Once upon a timeline, Kurosaki Ichigo never returns from the Dangai.
Once upon a timeline, Aizen Sōsuke wins the Winter War.
Once upon a timeline, the army of Soul Society falls.
The ones who survive are the ones who run
and the one who cannot. Kuchiki Byakuya,
6th Division Captain of the Gotei 13,
28th Head of the Kuchiki Clan,
loses consciousness on a losing battlefield
and wakes in darkness.
It isn’t absolute darkness, of course.
He knows this because he can see
the smudged, bone-pale visage
of Kurotsuchi Mayuri staring at him
from above the unseated medic
working grimly to change his
because using kidō might reveal their position.
An unseated medic,
because no one of higher rank survived.
because every other Captain-class shinigami is gone.
because they’re hiding in a pocket dimension
from the Arrancar prowling outside,
and Aizen Sōsuke will not suffer
anyone who stood against him
in his hour of victory
The survivors are thus:
Three unseated officers from the 4th Division.
Four from the 12th Division.
Two from the 8th Division.
And Kuchiki Byakuya.
While Aizen takes his war to the Soul King, the survivors
go to ground. Byakuya heals
but the waiting hurts
worse than the wounds
themselves. He’s lost
his dominant arm.
His reiryoku returns
with food difficult
to find. Weakness drags
at his limbs when he stands
for too long, but he can’t
sit still with everything
he’s ever sworn
“You’re fortunate,” Kurotsuchi says.
Fortunate that they found him before he bled out.
“You could have died,” Kurotsuchi says.
Died like everyone else.
The Visored is Yadōmaru Lisa,
a former vice-captain, and she threatens
to disembowel any 12th Division shinigami
who comes near her.
Kurotsuchi taunts her, tells her
to leave if she thinks
she can survive Aizen’s wrath
as soon as her injuries heal
and takes the two
from the 8th Division
By the time Byakuya recovers enough
to wield his zanpakutō again,
Aizen sits on the Soul King’s throne
and an army of Quincy
marches on Heaven
for the fate
of the worlds.
The group of survivors is
smaller since Yadōmaru’s departure,
and smaller still
after one of the unseated officers
was caught outside
by a roaming Gillian.
There is little pretense
about their situation
amongst the six officers
who remain, and none at all
and Byakuya himself:
there will be no second wind to this war.
at the thought of losing
all his work
to the schemes
Byakuya would hate
if he thought it would
The plan breaks half the laws
of Soul Society by even
existing, but Kurotsuchi claims
that since Soul Society is
gone, its laws are
Arguing takes energy
better spent on other
things. Even the officers
from Kurotsuchi’s own division
look to Byakuya for some kind of
guidance, some kind of alternative
to Kurotsuchi’s madness,
but he has none
to give them.
The faces of the lost haunt
his dreams, and when he retreats
to jinzen, Senbonzakura is
Around them, the worlds die.
Kurotsuchi doesn’t tell him
where the parts for the machine
came from and Byakuya
doesn’t ask. He isn’t sure
he could handle knowing
the answer. Isn’t sure it matters
anymore. Isn’t sure what matters
Kurotsuchi says with a flourish
at an impossible thing; a promise
that the last law yet
will not remain that way
The missing facepaint only emphasizes
the glint in those sunken eyes,
how shadows cling to the bones
of a too-pale face.
“This matters,” Kurotsuchi says.
“Not now, of course,”
“We’re all doomed, now.
All of us except
“You’ll see,” Kurotsuchi says.
No one else has enough reiryoku
to power Kurotsuchi’s machine. No one except
who insists that he has to stay
to ensure the machine operates
“I wish I could go,” Kurotsuchi says.
“But I can’t.”
Someone has to stay behind
and witness the end
of all things, as gods
who aren’t gods clash
in a heaven that was
Byakuya can feel the fabric
of the universe deteriorating
as he steps forward.
This is not bravery,
what he is about to do.
There is no honor in leaving six
terrified, unseated officers alone
with Kurotsuchi Mayuri to face the end
He cannot save anyone
he has ever known by doing this,
but he steps forward and places
his hand on the cracked conductor
because it is something
that he can do.
His reiryoku ignites,
the world collapses,
and Senbonzakura shatters
before he can be broken.
Once upon a timeline, Kuchiki Byakuya survives.