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Butterfly Effect

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warning: Rated for major battle with character deaths.

~

Music was always an aphrodisiac for Ichigo. When it came from Chad, it was a wonder they made it all the way back to his apartment.

There had been a few close calls with public indecency, but so far they were okay.

They’d been together for a year, known each other for almost three. It was a fight that brought them together, but fighting was only a small part of what they had. They were protectors, and they protected each other.

Well, Ichigo protected Chad, and his little sisters, and anyone who was being bullied, and himself. Chad protected Ichigo, and anything small and cute.

He’d caught a few assholes hurting a stray cat once. The cat was now king of Chad’s apartment, mascot of Chad’s band – The Stray Cats – and other than the piece missing out of his ear and the scar on his tail, you could never tell he’d been an abuse victim. The assholes? Required lengthy hospital stays, yet strangely refused to name their attacker.

The night his life changed, Ichigo had spent a couple hours watching Chad power his bass through covers of some popular singers, and if anyone cared for his opinion, the Stray Cats’ front man could give Kyo a run for his money. Not that Ichigo paid much attention to the singer, given that being under the spotlight made Chad sweat, and when his skin started to shine, Ichigo got hungry.

Which led them to where they were, tumbling into Chad’s tiny apartment, dancing around Koutei the cat so they didn’t trip over him, trying not to get caught in their clothes, and barely making it to the futon.

Standard Saturday night.

It was as messy and funny and breathtaking as it always was, and still so very new. Chad was heat and strength and tenderness, Ichigo was fire and motion and demand. When they collapsed together, there was comfort and satiation and home.

Ichigo missed curfew. His dad had given up a few months ago, at least for Saturday nights.

Still, he needed to be home before Yuzu started breakfast, so after a scant couple hours sleep, Ichigo rolled himself out of Chad’s arms and took a quick shower – only quick because Chad didn’t join him – then found his clothes.

Chad, being an old-world gentleman in honor of his abuelo’s teachings, and because he wasn’t finished kissing Ichigo yet, walked him home. It took them awhile. There were a few detours. There may have been a quick hand-job in an alley, but eventually they made it to the Kurosaki clinic.

A half dozen blocks away, still running on endorphins from his third orgasm of the night, Ichigo suddenly twitched. There were sounds that were out of place on the still night air, metal clashing, the shrieking of something otherworldly, and a scream that made his heart clench.

Karin!

He took off at a run, Chad on his heels.

The scene they came upon was strange and gruesome. A short brunette in an Edo-era outfit lay splayed out on the pavement, her eyes closed, a bloody sword clasped in one fist, and blood covering her chest, pooling out in a spreading puddle beneath her.

Past her, a huge chunk had been broken out of the side of the clinic. There, in stark relief from the nearby streetlight, stood a huge monster that looked like it just stepped out from a nightmare. It stood twice as high as the building, with pale chitonous plates overlapping all over its body. It had horns, claws curling out from its hands and feet, teeth as long as his arm, and more eyes than anything should.

The worst part, the truly nightmarish aspect, was that it held Karin in one clawed paw, and was bringing her writhing, kicking body up to its mouth as if to eat her.

Something roared to life inside Ichigo, filled with rage and terror and possessiveness. That was HIS SISTER, and that damned monster was going to DIE.

As he lurched forward, he felt as if bindings inside him tore, then crumbled away. He was suddenly light, and fast, and his arm was heavy. He flew up at the monster, barely aware of a matching roar from Chad behind him, and brought his arm down in an overhand strike that was purely instinctive.

A sword materialized in his clenched fist, then swept down and through the monster, cutting it in two.

It gave a choked off moan, then turned to dust. Ichigo swept around from where he’d ended his strike and caught Karin’s falling body with his free arm.

Her screams died as she threw her arms around his neck and buried her face against him.

He crouched on the pavement, his sister safe, staring at the gleaming black sword with the wide, wickedly sharp silver edge. He glanced over his shoulder.

Just as Ichigo had pulled a weapon out of thin air, so too had Chad. His right arm was covered with armor, from his clenched fist to his shoulder, where a guard spread out to protect his face without obscuring his view. He was staring at Ichigo with his green eyes wider than he’d ever seen them.

“Get inside,” Ichigo barked softly, looking around to see if there were any other monsters around. He didn’t know who the girl was, but it didn’t look like she was breathing, and he had sisters to protect.

Chad gave the seemingly-dead girl one concerned glance, then turned automatically to cover Ichigo’s retreat with Karin.

Once inside the clinic, Chad took up a guard position at the hole in the wall. Ichigo carried Karin up to her room. He found Yuzu, unconscious, in the hallway.

Crouching down, keeping Karin close, he quickly felt for Yuzu’s pulse. It was steady. Her skin was a little clammy, but he didn’t see any injuries. He’d never been so thankful for the hours he’d spent helping his dad at the clinic every summer, most weekends, and any time there was an emergency.

He didn’t see or hear any evidence of threat from inside the house, so he sheathed his sword – more instinct, as he hadn’t even been aware there was a sheath on his back – and gathered Yuzu up in his other arm. He carried both girls into their room and bundled them together on one bed.

Tucking them in, he peered around, but the threat seemed to be past.

“Chad!” he called quietly downstairs. Seconds later his partner was beside him.

“Girls okay?”

Ichigo nodded. “Any more monsters?”

Chad shook his head.

Then Chad took up his guard station in front of the girls’ room, and Ichigo went down the hall, silently checking on his dad. Isshin was sound asleep. He shook his head in disbelief.

A monster breaks the house and nearly eats his kid, and he sleeps through it. Only his dad…

He headed back down the hall to join Chad, who was looking at him intensely.

“What?” he whispered.

Chad nodded down at his body. Had his zipper come undone or something? He looked down, and nearly tripped over his feet.

His feet, in low-heeled boots attached to suneate, greaves that wrapped around his shins and calves. Which were then attached by long armor straps to haidate that protected his hips, then further to a sort of dō or breast plate that wrapped all the way around his body. That was attached to shoulder guards, leading down into kote, sleeve armor that ended in gloves. All in thin white armor, over a matte black body suit. Hell, he even had a remnant of armor sliding over the tops of his cheeks and bridge of his nose, as if someone had whacked the chin protector off a menpō and just left the top scrap.

“the hell…?” he muttered. Then he looked over at Chad and nodded at his fancy new arm.

Chad clenched his fist, brought it up in front of his eyes, then stretched his hand out before clenching it back again. “No idea.”

Ichigo shrugged and walked over to the window, peering out to see if there were any more monsters out there. As he passed, he felt Chad’s hand caress the inch of black material showing between the armor on his bicep. He shivered.

Not the time, he thought, but he gave Chad a look and a promise over his shoulder.

Then he turned his attention to the street outside the clinic and did a double-take.

“Chad? Wasn’t there a dead girl there?”

A warm presence at his shoulder, then a confused hum ruffled his hair.

They could investigate in the morning. For now, the girls were safe, they were safe, dad was safe, and everything was quiet.

They took turns keeping watch for the rest of the night, just in case.

As they relaxed, at about the same time, their armor faded away. They looked at each other in confusion. Ichigo had the feeling he logically should be more freaked out than he was, but it all just felt natural. Instinctual, like it was always inside him, waiting for the moment when it was needed.

If he needed it again, he had no doubt it would appear.

~

Urahara waited in the shadows, watching. Ichigo’s spontaneous manifestation of Fullbring powers was worse than disappointing.

