Sophia Prester (sophiap) wrote in presterpress,
Sophia Prester

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Winter War - Ensemble: Crossfire [Bleach]

Title: Winter War - Ensemble: Crossfire
Fandom: Bleach
Characters: Kon, Kensei, Yoruichi, Tatsuki
Rating/Warning: PG-13
Word Count: c. 6,300
Notes: This is a dark (we're 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.

Additional Notes: Events in this chapter occur in parallel to events in Karin: At Bay and Grimmjow: Trauma.

Summary: In a war that's being fought on two fronts, you don't want to be the one caught in the middle.

Chapter Index
34. Karin: At Bay
35. Retaking Seireitei, Part 2
36. Grimmjow: Trauma
37. Ensemble: Haste
38. Ichigo: No Hiding Place


Just twenty minutes ago, Kon had thought with some smugness that it was turning out to be a nice day. Cold (every day was cold, now) but nice. Nice, and shaping up to get even nicer.

That was twenty minutes ago.

Now something went sproing in Ichigo's left ankle as Kon leapt not just one but two tall buildings in a single bound. A sharp click came from the same place as he landed and rebounded into another jump.

Kon was aware there was pain lancing like a hot needle through his--Ichigo's--ankle, but Ichigo's adrenal glands were so much in overdrive that it barely registered. Kon resisted the urge to look over his shoulder and kept running as fast as he could, never minding the damage that was accumulating in various joints and tendons.

Normally, Kon wouldn't push so hard--he and his late siblings had been designed to take over dead bodies, so overstraining bones and muscles probably hadn't been on the spec sheet--unless it was an emergency.

He was pretty sure that having eight fucking hollows and a bunch of identical evil shinigami ladies (he used to have such wonderful fantasies about twins, but now it was ruined, ruined forever...) chasing after him counted as an emergency.

Yeah, Ichigo might need knee surgery before he was thirty, but Kon didn't know of any surgery that could fix disemboweled.

Kon didn't look back, but as he bent his legs to propel himself to the roof of a mirror-glassed office tower he caught a glimpse of a dozen hideous reflections gaining on him from behind.

"It's not faaaaaiiir!!!" he wailed as his next jump took him up and over.

His breath puffed out white as he pushed himself even faster. He just had to make it a little further... almost there... that was Isshin's and the Quincy doctor's reiatsu up ahead, good, good, and--fuck!

Those weren't the only reiatsu signatures he recognized.

"Shit! Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!"

Karin was also there. So was Yuzu.

So were at least twenty more Hollows.

And here he was leading this batch of Hollows and creepy ladies straight towards them, and he had almost no time to turn.

Just twenty minutes ago I was at Mashiro's place,, he thought grimly as he braced for a sharp turn that would probably blow out at least one knee. Just twenty minutes ago, I thought this was going to be a good day.

Twenty minutes ago

The knocking at the shop's door increased in intensity, but no one at the kotatsu moved. They had all just gotten settled in after coming up from the cavern, and the kotatsu was nice and toasty.

Kensei glared at Mashiro, but Mashiro shrugged and pouted.

"I've got a cat on my lap," she explained.

Yoruichi was catloafing on Mashiro's lap, turned so that only her head was poking out from under the kotatsu's blanket. Her clothes sat in a pile by the kitchen door. She gave Kensei a slow blink that said she had no intention of giving up such warmth and comfiness.

"Fine, fine," Kensei snapped. "I'll get it."

He gave a hiss of pain as he shifted too much weight onto his absent leg.

"Don't be such a drama queen," Yoruichi drawled. "You know you're dying for something to do."

Kensei flipped her off as he pulled aside the plaid blanket that hung in the door to the shop.

The knocking continued, and Kensei yelled at whoever it was to keep his-or-her goddamn pants on. His missing leg felt like it was on fucking fire, and he was in a foul enough mood as it was already.

It could have been worse, though. The phantom pain could simply be absent like it was yesterday, and the leg on his gigai would simply flop around like there was nothing inhabiting it at all.

