Black and White

By: Light of the Firefly

Chapter 4

I've felt the hate rise up in me.

Kneel down and clear the stone of leaves.

I wander out, where you can't see.

Inside my shell, I wait and bleed.

-Slipknot (Wait and Bleed)

As the dust cleared from the twin explosions, Shunsui smelled the smoldering fibers of his clothing long before he actually noticed the accompanying pain from under their layers.

There was the warm wetness of blood running down his back, and he realized he had been hit at close range above his shoulder blade.

His feet were now planted several meters away from his original position, the instinct to move out of the way from such an attack had driven his actions without much conscience thought on his part. It had lit up his awareness bright as the sun when she released the blast.

The smoldering cloth spread into several tiny flames while he stood there trying to make sense of things. With his world spinning, he jerked the two burning haoris off, ignoring the pull at his new wound from the action, and tossed them away distractedly.

He sought out his little lieutenant with his eyes, and she stared back through the haze of the dust cloud. Her hands still glowing faintly, and she had such an indifferent look about her features he felt the first stirrings of unease.

"Nanao, are you alright?" He asked, his gaze darting over her form and all around her. She seemed unhurt, although her eyes were a bit too vacant. He found Gin, Aizen, and Tosen still restrained some distance away, having not moved an inch.

There were no threats around, but surely something caused her to cast off such a nasty spell. Slowly, he tried to process what the hell just went on. His shoulder burned with the angry heat of the kido shot, but there was nothing that would have provoked such a thing from her. But, surely, surely, there had been some reason.

He took a step toward her, and she took one back in response, her kido flaring bright in warning. He froze, a pang of disbelief clenching his gut at the sight of her retreating from him.

He frowned, confused on so many levels he wasn't sure which to address first.

"What happened? What were you firing at?"

"I assumed that to be blatantly apparent, sir." She clipped, angry at having to make him see the truth. He was one of the most intelligent men she knew, yet here he was: oblivious.

She glanced over to Ukitake, who was approaching her captain now. His face was troubled, and she realized he had already came to the correct conclusion and accepted it as such. She felt a burning guilt, but squashed it ruthlessly. She would show no such emotion under Aizen's watchful gaze. These two men were dear friends of hers, and now she had to make them hate her.

"Your hurt." Jushiro pointed out once he reached Shunsui's side.

"Did you see anything?" He asked, ignoring the statement altogether.

"I saw what you did."

"She fired at someone…" A feeling of apprehension settling in his chest, and his voice sounded so odd to his own ears.

"Shun…" There was a sharp warning in Jushiro's tone. "She was firing at-"

"-Don't!" He said fiercely, snapping his eyes over to meet the white haired man's. "How could you even think..?"

"How could you not?" He answered quietly.

Shunsui looked back to where Nanao stood silently, his mind turning with possibilities. She had fired off two high level blasts, and they had been aimed, quiet perfectly, at him and Jushiro. He couldn't deny that fact. He had moved, of course, impulse had kicked in in the split second needed to avoid the searing heat. In fact, he had moved faster than he had in a long time, but it hadn't been quick enough. The kido had clipped his shoulder with such force it almost knocked him to the ground. It had just grazed him, but was packing enough punch to rattle his bones from the slight impact. Like a white hot fist slamming into his shoulder from behind. If he hadn't been in the process of a flash step, he may have lost his arm from such a strike.

A strike Nanao had sent at him.

So now, he stood with his oldest friend, and regarded his lieutenant with calculating eyes.

"No." He said firmly, shaking his head to reinforce his voiced thoughts, although he wasn't sure which question in his mind he was answering. She simply could never have been a part of this mess. He refused to even think along those lines anymore. Aizen, Gin, and Tosen were obviously a part of it, but not her.

Never Nanao-chan.

It was too impossible. He knew her. He knew who she was, and she was not what Ukitake was implying. She was not deceitful, he knew this because she was…she was…

No. She could never have been any part of this.

