Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, or any of its characters; Tite Kubo does. I do, however, own this story and any and all OCs that may appear in it (and there are quite a few). So, please don't use anything without first asking me for permission. Thanks.

A/N: Also, just so none of you are confused by this nickname when it shows up, the reason why Kikazaru gets called 'Monkey' at one point is because his name is derived from one of the "Three Wise Monkeys", specifically the one that symbolizes "Hear No Evil". Hope that helps to clear things up. Now, on with the story!

Empire of the Moon

Chapter 1: Umbra

Nine Years After the Epilogue of Love Conquers All

Suzaku Shihoin's orange eyes snapped open and he shot up, breathing hard as little beads of sweat slid slowly down his forehead. Closing his eyes tightly against the memories he thought he'd long since learned to control, the elder Shihoin prince bit back a curse and reluctantly got out of bed. The moon was still high in the sky, but the chances of him getting any more sleep in this state were slim, to say the least.

It had been a long time since one of Aizen's memories had slipped into his dreams like that, let alone one so vivid. He had been floating upwards in a prism of yellow light, having a conversation with Head Captain Ukitake about why he had betrayed Soul Society.

At times like this Suzaku almost wished that Sosuke Aizen was still alive, if only so that he could kill the bastard himself for having screwed him up so badly. There were times when he didn't even know who he was: some days he felt like the young Shihoin prince he knew himself to be, but other days it felt as if he was a brutal, manipulative sociopath who saw people merely as things to be manipulated towards some ultimate goal that had long since faded into dust. Rubbing his bleary eyes and yawning, Suzaku padded out of his room and through the massive main hall of the Shihoin residence, aiming for the kitchen and a comforting glass of chocolate milk.

When the orange-eyed prince got there, he found to his surprise that he wasn't alone. His brother was sitting at the table, golden eyes intently focused as a pencil scratched across a piece of paper, illuminated only by the moon.

"What brings you down here, brother?" Kikazaru mumbled, half-absorbed in whatever problem he was working out at the moment. Suzaku opened the door of the pantry and reached back into the icy section, pulling out a bottle of chocolate milk before sinking into the chair opposite his sibling and sighing.

"Nightmares," he said. "What about you, same thing?"

Kikazaru chuckled.

"You know I don't have those, Suzaku," the blond-haired Shihoin replied. "She takes care of those for me," he continued, gesturing to the sheathed sword lying next to him on the table. "About the only good thing she does, too, if you ask me. Was it the memories again?"

"Yeah," Suzaku said, taking a liberal pull from the bottle. "It was a vivid one this time, too. Much more so than they have been for a while."

"Well, at least they're just memories," Kikazaru offered. "It's not like you have a split personality in there fighting for dominance, like Captain Kurosaki's Inner Hollow. They're just traces, figments. They can be suppressed, and controlled."

"True," the elder prince allowed, praying his brother was right before taking another swig of his beverage and sighing in satisfaction. He wiped off his mouth slowly with the back of his hand, letting the bottle rest on the table for the moment.

"So what brings you down here, Zaru?"

The thin sound of a pencil dancing across a page was the only reply Suzaku got for a few moments, until Kikazaru had apparently worked out whatever problem he'd been puzzling over and looked up, his golden eyes underscored by dark circles.

"Couldn't sleep," he said tersely, and his brother smirked.

"Yeah, I can see that," he parried. "Mind telling me why?"

"No reason," the younger Shihion mumbled lamely, and his brother frowned.

"Look, Zaru," he said, "I've known you your whole life, and if you're one thing, it's a horrible liar. Something's eating at you, I can tell; if you don't want to spill it, that's fine, just don't let whatever it is eat you up from the inside."

"Well, that can't be helped," the golden-eyed prince spoke. "It's already halfway done with me at this point."

Suzaku might not have had his brother's brains, but he wasn't an idiot either. He connected the rather obvious dots quickly, and his frown deepened.

"It's Tomoe, isn't it?" he asked, and the brief hesitation in the pencil's otherwise fluid scrawl told the purple-haired prince he was right.

"Damn it, man," he said, "how many times have I told you? Just go talk to her, for God's sake. It's not like she's going to incinerate you or anything for talking to her."

Kikazaru gave a rueful chuckle.

"Clearly you've never seen her shikai, Suzaku."

"That's not the point, smartass," the orange-eyed prince growled. "I'd be willing to bet you an absurd amount of money that she'd be falling all over herself if you just made the first move."

