Author for this section: sophiap
Characters: Ikkaku, Yumichika, Lisa, Ulquiorra, Yammi
Word Count: c. 7,200
Notes: This is a dark (we're really not kidding) AU co-plotted with incandescens and liralen. The war against Aizen's forces went very badly. Nothing is sacred and no one is safe.
Summary: Sometimes, winning isn't the most important thing about a fight.
Lisa and Ayasegawa were still stifling bursts of hysterical laughter as they hurried down the corridor towards their target. Madarame held a steady pace a few strides ahead of them, and Lisa was definitely enjoying the view.
“I’m surprised Nanao-chan can still get flustered after so many years of working with Kyouraku-taichou,” she said. This was no time to laugh, but that just meant she would savor this (hopefully not last) bout of merriment all the more for it.
“He watches himself around her,” Madarame snapped. “Doesn’t coddle her, but to him, she’s a kid.”
Lisa blinked, not sure what had changed the cheerful bloodlust into sharp and cold. Ayasegawa drifted closer to her, arm not quite brushing hers as he ran. “The Eleventh’s fukutaichou. She’s…” There was a silence that she didn’t know how to interpret, and she didn’t dare break her stride to look to him for clues. “She’s young. Nearly as strong a fighter as her captain, but still a child.”
“Right.” Still a child, and beyond ‘somewhere in Hueco Mundo,’ no one had a clue where she was. Lisa thought of the stark hallways, the twisted laboratories, the sterile yet profoundly unclean spaces and couldn’t begin to imagine a child surviving in this place.
To be frank, she also couldn’t imagine a child surviving, let alone thriving, in the Eleventh Division. But she could imagine Nanao-chan being lost, maybe even taken by the same thing that had turned her half-hollow.
Madarame stopped short and lurched back a step, arms outstretched. He nearly clotheslined Ayasegawa, but Lisa stumbled to a halt just before colliding with a rather impressive forearm. She grabbed his shoulder, not simply to grope but to move him aside.
The corridor opened onto a much wider space, if by ‘opened onto,’ you meant ‘stopped suddenly just before a hundred foot drop.’ There was a narrow ledge in front of them that extended the width of the corridor. A steep staircase led down on either side. No banisters or balustrades, of course. A similar ledge-and-stair arrangement graced the far end of the corridor, maybe a good three hundred feet away.
Madarame glared at the drop-off as if it had just made a bald joke. “Fuck. Fucking Sparkles shoulda mentioned something like this.”
Lisa studied the area. “It probably just showed up as a wide area on the map. He wouldn’t have seen this…”
“It rather reminds me of a Hollow Pit,” Ayasegawa said with a sharp sort of quiet.
Lisa could see the resemblance, although the floor and the lower walls looked a lot rougher that Seireitei’s pits. It looked like whoever had cut the subterranean corridor had broken into a cave and simply worked it into their plans as well as they could. There were enough rocks and jagged bits below that to make the footing suck but not enough to provide cover. If they went down there too soon, they could be easily sniped by whoever entered above.
“You two are mostly melee fighters, right?” she asked. “Wait… Eleventh Division. Stupid question. My bad. But the long and short of it is, you two fight up close and personal.”
“Preferably.” Ayasegawa’s lips went thin, and he stared intently at the drop-off at the far end of the corridor. “I doubt you want me using my little ‘party trick’ here.”
Madarame grinned. “What? You mean you don’t wanna switch the odds around, and make this a better fight?” The grin turned to a grimace. “Forget that. Wasn’t funny. Look - I don’t even want to get to where we’re even thinking of that as a last resort. There’s one thing I gotta make clear, though.”
Ayasegawa raised an eyebrow. Lisa nodded, giving Madarame the signal to go on.
“I want this to be a good fight. A damned good fight. Something that’d make taichou and fukutaichou proud of us,” he said, jabbing his finger at the ground in emphasis. “And damn it, right now I need a good fight, but that ain’t the most important thing here.”
“Are you sure you’re from the Eleventh Division?” Lisa quipped.
Ayasegawa let out a low, melodious laugh, and Madarame gave Lisa the sort of feral smile that had her vowing to keep this guy in mind for some fun afterwards. Assuming there was, an afterwards.
“Oh, we very much are,” Ayasegawa drawled. “Both of us. As I’m sure you’ll see soon. But my dear friend Ikkaku is alluding to a conversation he and I had earlier today.”
“You mean the one we had after we beat the shit out each other?”
