AN: This is finally the end of the story and I hope for those who watched for this to its end that you enjoyed it. I can't say how grateful I am to you guys especially for those who always left a review.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.

Ulquiorra did not even bat an eye as his blade met that of Aizen's while the latter moved his free hand in an attempt to catch the green-eyed by surprise. But training under Aizen also taught him to be weary of the man's tricks. Instantly, he pulled away but not after swinging his blade at the last minute, taking Aizen by surprise, his left cheek grazed with the tip of Ulquiorra's blade.

"Impressive, this would be the first time someone managed to cut me even though it was through luck," he said, his free hand wiping the trickling of the blood. He glanced at his friend's direction. "Not even Gin was able to."

Ulquiorra did not bother responding to the man, his focus on how to actually get around him and bring him down in an instant. His eyes caught sight of the man holding Rukia and noticed he let her go or at least he let his guard down, probably more interested with watching the duel than just simply guard a woman who could not even fight back against him.

That was when Aizen attacked him with brutal force that had he been a second late, he would have been sliced already. Using his sword as a shield, he was forced back on his feet.

"Your reflexes are quick as usual," Aizen commented, beginning to see why Byakuya had placed so much faith in this man.

In a swift movement, the blades slid against each other and Ulquiorra ducked, trying to avoid a fatal blow from Aizen who took the opportunity to kick him in the gut. Ulquiorra was quick to counter by brandishing his sword, using his supposedly free hand to hold the sword in a second and deliver a low cut at Aizen's stomach.

Surprised, Aizen held the wound and stared at Ulquiorra as the man stood up calmly. For the first time, he had come to see what made this man formidable. He saw Gin already making a move to sit down, despite his fatal wound, he managed to give Aizen a smug smile.

"What the – "

It was the loud voice of Kenpachi that distracted everyone except for the two fighters in the room. Ulquiorra simply acknowledged the presence of the newcomers by waving his hand in a small gesture. Then he finally spoke. "I told you, I simply have to learn everything there is to learn to beat you at this kind of game, Aizen."

His voice dripped with venom, his right hand holding the hilt once more instead of his left. "Don't look so surprised if I can land a hit on you. After all, there's always a possibility for the student to beat the teacher."

Realizing that he is in a lose-lose situation especially with the presence of Kenpachi and finally Byakuya, he turned to Jin and just nodded his head. Getting the meaning of it, Kariya Jin grabbed Rukia by the hair but seeing the others are here, Rukia regained some courage and actually struggled to break free despite the pain. Surprised at the force, Jin unwittingly released her and Rukia took the chance to flee.

"Why you – " Jin growled and aimed his gun at the woman who was running towards the dying man at the corner.

Noticing this, Ulquiorra shouted. "Look out woman!"

His hand moved in an instant, his blade immediately thrown at Jin's direction just as the sound of a gunshot followed. Eyes wide in horror, his head snapped at Rukia's direction and he sighed in relief, realizing she was fine. He took the moment to glance over his shoulder to find Starrk, his gun still aimed at Jin's direction while both Byakuya and Kenpachi returned their guns at their respective holsters.

"Look out!" Kenpachi growled instead and instinct made Ulquiorra dodge, allowing himself a minor cut. Aizen was coming at him head-on especially now that he has nothing to defend himself with. He took another step to his right as Aizen swung his blade at him and ducked, his leg stretching, tripping Aizen slightly, throwing off the man's momentum. Fiercely, Ulquiorra glanced at the spectators who were ready to aim at him.

"Stay back! Let me finish this," he said, his eyes pleading with Byakuya and Starrk. He needed to do this to assure himself. He needed to do this for Soi Fon.

"Smart move," Aizen said in glee and cut Ulquiorra's side, causing it to bleed a few seconds later. But growing up ignoring all sorts of pain, it was just like a minor thing for Ulquiorra which baffled Aizen for a little bit before he himself had realized that this was the effect of Ulquiorra's upbringing.

In a move about to deliver another fatal blow, Ulquiorra calmly waited in a stance which Aizen never saw him do before.

"Are you an idiot?" the captain of the police force barked at him when Ulquiorra simply waited with a relaxed stance.

