A/N: Ok, I know I updated this on Turkey Day, but I wasn't happy with the way it went. Hopefully this turned out a little better, even if it is shorter.
Happy Nondenominational Gift-Giving Season, all! Enjoy.
It was the first week of the war (because that was really what it was becoming) and Ichigo was already exhausted. Most Hollows had no sense for tactics, Menos were quite frankly huge instinct driven morons, many of the Adjuchas had been transformed into Arrancar, the Vasto Lordes were avoiding any and all communication, and most of the Arrancar were useless against anything beyond a 4th seat (which would have been helpful if Kurotsuchi hadn't decided to send out some play things that traveled in groups of five and were all the same level as a 3rd seat). As a result, Ichigo (and the others) had very little time to sleep and recuperate and it was already taking its toll on them.
Fortunately, everyone was slowly figuring out what his or her positions and jobs were in the whole war. The pre-war preparations they had established were helping, but nothing was perfect and Heuco Mundo's last standing army had been headed by a controlling egomaniac of a demented butterfly – not the best model for them to use.
Strategy was not something Aizen really encouraged his Arrancar to implement – tactics, yes, but only so they could follow his strategy.
Dodging a kidou, Ichigo really wanted to kill the butterfly again (although he privately agreed that killing the Central 46 was probably a really good idea on Aizen's behalf).
Ichigo surveyed the wasteland before him while wiping a trickle of blood from above his left eye. What had once been a rolling plain of sand had changed to a series of mountains and valleys. Glass coated the sides and bottom, giving the otherwise unstable sand an illusionary solid form. Unfortunately, the change in landscape was as much of an asset to the Rulers as it was to the invading Shinigami.
Many of the Hollows had adapted to burrowing through the sand and only the sand – these were the spies that Ichigo and his friends had relied upon early in the war. Small, quick, agile, and ridiculously smart, even the lowest levels were capable of catching vital information and passing it on to the correct people. Unfortunately, these same Hollows were unable to pierce the new glass barriers that covered many of the valleys. The glass, having been compacted by spiritual pressure and originating in the spiritual plane, acted as a new type of seki-seki stone. It was technically sound proof, opaque, and reflected attacks like a mirror. While it should have been a perfect shield, it was both very brittle when removed from the ground of Heuco Mundo for more than three hours and actually refracted the attacks during that time. The Shinigami who had tried to use the glass as a shield usually were blown to pieces as the various levels of energy hit their being.
Currently Ichigo was acting as a scout for his group of Hollows, since he could better ascertain the power level of the Shinigami division before them.
Closing his eyes, Ichigo let his senses stretch as Shiro materialized beside him to watch for any changes and potential sneak attacks. The buzzing and agitation of the spirit ribbons indicated that Holy crap that's – SHIRO!
Shiro, however, acted in time to avoid the second strike by Suzumebachi.
"That fucking bee bitch should be – PUT DOWN the GODDAMN CLAW, freaking pussy assassin! – why do we listen to the kitty?" Shiro asked as he returned to their mindscape.
Ichigo didn't bother replying, too busy trying to avoid Soi Fon and her evil little toothpick claw of doom (that really wouldn't have looked out of place at a punk concert or something – and didn't it hurt her finger to jab people all day?) while sending out a pulse of his reiatsu to summon his Hollows.
They take shifts – half on duty, patrolling, fighting, directing, the other half sleeping, recovering, planning.
The night progresses with the war. There's no time for dreams now.
Then Yamamoto-soutaicho joins the battle and everything changes.
They nearly lost Hiyori and Nel in the first attack by Yamamoto. They don't take chances again.
Ichigo, Stark, and Harribel are constantly on alert, followed by Yoruichi, Kisuke, and the Vizards.
More people – Arrancar, Hollows, Menos – die and Ichigo hates it. To him, to Chad, to even Kisuke, the Hollows are becoming people who certainly have problems (ok, cannibalistic tendencies), but they're real. And now they're dying in a war over Ichigo.
(He knows that it's not really about him. The war is just a continuation of the one before it – except this time the real problem is being addressed. If the Hollows can be controlled, corralled, where does that leave the Shinigami?
Ichigo is determined that the Shinigami will realize that it means that they have to clean up their own mess of a system. Who lets an innocent be executed, anyways?)
Yamamoto's neck is beneath his Zanpakutou and it's amazing.
"STAND DOWN, SHINIGAMI! Yield, Yamamoto."
His stare is assessing, eyebrows lifted to actually see Ichigo. Maybe he sees the exhaustion, the pain of losing people who he had under his command, the determination to end this stupidity. Because the war is stupid.
Ichigo smiles and signals to the rest of the army to cease fighting when he feels multiple swords punch through his skin. He starts to fall, but not before taking Yamamoto down as well.
