Chapter 1: Portents
Inoue Orihime walked with barely-maintained calm down the halls of the Fourth Division, nodding absent-mindedly to her subordinates as they bowed hastily and moved out of her way. The Captain's Meeting had been long and heated yet again; the last thing the Fourth's leader wanted to deal with right now was more paperwork, but someone had to get it done and it sure wasn't going to be her Lieutenant.
Sliding the door to her office open, Orihime shrugged the haori off of her back and threw it over to its hook on the wall. Wincing and rolling her shoulder in a vain effort to ease the tightness in her muscles, the Captain let her feet carry her over to her desk and sat down. Rubbing her eyes and sighing, Orihime prepared herself to tear through another stack of soul-numbing paperwork…
Only to see it all in a neat pile in front of her, completely filled out. She was surprised for a few moments, but when Orihime's eyes finally recognized the sharp, clean handwriting, she smiled. It looked like her Third Seat had been working overtime again.
As if on some cue, a snore coming from over on the office couch brought the Captain's attention to the young woman curled up on it, taking a well-earned nap. Orihime rose and walked softly over to the couch, her suspicions confirmed as its occupant rolled over fitfully, bringing the face of Fourth Division's Third Seat into the light.
"Amara, wake up."
Her words succeeded in getting nothing more than another snore out of her subordinate, so Orihime repeated herself, a little louder. This time Amara's eyes opened, grayish-blue and unfocused. Blinking twice to clear her vision, the Third Seat's expression jolted from lethargic to shocked in an instant.
"Captain!" she exclaimed, bolting to a sitting position as her black bangs framed her face messily. "I'm so sorry I—" Amara began to speak, but Orihime quieted her with a look that would have made Unohana proud.
"What are you apologizing for?" she asked, her voice laced with matronly concern. "That you finished all of my paperwork for me, unasked, and then went to sleep on my couch? Don't be ridiculous."
"But I've still overstepped my bounds in presuming to perform your duties, Captain," Amara persisted, and Orihime had to bite back a sigh at her subordinate's behavior. "Please, reprimand me in some way or it might seem like favoritism!"
The Captain frowned slightly as Amara spat out the word 'favoritism' like it was venomous, still not understanding why the Third Seat kept refusing offers of promotion that were handed out sincerely, as acknowledgments of her performance.
"Very well then, Third Seat," Orihime spoke in as commanding a voice as she could, forcing her mouth to remain at a smirk and not burst out into a grin to risk ruining the mood with laughter, "here is your punishment: Go back to your own quarters and finish your nap there."
Amara raised an eyebrow in confusion as she heard the words of her superior.
"Don't argue with me," the Captain warned, "or I might actually punish you for insubordination. Now get out of here and get some rest; you've earned it."
The Third Seat nodded and rose, sliding the door open and beginning to walk out of the office. Before she had gone more than two steps, however, Amara was shoulder-checked by a man twice her size, wearing the insignia of the Fourth Division on his arm.
"Watch where you're going, Third Seat," he grumbled, "I just got these robes cleaned. Captain Orihime," he continued, switching his tone completely to one of total respect, "you summoned me?"
"Yes, Daisuke," the Captain affirmed, now regretting the Hell Butterfly she had sent out right as the Captain's Meeting had ended, "I did. Please, come in and take a seat."
Amara grit her teeth and closed the door behind her a bit harder than usual, heedless to the members of her Division that scattered before her as her reiatsu gave off a distinctly murderous edge. By the time she had reached her room and collapsed down onto her cot, the Third Seat's thoughts were too volatile to let her get any rest.
She wanted to kill Daisuke, the pompous Lieutenant and her technical superior. She wanted to shatter his kneecaps and watch him writhe on the floor in agony, and Amara knew she had the power to do it. But that very potential, which might have acted as a consolation, instead made her even more furious because she was forbidden to do anything violent against her superior. Even if he was a total jackass.
Now far too riled up to take a nap for at least another five hours, Amara got up off her bed and walked quickly over to the private shower that was one of her few luxuries as a Third Seat, removing layers of her clothing as she went. The icy cold water succeeded partly in calming her nerves, but Amara's brows still furrowed in annoyance as she saw the black dye in her long hair running off, exposing the true shade of silver that was hiding underneath it.
