wall behind her. Her body slumped sidewise against the abandoned warehouse door, hinges squeaking painfully as the wind pushes and shoves against the world. The blood pooling into a puddle, staining her frayed school uniform, and reaching out in tendrils for him. A single eye staring back at him as it rocks back and forth inches before his feet.
"Quite a motley bunch you've assembled here, boy." And the silence is interrupted by the former four-star general's sardonic and ridiculously bright voice. But the brightness is fake, just like the smile on the man's face. Life isn't about the liars anymore; it's about the truth-tellers. Dead men, after all, don't tell lies. Nowadays, they were the only honest ones left on Earth. "I thought you said you had a female friend who could help patch you guys up if you needed it. Where is she?"
Ichigo exhales a sharp breath and kicks a stray pebble into the ravaged streets. "Dead. Committed suicide sometime yesterday." His answer is blunt and devoid of any emotion, a lie to cover up the extra shine in his eyes caused by unshed tears. He needs to be strong now, especially now. Perhaps sometime later, in the safety of his bullet-ridden room under the cover of night, he can afford to say a silent prayer for Inoue's soul. But later is not now and he pretends that it doesn't matter—that nothing really matters anymore.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Urahara replies, sincere and deadly serious for a moment. "But you're all going to end up dying one way or another. It's just a question of if you want to take some of the enemy down with you to Hell or not. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow, the kid with the glasses next to you will find the prospect of death a happy one and pull the trigger. Maybe in a week, the big guy next to you will get shot down by a sniper from fifty feet away. Maybe you'll live past this war, but the radiation will kill you in ten years tops." Then he's back to smiling that lazy smile of his and he points a finger to the left of their gathering.
Ichigo sees them before the other two do. From a distance away, he can barely make out the figure of a purple-haired African American woman and a spiky-haired, muscular man. He turns back to Urahara, a question on the tip of his tongue, but answered before given a chance to reach the light of day.
"They are two of the best fighters on the field on our side. The tough guy is five-star General Zaraki Kenpachi and the one with the purple hair is former five-star General Yoruichi. She's as stealthy as a cat and you'll learn how to get yourself out of the worst situations without alerting the enemy to your presence. Zaraki's built on brute force and he'll be telling you how to use a gun properly. I'll be your final test before we send you to plea your case to Commander Yamamoto. Depending on how well you listen to them and how easily you can remember their advice, you'll either survive your first battle or be the decapitated guy on the ground."
"I can't believe you called us here to help this sad-looking bunch of kids." Yoruichi speaks up, brushing dirt off of her unique outfit. She isn't dressed in traditional army garb, but rather covered from neck to foot in a light, cottony material that allows for easy movement. Her entire frame is slight, made for speedy movements. Ichigo wonders if she's the type of person who can dodge bullets without breaking a sweat and laughs at the absurdity of the idea.
"When do the heads start rolling? Yachiru won't be happy if this takes me more than a week." Up close, Kenpachi towers over everyone—including Chad. Indeed, staring up into an eye socket covered by a solid black eye patch, Ichigo is thankful that the man is on their side. He can't imagine the terror he'd feel if he were the enemy.
"Will we be starting with basic training?" Ishida asks quietly and finds himself slammed into the wall by a flying gun diving into his gut.
"Basic training is for scrawny little shits. It doesn't do anything in real life. Now take this. It's a gun and I don't give a damn if you're gonna be squeamish about shooting a man in the head or not. Quite frankly kid, the motherfuckers on the battlefield won't give a damn either. Your training starts with the three of you trying to put a bullet through my arm."
"You're joking," Ichigo sputters and Chad raises himself to a standing position, one hand firmly wrapped around the pistol thrown to him.
Kenpachi's stare is terrifying even with one eye missing. "Do I look like the type that jokes around? I'm not one of your high school buddies, you sad little fuck. I'm your teacher for this week and if you don't learn fast enough, I'll put you out of your misery well enough."
Yoruichi grins, cat-like. "Welcome to reality, boys."
"I've been expecting someone to come find me sooner or later," Soi Fong comments idly, spinning around from her position in the chair. "Unfortunately, you'll find me a bit harder to kill than your average soldier." She gracefully leaps into a backwards flip, her spine curving before her hands hit the floor. The bullets hit the wall behind her and rip into the previously occupied chair. Her lab coat flutters in the air and she gets back up, her own gun held firmly in place.
