Thank you for the continual support! I hope you enjoy this chapter (even the cheesy bits haha) and also! Competition time - details at the bottom of the chapter!
Chapter Fourteen: What Will Be, Will Be:
It was always too late. Too late by that one second, that heartbeat, that hair's breadth. And then it is over. And there is nothing to be done but mourn what was lost because it was too late to save it. Philosophy was rarely something Ichigo gave much thought to, however on this occasion he was willing to think long and hard over it.
Currently, flash-stepping towards Yamamoto as fast as his legs would carry him, his mind was running away with itself, throwing up all sorts of crazy ideas and ridiculous philosophical thoughts. Such as: he was never going to make it. He was going to be too late.
His heart was thumping in his chest as the crisp morning air bit into his skin and made his eyes sting. Suddenly, the scorched and blackened ground of the battle field came into sight, his coffee brown eyes widened as he saw the magnificently terrifying size of the form of Ryujin Jakka: a giant scarlet dragon sat upon the earth attacking and swiping with its tail, teeth, and claws at the lonesome figure of Yamamoto Genryusai.
The Head Captain was fighting with every ounce of his not inconsiderable strength to regain control over his apocalyptically strong Zanpakto. It was clear who was mastering who in this battle.
Ichigo leapt from the final rooftop, sensing Kyoraku; Ukitake; Stark, and Aizen not far behind him. The temporary treaty signing at Las Noches had been overshadowed by news of the Head Captain's fight, everyone had been all guns blazing in order to reach the site and assist him.
They had occupied a far out area of Rukongai which had been left derelict after Aizen's failed invasion nearly three years previously; now the houses had either been crushed under their reiatsu or set ablaze by the dragon's breath.
The orange haired Shinigami hit the ground running and sped towards the two, instantly feeling the weight of their reiatsu on his shoulders. He raised his own in retaliation and continued towards them unhindered.
Two hundred feet.
One hundred feet.
He reached out to grab Yamamoto's shoulder and push him out of the way, but instead cried out as he was slapped aside by Ryujin Jakka's tail; he rolled across the ground and hissed as he gashed his forehead and split his lip.
He pushed himself partway up again and looked across to the fighting pair; eyes widening as he watched the spiked tip of the dragon's tail shooting towards him with the intent to kill.
It was too fast, as fast as Shunpo, as light, as sound, as the racing of his heart in his chest as he watched his impending death zipping through the air towards him with steely certainty and a high pitched whistling sound as it cut through the atmosphere.
He closed his eyes and gasped out as he felt blood spatter over his face, followed by a burning pain in his left hand side.
Stark and Aizen hit the ground as they jumped from the same rooftop Ichigo had only five minutes earlier, blue and brown eyes widened at the sight before them and Stark's breath hitched in his throat.
He tried to run forwards but Aizen's arm sprang out and stopped him. Stark went to argue with the man, but stopped when he saw a peculiar expression on Aizen's face: it was an expression of surprised lamentation; he looked at the scene again and watched Ryujin Jakka throw his gigantic and scaled head back, releasing a roar which was laced with reiatsu and shook the ground, and their very souls.
Ichigo slowly opened his eyes as he realised he wasn't dead yet; eyes following the deadly spike which was embedded in his left him, up to the body it had passed through. He swallowed the blood which had accumulated in his mouth out of shock, not sparing a moment to cringe at the metallic taste as he watched Yamamoto Genryusai, who had blocked the majority of the tail's attack by allowing the spoke to pass clean through him first, altering the projected path and thus saving Ichigo's life.
He watched the old man's eyes open and look at him like he had just been born, "To the end... You really were a troublesome Ryoka." The Head Captain said, amusement rippling through every syllable, "But... Sometimes you need a young person around... To change things for the better; to wipe away stagnation and repetition. And by... The Soul King you did that Kurosaki Ichigo. You changed Seireitei... And everyone in her for the better..."
Ichigo swallowed hard, "Y-Yamamoto-Taichou... You... You saved me..." he said a little thickly.