"Nanao-chan, tell us what happened." He asked her, a firm note of command in his voice. He wanted to go to her, but didn't want to see her move away from him again. "Please."

"Don't do this to yourself." Jushiro advised, looking pained. He reached for his arm but Shunsui jerked it from his grasp violently.

"Don't say something like that to me!" He snapped, irritated with everyone in the vicinity. "It's not-"

"-You know the answer. Stop thinking with your heart."

"No, YOU stop talking like that!"

"Then open your eyes!" Jushiro shouted back, angry now. His dark eyes flashed to the woman in question, and he frowned stormily. How dare she put them through this. He hadn't been hit by her kido, because out of the two of them, he had moved fast enough to avoid any damage. Only because he hadn't questioned the likeliness of Nanao aiming for something else, as Shunsui had. But he may as well have been hit, for he felt such a deep wound from this.

"I hope it was worth it, Ise-san." He said quietly, accusingly.

She raised her eyes to his across the small distance, and Jushiro found he was more hurt than truly angry with her.

Nanao felt all the air leave her at his softly spoken harsh words. She swallowed thickly, and managed to force out a response. "It will be."

Shunsui opened his mouth to berate Ukitake for his wording, and to ask Nanao what the hell she meant, when the sky ripped apart with an earsplitting crack.

The negacions fell, and a shout from Yoruichi was the only warning to the others to get out of the way. In the nick of time, the captains and lieutenants who had surrounded the traitors removed themselves, before the light would have trapped them.

When the commotion settled, Shunsui's eyes drew back to Nanao, who was bathed in the eerie yellowish light like the others. Her eyes were downcast, as she lowered her hands back to her sides. There was no more fighting to be done.

"Nanao!" He shouted, diving for her.

Ukitake flashed in front of him, and was in his path instantly, shoving back at him with everything he had.

"Stop this!"

"No!" He struggled for all he was worth, but Ukitake wouldn't budge. His arms were locked like steel around him. His shoulder screamed in pain, but it didn't matter. Nothing did, except getting Nanao out of there. She was trapped, and needed him.

"Let it be, my friend." Ukitake's voice was melancholy, as he continued his restraint.

Shunsui fought against his friend's grip harder, both men immobile against the other.

"Let me go, she needs-"

"-She's with them."


Nanao tried not to hear the refusal in her captain's voice, she tried not to listen to his disbelief. She had expected such a reaction, after all. The ground broke under her feet, as the transportation began.

She felt herself lifting slowly into the air.

She heard Aizen giving his speech to those who stood close to him, his words smug and condescending.


Nanao raised her eyes finally, and met her captain's across the short distance. She tried to keep the perfect mask of calm in her features. Tried to appear uncaring and cold. She looked at him, and met his gaze.

Everything around them seemed to narrow, to include only the two of them as they looked at one another.

She willed him to leave it alone. She willed him to accept this. But she saw in his eyes was a dangerous light, it was raw and hurting, unstable and unpredictable.

It took her breath away.

She prayed he couldn't see into her, prayed he couldn't see the fear and aches that ate her alive. She prayed he would accept that she was a traitor, and view her as an enemy. To fight against her from this point on, not to fight for her. She prayed for him to hate her now, to let her go.

But, those eyes told her differently.

He struggled harder at the flash of emotion Nanao let slip through her passive façade, and she could tell Captain Ukitake was having a hard time keeping him back now.

"Stand down." Yamamoto's voice boomed, "we cannot touch them now."

"Like hell I can't." Shunsui snarled, his reiatsu exploding around him. Nanao couldn't feel it from inside the light, but she watched mutely as several gathered ranking officers stumbled and fell to their knees. The packed dirt under the two captain's feet was cracking, breaking apart and being blown away from the force.

With a twist, he freed himself from restraint, and flashed to where Aizen was rising in a blink of an eye. Captain Ukitake and Captain Unohana appeared in front of him moments later, ready to stop him if he were to try to get too close to the negacion.

