Chapter Thirty Nine: Mirai E

"Somehow this seems the wrong way around."

Juushirou stepped into the Healing Bay, a wry smile on his lips as he met his classmate's teasing gaze from across the room. It was two days since that long evening when Shunsui's life had hung in the balance, and already it seemed an aeon ago. Though Shunsui was still pale and drawn, there was life in the boy's dark eyes, and despite himself Juushirou felt relieved to see it.

"It is the wrong way around." He said firmly, coming to sink down beside the bed. "And I'm sorry not to have come more quickly. But while your family were here, and Saku...I thought it would be fine to wait a day or two. I thought you'd want them more, after all, straight away."

Shunsui took a heavy breath into his lungs, making himself more comfortable against his pillows.

"I don't know how you do it." He admitted. "I really don't. I've been sick for only two days and already I'm fed up with it. Sleeping in loses its novelty when you feel rough - and I've been told I'm staying here for at least another week. Maybe two, depending on how quickly I heal. Even though the curse is broken, it left its mark - apparently I'm quite burnt inside, which, somehow, doesn't surprise me."

He sighed, then,

"I'm glad you're here, Juu-kun. Even feeling like this, I was beginning to get desperate. I was just debating whether or not I could slip out of the window without Unohana-sama catching me and punishing me with one of those disapproving doctor glares of hers."

"Unohana-sensei's glares?" Juushirou looked confused, then he shrugged.

"To be honest, I like it much less being this side of the equation too." He admitted. "Not being able to do anything - I hate that. This was my fault - all of it was my fault, whether you acknowledge it to me or not. Sensei was right when he said that the burden would be heavier because of that - I'll never forget as long as I live that my actions almost caused your death."

"I told you. Payback for the Hollow. We're even." Shunsui grinned at him. "Really. Don't worry about it. I decided to help you, and neither of us knew what we were dealing with."

"No..." Juushirou hesitated, then he shook his head, letting out a heavy sigh. "No. It's bigger than that. Shunsui, Sensei said something to me...about this...and I...wanted to talk to you about it a little, I think. If you're up to listening."

"My ears are about the only part of me not still chargrilled." Shunsui said wryly, a hoarse note in his tones. "Go ahead."

Juushirou bit his lip, carefully thinking over in his mind how to begin. Then he let out another heavy sigh.

"I was cross with you, when you protected me over Midori-sama." He said quietly. "I bull-headedly went into it regardless of what I did or didn't know, and it might have got me killed. You said things then - you tried to warn me - about what I didn't know about the Clans. And I didn't want to listen."

"I was probably taking it too far...maybe even smothering you." Shunsui looked startled. "Besides, this is old. We settled it. Why bring...bring it up again?"

"Because I did the same with Seimaru." Juushirou gazed at his hands. "Didn't I? I thought...Midori-sama...that went all right, and I could appeal to her better nature. And I...let was because I didn't know what I was doing that you got hurt like you did. Even though you've said it, Shihouin-kun, Hirata and Kuchiki-kun all did...I still...acted on my own impulses. And almost got you killed."

He closed his eyes briefly, then,

"Sensei said the worst thing a Shinigami can do is put a comrade in danger because of his own shortcomings." He whispered. "And that if I can't see that...I'll never be a Shinigami he can depend on."

"He said what?" Indignation and shock flared in Shunsui's tired brown eyes. "Why would..."

"He's right, Shunsui." Juushirou met his friend's gaze. "He said that you protected me then because that's your Shinigami instinct to protect. And that Hirata went to Midori-sama because he understood the Clans. But I need to think...about the influence I have on other people. And I suppose...if that's the case...I do."

Shunsui was silent for a moment, then he grinned, reaching out a trembling hand to touch Juushirou's arm.

"You're fine as you are." He said quietly. "We all do crazy things. Yama-jii shouldn't have laid into you like that. You have your own justice - that's all."

"Not if it means people die because of me."