"I did... Because out of the two of us... The one who can bring the most to the Shinigami... Is you. I am an old man... Senile and slowly losing power." He paused and wheezed, "You are young... And stronger than I will ever be, and ever was..." Yamamoto's eyes seemed to twinkle slightly as his broken katana fell from his limp hands, "Lead them on, Kurosaki-Taichou... Become the man your mother and father wanted to you to: a good man. Never lose your morals or your fighting instinct... Never let anyone tell you that when you fought for your heart... You were wrong... Lead with honour and... Respect."
Ichigo's eyes welled up slightly as he listened to his words, swallowing the lump which had formed in his throat, "I will do everything in my power... To do as you ask. I promise."
"I know you'll do well. I have a feeling... That you alone can bring the three worlds closer together. So I will leave it... In your capable hands..."
Ichigo's breath hitched as the spike in his side ripped free suddenly and hurled Yamamoto aside, he watched the Head Captain's limp form roll across the ground before becoming still. He heard the screams of dismay from Ukitake and Kyoraku as they caught up and watched their sensei and father figure slump unmoving on the ground.
He heard the running footsteps of Stark and Aizen as they ran towards him to make sure that he was alright, their thoughts no longer on the dragon Zanpakto which patrolled the boarder.
Anger began to writhe under the surface and bubbled with infinite generosity, as it wiped away the memory of the pain in his side and allowed him to stand.
Wiping the Head Captain's blood from his face, his expression set into one of cold; hard determination and resolve. He took three shaking steps forward before he began to regain his footing and strode with more conviction, drawing Zangetsu from his back and listening to the quiet advice which his Zanpakto and his Hollow were providing.
"Are you alright?" his husband asked softly.
"Not in the fucking slightest. I'm pissed off and I am sending this bastard straight after his master." He half growled in response.
"That is a good plan." Aizen offered, "Does anyone actually know how to fight a dragon?"
"Nope... But I am about to find out." Ichigo murmured at the dragon that was Ryujin Jakka, "Back me up." He stated with cool willpower.
Aizen swiftly pulled Ichigo's hand to the blade o his own katana, "To prevent you being affected while I show Ryujin Jakka my Shikai." He explained before he looked at the dragon, "Shatter, Kyoka Suigetsu."
A moment passed before the dragon swung in the opposite direction and began to attack an imaginary foe, distracting him from reality. Ichigo flash-stepped forwards and brought his black blade down against the dragon's back, his eyes widening as the attack was blocked by the thick, hard scales. He hit the ground as the blow reverberated up his arm and made his teeth chatter.
He staggered back to his feet and faltered as the dragon's tail snapped towards him again, apparently, hitting it made the illusion break. Aizen scowled slightly as the beast broke the illusion and almost pouted, he supposed it was to be expected of the Head Captain's Zanpakto though.
At the same time, Stark and Aizen moved forwards; the latter blocked Ryujin Jakka's tail with more success that Yamamoto had done and leapt into a more aggressive stance as he began combating th dragon's wide arsenal of attacks, allowing Stark to steady Ichigo.
The former Primera rested a hand on his husband's back and steadied him after his rough introduction to fighting a dragon.
"Ichigo..." he murmured, "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine..." he ground out, holding the wound in his side as he glowered at the red beast before them.
"No you're not. Stop trying to be brave, you'll get yourself killed." Stark said sternly, half dragging his loved one away from the fight.
With a spark of fortune finally on their side, Inoue; Ishida and Chad arrived at the very moment and rushed to their friend's side.
"Inoue..." Ichigo sat down and pulled his kosode open to reveal the hindering wound he had sustained while Yamamoto had tried to protect him, "Can you please heal me?"
"O course Kurosaki-kun!" she exclaimed and held her hands out, "Santen Kisshun, I reject."
Ichigo watched with a closer eye than before as her power worked, he relaxed slightly while he was healed, knowing Aizen could hold the fort for a while.
When his side was healed, just a few moments later, he let out a sigh of relief and as he tied his kosode shut again, "Thanks Inoue." He paused and looked at her for several second; a precarious plan forming in his mind, "Do me a favour and stay out of the fight this time. I have an idea of how to end this whole thing but I am going to need your help." He told her before he stood up and released his Bankai.
