Disclaimer: I do not own any Bleach characters…

It's been a while since I've updated but I'm glad you've all enjoyed the last chapter. Thank you for all the reviews (and your patience). Things will start moving along so I hope you all enjoy it!


Chapter 9 – It Never Rains But It Pours

HUMAN WORLD, YASUTORA CHAD'S HOUSE, KARAKURA TOWN, TOKYO, JAPAN, MORNING

"Yuzu, Yuzu, wake up," Karin shook her sister's shoulder, simultaneously reaching out to feel for a fever. The anxiety twisting her stomach loosened its hold a little when she found none.

The Shinigami had lingered the entire night and tensions had been at an all time high as they trooped disrespectfully throughout the house. They had left, momentarily, sometime past midnight and Chad had managed to sneak the refugees a few blankets and some food and water before the Shinigami had come back again. Karin hadn't been able to sleep a wink, and neither had Inoue or Ishida, and Chad had spent the whole night sitting on his bed outside their hiding place, keeping a sharp eye on the unwelcome guests, but Yuzu had finally nodded off at around three in the morning.

"Mmm, are they gone?" Yuzu yawned, stretching as best she could in the cramped space, head still resting on Inoue's lap. She blinked sleepily up at the healer, who smiled back down at her. Half a foot away, Ishida had pushed open the door to the secret compartment and was half-hidden in their host's clothes, no doubt peering through the closet doors.

"For now," Karin informed her grimly, helping her into a sitting position. "Chad's doing a perimeter check." She paused, and then snorted, running a hand through her hair. "I never thought I'd say something like 'perimeter check' as if it's normal."

"Well," Yuzu countered dryly, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "I didn't think we would become fugitives one day either, but here we are."

Ishida cut in before Karin could do more than offer a half-grimace, pushing his glasses up as he started shoving clothes aside. "All clear; let's get out of here."

They scrambled out and immediately made for the bathrooms, leaving Chad to clean up the empty cartons of food. Inoue and Yuzu returned first, anxious to help, but reluctantly agreed to stay put in the bedroom when Chad glanced pointedly out the window.

Forty minutes later, they were all gathered in Chad's bedroom again, wearing fresh clothes and drying off damp hair as Karin quickly dialled the number Hirako Shinji had given her. She switched it to speaker and they all listened to it ring once before the other side answered.

"Ichigo's Hollow?" A sharp voice answered.

They all blinked at each other for a second before Karin hastily leaned forward to reply, "Shiro." She paused for a heartbeat, and then challenged, "What did you say to us that day you came to our house?"

A surprised silence echoed through the phone before an amused chuckle sounded. "I told ya that your brother's a great man. Saved some people really important ta me, just cuz we're friends. And I promised ya I'd protect you two as well, cuz Ichigo's your brother and my friend. We on the same page now?"

Karin immediately scowled. "I had to check."

"That ya did," Shinji agreed easily. "And I completely approve. Now where are ya?"

Karin glanced up at Chad, who nodded, before replying, "At Chad's place. Yuzu and I ditched Goat-face yesterday but the Shinigami wouldn't leave the house until this morning. Inoue-san and Ishida-san are here too. What should we do?"

There were muffled voices from the other end and what sounded like an urgent impromptu argument before Shinji's voice came over the line again. "We can't enter the town at the moment; there are too many Shinigami. The best thing for you lot ta do is ta get outta there. Sooner or later, Central 46 is goin' ta send someone ta round ya up for questionin'. Ya can't still be there when they do. If ya refuse ta go with them, well, they won't take 'no' for an answer. Do ya have a way out?"

Inoue piped up, "We could take Uryuu-kun's car. No one stopped us on the way in."

"That's not going to be possible," Another voice cut in. 'Lisa-san', Inoue mouthed to Karin and Yuzu as they all listened intently. "I've already spotted three Shinigami stationed by the entrance and they're not from the Tenth. They're checking everyone who's leaving. You can't even slip by. With the explosion, people are worried. The rumours have started and people all know it was a bomb. The highway is packed."

"We'll go underground then," Ishida suggested, leaning forward as his mind traced the routes they had scouted out during the war in case of emergencies. "Through the sewers. The Shinigami probably haven't checked those yet."

There was an apprehensive silence as everyone realized that that was simply an optimistic hope.

"It's the only choice we have," Chad finally said. "There's no other way out. When should we leave and where should we meet up with you?"