"But I'm not dead." Shunsui said matter-of-factly. "So let it go...all right? Don't look so broken up over it. Just, next time, think it out clearly. That's what Sensei's telling you. Find all the facts out first before you act. If he really thought you wouldn't make a Shinigami, he would never have told you anything at all."

"I guess I know that." Juushirou admitted. "'s not nice, knowing a good friend is fighting for his life because of something you did."

"I felt like that in the cave, after we faced that Hollow." Shunsui said frankly. "We're even. Clean slate. Move on. Okay?"

Juushirou was silent for a moment, then he nodded.


"Atta boy." Shunsui's eyes twinkled. "Besides, I'm still alive."

He coughed, closing his eyes briefly, then,


"Your will to live was strong enough to pull you through." Juushirou reflected, and Shunsui nodded.

"A lot of people were trying to pull me through too, though." He murmured. "I felt it. Fleetingly. Bits and pieces of people's reiatsu. And I...I guess that's the only thing I had to cling on to. I don't remember much from the night I was really bad. Yesterday I remember - talking to Saku, having Mother fuss over me, and Tokutarou-nii tell me that if I ever do anything so stupid again he'll impale me personally on his zanpakutou. I think he was worried about me, too. But most of's blurry. From the fight with Seimaru to waking up here - I guess maybe it's better that it's that way."

He grinned sheepishly.

"Mother wanted to take me home, but Unohana-sensei refused." He added. "I was glad, too. The last thing I want to do is travel - I don't think there's any part of my body that doesn't sting, ache or burn."

He rubbed his temples.

"You really are amazing though, Juu." He said seriously.

"Amazing?" Juushirou was taken aback. "In what way, exactly?"

"To have fevers, to cough and choke and feel like you can't breathe." Shunsui swallowed hard, then, "I've never been ill, not really. And never understood...even if I thought I did...what you go through. I remember only bits and pieces...but I know... in the forest, when I thought I couldn't breathe, you stopped me from panicking. You understood, didn't you? What it was that I was feeling."

"When I have an attack, I never like to be alone." Juushirou spoke soberly. "For the same reason. Having someone else nearby is comforting...and if I get into real difficulty, maybe they can help."

He shrugged, nodding his head.

"I understood." He agreed frankly. "I didn't like it, because I understood."

"And when Unohana-sensei first brought me u...up here, the made me cough." Shunsui rubbed his throat ruefully. "And I coughed...and coughed...till I was coughing b...blood and...I couldn't stop. Unohana...sensei had to use Kidou to calm me down. A lot of it, too. I was...I was scared, Juu. Really scared. And it hurt. A whole lot."

He sent his friend a sidelong glance.

"It felt like Death was clawing me away from the inside. Yet you dismiss it so easily. Like it's nothing." He murmured. "I know now, though. The truth is, it isn't nothing, is it? When you're feverish and silly, we all know about it. When you cough and spasm, it's obvious you're sick. But what you actually go through...and the rest of the're never fully well, are you? Yet even so..."

"I'm me." Juushirou shook his head, holding up his hand to stop Shunsui in mid-sentence. "This is the only me I know. The only one I'll ever know. It's normal for me so I don't have a comparison and I don't need one. When I have an attack, then I'm ill. When I have a fever, I'm a little under the weather. Right now, I'm all right. This is fine for me. This is normal. Everyone's normal is different - that's all it is. It's not amazing really. Just status quo."

"But it isn't fair." Shunsui admitted. "And it makes me angry, thinking of it like that. You shouldn't have to go through that, ever. You work harder than I do. You complain less than I do. You care about people more than I do. And yet you have people like Onoe clawing at your reputation, when you're fighting some days just to get up and to class. I've seen it, a couple of times, but not really thought about it. That you've not been one hundred percent and fit. But..."

"I already told you. Stop it." Despite himself, Juushirou laughed. "You're thinking about this far too much, you know. I can't change it, fair or not. So I could moan about it...or I could get on and live how I can. And that's all there is to it."

