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unbecoming: the other timeline and what happened there

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I.

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.

 

II.

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

bandages.

 

Bandages,

   because using kidō might reveal their position.

An unseated medic,

   because no one of higher rank survived.

Kurotsuchi,

   because every other Captain-class shinigami is gone.

Darkness,

   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

   to live.

 

III.

The survivors are thus:

Three unseated officers from the 4th Division.

Four from the 12th Division.

Two from the 8th Division.

A Visored.

Kurotsuchi Mayuri.

And Kuchiki Byakuya.

 

IV.

While Aizen takes his war to the Soul King, the survivors

go to ground. Byakuya heals

slowly,

but the waiting hurts

worse than the wounds

themselves. He’s lost

his dominant arm.

His reiryoku returns

slowly

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

to protect

crashing

down

around

him.

 

“You’re fortunate,” Kurotsuchi says.

   Fortunate that they found him before he bled out.

“You could have died,” Kurotsuchi says.

   Died like everyone else.

 

V.

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

alone.

 

She disappears

as soon as her injuries heal

and takes the two

from the 8th Division

with her.

 

VI.

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

to contend

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

between Kurotsuchi

and Byakuya himself:

there will be no second wind to this war.

 

Kurotsuchi seethes

at the thought of losing

all his work

to the schemes

of another.

 

Byakuya would hate

if he thought it would

change

anything.

 

VII.

The plan breaks half the laws

of Soul Society by even

existing, but Kurotsuchi claims

that since Soul Society is

gone, its laws are

departed

with it.

 

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

silent.

 

Around them, the worlds die.

 

VIII.

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

anymore.

 

“This,”

Kurotsuchi says with a flourish

at an impossible thing; a promise

that the last law yet

unbroken

will not remain that way

for long.

 

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,”

Kurotsuchi says.

“We’re all doomed, now.

All of us except

you.”

 

“You’ll see,” Kurotsuchi says.

 

IX.

No one else has enough reiryoku

to power Kurotsuchi’s machine. No one except

Kurotsuchi himself,

who insists that he has to stay

to ensure the machine operates

correctly.

 

“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

never empty

until now.

 

Byakuya can feel the fabric

of the universe deteriorating

as he steps forward.

 

Senbonzakura stirs.

 

X.

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

of everything.

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.