Byakuya frowned as well but chose to remain quiet about it, deciding to see what Ulquiorra wanted to do instead. Then he turned to Starrk who now casually leaned on the doorjamb, his eyes on Ulquiorra.

"The fact that Aizen chose to attack him when he is weaponless is proof enough that he acknowledges Ulquiorra as an equal opponent," Starrk said and inwardly smirked at how Aizen could be so desperate.

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Rukia looked back when she heard him shout at her but immediately returned her attention back at Gin when she saw Jin fall down. She fell on her knees and inspected his wounds. Gin opened his eyes.

"Heh…" he said smugly, wondering how the events turned out like this.

"Hold still," Rukia instructed, her hands already tearing up a portion of his tattered shirt. "We have to stop the bleeding."

Gin raised his hand in an attempt to wave her off. "I'm fine," he said, wanting to be left alone as he watched the demise of Aizen in the hands of his prized student.

"You're not…let me tend to these wound with the best I could do, Gin," Rukia said, not even showing any hint of resentment towards him. He took his gaze off Aizen and stared at her for a moment. Her head was bent low as she tried to patch his wound just with the cloth she managed to tear if only to stop the wound from bleeding profusely. That was when he realized she was crying.

"What are you – "

"Ever since I learned how she was acquainted with you, I've always wanted to apologize," she said in a firm voice. "I know it was my fault that she died."

He watched her for another moment before he broke into a wry smile. "Funny how I thought of the same thing – that you were at fault for her death," he said with a bitter chuckle. "I guess it just shows how less I knew about anything."

Rukia blinked her tears. "She tried to stop me from running towards my grandfather but I was deaf in panic…" she started and bowed her head even more. "I'm really sorry Gin."

He shook his head. "Nah, I know the whole truth now," he said, not knowing how to reverse the table and apologize to her instead. He took his eyes from her and settled on the two men on the middle just as Aizen swung down his sword with full force.

Rukia turned as well and opened her mouth to scream at Ulquiorra. "Aizen's getting desperate. He had lost his cool," Gin commented with a smirk, finding it hard to breathe normally. The moment he entered this room earlier, he knew he had lost the battle when Aizen used Rukia against him. Aizen knew that after finding the truth, Gin could not continue hurting the woman. And like Aizen did with his students and preys, he would use someone over them to gain an upper-hand, one reason why Gin actually decided for Aizen to win the match despite him having the strong chance to win as well. Aizen was wrong when he thought he was the only strong one.

He managed to chuckle softly when Ulquiorra caught the blades with both hands, not minding if he would get hurt in the process. By doing so, he managed to take half of the control from Aizen.

"Despite his reputation as a fearful man, I think he has some good qualities too…" he managed to say after a while. He could feel it…he's dying with the wound Aizen gave him. His sight is starting to get blurry as well.

Yet he forced himself to stand up. There is no tomorrow for the Quatro should he lose himself now. If he decided to kill once more, it will be just like the others he had killed. After that, he would only feel nothingness.

"Don't force yourself Gin," Rukia stood up as well.

"Just wanted to…" he whispered.

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The most dangerous thing in the universe is a focus mind. Your mind should be like a still, calm pool…be careful, relax…cause in one time at a motion, it's like picking a rock and dropping it into that smooth pond…then everything is chaos…

He remembered that line quite well. Starrk was the one who taught him that when he was still a teenage boy, still reckless and hotheaded. Opening his eyes, he gave Aizen a full smirk before finally making the man release hold of the blade. To make sure, Ulquiorra held one arm and twisted it.

"Have you ever thought that you could be defeated too? You're not invincible Aizen," he spat and released him, the blade pointed at Aizen's neck already. "Give it up."

Aizen chuckled. "You mentioned something about killing me, boy, so why not do it and claim the name Rieve Earhardt once more?"

Ulquiorra stared at him for a suspended moment, his hand clutching the hilt of the blade tightly, his eyes remained blank but his body tensed, his mind tempted to do just that. Aizen smirked and saw that as an opportunity to draw his small gun from his back but Ulquiorra saw through it as well, the blade immediately slicing through him, almost cutting Aizen's arm.