Lisa fake-coughed around ‘get a room.’
Madarame and Ayasegawa exchanged grins. “Hell, we may have to take you up on that one, darlin’.”
Lisa shrugged. “Sure. Why not?” She reveled in their stunned looks (Madarame’s morphing into a wicked smile, Ayasegawa’s into a contemplative and knowing gaze). “What? You’re not dealing with Nanao here. It takes a lot more than that to shock me. And if you’re serious, I’m serious. But anyway, what were we talking about before we waded into debauchery?”
And just like that, the three of them were all business again.
“What he’s referring to is that there are times when winning is what’s important,” Ayasegawa said. “But sometimes…”
“Sometimes you just gotta stop the other guy, no matter what, no matter how.”
“And if that means the best we can do is hold them until the others take down Aizen…?” Lisa prompted. She had to be sure they wouldn’t flake out on her.
Madarame looked like he wanted to vomit, and his words sounded as if they were causing him physical pain. He stared out into the open space, and Lisa wondered what he was picturing. “Yeah. That’s what we do. If that’s how it falls out, Kurosaki and the others can play mop-up.”
“Hopefully, it won’t come to that,” Ayasegawa said as he stepped back into the shelter of the narrower part of the corridor. “Bloom, Ruri’iro Kujaku.”
Madarame blinked a couple of times, clearly taken aback by something, then deliberately released his own shikai without saying a word.
“Show off,” she muttered. He’d pulled that trick a little earlier, but with a lot more cockiness. She had picked up what it meant quickly enough, but now another implication slotted into place. This guy was a third seat. Lisa thought back to the Eleventh’s Klingonesque method of seat placement and revised the child-fukutaichou’s odds of survival significantly upwards.
“I ain’t gonna hold back like I did in Karakura,” he told Ayasegawa, and the way he refused to look at his friend said more than any more formal confession. “Soon as I go in, I’m bustin’ it out.”
Lisa had sealed Tonbo back up for their run through the corridors, and she hefted him thoughtfully. “If I release my shikai, I’ve got some ranged attacks I can use. Think dragonfly wings, but sharper. But in this case I’m better off fighting sealed - I can move faster and do a lot of damage.”
“I think I’m in love,” Madarame drawled.
“Hush. That’s lust, not love. Not that I have any problem with that.” She racked her brain for what she’d heard about Yammi and Ulquiorra. “Yammi - he’s the big one with the stupid-looking red paint around his eyes, ugly as sin, bald...”
“Hey!” Madarame yelled. Ayasegawa snickered and markedly Did Not Say Anything.
“Touchy, touchy. Anyhow, expect brute force and arrogance. As far as he’s concerned, everyone he faces is considered a weakling until proven otherwise. You know the type?”
Ayasegawa was nearly turning himself inside out with the effort of not saying anything.
“Ulquiorra’s smaller, but more dangerous. Fast, and vicious, but cold. No fear, no joy, no pride, no nothing. He won’t make mistakes in the heat of battle. Any thoughts, gentlemen?”
This time, Ayasegawa did say something.
When Yumichika said that he and that Lisa chick would take on Ulquiorra and leave Yammi to Ikkaku, Ikkaku could have been knocked over with one of Yumi’s fruity eyebrow feathers.
He looked to Yumichika who was doing that nonchalant act that fooled everyone but Ikkaku. All Ikkaku had to do, though was narrow his eyes just a bit, and Yumi gave him a bitter smile.
“As you said, it’s about stopping them. And from what I know of Ulquiorra, we may need to resort to… drastic measures in order to do that.” He then turned one of those goddamn fake-gentle smiles on Lisa. “Which means that I may be calling on you to take drastic measures of your, my dear. You did say you were fast, yes?”
Oh, fuck. Going out in a good fight was one thing. This was... “What the… You can’t -”
Yumi held up a hand. “Oh, I absolutely can, but I won’t unless it’s that last resort you said you didn’t want to think about. I would rather like to come out of this alive. After all, I do believe we have a suggestion for an activity for afterwards…?”
Lisa barked with laughter, then shook her head. “You guys are okay. So. Madarame. Bankai?”
Ikkaku hefted Hoozukimaru, trying to suss out if the sword would be balky or not. He got a deep red thrum of satisfaction and anticipation that didn’t quite answer his question. “It’s close quarters for it up here. You think they’ll take the low ground before we do?”
“Probably.” Lisa shrugged. “They don’t think we’re much of a threat.”