"Release her!" He demanded, ignoring to two captains who stood at the ready in his path.

Nanao watched, dumbstruck, and Aizen had the distinct look of a startled man. It only lasted a moment, before he composed his features once more and smirked down at him.

"Your asking me to let her go? You surprise me, I had assumed you to be a fairly intelligent man, Captain Kyoraku." He let out a chuckle. "Do you honestly not understand what is going on here?"

"Release her, or so help me, I'll-"

"-You'll what? The old man speaks the truth, you cannot touch any of us. We have already stepped out of your dimension." Aizen taunted, tucking his hands into his sleeve, appearing casual and aloof. He took in the raging captain beneath him, then his eyes slid to Captain Ukitake and Unohana, who's features were hard but far from unaware. "Ah, I see now. You don't want to understand, do you?"

"If you take her, I will hunt you down." He vowed, quietly, leveling his glowing gaze on the man above him. Nanao's stomach clenched at the words. "And I promise, I will find you."

If the threat worried Aizen, he never showed it. He took a moment to choose his next words.

"Don't you get it, Captain? She is mine. She has always been mine. Right from the beginning." He answered, relishing in the anguish playing out. "Let me spell it out for you, hm? From the moment you met your lieutenant, she has belonged to me. She plays a perfect part, don't you think? You have never suspected such a thing, have you? Of course not. She has been flawless in her illusions. I picked her for you, specifically. She was the perfect match, wouldn't you agree? She was everything you would find intriguing. The resemblance with your previous lieutenant was just an added bonus, of course. A perk that drove the nail home, I believe. You never did get over that whole mess did you? You saw a piece of her in Ise. It was instinctual, you couldn't help feeling like she was your second chance. You trusted her from the beginning, you never would have guessed such a thing out of her. Because of your very nature, she slipped right under the radar. She had full access to everything I ever needed. Because, her captain was a drunk who couldn't be bothered to do his own work. So, he gave her the codes and clearance. He trusted his second in command to use them honorably, and never thought twice about it. Do you see now? This was all carefully planned. You have been little more than a puppet."

Feeling deflated, Shunsui swallowed thickly. Was it really so simple? All this time?

"That can't-"

"-Blinded. You were blinded." Aizen interrupted in his false soothing tones, glancing around the stunned group of captains and lieutenants. "As were so many others. Don't feel embarrassed, Captain Kyoraku, you are hardly the only one who has learned such a harsh truth today. But, make no mistake, she is mine, and so I am taking her."

"You bastard." Shunsui seethed, his grip on his zanpakuto was so tight it was painful. He wanted to kill the man, he wanted nothing more than the feel of his blade buried in his flesh, he wanted to erase this whole day, he wanted to relive the last several years in ignorance over again, he wanted to grab Nanao by the shoulders and shake her violently and demand answers from her lips.

He wanted to hear her confirm it, needed to hear her say it.

"Yes. Yes, I suppose I am." Aizen murmured above, watching the acceptance sink in. He smiled, and looked up. They were almost there now. "It's been a pleasure, but more important matters are calling for my attention. We will all be seeing each other soon enough, I promise."

Feeling utterly defeated, Shunsui's zanpakuto dropped to his sides, falling to the dry ground with a clatter, his limbs suddenly too heavy to hold them. He shared a wordless moment with the two captains facing him, too weary for words right now. They looked back with quiet understanding. Pity shining in their eyes. They understood, without needing the voice.

He turned back to face Nanao again, one last time before she was gone.

She held herself up straight, a perfect stature of elegance and subdued submission. He could see it now, clearly, that she was Aizen's. She wasn't fighting to get free. She wasn't fighting to get back to him. She was going willingly, without anger or upset. Her violet eyes dull with resignation. She was calm.

He wished he could feel the same, but his instincts were screaming at him, refusing to believe she would be a traitor. Refusing to believe she would betray him. His gut feeling was telling him that she needed him, and he couldn't help it, didn't want to, but he wanted nothing more than to tear this whole place apart to free her from it. To expose a truth he that wanted to believe so badly.

