Safe in my Arms

Shadow of an Echo

Chapter Thirty

How To Start a War

Yoruichi and Kisuke had put in a rare appearance in Las Noches. Despite how much Ichigo wished this was only a friendly visit, they were all business.

"We are ready to start moving people here, give us the word and we can send them to you." Yoruichi informed, "The rumor is working well, there is at least fifty Soul Reapers ready to cross over, many of them are seated officers. Any Lieutenants and Captains on your side will follow when it gets closer to fighting. We don't want to reveal all of our hand too early."

"Only fifty?" Grimmjow didn't like the low number, his distaste obvious.

"Those are the ones willing to fight," Yoruichi explained. "There are more people that are neutral that wish to avoid fighting all together, and yet more that support you but will remain in Soul Society until they are needed."

"So we will only be dealing with the ones willing to risk their own necks by coming here early?" Grimmjow realized.

"Essentially yes," Kisuke admitted. "It is a substantial risk to cross over into Heuco Mundo while avoiding capture. We cannot guarantee they will all make it here. You can't blame some of them for not being willing to take the chance. I'm just surprised we were able to persuade as many as we did."

"He's right Grimmjow," Starrk defended Kisuke. "You have to take into account the vast majority of Soul Reapers do not have enough power to withstand being around all of us. My strength alone can kill lower powered Hollows, I don't see Shinigami being much different, and now it is more than just me they will have to contend with."

"You have a point," Kisuke agreed. "Captains and Lieutenants must constrain themselves while in the general areas of Seireitei. The only time we are allowed free reign of our power is when there is a war release given. That was the case when Ichigo and the others broke in the first time." He was glad at least one of them had picked up on that possibility. It was fitting coming from Starrk who had seen with his own eyes how quickly high power could bring others to their knees.

"That doesn't mean this will be easy," Yoruichi warned, "We will have to push every person we do have to their absolute limits to have a prayer at winning."

"Now that we can do." Szayel joined in. "Even if we have to use our natural forms to train them we will make sure they are ready."

"All of us are willing to help too, when it comes to that point we won't need to be careful in keeping our numbers steady in the Living World." Kensei added. "We have a stake in this fight too. You are not the only ones with a grudge against Yamamoto and the Seireitei."

"You would wouldn't you?" Ichigo mused, "I guess you guys weren't horribly upset that Central 46 was demolished by Aizen."

"Can't say we were choked up about it," Kensei admitted. "I don't really like killing, but in this case they were willing to have us killed so forgive me for not being able to muster up much sympathy."

"I don't blame you," Ulquiorra assured. "If that happened to us we would have killed them ourselves; you showed a surprising amount of restraint not to try the same once you had your Hollows harnessed."

"We might have tried had we been sure of our control." Rose confessed. "The betrayal ran that deep with us. The only thing holding us back was the possibility of hurting innocents in the crossfire."

"The fact you managed to hold back the urge at all says a lot about your character," Ichigo observed. "Especially when it came to the Alphas, we know they are quicker to anger than Betas and harder to calm down when the threat is gone."

"You can anger a Beta easily when it comes to the people they consider family," Starrk reminded, "This is usually directed at our young, but if the band has suffered an attack from an outside source leaving a trauma to tie them together we can be just as viscous as Alphas while possessing up to twice the power."

"We might have had power, but we didn't know how to harness it correctly, and there are still things we should be able to do with our Hollows that is difficult for us." Rose informed. "We had Ichigo and Shiro as the basis for our views on what Visoreds are really capable of, before that we just felt our way along and occasionally outright repressed our instincts."

Yoruichi weighed in with her opinion, "It's a good thing you held back from attacking at the time, they would have expected some resistance and could have been ready to face it; I doubt you could have won taking that into account and including Kisuke, Tessai, and myself. However it is a good thing you are learning to work with your Hollows more closely now, you don't have any reason to hold back anymore and it will be useful when the fighting starts."

"She's right," Grimmjow agreed with her easily, "We will need all the strength available to us in order to win. Plus you shouldn't hold back at all, fighting or no fighting, a Hollow is meant to be free to roam. No wonder they were fighting you so hard if the only way they could get that freedom was to take over your bodies completely."

