Chapter 21: Dreams and Nightmares

Renji woke to complete darkness and silence. And unable to feel anything, and without the ability to move, he had no idea what might have happened to him. He remembered a garganta opening and walking inside, taking a last, desperate glance at Byakuya's restrained body, then he turned to walk in the direction of Hueco Mundo and…

That's where it all ends…

What in kami's name happened to me?

Am I dead?

I should feel something…somewhere, shouldn't I?

He reached out with his senses, trying to determine if he was alone, to pick up sensations of hot or cold, to make some kind of a connection with his body, but he was so frozen, that he couldn't feel or move anything.

Damn it!

Am I even still in my body?

I have no idea at all!

"Are you afraid?" a voice hissed softly in his mind.

He couldn't even tell if the sound was in his ears or only in his head. He tried to speak, but found himself unable.

"Are you worried that you are dead, Renji?"

Not anymore, he thought, If I'm hearing his voice, then I'm alive.

"You probably just figured out you're alive," said Hisoka's voice, "but you still don't know what kind of condition you're in. For all you know, you could be without your limbs…eyes, ears…yes, you have no idea, do you? And you cannot move or speak, so you don't know if you have your tongue. But you know, if I took your tongue too soon, then I couldn't hear you scream properly. I want to hear you scream…the way I did when you left me in that fire…trapped and burning. Do you feel it?"

The sensation began slowly and gradually worsened, starting on his face and arms and spreading outward and around until he felt himself burning up all over. He grunted in pain, but decided that Hisoka wasn't going to let him off so easily, killing him immediately.

Not that burning to death is an immediate thing, but this guy is one twisted fucker. This isn't real. The bad part is, it feels real…and this son of a bitch can just keep burning me alive for as long as he wants to. And having no sensations except for that burning on my skin, I can't tell how long it lasts. I don't have a point of reference, not even using my thoughts…because thought can vary in speed. There's no point of reference there.

Damn it!

"Do you know that you are screaming?" Hisoka's voice asked, "You can't hear it. You can only hear what I allow you to. Would you like to hear yourself scream?"

And the next thing he knew, it was like someone had suddenly removed a set of earplugs from his ears. The sound of his screaming was horridly loud and he couldn't control it. The burning continued all over his body, even searing his mouth, his tongue, his throat. He screamed until he was hoarse and still kept screaming until he disappeared into the pain and awful sound of his ragged voice. When it stopped, he wondered for a moment if the stops on his ears had been replaced, but then he registered the heaving of his chest as he panted hard in recovery.

"Bastard!" he gasped hoarsely, surprised that he could hear his own words.

"You really are terribly vulgar," Hisoka said quietly, "You know, not all Rukon folk are as foul mouthed as you. But I like to think that reliance on such language displays a lack of both imagination and intelligence. Simply put, you use a few repeated vulgarities because your less educated mind can't supply you more eloquent words and your lack of imagination prevents you from using creative euphemism."

"Yeah, right," muttered Renji, "Is there an eloquent and creative way to say, 'Go fuck yourself?' Wait a minute…no…GO FUCK YOURSELF!"

He could almost feel the hollow's creepy smile.

And his laugh was even creepier.

"Oh…Renji…what a lovely suggestion. But I have something much better in mind. Poor, confused Renji," said Hisoka, "You have no idea what's real anymore, ne? So tell me, Renji…what do you think of this?"

All at once, his senses returned to him completely, and the redhead found himself standing up, and face to face with himself in a full length mirror. His stomach quailed and his throat went dry as he took in the sight. His body had gone white, so his tattoos stood out starkly on his skin. He was now adorned in the white livery of the Arrancars, with his zanpakutou at his waist and a stark, white, bony mask that covered his forehead and the left side of his face, and bore tattoos over the holes where his, now glowing red, eyes peeked through.

Shit…he knew exactly what to do, didn't he?

"You are rather quiet now, Renji. You know that this is what I had planned for you, ne? That I would bring you to Hueco Mundo and doom you to the same futile existence that you gave me? I think you make a lovely Arrancar…and because you are a hollow, you can never go back. You can never leave me again. And even if your former husband does find his way here, he can't save you. All he will be able to do for you is to kill you himself, so that he can put your soul to rest."

"You bastard!" screamed Renji, drawing his sword, "Come out here and show yourself! I dare you!"

"Be careful with that weapon," Hisoka warned him, "Hollow weapons work differently than the shinigami's."

"I don't care whether this sword is hollow or shinigami, or whether I shoot kido or ceros!" the redhead cried, "Whatever I am, as soon as you show me your cowardly ass, I'm going to fucking KILL YOU!"

XXXXXXXXXX

Gia started to scream, but the sound was cut off as a huge hand covered her mouth. She stared wide-eyed at the big hollow who gazed sternly down at her.