In another life - one that ended just a few months ago, for all it felt like years - he and Yumichika would have been standing out in that pit already, easy as anything, practically daring the Espada to come at them.
Fuck, he hated lying in wait like this. But, given the reiatsu that was pulsing through the air, growing stronger and stronger, metallic like the taste of blood in his mouth…
He looked to his side, and damn if it wasn’t good to see that familiar, prissy face there again, right where it should be. Then, the trickle of reiatsu at the other side of the room became a flood, and Yumi gave him one of those slow, easy smiles.
Ikkaku let out a whoop and simply jumped into the huge, empty space. He thought he could hear Lisa curse, and he knew he heard Yumi’s laugh, echoing his own and Hoozukimaru’s.
His timing was perfect, and he landed neat as you please on a plug-ugly noggin the size of Kuchiki’s ego.
This one’s for you, fukutaichou.
Just as a casual ‘up yours,’ Ikkaku did a little pirouette on Yammi’s head. It was probably as close as he was going to get to his Luck-Luck dance - there would be no showboating except to draw attention so Yumi and Lisa could get their fight started without Yammi getting into the mix. That didn’t stop him from doing a few more steps after he leapt to the ground, just because. And if Yammi got a whack to the ass from Hoozukimaru on the way down, well…
Just because this was a serious fight didn’t mean it couldn’t be a whole lot of fun.
“Oho!” the big ugly fuck roared - and damn but his breath was rank. “Someone amusing to fight. Lucky!”
Ikkaku twirled Hoozukimaru’s tasseled end back and forth, slow as the tail of a contented cat. “Took the words right outta my mouth, pal. I ain’t had this much fun in months.”
He jumped out of the way as a giant fist slammed down, denting the ground where he had just been standing. And truth was, this was fun, even if he was about to pull out all the stops on this joker and just try to stomp him flat rather than draw this out.
And the reason why it was fun was swooping down that staircase like something out of a damn movie, death in his eyes and a fourfold blade in his hand.
“Hell, I’ll make this even more of a laugh riot!” Ikkaku stood up as straight as he could on the uneven ledge where he’d landed, and held Hoozukimaru straight out. “Bankai!”
A tight cero beam burned straight towards him, and Yumichika flung himself from the stairs to the floor. He winced at the landing, not at the pain, but at the uneven ground forcing an inelegant stumble. He didn’t bother trying to cover it with a fancy move. This opponent was one he had to take very seriously indeed. Even from a distance, Yumichika saw emerald eyes flicker between him and Lisa, assessing.
Above them, Lisa took a leap and caromed off the wall to come from behind as Yumichika went straight in for an attack. Ulquiorra did not go for his sword, but Yumichika had expected as much. A few fragments of memory from his time tethered to Harribel told him what to expect next, and he brought Ruri’iro Kuujaku’s fanned-out blades up just as Ulquiorra’s hand darted out. Normally, the next thing he should feel after this particular move would be the barely-there resistance of flesh, tendon, and bone, but Yumichika knew to grit his teeth and brace against hierro-enhanced solidity. It was like catching a steel beam between the blades of his sword, but in this case he didn’t need to cut - he simply needed to hold.
Lisa was little more than a flash of black and white as she came alongside him, and the thousand blows from her sword sang through his bones. He twisted away, hoping to wrench or dislocate something in lieu of cutting it. All they got from Ulquiorra for their pain was a faint huff of disgust.
Still, Yumichika saw that Ulquiorra now held his arm to his chest a little gingerly. Good. Around them, gravel flew and rocks fell as Ikkaku and Yammi crashed around their makeshift arena, the familiar sound of Ikkaku’s laughter rising above the clatter and rumble.
“Shall we try this again?” Yumichika caroled, leaping at his opponent even as Lisa came in with another rain of blows too fast to be seen. He smiled at her, but instead of a return smile, he got an angular mask with two crossed slits. It barely distracted him - not even a split-second - but it was enough for a hand to dart past his guard and straight at his chest.
Ryuumon Hoozukimaru took on more power with each blow, but Ikkaku might as well have been Hanatarou for all the damage the goddamn Espada was taking.
“I thought you said this would be a fun fight!” Yammi roared. He belched out another stinky-ass cero. Ikkaku blocked with his two hand-held blades, but was sent tumbling back. “Shoulda known it would just be some more trash to throw out.”
