CHAPTER 14: TIME FOR WAR

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...

Onwards...

XOXOXO

Aizen loomed before Grimmjow like an ominous guillotine. It was nerve-wracking at best. The way the arrogant man sat atop his perch was similar to a king on his throne – except Aizen was no one's king. Grimmjow refused to accept it. He slowly made his way towards the grand structure and stood at the bottom of it. He held his head up, but didn't quite meet the other fairy's cruel, brown eyes. He couldn't. Grimmjow still remembered the immense pain he'd endured not too long before at the hands of that very being.

Aizen smiled down at Grimmjow as he rested his right elbow on the arm of the throne and his chin in his palm. "You look much better."

Grimmjow didn't know what to say, so he remained silent, hoping whatever it was Aizen wanted had nothing to do with more agony.

"Come sit beside me, my beautiful prince."

Grimmjow wanted to cringe at the words for several reasons. For one thing, when Aizen's voice went all soft and quiet that way, pain usually followed right behind. Another reason had to be because the fairy only had one throne on high, meaning, there was no room for two. That left Grimmjow with disturbing thoughts of where the hell he would fit. Did Aizen want him in the same seat? Or... Please, no, he inwardly begged. He'd sit on the floor with a smile before he sat on the crazy and deranged fairy's lap. But the man had said beside him, so maybe he meant on the floor. Hell, even that was more acceptable than what his mind was currently cooking up. Grimmjow crept a few steps ahead, pausing when the dark-haired fairy from earlier cleared his throat.

"Yes, Ulquiorra?" Aizen questioned.

Grimmjow glanced at the brunet fairy before turning back to the dark-haired one with the huge, somber, emerald-green eyes. Ulquiorra went to one knee and lowered his head.

"I have news, Sir."

"I'm listening."

Grimmjow stood transfixed as he watched the two speaking. He wondered what was going on, but more than that, he wished he could just return to his new room. It was infinitely better than waiting for the ax to drop onto his neck.

"The sorcerer has indicated the existence of a group of survivors from the fall of the clans."

Silence seemed to descend like a dark cloud over the room. Even Grimmjow was stunned by the report. Survivors? Was that what Kisuke had been talking about back in the human realm? If so, then that meant he wasn't really the last of his clan. A rush of warmth spread through his gut as he continued to watch Aizen and Ulquiorra.

There was still hope for his people!

"Is that so?" Aizen finally asked, voice hinting at surprise, but filled with more irritation than anything. "And where are they?"

Ulquiorra raised his head and locked eyes with Aizen. "Hiding somewhere along the outskirts of Eloria."

"Ah. I see."

Dread began to overwhelm Grimmjow at the look on Aizen's face. There was a certain streak of hatred that was leaking through, and it made Grimmjow shift with unease. More than anything, he wished that there was something he could do. Suddenly, the pressure in the room increased until Grimmjow was forced to his knees. He could barely lift his head high enough to glimpse the brunet fairy, who was on his feet and descending the throne stairs. Grimmjow's breathing picked up as Aizen strode closer and closer. When the fairy was within arm's reach, Grimmjow lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut, fearing the worst. Fortunately, nothing happened. Aizen continued past him until he reached the throne room doors. There, he paused and glanced over his shoulder at the dark-haired fairy, still in his subservient position.

"Come with me, Ulquiorra. We have work that must be done." Aizen paused, possibly for dramatic flair before speaking again. "I will see to you later, my sweet prince."

Grimmjow was grateful for the level of pressure in the room that kept him from being able to speak. His old fire was stoking, and he was certain that he would have sealed his fate with unwise words towards the brunet fairy. Thankfully, Aizen left the throne room, taking his nearly unbearable pressure with him. Grimmjow gasped as air filled his lungs in a rush, making him dizzy, his vision blurring and his stomach heaving with upset. He was flooded with relief that Aizen's focus had been diverted from himself, but he was also overtaken by anxiety and impending doom. What did this mean for his surviving people? Of course, he had an idea, but the thought of so many more fairies dying at the hand of the cruel brunet had his stomach churning even harder. Why couldn't he be stronger? Why couldn't he have grabbed Pantera before confronting Aizen? So much regret and guilt washed over him that it was once again hard to breathe.