He felt something inside cracking and splitting open. A huge, empty gorge, where he was sure his heart was.

He had to fight the urge to go to her, to try everything in his power to break her out of that light. Even though his logical reasoning told him that she didn't need freed. She wasn't going against her will. She was a part of this, no matter what he wanted to believe. That was the fact.

And the fact was what hurt, worse than thinking he couldn't help her.

The fact was she didn't want his help, never wanted it, and it was all a lie.

Everything between them had been an elaborate act on her part? She wasn't who he had always known her to be?

He felt a little dizzy on his feet, listless, and the wound on his shoulder throbbed in rhythm with his heartbeat.

A wound she had given him.

Because she didn't care, never had, and her actions were adding up now, weren't they? She had aimed at him, had tried to hurt him. She thought of him as an enemy all this time, not a friend, never anything but the opposite side of where she was. She had played her part in all this, hadn't Aizen said so? She had gained his unwavering trust, because it had been her job to do so.

It was a pill too big to swallow, it was a knife so sharp it hardly stung. It was such a horrible realization, like he had never received in his long life.

He loved this woman, had loved her for years. And she didn't even exist?

"Nanao-chan…" He whispered, his voice lost in the wind, he was sure. Which was good, because no one probably heard the cracking in his tone.

She was so still, unmoving and aloof as she was raised to the sky. He had always had a talent for reading her subtle expressions. But right now, she was giving away nothing. She had full control over her features once more. She stared back from where she was silently.

He wondered what his gaze said to her right now.

I can't understand this. This can't be right. Everything is so wrong that it just can't be the way it is.

He hoped on some distant level, that she couldn't read his thoughts so easily right now. They were swirling, bleak and confused.

I think I'm bleeding out. I think something split apart inside.

He couldn't hide it from her if he tried right now, anyways. He wondered if she even cared. He didn't really know, did he? He had no idea who she was anymore, now that things were obvious to him. She wasn't his Nanao-chan at all, maybe never was.

I think I'm losing you. I think you were never here to begin with.

The transport was almost complete, he could hear the Menos Grande chortling through the tear in the sky.

He kept steady eye contact with her until the last. There was nothing he could do. So, he watched, with the rest of the officers, as the four of them vanished.

Nanao stared back, feeling as if she owed her Captain this one honor. To bare witness to his hurt. She was responsible, after all. It was only right.

She heard the other officers shouting below, barking orders and getting ready to leave this hill.

She heard the cracking and snuffling above her, as the Menos moved about.

She heard Aizen laugh, she heard Rangiku scream, she heard Captain Komamura pleading, she heard Lieutenant Hisagi curse.

She heard her own heartbeat, pounding loudly through her ears.

She even heard sounds of days to come. She heard the clash of battle in her near future. She heard storm clouds on the horizon. She could almost hear the whispering, dark halls of Hueco Mundo. She could almost hear her sister weep with relief of a reunion.

She held his gaze until the seams of dimensional shifts swallowed her whole. Then she heard many more things.

But, loudest of all, echoing through her and tearing her to shreds, was all the things her captain hadn't said.

The emergency meeting afterwards was a blur. It was long and tedious, Spanning several dull hours.

Captain Kyoraku glanced around the gathered officers with a feeling of detachment. There was so many missing faces, some of which had left and some of which were wounded and in the 4th. The ones who were here seemed as disoriented as he felt. He realized that he wasn't the only one who was blindsided by this day.

The Head Captain had everyone give an account of everything they knew, anything that would help paint a better picture. Shunsui tried hard to pay attention, as he was hoping for more clues to help him figure out his issues. Some of the recounts were new information to his ears, and some of it slipped past him without even being processed. As everyone took their turn giving what they could to the gathered, he felt like he was sinking more and more into his own thoughts.

