The First

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.

Warnings: Spoilers for the Soul Society Arc and Beyond

AN: I blame this completely on the fact that Szayel Aporro Grantz has pink hair.

Hougyoku. His most prized creation. A wonder of science and kidou mixed into one small package. Such a simple and elegant thing.

Urahara Kisuke knew that he would have to hide it away, unable to destroy it. But before he did, he had to try it. He had to see if it truly worked.

And now, he was staring at the fruits of his labors.

He watched with morbid fascination as a tiny head lifted and then tilted to the side, pink fuzz just visible beneath the hollow's mask. Beside her, there was a parody of a zanpakutou, the result of his and the Hougyoku's efforts to seal her powers in sword form.

It was an Arrancar.

It was a child. Or to be more precise, an infant. The hollow he had selected was the twisted soul of a child. And he hadn't known. He hadn't even guessed it.

He had known it was possible, likely even. All it took was for a baby to die in infancy and then to have their soul-chain erode before a Shinigami got to them.

And now, he would have to do exactly as he had planned from the beginning, from when he had decided to test the Hougyoku.

Kisuke had to destroy the Arrancar, and he unsheathed Benihime, preparing to do just that.

It wouldn't be like purifying. He knew that, understood it in his very bones. He would actually be killing someone, possibly destroying their soul completely.

Seconds ticked by, followed by minutes.

Kisuke hesitated. He stared down at her pink-red eyes, Benihime poised for the killing stroke.

But he couldn't do it. He couldn't kill a child.

It was one thing to experiment on a hollow, something that was little more than a monster. It was quite another to murder a child in cold blood, especially when their situation was his fault in the first place.

But what else could he do? Let her live? Let her continue to exist as a hybrid with unknowable power and potential?

Already, he could feel her reiatsu tingling just below the surface, sparking the air, even as she cooed at him from the lab table.

And who knows what kind of effect being an Arrancar would even have on her? Who knows how she would develop or even if she would?

She could be stuck as a baby forever or age overnight or maybe something in between. If Kisuke had to guess, however, he would say that she would probably mature very slowly. Judging by the feel of her reiatsu, he did not think such a hypothesis would be too far off the mark.

Still, it was the only way. He couldn't find it in his heart to kill her, but that didn't mean he could allow her to go on as she was.

She was an Arrancar, after all, and a rather conspicuous one at that. Any first-year academy student could easily spot the mask on her head.

The answer was simple enough, and he carefully sealed her powers in less time that it took Shunsui and Isshin to go through an entire case of sake. Now, she was safe from detection, and only a intense and extended amount of reiatsu could possibly wear down the barrier inside her very soul.

Her tiny hollow's mask and zanpakutou had faded away completely. Only the baby remained, sleepily smiling up at him with tired eyes.

But still, what to do with her?

He didn't dare raise her himself. That would lead to too many awkward questions, the very least of which was where he had gotten her.

And that wasn't even mentioning the fact that he knew so little about children, never having had any of his own. Besides, any child raised by him was bound to have severe problems, the kind that would send them to the fourth division's mental ward for a few centuries.

Further, there was a distinct chance that someone could pick up on her strange reiatsu, possibly even figure out what he had done. That would cost them both their heads, not to mention a few other body parts.

No, he couldn't keep her in Seireitei. It was simply too dangerous.

It would have to be Rukongai and somewhere far enough a way that there was little chance for anyone to stumble upon her.

Kisuke fingered a small, metallic cylinder as he deliberated, eyes flicking to the Hougyoku, and he briefly toyed with the idea of stashing it inside his little Arrancar. However, he quickly dismissed the thought, placing both objects in an inner pocket of his robe. He would have to stash the Hougyoku somewhere on the way or possibly on his return trip.

A scant few minutes later, the two of them were ready to depart, the little girl wrapped securely in the spare haori Kisuke kept in his office and snuggled next to his chest. He hesitated at the door, considering his options.


Not the worst district but damn close to it. Nevertheless, it was the best that he could do for her.

He knew a couple, a pair of former Shinigami, who lived there. They were trying to establish some sense of order in the area, trying to cut down on the crime and bring peace to the unfortunate souls who called it home.

A foolish goal… but a noble one.

They would be more than happy to take her in, and even better, they had had a falling out with the Gotei 13. As such, they'd never encourage her to attend the academy or become a Shinigami herself. They'd keep her safely away from anyone who might sense her out, especially if he spun a woeful tale about her past and bizarre spiritual nature.

Further, they simply loved children and had raised a number of them, but due to their own spiritual powers, they had outlived them all.

But as Kisuke gazed down at the sleeping bundle in his arms, a chill went down his spine. He had a feeling, a strange sense of foreboding, that they wouldn't out live this one.

Ever Hopeful,