Ikkaku shook his head to clear away the stars and pretty little birdies. “Oh, fuck you!” He bounced back to his feet, Hoozukimaru’s central blade bobbing right back up to its usual spot behind him. There was nearly enough power to deliver one hell of a killing blow, but it might not be enough and then he’d be well and truly screwed.
He jumped up on to the closest stair, then back out, whirling Hoozukimaru over his head, gaining speed and churning up wind, and then they came down.
“I’ll show you trash!”
Hitting that big skull was like slamming into a mountain, and Yammi’s return blow smacked him into another wall, but at least this time he’d made the bastard bleed but good. Hoozukimaru’s crest surged blood red, and the same red pounded in his heart and in his eyes, and damn if maybe they were going to win this...
If he’d tried to dodge to either side, that might have been the proverbial it, but some instinct made Yumichika bend back and let his knees give beneath him. The blow that should have pierced his chest grazed across him instead and he heard the rapid snap-snap-snap of ribs before he felt the surge of pain.
Fine. His ribs were broken. He could work with that. Although, the coppery taste at the back of his mouth was very much not a good sign.
Lisa landed another flurry of blows and came to a halt beside him. “My arms are starting to hurt. You okay?” The mask made her voice louder and more tinny at the same time.
Yumichika shrugged. “Merely a punctured lung. Nothing to worry about.”
“Eleventh Division… go figure,” she muttered before leaping back at their opponent. Yumichika lunged into another attack to try to keep Ulquiorra from dodging Lisa, and this time he thought he got a wince of pain in return for his trouble. Good, good…
The next cero was easier to evade, even though he found he was having some trouble breathing. And this time, he came in low and hooked his blades around the dreary little hollow’s leg, pulling him straight into Lisa’s upside-down flying kick. He heard a satisfying crack and hoped it was Ulquiorra’s nose and not something in poor Lisa’s foot.
“Are you having fun yet, Ikkaku?” he wheezed.
“AHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Ikkaku whipped Hoozukimaru round and round, sending dust and gravel flying. “Now THIS is a FIGHT!”
No doubt about it, this guy could have given taichou a run for his money. Maybe that was why using his bankai didn’t feel all that much like cheating after all. Here he was giving his all, and the other guy was taking it and taking it.
Okay, so maybe the other guy was also getting a little bigger, too…
So what? It didn’t matter, because Hoozukimaru was nearly full, and there was all that stuff about being bigger, falling harder, etcetera, et-freaking-cetera, and Yammi proved that nicely enough when Ikkaku’s next blow knocked him off his feet. The impact echoed through the cavern and sent a few stalactites falling to the ground.
Yammi was on his feet in the next breath. His hand went to the hilt of his sword.
“So you’re finally gonna draw your sword, huh?” Ikkaku taunted. “It’s about damn time you brought that out. Finally decided I was worth it? That I wasn’t just what was it… ‘trash’?”
“No. You finally PISSED ME OFF!!” Yammi roared. He grinned nearly wide enough to split his head in two. “Buchikirero, ira!”
Yumichika heard a scream and a wet thump just before the next cero blast took him in the side. Not the side with the broken ribs, but it was no mercy - the burn went deep into the muscles of his chest, and lifting his sword arm was now an agony. Ruri’iro Kujaku thrummed in his hand, begging to be released, begging to be allowed to fix this…
Ulquiorra walked towards him, picking his way through the rubble their fight had created. His clothing was torn and tattered, but beyond a trickle of blood from a swollen nose and a little stiffness, there was no sign of injury. “Your freedom signifies that the Tres Espada is no more.”
He could have been stating that shiburi-dyed yukata were coming back into fashion for all the care that was in his voice.
Yumichika shrugged to show he didn’t care, and his vision went white with pain. Oh, yes. Things were broken, deeply and badly. Only adrenaline and pride kept him upright.
“I was only biding my time until Harribel dropped her guard,” he said. “You know how it is.”
Where was Lisa? The scream must have been hers… He didn’t dare look around, though. Ruri’iro’s demands to be released had escalated to piercing shrieks, nearly drowning out the roar and rumble of Ikkaku’s fight.
“You would have needed superior numbers to defeat her,” Ulquiorra mused. He was close enough that if he raised his hand, a single flash step was all it would take to drive it through Yumichika’s heart. The Espada cast a glance to the side, where his giant friend (and had he started out quite so large?) rolled to his feet with an angry shout. “Numbers you do not possess now.”