He pursed his lips.

"If I don't fight it, it eats away at me and I'm worse, anyway." He said soberly. "I've tried that. I can't do anything but fight it. In the end, Shunsui, it's that which is going to make me a Shinigami. That and listening to Sensei's advice. I'm determined. If I don't control my spirit power, it will kill me - or it will hurt someone I'm close to. Neither of those things are options I'm willing to consider."

He held up his right hand, spreading the fingers pensively.

"Sensei said I'd wield a sword, one day, in this hand." He added. "If I learnt to manage what potential I have and thought carefully about how I affect those around me. And that's what I intend to do. It's not just for my sake, after all. It's for the Districts, isn't it? You've tried to drum that into me too - and so did Anideshi. If I succeed, others can succeed. So I'll succeed. That's the one thing I decided, that night when you were fighting fever and I couldn't sleep. That whatever happened, I would succeed."

"You'll drag me along with you, right?" Shunsui eyed him hopefully, and Juushirou grinned.

"Of course." He agreed. "That's for sure. We're a team. Aren't we?"

"I suppose so." Shunsui acknowledged, returning the grin. "Team Stupid. Right?"

Juushirou chuckled, nodding his head.

"That's right." He agreed. "That's exactly what we are."

"But even if you put it like that, Juu, you won't change one thing." Shunsui said frankly. "What you do - how much you achieve - it seems pretty phenomenal to me."

He shrugged gingerly.

"Maybe this has been a good thing, in one way." He added. "I see it a little bit more clearly from your perspective."

"I was thinking, last night." Juushirou admitted. "As time goes day there might be situations where our lives are in jeopardy again, Shunsui. When we're really fighting for not just our lives, but other people's lives too. Did you ever stop and really think of that? We've said it loads of times, I know...but having your life in the balance made me consider it even more. It makes me wonder...will we ever be in a position where we can make the right decisions every time?"

"Nobody makes the right decision every time." Shunsui said wisely. "And there will always be people like Seimaru who cheat the rules. That's probably how it's going to be from now on till we die. If we become Shinigami - that's the kind of life it's going to be."

"You sound resigned." Juushirou looked surprised, and Shunsui shook his head.

"I'm not resigned." He admitted. "But I realised I don't want to die yet. And I don't want to see other people die, either. You said if you don't like something, change it. Maybe I'm starting to understand that. Even a tiny little bit is enough for now. I realised if the Clan system wasn't so corrupt, Seimaru would be arraigned for Megumi's murder and his role in everything else. He won't be, because things are like they are. If he'd been arraigned, what happened in the town wouldn't have happened. So in the the end someone does have to do something, don't they? If everyone just walks away from it..."

"That's why Sensei set up the Academy. It's why we're here." Juushirou told him, and Shunsui grinned.

"It's why you're here." He corrected. "I'm here because I need to learn sense and discipline."

"The end result is still the same." Juushirou pointed out. "We're still learning to be catalysts for change, aren't we? To stop Hollows hurting people. To save souls. To make a difference."

"Your idealism always makes me jealous." Shunsui admitted. "That even now you can see it so simply. But I guess...that's your strength too. That you believe in things."

"But I'm going to try not to be so idealistic." Juushirou said firmly. "From now on at least. Sensei said I needed to understand the Clans without being tainted by them. That's my aim from hereon in. And you can help me."

"If that's what you want, though you might not like it." Shunsui grimaced. "Still, at least there's one thing I can do. When I'm allowed back home, you can come with me. And see it first hand - what it is to be a Noble son."

"Would your family mind?" Juushirou looked doubtful, and Shunsui shook his head.

"Nii-sama likes you." He replied. "So really, it'll be fine."

Juushirou smiled.

"Then I'll take you home to meet mine, too, sometime." He promised. "If you wanted."

