Well, this is something of an awkward re-introduction.


Things have developed somewhat since my last post back-in-the-day. Graduation, moving, Graduate school, Ladytype, Computer and hard drive wiped, etc. Couple that with not following Bleach as closely, and my motivation/attention to the story has effectively tanked. I haven't abandoned it, though; just going far, far slower than I had originally anticipated (priorities and whatnot).

That said, I apologize for the delay that looks like abandonment, though I must admit the pace will likely not increase any. I also apologize for the poor formating - I wrestled with this thing and lost. By all means though, please – enjoy. I did take some liberty with one character, this chapter – you'll see which one. :D


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His first throw struck through the masks of two hollows and the bodies of three more, mauling them. Using shunpo, he gained altitude above another six and hammered them with successive blasts of Byakurai, short and condensed, each one cutting a sharp, small hole in a mask.

It wasn't enough to kill or completely destroy, however, and they howled in pain and fury as he shunpoed hard to his right, swinging his left hand brutally into the mask of a smaller hollow before catching and twisting and then loosing the other from his right into a crowd above him.

Two dodged it and three didn't. The blade spun its way through flesh and bone, bottom to top, giving the death wails of the three a particularly anguished cry as they split in two before disintegrating. He blocked another that tried to tear out his stomach with his left arm and delivered a punch to its head with his right.

He twisted his left hand and the blade found purchase in the eye socket, allowing him to rip the mask in half in a shower of blood and a high-octave shriek from the beast before it dissipated. A short hop over the last wounded one allowed him to squarely land half his right blade into the thing's crown, tearing it forcefully out of the skull.

Throwing himself into a backward summersault to avoid a bladed arm, he crouched low on the ground and lunged to his left, avoiding another heavier hollow that had tried to drop on him. A stronger blast of Byakurai through the left eye, killing it, before a hard shunpo twenty feet up to avoid a spiked tail.

His left hand blocked the meaty fist that swung from behind him at the waist, twisting in the air to deliver a nasty roundhouse kick coupled with an unchanted Bakudō 8: Seki for the extra 'umph'. While it wouldn't repel the thing more than a few inches, it gave enough room to split it from chin to crown and hop back to avoid the blood.

That last hop was a mistake, however; a fiery tug that blossomed into pain in his left side told him he had let his guard down. He twisted to the right, the motion expelling the blade from his gut as he swung his right hand backwards into the groin, a sharp tug causing the hollow to lose its balance before he stuck the tip of the blade viciously into its crown.

He ignored the flare of satisfaction and ducked under a cero.

SHIT! Where the HELL did that come from?!

Mind your surroundings, Shu~kun.

He glanced in the direction of the blast and ducked under a claw swipe, his eyes widening as he returned a backhand blow into the skull of his assailant. The other blade tore through the skull of another before it finally returned to his right hand.

In the distance, hovering miles above ground was a fortress with two sharp spires on the bottom, a massive, gaping hollow mask atop it, with a hollow hole in the middle. Beneath it, some thousand yards away, Shinigami fought against other hollows while what may be an Arrancar stood watching in the background.

Shuuhei's blood ran cold in his veins as his mind made sense of the sight.












HERE! In the Seireitei!

And if today was Thursday…

It is, Shu. Looks like your 20th seats were all on patrol like you told them. Hindsight sure is a bitch, huh?

His men were dying.

"He who walks his own path, shielded from the sling of others, lest they trespass on his fate: Bakudō Number Sixty Two: Hyapporankan!" Feeding more reiatsu into the incantation than he should, Shuuhei targeted the seven hollows before him, pinning them quickly to the ground before throwing himself into the air.

"Hadō Number Thiry-Three: Sōkatsui! " The extra flux in reiatsu he put into it bathed the pinned beasts in flame, their shrieks cutting short before falling silent. Without a second of hesitation, he leapt into shunpo.

He arrived above the fray as his men took down another two hollows with a careful application of Kidō and teamwork, just as he had emphasized at their last training session. Komakura, Itsumori, Waidukku, Hichigudo, and Fadosuka all were down in the road, none of them moving. Umesada was lying off halfway in a doorway, pretending to be grievously injured when all he had was a scratch.

Kurotada and Kuronaga, wonderful men that they were, had come to the fore; each would block the fangs and blades of one hollow while others cut them down. It looked like they'd been at it for a while; he felt a tug of pride as they downed another three in short order.