It gratified both Gin and Starrk to finally hear Aizen suddenly yelp in pain. Gin and Rukia walked towards the two when they realized the fight is about over. "I'll take it from here," Kenpachi spoke as he walked beside Ulquiorra, his free hand reaching for his handcuff. "We need this man alive."

Noticing the hesitation, Rukia gently laid her hands on his arm. "It's over."

It was her voice that jarred him from his thought and he took the moment to glance at him. She was giving him a gentle look. He nodded and turned to Aizen once more. "I'm no longer the Quatro nor the assassin you've raised."

With that, he released his blade and turned on his heel, Rukia walking beside him as they both made their way outside.

"You're under arrest," Kenpachi started as he started stating his Miranda rights. But since Kenpachi was not aware of how treacherous Aizen could be, he was caught offguard when Aizen pulled Kenpachi's gun.

"What the – " realizing where he was aiming at, he shouted. "Watch out!"

The gun was fired as Ulquiorra moved, his body covering Rukia, shielding her from possible attacks. Shocked, Rukia stared at Ulquiorra's face but he gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm fine. It's just a small wound that won't kill me."

It turned out that the aim was deflected when Kenpachi tried to knock the gun away. Then to Aizen's surprise, a blade pierced through him and he stared at Gin in shock as the latter gave Aizen a blank look. "You'll die here, with me…" he said, mustering the strength he had left, "…on this hellhole you have created."

"Gin you bastard," Aizen hissed, as he fell back on his feet, his hand pulling away the blade at his chest, blood oozed from his mouth but he did not mind it one bit. Raising his arm in attempt to finish him, everyone was shocked at the sound of the gunshot.

"Damn – " Kenpachi growled as things started to get out of control. Aizen's eyes were wide in shock as he slowly fell down, his eyes remained on the man who shot him. One by one…they were all taking their vengeance…

Starrk raised his gun and handed it to Byakuya who was surprised at the turn of events. But Byakuya's duty took over as well and took the gun before reaching for his own handcuffs. He looked over at Starrk as the others finished and Toshirou arrived with Kensei, Love and Rose. He gave Starrk a small nod.

"I felt the need to do that for my daughter," Starrk said as a way of explanation and looked at Ulquiorra. "You did well, boy and I'm proud you don't have to kill him." With that, he turned on his heel, Love and Rose already accompanying him.

Byakuya watched the back of the man before he stared at the gun. Aizen paid his due. Bit by bit from those whom he had done something wrong. He sighed and only turned when he heard his sister's voice.

"Gin!"

When Byakuya turned, Rukia was already kneeling over Gin. Byakuya walked towards them after giving Ulquiorra a small tap on the shoulder. Ulquiorra watched from where he stood.

"Gin…" Byakuya muttered as he knelt down as well. This scene seemed too familiar for him, Rukia and both his friends. It reminded them of Rukia's 16th birthday.

The silver-haired only smirked, pleased that he managed to deal Aizen a fatal blow before Starrk finished everything. Seeing that he can't make it, Rukia clasped Gin's hands – both of them – and cried. "She always loved you…she always talked about you…"

Gin could feel something cold at his hand as Rukia unclasped her hold on him. With weakened arm, he raised it still only to see the necklace she always wore – the one he bought her on her birthday a year after he found her.

"She told me to give you that…" Rukia whispered.

Gin was not even aware that he was shedding tears as his chest hurt, the pain both physical and emotional. Clutching it tightly, he turned to Rukia. He had to at least say something. And so he spoke in a barely audible tone. "At some other time, I would have loved to be a friend like she was…Ru…" Byakuya pressed his hands on Gin's face to close his eyes, realizing the man had gone away already.

Saying his silent prayer in reverence, he stood up and turned to Kenpachi. "Clean all the mess here. And I want that man's body buried beside Rangiku." Then he frowned as he realized something.

It was Rukia who voiced it though since she too noticed something. "Where's Ulquiorra?"

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The woman raised her head as Renji and Ichigo approached her casually, one leaned on her cubicle and gave her a curt smile.

"Renji…" she could only mutter as she paled.

Said guy brought out a small flashdisk. "You were reckless, Momo," he said as Ichigo brought out the handcuff. "You're hereby under arrest for violating your profession and in cohorts with Senator Aizen and more importantly, for the murder of Espada Tres, Tia Harribel."