He slammed the door open and came face to face with a disgruntled redhead.

"What the hell do you want?"

"What kind of customer service is that?" Kon groused. "Is Mashiro here?"

Kensei stepped aside to let Kon in. "Of course she's here." The you moron was silent. Kon knew damned well Mashiro rarely left the shop, and only under heavy escort. Or with Kon, who didn't count as 'heavy' escort as far as Kensei was concerned.

"You know what I mean," Kon said. "Is she..." He held up his broken arm, and used the other hand to circle the cast around his wrist like a bracelet. "Uh, you know."

"She's stable and she's not locked up," Kensei said. He clapped a hand on Kon's shoulder before the boy could go into the shop. "Look. There's something I gotta tell you before you go in there."

Kon gave him a sour look. "We're just friends," he said petulantly and not very convincingly. "And she's one of the few people around here who's really my friend and not Ich--"

Even though he cut the sentence short, Kensei knew what he was going to say.

"This's got nothing to do with that." He didn't exactly approve of the fact that Kon and Mashiro had been spending more and more time together over the past several weeks, but the fact that Kon had just jumped straight to that conclusion pissed him off. "Okay, maybe it does. Sort of, I guess, depending on how things turn out."

Kon's brows furrowed, and for a split second, he resembled Ichigo.

"We just sent a rescue crew through to Hueco Mundo. You missed 'em by about twenty minutes."

Kensei waited for a reaction, and he wasn't sure how to interpret what he saw flicker across Kon's face. The only thing that wasn't there was anger that he had been left behind.

Kensei hadn't realized it was possible to feel disgust and envy at the same time.

"You... you didn't tell Karin, did you?" Kon asked, horrified.

"D'you hear her kicking down the door yelling at us to let her go in after them? Pfft. Of course we didn't tell her. And we're not going to." He looked Kon square in the eye. "Not yet, anyway."

Kon matched his gaze. It was an unusually intense look from him, but it didn't make him look any more like Ichigo. Kensei tried to remember the way those eyes looked when they were steely and stubborn rather than confused and soft. Somewhere right around the time winter should have ended, they had passed the point where Kensei had known Ichigo longer than he had known Kon.

"So... not until they come back and we know for sure what's happened to Ichigo? Yeah, that makes sense." Kon smiled nervously, then looked away and ruffled the back of his too-shaggy hair. "Then we'll get it all sorted out. Or something."

Kensei took a deep breath. From behind the blanket, Mashiro called out to ask if everything was okay, and why was he taking so long?

"Are you ready for what'll happen if Ichigo comes back?" Kensei asked, quiet enough that Mashiro couldn't overhear. He knew better than to try to soften things with a 'when' that had a good chance of being a goddamn lie.

Kon shrugged. He had his good hand jammed in his jeans pocket, and seemed unsure about what to do with the one in a cast. "I guess I'll have to be, and um..." He looked up from under his hair at Kensei. "Look, you guys know I'm not going to try to keep this if he comes back, don't you?"

Kon thumped his cast against his chest.

"Didn't think you would," Kensei snapped as he limped back to the door. Kon followed, and Kensei made a point of not mentioning what Mashiro had asked him as they had made their way up from the basement.

Do you think Ichigo will want to go back to Soul Society with the others when they come back?

If asked, Kensei would say the reason he wasn't all that keen on the friendship and maybe-more-than between Kon and Mashiro was that Kon was a premium-grade doofus and an even bigger pervert than Lisa.

The real reason was more complicated, and had to do with Kon being in a borrowed body, Mashiro being in a body that was eventually going to betray her the way Rose's betrayed him (yeah, and then one day it'll be all three of us being monster-buddies down in the basement), and Kensei didn't see any way this could end in anything but a big shit-pile of hurt.

Even 'just friends' was too much. If Kon saw it, he wasn't saying anything, and Kensei knew damned well that Mashiro didn't see it or was just plain refusing to see it.