"I'd like that a lot." Shunsui's eyes twinkled. "I'm curious about this brood of Ukitake chibis you have swarming around the Sixth District coast. If I wouldn't be in anyone's way, I'd like to meet the people you call yours."

"Then I'll ask Okaasama in my next letter." Juushirou decided. "And see what she says. I can't imagine she'd mind. She was worried about me making friends, after all."

"One worry she really need not have had." Shunsui observed wryly. "All right. Then it's settled."

He paused for a minute, glancing at his hands, then,

"Fever is a strange thing." He murmured. "And I really don't remember a lot from that night, but there was one thing I wanted to talk to you about, too. I thought about it a lot yesterday - telling Mother or someone but...somehow it didn't seem to make sense then. I'm not sure if it does now - but while we're sharing..."

He faltered, and Juushirou nodded.

"Shoot." He said simply. "I'm listening."

I remember fleeting glimpses of a hallucination when I was under." Shunsui said slowly. "I don't know where it came from or what it was - maybe it was the manifestation of Seimaru's curse inside of me, or something like that. I don't recall it clearly...just a creature. A black, bat-winged, skeletal creature...with glowing red fireball eyes."

"That sounds more like a nightmare than a hallucination." Juushirou looked concerned. "I've had a lot of delirious fevers, but I don't remember ever seeing a bat demon."

"Well, you said yourself that everyone is different." Shunsui faltered for a moment, then he sighed, looking rueful.

"I think it was as though the curse awoke all my negativity. My doubts and fears all flooded over me and I wanted to run away." He murmured. "I only remember being as scared as that once in my life before, and that was my...when my Father died, and I felt it - his reiatsu and his fear and despair and pain and everything flood through me as he died. I wanted to run away then too, but there was nowhere to go. And there wasn't this time, either."

He sighed.

"Maybe that's what it awoke inside of me. Some deep, dark childhood trauma." He said ruefully. "But this monster...this wouldn't let me. It frightened me - it really frightened me, more than the fire or anything else I remember. And it was abusive - it said horrible things, even if I don't remember exactly what they were. Things that burrowed right through me. But it didn't want me to die. It wanted to torture me, maybe...but it wouldn't let me just die."

"Did you mention it to Unohana-sensei?"

"No. It sounds crazy. It is crazy." Shunsui sighed. "So don't you do so either, okay? It's between us. Telling you still makes it seem crazy, but I thought you at least wouldn't laugh. And whatever it was - Death's agent, Seimaru's curse or just a figment of fevered imagination - I'm sure that it blocked the way between me and dying."

"I guess maybe there are Shinigami somewhere which come for the Shinigami, too." Juushirou reflected pensively, and Shunsui snorted.

"That one's too deep for me in this state." He warned. "Let's not go philosophising now, okay? I'm still woozy and unsteady here."

Juushirou laughed.

"You're a lot better already though, even if you are still sore." He reflected, relief in his gaze as he reached over to touch his friend's brow. "And you're a lot cooler, too."

"Yes. I'll heal." Shunsui agreed. "I'm not prone to illness, and Unohana-sensei says rest and her remedies should fix me up good as new. So don't worry about me. I'll be so sick of being sick by the time I'm thrown out of here I'll be ready to actually work."

"Which is when I'll start to worry about you." Juushirou teased, getting to his feet. "All right. I'll go and report back to the others that you're very much still clinging on to life. And people will come visit you more, now, I promise. Because convalescence is boring…as I know only too well!"

"I have been waiting for you, Seimaru."

As Seimaru crossed the stone floor of his Grandmother's chamber, a taut, icy voice cut through his senses and he froze, the hairs rising on the back of his neck as he registered the prickle of frozen reiatsu that suddenly seemed to swell and fade though the room.

"I have received a message from District One, and another from the Head of District Eight." The old woman spoke slowly, sharp eyes piercing through her visitor as he approached her seat, and he sank unwillingly to the ground before her, bowing his head.