Momo Hinamori bit her lip and bowed. "It was for Aizen-sama…" she said. She knew it was pointless denying it when they found evidences anyway.

Renji shook his head. "We were somehow comrades here, Momo and I never thought for once you'd be the mole…"

"Aizen-sama said that if I could finish the task, I'll finally get to stay with him. I loved Aizen-sama."

Both men gave her a sympathetic look as she tried to justify her actions. "He was only using you."

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Stark glanced at his companion. The blond guy drove the car while his companion enjoyed reading manga, animated tears flowing from his face. Sensing his gaze on him, Ulquiorra tilted his head to glance at him as well.

"Don't you want to be with her?" he asked in wonder.

Ulquiorra's answer was to look at the road ahead of them again. Perhaps Starrk understood because he managed to give him a rueful smile.

"There is no future for people like us," he stated softly. "Assassins will always hunt and will always be hunted down…that's the cycle. But for you, I think you have a future ahead…" he turned to him once more. "I'm sorry about Grimmjaw."

The muscles of Ulquiorra's face flexed a little but he did not even speak. "You plan returning to her only after you paid your due, don't you? But you understand we committed terrible crimes.."

Rose and Love pretended like they are not interested about hearing any of it. "I wanted to kill him there," Ulquiorra admitted, changing the subject.

"I'm glad you did not. I'm glad you gave me and Ichimaru the chance instead…" when Ulquiorra did not respond, Starrk smiled inwardly. I thought there was nothing this man fears…but in the end, he was afraid losing himself in front of the woman he loves. "I heard she's a great woman."

"She is," Ulquiorra answered hastily, immediately agreeing to it.

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One week later…

A private trial was conducted as police officers chased Kaname Toussen who had fled his home the moment the report about Aizen's death was spread nationwide – the news itself shocking Aizen's supporters.

The remaining Espada sat beside each other, the jury on the other side. It was the first time that Shihouin Yoruichi made an appearance in the private court, taking privilege of being part of the jury. Even Kuchiki Byakuya was there, watching the other man in orange.

It had already started an hour ago, the prosecutor presenting a solid evidence to nail the four Espada including Grimmjaw Jaggerjaques who just regained consciousness two days ago. To avoid repeating what happened to Tia Harribel, Ulquiorra and Starrk were detained in a secret place only known to Colonel Hitsugaya Toshirou and Neliel Tu Ordershvank who was given special order from CIA to oversee the proceedings here till the end. It would seem America wanted Ulquiorra Schiffer at the very least. At the moment, Yammy Rialgo was not present after suffering from a disease he had been experiencing.

"So you are all pleading guilty to all these allegations against you?" the judge, Yamamoto asked. The man is wise, his wisdom coming from everything he had seen in his prime till he had aged.

"Yes," both men answered in chorus.

"I see," he said and nodded. Then he nodded his head once again when the Primera raised his hand as if to speak. "Go ahead young man."

"Ravie Earhardt…" he had spoken. He glanced at Ulquiorra but the man wore an expressionless face. "I was the one ordered to kill him two years ago as well as the one who killed most of the prominent names on the list."

"You are trying to say that…?" the prosecutor asked with a raised brow. Everyone in the room can see through what Starrk was trying to say and the latter knew that as well, exactly intending that.

"At the very least, starting from Barragan till Yammy, they killed smaller fries," he said and shrugged.

"They still committed murder," the judge said pointedly. "No matter who you killed, once you tainted your hands, you are already guilty of any sort of punishment from the law. And you all pleaded guilty on multiple murder."

"Yes."

"What are you trying to achieve by taking all the blame, Coyote Starrk? Either way, it does not decrease the capital punishment for the one named Quatro and Sexta and the Decimo whom Miss Shihouin had captured one month ago."

Stark straightened his back and met the judge's eyes. "I'm not saying this to lessen their crimes. I'm simply stating a fact," he said afterwards. "You should know that, sir, and a man who was forced from the start deserved some pardoning. Unlike me, I willingly obeyed Aizen's orders," he said and the statement earned a slanted look from Ulquiorra.

