Disclaimer: Neither Death Note nor Bleach are my property, and I am not profiting in any way from this story.
Warnings: Mild violence and mild language.
Author's Note: This was a fill for a prompt for a Death Note/Bleach crossover for a friend on LJ. I wound up doing something more like an AU than a crossover. Only getting around to posting it now. Just a one-shot (and it was supposed to be a drabble!)
Neither Heaven nor Hell
Hell butterflies swarmed all over Soul Society, carrying urgent warnings and summons between each of the squads.
It was chaos. It was preposterous. Hollows, directly attacking Soul Society?
It had happened before, of course - a group of shinigami would get overpowered and retreat to Soul Society, and the Hollows would recklessly follow that path in their bloodlust. But this many was bizarre. Even stranger was the fact that a Vasto Lorde had been sighted.
L wasn't particularly bothered, however. Life in the Gotei 13 might not be particularly routine, but even at its most hectic it was certainly no strain on his intellect. He calmly delivered his orders to his squad, then left his vice-captain in charge so he could head out to the battle himself. The hotheaded captains of the other squads hadn't listened to his suggestions, as he predicted, so neither would he listen to theirs. There weren't many opportunities to observe a Vasto Lorde, and it was the most interesting thing to happen for months – L was not going to miss out. With any luck, he'd have something new to analyse and think about for a few weeks.
He shunpo'd barefooted across the tiled rooftops to the district the enemy had been spotted in. He briefly descended to the streets to cleave through a weak Hollow causing grief for some lower seats. Two swift strikes of his sword and it was gone. He didn't stay to hear the thanks or admiration of the other shinigami. His mind was solely focused on tracking that powerful reiatsu to the east.
It was very odd. He was suspicious - everything about this intrusion was wrong. There were too many Hollows. The Hell Butterflies had informed him that there were at least five Menos, eight Adjucas and countless lesser Hollows swarming all over Soul Society. Capable of causing a lot of damage, certainly, but nothing that would rob them of any significant fighting strength. The unusual part was the number of Hollows, and the way they were spread out and attacking different sectors, stretching the shinigami forces thin.
Hollows weren't that organised.
The way the Vasto Lorde wasn't even attempting to hide his reiatsu was suspicious too.
The Vasto Lorde were powerful - L was quite aware of it. Though they had little concrete evidence of their abilities, there were enough second and third-hand accounts passed down that one could reliably assume that they were at the very least on par with the captains of the Gotei 13. But despite their power, they hadn't ever been much of a problem before - Hollows were, by their nature, disorganised, and it was a rare thing for even an Adjucas to wander into the living world. There hadn't ever been a report of a Vasto Lorde leaving Hueco Mondo.
L had a variety of theories as to why that was, all unconfirmed - a dislike of the automatic suppression of power experienced in the living world, a preoccupation with fighting amongst themselves, or most likely of all, a lack of interest in humans as a source of food. One thing that was well documented was the process by which more powerful Hollows were born - by consuming each other. It was easy to imagine that for an Adjucas or Vasto Lorde a powerful Hollow might be a more enticing prey than even a spiritually powerful human.
In any case, it was strange that the strongest Hollow was not attacking yet also not bothering to hide. If he gave this Hollow credit enough to organise its fellows, then he would also assume it would understand that if it didn't soon intervene, its fighting force would be decimated and be forced to retreat, causing only superficial damage at best.
L's steps slowed, and the rusted strategic cogs of his brain - dormant for so long in a world where tactics and logic were more than enough to win any battle - began to turn.
What if this were merely a test?
His mind raced furiously. What if this wasn't simply an attack, but actually a probing of Soul Society's defences? A means of testing their abilities and their response to a threat? It was ruthless, if so – the Vasto Lorde would be sacrificing a not insignificant number of foot soldiers.
Unless this Hollow had also managed to organise the other Vasto Lordes. If that were the case, sacrificing this number of lesser Hollows was more than acceptable for the purpose of gathering information for a real attack.
What kind of Hollow was even capable of that sort of planning, though?
That was when he saw him. The Arrancar. And it all made sense.
The tall, regal figure, clad in white robes with black trimmings. The aura of self-confidence. The perfectly styled brown hair. Those parts were the same, but the skin was just a little paler, and nobody could miss the gaping hole in the abdomen. Not to mention the broken mask, covering half of his face like some morbid parody of Phantom of the Opera.
"Only the most rotten of human beings could have ever become such a filthy Hollow."
The Arrancar made a show of turning in his direction, even though L knew his presence had been noticed well before his arrival. The look of confidence and superiority disappeared as soon as he caught sight of L, however, and those fine features were twisted into an expression of ugly hatred.
L smiled thinly. "I'm impressed you remember me, Light-kun. It's been a long time."
One hundred and fifty-seven years, in fact. This meeting was a surprise, but he expected nothing less from his nemesis. In a short one hundred and fifty years, he had climbed the ranks of the Hollow, all the way to the Espada if that '2' – how it must grate him to not yet be the primero – on his side was any indication. And he'd even managed to organise his fellows and win their loyalty. It was no mean feat - easily on par with a soul making it from Rukongai scum to Captain in forty years. L hadn't had to worry about his classmates eating him for strength.
The odds of their meeting in these circumstances were both astronomically small, and yet simultaneously almost inevitable. L was astounded to realise that he'd never even entertained the thought before. He had grown sloppy over the past one hundred and fifty years after all.
"Looking as shabby as ever. Are you really a Shinigami captain?"
"Of the twelfth squad," L confirmed, but didn't offer any information than that. Information was a precious currency between them – one didn't give it away without expecting something of equal or greater return.
"I wasn't planning to enter the battle, but if you're here anyway…" Light smiled, but not that fake smile L had seen so many times in the past – it was the gloating, evil grin of Kira that he'd seen before his death.
It really was a long time ago. He didn't hold any grudges or resentment over his death anymore, but the sight of that smile stirred a long-dead emotion within his chest.
L felt a much drier grin threatening to tug at the edges of his lips as he withdrew his zanpakutou.
At last, he had a challenge again.