"Speaking of all strength available, when should we have the Soul Reapers come?" Kisuke got the conversation back on track from the tangent it had taken.

"The sooner the better, we need to get as much training in as possible, and I want this over with." Ichigo advised, knowing the quicker they were able to fight the better it would be for them and they could finally end the suspense of waiting and wondering.

"I agree," A little surprisingly that was Ulquiorra, "This has been delayed long enough, and with all the children here safe, there is nothing holding us back from acting."

"How quickly can you get the Shinigami here?" Szayel asked, agreeing with the others and getting to the logistics of the matter.

"Once we get the word out it shouldn't take more than a day or two, we would have to move very quickly once so many people know about it. The longer people have to think about it the more chance there is of someone changing their mind and reporting us. At least once we get here the only means of communicating with the Soul Society will be through us. Everyone will be thoroughly searched for tracking and information gathering technology to ensure that we really are the only ones capable of passing knowledge along." Yoruichi explained. "So the real question is when do you want them to come?"

"Well, what do you think, are we ready to have them already?" Ichigo directed to the rest of the room.

"Yes," Grimmjow spoke for everyone. "As long as they bring the equipment they need for field housing there isn't any reason to wait."

"That won't be a problem, the squads are trained to move quickly while carrying those kinds of supplies." Kisuke once again spoke up, "They have to learn that so they can take care of themselves on missions."

"So we are agreed, as soon as we get back we will get the word out." Yoruichi promised. "We will send the Visoreds ahead of us so you know when we are coming and to have them as backup to deal with getting that many people settled."

"Sounds like we have a plan," Ichigo observed. "It's good to know things are moving along now. I'm not very good at sitting around when there is something important I should be doing instead."

"Oh we know," Szayel teased, "You've been charged up so much we thought you would take out the whole Menos forest by yourself."

Ichigo blushed bright red at Szayel outing him, okay so he had been out hunting and training far more often than he usually did; but he didn't think it had been that bad.

Grimmjow immediately disabused him of that notion despite not knowing Ichigo had been thinking about it, "He's been acting worse than me, and yes I'm willing to admit that, it's true at least in this case."

Yoruichi couldn't help herself, she had to laugh at her former student when the blush increased in intensity with his Alpha's words. "That's pretty bad for you Ichigo, although patience was never your strong suite, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

Ichigo responded crankily, "Don't you have something to do in Soul Society?"

"Are you trying to kick me out?" She asked with a faked hurt tone.

"Yes, yes I am," He told her in a deadpan voice. "That would be a much better use of time than tormenting me."

Kisuke chuckled, "As much as it is fun to tease him, he does have a point." He reminded. "We should be going soon if we want to get word out before everyone is shut up in their barracks for the night"

"Oh fine," Yoruichi agreed disgruntledly, looking like someone had stolen her favorite toy, and in this case that was a surprisingly accurate analogy.

With that she reluctantly put down Hikari as she had been letting the little girl climb all over her while they talked. She apparently had a way with children, as all of the little ones tended to like her and they had each come to her at one time or another to get her to play with them.

She joined Kisuke at the door and with one final goodbye they were gone, leaving everyone still in Las Noches alone to think and discuss the new turn of events.

"Well things are starting up now, it isn't like we didn't know it would be coming soon anyway. At least this way we don't have to wait long for the Shinigami to get here like we did for the meetings with the Shinigami we have already allowed here." Starrk observed.

"Yeah, the lead up to those meetings, especially the first one, was worse than the meetings themselves even the ones with Gin." Ichigo added.

"No argument from me," Grimmjow chipped in, "I remember how scared you were Ichigo. It was the first time you actually asked me to stay with you overnight."

Szayel had to repress his rueful laugh, "If you remember, all of the Betas had someone stay with them that night. I know I needed it, and I don't doubt Starrk did too." The older Beta nodded at the mention of his name, he didn't see any point in denying his feelings about that night, it was true after all. Szayel continued speaking shortly after Starrk's agreement, "At least we were more at ease with the subsequent visits. There was still the need for caution, but at least we knew more about what we would face during them, I know that helped me to relax."

