windroars: (hitsugaya; megane taichou)
Wind ([personal profile] windroars) wrote2011-05-23 10:17 pm

Fanfiction || Dead Man Walking 09

Title: Dead Man Walking
Fandom: Bleach
Main Character: Hitsugaya Toushirou/Shimizu Kouryuu
Rating: PG-13
Genre: General/Adventure/Suspense/Mystery
Warnings: Sporadic gore, language, author's inability to stay consistent with a single genre
Timeline: This story follows the manga's timeline. It takes place after the war with Aizen has begun.
Summary: Hitsugaya's disappearance left Seireitei with plenty of unanswered questions, but when a boy identical to the supposedly late taichou appears on Earth, to what lengths will everyone go to find out why? And when the answer does come, will it be too late?

Author's Note: This chapter contains the first mention of graphic character death.


~*~

"Baptised with a perfect name
The doubting one by heart
Alone without himself"

-Nightwish, Amaranth


~*~

Chapter Nine

Monsters in Cages

~*~


It was only when Kouryuu was already standing next to Nyoko, packed into the train car with the rest of the listless sardines, that he was honestly able to take a moment to think about everything that had just happened. Nyoko's hand was right below his on the metal pole keeping them both from toppling over, but unlike before it didn't make him feel giddy. He couldn't focus on the present.

His laughing had been his downfall, he decided. His and Nyoko's reaction to the mention of Aizen had activated some sort of switch in everyone else's minds. Suddenly Kouryuu himself had become an afterthought. They looked right through him, as if his reaction only proved they were right instead of wrong. The mood in Urahara Shoten had never been light, but the moment Kouryuu admitted to knowing Aizen Sousuke, it crashed down with triple the gravitational force.

Every action they'd taken from then on - the crazy woman, the punk, the the girl with the talking toy, even the shop owner - had been mechanical. Once he was dry, they'd shoved some money into his hands and told him and Nyoko to take a train home, promising to take care of the zanpakutou and to talk to him more the next day. Kouryuu knew that they weren't looking out for him or his family by sending him home. They were getting him out of the way, and they weren't even trying to hide it. He wasn't going to say anything though, not when they didn't appear to have sent anyone to spy on them after they'd left.

Why was all of this crap happening now? He didn't need to deal with this. The ghosts weren't enough? The car accident wasn't enough? Now monsters were attacking him, monsters were inside him, and monsters were leading him around whining because he wasn't their precious Hitsugaya Toushirou. What would be next? Another delinquent overcompensating with a big sword? A giant creature with teeth as big as he was ready to make him into a tea time snack? Unicorns?

He leaned into the support pole, feeling the smooth, metallic texture against his forehead. Hyourinmaru shifted within his mind, and he grimaced. This was beyond out of hand. This was ludicrous. Just how much crap could a person fit in his head before it burst?

DO YOU TRULY WISH TO KNOW?

And suddenly, he was back to the icy tundra of his newly discovered inner world. This time, however, he must have been in a different place. The ground below him was solid, covered in snow and ice, but solid beneath. This, however, slipped his notice in comparison with what else was different. Standing before him was an enormous wall of ice. It proved to be a box upon closer inspection, six sides and big enough to contain an airplane. It was shaking sporadically, as if something inside were trying to get out.

Everything about it was unnatural. There was virtually nothing here but endless snow for miles. Except for the giant wall of ice.

"Hyourinmaru..."

WE ARE ONE, CHILD. YOU KNOW WHAT RESIDES THERE, JUST AS I DO.

The dragon's tone was laced with anger, but Kouryuu chose to ignore it. He'd only known the dragon for a few hours, and during that time he'd been nothing but angry.

"Then why?"

The dragon leaned low, wrapping himself around the boy as his head pointed toward a figure approaching from the other side of the box. Kouryuu gaped.

The resemblance was uncanny; they could have been identical twins. But this person was missing an eye, the opening in his skull exposed for all to see. Kouryuu's gaze lingered over the raw tissue longer than necessary, something indiscernible flitting through the back of his mind. The remaining eye was glazed over, as if its owner were ill, and he wore a pure white robe, far too thin for the weather. He was as skinny as sin, and yet despite his deathly palor, Kouryuu felt as if the stranger could knock him over with just a finger.

"Who are you?"