Hofushike was using Kidō to the best of her ability with only one arm, and Gefujiido leapt amongst the hollows, cutting where he could find an opening the others left him.

"Lookout, Hisagi Fukutaicho!" He ducked in time to avoid another cero that was a good hundred feet in height, the buildings below disintegrating as he heard a brief shout from Yomofuchi that was silenced too quickly.

He spun and threw his right blade out, too late to save Daishumori from being bisected, but fast enough to block the Hollow's second stroke from splitting Yukasumi's head; she promptly used byakurai to kill it before turning to help the others. He heard laughter over the roar of a Hollow that attempted to swallow him whole; jumping up and splitting it from inside its mouth he shunpoed higher into the air to face the likely source of the problem: The Arrancar.

She was merely standing in the sky, a good twenty yards out, watching as the Hollows took their time trying to down his squad. Her staff was taller than she was, with curved blades atop it more reminiscent of a ruler's scepter than a sword.

I hate her already. Too much purple. She looks like a frigid teen playing at being a grown woman. Who the hell would wear a dress to a battle and then couple plenty of midriff with a high collar? You can't be a chaste whore! Come. On! He was inclined to agree.

The white Arrancar uniform had been modified into something of a dress; Shuuhei felt it would likely limit her mobility, assuming she needed it. Delicate features were lost under a mass of curiously pink eyes, purple hair and lipstick; a tasteful gold necklace hung in a double loop precisely around her neck. He saw no indicators of power or purpose in it, but reminded himself of his own accoutrements.

Shuuhei fought the urge to laugh, and he would have just outright attacked, but military intelligence was always a priority - especially if it was from an Arrancar that had somehow managed to breach Soul Society with a mobile fortress. Consequently, he hazarded a lighter inquiry, eyeing her oversized staff warily.

"I won't judge the Rabbit ears or helmet, but if you're an Arrancar, shouldn't it be more…sinister?" He heard her snort derisively over the distance and ducked under a Hollow's tail, killing it with his right blade without taking his eyes off his new enemy. She played with her necklace before replying, eyeing him as is she couldn't decide how she wanted to kill him.

"I was under the impression you Shinigami were supposed to play by the rules – does that not include polite courtesy?" Behind him, he heard Buchimaru yell out in hopeful triumph as he cut down his first hollow. He idly hoped the man remembered to keep his hips low; his long-stance was always too damn high.

Do you think she's aware she sounds like a bitch? Or does she think she sounds cultured? Please tell me we can take this prudish cocktease for the worst possible ride…

"I am looking you in the eyes instead of your tits." She affected affront at this, though her stance showed more amusement than indignation – she left her left side open for five seconds.

Not that she really has much room to talk…Like the approach, Shuu-kun. Try for something cruder next time - something you'd see nothing wrong with saying to Kotetsu, for instance.

Shouldn't you be helping me find flaws to exploit so we can get out of here alive instead of acting like a petty woman at a dance?

… Her sword looks sharp. Don't touch it. He huffed, still furious.

…You know, so you don't get a disease or something.

"Well, you certainly have a mouth on you for a Shinigami. Tell me, boy, do you have a rank? Or are you simply the only one foolish enough to attack a superior foe on your own?" He made sure not to open his stance.

"Court Guard Squad Nine Fukutaicho, Hisagi Shuuhei." She smiled, and behind him he heard Tsuyuyumi die, cursing with her last breath in defiance as her killer wailed its last in response.

"A lieutenant and you have a mouth like that? Hmm, I wonder if they do not require culture of their officers, or if you are simply particularly uncouth. Very well, then, Hisagi-Fukutaicho. I am Arrorria Allallantia, Arrancar number 31 of Aizen-samma's army." He tensed at this, and forced the memories of Tosen down. "I do hope you will provide better sport than these disappointing chattels I have encountered so far." Shuuhei ignored the indignation he felt on behalf of his troops, given the obvious nature of the provocation.

It was fortunate that he did, for the next breath had him struggling to avoid a barrage of slimmer Cero that left almost no room to maneuver. Somewhere behind and below him, he heard the sounds of the impacts, the wails of hollow and Shinigiami as the Cero struck home.

He spun hard to his right and blocked her staff with his right hand and barely deflected a hard punch with her left, twisting his blade and feeling it scrape against her knuckles, finding no purchase. He had a moment to think 'Shit!' to himself before she reversed the momentum on her staff, flinging him further out from the town and into another hollow, his back stinging with the contact.