"-followed to the Central 46 building, where we discovered-"

Several minutes passed with his mind simply blanking out, not listening or thinking at all. Just…fuzzy around the edges and still.

When it became his turn to speak, he glanced pleadingly across the table to his longtime friend. Ukitake understood the message and stood to give their account on both their behalf. Shunsui was thankful, as he was sure he wasn't able to verbalize anything yet. The lump in his throat was still burning and choking.

"-it's unclear how extensive this investigation will have to go to uncover-"

He sat silently as the meeting droned on, staring at a random point on the wall.

He ignored the worried glances that occasionally turned his way.

He ignored the looks of pity, and the ones of understanding.

"-tampered with the main computer systems, so we can't even use those files as an accurate source-"

He tried hard to ignore it all, but not everything was missed. He sharply tuned in when Nanao was mentioned, he heard every accusation and brainstorming done about her. He couldn't help the anger that boiled up when he heard her discussed in such a shameful fashion, but he could do nothing for it. All the traitors were being discussed, and as it stood Nanao's involvement was the one they knew the least about. Tosen had voiced his reasons, his own twisted sense of justice. Gin had always been a loose canon, sneaky and unpredictable. And Aizen had personally explained his intentions.

Nanao was the one in shadows, as no one really knew her well enough to guess at her involvement. No one but him, of course. And he had been so utterly stunned he was still trying to find his way back to the surface. How had he not seen anything? How could he have been so blind?

"-traitorous tendencies against the 13 Squads, and-"

He clearly pictured her face, still so beautiful to him after all these years. He could imagine her rare smiles and every other expression she had. Every subtle movement she made he filed away to hold forever in his memory.

He missed her already.

"-and as for the protective dome, it would have taken quite a bit of power and concentration to manipulate-"

He leaned back heavily in his chair, wincing as his uniform caught on the edge of the burn she had given him. It was still open and fresh, but he had waved away Captain Unohana's hands when she had tried to help. The pain was a welcome distraction right now. It was helping to remind him that she had in fact been involved, regardless what he wanted to believe.

"-perhaps going on for much longer than we ever expected, perhaps spanning several years, even, and-"

He felt like he was drifting, his thoughts were such a jumble. They raced through his mind too fast to focus on, as the events of the day caught up with him.

And not just this day, but so many from his past. He found himself recounting the years with a fine-toothed comb, searching for clues that he was sure were under his nose all this time. Surely, if he hadn't been so attached to his lieutenant, he would have seen some hint, some proof, any sort of solid evidence.


People tended to see what they wanted to, see what they expected to. Was he guilty of that?

It was strange, though. Because now that he has been enlightened to the truth, he should be able to think back, and say to himself: 'Ah, it makes sense now!'

"-it is believed that the execution was in fact a staged event, to extract-"

But, as he dug deeper and deeper through his memories, there seemed to be very few cases he could actually examine. The few things that came to mind, were not helping him. At all. In fact, they spoke of a very different reality to him.

One instance was the bruises on her neck from just last night. She had brushed off answering where they were from. He wondered now what the real cause of such a mark was. More memories floated, of other unanswered injuries he had noticed on her over the years. Random bruises, mostly, and occasionally burns. She had always had a perfectly legitimate excuse, and so he had never focused too much on the possible underlying cover-up. She would blame them on kido practice, or combat training.

And now that he thought about it, he had never witnessed Nanao training at anything. She had refused his offers to help her over the years, only accepting when he forced a spar on her. Those were some of his favorite memories of her, getting to play with his Nanao-chan. With her cheeks flushed and kido blaring, she was stunning in her battle form. She seemed to always enjoy herself when he initiated such afternoons. But, she always held back on him, never releasing her zanpakuto. Now, he wondered why. Had she been hiding some specific skill? Or simply wasn't comfortable with her sword?

Regardless, she never openly practiced that he ever noticed. Perhaps she went somewhere far from the city? She was incredibly private about her abilities, about everything really. So, he wondered, did the bruises and burns over the years really come out of some training she had done? Or was there something more? Had she been in trouble? Had Aizen somehow been responsible? Had she been hurt all these years while he stood by doing nothing? Did she ever have a choice?

