The first true test of the grid came four days after the Defence Net was finished. The Net went up without a hitch and everyone within the Seireitei watched with both anticipation and a great deal of satisfaction as the Swarm threw itself against the lines of blue energy only to be repelled. Those that made contact with it sizzled like bugs on a giant bug zapper, the energy all but electrocuting them. Those that were close to the ones caught in the grid also perished as the energy arched from one victim to the next like chain lightning. Even the beetles let out a strange noise that had everyone scrambling to cover their ears as they hit the thing and were tossed back, deep lines burnt into their carapaces. It took several meetings with the Net to bring down the beetles, but it still got the job done. The barrier was a true success.
Those who witnessed the barrage described it as 'surreal.' Either there were no Generals around to prevent the Swarm from flying stupidly into the grid, or the lure of the bright blue light made by the grid's crisscrossing energy was too ingrained in the insect's brains for them not to try to approach it on instinct. They pointlessly flew into the barrier by the thousands and died there. By the time the generators started running low on power, and Szayel ordered the grid turned off before a burn-out could occur, almost nothing remained of the creatures. Cleaning up afterwards was almost anti-climactic and so boring that most of the Arrancar didn't even bother to participate, leaving their Shinigami slaves and the task forces from the Rukongai to dispose of the charred husks.
Aizen declared himself extremely pleased and, with the city now protected, the Shinigami were finally able to focus their attention on other pressing issues, such as the stability of the Realms and helping out the large number of woefully abused Plus's. With the Swarm so cut down and incapable of getting past the Defence Grid, the various Districts' militia groups were more than capable of handling most of the mess and the Arrancar, who were unable to perform a Konso and had no interest in Shinigami duties, took care of any bigger threats that those left behind to defend the city could not.
For the first time in years everyone got a bit of a break. They were finally able to enjoy a day off here and there to spend with friends and family. Karin returned to her own Division and truly started to learn how to run it properly. Jushiro continued to have 'little relapses' just so that Aizen would, hopefully, delay recalling the order for Byakuya to assist as an acting Fukutaichou. The large number of backlogged Pluses helped kept the Divisions considerably busy. Unfortunately, the Fukutaichou and Taichou were forbidden from going to the Living Realm by Aizen's direct decree; no doubt to prevent any communications with the small band of rebels still running at large, or attempting to flee. Unfortunately, that meant that some of the Claimed, such as Rangiku and Soi Fon, were once again trapped within their Masters homes as there was no viable excuse for them to leave now that the Swarm was contained and no longer a major threat.
The children grew steadily as the years passed and the Defence Net held.
Hana continued with her studies and eventually attended Shinoreijutsuin, the school all Shinigami attended, like her parents before her. She took a place in Toshiro's 3rd Division upon her graduation. Unlike her mother, Hana passed in the upper middle of her classes, rather than at the top. She was the picture of an ordinary, brown-haired, brown-eyed, average Shinigami, falling into the anonymous pack of Division members rather than testing for a numbered seat. Had her mother not been one of the Division's Taichou, Hana might truly have faded into the proverbial woodwork. She went to great lengths to hide her true potential and to avoid attracting any unwanted attention, either from Aizen or from was left of the Kyoraku family.
Ajuga would often tag along behind Jushiro when he went to work, both to make sure he took his medicine and so she could pester Byakuya into showing her more Kanji, something he seemed very willing to do. There were times Ajuga disappeared completely, usually when everyone was too busy to notice. She was all smiles and very cheerful when she did turn up again, so no one gave it too much thought.
With the swarm mostly contained, Grimmjow also had more time to spend training and hunting with his daughter, making it unnecessary to ask anyone to accompany her during larger game hunts, though Tesra did find himself roped into the occasional training session when the Sixth felt that another opponent on hand would help toughen up his child. The Estate was kept well stocked on boar, deer and even the odd feral ox and horse. Despite Karin's attempts at interesting them, neither father nor daughter ever developed a taste for fishing. By claw the pastime was far too wet, by net too easy and by rod too damn boring.
Diaemus remained a reclusive, introverted child and it took a lot of badgering on Ajuga's and Hana's parts to get the stoic lad to drop his serious demeanour and play with them. It became a little easier to get him to participate when he realized that his ability to get airborne gave him a distinct advantage in a few games and soon he was a willing playmate to both girls.