The latter chose to listen. "Most of the Espada were forced to do Aizen's bidding, fearing their closest family member or friends would get killed if they disobey. That is the working of Aizen's mind," Starrk continued, determined to at least argue his point.

Silence followed as they pondered on it for a while. The prosecutor spoke, determined to put these men behind bars. His name was Shiba Ganju. "A murder is still a murder no matter the reason behind," he spat. In front of him are people who might have killed his brother, Kaien Shiba.

From the jury's seat, Kukakku sighed. Starrk turned his attention to Ganju. "Attorney, what would you do if you were in their position?" he challenged. "What if Aizen hold your sister's life in the palm of his hands, forcing you to do what he wanted, what would you do?"

Ganju was taken aback by the question that he was not prepared for a comeback. The judge sighed and spoke. "We will take an hour break before we convene once more and I expect the jury to finally arrive with the verdict." He turned to Ganju. "I would like to advise you to remain objective about this Attorney. Your personal vendetta against your brother's murderer is out of the question."

With that, he stood up as four policemen approached Starrk and Ulquiorra to escort them back to a holding cell while they await for the convention. Outside, Kuchiki Rukia waited with Tatsuki, Renji and Ichigo. They were not allowed to enter the court for particular reasons and Rukia only felt somehow relieved because her brother was inside.

The green-eyed stiffened as he spotted her there in formal attire. She looked so worried. It had been one week since he last saw her and he thought she became prettier in that short amount of time.

However, Ulquiorra chose to ignore her, even the presence of the two policemen who were giving him an unfathomable look. Judging from what happened inside, the Espada knew their fate is sealed and that they might receive death penalty in any case. The thought had been bugging him.

Ichigo and Renji sighed, surprised that they were feeling a tinge of regret inside them as they watched the two come in their direction. They had somehow hoped they could share a drink with the man and get to know him better.

"Ulquiorra?" Rukia asked in wonder when he did not spare her a glance. He just walked passed her. The man did not even make any attempt to stop when she called him. "Damn it, talk to me you jackass!" she screamed, not caring if she could be heard inside the courtroom. Her companions looked baffled at her sudden outburst.

He did stop however, but he did not look back as he spoke. "Good to have met you, Rukia," he said and resumed his pace while Starrk sighed. Rukia attempted to follow and the guards tried to stop her.

"Let me go!" she demanded in a controlled voice. "Don't you dare lay a hand on me," she warned but the two policemen who stopped glared at her.

"Miss Kuchiki, you are in no position to – "

"The heck I'm not!" she cursed and attempted to push her way when the man held her wrist much to Rukia's annoyance.

"I said let go," she hissed. "You are hurting me!"

"We will if you remain where you are. The prisoners are being escorted back to their cell and are not allowed to make any contacts," one said coldly but flinched when he glanced at the Quatro's direction and saw him giving them a warning look. If looks could kill, he'll definitely be dead on the floor already. He shivered. What imposing presence…

He slowly released the woman who made another attempt if not for the Primera who stopped her midway. He gently patted her shoulder and gave her a rueful smile.

"You among all people should understand why he does not want to talk to you, Miss Kuchiki," he said. "He cannot give you any false hope when our future seemed bleak. Miss Kuchiki, we might be facing death penalty here so don't make it harder for him."

With that, he left a stunned Rukia.

Death penalty?

She swallowed…he…they are going to die? She thought it was kinda unfair…after all, they struggled to survive, dirtying their hands in the process, only to die when they decided to come clean? She had always known they might be facing this kind of hurdle but she had somehow hoped that it might not come to this…

She does not want to lose him…

Fighting to keep her voice firm, she could only hope she could reach him. "Ulquiorra…at all cost, come back to me…to our baby…I will not allow the child to grow without a father. And I will never forgive you if you don't come…"

Her words froze the man who was about to turn to the left corridor. He gulped and slowly turned towards her, a pained look on his face. Behind the pain lies the desperate hope…

Rukia blinked back her tears. God but he was hurting inside…and she hoped she did not hurt him more. Ulquiorra's feet moved on its own and he ignored the policemen trying to stop him. One look from him anyway and they already kept their mouth shut as if afraid to even cross him.

"I did not know," he said in pained voice, something so unlike him.