Yumichika knew from Hoshibana’s report that Ulquiorra and Yammi had not stumbled upon them by accident. How much did they know? And did that even matter, now? Ulquiorra had obviously come to the only conclusion that he thought was important - even at three against two odds, Yumichika and his friends were clearly outnumbered.
The only problem with that - and Yumichika would have laughed if he dared spare the breath - was that odds meant nothing to the Eleventh Division, and they meant even less now. All he and Ikkaku and Lisa had to do was slow the two Espada down long enough for the others to prevail against Aizen. And if they had themselves a good fight in the meantime?
Well, there wasn’t anything more they could ask, was there?
He heard the clatter of gravel and a snarled curse from off to his right. Lisa was still alive and still conscious. Good.
Well, perhaps it was good. Ulquiorra cast her a semi-interested glance, and Yumichika risked looking in the same direction. Lisa had hauled herself half onto a piece of shattered ledge, not putting any weight on her left leg. Her zanpakutou was in its fully released form, one end on the ground, the other cradled in her elbow. She looked like she was about to do something, but then a shockwave of reiatsu knocked her flat on her ass. It did the same to Yumichika, and even Ulquiorra looked nonplussed.
Yammi’s roar rattled them down to their bones.
Ikkaku had no idea what that “10” tattoo setting itself to “0” meant, but the bastard’s sudden jump in size told him plenty.
“All that does is give me a bigger target to hit, asshole!” He whirled Hoozukimaru over his head, faster and faster until it looked like an unbroken circle of metal. In most cases, giving his all with Hoozukimaru this full would be overkill. This time, he hoped it would be enough.
If he lost, then Yammi would get through, and the others would last about as long as an ice cube in August if they had to face him and Aizen. He couldn’t look to the other two for help, not now. He only had a few glimpses of their fight, but he’d seen blood staining Yumi’s mouth and bubbling at his nose. He’d also seen Ulquiorra grab Lisa’s leg during one of those fancy kicks of hers and send her flying. He hoped like hell they could get their act together, and fast.
Slowing these two down wasn’t going to enough - they had to be stopped, and stopped hard, or they were all fucked. Yumi and him had to win this.
No matter what.
No matter how.
He threw his sword and his self at Yammi with everything they both had.
Yumichika felt red-tinged reiatsu flow over him, a flow as familiar as the coursing of his own blood. He knew Ikkaku’s bankai, and he knew what the prelude to a final blow felt like. Yumichika had no doubt it would take down Yammi, but that would leave Ikkaku with nothing left for Ulquiorra.
Ulquiorra would defeat Ikkaku, just as he was about to end Yumichika and Lisa, and his survival could mean the end for the others.
Well, then. There was only one thing to do.
Yumichika raised his hand. It was the one on the broken-rib side - it had just a little more range of motion. “Pardon me, Ulquiorra-san, but I wish to ask a favor.”
Ulquiorra was puzzled enough to pause, but he did not let down his guard. “Why should I?”
“Clearly, you’re about to kill us, and-”
“My orders are to take you alive.”
Yumichika had no idea what to say to that. He shifted his plan on the fly, hoping that his motives weren’t too transparent. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure his thinking was as clear as it could be. And it was important that his thoughts be clear - clear and carefully guarded..
“Alive? Really? We weren’t given the same orders in your regard, so my apologies for making assumptions.” As he babbled, he circled closer to Lisa in case this next part didn’t work, or in case Ulquiorra ceased being puzzled by his behavior and started being annoyed enough to shut him up. “Well, it’s rather obvious that your orders had nothing to do with keeping us unharmed, and we’re both close to total incapacitation.”
Ulquiorra’s hand glowed green. A fainter green than before, but enough to lay down an infinity of pure hurt when he let the cero fly. “Your assessment is correct. This next blast will drop you.”
“Then take us both at once!” he cried, stumbling to Lisa’s side. He’d have slung an arm around her shoulder if he could.
She was a quick study, though, and grabbed his arm. She also sealed her zanpakutou - good. She knew what was going to happen next.
Yumichika focused on burying that one thought, the essence and key to this whole crazy plan.
“Please! If you have any mercy!” Lisa cried. “We love - ”
Ulquiorra sneered, and lifted his hand.
Just then, Ikkaku’s final blow fell...
And if Ulquiorra had fired just then, Yumichika and Lisa would have failed as well, but Yammi’s roar and a flare of red reiatsu pulled his attention away. Just for a scant half-second, but it was long enough
Long enough for Ruri’iro Kuujaku’s vines to encircle Ulquiorra. He tried to pull free, and those expressionless eyes finally widened with surprise when he found that he couldn’t. Now if only Lisa understood what had to be done next. She was smart enough to understand what Yumichika knew Ikkaku would not have.
