Aizen has won. Seireitai is occupied. The Resistance is weak. Winter is here.
There may not be a spring.
Nothing is sacred and no one is safe.
Winter War is a very dark Bleach AU fanfic co-authored by incandescens, liralen, and Sophia Prester. It diverges from canon during the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura Town arcs.Aizen won the war. The Gotei 13 has been decimated; most of the Captains and Lieutenants are dead. Ichigo and his friends never returned from Hueco Mundo, and no one knows what happened to them. Ichimaru Gin rules in Seireitei and controls a much reduced Gotei 13, but his shinigami are not doing the work of sending the souls of the dead to Soul Society, and as a result the balance of the worlds is failing. Captain Ukitake, his illness made worse by injuries sustained in the lost battle for Seireitei, leads a small but determined Resistance.This fic comes highly recommended.A Russian translation is in progress and can be found here.
Tropes in Winter War
Achilles' Heel: Turns out Yumichika's seemingly unbeatable shikai power does have a downside. In canon, he absorbs his oponent's reiatsu, weakening or killing them. However, in this fic if he tries it on someone who's too powerful—namely Harribel, a vasto lorde class arrancar—rather than killing her, he gets overwhelmed and ends up essentially Brainwashed and Crazy, unable to separate his own reiatsu and personality from hers.
A Good Way to Die: Zaraki, Yumichika and Ikkaku died exactly as they wanted to. Many other characters were not so lucky.
Lisa was convinced that whoever or whatever had designed Las Noches had picked up some pretty subtle ideas from Lovecraft. Subtle, because of the distinct lack of tentacles (except for that one Privaron she had the misfortune of meeting), and because things were only just slightly off true in a way that suggested it had all been done deliberately.
An Arm and a Leg: Kensei lost part of one leg during the Karakura Town battle, a result of the Visoreds' lost fight against Barragan. Later on, Isane loses most of an arm to the Barragan Fragment's corrosive blood.
Animal Motifs: Pagally's zanpakutou is Cernicalo, Spanish for "kestrel", and her resureccion gives her sharp-feathered wings. Also, Pantera compares people to animals in his conversations with Grimmjow—for example, referring to Ikkaku as a wounded dragon and Hanatarou as a mouse.
Anyone Can Die: And most of them have. But the survivors-as-of-the-beginning-of-the-fic are certainly still at risk...
Apocalypse How: Early on, Urahara warns that the lack of shinigami doing their actual job has resulted in the balance of souls in the worlds getting so skewed that the living world, Soul Society, and Hueco Mundo will all be destroyed if something doesn't change soon. This is part of why the characters give over all their resources to a very risky scheme based on information from someone that they can't be sure is even really on their side—they know that they're running out of time.
Mayuri's plans for one afternoon look like: 1) Commit a terrible atrocity. 2) Commit another terrible atrocity. 3) Have a nice cup of tea.
Artificial Limbs: Sort of. Kensei, who lost part of his leg in the battle, wears a gigai that doesn't share the injury. Also, Kuukaku uses her prosthetic arm from anime canon during battle. Soi Fong refuses either form of this trope, however.
Ascended Extra: Shirogane and Ogidou, from the canon omakes. Arguably, most of the cast is this—some of the main cast eventually comes into play, but this fic is almost entirely about the secondary characters.
Back from the Dead: Senbonzakura, who "dies" at Byakuya's orders and comes back to life when he apologizes. Zanpakutou spirits are complicated.
Badass Creed: As a former (as in, until death) US Navy SEAL, Takano brings out "Ready to lead. Ready to follow. Never quit." Hinamori wonders about it, but has never managed to ask for an explanation.
Bad Boss: ...Pretty much all the villains. Kurotsuchi Mayuri deserves special mention for his treatment of his own daughter and former lieutenant—but Grimmjow has no illusion about what's likely to happen to him if he's no longer useful to Aizen, and Gin isn't anyone you'd want to work for either. What are Les Collaborateursthinking?