The golden-eyed prince frowned tiredly.

"You don't have any evidence to back that up, brother."

"Don't I? What about that secret, poetry-writing admirer you seem to have? And it's not like girls at the Academy avoid you, Zaru."

"That's not the point," Kikazaru countered, mirroring his brother's earlier words. "I could care less about those fawning sycophants. For all I know, they're only after the money. And anyway, Tomoe's not someone you can just go up and talk to."

"Bull~shit, Zaru," his brother scoffed. "I've seen you do it plenty of times. You stutter like a fool half the time, sure," Suzaku qualified with a smirk, "but you still do it. Hell, if I can get through to someone as reserved as Sirena, you should have absolutely no problem with a girl as outgoing as Tomoe."

"But that's what I'm saying, Suzaku. If she was interested in me, she probably would have done something about it by now, if she's so outgoing."

The orange-eyed prince just smirked.

"Maybe she's waiting for someone who has the balls to approach her without shaking like a leaf, brother," Suzaku said as he got up, taking the bottle of chocolate milk with him, "and if you don't try, you'll never know. Just think about it, all right? Your moping's rubbing off on me," he finished, flashing away and leaving his golden-eyed sibling by himself.

"You may have a point there," Kikazaru muttered, scribbling furiously on the piece of paper as the sun began to peek over the horizon.

"Let's see what today brings, shall we?"

Suzaku stood out in the prodigious garden of the Shihoin estate, watching the sun rise inch by inch over the horizon.

"You're up early, kid," an amused voice called out from behind him, and the prince allowed himself a genuine smile as a slender but strong arm encircled him from behind.

"Morning, mom," he said softly, as Yoruichi's free hand buried itself in his unruly hair.

"Your father always loved watching the sunrise," she mused softly, her golden eyes taking in the flora as it gradually opened up to drink in the rays of the sun. "Sometimes, he wouldn't even sleep; he'd just sit out on the roof, gazing at the moon until it set and the sun came up."

"Well, I guess I know who I get the early riser in me from, then," Suzaku said lightly, "because it certainly wasn't you."

Yoruichi put on a mock-hurt expression.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked. "I'm up now, aren't I?"

The orange-eyed prince sniffed the air, and his mouth curled up into a feline grin.

"Only because pops bribed you with bacon and eggs, mom. Otherwise you'd still be counting sheep by the flock, and you know it."

The Shihion matriarch wanted to be peeved at her son for being so perceptive, but she could only smile in kind.

"You sly little devil, you," she half-growled, kissing his cheek quickly before breaking off her hold and walking back towards the house.

"That's another thing you definitely got from your father," she said, and Suzaku just laughed as he flashed back inside for breakfast.

Breakfast in the Shihoin household was always an adventure in and of itself. From the moment the food hit the table Kisuke and Kikazaru were testing out its various attributes, from the tensile strength and elasticity of the bacon to the most efficient way to peel the shell from a hardboiled egg and just how much syrup a pancake could absorb before it became completely saturated. Suzaku and Yoruichi would inevitably get into an eating contest to see who could wolf down their food the fastest, and various forms of distraction and sabotage would ensue during the battle to determine the God of Consumption. The price of victory was steep, however, as the winner was almost always slammed with a crippling case of indigestion immediately afterwards while the loser looked on and laughed.

Once the initial whirlwind of activity had settled down, conversation could ensue uninterrupted.

"So, Suzaku," Yoruichi broached as she gnawed on a piece of bacon, "how's your training with Captain Soi Fon going?"

"Well enough," her elder son replied, taking a bite out of a pancake. "I'm not dead and I still have all of my limbs, so I must be doing something right," he continued, before giving his mother a searching look.

"You're not telling her to hold back, are you?"

"What?!" Yoruichi exclaimed, affronted. "Why do you think I would do something like that? I would never…" she persisted, but as those orange eyes kept giving her the same stare that she would always use to wear down Kisuke during their spats, she cracked and sighed.

"Maybe a little…" the Shihoin queen admitted, and her husband smirked.

"Busted," he said. "You should know you can't keep the wool over their eyes, Yoruichi. They've got too much of you in 'em for that to work."

"I knew it!" Suzaku said victoriously. "So there was a reason Lieutenant Grimmjow pushed me so much harder than the Captain. Well from now on, I'm only training with him."