"Be quiet, girl!" he said in a rough voice, "You will attract hollows that you really don't want to meet."

He loosened his hold on her so that she could speak.

"Are you tracking Abarai Renji?" he asked her.

Gia shivered and nodded.

"H-how did you know?" she asked softly.

"I am Naizetsumei," the hollow told her, his golden eyes blinking slowly, "I became acquainted with Abarai Renji and Kuchiki Byakuya when they were Sato Hisoka's prisoners. I have also been watching Hisoka-san since he came to Hueco Mundo as a hollow, himself."

"S-sato Hisoka became…a hollow?" Gia repeated in shock, "Th-then, was he the one who came and burned the manor?"

Naizetsumei nodded.

"He did. And he has Abarai Renji in his hideout. Three others came this way looking for Abarai Renji and I showed them where he is."

"Then you can show me too!" cried Gia, "Take me to Daddy Ren!"

"Now, wait a minute, girl!" the big hollow exclaimed, "You can't just go barging into Hisoka-san's place like that. Use your head. You are just a little thing and I'll wager you don't even have a zanpakutou!"

"I have kido," Gia said, glaring, "And I'm not letting some mean hollow take my Daddy Ren! I am going to protect him! I don't care if I don't have a zanpakutou yet! I am a shinigami! I promised that I would fight anything that tries to do wrong, and I would protect the people I love! Now, let go of me!"

She stomped on the hollow's foot, making him give a yelp of pain, then she formed a kido ball and struck him in the belly with it, making him let out a resounding 'OOF!' and let go. Naizetsumei shook his head in surprise and barely managed to catch the girl by the back of her shihakushou. He lifted her up in the air and growled at her. The girl continued to strike at him with hands and feet.

"Let go of me you…you…bastard!" she yelled.

The hollow's eyes widened for a moment, then he chuckled softly and lowered her onto her feet, still holding on to the back of her shihakushou.

"You are like Abarai-san," he commented, "much like Abarai-san. You say he is your father?"

"Abarai Renji and Kuchiki Byakuya are both my fathers," said Gia, "I am adopted. They adopted me from Inuzuri."

"Which, in addition to being Abarai-san's daughter, explains your temperament, fighting style and language, ne?" the hollow said, lifting an eyebrow, "Well, girl…"

"My name is Gia!"

"Very well then, Gia-chan," Naizetsumei went on, "There is no way you are ready to take on Hisoka-san on your own. But I can see you are not going to give up either. I don't want to try taking you to Kuchiki Manor, because the shinigamis might kill me on sight, so I will lead you to the others who came here and let them deal with you. But you must promise to do exactly as I tell you or I will just knock you out and throw you over my shoulder, ne?"

Gia frowned sullenly, but nodded, deciding that either way, she was going to find her father.

"Very well then," said the big hollow, "It is this way."

Gia's eyes narrowed.

"How do I know you're not just trying to trick me so that you can eat me?" she asked sternly.

Naizetsumei chuckled.

"Because if I wanted that badly to eat you, I would have done it already…especially after you stomped on my foot!"

Gia turned and followed as he led the way.

"S-sorry about that," she said, jumping from one of his big footprints in the sand to the next, "And sorry I said a bad word at you. I was just mad because I want to get Daddy Ren back."

The hollow shook his head and smiled.

"Come along Gia-chan."

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya drifted silently in darkness, feeling his own soft inhale and exhale to tell him he was still alive. He wasn't sure where he was, but he was buoyed by the memory of sending Senbonzakura to find Renji. He trusted the samurai implicitly. But then, he remembered, Senbonzakura could be a little bit inclined to get into innocent mischief…more from simply not knowing better, rather than just being gifted at finding trouble as Zabimaru was. He sighed softly in regret, wishing deeply that he could have been strong enough to go after Renji himself. The redhead needed him. And it felt wrong not to have the strength to be there for him.

He was distracted by a soft giggle and realized that the sky around him was brightening…

He knew he couldn't be in his inner world, as it had been destroyed when he had freed Senbonzakura. But as the laughter sounded again, he smiled, remembering that he had been here before. He had, in fact, made numerous trips to the special place in the king's gardens, where the three little red-haired spirits waited for him to appear to visit with them.

"Daddy Bya! Daddy Bya!" they cried, flash stepping to meet him.

They slid to a stop, staring at his simple white shihakushou and bare feet. Byakuya dropped to his knees, watching as they approached him more cautiously, their intelligent gray eyes studying him curiously.

"Daddy Bya," said one of the girls, "Are you all right? I see you, but I don't feel your reiatsu."

Byakuya gave her a gentle smile and touched her face lightly.

"I had to give my reiatsu to my zanpakutou so that he could go and help Renji. He was taken from us by a very powerful hollow, and I was too injured to help him."

"Y-you…freed your zanpakutou?" the girl repeated, wide eyed.