The smaller fairy from earlier came to a stop beside Grimmjow and offered him a hand. Grimmjow glanced up at him warily, but accepted the help as he climbed shakily to his feet. What was he supposed to do? What could he do? There was no way he could fight Aizen in his current state, and even if he could, Aizen had too many followers, who were sure to cut down Grimmjow before he could even manage to get close to the powerful fairy. Tears stung his eyes as he thought of his parents and his people. They hadn't deserved the fate that had befallen them.

What could he do?

"I'll take you back to your quarters, Prince."

Grimmjow gave the slighter fairy at his side another look, this one grateful. "Thank you," he said quietly.

As they left the throne room, Grimmjow thought about the things Kisuke had told him as well as the very disturbing idea that Nnoitra had given him. What if Ichigo really was the Eieren heir, and his father the Eieren King? He knew what it meant if it were in fact true. The traditions and customs of their world didn't allow for two males to come together romantically. In fact, in the ancient times, those who had had been put to death. It was a severe consequence for an act that was thought to be despicable. Grimmjow clenched his teeth together as his heart ached right along with his back. Even if there was a miniscule chance that he'd see Ichigo again, there was no way that they could be together as they had in the other dimension. Not only that, but Grimmjow had to worry about Aizen's nefarious plans. Obviously, the brunet had no worries of what their people would think of the union Aizen had in mind. Especially if one considered the lengths the fairy had gone to by getting rid of their kind.

And who was to say that Ichigo was the heir to the Eieren throne? Nnoitra might have just been grasping at straws in order to make sense of the baffling information Kisuke had given them. And of course, Grimmjow thought. I may never see Ichigo again. He lowered his head as he and the smaller fairy continued to the room Aizen had assigned him. As much as he wanted to see Ichigo, wanted to hold him in his arms and kiss him, make love to him, there was just no way it would happen. Sadness threatened to weigh down his steps, but Grimmjow decided that he would look at the bright side of this mess. At least he'd had the chance to experience love. At least he'd had the chance to give himself, as well as his heart, to a man who seemed to truly care about him at the time.

I don't regret a thing.

XOXOXO

Ichigo gripped his right upper arm as he held himself up against a nearby tree. His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath, but the more air he took into his lungs, the more they caught fire and burned. He gasped and fought against a bout of trembling. He was dead tired and sore to boot, but he refused to quit. This must have been what his father had been trying to warn him about. He and Urahara had been going at it for what felt like forever now, and his body had long ago begun protesting his persistence. But he couldn't stop. He just couldn't. Grimmjow was still in the hands of that crazed asshole, and Ichigo was determined to see to the brutal fairy's speedy demise. Just as his legs threatened to give out on him, the sound of metal singing through the air made a burst of energy shoot through the weakened muscles. He leaped out of the way of Urahara's blade that crashed into the spot he'd been resting, embedding itself into the rough bark of the tree.

"Fuck!" he hissed after rolling into a crouch.

He wasn't sure he could take much more of this. What was the purpose of all of this fighting? He didn't seem to be gaining any extra power. In fact, if anything, he was merely learning how to dodge Urahara's attacks a little better each time. But that knowledge hadn't come freely. He'd earned a bunch of cuts, scrapes, bruises and lumps in the process. Yet, his fighting technique wasn't progressing at all. While Urahara was busy extracting his sword from the tree, Ichigo climbed to his feet and glared at the blond.

"Urahara!" he snapped. "What the fuck is this supposed to accomplish aside from making me hurt all over?"

Urahara yanked his blade free and leveled Ichigo with a weighty stare. As the two locked eyes, Urahara traced a small circle in the soft ground with the tip of his sword. Finally, after a few long moments, the fairy spoke.

"Why do you want to fight?"

Ichigo frowned. "What?"

"Why...do you want...to fight? It's not hard, Ichigo-kun."

"I thought that was obvious? I have to help Grimmjow."

"Then you must defeat me. It's the only way."

"But I'm not getting stronger!"

Instead of speaking, Urahara lashed out towards Ichigo with his sword, a gust of red energy cutting a path in the dirt between them. Ichigo's eyes widened as he leaped out of the way.