Bearer of Bad News: When Ichigo's real personality is restored he has no memory of anything that happened since his Hollow took him over. He asks Ikkaku to tell him what happened.
Subverted when Yoruichi decides to tell Ryuuken that she doesn't know what happened to his son, whom she knows is dead. He's already acting fairly unstable at that point, and she doesn't want to run the risk that knowing the truth would make him snap.
The Bechdel Test: Passes, starting from the very first chapter—the war is introduced through a conversation between Nanao and Soi Fong about the current state of the Resistance.
Becoming the Mask: After months in Hueco Mundo, Reverse Mole Hisagi.He takes things for granted that he would have been horrified before, and has been killing at Aizen's orders so long that it no longer even causes him much soul-searching. While he doesn't like Hueco Mundo or his supposed allies, his efforts to preserve his cover and keep himself alive are gradually turning him into what he's pretending to be. On a much lighter note, Kon—after posing as Ichigo for a similar amount of time—finds himself thinking of Karin and Yuzu as his little sisters.
Berserk Button: Ikkaku apparently really dislikes being called "taichou". His response the first time it came up, some time before the fic began, was memorable enough to prevent a reoccurance.
Big Brother Instinct: Inoue Sora, to Orihime. To the point that had La Résistance not included him on the Hueco Mundo mission, he would probably have tried to sneak in anyway to rescue his little sister. Subverted in that he is not able to do much more for her than offer emotional support—he's barely out of the Academy and by far the weakest member of the group. (They anticipated he would be more or less The Load, but brought him anyway because they needed someone whom Orihime knew well enough to tell if she was on the edge of a Freak Out.) Orihime reciprocates. When Hollow Ichigo shows up and starts fighting the shinigami, she basically freezes. Then he tries to hurt her brother, and she responds by rejecting his Split Personality Takeover and restoring Ichigo to control of his body.
There's also Kensei to Mashiro, especially when it comes to her relationship with Kon. Kon himself also qualifies, looking out for Karin and Yuzu and in a recent chapter thinking of them as his little sisters.
Big Damn Heroes / The Cavalry: Soi Fong and Hachi arriving in the nick of time to help Ukitake and Isane fight the Barragan fragment.
Big Fancy House: The Western-style mansion that La Résistance use as their "base" when they fight Gin. Apparently, it was built by a noble family a while back who visited the living world and came back infatuated with European architecture. Kuukaku is only too happy to lace the thing with explosives; she, and most of the cast, think it's hideous. Sasakibe, on the other hand, rather likes it and thinks that it's a pity they have to sacrifice it.
Blindfolded Trip: How Grimmjow arrives at the Resistance's base. (They also take the precaution of evacuating everyone weaker than the lieutenants, just in case it's all a trap by Aizen.)
Blind Without 'Em: Recon squad member Shirogane Mihane is "not very good without" her glasses, according to Hinamori, and when she has to take them off to impersonate Rangiku, she seems rather disoriented.
Bloody Murder: The Barragan Fragment's blood also has the "age things to death" power. The characters find this out when Isane wounds it but gets blood splatter on her arm, forcing an amputation.
Book Ends: Chapter 45 begins and ends with the same description of Nanao's physical position as she enters Suzumushi's inner world to negotiate with it.
Brainwashed and Crazy: In two different varieties so far. Aizen is doing it to captured shinigami, and Yumichika effectively did it to himself.
Break the Cutie: Hanatarou has witnessed Rukia's hollowfication and death, Byakuya's apparent suicide, been enslaved in Hueco Mundo, his captain is MIA after escaping the lab, had several of his squad members killed in front of him, including Ogidou, who had just saved his life, and currently has a collar around his neck that could detonate at any moment. And with all that he still manages to be the Only Sane Man half of the time.