Another whispered discussion sounded from the other end before Shinji spoke again. "We're half a mile outside Kinogaya but we can meet up with ya at the border. And the sooner ya leave, the better. How long do ya need to pack a bag?"

"We're already packed," Karin replied briskly after a cursory glance at Inoue and Ishida. Both college students nodded in affirmation. "We can leave anytime."

"Good. Grab your things and head out now then. We'll give ya forty-five minutes ta reach us. If we don't see ya, we'll assume the worst. Understand?"

"Got it," Karin confirmed as Inoue and Yuzu started tying their hair back and Ishida and Chad reached for their coats, and then quickly forged on before Shinji hung up. "But where's Ichi-nii? Do you know if he's alright?"

"...He's fine, as far as I know," Shinji reported. "He got outta town alright, along with Byakuya and someone else."

"Well that's something," Karin exchanged a look with Yuzu. Neither of them could help the worry that remained heavy in their stomach. "And there's something else; you know that our dad is... well, that he's a Shinigami?"

The entire room froze as Chad, Inoue, and Ishida all snapped their heads around to stare at her. Karin ignored them as she waited impatiently for Shinji to speak.

"I think that's somethin' we'll discuss later," Shinji answered at length. "Right now, just concentrate on gettin' out."

Karin scowled in annoyance at the phone but backed off reluctantly. "I'm holding you to that," She snapped back. "We'll meet up with you in an hour."

Without waiting for a reply, she hung up and rose to her feet, pulling on her own jacket and handing Yuzu hers.

"Karin-chan," Inoue started hesitantly. "Your father's a Shinigami?"

Karin glanced at her sister and it was Yuzu who answered. "We think so," The brunette nodded. "We'll tell you about it later. Let's hurry."

At the reminder, the topic was dropped in favour of running around and gathering odds and ends. Chad chanced another run outside with Ishida's keys to grab the archer's bag while Inoue took an inventory of the emergency pack Chad had given her.

Seeing that they were all busy, Yuzu took the opportunity to pull her twin aside and whispered, "What are we going to do about otou-san? We can't just leave without a word!"

Karin stubbornly refused to budge. "We did leave him a word. Several words, if I remember correctly. We told him not to worry and that we would keep ourselves safe. He has nothing to lose sleep over."

"Karin," Yuzu frowned sternly at her sister. "I know you're mad at otou-san because he's been giving me... something, and he didn't tell us the truth about himself, but he's our father; we can't just cut ties with him because we're angry with him!"

Karin's eyes flashed. "Angry? Yuzu, I'm angry that he's been feeding you whatever the hell he's been feeding you. I'm angry that he didn't trust us, his daughters and son, enough to tell us that he's a Shinigami. But I'm downright furious that he didn't do anything to protect Ichi-nii during the war! That's the reason I'm not bringing him into this, Yuzu!"

Karin took a moment to survey the startled look on her twin's face before continuing on, voice low but no less intense. "Don't you remember, Yuzu, back when Ichi-nii was still in Elementary school and Junior High? The other kids used to call him crazy because he didn't know how to tell the difference between ghosts and humans. Ichi-nii never had any friends until Tatsuki and Chad. Before mum died, he used to come home crying all the time because those stupid kids picked on him. And then after mum died, he just stopped talking about anything he saw, and he blamed himself for mum's death for the longest time, even after we told him we didn't blame him. And throughout that entire time, Goat-face never once explained to Ichi-nii what was going on. And he could've, Yuzu, any time! And then the war! Do you have any idea how many times Ichi-nii almost died?"

Karin stopped abruptly at Yuzu's suddenly pale face and almost smacked herself. Of course Yuzu didn't know, or at least not the real extent of it. Heck, she probably didn't know how many times her brother had come close to death only to be saved by the Fourth Division, but at least she knew some of the times. Yuzu didn't, because it was something of an unspoken agreement between Karin and their brother that Yuzu, the youngest in the family and the most like their mother, was to be protected at all costs.

"I'm sorry, Yuzu," Karin sighed wearily. "I just can't forgive Goat-face that easily. I won't forgive him until Ichi-nii finds out about all this and he forgives the old man first."

Yuzu was quiet for a few seconds, head tilted thoughtfully as she blinked at Karin. Karin tried not to fidget under her twin's stare. Of the three of them, Yuzu alone had inherited their mother's gaze.

And then the brunette nodded, once, before voicing steadily, "When we're safely out of here, I think it's time you tell me what happened with Nii-chan during the war." When Karin made to protest, Yuzu quickly shook her head, her expression suddenly just as stubborn as Karin's could be. "He's my brother too, Karin. And I think I really need to know."