True, the boys had saved the little girl. They hadn’t bothered with the wounded Shinigami, but maybe they thought she was dead.

Or maybe Fullbring instinct, being hollow-based, was to avoid Shinigami. That was a good idea for self-defense, but terrible in the grander scheme of things. That scheme included, but was not limited to, Aizen’s godhood plans and Ichigo’s place in taking him down, Isshin’s reaction to his son not exactly taking after him OR his mother, and Yamamoto’s no-doubt violent overreaction to the presence of yet more Fullbringers in Karakura.

After Kūgo Ginjō’s spectacular failure as a substitute soul reaper and metamorphosis into a grasping, power hungry soul-predator, with his little gang of minions, the leadership of the Gotei 13 considered Fullbringers one step below cockroaches. Having Ichigo slip so easily into his Fullbring form was a bad, bad sign.

For Ichigo, his family, the Living World, hell, all three worlds. If they didn’t have Ichigo to go to as the weapon of last resort, they could very well be royally screwed.

Ah, well. He’d think about that after he put Rukia Kuchiki back together.

With a little addition…

~

The next morning was weird, as his dad seemed to think the clinic was hit by a truck. Yuzu didn’t remember anything, and Karin thought she’d just had a terrible nightmare.

Ichigo spent all Sunday with his sisters, playing games with them, even made chocolate and crème and anko taiyaki… he and Yuzu had that in common with their late mother. When they were stressed, they baked. Yuzu might not know why she had the overwhelming urge to dig out the cake pans, but Ichigo did, and he indulged her.

Karin, his dad, and Chad were happy to help eat the results.

For the next few days, Ichigo was on high alert, which is probably why he noticed the stranger so quickly. The guy was about Chad’s size, but there was something kind of sleazy about him. Ichigo trusted his instincts, now more than ever since they’d given him the weapons he needed to save his sisters, and his instincts were telling him not to trust the guy, before they’d even met.

Chad didn’t seem to have the same misgivings, so Ichigo kept his usual scowl on his face and his misgivings hidden. The man came up to them after school on Tuesday, and introduced himself as Ginjō. He said he was a Fullbringer.

Just like them.

Ichigo trailed behind as Ginjō led them to an old apartment building, then through a sophisticated card-lock system into what looked like an underground nightclub.

From the 1950s.

There was an old-time bartender who looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, a cosplay goth loli with creepy eyes, a German-looking kid with his eyes glued to a video game, a wannabe Romantic complete with floppy hair and a book posed on a couch, and a biker woman in curb stompers who was sneering at them.

Ichigo turned around and started back out, only to have Chad snag him by the collar of the jacket and gently reel him in.

The next hour had Ichigo’s fight or flight instinct on high alert. The goth loli was Rurika, who did unseemly things with plushies. The vid-kid, Yukio, had a really unhealthy relationship with his game console. The old man Giriko was a reject from a science fiction novel. Tsukishima, the Romantic, specialized in mind-fuckery. Ginjō had a liar’s eyes. The only one who was close to normal was Jackie, and she was a seething ball of bitterness and rage just looking for a place to explode.

Chad quietly persisted against the game-players and the manipulators to dig out the truth. As it turned out, they were all, including Ichigo and Chad, something called Fullbringers, whose mothers were scared by monsters called hollows before they were born.

Hollows, like the one that nearly ate Karin a few nights before.

Later in life, some high-stress, usually life-threatening situation caused the hollow-infection inside a Fullbringer to show as a supernatural power.

Like Chad’s armor-arm. And Ichigo’s futuristic samurai armor.

That didn’t explain Yukio, who was still a kid. He was also very creepy, so Ichigo didn’t ask.

They lived in this club, called Xcution, and they banded together because their powers had made them outcasts. They were a tribe of their own, and they invited the two boys to become their newest family members.

Ichigo begged Chad with his eyes for them to get the hell out of there.

He had a family, thanks, and he didn’t trust these freaks at all. They weren’t saying something, and it was important. A high, cackling voice deep in his soul was yelling at him to get away, and take his big lug with him.

“Thanks for the information,” he finally said, grabbing Chad’s arm and heading for the door. “We’ll see you around, yeah?”

Then he was nearly flying down the stairs, Chad barely keeping up with him.

“Ichigo?” Chad asked when they hit the sidewalk and were a few blocks away.

He slid his grip from Chad’s forearm down to his hand, entwining their fingers. “There’s something off about them,” he answered eventually. “We’ll keep an eye on them, but unless it’s life or death, I think we should keep our distance.”

He really shouldn’t have tempted fate. Life returned mostly to normal, only now he could see hollows, and he had a new hobby. He and Chad would go out and hunt hollows. Kill them. Keep kids like Karin safe. His dad looked at him strangely quite often, but that was nothing new. On the surface, everything appeared to be fine.

But the Xcution gang were constantly lurking in the background, and that warbly little voice deep in Ichigo’s mind kept telling him to keep on guard, because it was all going to go to shit real soon now.

~

It was difficult for them to slip away without being noticed, but after a century or two of practice, Aizen and Tousen were experts. They made their way individually to Hueco Mundo, then joined up and opened a garganta to the World of the Living.

Aizen smiled at the town, sleeping under the blanket of night. So many souls, so close to harvest. All he needed was time, careful planning, and… yes. There.

The little gem hidden in the soul of Rukia Kuchiki.

She was a pathetic little scrap, standing dolefully on a streetlight, barely recovered from the wounds she’d taken from the hollow he’d sent after her. He’d honestly expected a better showing from her, but she was young. It was her first posting. She had spent most of her life since her adoption being protected and sheltered by the Kuchiki clan head. Before that? She’d been a Rukon rat.

Perhaps the ability to survive was her primary attribute. Like a cockroach, he mused.

He was, admittedly, surprised when Tousen reached for her and she nearly cut his arm off.

“Captain Tousen,” she exclaimed in shock. “I am so sorry-“

He didn’t bother waiting for her to finish babbling. Tousen, for all his talk of justice and contrary to popular perception, had never been a very patient man. He grabbed her by the shoulder and started to haul her off.

Some of her hardscrabble background still existed inside the pampered princess, because she immediately stomped in his foot, then kneed him in a place no man liked being kneed. Aizen winced despite himself, then sighed. She dropped her sword as he shook her like a ragdoll, but she didn’t lose her instincts. She caught him in the throat with an elbow then bit his hand hard enough to draw blood.

Oh, enough of this. Tousen was going to get them caught.

Aizen stepped forward, timing it perfectly, of course. One hand went to his sword hilt, drawing it just enough to catch her in an illusion. Then he took her limp body from Tousen’s hands before the idiot accidentally damaged the Hōgyoku, and gently slid his hand into her chest.

Ah. There.

His fingers wrapped around it, and he carefully drew it out. He dropped the now-useless girl carelessly to the ground, ignoring the crack she made when she landed.

“Do clean up the trash, if you would,” he commanded Tousen silkily, staring at the Hōgyoku in his palm. It was glowing. Not quite awake, but close. So very close.

Tousen swooped down toward the ground to finish off Rukia… only she was gone. Aizen glanced over at him and shrugged one shoulder.

“If she’s not dead yet, she will be soon. Come, we must go, before we’re missed.”

Tousen growled something about justice, as he usually did, and Aizen ignored him, as he always did. He raised a hand, cracked the sky open in a garganta, and stepped through. Tousen followed on his heels.

Neither of them noticed the stormy grey eyes beneath a green and white striped hat that watched their escape from behind a warding kidō barrier.