He rolled over the beast, dragging Kazeshini with him, spilling open the creature's belly, swinging blindly at the source of the howl to silence it before spinning in the air to find enough purchase to shunpo to another spot some hundred feet to the left.

He rolled forward immediately, twisted, and slid back in the air a good twenty feet as she appeared behind him with a buzz, forcing him to use both blades as her swing hit him hard. He felt pain flare in his wrists, hands, and elbows as he forced the lock to stay center mass, keeping her from using the momentum to take his head off. Beneath them, he heard Umesada scream for help and several hollows howl out in triumph.

"I must give you credit, Hisagi-Fukutaicho. I was concerned that you would not be able to perceive my most sluggish strikes like some of your subordinates. I think I need to initiate a reevaluation of my previous opinion." With that, the pressure on his blade was gone and in a sudden buzz of sound.

Hurriedly he turned to follow the screams, finding in a glance that she had crushed Yukasumi and then used her crumpled body to club and daze Tomoyujii, before punching a hole through his head. She turned around to survey which of his men to kill next, no hurry in her motions.

Without hesitation he loosed Kazeshini from his left hand and shupoed to a higher spot further to his right, then loosed her from his right hand, mindful to hold onto the chain correctly this time.

The damn woman used sonido to avoid the left blade which continued on to tear through six more hollows, killing five and leaving another crippled, making space for Kurotada and Kuronaga to kill their own target before dispatching it.

He took no pride in this, as she was before him, staff in full swing. Stepping with his left foot on the chain and pulling it taught with his right hand, he managed – barely- to block her strike, using the rebound provided by the chain's flexibility to wrap a loop around the edge of her blade.

"Hadō Number Thirteen: Tsuzuri Kanki!" Ice leapt from his chain onto her staff, rapidly spreading to her wrists and arms, allowing his to unhook the chains and unleash a solid, concentrated blast of Hadō 54: Haien.

He spoke too slowly, however, and so the purple disk caught her indirectly and he was forced to roll as he felt a fierce pain in his wounded left side, the tail end of her staff catching him on the reverse swing as she backflipped to avoid the spell.

Ooh, I think that one might have upset her, Shuuhei. We should do that again. And by again, I mean not 'let's always destroy our enemy's clothing', but rather 'why are we still fighting her face to face instead of repeatedly attacking from behind?' It was true; the Arrancar was glaring at him instead of smirking as she had been.

What should have been a spell that disintegrated her torso and head had merely destroyed part of the shaft of her staff, and taken off a small part of her left side. Consequently, with the clothing gone, her dress had opened up, leaving her bare-chested, the scrap of clothing left hanging limply at her right hip.

A cursory glance revealed them to be … pert.

Shuuhei, it's rude to stare. Also, we're fighting for our lives. No tits for you!

"An interesting trick, Shinigami." She flexed her wrists and broke the ice binding them. "In all of my struggles, I have only had three opponents who have besmirched my modesty." Her pink eyes narrowed. "I hate it when uncouth louts impugn on my propriety."

He heard the sonido and only registered that she had closed the distance in the second it took her to ram the sword end of her staff through his midsection, punch him in the face with such force that his nose shattered completely, damaging his left eye socket before hurling him to the ground below.

See? I always told you: staring at tits leads to nothing but trouble. Now look at how fucked you are. Why did you do that? You should not have done that. Tsk, Tsk, Tsk.

He was too dazed to react, so he hit the ground full force, leaving him breathless and writhing in agony, numb to the victorious howls of the hollows around him or the near-hysterics of his subordinates. He rolled to his right to avoid being impaled by one hollow, and killed it with an offhand stroke, only to curse as she appeared again, cutting him in the right side, tearing up to his ribs, and hurling him down the street through several buildings and a street cart.

As he lay there in the rubble, his eyes met Hofushike's panic-stricken ones across the street, holding her stump of an arm, looking haggard. He mouthed 'warn them' twice; taking solace that she got the message the second time and disappeared in shunpo.

Well, Shuuhei, we're pretty fucked. Think you can tear into her enough to leave a mark before we buy it? Anger coursed through him at the notion that his own blade would give up on him so freely, and she responded by flooding an almost manic energy back into him.

The Arrancar was suddenly upon him, and he threw Kazeshini upwards, going wide by her left ear, bringing his left arm up to block her blade. She smirked again, peering down at him.