"Me too," Ichigo agreed. "It didn't hurt I was familiar with the ones coming later, and with the way the first ones reacted I didn't fear their possible rejection quite as much."

"Makes sense," Ulquiorra analyzed. "There was no shame in needing reassurance about meeting the Shinigami; the first night it was the physical presence of someone you felt safe and protected by, and the second was reassurance based on knowledge and experience."

"I don't deny I was worked up about the Shinigami; I didn't want Ichigo out of my sight, and the children had to be with us before I was willing to sleep." Grimmjow confessed.

"I don't know if I'll sleep better or worse when the Shinigami helping us get to Heuco Mundo." Ichigo admitted.

"I wouldn't be overly worried about it," Szayel tried to reassure him. "We will have them training so hard I doubt they would be capable of thinking about trying to get into Las Noches, even if it would have been just a friendly visit."

"I hope you're right," Ichigo responded, and let the subject drop. There was no use in talking about it so much he really did throw himself into a panic. Thus taking up a conversation about how much the babies were growing was a much nicer alternative; and they were growing.

The twins were at the point of learning to sit up. They managed to do it on their own as long as they didn't reach too far sideways, that made them fall over. Falling only seemed to daze them for a few moments before they were right back at it. Ulquiorra and both halves of the Primera could be seen glowing with pride whenever their little girls pushed back any fear always willing to try again. They would be tough Betas when they grew up, just like their carrier. Their father on the other hand was watching them with a hint of nostalgia, remembering his two boys. Maybe while everyone was occupied with training he could attempt to find them, he hoped they were close enough his absence wouldn't be too noticeable.

Nnoisla was also getting stronger every day, he was capable of rolling over, and when he was being held he loved looking all around analyzing everything. His eyes were slowly changing color, and he proved everyone wrong when he didn't develop the golden eyes of his half-siblings and carrier. They were turning purple, just like Nnoitra, both of them. The one near the mask more striking as it showed against the black background, though they bet when his eyes fully settled into their color and the total effect was seen it would be amazing.

Hikari, Tsume, and Amon were quickly gaining skills, starting to say a few simple words mixed in with their usual babble. The first time Isshin had come to visit after they started talking he was beside himself with joy, though a bit disappointed he hadn't been there to hear the first ones. Ichigo and Grimmjow had been in the room though, and the first ones were 'alpa' and 'beda' granted it was still garbled a bit, but there was no doubt what they were trying to say. They could now say a variation on everyone's name after hearing them every day since they were born. Whenever they said a new name, that person lit up like a light bulb, and they sported wide grins. It made the other Betas with children excited to hear their own speaking.

All in all they were healthy and happy, feeling none of the stress and anxiety gathering in their caretakers, shielded by the adult's dogged desire to keep all of that firmly away from the children. No matter how bad things might have gotten with every one so worked up, Ichigo probably the worst of the bunch as far as restless energy went, they all did whatever they could not to show it around them. This war would not hurt them, not if their family could do something to stop it from happening.

Curling up for bed that night, despite saying their fears about meeting new Shinigami were diminishing, all the Betas found themselves holding onto their children tighter, needing their closeness. Ichigo even abandoning the bed to sleep on the cushions that allowed his little family more comfort. The children were getting big enough having all three of them up on the bed plus three adults and just as many other children was simply not feasible anymore. Lilynette had no problem switching into Ichigo's spot so she could sleep next to Starrk and their twins.

The night passed steadily, morning coming to find them all piled around each other, the Betas wouldn't be able to wiggle out of the sleeping bodies of their children unless they wanted to wake them up and they chose to cherish the situation for as long as they could. They knew the days to come would be so busy the luxury of sleeping in would be impossible for the adults.

Luckily for their nerves, Lisa and Hiyori showed up in the afternoon with the news the Shinigami would be there in a few hours; what would be nightfall in the Living World. The advance warning giving them time to brace themselves for the imminent arrival, already trying to decide which of the Shinigami would be allowed inside Las Noches to discuss how the training would go.