"I'll be here and waiting Kurosaki-kun. Good luck!" she smiled.
"Don't worry Inoue... I'll definitely win!" he grinned at her before snapping on his Vizard mask and shooting forwards, flitting past Aizen and sweeping his sword around, "Getsuga Tenshou!" he roared.
Stark observed for a moment as his powerful and wilful husband fought before he sighed and used Sonido to rejoin the fight, releasing his Resurrection form with a growl of his Zanpakto's name.
The three began to work in resonance with each other; whenever Ichigo pulled back, Aizen stepped in and they were shadowed and supported by continual air fire from Stark's powerful guns. Before long they were joined by the aerial attacks of a Quincy Bow and the cries of 'El Directo' from Chad.
No matter how hard they pushed, it didn't seem to damage him; without a doubt Ichigo knew that this was the strongest foe he had ever fought. And at the moment they were struggling for their lives.
"Call out! Benihime!"
Ichigo's head snapped around suddenly as he heard those three all too familiar names, his eyes widening as he saw the truth before him.
The extendable blade of Zabimaru wrapped around Ryujin Jakka's thick neck, as Renji dug his heels into the ground and refused to move from his stance, holding the beast's head in place.
The lethal petals of Senbonzakura worked in beat with the high speed casting of Kidou which Byakuya was chanting, blasts of blue lightening twinned with turbulent pink blossoms struck the dragon's body and coiled around its wings and legs, limiting its movement.
And Benihime, the princess who revealed the regal streak in Urahara Kisuke's soul, sent streaks of blood red energy which were similar to the Espada's Bara, and distracted Ryujin Jakka.
Ichigo saw his change. It was success or death. The new arrivals had caused the beast to reveal its weakest spot, which was the most dangerous spot to reach. He gritted his teeth and ran, half jumping through the gap in Senbonzakura's petals so that he could reach Ryujin Jakka.
He watched the dragon break through Zabimaru's restrains and its head snapped down towards him; he ducked and twisted, plunging the full length of his katana into the dragon's chest before he scoured its body and clambered up onto its head. He took a breath before yelling as he slammed the blade down into the top of his skull.
He dropped his sword as Ryujin Jakka relinquished an agonisingly loud screech, and clapped his hands over his ears; gasping as the body beneath him lurched forwards and he was thrown from the giant creature's head onto the hard ground below where his head made contact and seemed to bounce before he skidded to a stop and felt he ground shake as the dragon crumpled behind him.
He opened his eyes and winced as he was blinded by sunlight. It was wonderfully warm, like a summer day. He looked around, blood rolling down the side of his face from the gash in his hairline, realising with surprise that it was not the sun causing the heat at all.
He had been swallowed into a sphere of dying flames, dancing around him in a slow tango, when they grew near they didn't burn his skin; instead they warmed his soul and made him feel... Better.
Chestnut eyes went wider as he was greeted by the face of the dragon again, this time formed out of a particularly thick cluster of the embers around them both. He wondered if this was the soul of the sword.
"Alas, you have freed me too late, young warrior."
Ichigo almost flinched when the aged voice echoed around him and he finally understood. He had fallen unconscious after the fight and by some coincidence or for some real purpose, Ryujin Jakka's fading soul had meandered into his inner world and they had temporarily connected.
"R-Ryujin Jakka..." he licked his lips, "I'm sorry for your loss... Yamamoto-Taichou~"
"He died how he wanted to die, fighting for his Goeti. For some time, he has spoken to me concerning his eventual demise. He knew it was drawing close... The aged can sense these things, my boy. And he was at peace; I only wish it had not been at my hands."
Ichigo swallowed, "He knew he was going to die?"
"We both did. There comes a time when even the strongest cannot evade death any longer. It claims us all in the end; what good would it be for us to linger forever?" he chuckled, "I know for certain that it simply means we make more mistakes."
The strawberry ran a hand through his hair as he listened, "But... To sense your own death I... It seems so final and so... So saddening." He shook his head, "I'm sorry I wish I could have done something."
"Child, there was nothing you could have done. It was our time to die, However I have been gifted these moments to speak to you of important matters." The dragon bowed his head so that they were eye to eye, "Do not allow Jushiro or Shunsui to act recklessly in the way of Yamamoto's death. Look out for them and help them through their grief."