"You have no business releasing your sword in foreign territory, nor attacking people there." His grandmother continued, her words soft yet full of cold intent. "Do you understand, boy, the consequences of casting your careless curses on the heirs of neighbouring Clans?"

"I was not attempting to curse the Kyouraku boy, Grandmother." Seimaru spoke sullenly, inwardly resenting every word he spoke. "I am sorry if such news brought you distress. The blast was aimed at another - a lowborn boy of little consequence whose death would have mattered nothing to anyone."

"Then you had even less reason to kill him." The old woman was not fooled. "And even so, to release your blade..."

"I was fought by the jezebel who left District Seven and sought to humiliate me."

"She did a good job, from all accounts." Came the scathing response. "Fortunately for you, the boy has not died of his wounds and appears to have borne out your curse. Had it been different, be in no doubt about the outcome for you. We do not want war with our neighbours. Your Grandfather would have agreed with me - if Tokutarou had demanded you, we would have handed you over without hesitation."


Seimaru's head shot up at this, and the old woman's eyes narrowed to near slits, as she raised an old, wrinkled hand to cut him off mid-flow.

"There is no room for argument." She said coldly, glaring at her grandson with an unpleasant glint in her cold blue eyes.

"I know, Seimaru, the kind of games you boys like to play, but this has gone far enough. Your actions have made me question further what little pieces I know about your recent activities in other areas. Had I known more of it sooner, I would have stopped it then - but as it is, I will do so now. Do you understand the risk you put this Clan in, when you dabble in the kind of thing that may yet bring the Shihouin to its knees?"

"Experimentation is something we've done for a long time, Obaasama." Seimaru said softly. "I didn't think..."

"You never do think." His grandmother cut across him frankly, and Seimaru winced at the ice in her tones. "Only a clear fool or a madman would plot the assassination of a man like Genryuusai-sama and assume that the outcome could be anything but disaster!"

The icy reiatsu whipped once more through the chamber, then,

"This is why in my life-time you will never become leader of this Clan, my boy." She said darkly, every word seeming to echo through Seimaru's soul to its core. "Not even if I have to live another hundred years - do you understand me? Experimentation is one thing, but when it spreads beyond these doors...the Endou-ke are a proud people and they do not forgive stupidity any more than they forgive betrayal."

"Obaasama, I..."

"If I had been younger, I would have dealt with you myself." The old woman interrupted him again, raising her thin frame from her seat slightly as she bore her gaze into his. "As it is, however, your Grandfather seems to believe there is still hope for you yet. For you to lose your fiancée in such a humiliating manner and for you to submit to the Yamamoto-ke's extremely lenient ban is enough, I think, for now. You must learn to be a man, Seimaru, else you will do nothing for your family but take it to Hell and back."

Seimaru gazed at her helplessly, and the old woman nodded her head.

"You do understand." She murmured. "The other Clans are not our friends, but there is no reason to make them enemies. Enemies are suspicious. They pry. They want to know what is going on - and they make life difficult for us to move in the way to which we are accustomed. You have seen it, have you not? The sealing of the border with Eighth District since your foolish Father got involved in the troubles of the Kyouraku-ke some four or five years ago? Now you have broken any chance of cooperation with the Yamamoto-ke for some time to come, and I imagine that alliances with the Shihouin-ke will be more strained than they were before. You should think before you act, my boy. Otherwise you will find yourself dead before you begin."

She lifted her wrinkled, skeletal hand, resting it pensively against the scabbard that lay on the unit beside her, and despite her frailty the blade within glowed with an ominous silver light.

"I may be old and ill, but I still have the power to dispatch someone who doesn't understand the true needs of this family." She said softly. "Your Father was a fool and he is no longer here to be foolish. Do not make the same mistakes as he did, Seimaru. If you want to live to be Head of this Clan, you should learn now what those requirements are."