Breather Episode: Chapter 16, "Nanao: Looking For A Blonde", which consists of Nanao's notes from the meeting in which the higher-ups of La Résistance hammer out the details of the Rangiku impersonation scheme. Although it does advance the plot, relatively little happens, the tone is far less fraught than most of the story, and it has several rather funny moments.
Brought Down to Normal: Byakuya is unable to use his shikai when Senbonzakura is, as per his orders, "dead". If the zanpakutou spirit is dead, clearly none of its powers can be used. Lucky for him he found out about that before an enemy showed up...
Chain Pain: Kira's Resureccion includes bone chains growing from his back and spilling through the hems of his clothing. Like the rest of his body, the chains have the same Gravity Master power his zanpakutou used to have.
Chekhov's Gun: Rangiku’s necklace. An 'accident' which cost Hinamori half of her hair. Also, there’s an early conversation about zanpakuto spirits that has come back in a big way.
Cold-Blooded Torture: Going through Aizen's old office reveals that a lot more was done to the captives besides putting the Hogyoku to them. If one didn't know any better, his research notes could very well be describing lab rats. Even worse for the audience, this is found out after we have seen at least four of the "subjects" killed.
Combat Medic: Kaede seems to have had this role in the recon squad. Isane also moves into this trope as the story goes on.
Combat Pragmatist: Soi Fong prides herself on it. Shiba Kuukaku encourages it in her students. But all of the cast are either already Combat Pragmatists or are getting there. Even those who consider it Dirty Business, such as Ukitake and Ikkaku, are willing to do whatever they have to to survive and do whatever damage they can to Aizen's forces. A prime example is La Résistance’s plan to take Gin down, which is underhanded to the point of being cruel. The slide towards this trope by the members of La Résistance is justified by the fact that the “good guys” simply don’t have enough powerful fighters left to try to settle the war in one-on-one duels.
Darker and Edgier: When good guys don't just fight glorious one-on-one five-episodes-long battles for our entertainment, and bad guys don't just conveniently stand there and brag about their brilliant plans and general evilness until being properly defeated by good guys (again, for our entertainment), it becomes much harder to ignore that prolonged warfare is quite an ugly business. Not only is war indeed hell, it's a particularly unattractive and non-romantic hell. And right along with the loss of Plot Armor and the associated tropes, this story takes already disturbing parts of Bleach canon, puts a light and a magnifying glass to them, asks, “How could this be made worse?”—and does it. One example is the new form of hollowfication shown in the fic (or not-so-new—it looks and is implied to be the same as hollow!form of Tousen both in canon and in WW continuity. In canon, though, Tousen was the first and the last shinigami subjected to it, and in WW he has a BIG company). While the hollowfication shown in canon with the Vizards is nasty and scary, they're able to overcome it and remain themselves. The new form of hollowfication apparently can't be fought in that way (possibly because this time there is no Urahara around to help in the first place), and turns several canon characters into Tortured Monsters. At the same time, the villains lose whatever sympathetic traits they had in canon—Gin, for example, goes from merely having a sadistic streak to being pure evil (it is explained and justified in text, but we can safely assume his victims don't care much for the justification).
Aizen, on the other hand, didn't get much worse than his canon self (not that he needed to).
Deadly Doctor: Ogidou, a Fourth Division member who fights using healing kidou reversed to reopen old wounds. The other members of La Résistance are more than a little squicked out, to the point where Hinamori and Iba agree that they would not want him healing their wounds—but no one is trying to get him to stop.
Death by Disfigurement: Gin’s death is pretty brutal. First, he's horribly burned on the left side of his body, with bone showing through in some places, and one arm completely useless. Rather than trying to retreat at this point, when the injury has made one arm useless and generally slowed him down, he keeps on fighting until mortally wounded.
Death Seeker: Byakuya, after killing Hollow Rukia. Kyouraku eventually convinces him to stop trying to die by lying and telling him that his memory of killing Rukia is one of Aizen's illusions, and that she died under completely different circumstances.
Defiant to the End: A flashback reveals that Aikawa Love died this way when captured by Aizen's forces.