Slowly, Orihime grew less apprehensive about watching her son fly and found that pride and admiration quickly replaced fear as she watched him take off and soar above her head with confidence. He seldom spoke unless asked a direct question that required an immediate answer, or to make little barbs at Ajuga that frequently went over the girl's head, much to Hana's amusement. He very much sought after his father's approval, striving to better himself at every turn in order to make his sire proud.
Nemu's pregnancy followed Szayel's prediction in that it lasted the nine months he had determined it would. Szayel monitored things to the point where Karin, half-annoyed, began to compare him to her own father in his level of obsessiveness. What no one knew was whether or not the twins would hatch inside of Nemu or not. As her belly grew ever larger and the young showed no signs of coming out of their cocoons, the soon-to-be parents were faced with a worrisome possibility. Despite Nemu's unique physiology, neither she nor Szayel were certain as to whether or not a C-section might be necessary. In the end, their children made the decision for them.
One moment Nemu stood at one of the Defence Grid's monitoring stations, dealing with one of the data feeds. The next, she was doubled over with her arms wrapped around her huge midsection and a large puddle of fluid forming at her feet.
Szayel, a constant presence at her side since the last two weeks of her pregnancy, helped her to one of the tables while he simultaneously bellowed like a frightened rhinoceros for Renji. The redhead skidded into the room seconds before both he and Szayel heard Nemu gasp '…no time' in a strained voice and whimpered before another massive contraction wrenched her frame.
Renji barely had time to grab a stray lab coat that one of Szayel's underlings had left draped over the back of a chair before the pink-haired Arrancar yanked it out of his hands and barked at him to help Nemu. She gave birth a few moments later to two large, smooth, purple and pink shimmering chrysalides in quick succession.
Szayel carefully caught each of them in the lab coat while Renji steadied Nemu's shoulders. It was in this manner that Renji learned how strong Nemu really was and why Szayel had avoided his chosen's hands like they were a venomous viper once her labour began. She grabbed the redhead's arm, seeking something to give her some leverage and unthinkingly broke his wrist on her last push.
Szayel's blind panic at Nemu's unexpected lapse into labour summoned Karin who, knowing that Nemu was due any minute and correctly guessed the reason for Szayel's sudden slide into gibbering distress, had the presence of mind to stop at the 4th to ask Unohana Taichou if she could quickly come to the Science and Research Division. The two of them found Szayel sitting behind Nemu, supporting her while she wearily ran an internal scan to assess any damage that the abrupt delivery might have caused her. A white-faced Renji, meanwhile, braced himself with his unbroken wrist against the door jamb, his traumatized expression alternating between shock and abject pain. Szayel held one of the chrysalides protectively in the crook of his arm, while Nemu cradled the other.
Unohana, after stabilizing Renji's wrist and advising him to pay a visit to Orihime if he could, suggested that Szayel take Nemu and his heretofore un-hatched progeny to the 4th for a more thorough examination. Szayel appeared as if he wanted to reject the proposal out of hand, his paternal Arrancar protectiveness kicking into overdrive now that his young were in his arms, until Karin cleared her throat and offered to form a 'guard' of sorts along with Renji for both Szayel and Nemu if that would make him feel any better about things.
While he clearly did not want to leave the place he considered a 'den', Szayel also did not want to incur the wrath of either Karin or Kami's wife. Especially when Kami's wife used that particular tone of voice in regard to making sure Nemu, and the chrysalides, were alright.
It was an odd procession, with Unohana in the lead, Renji gingerly carrying Nemu while trying not to jar his injured wrist and Szayel carefully bearing the lab coat-wrapped chrysalides in his arms. Karin followed, ready to intercept anything that tried to interfere with them but confident that no one in the Seireitei was stupid or suicidal enough to attempt anything with Unohana-Taichou present.
Unohana declared Nemu well enough to leave after a night of rest that allowed her reiatsu and systems to stabilize, but made a second proposal: that the soon-to-be family hunker down in one of the more isolated patient rooms to wait until the chrysalides opened. Szayel accepted that proposition as Unohana knew just as much about biological functions as he did and he liked the idea of having her present should things go wrong. His own lab, while beautifully equipped for all manner of scans and dissections, was not as medically equipped as the 4th Division was to handle patients.