"What the fuck was that, Urahara?! Are you trying to kill me?!"

Again Urahara gave him a heavy stare. "Yes. You will never be able to save Grimmjow if you can't defeat me, and the only way to defeat me is by using your birthright to your advantage. Once you released its power, you've been neglectful. That is why you're struggling. That is why you've seen no progress in your strength. If Grimmjow could see you now, he would laugh."

Heat instantly engulfed Ichigo. The hand around the hilt of his sword tightened as he gritted his teeth. He'd never been so angry in his life, but Urahara was right. If Grimmjow could see how weak and pitiful Ichigo was right now, he would most certainly find it amusing. Rage developed within him at a frightening speed and was close to swallowing him whole, until he spotted a small smirk forming across Urahara's face.

"That's more like it," the blond said. "Come at me with all you've got. I won't take it easy on you, Ichigo-kun, Eieren prince or not."

Ichigo happened to glance down at his right arm where a gash had been and was astonished to find that it was gone. Not only that, but there was a black chain snaking its way up his arm from the hilt of his blade. As he eyed the chain, he realized that his aches and pains from only seconds before were disappearing, leaving pure adrenaline in its wake. And then, things got even weirder because he started to glow an eery mixture of black and blood red.

"Wh-what's happening?!" he shouted.

"You are my master. Use me," a voice whispered.

"Urahara?!"

A gust of wind that belonged in a tornado seemed to spiral up from the ground itself before Ichigo was blinded by a bright, white light. And just as suddenly as the flare had appeared, it was gone, leaving Ichigo with a deep sense of peace and understanding. He raised his arm and stared at the black blade in his hand.

"I get it, now...Zangetsu."

When he turned his attention to Urahara, the blond fairy was grinning joyfully. He didn't speak, however. He just lifted a hand and crooked his fingers in a "come at me" gesture. Ichigo nodded. In two fluid wrist movements, his sword was twirled into battle position as he lunged at Urahara. He appeared before the startled blond in the blink of an eye, but Urahara managed to recover in time to block the downward arc of Ichigo's blade.

On the outside, Ichigo was the picture of calm, but inwardly, he was shocked and excited. He felt like a feather, which had to be why his speed had increased so dramatically. Not only that, but he felt like he could knock down the Tokyo Tower with one swing. Whether it was just confidence in his birthright, or whether he really had that much strength was still yet to be seen. At any rate, he felt like he was ten steps closer to saving his beloved.

XOXOXO

"How long?" Gin growled through clenched teeth.

The pale-haired man on the screen in Gin's uncle's bedroom sighed, his expression filled with helplessness. "Two days. Three the most, but that's pushing it."

It was Gin's turn to sigh. This kind of news couldn't have come at a worse time. Not only was his uncle busy in an entirely separate environment, but how could such a desperate situation be resolved? Gin ran a hand through his silver fringe as he squeezed his eyes shut.

Aizen knew. Jyuushiro Ukitake's spy had returned from Aizen's fortress with dreadful information. Somehow or another, the sorcerer working for Aizen had discovered the existence of the survivors of the fall of the clans. Now, it was almost certain that the brunet fairy planned to move and destroy what was left of their race. Gin couldn't tolerate that, and he was sure that the rest of the fairies in this dimension would feel the same. But there was a fly in the ointment. What were they supposed to do with thousands of surviving fairies? How could they hide so many-

Gin's eyes flew open as he stared at Jyuushiro in open-mouthed shock. "I have an idea," he breathed.

Jyuushiro tilted his head, a glint forming in those deep brown irises. "I'm listening."

"Gather all of the survivors and lead them to Celestial Mountain. On the path, there will be a fork. Take the right path until you reach the Jade Cave. Inside, I will meet you there. Do it now! The trip should take no more than a day, which leaves me very little time to prepare another Garganta."

"What are you thinking, young Ichimaru?"

"My uncle – Kisuke – he has a cavernous space that will easily hide our people. I just need to go there in order to gather the reiatsu and form a Garganta. I already have a sample of the Jade Cave, which will make things easier for me on this side to create the gateway between our worlds. Hurry, Jyuushiro!"