"Damn it," she cursed, irritated that she was going to have to dye it again so soon. Amara wished that she could have worn her tresses naturally, as she found the shade of silver quite beautiful in its own right, but the last thing she needed was everyone giving her flack for being the bastard child of a traitor. It was bad enough that she had to act civil around a mother who treated her like garbage, who had abandoned her at birth as an unwanted mistake…
Amara quickly shut the running water off, using the sharp change in temperature to derail her self-destructive train of thought. Quickly drying herself off and slipping on a robe, the Third Seat busied herself with masking her hair color in order to keep the tears stinging the corners of her eyes at bay.
"What the hell do you mean, 'You're done'?"
"What does it sound like I mean, kid?" Héctor shot back. "I mean that I'm done training with you guys. Finished. Over. I'm going home."
"I thought our agreement was that you left when we said you were ready, dickhead," Hiyori pressed, unwilling to lose this argument. "Since when did you become an expert on controlling your Inner Hollow, huh?" The Vizard paused for a beat, and then her voice spiked to a shout. "And don't fucking call me a kid!" she ranted, trying to slap Héctor with her sandal only to have it blocked without him even looking.
"Cool it, Hiyori," Shinji broke in, his mouth curling into a sly smile. "Keep on ranting like y'are and people might get the idea yer gonna miss this kid."
The youngest Vizard sputtered, a faint dusting of red gracing her cheeks before she huffed and stalked off. Héctor watched her go and smiled sadly; as much as she annoyed the crap out of him and frequently made him want to butcher something, Hiyori had become like something of a little sister to him over the years. A sister that he wanted to throttle on a regular basis, but a sister nonetheless.
"The kid hasn't seen his family in a quarter of a century, Shinji," Lisa said distractedly as she flipped through her latest magazine. "I say let him go, if he wants to go."
"Well, no point in us keeping ya here if you're not gonna be serious about training," Shinji spoke indifferently, but Kensei smirked as he caught the faint note of regret in the leader's voice.
The truth was that Héctor had acted like a catalyst for the Vizards; having a pupil had forced them to be concerned about someone other than themselves, slowly coaxing them out of their bitter indifference that had been nursed by years of exile and isolation.
"You can go back to Soul Society," Shinji continued, his look turning serious, "just be sure you know what you might be getting into, kid."
"C'mon, Shinji," Héctor said with a laugh, "you know how strong I've gotten. D'you honestly think those Captains could touch me?"
"In a direct battle? Probably only a few of 'em could get you into a corner, true," the leader of the Vizards answered. "But you gotta remember that a fight ain't just about who can beat the other guy to a pulp the fastest. Emotions get involved more often than not, and those make things messy. As long as you got something, and I mean anything, to lose, you're vulnerable."
"What Shinji's trying to say is that women are nothing but trouble," Rose broke in smoothly, "and you're better off staying away from them. Right, Lisa?"
"Still, kid," Love spoke to Héctor in a tone that was a testament to his former position as a Captain in the Thirteen Divisions, "don't let your guard down. I doubt any of the Captains have been letting their skills dull since the War ended, least of all the ones with axes to grind."
"Yeah, I hear that," Héctor answered over his shoulder as he walked out of the warehouse the Vizards called home. "Thanks for everything, guys!"
"If Soul Society goes to shit and you wind up back here a homeless bum, don't come crying to me, ya asshole!" Hiyori shouted, but all she got in return was a laugh as Héctor tore open a garganta and stepped through it, on his way back to what he hoped would be a warm welcome in Soul Society.
"How much longer do you expect us to wait on you, Byakuya?" Komamura growled as the small but powerful group of Captains gathered in a hidden room deep within the re-built Kuchiki Manor. "You promised us you would have found enough evidence to move for a vote of no-confidence months ago!"
"I must admit that I agree with Sajin, Byakuya," Yumichika chimed in. "How much time do you need to uncover the necessary proof that Unohana is unfit to serve as Captain Commander?"
"We cannot afford to make a move of this magnitude lightly, my friends," Kuchiki rebutted sternly. "Remember that Unohana is still beloved by some of our colleagues, Shunsui Kyoraku and Inoue Orihime among them."
"To say nothing of Kaien Shiba," Renji added. "Rukia's always had a soft spot for him; I doubt she'd stand against him if it came down to it."