Karin hesitated, studying her sister. Half the time, because of her sweet personality and gentle demeanor, Karin forgot that Yuzu could be just as tough as any of the Kurosaki children. After all, it had been Yuzu who had taken over for their mother almost immediately after she had died, keeping them fed and in line.

"Alright," Karin finally relented. "Once we're safe, I'll tell you what I know."

v.V.v

Ten minutes later, all five of them had snuck out of Chad's house from the back, slipping through the shadows cast by the overhanging clouds as they hurried towards the nearest manhole. They had set out the moment a patrol of Shinigami had passed the house again, knowing that it would only be a matter of time before they realized that the house they were guarding was now empty.

"Ugh, I hate the sewers," Karin wrinkled her nose as she clambered down the ladder after her sister. Inoue and Ishida had already pulled out flashlights and both of them were peering down the tunnels stretching in all directions. Meanwhile, Yuzu was huddled close to Inoue, squinting at a hand-drawn map that Ishida had brought back with him. Chad came last, dragging the lid back in place before dropping down beside them.

"It's that way," Yuzu pointed down a gloomy-looking passageway. Without a word, they set off down the tunnel, trying to ignore the smell and grimy walls.

Twenty minutes and several twists and turns later, Ishida, who had started glancing up at the ceiling with a steadily deepening frown on his face, came to an abrupt stop, halting everyone else in their tracks as well.

"Uryuu-kun?" Inoue pressed, also glancing up anxiously. "What's wrong?"

Uryuu held up a hand, motioning for them to be silent, and then flicked his hand once in an almost careless gesture. During the war, Uryuu had found out how to enhance his own, as well as others' senses with his reiryoku, and had become quite adept at it after only a few months on the battlefield.

Now, as he heightened his companions' hearing, Uryuu took a few steps forward before stopping. He paused for a few seconds, and then, with a swift glance at the others, broke out into a sudden sprint, only to stop again a few paces away. The archer's footsteps died away, but they all stayed frozen when a set of footsteps above them didn't.

Up above, the steps came to a halt almost instantly before starting up again, this time hurrying away. A moment later, scuffles echoed into their ears as a manhole several feet behind them started to shift.

"Run!" Uryuu hissed, turning on his heel. No one needed any further prompting as they scurried down the tunnel, ignoring the water that sloshed over their shoes.

"How did they know?" Inoue cried out as they rounded another corner. "We weren't seen coming down!"

"Someone up there must have felt our reiatsu," Ishida called back as he led the way. "I should have noticed sooner, I'm sorry."

"Not your fault," Chad cut him off, glancing back over his shoulder. "We need to find a place to hide or we'll lead them straight to Hirako and the others."

Karin glanced sideways before skidding to a stop and darting to a small dark alcove on the right. "In here!"

They scrambled into the niche, packed tightly together as they hunched into each other and shut off the flashlights, reigning in their reiryoku as much as possible. Waiting with bated breath, they stilled even further when approaching footsteps splashed towards them.

"Where are they?" A voice demanded. "I don't see them."

"They came this way; I'm sure of it. They can't have gone far."

The Shinigami, seven or eight from the sound of the different sets of footfalls, walked by their hiding place, and the fugitives subconsciously stopped breathing.

About half a foot away from their hiding place, the footsteps paused and another voice spoke again. "Alright, you four go down that way. You three come with me. When you find them, bring them back up. Make sure they've been sedated but not killed."

"Yes, sir."

The footsteps started up again, but just as they began to fade away, Yuzu clapped a hand to her mouth and released a muffled rasping cough that cut the air like a knife through butter. Karin froze, her gaze instinctively finding Yuzu's as the footsteps abruptly stopped.

"They're here!" One voice snapped. "The sound came from-"

The fugitives didn't wait for the Shinigami to finish. Of a single mind, Chad, Inoue, and Ishida leapt out of their hiding place, drawing their weapons with practiced lethality. Before the astonished patrol, each of them picked two guards and attacked.

"Konran Zanshun!" Two orange shields sprung into existence, spinning in the air before crashing headlong into the two closest Shinigami.

Two arrows met their targets as a white, slender, intricately-designed bow appeared in Ishida's hands, knocking two more Shinigami off their feet and pinning them against the far wall.

A few feet away, Chad had floored another two, left arm now white with red stripes intertwining it.

Their heads snapped around when the last two Shinigami made to run but a blur of black and light brown flashed past them and one of the Shinigami crashed to the ground as the Kurosaki twins brought him down with a mix of punches and kicks.