Hell, every time Urahara came up with another lockdown for her mask, she was convinced this one would be the final fix.

So, he could be forgiven for scowling when they walked in and Mashiro's face lit up as she blurted out a joyful "Kon-ichi!"

Kon barely got his injured wrist out to the side and out of the way before Mashiro caught him in a gale-force glomp.

Yoruichi landed neatly atop the kotatsu after being launched, and after a few licks to her fur, her dignity was restored.

"Good to see you again, Kon. Now could at least one of you sit down again--it's been a long morning, and I need my lap time."

Kon sat down, and Mashiro dashed off to the kitchen to get snacks--something she hadn't volunteered to do when it had just been her, Yoruichi, and Kensei.

"Grab me a beer, will ya?" Kensei called out after her. He leaned against the wall, figuring it wasn't worth the hassle of sitting down again just yet.

"So. Rescue crew," Kon said after a moment. Yoruichi had slipped into his lap and was getting her legs tucked under her. Kon absent-mindedly reached out to skritch her ears with his good hand. "You think they've got a chance? That maybe they'll bring back Nee-san and Orihime-chan and everyone else?"

Kensei shrugged. He heard Mashiro scolding Jinta about something back in the kitchen. "Dunno. Maybe." Inoue would be closely guarded, and he didn't know who this 'nee-san' was. Probably one of those shinigami who was after his time. He'd been told who was in the failed rescue group, but damned if he could remember any names besides Unohana-taichou's. "Couple of strong fighters in that group."

"Smart ones, too," Yoruichi added. "Smart and seasoned."

"Yeah. Like Inoue's little brother. I guess a year in the academy counts as seasoned these days. How the fuck should I know? Anyhow, they were smart enough to leave the dead wood and the misfits back here to sit on our asses and wait."

Kon blinked in surprise and Yoruichi's ears flicked back sharply, but Kensei wasn't going to stick around for the commentary.

"I gotta take a leak," he said. "I'll be back."

Kensei nearly lost his balance as he turned, but that didn't stop him from stalking out. Neither did the pain that felt like someone jabbing a railroad spike in the place where his real leg stopped and the gigai took over.

Halfway down the hall, he stopped to wipe away the sweat that had beaded all over his face. Today was not a good day, and now the pain had decided to rub it in his face that he was no good to anyone anymore.

He took a deep breath and kept his fists at his side so he wouldn't do something stupid like hit the wall and skin open his knuckles. Yeah, he was a half-hollow teetering at the top edge of a not-so-long slide down into insanity, he was stuck in a gigai that divided its time between hurting like fuck and not working, and technically he had been dishonorably discharged, but he was still a Captain of the Gotei 13, and he would act like it, damn it.

If Lisa and maybe Love and maybe Hacchi came through this okay, it would be nice to have one shred of dignity left when he saw them again.

He slid the toilet door open and felt as much as heard Tessai rumble something in the back room. Yoruichi's voice rose from gruff feline to smoky human mid-sentence, and then there was a pounding of footsteps fading away. He paused for a moment, thinking he should head back to see what was going on, but the trip down the hall had been a long one for all that it was just a few yards. Besides, he really did need to take a leak.

It looked like Ururu had recently scrubbed the place out as it was clean and there was a politely vague but still comprehensible little sign on the tank asking the gentlemen of the household to please take greater care when using the facilities.

Kensei tossed the sign in the trash and unbuttoned his fly.

Damn, but feeling the pressure let up in his bladder was almost as good as sex. Whatever was happening back in the shop could damn well wait until he was done here.

Except that something funny was happening to the water in the toilet. It started to glow pink, and before Kensei could do more than think what the fuck was I drinking? the glow resolved into a line. The line began to rise up.

"What the hell?!"

It was the natural thing to say, but fortunately no one was around to hear the pitch he hit with that exclamation.

Kensei stumbled back hard, getting himself--and his dick--out of the way of whatever the hell that was.