"Father...?" Seimaru's eyes widened, staring at the old woman in horror. "Obaasama, you mean...that fight was..."

"Your Father was a reckless boy even as a child, and dove into things without looking for traps and danger." His companion withdrew her fingers, folding her hands in her lap as she gazed at him evenly. "I did not arrange for his death, no. I would not do that to my own child, even one who was as stupid and blind as he was. But I did not move to prevent it, knowing as I did that his loss would be no loss to this Clan overall. This is the last time I will warn you too, Seimaru. Learn from it. Next time you are in danger, I will not even give you this much warning. And if you die like your Father, I will not grieve. You are not my child, after all. You were brought into the world by a simpleton whose heritage I disdain in this Clan's bloodline. And I feel no need to be overly connected to one to which this body did not give birth."

She smiled, a faint smile that did not reach her steely blue eyes, flicking her fingers towards the door of the chamber.

"You are dismissed." She said softly. "Go and think on what I've said. There will be no more games here, not now. Your Grandfather has already begun to move to dismantle the laboratory and your scientist Aizen has already fled this place. You have nothing to do now but ponder on your future within this Clan - and how you can live up to the expectations of your ancestors."

Seimaru did not respond, anger and resentment burning up inside of him as he formally bowed his head to the aging matriarch, withdrawing from the chamber and sliding the door shut behind him.

To be told such things by an old, decaying woman whose grip on life is arrogantly tenuous! How much longer must I deal with her – how much longer is Grandfather going to pander to her ways?

He paced bad-temperedly along the corridors, pausing for a moment at the door that led down to the secret laboratory below stairs. The door was, for once, somewhat ajar, and he could hear the sound of voices within. Retainers, he realised with grim annoyance. So she had not been bluffing.

That old bag told Grandfather to stem the research and stem it he has. That woman is his one weakness – and yet a weakness that tramples over all of us! Women like her…women like Midori…women the world could well do without.

He turned his back, heading up the stairs to the smaller study which had been his since he had inherited his position as heir from his late father.

"Mother was lenient on you."

As he pushed open the door, a voice from the shadows made him start, and he glanced up, anger coursing through his body as he met his Uncle's impassive gaze.

"And you can hide under her wing for only a short time, Ojisama." He spat back, stalking into the room and banging the door shut. "Or haven't you realised who truly betrayed this Clan this time?"

Misashi did not respond, his eyes hooded and darker than Seimaru had ever seen them before. In a moment he had crossed the room, resting his hands on Seimaru's shoulders and from the tightness of his grasp Seimaru realised his Uncle was angry.

"You are a foolish boy." The older man said quietly. "And you don't yet realise how costly foolishness can be. Mother spared your life – this time. Maybe not next."

"You don't scare me." Seimaru pulled free of his companion's grip. "You don't scare me at all. I can kill you – we both know it. If not for that old bag, you'd already be dead and rotting beneath the stones outside."

"Perhaps." Misashi took a step back, eying him gravely, and a sudden thought flashed across Seimaru's senses.

"You let the jezebel escape District Seven, didn't you?" He demanded, an accusing note in his tones.

"I don't know what you mean." Misashi's expression was emotionless, and Seimaru cursed.

"You are plotting against me. You always have and you still are." He muttered. "You and your weasel son. You know where he is now, don't you? You know that he's the one who's run borders and aligned himself with District Two?"

"Father signed a treaty of accord with the Shihouin." Misashi turned towards the desk, resting his hand on its surface. "If Hirata has spoken to the Shihouin, he has not betrayed his Clan."

"Even when that Shihouin turns on me and tries to take my life?"

"If such a thing had happened, I would have expected to hear of her arrest." Misashi offered him a faint smile. "Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni-sama is a very astute man, after all. The only report I have heard is that your careless actions almost resulted in a severe political situation between us and our neighbours in District Eight. And because of that, there is currently an embargo on all Endou-ke entering District One. Your actions are reckless and damaging…that has no connection to Hirata or the Shihouin-ke."