The last of the patrol, what looked like the leader of the group, had already disappeared around the corner, no doubt shunshining away to get help.

"We have to go, now!" Ishida snapped as they retracted their weapons.

They didn't bother with flashlights as they dashed through the sewers, kicking up water as they followed Inoue's spirits darting in front of them.

HUMAN WORLD, EDGE OF KINOGAYA, KARAKURA TOWN, TOKYO, JAPAN

"Shinji, five minutes."

Shinji nodded once to show he had heard, eyes scanning and rescanning the Karakura border. Behind him, Hiyori was pacing back and forth impatiently while the others were spread out around him.

"What happens if they don't come?" Rose asked.

"Then we go in there and get them!" Hiyori snapped, only for Kensei to slap her upside the head.

"Don't be stupid!" The former captain snapped. "If they don't get here, we'll have to regroup and try to contact them again."

"Tch!" Hiyori crossed her arms. "We've been waiting forever! When do we get to beat up those bastards?"

"Certainly not now," Lisa cut in calmly and nodded at a point in the distance. "They're here."

They could admit to a collective sigh of relief when five familiar humans appeared from the ground, and they quickly shunpoed over to meet them.

Before they could greet them, Chad, dark eyes finding Shinji's, revealed tersely, "We were seen. A patrol of eight Shinigami followed us down. We managed to take down seven but the last got away."

Shinji frowned as Kensei muttered a curse behind him. "We can't do anything about it now," He waved a dismissive hand. "Let's just get outta here while we still can."

Tessai, Ururu, and Jinta were waiting for them when the group returned to the warehouse. Everyone was eager for news and they took turns filling each other in.

"Alright, no more delaying," Karin jumped in when conversation tailed off. "I want to know about my dad."

Shinji sighed heavily, shooting a dirty look at his fellow Vizards when they simply shuffled on the spot and looked away. Fat lot of help they would be.

"He's a Shinigami," Shinji began carefully. "Former captain of the Seventh, before Komamura, but he left over... thirty-four years ago."

"Shinigami can just leave?" Yuzu asked.

Shinji shook his head. "Nah. Shinigami are supposed ta stay in the Spiritual World. Even if they've been exiled, they'd be put back in Rukongai. Yur dad disappeared on a mission to the Human World. After none of the patrols sent after him could find him, he was presumed dead."

"But why would he do something like that?" Karin demanded.

Shinji snorted. "What do ya think? Fell in love with yur mum, of course. Relationships between Humans and Shinigami aren't allowed, so Isshin got Kisuke to hide him for a bit and then made a life for himself here."

Both twins were silent, absorbing this with a sort of incredulous wonder.

"So..." Yuzu looked up again at Shinji. "So do we have family up there?"

Shinji cracked a grin. "Oh yeah, ya come from royalty, kid. Yur uncle, yur dad's older brother, he's the Head of the Kyouraku Family. You might know him; Kyouraku Shunshui, Captain of the Eighth."

"That flamboyant idiot?" Karin said, expression so horrified that most of the Vizards laughed. "I should've known; he's exactly like Goat-face."

Shinji snickered in reply. "Shunsui's not that bad. Anyway, you've got extended family too. Yur dad's dad, yur granddad I mean, was cousins with the Head of the Shiba Clan. They're both gone now, but you've got second cousins; Kaien's gone, he was the former Shiba Head after his old man, so the title's passed down to his sister, Kukaku, and she has a younger brother, Ganju."

"We know Kukaku-san and Ganju-san!" Yuzu piped up, exchanging a frown with her sister. "They didn't say anything."

Shinji shrugged, leaning back on his hands. "Probably for the same reason the rest of us didn't say anything. Technically, yur dad's supposed to tell ya, and if he didn't, we should respect that."

"So why are you telling us now?" Karin challenged, eyes flashing.

Shinji raised an eyebrow. "Ya already know. There's not much point keeping it from ya any longer. Besides," The blond tilted his head to the side, something like ironic amusement creeping into his expression. "I have a feelin' the secrets are all goin' ta come out soon. Ichigo's goin' ta be so angry."

Karin straightened. "That's right, something's up with Yuzu. Our dad's been giving her..." She plucked the bottle of pills from her jacket. "These. What are they?"

Shinji's smile faded, and for the first time since Karin had met him, he looked uncomfortable, running a hand through his hair distractedly.