The line became a sheet of swirling pink-and-red light that rose up and out of the water as inexorably as a shark or a million other things that had no business interrupting a man's piss. The last of the red faded to pink as the glowing... whatever... slid smoothly up out of the plumbing and through the ceiling.

Kensei got himself situated as quickly as he could, and staggered back down the hallway to the others, bump-scraping his shoulder against the wall to help keep the weight off his leg. If the shop was still standing after they'd dealt with whatever-this-was, he could apologize to Ururu for the mess then.

"You 'may possibly' have made a mistake?"

Of course any non-admission of fault on Kisuke's part would be accompanied by as many disclaimers as possible.

Yoruichi didn't bother tying her robe closed. She just watched the gate slide upwards in a way Kisuke protested he had never, ever intended.

There was a faint crackle as the spiritual grounding disconnected itself. The bottom of the gate lifted away from the floor as if it had been sliced free.

"There's no 'may possibly' about it, Kisuke!" Yoruichi didn't bother to restrain her reiatsu. If there was any justice, Kisuke should feel it crushing him like a bug.

If he did, he didn't show it. Kisuke shrugged and grinned as if nothing was wrong and a sheet of energy wasn't rising up through the ceiling. He had pulled his hat from his head and was turning it round and around in his hands. It was meant to look awkward and self-effacing, but the effect was ruined by the way he was backlit by the glowing red gate. He looked her square in the eye.

You know you'll forgive me, the look said.

She always had. She probably always would.

You know I meant well, right?

She wasn't sure she did know or not, but it was easier to give him the benefit of the doubt.

That didn't mean she wasn't pissed off with him, though. She took a deep breath, and forced her mind to the matter at hand.

"What kind of mistake are we talking about, here?" Matters of anger and forgiveness could wait. A malfunctioning--or sabotaged--gate couldn't.

Pink swirled in among the red, diluting it and overriding it. Even though the shades were similar in hue, the prickle at the back of her neck told her it had nothing to do with a shift in the amount of power in the gate. She knew what it meant, but two-and-two weren't quite coming together as quickly as she would have liked.

"Just a slight underestimation on my part." Kisuke had crouched down so he could look at the gate from beneath. He sounded distracted already. "Tessai did tell the others to get ready, didn't he?"

"He did." The fact that Kisuke didn't seem to be taking this seriously didn't mean she wouldn't.

"Good. I think we have at best two minutes before we have visitors. The gate will have to be entirely clear of the structure above before it can open."

"Who--" She narrowed her eyes, and watched as a swirl of familiar, bloody red vanished into a sea of medicinal pink. Damn it. It had been several months since she'd seen it, but she knew that color. "Kurotsuchi. It's Kurotsuchi, isn't it?"

"Very good!" Kisuke said gleefully, as if she'd just performed a particularly clever trick. He stood up straight and brushed his hands together. "Let's head upstairs, shall we? We don't have as much time to prepare as I had hoped, but the bright side is, if Kurotsuchi and his forces are here now, that means they're out of the way of our rescue team."

She nodded sharply, but rather than waiting for him to lead the way, she took off and flash-stepped up the stairs.

Strategies raced through her mind, were evaluated, sorted, and discarded. The crew at the Shoten could hold off Kurotsuchi, but they couldn't count on Kurotsuchi coming through alone. Ururu and Jinta had firepower but too little experience, Kon had speed but couldn't--or wouldn't--hold his own in a close fight, Kensei was only good for ranged attacks, Mashiro was as much a danger as she was an asset, and Tessai needed time for the kind of kidou that could work against Kurotsuchi.

They didn't have much time, they didn't have much to work with, and they didn't know what to expect, but by the time she got back up to the shop, she had the beginnings of a plan. Yes, there would be variables--more variables than she could imagine--but she knew how to build plans that could expand or contract to account.

There was one thing, though, that bothered her.

