This chapter proved a bit hard for me to write, I struggled a bit with the plot and where I wanted it to go, so I hope you enjoy it. It does get a little confusing so I will say here and now 'Ichigo was dreaming' so hopefully that will wrap things up haha!
Chapter Nineteen: Turn of Events:
Aizen lifted his gaze as he felt a distortion in one of his Espada's reiatsu and tapped a couple of buttons on the arm of his chair, bringing up the cameras which ran throughout the Palace. He searched through them swiftly before pausing and quirking an eyebrow as he saw Szayel moving at speed through the corridors with a bundle of human shaped cargo in his arms.
A few further clicks of buttons and the cameras followed the pink haired scientist, Aizen was able to zoom in slightly, and his anger flared as he discovered that the bundle of human shaped cargo was the man he had just sentenced to death. Szayel Aporro Granz had betrayed him.
"Grimmjow, get to level three and apprehend the Octava Espada, I want him brought to me still breathing, but little else. Is that understood?" he growled over the intercom.
"Yes, Aizen-sama." The blue haired man answered instantly, the eagerness obvious in his voice.
The brunet ended the conversation and ran a hand down his face as he turned his eyes back to the screen, watching as Szayel continued to flee with his guest. He wasn't happy. Not happy at all.
Ichigo barely broke a sweat as he led his group at a faster and more organised pace, no one spoke, and no one paused for a break, under Ichigo's newly discovered leadership skills they all found themselves to be more contingent and like a collective body rather than a group of Shinigami who were sneaking through the enemy's territory.
The strawberry's head snapped up as his newly defined senses picked up the approach of another Espada, two of them in fact. His jaw clenched and his hand tightened around the hilt of his recently earned Bankai-style sword.
It was as they reached an intersection, at which there were four different routes, that the first Espada's reiatsu piled down upon them; at the same time Ichigo was bowled over by a lithe figure and they went tumbling to the floor.
He lifted his sword as he rolled onto his feet and pointed it at his assailant, his eyes widening abruptly as he saw Byakuya's steel-grey eyes sparkling at him from within the arms of the Espada.
"B-B-Byakuya?!" he exclaimed, slowly standing up fully and holding his sword in front of him like a warning to the enemy; trying to gauge whether or not he was an aggressive or passive foe.
"Ichigo!" the raven haired Taichou said, wriggling slightly until he was finally set down on his feet, "Thank God..." he breathed as he lurched forwards and embraced his young counterpart in a warm hug, "I saw your transformation, I was so concerned that you might be ill affected by it."
"No, no I'm fine..." he said, hugging him back tightly and inhaling his familiar scent, "God I have missed you..." he breathed, "You aren't... Bothered by my... Being a bit more Hollow than before?"
Byakuya pulled back slightly and touched his pale cheek, "I have told you a million times, I am not afraid of you or your Hollow, or your Hollow powers. Regardless of this... Change, you are still you and I will always... Always stand beside you." He told him softly, "And you look wonderful anyway so what would I have to complain about?"
Blushing faintly, the strawberry allowed himself to smile slightly before he tensed and growled at the Espada behind his lover, suddenly recalling his presence, "You'd better turn your ass around and get out of here before I tan it for you!" he warned, his reiatsu fluctuating.
"Whoa, calm down..." the nobleman said gently, resting his hand on Ichigo's chest, "He... Rescued me, kind of."
Szayel quirked an eyebrow in response to this and flicked his hair over his shoulder, only vaguely offended that there was someone more attractive than himself in the room. He had learned to account for Byakuya's good looks, but this Ichigo was a bit too pretty for his liking.
Renji moved forwards slowly and rested a hand on his Captain's back, "You alright Taichou?"
"Yes, thank you, Renji," he nodded gratefully, "I will be even better once we get out of here."
"Well suggested," Hisagi breathed as he shuffled forwards slightly, glancing around as his grip on his katana tightened, sensing the overbearing reiatsu of another Espada closing in, "We have a serious problem."
"This way!" Szayel said, shooting into a burst of Sonido, "It's Grimmjow, Sexta Espada, undoubtedly that brute was drawn by the effortlessly strong reiatsu in the area. Try to tone it down a bit, eh, Berry?"
"Like you are one to talk, Pinkie." Ichigo snarled as he shot after him, his hand tightly clasped around Byakuya's never desiring to let go as they allowed the Espada to lead them, all hoping that his willingness to help them remained untainted by his Hollow instinct to betray them.