"I thought I'd be tellin' this ta Ichigo, actually," Shinji admitted, staring at the two female Kurosakis intently. "It's pretty big. Are ya sure ya want ta know?"

The twins shared a heavy look. "How big?" Yuzu asked timidly. "I mean, Otou-san wouldn't harm me, would he?"

Shinji glanced away before looking back. "He didn't plan on harmin' ya," He leaned forward, gauging their reactions. "He, and Kisuke, thought it would be safe when they first decided on doin' it." His jaw tightened. "It turned out that it wasn't so safe. Those pills help keep it under control. They've been lookin' for an alternative ever since."

Another long silence followed. Behind the twins, Chad, Ishida, and Inoue sat cross-legged on the floor, gazes anxious as they waited for their decision.

"I want to hear it," Unsurprisingly, Karin was the first to speak, crossing her arms stubbornly. "Whatever tou-san's done, we need to know. There've been enough secrets in our family."

Yuzu took a deep breath and nodded. "Karin's right; I want to know what otou-san did to me."

Shinji stared unblinkingly at them for a moment longer. "Alright then," He finally relented, a hint of approval edging his words. "Don't say I didn't warn ya."

HUMAN WORLD, KARAKURA TOWN, TOKYO, JAPAN

"My apologies, Taichou. We lost them," The Fifth Squad 3rd seat panted nervously. "They were traversing through the sewers and caught us by surprise."

Yoshizawa Kenshin frowned. "Which way were they headed?" He asked at last, hand clenching absently around the hilt of his Zanpakuto.

The seated officer motioned behind him. "Southward, sir. Down towards Kinogaya."

Kenshin nodded sharply. "You did well. I will send someone to retrieve the rest of your patrol. Round up the other patrols in town and continue the search south of Karakura. Don't bother with the Humans. It's Kuchiki Byakuya and Kurosaki Ichigo we are looking for. If you find them, do not confront them. Report back to me first. Go."

"Yes, sir!" The Shinigami sketched a quick salute before shunpoing away.

Kenshin didn't watch him go, turning instead to face south. Brushing back damp black bangs, he considered his next step.

As a rule, he tried to never take a side. In life, he had learned that being neutral was usually the best way to avoid making enemies. One didn't garner much admiration by staying in the background, but on the other hand, it also lowered your chances of getting killed. He had been careful so far, accepting the post of captain when Central 46 had offered it to him and reporting back to them as instructed so not to make waves. If he turned a blind eye now and then to the goings-on between the older captains, well, Central 46 need never know. He recognized a power struggle when he saw one, and didn't really want a part in it.

Kenshin had heard, of course, of the whispered hero of the war.

Kurosaki Ichigo.

The name was never really spoken aloud. There wasn't a law against saying the name, but it was generally agreed that discussing the Human-Shinigami-Hollow hybrid would not be wise.

But Kenshin had heard it often enough, spoken amongst the lower ranks with reverence and awe. He also knew that many Shinigami who had known the Vizard had been angry at his sentencing at the end of the war, and that was what worried Kenshin most.

Kurosaki Ichigo should've been a household name, and yet the man had been stripped of his rank as Substitute Shinigami and his Zanpakuto like a common criminal, and then exiled back to the Human World after everything he had done, leaving many people afraid to even mention him in passing.

If Central 46 saw fit to do this to a war hero that they feared would pose a future threat, what would they do to people who protested directly?

While Kenshin liked to stay out of conflicts in general, he did have morals, and his every instinct told him to be very wary of the very government he was working for. So he had done what he always did best: fade into the background and keep an ear to the ground.

And he had learned of future rebellions and uprisings, secret meetings and alliances, all done behind Central 46's back. Nothing concrete, of course; they had been too careful for that. But Kenshin had seen the opposition come together, subtly, from captains to lieutenants to seated and unseated officers, all banding together against the government's rule.

And always, always, constant and spoken with a sense of pride, that name would crop up, as if Kurosaki Ichigo himself was leading the rebellion.

And Kenshin had to wonder: what kind of person could gather so much loyalty from a centuries-old organization and turn them against the iron rigidity that Central 46 tried to rule them with, all without even being there?

And for the first time, Kenshin found himself pulled in one particular direction. Slowly, he had found himself revealing less and less to Central 46, giving them meaningless reports with the excuse that their opposition was getting better at concealing themselves. Central 46 hadn't suspected a thing of course; Kenshin wasn't doing anything to actively help the other side either.

Until recently.

