Undergoing rewrite on AO3 (link in profile).
Seems like barely anyone (who reviewed) picked up on the true purpose of the last scene in the previous chapter… kudos to the two who did!
Tsuzuki sat slumped outside the wall surrounding the Fourth Division in the dead of the night, leaning against the cool stone. It was one of the walls bordering the open fields behind the Fourth Division medical centre, far away from any buildings. Rarely did he get to be alone nowadays, when he was not studying, training, or performing his duties.
He knew what Akira had been driving at earlier, he really did. Shinigami were not expected to hold two jobs at the same time, much less of this calibre.
But what choice did he have?
Tsuzuki rolled his head up to stare sightlessly at the sky above.
"I'm sick of trying to perform the Onmitsukidō duties on top of my actual job."
There. He had said it out loud. Even if there was no one around to hear him.
Tsuzuki stared into the distance, where he could just make out the walls surrounding the Fifth Division.
He put his head in his hands.
"Just because you adopted me doesn't mean you own me!" he burst out, muffled by his palms.
Tsuzuki remained in that position, blood roaring in his ears, until his pendant grew warm against his chest. He then rose unsteadily, putting a hand against the wall to brace himself for a moment, and padded silently back into his room in the Fourth's barracks.
He was shaking all over like a leaf by the time he finally closed the door of his room behind him. It was a good thing that he was accorded his own room – the idea of having to sneak past roommates right now, at the moment, did not appeal in the slightest.
A dark shape detached itself from the wall and unfolded itself. Tsuzuki froze, one hand going to his zanpakutō hilt. In the next moment his entire breath left his body as the whispers of a privacy ward washed across his skin and Kisuke lowered the hood of his reiatsu-concealing cloak.
'What are you doing here?' Even under the effects of a privacy ward, better be safe than sorry.
'How could we leave you alone after that?'
A nameless feeling rose in his chest again at the reminder of what he had just done, fear and anticipation and shame and crushing guilt all at once.
The blond reacted immediately, wrapping one arm around Tsuzuki and pulling him closer, until he too was under the effects of the cloak and Kisuke could wrap his own reiatsu around him, soothing and warm.
A black cat poked its nose out from under a fold of the cloak on Kisuke's shoulder and hopped soundlessly the minute distance onto Tsuzuki's, tail swishing against his cheek. This close, he could feel Yoruichi's reiatsu layered over Kisuke's, like a warm blanket being draped over him.
With both of them touching him, it was almost easy to just reach out, and take hold of both reiatsu ribbons at the same.
'Did he –'
'Yes, he was definitely within hearing range during your outburst, and his reiatsu signature paused for a moment,' confirmed Yoruichi with a flick of her tail.
'It was a beautiful performance,' added Kisuke softly.
'It was a beautiful script,'Tsuzuki corrected quietly. 'I couldn't have done it on my own.'
There was a short, awkward silence, when neither of the elder shinigami replied for a moment. Tsuzuki's eyes flickered from Kisuke to Yoruichi and he kept silent, sensing that he had stumbled upon something he was not privy to.
'There was nothing you could have done,' the blond stated in a tone of finality.
Yoruichi sent a hard look in his direction, but changed the subject. 'Are we working you too hard?'
Tsuzuki's knee-jerk reaction was to deny it immediately, insist that he could do it, but Yoruichi fixed one yellow eye on his face and he swallowed those words. 'I knew it was going to be difficult,' he instead replied honestly. 'But you've done everything you can. I only get Onmitsukidō missions every few months, only when the mission absolutely requires my skill set, and you make sure to get me plenty of food and rest both before and afterwards. There's nothing more I can ask for without sounding ungrateful.'
'It should lessen more,' Yoruichi replied with a slight nod. 'A patrol group on a century-long mission is due back soon, so I can pull you off the active mission roster.'
'I can handle it,' protested Tsuzuki.
'Of course you can.' Somehow, coming from Kisuke, the words were factual rather than patronising. 'But you shouldn't have to. And now that Aizen's starting to take an interest in you, you'll have even less free time than before.'
The trio exchanged grim glances.
'I wouldn't put it past Aizen to machinate something of this calibre,' voiced Yoruichi. She sat down almost delicately on Tsuzuki's shoulder, the glint of her unsheathed claws in the moonlight.
Kisuke inclined his head slightly in acquiescence. 'Something like this is well within his capabilities.' He slanted a look at Tsuzuki. 'No word still from Yuki?'