"You are rather desperate to get a good view, are you not, Lieutenant? That is a shame, given how vulgar it is. You really should try to learn some manners." She applied more pressure, and Kazeshini's hilt began to dig into the hole in his middle. "Then again, it would appear that you lack the necessary time to learn such etiquette, bearing your current predicament in mind."

At that point, Buchimaru attempted to hit her with a weak shot of byakurai, which she merely ducked under before unleashing a cero in retaliation. The brief attempt at a cry told him that they would find no remains of the poor bastard, but it gave him the chance to tug on the chain. She turned back to him.

"You have no time to learn manners, and your men have no time to learn proper combat technique. It is a wonder that Aizen-samma did not kill you all to begin with, shinigaaah!"


Shuuhei had to admit to feeling satisfaction that Kazeshini had managed to come back on the return with such quiet that the Arrancar hadn't heard her coming, and moreso that she bit hard and deep into the thing's left shoulder with enough momentum to take her over his head and into the next building.

He rolled up and shupoed into the air, dispatching two hollows in the process, before hurling his left blade with enough force that the holes in his body tore open further, bleeding freely.

He had timed it correctly, and despite the wicked wind blowing through the area now, he managed to loop Kazeshini around the Arrancar's neck – though her staff blocked it from being as close as he liked. With a heave, he sent her flying into another part of the rubble, slamming her into hollows and debris as the winds danced along the chain, cutting her as she flew before making solid impact with the ground. Dust and debris filled the air where she made impact, the sound of battle going still.

The pain was too strong now, though, and so he landed, crouching to alleviate the stress on his mauled abdomen. Behind him, down the street, he heard Gefujiido, Isoroko and Rokurota approach, while Kurotada and Kuronaga tried to stabilize Umesada. Ahead of him coming from the other end of the street, Kagaki and Soruken were covering for Chiimiikitsu who was carrying a mauled Hofushike on her back.

The Goeti don't know we're here. Help isn't coming.

No. Your hope is in Iba getting to the 4th, and the 4th warning the others.

The 4th are healers. They won't send aid until the area's clear.

No. They won't.

"Hisagi Fukutaicho! We need to retreat while we still can!" Hisagi stood fully, struggling not to show how much pain he was in.

"Hai, there's more coming, Lieutenant! We need to flee before they cut us off!" There was fear in their voices, concealing terror.

Poor bastards don't even realize they're already dead, do they? Laughter stopped him from responding to anyone. From the rubble down the street the Arrancar stood, her clothing tattered, breasts hidden behind her arms as they held her staff to lean on, hollows bleeding from the fortress behind her and quickly surrounding them.

"I see I did not take you seriously enough, Hisagi Fukutaicho. Why, a few more seconds and my neck would have been notably injured. I accredit you for making me bleed, but I have an objective of my own, and I must see to it, no matter what pleasant sport you provide. Do not fret, however; I shall not leave you unattended."

She smirked, and with a roar that nearly drowned out the terrified screams of his men, the hollows charged their small circle, blades and claws outstretched. Shuuhei's eyes narrowed and his grip tightened as he brought his blades up, the terrified remnants of his 20th seats preparing themselves.

One reaps what one sows.


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Tetsuzaemon would have normally considered the ramifications of risking Unohana-Taicho's wrath long and hard before ever risking damage to her person or property. After all, the 4th was where all the healers, medics, doctors, and medical specialists of the Gotei were stationed, and without them, the afterlife could be a long, hard time.

So when he realized later that he had literally broken down the door, run over a half dozen squad members, run through the offices to the E.R., and bellowed for Isane so loud that he had effectively deafened several of her surgeons, he had to place it in context for himself.

The two minutes it had taken him to race halfway across the Seireitei with the poor bastard in his arms had been like a lifetime, and he found himself only marginally calmer after he got there – until he realized all the other medics were stunned at the damage Kira had undergone. He would have been moved to further violence if Kotetsu hadn't shown up when she did, feeling Kira's blood seeping into his clothing the entire while.

"What happened to him?! Put him here, gently!" He complied, and hesitated when she stopped him from letting go of the gurney, her grip conspicuously strong as steel.

"What the hell d'ya think yer doin'? I gotta go back!" He tried to let go, but the woman's unseemly strength was suddenly nothing reminiscent of a fluke.