Demonic Possession: Suzumushi appears to want to do this to Nanao. (She's not a demon, but she is essentially a spirit trying to take over a person.)
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Takano was a Navy SEAL in life, and still isn't entirely used to women being in front-line combat. Much as he knows that they're capable soldiers, he still feels like he ought to be protecting them. (Thankfully, Takano realizes this isn't a rational reaction under the circumstances and keeps it under control—it's only really apparent in his POV.)
Dirty Business: Many shinigami view their less-than-honorable moments in La Résistance as this. Ukitake in particular dislikes having to forsake the old code of combat, but keeps on because he feels that continuing to fight Aizen is more important than his personal honor, and because he feels that he owes it to the dead to keep fighting.
Disease Bleach: Hisagi's hair had begun to go gray under the stress of the last few months.
Downer Beginning: Ichigo and company never returned from Hueco Mundo, and the Gotei 13 lost the war with Aizen.
Dual Tonfas: Takano Dan's shikai transforms his zanpakutou into one tonfa, and his sheath into the other.
Due to the Dead: Nanao makes a point of bowing to the grave in Suzumushi's inner world. She can't be sure whose grave it is (and one of the possibilities is someone she has no reason to respect), but she does it because "the dead deserved their due honor"—and because of the likely reaction if she doesn't.
Driven to Suicide: Byakuya, after having killed a Hollowfied Rukia and being cut off from either rescue or retreat, decided to commit suicide rather than be captured. He failed, and was captured anyway... but at least hasn't yet been changed.
Empathic Weapon: The zanpaktous of the shinigami play a very large role in this fic.
Enemy Mine: While Suzumushi is willing to work with Nanao for a common goal, she still hates shinigami for the death of her first wielder. She wouldn't be working with one if she had any other choice, and she's probably not the most trustworthy ally even so.
Expendable Clone: The multiple Nemu. Subverted, in that one member of the heroes’ party is unable to fight and kill them so his zanpakuto takes over his body and fights for him.
Explosive Leash: All of the Fourth Division in Hueco Mundo get explosive collars around their necks after Unohana escapes the lab.
Expository Hairstyle Change: Somewhere before the start of the fic, Hinamori burnt off some of her hair in a kidou accident. This obscures her identity and also leads to her being mistaken for a boy at least once. Also, Kon has let his/Ichigo's hair grow out some, which makes him look a bit different than the original inhabitant of "his" body.
Face-Heel Turn: Early on, we're told that Kurotsuchi Mayuri and Hisagi Shuuhei have both defected to Aizen. The latter is actually a Reverse Mole.
Failure Knight: Isane after Unohana's surrender to prevent Seireitei from being destroyed. She's consumed by guilt, even though there was nothing she could have done to change what happened, and convinced that she's weak and useless as a fighter. Despite being one of the few surviving lieutenants, she acts exclusively as Ukitake's physician rather than taking part in the practical or strategy aspects of La Résistance. It's a turning point when she's willing to take iaido lessons from Shirogane, not just because she Takes A Level In Badass, but because she lets go of her guilt in order to be more effective. She's still motivated entirely by a desire to support and help Ukitake, because she couldn't do anything for Unohana.
Fake Defector: Hisagi. Too bad for him everyone who knew he hadn't defected for real is dead...
Fake Kill Scare: Ikkaku used it once—partly as a punishment, partly to beat some sense into Rikichi's overly-enthusiastic head.
Family-Unfriendly Violence: All over the place, but especially Gin’s death scene. In this case it’s made worse by the fact that the other side doesn’t have anyone strong enough to fight him one-on-one—so he’s slowly worn down by several weaker opponents, taking several of them with him.
"Not like working with Taichou, right?" — Ito, to Ikkaku
"Aizen may have turned us into monsters, but there's nothing he can do to take our honor from us. And nothing you can do." — Love, to Gin
"Just a few more things to take care of, and we're done here, Yamada-san." — Ogidou, before trying to kill Hisagi.