He shook his head, once. 'With the size of Rukongai, it's like searching for a needle in a haystack,' he reported. 'So far, he hasn't found anything yet.'
Kisuke's eyes shuttered briefly. 'There has to be some pattern to his movements,' the blond growled, his composure slipping just a fraction, rare frustration brimming in grey eyes. 'I'll run some more calculations.'
'– too hard on yourself, Kisuke.'
Tsuzuki pursed his lips but did not interrupt, quite certain that she had not meant to broadcast it to him.
Kisuke exhaled softly, glancing out of the window at the moon-lit night. 'We should go,' he murmured almost regretfully. 'The sleep kidō at the Manor should wear off soon.'
The blond flicked his eyes towards Yoruichi.
'No,' Yoruichi repeated. 'Kisuke, stay here tonight.'
Kisuke pressed his lips together tightly, brows furrowing.
'As far as we can ascertain, the target is Tsuzuki, not me. By now, it's certain that the enemy knows he's here.'
Kisuke did not say anything. He did not need to.
'I'm faster, and less noticeable. Nobody watches out for stray cats,' the black cat insisted, hopping onto the windowsill in a single bound and melting into the darkness with a swish of her tail. Kisuke stood stock-still, as though frozen. Tsuzuki chanced a glance at his face, and found the former shopkeeper staring unseeingly at the spot on the windowsill where Yoruichi had last been seen.
After a long moment, Kisuke blinked rapidly, as though coming back into himself. With a soft sigh, he dropped the arm around Tsuzuki's shoulder and moved to close the window. 'She's back in the Manor.'
Tsuzuki breathed out quietly, shoulders dropping. Back in the Manor and under Kisuke's extensive wards, there was little that could touch her without warning. Certainly, there was no doubt that if Aizen had wanted to, he could rip the wards apart with brute force, but there was no reason for him to do so and he would be losing the advantage of surprise. She would be safe. He would not be losing anyone else to Aizen today.
As always, when his retrospection turned towards Aizen, his thoughts took a turn for the darker. And today, when Rukia had already been at the forefront of his mind…
A young shinigami, not even in her second century, most would have overlooked her simply because of her relative youth. What was a century compared to the several millennia that the oldest captains boasted?
And yet, the death of Kuchiki Rukia had been one of the turning points of the war.
Aizen had been a megalomaniac, but he was also the second most intelligent being in all three worlds, surpassed by only Urahara Kisuke. It was a lethal concoction of cunning and ruthlessness, fuelled by the dreaded ability of the Hōgyoku. Where others saw youth and inexperience, he saw potential. Thanks in no small part to the actions of Ichigo himself during her execution, Kuchiki Rukia's sphere of influence was disproportionate to her actual age, surpassed by possibly only Ichigo himself. This was the woman who had inspired a human to storm Soul Society, whose sentence had incited widespread rebellion amongst the senior officers up to and including two of the oldest captains, and who had been irrevocably tied to the anomaly named Kurosaki Ichigo.
Inoue Orihime's ability to reject was interesting, yes, but he could always capture her later on during the War, when her guards could be picked off one by one. Her presence on the side of the shinigami was unimportant in the long run; she had little actual combat ability and he had no actual need for her healing abilities. If his Arrancar were fatally injured, he could always make new ones, better ones.
No, instead, he chose the one person whose death would break Soul Society.
Instead of kidnapping Inoue Orihime as Kisuke had originally assumed he would – and planned for accordingly – Aizen had kidnapped Kuchiki Rukia.
It was a simple affair. By all accounts they could piece together later, Rukia had been given an ultimatum – it was either her, or Orihime. If she chose to fight, the Arrancar had free reign to kill her friends one by one in front of her, and they would make it last.
She went willingly.
Forced to scrap all his plans and re-evaluate Aizen's motivations, Kisuke tried to adapt his own counters as best as he could, but it was already too late. Aizen had no intention of toying with his enemy, of allowing them to regroup.
It took them one week to realise that Rukia was missing – Soul Society was informed that she was on a mission in the Transient World, while the humans had been informed that she was on a mission in Soul Society. Her denreishinki had been cleverly remodelled as a normal mobile phone and planted on an unsuspecting human teenager in Naruki City, such that anyone who checked the implanted tracker would see its owner moving about and not suspect a thing.