When it did come, there was no need for anyone to warn them further, the mass of Shinigami arriving at once produced enough Spiritual Power they felt them arrive despite the fact it was several miles from Las Noches.

"I think Ichigo and I should go fetch the ones we want to bring here. They will want to see him since he is the one they are going to be fighting for, and I am not letting him go alone and no Ichigo you can't stop me this time." Grimmjow laid out his plan.

"I'm not going to try to stop you," Ichigo assured his over-protective mate, "I think they should see us together. If we want to finish convincing them that Hollows really aren't what they have been taught, there is no better way than to show them."

"Good idea," Szayel agreed, "Do you think we should send another one of us?"

"Couldn't hurt," Ichigo agreed. "Who wants to come?"

"I'll go, most people know what position I held, if the Primera shows up without causing trouble it should relax them." Starrk volunteered despite his usual reluctance to join in missions; this was different. "I can shield my power enough it shouldn't hurt them, you probably should too Ichigo. They haven't been around you since your power bloomed out in the desert, at least you have the option now from hiding yourself out there."

"I was planning on it," Ichigo assured knowing the wisdom in the suggestion. Even when he hadn't fully developed his strength, his presence has altered the people, closest to him. He couldn't guess what might have happened had he possessed his current strength back then. Starrk was also right in saying the desert had taught him how to shield himself, one of the few good things to come from his exile excluding his children.

"We should get moving then, I don't want to leave them alone long enough to cause trouble. We should set the basic rules as soon as possible." Grimmjow advised, Ichigo and Starrk meeting him at the door after they understood him.

With the aid of Sonido and Flash Step, it was a relatively quick journey to meet the gathered Shinigami. The distance wasn't meant to be too long, just enough to separate the two groups. They would feel anyone trying to cross over into Las Noches and be able to stop them before they reached the compound.

Looking for a specific person in the crowd was a little tricky, but Ichigo soon found them; glad they were together as they tended to be. "Ikkaku, Yumichika, we need you to come back with us," Kenpachi had personally sent his Third and Fifth seat to Ichigo; he was mad the Captains couldn't come yet. At least he was clearheaded enough to follow the plan despite his distaste for it.

"Finally you decide to show up, you certainly took your time," Ikkaku chastised once the duo had reached Ichigo's group.

"It hasn't even been an hour," Ichigo responded indignantly.

"Which is at least twenty minutes too long," Ikkaku huffed.

Yumichika interrupted the light argument, "What do you need us for?"

Ichigo answered him, "We need to explain the training plan to the people we feel safe bringing to Las Noches so you can let the others know. Each person we tell will be in charge of a section of the fighters here."

"So I take it you need to track down a few more people?" Yumichika knew better than to think it would only be Ikkaku and himself dragged into helping.

"Yes, although we did think showing ourselves around here would be a good idea. I think the Shinigami here need to see what they are fighting for." Ichigo explained.

"Good plan," Yumichika agreed.

Ikkaku had gotten over his irritation enough to participate again without attempting to pick a fight. "Who are you trying to find?"

"Hanataro is here, and we will need more people trained as healers to hopefully keep everyone in good enough shape they can train longer. Captain Ukitake sent his Third seats, they were very reluctant to leave him but wouldn't go against his orders. Byakuya has a member of his squad he trusts more than others here, but he is very young and might not be able to handle what we are asking of you guys. I think it's worth looking into though, even if we have to back him up with a Visored if Byakuya thinks he has potential we should work with him." Ichigo explained.

"Wait, if you never met the guy how are you going to find him?" Yumichika was a bit confused on that, last he knew Ichigo wasn't very good at sensing the Spiritual Pressure of people he knew, and he had nearly non-existent skill with tracking those he didn't.

"I won't have to, he has orders to find us, so he should be on his way now." Ichigo admitted. "I'm guessing word is spreading quickly that we are here."

"Yeah I don't think they are going to miss the fact you are here with two Espada," Ikkaku pointed out. "Nice touch with that one by the way, no one will think of bothering you but it still shows that what has been going around about Hollows is true."