"At this level of trauma the only way he's alive is by latching on to your own reiatsu – you let go of him and leave, he dies!" She glanced at the other division members. "Get teams four through six in here! Hanatarou, get the Taicho! Iba, be still!" Tetsuzaemon adjusted his grip and held on, and hoped someone would figure out what was going on out there before Shuuhei got himself and all his squad killed. He positioned himself out of the way as best he could over Kira's head, and watched as the surgeons began to work.

Isane and a number of the other 4th staff left shortly afterwards to where he said the fighting was; he didn't remember giving them directions, but he remembered glancing away from Kira's guts to see Kotetsu run out of the operating room like her ass was on fire.

Surgery was a gross thing, he would later decide; it was one thing to gut your enemy, but generally the poor bastard would die. It wasn't natural for someone to be opened up and have others poking around one's innards like that. It wasn't natural for there to be so little blood, either, and while he was curious about it he would rather just assume it to be Kido. Watching Unohana and Iemura work together, he realized that the redeeming quality of the seemingly useless ponce was his skill at the operating table; the fop's skinny fingers were faster with the tools than the Captain's. The fool never hesitated once, going from artery to organ to tendon to vein; cuts, sutures, and stiches as precise as that Quincy kid's needlework.

It was not until much later, on his way to report to his Captain after they released him - when he thought back about how no one dared to challenge, speak, or look directly at him - that he realized his shikai had been released his entire time going to and residing in the 4th division barracks.

He had maintained it without effort or thought. So while his friend was dying on the table, he passed on to his next trial for Bankai.


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Renji was feeling rather conflicted at the moment, and was thankful for the shades that Kuchiki-Taicho had begrudgingly gifted him as he made his way through the halls of the 5th Division to his office.

Hinamori had been more than happy for him, and neither had addressed the gaping emotional wound that was Aizen's treachery, more than content to overlook that particular circumstance. He had just gone through the barracks, finding it nostalgic that not much had changed since his time here. Roughly half of the faces were different, but given the time lapse, it was to be expected.

He stopped, when he arrived at the Captain's office, uneasy. He had been since before the meeting started. The guys had thought it was over his impending promotion, or over the fact that Kuchiki Taicho had tried so hard to keep him from taking the seat. While he wasn't the smartest shinigami ever, he knew better than to let on otherwise.

He entered, and found the office was largely barren – a desk, writing materials, basic form organization materials, and a kitchenette that ran into the adjoining room, complete with coffee maker and all the accessories.

He stepped outside and looked for Hinamori, but couldn't find her; his third seats hadn't been in when he arrived, and all the pseudo-cubicles were all empty. He made his way into the yard and found some underlings lazing about near the mess.

They were so very, very young, to his eyes; no scars, no worry lines, no experience, steel, or wisdom in their faces. They were young, green, and just from standing there, eyeing them from behind his shades, he could tell not one of them had seen combat since their required outing to graduate from the academy. He wondered if that was how Kuchiki and the older Captains thought of Lieutenants like himse- like he had been, or his friends.

When they told him there wasn't any furniture left in the barracks, he dismissed their loitering and returned to his barren office. He took the time to re-arrange things to his liking, and then made his way to his new housing, attached to the barracks themselves, on the second story. There was a simple bed and nightstand, an empty closet, and a catalogue with the prices for outfitting a Captains home as well as the man to send the order to, paired with his Gotei-sanctioned budget.

He leafed through it without seeing, and sat down on the bed, frustration mounting. Were all his troops as green as the children he'd seen down the hall? Were there no real veterans in his division? What did the Captain-Commander expect from him, throwing an inexperienced administrator to oversee a unit with no experience, no specialization, and no esprit de corps? How did one even build something like that, let alone in the face of its Captain's treachery?

More importantly, what of Aizen's reputation for building the division into one of the most skilled in the Gotei? If it was true, why shift all the people around until the division was massively restructured and fragmented, instead of checking the loyalty of the members? If it wasn't true, then why ruin unit cohesiveness by shifting personnel?

Why not even bother giving him general orders for his available time here, especially after dressing down all the Captains and Lieutenants and demanding everyone improve or else? If he was threatening to permanently sack people who couldn't perform, then why make him a Captain, against the advice of most of the other Captains, and then fail to give him orders or instruction about what to do?

Was he supposed to exercise some autonomy here, or was this simply to put him out of the way for later use as a reserve? And what use could he be, besides maybe a stalling action and throwing the fodder that the 5th division had become into a breach to buy time?