The pale-haired man nodded and the screen went dark. Gin rushed to his feet and out of his uncle's apartment. He had to grab his supplies from his cousin's home before going back to the training grounds beneath them. He had no time to waste.

That damned Aizen.

XOXOXO

Shinji placed a cool cloth along Nnoitra's brow. He was burning up with fever, and Shinji was starting to fear the worst. Gin had told him that all Nnoitra needed to do now was rest, and his recovery would be solely based on his strength of spirit. Shinji knew that Nnoitra was a strong bastard, but would he be able to come back from such a severe injury? Who knew?

Shinji stared at the tall fairy, his stomach churning with unease and fear. Nnoitra's ink black hair was all over the pillow, tangled and dry, while his skin was pale and pasty. His lips were chapped, and there were dark circles under his shut eyes. Truth be told, he looked like he was already dead.

"I wish you would just wake up already. Stubborn asshole," Shinji muttered.

He was hoping that Nnoitra would hear him and snap back like he normally did. There was nothing. Just the shallow breaths that assured Shinji that the fairy was at the very least still alive.

After a few more moments of quiet sitting, Shinji sighed and climbed to his feet. He couldn't take the waiting, the not knowing. It was driving him crazy. How strange that he'd find a companion in such a brash person. Nnoitra was as crass as they came, but Shinji wouldn't change the man for anything in the world. He liked Nnoitra that way. He moved as close to the bed as he could get without actually touching it before bending at the waist and dropping a soft kiss to the clammy forehead.

"You better not die on me."

He left the bedroom, heart feeling as though it weighed a ton. This entire situation was just screwed up. He still didn't know what to make of his father being a fairy. Ichigo too. It was so shocking that it was damned near debilitating. The night Nnoitra, Grimmjow and Neliel had shown up in their apartment seemed so long ago. Grudgingly, Shinji had to admit that the trio had become like family. Especially Grimmjow. Shinji had never seen Ichigo look so happy for as long as he'd known the guy, and if the blue-haired fairy was the cause of it, then Shinji fully supported Ichigo's choice to go and rescue him from the clutches of that deranged-

"Shinji?"

Shinji paused in his trek to the living room as he acknowledged Grimmjow's green-haired sister. She was staring at him, big gray eyes wide with uncertainty and a hint of fear.

"Are you OK?"

It wasn't until he sniffed that he realized tears were tracking down the sides of his face. Was Nnoitra's predicament really affecting him to that degree? He wiped the moisture from his face and tried to smile through the bleakness he felt.

"I'm fine, Nel. Are you alright?"

She eyed him for a little longer before shadows seemed to creep into her gaze. She focused on the floor and shook her head.

"I'm scared for my brother. What if he's already dead?"

"Don't think like that. I know it's easier to fear the worst, but you just have to be strong. That's all we can do until Ichigo goes to bring him back."

"But nothing is ever that easy! Look at what happened to my parents and my people! They're all dead!"

Shinji didn't know what to do. Nel was becoming hysterical, tears flowing freely from her eyes. He'd never been good at dealing with girls, and certainly not crying ones. He held up his hands as if to physically ward off her tears as he edged closer.

"Nel, please don't cry."

"This is so unfair! Why did this have to happen to us?"

Thankfully, Shinji didn't get a chance to reply. Isshin gently grasped Nel's shoulders and turned her to face him. She immediately fell into his chest and dissolved into broken sobs.

"I just want my family back! I just want things to go back to how they were!"

"I understand," Isshin murmured. "No one really knows why these things happen, but we can only make the best of it. Are you not still alive? Do you not still have people here who care for you?"

Nel nodded as she clung to Isshin's shirt. Shinji huffed a breath of relief as the elder Kurosaki steered the young woman towards the living room with one last empathetic glance over the shoulder. Maybe Shinji wouldn't go to the sitting room, after all. He decided to enter Ichigo's room, where he figured he would have more peace and quiet without the stress of watching the man he loved struggle for his life.

The room smelled like a combination of his best friend and Grimmjow. The bed covers were still thrown aside and Ichigo still had clothes strewn across his dresser. Shinji trudged over to the bed and plopped down onto it before lowering his face to his hands. He was emotionally exhausted. There was so much that he had to understand, but he felt like he was no closer to doing so than when he'd first heard all the new information.