It was a lovely day in the Rukongai. Aizen enjoyed the leisurely walk back from the hinterlands where they’d had aim their garganta. The Hōgyoku tucked securely next to his heart, Aizen eventually stepped through the gates of the Seireitei only to find Gin waiting for them in the shadows. He frowned.

For his snake to meet him so openly after such a mission, breaking protocol, it must be important. He could actually see a sliver of ice blue beneath those droopy eyelids.

“Forgive the intrusion, Aizen-taichou,” Gin drawled, a little more hurriedly than he usually spoke. “You were seen.”

Tousen muffled a curse beside him. Aizen’s eyes narrowed and he gestured for Gin to explain.

“Kurotsuchi-taichou has been a sneaky little creep, expanding his intel net without tellin’ anybody. He put spy-eyes all over Karakura. Tonight, he came runnin’ into the Sou-Taichou’s office like his tail was on fire, screamin’ about you murderin’ the Kuchiki girl.”

Shit. Aizen gritted his teeth, not that he let it show in his expression, then dipped his head. “Then we must accelerate our time schedule.”

“Knew you were gonna say that, Aizen-taichou!” Gin sounded happy, which meant someone, or a lot of people, were no doubt dead. “So I did some house cleanin’ in the Central. Well, more messin’ it up, than cleanin’, but it was as you command. Only early.”

Good. The Court Guards would be distracted by the murder of the entire central governing body, and that would give them time to escape. As he was thinking it, alarms began to ring all over the Seireitei, and he could hear the kidō-projected voice of Lieutenant Isane of the 4th, proclaiming the slaughter. He allowed the edge of his mouth to curl up.

“Let us go, then.”

The opened a Negación once they were past the barrier shield around the city, and soon were back at the throne room of Las Noches. He’d also sent a few score Menos down, to add to the confusion and weaken morale even further.

Chaos. So very useful.

The next several hours were very busy. He had been creating generations of Arrancar, each stronger than the next, until he had depleted the partial Hōgyoku he had managed to create. As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, Kisuke Urahara was a genius, and his version of the Hōgyoku was much more complete and robust. Now that he had it, he could improve on the last few hand-picked Arrancar, and his Espada court would be ready.

They didn’t have time to wait. Now that Yamamoto knew about them, he’d send his research hounds Ukitake and Kuchiki to track his steps. They would quickly discover his plan, unfortunately. Byakuya would be particularly motivated to find him and stop him, given that he’d shredded the man’s little sister.

Hm. The living had a saying, something about omelets and eggs, but it escaped him at the moment.

No matter. He roused from his contemplation of the Hōgyoku, glowing in the low light of the room. It was time.

Much like force-blooming branches to flower in the winter, he would encase the Hōgyoku in his own soul and waken it to its full capacity.

With its power inside him, nothing would stand in his way.

~

Ginjō glared at the two young punks killing hollows outside a grade school, then turned and strode back to Xcution.

He’d had high hopes. They were both strong, particularly the one with the orange hair and the attitude, but for some reason, the little bastard didn’t trust him.

He didn’t think of the fact that his avarice for the boy’s power was strong enough to make the hair on the back of the kid’s neck stand up, but then, he didn’t know that Ichigo had a feral inner hollow looking out for him, either.

No matter. They would come, even if he had to knock them out and hog-tie them. Then a little pressure, a little stomping on them to kick them into high gear, and he’d line them up and drain them dry.

When he announced this to his gang, the only protest came from Jackie. The others knew exactly who they would follow to get what they wanted.

“This is the surest way to get the upgrades we all need. Deserve. You didn’t say anything the last time we did this, so why all the cold feet now?” Ginjō snarled at the bitch.

She glared back at him, but subsided. She’d back him up. They all would. Because they knew if they didn’t, they’d be the next ones drained dry.

Ginjō smiled and Tsukishima started making plans.

Soon.

Those brats would realize just how stupid they’d been to turn him down.

~

The first set of videos Kurotsuchi-taichou had brought him had made the Sou-Taichou’s stomach turn.

He had an instinctive distrust of any kind of hybrid. Pure souls were exactly that, pure. Mixing them with hollows desecrated them. As much as he’d hated to exile his subordinates the century before, once they had dirtied their souls with the hollow infusion, they were lost to him.

It was the same with humans, on a lesser scale as they were lesser beings. Quincies were an abomination, and Fullbringers were a tragedy that should be exterminated out of sheer mercy. Once, there had been a human with Shinigami powers, rising him up from the others, but his inherent human weakness had shown through, and when he fell from grace, he fell further down than any normal human could reach. He’d then found others like him, humans tainted by hollow energy, and gathered them to him.

Yamamoto had been willing to let them be, as long as they stayed in the shadows where they belonged. But there were two more, who actively engaged hollows, who acted as if they were Shinigami. This was not to be tolerated. With these two as exemplars, it was only a matter of time before the fallen Substitute and the rest of his tainted followers came out as well, and only a matter of degree before hubris would drive them to challenge Soul Society itself.

No. Like the Bounts, the modified souls, the damnedable Quincies, even the exiled Visored if they ever made a nuisance of themselves, the Fullbring humans must die.

He knew a few of the captains would argue… he was thinking specifically of Jūshirō. The boy constantly argued for acceptance, for tolerance, for bringing the tainted and broken into the fold. His heart was too soft. Yamamoto loved him like a son, but he didn’t listen to him. He couldn’t afford to, because such mercy was a weakness. Opening themselves up to such creatures would only give them the opportunity to strike from within when the Shinigami least expected it. Not that he could ever get Jūshirō to understand that.

His plans were in the making for a few days, as he saw no need to rush. The Fullbring humans were making themselves known, calling attention to themselves, but they were not an immediate threat.

Then Kurotsuchi came screaming in again, making Yamamoto wince at the decibel level the strange man reached. It made his old ears ring. He lifted a hand, but for once, that didn’t even slow the crazy man down.

Ignoring the yabbering scientific babble, he focused on the video now running on the screen held under his nose.

What he saw nearly made him spontaneously call out Ryūjin Jakka.

Treason! Foul treason!

Aizen and Tousen would pay for this with their lives!

He also noticed that the exile Urahara saved young Rukia Kuchiki’s life, and protected her from the traitors. That merely affirmed his decision not to send the Onmitsukidō after him to execute him. The man was a genius, and often handy to have on-scene in the Living World. Rukia-chan was safe with him until they could bring her home.

But for now… he took the viewing screen away from Kurotsuchi and stomped off toward the door, ignoring the bleating behind him.

“Sasakibe! Call all Captains and Lieutenants! Emergency meeting in Squad One!”

A half hour later, the heads and seconds of the thirteen Court Guard Squads stood before him. There was quite a lot of confused grumbling, and there were several holes in the lineup.

Tousen and Aizen, the traitors and one of the reasons for the call-out, were missing, of course. Ichimaru was, as well, but Yamamoto vaguely recalled something about a training mission in the 70th district, so it would take a while before he returned. As he watched, Kenpachi and his child ran in, late as usual, probably got lost on the way. Kurotsuchi had been standing there, then clapped his hand to his ear, indicating an incoming audio transmission, and ran out of the room with no explanation.

The rest of the captains lined up in their places, their lieutenants at their shoulders. Jūshirō looked paler than normal, but he wasn’t swaying, so that was sufficient. Shunsui looked a little flushed, probably from sake, but he also wasn’t swaying, so that was acceptable. Fierce young Tōshirō and Suì-Fēng, stoic Sajin, calm Retsu, and young Byakuya, as yet unknowing of the injury to his heir, rounded out the Guard.