The vine began to bear fruit, and a cold, astringent power flowed into him. His ribs snapped back into place, and he felt the peculiar and unforgettable itch of burnt flesh sloughing, regrowing, and reknitting. It was cold enough to numb everything but the despair when he realized that the roar he heard was a roar of triumph. Ulquiorra’s strength flowed into him, and it might be enough to defeat Yammi, but he heard the scatter of gravel as Lisa took a desperate flash-step towards them.
He tried to fight the cold logic that told him to turn and end her, no matter Aizen-sama’s orders, but Yumichika’s control cracked, as did the shield he had put across his own thoughts. Of course, the instant Ulquiorra saw the crack, he went for it - the arrogance of these shinigami, thinking they could outfight and outsmart Aizen-sama’s servants. He was able to pluck the panicked, desperate plan from the front of the shinigami’s mind with contemptible ease.
The distant shout of “Fuck you, Yumi, NO!” only confirmed the kernel of knowledge Ulquiorra had plucked from his opponent’s feeble mind - Yumichika had planned to let Lisa kill him and let the backlash take them both. Unfortunately for the two of them, things would not end in that manner.
The shinigami was still draining his powers, but it would only take Ulquiorra a moment to regain complete control. Soon, in mere a matter of seconds if he was any judge, this fool would be in the same situation he was with Harribel. The vines that stole from him had loosened slightly, enough that he could step in the path of the female shinigami. Aizen-sama wanted the traitors taken alive, yes, but a broken back should quiet this one down sufficiently.
He moved to deflect a blow that should have slashed across the other shinigami’s chest only to find it slashing across his own, slicing clean though his weakening hierro.
The last thought that came through as the vines pulled away - pulling the last of his power with them - was a viciously smug I was always a very good actor.
Ulquiorra staggered back from her first blow, and Lisa struck again. She brought Tonbo down with a savage yell, half-falling as her leg gave out. The edges of his wound were already turning to dust, but she went for him again, this time with a clumsy blow to the shoulder.
None of this should have happened. The next blow was a clout to the side of his head with the hilt of her zanpakutou. Not to Shinji, not to Hiyori, not to Kensei… She screamed and hit him again. Not to Love. We didn’t deserve this. And again.
And I sure as fuck didn’t deserve this.
“You need to stop.”
Not being turned into a monster because of Aizen’s experiments. Not having to fight for every bit of control over a ravenous hunger that threatened to get away from her every fucking second of every fucking day. Not losing her captain and her division and everything she loved for a hundred fucking years…
“You’re going to break your hand on those rocks, and we still have Yammi to defeat.”
She looked up. Ayasegawa was somehow unwounded beneath the blood smears and tattered clothing. “I’m grateful you knew enough to attack the right person,” he said. “I knew Ikkaku would buy my ‘suicide plan’ idea, but I was hoping you would see through it. I even had to make myself believe it… at least believe it enough that Ulquiorra would see the memory of that conversation and take it at face value.”
“That is one scary shikai you have.” She heard the sound of the other two combatants getting up from the rubble on the other side of the room. This wasn’t over, but if Ayasegawa could drain Yammi just enough for her and Ikkaku to land a final blow…
Ayasegawa gave a rueful smile and held out his hand to help her up. “Trust me. I know. And I realized that I don’t even understand half of what it does.”
Lisa took his hand gratefully, but then cried out as the firm grip turned to a desperate squeeze that crushed her fingers together.
“Oi! Ayasegawa! What gives?”
Ayasegawa staggered back, and the way his eyes went wide would have been hilarious if she didn’t suspect he was only a second away from spearing his hand through her chest. He collapsed to his knees, nearly pulling her down on top of him.
“I think I may have stumbled across...” he wheezed, “...a few side effects of being tied to a dying Espada twice in quick succession. The healing - ” He pressed the heel of his free hand to his eye as if trying to keep something from bursting out. “I can’t. Think. Too much… it’s too much…”
Yammi’s roar echoed through the room, and there was a crack like thunder as he crashed his fist into the palm of his other hand. He looked battered and exhausted, but Madarame looked utterly trashed, and could barely keep his footing.
Too much, Lisa thought, but still not enough.