He hadn't meant to. Suggesting a search in Rukongai had slipped out of his mouth before he had been able to censor it and he had had to endure the smothered laughs of some of the lieutenants. It hadn't worked anyway, probably made things worse in some ways, but better in others. The older captains opposing Central 46 could meet in Rukongai far easier than they could inside Seireitei.

But his curiosity had finally gotten the better of him after learning about the one suspected of breaking out Kuchiki Byakuya, and he had readily agreed when Central 46 sent his squad to the Human World. It meant a chance to meet this Kurosaki Ichigo, and see for himself what the Vizard had that others saw fit to follow.

But what to do now? He knew Naga Rin had sent her Shinigami north; he had no idea where she had gotten her information but he would leave her to it. The other two captains under Central 46 were around as well but Kenshin saw no reason to inform them that he was following a lead. It could, after all, lead to a dead end.

He would leave Hitsugaya alone as well. Let them all think what they wanted about him; Kenshin had stopped caring a long time ago what others thought as long as he came out alive in the end. The coward's way out perhaps, but he rather liked living, thank you very much.

Mind made up, Kenshin shunpoed away, heading south after his patrols after directing his 5th seat to retrieve the unconscious Shinigami still in the sewers.

HUMAN WORLD, SAFEHOUSE, TOKYO, JAPAN, AFTERNOON

"Ichigo?"

Ichigo jerked, the cherry blossom tree he had been willing into existence for the past forty minutes dissipating in a heartbeat. He cursed and turned a glare on Shun. "I almost had it. You couldn't have interrupted two minutes later?"

Shun shrugged, leaning against the doorway. "Sorry," He apologized, not sounding sorry at all. "You've been practicing Sakkado since seven in the morning. I figured it's time for a break."

Ichigo sighed and ran a hand through his hair before rising to his feet. "I don't know why Unohana-san wants me to learn Sakkado. I know how to break it now; I highly doubt I'm gonna trap someone else in one."

Shun shrugged again and turned to head back downstairs. "If you don't want to learn it, then don't. You probably won't need it. What does she know anyway?"

Ichigo eyed the 4th seat and guessed the man hadn't quite forgiven Unohana for trapping Ichigo in an illusion and then foisting a former overlord on them as well.

"Kuchiki-taichou was wondering when you would be done for today," Shun continued abruptly.

"Ah," Ichigo nodded, looking around as he stepped into the kitchen. "He probably wants to know if I can help him with Senbonzakura. Where is he?"

"Outside," Shun led him to the door. "I think I'll come with you."

Ichigo quirked an eyebrow. "You still don't trust him after all this time?"

Shun scoffed. "I don't trust anyone," He paused, and then amended, "Barely anyone."

Ichigo shook his head. "Byakuya's not so bad. You're kinda similar in some ways."

Shun shot him a deadpan look. "If you were trying to insult me, it worked."

Ichigo rolled his eyes but dropped it when they rounded the corner of the house and Byakuya came into view. The Captain was sitting on a large boulder, gaze settled on Aizen who was walking near the edge of the property.

"Byakuya!" Ichigo called out, and the Clan Head glanced their way, nodding briefly in greeting. "How are you feeling?"

"Rested," Byakuya returned. "Did you accomplish anything with Sakkado?"

Ichigo shook his head ruefully. "Barely. Got the outline of a tree, but..."

Byakuya nodded in approval. "It will simply take time. For your first try, getting even that much is commendable."

Ichigo flashed a grin before prompting, "So are you ready to get Senbonzakura back?"

Byakuya's eyes lit up even as his expression remained neutral. "If you are free, I would not be opposed to it."

Shun muttered something unintelligible before directing at Ichigo, "I'll keep an eye on Aizen. Call if you need me."

Without another word, he stalked off, taking a seat only several feet away from Aizen.

Ichigo glanced at Byakuya. Shun had displayed blatant disrespect and yet the 6th Division Captain hadn't batted an eye.

Byakuya caught his puzzled gaze and smiled resignedly. "I have long ago given up on getting that man to fall in line. He behaves appropriately when he needs to. And," He tilted his head, a slight frown marring his features. "I lost any right in demanding his respect after your trial."

Ichigo shifted uncomfortably and waved a dismissive hand. "Well, maybe that'll change one day. Anyway, budge up. This'll take a bit of explaining."

Byakuya raised an eyebrow but shifted to the right to allow Ichigo to scramble up onto the rock.

