Disclaimer: See Chapter one.
A/N: Ok so I'm so very sorry for the delay. I'd planned on doing my own version of the 12 days of Christmas and posting a chapter of one of my stories a day every day leading up to christmas but my muse and time constraints has completely killed that plan. I'm going to try and have another chapter out before christmas but my muse is apparently mad at me and doesn't want to work on ANY of my stories at the moment. So I'll try and force it but I make no promises.
Now, how about a story?
“So who is she? The blonde one.” Yoruichi had been waiting for the question from Kūkaku and thankfully the woman had waited for them to be alone before asking. It wasn't that either she or Kisuke had any illusions about Amaya being able to keep her return to Soul Society a secret long term but the fact was that Mimasaka Amaya was an asset. An asset in the same manner that Kurosaki Ichigo had the potential to be an asset.
It was a harsh way to think but necessary unfortunately. Desperate times needed desperate measures and the addition of both Mimasaka Amaya and Kurosaki Ichigo to the equation meant that things they had anticipated and planned for for over a century would change. How much only time would tell.
“Mimasaka Amaya.” Kūkaku's eyes widened a fraction before narrowing. “My, my, that's dangerous.”
It was dangerous. Very dangerous. But they were counting on the new additions to the equation. Before they'd stood a very small chance at surviving the long term, now the odds were much closer to even.
The moon was setting, a small sliver in the night sky. It's faint light reflected off of the wall in the distance, the wall she would have to pass through in order to truly begin her mission. She felt the breeze ruffle her hair as strands of it threatened to block her vision but ignored it as she reached into her shihakusho and pulled out another of the power bars. She had maybe an hour before sunrise and the distraction she needed to get into the cave that would eventually lead into the underground tunnels below Seireitei and she planned on using the hour to allow her body to rest all it could and the power bar to help speed her healing along.
Not that her healing wasn't already progressing over twice as fast as it had been in the human world but every step closer to her old level of power was an assurance she wanted. She wasn't going up against a bunch of fledgeling vampire or even a Turok-han, she was about to potentially face off against the whole of the Gotei 13.
She'd been called crazy more than once but she wasn't stupid and she wanted every little bit of extra strength she could muster if things went bad. And they always went bad. It was a rule.
She tore open the wrapper around the bar, secure in the knowledge that not even a shinigami had advanced enough hearing to pick up the sound from the distance she was at, and took a bite of the bar. She still didn't like the taste of the things but food was food and she was realistic enough to know that taste wasn't what was important. Though she was willing to make a mental promise to herself to thank Dawn for the foresight and to never eat another one if she lived though what was ahead.
But sitting up in the thick foliage of a tree with nothing more to do than to wait and eat the bar left her time for her mind to wander. To go over things. To think.
Kuchiki Rukia had committed a crime, she was willing to admit it, but the reason for the crime itself was valid. It was the duty of all shinigami to protect life, to deal with hollows. Kuchiki Rukia had been in a situation where there were only two options. Follow the law and fail at the sworn duty of all shinigami or break those laws and do as duty dictated. A human life was a human life and something beyond any value that anyone could truly give it. Laws were something else. Laws changed. Laws were not always right. Laws were not the absolute.
But that was the mentality of who she was, a child of the western world. Someone brought up with the freedom of democracy and a life where being the slayer had made her stand on the opposite end of laws and rules on more than one occasion. Soul Society didn't work like that. Traditional Japanese society didn't work like that. It was a fact that had been beaten into her head in all her long years in Soul Society.
She acknowledged it but she only accepted it as far as she had to. Before Willow had ripped her away that had been a lot because she'd made the choice to become Mimasaka Amaya and deal with all that that had entailed. Now though, now she wasn't trapped by her station. Now she wasn't the head of a noble house. Now she wasn't a captain.
And now she had the freedom to act any way she wanted to because once they found out she wasn't dead they'd think she'd deserted. Now she was on the outside looking in and that meant she had all the freedom in the world to act against the flaws she saw with the way things were. Now she could draw the line between law and duty and pick a side to stand on. For all that she'd railed against duty in her youth she knew the difference and she accepted the weight of duty. But her ideas of duty had never quite matched up with what anyone else had ever expected them to be and she was willing to fight for her beliefs.
Kurosaki Ichigo had left her with a duty to him that went beyond being Isshin's only son. The boy had saved her sister and honor, duty and a debt dictated that she'd do what she had to no matter what that was to fulfill the obligation. The simple fact that she understood Kuchiki Rukia and believed that the girl had done the right thing only made her more willing to throw herself against the rules she'd once adhered to.