"You're sleeping with her, aren't you?" Matsumoto parried pointedly. "Keep her in check, Renji."
Renji snarled at the provocation, but Kira's hand on his arm stifled his anger before it got the better of him.
"From what I can tell," the Third Division Captain spoke, his voice stoic as always, "the only Captains not firmly on our side are Shiba, Orihime, Kyoraku, Soi Fon and Ukitake."
"There's one thing that still worries me, though," Hisagi broke in, wearing the haori of the Ninth Division. "What of Kisuke Urahara?"
"You haven't told him, Captain?" Renji asked his superior, and Byakuya smiled.
"No, Renji; it had slipped my mind. Kisuke Urahara is no one we need to concern our thoughts with, Captain. He is my mole in the Human World, placed there to keep an eye on the hybrids we call the Vizards."
"And you're sure he can be trusted?"
"Of course, Hisagi; I am sure. The Vizards were Urahara's creation, after all: he views it as his personal responsibility to remedy his mistake when the time comes."
Hisagi nodded once, and Byakuya delivered the secret meeting's closing remarks.
"Do not worry about the leverage over Unohana," he reassured his fellow conspirators. "I have had my agents following her movements quite closely, and there is certainly something she desires to keep hidden. If it is of the magnitude I believe it to be, all of the Captains who are on the fence regarding the Captain Commander's impeachment will swing over to our side at once."
The group had dispersed in silence to return to the Seireitei shortly after Byakuya had declared the meeting adjourned, splitting up and traveling by different roads to avoid arousing suspicion. Byakuya himself was walking calmly back to the headquarters of the Sixth Division with his Lieutenant in tow when a high-pitched, whining sound reached their ears that neither of them had heard in decades.
A garganta was being torn open. Looking over, both of the Shinigami's faces became suffused with shock as they saw how near to them it was.
"What should we do, Captain?" Renji asked, and Byakuya recovered without missing a beat.
"This may turn out to be quite the opportunity for us, Renji. Come with me."
The two Shinigami from the Sixth Division were the first to arrive in front of the garganta, and Byakuya wasted no time in firing off the opening attack.
"Wait, Byakuya!" Soi Fon's voice called out in a panicked shout as the Captain of the Second Division emerged in a burst of shunpo. "Don't—"
But it was too late to stop the stream of blades from rushing into the rift, cold steel lent a deceptively warm shade of pink by the midday sun. A few seconds later a sharp spike of reiatsu was felt from within the garganta, and the attack was rebuffed completely as the shards of Senbonzakura were sent flying back out of the fissure.
"I'm not gonna say that I don't understand that reaction," an annoyed voice spoke out from the tear, getting louder and louder as its owner moved closer to the opening, "but don't you think you should at least wait to see who it is you're attacking?" Héctor finished as he finally reached the end of the tunnel, smiling despite his fresh and considerable wounds as he saw who had come to greet him.
"Hey, Mom," he said with a smirk, as if breaking right into the heart of Soul Society via a garganta was perfectly normal. "Guess I should've called ahead, huh?"
"God damn it, Héctor," she growled, fighting hard to keep her happiness at seeing her son again for the first time in so long out of her voice, "this isn't a joke. Get over to Fourth and have them patch you up before I drag you there myself."
"I missed you too," Héctor replied with an affectionate smirk, before disappearing in a burst of shunpo. As soon as her child had vanished, Soi Fon turned her iron glare on Byakuya.
"What the hell was that, Kuchiki?" she snapped. "You don't think you could have waited for visual confirmation on your target before acting?"
"If that had been an Espada, Captain," Byakuya replied coldly, turning away and sheathing a recomposed Senbonzakura, "one or both of us would probably have been dead by the time I'd gotten 'visual confirmation'. So save your lectures for someone else, unless you'd rather I call for an evaluation of your fitness to perform your duties. I doubt I'm the only person in the Seireitei who thinks your… situation is clouding your priorities."
Kuchiki and his lieutenant vanished as soon as the parting shot was finished, leaving Soi Fon alone in the clearing to stew in anger.
Matsumoto had thought that paperwork was just the thing she needed to take her mind off of Byakuya's skulduggery, but all it took was one little note from Captain Commander Unohana to throw her mood into utter disorder once again. A little scribble on a piece of parchment letting Matsumoto know that her bastard daughter was doing quite well.