Yoruichi's golden eyes narrowed at the challenge, her maternal instinct compounded by her competitive streak.

"You can try to do that, Suzaku," she said with an edge sharp enough to cut glass, "but I can always have Soi Fon command you to train under her instead, and if there's one thing she won't tolerate in the slightest, it's insubordination."

The two purple-haired Shihoins were locked in a brief staring contest, but after a few moments the younger one gave in, huffing and shoving a skewered piece of pancake into his mouth.

"Touché, mother."

Yoruichi smiled warmly, reaching over and ruffling her son's hair.

"You're so cute when you get angry," she teased, and the elder son could only sigh as his brother and adopted father had a hearty laugh at his expense. Kisuke's eye soon caught the piece of paper his son had been scribbling on the night before, however, and the twinkle of laughter in his eye was rapidly supplanted by the much fiercer gleam of curiosity.

"And what might that be, I wonder?" he said half-to-himself, and before Kikazaru could stop his father the scrap was trapped securely between two chopsticks. Urahara's grey eyes were looking over its scribblings a moment later, as Kikazaru's golden eyes widened progressively in terror.

"What?" Suzaku broke in. "It's just a blueprint or something, right?"

Kisuke's roguish grin flashed onto his face, his grey eyes bright with mischievous glee.

"No," he said slowly and deliberately, in the tone he usually adopted when he was building up to some great scientific revelation, "oh, no. This is much, much better than that. It looks like our monkey here is a closet romantic!"

Yoruichi's eyes brightened and she gave her younger son a hug, who by now looked utterly mortified.

"Oh, I knew this day would come for you eventually, Zaru," she said, the grin on her face a sharp contrast to the blanched look of horror on her son's. "So, who's the lucky girl?"

Kikazaru was silent as the grave, but Urahara was holding the answer in his hand.

"Why don't I tell you?" he said dramatically. "I think this haiku does a splendid job of illustrating her virtues—"

A streak of blue lightning lanced through the page and burned it to a crisp before the Captain could finish, and the golden-eyed prince found his voice again.

"Say one more word," he spoke, "and the next byakurai goes through your hat."

Urahara's voice turned serious.

"You wouldn't…"

"Try me."

Kisuke wavered for a moment before ceding the battle to his progeny.

"I was giving you a compliment on your poetic prowess," he grumbled. "Geez, kids these days…"

"He's your son," Yoruichi was quick to chime in, smiling. "In any event, I'm sure whoever Kikazaru has his eyes set on is a wonderful girl, and things will work out splendidly for the two of them."

"That's what I've been trying to tell him," Suzaku said, before having to dodge a hard-boiled egg chucked right at his head.

"All right, all right," Kisuke said, "let's get going over to the Academy, before we wind up burning this house down. I'm late for work anyway, and I hate the thought of Nemu picking up all of my slack."

The Soul Reaper Academy was a pretty calm place considering how many new students were being trained there; most of them were so absorbed in their studies that there was little time for anything boisterous. There were exceptions to this trend, however.

Seven of them, to be exact.

"Oi, Sirena," Tomoe spoke out, as the seven friends sat in the library 'studying', "explain something to me."

"Hm?" Schiffer half-mumbled, peaking over the top of the book she was looking through and locking her green eyes on her friend's black ones.

"Why is it that almost everyone you meet you consider trash not worth fighting, and the few people you do think are worth your time you have no desire to fight?"

"Because the few people that are worth my time are much more valuable as allies than as enemies," the green-eyed Soul Reaper replied. "If you wish to spar with me, though, Tomoe," she added, the playful undercurrent she inherited from her mother entering her voice, "all you have to do is say the word."

"Easy, easy," Inari chimed in, a smirk on his face. "Although I'm sure myself and every other red-blooded male in the Seireitei would give the shirts off of their backs to see that, I doubt the higher-ups would be pleased with the collateral damage you two beauties would leave in your wake."

Tomoe snorted derisively.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Inari," she answered. "Besides, I thought your heart belonged to someone else."

The young Ichimaru's smirk widened into a smile.

"Aye, that it does," he replied, his grey-blue eyes twinkling impishly, "but I ain't blind."

"I wonder how Iteza would react if she heard that," Kaien spoke up, the smile that was hidden by a textbook clearly evident in his voice.