There were several exclamations as he gave them a forceful précis of the situation in Karakura Town. The revelation of the treasonous actions of Tousen and Aizen nearly broke Byakuya and Jūshirō’s composure – the Kuchiki head because she was his sister, and Jūshirō because she was a treasured member of his squad. Only the information that she was safe with Urahara calmed them, although Byakuya was white around the lips.

Before he could even finish the briefing, Kurotsuchi came tearing in. Again.

“Hollow activity over Karakura Town is off the charts! It looks like half of Hueco Mundo is invading the World of the Living! And AIZEN is LEADING them!” he shrieked.

Yamamoto growled. The traitor could fall no further. “All available officers! To Karakura Town! Destroy the invaders, and execute the traitors! Execute the Fullbringers, and destroy the hollows! Permission granted to release your limiters!”

“But… that will kill so many humans… the sheer force of the… but the hollows… and if Sōsuke…” Jūshirō was muttering feverishly.

Shunsui clapped him gently on the shoulder, and said, “Let’s go, Jū-chan, and wrap it up before too many innocents die in the crossfire, yeah?”

Yamamoto followed them out the door. The situation was extremely volatile and the power level of hostile forces was unknown. He would be present at the battle.

Just in case.

~

Rose was relaxing on the roof of the Visored warehouse, experimenting with Liszt as a focal point for his Zanpakutō, when the skies broke open.

Gargantas split through the sky in several places, and strange man-shaped hollows of immense power walked out, taking their place above Karakura. Two familiar figures followed behind them.

Tousen.

Aizen.

He barely noted the four Senkaimon opening, spilling out Shinigami, as he ran down the stairs and yelled for his friends.

Aizen was here.

It was time for him to die.

~

Urahara saw the incoming clusterfuck and started calling in favors. His former third seat, damn the bastard, had trained 12th division cameras on Karakura and caught the fight that brought out the boys’ Fullbring powers. Yamamoto, predictably, freaked out in his cane-stomping way, jumped to the conclusion they were more of Ginjō’s minions, and decided it was past time to clean up the Fullbringer infestation in Karakura town.

Of COURSE that had to be exactly the same time that Aizen decided his little hybrid experiment had failed, and he might as well invade to reap souls on his quest to become god. Intel leaked out, as it does. Shinji and his crew went insane, and decided, to hell with hiding, they were going to take Aizen out permanently.

At the EXACT same time, Ginjō decided the juicy new power packs who wouldn’t come to him of their own free will should be captured and have their power ripped out of them. Greedy son of a bitch.

Sometimes, he hated being right.

~

The war began and ended on a Wednesday.

Ichigo flashed through the air, a tiny blue fleck of light glancing off his feet with every step. The last hollow was the toughest of the pack, making them fight for their victory. Chad was punching it in the knees – all the knees, as it had about a dozen legs – while he came down from the sky and slashed at it. They had it confused, swinging in the sky then at the ground, and missing them every time, but it took some acrobatics to escape being smashed into paste.

It had finally gone done, drifting up in the air in shiny dust, when the Fullbringers came out of nowhere.

Ginjō picked his moment well. They were tired, they were off-balance, and they weren’t as aware as they should be.

If it hadn’t been for the sudden, incredibly weird black cracks showing up in the sky, then the odd paper gates popping up to just hang there in mid-air, he and Chad might not have made it. But the distraction, strange as it was, saved their lives.

It helped, sort of, that a bunch of incredibly strong hollows shaped like humans came out of the cracks, and a bunch of incredibly strong not-hollows who felt like the wounded girl he’d seen by the clinic, dressed up like Edo swordsmen cosplayers like she was, came streaming out of the paper gates.

Ichigo would have stood there in mid-air and gawked like a moron if Ginjō hadn’t tried to cut his head off.

That pissed off Chad, of course, who got in close and tried to punch a hole through his chest. To his horror, white gunk started oozing out of Ginjō, and his sword morphed into this four foot long Claymore with an extra foot of hilt. That he waved around with one hand.

He was actually pretty good with it, but he was fighting a couple of guys who moved like they were one person, their thoughts on the same wavelength, their bodies instinctively synchronized.

That didn’t mean it was easy. At all. As more of the white goop oozed out Ginjō began to look more like a monster, and less like a man. He was screaming something about death gods and power, but Ichigo ignored him.

He was too busy trying not to get killed, trying to protect Chad’s back, and trying not to get sucked into the incredible madhouse of battle that erupted everywhere around them.

~

Kenpachi was laughing his lungs out, hair bells chiming merrily as he slashed his way through the enemy. This was how he liked it! Death, everywhere, everyone fighting for their lives!

Although the pussy he was fighting was a little irritating. The sucker’s sword kept flickering in and out of existence, and he wouldn’t even put down his stupid book. A book! In the middle of a swordfight!

It was pretty funny how frustrated the weakling was getting when he couldn’t land a strike. All too soon, it got boring. He slashed diagonally, once, and the world was down one Fullbringer. Ha!

The huge fist coming out of nowhere wasn’t as much as surprise as the hollow-centipede-man-whatever thought it would be. Now this, this was a fight! A twenty foot, multi-legged, huge fisted bastard with enough spiritual pressure to actually feel and a berserker’s mindset! All RIGHT!

That one took more work, getting bigger and bigger, squashing a few useless hollows and probably a lot of living souls in the process, but whatever. He didn’t care. All he cared about was the fight, and this one was fun!

Eventually he managed to cut off most of the legs that were trying to stomp him and both of the behemoth’s arms. Then it was one massive slash upward, one confused bellow of agony, and the world was down one Espada. HA!

The guy with the big spoon behind his head and six arms, along with a huge fucking double-headed axe… now HE was FUN!

“Yachiru, give us room, here,” he growled, and threw himself into the fight.

His daughter bounced over far enough away not to get involved in the fight and started her usual cheering routine. This guy was tough. Nuts, in the same way Kenpachi was, a fighter who knew what it was to give it everything he had and fight to the death! His kind of fight.

The bastard was down half his arms when Yachiru’s laughter ended in a sudden screech of pain, then silence.

Kenpachi whirled around, catching the incoming axe with his sword over his shoulder, and peered over at the spot where Yachiru had been. A blond with an eyepatch and teeth on his forehead was cleaning his sword.

His daughter lay, in pieces, at his feet, her own sword broken at her side.

With a bellow of pure rage, he shot at the fucker and cut his head off.

He didn’t even notice the second head of the axe, whirling around to take off his own.

~

Nnoitra didn’t spare a thought for his dead Fracción. Tesla had done exactly what he was supposed to do, causing the perfect distraction at the perfect time to give him the perfect opening.

He swung his axe over his head, looking for the next one to die.

Something came up and stopped the axe handle in place, nearly overbalancing him and sending him on his face.

Snarling, he turned to face the new challenger. He had just enough time to notice a bulky half-hollow that looked like a feral Shinigami with wild white hair, as tall as he was, before a huge fist crushed his skull.

~

Kensei caught the falling axe before it could kill anyone by accident and stared at the fighting swirling around him.

It was a mess.

Hollows, Shinigami, Visored, Fullbringers… all they needed was a Quincy and a demon to round out the lot. He sighed, tossed the axe out past the field of battle, ignoring the probability that it would kill some living humans when it fell. He hated the Living World. All he wanted to do was go home.

After he killed Aizen.

Narrowing his eyes and clenching his fists, he dove back into the battle.