As if she cared at all about Amara.
The more and more that she'd thought back on that night almost three decades ago, the more Matsumoto realized that Gin had actually been serious. He'd told her flat-out that he loved her, and always had. For once, his mask had dropped completely.
And she had quite literally spat in his face, calling him a fucking liar and many things besides. And for several days after that, she had felt vindicated at long last; a gaping wound in her past had finally been given closure. But then had come the morning sickness, and with it the chilling realization that Gin Ichimaru had left his oldest, dearest friend one last memento.
At first, Matsumoto had been beyond terrified. She was someone who had always lived her life in the moment, enjoying every night like it might have been her last because one of those nights was going to be her last. The very mention of the word 'responsibility' had caused her to recoil in horror whenever Captain Hitsugaya had wielded it in conversation like a large, dangerous weapon, and now Matsumoto was going to be responsible for another life. A child. Gin's child.
She had never thought about aborting it, but at the same time the thought of wholly devoting herself to the care of a growing infant seemed even more daunting a challenge than it had been deciphering Gin's emotions back when they had been children. But then Byakuya Kuchiki of all people had come to her with a suggestion: assume Captaincy of the Tenth Division, in the place of her deceased superior. At the time, the choice seemed simple enough; it was a matter of weighing two wholly different responsibilities against each other, the soul-numbing yet familiar grind of a Captain's daily life or the huge, unknown prospect of caring for her bastard offspring.
Byakuya had given her a way out. The Captain's Examination, however, was not something that she had any desire to handle while pregnant, which gave Matsumoto nine months at the most to consider her options. Nine months she had wound up spending in a tumultuous battle with her own blossoming maternal instincts, squashing them without hesitation one moment only to find herself being enticed by the possibility of having a child to call her very own the next.
Shaking her head abruptly to bring herself back to the present before she got too wrapped up in pointless memories, Matsumoto used a small flare of kido to incinerate Captain Commander Unohana's letter. She then reached with her other hand into her desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of sake without even looking for it, taking a swig from the bottle and closing her eyes with a sigh as the burning liquid raced through her veins and dulled the ache that had sprung up in her heart.
Amara had decided to be productive with the rest of her afternoon rather than trying to get some sliver of rest and failing, so after popping a quick energy pill the Third Seat found herself once again doing the rounds in Fourth Division. As she heard the obnoxious voice of the Lieutenant, Daisuke, ricocheting off the walls, Amara cringed and ducked into the nearest open room; the last thing she needed right now was to be subjected to another round of his asinine harassment.
"What can I do for y—" she began, only to have her words cut off by surprise as she got a good look at the cuts on her patient.
"Holy shit," she breathed, "what did you do to yourself?"
"Me?" the patient parried with a raised eyebrow, his sharp blue eyes bright with a mix of amusement and slight annoyance. "I didn't do jack to myself. Byakuya was the asshole who did this to me; I was just trying to get into the Seireitei."
That retort was enough to shock Amara into silence. Not only did this kid have the guts to refer to Captain Kuchiki by his first name and call him an asshole, but he had been bold enough to try and break into the Seireitei itself. And from the looks of things he wasn't that much older than her, yet his reiatsu was clearly of considerable strength, at least Lieutenant-level if not higher.
"Who are you?" she asked at last, but the patient just smirked.
"How's about you do your job and patch me up, and then we'll talk? Using my reiatsu to stop the blood flow is a pain in the ass."
The pointed reply was enough to bring Amara fully out of her surprise. Her training took over as she moved forward quickly and began to examine her patient's injuries, healing them with kido as she went.
"So," she said after a moment, her confidence resurgent as she put the finishing touches on closing up a particular nasty gash, "you didn't answer my question earlier, smartass."
Héctor smiled to himself, pleased that he'd stumbled across a woman with some spine after 25 years of nothing but cloying humans.
"You gonna stop treating me if I don't?" he shot back, challenging her. Amara let her hands hover over the next wound, but made no effort to mend it.
"I just might," she replied, and Héctor's internal smile showed itself on his face.
"My name's Héctor," he said, "Héctor Jaegerjaques. What's yours?"
"Amara; just Amara. Jaegerjaques, huh?" the Shinigami continued, looking at Héctor's face again with narrowed gray-blue eyes. "I guess that makes you Captain Soi Fon's son, then?"