"Hirata is not here, though, despite this ban." Seimaru snapped. "That seems strange to me, considering the old man's words."

"Hirata is a student. A child. He is not a part of any of this." Misashi said evenly. "I have received word from Genryuusai-sama to tell me so. The boy will remain in District One for the considerable future – Genryuusai-sama sees his potential as a future Shinigami, and he is a fair man. He does not punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty."

"So you think, then, that he is out of my reach?"

"I think that it would be a very foolish Clansman who would attempt to breach District One with the Yamamoto in their current frame of mind."

Seimaru's expression became hard and obstinate, and Misashi sighed.

"There was also a second letter, Seimaru." He said quietly. "Come the end of this week, the Council has been summoned to ratify Shihouin Midori's claim to District Two. We will be passing our vote in her favour, as allies of the Shihouin-ke should."

"But…" Seimaru's eyes widened, and Misashi's lips became a thin, straight line.

"The only way to avoid shame at a broken betrothal is if a conflict of interests exists – and both of you being leaders or potential leaders creates one such conflict." He said quietly. "Father considers it a prudent action, therefore…and I agree with him. You will not oppose it – do you understand?"

"Who are you to give me such orders?"

"I have heard from Shihouin Midori, as well as Genryuusai-sama." Misashi said blackly. "Aside from her clear views regarding her engagement to you, she has intimated to me quite strongly in her message that significant physical evidence exists to tie you in to the chemical experiments the Shihouin elders are currently being investigated over. Evidence in the form of a letter written in your hand and found in the possession of Aitori Hideaki – a man she executed as a traitor to her Clan. We both know those allegations – and others besides – are founded in truth. Whether the girl truly has such evidence – as she claims – I do not know. But what I do know is that this Clan cannot risk calling her bluff. She is a Shihouin, after all. They are known for their work in shadows."

With that he turned on his heel, leaving the study, and left alone, Seimaru felt his anger and frustration swelling within his young heart.

"There is still proof against you. I know, because I've seen it. A letter you sent to Aitori-sensei before he died. A letter he didn't have time to destroy. A letter that could bring your Clan down around you, and see you facing the Council in a far worse way than any of the Shihouin-ke will."

Juushirou's words pierced through his thoughts at that moment, angry hazel eyes burning into him as if somehow the boy had seen right through to his core. A lowborn, District-born wretch – a worthless, throwaway life who had dared to be so rude to him…and yet…

"Proof." He whispered, his brows knitting together. "Very well then. If that's how the game plays, I'll play it. Grandfather may think it prudent to clear out the laboratory, but the people he displaces he is still under oath to protect. Aizen will no doubt make contact when the dust has settled…as he's done before. He knows, after all, that working for the Endou-ke is more lucrative than working for himself. So we'll give it time. We'll wait. If that's how things are, then that's what we'll do."

His eyes narrowed to near slits, as he felt the flare of his zanpakutou's spirit burn through him, echoing his own resolve.

"And if District boys think they can stop me with empty ideals and worthless accusations, well, I'll prove their folly." He muttered. "It's only just begun, Ukitake Juushirou. If there's proof, then I'll burn that proof – if people get in my way, I will eliminate them. Don't think that this is over – not by a long way. My curse missed you this time – but believe me, next time neither you nor that traitor Hirata will be quite so happy that you decided to cross the heir to the Endou-ke!"

::Second Manuscript: Owari::

Author's Note:

Yep, that's it. The end. For now at least. Phew. It was nine chapters longer than I intended – blame Juu for that.

I don't know right now if there will be another sequel. The end of this story is set up for one, and I have been dabbling with ideas but…I don't know. Hrm. Decisions, decisions…I'd like to have something more complete before anything gets uploaded XD.

Thank you to everyone who's supported the fic and I hope it hasn't disappointed! I've had a lot of fun with it and I hope people reading have too!