~

Ah, degradation. Decline. Chaos. Death.

Barragan smiled and sent out his poison.

An array of grotesque beings came at him. Two half-hollow, half-Shinigami, the inverse of his own improved form, and one massive fox. The one with his hair cut like a star – how ridiculous! – came at him with a huge spiked club, and he laughed.

Then the round one with the pink hair and the skull cap threw kidō at him, trapping him for a bare moment. The pink man was stronger than he’d expected.

The club hurt, slightly, and he threw his arm out, sending more dust into the air.

Then the fox used a giant to try to stab him from above, and he started to get a little irritated.

The pink one was the first to feel his wrath. His leg began to disintegrate. Barragan laughed once more. The star-haired one was next, as he blew a hole through that damned club, and the decay spread rapidly down his arm into his torso. He didn’t have time to scream before his head disappeared.

The fox-giant combination was wary, and kept shifting his distance, slashing at him with his sword. Actually scoring his hide. Drawing Barragan’s attention. Thus, he missed the pink one’s final sally… switching his own decaying body INTO the kidō barrier he was maintaining.

The fox drew back, the giant disappeared, and it was a race to see who would win. The pink one was dead, and knew it – would his determination keep him solid long enough to kill Barragan with his own senescence? Or would the King of Hueco Mundo reign again?

~

Sajin Komamura watched in horror as the terrible skeleton hollow decayed away into nothing on his throne. The last thing he saw was exiled former kidō corps lieutenant Hachigen Ushōda sacrificing his life to protect the Living World from the depredations of the Espada.

He bowed his head a moment in respect. Ushōda’s deeds would be known. He would ensure it.

Then his head rose, his nose twitched, and he caught sight of the man who had been his friend. Tousen was now not only a traitor, but an abomination. He had hollowified into some kind of insect. Sajin swallowed his sorrow, and plowed back into combat.

~

Jūshirō Ukitake made a point not to engage the Fullbringers when the battle commenced.

He had worked with Ginjō and grieved at his fall into darkness. He knew the man would have to die, because his greed for power had unbalanced his mind, and he would one day become a threat.

But the others? They had done nothing to Soul Society. They were unfortunate souls who had been afflicted with hollow infection before they were even born. He would not disobey orders, because as much as Yama-jii loved him, he would punish him, and he couldn’t afford another three months Retsu-enforced bed rest in the 4th division. But he would do as he often did, when given an order he believed was unfair and wrong.

He’d find a way around it.

As it happened, that way was staring at him from two deformed little skulls in some kind of glass tube filled with liquid, atop a body that appeared to be made almost entirely of tentacles.

He’d have no problem killing that.

To his shock, shortly after they began to fight, the monster changed.

Into his beloved lieutenant, Kaien Shiba. It took his form, even mimicked his voice, and spoke words of affection and kindness in a sick parody of his dead friend.

Jūshirō snapped.

"All Waves, Rise now and Become my Shield, Lightning, Strike now and Become my Blade," he barked, spitting out his shikai command faster than he had in decades. Even as he spoke, he was moving, a foot lashing out to impact directly in the false face and knock the filthy creature onto its back.

Through several buildings.

His kind heart ached for the human casualties caused by their combat, but the vast majority of his being was aflame with righteous indignation.

This… this was the hollow that killed Kaien’s wife Miyako, then used her form to slaughter so many members of his division. It had then taunted Kaien into fighting it, and eaten him as well. It was past time for it to die.

What followed was nothing less than slaughter. Tentacles, bodily fluids, and flesh were shredded. Kaien’s sweet face disappeared back into the shocked and terrified little skulls, and Jūshirō screamed in pure, unadulterated rage as he slashed the monstrosity to pieces then stomped on the skulls until they were nothing but dirt beneath his heel.

As he allowed his Zanpakutō to shift back into its resting state, he bent over, hands on knees, trying to catch his breath. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so incredibly angry. He was only thankful his breathing had held out until after the fight.

He coughed.

Spat blood.

Nearly jumped out of his skin as a lazy voice drawled behind him.

“I take it you had some issues with Aaroniero, mi amigo.”

He turned so fast he nearly overbalanced.

There was a new Espada. He was tall, lanky, with piercing grey eyes staring at him from under half-closed lids. Next to him stood a wide-eyed little girl.

Oh. No.

“I am so sorry you had to see that, child,” he rasped out, then coughed hard enough to send him to his knees.

“I AM NOT A KID!” the girl screamed, and came at him with her cutlass.

Even coughing hard enough to leave him light-headed, he brought his own sword up and caught her strike. She was adorable.

Thankfully, her father… brother?... the Espada she was with didn’t seem to be in any hurry to attack, so he played with the little girl until he got his breathing under control and could regain his feet.

She didn’t seem to appreciate his encouragement. Her brother seemed to find it all very amusing, though.

Soon after they began their little spar, a Fullbring woman wearing rather fetching boots arrived. The Espada gave her an appraising look, but no challenge. She returned the look, and when she found no hostility, she settled in to watch him spar with the child, too.

She seemed rather amused, as well.

~

This was not the kind of fight Riruka enjoyed. She had no advantage, there were way too many people to stuff in her dollhouse, and she was getting buffeted around in the winds like a kite. It was – OUCH!

Her irritated internal rant was interrupted by a kidō that tried to eat her. A little bitch with big eyes and a bun had thrown kidō at her! She was all ready to toss a heart at her and turn her into a kokeshi doll – see how good she was at throwing kidō with no arms! – when another little bitch with green hair and goggles came swooping out of the sky and knocked her head over heels.

Oh, it was ON.

~

Momo had no idea what was going on, so she started with the first enemy she saw. It was difficult. Landing a hit on her was like trying to catch a fish with one finger. She was fast.

Then a crazy girl who felt like she was half Shinigami and half hollow dive-bombed them.

Was that… Lieutenant Kuna? But Momo thought she was dead?

All this was making her dizzy. Her beloved captain, they said, was a traitor… well, she’d seen someone who looked like him violate Rukia Kuchiki’s body, so perhaps there was some truth to that, although she honestly didn’t believe it. Maybe it had been an imposter? Then there were Fullbringers having some kind of rebellion, insanely strong hollows who looked like people, and now dead Shinigami resurrected?

What was going on here?

~

Mashiro was having a blast.

~

AHA! Rurika evaded the mad bomber girl and landed a heart on the kidō bitch. Score!

Oh. My. She was so CUTE!

~

Mashiro was distracted. KAWAII ALERT!

~

Momo didn’t know what the heck had happened. She now seemed to be about three inches tall and was being cuddled by the Fullbringer she had just been fighting and the maybe-zombie who’d been trying to kill them both.

At that point, life became simply too surreal to handle. She was having a nightmare. Soon, Captain Aizen would come gently wake her up, and life would return to normal. She shut off her mind, stared blankly into the distance, and let herself be cuddled.

None of them noticed the drifting cube of concentrated senescence combined with the dust that had been Hachi and Barragan.

The weakening barrier encompassed them, and moments later, they were turned to dust. Had anyone been in a position to notice, it would have been a striking lesson in what happens when combatants don’t maintain situational awareness in the middle of a battle.

The effort of inciting entropy in three more ordered systems exhausted the last remnants of Barragan’s power, and with nothing left to hold it in place, Hachi’s last barrier kidō slowly collapsed into itself like a balloon losing air.

Leaving nothing behind.

~

Rangiku kept one eye out for her captain as she danced around an ancient guy in a Western butler’s suit. He was proclaiming himself master of time or something, but she honestly wasn’t listening.