"I'm whoever you need me to be," the newcomer replied evenly.

"You're that shinigami." It wasn't a question. Kouryuu knew it to be true.

"I'm what makes you forget everything when you wake up."

"Give me a straight answer, dammit!" the boy cried, half-angry and half-afraid. "You're Hitsugaya Toushirou!"

"Sort of," the stranger finally relented. "I'm what's left. Hitsugaya Toushirou is in there." An unceremonious finger point toward the unnatural block of ice confirmed Kouryuu's worst nightmares, and he subconsciously took a step back. Hyourinmaru wrapped himself tighter around his body.

"C-Close enough! Just get out of my head, and go back to your stupid shinigami pals already!"

"If I leave, the dam will break." The would-be twin was completely devoid of emotion, seemingly unaware of Kouryuu's sudden shaking. Instead, he moved closer to the icy box, running a hand down a long crack. Kouryuu hadn't noticed it before, but now he wondered how he'd missed it. Every time the enormous cube shook, the crack seemed to grow bigger. Or was that just his imagination? "With Hyourinmaru here, it's only begun to decay faster. Your dreams will be more vivid; you'll begin to remember."

"Remember what?"

The other's hand ceased its decent down the crack. "The voices. The nightmares. The pain."

"I don't know anything about that! You have the wrong person!" He was shouting now, like he'd shouted at Hyourinmaru.

The dragon could see it in his eyes, his mind, his very soul; the boy was easily brought to his limits, and when he no longer knew what to do, he could only deny everything and hide. It was a wretched weakness, and Hyourinmaru despised him for it. But more than the boy, he despised the man who had created him.

"Of course, you don't know. That's why you're here. Hitsugaya Toushirou's burdens are his own to bear, not yours. But that won't matter when the dam breaks. When the dreams begin to reach you in the waking world, you'll have been warned."

A pause followed - hollow, penetrating, painful - during which the two beings stared at each other, one with fear and hatred and the other blankly, unfazed.

"Protect her."

"Who?" the boy snarled.

"Another death may shatter it completely."

Kouryuu's heart skipped a beat, and this time his voice was only a whisper. "Another...?"

The other slowly turned to face Kouryuu, and for the first time he showed something akin to real emotion. The edge of his lip trembled ever so slightly until he bit it to keep it still.

"Hitsugaya Toushirou's burdens are his own to bear, not yours."

The train jerked to a stop, and Kouryuu's stomach lurched just before something heavy slammed into it. His grip on the support pole was nonexistent, and he tumbled through people's legs and down to the floor. A few disorienting seconds later, he realized that what had landed on him was Nyoko, hastily pulling out her cellphone even as they lie prone on the bus floor.

"What the hell was that?"

"I'm sorry!" the young girl wailed, unaware of the meeting within his mind. "I let go of the pole because my cellphone was vibrating, but..."

A few blinks later, Kouryuu supplied, "I think this is our stop."

They pulled themselves back to their feet, Kouryuu guiding Nyoko through the door as she fiddled with her phone. Not two steps outside of the train car, she moaned. "It's Takeshi-kun. He's called six times, but I never noticed. He and Miki-kun must be worried after what Akane-san told them."

Kouryuu opened his mouth to retort. Takeshi and Miki could worry all they wanted; what did he care? But he caught something out of the corner of his eye and stopped. It may have been because of the upsetting experience in his head, still pumping adrenaline into his system, but in that second of realization, he acted on impulse.

"You talk to him! I'll be right back!"

And he ran, weaving through crowds until he once again caught sight of that familiar brown mop of hair.

"Sensei!" No reaction. "Aizen-sensei!"

The man turned in surprise as Kouryuu ran up alongside him.

"Going home?"

"As a matter of fact, I was," the man smiled lightly.

Kouryuu tried to offer a shaky smile in return, but it didn't turn out as well as he'd hoped.

"Are you okay, Shimizu-kun?"

"Y-Yeah, I just..." For a moment, he couldn't continue. Those amber eyes were looking down at him with such willing understanding and eagerness, just like always, and he suddenly felt as if he couldn't lie to him. Not after all the man had done for him. He may have laughed at the ridiculousness of Aizen Sousuke being some evil megalomaniac, but in truth, it had to be the greatest insult ever thrown at the kindly professor. Kouryuu owed him his life. "Not really."