He rose and grit his teeth, suppressing a growl as he shed his clothes and entered the shower, letting the scalding heat soak in as he thought. The Gotei was at war with a Traitor Captain who mastered deception at a level unheard of. Ichimaru was a prodigy by himself, and the only reason he creeped people out was because he was amused by doing so. Tosen was a nut, but quiet enough to go undetected. The only advantages the Gotei would have against them were those they developed in the interim between their defection and the next battle. The Captain-Commander had made that plain, and Renji was inclined to agree.

As he considered it, that might be why he was given no instruction – oversight. There were a lot of changes slated and ordered, but implementation would take a couple days at the fastest, and given the independence of the different divisions, it would make sense that communication suffered as well. If he wanted to acquit himself well, he would be best served by trying to utilize his time productively. The problem lay in figuring out what would be useful, since he had no idea what the division may be used for in the coming war. This limited his options, since choosing the wrong thing would weaken his combat effectiveness instead of increasing it.

He could begin by arranging skirmishes within his own division, utilizing the basics, to get a feel for where everyone was and to start familiarizing the men with one another. That should give him time to decide the next step and keep the men busy. But beyond that, he was far too unsure how to go from there, and one could not appear indecisive when leading. He would have to consult on the next phase quickly, but his selection of peers was limited. The other Captains would be preoccupied with their own efforts, and the Lieutenants were not to be consulted about division affairs outside of their own.

That was what would hurt him the most in the immediate; he couldn't go to Rukia anymore to hash out ideas. Hinamori was a sweetheart, but she was still recovering from Aizen's betrayal, and while she was always a whiz at Kido, she was not the most tactically keen mind. 'A made Lieutenant', as Kuchiki-Taicho always liked to put it. As he dried off and dressed himself, that particular thought gnawed at him. He had spent years in Kuchiki's shadow, and while he had learned, the instruction had always seemed to be a begrudging one.

Nearly killing the jerk hadn't helped matters really, especially when it became obvious that he was still sorely outclassed. He'd like to think that his rapid advancement was a good thing, but it didn't matter, and wouldn't, until he caught up to Kuchiki's level. He needed to consult someone else – anyone, really – and as he lay there in bed, he decided to hazard it.

Uh… Zabimaru? You there?

No response.

Listen here, you circus freaks, answer me!

We already told you back when you learned shikai…

We ssssimply don't care enough to be bothered with thingsss that aren't fighting.

You wanna talk, find somebody who can be bothered. You want to fight, fine. We'll stand by you like we always have, baka.

But anything outsssside combat isss of no interessst to usss.

I haven't even asked anything yet!

It seemed not to matter; he spoke, commanded, jibed, taunted, insulted, screamed, and pleaded, but Zabimaru remained silent. He gave up after a thirty minutes; his blade had never been a good source for introspection to begin with. It was likely his own fault – he never really shared his burdens with others, and generally kept his own counsel on personal matters, and his blade valued fighting and simplicity.

Indeed, that was his entire attack strategy to begin with: Hit it until it stops moving. It moves? Hit it some more. Even his Bankai had been a short step up from this basic approach: hit it from multiple directions at the same time with a bigger edge. He would have to consider how to get around that, since he wasn't like Kenpachi, who could just forget how to die. Hinamori was a recognized Kido expert though, so he could simply just order her to teach him – though since they were old friends, she'd likely jump at the chance to help.

He rubbed his eyes and rolled over, deciding to let the matter hold until morning; his head hurt too much when he thought too hard or for too long. As he slipped away, he smiled half-heartedly to himself – it was a good thing he would have time to acclimate to his command before the war broke out in earnest. He didn't need any more fighting as of yet.

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Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

"I need to see your wounds, Shu."

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat* Drip…

Hisagi continued to stare, his eyes hard and merciless. Tosen-Taicho would have been unabashedly ashamed.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Moreso if every breath wasn't terribly labored and a likely sign of imminent death, as well.

A distant part of him, hidden somewhere within the recesses of his mind, felt shame at the sight of his men. twenty bodies – every 20th seat from his division - with nothing to show for it, and of all of them, it had to be that fat bastard Umesada who might yet live. Of course the coward would survive. How would injustice be served if he didn't?

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

"Shu, I want to help, but you need to put your blades away." He ignored the fear in her voice, and didn't look away from the carnage. He couldn't.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat* He managed a shallow, wet breath.