She couldn't pin down the source of a nagging feeling. She knew what nagging feelings meant--she had noticed something, but she wasn't keeping up with her subconscious.

This one told her that whatever was about to come through that gate was the least of the variables she had to worry about.

Mashiro seemed almost happy about their orders to stand here on the fringes. She stood next to Kensei across the street from the Shoten, bouncing on the balls of her feet and hugging herself against the cold. She was grinning as if waiting for a party to start, but Kensei knew it was because she hadn't been allowed outside in nearly a week.

"It feels so good to finally be doing something, doesn't it?" she said. When she didn't get a response, she contorted herself so she was looking practically straight up his nostrils. She frowned. "Kensei..."

"We've got a job to do, Mashiro," he snapped. "Now keep an eye on that gate and stop chattering."

He was not in the mood to be chided for being a Mr. Cranky McGrumpypants.

To Mashiro's way of thinking, they were doing something.

To Kensei's way of thinking, standing on the perimeter to mop up any Hollows that went the wrong way wasn't doing much of anything.

But, he had to admit that Yoruichi had a point. Someone had to keep the civilians safe if Yoruichi's seat-of-the-pants plan went south. At least they weren't a block further back with Jinta and Ururu. Kensei cast a glance over his shoulder at the two so-called children with their ridiculously large weapons.

Tessai was on the Shoten's porch, setting up wards with as much urgency as he would sweep away dead leaves. Kensei knew that Urahara and Yoruichi were somewhere in the nearby rooftops, at a level with the gate but out of sight. Kon was also up on the rooftops, but stood square with the gate right in plain sight.

He didn't look very happy to be there.

As for the gate itself, it had come to rest about fifteen feet above the Shoten. It shimmered and swirled, but nothing was coming through--yet.

They all had their roles to play in Yoruichi's plan. Tessai, Yoruichi, and Urahara would take care of the worst of the invasion. Kon was standing by, ready to draw off whatever they couldn't handle and get them off to the parklands and hopefully get Kurosaki Isshin's attention while he was at it.

That left him and Mashiro --along with the kids--on mop-up duty. He could pick off outliers easily enough with Tachikaze, but that wasn't fighting. It was target practice.

That was all he was good for any--

--the thought stopped when he felt a prickle of reiatsu at the back of his neck. Hollows. Lots of Hollows. But not here.

"Oi! Urahara! We got more problems than this!" he called out, but it was lost in the chaos as as the gate exploded from pink into searing white.

Kon didn't remember much of what happened before he started running for his life. Monsters poured out of the gate, and kept on pouring out, and then Yoruichi was telling him to run.

He was already running.

And today had looked like it was going to be such a good day...

Yoruichi let out a hiss as she saw Kurotsuchi Nemu leap through the gate, along with two scorpion-patterned Hollows. One of them wore what look liked the remains of a shihakushou.

The hiss turned into a gasp when a second Nemu followed the first.

"Well, I wasn't expecting her," Kisuke said. "Either of her."

As Yoruichi leapt towards the first of the two Nemus, she started to realize what was bothering her about this whole thing.

Well, aside from what was now three Nemus and a dozen Hollows.

She yelled at Kon to run, and he did. Two Hollows followed him as he headed in the direction of Kurosaki Isshin's reiatsu.

The first Nemu was handily dispatched with a shunko-enhanced punch to the throat, but not before her fingernails gouged deep into Yoruichi's arm, tearing past skin into muscle.

Nemu shouldn't have been that good, she thought grimly, but another one of them had gone down to ground level, and was giving Mashiro a run for her money.

And the wound on her arm was starting to burn.

"Assume combat enhancements on Kurotsuchi-fukutaichou!" she called out to anyone who could hear. "Don't let them touch you!"

"Oi! Yoruichi!" Kensei was calling out, but she couldn't get to him right away.

Three more Nemus came through the gate and straight at her.

More Hollows, more Nemus were coming through the gate. How many more could there be? The next Nemu avoided the shunko blow to her throat a little too easily. Shared mind?

