"S-Sir! She can't have any visitor's right now-oh my!"
"Shaddap!" A coarse voice snapped, followed by the sound of breaking glass, then the clang of broken machinery, and many other crashes, as tables and desks were tossed aside. "You're in my way and I don't have time for you!"
"F-Fuku Taichou!" Many protestations could be heard of the chaotic din outside the halls. "Do you have any idea how much that cost?!"
"Put it on my tab! Now outta my way and lemme through!"
Abarai Renji burst into the waiting room, the very epitome of fury as he stalked down the halls, searching for the room number of his dearest and most precious friend. If someone wanted to pick a fight with him right now, he'd be more than happy to oblige.
But as he rounded the corner, his blood cooled slightly.
There, stepping out of room fifty-three, was his captain. His usual stone faced expression was marred by a slight frown, and his typical stern glare was now filled to the brim with a mixture of sadness and exhaustion.
He must've been in a hurry too, for his precious scarf and haori where nowhere to be seen on his person either.
"T-Taichou!" Renji straightened himself up instinctively, as he always did whenever his captain was around. Granted, he still strove to surpass Byakuya Kuchiki someday, and right now, he wasn't particularly in the mood for formalities, but by no means could he deny his commanding officer the respect he so well deserved. That, and he still had to ask him for permission to date Rukia, so....
"Renji." Byakuya began quietly, his eerily calm voice betraying the slightly perturbed expression he wore, and at that moment, Abarai Renji felt like a deer caught in the headlights. "You're trembling. I suggest you steady yourself before entering," Byakuya stole another long glance at the door he'd only just exited moments ago. "That room. And yes, Rukia is inside. I'm sure she would....appreciate your company."
His eyes narrowed as he finished, but by then, he had already passed his lieutenant, and was on his way down the hall. Renji gulpged lightly, noting that his captain didn't have his sword with him at the moment, and tried to keep the thought of Senbonzakura shiscabobbiing him, out of his head.
But then again, did the all-knowing, almighty Byakuya Kuchiki just know all about that too?
Trying to ignore the implied threat, Renji took a deep breath, steeled himself for the worst, and stepped forward, his hand clasping the door knob and giving it a good hard yank.
"Oi, Rukia I...
The words trailed off, and what Renji saw nearly broke his heart in half. He'd butted heads with a few of the nurses to get here, withstood an obviously irate Byakuya Kuchiki, but now, as the door parted at his touch, he immediately found himself wishing he hadn't come here.
She looked so frail, so tiny, hooked up to the life support machines, her pulse an erratic blip-blip on the heart monitor, never gone, but never perfectly steady either. There were so many machines, he couldn't tell where technology ended, and Rukia Kuchiki began.
Damn those espada! What were they after this time?! Clearly they'd let Rukia live, and that could mean only one thing. They wanted to send a message. If only he'd been there sooner!
For the third time since the arrancar had chased her down, Kuchiki Rukia skidded to a halt, the swathe of blue light missing her face by on a hair's length as it connected with the dumpster she had taken shelter behind. Cursing her luck, the shinigami turned to flee, grasping the gaping slash wound that ran from her right shoulder down to her hip in a vain attempt to stem the flow of blood.
She'd long since given up trying to face the espada in direct combat, after the brief skirmish, she'd been wounded, and badly. If she didn't get medical treatment, and soon, she'd die from blood loss.
Provided she didn't die first.
Rukia stiffened her eyes narrowing as a sinister reiatsu rose into the air, followed by that terrible, bonechilling roar that froze the blood in her veins. She'd felt this, once before, during her battle in Las Noches, coming from the dome. Ichigo, she realized. This reaitsu was Ichigo. He was using that...power of his again, a power that was meant only to protect, or only to destroy.
Ichigo...she swallowed nervously, suddenly, very grateful that he'd sent her away from the front lines. But at the same time, she felt overwhelming anxiety and concern for her best friend. For him to pull out his true form meant one of two things. (A) He was either very very pissed off, or and most likely (B) He was getting his ass kicked and had no other choice then to pull out all the stops.
Still, that he'd even used his second hollow form at all was enough cause for her to seriously worry, even moreso for her nakama. Are you really having that much of a hard time with him that you have to use IT?
At least one thing was certain.
His opponent didn't stand a chance against now, not unless they could pull a segunda etapa. She'd seen him in action once before, and knew firsthand the terrible power that form wielded, was even greater than it had been two years ago.
The arrancar paused, irritation reflecting in her teal eyes.
"You seem at ease, girl."
Rukia nodded. "I am."
"Why?" The espadaasked as another tremor shook the street beneath them. "Have you made peace with yourself and are prepared to die?"