"We thought the same thing," Grimmjow entered the conversation for the first time, Starrk choosing to remain silent in favor of observing the crowd around them setting up their field base. "If we want to find the others we should get moving Ichigo."

"I know," He agreed with his Alpha, "Hanataro first, then Sentaro and Kiyone." Better to get the one he knew better first.

"I just hope he remembered his Zanpakuto this time," Grimmjow added ruefully as they started walking looking for the familiar Spiritual Pressure of the healer. "It's not like he can go back and get it like he did, once they left the Soul Society going back is just asking to be locked up and questioned."

Ichigo spoke in defense of his friend, "You know he comes through when it's important. He hasn't forgotten it since the first time he came here."

"And that is one time too many," Grimmjow insisted, "I already gave him some advice, might be a good idea to actually train the kid."

"I doubt he's appreciate you calling him a kid," Ichigo warned. He didn't know exactly how old Hanataro was, but he did know he was far from what could be considered a child.

"Don't care how old he is, until he proves himself he's still a kid." Grimmjow insisted. "Healing is a good thing to know, but that shouldn't be his only skill."

For the first time, Starrk added to the conversation, "I'm not so sure, he is very gentle, I'm not sure teaching him to fight would really be good for him. I would think the time would be better spent with him learning even more about healing, but there isn't anyone to teach him."

"Well, it wouldn't be so bad if he were to concentrate on that I guess," Grimmjow admitted, "But like you said he really can't here, so he might as well learn to fight, I won't make him kill if he doesn't want to. I think if he just learned to incapacitate his opponent he would be fine."

"You should just ask him," Yumichika broke in, "He's not far away now."

Yumichika was right when they found him a few minutes later, "Hey Hanataro we need you to come for a meeting." Ichigo cut to the trace, they still had others to find, and he hoped Byakuya's officer got to them soon.

Looking for Sentaro and Kiyone wasn't as hard as they were worried it would be, they were causing a bit of a ruckus with their arguments. Without Jyuushiro there to mediate they had free rein to badger each other, and boy were they taking advantage of that freedom.

Grimmjow easily cut through it though with his distinctive voice, "Just because your Captain is not here doesn't mean you should be at each other's throats; save that for the enemy."

The Third seats stopped dead in their tracks at being addressed by the powerful Arrancar, not missing the second one standing behind Ichigo. They had been in the room when their Captain spoke with Shunsui about their fight with the Primera. This could only be him from the description given in that talk. "What do you want?" Sentaro asked carefully, not wanting to provoke either of the Espadas. Ichigo's presence with the other officers helped their terror a little, but it wasn't much.

"We need you to come back with us, there is something important to be discussed," Ichigo didn't waste time, he knew they were nervous so the sooner he explained their presence the better. "We just need to find one more person and we can go back to Las Noches." That part was directed at all of them not just Sentaro and Kiyone.

"Um, I think you are looking for me," A new voice interrupted, causing the group to wheel around and inspect the newcomer. He was medium height, with dark hair cut short except for a few beaded strands coming down from his temple. The band around his arm marked him as coming from the Sixth. "I'm Rikichi, Captain Kuchiki sent me to find you." He introduced himself.

"Yeah, we were waiting for you," Ichigo informed, "This is Grimmjow and Starrk," He explained pointing to each Espada in turn to Rikichi; "Now that you are here we can head back now."

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long," Rikichi apologized, concerned about keeping them from something important when they didn't even know him.

"You're fine, we had just found Sentaro and Kiyone too. You didn't hold us up." He assured before leading the now larger group to the edge of the quickly rising camp. He didn't want to start them travelling too fast until they were away from the mainstream of people. There was no point in drawing that kind of attention when their presence alone was causing a stir to spread through the assembled Shinigami.

Turning around, he spoke to them, "Thank you for coming, we do appreciate it, and soon we will be back to start working with you. In the meantime please continue to organize yourself. I'd like it if you would divide yourselves into six groups, try to get them as even as you can. It will be important. Also please do not start fighting, even as practice, until we return unless you are under attack. It will not be long before we begin training so take this time to collect yourselves."