He's pretty sure chaos erupts before his sight goes dark and Shiro takes over.
Apparently, nearly dying and causing a bunch of people you consider friends to rampage is actually a method for ending a war.
Or at least that's what Ichigo discovers when he finally makes in back out of his mindscape and is nearly killed again by the dog pile hug he falls under.
"Guys, I'm fine! Really!"
"Kurosaki-kun, you have been in your mental world for nearly a month and Shiro-kun was also unconscious for approximately three weeks after assuming your command for a week."
"Goddamit, Strawberry, don't do that again or I'll kill you myself!"
"NOOOOO! Itsugo, Grimm-kitty doesn't mean that!"
It gets crazier from there.
It's been years since that war between the rag tag group of Heuco Mundo and the Shinigami over the purpose of the Shinigami now that the Hollows had a working government. It doesn't prevent the war from being called Ichigo's War.
He can't really disagree with that name, since it was started by him choosing a side (and it kinda pisses him off that Getaboshi sometimes calls him "Helen") but it doesn't mean he likes it. Ichigo sometimes feels that that name detracts from the truth of that which the war was fought. Still, other times he's just happy they didn't name it the 'Strawberry Special' or something. Although, he's pretty sure that his friends wouldn't be that disrespectful to all those Hollows they lost.
Since the end of the war, they've further established a court for the oligarchy in Heuco Mundo, with each person heading a different division so it's almost eerily similar to the Seireitei, but no ones going to say that out loud. It's a good system, if you have the right people in charge. Plus, each division is more co-chaired than anything else, as people's interests overlap and allow for some checks and balances.
The ones who make the decisions are Harribel, Shinji, Urahara, and Ichigo himself. The others take turns as advisors and generally try to avoid the rest of it whenever possible. Paperwork is apparently unavoidable even when there shouldn't be enough trees of any type with which to make the cursed stuff. But then again, it could just be Urahara's doing. He is evil enough to reinvent it.
Mostly, they focus on building places for the aware hollows to live and patrol to ensure not too many are escaping to wreck havoc on the human world. Those that do should realize the risk and a few of the upper levels are always allowed to chivy the newly formed into Heuco Mundo and gain a chance to get stronger.
Even though Ichigo knows that they're feeding on souls of people, souls that he might have known, he also knows that there's a reason for all of this. They're here for balance.
The Shinigami want to save as many people as possible because for whatever reason, they think the dull existence in the Rukongai is better than being eaten by a hollow. Ichigo might agree with the being eaten bit, but he also doesn't believe it gives them the right to destroy a hollow's identity by "purifying" them.
Still, they've agreed to disagree. Or, really, they've forced the issue.
Urahara has made a type of kidou to infuse the edges of Heuco Mundo with that prevents Senkaimon from being activated.
They've got a lot of work to do before they start tackling what they want to do about the Shinigami in a more permanent sense because keeping them out isn't going to work forever, but they're dealing with establishing their world first.
And Heuco Mundo has become theirs, not just a place of moderate rest for the hollows or the place of oppression for the Espada and Arrancar that served under Aizen. They've turned it into something more.
It's still haunting and large and a desert, but it's changing to have a culture, a civilization, a future.
Grimmjow joins Ichigo out on the pillar he's perched on, wrapping an arm around Ichigo's waist and nestling his head on Ichigo's shoulder.
"Hey, what're ya thinkin' about?"
"Mmm, everything and nothing."
Grimmjow snorts. "So stop thinkin'."
"Not that easy."
"Hmph. Snowberry doesn' seem ta have tha' problem."
Ichigo chuckles, "Well, he's special that way."
"Hey!" A voice behind them shouts. "I'm a part of you, ya idiot King, so that means yer special, too!"
"Nah, you're the special part, Snowberry!"
"Goddamnit, we're sparing today ya jerk!"
"As long as it's after the meeting."
"Yeah, yeah, don't get the shark's tail in a twist, I know. I still got marks from the last time."
"Hmm, is there something you wanted to share, 'Kou-chan?"
Grimmjow snorts again, "Yeah, well, that's a bit scary ta think about, Ichi. Dun go there."
Ichigo just laughs. "Nah, he's long gone now."
Thank you very much for sticking with this story as I tried to find a proper ending. Please let me know if you this this is better or not - or just you're thoughts in general. They keep me writing my other stories, even though I'm now finished with this one.
I may, at some point in the future, come back and edit the previous chapters (and this one, too). It'll probably take a long while, though.
Thank you again for sticking with this story. Reviews are always welcome.
(shameless plug ^.^) If you liked this story, you might also like my ongoing fic, Disharmony: Notes and Scars. It deals with the scars left on Ichigo, Chad, Ishida, and Orihime and how they reintegrate back to regular life, as told by people surrounding them.