"Okay," With a flick of his hand, Zangetsu was suddenly sitting next to them. Byakuya started a little, staring at the Zanpakuto with widened eyes. "You know Zangetsu. Anyway, after Central 46 took away my Zanpakuto," Byakuya's expression closed a little. "Most of the power I get from Zangetsu disappeared along with it. But because I'm Human, I didn't really get Zangetsu like other Shinigami do. Zangetsu is part of me, more so than Senbonzakura is part of you because I technically made him. Because of that, Zangetsu stayed with me but the actual is..." Ichigo waved a hand.

"But Senbonzakura is not like Zangetsu," Byakuya started slowly.

"And that's where Zangetsu comes in," Ichigo glanced at his quiet Zanpakuto. "Zanpakuto can communicate with each other if their wielders are close. See, the problem right now is that Senbonzakura was taken from you. All Zanpakuto has a spirit form and a weapon form. They can separate, but they usually don't. You can say that he's kinda lost and can't find his way back to you."

"And Zangetsu can guide him back to me," Byakuya was now looking at Zangetsu, dawning realization mixing with hope.

Zangetsu inclined his head before glancing at Ichigo. "I will be going then. It will take a while; perhaps a few hours."

Ichigo nodded. "Be careful."

Zangetsu faded from sight and Ichigo settled back on the rock. "Well, we're in for a wait." He peered at the Shinigami. "Why don't you tell me about the rebellion? Rukia mentioned it but didn't go into detail."

Byakuya, shoulders almost completely relaxed now, acquiesced with a nod. He would have Senbonzakura back within the day. He hadn't ever thought it would be possible, but Ichigo had always had a tendency to do the impossible.

HUMAN WORLD, WAREHOUSE, NEAR KARAKURA TOWN, TOKYO, JAPAN, AFTERNOON

"I will bring them to the safe house then," Tessai nodded at Shinji.

Shinji grunted an affirmation, glancing at the twins again. Damn, Ichigo was going to kill him. Both girls were near-white, neither having spoken since Shinji had revealed the long-kept secret.

"And we'll take those three with us," Kensei cut in, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at Chad, Inoue, and Ishida. "Oi, Hachi! You sure you know the way to Ichigo?"

Hachi waved a piece of paper in the air. "I do have the map, Kensei."

Shinji ignored all of this, walking over and crouching down in front of the nineteen-year-olds. "You two will be going with Tessai, okay?"

Yuzu didn't seem capable of speech, one hand curled into a loose fist and pressed to her chest. Karin answered, voice shaky, though Shinji suspected that the cause was anger. "Yeah, alright, but we want to be kept in the loop. Any news you send to Tessai-san has to be told to us too. Make sure Ichi-nii knows we're safe."

Shinji nodded. "Done," He paused. "You'll be alright?"

Karin took a deep breath. Her voice was much steadier when she spoke again. "Our old man isn't gonna know what hit him when Ichi-nii are through with him. And that shopkeeper as well."

Shinji couldn't help the slight smirk that broke out on his face. "Got it. I'm surprised yur not goin' ta take a swing at me."

Karin shot him a dirty look. "Don't tempt me. But you only found out by accident, and I need you to help Ichi-nii right now. I'll give you more than a black eye if you don't keep him safe."

Shinji straightened and saluted. "Yes, ma'am. I'll keep yur brother safe."

Karin nodded, wrapping an arm around Yuzu's shoulder. "And tell him the truth as soon as you can."

Shinji nodded once more. "Will do. Ya leave yur brother to me. I'll make sure he gets out of all this safely."

They parted ways within the next five minutes, Tessai's group heading east while Shinji led his group further south.

They had spent several hours in the warehouse, a decision they would later regret after realizing that several 5th Division Shinigami had overtaken them quite a while ago.

HUMAN WORLD, HOTEL, KARAKURA TOWN, TOKYO, JAPAN, AFTERNOON

"Would you stop pacing, Isshin?" Kisuke eyed the other Shinigami wearily from his perch on one of the beds. "You're not helping anyone."

Isshin spun and pinned him with a glare. "My daughters are gone! Central 46 could already have them and I wouldn't even know!"

Kisuke sighed. "They're not going to be caught so easily. They've got escape routes all over town. They know how to hide, Isshin."

Isshin frowned. "'Escape routes'?"

Kisuke rolled his eyes. "Yes, escape routes. Somewhere to run and hide just in case Hollows managed to get through during the war."

Isshin seemed to deflate a little before finally settling down on the opposite bed. "They were... very prepared, weren't they?" Isshin asked quietly.