They bounded down the corridors Szayel led them down, having no other option but to place their trust in the man which was a dubious requirement to say the least, but to be fair he did seem to be doing a remarkably good job of keeping their stalker a good distance behind them, if his reiatsu was anything to go by at least.
But, as ever, it was when their luck began to turn good that everything came falling down around their ears.
Yamamoto slammed the tip of his walking aid against the floor, "What do you mean they have disappeared?!" he growled, his eyes barely opening as he looked at the Eighth Division Captain.
"Well, Yama~jii, Ukitake has not seen Rukia-chan or Kurosaki-san for days... And neither Kira-Fukutaichou or Hisagi-Fukutaichou have reported in for the same length of time either. I believe it is a strong probability that they have gone to rescue Kuchiki-Taichou." Kyoraku said as light-heartedly as he could, he didn't really want to deal with an angry Head Captain today, it was too much like hard work to keep the man calm.
"Despite my distinct orders that they were to remain here... It would seem some naughty children require a good chastising." The old man breathed, closing his eyes again, "Call Unohana and Ukitake here, as well as Urahara Kisuke and Yoruichi Shihouin."
"Just do it."
Kyoraku sighed inwardly and pulled his hat a little lower over his face, "Yes, sir." He murmured before he turned on his heel and walked out with a swish of his pink kimono.
Ichigo's head snapped around as he heard a startled cry and he swore, seeing Rukia on the floor, holding her ankle and swearing about being clumsy. That was when he saw the first glimpse of the Espada who had been following them. Electric blue hair which tousled in the breeze of the speed he was running at, his body was well built and strong, sturdy and rippled with muscle.
He swallowed hard as the Espada continued to gain on them and he picked Rukia up, turning and flash-stepping after the others with her, he nodded thankfully as Kira took her off him, allowing him to be prepared in case he needed to fight.
That was when he felt the burning heat of a ball of heated reiatsu strike his back; he let out cry as it scorched him before he looked over his shoulder and watched as this 'Grimmjow' creature charged a blood red cero in his fist, aiming it straight for him.
His eyes widened as the cero was fired, it travelled a lot faster than he had anticipated and as it soared forwards he barely had a chance to raise his sword in defence. He made it, just, pressing the flat of the blade against the red light as it imploded and exploded on contact.
He heard a hustle of groans and cries as the corridor cracked and rubble crumbled; he twisted and kicked Renji hard in the back, pushing him out of the path of a falling chunk of rock.
In that moment of distraction, Grimmjow closed the distance and laced his fingers through Ichigo's long strawberry hair, throwing him into the wall with a manic grin as the impact forced the rest of the corridor to cave in, effectively severing off from the rest of Ichigo's group.
Coughing due to the dust and groaning from the pain of impacting the wall, Ichigo slowly picked himself up, glancing at the new wall of rubble, which behind his lover was now situated, he growled in anger as a feral and primal anger burst forth and coloured his vision red.
Letting out a roar, he shot forwards, bringing his sword around towards Grimmjow without mercy, his Hollow instincts taking over as he fought, disliking the fact that he had been separated from his lover again so soon after being reunited.
The blue haired Espada was surprised at his strength and it wasn't long before his sword arm began to grow numb under the pressure of the blows being applied. But he never surrendered and he never gave up, so he continued fighting until he was splattered with blood and littered with cuts; at that point he shot back several steps and lifted his sword.
"Grind, Pantera." He growled, dragging his nails down the blade before he was enveloped in mist and began to transform.
Ichigo shielded his eyes as the wind around them picked up, drawn in by the reiatsu of the Espada before him before he was thrown backwards by the suddenly explosion of power, "Shit..."
The strawberry lifted his gaze and slowly picked himself up off the floor, swallowing as he saw Grimmjow, he had changed in form and strength; his reiatsu fluctuated threateningly as his azure eyes flittered over him. His hair had grown and his Hollow Mask had altered, he looked more feral with large clawed paws and tufts of cobalt fur. Ichigo's eyes were drawn to the sight of a long tail flicking behind the Espada's body.
Lifting his sword slowly, Ichigo bit back his fear and shot forwards, ducking under the swing of his arm and bringing his blade up and slicing into the man's chest, cringing as he felt warm droplets of blood splattering his face as he leaned backwards to avoid having his throat cut by the monstrous looking claws on Grimmjow's paws.
They clashed, both snarling and growling like animals as they leaned into their attacks, forcing their powers forwards as they battled for supremacy.