"I will do my very best, you have my word." He answered softly.
"Then listen to my words and heed them. Koga abuses Muramasa. He ignores his opinions and used his power for his own gain. He treats him like a tool... And there is his greatest weakness. If you can get Muramasa to listen to reason you can weaken Koga and possibly save a mostly innocent Zanpakto."
"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" Ichigo asked, "If he doesn't listen then-"
"You have a power Ichigo. Your words reach the very souls of beings. You changed Soul Society; I know that you changed Yamamoto, think of your achievements. They happened because you talked to people around you and you believed in what you were doing. Talking is the most powerful attack of all."
Ichigo swallowed considered his words before nodding, "Thank you... I think I understand what I have to do now."
"Good... Good," he sighed softly and lifted his head, "Then... I can rest in peace and be reunited with my master in death."
Ichigo felt his eyes well up as he watched the embers beginning to fade away, one tickled is nose before dying out and he felt a blissful warmth swell in his heart. The flames simmered out completely and the sky lightened to reveal the skyscraper scene of his inner world, where Shirosaki and Tensa were waiting for him.
They caught him as his legs buckled and sat with him between them.
"King! Ya alright?! Wha' was wit' tha big fiery thing?!" the albino demanded.
"Ichigo?" Tensa added in concern.
"I..." he swallowed, "I am fine." He concluded, "Ryujin Jakka just wanted... To talk to me..."
Tensa frowned slightly, "That was Ryujin Jakka? Why was he in our inner world?"
"Coincidence." He replied, "Or luck. Listen... I need to involve you in a plan I have. I think I know how to end this Rebellion. Tensa, if you do your Zanpakto think and converse with the other Zanpakto, specifically Senbonzakura, Zabimaru, Benihime, and the other Captain Class Zanpakto who are back under the control of their Shinigami counterparts. Shiro, I need you to do the same thing with the Vizards and the Former Espada Zanpakto. Got it?"
"Got it." They said in unison.
"Then I will begin."
Outside of Ichigo's inner world, the scarlet body of the dragon-Zanpakto they had defeated was glowing and slowly began to change shape, until all that remained was the broken fragments of a katana upon the ground.
Stark and Aizen were sat side by side as Inoue healed Ichigo's head injury; Byakuya and Renji had taken a seat on the cracked concrete foundations of one of the destroyed buildings with Urahara; Kyoraku and Ukitake had covered the remains of their Sensei and were not collecting fragments of Ryujin Jakka's blade to lay to rest with Yamamoto.
It was like a spark suddenly flickered into life between them all, their eyes closed in total harmony and there was a swift but gentle rise in their reiatsu as, at the same time, Ichigo's plan was set into motion; Tensa and Shirosaki spread the information Ichigo had relayed to them through their Zanpakto link.
The eerie phenomenon only lasted a matter of minutes, in which time, Ishida; Chad and Inoue where subjected to a rare and exquisite sight.
And then, one by one, the collection of Shinigami and lone Arrancar stirred once more, eyes opening and reiatsu returning to normal. At the same moment, Ichigo came around and slowly sat up, wiping the almost dry blood from the side of his face before shaking off Inoue's concerns and standing up.
"Excellent! It worked! This is a good start!" he clapped his hands together and then ran a hand through his hair, shaking out the dust and debris, "So, any questions concerning my plan?" Ten pairs of eyes fixed on him as he spoke, seemingly gleeful despite the rising death toll.
"How can you smile at a time like this?" Kyoraku asked, standing up and facing the strawberry fully, "This is not time for excitability and smiling! Our leader is dead, Kurosaki-Taichou!"
Ichigo met him head on, "And would he allow for Soul Society to crumble in the wake of any of our deaths? His is not a matter of personal vendetta, Kyoraku-Taichou; this is a matter of ending Koga's reign of terror once and for all. You can either help... Or you can sit here mourning a man who is no longer here to listen or to take note of your grief. The choice is yours. But I will be doing whatever I can to avenge his death, and the deaths of the other allies we have lost, by way of sending Koga to death." The strawberry spoke ruthlessly, his eyes glinting with the resolve of his words.