It was a disaster from the start. Tempers already frayed from this realisation, several parties separately disobeyed the Captain-Commander's instructions to await further action from Aizen. Between Kisuke and Yoruichi, Ichigo's group of humans managed to coordinate efforts with Renji's group of lieutenants, but none of them knew that Byakuya had had his own plans, or that Nel had infiltrated Las Noches. To make matters worse, upon realising that nearly half the lieutenants or captains had committed treason, Suì-Fēng sent in the Onmitsukidō before Yoruichi could talk her out of it.
They did find Rukia in the end, but only because Aizen had finished with her. She lived just long enough to say goodbye to Byakuya and Ichigo – the fastest, and therefore the first on the scene.
It had been the first turning point of the war.
Devastated, Soul Society's overall morale plummeted, and it drove a wide chasm between the shinigami and the humans. The fragile burgeoning friendship between Byakuya and Ichigo shattered in an instant. Those closest to her became more defeatist, more reckless, more careless, more prone to stupid mistakes. Cooperation became nearly non-existent.
Everything went according to Aizen's plan.
Ichigo never stopped blaming himself – if he had only been faster, stronger, he could have saved her.
In a way, Kaede reminded him so much of Rukia that sometimes he could scarcely breathe. They had the same attitude sometimes, the same temperament, even the same predilection for kidō – though Kaede was nowhere near where Rukia had been, it was not difficult to see what she could one day have become.
And now, she would never be a shinigami. The Fourth might take her, but he couldn't imagine any other division needing someone who could not go on field missions.
What was the use of all his power? He couldn't even save one person, how could he be expected to save the world?
How could he not blame himself?
'So, do you want me to kill her or offer her a job?' Kisuke asked conversationally, leaning against the wall beside the window.
Tsuzuki spluttered incoherently for a moment, interrupted from his musings. 'Where did that come from?'
'Himura-san,' the blond clarified, as if Tsuzuki did not know who he was referring to. Sharp eyes regarded him calmly. 'I'll be willing to take a hit request if it were you.'
'I thought you've retired,' he replied inanely, thoughts in complete disarray. There were so many things that he wanted to ask, but none that he had managed to phrase into a coherent question yet.
Kisuke lifted up one shoulder carelessly in a shrug. 'She shouldn't have blamed you,' he replied after a pause, elaborating without being asked to. 'The situation had been completely out of your control; you weren't required to potentially sacrifice your life just to appease her.' He sighed audibly, very, very softly. 'But yet, you blame yourself anyway.'
Kisuke nodded once to show that he understood, the picture of resignation.
He was nudged towards the futon.
'Sleep,' Kisuke told him. 'I'll stay for as long as I can.' He went over to the wall and sat down, leaning against it.
'No, I'm not going to let you spend the whole night in that position, do you know what that does to your neck and back?' Tsuzuki dragged out the duvet meant for spring and autumn from the back of his wardrobe and shoved it in the blond's direction. 'At least lie down.'
'What sort of guard would I be?' Kisuke retorted.
Tsuzuki made an audible noise of exasperation. 'There's a reiatsu-concealing ward, a privacy ward, another one-way sound-cancelling ward on top of all that, at least two illusion wards that I know of, an alert ward tied into your reiatsu signature that jerks you awake immediately if someone touches any part of this room, and you're still wearing your reiatsu-concealing cloak. Lie down.' He pointedly laid his zanpakutō within arm's reach and tucked the sleeve of bo-shuriken under his futon mattress.
Kisuke snorted, but compliantly laid down on the makeshift futon, one hand wrapped loosely around his tessen. 'Go to sleep, Tsuki-chan.'
When I said the first 8 chapters will be rewritten but will mostly constitute of existing material, I apparently underestimated myself (and the characters). There are chapters containing 95% new material. As such only the first 3 chapters are actually up by now on AO3; the rest will come in the next few months. Chapter 12 won't be written until the first 11 are finished and posted on AO3, so don't expect an update on FFnet anytime soon. For those of you who don't or won't get an AO3 account, all the chapters on FFnet will be overhauled in one go after the entire rewrite is complete – it's your choice if you want to wait a few months for 100k words, or read each chapter as it comes.
As a side-note, any and all literary devices you spot are deliberate. I don't expect you to get all the puns and references, especially not those that require knowledge of Japanese culture, but somehow no one's even picking up on any of the foreshadowing. The title of this fic should say everything it needs to about the sheer amount of foreshadowing needed to make it work? Also, this is set 100 years ago, so you'd enjoy/understand it more if you get out of a modern day mindset…