XOXOXO

Ichigo took a deep breath and looked around his beautiful surroundings. His hair had grown down to his shoulders, a long fringe almost covering his right eye. He'd gotten a lot more muscular and he felt so at peace, it was almost wrong in his eyes. But it was all for a greater purpose, he kept telling himself. He was prepared for the worst, but expecting the best. He was going to get Grimmjow back.

He glanced over his shoulder at an approaching Urahara, who was wearing a soft smile that spoke volumes.

"Time to go, yes?" he asked quietly.

Ichigo nodded and touched the hilt of his birthright. "Let's go."

Urahara nodded in return and stepped past him. His head swung back and forth briefly before settling on a nearby tree. He limped over to it and brought up his sword, tapping the bark with the sharp tip. Ichigo watched as the middle of the tree transformed into a swirling, dark void, a blast of icy cold air whooshing from within. He moved close to the void and inspected it before turning to Urahara with an eyebrow arched.

"Ready?"

"After you, Ichigo-kun."

Ichigo stepped into the void full of confidence and certainty. He felt more than anxious to take on that brown-haired fairy who'd stolen the one person he cared for the most at the moment. That was simply taboo and had to be corrected. He wouldn't stand for otherwise. As he entered the dark space, cold air seemed to wrap around his entire body, trying to paralyze his limbs, but he forged forward. His steps were lighter than when he'd first gone through this vacuum-like space, so the image of cracked ice beneath his feet wasn't as severe. In fact, it merely resembled tiny spider webs. That had to be a good sign, a sign of his progress. He smiled as he walked, hand resting on the hilt of his sword again. He wasn't that same weakling Aizen had pushed around before, and he couldn't wait to prove it.

A light ahead signaled they were coming to the end of the dark corridor. Ichigo wondered what his father would say upon seeing him. Shinji? Shiro? Even Byakuya would have to be impressed with how far he'd come. After a fierce battle, he'd finally managed to defeat Urahara by disarming the blond and pinning him to the very same tree they'd exited through. He didn't want to boast, but even Urahara himself had said that it was an accomplishment worth being proud of. Ichigo agreed.

When he cleared the darkness and stepped into the light, he looked around, squinting. He felt like he'd been gone forever, while in reality, only a day had passed in the real world. After his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, his eyes bulged almost out of his head. Behind him, he heard Urahara's fan flap into place.

"Oh my," he mumbled.

Ichigo couldn't believe his eyes. Had they gone to the wrong location? But no, that couldn't be right. They were definitely in the cavernous underground area Urahara had shown them before he'd gone for his special training. However...

"What the hell did we miss?"

Urahara pulled a small strange-looking pocket watch from his robes and hummed in obvious thought. "Well...it seems as though I miscalculated the time we would be inside of the Shornen. It appears as though two days have passed in this world."

"But how does that explain...this?" Ichigo asked incredulously, gesturing towards the huge number of people milling about.

They were dressed in clothing similar to what Grimmjow, Nnoitra and Nel had been wearing when Ichigo and Shinji had first found them in their apartment. Not only that, but they also had weird hair coloring, and they had those infamous pointy ears that were tell-tale signs of their heritage. Ichigo didn't know what to think. In two days' time, they'd acquired a staggering amount of guests, but how they had all come to be there was the big question.

Suddenly, Urahara's silver-haired nephew strode over to them, face flushed and ice-blue eyes slitted apart. He bowed after coming to a stop before them, and it only reminded Ichigo of his status with the fairies. He was technically a prince. Just like Grimmjow.

"Uncle. There has been a disturbing development in Faery."

Urahara took his time looking around at all of the fairies milling about. Some had even come to a stop and were staring at him and Ichigo. Which probably made sense since they had just emerged from what appeared to be a harmless boulder.

"I think the saying goes 'stating the obvious,' Nephew."

"I apologize, Uncle. I panicked without your guidance, but this was the only solution I could come up with."

"What happened?"

Ichigo's gaze shifted back and forth between the two men, curiosity peaked. What was Gin talking about? Did it have to do with Aizen? Was Grimmjow OK? His hands were beginning to grow clammy and his nerves were all over the place. He needed answers, and he needed them now.