"And here I thought you science freaks didn't know how to fight." Grimmjow grins, baring his teeth in the process as he reloads his pistol. He hadn't thought to bring his AK-47 when he'd left a psychologically traumatized Rukia back at headquarters. Then again, he hadn't thought that the Chinese poison expert would turn out to be an ass kicking, Colt-29 wielding, and gymnastic-flipping woman either. He dodges her shots by diving to the side, the back of his head connecting painfully with the shards of a broken test tube. "You like kinda familiar…" He murmurs and inspects her carefully without sticking his head too far out in her range of fire. From her two long, black braids to her slanted onyx eyes to her slim and small figure, Grimmjow arches in eyebrow up in surprise—the memory of a similar female bringing a smooth smile to his chapped lips. "Related to the Spy Corps leader?"
She fires off a shot, nearly taking off his nose, but succeeding in giving him an early haircut anyways. "What are you talking about?" There's a pause as she reloads and she ducks behind the desk as he answers her lapse with a smattering of bullets on his side. "I am the Spy Corps leader. It's your lucky day; you've hit the jackpot. Now you just need to survive long enough to bring the money home."
He shifts closer to her, feet carefully avoiding shards of glass. Brute force isn't the answer to her problem. He can hear her gun jam in the eerie silence and takes the chance to completely close up behind her, a strong arm digging into her neck. He gives her enough room to breathe, (barely enough to survive, and her rasps of breath echo like Death back and forth and around the room again). "It isn't a question of bringing the money home, lady. It never has been. I'm just here to stop you from contributing to any future casualties. If it's any consolation, though… I hate killing worthy opponents."
In a moment of déjà vu, she drives a sharp and jagged knife into his leg, missing the main artery but cutting unbelievably deep nonetheless. Unlike Rukia's earlier weakened blow, Soi Fong's movement is minimal, conserving all her remaining energy into slamming the tip home. And it hurts, like a sharp flare of pain; it hurts a bitch of a lot more than Rukia's cheap shot. He doesn't let his grip around her neck slacken though and she tilts her head up to smile at him from a slowly purpling face. "You'll be dead in three days at most," she gasps out.
He breaks her neck after her words and stumbles away, letting her dead body hit the floor.
The poison courses through his veins like liquid fire, writhing this way and that as it flows from blood vessel to blood vessel to heart. The pain isn't too bad, he thinks, which is the worst possible scenario for him. It's always the kindest poisons that last the longest. Three days. Three glorious days. He takes a look at his wristwatch and limps his way out of her office, past the bodies of her security guards—lifeless.
Ripping a part of his uniform off, he fashions a temporary tourniquet around the stab wound and curses women soldiers and their penchants for concealed knives. He waits until the pain seems a little better and slings a leg over his motorcycle, gunning the engine. He has fifteen miles to go before he can even get some decent medical aid and even longer until he reaches base.
He's got miles and miles to go.
Ulquiorra isn't the least bit surprised when he sees Grimmjow faltering off his motorcycle. Carelessness always ends in punishment, and the Sixth Colonel is only reaping what he sows. "She did not die without a fight, correct?" He asks, seeking confirmation and expecting the usual brutish answer. Certainly he does not expect the response that he receives in place of the anger and cursing.
"Remember what Halibel once said to us? She said that if we were to die, we should aim to kill the person killing us. Let's just say that the Chinese poison expert lived and died by that principle. She got me in the leg, about a good inch in and the entire blade was dipped in poison. Her last words were to inform me that I have around three days left, give or take a couple hours based on how much I want to live." Grimmjow's words are coolly stated and he cracks his neck, working out the kinks before limping in the direction of the medical ward. "I've already had it patched up at the branch closest to where she lived, but I figure I might as well as dull the pain with morphine. It probably won't do shit for me in the end, but I don't feel like spending the next hours of my life screaming in pain either. It's been a good trip, Schiffer. Even if you have a stick stuck up your ass and pretend that you couldn't care less about anyone."
Camaraderie is for fools and weak-minded simpletons. This, Ulquiorra knows better than anyone else. He knows he will regret the loss of a good ally and a good soldier sometime before his own death. Sometime when he's looking back at the times when they've gone on recon missions together, always with Jeagerjacques complaining about something or the other, filling up the blank silence with his nearly invincible and boisterous attitude. Sometime then, perhaps he will regret the loss of such a strange friendship. For now, he merely gazes at the determined (even in the face of death, perhaps especially in the face of death) back of Grimmjow and turns to his own quarters, a bit more troubled than before.