"You know you can tell me anything, right?" he leaned down to Kouryuu's height, one hand on his shoulder and a concerned frown spreading across his face.

"Yeah. I just ... met some people who were asking about you. They were pretty eccentric, and I wanted to warn you in case they, well ... camped out on your roof or something."

He felt the dragon twist in his gut, and the sudden movement was painful. Hyourinmaru was very truly enraged. His ire wasn't directed at him, but he was the one feeling the effects. Kouryuu wasn't sure how much longer he could stay there before his stomach burst.

"Don't worry about me," the man laughed, lifting himself up once again. "They sound like some old friends of mine. I'll have to put on some tea for them, just in case. Just take care of yourself for now. It looks like you've had a rough day."

He nodded, but just as he was about to leave, Aizen bowed his head. "Thank you for telling me, Shimizu-kun."

"Of course!"

As he returned to Nyoko, he could feel the uneasiness the dragon still held, as if he felt betrayed. "What? If he is who they think he is, he'd know they wanted to talk to him anyway," he defended his decision.

The dragon didn't reply.

"Kouryuu-kun!" Nyoko waved as he approached, and they set off. "Takeshi-kun and Miki-kun want to have a study group tomorrow.

"No way."

"Takeshi-kun promised that by the time we get there, Miki-kun will have passed out from boredom. You're allowed to wake him up however you like."

"...Studying sounds like a good idea. Those two idiots will need it."

And despite everything that had happened that day, Nyoko gigged.

~*~


Aizen Sousuke walked calmly up to his apartment complex, key in hand. He paused before he entered the building, looking up to the roof with a knowing smile.

"It's room 324," he informed his guests politely, and then he stepped inside.

Not five minutes later, Urahara Kisuke, Matsumoto Rangiku, Kurosaki Ichigo, and Kuchiki Rukia stepped into the apartment. Four cups of tea were already sitting upon the dining table, and Aizen himself stood, waving them inside.

"This is quite an unexpected visit," the man intoned wryly.

"Cut the crap," Ichigo seethed. "What did you do to Toushirou?"

"Is that really why you're here?" Aizen didn't seem bothered that no one was willing to touch the cups he'd set out for them, but he would have been honestly surprised if Ichigo was the only one who wished to speak.

"I'm afraid it is, dear Aizen!" Urahara interrupted jovially. "Once Kurosaki came upon your place of address, he simply refused to return home until you answered his naive question. It's a silly sort of code he maintains, you see..."

"Hey!"

"How generous of you to indulge him, Kisuke, but I don't need to tell you anything at all. Your mole will return to you soon enough."

Urahara only smiled wider, tapping that ever-present fan lightly against his lips. "I assure you, I harbor no such animal within my walls."

"No!" Fists collided with the table, and the untouched tea cups rattled.

Kurosaki Ichigo had changed very little in the last six months. War had made him quicker to anger, and Aizen's shikai release had compromised him just five weeks before. But he was still the same rough and tough teenager who would beat up a gang because they toppled a little girl's flowers. Aizen was no different. Toushirou may have chewed him out for it if he'd been there, but he could see this situation as nothing but a twisted, over-powerful bastard kidnapping a child just so that he could claim he'd done it.

"I asked you, and I want to hear it from you! What the hell did you do to Toushirou?"

"I assure you, he is right where you left him," the suave man replied evenly.

"Bullshit. We didn't leave him anywhere. You dragged him away, half-dead!"

"Is that how you see it?" Since no one else was interested in the tea, he took one cup for himself, sipping lightly, patronizingly. "Then tell me, Kurosaki Ichigo. If I am the villain who stole the helpless boy away from you, then who was the cocky, misguided idealist who did not attempt to retrieve him from his prison?"

"He was-!"

"I was speaking to Kurosaki," Aizen chided, and Rukia silenced herself. The master traitor continued, seeming to bear down on the substitute shinigami even though he hadn't moved. "Both parties involved were very much alive. You know this to be true. But those they fought so hard to protect were painfully quick to declare them lost causes. All because of a few red stains soaking into the dirt. Not one of you cared enough to question it. I, the enemy, am by far the more important objective."

"Wrong." All eyes turned to Matsumoto. She stood straight and tall, glaring Aizen down as if daring him to strike her dead. "Hinamori questioned it. Didn't she?"