Small. Golden haired. A sleeveless shihakusho. A green obi. The physical description of one of the ryoka brought back old memories. Memories of sandals thrown at his head, of yelling and laughter and a friend that was gone. Dead.
Amaya-chan was dead.
That was the only conclusion that time had ever brought them. That the evidence of a struggle and Amaya's absence for over a hundred years had brought. If she was alive she would have been found or come back on her own. Those who knew her well knew it. Mimasaka Amaya was not one to simply leave for no reason. Or be taken and not have the strength to fight her way back if she was still alive.
And yet. The description given of one of the two shinigami that had faced Ichimaru Gin was not something he could ignore easily. Most certainly not with the information that not only had the female ryoka faced a blow from a Captain but survived. To think that the ryoka might be Amaya was a faint chance at best and yet he found himself with the faintest trace of hope that it was. It was perhaps a fool's hope but hope none the less.
Perhaps he was becoming overly sentimental. He missed his Amaya-chan still. His former lieutenant, friend and almost sister.
“My, my, things have gotten interesting.”
“Uh, Yoruichi? Where's Amaya-san?” she turned around, looked at Ichigo and raised an eyebrow. Even in her feline form the look had an effect on the boy because he stepped back. Very likely because she was still upset about the damage he had done to her tail.
“Worry less about Amaya and more about the task at hand.”
“Amaya is more than capable of taking care of herself Ichigo.” of that there was little doubt. If Kisuke's estimates were right Amaya would be able to reach bankai again in less than two days, though she'd heard enough stories about the power of the former Captain's shikai to believe that bankai was unlikely to be necessary for Amaya to beat anyone lower than of Captain rank.
She had no illusions though, the mission would eventually begin to involve conflict with Captains. It was a boon in their favor that they had a former Captain on their side. Hopefully enough of one that it would even the chances of them all living through the days to come.
The sunrise had been coming for a while, she didn't need to see the faint signs to know it. She was a slayer and could feel it in her bones. There were lots of things that got glossed over in the basic slayer spiel about gifts. Having an internal clock that was freakishly precise was one that was as glossed over as the fact that she only needed about three hours of sleep a night or that she had the metabolism of a hummingbird.
Which two of those specific three were actually pertinent at the moment as she counted down the last moments before it was time for her to move. She'd scouted the mostly unknown entrance during the night and it hadn't changed really. It had, time wears on everything but nothing that time couldn't account for had changed. The water still left the cave and the two guards were still the same as when she'd last been there. Different faces, a newer generation but still, only two guards. Two guards were easy to get around.
All she had to do was wait for the cannon to fire that would send the others up and over the wall to give her the extra distraction she'd need later on.
“Oops, so that girl didn't die, I see.” Gin ever present smile didn't falter under the glare of Kenpachi, nor did the man's amiable tone. But then he had yet to see the facade falter before. Shunsui kept his attention on the conversation even as his own thoughts began to work.
Five ryoka that had been confirmed, one of which matched the description of Kurosaki Ichigo, the human Kuchiki Rukia was facing a death sentence for giving her powers to. It was simple enough to put two and two together in regards to that, the boy had come to try and save Kuchiki Rukia.
“My, my, you make it sound like I let her go on purpose.” Gin's words caught his attention though he kept his head down, using his hat to shield his face while he listened. Let her go on purpose indeed. There were two options in regards to Gin using that exact phrase. One was that that was exactly the case and Gin was playing at something and had slipped up and the other was that Gin had said it intentionally and was playing at something. After all, Ichimaru Gin was a master manipulator.
Either way, Gin was playing another one of his games. The question was what type of game? Though it paled behind the question of who the female shinigami he had faced was. Though if it was by some miracle Amaya-chan they wouldn't have long to wait to find out. His Amaya-chan had never been fond of subtle even if she did excel at throwing others for a loop.
The arguing between Gin, Kenpachi and now Kurotsuchi reached an almost fever point and he found himself doing something he'd picked up from Amaya-chan, he rolled his eyes. “Oh god, so much bloody bickering.”
Next time a Captain's meeting was called he was really considering not even letting Nanao-chan convince him to show up.
The thing about alarms? A good one is freakin loud. And when you've got a place the size of a city to alert....well....she wasn't having any issues about knowing when to move. Of course if the blaring sounds of the alarms weren't enough the big reatisu cannonball in the distance would have been a none too subtle hint. She waited for the two guards to focus their attention on the sky and then....