"No doubt she'd make a pincushion out of him in a second flat," Masaki opined, jotting something down in a notebook. "I hear Quincy don't take too kindly to being cheated on."

"Hey, hey," Ichimaru said, his hands up and palms out, "everyone's over-reacting here. Just because I happen to have a girlfriend who I adore more than sake doesn't mean I can't appreciate beauty when I see it. Am I right, Suzaku?"

Normally Inari's best friend would back him up, but the elder Shihoin knew just how precarious his current position was, given that the fingers currently stroking the top of his feline head belonged to Sirena Schiffer.

"No comment," he half-purred, closing the one orange eye he had opened and curling back up in his girlfriend's lap.

"Traitor," Inari muttered, smiling.

"Hey, Suzaku," Kaien broached, "don't we have kendo class right now?"

The cat in Sirena's lap uncurled himself and stretched out, yawning.

"I think you're right, unfortunately," he said, jumping off of Schiffer's lap and changing back into human form, having learned how to conveniently retain his clothing post-transformation. Apparently, his mother had never bothered to learn how to begin with.

"That asshole Rakon is probably going to be running his mouth again," the orange-eyed prince continued, his voice back to normal. "I swear to God, if he says one more thing about my mother, I'm going to break every single bone in his body."

"If I don't do it first," Kikazaru spoke up, closing his heavy book with a thud and throwing it into a sack. "I'm off to go help my dad in his lab. See you guys later."

"See you, Zaru," Tomoe called out after the vanishing form, scribbling down the last lines of a tanka she was writing with a small sigh. It was the latest in a long series she had been slipping into Kikazaru's various belongings anonymously, and for a genius, he was certainly taking his sweet time figuring out who the author was. Once all of the pieces clicked in his head, Tomoe could only hope that he felt the same way about her; after all, she wasn't about to put her heart out there for it to get smashed to pieces. For all of the strength she had inherited from her parents, Tomoe Jaegerjaques had also received her mother's hidden emotional fragility and fear of rejection, which she kept just as well hidden behind layers of bravado and intimidation as her mother had.

If only he would just say something…

The shouts and grunts of exertion echoed throughout the dojo, but Kaien and Suzaku sparred in almost eerie silence. They'd developed a friendly rivalry over time, Suzaku's skill in hand-to-hand combat matched by Kaien's almost inhuman prowess with his zanpakuto, the first pair of blades in millennia. Training under co-Head Captain Ukitake himself had improved the young Kuchiki's proficiency immensely, and the fact that Jushiro trained him even harder than normal to make up for failing the boy's namesake certainly increased the pace of his improvement.

And so the Kuchiki noble and the Shihoin prince had made an arrangement of sorts; Suzaku would help Kaien with hand-to-hand combat, and Kaien would show Suzaku the finer points of kendo, like he was doing right then.

"That was a good strike," he said, deftly sidestepping it, "but you left me open for a counter!"

The purple-haired Soul Reaper barely blocked the next strike, and Kaien let up the pressure on his bokken with a smirk.

"Always make sure that your stance is fluid enough to be able to recover immediately after making a strike," he explained. "Otherwise you'll never be able to strike with your full strength, because committing all of your power to one blow will leave you open if it misses. And if you keep swinging your sword like that," he finished teasingly,

"I think you'll be missing quite a lot."

Suzaku just laughed it off.

"Thanks for the lesson, teach," he said sarcastically. "Just wait until hand-to-hand combat, and I'll show you a fluid stance."

The two friends were cut off by the very sharp point of a zanpakuto burying itself in the ground between them, before retracting back.

"If you have time to be chatting," Gin Ichimaru's voice floated over to them, "you have time to be training, no?"

Kaien and Suzaku barely repressed shudders at the pointed gesture, squaring back up and renewing their exercises. After several minutes of sparing Suzaku definitely felt himself improving, but Kaien had an infuriating knack for kendo and was still miles ahead of him. The noble and the prince were cooling down after their grueling lesson in the virtually deserted dojo when an unwelcome visitor decided to make his appearance.

"Well, well," Rakon said, cracking his knuckles and his neck as he approached the duo, "if it isn't the demon bastard, and his friend the spoiled rich kid. Hey, Kuchiki," his taunt continued, "is it true that you're getting trained by Captain Ukitake himself? Tell me, is that just your money talking, or do you have the skills to back it up?"

