This is a sequel to Dry Heat, and, well, we'll see how it goes. I don't have it quite as well planned as the last one, so it'll be a lot longer between updates. This one should get pretty dark—don't let the first chapter fool you. There will be some light UnoKen and RanRen, and a lot more IchiRuki. But I don't believe in making a story ABOUT romance.

Warning: spoilers (not for anime-only folk) very bad language, lots of violence, serious angst and petty philosophizing. If you haven't read the last one, this one will make no sense.

I would really appreciate criticism, even if it's something like, I dunno, "you need a comma between 'big' and 'nose' in the fourth paragraph." This chapter seems a little awkward to me, but I'm not sure how to fix it. Any suggestion would be very welcome.

For the record, it's not very easy switching between Yachiru-voice and Kenpachi-voice. And, by the way, Yachiru+angst - damn hard. She's fun, though!

Not mine.

Cold Rain

Chapter 1

Shadows

Ikkaku landed with a thud on the rooftop. Every muscle groaned as he straightened and stretched. This, he thought dully, was getting old. I am getting old. He gazed out on the Seireitei, its white walls dark. The slender crescent moon cast a pale sheen over everything, making the city look ghostly and unreal. It was cold, too, for August. Still, it was home. Home at last.

Three weeks! Ikkaku rubbed his eyes, exhausted. Three weeks of planet-side duty, slogging in the arrancar-infested trenches around Karakura Town. And then an ambush at the gates of the Seireitei. Ugh. All he wanted in the worlds was his bed, and quiet until morning. How did this happen? he thought wearily. How could Madarme Ikkaku ever get tired of fighting?

"That was so much fun!" Yachiru sang behind him. As usual, her pink hair was immaculate, her robes unwrinkled, her smile unfazed by the blood splattered all over her face.

Her cheerfulness seemed to snap the older man out of his dudgeon. Ikkaku wrinkled his nose, and glanced down at his superior officer. She had grown recently, he thought, half grudgingly, half fondly. She looked ten, eleven years old. At least the pint-sized monster wasn't still drooling on his head anymore. And it was so cute when she went on her little homicidal rampages. "Yeah, well," he said, feigning annoyance, "don't hog all the fun next time, ok?"

Yachiru gave a surprisingly loud snort. "Q-ball could barely stand towards the end, and…"

"Shhh."

The girl looked up at her companion, eyes wide. He was tensed, staring straight ahead. He had drawn his zapakutou so quickly and quietly that she had not even noticed. Following his eyes, she looked down the length of the roof. They were standing on the 11th Division headquarters, on the slope facing the vast training grounds. Not a hundred yards away, she could make out a white shape crouched on the ceramic tiles.

Kinda small for a hollow, Yachiru thought dismissively, drawing her own katana from the folds of her robes. Leastways, a hollow worth fighting. A spy, maybe? She giggled at the thought. Kinda silly, trying to listen in on Ken-chan.

In a single flash step, Ikkaku stood over the still figure. From up close, even in the darkness, he could see that it was not hunched, but huddled, lying in a fetal position. For a split second he considered just running it through - his bed was calling to him. Eh, the bald man shrugged, his old nature reasserting itself. Where's the fun in that? He nudged the white bundle with one foot. "Lucky!" he crowed, hefting Houzinmaru to his shoulders. A wide, feral grin spread across his face. Screw tired, he thought. Always room for one more fight. "I'm so luc…"

Bam! The shinigami felt his head slam against the rooftop before he even noticed that his feet had been swept away. Blinking back the stars dancing in his eyes, the Ikkaku felt two legs, perpendicular to his body, pinning his chest down. Someone had his right hand as well, he thought groggily.

Ikkaku knew how to recognize an arm bar; he had seen it a million times in the dojo. When your opponent had you in an arm bar, you tapped out. Everybody knew that. He'd never seen anyone actually execute the technique - even for the 11th Squad, that'd be pretty barbaric.

That's why his scream, a moment later, was almost as surprised as it was hurt. It felt like his arm had been ripped out of its socket. With a gasp, Ikkaku forced himself to sit up and twist, letting the motion rip his numb hand free. Before he could pass out from the pain, he rolled out of the enemy's hold.

"Ooo!" Yachiru's voice cut through the haze of agony as he knelt, panting, cradling his injured arm. "I wanna play!"

Lightning-fast, the petite shinigami launched her attack before the hollow (actually, she thought, it looked sorta human now that it was all unfolded) could get to its feet. As she pulled back her sword, though, she felt two hands grip her uniform, one at the neck, another at the elbow. Simultaneously, a foot caught her at her belt and flung her small body up. Timed to match her forward momentum, the throw sent Yachiru skidding down, and almost over, the edge of the roof.