Getting agreements from the ones close enough to hear him, and promises to pass along the requests to the rest of them, he could lead his group out into the desert gaining speed as he went.

When they arrived, they decided to hold the meeting in the same room the first group of Shinigami had been brought to. The Betas' room was simply too small to contain everyone who needed to be there. Lilynette and Rose stayed back to look after the children, already having been put to bed for the night, to make it possible for two people to watch them. They were already aware of the plan so they weren't missing anything by not being at the meeting.

"Okay what do you need us to do?" Ikkaku took the lead from the Officers assembled. "You already said we would be needed to lead a group of Shinigami through training; anything more to it?"

"Yes there's more," Ichigo admitted, "But it shouldn't be too hard. The other thing you need to know is you won't be alone in helping them to train. You will each be working with either an Arrancar or a Visored while teaching them, and we will rotate who is helping where to give the groups some variety in knowledge."

"Ah I see. You're combining training so they get used to working around Hollows, and at the same time learning double the amount of skills they would have had they stuck to purely Shinigami training." Yumichika realized.

"If that is what you are doing, why did Captain send me?" Rikichi asked quietly, he was barely noticed beyond being an annoyance to most of his squad, and yet Byakuya had picked him to join Ichigo first.

"Your Captain thinks you have a lot of potential that we could hopefully bring out," Ichigo explained to him. "According to Yoruichi, the person who passes our information, he didn't hesitate about naming you and coming from Byakuya that means a lot. Plus like I said you will not be working alone and can be trusted by us, so we are willing to work with you."

Grateful for the honesty Rikichi nodded his head, "Thank you, I will do my best."

"We can't ask any more of you." Ichigo replied easily, he felt himself pulled to the young man by his shyness. It was making the Beta side of him go crazy with the urge to protect.

Seeing his Beta had taken care of one of the lower powered Officers, Grimmjow took on the one that stoked his own instincts, "You, Hanataro, I will be working with you personally. You will be teaching healing to your group, but I want you able to fight. At least enough to protect yourself." He noticed the healer first blanch and then start to blush as he spoke.

"If you think it's worth it, then I can try to learn." Hanataro responded nervously, he had barely passed combat training at the Academy and it had been quite a while since then. His Zanpakuto just wasn't very useful in a fight when he went into Shikai. All those around him had a skill to help them when they released their swords, and while healing was something he loved he did sometimes wish he could do more.

"Good, you'd better be prepared to work," Grimmjow warned before taking pity on Hanataro by going silent again.

"With that settled I want to explain what I'd like the rest of you to do," Ichigo took back over, "Yumichika and Ikkaku, focus on melee fighting, your squad is known for that and it's a good skill to have. Sentaro and Kiyone, I'd like it if you could work with your groups on teamwork fighting. I want them able to combine in any formation to take down more powerful opponents. Rikichi, I know the Sixth is designed for information gathering about the Shinigami in general. I want you to teach them how to gather important information about our opponents. I think you could handle that just fine, and we will need informants to warn us ahead of time if the Soul Society is planning a trap for us. This is for all of you if my suspicions are correct they will form groups of people with similar skills and temperaments, pick the ones you think will take well to what you can show them. Does everyone think they can handle that?"

"Yes Ichigo," Yumichika answered first, the others following quickly behind him. "That shouldn't be too difficult, especially if we are being backed up by one of you." He took in the present Visored and Arrancar with the last part.

"Good," Ichigo affirmed, glad this was going so smoothly.

They spent the next hour or two discussing the specifics of the plan so everyone would know how they might go about full-filling their assigned tasks. It didn't take long for Ichigo and his group to realize the right people had been chosen, even Rikichi loosened up as the conversation progressed, showing he had the intelligence to do what was asked even if his power was lacking. They would work on making him stronger while backing him up in the meantime, so really it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Byakuya has made a good call with giving them a mostly blank slate to work with that had a good head on his shoulders.

They might just have a shot at winning this fight with the backup they had, and Ichigo sighed in relief at the thought. For better or worse their plan was starting, and he was ready to face it head on.