“Growl, Haineko!”

A cloud of dust encompassed the geezer, and he screamed as the pocket watch in his hand first clogged, then exploded.

He then dried up like a prune, super-fast, and in seconds a desiccated husk fell to the ground below.

“Well, that was just nasty.”

~

Tōshirō Hitsugaya was not having a good day.

His opponent was languid, depressed, and barely moved. His dead green eyes stared out of a pasty face with green tear tracks going down it, and his head had half a helmet with one horn sticking out. It looked ridiculous.

His spirit pressure, on the other hand, was strong enough to make Tōshirō call out Hyōrinmaru immediately.

When the Espada moved, he was so fast Tōshirō could barely track him. And his strikes were so powerful they knocked him over, more than once.

Tōshirō growled under his breath. He was bleeding from several wounds and already down to one ice flower. He hadn’t been able to land more than a single blow. Although that had been hard enough to bisect a normal hollow with no effort, this was no normal hollow.

His Zanpakutō literally bounced off his skin.

“Trash,” the Espada said, sounding bored, and a hand flashed forward so quickly Tōshirō could neither block nor evade it.

A hole punched through his chest, above his heart, at the base of his throat.

Hyōrinmaru roared, then fell silent.

Tōshirō’s eyes stared up at the sky, seeing nothing as he fell.

~

“Isane! Come quickly!”

Captain Unohana actually caught Captain Hitsugaya before he landed. A good thing, given the already severe damage.

Still, she’d healed worse. While he would fight no longer this day, he would survive.

~

Yukio looked around at the idiots with swords killing each other, and sulked.

This was not what he signed up for. Not what his money was financing. He should be in a controlled environment – one HE controlled – in the comfort of a nice room with a soft couch and a cold drink.

Not flinching while buildings were crushed around him, trying to ignore the screams of terrified fleeing humans or the cries of crazed or injured… whatever the hell all those guys were up there slicing each other to pieces.

Blood.

Ick.

A fat idiot with a bad haircut, tacky purple collar and stupid look on his face came thundering past. Yukio smirked.

Caught the creep in his game and closed the box on him. The idiot wandered around whining, eyes popping out of his head, shrieking like a little girl. He even made his sword turn into some kind of wrecking ball on a chain.

Yukio laughed when he turned it into a balloon and popped it. The idiot threw his arms over his head and peed himself.

Pixilating idiots was fun.

Distracted by his new game, he never noticed when a stray swing from a tattooed redhead cut the top of his head off.

“Ah, shit. Err, sorry?” Renji blushed.

Nobody ever found out what happened to Ōmaeda, crushed in the airless black depths of his videogame world when his controller died.

~

Shunsui kept an eye on Jūshirō even as he wheeled between opponents. His best friend was whaling the hell out of some kind of eldritch abomination, though he couldn’t see what exactly it was. Whatever it had done, it certainly got Jū-chan all riled up.

He took out a hollow who looked like some kind of eagle-man then peeked back over.

Huh. Leave it to Jū-chan to find a kid in the middle of battle and keep her entertained and out of danger.

Just then a big slab of muscle with bright blue hair, manic blue eyes, a bone stuck to his face, and enough spiritual power to make a fight interesting, threw himself at Shunsui.

Well, all right then.

“Wanna play?” he drawled.

“I WILL KILL YOU!” the Espada howled, beaming at him. His teeth were sharp.

Ah. This one should have taken up with Kenpachi. Two of a kind. Still, he was here, and he was enthusiastic. Tiresome.

“Flower Wind Rage and Flower God Roar, Heavenly Wind Rage and Heavenly Demon Sneer,” he commanded, followed immediately by, “Kageoni!”

“What the fuck?” the blue Espada sputtered as Shunsui disappeared.

He then rose out of the shadow behind the Espada and slashed him across the back.

“No way! Who do you think you are?” the Espada yelped. “Nara Shikamaru?”

“Oh, you read Shonen Jump? Were you as disappointed by the end of Naruto as I was?” Shunsui was honestly curious.

“Yeah, man, Sasuke should totally have died. Traitor jackass. And what’s up with turning it in to some kind of shōjo?”

“It was a cop-out, yeah,” Shunsui casually blocked a strike hard enough to crack concrete, then disappeared again.

“Hey, stop that!”

“Nah,” Shunsui said as he came up, behind and to the side.

This time, the block missed, and Shunsui’s strike struck true.

“Fuck,” the blue Espada hissed, sounding remarkably like an angry cat, as he fell to the pavement.

Shunsui watched to make sure he wasn’t getting up again, then checked back on Jūshirō.

Hm. He was in the Fullbring woman’s embrace now.

Go, Jū-chan!

Then some other moron tried to cut his head off, and he sighed. Back to work.

~

Eventually, the little girl got tired of throwing herself at Jūshirō, and collapsed in a heap next to her brother. Just in time, too, because he felt his lungs seize up.

Damnit.

He probably shouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about killing Kaien’s murderer, but it had felt good at the time. Now, it just hurt. His chest felt like Captain Komamura’s shikai was standing on it. He turned away and threw a hand up to his mouth as he coughed up blood. Once he began to cough, he couldn’t stop.

It was a very good thing his opponents were apparently pacifists, or he’d be dead.

He might be dead, anyway, if the choking didn’t let up soon.

“Old guy?” the child chirped. “Are you okay? You sound like shit.”

He didn’t have the breath to chide her for her language. He didn’t even have the breath to retain consciousness.

The last thing he remembered before everything went black was the lovely Fullbring woman reaching forward and catching him before he hit the ground. He tried to thank her with his eyes, since his voice was drowning in blood.

~

Jackie stared at the passed-out body of the handsome man who’d not been trying to kill her, then stared at the bemused-looking other handsome man who also hadn’t been trying to kill her, and the girl with the bone hat on her head who was tugging at the bemused man and pestering him with questions.

“We have no reason to fight, hermosa,” the man ignored the child and told her.

“Guess I’d better do something with this, then,” she shrugged, letting her gaze rest on the unconscious guy.

He really was very handsome.

Even with blood all over his chin and shirt.

His eyes had been a pretty, if hazy, green.

She looked over to where Ginjō had died, and sighed.

“I believe that is a healer,” her non-opponent said, pointing out a short woman with her hair braided down her front… that was strange… attending to a white-haired child with a hole in his chest.

She blinked.

“Thanks.”

She tossed a smile back at the cute guy with the scruffy goatee who hadn’t tried to kill her, and easily carried the unconscious guy over to the doctor lady.

“This one needs some help,” she told the beanpole girl with the skinny braids hovering over the doctor lady.

With a startled squeak, the beanpole took the handsome guy’s body, staggering a little under his weight. Eh. Weakling.

Then Jackie gave one last, sad look at the few remaining survivors of the people who’d come closest to being her family since her real family was murdered. With a sigh, she turned on her heel and walked away.

One day, she’d get rid of this accursed power. But she wouldn’t die to do it. And today was not that day.

~

Grimmjow felt his back pull as the sliced muscles slowly healed. The blood dripping into his pants wasn’t helping his mood.

Fucking Shinigami.

At least the one that cut him down wasn’t a complete asshole. Still, he was out of this fight.

Didn’t even have a chance to release Pantera.

Grumbling under his breath, he dragged himself far enough away to not catch anyone’s notice, weak as he currently was, and tapped open a garganta.

Might as well go home and have somebody heal him up. Fuckers.

Next time! Next time, he’d kill ‘em all!