"Kamisori, Benihime."

Yoruichi recognized the command and was leaping out of the way even as it was spoken. A red flash of energy cut two Hollows in half. Further below, she heard the deep rumbling of Tessai's chanting.

Kensei was still yelling something down below, so she twisted mid-air and landed by his left side. "Report, Muguruma-taichou!"

They jumped back as Mashiro and her target came tumbling past, leaving a smear of blood across the pavement. It was hard to see what was going on, but Mashiro was covered in bone, and the Nemu was missing an arm.

Yoruchi steadied Kensei as he lost his footing. He snarled out something that wasn't thanks and launched a barrage of air blades to cut down a large, baboon-like Adjuchas.

"She's still in control," he snapped, anticipating her question. "There's other problems. Can you feel that?" he said, jabbing Tachikaze towards the center of town.

She could, now that she was away from the pressure of the gate.

"Another incursion! But we don't have time! There's too many--"

Except there weren't. Too many had taken off after the bait that had been meant to draw off only a few with the goal of bringing in more help. And there were more Hollows out that direction. It was way too much for Kurosaki Isshin to handle alone.

"Oh, hell! Change of plans, Kisuke," she called out as she vaulted to the top of the Shoten. A Nemu nearly skewered her with an arm that was suddenly much too long, but she evaded. Her left arm was still on fire and she could tell that there was no way it would bear up under shunko.

"We'll be fine. Go," Kisuke said, almost too easily. He sounded more annoyed than anything. "Come on, come on, where are you..."

He wasn't talking to her. She knew what he was waiting for, but this was no time to confront him. She took off in pursuit of Kon.

There were too many monsters. More than when they started. Dozens of the nightmares surrounded the hospital, but new ones--not as nightmarish but just as scary--had come from somewhere.

Tatsuki still had to think too much before adding that extra burst of energy that was not muscle-strength to her blows. All she could do was slow the monsters down until Kurosaki-san or Ishida-san cut them down. But Ishida-san's arrows were hitting almost at random.

She was drenched with sweat even though her breath came out in harsh white bursts. She couldn't hear Mizuiro's stupid gun anymore--he must have run out of bullets. Probably just as well. And where were Ichigo's sisters? Were they okay?

A few minutes ago, she thought she had actually seen Ichigo, but she couldn't have, could she?

And then she thought she saw a bunch of shinigami--actual shinigami--in the middle of the fray, but it turned out they were just more monsters.

Tatsuki was fighting one of them now for the second time. It looked like the exact same woman--beautiful, but with a blank expression that was worse than a bone mask.

Whoever this girl was, she was fast, and Tatsuki found herself hard-pressed to keep up. Despite her efforts she was getting herded into a too-open area in the middle of the street. She needed to turn the fight to where she could use the buildings to defend herself.

An arrow sizzled into the asphalt behind her. It distracted her opponent for a fraction of a second, but it was enough.

Tatsuki landed a blow to the woman's jaw that all but exploded and she finally got what Soi-fong taichou had been trying to teach her this past few months. Explanation and demonstration becamehad become knowledge. Her next blow was a strike to the solar plexus that dropped the woman.

If she wasn't scared to death, she'd be jumping for joy.


The shout came only when she was in the clear. Shihouin-san landed in a crouch right beside her, then pulled her back into the defensive position she'd been aiming for.

"We've got to--whoops!" Whatever Shihouin-san was about to say was interrupted by three more of the gorgeous, freaky women.

Tatsuki was left to fend for herself against a monster that looked way too much like a cockroach for her comfort. An enhanced kick cracked its mask, but it wasn't enough to kill it. It was enough, however, to knock it back straight into the path of one of Ishida-san's random strikes.

"I think they're targeting me," Shihouin-san said from behind her, sounding way too smug about it. "I suppose I'm listed in their programming or something."

"What do we do now?" Tatsuki asked, and she hated how young she sounded.