She smiled despite the tears which fell nonetheless. "I just found it out yesterday. It's not death penalty…so come back to me…" she pleaded in a croaky voice.

He cupped her face and gave her a deep kiss. "I love you, Rukia," he said, this time saying the words to her face. "So wait for me…no matter what…"

Rukia nodded, not even bothering to wipe the tears away. "Love you back…" she said and held onto his shirt for dear life. Then she remembered something. "Grimmjaw was awake when I went there to visit yesterday. He couldn't wait to become an uncle."

"He…is fine then?" he asked.

"Yes. He's sending you his thanks…"

Ulquiorra nodded. "Whatever is to be decided, know that it was you who taught me to value life. I owe you a lot, Rukia. Even my life,' he said and walked away.

From the doorway of the court room, Byakuya watched with Yoruichi and Urahara who was also present for the trial. "I feel bad for them," Urahara spoke casually and turned on his heel. "Let us start to deliberate over it anyway…"

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Nearly three years had passed since the incident. Rukia stood at the lanai, her son busy playing with Mashiro at the garden. After Gin died, Mashiro had no more reason to hide and besides, she can't testify against a dead person anyway. Rukia was even surprised to learn that Kensei had a developed some feelings for her when he stood as Mashiro's guard. The two married last year.

Kenpachi adopted a little girl who goes by the name of Yachiru. Having no time to find for a wife, he instead decided to find a child to adopt. That was when he found Yachiru and the girl had become Kenpachi's life. She would often tease on Ichigo, Renji, Ikakku and other members of the police force as well as Byakuya and Kensei.

Byakuya was married to Lisa through a secret ceremony, only few were chosen to attend. It was upon Lisa's request that they do it her way which Byakuya indulged, seeing no point in arguing over the matter for as long as he is married.

Rukia stepped down as her son, named Yuri ran towards her happily. He was just the spitting image of his own father.

"He's always so lively," Mashiro commented as she dusted her pants.

"Yeah I noticed…" she murmured and smiled. "Hey, I'd like to walk him over at the back…"

Understanding crossed Mashiro's face. "Yeah."

Rukia held Yuri's hand and they walked with bright smiles on their faces. Today is an important day for the life of Rukia because this was the day when Rangiku died for her.

Since Yuri could not yet speak so many words, he only played around Rukia while the latter lit some candles and prayed in front of Rangiku and Gin's grave.

"Hey there…" she started. "I always come here the same day of every year…you both are happy by now I supposed," she started and smiled. "I owe you both a great deal…because you both died for me. I hope wherever you are now, you two are happy. I don't know yet when my husband be released but I surely hoped he'd be back before tomorrow."

She stood up and walked her son back to the house when the maid met her with a letter from America. Rukia could only nod in thanks. It was probably from Neliel.

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Shinji studied the man across him. Sometime ago, the man decided to pay a visit and this time with another name. "Tell me, what's yer real name then?" he asked.

"Rieve Earhardt. I go by that today," he answered. "Tomorrow is my son's birthday, I thought I'd like you to drop by. You should probably bring your friend too. My wife would love to see them."

"Keh…never would have thought ya ta settle down given yer previous affiliations in the underworld." He glanced at the invitation at the table and picked it up. "Never would have thought yer also an Earhardt. Yer a mysterious man."

"Hmm…" he stood up. "It's time I go. I still have to catch up with something before Starrk would be transferred to another prison."

And he left. Three years ago, Yoruichi and Byakuya including Urahara all fought for the Espada which surprised the green-eyed. And after a very long deliberation, their sentence was nowhere near death penalty. Starrk was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Ulquiorra and Grimmjaw were given lighter sentences. Since they have agreed to help in capturing Aizen and the remaining Espada under him, they have aided the government and as such, they were sentenced to maximum of two years in jail. They would have become state witnesses if not for the fact that Aizen died. Kaname Toussen was instead sentenced to same extent as Starrk for improper authorization of releases, and allowing the death of inmates.

Unable to live the life of a prisoner anymore, he committed suicide a year after his sentence. Yammy died from his own disease and Ulquiorra never bothered to find what disease killed him anyway.