"No." Rukia sighed to herself, smiling, chuckling despite her grievous wounds. "That's not it at all, espada. You see, I'm laughing...because your friend is about to die."
The espada scowled.
"If that's the case, then I will spare you your misery and end this with my resureccion so that I may go and assist her."
Tilting her sword down, the espada uttered but two words.
As the swell of water swallowed the espada, Rukia saw her chance.
"Some no mai!" The words spilled from her lips, Sode No Shirayuki flaring a brilliant, blinding white as its wielder shunpoed forward as close as she dare, before the espada could finish her transformation.
"Tsukishiro!" With a sharp, precise slash, she drew the circle, freezing the espada within her own element. That wouldn't be enough, this she knew,so again, Rukia began her dance, this time, stabbing the ground with quick, jerky movements. "Tsugi no mai!"
"Hakuren!" The blast of icy power rushed towards the splintering pillar.
"Hiriviendo." Came the reply from within the heart shaped sphere, and a wall of water rushed to meet the second dance. With a violent explosion, the ice evaporated into steam, leaving Rukia so stare helplessly, hopelessly as Halibel burst from her confines, entirely unharmed.
As her technique melted against the boiling current, Rukia knew any miniscule chance she had of running away were long gone. She'd barely been able to outrun Halibel before, and now, as her vision grew dim and hazy under the mist, she could tell that the espada had no intentions of letting her leave here alive.
With a sharp hiss, Halibel cut her way out of the remainder of her vortex, and swung.
Rukia arched her head back as Halibel's white blade burst through Sode no Shirayuki, stained itself red, then pulled away.
"You fought welll...
Vaguely, she could here the espada speeking, but the words came to her through a fog.
...Commend you on your efforts....
She could only wonder, wonder why. Why did she feel so cold?
Was it the frigid night air? Did it stem from the blood loss, or had she been already been stabbed through and not yet realized it? Whatever the cause, whatever the source of her strength leaving her, she hadn't the strength to bring herself to look, nor could she make her battle weary body move.
Dimly, she was aware of another reiatsu, closing in fast. It was large, just above that of Ichigo's, though, and very, very angry. She couldn't tell friend from foe at this point, she was just too tired, so very...very tired.
She knew that voice.
With a small sigh, Rukia Kuchiki could only close her eyes and pray for her end, whatever it may be, to be a quick and painless one. The last sound she heard was that of his fierce scream, the espada's startled hiss, and last sight that of Hihio Zabimaru's hulking shaodw, its massive visage wearing a huge, demented grin.
Oi! A familair duo of voices, that of a female and a young boy piped up suddenly. You're crushing us, Renji!
"Eh?" Renji hadn't noticed his hand tightening around Zabimaru's hilt, and now, as he pulled it away, he found that the digits were bloodied, a result of squeezing their hilt too hard. "Oh...sorry."
Mah, mah, Sympathy radiated from his sword, as well amusement. You're really head over heels for this girl, aren't you?
At that very moment, Kuchiki Rukia stirred slightly.
Abarai Renji hung his head, giving Rukia's hand a weak squeeze of assurance, as if he'd she'd just said something meaningful. Idly, he noticed how small her hand was, just like the rest of her.
A small, bitter laugh escaped him.
"Hey, you can hear me can't you?"
Kami, she looked so godamn fragile right now, even though the certainly wasn't the case. A single tear dripped down his cheek, and he managed a shaky laugh, for the pulse on her heart monitor had picked up, just a little, tiny bit.
"Yeah, it'll be alright. You just hang in there, Rukia. Keep fighting, and I'll do the rest."
Glancing down at Zabimaru, Renji gave an exasperated sigh, squeezing the blood encrused hilt of his sword one last time. He himself wasn't exactly the picture of health either, considering how easily he'd been overwhelmed once rushing the espada.
'I gotta get stronger. I can't do anything like this.'
Suddenly, the sounds of shouting down the hall grew ever louder.
"Outta my way damnit! I gotta see Rukia!"
"Ichigo?" He turned his head towards the door, just in time to see the former ryoka burst through. The vizard's reaction was much the same as his own had been before he'd entered, one of gobsmacked surprise, then sadness.
"Oi, an eye on her." Renji willed his body to rise, even though his heart wanted nothing more than to stay by Rukia's side, in this, her most desperate time of need.
"Hey, where're you-
Renji gave the substitute a pointed glare.
That being said, he exited through the door, trying to ignore the heavy atmosphere he'd left Ichigo with. Ichigo, He'd figure out pretty soon waht he had been getting at, and Renji intented to be long gone before that happened.
It was time for Urahara to answer his question.