"I had to do that to protect someone I love…your other father, Renji," Byakuya answered, giving each girl a hug.

"Can we help Renji, too?" asked the smallest of the girls, "We want to protect our daddy too!"

"Oh, I don't think so, child," Byakuya said, giving her a sad smile, "Your brother is only a baby. He doesn't even know what is going on and is far too young to fight. You will grow bigger and stronger soon, but it will be some time before you and Orion learn to fight together."

"But we are different!" said the one of the other girls, "We are Sanhoshi, a fully formed zanpakutou. We can fight…but…we need someone to wield us. Could you?"

Byakuya sighed softly and gave her a look of regret.

"I have no reiatsu," he said quietly, "And even if I did, my back and legs were badly injured that day when I fell from the cliff. I haven't yet regained my strength."

"But there is a way you can wield that blade," said the spirit king's voice from behind the noble, startling him.

Byakuya turned and looked up at the monarch's gently obscured face.

"How?" he asked, "How can I wield Sanhoshi?"

He could feel that the king was smiling.

"Your inner strength and your will to protect your loved ones has caused Sanhoshi to develop those characteristics as well. And with the binding of your desires to protect, you can connect with this zanpakutou and fight."

"But…I have given all of my reiatsu to Senbonzakura…"

The king nodded.

"But you are in the presence of one who possesses the ability to provide you with a body capable of fighting."

Byakuya's eyes widened in realization.

"I am in Karakura Town?" he asked softly.

"You were taken to Urahara Kisuke's shop for healing by Inoue Orihime. She cannot restore you quickly enough, but Urahara Kisuke can help you."

"But before you can wield us, we have to tell you our names," said the three girls, "Our names are part of the release command."

"I am Alnilam," said the first.

"I am Alnitak," said the second.

"And I am Mintaka," said the last.

"Named after the three stars in Orion's belt," said Byakuya, nodding, "So I say your names…"

"You say our names and give the command, 'Rise into the night sky, Sanhoshi!'" said Mintaka.

"And each of us has a special ability for you to use in battle," said Alnilam, "I act as Sanhoshi's shield."

"I am Sanhoshi's Sword," said Alnitak.

"And I fire volleys of arrows," added Mintaka.

"You see, Daddy Bya?" the girls said together, "We can help you!"

"Then help me you will," said Byakuya, rising.

"But first you have to wake up! Wake up, Daddy Bya! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"

Byakuya's eyes closed and he felt the sensation of falling. He floated senselessly for a time, trying to connect with his weakened body, but unable to make himself move. He focused deeply, thinking about how Renji needed him. Renji had long been his most capable protector, and now it was time for him to be there for Renji. He focused on his connection with his body, straining to make himself move or to open his eyes. He heard a soft sound of surprise and opened his eyes to find Orihime leaning over him, her golden oval extended over him. She lowered her hands and the golden power faded.

"You shouldn't be awake yet," the girl said softly, "Unahana taichou said that you should sleep through the night."

"There is no time," he said, sitting up slowly, "I need to speak to Urahara-san."

The door opened suddenly, and the shopkeeper entered the room with Yoruichi at his side.

"Ah, Byakuya-san, you are awake," said Kisuke.

"I need your help," Byakuya said, gazing up at them, "I have to go after Renji."

"What?" said Yoruichi, "You don't have any powers! Might I remind you that you gave all of your reiatsu to Senbonzakura?"

"I know," admitted the noble, "but I have it from a reliable source that there is a zanpakutou that is willing to connect with me to act in Renji's defense."

"I see," said Kisuke, his eyes narrowing, "but you need a body that is in better condition for fighting and has full reiatsu, ne?"

"Yes," said the noble, nodding.

"I think I can help you," said Kisuke, "I still have samples of your reiatsu from when I was investigating the body switching and pregnancies. It should be easy enough to use your reiatsu to prepare a mod soul you can use for the fight. The only catch is, because of the short prep time, you're going to have to be a little careful with the mod soul. A couple of good hits on you and you'll find yourself powerless again. Add to that, the fact that a sudden power surge could cause you and Renji to suddenly switch bodies, and the whole thing's kinda iffy."

"Then why take the risk?" asked Yoruichi.

"Because," said Kisuke, "I sensed earlier that someone used the garganta without permission. I checked to see who it was…and I found your Gia-chan's reiatsu."

"Gia?" Byakuya repeated, his eyes widening.

"Don't worry, Byakuya-san," said Kisuke reassuringly, "I will have that mod soul ready for you in a wink."

"I'm going on ahead," said Yoruichi, "Maybe I can stop her before she gets very far."

"Arigato, Senpai," Byakuya said, nodding, "I will join you as soon as the mod soul is ready."

"Come, Byakuya-san," said Kisuke, "Let's get you powered up!"