The police-in-charge was rather surprised to see the free man strolling in the office. It was just a while since he was released from his cell. Two to three weeks ago perhaps…

"Sir?" he asked politely.

"I'd like to visit an inmate…" he stated. He had never seen Starrk in those two years…he was held in a different prison as well as Grimmjaw. He somehow hoped he could find the blue-haired.

"Name sir?"

"Coyote Starrk."

When the colonel dropped by three weeks ago with Kuchiki Byakuya, they tipped him off about Starrk's transfer to the prison where Ulquiorra was detained. The one in-charge scanned the file before offering him a logbook. "Kindly sign over here sir."

He simply followed and was afterwards led to the waiting area. "I find it quite unusual that you decided to return here when you left it three weeks ago," a casual voice said from behind. Rieve simply looked over his shoulder to find the orange-haired investigator. "Fancy seeing you around, man."

"Fancy," he responded and raised his brow. The two are not really friends but neither are they enemies now. Deep inside, they both share a certain amount of respect for each other. "What are you doing here Kurosaki?"

"I was appointed here for a temporary period while my superiors deliberate over my sanction for getting into a fight with my badge still on."

Rieve sniggered. "You should learn to hold down your temper, Kurosaki," he said seriously and Ichigo stared at him for a moment.

"That an advice from you?"

The man did not answer as he watched the former Primera approach. "Somehow."

Ichigo chose the moment to leave when finally Starrk pulled a seat and extended his hand in which Rieve took and shook. "Heh…you look alright, I see."

Rieve nodded. "Ah."

Starrk smiled genuinely. "I'm happy for you."

"You'd think I wouldn't read through your schemes back at the trial huh?" Rieve started and brought out a small pack of cigarette. "I'm sure you'd love to have that."

Starrk's eyes shone in glee. "Why, thank you, young man."

"No problem."

Another awkward silence ensued before Rieve cleared his throat. "So, twenty years huh?" he spoke in reference to the verdict given to Starrk three years ago.

The former Primera nodded. "Yeah but that was better than a death penalty don't you think?" he asked. "Unlike you, I don't have anyone so it's fine by me. Besides, what's a few years before I go?" he stared at him. "You on the other hand is a different story so I think you deserved what was given you."

Rieve nodded and stood up, threw him a lighter then tucked his hands on his coat. "Thanks for everything," he said and left the man smiling.

"Anytime young man."

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She was busy giving instructions to the maids while her brother was on the phone. Every member of the household actually is moving, preparing things needed for the birthday party. This would be her son's fourth birthday and she could only hope this time, she could give him the answer to the question he asked a year ago.

Where's papa?

He could only utter a few words then but he was already looking for his father.

A little while ago, she had an unexpected visitor so her hope that he will be home soon had increased. It was a hard life not seeing him for almost three years. When the verdict came, he made a request.

Allow me to pay for it and if at all possible, I'd like you never to step foot on prison just to see me.

He was asking her to understand and she truly did so she indulged his request and only sent him spare clothes and other stuffs. She also did the same to Grimmjaw and Starrk with the help of Lisa who had agreed to be the one sending the things personally so as not to attract attention from the media. Deep inside, she knew that was what he was trying to do – protecting her from the media, preventing the media from getting wind up about Rukia going to prison to visit the father of her son.

She loved him more for that. He was protecting her, his son and the Kuchiki name all at once. She knew he is also longing for her just as she did for him so she held on.

"Mom," Yuri tugged at her arm as he pointed at the man standing on the doorway. The boy's eyes was filled with so much curiosity while that of Rukia was warmth. Byakuya glanced at the door too. Rukia walked towards him and smiled.

She knew he will come home.

"Welcome home," she said with so much warmth, she was trying to suppress all the hidden emotions. She wanted to cry in joy but that can wait.

"I'm…home," he said and closed the gap between them as he enclosed her in a tight embrace. Rukia cried silently when she can't hold on the different emotions. Three years…it was so long… "Is that…my son?" he asked, his eyes on the boy looking up at them with wonder.

Rukia pulled away. "Yuri," she called and the boy ran towards them. He had seen pictures of him and he knew he looked like him, even the eyes but it still sent a tingling feeling inside him when he saw the stunning resemblance to his son.