Oh god, he though miserable. Why was he trying to imagine her hands being forced in this? Was he so desperate that he needed to believe that someone could force Nanao-chan to do anything she didn't want to?

"-and so, on this day, special wartime orders will be issued. With the absence of Central 46, the acting body of law falls to this room, and so-"

But…if she hadn't had a choice…? If she hadn't wanted to do any of it? Did Aizen have something on her? Something she would do anything for?

He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, trying to stop the wince at such thoughts.

Gods, he would have helped her. If that was the case, he would have stood by her.

He knew, with perfect sureness, he would have done anything for her. If she had only asked, if she had only come to him. Even if he knew the whole truth, about all the scheming and traitor business, he would have helped her. The details wouldn't have mattered. He knew himself well enough to know, he would have bent any rule for her. He would have fixed anything, gone to any length. If she had told him she needed him, he would have been there.

Nanao-chan never asked for anything, he reminded himself. She was too proud, too private, and too far for him to reach her now anyway.

His jaw clenched. Why was he punishing himself with all this?

He couldn't help but to wonder, though. If she had truly needed help, had it been obvious, if only he had known what to look for?

Or was this just him, grasping at straws and wishing so bad for a good reason to go to Hueco Mundo and tear it apart?

Was he imagining things from the past, trying to justify her actions today?

Was he in deep denial?

He didn't know. He had never felt so lost in his entire life.

"-and the remaining captains and lieutenants are to execute on sight any of the above listed, should paths cross-"

'Execute on sight'? He distantly registered that phrase.

The meeting went on without him, and he sat in his uncomfortable chair, and wondered just what the hell he was supposed to do now.

"We are finally free." Aizen announced as the four of them touched down, sandals sinking into the sand. Nanao glanced over at the man and almost showed her disgust at his smug face. Almost. But she had more self control than that.

She watched warily as Aizen took a long, deep breath, seeming to savor the very atmosphere. Which was uncomfortably charged with it's own strange energies. Nanao knew, from her time spent here so many years ago, that her skin would crawl from the feel of this place for days until she adjusted. A Shinigami was naturally uncomfortable in this place, repelling to each other's energies like polar opposites.

"No welcome home party?" Gin asked flippantly, looking around the expanse of endless dunes and night sky. It was utterly empty of life forms. The quiet here was eerie, Nanao had almost forgotten the strangeness of complete silence in Hueco Mundo. Her ears strained to hear the skittering in the dark she knew she should be hearing. The inhabitants often kept their distance, watching for any chance to attack. The lower hollow life forms tended to know better than to flat out attack a group of Shinigami, unless they were mad with hunger. They liked to bid their time, looking for the weakest and waiting for the chance to isolate and surround them. Like wolves.

"We will be celebrating in Las Noches." Aizen shrugged, his eyes moving to the rough, ragged looking buildings in the distance.

"Ah. An' here I thought they done forgot about us." Gin replied.

"If they have, perhaps we will remind them of who we are when we arrive, hm?" Aizen mused, "Home at long last. It's been entertaining, don't you agree? But I'm quite happy the charade is over."

Without further conversation, they started walking towards the towering buildings ahead.

Tosen said nothing, Gin smirked and tucked his hands into his sleeves, and Nanao moved behind the three of them, hoping to avoid notice altogether. She knew Aizen was displeased with her for not taking one of the Captains out as ordered, but he said nothing on the matter just yet. She could feel his discontent radiating off him, and knew to stay on her toes. It made her jumpy, knowing at any moment, his unpredictable temper could flare.

Perhaps, she thought, he was in a good enough mood that he wouldn't address the issue this day.

Which was worse, really, waiting for the bomb to blow and never knowing when it was set to explode.

She kept her thoughts to herself, eyes scanning the surroundings constantly, and following the three former captains quietly into the very nest of Hueco Mundo.