On the third day after the twins' chrysalides were laid, a small crack appeared in the shell of one chrysalis, while the inhabitant of the second made a tiny 'pip' hole that widened as the day progressed. It took the twins a little while to free themselves, but when they did Karin swore she could hear Szayel's victory exclamation all the way down at the 2nd Division's headquarters.
Abasara, the elder of the two by a few minutes, turned out to be the spitting image of his father, with a full head of pink hair, small purple eye-markings reminiscent of his father's Resurrección and bone fragments across his face that both Unohana and Szayel believed would someday come completely together to form a pair of 'glasses' around his bright, green eyes. He also seemed shockingly human-looking, in comparison to his little sister.
Vindula crawled from the remains of her casing with what looked like a tangle of pink, blue and green cellophane sprouting from between her tiny shoulders. They eventually unfurled into a set of translucent butterfly wings, nearly as long as she was and twice as wide, that looked as if they'd been painted by a watercolorist. Otherwise, the little girl looked very much like her mother, dark-haired and with a sweetly pointed chin. Her golden eyes, however, gave away her parentage, even if she seemed to lack a 'mask' like her brother and father.
Szayel proclaimed them 'perfect' before handing them to Nemu for their first feeding. Renji, upon meeting his future responsibilities, silently agreed for once with the scientist, especially after Karin prodded a protective Szayel enough to allow the redhead to hold them for a few minutes. He was utterly lost after Vindula yawned and cuddled down into the crook of one arm, her wings folded over her body like a thin blanket while Abasara dozed off in his lap, clutching the front of Renji's uniform with a surprisingly strong grip and using his other little thumb as a pacifier.
Aizen paid his customary visit to the new parents two days after the hatching. Thankfully, Karin was there on a break when 'Kami-sama' strode into Nemu's room and remained there as Szayel was forced to hand over the twins to him one by one. Aizen held each child in turn before giving Szayel a significant look that both the scientist and Karin took as a thinly-veiled threat, couched as it was by that damned benevolent smile. They had no doubt that if Szayel made any mistakes, or did anything that Aizen considered a failure, any punishments would fall, not on Szayel himself, but on his children.
Renji, his wrist now mended, had returned from making sure the twins's nursery was ready to receive them, only to find Karin attempting to soothe the Seventh Espada's thoroughly rattled nerves. Meanwhile, a visibly upset Nemu clutched both babies to her, curled up around them as if trying to reassure herself they were both fine. He'd never seen her display that much emotion before and Renji made up his mind, once he had learned what had happened, to keep Aizen's punishing gaze from ever landing on Abasara and Vindula, for any reason. 'Ji-ji', as he eventually became known to his charges, began to plot the first of many possible escape plans, not for himself, but for Nemu and the twins if worse ever came to worse.
It was over the twins that Renji and Szayel finally reconciled their turbulent past. Szayel stopped insulting him once Renji proved that he could be an outstanding guardian that thoroughly adored the twins and Renji stopped acting like an asshole towards Szayel whenever he could get away with it. Their truce almost broke down once Renji found out about some of the things that had gone on during his long, involuntary 'nap', but as the redhead began to learn how the Espada and the Arrancar stacked up against each other as far as power and the privileges that strength afforded the higher Espada, he began to understand why at least one horrific incident couldn't have been prevented. While he doubted that he'd ever really forgive Szayel for it, he had to at least come to terms with the fact that, when confronted about it, the Espada showed real remorse. Renji added the upper tier of the Espada to the list of potential threats when it came to his charges and worked on perfecting his Bankai in the secrecy of the chamber beneath the Science Division building.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. The Defence Net held and the Realms stabilized somewhat as souls began to move more properly between them. The Shinigami returned to their normal tasks, even if they were still shorthanded by several Divisions. Unfortunately, the real balance still showed no sign of truly restoring itself; it remained precariously on edge, ready to continue its slide into chaos once more at the slightest provocation.