There was the barest of pauses, and then Shihouin-san was barking orders. "You! Boy! You and your friend get out of here--"

Mizuiro started to protest, but Shihouin-san spoke over him.

"--and report back to Urahara what's going on here! The hospital is under attack, two different kinds of enhanced Hollows. Now, go!"

As soon as she barked that order, another woman attacked her head-on. Tatsuki was able to stop the one who tried to get her from behind.

"Thanks for getting them out of here," Tatsuki said. Mizuiro didn't know what he was doing, and Keigo could only be a target.

"I should probably tell you to get out of here, too," Shihouin-san said slowly. She looked quickly down the narrow lane after the retreating boys, then back at Tatsuki.

Tatsuki nodded. She understood. This was all too new. Even though she was finally getting it, she was still untried.

"But you're not going to."

Right now they needed every decent fighter they could get, no matter how green. The fallout from this fight was going to be spilling more and more into the civilian world if they didn't stop it soon.

"Stay safe," Shihouin-san told her. "I have one more thing to take care of. Stay to the perimeter, and help keep this mess contained--I think a few have already slipped past. Don't let any more get by!"

Then she was gone, faster than Tatsuki could follow.

"Yes, ma'am," she said, even though there was no one to say it to. Then she kicked another Hollow back into the center of the fray, where Kurosaki-san cut it down.

Another one of the women came at her with a strike meant to gut her, but a swift kick shattered the woman's arm. The next strike dropped her just as one of her sisters came in for the attack.

Tatsuki sent this one flying into a lamppost.

"Heh. So I'm finally worth noticing, huh? Good to know."

A glowing blue arrow nearly took Kon's head off as he jumped for the only Hollow-free rooftop in sight.

"What the hell is wrong with you!" he shrieked to the universe at large, but no one was listening. As usual.

Another arrow sailed past his head and landed way too close to Isshin--and to Karin and Yuzu. It was all too obvious that Isshin couldn't concentrate on clearing out the Hollows while he was looking after the girls. Even though it meant going back towards the insanity, Kon knew what he had to do.

Kon hit the ground next to his family at the exact same time Yoruichi did. Blessed, beautiful, thank-god-she's-here Yoruichi.

"I'll get them out of here," he said at the exact same time that Isshin and Yoruichi snapped "Get them out of here!"

"I'll make sure no one follows you," Isshin said, looking him--him square in the eye, and Kon could tell there was a lot more he would like to say.

Kon nodded, grabbed the girls over Karin's protests, and took off.

Yoruichi held her breath as a blue arrow nearly took out Kon and the girls.

"I think the idiot's started firing at anything that moves," Isshin said, and Yoruichi could hear the grief in his voice.

"You don't blame him?"

There was no time to talk for a moment. Two of the Nemu-clones had closed in even as a leonine Adjuchas tried to catch Isshin in his jaws.

"I know what he's going through," Isshin said, unusually serious. The lion-hollow had been cut in two and was now falling to dust. "But I have my girls."

Yoruichi nodded, then flash-stepped off to take care of a trio of Kurotsuchi-clones who were targeting the hospital roof. If Ishida Ryuuken started to become more of a liability than an asset, she would address it quickly. She would not involve Isshin.

For the moment, though, Ishida was doing more to help them than not. He had halved the number of attackers all on his own.

But that didn't mean she could trust him. Now he was firing across the rooftops at something she couldn't see.

She couldn't trust anyone, could she?

One of the three Nemus went down, her spine broken and exposed by an exceptionally vicious shunko blast, dead before she started the three story plummet to the roof of the ambulance bay. Yoruichi thought about the creature's so-called father as she went after its 'sisters.'

Kurotsuchi Mayuri.

She would have bet everything up to and including her very soul that was who Kisuke was waiting for.

A quick scan of the battle showed that nothing was chasing Kon and the girls. There were only seven more Hollows left, but two of them looked like they might be Vasto Lorde class--it was hard to tell. There were eight more of the Nemu-abominations. Five of them were headed straight towards her.