Without being told, the boy sized the man up then extended his arms in demand. "Up," he said much to Rukia's amusement.

At first, Rieve was not sure how to handle the boy but he indulged him anyway and scooped him up much to Yuri's delight. He squealed. Rukia never saw Yuri this happy with any man. Perhaps subconsciously, he recognized his father.

"Papa!" he squealed and Rieve could feel the tightening of his chest. With his free hand, he wrapped them around Rukia's waist. Byakuya appeared and patted his shoulder.

"Welcome home, young man," he said in his usual timbre.

Rieve stared at him for a moment, his mind remembering his talk three weeks ago.

"You and your friend are free men," he said. "Renji had gone over to him for an important message."

Ulquiorra stared at the surrounding. He's finally free and he can get to share his life with Rukia now. With their son. The colonel handed him a thick file case.

"Everything is in there." He turned to leave.

Byakuya remained for a little while. "We're giving you back the identity stolen from you, Rieve. It's just a matter of processing things. My sister is patiently waiting for your return."

Ulquiorra stared at the file case. "Tell her to wait a little longer. Thank you, Byakuya."

And he left with one last mission on mind. If he wanted to start a life with Rukia, he better start by getting his identity back first.

"Yeah." He turned to Rukia. "Sorry it took me longer. I've lots of things to do first."

"As long as you're home and alright…" she murmured and leaned towards him as Byakuya instructed every maid and member of the household to welcome the presence of Rieve Earhardt, the father of Yuri.

"Man, you look better than I am," Grimmjaw appeared and grinned at his friend. Rukia decided to exit first to get something important. Yuri was playing with a few stubbles on Rieve's face while Ulquiorra gave his friend a look.

"Where've you been anyway?" he asked instead.

"Out there," he answered with a small shrug. Out there means visiting Soi Fon's grave for one. He's not sure about the others. "So I assume you took the name Rieve now."

"Hmmm…."

"What of the others and your title?"

Rieve carefully shifted his son's position before answering. "Buried in the past and part of history. I don't have to carry those names ever again. How about you?"

The blue-haired was silent for a moment. "I'm still going with it. It's way better than my original name." he looked around and spotted Byakuya's group of friends arriving. "I owe these people a great deal."

"We all do."

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When finally left alone with her, he read the letter coming from America. Rukia served him coffee. Their son was exhausted from playing with Yachiru and immediately fell asleep. It was Grimmjaw who volunteered to bring him to bed before he'd go home. Rukia wondered within where home is for Grimmjaw now.

"Was that from Neliel?" she asked and set the coffee mug.

"Hmm…"

She peered from behind. "What'd it say? How's she doing?" she asked, her arms circling around her neck as she read the content of the letter. Then she tilted her head a little to glance at him when she was done reading. "An invitation?"

"Yeah…apparently, CIA still sees the importance of the Earhardt influence," he said with a shrug. "They're recruiting me and Grimmjaw to work for them."

Rukia did not speak, unable to find the right words to say at all. Sensing her discomfort, he spoke once more. "I don't plan to accept the offer. I can start a good life here…with you and Yuri. That should be enough. Besides, I've been dealing with almost the same stuff for the most part of my life so I don't think I ever want to get into it again."

"How about Grimmjaw? It would be dangerous for a job…having to live undercover all the time."

Rieve did not speak for at least two seconds. "I don't think he will too…" he finally said. "Being a CIA agent seemed a bit too high…I don't want to ever involve you and our son to whatever mess I may create should I accept it."

He unwrapped her arms around his neck and turned to her, gave her a chaste kiss then spoke against their lips. "Marry me Rukia."

She could only grin and bit his lip. "I waited three years to hear that so it's just but fitting that you ask me now," she said, her eyes twinkling with joy. "And yes of course, I will marry you."

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I'm done and before I officially end this, let me thank those who reviewed from the previous chapter.

Satomika, onlyluna, ForsakenBunnies, sharebearthedeathbear, Stephanie78724, Relya Schiffer, Alaeamori, supercookies567 and ilovereadingfanfics. Also, I'd like to thank whittney. And of course I wouldn't forget those who read but did not leave a review. I still owe you a great deal for your support.

So thank you all everyone.