Hoozukimaru was still in one piece. That was the good news. The bad news was that there was only a flicker of red in the dragon’s tail and Yammi looked as pissed off as he looked hurt. One more blow coulda taken the asshole down, if Ikkaku had anything left in him.
But he didn’t, and that was that.
He was well and truly fucked, and not in the fun way. So much for that afterparty they’d been planning.
Yammi was going on about the usual, Ikkaku was trash, Yammi was the compactor, blah, blah, blah, but he looked wobbly on his pins. Nowhere near as wobbly as Ikkaku, but...
Things were awfully quiet from the other side of the room, and Ikkaku knew he had to risk a look. Not much scared him, but glancing a few degrees to his right just then terrified him like nothing else he could remember. There’d been times he thought Yumi was going to end a fight as a corpse, but this was different. All those other times, Yumi would have died as himself.
But Yumi wasn’t dead. He wasn’t standing, but he wasn’t dead.
“Meet your end, shinigami trash!”
Ikkaku scooted back out of the way of Yammi’s fist and over to the others.
“I never saw anyone shunpo on their butt before,” Lisa said.
“Yeah, I get it. You’re a real laugh and a half, lady. The creepy Espada’s dead?”
Lisa nodded, then flicked her hand in what Ikkaku recognized as a kidou seal. It didn’t fire anything impressive or Espada-frying, but whatever it did had Yammi hurl a boulder at something a good twenty feet to their left. “A spoken spell will pack more of a wallop, but I need time. Can you do that?”
Ikkaku looked at Yumi, hoping like hell it was still Yumi in there. The unspoken question was answered by a roll of still-familiar eyes, but Ikkaku knew it had been close. Yumi looked healthy enough - not a damn scratch on him - but something was wrong. Very wrong. He was huddled up on himself and gritting his teeth as if trying to hold himself together or brace against something that hurt too much. And when he blinked, Ikkaku saw blood pooling at the corner of his eye.
“Yeah,” he rasped. It wasn’t their way to use shit like that in a fight, but they had no choice. Maybe, a loopy, nearly hysterical part of him thought, it’ll piss taichou off so much that he’ll come back from the dead to kick our asses and then Yammi’s. “I’ll buy you time. Yumi, what the fuck happened?”
“I’ll explain later,” he said breezily, and fuck, it was just like one of those schemes from back in the day that would earn them a bunch of money and a bunch of pissed-off villagers on their tail. But then Yumi grabbed his wrist. “Go. Fight. I’ll fight with you as best you can, but I do hope you’ll forgive me for it.”
“Huh? What does - ”
“It means I’ll be with you. Trust me. Go!”
He went, Ryuumon Hoozikumaru’s center blade creaking in protest as it rose up behind him to follow. He maybe had the strength to get in one more blow, but his zanpakutou would shatter. He wondered how much of his own strength he could feed it before it caused him to stumble. He ran towards his prey, not bothering to spare the strength for one last battle cry.
Behind him he heard the start of an incantation.
“Hado sixty-nine, Silver Twist! You one who is two, bend thy will to the light and thine eyes to thine other self...”
Then, rising above that, a pain-wracked but joyful shout that he would have known anywhere..
“Bloom, Ruri’iro Kuujaku!”
So that was why Yumi asked for forgiveness. Fuck that. There was no way Yumi could take on Yammi without losing himself, not in the shape he was in.
Then Lisa screamed out one last word and two bursts of pure white flame curved around from behind him and circled around the charging Espada, knocking him back and penning him in.
Then something happened that was the most goddamn glorious beautiful thing he’d ever seen or heard or felt in his life.
Vines of glowing green and blue snaked up alongside him, but instead of rushing past Ikkaku to the trapped Espada, they kept pace and then encircled him. Instead of choking him as they had the last time, they went with him, pushing more than pulling, and he heard a familiar titter of laughter.
The knowledge came to him in a rush of images rather than words, but he thought he could hear Yumi’s sardonic and fucking patronizing tones explaining it all. The knowledge that Yumi could push power as well as pull it away. The pain of a body that had fed on too much energy to heal too many wounds, and the pain of turning that power into something that would heal and not corrupt… The unsealable fractures in a mind that had to hold on to a deception for too long in the face of cold strength and logic.
Draining Yammi would have destroyed me. No, draining Ulquiorra did destroy me. But this way, I can fight with you.
Ikkaku felt the hope and the fear in that one clear phrase, and right then, forgiveness meant jack.