Kaien's grey eyes narrowed murderously, the tempers of both his mother and his father rearing up within him. Rakon had been giving them shit since they had been kids, and now that they were 18 and 19 the insults had only gotten more pointed and petty.

"Would you like to see?" the noble hissed, smoothly shifting his wooden sword into an attack position. Before he could strike, however, Suzaku's hand clamped down on his shoulder and stopped him.

"You know this punk isn't worth it," he said, turning around. "Let's just go, Kaien."

But Rakon wasn't about to give up that easily.

"Oh, I get it," he crooned. "The demon bastard is worried that his bad side might come out if he actually grow a pair and fights somebody. Well, maybe if your mom hadn't been such a shameless whore you never would have been born in the first place."

Suzaku stopped cold, gripping his bokken so hard that a thin trickle of blood began running down its wooden edge.

"What, you still won't turn around and fight me?" the other boy continued, heedless of the danger he was careening into headlong. "You scared that there aren't any teachers here?"

"No," the prince said icily as he turned around slowly,

"But you should be."

Suzaku's seething reiatsu shifted instantly into a calm, still presence that nonetheless felt like a massive wave could erupt from it at any second and swallow its prey whole. His eyes became slightly unfocused, and his mouth turned up into a sadistic grin that only meant one thing:

Aizen's last shreds had come out to play.

Before the thug could even flinch the orange-eyed prince vanished from sight completely, only to reappear behind him a second later with a bokken substantially more bloody than the one he had been holding mere seconds before.

"You know, I keep telling people not to use such strong words," Suzaku spoke as Rakon fell to his knees, eyes glassy and wide with shock.

"It just makes you seem weak."

The boy fell the rest of the way to the ground, immobile, while Kaien could only look on in shock. He'd only seen this kind of outburst once before, and if anything this episode had been even more intense than the previous one. His friend seemed to snap out of it, shaking his head and trembling slightly before he spoke.

"I don't want to turn around, do I?" he asked, his voice uncertain.

"It's pretty bad," the young Kuchiki replied with a grimace.

"God damn it," Suzaku growled raggedly. "I was supposed to be past this!" Sighing, he refocused himself and turned to face his friend, cringing when he saw the prone body on the floor.

"You run and get a medic," he said gravely,

"I'm going to go see Head Captain Kyoraku."

When Suzaku reached the First Division Headquarters, he found the co-Head Captain he was looking for having an intense conversation with Stark. Assuming it was of the important and tactical variety, the Shihoin prince kept to the shadows until a warm voice addressed him.

"It's all right, Suzaku-kun," Shunsui said. "You can come out; Stark and I were just finishing up."

The purple-haired Soul Reaper walked out into the open just as the former First Espada walked past him. The two locked eyes for a moment, and flashes of conversations they'd never had passed through Suzaku's mind. They vanished when he blinked, and he gave Stark a curt nod as they went their separate ways. The Arrancar looked surprised for a moment, as the gesture had perfectly mirrored the way Aizen had always dismissed him, but he shrugged it off as coincidence and disappeared with a buzz.

"Come, sit," Kyoraku said once the two Soul Reapers had been left alone. "Have a drink."

"Thanks," the orange-eyed prince said as he sat down cross-legged on the mat opposite the floral-cloaked Captain, taking down a cup of sake a little too quickly. The perceptive chocolate eyes in front of him noticed this, and Shunsui's normally jovial expression became serious.

"You had another one, huh?"

Suzaku sighed as he put the cup down.

"Yeah. Was it that obvious?"

"I could sense the change from all the way over here, Suzaku-kun. Your reiatsu is almost never that controlled, or that menacing. I thought you said you were getting training from Captain Kurosaki to control those outbursts…?"

"I am," the young man insisted, almost desperately, before lowering his voice, "but it looks like that isn't enough. That's why I came to see you, actually, Head-Captain, sir."


"I'd like to…" the Shihoin prince paused for a heartbeat, feeling himself standing at a threshold.

"I'd like to be transferred into the Human World, sir," he finished, bowing his head in supplication. Shunsui looked down at the Soul Reaper with kind eyes, his brow slightly furrowed in concern.

"Are you sure that would be the best course of action for you to take, Suzaku-kun?"

The prince's orange eyes blazed with conviction as he looked up to meet the Head Captain's gaze, his expression resolute.

"Absolutely, sir. If I can't control myself enough to keep from injuring someone as badly as I did just now, I think it would be best if I tackled this problem on my own."