Drip… *splat* Drip… Drip… Drip… Drip…

What a coward she is. This is your blood. Hollow blood! The blood of your men, shed in battle! A sign of death, of war. Is she so afraid of it that she cannot bring herself to minister to you, when you don't have the strength to move? Even with the danger over? She made a disgusted noise.

How you could ever love such a coward is beyond me, Shu-kun. Fitting that she would surround herself with those who could save her when she couldn't save herself. Her placement in the 4th Division makes even more sense, now.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

She's never seen . . . this side of me. Of course . . . she'd be afraid. She thinks I've . . . gone psychotic. He paused. Another wet, labored breath, defined by hitching pain. Too hard, should be easy. Bad sign, when coupled with the slow thoughts.

Is this what . . . dying . . . feels like? He wished he felt something at the query – fear, sadness, concern – anything besides calm, numb acceptance.

Hai. She sounded proud, unashamed, and unafraid. You have no reiatsu left, nor I. If I did, we'd still be fighting.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

All the hollows . . . are dead. All that's . . . left is the destruction and . . . the bodies . . . of my men.

There are always more targets, Shuuhei. It's just a matter of finding them. And those weren't your men. They sought to aid you because it was their duty to do so and because you increased their odds of survival, not out of loyalty. You are Tosen's patsy, as far as they were concerned. Their deaths were fortunate, if not entirely necessary.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

To his right, he heard Isane curse, and his eye wandered to her. She looked afraid – well, only someone who knew her well would see it – and she kept trying to get close, but every time she came within five yards, something cut her and forced her back. He blinked, slowly, as she was cut again, anger and despair warring on her face as sharply as the several cuts to her uniform.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

Kazeshini was still firmly grasped in each bloody hand.

What the . . . hell is . . . hurting her? He heard the cruel, malicious giggle in his mind.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Drip… Drip… *splat*

Congratulations, Shu~Kun! You developed your secondary shikai ability! I really, truly didn't think you had it in you, but I admit, you surprised in spectacular fashion! He found he lacked the strength to be angry or indignant as another attempt yielded Isane a bloody nose. That didn't bother him like it should have; it was just another fact of the world he found himself surrounded by.

What other . . . ab . . .ilities can I . . . unlock? How many . . . more . . . are there? Why didn't . . . you t . . . tell . . . me? She giggled in the coy manner she favored when bemused by his commentary or thoughts.

Drip… Drip… Drip… *splat*

Silly Shuuhei, we're dying! You don't need to know that sort of thing where we're going!

"Shuuhei, please, put her away before it's too late to help you! Please!" He heard the panic in Isane's voice over the din of Kazeshini's laughter, and despite himself, he reacted.

He turned his head slightly to the side, and tried to speak, wanted to answer her, but the act used up the last of his non-existent strength.

He collapsed slowly, her shocked shout reaching his ears and terrified visage hinting through the bloodied tint of the moonlight only moments before his head hit the dirt, and then he could no longer feel his own body.

He realized he didn't really mind all that much, as Kazeshini reverted to her sealed form in his hand. He felt her coil around his consciousness like a murderous lover in the throes of dying madness – an odd mix of hatred, resentment, and affection tinged with broken loyalty.

Each nerve, each muscle seemed to shut off in furious, rapid procession, and as he felt his mind slow and his sight and hearing fade with a last glimpse of Isane's terrified, grey eyes and voiceless shout so far above him, he felt Kazeshini too - waiting with him as everything shut off, and the pain faded.

He had won, had helped save Kira; the enemy had not seen him fall. True, that bitch had escaped him, but really, fighting an Arrancar to a standoff on one's own was nothing to sniff at – for a Lieutenant, anyway. Thank the gods he'd be dead before they found out what she looked like.

Death would be a small mercy compared to the guys seeing what had fucked him up so badly and then ribbing him for the rest of his afterlife for it. No, it was better this way.

Isane was a sweet girl; she would never leave his body to rot, breakup or no. He would be burned with full honors. She might even attend, as he thought about it, and the thought brought a flash of pleasure. He always tried to be a decent guy, especially concerning her, and she would probably remember him fairly. He hoped she found happiness, and survived the war; Kira and the guys as well, for that matter. Too bad for the division, though. Nobunaga was an excellent 3rd seat, but a leader of men, he was not. Though, to be fair, that wasn't his problem anymore.

He realized then that there were far worse deaths, truth be told.

In that last moment, it was enough; and when the stillness claimed him, Kazeshini was right behind.

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