She wasn't up to Yoruichi's level of flash steps and never would be but she was still pretty fast all things considered. One step and she was behind both of them, her hands reaching out and grasping both by the back of their uniforms. Neither one had time to do more than try and look behind them before she brought them into one another head first with all the strength she had. The sound of the impact was enough to make a normal human cringe but spirits weren't like normal humans. You could take a whole chunk out of a spirit and they'd live through it easily. And shinigami, even harder to kill. So not kidding either. So the impact wouldn't kill them but it did knock them both out cold.
They went limp in her grip and she lowered them down easily to the ground below. Just because she'd knocked them out didn't mean she had to be unnecessarily rough with them. They weren't really her enemies after all, just two men standing between herself and her goal.
The alarm was still being sounded as the old man gave the order for the rest of them to report to their battle stations. Ten out of thirteen Captains actually paying attention wasn't too bad considering the almost constantly conflicting personalities in the room. Shunsui tilted his head down to hide his smirk as a thought struck him. If, and it was a far if, Kempachi really did intend to go hunting the ryoka and find the one that had survived Gin and it really was Amaya-chan then the giant battle loving Captain of the Eleventh Division was in for a shock.
His Amaya-chan was not to be messed with if one had any sense of self preservation.
It made him fight back a chuckle as he began to follow the other Captains out of the First Division meeting hall walking along side Kuchiki Byakuya. The man who was another reminder of his fiery former lieutenant. How would Byakuya react if it really was Amaya? The man had been young when she'd disappeared and spent years hunting for her. He wondered if the younger Captain had made the connections he had.
“The warning certainly came at a good time for you.” Aizen's voice was distant but he'd learned to perfect his hearing centuries before in order to avoid any work that his lieutenants might have brought his way.
“I don't understand what you are trying to say.” Gin's tone was the same as always, slightly mocking but it did give him mental pause. Gin had faced the ryoka and not killed them. Why? A game or something more? He didn't have enough information to tell yet. But of the current Captains, only himself, Jushiro, Unohana, Byakuya, and the old man himself would know Amaya-chan by sight. None of the others had even been in the Academy when she'd disappeared.
“You think you can get away with it? You'd better not take me too lightly.” Aizen's warning gave him food for thought, much more than he already had. Something besides a mere ryoka incursion was going on.
The cave held a stream, one that eventually led into Sereitei. One of the rules of water flowing is that it had to come from somewhere and go somewhere, it was a lesson she'd learned from Areno Ame. All things that had flow to them had to flow somewhere, even life itself. And water, like life, could wear holes in anything given enough time. She knew from experience that there were only two ways to get to the cave that held the stream. One was going down into the water itself and hoping you had the lung capacity to deal with the long swim that led to the wooded grove on the other side or to go though one of the gates with a pass and then walk to the cave like any sane person would. As far as she knew she'd only ever been the craziest person to try the water route save for the person who'd tried it to initially test the threat the route posed when building the wall.
That was one of the things that was going to work in her favor. She'd tried the route dozens of times in the distant past and knew that, unlike even the most well conditioned shinigami, she had a slayer's lung capacity and swimming strength. And while once upon a time being submerged in water would have brought up bad memories of the Master and her first death, dying a second time had cured her of almost every fear she'd ever had.
She reached the far wall of the cave, the lack of light not an issue for her vision and mentally steeled herself for the cold water. She hated the cold on a basic level but years of cold rain on her skin had dulled the hatred to little more than a passing thing. The sounds of water echoing inside the space.
She stepped down into the water, the feel of it like a grounding point for her mind, a reality check. Before, everything had been theory, now it was real. Now, more than ever, her determination settled itself inside her chest.
It was time for the games to well and truly begin.
She felt her body still, her pulse slow and her breathing become deep and steady even without conscience thought. Her reatisu, what smallest fraction she allowed free almost constantly, she pulled in and then focused. She used it in ways she'd been taught in her years at the Academy and then in others that she'd figured out later on her own. Other ways of using it besides the most obvious for combat that augmented her natural slayer abilities and enhanced them. She bent her knees and felt the pressure build at her feet, most shinigami knew such a simple trick but she was planning on using others. The whole process only took seconds and then she took a deep breath and pushed off, diving into the water and shooting against the current like a bullet.
The water was flowing against her but then she'd always been one to go against the flow.
*****Short I know and I'm sorry. The muse is really just not playing nice. Please give it feedback and maybe it will come out and play with me again so that we can all be happy.
And HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!