Kisuke inspected him from under his hat. "Yes, Ichigo made sure of it. He rounded up some of the other Shinigami as well and made sure there was a guard rotation for the three of you."

Both were silent for a long minute.

"Why didn't you fight, Isshin?" Kisuke finally voiced the question that had been tugging on his mind since the beginning of the war.

Isshin released a hollow laugh. "You think I didn't want to, Kisuke? You think I wanted to kick back while my son disappeared for months on end, fighting a war that he shouldn't have been fighting in in the first place? Every time he left, I never knew if I would ever see him alive again, and every time he came back, I just wanted to lock him up somewhere so he wouldn't have to go back."

"Then why didn't you?" Kisuke repeated, angrier than he had intended.

"Because I couldn't."

Kisuke stared. "What? What do you mean 'you couldn't'? You have your Zanpakuto-"

"And there we have the problem," Isshin smiled at him, bitter and humourless. "My Zanpakuto. I don't have it anymore, Kisuke."

Kisuke opened his mouth, closed it, swallowed, and then asked, "What are you talking about? You're a Shinigami. Engetsu wouldn't ever leave you-" He cut himself off, cold horror growing in the pit of his stomach. "Isshin, tell me you didn't."

Isshin's gaze dropped to his lap. "Thirty-five years ago, I accepted a mission to the Human World. It was simple enough; there was an outbreak of Hollows and I and a few others of my squad were dispatched to take care of it. It was a textbook mission. Except it wasn't. The Hollows had cornered a Human, and they were about to eat her. We tried to get through to her but there were just too many. My men were all killed, and I was the last one left." He fell silent for a moment, picking at a loose thread on his left sleeve. "She was very pretty; the Human I mean," He added with a faint smile. "And she was very brave. Even caught by something she couldn't see and clearly terrified, she kept struggling."

"Masaki," Kisuke breathed as the pieces fell into place. "And you..."

"It was the only way," Isshin said softly. "The Final Getsuga Tenshou. I had already faced Engetsu months ago. It was a last resort; I never thought I would need it, but she was in trouble. She needed help. I couldn't just leave her. It was our duty to protect people from Hollows. So, I..." He trailed off, shrugging. He couldn't seem to meet Kisuke's eyes.

"...And you lost your powers," Kisuke finished, and then closed his eyes. "Oh, Isshin..."

"I don't regret it," Isshin told him fiercely. "Not for one moment. I fell in love with Masaki after she took me in and nursed me back to health. I saved my future wife, and I had a son and two daughters with her. I don't regret anything," He said again, eyes burning. "But believe me when I say I paid for it in full when I had to watch my only son go off to a war I could no longer take part in."

Kisuke didn't open his eyes and he didn't speak. What could he say to that? He had never known, never even suspected that Isshin no longer had his powers. The man certainly hadn't said anything when he had come to Kisuke for help.

"What about Yuzu then?" Kisuke finally asked, opening his eyes again. "It doesn't sound like you'd want to put her in danger."

"She was never supposed to be in danger; you told me she wouldn't be in danger!" Isshin snapped. "It wasn't supposed to harm her at all. I just- I needed to do something. I was so fucking useless and I thought-" His shoulders slumped and he shook his head. "I don't know. I have no idea what I was thinking anymore. And now my kids are going to hate me, if any of them are still alive to hate me after all this is over."

Kisuke swallowed the stir of fear rising in his throat, rising to his feet to kick Isshin in the shin instead. His long-time friend yelped and swore at him.

"None of them are going to die," Kisuke said sternly. "Have more faith in them, won't you? They've got Kyouraki blood and Shiba blood in them, not to mention Kurosaki blood as well; they're tough. And Ichigo didn't survive a war just to let a bunch of idiots take him down. Get a grip. You may not have Engetsu anymore but you've still a brain. Hopefully, anyway. Run distraction with the Shinigami. You've always been good at that. Right now, your kids need as little attention on them as possible."

Isshin glowered up at him but there was something more determined in his eyes now that he had something he could do.

"Don't think this cancels everything between us," Isshin grumbled without heat. "I'm still mad at you."

Kisuke scoffed as they made their way out of the room. "That makes two of us, though I'm sure Ichigo won't care about that at all when he finds out."

"Kill us both in equally painful ways," Isshin agreed, but there was almost a grin on his face as he said this, amused and resigned at the same time. "Well, he is my son after all."


Finished! Yes, it's quite a bit shorter than the other chapters but I just couldn't continue here and I did promise I'd update by the end of this week. So, review, and tell me what you thought.