Yoruichi, in her cat form, would show up in Karin's garden from time to time, always on the darkest of nights, with a report. Those reports continued to confirm what everyone feared but were too frightened to confront Aizen about: the stabilization was only temporary at best and the Living World was suffering a kind of backlash because of it. Tornadoes where none had ever occurred before, massive earthquakes and the resulting tsunamis, torrential rains and floods, as well as devastating droughts… while the humans in the Living World puzzled over the increase in natural disasters, the Shinigami could only hope that nothing else happened that would add to the imbalance.
Nel, like clockwork, continued to refresh Renji's Claim in order to keep up the illusion that Szayel still held his leash. With the twins acting as a very powerful anchor for him to remain in the Seireitei, he found that his meetings with her were even more appreciated. While each meeting was different, as the years progressed they discovered that they had far more in common, for good and for ill, than either suspected.
Despite how much power Aizen drained from himself, Unohana remained stubbornly barren. There was one positive pregnancy test, but the embryo hadn't lasted long under the strain of Aizen's overwhelming reiatsu. He gained back nearly as much energy as he drained so progress on that front was excruciatingly slow. The fact that Unohana had conceived at all at least eased his temper and the one almost-success lead him to believe they were on the right track to successfully producing an heir.
The only two who knew the truth about how enraged Aizen was over the miscarriage were Gin and Unohana. The first took the full brunt of Aizen's displeasure and the second had to tend to the damage her husband did to the first, since 'Kami' didn't want to damage a perfectly good brood mare by physically harming her. The only relief Gin had found was that Aizen had offered him the chance to keep Shinso.
The rules dictated that the Zanpakuto would be permitted to remain latched to the roof of his little cubby and that he never touch his blade except to use the Zanpakuto to refresh the warning Kanji carved into his chest, twice a week, for an entire year. After the year was up he would be permitted to keep his Zanpakuto and touch it at will.
Gin had shared a long conversation with his Zanpakuto over it when Aizen had presented the option before them, having given them two hours to reach a decision. As painful as it was for Shinso to be used to harm his partner, the pain would only last for a finite amount of time and they would at least be close together. Afterwards they would both be together and Shinso could do what he could to help Gin get through the torture Aizen periodically put him through. The anguish of separation had apparently been almost unbearable for the Zanpakuto. As such, they both agreed that the pain of being forced to harm Gin for a year was preferable to the pain that both would endure by being separated for all eternity, with the only meetings between them occurring when Shinso was forced to harm his Master .
The Seireitei seemed to come to a state of uneasy equilibrium. Time passed and the inhabitants fell into settled routines, more or less. After five years of constant battles against the Swarm, everyone seemed to welcome the calm that blanketed the city within the grid. Even the Arrancar seemed grateful for the reprieve. However for some, like Byakuya, having their Masters at home rather than out in the field fighting was an unwelcome hazard of peace, as they quickly got bored with a mundane lifestyle and often turned to their 'pets' as a source of entertainment.
The conquered population clung to the odd serenity with a desperation that only people that had seen a little too much conflict over far too many years could manage. It was easy to let themselves be lulled into a sense that things were finally 'better'.
And things were better most of the time for most of the inhabitants. Only a few continued to suffer horribly at the hands of their Masters while others managed to work out a sort of 'truce' between themselves and the Arrancar that had Claimed them. The pseudo-peace held for five years, a stretch of time long enough for the inhabitants of the Seireitei, Shinigami, Arrancar and humans alike, to think that it might just last.
But nothing ever stays the same and no defence holds forever, no matter how well-designed…
Nooooooo, this is the last chapter, /sob and man what a journey this has been. It's hard to believe that I have been posting this for over two years, and since I'd written a fair amount of it before posting that means I have been working on it for 3 years. Wow what a long time. Thank you each and every one who reviewed and encouraged me over these years and I hope to see you all in Part 2
As for Part 2, I probably won't begin posting it for some time, I am thinking maybe in the new year so that I can work on it, move things about, edit events, get a store of chapters, etc. Not to mention the busy season is starting up as I help my mother with her catering business, not to mention I got a munchkin to raise and a WOW addiction to scratch.
I hope to see you all in the new year and you can follow me in The Real King. I know that Black Fox is working on a short story of events that happen during the time skip so hopefully she will finish that up and we can post it before I start up Part 2. I don't know what I am going to call part 2 yet.
File Size: 5,695kb
I would love to see a heads up from every brave soul who managed to read through this monster and to know how well I captured the emotions of each scene.