Gin sighed, but before he could answer, a tall man with blazing white hair approached them. He had on long white robes and dark, armored boots. His expression was kind and patient, and he reminded Ichigo of that kid that had appeared out of nowhere, trying to warn them of the imminent danger Aizen had presented. The man stopped beside Gin and gave Urahara a warm smile.

"It's been a while, Kisuke."

Urahara grinned back and nodded. "Yes, it has. How are you faring, Jyuushiro?"

Who now?

"I am well. Although, I could be better."

"I'm glad to hear that."

Ichigo held up a hand. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I don't really think we have time for niceties. What's going on? Why are there so many fairies here? And who are you?"

Jyuushiro turned to Ichigo with an understanding smile and nodded. "You're right, young prince. I am Jyuushiro Ukitake. I am Kisuke's informant from Faery, and also the former adviser to the Roande royal family."

"Roande?" Ichigo parroted. "Why does that sound familiar?"

"It was the clan that was almost entirely destroyed during The Great Betrayal. The clan that Aizen is from and for which he is determined to seek revenge," Urahara answered.

"Oh. Well, what are you doing here now? What exactly is going on?"

Gin spoke up this time. "Jyuushiro contacted me and told me that Aizen had become aware of the existence of the survivors of the fall of the clans. We had no other choice but to hide them here."

Ohhhhhhh, Ichigo thought. Now that makes a lot more sense.

"Will he still be able to find them? I mean, he found Grimmjow," Ichigo stated.

"I had considered that upon creating the new Garganta in this location. I found a way to erase the residual reiatsu left by the Garganta. I'm assuming that was how Aizen's sorcerer was able to locate the Elorian prince in the first place," Gin replied.

"So, now you understand why there are so many of us here. We no longer had a place to run to in Faery," Jyuushiro said.

Ichigo wondered if he was the only with this question on his mind. "Is Grimmjow OK?" he asked quietly, almost afraid to hear the answer.

And for a while, no one did respond, which only made Ichigo's insides go cold with dread and fear. Was he too late? God, he hoped not.

"Someone answer me."

Jyuushiro cleared his throat, and when Ichigo stared him down, he realized the older fairy wore a confused expression.

"You sound as if you have a personal investment in the Elorian prince's well-being."

Ichigo fought a blush as his jaws clenched together. He, in fact, did have a very personal investment in Grimmjow's well-being. He loved him, and if that Aizen asshole had hurt him, there would be hell to pay.

"I do."

Jyuushiro arched a brow, but didn't probe any further. He sighed and ran a hand through his long hair.

"My spy in Aizen's fortress told me disturbing news before we made the trip here."

Ichigo's stomach fell to his knees. Grimmjow was dead. Heat surged within him, and he didn't even realize that his power was billowing around him. He didn't notice the awed stares he was receiving from surrounding fairies; all he knew was a sharp, stinging pain. He was too late. He'd been unable to save the man he loved in time. He would never be able to forgive himself. Tears were prickling at the backs of his eyes until Jyuushiro finally spoke again.

"The prince was severely beaten and tortured, but he is alive. Fear not, young warrior."

The air around him slowly settled down as Ichigo digested the information. So, Grimmjow wasn't dead. He wanted to feel relief, but hearing that his lover had been beaten and tortured has his blood boiling all over again.

"I need to go there. Now," he stressed.

"No doubt about it," Ichigo's father stated as he sidled into view.

Byakuya, Shiro, Shinji and Nel followed behind him, faces set and determined.

"We're comin' wit' ya, King," Shiro said.

Byakuya was silent, but the look in his violet eyes spoke for him. He was clearly going as well. When Ichigo's eyes found Nel's, he instantly felt bad. How could he tell her that her going wasn't a good idea. For one, she was the Elorian princess, and two, she was rather young. And more specifically, he didn't want Grimmjow to kill him for bringing his only family along, where she could be in danger as well.

"Nel," he started.

"Don't worry, Ichigo. I'm not going. I know Brother would be furious with me. Just make sure you bring him back safely, please," she interrupted.

Ichigo smiled as he nodded. That was one thing he planned to do, come hell or high water. No one hurt the people he loved.

Thanks for reading! Next time...