Aizen's hands stilled. He smirked, as if recalling a fond memory. "Hinamori Momo simply made the same mistake she always has."

"And what mistake would that be?" prompted Urahara, suddenly very interested.

"She admired him."

"A shame, that. Well, it was nice to see you again, Sousuke! Send us a postcard once in a while, would you?"

The end of the visit was all too abrupt for Ichigo, and he hardly understood what was happening as Urahara Kisuke grabbed hold of his forearm and forced him out of the apartment complex. Everyone else filed out obediently ahead of him, even Rukia. Aizen let them leave. What the hell?

"Let go of me!" he finally forced his arm out of the salesman's grasp once their retreat had led them to the empty sidewalk. "Why the hell did'ja drag me out of there? He didn't tell us jack!"

"Were you listening to the same conversation I was, Ichigo?" the man tsked, wagging his finger. "He told us more than I could have hoped for."

"I was certain he would destroy us if we said the wrong thing," the petite shinigami sighed, her shoulders relaxing.

After looking back and forth between the two, then to a stiff and silent Rangiku, he scowled. "What am I missing here?"

"He told us very plainly where Hitsugaya is, how we would find the answer to your question, and even confirmed my suspicions about Hinamori-fukutaichou. Speaking of, that was an excellent segue, dear Rangiku, thank you! I couldn't have said it better myself. Well, I could have, but it was excellent none-the-less." For a moment Ichigo looked hopeful, but Urahara quickly dashed the sentiment before it could take root. "The fact that he did tell us so much isn't a good sign. It means that he knows our only option, once we do discover the answers we seek, will be to do exactly what he wishes us to do."

Ichigo chose to ignore this particular line of reasoning. "But he said Toushirou was right where we left him. I never left him anywhere."

"Of course, you did. Approximately two hours ago, at the train station."

Kurosaki let the information slowly sink in. Then the kid was really...? "And the other stuff? Is Yoruichi supposed to be the mole?"

"Ah, so you were paying some attention after all," the quirky salesman chimed.

The substitute shinigami didn't reply. He had been about to, but on second thought, he wasn't sure he could. Not with Rangiku right there. Back before Aizen had tricked him into succumbing to his shikai, he had sometimes been called in to verify whether certain corpses were legitimate or not. He hadn't known the girl well at all, except for a few offhanded mentions by Rangiku or Toushirou. But he would never forget her. That corpse had been very, very real.

It seemed Urahara had read Ichigo's melancholy expression. "Hinamori Momo wasn't a casualty of war; she was a warning. Headless, a hole in her chest, strung up at the gates of Seireitei only eight days after Hitsugaya Toushirou and Matsumoto Rangiku's disappearance."

Rangiku tensed, never slowing her pace or turning back to face the others.

"That was the reason Old Man Yamamoto declared the Tenth Division leaders dead. He couldn't afford to lose more soldiers in order to recover those already lost."

"He gave up on them," Ichigo deadpanned.

"For the sake of Karakura. Your friends here are still alive because Seireitei has put forth its full force against Aizen."

Silence.

"Hmm?" he elongated the syllable, shutting his fan with a taut hiss and tapping it against his shoulder.

"You're saying we really did leave him."

But before Urahara could counter Ichigo's defeated tone, Kuchiki Rukia leaped into the air and drop kicked her partner clear into the cement.

"Wh-What the hell?" he shouted, scrambling for purchase and clutching his pounding skull.

"Whenever the Seireitei could not perform a duty, who was it whom ignored their warnings time and time again, going against orders in order to complete that duty for them?"

When Ichigo could only stare blankly back, she shoved her foot into his stomach and leaned in close to his face.

"You, idiot! Now get to work! We're not leaving anyone anywhere! Not this time!"

And as she lifted her heel from his gut, strutting forward alongside Urahara, Ichigo shook his head in wonder. "Oi, Rangiku," he gestured from his spot on the ground. "What about you? You in?"

Finally the woman turned around, orange tresses gliding fluidly from her shoulder to her back. Her eyes were moist, but she was smiling.

"Just how many times do I have to say it? I'll do anything for Taichou."

"Well, that's good because I don't have a clue how we're going to get him back."

Rangiku reached down to pull him back to his feet, and they too followed Urahara down the road.

"What are you talking about? Improv is my specialty."

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