Nanao tried not to walk fast or seem hurried.

The halls of Las Noches had eyes and ears everywhere. If she hurried, it would seem as though she were on her way to something important to her.

And weakness was the name of the game here. If you showed any, the inhabitants of this place would swarm it with the sick fixation of vultures. It was a vicious pecking order. Show your Achilles' heel and they would pick at it until it fell apart bleeding.

It was a brutal lesson she had learned at a young age in this place. It was no place for a child, but she had no choice. It was her home for many years. Her father's forced work here had brought her and her sister under this roof. The memories still left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Dwelling on the past did nothing for her, though, and so she forced the train of thoughts away.

She was heading for the lower level which housed the various servants and those who were held in low regard.

She descended a stairwell, and emerged into the halls of the lowest level. It was darker here than on the higher levels, the lighting was just simply few and far between. There was too many shadowed corners through here for her to feel at all comfortable.

Ignoring the leering monsters she passed in the narrow corridor, Nanao kept her shoulders square and her spine straight. Ready for anything. Being human in this place made you instantly hated. Many years have gone by, and many of the new occupants here didn't remember her. Of course, even those who knew she was high ranking could care less. They all operated on such a crude system. There was constant deaths and fights among them, all vying for the upper hand. It was a skewered sense of pack mentality in this place. The strongest rise to the top, and are constantly challenged to keep their reign.

"Shinigami girl came to play with us, hmm?" A hissing female voice commented from the darkened hall to her left, and Nanao didn't even bother to respond. Even this bunch of scum in the lower levels sneered at her for her humanity and uniform she still wore.

"Come back, little one…" Another voice whispered.

"Don't hurry off yet…"

She continued on, with her eyes forward and her nerves frayed. More nasty whispers echoed around her as more of the servants began to take notice. What a day this was. At least the imminent threats in every direction was a perfect distraction to everything else. The deeper she went into the servant's quarters, the more vulgar the words aimed at her got.

She tried to tune out the name calling, as it really wasn't worth her time. Her captain may not have called her vile things like she certainly deserved, but these hollows had no such moral issues doing so. Even though she could splatter them across the floor with her kido, it wasn't worth the hassle. It would spread the word that verbal insults got to her, and then it would start a round of harassment from the higher leveled hollows. She would be forever beating back hecklers, and they would be stronger ones with each passing day.

She knew this place well, had learned to pick her battles.

So, she made her way in silence, to the end of the hall where a single room held the only light in this dreary, dark confinement.

AN: A nod to the reviewers:

ThorongilAnime: Thank you much ^_^

SufferingSamurai2012: Hope the wait wasn't too long! I hated leaving such a cliffhanger in the last chapter, but that's just where I had to end it.

Flowergod613: We are all sick in our way. Hahaha But, hey, she hit one of em at least, huh? Annnnd, future chapters are probably going to be to your liking as far as that goes. *evil grin*

Akai-Miko: Happy ending?…erm…well, about that…*ponder face* I DID, however, plant a lemon tree in this story!

Snowkid: Thank you, as always!

tii-chan17: Thank you, you make a girl blush!

JenovaJuice97: Glad your into it, hope this chapter didn't disappoint?

claymore47: Thank you, and I'm afraid Nanao-chan has some rough times ahead of her.

Octavia Brown: Thank you much!

Shannyrox101: I hate cliffhangers too, I actually try to avoid them because I like to finish the whole scene in the same chapter, but I guess they just have to happen sometimes. I'm glad your liking this so far, though!

SPC Airen: Thank you, glad you are into it so far. My grammar is terrible, I know, believe me. I need someone to proofread this crap before I go posting it all over the internet :P

WindMiko: Thank you, hope the wait wasn't too long.

ThorongilAnime: LOL Sometimes, I need a review to kick me in the ass like yours did! So thank you!

Natalie: Thank you, hope it didn't disappoint.

ebonyhatesyou: Thank you much!