Yes, he thought, hoping Yumi could hear it. We’ll take this asshole down together.
And with that, he felt a rush of bloodthirsty joy and a strength that was not his own but that felt every bit as familiar.
He leapt up into the air, and as he came down, released everything he could into his zanpakutou as they hurtled down toward the swirling light.
Ryuumon Hoozukimaru filled up to the brim and beyond, red and peacock blue spilling out of the dragon crest like blood and water.
Ikkaku could have sworn he felt other hands over his as they brought the final blow home.
“This one’s for you, taichou!” He wasn’t sure which of them said it, but that was okay.
The release of reiatsu tore through the room like a supernova, blasting through everything in its path. Stone. Sword. Espada.
So, where to next, Yumichika?
Well, you know what they say. “Whither thou goest…
...I’ll be right there with you, kickin’ ass, and kickin’ some more ass.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Ikkaku.
Her knee was a flaming ball of squishy pain and her chest felt like it had just been flushed out with battery acid. The final shout to release her kidou had taken too much out of her, maybe even permanently. Getting to her feet unassisted just wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, Lisa had a sturdy prop ready to hand.
“Sorry about this, Tonbo.”
Coughing and swearing, Lisa hauled herself upright. That last blast felt like it should have taken out the entire universe and five neighboring ones along with it. She shifted her weight, and pain brought a shiver of nausea. She waited a moment, willing the ‘I’m-about-to-barf’ salivation to subside, then looked up and around. If there were any enemy combatants left, she was so, so screwed, but if the relative silence and clouds of reiatsu-charged dust were any indication, Yammi and Ulquiorra were now nothing but a couple of very bad memories.
“Guys?” She waited. Nothing. She held her breath, straining to hear even the slightest groan or curse. Tonbo didn’t protest as she hobbled forward. Far from it — she got the distinct feeling he would have turned himself into a sedan chair on her behalf if he could.
She staggered down the slope towards where her part of the fight had been. Broken stonework and shifting dust made the footing treacherous enough that she was tempted to just slide down on her butt despite the risk of multiple lacerations.
“You know what makes this so much worse? The fact that I’m breathing in leftover Ulquiorra-parts.” No one responded, and certainty set in like a February chill that no one was going to respond.
She found Ayasegawa first, right where she had last seen him.
He had landed curled up on his side, back facing her. His zanpakutou was still in his hand, but back to a single, straight blade. The ground beneath him was scorched black and had a glassy shimmer to it. The same black graced the tip of Ayasegawa’s blade. She couldn’t spare the energy to kneel to check for a pulse, but it was evident that she wouldn’t find one. The fall of his robe over his body showed that much - too much - had been taken from him during that last stunt of his, and the hair that fluttered prettily (of course) in the light breeze was a stark and exquisite white.
She staggered past without looking any further, picturing the face that in repose would have been a still and flawless marble beauty. Reality or not, that was how she would remember his body, dammit. She owed Ayasegawa that much.
She found Madarame’s zanpakutou before she found Madarame himself. It had returned to its sealed form before shattering. The hilt presented itself first, broken end pointing the way to the middle portion of the blade, which in turn pointed her towards the tip.
That pointed her to a boulder that she otherwise would have walked past on her initial search.
Madarame had landed against the far side of the boulder in a position eerily similar to Ayasegawa’s, but facing towards her rather than away. Instead of being discreetly veiled, all of the blood and burns were right there in front of her. There wasn’t much to see beyond blood and burns, but she could have sworn his mouth was twisted into that feral smile of his.
“That’s probably just how you pictured yourself going out, you bald bastard,” she said affectionately.
Lisa and Tonbo stood there for a good long time, not sure of what to do next. Through the pain in her leg and her chest, she could feel the flares and sparks of a not-too-distant fight. There was no way to tell how it was going or who was winning.
Chances were, she wouldn’t be any good to anyone in the state she was in, but her captain was there, and Nanao-chan was there. There was no other choice but to stagger on to the next fight.
She nodded farewell to Madarame. Then, a few minutes later, another silent goodbye as her slow exodus took her past Ayasegawa again.
“Sorry we won’t get that date,” she called back to them, and she truly was sorry. “I’ll still go out on the town, though, and knock back a few drinks in your honor.”
They’d gone out in one hell of a fight, they’d gone out winning, and they’d gone out together. It was everything the two of them ever would have wanted. Lisa was happy for them, really she was, but it was hard not to keep tripping up over the fact that they were gone.