"You would have saved me. It is not your fault that I cannot be saved. I thank you. I thank you all. You are setting me free." — Nemu, to Hisagi (really Kazeshini).
"Heh. So I'm finally worth noticing, huh? Good to know." — Tatsuki
Field Promotion: Averted. Ukitake wanted to promote Ikkaku "at least" to a lieutenant, but Ikkaku refused. Strongly. So he's technically still a third seat... despite being the undisputed leader of a group that includes at least one lieutenant.
Gen Fic: While there is a bit of sex and romance in this fic, it's very much in the background—except for Gin's feelings for Rangiku, which are played as scary and creepy rather than romantic.
Give Me a Sword: Subverted. Kazeshini briefly thinks Orihime is trying to pull this, and angrily tells Hisagi not to hand him over (she can have Hanatarou’s if she wants one that badly). Turns out the sword she wants is Kyoka Suigetsu, so that she can reject its powers.
Gondor Calls for Aid: The Resistance lacks even a minimal amount of human resouses needed for retaking Seireitei, so they try their best to enlist everybody in their vicinity to help them. And everybody agrees.
Glomp: Lisa's way of greeting Nanao, who she hadn't seen for a hundred years.
Handicapped Badass: Soifon, Kuukaku, Iba... Ukitake also manages to fight Gin despite being nearly dead on his feet. However, all of them except Kuukaku have a lot of trouble from their injuries.
Happiness in Slavery: Unlike most of the Hollowfied shinigami, Kira stays relatively humanoid and retains a fraction of his intelligence. Mixed with amplified loyalties to Gin, he's reduced to a super-powered lap dog until his demise.
He Knows Too Much: Iemura figures out that Hisagi is a Fake Defector. Said person panics and kills him to prevent him from leaking the information—despite the fact that they're (technically) on the same side and the guy was offering to help him. However, the killer is massively screwed up because of this, fluctuating between desperately trying to justify his action and obsessing over it, to the point where he can hardly function. Finally Kazeshini has to take over his body to prevent him from being killed when he hesitates to fight the Nemu partly because of his guilt over Iemura's murder. The killer's allies ultimately do find out, and while they have decided to withhold any punishment for now, they are not okay with it.
Heroic BSOD: Hisagi, to the point where his zanpakutou has to take over his body for a while just to keep him alive.
Heroic Sacrifice: Takano Dan. He doesn't kill Ichimaru Gin, but he manages to injure him badly enough to give the rest of La Résistance a fighting chance in that battle.
Add Ikkaku and Yumichika to that list after they took out Yammy together.
Hidden Depths: Kazeshini, Hisagi's foul-mouthed Blood Knight of a zanpakutou, is also grimly determined to keep his wielder alive, despite the dangerous situation he's in and the near-breakdown he's going through. He's also surprisingly compassionate towards Nemu.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The Barragan fragment is not immune to its own powers, which is the direct cause of its defeat.
Hope Spot: After killing several clone!Nemu, Grimmjow, Hanatarou, and Hisagi with Kazeshini piloting venture into Mayuri's labs. There they discover the original Kurotsuchi Nemu—who had been given up for dead in-story and out. She's in bad shape, but they hope Orihime can heal her. She explains otherwise: her zanpakutou has been severed and her soul is being drained into her clones... which would remain even if Orihime tried to reject the damage. She asks them to kill her. Reluctantly, Kazeshini agrees. The kicker? If he hadn't hesitated quite so long, Tatsuki would probably not have been killed.
“Lots and lots,” Orihime said. She kept on trying to add two and two together and getting the wrong answer. “But it’s very pretty,” she added, in case she’d hurt Ise’s feelings.
Hypocritical Humor: Nanao describes Aizen as "Something of a control obsessive. The sort of person who has to have everything exactly as planned, precisely as organized, every detail under there control..." And then wonders why Ayasegawa is staring at her.