Kisuke had not been expecting this. But he had been expecting something. Maybe even before the rescue team had left.

And he hadn't told her.

How dare he? Her anger informed her shunko, and the next Nemu was ripped clean in half by the energy blast.

She was covert ops. Her people literally lived and died by the flow of information. Kisuke knew this. He had always known this. And he had kept this from her!

Yoruichi roared with frustration as she threw the hyena-Vasto Lorde into the path of Isshin's sword. How typical, how arrogant of Kisuke to expect that Kurotsuchi Mayuri would only attack in one place. This wasn't the first time Kisuke had done something like this.

It would be naïve of her to expect it would be the last.

She grabbed two of the Nemu by their hair mid-flash step and dragged them behind her as she jumped through a shop window. Her speed carried her past the broken glass left in her wake, but the two clones were--as she planned--not so fortunate. They learned quickly, so she had to keep thinking of newer and nastier tricks. There should be five more of them, but only two were in sight. Where were the others?

One answered the question for her by nearly taking a chunk out of her side. The other two--the other two were after Arisawa, damn it! And where were the Vasto Lorde? There had been two of them!

Yoruichi could see the rising fear on Arisawa's face as her opponents became more and more adept at countering her moves.

Yoruichi flash-stepped towards her, but the third Nemu kept pace, blocking her. A direct shunko blast was dissipated with a touch. A temple strike was evaded, and her momentum was turned against her, nearly dislocating her elbow.

The fight was winding down, but it wasn't over. It wasn't over until all of the enemy were dead.

She got her hand around the clone's throat. She felt the power building in her back and arm, giving her the strength to snap this monster's neck with one sharp squeeze.

Kurotschi Nemu's eyes went wide. Then her head fell back and she let out a piercing cry that went on and on and up and up.

Yoruichi hadn't even started to squeeze.

The cry cut short, and the clone went limp. The two that had been attacking Tatsuki fell at the same time. She didn't know what had happened, but she heard the sound of battle dying off behind her. Ishida's arrow blasts had stopped. Yoruichi looked up at the hospital roof. He was standing with a glowing arrow nocked and ready to fire at something in the distance, but then his head slumped forward and he let the arrow dissipate into nothing.

It was over.

She could only hope that Kisuke and Tessai had everything under control at the Shoten. Maybe this stupid stunt of his would work out in everyone's favor, just like his stupid stunts always did.

The sounds of battle stopped entirely. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.


Her eyes snapped open. "Isshin? What's wrong?"

He was hunched over where Arisawa had been fighting.

Yoruichi flashed to his side. She hadn't seen Arisawa when the clones had fallen. She should have noticed. She should have--

"Stay with me, girl," Isshin said with the sort of calm he couldn't be feeling. Arisawa was curled up on the ground. Her face was ashy-pale and she was shivering, and Yoruichi saw the dark blood seeping through her shirt even though Isshin was applying reiatsu-pressure to try to stanch the chest wound.

Yoruichi was not surprised at how controlled she was as she leaned over to stroke Arisawa's hair and tell her to hang on, hang on, she didn't want to disappoint Ichigo by not being here when he got back, did she?

Arisawa was still conscious, and she met Yoruichi's eyes, and she was scared, so scared, and yet so proud. One of the Nemus had clearly died at her hands. The other had simply collapsed, and Yoruichi felt her heart lurch when she saw that the clone's arm was red up to the elbow.

"I'm staying right here," Yoruichi said, because it was the only thing she could say to Arisawa that she knew would not be a lie.

While she was not surprised at her control, she was surprised by the depth of her anger. This should not have happened.

She prayed everything would be okay, because she did not trust what she would do if it was not. All she could do was stay where she was and keep stroking Arisawa's hair until Isshin finally let the healing reiatsu go before reaching up to close Arisawa's eyes.

"It's over," he said.

Next Chapter
Tags: *index: winter war, bleach, co-write

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