~

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Suì-Fēng swung around a bloated grotesquerie with a ballooning skirt covered in eyes. She had to sting several of them, ignoring his drivel about control and love or whatever, before she caught the same spot twice.

Especially after he split himself into five clones.

Each one with eyes.

The eyes were irritating. The Espada managed to do something to her leg, and she had to use a quick kidō to deaden the nerves so she didn’t literally walk over and hand herself to him.

He was also fast. Almost as fast as she was.

She gritted her teeth, pushed herself as hard as she could, and finally caught the creep for the second time.

The copies disappeared.

The Espada fell.

She hobbled off, dragging her leg, to Captain Unohana. There were more enemies to kill. She couldn’t afford to stay out of this fight.

~

Shūhei was on the run.

He and Kira had cornered a very powerful female Espada, and if he could just keep his eyes off her tits long enough to kill her, he’d be having an easier time of it. It was hard, though, no pun intended, because she was wearing some kind of sexy armor that covered her face up to her eyes but barely went down to her nipples.

How was THAT fair when fighting a guy, huh?

Then she went into a kind of shikai state, and whoa. Pretty face. MINISKIRT. Fuck-me boots up past her knees. None of the girls in Soul Society looked like that. Oh, and some kind of water-spewing shark-head weapon that he really should pay attention to before she drowned him.

“Shūhei!” Kira screamed, and he ducked.

One of those accidents that can either save you or kill you in war happened then, and as he ducked down, she came in too fast, and actually tripped over him a little. Not enough to take her down, but enough for Kira to get into position.

Kira tapped her with his Zanpakutō twice, a third time, tap-tap-tap, and she was on her hands and knees, gasping for air.

Gotta love a buddy with a sword that could push gravity. Shūhei grinned.

Then Kira hooked his executioner under her neck and pulled up. Damn. She’d been really hot.

Even if she was a hollow.

Yeah, and maybe he needed to go out more and get laid, if he was panting after an Espada.

Distraction in the middle of a battle is always a bad thing, as Harribel had shown with her clumsiness, to her terminal disadvantage. Shūhei proved it again, as the Third Espada’s Fracción came up on them like thunder.

Kira was down before Shūhei could get his damned sword up.

He saw red.

When he came back to himself, the decapitated Espada was joined by pieces of all three of her devoted followers. Next to them, within arm’s reach, lay Kira’s body.

Shūhei stared down at the multiple wounds in his own body, his broken shield arm, the slash on his thigh, and felt like he deserved every one.

“Come along, Lieutenant Hisagi.” Isane’s hand was gentle on his arm, pulling him away. “Let me tend to your injuries.”

He didn’t even remember going into bankai. Deep in his soul, a demon laughed.

~

Byakuya Kuchiki moved with precision and speed, ignoring the chaos around him as he headed straight for the dead man who’d attacked his little sister.

Aizen still had the infuriating smirk on his face as he watched his hollow army fight the best of the Gotei 13. The other dead man Tousen stood beside him. As Byakuya arrived, he was vaguely irritated to find his sword wasn’t the first to challenge Aizen.

Exiled Captain Hirako was there, along with Lieutenant Sarugaki.

He was slightly confused by this. Wasn’t Urahara the one who had experimented on them and hollowified him? Then he put the moment of confusion aside.

Vague emotions were all he could feel through the thick coating of ice over his soul.

He had no fight with them. They simply needed to stay out of his way.

“Scatter, Senbonzakura.”

It was time for Aizen to die.

~

Shinji came in upside-down, as was his wont, to kill the little fucker Sōsuke as he’d wanted to since even before the piss-ant had become his lieutenant.

Then Hiyori threw herself in the way.

Then Byakuya was there with his thousands of tiny sharp sakura petal blades, and Shinji rolled his eyes.

What did a guy have to do around here to get revenge?

His moment of internal levity died a quick death, as Aizen moved so swiftly he nearly missed the attack. When he struck Hiyori she shuddered once, then choked on her own blood. Shinji barely caught her as she fell. The light was gone from her eyes before they landed on the pavement.

“Ah, shit, Hiyori. Why’d ya have to go and do that?”

Gently, he closed her eyes. Laid her down on the sidewalk, and took off his jacket to make a pillow for her head. He stared down at her feet for a moment.

One of her sandals was missing.

He ignored his tears, falling on her face. Shinji glared through slitted eyes at the bastard who’d taken one more friend away from him, along with his rank, his home, and everything that made his life worth living. He waited, peering through the glittering pink cloud of Byakuya’s Zanpakutō and waited for his opening.

As soon as he saw one, he wove himself into the fight. Byakuya didn’t even look at him.

Fine. As long as Aizen died, he didn’t care.

The battle raged over half the battlefield, intersecting with other fights, then untangling and spinning away again. Shinji used every trick at his command.

It wasn’t enough.

He cursed the decades he’d spent exiled in the Living World. He hadn’t kept his skills up as he should have. Neither had Hiyori. Hell, none of them had. His best friend had already paid the price for that, with her life.

Then Tousen came up behind him and stuck his sword through Shinji’s torso. Twisted it, slashing down as he pulled out. He didn’t know he was falling until he hit the concrete.

Cold.

Everything was cold.

Shinji was barely aware that he was holding his guts in with one hand as he crawled, when he came across a healer.

“Oh, my. Let’s take care of that for you, Captain Hirako,” came Unohana’s blessed voice.

Then there was darkness.

~

Rose saw Love die, and something inside him turned to ice.

His Zanpakutō sang, the whip uncurled, and the hollows who came against him fell. Then he saw Hiyori fall. Then Shinji.

This was all Aizen’s fault.

His whip contracted, and, sword in hand, he headed for the cloud of sakura blades around Aizen. Before he got there, Tousen intercepted him.

Alright, yes. This one had to die, too.

A blur of motion beside him, and Lisa joined the fight, as they double-teamed the other traitor. Tousen was barely recognizable, hollowified and cackling his happiness at being able to see.

Rose put out one of his eyes with his whip.

That just made him angry.

The fight was fast, confusing, and painful, as the worst of them always are, but Rose clenched his fists, raised his arms, and led his symphony of death.

~

Byakuya was ready to punch something in sheer frustration. Only decades of his grandfather’s training kept him from losing his composure.

Aizen was, as always, a coward.

He called in a dozen lesser Arrancar to draw Byakuya’s fire, then cast some sort of illusion that left him fighting himself. It was… intensely irritating. He closed his eyes, stretched out his senses, and searched for hollow reiatsu.

First, he would clear a path.

Then, he would kill Aizen.

~

Ichigo got faster and faster the longer he and Chad fought Ginjō, until he was literally leaving afterimages in the air. This was not only a good strategy to confuse his enemy, but it distracted the bastard enough for Chad to get some solid punches in.

Chad’s punches could go through solid steel, so Ginjō was, at least, slowed down by them. And some of his hollow armor cracked. That just seemed to make him madder, which was a good thing. He lost focus when he went berserk, so even though he got monstrously strong, Chad was able to knock him off balance and Ichigo was able to cut him.

Finally, by the time Ichigo had circled him until he was a little dizzy and Ginjō was wobbling slightly and roaring incoherently, Chad got a solid kidney punch in. Ginjō arched just far enough back to bring him in striking range, and Ichigo decapitated him. Blood sprayed through the air in an oddly graceful curve, then Ginjō’s head fell one way and his body fell another.

Oh, yuck. Ichigo’s stomach lurched.