"Fukutaichou!" Ikkaku cried out, struggling to his feet. Furious, he turned towards the spy.

Wait.

He gaped for a long moment. The shadows were playing tricks on him.

That's not possible.

The late Hitsugaya Toushirou stood before him, all in white, his emerald eyes almost black in the dim moonlight. He looked older. He looked angry. With a shudder, Ikkaku realized that the young captain - the ghost - whatever he was - held Houzukimaru in his fist.

Madarame Ikkaku froze, noticing for the first time the icy, murderous reiatsu around him. He watched, paralyzed, as Hitsugaya disappeared, only to materialize the same instant behind the taller man's elbow. Ikkaku closed his eyes; he felt the tip of his own zanpakuto against his spine; he was going to die; what a stupid way to go.

"Yo, Madarame!"

Dazed, Ikkaku turned. He could feel a tickle at the small of his back where the blade had nicked him.

Zaraki Kenpachi towered behind him, a mass of ominous shadows. In one hand the huge man held Hitsugaya by the scruff of the neck, holding him just a few inches above the ground. With the other hand, he wrenched Houzukimaru out of the smaller shinigami's grasp, and tossed it to Ikkaku. "You're gettin' sloppy!" Zaraki growled.

"Captain," his third seat stuttered. He fumbled catching his sword, and then just let it drop. With his good arm, he pointed a shaking finger at the dangling Hitsugaya. The white-haired teenager scowled, but showed no further signs of aggression. Instead he reached up and behind his head, trying vainly to pry open Zaraki's huge hands.

"Oh yeah," the giant grunted. "You've been away. Good hunting?"

"G..good… yes… Captain …?"

Zaraki ignored him. "Oy, squirt!" he barked, shaking Hitsugaya like a puppy. "This is Ikkaku."

The young man snarled and kicked forward; Ikkaki barely backed away in time. Once again, the 11th squad Captain seemed unperturbed. "Ikkaku!" he bellowed again, not even looking at his subordinate.

"Ikkaku," Hitsugaya repeated sulkily.

"Not to kill." Zaraki yawned expansively. He gave his captive another small shake. "Go on and say it."

The teenager merely glared, and redoubled his efforts to free himself. Zaraki frowned and repeated: "NOT. TO. KILL."

"Poor Captain," a silvery voice said from the shadows. "He always did get cranky if someone woke him up."

Matsumoto Rangiku stepped forward. She looked … relieved. Her uniform hung on her generous body even more carelessly that usual, as if she had dressed in haste. She had not, however, forgotten her zanpakutou. The blade shimmered softly in her right hand, and Ikkaku thought, for just a moment, that she shot him a very nasty look. Hitsugaya saw her and scowled, but his spirit energy seemed to calm a little in her presence.

"Big Boobies!" Yachiru cried happily. She had just appeared by Ikkaku's side, dusting herself off. Kenpachi nodded to the small girl, a sort of paternal affection in the motion.

Yachiru beamed up at her best friend. Ken-chan was so awesome! He'd even bagged himself a …a what, exactly? Her big eyes narrowed slightly as she studied Hitsugaya. A big kid, she thought. Fifteen? Kinda grumpy. He looked sorta familiar, too. "Do I know that guy?"

"You do," Matsumoto said, sheathing Haineko. "But it's been a while."

"What are you doing here?" Zaraki asked shortly. He didn't much like being woken, either. It had to be two in the #$ morning. The faintest hint of a chilly breeze stirred through the darkness, and he shivered.

The Captain of the Ninth Division shrugged her shoulders, and pushed her unbrushed blond hair to her back. "I felt his reiatsu spike, so I thought I'd come check on him."

Zaraki snorted derisively. "Goddamned mother hen," he muttered. "You'll make Abarai jealous, you carry on like this."

"Oh, I'm already jealous." Abarai Renji, Captain of the Fifth Division, landed quietly behind Matsumoto. "And sleep-deprived. She gets out of bed every hour or so." He hadn't bothered to dress at all, and his sleeping robes offered little protection against the unseasonable cold. Rangiku leaned back into him, turned her head, and pecked him on the cheek. Despite the peevishness in his voice, the redhead smiled.

"Monkey-chan!" Yachiru greeted the newcomer, grinning from ear to ear. Then she paused, and put one finger to her lips. "How does Monkey-chan know when Big Boobies gets out of bed?" she asked. "Are you a goddamned mother hen, too?"