Kyoraku sighed; the kid was as stubborn as his father and as strong-willed as his mother. If he wanted to do this, there was no way anyone could stop him; the best they could do would be to monitor him.

"Very well," the Head Captain said heavily, "I'll get you the shift in Karakura Town. But you have to agree not to take an untraceable gigai, and I expect you to deliver reports weekly on your progress."

Suzaku nodded in relief and gratitude.

"Of course, Head-Captain, sir. Thank you very much!" he finished as he flashed away, but Shunsui could only bow his head.

"Don't thank me yet, kid," he said. "Your fight is just beginning, from the sound of it. I hope you know what you're doing."

The elder Shihoin prince was sitting on his bed contemplating the decision he had just made when he felt a familiar presence at the door and turned, giving a strained smile.

"Hey," he greeted, and Sirena chuckled tiredly, smirking.

"Let it never be said you're not a man of your word, Suzaku Shihoin," she said, walking over and plopping down next to him.

"You really did break every bone in that guy's body. He'll live, in case you were worried," she finished drolly.

"He deserved it," the prince muttered petulantly, before he was silenced by the pressure of a hand resting on top of his. Looking over, he found himself staring into uncommonly expressive green eyes.

"You're really doing it, aren't you?" she said softly. "Going away, I mean."

As she had grown, Sirena had started to take more and more after her mother, from the darkening shade of her skin and the length of her hair to the way she could break through the toughest of exteriors with a single, pleading look. In those rare moments when she decided to fight, though, her cold ruthlessness put her father to shame. Suzaku sighed, frowning.

"I have to," he pressed, his voice edging on agonized. "I don't want to, but there's no other way to guarantee that I won't snap at the wrong time, that I won't… hurt someone I care about," he grit out, ashamed of his own weakness.

"Don't be ridiculous, Suzaku," Schiffer whispered as she embraced him, leaning her head against the crook of his neck. "I know weakness when I see it, and there isn't a shred of it here," she continued, placing her free hand on his chest. "If you really want to do this then I'll trust you, but you have to promise me that it isn't just because you're going through a mood-swing."

The prince gave a hollow chuckle.

"You know I wouldn't leave unless it was serious," he replied. "But it's not like you'll never see me again, or anything. I'll be back; that's a promise."

"I'll hold you to that," Sirena said firmly, looking him dead in the eye. This time his chuckle was real as he leaned in and kissed her, breaking apart a few moments later and smirking.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," he quipped. "Now get out of here, or I won't get any packing done!"

Schiffer scowled.

"And I was this close," she grated out, disappointed, the smile in her voice taking the edge off of her words. The prince laughed, his orange eyes twinkling.

"So that's why you came here," he parried, before putting on a hurt expression. "Geez, sometimes I think you just see me as a piece of meat."

Sirena smiled.

"A very kind, attractive piece of meat," she qualified as she walked out the door. "Now hurry up and get going; I doubt Tomoe's goodbye is going to be as kind as mine if she finds out you're leaving."

The purple-haired Soul Reaper could only shudder; he and Tomoe had developed a rivalry not unlike the one their mothers had once possessed. Clearly, the Fon desire for superiority over the Shihoin had been dyed into her bones.

"Thanks for the warning," he called out after his departing girlfriend, rubbing a bruise on his shoulder that had flared up just at the memory of when he'd received it at Tomoe's hands. Hurriedly packing the rest of his belongings and snatching up his zanpakuto, Suzaku rushed out the door towards the senkaimon that had been prepared for his departure.

When he got there, Suzaku found that someone was already waiting for him.

"Stark," he said smoothly to the former First Espada, in a tone that wasn't entirely his own. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

The Arrancar's normally lackadaisical demeanor vanished as his suspicions were confirmed, and when he spoke his voice was as serious as Captain Kyoraku's had been earlier.

"I just felt I should leave you with a few words of wisdom before you go, kid," he replied. "If I'm reading this right, some scintilla of Aizen's soul managed to latch onto you despite his failure to completely subvert your soul, and its influence is growing. Am I wrong?"

Suzaku's silence told Stark that he was, in fact, correct in his assumption.

"That's what I thought," the Arrancar continued. "Look, kid, I'm not going to tell you what to do or how to handle this problem you've got going on, but I can tell you a few things about Aizen that might help you out.