His looks, however, she noted with approval, had come from his father first and foremost.
"That it does," Héctor replied easily, taking a closer look at his healer. She was definitely not lacking in looks, but it was her steely, tightly-controlled reiatsu that interested the Vizard much more than her other attributes. And yet there was no doubt that she was hiding something of herself on purpose; during the War against Aizen all of those years ago, Héctor had known Lieutenants with less presence than her. So why wasn't she wearing an armband?
"Okay, Héctor," Amara spoke gently, lifting the Vizard out of his thoughts, "I think we're done here."
Looking down quickly at the places where Senbonzakura had cut into him and seeing nothing but whole flesh, Héctor shook his head briefly to clear it and pushed himself off of the table he had been sitting on. Snatching up his zanpakuto from a nearby chair, he strode towards the door and was about to walk through it when Amara's voice stopped him cold, sounding decidedly less gentle than it had a moment ago.
"What," she asked, her tone harder but carrying an edge of teasing to it, causing Héctor to flash a small smirk that Amara couldn't see, "I don't get a 'Thank you'?"
"You think you deserve one?" the Vizard shot back, not even turning around.
"Excuse me?" the Shinigami replied, indignant. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"I just don't think anyone strong enough to be a Division's Lieutenant who chooses to rot in a menial post instead deserves to be thanked or praised by anyone."
Not even giving the Third Seat a chance to reply, Héctor walked through the door and slid it closed behind him. Amara could only stand there, her mouth half-open while her gray-blue eyes widened in shock before narrowing in rage. The temerity of that… that asshole, to just come right out and say something that disrespectful after she'd done such a good job healing him!
"He's right, though, child."
The clear, powerful voice of her zanpakuto spirit drew a sigh from Amara, and she turned slowly to face the lioness sitting in the corner of the room, its blue eyes piercing and framed by uniformly dark gray fur.
"You're not helping," the Shinigami grumbled, and her spirit chuckled.
"Yes I am," she parried, "and you know it. The boy's right; you're gaining nothing by letting that worm Daisuke make your life miserable when you could just as easily challenge him for his seat and take it."
"And then what?" Amara growled back, growing more and more infuriated as she realized her counter-arguments were utterly ineffectual. "That won't stop Daisuke from making my life miserable regardless, and if anything that'll just make him more vindictive. And if he ever found out who my father was, who knows what would happen then?"
"Tell me what would happen, child," the spirit pressed. "So they find out your father was Gin Ichimaru. What of it? You cannot be held accountable for the sins of your parents, Amara."
The thoroughly flummoxed Shinigami was about to rebut again when words outside in the hallway grabbed her attention, and Amara went to go open the door as the gray lioness behind her faded back into nothingness.
"I believe I told you to apologize to me, you piece of shit," Daisuke's voice rumbled down the hall, and Amara looked out at the scene just in time to see Héctor smirk in a way that sent a chill running down her spine in a manner that wasn't entirely unpleasant.
"Apologize for what?" he shot back. "Bumping in to you? It's kinda hard to avoid that when you're so fucking fat that you take up more than half the hallway."
"You son of a bitch—" the Lieutenant began, only to have all of the breath suddenly pushed from his lungs by a burst of reiatsu that was far above Lieutenant strength.
"What was that?" Héctor asked, all mirth gone from his voice and replaced by icy anger. "I don't think I heard you quite right just then, Lieutenant, because I believe I heard you call my mother a bitch."
"I can assure you, Héctor," a new voice broke in from down the hall, "that the Lieutenant spoke out of anger, and did not mean what he said."
The Vizard clenched his teeth and didn't move for a few heartbeats, but then relaxed and withdrew the pressure of his reiatsu. Amara had managed to stay on her feet through sheer willpower alone, but her knees were still buckling.
"For his sake, Captain Orihime," Héctor replied coldly, "I hope you're right."
"Only back for a couple of hours and already causing trouble, I see," Orihime said with a smile, her tone much softer now than it had been just seconds ago. "That's good; I see there are at least some things that never change."
Héctor smiled and chuckled lightly at that, and Orihime turned an icy look back to her Lieutenant.