"You're back," Rukia states, less pale than before. "You don't look too well."
He gives a careless and cocky grin, sitting down on her bed, leg propped up on the left bedpost. "I always look good. Even if I get poisoned and stabbed by certain Chinese experts." She doesn't mention the pasty white creeping up on the edges of his face or the loss of focus in his teal eyes. She especially doesn't mention the slight twinge in her heart that echoes a much greater grief for the loss of her one and only lover.
"Soi Fong. You're lucky you didn't die on the spot." She does not care for the loss of yet another person on her side. In these days, the sides in a war have lost all meaning. She doesn't even remember the reasoning behind the fighting, the dirty politics that have sent millions of humans marching to their graves. She looks at the grinning, dying Colonel in front of her and wonders if things would've been different if they'd met in a different time and a different place. "How long do you have?"
He leans back against the headboard next to her and holds up three fingers, whistling a tune from the days of peace. "Count 'em. I won't be taking any more jobs from Aizen. I figure it's the least he can do to pay me back for my steadfast dedication to his fucked up cause or other." He flicks her on the forehead and watches as her eyes narrow in anger and irritation. "I guess you'll have to put up with me for three whole days."
She stares at him in disbelief and runs a hand through her hair out of agitation. "You're sleeping on the floor."
"Way to treat a dying man," he jabs back at her and she flinches. "Hey, don't take it that seriously. Life is short, better to spend whatever time I have left talking to someone who actually responds than a stone wall or a fucked up General."
"War changes your opinion on time, doesn't it?" She asks, whispering to herself that she doesn't care if he's going to die—that it doesn't matter. She doesn't care, doesn't, can't, nor wants to care. But it is that part of the human mind, the part that denies every last truth that unveils the truth in the end. And even as she refuses to acknowledge her concern for him, he realizes that there'd be no other place he'd rather spend his dying days in.
"War changes everything, Kuchiki."
-Five down, eight to go-
The white-haired man coughs, ignoring the horrified and worried expressions of his two colonels. The illness is taking his body, piece by piece, and soon there will be nothing left. Still, he smiles cheerfully at the world as if nothing is wrong, as if there is no burning pain infesting his lungs and every breath. "I suppose Yamamoto will be very unhappy in a few hours. General Unohana has just informed me that I will most likely lapse into a coma soon. But she has reassured me that the pain will not be too severe and I shall pass quite peacefully into the next realm."
His words do nothing to quell the air of sadness clinging to every pore of the room.
Thirteenth General Jyuushiro Ukitake is a much-loved man, powerful for his ability to win the hearts of his soldiers and the respect of his fellow officers. More influential than any other general in the total of thirteen under Yamamoto's command, numerous privates and lieutenants have followed him to the grave out on the deadly battlefields. Lying down serenely on the hospital bed, Ukitake remembers days of regret and promises left unfulfilled.
He wonders if Kaien can see him now, frail and at the end of his life's rope, and if the man will greet him warmly on the other side. He wonders if Rukia will be there to smile at him, or if she is still alive, tangled in the web of their enemies. He has failed them both. To the faithful Colonel Shiba who watched his wife gunned down in front of his eyes and went insane from shell shock, Ukitake offers his last prayers. To the new recruit, small but determined even back then, who was forced to put her idol out of his misery, he offers his last hopes. To the memory of them—and the memory of his failures, the dying General offers his last dreams.
To the living world hanging onto every one of his last breaths, the world-weary General offers nothing.
And nothing is what greets him as he gives into the darkness.
-Six down, seven to go-
To be continued
Author's Notes Part Two: To those of you who have stuck through this 10,000+ word chapter, I congratulate you. I know that there may be some discrepancies and fact differences within the story so far (I apologize for this), but I simply don't have the energy to make everything resemble reality as much as possible. The second part will be up before June gets here and it is tentatively titled Punishment: Termination. It will be posted underneath Punishment as the second chapter, but expect an even more gloomy and desperate spiral to the finish. Once again, this was all inspired by Epik High and their amazing, heart wrenching, and angry songs. Please, PLEASE drop a comment. I have poured the past month of energy into this and I'd really appreciate some feedback.
Sneak Preview: Grimmjow's gun is cold in her hands, even colder than her old rifle's handle. Strangely enough though, her heart is filled with fire and the warmth is spreading through her veins, choking her, spurring her onwards. She stands up slowly and turns to her would-be savior, violet eyes shadowed with grief and resolute determination.
"Don't think you're a hero, boy. None of us are heroes in the end."