"If there is one thing that man loves to do, it's ambush. He'll lull you into a false sense of security, and then blindside you. The moment you start to feel weak or exhausted, anything that might compromise your strength, he's going to make his move. And you can't on-guard all the time, so the best piece of advice I can give you is to be prepared for those moments of weakness when they come. If you give Aizen a single inch, your eyes will be brown before you know it."

Suzaku took Stark's sobering words to heart, bowing in gratitude.

"Thank you."

The former First Espada just yawned, his stoic demeanor gone without a trace.

"Don' mention it, kid," he said tiredly, walking away. "Damn, I need to take a nap…"

The Arrancar vanished with a buzz, and the purple-haired Soul Reaper could only shake his head ruefully as he entered into the Gate, wondering just how this could possibly end well for him.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

"So, he's gone?"

"Yup," Kaien answered, addressing the silver-haired Soul Reaper who'd just spoken. Inari gave a strained smile.

"Stubborn bastard," he said bittersweetly. "Of course he wouldn't say goodbye.

"When he gets back here, I'm gonna smash his face in," Tomoe's agitated voice growled. "He could have at least sparred with me once before high-tailing it into the Human World, the wuss."

"I don't know if you'd want to do that, Tomoe," Kikazaru replied. "It doesn't happen very often, but when my brother loses control in a fight, well…"

"It's not something you want to be anywhere near," Inari affirmed, his blue-grey eyes unusually serious. "The last time he snapped it was against a rabid adjuchas, and all of a sudden he used kurohitsugi. Neither of us had ever even seen the incantation for the spell before, and he bypassed it like he was casting shakkaho. And it wasn't reduced in power, either; that mess took a long, long time to clean up."

Masaki couldn't completely repress a shudder at the image.

"I guess I can see why he'd want to get away from us, then," she said, her voice sounding wounded, "but it's not like we couldn't have helped him. If he'd just asked us…"

"No, Masaki," Kaien broke in. "This is something only he can deal with, in the end. That doesn't mean that I won't be keeping tabs on him, though, just in case he does something stupid," the noble finished with a mischievous grin, "and you guys are more than welcome to join in, if you like."

The friends looked around at each other and came to a silent agreement: this might ultimately be Suzaku's problem, but if he ever needed help they'd be right there to lend a hand, whether he wanted it or not.

Suzaku touched down in the Human World, his gigai in place and Soul Candy in his pocket. First thing was first, he needed to find a place to crash where no one would call him a freeloader and occasionally spit on him for fun. The solution to his problem was so obvious that the Shihion prince wanted to smack himself on the forehead for not having thought of it sooner. Taking off at a run, he was a little over halfway to his destination when a sight made him stop in his tracks:

A gang of thugs was beating up on a disheveled old man, who seemed to be taking the beating without a hint of complaint and bracing himself on a walking stick to stay upright as the blows rained down on him. Unable to remain a bystander, Suzaku moved in and quickly gave each of the bullies multiple compound fractures to remember him by. Once the scene had calmed down the exiled prince turned his attention to the bruised man, who seemed oddly familiar.

"You all right there, gramps?" he asked, surveying the rather substantial cuts and scrapes that the old man had been given, which overlapped numerous other scars across his weathered skin. The man turned his weary eyes to face Suzaku, and in that instant the orange-eyed Shihoin knew why this man had looked so familiar.

"No way…"

When the man groaned and began to fall to the ground, the purple-haired Soul Reaper caught his frame and braced it on his shoulder. For someone so muscular he was surprisingly light, feeling almost malnourished.

"Let's go," he said half-to-himself. "I'm about to pay a visit to a friend of mine, and her mother should be able to help you out."

As he raced through the streets, Suzaku Shihoin found himself wrestling with a single, incredulous question:

What the hell was the presumed-deceased, former Head Captain Genryusai-Shigekuni Yamamoto doing in the Human World, and how had he just gotten his ass handed to him by a bunch of punks?

A/N: So, there's the first chapter. It's an intro of sorts; the upcoming chapters are going to go more in-depth into things, such as what the Arrancar are doing over in Hueco Mundo and just what the heck Yamamoto is doing in the Human World and why he's so weak. I'm trying to focus more on character development right now than sweeping, epic plot, so that when things really start moving you actually care about the people involved. Also, Ichigo and the other Captains WILL have roles in this story, too; it won't just be the next generation of kids.

I hope you enjoyed it, and please leave a review to let me know what you thought!