"You should be grateful, Daisuke," she spoke sternly, "that you are still in possession of all of your limbs right now. It would be a shame to have to replace you so soon after your appointment to the post, don't you agree?"
"Not at all," Héctor broke in, ignoring the death-glare that Daisuke gave him as Orihime turned back to face the Vizard. "I've already met someone today who could take his place in a heartbeat, actually," he finished, his sharp blue eyes boring deep into Amara's own gray-blue orbs.
"Sorry for the trouble, Captain," he apologized quickly, before turning around, walking briskly down the hallway and turning the corner, vanishing from sight.
"As you were," Orihime said crisply to the lingering members of Fourth Division who were still standing there stock-still in the hallway, and the Captain's words shocked her subordinates back into the present. As they scurried back to their duties, Orihime saw that Daisuke was doing little more than shooting Amara a dirty look and spoke again to her Lieutenant.
"That includes you, Lieutenant," she pressed, and Daisuke gave a formal half-bow before walking the rest of the way down the hall. Orihime looked after him with worry; she was really going to have to do something about that man before he did something reprehensible. If only he wasn't so capable, or if Amara could just be convinced to challenge him for the post… but Héctor had been right; that choice was ultimately Amara's to make, and no one else's.
The Captain blinked away from her thoughts and turned to say something to her Third Seat, but Amara was already out of sight.
Ulquiorra Schiffer looked up expectantly at the full moon hanging over Hueco Mundo, as if he were looking for some kind of answer from it. The dim orb held no such consolation, though, and after a few moments Ulquiorra sighed and walked on. There was a small grouping of rocks he could see out in the distance; that was surely a cave, and where he would find shelter for the night.
"I'm sure Las Noches would be much more comfortable," a light, teasing voice spoke up from behind him. "Remind me why you won't go there, again?"
"You know the answer to that question already," Ulquiorra replied stoically without even turning around. "Apart from being a figment of my own guilt, Nel, I've told you three times before."
"But I like hearing you say it," the image of Neliel persisted, a glint in her pale golden eyes that Ulquiorra could hear clearly even if he couldn't see it. "Indulge me."
"I'm trying to start over, and forget all of that," the former Espada repeated dully, a mantra he'd told himself countless times.
"But you're still bitter at Barragan for having rotted away your precious tattoo, aren't you?" Neliel pressed, and Ulquiorra's jaw clenched at the provocation.
"Not to mention that you're still carrying around my old zanpakuto," the phantom continued, appearing right behind Ulquiorra and wrapping her arms around his waist, resting one of her hands on the hilt of Gamuza and the other on Murciélago, which were being worn like a samurai's pair of swords,
"And your guilt is still so strong that you're visualizing your dead lover," she finished, placing her mouth right by Ulquiorra's ear and whispering sultrily.
"Why can't you let me go?"
By the time the shiver had lanced down and back up the former Espada's spine the phantom Neliel had vanished once again, her torment apparently done for the night.
"Stop asking questions you already know the answer to," Ulquiorra said softly, regret lacing every word. He then closed his mouth and didn't open it again until he was under the protective roof of the cave, breathing in and out in dreamless sleep.
Several paces off from the rocks, a figure was crouched and hovering in the air, his slim black ponytail snapping behind him in the strong wind.
"Finally found you," Ggio Vega said coldly, before vanishing in a buzz of sonido.
Maybe now, after hunting down his last great enemy and killing him, Barragan would stop acting like such a huge asshole. Ever since the former Cuatra Espada had struck out on his own away from Las Noches in defiance of the truce, he'd been acting less like a benevolent dictator and more like a raging despot. But Ggio felt like sometimes he was the only one who saw his master for the changed man he had become; the other fraccion were still blind in their devotion towards Barragan.
Ggio was almost sorry that Ulquiorra had to die for some small measure of peace to return to the fraccion's life, but that was the way of things: the weak perished before the strong.
A/N: And there you have it, Chapter 1! Hope you enjoyed it, and please don't hesitate to review if you did. Or even if you didn't, review anyway; I really love getting feedback from you guys. Also, big ups to JasoTheArtisan and MatsuMama for beta'ing this chapter; go read their stories, they're all quality.
And just to repeat for those who might have forgotten, this is going to be a short(er) story that will lead into the longer, 'main' sequel to Torn. Think of it less like a sequel, and more like the second part of a trilogy.