"Shunsui..." Ukitake ventured, resting a hand on the other's arm, "There is a time, and a place for our grieving and now complies to neither statement."
"You..." the brunet slumped slowly, "You are right... I apologise Ichigo."
The berry waved it aside, "I understand your grief." He murmured, "Losing a parent, blood relative or not, is hard."
He turned and began to pace slightly, rubbing his chin in thought, "But it is even harder when you do not do anything to avenge them. It is time to take your heads out of the sand and fight Koga with every ounce of power that you possess because he will not stop otherwise! There are going to be casualties, but there will be a darn sight more if we do not act right now! The enemy is one and we are one; if you turn your back on things you will weaken; if you stop fighting you will age and falter... But if you face forward and become one with your Zanpakto we can end this war!" he yelled and faced them, drawing his sword at the same time, "We end this... NOW!"
Stark, Renji, Byakuya, and Aizen stood, each drawing their Zanpakto the same as Ichigo; after a moment Ukitake smiled encouragingly at his friend before he and Kyoraku both drew their katana as well. Ishida, Inoue, and Chad stood as well and despite not having Zanpakto they nodded to Ichigo in confirmation that they were behind him on this.
"We do this for Soul Society, we do this for justice, and we do this for the comrades that we have lost!" Ichigo told them, "For Yamamoto Genryusai, for Szayel... For everyone!"
Despite feeling a little cheesy, Ichigo felt confidence flow through him, and for the first time since the whole rebellion had begun and his honeymoon had been interrupted, he actually felt like they could win.
He walked over to Urahara who had remained quiet during the event and looked down at him, "So... How did you get here Hat-and-Clogs? I thought you were exiled from Soul Society with a creepy barrier thing to keep you out?"
"The barrier was instated by the Head Captain, as soon as he died I felt he barrier break down."
Ichigo nodded, "Well I am glad that you came here. We need everyone we can to put an end to this thing. Are you with us?"
"I have always been with you, Kurosaki-san." The blond smiled and stood up with a stretch, "I was simply daydreaming."
He turned and walked over to Byakuya, "Are you full healed now?"
"Very nearly," the noble responded, "Nothing I cannot handle or cope with that is to say."
"Alright, but don't push yourself too hard."
"Tch, who do you think you are talking to?" Byakuya responded, smirking at him slightly.
Ichigo chuckled and looked around in time to see two Hell Butterflies flapping in front of him; he took the first message and frowned slightly, "Ne, Byakuya, Koga has taken over Division Six and the position as Head of the Kuchiki Household after reporting your death. Apparently Councillor Norio was injured during the transaction."
Byakuya gritted his teeth at the news, "Truly, the sooner we end that stupid man's existence the better. I cannot imagine the horror which he might be unleashing."
Ichigo sighed in agreement before accepting the second message and faltering at its contents, he shooed it away with haste and tensed momentarily as he felt Stark's arms slid around his middle.
"Are you alright, Ai?" the brunet asked softly.
"No... Not really." He turned in his arms and looked up at him, "Stark I... The second Hell Butterfly's message it..." he faltered and swallowed hard, "I don't know what to make of it..."
"Well why don't you start by telling me what it said and we can work through it together." He replied, kissing his forehead.
Ichigo swallowed and nodded closing his eyes, "It was from Central 46..." he licked his lips and took a breath, "They have made a decision on who should replace Yamamoto-Sou-Taichou."
"I see... They don't waste much time do they? He hasn't been dead an hour." Stark frowned slightly before looking at his lover's torn expression, "Did they tell you who they have elected?"
"And who was it?"
"Well... That's the thing... You see..." he trailed off and looked away.
A/N: Competition time ~ So, the Head Captain is no more and I have cruelly left you on a cliff-hanger for this reason: who do you think should be the next Head Captain, here are your choices:
Ukitake Jushiro OR Kyoraku Shunsui OR Kurosaki Ichigo OR a joint partnership between Ukitake and Kyoraku? Please review your answers and whichever option has the highest amount will happen!
The choice is yours!