Byakuya flung himself at the rocks, trying to dig through them to reach his lover as he felt the wavering pattern of his reiatsu clashing against the Espada's. He let out rare swear word as Renji picked him up from behind and pulled him away.
"He's doing this so you can escape Taichou, we have to go!" the redhead exclaimed.
"We can't abandon him! That is what Aizen wants!" he snapped, wrestling with his regrettably well muscled Fukutaichou.
"He is right, with Ichigo on his side Aizen-sama would become an unstoppable force of evil," Szayel sighed before he touched his zanpakto hilt, "I just know I am going to regret this for as long as I live."
The corridor exploded in pink light, blinding them all as they felt Szayel's reiatsu detonate around them, large purple tentacles bursting forth and spearing the rock slide and shoving the fallen rubble aside before he shot forwards.
The pink haired scientist threw his wing forwards and watched as Grimmjow was swallowed among the scarlet droplets; his teeth clenched as the Sexta fought against his power and dented his reiatsu slightly.
"Get out of here." He growled.
"What are you doing?" the strawberry asked uncertainly before he nodded and made towards his lover.
The Espada's hand snapped out and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him closer Szayel leaned down to his ear, "Stay out of the fight, you carry precious cargo that you do not yet know of. Keep yourself safe no matter what."
Ichigo looked at him in confusion but he nodded once, "Okay." He said, touching his shoulder as he was released from his bruising grasp.
Hurrying over several pieces of rubble Ichigo moved towards his companions again; he glanced back in time to see Grimmjow fall from Szayel's wing before a small doll version of the man was spat from within one of the gorged bubbles. He swallowed gently and turned his back on them, dashing forwards in time to be captured within the arms of his lover.
"Let's get out of here." The strawberry said, offering a quick kiss before they parted and as Grimmjow's cries of pain began, they fled the area.
Aizen snapped his pen as he saw Ichigo and his group heading towards the main exit from the Palace and his anger unravelled, finally deciding he could no longer ignore this scenario he got to his feet and disappeared in a flicker of Shunpo, arriving only moments later as he stood between Ichigo and the exit.
"Ichigo, how nice of you to visit." He said calmly, "I don't suppose you would care to stay for a while would you?"
"Not today no." The strawberry answered stiffly, his Hollow side purring slightly at the presence of its creator, "If you don't mind... We will just be leaving."
"I do mind." The brunet answered, "I would prefer it if you remained here."
"Well that is never going to happen so I suggest you step aside," Ichigo growled, drawing his katana again, "See this? It is my Bankai, and if I have to I will use it against you."
He scoffed, "How do you intend to return home looking like that? You are a Hollow now Ichigo, Soul Society will never accept you the way I could. The way your kinsmen would."
"You are wrong," Byakuya said loudly, "They already accepted Shirosaki, they will accept Ichigo as he is now..."
"What am I?" Ichigo interrupted, taking a cautious step forward, "What have I become?"
"A hybrid species," Aizen answered, walking forwards as well and slowly picking up some strands of his long orange hair, "Your Inner Hollow reacted to the mass presence of other Hollow reiatsu and your souls have combined, you are now a Vasto Lordes with Shinigami powers, such as a Bankai."
"So I am more Hollow than Shinigami now?" he asked.
"I would say that you are on equal footing to be honest, while your appearance has altered dramatically you are acting much less instinctually than I originally expected you to." He shrugged, "But there is time for that to change."
Ichigo stared for a moment and closed his eyes, sighing heavily before he lifted a hand and rested it on Aizen's chest, "I have no doubt that I will continue to evolve further because of the Hogyuku... But I don't want anything to do with you. Soukatsui."
As the brilliant blue electric Kidou shot through the man's body, Ichigo twisted and slashed him across the chest with his Zanpakto before he grabbed Byakuya's hand and sprinted towards the door.
Ichigo gasped suddenly as his eyes flew open; he tried to sit up and groaned as he found himself restrained, he frowned and looked around slowly, his vision still blurry before he focused on Aizen.
"Ah so you are finally awake, I didn't expect Grimmjow to hit you so hard." The brunet smirked.
"Uh... What? I... We were just... Escaping..." he slurred.
"Escaping? No I don't think so," Aizen laughed, "You were all knocked unconscious when Grimmjow brought the ceiling down... It's been four days."
Ichigo's mouth fell open and he stared at him, "Five days?" he repeated.
"Indeed, however now that you are awake we can discuss the terms for the release of your friends. I won't lie; I'll only consider releasing them alive if you swear to remain here. I'm not totally heartless though, you have two hours to decide."