It was the first time he’d ever killed somebody who used to be a human. A man he’d known, even if he had been creeped out by him.

He barely had a moment to come to grips with that when a little guy wearing the top half of a saber-toothed tiger’s skull as a helmet came wheeling by, followed by a muscular Edo-era swordsman with crayon-red hair tied up like a pineapple and skin covered with tattoos, both of them chased by a tall, ugly cross-dresser with long hair showing way too much midriff.

Ichigo blinked.

Chad pulled him out of the way.

What the holy hell was going ON here?

Then he didn’t have time to wonder, too busy yanking Chad out of the way of something that looked like a cannon ball made out of water. Then they were back to back, ducking, defending, and trying to escape.

They were nearly at the edge of the fighting when they ended up facing a smirking brunet with a lock of hair falling in his face.

“Hello, Ichigo Kurosaki,” the male model wannabe purred.

“What the hell?” Seriously. Who was this guy?

“My failed experiment.”

Okay, didn’t matter who he was, he was creepy and Ichigo was going to kill him.

That turned out to be a little harder than he expected. Even with Chad backing him up.

They’d been fighting for their lives for what felt like forever, while this jackass had stayed out of the fray, so he was fresh. Bastard.

He was also strong. Very strong.

Ichigo could feel his own strength ramping up as he fought. Deep inside, the odd cackling he’d been hearing since the beginning of the fight got louder and louder… until he realized it was coming from his own mouth. His face also felt weirdly heavy, like his nose piece had morphed into a mask over his nose, mouth, and jaw. His elbows, knees, shoulders and heels grew wickedly sharp little spikes, and his skin got harder to cut.

He also got faster. Now he was going so fast he wasn’t even leaving images, just a blurred impression.

He was still keeping an eye on Chad – always – and while Chad couldn’t keep up with his speed, he made a great anchor. Chad kept getting his punches in, now and then throwing a little black ball of destructive energy with a crossbones on the front. How cool was that? And how new. Ichigo had never seen it before, anyway.

Still, as hard as he was fighting and as much as he was improving, even with Chad’s help, it wasn’t enough. Until his strange luck kicked in.

The guy, still monologing, not that Ichigo was paying any attention – he’d learned to tune out trash talk when he was six, fighting against Tatsuki, who could teach this guy some lessons – when he suddenly grabbed his chest like he was having a spasm.

“No,” he moaned, rather melodramatically.

Right in line with his silly hair and his silly white suit and his silly snotty attitude.

Ichigo immediately took advantage of the opening, and shoved his sword right through his enemy’s hand where it clutched at his heart. The blade cut through the hand and the chest beneath it, then… hit something.

Was this guy wearing some kind of internal armor or something?

Ichigo pushed harder, with all his strength, and the obstacle cracked with the sound of glass breaking.

Ignoring the guy hanging off his sword, screaming, Ichigo kicked the other’s sword away. He heard it break when it hit the pavement. Then he pulled his sword out. The squelching noise was disgusting.

But the guy STILL didn’t go down. He was still fighting, still lashing out blindly, power flailing off him in little whips that stung when they hit.

Chad punched him, giving him a few body shots. Ichigo kicked him in the chest, right over the wound. Chad busted his skull for him, and that finally got him still enough for Ichigo to come in for the final strike. A sweep with his blade, and the crazy man’s head left his shoulders.

The spiritual pressure dropped like a rock. The mask fell off his face, and the little spikes disappeared off his armor. He was suddenly very tired, but at least he wasn’t cackling like an escapee from the lunatic asylum.

Suddenly, every movement on the battlefield came to an abrupt stop. Everyone, and he did mean everyone, stopped and stared at Ichigo in shock. A guy with a scarf around his neck, surrounded by sakura petals of all things, clenched his fists, threw back his head, and yelled in pure frustration.

“What?” Ichigo asked, cluelessly.

Then a weird guy-fly thing came screaming at him, sword first, and yet another guy with long blond hair and a girl in a sailor suit… seriously. A sailor suit. Where did these people come from? A casting office for live-action anime extras?... anyway, the pair intercepted the fly-guy-thing and cut it to pieces. It was wailing about justice as it died.

So. Very. Weird.

As he was finally about to lower his sword and give his aching arms a rest, a short woman wearing very little up top came racing up to him, some kind of gauntlet-stinger thing on her hand. His sword came up again and Chad cocked his fist.

Then an absolutely ancient geezer with a beard down to his ankles came out of nowhere and caught her hand with one finger, stopping her in his tracks. He was old, but damn, he was strong as a bull. Ichigo watched them both with wide eyes.

Even his inner cackle had choked off.

“Fullbring child, you have the gratitude of the entirety of the Gotei 13!”

Yeah. That meant fuck-all to Ichigo. Except maybe that it stopped him from having to fight the short chick.

“As the surviving Fullbringers of Karakura, I, Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, declare you and your shield mate to be reprieved from execution, due to killing the traitor Sōsuke Aizen without raising your sword against any other Shinigami!”

A rumble swept through the crowd. Meanwhile Ichigo’s brain was still trying to parse ‘execution orders’ and ‘Shinigami.’

The old man looked around, a little like a turtle peering out of its shell, through nearly-closed eyes. “The threat has passed. The traitors have been dealt with. The Espada are no more. We shall now return to Soul Society.”

With that, he turned on his heel in the air and stalked away, walking stick somehow clumping on thin air.

Ichigo was now parsing ‘Espada’ and ‘Soul Society’ as well, and didn’t notice all the appreciative, confused, or, in the case of the guy with the scarf, really pissed off glances. Chad told him all about them later.

After a couple hours in the onsen, more cuddling than any guy would ever admit to with Chad, and a hell of a lot of decompression.

That’s what happened when the entire world changed around you.

~

Ulquiorra watched the stunning young hollow-human take Aizen-sama’s head, and sighed.

Now what was he supposed to do?

Dejectedly, he cracked open a garganta, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and wandered back to Las Noches.

Starrk had probably survived. If he ever stopped napping, maybe he’d be interesting to follow.

Or he could beat up Grimmjow. That was always entertaining.

~

Another Saturday night, but for Ichigo, the world was a different place.

He’d killed a man. Well, a couple of them. Even if they were trying to kill him, it was still a shift in perspective.

Plus, he’d been hearing a weird warbling voice, and he had the feeling his life was going to get even stranger. Hopefully not quite as insane as the mid-week battle royal, but still, odd.

He watched Chad play, and felt the music settle into his bones. He was incredibly thankful that his family survived the apocalypse. Even if everyone else believed it was an earthquake. Or ruptured gas lines, or whatever it was the Shinigami had mind-whammied the survivors into believing.

And hey, there were death gods. So it had to be some kind of apocalypse. Right?

He shook it off and applauded the last set, throwing in a whistle because, well, it was Chad. Sexy, sexy guy, Chad. And all his. He grinned. It had teeth.

His world was a lot bigger, and a hell of a lot scarier, than it had been a few weeks ago. But for now, they were safe.

Heroes, even.

Not that he trusted those Shinigami. Any of them. They turned on their own kind. He’d seen the way they looked at him and Chad before they’d killed the bad guy, and the casual way they’d murdered the other Fullbringers. He hadn’t liked Ginjō, and most of the others were creepy… well, all of the others except for Jackie, who was just a bitch. But he hadn’t wanted to see them slaughtered so easily. Who knew when the old man would decide, heroes or not, that he wanted him and Chad dead?

Ichigo would keep watch, and protect the people he loved. It was the only thing he could do.

END