Renji stared down at the little girl, blinking slightly. Instinctively, he took his hand off Matsumoto's hip, and thanked God that no one could see him blush in the dark. "Ah," he said, looking wildly to the 11th Squad Captain for help, "Well, I, uh…"

Zaraki sighed. The boy hated being held like this, and he was starting to scratch. "Yachiru," the giant said, shifting his struggling burden to the other hand, "Remember that talk we had last month?"

"Yeah…"

"Well, I wasn't gonna tell you till you were older, but Abarai's … you know… like that."

"Oh!" Instantly, Yachiru was in front of Matsumoto, leaning over to stare up at Renji. "You mean whipped?"

"Just so."

"oy!"

The small girl gave a delighted squeal and threw her arms around Matsumoto's waist. "Big Boobies is so cool!" she cooed. "One day I'm going to get a boytoy, too!"

"OY!"

Yachiru mediated a moment, watching the tall man behind Matsumoto stutter. "What do you do with a boytoy, exactly?" she asked, lifting a silky pink eyebrow. "Ken-chan wasn't real clear on that part." Her expression seemed to doubt whether Renji would be much use to anyone.

"Not so fast, Yach," Zaraki snapped. "Remember the rules." He turned his attention back to Hitsugaya, whose reiatsu was turning dangerous again. "Alright, pipsqueak, I'm droppin' ya. You settle down, hear me? I've got some new recruits for you to beat up tomorrow, if you're good."

He released the teenager, who landed gracefully and promptly vanished into the darkness. Ikkaku stared after him, open-mouthed. "Wh … " he choked out, "wh… what the hell? Wasn't he dead?"

Nobody answered him. Abarai was still fuming, and Zaraki looked half-asleep. Matsumoto chuckled and ruffled Yachiru's hair, as the small fukutaicho still had a death grip on her hips. Then, suddenly, a look of astonishment crossed the small face. She remembered, now! Green eyes, white hair, ice traps, lectures, scoldings, kinda good in a fight… sometimes shared candy when he didn't think anyone was looking. "HEY!" she yelled, causing all the men to look around, alarmed. "That was Snowball-chan!"

"Mm-hmm," Matsumoto continued to stroke Yachiru's hair. "I'm glad you remember him! He's a little confused right now, but your Taichou is taking good care of him."

The girl blinked, surprise on her pretty features. "Ken-chan?"

"Mmg," Zaraki smacked his lips sleepily and started to turn away. "Brat won't sleep in the barracks. Stupid little claustrophobic pissant." The big man glanced over at his third seat officer. "Better drop in at the fourth, Ikkaku," he said. "That arm don't look so good. Welcome back, you two." Without another word, he jumped off the roof and headed towards his quarters.

Yachiru slowly released Matsumoto, who kissed her goodnight and then left with Renji. This doesn't make sense, the small girl thought, her forehead wrinkling with unexpected emotion. She didn't remember that far back so well… but she was pretty sure Big Boobies took care of Snowball-chan. Ken-chan took care of HER. What was HE doing on top of HER barracks?

Ikkaku headed through the darkened streets towards the medical division. The shock was wearing off, and his arm was starting to scream at him. His legs felt like lead, but he forced them forward. He couldn't help remembering, a little nervously, that Hitsugaya was somewhere in the city. The kid had not, after all, promised not to kill him.

ooooooooooooooooooo

The arrancar knelt and dropped her head, black hair covering her eyes. "Aizen-sama," she murmured. Though her voice was soft, the words seemed to echo around the great empty chamber. Having answered her master's summons, the half-hollow did not ask for his reasons, did not flatter, or fidget. She knelt, and she waited.

From his high seat Aizen looked down on his servant. She moved so gracefully, he thought. She held still so gracefully. Perhaps that explained the fascination she held for so many men. "I have an errand for you, my dear," he said, standing. Within the space of a breath he had moved down to her. With one hand he lifted her chin gently. "I would like you to pay a visit to the Seireitei."

The permanent half-light of the Hueco Mundo played in her dark velvet eyes as she stared up at him. But no emotion crossed her delicate features. "Of course, Aizen-sama."

Aizen smiled, and traced the line of her cheek with one finger. She really was lovely, he thought. Beautiful and deadly. Without doubt, one of his finest creations. "Thank you, Kuchiki," he murmured.

TBC

So, there you have it. Let me know what you think! Out of character? (well, Hitsu and Ruki are OOC, but come on…) Confusing? Boring? Will update eventually.